Glenmore 12 – round and round we go again.

More of an 11 hour woodland walk and a one hour dash around a field.

A couple of weeks before the race I picked up an injury at the John Lucas Memorial Relay. It was still bothering me a week later and I had to turn back just half a mile into our Jedburgh recce and revert to vehicular support person. I didn’t run again in the week up to the race but I did do a bit of cycling including 19 miles for Cycle to Work Day on the Thursday before. I went for a massage and I hoped things would come right on race day.

We headed up on Friday, this year I had my mum’s motorhome and no intention of being cold like last year. The Ems would arrive on Saturday morning and my perfect, repeat support crew would be complete. It turns out if you’re a nice runner who minds their P’s and Q’s your support crew is willing to come back for a repeat performance.

I messed about a bit, had a wee shot on the mechanical bull and didn’t make the party until most sensible folk had gone to bed. There is no photographic evidence of my outfit…

Not my best look, granted!

Not my best look, granted!

On Saturday morning it was lovely to see lots of familiar faces including some of my local training buddies who were having their first taste of an ultra in the relay but I was a bit subdued in the run up to the race – I saw the worried looks on my crew’s faces as they gave me extra hugs before the off. The thing was, I was a bit worried too.

I’d had high hopes for this race, I’d been keen to break 50 miles but so far my year had been somewhat blighted by niggly injuries and training had not been the best.

I was right to worry, within the first two miles said injury was already causing a problem. I tried stretching out my hamstring and calf and Helen Munro asked me if I was OK but answered the question herself with, “no, you’re not OK.”

I decided to walk and see how I got on, but I knew the reality was that a PB was out of reach on this day and with this injury. I walked a while with Helen and Heather, saw Amanda and Gordon at the water stop before continuing to plod up the hill. Amazingly I managed to pick up a jog on the downhill although it was nothing compared to how I flew down it last year. I’d been thinking of pulling out but the thought of how far my crew had travelled to be there for me made me want to push on – sod it, if I had to walk for 12 hours then I had to walk for 12 hours. Amazingly the second lap felt better and I decided I’d be able to keep going a bit longer and whilst I was walking a lot more than the previous year I wasn’t only walking.

I had ups and downs over the day. I had great support from other runners on the course, and once they knew I was having a painful day they were even more encouraging every time they saw me. The official photographer fell into step with me for a bit as I told her of my woes – she never failed to give me encouragement every time I saw her.

I saw the competition at the front of both the 12 and 24 hour races unfolding in front of me as the runners lapped me time and again – without fail everyone that ended up with a podium place passed the time of day with me and gave me encouragement to carry on. My friend James Stewart¬†ultimately won the 24 and utterly demolished the course record but every time I saw him he gave me words of support and sometimes a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. I couldn’t be more delighted to see him win the race, especially after his own race was cut short last year by injury on the course. It’s a testament to his hard work and determination, and a thoroughly deserved win. I may have been more excited about it than him, somewhat like his recent win and course record at Clydestride. He’s too modest by far, so I’ll big him up for a paragraph or so ūüôā

Now, it all sounds really tough and awful but there was a load of good stuff too and plenty of smiling as well as wincing. I had a daft game going on with Lois, my Ukrainian flapjack dealer and ended up singing Star Trekking Across the Universe¬†with Des in the dark in the woods at night. It was going through my head because I had a conversation about keeping moving forwards and backwards being the wrong direction so obviously the lyric about ‘only going forwards, we can’t find reverse’ sprang to mind and led to “clingons on the starboard bow” and “we come in peace, shoot to kill” renditions at something like 10pm – Ian was support running with me at that point and I’m not quite sure what he made of that.

I won’t go into all the laps but when I got to 20 miles I was pleasantly surprised and decided I should bash on to 7 laps and 28 miles so at least I’d have gone ultra, not wasted my crew’s time and would be happy taking a medal. 28 miles came and went and it looked like I could still manage 40+ miles, which had been my target last year. Indeed I completed my 10th lap at about 10.20pm. I was pleased to make it to 40 and whilst I knew I would still be going when the hooter blew I decided I really didn’t want to go another long loop, although it was achievable even at a walk – my feet were hurting like mad, a PB wasn’t on the cards and I decided I’d take a wee rest until the small loops started and then see what I could do in the last hour. My crew didn’t argue with me, which probably tells you something. I snuggled up in a jacket, foil blanket round my legs, drank coffee and snacked. Before long it was time for the wee laps…

I started off with my jacket on and carrying a coffee to keep me warm but both were quickly discarded as I heated up. I don’t know if it was the rest and refuel, the soft grass under my feet or the amazing support of my crew and the mad party tents (Noanie, Sarah, Keziah, Carol were just amazing and I can’t believe I YMCA’d after 40 or so miles) but I started to fly round that field or at least that’s how it felt and according to those watching it was also how it looked. My feet had got so sore that I’d stopped feeling my pre-existing injuries and now the soft turf was like balm to my feet. I reckon I packed in about 3 miles in the last hour, which isn’t really flying but it seemed like it.

