RACE REPORT – The Devil O’ The Highlands Ultra Marathon 2016

The Devil O’The Highlands Footrace 2016

TIME: 7 Hours 47 Minutes and 10 Seconds

OVERALL : 55th/256 finishers (5 DNF)

GENDER: 9th/72 females

CATEGORY: 6th/29 senior females

It’s 2:45am on Saturday morning and my alarm is screeching at me. Already the dog is awake and has her nose up on the bed: clearly she thinks it’s time to get up and that of course means breakfast! I shoo her away and go back to sleep for a further 15 minutes.

The start. Photo - Kirsten Cowling
The start. Photo – Kirsten Cowling

3am – My second alarm bursts into life and I dragged myself out of bed to get ready. I can’t even open my eyes but I somehow manage to get all my kit on in the right order, tie my hair back tightly and finish packing my bags before force feeding myself porridge and coffee. The coffee does the trick and before I know it I’m ready to hit the road North and back to my favourite running spot of the year; the wonderful West Highland Way.

This will be my second year running this race but I can’t even think how many times I’ve been on this part of the route over the past 12 months. Through winter training, spring training and of course the West Highland Way Race itself, I now feel I know this part of the course like the back of my hand. I was nervous though as it had only been 6 weeks since the WHW race and I wasn’t feeling 100% recovered yet but apart from a slight twinge in my knee and a dull ache in my hip flexor, I was just raring to get going.

I arrived in Tyndrum just after 5am, handed in my drop bags, registered and went about saying hello to my equally tired running friends. There was an air of nervous excitement; a lot of people were running their first ultra, a lot were chasing a time and quite a few, like me, were there to complete the infamous ‘tripple crown’ series. This involves runners completing all three of the ultra marathons on the West Highland Way (the Fling in April, The WHW race in June and the Devil in August) in the same year and although an unofficial title, one that runners really push to achieve. So here we were on the WHW at silly o’clock in the morning. Again!

Race briefing over, we all walked round to the race start line which was next to Brodies store. I stood for a few minutes with my WCH friends and then spotted Jeni Rees-Jenkins, Jo Murphy and Emma Wright up ahead. Now, I’m not quite in the same league as these ladies but I fancied my chances today so I shimmied further forward to the starting line and found myself ridiculously close to the front of the pack. Probably a bit too close but too late to go back now. I might as well give it my all!

See you in Fort William! Photo - Kirsten Cowling
See you in Fort William! Photo – Kirsten Cowling

There was a count down from 10, a horn and with a cheer we were off; running up a hill! I was chatting away to Emma and we were both worried our legs wouldn’t hold up if we started off at this pace but I think we were also a bit surprised by how fresh we felt given we were running and chatting on the way up a pretty decent gradient! I slowed down to tiptoe my way around a puddle as I didn’t fancy soggy feet this early in a race and by the time I had got my speed back up, Emma had floated away in front and I had a chat with Kirsty Burnett for a while. The first section is pretty straight forward with lots of flat, runnable sections and I had to bring my speed down once or twice when I found myself getting a bit carried away. There was lots of light hearted chat and before I knew it I was trotting down the steps underneath the train station at Bridge of Orchy.

Enjoying the chat and moving along fairly swiftly! -Photo - Kirsten Cowling
Enjoying the chat and moving along fairly swiftly! -Photo – Kirsten Cowling

(BoO split 55:49 Position – 63rd)

I felt pretty good as I ran through the checkpoint. I didn’t stop but slowed on the hill to eat something as I definitely wasn’t going to let my inability to eat in the early stages of a race slow me down in the latter stages, so I kept force feeding myself with shot bloks. Not exactly nutritious, but definitely better than nothing! The climb up Jelly Baby hill was quite pleasant; my legs felt good, my breathing was steady and I was still catching people on the way up. There was a cool breeze and definitely rain clouds up ahead, but for now I was fine just running in a vest and arm sleeves. Up and over JBH and back down towards Inveroran, still feeling powerful and passing a few more people I started to wonder if I was doing this all wrong. Was I going to crash and burn by the time I got to Glencoe? I had my usual grumble to myself as I hit the Drovers road as in trail shoes it’s pretty impossible to get any sort of grip. I found myself running along the overgrown grass verge now really wishing I’d either worn longer socks or gaiters as little bits of grass, grit and seeds got into my socks, however I was still feeling pretty good as I pushed along Rannoch Moor, knowing that the first big check point and some tasty goodies in my drop bag awaited me. Suddenly the rain that had been looming on the horizon appeared, and within a couple of minutes I was soaking. It wasn’t cold and I felt I was travelling a descent enough pace to keep warm, so I didn’t bother putting my jacket on. The rain quickly cleared and it got slightly warmer, but along with that came the midges and by time I got to Glencoe I was swimming in them!

I still felt okay as I pushed up towards the check point at the ski area, but the midges were really annoying me. I’d stupidly not applied any repellent and the tops of my arms and my ankles were getting munched. The poor marshals were surrounded by them and were brilliant at quickly refilling my bottles and getting my drop bag. I changed my plans from stopping to eat something to getting out of there as quickly as possible to prevent my eyeballs from being devoured by the carnivorous beasts! As I trundled down the path towards the road crossing I had a think back to how I’d felt so low at this point in the race last year. My head had been down and I’d felt queasy I just couldn’t see how it would be possible to finish the race. I’d started to feel low at the exact same point but I now know that it passes and before long I’d feel good again, so once over the road crossing and on to my least favourite section of the race, I dropped my shoulders and picked up the pace again.

(Glencoe split: 1:54:00, running time 2:49:49. Position – 71st)

During the West Highland Way race, this is where I’d started to struggle. The weather had been beautiful but everything had been hurting after 60+ miles on the go. I had a giggle to myself as I remembered Kat putting pressure on a point in my shoulder (she’s a Physio, she wasn’t just being cruel!) and me almost crumbling with the pain, but if I wanted the pain to ease off, I had to keep moving forward and this got me through a lot of this silly section. This time round I only walked when absolutely necessary, had a good chat with the same people I’d been running with for quite a while now and got to the bottom of the Staircase in what seemed like no time at all. Now for the hard parts…

The Devil's staircase - again! Photo - Patrick Burns
The Devil’s staircase – again! Photo – Patrick Burns

I looked up and sighed. Here we go again, but this time – no knee pain so no excuses! Adrian Dingwall caught up with me here and we had a good chat all the way up that took my mind off how long a climb it actually was. The clouds cleared just as we got to the top and I had a spectacular view down the valley just as I reached the summit. All smiles for the photographers, a jelly baby from Pauline Walker and another photo opportunity from Fiona Rennie and then it was onto the wonderful down section. From here until the finish my thoughts mainly consisted of “does it hurt as much as it did last time you were here? No? Then suck it up and get on with it!”, which definitely gave me a mental kick up the backside. Down, down, down the quad trashing hill into Kinlochleven. Yes, I knew I would pay and be agony for the majority of the following week, but I was having fun and I was feeling good.

Pretending I ran all the way up the staircase! Photo - Josh Hewitson
Pretending I ran all the way up the staircase! Photo – Josh Hewitson
The magic jelly babies working their wonders again! Photo - Fiona Rennie
The magic jelly babies working their wonders again! Photo – Fiona Rennie
Photo - Fiona Rennie
Photo – Fiona Rennie

(KLL split: 2:02:28, running time 4:52:17. Position – 67th)

I was fairly moving as I ran into the checkpoint and a quick watch glance revealed that if I kept it up I was on for a pretty hefty personal best, so once my bottles were full I grabbed a mars bar and some cheese and was running back out the check point. If these legs were still playing ball, I was going to use them to the best of their ability! The rain had stopped and it was now getting quite warm, but I pushed all the way to the top of the climb out of KLL and back into a jog once I reached the top. I could see quite a few runners bobbing their way along Lairig Mor and as always at this point, I made it my mission to start catching them. I picked up my pace on every flat and down section and power walked up the hills, making sure I was still eating regularly and drinking plenty and in the distance I spotted Emma’s pony tail swishing about. There was no way I was catching her now, but it was the first time I’d seen her since Tyndrum! My pace was increasing and I was leaping over rocks and rivers all the way to Lundavra where I got a huge hug from Angela. I whooped with delight when I saw the check point as this time 6 weeks ago I had been in tears at this point and I was just amazed with how strong I was feeling. A quick glug of coke, a thanks to the marshals and I was on my way to the finish line.

(Lundavra split: 1:33:13, running time 6:25:30. Position – 55th)

Running along the last section things started to hurt a bit as I dug deep for one last push to the finish. I was determined not to let anyone catch me but more than anything I wanted to get down that fire road at a decent pace! There was no one in front of me or behind me that I could see, but this spurred me on even more as my competitive nature couldn’t deal with the thought of someone passing me with a mile to go! The final slog up cow hill was once again a sting in the tail but the clock was ticking and I was desperate to get to that finish line in under 8 hours. There were families making their way up the last sections of path to meet their runners and it was lovely to get cheers and high fives as I made my way to the park and to the finish line.

