West Highland Way race training – ups and downs

Having danced around the idea of doing the WHWR at some point I took the plunge last year and entered. Having been lucky enough to get a place I have been training pretty much ever since. I have very loosely followed a lower mileage plan from the Relentless Forward Progress book, alternating low mileage weeks (10-30 miles) with higher mileage ones (40-60 miles and 6000+ ft of ascent). I didn’t do the Fling, I know many people do use it as a tune-up race but instead ran a similar mileage with two 27 mile runs five days apart with over 10000 feet climb (Balmaha to the top of Ben Lomond and back on the Monday then Selkirk trail marathon on the Saturday). Yesterday I ran from Tyndrum to Kingshouse and back which was my longest training run at 39 miles. I can only hope it will be enough, many will have done more but this seemed the right approach for me. Training conditions have ranged from deep snow to warm sunshine and I have been enormously lucky to have made a really good bunch of friends through my running club to run with. Attempting to tackle the Pentland Skyline route through snowdrifts is considerably easier with a few pals on board!

Before I started I expected that if anything would derail my plans it would likely be physical illness or injury. In fact my week 1 mileage was a big fat zero as I was ill with a virus. However what did threaten to sideswipe things was my mental health, which I guess I should have seen coming but didn’t. I have always been anxious and have tried various things to deal with it. Therapy to understand why I get anxiety, mindfulness to try and alleviate it. About 18 months ago I decided to try medication for the first time. I know all the arguments for and against but it felt to me like I was giving in and admitting that I didn’t have the strength to deal with what felt essentially to be a character flaw. However they did work, albeit with side effects and leaving me feeling a tad bovine. In January I came off the medication as it seemed reasonable to see if I would now be able to manage without it. The alternative being stuck on it long term. This hasn’t been wildly successful. Anxiety trickled back accompanied by appalling irritability. Running helped and I was still generally feeling happy and positive while out running but the effect was short lived. Things built up and came to a head and I was on the brink of walking out on the family to try and get some kind of respite from everything. And so back onto citalopram for me. Buggeration.


Montane Cheviot Goat Ultra

I hesitated about entering this because I wasn’t sure if I would really be up to such a long race over difficult terrain. However the route looked amazing and I thought I would probably enjoy it. It started in Ingram at 5.30am and you had a generous seeming 24 hours to cover 55 miles of the Cheviot hills, including Cheviot and Hedgehope summits. I reckoned looking at the route that it would probably take me 16-20 hours.

Going into it I was pretty hill fit, and had done some long runs but in hindsight I hadn’t done enough in the way of good time on feet outings in the hills. I had done a recce of the first half of the route with Northumberland Guided Trail Running and knew most of the second half anyway.

It was really cold leading up to the race with heavy snowfall on the hills. The day itself was a bit milder so the snow at lower levels was melting. Underfoot it was slush, ice, snow, frozen bog, less frozen bog and a bit of mud. The guys out at the front probably had it the worst having to blaze the trail through deep snow in places, by the time I came along those ahead of me had kindly trodden down a nice clear path and I could see (and avoid) the places where others had gone through the ice into bog. But even so it was hard going.

There were checkpoints every 5 miles but only 3 would have water. Barrowburn at 28 miles had a food station and we were told in no uncertain terms not to carry on beyond this if we doubted our ability to continue as getting evacuated off the route from there on would be quite an undertaking as you were miles from any roads. Kit-wise I was carrying a lot of stuff, but having had to stop in races due to injury before I know how fast you chill off. Better safe than hypothermic. I had a fair bit of kit in my drop bag at Barrowburn too including Microspikes. I actually could have done with them in the first half too. I also had a GPS device for the first time. I am normally a map & compass kind of girl but there were a few turns that could easily be missed especially in the dark and I thought it would be good back up.

I got bugger all sleep the night before, not surprisingly but felt ok starting off. The field was around 100, and largely male with a few very well known endurance runners in the mix. I wasn’t surprised to be well down the field but my sister texted me updates at points (there was a tracking system) and let me know that I was in the top half of the women. I ran on my own the whole way which suited me fine if I am honest. All ultras seem to need a tag line these days, the longest, the most brutal etc etc. This was billed as “England’s Loneliest Ultra”. The Cheviots are empty at the best of times and just perfect if you like spending long periods of time in the middle of nowhere with only your own thoughts for company. My idea of heaven really. Also probably as well for anyone else as at one point going round Kidland Forest I had a very annoying ear worm going on (Shakin’ Steven’s This Old House – since you ask) and the only was to get rid of it was to let rip and sing it out loud. Very loudly and completely out of tune.