The long and the short of it is that I think I’m only about 3 miles behind last year despite thinking the game was a bogey right at the start. I definitely walked more but maybe I’m a wee bit stronger even in spite of being crocked, I don’t really know. My watch says 42.6 miles and I reckon the official result will be about 43 miles.

What I do know is I couldn’t have done it without Tom, Emma and Emily looking after me, Ian coming a couple of laps with me, the PARTY TENTS, and all the lovely runners and marshals that make me feel part of the community and who helped me to find the strength to dig in and keep going.

The party tents!!

The party tents!!

I have wanged on about James a bit, but it would be very remiss of me not to mention that Neil MacNicol (of RunRecover in Burntisland) who came second in the 24 hour race also comprehensively crushed the previous course record this year. It is amazing to think that James and Neil each ran over 100 miles more than me in only double the time. Astonishing.¬†Wullie Bishop ran a blinder for third place and the ladies were all blooming lovely too – Lorna Maclean, Jenni Rees-Jenkins and Shona Young. As to the winners of the 12 hour, I really should have paid proper attention to the race I took part in but I got a little distracted by the excitement of James’ performance in the 24 but I do know the lovely Gerry Craig won the 12 hour race and I will update with full results when they come out… [Edit: full results here¬†and my official result was 43.25 miles, so my guesstimate of three miles under last year’s result of 46.17 was pretty well bang on. Position 40 of 60].

Next year, I just might give the 24 hour race a bash – as long as I’m not injured!!

Delighted with my medal and cider. Earned them!

Delighted with my medal and cider. Earned them!

2015 Devil o’ the Highlands 43 mile footrace

The ascents were lung busters, the descents were leg destroyers and the flat bits were really quite hard. Apart from that it was fine!

This year has been hampered with injury and therefore a lack of training. I had been debating whether to start this race at all in the weeks leading up. Training really had been minimal and what I had done was crammed into the month leading up. I arrived for the start severely undertrained and nervous but feeling that a finish was probably achievable. Race registration was buzzing with nervous excitement and I was glad of the distraction of catching up with lots of running friends. Further to my poop problems at Great Glen, I was relieved to achieve pre-race pooping! I may even have shared that information with a few folk, they seemed pleased for me. Soon it was time to start – Donna and I almost missed the start while taking our pre-race selfie…

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Tyndrum – Bridge of Orchy, 7 miles, 1:24:22, pos 187 (last place)
This section was relatively straightforward and I was blissfully unaware that I was in last place with the sweepers keeping a very respectful distance at this early stage in the race. The last time I’d been on this section, had been in February and my friend Heather and I were forced to turn back due to blizzard conditions. It was a lot more pleasant this time around! Great support and encouragement from the marshals – there was a timing team, road crossing team and water stop. It felt like five star treatment. I had a swig of water and headed off up Jelly Baby Hill. I tweaked my right calf on a training run the previous weekend, unfortunately it began to niggle within the first few miles. I tried to stretch it off but to no avail. I decided I’d just have to keep an eye on it and consider my options if it got considerably worse.

Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe, 11 miles (18 miles cum), 2:50:38 (4:15:00 cum), pos 186 (second last)
I marched over the hill feeling quite happy, I’d power hiked it and back the previous weekend and told myself well at least I only have to do it once today. I enjoyed jogging the descent and a few tourists asked me questions and gave me encouragement. I spotted ultra legend Ray just ahead of me. As I got to Inveroran and the tarmac section a car slowed to give encouragement and I peered inside to see Robert Osfield smiling back.

I slogged along the road, taking some walk breaks and getting some food into me. Ray remained ahead. I was glad to get off the road but also knew the Drover’s Road is deceptively tough – it looks so runnable but there is a long, steady climb. I was glad to see Ray wasn’t doing a tremendous amount more running than I was. After a while I caught up with him and we had some chat. We yo-yo’d back and forth a while as we made the long trip over the moor. I dropped back so I could go for a wee. I think it was just after this that I heard voices and realised the sweepers were on my tail. I wondered if they were sweeping another runner but a glance over my shoulder confirmed I was in last place. I got a bit upset and tearful and had to remind myself that I was fully expecting last place anyway and I’ve always been proud of a finish whether last or not. I also got hit by nasty abdominal cramps and realised that unfortunately my prediction of getting my period was spot on. Just have to get on with it.

I turned a bend and saw a comical Ray sight – he has a notoriously bad sense of direction, truly a thing of legend. I swear he’d got lost in a plastic bag! Actually he was negotiating himself into his poncho as the weather was becoming less friendly. I would also have to put my jacket back on. We had some more chat but I fell back and enjoyed the solitude, realising that I wasn’t feeling very sociable at all and hoping that 1. the sweepers would keep their distance and 2. my mood would be more sociable by the time I picked up my support runner at Kinlochleven.

