The Highland Fling 2018 – RACE REPORT

The Highland Fling 2018 TIME: 10 Hours 07 Minutes and 09 Seconds OVERALL : 107th/673 finishers GENDER: 13th/186 females The Highland Fling 2018 was to be not only my first ‘A’ race of the season, but my first race of the season. My run training went downhill in January after a foot injury threw me off course and I wasn’t back to high weekly mileage until the end of February, which meant about 5 weeks of proper training before the taper began. What could possibly go wrong?! I kept my cross training high and did what I could – weights were OK, the cross trainer was bearable and cycling was fine, so although I wasn’t getting the amount of running I would have liked in I was still able to maintain my fitness; everything would be fine! From the start of March onwards I was back to the hills and the mileage was on the up, the back to back runs were back and come April I was back on the West Highland Way for the first time since last June and really clocking the miles again. The coaching plan from Neil had been pretty much followed to the T (yes, even the dreaded speed work!), I wasn’t quite at target race weight but you can’t have it all, my foot wasn’t giving me any bother and I felt mentally prepared. It was only 53 miles and even though I wanted to race it it was really just a test race to see how everything felt for the West Highland Way race, so the main goal was to finish it uninjured. Drop bag prep – Active root, flat coke and cheese ๐Ÿ™‚ Friday afternoon came round and I finished up at work, drove through to Milngavie to register and was home and finishing my kit prep by 8pm. I’d decided to go to bed ridiculously early as Craig was heading out and would be back at midnight, so knowing I’d wake up then I got a good few hours sleep before he did. I actually thought I’d struggle to get back to sleep but I was out like a light and slept right through until 3.15am. Preparation is key! By 5am I was in Milngavie, drop bags were in the right vehicles, a nervous coffee was consumed and it was time to get to toilet queue, listen to the race brief and get to our start pens. Once again I chose the back of the sub 10 hour pen and once again it was a brilliant choice. Good lucks were dished out and then bang on 6 we were away – Highland Fling round 2! Race briefing for 800 odd nervous runners. Photo – Alison Downey The first section, as always, flies by. I ran with Derek all the way to Gartness, him slightly behind pace and me slightly ahead, then caught up with Scott who was fairly moving and we chatted while zooming down the road to Drymen where there was a kit check. As we re sorted our bags after the kit check we all started running at our own paces and that was the last I’d see of them until the finish line! My first struggle came way earlier than expected – on the climb out of Drymen! My legs felt a little jelly like so I used this as a chance to slow and eat. I upped my pace to a run again and felt that I wasn’t quite feeling 100%, but I had no reason to be walking on the undulating hills up towards Conic, so pushed on as far as I could until the steep climb up Conic began. Huffing and puffing up the steep bits, running anything runnable, cheesing for the photographers on the top and then trying not to over do the decent to save the quads for later in the race. One bottle of coke down, 10 minutes ahead of schedule and back to feeling OK, I bounded into the Balmaha for a super quick check point stop courtesy of Karen Wallace. Mud sliding into Drymen. Photo – Sandra Hunter First of the Conic photographers – look like you’re having fun!! Photo – Robbie E Pattinson Sugar boost into Balamha – Photo Willie Irvine Onto my favourite section from Balmaha to Rowardennan. My legs felt OK, the climbs still hurt more than they should have but missing a few months of proper training will have that effect! The paths twist and turn, there are sharp up hill sections and downhill sections but it’s all pretty runnable. I was on my own for a lot of this section except when Andy Janetta caught up with me and we ran a few miles together. He pushed on after Rowardennan and ended up having an amazing first Fling which just goes to show training pays off! I was through Rowardennan bang on schedule again and enjoyed most of the next section along to Inversnaid. The long slog up and out of Rowardennan gave me time to slow my pace and eat again, but I still don’t think I was eating enough and I started to feel a bit wobbly again. An emergency small can of coke was consumed which saw me through to the next checkpoint at Inversnaid. Inversnaid to Beinglas – the technical section. I’ll never be a fan, but I felt strong this year. I was moving at a good pace and chatting to Max Holloway who was running the race for the second time, but had been injured recently so wasn’t going all out. His “easier” pace was perfect for me on this section; it’s not runnable and there so much scrambling and climbing so having someone to chat to all the way along really took my mind off how difficult it really is. Then it was on the undulating stretch to Beinglas where you can actually get running again. By now it was getting hot! Not ridiculously warm but when you have trained through the worst of winter months this was a bit of a shock to the system! I nearly had a bad fall coming into the check point where I kicked a rock at full force and started a slow motion fall down a hill, but somehow managed to regain my footing