Ultra-running at a blistering pace

The 2012 Glen Ogle Ultra: I’ve been putting this off, writing about it I mean. But for the last week or three I just keep going over this overdue account late at night so I just need to write it and move on.

The short story is that I made a mistake. And as a consequence I went through the most horrendous racing experience of my life (to date). This from the girl who completed over 36 miles with chronic heaving diahorrhea. The worst part was that it was completely avoidable and utterly my own fault. And I have been a little angry with myself in the last few weeks. In order to get over it I’ve decided that another ultra is in order; to prove to myself that I have learned from the recent and can convert to a more enjoyable experience. Perhaps famous last words, but here’s how www.go33ultra.com went.

First timers raise their hands, Andy, Lee and I take a rare chance to be at the front

Our B&B near Strathyre, was lovely but apparently we were their last guests before shutting up shop for the winter and they made no bones about not being able to do an early brekkie. I was actually thinking WTF as my mouth made the very accommodating words of “NO bother, don’t worry about me”, thus I was faced with a non-ideal bowl of rice-crispies laden with sugar and a flask labelled “Mike” as I grumped about the diningroom, wondering why Mike was getting a flask and I wasn’t, I finally realised it said milk. The cheese croissants (random!) were later fed to some enthusiastic ducks on the far side of Loch Tay, can’t think of anything I would less like to eat during a run! I managed to drink some Devon custard before the off and into the frosty darkness we drove. The previous night we had (ahem) been introduced to the countryside by way of trying to find an ATM and frustratingly had a 20 mile round trip, such is the remoteness of Strathyre. At least we could buy a few jars for Andy and enjoy a cracking Alf Tucker Fish n chips for dinner! Eventually.

Race outfit was somewhat similar to last years:2 x Nike Lunarglides (1 pair for Check-point 3 drop bag), 3 x X-socks run (1 pair for CP3, 1 spare for rucksack, 1 to wear),INOV-8 Gaiters, Haglofs boxers, Haglofs Intense full length tights, B4490,Ice-breaker 200 light, long sleeve top, Gore Magnitude AS vest, Nairn orange buff, Ben Fogle buff worn as hat, Montane Featherlite waterproof carried in rucksack, Salomon XA20 rucksack, UltrAspire hand-held (CP4 drop bag) Rucksack contents: peanut butter/jam tortilla, banana, 6 cherry mule kick gels, 1 soya milk, 1 Litre of water+electrolyte, waterproof, spare socks plus emergency kit: caffeine gel, ibuprofen, paracetemol, vaseline, micropore tape, electrolyte tab, safety pins, spare lace, blister plasters, Blackberry, TOILET ROLL (in capitals cos, well, y’know I didn’t take this with me at Speyside Way due to the amount of toilets en route and of course the worst happened. Never tempt the Kazzy-Gods!).

A Kara chocolate coconut milk filled UltrAspite handheld waited for me at CP4, for the final stretch home along with my ipod. Various food in the drop bags but I didn’t think I’d need it and had the equivalent of a teddy bears picnic last year.

I was late getting to the bag drop because for some reason we parked at the finish and then had to jog up the road laden with drop bags and excess warm clothing. I muttered the infamous grumble about not needing an early morning yomp before a 33 mile run. Grumpy b*gger! Race briefing and a walk down to a new start-point further down the glen where a tonne of logging had been carried out. Lee and Andy and I said our goodbyes and we all started with big smiles but, tragically, I hadn’t bothered to tighten my laces and got distracted within the first few minutes when my Garmin Forerunner pinged out of it’s velcro strap AGAIN, this time, the pin was lost in the dirt and I threw the contraption into the rucksack. Oh well, I didn’t really need to know my pace and mileage, did I?

Caught up to Andy and we trudged up and around the forest and down towards the road crossing as George (D33 RD) biked passed and said a few words of encouragement. Unfortunately the Demons had already dropped in to say “Oooh this uphill part is tougher than last year and you’re not really enjoying this are you?”. I agreed with them and threw all ideas about pacing out the window, to concentrate on trying to enjoy things. Andy advised that an easy out and focussed return might do the trick and I stuck my new race plan back in the faces of the ne-ersayers. CP1 passed and we were on the recognisable cycle path into the wood, where dear old Raymondo (Ray McCurdy, marathon 100-club and infamous ultra-runner) asked us if we’d done 4 miles yet; we told him “about 6” and he trundled on as we stopped for a gel-break. The gels and water were going down fine and the going was easy. Passed a group of 3 just as the rain started “OK, who’s brought the brolly?” I managed as we cat n moused them for several miles up the Serpentine and onto the old railway.

Still feeling good but I think Andy’s knee started playing up before CP2 and he urged me to go on but no, I was fine doing what we were doing and I had the added benefit of a captive audience for discussions on small holdings on the West coast, farming and other nonsense. To shut me up (possibly), Andy gave me a taste of his newly bottled mountain stream water and wow, it was fantastic (and we’d only seen the one lone sheep on the higher ground so it was possibly sharn free!)

The field was very sparse now with a few runners in the distance and a few well behind. Usual protocol of thumbs up and OK? to those we left behind and well dones to those who went on ahead. Passing on the right please!

CP2 and I wrestled a choc milk out of my drop-bag and we crossed the road to be met by my OH (the photographer), so we hammed it up a little for the camera’s. Safe to say I was in good spirits and more than a little concerned for Andy’s leg but we were on a down-hill loop before hitting the main climbs of the day.  I ate my peanut butter n jam tortilla and was really pleased that the gel every 5 miles, vanilla fudge inbetween and this, had worked out so well. Andy said this hurt his knee more on descents but I secretly enjoyed burdening the quads for a change, on the downs. I was still wary of my achilles being less than perfect so now automatically try and protect it. We had jumped a huge puddle (the main gate was later opened) and we saw the lead runner return down the hill, a good 7-8 miles in front already! A couple of ladies went by and having heard our chat, asked where I was from- turns out one was from Cromarty on the Black Isle which is the across the Firth neighbour to my home-town and I was amazed that my accent is still recognisable after all these years 🙂

Came alongside the gentleman from last year who was having a pukey time of it and managed to tap a couple of lumps of crystallised ginger- he was in much better fettle this year and surprised I remembered him. I never forget a ‘whitey’, me.