There is a rather more stubborn climb before you get the descent towards Glencoe ski centre, but I was glad of it as I knew the descent and cheery checkpoint would be coming soon. The descent was very welcome and I became incredibly motivated to get well in front of the sweepers and see the friendly faces that surely awaited at the checkpoint. I overtook Ray, who by his own admission has quite an erratic style and he told me he’d come over quite tired suddenly. I met Cat walking her dog George so got lovely dog hugs and asked Cat for a hug please and she obliged! I pressed on and got to the checkpoint where Katy Smith gave me a lovely welcome and none other than Debbie Martin Consani tended to my drop bag needs – I guess I didn’t faff too much as she didn’t seem to feel the need to chase me out! As I’d been entering the checkpoint, my friend Marianne was leaving and we shared a hi-five. I was leaving the checkpoint as Ray and the sweepers were arriving.

Glencoe-Kinlochleven, 10 miles (28 miles cum), 3:09:02 (7:24:02 cum), pos 180 (joint last place)
It’s downhill out of the checkpoint so I picked up a jog. I could see Marianne and she didn’t seem that far away, I thought maybe I’d catch up with her and we would have some chat. I dallied a little too long at the road crossing getting hugs from Noanie, Lorna and of course Sam the dog. Noanie and Lorna told me I was going well and could definitely make the seven and a half hour cut-off at Kinlochleven. At this point I felt reasonably confident of it too as I was at 4 hours and 19 minutes, leaving me over three hours to get there – surely do-able?

Off I trotted, but my undertrained legs were asking for walk breaks when they really shouldn’t or perhaps it was my brain. Marianne continued to remain beyond my reach for quite some time. I could see her jogging up small ascents that would reduce me to a walk and I admired her so much for her strength. It was not until I got into some traily descents on the section between Kingshouse and the foot of the Devil’s staircase that I eventually caught her up and she complimented my speed over the section and I declared my admiration for her uphill running! We jogged along in single file for a while, I slid and cracked my foot painfully on the rock of a drainage culvert – Marianne checked I was OK and I pretended I was but in fact it hurt like fury but we were making progress and I felt it would ease off if I kept moving. The weather started worsening, some kind tourists held a gate for us. When we got to the Devil’s staircase Marianne told me to go on ahead.

I slogged up,¬†passing walkers more frequently than I expected given how my legs were feeling. I know this hill, I’ve been over it several times and know what to expect but not usually with as many miles in my legs first. I kept thinking the next turn would be the last and it wasn’t. I muttered swear words and bent my head to protect myself from the wind and rain. Happy days – I heard cowbells and some friendly faces came into view, Pauline Walker and Fiona Rennie were braving the weather in rather fantastic outfits and giving out sweeties and encouragement. A boost to help me make it to the top. By now I could see Ray making great progress up the hill and knew he would be overtaking me again. I could see the sweepers on the path below. I kept pushing on trying to stay in front of them and thankfully was able to pick up my pace for the descent.

The descent to Kinlochleven goes on for-absolutely-*******-ever. The weather became worse and worse, the descent became ever more difficult and the cold water flowed down the path and around our ankles, freezing our feet and ensuring this would be one of the rare occasions I would get blisters. I met Susan Addison coming up from KLL, she gave me a hug and told me I looked great, I kept the tears until we parted ways. I spent some time with Ray and worried about him, he didn’t have enough clothes on, he couldn’t feel his arms. He pulled ahead of me and when I would lose sight of him I worried I’d turn the next corner or dip and find he’d fallen but I should know better – Ray is the most resilient of us all! I know the descent is long but it was taking forever just to reach the fire road and get away from all the slidy, pointy rocks. The cut-off seemed to be slipping away, the going was tough and the weather awful. I found myself thinking that it wouldn’t be all bad if I got timed out, it might be for the best.

Marianne really sped up to make the cut-off, Ray was a bit more chilled (as usual) but we eventually made it into the checkpoint in a group with about six minutes to spare.

The sun came out, the marshals were lovely, my boyfriend was there (a surprise and more surprisingly I didn’t just ask him to take me home!) and my incredibly cheerful support runner was waiting for me and all ready to do her best to help me finish. Damn sun, damn nice people and thank goodness for the G&T in my drop bag. Bolstered by dutch courage, sunshine and the kindness of others I set off, let’s do this!

