Tag Archives: challenge

Highland Fling – Done and Dusted

Well what a day that was!

Last Saturday (25th April), I left Milngavie train station at 6.05am, and arrived 53 miles away at a campsite in Tyndrum at 8.44pm.

That’s 14 hours and 39 minutes later.

This wasn’t because of an epic train delay, or a long traffic jam.

It’s because I ran (well, mostly). 53 miles.

There were big hills along the way. Lots of big hills. There were boulders, tree roots, knee high steps, ladders, stiles, bridges, gravel beaches, bogs. There was cow poo (although not as much as any of us were expecting).

I couldn’t run every single bit of all of that but I ran as much as I could.

It was a ridiculously long day that started with a 4.15 alarm. It would make a very long post if I wrote about exactly what I wore, ate, saw on the day etc, and longer still if I mentioned all the preparation and everyone I spoke to on the day. So I’ll share the highs and lows, and a few thoughts along the way.

All week, all eyes were on the weather. Every chart I looked at seemed to suggest a soggy start and a glorious finish. In the end it was even better than forecast, and while we started in the rain, it lasted about 10 minutes and wasn’t very heavy. Later on I got far too hot and managed to get rather sunburnt in the afternoon on my lochside arm.

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Dumgoyne, with Glengoyne distillery at the foot of the hill. Somewhere there’s my happy stile at the bottom of the big grassy patch between the trees.

The first best bit of the day was Dumgoyne emerging on the horizon as I ran through Mugdock. This is my least favourite part of the route – it’s pretty dull until it hits the road crossing at Carbeth when things open out a bit and it gets a bit more spectacular. Dumgoyne is the lump at the western end of the Campsies, the head of the sleeping giant that lies across the north of Glasgow, and seeing it at such an ungodly hour reminded me we wouldn’t be in the park forever. Just after the road crossing we were greeted by a fiddler and a drummer, both with big smiles. There’s often a musical element to Scottish ultras and I love how uplifting this can be.

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After the road crossing, there’s a lovely drop into a wide open valley. Here you get your first view of the mountains and a sense of changing scenery, and for me it’s the first real feeling of starting to move north on your long journey. This morning, the sun was coming up over the mountains around Loch Lomond and I felt my heart start to swell out of my chest again. Ben Lomond had a tiny puff of cloud over the top and it looked like a volcano erupting.

I adore this section of the route, and I run here often. In fact I run here so often, I felt extremely comfortable. I was starting to relax and enjoy myself, but as I looked down at my watch I realised I was going far too fast so I needed to back off.

I saw my friend Kay briefly at the Drymen checkpoint, it was a lovely surprise and so good to see her. I knew she was running in the relay and hoped she’d have a good day – in fact her team won!

I started the long drag towards Conic Hill and took a look back at another favourite part of the route, this time at the whole of the Campsie Fells from ‘behind’. I normally see them from the south side and it’s always quite a sight for me seeing them the other way round.

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Dumgoyne is now the hill on the right – looking south

Conic Hill is another favourite section. I had a brilliant training run here last spring, on a beautiful sunny day. I thought I’d never see Conic in better weather, but Fling day proved me utterly wrong.

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a long trail up but I love seeing the path stretching out up the hill, and the views of the loch as you come up and over the top

I’ve never seen the loch and the mountains looking so beautiful here. I’m sure there were a few people who felt like they’d been given a bit of a gift on race day, with such clear views and blue skies. The colour of the loch was something else.

I caught up with my photographer friend Graeme as I came down the hill, it was great to see him and we had a good chuckle as both of us looked rather different from the last time we saw each other when he was taking photos at my harp concert !

I felt great coming into Balmaha but afterwards things unravelled. Whether I’d had too much fun going over Conic, or whether I was too tired or my lack of a caffeine fix was catching up with me I’m not sure, but the 7 mile stretch to the Rowardennan checkpoint was absolutely horrendous.

