Category Archives: Race

A Royal Run at the London Marathon

You never know who you might see at a big city marathon!

Just less than a week ago I ran the London Marathon and had an amazing day soaking up the brilliant carnival atmosphere. I hadn’t done any proper marathon training for it (ie no long runs!), but there was enough endurance in my old legs to see me around the 26 and a bit miles without suffering too, too much  – the last hour, though, as always, was hard! But I loved every minute of it and was awe-struck by the mind-boggling number of runners taking part. I was even more awe-struck by the mind-boggling number of spectators; crowds and crowds of cheering people lined every inch of those London streets. And the roar of support was never ending. It pushed you on and on.

Yes, the atmosphere was incredible, and my plan was to run/walk, soak it all up and take some photos along the way.

And talking of photos … well, I got one with The Royals! At around the 10 km mark, just before the Cutty Sark, I saw in front of me a crew of people from the Heads Together charity, recognisable by the blue colour of their banners and the blue headbands some were wearing – the same headbands that were given out to all us runners this year in our Expo goody bags.

Heads Together is a mental health charity and was the London marathon’s Charity of the Year for this year. Representing the charity were no other than The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. And guess what! There they were, up ahead of me, William, Kate and Harry, in the middle of the Heads Together crew, cheering and supporting their runners. I just had to go up to them and take a selfie…

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… and this shot too …

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I fumbled with my iPhone camera buttons for many minutes while taking the shots and one of the bodyguards said to me, “well there goes your three hour marathon”. Ha, ha, funny guy!!

It’s awesome that a mental health charity got centre stage at the London marathon. Not only that but support from Royalty!

About the charity – this is taken from the Heads Together website:

Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives. Heads Together wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing and have the practical tools to support their friends and family.

Being the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year was the perfect springboard for the Heads Together campaign. Seeing hundreds of runners hitting the streets of London during the marathon to end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all was incredible!

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading the Heads Together campaign to end stigma around mental health. Heads Together aims to change the national conversation on mental health and wellbeing, and is a partnership with inspiring charities with decades of experience in tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health challenges.

Also, I caught the three Royals for a second time! That’s to say, at the world famous finish line on the Mall where they were giving out medals. Here are William and Harry again …

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I was in line to receive my medal from Kate, but she saw me hobbling towards her and did a runner before I got to the front of the queue and my medal. Never mind!

Another great day of running and of memories. Yeah!

Have a great day!

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Last Chance marathon, Bellingham, 31st Dec 2016: Race review

Hello and happy new year.  I hope your 2017 is off to a good start 🙂

So, I managed to find a race to run on the very last day of 2016. I can’t think of a better way of finishing off a year than with a race – a lovely trail marathon at that. The race was The Last Chance Marathon in Bellingham, Washinton. That’s just a hop, skip and a jump over the border to the USA from home-sweet-home in BC, Canada.

There were two events, a marathon and half-marathon. For the marathon, we ran two out-and-back sections on the interurban trail, starting at Fairhaven Park Pavilion with the turn around at Clayton Beach. You can probably guess that the half-marathon was one out-and-back section. There was an early start if you wanted it, an hour before the main start at 9 am.

It was a lovely route on undulating soft trails, under a canopy of trees and peering through the trees in some places you could see the ocean. The day was damp and chilly, and towards the end, we got to run under falling snow which didn’t come to much but, hey, it was lovely to run with the snowflakes floating down in front of you.

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Happy Runner at the Last Chance Marathon. Thanks to Takao Suzuki for photo

I really enjoyed this marathon. The last one I’d done, I started too fast and finished with a painful hobble for the never-ending second-half. This one, I paced sensibly and finished strong. Always a good feeling 🙂 I finished mid-pack which I’m always overjoyed with when doing any marathon or ultra.

This was a great event: a lovely course; great aid stations; great organisation; great post-race food (vegan option of yummy spicy soup)

I used this race as my final long training run for my next ultra. Hmm….that’s going to be the Coldwater 100 miler on 21st January. I can’t believe that I’m trying another 100, that I’m heading into that great unknown again…yikes!! As well, it’s in the desert. Hope it’s not too hot as it’s freezing here. I’m thinking about going to the sauna for heat training 🙂

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Hoping to finish strong! Takao Suzuki photo

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Everybody got a nice ‘buff’ and finisher’s medal. Billy’s showing mine off.

The Glen Coe Skyline… a back-of-the-pack story. Race review

The Salomon Glen Coe Skyline, in the majestic mountains of Glen Coe, was the most amazing event on the most brutal but beautiful course ever. I’m saying that now, but two weeks ago I was cursing the course. After 33.8 km and about 3000 m of ascent I’d missed the cut-off time. I was too slow. I was a duffer. My spirits were as damp as the weather. I had so badly wanted to be strong and finish. It was too hard and I’d failed. No way was I doing this again….

 

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The race course tattoo! I made it to the deep V two-thirds of the way along!

 

Why did I run this race? I love running in the mountains and I love scrambling. The sport of Skyrunning has fascinated me for the last few years. When I heard about the Glen Coe Skyline I knew I had to try and get an entry and make it my first ever real mountain running race. Glen Coe holds a special place in my heart. It’s close to where I was born and brought up in Dumbarton. Decades ago, when I was a Munro bagger I sought out its peaks in the snow and the rain; these adventures are etched in my memory. The first time I ever remember being aware of the awesomeness of a mountain landscape was in Glen Coe. I was a kid in the car on the A82 with my mum, dad and twin brother Graeme. A moment in time— gazing out the car window up towards the Glen Coe mountains and thinking “wow”— has stayed with me for forty years or more.