Smiling again, unbelievably! Photo: Matt Williamson

Smiling again, unbelievably!
Photo: Matt Williamson

Kinlochleven – Lundavra, 8ish miles (?) (36ish miles cum?) , 2:34:28 (9:58:30 cum), pos 178 (3rd last)
I walked out of this checkpoint, explaining to Ruth that we were about to do a horrible climb and I was not sure how much running I would manage at all over the final 15 miles. I hoped the G&T I’d guzzled would sit OK and that it would make me drunk enough to continue! We slogged up the killer climb, my slowest mile of the day was the first mile out of KLL. Thankfully with the nicer weather we did have beautiful views – that was something. Ruth’s enthusiasm was infectious. I had cheerily said to Marianne that there had been joint winners and perhaps we’d be joint last place to top and tail things nicely – she wisely told me it was a bit soon to think about that. Although Ray had left the checkpoint after us, he got a second wind (and I know he was worried about making his bus) and he passed us and off into the distance. ¬†Just as we were heading out onto Lairig Mhor we met Terry Addison coming the other way and I got another Addison hug and words of encouragement that the worst was over and this was ‘only undulating’. I surprised myself by picking up a jog for downhill sections but I had nothing for inclines and not a great deal even on relatively flat bits.

We’d been told another woman was not far in front (having been mistaken for me initially at KLL by Tom and Ruth due to her purple jacket). She came into sight and Ruth made it a bit of a mission to catch up with her and her support runner. I was not convinced but we did eventually catch up and it was my friend, Donna. I thought that was it and we’d be finishing together but after a little socialising, Ruth kept pushing me on. My feet were sore by now and there are some of the pointiest wee rocks known to man on the Lairig. A couple of ouchy moments but nothing serious. Amazingly the Lundavra checkpoint came into view and I hit it at just under the 10 hour mark. It was lovely to see Alexa, Norma and Robin there. Some flat coke and a hallucinatory unicorn later and I was on my way – I felt I had to keep walking and not stop too long. Two hours left but still seven tough miles to get through.

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Thanks to Norma Bone for capturing this moment!

Lundavra – Fort William, 7 miles (43 cum), 2:08:04 (12:06:34 total time), pos 178 of 180 finishers
It’s a wee climb and some undulating trails after Lundavra, I tried to get my stomp on, I was staggering around and took something to eat after which I did manage to jog some downhills. I was hanging on for the bit when you get into the forest for a change of scene and some nice pine needle covered paths. The change of scene was good but the paths were reduced to slippery rock thanks to the rain. Steps are difficult when your legs are tired but they had to be done. I knew this section of the route from one recce but Ruth didn’t, I told her there would be a big downhill coming once we got onto the forestry road and I knew I would need to try and make the most of it, although I knew it was going to hurt. In my head the race was 42 miles¬†but now it definitely seemed to be 43 miles and had some new hill at the end that I had never reccied – I felt pretty nervous!

We got on the forestry tracks and picked up a jog, Ruth urged me to let the hill take me – I was trying but only hitting about 12:30 to 13:30min/mile pace, I pumped my arms to try and get my legs to follow and managed to push the pace a little but couldn’t sustain it. I spotted a welcome sight in the distance – a tall man and a wee boy walking toward us, it must surely be Craig and wee Duncan setting off on their father-son adventure. Ruth tugged me away from them, but I insisted on getting my hug and hi-five. We nearly caught Ray again but then he pulled away and I knew he was into his finishing sprint – the kind that those really experienced ultrarunners seem to be able to start from about 2 miles from the finishline. Once we got off this path and onto the road that leads to Braveheart Carpark I was struggling to run and in fact was sometimes more able to manage a 13to 14min/mile pace by walking. Ruth got me to run a bit but I started to feel a panic attack coming on and she managed to talk me down. Cowhill, well that is more than a sting in the tail – it may be smaller than the climbs so far but it’s steep and tough after what you’ve already done. We finally got to the top and Ruth was still thinking we could make it under 12 hours but I suddenly recognised where I was (I had walked my dog on these hill paths behind the leisure centre when I was supporting at WHWR last year) and I knew that I would not get there in less than a minute but I did manage to jog down the hill albeit probably no faster than if I’d walked. I saw the finish line. Everyone joined in the cheering and whooping that Ruth had been doing for the last quarter of a mile (convinced that the finish would appear any second). Round the play park and up the finishing funnel at what I hoped was a run and I was done – in more ways than one. “You fanny!” I exclaimed to the race director, John for the new finish!

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Thanks to Helen Munro for the photo.

Photos by Colin Knox

Photos by Colin Knox

A great welcome with hugs galore. Tom was waiting for me with my wee dog who jumped all over me with her muddy paws and of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Jemma offered me her trousers. I love a reference joke – she was frozen at the end of the Fling and I offered her mine (I had running tights underneath) but a seat and a hot coffee did the trick. If I listed all the hugs, this would go on for some time but it was lovely that people who had finished their race much earlier had stuck around to support the final finishers. I was able to cheer Donna and Marianne over the finish before going for a painful shower.

