I’m ridiculously late in writing this report for no reason apart from laziness! Work, training and sleep have taken control of my life again, and sitting staring at a laptop after a long day just hasn’t appealed to me. But excuses out the way, here we go!!
After running this race last year and finally getting a decent sub 4 hour time, I was desperate to go back and give it another go. I loved everything about the route, even the 2 laps didn’t put me off as I was desperate to push harder the second time round this year and finish stronger than last year. The day started as all big race mornings do; wake before my alarm, force in breakfast, fix my silly race day hairdo, put on my kit, mascara and Vaseline and then sort out my attitude. I’ve been told more than once this year that I need to have more faith in myself and push myself to my limit, even if it means reaching the ultimate pain barrier. My training had been somewhat lackluster since the Devil O’the Highlands race and I wasn’t sure what I had left to give come race day. I confided in my running friends about my doubts and they gave me all the positive words I needed to hear; all the miles were in my legs, the rest would have done me good and all I had to do was get my head in the right place.
After registering, pinning on my number and sorting out my final kit choice (nothing new there!) I had half an hour or so to plan out the race in my head. I was feeling tired and under trained, but this was a great course so I felt another sub 4 hour time was possible. I decided to try and keep up with Derek and Andy for the first lap and see how I felt by the time I got back to Aberfeldy after the first lap knowing that Derek would be hoping for under 3 hours 40 mins, and Andy usually runs great negative splits. After last years disaster of nearly missing the start of the race we headed round to the start line with time to spare for well wishes, hugs and of course – photos!
I set off near the back of the pack to try and keep my first few miles at a steady pace, but before I knew it I was towards the front and running steady splits of just over 8 minute miles. I kept up with Derek for the majority of the first lap and we chatted away to a guy who had run 109 marathons. Really puts my moaning to shame!! I had a minor panic I was flying off too quickly but felt good, so just kept it up. Powered by magical blue powerade and shot bloks, I was really enjoying myself and feeling ridiculously powerful. Before I knew it, I was running through the castle grounds and tackling the hill for the first time with the words “Wee County Harriers don’t walk up hills!” running through my head. Thanks coaches!!!
The run back in to Aberfeldy is mostly downhill and I picked the pace back up quite a lot. Over the bridge and past the field and lap one was done.
As I passed the marshal at the end of the first lap, he informed me I was currently 3rd lady. I have no idea how that had happened as I’ve never placed in a race before, but it scared me a little as I knew my competitive mode would kick in now and I might push off round the second lap too quickly. I had just passed a girl from Carnegie so knew she would be hot on my heels but tried not to look back too often as it’d throw me off my stride. The miles continued to to tick by, my legs tiring a bit but no major niggles to speak of so I felt no reason to slow down too much. Around mile 18 I finally conceded and put in my head phones as I had a guy running right behind me and he had an annoyingly slappy footed run. Normally I’d make up a song to sing along with something that annoyed me, but not today. I couldn’t get away from him fast enough!! As I came through the castle grounds for a second time, I managed to look back along the route and found there was no one in sight behind me. Feeling a bit achy I decided to power shuffle up the hill the second time round and found I felt a bit wobbly and dehydrated and started zig-zagging up the road to the top of the hill. Luckily there was a water stop a top of the hill – definitely in the right place at the right time. I quickly found my pace again and flew round the last 4 miles of the course, occasionally glancing back to see if anyone was near me.
Lap 2 splits; 8:25, 8:36, 8:36, 8:46, 8:48, 8:38, 8:39, 8:36, 9:59 (walking up the hill!), 8:42, 9:01, 8:49, 8:35
As I came back into Aberfeldy for the second time, I finally spotted someone catching up on me. Not knowing if they were male or female I picked up the pace, flew over the bridge for the final time and back into the field to the finish line. A new marathon time of 3:41:34 (13 minutes off my previous attempt!), 3rd lady overall and 1st senior lady! No idea how that happened… obviously all the speedies were doing something else this weekend!!
I crossed the line, hugged everyone in sight and continued to be majorly confused that I’d placed first in my category. My brother in law Stuart asked me if I was crying, but no – I was just a tad snotty!!
