Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A devil of a race

A few race stats:
  • 42 miles from Tyndrum - Fort William
  • 6,000 feet ascent
  • Part of the Triple Crown of West Highland Way ultras along with HOKA Highland Fling and West Highland Way Race
  • New Race Director: the amazing & superhuman Johnny Fling

Tyndrum start: fresh legs & all to play for
I entered late after getting my race dates mixed up. Mrs Impulsive strikes again. For some reason thought the Devil was scheduled a week later so three weeks out and too close to UTMB. Its debatable whether racing four weeks out is even advisable but I've been feeling strong lately and thought I'd give it a go with proviso I wouldn't push through anything too painful or damaging. As it was, the race would be the tame option for that weekend given the weekend training ascent Donnie has been giving me in these peak weeks leading up to UTMB.

Having run the race in 2013 in 7.12 I suspected I'd be more hill fit and consistent this year than back then (in retrospect I was also still recovering from Western States four weeks before, a few weeks later I developed a fibula stress fracture =  a lesson). Privately my hopes were high for a sub 7 finish - although knew also than Johnny's addition of a new hill finish to the route might derail this.

Friday conditions north of Tyndrum
Conditions helping the merry Devil crew set up in Fort William on Friday were APOCALYPTIC. Talking driving, persistent torrential rain. 15 degrees colder than London. And a first foray into marquee erection - some fun team work, I think Alan Sugar would have been impressed.
Weather standards having been pushed as low as they could go, I was pretty happy with the overcast showery conditions Saturday morning brought. No need for a waterproof to start. I also managed one of the best pre-race sleeps I've had, a solid six hours (standard these days).

Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy (7 miles, 47:47)
  • Everything felt good, if taking 20 mins or so to warm into the race and pace properly. I was trying to keep a steady pace but as usual probably set off a little fast, although I could see the bobbing Salomon red of the race winners for all of two minutes. The miles absolutely sped by to Bridge of Orchy and I spent the time organising a mental checklist in my head of what I needed to do before and after each CP to make smooth transitions.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe (10.8 miles, 1hr38)
  • Legs & body - felt strong, didn't have to work too hard on the hill out of Bridge of Orchy and loved the downhill. Ahead of me, Ivor pointed out a stunning rainbow and I gave myself a stern talking to for not having noticed it for staring at my feet - which to be fair was the safer plan in order to run fast down through the loose stones and streams to the road. I did see the darkening clouds beyond and wonder what lay ahead over Rannoch Moor, which I don't think I've ever run in good weather.
  • State of mind - fair to middling! Felt positive running through the checkpoint but very soon after I started to feel the niggle of chafing on my legs, with the under-shorts of the running skirt I was wearing rolling around all over the place. 7 miles in - seriously? I've worn this one so much that it did have a few holes, but I'm not one to throw things out easy. I was totally kicking myself for not having thought it through properly though with today's wet conditions, which can make these things so much worse. Over the next 8 miles it became a constant fixture in my mind and I couldn't do anything about the continual friction. I began asking the guys in front if they had Vaseline, but no, then I began promising myself I'd find some at Glencoe. That or swap shorts with someone.
  • Learnings - 1) Rannoch Moor is a slippy nightmare underfoot when its raining and yes - it always rains on Rannoch Moor 2) Always carry Vaseline 3) A Buff can do a lot but it doesn't really work threaded through shorts to prevent chafing.

Glencoe to Kinlochleven (10.5 miles, 1hr46)
Summit of Devil's Staircase: thanks Fiona & Pauline :-)
  • There was no Vaseline at Glencoe. But lots of friendly WHW family faces, in fact it was rather like the who's who of Scottish ultra racing at that checkpoint. I hung out for a few minutes to track some down with Sean the medic extraordinaire and he did his best to hunt but I needed to get going.
  • Leaving the CP physically I felt great still and able to run strong and hard. Seeing Lorna and Noanie at the bottom of the road was another little high. Dipping into the bushes outside Glencoe to see if I could stick compeed on my thighs whilst being attacked by swarms of midges everywhere was not so much. The compeed stayed on for all of five minutes.
  • The Devil's Staircase came and I discovered that uphills are to be treasured as they don't bother the chafing. I love running hills at the moment anyway and have been doing many a weekend of reps on the Devil, Kinlochleven and Ben Lomond so tried to run as much as possible but ran out of steam after a while and hiked hands-on-knees. A guy I passed advised me I should be racing the men as well as the women and that I should try catch the guy in red, four men ahead. It was a nice idea but didn't quite happen. I did pass three guys on the Staircase though before spotting a couple of spectacularly dressed people at the top - Fiona Rennie and Pauline Walker. Great to see and gave me quite the lift before the niggling pain returned to say hello for the miles of rocky downhill to midge-infested Kinlochleven.

Kinlochleven to Lundavra (7 miles, 1hr 23)
  • Well the kind folks at KLL found me some Vaseline and Bodyglide (thanks Matt and lady I don't know the name of!) and this was reassuring for a short while but it was too late and made little difference. I was actually wondering whether this would affect me finishing, I felt like it was slowing me down from my potential. Like the other checkpoints, I grabbed supplies for en route and ate fairly well (coconut & chia flapjack, banana, juice) before heading for the final of the three major hills of the race.
  • I enjoyed the climb and fast-hiked/jogged as I could manage up onto Lairig Mor. Memories from the recent West Highland Way Race and support running with Jamie Aarons up here flooded my mind and I channeled her strength. After the steep climb, the gentle uphill undulations seemed to go on for an age but I was willing them to continue as it didn't hurt as much.
  • There were heaps of walkers out, colourful waterproof backpacks bobbing ahead and I dodged them with the puddles to some lovely supportive cheers. I was five minutes slower than I hoped to reach the small CP of Lundavra but told myself I could still manage a sub-7. It was back on in my head - close enough to grit the teeth and just ignore the layer of skin I was missing. After a quick fix of coke and hello's with the marshalls I set off for the final section.

Lundavra to Fort William (7 miles, 1hr 08)
  • Remind me to never live in FW, wettest place in the UK by many accounts. A microclimate of monsoon. The heavens opened on this section but it didn't really matter now. Having recently run the short sharp hills out of the CP into (what used to be more of) a forest and beyond I knew what to expect and counted them down one by one. Some I was good to run and some not. I had no idea where second lady was, no one at any of the CP's had known, so for all I knew she was minutes behind, I couldn't slow down now.
  • But soon came the winding single track uphill that wound up at the fire road, sooner than I thought, and I glanced at my watch. 6.12. With what I calculated as 7k to go - I was going to have to push this. I ran as hard as I could down the 5k road of downhill, ticking the k's off one by one, to a soundtrack of Moderat and Royskopp.
  • Finish in the fields: 6:45, 1st lady &12th overall
  • I knew John had changed the finish from a mile flat on road to a mile of climb/sharp downhill so the finish could be in playing fields of the leisure centre, a great improvement with heaps of space for spectators and finish tents. A slow mile and I was so surprised to look once again at the watch upon seeing the finish line from high above and see that I may be able to still aim for a 6.45. And I made it, crossing the line across the flooded fields in exactly that time, most of the pain forgotten - especially when presented with John and family's incredible veggie chilli and a cup of tea. Although I lasted all of two minutes in the shower. Seriously - no pain like it since the post-Western States shower!

