Too many holidays and a change of heart.

I’ve had a fantastic summer so far. 3 weeks of sailing around the Baltic sea with Craig and my family and managing to visit Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden, as well as many islands in between in that time….I’ve now come back to reality with a bump.

My plans for the next few weeks were originally:
– Get back to training asap after doing very little while away
– Run the Highland Perthshire marathon in September as a long training run
– Try and beat my PB at the Stirling 10K (which would mean a PB in every distance this year!)
– Run the Clyde Stride 40 mile ultra at the end of September.

However, for a while now I’ve not been feeling the drive to run the Clyde Stride. When I think about how excited I was before Glen Ogle or Strathearn, I realise I’m not getting the same feeling about this race. Whether it’s because I haven’t managed to go and run any of the route in advance or because I’ve done very few miles in the past month, I just wasn’t looking forward to it. So instead of running a race I wasn’t particularly feeling up for, I decided (with very little persuasion from Jemma!) to sign up for the Loch Ness marathon and see if I can break the elusive 4 hour barrier time before the year is out.

Not really anywhere to run out here....
Not really anywhere to run out here….

I’m much more excited about running Loch Ness again as now I know the course and I know where the hills are. I know not to go out too fast on the first downhill section and also not the give up on the nasty hill around 19 miles in. I know to take more gels and carry some paracetamol in case my knee starts to hurt again. Running a marathon in under 4 hours is my ultimate goal for the rest of this year. After taking 12 minutes off my time at the tricky Strathearn marathon, I feel I should be more than capable of it on this course, but after swanning around on holiday for weeks, has all my hard work and training taken a back seat?


With 4 weeks of hard work ahead of me, it’s time to really put some effort in.

The Hoka Highland Fling 2014: A Sweepers Perspective

It’s Friday evening and Jemma and I are enjoying a lovely dinner and a few relaxed drinks at my parents house in Clachan of Campsie. Normally the night before a race I’m quite highly strung and can’t unwind but this was different. We had the privilege of being part of this years Hoka Highland Fling, but we didn’t have the stresses of having to race it – we would just be tagging along at the back and making sure everyone got to the next check point in one piece. Awesome.

Although we were only sweeping half the course, we still had a good 27 miles to cover and could potentially have been out there for 7-8 hours (going by last years splits) so we weren’t taking any chances and we packed enough food to last us a good month or so.

We didn't take all of it, but going to the supermarket on an empty stomach is clearly a bad idea Jemma.... :)
We didn’t take all of it, but going to the supermarket on an empty stomach is clearly a bad idea Jemma…. 🙂

Cars in Rowardennan, bags packed, kit all ready and my wonderful mother willing to get up at the crack of dawn to drive us over to Milngavie, I sleepily headed off to bed and quickly fell asleep with the wonderful peace and quiet of the countryside around me….

…only to be woken at about 3am by something that sounded like a freight train trundling by! I looked out the window and saw the trees across the lane swaying feet in either direction and rain bouncing off everything around. This was not a good sign. Could I manage the distance in this type of weather again?!.

I eventually crawled out from under the duvet around 4.15am and willed the rain to have gone off before we left the house at around 5.30am. The fact I was about to run 27 miles still hadn’t hit me. It was just another early start for another wee run. Or something like that!

Wrapped up and ready to go.
Wrapped up and ready to go.

I ended up wearing a vest, 2 long-sleeved tops, my waterproof jacket, 2 buffs, shorts, long socks and gloves. I was NOT going to be cold on this run, that was for sure!

The rain had let up a bit and by the time we arrived at Milngavie train station at 5.40am it had gone of completely. The forecast was for a dry start and then drizzle throughout the day. Not perfect but it could be so much worse I guess! We found a marshal who agreed to take our luggage up to Rowardennan (thank you so much!), dropped off our over sized drop bag (as I discovered during Glen Ogle, you never know what you’ll want to eat until the time comes, so pack one of everything!) and then heard someone shouting my name. It was Rhona and Rachel who were both raring to go. We wished them good luck and then took a step to the side to watch the runners assemble for their 6am start. What a sight it was. A car park full of runners – close to a thousand of them, all ready to tackle this beast of a 53 mile monster. The horn went and they were off, leaving the car park feeling eerily quiet for the next wee while…

All ready to run to Tyndrum?
All ready to run to Tyndrum?

Come 7am and it was our turn to start with the relays. The plan was to take it easy and keep a bit of a gap between us and the last runner but as always I got a bit carried away and Jemma had to reel me in once or twice. We had a bit of a stop-start first few miles, picking up litter and route signs and trying not to run too close to the runner ahead of us. I was enjoying myself immensely. I’ve never run parts of the WHW before so to put it all together all the way up to Rowardennan was amazing and just so beautiful. Of course there was time for posing….

