Tuesday, 22 November 2016


If I'm asked to do something, I'll generally do it (despite occasional grumbles beforehand) and if I've promised to do something for someone, then I'll do all that I can in my power not to let them down, yet I still think that, to my chagrin, I'm an innately selfish soul. It may be that others do not have this perception of me, as I have found that I keep being asked to do things that are really not in my best interests.....whether it be to run a race because it will make others want to join in to make up a team, or to run something at a certain pace to help someone else out, or to change plans last minute to suit someone else's training or racing.

I don't think that my running is any special, but some people seem to think that once you've recorded certain times, or raced at a specific level, then results and times will just come "easily" without you having to put in the effort. I think that the opposite is sometimes the case, as you still have to train as hard for what you want to achieve, but you've the added pressure of other people's (and your own to some extent) expectations. It's very easy to suddenly find that you've not been properly focussed on your own goals, as you've been trying to do and be everything for everyone else.

A rather busy downhill start line
This weekend was the 65th Brampton to Carlisle road race. I like to run it if I can, not because it's the oldest continuously held road race in the UK, but because it keeps me firmly grounded, being the only race where I've actually DNF'd (albeit a few years ago, when I had to stop due to chest pain...caused by my haemoglobin having dropped to 7). I knew that it might have not been the most sensible thing to do.....run a 10mile race the week before the 100k, but I decided on Sunday morning that I would run it, just because I wanted to, and I'd run it at the pace I felt was right and ignore anyone else.

Post race with clubmate (and other mates behind us!)
I decided to be happy with a time of under 61 minutes, to get some good leg turnover but without going completely flat out, and so started steadily. I reeled in a lady per mile for the first few miles and then settled into third place. I knew I'd have to work hard if I was to try to chase down the second lady, and this was not my intent, so I relaxed into it. I confess to working a bit harder than planned as I spotted a clubmate up ahead (and he started coming back to me), and another friend was chasing me down (and out sprinted me for the finish position though we recorded the same time) but all in all it was a successful enjoyable run (and catchup with many friends).....and it was nice to do it just because I (selfishly) wanted to!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Another weekend, another discipline....

Clubmate Anne was a reserve for the V50s
I do find a 6K cross-country race rather short, as pace is too fast and furious for me, but having been asked to run in the Masters International Cross Country in Glasgow, I didn't want to let the team down. It's a very sociable event, and so gives me a chance to catch up with people that I rarely get to see....and as usual, I combined it with catching up with many other friends (in fact it became a bit of a Shettleston weekend, as I stayed with one member, had dinner/lunch with another, and ran with two others....though I'm not not forgetting my coffee with two Kilbarchan marathon buddies).

The lovely laps
The event is contested by teams (in 5 year age groups starting at 35) from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the venue rotating round the different countries. Last time that Scotland hosted the event, I think they ran in Bellahouston Park (also in Glasgow), but there were some problems with the course so this time the event was set up over 2K laps in Tollcross Park (the swimming centre providing a handy cafe, showers, toilets and parking).

Team Scotland
After our team photo, I was rather delayed in going for a warmup run with Fiona (Matheson - record breaking "running mum") as I had to clean the mud/grass out from where it had dried on after the last time I used my spikes (let that be a lesson to you - clean your spikes after using them!!!) and so we almost missed the start of our race.

With Fiona
The first race was for all the ladies and the men from the age of 65 and up, as we were doing 3 laps of the course so it was rather a congested start. I think at least 1 girl got spiked...so I worried about the Irish man I saw running barefoot!! The usual sprint/downhill start saw me in the middle of the pack, but as soon as we hit the first climb, I started to work my way up through the field.

