As if the Spartan race series isn’t hard enough….Edinburgh’s Spartan Beast was made all the more memorable and challenging with the ‘summer’ conditions experienced.
15 miles in the Pentland Hills, 3,500m of ascent with 30+ obstacles!! No wonder it felt hard. Normally the distance and ascent in itself would not be a struggle but not surprisingly the obstacles really drained my body, by the end I couldn’t even lift myself over a waist high wall!
This experience was totally out of my comfort range but funnily enough I found it really enjoyable to test myself. It’s always humbling to be faced with crossfit pals making the obstacles look super easy while I struggle to haul myself up and over obstacles but making up for it with the running. It was a shame for everyone that the weather didn’t play ball but extra kudos for those that toughed it out, it took #wearespartan to another level of digging deep.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well my upper body handled some of the obstacles but I have got a long way to go to manage even the first rung of the monkey bars or the hoops, these cost me too many burpee penalties! I was amazed at the strength displayed by some of the other competitors who just flew through the obstacles like it was a kids game, gliding up walls and swinging through monkey bars with ease. My goal to the end of the year is to be able to do a pull up, I can’t remotely do one at present!
Named as one of Scotland’s toughest running challenges, the Great Glen Ultra starts at Fort William and covers 72 miles/116km and 9,300 feet/2,000m of climbing along the Great Glen Way all the way to Inverness. It’s a long way to drive, let alone run! I had a tough day out there on the route and its one race I’ll chalk up to experience, I can’t say I enjoyed much of it which I will put down to 4 main factors. The route, the self-sufficiency/unsupported element, small field of runners and my own current state of fitness. I’m going to giving you the nitty gritty of my experience of GG, missing any eloquent niceties and runners high garble because I had to dig really deep. Whilst I will never again run this route, this I promise you, if you do want a challenge then its definitely one for you!
After a bus trip down from Inverness at 9:30pm to the start line, runners congregate in The Moorings Hotel before we head out to Neptunes Staircase and take our marks. After stern warnings of ‘don’t fall in the canal’ and ‘keep the loch on your right hand side’ and we are unceremoniously on our way. The first 7 miles are along the canal so its easy to go out too quick but I manage to control myself and stick to a steady 9min/mile pace, the weather is tempered and I’m in my WAA skort and carrier shirt, with only gloves and a buff for extra warmth. With the Scottish summer of late I’m carrying not only a waterproof jacket but also waterproof trousers and a spare set of gloves and shirt! I’m glad its dark as the monotony of the canal can’t yet take hold on my mind although it already begins to bore me. I was looking forward to day breaking and being greeted by a spectacular sunrise that might have got me motivated but alas it just discreetly became bright and that was that, a new day had begun and I was 20 odd miles into the day. The first half of the route is relatively flat, which is because of the canals. The 2nd leg of the canal coming into CP 3 nearly finished me off, how people can run the canal races I will never know, they just never seem to finish! I think I’d spent the first 30miles just wanting to quit but I had to push on knowing that once I got halfway then it would be worth it to keep going.
Once the route started with the unrelenting climbs it didn’t actually get that much more interesting, I found the trails along this section to be quite uninspiring (sorry Scotland you normally do this so well), the views of course from the top are always worth it but I wasn’t feeling the love today. There were no technical sections at all and all a bit too much road and canal for my liking.
Self sufficient and unsupported races arenot an alien concept to me in itself having run Marathon Des Sables & Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon however this mixed with the very small field of runners meant that I spent most of the day completely on my own, and worse completely in my own head which was not a good place to be. It’s strange but normally I enjoy running on my own but for this race due to my own current levels of fitness, I could have done with the company. Thank goodness for the brilliant on-call support from the A-grade support crew of Dion, Rhianon and Suzan who were all at the end of the phone calling me with messages of support and not allowing me to quit when I was at my low ebbs.
