Daydreaming

An older house near some water. Ideally by a quiet beach, with some hills or even mountains nearby.

Pets. A dog for taking out in the hills and a dog for curling up on the sofa with afterwards. I love the idea of having a cat but the truth is, I’m not really a cat person and I would like to keep greyhounds.

A room with a view, for writing, for playing, for sitting and reading. With full bookshelves and pictures on the wall. Not too tidy.

A kitchen with a table in. With space to bake and lay out a recipe book. And with a sofa, and a TV.  I like to have the telly on while I cook. The kitchen needs to be tidy.

A space for friends to stay when they want or need to.

A garage, or a decent shed or a barn. With a sink and a worktop, and power and shelves and cupboards.

(A small house and a big garage would be the ideal way around)

Outside space. Not too much to maintain, but somewhere to sit with an early evening drink watching the bats on the better weather days, or to stand with a morning brew and listen to the birds. Honeysuckle in summer. A fuchsia bush. Maybe hanging baskets. Maybe part of a farm, with horses and sheep and goats and cows nearby.

Arms to come home to. A voice that doesn’t scold when tears flow. A piece of paper and a house party to celebrate, maybe a pretty dress, maybe jeans and wellies. No diamond ring.

A pub nearby. Or somewhere that people gather to share food and drinks and music and stories.

A station nearby. Or some connection to the outside world that doesn’t require a car at least.

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It is well within my soul

Lately, I’ve started to feel … I don’t know… really at peace with myself. Those who know me best know that peaceful is rarely a word anyone would use to describe any aspect of me unless I’m asleep. There’s always a long list of things to be done, places to be, things left unfinished.

 
But just recently, these have dropped right back, died right down.
A few things have led to this new state of being – the winding down of harp craziness for the year, the satisfaction of a job well done at the open mic session I performed at recently, progress made on slaying the debt monster, the cold (and often soaking wet) evenings spent building up my training again just for starters.

 
The state of my house is gradually coming back under control and is moving from ‘Armageddon’ into ‘a bit messy round the edges but lived in’ which is how I like it best.

I’m looking forward to the start of December so I can put all my Christmas lights up.

 
The cold dark evenings are proving to be the perfect excuse to curl up with my now very elderly pets and watch things of questionable quality on telly.

I’m working on a harp project that will finish next summer, and that is coming into balance too, moving from a very busy and intensely focused October into a more restorative November and hopefully a glitzy sparkly polished December.

I’ve been out in the hills a bit, both with friends and on my own.

 
There are exciting running things in the diary for what’s left of this year and next year.

My contract at work has been extended another few months so there is no rush to look for something else just yet.

The social life that I once craved so deeply is starting to build. At the start of October I thought my winter was going to be quiet and a bit lonely, but actually things are appearing at a really nice pace and I…

Well, I feel happy.

I’d always like more of course – some bright colours in my hair, smaller skinny jeans, time to put a bit of makeup on in the morning if I fancy, a minute a mile off my running pace, that car, two weeks in the Caribbean, someone to spontaneously make me a mug of tea and/or give me a cuddle at home.

But, in fact I feel more than happy, I feel contended, at ease.

Normally, there’d be an expectation to feel a sense of impending dread, that something is going to come along and ruin all this that I’ve worked so hard for. And, it may well do so. But I know I have the strength to deal with whatever comes my way, and I won’t let the fear of this spoil everything that is good.

I’d never say I’ve got it all figured out, but just recently, and at the grand old age of 38, I’m learning to stop worrying that I haven’t.

 
**It is well within my soul comes from this beautiful blog post about rejoicing when things are good around you, even when there is still sadness or loss to be dealt with.

Samhainn

The Celtic festival of Samhainn brings the end of the harvest season and the start of the winter.

Beltane – the end of winter – feels a long way away at the moment but the start of winter is important too, and this morning I thought to myself, there’s always an opportunity for a fresh start.

This winter, more than ever, needs to be a time of restoring, resting, reviving, recovering and preparing for new growth in the spring.

Beltane has a new significance for me since I heard the gorgeous Beltane Dance by Monika Stadler and it’s now a favourite piece in my harp repertoire. I adore the harmonies, the light joyful slightly hypnotic feeling and a few times when I’ve played it, the sun has actually come out. Truly.

