Coming to the end of another year (really, how did that happen?!) and like everyone else I am starting to think about what next year will hold for me. Not just in terms of running, but work, travel and life in general. The start of this year was a disaster, from getting out of hospital on Christmas day after my burst appendix fiasco and then lying flat on my back for 4 weeks before easing back in to everything in the New Year (a cup of tea to see in the bells; warming if a tad boring!) and finally lacing up my training again at the end of January and getting things back on track.
It seems like forever ago that I joined a few of my team mates on a late January adventure up the banks of Loch Lomond for my first recovery run of the year. It was probably rather silly of me to take on a 30 mile run so quickly, but I felt great and I promised my coach I’d turn back and wait in the pub for them if I felt even slightly sore. Turns out it was the start of an amazing year and I haven’t looked back since.
Which leads me on to the big news. After such a strong year, excellent races and a huge jump in mileage I decided to put my name in for the West Highland Way race ballot. Even when I was helping out at the race this year I never for a second thought I’d be ready for entering the following year, but as the year came to an end and I looked back on how much I’d achieved in a year, I thought why on earth not! So on Monday night, along with many others I sat with everything crossed waiting to hear back about whether I was in or not. Every time my email pinged my heart flip-flopped and eventually the email I had been waiting for came through. I’m honoured to have been lucky enough to be offered a place in the 2016 race and now everything is about getting to the start line in Milngavie on the 18th of June.
Training starts now. I need to get my head down and battle through the sucky winter months. I will hold my hands up and admit that I HATE training in winter. As a July child, I live for the summer; the long days, bright mornings and warm(ish) weather. I don’t hate the rain, I don’t really mind training in the dark but I can’t stand waking up when it’s dark and leaving work when it’s dark. I teach swimming and the pool only has frosted sky lights, so during the day I only see sunlight on my lunch break which isn’t enough. Usually after work I run home, dump my stuff and head straight back to training but these days I find myself sitting down for a few minutes and then not getting back up again, especially if it’s blowing a gale with horizontal rain as an added extra. But not anymore! Last night I missed training but I knew what the set was so went out and did it on my own anyway. I might not have been as fast as I would of if I had been chasing down my team mates, but I wasn’t far off and that makes me believe I can do it. No more excuses!
I plan to document all my training on the blog so I can look back and make sure I have achieved my targets. I’m lucky that I have a great bunch of friends who have also been successful in the ballot and we’re also lucky that we live so close to the WHW and can travel over and recce sections easily. I have started to assemble my crew and I’m delighted that my friends are so eager to help – they’ll see the best and worst of me throughout the course of the race and ultimately they will be the ones who make sure I finish.
It still doesn’t seem real. I’ve read countless blogs, listened to plenty of podcasts and scrutinised so many training plans and I’ll admit it; I’m petrified. This is not going to be a walk in the park, this is biggest event of my life and possibly the hardest race I will ever do. It’s going to hurt and I know at times I will feel like I can’t do it, but I’m determined to make it. “All roads leads to Milngavie”, and my journey there starts here!
Glen Ogle 2015 – my last race of the year. The lead up to this race hadn’t been a great one as I’d hurt my back at work and had limped through the 2 weeks leading up to the race with minimal effort and mileage. I’d had a fantastic year up until now, starting every race injury free and feeling good (except the Haddington half in August, but the less said about that, the better!) so come race day my only real goals were to beat last years time and finish pain free.
Race morning began at about 4am. I woke up before my alarm and instead of going back to sleep for another half hour or so, I got up and started the race morning preparation. That done, I still had over 40 minutes until Alastair was to pick me up so I took the dog out for a walk seeing as she was awake as well (and expecting breakfast on our return, so was heartbroken when I set her back to bed!). Just before 6am, Alastair arrived with Andy and we began the hour a bit journey up to Killin, joining the steady stream of tail lights of all the cars also heading in the same direction. The Ultra runners are back in town!!!