The Glen Coe Skyline—it drew me more than any other race I’ve done or read about.

And so, earlier this year the minute entries opened I was at my computer with my answers prepared for the vetting questions. It was the dead of night. These days I live in Canada so with the time difference I had set my alarm, I think for 2 am. I had the necessary climbing, scrambling and running experience, I filled out the entry, then waited. I got a spot. I was over the moon!

The Glen Coe Skyline is one of three races in the Extreme Skyrunner world series. The other two are Tromso and Trofeo Kima. To give you an idea of the nature of the Glen Coe course, I’ve copied and pasted part of the website description:

The course is designed to challenge the most experienced and competent mountain runners. The proposed race route traverses high and remote mountainous terrain. Once committed to many sections it is impossible to retreat. The entire race route is subject to rapidly changing and extremely severe weather. For this reason, competitors must be capable of ‘robust completion’ of the route in all but the most serious weather conditions. The route is very rough underfoot with long sections of rock and scree-covered terrain. There will be an enormous amount of ascent and descent. Experienced but slower competitors are very welcome at the race but please note that the cut-offs will be strictly enforced.

The stats: 55 km and 4700 m of elevation gain

Get the idea?

I wasn’t daunted by the terrain or the distance: I’ve scrambled and climbed for years and I’ve run a good number of ultras. What scared the living daylights out of me was “the enormous amount of ascent and descent”. As race day approached I knew I hadn’t managed to do enough training for the vertical and I knew I would be one of the slower runners chasing the cut-offs. I hoped I’d be able to pull it off with the training that I had been able to do.

So, back to the race! It started in Kinlochleven. On race morning I didn’t feel great. Nothing new! But, when I saw everybody milling about in the start area I felt really nervous and wanted to run away. All I could see were lean mean mountain-running machines: the athletes I hear about and admire when I listen to Talk Ultra podcast. There weren’t many women and even fewer veteran/masters women like me. I started wondering why I was there and my mind went into a downward spiral of doubts and worries. But negative thoughts will be the death of you and with a few deep breaths, I put aside those destructive thoughts. Breath!! I visualised images of happiness and joy. The mountain spirits would carry me round. It was going to be amazing to be part of this scary event. Yeah!

 

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The race start

 

I stood at the back of the pack. I was carrying the mandatory gear, water and enough calories for eight hours of hard effort. There was no aid available until checkpoint 11. My pack felt heavy! Then, to the sound of bagpipes, we were off!

For the first 10 km or so we followed the West Highland Way out of Kinlochleven and up and down The Devil’s staircase to checkpoint 1 at Altnafeadh. I felt crappy! To be suffering from the off was not good!

We hopped over the A82 and from there we traversed across and up a hillside heading straight for Curved Ridge. Curved Ridge is a Grade III scramble and the most technical part of the course. I was one of the stragglers near the back. The front-runners had long since bounded up. The scramble was airy and it was exhilarating! I focused on every move and forgot about my tiredness. Mountain instructors were on the route pointing out the handholds. At the top of the scramble, there was an amazing view of Rannoch Moor, desolate and beautiful, stretching far into the distance. I looked back at it and was absolutely awe-struck.

 

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Happy scrambler. Photo thanks to Zoe Procter

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Curved Ridge. Photo thanks to Zoe Procter

 

The steep face of the scramble gave way to flatter, rocky ground and then checkpoint 2 on the summit of Stob Dearg. I still wasn’t feeling great and felt a bit woozy. I checked in by beeper and asked the marshal “what way?” It must’ve been a silly question! She asked me if I was OK? Had I fallen? Crumbs, I must have looked bad! I was fine I said, just slow, and I went on my merry way from there, over the rocky vastness of Buachaille Etive Mor. It was spectacular. The clouds had gently rolled in and I was seeing the last of the sun but the visibility was still good. I looked all around for other runners. I saw only one person far behind and one person far in front. Peace and solitude. Quietness, I’m always searching for that rare thing. Here it was and I was storing it up and relishing it.

After this high ground, we dropped down to checkpoint 4 in Lairig Gartain and hopped on boulders to cross the River Coupall. That led to a good path and a steady trundle up the valley, then the next steep ascent, this one grassy. Up and up and up we went heading towards a pass, Mam Buidhe on Buachaille Etive Beag. It was here that I met another runner, Scott from Manchester. It was great to have his company. Up and over the pass we went, then we had a quick, steep descent on a rocky trail to checkpoint 5 in Lairig Eilde.

This next valley section was just about runnable. There weren’t too many places you could run on this course! The clouds had been thickening and half-way up the valley the rain appeared and stayed for the day. Stopping to put on my jacket I could see the next tough, steep climb ahead of me disappearing into the clouds. I trundled on up the valley and reached the climb. Here goes…

I hiked up the steep grass into the mist and a miracle happened: I started to feel better. Those mischievous mountain spirits were finally giving me some help! I caught up to and passed some runners. On the upper, steepest section I was with Scott and an Irish guy and we breathed a sigh of relief when we topped out. But, instead of picking up speed after the near vertical grassy slope we had to stop to look for the route. Ahead we could see only rocks and mist. Nothing else! The little red flags we had been following all day had become invisible.

