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.

Aberfoyle Trail Race

There’s plenty to enjoy about Aberfoyle especially if you find geology interesting. An appreciation of rain and the highland midge also helps. It sits at the foot of the highland boundary fault which means that you can combine some lung bursting hill efforts with a contemplation of the unbelievable forces which have shaped the surrounding landscape. There is still a little geological activity going on – Aberfoyle was struck but a small but significant earthquake relatively recently. Unfortunately there have been some severe floods in recent years too, as it sits on a floodplain and the Trossachs are not exactly known for their arid climate. Trail running around and about is really fantastic, you are spoilt for choice with a myriad of routes all with glorious views when the weather is clement. Even when it is a more typically damp and misty day it is still so atmospheric with ancient trees all dripping with moss. Lately there are moves afoot to replace some of the forestry commission’s horrendous conifer monoculture with more native woodland, which is all to the good.

We were up there for half term so I reckoned it would be good to do a local race.  After suffering from post carnethy-5 stress disorder (symptoms included flashbacks induced by people posting video clips of runners fighting their way across Carnethy summit in a blizzard on Facebook) a nice little trail race seemed just the ticket.

The 7k route utilised the boundary fault with a lovely course incorporating a less lovely climb from the bottom of the fault up and over the top. Sadly the whole climb was completely runnable so no excuses for stopping for a cheeky walk! The race was also open to Cani-cross runners so the start was full of very excited dogs all waiting for the off in their harnesses. The dog runners were set of first at intervals then there was a massed start for the rest of us. Unusually for me I started off in the front row, but it was a very small field and after sizing up the competition (not many club vests) thought I may as well just go for it. One very fit looking older lady shot off and that was the last I saw of her until the finish. A younger lass got ahead but I kept her in view and was hoping I’d catch her on the climb. Unfortunately a lady in a white cap came powering past and I never quite caught the young lass so was stuck in 4th. I could have done with a dog to pull me up the ascent but kept up a run at least. Then a nice fast downhill run back to the finish although I didn’t enjoy that so much as I was pushing hard and all I could think was how much I dislike short fast races. There weren’t many speedy male runners so I think I was fairly well up there overall but the results aren’t out yet.  As I said though, it was a very small field so my position reflects that rather than any great ability on my part. In comparison I was in the bottom half of results overall in the Carnethy 5 and half way down the women.

Cani-cross looks like a lot of fun. I have tried running with Bertie in a harness though and the little bugger just refuses point blank to move until he goes back into a normal collar and lead. I have told him that I’ll replace him with a nice border collie but so far he is studiously ignoring that threat.

Carnethy 5

I may have mentioned that I have somehow managed to dodge the Carnethy 5 bullet until now. No such luck this year. But I was quite looking forward to it especially as by the middle of last week the weather forecast was looking Ok.

Sadly however that all changed and by friday night there were weather warnings afoot of high winds and snow.  When I woke up on saturday morning I could hear the wind howling and blearily thought to myself that it was bound to be cancelled and went back to sleep.  When I woke up properly I remembered that hill races don’t tend to be cancelled and took the dog out for a walk to see how bad things were. Having to wear several layers and full waterproofs to walk the dog in central Edinburgh doesn’t bode terribly well for what was happening out in the Pentlands. Looking at the Kips Cam didn’t cheer me up any either. Soon enough it was time to head off to get my lift out to Penicuik and join all the other idiots who thought that this was a fun way to spend a saturday.

As we were getting ready the voice of doom came over the tannoy “These are the worst conditions I have seen in 16 years, there are 40 miles an hour winds on the summits and it is -15 degrees with windchill”. Oh joy.

