Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Tag: Cateran Trail Ultra

Running For Mental Health – When it just doesn’t add up

This week I have regrettably had to make a very hard decision, and emailed my declaration as a DNS (Did Not Start) for the Cateran Trail 55 mile race. I’ve decided to write about this rather than just sweep it under the carpet as I think there are some things that I need to say about some stuff. Usually when I feel like this, I feel a lot better after I’ve written it all down, and on this occasion I’ve decided to share it with you. This might be a difficult read, so buckle up.

A couple of weeks ago I got very ill just before running the London Marathon, and in the end I managed to run it anyway. Fuck knows how. I really don’t know; some kind of combination of ragged determination, muscle memory, base fitness, seven years of failed ballot frustration, and the sounds of hundreds of thousands of voices cheering me on from the sidelines. It was not the smart decision, but one I made independently; fully in the knowledge that I would probably pay the price with a vastly extended recovery but that it was going to be worth it. It was; I had a great time, and I regret nothing.

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You will, of course, not be at all surprised to read that my immune system took an absolute hammering afterwards, and that topping off my meagre pre-race recovery with a 26.7 mile (yes, you better believe I’m counting that bonus 0.5 mile because I felt every bloody step) run left me in a sorry state. The race was just under three weeks ago; I’m still coughing up crap, my lungs feel like they are the size of fists, and my fatigue levels have been horrible. I live on the fourth floor of a tenement building, and I can confirm that coming home from work every day is my Everest. Once I’m in, I ain’t leaving.

I’ve ran three times since London – three five mile jogs. Each has been a massive effort, and disturbingly uncomfortable. I’m getting better, but it’s taking time. I’d love to go to the doctor and clear up my fears of viral pneumonia, but I’m a relatively new  resident to the South Side of Edinburgh and every single GP practice is full with their waiting list closed… One does not simply ‘register’ for a Doctor in Edinburgh. I might go and get myself hit by a truck so I have an excuse to go to A&E…

Anyway; that’s not why I’m here tonight. I want to talk about my attitude to all of this and why it’s so messed up. You’d think, after reading the above paragraphs, that it would be a relatively straightforward decision to NOT run the 55 mile trail race on Saturday. But ultrarunners are TOUGH aren’t they? STRONG? Unstoppable?

How TOUGH is tough enough?

My subculture prides itself on being relentless. We go places people don’t go, travel distances that usually only vehicles can, and generally defy all common logic as to the definition of what an enjoyable way to spend a weekend is. People work towards this in varying ways, but often, there is often a sense of pride in showing up to a start line under-trained. For many, finishes are celebrated in overcoming hardship instead of speed. Show up hungover and out of shape yet still record a 50 miler finish, and you will be a temporary hero. However, we all know that the biggest secret to ultrarunning is that there is no secret at all – if you want to do it, you can.  You don’t even need two legs for fucks’ sake; just bottomless tenacity and an iron will to succeed.

I’m not very tough right now. Despite this, I know I could actually finish the race. I know that eventually I would get there; drag my carcass over the finish line and receive the commendation that feels so good. That won’t fix the problem though.

How STRONG is strong enough?

When I wanted to ask my friends what to do, I already knew what the answer would be; so I didn’t bother.

Woman up. Man up and get on with it. Ya big jessie. BLOUSE. Just start and see how you feel; you’ll finish anyway. It’s just running. Don’t over-think it. Shut up and just run. Tough it out – you’ll get through it.

Everything I’ve worked to train myself in since my first ultra in 2012 has been towards building a strong and resilient human. It was never about being fast, or looking fit and lean. I wanted to be unstoppable; to overcome, to be superwoman. A sufferer of poor mental health since my late teens, I’ve never quite figured out whether I’ve been running away from something or running towards it, but either way, I’ve always had to be one step ahead of the black dog which relentlessly sniffs around my heels. Ultra-running empowers me. It just makes me a better version of myself from top to toe. If you’ve finished the West Highland Way Race, there’s not much in life that can make you feel like you can’t overcome it one way or the other.

the-only-thing-standing-in-between-you-and-your-go

Oh. Ok, thanks. There are a million visualisations of this bullshit quote by Jordan Belfort out there, but I picked this one because it has a lion on it, and I like cats. Screw this online viral noise…but why does the message continue to resonate?

I’ve DNS’d a couple of races in the past due to poor life management, but never like this. I have never actually been not capable of doing the race I’m signed up for. I’ve never not been strong enough to commit to the starting line, and this actually has nothing to do with the fact that I’m getting over the flu. I have spent so much time this week going over my ‘excuses’ for not doing the race and trying to figure out if I was looking for an excuse to punk out, or whether I was legitimately not up to it. It’s really hard to figure out if you are ok when your day-to-day average ‘ok’ line is pretty low anyway, and when ‘ok’ in an ultra means showing up at a check point dehydrated, with a mild concussion, and hallucinating.

It’s hard to extract the part of yourself that needs to be looked after, when looking after yourself often means going for a run. At times, running is both my killer and my cure, my light and my darkness, my blessing and my curse.

