Friday, 19 July 2019

Ultra Trail Scotland - race report

Talk Ultra podcast interview - Episode 173

Running is not just running.  It’s like dancing, there are so many disciplines.  When planning what races to enter I try to choose events that complement each other, somehow I inadvertently go from one extreme to another. 

I had once pigeon holed myself as a one-pace 24 hour jogger.  Then I moved to what I thought would be the fun stuff and became a mountain rambler, dragging my sorry ass around some the blockbuster events.  This year I wanted to go back to basics.  Real running.  Kinda bucking the ultra-trend and looking for shorter and faster.  Rather than pushing the boundaries with longer and more arduous.  No mean feat though, as it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.  

I started the year with a couple of 10k races - that hardest distance of them all.  The main focus was Manchester Marathon and then the Thames Path 100.  To mix it up and break up the monotony of canal running, I signed up for the Ultra TrailScotland - 45km with 11,000 feet of ascent on the Isle of Arran.

With winner Rob Sinclair at the start
After a few training runs on Arran last year, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the island.  I had done Goat Fell, which is the highest and most popular peak, and the Goat Fell hill race before using traditional route to the summit - off the Calmac ferry and a straight out and back on the tourist path.   It’s a nice trail and a fabulous hill, but beyond the trig is a treasure trove of magic that few people will venture along. 

They are ‘just’ Corbetts, so Munro baggers would turn up their noses at such insignificant hills.  But they can certainly pack a good punch.  Stunning majestic backdrops, technical trails, exposed ridges, scrambles and coastal views.  Arran is known as “Scotland in Miniature” because it offers the best of Scotland - highland scenery, granite peaks, glens and rolling farmlands all compacted within its 56 mile circular coastline.  The race takes in the best that Arran has to offer.  Unfortunately that means is also cursed with Scotland’s unpredictable weather system.

It’s such a brave venture for the guys at Find Your Adrenaline as the odds are against them.  The Scottish weather doesn’t lend itself to exposed routes, there’s limited accommodation on the island and the only mode of transport there is a ferry.  Sailings are again dictated by the conditions.  But anyone who’s been on route can see the dream.  You’d be hard pushed to find a more stunning race route in Scotland - if not the world.    

This was the third edition of the race.  The first year was cancelled completely due to weather and last year was rerouted, again the weather.  This year’s race day was unfortunately sandwiched between two days of glorious sunshine.  And the filling wasn’t looking very appetising.  On race morning, I’d opened the curtains to torrential rain and the trees bending in the wind.  If I’d been faced with those conditions on any other day, there’s no way I would have ventured into the hills. 

Then there was the communication that the race had been postponed by two hours, to start at 10am.  Wise decision as the forecast at least had the wind speed dropping late morning. 

When we arrived at race HQ, it was announced that the course had been changed to take out the exposed sections and the infamous Witch’s Step. So the new route took the direct route from North Goat Fell to the saddle - taking out Coiche na Oighe ridge, Sannox Glen - and was an out-and-back to North Sannox car park.  I mentally calculated that it would lose about four miles and about 1500ft of climbing, so not a massive difference.

I won’t lie, I was pretty gutted as I’d made the effort to go over the recce the route twice.  Mainly because I don’t like surprises on race day.  From an organisational and safety point of view it was 100% the right decision for the safety of the runners and the marshals.  No disrespect to anyone running the race, but I’m sure there would have been many on the start line who’d wildly underestimated the route.  During my recces, I was still amazed that these sky-running style routes were on a teeny island like Arran. 

The race started along the beach. I despise sand, but at least it was a short section before we turned off and started heading up the hill into the mist. 

There was a bit of toing and froing on the ascent.  People battling to stay ahead.  I’m no hill runner, so settled in for some power hiking.  I was trying not to bother about what position I was in, but still managed to count five or six women ahead of me.  You know, not bothering and all that.