The condemned runners then all boarded the buses to take us to the race start, which is in a pretty godforsaken spot beside the A702. There were some marquees up as shelter and I found a corner to sit in and chatted to pass time until my bladder finally drove me outside for a quick warm up. I don’t know quite why the start is in front of an unavoidable bog but it is. So you start the race with cold wet feet as an added treat. As we set off it started snowing and it didn’t let up for the entirety of the race. Nasty sleety snow that was driven like needles by the howling wind.  I’d decided to wear my thick winter cycling gloves and I am so relieved that I did, I didn’t really feel cold for most of the race but was very aware of the lurking threat of hypothermia and how fast one’s core temperature would drop if you slowed or stopped for any reason.  I think the conditions were on the very edge of what was safe for the race to go ahead and there was a cut off of 1 hour 10 at the Howe so any slow runners would get pulled to save the marshals being out on the course for any longer than necessary. The marshals all deserve medals to be honest, all the way round there they were, braced against the wind with ski-goggles on shouting encouragement!

So, first we went up Scald Law with the wind strengthening all the time. I felt Ok going up but started to struggle a bit from Scald Law over to South Black Hill then the Kips. I couldn’t attack the course at all, the wind was so strong and conditions underfoot were just horrendous. I could barely see where I was going and then I got blown off my feet going round the cairn of South Black Hill and deposited on my side on the hard ground which didn’t really encourage me to try and go faster. After West Kip I managed to have a good run (and bum slide) down to the Howe and at least we were in relative shelter there.  Then was the last ascent to come, all the way to the summit of Carnethy.  After the col between Scald Law and Carnethy we were fully back in the wind and the final bit of the ascent was like nothing I have ever experienced with poor visibility, driving snow and runners fighting their way up against the blast. Poor Mary was one of the marshals at the top, plainly she must have done something very bad in a previous life to deserve that. Unfortunately I just couldn’t handle the last descent, it is very steep and through thick heather and my legs were so cold they refused to obey so I could only pick my way down like a total patsy. Then thank goodness a simple run back through that bloody bog to the finish.  Helen Wise had made the mistake of standing beside the finish funnel as I came in and I flung myself into her arms, gibbering. Sorry Helen.

Time-wise I was a bit slower than I’d wanted to be but was still under one and half hours and I wasn’t really bothered about the time, I just needed to get warm clothes on pronto. Some folk at the end were saying that they’d enjoyed it! Seriously? It was absolutely horrific from start to finish and the toughest race I have done by a country mile. I overheard someone say that those were the worst conditions he had ever done it in and this was his 20th C5. We got buses back to the High school and there was very welcome hot food available for all. I had chicken tikka and rice and very good it was too, I even stopped shaking once I’d eaten it.

The Carnethy 5 is a big race and I think Olly the race organiser does a fantastic job bringing it all together, it is a huge logistical effort especially when the weather turns nasty.  And I daresay I’ll have forgotten how ghastly it was in a few months time and just remember the camaraderie and sense of achievement. Until I am there on the start line again about to run through that effing bloody bog….

Hedgehope Winter WIPEOUT!

It was the Spine race last week, which has been great fun watching via the marvels of modern social media. The winner is an anaesthetist and the winning woman an emergency medical practitioner which if nothing else shows that working in the modern NHS makes you very tough or maybe just desperate. I am sure Jeremy Hunt is proud. I guess one advantage of doing a race like that is that you can exist in a kind of bubble, just purely focussed on what you are doing and where you are going rather than having to worry about the world at large while the rest of us are watching the TV in disbelief as a bright orange nincompoop becomes the most powerful man on earth.

Since the future of humanity may now be even more curtailed than previously thought it becomes even more imperative to live for the moment before nuclear annhialation fuses all living creatures together and all that survives is a wasteland of radioactive dust and fragments of Trump’s toupe. So I am treasuring every precious moment.

Well, of course I am not. I still shout at the kids too much and grumble if I don’t get my coffee break at work. But I am entering a lot of races.

Today’s offering was a sort of fell race. The route was like a fell race but the race had CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks. And it was organised by someone called “Barry the chief pain giver” according to the 14 page race briefing that was emailed out beforehand. I shouldn’t snipe though, it was good fun and a demanding route, even if the weather was pretty benign for January (much to Barry’s obvious disappointment, he wanted weather with CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks!).  The race started in Ingram, just south of Wooler and headed out into the Cheviots, with the half way point at the summit of Hedgehope then you retraced the route back down again. Just over 12 miles and 2700 feet climb so very similar to Feel the Burns distance and climb-wise. Being the Cheviots meant no shortage of bogs, which were freezing cold and I could have done with wearing my neoprene socks. Although they were nowhere near as bad as the man eating bogs on the Comb Fell approach to Hedgehope so I should be grateful. I had a very nice new piece of kit to try as my parents had bought me an innov-8 race vest for my birthday. It was really comfy and swallowed a lot of kit very happily.