Be it a new academic year, a new calendar year, a solstice, a season or even just the declaration that the old is no more and the new is here, I guess I’m saying you can turn the page whenever you please.

I had a musical meltdown last Sunday night, the cumulative effect of an intensive but transformative month working on a new harp project combined with the first painful encounter with my ex-boyfriend at Saturday’s race. Nothing was said, I’m not sure he even saw me as we didn’t even look at each other but it was the first time I’d seen him in well over a year as I had done a pretty good job of avoiding any events where he might be. I hadn’t expected him to be there and it really shook me up.

Thanks to a really helpful productive supportive chat with my mentor on the harp programme I’m working on, everything that was going on was aired and explored. In the time since, some of it has been resolved. The cleansing this has brought about has been quite profound. The idea of backing yourself, supporting yourself and trusting yourself was the main thing I have taken away from Sunday’s session and my spirit really does feel like a load has been lifted.

The last few weeks have seen me getting more comfortable with being on video, but along the way I have been faced with my own physical appearance in a much more intensive way than usual. I’ve always struggled with my weight, and most days when I look in the mirror I still see the small chunky 7 year old girl with bottle thick glasses, built for comfort not for speed as my Dad has always said, and who got dumped in primary school for the prettier girl who she sat next to.

The video project brought about the harsh realisation that I don’t look or even feel like myself at the moment, and actually I haven’t for a long while. A race photo yesterday proved the final straw, and the contrast between this picture and one of my favourites from two years ago was really painful.

Lifting the load has exposed some other things that needed to be very sadly left in the past, and so this Samhainn I am moving onward into the next phase of my adventures.

The Lion of No tattoo (a daft play on words on LionO from Thundercats) that now takes up the whole of my back is already earning its keep and has gently reminded me to say No when I need to.

All the big race entries are now in for next year, they are gloriously terrifying and will give me a great incentive to look after myself as the training volumes increase once again, and also to get out there in the hills over the winter and the coming spring and make the most of all the incredible scenery I have on my doorstep.

 
 
I’ll never be a glossy honey coloured sleek and slender whippet of a runner, I’m definitely more of a snowy white happy wee Staffy chugging along at the back admiring the scenery. 

 

I’ll leave tall, dark and skinny to my own pets. Right now all I want is to feel strong and fit again, and I know that once I do, I will feel better on the inside as well. And I am really looking forward to buying some new jeans with my Christmas money.

September

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago when September had just arrived.

It’s one of my favourite months of the year. Not just because my birthday is in September and I normally get good weather for it, but also because it remains a month of fresh starts. It’s a while since I was at school or college, but I still get that feeling of progress, of movement and of new things to come.

The school year actually starts in early August here in Scotland but it always catches me out, it still feels too early.

Since I moved up here, it’s also a time to start looking ahead to the winter and the changes this brings. It gets darker much earlier, and the nights draw in much sooner. A couple of weeks ago, it was dark at 9pm, now it’s almost dark at 8pm.

The first year I was here, I hated it the endless grey and gloom but gradually I’ve got used to it. I am now totally in love with how the seasons affect me. There are inevitable changes in feeling, weather, light and surroundings. I could happily do without the soaking wet 6am dog walks, but that’s a small price to pay.

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I get to see how the light moves across the hills behind my house and how the low sun catches the trees. I’ve lived here for four years now, and as a result I’ve come to feel a wonderful sense of recognising the patterns of the changes in light, and this brings a sense of moving through the months.

Last year I read a gorgeous book on living through Scandinavian winters which also helped me change my approach. I also had some great advice from a yoga teacher a few years back – she said that winter is a time for hibernation, for rest and renewal ready to re-emerge totally refreshed in the spring time. I now look forward to curling up with my dogs on the sofa, to the satisfaction of a hot shower after a freezing cold wet run in the hills, and I know to make the most of the sun and the dry weather on the days where there’s a break in the long Scottish winter.

It has been a particularly tough year for many reasons, but it has also been another year of growth and learning and of realising what is important to carry forward with me on the next phase.

I went for a long run in the hills on Sunday, the first in a very long time.

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Ben Ledi in the distance – a wonderful sight as it has always been shrouded in mist whenever I’ve come past it before
It was the furthest I’ve run since I did the Great Glen Ultra in back July.The recovery period from that race has been harder than expected, both physically and emotionally, and as a result I decided not to do a race in October that I’d been preparing for. I’m just not ready, I really wanted to give it my all and at the moment I would just be plodding round and not enjoying myself. My time is so precious that I’d rather use it for something else, and I can go and do the route any time really.

