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.


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It’s when, not if

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

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

But, I know things will get better.
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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 – The D33 Ultra Marathon 2016

D33 ULTRA MARATHON 2016

TIME: 4 Hours 39 Minutes and 19 Seconds

OVERALL : 84th/335 finishers

GENDER: 9th/98 females

CATEGORY: 6th/35 senior females

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Highland Way Race Training – Weeks 3 & 4

Loch Lomond on a beautifully still day.
Loch Lomond on a beautiful still day.

West Highland Way Race Training – Weeks 3 & 4

The last few weeks have flown by! Training is going pretty well and I’m still really enjoying it, but I can’t believe it’s now less than 5 months until race day. I’ve had a bit of a set back in the past few weeks as I’ve been taking part in my Exercise to Music qualification which has taken up my entire weekend for the past couple of weeks, but even though I haven’t been churning out the huge mileage I usually do at the weekends, I’ve been busy learning how to grapevine, boxstep and even Chasse (without crashing into the person next to me, which is a huge thing for me considering I’ve got 2 left feet!) and taking part in approximately 8 classes a day on every day of the course. It definitely counts as time on feet, even if I’m not running anywhere!

My positives for the past few weeks -I’m feeling strong! I started back at my strength and conditioning classes at Renegade Fitness in Stirling and I have some of the best coaches working along with my training programme and trying to get the best out of me. It’s working, I had DOMS for about 3 days after last Friday’s set and trying to perform my full routine at the ETM course for my mock assessment on Sunday proved somewhat hilarious!!

The Renegade gym. All the fun of TRX, kettle bells, strength equipment and good old burpees!
The Renegade gym. All the fun of TRX, kettle bells, strength equipment and good old burpees!

Anyway, I digress. The training programme for the past few weeks has looked a bit like this;
WEEK 3 (11th-17th January)
Monday 11th – Total rest. Well, running about after 3 year olds at work, but as rest-y as it gets on an average day!
Tuesday 12th – 3 mile lunch run with the dog and then 7.2 miles of hill rep loops with the club in the evening. My coach pushed me hard on the last few and I felt empty but delighted at the end. Hills at speed are still not my friend, but they’re getting easier!
Wednesday 13th – it snowed again, so this run was lovely and slushy. 6.1 miles at about 8/min miles and managing to stay on my feet!
Thursday 14th – 6×5 minutes at club training. I wasn’t sure how I felt when I first got to training as it was FREEZING, so considered taking it easy, but ended up giving it about 75% and feeling good after. Didn’t get any warmer though as I wore shorts and it snowed… 6.7 miles averaging 7.51 min/miles.
Friday 15th – Rest.
Saturday 16th – 8.1 miles on the flat at a reasonable pace. Still a bit icy, so being careful not to over do it!
Sunday 17th – Went up to Balmaha for an out and back to Rowardennan with Karen Wallace and Derek. Amazing run in ankle deep snow – it was so crisp and quiet and the Loch looked like glass. A bit cold, but a fantastic run! 18.1 miles.

Total – 49.4 miles

Karen and I happy the loos were open!!
Karen and I happy the loos were open!!

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Hills and snow = toguh training!
Hills and snow = tough training!

Week 4 (18th-24th January)
CUT BACK WEEK #1
I’m loosely following Bryon Powell’s programme (from ‘Relentless Forward Progress’) of training up to 70 miles a week for a 100 mile race, and every 4 weeks or so he fits in a cut back week. I’ll happily follow this as I don’t want to over do it and come race day have nothing in my legs, and if it’s recommended by an expert then it’s worth looking at.
Monday 18th – Rest
Tuesday 19th – A long over due crap run. I still struggle with winter training straight after work as all I want to do is go home, eat and lie down. So I went home, had some food and then decided to run. Terrible idea. I managed about 6 miles, but I felt sick for about 5 of them. I struggled on, knowing there will be a lot of hard miles on the WHW and I could feel like this a lot of the time, but gave up after 6 and went home.
Wednesday 20th – Feeling fresh, I went for a speedy 3 miles at lunch time at about 7.30 min/mile pace.
Thursday 21st – Felt great after work and made the decision to go straight out when I got home, instead of sitting down and eating something first. Had a brilliant 6.1 miles at a pretty fast pace and had to turn around and go home even though I felt like I could have carried on for much longer!
Friday 22nd– 6.3 miles steady.
Saturday 23rd – Got up early and ran 11.1 miles with Skye. Attempted yoga on my return.
Sunday 24th Strength training in the morning followed by a steady 6.7 miles in the evening.

Total – 39.5 miles

I’m noticing a big difference recently. I’m tired, but I’m not wiped out like I used to be after a hard week of work and training. I look forward to my runs and every training session I find I’m trying to push myself further. Nights are starting to get lighter which is always a bonus, and before I know it, it’ll be light when I’m leaving work and I’ll manage to get a couple of hours training in after work while it’s still light. It’s only 4 weeks until the D33, 5 weeks until the Alloa half (which is already full and we have about 80 runners from the Wee County Harriers entered!!) and 11 weeks until the Fling. This year is going too fast and even though I’m excited about all the upcoming races, I also want time to slow down a bit as it’s now only 18 weeks until the WHW race.

Oh help!

Looking forward to the first ultra of the season at the D33 and *hopefully* getting under 5 hours!
Looking forward to the first ultra of the season at the D33 and *hopefully* getting under 5 hours!