The drawback of an out and back is that the fasties at the front come zipping past when you still have quite a substantial amount of uphill slog to go yourself. However, I was heartened that I was well on my way up Hedgehope before the first female runner came past. I counted 10 or 11 women before I reached the summit cairn, which was dusted in snow. Then 6 miles of mostly downhill beckoned, nice and rough and tussocky just how I like it. And there were loads of people still on their way up, so I felt pretty good zooming past them. Until I stacked it and went arse over tit – luckily landing in a nice soft soggy bit of peat. I swore a lot. Shortly afterwards I lost a shoe in a bog and let loose a few more choice epithets as I prised it back out again.

The rest of the descent was uneventful but I was a fair way down when I saw 3 guys still on their way up carrying an enormous log! I think they were raising money for a friend and managed the entire route, log and all apparently. Towards the end we went through some particularly muddy fields and I was thinking that it would be nice to be able to get rid of the kilos of mud weighing down my shoes. Obviously Mr Chief pain giver had thought carefully about this and had very kindly made the return route go through the river before the finish. It was nearly waist deep and bloody freezing. We went across the damn thing three times. That seemed a tad excessive to me but my shoes were lovely and clean. We got a mug at the finish, which I approve of as I don’t see the point of medals and have lots of t-shirts.

Turns out I was 12th lady out of 93 which I am very pleased at. I was in the top half of finishers too. I’d love to think that this reflects my running ability but in fact I was no faster than last Sunday when I was a lot further down the field. My husband outdid me today by winning a hackathon. I have no idea what that is but he was very waggy-tailed about it. I don’t believe it involved exercise though.

Feel the Burns race

So, what have I been up to since Glen Ogle? Not a lot worth blogging about anyway. I might be a little guilty of oversharing especially when it comes to bodily functions but even I draw the line at a detailed blog post about the colonoscopy that I endured last month. Apart from to say that bowel prep takes some beating in terms of self inflicted trauma and that iv fentanyl is very pleasant stuff. Fortunately there was nothing malignant squatting in my descending colon and symptoms have been attributed to eating way too much beetroot and IBS. I have gone gluten free in an attempt to get things under control and it has been surprisingly effective which is a shame because I like cake. And bread. And beer.

Running-wise I am building mileage and attempting to do more speed work. We went to Dubai over Christmas and New Year which was an interesting place to visit. My brother in law works for Emirates and moved there a year or so ago and inevitably we were going to have to go and stay. No reluctance at all on my part to spending time with my sister in law and brother in law who are two of the nicest people I know (and splendid cooks) but Dubai itself has never appealed. Bling, mysogeny, heat and slave labour being a winning combination, not to mention a colossal environmental footprint. So I am ashamed to confess that I really enjoyed it and we had a fantastic fortnight. Highlights were glamping and dune bashing in the desert and also yours truly getting stuck in the u-bend of a flume and having to be rescued. I need to record that it was because I was too light and hadn’t picked up enough momentum to carry me over an uphill bit and not because I am a fat bloater who gets wedged in tight places.  Running was done either early doors or after sunset and I mainly stuck to doing laps of the compound where the in-laws lived. So not much hill work.

