Wednesday 31 August 2011

The torture tour of Glasgow

Appropriate training for a 24-hour race is a wide open to debate. As with all ultra-running training it's very much a personal thing. It's not as if you can google a tried and tested training schedule, download it, stick it on your fridge and get cracking. Believe me, I tried it. My three back-to-back long runs plan came from some random forum on some random website about some random guy who had run some random 24-hour race. To me it seemed like a good idea, so I pinched it. I don't even think I read anymore of the discussion on the matter. That was weekend training part one.

Weekend training part two was a plan devised in my own crazy thoughts. I may have mentioned it once or twice before, but I don't like surprises. Ignorance is never blissful. So I thought it would be a good idea (remember it's personal thing) to schedule in a 24-hour WALK. I ran this idea passed a few people. Everyone seemed intrigued, but no one said it seemed logical. Team selector and uber experienced ultra-runner Adrian Stott, even called on the guidance of William Sichel for his thoughts. He said it wasn't necessary, but could see my reasoning. There was a lot of chat on the damage that it could cause to my heels, which I didn't take as serious as I should have.

The original plan was to take the ferry over and walk around the Isle of Arran (55 miles) with the GM - who's also on the team for the 24-hour race. But then the GM got injured and that was knocked on the head. Unfortunately it wasn't knocked out of my head. A plan's a plan. Although without my trusty sidekick, a nice scenic route and the sense of achievement, I started to back track a little. I wasn't brave enough to walk round the island alone and I certainly wasn't comfortable with trawling the streets of Glasgow on my tod in the wee small hours.

So the torture tour started at 6am, just before a beautiful sunrise. I wasn't going to be rigid with plans, times or distances, as I was just going to see how it went. It was all about time of foot. Ok, I was back-tracking a lot.

I won't bore you with the details of where I walked, as I've tried to erase it from my mind, but it started on a loop round Milngavie then covered the west end, southside, out to Braehead, back through the city centre and back round the west end.

Throughout the day, all was going well. Although walking routes you tend to run takes FOREVER. Maybe popping into shops when something caught my eye didn't help. Although it was nice to finally get round to browsing in Run Urban, the new running shop on the southside. Plus it gave me a goal to walk the 23 miles (via the long way) to get there.

After about 30 miles the thunder and heavy rain started. I love running in the rain, but I don't share the same enthusiasm for walking in it. Then my heels started to rub and blister. I generally don't heel strike when I run, so the different walking action was taking it's toll on my feet and hips. And it was helluva lonely out there.

I decided to cap it at 50 miles. The idea of walking into the night - in Glasgow! - was not very appealing. 50 miles or 16:30 hours on foot was a good start. Plus, I helped with the economy. The good thing about urban walking is that you don't need to carry too much in supplies. Just me, my gadgets and some extra clothing. En route I purchased Meal Deals from Tesco and Sainsburys, sweets and juice from Asda, coffee from Costa and to finish off the culinary tour, a pizza from Morrisons. I should be a secret shopper. I had to run for a mile or so to get to Morrisons before it closed. The jogging motion felt soooo good and all the discomforted instantly disappeared. That's a good sign after 16 hours. Although after being on the go for so long, I would highly recommend avoiding the self-checkout tills. It nearly got a good kick.

To be honest, I didn't think walking 50 miles could hurt so much. My hips ached and I'd suddenly developed "cankles". But hey, no running all weekend. Although being a sofa athlete and watching various races unfold was just as exhausting. Well done to Matt, Paul and Lucy for the top three at Speyside. Huge congratulations to everyone who conquered and fought well at the UTMB. That looked epic and provided edge-of-the-seat drama for a couple of days. Then Mo Farah narrowly missing out on gold at the World Championship 10,000 nearly tipped me over.

Every picture tells a story and this one is filled with emotion.

So, what's your picture story, Richie? Is this how babies are made? After a top 50 finish in the UTMB as well. Now that's endurance :-) Congratulations guys!!

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Exciting news!

Do you like the new logo on the right? Well, I love it. I was absolutely delighted - and even more shocked! - when MONTANE asked me to be their first female ultra-running sponsored athlete.

When I stopped jumping up and down and shrieking I answered their initial interview questions for their website and marketing material.

Click here to read the interview

Before the news had time to go to my head, I had to get training for the 24-hour race. It started the weekend after the Devils with an 18-mile road run with the lovely Emma. Great company, but let's just say I've had easier runs. An out-and-back on the Clyde Stride route, right through the Pipeband Championships at Glasgow Green. The only time I like the sound of bagpipes is during a race, because it signifies the end or at least the end of a mile. Any other time, I fail to understand how it can be called a "musical" instrument.

Last weekend, I took Friday off work - which is a shame because I LOVE, LOVE my job* - to get in some long runs. I remember when days off were about colossal hangovers and shopping and sunny days were about more than the sheer excitement of getting as much washing on the line as possible. All part of the ageing process, I think.