The race consisted of 6 checkpoints that you could have drop bags at and one other where only water was provided (although the lovely crew there saved me with a small bag of Salt & Vinegar crisps-thank you from the bottom of my heart). My favourite item in the drop bags this race was definitely chocolate milk, I downed one of those at each checkpoint and that kept me going along with my Active Root sports drink. The downfall of no support on such a long race is not seeing your loved ones along the way to give you hot food cheer you on and that is such a lovely mental boost that I really missed. It was nice to see some familiar faces however in the crew, especially at CP5 where I had them all laughing and applauding after I’d pulled into the local chippy on the way and came through munching my hot salty chips. It worked wonders as well as I then promptly passed 4 people on the way to the final CP.
The final 11 miles were a hard push, everything was hurting in my body and although I now knew I would finish I was eating humble pie as I gathered my thoughts and berated myself for not being as fit as I should be, or could be. I can use the last 12 months of my life being turned upside down by Finding Gobi as an excuse; and I honestly would not change a thing as I am so happy in my life; but as a runner you know what you are capable of and I know I fell short of that. I met my target time of getting in just under 16 hours but it hurt, it really hurt, and its a bitter pill to swallow. It might sound facetious to non-runners to say I’m not fit enough but I know that I am capable of doing so much better and it only matters to me I know, but I consider my opinion pretty important! So what am I going to do about it? I’m going to recover wisely, I’m going to have some fun and go and run the Spartan Beast race in Edinburgh on 22nd July (if you fancy joining me its not too late and use ‘EDINBURGHSPARTAN’ to get 15% off your entry) and then I’m going to go and run even further and do my first ever 100 miler on the 5th August at the NDW100.
I’m not really sure what drew me to sign up for The Fling, a 53 mile race from Milngavie to Tyndrum along the West Highland Way, considering I don’t do a lot of local races, preferring to race abroad, and also that the WHW is part of my regular training run but for some reason I was drawn to ticking this off my ever growing list of must do races.
The race came around quicker than I had hoped. The start to the year had been more hectic than I planned; starting a new job with Village Hotel Edinburgh along with finally having Dion and Gobi home from China (see Finding Gobi for more on this adventure); all of which I’d imagined as being the start to a new ‘routine’, a steady state of life to crack back on with training and life in general. As they say about the best laid plans….exactly that! Life was far from routine. It took a couple of months for Dion and Gobi to find their new rhythm alongside Lara and I, and amongst it all both Dion and I were finding it hard to sync our training around the demands of our new girl Gobi and their subsequent book releases, which resulted in more days out having a walk and finishing at a cafe or pub rather than putting in the required training. Not that the weather helped either mind you. I try to be hardy but I’m a fair weather runner at heart.
I had glimpses of getting back to training properly with a few solid mileage weeks and making good use of my new run commute into my amazing new gym (a perk of the job) with a strong focus on building strength in my legs and glutes with the aid of my PT. My PT Huw has got me strengthening the key muscles to make me a stronger mountain and endurance runner and I can certainly feel it has been working. A lot of work on single leg exercises, deadlifts, squats, lunges and a combination of upper body has made my body hurt in ways I didn’t know possible but it has reaped benefits. My legs felt strong throughout the race and I was out doing a recovery hike the following 2 days which certainly is testament to stronger muscles.
When I’d signed up for the race in late 2016 I’d envisaged my training going so well I’d be aiming for a sub 10 hour finish but as race day approached I knew this wasn’t realistic and had revised back to a sub 12 hour finish. Through the positivity of Dion and a visiting friend Euan, we revised this to still push for 10 and see where it took me. My ultimate goal is to finish feeling strong and with a smile on my face.
Race day! Milngavie only gets this busy twice a year, at Fling time and of course for the West Highland Way race which takes in the full 97 miles of the route. Out of the 1,000 runners congregated I felt like I knew most of them so there was a lot of pre race chat as we gathered to head off. I started off way too fast, chatting with a pal Em before she pushed on and I dropped back to a more sustainable pace. Glad I did when I later found out Em had finished in 9hrs 42m! She was on top form, well done to her.
