Ding! Ding! I did The Fling!

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.

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Rhianon, me and Em at the start line, all smiles.

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.

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Reaching the top of Conic Hill

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.

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A-Team support crew, Rhianon

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.

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Smiling and still running along the red carpet to the finish line👍

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Making Plans

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.

Dion & Gobi enjoying their new Scottish playground

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.

Climbing the VK route last year – photo(c) http://www.facebook.com/jordisaragossa

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.

Glencoe Marathon (Photo from Glencoe Marathon)

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.

What’s in my bag?

I often get asked “What’s in your bag?” from other runners, so I thought I would share what I have in my bag on a daily basis for my runs, this is what works for me and you should always adapt this to your own conditions and requirements as this is by no means the written law of what you should carry.

If you didn’t know, November is Runner Safety Month.  I was inspired to share the equipment I use because safety and peace of mind are key.  To help everyone run smarter the Fall, SimpliSafe, a security company that designed a wireless alert system for active individuals is encouraging runners to keep a clear mind and remain alert to any potential dangers on their run and at home.  It’s not always easy to get outside and train, but every little thing helps.  So tell me, what’s in your bag?

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Click to retrieve the PDF version

Lochore 10km

I’m built for endurance, not for speed. Looking at my racing CV you will see that 10km distances don’t feature on my race calendar, but when I heard about a wee local 10km race around the Lochore Meadows Country Park I thought this might be a good option for me to put my ‘speed’ to the test.

The route is a fairly flat and fast 2 lap route, mostly on hard packed trails and paths around the loch, I wore Hoka Huaka road shoes but you could wear either trail or road shoes.

Action shot courtesy from Gordon Donnachie

Action shot courtesy from Gordon Donnachie

The race had a nice local feel to it, with plenty of parking and no queues for either the parking of the registration process. The race is only £12 to enter so pretty good value when you compare it to some other ‘big’ name events. This includes the obligatory bling at the finish and a Bounce Ball and a bottle of water in the goody bag. I also had the opportunity to meet the crew from a local company Active Root who have developed a fantastic energy drink product with ginger. Check them out if you haven’t heard of them already. I’m planning on trying out their drink on my next 50km race.

Active Root

Active Root

We were blessed with perfect conditions for running, chilly start but once you got going it was great, no wind and although there was the odd muddy patch it was a smooth run all the way around.

The winner finished in 36:43 and first female 42:24. I finished in 46:16 as 7th female and 43 overall out of 136 runners, with the final runner in at 1:15:14.

Sporting my bling at the finish line

Sporting my bling at the finish line

If you’re looking for a quick start to the winter training season next year then come along to Lochore and join them for the 3rd year in 2017.

Never again….or maybe just once more

“Never again! Never EVER again!” Those were the words uttered by my husband Dion and I back in 2014 after our first Marathon Des Sables as we trundled back to the bus, mentally battered and physically exhausted after running 250km through the Sahara desert. (read my blog on the experience here)

Smiles hiding the pain!

Smiles hiding the pain!

Fast forward to 2015 and Dion was back at MdS for round 2 after needing to put some demons to bed and improve on his 2014 108th position result; and improve he did to a sensational 32nd overall!  I on the other hand was still content in the ‘never again’ camp when he left for MdS2015, but something stirred in me whilst I watched the excitement unfold in the desert  and I couldn’t resist, and hence I was registered for MdS2016 with my first installment for the race paid before he was even back in the UK.

Why?  What makes someone want to go back to this grueling race dubbed as ‘The toughest footrace in the world’?  For me there is unfinished business; I finished 377th overall but it was the toughest week of my life and from Day 1 the race humbled me and crushed my confidence time in and time out until I was left using every ounce of my willpower to not quit and to run, walk and trudge my way to the finish line.  I felt such a mixture of emotions at the finish line that year, elated that it was over and that I could call myself a finisher but somehow disappointed in myself.  No one else was disappointed in me, no one even asks you where you came they are just amazed you finished it, but I was disappointed.  And that’s what has driven me back again.  I took motivation from watching Dion in 2015 as he went from strength to strength and as he totally smashed the long day where he led for most of it and my mind was made up.

