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!
The half marathon has been my nemesis distance for quite some time. I clocked my last PB at Loch Leven back in May last year, just as I was recovering from illness and then every time after that I seemed to get further and further and further away from my time. I hadn’t raced many last year – the worst of all being Jedburgh in October where it was so windy my feet were getting blown from underneath me and my breath sucked out my lungs, and after that all my favourite races or good PB courses seemed to clash with other races or be on when I was on holiday. My first half of the year was the Haddington half in August – stupidly the week after the Devil O the Highlands, so I had absolutely nothing to give and slogged around, breathing out my arse and couldn’t wait until it was over. On finishing I promptly told my team mates if I was ever so silly as to sign up for a race the week after an ultra ever again they would be allowed to slap me.
So, a few months down the line and I noticed the Neil McCover half was coming around again the same weekend as Jemma was down for a wedding, so we signed up and looked forward to a run in the countryside near my home town and a good catch up with my new sister in law. Race day came and I wasn’t sure how I was feeling, but there was a tiny voice in my head screaming at me to do well. I silenced in, forgot about any pressure and prepared to run another enjoyable race on pretty fresh legs. What a race it was!
The first few miles were brilliant. I tried not to look at my watch and just enjoy the race and looked forward to seeing my parents at 5 miles as we ran through a village near where they lived. I spotted my mum from a few hundred meters away and flew by waving my arms around like a loon as my dad attempted to take some pictures, but round the corner and away from them it was time to continue to dig deep on this exceptionally undulating course. Through the 10k mark in just over 45 minutes and feeling fresh, a nice stretch of downhill and then, ooooooh big hill. It’s a sneaky hill in the it’s split into 2 sections; the first being a long slow climb up to the bridge over the canal and the second half a sharp steep hill to the top. Suddenly everything went a bit pear shaped as all at once the one ear phone I had in fell out, my ipod became unclipped from my shorts and I spilt juice all over my face. But not to worry, a quick glance at my watch and a bit of counting miles and splits on my fingers and I realised that even if I did the last 3 miles in just under 10 minutes I’d still get a PB. On one hand I felt like easing off the gas a bit and trundling home, on the other I wanted to give it my all and see if I could bag a huge PB in the only distance I was still struggling on for the year. So I chose the second option!
Coming back down the last 2 miles and I was running on the outskirts of my home town and on the very road I used to to cross county on back in my school days! The route was still not easing off and I continued to dig deep and give everything I had left to get to the finish line.
1:37’26. Wooweeeeee, 9 minutes off my personal best and 15 minutes off my course time from 2013!
I’m absolutely over the moon with how good a season I’ve had and with one race left this year (Glen Ogle round 3!), I’m easing off for a few weeks now and am just back from enjoying a week in France and Switzerland with Craig, which involved a few huge treks up mountains, some paragliding and a train ride up a mountain railway to try and see the Matterhorn! No rest for the wicked 🙂
Roll on 2016. Who knows what huge events I’ll try and enter next year!!
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.
I’ve been struggling to start this report as I’ve still not recovered fully from this wonderful weekend. I was thrown straight back into the midst of things at work on Monday, even though my mind was still else where and really haven’t had a second to sit down and actually reflect on the weekend yet. So that starts now…
On Friday afternoon, I sprinted home from work at 2:30pm, hurried to finish my packing and cramming the car full of everything I could possibly need for 2 days away, said my goodbyes to Craig who was just leaving for a night shift and then sped up to the station to meet Kat who had very kindly offered to be my race crew and marshal for the weekend. After a last minute dash around the shops, picking up nothing that I actually really needed along with plenty of things I didn’t need, we were on the road North to Glenshee. The drive up was lovely and the weather was pretty much on our side, but as we got closer to our destination I suddenly got very nervous. Even though I have been planning and training for this race for months, I suddenly started to have major doubts in my ability. 55 miles – that’s a very, very long way.
I arrived at Gulabin lodge, the new H.Q for the Cateran races, just after 7pm and registered with Julie. The goody bag is superb – a nice small holdall containing a beanie, chia charge bar and some other tasty goodies. I went to round to find my allocated room in the lodge which I was sharing with Kirsty Burnett and Carol Martin – 2 ultra running superstars who were very lovely and gave me a good few pointers about the race and how to pace it. The remainder of the runners who were staying over night arrived in dribs and drabs over the nest few hours and over dinner I met load of new people who helped me calm down and think about the main goal of my race, which was just to enjoy a lovely long run in the hills with friends.