The first 19 miles of this race are hard to hold back on as it is very runnable and mixed with the adrenaline of a race can be a dangerous mix. I was excited to reach Balmaha and see Dion to refuel and swiftly carry on. I felt strong coming into Rowardennan which was the halfway point, one marathon down, just one to go 😉 my feeling of contentment was shattered soon after as I was enjoying a little jog out of the checkpoint drinking my coconut water and tripped! Bruised ego and blood ensued (just a minor cut on my palm) but back into it. From here the route gets a bit more technical and with a marathon already under your belt the pace tends to drop as everyone is taking a bit more care through this section.
Reaching Bein Glas I am lifted by the sight of not only Rhianon holding one of her infamous motivational signs and cheering but she’s even managed to get Dion to hold up a sign! After a quick lick for good luck from Gobi I’m off again. There’s just half a marathon to go and this is the stage I know I just have to dig deep and get it done. The legs are fatigued, feet a little sore and I’m feeling quite sluggish not long after I leave the checkpoint.
It’s a tough slog through cow pat alley before I reach Crianlarich hill where my lovely support crew are along with the wonderful Beardy and Blondie, it’s a party atmosphere on the hill giving my spirit a boost before the last final climb. It’s a slow climb up and the rain starts so I faff around putting a jacket on as my body is now fatigued I immediately feel cold. The descent over the other side is hard work on the quads (more work needed on those) but I’m rewarded with a surprise crew cheer spot just before Auchtertyre by Dion and Rhianon hiding out in a farm shed. I’d realised just before reaching there that with only 3 miles left to run, if I could maintain 10min/mile I could make it in 11 hours which spurred me on so much I don’t think I let my excitement of seeing them show enough as I just ran straight through!
As I come towards Tyndrum the sound of bagpipes fill the air followed by the ringing of the cowbells; the finish line! It’s here! I’m still running and I’m smiling and I’m finishing in 11 hours! I hit the red carpet to the cheers of the crowd, including Dion, Gobi and Rhianon and the finishers medal is mine.
Run for fun, race for time, challenge yourself with a multi day event, or simply walk & explore the beautiful trails of a stunning and mystical country that is close to my heart, Morocco.
Morocco Tizi n Trail is a race each year consisting of 3 stages between 20 and 28km between sea, mountains, desert and canyons. This years race began from the picturesque lakeside location of Bin el Ouidane before heading into the trails and mountains surrounding the lake. Each day was completely varied from running through fire track trails, to hiking up small mountains and descending into gorges with the most beautiful blue rivers rushing through them, into local farms where running alongside donkeys or kids was just part of everyday life. Temperatures during the evening were cool and the days were delightfully warm and sunny, enough to guarantee a tan line that’s for sure.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience Morocco in a unique and active way then this is for you. Whether it’s your first multi day event, your first or hundredth trail running experience or you are an experienced Marathon Des Sables runner give Tizi n Trail a try. The race is fully supported so that means you only carry what you need for the day; a small rucksack with your essentials like water, food, phone (for the amazing photo opportunities!) and any safety essentials is all you need and the organisation transports your luggage. Arriving at the end of each day to magnificent camps set up with traditional bedouin tents that sleep up to 8 of you including mattress, pillows and blankets; delicious Moroccan food catered for 3 courses each day, along with fully operational showers and toilets. This is living!
The range of abilities of the participants ranges from those that are there to compete, to first timers and those like me who went for the winter sun escaping the UK tail end of winter and to challenge myself with some decent trails to run or even those who choose to walk each stage. You will make friends for life after spending 3 days together exploring the trails and then enjoying the conviviality of camp life, lounging around on sprawled cushions and dancing to traditional Berber music after enjoying the delights of the country such as couscous and tagines.
2018 will open in the region of Essaouira and promises even more beauty and thrills. Essaouira is located on the coast line of Morocco, which you will recognise from the acclaimed series ‘Game of Thrones’. Essaouira is so unique with its mix of European, Arab and African elements with many of the scents shot on the Scala, the old Portuguese Fortifications.
Check out my video of 2017 below and see for yourself how beautiful this event is. For only €680 which includes your 2 nights accommodation in a hotel before and after the race, accommodation during the race with all the catering along with transportation of yourself to and from the start/finish and your bag throughout the week, medical assistance and the finishing awards ceremony this price is too good to pass up. All you need to sort out is your airfares and getting to and from the airport.
