Monday, 26 June 2017

Muckletoon Adventure Festival

"Local Legend" - not!!!
Give a girl a mic....arrrrgh!!!

It was meant to be a nice relaxing weekend when "all" I had to do was give a talk at the Muckletoon Adventure Festival in Langholm, but somehow it grew arms and legs. I was nervous enough about the talk - it's bad enough thinking that my running results are all some kind of fluke and that I've got to where I am under false pretences, but I can't get my head around thinking that anyone would want to listen to anything I have to say........ Having been billed as a "Local Legend", I could just imagine myself talking to an empty tent, but as it happened the weekend was so full-on that I hardly had time to think about it, never mind stress excessively!

My friend Richard was down from Edinburgh to visit for the weekend and we headed over to Langholm nice and early, getting there in time for the "Pre-Run Yoga Workshop". I guess that the aim is to make this suitable for everyone, but it did seem rather basic, with lots of hand and feet twirling and only one warrior pose.

Next up were the trail runs, with both 10K and Half Marathon options. Richard had entered the 10k and, as many of my Dumfries Running Club-mates started to arrive (the 10K was one of our Grand Prix races), I decided to enter and run it, not really knowing how my legs would cope after the World Trail Champs the previous weekend. I could see my speedier clubmates right at the front as we awaited the 1pm start (always a good time to run...not....but especially so on such a hot day) but I made sure I was a decent way back (behind two girls wearing thick "cat suits" and a boy wearing a dress!!!), and as there was a 15minute delay, it meant I had time for a good catchup with some other friends.

DRC pre-race
Suddenly we were off, though it initially seemed like we were running in the wrong direction. As it turns out, every event at the festival started the same way...heading towards a hillside but a sharp 90 degree bend them had you going round, across a wooden bridge out towards the main road. Some people had read the race description (technical trail) and so had trail shoes on (I confess I did, but only because I had not had any other shoes in the car), but those wearing road shoes seemed to have had prior knowledge of the course as we ran a kilometre along the road into town.

A sharp left hand turn (well supported by locals cheering) had us running between pipers....well, I say running, but it was up a rather steep road. I was filled with dread as I saw some guys in front of me heading further up a steep grassy hillside, but luckily this was the first "split point" of the routes and there was a very welcome "10k turn right" sign. As most of the men had continued on the half marathon route (more fool them up that hill in that heat), I could now see my clubmates Nicola and Lisa ahead of me. Nicola was leading the way and Lisa was tracking her step for step in her "slipstream".

We headed back down to the road out of town, then up on some very runnable wide trail, before a small section of single track descent through some woods to the main road again. The road was not closed to traffic and I clearly mistimed my appearance on the road, as I had to wait for a few cars to cross the narrow bridge before running the other way over it myself.
A short grassy climb :-)

The next section was a long sunny gravelly road, and I considered stopping on several occasions. I asked myself what I was trying to achieve by "racing" so soon, but I gave myself a good talking to and carried on as I realised that I had nothing to prove to anyone and it didn't matter how slowly I ran, as long as I wasn't injured and kept going so as to win the mental battle with myself. I passed Niall (another clubmate who often goes off rather fast and then fades a bit) and watched the ladies' battle up ahead. Nicola had pulled away from Lisa but then Lisa reeled her back in and overtook her.

I didn't stop at the water station but carried on straight up the next hill. Lisa was closing down on the leading lady (Rhiannon) and I was moving up behind Nicola. My legs were definitely tired so I opted to "powerwalk" that hill, which was definitely the right choice for me as I passed a couple of men and was still the same distance behind Nicola at the summit. The descent was another matter, as my quads felt like jelly and I really worried that they wouldn't hold me and I'd come crashing down wither on the ravel road, or the following grassy slope.

The panther presided over prizegiving
Somehow I survived and made it to the next road section. It was easy to see the road winding up the hill ahead, and Nicola and I seemed to echo the battle between Lisa and Rhiannon (Lisa and I being stronger on ascents with Nicola and Rhiannon favouring descents). A short muddy section of single track down to the creek saw me slipping and sliding a bit, but luckily I in a wooded area and so out of sight of everyone. Nicola was finding the heat and the distance (the race was actually over 10k) rather tough so I moved away from her and found myself chasing Rhiannon down (with Lisa out of sight ahead). Unfortunately the finish came just too soon for me (to be fair, it felt like it didn't come soon enough) as I finished just a couple of seconds back in 3rd place, but it was impressive work by the DRC girls (3rd, 5th and 6th overall)!!!

