Tag Archive: race report

RACE REPORT: Peterhead 10k 2014

Peterhead 10k

9th November 2014

Peterhead 10k medal

Time: 49m 01s – NEW PB!
Place: 86th / 185 Finishers
Gender: 18th / 82 Females
Category: 10th / 37 FSenior

 I’m very pleased to be finally writing a race report for a 10k where I can say I have cracked the 50 minute barrier which has seemed out of reach for me for so long. It’s silly; a sub 50 minute 10k isn’t even that fast, and it seems most people either achieve it in their first attempt without any specific effort at all or fairly swiftly afterwards. However I have really struggled to see any reasonable improvement at the 10k distance in the 4 years I’ve been running, and it remains my least improved upon personal best.

I completed my first 10k (Baker Hughes 2010) in 54:07 and went on to complete subsequent 10ks in 2011 in 56:17 (Garioch), 57:07 (Balmoral), and 52:36 (Baker Hughes). In 2012 I completed Baker Hughes again in 51:33, and in 2013 I completed the Running Shop 10k in 50:44 and Loch Kinord in 56:32. I don’t think my lack of improvement has been down to lack of ability, just mainly laziness and the constant pursuit of the easiest way to do the most exciting things. Why bother with training to burst yourself for ~49 minutes when you can train yourself to run for 72 miles? I look for a high ROI on my training and distances shorter than marathons have been overlooked for goal targeting since I went ultra 2.5 years ago.

Recently after a short period of less long-distance training, increased resistance training and a little bit of weight-loss, I found myself in the condition to have a reasonable attempt at running a bit faster over shorter distances. As previously explained I’ve been chasing a silver club standard, one of the requirements of which is three 60% WAVA finishes in 2014, and for me that meant a 49:49 or better at the Peterhead 10k was my best bet to get the third 60% before the year ended.

With this extra bit of pressure upon me (the alternative was sub 1hr 50m at the Fraserburgh Half Marathon, or a Proms 3k sprint – blerch) I did some club speed sessions and hill work by myself and as usual hoped I could ride off the pain endurance the ultra season would give me. If I can complete 52 miles of a 72 mile race with intense ITB pain, surely I can ride out 49 minutes whilst feeling like I’m going to die – put in context, it really seemed achievable this time.

I decided to target 8 minute miles as my initial pace ( for a finish time of 49:59), and take advantage of the downhill finish that Vikki had described to me in order to cut off more time with a fast last mile. In an attempt to take it as seriously as possible, I cut myself off the booze at the pub after Scotland’s excellent win against Argentina in the rugby the night before despite wanting to neck another few beers in celebration, and went home and ate a modest meal with lots of water to rehydrate. The luxuriously late start of 1pm allowed for plenty of rest, and Kynon drove me up so to avoid another race blighted by my tendency for car-sickness. The weather was perfectly chilled, sunny and calm, and for once absolutely everything seemed to be in my favour.

Carolann main - Metro Running CLub

Picture – Carolann Main – Metro Aberdeen Running Club

The first mile came easily in 7:43, which gave me a little padding for later miles. A steady incline rose, rose and fell, then rose, rose, and fell – we seemed to be going up, up, up which wasn’t part of the plan! Vikki had said this was flat, hadn’t she? Or was it “flat, kind of”? If there was a downhill finish then that probably meant we had to go up a hill to get there. Curses. Did not think that one through. Mile 2: 8:07.

Mile 3 and we’re still going up hill and I’m finding it harder to keep the pace as close to 8 as possible without working far too hard. A muscle in my stomach is twitching and threatening to cramp if I push too hard, so I keep a lid on it and lock into the pace of the man in front, telling myself I will be able to make up time on the mythical downhill shortly. When my watch beeps to tell me mile 3 was completed in 8:21 my heart sinks as my ‘padding’ is all gone and now I have to run faster than ever to hit the required time, and the road is still going up.

 peterhead 10k course profile

Between three and four miles my inner monologue can’t decide whether to scream positive encouragement to my legs or curse myself for daring to set out to achieve this audacious goal in the first place. Who cares about the silver standard  anyway? Not longer after 5k however I realised that it was over half way done; this shouldn’t have been such a revelation, but between that and the glimpse of Peterhead in the distance I remembered how temporary this uncomfort was and that if I could just get myself through another 2.5 miles I could forget about 10ks for as long as I wanted. Mile 4: 8:20

As illustrated above, the last two miles are gloriously downhill. I started to feel great! I had my watch set to show the estimated finish time for each mile and every time I glanced it said 7:XX, so the belief came back and I was ready to leave it all out on the course to get that sub-50. Mile 5: 7:39.

The temptation was strong to run as hard as I could in the last mile but the twitchy stomach muscle was still giving warning twangs. Running quickly downhill when I’m tired is almost guaranteed to give me a stitch, so I had to be careful with my efforts as a cramping muscle now would ruin everything. Mile 6: 7:25.

Picture - Carolann Main, Metro Running Club

Picture – Carolann Main, Metro Running Club

On the approach to the last 0.2 I turned my watch over to see the overall time of 47:39 and knew I had it in the bag. I was able to hammer it down the last 400 meters in the hope of achieving a time that started with 48:XX – previously unfathomable! Kynon’s trademark stadium roar encouraged me over the finish line, and I concluded my run as is becoming tradition in faster events, by taking a few more steps and bending over and retching into the hedgerow.

49:00 was the time on my watch, and 49:01  my official time, giving me a WAVA comfortably into the 60s of 61.90% and an average pace of 7:53. Not quite the fastest race I’ve ever run (my 5k PB average pace is 7:49) but I’m very pleased with the outcome. The race also gave an excellent medal, had an utterly superb post-race spread and to add to the occasion I was even awarded a spot prize!

Running socks, SIS gels, running hat

 Not bad for a £10 entry fee, all things considered.

Next up is the Fraserburgh Half Marathon on Sunday. Will I go out for another PB? Why not, it can’t hurt. Unfortunately the course has changed a bit and the long downhill back into town to the finish now has an extra mile loop of the town before you cross the line, but it still retains its flat profile. If I can hang on to 8:30 pace for as long as possible then I should be able to knock a couple of minutes off my PB of 1:55:18 set in July 2013. This is my first road half marathon since I set my PB last year so it will be good to see some improvement on tarmac.

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‘Til next time…

~Rwr

RACE REPORT: Monymusk Hilly Half Marathon 2014

Monymusk Hilly Half Marathon
26th October 2014

stonehaven running club at monymusk  half marathon 2014

Time: 2hr 15m 26s
Place: 79th / 92
Gender: 21st / 26
Category: 9th / 10

Monymusk Hilly Half Marathon is a small race in its second year, organised by the Cosmic Hill Bashers. In its second year, it attracted a field of 94 to the Village Hall for the start at 11am, including twelve from Stonehaven Running Club as it was the final race of the 2014 SRC Club Championships. The terrain is described as multi-terrain with runners making their way across fields, along roads, on forest tracks and mountain bike trails. Also, the clue is in the name, and racers can expect a significant amount of climbing throughout the 13.1 miles.

Stonehaven Running Club met at the leisure centre to share lifts at 9.30am and we made it up to Monymusk around 10.15am. Unfortunately due to my innate ability to get car-sick in almost any vehicle when I’m not driving, I arrived feeling pretty rotten and sick to my stomach. This wasn’t a great start to the day but with some fresh air, water and a cereal bar I began to feel a little more human after I picked up my number, which was a bargain £10.

We met some with some other club ladies and all dithered over what to wear. The weather was actually quite lovely with the exception of a very strong wind, which seemed to change in temperature every 10 minutes from being icy cold to rather temperate. We knew the route would be exposed when we broke through the tree line ascending the hill, but climbing hills is usually pretty sweaty work so it was a tricky one to call.

At 10.50am there was a short briefing and then we were walked to the start around the corner. My right hand automatically flew to my left wrist ready to start my garmin, but once again I was reminded that in my haste to leave on time earlier, I had neglected to pick up this essential piece of kit from the kitchen table. It didn’t bother me to be running utterly blind, especially as it was a trail race and I wasn’t chasing a time, but there’s nothing like knowing how far you have to go when your energy levels drop towards the end.

The first section of the race took us on a steady uphill over a field on a grassy track, before we turned onto a country road for a brief downhill and then more and more climbing. I was grinding away at the hill, trying to keep a steady jog, but I just wasn’t keeping the pace of those around me and I saw the last of the Stonehaven ladies slip out of sight only about 2 miles in to the race. I didn’t really care; my competitive instincts had disappeared shortly after my guts started jangling like a set of church bells, and the previously experienced urge to vomit quickly made its presence felt once again.

This was frustrating, but what did I really expect having felt pretty ill shortly before and then gone from zero to running hard up a hill?! We’ve seen this phenomenon before this year, except at Braemar I did end up emptying my guts (in front of an unsuspecting child, no less) so what can be learned from this? 1) Drive myself to races. 2) WARM. UP.

Next, we turned off the road into Pitfichie Forest where the path was a wide and gravelly forest track. Still heading uphill I conceded to walk and continued to power up and up but breaking into a run wherever I could. The path got narrower, rockier and steeper and then we broke through the tree line and could see ahead where the hill side was populated by a small stream of neon ants climbing up to the summit.

Somewhere around this point I seemed to shake off the nagging nausea, and perhaps fuelled by the gorgeous views which surrounded us, developed a real spring in my step as the terrain became much more technical. I passed a couple of men and channelled my inner mountain goat hopping from rock to rock and over lumps of heather towards the marshall at the top.

As expected, the wind up on top of the hill was vicious but it was welcome as I was really overheating after the climb, which according to Vikki’s Garmin was a cracking 7 miles long. I began the controlled fall down the other side in delight as I was finally in my element; I love a technical downhill and enjoy letting gravity take its course without fear. I was ever-grateful for the superior grip of my Salomon Speedcross 3s which let me bounce all over the place without feeling out of control.

Monymusk Half Marathon Descent

I thrashed my way all the way down the hill and re-entered the forest where the path widened and flattened out. I lost a couple of places here which I had gained on the down as my legs had decided they’d had about enough for one day, and I struggled to find a rhythm again on the flat and easy road. It felt like I was stuck in 2nd gear; I wished I knew how far I still had to go as I was utterly clueless. The long haul up the hill had totally distorted everything in my mind.

After a welcome water stop I was told it was 4k to the finish. Ten more minutes along the road and the next marshall said 4k too! We turned off the road and headed towards the banks of the River Dee, and followed the river for some time along the bottom of a tussocky grassy field which was frustrating to run on. The soft grass sucked the last of the energy from my lifeless legs and I locked into a system of running for 50 breaths and walking for 20 which passed the time.

The next marshall said one mile left – excellent! The next one half a mile later said 2k left… I have never missed my Garmin more! I could deduce I was pretty close from the sounds of the road and my memory of the course map, so I tried to just enjoy the beautiful Autumn leaves around me and underfoot and the sunshine which was breaking through the trees.

A sharp right turn brought us on to the finishing straight, where after a long uphill run it was time to finally call it a day. The rest of the SRC girls were waiting for me which was kind of them; especially as there was soup and cake awaiting all finishers! My Mum had popped along to cheer us on as well as snapped a picture of me finishing:

Redwinerunner Monymusk Half Finish

 This smile was a bit forced – I was absolutely gubbed. The race was beautiful, but very hard work and a lot warmer than I’d expected and by the finish I already had a dehydration headache. I checked with the timer what my time was and was surprised to hear only 2 hours and 15 minutes – I had expected to be well over 2 hours 30, so despite it being a lifetime worst performance at Half Marathon distance I was pleased that my time wasn’t too horrific.

The other girls had come in between 1hr 56m and 2hr 08m and had all found it to be a very challenging course. In coming 6th SRC lady, I didn’t actually get any more Championship points as in my top 5 finishes in Championship races I have finished higher than 6th every time. Vikki came 5th SRC lady and was able to better one of her placings gaining another two points to retain her 2nd place with 89 points, and keeping me safely in 3rd with 87 points.

Unfortunately I will miss the prize giving ceilidh in January as we’re on holiday. I have one more goal to achieve by the end of the year, which is to reach the SRC Silver standard, which is defined as the following: Complete 5 formal events 1 of which must be a minimum of a half marathon and 3 of which must be over 60% WAVA. I obviously have the 5 events and the distance requirements sorted, but I need one more event at 60% WAVA. I’ll be attempting this at the Metro Proms 3k next Friday (or the December event if I’m unsuccessful) where I’ll need to run under 13 minutes 56 seconds. I can also attempt 60% WAVA at the Peterhead 10k where I’d need to run quicker than 49 minutes 59 seconds, which is a 45 second PB. That seems a lot more achievable right now than the 1hr 49m 40s I would need to run at the Fraserburgh Half Marathon, which is a 5 min 38s PB!

I’ve often said that I really don’t enjoy running ‘fast’ so competitions like this force me to push myself harder to unlock the achievements. It certainly shakes things up from my preferred ultra distances, and pushes me to train differently. Hopefully I will finish 2014 with a new PB or two and wrap up the year on a high!

Does your running club have a Club Championship or club standards? Do you take part? Do you feel it pushes you to run faster?

RACE REPORT: Callanish Stones Marathon

Callanish Stones Marathon
2nd August 2014

plaque

Time: 4hrs 28 minutes
Place: 67th /126 finishers
Gender: 20th / 58 females
Category: 4th / 12 female Seniors

After I finished the Great Glen Ultra I felt strong and unstoppable; worlds away from the days after the Fling and the Cateran when I felt worn out and blistered. When I returned to Stonehaven I felt empowered by the new distance I’d conquered and was ready to throw myself back into training hard again, so when ripples of discussion amongst running friends quickly amounted to credit cards being flexed, I jumped right in and added my name to the Callanish Stones Marathon starting line-up alongside Jemma, Naomi and Rachel.

Picture - www.isle-of-lewis.com

Picture – www.isle-of-lewis.com

The Callanish Stones are on the West side of the Isle of Lewis, which is part of the Outer Hebrides and the last stop in the UK before you hit the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve never visited the Outer Hebrides, but I love the West Coast and was delighted to get the chance to explore further afield. Jemma moved up to North Lewis two months ago and had plenty of spare bedrooms to accommodate our group, so not only would we get to visit Stornoway and run around the area surrounding the Callanish Stones, but we would also get to visit her little community of Ness and get much more of a feel of island life. The marathon was being organised as a one-off for 2014 by Stornoway Running and Athletics Club which made the attraction to sign up even greater, as if by then I needed any more persuasion.

Illustration by Rachel

Illustration by Rachel (medalslut.com)

STN-NessThe journey to reach our final destination was a lengthy one. First I drove to Aberdeen to pick up Naomi and Rachel, then we made our way north to Ullapool via Inverness. We parked in the long stay carpark and then got some lunch and a couple of beers whilst we waited for the rain to clear up.

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Before the ferry arrived we did a little tourist shopping, then collected our luggage and stood by the embarkation area waiting for the ferry to be ready to board. The popular game ‘spot the runner’ helped us pass the time – this was the last crossing to Stornaway before the race so many of the visiting runners were on it.

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Unfortunately the boat was a bit late in departing, but we were rewarded for our patience with beautiful scenery in the evening sunshine as we left Loch Broom and headed North West to the Outer Hebrides.

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We enjoyed one more beer in the bar and wandered around outside enjoying the sunshine and the breeze on deck. The crossing was 2hr 45min in length so the sun was still shining when the imposing cliffs of Lewis approached on the horizon, and the stark green moorland on the hills shone brightly in the light.

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Upon disembarkation, Jemma took us to Lewis’ only Tesco where we purchased some pizza and supplies before commencing the car journey North to Ness. I hadn’t quite appreciated how far it was, but it was easy to pass the time by taking in the unfamiliar surroundings and admiring the striking and isolated beauty of the island. There are no trees outside of the shelter of Stornoway; few plants other than heather can survive so even now at the height of summer there is not much colour to be found other than khaki green and grey road. The houses are dotted here and there next to the road, bunched together for protection against the prevailing winds which roar across the island off the Atlantic all year round. The only large buildings to be seen are the chunky gable ends of Free Presbytarian Churches which rise bleakly above the communities they preside over.

