Bites, tape, yet another scar, still smiling

It feels like the midges have been particularly vicious this year. I certainly hadn’t expected to still be scratching the odd bite into November, but as I’ve learned, every Scottish ‘summer’ (haha) is very different, and the midgie level is just one indicator, and perhaps a more meaningful one than the level of rainfall or hours of sunshine. I think I was a bit spoiled my first year, as the number of bites has increased exponentially year on year since then.

As the bites fade, and the scar on the side of my leg heals, maybe it’s time to reflect on the running year I’ve had.

So far (touch wood big time), it’s early November and I’ve not had a cold yet.  I’ve not had to resort to steroid treatment for my asthma, my peak flow has remained strong, my iron levels are healthy and I haven’t bonked out of any races this year. Straight away that puts me in a considerably better position than this time last year.

I’ve run more miles, but in less races.

I had some tremendously inspirational help with my running at the start of the year, which set me up brilliantly despite me being unable to see it through. There was just too much else happening at the time, and I hope to pick up where I left off at some point.

I ran both my longest ever and shortest ever race this year. I pulled out of a race for the first time (as in didn’t even start, let alone finish). I put late entries in twice on a waiting list and managed to get in to both races. I ran an ultra for my birthday. I had a long overdue trip to A&E, this time in another country which was a first.

I did my first hill race (to say I ran it would be a bit of a fib). It was awful but I survived, met some great people, didn’t get lost and didn’t fall over. Someone on Twitter asked me to be in their relay team, I said yes and it was fab. There have been a lot of positives, and a whole lot of negatives/learning points too. However, I’ve only been out cycling once, and that is definitely not so good.

After last year, I’d got myself into a bit of a pattern of never feeling good enough just being me, and trying to fix that by always trying to do something bigger and better than last time.

Looking back at this time last winter, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to do the Fling, but having to make a decision/sign up six months ahead meant I wanted to have my options covered. It would be a big challenge, but I was fairly sure I could do it if I had a reasonable winter. I wanted to do Loch Katrine again having loved it the year before, and I knew it would be a good long run before the Fling. Beyond that, I didn’t really know.

I helped out by crewing for a friend who was running the West Highland Way race for the first time. This was a long, tough weekend but a really brilliant thing to have done.

I thought I might go to France to do some cycling again with my Dad, but I’d learnt from the year before that switching to bike training was not compatible with ultra training and so I was wary of signing up to anything later in the year. A wedding booking meant I couldn’t do the Devil, and Glenmore didn’t appeal. I had wanted to do Tiree, but was down to be supporting at Glenmore that weekend.

A change in circumstances meant I was suddenly free to do whatever I wanted for my birthday/Glenmore weekend, so I put my name on the waiting list for Tiree, booked flights and hoped. A few days later, I had an entry.

A few weeks before Tiree, I went to the Austrian Alps for a week to stay with a friend. It should have been a few days spent recovering from a break up and exploring everything the mountains had to offer, but that all ended rather abruptly when I found myself sliding down the side of a hill and coming to a halt with a bit of tree branch stuck in my leg. I was a fair distance from my friend’s house, and took the shorter but steeper route back, covered in blood and rather worried as to the state of my leg. That was a very hard earned summit and while it was beautiful briefly at the top, the effort to get there wasn’t particularly enjoyable and proved to be another hard learned lesson. (Gory photos available on request – I had hoped for a small neat bat-shaped scar but it was not to be)

What it did do was to stop me in my tracks, and I spent the rest of the week very sore from the stitches, reading, chatting to a parrot, drinking beer, eating ice cream, eating freshly caught freshly smoked fish, being pointed it at and talked about by some German tourists and generally enjoying some of the staggering Bavarian scenery. I promised myself I would return.

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sun going down on the Konigssee in the Berchtesgaden Alps. Slightly creepy being in the shadow of the Eagle’s Nest, but truly a beautiful place and a lot of thinking was done on the shores of this lake.

Six stitches, an infected wound from a bit of tree left in my leg and an enforced break from running rather threatened the Tiree trip, but in the end all came good.

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a bit raggedy round the edges, I couldn’t even begin to tell you which beach this was on other than it’s somewhere on Tiree and it must have been windy because I have an extra layer on.

I celebrated my 37th birthday recovering by trying out Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) for the first time the day after the race. I can strongly recommend it – gentle but focused, meditative, flowing, rhythmic and stretching every single muscle in the body. I also had my first trip on a really tiny plane.

I decided to defer my Saltmarsh 75 place. I hadn’t done enough big back-to-back miles, and after last year’s disaster on day 2 (which I still haven’t blogged about), I really wanted to do a good job when I went back. Once it became clear this wasn’t going to happen, I moved my place into next year instead.

I wanted to do something that weekend though, and there was a hill race on, a hill I hadn’t done but one that was on my list and in one of my favourite areas of Scotland where I have had some great times with some great people.

only one way to go... straight up
only one way to go… straight up

Ben Venue proved to be some of the toughest few hours I’ve ever had, there were lots of choked back tears on the way off the hill, and I came very close to a serious asthma attack. It was something that should have been well within my capabilities, but all the bad things that happened this summer suddenly hit at once and everything was completely out of control.

There was a photographer waiting as I crossed the line so I had to at least try to smile. I felt worse after these 9 miles than I’d felt after the Fling, but some really nice people made me feel better after I finished the race. They brought me cake, and made me tea, and generally scraped me up off the floor and helped me feel better. I’d always been a bit wary of road runners, having only encountered the really serious/miserable variety, but here was the exact opposite.

The after effects lasted longer than those from the Fling, and are largely responsible for the tape covering my right lower leg. I literally bashed up against the limits of my already very badly damaged right ankle for the first time in many years, and it really, really hurt to the extent that I thought I had done some serious damage.

And then a few days after, I received a message on Twitter.

Would I like to fill in for a relay team?

Hmmm…Would I be too slow?

No of course not. Just come and join us.

As a result, I had a wonderful day enjoying all the autumn colours around Jedburgh.

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I found myself in a part of Scotland I’d never been to and would never otherwise have come to, I met some new people, caught up with old friends and generally made my peace with the dubious joys of social media.

I also acquired possibly the brightest piece of clothing in my wardrobe in the form of a bright DynoRod orange race t-shirt, which will be extremely useful while clocking up the miles through the long dark Scottish winter.

I’ve just put my race entries in for next year.

Many times this year, I contemplated giving up completely. Speyside last year was a real turning point, and the Fling this year was another.

Now, when I enter a race, it is truly because it’s something I want to do for myself, rather than because I don’t feel like I’m good enough in other areas of my life and I think finishing a big hard race will make up for that.

That’s not to say I only want to do easy things, far far from it.

I’ll finish with another quote, this time from Jake Humphrey:

Never sit in the comfy chair

Thanks to Fiona Keating for this picture. I had been on my feet for 14 hours 40 minutes and had just finished running the 2015 Highland Fling, still smiling though!
Thanks to Fiona Keating for this picture. I had been on my feet for 14 hours 40 minutes and had just finished running the 2015 Highland Fling, still smiling though!
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