Dion having way too much fun at MdS2015

Dion having way too much fun at MdS2015

It’s not the type of race that you can get caught up in the momentum and just frivolously decide to enter, this race costs money.  Lots of it!  £3k for the entry fee alone, and then you need to take into account the cost of the kit, food and the cost of your time to train.  Hours and hours of sacrifice are needed over the months preceding the event for training and planning and the closer you get to the event your whole life gets swallowed up by the MdS, this includes all your friends and family as you can think, or speak of nothing else apart from MdS so they unfortunately are in that cycle too.  Our house has become slightly MdS obsessed now with Dion already registered to go back in 2017 to push for a top 20 placing and who knows after that?!

I’m focused, I’m ready, I know what I’m in for which is why I am fluctuating between excitement and full blown s**t scared emotions in the space of a minute.  I’ve prepared well, I structured my own training plan specifically for MdS which kicked off the beginning of January, whilst of course keeping myself ‘ultra’ fit for the back end of 2015 but I was conscious that Jan-Apr is a long time to be focused and I didn’t want to burn myself out too soon.  I included a few local races to keep myself on track and monitor progress and the biggest change this time around is the heat chamber training.  I kicked off with some DIY heat chamber (spare room at home kitted out with industrial heaters and a treadmill) and Bikram yoga over Easter weekend and am now halfway through a few blocks of training at the climate control chamber at Napier University.  I am confident this will be a big help for the week as I recall from 2014 the searing, unrelenting heat was a major factor in my struggle.

Check out my heat chamber training:

My kit hasn’t changed much from 2014, I will be wearing X-Bionic again as there is just no better choice for the desert; it’s comfortable, doesn’t chafe, doesn’t stink and the technology of the material turns your sweat into cooling – now don’t be fooled that you feel you are running in air-conditioning but the material works very well and it is not stifling or uncomfortable at all.  I still have my ankle gaiters from last time and will be sticking with my New Balance Leadville’s to keep my feet in good condition and get me through the multi terrain unscathed.  I’ve since discovered Runderwear so will be wearing the Runderwear crop but not the briefs as X-Bionic is designed for the commando!  I’ve opted for the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L bag which I have stripped off any excess straps for weight and of course have calculated my daily food rations in meticulous detail in a very in depth spreadsheet.  You are required to take a minimum of 2,000 calories per day, but I need more so I have got a range from 2,700 for most days to 3,800 on the rest day!  I’m also taking a couple more luxuries this time in the form of an inflatable Exped pillow and a lightweight jacket as sleep and warmth are essential for recovery so anything that will help me achieve that is worth the extra weight.  My final bag weight is 6.9kg dry.

Tackling heat & hills in the heat chamber

Tackling heat & hills in the heat chamber

I’m heading out this time without Dion so that will be a different experience, I have never done a multi day race without him but I already know 2 of my Aussie tent mates, Pooley and Peter, from last time so there is comfort in familiarity even if you know that one of them snores!  I also have a great friend coming in the UK camp, Marina Ranger, who I have also been coaching leading up to the MdS so that will be great to have her out there to experience this amazing race with me, along with a load of other UK runners who I have gotten to know over the years at various races and through twitter connections leading up to MdS.  So I won’t be alone, but I will miss the security of having Dion beside me at the end of each day.

Coach Dion putting me through my paces

Coach Dion putting me through my paces

You can track me and any of the other runners from April 10th at http://live.marathondessables.com/ by signing up for live updates or watching the spot tracker and the finish line webcam each day.  I am #508 and would love to hear from you while I am out there to spur me on.  You will be able to email any of the runners during the race to give encouragement and I know from last time how important this is to my mental well being so email away!  I won’t be able to respond until I am back in civilisation but know now that I will be well and truly appreciating all the messages.

I’m looking forward to enjoying my time out in the Sahara desert, enjoying the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings and the camaraderie of the whole experience whilst pushing my body to the limit.  I have my own inner goals to drive me for this race and I am going to give it all I’ve got so I can walk away with my head held high and proud of whatever I achieve.  To coin the phrase from Dion ‘Don’t leave any change on the table’ will be my motto!

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It’s the small things that matter most

During my experience as a runner I have learnt a lot of things and sometimes it’s all the little things that can make the biggest difference.  Whether that’s out on a training run or a big race event or adventure challenge.  Here’s my wee list of the small things that matter to me.