Leaving Milngavie. The silly pictures pretty much started straight away!
Leaving Milngavie. The silly pictures pretty much started straight away!



Our relay runner got into Drymen just before the 3 hour mark and in the time it took Jemma to empty the route signs out of her bag the next runner had sprinted off. The pace stepped up a bit and we found ourselves galloping up a hill behind her. Pretty sore on already tired legs! As we came to a road crossing I noticed our runner heading up the hill, following the Rob Roy way. I tried shouting after her but I imagine she was too in the zone to hear me and I ended up full on sprinting up a hill after her! (I must point out that this is where I found out the whistle on my camelbak is totally useless. Will take a proper one next time!) This was the only part of the race where the route wasn’t clearly marked and I can only assume a marker or 2 had gone missing as every other crossing was so obvious. I’m not saying sabotage in any way… or am I…? I can only hope we didn’t lose any other runners at this point as by now there was quite a gap between our runner and the one in front. After we had pointed her back in the right direction we began our ascent over Conic Hill. Everything I’ve previously read about it popped into my head and I imagined the worst, but I actually really enjoyed it! Does this mean that hill reps in training are actually working??! On the way back down we came across and injured runner who was hobbling down, wincing with every step. Her support was on their way but by this point we were so far behind the previous runner we were being called by the next check point to find out where we were! We passed through Balmaha after about 4 and a half hours and gave ourselves a mental pat on the back for managing to still feel awesome. After packing all that amazing food into our drop bag, the only thing I fancied when we got there was chocolate milk. With that in one hand and a packet of Hula Hoops in the other, we bounced out of the check point determined to try and catch up with another runner. After another 15 minutes or so of running we decided to call ahead to the next check point and let them know we had had some issues and that we may be some time.

Jemma running up Conic hill!
Jemma running up Conic hill!
Sweeping from afar...
Sweeping from afar…
Bounding along the beach at Milarrochy. Having just too much fun!
Bounding along the beach at Milarrochy. Having just too much fun!

The route between Balmaha and Rowardennan is quite technical in places, but so much fun. I have ran this stretch many a time before with my dog and know it pretty well, so I knew what was ahead and enjoyed every step. I felt one small blister appearing under my toe from when my feet had got wet and my sock was rubbing, but apart from that I felt surprisingly good! I can’t even begin to think how I’d feel if I’d run the whole course though. I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to find out next year….

Hills after 24 miles....
Hills after 24 miles….


I bounded in to Rowardennan and passed over my first aid kit to the next bunch of sweepers who said the last runner had left a good 20-30 minutes before. They had their work cut out catching up with them then!! After stretching off we made our way up to Tyndrum to get showered changed and ready to cheer in our friends who were brave enough to tackle to whole course. They all ran extremely well – 53 miles in under 15 hours? You’re all my heroes! We had a quick catch up and then decided we were too tired to go to the ceilidh and just needed some food and to head home.

I’m hoping I’m strong enough and fit enough to join these amazing people on the start line next year. I’ll tackle the CS40 in September first and see how my body responds to that and decide if I’m ready or not. If not I’ll definitely be back to help out again as this is just such an amazing event which is just going from strength to strength. Well done everyone, you’re awesome!!

I'll be rocking this hoodie for months to come.
I’ll be rocking this hoodie for months to come.

When you can’t quite make it to the start line….

This Sunday coming is the day I should be running my first marathon of the year. A race I entered almost as soon as it was open with high hopes of a distance PB and a more comfortable run that my last attempt, which was at the Loch Ness Marathon back in September last year. The Lochaber marathon is an out and back race on a relatively flat route and after the ups and downs and inbetweens of Loch Ness, I had really been looking forward to see what I was capable of. But after my rather shaky start to the year, I made the heart wrenching decision to pull out. I knew it was the right decision as I hadn’t been able to train properly, but the stubborn part of me was very reluctant to accept I wasn’t capable of doing it. In the state I was in I would have been lucky to complete the first 10k of it!

However, now that race day looms and I’m feeling much better and have a good few miles clocked in my fresh legs, I’m inwardly very jealous of everyone going up to the race. I know I’m still nowhere near marathon ready but now that I’m running well again, part of me wishes I’d still given it a go. The very silly part of me of course – I know I’d do more damage than good running on untrained legs, but still….. you know how it is.

The past few weeks have seen my return to running with a grin on my face. Not just a grin, but an elated , Cheshire cat type beam from ear to ear.