"Flying the flag" (in my hair!)
Fiona and I had discussed how much we'd prefer a 2-lap race (the first one getting to know the course and then the last one aiming for the finish), and indeed, the middle lap did seem to be the hardest one mentally. We hadn't gone far enough for endurance to start showing, but it was long enough that an initial fast effort couldn't be maintained. I actually nearly came a cropper early in the second lap as two Irish ladies came up bahind me and a hard shove in the back had me almost falling. Steadying myself, I just tried to maintain my position for that lap, not trying to catch up with those ahead of me, as they were clearly better cross country runners than I was.

"Sprinting" for the finish
A lonely lap?
I did ask myself a few times why I was there, and what was the point in suffering all the way to the finish, but managed to quieten that voice in my head and keep moving on. In the final lap, I realsied that other peoiple were suffering as much as I moved up several places, especially in the second half of the lap. Initially I thought that I'd managed to increase my pace, but actually it was just that other people faded more than me. Whatever it was, it does help your motivation and confidence....so much so that I actually tried to catch an Irish V40 lady who was about 20m ahead of me with 150m to go. I couldn't quite do it as I fell short by a mere couple of metres, but at least I helf off a fast closing V35 from behind.

Our silver-medal winning team!!
As it turned out, I was second counter for my team and we won the silver medals (and Fiona won the V55 category outright!!) so it was actually a good day all round!!

Friday, 11 November 2016

A slight change in the conditions - overhead and underfoot....

I realise that it is "normal" to have a break and enjoy some downtime after a big race (such as a World Champs) but unfortunately I don't have that luxury as the World 100k was scheduled for a mere 4 weeks after the trails.

A few days of gentle jogging had me thinking about how to try and find my road legs and some sort of leg turnover. I knew the Derwentwater 10mile road race was on at the weekend, as I've run it on several occasions before, so decided to enter it on the day, as it's a hilly course (which has been slightly varying distances in the past) and so my time on it wouldn't mean anything to anyone except me.
The new course

I rather regretted having decided to run as Sunday rolled around - the weather couldn't have been more different to Portugal. It was about 3 degrees, with icy rain (the snow/sleet level wasn't far above the road) and a freezing wind. I stripped down to my club vest and shorts not long before the start, but was seriously cold even before the race briefing had finished, even though I tried huddling in with friends and clubmates.

It had been noted that the race was slightly short in 2015 (measuring under 9.8 miles on our watches) and also that the start was very congested (we had started at the Moot Hall in the centre of Keswick and ran down narrow streets congested with shoppers). Taking both of these things into consideration, the route was changed slightly for 2016. There was a new start just at the edge of town, and an extra little loop was added between 6 and 7 miles, in order to keep the finish in the same place.

I managed to slip rather a long way back in the field as we were walked to the start so I started the race dodging round people up and down off the pavement but soon settled into the run. The first four miles are out along the Borrowdale road, which can be a little hairy at times as the road isn't closed, but luckily most people were indoors enjoying a warm Sunday lunch.

The second half of the run is known to be rather hilly, but it's easy to forget just how many up and downs there are along that road, and so it always takes me by surprise......this year being no exception. However, by the time we turned off round the bottom of the lake (through Grange), I still couldn't feel my fingers and wished I'd worn gloves! The next couple of miles involved climbing up the side of Cat Bells (so I could definitely feel my glutes) so my fingers actually came back to life (owwwww!!!!).

The "new loop" actually adding in some more climbing (on a road with potholes) where we would have originally started to descend, then a steep downhill with a sharp switchback through a farm (never the easiest but wet leaves underfoot added to the fun!!) and a further run down until we were turned abruptly by marshal onto what I recognised to be part of the last section of the Bob Graham Round.

Coming into the finish
Somehow the race managed to coincide with sheep dog trials in the 9th mile, so although I was tempted to look over to see what was happeneing when I heard whistgling in the neighbouring fields, I had to keep my eyes looking ahead as the trials meant that there were extra cars coming towards me on the single lane road.

