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Skye Trail Ultra – prelude

April was one of the craziest months I’ve had in years.

It started in Kintyre – with a twitter buddy who I had finally met in real life, a castle, and a couple of beaches. That weekend was about getting some time away and putting the finishing touches to the gig I was working towards.

Then came the gig itself. It went really well, but the emotional intensity of it combined with the physical effect of so many late nights on the bounce left me in a bit of a mess.

Every single bit of me was absolutely exhausted.

My reward for surviving the gig was a trip to Skye over Easter weekend, the extra days off making the drive that bit more worthwhile. I had entered the Skye Trail Ultra race and I wanted to check out some of the route, but there was another reason too.

My friend Ali is the head chef at the Sligachan hotel and kindly offered some floor space almost at the bottom of the Cuillins. I’d consulted the Skye bus timetables and I had a plan all laid out to spend Good Friday checking out the first section of the ridge as far as the Storr, and then to head out on Easter Saturday to find my way back along the Boreraig beach section which I’d probably be doing in darkness.

I arrived late on Thursday night, to a huge hug from Ali and most of a bottle of red wine. It was so good to see him after so long, and it was a rather later night than either of us had intended.

Friday morning came, and I felt awful. This wasn’t due to the wine, surprisingly. I was beyond tired, and was dipping into exhaustion and overwroughtness (if that’s even a word).

Still, I stuck to the plan – 09.24 bus from the Old Man of Storr car park, get off at Duntulm, trudge along ridge as far as the Storr, collect car. The weather looked pretty murky, but it was dry at least. I arrived at the layby in plenty of time, parked up and looked up at the ridge.

The ridge was thick with mist that was boiling away down the rock formations around the Old Man of Storr. It looked thoroughly evil up there, and I was consumed with a really brief but strange sense of dread and foreboding. The best way I can describe it is like the Dementors’ kiss, and in that instance I knew that today was no day for me to be up there.

I drove a little further up the road trying to think of another plan, and cursed myself as it got clearer and clearer the further north I went. I could turn round and maybe still catch the bus, but it would be tight.

I turned round and decided to leave my fate in the hands of the bus service. If I made the bus, I’d go. If I missed the bus, so be it and I was not meant to be up there that day.

Just as I came round the last corner towards the car park, there was the bus. No ridge for me.

I thought for a few minutes and contemplated having a sleep in the car. I decided to try and salvage something, and set off to walk up to the Old Man of Storr for a bit of a look round before heading back to Sligachan to check out the Glen. I’d not seen this part of Skye before apart from driving past it, and at least it would be some good steep uphill training.

I tried to keep up a decent intensity as I walked but there was nothing in my legs or anywhere else. I got up past the Old Man and stopped for a little while to have a look out across the sea to Applecross. I’d covered about a mile and a half.

I plodded back down, not in any rush, and reached the layby which was now filling up with cars. I needed another plan, I wanted to make best use of my time here and at least see some of the race route on both days.

I’d wanted to save Glen Sligachan for the race itself – there shouldn’t be any navigational issues here, it was just one path (or so I thought) all the way to Elgol.

The words “in the shadow of the Cuillin where only footsteps can take you” I’d read in one the various race reports had filled me with excitement and anticipation when I read the race route description, and I wanted to have something special to look forward to on race day.

But here I was, with by now half a day left before I had told Ali to expect me back at the hotel. I decided to check out Glen Sligachan after all, intending to get to the beach at Camasunary and then turn back and retrace my steps – an out and back of about 12-13 miles.

I set off down Glen Sligachan. It was a good path but as promised, it was soaking wet in places with many streams to cross. I was wearing my X-Claws expecting to be up on the ridge, and they were not the thing for this path. The studs on the bottom are a little soft and very flexible which is great on wet grass and mud, but here on the soaking wet rock, I kept feeling my feet sliding about and it made me rather nervous.