(Fort William split: 1:21:40, running time 7:47:10. Final position – 55th)

Finish line grins! Photo  - Willie Irvine
Finish line grins! Photo – Willie Irvine

I bounded down the hill and onto the grass and a quick glance at the finish clock revealed I had smashed my target time by quite a bit and I was absolutely elated! I was given my amazing medal, goody bag and t-shirt and the hugs were dished out by the bucket load. Another brilliant race organised by Johnny Fling and a wonderful finish line, buffet and drinks in the tent were to follow. I was so happy to be finished and couldn’t wait to get in the shower, but I was torn between wanting to be warm and dry and waiting to see all my team mates finish. When I started to shiver Ruth Howie marched me in the direction of the leisure center to get a heat back in me. I caught up with the girls in the changing rooms; Emma had finished 7 minutes ahead of me with a brilliant run, Jeni had yet another storming run and Jo managed to bag 3rd lady with an absolutely amazing performance. I couldn’t be happier for them and we’d all finished in the top 10 ladies! Once washed and warm again we headed back to the marquee for chat and tea and then I headed for some well needed lunch with my Mum who had come up to see me finish and my little brother Duncan who was on bar duties for the day.

Once again, another brilliant day out. I’m so chuffed with my time and overall performance and I’ll be back at some point in the future to try and take even more time off. I think next year I’ll miss out on the WHW races and offer my help to marshal instead and focus on some other races that have caught my eye. Unfortunately we can’t run them all, but we can definitely support so these amazing races keep happening!

Huge thanks to everyone involved from the race organisers and marshals, to the photographers and people who gave up their day to come along and support. You all make it what it is!

It’s when, not if

Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt.

Training for the Devil O’ The Highlands race, or rather the lack of it, has been getting me down. I won’t go on and on about it as I know I’m still recovering from the West Highland Way Race, which I have to keep reminding myself was only 6 weeks ago and where I gave my body an absolute battering. And it could still be another few months until I’m back on track. But, ahhhh! It’s frustrating!! From being at pretty much the peak of my physical ability, having training consistently and rigorously right up until race day to now feeling like I have nothing. I have no enthusiasm, I’m still tired and things keep hurting.

But, I know things will get better.

This time last year at the top of the Devil's staircase. I wasn't feeling the love at that point either, but things soon turned around! Photo - Fiona Rennie
This time last year at the top of the Devil’s staircase. I wasn’t feeling the love at that point either, but things soon turned around! Photo – Fiona Rennie

Less than 2 months ago I asked my body to do something huge. To get me across 95 miles of trails, nearly 15000 feet of elevation, forget that sleep existed, break through barriers of pain levels I had never experienced in my life before and to get to that finish line. And some how it did all that and more in under 23 hours without falling apart.

Now I’m asking it to go back to the place where the pain level had been switched up a notch or 5 and run another race in those same grueling hills. And I’m oddly excited about it! Not excited in the way I was before the WHW race, knowing I had tapered and everything was in good working order but excited in the way I’m ready to test my body again. I may not be at my fittest, but I’m still strong as I have been churning out the yoga and Pilates classes now that I’m teaching and covering classes at my work. My hamstring flexibility is still horrific and I have to apologise every time I try and demonstrate something that requires straight legs, but that’s another story.

Training runs since the WHW race have been few and far between, but I've still been out and about!
Training runs since the WHW race have been few and far between, but I’ve still been out and about!
5 Munros in less than 30ft of visibility. In the pouring rain. I really know how to choose my friends!
5 Munros in less than 30ft of visibility. In the pouring rain. I really know how to choose my friends!
Training in summer in Scotland.
Training in summer in Scotland.

I’d love to be able to turn up on race day and be ready to give it my all, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. I’m at the stage where I’ve shaken off most of my post WHW race niggles (feet are still in a pretty horrific state, but I’m assuming I’m now at the stage where nice feet are a thing of the past!) and just in case, I’m going for a last minute trip to the sports therapist to tape up anything that might fall apart during the race! More than anything I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again and catch up with post West Highland Way Race stories as I had to leave pretty sharpish after the presentation ceremony and didn’t get much of chance to see anyone. I know that many of them are back to their running best already and I’m looking forward to seeing how they get on.

Last year I didn’t have the best of races, even though it’s still one of my favourite races to date. I’d be more than happy to match last years time. Barring a tragedy, I will get to that finish line and will then have completed all 3 races on the West Highland way in a little over 3 months. That’s around 191 miles and roughly 30000ft of elevation. I’m starting to agree with my family that I was probably wired up a bit wrong.

The plans for after this race are to have a good recovery and then it’s back to it with gusto. I’m really looking forward to the Glenmore 12 race in September and also finishing off the year with Glen Ogle round 4. Hopefully breaking through the 5 hour barrier to finish off a pretty epic year of racing! BAM crew – please don’t move the finish line further away again this year, I’m so close!

See you on the start line!

The West Highland Way Race – My kit list.

A few people have asked if there was in thing in particular that I relied on during my race or if there was anything that I would change. The answer to that is I think I got everything pretty much spot on; beginners luck I guess! Everything worked for me on the day and apart from some beautiful blisters on my little toes and some glowing midge bites on my arms, I’m actually totally fine! No chaffing except a few marks on my upper back from where my bag had been rubbing the top clip of my sports bra and that’s really only 2 small marks!

So, what works so well for me?

Shoes – I started off in my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes. I love these shoes, and when they recently had my favourite version on sale in TK Maxx, I bought 2 pairs to keep me going a while. At £29.99 reduced from around £100, I couldn’t say no!

I changed to my Brooks Ghost 7’s road shoes when I got to Auchtertyre as it was just so dry I really didn’t feel the need for trail shoes and was really looking forward to having a bit more cushioning as I went over Rannoch Moor.

BoO2

Socks – I’ve recently been converted to Injinji toe socks. I’ve never had major issues with my feet, but did feel my toes were starting to rub a little bit more in normal socks the longer I was out on the trails, so started wearing them a few months back and have had no major issues since.

Calf Sleeves – I got a pair of Compressport R2 sleeves about 3 years ago and they have seen me through most of my ultras. I got a pair of new ones just before the Fling but managed to put my thumb through them when trying to get them off after the race!

Skort – I love my skort and find them so comfortable to run in. I wore my Salomon Agile for the whole race. It doesn’t ride up or rub at all and the shorts are just that little bit longer.

Underwear – As much as I wince when I think about spending £15 on a pair of pants, it was totally worth it. Runderwear is the comfiest underwear I have ever run in and doesn’t move at all. 95 miles in uncomfortable pants isn’t something I could even have contemplated!

Bra – The Shock Absorber ‘Run’ Bra is my definite first choice. As I mentioned before the only thing that rubbed was the top clip, but I think after that distance that little rubbing is the sign of a good product. It’s tight, it’s flattering and it comes in nice colours. Bonus!

Top – I changed my top 3 times during the race. I started in my long sleeved nike top and my more miles vest top which I changed for a Nike vest top at Auctertyre. I then changed into my trusty Glen Ogle race tshirt when I got to Glencoe and took my Gore long sleeved top in my bag with me, which I would later wear just after Lundavra.

Glencoe2

Arm Sleeves – I discovered arm sleeves just before the Devil O’The Highalnds Ultra last year and now I rarely run without them. They’re brillaint if it’s slightly cooler but you don’t want to wear a long sleeved top that you’ll later have to stop to take off, and also for adding an extra layer for warmth if it’s a bit colder. I love my Nike arm sleeves as they’re just that little bit different and liven up my kit a bit!

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Race Vest – For the past year I have been wearing a Salomon S-LAB adv SKIN3 12 and I just can’t fault it. It doesn’t move at all when I’m running, it has space for the 2x 500ml soft bottles at the front and also a bladder if required and plenty of room for snacks and extra kit. I can even reach round into the pockets to get stuff out when on the move!

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Jacket – Luckily the race gods were smiling on us this weekend and we didn’t need to wear our waterproofs, but I had 2 jackets packed just in case. My heavier Gore Active jacket and also my lighter Ron-Hill tempest jacket which is what I carried with me for most of the race. Just in case!

Photo from Chen Chee Kong.
Photo from Chen Chee Kong.

I also always, always carry a Buff or 3 on me. One usually gets used as a hanky, but it’s always handy to have a spare to use as a makeshift bandage, in case it rains or in my case, to cover my face in to keep the midges out my mouth!

My watch of choice is the Suunto Ambit 2. My battery started to fade about 50 miles in but luckily you can charge the watch on the go, so I managed to clock the whole run!

