RACE REPORT – The River Ayr Way Challenge 2017

The River Ayr Way Challenge

TIME: 6 Hours 26 Minutes and 45 Seconds

OVERALL : 10th/69 finishers

GENDER: 1st/15 females

After a few months of a blog hiatus I think I’ve finally found my run and write mojo again! My recovery from the Great Glen was slow, painful and tedious and even after a 2 week holiday which was spent gallivanting around Eastern Europe and over a month of “easier” training, I still didn’t have the desire to push myself 100%. Even new kit didn’t inspire me and my lack of speed was really getting me down as I watched friends getting faster and faster and I was struggling to complete an interval session without getting frustrated.

And then something suddenly felt right again. Whether I had just taken some pressure off myself or had finally recovered from the pounding I put my body through at the Great Glen, I don’t know. But I finally felt positive about my running again, I wasn’t feeling out of breath after the first mile and I was ready to get things back on track. After a few months of deciding what races I really wanted to focus on in the latter part of the year (I think this plan changed about 5 or 6 times, but I think I’ve finally got it right!), the River Ayr Way Challenge was chosen to be my next big push.

I’d had a few good weeks of training with countless days out in the hills, pushing myself at circuits and focusing a lot more on my core strength and my confidence was on the up again. Sometimes all it takes is a nice windy run in the hills with some like minded friends! 🙂 My last big races of the year were to be the River Ayr Way, followed 4 weeks later by the Loch Rannoch Marathon and then my season finale of Glen Ogle (round 5!) 3 weeks after that. A big ask for my slightly under trained legs, but something I think I need to get me back on track for an even bigger push next year.

Kit prep. Always important to make sure you have a good nights sleep and an easy morning before the race!

The day of the River Ayr Way race came and I felt calm and in control. No pre race nerves (well, not until I was toeing the line, but that’s a given!), and everything was packed and ready to go, so just before 7am I drove down to drop off my car in Douglas before being picked up and driven to Glenbuck with some club mates. We’d got there nice and early but already parking was causing some drama and the farmer zooming about on his quad bike didn’t look too impressed. Mind you, neither would I be if you had nearly 100 runners using your land as a toilet. Maybe an idea to have a couple or porta-loos at the start for next year?

After a very quick briefing and catch up with a few familiar faces on the start line we were on our way, racing the 40 mile route back to the coastal town of Ayr. I’d turned my watch onto the “run a route” function as even though I felt like I had a good idea of the route from running it last year, I knew there were a few tricky bits where paths go off in a number of directions and there’s no obvious markers as to which way you have to go. With my watch on this function I could only see an arrow following a line and I had no idea of my pace, distance or time and this was the best decision I made that day. No pressure on time, just the mental focus to run a strong race.

The first few miles whizzed by. The flat section along the old railway is where the pack really spreads out straight away as everyone finds their own pace. I found myself hurtling along again and within a mile was ploughing through muddy puddles and squelchy bogs. I knew what was coming later in the race, so trying to keep my feet dry wasn’t even considered! I was catching up with people and overtaking every so often but maintaining a pretty consistent pace and feeling strong. Everyone was in high spirits and a few people mentioned they’d read my blog and thanked me for letting them know what lay ahead! The first check point came and went and I’d eaten very little of what I had in my pack, so ran straight through and bounded along the next section of riverbank. It was muddy, it was squelchy, it was a tough slog on the legs… but it was brilliant and I was feeling strong. I had been running with the same people since about 7 miles in and had been enjoying their chat, but they soon pushed on ahead as we came off a hill around 13 miles in. I wasn’t risking falling on my bum just yet, so as they flew off ahead I took my time and teetered carefully down the muddy embankment. I was having an absolute dream run; nothing hurt, I didn’t feel queasy or hungry, my foot wasn’t giving me any bother and best of all I was feeling positive. I knew I could do well and I was working hard to stay ahead of the lady just behind me and try and to catch people further ahead. Hello run mojo, I’ve missed you!