I was worried I wouldn’t get a great sleep as I had been like a coiled spring, ready to explode all week and my energy levels were through the roof, but as soon as I had all my stuff laid out and had a good natter with the ladies, I was settled in bed and pretty much out like a light. I woke up a few times during the night and was slightly disturbed by the noise of the wind and rain on our sky light, but quickly drifted off again only to be woken by my alarm at 5am. I hopped out of bed, got my kit on and headed to the breakfast room for a good feed of porridge, coffee and a banana and had a quick chat with everyone before I headed back to my room to double check my drop bags and get my camelbak ready. My stomach was now doing back flips and before I knew it we were gathered outside the lodge for Karen’s race briefing. We were reminded that the 110 mile runners were still out on the course so to give them the support they deserved when we saw them and also to look out for each other – 55 miles is no walk in the park! Briefing over, 76 of us all walked over to the start of the trail and after a final few well wishes and hugs from my friends Karen shouted “go!” and at bang on 7am, we were off!
The race starts at and finishes in Glenshee and the check points were as follows;
Dalnagair Castle – approximately 6 miles Kirkton of Glenisla – approximately 15 miles Den of Alyth – approximately 25 miles Blairgowrie – approximately 31 miles Bridge of Cally – approximately 38 miles Enochdu – approximately 49 miles.
I had drop bags at all the check points except the first one and decided to break the race down into bite sized chunks, concentrating on counting the miles between check points rather than my overall mileage.
START TO DALNAGAIR CASTLE
The first few miles slipped by easily. I started the race with Claire but after the first few miles and a nice grassy downhill, I pushed ahead and ran on my own for a while. I’d started off wearing my long sleeved top, but within 10 minutes it was off and my sunglasses were on. Glad I had brought all options available with me! I had made a conscious decision to take the first section really easy and see how I felt when I got to the check point. Having never run this far before I knew I could start off feeling fantastic but quickly decline if I went out too fast. After many a muddy field, stile and ditch I reached the first check point in 1.01.20.
DALNAGAIR CASTLE TO KIRKTON OF GLENISLA The next few miles were on tarmac and as I plodded on at a comfortable pace, quite a few runners whizzed by me. Usually this would activate my competitive mode but no, not today. I cheered them all on and carried on at my steady pace reminding myself to eat little and often. After a few miles on road we took a sharp left and after climbing the highest stile I have ever seen, we were on an uphill slog for a while. Before long we were running above a gorgeous loch and then it was time to free wheel downhill through a forest and enjoy letting our legs relax on the soft springy bed of pine needles. Going through the next few fields I found myself surrounded by cows and their young which made me a bit wary, but I think the calves were just having fun running around with us. I arrived at the second check point in 2 hours and 35 minutes.
KIRKTON OF GLENISLA TO DEN OF ALYTH Arriving at the check point I was greeted by Julie, Sandra and Helen who were dressed head to toe in neon and having a bit of an 80’s party! I refilled my pockets and quickly munched a babybell and a few pieces of flap jack before heading on my way and running the next few miles with Kirsty and Victoria Hunter, who were running the whole race together. We lost the trail just after the check point and ended up having to climb over a barb wire fence (my bad – sorry ladies!) but a few miles out after the check point I dropped back slightly and told them to push on as my lower back had started to ache. Climbing over another stile, I tripped slightly and landed heavily which made a pain shoot right up my leg and into my back and at that point the tears were close. I slowed my pace right down and took a couple of paracetamol and when I started to run again the pain was worse. For brief moment I thought my race could be over, but then as I crested the next hill mumbling to myself I caught up with 3 of the 110 mile runners who were still laughing and joking. That gave me the shake a I needed – I wasn’t even 20 miles in and was moaning already and here were these guys who had been out all night and were still going. I had a quick chat with them and then the pain killers must have kicked in as I pushed on and ran the next 5 miles all the way to Den of Alyth where I knew my friends were waiting on me. Elapsed time to Alyth – 4 hours and 41 minutes (25 miles).
DEN OF ALYTH TO BLAIRGOWRIE I flew down the hill into Alyth and stopped for quick hug from Kat who was marshalling here. I stormed down the hill into the Den of Alyth feeling strong and quite hungry! Rhona and Graeme were here and it was good to be told I was looking so strong when not an hour previously I had been ready to pack it in. I refilled my water and inhaled and banana and some more flapjacks before heading onwards – only for someone to yell at me that I was going the wrong way! I couldn’t quite see who it was, but thank you!! After what felt like a very, very long slog up hill, we arrived at Drimmie Woods where I enjoyed another good run over the springy forest floors and some exciting leaps over the biggest, boggiest mud trenches caused by tree felling equipment. I found the make shift bridge the marshals had set but from looking at the race photos I can see there were plenty who didn’t find it!! The forest path spat us back out on to a road which lead us down to the Blairgowrie check point. Elapsed time 5 hours 51 minutes (31 miles).