  • Hat – Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just for when the sun is out, a visor make a great rain shield for your eyes as well you know!  I have a variety of hats and visors for different conditions.  I love running in a visor in the UK, the sun is not that hot or scorching that you need the full head cover and the visor actually means you can let the hot air from your head escape easily.  My favourite is the Compressport pink visor.  For more full cover I use the Salomon XA cap which I used during Transvulcania this year.  When I head to the desert though nothing beats my Raidlight Sahara Cap, aptly named as it works a treat in the Marathon Des Sables through the Sahara desert keeping you neck covered up from the scorching and unrelenting sun.
  • Sunglasses – A recent convert to Julbo sunglasses after a thorough and glowing recommendation from hubby, Dion, I’ve got myself a pair of the Julbo Run version.  They sit well on my face without slipping down the bridge of your nose.  Previous to that I had been using Naked Runner sunglasses which had served me really well too, lasting about 2 years through some pretty hard core events so they certainly took a beating.
  • Beanie – I don’t like the cold, so I have to keep my ears and head warm and I turn to my X-Bionic Soma Cap Light, it fits as snug as a bug and keeps me toasty warm up top.
  • Headband – When I’m not wearing a visor/hat/beanie I use a headband as my fly away bits of hair can get quite annoying when they hit you straight in the eye, so I reach for my Lululemon Cardio Cross Trainer Headband or their Fringe Fighter Headband (which can also double as an ear warmer in the slightly cooler temperatures).
  • Sunscreen – It’s all too easy to get burnt out there, so I always reach for an all day protection called P20 so I don’t need to worry about re-applying when I am out all day, or out in the extreme temperatures of the Sahara desert (I use the 50+ for that).
  • Socks – I don’t know whether I have just been lucky or smart but I won’t be changing my sock formula anytime soon as I don’t (touch wood) suffer from blisters.  I have two favourites.  I love Injinji socks and they have got me through a lot of multi day stage races wearing just one and only one pair of socks through extreme heat and sandy conditions without washing, and secondly are the X-Socks range from X-Bionic that just keep on going in the same way no washing required!  Ideally washing is great, but I can safely say these socks are fantastic and it is definitely worth investing in a few decent pairs to keep your tootsies in tip top condition.
  • Salt tablets – During exercice you lose a lot of sweat and more specifically, sodium (or salt).  As most of us have probably cut down our intake of salt over the years based on nutritional advice you could be not getting enough.  Especially if you are an endurance athlete.  I tend to use salt fairly generously in my day to day cooking due to the level of exercise I do, and rely on salt tablets only for endurance events so anything where I will be out for longer than 4 hours.  During an ultra run I will look to take a salt tablet every 1-2 hours depending on the conditions (I took 1 every 2 hours in the Ultimate Trails 110km in The Lakes but I took 1 every hour during the Marathon Des Sables and KAEM.)  I have found during events if I haven’t taken my salt consistently then I can feel nauseous which then means I don’t eat, which means I don’t have energy to compete and then subsequently suffer from cramps during the night.  Other runners I know have complained of other symptoms such as cramping, disorientation and slurred speech.  This is probably why you might find yourself craving savoury items rather than sweet during heavy exercise or soon after, your body does try and tell you what it needs after all.
  • Menstruation – Just for the ladies, but it happens and it can be a pain in the you know what.  I’m lucky I can plan my cycle (with the pill) around races so I don’t have the added hassle during an event but for when it is due I like to use a Moon cup rather than tampons or liners.  The moon cup is a reusable silicone cup that you insert and as required remove, rinse and re-insert.  It’s safer, greener and cheaper and you can find them at your local Boots store.  The good thing with the moon cup is that it doesn’t need to be changed every few hours, I can pop it in and go all day and sometimes all night depending on which day of the cycle I’m on without needing to remove which is really handy when you are out for some long days on the feet.
  • (R) Underwear – As a long time sufferer from chafe I was delighted to find out about Runderwear.  For years I have stuck to running commando for the lower half, but still ended up with some chafe especially if the heavens open and it’s that delightful mix of sweat, rain and all sorts of dust and debris rubbing together to make that un-loved and rather painful chafe.  And for sports bras, I have tried every brand of sports bra out there and even though I am not that well endowed up top anymore (only just scraping a B cup these days) I still got chafe for any run over a half marathon distance.  Throw a running vest/back pack on top and I have scars to prove just how bad chafe can be, my solution to this was to tape my hot spots up with zinc oxide tape which does work but what a ball ache!  But no more!  Runderwear to the rescue!  I was sceptical to say the least but after trying out a pair of briefs, g-string and crop top I am converted.  To date they have got me through a marathon (wearing a running vest too) without a hint of chafe.  The Runderwear briefs and g-string are perfect for all but the crop top doesn’t offer the full support some of the more voluptuous chests would call for, but I would highly recommend for anyone fitting into a B cup or below as it gives me enough support.  Stay tuned for a full write up on the Runderwear in full brief (get it!).