It was late when we arrived at Jemma’s. I left my house at 0820 and I think we finally set down in Ness at about 2230 which made for quite an exhausting day. We quickly ate our pizzas and decided on a time to leave in the morning before turning in for as much sleep as possible.

It was a very civilised start at 10am which meant we didn’t leave until 0845. The weather was bright and breezy with some sunshine but it looked changeable so I decided to keep a long-sleeved top with me just in case.

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We were able to park and get ready without fuss, and met our friend (and Fetchie) Gavin, who was attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon ran in full Highland dress. He needed to run it in under 5 hours but since he is a runner with a sub-3 marathon under his belt there was little doubt he would achieve his goal.

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The race had thoughtfully provided an earlier start for slower runners and walkers in order to maximise participation. This had meant that our friend Carol was able to chose this small and friendly marathon for her first rather than travel for a Big City race. She had started at 8am and as luck would have it, she was passing the start at her 6 mile point not long after we arrived. She was happy and positive and said she’d see us out on the course later as we cheered her on our way.

After one last snap it was time for us to line up and assemble for the start.

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A noted local archealogist whose name escapes me had the honour of setting us off, and at shortly after 10am we charged down the gentle decline on to the road which would take us out for the first 6 mile loop.

Sandiephotos.com

Sandiephotos.com

The initial miles were flat and Rachel, Naomi and I trotted along happily together at a steady pace letting ourselves warm up and chatting with fellow runners. None of us were out to achieve a goal or set a PB, but Jemma was certainly the most rested of us all and she had bounded ahead from the start. I had decided that I’d be happy with anything under 4hr 30m, but most of all I just wanted a good long, steady and painfree run. The course might have been ‘hilly’ but it certainly didn’t compare to what I’ve been running on this year so far so I wanted to make sure I could still run for a long time without walking and fuel breaks! Ultra training can make you quite lazy so I wanted to make sure I could still quash my frequent desires to walk, as in a well-executed road marathon that really ought not to be part of the plan…

Miles 1-6: 9.23 / 9.56 / 10.01 / 9.42 / 9.44 / 9.24

The first loop had us pass the finish and the stone circles so we knew where we would be headed a few hours later, then there was an out and back which lead us back to the start. I had decided to leave my long sleeved top here as I had underestimated how warm the sun would be and was already sweating too much. I also sprinted into the loos as in the open countryside there was absolutely nowhere for the discreet, over-hydrated runner to hide behind, and despite wearing a running skirt, I wanted to avoid giving my fellow runners any cheap thrills.

After re-appearing on the course again I saw Naomi up ahead being chased down by Rachel who had also stopped for the loo. We were on a gradual incline so I didn’t want to burn off too much steam by pushing hard to join them – it was still early days and I figured I would catch them up sooner or later. There were some significant ups and downs where I leapfrogged with the same bunch of runners, but by about 10 miles the field had well settled down and everyone was spread out about 100 meters apart.

Miles 7 – 12: 9.24 / 9.34 / 9.43 / 9.55 / 10.11 / 9.53

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As we passed mile 12 and approached the village of Carloway, the route turned left for another out-and-back, which then looped down under a bridge on the route and off towards the East. This meant you could see a lot of what was happening in the race. To my right I saw Carol below me still plugging away but just out of earshot, and to my left the sharp end of the field was coming towards me. The out-and-back took us towards the blackhouse village of Gearrannan which clings to the cliffs above the Atlantic. On the way I exchanged several high fives and “Well Done”s with 99% of the other runners which kept me pushing hard up the short and sharp hills on the windy uneven road.

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Gearrannan was stunning and I wished I could have stayed to check it out. A quick google reveals that one can actually rent the cottages for a holiday there – perhaps an adventure for next year?!

gearrannanwww.gearannan.com

I was very grateful for the frequent water stations as the temperature rose. Thankfully the wind was mostly keeping me cool, but it was still very warm and I could feel my skin glowing in the sun. I had followed my usual plan of a gel every 5 miles but I was beginning to get hungry; I had noticed lucozade was available at the bridge where the route crosses itself but when I came through they had run out. This was at 15.5 miles so I had two more gels, or 200 calories, to take in the next 10 miles of running and my stomach was grumbling ferociously. I’d never been so hungry in a race before! Was I just too used to hitting up an all-you-can-eat buffet every couple of hours at Ultra aid stations with a rucksack full of supplementary snack on the side?

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Here began my lower point in the race – falling typically in the no-mans land between 16 and 20 miles, where the finish feels like a lifetime away but it still feels like you’ve already been running all day. I spotted a couple of cast-away lucozade bottles and decided if I was hungry enough to pick one up – they were full 500ml bottles and when I lifted one it was 3/4 full. I didn’t want to have to suffer any more than required so I twisted off the screw cap and poured the juice into the water bottle I was carrying before drinking hungrily. Within 10 minutes or so I felt a lot more energised as the sugar and calories did their tricks. The next task was to get my head around the road which stretched in front of me across the moor, for miles…and miles…and miles…

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Miles 13 – 18: 9.50 / 10.26 / 10.08 / 10.07 / 11.44 / 11.30

From mile 16 is a long slow killer of an incline which pushes slowly up along the straight Pentland Road which extends over barren moorland. The wind was blowing right into my face but I kept grinding away for half a mile at a time before having a short walking break to get my breath back. I decided to listen to my iPod and put on the West Highland Way Race podcast, listening to the episodes which I had already listened to at the Great Glen Way. I didn’t care though – it was nice to have familiar voices chatting away in the background as I slogged away.

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I passed Carol again around 20 miles when she was going through a bad patch. I could see she was upset, but whilst she was telling me how bad she felt she was still powerwalking/jogging away at a steady pace which betrayed no sign of injuries or problems. I reassured her that she was, in fact, doing brilliantly as she was still moving forward and that’s all she needed to do until she got to the finish. A bit of patience, one foot in front of the other, and I promised her she would get there. I was reminded of my own tired and blinkered thinking during the Cateran when I swore I was doing dreadfully and in tears, was convinced I was ready to DNF. What I couldn’t see for myself at the time was that I was actually running up a hill, and therefore was, and would be, absolutely fine.

Finally we turned off the Pentland road at 21 miles and headed back in the direction of the Stones. The wind was behind us now and that with the addition of more lucazade and a 20 mile warm up meant I was ready to pick up the pace and get the race done. For the first time in a few hours I began passing people who were beginning to tire as I was just beginning to wake up. Each person ahead was reeled in and passed comfortably as I crawled my way back up the field.

Miles 19 – 26: 11.58 / 11.38 / 10.49 / 10.19 / 10.04 / 9.59 / 9.05 / 9.04

Just before mile 25 we ran through the start area again and retraced our footsteps towards the stones. I was able to overtake one last girl on the cruelly sharp incline as I focused on my glutes pushing me up the hill strongly towards the finish. With wobbly legs I navigated the uneven tussocky grass in the last 25 meters before the finish and crossed the line happily amongst the standing stones in 4 hours and 28 minutes on the dot.

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Jemma had finished 10 minutes before me and after receiving my goody bag we sat together and cheered in the rest of the runners. Rachel and Naomi weren’t far behind in 4hr 47m and 4hr 50m respectively, and then 20 minutes later at 7hr 09m 48s race time we were able to cheer Carol home to her first marathon finish, which is always such a happy moment.

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We caught a lift back to the start where there was a great spread of soup and sandwiches on offer, then we headed back to Ness where lovely showers, cold beers and bottles of prosecco awaited. We even saw fit to demolish the Chocolate Cookie Mallow Cheesecake we’d bought the night before in lieu of a proper dinner since we’d all had such a good day. At 7.30 we headed out to get the bus to Stornoway for the race ceilidh, which made the whole event feel even more like an ultramarathon as we danced away our stiff muscles.

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The next morning I was awoken at 07.30 by howling wind and rain lashing against the window. The Lewis weather had turned on a sixpence and we were now being treated to the worst that summer had to offer up there. With a penchance for travel sickness at the best of times which can be exacerbated by the mildest of hangovers, I lay in bed dreading the ferry crossing. “The Minch”, which separates Lewis from the mainland, is some of the roughest waters around the UK at the best of times so the journey home had the potential to become very unpleasant.

Lewis, however, is full of surprises. When we arrived in Stornoway there were blue skies and just a hint of a wind. Travelling 25 miles south and heading to the East coast of the island made a huge difference in the weather. We departed Stornoway in the sunshine on the top deck, watching the island get smaller and smaller.

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Just as I was beginning to relax and settle down for the journey, Rachel came over and said to me “Dude, have you looked behind you?!”. A 180 degree turn revealed that apparently we were sailing straight into the mouth of hell, as the skies behind us were pitch black. The Captain warned over the tannoy that there ‘might be some discomfort’ up ahead, and after trying to take a panorama to illustrate the drastic difference in the skies we headed straight inside when thunder and lightning began to start around us.

28My phone camera couldn’t handle the light change!

After about an hour of pitching and rolling, the seas calmed down and we’d traversed the storm. Naomi, a seasoned North Sea sailor due to the nature of her job took it all her stride and fell asleep, whilst Rachel and I clung to the floor in the lounge groaning as the boat rose and fell on the waves.

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If that is how the crossing can be in summer, I can’t imagine how treacherous it must be in winter. Rather you than me, Jemma…

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The skies cleared and we enjoyed a dramatic view on our way back into Ullapool, which we found quite literally at the end of this rainbow…

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We wasted no time getting off the boat and beginning the next stage of our journey back home in the car. I finally arrived back in Stonehaven at 10pm and regaled Kynon with the tales of my weekend after presenting him with the enormous Black Pudding which came in my race goody bag which was surplus to requirement for this vegetarian.

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It was one of the best goody bags I’ve ever had; featuring food and drink (consumed), a Harris tweed keepsake, Hebridean soup, plaque, t-shirt, a commemorative print and of course, the Black pudding.

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If this race is ever run again I would strongly recommend it to anyone who has the time to make the journey up for a mini-break. The organisation was flawless, the course was stunning yet challenging, and the Hebridean welcome was warm. I look forward to returning in future to explore more of the Hebrides whether for running or not, but will always be sure to pack for all weathers whilst keeping my fingers crossed for the sun.

RACE REPORT: Great Glen Ultra 2014

The Inaugural Great Glen Ultra
5th July 2014
72 Miles and 10,800ft of ascent.

Glreat Glen Ultra logoFinish time: 17 hours, 42 minutes and 14 seconds
Position: 67th/76 finishers (10 DNF)
Gender: 17/20 female finishers

The Great Glen is Scotland’s longest glen and runs coast to coast across the country from Fort William to Inverness. The glen was formed by the Great Glen Fault which divides the North-West Highland from the Grampian mountains, and holds many deep lochs, the most famous being of course, Loch Ness. The Great Glen route has been historically used by travellers from the ice-age, hunter-gatherers, clansmen and farmers, and in more recent times after the Caledonian Canal was built, vessels were able to avoid the treacherous journey around the North of Scotland by traversing through the country on water. The Great Glen is still an important passage as it carries the main road between the biggest city (Inverness) and the biggest town (Fort William) in the Highlands. (adapted from Footprint Maps – footprintmaps.co.uk)

The Great Glen Way - Coast to Coast

The Great Glen Way – Coast to Coast

The Great Glen Way path was ‘opened’ in April 2002 and is a popular 75 mile path. Last year BaM racing ran a recce run with 5 runners to ascertain the suitability of running an ultramarathon along the route and deemed it to have huge potential. The inaugural race was scheduled for the 5th of July 2014 and would start at 1am from the Neptune’s Staircase area of Fort William and continue for 72 miles with a finish in Inverness Athletics Stadium and a time limit of 24 hours. With 6 drop-bag check points the race was designed to be ran unsupported and runners were asked not to have support crews with them, although they would be allowed to have friends/family meet them at two of the checkpoints held in public car parks if they wished.

My personal preparation for the race had consisted of a hard 3 months training at the start of the year culminating with the D33 ultra, and then the 53 mile Highland Fling and the Cateran 55 mile Ultra with recovery in between. The Cateran was harder than I expected and recovery from the the two 50+ mile ultras within 3 weeks hit me harder than expected so I was nervous and felt under-trained when the start of July arrived. However it is always better to arrive at a start line of an ultra a bit under-trained than over-trained, and I had every confidence that I would be able to complete the race if I engaged the right frame of mind.

I had taken the Friday off work to prepare, and spent it sleeping in as late as possible and then pottering about the house preparing my drop bags. As I mentioned in my last post there were some discrepancies in the information provided as to the exact distances between some of the later check-points so I had some difficulties in deciding what and how much to pack. I stuck with familiar items though – walkers salted crisps (I’m fed up of hula hoops!), lemon cake bars (I found chocolate ones stick in the mouth too much at the Cateran), Chia charge salted caramel bars, cheese and tomato pizza, Ambrosia custard, butteries, muller rice, nature valley cereal bars, and gels and chews in case my stomach freaked out and decided it didn’t want real food. For drinks I had my camelbak with High5 Zero tablets, but also half bottles of blue Powerade, little Irn bru bottles and cans of Starbucks Espresso. As previously mentioned, I had prepared a little bottle containing a healthy measure of Jura single malt for the last check point too.

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Kynon arrived home with the ultra van (kindly on loan from Mum and Dad RWR again) at about 3pm, and after some duel flapping and last minute packing, we shipped out of Stonehaven at around 5pm. The weather was really mixed – beautiful blue skies and sunshine interspersed with really heavy rain, but a steady hot and humid temperature either way. This was exactly what the weather predications had been for the whole weekend, but since we were heading across to the other side of the country where the weather is notoriously always at polar opposites to the East, there was really no way of predicting what we were up against for the race.

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The plan was to have some food about 9pm at the Fort William Wetherspoons before registering for the race and then having a lie down before the start. It was really strange to be back in Fort Bill so soon after the West Highland Way race; it’s usually a once-a-year trip over to that side of the country for us, so driving through the town without the context of the WHW weekend was a bit odd, especially passing the deserted leisure centre which was lifeless without the finishing arch.

I’d had a large lunch so planned to order a salad for dinner. They had run out of salads (how?!) so I ended up having vegetarian sausages, mash, peas and gravy which was really nice but a bit heavier than I’d intended. Still, with 4 hours until the race start I didn’t think it would be a problem.

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Looking towards the Great Glen

We drove over to the Moorings Hotel and found a car park with motor homes, cars and lots of familiar faces. The vast majority of runners would be arriving on a bus from Inverness at midnight, but because Kynon was marshalling we just drove directly to the start. After saying a few hellos and ditching my drop bags we collected my number and went back to the van for a sleep at 10pm.

with Ben Nevis in the background

with Ben Nevis in the background

I managed to rest for about an hour before dozing off for a short while and being awoken by my alarm at midnight. The fact I had slept a little really helped convince me that I was waking up for a new day, rather than keeping Friday going right through into Saturday! I quickly got dressed and coated myself in midgey repellent, and just when I thought I had loads of time I heard the rest of the runners walking through the car park to the start. Up until this point that night I had successfully relegated the start of this epic run to ostrich territory – I had my head in the sand about it all and didn’t want to think about it lest I realised what a tough thing I was about to start and freak out. I was just dressed in my running gear, standing on a canal path with 85 others at 12:30am on a Saturday morning. Totally normal.

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I found the temperature really warm so had elected to leave my long sleeve top in my bag and just start the race in a vest. Everyone else was in jackets or long sleeves and quite a lot in tights as well and commented on my minimalist kit in surprise; I did double think it but then I knew I’d be roasting after I started running so there was no point in changing just because everyone thought I’d get cold.

After the briefing there was nervous hugging and chatter until the final countdown and a conservative ‘GO’ from the RDs, given the time of night. Even as I started running I was in total denial about the whole thing – 72 miles? Nahhh, surely not…

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Picture – Fiona Rennie

I ran the first few miles with Claire and Nicola from my club. My plan was to slow to a 5 minute walk every 25 minutes to eat something and conserve energy in the early flat miles along the canal. The field spread out quickly and we were moving faster than I would have been doing had I been running alone. I reluctantly conceded to running my own race and let them pull away, although they went on to be only 25ft or so ahead of me. The ground underfoot was packed gravel and easy to run on, but there were lots of puddles to dodge. After a sneaky toilet stop under cover of darkness I ended up running with Karen D for a while which was great as she knew exactly where she was going, having been a part of the recce race last year.