I walked about in a bewildered daze until I was told it was time to go home, still not quite believing what had just happened. I was quite tired during the second lap, and I did give up a bit on the hill so what am I capable of for London next year? Where are my limits?! I’m quite excited to see what will happen next year!!
It’ll probably be a long time, if ever, that I place in a race again so I’m quite happily still basking in my glory just now. And I have taken over the top shelf with my trophies and demoted Craig’s to the second shelf….. ( as I only have some of them for the year as he gets to keep his forever, so I think it’s fair!!!)
Overall position 81st/180 finishers 14th/59 female finishers
I’ve been staring at a blank page for hours trying to figure out how to start to write about this epic adventure. My second longest Ultra but by far the toughest challenge I have ever embarked upon and as I’m still on a post Ultra high, I have every emotion buzzing about in my head and finding it hard to put them into a logical order!
My day began at 2am. I’d gone to bed ridiculously early with high hopes of at least 5 hours sleep, but I woke up just after midnight and now scared I’d sleep in I couldn’t switch off again. Before I knew it it was about 2am, so I gave in and got up. My kit was all laid out and bags were packed so I wasn’t crashing about at stupid o’clock and I went about getting ready as quietly as I could, but of course this still woke the dog and she crashed about making all the noise I was trying so hard not to make! I was still digesting my dinner so I really struggled to eat anything at such a horrendous hour of the day, but knowing how important pre-race nutrition is, I forced down some cereal, coffee and a banana. Soon it was time to hit the road to pick up Derek and then concentrate on staying awake on the windy road up to Tyndrum. It was dark and wet and looked like it could be a long and miserable day, but as we arrived in Tyndrum just before 5am, we could see the sun rising from behind the hills and the sky looking clear in the direction we were going to be running. Things might be o.k after all!
After registering at the Green Welly I caught up with loads of people who were all equally as tired and nervous as I was. Drops bags put in the correct vans and a final kit choice made, we listened to Johnny Fling give his race briefing and then it was off to the start line for a prompt 6am start.
The first few miles really whizzed by as I tried to keep a comfortable pace and not getting carried along with the speed of the crowds around me. Everyone was in high spirits and I had a good chat with the little group I took off with. After the first climb out of Tyndrum I slowed down to let a few people by as I felt I was going just a little too fast so early on and I knew I’d regret it later on if I kept it up! The path was slightly undulating, but nothing to write home about so I kept a steady pace and bounced into Bridge of Orchy in just under the hour, alongside a singing Sandra McDougall, which had kept me grinning for the previous few miles!
Straight through the BoO check point and onto the first climb where I slowed myself right down and remembered to eat something. Not much appealed to me, so a packet a haribo did the trick! I fell in line with everyone climbing the hill, walking the ups and running the flats and downs and had to pay close attention to what my feet were doing so that a) I didn’t trip over any lose rocks or b) clip the heels of the person in front of me and send them flying along with me! A few people passed me on the descent towards the Inveroran hotel but still not being too confident on my down hill running, I let them by and carried on at my own comfortable pace. I was running on my own and this point and realised I could be out for quite a long and lonely day if things were to stay like this, but just before I managed to dig out my ipod, I spotted Derek tying his laces and pushed on with him for the next few (painful) miles up the Drovers Road. The road was wet, the stones were slippy and my feet weren’t happy but on we pushed up to the top, occasionally falling into single file to avoid rocks and puddles, but mainly just jogging along in silence. I knew Glencoe wasn’t too far away, but I’d started to feel slightly light headed so as soon as I spotted an incline worthy of walking up I found something more nutritious than a bag of haribo to eat. First fail of the day – still not eating enough early on the races!!