I had crashed completely within a few yards and couldn’t get running again. I had some food, walked a bit, waited for the energy to return from a magic Marmite sandwich, but nothing came. I tried a gel as a quick desperate pick me up, but still nothing. I had a reaction to the gel – an instant rash down the side of my arm but thankfully it passed quickly. I started to feel very sick indeed and just had to keep walking in the hope that something would come. I needed to make the next checkpoint by 1pm to be able to continue, I would have plenty of time as long as I just kept going, but I couldn’t afford to drag my heels. I was feeling every gram of weight in my pack even though I didn’t have much extra kit with me. Looking back, this leg was definitely the lowest point of the race, but at the time I was worried I would only feel worse throughout the day and wouldn’t be able to continue to the end.

I made it with time to spare but it was not a happy face that entered the checkpoint. My friend Angela was cheering and shouting at me, but I shook my head at her and walked straight past as I knew I would burst into tears if she said anything nice. Jen was just round the corner, and she sat me down, helped me sort myself out and took the things I didn’t need from my bag. There was a risk of rain so I’d packed waterproof trousers and some extra layers, but it was now clear I didn’t need any of this and everything was digging into my back through my bag. I had a long swig of Coke and started to feel better. I set off, munching another sandwich on the long climb out of the forest. I vowed that I would get running again as soon as I could, and sure enough some downhill sections came, and I started to recover. Then suddenly my left knee started to hurt, completely out of the blue. It was really sore and seemed to be a dull grinding sensation – not a pleasant feeling at all and I was really concerned. The infamous scrambling/technical section was ahead – tree roots, branches, large boulders, broken paths, mud, possible dead sheep, likely mad goats. This was not going to be fun.

I took a couple of painkillers and tried to keep going. I wasn’t in the business of carrying on risking further damage for the sake of a finish, but thankfully the pain started to ease and my pace picked up. By the time I got to Inversnaid, my energy levels had completely recovered, my knee was no longer sore and I skipped through the checkpoint as quickly as I could to try and make some time up on the next section. It was nowhere near as bad as I’d remembered and I started to feel really strong again.

I was utterly stunned to come across a group of blind walkers (with guides). This section of the West Highland Way involves using all available hands and feet – there are some big stretches and some very loose ground. I was so impressed with how much detail the guides included in their description of the route and the actions required by the blind walkers, and in awe of the trust that was being placed in the guides in return. I forgot everything I’d been feeling, the pain and the lack of energy, and began to concentrate more on what I was doing. Or I started to at least – it didn’t last long as I managed to smack my head on a large section of tree root that was overhanging the path. Fortunately no lasting effects beyond a rather large egg and even bigger dent to my pride.

I pushed on towards the only stretch of the route I hadn’t seen before. This was just north of Ardlui up to Beinglas, and as many Scottish ultra runners know, on this section Dario’s post sits looking back over the loch. I decided to save this bit and keep it as a surprise for the day and I wasn’t disappointed.  It is truly a beautiful place for a memorial. I never met him but so many of my friends hold him in very high regard and it was a very special spot to spend a few moments.

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At the north end of the loch looking south. I’d taken the wee lion with me to give me some strength on the day.

I made it into Beinglas Farm with time to spare. I knew what was in store so I took the opportunity to munch on some of the goodies I’d put in my drop bag. Walk up the hills as fast as I can manage, and run down them carefully so I don’t trip. This is a really tough bit after such a long distance, but again I knew as long as I didn’t hang around, I could complete the race by walking now and so the time pressure was lifted.

I came across a field of cows just before going under the road. The smell was pretty awful. Unfortunately it lingered after I left them, and I had the dreadful realisation that the smell was a sweaty sticky runner smell and it was me.

I bashed my head again coming out from the tunnel, once again just a lack of concentration. But this was a bigger bang and I looked round to see if anyone was about just in case I was bleeding or concussed. A few tears threatened but I managed to pull myself back together and carry on.

Here it felt like I was walking constantly – just a gradual incline but so many rocks and potholes made it quite tricky on such tired legs, and I felt safer going that bit slower so as not to bash anything else.