I love this race. Like many, after running longer races it feels like a dream to be able to push more through this course, and the trail is just so beautiful in whatever the conditions throw at us. We may have low standards for weather but the Devil leaves you incredibly high standards for all-round trail beauty and superb and seamless race directing, not to mention the Scottish trail community. Thank you to every one of the marshals and support and coach Donnie for all the support and pushing me. Congrats to Donnie and Casey Morgan for their joint first finish!

Lessons learnt though, you think you've got it sorted after a few years of ultra racing but you can still get it wrong. Never take the small stuff, preparation and kit testing for granted. That said, I couldn't have wished for a better result and still shocked to have run the second fastest female time in the race's history (Devil finisher PB spreadsheet here, thanks John Kynaston).

Men's overall winners
Joint first: Donnie Campbell and Casey Morgan 5:28
Third: Kevin O' Donoghue 5:46

Women's overall winners
First: Caroline McKay 6:45
Second: Nicola Adams-Hendry 7:27
Third: Lynne Allen 7:36

Full results are here

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

17 hours of Skye Trail

After a six month blogging hiatus, I decided the Skye trail ultra is one adventure I want a record of, and others might too given its the first year its been held. Skye is one of three races I'm focusing on for 2015; a new less-is-more strategy for me to change things up from racing too much.

I'd signed up after reading about the difficulty and elevation of the trail. Advertised at 69 miles (but closer to 74, and only if you go the right way!) and just under 4,500 metres of ascent, it would be quality mileage ahead of UTMB this August. Fitness levels were on the whole good going into it, albeit a few minor niggles which I'd seemed to iron out. I'd had a strong Fling and felt great to the end of Loch Katrine marathon where I ran a PB. But other forms of preparation - those helpful things called sleep, rest and relaxation - didn't feature in my world over the last month or so. A case of everything happening at once, back to back weekends away and change in job with 5am wake-ups every day for weeks.

The fabulous Jamie Aarons and I drove up to Skye a few weeks before the race to recce the first and most difficult part including the Trotternish ridge and had the best and the worst of conditions; 8 hours of ridge to Portree in stunning sunshine on the Saturday followed by 3 hours in howling winds and torrential rains from Portree to Sligachan on the Sunday. The weekend also featured car camping, hours of hitchhiking back north in the pouring rain (eternally grateful to the Australian tourists who took pity on us and turned around to squeeze us in to their super-packed car), broken windscreen wipers and a mad French hitchhiker who told us he'd been 'hijacking' cars all the way from the north - but that's another post in itself!

After the recce I'd asked Jeff if he'd consider changing the logistics of registration to it having to be in the south of the island (Broadford) after midnight on the day of the race - with start time at 5am in the north (Duntulm) - and was very grateful when he offered earlier registration options for the afternoon so we could then go stay up north and get a night's sleep before the start. I think a night without sleep before even starting the ridge would not have made for a happy race for me and I ended up getting over 5 hours on Friday - probably a record for me pre-ultra. Matt, Dawn and I stayed in Staffin and lovely Dawn ferried us to the start in the middle of nowhere (sorry Duntulm) where we gathered shivering in the midsummer early morning. Freezing! And much breezier than forecast! But the ridge ahead was free of cloud and the rain was holding off so I was happy. If it had been Friday's conditions I'm not sure I would have started, having seen what was to come on the ridge.

Duntulm - Portree (26ish miles, 2,447 metres ascent)

Trotternish ridge, taken during recce
The route sets off a mile or so along an undulating single track road to reach a sharp right turn up to a track and over into the first trail-less section, a few km's of ankle-eating bog and heather. I knew what to expect and for the first in many occasions over the next 7 hours was so thankful we'd recced. I ran with Matt and Ross but as we ascended up to Sror Vourlin, the first steep section of ridge, I held no illusions about staying with them. Mark Hartree was behind me and took the lower traverse, therefore skipping ahead of me as I ran across the ridge. I then proceeded to go the wrong way - as Jamie and I did in the recce - as I just couldn't see the god damned low path we were meant to take past the Quirang. Cursing myself and seeing that several guys had followed me up there I just gritted my teeth and made headway across the top and down the slip-sliding descent - sliding sideways into bog and  to the only road crossing on the ridge until Portree, where Jeff, Fiona and Pauline had set up a water stop. I think this is the only ultra I've been given water in a china tea mug and it was awesome.

After this came miles of up-down-up-down, featuring steep climbs up a few Grahams and other wee hills (Biode Buidhe, Beinn Edra, Sgurr a Mhadaigh Ruaidh, Hartaval, The Storr, Ben Dearg and A Chorra Beinn). Again, these climbs were expected and seemed to pass so much quicker than in the recce. Sadly there were no picnics on the peaks as Jamie and I enjoyed in the sparkling sunshine that day.

The sections on the ridge tops between the hills were in parts blissful - although cloudy there were still beautiful views with the ridge stretching miles ahead, and Lewis, Harris and the Uists to the right. But it sure was windy. Some of the route looks far more runnable on map than it actually is, as even on the flats/downhills you sink deep into bog and have to jump between clumps of heather to get across.

When we approached A Chorra Beinn I felt in much better shape than I had on the recce - having tackled it shortly after the Fling and struggled with energy at points. I knew we had to traverse around it and told Mark Caldwell as much, who was running close by. Despite this we saw a few guys right up ahead scrambling up the crags of the peak, it looked super steep and I didn't fancy it at all so stuck to the traverse. After this you have to head back up high to meet the ridge again and a few bog dives were to follow as my legs grew tired of the constant battle through it. Shortly after came the crazy boggy few miles descent into Portree, I was glad to have Mark there for some chat and distraction through this and was delighted we were on for six hours approaching the town, when during recce it had taken 8.

Portree - Sligachan (12 miles, 370 metres ascent)
After a few minutes refuelling at the CP, which was manned by Jeff, Fiona Rennie and Pauline Walker and based at the south end of Portree at Aros Heritage Centre, I set off along the few miles of waterlogged coastal estuary to reach the longest road section of the course. 10k until another 5k of gnarly coastal trail to Sligachan. I normally hate tarmac but here it was bliss. No bog scrambling, no ankle twisting and some gentle inclines to break up the monotony. But here I felt the first tweaks of my IT band on the downhills and had the sinking feeling that I was only 30 miles in and it was early to be having this type of pain. It was unlikely to get any better and I was beginning to significantly favour my right side  - would I have to pull out later on? It had bothered my a few weeks back in the Pentlands when I'd cut a run short and having rested for a good few days I'd hoped it'd cleared up.