Yesterday was my first race of the year, the Feel the Burns race in Selkirk. It is more popular every year which isn’t surprising as it was great fun and very well organised. This was my first time running it and I hadn’t had time to recce either but the route looked straightforward on the map and the forecast extensive hill fog luckily didn’t really materialise. Even if it had the route was very well marked and marshalled. It was a bit over 13 miles and the going was quite tough courtesy of all the snow melting and overnight rain. There was a LOT of mud . The first half has a fair bit of ascent but I found it easier than expected, always nice when you find yourself feeling fitter than you thought. Unfortunately my ankle brace was chafing like mad and I had to stop and try and put plasters on which lost me a good few minutes and meant I spent the rest of the race painstakingly overtaking all the folk who had gone past me when I was sorting it. From the turn around point there were 3 miles or so of beautiful down hill running, which was awesome. Loved that stretch. Then through a river and into a farm for the only water stop of the race. I carried water on me but could have got away without it. After that I slowed down and lost some more time, probably because a few others were walking and the temptation can be a bit much just to slot in behind instead of pushing on, and there was a lot of slippery mud. There was one last hill to go which was an absolute little bastard frankly, steep and heathery. Then downhill again to the finish (more mud, including a particularly unpleasant boggy bit just in front of the finish line).

I think I lost about 3 or 4 minutes faffing with the ankle brace but although I was quite slow overall I managed a faster time than I thought I would and was surprised not to be struggling half as much as I expected with the ascents. Apart from the discomfort from my brace I really enjoyed the race, many thanks to the organisers and marshals (especially the chap who helped me attach plasters to very wet leg and some especially enthusiastic ladies cheering and ringing cow bells). Definitely one to do again. Shame the nice looking pies at the end weren’t gluten free, I had to make do with a cup of sweet tea. Post race spreads are destined to become frustrating affairs from now on.

Glen Ogle Ultra 2016

Doing the same race over and over again is great from the point of view of minimising pre-race neuroticism but must lead to a pretty boring blog. There are only so many ways I can write about  turning up to the start of Glen Ogle totally untrained and taking hours to plod around. On the other hand if I do it again next year for the fifth time then that apparently gets me a special “BAM-pot” prize – yay!

I did a pleasant 15 mile run from Aberfoyle to Balmaha during the half term break and that and the Skyline was the sum total of my post-injury distance training. So to make up for lack of preparation I bought a lurid green kilt which I thought would look rather fetching with my nice pink Argyle pattern compression socks.  If you can’t run fast you may as well go for the fancy dress option I suppose.

Four of us made the journey up to Killin this year. Claire, who I ran with last year (and who assured me she had packed enough Imodium to induce constipation for a month after all the poo-related excitement of 2015), Anya (who due to an unfortunate juxtaposition once of the Carnethy equinox run, alcohol and norovirus is known as Vomiting Anya) and Anya’s friend Lenka. This was going to be a day of age, maturity and experience (40-something me and Claire) vs youth, better collagen and enthusiasm (20-something Anya and Lenka on their first ultra).

The weather was the best I have known for the race, it was clear and sunny with tremendous views. But very chilly – there was a dusting of snow on the high tops and a keen north wind, which was most obvious on the long slog back up the viaduct!  Probably more of an issue for the poor marshals but they must have all remembered their thermals as they were as lovely as always.  I felt pretty awful for the first 10 miles or so, my guts were churning away in a most unpleasant fashion so I was very glad of the company and chat to distract me from the inner thoughts of why on earth I bother running ultras when I prefer hill racing and am considerably better at hill racing (rabbit-holes notwithstanding).  I remarked that we were keeping up a similar pace to last year and that was good as it meant that we’d be spared the indignity of still being on the outward bit of the course when the race leaders hit it on their way back “because if that happens we may as well give up and sit by the side of the path and cry” I said.  So no prizes as to what happened later .

Thankfully I was starting to feel better by the time we came down off the side of the Glen, and definitely reckoned I was going to be able to get round by then. My ankle wasn’t hurting at all which was fantastic and my tummy had settled without having to resort to any impromptu toilet stops. Only in an ultramarathon do you use the fact that you haven’t shat yourself as a cause for celebration.  Just as we approached the crossing onto the road a chap came running towards us. For a few seconds I refused to believe he was the race leader – he loped casually past us, still wearing his coat and bade us a cheerful “Morning!” as if he was just out for a nice morning jog. He then went on the break the course record – hats off to him!

