Life

The RedWineRunner Review of 2014

As is customary come the end of the year, I find myself casting a glance back over the previous 12 months and reviewing what I have achieved. In 2014 an awful lot of stuff has gone under the bridge here at Red Wine Towers, but I feel replete in my achievements as the last hours of year year pass away. It’s been a tough one, but a good one…let’s take a look…

January

stonehaven fireballs

stonehaven fireballs

As the clock struck midnight, I commenced the year with 30 minutes of epic, fiery, cardio by swinging my fireball up and down Stonehaven High Street to ring in the New Year. As a member of the Stonehaven Fireballs Association, I’m looking forward to doing the same tonight, and also welcoming some friends from England who will be visiting to see the spectacle.

Throughout the rest of January I worked hard, and alongside the rollercoaster of wedding planning I was knocking out a lot of miles to prepare for my Spring season. I always know I’m plenty rested and ready for the new season when I look at my previous January training log and recoil in shock! A ‘black’ day indicates a double day where I did an hour of circuit training as well as a run.

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February

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I started February with a return to the Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon; a great little race just down the road for those who love a grubby run around some fields at the start of the year. The weather was less harsh than in 2013, but I still returned to the finish with soaking, muddy shoes and a big grin. I was rewarded with a 7 minute course PB and NINE different types of soup to choose from to refuel.

Throughout the rest of February, Ultra training was never far from my mind. I wrote a post to shed some light on what I’d learned in two years of ultra running, for those who were thinking about giving it a shot or those who had started but were struggling – 5 Tips for Budding Ultramarathoners.

March

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The beginning of March started with some great long runs with friends as I finished off my Ultra training for the D33 and the Fling. Kynon ran his first ultra at the D33 and I shaved a minute off my PB after the race was a bit tougher than I expected – RACE REPORT.

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Then, the next weekend, we got married!

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…and then spent the next two weeks recovering in the Maldives.

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April

Coming back to the UK and real life was a bit of a shock, especially when the first thing on the calendar was the Highland Fling. I loved all 53 miles just as much as last year, and finished comfortably with no injuries – RACE REPORT.

Hoka Highland Fling 2014

finish

May

After three weeks recovery from the Fling, in May I ran the Cateran Trail 55 mile race for the first time. I was very nervous about doing ‘back to back’ 50+ mile races, and found that fatigue came earlier than expected. It was a very tough day out, but another where mental toughness saw me to the finish.

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You just can’t beat a race which starts and finishes in a pub. I finished in 13 hours and 32 minutes – RACE REPORT.

June

What else of note in Scottish Running happens in June other than the West Highland Way Race?

Most of Team Sweep 2014with Marc and Scott

I was delighted to join the sweep team for the second year, for my fourth year of being involved in the race. After our usual leader Neil broke his ankle, I headed up this crack team of Stonehaven runners (plus un-pictured: Mike and Karen) to look after the back end of the race. Another weekend of big fun, big hills and big miles. What a privilege. RACE REPORT

July

The first weekend of July was what it had all been about that year so far – the Great Glen Ultra. 72 miles coast to coast from Fort William to Inverness. A 1am start and no support allowed. What an adventure!

with Ben Nevis in the background

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It was a real privilege to be amongst the first contingent of runners to complete this race. It is a fantastic addition to the Scottish Ultra calendar and the perfect step between 50 milers and the West Highland Way. RACE REPORT

The rest of July was all relaxing and fun races – including a jaunt to Braemar for the Heart of The Park challenge with Kynon.Photo - John Mill

August

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At the start of August I headed over to Lewis with Naomi and Rachel, to run the beautiful Callanish Stones Marathon with Jemma. It was a gorgeous but tough course, but the islanders threw a fantastic race with the best goody bag I’ve ever seen and a BYOB ceilidh at night. RACE REPORT

September

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September saw my first attempt at a fixed-time race at the Glenmore 12 hour race. The race weekend was wild – wild parties, wild running and wild weather. I’ve never run in rain like it and hailstones the size of peas really hurt on bare skin… I aimed for 60 miles of 4 mile laps, and fell a bit short with a whisker under 53. In the end I found the lapped format didn’t really suit the way I usually think about races; I’ll maybe give it another go in a few years. RACE REPORT

September was also the month where I left my job and went back to University to start an MSc in Digital Marketing. It’s been a tough change and I still haven’t really settled into my new lifestyle yet, but I love my course and it was definitely the right decision to make.

October

stonehaven running club at monymusk half marathon 2014Monymusk Half descent

In October I got to try the Monymusk Multi-Terrain Half Marathon for the first time. It is a very challenging course, with the first 7 miles being straight up hill! This was the last race in the Stonehaven Running Club championships – after this race it was announced that my points total had earned me 3rd place in the Championships, behind Vikki in 2nd and Rebecca in 1st. RACE REPORT

November

Carolann main - Metro Running CLub

In November at the Peterhead 10k I finally clinched that time which has evaded me for so long – the sub-50 minute 10k. Great speed has never come naturally to my ultra legs, so after a long season of long races I was really pleased to be able to get a good race out of them. RACE REPORT

November

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My very last race of the year was the recently re-capped Fraserburgh Half. It was wet and windy and a really rough day for running, but somehow I managed to pull a PB out of the bag and finish the year in style. RACE REPORT

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Miles ran: 1294
Races completed: 15
WAVA: 62.6%

So a lot has happened in 2014. It’s gone very quickly, especially the first half of the year due to the hurricane of the last months of wedding planning. I’m really pleased with my running, I was really pleased with the wedding, and I’m really pleased I had the guts to quit my job and explore something new. I’m also really pleased that it’s the start of a new year in just over 12 hours, because I’ve got a lot to be getting on with in 2015.

After starting the year swinging our fireballs, Kynon and I are heading to Texas for two weeks to see old friends in Houston and Austin, and spend a little time away exploring the rest of Texas. Not a conventional start to a year of running by my usual standards perhaps, but this is going to be a year like no other. I’m sure you already know what’s coming, but a couple of weeks ago I got an email accepting my application to the West Highland Way Race and informing me I was successful in the ballot. I’ve been a member of the WHWR family for the last 4 years, but now it’s my turn to pull up a seat at the table and earn my Goblet.

Of course there will still be the old favourites such as the D33 and the Highland Fling, but Kynon and I are also heading over to Berlin in September to do the Berlin Marathon which I’m very excited about. I hope to do some other new-to-me races such as the re-vamped Devil O’ The Highlands, Speyside Way and Glen Ogle 33.

So thanks for joining me on the ride this year and for your continued comments and support. I wish you all the happiest of New Years, wherever you may be, and many miles of healthy running in 2015.

