It has been 7 weeks since the Highland Fling and it hasn’t been all plain sailing. It has only been a week or so where i have managed to be able to run relatively pain free. I’ve spent a lot of time training my upper body in the gym whilst my lower body has been out of action so i’m still feeling strong and raring to go. I’ve found a guy, Chris Haswell, with amazing ultra distance experience who has just completed his sports massage course so I took full advantage of the massages and I am confident that is what has helped me get back to running strongly.
The Blaydon race was my first race back after the Fling and it went as well as I could have hoped for. Chris taped my hip up with rock tape a few hours before the race and it made all the difference. I made it through mostly pain free however, a little on the slow side for my liking.
I’m excited for the next few weeks. This Friday Rob Brooks makes his Bob Graham Round attempt and I couldn’t be more excited for him. I have no doubts he will do himself and everyone else proud no matter what happens! I’m more nervous about supporting on Leg 5. I told him ‘do not put me on a leg, i’m not good enough’. Clearly he didn’t listen but its nice to know someone has faith in me.
In the week following there are a few recces of the Fell Race route which I am already familiar with but it would be silly to turn down a chance to do it a couple of times before race day, even if it is just to check fitness levels and painful bits. For those that haven’t done the Saltwell Fell Race before, it is a great race if you are wanting to enter the world of fell running. It has a bit of everything, my favourite being the dip in the river! It is a cracking route with a bit of an uphill slog at the start which is made up for by a technical and boggy but flat stretch along the fence line before reaching the main road again. There is an amazing downhill section to the river from there, the most fun you can have! You’re on the home stretch from there, a section along the riverside ending in a rocky uphill to the finish. Brilliant!
What’s next running wise is a bit up in the air. I want to run longer races and see how far I can go but also I want to concentrate on training for my own Bob Graham attempt in a few years time. Will hopefully find a way for these to work together without getting injured or my knees giving up on me.
Other than running, home life has taken a bit of a change and I’ve been able to make a break into a new career. I’m now eagerly awaiting my coaching assistants course in a bid to make coaching into a job rather than a hobby. It’s about time that I do what i want to do and not what puts money in the bank. Coaching children is something I’ve always had my heart set on and now I have the chance to do it. My coaching course isn’t until October so I have a little wait but in the meantime I have been given the opportunity to shadow the coaches at Gateshead Harriers to get some experience. I went to my first session last night and I was 100 miles out of my comfort zone but i’m sure it will get easier over time 🙂
I’ve previously written about my preparation for this race.. or lack of! Things had not quite went to plan but still I managed to head into this race feeling mentally and physically strong. I’m not sure how to write about 53 miles without it being an essay but i will give it a good go!
The weekend started with me travelling to Glasgow to meet my housemates for the weekend. This quickly lead onto kilt shopping and eating food. Thankfully the apartment we were staying in was just outside of the town centre so we didn’t have to drag all our kit too far. I’d packed like I was going travelling for a year but the weather forecast kept on changing so had to cover all bases.
The night before the race i fuelled up on my usual chippy supper and a few glasses of bourbon. Still feeling confident but the nerves were starting to build.
Race day started with an early wake-up call of 3.30am. A taxi to registration at 4.15am in plenty time for the race to start at 6. The race starts at Milngavie train station and they had actually opened the cafe for us! So a coffee, bacon sarnie and a few cheese sarnies in my bag cheered me right up! The place was soon buzzing, we handed in our drop bags, put our finishing bags on the bus and took the opportunity to meet new people and talk tactics. The weather was dry, cold as you’d expect at 5am, but perfect for running in.
After a race briefing from a man standing on top of a van, and a few songs from the bagpipes, I found myself in the starting tunnel in the 10-12 hours section.. oops! The horn sounded, the cowbells were going mad and we were off.. through the tunnel, up the steps and then took a right onto the West Highland Way. I tried to get onto a comfortable pace quite quickly. Going off too fast could be the end of this race much too soon.