Soon the hills that I had promised Andy, were upon us and I made some short sharp shrift of the first few, overtaking a couple of groups but took a latrine excursion at the top of the first blip and saw Andy coming so we had a quick chat and agreed to meet up at CP3 as I was planning to change my shoes. Slow n steady passed the half way point and down towards some hill-walkers and my pre-checkpoint choc milk, which I’d stashed at the big puddle/gate. Where’s my frikkin milk!?? A change of marshall meant that the carton had been moved but luckily the OH had recognised it and removed it from the verge. YUM!

Back down and across the road to a large gathering of runners and volunteers! This was where I was surprised with blisters you would not want to see, ever, let alone during a race with 13+ miles to go. “Do you want to burst them?” said Karen- as I stared in amazement wondering how this could happen and with no indication or pain, I remembered the ibuprofen I had taken “just incase” after breakfast. Two or three people were discussing the best approach to dealing with blisters when Rob came in about and went oooh, you’ve got feet just like mine. I’m assuming he meant the purple half toe-nails. It was little consolation as I now had to get my feet into trainers and get offski after 15 mins of ershing about but not really achieving anything. The route was now mostly flat and down and I had hoped to make up some good time given how fresh I felt (lungs/legs/digestive tract). My energy levels were high. “I’ll see how I go, I don’t usually burst blisters” I said and went on my way. No pain, no presence and I passed Andy, then another gent, then caught the group of three and 4 or 5 miles (approx) seemed to go passed very fast and I was on the windy snake, heavily descending into the cycle track.

And then the ibuprofen ran out.

And then the blisters started digging daggers into the sides of both feet. It became impossible to run without pain.

So I ran on the outside edges of my feet. Walking hurt more so I had to maintain The Zombie Jog (thinking about patenting the term). Uphills hurt worst and every undulation seemed like a mini-tragedy. I was sure the group of three would have caught up with me and I was trying to subdue the ows but soon enough I was a hybrid of Monica Seles meets The Living Dead and if ever there was a time for someone to pop up with a race stat of how far to CP4, it would have been welcomed in these next few miles. But I was still moving forward and although I was being Drama Queen extraordinaire I managed to improve to only 98% pathetic when I saw some marshalls jog towards me. I’d put in my earplugs with no music, to drown out the sounds of my own misfortune. Here I am, with a blue sign growing out of my head (fairly painful in itself) and with a wee tear balanced on my cheek, Aw! The picture beneath was a happy me at the same point last year.

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My time at CP4 was part bravery, part gratitude and a smidge of impatience thrown in as I asked if there were any 1st aiders present (no) and then stared in wonderment at an attempt to cut a roll of sticky plasters with a dinner knife. OH raked around in the 1st aid kit and found the scissors and the patching up began. The ladies were stars and obviously used to spaced out grumpy ultra-runners descending on them with demands. They assessed that I’d had my allotment of ibupforen but could have paracetemol so I downed those and after 10 mins of feet out and fixer-uppering I was back on the road having miraculously not rescinded any places. I had dumped the rucksack, grabbed the UltrAspire handheld and my ipod but I couldn’t meet OH eyes and I all but ignored Lee’s wife. Well, I wasn’t (ahem) feeling that sociable with 6-7 miles to go and limited drug relief to get me there. Later he would tell me that he had never seen me so miserable during my running career to date and didn’t suggest dropping out incase I used the last of my remaining energy to pummel him. Which in fairness I probably would have.

All hands on deck for the Nywanda Blister Lollapalooza

Andy and I had discussed finish line tactics – an over the top dip for the line, maybe a John Travolta disco-dance, muddy commando crawl….I’d already used up a highland dance (Easter Eigg hillrace) but at this point was preparing to just scream a yell of frustration once the race was complete. I kept this at the forefront of my mind, every step took me closer to The Yell. Strange motivation but it kept me moving, that and a timely blast of Survivor EOTT on a blind corner!

I saw the sign for Rob Roy’s grave and knew that there was only a matter of a few miles left. The undulations which last year had been chewed up in late-race vigour were now a hatful of hate and just when I’d decided that another cry was on order (my ipod had been accidentally turned on in my rucksack and was now out of battery), my race angel was spotted!

In tough races I’ve always had a race Angel- another competitor who has helped me through and generally just given the support (sometimes unintentionally) to Keep on Keeping on. I spied a red rucksack going round the corner and despite the pain, I found a new steady plod in the hope of catching up 🙂

Round the corner, there was Al (a sports psychologist-therapist) who had been struggling with sore hamstrings and had decided to minimise pain and take a few photos. I explained my predicament and apologised in advance for any grunting etc. We kept each other company towards the finish and I hoped I didn’t hold him back although maybe he just seemed in better nick than he was. By now my left quad and knee were aching possibly as a result of running several miles only on the outside of my foot and it really hurt, despite the painkillers. I worried about doing lasting damage but returned quickly to the matter in hand. Just Finish. We managed to chat back and forth and it certainly passed the time. I am very grateful for this and hope I perhaps helped cajole him along somewhat. After some hard fought miles the shoogly bridge was upon us and I mustered a smile for the camera.

Al finished just in front and I didn’t sound my mighty yawp, I slowly wandered around the muddy finish area, trying not to cry. When Mike asked me to not forget my finishers goody bag, I just stood there, glaikit and droll, feeling like someone had replaced my feet with red hot pokers inside cement blocks and was not fully capable of making a decision. I think I wanted to lie down but knew I might provoke a first aid crisis rather than a few pointed fingers for eccentricity. I managed to shake Al’s hand then I got my Fetch Hoody and went to the car. I told the OH that I wanted to make like Deitrich and Be alone. So I sat there sobbing and peeling the socks from my feet in a painfully slow cautionary fashion.

Then I remained in the passenger seat and waited for the crying to stop. I was conscious that I should get my fat-ass over to the finish to see Andy come through but I just couldn’t. I knew I couldn’t muster the Nywanda Grin this time. So I just sat there. Doing nothing.

Eventually I snapped out of it just as Andy came strolling round the side of the car brandishing an array of blister compeeds in mock-chastisement! I showed him my swollen fluid and blood filled feet and he was fairly unimpressed; probably because he had endured an injury from mile 12 and had still finished in high spirits. Applause for that man!