Time passed slowly and the next couple of hours saw us crossing rocky ground peering into the wet mist looking for flags. The flags would appear out of nowhere if you stared hard enough. Thankfully we didn’t get lost and finally we found the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach and checkpoint 7.

The stretch to the next summit didn’t look far on the map but it was! It was also rocky, wet and foggy. I lost track of time but it took me forever get over the difficult ground and reach the next marshals with their blue jackets and encouragement on the summit of Bidean nam Bian (checkpoints 8 and 10). I’d last been there maybe 20 years ago. Today it was unrecognisable in the Scotch mist. I said a quick hello and got checked in with my beep.

Throughout these long misty sections of high summits, I had been chasing my dream of reaching the finish line in Kinlochleven. It had been tantalising me in my mind’s eye. In a foggy vision, I saw myself cross the line, drop to my knees and kiss the ground. If only! Reaching Bidean, I knew time had run out and it would be impossible to get to checkpoint 11 by the cutoff at 3pm. My daft vision disappeared with a puff into the cloud and rain.

With a heavy heart, I did the next section, an out-and-back to Stob Coire Lochan (checkpoint 9). As I was going out to that summit over a rocky, gravelly, down then up trail I was thankful to see and say hello to a few runners coming back on it. I consoled myself. There were people not too far ahead of me. I wasn’t miles and miles behind everyone. I reached the marshal at checkpoint 9 on the summit and another beep. The race blurb described this out-and-back ridge as “another stunning mountain spur into Glen Coe”. Today there was a grand view of mist.

Heading back to Bidean and checkpoint 10, I saw a girl who I had played leapfrog with earlier in the day. She was on her way out to checkpoint 9 and looked strong and determined. While going past each other she asked me if I thought we would make the cut-off. I said I didn’t think so. She was truly devastated. Geez, I should have kept my mouth shut so she could enjoy it all for a wee while longer. (We met up again on the merry bus-ride for the DNF’ers from checkpoint 11 to Kinlochleven).

So it was back up to the summit of Bidean and checkpoint 10; to another wonderful marshal and another beep. He pointed and said straight down there to checkpoint 11. Ha ha! This descent was something else. First, there was more expansive, rocky ground and playing the game of trying to spot little red flags while trying not to get lost in the nothingness. Then, finally, there was an obvious trail. Yeah! But it was no ordinary trail! I’ve run a lot of descents in my time. This was one of the trickiest ever: long, steep and treacherous! The zillions of rocky steps were wet and very slippery. A fall would take you on a nasty tumble for sure. Slowly, my tired legs took me down.

After that final downhill adventure, I was at the A82 and checkpoint 11—the end of my race. It was almost 4pm and fifty-seven minutes over the cut-off. I was sad and happy at the same time. It had been an amazing mountain journey. Over the next hour, a few more runners arrived from the misty descent and joined in the damp party under the awning; where the marshals were so caring, making sure we didn’t get too cold and giving us tea, crisps and bananas while we waited for the bus.

We found out that the Jonathan Albon had won the race in six and a half hours. Six and a half hours! That is unbelievable; so amazing; so inspiring. Jasmin Paris was the first female in just over eight hours. Amazing and inspiring too.

While waiting I looked upwards into the clouds and the next section of the race, the section that wasn’t to be—the Aonach Eagach, that legendary mountain ridge. The rain was still coming down, the clouds were thick and I thought to myself it must be treacherous for the runners, way up there hidden in the damp mountain greyness.

And so, the warm bus took us back to Kinlochleven. The bus of shame! I’d got cold waiting and I was glad to have all the mandatory gear. Better to have to use it on a bus than lost in a white-out on a mountain top! I wrapped myself in my emergency bivvy bag and was as warm as toast. Everybody on the bus chatted as we headed to Kinlochleven and the race finish. I handed in my spotter and beeper, ate some wonderfully delicious hot food and headed back to the  campsite and my little tent and dry clothes. I made use of the extra time afforded by not finishing by snuggling up in my sleeping bag with a cup of tea listening to the birds chirping around Loch Leven. Relaxation and post-race celebrations Mandy-style!

My tale’s not quite finished. The next day when I was driving down the A82 to Dumbarton I made my usual stop in Tyndrum at the Green Welly Stop. Sitting with my cuppa and scone, iPad perched on the table, a fellow Glen Coe Skyliner sat down beside me. He had noticed I was looking for the results on the race webpage and asked me how I had got on. His name was Paul. We chatted about the race, about that slippery descent to checkpoint 11; about the Aonach Eagach. He was one of the runners on the Aonach Eagach around the time I was gazing at it, hidden in cloud and rain. He said the footing was treacherous; also, he’d caught up to a Polish runner who was struggling and was very cold, maybe hypothermic. Paul said he helped the cold runner, making him put on his extra clothes, and staying with him. They both made it to the finish line in under thirteen hours. The final cut off was fourteen hours. So inspiring, Paul. Well done!