At Garilochy we were met by Lorna McMillan who was directing runners to the left over a bridge to leave the canal path, and then off up into what Karen referred to as the ‘Fairy Forest’. Up until now it really hadn’t been dark at all – a classic Northern summer sky which with the exception of a few clouds was a cloak of midnight blue and with an ever-growing smear of aquamarine on the horizon. When we entered the forest it was very dark however and I needed to concentrate hard on what I was doing with my feet.

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The trees thinned as we ran closer to the beachy shore of Loch Lochy and more of the lightening sky was revealed. We were literally running towards the light as the sun was thinking about rising and it was totally magical. There was not a breath of wind and the Loch  was like a mirror, reflecting the growing fiery horizon perfectly. It looked like my dreams were going to come true and we were going to get a spectacular summer sunrise.

Just before the 1st checkpoint at 10.5 miles at Clunes (2hrs-ish race time, 3am) we ran on the road for a little while. I didn’t even need my head torch here, but after a quick stop for a buttery and custard we re-entered the forest and I reluctantly had to put it back on for guidance.

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The next section stretched for 6.5 miles along the side of Loch Lochy and had a few long hills to walk up. The birds were beginning to burst into a deafening morning song, there were bats flitting overhead and looking down to the Loch on my left there was a misty cloud inversion hanging over the water. There was nobody else around me in front or behind and my spirits were soaring as I took it all in; I just felt so lucky to be out there running in this race and it was such a privilege to see this part of the world at such a mysterious time of day. It made me wonder why I’ve never done it before – what’s stopping me from going out and running up and down a hill overnight for the sake of it? Maybe I need to shake up my training a little.

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The trail spat us out of the forest at Laggan Locks at around 18 miles, and just when I thought I’d seen it all, we were presented with an even more breath-taking sight.

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Another runner was just behind me and we both paused to walk and take it all in; the sky was fuschia, orange and aqua, there was mist hanging above the Locks which were peppered with still moored boats, and fields with sheep quietly pottering about and observing their human visitors curiously.

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Four other runners had stopped to take some pictures and they offered to take one of me before moving on. Amongst other things, it’s moments like this that makes it all worth it…this was definitely one for the memory bank.

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Pushing on, I knew I was only a mile or two away from the next check point where Kynon and his crew would be waiting. I was looking forward to seeing him and getting a hug, and also having my first can of espresso of the day. So far I hadn’t felt that the lack of sleep was affecting me but I certainly didn’t feel very sharp, especially after spending the last hour trotting along grinning at the world around me in euphoric ecstasy. The coffee went down a treat as well as another custard and buttery, and I repacked my pockets with more crisps and gels.

Unfortunately it wasn’t all good news I gave to Kynon, as by this point my right ITB had begun hurting a little. I get occasional tightness in my ITBs, usually after long runs, but a bit of foam rolling sorts them right out. This kind of more intense, acute pain at the outside knee was something I hadn’t experienced since the 2011 Loch Ness Marathon where it destroyed my race from 13 miles in and had me seeing stars with the intensity which it escalated to. It was concerning, but I knew I had to keep my mental game smart – at 20 miles it was still early days and anything could happen, the worst thing I could do at this point was let it get to me. After a goodbye kiss and a cuddle I started up the long haul up into the forest to Invergarry.

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It was fully daylight now, although some morning mist was still burning off creating a lovely mysterious haze. There was  big climb up a technical switchback trail out of Invergarry and the beautiful views over Loch Oich distracted me from the growing ITB knee pain.

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I’d been running away from the girls I knew, but after I’d popped behind a bush to take care of some morning business I ran into Karen D again and we ran the descent towards the Caledonian Canal together where the route hits 26 miles. She warned me that this was the toughest bit of the race for her and that it was 5 miles of flat canal path. She wanted to walk to get her head in the right place to tackle it so I ran on, saying hello to the four Irish chaps that I’d been running near and speaking to throughout the race so far. They were lying on a pontoon with their feet up having a drink and enjoying the morning sun blazing down – whoever said running these races was hard work?!

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Whilst I understood why Karen wouldn’t like this section I was secretly really relieved to get a long, flat run to try and shake out my ITB. In the previous hilly and scrambly miles it had begun to really hurt so I knew that I was in for some trouble from it. I decided to tackle the flat miles with a walk/run interval of 0.1 walk/0.4 run which would break it up into manageable small chunks. My knee shut up a bit as I made steady progress in the sunshine which was really very warm already even though it was only just 7am. The sweat was pouring off me as I ran and I had to ration my water supplies until I hit the next checkpoint at Fort Augustus at 30.5 miles.

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At Fort Augustus we were welcomed by Ada, Susan and the rest of the team, who quickly and efficiently got my bladder re-poured, my face wiped and even a bonus skoosh of deodorant. These ladies really knew how to run a check point. I had another can of espresso and some other bits and bobs but I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry because of the heat. Still I packed the gels and everything else I could squeeze into my pockets and left before I got too comfortable. Just around the corner I bumped into Claire, Nicola and Karen so we took a Stonehaven girls 30 mile selfie!

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Out of Fort Augustus were some fairly steep hills and some ups and downs which really made my knee hurt a lot. My patience with this problem was wearing thin and I was so annoyed that this issue had sprung up completely out of the blue! At least I knew what the pain was (unlike at Loch Ness Marathon where I thought I’d torn a tendon or something) and that I could do walking intervals to keep moving, but it was so frustrating to think that my race would potentially take so much longer because of it.

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I am proud to say that unlike the Cateran I was completely in control and whilst it had occurred to me that it could potentially be an injury that could see me DNF,  I knew that even if I got to 40 miles and then had to walk the rest of the way that I would finish due to the generous cut-off times. I hit half way at 7hrs 50, so even if I walked at an injured 3 miles an hour I would finish under 20 hours. I was kind of annoyed that there was literally no excuses here and I was just going to have to slog it out; patience is not a virtue of mine.

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It was in this section that I met Sharon and Fiona, two friends from Glasgow, who were running together and were very cheerful and chatty. We leapfrogged each other for pretty much the rest of the race and it was great to have some chatter to distract me from the pain. They were keen to fill me up with drugs and look after me but I was eagerly awaiting 9.45am when I could take my next dosage of codeine/paracetamol pills which had worked for a while but were wearing off.

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I was trying really hard to stay positive but I was slipping into a low point as I ran into Invermoriston check point at 38.5 miles, where Kynon, Noanie and Johnny Fling had the place running like a fayre. I realised that I was a bit out of it as Kynon and Noanie asked me questions about what I wanted or how they could help and I couldn’t really get a proper sentence together. I managed to articulate that I needed Compeeds and that I felt really crap, but other than that I was in danger of entering into blubbering wreck territory. I had put a spare top and socks in my drop bag so changed into these, and applied some Compeed plasters onto the inside of my ankles. My new shoes (mens Asics Gel Nimbus – bought specifically for the race for their extra padding and roomy toe box) were supremely comfortable underfoot so far, but had decided to give me blisters where I’d never had them before. I thought I’d broken them in well, but you can never tell what obstacles will be thrown in your way come race day so I just strapped my feet up as best I could and got moving again.

Before I left, Kynon gave me a knee strap which Karen had left for me as she knew I was having difficulty with my ITB. She said it would stop the muscles moving so much and stabilise my knee apparently, so I decided to give it a go. As I was yomping up the steep switchbacks out of Invermoriston it felt ok, but there were a couple of rolling hills where stabs of pain radiated from me knee that were stronger than ever before. I immediately took the strap off as the extra pressure clearly wasn’t working for me, but the damage had been done and the pain was at another level. Thankfully it was time for some more painkillers and I decided just to walk for a while and forget about running until I got my head in a better place.

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Up and up we climbed, out of Invermoriston and high above Loch Ness. I was able to look over the water to the roads on the other side and remembered running along them only two and a half years ago at my first marathon, with equal amounts of ITB pain. What was it with running towards Inverness and my right knee?! It really doesn’t seem to agree with it.

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After a time I caught up with Sharon and Fiona again and we shared some peanuts and some chat. My painkillers had kicked in so after a few miles of walking I was ready to take advantage of the boost and move a bit quicker after the big climb was over. It was getting very hot again as it was nearer midday and the sun was out at full strength. I had drunk a lot of water again, but didn’t waste time refilling at Invermoriston (38 miles) as I still had lots at that point and expected a water stop to be at the advertised 45 miles. Unfortunately 45 miles came and went and it wasn’t until 48 miles came that myself and my new friend Darryl spotted an oasis shaped like a parked car, where we could refill our camelbaks and drink delicious cups of coke and Ribena. Thank you Mark and Helen Leggatt for being there – other than the finish you were the most welcome sight of the day! I also spoke to Steve who reassured us that the vertiginous descent into Inverness was not as bad as it looked on the course profile. Unfortunately he also confirmed that the next checkpoint would be in fact at 53 miles, not the advertised 50. The distance between the two checkpoints was pretty much the worst case scenario out of all the possible mileage points I’d been given on Friday, however there was not much to be done other than push on. It made no difference to the food I’d require as I was struggling to eat anything other than gels (and I didn’t even want to eat them!) but it was a blow to know it would be so much further until the next drop bag and general boost.

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The next three miles were hot, sunny and on road – my least favourite kind of running. I pulled my white buff over my head to try and keep cool and stuck to the shade as much as I could, but I knew it wouldn’t last as there were lots of clouds about.

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The descent into Drumnadrochit and Checkpoint 5 was cruel and my knee hated every step. Sharon, Fiona and Darryl passed me again and I tried to cling on, but their pace was just that bit quicker than mine and I couldn’t quite keep up with them. My mood had lifted a lot since CP4 as I knew I’d broken the back of the race and it was under 20 miles to go. Again, I knew I could walk it in and I’d get there eventually, so knowing that I would definitely finish was a huge boost.

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Kynon was working at Drumnadrochit with Julie and Karen O, who were all still going strong. It has to be noted that the marshals put in a terrific shift as well – they may not have been running but they were up all night too, and dealing with tired and disoriented runners from sunrise to sunset.

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I parked myself on a wall and Karen took my camelbak for a refill whilst I consumed as many liquid calories as I could. Real food just wasn’t going down well so I was thankful for Mars chocolate milk, Irn bru, Powerade and espresso. I just tried not to think about how it looked all mixed up in my stomach. I also brushed my teeth which felt amazing after 13 hours of sugary crap, then waved goodbye to Kynon, Julie and Karen’s little puppy Dug, and headed back out towards Inverness.

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Sharon and Fiona and I posed for a picture with the first sign we’d seen showing Inverness, before I jogged on and they walked for a bit. This next section was on the pavement right next to a busy road with lorries and buses flying by which was quite unnerving. I ran past a bus stop with a bus going to Inverness waiting at it…the day could have ended so easily right there!

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As I commenced the monster slog up the hill after Drumnadrochit I could feel my phone pinging in my pocket; I’d asked Kynon to get my friends to send me some encouraging texts to read in the last sections to keep my spirits up and I read one or two every mile or so. It was a great lift to hear from so many people – thank you so much. The climb out of Drumnadrochit was relentless and was nearly 1,200 feet of climb in 4.5 miles.

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When I reached the top after emerging from the tree line, the route was now a bouldery trail winding through a rugged moorland, but with amazing views back over Loch Ness.

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It had started to rain heavily and the wind was quite cold, so for the first time since the 1am start I conceded to the weather and put on a long sleeve top and my waterproof jacket. I knew that I was tired and sweaty and if I got wet I might struggle to warm up again if I wasn’t running hard. The last thing I wanted was to be pulled from the course with hypothermia – not what you’d expect in July, but entirely possible.

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I had no idea where the final checkpoint would be – from the information I had it could be anywhere from 58 – 64 miles, but I was still surprised that out of the appearing out of the heat haze rising from the path (now the rain was off and the sun was beating down again) at 59 miles was some parked cars and the final check point.

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Here I was welcomed by Elaine Sandeman and Fiona Rennie and I plonked myself down in a chair, deciding to take as long as I needed here. They asked if I was ok and I really was, but I think I was looking a little below par and didn’t do my best job of convincing them as I stared at my dropbag vacantly trying to figure out what I was looking at. I started by drinking the whisky I’d packed which went down a treat, especially followed by some Irn Bru. I then think I ate some chia charge bar and some Muller rice but to be honest my memory is really sketchy. I do remember deciding to save my last espresso can in case of an emergency so asked Elaine to pack it into my camelbak, and got on the move clutching a buttery which I really wanted to eat but could only stomach a tiny mouthful at a time.

I was really confused leaving the checkpoint as to how far I had left and my over-tired, overheated, over-caffeinated brain couldn’t handle it. I had 59 miles on the garmin, but the RDs had told the checkpoint that they were at nearly 62. Was there really only 10 miles to go? Was my watch that far off? I didn’t know what to believe any more. Never mind; just keep running.

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Out of the check point we crossed a road and entered a really over-grown forest path which went through a nature reserve.

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We then ended up back on the road where we slogged across moorland for miles in the sun. Thankfully Sharon, Fiona and Darryl caught me up again and we chatted for a while which passed the time. We’d been informed that due to the heat there would be one last water stop at 66 miles and before I knew it, I rounded a corner and Lorna and Carol Martin were bouncing around and cheering!

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Picture – Carol Martin

Lorna was very excited to tell me that she had a bottle of red wine in the car that she’d been saving for when I came through – she cracked it open and poured me a cup and it tasted delicious. What a shame I couldn’t stick around for more!

Sharon, Fiona and Darryl came through and I left behind them, but within 100 meters or so I just couldn’t keep up with them. It wasn’t like they were even moving very fast, but I just *couldn’t* run.  I was annoyed as I would have loved their company in the last few miles but I just settled into a power walk and tried to move as quickly as I could to get the last 6 miles over and done with.

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The last few miles were on soft, earthy, forestry trails and for the most part were slightly down hill but there was nothing that I could do to get myself going – I double dropped gels and took more painkillers but there was nothing left at all.

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I was delighted when through a break in the trees I realised I was looking at Inverness! A little further on and the path went into a field and the view opened up – there was only about 2.5 miles to go and I’d finally be done. I could see the sea and saw that I had run from Coast to Coast across the country, which felt amazing.

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I was still suffering from a lack of ability to move much faster than a walk though. It goes without saying that every step was absolute agony but I had long passed the point in ultras where pain becomes just an insignificant distraction. I was just exhausted. I put my iPod on shuffle and listened to the most upbeat songs I could find and tried to keep my spirits up, even when I thought I’d reached the edge of the city but in fact it was an Industrial estate on the outskirts and there was clearly still some way to go.

I shuffled through a housing estate and saw my first glimpse of the rest of the ‘real’ world for 17 hours – people with buggies who would not move and didn’t realise what an arduous and painful task it was to step down off the kerb and back up again, or dogs off the lead which were very excited to see me but who I was unable to dodge safely. I tried not to be annoyed though – this was a good thing because it meant I was nearly home.

The run ended as it started – with a stretch alongside the Caledonian Canal…

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Part of me didn’t want the journey to end, part of me never wanted to run again and the rest was just so excited to see the finish. It was a delicious fusion of emotions and euphoria as I saw a bridge in the distance and noted that a figure had spotted me and was jumping up and down and waving. I took my ear phones out and saw it was Alice and Susan who were manning the final road crossing. There were quite a lot of cars so they carefully shepherded me and my spent Bambi legs across and directed me down a path which went through a hedge. I could see the orange running track through the foliage and knew that this was it – I was done.

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As I stepped on to the track 200 meters from the finishing arch, the finish-line magic crept into my legs and relieved me of all pain and hurt. I was free to run strongly again and my legs extended far in front and behind me as if it was the first mile of the day. The shout of ‘RUNNER!’ echoed back to me and I saw people getting to their feet and starting to cheer, and Kynon, easily spotted in his yellow West Highland Way Race hoodie, stood under the finishing arch waiting for me with his arms wide open as usual.