The road stretch was ok, Claire and I leap-frogged Anya and Lenka a few times, the autumn leaves were stunning in the golden sunshine and it felt very tranquil. I was delighted when we got to the hill after Strathyre so we could get a nice long walk break but I confess I had forgotten quite how long the damn thing went on for. By mile 23 I cheered myself up by remembering that in the Fling I would still have had 30 miles to go and today it was only 10. I hadn’t done any drop bags and correctly assumed I could just pick up food from the left overs. I didn’t carry water either and just had a collapsible camping cup to have a drink from at each check point which was fine. But I shared Claire’s can of coke at checkpoint 3 which gave a very welcome boost.  After that having some company really helped  to distract from having to slog out the last stretch on legs that hadn’t been asked to run this kind of distance for a while. We’d left the youngsters behind after the big hill so it appeared that age was going to win out until a couple of mile from the finish and Anya and Lenka skipped past looking unfairly sprightly. “It was so awful back there, I was crying” said Anya cheerfully “but I feel MUCH better now!” And off they scampered.

I think our finish time is only going to be 5 minutes or so slower than last year, which is a good advert for muscle memory!  However I am a bit fed up of getting slower and slower. At the end of the day, if I do all my training at a plod then I am only ever going to plod around in a race.  Therefore Operation Run Fling Faster starts here.

Pentland Skyline Hill Race

Some days you just have to accept that the odds are stacked against you! There was not a snowball’s chance in hell that I would get anywhere near to last year’s time anyway – as I suspected the deltoid ligament still isn’t right and I’ve only managed one 12 mile hill run lately. I realise now that it was a little over-optimistic to think that last weekend’s pasting would result in an instant fitness reboot – in fact I spent last week feeling like I had been run over by a truck and a faintly shite parkrun time on saturday confirmed that I was still in recovery mode. Then enter Enterovirus D68. Mark very kindly introduced this into the household last week – I thought he just had a bad cold but had to defer to his superior knowledge as a Very Clever Intensivist that it was Enterovirus D68. “Can it get very serious?” I asked. “It can cause flaccid paralysis” he said dolefully.
Now I may not be an ICU doctor with a brain the size of a planet but I smelt bullshit. I have worked in sexual health for a very long time and can tell you that flaccid paralysis is Not A Thing. If the husband thought he could tell me he had a flaccid paralysis that needed my urgent attention then he would be getting a slap in the chops.
And so injured, unfit and possibly viraemic I manfully turned up to the Skyline with the sole aim of getting around. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the early hill fog lifted quickly and I promised myself I would just jog around and enjoy myself. Just the thought of a few hours peace and quiet with no-one in earshot coughing, spluttering, snivelling and asking for chicken noodle soup would be a real treat. In fact, perhaps the longer I took the better?
The start was delayed due to car parking issues but soon enough we were off and up Caerketton with the usual bottlenecks. After that everyone spread out nicely and I found myself a comfortable pace, studiously ignoring all the folk hurtling past. I almost took the outward leg too easy – I hadn’t switched my garmin on and was blissfully ignorant of how I was doing, just enjoying being in the moment when I took out my phone to take a quick photo, checked Strava and realised I had been out for 2 hours 12 and was on the wrong side of West Kip. Luckily the cut-off wasn’t being rigorously enforced!
After this I merrily haemorrhaged time between Hare Hill and Bell’s hill (not easy terrain for the poor ankle to be fair) but still felt OK in myself. However, it doesn’t matter what speed you run at, the Skyline is a tough old race and I was starting to feel a bit weary going up Capelaw. Helen, Willie and a couple others were marshalling at the top – with a flask of hot juice and pieces of snickers bars. That would really hit the spot so it seemed rude not to stop for some juice and a quick chat. After that I just needed to cajole my legs back into a trot and only one more serious climb up Allermuir and I would be practically home and dry. I finished in 4 hours 40 which is nearly an hour longer than last year. Although Strava said my moving time was 4 hours 30 which implies I spent 10 minutes of the race at a complete standstill. I am sure I wasn’t busy gassing on the top of Capelaw for that long!

Because I’m worth it??