I really rather enjoyed it AND managed not to go off route. Unfortunately I am a bit prone to metatarsalgia and running on hard frozen ground really set it off and my left foot got increasingly painful. The thought of more hard going ahead and miles of stone paving slabs up on the Pennine Way was beginning to worry me a bit. Between the 3rd checkpoint and Barrowburn I slipped on some sheet ice hiding at the bottom of a puddle and landed flat on my back in 2 or 3 inches of slush. Thank goodness for my pack as much kit as possible tendencies as I was able to strip off the wet clothing and replace it with dry before my body really registered the cold. Unfortunately for my race I really hit a bad patch in the final couple of miles before Barrowburn. It is entirely possible that if I had stuck to my plans and sat at the checkpoint and stuffed my face with food and a hot drink then I might well have got a second wind but I was feeling a bit crap, my foot was really sore and I decided to be sensible. I had a feeling that the next 26 miles might not be anything like as enjoyable and I fear that this is where I differ from real hardened ultra runners. I don’t like or relish pain and suffering. I don’t do digging into pain caves. I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and had done enough. So I withdrew and gratefully accepted a lift back to Ingram.

I would definitely consider entering again but only if I had done enough in the way of really decent lengthy hill hike/runs to be confident in my ability to finish. I wasn’t confident this time and I know that I tend to give up rather more easily than other folk. That may not be a bad thing but it would be nice to do the whole route. I think I am going to have to swallow my pride and buy a pair of Hoka clown shoes too. Those who did complete really deserve their medals. Even the winning times were over 11 hours. Most of the folk who were at Barrowburn at roughly the same time as me (2pm or so) didn’t finish until after midnight and endured high winds, subzero temperatures, poor visibility and deep snowdrifts. The event was very well organised and the marshals were little short of heroic. Definitely one for those with mountain goat genes and a touch of misanthropy.

Glen Ogle and the miracle of the can of coke

Glen Ogle AGAIN, my fifth year in a row! I enjoyed this one the most I think, and it was a nice antidote to the Pentlands Skyline debacle. I was running it with my friend Claire again and as we don’t see each other that often it makes it a great chance to catch up and have a good blether.

The weather was pretty decent, mostly lovely golden autumn sunshine illuminating all the leaves. A couple of showers but only one that was heavy I think. The views were just stupendous as usual and I think doing a scenic route really does help take your mind off some of the ultra-weariness.

Part 1 – the route leaves Killin before heading mainly uphill for quite some time. Must be unpleasant for those up the front trying to get a fast time but for us lesser mortals more of a chance to get warmed up.
Topics of conversation here:
– Bowels and the benefits of achieving that all important pre-race movement
– Should Claire try a gluten free diet?
– What an awesome way to spend a Saturday, we pity the fools who don’t get up at the crack of dawn on a November morning to run an ultra
– Ooh, look at that view!
– Work – why does it suck so much?

Part 2 – checkpoint 1 then that nice gradual run down the cycle path, steep switchback then along to checkpoint 2. Topics of conversation here:
– shall we run/walk or just go for it and hope the wheels don’t come off later?
– This is the point where I thought I was going to sh*t myself last year, ha ha ha!
– If Claire won the lottery how would she cope? (Answer – admirably)
– Strictly and is Debbie McGee the best dancer (I thought so) or a cheating old bag who is an ex-professional dancer (Claire’s opinion)
– Would we be finished in time to watch Strictly?
– Who had the most disastrous recent romantic weekend away? (I think I won that one)

Part 3, the road to Strathyre. I reckon this is my favourite bit now despite the tarmac, once you are on the quiet little back road anyway. There are lots of beech trees which were looking quite magnificent with their autumn foliage. Topics here resulted in a deep sense of the world being put to rights.

Things that REALLY boil our piss. In no particular order:
– people who drop litter
– ultra runners who drop litter – & the special place in hell for them
– folk who walk their dogs in the toddler play park in the Meadows.
– the dog poo bag droppers – a curse upon them
– what is wrong with people in general? They are all numpties.
We shared stories of having accosted anyone foolish enough to be in the toddler play park with a canine and the triumph of giving them A Piece of our Mind, eliciting grovelling apologies and even tears in one case. Ha, take that! It also turns out that both of us have developed a habit of emailing Edinburgh Council with our gripes. There’s a surprise.

Part 3 – the hill
Strathyre seemed to arrive more quickly than usual, but perhaps time passes faster for the righteous ultra-runner. We cruised up the hill which genuinely seemed shorter and less steep this year. Not long into the climb we saw a bunch of runners emerge from the shrubbery having gone off piste up the wrong path but they seemed fairly good humoured about it.

Part 4 – back up the cycle path.
Communication here was pretty monosyllabic, we were both still feeling Ok but there was a feeling of just putting the head down and getting on with it. And it was raining. Neither of us had drop bags, I hadn’t bothered with them anyway but Claire had done one with a can of coke for checkpoint 4 then accidentally left it in the car boot. What little chat we had revolved around how much she’d like that can of coke. What were the chances of finding one in the left-over pile at the checkpoint she asked? Practically zero I reckoned. This brought back traumatic memories of finding some coke left over at last year’s race only to realise with horror that it was Diet Coke. What sort of animal drinks Diet Coke in an ultra race?