The push up to Glencoe was o.k but by now I was running on my own again and aware that people were starting to catch up. I usually hit a low during an ultra between 16 and 20 miles so when I started to feel a bit crap I knew I just had to put my head down and carry on. Coming into the check point I started to think about all the nice things I had in my drop bag, but more than anything I really fancied some coke!! As I came into the check point I suddenly felt a bit star struck – Lucy Colquhoun checked me in, Debbie Martin-Consani filled my water bottles and got my drop bag and it was also manned by Sharon Law and Paul Giblin – GB ultra running star central! There was no time for faffing around this lot! I took some bit and bobs out of my bag whilst trying to inhale a can of coke and not stay squatting down for too long in case I got stuck, and finally shuffled out the check point while still trying to clip myself back into my bag and get my bottles back in the holders. Easier said than done! I was walking down the hill out of the ski centre, getting all tangled up in things when a lovely lady started walking beside me and helped me with my bottles. I have no idea who you were, but thank you as I was having quite the brain fart at that stage! Once all sorted, the down hill trot continued and I was ushered straight over the road by Noanie and Lorna and on towards the Kings House hotel. Just as I rounded the corner of the hotel I spotted the wonderful Ruth Howie and paused for a quick hug. She told me the guys weren’t too far ahead, but by now I’d hit the major low I’d been expecting.
Through not putting another layer on soon enough and also not eating enough I was starting to feel pretty awful. I could see George from my club not too far ahead of me, but I just couldn’t find my push to catch up with him. Following the path along beside the main road I started to slow right down and another handful of people went by me. Ahead I could see the cars parked at Altnafeadh and I suddenly began to doubt my ability to finish. I started to mentally write down what my reasons for pulling out could be, my main one being the queasy feeling I just couldn’t shake, but then I suddenly spotted Lee from my running club with her daughter Isla and she had her camera. No times for frowns now, I’m known as the smiley runner! Quick, fake a smile!
Once I had passed Lee I spotted Ruth again and after another hug and pep talk I felt slightly better – pull out? I don’t pull out of races! However it was only slightly better, as now I was at the foot of the Devil’s staircase and the only way to go for the next mile and a bit was straight up!
This was where I had my lowest of low points. The queasy feeling just wasn’t going away, I was still slightly cold and my legs felt empty. Every step was a big effort and I could feel my heart racing as I tried to pick up the pace. Up, up, up… stumble, *swear*, up, *fake smile for the walkers*, up….. etc. Every so often I’d pause and look back and see all the brightly coloured dots bobbing their way up the hill behind me. Everyone seemed to be having a tough time of it so there was nothing for it but to suck it up and get to the top of this damn hill. I was passed by a family walking down the hill, shouting well done and shaking their cowbells and then suddenly on the horizon were the outlines of the smiling, bell ringing Pauline Walker and Fiona Rennie with their stash of Jelly beans and encouragement. Never under estimate the power of a smile and a jelly baby when you are feeling at your lowest! I don’t know if it was because I was at the top of a hill, the queasy feeling passing or something in the jelly baby, but I suddenly felt AMAZING! I had power come from an unknown source and it lifted me out of the trench that I had been in for the past 4 or 5 miles. I pushed on and from there all the way to the bottom of the fire road coming into Kinlochleven I managed to pass 6 or 7 people and catch up with Derek again. I had a sudden bounce and couldn’t wait to get to the next check point then get started on the final section.
Another wonderfully efficient checkpoint meant I was in and out in less then 3 minutes. Bottles filled, pockets stuffed full of goodies and some photos from Lee and I was on my way. Just before I left the check point the rain started and within a minute it was like someone was wringing out their washing over our heads. Big, fat rain drops came pouring from the sky and I had no choice but to stop and put my jacket on. I knew the climb out of KLL is a toughy and this was not the time to be getting chilled again. Thank goodness for birthday presents of new Gore-Tex jackets – Thanks Mum and Dad! I walked up the hill eating some cheese and singing to myself to keep my spirits high. The rain wasn’t cold and marching up the hill was keeping me fairly warm, but it was relentless. Finally we were out on the exposed path across Lairig Mor and the winds were picking up. Gloves on, hood pulled up tight and head down to keep the wind and rain from battering off my face – but still I was feeling strong. By now I was soaked from the waist down, so there was no point in trying to avoid puddles. Half the path was a river so I just ran through it. Every so often I’d look ahead and see we were catching up with someone else, and so began the game “operation take down” I think I called it – how many more people could I pass before the finish line. Answer – quite a few!! I checked my watch for the first time in a long time and realised I was actually making really good progress! I didn’t really have a time in mind , the main aim right now was to get off the cold wet hill, but now I started to set myself targets. Sub 8.15 would be amazing, 8.30ish would be awesome but I would still have been over the moon with 9 hours at this stage.
