Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

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?

16 Comments

  1. 2015 was quite a year!! Here’s hoping that 2016 brings it’s own rewards even if in a different form. Good Luck with all you do xxx

  2. Well done on a great year! What about Balmoral 15 mile trail end of April for fun? Also loved the Mallaig Road to the Isles half marathon first week end of May. It follows the old coastal road with views on Rum and Eigg and has to be the prettiest half ever. All the best x Corine

    • I’ve fancied giving the Balmoral 15 a go for a while, but it has always clashed with the date of the Fling! This year for once it is on a different weekend, but I’m in London for the marathon that weekend. Cheering duties only, but it will still be fun!
      I’ll look up the Mallaig one – I’ve heard great things about the Hebridean races.

  3. Great blog and some amazing achievements last year it is a conundrum how to follow that. I still love that moment you finished the Fling and realised what a fantastic PB you had achieved. Brings a tear to my eye to this day. Don’t put pressure on making decisions, events will naturally rear their head and sometimes the best plans don’t come to fruition. I’m having a look at the Marathon de Ben Nevis for later in the year since my CCC hopes got taken away. Looks an interesting route. Take care and take it easy. It’s a funny old road getting back into the running thing! X

    • The Fling finish this year was definitely one of the most memorable moments in my running so far. I still can’t believe I managed to pull it off!
      I’m actually quite attracted by the Skyrunning event in Glen Coe, but I don’t think my mountaineering skills are up to scratch…

  4. Maybe too late for this year but the Cape Wrath challenge is a fantastic opportunity. You can sign up for 5 races over 6 days or enter any combination, week culminates in one of the toughest marathons in Britain out to the Cape Wrath lighthouse and back. A truly unique experience and a fantastic atmosphere. Fabulous achievements last year and best wishes for more success this year

    • I’ve heard of that Challenge before and I’d love to try it – especially the marathon, where you have to take a boat to access part of the course! It would be great to go up and do all the events.

  5. It is always a problem to follow a big year. We do stuff and then move on looking for the next adventure , always looking for something bigger, harder, scarier.

    The Cateran, the Skye Tràil and the Great Glen are all worth a look. The Dirty 30 is as much fun as you can have in 30 miles. St Cuthbert is worth a look, and then of course the Alps beckon, as do some of the big Classics in the USA.

    • I’ve done the Cateran and the Great Glen before. I’m primarily looking outside of Scotland, but there are one or two of the SUMS races I’ve not yet tried. I’m not sure my navigation skills are quite up to the Skye Trail but I won’t lie, it is an attractive looking race.

  6. I was really interested to read this as at first I thought it was a bit harsh. Just because you’re not in your normal routine, does that really mean your right has gone? I understand what you’re saying though. Years ago I was part of a tight knit intense community of people, not unlike ultra runners in the strength of friendships formed – motorbike racers. I don’t race any more, sadly I let my licence lapse a long time ago. But. When I am with those people, the undeniable truth is that we are still bike racers. We might be resting, retired, temporarily out of action, whatever you like, but we all know that if we were cut in half there would be petrol/oil in there somewhere and that we would sacrifice a lot to help a fellow racer still.

    I’m on a mission to do different stuff this year. I broke up with someone and I’m just not ready to do the whole Scottish ultra scene this year. It felt right to step away although I’m still running. I’m off to do the Great Lakeland 3 Dayer as I want to try some mountain marathons in the future and also to see somewhere different. I’m having another go at a race back down south that I made a mess of the first time, and then was injured for last year – the Saltmarsh 75, two flat days round the wildest of wild Essex coastline. And I’m having a crack at the Great Glen, which was just too tempting to stay away from.

    It took me a long time after the Fling to get back into running again, and then I had a horrid time at a hill race in October and thought I’d really hurt myself. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it any more at all. But when the time was right, it felt good again and I love the structure of it and building up and knowing every mile counts and the brain release it gives me. I’m one of the slowest of the slow, but definitely a runner.

    Have a fantastic 2016 and apologies this turned out so long! X

  7. What a fantastic year for you! Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished. After all that, a little break is understandable, and now you’re back fresh – perfect.

    After some summer races of my own, I also struggled with finding new goals. After some self-examination, I had to drill down to WHY I run these “ridiculous” races anyway. Everyone has different reasons, of course, but for myself it’s not about speed (no Olympian here). My own reasons revolve around seeing new, amazing scenery that I wouldn’t see otherwise and finding the joy in it. I often take these things far too seriously, so this is a focus for me this year. My big goal this year is my first international race – the Highland Fling! I can’t wait.

    For you, have you ever considered the Sparkasse 3 Country Marathon? (http://www.sparkasse-3-laender-marathon.at/en/category/sparkasse-3-country-marathon/participant-information/) It goes through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and looks fairly flat (maybe good for a PB?) I haven’t run it myself (yet), but I find the multiple countries things quite appealing.

    Of course, I always recommend the beautiful races out here in the Pacific Northwest in the US. We’ll get you here sometime! 🙂

  8. So glad you are back to writing about running! It’s always good to take time for reflection and leave some space for the questions about what’s next. Your blog has been extremely inspiring to this runner (jogger?) halfway around the world, and I’m running my first 50k (Bristow trail run, flat) on February 6.

    • Thanks for commenting, Heather! After a bit of a break I feel much better prepared for both writing and the running year ahead.
      Best of luck for your race this weekend, I hope you really enjoy yourself!

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