Embracing the mud! Photo – Sandra Hunter
Photo – Sandra Hunter

As we came through Sorn it was lovely to see the Wee County team who were waiting for the relay hand over. I could hear someone breathing down my neck and matching my stride step for step, but I had no idea who it was. It didn’t matter if they were male, female or a relay runner today, I wasn’t up for letting them get by me! I pushed on through Sorn, up and over through the woods and down into Catrine. I looked over my shoulder just as I veered round to the right after the footbridge and I couldn’t see anyone, but it still wasn’t time to take the foot off the gas just yet. The route swerves back down by the river and then there’s the first of many stair sections where I overtook a few other people. Up and under the main road, down a steep embankment and then on to another section of tarmac that I’m sure I walked up last year, claiming it was a “hill”, but none of that today. The pressure of being caught up with was spurring me on! As I pushed on up the next section of trail and under the viaduct I took a second to look back, and the path was completely empty for as far as I could see. Can’t loose focus, must keep trucking on…

I was met with cheers and smiles as I came into the second check point where I quickly grabbed a wee can of coke and some more cheese and pushed on up the tarmac, trying to reel in the runner who was just a few hundred feet ahead of me. As we wound our way round the roads and fields I over took a few more people and started to wonder what on earth was happening. Still feeling strong and confident and no sign of the usual shoulder pain/sore stomach/crisis of confidence or questioning why I was doing this. I knew the road section wasn’t too far ahead which I absolutely hated last year, but luckily no one tried to mow me down this year and I bounced into Failford feeling pretty happy.

Cheesing my way through Sorn. Photo – Ava Parker
Somewhere along the riverbank before Sorn – photo Mark Caldwell

The route turns back off the road and follows the river for another few miles and this is the section of stairs. Far too many stairs! I went the wrong way once or twice during this section but luckily only for 20-30 metres each time before I knew something didn’t feel right and checked my watch. Onwards to the diversion, the boggy farmers field, the horrible road climb and the free wheeling back down again. More boggy paths, another winding river section and before I knew it I’d arrived at check point 3. I still had no idea how long I’d been on the go and honestly hadn’t thought about it at all so far, so had a quick time check and it revealed I’d been on the go for just over 5 hours and was now 31 odd miles in to the race. What on earth?! 9 or so miles to go, got to keep the focus…

Didn’t see that camera until it was too late.. but clearly still having fun! Photo – Sandra Hunter

The last few miles are a bit blurry, apart from the boggy hill. That will stay ingrained in my mind (and probably under my toenails) for quite some time!! It was so wet, so deep and so slippy and the only thing to hold on to was a barb wire fence along the side. Queue swearing and lots of sliding around and I’m so glad I was by myself, I must have looked ridiculous! Finally out the other side I tried to shake some of the mud off my trainers as I now had about an extra kilogram of crap attached to each shoe and it wasn’t helping my already zapped legs.

The last check point came and went and it was then a case of digging deep and finishing the race without letting myself slow to a walk. The route follows a cycle path and then a minor road before spitting you out next to the A77 for a couple of hundred metres until you turn off and follow the river to the finish line at the Dam Park stadium. I’d just passed another runner and I was working hard to keep my pace up as I knew I had less than a mile to go. Finally I rounded into the stadium for a lap of the track and fell over the line to be met by my mum and some running friends. I was absolutely elated to not only take nearly 40 minutes off my time from last year but also to finish first lady overall. My first ultra win! I was completely delighted and quite overwhelmed!

Proper cheesing!!

My mum had booked us a hotel for the night so we had a good celebration with quite a few fizzes and a delicious meal. A week later I’m still on cloud 9 and feeling ready to get back to training with gusto. Big shout out to my ever present training buddies who love nothing more than a chilly day in the hills and of course Neil MacNicol for the training plan. No more skiving speed work, I promise!!

2016 – A year of adventure, thousands of miles and a million more smiles.