The path felt far more hilly than I had expected, and I couldn’t get into any rhythm at all. Everything felt like a massive effort and I got really disheartened. This was meant to be one of the easier, flatter bits of the race route and here I was, struggling and feeling all my confidence melting away.

And then, in one of the bigger streams just before the glen changes direction slightly towards Camasunary, I felt a horrendous sharp pain in my left calf. It came from nowhere, and straight away there was this horrible sensation in the bottom of my stomach which usually tells me I’ve done something pretty serious.

Despite this (and runners will understand this although most other people will think it’s a stupid thing to do and they’d be right) I still tried to run on for a couple of steps just in case, but I was in agony every time my left foot hit the ground. It was no good, I would have to turn back, no easy feat in the middle of a stream on stepping stones when every motion sent pain shooting through my leg.

I felt sick. I’d covered 5 ¾ miles and it would be a long walk back, if I could even walk that far.

I had to walk. There was no question of it. There was no way to reach anyone to come and get me, and no road for miles. There were a couple of people a way behind me and I could see they had some walking poles, so if it got too bad I figured I could wait and ask them if they could lend me their poles.

I figured out a way of moving, slowly and carefully, with my toes pointing inwards on my bad leg.

I had to laugh here, as the usual bad leg was promoted to good leg status. I was effectively walking on half a good leg. This kept my spirits up all the way back, it really was quite ridiculous and there was just no point in letting myself get miserable. I figured it was probably going to take me a good three hours to get back so I resigned myself to it and tried to keep moving.

I decided to count the streams, minor and major, for something to keep my mind focused on rather than the pain in my leg.

Every step was painful but the stream crossings were horrendous. I couldn’t twist or flex my left foot/leg at all without feeling sick due to the pain, and the reduced rotational motion I have in my right leg meant that things weren’t great on that side either. I was really scared of slipping because of the pain that would ensue, but I was also conscious that if I didn’t try and relax, I would be more likely to fall and hurt myself even more.

I’m guilty of overpacking for long runs, and due to the likelihood of bad weather I had even more kit with me than usual. In the end, I was grateful of every last bit of spare kit as I ended up wearing everything I had and still feeling a little cold towards the end. I also ate everything I had and could have eaten more. Eventually I made it back to the hotel.

The upside of this was that I got to try out Ali’s new menu, which was launching that night. I was pretty sure there was no chance of me running or even walking the route round Boreraig beach now, so I could spend some time with Ali after his shift and take my time the next day.

The food was tremendous although I must have looked a sight limping around the hotel, and I was so tired after my rather-more-exciting-than-anticipated day out that I could hardly keep my eyes open through my pudding. I’d planned to have a whisky in the bar after, but headed straight off to the comfort of my incredibly toasty sleeping bag.

Ali came in after his shift ended, about 10.30 I think, I heard him and woke up and thought I should really say hi and ask how his shift and the new menu had gone, but before I knew it, it was morning.

I was so glad of the time with Ali. He is one of the kindest people I know, and a long time ago we were more than friends. I was horrible to him. It was too soon after a disastrous relationship I’d been in, and I wasn’t ready to believe that I was worth being treated properly. He did just that, and I was just awful towards him. We split up after a short time together, agreed to stay in touch and I hoped that one day we would meet again in better circumstances.

I can’t think of a better way to do so, he had forgiven me, I have almost forgiven me and it was wonderful to spend that time seeing his new life, seeing how much he loves his work and getting to eat some more of his amazing food.

All those years ago when I was a climber, I would never have imagined coming to the Cuillin and running past them instead of going up them, and I laughed to myself when I realised that it was 20 years since I last climbed and here I was, still kipping on someone’s floor to save money to go and play in the hills.

It was an uncomfortable drive home, but with a bit of rest my calf started to feel better and I managed an evening of incredibly enthusiastic dancing with my friend Laurie on Easter Sunday with no ill effects.

