Life

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).

pulse salad vegan

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

4

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.

20140420_123458

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.

Very wet SRC runners

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

20140607-172410-62650165.jpg
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

20140607-172455-62695275.jpg

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.

—–

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

20140607-172534-62734548.jpg

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.

—–

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

20140607-172641-62801540.jpg

“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…

—-

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

Highland Fling Logo_FINAL

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…

20130427_093950

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!

IMG_3705

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.

20130926_182829

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.

20130427_055325

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.

marmite

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.

———–

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.

20130427_193932

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.

20140419_163148

 

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.

20140420_104746

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.

20140420_123049 20140420_123105 20140420_123458 20140420_124214 20140420_124404

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 Milgavie!

Weeks and Days

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

finishmum

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

small1

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

20140330_165830

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.

20130427_152520

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..!

cake topper

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.

IMG_20140201_124207

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.

DSC02524 small

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.

1503868_10152104835120873_521616931_n

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!_EL18446

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.

1517653_397845360362386_1362103529_n

_EL18453

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.

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

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.

_EL18478_EL18486_EL18487_EL18491_EL18495_EL18500_EL18502_EL18510_EL18512_EL18517_EL18537_EL18548_EL18550_EL18567_EL18576_EL18581_EL18583_EL18608_EL18610_EL18619_EL18628_EL18643_EL18645_EL18647_EL18648_EL18659_EL18661_EL18702_EL18704_EL18714_EL18740_EL18761_EL18764_EL18777

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.

_EL18833_EL18835_EL18849_EL18850

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.

With Iain, Vikki and Kynon

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 

2013 – A Year in Review

With 2013 coming to an end, like many of you I am looking back at the calendar and trying to work out where the time went. The last 12 months feels like it has flown by quicker than ever before but thankfully in hindsight I can see I’ve achieved a lot.

This year has been a total monster – it has felt like I’ve been away more than I’ve been at home. Kynon and I keep a shared Google calendar to keep track of our plans and for a while every weekend was booked up months in advance with races, trips, work commitments, holidays, rugby things, wedding planning …and as well as all of that, little numbers in the corner of each box indicating how far I had to run that day. Fitting my training around my life has been harder than ever this year, but I put the work in and reaped the rewards with PBs in every distance that I raced.

I’m already looking ahead to 2014 with a lot of excitement; new distances, new goals, and the small matter of a wedding which is now in less than 3 months time. I’ll talk about that in the New Year however – for now, a brief look back at the last 12 months.

January

2013 started off with us still recovering from the flooding which struck Stonehaven in the early hours of the 23rd of December. Despite this being a running blog, the post I wrote about our experiences remains the most popular I’ve written to date.

Our street, alternative view

20121223_085147Residents+in+the+flooded+town+of+Stonehaven

My training for my third ultra, the Hoka Highland Fling, began in earnest and I began consistently knocking out high mileage weeks and back-to-back long runs once again. Having joined Stonehaven Running Club, I was going out each weekend with a great group of ultra-running friends who made the training a lot more enjoyable despite the tough weather we endured week after week.

20130119_09331520130126_085041s

February

I ran my first race of the year, the Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon, with Kate, Ronnie, and Rachel and had a blast. After running through snow, ice, mud and thigh-deep icy water we finished in 2hrs 10m 9s.

20130203_132200fh…and there was some great running done in the Cairngorms, which was just the pick-up I needed when I was finding Fling training tough.

20130217_101157

March

In March I completed my second ultra, the D33. The weather was grim and it was a very cold day, but I still managed to knock nearly half an hour off my 2012 time and finish in 5hr 26m 29s.

DSC_9621DSC_9622

I entered as part of a mixed team with my friend Kate and her brother – to our surprise and delight we finished as the fastest mixed team!