I can’t actually believe I’m sitting writing yet another yearly review. They say that time goes by more quickly as you get older, and I don’t exactly class myself as old yet but that year seriously flew by and yet I managed to fit so much in. As has become customary, here’s a wee look back at another fantastic year.

JANUARY

The year started with the annual plod up the Ochil hills with some running club buddies on the 2nd of January. It was cold and misty but as an annual tradition to kick start the year, we braved the elements and had a great day out.


Continue reading →

Winter running

Winter running last year. More of the same this time round please!
Winter running last year. More of the same this time round please!

The end of another year is fast approaching and looking back at this years blog posts I seem to just be writing race report after race report with not much in between. This was never my original plan when I first started the blog nearly 2 years ago, but somehow life just seems to get in the way of sitting down and tapping away on my keyboard. Hopefully 2015 will be the year when I can get things back on track!

This year was one that took a while to get going for me as I trundled through the first few months of the year with an undiagnosed iron deficiency. Thanks to a course of iron tablets from March until quite recently I have flown through the year, smashed the majority of my PB’s and found the love of running again and through that the races I’m aiming to run next year just seem to be getting bigger, further and more exciting. With my racing calender already containing the D33 in March (if I get a place!), the London Marathon in April and the Cateran 55 in May it once again looks like it’s not going to be a year for speed. Well, at least the first half of it anyway!

My mileage for the year is currently sitting at 1237 and considering I never really got going until late March, I have to say I’m pretty pleased with that! Last year I gave the Marcothon a go, but around the 18th Of December I got slammed with the end of term cold and I think that’s where the anemia really began as I just didn’t get going again after that. For those who don’t know, the Marcothon is an annual running event held every December. It began in 2009 when Scottish Ultra Runner Marco Consani challenged himself to run every day in November. His wife Debbie then decided to continue the challenge and run every day through December and posted the challenge on her blog. Before long there was a group of runners also eager to embrace this challenge and power through the cold winter month and every year since then the challenge has grown and grown, this year seeing 2900 registered on Facebook and probably many others outside of social media also taking part.

The rules are as follows-
1-You must run EVERY DAY
2- December only. No other month counts. You can’t run the NYC marathon in July, because the weather’s nicer
3-Three miles (5km) or 25 minutes – whichever comes first – is the minimum
4-Yes, it includes Christmas day
5- If you take a day off, you’re out. Sorry. No playing catch-up
6-It’s a personal challenge. If you think you’re cheating, you probably are
7-If you don’t normally run on a treadmill, don’t start. See point above
8-No cycling, rowing, dog-walking, climbing the stairs in your house (yes, we were asked that) permitted
9- You can run at 5m/m or jog at 15m/m – the pace is not important
10-Have fun and share your experiences with other Marcothoners

So, here we go. I have a few days which I already know are going to be slightly more difficult with various social events, travelling everywhere to see family, eating too much… the usual festive priorities and I fear there may have to be a few more early rises this month and possibly even a few tipsy plods, but it’s all part of the fun!

MARCOTHONgrid-500pxweb1

I’d love to hear how anyone else doing this is getting on. If I manage it beyond the 18th of December it’ll be the most back to back runs I’ve ever done, and as I’m wanting to keep up my long weekend runs as well it’ll be interesting to see how I feel come the end of the month. Will it make me stronger? Will I start to resent running? The moment I have any negative thoughts about it I’ll probably stop as I don’t want to see it as a chore.

Good luck to everyone giving it a go. Here’s to a month of festive, enjoyable runs and hopefully more blog posts from yours truly. I’ll try not to mump and moan my way through them!