And, well whatever this is…

Black top on the right. Captions welcome...
Black top on the right. Captions welcome…

The above was taken at our club time trail on Tuesday. A 3 mile sprint around the Gartmorn dam, a beautiful – if somewhat muddy, circular loop where our club does loads of training. My splits for which were all under 8 minutes and my overall time being 22:35. I couldn’t be happier with that time, and if that’s how I’m starting my comeback I’m hoping at the next time trial I can slash at least another 30 seconds off that!

My giving it my all, Scott just having a leisurely jog. It's not fair....
My giving it my all, Scott just having a leisurely jog. It’s not fair….
Ruuuuuuuuuunn!! Pics - Richard O'Grady
Pics – Richard O’Grady

Thursdays training was one of my favourite pyramid set – 3 mins, 4 mins, 5 mins, 6 mins, 5 mins, 4 mins, 3 mins, following the old wagon way down to Tillicoultry and then, yep you guessed it, back UP again. I felt like I had so much power during this session which is something I haven’t felt since the beginning of December. I even managed a sprint up the last hill in the last minute of the last set – something I couldn’t have even dreamed of a few weeks ago!

So now the countdown is on until my next few events. Starting with sweeping the first 2 legs of the Hoka Highland Fling in 3 weeks – something that has just been finalised tonight and I couldn’t be more excited about! Then I have the Loch Leven Half at the beginning of May which is a race that I HAVE to run this year as it was my first ever DNS last year. Following that Jemma and I are running the Mull of Kintyre half at the end of May – one of the most beautiful in the U.K and then, in 10 weeks time, it’s marathon time again. The Strathearn marathon which will now be my first marathon of the year and my now ‘A’ race of the year. Training is well under way and if I manage to run it like I’m running just now, I’ll be elated and have a fantastic race.

Bring on the hours of running ahead.

Planning my return….

It has been a very difficult start to the year for me running wise. From the very beginning of January I was dragging my legs and huffing and puffing about like a steam train, hating every minute of my running and hating myself for hating it! Mid March I got round to going for a blood test and found out I was quite anemic and was prescribed a course of iron tablets for the next wee while. After I was given my results (my ferritin level being 2!) I asked my GP, half knowing the answer and half hoping these tablets would work miracles in a matter of days, if I’d be able to run the Alloa half the following weekend. He stared at me with a furrowed brow as he tried to figure out if I was joking or not! But of course in a round about way I was told not to be so silly and just get back to training first – gently!

Another reason I had really been looking forward to running it was even though it’d be my 3rd time running the route it would have been the first time since I’d joined the club. And wow, were the WCH out in force for this race!!

This lot were awesome. I was jealous but I got to cycle to various points and cheer them on!
This lot were awesome. I was jealous but I got to cycle to various points and cheer them on!

So, the race I had been looking forward to for a whole year was out. Our local half, the one in which I smashed my p.b by 5 minutes in last year and what was to be my first ‘A’ race of the year turned into my second ever DNS, but for the first time through not being able to run and having to stand on the sidelines and watch everyone else get hyped up for and run so well in! In my mind, and many others, a DNS (did not start) is ten times worse than a DNF (did not finish) or even a DLF (dead last finish) but this time the situation was outwith my control. Racing was physically not possible and my legs would definitely not thank me for even trying. I had to get over it and realise I was being silly – there were plenty more races and many more years of racing to get through. I’m only 30, so that’s pretty young for a runner and I can only plan to get better in the future.

I wasn’t ruling the day out though, so I took my bike and cycled the course to cheer them on and take pictures at various points. I lost count of the amount of p.b’s or course p.b’s set that day – every single runner did so amazingly well! Not the easiest course when they stick in Menstrie Brae (a hill lasting half a mile or so) at 10 miles into the race. At the end of the day we all regrouped and went for an Indian meal and few drinks at a local restaurant – I know I didn’t run, but who said I couldn’t celebrate everyone else’s success! Jemma also ran amazingly well coming in about 20 seconds outside her p.b. She’s now joined the Wee County Harriers until her and my little brother go traveling later this year, so look out for more orange and navy in that direction!!

I am two weeks into my course of iron tablets and I noticed a difference after a week. I was sleeping better, feeling better when I woke up in the morning and I wasn’t out of breath after the simplest of tasks or passing out on the couch as soon as I got in from work. Yes my job is very demanding and I’m always on the go, but getting home at 6:30pm and needing a nap by 7:30pm was very out of character for me! After a few weeks of avoiding training I decided to make my return to a hill reps session and I couldn’t have felt better or enjoyed it more! My mile splits are right back down and running up hills no longer makes me feel like every last molecule of oxygen is being sucked out of my lungs or that my quads are being hit with a hammer. I know it’ll take a bit longer, but I feel almost normal again!