I got to Ewich forest, to the dreaded rollercoaster section. I knew what to expect but it just seemed to go on forever. I had been leap-frogging the same runners since Beinglas and it was really quite funny passing and being passed back. My stomach had held out pretty well all day but suddenly put in a huge protest. I lost a few minutes but felt much better and got going once again. Soon, I got to the last road crossing – just three miles to go and much easier underfoot.

I ran through the farm and almost tried to cross the road again in my tired state, but was redirected by another couple of even more tired runners. I pushed on, and on, and on, and then I could hear a crowd. I carried on towards the party in the forest. I heard the pipes. I turned the corner and saw the piper. I gave him a nod and a big smile and at last there was the red carpet, and the flags, and the finishing line.

Somehow I was still running. People were cheering, I was smiling and I couldn’t wait to finish. My friend Elizabeth was marshalling and she was the first person to give me a huge hug, then the rest of my Carron Valley friends, and Ross, and Norry. Ross had run brilliantly, as had Norry and I was thrilled for both of them. I was given my medal and a bottle of water and was then ushered off to collect my goodie bag. It’s hard to imagine a better one, stashed with a buff, a t-shirt (properly sized too!) and a bottle of prosecco.

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thanks to Fiona K for the picture

A word about Norry. I frequently refer to him as my running Yoda. If I have a question, or a worry, I ask him. He knew how nervous I was about making it on the day. The Sunday before the race, he struck a bet that if I finished, inside 15 hours, with a smile on my face, he would give up smoking. Not many things leave me speechless but that really did. He announced he’d backed a dead cert, and while it could have made me even more worried, it actually gave me a lot of confidence because I figured he wouldn’t have set me up to fail and so he must have really believed I could do it. I took a lot of strength from this on the day. After I crossed the line, he gave me a massive hug and handed me his tobacco tin and rolling papers.

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Not a great advert for running, crossing the line and being handed a tin of tobacco and some rollies! But there was a good reason.

I met some wonderful people along the way – too many to mention everyone, but Twitter buddy Rhalou, Donna, Ashly and another Fiona all helped make the day a special one. Julie, smiling as ever, filled my bottles up at Balmaha and chased me away to the loo while she did so. Jen took me under her wing and sorted me out at Rowardennan. Gannet kept me smiling and reminded me to put another layer on as I left the forest now I was out of the sun. Stewart helped me realise that ceilidh dancing after running for almost 15 hours was all well and good until it involved spinning round.

And now some reflection. I love running. I have been on the most incredible journey since I started running three years ago, training for the Clacton triathlon to raise money for a cancer charity, then a few weeks after that moving up to Scotland and joining Kay’s Sunday band of off-road coaching guinea pigs. Last place at my first half marathon got me a new friend and then more new running friends than I knew what to do with, and then a new man to boot.

Running has been my way of exploring my new home, of dealing with my worries and of keeping myself fit. It has given me an incredible social network, taken me to some beautiful parts of Scotland and I’ve now got a body (and a mind) that can endure incredible things. People rarely change, but through running I really have – I used to be a real lazy bones, too frightened to do too much exercise in case I damaged my already trashed ankle or made my severe asthma even worse.

But it takes up an awful lot of time training for things like this. It is a massive commitment of time and energy and effort. It means training runs in conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Last year I spent about £50 on clothes for me, and several times that on running kit and race entries. I’m not sure yet if I’d do it again. I proved I was up to the required standard, as I suspected I was but worried I wasn’t. But it never feels like enough, which can be both positive and extremely negative.

In the past I’ve found it very easy for life to become completely consumed by and built around one thing – be it playing the harp, racing motorbikes or now running. Everything is rosy when it’s going well, but when it’s not, it can be really soul destroying, and things can feel very empty when it’s time to take a break or move on. I need to balance it with something else, but I’m not sure what just yet.

I sometimes hate the sitting pondering plotting phase, wondering what’s next, but I know that when I work out what that is, I’ll be off again chasing after it with a big smile on my face (mostly) and an unshakable urge to keep going to the end. This is what distance running has taught me.