I definitely remember thinking the run in was a long one last year, and this year seemed just as bad (well, actually longer as the race now actually measured as 10.1 miles). You think you're in Portinscale, but then the road keeps twisting and turning before you actually enter the village (then you must run through it out and out the other side to find the finish line). It was easier to be more sociable at the finish last year as it was lovely and sunny, but this year the conditions meant that after a short break for a drink and to wait for my next clubmate, I then ran back to Keswick to get to the showers before I lost all feeling in my fingers and toes again!!
Although my finish time was slower than last year, the change in course meant that my average pace was only 2s/mile different so I was really happy to have done the race (to start my roadleg rediscovery) and I did actually enjoy having braved the cold and run (despite my ongoing minor irk of their being unequal prizes for men and women)!! Now, I just need to remember not to overdo it (though there's little danger of that as I am innately a sofa-lover!!)

Thursday, 3 November 2016

A long read....for a long day out!!!

Team GB
Having had a somewhat interrupted build-up to the Trail World Champs due to injury, I headed over to Portugal with no personal race goals, but with the aim of doing whatever I could for the team...if I could run, I would run until I knew we had 3 female finishers for a team result, and if I couldn't run, then I would be there on the day to do everything I could to support and help the others, as we had a great team of Jo Meek, Beth Pascall, Sally Fawcett, Sophie Woods (and myself).

Team GB at the opening ceremony
Having been a "stalwart" (is that a polite way of saying "team granny"?) of GB ultrarunning teams for several years, I was asked to carry the flag at the opening ceremony. I have never wanted to do this before, as it often involves a lot of walking and standing around the day before the race, but on this occasion there were chairs provided, and so I was honoured to be able to lead the team up the red carpet.

Two of my actual big worries were the start and the finish of the race (oh yes...and possible the middle!!). I'm clumsy enough as it is, and have tripped on flat surfaces in the daytime, so the darkness would be taking it to a whole new level. The race start time was 5am, with sunrise scheduled for 8:05am and sunset 6:30pm, so there was a whole lot of potential for carnage.

I had a small headtorch with me, but thankfully the boyfriend of my teammate Beth lent me his big, bright (and yes heavier) one to use for the start of the race, though I carried mine with me the whole way as regulation kit and in case I was still out after sunset. My room mate (and member of the team management) Helen, lent me her watch so that I could judge the time I'd taken and distance I still had to go to try and finish before the sun went down. I'd hoped to finish within 14 hours, but my watch battery usually dies after about 8 hours, so it would be nom help when I needed it most.

Beth and I repacking after the startline kitcheck
With these worries dealt with as much as possible, I boarded the minibus with the rest of the team to head to the start at 3:30am. Although it was already over 21 degrees when we left Braga, it felt a bit cooler by the lake at the start, though this could have just been due to nerves. To get into the start area, we had a random kit check of survival blanket and mobile phone, but soon enough there was a countdown and we were off.

Ready for the off?
Even in the dead of night, and with so far to run, people still shot off like bullets. I found myself, as usual, almost at the back, but as we had about a mile of road running to start the race, I could ease myself into it. For some people, the pushing and shoving took their toll, as they didn't notice the speed bumps just where we turned off the main road,  so there were already fallers before we'd hit the trails. The road climbed very steeply upwards and, with the rest of the day in mind, I decided to alternate between a run and a power hike early on, but this still saw me moving up the field (and passing Sophie, one of my teammates....though I was sure she was just easing into the race too).

The next couple of miles also climbed constantly, but by now we were off road. I seemed to be keeping pace with a couple of Spanish ladies (whose names I recognised from high placings at events such as UTMB) so I was quite content to ensure I didn't go faster than they were going. This meant we seemed to pass people almost continuously as we climbed. Again, it was a bit of a surprise to me to find myself overtaking Sally on this stretch, but I knew that she'd shoot past me as soon as the route headed downhill and the pace picked up (well, everyone's except mine!).