See you on the trails,

Rwr

When Bloggers Lose Their Voice

Four years ago yesterday, I wrote my first post on RedWineRunner. You can hop back then and have a look if you like; but the content isn’t great, I rather cringingly refer to ‘the blogosphere’, fangirl over US Healthy Living Blogs, and post far too many badly shot selfies. Oh the heady heights of 2010… a lot has changed about blogging since then, and after a while I like to think that my content took somewhat of an upward swing on the quality trajectory, especially as I realised quite how much bullshit those Healthy Living Blogs were full of.

After a while, I realised that these bloggers didn’t just love the products they were talking about; they were actually being sent them for free! This was before the days of the FTC guidelines on disclosure were made law in the States (read about this on Social Media Explorer HERE, and read the in-depth .pdf if you want more) and I felt betrayed and tricked by these bloggers. I began to view them in a totally different light, and like many critical readers it wasn’t long until I found my way to Get Off My Internets, where I found that I wasn’t the only one giving Healthy Living Bloggers the major side-eye and found out how many of these bloggers were manipulating and lying to their audience.

Fast forward three years and right now, I’m still in a love hate relationship with the blogging world. After I got fed up with the constant product shilling on US running blogs, I found a load of smaller UK running blogs which were far more relatable. I loved how reading these newer blogs was the absolute opposite of the American blogging scene; they were the real alternative to corporate publications at the newsagents with real runners writing about real struggles and gains in their training and diet, with no adverts, product placements, or sponsoring.

Oh, but bloggers. My dear bloggers. Where have you gone? Another couple of years later and 50% of my Feedly at any given time is filled with sponsored posts from blogs that used to be personal and a delight to read. We have now reached absolute peak sponsored content and I cannot keep a lid on my annoyance about this any more.  If the majority of your posts are promoting products or sponsored content, then you’ve really lost the voice which drew your audience in in the first place. The whole point of your once-unique blog is being lost and blurred into an anonymous sea of advertorial vessels. I am unsubscribing and stopping reading left, right, and centre.

I have a folder in feedly entitled ‘uk running blogs’ and looking through the posts in the last few weeks, this is what is being pitched at me:

Nuun, Spogo, Nakd bars, Kinesiology tape, Oatmeal, Chia seeds, Coconut water, yogurt, fitbugs, hairbands, Unilite head lights, Nathan hi-viz gadgets, Juicers, Quorn cooking classes, Sweaty Betty, Concerts, Holidays, Broadband offers, Go Pros, Endless London overpriced boutique fitness classes, crackpot nutritional supplements, undisclosed free race entries, free race entries that are only disclosed right at the end of the 1000 word post telling you how great the race is, MORE free race entries, brand ambassadorships, sponsored advertorials, and of course the ubiquitous free trainers and tonnes of kit from brands that no-one’s heard of…but are sure to be #thenextbestthing. #runhappy #lightupyourrun #elevateyourrun #sweatpink #fitfluential #hashtagitoryoudontgetpaid?

To a certain extent, I don’t have a problem with the odd product review whether sponsored or not as it’s always interesting to see what’s new on the market, but when UK bloggers are carpet bombed with the same item at the same time it’s insufferable and I don’t read the posts. There’s also an issue with a lack of blogger integrity – if your blog is about running and fitness, why are you advertising something that is completely irrelevant to your topic? Everyone has a price I guess – I’ve turned down several paid product advertisements/giveaways because the product had nothing to do with running, fitness or a healthy lifestyle. But would I have done the same if I was totally broke? You’ve got to make your crust however you can, but you still owe it to yourself not to sell out your own ‘product’ for someone else’s benefit.

There’s also the issue of non-disclosure, or very veiled disclosure, which is totally boiling my blood at the moment. These days most bloggers are well aware that the requirements of the advertising standards agency means they must disclose clearly when a product has been provided to them for free, whether they have been compensated for the review, or whether the entire post has been sponsored. Keeping this clear upfront makes it nice and easy for me to decide whether I want to grumpily scroll past yet another review of Adidas trainers, but it becomes a real irritant when disclosure is hidden at the bottom of a post.

I refer to the CAP code:

2.3: Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.

If I’ve just read a glowing 1000 word review of a new race, or shoe and get to the bottom and see in tiny letters that the product/free entry was provided by ‘your friends at X’ then I’m going to disregard a lot of what I’ve just read, because hiding the disclosure like this is disingenuous. It is not uncommon for marketing team to encourage bloggers to hide disclosure or make it appear as if their product was not gifted, which devalues the whole product to me. Incidentally – they are not your friends; they are a team of marketing vultures hired on behalf of the company to make as much money for them as possible for as little money as possible.

This has been a hard post to decide to publish, because it’s a total hand grenade and I risk pissing off a lot of bloggers I interact with who might read it – but I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. This blog has sat in my drafts since September, but some gurning on twitter with some other disenfranchised bloggers yesterday made me think that it was worth posting after all. There is a time and a place for blogger/brand collaboration, but the saturation of the UK blog scene with product right now is just too much for me and I’m declaring that I’m out.

Why, to be a ‘good’ blogger these days, do we all have to be ambassadors for something? Or working ‘in partnership’ with brands? Or fill our pages with giveaways and freebies? If I want to read a magazine there are plenty out there and I yearn for when this trend wanes and we get back to talking about ourselves and our training constantly. Narcissistic perhaps, but ultimately more interesting.

The last time I did a review was over a year ago when Salomon, a brand I know and respect, offered me a pair of trail shoes to review when I was actually in the market for buying some new ones. I decided this fitted in with my blog integrity and I was happy to accept the product and publish a review. I haven’t accepted anything else since and recently updated my PR/media policy page to reflect this – I’m just not interested in partaking in this circus any more. I’ve built this blog up over 4 years of quality writing and talking about issues which relate to my readers. Under no circumstances do I wish to dilute this creation by changing the kind of content I create, so this is a public declaration that I’m out of the game. Redwinerunner.com is not up for sale.

I would LOVE to get some discussion going in the comments below – please leave me your thoughts if you have any as I know I’m going against the grain here. I’m also aware of the irony of the fact that I’m currently studying Digital Marketing and that my new chosen career area is responsible for all of this nonsense, however; the more I learn about the right way to market something, the more these slithery black-hat PR hacks piss me off…

One month in

I can’t believe it’s now been a full month since my last post, where I was preparing to make one of the biggest changes of my adult life and quit my job to return to University. I always expected it to be a busy few weeks, but whilst I expected immersing myself in Postgraduate study would be hard work, I underestimated how time consuming the workload would be. I am enjoying the course (MSc in Digital Marketing) so much though which makes the work easy to do, and I’m learning so much about areas which have always held interest for me. Recently we’ve spent a lot of time working on Google Analytics and SEO which I am enjoying gradually implementing on my blog to cement my learning! I’ve had GA installed for years but never really understood how to work it and how best to use the data. SEO is a massive field and I have a lot to learn – it’s quite embarrassing seeing how poorly optimised this site is at present…

Google Analytics Wonka MemeI am still getting used to the concept of being a student. It has been a very weird transition from being in a relatively senior administrative position in a University Department to being a clueless student again, but I think I’ve avoided many of the more common pitfalls that used to plague some of the students who used to pass through my office.