The first 10 to 15 miles were fairly flat, runable trail paths. I felt comfortable and was just plodding on with no issues, smiling and chatting. We came to the first climb of Conic Hill. a steep up hill which levelled out at the top where, of course, there was a photographer and an absolutely breathtaking view of Loch Lomond. I felt comfortable on the hill but knew I had to take the downhill easy. Knowing at one point my knees would give way, I had to hold it off as long as possible.
We dropped down off Conic Hill into the first checkpoint at Balmaha, 20 miles in. Feeling strong and comfortable, I grabbed a chocolate milkshake and gels from my pack and kept on moving. . I knew the next 20 miles were technical and barely runable, though I wasn’t sure to what extent. It was a single file path, with a rare break for overtaking, consisting of tree roots, slippery rocks and a few puddles. There had only been a few showers that day, which I’m sure made this section a million times easier than it could have been. If there was a record for the longest conga line during a race, we would have smashed it on this section.
Every ones spirits were high, a few songs and a few life stories later we came to the half way checkpoint at Rowardennan, 27 miles in. I was only wanting to stop there briefly but ended up needing a toilet break, a bladder fill up and to take some proper food down. I think i spent about 5 minutes total there. It doesn’t sound long but it is enough to put you off your stride and for your legs to stiffen. I rushed out of the checkpoint and didn’t pay attention to my kit. I didn’t let the air out my bladder and it was sloshing so I had to stop and sort that. Then it started raining so I had to stop again to put my jacket on. A few extra minutes in the checkpoint would have been better than stopping mid-hill to sort all that out.
I completed the first 26 miles in 5 hours 30, right on schedule.
We left Rowardennan and continued on a trail path that took us 14 miles along the other half of Loch Lomond to Beinglas. It was more of the same, with absolutely beautiful views all the way along. You have to remind yourself to look up and see the view, you get fixated on the floor and your feet so as not to cripple yourself. Again, I felt strong in this section, hardly any niggles in my knees or hips which was lovely! There was a checkpoint at Inversnaid half way through this section, which I again ran straight through, taking just the chocolate milkshake, gels and a couple of paracetomol in anticipation. Another 7 miles down the trail and I made it to the last checkpoint at Beinglas, 41 miles in.
41 miles into a race I was expecting to feel a little bit sore, I can run 3 miles and be crippled for days so I was somewhat surprised at this point. It wasn’t until mile 45 where all hell broke loose. Beinglas to the finish was a gradual uphill with undulating paths through wooded areas and rocky paths. The last 8 miles have to be the hardest 8 miles of my life. I was trying to run on what I felt like was a dislocated left knee and a right hip that needed to ‘click’. Movement was limited, worse on the downhills than the uphills and my energy levels were falling. I managed to drag myself 3 miles, luckily well ahead of any cut off times! With 5 miles to go I had to do something as I wasn’t giving in at mile 48! I took the risk of more paracetamol and used a lot of ibuprofen gel on my knees, was feeling the need for real food but wasn’t carrying any. At 50 miles I remembered about the shortbread I stashed! it is now my favourite food! It perked me up, the painkillers kicked in and the path flattened out. Surprisingly, I ran the last 3 miles to the finish comfortably, like nothing had happened.
I have never, in my life, finished anything feeling like I did at this race. A red carpet, cowbells, bag pipes, crowds of people.. and a marshal giving out hugs at the finish line. How I didn’t break into hysterical crying I don’t know. I was quickly given my finish bag and walked into the tent where I was greeted by Caroline from Heaton Harriers with a beer!
One thing I haven’t talked about yet in this post is the people. The people I met I could write an essay about so easily. Deborah and Steven who I shared the apartment with, one who was like a mum away from home and the other who gave me alcohol! Caroline from Heaton Harriers who I ran almost the full last half of this race with, an unlikely meeting place but now an unbreakable bond and a shared feeling that is so hard to describe. I was given the nickname ‘Geordie Kilty’ by a ‘Scottish Kilty’ (We were both wearing kilts) just before Conic Hill and we spent the rest of the race cheering each other on and dragging each other through hard times. I grabbed a conversation with fling royalty John Kynaston who gave me some good pointers in the starting tunnel. I met a lady who was over 70 years of age who had completed countless West Highland Way races and completely put us young ones to shame! The whole conga line of people I met could keep me smiling for weeks, you’d struggle to find a bigger mix of personalities anywhere else during a race.