No way was I standing on that stage
to talk - the microphone was bad enough!

It really was a "tent talk"
Time for a quick shower, some food and then I braced myself to give my talk. There were more people than I expected, but unfortunately for me, the sun was shining brightly through the white tent walls and directly onto the screen. A lot of my talk was about where trail running could take you, and I'd prepared pictures of some of the amazing places I've visited.....but I doubt that anyone could see much of it. Still, people were polite enough not to complain and did ask a few questions afterward.

Richard soaking up the Scottish
trail lifestyle!
The monument was worth the climb
After a nice "fruit based beverage" in the sun Richard decided we should do a hill climb up to the monument....and did my poor tired legs not half feel it!! Still, despite the haze we got a lovely view out over the surrounding countryside before descending back down to the pub for dinner.

I was up bright and early the next morning for the cycle sportive. There were three options covering 30, 60 or 100 miles, but as it was my first one and I was just aiming to use it as "active recovery", I opted for the shortest route.

Swamped by guys early on
Everyone started off together (the same loop over the wooden bridge and out onto the road, as for the trail runs) and then we "processed" for a mile through town and out the other side. I know that a sportive is not a "race" but it seemed odd to have this slow mile included in the event times.

Once we were out the other side of Langholm the field spread out straight away as people started pedaling in earnest. I found myself initially cycling alone, but then started to move to and fro with certain groups of riders. They might pass me on the fast, twisty descents, but as soon as a climb continued for more that a hundred metres, I would start catching them again - I guess that I may have limited confidence in my bike skills, but I do have (hopefully) significant base fitness.
The early morning mist avoided sunburn dramas
The 30Mile route
I was so engrossed in chatting to a group of guys I'd known years ago in Carlisle, that I nearly missed my turnoff and almost carried on along the 60 mile route. I was enjoying the ride so much that I did wish I'd signed up for the 60mile option, but that was probably just a beginner's optimism! I hardly saw a soul for the rest of the ride, but just enjoyed pedalling along the beautiful undulating country roads. I did spy a man (I think he was actually on a mountain bike) not far ahead of me as I descended back through Langholm and out the other side up towards base camp, but then I was delayed into the finish as I had to wait for a few cars to cross the wooden bridge exiting the rugby club before I could cross and enter. Having now seen the results, it turns out that I finished 4th overall, which explains why I didn't see many people out on the route! I loved it, and am now tempted to try a longer one!

Chasing everyone down as we
turned off the main road

Having just got off my bike, changed shoes and eaten some food, it seemed silly (!) not to take part in the 5k trail run with Richard (at least they said it would be a lot less hilly than the 10K). By this time we were used to delayed starts and so hung around nearer the back the pen, letting several of the keener adult and most of the youngsters have a clear start ahead of us. We started along the same way as all the other events I done so far - a loop around, across the wooden bridge and then down the road towards Langholm. This time we turned off before town and headed along the pheasant pens, into some woods, and then back along a riverside path to join the end of the 10K route.

Such a beautiful day to run!
I seemed to start with jelly legs after cycling but gradually warmed up and got my flow back. The lead runners seemed a very long way ahead of me, even after a couple of K, but I gradually reeled them in, finally moving into the lead with about 800m to go. I couldn't believe the time that the clock was showing when I finished, but it was only an "approximate" distance and so a bit short. Still, I'd had my fair share of exercise for the weekend....add to that a couple of hours working for the Out Of Hours service when I got home and then painting a room...and I needed to go back to work on Monday for a rest!!!

(with thanks to James Kirby for the MTAF photos)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

There's no "I" in Team, but there is a "me"!!

If I'm honest, I hadn't been feeling at my best in the run up to this year's World Trail Championships, with a lot of work-related stress overflowing into my day to day life which impacted on my sleep, my mood and my running.
Team GB
The 2017 race was shorter than last year's - covering 49km with an elevation gain and loss of about 3100m.

It is always an honour to be asked to represent Team GB and I was still determined to be a team player to the best of my ability. In the run-up to the event, this meant getting involved in trying to help sort out flights and kit in good time for everyone, finding out information on compulsory kit and our accommodation, and keeping everyone connected and informed (no wonder I get asked if I want to help out on the management side in the future).