I also managed a 5 mile run with Angela on the Tuesday before seeing my osteopath Daniel who diagnosed nothing serious, prodded in some very painful places and shooed me off with the words “just keep bloody running”. I was careful on it for a few days and it started to feel better.

That is, until I got a bit carried away on the way down from Cort ma Law. I love running up there so much and was so glad to be there after a few months that I switched off completely and with the car park in sight, I jumped off a little rock on the path, just as I normally would.

There was a horrible crunching tearing ripping sensation in the same place as before, and even more pain than the last time.

The next day I had to sit down to get dressed, the dog walk was painfully slow and I couldn’t get up and down the stairs at work without holding onto the hand rail.

Back to Daniel, taped up again, still nothing major, “a divot but not a tear”, but climbing mountains in the Lake District for three days as part of the GL3D was now not a sensible option. This was meant to be my big mileage weekend before Skye, and I was doubtful that I would be healed in time.

With an empty bank holiday weekend, I headed back to Kintyre again.

The month ended as it had started, looking out across the beach towards Arran. I heeded the warnings that my body was desperately trying to give me, and I took things very easy indeed although I did manage a gentle walk along the Kintyre Way in an attempt to keep up at least some mileage.

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Things kept healing and I decided to try a big run the next weekend.

My longest run all year had been 22 miles so I really needed another big one.

If I managed without any issues, Skye was on, but if not, I had to be brave and honest with myself and accept it would be yet another DNS and another year before I would get to do the race.

I was amazed to manage just shy of 30 very hot hilly miles out in the Trossachs with no pain, no twinges, good energy levels and good spirits.

Skye was on.

 

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The hill

I’m back to proper running this week. After the Eiger race, I had a few days of no running at all and then a few little tentative plods. And then I really started to miss it, so things are back to normal.

I have a couple of races earmarked for the autumn and winter, and a couple of trips to the Lake District which are in the early planning stages.

I also have a coach who is helping me prepare for next year’s big birthday adventure. I won’t know if this is truly doable until after those Lakes trips, but given she knows how fast I run (or rather how not very fast!) and the fact that so far she hasn’t said don’t be ridiculous, I figure it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

While I was away, I had a lot of time to reflect on my running and how I feel about myself and my body. Getting timed out during the race was not unexpected but it was still pretty tough, and for a few days after I did wonder if I was just being silly with this whole running thing. Working so hard to be so slow. Stressing about cut-offs rather than enjoying my surroundings. All my spare time and money and energy (and more) being taken up with training. Maybe I was just kidding myself after all, and I needed to find something else.

Out in Grindelwald, I was surrounded by mountains, and I felt the urge to start rock-climbing again. To stretch out and to use my body in a different way. To think about moving and striving for different things, to solve different problems along the way. My flexibility has all but disappeared thanks to the constant pounding of running, and I miss being bendy and strong.

A little voice reminded me I had seen a circus school in Glasgow a couple of years back and fancied going along. I decided this would be the first thing I would look into when I got back.

I have loved what I have been able to do so far, I’ve been a little surprised by what I can’t do (yet), and I have found something else I want to devote some time, energy and commitment to. It asks different things of me, and gives different things back, and I need that.

But after my break, I still wanted to run. There are some changes to make, but I still want to run.

Last weekend, I met a fellow small person and steady runner friend for a trip up a favourite hill. I felt stronger than I expected, and I ran more than I thought I would.

Sometimes when I am out in the hills, I ask myself whether I really do love all this or whether it’s something I feel I should love, maybe because of all the social media posts that tell us how important nature is and how we can find all the answers we need out there etc. Maybe it’s just the accounts I choose to follow (and continue to follow because I really enjoy them) but the positivity can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. The side of things that says, hills and mountains (and life itself) are awfully hard work and they test us in ways we don’t always expect, well that doesn’t seem to be such a loud voice.