The scrambling and the mountains, my memories and my roots—these are what brought me to this race. In the end, it didn’t go right but it was epic. This was my second enormous challenge of the year. The finish line eluded me in both but I had two truly unforgettable experiences, met amazing people, saw beautiful places and learned a hell of a lot. I’m happily planning on returning to them both next year, using what I’ve learned, getting better and finishing! How amazing that would be. That’s assuming I can get in!

 

What I learned in this race:

I’m sure nobody else did what I’m about to describe and this is a tip to my self: Don’t start with 2 l of water in your race pack! Talk about “carrying coals to Newcastle”. Knowing the one and only aid station was going to be about 8 hours into my race I automatically filled up my 2 l bladder. That’s what I would normally do. You see, most of my ultras have been done in Canada and USA on very different terrain. So, I carried all that water, but as you can guess, there was tonnes of water on the route—in crystal clear mountain streams—probably the same stuff you find in bottles on the shelves in Tesco.  Duh!

I felt out of sorts before I started. I’d been busy with stuff. Of course, we run better when relaxed, with no stress, and this race clearly showed me that. Other than being tired and slow, I didn’t struggle. I think I gained 15 places between checkpoint 1 and checkpoint 10.

But to make things go better next time the biggest thing I need to do is more uphill training. The ascents were what I found most difficult. I wasn’t fit enough and maybe that’s the only reason I felt tired. Maybe it was nothing to do with being busy. We all like to look for excuses!

Next time I would download the GPS file. I think the most time-efficient way of staying out of trouble in a whiteout is to follow a GPS line on your device.

Cheers!

The Hamster Endurance Run 24 hour. Race review

It was 3 am on a hot, humid night and I was at a picnic shelter at Lake Padden in Bellingham, WA. The day had been cooking hot.  I was wiped out and barely able to walk having been on the go for 19 hours, running the 24 hour race at the Hamster Endurance Run. I was running as many 2.6 mile loops of the lake as I could in 24 hours and didn’t think I could do any more. I wondered how many laps I’d done. My fried brain couldn’t work it out but I knew somebody had told me a couple of laps back that I’d reached 100 km. My feet were killing me. I  was very, very tired and hot and just wanted to stop and rest. So I did.

I lay down on my back on the parched grass. I was half in, half out a sleeping bag lying next to Peter who was snuggled up sleeping, resting, having crewed all day for me.I  tried to sleep but couldn’t so I looked up at the stars. The sky was so lovely and clear. My eyes searched between the stars for the meteor showers that I’d been told would very likely be visible that night. The stars twinkled and jumped. Lying there stargazing my body slowly relaxed. I gazed. I thought. I relaxed a bit more. I thought a bit more: about my mum and dad, also my brother Callum. Surely they must be up there in the black, twinkly infinity with all the other souls who have gone before us.

I lay there for half an hour. I didn’t see any meteor showers but the stars and the thoughts of my family moved me to get up.

And then, I could walk! I walked. It felt easy. Yeah!

I set off again into the night round and round Lake Padden with a few other runners and some bunny rabbits for company.

I managed a few more laps running into the dawn and another hot day. At 6.30 am I stopped. Once more I was spent. I’d done 31 laps and thought my race was complete. But, you never know what’s round the corner! Half an hour later, after a nice rest, the sight of  2 fast guys (Neil and Scott) fighting out their final laps spurred me on to do another lap. I don’t know how I managed but I ran that final lap. I didn’t shuffle or walk-I ran! So, I finished my first ever 24 hour event. My total was 83 miles-32 laps. I was first female! I was 2nd overall! A huge surprise.

The Hamster Endurance Run was another wonderful ultra-running experience with new-found friends and tremendous volunteers. The organisation was 10 out of 10. I entered this race after my DNF at my first 100 miler in July. My goal for it was not to give up, to keep going through the night when things got tough, to practice for another 100 mile attempt sometime. I am so happy I succeeded and more. Thanks again to Peter. He was there with me crewing again, maintaining his vigil through the night. A star!

Some photos from the event 🙂

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The female 24 hour podium

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The female 12 hour podium

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The male 12 hour podium

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The aid station/lap counters

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Nap and lap!

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Kelly the RD cooking dinner

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2 runners resting!

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A summer day at the Lake

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I saw this trail 32 times

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Near the beginning. I’m on the left.

 

A story of the Sinister 7 100 miles. Race review

You can fail at something you don’t want so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love – Jim Carrey

You never know until you try – others and me

After weeks of planning, race morning had arrived!! Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned for the very long queue at the portable loos (duh! – there’s always a long queue) so with less than 2 minutes till start time I found myself jumping out the loo, pulling off my long-sleeved top, stuffing it in my race pack and then shouting abuse at my race pack; it had a serious parts failure. Forget it, I would have to sort it out during the race. I had to get to the start line!! I hugged Peter then jogged across the grass into the starting area on the main street of Blairmore. The gun fired. I kept on jogging. I was off!!

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Waiting in the loo queue

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We’re off!!

So started my first ever 100 mile ultra, the Sinister 7, on a sunny July morning in 2016.

All my doubts and fears about not doing enough training for this race disappeared as I started running. I was happy. It was a lovely day. I was in the middle of hundreds of other runners all enjoying themselves. Pure joy. Instead of doubting myself, I made a plan to go as far as I possibly could and to keep on smiling for as long as I possibly could.

