Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Sabbaticals & Studying

I've already mentioned to a few people and putting it out there in public will help support my in my choice.

In 2019 I'm having a sabbatical.  From 'racing'.  Not from training, just 'racing'.

A number of things have changed in the last year, and things are set to change further.  Now is as good a time as any to shake a few things up, and to try exploring some avenues that are opening up as a result of having to make some fundamental changes in the way life works right now.

The internet is full of 'inspiring' quotes about change and I could fill this blog full of romantic notions of finding the 'real me' and blah blah.  It's not really about that.  More a time to take a chance, to learn something new, whilst also focusing on overcoming some of the training/body/emotional challenges that I've had over the last year.

On top of the already written about challenges, compounding in some of the recent WHW race 'issues', my 'day job' is changing location, and I'll need to commute to Glasgow city center several times a week, compared to my current 10 minute easy drive each way.  

An exciting change for the business, and a clear marker in the long term future.  But a total pain in the b*lls (if I had any) for fitting the life balance around it!  And that life is important.  To me, and my mental and physical well-being.  I've found the process of consultation, decision making and change very tiring and stressful, and it's made me question a lot of things about what I'm doing and where I want to be, and whether I'm taking steps to achieve any of those things.  The re-location is making a lot of people much happier, much better off, and giving them all that time that I am going to lose.  I can see how excited they are, and that compounds some of how challenging it could be.  I'm also losing a couple of really good people from my team - those who know exactly what they are doing, are great sounding boards and generally damn good people.  Yes, I've recruited new people, who will be great...that will take time.... and fresh blood can bring new ideas.

You can't keep overloading without something having to give.  And as a guest on a podcast I was listening to this week said..."I just had to sit down"....

Just so happens some of my sitting down might be like the above image.  I've signed up to do a 12 month (part time) yoga teacher training course at Merchant City Yoga in Glasgow.  You can change many things in life, changing yourself is one of them.  I'll be starting a separate blog about my maybe yogi journey and I won't be giving up the running completely - running to train, for physical and mental well-being, to decompress and to continue to enjoy the hills!

Next up I have what's becoming an annual August trip to Chamonix - this year running the new 'wee' race, the MCC and I'm looking forward to 40km and 2,300m of happy trails, before a week of watching the big boys and girls do the 'main events'.  I've also got the Ring of Steall in September to challenge my mountain trail skills.

So much to only get one shot!

Thursday, 5 July 2018

R E S P E C T (and '3 is the magic number')

Let's start with the positives! 

The Goblet!
I'm now the proud owner of 3 West Highland Way Race goblets.  Out of something like 237 starters, I was one of the 198 who finished this year!

Only 1,298 people have officially completed the WHW Race (since 1985 on the official results), and only 209 have done it 3+ times. So whatever I say later, I am still rightly proud deep down of my achievements, and I will run again.....(I'll leave this open to interpretation of whether I mean run WHW race again, given I said on many occasions 'never again')!

Descent from JBH
The Charity!
I've raised a staggering amount - over £2,600 (with £1k coming from funds matched by my employer Edrington-Beam Suntory) for Brake, the road safety charity.  To read more about it please click here.

This was a huge motivation for my eventual completion of the race. I ran under number 17, in memory of Gregor being only 17, and had my sister-in-law support run with me from Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe (although when I say run.....).  That's us pictured above at BoO, with our personalised vests which were very generously designed and donated by David Murdoch from Forth Valley Promotions

The Crew!
Helen and John (photo credit Clark Hamilton)
It's no secret that crew are one of the most important factors in your race, and once again they played a massive role in my completion. Clark once again in charge of support vehicle, food and kit; John in charge of ass kicking; Helen responsible for hand holding and emotional support; and this year, Adrienne as mentioned above taking a support runner shift.  John deserves special mention for picking up an 'extra shift' when everything was going even more pear-shaped at Auchtertyre, so he ground out an extra 10 miles more than planned to get me to BoO! This is one of those selfless gifts that you can never say thanks enough to someone.

The only runner to have a sit down at
 Jelly Baby Hill apparently!  Bowmore for
Murdo the Magnificent!
The Family!
It should go without saying that the organisation and family feel of the WHW make it what it is.  It's a special event in many ways and rightly holds a very strong hold on my, and many peoples, hearts and souls.  The commitment of all the race committee, volunteers and everyone involved in any way is just exceptional.  I lost count of the number of people who offered words of support and amazement throughout the weekend, and also before and after the event!

7 miles to go photobooth!  Photo credit Heather (I think)

It's also worthy of huge mention to Nicola Stuart in particular, who picked me up (along with Claire Allan and Chuck and probably some others I blinded with my torch) when I fell (more on this below), and also sacrificed some of her progress stopping to help, and then walk with me when I puked at about mile 45....


There were mistakes.....

A threefold issue here - respect for the race, for the crew and for myself.  

While I did the training and (mostly) followed the plan, I don't think I gave it the full focus it deserved this year for a number of reasons.  The short version is around bereavement and work, meaning I had 'excuses' to not sort out my diet, my head was quite often not in the right place, and this resulted in me standing on the start line the best part of a stone heavier than when I last ran it in 2015. There is no hiding place when you are trying to run 95 miles and almost 15k ft of ascent (not to mention the descents!), and this year I just couldn't get the fear factor high enough to get everything aligned.  In previous years, I've gone on 'the wagon', lost weight and given up caffeine.  None of this happened.  So that's not giving the race the respect it deserves...which also ties into not being respectful to the crew.