On and on and on we plodded, but still travelling at a pretty good pace. I wasn’t feeling tired any more, but my feet were starting to ache! So many rocks and boulders to manoeuvre over and I’d already gone right over my ankle twice earlier in the race. Head down, drop shoulders, pick up feet….. and on we pushed to Lundavra.
Through the final check point, a quick slug of coke and finally the rain relented. The last section has a few more tricky ups, downs and lovely forest sections before one big push up to the top of the road and then down, down, down all the way to the Braveheart carpark. A few queasy feeling moments, a few brief pauses to walk as my shoulders were starting to ache and then it was the big push over the last hill to the finish. What a stupid hill that is!
The last half a mile brings you right back down the hill and into the back of the playing field before looping round towards the finish line. My stomach was doing back flips, my face burst into a stupid Cheshire cat grin and I moaned at Derek to pick up the pace…. so he did, for a sprint finish!
8 hours, 35 minutes and 35 seconds. Job done!
This race was absolutely brilliant and new RD John Duncan has definitely made it another of his races that people will be chomping at the bit to enter. It has definitely made me realise I have strength and I just need to work on it, but I feel I have a lot more to give. Another year of training and experience and I’m hoping to be bouncing round the course with a smile the whole way. I had such a lovely day, catching up with old friends and making loads of new ones. What a seriously lovely bunch ultra runners are! Huge thanks to all the volunteers for helping and giving up your day – know how long a day it can be! And mega thanks to my mum and dad who sailed up to see my finish, take me out for dinner and spoil me rotten. Could definitely get used to finishing races like that – if only they all finished by the sea!
Whoops! Once again quite a while has flown by since I wittered about anything in particular! Work has been crazy. Budget cuts to school swimming funding has meant I have been flapping about like hyper chicken for the past few weeks trying to put something in place for after the summer holidays to ensure that; a) the kids in Clackmannanshire still get swimming lessons, even after the funding has run out, b) those who can’t afford group swimming lessons or private lessons will still be able to take part and c) I still have a job come next year….
So that aside, I have been trying not stress but obviously that’s easier said than done. I’ve been trying to give my all at training and get out for as many long runs as possible, but I felt that recovery from the Cateran took a lot longer than I thought it would have. I paced Jemma to a P.B at the Stratheran marathon, got a personal best for a mile at a club time trial and have been continuing to up my weekly mileage, but it wasn’t coming as easily as I thought it might have done. After feeling like I was getting head spins far too often at work and my heart rate was straight up after just a warm up at training, I decided to go and get my bloods checked again, and low and behold my ferritin has dropped once again. I think I’m going to have a proper look at my diet this time round and make sure I’m getting enough iron naturally, along with taking the supplements again for the next few months and monitor my training carefully to see how I’m feeling after high mileage weeks.
The next big race on the calendar is the Devil O’the Highlands on the 1st of August, which covers the second half of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum up to Fort William (42 miles) and I have high hopes for it. I’ve got 3 weeks off of work, starting tomorrow, which begins with celebrating my little brother and Jemma’s wedding up in Arisaig and once the partying and celebrations are over I’m going full out hardcore training for this race. Races are for racing, and as of last weekend my mind has been made up about the long term goal. The saying goes “all roads lead to Milngavie” in the Ultra community, and after marshaling and supporting my friends Graeme, Alan and Rhona at the West Highland Way race last weekend, I have decided my goal is to try and get a place and run the race in 2016. All ultra races are a stepping stone up to this iconic race and after feeling pretty strong after 55 miles, I know that with another year of full on training under my belt I could possibly be ready to toe the start line with some Ultra legends this time next year.