Part 5 – the final checkpoint then the run home to Killin.
Claire had drawn ahead a wee bit as we came up to checkpoint 4. It was almost as if she sensed it, like a golden retriever inexorably drawn to the scent of a nice pile of fox poo to roll in. As I trundled up I heard her shout with joy, and lo! She held aloft a Can of CocaCola. Real full fat Coke too, and not some Aldi facsimile AND……IT WAS UNOPENED! Words cannot express how amazing it felt to crack open that can and glug down some sugary caffeinated goodness. Claire was convinced that it was the work of our Lord and that I should immediately convert to Catholicism in gratitude. Or at the very least go to Mass to say thank you very much. I informed her that she was on her own there.
As we headed downhill a bloke came steaming past declaring very loudly that he’d had vodka and some proper Scottish tablet at the checkpoint and now Had Wings!! Claire got a glint in her eye and suggested we hammer it home but I declined, this was supposed to be training run FFS! But we both felt pretty good on this stretch and were probably talking loudly and irritatingly about how good we felt.

So we finished in 6 hours 16 minutes. Which considering Claire’s had a bad back and not done any long runs and I was just doing it to get some miles in for the Cheviot ultra next month isn’t too bad. We both enjoyed ourselves anyway. Super-well organised as always, great marshals and a very nice bottle of cider in the goody bag!

The Pentland Skyline Race – and what a great big steaming pile of poo THAT was….

I honestly love the Skyline race, I’ve done it 3 times before and really enjoyed it. But it is a bit of an unforgiving beast and on Sunday it chewed me up and spat me out before I was even half way round. This was a shame as I had trained hard and was hoping to better my PB of 2 years ago and get around in 3.45 or so. Maybe that was one of the issues – having a fairly fixed idea in my head of how I wanted the race to go.

The night before I was wracked by anxiety dreams. These involved running a strange version of Glen Ogle ultra where I slogged up endless long ascents while having a massive fight with my husband and frantically searching for my missing son. I woke up completely baffled and in a pool of sweat. Being peri-menopausal really is the gift that keeps on giving.

I was chatting to another runner while we were waiting before the start about the joys of PMS and how much of an impact it can have on one’s running. I think I was grumbling a bit about it being difficult nowadays to even predict where I might be in my increasingly erratic cycle and she mentioned that she usually knows that that special monthly time is approaching when she starts planning to divorce her husband.

“That’s funny” I thought “I really wanted to divorce Mark only last weekend”. I’ll point out here don’t really want to divorce my poor husband and in fact I think he probably deserves some kind of long service award for putting up with me. However I confess that the dark thoughts had entered my mind while we were having a faintly disastrous attempt at Child Free Time (why on earth did we think 4 days away camping in Glencoe together would work anyway?). The planned 4 days were curtailed to 2 after a hysterical phone call from the son on our first night. Day 2 we embarked on a walk which due to my total over-estimation of my husband’s physical condition resulted in his losing his balance repeatedly on a slippery descent into Glen Etive in torrential rain (he loathes walking in the rain), falling over several times, breaking his brand new walking poles and having a massive sense of humour failure. I probably shouldn’t have laughed at him when he fell over for the final time.

So anyway, back to the Skyline where I optimistically started further up the pack than usual to try and avoid being caught up in the log jam going up Caerketton. This worked a treat and Strava informs me that this was the fastest that I have ever gone up that particular hill. I was rewarded by an overwhelming sense of impending doom, screaming legs, shortness of breath and a massive attack of The Boak. Still the first mile of a hill race is usually ghastly but things ease off once you are into your stride. Except they didn’t. I carried on, feeling nauseous and my legs seemed to belong to a ninety year old. It all felt like incredibly hard work to maintain a pace that I would normally find reasonably bearable. By Flotterstone I was starting to feel very ticked off and the prospect of going up Turnhouse didn’t improve my mood. Cathy Henly overtook me, looking as cheerful as always. “I feel DREADFUL” I moaned at her and she gave me the very good advice that I should maybe ease back and concentrate on just getting round and having fun. But things had progressed way beyond that and my mood was past the stage of being salvaged by positive thinking.

I tried to eat going up Turnhouse but couldn’t keep anything down, started having cold sweats and my internal dialogue was getting very sweary indeed. Thoughts of giving up crystalised and took a hold of my mind. “F*ck this shit” I muttered to myself “I want to go home”. Another runner that I would normally beat easily bounced past and I had an overwhelming urge to wrestle him to the ground and beat his happy smiling cheerful face to a pulp.

Going up Carnethy the game was over and all I could think about was sitting down on the cairn at the top and ending this misery. The final straw was near the summit when a couple of young sprightly lasses from the Edinburgh Uni runners came leaping down with swishy pony tails giving all of us words of encouragement. They were going pretty fast so i am sure that they were safely out of earshot when I venomously replied “Just f*cking f*ck the f*ck off the pair of you”.

I retired at the top of Carnethy and had a nice wee lie down for a bit. The marshal there very kindly leant me a spare top to put on and offered me a lift back to the start. What a gent. I handed myself in back at the start and had my wristband removed, then drove home, hoovered up all the chocolate I could find then went to bed and slept for two hours. My period started the next day.