If you are interested please get in touch with me at email@example.com or send me a message via twitter or instagram as I am proud to say I am the UK representative for this event and will be hosting you to assist with all arrangements from the UK and throughout the days in Morocco to ensure you have the best time without any hassle whatsoever.
I hope you will join me for 2018 from 22 to 26 March for the time of your life. Registrations open from Sunday 14th May 2017. Check out more details at the event home page here.
After such a big year in 2016, particularly with my personal challenge of running #500kin5days with Marina Ranger in Simply Runderful; my body needed a rest. So did my heart and my mind. I’d had a lot going on in the back end of the year with my husband, Dion living in China from August until January with Finding Gobi and this had left me drained emotionally, the extent of which I didn’t realise until even after a DNF (Did Not Finish) at UTMB in August but into September when ‘life’ began to feel all a little too much for me and I resigned from my full time job to take some time out and focus on Finding Gobi with Dion and support him until we could all be reunited. Needless to say effective training and eating went out the window as there wasn’t much time or desire to push myself physically.
I think it’s important for everyone to take stock sometimes and realise that you have to prioritise and it may not be exactly how you planned it in your head but life never goes to plan after all does it?! Plans are meant to change and although it was a tough end to the year it was worth all the heartache and stress throughout as I now have both Dion and Gobi home with me safe, sound and most importantly happy.
Now it’s time to refocus on my challenges for the year. I’ve managed to kick start my training with my new job managing the Village Hotel in Edinburgh, which in case you didn’t know has state of the art leisure facilities of which I am making good use of and have just started getting some personal training with Huw Davis to focus on building some strong glutes for the upcoming mountain racing season. I’ve had a couple of good weeks getting back into serious training, building up the miles consistently. In my week I try to always fit in a strength & conditioning session, speed intervals, hill repeats and a long run as the basic week and fill around that; always with a rest day or more depending on how my body feels.
What is the plan for the year then I suppose your wondering?
I’m heading to Morocco in a few weeks to run the 3 day race Tizi n Trail, which is a chance to escape the Scottish winter for a few days in the hope Moroccan sun, it’s no Marathon Des Sables, and the crew of the race carry all your luggage, cook for you, provide accommodation and there’s even showers and the runners run from point A to B each day with approximately 20km distance to cover each day. It will still be challenging terrain but it will be stunningly beautiful and a great way to revisit Morocco and kick start the years racing.
In April I’m running local! I’m running The Highland Fling which is a 53 mile race along the first half of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum. It’s a challenging day out and the race is always full of a strong field of runners.
Then it’s time to head off to the mountains! As I didn’t get into the ballot for UTMB I’ve entered the Zugspitz Ultra in Germany, a 100km mountain race with 5,400m of ascent it will give me valuable points to enter the ballot for UTMB again for next year as well as ‘if’ I can complete the race in under 22 hours it’s a qualifier for Western States Endurance Run which I’d love to run one day.
The Scottish hills call again and after running the Vertical Kilometre last year as part of the Skyline Race series, I’ve decided to run the 110km Ben Nevis Ultra which is a new addition to the series this year with a hefty 4,000m of ascent.
With a deep love of the Scottish hills I couldn’t go past running the Glencoe Marathon this year, road marathons don’t interest me but the trails certainly do and with Glencoe being billed as one of the most beautiful and challenging off-road marathons I couldn’t resist. This is on the 1st October and I’d love to see some familiar faces joining me so if you fancy coming along then enter here and get a 10% discount off your entry (discount code: VHLcjGMG2017, valid until 31st May 2017 so be quick!). Or take on the half marathon or 10k if you don’t really fancy the full 26.2 miles.
I’m still throwing around some ideas for the other months of the year, and making good use of a fab new website Race Base World where you can search by month or location to find that perfect race, but this is certainly a good start to the calendar. Let me know if you’ve done some of these races or if you are coming along to them this year, would love to hear all about them or say hi at the events.