Smiles hiding the pain.  I was on verge of DNF here. Photo
credit Lorna Maclean.
I didn't execute anything that looked remotely like a race 'plan' on the day.  And I'd been full of procrastination and not actually really written much of a plan before-hand...on the basis I was going to pack light, and not be a diva....and the crew know me, and the race well enough to know what I should need/do.  None of the crew were expecting to be supporting me for a finish time closer to 30 hours, and when it all started going wrong for me, that plays with my head, making it another chip in the armour.

Respect for myself... this year could have been the perfect year for a PB.  The weather was a bit on the warm side (but hey, with all that hot yoga I must be able to handle the heat, no?), but all the markers were there for a good run. Dry trail, clear skies, very few midgies....  All the points mentioned above, I feel I didn't give myself the respect and best chance to execute well.... have I 'missed my go'?

Coming into Balmaha (14 miles post-fall)
The Fall!
Five miles in and I throw myself at the mercy of the trail (while thinking 'this terrain is tricky in the dark at 2am in the morning, take it easy'). 

It hurt.  A lot!  

The photo doesn't do it justice, and now almost 2 weeks later my right knee is scabby, bruised and doesn't bend.  It took almost a week after the race for me to weight bear on it.  Left knee and both feet are also bruised.

Nicola, Claire and Chuck picked me up and asked if I was ok to carry on.  I think my reply was 'I just have to'.  Partly because I'm a stubborn bugger, and moreso because I knew the sponsorship was reliant on a finish.  And how was I going to explain to Adrienne that she wasn't getting a run in honor of her boy?

The adrenaline gave me a kick and I tried to run along with Nicola and Claire for a while, zoning into their 'Love Island' chat to distract me!

The sickness!
I can hear John Munro reading this now and going 'you were only bloody sick once woman, quit bleating on about it...'.

My first EVER mid-race puke! On the roller coaster before Auchtertyre.  I'd been feeling grim for a while and there had been a lot more walking than running.  I was already WAY behind any schedule (even based on my previous completion times) and everytime I tried to push on, my body was shutting down. I'd felt 'better' after a Mars Bar and 'pint' of Fanta at Inversnaid, and managed a wee lip-wet of The Macallan when visiting Dario's post, followed by some Red Bull and various snacks at Beinglas, but nothing was giving me enough of a boost.  I'd been fuelling not too bad, and taking plenty of fluids, but something just wasn't working.  

Tiredness, nausea and heat(stroke?) resulted in a wee (not even a tactical) puke just as Nicola caught up with me again (apologies to the walkers I was just passing), and she very generously walked me up and down most of the roller-coaster, chatting away to distract me, until we reached the final descent and I told her to carry on without me, for fear of her losing any more time due to my pathetic state!

For the rest of the race, I moaned (a lot) about being sick/feeling sick, whilst trying to shovel milkshakes (thanks John!), Mugshots, fruit pastilles, licorice allsorts and everything else in.  The toast and tea at Kinlochleven was lush!  

Most of it didn't result in any great performance improvements, and I went through several spells of 'balance issues' where I would mostly just keel over (mostly to the right) and end up sitting in the heather.  No idea what the cause of this was.  My ascending on the Devil's Staircase was appalling....I redeemed myself a little on the KLL climb (and then across Lairig had something of a brief resurrection and passed quite a few people along with what felt like a 4 mile 'sprint' finish down the fire road! Maybe the wee snifter of Glengoyne John gave me there was the reason!). Mostly anything involving up was an issue, which isn't ideal given the terrain ha ha!

Having just looked at the splits though, I still managed to gain places at most checkpoints.. and you can see the benefits of my performance when I have a support runner!

Overall Position Section Position
Balmaha 191 191
Rowardennan 183 172
Beinglas 183 180
Auchtertyre 181 174
Bridge of Orchy 177 167
Glencoe 175 167
Kinlochleven 169 166
Lundavra 161 126
Fort William 152 106

The Aftermath!
When it's all said and done, I go back to the start of this blog - I got the goblet, I raised the money, I'm still here.  John said something to me afterwards (well, one of the many things along with confirming most of my opinion that I f*cked up a tad) that 'you're a real veteran of WHW now you've had a sh&tty one'. 

I am still disappointed with myself, but it's not just about feeling sorry for the race day, it's about the choices that could have been made in the months before.  I've never had to combat some of the emotional challenges I've faced in that period though, so sometimes you just cannot tell how things will pan out.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Time Warp!

It’s just a jump to the left……..and then a step to riiiiiiiight….

It’s now 7 weeks since race day and I’ve run about 20 miles.   Interesting…..  I haven’t actually felt much like running which is weirder than a weird thing, and in all honesty haven’t done a whole heap of anything else.  My body is telling me a thing or two.  And I’m listening.

Physically nothing was ‘broken’ by the race.  The fatigue was pretty immense and I think it’s still lingering.  I took the rest of the week after Chamonix to potter around, a few days up on the Moray Coast with Clark having some #vanlife.  And then back to work.  This was good and bad in equal measure and allowed me to process some more thoughts about the race as I relived my tale through the questions and congratulations from colleagues. 

I stopped saying so many bad words and allowed myself some more realisation and kudos for what I had achieved. 

I’ve allowed myself to be harsh about the frustrating race weather, but accepting that I’d trained a lot in rain and bog, so actually this could have been a blessing. 

I’ve allowed myself to acknowledge the points I may have quit, and then to respect myself for carrying on.

I’ve allowed myself to stop saying never again, and started adjusting the longer term plans with ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe I could’.