Catching up…..

There have been a few events since the Chevy which I haven’t got around to writing up. I have also entered an ultra race in the Cheviots in December so am starting to train towards that and trying not to worry too much about the prospect of navigating in the dark or drowning on Comb Fell.

We went back to Brittany in the summer so it was nice to be able to do some runs there without an injured ankle. Being gluten free in France is not exactly easy or pleasant so after 2 days of enduring gluten free bits of carpet masquerading as baguettes I threw caution to the wind and hit the patisserie shops with gusto. It actually took longer for my IBS to reappear than I was expecting. Unfortunately I was enjoying a sunrise run around a particularly beautiful pristine little island at the time.

Anyway, moving swiftly on (which is exactly what I did after launching a sizeable offering to the Sea Gods off the nearest cliff) a couple of months ago my sister and I ran the Clennell Trail Half marathon. We both agreed that the southern Cheviots really take some beating – they may not be the most rugged of hill ranges but they have a wide-open beauty and you can roam around for hours and barely see a soul. There are reminders everywhere that they used to be quite populous with hill forts, stone circles and if you know where to look, some ancient and mysterious stone inscriptions known as cup and ring markings. The half marathon was around 15 miles and followed a lot of very runnable tracks. My sister kept up a good pace and we both placed reasonably well as far as we could tell from the very confusing results. I enjoyed it a lot and wished I had entered the marathon but judging by the state of the ultra runners at the finish who were covered in mud and talking about falling in bogs and getting lost I was slightly relieved not to have done the ultra. Although maybe it would have been good practice for December.

Next up was the Baddinsgill Round Hill Race. This is a lovely wee race so long as you don’t mind wet feet. It is only a fiver to enter and the organiser set it up because he really likes this part of the Pentlands and thought it would be nice to get more folk running here. Well, I have never been in that part of the Pentlands and very scenic it is too. I should really go back there and appreciate the views a bit more because it was so rough and boggy that I really couldn’t take my attention off foot placement most of the time. Navigation wasn’t too tricky which is as well because my pre-race plan of “follow Digby” went tits up immediately as he disappeared off over the horizon. So I opted to just follow the bloke ahead – apart from the point where he took a very unfortunate line through one of the many bogs and disappeared up to his shorts. I congratulated myself on a) not going in over my ankles except on the very last hill and b) wearing my roclite boots to avoid the risk of them being sucked off. Baddinsgill has a very pleasing runner to prize ratio which of course played no part whatsoever in my choosing to run it but I was, of course, very happy to be fourth female and to snag a bottle of beer and £10 Run & Become voucher as 2nd V40.

Last weekend was back to Alwinton again for the Cheviots Challenge. What with Baddinsgill then some decent mid-week Pentland runs my legs were feeling it a bit and I had only entered the short route with the intention of hiking it. Becky however had entered the long route and was planning to run. It took about 5 minutes of “persuasion” for me to decide to join her leaving my dad and brother in law to walk the short route. Unfortunately my dad was full of the cold and not feeling tip top so pulled out a short way in. We really lucked out with the weather, which was sunny and warm and the long route goes up to the border ridge before heading back down via Barrowburn so the views were just spectacular . My legs were knackered. Sadly Becky’s weren’t so for most of the way I was treated to the sight of her yomping off ahead of me although she did wait for me to catch up from time to time. The odd thing is that when I got to about 16 miles I stopped feeling tired – that bloody took long enough but meant at least I kept pace with Becky and we had a good chat. Once we had finished and collected our Cheviots challenge mug we had time to sit in the sunshine in the pub garden for a cider before heading back to see how my husband and mum had survived looking after all of the kids. Apparently they had cracked open a bottle of wine at lunchtime, which helped.

Chevy Chase fell race

I might possibly have mentioned once or twice how much I like this race. It is so well organised, the distance (20 miles) and terrain (endless bog and tussock) seems to suit my running and the coffee and walnut cake afterwards is good enough to tempt me off the gluten free wagon.

This year I had it down as my main racing target, especially after not being able to do the Fling. So my aims of the race were to beat my previous best time of 4 hours 26 and get into the top ten women. And enjoy it of course. My sister was doing it as well. She has done the Chevy walk several times and always placed well but this year there was no walking race. So officially this would be her first proper fell race. It was a shame in a way to lose the walking element as I always quite liked the camaraderie but the race organisers will have had their reasons and undoubtedly it will have greatly reduced the amount of time that marshals had to spend stuck out on exposed hill tops.

It absolutely chucked it down throughout the week before the race so I was a bit concerned about the state of all the peat bogs. My sister reckoned that they might not be too bad as it’s been a very dry spring and as it turned out she was right. But it was still very wet underfoot in all the areas where the run off from the hills hadn’t drained. We were really lucky with the race day weather – sunny, good visibility and a nice cooling breeze.