 

Leg 1 Frank Slide 16.5 km, 502 m elevation gain

Leg 1 felt great. I started nice and slow and it felt easy. Yeah! Despite much of the leg being on road I loved it and was so glad to be out there running. I said hello to a British guy who was also a solo runner. He said he still had jet lag. Jeez, how can you run this event with jet lag!!

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Leg 1

Early on, the route crossed the massive debris field of Frank Slide. In 1903 The Frank Slide buried part of the mining town of Frank. Millions of tonnes of rock slid down a hillside. Between 70 and 90 people were killed, most of whose bodies were never recovered; a sobering thought.

Leg 1 was flattish at the beginning with some climbing on cross-country ski trails later on.The finish was a steep little drop down into Transition Area 1 where Peter was waiting. He told me I was doing great and a little ahead of my target. I checked in with myself. Even though I was a bit ahead of myself I felt I was not going too fast.

I grabbed some snacks, filled my hydration bladder back up to the brim, hugged Peter and headed into the wilderness of leg 2.

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Transition area 1

 

Leg 2 Hastings Ridge 16 km, 937 m elevation gain

I think Leg 2 was my favourite stretch of the day. The scenery and views were beautiful and I still felt great. It started with plenty of up. I hiked up as quickly as I could. A couple of blokes passed me with little speakers on their packs. The music was a nice distraction. Once up on the ridgetop, the views were just spectacular. We were in the middle of an old forest fire area and the trees were sparse, grey and withered. The views across the Canadian wilderness were jaw dropping.

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Striding upwards on leg 2

I chatted to a relay runner and finally figured out how to tell who was a solo runner and who was a relay runner. The solos had yellow numbers on the bibs and the relay runners white numbers. Duh!

After the ridgetop with some flattish bits and some rolling up and down, there was a lovely long downhill. I love running downhill. Down and down and down we went. There was some lovely single-track; that added to the thrill. For the last few kilometres I eyed my fellow solo runners and it quickly dawned on me that most who were doing the race at or around my pace were using trekking poles. I felt like the odd man out.

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Finishing leg 2

Leg 2 finished at Transition Area 2/3 in Blairmore. It was incredibly busy. But, like a shining light, there was Peter making sure he was in a spot where I would easily see him. My transition felt really chaotic. The porta-loos required an extra 30 metres or so of travel to get to them! You really don’t want to walk any further than you have to in a 100 miler!! Peter later told me I had missed a loo that was closer.

After the loo stop, Peter guided me in and out of the jumbled crowds of people and tents to the spot where he had set up camp. I regrouped, restocked my pack then got moving again.

 

Leg 3 Willoughby Ridge 35 km, 1327 m elevation gain

Leg 3 was a long loop around Mt Willoughby, up and up and up; then down and down and down; finishing back at TA 2/3.

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Out on leg 3

I spent much of the middle section of leg 3 chatting to a guy from Edmonton. I’m really sorry “guy” but I didn’t even ask your name. Somehow, in these far-flung races, I find myself meeting people with Scottish connections and chatting about all things Scottish. “Guy’s” wife had Scottish roots; in fact, she had Isle of Lewis roots; that’s where my dad was born. My Isle of Lewis roots go as far back into history as is traceable. Anyway, we passed a very enjoyable few kilometres going up around Mt Willoughby chatting away about the Isle of Lewis and other Scottish things.

Just after the halfway point of the leg, I realised I was keeping “guy” back. He was a little behind his target time for reaching TA 2/3 and his team handover. I said to him to run on ahead. Thinking I would keep him in sight, I jogged on but pretty soon I encountered my first difficulty of the race. There was a checkpoint half way round this leg and foolishly I scoffed down too many crisps and smarties. This seemed to be the cause of a bad, bad tummy pain, which lasted for a good couple of hours. I couldn’t do anything but walk a long section of downhill waiting for what felt like a huge ball of trapped gas to eventually disappear. Any running caused pain. A lot of burping went on!! While I was in the middle of this gassy spell I chatted to Milan (sorry Milan!!). He and his wife were doing the solo too and I saw them at various points throughout the race. Milan was so encouraging to me and I thank him for that (they are now Strava friends J).

Thankfully the stomach distress had disappeared by the last couple of kilometres. And so, pain-free, I was able to stretch my legs and enjoy running the lovely downhill back to TA2/3 with all its little tents and people and an announcer who was quite wonderful and welcoming. Peter was there, wonderful and welcoming too. I changed my shoes and socks while Peter exfoliated the dirt from my legs with a hot towel. Bliss! I had grabbed some mini sized potatoes from the food next to the finishing funnel. They didn’t taste of much but seemed to be just what I needed. I wolfed them down. I got some snacks from Peter too and some wonderfully delicious cold cola.

Ready to rock again, I sneaked out onto the little steep hill, which was the exit from TA2/3. The announcer spotted me and shouted me on. Boy, I felt like royalty.

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Transition area 2/3

 

Leg 4 Saddle Mountain 17 km, 675 m elevation gain

Leg 4 started with a stiff climb up a ski hill. I ran for a minute or two with a young lad who was doing the relay. He congratulated me for my solo run. I told him to run on as my slow pace was obviously way to slow for him. He speeded up, waved back to me, wished me well (what a polite young kid!) and sprinted into the woods. That was the last I saw of him. I wonder how his team got on.