After a quick registration, I dropped off my drop bags and went about saying hello to all my friends. I felt ridiculously calm and even as we listening to the briefing and shuffled up to the start line, I didn’t have a single ounce of the pre-race nerves I usually get. Before I knew it the race had begun and we were on our way through Killin and on to the first forest climb. I’d started a bit further back than usual so spent the mile or so chatting to everyone around me and then falling into line as we began to stomp our way up through the forest. We were surrounded by stunning autumnal colours and an eerie low lying mist as we made our way up and up through the forest for the first 3 mile or so climb. I tired my best to keep my pace at something above a shuffle up the hills, slowing to a walk only when absolutely necessary.
The forest section was enjoyable, if a bit slippy. Road shoes were the obvious choice for this route, but as the first few miles were on soggy forest tracks there were a few stumbles as I fought to find my footing! Once out of the forest and on to the long downhill stretch and over the via duct, I picked up my pace a bit and tried to stretch out my back. I ran along for a few miles with a couple of guys (sorry I didn’t catch your names, but your chat was awesome!) and the pace seemed to get faster and faster as we trundled down the cycle path, catching up with Derek and adding him to our wee pack about half way down. By now the weather was starting to turn. Up until now the drizzle of rain hadn’t bothered me, but I began to think I should probably put another layer on soon before I got cold. In the end I couldn’t be bothered taking my bag off and having to slow down to faff around, so I didn’t bother! Onwards, along the cycle path towards Kinghouse and I felt my pace increase a bit. Still only 12 or so miles in, this was probably a bad thing but again I just wanted to see how long I could keep this up…
The road section towards Balquhidder and round to Strathyre has been the worst part of the race for me for the past 2 years as it is constant ups and downs on tarmac, but this year I wasn’t going to let it beat me! The rain was picking up but still I didn’t want to break my stride and walk to put my jacket on. Stomping all the way around to the road that leads back to Starthyre, I finally admitted defeat and walked up a hill while taking the time to finally put another layer on even though I was already soaked to the core. The field of runners had really spread out by now and I was passing and being passed by the same people time and time again as we made our way back to Strathyre, down across the shoogly bridge and into check point 3.
The hill out of Strathyre. Ouch. I used this to slow down and refuel with cheese seeing as my other option of a cereal bar had pretty much frozen and almost broke my teeth! Nearing the top, Billy from my club whizzed by having jogged all the way up! Up and over the top of the hill and finally it was down, down, down for a few miles and then back on to the cycle path and on the return journey to the finish line. We caught up with Graeme and Billy and the 4 of us struggled up the zig-zags together. They are ridiculously steep – I can’t imagine going up them on a bike!! The stretch back up to the viaduct is on a gradual incline and last year had been a nightmare. I’d walked sections, hobbled sections and felt like I was about to keel over, but this year I was determined to run all the way up to the check point. Marathon distance came and went in just over 4 hours and before I knew it the final check point was on the horizon…. could I actually finish this race in around 5 hours?!
Coming back into the forest for the final section, my back started to seize up. Every time I hit section of down hill I’d get shooting pains up my spine. I tried to relax and lean backwards and drop my shoulders, but the downhill stomping was agonizing. 30 miles ticked by and I knew it was less than 3 to go… so close to 5 hours, I couldn’t break now! I pushed up the inclines, passing people who were walking, and shuffled down the declines with pain written all over my face. The last stretch coming out of the forest felt like it went on forever but finally we were spat back out on to the road and across the bridge back into Killin.
Just as we crossed the bridge, David Scott flew by me at an incredible speed! He was also pushing for under 5 hours, but as we came back into Breadalbane park, we noticed a line of tape going round the perimeter of the park, adding on a good few hundred meters. So close…. yet so far!! But 1 minute over 5 hours, 40 minutes off last years time and feeling good after 33 odd miles? I’m over the moon!!