But however tough it was on Sunday (and 16 miles round the Glen Finglass/Mell loop is never easy!), it was a great reminder of how much I love being out in the fresh air, miles and miles from anything and anyone, and how much I appreciate what my body is capable of now.

One of the reasons that I love running so much is that I’m really not very good at it and it JUST DOESN’T MATTER.

(OK occasionally it does matter, but only if there are other people around)

I get so much from it that I don’t get from anything else, even from riding a motorbike or having animals or playing the harp or eating peperoni pizza, which are my other great loves.

I honestly never thought I could love something that I wasn’t any good at.

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Looking towards Glen Finglas from halfway round the Mell circuit in the Trossachs National Park. This is one of my favourite long runs – it is a tough route and is wild, exposed, isolated. I only saw a couple of people in 4 hours which is a big part of why I love it so much.
There are lots of 15-20 mile trail/hill/mountain routes I want to do up here, and if I never enter another race or run any further than that, I know that this will always be Enough. That’s not to say I don’t want to do more, but rather that my reasons for wanting to do so have changed.

Enough has become a big, important word lately.

Not in as in I’ve Had Enough (although that has certainly come to mind a few times!).

But as in Being Enough, and Having Enough.

My upbringing was heavily focused on striving for academic brilliance, for musical genius, always working to be something better than I was, or to have something better than what I had at any given time. I literally don’t know any other way, and while this has brought me some fantastic opportunities and experiences, finally this year I’ve had to face the more negative aspects of this mentality.

I saw a great billboard on the train home a few weeks ago, and it seemed to say everything that I had not been able to. In fact, it made me laugh out loud and think very hard indeed, all at the same time.

It was in turn utterly ridiculous and yet totally correct, and as a result it has become a bit of a mantra lately.

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The emergence of Must

Last April, I became aware of a Thing called the 100 Day Project.

It was created by the artist Elle Luna, partly as a follow up to her book The Crossroads of Should and Must, which was a follow up to this article on Medium that went viral. Properly viral.

I loved the idea of the 100 Day Project, I came up with my own idea for what my project could be, or so I thought, but it quickly ran dry and other things got in the way. It turns out that committing to 100 Days of anything other than running is awfully hard work.

What did happen though, some months later, was that I bought the book.

My birthday was approaching and I was off to spend it alone on a Scottish island. Well, I was going there to run the Tiree ultramarathon, but other than that it would just be me.

At the time, I had recently broken up with my boyfriend after almost two years together. It wasn’t a very nice ending and it left me pretty distraught and reeling from what had just happened. I was at the stage of starting to contemplate trying to put myself back together again, and accepting that yet again I had ignored signals that were right there in front of me, and had let things go beyond a stage where I should have acted on them.

I bought the book on Kindle because I was flying on a very small plane and only had limited bag space. I am a very fast reader and with three full days away, there would be a lot of reading time. I was a little concerned as to whether the images would still come across as intended, but there wasn’t much option in this instance. My rucksack, with everything I needed for three days loafing and one day to be spent running an ultramarathon, only just fitted in the overhead locker on the plane, which was slightly bigger than the one below on the way out (this is the one for the way back home).

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I sat on the plane on the runway and started to read while the plane filled up with passengers. I was hooked immediately.

And then, the roar of a jet engine, the sudden rush of speed, the bump of the little wheels hurtling along the runway, the pressure on my chest as we took off and climbed up into the sky. The tipping sensation as we banked to turn away from the airport, and then the wonder at Scotland’s west coast lochs, mountains and islands seen from above on a beautiful clear day tore me away from the book.

flying west along the Clyde, looking over to Loch Lomond and its islands, destination Tiree

This was my first taste of what I needed to accept as one of my Musts, and it was one I’d not felt for a while.Memories of riding my motorbike fast, of being lined up on a grid, my left hand wrapped round the clutch lever, right hand holding the throttle, waiting for the lights to go out, launching myself carefully off the line, of tipping into a bend, of dragging my knees on the tarmac, of the oppressive heat of a hot day spent on a hot bike in hot leathers.

