Tag Archives: running

Chasing the sunset

It was a gorgeous day in Glasgow yesterday, and when I got home, it was 11 degrees, not a cloud in the sky and the sun was just starting to fade. There was the promise of a beautiful sunset, so I pulled my running shoes on as quickly as I could and headed out west along the old railway line towards Strathblane.

I had contemplated wearing shorts but decided there was still a bit too much daylight for that – and I’m glad I didn’t as it really was cold once the warmth of the sun had gone.

The target was 8 slow miles. I thought my legs were still tired from a long and very hilly run round the forest on Sunday evening, and with the Loch Katrine marathon coming up at the weekend, I didn’t want to push too hard.

But actually after a couple of miles to shake things off a bit, I felt really strong. I felt so free, with nothing but the hills and the sky around me (and a few sheep). The last three miles were fast for me, but I felt as though I could have just run and run forever.

I’m nervous and excited about Sunday. It was a brilliant race for me last year (see race report) and it  was just the start of what turned out to be an incredible year. I’m not chasing a time, I’m more interested in having a good run and enjoying the stunning surroundings. I hope just a little of the magic I felt last time is still there, although maybe with just a little less wind this time.

 

Space

The snow is falling. I have a cap on to try and keep it out of my eyes, but it’s more designed for keeping the sun off my face, and as a result, the peak is obstructing my head torch. I keep fiddling with the beam and my cap but it’s no use, I just can’t get it in a decent position.

Until a minute ago, the path was very dark and very wet, lit only by the glow of an occasional streetlight.

Now, the trees are clearing though. All around me, everything is white. There are hills on my left and my right, but I’m in the valley between them. I’ve passed all the housing estates and apart from the occasional farm, the space is wide open around me.

I’ve given up with the head torch and the cap.

Now, the light of the moon combined with the brightness of the snowy fields and hills means I can see perfectly.

My shoulders drop, my arms relax, there is a little more spring in my feet and my lungs fill that bit easier. My heart feels fit to burst.

I get to the 10k tree, and turn round to head for home.

Across the valley, I can see car headlights picking their way up the Crow Road. The snow is quite heavy now. It’s Wednesday evening so a couple of miles away, just over the hills behind the Crow Road, my friends are out running. I’ve chosen to head out without them tonight. I give them a wave in my head. I love their company, but I also love my own.

I run across two wooden bridges. My footprints from earlier have disappeared, and the deeper snow is soft as I pick my way over carefully.

I’ve seen two people in 6 miles.

When I open the door, two furry heads lift from the sofa with a slight jangle. They are past getting up to greet me, it’s far too much effort and they both know they will get their ears rubbed if they wait just a minute.

I lift a couple of back legs belonging to the nearest sofa-sprawled dog so I can sit down, and their paws fall and relax against me. I sit for a while, enjoying the warmth of the room, and listening as my breathing slows back to normal.

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.

IMG_3142

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.

Fling 2

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

DSCF2139

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

DSCF2108

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

DSCN0144

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

IMG_3586

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

IMG_2945

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.

Tower Ridge 2

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.

All you have to do

After plodding along pretty steadily and mostly pretty happily for the last couple of years, I finally made a big decision on the morning of Day 2 of the Saltmarsh 75.

It was shortly before I took this photo. This is looking out along the Blackwater Estuary towards Bradwell power station, which you can just see on the horizon.

It was a beautiful day, in an incredible part of the country. I had run a long way the day before in some pretty tough conditions. I’d been looking forward to and training hard for this event for a whole year, but I was about to pull out of the race. I’d just had enough, and nothing was going to change my mind about carrying on.

I decided that I really needed to start thinking about running a bit more quickly.

20141010-081506.jpg

In theory this should be easy. To run a bit faster, you just… ermm… run a bit faster right?

There’s a great quote I read in a motorbike magazine a few years ago. Something along the lines of:

“All you have to do is lean a little further, get on the gas a little earlier, brake a little later and then you’ll win the race”

See? Easy!

But to lean, you have to understand how and why and when to lean. You have to learn when a little further is a little too far.

You have to learn how much gas/throttle is too much. You have to learn how early is too early.

Learning to go fast on a motorbike can be dangerous, even assuming you are in the relatively controlled environment that is a road racing circuit. It hurts when you fall off, and you can break yourself and your bike. If you are anything like most bike racers, you will cry far more about the latter.

I guess I’m trying to say there are always barriers when you learn something new, or try to improve something you can do already. There is a reason why you do things the way you do them. Mostly it’s easy, or comfortable, or you like doing it that way. And you are scared of the unknown.

The main thing that stops me pushing my running speed is my asthma. I had a bad run last night where it wasn’t settling as it should and it really started to hurt. I know enough about managing it to realise when to stop, so backed off and went home.

But once I start to learn how to go faster, I’m frightened my breathing will get out of control and I won’t be able to calm it down. This can be due to a variety of factors, and a damp Scottish winter is a fairly big one.

