The short version
What a day.
The Library A-Z run was an epic. Physically demanding and mentally monumental, it took reserves of strength I genuinely didn’t know I had in order to complete it. But complete it I did. Proud is an understatement.
Before setting off I had given myself three goals:-
- To complete a tour of all the public libraries in Aberdeen (in alphabetical order). Check.
- To run the entire distance. No walking. Not a single step. Check.
- To complete the tour between sunrise and sunset on the 2017 Summer Solstice. Bingo!
The long version
Sunrise happened largely as predicted by Newtonian physics at 04.12. I chose to start the run at the beach to witness for myself this rather grandiose cosmological starting pistol – accepting that doing so would add on 1.5 miles of additional running to get me to Central Library.
After a short delay to fully admire the spectacle (and do a quick Facebook live video), the run itself started at 04.17.
Sunset was due to happen at 22.08. 17 hours and 51 minutes later. For various reasons, I wasn’t sure exactly how far the route would be, but my estimates put it somewhere between 61-78 miles. If it was to be a three-marathon equivalent run of 78 miles, I would have slightly less than 6 hours to complete each marathon (including the many inevitable rest stops).
This was the schedule I had in my mind all day long.
Part 1 took me from the beach to Central Library, then Airyhall, Bridge of Don, Bucksburn, Cornhill, Cove, Culter, Cults and Dyce.
The first stages went fine. It obviously felt little different to some of the training runs I had been doing. It was early too so the roads were quiet, but by the time I had struggled uphill to reach Cove, things started to change. It was now rush hour and when I passed my good friend Meghan on her way to work at 08.00, I had already done 22 miles and had been running for almost 4 hours.
On my way to Culter I completed the first marathon.
I’d been running for just under 5 hours. At this point, I was ahead of schedule but knew things would change. I rested for 15 minutes, then plodded on….
I’d been really struggling to eat, but obviously knew I needed fuel. I started dry-heaving on the Old Deeside Line so got myself some soup and a good rest at Culter.
Rather appropriately, I hit the halfway point at midday. Cults was 35 miles in and so technically the timings were still good. But I knew how hard the morning had been and thought I knew how hard the afternoon was likely to become.
I didn’t. I underestimated it massively. The most miles I’d ever run in one day before was 39 (on Day 1 of the 2015 run if you’re interested). I was approaching this distance on the way to Dyce when my right knee really started to hurt.
I was in serious pain. I needed something. I wasn’t sure what. Motivation? For certain. And maybe even something to put on my injured knee too.
Fortunately for me – I had both that day.
But the long drag to Dyce took a lot out of me. Physically I was struggling, and mentally – I was almost done. So I decided that I would probably call it a day once I got to Dyce.
Whichever member of the team from The Archie Foundation picked Dyce to come and greet me deserves a medal. The guard of honour with inflatable clappers, not to mention the fully-suited Archie worked wonders on my spirits.
A big thank you to all of you.
And then another big thank you to the guys at Dyce. Mhairi, David and Donna were like an emergency crash team. There was cake waiting for me (although I still couldn’t stomach anything), and David made possibly the finest cup of coffee I have ever had in my life. Thank you Sir. And a massive thank you to Donna for popping to the shop to get me – no product placements here – a pain-relieving spray and some painkillers.
(Note: it is not advisable to take painkillers when running injured).
(Additional note: I don’t listen to advice).
Upon arrival at Dyce I had completed 44.5 miles. I had been on the road for just under 10 hours, with combined stops totalling 2 hours and 42 minutes. This meant I had been actually running for 7 hours and 12 minutes – giving an average pace of 9 minutes and 44 seconds for each one of those 44.5 miles.
My Garmin app tells me that my fastest mile on this section was mile 5, which I completed in 8 minutes and 14 seconds.
(Note: I am an idiot).
Having convinced myself that the run was over at Dyce, I guess I had taken the pressure off. I elected to simply hang around for as long as I needed, wait until I felt I could continue and then see how I got on.
I left Dyce just under two hours after arriving at 15.47.
The route to Ferryhill took me directly towards Central Library where I knew the guys I work with would soon be finishing. The run to Central was about the same distance as a 10K – which I did in 58 minutes.
(Note: see previous note).
Chatting to the Central staff, I explained that finishing by sunset was definitely no longer an achievable goal in my mind. In fact, I was very much expecting to complete the run the following day. I was simply going to see how much further I could keep on running. The impending target of a double-marathon was easily within reach and seemed like a pleasing consolation.