I got chatting to the lovely Katie Henderson.  She looked like a proper hill runner.  I had total leg envy!  We overtook a few people on the ascent, but Katie pulled away towards the summit.  When we reached the top and started on the rocky descent, Katie was gone.  Completely out of sight.

I was mincing around on the initial downs, trying to get my legs to change gear.  I’d bought some new VJ XTRMS for the race and wasn’t so sure of the traction on the wet ground and slippy rocks.  I soon got into my groove and realised the shoes were indeed going to live up to the hype.  To be fair, the granite rock on Arran is pretty grippy anyway. 

Over to North Goatfell, Sarah was ahead of me.  She was really strong on the ups, running up with a back-pack that was almost the same size as her, but possibly lacked the confidence to take the downhills.

I was trusting my new grippy shoes and having a great chat with a few lads.  I was just happy.  Really content and just trying to move swiftly without destroying my quads.  There was no pressure, no goals but I was damn sure I was going to do my best.

Katie was now nowhere in sight.  I couldn’t even see her on the climb to Cir Mhor.  She must have smashed the descent.  Strava segment tells me I dropped from North Goal Fell to the saddle (0.82 miles -29%)  in 16:46 and she did it in 12:30.  That a substantial difference and I wasn’t hanging about either.

I was starting to pull away from the guys on the ascent to Cir Mhor.  The mist was starting to clear near the Saddle and the views were spectacular.  Not that anyone could enjoy the scenery as it’s pretty much face-in-rock on this ascent. It’s like climbing up a wall. I know it’s a bitch because I’ve done it twice before, so was mentally prepared for the torture.  And bagged myself a little Strava crown too. 

It was a shame to miss the views up to Caisteal.  When I saw the global snapping sensation that is Ian Corless hiding behind a rock, cowering from the elements, I felt disappointed that he wasn’t going to see the full beauty of the route.  On his post race podcast interview with RD Casey, he promised to return with good weather next year. 

I checked in with the poor souls charged with the Caistel marshal point and headed on the long descent to North Sannock.   It was long before I saw the ever-smiling Rob Sinclair on his way back up to Caisteal for the second time.

He’s definitely right up there as one of the best ultra-runners in the UK just now.  His triple records on the West Highland Way races were world-class and he’s quite simply one of the loveliest guys you’ll meet.  We exchanged a few shrieking mutual gratifications, high-fived and I continued on the muddy descent to the river crossing.

On the flats it’s a manky, slippy and tussocky bog fest.  But I needn’t have worried about the mud, as there was a thigh deep river crossing to wash it all off.  Mid river-crossing I met my club mate, Grant MacDonald coming the other way.  We were standing on parallel rocks hilariously trying to high five and we both nearly fell up.  I gave up with slimey rock jumping and just waded through on the basis that it was just safer.

I was high-fiving and cheering everyone that was passing on the return leg from the checkpoint.  It was more for my benefit though, because if I’m chipper externally then I’m happy and positive on the inside too. 

Katie went passed less than ½ mile from the checkpoint looking strong and smooth.  I was mentally trying to work out how far she was ahead of me.  Maybe six or seven minutes.  When I got to the checkpoint, Ruth Stanley was standing there sorting out her drop bag.  I hadn’t even seen her from the start, so she must have been way ahead.  Quick top up on the ActiveRoot and back out I went. 

I was enjoying the out-and-back section, because you can gauge where you are in the race.  This is after all when the real race starts.  But also there was a lot of energy from the other runners. 

I was just focusing on maintaining my position.  I knew I was moving fine and still overtaking other guys.  I felt like I still had loads of energy and was mentally all over it, but I was aware that I could have easily fuck it all up with a fall or neglecting to take in any fuel.

I tinkered over the boggy ground like an old women but once I hit the ascent to Sail an Im I was on a mission.  Strong power hiking, running the bits I should be running and not slacking off.  Don’t get comfortable.  Focus.  Don’t lose positions. 

As the route bends around Garbh Choire, I could see Katie in the distance. On the steep rocky climb to Caisteal I was gaining on her and she knew it, but there was no way she was going to back down.  She’s a feisty one.