I’ve watched friends who ran at Chamonix continue to train, some to race, and I’ve tempered my self-doubting by accepting I don’t need or want to train yet.

And I’ve done an increasing handful of yoga classes, and noticed the impact of these on the post-race me, and appreciated the signs this has given me about how my recovery is going.

I also treated myself to a yoga weekend retreat with Heat Fitness which was heavenly, and I hope to be able to do something similar again next year.  I was inspired to stop eating so much crap, and managed to detox with no caffeine, booze, added sugar and lots of healthy veggie meals all weekend (thanks Jules!).  Some of these things I am trying to keep going!

This week was going to be the week I gave myself a boot up the ass……I so now however have man-flu.  And had another work trip.  I’ve been away every week of the last 7.  That’s the job, and it’s great to be getting out to see customers and do what I do, but the travelling does impact on health and time and general ability to eat well, sleep well and not get stressed.  

Oh, and I stepped on the scales. Pahahahahahaha.

It is what it is.

Hopefully by the weekend, the snotters and exploding brain will be gone, and I’ll get some fresh air, some exercise and back on track!  With 2 potential races lined up for next year, it’s time to get this show on the road!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

"There will be weather"

It's been a long time coming this write up, and I'm hugely proud and thankful to be in the position for it to be a success story.  The hard graft has been worth it - it's not just all about the gilet, although essentially that's the physical outcome, along with the aches, pains and glory!

Physically and mentally, this race has been eating away at me for the last 3 years - with a DNF in 2015, and a fail in the ballot in 2016, this was the year I had wanted to make it count, and it has eaten into my soul almost every waking hour, especially these last 8 months.  Every day had to count - would decisions take me closer to, or further away, from my goal?

Getting through the ballot was just the start - and with CCC having a 50:50 chance, and my prior year ballot rejection meaning a 'double shot', the odds were pretty good. The wait is always nerve-wracking though.  And then the work begins - breaking the enormity and timeline into manageable chunks, and getting a realistic, stretching and achievable training plan in place. Being married to a PT helps here, but only when you're actually prepared to listen and do the sessions (and yes, that means the speedwork too!). 

So to fast forward a bit (those who have read my Fling blog will know that the training worked that far), the summer consisted of a lot of yomping in the Scottish munros, in mostly questionable Scottish weather - some of this was fun (double Ben Lomond's), some less so (Ben More!!), yet each had a role to play in taking me closer to my goal.  And little did I know at the time that the inclement conditions would prove more beneficial than ever expected!

The speedwork dialled back a little, and mid-week hills were added,supplemented most weeks by 2 hours of hot yoga (helps with the potential heat acclimatisation, in addition to strength and flexibility), and some strength work in the gym (again following a programme Clark wrote for me, covering upper body/core/lower body as appropriate).  One of the hard things to get your head round is the lack of training miles covered - we were out for 6-8 hours some days and covered less than half-marathon in most cases!  It's all about the vert!

And I pretty much nailed all the training I needed to do.  There's always a wee part of you that wants to fit more in, but when you're trying to hold down a full-time job, do some sports massage, sleep, be a little bit sociable, and try not to be an entirely sh!t wife, you can't have utopia all the time!  And it certainly required sacrifice, and a lot of early mornings.

Oh,and on top of that, I also managed to fit 6 sessions in the climate chamber at Napier Uni into the plan - increased altitude, heat and humidity across the course of a month, again, trying to mitigate any of the things that might cause me grief on race day!

About a month before the race, I got a tick bite after a weekend run on Ben Ledi.  Having got the little bugger out quickly, it was only a concern 2 days later when I'd felt sicky and dizzy, and the puncture wound showed the tell-tale bullseye signs that things weren't right. Seeking a quick bit of advice from WHW medic Sean, I scuttled off to the GP's and got put straight on 2 weeks of antibiotics.  Hopefully that did the trick, although still in the final week or so before heading out to Chamonix I was feeling tired and headachy, and I'm hoping that was just taperitis, and the fighting off of all the lurgies everyone around me seemed to have, and not anything lingering.  Post-race I'm still feeling like that,and again, hoping it's recovery related and not Lyme's disease brewing!  So anyway, that meant tapering was a bit more abrupt than planned, as I also had to fit a work trip to London for 3 days into my final week!

And so to Chamonix, on the Monday morning Easyjet flight, along with the company of several other runners and supporters - that's one of the great things about this event - a really strong and decent group of folk going over, so you know you'll get good company at every turn.  It always seems to take longer than I expect to finally get there - with flight delays, bus transfers etc, it was 'tea time' before Julie and I were meeting Helen and John at our apartment.                                                                                                                                 
Over the next couple of days, the plan was to get high (making use of the chair lift passes),and do some touristy stuff (namely for me, to get to Lac Blanc, which we did on Wed)....and to not fall over!  I had a wee run on the Tuesday with John from Plan d'Aguille to Montroc just to test the legs (which seemed unnecessarily achy), and that was it.  Weather was good, and it was nice to be in skort/vest for a change!  It was also lovely to catch up with many other friends (Karen, Dod, David, Mel etc), and also get some time with the legendary Bob Allison, who gave me several pieces of great advice (especially regarding the weather), and confidence, which I carried with me on race day.  Bob has now completed the full UTMB 5 times, along with many other great achievements, and also summitted Mont Blanc only a week before the race - a true inspiration of not letting  'health issues' stand in your way! What was really hard with the race not being until Friday was to not get sucked into the 'I'll just have another wee beer'....                                                                     
Wednesday was also registration day - well, day 1 of...and I wanted to get through it then to allow for any errors to be corrected on Thursday if necessary!  It's a daunting task of making sure you have every item on the compulsory kit list, which you get a random print out demanding you show it (and in the case of jackets, this year they were checked several times!), and only when you succeed are you rewarded with your race number and wrist band!  Caroline and I went together - safety in numbers!  And Julie came along to see this side of the race organisation!