But standing on the side of Meikle Bin with my friend and the canine assembly, I felt really happy to be back there, and in better shape emotionally and physically than the last time I’d climbed that hill. I did feel real love, love for that view down the hill looking out towards Loch Lomond, and that spot, and for the many happy memories of some of the people I’ve shared that hill with. Love for the life that I have built here, and for the generally sunny outlook that I am able to maintain even when the chips are down.

It was a hard run and it took a long time for my breathing to really settle down. Things have been stressful lately and my fitness has suffered a bit from the post-race break. But with about half a mile to go, when we were almost back at the car, I felt something I haven’t felt for a long time.

I call it rasp-free running, where my lungs and brain finally settle down and there is no asthmatic breathing death rattle noise and everything is in total harmony and I am just breathing in and out and not thinking of anything else apart from that.

Breathing in, breathing out, heart beating, legs moving, being a part of the scenery that is passing.

Willow, Hooch, Isla – Thanks Angela for the picture
Willow and Hooch (I’ll have what Hooch is having, he did this for ages!) – Thanks Angela for the picture

Take the day off..in fact take two

Sometimes you have those days where nothing is happening.

There is nothing in your legs.

Your head is telling you it’s silly to try, but your heart feels like you should give it a go anyway, just to be sure. It takes me a while to get going some days and I’ve had some brilliant runs that have started very badly, so for me it’s always worth pushing on in these circumstances.

My legs felt so tight they could snap at any moment. I had stopped to stretch them off a couple of times but nothing was helping. My head was fuzzy and I could happily have closed my eyes and curled up under the nearest bush for a long sleep.

I got 3.5 horrible hard miles into my 20 mile run on Sunday , decided this was utterly futile and so I turned round shortly after I passed the 10k tree and headed back home. I managed to run 1.5 miles on the way back, and then I gave up and walked the rest.

I felt rather silly walking along with my running pack on, but I carried on listening to my podcast and the time soon passed. I’m always amazed by how quickly I get cold when I’m walking in my running kit, and I was glad to get home and feel the warmth of my dog as he greeted me at the door.

Two days later, two whole days with no running, and the bounce has returned to my legs at last. I’m ready to run again and I only have a handful of short runs left to complete before I head out to Switzerland for what might just be my biggest running adventure yet – the Eiger Ultra Trail, the full distance E101 course.

Skye feels like it was years ago and yet only 5 ½ weeks have passed. I’ve still not finished my race report (sorry Jeff, it is coming honest) and I’m still processing everything that happened in those 22 hours and the days either side.

I think I’ve recovered at last and my blisters have all healed, although the skin is still dropping off my feet. This is something new and something slightly alarming – not painful, just a little strange.

I’m apprehensive, nervous, excited, a whole jumble of different emotions, but probably the biggest one is,

Have I underestimated what lies ahead?

As ever, there’s only one way to find out.

Feeling Good

Saturday’s “long” run took me to a new place with a good friend. I found myself with a spare weekend and no plans so I put a shoutout on Facebook. It was good to catch up with Audrey and to run a bit of the Glen Ogle race route. I’ve driven out this way a couple of times but otherwise it’s not an area I know at all.

The route we ran is probably absolutely beautiful, but we couldn’t see very much at all.

We had a slight fail on the equipment front – I’d forgotten to put any Smidge on and Audrey hadn’t brought a waterproof. I had but decided against wearing it as it was so warm, and so we looked like drowned rats when we arrived back at the car.

It was a day where I felt glad to be alive – glad to be running again, glad to have mostly recovered from the latest lurgy, glad to live in such a gorgeous part of the world, glad to have good friends around me.

I joined Audrey halfway into her 24 mile run, which meant she had slowed down a bit, plus there was a lot of walking anyway as there were some fairly steep hills. The pace was just right for me and how I was feeling. My chest was a bit tight in a few places and my glutes and quads felt like concrete, but otherwise, everything felt good. I couldn’t believe I was out running and feeling ready to start getting back to normal mileage for a couple of weeks before dropping down again ahead of the Eiger.