Soon I was back on the 5k coastal trail skipping over stones and streams and seeing Sligachan sparkling at the other side of the bay - when Jamie and I had run this last time it was grim, high winds, torrential rain and much like running up a river, so anything was better and I knew not to expect a fast section.

Sligachan CP at the hotel was a peaceful stop, just with one marshal to greet me. I ate well here again - nuts, banana, Dawn's amazing flapjacks - and forced myself along for the section I had never been on and was most looking forward to.

Sligachan - Elgol (12 miles, 570 metres ascent)

In Jamie's words the first section, around 8 miles to Camusanary, was "beautiful and runnable, but basically like running through a river with stones of various sizes underneath. You're going through the valley of cuillins, going somewhere only your feet can take you. Pretty special". And it was. Gorgeous single track, surrounded on all sides by imposing, dramatic mountains. By now mid afternoon, the sun made an unexpected appearance and it was all of a sudden pretty warm. I could see the bobbing red top of Carnethy's Mark Hartree and I was sure I could catch him...he seemed to be slowing. But before long my ITB was nagging at me badly and it was me who was steadying my pace and all consumed with it mentally.

I reached the cottage at Camusanary and knew I had to take the left hand fork of the trail, where it soon led up and away from the shore. Unfortunately in a few hundred metres there was another junction, with one wide well-trodden trail winding up into the hills and another faint path carrying on around the coast. I took the wide one for half a km or so before realising it wasn't right, the path led right away from the coast, not just above it like the correct one was meant to. If this weren't enough I stepped in a boggy puddle so deep that it splashed right over my head, covering myself in rank water and losing my soft flasks in the process. Fishing them out I headed uphill to the crazily narrow path, which was barely joggable due to steep drop offs, boulders and overhanging trees and undergrowth. I was losing time here and constantly re-working targets in my head. I met a couple of lovely walkers heading towards me who shouted that Elgol was a km away - thank the lord  - and soon I dropped out onto a steep road descent down to the bay where the CP was. For once I let myself sit down in the camp chair and breath. I think this was Lois Simpson's cunning plan to lure runners into staying longer and giving her some chat  - she had been on her own for an age and was so cheery, it was great to chat after running in solitude for 12 miles and knowing I had over 22 still to go on my own. I re-fuelled well again and pulled myself up to start along the road.

Elgol - Broadford (23 miles, 1077 metres ascent)
I suddenly realised my ITB had gone silent and thanked my body. Again, this section was one I hadn't recced and was curious about as I knew it had a decent level of ascent and seemed a very long split to negotiate and navigate when at my most tired of the day. But I loved the first four miles, a few undulating on the road before hitting a rough forestry track past cool woods and fields, then a long climb on road again. I was still running the road climbs, much preferable than stopping and starting. The first tricky section was also the first I'd seen marked with signage, a left turn off the road past Kirkibost to a faint path leading up the side of forestry. After a mile or so what path there was next to the forest was entirely blocked by felled trees. One I could squeeze under only to become trapped in between several more which were completely impassable. Having had the signage point us this way I wondered if Jeff knew these trees were down and where we were supposed to go - I decided against heading the wrong direction into thick forestry and instead clambered up the tall deer fence to the right, before having to clamber back over it further down the line to search for the trail again. It kept petering out and I could only hope - backed up by the map - that I was heading in the right general direction, reassured a few miles later when I ended up back on a defined track winding gently downhill to the road across the bay from Torrin. Soon I could see Mark ahead again stopped at an extra water station Jeff had organised, manned by John Munro. Before I could reach it he'd set off again, I'm sure my presence was helping his pace and he was trying to avoid being chicked. John gave good pointers on the route ahead, re-filled my water and I grabbed another flapjack and banana. Just over a half marathon to go.

Another few miles into the small village of Torrin and a long, slow climb on the road up to a right turn after the quarry, after taking too early a right turn and having to ask a farmer I discovered the correct turn was actually signposted for the race too. This road led a mile down to another stretch of coastal path and a final 8 miles to Broadford, varying between track, trail, beach and final climb across a hillside.

From the road, 3 miles took me to Suisnish and a farm where the path played another disappearing act - after a few minutes of faffing about up and down a field I spotted a fairly obvious path over a fence at the top of the hill and with a sigh of relief got going again. This beautiful single track rose above some dramatic beaches, rock formations and waterfalls and reminded me of the coastal trail from Pennyghael to Carsaig on Mull. Another few miles and I'd reached the ruined village of Boreig, and here I knew there was significant climb before reaching 'the best 7k of your day' as Jamie had put it, into Broadford. Not a soul around here, just an audience of sheep and their lambs lining the trail and racing away. Traversing around Boreig I took what I thought was the right path up a hill but the path quickly became rocky and scrambly and I found I was completing a circle of this hill - with dismay I saw a few hundred feet below what looked like a wider path running next to the river, which I should have been closer to. Down I scrambled, through the most razor blade heather I'd experienced all day. My legs were shredded and by the time I finished I looked like I'd had a few bloody falls.
Matt and I at finish (he'd been there a while!)

The 7k didn't disappoint, it was special - either flattish or downhill, like the Larig Mor but easier to run on. It was after 9 and the sun was setting across Broadford bay ahead. I knew my multiple detours had taken away my chances of finishing in the 16 hour bracket but I covered the section in 35 mins and my legs felt strong. I finished in Broadford in 17:00 on the nose, first girl and sixth overall. And met by Helen, Fiona, Pauline, Matt and Dawn - what a amazing welcoming committee they were! I was delighted for Matt, who won in an impressive 13:56, with Ross Christie second in 14:50 and James Killingbeck and Bryan Grant joint third 16:05. Annie Garcia was second lady in 23:39 and Angela Bronn third 23:55. I'm still amazed by the selfless support given by Jeff and all the marshals, they were up for the entire weekend with no sleep whatsoever and were cheerful right to the end - I know which I'd find harder. Thank you guys :-)

Tips for the race if you fancy it in the future....recce recce recce...get sleep before...soak up the solitude...look up and all around you, its one special island (a close second to Mull of course!)

And Mark Hartree....until next time!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Tahoe Rim Trail 50

Having been out of action for the third time in the last year with an injury, I've been sulking too much to want to write about running, but now it comes to it its amazing to remember the miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail, which was an all round incredible running experience.

I flew to the States a week early, heading to Boulder first with the aim of acclimatising then over to Reno four days out from the race. What a town. Framed by the foothills of the Rockies and the beautiful trail heaven of Chataqua Park and the Flatirons, Boulder is a free-thinking haven for outdoorsies, with cycle trails and pedestrianised centre dissimilar to many other American towns. On my first trail run, after a blissful five miles,
trail rash
trail elbow
I hit the deck hard downhill, managing a seemingly impossible scraping of the shoulder, elbow and knee. I thought I'd broken my arm given the bump and bruise that emerged, but reckoned if I could still move it without a lot of pain it must be fine. I was more worried about running the TRT in five days time with a skinless shoulder.

