Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Tag: marathon training (page 1 of 9)

Summer Running

It’s been a busy few weeks at Red Wine Towers and there are a lot of changes afoot. In the midst of it all I’ve been continuing to train as I’ve set myself some goals for the summer. ¬†Let’s take a look at what I’ve got planned!

12th of June – Strathearn Marathon

strathearn marathon

After helping out and marshalling at the Cateran Trail races a couple of weeks ago, I came home with a lingering case of race envy. With nothing in my calendar until July and some itchy racing feet, I sneaked a little entry into this small but beautiful marathon. Renowned for its friendliness, the Strathearn Harriers put on a great show every year and the race has a super reputation. Naomi and I are heading down together and are very excited about the Squirrel medal we will be earning. I’ll be using this race as a gauging point for how I’m feeling and how much work needs to be done over the summer, with a goal of cruising around in 4hr 30ish.

3rd of July – Stonehaven Half Marathon

stonehaven half marathon

A return to my very first half marathon, except this year the course has totally changed! The course is now multi-terrain and takes runners from sea level all the way up 1000ft of elevation to Fetteresso Forest for a bit of a run around, before coming back down to the sea. The race has only grown its reputation for being the toughest half in Scotland, as now instead of the first 4.5 miles being up hill, it’s 7 miles of straight up hill. There’s no denying it; it’s going to hurt, but as long as I can get to the top then it’s a fun cruise back to town.

31st July – Fort William Marathon

fort william marathon

I won a place in this race a few months ago when I entered a competition on Twitter. The race starts and finishes at the Nevis Range mountain resort and takes in a circular route via Inverlochy, Gairlochy, and Spean Bridge. With 1200ft of elevation it’s a little bumpy, but I will be using this race as my last long training run for my final race of the summer.

20th August – Speyside Way Ultramarathon

speyside way ultra race

After enjoying the race so much last year, I really wanted to come back and give it another go. This year I am not attempting a half marathon the next day, so I am planning on target-training for this race specifically and going as fast as I can. Last year I ran over 7 hours, so I’d like to get a lot closer to 6 or maybe even under. Kynon is also doing the race so it will be a fun day out ūüôā

As for the rest of the year, well I’ll figure that out when I get there. The changes I mentioned above will have quite an affect on what I get up to, because I won’t be living in Stonehaven any more! In fact, this time next week I’ll be packing the last of my bags and shipping off down to Edinburgh to start a new job. It’s all very exciting and I’m really pleased to be taking the next step in my career. This means that I’m on the look out for a new running club to train with and will sadly be hanging up my black and purple Stonehaven Kit. Ironically I’ve just renewed my membership and ordered a new hoodie, but I’ll always keep SRC as my second claim club whilst I’m in Scotland.

I’m really excited to be moving back to a big city again, but it will mean a lot less easy access to mountains to run up and forests to round around. We are truly spoiled in Aberdeenshire, but then which other city can claim to have a volcano in the centre of it? Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags will shortly become my new back garden so there will be no excuses for getting my legs primed for hills.

What’s on your calendar this summer?
What’s your favourite thing to do in Edinburgh?




Earn The Right

Inside my front door, there are thirteen pairs of running shoes which belong to me. ¬†Make your way up the stairs, and you’ll pass coat hooks with several running jackets hanging next to a fuel belt and a couple of hydration packs. If you stray into the kitchen, you might open a cupboard and see boxes of energy¬†gels, flapjacks, protein bars, and a shelf of various paraphernalia; a head torch, a packet of Compeed, a half used roll of athletic tape.

Walking into the living room, a bookshelf dominates one wall: ‘Born to Run, ‘Eat and Run’, ‘Why We Run’, ‘Run or Die’, ‘Runner’, ‘Running for Women’, ‘Relentless Forward Progress’, autobiographies of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Paula Radcliffe, with several issues of Like The Wind magazine piled on top. Behind the couch is a pile of medals, sprawling in a mess since their collective hanging weight nearly pulled a light fitting off the wall last month. The focal point¬†of the room is the fireplace; in the centre of the mantlepiece is a crystal goblet, flanked on either side by several other small mementos, quaichs, and plaques. Anyone would think that a runner lived in this house.