I did a short easy session in the gym midweek. That morning, I felt absolutely shattered and I questioned whether I should be doing anything at all, but my body felt so stuck, so stiff and stodgy and fed up and not my own. I decided a little gentle movement couldn’t hurt, and I would stop if anything felt really wrong. It was the right decision to give it a go, and I felt much much better for it. I managed 3 1/2 steady minutes on the versa climber/torture rack, and I chuckled to myself as I remembered the first time I tried it back in December when I just about survived a minute on it. There will be many more minutes spent on it over the next few weeks as I continue to prepare for some massive climbs and descents in the Alps.

I’ve only been using the gym regularly since about December but I’ve been surprised how much it has become part of my training and part of my week. I was even more surprised when I realised I’d missed it. I feel stronger, yes definitely, but I also feel better about myself and my body.

Now that I’m back to moving again as normal, it’s probably time to get back to normal eating patterns too rather than giving into all the carby junk food cravings as I have been in recent weeks….

Interval Alley **

Rep 1 I set off at a pace I know I cannot sustain over 8 reps. Am I going hard enough? I am pumping my arms, lengthening my stride, breathing hard. So hard. How do I know if I can do more?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Is that a beep? Oh, yes it is, wait, there’s another one. Thank fuck.

Recovery 1 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard.

 

Rep 2 Can I do this? For 7 more reps?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Trust that they will come.

Count to 20 over and over. Am I going hard enough?

And there it is. My lungs feel like they are going to burst out of my chest through the back of my throat. It’s going to be horrible.

Yes, you are going hard enough.

Recovery 2 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard. Look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 3 I think I’m going to be sick. I actually might be sick right here. There’s someone coming. Oh arse. I’m going to be sick everywhere and someone’s going to see and ask if I’m alright and what I’m doing and why.
Trying to get faster.

Just to see what it’s like and if I can do it and for how long.

Back off a little, keep going, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Recovery 3 Walk a little, look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 4,5,6,7
Don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Lungs need to slow down, fine but keep going, just keep trying to lift your legs a bit and keep using your arms.

Shoulders back and down. Where are your elbows, your neck, your arms, your fingers, your head, your pelvis. God this is like harp practice.

But instead of thinking about the position of every single bit of your body to avoid injury and make a great sound, this is about something different.

This is about learning to go faster. PRACTISING going faster (thank you awesome coach last year who put it into musical terms and helped me get it)

This is about learning to explore, and learning to trust that your body can do it if you let your mind just try.

Rep 8 is barely faster than my normal slow run.

Finally, there are the last beeps.

I’m back in proper training and it feels good.

 
My legs are wrecked. They’ve never felt like this before, I’ve never tried quite so hard before. The slow plod back to the house feels weird, my legs feel like jelly and lead all at the same time. The short slope back to the main road that I always run up even at the end of the longest run feels like a mountain.

It’s over.

Until next week.

It is next week now.

Tonight, interval alley awaits. It will probably be raining or snowing. But I quite like it like that.

** Interval Alley isn’t really an alley. It’s a section of path near my house, but it’s quite enclosed by trees and hedges and is often dark when I tend to go, so feels a bit like an alleyway. There are rarely any people on that stretch at the time I go so I don’t feel too silly.
It goes through a farm, and usually there are only sheep for company, occasionally a couple of horses or cows or even deer, and every now and then I’m joined by an owl or a bat. I can’t even remember why I picked it now but having a silly name for it now makes it feel a little bit gladiatorial. I quite like that.
I never thought I could do intervals but I worked with an amazing coach for a little while at the start of last year and he made me make myself do them. I was stunned by how much I enjoyed them (afterwards) and how they made me feel so strong after, literally like I could do anything I set my mind to, maybe even take on the world.

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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No. 18 Stay Up Late

Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far,

been up too long,

worked too hard,

and you’re separated

from the rest of the world.