No. 6, on a 583cc Ducati Monster. First ever race, first ever knee down. Clearways at Brands Hatch, April 2007. My least favourite corner. Almost.
No. 6, on a 583cc Ducati Monster. First ever race, first ever knee down. Clearways at Brands Hatch, April 2007. My least favourite corner. Almost.

This was Me, or rather a huge part of me that I had had to let go a long time ago and one that I desperately wanted back.

But this Must competes with another one…

And I’m still not sure how and if they fit together or not, and if not, which one to choose and how to go about it, and how to let go of the other one. There’s still a whole lot of Should in there when I think of the other Must.

I wheeled my road bike out of the garage recently to give it a bit of attention before its MOT this weekend. It has been a long time since I rode regularly, longer than I care to admit to. I used to ride between 350 and 500 miles a week, riding an ever changing list of bikes 40 miles to work and 40 miles back in all weathers, and then out again at the weekends with friends. Circumstances changed and I had to stop for a bit. There’s a story for another time.

And then it wasn’t the same when I started again in Scotland.

Riding became about fear, about feeling constantly under the spotlight, about every mistake being noticed and scrutinised, always being asked why I didn’t want to go out. The road surfaces near my house are absolutely dire. The weather is less than bike friendly here, and we had a dreadfully wet summer last year. My drive is mostly gravel and on an awkward corner with an equally awkward slope, and it’s not wide enough to get my bike in and out without moving my car. These are all small things that would never have stopped me years ago, but seem to now. I’d really like to ride on the track again, but I’m only too aware of where my confidence is and I’d like to get some of it back before I put my race leathers back on.

Last year though, only a couple of weeks before we split up, we rode down to the ferry at Wemyss Bay and then headed over to the island of Bute.

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We ended up coming back via the Rhubodaich-Colintraive ferry, the shortest ferry trip in Scotland.

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This brought us back to the mainland via the Cowal peninsula, empty, remote, wild in places. The roads were tremendous and R started to feel a little of the pressure of having someone behind so he pulled over and waved me past.

Just for a while, I opened the throttle and left him and the rest of the world behind for a bit, and I rode.

I really rode. I could still do it, and it was still there.

Everything was still there.

The tarmac was warm, smooth and flowing.

There was no one about and I was completely in the moment, looking only as far ahead as the next corner while still planning for what or whatever was on (or might be just over) the horizon.

I wasn’t riding enormously quickly, but I was back to the smoothness that I had known so long ago. The bike felt fantastic, I moved quickly and easily through the gears, clicking up without using the clutch as I’d learnt on the track. The brakes were perfect and my new adjustable clutch lever meant my small hands weren’t straining to reach.

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an unscheduled pit stop in Arrochar. a cup of builders’ brew, milk and one sugar. a large portion of chips with loads of vinegar and ketchup. heavenly!

And then I had my first ride out in ages a couple of weeks ago, down to the bike shop to get said MOT. It was nerve-wracking, I didn’t ride particularly well, and it was extremely hot. I got to the bike shop a bit late, heart pounding, hands shaking. But I’d made it, and I’d loved it. MOT certificate in my jacket pocket, I started the bike up to ride home. I was mortified when I looked at the mileage on the odometer.

I can’t wait to rectify the situation and start adding to the pitifully low number. I’ve not set a target (very unlike me) but next year, I don’t want to feel that sense of sadness when I realise how little I’ve actually ridden.

I have a couple of longer rides planned in my head but first I need to grit my teeth, bash through and get my confidence back. It’ll come, and I’m looking forward to all the beautiful places I’ll see in the mean time.

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the only bike that has really turned my head in recent years. the gorgeous MV Brutale 899R. strictly a sunny day bike and so it will have to stay in the showroom.

World, keep on turning

There’s an almost back-to-school feeling in the air lately.

The race is run. Not almost run, like in the song, but actually run. The immediate recovery is complete, and now it’s right back to normality.

Except it isn’t.

Things feel different. There are a couple of obvious reasons for the difference which I won’t go into here, but I’ve been surprised by some of the other things that have come about.

Generally I feel so much more in control of what’s going on around me.

A few days away from working at the day job and away from harp related email have helped enormously of course, but otherwise the difference is mostly due to having more time.

There’s no denying that training for an ultramarathon takes time – 35-50 miles a week takes a LOT of time, and more so if you’re a slow runner like me. And even more so when you add hills and trails to those miles rather than endlessly bashing tarmac.

