Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Category: Life (page 1 of 23)

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:


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:]

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


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.

Keeping Active on Holiday

In the six weeks since I submitted my MSc dissertation, I’ve been racking up some serious travel miles as I take full advantage of my new-found free time. After five days in Berlin for the Berlin Marathon, I came home and re-packed my bags for a couple of weeks across the Atlantic where I visited Texas, South California, and Mexico. Upon returning home at the end of October I had just enough time to get my washing done before I headed South with Kynon for a week in Whitby, for our annual pilgrimage to the Whitby Goth Festival. All in all it’s been a great mix of some serious rest and recuperation, hideous jet lag, and monumental alcohol consumption.

giphy (1)

You know you’ve done a good job of ‘resting’ when you come back from holiday just as tired as you went away…right?!

Anyway, as is customary these days, I did not travel anywhere without a full complement of fitness apparel in my suitcase, and was able to take advantage of some stunning weather and beautiful surroundings to attempt to counter-act the inevitable effects of endless fried food and delicious craft beers.

houston running trail

In Houston, I did some extremely sweaty running on the Heights Hike and Bike Trail. It was very, very warm; over 30C in the shade before 9am and the sun wasn’t even properly out.

houston running trail

Houston gets a (deservedly) bad reputation for being a car-bound city which is impossible to travel around without a motorised vehicle. This is true, but the area I was staying in had the Heights Hike and Bike Trail running straight through it, which gave me access to a car-free route through leafy residential areas towards the Downtown area.

houston running trail

The local wildlife was particularly friendly! I ran the four miles to Downtown and back and spent the rest of the day feeling very ill. Heatstroke is no joke, and there is a reason why this Scottish runner is unlikely to venture abroad for racing any time soon.

memorial park running trail

A couple of days later, my lovely host CJ took me to her favourite park to run her local trails. We visited Memorial Park around 8am and ran 10k around the running loop, which is a 5k circular trail with water points, showers, and a stretching area. I felt a lot safer running in a circle knowing if I felt ill I was never too far from water or the car. The sun was a lot stronger that day and I ended up walking the last 1k as I started to feel a bit odd again and didn’t want to write off another day to the heat.

houston running trail

I absolutely loved the atmosphere in Memorial Park. Even though it was before 8am, the park was packed with active people and runners of all ages, speeds, shapes and sizes. Again, Texas has a (deserved) reputation for being a very unhealthy place, but in my experience it is a State of great contrast. There is so much to do outside in every city I’ve visited and the amazing weather keeps people active all year long. As an aside; I’ve never felt confident enough to wear the above ‘short shorts’ in the UK, but in Houston it didn’t matter whether your body was big or small, you dressed for the weather. Most girls were in short shorts and a sports bra when out running and didn’t seem to give a toss about any possible judgement, whether perceived or otherwise. It’s not like it ever gets warm enough up here for such minimalist kit, but I’d like to transplant some of the body confidence I found in Texas back to Scotland next time the sun shines.

In my last couple of days in Houston, I was able to work out at the University of Houston student gym. This was a great facility with a huge cardio suite, massive weights area, an indoor 300m running track, very large climbing wall, Olympic sized swimming and diving facilities, and an outdoor leisure pool with pool and beach volleyball courts. American Universities’ facilities are truly out of this world – imagine relaxing after your workout and before your next class here?!

university of houston sports facilities

After my time in Houston, it was time to pack my bags and head for the beach – to Ocean Beach, in San Diego!

ocean beach san diego

I took a lot of pictures of my time here, but none seemed to capture the absolute beauty of this area. From someone from my part of the world, it felt a very long way from home to be walking along a street lined with palm trees and populated with some of the coolest looking people I’ve ever seen. For me, it was a bit like walking into an episode of the OC.

ocean beach san diego

ocean beach 3 ocean beach 4 ocean beach 5 ocean beach 6 ocean beach 7

I went to San Diego by myself, and stayed in a hostel on the beach. I wanted to push myself a little out of my comfort zone and do something I hadn’t done before, and go somewhere I hadn’t been before. It turns out I could not have picked a better choice of destination as I spent every night meeting new people and forgetting all my troubles from back home. I loved that no-one knew who I was or anything about me; it was the perfect way to disassociate from everything which had been dragging me down in the last few months and find a place to restart from. I don’t want to vague-blog but obviously there are some things in life which need to stay offline; the next few months are going to be very challenging, but in moments of stress I will remember the Pacific breeze on my skin, the sand between my toes, and the feeling of renewal I felt here.

ocean beach bike riding 3 ocean beach bike riding 2 ocean beach bike riding 1

In an unusual change of events for me, I got on a bike for the first time in over a decade and did a couple of days of beach cruising with some new friends. It was a great way to explore the Mission Bay area, and further North to Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. We also rode over to Balboa park and through the beautiful neighbourhoods of Hillcrest and Mission Hills. I did some morning clifftop runs and watched two weddings take place, and explored La Jolla cove and its’ resident sea lions.

sea lion

I also turned 31 and spent the first hours of my birthday in a karaoke bar with new friends from every corner of the globe. Later on in the day I ate an amazing veggy burger on the beach at sunset and then went to a Hot Yoga class at Indieyoga. To my delight, when I registered for the class it flagged the receptionist that it was my birthday, and the studio gives everyone a free class on their special day. This was great news as I was running out of cash and a $18 yoga class was a bit of an indulgence. The class was great, but totally different to what I am used to at home. For a start, the loud dubstep music off-set the calming guidance of the instructor somewhat, but I was too busy trying not to overheat and die to be too bothered by it.