But hey, I finished the race. Another Ultramarathon. Not in great style but more learnings and here they are in re-cap form:-

  • Do NOT take pain-killers before you feel pain as they could actually mask the on-set of preventable injuries
  • Bind blisters as soon as they’re apparent and don’t ignore hot-spots
  • Check and double check electronic equipment and have a back-up if time, pace, distance and music is important to you
  • Do what you can, when you can and don’t worry about what you look or sound like
  • Be kind to marshalls, spectators and fellow runners. Volunteer for a marshalling spot and be extra patient with less than charming runners- you never know what they might be going through or have gone through to get to that point. NEVER suggest they DNF unless they are bleeding from the eyes and get a medical person to verify if necessary. Your suggestion might be the straw on the camels back; it takes a lot of mental focus to keep going when you’re hurt
  • Accept that the duration is irrelevant in comparison to your journey and that it might be different every time, regardless of training, prep and best intentions

The positives:

  • Hydration and nutrition was spot on. No dodgy tummy or otherwise so very pleased
  • Motivation under duress was flailing but adequate; I got me round
  • Scottish country-side still looks freakin AWESOME even when you’re suffering 🙂
  • I managed some race banter and encouragement to others
  • I ran most of the hills and felt good about it at the time
  • Got to run with Andy properly. This was very important to me as it was his testament  before the Benbecula Half Marathon in 2010 which lead to me returning to complete the Heb 3 in 2011 and really got me into West Coast running, which has ultimately brought me the most happiness in my running life to date. Thanks Mr O.

I write this now, having taken over 3 weeks to get around to it. Seems like aaaages ago now, but had to commit this to blog because I am determined to finish the year on a more positive note and am therefore heading out for another longish jaunt in a few weeks time. http://shop.sand-baggers.com/winter-ultra–10k-2012—race-entry-1560-p.asp I have never run on the West Highland Way and I’m determined to brave the oncoming weather front, the ascents of the Mamores and the exposure of Rannoch Moor to complete my 4th ultra before year end AND I have even found a very mad mountain buddy to accompany me!  I couldn’t depart these shores without a shotty on the Devil’s Staircase!! In all honesty, this one scares me a little but I’m learning so much from all these experiences that I’m absolutely positive it’ll help whenever I finally actually get my act together. When will that be? Who knows, but I have to keep trying and one of these days, I’ll get it right. Onwards and upwards. Let’s get it on!

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Two weeks to Glen Ogle Ultra

The longer runs are behind me and I’m now counting down to the Glen Ogle Ultramarathon at start of November.

What have I been up to? Well, worrying about injury sites and sliding into very cold shallow baths immediately after long runs to try and stave off micro-tears and calm hot spots. A visit to the acupuncture lady was sore and my calves seem tighter than ever. I’m also beginning to start to think about fretting over what food I’ll take with me this year, following my overall fuelling disaster at the Speyside Way. Well, I say disaster: I *did* finish but I wouldn’t want to go through anything like that in a few weeks time. Our hotel is booked and I’ll be meeting up with Andy Grumpy runner (a total misnomer as he is ace craik & has the same give-it-a-go attitude as moi) as well as PC Helen, she of West coast photography, amongst other returnees and Fetchies. My 3rd ultra is looming- whoda thunk it?

Despite the on-set of winter weather and the temperatures cruising into the single figures, training levels have been generally good…until this week when work hours reached an all-time high just as weekly mileage crept up towards 35 miles. I’m currently so over-allocated with projects I need to clone myself immediately and start both of us working the night-shift. Spose it’s a good ‘problem’ to have but it’s definitely not sustainable and we all know which is more important. I’m also behind with things like hair-cut, expense claims, car faffage….anyway, running = >>>

On advice from physio at the start of the year when the achilles was more like an a-kill-ease, I’ve been following a 4 – 5 week periodisation; weeks ramp up in mileage and duration and then drop right back before re-starting the ramp up. So far so good but there *have* been bruised feelings over the old injury areas in the last few tempo runs and I need to eek out these legs and feet for just a few more weeks and then through the race-day itself. I’m going easy now 🙂

Some nice snaps from around and abouts, taken with the Whiteberry

A couple of wee stints at marshalling and racering here and there, not all-out and always without GPS. I don’t really want the feedback or pressure to push at the moment, just running at what my legs and lungs will find comfortable/sustainable: Proms 3K = 14:44 (+2 secs from Dec 11), Park-run = 29:12 (Claire’s parkrun PB which she then smashed the following week without me, about 5 mins outside my best), Kinord 10K = 62 mins, OK let’s delve a wee bit into that one……I had sent an event link to my BiL as he wanted to get back into racing after a season off from triathlon. I had just finished a week of travel and catch up, 11 hours in the office every day and home-work at night. Boo! Energy levels were bottoming out off the back of non-existent lunchbreaks topped up with meals out with friends at night. Tuesday -The Colemans, Wednesday – The Stronachs, Thursday – The Nolans plus 2 week old baby. Havoc! The weekend came and I just wanted bed, more bed and feet up. OK, go on then, I’ll do a 10K! I do looooove the fact that I have the Choice to just do a 10K at almost the drop of a hat. In the past I would have needed to train towards this as a main event and I feel grateful for that, it’s easy to forget sometimes and just move straight to the “ooh what time did I get?”, which is why the Garmin has been left at home for races and really only using the MotoACTV as a MP3 and distance recorder on longer runs.

This gathering was crawling with local hill-running talent and I sheepishly rocked up and said Hi to some Cosmics, who all informed me that Tuesday sessions had started again and basically, if I could run today without any pain I should get my lardy butt back to training. Well, they didn’t say lardy. That’s my terminology and I DO feel very tubby right now even though the long runs have been enjoyable. I should go back after the ultra 🙂

The short of it, I found it tough going to 5K (my warm-up involved standing around in a hoody drinking Powerade), with some proper technical down-hill bursts strewn with trip hazards, but I was loving it and working hard in the mid to back-pack. Then a bliddy stone in the left shoe jammed under the arch, so stopped after the marshall and had to houdini my INOV8 which was triple tied and compacted with mud throughout the laces. By the time I started up again I had received a flood of lactic and at least 10 runners had passed 😦 I tried to get steady and overtook one or two but stopped again about a click later to scoof some juice at the water station. Then the single track made passing all but impossible, a few gracious runners who heard my porno breathing stepped aside. I was flying and loving it again by 8K and all too soon I was running towards my niece Anna who’s only 21/2, cuter than cute and I asked her to wait for me and run in at the end. So we did!