After registration at Wooler Youth Hostel we hung around waiting for the start before everyone ambled over to the start on the road to Wooler Common. I decided to take it fairly easy on the outward run to Broadstruther as I have often massively run out of steam in the final few miles of this race. This first leg is 3.5 miles and a gradual climb with some good tracks. Afterwards I wanted to run the bulk of the way to just beyond the next checkpoint at Cheviot Knee as it is virtually all runnable but the narrow paths can make things tricky if you get stuck behind a load of folk who have decided to walk. That all went well and I felt good on the climb up Cheviot. It is very steep coming off Cheviot down to the burn and I was a bit wary of my ankle. It feels completely back to normal but I really don’t want to sprain it again. Even so I made a reasonable fist of the descent and overtook 4 or 5 folk. Going up Hedgehope took a long time – lots of long grass and bracken, not much of a path at all and too much walking. I made the mistake at the top of fishing my phone out to check the time – I was quite convinced I would be up on my previous time but it was exactly the same so I felt a bit deflated about that. I rationalised that I could still make up time if I kept a better pace from here to the finish and in other good news I hadn’t seen any other women at all since I left Cheviot summit.

The descent off Hedgehope is lovely then there is a very squelchy stretch to Langlee Crags. The path is really faint at points and with strips of heather having been cleared this made it even harder to find than usual so a lot of us didn’t take the best line here. After the checkpoint there is a nice stretch of easy tracks which is traditionally where I start to die but felt OK this time. I stopped at Brand’s corner to have a gel and quick chat with the marshals so a couple of guys came past me then but the field was really thinning out. Still no women on my tail as far as I could see but none visible up ahead to target either.

The path through the Carey Burn valley is tricky with lots of scree then it becomes a swamp although there are duck boards at one point with I think are new. After that is the last climb up Hell’s Path. I was trotting up that when a chap came walking down and said “well done, I think you are 6th lady”. That put a spring in my step I can tell you. So onwards with renewed vigour and the last couple of miles back to Wooler. I caught up with a bloke in a red and white vest where we hit the road and we had a wee chat then egged each other on a bit to speed up and catch the two guys we could see in front of us. I am so glad we did as unknown to me there were a couple of women stealthily gaining on us in ninja mode. We sprinted the last bit of road then it was just a case of gritting the teeth and keeping the pace up down the narrow path to the finish. There was a lass hard on my heels and another close behind her. I got the print out of my time and was really delighted – 4 hours 17 minutes and still 6th female.

I took advantage of finishing in good time to have a shower with warm water then there was the prize giving. Afterwards I sat in the warm sunshine and waited for my sister to finish. She was looking really strong as she came in and had had a good run herself so we were both suitably chuffed with ourselves.

There were a lot of folk retired/timed out. I was 61st overall out of 190-something finishers. I still think I could go a bit faster, there is definite room to improve on the Hedgehope ascent for starters. But a great race and massive thanks to Wooler Running Club and everyone involved.

The 7 hills of Edinburgh

For the uninitiated this is a pleasingly low key race which has no fixed route but you have to hit all seven checkpoints – Carlton Hill (the start), Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill (East), Braid Hill, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat then Carlton Hill again for the finish. No closed roads. What route you take is up to you. Some folk take it all very seriously and have a lot of fun doing recces of short cuts (did Bill Gauld really lay secret stepping stones just below the surface of the Braid Burn the year he won it aged 57?) but sometimes the shorter route can take longer than you think, especially if you try getting up the steep bank behind Craiglockhart sports centre wearing Road shoes. You can either enter the race or the more laid back challenge, which sets off half an hour earlier.

I have always thoroughly enjoyed this race, despite never having found a particularly optimal route. I have never really wanted to spoil the experience by doing anything as stupid as entering the race instead of the challenge, thus feeling obliged to go baws oot and probably still having a crap time tailing off the back of all the fasties. Maybe one year, but this certainly wasn’t going to be it. My bucket of excuses contains – saving myself for the Chevy in a fortnight, no taper, legs still a wee bit tired after that marathon & chumming my sister around. My sister didn’t know the route at all and would have quite justifiably got very cross indeed if I had run off ahead and left her. She is also fairly terrifying when she is cross.

My friend Vicky was doing it for the first time so I had refreshed my memory of the route by doing a recce with her, just as well seeing as how my recollections were slightly sketchy and I even managed to go the wrong way up Gorgie Road at one point.

We are having something of a heat wave just now which has even reached us up here in the Frozen North, so although it wasn’t as hot as in Englandshire it was still a beautiful day for going to the beach. Oh well. My sister drove up from the Borders and seemed quite nervous so I did my best to reassure her, and said how much fun the race was. She said rather pointedly that my idea of fun was often a lot less fun for her. I can’t think what she meant by that. The start of the race is always one of the best bits as a horde of runners pours off Carlton hill, brings the traffic to a halt then does the whole tourist dodging thing up the Royal Mile to the castle. Becky, Vicky & I stuck together until Corstorphine when Vicky said she was going to slow a bit but she kept popping up again so wasn’t going that slow! The bit through Stenhouse is always tedious so I decided we may as well take the water of leith afterwards rather than more pavement down Chesser Avenue. It’s a little slower but a lot more pleasant. Afterwards I “forgot” to tell Becky there was an alternative easy path and we did the steep scramble up the bank at Craiglockhart. She thought that was great fun. I could see the fun written all over her face when she got to the top too. I trotted off smartish before she could hit me.