and carry on unscathed. That toenail will not live to see the end of the month, but it could have been a lot worse! The pace was up again and I pushed into Beinglas ahead of schedule and 25 minutes ahead of my 2016 time. I walked out the check point with my drop bag, ate some crisps to try and replace some salt and started the climb up Glen Falloch. I was tired and my hip flexors were really starting to ache. I ducked off the path to fix my shoe and finally remove a stone that had been bugging me for ages and after that my pace dropped and dropped. I couldn’t seem to get running again and any time I did it wasn’t for long before my hips seized up and I had to walk to shake them out. By the time I got to the sheep underpass and on to the climb up towards cow poo alley I’d started to feel really queasy and hot. I was still on target for a sub 10 hour finish but I was starting to feel it slip away. After cow poo alley I just empty and I was ready for my race to be over. It was lovely to see Katie, Graham and Gavin and hear their cheers from a few hundred feet away, but after the gate I was back on a low. I never had lows this late into races and it had ruined any hopes I had of a strong finish. People started to pass me coming through the forest; usually where I have a strong point and move up the field. I trundled the downs, wobbled the ups and finally I was onto the last 3 mile stretch through Auchtertyre. Run a bit, walk a bit, wobble a bit… I was getting there slowly but surely. I passed walkers and families who all cheered me on but this low wasn’t passing and I was slightly gutted as I saw 10 hours tick by on my watch and I was just coming into Tyndrum. It could have gone better, but it was still a brilliant finish! 53 miles. Done. The minute I heard the piper and could hear the crowds I got another boost to run. I saw my mum and mother-in-law as I rounded the last bend and I geared myself up for a final sprint down the red carpet and I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. I had nothing left to give and I’d finished just under 30 minutes faster than I had in 2016, so in many ways I’d had a brilliant race, but it also hurt a lot more than it should have and I know exactly what I need to do in advance of the West Highland Way race which is now under 7 weeks away. As ever this would have been possible without my crazy run chums who drag me over some of the toughest terrains, come running at stupid o’clock with me and put up with my terrible chat and of course to Neil for the awesome coaching and for changing my programme time and time again when I forget what races I’ve entered/when life gets in the way. Onwards to the big one. Time to give it everything I have…

New year, new you? Nah, more of the same please :)

New year always seems to be about change. Whether is be changing yourself or changing things in your life, people always seem to use the new year to kick start these new habits. My New Year isn’t going to be so much about change, but more about focus. I had an amazing year last year; I got to go on adventures to places I’d never even heard of, I got to run some amazing races and go on plenty of wonderful training days out with awesome like minded people and I got to spend time with my loved ones, but I also wasted a lot of time. Be it through watching rubbish TV, looking at my phone at nothing in particular for too long (where does time actually go when you do that?!), or going to bed too late and feeling rubbish in the morning so not getting up early enough to do all the amazing thing I had planned…THAT is my weakness, and that’s why I need more focus. I am working on becoming qualified as a personal trainer and I have a lot of work to do in the build up to it, especially since it has been quite a while since I sat down with my books and highlighters. Social media, smart phones and wifi didn’t exist when I was at University, so switching my focus brain back on will be hard!! It’s been a while since I last posted and I think I’m about 3 race reports behind, but I can recap that in the annual year round up below… ๐Ÿ™‚ JANUARY The year started as always with some horrific winter training. As much as I always try to convince myself it’s not that big a deal, it really is for me. I HATE training in the dark, being restricted to road running during the week before and after work and the cold weather that comes with it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do it and I actually surprised myself with my attitude to get out and do hill or stair reps at stupid o’clock before work. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t moan about it though. Oh I did. There were many great weekends up the beautiful snowy hills, some not so beautiful snowy hills and also the day it was so cold Jo’s hair froze and I swore off winter Munros forever (well, for the rest of that winter anyway!). The season had well and truly started. One of the nicer snowy hills Jo’s frozen hair! Before it got too cold and photos were not a priority! FEBRUARY The race season began with the worst race of my year, if not ever. The Glentress marathon was the week after Scotland had a horrific week of storms, snow and wind. I couldn’t have felt any less up for racing, but decided to give it a go anyway. I won’t go into detail as it’s all in the link above, but I definitely won’t be doing that one again for a while! February also saw my 4th attempt at the Devilla forest 15k. It was muddy, it was cold