Alongside student life comes the myth of all the ‘extra time’ I thought I would have at my disposal. I have a lot of work to do and *just* enough time to do it in, which has not left a great deal of time to meet my usual weekly fitness goals. I haven’t been to running club in weeks or gone for runs with friends, but I have been getting out for short runs and doing BodyPump/metafit/circuits classes which have been great. I am re-growing some muscle which is nice, and my body is slightly less soft. However I am missing my Saturday long runs, and long adventures in the hills. Come the Spring and my usual ultramarathon training cycle, I’m not quite sure how I’ll be able to work the usual 6+ hour Saturday runs into my University work schedule but I’ll hopefully have found a bit more balance by then.

Hoka Highland Fling 2014

 

After my last update, in line with my goals of losing a few inches I stuck religiously to a strict diet for two weeks before I cracked and ate/drank some carbs. The diet was supposed to last 4 weeks, but I was just getting so unhappy by not being able to eat the things I like! I was planning on writing a post solely about the diet, but I bored even myself writing it so I didn’t think it would be of any interest to my readers at all. In summary, it was a meal plan I found in Trail Running Magazine which was easily adaptable to a vegetarian diet. It was extremely vegetable heavy and involved a lot of snacking (good) but it seems that no matter how big I make a salad, it only keeps me full for about an hour which made for a very cranky Red Wine Runner (bad).

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However, two weeks did seem to re-start a healthier mindset when making food choices and whilst losing only 4lbs on the scale I lost a cumulative 4 inches off my bust, hips and stomach. I call that a win.

In terms of racing, I have signed up for the Monymusk Half Marathon next weekend, and then the Peterhead 10k and the Fraserburgh Half in November. That will see out the end of my racing year, which will segway nicely back into ultra training. The Monymusk Half is the final race in the Stonehaven Running Club championships, where my friend Vikki and I will be ‘battling’ it out for 2nd and 3rd places in the female championships. Rebecca has taken 1st place by a mile and is now unbeatable, but the order which Vikki and I finish in will decide who takes second and third place, as we are also unbeatable. I am just delighted to have a podium place and I think it reflects a year of very hard training so I don’t mind how it plays out in the end.

Hoka Highland Fling logo

Ultras next year will be the D33, Fling, potentially the Cateran (I’m not sure if that’s a good idea…) and then the West Highland Way race. Later in the year I’d like to do some of the other Scottish Ultras that I am yet to do, such as the Clyde Stride, Speyside, and maybe the River Ayr Way. Kynon is intending to do the D33, Fling and the Glenmore 12 hour race again; I think I will support/marshall at Glenmore this year with the view to getting a big PB in an Autumn marathon.

So that’s all I’ve got for now; I look forward to returning to racing next weekend and writing up the Monymusk Half. It’s a trail race so it’s hard to forecast a time goal, but I understand it’s good and hilly so it should be quite a fun challenge with my clubmates. I seem to be making some progress towards the elusive sub-50 10k goal as well, with all the short fast runs and strength training I’ve been doing. Tonight I did a 6 mile progression run in 49:54 so I can certainly call that progress!

 

The week everything changed

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This week was a turning point for many people in my country. You would have to have been living under a rock in recent weeks to ignore the coverage and impact of the Scottish Referendum, and the impact of the decisions made on Thursday will roll forward like waves into the future. However, that is not what this post is about. There are people out there who can write more succinctly and with greater insight on that subject than I, and whilst I have strong opinions on recent events I will limit my sharing of them to sitting around a table in a pub with my friends, or perhaps shouting at the television and the newspapers.

You see, two days before Scotland’s day of reckoning, there was a day in my personal life with equal or perhaps even greater significance for me. This was the day where I left my full time job for the last time and entered the next stage of my life.

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Three months ago, after a lot of thought and consideration, I put in my notice after deciding that the high-stress, long commute, long hours, desk pilot lifestyle was no longer serving my best interests. Things hadn’t been 100% right for me in my job for a little while and whilst I loved many aspects of working where I did and the people that I worked with, I couldn’t see a future there for me. Having been inspired by several friends doing something similar, I began to see that it wasn’t too late for me to quit the rat race and find a life that I was in control of and made me happy. Of course it wasn’t an easy decision to make and the next few months are by no means going to be easy either, but I’m very excited to move on and start building a different future.

MaldivesSo, what exactly am I going to be doing with myself? Well, next Wednesday I will be enrolling on a full-time taught Master’s degree at Robert Gordon University and in 12 months time I should be graduating with an MSc in Digital Marketing. This is a slight deviation from my career so far, but I see it more as a development than anything else. For those of you that don’t know, my undergraduate degree is in Music (BMus (Hons) Newcastle University, ’06) and I have spent the majority of my career so far in Concerts and Event Management/Arts Marketing, most recently in Higher Education. In the last 18 months or so, my job has veered away from that aspect and into an Administrative direction that wasn’t really part of The Plan, so this is my way of re-qualifying myself and upgrading my skills with a view to re-entering the Arts Marketing world in the future.

The course itself is taught over two days a week, with three days left free for study and research. This tremendous amount of time flexibility that I’ve been granted is going to allow me to train more effectively than ever before, with my eventual goal being the 2015 West Highland Way Race. I look forward to being able to actually have the time to take strength/conditioning classes and no longer having to head out for a couple of hours of running after a long day at work.

Postgraduate study is no joke, but I am looking forward to a less stressful existence and being able to be a better person to be around. I didn’t used to be a particularly sickly person but I’ve never been more ill more frequently in the last couple of years than in my whole life, and I credit that entirely to burning the candle at both ends and in the middle, and generally not being able to look after myself as well as I’d like. Many friends are always quick to say how ‘healthy’ running and training must make me, but health does not just translate as the ability to run 50 miles. Just because I can do that does not mean I’m a healthy person and anyone who knows me very well will know that there is a lot I can improve upon right now to be granted the title of ‘Healthy’.

vs-lochmuickSo for now in terms of training for the next couple of months, I’ll be building a strong body with which to tackle the West Highland Way and its associated training next year. As keen as I am, there is no point in bashing out the big miles now as I’ll be worn down and bored by March. I have some weight to lose, some muscle to rebuild and some strength to gain first, and I hope that this will lead to PBs at the Peterhead 10k and the Fraserburgh Half marathon in November.

I also look forward to having the time to share more about my training on this blog and moving away from the constant stream of Race Reports that it has been lately. When I started RedWineRunner several years ago I documented my weekly training as I built up to races and this is a format I’d like to return to. Hopefully with more frequent posting will come more reader engagement and the opportunity to grow this blog into something a bit more substantial, but I promise to keep it relevant and not sell out to sponsors and reviews.

