Here we go again

My first blog of 2017. Whoops! After a few false starts at attempting to write a new post, I am fully back with a bang and ready to update more often (promise!), follow a training programme (half promise) and give all my races and training my all in 2017.

At the start of the year my first draft of a blog post began with “I don’t actually have that many races booked for the year…”. I scrapped that soon after when I realised that I may not have many (in that I’m not doing 10k every weekend like I used to), but the races I am taking on are beasts. And not just Ultra marathons anymore. 2017 is the year I will dip my toe into the world of multi sport races and I am one click away from entering my first. Not just a wee one, but a half ironman distance event. Well, why not? All I have to do is learn not to fall off my bike! I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but I have a few Sportive events planned before the tri, along with plenty open water swimming with a few people how I have asked, coerced, begged into taking me with them. However that part can wait until the slightly warmer months, for now I will concentrate on the running and reminding myself how to run fast (I’ve been saying that for a year and I’m still waiting on full speed returning!!).

Winter training has seen a lot of climbing hills in the snow!

Racing season starts tomorrow with The Devilla 15km mud fest. It’ll be the 4th time I’ve ran this race and I’m expecting some brilliant boggy fun. Last year I felt good, but I probably set off a bit fast in order to get to the narrow trail section ahead of the masses and I imagine this year will be no different but I’m hoping (due to actually doing a bit more speed work over the winter season) I can maintain my pace for a little bit longer this year. I love starting the season with this race as it’s a great off road race to gauge how winter training is going and also to see how the competition has been getting on over the winter months! 😉

My winter training has mostly been going well. I have the odd bad few days when I just want to crash and sleep forever, but I’m up on last years mileage for this time of year and although it hasn’t been as consistent my strength training is still going strong. I think I felt slightly better overall about myself this time last year, but as my mile splits are coming back down, even just on easy runs and I’m managing to do more hill reps per session I’m guessing I’m getting stronger overall, I just don’t feel I look like I am. I am, however, still failing to drag myself out of bed for morning training and then having to play catch up for the rest of the week. Give me light mornings and I’ll be out there, but for now I might as well admit defeat and enjoy the extra hour in bed!

I struggle to get up for work when it’s still dark, but I’ll happily scrape myself out of bed at 6am to run up the hills come the weekend!

I have just under 3 months until my first ultra of the year and if training all goes to plan, I’m hoping for a really good race. The first time I ran the Cateran 55 mile ultra it was my first attempt at that distance, not too long after appendix surgery and it really was quite a challenge. I’m hoping that with thousands more miles in my legs and a lot more experience of running distance races, I can have a strong and positive race and a solid PB.

They made me do it…

So, here’s to tomorrow and the next block of training (and blogging!). Good luck and enjoy!

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…..

West Highland Way Race Training – Weeks 1 & 2

I’ll be totally honest. I’m exhausted! Battering out high mileage training for the West Highland Way Race and teaching 3-10 year old children to swim for 8 hours a day is pretty hard, both physically and mentally. I knew this would be hard work from the word go, and every single mile I have churned out so far is being ticked off as me being another mile closer to being ready for the hard work I will have to put in come race day. But it’s going to be another gruelling 5 months of hard work before I’m even ready to toe the start line. I’m currently in week 5 of my training plan, but I’ll not bore you with the whole load in one go!

Week 1 (28th Dec – 3rd Jan)

I had a nice rest the week leading up to Christmas after taking a course at work right up until the 23rd of December and not having much time to fit in long runs.
Monday 28th – I had the week between Christmas and New Year off work and decided to make the most of the mild weather and bank some miles on the WHW while I had the free time. I took my dog and ran backwards from the road crossing just before Tyndrum towards Beinglas. My plan was to go all the way to Beinglas Farm and back again, but about 6 miles in I came across a huge heard of cows and had to jump off the path and squelch through a bog to get around them, and then found more blocking the bridge in the direction I was going. So I had to abandon that plan and head back to the car. I’ve had far too many near misses with cows and the dog, so I wasn’t taking any chances! (10.6 miles).
Tuesday 29th – Another day off, another chance to bag some more WHW miles. Minus the dog this time, I drove down to Milngavie to thrash out some flatter fast miles out to the Beech tree and back. Lovely run, so many people out walking and I had great day singing to myself and reminding myself how easy it is to go out way too fast in the first few miles! (14.1 miles).
Wednesday 30th – The weather turned and I was tired, so I went for a short recovery run and then had a good few hours on the couch catching up on American Horror Story! (3.2 miles)
Thursday 31st – Rest and some foam rolling. Quickly abandoned when I re-discovered how painful it was!
Friday 1st – Rest and my first long lie in a long time!
Saturday 2nd – A lovely hill run with some friends from the running club. I haven’t been up the Ochils in months, so it was lovely to get a good leg stretch up Ben Cleuch and Ben Ever in the slush and catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. (7.9 miles).
Sunday 3rd – Another club run with some other WCH friends. Nice steady pace on the flat. (8 miles).