and I was blowing out my ass as I always do at this race, but I was chuffed with a 3 minute PB and got to put my self pity from the previous race behind me. 200m from the start line at Glentress…I should probably have turned around right about now… Feeling the love at Devilla. I know, I’m a classy bird! MARCH With my second biggest race to date (The Great Glen 71 mile Ultra) fast approaching, I decided I needed to move my training up a gear and decided to take on a coach in the form of Neil MacNicol. Neil has got quite a few ultra wins under his belt and knows a thing or 2 about coaching, so with a monthly plan written out for me and a beady eye tracking me on Strava, my training and strength started to improve, as did my race times and overall results. The first of which being the Alloa half marathon where I took over a minute off my time finishing in 1 hour 35 minutes and 55 seconds and finished first local female! That sub 1 hour 30 will come eventually…. APRIL April was a full on heavy training month with my last few big runs before the Cateran 55. I had great days out on the West Highland Way with Sharon, Jemma and Jeni, an amazing run with Jo who was training her ass off for the West Highland Way race, running a section of the Cateran route in reverse. I was putting so much into my training and was really feeling and starting to see the benefits. So what if things go a bit pear shaped over the winter months. Things always come together (for me anyway!) as soon as there is more daylight and if you’ve got like minded friends putting their heart and soul into their training as well and I’ve got to say, I’ve got a pretty brilliant bunch of running friends! Sunny days on the Cateran trail with Jo Training is fun…. honestly…! Spring on the WHW with some awesome ladies MAY It was time for my first big race of the year, the Cateran 55 mile ultra. I’d worked hard in the lead up to this and had a pretty good race with things only going mildly off plan in the middle. I finished 4th lady overall and was delighted to take nearly an hour of my time from my previous attempt in 2015. Ultra ladies ready to run! The last slog. It’s worth it! Photo – Kirsten Koh Later in May Jo, Derek and I traveled down to Keswick for one of my favourite training days of the year. We followed the route of the Mountain Festival 50k ultra and oh my days, what a route!! We had some of the best weather for the majority of the route (we were on the go for close to 8 hours, so that’s pretty good going!) and 3 miles from the finish got soaked to the bone by the heaviest yet most refreshing down pour ever. We’ll tick that one off for now, I don’t think I’ll be racing that route any time soon!! Keswick. All the weather in one day. Got to make time for some hillside yoga! JUNE While my main focus for this year was the Great Glen in July, I was still really excited about this years West Highland Way race. This year I took up my role of support crew for Derek, alongside Rona, Kat and his daughter Lucy. What a weekend! The weather was pretty great until the Saturday afternoon, just as I took up my role of support runner. I attempted to turn myself into a windbreak on the way over Rannoch Moor, provide witty chat on the way up the Devils staircase and plot a safe and speedy route back down the other side all while running along paths that resembled rivers and whilst having hats on and hoods up and not being able to hear a word that was being said. All part of a great day out! After having a bit a dodgy start Derek managed to pull it back towards the end and while others around us were starting to suffer, he still had the energy to run and we picked off runner after runner on the way across Lairig Mor. What a finish and what a weekend! All in I managed to cover 36 miles with him… I think that’ll pass as my long run for the weekend? All ready for the off! Just before the rain Coming into KLL, soaked to the bone 1 mile to go and it’s a full on sprint (or as sprint like as it can be after 94 miles!). JULY It was the month of the Great Glen Ultra. What a fantastic race! There were lows, there were highs and I bagged my first podium coming second lady overall. I couldn’t have been any more delighted, the training was definitely all worth it! Don’t think Gordon was appreciating my terrible chat at this point… ๐Ÿ™‚ 10 miles to and it’s all downhill. Delighted! Best birthday ever! AUGUST The rest of July was spent recovering and travelling with Craig, and once home from holiday is was straight back to it. Except it wasn’t. My recovery once again took longer than expected and I started to feel annoyed at my lack of speed or enthusiasm. I should know by now that I just take longer to recover than others and not to give up. My next focus was to be The River Ayr Way race in September, so August was all about strength work, finding my running mojo again and being dragged up some bad ass Munros by my bonkers friends. It’s all worth it for the views! Ben Lui, Beinn a Chleibh, Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchrai. All in a days work! Ben Chonzie (or is it Chorizo?!) A rapid descent off Ben Chonzie with Kristin SEPTEMBER I hadn’t been feeling 100% fit in the lead up to the River Ayr Way Race, but come race day I was ready to get going and just have a good day out with friends. That was until I was toeing the line and I actually felt I had a chance of doing quite well. Better late than never I suppose! It was probably my strongest race to date