Myself, Anna & my sister Iona finish Kinord 10K

A beautiful end to a tough wee race. To be honest I would have liked to have gone on for a few miles once I’d crossed the line, as I felt properly warmed up and that’s the difference between having speed training in you and having the endurance slow running in the bank. I was careful though and didn’t turn an ankle, slip on the bridges (I’d been prior warned by Pauline Cosmic) or hurt anything. Nice one! Very happy and even got a spot prize. Nice event Dinnet folkies! Nice work Cosmics too, Team prize, Rob winning outright and Matt giving a gut busting PB performance on “that” course which was even a tad longer than 10K 😉 Happy daze. So good to see a few faces from the West Coast hill-running scene and a couple of other local runners, the friendliness reminds me why I love running and smaller events are always decent about post race grub (puts the bigger events with extortionate entry fees, to shame). Funds from todays race went towards maintaining the local hall;hopefully the gazillions of cakes and sandwiches my family as a whole managed to put away didn’t deplete the donations too much. And I don’t think that todays run did anything detrimental in the lead up to the ultramarathon.

Apart from all that, I’ve been re-reading Dean Karnazes latest book and laughing my head off, watching the new Dallas and laughing my head off, watching Rylan on X-Factor and laughing my head off, downloading Samantha Ronson/ Conor Maynard/ Of Monsters and men/ Emmylou Harris, sending food back in restaurants, devising a 2013 global strategy for the service line I head up (not laughing my head off) and buying a few bits n pieces, including a new ‘lid’ and super lumen lights for the bike 🙂 Loving my Ben Fogle buff (to be worn at the Glen Ogle geddit?), Marni jellies and Rodial scary sounding Dragons blood face juice. All this outdoor running can take it’s toll!

Fall running with a Fell-runner

You would think that if you were going to rise at the arse end of dawn and drive two and a half hours to do a run, that it would be fairly important to remember to bring your running shoes?

Well, no: don’t remember to pack your running shoes (choosing from a wide selection of INOV-8 Roclite’s talons and GTX versions……) and don’t even risk it and turn back once you do remember, for fear of being late. Just resign yourself to wearing your Salomon XA “shoes” which are ½ size too big and are generally reserved for kicking about in because they hurt your feet to run in.

So that was the great start to the day, rising at 6 a.m. eating a bagel with jam and promising to eat more on the way down but not managing to. Journey planning and not using the Google map print outs and then losing faith in your ability to follow road signs, thus using the Satnav (which just confirmed you were right).

However, I arrived in Pitlochry ahead of schedule so I drove around the town and finally parked up and used the loo in the local Co-op. My knee was stupidly stiff from all the gear changing (mad other side of the road driving to avoid road-works and ramps) and I generally just felt a bit radge. I unpacked my rucksack and futered until nearer 10 a.m. and then I texted my running partner to inform her where I was. Was it lucky that I had passed on my car reggy, as she had forgotten her phone and wasn’t it also lucky that she had a spare pair of offroad Salomon S-Labs in my exact size? Indeed!

I met the dogs (3 off) and we drove to a small forest carpark off an estate beside Moulin. A slight splash of rain and a brief tryst with a couple who didn’t like dogs (isn’t it great how pets always know which people hate them and then overcompensate trying to win them over?) and we were off up the burnside path. I soon had to adopt a walk due to well, not being very fit and actually I felt a bit white n weak, information I quickly passed on incase I passed out. This nausea disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and later, I put this down to having not eaten enough before setting off. But it was nice terrain and we chatted when the ascent wasn’t too arduous – thankfully the route was between two hills and not up the local hill Ben Vrackie. Maybe next time!

Ben Vrackie in the background

The moors offered a rocky descent and I really enjoyed the views as well as the chance to do some running (as opposed to bimbling or walking). I usually let my mind wander when I’m out in the country so it was a different experience to be running with someone else and a small dog. The dog had this endearing way of tripod-running by folding a hind-leg up towards the belly and hopping quickly with the remaining foot. As the sheep covered moors faded into farm-land, we took a path onto a country road and headed towards the River Tummel.

The weather stayed dry and the scenery was stunning, everywhere we went there were picture opportunities but I tried to commit most to memory and minimised the use of the phone camera! [Yep, these pics really are taken with my whiteberry].The road running was slightly jarring in the off-road shoes but it was a treat to get a “free trial” of broken in trail shoes and I have apparently been wearing the wrong size. these fitted perfectly and my feet only really hurt near the end of the run, when we returned to Pitlochry via the A947 pavements. The next part of the route was on woodland trail which skirted the river and dipped and fell alongside some beautiful water features. This was the time I felt the best during the run and managed to open up a few times, although I was tracking the run via the Motorola MotoACTV on a clip and had stuffed it into my waistpack, so had no idea of pace or distance at that point. We veered in to view a local spot where legend had it that Rob Roy leapt to escape pursuers; but on trying to google it for more info, I couldn’t find anything on tinternet, so it presumably can’t be that well known a legend! Hmmm maybe it wasn’t Rob Roy……

It was during this final stage of the trail run, on undulating ground, that I realised I was running low on water and was feeling tired and hungry. Whilst viewing a local bungee jump point I unfortunately let my own feet get caught up with some gnarly tree-trunks and I took a flyer (without a bungee). Landing on my knee and hand, I ungracefully rolled sidewards but got up with only an “Oof” to draw attention to my plight. I guess falling is all part of running and my run-partner waited unperturbed whilst I recomposed myself for the return leg into Pitlochry. Some more chat about whether training with less water might break me of my “comfort blanket” (I tend to carry water with me for anything over a 10K and anytime I haven’t I’ve always felt my performance was impaired……)