The support and marshals in this race were incredible. at 6am there was lines of people in the streets of Milngavie, cheering us through the streets and onto the West Highland Way. A few miles in there was a lady playing the violin for the whole field of runners. There was countless bagpipers, countless cowbells, countless photographers and just support coming from everywhere. Running into a checkpoint a marshal would shout your number to another marshal, before you get to the marshal they had your drop bag open in their hands, ready for you to grab whatever you want. They even gave well needed hugs, confidence boosts, pats on the back if you needed it and clapped you off as if they were there just for you! Unbelievable!
Of course i have to mention the support back at home. I am absolutely overwhelmed at the messages I have received from my actual family, my running family and my hockey family. I cant thank you enough for getting me through this race. I read your Facebook comments at mile 45 and I knew i was finishing this race. One poor man in particular has put up with my constant whinging, questions and has dragged me over hills and fells in stupid weather to get me ready for this. Rob Brooks take a bow, you deserve a medal! Now its my turn to support you!
Overall.. This race went to plan. I crossed the finish line in 13 hours 11. I was hoping for 13 hours. Of course lessons were learnt, don’t rush out of checkpoints and to always have ‘proper’ food on you being the main ones. I still haven’t peeled myself off the ceiling and I can’t wait to find my next challenge!
So this was the second race of the fell race series and it was the complete opposite of the first in many ways. The most obvious being the weather. It was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky, definitely too hot for running over the fells! Again i travelled down with the lads who were faster than me, after a few attempts at avoiding it. I arrived at the race knowing i’d fuelled and hydrated well which is half the battle for me.
The race started in a field just next to Braithwaite Lodge and we could get a clear view of where the race was going to take us. Navigation wasn’t anything to worry about personally, I’d came prepared with a waterproof map this time! From the start line, the race took us down into the village and up a bank to wooden steeps which lead onto the long climb up Grizedale Pike. I was forewarned that there is a bottleneck at the bottom of the steps. Some runners choosing to blast it to get up them first and runners like me that got stuck in the thick of it for a few minutes. The field began to open up when crossing a stile to begin the climb.
The climb up to Grizedale Pike felt like a never ending slog. It was a hands on knees and push through situation for me. A slight level out in the middle provided a little relief on my heavy legs and sore knees. This climb covered over 2000ft itself within about 2.5 miles (guesstimate)
A welcome descent down to Coledale Hause from Grizedale Pike left us with a cracking view of the next climb up Eel Crag.
This is where the race came to life for me. It was hands and knees, pulling yourself up through the rocky screes. My legs lost their heavy feeling and i got up the crag in no time, overtaking a fair few people in the process. Arriving on the featureless summit i felt that my legs had finally turned up to the race and the race was on.
There is a bit of a scrambly section from Crag Hill to Sail which then leads us on a grassy ridge to skim around the side of Outerside. This left us with the final climb of the race, Barrow. A rocky and rather painful path lead us to the summit, careful foot placement was difficult when the exhaustion and heat were starting to become more of an issue. A welcome view of the finish line from the top gave me the last push i needed. A nice, dryish, grassy descent finished off a cracking race.
I have eventually found my motivation..albeit a little too late! A combination of better weather and some cross training eventually got me out of my slump and got my body back into shape. I am still left feeling somewhat unprepared and nervous for the Highland Fling, which is just over 2 weeks away. I am not unfit and I need to keep reminding myself of that. The stress of drop bags, clothing choices, footwear choices and all a million other things, is now getting to me.
For the next few weeks I plan to keep on cross training. I used the Coledale Horseshoe Fell Race as my last difficult race. The difficulty lay with the climbing not the distance but i was left feeling confident that i won’t have a problem with the hills come race day. The good friday relays are up next. Though only 2 miles, it has been a fair while since i’ve had to find any speed in my legs. I will find some, however, as i can’t let the ladies down.