As I reached the final peak of ‘Eight Immortals’ of the Wilson trail high in the mountains of Hong Kong my head torch made out the silhouette of a man perched on the summit. That man was my ever patient and supportive husband Dion who had been waiting patiently for me in the dark as I painfully ascended the last climb of The North Face Hong Kong 100. ‘What took you so long?’ He laughed as he asked me before we shared a few sugary treats for a last surge of energy for the final descent back into Tai Po Market to the finish line.
Dion and I had been living apart for just over 4 months at the time with him based in Beijing, China to ‘Bring Gobi Home’ (see FindingGobi.com for more details on this life changing adventure) whilst I remained in Edinburgh with a couple of visits in between, so we had decided that as this was our couple time that we would run this race together. Having never been to Hong Kong before we were both keen to have fun, get the distance done for some intensive training, take lots of photos and soak up the atmosphere. In other words we weren’t ‘racing’.
“It must be great to be have a partner that runs too, so you get to run together.” I hear this a lot from other runners that may or may not have partners that run with them, but running ‘together’ is not always how it goes. We have finely tuned how we run ‘together’ over the years after many frustrations early on where I can’t keep up with Dion and it hurts him to run slower at my pace. So now we might head out for a run and he gives me a half hour to an hour head start (depending on the distance) and then chases me down; this works quite well as I run quicker to try and stop him catching me and he also runs quicker as he most certainly wants to catch me. Another option is for one of us to drive to point B, park the car and run back to point A and the other runs from A to B, passing each other halfway and then collects the car. Or I just make sure Dion is knackered from a big block of training and we do run together as then he’s slowed down enough to keep ‘up’ with me.
We don’t tend to race together, although we might be at races together (KAEM 2013 & 2014), MdS 2014 and various local races, Dion is much quicker than me and on the edge of professional running where I am not quite reaching that level, yet. I hope that by running more together in both training and racing that I can learn from his experience, skill and mindset to develop myself into stepping more into the competitive world of running. I do enjoy the feeling of being on the podium and want to feel this more and more.
With the mountains looming ahead of the start line it wasn’t long before the path quickly turned both vertical and single track at the same time causing a massive queue of runners who were halted to walking. Not a bad strategy to conserve energy but it was much too slow so a tip if you do this race, get yourself a bit further up the starting pack if you want to get a move on.
I’d heard a lot about the trails of Hong Kong but was still surprised by the sheer size of the mountains, I wouldn’t have believed it without seeing it for myself. It was every bit as beautiful as a mountain fairytale with steep, rocky trail stairs leading you high into the clouds even more brutal than I could have hoped for. The trails lead you vertical to take in some exceptional views of the iconic Hong Kong skyline which we had the pleasure of enjoying in brilliant sunlight, at sunset and into the darkness.
It wasn’t all trails though. After each descent we entered a local village all bustling with activity of daily life and offering the opportunity to purchase some cold Coke or tasty local food of which many of the runners were taking full advantage of, ourselves included. A great benefit of Dion running with me was that he would run ahead and surprise me with his purchases which kept him busy shopping with the locals for our treats along the way. The taste of an ice cold Coke mid way on a hot, humid race is second to none. And it was humid, some of the runners looked like they’d been for a swim instead of a run they were sweating so much. It certainly paid dividends to put skills learnt in the desert into practice with hydration and salt tablets to keep dehydration at bay.
We resisted the temptation at lunch time as we passed a gorgeous waterside village abundantly laid out with tables full of locals feasting on an array of food that smelt absolutely divine, a decision I now half regret as we never did make it back to that same spot for lunch the following day. Dion made sure we didn’t do without though ensuring we had dim sum and noodles to eat at points along the way.
It was an enjoyable change to run together as a couple in a race environment and gave me the opportunity to push myself harder drawing on Dion’s resolve and experience. I have no doubt that he would be a great pacer for me in a future race and will push me on to faster times. It was also like having a personal photographer alongside me all day with Dion often racing ahead to capture the amazing footage you see here in our film of the race.