The conversation went back and forth, with me gleaning lots of tips and interesting factoids, no more so than that the sheer nature of hill and fell-running can mean that those athletes who undertake the challenge and travel far and wide, can be somewhat solitary by nature. And private. I think that this aspect of the hills and running there, is what appeals to me (because it certainly isn’t the talent I have for covering the terrain with speed or dexterity). You can’t hide from the land, the elements, the effort required to pass over the Earth and you don’t need to be anything other than what or who you are. Because the hills don’t really care! There aren’t many things you can say that of, in life and living in society can require a certain pantomime. The one characteristic which I really wasn’t prepared for was the lack of an ego, something which is normally associated with talent and achievement. I don’t think I have ever met someone with so little concern for anything other than doing the best that can be done and avoiding the hamster-wheel of commodity living. Probably the most admirable trait I’ve seen in anyone because I know it’s one I’ll never achieve. Even this blog is a token of crass look-at-me-ism and for that I do apologise. However, as the day progressed, I did take heed of the fact that I have still been running a relatively short period of time and that trail running is not easy! I know I am often too judgemental of myself and frustrated, nae, embarassed by my lack of prowess. Running is very enjoyable regardless of ability and I assume that is why a world-class fell and sky-runner was willing to give up a day of her life to (a) a charity auction resulting in (b) a bimble about with a sloth-paced stranger 🙂 Afterwards we reached Pitlochry (running between the tourists, in front of whiskey shops, tartan shops, tea-rooms), we drove back to the car-park, changed and picked up the other car and the dogs who had remained behind. We found a small teashop (which wasn’t jam-packed with retired tourists) and I asked them for “something chocolate” and was presented with my full order: “lashings” of tea, orange juice, water and a huge slice of chocolate crispy! It was much needed and sustained me until the real meal of the day: chicken pie at the Lairhillock Restaurant. We parted after a quick hello to the dogs (I soooo want a furry running partner), who were going to get a walk up Ben Vrackie that afternoon and me? I headed home via a lovely detour, which saw me breathing in as I drove passed an articulated lorry on a single track road, with me on balanced on the sloped side(!). Memories in place, managed to not be too Fan-Girl (I hope) and a resolve to chill out a little bit about what should or shouldn’t be happening in my So Called Running. I’ve a lot to be grateful for and days like today make the crappy ones fade. Happy and looking for pins to deflate my own sense of self-importance 😉

Next long run will be Bennachie range Gordon Trail, back via Oxen Craig. Hills but on my own and in my own shoes.

Ultra-running- the Speyside Way Splash

Race selection background

See my aforementioned blog regarding my reasons to run and also, bear in mind that I did no running training from February to April this year due to a calf tear and achilles injury, resumed running < 3 miles per day in May after loads of physio and acupuncture, kept mileage to a minimum incorporating Kenyan hills and tempo runs whilst continuing core and strength exercising, “conquered” a couple of half marathons during the Heb 3 series, ran Nairn half the weekend before SSW ultra and my longest single run was 15 miles, over Ben Aigan twice with a few broken up longer runs as part of my SSW recces. Was I stupid to attempt this race? Possibly, although I don’t think it’s stupid to try your best. Despite my mileage being less than ideal, my brain was in full ultra mode and I felt ready for this event.

Stats

Miles run = 36.9 (including toilet detours), Time taken = 7 hrs 29 mins 11 seconds.

Spilts

The details: 10.32, 10.20, 10.46, 10.29, 10.07, 10.20, 10.23, 10.13, 10.43 (WC1), 9.26, 9.30, 19.34 (CP1/WC2), 15.21 (WC3), 27.09, 28.43, 16.25 (WC4), 9.28, 11.31, 11.14, 11.51, 12.23, 11.39, 12.08, 10.31, 23.04 (CP2, last solid food eaten), 10.05, 13.15 (WC5), 11.16, 12.08, 11.54, 14.36 (WC6), 12.26, 12.56, 12.04, 12.02, 11.29

Equipment list

Bodyglide, X-socks Run Sky (2 off), Shockabsorber B4490, Haglofs boxers, Haglofs intense shorts, Icebreaker 200 series light long sleeve merino wool shirt,  Gore Magnitude AS vest, Buff buff, UltrAspire pocket handhelds (2 off), Salomon XA20 rucksack with Camelbak 2 Litres bladder, Nike Lunarglide 2+ (2 off), CompresSports calf guards, INOV-8 Gaiters

Food

Mule Kicks Cherry & Himalayan salt gels, bananas, organic crunchy peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich, crystallised ginger, oatmeal CLIF bars (hardly any of this got eaten)

Drink

Organic chocolate soya milk, flat cocoa-cola, coconut water, Kara coconut milk drink, water with electrolyte tablets, water (all of this got drunk)

Race Account

We were expecting rain for the start of the race but even the torrent experienced driving through the early a.m. country roads to Buckie, didn’t prepare us for the river which met us at the start of the Speyside Way Ultra in Ballindalloch. I don’t mind the rain because you can only get “so” wet and being a slightly oversized distance runner, I often benefit from the cooling effects of the colder weather 🙂

I had decided to wear road shoes for the ultra quite a few weeks earlier, because the support would benefit me more than the extra grip from offroad shoes, however, I was fretting a little and doubting my choice. Within the first few strides my feet were completely soaked so I just had to grin and bear it; we were all in the same boat.

I felt relaxed at the start, exchanging a few words with some Cape Wrathers and spotting Andy before the off which was nice. I settled in behind two gents who were holding a full blown conversation about how to dry out their tent and I was soon in a small group who were to remain together for the best part of the day. I knew the first 10 miles of the route so I concentrated on not going too quickly and staying ‘safe’ by lifting my knees and not striding boldly through puddles but rather watching the feet in front to gauge depth of water. I did occasionally get to look up and, despite the rain, the farmland around us looked stunning.

Everything was going pretty well until around mile 8 and I started to feel a bit burbly in my tummy. A different kind of sweat came on and I wondered if I could hold on until the visitor centre toilets at Aberlour? Nope, I took a few minutes scanning around and made the first of several horrendous heaving toilet stops which were to be the real dampener on an otherwise tremendous experience. I’ll keep the details to myself but on this occasion I managed to avoid exposure to any other runners. I had to go again almost immediately but made it back onto the path in front of a running couple. Felt much better afterwards and certainly picked up the pace a little, as I’d hoped to keep my splits around 10.30 minute/mile until CP1. Then my Garmin came apart at the top strap pin! Luckily I saw it just as it happened and I ran the rest of the way to Craigellachie with the pin in my hand. Good job hubby was on hand to fix the Garmin whilst I did a sprint to the loos! I grabbed my ipod, a banana and swapped the UltrAspire handheld for my rucksack. Feet didn’t feel blistered and had actually reached a warm n happy stasis, as I started the climb towards Ben Aigan.

