Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

West Highland Way Training Weekend

Last weekend I took my first trip back to the Southern half of the West Highland Way, since the West Highland Way Race in June 2015. The annual January training weekend was taking place once more at The Oak Tree Inn, and despite not running the race this year, to miss the annual January get-together was unthinkable.

 

After a hairy drive across Scotland going head-on into Storm Gertrude, we arrived at the Oak Tree around gin o’clock. Thankfully, despite passing one car accident and three over-turned lorries on the way, we achieved safe passage without incident. After a couple of drinks and a substantial meal to fuel the next day’s efforts, we retired to bed as the wind screamed through the trees around us creating ominous noises.

west highland way race training weekend

The next morning we awoke to a scattering of snow on the ground and continuing relentless wind. There was no two ways about it – the forecast was extremely poor…

balmaha weather

The wind was pushing off Loch Lomond from the West in huge gusts and creating big waves on the water. It seemed like the weather was changing every five minutes – when I sat down to breakfast the sun was shining, but by the time I’d ordered my coffee it was hammering down with hail.

Somewhat reluctantly I swallowed some cement and hardened myself up, and turned out for the start of the run at 9:50. There was a huge turnout, with many more people arriving on the morning than had stayed the night before. After a brief introduction from Ian we set off en masse at 10am, being battered from all sides by the wind.

west highland way craigie fort

I had given some consideration as to how far I wanted to run, but after the weather forecast veered into dangerous territory, I decided to call it on the day. I knew at a minimum I wanted to run to Rowardennan and back (around 16 miles) which would be a sensible distance for my first ‘long run’ of the year; if I was enjoying myself more then I would continue.

Ben Lomond west highland way

Ben Lomond in the snow

Either way my priority was to socialise and enjoy myself, which is why I was disappointed to find myself running alone for the first 8 miles. As usual – too fast to be slow and too slow to be fast. I am also a pig for sticking at exactly my own pace,  so unless someone else is running at exactly that on a group run, I rarely end up with close company on long runs.

Loch Lomond National Park Memorial Scuplture

Loch Lomond National Park Memorial Scuplture

The weather was very changeable, but careful dressing meant I was able to regulate my temperature well. On the sections away from the Lochside it was quite calm and snowy, but on the more exposed sections you really had to get your head down and shield your face from the hail. I’ve never seen the Loch look so rough as it did on Saturday!

Milarochy Bay west highland way

Milarochy Bay

I stopped at the war memorial at Rowardennan when I hit 8 miles and decided I would make my way back after a snack. As I wandered around eating some biscuits, I bumped into Fiona and Pauline who were heading back too, so I stuck with them on the return journey. It was the right decision to make as the intervals of sun became more and more infrequent and the wind and hail increasingly more violent! Violent is the right word; the pea-sized hail really stung your bare skin as it flew in sideways at speed. It got so bad it was fun – at least it wasn’t rain and we stayed mostly dry!

photo by Fiona

photo by Fiona

photo by Fiona

photo by Fiona

(link to video – click)

We made it back to base about three and a half hours after starting, just in time to get the last of the lunchtime soup at the Oak Tree. After defrosting and enjoying a couple of beers, I headed back for a lovely hot shower and a snooze before the evening’s festivities began.

The next morning, Kynon and I blew the cobwebs away with an ascent and descent of Conic Hill. I’d love to share some photos, but the cloud was so thick and low that you couldn’t see a thing. Here’s one of my favourites from last year instead…

whw training 7

It was interesting to be back on the West Highland Way for the first time since the race. I had a few flashback memories along the way of things that I’d forgotten about from the race, and as ever, the trail didn’t fail to shine despite the changeable weather. I’d forgotten how beautiful some of the forest sections near Rowardennan are.

After a few weeks of speed training I was satisfied with my first ‘Long’ run in a while and am looking forward to increasing my mileage in preparation for the Sri Chinmoy 50k at the end of March. Next up – 18 miles on the road, tomorrow!

Have you trained through the nasty weather recently?
What’s your favourite part of the West Highland Way?

Return to Aberdeen parkrun

aberdeen parkrun logo

Attending Aberdeen parkrun used to be a key part of my Saturday morning running when I lived in Aberdeen, with a couple of miles run to the start for a warm up and a couple of miles back afterwards usually making a nice 10 mile start to my weekend. Now that  I live a good 15 miles away it is far less convenient and an early morning trip up is usually only been made once or twice a year. When my friend Naomi invited me for dinner last Friday, with use of her spare room and a trip to Aberdeen parkrun in the morning, I was delighted to see that my calendar was actually free and looked forward to a return visit.