And finally, my trusty Bloc sunglasses and Saucony Speed Run visor. That race would have been a whole lot more difficult if I had forgotten those!

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Running kit is a very personal choice, so what works for me won’t work for many people but I always like to know what people use and what they think about, so I thought I’d add my thoughts!

Is there anything you can’t run without? Or anything you have tried that definitely didn’t work?

RACE REPORT – The West Highland Way Race 2016

The West Highland Way Race 2016

TIME: 22 Hours 46 Minutes and 31 Seconds

OVERALL : 52nd/159 finishers (40 DNF)

GENDER: 8th/30 females

CATEGORY: 6th/14 senior females

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It has been not quite 72 hours since I finally crossed the line of the iconic West Highland Way race and I am just about coming to terms with returning to reality. Did that actually happen? Was it just an awesome, really long and tiring dream, or did I actually get to to take part and finish this amazing race?

Let’s rewind to Friday afternoon. I’d finished work at lunchtime, Craig’s mum had popped round to drop off their dog for Craig to look after as they were coming up to Fort William to see me finish, I’d then gone to bed for a few hours sleep, taken Craig out for his birthday dinner (Pizza express, suited us both absolutely perfectly!), finished my last minute packing and tried to sit still until Ruth came to pick me up. Just after 9:15pm we loaded up the van, I said my goodbyes to Craig and we were on our way to Glasgow to pick up Kat before heading to Milngavie to get registered and get this show on the road.

Striding into registration like I don't have a worry in the world...
Striding into registration like I don’t have a worry in the world…
This is all getting a little too real...
This is all getting a little too real…

After picking up my registration pack, getting a hug from Sandra, collecting my timing chip, getting weighed and picking up my race goodies and hugs from Sarah, I went about saying hi to everyone. Everyone looked slightly nervous, but more than anything I could tell they were just ready to get going! I didn’t want to be hanging around the start line for hours before the race started, so decided to head back to Kat’s flat to get ready and try and keep calm. I was ready in record time and when I started flapping about the flat, we decided I might as well be doing this back at the start line with a couple of hundred other flappers!

With Ruth H and Kat, two thirds of my amazing crew.
With Ruth H and Kat, two thirds of my amazing crew.

Hugs and well wishes were dished out for the following 40 minutes or so then before we knew it, Ian Beattie and Sean Stone had started their race briefing. My stomach did a back flip and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. This was it. This is what I had worked so hard for for the past year, since I last stood here in 2015 listening to the race briefing before my stint as a marshal and deciding then that this was something I had to do. Now it was my turn.

start1

1am came, the horn was sounded and we were off. Just under 200 of us trotting up Milngavie high street to the sound of cow bells and our friends and families cheering us on. I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face, this was actually happening! I fell into stride with Emma Wright and we ran the first section into Mugdock park together, only to be yelled at that the front of the pack had missed the first turn off and we had to go back and correct ourselves. Not the best of starts, but I didn’t let it bother me too much. I started off at a pretty steady pace, walking all the up hills and chatting to everyone around me. This running with a head torch is definitely not fun. I get motion sickness from the slightest things (just thinking about motion sickness gives me motion sickness!) and the lights from all the torches bouncing around on the path ahead was not helping! I was glad when the pack spread out a bit after having to slow to go one at a time over a fallen tree, and I fell in line behind Jo Murphy and a few of her Carnegie Harrier friends for the next couple of miles. As we approached the Beech Tree at 7 miles, I had a quick glance at my watch and realised I was probably going way too fast. I was enjoying listening to the high spirited chat between the Carnegie runners and realised I hadn’t been thinking about mileage just from having their jokes and camaraderie to take my mind off it! As we approached the road section a few miles before Drymen, I gave myself a shake and realised they were travelling just that bit too fast for me and I let them drift ahead. The run into Drymen was quite magical. There was a full moon in the sky and it was never quite 100% dark and as I ran through the field to quickly change my water bottles with Kat, I realised it wouldn’t be too much longer until I got to turn my head torch off. Thank goodness, as by now I was starting to fell quite rotten.

The approach to Conic hill is one I’d rather forget. I felt dreadful. I’d put my head torch away not long after Garadhban Forest and enjoyed the first views of the Loch, but every step was a jolt to my stomach and I just felt sick. I stomped my way over Conic hill, managing to pass a few people but not managing much more than a grunt of acknowledgement as I did. Apologies for that. I picked up my pace on the forest section on the way down to Balmaha, took a deep breath and prepared to see my crew and to try and not be too disheartened with how I felt my first section had gone.

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I dibbed my timing chip and was ushered over to the van to try and eat some breakfast. I think they knew something was up as soon as they had seen me and tried to get me to sip some coffee and gave me a selection of things to eat, none of which I fancied. I knew this would happen and I had pre warned them they’d have to force feed me if I didn’t attempt anything. So with a cookie shoved in my face and a couple of TUC biscuits in my hand, I was accompanied by Jemma out of the check point. She gave me a hug and reminded me that this was my favourite section of the trail. Nothing to do but get my head down and get on with it.

I passed a few people on the climb out of Balmaha and by the time I reached Milarrochy Bay I realised I could only see one or two people ahead of me and no one behind me. At this point during the Fling there had still been a steady stream of us and always someone around to chat to. I suddenly felt very alone!! Suddenly there was a huge toot of a horn and I saw Kat leaning out the van window and Ruth cheering me on as they drove by. Just the pick up I needed! They yelled “EAT!!!” at me and slowed right down until I they were satisfied I was eating, then sped off towards Rowardennan.

See, I'm eating!!!
See, I’m eating!!!

Suddenly things started to go right. I felt good! The sun was up, it was warm but not too hot and my legs suddenly wanted to get moving, so I let them. I powered up the stairs after Sallochy Bay, fuelled by how awful I had felt there during the Fling and started to pass people as I did. I DO love this section! Thanks Jemma, I had got my run mojo back and I was flying, which is just as well as by now the midges were out in force!

(Balmaha – Rowardennan 94th to 82nd position.)

On the approach to Rowardennan I was inhaling midges by the thousand every time I took a breath. This was horrific!
I got to the check point and I could see the relief on Ruth and Kat’s faces when I said my stomach was rumbling! They had prepared some tomato soup and under the protection of a midge net I managed a few mouthfuls and at least half a cheese sandwich. After changing my bag and having them stuff some more bread in my hands I was ushered out the check point and on my way along the Loch side, knowing I now wouldn’t see them again for a good few hours as I made my way through Inversnaid and towards the Beinglas checkpoint at 41 miles.

Only so much bread I can fit in my mouth at once!!
Only so much bread I can fit in my mouth at once!!

Drenched in Smidge and armed with my visor to keep the damn beasties out my eyes, I marched out of Rowardennan stuffing my face with cheese only to be joined a few minutes later by Jo. We walked a few hundred metres together but as she was ready to get moving and I was still eating, I pushed her on and said I’d see her further up the trails. I pulled out my ipod and with a wee blast of “Given to Fly” by Pearl Jam, I put my head down to avoid being blinded by midges and tired my best to fly along the Loch side section. I was feeling good and I was ready to tackle the new low road section. But oh, the midges!!! They were ridiculous! I’ve spent a lot of summers up the West Coast of Scotland and experienced bad midges, but this was something new! The air was thick with them and I regretted not taking a head net to run in as it was actually quite painful having them bounce of every inch of your body! Pushing on towards Inversnaid, I spotted Jo a few hundred metres ahead and we ran into the checkpoint together, only to be greeted with people from the Trossachs Search and rescue team…. and a fan!! What a brilliant idea! I manage a few spoonfuls of non-midge covered custard before braving the bitey elements and getting a move on to Beinglas.

(Rowardennan – Beinglas Farm 82nd to 72nd position).

The technical section is just that. Ridiculously technical. There is no path a lot of the way, and you are scrambling along rock and stones a few metres from the waters edge, but this time I loved every minute. Jo and I ran pretty much the whole section together and before I knew it, the path had opened up and we were on our way up towards the end of the Loch side section.

We just ran all that. Good bye midges!
We just ran all that. Good bye midges!

I still felt great as we approached Beinglas, but it was now getting really warm and I was desperate to change my top. As I met up with my crew I put in my requests of a fresh top and socks for when I got to Auchtertyre, along with my road shoes as my little toes were starting to squeal in my trail shoes. After a very quick pit stop I was on my way towards the half way point. And I was feeling great!! Powered by some Audioslave, I danced my way out the check point chewing on Haribos and singing to some very confused walkers. Sorry, I was happy. I had to share it!

Beinglas - still running from the midges. And probably wearing half the population!
Beinglas – still running from the midges. And probably wearing half the population!