The nasty finish hill aside, a huge thanks to John Duncan for taking on this race and keeping it in the calendar – the organisation and team of volunteers were outstanding and the atmosphere was wonderful. To those volunteers – thank you for looking after me and especially all the slower runners, you put in an even longer day than even the slowest runner. Special thanks to Noanie for her advice before the race (it worked), Tom for being the very accommodating driver for the day and to Ruth, who was an outstanding support runner.

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

It wasn’t my longest race but it was definitely the toughest I’ve done so far. My strava stats say it was 43.8 miles with 6,679ft of climbing but I think there’s quite a bit of variation between people’s gps devices. I look forward to taking this race on again at some point when I am properly trained for it, I think I could do it a little bit faster and definitely under 12 hours. For now, I’m happy to have completed it and I don’t feel like I could have tried any harder on the day.

Thanks Donna for this photo - somehow we've managed to look like we haven't just run 43 miles...

Thanks Donna for this photo – somehow we’ve managed to look like we haven’t just run 43 miles…

Kintyre Way ultra – lots of climbing and outstanding views

In my post Glen Ogle enthusiasm I signed up for another ultra, taking advantage of early bird prices. I did check out race reports and asked about other people’s experiences of it. Then, in spite of realising it would be hilly and tough possibly including wading through the sea, I still signed up for the Kintyre Way half ultra. It seemed a long time away back in November but like everything else the big day came around pretty quickly. I had hoped to do D33 but didn’t make the start line after some ongoing niggles meant I hadn’t been able to put in enough miles; and as I’d booked a week’s holiday around Kintyre I didn’t want to jeopardise my chances of making the start by foolishly rocking up to D33 and winging it.

I was never going to be a spectacular competitor at Kintyre anyway, but after my D33 disappointment my main focus was getting a couple of preparatory long runs¬†under my belt and just getting to the start line in one piece, I gave no consideration to speed. I did have a couple of really nice, long runs in training although I would have liked my longest run to be slightly more than the 24 miles of the Easter weekend. That said, I still felt positive about finishing successfully, especially as the cut-offs were extremely generous for the half ultra as they take¬†the full 67 miler into account – highly advantageous for slower runners¬†like me in the shorter race. The other positives going into the race were that I genuinely did feel pain free in the days before it and I knew I was going to be running with my good friend, Katherine, with whom I’d done some of my happiest (and shittiest) training runs as well as the Fling relay. On the other hand, the weather forecast wasn’t great although I did wonder if it could possibly be as bad as Glen Ogle – hmm, the race reports from last year did report pretty biblical weather conditions! The morning before the race I woke up to find my faithful backpack had been half eaten by my faithless hound, which put me in a right good mood! Lots of friends made kind offers to let me borrow their packs but I was able to get a replacement in time.

Who knew a nakd bar warranted such destruction?

Who knew a nakd bar warranted such destruction?

Anyway, another nice thing about starting half way was the jolly civilised start time of 9.30am, especially as I was staying just along the road. I got to registration about 8.45am feeling like I’d had a lie-in. Registering was particularly swift as the big number 47 on my drop bags gave me away immediately. We got a Kintyre Way buff along with our numbers and dibbers – very nice it is too (barely off my head for the rest of my holiday). There was a very relaxed atmosphere at the start, where I got to catch up with some friends I’ve met on this crazy journey into ultra running and made the acquaintance of a few others that until then I only knew through facebook. We were herded into a starting pen, my nerves felt a bit jangly but all in all we were in pretty good spirits.

I had the honour of wearing the Ultra Dafie t-shirt!

I had the honour of wearing the Ultra Dafies t-shirt!

In the starting pen...

In the starting pen…

After milling about for a wee while, we were off! It is so easy to get swept away at the start and I glanced at my watch to see the pace was under 9 minute miles, which felt comfortable at that point but would just not be do-able for me and Katherine over ultra distance. Sensibly we slowed down and that was the last we’d see of many of the other runners as we took up our place near the back of the pack. As you start off, you go through some houses and past a row of garages which isn’t very scenic but then bam you pop out into a field headed towards the beach and down a beautiful wee trail that is flanked by wildflowers – the gorse and bluebells were truly glorious and the coconut smell of the gorse was intoxicating, in that moment I just knew we were in for a great day. After a short bit of beach the route took us back into a grassy trail of wildflowers and birdlife that delighted me but it wasn’t very long until we reached the road and headed over it, past our holiday cottage, onto forestry tracks that marked the start of a very long climb about 1,000 feet of climbing over four miles…