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Over the previous 72 miles I’d thought about how I might like to cross the finish line; with a jump? An air punch? Maybe even a heel-kick or a classic airplane finish, but in the end I was too exhausted to do anything other than grin like an idiot and keep pumping my arms back and forth until the end.

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And then it was over. There were some hugs and I was handed my goodie bag, and I stumbled a few last steps towards the soft grass to sit down in the evening sunshine. Taking the weight off my feet and laying back on the ground felt amazing – it was so nice to be still for the first time in over 17 and a half hours.

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After staying at the finish line for a while, drinking beer and speaking to friends, I gingerly walked the short distance from the stadium to the Campsite next door where we had booked a space for the van. I was able to shower and get changed and we headed to the nearby Brewer’s Fayre pub for a quick and plentiful meal with a crowd of others. I was feeling really light-headed and dizzy by the time we sat down and ordered so couldn’t wait for the food to arrive. Some of the others left before us and I was so grateful when Antonia offered me the remnants of her bowl of chips to tide me over! In the end I inhaled a double Quorn quarter-pounder with salad and chips and a side of macaroni and cheese and it didn’t even touch the sides. At first more beer seemed like a great idea, but I struggled to finish half a pint so it was straight home to bed, with one last stop at the finish to cheer in Helen, who was the gutsy final finisher in 21 hours 51 minutes as the sun set.

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The next morning we made our way to the presentation at the Leisure Centre at 10am. Each finisher was congratulated and presented with a crystal whisky tumbler, and a little whisky miniature to christen it with.

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Along with the beer bottle and Great Glen vest (or t-shirt – a choice was offered) the race provided a number of lovely keepsakes. My hard-earned tumbler is sitting proudly on our mantelpiece next to the Cateran 55 quaich, representing 6 months of very hard work and sacrifice.

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At some point before the end of the year I’ll need to think about whether I would like to try and earn another one, or will the possibility of a West Highland Way Race goblet for the middle of the mantelpiece be too much of a pull? It was very special to be involved in the first running of this race, and now I’ve done it once I’d love to go back with experience and try to do better. It goes without saying that for the latter 12 hours of the race I was cursing myself and swearing I’d never, ever run another ultra let alone the West Highland Way, but of course that is all a distant memory now as my DOMS has gone and I feel ready to run again. Surely it can’t have been all that bad…?

Sitting in the King’s Highway on Sunday after the ceremony with my ultra friends, I reflected on how much had changed since the last time I had sat in that particular pub. Two and a half years earlier I’d been drinking there with Mike and our friends after the Loch Ness Marathon – my very first. Now thousands of miles later we found ourselves back there again, knocking back the beers in great company with some even bigger achievements under our belts (in case you didn’t know – Mike actually won the race on Saturday, in a time of 10 hours 48 mins 43 seconds). I never imagined I’d get this far, and to be honest the disbelief that I actually completed this race is still fading.

I don’t know what I’ll do next – whether that’s the West Highland Way Race, the Great Glen again, or even something different altogether. I’ll take my time with that decision and for the time being I will concentrate on building my mileage and general fitness back up so that I’m in great shape for Glenmore 12 hour race in 8 weeks time. In the meantime I have a couple of club hill races, a multi-terrain thing on Sunday and an exciting road trip to Lewis for the the Callanish Stones Marathon in 3 weeks planned with Rachel and Naomi. The rest of summer is looking good and I can’t wait to get back out there!

RACE REPORT: West Highland Way Race 2014

Looking back at my running year so far, it’s amusing to see how the start-of-season shorter ultras which take up the guts of a Saturday, have now morphed in to 4-day long epics. Last weekend the West Highland Way Race was upon us again which saw pretty much everyone in Scottish Ultrarunning, alongside plenty of others from around the world, descend on Milngavie to take on Scotland’s greatest running challenge. If you weren’t running you were crewing, if you weren’t crewing you were marshalling, if you weren’t marshalling you were cheering. If you weren’t any of those, then you were probably hanging out at the back with my gang – the sweep team.

Stonehaven Running Club once more assumed the duties of being the back markers of the race, and this year due to our fearless leader Neil breaking his ankle three weeks ago, I took over as team leader. This was to be my fourth year involved with the race – in 2011 I crewed for Mike Raffan, in 2012 I crewed for Vikki Shanks, and in 2013 I was on the Sweep Team.

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Sweeping can be a deceptively tough job. In this race it tends to be more walking than running, and never at your own comfortable pace. Whilst tremendously sleep-deprived, at its worst you will be dealing with angry runners who really don’t want to be near you, upset runners who are injured and are having to pull out, grown men in floods of tears and perhaps friends going through their own personal hell. Alternatively you get the satisfaction of seeing people finish after overcoming tremendous difficulty, you see the raw heart and soul that runners put in to this race and the true love and dedication of the crews to their runners. It is a difficult but truly rewarding way to spend a weekend.

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Photo – Graeme Hewitson – Momentumphotos.co.uk

So it was once again that I found myself in a car park in Milngavie at 12:30am on the Summer Solstice, standing amongst a huge crowd listening to Ian Beattie brief the runners of the 2014 West Highland Way Race.

Photo - Graeme Hewitson - Momentumphotos.co.uk

Photo – Graeme Hewitson – Momentumphotos.co.uk

After plenty of good luck hugs to everyone we knew that was running (especially Vikki and Nicola from our club) we took a good position up the High St to watch the start. I’ve never seen Milngavie High St in real life – I’ve only ever been there at either 6am as part of a snake of Highland Fling runners, or at 1am screaming my heart out at the start of this race.

Photo - Graeme Hewitson - Momentumphotos.co.uk

Photo – Graeme Hewitson – Momentumphotos.co.uk

This year I brought a cowbell and rang it as hard as I could whilst hollering and taking pictures for the duration of the 193 runners’ passing. Apparently there are people who live above the shops there… Well, sorry for disturbing you, residents; but if you were in bed you missed out on seeing the remarkable start of the greatest West Highland Way race yet. Paul Giblin had returned to defend his title and 15hr 07m course record from young Englishman Robbie Britton, who had come with a target of running under 15 hours and the two men set upon the course at suicide pace. The record was decimated by Paul in an incredible finish time of 14hr 20m with Robbie finishing in 14hr 47m. You can read more about their race HERE; for this blog is telling the tales from the back of the pack, and the runners who came home nearly 20 hours later.

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The team structure was a bit more splintered than last year. Firstly Mike and Karen would cover the first 18.5 miles from the start to Balmaha, then Mike would head back home and Karen would commence reverse-sweeping from further up the course with George. Myself, Kynon, Ali, Scott and Marc would cover the remaining 76.5 miles North between us in rolling shifts, but Marc and Ali weren’t coming down to join us until lunchtime on Saturday.

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After cheering Mike and Karen on as they trotted up the High Street behind the runners at 1am, Kynon, Scott and I headed for the car to make our way to Balmaha where the last runner would be expected at about 5.30am. Our first challenge was to successfully get some rest in the car park – three of us piled into an Audi A3 full of kit.

Kynon and I were in the front of the car in the upright seats with Scott in the back. Within moments the lads were asleep and breathing heavily, and I sat awake watching the car windows steam up gradually. Pulling my eyemask down over my eyes to block the breaking dawn and clutching a pillow to support my head, I chuckled at my life now. My Friday night fun could not have been more different from what I used to enjoy a few years ago, but I truly could not be happier.

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5am came and my alarm sprung in to life but I’d been awake for 15 minutes prior, listening to the mayhem outside as the race continued in full swing. I would have loved to have opened the car door to step out and join in but even after clearing the condensation off the window I could see how thick the clouds of midgies were outside. I treasured the last minutes of my weekend that would not be nibbled by these carnivorous little bastards until my bladder had other ideas and I was forced to make a run to the boot to find my midgie net. The smarter sweeper would have been prepared with it in her pocket and ready to go, but this East Coaster makes a point of blocking the insect memories every year and always forgets just quite how mercenary these little beasties are. Rummaging around in the boot I woke the sleeping gentlemen with a combination of thumps and swearing as the clouds of midgies swarmed into the hot vehicle. Sorry lads; time to get moving.

Conic Hill at 5am

Conic Hill at 5am

After a quick trip to the Oak Tree Inn for a comfort break, I spoke to the check point control and then ascertained with Mike that they were about 30 minutes out with a drop out. I returned to the car and made sure Scott was awake and alive, and grabbed my pre-prepared kit bag to head back to the Oak Tree to get changed. Scott and I were taking the next shift and would cover from Balmaha to Beinglas – 22 miles and roughly 7 hours – and it was shaping up to be an absolute stunner of a day. Light cloud and blue skies with warm air heralded a potential scorcher which begged the question – Which goes on first; suncream or midgie spray?

Mike came in and updated on us on our last customer, who was running very slowly but walking fast. After checking the rest of the cars left in the car park, Scott and I left for the trail, eating breakfast as we went.

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It was one of those mornings where I could not have been happier to have been alive. The breathtaking beauty of this area never fails to still my heart every single time I run through it and this gorgeous sunny morning was no different.

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I really didn’t like these new path ‘improvements’ up the steeper hills though; endless stairs are not my friend.

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We arrived in Rowardennan and met the check point crew earlier than they were expecting. After swearing blind that we really were the sweepers and that everyone was ahead, our guy who we had swept out of Balmaha appeared behind us. Obviously he had stepped off the trail for a comfort break. We took some refreshments from the piles of abandoned drop bags and headed out after the final runner 10 minutes later.

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A few hours later I enjoyed arriving into Inversnaid and being able to take my time to enjoy the waterfalls without being in a race.

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Again the check point crew were surprised to see us earlier than scheduled, but at this point the whole race was just moving quicker throughout the field than usual. Unfortunately the check point staff from the Trossachs SAR crew were unconvinced that we had everyone in and started quizzing us on names – some people had come through without taking their drop bags, or their time and number hadn’t been recorded. They had no times for about 20 people on their list – which was in fact the start list from a few days before the race, not the actual list of starters from several hours earlier. I knew several runners had DNSd at the last minute, but it was difficult trying to convince them that we had not in fact lost several runners along the way, and that they had missed manually recording the times of a few runners as they went through. It is really hard to keep communications open between these remote check points, but I was able to glean some 3G from somewhere and the Sport iDent Race App helped convince them that we had done our job.

Just as we were about to head out, news came through the radio that there had been a serious accident on the A82 which was blocking the race support crews from heading North from Auchtertyre (the next checkpoint up from Beinglas, at about 50 miles). The road was blocked both ways, which mean that Ali and Marc who were heading South on the A82 to take over from us at Beinglas  would be unable to reach that check point either. As the news sunk in we realised how absolutely terminal this could be for the race – this was peak time at Beinglas checkpoint which would mean the majority of race crews could not get further North without a 300 mile detour around the full circumference of Loch Lomond. Without support, the runners would be very limited in what they could do – they could only go so far on a finite amount of food. Stuck out in the races most remote check point with no phone signal or information my instinct was panic, but experience told me that I was a very, very small piece in a big race and the only thing I could was my own job, which was to bring up the rear of the race and get the runners to the next point safely and race control would take it from there. Scott and I decided to load our packs with as much fuel as we could in case we ended up in a situation with runners with no food, so the Trossachs gang loaded us up until nothing else could be crammed into our bags. Having spent ages at Inversnaid, our back marker was well ahead of us, so Scott and I put our feet on the pedals and for the first time I was able to hit the adventure playground of the Lochside with fresh legs and we  hit as hard as we could…which was for about 15 minutes before we caught up to the final runner.

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Dario Melaragni's memorial post

Dario Melaragni’s memorial post

Time during the West Highland Way Weekend passes in a very odd way. At times hours slip by in seconds, sometimes they take twice as long as they ought to. It didn’t feel like 7 hours that Scott and I were out for, but after leaving at 5.45am we trundled into Beinglas 6hrs and 54 minutes later with our charge. About two hours after leaving Inversnaid we’d hear that the road had been cleared so there had been no real problems and the next pair of sweepers were waiting for us. Kynon and Ali took over and headed out, and I was grateful to get my trail shoes off and slip into some flip flops and a change of kit. It had been a warm morning so I changed everything and tied it up in a sealed bag ready for the washing machine when I made it back to real life on Monday.

with Marc and Scott

with Marc and Scott

Scott, Marc and myself then headed to the Green Welly for some food and spent the next couple of hours sitting outside our cars where the route passes Brodie’s store cheering on runners and catching up with our friends who were crewing. It was at this point we learned that the race had been won and the course record annihilated by Paul Giblin. It almost felt cruel to tell the result to those runners who asked, when they were only just over half way to the finish.

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The sweepers arrived, we swapped out Kynon for Marc and Team Sweep headed further up the course to Bridge Of Orchy. It was still an absolutely gorgeous day and I was enjoying wearing shorts and flip flops whilst sitting in a breeze at the midgie-free check point. This was unheard of – Bridge of Orchy is usually referred to as Midge of Orchy due to the thick clouds of insects the crews usually have to battle. Whilst chatting to the check point team I saw a speck of dirt on my ankle; I absent-mindedly tried to brush it off but it wouldn’t budge. Upon closer inspection it appeared to have legs and was burrowing deeply into my flesh. A tick! Gross!!!

Thankfully Sean the Race medic was at this check point and soon wielded a ‘tick pick’ and got the little bugger out of my foot quickly. I’ve never had a tick before and didn’t want to risk getting another so ran back to the car quickly to change into long tights, only to find a further two bigger and fatter ticks stuck into my calf. Sean worked his magic again and they were gone without any fuss other than Sean granting me the nickname Tick Lady for the rest of the weekend.

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Most of Team Sweep 2014

Most of Team Sweep 2014

Ali was replaced by Scott for the next stage to Glencoe and Marc continued on with him. The rest of us headed to Glencoe to rest up and prepare for the next overnight stint to Kinlochleven which would be covered by myself and Ali.

IMG_0261The majesty of Glencoe can never be underestimated.

Photo - Graeme Hewit - momentumphotos.co.uk

Photo – Graeme Hewitson – momentumphotos.co.uk

I had a coffee and some pizza and chips in the cafe before heading back to the car for a rest. I didn’t sleep but it was good to block everything out for half an hour or so and prepare for one of the more challenging sections of the course.

IMG_0262The Checkpoint, ran by the International Fire and Rescue Association

The last runner into Glencoe had actually been timed out before he reached the checkpoint and was in a very bad way. Whilst Ali and I set off into the darkness, the rest of the crew went back down the route to help get him in as he was almost incapable of movement.

Glencoe – Kinlochleven is only 11 miles, but for slower runners still on the course at the back of the field it is covered in their second night of running. The impact of the darkness can have a lot of negative effects as the body attempts to shut down to go to sleep whilst the runner battles onwards. This section last year was very challenging for all concerned, but this year sadly we had three DNFs at the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase as the runners realised there was no way they’d be able to get up the 1,000ft of climbing to the top of the hill, or the 1,500ft of decent from the top down to Kinlochleven at sea level. This left us with a very lucid and capable runner to look after who was moving well and was mentally fine, and running with his son as support. He was well ahead of us up the Devil’s Staircase so in total contrast to last year I was stomping up the hill with sweat pouring off me – I really didn’t need that second fleece, nor my thermal tracksuit bottoms.

Frog!There were frogs everywhere this year – even up the Devil’s Staircase!

We were out for only 4 hours and 14 minutes this year and came into Kinlochleven feeling happy and positive.

The check point at Kinlochleven was the usual disaster zone however. In the gym hall there were several bodies comatose on gym mats, Dr Chris Ellis was attending to several patients with their feet elevated and iced, an exhausted support crew were arguing with their runner insisting that he was fine and needed to get on his way whilst he wanted to quit, and other sleeping figures were dotted around the area catching some precious rest before the checkpoint closed. I grabbed some snacks from our supplies and let the rest of the team take over. All I needed to do now was get in to the car for some sleep before I completed the journey to Fort William.

As the check point began to close, the sleeping runners were being woken so that they could decide if they could carry on or not. Most of them got on the move eventually, but one sad figure was the last to slowly leave the hall in floods of tears with her face contorted in pain as she could barely move herself forwards. She could hardly breath without coughing as she apologised profusely and needlessly to the checkpoint staff and her crew, it was clear there was absolutely nothing left in her and she had truly reached the end of her race. My heart broke; I’ve seen her at other races and saw on her blog and the facebook group how much this race meant to her, but it just was not to be this year. Ali was crashed out on the ground next to me and shook his head; “Why do we even do this to ourselves?!” he mused quietly. It is so sad to see a race come to an end like that, and so undeserving.