It was now getting really hot. Jo had just passed me again as I stopped to take my long sleeved top off and find my sunglasses. The climbs out of Beinglas seemed ridiculously steep in this heat and the run along towards the cattle underpass was the driest I have ever seen it. I was looking forward to the next check point as I felt I was drinking a lot more than normal and really, really craved a glass of coke now! I passed Jo just before the climb to the forest section above Crianlarich and pushed on passing a few more people on the way to my lovely glass of ice cold coke.

(Beinglas – Auchtertyre 72nd to 58th position.)

I was suddenly totally alone again! No one in front or behind and I loved every section of the forest singing my heart out to whatever nonsense I had on my ipod. I dug deep and pushed into a run all the way up to Auchtertyre, knowing fresh clothes, a seat and my road shoes awaited me. I got weighed, had dropped 2kg but was told that was spot on, so went about deciding what I didn’t want to eat and having Kat tend to my feet.

Auchtertyre. It got hot!!
Auchtertyre. It got hot!!
Fuelled by pizza and over half way. Let's finish this!
Fuelled by pizza and over half way. Let’s finish this!

I pushed past ‘By the Way’, where the Fling finishes and up towards Brodies store where Kat was waiting for me with a Solero. I have never picked up my pace so quickly in the middle of an ultra as I did just then! The sun was now beating down and I knew the section across to Bridge of Orchy was very exposed. I savoured every minute of my ice lolly, only to then realise one of my bottles had sprung a leak. I tried running with it in my hand, holding it a different way and even wrapping it in a buff to try and save some juice, but it was no good. I’d already lost over half the contents of the bottle and now had only a bottle and a bit to get me across what felt like a 7 mile stretch of desert! I’d jumped off the path to find somewhere to go to the loo and on returning I realised Jo and her support runner and team mate Kristin had just passed me. I caught up and tagged along with them sharing their chat to the next check point where I was really looking forward to getting some more fluids and picking up Ruth C as my support runner over to Glencoe ski centre.

(Autertyre – Bridge of Orchy 58th to 60th position.)

BoO1

BoO2

The climb up Jelly Baby Hill was tough going. It was roasting, I was craving shelter from the trees and I was being careful not to drink too much as we still had a 10 mile stretch ahead of us across Rannoch Moor, totally exposed to the sunshine. I got my Jelly Baby and was told I could have a second if I could name the flag in the ground a few feet ahead. I answered Norway and was told I was only the second person to get it right that day, and the first guy had been Norwegian!! Now thinking about it, I’ve got a feeling it was actually Iceland and they were just being nice to me?!

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Another tough slog with Ruth running ahead a few paces, pushing me into a run as often as I could saw me pass quite a few more people. I stopped briefly to dip my buff in the river as it was just so hot, and then we pushed into the Glencoe ski centre check point once again on a total high! I’d asked for chips soaked in vinegar here, but once again my stomach was refusing real food so after a quick top change, a slug or two of red bull and about 6 chips I was on my way towards the Devils staircase, with Kat as support and Jemma for chat for a few hundred metres down the road.

(Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe 60th – 49th position.)

Weather - check. Scenery - check. Random weirdo hanging around outside the van - check!
Weather – check. Scenery – check. Random weirdo hanging around outside the van – check!

I really don’t like this bit. It’s just silly. You can see where you are heading and you could go straight there, or you can follow this silly wiggly path a little bit up the hillside, just to come backdown towards the road again. It’s only about 3 miles long, but it’s 3 miles of annoying.

I decided to apply a compeed to my foot before I started the climb up the staircase. I had a few blisters on the outside of my big toe which had really started to annoy me and thought I’d better sort them before the horrible descent into Kinlochleven. My IT Band was also killing me, but at least I could deal with the blisters. A few pain killers and a bit of Disney and Kat and I were bounding out way up the staircase.

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This is where everything started to hurt just that little bit more. Every down was agony, no matter how small. I tried to pick up the pace once over the top of the Staircase, but my knees would not play ball. A few ups, downs and whines later, the painkillers must have kicked in as I found myself descending at quite some pace into Kinlochleven. I was ushered into the checkpoint, was spot on with an 800g increase in weight and I was ready to tackle the last section. 14 miles to go, I’ve got this!!

(Glencoe – Kinlochleven 49th to 50th position).

Ruth was back with me for this last section and we left the checkpoint at quite a pace. O.K, here I am, 81 miles into a race and running. Who on earth am I?! We power marched up the climb out of KLL, passing a few more people and once on to Lairig Mor, the pace was up again. Oh help, I did ask for this but I was now regretting it. The rocks on the path were killing my feet and adding to my already whimpering blistered little toes. On every flat or descent Ruth would pick up the pace and with a nod, I’d follow for as long as I could. All the way to Lundavra we used this code, until the pain got too much and the only tears and major low of my race occurred. I’d also given my crew a no sympathy rule as I knew as soon as I had finished the race I’d regret not having had them push me on, so Ruth silently handed me a tissue, let me get my breath back… then nodded and broke into a run again. Oh geeeez, my poor feet!!!

The minor melt down continued into Lundavra where Kat and Ruth met us. They asked me what they could do but all I wanted was to get to the finish line. I’d like to apologise to the poor marshal at this point who offered me to many lovely things to try and cheer me up and I think I just grunted and put my head down. The tears were close again, so words were not an option. I’m so sorry!!

Last few miles!
Last few miles!

I’d managed to get through Lundavra before the bonfire had been lit, so my aim now was to run as far as possible before having to use my head torch again as I couldn’t bear with that queasy feeling again. Every step sent a shooting pain through my feet and I had to stop briefly to put a compeed on my toe. But…. No compeed in my bag. OK, not a problem, lets just get moving. It got dark, I should probably us my head torch. OK… no head torch. Oh help! Not a problem, something had been missed out when repacking my bag but I really wasn’t bothered as I just wanted to get down that damn Fire track and finish this race. Every step hurt. I’d slow to a walk and Ruth and Kat would give me a minute, then without warning start to run again. Damn, I didn’t have a head torch so if I wanted to see I’d have to stay close. That road really is the longest road ever and it just went on and on and on and on….

Until we hit the tarmac. And the 30mph sign. And the street lights. And the visitor centre.

Let's finish this.
Let’s finish this.

Jemma appeared up ahead, my head was down and I was pushing to get this finished. The 4 of us ran in a line until I rounded the corner to the Leisure Centre, then they dropped back and I bounded across the line with the biggest grin on my face to the best applause from my friends and family. I dibbed my timing chip for the last time and fell into Craig’s mums arms for the biggest hug. I had done it I had finished the West Highland Way in under a day.

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And with that, I was one of just over 1000 people to have completed the whole race in the 31 years the race has been running and I couldn’t be prouder.

After a broken nights sleep, I couldn’t wait to get to the prize giving and see and my team mates and friends. Everyone did so well and I couldn’t be more proud. We all worked so hard for this and I’m so glad so many people finished.

happy

So what’s next? I honestly don’t know. Will I do the race again? Most definitely, I have a date with a sub 22 hour time. Will I enter for next year? That I don’t know, ask me again in November.

But now I am ready to relax. Canada is calling and this week is the end of term, so I couldn’t be more relaxed.

Make mine a double 🙂

This goes in here right?!
This goes in here right?!

The West Highland Way Race – 3 weeks to go!

It has been a long and tough 6 months since I first heard I had got a place in the iconic West Highland Way Race. There had been years of training before that, but the moment I got the place everything got switched up a gear and I have worked my butt off to get to where I am just now. I’m tired, I’m sore, my feet are a mess, I’ve gone through countless pairs of trainers and I’ve had the best tan lines from training runs for months. But I’m strong, I’ve got more power in my legs than I’ve ever had, I’m (just about) mentally prepared and now all I have to do is focus and get to the start line in just under 3 weeks time….

I only have this lot to blame. I never thought I'd be capable of anything this extreme if it wasn't for these guys!!
I only have this lot to blame. I never thought I’d be capable of anything this extreme if it wasn’t for these guys!!

I have no idea what to expect from this race. I have raced the first half of the route from Milngavie to Tyndrum (53 miles) and I have raced the second half of the route from Tyndrum to Fort William (42 miles), so now all I have to do is put them together and complete the whole route all at once! I have my race plan all set out with the splits I’d like to achieve, I have my crew all ready to go and over the next few week I’ll start looking out my kit, go for a final sports massage, print out my race plan and finally sit down and rest. I’m still very calm as it doesn’t yet seem real; it’s still all planning and preparation at the moment. However I’m having a final crew meeting on Friday and I know once everyone is together I’ll start to feel completely ready.

So, the plan of action? I’m still not quite sure. I have three goals, the 3rd one being just to finish, and if I achieve any of these I will be elated. Just to be setting foot on the West Highland Way and be part of the race, running with some total legends is enough to keep me going for a while,but I can’t prepare myself for the lows I will experience. My crew will be invaluable from the word go until the minute I stumble across the line and I think I’ve got a brilliant bunch to help get me there.