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

So here’s to the next big step. It’s hard to believe that I started Red Wine Runner nearly four years ago to document my tentative embarkation upon the great sport of ‘running’. A lot has gone under the metaphorical bridge since those early posts and I don’t doubt that there’s still a lot to come! I’m excited for the future and for further change and I hope you all stick with me for it.

Thanks for reading,

~Redwinerunner

Mud, Hills and Adventures

In the three weeks since the Great Glen Ultra I have kept myself very busy, both in and out of my running shoes. Oddly I haven’t suffered anywhere near as much fatigue as after the Cateran Trail 55 in May, and as soon as my joints stopped aching I was gagging to get back out running again. After being in a state of constant taper/recovery since the end of the Highland Fling in April, I was really ready to get back into a structured training regime to get me in the best shape possible for the Glenmore 12 hour race in September.

Heart of the Park Challenge route

Heart of the Park Challenge route

A week after the Great Glen on the 13th July, Kynon and I drove out to do the Heart of the Park Challenge in Braemar. This is a small and low key off-road 12k adventure race around Braemar, with three river crossings, some sharp hills and lots of mud. I’d had a run the day beforehand to make sure my legs were ok, and they were mostly fine apart from a sore bit on my foot. Kynon and I decided to run together for fun and just enjoy the race together in the sun – something that never happens as we’re far too competitive if left to our own devices in races.

Picture - Kevin Masson

Picture – Kevin Masson

I unfortunately suffered from a bit of car sickness on the drive out and my stomach had not quite settled by the time the gun went. I hammered it up the first hills without doing a warm up and I quickly felt decidedly rough about the guts when I got to the top. Across a cooling river, over a field, through a deep bog and up another sharp hill was as much as my stomach could take before I had to adopt the tripod stance against a tree and puke what was left of my breakfast up. I wouldn’t normally have been too bothered about this, but the poor young marshal who couldn’t have been over 12 years old looked utterly traumatised so I felt a bit guilty!

Kynon showed no concern whatsoever and was happy to get a move on once my periodic retching had stopped, and we sailed through the rest of the course enjoying the technical terrain. The route is beautiful and well worth an explore, if you can figure out how to dodge the thigh-deep mud baths.

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

Photo - Heater Barnett

Photo – Heather Barnett

The rivers were lovely to run through and felt great on my throbbing left foot which felt like someone had hit it right across the top. This was the pain which had been bothering me through the week and running on rocky trails had really inflamed it. Since I was favouring it whilst running, I unfortunately then managed to somehow kick the underside of a rock like a football and go flying face first onto some grass. I’d hit the top of my second toe on my left foot which was now throbbing painfully as well.

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

We made it to the finish in 1hr 32m 6 seconds and then enjoyed sitting on the warm grass eating crisps and drinking coke whilst the last finishers came in. The top of my foot was swollen and throbbing and my stubbed toe was swollen and purple and blue – that in itself was less concerning as the day went on than the loss of movement in my toes, which I couldn’t lift off the ground or clench. With great annoyance I arrived at A+E later that evening and was assessed by a Doctor who wanted to x-ray, but the Department was closed for the night. On my return the next morning I was seen by a nurse who had treated someone just a few days prior who had come in with a post-Great Glen injury as well, so at least she wasn’t surprised as the Doctor when I said I ran 72 miles, not 7 point 2.

In the end the x-ray revealed no breaks or stress fractures, and it was just a bad thump for the toe. It remained lovely shades of blue and purple all week and the swelling on the top of my foot went down with a course of anti-inflammatories. I’m glad I went to A+E to get a definite answer and am grateful that I live in a country where I didn’t come home with a bill for several thousand pounds for the hospital’s time.


With no lasting significant pain, the next Saturday it was time to take part in the Laurencekirk Gala Tower Hill Race again. This is a 3.2 mile race up and down a hill to a tower and back, which takes place in Laurencekirk, during Gala week. The clues are in the name. Last year I ran to Laurencekirk with Vikki and Kate which gave us a total of 21 miles for our long run that day, but this year we took the car as I didn’t trust my foot with that distance.

It was also absolutely pouring with rain. The Howe o’ the Mearns was filled with mist and surrounded by thunderclouds which rumbled ominously around us. After paying our £4 each, the 25 or so runners lined up behind a line drawn in the mud on the road. After a short period of dryness, the heavens opened in time with the starters’ whistle and within 200 meters we were all soaked to the skin. The rain was heavy and tropical, and as lightning flashed and thunder crashed around us, I wondered if running up the highest hill around towards some power lines and a tower was really in our best interests.

However I got to the top and ran around the tower to return, to see that I was 4th last and performing fairly poorly as usual. I am really tremendously crap at running up hills and I struggle to get any speed or momentum going. One day I will actually train properly to improve myself in this area rather than churning out poor result after poor result and moaning about it, but that day will have to be when I get bored of running ultras which I don’t see coming very soon.

Laurencekirk Hill Race

Very wet SRC runners

I finished in 34.39; 4th last and 4th of four Stonehaven ladies for 17 SRC Championship points. I am currently 3rd in the Club Championship; this is about the time of year where my excelling in points due to presentee-ism is overtaken by those who are actually decent runners. There are three more races in the Championship series but I am only around for one of them, which will complete my five finishes to be eligible for the Championship. It’s a 5k, so there is no danger of me threatening any Championship podium positions this year, unless no SRC ladies turns up for any of the three remaining races…


After a very enjoyable weekend at the Commonwealth Games (we saw Rugby 7s, the marathon, and athletics) I am feeling very inspired for this weekend’s Callanish Stones marathon. Naomi, Rachel and I are driving to Ullapool on Friday before getting the ferry over to Stornaway and being met by Jemma for a fun weekend in the Hebrides. I have no desire to hit a particular time in this race, but I’d like to think I could cruise under 4hr 30m without too much bother. I’m not feeling the Great Glen in my legs at the moment but it might be a bit different after running 20 miles; on the other hand I might just be able to lock onto a pace and use my endurance to ride out a time nearer 4 hours. Either way I’m looking forward to a great weekend away with my friends in a place I’ve never been to before.

Here’s to marathon number 6!

Recent Running Reading

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Recovering  from the Cateran Trail Ultra has been tougher than I expected. I’m used to just bouncing back after races after the soreness goes away, but since the race three weeks ago I’ve been enveloped in fatigue which is just not shifting. I didn’t run or exercise for 9 days afterwards, and since then I’ve done one 2 mile jog to an exercise class, one club tempo session, circuit classes, yoga, some swimming and one 3.5 mile hill race (Krunce - it was awful and I was 5th last in 40 minutes).