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Loch Katrine Marathon

Yesterday was a brilliant day. I ran the Loch Katrine Marathon for the second time. The weather was perfect, cool first thing and sunny later on. I wrote a very long detailed race report last year so won’t do the same again, but there is still lots to say.

Although I finished in a slightly slower time (5.18 this year vs 5.08 last year), there were so many positives I almost can’t list them all. I’ll have a go though, because there have been so many negatives and some pretty dark times these last few weeks:

I ran the whole of the first 14 miles, including all the hills.

I felt great afterwards, and although rather tired, I feel brilliant today.

I had a blister going into the race, but it didn’t get any worse and I didn’t collect any more.

All my kit was brilliant, no rubbing or discomfort or faffing required at all. I wasn’t too hot or too cold at any point. I didn’t over pack for a change. I had everything I needed and a couple of spare bits just in case.

My energy levels stayed pretty even, I ate really well throughout, no sugar highs or crashes, and I didn’t get any stomach cramps.

My asthma behaved pretty well. I needed a few puffs on my blue inhaler but nothing major.

I only started to get really sore at 24 miles, and to my great relief my favourite running mentor Norry appeared on his bike at 25 miles having finished his marshalling stint. He was brilliant company for the last mile and I’m really grateful to him because I was starting to hurt by then.

I have a slightly sore left heel and a slightly sore right knee today but nothing serious and I will be out for a gentle run tonight.

Best of all, I feel happy and confident about my running again.

I was leaving my should I-shouldn’t I Fling decision until after the concert next week, but after a good gossip with Norry, I feel good to go. I will be slow, I will be just inside the cut-off if I do finish, but my legs feel good and strong and provided I can stay bug-free, I feel ready to give it my best effort.

Thanks to Audrey and to all the marshals and helpers for their support and giving up their time. This is a fantastic race that will sell out quickly again next year.

A couple of friends didn’t have quite so much fun and I feel for them and wish them a speedy recovery 😦

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dozen Days

About this time last year, I went to the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival with a few friends.

We were there to see a friend of my friends, Andrew Murray, but had tickets for the whole afternoon programme.

One of the films shown was Paul Pritchard’s The Journey, about a cycling trip across the Himalayas via Everest Base Camp.

His was a name from the past for me, from my rock climbing days when I lived in Manchester. My own climbing career was short and ultimately rather painful, but it further indulged my love of high adrenaline adventures, gave me a freedom I’d never felt before and I loved being in the mountains.

I climbed small crags in the Peak District, bigger ones in the Lakes, my first proper mountain in Snowdonia and I thoroughly loved sea cliff climbing in Pembrokeshire. I loved everything that went with it, the planning, the friends, the kit, the weather, the stories, the travelling.

In March 1998, I had an accident when I fell from my first lead, a VDiff called Pocket Wall in Hobson Moor Quarry. I didn’t fall very far, but made a dreadful mess of my ankle on the way down and the accident had a pretty big impact on my life for a long time afterwards.

A few weeks later, Paul Pritchard had a much more serious accident on the other side of the world while climbing a sea stack, and suffered a major head injury. His was a much longer recovery. I remember hearing about it at the time, being a name I knew but not someone I knew if that makes sense. Everyone had an opinion about it, just as they’d had about mine, and I hated that part of it all.

And then, as I drifted away from climbing, and from Manchester, and from who I was back then, I forgot all about it.

The part of the film that stood out for me was where he talked about a part of the trip that had been unexpectedly brilliant, not the actual getting to the end but a step along the way, one of the days that becomes a defining part of your life.

His words were something along the lines of “you only get a handful of days, maybe a dozen days like this, where you really feel… in tune….., but you should maybe aim for that every day”

I had a couple of these days last year, and when the chips have been down over the winter, as they seem to have been perhaps a little more than I’d realised this year, I’ve enjoyed thinking about them and wondering when the next ones will come around.

There was also a very funny part of the film, where he talked about being able to look at and appreciate the beauty of the mountains and the relief of knowing that he doesn’t have to climb them any more. I could relate to this as it’s kind of how I feel about rock now. I climbed Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis last year, because I’d wanted to do it for years and I wanted to see if I still loved it as much as I had. I really enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold what it used to for me, and it was strange realizing how much things had changed.