I hope these ‘little’ things help you in your running adventures.

Running in the Dark

With the days getting shorter and the nights closing in have you thought about how you are going to continue training through the winter, in the darkness?  Some of you might be able to get your training in during the minimal daylight hours over winter but chances are a lot of your running is going to be in the dark.

I love running in the dark.  There is something mythical and special about being engulfed in a cloak of darkness and powering on through.  It is definitely more isolated as it’s just you and your little circle of light created by your head torch but I find this can be a fantastic feeling of freedom and anonymity; you don’t see anyone and they don’t see you.  All people can see is your head torch and you are not recognised so you are free to be who you want to be.  I know some people that feel more comfortable running in the dark because they lack the confidence to head out in the daytime for fear of being ridiculed by indiscriminate others.

Then there are others that don’t enjoy running in the dark for a variety of reasons; safety being the main issue so here are some tips to keep you safe this winter in the dark:

  • Plan your route – stick to routes you know and tell someone where you are going or better yet take a running buddy along
  • Be visible – I see too many runners (and cyclists) getting around in completely black clothing, great to be anonymous but you don’t want to be hit by a car or a bike so ensure your clothing is light coloured or at least has reflective strips, wear a flashing armband or ankle band so people can see there is something ahead
  • Be able to see – wear a head torch so you can see where you are going, your circle of vision will be less so you will need to take this into consideration with your speed but a good head torch is worth every penny.  I find the Black Diamond head torch great for close to the city and just off the main roads, but for proper kick ass light up the road style head torch when out in the trails the Ay-Up lighting system is second to none.  If you don’t have a head torch you can use a hand held but I find the bouncing of the light from carrying it in your hands makes you feel queasy
  • Join a club – there are loads of running clubs around where you will have safety in numbers by running in a group
  • Run Naked – not literally! But ditch the headphones and pay close attention to your surroundings so you don’t scare yourself half to death when someone comes near you or objects appear that you weren’t expecting, awareness of your surroundings is key
  • Carry a phone – if you do get lost or need help then you have access to it

It’s not only training runs that might be in the dark but if you are running any endurance events you might find yourself starting or finishing in the dark, or if you take long enough like I did at Transgrancanaria 125km race running through 2 whole nights!  But you don’t even need a long event to run in the dark, there are loads of different events springing up all over the country taking advantage of the darkness and creating events specifically designed for the darkness and join in the fun, they are great opportunity for you to have a bit of fun and get used to running in the dark in a controlled environment.  Check out some of these events to whet your night running appetite:

Run in the Dark Edinburgh 2014 (photo - Will Robb)

Run in the Dark Edinburgh 2014 (photo – Will Robb)

  • Run in the Dark – Worldwide – As darkness sweeps around the globe on Wednesday November 11th 2015 thousands will pull on their running shoes and their flashing armbands and head for the door.  Join in your local Run in the Dark to get involved with either a 5km/10km option.  I’m hosting the Edinburgh pop-up event, read about last year’s great event in Edinburgh here.
  • Mighty Deerstalker – Scotland’s original obstacle race….in the dark – 12th March 2015.
  • Flash Mob Run – Pentland Hills Scotland 4th November 2015.
  • National Trust Night Runs – National series of night time trail runs scattered throughout the country at various times throughout the year.
  • The Night Runner – a series of 3 events held in Delamere, Grizedale and Rivington.
  • Glow in the Park – London, Cornwall and Manchester

Know of any more great night time events?  Then let me know by commenting below so I can check them out too.  Go out and enjoy the darkness.  Happy Running!