Everything I attempt to do is such an effort – it is hard to accept that my body is just taking a normal amount of time to recover. I don’t like being out of a normal training programme; it makes me feel lazy and sluggish which is not conducive to a positive outlook for the Great Glen Ultra in 4 weeks time. It’s true what they say about the racing being the easy bit…

However I know I just need to be patient – it will come back and I will run long again. In the meantime it doesn’t give me much to write about here though, so I’ve decided to share with you some running things that I’ve enjoyed reading recently.

Running Free: Richard Askwith
Yellow Jersey Press

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I got an email from a publisher a couple of months ago asking if I’d like a copy of this book. Free book? Free running book?! Of course my answer was yes. I took it with me on honeymoon and whilst lying on a beach in the Maldives, soaking its pages with sweat, Askwith’s wonderful descriptions of British running transported me back home to rainy, muddy fields in an instant.

Askwith is best known for his book Feet in the Clouds which describes the demanding and reckless world of Fell-Running. The book gained an almost cult-like status amongst runners after it was released, so his second running title has been highly anticipated.
The book is an account of Askwith’s love affair with running and how he found his place in the sport. The overwhelming message from the book is a question however – how can something so simple have become so complicated? Why are we spending so much money on something which we can experience for free? It’s something I find myself wondering frequently myself as I find myself once again browsing race listings and parting with chunks of my salary for the privilege of running a route I could run for free any other day of the week.

I began turning down the corners of pages on which there were statements which I particularly agreed with, but after the first Chapter I found that this was a silly exercise as the book could have been a conversation with myself and my friends during a long run. One sentence in the first chapters jumps out however and it simply has to be shared:

Runners are born free, and everywhere they run in chains. Or, if you prefer, chain stores. This book is written in the hope of helping at least some of these runners to liberate themselves”

Askwith questions the relatively new phenomenon of expensive obstacle racing (Tough Mudder? Spartan Race, anyone?) where inner city fitness fanatics take themselves out into his countryside and pay extortionate race fees to subject themselves to carefully regulated amounts of mud, ice and water; everything which he sees on a daily basis without any of the hassle or Health and Safety disclaimers. Askwith also documents enjoyable runs with Hash House Harriers where off-road antics are the norm and free of charge, and mentions a notorious Scottish Hash near Aberdeen which is known as being pretty hard core… I’d like to think that that is the Mearns Hash!

Alongside beautifully descriptive prose about the 100 different types of mud we have in Britain, he also outlines how the most simple of sports has been commercialised and queries how we have managed to come so far from a sport which is perhaps the most simple of all. Within a few pages I found myself nodding with every page I turned, and laughing along with his observances of the idiosyncrasies of running which I am as guilty of as any other runner. However along with the humour comes food for thought and the concept of ‘mindful’ running. Askwith no longer wears a watch to time his runs and rarely enters races. Towards the end of the book he muses:

“If the idea of a run that isn’t overlaid with gamified incentives doesn’t excite you, you might want to consider another sport. Or alternatively, to look again at the kind of running you do, and ask yourself if there might not be a more exciting way of doing it.”

This book is for anyone who’s ever given Big Running Co. the side eye, or anyone who has  questioned the sense in commodification of such a simple activity. If you’re very proud of the fact that a sub-4 marathon time earns you the right to buy an orange Xempo running shirt and define yourself by such material things, you might want to give it a swerve.

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Hal Higon – 4:09:43
Published by Human Kinetics

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I think most people reading this blog will have a fair idea about this book by now, if they don’t own a copy already, that is. Hal Higdon, contributing editor of Runner’s World, has done a remarkable job of pulling together the tales of several runners’ experiences throughout the dreadful events of the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings of 2013. He collected tales from blogs, facebook posts and letters and has woven them in a real-time format to document the day from several points of view as the clock ticked down to 4 hours 9 minutes and 43 seconds – the time the race clock showed when the first bomb went off.

I first heard about this book when I read somewhere in a facebook group that a mutual friend and fellow Scottish Ultra runners account of the race from his blog was going to be featured. I remember watching the news update in horror knowing that John and Helen Munro were out there and frantically refreshed facebook until someone posted news that they were both safe. Before I go any further I want to link you to both John and Helen’s accounts of the day; they are heart-stopping and tremendously well written, and say more about everything than I ever could.

John: Achilles Niggle
Helen: Running Through 2011

I still find John’s blog intensely moving and it generally makes my eyes well up if I re-read it. Prior to the bombings I didn’t have much interest in becoming a ‘fast’ marathon runner, or in other words, qualify for Boston. I enjoyed my ultra runner status of being slow and steady over much greater distances too much. But like so many others, I now aspire to earn my place on that starting line one day – however that is a different story for a different day.

The book is short and gripping – I finished it in three lunch breaks at work – but it says all it needs to say. I wondered if within it there would be the same tremendous miles of of lyrical editorial content about the race and the bombings that the newspapers and websites published, but Higdon keeps it completely simple and sticks to the words which were written by his subjects, although perhaps with a little tweak  and some artistic licence here and there. It would have been very easy to make this book an over-dramatic, sensationalist tribute but he has hit it just right – he wanted to publish these stories and he has done it correctly, and respectfully.

John’s blog is featured throughout, and he even has the honour of almost having the last word in the book. That honour is given to the American President however, which as he admits in a later blog, is quite alright really.

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Like The Wind magazine - http://www.likethewindmagazine.com/

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“Like the Wind magazine is a collection of stories about running, from the track, trail and road. There are personal anecdotes, inspirational tales and wonderful pictures, all designed to inspire and delight”

I heard about Like The Wind on twitter. I saw people exclaiming their delight for the first issue and decided it looked like something I would want to read. I’m sick to the back teeth with the content of most modern running magazines and their insistence on publishing crap that insinuates that the reason all women do exercise is to lose weight and look good for men. Or raise money for charity. Or socialise with their friends. Of course there may or may not be elements of all of the above for many female runners but for the most part any female fitness publication in the shops these days is patronising, infantile and seven shades of hypocritical. An article on how to love your curves, opposite an advertorial for Zaggora weight-loss compression shorts? Bollocks. The publishing industry owes us more than that.

Like The Wind is published by freestak, who describe themselves as a social media and marketing agency for running and endurance sports brands. Corporate nonsense aside, they’re doing a stellar job of filling in a tremendous gap in the market where people desire to hear running tales and lore from around the world, presented in a relatable format and without an advert in sight.

I was captivated by my magazine when it arrived and loved the quality of the paper it was printed on. Each beautiful illustration could be examined for ages and I soaked up the words of the articles as slowly as I could. I savoured the magazine and read one article a night until I ran out – I really didn’t want it to end. This is a publication to cherish, filled with passion and heart, and written by people with the art of inspiration flowing from their fingers. It’s not a magazine about running, it’s a magazine about how life is when you fill it with running and the thoughts that go through your head, the relationships you build, the battles you fight, the unexplainable lows and the indescribable highs.