The North Face Hong Kong 100 delivered an exceptional experience of trail running whilst giving runners a taste of local culture and people. A tough challenging race not to be taken lightly with its unrelenting ups and downs in the humidity to add that extra test of endurance. This combined with a weekend of exploring the bustling city and eating the delicious food it makes for a great running adventure escape. After my first taste of Hong Kong I can definitely see a return for another race in the future, my imagination was captured as we passed Lantau Island on the way to the airport…Lantau 50k Dion?
My mind & heart had finally made a full recovery after some life changes including leaving my job and adjusting to life with Dion, my husband, living away in Beijing until the new year -Read more about his incredible running journey with GOBI stray desert dog at http://www.findinggobi.com. My legs were another story. I was desperate to be running again but every time I headed out for a run my knee was causing me a lot of pain and I felt like I was running with concrete blocks for legs. Having received an invitation to run the Changan Ford Gobi 100k International Trail Race Jiuquan, China; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, although I knew full well that it wouldn’t be easy or particularly pretty.
The principal of recovery dictates that athletes require time to recuperate from training and racing. Rest and recovery not only gives bodies the chance to adapt to the stress placed upon them during racing or intensive training but also for mental preparation and reflection. I am always a big advocate of rest periods, dismissing the popular ‘active rest’ that others seem to enjoy, and to date this has kept my body and mind fresh and injury at bay. But my last adventure #500kin5days had really taken it out of me, as noted by my DNF at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc only 4 weeks afterwards and subsequently still felt the effects at the Gobi 100k.
The city of Jiuquan is in the Gansu province which is synonymous with the Silk Road where goods once streamed between China and Central Asia. This constant flow of trade left Buddhist statues, beacon towers, forts and chunks of the Great Wall in its wake and its diverse landscapes include parts of the Gobi desert. This was my first opportunity to visit the Gobi desert where my husband Dion, met Gobi the wonder dog who joined him on a 6 stage ultra marathon across the desert and is now to become part of our family with us all being reunited on January 2nd 2017. Being able to experience running through the Gobi desert, albeit in a different location to the race they ran, was a great experience to understand when Dion talks of his experience with Gobi and made me feel more closely connected to them both.
The fun part of travelling is culture and language and China has this by the bucket load. Exploring the city on foot we discovered a stunning local temple where in the perimeter local Chinese danced and a calligrapher was painting the most beautiful symbolic banners. Through hand signals and google translate we arranged for him to paint us our very own artwork with the symbols standing for ‘Longevity’. I had this framed at home using the white Khata’s we would later be presented with to showcase this amazing art & experience.
The food of the province was hot pot with every restaurant having this on offer and we treated ourselves to a feast of meat, vegetables and quail eggs which we poached in a choice of boiling broths on our table. The fun in choosing items from a menu in only Chinese was not only entertaining to us but also the other visitors of the restaurant. Not our normal pre-race food of choice but absolutely delicious.
The inaugural 100km race had the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunning) badge which was very significant as previously China was unable to badge their races as such and to signify the importance of this occasion, both the IAU President, Dirk Strumane from Belgium and IAU Honorary member Souhei Kobayashi from Japan were both in attendance. I had the good fortune of running into them at Beijing airport and forged a friendship over coffee. A host of elite runners had been invited to help build the profile of the race and it was an honour to be included in this experienced field of almost 200 runners. We attended the press night and were treated to a VIP Chinese welcome with singers, presentation of a Khata (traditional ceremonial scarf popular in Buddhism made of white silk to symbolise the pure heart of the giver) followed by dinner alongside the lake complete with lighting of floating lotus flowers for a truly authentic experience.
The race has 2 distance options; 20km or 100km (2 laps of a 50km route), starting at Xintiandum Farm North crossing through various landforms such as Gobi desert sand and grassland passing through Tianluo Ancient City and Huacheng Lake with a maximum ascent and decent of 488 metres. Under normal conditions I should easily have made the cut off time of 14 hours, but as anyone that runs knows; always expect the unexpected.