So the racing year has come to an end. What a year it was, but I think I’ll save these ramblings for another post. So much has happened and I owe it to so many people, so big thanks to you all. I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store! And I’ll definitely be back for Glen Ogle round 4, sub 5 has hopefully got my name written all over it! Well done to everyone from my wee running club who completed this race. I think there were 25 Wee County Harriers there on Saturday and every single one of us finished the race!!
Overall position 81st/180 finishers 14th/59 female finishers
I’ve been staring at a blank page for hours trying to figure out how to start to write about this epic adventure. My second longest Ultra but by far the toughest challenge I have ever embarked upon and as I’m still on a post Ultra high, I have every emotion buzzing about in my head and finding it hard to put them into a logical order!
My day began at 2am. I’d gone to bed ridiculously early with high hopes of at least 5 hours sleep, but I woke up just after midnight and now scared I’d sleep in I couldn’t switch off again. Before I knew it it was about 2am, so I gave in and got up. My kit was all laid out and bags were packed so I wasn’t crashing about at stupid o’clock and I went about getting ready as quietly as I could, but of course this still woke the dog and she crashed about making all the noise I was trying so hard not to make! I was still digesting my dinner so I really struggled to eat anything at such a horrendous hour of the day, but knowing how important pre-race nutrition is, I forced down some cereal, coffee and a banana. Soon it was time to hit the road to pick up Derek and then concentrate on staying awake on the windy road up to Tyndrum. It was dark and wet and looked like it could be a long and miserable day, but as we arrived in Tyndrum just before 5am, we could see the sun rising from behind the hills and the sky looking clear in the direction we were going to be running. Things might be o.k after all!
After registering at the Green Welly I caught up with loads of people who were all equally as tired and nervous as I was. Drops bags put in the correct vans and a final kit choice made, we listened to Johnny Fling give his race briefing and then it was off to the start line for a prompt 6am start.
The first few miles really whizzed by as I tried to keep a comfortable pace and not getting carried along with the speed of the crowds around me. Everyone was in high spirits and I had a good chat with the little group I took off with. After the first climb out of Tyndrum I slowed down to let a few people by as I felt I was going just a little too fast so early on and I knew I’d regret it later on if I kept it up! The path was slightly undulating, but nothing to write home about so I kept a steady pace and bounced into Bridge of Orchy in just under the hour, alongside a singing Sandra McDougall, which had kept me grinning for the previous few miles!
Straight through the BoO check point and onto the first climb where I slowed myself right down and remembered to eat something. Not much appealed to me, so a packet a haribo did the trick! I fell in line with everyone climbing the hill, walking the ups and running the flats and downs and had to pay close attention to what my feet were doing so that a) I didn’t trip over any lose rocks or b) clip the heels of the person in front of me and send them flying along with me! A few people passed me on the descent towards the Inveroran hotel but still not being too confident on my down hill running, I let them by and carried on at my own comfortable pace. I was running on my own and this point and realised I could be out for quite a long and lonely day if things were to stay like this, but just before I managed to dig out my ipod, I spotted Derek tying his laces and pushed on with him for the next few (painful) miles up the Drovers Road. The road was wet, the stones were slippy and my feet weren’t happy but on we pushed up to the top, occasionally falling into single file to avoid rocks and puddles, but mainly just jogging along in silence. I knew Glencoe wasn’t too far away, but I’d started to feel slightly light headed so as soon as I spotted an incline worthy of walking up I found something more nutritious than a bag of haribo to eat. First fail of the day – still not eating enough early on the races!!