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I want to be her again. I want to be that strong, that tough, and that happy. Doing this race will not make me her. I am trying to become a person which I spent years building, but lost again after just a few short months when I got too exhausted to keep ahead of the black dog who chased me. Showing up on the starting line on Saturday will not bring her back. She can come back, but just not right now.

west highland way race 2015

Taking a step back, this still has nothing to do with the flu. Why did I get so sick and for so long? It’s because I am exhausted. Completely and utterly exhausted. In three weeks time I will have been living alone in Edinburgh for a year, separately from my husband as we live our little lives as two insignificant victims of the oil crash in Aberdeen. It’s been a year of constant travel, constant stress, constant arguments, constant attempts at planning, constant attempts to support each other, occasional hope, and constant failure. I could write a book about everything he, I, and our associated friends and family have been going through regarding this,  but I suspect you can probably imagine how shit it is and you’d be absolutely correct.

Last weekend in the Algarve - A rare occasion when we've spent the whole weekend together in the last year

Last weekend in the Algarve – A rare occasion when we’ve spent the whole weekend together in the last year. Nice big happy, social media smiles on our faces…

Situational sadness with seemingly never-ending stress is one thing, add that on top of clinical depression and crippling anxiety and you’ve got a hell of a ride. To this end, I can’t do the Cateran Trail 55 this weekend because I don’t think I can handle the journey. I’m not tough enough, strong enough, or stupid enough right now to take this on. I know I’m not fit enough to phone it in, so in order to complete it I would need to dig incredibly deeply; probably into a place where I’m just not willing to go right now. I spend enough of my time cloaked in stress, sadness and exhaustion that I just can’t face voluntarily going there.

I was attempting to try and fix everything with a big long run on Saturday, but I may as well bring a knife to a gun fight.

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You may have heard that it’s Mental Health Awareness week – so I guess this is my contribution. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how running can help your mental health and there is no doubt that it can work wonders, but it is not a cure. For me; what comes up must always come down, there is a yin to every yang. When you rely on something to fix you, when you can’t or won’t do it, then you need to have something else to keep your head above the water.

I’m sorry I don’t have the answer. I’m sorry this isn’t very positive. In this new world of talking about our difficulties and being so open about our mental health, for those of you who don’t suffer; know this – It is not all happy endings, #mindovermarathon, and victory montages at the finish line. Not all of us survive this and it is not something that ever ends in a lifetime – until it does… 127 people a week in the UK took their own lives in 2016, and female suicide rates are at their highest in a decade [source] . This isn’t a bandwagon or a popular campaign. It is not an emoji, a hashtag, or a shareable Facebook picture for #AWARENESS. For 1 in 6 of us it is life, and the strongest suffers will probably never let you know.

I have no idea how to end this post, other than with a link to the Samaritans, and a request that you keep looking out for one another. Be kind. You never know what battles people are fighting when your back is turned.

Contact the Samaritans here.

 

West Highland Way Race – 3 weeks to go

West Highland Way Race Countdown….
T minus 23 days!!

It seems that my series of weekly West Highland Way Race Training posts has come to a natural end, and now I find myself tapering as we creep towards June and the start of the latest edition of this race. I haven’t given a proper update for a little while for a couple of reasons, but mainly as the last couple of weeks of training have been somewhat disrupted.

stonehaven running club

After the Highland Fling I took a week off, apart from the customary ‘first club session after the race weekend’ where all of the people who had been racing at the weekend showed up in their shiny new race t-shirts. I hobbled around some trails for 6 miles to shake my legs out and decided some proper rest was in order. Not a problem, as my MSc Research Proposal was due in at the end of the week, so I had plenty of time sitting at a desk. Unfortunately after that weekend I was struck by a colossal bug that has been doing the rounds, and ended up totally losing my voice for three days with a horrid cough, chest infection and accompanying post-viral fatigue. After that run after the Fling on the 28th April it was another TWO WEEKS until I was able to do any exercise, and cautiously went out for a gentle jog on the 11th of May. My lungs hurt a lot and I was shattered after four miles.

The following weekend (16th-17th May) Kynon and I were marshalling at the Cateran Trail Ultramarathon, and whilst I had hoped to fit in one or two runs on the route I just accepted my body needed the rest and concentrated on having fun. Karen and her team have evolved the event to be an exciting and memorable part of the SUMS calendar, and an excellent alternative experience to the Fling at the 50 mile distance in Scotland.

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The new  race base-camp, at Gulabin Lodge Outdoor Centre.

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There was a lot of forestry work in Drimmy woods this year – when we were marking the course we tried to help bridge the mudbath for the runners!

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Entertaining ourselves at our checkpoint, Den of Alyth at 25 miles. We definitely got the best one – sunk into a warm, sheltered, tree-lined vale and with a bonus play park!