By Friday though it was beginning to heal up and after a few days of fun scoping of the trail with Rick and Dan I was good to go for the start on Saturday. I'd covered up with a dressing and was now more worried about the occasional pain and pulling right in the top of my left quad/groin, which I'd had for a few weeks but which hadn't been bad enough to stop running - actually thought it was a yoga-inflicted niggle. It had started bothering me more in taper week but all I could do was take the race as it came.

The TRT is run mostly on alpine forest trails in the Carson Spur of the Sierra Nevada mountains, above the  'Big Blue' Lake Tahoe and a few other lakes. Total elevation gain is just under 9,000ft, with the highest point at 9,200ft and the lowest just under 6,800. Even though the Tahoe Rim Trail itself is a long distance 165 mile trail around the lake, the race course is a series of out and backs for logistical reasons - starting and finishing at Spooner Lake in the north east of Lake Tahoe.

Hundreds of us set off from Spooner at 6am, for a gentle mile or two until we reached the Marlette Lake Trail which climbs 1500ft through conifer and aspen groves to reach the Tahoe Rim. My sole aims were to run, breathe steady and NOT FALL. Or fall on my left side. The views of Marlette Lake just after sunrise were absolutely spectacular, I wished I'd brought a camera as couldn't stop thinking to myself that I'd never capture that moment again. Soon came the Hobart aid station which I'd read was pretty legendary and it didn't disappoint, with a smoothie bar and a juggler on stilts. I didn't stop and got chatting to a lovely 50k runner - should I be running with the 50k's?- who I disovered was Dan's friend he'd told me about, aiming to place in the 50k. Nope I should not be running with her. I didn't feel like I was pushing but began to hang back.

The next five mile section brought some beautiful single-track trail with panoramic views. I was in a chain gang of runners, mostly guys, one of whom took a bad fall but seemed ok. It was good to have company and pacing. Then into Tunnel Creek - a decent sized a/s that we would come to three times due to the out/back nature of the course. It was great to see Dan and Rick there and I swiftly re-fuelled on something I
can't remember (generally Lara bars/fruit/water/electrolyte/coke throughout race) and headed down for the notorious 6-mile Red House loop. It kicks off with a couple of mile/1,000 ft downhill on sandy trails into the airless depths, another aid station, then back up for the slippy, sandy climb that folk call the 'glimpse of hell' of the course (although I'd seriously contend this now knowing what was to come!).

After passing through Tunnel Creek again came a rolling 6-mile section along the TRT. I hadn't been on these sections before as it is so remote to reach and didn't expect it to be quite so rolling,but the trail landscape was again stunning, soft single-track bordered by alpine wildflowers. A small water stop was ahead 3 miles and I reminded myself that I had to fill up properly here, for the next would be 8 miles away in the heat of midday. I had an idea that I was in fifth lady position since Rick shouted the place through Tunnel Creek but the only 50 mile runners I saw for most of the
Tunnel Creek
race were guys, I got chatting to a few and passed a long string of 100 milers. The 100 had started an hour before us and I was constantly amazed at the pace of the runners, particularly the guy who ended up winning - Bob Shebest - in sub 18 hours, an incredible feat at elevation and on such a course (they run the 50 course twice).

Diamond Peak a/s was a target for me with a plan to reach it in 6 hours. At 30 miles and at the foot of the toughest climb in the race I wanted to be in good condition there. A couple of miles before though I must have lost focus and tripped over a stump, slamming down on the trail, yup - right shoulder first. More annoyed with myself than anything, I kept expecting it to get messy and bleed through the dressing but it didn't happen. I took a dip in a creek at the bottom of the descent to get rid of the trail dust over the skint knees and ran into Diamond Creek. Brilliant again to see Dan & Rick and by this time predictably I wasn't too excited about solid food, instead filling up on coke and taking a bar for the climb.

It was something else. 1,700 feet directly up a sandy pathed ski run in less than two miles. No switchbacks, no shade. It seemed longer than when Dan and I had ventured
up there earlier in the week (when I'd refused to stop and fast hike all the way up, much to Dan's frustration!). It was so steep there wasn't even a chance of fast hiking and I couldn't work out if the struggle was about altitude, fatigue or heat but I had to pause a couple of times on the climb. Chatting to a few 100 milers all I could think was how they had to take this on twice, the next time at 80 miles in.

I'd originally been registered for the 100 and have now developed huge respect for anyone who takes this race on, it is one hell of a 100. I'd say tougher in many respects than Western States, despite the fact temps can be cooler.

The climb shook me a bit and I lost time. At the peak we took a right on the trail to connect again with the trail back in the other direction to Tunnel Creek. I couldn't believe how much I was drinking and worried it was too much - I'd emptied two bottles in two miles up the climb and was still thirsty - plus no toilet stops for the entire race - probably not healthy. I managed to get a bit of pace back slowly and reached Tunnel Creek feeling revived but craving coke.

I struggle to remember the penultimate section back to Hobart circus, just that drinking a smoothie AND coke is not a good combination, and my muddled brain remembering that climb Snow Valley Peak, the highest point of the course, was still to come. I'd hoped I'd be able to run this climb but it just wasn't going to happen so I hiked as hard as I could handle, reaching the beautiful plateau-like summit and a/s run by the boy scout troop. The views were outstandig up here but I was watching the clock by now and keen to get off the summit.

Finishing straight
The home straight: I didn't care about hammering the quads on the 5 mile descent back down to Spooner, although the pain in the top of the muscle was now constantly nagging. I was really hurting after a few miles but I spotted another female runner ahead and tried to focus on leg turnover and form to see if I could maintain speed and catch her. I didn't think she was a 50 miler but found out she was after finishing (she finished a few
seconds ahead of me so I was kicking myself). The downhill seemed like it would never end but eventually we reached level ground and the final (abandoned) aid station, which the kind volunteers had left stocked. By this point the sky was darkening and I sensed the thunder was close - I'd been in Colorado/Nevada for seven days so far and there hadn't been one afternoon without electrical storms, generally starting around 2pm. But I was already back on the final two mile flat around Spooner Lake, and could hear the buzz of the finishing straight for the 50 and the (separate) 50 mile aid station for the 100. I was able to push hard for the last stretch and finished in 10.57 to be met by a couple of volunteers in hot pink micro tutus and fishnets. I was told I was fifth lady but found later it was seventh lady overall and fifth in age group. Happy to squeeze in the top ten and not without a battle with the leg.