I gave Kynon a kiss goodbye as he and the other lads headed out to cover the last 14 miles. Scott had decided he wanted to go along too as it was obvious all Ali and I were going to do was fall asleep in our cars. I grabbed some ice in a bag for one of my ankles which was creaking, and set to making a nest in the reclined passenger seat of the car. Assisted by pillows and a blanket I could not have been more comfortable and drifted away from the early morning mayhem of the checkpoint into deep, exhausted sleep.

Two hours later a horrendous beeping noise was pulling me from slumber. Pushing my eyemask off my face I slowly took stock of what was going on and deduced that the beeping was coming from my phone. An alarm. How cunning. It was telling me that it was 7am and that it was time to drive to Fort William. Looking out the window I could see no signs of life at all coming from Ali’s car parked across the deserted car park, and the only signs that the race had happened at all was the slowly melting pile of ice chips next to the door which Dr Chris had discarded after he left. After assessing the situation I decided I was in no hurry to get to Fort William and that we could go when Ali wanted to go, and that he could wake me up whenever that was. The front seat of an Audi has never been so comfortable.

It was an hour later that he was chapping on my window as he was keen to find some comfort facilities that weren’t under a bush, so we got our cars back on the road and made the sleepy drive to the finish at Fort William by about 9am. After a shower, a massage and some food, the next few hours were spent catching up with various friends and welcoming our exhausted later finishers home. It was wonderful to see the guys that we had swept at the back at various points of the course arrive at the finish, but it was the final runner who made the greatest impression. Ali and I ran out to meet the sweepers at about 11am to run in as a team, and Fritz from Holland was on his last legs in front of them with his wife by his side cajoling him along the road step by step. There aren’t many hills in Holland and the last time we’d seen him was at Kinlochleven when he was trying to quit; nobody would let him as he still was clearly ok and had hours to crawl it in to the finish. With plenty of comedy false kicks up the back side from his wife and several cigarettes on the way, he’d finally made it to Fort William and crossed the finish line victoriously in a time of 34 hours 19 minutes and 50 seconds.

When everyone was showered and fed we made it across to the Nevis Centre for the Prizegiving at 12.30pm.

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There were standing ovations for both Paul Giblin and his incredible finish, and the very emotional presentation of Fiona Rennie’s 10th Goblet which has been fought and strived for harder than any of us can imagine.

Photo - Graeme Hewitson - momentumphotos.co.uk

Photo – Graeme Hewitson – momentumphotos.co.uk

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Happily, Fritz van der Lubben made it to the presentation and gleefully accepted his goblet from Paul Giblin in a continuation of one of the traditions which makes the West Highland Way Race so special.

Photo - Graeme Hewitson - momentumphotos.co.uk

Photo – Graeme Hewitson – momentumphotos.co.uk

And so another year in the WHW Race cycle has come to a close. Team Sweep definitely got an easier ride this year, but no two races are the same and we were no less tired when it came to crashing out on Sunday afternoon before heading for a curry. I covered nearly 34 miles over the two days which for the most part barely registered in my legs, apart from the aforementioned creaky ankle muscle. This will hopefully take me neatly to the start of the Great Glen Ultra for a good race when I return to Fort William this Friday.

The 1am start and 73 mile length of the Great Glen Ultra makes it an excellent warm up for the West Highland Way race. Since everyone has been asking; yes, it is definitely my intention to run in next years West Highland Way Race, so everything between now and the 20th of June 2015 is a countdown to Milngavie. I’m thinking differently about it all already – it’s no longer a distant dream but a tangible goal on the horizon, and under a year away. There’s a lot of work to do, starting with this weekend…

RACE REPORT: Cateran Trail 55 Ultramarathon 2014

The Cateran Trail 55 Ultramarathon

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17th May 2014
13hrs 32min 11sec
Position: 57th/61 finishers (7 DNF)
Gender: 14th/16 Females

The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon is a 55 mile long race ran by the intrepid partnership of George Reid and Karen Donoghue, also known as Epic Shit Racing. George is the director of the D33, but the Cateran has always been Karen’s baby, and 2014 would see the 5th running of this race in its recent form. Also on offer this year was the Double Cateran, which at 110 miles would be the longest race in Scotland. The Double Cateran runners would commence their race 13 hours before the 55 milers, and run the full route in reverse first before performing an about turn when they returned to the Spittal of Glenshee. They would then retrace their footsteps for another 55 miles until they reached the start/finish area for the 3rd time when they could finally call it a day.

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Of the two races on offer I had selected the easy option and would commence my race at 7am from the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel with 70 or so other runners. In general I was feeling good about the race, but still harboured concerns about how well recovered I was from the Highland Fling three weeks previously. I had ran 35 of the 53 miles in the Fling at a very easy pace and had worked harder towards the end to finish strongly and happily. I’d had no injuries to speak of and got back to training lightly in the interim period so I saw no reason to doubt that I’d have a good race at the Cateran. The only concern at the back of the mind was knowing how long it can take to fully recover from an ultra – we push our bodies to the limit in these races, and for mortals like myself the residual effects can last for weeks…or so I had read. How would my body handle it? The only way I would find out would be to get on the starting line and see.

Kynon and I arrived at the Spittal of Glenshee late on Friday night, having opted to eat at home before the 1hr 30min drive to Glenshee. I’m not incredibly particular about my pre-race nutrition, but the Spittal did not appear to offer much in the way of vegetarian food other than chips with a side of onion rings. We found the hotel bar bursting with running friends and we settled down with a cider for some chat before heading to our room around 11pm. The accommodation at the hotel would be best described as…’rustic’, but in our room we found a clean bed and a functioning toilet which was all we really needed.

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I felt oddly not nervous about the race, so fell asleep quickly and deeply. I had come to the conclusion that the race ahead of me was completely unknown territory (in every sense of the word) so there was no point in stressing or over-thinking anything. All I could do was start running at 7am with everyone else and see what happened…the rest would fall in to place after that.

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I was pleased to awake to a bright morning with patchy cloud and sun. There was a lovely view out of the window which I had missed the night before, and I was able to look straight down the Glen and the first few miles of the course. I had taken my own breakfast, and due to the luxury of the race starting from the hotel my race preparation was very chilled out. At about 6.15am I strolled out of the room with my drop bags and grabbed a mug of coffee from the breakfast room and caught up with the news with friends before the race briefing with Karen at 6.30am.

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She kept things simple, but made a point of reminding us of the 110 mile race runners who were out on the course . As she reminded us to be sympathetic and kind, one of the runners crested the hill and ran in to the start/finish to huge applause. I can’t fathom the mental toughness those guys and girls had to turn around and go back out there, but somehow they did it.

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Just before 7am we were walked from the front of the hotel around the corner and over a bridge to the official starting line.

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The atmosphere  was so chilled it didn’t even feel like a race – more like a large group of friends heading out on a long training run together. I might have had a number pinned to my shorts, but I had none of my usual pre-race nerves.

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There was a final word or two from Karen, and then she announced ‘Right! Off you go!‘ and away we went down the Glen, a neon caterpillar of humans growing in length as the front runners let loose and sped away.

Start – Dalnagair – 6 miles, 1hr 9 mins

I don’t remember much about the first 6 miles, other than feeling very warm very quickly. The weather was forecast to be fine for most of the day but then become wet, but for the first 6 miles I was glad to have my sunglasses and to just be wearing a vest and shorts. As usual I walked the hills and enjoyed taking the time to appreciate the scenery. Glenshee is a wild wilderness and the terrain we were on was a mix of grass, gravel path and boggy moorland peppered with plenty of gates to open and stiles to climb over.

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I passed one 110 runner at about 3 miles, and met Mark and Helen Leggatt who were reverse sweeping the route and taking down all the neon tape and glowsticks which had been used to light the way for the 110ers through the night.

Dalnagair – Kirkton of Glenisla – 15 mi – 2hr 58min

Photo - Jenni Coelho

Photo – Jenni Coelho

Even by the first checkpoint at Glen Isla the field was very stretched out and I could only see a couple of runners far ahead of me. We were on road for a few miles and then they slipped further away and out of sight until we went off-road again and began a long slog up hill. We passed the beautiful Auchintaple Loch  and ran through fresh pine forest and over exposed hillsides before descending through some farms back on to the road which lead to Checkpoint 2 – Kirkton of Glenisla.

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3 hours in and I was feeling quite weary but figured the feeling would pass so wasn’t too worried. I was more unhappy about my right knee which I had unceremoniously thwacked off a stile post at around 9 miles, resulting in a flash of blinding pain as I clattered the patellar tendon off the edge of the post. The ongoing throbbing had not faded and was particularly sharp when I went down hills.

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Kirkton of Glenisla – Den of Alyth – 26 mi – 5hr 30m

At Checkpoint 2 I had my first drop bag, with custard and a buttery to eat and some snacks to refill my pockets. Mrs Mac and Piratical Dave were there as well as Donald and Elaine Sandeman, Lucy Colquhoun and Caroline Gibson. Caroline helped me with my food and got my water bladder topped up as I ploughed custard into my mouth using the buttery as a spoon. I couldn’t help but notice how few drop bags were left, but I decided not to care about it and just get moving again despite how much I wanted to stay and chat.

Not long after Glenisla I passed former West Highland Way race record holder Richie Cunningham who was running part of the route in reverse, and caught up with one runner, Dinah, who is distinctive by the barefoot huaraches that she runs in. We had a brief chat before I pulled away, and little did I know that she would be the last fellow runner that I would see all day.

It was somewhere around 17 or 18 miles that things started to go wrong. Some bastard had filled my legs with cement and suddenly moving forward became far more arduous. The pain that I’d been feeling in both little toes crossed over from ‘tolerable’ to ‘OW’ and stiffness in my hips and glutes became more defined. My knee still hurt too, as well as the bone in my big toe which has never been quite right since I ran the 2013 Highland Fling in those stupid rock-hard inov8 roc-lites. The multitude of increasing niggles quickly wore down my resolve and alone out there on a road in Middle Of Nowhere, Perthshire, I was flailing. I dragged out a couple of 15/16 minute miles as I struggled to pull my tired body up hills and hobbled on my sore feet down hill. I could jog the flats and gentle rolling hills, but only for 5 or so minutes at a time before the giant black dog that was sitting on my chest became too heavy to carry.

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I remember this big stupid, wet grassy hill made me so cross – why on earth were we climbing up the side of a field dodging sheep poo and bloody lamb’s tails when there was a perfectly good road down to the left going exactly where we were headed? Nevertheless I followed the path and hobbled up and down the hill to rejoin the road and found my eyes stinging with anger and frustration. My feet hurt so damn much; what was wrong with those little toes? If someone had given me a Stanley knife I would have cut holes in the side of my shoes to let them out. The Injinji toe-socks and compeeds may have guarded well against toe blisters, but the extra material in the box of my shoes was obviously crushing my littlest toes harshly.

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I was mildly amused by this sign on the gate to Alyth Hill but the distraction didn’t last long as I sank deeper in to the hurt locker. This was really quite serious – to be in such a state at 22 miles with a further 33 more to go was devastating. I didn’t see how I could possibly carry on – I was cloaked in fatigue and felt like I was drowning in it, I just couldn’t make myself move any quicker than a stumbling jog where every step was pain. At 22 miles!! Hidden amongst the vibrant yellow of the broom bushes I let my emotions boil over as I faced up to the realisation that I would probably DNF and big, fat salty tears spilled out of my eyes. I didn’t care that I was bawling  during a race – it wasn’t like anyone was around or had been anywhere near me for hours. I was out there alone and on this day I hadn’t brought enough guts to get myself home again. I was done. My first DNF. More tears.

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I continued to torture myself with the poisonous thoughts of how embarrassing it was going to be to drop out; what would I tell everyone in the pub that night? What would I say at work on Monday? What would I write in the blog? If I was going to DNF I’d have to do it at Den of Alyth because if I got to Blairgowrie at 31 miles, Kynon would be there and he wouldn’t allow me to DNF, and Sandra and Ian wouldn’t let me even think about it either, so I had to find the guts to take the number off at the next Checkpoint. What a failure. What a waste of everyone’s time.

Just as my pity party was really hitting full swing, two figures emerged from around a corner who I quickly recognised as Dave and Carolyn Kiddell. Ah, crap; there’s no hiding here, and he’s got a camera as well – best try and move it a bit and wipe the snot and tears away. “Well done! You’re doing great! How are you feeling?” they called out, but their kind smiles and friendly faces dislodged my thinly veiled cover. Tears spilled again and my voice cracked when I managed to respond “Dreadful! I’m having a terrible day! I’ve got nothing in my legs! Nothing!”. Dave has been there; he knows how bad things can get deep in a race, and Carolyn has seen it all before in her years of supporting him; they calmly told me to take it one mile at a time and just get to the next checkpoint and take it from there.

I nod and stagger on up the hill, as the realisation slowly dawns on me that I’ve just jogged past my friends up a hill whilst simultaneously telling them that I had nothing in my legs…

Den of Alyth – Blairgowrie – 31 miles, 6hrs 54 min

Not long after passing Dave and Carolyn the route took a long slow downhill road into the checkpoint which I was able to jog. Bumping into two friends whilst having a cry gave me a taster of how mortifying I would find it if I made the decision to DNF at Den of Alyth. Did I really want to do that? Was I really all that incapable if I could suddenly start running again on command?! Just as I was contemplating these things I arrived in to the Den of Alyth checkpoint which was at the end of a long field with some signs.

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“Welcome to the Den of Alyth Ceilidh”

Wuh!?

Underneath the gazebo was Johnny Fling in a shirt, tie and kilt, playing ceilidh music through an amplifier, with Lorna and an assortment of others in kilts bouncing around, dancing and cheering. I started laughing hysterically as I came in and asked if I was hallucinating – they didn’t dignify that with an answer as they took my pack from me and filled it up whilst I fed myself from the tremendous array of Scottish snacks.

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Lorna offered me some whisky and I took a hearty nip of Glenfiddich, washed down with a cup of Irn Bru and some tablet. This was amazing! I didn’t want to leave! However I was quickly strapped back in to my bag and hustled out of the check point before I knew what was happening, and seconds later I was tramping through the forest alone once more.

Did that just happen? What was I saying about DNFing again?! And that is the power of a good check point in an ultra. You need people who can lift you up when you’re down, take care of your refuelling needs like a formula 1 pit-stop team, feed you booze and snacks and turn you around and kick you back out again before you know what’s going on.

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So it had been decided. I was going to finish. As previously mentioned, DNFing at a checkpoint manned by Sandra ‘Get a move on or I’ll set you on fire‘ McDougall is not an option, and she was posted at Blairgowrie which was my next stop at 31 miles. After that the next one was at 38 miles and if I could get that far I knew I’d finish. Perhaps it was the whisky, but everything seemed a little sharper – Karen didn’t go to the bother of organising this race so her runners could drop out on her, and besides, I really, really wanted my finisher’s quaich.

I focused on the thought of being presented with my quaich with everyone in the pub later and settled in for the long haul. Once I’d made my peace with the fact that it was going to be a really long day, all my aches and pains seemed to stabilise. It was unfortunate that everything seemed to fall to bits so early on, but after Den of Alyth nothing seemed to get worse. I accepted the pain and just got on with it.

Blairgowrie – Bridge of Cally – 38 miles, 8hr 42min

Ironically after deciding that DNFing wasn’t going to happen, I realised I’d need to get a move on if I was to make the Blairgowrie checkpoint by 2.30pm (7.5 hours). I was taking so much time to cover the miles that if I didn’t shift it then I’d risk cutting it fine. As it happened I made it in at about 2:05pm and was warmly welcomed by dear husband and Sandra and Ian.

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Kynon said he was a little concerned about how long it had taken me; looking at the drop bags I saw there were only 5 or 6 left which was a bit of a shock – I hadn’t realised I was quite that far back in the field! However I was still moving and that was all that mattered.