THE CREW

Captain Kat
Captain Kat
Ruth and Ruth
Ruth and Ruth
Claire
Claire

These ladies are in charge of me for the day and it’s their job to get me to the finish line in one piece. Hopefully I won’t swear at them too often, but if I do I’ve already apologised profusely! We have one last team meeting before the big day and then it’s a case of packing, repacking, rewriting crew notes, changing my mind about what I want to take with me, kit choices 1 to 5, packing again and then get to the start line. Oh help.

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I’ve enjoyed every minute of my training, but I’m definitely looking forward to a long lie the weekend after the race! I can’t take my foot off the gas for too long though as Craig and I have an adventure in Canada to look forward to the week after the race and there will be a fair amount of walking to do there. Hopefully no running away from bears though.

Here’s to week one of the taper. What part of my house can I paint next….

RACE REPORT – The Hoka Highland Fling Ultramarathon 2016

The Hoka Highland Fling 2016

TIME: 10 Hours 36 Minutes and 52 Seconds

OVERALL : 170th/625 finishers

GENDER: 31st/206 females

Fling Bling!
Fling Bling!

I’ve been involved with the Highland Fling Race for the past 3 years, but this was the first time I’d actually be running it. In 2014, Jemma and I swept the first half of the race, in 2015 I marshalled at Balmaha after having to defer my London marathon place, and this year I finally got to run this iconic race.

Friday night was spent making final kit choices, catching up with my family and stuffing my face with pizza. I managed to get a decent nights sleep (as decent as 4 hours can be!) and bounced out of bed the minute my alarm went of at 3am. Ouch. I was meeting a few club mates to travel through to Milngavie together and on the walk up the road to meet them was surprised at how mild the weather was. We’d had snow and high winds a few days previously, so these balmy temperatures and lack of rain were unexpected to say the least. I’d worked up a sweat carrying my dropbags up the road at 4am!!

Once we’d arrived in Milngavie we went about our own pre-race preparation and I caught up with Jemma and my little brother who was running not only his first ultra, but his first distance over 21 miles! Big jump, but I knew he’d be more than capable of completing it. Drop bags were handed in to the correct vehicles, hugs were dished out a plenty and before we knew it we were listening to Johnny Fling giving the race briefing and heading to our start pens.

Johnny Fling and the fabulous Fling van! - Photo - Chen Chee Kong/Running in Scotland
Johnny Fling and the fabulous Fling van! – Photo – Chen Chee Kong/Running in Scotland
A few of the WCH runners ready to get going!
A few of the WCH runners ready to get going!

MILNGAVIE – DRYMEN – 12 MILES, 1 hour 46 minutes

I decided to head to the back of the sub 10 hour pen and see what happened. I knew a sub 10 time was probably way too big an ask, but after hearing countless stories of people getting penned in and chugging along slowly for the first few miles, I decided I’d rather be at the back of the first wave and have some room to move than be boxed in going through all the gates. This turned out to be a very wise decision as not once did I feel the route was too busy. And after all… races are for racing, aren’t they? What would my little legs be capable of today?!
Just before 6am, a very slow count down from 10 began…. and then we were off! The whine of the timing chips as they went over the start mat made me grin; I was finally running the Fling! All the miles of the year so far had lead up to this and it was brilliant to be back on the West Highland Way and refreshing the route in mind, seeing as I’ll be back in 6 weeks to race the whole thing….

The first few miles slipped by rather quickly. Before I knew it I was leaving Mugdock park and running past the amazing Carbeth fiddler. Everyone was in high spirits and although I did feel I was going slightly too fast, I decided to stick with it and see how I felt a bit further along the road. I’d turned up to the race wearing a jacket which I had taken off just before we started to run and was wearing a long sleeved top over a vest and arm sleeves, but even with just that at not even 7am, I was getting too warm! I decided to push on and take my long sleeved top off when I next got the chance to walk up a hill.

Drymen check point and grinning like a Cheshire cat. My face hurt by the end of the race! Photo - Lee McKemmie
Drymen check point and grinning like a Cheshire cat. My face hurt by the end of the race! Photo – Lee McKemmie

I ran pretty much the whole way to the road section leading up to Drymen, only slowing to walk a hilly section of road at about 10 miles and to try and eat a banana. Up until now I had only eaten one or 2 shot bloks, so decided to try and eat something with a bit more nutritional value, but as soon as I opened it I felt sick. The texture and smell were really not appealing to me and I managed just over half of it before carrying the sticky remains in my hand all the way to Drymen.

I was looking forward to slowing my pace on the climb out of Drymen. The velcro on my timing chip had been rubbing my ankle for a while so I took the opportunity to duck off the path and fix it while I had a bit of space around me. Heading up the hill into Garadhban forest I slowed to a shuffle up the steeper hills and ran the flats and downs. As I crossed the road into the next section of forest, I heard someone shout my name and looked up to see Sue from my club out taking photos. So lovely to see a smiley face at a random point in the race!

Really staring to warm up now! Photo - Sue Woods
Really staring to warm up now! Photo – Sue Woods

The section up to Conic hill was where I had my first struggle. Not even 17 miles in and already my mind was playing games with me. Why was it so warm? I really should take a layer off, but it’ll be cold slogging up Conic, so I might as well keep it on. Why am I running up hills? Idiot. Why is my top wet? Oh great, my bottle has sprung a leak….

.. and so on all the way to the top of Conic hill. I met a few familiar faces on the ascent and exchanged some chat with others who were also feeling the burn on the way up. Just before I reached the summit, I heard someone yell my name and I looked up to see the amazing Ruth Howie cheering me on. Ruth is part of my support crew for the West Highland Way race (which is now less than 2 months away…. yikes!), and it was so lovely to have pop up and support at various locations throughout the day. I’m sure if I’m having a low point on race day, she’ll find a way to pull me out of it with her awesome enthusiasm!

With thanks to Monument photos.
With thanks to Monument photos.

Once over Conic hill, the first low passed. I was in and out the check point a Balmaha within a matter of minutes, stuffing my face with strawberry laces and poweade as I left. Real food still wasn’t appealing to me and all that I’d managed to eat between Drymen and Balmaha was a babybel cheese. I stuffed my backpack with what was left in my drop bag, even though I already had plenty supplies that I hadn’t yet managed to eat and set off on the next section to Rowardennan. This is usually one of my favourite parts of the route as it’s technical but pretty runnable, but today everything was getting to me. The beach section probably saw lot of swearing, but it had to be turned off for a few minutes as there were cameras about – quick, fake a smile!

Photo with a backdrop! Thanks Chen Chee Kong.
Photo with a backdrop! Thanks Chen Chee Kong.
Milarrochy bay. Photo - Patricia Carvalho
Milarrochy bay. Photo – Patricia Carvalho

I picked up the pace for a good few miles and enjoyed the trails and the beautiful weather until I hit the bottom of the stairs a few miles before Rowardennan. If you know the WHW, you’ll know what I’m talking about! I had nothing in me. A couple of walkers I had ran by not long before breezed by me as I huffed and puffed my way up, one step at a time. I swore at myself for thinking running London the week before had been a good idea, even if I hadn’t raced it. Karen Wallace caught up with me and stopped to check I was OK before bounding up the hill like she had springs in her feet. How I wish I could climb hills like that woman!! Soon enough the slog was behind me and Rowardennan check point was in my sights. I bounced over the timing mat and into the bustling area, was passed my drop bag and perched myself on a rock to fill my bottles and have a harsh word with myself. I was only half way there, yes my legs were tired but this was nothing compared to how I’d be feeling when running the whole thing! I managed to eat part of a cereal bar, a few jelly sweets and some more cheese and after refilling my water, I was on the move again.

Not feeling the love! Photo - Lee McKemmie
Not feeling the love! Photo – Lee McKemmie

DRYMEN – ROWARDENNAN – 17 MILES, 2 Hours 49 miles (race time so far – 4 hours 36 minutes)

The hill out of Rowardennan is a slog, but it was a good chance to catch up on some chat with those walking around me and slow the pace and eat some more. The weather was still stunning and I was glad of the shade of the trees for a bit as it started to get slightly too warm! I enjoyed stretching out my legs on the down hill and technical section and by the time I reached Inversnaid I was feeling tired, but ready to get a move on in this race! My only whine so far happens here and I know it has been said before but I feel the need to repeat it; the lochside is no place for headphones. I was stuck behind a runner for a good mile and a bit who couldn’t hear me (or just didn’t want to let me by!) and there was no room for overtaking on the path around him. Please pay attention!!