On the tarmac and runners were coming out in dribs n drabs, a combination of those who had spent a good time at the CheckPoint and the likes of me, who had bustled through, wary that time was draining away. [I say that because I had received the promise of more sponsorship if I came home in under 7 hrs 30 and my time target was sub 7, so I was hopeful of securing the extra cash for BASIC]. But more tummy issues and I had to just keep on keeping on. Surprisingly, I was still on target for sub 7 when I came into Fochabers, as I’d factored in spending way longer at the checkpoints and taking pictures/ tweeting. I elected to not take my phone with me from my first drop bag!

Before this stage was the hilliest part of the route, a great trail section where I had a bit of an epiphany regarding my childhood, got all emotional which I partly attributed to hormones(!) and partly because it’s just so damn mystical in the forest and on hills at the best of times and some of the scenes were postcard perfect. This was definitely the best if not the toughest running of the day and I enjoyed those miles the most. Masochist? Moi?

I knew the route until the right turn at Bridgeton farm. A long unrelenting straight on the main road lay ahead and I had a brief stop to ask about water stations and the two girls I spoke to were also running low on water. The rain had stopped and the day was warming up. My bladder/electrolyte hadn’t been full when I started but I really could have done with more fluid as I needed to compensate for the extra loo stops. Och well, on I went and someone remarked that I was “brave to run on the hills”….erm, I didn’t really count all up gradient as hills to be honest as I was now having to run when I could and use my loo stops as rest stops- you do what you can, don’t you? So on I went and I cat n moused a few people but by now I was starting to feel a bit spaced and was grateful to see Checkpoint 2 at the top of a very steep brae. Somehow I had marked my drop-bag with 56 instead of 65 (I am NOT a morning person I tell you!) and once I opened it, it was all I could do to peel the sodden Nike’s and socks off my feet, wipe the mud from my skin as best I could, apply vaseline and clean socks n shoes. The blister sites looked white but I couldn’t tell if they were blisters or just wrinkly wet feet. I wasn’t fancying any of the food but I exchanged the rucksack for a handheld containing coconut water and that seemed to go down very well.

Off towards Fochabers and I had a brief pick up in energy before I was in the bushes again….into the cricket green where the travelling folks had set up camp and I passed my hubby, pal and her baby with no time to spare for chatting, I felt I had to keep going and asked for a Neurofen to be ready for me at Spey Bay 😦 I had decided not to eat anything solid from then on because it seemed to have dire effects and I knew I had plenty fat reserves to tap into if needed.

The rain was off  and I was beginning to dry out. The gnarly tree trunks which patterned the next few miles of path were familiar to me but required concentration, so much so that I seemed to catch two gents who I hadn’t seen for some time. But no! some poor bloke had to see me squat minutes later and I blushingly asked if he had any spare TP. Ah camaraderie eh? I also got more ‘donations’ from two rather surprised hikers about a mile out from Spey Bay. A really gracious couple of runners who were sticking to a very successful walk-run strategy, let me passed as the day became a little warmer and I rolled my sleeves up for the final 1/6 of the race. It was definitely The Best Toilet In Scotland when I dashed into the Whale and Dolphin Centre to use the lavvies just before the final water station. I had a bit of grump because no one could find the Neurofen I had put in the car 1st aid kit and instead had procured two evil looking red tablets from somewhere. Nope, I couldn’t risk the unknown painkillers so the feet just had to be forgotten about for the next 5 or so miles. Grrrrr.

My time target was gone and I was just plugging away doing whatever I could as I hit the trails before the disused railwayline. The forest smelled beautiful and my stomach stayed put. It felt steady and I probably had some sort of zombie-rhythm going on but it was very slow; I kept the gent in front in my sights and slowly crept up on him and two others as we came into Port Gordon; so unfair because he had a cut leg and had clearly taken a fall somewhere in the forest. As I passed a very tired runner, I felt very guilty as I realised I had been staring at his backside for the last 10 minutes, so I had a quick chat with him and realised he was one of the tent-gents from the original chatty group. I followed the marshal who pointed us onto the shingly track but was surprised to be running towards a car parked across the path; the occupants were completely oblivious to the race going on around them, reading the paper and eating safties! It was kinda funny, especially given that I hadn’t eaten anything since Fochabers and was now relying on chocolate coconut milk for sustenance. It more of less worked but my stomach was starting to do a refuser even for the milk, about a mile away from Buckie and I couldn’t do anything with the pace as I felt the first stabs of cramp threaten my left calf. But this was my old town and the familiar sights and knowledge of the route came to my aid once again.

Och I shouldn’t complain really, I’ve felt worse at the end of half marathons(!) – I was relatively strong (perhaps having benefited from the slower pace and multiple stops) no wobbly legs, no tears as I crossed the burn and ran along the Yardie, even managing to maintain some sort of running motion back towards the finish. I tried to smile, I really did, it was part grimace part elation. Despite not thinking sub 7.30 was possible with 2.5 miles to go, I managed to scrape in with 49 seconds to spare!

However this account might read, I can honestly recommend this race to anyone thinking about upping their distance. Even in inclement weather this event is a well oiled machine regarding marshaling, signage, water stops, goodies and the overall organisation including facebook page for motivation, pictures and weather updates. I really enjoyed preparing for the race and will definitely make the pilgrimage back at some stage because it is just a stunning part of the country, with a great mix of wee towns, fields, track, forest, hills, windy woods and roads, the magnificance of the Spey river, bridges, sheep, cows, travellers, hikers…..and the odd ultra runner 🙂

After-thoughts

Nice to (re) meet: Sarah the race director, The dashing marshal who almost got flattened with a sweaty hug from me on Ben Aigan, all the lovely marshals and by-standers who took time to clap, shout and encourage, the living legend and inspiration extraordinaire that is _andy, my new mate with the gadgets Nick, Good looking Tommy, Fabulous Norma and her brilliant race chat and racing pooch, author and super-distance mogul Andrew Murray who shook my hand at the finish, all my fellow runners. My personal supporters Linda and wee Oliver (The Ver) who didn’t bat an eye at my grumpy demeanour at Fochabers and of course, my dutiful and utterly amazing husband who clearly sees the best in me, having experienced some of the worst during these longer races.