BLAIRGOWRIE TO BRIDGE OF CALLY I had another quick check point stop and on leaving I noticed Derek heading the wrong way out of the check point. I yelled after him to get him back on course and we ended up running the rest of the race together. It was good to have company as I knew I’d hit some low points in this section. We carried on walking the hills and running the flats and downhill sections and managed to catch up with another runner – the first we had seen in hours! I was feeling O.K at this stage. My back pain had eased off but I was beginning to feel a blister brewing on the sole of one of my feet. Nothing too bad at this stage, so I pushed on to the next check point.
We came into the Bridge of Cally check point which was manned by Ian Beattie and his team and after finding out I was sitting 40th overall at this stage I was desperate to get a move on and see if we could catch anyone else. Pockets filled and sunglasses back on, we pushed on out of the check point in an elapsed time of 7 hours and 22 minutes.
BRIDGE OF CALLY TO ENOCHDU
We had run this section a few weeks ago, so knew what to expect which I think really helped this far into the race. All hills were walked and all down hills were ran/shuffled. I tried to keep my spirits up as I was starting to tire but things were starting to hurt. I think is my favourite part of the route – beautiful trails and views, and so much wildlife! I saw 3 or 4 red squirrels, birds of prey, hares, deer, new born lambs, calves…. all the cute things to keep my mind off the pain!
There’s a pretty tricky/boggy section a few miles before you get to Kirkmichael where my shuffling became more of a stumble and I manage to rip my knees open in some thorns. At least the stinging took the pain away from my feet for a while!! Before long we were heading out of Kirkmichael towards Enochdu when the heavens opened and I was soaked within seconds. Luckily it lasted a matter of minutes before the sun broke through again. We trundled into Enochdu and I couldn’t have been happier to see the marshals at the last check point!!! I took the last of my flap jack and a kitkat and passed my gin in a tin on to Julie as I didn’t fancy it and again within minutes we were on our way for the last 6 mile section. Elapsed time – 9 hours and 52 minutes.
ENOCHDU TO GLENSHEE
The last section begins with a climb…. and then carries on going up, and up… and up!
I remember being close to tears when I saw this gate as I just didn’t think had it in me to tackle another stile!! We passed a group of walkers just before we got there and I don’t think they quite understood when we said we’d run the whole trail. Cue questioning looks amongst them…
Finally I could see the final hills in the distance. All I had to do now was get up and over there, but every single step was sending shooting pains up my legs. I was so desperate to pick up the pace, but I couldn’t quite lift my legs high enough to class it as a run! We reached the last steam (the one I fell in last time I was here) and I had a momentary dilemma – do I leap over it from my bad foot, or onto my bad foot?! I gave up caring and just went for it… and miraculously cleared it this time! Finally it was up, up, up… and we were at the top.
I paused briefly to catch my breath and glance down at what lay ahead – the white dots at the bottom of the hill was our final destination and nothing was going to stop me from getting there. I tried once again to pick up the pace but the descent was taking it’s toll on my knees to I slowed down and just took it one step at at time. Finally the terrain was more runnable, so I gave it everything had left and bounded down to the last marshal at the gate. We were told we had 2 minutes to make it in 11 and a half hours, and that was all we needed to get the legs working over and run with everything we had left round to the finish line. As we came over the bridge and turned into the camp site, I could see and hear my friends cheering us in. Kat, Rhona and Graeme, along with Karen and George were standing there waiting to dish out the hugs and I couldn’t get there fast enough!
I was ushered into the tent to sit down and the reality of what I had just achieved finally hit home. I had just been on the go for 11 and a half hours and covered 55 miles and over 4000ft of elevation. That’s not somethng you do every day!!
After a shower and a good feed up at the lodge, we all gathered in the marquee for the prize giving. I received my quaich and was positively bursting with pride when Karen read out my name. The rest of the night was spent catching up with friends over a few drinks before I decided I was utterly exhausted (and a little sun burnt!) and decided to call it a day.
This race was just amazing. The organisation, location, friendliness, wonderful support and of course the weather!! I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I will definitely be back!
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!