After some more cheese (seems to be all that worked for me today!) and a mars bar from the left overs box, some help from Paul from my running club to fill my bottles and a quick chat with Karen, I was on my way to the technical section. I love this section, but this would be the first time I was going to run it on tired legs and I was worried I’d injure myself. I’m clumsy at the best of times, so slowed right down and moved aside when anyone was catching up. My legs were tired, but I was enjoying myself. With the technical section over, I opened up my legs again and bounded over the next few miles of tree roots, rocks and rivers. I started to pass runners who had previously caught up me and was feeling strong again.

Just outside Beinglas and feeling strong! Photo - Clark Hamilton
Just outside Beinglas and feeling strong! Photo – Clark Hamilton

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Beinglas check point. Ready to finish this race!! Photo - Lucja Leonard
Beinglas check point. Ready to finish this race!! Photo – Lucja Leonard

ROWARDENNAN – BEINGLAS – 13.5 MILES, 3 hours 17 minutes (race time so far – 7 hours 53 minutes)

I was now ready to get this race finished. I bounded through the check point, grabbed my drop bag and was helped by Norrie Hunter to keep things moving. He told me I’d got there in just under 8 hours and was on for a strong finish, but I knew I had the hills of the rollercoaster approaching so I wasn’t holding my breath! Karen caught up with me here and did her awesome hill bounding thing again as I huffed and puffed my way out of the checkpoint. The path along to the sheep under path was pretty ripe but not too bad, the climb back up the the other side was pretty painful but bearable and the jaunt up to forest above Crianlarich was enjoyable as I passed several group of walkers who all cheered me on.

Nearly there….

Thans to Lucja Leonard for the photos en route and the awesome support!
Thans to Lucja Leonard for the photos en route and the awesome support!

The last set of hills arrived and I was feeling good. My legs were feeling strong, my feet were feeling OK, my head was a little fuzzy and I was running low on water, but I only had 4 and bit miles to go! I powered through the forest section, jogging the ups and flying on the downs. I was overtaking people again and feeling brilliant! I crossed the road and just as I was about to cross the bridge before Auchtertyre, someone out supporing cheered me on and asked if I was OK for drinks etc. Amazing!! You were in exactly the right place at the right time! I refilled my water, thanked him and trundled my way round the last few miles. Under the road, along by the river, into the last section of forest and finally, FINALLY, I could hear the piper near the finish line. A quick watch check revealed I was just over the 10 and a half hour mark and I was elated!!

A strong finish line sprint and a grin that says it all. Thanks for the cheers Ruth!! Photo - Monument photos
A strong finish line sprint and a grin that says it all. Thanks for the cheers Ruth!! Photo – Monument photos
High five to Claire!
High five to Claire!

BEINGLAS – TYNDRUM – 12 MILES, 2 hours 43 minutes (race time – 10 hours 36 minutes 52 seconds)

Coming round the last bend I heard Angela cheer me on. I could hear the cowbells and cheers of the crowd and I lifted my head and picked up the pace for a quick run down the red carpet, high-fiving my friends as I did. I was grinning from ear to ear as I received my medal and goody bag and plonked myself on a chair in the finishers area to get my breath back. What a race!! From feeling so tired and low not even 20 miles in, to finishing feeling tired but still having something left in the tank proves to me that I am ready for the big one. With only a few weeks left for big miles, it’s definitely time to get back out there and keep on trudging on!

The Fling is one of the biggest events is the Scottish Ultra marathon calendar and it deserves all the credit and hype it gets. It’s amazingly well organised and runs seamlessly from start to finish. Thank you to everyone involved both on the front line and behind the scenes. Without you this race wouldn’t be what it is. I’ll definitely be back next year to have another crack at it!!

West Highland Way Race- A training update.

So my plan to write up all my training week by week fell flat on its face. Mainly because a lot of the training was in the dark, in the rain, on the pavement… and I really didn’t think it made very entertaining reading. However, now that my wonderful Exercise to Music course is out the way (which I passed by the way…woohoo!) and the clocks have gone forward, I’m more compelled to get out and run in the mornings and after work…. even when it’s raining!

The main point is that training is going well. After a fantastic run at the D33 and a pretty strong run at Alloa the following week, and with only a few aches and pains and creaky joins I’m feeling slightly more confident about everything. My only worry is how quickly time is passing; less than 3 months until race day now!!

Running the Pentland Skyline route above the clouds. 18 miles of hills.... feed me now!
Running the Pentland Skyline route above the clouds. 18 miles of hills…. feed me now!

Although I haven’t been updating the blog much with my training, I keep a note of everything online and I’m pleased with how consistent my training has been. But I won’t lie; It’s tough. Knowing the long term goal is fast approaching is more than enough motivation to get me moving, but it’s definitely a mental challenge as well as a physical one. My body has never known this many miles so early on in the year – it’s the beginning of April and I’m already over 600 for the year. Add in all the extra strength classes, core and spin training I’m doing and my body has developed muscles in places I never knew I had muscles. And it hurts. Clicking the submit button on my application just over 6 months ago now seems like a life time ago and yes I knew what I was getting myself into when I did it and it was the kick up the bum to knock my training up a gear but I don’t think I realised how mentally tough it would be. My running friends are amazing and tracking their progress online and seeing how well they are doing at races spurs me on to give my everything as well, but once home I just want to sleep. I went out on a rare night out with Craig and my friends on Friday for a meal and to the cinema, and not even half an hour into the film and I was asleep…. I’m amazing company just now!

It's not all bad with scenery like this!
It’s not all bad with scenery like this!
Churning out the kettlebell swings.
Churning out the kettlebell swings.

My family are more than supportive although they think I’m totally daft. My brother Duncan and my sister-in-law Jemma are both running the Highland Fling at the end of this month, and understand my obsession for running but the rest think I’ve totally lost it. My ever-patient husband Craig understands my passion for running but as he’s not a runner himself he does question my sanity when he sees me hobbling around the house daily, grumbling to myself and scraping myself out of bed at silly o’clock to go to the gym.

Why do we do it?

The dream of being part of the West Highland Way family has been deeply embedded in my mind since I first heard about it 5 or 6 years ago. When I first started running someone mentioned that people actually ran the whole of the West Highland Way and I scoffed – the way people do when I tell them that that is now my plan, and I asked all the questions people now ask me; where do you stop to sleep? How many days will it take, 4 or 5? And the biggy – Why?! I still don’t know the answer to the last question and I’m sure I’ll question myself many times as I stumble across the hard parts of the course, doubting my ability to finish. Through every big race I have ran that eventually made me decide I could actually try and race the whole of the West Highland Way, especially the Devil O’The Highlands last August, I have had a major low point where I question what on earth I’m actually doing. But at the other side of the low, there is always the most amazing Ultra High, where you feel brilliant and know you have the strength to finish. When I do finish the WHW race, (if everything goes to plan!) and I am awarded my goblet…..I’m sure I’ll have the answer. We need to remind ourselves we do this because we want to. No one is making us, and in the end all the training will pay off. And then I can rest. 🙂

At the top of the Devil's staircase in the snow. The run that had 4 seasons in one day!
At the top of the Devil’s staircase in the snow. The run that had 4 seasons in one day!

For now the training continues and I’m having one last big push until we go on holiday on Friday and then I’ll reel the miles in before London (which I will just bimble around) and the Fling (where I don’t have a time in mind but hope for a strong race). I can’t wait to spend a few non-running days with my husband and (hopefully) get some sunshine. We’re off to Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro with a few days in Norway either side… so no doubt we’ll be marching miles every day to see all the amazing sights, but I can’t wait.

Remembering I do this because I can and because I want to.
Remembering I do this because I can and because I want to.

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73 days……

RACE REPORT – Alloa Half Marathon 2016

ALLOA HALF MARATHON 2016

TIME: 1 Hour 37 Minutes and 32 Seconds

OVERALL : 506/2301 finishers

CATEGORY: 25th/275 senior females

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It has been over a week since this race but I feel like haven’t had a spare couple of hours to sit down and write this report yet. Mainly because every time I’m not working or training just now, I’m asleep on the couch. Yes, WHW training is definitely starting to hurt, but more on that later….

The Alloa half marathon is my local half. The start line is a 5 minute walk from my front door and the race begins from the swimming pool where I work. I had absolutely no excuse not to go and give it another bash! This would be my 3rd time running it, having previously ran it in 2011 (my first half) and 2013 having to miss out in 2014 through illness and 2015 as we decided to stay in Stonehaven and party with friends the night after the D33 and the half was the following day. This year however there was a week between the 2 races and even though I knew I would still be tired, I decided to sign up anyway and it give it bash to see how my tired legs would manage and also as more training miles for the looming WHW race.