So, leg 4 went up and up. After a while, there was some familiar ground as it shared a short section of trail and an aid station with leg 3. Panting up to that aid station I stumbled across a solo runner going DOWN! Yikes, I can’t imagine going the wrong way down a hill in an ultra. He said he was going down to help someone who was in a bad way. This piece of news really confused my tired brain as I had travelled pretty slowly along the trail for the previous few kilometres and hadn’t seen anybody in a bad way. There were plenty of people in the vicinity, including an aid station only 2 or 3 minutes away, and I didn’t feel like I had to turn around and go back down to help. I couldn’t have!!

Leg 4 was where my little jar of energy began to run out. I felt tired but was still feeling hopeful. Although running was feeling more and more arduous, I was still able to run the flats and downhills slowly. The solo runners around me were of a similar pace. I wasn’t going backwards. I made sure I was taking in my hourly calories and kept trundling along with sugar-fuelled pick me ups.

I saw Milan halfway through this leg. He and his wife still looked great. As we chatted, I gazed in wonder to our right. There was Crowsnest Mountain in the distance. It appeared menacing. Leg 6, the hardest of the race, circled Crowsnest Mountain and the 7 sisters. I felt there was no way I was going to be able to complete leg 6. However, that was still hours away.

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The Menacing View

The latter part of leg 4 went on forever. There was a long, straight rolling section and I could see loads of runners in the distance all with their poles. I talked to a guy called Eric. He had done quite a number of ultras including the Squamish 50/50. The 50K he had done with his dad and he said that was a really special experience. Eric disappeared into the distance. I think he did really, really well in the end.

Finally, I trundled into TA4. It was beginning to get dark. The daylight hours had almost passed! I was still on target. I had done a great 50 miles. But what are 50 miles in a 100miler!!! Ha ha! Only half way!!

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Finishing leg 4

TA4 was busy too. I sat on the grass and ate delicious hot potatoes. Peter had luckily found a convenient parking spot on the highway right next to the course. At the car, I changed into a warmer top and restocked my race pack. Peter had bought me a veggie sandwich at Subway and I packed that for the road.

 

Leg 5 Mt Tecumseh 29.6 km, 763 m elevation gain

Leg 5 was surreal. It took me into the Canadian wilderness in the crazy dead of night and to the furthest distance that I’d ever run.

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Starting leg 5

We started with a long straight road where I chatted with Kyle. Last year Kyle had made it to the end of stage 4 exhausted. He’d detonated and didn’t continue any further. Now, a year later, he told me he “had it”. He was going to finish the 100 miles. There was no doubt he would (he did!) He was so inspiring. I saw him a couple of times during the leg. Awesome, Kyle!

The long straight roads went on for a while. I was really getting tired by now and was mostly hiking with a little shuffling. Early in this leg, we moved into the night. The sky was full of stars and the moon just a slither.

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The road led upwards into the pitch-black forest. I switched on my head torch and followed my light beam up and up and up through the tunnel of trees. The trail was wet and muddy. I walked round huge deep puddles while trying to keep myself from skidding in the deep mud.

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I spent much of the high section of this leg either just in front of or just behind Hilary. Hilary had an awesome pace. With her poles, she hiked really fast, faster than I was able to jog. We exchanged ultra-running stories and I enjoyed her company. Hilary had done a number of ultras. She told me about the Lost Sole 100 km in Lethbridge. She said it was a lot of fun, very tough, very hot, and had lots of up and down. One to do in the future!!

At some point when I was alone negotiating the puddles, I heard country and western music in the distance. It got louder. Then I saw a very bright light approaching and heard the noise of an engine. I stopped at the edge of the trail in the tunnel of trees. In the midnight darkness, an ATV appeared, music blaring from it. In the vehicle, were 3 young guys, all wearing similar checked shirts. They stared as they drove by me. They looked at me as if I was bonkers. I looked at them as if they were bonkers. I was taken aback by this weird turn of events and as the ATV disappeared into the darkness, I lost my footing in the slippery mud and fell backwards into a deep mud bath!

I extricated myself. Cleaning the mud off my legs and bum with my Buff, I caught up with Hilary. Hilary very kindly lent me one of her poles at a couple of other dodgy spots. Using the pole I inched past puddles on narrow ledges of dry land.

I lost Hilary again for a while. I was on my own in the darkness in the woods. This was when I had my one and only animal encounter of the day. It wasn’t a bear or a cougar. It was a cute, baby, bunny rabbit caught in the glare of my head-torch. We looked each other in the eyes. The bunny then hopped away into the darkness.

Shortly after that, I heard voices; I saw a light in the distance. I didn’t think I had travelled far enough for it to be the next CP. But what else could it be? Well, it was a huge gathering of lights and people and noise in the middle of the woods seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was a party! I trundled past further into the darkness. I was getting more and more tired. Then I reached the lights and the people of the next CP. The volunteers there were amazing. This was an intersection between leg 5 and leg 6. The volunteers checked my water and cleared out my sweetie wrappers as I sat down and emptied my shoes and socks of the mud and grime that had got in during my mud bath.

Shortly after the CP, I came across the 2nd party of the night. Hanging around the trail were some shadowy partygoers. They asked me how my race was going. I said “really good”. They followed up by saying I looked like I could do with a beer!! For sure, a beer was the very last thing I needed!! I trundled on, away from the party lights further into the darkness.