20130316_155029

I also ran the RunGarioch Half Marathon a week later where the weather was even worse. The wind-chill was horrific and the course had to be altered due to deep snow; I ran like I stole something just to get it over with and came in very close to my PB with a time of 1hr 56m 52s. I was very encouraged by that time, which for me, a week after thrashing out a PB on a flat, road ultra, was excellent.

rungarioch1

April

Next up was a big one, and my last ‘long run’ before the Fling – the Paris Marathon!

wpid-20130404_164252.jpg

paris-marathon-014wpid-20130405_100745.jpg

I flew over with Rachel and Naomi and spent the weekend staying with Naomi’s parents who have a flat within spitting distance of the start. It was an amazing trip – taking part in such a huge, international race was a mind-blowing experience and I would highly recommend it to everyone!

wpid-20130406_083024.jpgWe did the International Breakfast Run 5k the day before, and the next day I somehow managed to pull a 14 minute PB out of the bag, and cruised home in 4hr 5m 18s.

ian1

20130407_08122420130407_112249ian4Finish1Finish1Before and after Paris I had a flare up of Bursitis in my left knee which looked set to threaten my performance at the Fling, but after following strict Physio orders of 100% rest and some rather crazy kinesio-tape strapping I made it to the start of my Spring 2013 A Race – the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling.

20130427_05532520130427_09391920130427_14273920130427_16575020130427_170835

Not only that, but I made it to the finish, in 13 hours, 6 minutes and 19 amazing seconds.

AlanStewart1IMG_3705IMG_3707IMG_3708

Those last 19 seconds were the best, but that day changed my life. Afterwards I wrote “I have seen within myself and I am stronger, tougher and more capable than I ever imagined.”  and it’s true, and it’s why I’m doing it all over again and more in 2014.

20130427_193932

May

May was an extremely easy month as I recovered from the battering I gave myself on the West Highland Way. Recovery was easy in Mallorca:

DSC02154 - Copy DSC02229 DSC02336

But less so when I picked up a nasty case of food poisoning which really knocked me down, and also when we ended up severely delayed coming home and sent to Magaluf for a night…

Kynon went to Bournemouth to play in a Rugby 7s tournament, so I went to the Cairngorms to go running with friends. I met Jemma and Iona for the first time and we met up with Kate and Ali to camp at Glenmore and run up and down some hills.

20130525_14552020130525_15111020130525_15283420130525_15295220130525_16030620130525_153749The original point of the adventure was to take part in ‘Race the Steam Train‘, which was a madcap 4.5 mile race against the Strathspey Steam Railway train. Despite our aching limbs from our hill running the previous day, we had a wonderful day out and I can’t wait ’til next year’s event!

20130526_10041520130526_10030920130526_120807

June

June saw the start of Marathon training once more, with my sights being set at achieving a sub-4 time at the Moray marathon in September.

20130609_121915I went to Derry with work, and had to fit my training around City of Culture events and their associated hangovers.

20130616_124155vicki1

I had another fun day out at the Xodus Ythan Challenge with lots of friends from my club.

runningshop10k4And fought hard for a 10k PB (50m 44s) at a very windy Running Shop 10k. Will 2014 be the year I finally crack 50 minutes for 10k? All I know is that I truly hate that distance, but I’ll be giving it another shot at this race next year.

DSC02386

At the end of June I had the privilege to be part of the sweep team for the West Highland Way Race with 5 other members of Stonehaven Running Club. It was another amazing 48 hours with my nutbag ultrarunning family and yet another amazing experience on the Way.

20130622_06124820130622_11364620130622_160551JonathanBellerbyDSC02398

The month finished off with a trip to Peterhead to take part in the Half Marathon there, which was supposed to be a test run for me at goal marathon pace. Unfortunately heat got the better of me and I totally blew up, limping home with a massive positive split in a season’s worst of 2:06.

20130630_135549

July

July kicked off with more travelling, with a summer vacation in Brighton and London for Kynon and I. We did some running, did some Hot Yoga and Bikram, and generally enjoyed the hot summer weather down South.

20130703_205046

Unfortunately I got sick with a bladder infection when we were in London and a couple of weeks later was struck down by food poisoning AGAIN. This derailed my marathon training a bit but I managed to have a great race at the Dundee Half and finished in 1hr 55m 18s, which was a new PB and bang on target for my sub-4 goal.

Picture by Rachel

Picture by Rachel

Kynon also ran (by now he was in marathon training for Kielder) and we both suffered dreadfully in the heat, but he also scored a PB of 1hr 53m. The organisation of race itself was dreadful and we will not be going back to any events by that company, but you can read more about that in the race report.