Shuttle buses collected us bright and early from the hotel to deliver us to the start line 45 mins away the following morning ready for our 7:30am start. In between preparations for the race I was constantly posing for photos with the Chinese runners, being a 6ft blonde certainly caused more than my share of attention, one of the race officials acted as my bodyguard and was conscious to stop the crowds developing around me even though I was loving it, feeling like a complete celebrity star with all the attention and photographs. As part of the elite runners we had our own separate warm up area and we were ushered to the front of start line.
The sun was beginning to rise and you could start to make out the vastness of the Gobi desert in the horizon. As the countdown ended the start was signified with a dazzling display of coloured fireworks blasting high into the air right beside the start chute as we ran into the sand of the Gobi desert. The sound was deafening and the lights and colour added to all the excitement. It was a quick start with some of the front runners expected to be in around 7 hours and the pack quickly spread. Dion had promised to stick with me for this race as he knew I wouldn’t be able to make this one alone, most likely a promise he now regrets.
Conditions were reminiscent of Marathon Des Sables, trudging through loose heavy sand in overbearing heat. The tempered conditions quickly escalated into near 40 degrees Celsius and there was not a scrap of shade in sight. Although my pace and stamina were suffering we were passing others that had begun to slow noticeably from 30km and strong experienced runners were dropping out already even before reaching the 50km turnaround point; the race was tougher than any of us had given it credit for.
Reaching the 50km point after 6hrs, later than the 5hrs we had anticipated, it was a challenge to get out of the checkpoint tent as it was now the hottest part of the day and knowing that we had to head back out and complete another 50km through the same route was a mind game. I offered Dion the chance to leave me here and carry on but he encouraged us on, owing it to the race organisers to see this through to the finish. Making our way through the 2nd lap with the oppressive heat my body began to rebel, with every gel I swallowed to try and gain some energy I would buckle in half and throw it all back up with some horrendous stomach cramps to go with it. The heat was so unrelenting that we took a 5 minute pause in some shade caused by the sun shifting position behind a sand dune giving us a brief respite to get ourselves right again.
We watched as the light around us became hazy and an orange cloud of dust enveloped us in an almighty sandstorm reducing visibility to 10 metres at most. With visibility so low we came close to having to stop & wait the storm out but we were just able to continue on, though at a very reduced speed as the sand whipped up into our eyes and the strength of the wind held us back. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?! We later heard that other runners had been pulled from the course due to safety issues but we passed through what was left of wind strewn checkpoints unchallenged.
We were pushing, up against it to get me to the finish line and we formed a band of merry men as we joined up with 5 Chinese runners and pushed each other on to reach the finish line. It was a surreal experience over the last 3 miles as we were followed to the line by the support vehicles lighting the way. 13 minutes before cut off and we made it, coming in as 15th female, the last female to finish for the day out of the 29 that had started. This showed true grit & determination that was displayed throughout the day, pushed on by Dion’s coaching along the way leading me to dig deep and carry on to get it done.
Although an unexpected 100km for me, the race delivered an unexpected tough challenge to many as shown in the results with the high number of DNF’s (Did Not Finish). Whilst I would never recommend pushing your body so much as I have in the year, the experience surpasses the extended recovery I have now had to take.
China is opening itself up to the world and running is taking off full speed ahead with many new races hitting the calendar with some spectacular location to run. I feel privileged and thankful to Changan Ford for supporting this event and hosting us in such a hospitable manner, especially to Tao, who worked tirelessly to look after us like superstars. If you are looking for a race that is going to challenge you and give you the opportunity to run in one of the world’s greatest deserts in some serious heat, then look no further.
Hearing about Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsula, a remote location that could only be reached by either ferry, on foot or helicopter, I knew this was the adventure I’d been looking for and hatched a plan for my very own micro adventure. In a fast paced world that seems to be forever getting even busier and more expensive we are all seeking get aways that actually allow you to ‘get away’ without costing the earth or taking all your time. Quick fix escapism.
With Edinburgh city still sleeping I escaped in the wee hours into the still, dark air that hinted at frost. It wasn’t long before I was crossing the Forth Bridge heading into the North of Scotland. I’d been travelling for a few hours in the dark before the sun started to rise giving way to a beautiful sunrise and promise of a spectacular day.