1476120_10152048699912556_2044593498_n

The Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon 2014 – RACE REPORT

THE MULL OF KINTYRE HALF MARATHON 2014

Official time: 1 hour 56 minutes and 07 seconds

Overall: 88 out of 211

Category: 17th out of 40

Medal : Yes

20140525_122925

This race had been a Christmas present from Jemma and something I had been looking forward to for months. The day before the race Jemma and I decided to go and stay with my parents who were up at the boat in Loch Melfort. This at least took some of the pressure off for race morning although we’d still have an hour and a half to travel from there. We settled in for the night and enjoyed a lovely dinner and a few bottles of fizz. As you do the night before a serious race of course…

Race day came and when I woke up at stupid o’clock to see the rain pelting off the deck, I couldn’t think of anything less I wanted to do than race. With fingers crossed for better weather, we had our breakfast and a few cups of coffee then said our goodbyes and got on the road down to Campbeltown. With window wipers on full blast and windows steaming up every 2 minutes, I tried to lighten my mood but running in heavy rain is something I just cannot stand. Drizzle is fine. Or for a short distance heavy rain is fine. But 13 miles in the pouring rain was something I could live without. The journey down is a beautiful one, but when you’re stuck behind a couple of patient transport buses and with no possibility of overtaking it can get slightly tedious…

We arrived in Campbeltown with plenty of time to spare and set about getting our race numbers and finding a shop to buy some juice. By now the rain had stopped and it was starting to brighten up and as if by magic, so did my mood! Race numbers and time chips in place, we were ready for action! We’d decided months ago that this wasn’t going to be a race for a time by any means. This was one of the most beautiful places in the UK and there was no way I going to sprint around with my head down and miss all the beautiful views. Plus I was still feeling tired from giving it my all at Loch Leven a few weeks before, I needed time to recharge!

Pre race aerobics. Why on earth not?!
Pre race aerobics. Why on earth not?!
Serious pre race preparation going on here....
Serious pre race preparation going on here….

15 minutes or so before the race started everyone gathered in a field and began a pre-race aerobics workout along with a very energetic instructor up on a stage. Jemma and I bopped about outside the pen and threw a few shapes of our own. Why on earth not?! The sun was now out and all the serious runner types were mingling around the start line looking on with interesting facial expressions. Just before 10:30am everyone else joined them and with a count down of 3-2-1… we were off! The 10k and half marathon both started at the same time this year and just over half a mile in the 10k runners took a sharp left and left us half marathon runners climbing the long and gradual ascent out of Campbeltown and onto the beautifully scenic roads out to Machrihanish.

Photographer = spotted!  Photo - West Coast Photos
Photographer = spotted!
Photo – West Coast Photos

Miles 1-3 were along the main road out of Campbeltown before turning onto a side road and heading up another incline. We had said we were going to run about 8:30-9 minute miles and enjoy having a plod, but straight away we found ourselves galloping along at 8 minute miles and several times had to slow ourselves down quite a bit. Heading up to Machrihanish there was bit of a nasty hill so I put my head down and pushed up to the top. When I got to 5 miles I turned to grin at Jemma as I had noticed her shadow sitting on my shoulder the whole way up the hill, only to met with someone else. Sorry to the random who I was manically smiling at, I was just happy to be at the top of the hill!! Onwards, and mile 5 took us onto the golf course, up and over the dunes and then down onto the beach. Wow. It was just amazingly beautiful!

Photo - Kintyre Forum
Photo – Kintyre Forum

Running on sand = difficult! But this was perfect practice for the Black Rock 5 race which I am running again in 2 weeks. A brilliant race in Kinghorn in Fife and this year there are over 1000 people doing it. I can’t wait!
The beach section was an out and back loop of about a mile in total and on the way back I clocked Jemma and gave her a whoop and a high-five. We were both having so much fun!! I leapt across a river, ploughed through the soft sand and back up the bridge to the dunes. This section was really tough and my hamstrings were starting to feel like they had taken a beating. Finally we were back on the road and I decided now would be a good time to take a gel and some water as it had suddenly got really, really sunny! The route followed the same road back for another mile and then took a sharp left and onto a different yet just as undulating road back to Campbeltown. About 10 miles in I felt my pace really slow and I got really thirsty. Just how hot was it now? The last few miles saw us rejoin the main road and enter Campbeltown from a different direction and thankfully on a descent. By now I was really sore and tired and just ready to finish. Coming round one of the final bends I took my earphones out and dropped one of the covers so had to do a quick about turn to scoop it up, nearly tripping up the poor knackered man behind me. I couldn’t say sorry enough but he just laughed thankfully! Coming up to 13 miles the crowds thickened and everyone was cheering us in. The announcer at the finish line was clocking everyone’s numbers and shouting out their name as they came across the line which was just a lovely way to finish!