The push up to Glencoe was o.k but by now I was running on my own again and aware that people were starting to catch up. I usually hit a low during an ultra between 16 and 20 miles so when I started to feel a bit crap I knew I just had to put my head down and carry on. Coming into the check point I started to think about all the nice things I had in my drop bag, but more than anything I really fancied some coke!! As I came into the check point I suddenly felt a bit star struck – Lucy Colquhoun checked me in, Debbie Martin-Consani filled my water bottles and got my drop bag and it was also manned by Sharon Law and Paul Giblin – GB ultra running star central! There was no time for faffing around this lot! I took some bit and bobs out of my bag whilst trying to inhale a can of coke and not stay squatting down for too long in case I got stuck, and finally shuffled out the check point while still trying to clip myself back into my bag and get my bottles back in the holders. Easier said than done! I was walking down the hill out of the ski centre, getting all tangled up in things when a lovely lady started walking beside me and helped me with my bottles. I have no idea who you were, but thank you as I was having quite the brain fart at that stage! Once all sorted, the down hill trot continued and I was ushered straight over the road by Noanie and Lorna and on towards the Kings House hotel. Just as I rounded the corner of the hotel I spotted the wonderful Ruth Howie and paused for a quick hug. She told me the guys weren’t too far ahead, but by now I’d hit the major low I’d been expecting.
Through not putting another layer on soon enough and also not eating enough I was starting to feel pretty awful. I could see George from my club not too far ahead of me, but I just couldn’t find my push to catch up with him. Following the path along beside the main road I started to slow right down and another handful of people went by me. Ahead I could see the cars parked at Altnafeadh and I suddenly began to doubt my ability to finish. I started to mentally write down what my reasons for pulling out could be, my main one being the queasy feeling I just couldn’t shake, but then I suddenly spotted Lee from my running club with her daughter Isla and she had her camera. No times for frowns now, I’m known as the smiley runner! Quick, fake a smile!
Once I had passed Lee I spotted Ruth again and after another hug and pep talk I felt slightly better – pull out? I don’t pull out of races! However it was only slightly better, as now I was at the foot of the Devil’s staircase and the only way to go for the next mile and a bit was straight up!
This was where I had my lowest of low points. The queasy feeling just wasn’t going away, I was still slightly cold and my legs felt empty. Every step was a big effort and I could feel my heart racing as I tried to pick up the pace. Up, up, up… stumble, *swear*, up, *fake smile for the walkers*, up….. etc. Every so often I’d pause and look back and see all the brightly coloured dots bobbing their way up the hill behind me. Everyone seemed to be having a tough time of it so there was nothing for it but to suck it up and get to the top of this damn hill. I was passed by a family walking down the hill, shouting well done and shaking their cowbells and then suddenly on the horizon were the outlines of the smiling, bell ringing Pauline Walker and Fiona Rennie with their stash of Jelly beans and encouragement. Never under estimate the power of a smile and a jelly baby when you are feeling at your lowest! I don’t know if it was because I was at the top of a hill, the queasy feeling passing or something in the jelly baby, but I suddenly felt AMAZING! I had power come from an unknown source and it lifted me out of the trench that I had been in for the past 4 or 5 miles. I pushed on and from there all the way to the bottom of the fire road coming into Kinlochleven I managed to pass 6 or 7 people and catch up with Derek again. I had a sudden bounce and couldn’t wait to get to the next check point then get started on the final section.
Another wonderfully efficient checkpoint meant I was in and out in less then 3 minutes. Bottles filled, pockets stuffed full of goodies and some photos from Lee and I was on my way. Just before I left the check point the rain started and within a minute it was like someone was wringing out their washing over our heads. Big, fat rain drops came pouring from the sky and I had no choice but to stop and put my jacket on. I knew the climb out of KLL is a toughy and this was not the time to be getting chilled again. Thank goodness for birthday presents of new Gore-Tex jackets – Thanks Mum and Dad! I walked up the hill eating some cheese and singing to myself to keep my spirits high. The rain wasn’t cold and marching up the hill was keeping me fairly warm, but it was relentless. Finally we were out on the exposed path across Lairig Mor and the winds were picking up. Gloves on, hood pulled up tight and head down to keep the wind and rain from battering off my face – but still I was feeling strong. By now I was soaked from the waist down, so there was no point in trying to avoid puddles. Half the path was a river so I just ran through it. Every so often I’d look ahead and see we were catching up with someone else, and so began the game “operation take down” I think I called it – how many more people could I pass before the finish line. Answer – quite a few!! I checked my watch for the first time in a long time and realised I was actually making really good progress! I didn’t really have a time in mind , the main aim right now was to get off the cold wet hill, but now I started to set myself targets. Sub 8.15 would be amazing, 8.30ish would be awesome but I would still have been over the moon with 9 hours at this stage.