BRUCE MAU

Almost four years ago, in the first week of my new life in Glasgow, one of the course leaders presented us with Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth. It’s a 43 point list that basically makes you think hard.

I like lists, and I like thinking hard and questioning things, so I love this one in particular.

I think back to many of the points regularly, but no. 18 is a favourite as I often push myself beyond the point of what might generally conceived to be sensible (I guess that depends on the company you keep).

Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, when I’m doing something new, or something risky, or something difficult.

Sometimes it’s an unconscious realisation that I have been trying to pack too much in, in desperate fear of not making the most of every second of my life. I know it’s a total cliché, but life really is such a gift, and the death and serious illness of loved ones has made me determined not to waste it.

As I get older, and as I spread my wings north of the border, I love life more and more. Sometimes this can bite me quite hard as I continue to attempt to pack more in. I’d love to be able to balance things better.

But beyond watching my beloved greyhounds sleep, with their paws in the air and their whip-like tails flicking as they dream, I just don’t know what calm looks like. Every time it looks like I’m approaching any sense of pause for an extended period, something happens to shake things up.

I’m over a great big hurdle. I completed the monumental training weekend that had been looming in the diary for weeks. The sun was unbelievably strong, the terrain difficult in places but I managed pretty well considering, and I was amazed by the results. I ran 60 miles over two days, and apart from a couple of annoying blisters and epic levels of hunger, there are no lasting after effects.


As expected, I’m really, really tired. The last few weeks have been pretty tough going, balancing the increase in training and two demanding jobs, but it has all been leading up to this point. I’ve felt my emotions start to unfurl a bit, and a lot has come to the surface. Partly as a result of the abusive relationship storyline on the Archers, partly due to managing a long term injury without compromising on what I want my body to do in less than four weeks’ time, and partly due to my friends completing their final degree recitals at the RCS while I just listen rather than performing my own.

And yet, despite this exhausted, emotionally and physically ragged phase, the creative part of my brain almost feels like it’s on fire. This seems to come from long runs. While I’m running, my body is totally engaged in keeping itself going and my mind is away, free to explore and think and process and digest. Add to this the surroundings I am able to run in, beautiful, empty, truly wild in some places, and it’s no surprise that often when my run is over, I have often found a solution to a problem, written a song or a tune, shaped a musical phrase differently or figured out some tricky pedalling despite being miles away from my harp.

There are projects and ideas popping up left right and centre. This can lead to a different kind of exhaustion and so needs managing in a different way, but I love this extra unexpected dimension that running has given me as I’ve continued to push my distances up. I desperately want to write, to compose and I desperately want and need to sit down with the harp and get my fingers and arms good and strong again so I can really, really play again.

But the next few weeks will see some enforced attempts to calm things down and rest up ahead of the next big challenge. I find it easier to rest properly when I’m not at home. I adore where I live but there’s always something that needs doing and I find it hard to ignore it.

I’m taking a trip to sunny Suffolk to see my parents for a weekend, where I will have to sit for a while in an airport departure lounge, then sit on a plane. With nothing to do but read and wait.

When I arrive at their house I will be jumped on by four whippets. I will sit with at least one of said whippets on my lap, drink tea, catch up with my mum and dad, eat, drink wine and sleep. I will tease my dad about the latest acquisitions in the garage and maybe pass a few spanners as we swap news and exploits. We will probably relive the Ventoux adventure yet again, and nod sagely as we agree (again) that life hasn’t been the same since.

After that, I’m off down to visit my gran for a weekend. I will drive for three and a half hours, watching the weather over the Lake District, feeling the compression effect as the M6 traffic begins to build south of Lancaster, and I’ll listen to the radio. I gave up music in the car years ago, as a result of a fortnight spent almost solidly on the motorways and A roads between Colchester, Leeds and Manchester just after my granddad died. I’d exhausted all the CDs I had in the car and just wanted to hear people talking.