Over the course of some of that climbing we got chatting to a few other competitors and apologies to Jilly and Andrew who not only had to witness my strip tease but also kindly picked up a lost wristband and got it back to me. Early on I had to remove my long sleeved top as the forecast was proving pretty inaccurate. What a lovely couple, we had a good old blether until they continued on when Katherine spotted the decided luxury of a portaloo! Shortly after there was an unexpected water stop and two friendly marshals ticked us off on the list. This was the last time I would get a water top-up, oops I think it was only six or seven miles in. Probably round about the windfarm, where the rain came on and I popped my jacket and cap on. What goes up must come down though so after mainly up with minor undulations we got a dramatic and lengthy downhill section that I rather relished apart from when a stitch started to form and when it changed to tarmac – talk about spoiling a good thing!¬†Here’s a photo of us looking happy and enjoying the downhill, thanks to Andy Robinson of runfurther.com for the photo: Dowhill!! ¬† It has taken me rather long to get around to writing this blog so whilst many features of the course are fresh in my mind, I’m unsure if they are still in the right order. Please don’t rely on the accuracy of this report if you’re contemplating doing the Kintyre in future. I’ll link my route at the end. We met a HM Coastguard van in the forest and we posed cheerily for a photo as he passed and then we were on road for a while and experienced only slight confusion at a bit of a junction, but the correct route quickly became clear although we were pleased to pick up one of the turquoise posts soon after. Time for some up and then quite a sharp left into a forestry commission car park where two lovely marshals pointed us up a narrow trail – a lovely sight after tarmac but actually quite a steep and lengthy climb which quickly ensured wet socks as it was also kind of a stream.¬†It popped us out onto more forestry road and Arran came into view, cue our Arran selfie…
Arran selfieThis was our first sign we were truly on our way to the opposite coast of the peninsula. Quite soon after this we hit some really nice, slightly technical trail and after a bit of a climb¬†there was a decent descent and I enjoyed letting gravity do some of the work but dodging around a bit – enjoyable trail running. Some relay runners came past in fine form and exchanged brief pleasantries and then Hugh McInnes who was leading and ultimately won the 67 came past us and he gave us some encouragement on his way past and we congratulated him – I had seen him at G2E really going for it and never really saw him at the Fling as he was so far ahead of our relay team. The man is a machine! ¬†We came out of the trail onto road again and a guy taking photos confirmed it was not far to the checkpoint but I do think there followed a mile or so of undulating forestry track before a brief descent on trail (which I liked) which sort of spat us out into the first checkpoint (Carradale) to shouts from Ross and some marshals/spectators. We duly dibbed, I grabbed our dropbags (bit more self service than the Fling). Gosh I’d been fantasising about my flat cola! Nobody mentioned water and I forgot all about it. We popped to the loo, transferred supplies into our bags and generally spent too long in the checkpoint. We spotted Jilly and Andrew having a pot of tea and scones – they do know how to do an ultra! I am 99% certain that a marshal told me we were at 14 miles. It had taken us over three and a half hours but was actually closer to 16 miles. When we headed off we were directed across the road and down a beautiful trail through a load of bluebells, it was a lovely running surface and really gorgeous but my stitch problem was kicking in again and I had to ask Katherine for a walk break – thankfully not until after we met Jo Thom coming the other way, she was out supporting Hugh as she was injured herself – she also gave us kind words of encouragement. Another nice couple, indeed!! After this we were over a wee bridge and off through some housing to get to the beach. You may have heard about this beach section, it is thankfully quite short but it is equal parts stunningly beautiful and treacherously technical. It’s slate type rock and very holey grass and I believe we were lucky the tide was not in. At one point I grabbed my hand away just in time to prevent a bit of a slice.

Happy after our beach scramble - a walker kindly took the photo for us.

Happy after our beach scramble – a walker kindly took the photo for us.