Resting my knees and my recently aching hips is crucial now, cycling and swimming will be my best friend for the next 2 weeks. I have just purchased an exercise bike which has now taken pride of place in the living room.. it will not become a clothes horse of course 😉
5.9 miles. 1640ft of ascent. Start point: Calebreck
Carrock fell is situated in the Northern Fells and on its summit sits an ancient hill-fort, though not many details are known about this. The fell itself consists of bouldery slopes surrounded by smooth grass and artificial mounds.
Sounds delightful doesn’t it?.. Well lets see how delightful it is when you get up on a Sunday morning, travel down to the start of the race and get told to run up the fucker with poor visibility, sideways rain and gale force winds that are capable of pushing me backwards off the damn thing. Oh and don’t forget to run over and say hi to its wee neighbour High Pike whilst you’re at it ey! Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good fell race, but these conditions are something I have never had to cope with whilst being way too far out of my comfort zone.
The first climb up the side of Carrock Fell was enough to put me off for life. In fact I nearly turned around 5 times to go back down and say never again. My lack of ability, experience and fitness dawned on me within the first few hundred metres of climbing and I found myself near the back of the pack fairly quickly. Reaching the summit gave no let off from the strong head winds and heavy rain, though there were some spirit lifting and extremely dedicated/bonkers marshals standing up there giving me a sense of hope. The race became easier from this point in. I knew once we were up there then the hardest part had been completed. I managed to stay with 2 girls who had a lot more local knowledge than me, this turned out to be a somewhat crucial part of finishing the race in one piece and with no major dramas.
From the summit of Carrock Fell we needed to make our way across the ridge to High Pike. Sounds fairly simple really unless there’s bog, more fucking bog and even more fucking bog. Anything that once resembled a path now resembled a stream and don’t even bother trying to work out where the hell you are by looking around you because you can’t see anything but shitty fog. This is where the girls come in useful. It became clear that we had made something of an unspoken pact to stick together and continuously get lost just to make ourselves that bit more miserable. Had we not stuck together at least one of us would be still sat on the top of that fell wondering when some hot man in a helicopter would be coming to save us.
One of the girls carried a geet fancy GPS handheld thingy with the pre-loaded route on. Though that just seemed to show us that we were not where we were supposed to be. I had a damp paper map, a slight bit of common sense and managed to get a vague sense of direction after a man popped out of nowhere and told us where the summit of High Pike was. Of course, it took another two whole minutes to get lost again when we saw two marshals jumping up and down in the distance. I can only assume they were thinking ‘Hurry the fuck up’ whilst shouting ‘yeyyy, well done ladies’. The wind was now almost behind us and the rain subsided allowing me to find a few moments of peace on the fells, a feeling you cannot find elsewhere. From the summit of High Pike there was a lovely fast descent towards the finish line, the first time the wind had actually came in useful. Though it was far from drama free, as I decided to go diagonally across marshland, stopping inches from taking part in my very own duathlon. Finally at the finish, with some very patient Saltwell Harriers waiting for me, it was time to head straight back home with some of Paul Richardson’s dad jokes to keep us only slightly entertained 😉
Overall a challenging race with shit weather and shit jokes. Finished off with a shit time and finding out Iain went and got cake at the end and didnt bring me any.. nasty! ha!
It has been a little while since I made a post and a little while since I have had anything worth writing about! This weekend saw the start of the Saltwell Harriers fell race series. The first fixture on the calendar was Carrock Fell. I will cover that delight in a different blog post.
For 2 months now I have struggled to find any form of motivation to run, even though the Highland Fling creeps ever nearer and now is only 5 weeks, 5 days, 12 hours and 49 minutes away! My training has consisted of a long hilly run on a Monday, around the 18 mile mark, and not much else. A few club sessions here and there but generally a kick up the arse is well needed. Although my running has taken a turn for the worst, I have found myself in the gym more often doing a programme specifically designed for me and my running needs.. so all hope is not lost. The absolute devil of a workout known as ‘Spinning’ still needs some work.. how the hell anyone finds that fun is beyond me. Many bits of me were hurting, but not my legs!