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I toddled along an hour or so before the race started and greeted all my club mates who were also running. All 80 odd of us! I haven’t been to training much over the past few weeks, as previously mentioned, as I really don’t enjoy plodding the same routes in the cold winter night, running too close to cars and getting in everyone’s way, so there were a lot of people I didn’t recognise. They probably thought I was the newbie! After wishing everyone good luck and getting a team photo, we all piled across the park and up to the start line, which this year had been changed to having time allocated pens as there were so many people running – over 3000 people entered which is double the number that ran last time I completed this event! I shuffled into my starting area and then noticed I was standing next to a guy with a 1:30 pace balloon attached to him. I panicked, but then noticed more of my club mates heading towards me, and the guy with the balloon headed further forward into the crowd. I had no idea what time I was aiming for. My legs were still a little creaky from the D33 the week before, but that aside I was feeling strong. I didn’t want to make excuses, as that usually results in a bad run so with the final decision of “give it everything until you fade”, the hooter went and we all surged forward and over the starting mats.

The first few miles were fast. I got swept along with the crowd and kept spying a 6:xx on my watch. Too fast? Who knows, I’ll just go with it! The route goes round through a housing estate, back onto the main road through Alloa before heading down towards Tillicoulty, follows a straight road along the Hillfoots for 4 miles before turning back up toward Tullibody, up a steep brae about 10 miles in, and back along the main road towards the Leisure centre where we started. It’s a great route and a fantastic course for a personal best, but something wasn’t right. What was that big bright thing shining in the sky? I have slogged through the winter months, churning out miles in the snow, sleet, wind and rain and come to one of the first races in the season and it was actually HOT! This I was not prepared for!

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As the road descended towards Tillicoulty, I noticed that my shoe didn’t feel right. I was wearing my normal road shoes and hadn’t changed my socks, so why was something rubbing 4 miles into a race?! I tried not to think about it, but as we rounded the corner I noticed somewhere I could jump out of the way of the crowds and try to fix my sock without getting in anyone’s way. Once adjusted, things felt slightly better and I carried on, grabbing a bottle of water and downing half of it and pushed on out of Tillicoultry. The road along the Hillfoots is amazing. You can see ahead for miles and it’s pretty much pancake flat. I know this route well and I knew there was nothing challenging until the Brae in a few miles, so I put my head down and started to pick people off as I powered along, still feeling reasonably fresh. More water in Alva, a wee downhill to gain some momentum and on towards Menstrie and the infamous Brae. As I passed the 10 mile marker I slowed down slightly to prepare myself. To be honest, the hill isn’t really that bad. I run it as part of my regular training route in the summer and usually enjoy it. It’s not even that steep, just pretty long but today it pretty much stole the last of my energy. I went from feeling awesome to feeling like I’ve just finished an ultra marathon in a split second and the top of the hill seemed a long, long way off! I plodded to the top, still maintaining 7:xx minute miles (but feeling like I was going backwards) and finally, there was the top! I was greeted with cheers from some friends and back on the flat I pushed on, through the last water stop at 11 miles and tried to summon the last of my energy to get to the end. Just as I was trundling up the last hill out of Tullibody (again, not really a hill but today it felt like a mountain!) Graeme from my running club caught up with me and demanded a piggy back! Graeme had also run last weekend and was now feeling it as well, so with one last push I managed to stick close to him and pick up the speed for the last couple of miles to the finish line. Just as I passed the 13 mile marker I spotted my Mum and she gave me a big cheer, so I powered over the line, overtaking a few more people as I ran up the finishing straight and finished in 1:37:32 – 6 seconds slower than my personal best! So close, and if I hadn’t stopped to fix my shoe maybe I would have set a new PB, but I was elated with my time as so chuffed to have nearly set a new PB the week after a fast Ultra!

Chasing people down along the Hillfoots...
Chasing people down along the Hillfoots…

I stumbled across the finish line to get my medal, picked up a t-shirt, water and banana and found all my team mates who had already finished and ran amazing times. So many new PB’s, first local lady for Eilidh and brilliant runs for many new club members running their first half marathon. Couldn’t have been prouder to be a Wee County Harrier that day!

I found my mum, had a quick wash and then for lunch in the sun. Another awesome weekend and has helped me to see my training is paying off. I can’t wait to run another half marathon on fresh legs and hopefully smash my half marathon time!!

WHW training report to follow. Less than 12 weeks to go…..

RACE REPORT – The D33 Ultra Marathon 2016

D33 ULTRA MARATHON 2016

TIME: 4 Hours 39 Minutes and 19 Seconds

OVERALL : 84th/335 finishers

GENDER: 9th/98 females

CATEGORY: 6th/35 senior females

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The D33 was my first proper race of the season last year after coming back from illness and I’d had such a great time that I was one of many chomping at the bit, waiting for the race entries to open on New Years eve. Fair enough I’d had the cold and wasn’t out partying with all my friends, but when I was presented with number 29 come race day, it showed just how keen I’d been to run this race again!

My race was nearly over before it started. I’d had a terribly sore back all week, to the point where putting my socks on really hurt and I panicked. My training had gone so well up until now, I’d been careful when out running in the hills (apart from one epic face plant in the Pentlands, but at least the fall was broken by mud!) and had been lucky not to pick up any injuries but now, out of the blue my back was in agony! I did very little from Tuesday evening onwards, made sure I’d pre-warned the kids not to climb on me during their swimming lessons (most listened, some just think I’m a tree!) and went for a massage after I finished work on Friday and kept my fingers crossed I wasn’t going to get home and have to send that dreaded email to Karen saying I couldn’t make it….

I don’t know if something had been trapped and during the massage it popped back into place, or if the rest had done me good but the walk home on Friday was totally pain-free as if nothing had ever been wrong! Hoorah! Still not counting my chickens, I decided I’d go up anyway and if I was still sore on Saturday at least I’d be there to help out and cheer on my team mates. My in-laws have just bought a shiny new motor home and had very kindly offered to take me up to Aberdeen for the weekend and combine it with a trip to Inverurie to see my brother and sister in-law. So at 4:30pm with all my kit packed and food packed for drop bags to be made up on the journey North, I bundled in to the back of the motor home and we were off.

After a few stops, we reached Inverurie sometime after 8pm and settled down with my pre-race choice of pizza and juice, and then soon it was time to think about getting to bed ready for my super early start. I was feeling good, my legs felt strong and I was well rested and now pain-free. What could I pull out the bag on race day? I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I’d used the online race calculator to look at splits for a 4 hour 50 minute finish and I hoped to stick to the splits through the check points as closely as I could. It would be fast, but it would be a good test to see how my winter training was going and even if things didn’t go to plan, it was all just a build up to the long-term goal of the West Highland Way race in June. Priorities for this race would be: 1)Finish pain and injury free 2) finish with a smile 3) finish under 5 hours. As I drifted off to sleep in the motorhome I felt strangely calm. Probably because I’d told myself if anything hurt I would pull out and there was absolutely no pressure on me.

Desperate to get going! Photo - Karen Donoghue
Desperate to get going! Photo – Karen Donoghue

After some crazy dreams about pirates (?!) I woke up at 6:30am and hopped out the van to the shower block to go and get ready and noticed that I wasn’t sore, bigger hoorah! I quickly got dressed, fixed my hair and then once again (as always) struggled to eat breakfast as I was still full from the pizza! I’d decided to travel very light and just run with a hand-held bottle as I found over longer distances my waist belt could hurt my back and my Salomon back pack sometimes rubbed my shoulders. I wasn’t intending to eat much anyway so put everything I needed (shot bloks, a gel and a bit of flapjack) in the little pouch on my new Nathan bottle and had drop bags with Powerade, Haribo and more gels to pick up if needed on the way.

I got dropped off at the park just before 8am and went about registering, saying hello and catching up with people I haven’t seen in ages and then went to join the toilet queue, once again to come out just in time to finish faffing about with my kit choices, drop off my bag and get to the start line for the pre race briefing. I finally caught up with all the other Wee County Harriers who were running and after a quick race briefing from Karen, a few more hugs and well wishes, the hooter sounded and we were off. Here we go again!!

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As always, the first few miles flew by. I was running on my own for a wee while and then David Scott caught up with me and we ran and chatted together all the way until the tarmac track turns into a muddy path at around the 7 mile mark. I’d been keeping an eye on my splits and every time I checked they had said 7:xx Probably a wee bit too fast, but I was still chatting and not feeling like I was pushing to keep up in the slightest, so I just kept it going. We fell into single file as the tarmac track turned to mud and I dropped back a bit and brought the pace down to climb the small hill back up to the road just before the first check point. I’d already had a shot blok and a bit of my juice, but didn’t really need to stop for anything so slowed to take a gel and bin the wrapper then got back on my merry way on the downhill section of road, passing through in 1 hour and 3 minutes. 5 minutes ahead of schedule. Whoops! I started running with a Carnegie Harrier at this point (I think your name was Paul? Sorry I never asked!) who said he’d run behind me before and almost didn’t recognise me because I wasn’t wearing my usual stripy club socks! Sorry, they got binned after the mud bath at Devilla! Don’t worry, new ones are on the way 🙂 Soon after, Paul zoomed off and I ran along on my own for a while, still feeling good and still managing to keep my splits at just over 8 minute mile pace. The rest of the first half is a bit of a blur. I just remember trying to keep my pace steady, passing the lead runner just as I turned off the main road near Crathes and he was flying!! Seriously inspiring stuff! Coming into the car park near the steam and diesel heritage railway starts, I got the most AMAZING cheers from some kids. Thanks guys, you were awesome and pushed me on to the check point at halfway. Seeing the runners coming back towards you is always a fantastic sight and most people are so lovely and cheer you on. Spotting the check point ahead, I picked up my pace getting ready to refuel with juice and Haribo and charged into the check point in 2 hours and 11 minutes. Still way ahead of schedule, but I felt brilliant so was soon on my way back, cheering on everyone as they came towards they check point and smiling as much as I could.