Tiring couple of days,and with the weather closing in on Thursday, it was time to entrench on the sofa and try to relax, rest, and stop worrying about sore bits.  I have to say, I was proper stressed by this point, and had a couple of wee emotional moments to myself.  Partly caused by the increased weather stress and the text from the organisation saying they were potentially going to change the route, then not, and then in the end they did!  It was all due to safety, as even with the full compulsory kit, being high up the mountains in a storm is not a clever place to be!  I went out to try and watch some of the OCC runners, and it was all a wee bit too much for my nerves, so hid away again and tried to just nap.

And so,with an early night while my house mates were all still out, it was race day before I knew it!  I'd laid all my kit out and tried to creep around without waking anyone. It felt really weird not having a wee 'good luck' or hug to see me off, but it was the wee small hours of the morning, and I was meeting Caroline to share the bus journey to Courmayeur and the pre-race stress! While I was anxious, Caroline was totally calm, aside from worrying about getting cold (something which unfortunately ended her race earlier than hoped).  The bus ride was quicker than I remembered, and we soon disembarked in Italy, where we were met with almost clear skies, and the unexpected promise of far nicer weather than we had anticipated.  We chilled out in the sports center for about an hour and then headed up to the start.
The atmosphere was electric as 9am drew closer (drones and race helicopters flying overhead and the comperes whipping the crowds into a frenzy).  By chance Caroline and I were both in the first start pen with the first wave (along with a friend of Caroline's, Ben, who moved way up closer to the front, while we hung nearer the back (this was after all the same start pen as the elite!!)).  This proved to be hugely beneficial to me, as I had no 'need to catch up' stress I had felt in 2015, and there were fewer bottle-necks than I'd had in this section in 2015.  'All' I had to do was make up up this first (b*starding) climb without dying and then I'd truly feel like I was on my way, and beating the demons that have haunted me for the last two years. In 2015 I DNF'd at the summit.

This was the 1300m climb up Tete de la Tranche over the first 10k of the race.....and I nailed it!  Taking time to breathe (a wise man (John Munro) had text me before the race with the advice to be 'patient' with the climbs) and step aside when I needed to (not through death, just to get composure and let some of the narky European's through (I really must learn some French/Spanish/Italian!)).  It was just over 3 hours of climb, with increasing temperatures, and I felt ecstatic at the it was time for me to really begin the journey!  The views here were amazing (I didn't take any photos!), a real privilege to run in.

As the story would go for most of the day, on climbs I felt pretty strong and in control; on descents, the majority of runners have some sort of kamikaze death wish (especially in the dark, on the technical and exceptionally muddy descents later in the race!).  The other sound advice/interpretation of my 'fear' of descending that I'd had pre-race was to 'respect' the mountains. So between patience and respect, those were my mantras for the 25.5 hours!  

Poles (Leki Micro-carbon) were a god-send, as were my shoes (Altra King MT).  Overall my whole kit choice was pretty great.  I opted for my Salomon S-Lab skort and vest, X-Bionic arm sleeves, Compressport calf sleeves, DryMax socks, and Runderwear undies.  My UltimateDirection jacket was brilliant, and my OMM waterproof trousers certainly stood the test (this was the first time I've run any great distance in them).  I took an Icebreaker 260 merino long sleeve which I put on at Champex (more on this shortly), and also carried a Rab down gilet and Salomon long tights (neither of which I wore (long tights were compulsory, gilet was a safety add based on my fear of the impending cold!)).  I chose my new UTMB skip visor and Buff headband to give me motivation (always feels weird wearing race kit you haven't 'earned'!).

So, back to the race....down into Bertone (where last time signified the tears/official withdrawal), passing one guy who had a nasty fall....stay upright, stay upright..... and a smile for the camera (just in case anyone was watching the live feed).  I lost about 74 places on the descent LOL.  A plethora of coke, coffee, noodle soup, snack bars, biscuits.... very hard to get in and out quickly but I did my best, stocked up my Tailwind and yomped out, swigging the last of my coffee and having a chat with another British guy who was waiting on his mates faffing around.  The race numbers all have your name and national flag which makes it easier to strike up a chat, and many of us were also wearing the labels they gave us for our backs with similar flag/name (these should be compulsory!).  

The next section, again very beautiful, with HUGE mountains, was pretty runable, and by now the crowds had thinned so it was easy just to trot along and mostly pass/be passed with ease.  7km to Refuge Bonatti taking about 1hr 25m and gaining back almost 40 of the lost places.  As I made my way up the climb to the checkpoint I hear my name being called out - "Wow, someone has good eye-sight" I was thinking that they were reading my race number, only to realise it was Carrie Craig out supporting!  Great to see a friendly face and get some chat (whilst quaffing more coke), before pushing onto the next stage (and blessed with the realisation that the next big climb wasn't actually coming next!).  One of the really useful things the race also do is put a huge board up at each checkpoint saying where you are, where next checkpoint is, the cut-offs, profile, distance and ascent/descent. This was great to get your head in place for the next section.