West Highland Way Triple Crown

Much thought has been given in the past as to at what point it is permissible to call oneself a ‘runner’. Many people incorporate a small amount of running as part of a larger training regime, but they would not call themselves a ‘runner’. Some people will run five days a week but never compete in a race, thus will refuse to call themselves a ‘runner’. There is also the elitist mindset that believes that someone moving at anything less than a certain pace is a jogger, not a runner. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you run, then you’re a runner.

So what am I, if I have not been running?

Regardless of what speed you move at, you have to actually partake in the activity to be a part of it. You can own all the running shoes in the world, but unless you are running in them then you are not a runner. You have to earn the right to call yourself a runner. Since entering life without a structured training plan, in the last few months I’ve been feeling like I’ve been slipping further and further away from the title, leading to somewhat of a loss of identity at times. My monthly mileage from September to December 2015 even when combined does not exceed or even remotely equal the total achieved in each month in the early part of the year, which is a strange situation to find oneself in when you are commonly referred to as an ‘ultrarunner’.

West Highland Way Race

Training for completion of the West Highland Way Race and the accompanying Triple Crown races was such a long labour of love that it almost felt natural to step back for a little while and reassess where I wanted to go next. The combination of that step back, complete dedication to the completion and submission of my MSc in October, and perhaps an added sprinkle of residual over-training syndrome or cumulative fatigue has led to a different situation at the start of 2016 РI have no idea what my goals are, still. Having no plans whatsoever was fun at first Рa totally open calendar felt like an amazing opportunity, but now having still found no direction I feel I am flailing a bit.

To this end, I decided not to indulge in the blogger’s bread and butter in December and post¬†a 2015 round up. To me it didn’t make sense to conclude one year without a clear vision for the next. Taking a brief look back though, despite going out with a fizzle rather than a bang, 2015 was alright.

Another PB at the D33:

d33 ultra

An amazing 1hr 21m PB at the Highland Fling – a race I still credit as my strongest yet:

hoka highland fling

Photo by Clark Hamilton

Finally getting *that* Goblet:

west highland way race 2015

Finishing the Devil o’the Highlands, and achieving the Triple Crown, hand in hand in the pouring rain with my husband:

devil o the highlands race 2015

Photo by Clark Hamilton

Submitting my MSc and heading off to Berlin to fun-run the marathon:

berlin marathon finish

And graduating. The work was worth it, and I passed with a Distinction:


So how on earth does one follow a year like that? Without major goals, I need to re-immerse myself slowly. I need to re-earn the right to call myself a runner again. I’ve already had a couple of false starts at getting into a training routine; ¬†partially due to my work situation¬†at the moment, it’s challenging just to get into and keep a routine in general.

Earn the right

[Embedded video link:]

Once upon a time I was a student at the University of Texas at Austin. Even now over a decade later, I still follow the football programme avidly and my blood still flows burnt orange as a lifelong Longhorn fan. The Texas Longhorns have a great YouTube channel and the above video stuck with me the first time I watched it. Despite it now being a few years old I often rewatch it when I need a boost or a reminder why I need to keep working every single day.

“We constantly say that you’re not given anything in life. Even if you’re given an opportunity, you have to earn the right to keep it.”

I’m lucky in that my hiatus from running has been more or less a choice. Many are not so lucky and have been sidelined by injury or other circumstances. It has been humbling to go back out and find that running 8 miles without a break is quite exhausting, humbling to be reminded that the speed I once had is no longer there, and downright frustrating when I’m reminded how much harder it is to run when you’re carrying an extra stone around. The saying “Once a runner, always a runner” may be true, but for me I want to earn the right to keep it.

So what’s the plan?

I’d like to try some different things this year. After four consecutive Springs of training for the D33 Ultra and three training for the Highland Fling, it was almost a relief when I realised I was not going to be free on either race weekend in 2016. I will miss the social for sure, but this is forcing me to look beyond my usual routine and push me out of my comfort zone. You don’t get any better by doing the same things every year!

To this end I’ve decided to focus on the Sri Chinmoy Perth 50k at the end of March, and choose an Autumn marathon to target train for and really claw back some speed. I won a place on twitter for the Fort William Marathon in July, and I’m considering if I would like to return to the Devil o’the Highlands for a second time. ¬†Other than that, my calendar is wide open and I’m looking for new races to try.