You can order your copy from their shop for £9, although only limited editions of issue 1 remain. After purchasing issue 1 I have subscribed for a four issue subscription for £40 which will deliver me issues 2, 3 and 4. I received issue 2 the other day and I am almost too excited to begin reading it as I know that I’ll want to plough through it in one go, but it is a work of art which must be savoured.

If you like running and thinking, and think while you run, or run while you think; do yourself a favour and get a subscription immediately. I cannot praise this publication highly enough. They welcome submissions from anyone, and I thought that I might try and write something to submit, but I am not sure where to start just yet. Everything they publish seems to come from the heart though, so I don’t think I can force it. Suggestions welcome…

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Disclaimer Note: I was sent ‘Running Free’ for free, but was not asked to write about it. I wrote about everything here because I wanted to share my thoughts with you, not because a PR company paid me to do it.
I can’t believe the blogging world has become so convoluted that I have to disclose that my thoughts are my own and not something that’s been paid for. I think I’ve just found the topic of my next post…

Hoka Highland Fling 2014 Preview

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With 3 days to go until my second attempt at the Hoka Highland Fling, I’m in full on planning mode. Big ultras are superb fun, but they involve such a lot of thought and packing to be prepared for every eventuality. I can benefit from a certain amount of knowledge having done this race before, but it doesn’t detract the actual amount of purchasing and packing required in the next few days. Here are my thoughts so far…

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Pacing and race plan

This race is part of my training for the Great Glen Ultra on the 5th/6th July, so I am running it with my eye on the horizon at all times. I finished last year in 13 hours and 6 minutes and whilst I know I could improve on that, I need to take it easy and not push my pace to hit a randomly defined goal for the sake of it. I also have the Cateran Trail 55 mile race three weeks after the Fling which I need to be just as strong for, so the biggest challenge of Saturday will not be to complete the race or achieve a time, but to finish and not be too gubbed to start another 50+ miler in three weeks.

I will be running with my friends Vikki and Kate from Stonehaven Running Club, and we will also be joined by Rachel. Vikki has done the Fling several times but it is Kate and Rachel’s first go at a 50 miler. I’m confident that as a group we’ll be able to make the experience as enjoyable as possible and pull each other through any dark patches. Last year I was alone for the entirety for the race which was ok, but isolating. I will benefit from having my friends and training partners by my side and hopefully the miles will drift by.

For those of you doing the Fling for the first time I’d like to pass on some advice which my friend Sandra gave to Fling virgins on my favourite running siteDon’t over-analyse it if it’s your first time. Turn up, take what’s thrown at you and deal with it. It’s the only way. You cannot anticipate what’s ahead. You’ll feel crap, but hang in there. You’ll feel good again – you will!

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It is true – you will feel so crap at times, but it is all so worth it.

Shoes

I have elected to go with my Salomon Speedcross 3s. Unfortunately the forecast this week is a little messy and it looks to extend to the weekend, so I think this is the only sensible option.

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Kit

Ideally I would like to wear something very similar to last year – Long socks, shorts, top layers of t-shirt, long sleeve top and club vest, with water-proof in the Camelbak. I’ll start the day off with gloves and buff as well as it’s very cold that early in the morning at this time of year (the race starts at 0600). The only problem is that it’s forecast to rain, which makes me worry a lot. The weather up the West Highland Way can be brutal and very changeable. I may carry an extra layer in a zip-lock bag in my Camelbak.

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Fuel

As last year I am planning to make little drop-boxes for each check point. I will eat every 30 minutes and alternate gels with real food, and save any with caffeine until Beinglas. Much like last year I will eat a mix of cake bars, hula hoops, and dried fruit on the run, with Muller rice or custard to eat at the first two check points. I remember desperately craving salty and savoury snacks at Inversnaid and Beinglas last year, so instead of Muller rice here I will have quorn sausages and tattie scones with marmite.

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For liquids I will be sticking with High-5 electrolyte tabs in my Camelbak, a bottle of lucozade at Balmaha and a gin and tonic and Beinglas.

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I am nervous about the race, but I really can’t complain. Unlike last year I am not nursing an injury, but I do feel a little under-trained. This is probably just in my mind though, but it’s been 6 weeks since my last long run! I would have liked one 20ish mile run in between the honeymoon and Fling, but it didn’t happen so I can just consider myself to be very well rested after a tough D33. I think half the reason the D33 was so tough was due to build up of life-fatigue and lack of sleep. You cannot prepare for a big race by being extremely stressed and sleeping 5 hours a night or less for weeks, as well as training hard. I am coming into this race relaxed and rested, so as long as I show up with the right attitude and don’t give up without a fight I know I can finish this race again.

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Excitingly, at the finish line I will have the newly christened RedWineRunner Ultravan waiting for me! And my husband, obviously, who I hope will forgive me for having a Fling only 5 weeks into our marriage (hahaaaaaar… Sorry). Anyway, this van belongs to my Dad who has kindly agreed for us to borrow it for our running adventures this year. It very easily solved the problem of finding accommodation in Tyndrum on Saturday night, and also will make this year’s West Highland Way Race and Glenmore 12/24 infinitely more comfortable.

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Here’s to lots of adventures in this wagon! There’s something very middle aged about sitting outside a camper van drinking coffee on a Sunday morning in Braemar, but we very much enjoyed our one night test-run last weekend and I’m definitely not middle-aged, so it must be fine.

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After we left Braemar we went for a lovely walk up Linn O Dee and Glen Lui. The weather was gorgeous and I was gagging to be running; this scenery really whet my appetite for running on the magical West Highland Way on Saturday.

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So this is it – here we go again. Kynon is marshaling at Balmaha again so if you see him do say hello. I hope that everyone’s taper and preparation has gone as well as possible and that the traditionally beautiful weather comes out for the Fling once more.

See you in Milngavie!

Weeks and Days

A month ago I was recovering from a disappointing D33, and counting down the days ’til our wedding…

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Three weeks ago I was on a plane somewhere over the Middle East heading for our honeymoon destination.

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Two weeks ago I had lost track of time and was lying in a wine-soaked haze with my feet in the Indian Ocean.

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One week ago I was preparing to return to work…

…and in seven days I’ll be preparing to leave for the Highland Fling, for another ultra adventure. It’s safe to say it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind…

Since the D33 a month ago I’ve ran a grand total of 49 miles, 7 of which were sweated out over three sessions on a treadmill in a resort gym with no air conditioning. My valiant attempts to keep active whilst marooned on a desert island were futile against the tremendous amount of fabulous food and wine available, and the other 23 hours of the day being spent flat out relaxing. After the last few months we surely needed that rest, but I can tell you that I’ve certainly felt better prepared for a race and would not recommend this between-race maintenance strategy to anyone.

I can confirm however, that our wedding was the most delightful success and the honeymoon was utter heaven. All damage done to Winter and Spring training by this slothful hiatus has been extremely worth it and united as one, Mr and Mrs RedWineRunner are ready to tackle the next stage of life’s adventures together.