Literally no more than 20 minutes after and a monster thunderstorm hit. The finishing area was transformed into an apocalytpic scene with rivers careering past the tents, children crying, drop bags being soaked, lighning and hail. It continued for an age and all we could think about were the 50 milers still out there and worse still, the 100 milers out there without shelter with over 50 miles to go after being absolutely drenched. It turned out that the Snow Valley Peak a/s had to be shut down due to lightning danger and runners had to shelter with volunteers for an hour or so.

Without a doubt, TRT was one of my all time race highs - tendinitis issue aside - for the pure fun and beauty of the trails out there. One special race. Maybe one day I'll try the 100 but it will have to be an injury-free, brave day.

Thank you to Dan and Rick for all your support before and on the day! I'll be back :-)

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Three strikes and out

A friend in the ultra running community told me this week "your ability to tackle the lows as well as the highs is the measure of your worth as a human being". This is good to remember when you are thrown into dealing with injury rather than achieving all of the running ambitions you've planned for the year.

The good news of late is that the fibula stress fracture has healed up nicely. It behaved during a 15 m
Bumped into this colourful crew on Saturday
ile out and back run from Balmaha on Saturday, my longest run since January. In fact I felt no pain with it over the entire weekend. Being back on a trail felt amazing!

The bad news is that my older soft tissue problems are back. I'm not sure they really went away but took a back seat to the fracture. They withstood Saturday's longer run in the sense they didn't stop me running but I can feel them pretty much constantly now, even walking. It's mainly pain and tightness in my right hamstring, an issue that I ignored last year (putting it down to normal post race and training niggles) before it culminated in an IT band injury and stopped me running properly at Glenmore/River Ayr Way.

The most ugly of news is that five miles into Sunday's 'recovery' run, where I took myself off for a fartlek trail run, I had sudden pain all over the middle of my back, like a spasm of all the muscles around my upper spine. This was new. I tried to continue running but couldn't, walking back to Tyndrum was hard enough. A bit of drama and quite a few tears later I got home to Edinburgh. I've since seen my osteopath who thinks it might be inflammation or sprain of a facet joint in my thoracic (upper) spine vertebra, with muscles around it spasming. I'd just last week been told by a biomechanical specialist that my QL muscle in left upper back was in spasm, but weirdly until Sunday hadn't had any pain there.

I'm determined to get to the root of all the injuries but I've had a few opinions over the months and it's fair to say I've been confused. I have confidence in each expert but their approaches sometimes conflict. Last autumn, my physio Guy Van Herp decided the hamstring/ITB problems were due to an SI joint in my pelvis jamming yet un-jamming it didn't seem to improve things, although the ITB inflammation improved after rest from running. Then my osteopath said the issues were being caused by weak glut muscles, outlining the need to work on strengthening (pilates), TRX etc. She also advised transitioning to minimalist footwear. Then in January when I stepped up the marathon training, the hamstring flared and the fibula pain started. When Guy's stress fracture tests pointed to a fibula fracture, I rested from weight-bearing for six weeks (pool running, cycling and Bikram yoga'ing like a demon).

Most recently, I saw Nigel McHollan, a Biomechanical Specialist based in Gullane (one of only five in the UK). He tells me my right glut muscles are overused/not firing in correct sequence, increasing strain on the hamstring. The left QL muscle in my back is also in spasm and left foot isn't functioning properly: the arch is dropping and I have a growth on my navicular bone, possibly related to ligament damage years ago. Either the foot or QL issue are at the heart of the issues down my right side (referred pain) so his treatment is isolating which one it is. 

So the body is in great shape! Is it any wonder I'm super paranoid every time I run a few miles. But saying that, I'm hopeful that we're at least en route to finding the cause of everything.

In any case, the only way forward has been to take away any pressure of racing. Without doing so, I really won't have recovery as the sole priority. I'd already changed race plans in February when I was offered a place in the Scotland team for the Anglo Celtic Plate 100k championship, which I was hopeful of taking on in early May. It's obviously now not an option - the Brighton marathon is out of the question this Sunday what with the back pain, and without being able to finish a marathon I probably shouldn't be comtemplating a race twice as long and punishing: co-codomol is not an acceptable fuel to get me through my first 100k. The Tahoe Rim Trail in July is a wait and see job, if anything it will be the 50 mile distance which I've dropped down to from the 100, but part of me wants to wait and run it in another year where I know I can perform at my peak.

So for now I'll be following advice from another friend - stay positive - as well as that of the right experts, and take each day as it comes with no pressure. Might even formulate a No-Training plan involving copius amounts of pilates, bikram and core work. Hey maybe I'll be biomechanical expert myself at the end of it all. 

**Whilst I am not running Brighton anymore, I'm still trying to raise more for the wonderful work of Marine Conservation Society across Scotland. Please throw a few in the pot if you can!**

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Fibula fail

Fibula stress reaction, possible stress fracture, 10 days of total rest: not words I wanted to hear today.

After what has been a positive January back into running and marathon training proper for Brighton in April, February has brought issues...some familiar, some not so. The hamstring hasn't been perfect, every run over 13 or so miles has brought the familiar nagging pain back and the sciatic nerve pain through my back. I think  the remedial core/strengthening work I'm doing a few times a week is bringing improvement but to be honest its hard to tell. I guess if you ignore an issue for as long as I did with the hamstring (which then turned into an IT band problem) then recovery is equally slow. Then earlier this week a completely new sensation reared its head - a very localised pain deep in my lower outer right leg that throbbed during both running and walking. I debated whether to still go along to the newly-joined Portobello RC for a hill reps session last night and decided to go with it to gauge how it felt. I felt it throughout but it was do-able. Then today just walking a few miles to work was a struggle.

My physio, Guy Van Herp at Meadowbank, thinks its a stress reaction of the fibula, which apparently is one of the most common sites for a stress fracture for ultra runners due to consistent overloading. Having never had any fractures or breaks before, its all new. He thinks it'll be a combination of  stepping up the mileage on the road rather than trail for Brighton (albeit gradually) and minimalist footwear - those lovely Altras. I tried selling a good case to him that they are super cushioned and I'd broken them in gradually - don't want to be ANOTHER of those people who injure themselves going minimalist - but he doesn't think gradual enough. I'd love to trace a trail right back to the heart of the problem but sadly the human body doesn't often let us do that. Probably also a classic case of not taking as long completely out of training as I should have last year with injury no. 1.

It's a game of patience now: wait 10 days with no loading weight on leg at all, see physio again and take it from there. I may or may not have to take further weeks completely off training after. Brighton may or may not be out. I don't want to start any race if I'm not 100% healthy.

Apparently there's ample opportunity to maintain fitness and even speed (of sorts): game plan hatched for the next few weeks involves Bikram yoga, back to the dreaded pool, intervals on the stationary bike. Bizarrely, I asked physio if a weekend of downhill skiing would be allowed, thinking he'd laugh me out the office, but he said yes - if the boot is high enough and I don't have pain when moving. We'll see!