What’s on your 2016 calendar?
Are you setting any new goals?
Do you have any suggestions for new races I should run?

Mud, Hills and Adventures

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

Heart of the Park Challenge route

Heart of the Park Challenge route

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

Picture - Kevin Masson

Picture – Kevin Masson

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

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

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

Photo - Heater Barnett

Photo – Heather Barnett

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

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

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

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

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

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

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

Laurencekirk Hill Race

Very wet SRC runners

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

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

Here’s to marathon number 6!

5 tips for Budding Ultramarathoners

I’ve had this post written in my drafts for nearly a year now; building on it, adjusting it, finally finding the right time to post it. We’re now in the middle of the second month of the year, which means many runners will be knee deep in training for their first ultramarathon and perhaps wondering what on earth they’ve got themselves into. The sheen of starting training has worn off, you’ve got months still to go, and you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Welcome to ultra. I promise it’s worth it in the end, but it’s a hell of a journey to get there.20130202_121217

So, I present to you: Check yourself before you wreck yourself – a very average ultrarunner’s guide to staying happily in the middle of the pack. There are umpteen books and training guides out there which cover everything you might need to become the best ultra runner you can be – but what if you’d just like to finish happily and healthily, and with enough enthusiasm to sign up for another? I can’t tell you how to race tactically to win, to go from a tortoise to a hare, or issue you with plant-based diet plans which will turn you into Scott Jurek v.2.0, but I can offer you some experience on being a normal person trying to happily juggle life and ultra training in a hectic world.

Last year I made some definite mistakes and learned a lot about how to not train for a 50 miler. The same could be applied to training for a 50k ultra or anywhere in-between or beyond those distances. Allow me to share these lessons with you.

[disclaimer: I am not a medical or sports professional, and have no formal training or qualifications to back these thoughts up. This is what works for me, but it may not work for you. I learned the following the hard way, and chances are you’re going to have to do the same; but maybe this might help guide you a bit. Don’t be a dumbass, don’t put yourself in danger and always remember Mike Raffan’s rule #1- don’t be a dick.]


1) The biggest challenge is finding the right balance of dedicating yourself to your training, whilst still being able to maintain a shred of a life so that you can let your hair down every now and then and still retain your identity. There is no point in doing this if you don’t want to, or you are not enjoying it. Whilst you will benefit from considering yourself to be an athlete who has to prioritise training above anything else, the crux of the matter is that you aren’t. You are not a professional, no-one is paying you to do this and you’re accountable to no-one but yourself. Ultra marathons and their associated training aren’t for everyone and you really need to want to do it and also know why you want to do it. Why did you sign up? What is your motivation? Beware of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) as described in the book ‘Relentless Forward Progress’; ultras are becoming so popular these days and so many people are doing them that it’s natural to want to do the same amazing events as what your friends are doing – but are you ready? You’ll soon find out.

20120212_112351Training for my first ultra, the 2012 D33

2) Pick your training plan extremely wisely. This is a no-brainer, but I managed to mess this one up a bit last year. I used Relentless Forward Progress’ 50k plan to do my first D33 and it worked perfectly, so I didn’t think twice when filling in my calendar with the mileage for their 50 mile plan last year. That plan was far too much for me – I realised when I had scheduled doing bigger back-to-backs than my friends who were training for the West Highland Way race for no good reason other than it was in the plan. Take advice from other runners who have trained for your race before, ask to see their training, consider whether you are similar runners – are they consistently faster and stronger than you? Maybe their plan will be too much for you and could use a tweak or two. Ask questions and soak up the answers – there is no right answer on how to train for an ultra, you have to figure out what works for you. Some of my club train 6 days a week, others only 3; but everyone has always finished their races.