in that I didn’t have too many low points and my mental focus was good throughout which definitely helped in my overall result; my first ultra win!! Delighted doesn’t even come close. Proper cheesing!! Focus face. Photo – Sandra Hunter OCTOBER I’d decided earlier in the year I’d like to race another road marathon and see how I was getting on, seeing as the last time I had completed one was at the London marathon in 2016! The Loch Rannoch marathon was probably not the right race to pick seeing as it’s really undulating and I still hadn’t recovered from my ultra. I also failed to remember how to fuel properly for a marathon having breakfast way too early and not carrying enough with me on the run. However I only missed my personal best by a minute so I wasn’t too disappointed. Next time I have ‘great idea’ I’ll make sure I’ve got time to train specifically for that event! NOVEMBER And finally it was time for Glen Ogle round 5. I never got round to writing a race report for it, however I was delighted to finish with a 3 minute PB, which means a PB every year I’ve ran the race. I think I have ran my fair share of Glen Ogles for now so I will definitely be back this year, but this time helping out! And with that another racing year is over! Downtime is over and it’s time to hit training hard again and become the best running version of myself yet. I have a lot to fit in with work, training and fitness courses over the next months, but time will be found as I want this and I’m ready to work for it. 2018…. Here I come!!

RACE REPORT – The River Ayr Way Challenge 2017

The River Ayr Way Challenge TIME: 6 Hours 26 Minutes and 45 Seconds OVERALL : 10th/69 finishers GENDER: 1st/15 females After a few months of a blog hiatus I think I’ve finally found my run and write mojo again! My recovery from the Great Glen was slow, painful and tedious and even after a 2 week holiday which was spent gallivanting around Eastern Europe and over a month of “easier” training, I still didn’t have the desire to push myself 100%. Even new kit didn’t inspire me and my lack of speed was really getting me down as I watched friends getting faster and faster and I was struggling to complete an interval session without getting frustrated. And then something suddenly felt right again. Whether I had just taken some pressure off myself or had finally recovered from the pounding I put my body through at the Great Glen, I don’t know. But I finally felt positive about my running again, I wasn’t feeling out of breath after the first mile and I was ready to get things back on track. After a few months of deciding what races I really wanted to focus on in the latter part of the year (I think this plan changed about 5 or 6 times, but I think I’ve finally got it right!), the River Ayr Way Challenge was chosen to be my next big push. I’d had a few good weeks of training with countless days out in the hills, pushing myself at circuits and focusing a lot more on my core strength and my confidence was on the up again. Sometimes all it takes is a nice windy run in the hills with some like minded friends! ๐Ÿ™‚ My last big races of the year were to be the River Ayr Way, followed 4 weeks later by the Loch Rannoch Marathon and then my season finale of Glen Ogle (round 5!) 3 weeks after that. A big ask for my slightly under trained legs, but something I think I need to get me back on track for an even bigger push next year. Kit prep. Always important to make sure you have a good nights sleep and an easy morning before the race! The day of the River Ayr Way race came and I felt calm and in control. No pre race nerves (well, not until I was toeing the line, but that’s a given!), and everything was packed and ready to go, so just before 7am I drove down to drop off my car in Douglas before being picked up and driven to Glenbuck with some club mates. We’d got there nice and early but already parking was causing some drama and the farmer zooming about on his quad bike didn’t look too impressed. Mind you, neither would I be if you had nearly 100 runners using your land as a toilet. Maybe an idea to have a couple or porta-loos at the start for next year? After a very quick briefing and catch up with a few familiar faces on the start line we were on our way, racing the 40 mile route back to the coastal town of Ayr. I’d turned my watch onto the “run a route” function as even though I felt like I had a good idea of the route from running it last year, I knew there were a few tricky bits where paths go off in a number of directions and there’s no obvious markers as to which way you have to go. With my watch on this function I could only see an arrow following a line and I had no idea of my pace, distance or time and this was the best decision I made that day. No pressure on time, just the mental focus to run a strong race. The first few miles whizzed by. The flat section along the old railway is where the pack really spreads out straight away as everyone finds their own pace. I found myself hurtling along again and within a mile was ploughing through muddy puddles and squelchy bogs. I knew what was coming later in the race, so trying to keep my feet dry wasn’t even considered! I was catching up with people and overtaking every so often but maintaining a pretty consistent pace and feeling strong. Everyone was in high spirits and a few people mentioned they’d read my blog and thanked me for letting them know what lay ahead! The first check point came and went and I’d eaten