Peaking Caisteal and hitting the 1000ft rocky descent to Garbh Chore Dubh, this is when Katie turned on her superpower.   Everything I’d worked to gain in the ascent was gone in about two minutes.  She was off.

I was passing lots of Tarsuinn Trail runners who were on the ascent to Caisteal and was taking lots of energy from interactions with them, but at the same time as keeping an eye on Katie.  And having those usual internal conversations with myself << You don’t know until you try.  Being second is a great achievement.  You don’t know until you try.  You’re not a hill runner, Katie is.  You don’t know until you try.  Don’t let third place catch you >>

As the route skirts round the mountain on the way to Beinn Tarsuinn, I was gaining on Katie every minute.   We were about 20ft apart for around two miles.  Then when I closed in before the climb up, she just stepped off the path and let me pass.  I signalled for her to come with me.  But before long I couldn’t hear any footsteps.  Surely she’s not going to give up this easy?

I then passed Mark Whooler who was going in hard with some Scottish tablet - the local runner’s crack cocaine.  After about five minutes the route zig zags slightly, so I was able to take a peek behind to see how far Kaite was.  You know, the sneaky side eye peek without moving my head tactic.  I couldn’t see her.

The ascent went on for way longer than I remember.  Clambering up boulders, squeezing through tight spaces.  I was feeling a bit wobbly on feet and my legs were tingling on the cusp of cramping, so was concentrating on moving quickly so I didn’t stumble back.

I was using two guys in the Tarsuinn Trail race to help keep pace.  I’ll just clip on behind them. As the trail plateaus at the peaks I passed them, but they soon overtook me on the descent.

After some self praise for having no accidents thus far, I tripped on a rock, decked it and my legs instantly jerked into cramped.  I’d hit me knee on the way down, as my instincts were to protect an already sore hand from a fall a few weeks prior. I didn’t even notice my knee was bleeding until further on the descent, so it definitely looked worse than it was.

I kept telling myself to focus on getting to Glen Rosa. If I got to the flat stuff still in the lead, it was in the bag. I still felt energised and knew I had enough for the road section.  During one of my recces I had to dig in during the last few miles to make it back to Brodick to make the ferry off the island.  So I could the exact same in the race.  Plus I’ve overhead Katie telling another runner she really disliked the road section in the Goat Fell hill race.  So sorry, Katie.  But you gave me that one for free.

Now my focus was on not cramping.  And trying to get my legs to move smoothly, but I’m so shite on bog and thick grass.  The Tarsuinn guys were hardly breaking pace and I could only manage a little more than awkward jog

At the river crossing, one of the guys stepped back and held out his hand to help me across.  I was so thankful, as my legs were all over the place.  I like to think of myself as a fiercely independent women, but I can also ham up the damsel in distress when it suits me. 

I was so glad to go out of the bog and tackle the awkward descent to the bridge.  It’s pretty fast running from there, but my brain was frazzled and I had a terrible fear of falling which kept me vigilant. 

Less than 5km to go.  I wasn’t going to use ‘just a parkrun to go’ because that’s the worst analogy ever.  I had to just keep running.  No heroics required, as I was fairly confident I was moving OK to hold off any positions.  Just plugging away on forward motion, it wasn’t long before I was along the beachfront and could see the finish gantry.

It was amazing to be part of such a great race.  I was buzzing the whole way.  One of those rare days when your head and legs are in the right place.  The vibes and spirit from the other competitors was really uplifting. 