On and on and on we plodded, but still travelling at a pretty good pace. I wasn’t feeling tired any more, but my feet were starting to ache! So many rocks and boulders to manoeuvre over and I’d already gone right over my ankle twice earlier in the race. Head down, drop shoulders, pick up feet….. and on we pushed to Lundavra.
Through the final check point, a quick slug of coke and finally the rain relented. The last section has a few more tricky ups, downs and lovely forest sections before one big push up to the top of the road and then down, down, down all the way to the Braveheart carpark. A few queasy feeling moments, a few brief pauses to walk as my shoulders were starting to ache and then it was the big push over the last hill to the finish. What a stupid hill that is!
The last half a mile brings you right back down the hill and into the back of the playing field before looping round towards the finish line. My stomach was doing back flips, my face burst into a stupid Cheshire cat grin and I moaned at Derek to pick up the pace…. so he did, for a sprint finish!
8 hours, 35 minutes and 35 seconds. Job done!
This race was absolutely brilliant and new RD John Duncan has definitely made it another of his races that people will be chomping at the bit to enter. It has definitely made me realise I have strength and I just need to work on it, but I feel I have a lot more to give. Another year of training and experience and I’m hoping to be bouncing round the course with a smile the whole way. I had such a lovely day, catching up with old friends and making loads of new ones. What a seriously lovely bunch ultra runners are! Huge thanks to all the volunteers for helping and giving up your day – know how long a day it can be! And mega thanks to my mum and dad who sailed up to see my finish, take me out for dinner and spoil me rotten. Could definitely get used to finishing races like that – if only they all finished by the sea!
Whoops! Once again quite a while has flown by since I wittered about anything in particular! Work has been crazy. Budget cuts to school swimming funding has meant I have been flapping about like hyper chicken for the past few weeks trying to put something in place for after the summer holidays to ensure that; a) the kids in Clackmannanshire still get swimming lessons, even after the funding has run out, b) those who can’t afford group swimming lessons or private lessons will still be able to take part and c) I still have a job come next year….
So that aside, I have been trying not stress but obviously that’s easier said than done. I’ve been trying to give my all at training and get out for as many long runs as possible, but I felt that recovery from the Cateran took a lot longer than I thought it would have. I paced Jemma to a P.B at the Stratheran marathon, got a personal best for a mile at a club time trial and have been continuing to up my weekly mileage, but it wasn’t coming as easily as I thought it might have done. After feeling like I was getting head spins far too often at work and my heart rate was straight up after just a warm up at training, I decided to go and get my bloods checked again, and low and behold my ferritin has dropped once again. I think I’m going to have a proper look at my diet this time round and make sure I’m getting enough iron naturally, along with taking the supplements again for the next few months and monitor my training carefully to see how I’m feeling after high mileage weeks.
The next big race on the calendar is the Devil O’the Highlands on the 1st of August, which covers the second half of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum up to Fort William (42 miles) and I have high hopes for it. I’ve got 3 weeks off of work, starting tomorrow, which begins with celebrating my little brother and Jemma’s wedding up in Arisaig and once the partying and celebrations are over I’m going full out hardcore training for this race. Races are for racing, and as of last weekend my mind has been made up about the long term goal. The saying goes “all roads lead to Milngavie” in the Ultra community, and after marshaling and supporting my friends Graeme, Alan and Rhona at the West Highland Way race last weekend, I have decided my goal is to try and get a place and run the race in 2016. All ultra races are a stepping stone up to this iconic race and after feeling pretty strong after 55 miles, I know that with another year of full on training under my belt I could possibly be ready to toe the start line with some Ultra legends this time next year.