very little of what I had in my pack, so ran straight through and bounded along the next section of riverbank. It was muddy, it was squelchy, it was a tough slog on the legs… but it was brilliant and I was feeling strong. I had been running with the same people since about 7 miles in and had been enjoying their chat, but they soon pushed on ahead as we came off a hill around 13 miles in. I wasn’t risking falling on my bum just yet, so as they flew off ahead I took my time and teetered carefully down the muddy embankment. I was having an absolute dream run; nothing hurt, I didn’t feel queasy or hungry, my foot wasn’t giving me any bother and best of all I was feeling positive. I knew I could do well and I was working hard to stay ahead of the lady just behind me and try and to catch people further ahead. Hello run mojo, I’ve missed you! Embracing the mud! Photo – Sandra Hunter Photo – Sandra Hunter As we came through Sorn it was lovely to see the Wee County team who were waiting for the relay hand over. I could hear someone breathing down my neck and matching my stride step for step, but I had no idea who it was. It didn’t matter if they were male, female or a relay runner today, I wasn’t up for letting them get by me! I pushed on through Sorn, up and over through the woods and down into Catrine. I looked over my shoulder just as I veered round to the right after the footbridge and I couldn’t see anyone, but it still wasn’t time to take the foot off the gas just yet. The route swerves back down by the river and then there’s the first of many stair sections where I overtook a few other people. Up and under the main road, down a steep embankment and then on to another section of tarmac that I’m sure I walked up last year, claiming it was a “hill”, but none of that today. The pressure of being caught up with was spurring me on! As I pushed on up the next section of trail and under the viaduct I took a second to look back, and the path was completely empty for as far as I could see. Can’t loose focus, must keep trucking on… I was met with cheers and smiles as I came into the second check point where I quickly grabbed a wee can of coke and some more cheese and pushed on up the tarmac, trying to reel in the runner who was just a few hundred feet ahead of me. As we wound our way round the roads and fields I over took a few more people and started to wonder what on earth was happening. Still feeling strong and confident and no sign of the usual shoulder pain/sore stomach/crisis of confidence or questioning why I was doing this. I knew the road section wasn’t too far ahead which I absolutely hated last year, but luckily no one tried to mow me down this year and I bounced into Failford feeling pretty happy. Cheesing my way through Sorn. Photo – Ava Parker Somewhere along the riverbank before Sorn – photo Mark Caldwell The route turns back off the road and follows the river for another few miles and this is the section of stairs. Far too many stairs! I went the wrong way once or twice during this section but luckily only for 20-30 metres each time before I knew something didn’t feel right and checked my watch. Onwards to the diversion, the boggy farmers field, the horrible road climb and the free wheeling back down again. More boggy paths, another winding river section and before I knew it I’d arrived at check point 3. I still had no idea how long I’d been on the go and honestly hadn’t thought about it at all so far, so had a quick time check and it revealed I’d been on the go for just over 5 hours and was now 31 odd miles in to the race. What on earth?! 9 or so miles to go, got to keep the focus… Didn’t see that camera until it was too late.. but clearly still having fun! Photo – Sandra Hunter The last few miles are a bit blurry, apart from the boggy hill. That will stay ingrained in my mind (and probably under my toenails) for quite some time!! It was so wet, so deep and so slippy and the only thing to hold on to was a barb wire fence along the side. Queue swearing and lots of sliding around and I’m so glad I was by myself, I must have looked ridiculous! Finally out the other side I tried to shake some of the mud off my trainers as I now had about an extra kilogram of crap attached to each shoe and it wasn’t helping my already zapped legs. The last check point came and went and it was then a case of digging deep and finishing the race without letting myself slow to a walk. The route follows a cycle path and then a minor road before spitting you out next to the A77 for a couple of hundred metres until you turn off and follow the river to the finish line at the Dam Park stadium. I’d just passed another runner and I was working hard to keep my pace up as I knew I had less than a mile to go. Finally I rounded into the stadium for a lap of the track and fell over the line to be met by my mum and some running friends. I was absolutely elated to not only take nearly 40 minutes off my time from last year but also to finish first lady overall. My first ultra win! I was completely delighted and quite overwhelmed! Proper cheesing!! My mum had booked us a hotel for the night so we had a good celebration with quite a few fizzes and a delicious meal. A week later I’m still on cloud 9 and feeling ready to get back to training with gusto. Big shout out to my ever present training buddies who love nothing more than a chilly day in the hills and of course Neil MacNicol for the training plan. No more skiving speed work, I promise!!