With Katie Henderson
Thanks to the organisers and amazing volunteers.  I’d love to go back next year and run the full course.  I doubt I’ll be defending my title.  I am under no illusion that a hill runner with a hunger for endurance will destroy that course.  I hope this year’s events have raised awareness of the race and attracts a lot of speedsters to the island.  Rob’s performance was again world-class.  And if he rocked up again, he’d be hard pushed to be beat

Rob Sinclair (Salomon UK) 4:20:54
Stewart Whitlie (Carnethy) 5:11:44
Michael Reid (Carnethy) 5:25:07

Debbie Martin-Consani (Garscube) 6:24:59
Katie Henderson (Deeside Runners) 6:34:30
Ruth Stanley (Shettleston Harriers) 6:59:15

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Thames Path 100: Race report

Official race report and results: Click here 

I did the Thames Path 100 back in 2013 when it was held in March.  It’s now known in Centurion circles as the ‘flood-adapted route’.  As the description might suggest, the river had burst its banks and most of the path was underwater.  Leaving runners “unable to distinguish the difference between path and river and potentially be swept away  ... in a raging torrent.  To their ultimate untimely demise.  I paraphrase, but you get the gist.

Despite being one of  the last (wo)men standing that year - when it came down the survival of the most stupid -  it has always been unfinished business.  It’s not really the TP100, even if it was 100 (+4 for extra joy) miles on the Thames Path.  It’s like running from Milngavie to Tyndrum and back and calling it the WHW race.  

I always said I’d go back and repeat it on the full. Well, when I say always, I mean it took me a few years to recover from the mud and sheer torment.  But that’s how I found myself standing in Richmond on the banks of the River Thames with the goal to running the full distance to Oxford.

Richmond to Windsor: Keep your head, while everyone else is losing theirs

It’s a flat and fast start along hard-packed path.  The lethal cocktail of nerves, enthusiasm, ambition and bravado means the pace for the first few miles can be quite frantic. And somewhat futile.  I had to keep checking my watch and curtailing my pace.  Reminding myself that I had to run my own race. Not anyone else’s.

As always at the start of races, you share a few miles with different runners.  It was lovely to catch up the Ireland’s finest, Leanne Rive.  Who has an enviable race CV.  We were so involved in our chatter, we missed the steps and bridge turn off and were somewhat confused seeing runners on the other side of the water.  Lost at 4.5 miles.  Joy.  The course is well-marked so I vowed to be more vigilant, but when there is so much going on around it’s so easy to miss race markers.

Leanne disappeared into the distance and I caught up the Kat Short, who was on the side of the trail sorting out her shoes.  We got chatting about Manchester Marathon, which I had run four weeks before Thames Path.  My original plan for 2019 was to run the SDW50, but I swapped to run Manchester and TP100 instead.  The latter doubling up as a Western States qualifier too.  It will be my 4th time in the draw gives me around an 8% chance of getting a place in 2020 race.  Not hopeful, but they have to let me in eventually, right.

Before the first aid station at Walton on Thames at around 12 miles, a supporter out on the trail told me I was 8th female.  I smiled and thanked them, but was secretly irked by the unsolicited information.  I try to actively avoid any race updates. Especially in the early stages, as it can be so disheartening.  I often tell my crew I only want information on a need-to-know basis. Or when requested.   Marco and Cairn were on crew duty for the day, because I vowed to be quicker than last time.

All a bit uneventful for the next 15 miles.  Just ticking along, moving up a few places.  Trying not to lose my head.  I was toing and froing a bit with Dave from Aberdeen (who’s actually from Northern Ireland) Little did I know that we would spend the whole 100 miles within striking distance of each other and finish a few minutes apart. 

Heading into Windsor I had a chuckle at the space where the MASSIVE puddle from 2013 was. I was  told me I was 2nd lady, but I was pretty sure I was third. 

Met Marco briefly there picked up some fluid, waved at some people on a boat staring at me and went to go up steps onto the bridge.  For the love of god what happened to my legs?  30 flat and consistent miles and my legs couldn’t deal with the change in movement.  It was horrendous.  I have been suffering from a hamstring ‘niggle’ for a year now.  I say niggle because it’s never been bad enough not to run. 

Flat is certainly not easy.  It’s the same muscles and movement getting hammered over and over again for hours.  I’d say it’s much harder on the body, mind and feet than any undulating or hilly trails. Plus, at least with hilly routes you have an excuse to power hike (*cough* walk) and use your quads on the downhills.  Flat for me is just calves and hamstrings. 