Photo - West Coast Photos
Photo – West Coast Photos

I was given my beautiful medal, t-shirt and goody bag and stumbled round to find some water. By now it was roasting and my shoulders were quite sunburnt. What a contrast from a few hours ago! I stood by the finisher chute to shout Jemma in and then we both collapsed on the grass for a few minutes to compose ourselves.
On the way home we stopped to take a few photos on Westport beach – another stunning beach on the west of the Mull of Kintyre. Such a beautiful place and somewhere I hope to visit again in the future.

20140525_131709

This was an absolutely stunning race that I hope to do again in the future, if even just to visit the beaches again! The goody bag was fantastic and I somehow ended up with 2 buffs in my bag. Don’t worry, they’ll get good use this winter!!

Thanks to everyone who helps make this race such a success and one of the most popular year after year. The medals are amazing. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!!

Post race sweatyness. Lovely!
Post race sweatyness. Lovely!
Loving my t-shirt!
Loving my t-shirt!

Race route photos from

The Loch Leven Half Marathon 2014 – RACE REPORT

LOCH LEVEN HALF MARATHON 2014

Official time: 1 hour 46 minutes and 28 seconds

Overall: 213 out of 532

Category: 23rd out of 102

Medal : Yes

20140510_160344

The Loch Leven Half Marathon was my first proper race of the year. After bouncing back following a course of iron tablets and a few months of amazing training, I was more than ready for it. With my ‘A’ race of the year being the Strathearn marathon in June I felt this was the perfect distance to stretch the legs at a good pace and see how I was feeling after 13.1 miles of pushing myself.

Kirsty came to pick me up on the Saturday morning and along with Susan and Andy, we made our way through to Kinross for race registration. We got there with plenty of time to spare, found parking easily and met up with the rest of our club mates at the school campus. Everyone has been training extra hard over the past few months for the marathon so all of us were feeling a bit sluggish and heavy and had the same outlook of ‘go out and see how we feel along the way’. Numbers on, final kit choice changes made and countless toilet visits later, we left the school campus and made our way a mile or so along the road to the starting area. The nerves were really starting to kick in. Even though my training had been going really well up until now and I had been feeling great, I still wasn’t convinced I’d be able to perform well on the day. But as always, at this point I could do no more and there was only one thing I could try and do – go out and fake it til I make it.

We all wished each other good luck, squished in for a few “welfies” (aka – ‘wee county harrier selfies’!) and before we knew it the horn had sounded and we were off! I got a pretty good start having chosen to set off at the side of the pack and passed by a few people who were all running side by side and taking up the majority of the road, until I nearly rear ended a guy who just stopped dead in front of everyone to fix his lace. My race was nearly over before it had even started! However, once were out of the starting lane and out onto the main road the pack spread out straight away and the race had properly begun. Here goes nothing!!

What a gorgeous bunch we really are!
What a gorgeous bunch we really are!

The race route follows the main road out of Kinross for 2 miles and then turns on to a quieter road that runs along beside Loch Leven. Even though there were countless signs advising drivers to slow down and that there was a race on, impatient drivers who couldn’t slow down or wait just a few more minutes were whizzing along beside us and cutting it very fine along side some runners. At one point later in the race I actually got knocked off balance by a gust of wind from a bus cutting it tightly around me as it overtook, but I’m sure the less said about that the better!