There was not much chat going on, and the lights from the headtorches certainly picked up reflections of glistening shorts, which showed how hard people were working in the heat, so I just concentrated on trying to guess nationalities before I could read people's names/numbers. Nearing the top of this rough forestry road, I realised I'd almost caught Beth but, as predicted, she shot away from me once we turned onto the rough singletrack, and watching her lead the Spanish ladies downhill was the last I saw of her before the finish!

Climbing in the dark
 I took it steady but did try to keep running on the descents.....with only one rather dodgy moment, but a lovely Ukrainian man (with amazingly long dreadlocks) did check I was OK. My shoes had a better grip than I'd expected, but I just didn't trust my knees and legs as there were some big rock jumps, and also some very steep loose slopes that others seemed to do a "controlled fall" down while I went for more of the the side step/slide/jump approach.

Finding a flatter patch at the valley bottom, I got into a nice chat with a couple of Antipodean ladies (1 running for Oz and the other for NZ) who had less fear on the downhills than me so caught and passed me (as did several others, though surprisingly not Sally and Sophie).

I left these ladies after the next river crossing (so nearly an accidental swim) as there was another steep climb up into the first checkpoint in the village of Fafiao. I refilled my water bottle at the aid station, but apart from that ran through it, waving as I spotted Beth's parents (they did cheer me on with "Go on GB" then "Well Done Sophie" but to be fair to them, it was still dark).

I remembered that although we climbed up further out of Fafiao, we then had to descend right down to the valley floor again to cross the river. I was rather keen for a toilet break (despite having eaten substantially less fruit and veg than usual the previous day) so nipped off down a side trail in the dark. I did not want anyone to spot me, or try to get me back on the main trial thinking I'd gone off course, so I dimmed my headlamp. When I rejoined the race, I completely forgotten that I'd done this, so I couldn't work out why I had such a lot less light, and spent ages worrying about the battery life, before I finally realised and switched back to full beam. I've never used such a fancy headlamp before - to save power, it automatically dims when there are lights around, eg if you're running with others who also have headlamps, but this meant that the light would dim everytime I got to a course marker, as they reflected my light back at me.

Trying to run the descents!!!
Having climbed back up out of the valley, it was now starting to get light so I could see those running near me. We were in and out of trees and the terrain underfoot varied from rough forestry roads to rocky scrambles to no path again all, so I kept my headtorch safely on. I would pass the same girls on anything really runnable, but they would overtake me back again when you had to pick your foot placement (or just brave it). As I still could still see no GB girls, I presumed I was the "back marker" as Jo and Beth would be well up the field, and the other two had probably passed me on either the rougher sections in the dark, or when I was off for my comfort break.

I could see and hear the next aid station a long time before I got to it, but this one was a manned team one. As it was in a small town and was now daytime, there was good support and cheering as you ran in. I picked up a new bottle of electrolytes and my food bags from Walter and Adrian and checked in with how the ladies were doing and if I was a long way back. They said that they were "going really well" but that I "wasn't doing so bad myself" and so to keep it up.

The next few kms were probably the steepest climb of the race. At the bottom I picked up Corinne (an American runner who tripped right in front of me) and so we chatted as we power-hiked (well, maybe we just walked)  to the top. Talking away about various things kept us going so we reeled in several guys on this section and helped Corinne reset (I'd caught up to her when she was going through a bit of a bad patch). As per usual, once we crested the hill and you had to pick your way down the descent, she disappeared off into the distance. I stopped at a stream and refilled my bottle as I'd found the climb rather thirsty work, but as we were descending to a reservoir before starting the climb of the highest mountain, I felt comfortable that I'd be able to get another top up so carried on drinking as normal.

The long hot climb...
Not the smallest of dams!
Surprisingly, there were no water fountains in the village at the bottom of the descent, nor streams on the trail over to the reservoir. At the reservoir itself, the dam we ran across was incredibly high (Sophie's husband and mother-in-law were there cheering us on, but it's forbidden to ask for water or anything from anyone outside of the race) and so I started up the big climb with only a tiny amount of water left in my bottle.