Windsor to Reading:  You don’t know until you try

I ran with Jay for a bit, who I met out at Spartathlon.  He’d just run a sub-3 marathon in London six days before, which is an unorthodox tune-up session.  He was still in better spirits than me though.  I’d hit that “why the f*ck am I doing this” stage and my good friend nausea was starting to raise its ugly head.  I was being a crabbit and unsociable bitch.   My head was starting to go and all the negative thoughts were creeping.  I was trying hard to push them away.  Breath. Focus.

I just had to focus on breaking down the race.  Aid station to aid station.   When I arrived at the Dorney aid station, Ingrid Lid was there.  The teeny Norwegian is a bit of a rising star and was definitely the one beat in this race.  I was surprised to see her there, but moved straight though.  Soon I heard footsteps and caught Ingrid at the corner of my eye.  She attached herself to my heels and stayed there - for the best part of 10km.  I won’t say this didn’t unsettle me, because it did.  But way less than normal.  I wasn’t pacing her, she just wasn’t going to let me out of her sight.  Understandable. It’s not as if she’s going to drop back just because I’d quite like to win.

At Maidenhead stopped to get something from Marco.  Anything.  I just felt sick and was being moany and pretty negative.  I let Ingrid go and I didn’t care.  I wasn’t chasing and had to focus on sorting my shit out.    I pushed on through to Cookham, remembering this was the turnaround point (twice) for the 2013 edition.  Although I didn’t remember anything of the preceding 35 miles.  Well apart from it was considerably less muddy and there were people out on the path this time.

At Marlow, Marco met me with some ActiveRoot, which I’d forgotten I’d packed.  He was on the ball. I sat on a bench feeling sorry for myself, but the ginger drink made me feel better pretty quickly.    Onwards and through Marlow I was being super cautious following the 2.5 mile road diversion, in the pissing rain, before dropping back onto the parth.  In Hurley I saw Ingrid in the aid station, smiled, pushed on and made out I was having the BEST. TIME. EVER. Tactics, right.

The sun after the rain was stunning.  Steam was rising from the roof of the riverboats and it was the first time I thought: it’s actually not a bad place to run.  Yeah there’s a Thames.  And a path.  But there’s not anything significant and the scenery rarely changes.  There are certainly moments of magic and I tried to embrace every second of those moments.

Crossing some fields, I kept telling myself not to look back.  Never look back.  It’s like the guy in the war movie who looks at the photo of his love back home.  You know he’s a gonner. Looking back is showing weakness.  But I did use any bend in the path to have teeny wee peak out of the corner of my eye.

On to Henley – that half-way point - which seemed to take way longer than expected.   Walking in the tent, Marco was hissing in my ear about staying quiet and not saying a word.  He must have been really sick of my whining.  Turns out Alex Whearity was there waiting to buddy run with his wife, Wendy.  Marco was of course trying to restrain me from vocalising my distress to the opposition.  But, to be fair, I felt OK at that point.  The usually rollercoaster of ultrarunning.

The section from Henley is quite lovely.  Quaint riverside trails, with meadow-esque flora and fauna.  I still managed to miss a sign and got shouted back.  Thanks, James.  And in turn had to shout back another chap who was 400 metres down the road.

Reading to the Oxford: Don’t get comfortable

I felt rough AF when I got to Reading.  I had a lethal combination of Tailwind, Gu and ActiveRoot swirling around in my stomach.  When I met Marco, I stopped and promptly vomited - twice - outside the sports centre.  Which instantly made me feel better,  so off I went.  Happy in fact that I knew most of the route from there.  Once running the Winter 100, another from crewing Sharon at The Autumn 100 last year and in March II’d run the last 30 miles as a recce run. Having some awareness of my surroundings and doubting I’d go off course again, I felt comfortable switching on some musical distraction for the next 12 miles or so.