More Speyside Way

Another day off work and a stark contrast to the previous downpour- a random scorcher, which saw me reaching for the SPF 30. I drove up to SpeyBay and was immediately struck by the over-crowding at the WDCS, so the initial plan of running SpeyBay to Fochabers and back was slightly blighted, so I picked up a map and continued along the coast to Port Gordon, further along the SSW

http://www.wdcs.org/connect/wildlife_centre/find_us.php

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A couple of miles West to SpeyBay and once there I realised I was over dressed and overladen. Still, I’m working on the premise that if I’m carrying extra weight and running in a veritable ‘sauna suit’, come race day I will feel fresher and springier having become conditioned to being hot n heavy (well, I’m not sure it works quite like that, but….)

GEAR:Nike Lunarglide 2+, Haglofs full length intense tights, X-sock run sky run (worn inside out), Haglofs boxers, shockabsorber B4490, Rabs ultrasilk tee, Gore orange AS vest, Cosmics buff, white woodworm glasses, Garmin 205, Salomon XA 20, 1.5 Litres water + 2 electrolyte High5 zeros, 2 popcorn/yoghurt bars, cherry mulekick gels, usual rucksack stuff: 1st aid kit, TP (in waterproof wrapper), vaseline, mobile phone, hat, spare fleece, waterproof trousers and jacket(!!), OS map

The route from PortGordon was somewhat flat and although I stuck to the road and didn’t go on the disused railway I reckoned I’ll need the new scenery on the day, to keep me distracted from the pain of having done 31 miles at that stage! I wore road shoes as I’m more and more inclined to think I’ll get benefit from their support more than I’ll benefit from the grip of off-road shoes (I won’t be going SO fast, that I need rugged lugged soles to gain time).

Forest between SSW and main road, towards Fochabers from SpeyBay

Spey Bay was absolutely crammed full of bird-watchers, dolphin spotters and Grandparents with grandchildren, so I passed through quickly and promised myself an ice cold cocoa-cola at the visitors centre cafe on the way back. There were a few walkers on the main path and I met a dozen or so at about half way.

That wee sign indicated the narrow path……

Apparently there were literally hundreds of ramblers in Fochabers that day and they had dispersed to various wooded walks up and down the SSW. This group were very gracious and moved onto the more rocky side of the path, to let me passed. [I always get the feeling that I’m running on the more overgrown/ rocky side but if I swap to the other furrow, the original side looks better!]

The route was variable, from open landrover track (sometimes with deep furrows), to tow-path single file type paths but overall it was quite flat and pleasant through trees and with the Spey wide and majestic on the right.

As I neared Fochabers (and under the bridge I negotiated a digger and workies as well as very gnarly paths ribboned with tree roots), I was starting to feel the pace and the heat of the day and encountered quite a few cars around the main park, about 1/2 mile from town. The paths were hooching with walkers; anyone would think it was a public pathway 🙂 I ran into the town square and made my way towards the local supermarket and running shop for a break, before returning the way I came. The local Co-op did not have such a thing as chocolate soya milk, which I’d got into my head that I “needed”. I opted to go for an ice cold coke.

View up Fochabers high Street- Outrun green sign just visible on right

Scarlett was in the local running shop Out run and introduced me to her friend as “a proper runner”. Dunno about that! They both remarked that I was over-dressed and that my bag weighed a tonne. Yep. We had a chat and again, I was offered all sorts of help- tea, toilet, lifts to Buckie (soooo tempting) and the unexpected advice that my shoes were way too loose. I gave my usual response, that my feet swell and I get blisters etc etc. However, I kept the shoe laced tight and once I left, I adjusted the right so it was same pressure on the premise I could always stop and undo them but guess what? Scarlett was right! The tighter tied shoes made my feet feel a lot lighter somehow and I didn’t suffer from cut off circulation or blisters. Folks- trust the experts! I will definitely wear my shoes tied up to the final hole and tighter than before. (Oh and the shop stocks X-Bionic, including the latest Fennec tops which looks well lush….but I digress)

I had to negotiate several long strands of slow moving groups before heading back out of the town. Now you might have laughed at me buying an OS map for this route but I “did” manage to get lost and go off down a dead end on the way back….so if you see this bothy, turn back, you’re no longer on the SSW!

Fishing bothy. NOT on the speyside way

I met the walkers again, not a moment too soon as I had literally just finished, er, “using the outside latrine”……suddenly there were plenty school kids who didn’t want to budge over and I put a wee burn on, down in the 08:30 minute mile mark as I approached Spey Bay. I enjoyed a slice of Soreen loaf and a bottle of cooling water as I made my way back to Portgordon on warm-down for a total of 16.34 miles. A quick clothes change and I started the long but pleasant drive back to Aberdeen.

I’m leaving the Portgordon to Buckie miles for race day. My return to the town of my childhood will no doubt be an emotional one but I can’t wait to see it and run in (yes, not hobble, run) to the finish after the gruelling hill of the High Street!

Spey-side Way Ultra Recces

I don’t know why I entered this ultra; I won’t be at anywhere near the distance training I was for last years Glen Ogle race, which was ‘only’ 32 ish miles and as my first foray into the above-marathon distance, I was really just jogging to get round, with no real prep or strategy other than “don’t bust anything”. Which I managed. But I had most of my marathon training under my belt including a couple of 20 something milers.

So at 36.5 miles with a decent climb in the middle and some deceptive gradual ascents, the Speyside Way wasn’t exactly the obvious choice for an event, especially the week after a fast Half Marathon. I had previously agreed to buddy round a couple of stages and support a fellow forumite at the Checkpoints, seeing as I would have completed the UTLD 50, three weeks beforehand. However, with Lakelands 50 recorded as a DNS, this was my fall back event and the buddy is no longer taking part.

If you look up the term “naively stupid” in the local running dictionary, you’ll see a picture of me conceiving that the Speyside Way is easy compared to the Lake District……the reality was very different and we all know that no ultra is really easy.