Nearing the top (well a false summit at least!)
Although the views over the reservoir and surrounding hills were absolutely fantastic, I have to say that I did not exactly enjoy this part of the "race". I'm not accustomed to running with a headtorch on, so I'd already developed a slight headache early on, but having no water and trying to climb a mountain (at some kind of decent pace) in temperatures of about 27 degrees in full sun, without having anything to drink, didn't help it at all. I couldn't eat the rest of my food as it just made me more thirsty. I slowed my pace to try to avoid dehydration but it was frustrating to be walking sections that I knew I could run.

Still, the views were fantastic....
Some competitors had obviously managed their water better and were able to move at a decent pace, but many others appeared to be in a similar situation to me - one was asking everyone who passed if she could have some of their water. I would have gladly obliged but it had been the best part of an hour since I'd had any myself. Another Ukrainian man was going a similar pace to me, having also just drunk his last drops. We had hoped there would be streams on the hillside but it turned out that this was a vain hope. Near the final plateau, we did come across a couple of muddy puddles......it must have caused people to wonder what on earth the world was coming to.....grown adults lying down and lapping at muddy puddles! Not exactly an everyday occurrence.

That water was o so welcome!
Still, at least this meant that I made it to the summit where there was a very welcome water station. A marshal had asked me how I was earlier on the climb, and when I'd said I was dehydrated due to there being no water on the course, he suggested I just sit down and take a break for 20minutes. I could not see how sitting in the sun there for 20 minutes would be even slightly beneficial, as clearly it would be 20minutes longer without water. I nearly choked with the speed I tried to drink when I got to the summit.....a bottlefull down my throat, another over my head, and then a full bottle as I started the descent (which meant I could now finish off my food). It did seem slightly crazy that it has been 15 k and 2 huge climbs since the last aid station, and it was now an 8k descent to the next one.

Not the easiest way into Lindoso
The descent followed the usual pattern for me....making up places with good running, and being passed on more technical bits, but I was glad to get down to the village of Lindoso and our GB support crew (Helen and Beth's boyfriend Matt were our official crew here). It turned out that Jo and Beth were having a good battle/race and had come into the feed station together, but what shocked me more was hearing that I was 3rd British lady and so a team counter. I was told that we were currently 4th team and just behind the Italians so I needed to keep pushing on and "catch an Italian". I wondered how it could be so definite when team results are calculated on cumulative finish times, but decided to just try and do as I was told!

An interesting place for an aid station at Lindoso
the "riverside" path
Unfortunately, I couldn't do much about it in the next section as I barely saw a soul. I probably skidded down what appeared to be a vertical dirt slope much slower than the Italians in front, but it couldn't be helped.....I valued my life and limbs! I thought that I'd spotted a target to reel in on the next climb, but all too soon it topped out and we were rock hopping down again, and then winding our way up and down paths through villages and rough land along the valley. I managed to refill my drink bottle as a steam I crossed, but drank myself dry again before the next checkpoint (Soajo). One section was along a riverbank and then across the river, but unfortunately we are quite a way above the water and it didn't seem worth wasting the time trying to get down to it to refill when I though I was almost at Soajo.

A DIY shower at Soajo
The route planners were definitely having fun at our expense as instead of approaching Soajo directly, we were directed away from it and up another climb. Thirsty work, but I did finally catch and pass 2 men here. A really steep village path took me into a most welcome checkpoint and I gulped down water while also trying to empty a bottlefull of it over my head. There was a Irish team support crew here and so we exchanged some "polite" phrases about the difference in temperature between Portugal, Ireland and Scotland.

the top of the final big climb
After leaving Soajo, there was another big mountain climb. I spotted Corinne further ahead of me and debated trying to catch her up so that we could climb together again. Then she seemed to get another wind and started running away from me, so I decided to just concentrate on my own level of effort. When I'd reccied this bit of the course with Sally and Sophie, I'd managed to get to the top while feeling rubbish and unfit and practically crying from nausea, tiredness and a stuffed knee, so I reckoned that it couldn't be as bad as that on race day!