Total – 44 miles

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Week 2 – 4th-10th January

Monday 4th – Rest. A nice long dog walk and some beginners yoga.
Tuesday 5th – I decided to break my daily miles into 2 runs today as I really wanted to make the club speed session in the evening, but knew I would be shattered if I did a few miles before and totally knackered afterwards. I took the dog out for a few miles in the morning then gave it my all at the club sessions in the evenings of 8×3 minute sprints. I haven’t pushed myself that hard in a long time and I was delighted with my splits afterwards! I know speed work isn’t high on the agenda just now and I’m reeling it right in the closer I get to race day, but it was good to see I could still pull it out the bag! (10.7 miles).
Wednesday 6th – My new Brooks Ghost trainers arrived, so of course I had to test them out on my mid week steady run! (8.2 miles)
Thursday 7th – I was late out of work and missed my favourite hill reps session, so I took the dog out and did it myself later that night. Much heaving breathing included… (6.7 miles)
Friday 8th – The day everything froze! It was far too icy to do a proper run, so I cut it short instead of breaking my neck! (4.6 miles).
Saturday 9th – Enjoyed a lovely hill run up and around Dumyat with some friends from running club. It was so cold! (11.2 miles).
Sunday 10th – The run you put off all day and then when you go out the heavens open. I was soaked to the core within 4 miles, but decided to carry on, as you can’t turn off the weather on Lairigmor! (10.3 miles).

Total – 51.9 miles

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I’m finally getting back to my strength and conditioning training as well after a shock to the system at circuits on Sunday and realising my upper body has given up the ghost! Squats – no problem. Press ups and core work – FAIL!

Time for bed…..

And so another year has come to pass…

It’s the 31st of December 2015. Where has my year gone?! I’m sure I’m not the only one asking this question, but this year has seriously flown by. And like many others, with what seems to have become a bit of a tradition, I like to look back on my year of running and see how much I have learned and achieved in my on going quest and battle with running. Here are some highlights from my year;

JANUARY

Lots of sleeping and relaxing with my pup Skye.
Lots of sleeping and relaxing with my pup Skye.

It was a slow start to the year for me, but after plenty of rest being looked after by Skye the wonder pup (and of course my amazing husband, but Skye was pretty much glued to my side from the minute I got home!), I was given the nod to get back to running so started the year (cautiously) helping my team mates out at theDevil’s Burden relay races in Fife. We had amazing day out! Somehow I ended up on the guys team (again! Are you trying to tell me something here guys?!) and we had a hilarious morning dashing all the place, trying to be in the right place at the right time… and failing miserably! Just what I needed to get my running back on track.

A slightly warmer team.
A slightly warmer team.

FEBRUARY
Feeling slightly stronger, I decided to give the Devilla 15k run another go. I wasn’t expecting much but as it’s our neighbouring clubs event, we always go through en masse to show our support. We had tons of muddy fun and I managed to take a few minutes off last years time, even though the course was a mile and a bit longer!

Biggest club turn out we've ever had at an event I think!
Biggest club turn out we’ve ever had at an event I think!

Last few kilometres and the focus face is on...
Last few kilometres and the focus face is on…

The rest of the month was spent finding my feet on the trails again. Mainly the wonderful West Highland Way. Such a beautiful place, but especially in winter.

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MARCH
I had been looking forward to March for a long time as I was especially looking forward to running the D33 for the first time. I had entered on New Years eve and I know a few of my friends were a bit sceptical that I’d be ready to push my body to such a distance so early on in the year, but I was desperate to get back to racing properly and I knew I felt good come race day. Jemma and I stayed with Rhona and her husband in Stonehaven the night before and we were raring to go and kick start the Ultra season. I had a fantastic race and finished in just over 5 hours. I loved this race and I am definitely going back this year for another go and to try and break the 5 hours barrier.

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APRIL
April was a quiet month for me racing wise. I decided to give a 10k race another go seeing as I hadn’t raced once since September the previous year and entered the Round the Houses 10k in Grangemouth. The route is very flat and very fast and I had a great race taking over a minute off my 10k personal best and setting a new time of 44:51! I worked hard and felt horrific when I crossed the line, mainly through lack of speed work prior to the race! But I was happy to be chipping away at my time again.