Although I was shocked to see that my last visit was actually in May 2014, I was not altogether surprised. As a dyed in the wool ultrarunner, parkruns, 5km races and anything 10k and under generally scares the crap out of me and I avoid them like the plague unless I have a temporary change of heart and fancy a change. Afterwards, I remember why I consider anything of marathon distance and shorter to be too much work and avoid them again for months on end. I wouldn’t say I’m stuck in my ways, but…if I’m going to feel *that* bad at the end of a run, I like it to be because I’ve been running for 25 hours, not 25 minutes.

However, it had clearly been long enough for me to forget the pain of an all-out 5km sprint, so going to Aberdeen parkrun on a Saturday morning in January sounded like a super idea. For those who aren’t familiar; the course is an out-and back along the beach promenade, and is mainly flat apart from a gentle 200m incline at the start and a couple of cruel dips where the esplanade lowers to allow vehicular access to the beach. A run at Aberdeen beach, parkrun or not, can either be an utterly stunning, life-affirming experience, or a hellish battle of the mind and legs as you fight against cruel sea winds and biblical precipitation.

aberdeen parkrun beach bbc

photograph – bbc   

Beautiful!

Nope.

Luckily on the 23rd of January we were blessed with views similar to the former of the above two example, albeit with a chilling wind. After a two mile jog of a warm up I was ready to go alongside nearly 300 happy parkrunners and shot off when the hooter went, wondering what I’d got myself into.

Since I’ve been working on building up speed this month, I wanted to give the 3.1 miles my absolute all and get a good benchmark for the start of the year. My 5k PB is 24:18 which was set in May 2014 one week after I had ran the 53 mile Highland Fling for the second time. Being able to run that fast after a 53 mile race made no sense to me at the time and still doesn’t; but it’s just one of these things I just shall not question. I wasn’t expecting to get anywhere near my PB, but I wanted a solid, steady effort. My trick at parkrun in the past has been to post a massive positive split with a good minute in difference between my first and third split, so I wanted to show I’d learned at least something in the last few years and commit to a strong pace at the start and maintain it.

My interval sessions have been conducted at 8 minute miles since the start of the year, so I was pleased when my watch beeped for the first mile showing an 8:03. That was my challenge then – to bash out another two of those. It felt reasonably comfortable with the exception of the first 1.5 miles being into a light wind which meant I was constantly pushing harder than I’d have liked, but I know the reward would come on the return leg.

The second mile beeped with 8:04 and I was really pleased, but now the familiar burning feeling of death was creeping into my legs and lungs. Naomi passed me at the start of the third mile and maintained a tantalising 20 meter lead; chasing her pulled me forward as I adopted the crazed, wild eyed, tongue-lolling expression of someone in the last kilometer of a 5km run.

laser eye cat

After the recent storms we’ve had up here, there was a lot of thick sand from the beach up on the esplanade which was a real energy sapper. I tried to pick out smart ways to cross the massive piles and avoid the deepest sections, but it was pretty much unavoidable. There was a photographer sneakily positioned somewhere towards the end of the Promenade who was capturing the grimaces right before the final turn and the last 400m sprint to the finish line; it’s reassuring to know I looked as good as I felt here.

aberdeen parkrun aberdeen beach

Photograph – Stuart Bell 

After crossing the line and the customary 20 seconds of will I/won’t I throw up my breakfast feelings, I got my barcode scanned and checked my watch. Much to my delight I saw the third mile clocked at 8:04 to make three almost identical splits, and I’d finished in 25:03. For someone as allergic to running fast as I have been recently, I’m very pleased with that result for the first measured effort of the year and look forward to a return visit to Aberdeen parkrun next month to hopefully see continued progress. Last year I failed to even try to make any improvement in my road distance personal bests, so in 2016 I’d like to see considerable improvement across them all!

Are you a parkrun addict?
What are your speed goals for this year?

Earn The Right

Inside my front door, there are thirteen pairs of running shoes which belong to me.  Make your way up the stairs, and you’ll pass coat hooks with several running jackets hanging next to a fuel belt and a couple of hydration packs. If you stray into the kitchen, you might open a cupboard and see boxes of energy gels, flapjacks, protein bars, and a shelf of various paraphernalia; a head torch, a packet of Compeed, a half used roll of athletic tape.