What a difference some iron tablets have made! I know I have been screaming it from the hill tops, but I can’t advise it more – if you start to feel low for no apparent reason, your quads feel like your worst enemies and you suddenly feel out of breath like you should if you smoke 40 a day, then get your iron levels checked. I could have plodded on for months had my physio not told me that she had felt this way and that iron tablets made her bounce back within weeks!

I may have had to pull out of my first 2 favourite races of the year but I’m bouncing back and I’m ready to to take on the next one with gusto. Before that I will be helping out at the Highland Fling at the end of April and cheering on my club mates that are brave enough to race that distance. I’ll hopefully be joining them next year, but we’ll see how this goes first.

My running colours leave little to the imagination!
My running colours leave little to the imagination!
I'll be back. It's a slow return, but I'll get there...
I’ll be back. It’s a slow return, but I’ll get there…

And finally there is a solution to the problem…

Apologies once again for the lack of activity around these parts recently. My running has been basically non existent since the beginning of the year and any running I have done has been met with pain, fatigue or just no motivation what so ever and it has left me baffled as I was doing so well right up until mid December. Then I just seemed to hit a brick wall and I’ve been dragging my heels ever since. My training was going down hill, I was unbelievably empty and I came home from countless training sessions in tears. I just couldn’t run any more and I felt I was watching all my hard work from the last year slip away from me. Just over 4 months ago I had completed a marathon and an ultra marathon 6 weeks apart and I was feeling stronger than ever and now, nothing. No drive, no push, no energy. Nothing.

But there is a light at the end of the hugely long, dark and damp tunnel.

After feeling rotten for far too long and dropping way back in the pack at training, due to not even being able to lift my legs and feeling tired after the first mile, I decided to go to the doctors. He recommended I get a blood test to check my iron levels and low and behold – I’m highly anaemic! I’d read a lot about anaemia before I went for my blood tests as when I went for a sports massage in February my therapist, being a keen hill runner herself, mentioned it was quite a common occurrence in female long distance runners. I went home and googled it all and realised suffered from ever single symptom. So when my test results came back and my theory was confirmed I was quite relived that now I had an answer and with a course of iron tablets to take for the next however long, I’d hopefully be back to my best.

However this was all found out after I had performed terribly at the ‘sabotaged’ Devilla 15k. I knew from the start I wasn’t going to run well and yet my stubbornness made me go along and do it anyway. Big mistake. From 2 miles in I was huffing and puffing and my legs didn’t want to go on. Had I been on my own I would definitely have pulled out about then as I was just not enjoying it, but as I was running with a few club mates who were pushing me on, I decided to stick with it.

Before all the glorious mud. Shiny just washed shoes!!
Before all the glorious mud. Shiny just washed shoes!!
No matter how bad a race, I'll somehow always find  smile when necessary. This smile masks the pain!
No matter how bad a race, I’ll somehow always find smile when necessary. This smile masks the pain!

Jemma did a fabby race report so I won’t go into detail, but feeling the way I did on the day I was quite glad that the course had somehow been shortened. When I passed the 10k marker and my watch only said I’d ran 5.3 miles I was confused but when I ran past the spray painted 13k sign on the ground, I was secretly overjoyed. I was done in and the finish line couldn’t come soon enough. All the way through the race my club mate Karen had stuck with me and pushed me on, which she didn’t have to do as this was her race as well, but I was so thankful she was with me. At a race in the future it will be my turn to return the support to someone else and I will gladly do it. It really spurs you on when you are feeling at your lowest and that you have no more push in you muscles.

Soaked to the core and failing through fatigue, but I'll still smile for you Mr camera man!
Soaked to the core and failing through fatigue, but I’ll still smile for you Mr camera man!
Wee County runers turned out en masse for the Devilla run. And we kicked butt :)
Wee County runers turned out en masse for the Devilla run. And we kicked butt 🙂

So now I have a diagnosis I guess I just have to bide my time and inhale iron. I’ve had to pull out of 2 of my favourite races so far this year – the Alloa half which I had high hoped for a pb in and also the scenic Loch Katrine half. My next big run after that is at the end of April when I should be sweeping the Highland Fling. No matter how rubbish I’m feeling I’ll be doing that. Can’t wait to meet up with all my Ultra buddies at the end and celebrate with them!

Anaemia – you suck.