I’m hoping the start of the fell race series will give me an excuse to get my arse up hills that will be worse that anything I will encounter in the Highland Fling. I still need to decide on kit and food choices so it will also help me with those important issues. Overall, I am not worried about not finishing the race but id quite like to enjoy it if possible.
So now a brief update has been given you can all see that my training is going utter shite! But I did complete Carrock Fell Race today so I’m going to end this here and go and write an unedited, first thoughts race report about that ‘thing’.
This week is fuelled by the Spine Race: 268 miles non-stop along the Pennine Way. The men and women that even attempt this are my absolute heroes! I cant imagine how they feel but who knows, perhaps i may find out one day?!
So this week, feeling motivated, I saw my return to running after a week off from food poisoning (cheers boss!). After a week of lying on the sofa i actually started to miss running so the first opportunity i got i got my shoes on and went off to find some mud. I made a bloody good job of that! I hadn’t exactly pre-planned my route but more thought of a general direction and was happy to wing the rest of it. I found myself heading all the way up the Tanfield railway line past Whickham and Sunniside until i decided to get lost on what looked.. and sounded.. like a motocross course. At this point i was navigating by puddles aka lakes (not recommended) and going in circles whilst trying not to get killed. Thankfully i eventually bumped into a friendly local who told me i was about 200 yards from the path i was looking for! Back on course i plodded/swam on up to Bowes Railway and decided to carry on up to Causey Arch.. got there looked at my watch.. 6.5 miles… are you F****** kidding me! Is that it?! However, my legs were tired, the Lucozade tasted like shit and i don’t like nuts apparently. So it was a good time to turn around and head for home. As the way there had mostly been uphill it was nice to enjoy a bit of downhill and get a little bit of speed up. A few loops of Watergate got me closer to the 15 mile target but because getting lost took time off me i had to head for home early, much to the delight of my legs! Looking back, perhaps i should have went for a smaller run after not running for a week and a half.. but wheres the fun in that!
Also this week i have joined a new gym and will be concentrating on core and leg exercises whilst building some lean muscle. For all the distance i can cover i still have the shape of a pudding as my body eats away all the lean muscle i have! greedy!
Its 14 weeks until the big race so its now time to get my arse into gear and put this plan in place!
What better to start the year than a 3 mile fell race! When I looked at the route the day before I was slightly surprised that the race was just the uphill and you had to jog or walk the 3 miles back to the start whether you liked it or not! Fear not, the next day was a beautiful day, blue skies, no wind and i didn’t drink the night before. Sounds perfect right? Not quite.
In my head I repeated ‘It’s only 3 miles. It’s nothing’ and all was well until about 5 steps into the race. I was dehydrated and i’d fuelled up on a single croissant. I’d have probably been better fuelled if I’d drank the night before. Anyways, the only way was up. The race followed a rather picturesque route over fields and fells. The ground was muddy and boggy and even the harshest of grips were slipping in it. It was half way up when i decided to make a rookie mistake and follow the person in front without checking around for markers. This resulted in a rather painful scramble through heather and marshland until eventually navigating back onto the actual path. It wasn’t until we reached the final climb that we felt the wind pick up and it was seriously cold! I managed to keep moving up the muddy and rocky climb even when feeling awful. My uphill walking speed is where i am seeing the biggest improvement from training so this gave me the boost required to get up to the finish line. No-one hung around to admire the view other than the poor marshalls left at the top. The rest of us did a quick U-Turn to get down out of the icy wind and started the descent back down to the start line. I chose to jog at this point as quite honestly, i walked most of the way up! It was a nice quick descent which i spent talking to some of the Northumberland Fell Runners about other races in the area.. friendly bunch!
Finally made it back to the warmth of the Newcastle Hotel in time for the presentations. The RD made a point about not carrying the compulsory kit, and rightly so! So the prizes were given out only to the people with the right kit which nicely resulted in me getting my first ever race prize!