Anyway, I did 20 miles on Friday morning. 20 miles on Friday afternoon. And another 20 miles on Saturday morning. All on road and on the dullest of routes. All in all, I was pretty pleased with the runs. And even more pleased to have finished three long runs before noon on Saturday. Trainers away and the weekend was all mine. I took Cairn to the park, did some shopping, made homemade seafood for dinner and settled down to watch X Factor with some vino. On any other day, this would have been my idea of heaven. Another part of the ageing process, I think. But after the over-exertion I couldn't really face food even left half a glass of wine. Granted I'd had two glasses prior to my early retirement, but still, It's unheard of.

On Sunday my legs felt fine, but my body felt like someone had sucked out my soul. Combination of many miles, wine and the possibility of some germs, courtesy of Cairn. He's had some kind of lurgy for the passed couple of weeks. Snotty nose and raspy throat. The nursery called me on Wednesday afternoon asking me to pick him as he had a "raging fever". I called the doctor's surgery en route to collect him for an emergency appointment. He looked pretty sorry for himself when I picked up him, but then went skipping into the surgery and proceeded to entertain the packed waiting room with renditions of "Old McDonald Had a Farm". When called for the appointment, the doctor looked over her glasses and said: "Is this the emergency appointment?". I did stutter something about it be billed to me differently, but I guess I'm now on his file as "includes neurotic Mother". You gotta love kids. He was back at nursery the next day.

So far this week has been a bit stop-start, but I think I'm back on track. Last couple of weeks of training before - guess what? - tapering again.

Very best of luck to everyone taking part in the UTMB this weekend. JK set up a site to follow friends of the WHWR throughout the races. Click here.

* I've recently found out that my Editor's wife has discovered my blog :-)

Friday 12 August 2011

Let the devil take the hindmost

Saturday saw me lining up for my fourth Devil o' the Highlands. It was to be my fifth ultra in just over four months. Not a big ask for some of the nutters I know, but for me it was out of my comfort zone.

I managed to secure a last minute place in the race. Basically just for the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series points. I guess that makes me a pot-hunter :-)

There was no real opportunity to train for this. Ever since my 100K race in March, my sequence has been race, recover, taper, repeat.

Friday wasn't the pre-race preparation and restful day I was hoping for. Flat tyre, poorly child, Sonic trailed dog sh*t through the house and although I'd planned a day off work, that was knocked on the head. And I still had to pack, drop Cairn off at my Mum's (early start, busy roads/checkpoints and the midge fest that is the highlands, is not the best place for a two-year-old) and travel up to Tyndrum.

Sonic (still injured and resigned to back up again, much to his delight) and I were staying in a Hiker's Hut (emphasis on the "hut") at Pinetrees Caravan Park. Tyndrum was pretty jammed-packed, but I'd managed to get a cancellation. Last minute was certainly the theme for this race. All for an extra hour in bed no stress travelling to the race start. I do get quite freaked before races. I'm a space cadet at the best of times, but pre-race I'm pretty vacant and walk about like a startled rabbit. I suppose it's my way of dealing with nerves. Not having the journey was one less thing to tighten my strings.

I was up at 4am for porridge and coffee, dressed and off to registration and race briefing. It was wasn't long before we congregated round at Brodie's Store ready for the start at 6am. And then we were off...

I ran with JK for the first few sections. Actually, by his own omission, he attached himself to me like an umbilical cord. It was great though, as I haven't really had the chance to run with him much this year. The miles just zipped passed. As planned, I just kept to my own pace and let others go tearing off. I did have a silent giggle watching people pelting up the hills.

JK was running without a watch, so I tried to make a conscious effort not to mention time or pace. I did slip up on the approach to BoO by airing my disbelief that it wasn't even 7am. Although I'm pretty sure he could see the screen on my Garmin, if he wanted to. They're not exactly the daintiest of watches.

Before long, we had reached the first support point at Bridge of Orchy. I planned to just pick up some tablet to eat heading up the hill, which I did. I always walk most this section, safe in the knowledge that we would soon pass the people who had chosen not too. Which we did.

The lovely Davie was on snapper duty at the top of the Orchy Hills and I joked that I was still trying to shake JK off. I really enjoyed the descent into Inveronan. The last time I was on this hill was after 60+ miles and my glutes weren't happy about the downhill pounding.

Heading round to Victoria Bridge, JK informed me that Sonic was going to meet us at the gate. Just as well, as I would have been in panic mode looking for him. Well, panic mode looking for my supplies.

In this race, in that location at this time of year, the runners get a better deal. The midges were awful. You know it's bad when they annoy you while running. I picked up some fluid, a gel and some sweets - which I didn't touch, but carried for the next 30 miles.

Moving on, I nearly tripped over Helen Lees who had stopped to tie her shoe lace. It took me a few miles to discover why. I was carrying twins :-)

It was such a lovely morning and Rannoch Mor was glorious. We caught up with a few runners over the six mile stretch and started to gain on the gals who were sitting in 3rd and 4th position. I wasn't even remotely bothered, as I was sticking to my plan. My plan was based on staying comfortable, not time. Last year in this section, I felt awful. This year was a different story. I'm not quite sure where I was getting the energy from.