I know this isn’t a decision I can just make on a whim, and I will think very carefully about whether or not I’m ready for it when the ballot opens in November. By the time it comes round I will have ran 6 or 7 marathons and 8 ultras, so I can only get stronger and more clued up as I continue to churn out the miles and learn from the best. It’ll definitely be an eye opener running the Devil in August as I’m yet to set foot on the second half of the West Highland Way – hopefully I’ll manage a few recce runs before race day, but I’m sure there will still be some surprises on race day!
Until next time (which won’t be as long, I promise). It’s now time to go be a bridesmaid and party the next few days away up on the West coast. When I return, beast mode will well and truly be activated.
As I watched the rain batter off the windows and pavements on Sunday afternoon, I started to regret that I hadn’t leapt out of bed at the crack of dawn and got my long run miles in before the worst of the weather had arrived. After having a lazy morning, I was dressed and ready to go by 12.30pm kitted out for the elements in an outfit that included 2 long sleeved layers over a vest, gloves, waterproof jacket and 2 buffs… And then I sat back down on the couch. I put off heading out for another half hour or so and then when I eventually did head out, the heavens opened and I couldn’t see the road ahead for fat drops of rain bouncing everywhere. So I promptly turned on my heel and went home. 0.2 miles later.
As I stepped back into the house, my husband Craig just burst out laughing. “You clearly don’t want to do this today, so why are you making yourself suffer?” he asked. I mumbled something about long miles and big races, but I knew I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to head out just then, so I had a cup of tea and waited for the worst of the weather to pass – however long that would take.
I’d been feeling pretty miserable all week. I don’t know if it was a combination of high mileage, back to back weekend runs, not being as social as I normally am or just the rubbish weather but most of my runs that week had felt like a chore which is odd for me. Usually if I don’t feel in the mood for a training run, I won’t go. However with so many big races ahead in the next few months and the fact I’m still trying to get back to full fitness means I have been pushing myself a bit more than normal over the last month or so. I promised myself if my training ever got to this stage I would stop and take a break, but with a mere 3 weeks until the D33 I’ve now opted for the grin and bear it option. There’s no winging it in these races!
Training last week consisted of some yoga on Monday, a speed session of 8×4 minute sprints on Tuesday with a few miles before and after training, a 3 mile lunch run and a 4 mile steady evening run on Wednesday, a ridiculously cold hill run on Friday (see elevation below!) and a 15 mile slog in the rain on Sunday.
Most of the training was enjoyable, but when I got to Friday I was exhausted but had already agreed to go running in the hills with some club mates. By Friday afternoon on a normal week I’m usually pretty tired but today I had pretty much no motivation and just about mustered a smile or two on the way there. I had stupidly asked if there was still snow on hills, only to be told “not much!” which to me meant shorts weather. Oh how wrong I was! Luckily I had long socks and calf sleeves on so it was only really my thighs and knees that were exposed to the elements, but it was cold. SO COLD! And it snowed. Not just normal soft snow that lands gently around you and muffles your footsteps but horizontal snow. Snow that went across the way… and straight into my ear!!! I was so glad to get off the hills that day…
My legs were pretty heavy the next day and I’m sure the weather at the summit had something to do with how I’m feeling this week, but I’m glad I went as it just proves to me how much my strength is improving. This time last year I would never have made it up the first incline, never mind the scramble up the side of the hill. However I’d definitely rethink my wardrobe choices for the next one…
So, along came Sunday which usually I look forward to as it means catching up with friends and bagging my big miles for the week. However this week I couldn’t make the early run with everyone so I set out to clock the miles alone. And I really did feel lonely!! My ear was still sore and my legs were heavy but I eventually gave it a second attempt at heading out and luckily a few miles in the rain started to ease off and I could actually take my hood down. I had planned to do 20 miles but not feeling 100% I scaled it back and headed home after 15 with just a slight niggle in my hip. This wee I have developed yet another cold so my weekly mileage so far in a big fat 0, but fingers crossed it has clears soon as I’m hoping to get one last long run in at the weekend and then the tapering begins. Hoorah!