The Great Glen Ultra Marathon – RACE REPORT

THE GREAT GLEN ULTRA MARATHON 2017 TIME: 13 Hours 18 Minutes and 55 Seconds Overall position: 11th/63 finishers (13 DNF) 2nd/17 females A BAM haul. Best birthday ever ๐Ÿ™‚ The Great Glen has been quoted as being “one of Scotland’s toughest ultra marathons” and after Saturdays excursion, I wholeheartedly agree! This was to be my second biggest race to date and my ‘A’ race of this year. I had put so much into my training in the first 6 months of the year and with only a few blips in my training schedule I was more than ready to get going. On the Friday afternoon I finished up at work after what hadn’t been an ideal week. A cold appeared on Monday, plus I was covering fitness classes and 1-2-1 lessons right up until I left at 1pm on Friday after a very sweaty aqua aerobics class, so definitely not the ideal taper. However I was raring to go so after a quick shower, a last minute packing of everything apart from the kitchen sink and then unpacking everything to make sure I had indeed remembered my trainers, I was ready to go. Craig gave me a lift up to the station and I was finally on my way North. The train ride up was quiet and I managed a quick doze before waking myself up when I head-butted the window. I met my friend from Uni for dinner and after a feast of pizza and cheese cake I got changed and slowly made my way over to Bught Park for the coach back to Fort William. Now, if I was to do this race again I’d do a number of things differently. The most logical being to go straight to Fort William and try to get a room at the Moorings hotel for a bit of shut eye before the race! I had only booked a room for the Saturday night in Inverness, so there really wasn’t any point in me going all the way up just to come back again! However you live and learn, and it was lovely to catch up with Lucja on the journey down. We arrived at the Moorings hotel just after 11pm and went about registering, dropping off our drop bags, sorting kit and the trying to relax until it was time to go. This wasn’t happening and as everyone lay about on the floor with the hoods up or earphones in trying to get some last minute shut eye, Lucja and I went about having our own tea party and probably being far too hyper for some people around us! Ready for the off! Photos all courtesy of Fiona Rennie. Lucja and me just before 1am. Soon enough it was time to make our way over to the canal for the race start and with last minute reminders of “keep the Loch on you right” and “don’t fall in the canal”, there was a count down from 10 and then we were on our merry way – to cover the 71 miles and over 8000ft of elevation on our way back to Inverness. It was fairly warm so a vest and skort with arm sleeves and a buff seemed the right amount to start in as I knew I’d get far too warm as soon as started running if I wore any more. The first 6 and a bit miles are straight along the canal towpath and from the off the racing snakes were off and into the darkness at breakneck speed. I fell into a comfortable pace of 8:30 minute miles but even after 3 miles I found myself hitting nearer 8 min/miles which I knew was just too fast a pace for me at this stage. I had been running with David Scott since the start and even though I felt I was still going a bit fast I decided to try and stick with him for a bit as the company was making the miles fly by. Before we knew it we had arrived at the first checkpoint at Clunes and it was time to force some food in. I took a custard pot, topped up a water bottle and was out of the checkpoint in about 2 minutes. I was running on my own as I left the checkpoint as I knew before long I’d need to jump off the trail for a loo break. However as soon as I was on my own I started to feel really queasy. I walked for a bit to try and settle my stomach and a few people passed by me, but I didn’t let it bother me as I knew to expect this after going through it at the West Highland Way Race last year. I’d thought it had been down to my head torch not being very good, so had upgraded to one with a more powerful beam, but I think the movement of the beam on the trail makes me queasy so no matter how good a light I’m following, I’m not going to feel good doing it. I managed to pass a few people who had got by me and pushed on over the undulating trails along the Lochside. Whoever told me the first 30 miles were flat was totally lying, I felt like I hadn’t stopped going up or down since I’d left the canal path! Before long we were approaching CP2 at 20 miles and I was glad to stop for a couple of minutes and eat some cheese and have a wee fruit smoothie. My stomach was feeling OK but my face must have been a picture of gloom as Bill called for someone to get me a gin!! I marched out of the checkpoint and up (another!) hill while eating some flapjacks and decided to text Craig as he was on night shift so knew he’d still be up. My message went along the lines of “things are not going well, I feel rubbish” and within 5 minutes he’d replied with “stick in there, it’ll be sunny soon and lift your spirits!”