Walking into the living room, a bookshelf dominates one wall: ‘Born to Run, ‘Eat and Run’, ‘Why We Run’, ‘Run or Die’, ‘Runner’, ‘Running for Women’, ‘Relentless Forward Progress’, autobiographies of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Paula Radcliffe, with several issues of Like The Wind magazine piled on top. Behind the couch is a pile of medals, sprawling in a mess since their collective hanging weight nearly pulled a light fitting off the wall last month. The focal point of the room is the fireplace; in the centre of the mantlepiece is a crystal goblet, flanked on either side by several other small mementos, quaichs, and plaques. Anyone would think that a runner lived in this house.

West Highland Way Triple Crown

Much thought has been given in the past as to at what point it is permissible to call oneself a ‘runner’. Many people incorporate a small amount of running as part of a larger training regime, but they would not call themselves a ‘runner’. Some people will run five days a week but never compete in a race, thus will refuse to call themselves a ‘runner’. There is also the elitist mindset that believes that someone moving at anything less than a certain pace is a jogger, not a runner. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you run, then you’re a runner.

So what am I, if I have not been running?

Regardless of what speed you move at, you have to actually partake in the activity to be a part of it. You can own all the running shoes in the world, but unless you are running in them then you are not a runner. You have to earn the right to call yourself a runner. Since entering life without a structured training plan, in the last few months I’ve been feeling like I’ve been slipping further and further away from the title, leading to somewhat of a loss of identity at times. My monthly mileage from September to December 2015 even when combined does not exceed or even remotely equal the total achieved in each month in the early part of the year, which is a strange situation to find oneself in when you are commonly referred to as an ‘ultrarunner’.

West Highland Way Race

Training for completion of the West Highland Way Race and the accompanying Triple Crown races was such a long labour of love that it almost felt natural to step back for a little while and reassess where I wanted to go next. The combination of that step back, complete dedication to the completion and submission of my MSc in October, and perhaps an added sprinkle of residual over-training syndrome or cumulative fatigue has led to a different situation at the start of 2016 – I have no idea what my goals are, still. Having no plans whatsoever was fun at first – a totally open calendar felt like an amazing opportunity, but now having still found no direction I feel I am flailing a bit.

To this end, I decided not to indulge in the blogger’s bread and butter in December and post a 2015 round up. To me it didn’t make sense to conclude one year without a clear vision for the next. Taking a brief look back though, despite going out with a fizzle rather than a bang, 2015 was alright.

Another PB at the D33:

d33 ultra

An amazing 1hr 21m PB at the Highland Fling – a race I still credit as my strongest yet:

hoka highland fling

Photo by Clark Hamilton

Finally getting *that* Goblet:

west highland way race 2015

Finishing the Devil o’the Highlands, and achieving the Triple Crown, hand in hand in the pouring rain with my husband:

devil o the highlands race 2015

Photo by Clark Hamilton

Submitting my MSc and heading off to Berlin to fun-run the marathon:

berlin marathon finish

And graduating. The work was worth it, and I passed with a Distinction:

Graduation

So how on earth does one follow a year like that? Without major goals, I need to re-immerse myself slowly. I need to re-earn the right to call myself a runner again. I’ve already had a couple of false starts at getting into a training routine;  partially due to my work situation at the moment, it’s challenging just to get into and keep a routine in general.

Earn the right

[Embedded video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B-SIJedZJg]

Once upon a time I was a student at the University of Texas at Austin. Even now over a decade later, I still follow the football programme avidly and my blood still flows burnt orange as a lifelong Longhorn fan. The Texas Longhorns have a great YouTube channel and the above video stuck with me the first time I watched it. Despite it now being a few years old I often rewatch it when I need a boost or a reminder why I need to keep working every single day.

“We constantly say that you’re not given anything in life. Even if you’re given an opportunity, you have to earn the right to keep it.”

I’m lucky in that my hiatus from running has been more or less a choice. Many are not so lucky and have been sidelined by injury or other circumstances. It has been humbling to go back out and find that running 8 miles without a break is quite exhausting, humbling to be reminded that the speed I once had is no longer there, and downright frustrating when I’m reminded how much harder it is to run when you’re carrying an extra stone around. The saying “Once a runner, always a runner” may be true, but for me I want to earn the right to keep it.

So what’s the plan?

I’d like to try some different things this year. After four consecutive Springs of training for the D33 Ultra and three training for the Highland Fling, it was almost a relief when I realised I was not going to be free on either race weekend in 2016. I will miss the social for sure, but this is forcing me to look beyond my usual routine and push me out of my comfort zone. You don’t get any better by doing the same things every year!