I know this isn’t a decision I can just make on a whim, and I will think very carefully about whether or not I’m ready for it when the ballot opens in November. By the time it comes round I will have ran 6 or 7 marathons and 8 ultras, so I can only get stronger and more clued up as I continue to churn out the miles and learn from the best. It’ll definitely be an eye opener running the Devil in August as I’m yet to set foot on the second half of the West Highland Way – hopefully I’ll manage a few recce runs before race day, but I’m sure there will still be some surprises on race day!
Until next time (which won’t be as long, I promise). It’s now time to go be a bridesmaid and party the next few days away up on the West coast. When I return, beast mode will well and truly be activated.
As I watched the rain batter off the windows and pavements on Sunday afternoon, I started to regret that I hadn’t leapt out of bed at the crack of dawn and got my long run miles in before the worst of the weather had arrived. After having a lazy morning, I was dressed and ready to go by 12.30pm kitted out for the elements in an outfit that included 2 long sleeved layers over a vest, gloves, waterproof jacket and 2 buffs… And then I sat back down on the couch. I put off heading out for another half hour or so and then when I eventually did head out, the heavens opened and I couldn’t see the road ahead for fat drops of rain bouncing everywhere. So I promptly turned on my heel and went home. 0.2 miles later.
As I stepped back into the house, my husband Craig just burst out laughing. “You clearly don’t want to do this today, so why are you making yourself suffer?” he asked. I mumbled something about long miles and big races, but I knew I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to head out just then, so I had a cup of tea and waited for the worst of the weather to pass – however long that would take.
I’d been feeling pretty miserable all week. I don’t know if it was a combination of high mileage, back to back weekend runs, not being as social as I normally am or just the rubbish weather but most of my runs that week had felt like a chore which is odd for me. Usually if I don’t feel in the mood for a training run, I won’t go. However with so many big races ahead in the next few months and the fact I’m still trying to get back to full fitness means I have been pushing myself a bit more than normal over the last month or so. I promised myself if my training ever got to this stage I would stop and take a break, but with a mere 3 weeks until the D33 I’ve now opted for the grin and bear it option. There’s no winging it in these races!
Training last week consisted of some yoga on Monday, a speed session of 8×4 minute sprints on Tuesday with a few miles before and after training, a 3 mile lunch run and a 4 mile steady evening run on Wednesday, a ridiculously cold hill run on Friday (see elevation below!) and a 15 mile slog in the rain on Sunday.
Most of the training was enjoyable, but when I got to Friday I was exhausted but had already agreed to go running in the hills with some club mates. By Friday afternoon on a normal week I’m usually pretty tired but today I had pretty much no motivation and just about mustered a smile or two on the way there. I had stupidly asked if there was still snow on hills, only to be told “not much!” which to me meant shorts weather. Oh how wrong I was! Luckily I had long socks and calf sleeves on so it was only really my thighs and knees that were exposed to the elements, but it was cold. SO COLD! And it snowed. Not just normal soft snow that lands gently around you and muffles your footsteps but horizontal snow. Snow that went across the way… and straight into my ear!!! I was so glad to get off the hills that day…
My legs were pretty heavy the next day and I’m sure the weather at the summit had something to do with how I’m feeling this week, but I’m glad I went as it just proves to me how much my strength is improving. This time last year I would never have made it up the first incline, never mind the scramble up the side of the hill. However I’d definitely rethink my wardrobe choices for the next one…
So, along came Sunday which usually I look forward to as it means catching up with friends and bagging my big miles for the week. However this week I couldn’t make the early run with everyone so I set out to clock the miles alone. And I really did feel lonely!! My ear was still sore and my legs were heavy but I eventually gave it a second attempt at heading out and luckily a few miles in the rain started to ease off and I could actually take my hood down. I had planned to do 20 miles but not feeling 100% I scaled it back and headed home after 15 with just a slight niggle in my hip. This wee I have developed yet another cold so my weekly mileage so far in a big fat 0, but fingers crossed it has clears soon as I’m hoping to get one last long run in at the weekend and then the tapering begins. Hoorah!