We were just heading up the grassy hill from the beach when Ross caught us up after donning his running gear and coming out to chum us to the next checkpoint. It was on the beach that I clocked 17 miles and couldn’t understand how that could be when the marshal had said the cp was 14 miles but Katherine said no, the cp is at 16 miles according to the pack and I relaxed, feeling glad we were around halfway.
Up the grassy hill, over a style and back on road for a bit before heading into an estate past a wee gatehouse with a nice labrador. We saw signs for the tannery and luckily looked back and spotted the castle which we would otherwise have missed. I enjoyed a bit of tree shade and we chuckled at a wee lamb walking back and forth on top of a drystane dyke, before we headed through a farm where the trail goes through a gate and begins the never-ending climb of all eternity which has nice views of Arran if you feel the need of a break. I think this was the toughest part for me as I find the 18th/19th miles quite difficult anyway and the climb was rather relentless albeit there was glorious gorse and I had good company. Unlike Glen Ogle, I had no thoughts of quitting whatsoever though. At the top of this hill the trail takes a sharp left through some pine trees, it doesn’t look like the trail but it is and I was glad I had read other reports and expected this. It was a welcome downhill with soft pine needles which are lovely, but you need to be aware of roots, and it was blissfully cool. It didn’t last long though before we came to a stream and bridge then onto more uppish stuff that looked a bit desert-like owing to the tree felling and the beating sun. We then got some reasonable down on forestry tracks, I noticed at this point that I felt a bit peckish and reminded myself to eat some peanut tracker bar and sweeties. The trail then took us into a very steep and pretty technical descent strewn with boulders, tufts of jaggy grass, gorse and a gate thing that made no sense to me. Peter Buchanan, winner of the 35.5, described this well in his blog – something along the lines of quad trashing descent culminating in cow poo puddle of a field sort of thing.
We then ran along a field edge which reminded me of some of the bits at Jedburgh before the bouncy bridge and surprisingly popped out to see a sign for the checkpoint at Ifferdale – woohoo! A friendly checkpoint, we met a chatty relay runner who we’d see again later. I went and grabbed our drop bags, but again no water was noticeable and not thinking clearly I dropped an electrolyte tab in my camelbak without checking the level. Jilly and Andrew arrived, well fuelled by scones and went through this cp very efficiently. As we headed out we saw them powering off in front and that was the last time I saw them until spotting Jilly at the finish of Edinburgh marathon at the end of the month. Again I had an issue with a stitch forming on leaving the CP – some lessons to be learnt there I think, no more guzzling stuff at cp just recharge the supplies and graze lightly throughout. We really stiffened up at this cp and we left chorusing tunelessly along the lines of ‘ee, eee, ooh, ah!’ Also when I took a sip of electrolyte loaded water, it was far too concentrated and I realised I would soon be running out of water.
This next bit was a pretty long drag and seemed a lot of climbing on the pretty hard forestry trails – the relay runner from earlier went past looking very comfortable gliding up the hill and we had a blether with Steven Yule, I believe, who came second in the 67 – he had his Fling buff on and I was in awe, had to shake his hand – he was still overtaking us despite still feeling it and doing the much longer race. Fantastic.
We were really just walking the hills and trying to run anything flat or downhill, but at one point Katherine asked me why I was running uphill and I told her I’d tell her in a minute. Shortly I stopped and held out my arm to mark marathon distance and we celebrated with a hug as she went into ultra territory. At some point we did some chipmunk singing too, when I said we’re ‘chip, chip, chipping away at it’ – apologies Alvin, Theodore and the other one.
Eventually we were heading towards the reservoir and we started to see a few more relay or full distance runners come past us. I have to say the view as the reservoir revealed itself was very beautiful. We passed a cluster of Coastguards and I wished I’d had the gumption to ask for a hug but I also felt the need to keep the forward motion. As we rounded the reservoir we could see where we’d been – it looked so far away, we weren’t exactly tearing it up but we were progressing steadily. Shortly thereafter we were photographed by Ken Clark – the sod was up a hill (OK small incline) at mile 29 forcing me to run up again although Katherine quite rightly put in a fine protest and not only walked but stopped and posed on the spot.
It was all getting a bit tarmacy now and that sadly was pretty much the case until the end. I ran out of water at roughly the 30 mile mark and Katherine began sharing her Lucozade with me. The route continued to be undulating tarmac and we chatted on and off to John Vernon who was run/walking due to an injury. We celebrated any distance ‘milestones’ for morale – when we only had a 10k to go, going through 30 miles and getting through 31.5 miles and into new mileage territory for me. I started to enjoy stretching my legs on some downhill sections and it seemed to spur John on too but I looked back and saw Katherine was not feeling the same – metal ankle and trail shoes meant that downhill was particularly painful for her. At some point John’s friends had come out to check up on him and they kindly gave me a bottle of fizzy, orange lucozade – what a godsend after running out of water during the unpredictably hot weather!
Suddenly we saw houses, not just the odd farm building but a proper collection of houses, for sure it was Campbeltown! We came to a junction with the main road into Campbeltown and as we were jogging along drivers kindly tooted encouragement and I spotted a former colleague of mine, shouted his name, gave him a hug and ran on unaware that he had not recognised me at all – out of context, ha ha!! He was there supporting his wife who was also running the 35.5.
We kept jogging through the town and I searched my brain for the directions to the finish line as there were no signs – thankfully getting it right! We arrive to cheers from Vikki Williams and her partner which gave us a real boost and we saw the finish line. I turned to Katherine and we grabbed hands, like at Neil McCover half marathon, and we went for the sprint finish – despite the pain, Katherine even cranked it up another notch to my delight and that of the spectators and passing drivers. We dibbed and were done!!
Here’s a link to a video of the sweaty munchkins making a dash for the¬†finish:¬†
Here’s a link to the route:¬†http://www.strava.com/activities/139787731/overview
All in all, it was an amazing day and for the most part I truly loved it. Having Katherine’s company was a massive boost, as was the lack of sleet and hailstones! It was very different from Glen Ogle – much hillier, better weather, constant companionship and having the longer race meant super generous cut-offs for us. At no point did I think about quitting. It was a long day out and I would love to go back and try to improve my time next year. I also spent a marvellous week on the Mull of Kintyre and thoroughly recommend it as a holiday destination.
Happily I have recovered well, I did plenty of walking during my holiday and have done a few reasonably chunky runs in the two weeks since – much better than after Glen Ogle when I got a virus and was out for three weeks making the return feel like starting running from scratch. In future I think I will not really stop at checkpoints other than to pick up stuff and carry on, I’ll be more careful about water though…
A long and rambling post, much like my race experience ūüôā I definitely recommend it and would like to thank all the organisers and volunteers for making it possible. A big shout out to all the runners – some fab performances at all different levels of ability on a tough but gorgeous course.