About another hour of decent trail through the valley (only 5km) and a drop down into Arnouvaz checkpoint,which was a bit manic, with people shoving a little, like the noodle soup was going to run out! I tried again to get out of here swiftly (and got started on the soup), and the stats show I made up another 46 places (probably people lost in the food fight!).  Weather still good, although wind was picking up a little.

And so the climb starts, and the clouds start to close in....  We had 14km to the next checkpoint and a massive climb up Grand Col Ferret (about 800m ish).  I actually LOVED this climb!  The temperature dropped and we got some 'proper Scottish' weather (including hail).  All around me,runners were donning waterproofs, thermals and woolly hats.....I went up in skort, vest, arm sleeves...only putting on my thin gloves at the top ("Welcome to Switzerland" announced the cheery marshal, thick in the cloud!!).  Later as we approached La Fouley, I was chatting to a girl who said I was 'proper nails' for going across in my vest!  I seriously felt fine!!  I gained 84 places on the climb, and a further 41 on the drop to La Fouley which was interesting!  What I found in a few sections though was guys running the downhills and then walking the flatter runable bits (which I ran!).

La Fouley was another baptism in checkpoints.  There had been no views, and rain on/off all the way down so things were getting a bit dreary.  It was only 18:15 when I got there, and I'd not been expecting to have to consider a head-torch until at least the next checkpoint. However, it was a melee of people strapping theirs on, so I figured I should follow suit!  I also put my waterproof on as the rain was picking up.  In all I did a decent job getting through in 14 minutes, and off onto the long tarmac runable section....hadn't expected this at all!  Got chatting to another British guy (I'm going to pretend he was called Tom), and chatted about future plans (both considering Cape Wrath in 2020), and the state of skiing at Cairngorm...this really helped pass the time, although I lost him when the climb started again.  'Interesting' section this one, because after long descent down the tarmac (not sure but could've been 10km of the 14km), suddenly a glimpse of Champex-Lac high, high,high above us, giving clear indication of the impending (b!tch (Helen's word!)) of a climb we had to do to reach it!  Up, up, up in a wee convoy of bodies...everyone of us with a headtorch adorning our heads, and everyone of us seemingly not wanting to switch theirs on until we REALLY had to near the top, when suddenly BOOM it was dark, too dark to see!!  And then a scuttle into the war-zone that is the Champex checkpoint!  Holy moly!!

So, we're 55km in...kind of half-way...and it's like I've stepped into another universe! I've also made up quite a few places (although I think LOTS of folk dropped out here)! A marquee which was who knows how massive, full to bursting with a hugely efficient food service of everything from fruit segments to pasta (big queue though), TV screens announcing your arrival to any crew you might have (who are sectioned into the back until you're there), a Garmin charging team, and probably seating for 400 runners in varying states of competency, and from every nation across the world!  You could easily get lost here - I likened it to a refugee camp - and I lost about 40 minutes here (it was hard to find a seat, queue, fight off people skipping the queue etc, and also needed to get long sleeved, warm, dry kit on, charge Garmin, text Clark for some support).  What I also didn't appreciate was during my time here that the downpour had dialled up to nuclear, so when I finally started to make my way out, I had to back track to don my waterproof trousers and Marigolds (lifesavers! Properly waterproof!!).  We forget how lucky we are with the Scottish races where everyone knows you, you have drop bags with your favourite food, a 'left-overs' table to browse, and the 'support' to kick your ass back out onto the trail quickly!

I was now onto territory I'd been on before - last August on a recce with Dave Hetherington. I knew the scale of the climb/descent to come although I'd only done it in the daylight/heat! Things started to take much longer now, and in hindsight I probably wasn't fuelling as well as I could for the remainder of the race, or maybe not getting the caffeine balance right. Learning points for the future!

Climb,climb,climb up Bovine where you can see the headtorches way way above your head, probably an hours climb above you.  It was properly wet, and getting cold.  I could see my breath and feel my throat and lungs burn with the cold.  The raspy cough started, and a couple of times I stopped to let a convoy of people pass (I suspect they were pacing behind me, but I didn't need the company). And the mud.  Again the poles and shoes were priceless.  But I would come to despise the mud over the next 13 hours.  Thick, gloopy, and pre-mushed by probably 3,000+ OCC/CCC runners before me!

I'd half thought the checkpoint would be at Bovine,although it wasn't...there was a further stretch and start of descent before the glimmer of music wafted to my ears and the sound of a generator?!  I convinced myself I was delusional, however the barn at La Giete appeared, with a chance for a short rest, some 'soup' (no noodles!) before slippy, sloppy, slidey down to Trient.  I also made up over 100 places on this section,despite more kami-crazies trying to wipe me out (not sure it was a bonus or curse that I knew how steep some of the drops were on this section!!)

Trient.  I'm sure Dave Hertherington told me the race stops here.  I should text him?  I should just stop?  I seriously cannot face any more of that god-awful mud! The portaloo's here were immaculate (time for a luxury pee and wee rest before hitting the 'mess tent').  I dropped my Garmin here to be recharged too, removing that layer of stress (well, changing it slightly as they still weren't any faster!).  Less carnage here, more soup/coffee/cheese..and a breakout of the emergency Mrs Tilly's fudge.  In reality I didn't know what I needed, and was losing the motivation to find a seat/move/what to do. It has taken FOREVER to get here.  People seemed to just be sitting around with no expectation of moving.  That's when you get cold though...I don't want to be cold...grab some coffee...move on....  Damn, Garmin hasn't really charged much...wait a couple more minutes and then bite the bullet...outta here....