To this end I’ve decided to focus on the Sri Chinmoy Perth 50k at the end of March, and choose an Autumn marathon to target train for and really claw back some speed. I won a place on twitter for the Fort William Marathon in July, and I’m considering if I would like to return to the Devil o’the Highlands for a second time.  Other than that, my calendar is wide open and I’m looking for new races to try.

What’s on your 2016 calendar?
Are you setting any new goals?
Do you have any suggestions for new races I should run?

REVIEW: Helly Hansen Winter Training Collection

Helly Hansen Norviz Winter Training Collection 2015

At the start of October I received a press release from Scandinavian sportswear company, Helly Hansen, announcing the launch of their new ‘Norviz’ Winter Training Collection, which features hidden reflective fabric technology inspired by the Northern Lights. This interesting fabric intrigued me and I was keen to try it out, so requested some samples to review.

Helly Hansen Norviz Collection

Since arriving home from my holidays a month ago, I have been testing the W Aspire Jacket, and the W Aspire Norviz Tights in all weathers as I adjust to life back in Scotland in Winter. In addition to these items there is also a long sleeve top (pictured above) and a male range of the same items.

Helly Hansen W Aspire Jacket (RRP £90) Helly Hansen W Aspire Norviz Jacket

This beautiful jacket is whisper thin, yet provides superior protection against the wind and features ‘X-Cool’ quick dry fabric which quickly sheds light rain. I tested it in a variety of precipitations, and found it to be shower-proof, but definitely not waterproof. If you are out in ‘proper’ rain then this won’t keep you dry, but if you find yourself caught in a light shower whilst out and about then you will be well protected.

It is super light and compacts down to the size of a small fist, so easily packable in a rucksack for longer runs. A side pocket provides some room for storing essentials and the arm construction is articulated which provides a brilliant fit and easy movement.

In the dark under lights, the jacket takes on a silvery tone which is good for visability, and there is also reflective detailing on the zips and seams.

Despite not preferring kit in pink and typically ‘girly’ patterns, I found myself really liking this jacket’s design and found it very comfortable to wear. It doesn’t rustle when you run and you don’t even feel like you’re wearing it. My only negative comment is related to sleeve length – if you are a tall person you may wish to size up as I found the sleeves a bit short. I’m 5ft 10 and chose a size ‘S’ after referring to the sizing charts.

Helly Hansen W Aspire Norviz Tights (RRP £65)

Helly Hansen W Aspire Norviz Tight

These tights feature a female-specific cut, a sweat-proof back pocket, Norviz reflective fabric and an ergonomic fit achieved through body mapping technology. There is a drawstring at the waist and I would say that the tights are true to size. They don’t have a massive amount of stretch in them as they are cut to fit around the body rather than stretch to fit, so refer to the sizing charts carefully when selecting the correct size.

The Norviz reflective fabric is in panels on the back of the legs and lights up brightly when car lights shine upon it. There is also other reflective detailing on the tights, with zippers and logos in other places. Because I’m not a fashion photographer, I’ve been struggling to capture how the fabric lights up effectively; however this contrast shot below of the Pace Norviz LS top demonstrates it perfectly. The reflective fabric shines so brightly, and this feature remains hidden on the back of the tights in daylight, but comes to life after dark to keep you visible.

Helly Hansen Norviz Collection

Photo: gearjunkie.com

In general I’ve been very impressed with this kit, and wished I had been able to test the Long Sleeve top too as it’s the brightest piece in the collection! Before I could write this review however, I had to give the kit one last test and discover how it fared in the washing machine. Would the bright fabric survive a spin in the tub with the rest of my sports kit? After a muddy run I washed the tights on a 30C sports cycle as instructed and nervously took a picture using the flash on my phone. The pattern had faded slightly which is a bit of a shame, but it still remains after several washes. Bear this in mind when washing, as if you stick them in too hot a wash I suspect it may not end well!

Helly Hansen Norviz Collection 1

Closing thoughts

I’m really impressed with the fabric and will definitely follow any new releases next season closely. The pricing reflects the unique fabric technology, but if the items are beyond your budget they seem like the perfect kind of thing to put on your Christmas wishlist. You can purchase the range direct from Helly Hansen themselves or from several other online retailers. What I would love to see, as ever, is a move away from Black and Pink colour themes for women’s running kit. The Northern Lights are predominantly green and blue and this would have made a stunning, unique colour scheme for the range which would make it stand out even more.

Helly Hansen Norviz Collection 2

Thank you to Helly Hansen and ADPR for sending me the items to review. I received no additional payment, there are no affiliate links in the post, and as ever, all opinions are my own. Full disclosure policy HERE.

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