The film is here, it’s about life, and about change, and it’s excellent.

The Journey – Paul Pritchard and Carol Hurst

This photo was taken while cycling down Mont Ventoux with my dad last year. It’s one of my own dozen days, and I’ll be writing about these over the next few months.

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And…. Action!

Inevitably at the start of the year, we look back on what was, and start to think once again about what might be.

2014 was a pretty transformative year for me. I set myself some monster targets running and cycling wise, and achieved all but the very last one of them.

Everything else was left more fluid. For the first year in a while, I had just a small handful of harp gigs in the diary and I played much less than normal. This was deliberate, for reasons I’ll talk about another time. At the start of last year, I was in a brand new relationship, in a temporary job, with no commitments beyond demolishing a serious debt mountain, looking after two big black furries, and working my way through a long-held list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I deliberately flung myself face first down a Munro in the snow to practice self-arrest with an ice axe, on my first day of proper winter hill walking (under supervision I should add).

I ran my first ever marathon. On Easter Saturday, I had a brilliant run on the West Highland Way with a favoured running buddy. A few weeks later, I ran my first ever ultra marathon.

I put myself forward as a support runner for the West Highland Way race, potentially running through the night in the Scottish wilderness with someone I’d never met, to help them achieve their goal. I wasn’t needed in the end sadly, due to them becoming injured, but the fact that my offer was accepted was wonderful and a huge honour! Instead, I spent my second Summer Solstice at the top of Meikle Bin, and this time I ran almost to the top.

I cycled up a truly brutal, epic Tour de France climb, in horrendous conditions, again to help someone else achieve their goal. Two days later we did it again.

I took part in my first ever club cycle race.

I had a minor tantrum in the middle of my second ultramarathon and was rescued by crystallised ginger and kind people, and the combination of both enabled me to finish the race.

I spent my birthday weekend in a forest just outside Aviemore, getting rained and hailed on, running/staggering round in circles, and sleeping for approximately 2 hours, to support someone through a big race.

I got my revenge the next week by dragging him up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (along with a fab guide) for my alternative birthday weekend.

I ran 38 miles in a day, 20 of these through the most extreme conditions I’ve ever encountered. The first 18 miles were horrendous for other reasons, but somehow when the weather turned, something magical happened. Then the day after, I DNF’d in an event for the first time.

I spent an incredible week exploring the north west Highlands, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for almost twenty years.

I bought a new-to-me harp, and signed up for an online course with an inspirational teacher.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my harp journey started again.

I’ve been to some incredible beaches.

I’ve had lots of time and space to think about lots of things.

I achieved a lot in 2014, and I am incredibly proud of all of it. I’m particularly of getting up Mont Ventoux.

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Photobombing the Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe – 12 miles out from Bridge of Orchy with 12 miles still ahead on the first truly hot day in months.

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Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for the above fab photo, taken along the bonny banks at the Highland Fling.

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Looking surprisingly glam given how knackered I was here – second ascent of Mont Ventoux in three days (Malaucene route this time)

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This was the first time up Ventoux. We could see…. nothing. Both very tired and very cold but full of beans.

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Spidean Coire nan Clach – Beinn Eighe, November in Scotland. Who’d have thought it. Blue, clear skies.

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I think of these words often now – the Tom Simpson memorial on the Bedoin ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Getting to the top of the big hill at Loch Katrine, for the first time.

But there is more to come.

2014 was really about trying to escape from previous failures. I can confirm that if you run far enough and cycle up enough big tough hills, you will find some answers. They probably won’t be what you expect but you definitely won’t forget them if you learn them the hard way.

When you find the things you truly love doing, it becomes ever more important to make space for them in your life.

The fact is that now, there are not enough hours in the day for running, cycling, hill walking, motorcycling. Let alone looking after pets, seeing friends and family, earning a living.

In my previous life, I didn’t know what to do with myself much beyond working.