Two minutes out of the checkpoint and the headtorch flutters.....BATTERIES!  A wee seat on the tarmac and change the rechargable for 'normals', then march on....try to get away from the girl with her phone app announcing pace/distance/time etc every kilometer....

More up, up, up and headtorches (and actual stars) high, high,high above me.  Again a climb I've been on.  Just get it done.  Cough, cough, yomp, patient.... and finally a wee glowing pod of a checkpoint comes into sight. I treated myself to a wee nano rest as it had been about 1.5 hours of climb on this stretch with no respite...and little did I expect but another 2 hours to the next checkpoint through the section from hell!! Not sure if the headtorch or my brain was failing here but the nausea was growing.  I changed torch but still couldn't get good focus.  The mud.....(refer to previous statement about how grueling it was), the gradient, the switchbacks, the dark (when would it end), the technicality of the terrain, the kami-crazies (lost some places again), did I need to eat or drink or have caffeine?.....WHERE THE F^CK IS THE CHECKPOINT??  Vallorcine came into sight and then vanished (this shouldn't have been a surprise), and still I was thinking Dave H was probably right to have ended his race at Trient on a couple of occasions. 

My head was definitely down here (I don't even need to review the checkpoint video to know I didn't even try and crack a happy face).  But with 'only' a half-marathon to go there was no question of pulling the plug here!  I tried to force some food in, and a British guy supporting someone else gave me a couple of pep talks, which despite my vacant grunting replies (oh, I may have said something bad about the f&cking mud) I really appreciated.  Tried to charge the Garmin a bit (proved to not be enough in the end), and definitely didn't take on enough fuel here before pushing on. Still in full waterproofs and headtorch, and intrigued to know what the next section with the course deviation would bring.  I made some more places between here and Col De Montet and suspect this is maybe due to a poor job in the Vallorcine checkpoint.

At the Col carpark, and checkpoint, and start of the climb,it was time to start peeling some kit off in various stages.  Partly I was too hot...and it wasn't actually raining anymore...and it was daylight so didn't need the torch.....and also, when I'd visualised my race finish, it didn't comprise of pictures of me in full waterproofs, thermals and covered in mud from the waist down!  Simple motivations!!

I appear to have lost a load of places on the climb to Flegere on this deviation route.  The initial climb was 'ok', however I slowly realised we hadn't gained enough height to be above Flegere when they started to drop us down what proved one of the most technical sections of the whole race (one of my fellow competitors referred to it as being punished for something we hadn't done, and I'm minded to agree!).  My fueling fail was catching up on me, and my sense of humor had gone AWOL.  

We reached the low point of the descent (and of my race) at a sign-post which said 1hr 40m to Flegere.  I tried to calculate the cut-offs.  I knew this was a hiking sign, and that 'usually' I can half the time and be at the destination.  In my exhausted state it was going to be a challenge.  I knew where I was - I'd been on this path with Helen earlier in the year - I knew it was going to be a big ask.  I should also have text Clark/Helen at this point as I knew I was taking longer than I should have.  I just couldn't face taking my phone out.

Others were sitting around having snacks at the side of the path....didn't they realise the enormity of this?!?  There were almost tears. I almost quit.   REALITY CHECK!!! There was no way I was going to give up without a fight - I'd push on and then fight my cause at the checkpoint if I needed to. I couldn't just give up less than 15km to the finish!!

We climbed, relentless, painful and slow.  When we emerged from the trees, there was a string of zombies shuffling into the cloud towards the checkpoint.  Keep. On. Moving.

More bodies sprawled in the tent.  I grabbed some coke and asked the lead marshal how long we had to get to the finish....'Ah....not good.....maybe hour and half.....'.  BOOM, no problem I said, I can do it in less than that.  And with a toss of my coke into the dirt I was off. Girl on a mission.  In hindsight, I suspect he was a little mean with his answer, as it took me about 1hr 20m to get to the finish from here, and I was well (ish) within the cut-offs! Nevertheless, it pushed me on, and I got the job done.  It's a quad breaking descent, and La Floria seems to be way further than it should be. My stomach was crying out for food, and I only had a few nibbles left, which weren't appealing, but had to do.

The last wee bit of trail and I hear Helen yelling at me - woohooo!! I've made it (almost!).  I think I asked if she was there as they thought I'd got lost......  We set off along the tarmac to the town.  I needed to walk a few bits. My lungs were burning and my heart racing (too much caffeine?  or the knowledge I was on the brink?).  The course finish is special in that you get a decent lap around the town...coming in along the river, and then along the main street, passing the crowds of supporters, and those out just enjoying their breakfasts.  I like to think that being a bit slower than I'd maybe hoped meant more chance for supporters....hahahaha....

Helen took a wee short-cut to notify the troops I was alive, and to get my flag ready. It was awesome to see everyone's smiley faces to lift me...

And the crowds. WOW, just WOW!  I've been one of the crowd, but never the other side, and I can safely say, I never had a race finish like it.

I took the time to enjoy (one of Bob's pieces of advice was to lap it up, make sure you get some clear space, and to enjoy it).  

So I did!  

I waved my Saltire with pride, with the emotion of the 25.5 hours I'd been running for, with the emotion of the last 3 years, of the support I knew I was getting from home, and because I'D DONE IT!!!

Link to video of The finish!  

By the way - it's bloody hard to hold your flag up when your arms are so sore!!

I finished 1,484 of 2,155 starters.  With 413 DNFs there were 1,742 finishers.