Another weekend and another race saw a gang of SRC runners head up to Ballater for the Deeside Runners 10 miler. It was a very, very wet day but we all did well and brought home lots of PBs – 1hr 25m and 3rd Stonehaven Lady.

wpid-20130728_114346.jpg

August

August kicked off with an epic run in Glen Doll and Loch Muick with club friends.

wpid-20130803_093039.jpgwpid-20130803_101813.jpgvs-lochmuickLater that day I was on a train to Edinburgh to fly to Budapest the next morning for work – my legs did not thank me one bit!

DSC02422 DSC02428 DSC02486

Budapest was beautiful but ludicrously hot. The air temperature hit 40C every day we spent in the city and I’ve never experienced anything like the heat coming off the pavements. Needless to say, despite packing my trainers they did not get used.

Before I knew it it was taper time once more and the final countdown to the Moray Marathon began. Due to travel and my various illnesses over the summer I opted to do one more week of peak mileage training and do a two week taper instead; a risky move perhaps but I felt it was the right thing for me this time.

September

The Moray Marathon was on the 1st of September and I was delighted to smash my goal. I got my sub 4 (despite a small wobble at 20 miles) and felt that I could put my road marathoning to bed for a while. I know I will bring that PB down in future but for now I’m sticking to ultras.

20130901_092955_SM25827_SM25872_SM25917

Next up was supporting my friend Vikki in her 100 mile attempt at the Glenmore 24 trail race. I didn’t blog about this for a multitude of reasons, but the weekend was another amazing ultra experience with some absolutely remarkable performances. My pal Noanie who I met at the D33 when we both completed our first ultra last year? She ran 126.21 miles, came second overall and totally burst the female course record. The people you get to meet at these events bring new meaning to the word ‘inspirational’.

glenmore3glenmore1glenmore2

Vikki got her 100 miles and celebrated her 40th birthday in style with friends.

The rest of the month was a quiet one outside of work, which was completely insane. I ran the odd club session and chummed Kynon along for his final long run of marathon training but that was as exciting as it got.

October

October’s race was the Kielder Trail Marathon with Kynon, who was making his first attempt at 26.2. It was a HARD race to pick for your first marathon and he suffered for it but eventually came out the other side feeling accomplished. We finished together in 4hrs 56m 4s.

20131006_09520920131006_132808kielder620131006_164600…and then got marooned on a broken down bus for 3 hours afterwards…

bus

Kynon also wrote his own race report, which was entitled From Back Row to Back Roads.

November/December

Kielder was my last race of the year and since then I have dialled down the mileage but incorporated circuits classes, Metafit and more weights. I’ve kept up a moderate amount of runs each week but some weeks, I’ve done nothing. My personal life became very busy as well which is why I decided to take a break from blogging and start again in 2014. I am not very good at finding motivation when I don’t have a specific training plan to stick to so I’m looking forward to the new year and a new start.

In the Stonehaven Club Championships I finished 7th Lady, and was awarded Bronze standard, for achieving a minimum of 2 events at 55% WAVA, with a minimum distance of 10k. I was very close to silver, so that’s next year’s target – 3 events of half marathon or greater, at 60% WAVA.

1466300_543564339066205_890066192_n DSC02519

There is one exciting thing to finish the year off with. About a month ago I was asked if I might like a place in the Stonehaven Fireballs procession as a swinger. This felt like a huge honour that I could not turn down, but oh my word am I nervous. Physically it will be a challenge as whilst I am fit I run with my legs not my arms, and this is 20 minutes of walking up and down a street hurling a 9lb ball attached to a wire around my head. Oh, and it’s on fire too obviously. At least I know I’ve got the cardio endurance, and if my friends 78 year old Grannie can do it, I can too.

fireballs
I’m nervous that I don’t do a good job of it and let down all the people who’ve come from all over the world to see us; this pride and tradition is certainly not trusted to the weak or the timid though, so I need to HTFU and stride out with confidence.

544167_10151996445920873_1217270111_n

In hindsight it really has been an amazing year, and I am proud of the leaps forward in my running that I have made. There is still so much room for improvement though so I hope you’ll join me in going forward to 2014 with ambition and a return to regular blogging.

Happy New Year!