After Craiglockhart we were in tandem with Vicky again and I actually managed to remember all the wee shortcuts and alleyways that you need to take to get to Braid hill. Go me! The view from Braid Hill is really amazing although I could swear Arthur’s Seat always looks twice as big as usual when you know you have to get up it on tired legs. We took the exciting route down to the Braid Burn but I made an executive decision not to bother with the scramble up the far side and we did the easy way around before huffing our way up to Blackford hill. There was yet more great support up here, it really is such a sociable race to do, loads of club members and other supporters are always out on the hill tops with encouragment and bags of jelly babies. All of the checkpoints had buckets of water with sponges which we really needed in the warmth. There is a fair bit of banter between runners too, especially when the racers start to come past the challengers. Coming down Observatory Road there is always a couple with a hose pipe on spraying everyone. There were two more pop-up support points further along – there was a wee boy on Mayfield Road with another hosepipe and his family had got a table with water then on the corner of Blackett avenue a couple had pieces of orange and sweets! They must have all been there for ages, what a lovely thing to do.

You can still take the short cut through Pollock Halls but unfortunately they have fixed the turnstile so you can’t wriggle through it anymore. So you have to go over the 8 foot high wall instead. I *may* have forgotten to tell Becky about this bit too. She loved it, I could tell. I trotted away smartly before she could hit me and up Arthur’s Seat we went, taking the less exciting scramble route as Becky was feeling her knees by then. She muttered something about having wrenched her shoulder getting over the wall too. Once the summit was conquered we kept up a nice steady pace to the finish (I hate that run up Regent’s Road though, it HURTS and you pass by all the folk who have long since finished and are heading home as they give you cheery encouragement).

I really enjoyed it and I am pretty sure my sister did too. Maybe apart from that wall. I am such a lovely caring big sister that I even bought her an ice cream on the way back. Later I found an awesome photo that I had taken of her backside as she was getting over that wall. Surely a nice sister like me wouldn’t put it on Facebook and tag her? Would I?

Women Can Marathon, Tipton, Devon

I signed up for this marathon AGES ago. My friend Carine who lives in Devon put the link on Facebook and I thought why not? Devon being my ancestral seat and all that, nice weekend away, the prospect of clotted cream and a decent run with some friends. I hadn’t given it a lot more thought after that but I must say that the moment I got on the train on Friday laden with books and the promise of a peaceful few hours’ travelling I felt thoroughly relaxed.

My granny’s family all came from further West than where Carine lives so I don’t know her part of Devon at all. Running a marathon is a nice way to get a feel for a place, I like the idea that I am covering the ground in a similar way to human beings who lived there thousands of years ago and it gives a better sense of distance I think. We went for a walk the day before the race and did a loop for 6 miles or so of the marathon route, then had a cream tea with a scone the size of my head and a bucket of clotted cream. Just as well we were planning to run it all off again.

I have mixed feelings about women only events, part of me thinks that surely in this day and age nobody could be put off doing a race just because there might be a few MEN around, what with their Y-chromosomes, hearty banter and tendency to mock us poor females by peeing standing up when they know fine well we can’t. But hey ho, if just one woman was encouraged enough to run who wouldn’t have otherwise got off the sofa then it is worth while. The event was linked to the 261 Fearless movement which has been celebrating 50 years since Katherine Switzer ran the Boston marathon, much to the horror of the race organiser who tried to barge her off the course (clearly trying to protect her from herself, he was simply concerned that her uterus might fall out if she carried on and was not just being a nasty misogynistic twat).

My race plan, such as it was, wasn’t a plan at all. I assured Carine that I just wanted to do it as a social training run and would aim to take 5 to 5 and a half hours. We had a couple of other pals coming along too and all met up the morning of the race so had a good natter before the start. It had been forecast to be cloudy but in fact the sun was out for the first few hours and it got quite warm. For the first 9 miles or so I stuck to my plan and trotted along with Karen and Carine at a nice steady pace, chatting away and enjoying the route which initially ran alongside the river Otter then down the coast from Budleigh to Sidmouth. The coastal bit was pretty undulating and during one of the downhills I started to pick up a bit of speed…..wheeee….and passed some folk…..and suddenly got into that mythical state of flow that only ever comes from time to time but is so ridiculously enjoyable when it does. I knew it wouldn’t last so just rode it out with, I suspect, a slightly maniacal grin on my face. There was a lovely long descent into Sidmouth then came the half way point where I thought about stopping and waiting for the others but decided just to keep going. Typically as soon as we hit tarmac and flatness it all got a bit harder and I went into more of an energy saving ultra-shuffle mode. The field was thinning out a lot, I overtook a few more but most of the time was on my own. The course was very well marked and there were a lot of marshals and water points.