. Ah, he knows me well :). I took off my head torch as I reached the top of the hill as even though it wasn’t quite light yet, it was bright enough to be able to spot the way markers and know which direction to go. Within 5 minutes I could feel my headache disappearing and I pushed on along the next section of tarmac as it got brighter and things started to look more promising again. I had a strange hallucination as I ran past the farms as I was sure I saw someone standing with a jacket over their head, a marshal out to direct us and trying to avoid the midges maybe? But on closer inspection it was just a gate post, which made me realise maybe it wasn’t quite as bright as I thought it was and should probably pay attention to the road ahead! Sunrise and lifted spirits. The trail took a sharp switchback and then spat us out on to the main road to run over the river at Invergarry and then back onto a trail path up a steep hill. I could see 2 people head of me and could hear one behind, but none of us seemed to be pulling away or dropping back so we continued in our little chain all the way to the next section of canal that ran along to CP 3 at Fort Augustus. We could see for miles ahead and I knew this was going to be a slog but I was determined I wasn’t going to walk a step of it, so out came the shiny new ipod and I ran along to the beat of the music all the way to the check point passing 5 people on my way. I was in a happy place by the time I saw Fiona Rennie and her camera a mile or so out from the checkpoint and I latched on to Gordon Reed for some chat as we cruised into CP 3 for a glorious little can of coke and yet more cheese and fruit smoothies. Coming in to check point 3 and delighted to be getting away from the canal again. Gordon not in the same boat as me just now… In super quick time I was on my way up the first of the major climbs. This wasn’t just a walk, this was a hands on thighs and lean forward type of a climb and before long I was catching up with people again. I was surprised to see David again as I thought he’d be miles ahead by now, but he was going through his low patch and was zigzagging his way up the trails. I started to walk with him and we made our way up the first 1000ft climb together. The views from the top were pretty phenomenal; an unobstructed view of Loch Ness with a cloudless sky. We couldn’t have asked for better weather! However, what goes up must come down and we knew the next check point at Invermoriston was back down at sea level, so a quad trashing descent later and the smiley faces of team Munro and team Hamilton greeted us, saw we had what we needed then saw us on our merry way and on to the next beast of a climb. Steep. The route follows the road up for a while and then switches back to trail for a good chunk of the route. Up, up, up we went, down a little, up some more. We spotted another runner ahead and it turned out to be Gordon Halliday who I had met during the River Ayr Way race last September. We ran with him for a while; me and David pulling away on the climbs and Gordon catching us back up on the descents was the pattern for a good 20 miles. I was glad to be back on the trails but also desperate for the next check point as it had started to get quite warm, I was getting bored of the taste of tail wind and really fancied some cold water and a wee can of coke to give me a boost. There was a water stop at 49 miles and after a some hugs from Donna it was back to to horrible tarmac section most of the way to CP 5 at Drumnadrochit. I have never been so glad of a wee can of coke in my life. It was only now that I learned I was second lady in the race. I was told that the first lady had only just left and would be about 5 minutes ahead by now, but at that point in time catching her wasn’t a priority; I was more concerned about being passed so as soon as my water was filled and I’d finished my coke I was out of the checkpoint, armed with salt and vinegar crisps and a bee in my bonnet. The next section followed the main road back towards Inverness for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was little over a mile until we turned off and had a sharp hike up into the forest. I knew this was the last major climb and that it was going to hurt, but I was determined to keep my position in the field so it was back to hands on thighs and huffing and puffing our way through the trees. Every so often I was convinced I could see and hear people approaching, but on most occasions it was just traffic cones I could see or walkers I could hear. The final check point was like an oasis on the horizon and we picked up the pace to our last stop and put our happy faces on for Fiona and her camera again! Just over 10 miles to go. Things were really hurting at this stage. Shot bloks packed and sugary sweets consumed. Back in a happy place! Fiona told us it was all down hill to the finish, which looking at the profile seems true… but there are a lot of little ups and tarmac sections as well. After running through the nature reserve we were spat out onto the road for a 3 mile section on tarmac and the further we ran, the more convinced I was we had gone the wrong way. After not seeing a way marker in quite some time, David flagged down a guy on a dirt bike to ask him if there were any ahead. He confirmed there was and it was about half a mile further down the road, which I was elated to hear as I didn’t think I had it in me to run back the way I had come. We still had a little over 7 miles to go at this point so we’d run for as far as we