I spent many hours training on the Cateran trail for my race in May and had great fun in the process. I met the lovely Claire for the first time and had an amazing day out running over to the Spittal of Glenshee and falling in a river in the process!

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I deferred my London Marathon place until 2016 and ended up going up to marshal and support my friends running the Hoka Highland Fling on the West Highland Way. I had a fantastic day, meeting loads of new people and giving my friends the cheers and support they deserved. Everyone ran so well and made me even more excited about running this race in 2016!

I finished the month with an amazing trip to Paris with Craig. Just what was needed to recharge the batteries before the last term of the year at work.

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MAY
This was it. My biggest race so far and the one that every mile I had run up until now was going towards. The Cateran 55 mile Ultra Marathon and I won’t deny it, I was petrified! I was really excited and the whole weekend was wonderful. The new race H.Q at Gulabin lodge was perfect – right on the finish line, lovely warm showers, comfortable beds and amazing food courtesy of Sandra and Helen. The race was amazing and even though I’m sure I went through many a dark patch, I can only see the positives of the race when I think back. I completed the race in 11 hours and 30 minutes and I was absolutely elated and also amazed that my body is actually capable of doing these things!

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JUNE
In June I ran the amazing Strathearn marathon for the second time along with Jemma and was delighted for her when she got a new marathon PB, along with having an amazing day out in beautiful sunny Perthshire. I love this race, even though it’s definitely not an easy race, and it was lovely to run with Jemma and catch up on all the wedding preparation chat. I also adore these finishing pictures.

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The following week, I had a weekend off running and had an enjoyable booze filled weekend at Fyne Fest with Jemma, Rhona and Graeme. Pub quizes, beer tokens, skanking and flower crowns. Amazing.

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At the end of June I helped marshal at the West Highland Way race and got a real insight into the running of it. Standing at a road crossing through the night guiding runners across, then up to Bridge of Orchy the following day to help runners check in when they got there. I was absolutely shattered on the drive home, just from standing about all weekend. Next year it’s my turn to run it. What on earth have I got myself into!

Next year it's our turn!
Next year it’s our turn!

AUGUST
At the beginning of August I ran my hardest race to date. 12 miles shorter in distance than the Cateran, but so much harder. The 43 mile Devil O’The Highlands has been re branded and taken over by John Duncan of Highland Fling fame, and it lived up to it’s expectations! I had the most amazing day and finished the race in just over 8 and a half hours. Brilliant race, I can’t big it up enough!

Photo - Fiona Rennie
Photo – Fiona Rennie
My little brother surprising me on the finish line. So delighted to see him!
My little brother surprising me on the finish line. So delighted to see him!

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SEPTEMBER
After my legs had recovered from the Devil, I decided it was time to get back to road racing and try and get some time off my marathon time. Last year I had finally got a sub 4 marathon time at the Highland Perthshire Marathon, so I decided to go back and try again. Another amazing race, feeling so strong the whole way round and a new marathon time of 3:41:54. I also got my first podium placing! I came 3rd lady overall and 1st senior lady. I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again any time soon, but I’m still on cloud 9 from it!

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At the end of the month my friend Kirsty asked me if I fancied running the Strathcarron 10k. Again I hadn’t been training for speed, but I had been bashing out the hill reps and feeling strong after the marathon so I gave it a go. It was a scorching day but I gave it my everything and took another 30 seconds off my 10k time finishing in 44:17. I never thought I’d get so close to 44 minutes and I’m hoping late next year I can finally get under the 44 minute mark.

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OCTOBER
I hadn’t raced a half marathon since the Loch Leven Half marathon in May 2014. When the Neil McCover half came round again, I was looking forward to really pushing myself and seeing if I could get a PB in the only distance left to better in the year. I have no idea what happened, but I had another fantastic race and managed to take 9 minutes off my time, finishing in 1:37:26. Whose legs are these?! I was elated!

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NOVEMBER
And finally it was time for the last race of the year. Glen Ogle round 3, and I was looking forward to finishing the season with a bang. I had another great race and amazing day out with 20+ of my team mates. I love the race and will definitely be back for round 4 next year and hopefully finally get under 5 hours. 1 minute over is just annoying!!

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And so the year draws to a close. I’ve had a phenomenal year and I owe thanks to so many people for their support, for getting me back on my feet, for inspiring me and for not letting me quit. Next year is the big year and I have so many hours to put in before I’m even close to being ready, but I know they’ve all got my back.

Here’s to your health. Happy New Year!!!

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