Runners taking over the road on the way out of Kinross. As we do :)
Runners taking over the road on the way out of Kinross. As we do 🙂

The first few miles flew by. I was trying not to look at my watch and just run my race comfortably, but I couldn’t help it and every time it caught my eye I was seeing 7:xx. So that was it, I was running a good race so far so I thought I might as well see how long I could keep it up. What’s the worst that could happen? I’d get to half way and feel a bit tired and then have to pull my pace back a bit? If so, then so be it. For now, the race was on!

    First half splits – 7:52, 7:40, 7:51, 7:58, 8:03, 8:00, 8:01

I had been pre- warned that there was a pretty nasty hill at about 8 miles just as you come into Scotlandwell, so with this in mind I downed a gel at about 6.5 miles and prepared for the worst. I somehow sailed up the hill, ticking off people one by one as I went. Where was this power coming from?! I was deep in the hurt locker and it wasn’t all plain sailing, but I flew out of Scotlandwell and onto the flat again just as my watch beeped 8 miles and I noticed I’d managed to keep my pace to 8 minute miles even up the hill! Feeling awesome I pushed on, knowing I was now comfortably over half way and I just had to keep this pace up to the finish line. By now the sun had come out of hiding and it was slightly too warm. There were 4 water stations on the course but unfortunately the bottles we were given didn’t have lids or sports tops, so it was a case of take what you can when you get it and then have to ditch it soon after or you’ll just spill at all anyway! I gulped down what I could and then poured the rest over my head before launching the bottle in the bins supplied just after the water stations.

Coming out of the last village on the route, I managed to pick my pace up a bit more and still comfortably running I glanced at my watch to see that unless disaster struck, I was more or less guaranteed a pretty big PB. My brain was a bit fried by this time and I had to concentrate hard to make sure my sums were correct. That’s my excuse for my race pictures being so awful. I knew fine well the camera was there and he actually yelled “SMILE!” at me, but this was the result…

"overtake, overtake - tick, tick... 3 miles to go, stick to this pace will make a pb?? Too much to think about, better stick out my tongue..."
“overtake, overtake – tick, tick… 3 miles to go, stick to this pace will make a pb?? Too much to think about, better stick out my tongue…”

The guy in front of me in this picture was one of the people I overtook on the uphill, but he managed to get past me again on the downhill and in doing so he started talking to me and telling me what the rest of the route was like. He really spurred me on and in the final mile and a bit he kept looking over his shoulder so I made it my goal to stick with him right til the end. The last mile was lovely and flat and followed an old railway route back into Kinross before cutting through a housing estate, up a sneaky steep hill and back onto the main road before turning sharply onto the grass of the playing fields to the finish. Still feeling strong I put my head down to push as hard as I could. Yes I could catch a few more people on this last stretch – tick, tick, tick. Yes, I still had something in my legs and YES! I could manage a sprint finish across the grass with a smile on my face and my arms in the air! I glanced at the race clock as I flew through the finishing chute and grinned as I got my timing chip cut off my shoe. A ONE MINUTE 47 SECOND PB?? YES! I’ll take that!! And first lady from WCH home as well! My smile couldn’t possibly get any bigger! My legs had turned to complete mush by now and my leg was shaking like jelly as the poor man tried his best to make sure he was just cutting off my chip and not half my foot as well! I staggered round to see my team mates and collapsed on the grass with a feeling of utter glee.

    Second half splits – 8:25, 8:23, 8:11, 8:02, 8:02, 8:09, (0.1 – 1:27)

I stood and cheered in all the rest of my team mates before Kirsty and I decided to call it a day and head home before the chills set in.

The goody bag contained a lovely medal, an awesome tin water bottle and the usual banana, water, chocolate and also a voucher for a drink and something off the bbq which had been put on for the runners. Not bad for a pretty cheap entry price of ÂŁ18 (I think). I really enjoyed the race, everyone was very friendly and the race was well organised and marshaled. Thanks to all the lovely marshals who cheered me on throughout the race. I’ll definitely be back next year!

Race Route Photos – Gordon Donnachie.