could before taking a quick walking break to shake out our legs and glance over our shoulders to make sure no one was gaining on us and then free wheeled down the trails when it wasn’t too steep to do so. My legs were in absolute bits by this point and the second I saw the skyline of Inverness appear through the trees I felt a bit emotional. A quick glance at my watch revealed we had got there in just over 13 hours…. how on earth had I done that?! I have no idea what my face is doing. Either trying not to laugh or cry it would appear! There was one final steep descent, plod through a park and loud curse at a set of steps that lead us back to the canal and then David gave a yell of joy and pointed to the swing bridge which was about 100m away from us. With every painful step along the canal path I begged that bridge not to open as at that point I would probably have swam the canal just to get finished! We ran past the roundabout, over the road and could hear the cries of “runners!” from the park and the Ruth’s voice yelling my name as we made our way round and onto the track. I had nothing left and let David drift ahead with his kids to finish 3 seconds ahead of me. I stood doubled over on the finish line as Ruth hugged me, I was completely empty and ready to keel over but I was absolutely elated. I was grinning from ear to ear, I can assure you! After a quick shower I went back to my b&b where I went about passing out for a couple of hours before sitting in bed for another few trying to figure out how to get my legs to move again so I could go and get some food! I eventually managed to shuffle over to Wetherspoons for a drink and some food but decided to call it a night after almost falling asleep in my lasagne. I’ve still not quite recovered from this race 5 days on which makes me realise just now much I did put into it. It may not have started well, but I’m glad I usually have a low early on in a race as I know to expect it and know I can come back from it with gusto. There will be bigger, harder and more mentally challenging races out there but for now this is definitely up there with them. I really cannot big up BAM events enough. Bill, Mike and Cat put so much into even the tiniest details and the marshals who give up their weekends to come and help out are just amazing, so huge thanks to everyone! On to the next challenge….

The final countdown…

The hidden trails after Rowardennan. Definitely worth hunting out.. The swimming term is coming to an end and just as well as I am completely exhausted. The kids have been bouncing off the walls for close to a month now, knowing that the summer holidays are fast approaching and my staff and I are counting down the minutes until the term ends! Then it’s straight on to fitness class cover which isn’t really the perfect preparation for a huge race, but needs must and I’ll just keep the impact low and my drill sergeant voice on top form! As ever, I’ve found the whole work/life/training balance hard and I’m still not getting it quite right. I took on a few more 1-2-1 swimming lessons in my own time, so even on beautiful nights I found myself heading home after work, putting a cushion over my head on the couch to block out the light and passing out for a good 20 minutes before getting out to do my training. I’ve been following a Neil MacNicol training programme now since March and I’m definitely feeling stronger and leaner, but also 10 times more knackered and still haven’t found my love for speed work. Does anyone ever? I do struggle with speed work on my own, but with very little time to now get to running club I find if I have a plan I will (mostly) follow it even if I don’t really feel like it. My speed will come back, for now it’s all about the endurance. Yoga is not my forte and stretching hurts. But I’ll keep trying! The Great Glen Ultra is now a mere 10 days away (or 9 really, as it starts at 1am on Saturday!) and I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve clocked up over 1200 miles for the year so far, over 130,000 feet of elevation, lost 3kg and a battered my body with cross training. I’m not quite as lean as I was before the West Highland Way last year, but I’ve gained muscle mass and done a lot more core work so hopefully that will work to my advantage during the climbs in the latter stages of the race. I’ve done some epic routes with with fab run chums and also many a lonesome long run which I’ve fair enjoyed. Hopefully I won’t have as many lonely lows during the Great Glen – if only I could remember where I put my ipod though… When I look back at all the training I’ve done so far, I’ve definitely had a few good adventures so far this year! I panic and think I haven’t done enough and then I look at these pictures and remember that I’m probably doing OK! Keswick. All the weather in one day. Matchy, matchy skorts! Munros at the beginning of the year. Silly, silly idea. Planking with a friend. Even pretending to be a triathlete. Tough climbs, horrific descents. All worth it eventually. Sunshine, runshine. This weather on race day please! A few more tough training sessions to go and then there is nothing else I can do except my best. As long as we donโ€™t have weather like we did at the West Highland Way last weekend, but Iโ€™ll leave that for another story!! Here we go againโ€ฆ