The West Highland Way Race – 3 weeks to go!

It has been a long and tough 6 months since I first heard I had got a place in the iconic West Highland Way Race. There had been years of training before that, but the moment I got the place everything got switched up a gear and I have worked my butt off to get to where I am just now. I’m tired, I’m sore, my feet are a mess, I’ve gone through countless pairs of trainers and I’ve had the best tan lines from training runs for months. But I’m strong, I’ve got more power in my legs than I’ve ever had, I’m (just about) mentally prepared and now all I have to do is focus and get to the start line in just under 3 weeks time….
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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!

Return of the Mac(kay)…

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….

Running the Strathearn marathon with Jemma and having a tad too much fun...
Running the Strathearn marathon with Jemma and having a tad too much fun…

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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.

Rannoch moor, pretty yet terrifying...
Rannoch moor, pretty yet terrifying…

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.

Supporting and marshaling at the West Highland way with my WCH buddies.
Supporting and marshaling at the West Highland Way race with my WCH buddies.

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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!

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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.