As I climbed up and up, I was happy to be making up places in the overall field (though I was stunned when a man actually ran past me looking fresh as a daisy......but then I realised that he was actually in the 55k relay race, not the World Champs) but then I suddenly spied a distinctive Italian vest on a female figure. I made an effort to appear strong as I powered on past here (and yet again, drank the last of my water)! Luckily a man at the summit pointed out a tap for a water refill less than 1k away and also told me that it was only about 3k to the feed station (the last one with national support crews).

Having lost a couple of places over a couple of miles of rough rocky descent (including being overtaken by a lady I'd never seen before, who I thought was also running for Italy), I was then informed by another marshal that it was only a few kms to the aid station......hmmm, I'm not sure the maths or the distances translated well from Portuguese to English. Anyway, I made it safely down off the rough ground and into the village of Mezio where the teams were waiting for us. 

Being "instructed" at the last aid station!
At the final feed station, I spotted Donnie with the support crew having clearly had to pull out, but didn't have a chance to chat to him to ask if he was ok as Walter and Adrian told me that we were "holding team Bronze" and that they were counting on me ("Britain is counting on you - this is what you do best") to maintain it to the finish. They assured me that I just had to push for the final 10k and make sure to keep away from both the Swiss and the Czechs as they were the teams chasing us down.

I was busy apologising for letting the last Italian lady passing me when I'd managed to overtake the other one, but it turns out that she wasn't in the same event, as we'd moved up into the Bronze medal team position, though I wasn't quite sure whether to believe this info.

Running through little villages...
A quick restock of drink and food and I was off for the final "it's only 10K", though there was another odd compulsory kitcheck when leaving the aidstation. It's rather hard to show someone your headtorch and waterproof jacket when you've both hands full of food.....but I'm sure I wasn't the only one who spent time putting their food down, taking their pack off to demonstrate the aforementioned kit and then having to repack it and continue eating on the hoof.

I had no idea how far behind me the Czechs and the Swiss were - it sounded like they were very close, and so I was running scared. I tried to force myself to run as much as possible, but welcomed upslopes as a chance to change my stride to a "fast walk". I was passed by 2 runners in the whole section - luckily not ladies, but actually men running in the relay race, so I didn't feel too despondent about that.

Finally coming into the finish....
It was rather a long 10K....infact about 15K, and so the last few Kms were rather tough. I'd tried to pace myself and my drink for just over 10K, but still seemed to be nowhere near the finish. The last few km involved some gratuitous steep climbs with steeper descents, and so I worried that the chasing girls were good descenders and I'd lose it right at the finish. The fact that I closed down and overtook a lady ahead of me reassured me that I wasn't fading too badly, though I was very relieved to see Arcos de Valdevez finally appear in the valley below.

Obviously we didn't take the direct route into town - another climb was involved and then a very steep final kilometre downhill on road and cobbles. I finally rounded a corner, crossed a bridge and saw the finish gantry....and strangely felt like I could have run further or faster (maybe I was delirious!!).

With Jo and Beth at the finish
Never mind.....Jo, Beth and the Team GB support team were there to welcome me home with a big hug. Jo and Beth had run brilliantly, finishing 7th and 8th overall (and were already in their tracksuits recovering having finished over an hour earlier)....but I'd managed to come through as team "banker" in a time of 11 hours and 45 minutes, giving us the Team Bronze on combined times over an hour ahead of the 4th and 5th placed teams (who were separated by mere seconds)!!

Our Bronze-medal winning team!
Soooo much better than I'd hoped....and so worth it.....my 5th World Champs and I've never come home without a medal!! Well - I actually did come home empty handed, as I had to leave at 4am the next day to catch my flight, but the ladies team stood proudly on the podium at the Awards Ceremony at 10am - and I can't wait to catch up with them soon (and get that lovely medal!!)