And the road goes on and on and on... Photo Chen Chee Kong/Running In Scotland
And the road goes on and on and on…
Photo Chen Chee Kong/Running In Scotland
Photo - Fiona Rennie
Photo – Fiona Rennie

Things were still feeling good. 20 miles ticked by and I suddenly started to feel a bit tired. Nothing hurt, but I could feel myself hunching forward and shuffling a bit more than I had been. I decided to push on and see if I could keep my pace to a run, all the way back through and down the hill at Drumoak and then if I still felt tired I could walk for a bit. A few people I had been passing and being passed by were doing the same and suddenly a few super fast people flew by us. Don’t know if they were running incredible negative splits or were part of the relay teams, but they were fairly moving! I reached the bottom of the hill at around 24 miles and slowed my pace to put my headphones in. I didn’t want to walk and still didn’t feel like I REALLY needed to, but I was still nearly 10 miles from the finish and didn’t want to blow up before I got there so resorted to a run/shuffle up the hill to the beat of the music. Coming in to the last check point I suddenly started to feel slightly ropey. My body was still moving forward, but I was probably wiggling all over the road in doing so. I stopped briefly at the check point to fill up my bottle, stuff a Jaffa cake in my mouth and carried on, zigzagging out of the check point. I looked at my watch; I was still ahead of schedule with less than 8 miles to go, I wasn’t going to let this go now! I carried on my shuffle for a while and then decide to walk briefly to eat some Haribo properly. I was probably wiggling down the side of the path when Mike Raffan and Jeni Rees-Jenkins passed me, looking SO comfortable and steady and asked if I was OK. I muttered some garbage about being well within my time goal and had a bit to spare, which was met with a swift reply to get a move on from Mike! It definitely helped though. I watched them run off into the distance I questioned why I actually was walking. Did something hurt? No. Was I totally shattered and struggling to keep moving? No. Was I making excuses to myself and doubting my capabilities again? Yes, most probably.

Photo Chen Chee Kong/Running in Scotland
Photo Chen Chee Kong/Running in Scotland

I was on the move again with less than 6 miles to go. I passed through marathon distance comfortably and remembered back to how I’d struggled at this point last year. It wasn’t until I looked at my splits yesterday that I realised I’ve actually managed to set a new marathon personal best by 3 minutes. That’s not supposed to happen in the middle of an ultra!! Finally I reached the road crossing and met with a cheering Noanie who guided me across and on to the last section. I passed the old platforms about 4 miles out, the green bridges about 3 miles out and finally I could hear the build in the noise of the traffic as we got further into the city. My mile splits were coming down again but I was pretty much done in and slowed to a shuffle with little over half a mile to go. 2 guys slowed as they passed me and said “we’re not happy about passing you with about 500m to go!”, which both confused and delighted me as I was still waiting to see the greenhouses of the Winter Gardens and was convinced I was still over a mile away! The pace quickened as I came down the zigzags back into the park, I could hear the cowbells and the cheers and I trotted over the line with a delirious look on my face finishing 25 minutes faster than last year in 4 hours, 39 minutes and 19 seconds.

Sandra came over to give me a hug and my medal and I stumbled over to Anne and Brian who were right at the finish line cheering for me. How did that just happen? Whose legs are these?!

Possibly about to fall over, but job done!
Possibly about to fall over, but job done!

I shuffled into the tent, didn’t fancy any food so shuffled back out and down to find the van to get changed and warm. As soon as I’d heated up a bit and my post race queasiness had subsided, I was back up in the tent hoovering up the salt and vinegar crisps and waiting for my team mates to come in. Everyone ran SO well!

Another epic journey completed which brings me another step closer to the WHW race. Just over 3 months to go and I’m still quite a bit away from my target fitness level but I’m definitely getting stronger both physically and mentally as time goes on. With the London marathon in 5 weeks and the Fling in 6 weeks, it’s definitely time to stop with the excuses. Time to put down the cake and get back out there!!

Home, washed and delighted. Show me the fizz!
Home, washed and delighted. Show me the fizz!

RACE REPORT – Devilla 15km 2016

DEVILLA 15km 2016

TIME: 1 Hour 16 Minutes 19 Seconds

Overall position 121/518 finishers

7th/84 senior females

Muddy harriers. My socks started off with bright orange in them...
Muddy harriers. My socks started off with bright orange in them…

It was time to kick-start the racing season with some muddy fun. Devilla Forest is a beautiful location about 10 minutes along the road from Alloa and the 15km and 5km races hosted by the Carnegie Harriers is usually the first race in the season for many. The weather recently can only be described as abysmal. Last year the weather had been cold and frosty and the frozen ground and mud had led to a few near ankle twists, but this year there was mud. And lots of it.

I’d arrived ridiculously early and after registering, receiving my memento of Schiehallion beer and sorting my kit, I had a cup of coffee and waiting about for everyone else to arrive. The weather on the day was dry but overcast but the past few weeks we had seen nothing but rain, so we knew what lay ahead deep within Devilla Forest. 11am came round and after a few team photos and well wishes, we lined up for a quick race briefing and then we were off. I’d started quite a bit further forward this year with high hopes that if I got through the first muddy section relatively early it wouldn’t be too bad, but how wrong could I have been!

All smiles before we discovered what lay ahead...
All smiles before we discovered what lay ahead…

The course winds its way along the road through the grounds of Tulliallan police college before branching off into the forest after a few hundred metres. Straight away we hit the mud and straight away I was ploughing right through it. The field spread out and I still pushed on to try to gain a few places up the field before we entered the first narrow off-road section. The path was already churned up and trying to get by people was near impossible, so I just fell in line until an appropriate overtaking place became available. One poor lad tried a bit too early on to get by a queue of people and ended up tripping and face planting in the bog in front of me. He quickly got up but not after splattering mud everywhere, including all over me and right in my eye so I couldn’t quite see where I was going for the next few feet! Mud wiped off and the first of the slippery hills arrived. Like the race in 2014 the paths were so muddy it was hard to get your footing, and only those running in proper mud claw type shoes would have had any luck. By the time I was back on the forest track I felt so zapped of energy that I just couldn’t get my rhythm again. I felt like my strides were really short and my breathing slightly erratic – not the way I wanted to be feeling during my first race of the season and after I’d put in so much training through the winter! Soon we were on the downhill section towards the water station and where I’d felt super strong last year. All I wanted this year was to get to the top of this hill without walking and onto the downhill section on the other side! The sharp turn back down towards Peppermill Dam lead us into another mud bath and I teetered down the side of the path trying to avoid sliding down the hill on my bum! The section round the Dam had been changed as the bouncy bridge was now a few broken planks of wood, so an extra 300+ metres had been added on to the course. The only down side of this was that we now had an extra long slog up the incredibly muddy path at the other side, and this was where I actually stood aside to let a few people by as I was slipping all over the place and just getting in the way. Once through the worst of it we got to wash off our trainers in a knee-deep puddle and then it was onto the last 5km of forest track.

Thanks to Bob Marshall for his awesome photos
Thanks to Bob Marshall for his awesome photos

I couldn’t have been happier to see the sign that told me I had 1km to go. I just had nothing left and I was a bit disappointed in myself in how quickly I’d been ready to give up. The forest spat me back out onto the road and with a last push I trundled over the line. My time was slightly slower than last year, but the course was around 0.4 of a mile longer, so I’m happy that I ran quicker over all, but not with how I felt when running it. To be fair, I’ve hardly put in any speed work over the winter months and with the big mile races looming I can’t expect to get better at speed and distance, but it’s definitely given me the shake I need to keep pushing through the training over the next few months and not to let my head take over when the going gets tough!

Devilla, you won this time but I’ll be back for round 4 with some more appropriate shoes (possibly football boots) in 2017!!

Last 500m! Not sure if that's a smile or not...
Last 500m! Not sure if that’s a smile or not…
Mmmm, mud and blood!
Mmmm, mud and blood!