It became more and more clear that my thoughts in the weeks leading up to the race were very likely true: that I may not be able to finish this race. It was really tough going up and down the trail as I neared the end of leg 5. Many leg 6 relay runners breezed past me. I saw a couple of other leg 5 solo runners who were in worse shape than me. I also saw a male solo runner who was finishing leg 6. He must have been one of the leaders in the race. So inspiring. I cheered him on and gained some strength from seeing him. But, I was at that point where even walking was difficult; when you just want it to be over; when you somehow manage to keep going but your legs are yelling at you to stop.

Peter and I had checked out the end of leg 5 earlier in the week and eventually I saw that vaguely familiar stretch of trail. And, in the distance, I saw fairy lights! The end was in sight! The end was a steep little downhill into a funnel of lights surrounded by darkness and noise. I crossed the line; out of the darkness a voice asked me my number. “198”, I said and burst into tears. Peter was right there waiting for me as he had been at every transition area. Jeez. How long had he been standing in the cold looking for me? I had done well up until leg 5 keeping to my target times. But now I was behind and he must have been waiting for ages.

Flailing around in the transition area, I was exhausted. I was pretty sure I was not going on, but not 100% sure. “Will I or won’t I?” I kept repeating this. I got my hydration bladder refilled just in case. One of the volunteers asked me if I wanted medical help!! Crumbs I must have looked bad. I sat down and refuelled. I gave myself 15 minutes. After these 15 minutes, if I felt a lot better I would set off on leg 6. Leg 6 was the most difficult leg of the entire race – 36.2 km with 1093 m of elevation gain, a circuit of Crowsnest Mountain and the 7 sisters. It would be longest, hardest stretch of the course. Quite likely I would be on my own. I contemplated the enormity of that task. It seemed impossible to me. I didn’t receive any thunderbolts of energy or inspiration. And so, I gave in to my doubts about my fitness and my mental toughness. I couldn’t do it. In the dead of night, with Peter beside me, in the otherworldly space that was TA 5/6, I decided my race was over. I gave up.

My chaotic mind told me I had failed. I was sad. But underneath my jumbled thoughts, I was OK. I had done my best. I had run 70.5 miles over tough terrain in just under 19.5 hours. This race has a low finish rate. I was definitely not alone in DNFing. I had got further than many. I kept thinking of a quote I read somewhere, “The biggest winners are all failures who tried again.” I would try again!

After a few hours of sleep in our tiny green tent at the Lost Lemon campground, Peter and I packed up my Toyota Yaris. It was full to the brim with camping gear and running gear. We drove 1000 km back home. Despite the long drive and squashed legs, I recovered really quickly. The Sinister 7 was an amazing, super-cool adventure and as Peter said, “a lot of fun”.

Almost finally, 2 pictures of my wonderful race crew. Peter and Big Teddie. Thank you guys!!

 

 

Finally,

You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honoroubly. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure, Persist! The world needs all you can give – E O Wilson.

All photos thanks to Raven Eye Photography and Peter Malacarne 🙂

Cateran trail 55 mile, Perthshire, Scotland. 14th May 2016. Race review

In contrast to the cold rainy conditions of my marathon in Toronto 2 weeks previously, the Cateran trail 55 mile ultra on Saturday 14th May 2016 had a beautiful warm sunny day. Just perfect for the warmest, friendliest ultra I have ever done! I didn’t know a soul when I arrived at race headquarters in Glenshee the day prior to the race, but 2 days later when I left I had lots of new friends. Everybody spoke to everybody. The race organisers Sharon and George were so very friendly and they put on a great event.

The starting line was at The Spittal of Glenshee, a lovely, quiet corner of Scotland. The event had 2 distances, 55 miles and 110 miles. The 110 mile event started at 4pm on the 13th May. I cheered these seriously crazy ultrarunners as they started out on their long journey. We would see them still running the next day. Very inspiring!

 

After watching the 110 start I went for a walk in the late afternoon sunshine.

 

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Gulabin Lodge was the race headquarters and I had a bed there for 2 nights. (There was also camping in the field in front of the lodge). My roommates were Patricia and Lorna and it was great chatting with them about all things running!

The lodge was very comfortable and the organisers laid on food for dinners and breakfasts.

So to the race! The Cateran Trail is a circular waymarked trail through the hills and glens of Perthshire and Angus in Scotland. (The Caterans were cattle thieves who marauded across the area for generations before the 17th Century. The area is now very peaceful!) The trail follows old drove roads and ancient tracks across farmland, forests and moors. It goes over one mountain pass which is the sting in the tail at the end of the 55 miles.

The race started at 7am when it was very cool and windy but it warmed up to a hot 15C or so in the afternoon.

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Race briefing

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The start

There had actually been quite a dry spell and instead of the expected mud most of the course was bone dry and hard underfoot. There were quite long sections of road scattered throughout the course, great for the fast runners.

I did get “lost” with 3 other people at one point and lost about 15 minutes. We were chatting and not paying attention. I am glad I had the “Footprint” trail map as we quickly saw where we had gone wrong and got back on course. It’s worth noting that quite a few people went off course at various points throughout the day.

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Pay attention and follow the markers!

https://www.strava.com/activities/575994457/embed/0b61cf4d265f4cf01a9589cb63bcc78011dacab8“>Here is a link to my Strava of the race.

Here are some pics from throughout the day.