The Matt Roberts Fitness Retreat at Gleneagles 30/9/16-2/10/16

It is the modern disease, isn’t it – the sense of entitlement, the feeling that you DESERVE something while around us the world is being systematically stripped of resources.  So what is the solution – should we all become subsistence farmers? Will humanity with all its ingenuity be able to find a way out of the current situation and create a Gene Roddenberry-esque future? And meantime what the hell is a notorious tightwadge like myself doing indulging themselves at a not-especially-cheap 3 day boot camp run by a well known personal trainer to the stars at a very posh hotel?

Rewind a few months and I was in the kitchen opening the mail feeling a little ticked off at having had to cancel my summer races and not being able to run.  First I opened a newsletter from Gleneagles (because we may <cough> have stayed there once or twice <cough cough>). “Hmm, a fitness retreat” I thought “that looks good, might give me something to look forward to, keep the motivation up HELLS BELLS IT COSTS HOW MUCH??”  Next letter however contained a decent sized cheque – my share from my Grandfather’s will.  “Oh f*ck it” I thought “When do I ever treat myself” and booked my spot.  I suggested to Mark that we go as a couple but he looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  Extreme exercise and healthy eating are not exactly his cup of tea, to be fair.

So Friday morning saw me driving up the M9 in lashing rain hoping that my ankle would stand up to the exercise and also really quite looking forward to a few days away all by myself that didn’t involve a wet tent and flatulent dog this time.  I know that I have tendency to respond well to very intense exercise, it gives me a big fitness boost but like 99% of the human race find it quite hard to push myself without a bit of serious bullying.  I think my diet could definitely be better so the nutrition side of things would be interesting too.  The retreat also included several mindfulness sessions, two massages and one “wellness treatment”.  I picked the least woo option of a wellness massage.  6 years at medical school tends to result in a deep seated prejudice against cranio-sacral therapy and its ilk.

On arrival we met the other participants – only 11 of us despite there having been 20 places available.  And a lot of us were ladies of a certain age too – this promised an entertaining few days with plenty chat about bodily functions, hot flushes and how many Tena Ladies you need to get through a Matt Roberts bootcamp (4 in my case).  In fact we all got on like a house on fire and the lack of Fit Young Things actually meant that there was a lot of mutual support and encouragement without anyone getting all arsey and competitive.  We ranged fairly widely in fitness levels and what we wanted to get out of the 3 days and my impression is that we all felt pushed out of our comfort zone without being pushed too far.  Matt himself was friendly, very professional and not surprisingly extremely good at what he does.  I half expected him to have brought along other trainers and delegated the work to them but in fact he ran most of the sessions himself with a very nice Aussie chap called Rob who is a trainer who works at Gleneagles.  The mindfulness sessions were provided by the mellow-voiced Gareth and made a pleasant contrast to the physical beasting that went on.  I do a lot of mindfulness anyway – I don’t know how the others found it as some of the sessions were quite long.

The first day I found was pitched about right. We did some high intensity work interspersed with lighter sessions that focussed more on stretching, dynamic movement and foam rolling.  The rain had cleared up so some of the time we spent outside in the beautiful grounds.  By the end of the day I felt a bit sore but not so destroyed that I wouldn’t be able to move on saturday.  The food was tasty but really healthy – no dairy, huge amounts of veggies, good carbs.  Sitting in a restaurant and being confronted with lovely healthy beetroot gazpacho when all around you there are well padded golfers tucking into their burgers and chips was a painful experience.  There was no alcohol and the waitresses studiously ignored our suggestions of some nice warm bread to go with the gazpacho.  It made me realise quite how reliant I am on potatoes, pasta etc so there is definitely work to do to improve the family diet.  I wondered if I would notice any bodily changes – maybe more energy? A glossy coat? Increased bowel transit time?  Unsuprisingly the most noticeable difference was indeed colon-related. Going more often with beetroot induced colour change was one predictable effect. The other was, I am afraid to report, truly epic levels of bloating and flatulance.  Maybe this improves with time? The therapist during my massage on saturday remarked that my glutes were incredibly tight. I didn’t dare tell her that it was because I was having to clench so hard to prevent the sort of chemical warfare incident that would result in my being blacklisted from the Gleneagles Spa area for the rest of my life.