S_McD_BlairgowriePictures by Sandra McDougall

The journey out of Blairgowrie was very beautiful, with thick, lush greenery surrounding the path and some beautiful houses and gardens. There was a long climb where I passed a couple of walkers who asked about my race number – they nearly fell over when I told them about the race.

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By the time I reached the top of the climb out of Blairgowrie there were some very sinister looking clouds in the distance back towards Glenshee. On the exposed hill I finally conceded to putting a long sleeve top on over my vest, but did my best to ignore the spots of rain for as long as possible. I really didn’t like this bit of the route – it went through plain farmland and along the edges of fields, before climbing up to an expanse of desolate moorland.

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This was where the rain really started pelting and I had to stop to put my rain jacket on. The boggy and muddy moorland track was really hard to run on and it felt like I was on a travelator – no matter how much effort I put into moving along the straight track I never seemed to make any progress as the land all looked the same. Looking at the map it is only 3 miles but it felt double that.

Bridge of Cally – Enochdhu – 49 miles – 11hr 42m

A lovely surprise was waiting for me at Bridge of Cally, which was in the shape of a Kynon who had popped up to say hello having just closed the checkpoint at Blairgowrie. Also waiting were Jane MacAskill and Helen Munro who saw that I was well fed and watered before being turfed back out into the rain. I had pizza in this drop bag which really hit the spot – a definite for all future drop bags.

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Not long after I left I saw Mark and Helen Leggatt again performing reverse sweeping who were full of positive encouragement. After this it was a long stint alone again for 11 miles lay between these two check points. I couldn’t stop thinking about whether I would end up being the last finisher and being caught by the sweeper, Keith Hughes, who was hungry for slow runners. Every so often I thought I heard his antipodean tones calling ‘Haallaow!’ from behind me, but he was never there. I guess I was getting tired.

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There’s not much else to say about this section but that it was wet, boggy and hard to run on. I was concentrating hard on following the route from post to post which kept me alert, as I could have gone wrong quite easily. It rained a lot, but it wasn’t cold. Other than the official route posts there was no race signage unless absolutely necessary. I did have a route map with me but thankfully I didn’t ever have to refer to it.

At one point around 43 miles I took a wrong turning and ended up taking the long route around a field, I got a bit confused but thankfully got back on track quickly without adding too much extra on. However, at around 45 miles I could see a green gazebo and a lot of balloons in the distance next to the road – how on earth had I managed to cut so much out of the route? Was I really at 49 miles already? I felt excitement that I was nearly there but a bit disappointed that I’d obviously made a mistake…however as I got closer I realised it was not a check point, but in fact a backyard birthday celebration for someone’s 45th birthday. Gutted!

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I saw this sign in Kirkmichael and had to stop for a photograph – I was finally within reach of that quaich and the distance left was down to single digits. I made my way into to Enochdhu in the pouring rain and arrived to a lovely warm welcome from Caroline and Neal Gibson again. I had more cake and pizza, washed down with more Irn Bru. I put caffeinated nuun in my camelbak to try and perk me up for the final long haul up hill and got on my way for the last time to earn that quaich.

Enochdhu – Spittal of Glenshee – 55 miles – 13hr 32min 11sec

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I knew from here to the finish despite being only 6 miles, it was uphill all the way until the last mile. My poor hips were so sore, my feet continued to be a source of total agony (especially the torn open blister on my arch caused by a stone in my shoe), and everything else just hurt. I allowed myself to reflect happily though – I couldn’t believe I’d actually got this far in a race which I’d all but written off 30 miles previously. Deep down though, I know that this would happen as I’d never have the guts to drop out unless I actually had a lower limb hanging off, and despaired at the unnecessary fuss I made for myself so many hours ago.

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I think I needed the tears though; I needed the release, the time alone, the helplessness, and the stripping back of self to the bare minimum. I needed to know that I could cope in a tough situation, and that I could trust my belief in myself to get through it eventually. There is a sense of renewal that comes from these long races; when you hit rock bottom you can’t get any lower and you know the only person who can get you back out is yourself. I was climbing, and had climbed right from the bottom back to the top again. The race had transported us from the bare loneliness of Glenshee, to the lush and leafy Perthshire hillsides and all the way back again.

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The landscape was stark and powerful and I decided that the perfect accompaniment for the last few miles was an album by Explosions in the Sky: All of a sudden I miss everyone. The music carried me over the beautiful landscape in contentment, back to my friends and ultra family who were waiting just over the last hill after 55 miles.

Spotting a figure in the distance snapped me out of my reverie and as I grew closer I recognised him as my friend Neil Easton from my club, and fellow West Highland Way Race sweeper. He was chumming tired runners up to the brim of the last of the steep hill and making sure that that everyone headed for home in the right direction. I was so pleased to see him and telling him all about my rollercoaster of a day was the perfect distraction from the steep climb. He got me to the top and then told me he’d see me in the bar shortly – there were only four behind me so his hours of hill-reps were nearly over.

IMG_0073Looking down towards the Spittal at the bottom

This was the longest mile of my life – I could see the Spittal, but it just would not get any closer. It disappeared and reappeared as I negotiated dips and rises, with every downhill step making pain coarse through my legs and feet.

With about 400 meters to go I passed Neil Rutherford walking up the course who must have finished hours previously. He gave some applause and a hearty pat on the shoulder assuring me that I was really, almost there. Not long after, the handful of people at the finish line spotted me in my bright blue jacket picking my way down the last of the hill in the fading light and burst into shouts and cheers of encouragement until I reached the final gate to the road.

A short final trot lead me to the finishing gantry and their enthusiastic cheers and applause carried me over the line with a huge smile into Kynon’s arms.

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I think the relief written all over my face says it all.

S_finish4S_finish3Pictures by Sandra McDougall

After I’d caught my breath and hugged everyone in sight, I made my way into the hotel and the bar area which was filled with finishers and supporters having drinks and food. Kynon was behind me and started clapping, then everyone looked up from their pints and broke into loud cheering and applause! Everyone who finished was getting this huge welcome by their fellow finishers when they came in, but it really took me by surprised and my eyes might have leaked a bit again. It was quite over-whelming.

Kynon sat me down and asked what I wanted. It was quite simple – a cold pint of lager and some chips.

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The beer was quickly taken care of, and I was able to trough into the hot buffet to my hearts content before the last finishers arrived in with the sweeper about 50 minutes later. Shortly after there was the presentation, where there were some very warm and kind words from Karen for the 55 mile finishers first of all, before George moved on to the 110 milers.

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It hurt to get up and shuffle over, but it felt just as good as I’d been imagining since 26 miles when I started focusing on receiving the little box from Karen to get me to the finish. For those who don’t know, a quaich is a traditional Scottish two-handed drinking cup of friendship which is often given as a gift, a trophy, or involved in ceremonial drinking.

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Next, the finishers of the 110 mile race received their quaichs. Out of 13 entrants, 12 made the starting line, only 6 finished and 2 ended up in hospital. The winner was my amazing friend Mike Raffan in  22hrs 25 minutes – an incredible two and a half hours clear of 2nd place.

After the presentation I went to the room for a shower but found no hot water. A hobo wash was had by the sink with some soap and wet-wipes, before I quickly returned to the bar for more rehydration and to hear everyone’s tales.

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There was still one man out on the course from the 110 mile race however; he knew he’d be timed out from the check points after a certain point, but asked to continue on with his own support and make it to the finish under his own steam. George was happy with that, so John McLean continued by himself until he made it back to the Spittal of Glenshee. Just before midnight George stuck his head in the door and shouted that the last finisher was due, and then every single person that was able to move (and a lot that probably shouldn’t have as well) poured out of the pub to cheer him down off the hill. We saw the blink of a head torch approach and began shouting as loudly as possible whilst forming a long guard of honour for him to run down to meet George and Karen at the end. The clapping and cheering was deafening as we welcomed him home, and after 29 hours and 57 minutes we had all our finishers back safely.

That was the most most memorable moment of the weekend for me – not the starting, the finishing, anything that happened in between, or even the lovely welcome I was given as I arrived back into the pub at the end. That sparkling display of goodwill and camaraderie is enough to melt the toughest heart and sums up everything I love about this sport. Moments like that make it so easy to forget the agony we go through at times; it is all so very, very worth it.

I learned a lot on Saturday. The lessons were tough but I’m glad I got them, and it underlined what I’ve known for some time about how in an ultra you have to just believe that the lowest of lows are usually temporary and that your race can turn around in an instant. It’s six weeks on Saturday until the Great Glen Ultra where I will line up for a 73 mile journey from Fort William to Inverness at 1am in the morning, so now the most important thing for me to do is rest. On the whole, four days later I’m fine and have retained no lasting injuries than two lost toenails and some nasty sports bra chafing. My knee that I hit on the stile is the sorest bit left, so I’ll need to look after it very carefully in the days to come. The good news is that my Injinji socks and preventative compeeds worked and I had no blisters in between my toes, but I definitely need to review the sizing of my trail shoes if this is the solution to that problem.

For now it’s a week of rest as I figure out what to do with myself for the next 6 weeks and write a training plan to keep myself occupied, but uninjured…

RACE REPORT: Highland Fling 2014

Hoka Highland Fling 53 Mile Ultramarathon
26th April 2014

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Chip time: 13hrs 20m 53s
Finish Position: 447th / 566 finishers (57 DNF)
Gender: 77th / 130 Females
Category: 32nd / 56 Senior Females

This time last year I had a lot of thinking to do. I had only just finished my first 50+ mile Ultramarathon at the Highland Fling and achieved my big goal for the Spring, but everyone wanted to know if I would do it again. Definitely in the future, I had answered, but not next year; after all we were getting married only a month beforehand! As the rest of 2013 slipped by, my thoughts changed however. My memories of the race were some of my very happiest  and I simply could not imagine not being a part of it again. With wedding and honeymoon plans firmly in place by October I was able to decide if a second Highland Fling finish was achievable, and my decision was definitely yes. It might be a bit risky and it certainly wouldn’t be ideal, but I’d be there and I’d give it my best shot.

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Fast forward to the 25th of April and once again we’re all in the Burnbrae pub in Milngavie, picking up our race numbers and catching up with ultra friends. I had run once between the D33 and the wedding as I desperately tried to heal my blisters, and in addition to one club running session I had completed two 10 mile runs after we arrived back from our honeymoon. The one thing that was going in my favour was that I was excellently rested and with not an injury to speak of, but still I had a lot of niggling doubts in my head which got louder as the evening went on. The last time I’d ran for more than 1hr 30mins was six weeks ago – was this really sensible?!

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Photo: Sandra McDougall

After retreating to the Premier Inn we snatched around 4 hours sleep before the alarm sounded at 3.30am and wrenched us out of bed. Kynon was marshalling once more and was required at the start by 4.45am – I won’t mention how jealous I was of my running chums who weren’t even out of bed by then…

My first move was to go straight to the window to look out. Rain was lashing down and the trees were swinging in the wind. My heart sank even further as for once the weather forecast seemed to be correct. This day could turn out to be a tremendous ordeal, I thought. I went through the motions of preparing coffee and forcing down a little breakfast; we ate very late the night before so I really wasn’t hungry, however I managed a rice pudding and a bottle of SiS ReGo carb drink.

I decided to wear shorts and long socks, with a vest, a long sleeved top and club vest on top. After a few more minutes deliberating I decided to put on a second long sleeve top, and put some dry clothes in my Camelbak just in case. After a last minute kit check we made our exit, and along with dozens of other people carrying bags and boxes made a silent departure out to the car park.

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Milngavie Railway Station was going like a fayre already and the car park slowly filling with runners. Kynon got the ultravan parked in the correct space, and I slipped into the back to finish my drop bags by making a couple of sandwiches. Unfortunately some enthusiastic runners kept on trying to give me their drop bags for Balmaha as I tried to sort out my things. My kingdom for a moment’s peace!

By some miracle I managed to bump into Rachel as I was wandering around in the crowd. Together we pottered about and said hello to lots of others including Iona and Jemma who were sweeping the first half. As the light came it seemed to get warmer – I should note here that by now the rain had stopped and the wind had dropped – so I made the executive decision to lose one long-sleeved top and the spare clothes in my bag. Rachel put her bags in the back of our van as we both made outfit changes – I lost a layer, she added a thick hillwalking jacket. And still people kept on trying to give us their drop bags.

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We found the other Stonehaven Runners and posed for a group shot. We were all intending to start at the back and take it easy, nobody was looking for a fast finish time as most of us have bigger challenges on the horizon soon. Before we knew it Johnny Fling was giving the race briefing, and the 5 minute warning was issued.

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Kynon! I realised I hadn’t said goodbye to my husband! I hadn’t seen him since I got out of the van over an hour prior, so I ducked and weaved through the crowds to find him and gave him a big cuddle. I would next see him at Balmaha, which seemed a very long way away.

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

The 10 second countdown began, and I scuttled back through the crowd to my friends as everyone burst in to cheers when the klaxon went. Ripples of applause followed the front runners up the High Street, but it took nearly two minutes until our group finally crossed over the starting mat. The eerie whine of the timing chips activating rung in my ears as we charged gently up the stairs, faces lit up with smiles as the crowd cheered us on our way. With the crowd of us in our black and purple club vests and socks, we solicited plenty of shouts of ‘GO STONEHAVEN!’ and ‘GO STONEY GIRLS!’ as we ran up the high street and the support felt so encouraging.

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

Milngavie – Drymen – 12 miles – 2hr 20m

Despite the excitement which comes at the start, I’ve decided that this is my least favourite part of the route. It is mainly flat and on easy path or road, and can be filed as ‘very runnable’. You must be very careful not to shoot off at half or even full marathon pace as energy conservation here is key for the rest of the race.

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Within a mile or so we had all regretted putting on waterproof shell jackets and quickly took them off and packed them away. Whilst the air was very damp it was also humid and warm, so my buff and gloves came off as well. In the end I had decided to leave the dry bag of dry clothes at the start. I had decided I had a feeling that we weren’t going to get wet and that they would be needless extra weight. Looking towards Conic Hill was very sinister though as it was cloaked in mist and cloud – what was hiding up there on top of the hill and beyond?

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We took each hill very gently and chatted our way through the first section. Due to the size of our group there was a natural divide, with Vikki, Kate, Rachel, and Tracey and I moving on a little quicker than the others and quickly opening up a gap. We enjoyed talking to our fellow racers and admiring the kit of our Norwegian visitors from Romerike Ultraloperklubbe – a 30 strong contingent of runners from an Ultra club in Norway, who all wore a fantastic black and yellow running kit.

Approaching Drymen. Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

Approaching Drymen. Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

Enjoying every minute. Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

Enjoying every minute. Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

 

Drymen – Balmaha – 7 miles – 1hr 41, cumulative: 4hr 01m (19 miles)

I was looking forward to Drymen as it meant there would be some hills to walk and we’d get in to the more remote parts of the course. When we arrived there was a huge crowd cheering as it was the first relay handover with lots of familiar faces. The atmosphere really perked me up and I was ready to push on, but some of the girls wanted to wait in the queue for the portaloo. This would have taken the guts of 10 minutes so we managed to convince them that in an ultra, the world is their toilet and they should just embrace it. Off we went into Garabhan forest with just the slightest speckle of sunlight finally breaking through the clouds.

It wasn’t long until a toilet stop was called for again. It was decided that we’d all wait, but after a few minutes I felt myself stiffening and really wanted to get moving. Rachel and I walked on a little and came across a photographer, so of course we had to run! We waited a few more minutes here but when there was still no sign of them we decided just to go, and began the approach to Conic.

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The mist had cleared and we were bathed in sunlight as we climbed higher and higher up the hill. I found it easier this year and my legs and lungs burned less. The views back down the course were spectacular and we saw our friends not far behind us.

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The top of Conic was less impressive than last year, but no less beautiful. The view up the Loch never fails to take my breath away each time I see it.

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On the descent I concentrated on keeping as loose as possible and carefully placing my feet. I would have loved to bomb down the hill as fearlessly as I would in a training run, but leg conservation was key so I took it very easily. I loved knowing that Kynon was at the bottom waiting for me at the check point and couldn’t wait to give him a hug.