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I’m currently trying to get my head around the fact that in 10 days time I’ll be embarking on a second attempt at the 53 mile challenge which dominated my Spring last year. With everything else that’s been going on I feel that it’s passed me by somewhat and that I now need to give it serious thought. Pacing, clothes, drop bags? Goals? At least last year as a Fling virgin I could leave a lot of it to chance, but unfortunately this year I know better. I know that I need to make a difficult decision about my footwear, I know that the clothes I pick could make or break my race, and I remember with a sudden clarity exactly how much it hurt at times; memories which I seem to have conveniently pushed right out of my mind until now.

20130427_16575053 miles is still a really, really long way.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve been really struggling with running since I came back – my legs seem to have forgotten everything I’ve taught them, and frankly it feels like I’ve never ran double digits before which is very concerning. But I know this is not true, so I am hopeful that regular short runs under 10 miles will help wake them back up again. I just feel so heavy – like I’m stuck in 2nd gear or like I’m running through water!

Heavy…well, there is that too I suppose. Pre-wedding weight loss had me at my lowest weight since I was a teenager (allow me to note that this was not intentional weight loss at all, but the stress of wedding planning plus ultra training had it falling off me). It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to figure out where this is going, but three all-you-can-eat meals a day, unlimited alcohol and a penchants for Pina Coladas doth not a skinny newlywed make. The weight has piled back on and more, which I don’t particularly care about as it will fall off in time when life gets back to normal, but 53 miles is a reaaallly long way to be carting an extra stone around with you and I could do without that extra burden. I may as well have put a brick in the bottom of my CamelBak.

These things are sent to try us however, and I’m sure it will be alright in the end if I show up at the start with enough fight in me to give the course everything I’ve got. Over the next week I’ll get everything figured out before posting my race plan and my goals for the day. Until then, perhaps you could send some strong words and thoughts to my legs and let them know that they won’t be getting off lightly, so it’s really in their best interests to suck it up and stop complaining…

Here’s one last wedding picture for you – our adorable cake topper with some perhaps some recognisable characters..!

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And finally, just in case any of you out there have yet to sign up for SportPursuit.com yet (online mecca for sporting types, with huge running/tri/cycling/snow/ski/outdoors brands at bargain basement prices) they randomly sent me a 10% off code for family and friends this morning which I thought I’d share with you*. They have a tonne of stock in at the moment so if you decide to buy something, use FWY3GH42 at the check-out to get an extra chunk off. I’ve just ordered myself a swimming costume and some goggles in order to attempt to broaden my skills now that the Aberdeen Aquatics Centre is open and conveniently situated across the road from my office. I haven’t gone swimming in a sporting sense since I was at school, so this could be a bit of an adventure…

*Not an affiliate link or promoted post – I just wanted to share it with you since I love buying kit and know you lot do too. Cheap kit is good kit. If you’re a new customer then as with all referrals I get £5 store credit.

January Training

…And all of a sudden, it was February! Who else is baffled that a month of the year is gone already?! I’ve been so busy at work, at home, and in training that the weeks have slipped by at an alarming pace.

Training is going very well and I was pleased to only miss one run in the whole month of my plan. This was the day after Kynon’s birthday on the 26th, where whilst my head was a little tender, my excuse was that the weather was utterly catastrophic and the wind coming off the sea was so bad you could barely stand up. There was a dry window in the day when I could have done the run but by then I was busy doing other things so just wrote it off as a casualty of a busy lifestyle.

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Other than that I have been consistently knocking out my sessions during the week and enjoying long runs on the weekends. I would love to have some beautiful wintery photographs from Scotland to share with you like last year, but the weather has been so bad that my phone camera has stayed safe in a ziplock bag in my rucksack away from the rain. This winter has been unusually mild, so unlike last year when we were spending Saturday mornings skating around on ice, instead we’ve been battling pouring rain and harsh winds which has made things less than pleasant at times.

I ran 186 miles in the month which is the highest I’ve ran since July 2012, when I hit 202 miles when training for my second marathon. If I continue to be consistent and do all my sessions, this February will be my biggest month ever. It was around this time last year that the wheels started to come off my training and I was getting exhausted, so I am remembering how awful I felt then and if necessary will deploy the patented Mike Raffan ‘Don’t Be A Dick’ tactic and veto some sessions if I end up running myself in to the ground again (literally).

The other good news is that by sensible diet and hard training I managed to gently shift the spare half stone which was lingering around after an easy end to 2013 and a fortnight of Christmas indulgence. My goal now is to actually maintain my body shape as if I lose any more fat weight I will be in danger of having a wedding dress which does not fit. With increasing effort and mileage on the cards until the D33 this may actually be somewhat of a challenge. I’ve already been warned by my seamstress that most brides lose some weight whether they mean to or not in the weeks before the wedding – usually due to stress. Add 50 – 60 mile weeks, hill running and circuit training on to that and it could be interesting. Doughnut, anyone?!

Tomorrow is my first race of the year – the Forfar Multiterrain half marathon. I did 17 miles this morning so it will be a great back to back. The weather looks dry enough but it’s forecast to be very windy; my memories of last year’s race include a very exposed hill so I will be taking a lot of layers. Kynon is supposed to be running too, but he’s managed to pick up a very nasty tummy bug/food poisoning so I doubt he’ll be joining me judged on how he looks currently but you never know.

I’d like to interact more with you guys this year, so allow me to launch some questions at you:

- How is your training going so far this year? Did you hit your goals for January?- Married ladies; did you accidentally lose weight before your wedding? I’m not sure my seamstress is telling the truth…
- Are you racing tomorrow? What are you doing?

 

Stonehaven Fireballs 2014

Last Tuesday, on the last night of 2013, I was honoured to take part in one of the oldest, if not THE oldest traditions of the town which I now call home. The Stonehaven Fireballs is a ceremony which begins after the clock strikes midnight on the 1st of January each year, and 40 residents of Stonehaven march up and down the High St whirling wire cage balls around their heads, which have been filled with flammable material and set alight. The ceremony possibly has its roots in pagan traditions, but recent research indicates that the ceremony in its ‘modern’ format reaches back around 150 years.

After marshalling and volunteering at other events for the Fireballs, I was pleased to hear that I had earned my place and that a space was available for me last year. When I accepted it I was immediately struck with nerves and excitement; I hate crowds and don’t really like being the centre of attention, so how was I going to handle this one? I was also scared that I might not be strong enough to complete the task and do the traditions justice – I might have the cardiovascular fitness, but I run with my legs, not my arms!

The swinging movement is not a particularly challenging one, but everyone I spoke to about it said that I’d be drinking my pints with a straw for days after as my arms would be wrecked. I really didn’t want that to happen. In preparation I started training my upper body in new ways by attending circuit classes, Metafit classes, and diligently doing free weights and body weight exercises at home.