It doesn't really matter what position.  My aim was a finish, and that's what I did!

The race was won by Hayden Hawks in 10hrs 24m.  I'm astounded by how people can cover it so fast!

I said a lot of bad words at the end to pretty much everyone who asked (and probably some who didn't).  It was horrendous and I really had to dig deep.  I really struggled with the technical descents in the dark in the mud (even though the weather being 'Scottish' was probably a bonus!).  


By the light of the next day, the world changes (and not just because the sun came out!).  It's not all just about what happens on race day.  It's a cliche but it's a journey.  You get back what you put in.  For me a HUGE part of this is about the training, the discipline and the focus on getting the result.  So it's not just about those 25.5 hours or the gilet.  It's the hundreds of hours, the thousands of feet climbing, the cross-training, the marginal gains so many elements of your life can contribute. And wrapped up in that, all the races on the way over the years that contribute to the 'points' needed to even enter the ballot.  I feel blessed to have been able to earn my points with Scottish races that very firmly hold tight onto my heart-strings!

It's about offsetting the stress of life, something that can be owned and to a certain extent controlled. My decisions, choices and trade offs. 

And around that the support network.  A husband who understands what it means and what it needs, who is prepared to accept those trade-offs and what some of the decisions mean. The friends who 'get it' (including those who will help you take your manky shoes and socks of death off post-race (thanks John!),listen to you gibber nonsense, and check you don't keel over in the shower (thanks Helen!)), and those who don't 100% understand, yet are interested enough to ask why/how/what and praise the progress they can see you are making.
I'm fitter and stronger than I think I've ever been, and hope/plan to sustain that!

So....never again.....until the next time......#Chamonix20XX......let's make some plans!

(note...I think I'm still in a state of shock, and definitely still in recovery....I reserve the right to be emotional, sleepy, confused.....just like normal ;-))

Monday, 1 May 2017

Secret Weapons

Approaching Rowardennan (Photo by Alan Robertson)
Saturday was my 5th year of participating in the 53 mile ultra The Highland Fling (Ding Ding), and the way things had been going was shaping up to be a good one. 

Training had been going well, and was consistent.  I'd been more disciplined in doing the speed sessions as well as the longer/hillier (more enjoyable!) stuff.  Improvements were being made.  I was, am, lighter, stronger and fitter than I have been for a long time.

With all that came some pressure, and 53 miles is a long way to try and set split times and goals for.  I tried not to let that get to me too much, and gave myself a challenging, hopefully achievable target PB of 11hrs 30m (my previous best was 11:38 and last year I was 11:48 (worst time 12:06)).  I also had the added bonus of it being a long time after the Fling until the CCC, so I could afford the efforts to push hard, without having to worry about speed of recovery for the next race!

The Fling is a well oiled machine, with everything slick and organised, right from entry, all communications and then the amazement of race day (with well over 200 volunteers on hand, ably led by Johnny Fling and Noanie). And an amazing goody bag - t-shirt, buff, prosseco, car sticker, medal.  AND free post race food with everything from the amazing tomato soup, to baked tatties and ice cream (oh...and beer!). There's really nothing to fault.

As it turned out, I had a great, if not spectacular day, and knocked the ball out of the park. Finishing with a sub-11 finish that I would never have dreamed possible!

Thinking about it during, and after, I've put together a wee list of my #secretweapons for yesterday's success!

Drymen Hill (photo by Michael Martin)
1. Start slow
This is always a tricky one, given the first 12 miles to Drymen is fairly 'easy'.  Looking at my previous times I was usually between 2hr 5m and 2hr 10m.  

This means an average pace of 10:30min/miles which is actually fairly swift for me over longer distances.  it's hard to not get caught up in the pace of others, and a couple of times I consciously took a step down in pace.  I was well aware that several around me were breathing hard, while I felt fairly relaxed and calm.  It's worth the slow start so later on you can make up time and pass people - that alone gives you strength in the final stages.  I don't know if anyone will publish the split times over the next few days and show the position at each, but I'm confident I went from pretty far back to gain many places for my finish position.

I also love eaves-dropping into the conversations on this stretch and hearing little snippets of people's lives and expectations (especially those who were looking for a close to cut off 15 hours as they sped past me!)

2. Carol Martin
Rowardennan drop bag scoff
(Photo by Sandra Beattie)
Carol is an awesome runner with a great history of completing epic events.  Her pacing is brilliant and she's really strong on the hills.  We paired up at Drymen (along with Sharon), and I hoped to try and hang on for a while, gaining from some of her experience, pacing, and great company. 

Carol is making a comeback from major injury, and was down-playing her aims for the day.  I fully expected her to finish ahead of me, as usual.  We were together until the climb after Rowardennan (having lost Sharon at Balmaha), at which point I had a wee burst of something that saw me pull away from Carol, Lucy and Donald (looking resplendent in his new 'naked' tank top!)

Photo by Monument Photos

3. Food
Mini Mars Bars, Haribo and Chedds Nibbles were the order of the day (the latter two come in small easy to swallow pieces!), supported by rice pudding, custard, a couple of SIS gels, coke, Red Bull (Beinglas) and Starbucks Espresso Shot (Inversnaid).  

Oh, and a wee snifter of Macallan, shared with Dario at the most beautiful part of the route.  I used Tailwind throughout (diluting it more as the day went on), and managed to keep eating and drinking regularly.