The training clearly takes phenomenal amounts of energy, but I think what I hadn’t appreciated is just how much it drains you even when you’re not actually training. I have been so tired for these last few months. My greyhounds’ sleeping habits and my inability to switch myself off at night haven’t helped, but most of all running and planning and driving around and endless extra loads of washing have totally worn me out. Housework has been a long distant memory beyond the essential, I’d hardly played my harp except for booked gigs and my motorbike’s MOT and tax expired without me realising. My dogs have been missing their sofa time with me, and me with them.

I had three unscheduled days at home after I arrived back a bit earlier than planned, and I barely told anyone I wasn’t still away. My weekend plans were changed by the weather, and I hardly left the house except to buy food. Instead, I just pottered around doing whatever took my fancy.

The scruffy pile of sheet music that has been shooting me dirty looks for months – tidied. Filed. Scanned into the iPad I’ve had for a couple of months but not had time to use.

The pile of receipts that has been slipping down the back of the table for months – tidied. Filed/binned as necessary.

The kitchen floor – properly clean.

The dust bunnies under the sofas, under the stairs, behind my bike – gone.

The washing up – done and put away.

I read, dozed, watched telly, ate the last remaining items of junk food, and circled round again.

I had a bride and groom-to-be round last week to confirm their music choices for their wedding next weekend. My harp was pointing the other way, giving me a different perspective, so before they arrived I took a quick picture for my Instagram feed. As I looked at it before briefly editing it, it occurred to me my house looked…

Pretty wonderful actually. Inviting. Homely. Quietly stylish even. It looked like I lived there. Tidy but not clinical. A greyhound snoozed on the sofa.

We had a hugely enjoyable hour talking about their wedding and the music they wanted. It quickly turned into a session of “can you play…?, what about …., oh what’s that song that goes….etc” and not only did I have all the music they wanted (bar one new thing which won’t take long to learn at all), it was all things I already knew well.

And we soon had a list of great choices which are special to them, and which I enjoy playing. I can’t wait to be a part of their day.

I love sharing the music I play, and it was great to do so at home. I loved feeling comfortable in my house not worrying about how untidy it was or what cleaning I hadn’t done. Their little girl loved having a go on the harp and loved meeting my dogs.

There are some tremendously absorbing musical projects in the pipeline, and rather than worrying about how on earth I’m going to fit everything in, I’m actually really looking forward to getting started in even though I know they will take a lot from me.

There’s space for those projects now, and as I went through my list book this morning, I realised there’s space for quite a lot of things at the moment. Rather than worrying about how empty things look, I am really enjoying the peace and I’m thinking what else I want from my life and how it will all pan out.

Another big one

When I started this blog last year after deciding my old one had come to an end, I thought I’d be writing about running a lot. It’s one of the things that’s most important in my life and I do a lot of it. Because of where I live and the kind of running I do, I get to go to some pretty special places even when I’m just out racking up the miles. I’ve met some brilliant people through running and it’s fair to say I tend to plan my life around what’s coming up next runwise. It has changed my life for the better and when it goes well, I look and feel like this:

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Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for this fab picture from the 2014 Highland Fling Relay

Instead, over the last year this has become a blog about feelings, about change, and about restlessness. A relationship ended last summer, and trying to recover from some of the things that had happened has taken a lot more from me than I expected. I needed to find a way deal with all the feelings, and writing seems to be a way for me to do that.

But now, I think I’m through the worst of it and I’m reflecting on other things. One of them is quite big and looming quite large on the horizon.

I’m a week away from another big race, another big distance that will once again push me to, and probably well past, my limits. I didn’t know these limits could even exist for me but over the last few years I have pushed and pushed myself onto bigger and longer things. I tend to fall apart emotionally every so often but physically I always seem to hang on. I hope that continues next weekend.

I’ll be running the Great Glen Ultramarathon which covers the Great Glen Way, a long distance path that links Fort William to Inverness. The exact distance depends on who you ask but is around 71-73 miles. I have 22 hours to complete this, and my aim is just to finish it within this time.  I’m hoping to take around 20 hours, and I’d be absolutely delighted if it was around that. There’ll be no sleeping, not too much stopping and definitely no falling in the canal.

I started training properly in December last year with the annual Marcothon challenge. I ran for 31 days on the bounce and only really struggled to get out the door on days 3 and 4, a bit unexpected so early on.