Gutted to have to leave Porty RC after two sessions but hoping to be back soon. Their interval sessions are the perfect example of quality over quantity.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year, New Races

It's a shiny new year, Happy 2014 everyone. A world of opportunity for new running experiences and putting into practice what we learnt in 2013. I still feel so fortunate to have experienced Western States last year, as well as see real improvement in my Highland Fling performance and place first lady in the Devil O' The Highlands, before everything went downhill fast as I struggled with the injury at Glenmore and River Ayr Way - a sure sign that I took on too much throughout the year.

I've just been fun running over the last few months: no training plan but back into the hills, lots of core and strengthening work (following physio orders), and a bit of dreaming about future plans.The hamstring isn't perfect but I've had no IT band pain since September - and the ongoing hamstring niggles are only a positive thing as they keep reminding me to maintain the balance with cross training, core and massage, and not fall back into a routine of just desk work and running.

New Year's Day morning I found out I had entry into the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler out in Lake Tahoe (California/Nevada states) in July, their lottery took place on the stroke of midnight US time with 275 gaining entry to the 100 miler, 200 to the 50 miler and 125 to the 50k distances. It will be a key focus for me and I'm massively excited to get back out there and run those beautiful trails.

2014 Plans

Brighton Marathon

I wanted a spring marathon to have as a target for regaining some speed over the winter months, to feed into trail races later in the year. Brighton is poker straight and flat, with the route having being flattened further for 2014 to attract more marathon superstars. I'm running for Marine Conservation Society.

The marathon route

Hoka Highland Fling

I love the Fling. The sun always seems to shine (hope this doesn't jinx the 2014 race), its a great distance and it was one of my first ultras - ample reason to give a fourth outing a shot! And hopefully I've come on from running in Newton road shoes and blowing up at Beinglas, but you can never take a race like this for granted.

Transvulcania....but not the big one

I signed up for a week's holiday in La Palma with the idea of some sun and trails (not much persuasion needed) as well as to cheer on the growing group of folk from Scotland running the Transvulcania ultra - an 80k mountain race up and down one big daddy of a volcano. However I found myself registering for the much shorter marathon distance race as a 'fun' run, which by all accounts still includes the same volcano climb as the big daddy. Eek.

Tahoe Rim Trail 100

The Rim Trail during a training run in June 2013

I spent time up in Lake Tahoe in 2010 at a friend's family cabin, then last year in training for the Western States. The Rim Trail is absolutely stunning and also deceptive - composed of mostly soft, single track forest trails at average elevation of over 9,000 feet, with significant climbs and some beautiful snow fields. The 100 mile course is a repeat of the 50 mile race distance, which is a series of out and backs and loops. It has over 17,000 feet of elevation gain, a quad-busting 20,000 ft of downhill, and a 50% DNF rate. The trails can be pretty steep, including a 2 mile stretch with 1,700 ft of climb. I remember folk at Western States telling me about the race, that it can be tougher than WS. This makes me fearful but also motivates me to work hard, which can only a good thing, can't it?

The elevation profile of the 50 mile race

Glenmore 12 

I got my first taste of the fabulous Glenmore 24 last year when I ran the 12 hour option. I loved everything about the race apart from my struggles running it, with the IT band/hamstring pain plaguing me for most of the 12 hours. It's a special race - top notch race organisation by Bill & Mike, beautiful loch-side setting of Glenmore forest in the Cairngorms, a four-mile loop course on rolling trails (passing the camp ground and support each time) and one big social for the entirety. I really want to give it another shot this year, hopefully on better form, not over-raced or injured.

Happy training & racing folks :-)

Friday, 20 September 2013

A Happy Devil & A Glenmore Struggle

It's been a while since I've had the time or energy to report on any of the three ultras I've run since Western States (well, two and a half...more on that later) and I had to remind myself why I decided to blog in the first place, back in 2010. To have a record of my races in all their gritty glory, to help me gain perspective, learn and keep on moving forward. And hopefully improve. Despite writing this feeling slightly broken from a mixture of injury, stonking cold and bout of cockle-induced food poisoning, I am hoping this theory will be true and I'll be able to bounce back stronger next year after taking stock of all I've learnt this year and some much-needed R & R. So here's a recap of my final races of 2013...

Devil o' the Highlands
43 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William along the West Highland Way
Saturday 3rd August

A less than ideal sleep was had the night before. I managed to mess up the booking at Strathfillan Wigwams, which had me and lovely support Lizzie and James in a super compact hut. Cosy times! We're all seasoned campers and not averse to roughing it, but I told them I'd booked a lodge so they were expecting a bit more. Oops! This combined with slight worries over not having covered much distance after the Western States and whether I'd be fully recovered didn't make for the soundest night's sleep.

But 4am came and I snuck out the hut to torrential rain and dark, low cloud stretching as far as I could see. Not a surprise due to the usual pre-race obsessive forecast checking, but still didn't make for a feeling of positive anticipation. Headfirst into the ritual: wash, dress, tape feet (yes, this is what I do post-Western States), prep race belt, force feed myself greek yoghurt & fruit and wake sleeping crew. It feels like a repeat of the 2012 West Highland Way weather-wise but we try to be cheerful and head to registration at the Green Welly in Tyndrum, where Liz made me down a shot of beetroot juice. After registering and chatting to a few folk, we stupidly all huddle underneath the few bits of shelter at the start line in order to stay dry, before we run for 43 miles in the rain. 

The first miles were fantastic, my legs felt fresh and I felt like running. As soon as we started, the rain didn't bother me and I ran along chatting to a few boys, including Davie Gow who later found out he'd run the Devil with a stress fracture. First race fail was the conservative race plan I'd given Lizzie & James, which had me running through the first checkpoint at Bridge of Orchy (6.75 miles) in a little over an hour, but I found myself, as ususal, hurtling off without feeling like I was hurtling and passing through in around 53 minutes. Nope, I'm not conservative. And no crew to be seen. Fortunately a lovely guy I'd met the night before at the wigwams who was supporting his wife gave me a water refill and I didn't need anything else. The Devil is the first race I think I've ever done with no water available at checkpoints.

The lack of crew at BoO threw me for a few miles as I ran/fast-hiked the hill out, but only because I wondered if they'd stay at BoO too long wondering if I'd fallen or something had happened in the first miles. But by the road section after Inveroran I got chatting to some more dudes (sorry, names escape me) and forgot all about it. This section of over 10 miles passed surprisingly fast - I think because the last time I ran it I was slightly broken on day two of a long back to back with Fionna, Lorna, Davie and Bob - and despite wet & windy conditions and terrible visibility over Rannoch Moor it really was a lot of fun this time, and I felt so surprisingly fresh.

Running the long gentle descent towards the Glencoe checkpoint I spotted with relief the distinctive waterproofs of Liz & James. It was the swift and smooth transition  I'd hoped for as I didn't want to stop for more than a minute at each cp. They handed me a fresh handheld with sweet potato zipped into the pocket and I was off down the hill to the A82. On my own on the trail again, I took the chance to nip not too far into the bracken for a she wee. And I'm very sorry to the guy who at that minute came trotting over the hill - at that moment I was wishing the cloud cover was lower than low.