As a result of a lot of thinking while covering a serious amount of self-propelled miles last year, I have everything I need in terms of ideas and plans for the next step of the journey.

Now, they need action, and commitment, and confidence and the drive to see them through.

But the last year has taught me that if you are brave and keep trying enough big bold things, sometimes they will work out after all.

PS just to prove it’s not all highs and happy faces, here’s me remembering just how much I hate chossy damp dark slimey chimneys! Thanks to guide Dave Chapman for the photo and a brilliant day despite a few squeaky bits.

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All is calm – Day 16

I’m just home from work, I feel sick from the bus journey home, I’m tired and I’m just starting to come down with yet another cold.

I live by the hills just north of Glasgow so obviously it’s raining outside.

I check my peak flow. It’s just above the self-imposed limit where running is questionable, but my chest feels OK and after being inside all day, I am desperate for some fresh air. I get changed and head out of the front door.

All my other winter running kit is in the wash so I’m wearing a pair of incredibly badly fitting running tights that were stashed at the back of the drawer in case of an emergency. They are slightly too see-through for daytime public consumption, and they don’t stay up without a good yank every couple of hundred metres.

I’m also wearing a very brightly coloured top that is too bright for daytime public consumption, especially when worn with these running tights. My colour coordination this evening leaves much to be desired.

It’s raining quite heavily now. I’m actually really glad about this because it means the footpaths won’t be icy, and so I am less likely to slip over.

It’s 16th December and this is my 16th day of running this month.

The reason for this madness is Marcothon.

This is an informal challenge to run every day in December (including Christmas Day), for 3 miles or 25 minutes, whichever comes first.

I first heard of it last year, but didn’t think it was something I’d be able to do. The previous winter had been incredibly icy and my asthma had been pretty bad so I didn’t feel able to commit to running every day.

So instead, I challenged myself to log an 80 mile month, a challenge set by Bangs and a Bun, whose running/fitness blog had helped inspire me when I first started out on this incredible journey in early 2012.

As a direct result of my 80 mile month, I learned how to manage my asthma on really bad days. I pushed my distances way further than I thought was possible, and just when I thought I’d left it too late, I managed to clock up 50 miles in 8 days and completed the challenge.

Finishing last year's #80milemonth as the sun went down on 2013 - Hogmanay on the Forth Road Bridge
Finishing last year’s #80milemonth as the sun went down on 2013 – Hogmanay on the Forth Road Bridge

On my very worst asthma day last winter, I set out for a short run. It can take a while for my lungs to warm up sometimes, but this time nothing was happening. I almost turned round and went home. But I happened to look at my Strava and realised that not only had I already run a mile and would have to run a mile home again anyway, but it was a fast mile and I was on track to hit a new PB for 5k. So I carried on. I still have no idea where that came from, and it was another sign that my life had really changed.

This year, largely thanks to a great winter of training behind me (which itself was largely thanks to previously unknown levels of commitment and discipline), I did some amazing things. I have run, climbed, walked and cycled in some incredible places and covered some pretty impressive distances under my own steam.

After such a big year, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a bit of a dip. I didn’t finish my last race, back in early October. I took a couple of weeks off to rest and recover, and then just as I was hoping to start running again, I was absolutely flattened for the best part of three weeks with a sinus infection. I had wanted to get going again, but my body could barely make it from my bed to the sofa and back. I’d been incredibly unlucky, but there was nothing for it other than to let it take its course and wait until I was better.

I’d thought about entering the Highland Fling in April  but had no idea whether I was capable of completing it, certainly not in the state I was now in. ntries opened not long after my last race, and knowing it would quickly sell out, I needed to make up my mind pretty quickly.

I reminded myself that I’d felt the same way this time last year about entering my first marathon and ultra marathon, and committing to cycle up a big mountain in France. I had no idea whether I was capable of those either, but I’d said yes and then trained and prepared as much as I could. Knowing this had all paid off gave me a bit of confidence to put my Fling entry in.

We had a wonderful week’s holiday in the north west Highlands, with some running, walking and a bit of scrambling. Marcothon would start just after we got back and this year I felt ready to give it a go.