Things were starting to unravel by the time I got to Goring, as I hit an energy void and had pretty much stopped eating and drinking.  I was still moving ok - ish from Reading to Goring and got a boost seeing Dan and James with their musical renditions on the piano (surreal) at the aid station.  For the next seven miles to Wallingford I was f*cked.  There was nothing.  It was a really just jogging and taking annoying and unjustified walking breaks.  I struggled to keep my feet moving over the dried mud.  I was stumbling, tripping as not picking my feet up and the tussocky grass was so frustrating to run on and ankles kept tipping.  It wasn’t sore, just inconvenient.   I knew I’d slowed dramatically and was haemorrhaging time, but in my complacent mind I just assumed everyone was slowing at this point. Wrong.

At Wallingford I laid down in the carpark and asked Marco for some stats.  He duly informed me Ingrid was 18 minutes behind at the last timing point and Wendy was 20. Fuck! I was on my feet tout de suite.  I knew after my disastrous last section the gap would be MUCH closer. 

It was like flicking a switch.  I was out of there - but not before missing another turn and nearly heading over the bridge. I was energised. And focussed. They were closing, but I had to at least try.  I was basically running scared now, but with a new found energy and the kick up the arse I needed.  I didn’t feel sick anymore and there was no pain or fatigue in my legs.  The mind is a pretty wonderful thing.

Then a few miles on I missed the bridge turning again.  I kept going even though intuition was telling me I was wrong and should turn back.  I got to disused rusty gate covered in overgrown bushes. Fuck.  I got my phone out to check the map and confirmed I was way off.   Back-tracking I spotted the Ingrid disappearing over the bridge I’d just missed.  The bridge with the massive Centurion sign and arrow. 

I caught up with her again at the riverside in Benson.   We didn’t exchange much conversation, not because we were being antisocial but we were both pretty exhausted.  She ran on my heels for the six miles to Clifton Hampdon checkpoint.  I’m not sure if I was pacing or just there to open gates. 

We arrived at the checkpoint together.  I’m sure this was way more exciting for those dot watching than it was for either of us.  Marco threw a bottle at me, stuffed more gels in my pocket and chased me down the street.

I was on a mission.  Even with 12 years of ultra experience, I’m still learning so much about myself.  If you had told me about the situation of being caught at 88 miles before the race, I would have envisioned that I would have backed down.  Resigned myself to have been beaten.  Used my sickness as an excuse and bored everyone to death on social media with my tales of woe.  But f*ck that.  I was churning out all the heavy Goggins classics in my mind.  I read a race preview online on the train down that predicted I would come in second, at best.  I used that as fuel too. 

To break, I had to give it everything.  Don’t look back just go.  No music.  Just focus.  But maybe listen for footsteps and gates closing too.  There was silence.  Before Abingdon, I crossed a field and counted, calculating that it took me a couple of minutes to get to the other side.  I covered my headtorch with my hand and looked back.  No sign.

Arriving at the Abingdon checkpoint I was a little more relaxed.  Just keep moving.  One of the marshals asked me to leave with Dave and Darren as there was a boat owner (allegedly) threatening to throw runners in the water.  I suspect that story might have grown arms and legs.  I can only assume the marshall wanted me to protect the boys.  Marco even said I’d be fine to go myself. 

Nine miles to go.  Just break it down mile-by-mile I kept telling myself. I did my usual not eating or drinking because I thought I didn’t need it. Stupid ultra thinking.  I ran with the boys for a few miles.  My chat was shite and I was worried they felt they needed to look after me.  They really didn’t.  I run through the ghettos of Glasgow without blinking an eye.  I’m sure I could outrun an angry boat owner.

They arrived into Lower Radley a minute or so before  me and looked like they were settling in for the evening.  I exited and crossed the chip mat and was on my way.  It wasn’t long before I see the bobbing lights of head-torches appearing from behind.
On the gravel path I knew I was about two miles to the finish.  I used up my fight to break earlier and just kept chipping away.  I saw the lights from the buildings on the right side, so knew I was getting closer.  Left turn into the field and I crossed the finish line in 17:40.