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By last week I was back up to speed (figuratively, if not literally!) and had a strong week of training culminating in a trip to Tyndrum for the West Highland Way Race training weekend. I ran North on the Saturday to Glencoe and back to Bridge of Orchy, to cover about 28.5 miles, and then on Sunday we drove to Kinlochleven so I could run from KLL to Fort William – a distance of 14 miles. It was a great back to back and a fitting end to my training.

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west highland way training weekend

west highland way training weekend

west highland way training weekend

west highland way training weekend

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Unfortunately one mile from Lundavra on Sunday I took a bit of a tumble, and slipped on mud landing awkwardly. I cracked the inside of my right knee off a rock and twisted my ankle. I didn’t feel the twist at the time but by the time we got home I could barely put weight on it – less of an ideal end to my training then… I was a bit worried for a couple of days early in the week, but I don’t think I’ve injured anything and that it was just a wrench. I’ve been RICE-ing and treating it with Ibuprofen cream and now it’s just a little stiff.

So what’s next?

The next three weeks will be a careful exercise in maintaining my cardiovascular fitness but not doing heavy impact training. I had planned to do some Metafit sessions this week and next to give myself a change of gear, but I don’t think the plyometric movements will benefit the recovery of my ankle. I’ll also do some swimming and continue my weights until the last week; basically, anything to distract myself from the looming deadline as long as possible! There is also plenty of planning to be done for the weekend itself, including packing and instructions for my support crew. So, who are my support crew? Well they are certainly some familiar faces – I’ll be introducing Team RedWineRunner and more details of my race plans on the blog nearer the race itself.

For now I’m enjoying a little downtime after submitting my final coursework and before starting work on my MSc project. The weather has been poor so I’m bored and bouncing off the walls already. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come – I’m perfectly happy to taper whilst reading in the sun in the garden, but being cooped up in the house alone all day is working my last nerve! I’ll have lots of time to write some good posts in the next couple of weeks, so I’d like to invite you to ask any questions you have about the West Highland Way Race and my training if you have any, and I’ll try and address them in a post. Go ahead – ask me anything! There’s only so much I can to to make tapering and resting up sound exciting!

‘Til next time,
~RWR

Cateran Countdown

At some point in October last year I decided that it was a good idea to run both the Highland Fling and the Cateran Trail Ultra this Spring. After a bit of dithering I took the advice of some friends and decided to just go for it and really level up my ultra running this year. Neither race in itself is a monster challenge, but the fact that they are only three weeks apart is quite intimidating.

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The last few months have held plenty of distractions as we know, and without a structured training plan for the last two months after the D33 it has been very easy to forget about the larger challenges on the horizons of this year like this double-header. My tactic for sanity, much like last year, was to take each week at a time to stop myself from freaking out over the thought of multiple 50+ mile races (and that big 70+ mile one too), and just do my best to keep uninjured.

Despite having a great Fling, I’ve been desperately trying to put off thinking about the Cateran in the hope that it would make the time in between the two last longer. It made absolutely no difference of course, and now with just over 12 hours to go I must face up to some more race planning and strategising to get the best out of my day tomorrow.

cateran trail ultra

image from bamff.co.uk

I have 15 hours to run the 55 miles of the Cateran trail after the race starts at 7am. It’s a pretty small race, with 84 registered runners in the 55 mile race and 15 runners in the 110 mile Double Cateran race. The race starts and finishes at the Spittal of Glenshee hotel, which is about an hour and a half drive South West from Stonehaven, and the route follows a circular route on a mix of roads, trails and farm tracks. It appears to have none of the rugged terrain that the Fling/West Highland Way is known for, but it still packs plenty of proper hills including a monster 5 mile long climb at the finish. The total ascent is 5754ft.

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Elevation profile borrowed from Jonathan at pixelscotland.com

The race is unsupported with 6 drop bags at check points at 6, 15, 26, 31, 28, and 49 miles. I’ve packed the following for checkpoints 2 onwards:

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There are quorn sausages and slices of pizza to be added when they are cooked tonight after work.

The weather is looking weird – it’s supposed to be very warm all weekend but the forecast for where we will be is 10 – 12C with rain. Given how wrong the forecast for the Fling was I’ll just pack all my suitable kit and pick it on the morning. I’m hoping for cloudy and warm.

I have taken some advice and will try toe socks on my feet this time and will see if they make any difference to my horrific between-toe blisters. I will wear the same shoes (Salomon speedcross 3’s) and hopefully will see some improvement as I really need to crack this problem before the Great Glen Way in July.

In terms of time, I’m hoping to come in around 12 or 12.5 hours. I’m ready to work really hard and throw everything I’ve got at this race and really test myself. I know what it feels like for me to run for this kind of time and distance now, so it’s time to start trimming the fat off my time and get more efficient at this distance. On the other hand I don’t really know what to expect out there as I don’t know the course, so anything can happen.

I’ve had a challenging couple of days, so at the base of it all I’m really just looking forward to a day out to myself in the hills working hard and running away from the world. Of course the course is a circle so whatever I run away from I will eventually have to return to, but hopefully I’ll have found some peace along the way.

~Rwr

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