When I arrive at my gran’s house, we will have an endless bear hug. In fact we’ll have about three as this is the time it takes for me to calm down all the emotions I feel when I see her. I know how lonely she is without my granddad, and I am desperately sad I can’t spend more time with her.

I’ll drink tea and eat more cake than I should. Food at my gran’s is a guerrilla-like battle where it’s not a question of “are you hungry/do you want to eat”, it’s how much food she can get down you before you realise how much you’ve eaten or you go home. I prepare in advance now, accepting that it’s just her enjoying having someone to fuss over after years of dealing with four children and my high maintenance granddad, and then the emptiness of that ending.

I always warn her when my dogs are stood behind her in the kitchen, as I worry she will trip. She will kindly but firmly remind me that she managed four kids and numerous Alsatians and so she still has eyes in the back of her head thank you very much.

In between feeding me up, we’ll watch several repeats of Midsomer Murders/Morse/Cadfael/whichever one is on, and at least one of us will fall asleep in the chair. At night I’ll bunk into the single bed in the spare room and attempt to keep the dogs from sharing it with me. There’s not much space on a single bed even when you’re five foot tall, but factor in two great big skinny dogs who want to rest their weary old bones on something soft and … well.

After that, there’ll be a last few short runs, some packing and assembling of kit and food, and then off to the race.

After the race, there will be a holiday and a long awaited chance to rest, recover, reset and consider the next move.

And pause… south of the border

Sunday morning. Rain tapping against the window. I roll over. The bed is empty and I remember why. He left an hour or so ago, and is now battling up the hills in the weather I am seeing from under the duvet.

I get up, put my running kit on and head down for breakfast. My bacon sandwich is delicious, the bacon perfectly cooked, and I hear the B&B owner discussing the provenance of the sausages he is proud to serve. I suspect the bacon comes from the same place. I rarely eat meat these days, but bacon butties and smoked fish are something I would find hard to give up.

I’ve had a good look at the map that is drying out from yesterday’s amble round the Fairfield Horseshoe. I’d hesitate to call it a run – it was steep on the way up and very technical on the way down. We got snowed on, more than once. For one moment I thought I was going to have to lower myself down what appeared to be a rock climb but we found another way. But I ran where I could and enjoyed myself immensely. D could have gone a lot quicker, but didn’t. When I asked hesitantly, tentatively, very nervously, if he was getting frustrated with me, he said no, gave me a big hug and off we went again.

He offered to carry the pack on the first climb, and bravely, fighting every independent feisty obstinate cell in my body, I let him. A pale blue girly XS Salomon pack didn’t really fit him but he managed.

Now back to the map. A friend has suggested the Kentmere horseshoe. There’s a fab looking route round Helvellyn but the road nearby is closed. Decisions.

The rain continues. My tea is a little too weak but you can’t have everything.

I pack everything up from the weekend, and everything I need for a few hours running in the mountains. I am tired. I should be looking forward to getting out in the hills but, honestly, I’m not.

I settle the bill with the B&B owner. He asks what my plans are for the day. I look at the floor. A voice comes from nowhere.

If you were going to sit. Just sit. And look, and read, and sit. For the day. Where would you go?

It’s my voice.

He ushers me over to the huge map on the wall. He offers Grasmere as a first suggestion and recommends a cafe there. Inside or out. Either is good, he says.

The next suggestion is Rydal. We ran past on our way up to Fairfield yesterday. It looked lovely.

The cafe is excellent, he says. And the gardens of Rydal Hall are beautiful, he says.

I recall a day spent with one of my dearest friends, sitting, pondering, and wandering round the gardens of Brodick Castle on Arran on the single day of summer we had in Scotland last year.

Rydal it is.

I cross the road into the garden centre. It’s huge, but there in the plant house is the Cotswold concession. I desperately need a decent pair of gloves as the last link in my collection of kit for next weekend. We’ve been in every outdoor shop in Ambleside and there has been precious little choice of decent waterproof not too bulky gloves for teeny female paws. And there they are.