So what can I do about this?

I have to know why I want to do it.

I have to find a starting point.

I have to understand what I am going to do and how I am going to try and do it.

I have to be sure I want to do it, so that when it gets hard, I don’t give up.

I have to practice it. Lots.

I have to appreciate it might not work, and I might have to change my approach several times before I find a way.

Reading through this list, I realise how much of this applies to music and learning a big new piece, and how my time at the RCS changed how I approach things.

I also think back to some of the incredible things I’ve done this year, and how I never thought I’d be able to do them.

But I did.

So there’s no reason I can’t learn to run faster. I have an inhaler, I know when too far is really too far, I know that there might have to be some considerable discomfort and I know it will be worth it.

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.

20140902-134445.jpg

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

Back into balance

It has been an exhausting few weeks. Somehow January ended up being as full-on as November and December, and I couldn’t get going again after having a long Christmas break.

Re-adjusting to full time work in an office has really taken it out of me, a lot more than I realised, and finding space for all the other things in life has come at a price.

February came and the calendar was pretty empty for the first time in ages. Normally this would make me feel uneasy, but actually I was glad as I desperately needed some time and space to bring things back under control. The house was a bombsite, diet and sleep patterns have been appalling and I have generally felt as though I was starting to run myself ragged again.

Running has been a bit hit and miss too – my longest ever run of 16 miles went brilliantly, 5 miles last Wednesday felt torturous and finally yesterday I ran out of puff. 2 miles into a run with some speedier friends and I knew I needed to call it quits for a bit. I felt tight, stressed and exhausted both physically and emotionally, and I could feel the tears starting to prick at my eyes. I made my excuses and ducked out, headed back to the car and then determined not to waste the day or the fuel, I decided to go and spend a bit of time on my own further down the valley.

There were some trails on the map that I had wanted to explore for a while. I set off, determined not to put any pressure on myself, and started to feel better. My legs felt better now and the calf that had been screaming at me earlier had settled right down. After missing the correct turning and ending up a bit further along a road than I thought, I turned back and found the right path.

As I headed too far up the road, I’d passed a group of Land Rovers out on a jolly. One of them was stuck in the road and this held up the whole convoy. I wasn’t sure whether it was a puncture or getting stuck in all the snow, but I took great pleasure in the fact that I was so nimble on just my two wee feet, and I skipped past them. We looked at each other, most of them on the round side and in the warmth of their cars, and me on the small side out in the snow in my tights and running shoes with just a jacket and a rucksack protecting me from the elements. I’m not sure who thought who was the strangest, but I felt happy and very glad to be out enjoying the day.

Along the trail, I saw three sets of footprints, one smaller than the others. This was the friends I had left earlier, and I realised where we had been running earlier. In a strange way, it felt like I had a little company along the way. I knew they were just across the valley from me, and while I enjoyed the peace and quiet of being alone, there was solidarity in knowing there were others not far away doing the same as me and loving every minute.

IMG_2801

I ran as much as I could, but stopped for a walk when I needed to. I’d hoped to get further, but called it a day while I still felt good. I’d done enough struggling earlier, and didn’t want to run out of energy again.

IMG_2812

^ Looking west over the Carron Valley Reservoir

IMG_2819

^ Looking south with Meikle Bin in the background

IMG_2818

^ Looking north-west, Todholes farm just visible in front of the hills

Before long I was back at the car. I headed back down into Fintry, past some horses flinging themselves around in the sunshine, and then back up and over the Crow Road which is now such a regular part of my week. Every time I drive on this road, I remember the first time I came up it, just a few days into my new life up here, and I feel incredibly grateful for all that I am able to do now. I have beautiful surroundings and the fitness to be able to really make the most of them.

I’d been meaning to get some proper stretching done for a while, and decided that now was the time. Cutting my run short meant I had some spare time, and after 45 minutes of yoga I really felt like a new woman. Everything was nicely pulled out and rather than feeling more tired, my energy levels were restored. I had a blissful hour soaking in the bath with the fantastic Feet in the Clouds, and I felt very spoiled. It had cost me a couple of pounds in diesel and car park charges, but otherwise my day was free of charge and the benefits were priceless.

I had come home from work on Friday and found my house had been cleaned for me. Today I have been at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival with friends. Body and soul were restored yesterday, but my spirit really came back into normal service today.

Paul Pritchard‘s film reminded me that my body may be injured but it can still do amazing things and the only thing stopping me is me. His climbing accident happened a month before mine, but left him considerably worse off. My right side is considerably weaker than my left, but it still works, and he has managed to complete some fantastic journeys using just his left leg so really I shouldn’t be complaining too much.

Earlier this week I looked at everything I had planned for this year, and wondered if perhaps I had taken on too much again. After spending time with some brilliant people this weekend, I am ready to go again. However, I have been reminded once again that I really, really need to look after myself, and that if I don’t do this, the only person that will miss out is me.