Sidmouth to Sidford was a bit boring, I was kind of hoping that I’d get another burst of energy at some point. I knew there was another decent hill to come to take us up onto a ridgeway before the remainder of the course went back down to reach the river and follow it back to Tipton. At 16 miles we went back onto trails, which perked me up a lot. I started feeling quite good and then it happened again. Energy levels went up, pace went up and oh dear, grinning like a moron again! Ooh look, a HILL, I like hills, let’s see if I can run ALL THE WAY UP AND OVERTAKE LOTS OF PEOPLE HA HA HA! The stretch along the ridge top was through what felt like properly ancient woodland and I enjoyed being largely on my own running there. Then the descent off was really good fun, with some stretches where I could pick up quite a decent amount of speed.

All good things come to an end and the running gods deserted me at 24 miles. It is weird going from being able to run effortlessly to it suddenly feeling like a complete slog but there were only 2 miles to go at least. So I grumbled along wondering aloud why marathons were such a stupid distance when 25 miles made a lot more sense. I wasn’t wearing a watch and just had strava going on my phone in my bum bag so had no idea at all how I was going but was very pleasantly surprised when I got to the finish at 4 hours 31. Karen, Carine and Jenni all then came in in turn as well as a lot of very happy looking women, often hand in hand or with their kids running alongside them in the final yards. The winner took a most impressive 3 hours 20 but it wasn’t a highly competitive race – 2nd and 3rd were half an hour later. I was 20th out of 205 and second in my age group. Yay! In hindsight it wasn’t all that surprising that I had a pretty good run. I’d trained quite hard for the Fling but then couldn’t run it due to injury. But the injury that stopped me doing the Fling was short lived and only really prevented me from training for a couple of weeks, so I was a reasonable shape.

I thoroughly enjoyed staying with Carine, she has a lovely relaxed family and they made me feel right at home. Hopefully not too much at home – I wonder if I was maybe a bit like a smaller, Scottish version of the tiger who came to tea – marching in, spending my time foraging through the fridge, buggering off and leaving Carine on her own in the race before heading off again having drunk all of the home brewed cider and cleaned them out of clotted cream. Hopefully not though, I’d quite like to go back!

Spring sunshine

I was signed up for the John Muir Ultra last weekend, which I was looking forward to as it followed many of my childhood riding routes. The weekend before was just glorious, chilly nights but sunny warm days making it a midge and tourist-free delight to visit Loch Lomond. I even managed to pursuade my poor husband to come camping so we booked into the tiny campsite on Inchcailloch Island and enjoyed having the whole place to ourselves (until some poor sod arrived by canoe looking for some peace and tranquility early on Sunday morning and got roundly yapped at by Bertie). Not a lot beats snuggling down with your beloved family after an evening of story telling and charred marshmallows around the campfire, even if your husband snores like a pneumatic drill and your son is full of snotters and shedding adenovirus all over the shop.

Naturally I went down with the cold like a ton of bricks and ended up deciding not to do the JMW. Another race entry fee down the bloody pan. My pal Claire had to run by herself and as she’d forgotten her Imodium AGAIN I missed the chance to have a good laugh at her expense (three visits from the poo fairy this time, apparently). Never mind, it is only a race. I was feeling much better on the Sunday so decided to take advantage of my long suffering parents by dumping the kids on them on Monday and doing a decent run in the Cheviots. I figured out a circular run route, guesstimated it was about 20 miles and buggered off with a cheery “I’ll be back around lunchtime”.

Lunchtime came and went. It was indeed a lovely route. I followed St Cuthbert’s way from Wooler Common to where it intersected with the Pennine Way near Kirk Yetholm. The Pennine Way took me up to the Cheviot then I did the Chevy route in reverse back to the car via Broadstruther. The sun shone, there were skylarks about and very few humans. Bertie was having a lovely time, as was I (although I didn’t yap ineffectually at any sheep). But it was considerably further than 20 miles and with a lot of bog hopping plus stops to check the map it was not the fastest going. I got the “where the heck are you” phonecall as I crossed the summit of Cheviot. Luckily the kids had been fairly well behaved.

In way of compensation for not doing the ultra I joined the Carnethy Alternative John Muir Way which was arguably going to be more fun anyway. There have been 4 club organised ultra-length social runs over the winter/spring which have been great for me trying to do Fling training at a time of year where heading out for long runs by yourself can take a bit of mental fortitude. Rumour has it that taking part in the series could result in a reward in the shape of a beer! The alt JMW doesn’t really follow the John Muir Way but intends takes a much nicer route hugging beaches and coastline from Aberlady out to Tynningham. Then a short way inland to Keith’s house (Keith organises the run) for lunch then onward along the river Tyne to the Garlton Hills then cross country back to Aberlady. A sag wagon is provided and you can bring a bike and cycle all or part of the route (35 miles). It is all a bit of a well oiled machine, Keith really does a great job and his family very kindly provide slap up lunch with grandkids on waitress service.