The best section was the last section! There were 6 checkpoints in the race. After the last one (6 miles to go!) the main hill appeared . It was long and hard! I got myself up it by talking to myself out loud, banishing the negative thoughts by saying positive words to myself. After the uphill there was a 1 to 2 mile downhill section. After checkpoint 6 I didn’t think I could run another step and planned on walking that final 6 miles. However, when I got to the top of that final hill and looked down to the finish area (a beautiful view) I felt elated and found some extra energy. As well, there was another runner who had been behind me all the way up the hill and who caught up to me at the top. My competitive spirit kicked in. After taking a couple of photos we both ran hard down the hill. I wanted to race that last section. It was wonderful to be able to run fast at the end of 55 miles. It was wonderful to feel reasonably good at the end of 55 miles. A breakthrough for me!

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The last uphill

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Andrew, who chased me up and down the hill

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On top of the world

The race went really well for me and I loved it. This was my third race longer than 50 miles. In the previous two I suffered the “brutal bonk” of ultra-running, shuffling along very slowly for the last 15 miles or more, finishing at the back of the pack after much pain and suffering. I started really slowly at the Cateran and was at the back of the pack for the early stages but I managed to keep my slow steady pace going and found myself overtaking rather than being overtaken in the last 20 miles. I wasn’t going fast but I was passing people who were experiencing the destruction that is the “bonk”. I know what that feels like!!

My time was 12 hours and 2 minutes. I finished 38th out of 89 starters, 8th female and 2nd female SuperVet! A podium place! I was very proud.

Everybody was presented with a beautiful Highland Quaich- a drinking cup of friendship.

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It was wonderful being able to do a big race back home in Scotland. I love the Scottish hills and mountains but during my recent trips home I haven’t been able to get out into the hills too much due to other priorities. Now, I have that freedom. I was choked up with so much emotion during this race. I smiled, laughed and cried. I choked up with tears going up that final hill. I thought so much about my mum, dad and brother who I have lost in recent years. Also, the rest of my family who are still with me. I had a great big smile on my face when I crossed the finish line. Ultrarunning takes you through all the emotions but leaves you feeling fantastic at the end.

I highly recommend this wonderful event.

 

Musings from the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon

I was in Toronto last weekend! It was marathon weekend!  Another great training day for my ultras. Bonnie’s Dream Team tell of the conditions for marathon day.

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Bonnie’s Dream Team FB post

 

People who come out as cheerers are so amazing. The push they give you is priceless. Lots of Love to you, Bonnie.

I’m amazed I got myself to the start line. The night before a race is always restless but this night-before was almost torture. My hotel room was right next to 2 rooms hosting a rowdy party. Grrrrrrr. I politely phoned reception twice and politely yelled in the corridor. The revellers eventually trouped out to take their party elsewhere. They came back at 3am. The only consolation was there were less of them at 3am than 11pm. I was so stressed by the whole thing I got no sleep. Not a wink. I told myself running sleepless would be good training for my 100 miles!

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The Start

Like Bonnie’s Dream Team said, the marathon was cold, wet and windy. The last 8k, as always, was hard! I thought I had blown my pacing and at 8k could see myself slowing and slowing then slowing some more to the end. But, at 4k to go I found myself running beside another girl and without saying anything (we were too knackered) we helped each other to pick up the pace for those last kilometers; a LONG straight section. The fine rain was pelting into us. I was cold. Every piece of me and every piece of my clothing was sodden. It felt so awesome to run with Danielle (I saw her name on her bib). We were wet marathon sisters trying to finish strongly. And we did.

Crossing the oh-so-welcome finish line Danielle and I emotionally thanked each other for the support. Then I looked around for a space blanket. I was freezing. I had been thinking about a space blanket for 4K. In fact, I thought I would ask nicely for two. Sadly there were none. Never mind. I would use my ultrarunning mental training, be mentally strong and transcend the cold. Not easy!

Onwards to the medals. Wow! The medals! All I could think of was “that’s a big medal” Truly, it was the biggest marathon medal I had ever seen. All I could think of was – this is going to ruin my “travel-light”journey. I had a plane to catch the next day!

Laden down, I hauled the medal to the bag collection area. Thankfully I had wrapped my change of clothes in plastic bags. Our bags were outside and my bag was almost as wet as me.

Where to change?! I spied 2 small white tents. One had a W on it and the other an M on it. I opened the flap on the tent with the W. Yes, it was the right place to change. I squeezed myself in among wet, shivering runners all unashamedly stripping off wet clothes and replacing them with dry stuff. This wasn’t easy in the cramped, cold, wet tent. It was fun, though. We all chattered about how hard the last part of the race was, how cold we were and how hard it was to change our socks while having to hobble on one leg; there was nowhere dry to sit. We were a tribe of warriors. Or nutters! It was so good to get these dry layers on.

I later found out that my time of 3 hours 55 mins and 6 secs counts as an age-group Boston Qualifier and a “Good for Age” qualifier for London. Woo hoo what an awesomely, brilliant day! Thank you Toronto.

 

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The Large Medal

 

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MarathonFoto pic. Heading to the finish line. Yeah!

Resource: If you’re interested in a route description for the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon here’s a link. I did a quick piece of pre-race googling and this was the first page my clicking took me to. It seemed a comprehensive route description so I didn’t look further.