I decided to make my long run training for the half marathon, into recces of the SSW route. If I can’t be distance prepared, I can be terrain aware at the very least. So I entered SSW ultra (the race director Sarah is one of the ladies I met at the Cape Wrath Challenge in 2010, with her family; her mother was an especially lovely supporter) and I am starter 65.

Recce 1: Ballindalloch to Craigellachie (12.5 miles)

Well, we couldn’t find an extraction point at Craigellachie so we drove to Aberlour to find the visitors centre closed at the weekend (just when tourists might want information: how unhelpful), but the SSW was well signposted so I opted for 10 miles and got dropped at Ballindalloch with camelback (only slightly leaking) and wearing road shoes, for good support.

GEAR: Nike Lunarglide +2, x-socks Run, Haglofs full length intense tights, Haglofs boxers, shockabsorber B4490, Brooks misti long sleeve, Montane featherlite waterproof jacket, Nike hat, Salomon XA20 rucksack and I carried 1.5 L water with elete and Mulekick cherry gels, Garmin 305 Forerunner, 2Gb Nano (shuffled playlist)

Setting off from Ballindalloch, I was soon surprised by the lack of discernible path- this is proper rough field running and I questioned the choice of road shoes, but to be fair, it was quite sturdy under foot despite recent and ongoing drizzly rain. I kept swapping sides to reduce the camber effect. I took a gel after 30 mins and 60 mins with some water and that sat well. The countryside was enjoyable with a few bridges (one which had to be walked as I got a fair shoogle going) and I passed a couple of cyclists, dog walkers and one postman! As I got closer to the visitors centre, I noticed the ‘going was good’ and my pace really picked up through the wooded area; I guess I’ll have to watch I don’t get carried away with this on the day. Back in Aberlour in 1 hr 42 mins although I’d probably allow nearer 2 hours for this during the race. I drank very little of my water allowance but then, I was really well hydrated to start with and wasn’t pushing the pace until nearer the end. I didn’t really feel any issues with the previous injury sites although my right foot felt a bit plantar-ish. Some stretches and a change into fresh clothes because the ankles were well wet and clarted in mud and jobs a good ‘un!

I probably wouldn’t opt for offroad shoes on this section unless it was super-wet on race-day. The great thing about the drop bag option is being able to make terrain specific choices and I’m keen to use off-road shoes only where absolutely necessary and where I’ll end up AOT or turning an ankle of I used shoes with less grip. I need the most support I can in order to protect my weak areas- left calf and right Achilles.

Recce 2: Boat O’ Brig to Craigellachie (~15 miles)

This was meant to be Aberlour to Fochabers, 15 miles according to the SSW sign-posting. However, after being let down by the local taxis who said I’d have to wait 45 mins for them to get a taxi in the area, I took the advice of a very helpful lovely lady in the local running shop. I’d gone in to purchase an OS of the area, just encase (and because the fog and rain were really quite bad) and ended up telling Scarlett my predicament and she suggested parking at Boat O’ Brig and running out n back to Aberlour thus driving over some of the course and running the rest. Aye, running the hardest bit twice but then, what better training could I ask for? http://www.outrunspeyside.co.uk/ Running caps off to Scarlett, she said she’d have given me a lift down if I’d come in a tad earlier; nice to find a shop willing to put themselves out for customers!!

GEAR: INOV-8 Roclite 212 GTX, x-socks Run, Haglofs full length intense tights, Icebreakers 150 boxers, shockabsorber B4490, Salomon EXO tee, Gore Magnitude AS vest (taken off after 30 mins),Montane featherlite waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, INOV-8 gaitors, Nike hat, Fetch Everyone buff, Salomon XA20 rucksack and I carried 1.5 L water with elete and various gels, Garmin 305 Forerunner, 2Gb Nano (Ben Fogle playlist)

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After driving down a single track which would have resulted in a 3 mile reverse if I’d actually met another vehicle(!) I found the carpark no bother and due to the weather, elected to wear the gaiters under my waterproof trousers and hoped that the Goretex offroad shoes would do the business.

Holy cr@p it was wet! Torrential at times and as the rain pelted me and then occasionally came down in a water wall as the trees above me gave way to it’s weight, I reminded myself that today was my birthday and I could have been doing almost anything and I’d chosen to do THIS.

The route into Ben Aigen was muddy but running uphill against a veritable river was where the off-roaders came into their own. I do love INOV-8s. It was sharper ascent on the way towards Craigellachie and I kept in mind that for everything I ran up, it’d be a coast down on the way back.

I used my lift the right knee for 5 steps, then switch legs and always lift from the knee, technique to ensure I wasn’t muscling up the hills with my calves. Oh the strategies I’ve had to develop to share the load away from the normal muscles, but it seemed to work. If I keep my head down I can get up some fairly long climbs by just concentrating on the counting knee-lifts distraction!

I passed a group of European hikers- how did I know this? Because some had Fjallraven packs and basically, these are not really well known over here. They seemed surprised to see me practically wading passed in my waterproofs!

Unfortunately, the road down into the town was a gradual decline so I knew I was in for a tough return. The Garmin said 6.55 miles as I turned over the bridge into Craigellachie carpark, so I elected to not go on to Aberlour. I used the toilets (nice n clean) and checked that I had plenty water (I did) and then started the slow return (INOV-8s on road, och well). I met the hikers about 2 miles out, just after having clambered down a steep trail to take a picture of a red squirrel, we had a quick chat and I let them know they were very close and that there was a hotel/pub at the corner. They were German sounding 🙂

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The mist was well and truly down and I was feeling a bit cold as I made my way back up and through the Ben Aigen trails, it was beautiful though and there is always a really great smell from the forest when it’s raining. The down parts were too wet n steep to benefit from, so I was still pulling a 10.30 minute/mile or slower as I approached the Boat O Brig again. I ran round the corner and up towards the weak bridge, just to get my mileage to nearer 15. DONE! And I shivered into some nice warm icebreaker 260 and 340 tops before taking Scarlett’s advised route straight through to Keith.

It was definitely worth the recce to see this bit of the route. I know now that I need to really pace myself in the early stages and minimize use of the calves over the routes peak.

Next time: Fochabers to Buckie……and back! (20 miles roundtrip).