A win is a win, right.  True.  But it’s not always about winning.  It was an hour slower than I wanted to be.  And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think it’s a time or performance worthy of the race win. Hyper-critical, possibly, but it’s the reality. Got that monkey off my back. I wanted to win and finish top 10.  Plus, I got to run the full route.  Job done.  I’ve never really considered myself a very competitive person, so I was surprised by the way I responded.  If I’m still learning in races, I’m still progressing.  Thanks to Ingrid for this unearthing.  She's a feisty and tough one.  My favourite kind of gal. 

Thanks, as always, to James and team for putting on the best UK races.  I’m not just biased, it’s a fact.  To coach Pyllon for putting up with my erratic race schedule. And to Marco and Cairn for being the best crew ever.  The trip to the National Space Centre the next day was a freaking nightmare, but a fair compromise I think.   We can take comfort in the fact that I can't understand that geeky stuff even with a fresh brain anyway.

Race results 

1st: Ian Hammett 14:36:25
2nd: John Melbourne 14:58:46
3rd: Paul Beechey 15:48:19

1st Debbie Martin-Consani 17:40:08

2nd Ingrid Lid 17:48:25
3rd Wendy Whearity 18:26:12

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Farewell to the Glasgow Women's 10K

If you tuned into Radio Clyde 1 yesterday, you may have heard my dulcet tones talking about the disappointing news that the Glasgow Women’s 10k has been scrapped.  After 26 years, it’s the the end of the road for the UK’s only all-female 10k.

The Glasgow Women’s 10k in 2002 was my first ever race, back when it was organised by Glasgow City Council.  It was the reason I first laced up my trainers and hit the pavements with trepidation on a cold February evening.  Little did I know then that it would change the direction of my life. Dramatic as it may sound, I owe so much to the event.  I’m sure my story will resonate with many local female runners (…of a certain age) Catching the running bug as a result of participating in the Women’s 10K is a common tale in Glasgow running circles.

I have done quite a few interviews and podcasts over the years and every time I’ve credited the Glasgow Women’s 10k as the springboard to everything I’ve achieved and experienced.  People are bored of me harping on about when I started and couldn’t run for a full minute. Never in my wildest dreams would have I even imagined that I would have run on the Great Britain team for five years.  Or participated in some of the world’s finest endurance races. I’ll never forget the early days when would wait until it was dark to go out running, because I was scared someone would see me.

Great Run is citing “dwindling numbers” for the main reason. Falling from 11,000 in its hey-day to only 3000 last year.    Yes, there are many alternative races and events out there but none that match the carnival-like atmosphere and local feel that I have fond memories of.   I’ll be honest and say I haven’t run the race for a few years now. After running it for 10 years in a row, it was always a firm favourite in my race calendar. When the race moved to June, it clashed with other races.  Plus, 10ks are too much like hard work for a ‘lazy’ ultrarunner like me. But really, when the Great Run took over, it just lost its spark.

It was no longer the local running sisterhood blazing through the parks of Glasgow.  It was inflated entry fees and the prospect of running along with city’s expressway. No thanks.  Plus, the phenomenal rise of Parkrun will have effected numbers. Whether you think parkrun is a race or not, it’s certainly replaced the camaraderie and inclusiveness that some events have lost.  
So, yes, from a business perspective it may be no longer financially viable to hold the event.  Sponsors want numbers. Runners want bang for their buck. Great Run want to concentrate on developing the Great Scottish Run, which is seeing an increase in female participation.  Anything that encourages women to run, gets a thumbs-up from me.
Of course, the sceptic in me thinks they could have bowed to pressure that there probably shouldn’t be a gender exclusive event in this day-and-age.   There has always been a rumble from the disgruntled about an all-female affair. Usually from the same type who annually wail “When’s International Men’s Day?” Yawn.   Skimming over the fact the Men’s 10K is still going ahead in Glasgow this year. Let’s not forget the shit storm caused by the launch of “Iron Girls 5K” a few weeks ago.  It pretty much offended everyone, and not just the usual outraged snowflakes.
It was never about gender exclusivity.  It was always about women supporting women.  It was about friends, sisters, colleagues, neighbours, Mums, Aunties and daughters just giving it their all. Without the fear of being mock or intimidated by ‘real runners’.  The get-rounders, the jog/walkers, the fancy dressers and the seasoned runners shooting for the elusive PB. It was for everyone. At the sharp end it was once the most hotly contested race on the calendar.
It’s sad, but it’s just a sign of the times.  I’ll always have fond memories of the aerobics warm-up on Nithsdale Road, the locals coming out to cheer, the proud kids’ faces, the purple balloons, the samba bands on route and the long straight to the finish gantry down Mosspark Boulevard.  And the longest queues for portaloos known to mankind.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Ultimate Direction Signature Series: Ultra Vesta 4.0 and Adventure Vesta 4.0