After winding my way through stunning vistas surrounded by deer and highland cows the road comes to an abrupt end at a rustic farmhouse with smoke plumes working their way into the sky tinged pink with the sunrise. Loch Hourn glistens and winks with the promise of what lays in store over the next 2 days of exploring this remarkably untouched peninsula of Knoydart on foot, completely on my own.
Like a scene from a movie, I left the main road and the small road became progressively narrower giving way to a single track path where the only traffic I was giving way to was small herds of deer and highland cows. Weaving around tight bends each corner gave way to stunning views after the last, past small lochs & rocky outcrops before the road abruptly reached its end and the expansive Loch Hourn began.
Keeping the Loch to my right the 15 mile route from Loch Hourn to Inverie via Barrisdale was well trodden and with a startling Autumn day welcoming me, I had no need for my map and compass apart from giving me comfort that I was heading in the right direction. Running was impossible as I was constantly stopping to take photos and soak up the stunning views that went from amazing to perfect. My mouth was agape at how beautiful it was, this is when I missed my partner in crime, Dion, and I spoke out loud to the vast silence around me, telling the world how beautiful she is. I had to vocalise it, it was so beautiful!
At Barrisdale the path veers to the left and takes you past the bothy and campsite and over Mam Barrisdale with a tough climb up to 800m where I was greeted by a herd of deer who were very curious about me. What a welcome to the summit. A lovely descent down past Loch an Dubh-Lochain and I could start to see the water of Mallaig winking in the bright sunlight, signalling my end destination. To this point I hadn’t seen a soul, total isolation, but strangely it felt very safe and comfortable as if this is how it’s supposed to be.
Cute little wooden signs direct you to the few locations in Inverie of note; The Bunkhouse, snackvan, ferry and Pub. I was starving at this point having only had a couple of snacks since 4am and it was now 2pm but decided to head to The Bunkhouse first to make sure I had a bed for the night before the 15 minute walk into the village centre to find some food. I ventured into The Tea Rooms where a tasty & warm jacket potato and haggis filled my empty belly, washed down with a tasty hot chocolate and a homemade chocolate brownie left me feeling full and now rather sleepy as I sat in the heated tea room with the sun coming in through the window. Grabbing a bottle of red wine from the local shop I headed off in search of dinner and to get some feet up time.
Making my way through the most impressive herd of stags at Kilchoan Estate I entered another world; a farm shop filled with locally produced goodies left out to help yourself with simply a notepad to keep a list of what you purchase beside a quaint honesty box. I couldn’t resist the ultimate indulgence of a small wheel of Arran whisky flavoured cheddar, a box of oatcakes and a jar of homemade chutney, along with a 6 pack of eggs from the chickens I could see on the farm already thinking of my breakfast.
A roaring wood fire in the communal lounge at the Bunkhouse snuggled into a comfy sofa with wine and cheese meant I didn’t venture out to watch the sunset, however I’m sure it was spectacular.
Sleep came easily after a big day out in the sun on my feet and the Bunkhouse was tranquil giving way to a comfortable & deep sleep. Filling my belly with 6 eggs scrambled, I was back on the path again retracing my steps from yesterday back to Loch Hourn. Again I didn’t see a soul along the way and tempted by the crystal clear water I decided to go into full adventure mode and had my first experience of wild swimming in Scotland at Barisdale. Braving the chilly water with nothing on except my cloak of courage I splashed away in the water. It felt so empowering and exhilarating I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for days. It was so good and after seeing otters swimming by me on the trek back along the Loch, I jumped in again just before the farmers house, I was hooked! Perfect timing as I had only just got my clothes back on when I saw hikers coming around the corner! Having a secret giggle to myself as I passed them I quickly got in the car to get the heaters going to warm me up as this time I’d gone all the way under so had dripping, cold hair to deal with.
My drive back felt like a new adventure through the Caingorms as now I was seeing this in daylight rather than in the pitch dark. Amazed at the stunning nature wonderland around me I could feel my mind ticking over already, wondering what adventure could I hatch to come back up here again soon.