Brilliant race and, as usual, mistakes made and lessons learnt. Definitely back for the repeat next year.
I came into 2016 off the back of my first trail half marathon, Hardmoors Roseberry Topping. It was a good race, good weather and I performed well. So, as many do, i got home and signed up for another straight away but i bumped it up to a marathon(ish) distance. Easy right?!
This race was to take place exactly 2 months after the half marathon at Roseberry Topping (on the 14th February) so felt I had plenty time to up the distance (Ha!). But that is not what I did, I just kept on with my usual lack of training and drinking off the back of new year and birthdays. I ran the Durham Relays with Saltwell harriers in mid January and that is the only race I did between the two, and I’m not sure it was of any use! We were still in the thick of hockey season so maybe that helped a little.
Anyways, on the day, the marathon went well. I felt strong, placed really well and got a time of 6 hours 28 minutes. I had no problems with food or footwear, a good race I thought, until a few days later. If you know me well enough you will know that i have the knees of an 80-year-old. I’d overlooked the whole recovery process and decided to return to club for a ‘victory run’ on the Tuesday. That has to be one of the worst mistakes i have made yet. It was the one thing that put me out of racing for 4 months, missing big races like Kielder 50k and the Anniversary Waltz. Towards the end of May i managed to make it back to the gym and run short distances in the hope of making my comeback at the Blaydon Race. I was over the moon when i managed to complete the Blaydon Race and I ran it in the great company of the one and only Charlotte ‘PB’ Proud along with a mighty army of other hoops.
That kick started my year off again. I had a wonderful week away in the Lake District at the start of June which did my fitness the world of good. Not sure about my liver. I managed the Saltwell Fell Race in July, albeit 5 minutes slower than the previous year but I was slowly getting there. Then there was that Coastal Run at the end of July, BLOODY HELL! Totally my own fault, loved it the year before, decided drinking the night before was just a brilliant idea (I wasn’t the only one!). If i didn’t have my hydration pack with me that day i am in no doubt that i would have ended up in hospital.. another lesson learnt. I slowly picked up my miles, running over the right terrain and started to feel strong. Hardmoors Wainstones in mid August left me feeling confident for my next race.
The start of September brought me my longest run to date. The Hardmoors Princess Ultra at a distance of 31 miles. I hit a wall half way through after somehow running 8:30 min miles (another lesson learnt). I struggled with nutrition in the second half, my legs died and my knees were aching. I made it to the end still with a top 10 female placing in a time of 6 hours 41. My recovery was much better this time around. I sat down for a week or two, took it easy and it was definitely the best decision I’d made in sometime.
As good as my recovery was, a month later Wrekenton XC broke me. I kept the reason amongst a small group of friends where I received valuable support (thankyou!). I took 3 weeks off the dusted my self down and got my shoes back on. Got back to harriers on a Thursday and got up into the hills for my own training.
From November to now my training and racing has taken a good turn. I’m taking it seriously, reading books, gaining knowledge and experience from quicker runners and occasionally following Rob Brooks over mountains/hills whilst swearing my head off. I’m starting to see the hard work paying off and I’m very excited for 2017 and my biggest race yet!
So at some point last year i decided i would become the queen of race reports and document the adventures and misadventures of this running malarkey. For the whole of 2016 i felt like i had absolutely no clue what i was doing and was just turning up for races feeling totally unprepared and somewhat ignoring the finer details. In the process, i soon realised i hated cross country and Parkrun (Don’t shoot me!), but was quite enjoying the longer distances which is then what i turned my attention to. Now, i know some of you may not have ran a marathon without thinking about it too much but i strongly do not advise it unless you fancy sitting on your backside for 2 or 3 months.
So with this lack of knowledge and caring in mind I’ve decided 2017 is the year to take this seriously before i do something stupid. That and I’m positive i can’t wing 53 miles! This blog is mainly to follow my running journey and to remind myself of what works, and more often than not, what doesn’t work!