Most people are at least a tiny bit sceptical when brands bring out new seasonal lines.  How much can they really improve on what is already a pretty great product?  Just an opportunity to sell more products to an engaged market?  Feeding off the runners’ ego to always have latest and best gear.  For clarification, I am that egotistic runner.

The Jenny Collection was the world’s first line of women’s specific running vest and broke the mould in terms of fit and functionality for females, rather than just unisex products made in a smaller size.  

My Adventure Vesta is my go-to training  pack.  My iconic purple pack and I have been on many adventures, in all weathers and covered many miles together.  I have recommended this pack to many women  on the basis that if you are only going to invest in one pack, this is the one you’ve got to have.  There have been many times I could have used the more compact Ultra Vesta, but experience (and subsequent near disasters) has taught me never to scrimp on the hills or mountains. Especially in Scotland when the weather is known to be somewhat changeable.
I was very much looking forward to trying out the Adventure Vesta 4.0, the women’s specific park in the new Signature Series.  My first instinct was that is felt lighter and had much more stretch than the original – which is more rigid with less give.  It wasn’t until I put it on that I felt the difference. The new ‘cinch system’ and stretch material means It fits like a second skin and doesn’t move or bounce at all.  The previous velcro side straps and been replaced with bungee cords that tighten around your back, which gives it a more custom fit.

The first time I used it, I was carrying full winter kit (Heavier jacket, full waterproofs fleece, extra gloves, hat, kahtoolas and a multitude of snacks) and I barely noticed it.  

Poles ahead: I’ve been doing a few more races, which involve a lot more vertical ascent (Transgrancanaria, TdG and next, UTMB) so I’ve been training a fair amount with pole. I’m not one of those Euro types that look like Nordic walkers on acid.  I find using poles quite cumbersome, so they’re on and off my pack.  Or I just carry them in my hands to save putting them away. The new pole attachment system is very simple, yet very smart and well thought out.  Rather than just a band (which I snapped on my previous pack) the cord is thicker and is secured with a snap button.  There’s a finger loop to pop the button, which is a tiny addition but will save a lot of frustration when hands are swollen, cold or in gloves.  It’s the little things that make a big difference.  
The new Ultra Vesta 4.0 has the same new material, cinch system and pole attachments.  The major differences are the two bottle holders, only two front pockets and less capacity.  Previous editions of the Ultra Vesta and Adventure Vesta have clear disparities.  With new Signature Series, the distinctions are less obvious. At Transgrancanaria 125 last year, I used the Adventure pack.  With the new changes, I might use the Ultra Vesta this year.  I think it will be able to accommodate every thing I want to carry.  Plus, I'd prefer to have the two bottles of fluid. 

When to use the Ultra Vesta
Fair weather days.  In Scotland, that’s about two.
Trail/road low level running (when less kit is required)
Runs under three hours
Races with aid stations or crew

When to use the Adventure Vesta
Winter running or mountain running when full kit is essential
Longer days on the trail and mountains
Self-supported ultra-races
When you want to load up on the front and have everything easily accessible