And then work craziness kicked in and January, February and half of March were a total training disaster. I was working long hours at the day job and working weekends doing the rounds of wedding fairs with my harp. I was in the midst of a deeply unpleasant working environment and was arriving home emotionally and physically drained. My heart rate was crazy and I just about hung on to my mental health despite not being able to run very much, but it was a pretty close call and I was shocked by how long it took to shake all that off again.

I started a new job in the middle of March and some balance was restored pretty much instantly. My training diary has been much more consistent since then, I’ve banked some good miles and built up as carefully as I could given the mileages I would need to be doing as the weeks went by. I’ve still done nowhere near enough miles, but by the time I get to the start line I will have run almost 700 miles since January. The whole of last year I ran just over 900 miles.

I’ve trudged up big mountains and picked my way carefully down again (including in rather unexpected knee-deep snow one weekend!). I’ve crossed Helvellyn with a wayward husky who I picked up along the way, just chatting to a stranger and sharing the craziness of the conditions. I’ve camped out in the freezing cold in the shadow of a snow covered Skiddaw, waded across icy rivers, been kissed by a big dog, been attacked by a less big dog, got a bit lost on more than one occasion, been rescued by a fisherman, and drunk beer in the sun after 9 hours on my feet. I’ve learned to confidently pitch a tent on my own, put faces to social media profile pictures, boiled in 30 degree heat in Scotland in June, been half frozen in arctic conditions in the Lake District in May and I’ve finally done something that made my mum worry about my safety. And I’ve only lost one toenail along the way.

Running wise I’ve done a few fast sessions, mostly (and very unexpectedly) along the Clyde. I don’t know what it is about running in the city centre but I go faster there and I love running in my lunch breaks. The only thing I can put it down to is to being fresher in the middle of the day than at the end.

But mostly I’ve run a lot of slow miles. I’m not a fast runner at all, I get in a dreadful panic with my breathing if I push too hard. Given what’s been going on emotionally, I’ve kept my running as something that makes me feel good and have paced things according to how I’ve felt at the time.

There have been a couple of unexpected breakthroughs along the way.

The main one has been regarding food. I had a chat with a nutritionist at one of the shows about what I was planning and the worries I had regarding the length of time being such a big increase on what I’d done before.

I faded badly in the 53 mile long Highland Fling last year as my energy levels were so variable. And I have always struggled with not being able to eat much following a big run and then as a result battled with arm-chewing levels hunger for a good few days after.

We spoke about the importance of not just fuelling to the end of a big run, but fuelling for recovery. This was something I hadn’t really thought about before, and he explained the importance of eating during and just after a run in terms of the impact it would have on my training afterwards. Given the step up in mileage I was looking at, this was what made the penny finally drop and I vowed to make some big changes.

The solution was to start eating earlier, to be much more focused on eating regularly and to really think about the required quantities of carbs and protein. I’m still not good with getting enough protein and my diet needs a lot of work but despite that, I’ve had some great results.

I have been rather shocked at how much I’ve eaten on runs compared to last year. I’m a small girl, I weigh really heavy for my actual size and I have battled with my weight since I was very young. I am very, very conscious of how much I eat. I’ve never starved myself as I love my food too much, but we don’t have an easy relationship. However I knew things had changed when after the Helvellyn day, I realised I’d eaten everything in my pack despite taking a bit more than I thought I needed, and I could have eaten even more still. It was a cold day and I was moving more slowly than expected because of the snow but I was still really surprised.

Long runs are now fuelled on an interesting combination of Bountys, digestive biscuit bars, small tins of Coke and marmite sandwiches with a couple of caffeine gels thrown in along with the occasional Snickers bar and bag of Randoms. I tend to feel a bit like a cart horse on long days but the benefits have really been felt.

The other breakthrough has been appreciating how well my body has coped as the mileage has gone up. It seems that long and slow suits me, and I recover well.

My bad leg has complained a couple of times, and the good leg has taken a pasting making up for the weakness. But thanks to my very supportive osteopath Daniel Gerber and knowing/feeling when to stop for a day or two, I have been able to keep going towards the bigger picture. The bad leg has still not quite recovered from the Ben Venue hill race descent last October (warts-and-all race report to follow at some point) and complains firmly at too much steep downhill. I think that will need to be a consideration for a while yet until I get that leg built back up again – I’ve really missed the cycling this year as it helps both legs work together better.