It’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you…

What could be more perfect than a sunny 24 miles on the West Highland Way with one of your best running buddies? One of those days that leaves you buzzing and looking forward to the next one. Not only that but covering a biggish distance has made me feel that much better about Kintyre – no illusions, it will be slow and probably a bit messy but it’s back to feeling do-able. I even did a couple of recovery miles the following day and then a 6.4 mile hill run mid week in my best time ever for that course, feels like progress! Still nothing to write home about by most folks’ standards but for me and my wee journey it’s good news.

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Photos courtesy of Katherine¬†– thanks ūüôā

A mighty fine day out.

International Happiness Day

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International Happiness Day

Nothing is ever perfect but it’s international happiness day so I took a moment to reflect and all in all I really do have a great life. Scotland is such a beautiful place and I get to live here. I’m not fast but my legs work and I get to go running, which I love. Every run is a gift and not to be taken for granted, not everyone gets to run. I have great friends, not just my running friends although it is fantastic that all these lovely people are happy to run with me. I love my family, my boyfriend and his family – we all get on well, what a bonus. Let’s not forget my wee furry pal Brin either who is not only a marvellous and snuggly hot water bottle but a great running buddy too. It’s good to take stock and take a moment to remember that I am a lucky girl, life is good and I am darn well choosing happiness.

Looking back and looking forward, 2013 into 2014

Well, 2013 has been an exceptional year for me and I have really enjoyed it. It’s safe to say I’ve been properly bitten by the running bug and more accurately the ultra running bug. I’ll soon be 37, short and stocky, so endurance is probably the best prospect for me – good thing I like it and am darn stubborn too.

I owe a debt of gratitude to many people that have trained with me, encouraged and supported me and I hope I’ve done a decent job of thanking them. There’s also the folk that ‘put up with me’ – my long suffering boyfriend who puts up with me spending hours out of contact on the trails with my running buddies and the really important part for me is that he believes in me and never doubts that I will do what I set out to do, and that’s incredibly empowering for someone that in her younger years had relationships that had entirely the opposite effect on her confidence.

Anyway, here is a summary of 2013:

  • The Meadows Half Marathon (first half mara)
  • The Mighty Deerstalker
  • Edinburgh Marathon (first mara)
  • Clyde Stride Relay (first time participating in an ultra!)
  • North Berwick Law Hill Race (first ever hill race)
  • Glasgow River Rat Race
  • Toughmudder
  • Cumbernauld 10K (PB!)
  • Neil McCover Half Marathon (joint last place and PB!)
  • Glen Ogle 33 (first ultra!)
  • Marcothon – run every day in December, completed.

As well as running I also went snowboarding at Glenshee, hovercrafting in Dunfermline, riverbugging near Pitlochry and wakeboarding near Dunbar. I went to a few gigs, most notably I saw Frightened Rabbit twice and they were excellent. I’ve been to three lovely weddings and some good friends have welcomed little ones this year.

2013 has been good to me, I feel like I squeezed the pips right out of it!

So, looking to 2014, what happens next…

I’ve signed up for a few events and hope to make some changes to restore my work/life balance. I also plan to cycle for cross training and to spend some time with Tom and exercise the dog at a pace she considers a bit more respectable.

Here’s what’s already paid for this year:

  • D33 on 15 March – 33 miles on the Deeside Way, yummy!
  • Highland Fling Relay in April – I will do approx half marathon distance over one of the relay sections then dance the night away at the after ceilidh before overnighting in a yurt. Yes, my life really is that cool!
  • Kintyre Way Half Ultra (c. 36 miles rather than 67 miles) on 10 May – my ‘A race’ I reckon as this is really tough with hills and technical trail including the possibility of wading through the sea. I’m very glad that two of my good friends and running buddies are coming too.
  • G12 on 6 September – that’s 12 hours of running a 4 mile loop that comes through a base camp with a party atmosphere. To say I’m excited would be an understatment.

Happy New Year everyone!

My friend’s world record attempt to raise money for Emilie’s Charities

Just a quick post. I mentioned that I know some wonderful and inspiring people in my last post. How about one that is going to run the Camino de Santiago to raise money for a fantastic charity? In the process he’s going to try and break the world record – pretty amazing stuff!!

Check out his story here: http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/2013/11/edinburgh-mans-epic-world-record-attempt-for-charity/

Thanks!!