The monastery courtyard

Waiting for the bus "home"!
By the time we all got out to the monastery where we were staying (about 10km away from the race start/finish in Bada Prataglia, Italy), I'd put all thoughts of work away from me and concentrated on a good weekend with teammates old and new. It was certainly a beautiful place to be, and while on some gentle runs, several of us commented on how nice it would be to stay there a week and just explore the trails a bit more.

Team GB at the Opening Ceremony
Chilling at the ceremony
The opening ceremony was held on the Friday evening at Poppi castle (15k away from Bada in a different direction) - these events can seem long and tiring, but it's a chance to proudly fly the flag for GB and an excuse to catch up with friends from various other countries around the world in a more relaxed setting than while actually racing!

GB ladies set to rock the trails!
Team briefing
Despite them having checked out compulsory kit the night before, team management insisted on another check (right down to pulling our tracksuit bottoms down to show we had the correct shorts on!!!) before we boarded the 6:30am bus that took us to the start. Although the street was quite narrow and crowded by the start gantry, a cheeky recce the day before meant that we knew that the first mile and a half was a rather steep climb up into the hills, so my team mate Sally and I hung back from the initial crush and spent the first part of the race gradually passing people who'd already built up too much lactic acid in their eagerness to get going.

Leaving the first water station
Beautiful trails
The first 9K took us through beautiful shady woodland to a drinks station just above our monasterial accommodation. We dropped down a slope, popped out onto the road, were given a nice cheer and then were straight back into the woods climbing up again (I might have avoided taking on any water here, but I did manage to trip on a root right in front of a photographer though I hope that evidence remains hidden!!).

Spot the deer...
Sally, myself and another teammate Katie traded places through the next section with Sally and I preferring the climbs, while Katie ran the descents with glee. A long steep, hard, rutted, semi-cobbled downhill section saw Katie disappear off into the distance while Sally and I managed to keep in touch with each other so that we could chat, spot deer and generally enjoy the run, knowing we had 4 good teammates ahead of us.

Our "original" race route had seen us running alongside a reservoir (that looked so tempting in the hot Italian sun), but a revised course saw an extra 300+m hill to climb before the official feed station at 23K. Sally and I used this to reel in a couple of American ladies and a couple of Spanish ladies (we knew that both of these countries would be vying with us for team medals) and even managed a linked "hands aloft" picture for another photographer (again - sorry but we've not found evidence of that picture yet either!) before crossing the dam into the feed station.

Sally's partner Simon had joined the GB support team and could support her, while official management handed me my electrolyte drink and food packet (though unfortunately I did have to ask for my bottle of water and then ask for the lid to be removed so I could gulp it down).

The steps down the side can just be seen
We descended to the bottom of the dam via many, many steps (I definitely prefer losing height this way rather than via a rough technical trail) on which is was impossible to pass anyone, but then we had a kilometre of open road to get running again. This was before one of the main climbs of the day...up and down to the 35K water station. I'm not sure as to the accuracy of the distance descriptions as it seemed a very long way between these points (especially as my soft flask lid had jammed so that I couldn't unscrew it to refill it). 

Some of the trails
I had some good company along this section as I'd caught up to Corinne (a friend running for the US team - she and I had become friends on a long climb in Portugal the year before) but then she had to drop back as her quads started to cramp. I was surprised to hear someone calling my name as I meandered down the dry single track, but spotted Nikolina (from Croatia) sitting down with a marshal as she had decided to withdraw after she had banged her knees pretty badly taking a couple of tumbles. I offered her help, but she said that the marshal was sorting her out with getting down to a road and a lift back.

An impressive run profile
I didn't know what was going on at the front of the field (but had confidence in my teammates) but by the 35K waterstation, I was ahead of the 3rd US lady so I figured we weren't doing too badly. Just after this I came across Matt (our 4th GB man - unfortunately though we were 6 ladies, we only had a team of 4 men) who was having a really bad time of it. Sally had just moved ahead of me so I was confident that my time wouldn't be counted towards our team total (the times of the first three over the line count for the team event) so I took the snap decision to end my "race" and stay with Matt. I might have had a few GB vests but it was his first and I really wanted to do everything in my power to get him across the finish line (even if it meant I dropped my trail rankings and didn't get selected again...sometimes you have to put your teammates ahead of your own results).

the "safety rope"...
The next 7K was a tough, exposed, hot, sunny, uphill stretch (with rope for safety at one point) - but we walked, jogged, chatted and climbed up together - with me alternating between encouraging, cajoling, distracting, gossiping, abusing him etc. He kept saying that he wanted to stop at the next feed station when we met our last GB support crew, but I tried to get him to avoid any hasty decisions and take it each section at a time.