I’ve chosen my kit for the race, and I might even be standing on the start line in shorts since I’ve found some that are long enough for me not to inflict my pasty wobbly thighs and footballer knees on the world.

As has become the pattern since my bike racing days, my kit is a bit battered, well worn (apart from the new shorts) and has seen me through some big adventures. I introduce new kit slowly, one thing at a time and never on race day. It gets tested on a long training run and is then either designated as race-fit or otherwise, in which case it only gets used on short runs.

Running at Tiree last year, I realised too late that I was wearing a stripy long sleeve top and leopard print leggings which clashed somewhat. Tough luck. Both have done many happy miles, they don’t rub or get overly damp or sticky, they’ve survived endless washing very well and I always pull them on with a smile. It might seem daft but having favourite familiar old friends really helps settle my nerves when I’m fretting.

It’s honestly a total coincidence that most of my kit is my favourite colour (blue blue electric blue since you ask) given most of it is bought at heavy discount and/or a couple of years out of date. Thanks to my gran who gives me birthday/Christmas money and a bit of petrol money when I go to visit, I have an escape/adventure fund and this goes towards my running shoes and race entries etc. If ever I get to go bike racing again I shall have a Sponsored By Granny sticker on my bike. In fact maybe I should put one on my running pack. I think she’d quite like it.

There’ll be a small fluffy lion in my pack too, a gift from my Brownie leader days. This was a really happy (and much missed) part of my life, and thinking of that time reminds me to be strong and courageous when I am flagging, as I know I will. This poor wee lion has been rescued from the toothless jaws of my greyhound on more than one occasion, but lives on to fight another day. The words to Rabbit Heart by Florence and the Machine also help explain the significance of lions for me but there’s also another aspect, perhaps a story for another day.

The race starts at 1am on Saturday 2nd July and the cutoff is closing time, 11pm on the Saturday night.

I’ve run in the middle of the night before, supporting Audrey at the West Highland Way race last year, coming over the Devil’s Staircase some time getting on for midnight. It was incredibly special looking out over the mountains around Glencoe and thinking of the rest of the country (apart from a few hardy fellow runners out in the Scottish Highlands!) being tucked up in bed.

But I’ve never run through into the early morning and I have to admit to being rather worried about this.

At 1.40am the other Saturday morning, I opened the kitchen door to let the previously mentioned greyhound out for a visit to the garden. It was totally dark, and I shivered a little as I realised I’d be about 3 miles along the way by this time on race day.

And then a few nights later, said greyhound needed out at 3.30am, and it was light.

I’m desperately excited about seeing the sun rise over the Great Glen as I head east, and I hope I’ll be in a good state and still smiling by the time it goes down again next Saturday night.

There’s one 10 mile run left to do tomorrow morning, and then just a couple of short ones next week. As is normal before a big event, I’m nervous, but as one of my music teachers reminded me a few years back, nerves can come in anticipation of something exciting as well as for negative reasons.

There’ll be packing, and epic levels of faffing, but the race start will be here before I know it and I can’t wait.

pale blinds drawn all day

It felt like ages since I’d seen the sun.

It was hammering with rain on this morning’s dog walk, and again when I walked from the bus station into work.

I had a couple of bits I needed to do over lunch, but the weather wasn’t looking particularly accommodating for a wander round the city centre.

And then at some point, the clouds cleared.

I headed out to get some fresh air.

I carved my way through the office workers on lunch breaks, past all the concrete and glass . The height of the buildings around me made things rather gloomy, although the sky was clear and the sun was shining somewhere.

As I turned onto Buchanan Street and headed down towards Frasers, I was blinded by the full on low winter sun emerging through the buildings down by the river. I struggled to walk in a straight line down the street, dodging people glued to phones coming in the opposite direction, my eyes screwed up and feeling as though I was just emerging from a long sleep. The street was crowded, there were buskers, everywhere noise and crush and busyness.

The light was stunning against the damp pavements, and I wanted to grab a picture. But I couldn’t see at all.

I took my phone out of my bag, picked a spot in the middle of the street, stood for the briefest moment and pressed the button. I hoped for the best and loved the results.

The disc shaped sun in my picture reminded me very slightly of The Weather Project at the Tate Modern, which I was lucky enough to see. I can’t quite believe it was so long ago. I’ll never forget that first glimpse of the Turbine Hall, and the enormous sun beating down silently on the people so far beneath it.