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Rachel and I bounced into Balmaha and quickly got stuck into our drop bags. I had a Mullerrice to eat and cake bars and crisps to restock my backpack with. I was very thirsty and had already consumed a litre of electrolyte water, so I filled up with another litre and drank deeply from a bottle of Lucozade sport left on the ‘free’ table. The others arrived as I was ready to go, but we waited until they were ready in the spirit of taking it easy together. I’ve never run a race in this manner before and I was beginning to find that holding myself back was somewhat of a challenge, but I reminded myself that it was all about time on feet and that I’d thank myself for taking it easy at the Cateran 55 three weeks later.

Balmaha – Rowardennan – 8 miles – 1hr 59, cumulative: 6hrs (27.5 miles)

After coming through Balmaha we receiving some playful banter from marshal Sarah who directed us up the next steep hill. After some lumps and bumps we made it back to the beautiful Lochside which would keep us company for the next 20odd miles. There was another toilet stop at Milarrochy and I found myself stationary again with my legs stiffening up. Regardless of how we planned to run the race, it went against my every instinct to be standing still in the middle of a race with fellow participants passing by – I wanted to be moving!

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When we got back on the trail, Rachel and I seemed to be running a slightly quicker pace and a gap began to open up between us and the other three. We chattered away, taking turns to lead, and the time passed quickly on my second least favourite part of the course which lasts until Rowardennan. It was distinctly different underfoot this year as ongoing path ‘improvements’ have been taking place. Tonnes of smashed rock have been packed down on top of the solid earth path which has given it a very sanitised feel. I felt like I was in the grounds of a country estate not running the rugged West Highland Way; I didn’t particularly care for the ‘improvements’, especially as it felt awful underfoot on weary feet.

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

The Rowardennan checkpoint came out of nowhere sooner than expected just like last year which was a pleasant surprise. Tiredness was beginning to factor a little and I was feeling a bit jaded as Mrs Mac cheered and called out ‘You OK toots?’ to me as I crossed the timing mat. That really cheered me up and brought me back down to earth as I smiled and said hello; it’s little bits of personal support like that which makes these races so special – I love that I know so many people taking part, marshalling and supporting who all just want the best for each other.

Standing in the checkpoint I took stock of myself and figured out what was going on – I felt infinitely better than last year both physically and mentally, nothing in particular was hurting and everything was fine other than being very thirsty. I felt like I could be working a lot harder, but then I might have been suffering more. I nailed another Mullerrice and refilled my pockets and water supplies. Scanning the left-over food table I swatched some cherry sport beans – my favourite flavour – and put them in my pocket. What a coup!

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

The other girls came in and whilst they were fuelling up I took the time to chat to a massive floofy Newfoundland who belonged to the Wilderness Medic team. They were providing their usual stellar cheery and humorous service in the remote spots, where if someone fell ill it would take a long time to get an ambulance to them.

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

 

Rowardennan – Inversnaid – 7.5 miles: 2 hours, cumulative: 8hrs (35 miles)

Moving out of Rowardennan, Rachel and I took the lead again until we reached the long steady slog upwards, which is just that little bit too steep for your average common-or-garden ultrarunner to actually  run. I pulled off the path to stop for my first pee of the day, but re-emerged to find that this time no-one had stopped, so I had a 10 minute powerjog chase up the hill until I finally caught them up again. The hill went on forever – I didn’t remember this from last year but in hindsight I recall that I spent my time chatting to Terry Addison at this part of last year’s race which clearly distracted me well.

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Eventually the crest of the hill came and some gentle descent relieved the climbing muscles. Rachel and I just let go and let gravity take us down to the Lochside where the trail begins to get a little technical. I was so looking forward to this part and slotted ahead on the single person track with Rachel close behind. The others were making slower progress and we lost sight of them after a while, I really didn’t want to slow down though as I fell my momentum was building and I was ready to work hard just at the right point in the race which needs the extra effort. At 34 miles I called back and reminded Rachel that she was in new distance territory which she was pleased about (I think; at least as pleased as a person who’d run that far could be).

It was nearly 8 hours into the race and we were still dry – I couldn’t believe our luck given the forecasts we’d all been poring over with dread for the last week. It had been supposed to rain all day and night, with some slight respite in the afternoon. The forecast could not have been more wrong and it had remained completely dry, cloudy and humid at about 12C which was perfect running weather.

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Rachel was really needing the Inversnaid checkpoint and was annoyed that her garmin was telling lies and was reading over 35 miles. We’d been out of synch all day, but I knew that 35 miles and the checkpoint was coming soon as I could hear the thunderous waterfalls. We rounded the side of the Inversnaid hotel and were greeted by John, Katrina, Sandra, Ian and team who were quick to furnish us with dropbags, refill camelbaks, and dispense gentle kicks up the backside. John and I had a quick chat as I awaited the others; I was trying to decide how long I would wait for them when they came in, so I then decided to eat some more and make one more attempt to relax and stick with the group.

Inversnaid – Beinglas – 6miles – 2hrs 14, cumulative: 10hr 14 (41 miles)

We left Inversnaid at 8hrs 10m race time, which was over half an hour slower than my time from last year. This had been playing on my mind and I no longer felt like I was running my own race; the others were taking it down a gear for the technical section when I was ready to level-up and really work hard. I was torn; I didn’t want to offend anyone by flying off but then I really didn’t want to walk any more, so I just kept a steady jog in the first mile out. The others slipped further behind but I didn’t slow down this time, I realised that my decision had been made and it was time to go on by myself.

Letting myself loose on the technical terrain felt great. My legs turned to springs as I hopped, bounced and twisted my way around trees, branches and rocks. Last year the section scared me a little as I felt I wasn’t in control of my legs but this year I felt I had laser precision as I gambolled along like a mountain goat. I live for this kind of running and it felt incredible to be able to enjoy it strongly this year!

Everyone else was walking, and as I passed runner after runner, my competitive instinct caught whiff of a challenge. I felt awesome and strong with an easy, slow start to the race – how many places could I climb between check points and the finish? The last timing mat was at Rowardennan so I’d get information from there, Beinglas and the finish. My restrained side reminded me of Raffan’s Rule #1: Don’t Be A Dick, but then the devil on my shoulder asked WWRD: What would Raffan Do? and the answer was run the best race he could. It was time to fly.

I made steady progress towards the end of the loch and just as I emerged from the relative shelter of trees, the rain made its first appearance of the day. It was heavy, wet rain and it didn’t look like it was just a shower so I stopped to put my Montane Minimus jacket on, but 20 minutes later it was off again and that was the last we saw of the rain.

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Beinglas – Finish – 12 miles – 3hrs 06m, cumulative: 13hrs 22m (53 miles)

I was feeling very positive as I came into Beinglas Farm and these feelings were boosted by the marvellous crew there. There were a lot of people who were suffering and they were being well looked after by the team, who were dispensing tea and coffee and helping to refill the backpacks of weary runners. I enjoyed some Quorn sausages and a tub of custard, washed down with a can of gin and tonic whilst chatting to some fellow runners. I didn’t hang around and finished the last of my sausages and gin whilst walking out of the check point, and decided to listen to some music to keep my momentum going.

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I love this part of the route as the scenery is so dramatic. I was joined on the path by some very new lambs and their grumpy Mum, who was quick to shoo them away from me.

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What really helped me from Beinglas to the finish this year is that I feel like I know this section well now, having covered it twice in the last year at the Fling and the West Highland Way race. I knew I had the race in the bag now and it was just a question of ticking off each stage – over the rollercoaster hills, past Derrydarroch cottage, along by the river, through the sheep passage under the A82, along cow poo alley….tick, tick, tick.

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I was still passing runners as I kept a steady jog as much as I possibly could. Whenever I found myself walking I asked myself ‘Is there any good reason for you to be walking right now?’ and usually the answer was no so I could push a little harder. Everyone else was walking this section so I felt like I’d really nailed the pacing of the race – I remember walking so much here last year and each mile taking forever, however the miles slipped by mostly painlessly and I reached the climb into the Crianlarich hills happily. There was another Wilderness Medic chap with his dog at the edge of the forest cheering us on. I stopped to pet the big, cuddly Newfoundland and asked if I could saddle him up and ride him down to the finish. The response was unfortunately no, but the handler said that if I’d fallen in the Loch earlier on he’d have been sent in after to fetch me. Not just a cute fluffy face after all then.

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I trundled up the hill safe in the knowledge that this was the last big climb of the day. The sun was hanging low in the sky, creating beautiful shafts of lights in the forest. Despite some aches and pains and being a bit tired, I could not have been happier. My feet were hurting and I could feel I had some tremendous blisters and battered toenails, but other than that and a nagging pain in my hip my legs were fine. I was able to navigate the decent quite speedily with no quad, knee or ITB bother at all which I found remarkable, although I found yet again that the path ‘improvements’ actually made it harder. The same smashed rocks had been used to fill in crevices and smooth over cracks and boulders, which meant there were no lumps and bumps to bounce off of and absorb speed when descending.

I continued to pass people and slowed to chat with anyone I knew, including a blether with Fiona Rennie who was looking strong. I pulled up about 50 meters behind a pair of girls who were running roughly the same pace as me, and kept them in my peripheral vision as we headed down to the A82. When the path spat me out on the road I realised however that they had taken a wrong turn somewhere and the three of us were no where near the road crossing. Thankfully I knew the area so I turned left and ran up the side of the road knowing that eventually I’d meet the crossing but I was a bit worried that I’d messed up by not paying attention. It wasn’t long until we reached the part where the West Highland Way runs parallel to the road after it crosses the railway so we were able to hop back on to the path. My garmin had died at 12 hours so I had no idea how much extra it added on, but thankfully our diversion didn’t last long.

In remarkable coincidence just as I was crossing the road, I noticed Mike’s car was the first in the queue of traffic held by the marshals! He honked the horn loudly and shouted out of the window at me as I ran over the road which gave me a huge boost and really brought it home that I was nearly done for the day. As I approached Strathfillan Wigwams I took my last two caffeinated gels and texted Kynon to let him know I was about 30 minutes out from the finish.

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The last two miles are naturally the longest in the race. Despite being very close to Tyndrum it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere until the very last moment when you actually hear the finish before you see it. I kept my thoughts on my silly goal of passing as many runners as possible and reeled them in one by one, wishing them ‘well done’ as I slipped by. Other than that, all I could think of was getting my shoes off and revealing the horror inside my Salomons.

The sound of the pipes came into range and made the sweaty hairs on the back of my neck stick up. I pushed harder into an actual run, determined to sprint into the finish in style. A bunch of people over the river in the campsite recognised me and cheered ‘Go Rhonaaa!!’  but I couldn’t see who they were, and from the other side through the trees came screaming and whooping from a blonde figure who looked a lot like Sandra. The final incline was lined with supporters and I high-fived Ali and Iain who stood awaiting Kate and Vikki, and gave my last push to round the corner to the glorious red carpet finish.

Phot: Stuart Macfarlane

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

The crowd noticed another finisher coming in and leapt into life which is the most incredible feeling. You’d think I’d have won the entire race from the racket they made for each finisher – I heard my name being shouted, I ran as hard as I could, I high-fived Jemma and Iona, I punched the air in delight and sprinted down that flag-lined red carpet with the biggest smile on my face.

Photo: Staurt Macfarlane

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

My darling husband awaited me under the gantry and crashing into his arms was heaven. He held me up as my legs gave way from under me and cuddled me tight until I got my breath back. No tears this year, just smiles and laughter.

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There was soup and beer and a cracking goody bag with a beautiful medal as well. Free massages and showers, and endless tales of strength and bravery from finishers and those who were less fortunate, such as the amazing Susan Johnston who fell and broke her jaw in five places on the Lochside, but continued on for 5 miles until the next checkpoint where she reluctantly pulled out in favour of a trip to hospital.

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In the end I finished only 14 minutes slower than last year, but I finished stronger, happier and with greater ease than I could have ever imagined. My challenge to pass as many people as I could resulted in me climbing 43 places from Rowardennan to Beinglas, and a further 45 from Beinglas to the finish – a climb from 546th at Rowardennan to an eventual placing of 447th of 566 finishers.

I had blisters the size of grapes in between the toes of my left foot and I’ll lose a couple more toenails, but other than that I have suffered nothing other than some standard DOMS which were gone by Tuesday. It is remarkable to see and feel the steady improvement in my running over the last year, which gives me confidence to tackle the Cateran 55 miler in only two weeks time, and the confidence to feel like I am going to be well prepared by the start of July for the Great Glen 73 miler.

There’s not a lot left to be said about the Highland Fling that hasn’t already been said all over the internet this week, but I feel I’d be remiss in not including my thanks to Johnny Fling and team, for creating the best and most beautiful running event in Scotland, or perhaps even the UK. The whole day is a lesson in event management and value for money and many others would do well to learn from it. If this race isn’t on your to-do list, get it on there immediately and I’ll see you all in Milngavie next April.

RACE REPORT – D33 Ultramarathon 2014

D33 Ultramarathon

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15th March 2014
5hrs 25 minutes
177th of 306 finishers
35th/83 Females
20th/40 Senior Females.

The morning of my third D33 Ultra dawned calm and grey after a very windy night before. I awoke ages before my alarm as has become customary in the last few weeks – sleep has become surplus to requirements when my brain decides it’s time to awake and start thinking about table plans, thank you cards and how loud the music should be when I walk down the aisle. However, on Saturday morning I was able to look forward to a five hour break from the wedding melee and just enjoy a good long run with friends. My training thus far this year has been the (mostly) non-negotiable foundations around which I have built my week outside of work. However many other things had to be sorted out on a weekend, knowing that I had two periods of rest where I’d get to drop everything and go out and run has really kept me sane. Yes, weddings are important and it means a lot to a lot of people; but the wedding is just one day. It’s the marriage that is for life – just like running. That’s been our views on it anyway, much to the despair of some of our family and friends who don’t exactly share our priorities. I say our, because it should not be forgotten that Kynon was running at the D33 Ultra as well, and it was his first Ultra. Spoiler alert: he finished, and with a smile as well! Perhaps I can entice him to write another guest race report, however for now it is time to tell the tale of a race which didn’t exactly go to plan, but by all accounts should be considered a PB success. I’m marking this one down as a ‘learning experience’ and one of those dreadful runs which make you appreciate the good ones even more.

I woke up with not great deal of desire to eat, but choked down a banana and some coffee to get my system on the go. We had a lift arranged from a club member at 7.30am, and arrived in Duthie Park about 8.00am after a journey spent discussing our race strategies. My plan was to go out at a comfortable pace and average somewhere between 9 and 9.30 minute miles for the first half, and then push harder for the second to finish strongly at around 5 hours with nothing left in the tank. I was going to treat it like a marathon and take a gel every 5 miles, and not stop at check points. Having done the race two times before and completed a sub-4 marathon last Autumn I was confident that this was a realistic and achievable goal…

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Before the race there was the usual hubbub of excitement found at all the Scottish Ultras as old friends are reunited, this time after several months given that the D33 Ultra is the first of the ‘season’. I hadn’t seen anyone since Glenmore 24 in September so there was plenty of chat to be had. I was greeted by Sandra and Julie who were on number pick-up duty and had a special surprise for us, with a pair of personalised bibs for Kynon and I decorated with ‘Bride to be’ and ‘Hen run’. I loved this but was grateful I hadn’t been given a tiara and veil to wear!

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In the hour that followed I ate a Clif bar and some Powerade and tried to decide what to wear. It felt like it was getting colder and colder and rain was beginning to fall. I couldn’t shake the memories of last year where I put on some thermal sleeves at the last minute which probably saved my race as the weather turned wet and windy after a few hours. The forecast for Saturday had been a real mix but it wasn’t expected to be cold – hanging around in a chilly Duthie Park at 8.30am wasn’t convincing me however and I decided to put on the t-shirt I had in my bag for after the race as an extra layer, at least for the beginning.

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After the customary short and blunt briefing from George, there was a few minutes before the final countdown and the off.

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The huge crowd of 300 were raring to go and streamed out of the park to the railway line with a thunderous sound of feet on concrete. Cyclists, dog walkers and other users of the path were forced to stand to one side as the pack streaked up the narrow path as far as the eye could see.