Good pre-race nutrition helps
We spent about 15minutes at that aid station. I chatted to a few people I knew  - IAU officials, other nationality support crew (eg the Irish) and runners who'd had to drop out - eg Nikolina had come to their to help support her teammates, and one of my teammates Julie who'd called it a day there (she could sympathise with how Matt was feeling as I think the distance, heat and terrain had taken them both slightly by surprise as it was their first European race of this nature). People kept trying to tell me to "get running" but I replied that I wasn't going on without Matt. He had some food and drink, a cheeky leg rub and although he felt really nauseated he couldn't be sick. I told him that I wasn't recording a slow time without him, so he'd have to get to the finish. Suddenly he was up and running away from the aid station, almost taking me unawares...

Into town
Happily picking up the flag
Matt definitely had the bit between his teeth as we ran the last few kms of "undulating" uphill - especially as we overtook and American couple that had also been struggling over the day and had gone past while we had been at the aid station.

 Unfortunately the last 4-5kms were a continuous descent that got steeper and steeper. It is incredibly unusual for me to be able to descend faster than anyone, let alone a man, never mind a fell runner but poor Matt's quads were shot, so I made sure to keep looking back and waiting on him, ignoring a couple of runners who passed by and tried to urge me on to the finish.

Into the Finish
The final rise to catch people out :-)
We progressed from forest trail, to rocky forest road and then finally to the last few hairpins on tarmac (which we'd started up all those hours ago). Sally and Simon handed us a Union Jack as we descended through the houses to the final corner and we held it aloft between us as we finally crossed that line.
Post-race feasting!

It was not exactly how I'd seen the race panning out when I started, but I was more than happy with my decisons on the day, and so pleased for Matt that he'd ground it out to finish what was a very tough day for him!

Go Team GB!!

Monday, 5 June 2017

SURA Europe

SURA Europe
Having several friends (and GB teammates) who are part of the international Salomon running team, I was honoured and delighted to be invited to take part in the first Salomon Ultrarunning Academy. They have been running camps for young up and coming runners for a few years but, in response to an obvious demand, decided to run 3 camps this year aimed at slightly older runners. There was an American camp in April (for runners based in the Americas, Australia and NZ), one in China in May (for Asian runners) and then 16 of us were invited to the final European one, held in Annecy in late May.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but hoped to get more of a glimpse into "the other side" of my friends' lives, meet new likeminded people, pick up some tips from the pros...and just hang out in a beautiful place!

And what a beautiful place it was....
Unfortunately for me, I wasn't in the best shape (with physically or mentally) when I got there, having been under the usual work stressors, combined with not being well and having had minimal sleep (I worked it out as less than 20 hours in 5 days) due to helping out as a medic on a multiday race in Wales, but I'd forgotten how stunning Annecy is.....and was, as ever, awed by the beauty of the lake surrounded by mountains. We were desperate to get out and explore so my room mate Katie and I went for a short jog to loosen up before dinner......and were hit by the heat (about 28 degrees at 5pm).

Arrival dinner

People arrived at various times over the afternoon so we all congregated at dinner and then had an evening of introductions. It was interesting to meet the other camp participants, as we really were a varied bunch (Brits and Dutch outnumbering other nationalities), though I never know exactly what to say when I'm told to describe myself and my running background. We got the week's programme, a few pieces of kit that hadn't arrived beforehand, and met several of Team Salomon who'd be helping out over the next few days.....

The next 3 days passed in rather a blur of activity....

Morning yoga

We started at 7am with half an hour of yoga on the grass, led by Ida Neilsson. Some of the balancing positions were rather "interesting", especially for someone as stiff and inflexible as me, but my top tip for the relaxation part is to make sure you're nowhere near an ant's nest (and to be somewhere you can hide from the cameraman's drone)!
Breakfast with a view

I do love a good French breakfast - and the dining room balcony had an amazing view of the lake, but there was little time to linger and chat as we had to go and get ready for the morning run/workshops.