Running through town in the middle of the second rush-hour of the day, I reached Ferryhill to find a bag of goodies left out for me. A massive thank you to the staff there and sorry I just missed you.
Kaimhill marked the end of the double marathon. It was 18:00. Because of the long rest at Dyce, I’d now taken 14 hours to do two marathons – instead of the 12 I’d originally scheduled. With sunset only 4 hours away, if the route required another full marathon, there was just no way this was going to happen.
When I reached Kincorth, I took refuge from the torrential rain under a canopy and took a look at my original schedule. I calculated that the minimum distance remaining was only 15 miles. It was 18:30. Sunset was in around 3.5 hours.
A good target pace for a lot of people running a half marathon (13 miles) is between 2 hours and 2 hours 30 minutes. 15 miles at a similar pace would be closer to the 3 hour mark. So if I were to run at that kind of pace, I could allow myself maybe 30 minutes of rest along the way. With 5 libraries remaining that was a maximum rest of 5 minutes at each one upon arrival.
(Note: I hate maths).
All these calculations meant I knew a sunset finish was still technically possible.
But I’d already run 55 miles.
And Mastrick was up a very big hill.
And it was raining.
The run to Mastrick was brutal. Torrential rain and an uphill climb from the Bridge of Dee all the way to the library with little respite. Once at Mastrick, I knew I was finishing the run but I was really struggling now.
I started to convince myself that finishing by midnight would still count as “doing it in one day” – but I’m not sure I believed it.
By the time I reached Tillydrone I had around 1 hour 45 minutes left until sunset. With only 8 miles to go this would normally be easy.
But it wasn’t.
When plotting the route, I knew full well that Tillydrone to Torry and then back to Woodside would be mentally excruciating given how close to the end I’d be, and how close to each other Tilly and Woodside are.
It really was excruciating. In fact, halfway along the road to Torry, I sat at a bus stop. I can’t be sure but I think I might have even cried a bit. I knew I could make Torry easy enough, but I just couldn’t see how I could get all the way back up the hill I’d just run down to reach Woodside – and certainly not in the time I needed to.
But this thing wasn’t over yet.
I reached Torry to find a can of energy drink and a lucky penny. You guys have no idea how much that helped.
Thank you so much.
It was already after 21:00. I had an hour left before sunset.
Just Woodside then Central to go.
65 miles run already.
5 miles to go.
And a hill all the way to Woodside.
But I’d not come this far to give up.
I somehow dragged myself up the interminable hills of Market Street, George Street and Clifton Road. I’d been doing mental arithmetic while running all day long, so I calculated that if I reached Woodside by 21:50, I could probably manage the remaining 2 miles at 10 minutes per mile (they were all downhill after all).
I reached Woodside at 21:46….took a picture….uploaded it….
and then flew to Central….
I arrived at 22:04.
The sun set four minutes later.
A massive thank you to the people who came out to meet me on my run – both at the finish line and out on the route – Pauline, Catriona, Susan, Jeff, Hazel, Fiona, Alison, Léa, Gemma, Meghan, Craig, Sarah, Jonathan, Rhys and Sara.
You guys rock!
A very big thank you to everyone who gave me messages of support from near or far. Again, you have no idea how much they help when things get tough. Thank you.
And a HUGE thank you to those who donated to my 2017 cause as a result of the Library A-Z run.
You should all be very proud of yourselves for being such nice human beings.
There’s no question: this was a very big run indeed.
If there is a message to be heard, it’s that you should always push yourself to do more. That we are all capable of so much more than we can possibly imagine.
Never give up.
Back in December, I almost did.
This isn’t something I’m proud of.
But no matter how low you fall, you can always climb back up. You just have to believe in yourself.
The Library A-Z run came six months after the lowest I have ever been. In those six months I’ve been on my own journey from midwinter to midsummer, from nadir to the very zenith of my own mental health.
The run also marked 12 months to the day since my 2016 challenge had gone wrong at the end of Day 4 – 21st June 2016 (I wanted to make sure that I remembered the date differently in future years).
When it comes to mental health – whatever the underlying cause – we all have good days and bad days. The trick is to always remember that even when we are at our lowest, some of our greatest days can still be ahead of us.
And yes, I know that this is very difficult to accept when you are in the middle of the blackest darkness.
But we must focus on what lies ahead, not that which is past.
We must keep looking forward, and keep moving forward. Always.
Learn more about the Library A-Z challenge.