It was wall to wall sunshine again, the East Lothian coastline looked pristine and beautiful, the company was pleasant and the running mostly pretty easy except for the odd scramble around the foot of cliffs. There was a bit of property porn too when we passed some rather swish looking mansions before we entered North Berwick. We had to perform a few military manoeuvres at Tantallon Castle to avoid getting nobbled for the entry fee which had us all giggling like a bunch of naughty 11 year olds as we legged it through the moat. A few hardy souls even went for a quick swim at Tyningham.

The trouble with stopping for lunch is that it feels horrible getting going again and I nearly begged for a ride in the sag wagon before zipping up my man suit and deciding to keep going to the next stop at the monument in the Garlton hills which was supposed to be 28 miles. Well it was 30 so near enough and from the Fling training point of view I wanted to get a few more miles under my belt. Just in the last mile or two I had a vague pain at the front of my right foot which I thought was maybe due to shoelaces being too tight. By the monument it felt like a niggle so I got the sag wagon back to Aberlady. That evening there was some soreness and swelling on the front of my shin and yesterday it hurt to walk so I think infact it is some kind of shin stress reaction/shin splinty sort of thing. Feels a lot better today but continues my fine tradition of injuring myself in my very last long run before an event. Time will tell if it resolves before the Fling or not but to be honest I do wonder about the value of signing up for races when often a social run can be so much more fun with no pressure.

Some great pics and v amusing write up of the day by Peter on his blog here http://bestpartday.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/alternative-john-muir-way-2017.html

Thrunton Thriller

This was run by High Fell Events (aka Barry the Chief Pain Giver) who did the Hedgehope wipeout race that I did in January. I don’t know the Thrunton Woods area well, I think I may have orienteered there in the mid-80s, but got the impression that there would be Ascent, Terrain and Mud to contend with. It’s a popular mountain-bike area and some of the trails we were on looked pretty technical and we felt a lot safer on two feet than we would have on wheels!

My sister had entered as well and we’d both opted for the longer course on offer – roughly half marathon distance. I was humming and ha-ing a bit about whether to race it or treat it as a training run. I managed to completely offend my poor sister by pondering aloud about this dilemma with words to the effect of “I might not race this and just stick with you to make it a nice easy run”. She didn’t actually lamp me for suggesting that her race pace was my easy potter but I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had. I decided in the end to grace her with my company as I’d done a long back-to-back on the West Highland Way the week before and hadn’t exactly tapered.

The start was slightly chaotic – the race briefing was totally inaudible even though it was given twice – the only words i manage to catch were “….and if that happens call 999….” so I assumed that there was nothing terribly vital to impart. Then we were hanging around for ages before being set off, not sure why that was. But once underway the course was very enjoyable. Initially we were held up in a few spots due to too many people on a narrow path but once everyone had spread out it was fine. There was a little bit of rain but not enough to need to put on waterproofs and the sun was out for most of the time. The route wended its way through tranquil woodland before the first short but steep pull upwards. Then more woodland paths and tracks before the first checkpoint which was around an hour in I think. They had loads of sweeties and even gluten free flapjack which was fantastic. Then over a stream, or through more to the point and inevitable wet feet. After this came a longer hill which carried us up to the crags overlooking the forest. There seemed to be a lot of runners around at the top and we realised after that the short route had joined the longer one at this point. We skirted along the edge for a while with lovely views towards the coast and up to the cheviot hills. The descent off was very eroded and quite tricky – I passed one bloke who was in road shoes and not having a terribly good time by the sounds of it. It was good fun so I popped down then waited for my sister at the bottom. After this we hit mud, mud and more mud. Sloppy mud. Claggy mud. Deep boggy mud. You name it, we got it. I was very glad indeed not to be racing this bit, the first mile or so in particular was mainly a slight uphill and ankle deep most of the way. We reached another checkpoint which had more flapjack, hooray! The long course diverted away at this point and we had another long stretch of mud but at least this time was mostly downhill. I was wearing gaiters which helped keep my shoes from being sucked off. Becky was just starting to get a bit of a sense of humour failure when the mud finally came to a stop and we headed back into woodland for the last bit of the course. There was another fairly technical descent but otherwise it was quite straightforward running. We weren’t sure how long the course would be so guessed anywhere between 13 and 15 miles was likely but both felt fine to keep trotting on and quicker than anticipated we spotted the finish below us. Of course there was the obligatory “sting in the tail”to come. I’d have welcomed a river dunking this time but no handy river nearby so we were sent on a wee loop back up into the forest before the crossing the finish line.

It was almost 14 miles and just over 2000ft ascent. We took a steady 3 and a half hours to finish. We both really enjoyed it, the course was pretty challenging if you enjoy a lot of mixed terrain and running through mud gives you a bloody good workout. It was very well route marked and marshalled. The medal was crap and went straight in the bin – I’d have preferred another mug myself! I would definitely do this one again, though.