Tonight when I left work, it was still light. Just a little, but it was a real turning point.

It’s coming.

I heard the news today, oh boy

Somehow it’s the middle of January already.

I’m sat on the sofa, disentangling one greyhound from a phone charging cable while maintaining a respectful distance from the other, who will startle and bolt for her bed if I move too quickly.

The new year has brought good things, bad things and sad things already. A poorly friend, hard going at the day job, and then of course the news of David Bowie’s passing came through yesterday morning.

I finished Marcothon on Hogmanay. It was my biggest ever mileage in a calendar month. Then I took a couple of days off running. I should have run the Hardmoors 30 on New Year’s Day, but I decided against it in the end. I felt a little sad about it, but I missed it for the right reasons and it will be there another year.

There are new things in the calendar this year. 3 days in the Lake District at the end of April. 70-odd miles inside 24 hours along the Great Glen Way between Fort William and Inverness in July. Hopefully third time lucky at the 75 miles between South Woodham Ferrers and Salcott cum Virley (with an overnight stop).

I’m so excited about everything that’s coming my way. A little extra food consumed over New Year wasn’t quite run off thanks to those few days off, but I know the extra warmth around the middle will soon disappear once the miles climb up again. I love the security of building my training up – the feeling that progress is being gradually made, and that the preparation I put in now will be felt in every mile I run later this year.

There is a mountain on the German/Austrian border with my name on, and I hope to climb it this year. There’s talk of a trip back to Mont Ventoux, a big (motor)bike ride around the north coast of Scotland, and of hills and mountains to be walked up, run up, cycled up. A couple of long distance trails to be explored. There’s a tent and assorted camping kit to be researched and chosen, and navigation to be practised in whatever weather Scotland cares to throw at me.

Right now, most of all, I can’t wait for the days to draw out a bit so I can get up in the hills behind my house after work.

And for now, I’ll be listening to a lot of music. David Bowie was a huge part of my teenage years after I borrowed the Singles Collection on tape from Stratford-upon-Avon library when I was about 14. It was a great introduction to his music over the years. My dad was a big fan too, and listening to the music that he loved helped me learn a bit more and gave us something else to share.

Dad’s favourite song is Let’s Dance. I have two, and I couldn’t choose between them. I adore Sound and Vision, and I also love Everyone Says Hi from the Heathen album.

I’d had the album for a good few years, but for some reason, I had it in the car the weekend I made the final trip north from Essex to start my new life up in Glasgow. I listened to that song on repeat for much of the journey.

It includes the wonderful lyrics, which are among some of my favourites ever:

Don’t stay in a bad place,

where they don’t care how you are

That’s not to say no one cared because that’s just not true, but I needed to move and start again, and the song felt like a letter from the past wishing me well in the future and reminding me I could come back if it didn’t work out.

Mr Bowie, thank you for everything you did and everything you left behind. I was angry enough about cancer, now even more so.

Someone posted something somewhere yesterday, I can’t remember it exactly, but they were saying how the earth was however many billion years old, and how lucky we’d been to be on the same planet at the same time as David Bowie.

I agree.

Daydreaming

The last few weeks have been rather more jam-packed than even I’m used to, and not with good things. Each night I’ve been arriving home utterly drained, with a to-do list longer than I can possibly keep up with.

The way forward has been a bit clouded so I’ve had my head down trying my best to get through it.

Daydreaming has been a really good way of keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Warm evenings in Alpine villages with cold beer and live music

A beautiful 1980s Mercedes SL

Deserted west coast of Scotland beaches

Flights on a teeny plane

Summit cake shared with friends

Sofa days with wet noses, tails like whips and skinny ribs

The moment on a run when the rasp from my lungs disappears

Racing the sunset home through the lavender fields of Provence

The secret whisky drinking club

Warm tarmac and tipping into Paddock Hill followed by the bounce at the bottom

Pizza, pizza, pizza

Freezing my bum off in a football stand sipping hot chocolate with my Dad

A wee restaurant that takes an epic journey to get to

An open house in the hills with huge windows and a long drive lined with Lombardy poplars, and filled with friends, food, drink, music, pets

Cycling up short sharp climbs round the Applecross peninsula while remaining completely relaxed

Freshly smoked fish eaten on the shore of a turquoise Bavarian lake

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