Into Lundavra avec nosebleed
Onwards to the 3 or so miles of trail before the Devil's Staircase and the wind was truly howling down the trail now. Up until then it had largely been behind us but now we were running fully into it and it was taking my breath away and massively affecting speed. The Devil was a joy, had a much-needed walking break and took down a potato and I think a gel on the hike up. The conditions up there were horrendous but two souls cheering at the top despite screaming winds astonished me - Fiona Rennie and Pauline Walker. They put a smile on my face ready for the wild descent, which was so much fun. Miles later came the fire road down into Kinlochleven, which I hadn't run in ages and it dragged a bit. I was conscious of time, and by the time I reached the village I was 10 minutes behind schedule.

I again clocked Liz & James who thrust a replacement bottle at me with some hill snacks packed in there for good measure, to eat on the final big climb out of KL. I asked them if they knew where the next female was behind me but noone knew - I'd known I was first lady since Bridge of Orchy and was keeping decent pace but wanted an idea of placings.

Up into the hike feeling good and mentally ready for the Larig Mor. The last time I'd run it had been during the 2012 West Highland Way Race and I was broken, seeing imaginary ski lifts all around me and cursing the loose rocks and streams to a long-suffering Gregg. It was amazing how fast it passed this time. I jumped at one point hearing a chirpy female voice behind me but it was just Paul Foster with his female support runner friend. We chatted about Western States a bit and kept overtaking each other. In fact I'm pretty sure they were using me as a rabbit to chase down.
shiny devils
Onto Lundavra and I wasn't sure the crew would be there but there they were, sheltering from the driving rain. It had long since stopped bothering me and I was loving being out in the wild elements and dramatic scenery, surrounded by Munros on all sides. A mile or so before the CP I'd developed a random nose bleed, so ran up to the guys asking for tissues and Lorna & Johnny Fling sprung to the rescue with some. Lorna also told me the second place female was within ten minutes of me, which served to put a rocket where it needed to be. I set off for the humps and bumps up into the forest before the descent to Fort William, running all of them steadily. By the descent I was feeling great despite the familiar ache of the right hamstring and glute, and hammered down into Braveheart car park, spotting the point Gregg and I went wrong during the WHW Race. Then came the road section, less than a mile up to finish at the roundabout in Fort William. I'd known for a while my sub 7 target was well out of reach but I'd settle for sub 7 15 in the conditions, so ran as hard as I could to reach the rather sudden pavement finish in 7.14, where James, Liz, Lorna and John stood in the rain. Delighted. 11 minutes later Gail Tait crossed the line in second then came Noanie in 7 33. Overall winner was John McLaughlin with a time of 6.02. Overall results here.

energy balls
During the race I fuelled mainly on natural energy sources - roast sweet potatoes, energy balls (made from dates, nuts, and coconut) and I think there was a cheeky carbolicious Stoats bar in there somewhere- it all worked really well for me on the day. I felt positive throughout and enjoyed every section, despite the wind & rain. Well, I think I did - it was a while ago now, race amnesia may have kicked in.

Glenmore 24
Saturday 6th September, 12 and 24 hour race options on a 4 mile loop around Glenmore Forest in the Cairngorms

My physio, Guy Van Herp, gave me the green card the week before Glenmore. I'd been to him following two long runs after the Devil, during which I'd experienced sudden knee pain, both times having to stop (can't stand stopping even for traffic lights so this was new). By the time I saw him I'd had a week off running and couldn't feel any pain in the knee anymore, so after a spot of lasering and manipulating my SI joint he said I should be fine.

Glenmore is a bit of a unique and special race. I knew this even before I'd run it, and had been meaning to since it began in 2011. There is a 12 and a 24 hour option, with the lion's share of runners taking on the 24. It is a loop race, with a 4 mile trail around Glenmore forest and Loch Morlich shaping the route. Runners pass their camping and support area every 4 miles (the Hayfield) and another half way drinks station on the other side of the loop.

Co-organiser Mike of Bill and Mike fame (BaM) had only recently given me a spot from the waiting list for the 12 and that was fine with me, what with the recent issues and summer miles in the body. I didn't have support for this one, as James was off foraging for his dinner with friends in the wilds of Perthshire and friends were all away so I rocked up in a truly ridiculous hire car that only a total girl would drive. Once again the weather had been atrocious on the drive up on Saturday morning - torrential downpours and high winds on the A9 - and negotiating the roads in the little red tin can of a car was interesting but took my mind off running 12 hours in this weather. Hold on, didn't I say I would never complain about gruesome Scottish weather again after Western States?

Support crew
There was already a cracking vibe in the Hayfield - familiar smiling faces, banter and Ada with her cattle prod for keeping runners under control (seriously). I set up my tent on my own - first time in 2 years - then laid out a box of race supplies, nutrition etc in front of the tent ready for re-fuelling each time I passed on each four mile lap. Extremely handy for self-support. Then lo and behold, the sun emerged and the clouds cleared to leave brilliant blue skies ready for the midday start. After an entertaining race briefing by Bill and Andrew Murray (little did I know the advice on painkillers would become very relevant to me) we assembled ourselves loosely around the start and set off into the sun.
Go. Thanks to BaM for pic.

Round for the first lap: short, sharp uphill on the grass, gorgeous wooded trail to the Loch, flat paths around the Loch, up a few gentle rises to the half-way checkpoint (excellent tunes!), up a longer gentle rise then down and round some trails back to the Hayfield. I need to do this 16 times for the minimum mileage I'd be happy with. I really want to do it 18 times. Simple, right?

Johnny Fling and I ran much of the first few laps together and it just felt like a training run. Except we were probably running a bit faster. He was feeling great, racing me for a 10k best it seemed and flying past on all the downhills. It was so sunny, the trail was beautiful and my knee felt good, all my excuses for flying off at a similar rate. We had some good chats, and passed through the Hayfield to complete the first four mile lap in just over 30 minutes. Oh dear. I dropped back and ended up trailing close behind Johnny Downhill for a few more laps, whilst chatting to a few others at various points too, including the picture of radiance Antonia, who was literally bouncing up the trail. We had a nice catch up until we reached the Hayfield again and our respective support points - her cheering Scott and my plastic box.

Lap 5 came and went, followed by a sinking feeling from some familiar sharp pains around the outer right knee and the mental downer that came with it. I ran on my own as felt I needed to focus and think about what to do.