After a day trip to Mexico, I made it home via Paris and arrived back to real life in Scotland with a sleepy bump. The week in Whitby at the Goth Festival took the edge off it of course; I was hoping to do some running along some of the Cleveland Way but ended up with huge blisters after wearing some ridiculous (yet fabulous) shoes. Despite my attempts at keeping active on my trip, my meagre activities were no match for my indulgences and coming in the front door at the moment has me feeling a bit like:

fat cat gif

I’ve made the very sensible decision to DNS my place at GO33 this weekend – I’ve ran fewer miles in the last month than I would be doing in one day, and the consequences of that can only be problematic. I needed the break from all that was familiar – running, work, life – and now I feel ready to start over again. I have a place at the Fraserburgh Half in a couple of weeks, so I need to pull back some fitness and re-calibrate my lifestyle choices to feel like a runner again. Running at the moment feels like I’m using someone else’s legs and even 5k is a struggle, so I have my work cut out for me!

How do you try keeping active whilst travelling?
Do you enjoy keeping fit whilst on holiday, or are holidays for total rest?
Are you running GO33 this weekend? GOOD LUCK!

REVIEW: Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra shoes


Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra Reviewsalomon s-lab sense 4 ultra shoes

When Salomon got in touch earlier in the year asking if I would like to continue to be a part of their Insider programme and test some more shoes, I agreed and excitedly awaited a parcel in the post from France. Over the summer I’ve posted my thoughts on Instagram and Twitter, but I’ve decided to write up my conclusions in a full blog post as well.

The Salomon S-lab Sense 4 Ultra shoes are perhaps most recognisable as being frequently seen on the feet of such household names as Kilian Jornet, Anna Frost and Emelie Fosberg (if your household is an ultra household, that is). The striking red and white design is iconic of the Salomon brand, and I was really pleased to get to try a pair of these out as I’d seen them on so many of my running heroes’ feet.

salomon s-lab sense 4 ultra shoes review 1

The S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra is a unisex shoe and comes in two versions – one for soft ground (referred to as SG in the model name) and one for hard ground. The SGs are black and red, so as you can see I was trialing the hard ground model. With summer in Scotland being as it is, I did most of my miles in these in pretty soft muddy ground, but after around 100 miles in them I’m ready to share my thoughts.

salomon s-lab sense 4 ultra shoes review 2

The most noticeable thing about the shoes other than the colour scheme is how lightweight they are. The soles are solid and thick, but the dense material is very light giving a very free feeling on the feet. Unlike the Salomon Speedcross 3 (which I have previously trialed), the toe box is a lot wider. This made the shoes feel a lot more comfortable for me, which when your preference is for long, long, races, is obviously optimal. If you suffer from swelling of the feet during long runs then these will be a lot more accommodating than the Speedcross 3s.

The shoes have a thick rubber toe guard on the outside of the shoes which provides excellent protection against the inevitable kicking of rocks. The soles themselves are thick and dense, with almost a plastic-y feel – the grip is extremely sturdy and the deep lugs give impressive grip on loose, gravelly downhill terrain. There is also a very effective mesh upper which allows for good ventilation but keeps trail rubbish out, as well as the Salomon QuickLace tying system.

salomon s-lab sense 4 ultra shoes review 3

I found the dense and hard soles a bit uncomfortable at first, and the lack of any padding or cushioning provided a bit of a bumpy ride. Bearing in mind that I have been doing much of my long runs this year in Hoka Stinsons, that is hardly surprising though. I expect that anyone used to trail shoes with cushioning would find these a bit of a different experience, but those who prefer minimal shoes will be in their element. With a heel to toe drop of 4mm they will be a shock to those who are not used to a low heel drop, so transitioning carefully is recommended if this is new to you.

salomon s-lab sense 4 ultra shoes review 4

I really loved these shoes, but the solid sole and lack of cushioning just does not suit my annoyingly sensitive feet for long runs. I love wearing them for short blasts around the gravelly forest trails next to my house, but I wouldn’t be able to do an ultra in these Ultra shoes, sadly. They feel great on my feet and I love how close to the ground you feel whilst wearing them, but after about an hour the balls of my feet start burning and the bones start aching and it’s time to head for home.

Salomon S-lab Sense 4 Ultra Shoes Key Facts:

Designed for:
– Breathability
– Ultra Distance
– Lightweight
– Neutral Stability

– 240g

– Only mens’ sizing used, women should subtract 1.5 sizes from their women’s size.
– I found them true to size and my usual trail shoe size was fine.

– £145 (Salomon website)
– Savvy online shoppers will find them from as low as £75 elsewhere.

Disclaimer: I was sent these shoes by Salomon in exchange for sharing my thoughts on my social media channels. I decided to share these thoughts on my blog without prompting, and as always; they are my own. There are no affiliate links in this post. You can read my full PR and Media policy HERE

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