4. Marshals and support
Beinglas Marshals (Photo by Ally Thomson)
Kind words and a helping hand go a long way.  Having someone at the checkpoints who knows what it's like and instinctively takes your bottles to fill them, opens your drop bag and stuffs things into your pack, opens your cans/packets and feeds you stuff makes all the difference when you're starting to lose real thought.  Sometimes it's too easy to not know what you want and just leave it and move on, resulting in flagging energy which is hard to resolve. 

These folk make the race - Caroline Strain, a friend who was at Inversnaid with the Wee County team, and the girl at Beinglas (who's name I don't know) in particular made a big difference in getting me swiftly on my way.  I tried hard to not fanny around at the check-points this year - even sacrificing on several planned 'hugs' along the way (sorry Helen in particular!!)

5. Kit choices
I chose my kit well, and packed relatively light (for me!), ensuring I had the mandatory phone and bivvy bag (step up from the required foil blanket).  Just as well, given Stan was doing kit checks on the killer stairs after Sallochy, and I hear there were some disqualifications!  Quite right too - these items are not listed for a joke and could save lives. 

I didn't over-dress on the start line as it was already fairly mild (and the day did warm up quite a lot), and even having taken my arms sleeves off after Balmaha, I didn't struggle with the conditions, even during a few showers of rain.  The only improvement I could have made was more liberal application of BodyGlide and vaseline....there were a few sore bits in the shower on Saturday night and still today!

6. Following a training plan - it works!  Who knew?!
Conic (by Monument Photos)
Being married to a personal trainer has it's benefits....only if you actually listen, and follow the advice.  This year, I've been following the plan more diligently, including doing the evil speed-work sessions.  These hurt...and they're meant to.  They make you tougher, as well as faster, and that strength and suffering (all those times around the Carse in Bridge of Allan) played through yesterday, especially in my final 3 miles, when a random supporter said 'well done lass, you could get sub-11 if you're lucky'.  

Sub-11?!?!?  WT-actual-F?!?  While I knew I'd been ahead of target at previous checkpoints, I honesty wasn't looking at my cumulative time, and I'd only occasionally checked that my average pace was in line with getting to 11:30.  With 37 minutes to go at that point I knew it would be close.  Yes, it's relatively flat for those last 3 miles, however, when you've just done 50 hilly miles and 7,000 ft of climb, and you were suffering with knee pain and the start of cramps coming through 'the roller-coaster', it was always going to hurt.  Channeling how I feel in my speed sessions and knowing 'how' to suffer really helped me hit this new target - WOW!

7. Cross-training
I've blogged already this year about the hot yoga and the strength training.  I've probably bored anyone who would listen, and most of my sports massage clients telling them of the benefits that yoga has made, and combined with my early in the year gym sessions, I've gained muscle, and toned up.  I need to find more time to get myself into the gym more often now!  I can actually see muscles in my arms for a change!

I've also been getting a decent sports massage every 4 weeks without fail - eradicating any early signs of trauma and keeping the muscles fully functioning and relaxed!

8. Making life choices
Now we're getting to the really hard bit.  The things that make people think you're a bit weird.....  Early to bed, early to rise....making sacrifices to fit training into my life, and turning down nights out (bailing on a work night that included some actual work last week in order to go to bed, while everyone else completed the tasks, and enjoyed some lovely cocktails and food).  Cutting back on alcohol, snacking and cakes, and trying to be more organised with food choices.  I love food, I love cocktails and prosecco and all bubbles...and cheese.  Food is my nemesis (today I'm making up for it!)

9. Self-belief
There's no easy way to get this, and it's a trait most of the time I don't posses.  Yesterday something clicked and I thought it was in my grasp - the 11:30 more than what actually happened!  

As fortune falls, the same work event above that I bailed on the evening part, we had a motivational speaker - Stuart McInally who plays rugby for Scotland.  He uses a quote from Roosevelt in his session - The Man in the Arena, and I found this quite poignant, and due to the recency it stuck in my head throughout the day (well, that and Justin Bieber 'you should go and love yourself', for god only knows what reason!)

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

I also needed a big dose of swear words and telling myself to 'F-ing get on with it' when I thought my knee was caving in on the roller-coaster!

10. Amazing husband
Photo by Stuart McFarlane
None of this can happen without support.  You have to be disciplined and selfish, and this helps if you have someone who understands, who can pick up the pieces, and who knows how to keep them together, not just on race day, but all year round.  I was pleased to be able to give Clark something different to worry about yesterday by running great splits that made him worry when I went through Beinglas that he wouldn't make it to the finish in time. Ha ha - that's not a problem we have very often! 

And it was his face I was looking for (and his hand I'm holding below) as I did my final sprint down the red carpet (and he was as emotional as I was!)  He also writes a decent training plan, and does some kick-ass effective PT (for clients and on himself #incredibleshrinkingman)......if only I had time to do more!!
Emotional?  (Photo by Stuart McFarlane)

So, a grand day out, as always, and this year all the sweeter for the massive PB!  The training has paid off and I ran more of the route than I ever have, and the climbs, whilst some/most of them still hurt, were definitely 'easier' than I think they ever have been. 

53.2 miles / 7,000 feet ascent

Chip time : 10 hours 56 minutes 06 seconds (12:23 min/miles)
Drymen 2:05:47 
Rowardennan 5:09:16 
Beinglas 8:25:31

Finish position 208/681
Women 33/189
F40 Age Category 12/78

Roll on 2018 when I hope to successfully get through the ballot again, and, with my heart hoping for a WHW place next year too, a different plan for #FlingRace2018.

Thanks to Johnny Fling, Noanie and everyone who makes this race so special!