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I very quickly spotted Graeme from our club near me so moved over for a chat. He and I run at a similar pace at these distance and are both training for the Fling so had similar goals. Soon we were joined by John and Mags from the Club and we ran as a little pack for nearly 8 miles, ticking each split easily off between 8:50 and 9:20 minute miles and chatting happily. My Mum was waiting to cheer at Holburn Station and my Grandad was waiting at Auchinyell Bridge at the bottom of his road; I was really pleased to see him and glad he spotted me amongst the crowd. “4:59!!” He shouted at me from above “Yes, Sir!” I hollered back, offering a salute as I passed under the bridge.

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I was running smoothly and painlessly – I felt exactly how I want to feel at the start of a long road race. I took my 1st gel at 5 miles and by then was already regretting wearing gloves and the extra tshirt as I really didn’t need them, and would need to hold on to them til half way. I made the difficult decision to drop from my little group at 7.5 miles to nip behind a fence for a pee – knowing the route well I knew this was my last chance for a while so didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I stopped for less than 30 seconds but my gang was already gone – I would not see them again until the end of the race.

009annette8mile1010annette8mile2Pictures by Annette Raffan, Craftrocks.

The first check point came shortly after at 8 miles where I had a bottle of juice to drink. I was really looking forward to a drink since I didn’t have my Camelbak on but it tasted far too sickly and thick; at this point I only wanted water. I kept hold of it however and pushed on.

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Running was suddenly becoming a chore. The ease with which I covered the first 8 miles had stopped abruptly and I felt a sick and nauseous feeling spreading throughout my gut. Even cruising the down hills towards Drumoak was not comfortable and maintaining a pace under 9.30 as planned was becoming very hard work. I forced myself to eat and took my sleeves and buff off to cool down as the sun had come out and it was warm. I refused to believe my goals were gone as how you feel in an ultra can be so unpredictable…but not usually after 8 or 9 miles.

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When I got to Drumoak I conceded and walked up the hill and drank some more in an attempt to make myself feel better. Plodding along to Milton of Crathes was tough but I was delighted to see Mike in 2nd place behind Grant Jeans when the leaders began to pass me on their return to Aberdeen. I high-5ed him and shouted ‘Reel him in!’ as we passed, and continued to high-5 all my friends until my hand hurt. There were lots of supporters at Crathes including Kate’s husband Ali and their cheers really lifted me up. The sickness was getting worse and I could only begin to conclude that I was in for a very. long. day.

I reached half way in 2hrs and 33 minutes – only 3 minutes behind schedule. The half way party was in full swing and Sandra announced the arrival of the bride, much to my embarrassment. I was really glad to see my Mum there too – there is nothing like a hug from your Mum when you’re feeling crap.

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I got rid of my hot layers and drank some precious water. This time I ditched more than half of my powerade and mixed it with water which was a lot easier to drink.
I filled a sandwich bag with hula hoops and some flapjacks and just got right back out there. I didn’t want to get comfortable as I might never have left.

Kynon was not far behind me and reached half way at 2hr 50 race time so had made excellent progress in his first half. Passing more friends and club-mates certainly gave me a further boost, but as the sun began to beat strongly on my back my expectations began to slip. My guts were in agony – all I wanted to do was vomit but I couldn’t get myself to do it. After only 15 minutes out of half way I slowed to a walk for few minutes and thought about how I could handle the rest of the race. I knew I’d finish, but it would be slow and sore. After 10 more minutes before I had to walk again, I realised my revised plan of run 30/walk 5 was even a bit much. My next tactic was to ram more food in and hope it would pay off – I managed half a flapjack, some hula hoops and a gel and kept my fingers crossed it would either refuel where it was needed, or bounce out of my stomach and take whatever else needed to get out of there with it.

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For the first time that I can remember in the second half of a race I was being passed, by quite significant amounts of people. Normally this is when I come alive in a race, but in startling contrast to last year I was falling to bits and I was extremely annoyed. I could feel blisters boiling between my toes, my hip flexors were stiffened and waves of fatigue were washing over me. I hit  20 miles at 3hrs 12m and I felt completely rung out – there was no way I could make up the time to hit my goal but if I was able to cruise at a moderate pace there would be no excuse to not get under 5hr 30m.

It was after Drumoak that things began to perk up a little. My stomach no longer felt like I had drunk 10 pints of lager the night before. Perhaps the food had worked? I ran all the way up the long slow hill just before the 3/4 check point and passed at least 20 runners on the way who were walking and had recently passed me. Being somewhat competitive at times this really pleased me and further fuelled my rekindled fire. I refilled my water bottle at 3/4 check point, grumbled a bit with the marshals and set out preparing to work hard again, reeling slower runners in one by one.

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I hit marathon point in 4hrs 18m which was 4 minutes faster than last year but about 18 minutes slower than I had intended. I was pleased that I seemed to have been able to pull some of my race back but waves of nausea were still attacking my stomach every so often which forced me to a walk. My feet had become dreadfully sore and I could feel that monster blisters just like last years  had formed between my big toes and my second toes. This annoyed me most of all as last year they took 3 weeks to heal and made wearing shoes extremely uncomfortable – not what you want 7 days before your wedding.

My Grandad surprised me again by waiting on Auchinyell Bridge. “Where the Devil have you been?!” he shouted; this was at 5hrs 15m race time and he had obviously been waiting for a while. This made me feel guilty and it spurred me on even more to get this last mile to the finish over and done with – I was absolutely spent, my guts were in knots and my feet felt like bloodied stumps.

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Running into Duthie Park is always a pleasure. You are retracing the footsteps you took so many hours earlier and whilst it looks exactly the same you have accomplished so much in the intervening time. I checked my watch and it said 5:2X so I knew I’d shave a PB so I concentrated on running as hard as I could through the Park and enjoying the finish.

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There were plenty of supporters cheering and people calling my name. I flew down the hill to the gantry with a smile and stumbled in to George’s arms for a welcome home hug as he put my medal around my neck.

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I stumbled my way into the tent and tried not to be too negative when asked how my race had gone. The fact that I didn’t even stop my garmin until Sandra asked what my time was shows how little I cared for goals by the end. As it happened, I finished at 5hrs and 25 minutes on the nose; a 1 minute 28 second PB. If I had ran a marathon and shaved that much off my time I would have been delighted, but that was not what I came to do on Saturday so I felt a little underwhelmed by my whole race.

I drank over a litre of water whilst waiting for Kynon to come in, but I still felt really grotty and didn’t feel like eating anything. I caught up with various people and was delighted to hear that Mike came second and Noanie was 4th lady and 1st FV40. A lot of people struggled though and found the moderate rise in temperature tough to adjust to.

At just over 6 hours race time I saw Kynon’s red cap bobbing into the park. I was so excited to see him and was delighted to see that he was still running. He galloped down to the finish and walked over the finish-line in style, bowing deeply to the crowds.

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Just like me, he’d found his first Ultra infinitely easier than his first marathon and finished in great spirits, delighted at his achievement.

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After some hearty refuelling and a couple of beers, we made our way home to recover for the after party that evening. Obviously I was glad to have finished but I was sad and frustrated that I hadn’t got the race I wanted. It just proves once more that you can have the best season of training you’ve ever had in the bank, but if your body doesn’t show up on race day then you’re screwed. I’ve been so lucky with races recently and with only one or two exceptions I was very happy with every performance in the last year. They can’t all be brilliant, so I just have to take my teeny PB and be happy I finished another 33 mile race (mostly) healthy and uninjured, and keep my focus on the next race which is the Hoka Highland Fling in a month.

For now it’s time to focus on the wedding though. In less than 48 hours we’ll be married, and after a huge party we’ll be whisked off on honeymoon to return after a fortnight’s adventures a very long way away…

See you on the other side!

~RwR

 

RACE REPORT: Forfar Multiterrain Half Marathon 2014

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Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon
2nd February 2014
Time – 2 hours 49 seconds
Place – 122/164 finishers
Gender – 20th/43 females
Category – 11th/20 F Senior

After running this race last year and enjoying it so much, it was never in doubt that I would be making the return trip to Forfar for another go. Entries opened back in November and I was lucky to have set a reminder in my calendar of the race opening date and time as the race sold out in 24 hours.

Before moving on to the detail of the race I feel I have to comment on the fact that there were 250 places sold within 24 hours back in November, but only 164 runners showed up on the day. This is another layer of lunacy which is emerging from the recent soaring popularity of running races – people obviously snapped up their place with the best of intentions, but two months later decided for whatever reason not to show up. Given that the race was such great value (£9 unaffiliated) people obviously didn’t feel too put out by sacrificing their entry fee either. I can’t imagine how frustrated the race committee must have been when they expected around 250 runners to show up and then only had 164 on the start line. What’s an RD to do though? Small races can’t handle transfers, deferrals or waiting lists; if you put the prices up people grumble and then expect more for their money; you could have an ‘on the day’ standby option for people willing to risk it,  but that brings in extra complications and potential accusations of the race being greedy with entry fees if they don’t give refunds to those who DNSd.

The rise in enthusiasm for racing is wonderful, but the problems that come alongside it are starting to piss me off. I believe that the convenience of services such as EntryCentral are contributing to high DNS rates as it is so easy to enter a race 6 months in advance on your phone on the hoof without thinking about how it will fit in your training plan or if anything else might crop up in the intervening time. I hate the fact that you now have to be sitting in front of a computer hitting ‘refresh’ until a race opens to guarantee yourself a place in a popular race, only to show up on the morning to find nearly 100 people have not bothered to do the same. The Highland Fling sold about 80% of its places within 24 hours, and already 50 people have pulled out. Thankfully the organisers are taking the time to do a second wave of entries to fill these vacated places for those who missed out in the initial launch, but who needs that extra administration when you’re already knee deep in planning a race?

My renegade solution for small races is to bring back paper entries. If you want to do a race you should have to go to the bother to physically print off a form and send in a cheque or your bank details, and then await your confirmation. This is a pain in the arse for racers, but it means you have to be at least a little bit serious about entering an event and would cut down on frivolous entries submitted on a whim because you get a text from a clubmate saying “OMG the X race is open and half the entries are gone already – sign up b4 u miss out :( ” and then when you look at your calendar 3 months later you realise you actually need to do a 28 mile hill run that day/you get invited to a party the night before/you’re mid-training cycle and exhausted, and because it was only a tenner you nix it for a different option and yet another entry goes to waste.

Naturally there will always be a small percentage of drops outs due to injuries or illness, that’s unpreventable, but I think we need to review how modern race entry works because I don’t think we’re heading down the right path.

Are you an RD or on a race committee? What do you think? How does it feel when a tonne of folk don’t show up? How would you solve these issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Anyway; with that hand grenade out of the way I can move on to the tale of the actual race. After a week of horrid weather Sunday dawned bright but breezy and Ronnie picked me up from Stonehaven to head down at around 9.15am. In light of the above rant, ironically our carload was two runners down (Kynon had food poisoning and Rachel had a strained calf), but Ronnie and I enjoyed a good catch up on the way down and tried to ignore the fading sunlight and looming clouds.

We got into Forfar around 10am and were directed to an industrial estate to park. We managed to find our way back to the Rugby Club to register and picked up our numbers quickly and enjoyed the warmth of the room whilst saying hello to others we knew. We went back to the car to get our kit bags and left them in the changing rooms, safe in the knowledge that whatever happened out on the course there would be a hot shower waiting for us.

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At 10:55 am we were called up and stood on a rugby pitch in a cold and strong wind. The RD gave a detailed briefing which I attempted to listen to carefully until the noise of runners around me chattering consumed his voice completely. A huge roar of “QUUUIIIIIIEEEETTTTT!!! SHOW HIM SOME RESPECT!” suddenly came from the mouth of a young Hash House Harrier on my right which shut everyone right up and was appreciated by many. It was disgraceful how noisy it had got with people completely ignoring the safety directions – given that there were plenty of opportunities to get lost or fall foul of the course they were really doing themselves a disfavour by being so rude.

The start was a mass stampede across the rugby pitch and onto a gravel trail which followed around the Loch. As soon as we came out of the sheltered tree-lined rugby pitches we were buffeted by some stiff wind and I decided that I would not be hanging around on this course and wanted to get back in the warm s soon as possible. I hadn’t set out with a goal in mind, but wanted to do the course faster than last year’s 2:07 and give my legs a good blast on the nice downhill heading back to Forfar.

Mile 1 – 8:51
Mile 2 – 8:46
Mile 3 – 9:07

I ran behind Claudia for a while as I settled into my pace and the field spread out. The first four miles are on road before you turn on to a mile on farm track with deep puddles all the way. Many runners attempted to run around the puddles or along the raised edges of the tracks but just like last year I charged straight down the path as the crow flies and climbed several places in the field by not caring if my feet got wet. At least the puddles weren’t coated with an inch thick crust of ice like last year.

Mile 4 – 9:02
Mile 5 – 9:26
Mile 6 – 9:37

Mile 5 had a long muddy hill, where I was very grateful to be wearing trail shoes (my Salomon Speedcross 3s) and mile 6 took us back on road to the one water stop and another turn off to another muddy trail which lead us past the fragrant landfill site to the second water obstacle of the day. It presented itself as the ideal opportunity to rinse off your shoes and mud-splattered race, either that or it was an ice bath about an hour too early; but once again we waded through 400m of very cold water which got progressively deeper up to just above the knee on me. Last year it was to the upper thigh and the water was full of sharp, shattered ice; so it wasn’t obvious, but it was a pleasant improvement.

Mile 7 – 9:07
Mile 8 – 10:15
Mile 9 – 10:32

The route continues to skirt around the outside of town until it went through to the back of an unassuming housing estate til we reached the foot of the Balmashanner hill. The path was gravelly and steep, and it got steeper until I slowed to a powerwalk and pushed myself to the top, where there were beautiful views right across to the lower Cairngorms which were covered in snow. Mysteriously it was raining at the top of the hill, so as I crested it and began the fast decent I caught quite a refreshing shower right in the face from the wind.

Mile 10 – 12.26
Mile 11 – 8.39
Mile 12 – 9.11
last 0.68mi – 5.50 (course was short)

It was downhill all the way to the bottom of the hill and on back to the town. I started to push at about 10.5 miles and began overtaking those up ahead who had lost pace. I had one satisfying moment when I overtook a guy and about 20 seconds later he decided he wasn’t going to have any of that, and sped up to re-take his place in front of me. He couldn’t hold the pace though and as I drew level with him I pushed a touch harder and he kept up for a bit until I burned him out and dropped him.

The most unpleasant part of the race was running along the bottom of a freshly ploughed field. The ground was so unstable that it felt very treacherous on the ankles and my legs were all over the place. We finally reached the industrial park next to the rugby club and I knew the finish was near; I wasn’t sure if they would have extended the course to make it a true 13.1 miles though so I didn’t get my hopes up. The nearer I got to the rugby pitches I more I realised it was going to be quite short of 13.1 miles again, but I couldn’t have cared less. I worked hard right to the finish line and cruised in happy with my race, and very happy to have taken 7 minutes off last year’s time.

The finish was the most low key ever, with one or two spectators and some officials. The only people I knew at the race were still out on the course so I didn’t hang around and just went straight to the changing rooms to clean up, excitedly thinking of the spread of food which awaited. If I could have changed one thing about the race it would be to have water available at the finish line. It’s not a huge deal, but being able to have a drink when you’ve just emptied yourself on two hours of running is lovely – I was very glad to have had the presence of mind to pack some Powerade in my bag to chug.

Cleaned and changed I hit the bar and was faced with trestle tables groaning with every type of sandwich and cake imaginable, and nine, yes; NINE different types of soup. I take it back Forfar Road Runners – I don’t care about water, I’ll rehydrate with your Broccoli and Stilton soup and a pint of lager any day of the week.

So yet again another stellar day out in Forfar. It was lovely to speak to some readers over the course of the day, and most people I knew seemed to have great runs. In the end the weather was perfect and a rare dry day in the ocean of torrential rain we’ve had lately. This weekend sees a 24 mile 5-peak hill run out at Banchory with a gang of Stonehaven runners and some Aberdeen friends and the forecast is absolutely abhorrent. Between rain, snow and swollen rivers; forget the trail shoes – I’m packing my flippers.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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April

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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’.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!