We caught up with the GM just before the descent into Glencoe and I ran with her down to the ski centre. That was the last I saw of JK. Maybe it was the GM's mooning that tipped him over ;-)

The GM stopped to meet up her support and I pushed on to Kingshouse, where I had arranged to meet Sonic. I think even he was surprised to see me coming down in second place. I moved on quickly as nature was calling. Rannoch Mor is so exposed that there's no where to hide. I was now is urgent need of a hiding place.

As usual the section to the Devil's Staircase was trickier than I remember. The whole race is based on going up to come back down, so why do I always resent it so much on these three miles?

It was starting to heat up as I stomped up the hill. Norry was soon to overtake me. Giving the way he ascends, he'd be better off walking the race. I overtook another few runners on the way down to Kinlochleven - including Norry. I must have been quite sneaky, as he nearly shot out of his skin when I passed. I think I had the same response when Helen appeared by my side just before the town.

With Sonic on super-slick support, I was in and out of Kinlochleven in no time. JK's daughters later joked that Sonic had laid out all my food, drink and gear and all I picked up was a jelly bean :-) Actually it was a gel. I still had a full supply of jelly beans.

At the top of the last killer ascent, Helen and I were neck-and-neck. We were passing quite a few walkers and one lady asked Helen is she wanted a plaster for a her knee, to which she replied it was a just a graze and didn't hurt. I hadn't noticed, and I don't think she even realised that she would later need stitches. She was starting to mirror my moves, so I was having flashbacks from the WHWR with Adam. I know in a shorter distance on any other terrain, Helen would whip my ass. She even looks like a good runner. But in this race, I was going to have to rely on the miles in my legs to pull away. Of course, the miles in my legs could also go against me.

I started to build some distance, but there wasn't much in it. Although I felt good on Lairig Mor, the heat was starting to get to me. I was stumbling on the rocky path. As soon as the sun went behind the clouds and the breeze picked up, I felt reborn.

I was probably only a few minutes ahead of Helen at Lundarva and moved in and out swiftly. I saved my precious Coke for this checkpoint, which went down a treat. I passed a chap from Helensburgh, who looked burst. Looking back on the race splits, you'll see why. I was going to tell him I remember him for missing the start and racing to catch up at the Rouken Glen x-country, but thought it wasn't the time for humour or chit chat.

I knew I would have to work hard to get under 7 hours. That was all I was looking for after all. I felt pretty light and pushed on the hills. Thankfully the conservative start had left a bit in the tank. The newly cleared forest adds to the competition in this race, as runners can now see each other. As I hit the trail, I looked back and say Helen. It was just what I needed. I quite literally flew down the track, watching every minute tick by.

I saw the lovely Mrs JK just before Braveheart Carpark. I think I might have gasped something incoherent. By the time I hit the carpark I knew the sub 7 was a sitter, so I was more comfortable. I even had a few walking breaks. Hey, you've got to save yourself for the final sprint. Plus, sort you hair and wipe away the boggies for the pictures ;-)

I finished second lady (13th overall) in 6:56:35. Considering it was my 5th ultra this year, it was by the far the best I've ever felt in a race. Just one of those lucky days when it all comes together, I guess. I progressively moved up the field leg position at the three checkpoints were 23rd, 12th to 10th.

So for a last minute entry, it came with lots of benefits 1) Second lady - and my fourth podium finish in the race 2) A personal best 3) New club record 4) New ladies record for the Triple Crown and 5) I'm now leading the SUMS overall - for now! All in a day's work.

Click here for full reults. Huge congratulations to everyone who finished. Special mentions to Matt Williamson who was 1st (told you so, Matt), the Crazy German 2nd and the amazing Lucy Colquhoun who was third overall, 1st lady and smashed the ladies record by 64 minutes to finish in 5:47. Lucy was so far ahead that trekkers kept telling me I was leading :-) I don't think they believed anyone was that fast when I corrected them. Even Sonic thought she might have pulled out.

Thanks to Garry and Gemma for putting on a great race (and giving me a late place) and all the stewards on the day. Standing on the A82 on a sunny Saturday morning has got be over and above the call of duty. Thanks also to the lovely the man from the Wilderness Response Team who gave me water on Lairig Mor. I wasn't until after the race that the reality of cheery chap manning a tuck shop on remote Lairig Mor sunk in. Somehow in the heat of the day, that seemed pretty normal. Thanks to JK, Davie, Julie and Suse for the pictures and Team Kynaston for the videos. Thanks to JK for "keeping me honest" at the start and Helen for pushing me for the sub:7.

Huge thanks to Sonic for his superb back-up - again! Even after months of injury and no running he's been much more sane and tolerable than I would ever be. Although when I'm feeling a little low or flat, I buy new shoes. He bought a sports car! I'm holding out for an injury some time soon.

So, that's it. I've hung up my trail shoes for the rest of the year. I've been lucky enough to be selected for the Scotland 24-hour race team at the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Distance Running Championship in Wales next month. I'll be pavement pounding for the next weeks. Recover, taper, race...and then it's all over,