I attended the fireball making workshops at the start of December as required, and learned the secrets of building a good fireball. I’d tell you more about that, but then I’d have to kill you ;) What I will say however, is that the wire cage, filling and 2ft handle weighed 4.5kg and I think the weight was just right for me. Kynon’s was about 5kg, and ours averaged somewhere in the middle in size out of the 40 swingers.

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By the time the afternoon of the 31st of December came around I was finding it hard to conceal my nerves. I was very nervous that I wouldn’t be strong enough, that I’d do a bad job, that I’d let everybody down. Most of all I found it frustrating that I couldn’t fully practice what it would feel like to do the swinging of a fireball until the clock struck midnight. Kynon found it amusing and as a third-time swinger was 100% confident that I would be fine; after all if the septuagenarian swingers amongst us successfully swung every year, there was no reason why I wouldn’t be the same. I was just counting on adrenaline pulling me through in the same way it does in the last few painful miles of a race and you find yourself capable of things you never thought were possible.

I went for a walk to clear my head in the afternoon and the atmosphere in the town was incredible. As well as the usual Fireballs ceremony there was the huge Open Air In The Square event which Simple Minds were headlining. There were tourists standing around with maps, people milling about the High St pointing up and down in anticipation of the spectacle to come, yellow-jacketed officials bustling around, and the strains of mic checks drifting across the town in the wind. When I realised again how lucky I was to be a part of it all, my nerves gave way to excitement and I was ready to take my place in the show.

The Fireballers themselves do the set-up in the High St, and at 6pm an army of us descended on the piles of barriers and worked together like ants to get everything ready in an hour. Barriers are erected on both sides and ends of the street from the Cannon all the way down to the harbour and around the piers, effectively sealing off the road itself for our use. At 8.30pm the barriers are manned by the first shift of swingers who collect donations from the crowds and monitor the numbers entering the High St.

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At 10pm it was time for us to take our turn at the gates. We’d watched the crowds trickle in from our living room window and then increase to a steady flow. When we opened our door and stepped out with our fireballs, we were greeted by points and delighted stares; “Look! They’ve got fireballs”, “Hey guys – a pair of swingers!” (no, the joke never gets old, and yes; we’ve heard them all before!). On the gates we greeted visitors from all over the world – I was astounded by the amount of different languages I heard and felt proud that so many people had decided to come and see our town. As the clock ticked on, the flow of people increased to a deluge who had come from far and wide. There were the tiniest, frailest of old ladies who were wrapped up and gripping their friends for warmth, herds of completely wasted yet amiable teenagers, groups of people with their carers, familiar faces from the running and rugby clubs, and complete strangers who just wanted a friendly chat and some tips on where to get the best views.

Our fireballs resting against the barriers attracted a lot of attention as well. People wanted to pick them up and examine them, and ask us how they were made. They asked for pictures of them, pictures of themselves with the balls, and pictures of us with our balls as well!stonehaven fireballs

At 11.20pm, Stonehaven Pipe Band started marching up and down the High St which signalled that there wasn’t long to go ’til we would close the gates. At 11.40 we handed over to the marshals, picked up our fireballs, and joined a handful of other fireballers in making our way through the huge crowds which parted for us with whoops and applause. When we reached the barrier, a marshal let us through and we stepped into the wide open High St. As the crowd began to notice us when we made our way up the street, the applause and cheering grew deafening which made my heart thump so hard in my chest – I couldn’t believe what I was about to do! I looked at Kynon and we grinned widely at each other whilst walking in step and waving to the crowds.

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stonehaven fireballs

When we reached the harbour there were TV cameras and photographers to add to the melee. We stripped off our outer layers to reveal a Mackie Rugby shirt for Kynon and a Stonehaven Running Club vest for me, and greeted our fellow swingers which included Vikki and Iain Shanks and George Reid from the running club. My head was spinning as I was guided towards a pile of sawdust to get my fireball doused in paraffin. I took my place in the first set of swingers waiting to ‘light up’ and at 11.50pm the ‘sausage’ (a big, long fireball) was lit up and our balls placed upon it to ignite. Mine took a little longer than I thought and I was worried it might fail, but soon enough flames were licking through it and I was able to walk around to take my place in the procession, which was now 9th.

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Picture by Iain McDonagh – http://www.iainmcdonagh.com/

It was disconcerting to see the flames flicker so close to me as the fireball sat near my feet, but I was soon distracted by the crowd suddenly shouting FIVE…FOUR…THREE…TWO…ONE…HAPPY NEW YEAAAAAAAR!!! The strains of a lone piper reached over the noise of the ecstatic crowd as the procession, lead by Jean Houghton, began to move. One by one the figures in front of me took one or two steps before hoisting their flaming ball into the air, and then it was my turn and everything went blurry.

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Words can’t really do this experience justice, nor can they give you the smell of paraffin in the air or the whooooosh of fire as it swings in front of you, behind you, and on either side of you. I can’t truly describe the burning in your triceps and shoulders, but I can tell you that hearing your name being called by friends and family across the crowds lifts you up beyond the pain. The disorientation of camera flashes, sparks, dizziness, exhaustion and exhilaration may make your steps wobble from side to side, but the shrieks of delight from the crowd will let you know when you get too close. When you turn at the bottom of the High St and return into the wind once more, your eyes squint from the heat and sparks fly around you like wasps but you don’t notice them stinging your skin as you’re just hoping you can make it back to the harbour with enough life left in your fireball to give a good throw into the harbour for the crowds. When it comes to your turn on the slipway, you wind it up good and strong and let go…only for it to make it 6 ft before scudding into the waves, but it’s ok because you resolve to do much better next year.

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With a shriek and a cheer you turn and raise your knackered arms to the crowd and applaud them for their part in the festivities, shouting ‘Happy New Year!!’ to them all, which they shout right back at you. You take a few steps back to allow the next swinger to take his turn, and it’s your fiancé who grabs you for an embrace after launching his fireball into the water, and the crowd love it. You retreat to cheer the rest of the swingers whilst swigging from hip flasks and hugging friends with your trembling arms. As the last balls are extinguished, fireworks explode overhead and adrenaline still coarses through your veins. By walking in the footsteps of those who came before, you have played your part in keeping this ancient tradition alive and making a memorable start to 2014 for a crowd of 8,000.

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Afterwards, with Iain, Vikki and Kynon

I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face for days – the buzz and the rush from taking part in this was absolutely insane, and it’s clear why there are swingers who are approaching 40 years and more of participation. I’m already thinking about how I can make my ball bigger and brighter for next year and how to be fit to swing for longer. I’m not one to wish my life away, but I really can’t wait!

www.stonehavenfireballs.co.uk

All pictures used with grateful permission from Stewart Mitchell of Earthly Light Photography  – www.earthlylight.co.uk