Saturday was a very tough day. The weather was absolutely glorious and we started with what was scheduled to be a pre-breakfast run/walk but what in fact was dastardly hill reps and sprint intervals.  The sun was just coming up and there was some light mist – very atmospheric although I stopped noticing the view fairly rapidly.  Much to my relief the healthy breakfast was not compulsory and we could opt for the standard buffet instead. I felt a lot better for having inhaled some black pudding but patted myself on the back for not having any of the bucks fizz.  Then we alternated weights and core exercises followed by a fantastic session of very high intensity intervals where we were divided into groups which pitted rowers against spin cycles – one person had to set the pace by rowing flat out from 250 meters to zero and obviously the faster they went the shorter the session which gave a bit of an impetus!  Brilliant fun, absolutely knackering and I left in a daze of endorphins.  Unfortunately I can’t eat after heavy exercise so could barely touch lunch and it was a looong time until dinner.  However I had anticipated this and brought lots of snacks (healthy ones though – I figured that bringing a suitcase of haribo to a fitness retreat might be frowned on).  We were out in the sunshine in the afternoon for more intervals but less intense than the morning’s.  My quads were absolutely minced by the time we were done.  Thank goodness for the massage and my trusty compression tights.

Getting up on Sunday wasn’t quite as painful as I thought it would be.  It promised to be a less intense day with mindfulness then breakfast followed by a hike then a final high intensity session after lunch.  It was another stunner of a day – frosty to start with, hardly any wind and sunny. Perfect for a hike in the Ochils!  We covered around 8.5 miles and the views from the hill tops were really jaw-dropping, you could even see Ben Nevis the air was so clear.  Matt instructed us after the first couple of stops that he was going to “start pushing the pace” so we could get a really decent work-out but there was a whiff of rebellion in the air and everyone ended up just going along at their own speed and having a good old natter.  I idly wondered as trailed in his wake exactly how hyperactive he had been as a small boy!  Thankfully because the hike over-ran the high intensity session was replaced by a short bit of stretching and foam rolling otherwise I think there would have been a full-scale revolt.  Then some time to wind down with a final massage and mindfulness session, a tasty dinner and home.

So all in all it was a great weekend and definitely worth while if you enjoy hard exercise or feel in need of kick up the backside fitness-wise.  There were some minor niggles for me in terms of timings of meals but overall I think the mix of harder and easier sessions was pretty spot on and I enjoyed the incorporation of mindfulness.  So would I go again?  Actually, yes, if I can find a small bank to rob first.

Cheviots Challenge 3/9/16

Well one thing about being injured is that it allows you to indulge in other pursuits you may not have had the time for otherwise.  So the positive spin on my ankle is that I was able to enter the Cheviots Challenge and had a couple of most enjoyable training hikes with my dad in the Lammermuirs in the run up.  I have been hill-walking with my dad for nearly my whole life and he never tires of telling me about how he used to go on walks in the Pentlands carrying me on his shoulders when I was a toddler.  I don’t have any conscious memory of that but I’d like to think it could be why I love being in the hills so much.  He still walks so fast at kicking 70 that I almost have to run to keep up.

I did the Cheviots Challenge in 2010 and 2011 – it raises funds for the Northumberland Mountain Rescue and offers 2 route which vary slightly from year to year so you have to be able to self navigate (or be with someone who knows the area). The short route is usually in the region of 17 miles and the long one nearer 25 miles. Both start from Alwinton and the long one takes you up to the Borders ridge before heading back.  What with my current infirmity and my dad’s advancing years we decided to do the short route and although on the day both reckoned we could have gone further it did mean we were able to enjoy the whole thing and not have to contend with knackered legs on the final stretch.  We kept up a good pace and were only overtaken by runners.  The nicest stretch of the walk followed a path down to a really pretty little valley and the Barrowburn farm.  There has been a lot of felling in the area which looks quite ugly now but gives the promise of conifers being replaced by more natural native woodland.  The weather wasn’t too bad, it stayed dry until lunch time before starting to rain lightly but the cloud base stayed high enough not to spoil the views.  On our arrival back to Alwinton we were presented with the traditional Cheviots Challenge mug to add to the collection and had a well-earned pint.  Lovely!