The beautiful Loch Morlich (thanks BaM)
Lap 8 (mile 32) and I was now in real pain - across the knee, down the hamstring, deep in the glute and up my back, all connected. The main downhill on the course was really hurting and my form was blown to pieces as I was putting a lot of weight on the other leg. I decided to stop in the physio tent (thank goodness for this creation!) and had a mini meltdown as I hobbled in with a lump in my throat, pretty sure I was going to have to DNF this amazing race when I wasn't even halfway through. The physio, from Active Health in Edinburgh - whose name escapes me, sorry - took a look and agreed it was the ITB problem and that my hamstring was in spasm too. She spent 15 minutes or so getting right in there and stripping out the tough bits. Andrew Murray gave me some paracetamol and they both surprised me by telling me to get back out there and try another lap after taking in some calories. I'd been concerned about doing more damage but when they told me this wouldn't really happen with the ITB it gave me the kick I needed to suck it up and get back out there. In two minutes I was back on the trail, with dramatic improvement. The leg felt looser with hardly any pressure around the knee.

I looped around for 3 or so more laps, feeling so much better and hoping it would last. The addition of the i-Shuffle helped massively to put me in a better place, 80's classics were the theme to Glenmore. Mentioning no names. After mile 44 things began to get blurry again and the pain came back with a vengeance. I took more paracetamol but it didn't seem to make any difference. It was getting dark too, and I held off on the headtorch for as long as possible, wanting to run in the evening light.

I was also having stomach problems for one of the first times in a race and was wondering if I'd taken in too many calories, or too much sugar for my system. I'd certainly had more than usual in races - sweet potatoes but also quite a few gels and Clif Builder bars.

Bob Steel ran my final lap with me and it was great to catch up about his UTMB experience and have my mind taken off the dud leg. I think he might have told me to man up, but stuck with me the whole way round even though he was running a relay and could have gone a lot faster. I'd already decided this was my last big lap and I didn't want to do any mini ones.

Wincing through the wee loops
But back to Hayfield and the mini-laps were starting - runners without enough time to start another 4 mile would now run around on a 0.2 mile stretch of undulating grass until the 12 hour whistle was blown. I decided in the grand scheme of things it was only another 40 minutes. I tried to start it against the grain but BaM called me back and set me right. I don't know how many laps I did but it felt like about 15 and I was physically and mentally done by this point, with every downhill jarring my knee. Lorna and a heap of others were cheering us round on every lap which was lovely. Meanwhile, the brave crew of 24 hour runners were heading out on more big laps. I couldn't imagine anything more terrible at this point and think I needed to be told to man up again. We were doing the sprint option after all. With a few minutes to go we were all given our own special tent peg with our race number taped onto it, to plug into the ground wherever we were when time was up, so BaM could measure our additional distance. I ended up slap bang right outside my tent. Done.

Grand plans of staying up over some beers didn't really happen, I managed a seat and a laugh with the others for half an hour instead. With a Yop. Then a night wrapped up three times like a sausage in a damp duvet I thought would be cosy (James never lets me take it on our joint camping trips) and I got up to see the 24'ers still plugging away. Amazing. Sadly I had to get back to Edinburgh to hand back the tin-car but found out placings first and learnt of Antonia's impressive mileage, winning with 75 miles clocked. My mileage was 0.1 beneath 67 (third female), with Melanie Sinclair coming second female with 68 miles. Full results here.

So it was a tough one. I don't wish I hadn't stopped in the physio tent - yes, I might have been able to squeeze in another lap and increase the mileage but on the other hand I know that the pain wouldn't have temporarily improved and my brain would have been telling me running through it was wrong. Both the physio and Andrew Murray played a big role in helping me finished so huge thanks to them :-)

I really want to go back and run Glenmore when I am 100% healthy and feeling good. The forest, the camping, the party, the people, it's a special one that I checked out of far too early this year. Thanks so much BaM, what an amazing weekend you've created. And massive respect and well done to all the other 12 and especially 24 hour runners and selfless, cheerful supporters and marshalls.

River Ayr Way 2013
Saturday 14th September, reverse course of 41.2 miles from Ayr to Glenbuck

RAW start
I'd regsitered for RAW, or WAR, given 2013 would see the first reverse running of the course, several months ago, and given the potential for more SUMS points (RAW was the final SUMS race so the last chance to increase score) I thought even despite the obvious onset of injury I may as well give it a crack. Sometimes injury pain can mysteriously disappear. 

But not this one...we set off from the centre of Ayr against a backdrop of clear blue skies and the sparkling River Ayr and from the second mile I could feel my knee throbbing. As the miles ticked by down the trail and road sections things got worse until I was pulling all kinds of faces on the downhills, which were just gentle slopes. I'd slowed considerably by the first checkpoint at mile 9 and a mile or so past there Kathy Henly passed me and I decided I'd try hang in there until the next major checkpoint at mile 19 then drop. Despite pain up what felt like my entire leg and terrible, unbalanced form, I was struggling to accept I'd have to DNF for the first time. What would it feel like not reaching the finish of a race? Feeling like I'd failed? Like this could happen again if I let it happen this time? I let these thoughts in for a short while then had a stern chat with myself. It's just a race. There are far more important things going on all around us all of the time and it'd be pure ego to focus on the failure for any longer than several minutes.

I stopped running a few miles ahead of the mile 19 checkpoint and took a stroll in the sun. Soon as I stopped I felt relieved and really enjoyed just walking up the trail in the bright sunshine, stretching the leg off and chatting to the folk passing me, including Kirsty Burnett who would come second lady, Carrie Craig who would finish third and Robert Osfield who helped me with his metabolic efficiency research for the Western States and finished a brilliant race in seventh place. A few guys even walked with me for a short while which was lovely, and when I reached the checkpoint I dropped and hung out with the marshalls for a while at a few different points. 

Anneke put on a great race again, and the route was even prettier than I remember from 2011, especially in the autumn sunshine. Like Glenmore, I'm keen to get back and run the race when fit and healthy to do so.
The Scottish Ultra Marathon Series was reinvented this year, with the premise being that runners have to run a minimum of three of the thirteen eligible Scottish ultra to compete and if they run more than three their best three scores will count. My results from the Highland Fling, the Devil and Glenmore counted as my three and I placed second overall female behind Rosie Bell and ahead of Kathy Henly (winner of River Ayr this year). The pretty little crystal glass is working the mantlepiece next to my 2011 SUMS decanter, though I have a feeling James is soon going to relegate some of these to the spare room with all the Mull half marathon bling. Full SUMS results here.

Rest. Yoga. Core work. Physio and osteopath. That's about it for this year until I feel this injury is truly healed. I'm not messing about trying to run here and there with just more days off in between. I also have some mental strengthening to do for when I am in pain. I feel I can cope well with that exhausted, end of race pain - if you can call it that - and I actually enjoy it up to a point when I feel race-fit, but when it comes to staying positive through injury pain that's another thing altogether. Admittedly it isn't sensible to run or race at all with an injury, even on the miles that I felt slightly better it was hard to shake the negative mindset and stop counting the miles down to the end of the race. I'm not racing again until 2014 but looking forward to the change. And working on the race plan for next year :-)