I didn’t expect to love it as much as I have.

I didn’t expect to see the results I’ve seen.

In just over two weeks, I’m pretty much back to the speed I was running at the start of the year when I’d set a 5k and 10k PB. Admittedly these are short distances compared to my ‘normal’ preferred distances, and nothing like the terrain I will be running on come race day, but given how bad my chest has been recently, frankly I am astonished.

The first week, I was absolutely shattered. Even running half an hour a day on top of a normal working day was more than I had done for a few weeks. But within a few days, I felt fine. My legs haven’t been sore at all, just a little tired on a longer run on Saturday.

The hardest days so far have been Day 3, when I was just getting going again and really struggled to shove myself out of the front door, and Day 9 when I had to run at 6am because I was out in the evening and would be in no fit state to run when I got home.

Icy footpaths have been a bit scary, but the worst thing about the ice has been having to slow down when my legs have felt ready to go faster.

I miss running in the daylight, but I know that logging these winter miles will mean that once again I will be ready to make the most of the long summer evenings when they come.

Running is responsible for so much of the good stuff in my life, and the fitness it has given me has pushed me on to do other things as well.

Marcothon has reminded me of just how much I love running, and how despite this being my third winter of training, it still feels like a complete novelty that I’m able to do it, especially in this part of the world.

I feel a bit more like my old self again. There’s a challenge on the table and I know what I am working towards. Away from running, this isn’t always the case, but it’s amazing how having a running goal keeps me going in other areas of life too.

A proper set-up job

It’s fair to say that it has been a while since I rode my motorbike regularly. It’s strange how something that had been such a huge part of my life for so long, and something so important to my identity and how I define and describe myself, can have fallen by the wayside to the extent it has. I was so excited about him coming back home, and then horrified that I just have not got back into it the way I had expected.

There are a few reasons for this. I am an experienced rider – I’ve had my bike licence for almost 20 years, I’ve done speedway, trackdays and held an ACU Clubman road race licence a few years back (meaning I didn’t just have the licence, I’d used it a fair few times as well!). I’ve ridden all sorts of bikes from little 100cc learner bikes to full on 1000cc sportsbikes. For 18 months I had a daily commute of 80-90 miles which I alternated between a CBR400, CB500, 748 and GSXR1000.

But, as soon as I take a break from riding for whatever reason, I lose confidence. It becomes a vicious circle – to break it you need to ride to build your confidence, but the confidence only comes from riding more. My dinky legs don’t help, I don’t have the luxury of shoving both feet flat on the floor if I panic on a slow turn.

I had to wait what felt like a very long time between selling my beautiful Big Blue GSXR1000 K6 back in November 2007. I’d had a crash while racing at Cadwell Park in the Desmodue race series, and was in for a potentially long recovery from a badly broken thumb. I’d also just separated from my ex husband and moved to a house with no garage/bike storage. My bike had to go and I had to buy a car instead, and believe me for this girl, that hurt far more than the broken bones did.

After that, I ran out of money. My dad came up trumps with the long term loan of a beautiful VFR750, and then a few years later, some money from my grandmother’s will finally meant I could buy my own road bike again. A friend was selling his GSXR750 K6 which was low mileage, mint and standard with good history I knew I could trust – a rarity indeed. I know most people’s grans might question this use of their money, but not mine.

We’ve had some great times together, including the trip to Ipswich waterfront for an ice cream as above, but I haven’t yet bonded with this bike in the same way I did with the 1000. There’s a number of reasons for this, some riding time/running/harp practice related and some technical.

Moving away from somewhere I’d lived for so long meant leaving all my favourite bike shops behind. Places I’d spent years visiting, and mechanics and technicians I trusted deeply were no more. I was dreading making new contacts again, desperately worried I would encounter a few dodgy characters along the way, and hoping nothing dangerous or uncomfortable would happen as a result.

I needn’t have worried – a local Suzuki dealer were lovely on the phone from the off and my master cylinder recall was done by some great guys who didn’t bat an eyelid when I arrived to collect my bike and skipped around their workshop because I was so excited to take him on his first Scottish escapade.