L - R: Kynon, Vicki, Iain and Me

Kynon, Vikki, Iain and RWR after Vikki’s first WHW race finish in 2012

20130126_085041sD33 training in 2013

3) Sleep is your BIGGEST weapon. When your mileage gets high and you’re training more than you ever have, your body is going to freak out a bit. The best way you can cope with this is sleep and rest; take your recovery after your long runs seriously and try and schedule yourself some proper time resting up if you can. Coming home from 28 miles and eating on the hoof whilst trying to shower and change to go out to meet friends is not the best way to do it. Also, get yourself to bed early as many nights a week as you can – I have a self-imposed curfew of 10.30pm on week nights or else I would just sit and blog/watch TV/read until I fell asleep. I get up at 05.30am and get home at 6.00pm Monday to Friday so I absolutely need to get as much sleep as possible, or else I just can’t function. You have to make rest and recovery as much as a priority as running, and unfortunately that means saying no to some cool stuff sometimes.

20120212_154308Do this lots.

4) Food. Food = fuel. Fuel = food. One of the first things people always ask is ‘What should I eat to fuel myself on runs?’ and no-one can answer that for you. The short answer is take different things that appeal to you and try them on training runs. Some will work, some won’t. Pay attention to what you crave when you come home from a long run and take that with you on your next run.


That isn’t what this section is about though – of equal importance is what you eat when you’re not running. Last year when I started to get really worn down I examined what I was eating very closely. I kept a detailed food and exercise diary for two weeks using and was pretty surprised by what it revealed – I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough food to support myself. I’m not one to shy away from carbs and big dinners, but without paying attention to what I was eating I was effectively starving myself. I was easily burning a minimum of 800 kcal a day through exercise, although some days it would be near 2500. With my base metabolic rate being around 1500kcal a day I needed to be eating a lot more than what I was consuming to keep my energy levels high. I visited a nutritionist at Aberdeen Sports Village to get some guidance and soon was back on track. Many gyms have these facilities available to members, or if not they can put you in touch with someone qualified to help you. Don’t try and figure it out yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.

ianrusselstart01The D33 – Do Epic Shit

5) Physical Maintenance: Book a sports massage now. Don’t wait until something starts hurting! If you’re training for your first ultra, you’re probably working your body harder than you ever have and you need to take care of it. I book a sports massage every month towards the end of my ‘cut back’ week regardless if I’m broken or not – the flush out is wonderful for the legs and you can get back in to training hard the next week with a brand new set of legs. Most runners will find that to a certain extent, they are never 100% right whilst training anyway. There’s always something; a niggle, an ache, never-ending DOMS. You just have to learn what’s normal for you and recognise when something isn’t right.

Also, be prepared for your feet to potentially do nasty things that you could never even imagine. You can do everything possible to wear the right shoes and socks to prevent blisters and damaged toenails, but the reality of it is that some people are just more susceptible than others. I’ve lost all my toenails several times and it’s just something I’ve learned to deal with. In the last year they’ve stopped being quite so flimsy though, apart from this time after the 2013 D33…


Blisters on blisters on blisters which took weeks to heal. I had nothing of the sort after the Fling though…


That’s all I’ve got for now. I didn’t want to write a book on this – there are already plenty out there, and as you all know I’m no particular expert. But these are things which I wish I had been told (or that I had listened to…) when I first started ultrarunning. Why did I start this nonsense anyway? Partly to move on and distract myself from a break up, partly because the races were there and they weren’t going to run themselves. I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zones to find out the kind of person I could be. Turns out, I like that version of myself best of all.

wpid-20130427_191140.jpgAfter the finish of the 53 mile Highland Fling, in 2013

Ultramarathon training is HARD, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If you’re not finding it hard then maybe you’re the next Kilian Jornet or Rory Bosio and you ought to be pushing yourself harder? For the rest of you though – embrace it. Surrender your life to it for a few months and it will give you a lot more in return than you might imagine. Starting with moments like this….


DSC_9621…and then this;

IMG_3707IMG_3709…and then you’ll wonder why you ever doubted yourself. It’s all a mental game anyway – forget the physical prowess; the biggest trick you’ll ever learn is to fool yourself that you’re feeling great when you’re really not, closely followed by having the courage to believe that you WILL finish regardless of how you feel. You can go from feeling brilliant to terrible to brilliant in the space of 10 minutes in an ultra, so never lose hope that things could pick up and just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get to the finish. It really is that simple.


Are you training for your 1st ultra this Spring, or your 50th?
How is your training going?
What do you wish you’d been told when you first ventured into ultras?
Leave your tips for other readers in the comments!

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