The Brits on tour

On Wednesday the run was about 15k in total, though it was stop/start to keep the group together and take pictures (and, as we climbed about 1000m in total, there was walking involved). Partway through the run, we stopped in an alpine meadow and plait into 3 groups for the "uphill workshops". Max King, Ida and Greg Vollet each took a group in turn to teach us about uphill running, power hiking and how to use poles (as you can guess, the Brits weren't exactly naturals when it came to pole-use!). We were all looking forward to a quick dip in the lake when we got back down to the valley floor, but unfortunately we had to skip that as we were already late for lunch.

We split into various groups for the afternon - some seeing the physio (Kristin Berglund - currently injured with a stress fracture), and the others at different workshops to meet clothing technicians, shoe designers or to learn about social media. Then came dinner, a marketing talk from Greg, a discussion of the next day's activities and finally to bed, ready to up bright and early for yoga with Ida again.

Katie at the downhill workshop
On Thursday morning we had a "downhill workshop" with Greg partway through the run, but unfortunately I wasn't feeling too good and so did not take part (and also had to have a lie down in place of that afternoon's workshops). I managed to go into Annecy a bit later with Max and Mira Rai so that we could attend the public lecture about Salomon's antidoping policy (luckily this was all translated through headphones so I did not have to concentrate on the French too hard).

There's always time for a group photo
After a "cocktail dinner" (some lovely canapes and wine) we settled in for an evening of Salomon videos/films along with a sold-out crowd. Each film was introduced by the athlete that it featured (so I was kept busy translating the French introductions and descriptions to my fellow Brits). My favourite one was of Dakota Jones' trip to Patagonia, as it's somewhere that I've always wanted to go to...and want to do so even more now! What was even better was when he said that he was interested in seeing the "Savages" of Patagonia rather than the "wilds" but fair play to him for doing his own intro in French!!

Follow-My-Leader on Friday's run
Unfortunately it meant that it was nearly midnight by the time we got back to the hotel, so there were some tired faces at Friday morning yoga! We just had an easy run on top of one of the mountains that morning as the aim of the day was to let people prepare for the 110 or 83k races the next day. Unfortunately I was still feeling rather rubbish so decided that it would be foolish to try to race that kind of distance and so pulled out, missing out on the boat trip across the lake to the elite presentation and bib pickup. My room mate Katie was going to run the 83k so although I wanted to curl up and go to sleep, I tried to give her the space and time to prepare.

I hardly got any sleep that night as I could hear runners (and cameramen etc) getting ready to leave for the 110k race at midnight, and then those taking part in the 83k event started to get up from about 2:30am. Not much after they'd got the bus to their start (leaving at 4am) than I started to hear from people who'd had to pull out of the longer distance, be it due to exhaustion, lack of sleep or injury.

Admiring the views en route
It appeared impossible for me to get out on the course to support so I headed down to the start/finish area with Kirstin and Ida. Kirstin and I went for a quick swim in the lake (refreshingly cold) before attending one of Ida's yoga classes (rather hot in the sun.....which meant that all 3 of us felt we'd earnt another dip by the time we finished). We cheered the winning men in from the 110k (both pro Salomon runners) and then I was asked to get back to the hotel as soon as possible to help out with transport.

I had no means of getting there except under my own steam, so I changed from flipflops to running shoes, left my bag with Kirstin and headed off for a warm 10k back. I admit to stopping a few times in the shade and grabbing a few drinks, but I covered the distance relatively quickly. Too quickly as it turned out, as I wasn't yet needed to drive the minibus around, so I got a bit of chilling, eating and drinking time first.

Celebrating the trails
We gradually picked up people from both races....those who'd had to pull out, and those who'd run well (including Katie who came back with a huge panda and prize for finishing 3rd)....and everyone gradually congregated by the bar for some liquid refreshment. Our special last night dinner was held up in the mountains in a kind of yurt. People were rather tired after such long runs and little sleep, but everyone made the effort to celebrate the end of the week together (with me even piggybacking one of the girls who'd twisted her ankle mid race).

Running with fellow Scot Georgia -
a great pic to remember a great week!
Another late night but it was worth it for the chance to hang out, chat and eventually say goodbye to the lovely people I'd met over the past few days (my airport transfer was early....pre breakfast...the next morning). I was upset to have not been able to take part in all the week's activities but what an amazing few days.....with such a variety of interesting and talented one of the most beautiful experience I'll never forget!