The next thing was to tackle the suspension. My friend had attempted to adjust it to suit himself, but he was a different build/weight with a different riding style. My first job when I bought the bike was to put this back to standard as a starting point, an easy job that just requires a screwdriver, some patience and the ability to keep count of clicks and turns. It wasn’t enough though, and I’ve really struggled with the bike’s handling, and of course this hasn’t helped the confidence situation.

The bike was twitchy on the front end even at slow speeds, and thoroughly uncomfortable at the back over even the slightest of bumps. I will have a go at most things on a bike, but suspension is quite technical, with many variables involved and the potential to make a bike unrideable. All reversible of course, but enough to put me off fiddling too far.

I asked around and received an interesting recommendation which I decided to follow up in future. Recently however, I was at a wedding in the area and decided to pop in on my way home rather than just ringing up for a chat. I felt really comfortable with the place and booked my bike in.

Yesterday was the big day. I wasn’t disappointed, and I had a thoroughly entertaining Saturday morning playing bikes and hanging round a workshop for the first time in a good while.

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A couple of hours later, and just £45 lighter, my bike is a different animal and I am so much happier riding it. I’m no longer fighting it round bends or scared to go over a bump mid-corner in case the bike spits me off, and manhole covers/bumps in the road are a much more pleasant experience.

However the weather is now against us. While down south I would still be riding over the winter stopped only by snow or ice, up here it’s a different kettle of fish. It was a very wet, extremely windy ride over to the workshop yesterday, to the extent we cancelled our follow on ride to St Andrews because it was neither safe nor comfortable. We saw just one other bike out, a very hardy Fireblade rider. This is just the start of things, and I know those cold dry sunny days that are so enjoyable down south are much more of a rarity now.

But I’m not completely ruling out a few sneaky winter rides. I loved my ride home yesterday, despite fighting to stay upright when climbing on and off at the petrol pump, and I really feel I’m back now.

There are almost 8 years, and 250cc between these pictures – the first was taken on Christmas Day 2006, my first Christmas spent alone and very happily playing on the wonderful A507 near Baldock. The second was taken yesterday, and contains a slight hint as to what the next big run is.

The helmet has changed, the girl has definitely changed, but the feeling I get when I ride is still exactly the same.

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Runner restored (temporarily?)

I had my best run in months last night.

Just my normal 5km/3 mile route along a tarmac path at the bottom of the Campsie Fells.

I can see the hills for the first half a mile and then it’s into the trees and down the back of a local housing estate. Compared to some of the routes I’m lucky enough to be able to call local, it’s pretty dull, but it serves its purpose well. It’s safe, flat and quiet.

5k is probably my most hated distance. My asthmatic lungs seem to take this distance to warm themselves up, so generally the enjoyment level is pretty low but the satisfaction level is high.

It has been a while since I’ve found running so easy. A big Ventoux-sized hole was carved in my run training and I’ve found it really, really hard to get back into the swing of things after focusing on my cycling.

Shortly after my return from Provence, I discovered I was quite badly anaemic (quite common in distance runners particularly female ones) and the prescribed iron tablets caused absolute havoc.

The few runs I managed to get in before the Speyside Way race were horrendous. I got so frustrated with myself I started to have panic attacks mid-run, and with a new member of the household able to collect me, I now had a way of abandoning rather than just slogging it out to the end as I would have had to do previously.

Last night was different. It was still harder than I would have liked, but I started to feel that I could enjoy my running again and that I was in with a shout of being able to at least have a good stab at my next race.

This is the one I’ve been working towards all year and desperately don’t want to pull out of.

The Saltmarsh 75 will take me round the wild coastline of Essex. It couldn’t be more different from the more familiar face of Essex. I’ll pass one of my favourite places on the planet along the way.

At the moment, the nearest salt-related monument is the grit bucket at the bottom of my road.

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But I can’t wait to be back ‘home’ and am looking forward to giving the last month of training my best shot.