The chap behind the till clocks what I’m wearing and asks me where I’m off to. To the cafe, I reply. He laughs.

I wander through Ambleside. There’s a bookshop. A proper bookshop. I hesitate to say old-fashioned. It shouldn’t be.

I wander in. A girl/lady/woman, I’ve no idea which, she’s a similar age to me and I’m not sure what I count as, asks me if I need any help.

Something local and quirky please. I’m off to sit in a cafe for the day.

She offers a couple of suggestions, and then directs me outside to look in the window where their customers’ Top 10 of the week selection is displayed. I see a book by the author of a crazy Swedish language film I enjoyed last year. I didn’t know it was a book before it was a film. The film involved a very old man and a significant body count. It was hilarious.

I buy two books and stroll towards the cafe.

There are sheep, and cows, and people heading out to the hills.

I get to the cafe. There is an enormous piece of chocolate and Guinness cake staring up at me while I order my coffee.

We sit, outside, over a waterfall. Me, the chocolate and Guinness cake, my new books.

Oh, and Flora.

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Flora is part of the Go Herdwick trail, and some kind person has given her a wee hat to keep her ears warm.

I’ve run a lot lately, up a lot of hills. In the last month, the Mell trail in the Trossachs, the Arrochar Alps, the Pentlands and now Fairfield. I’m shattered. I love being in the hills but I’m so, so tired. I’ve run/walked/staggered up the equivalent of half of Everest in three weeks.

I sit and read another book about farming. The cake is lighter than it looks, and it slips down quickly. I slurp my way through another coffee, and then head back to Ambleside. Via another couple of shops. Ewegene and Ewegenie follow me back to the car.

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We head off to Great Langdale. I loiter on the finish line, hoping D hasn’t come in already.

I chat to a girl/woman/lady also waiting on the line. Her husband, an ex England rugby international, died a few years ago. She had travelled all over the world with him, and in later years they had moved to the Caribbean to set up a rugby program there. He died very young, very suddenly, from a heart attack. She met someone new who is into cycling. She’s a former runner who is carrying a knee injury and is starting to discover cycling for herself. We share frustrations at life ending too soon, and at those who get to take it for granted.

D isn’t expecting me and hardly recognises me as he crosses the finishing line. He has had a tough day but is smiling, elated, pleased with his efforts. I hand him an enormous Bath bun from a new favourite cafe in Ambleside.

I had a brilliant day.

I’ll be back in the Lakes in a couple of days, and I have no doubt I’ll have a better, safer time as a result of a proper rest day on Sunday.

Big week

Last week was a funny old week really. Lots of good things seemed to sneak in. 

After the training lows of the week before, I was amazed to post my biggest weekly mileage since I started running. And I realised just recently that I’m starting my fifth year of running! 

I can’t quite believe where the time has gone, and what has happened in that time, and what happened leading up to that time to place me where I am just now.

But I digress.

I had some wonderful comments from happy harp listeners and clients. 

I revisited some old haunts, some favourite places to run. I discovered new places and in doing so, I found some new favourites. 

I reclaimed the Cobbler from the jaws of bad relationships past, and avoided getting myself into mischief on Saturday by going up mountains in conditions I wasn’t equipped for. 

It was really hard saying no to just going a little further, a little higher, despite the snow, just to see. But in the end it wasn’t quite so hard saying no more to the endless energy sapping boggy mush that lay between Beinn Nairnan and Beinn Ime.

 
A 12 mile loop around Loch Venachar was absolutely stunning on Sunday morning, and sharing it made it even better. Finding a new little thinking spot and enjoying a recovery lunch in the Brig o’ Turk tearoom might just have made it a perfect day out.

 

Things feel so much lighter. I have a big event coming up in a couple of weeks that I’ve been worrying about a bit, and while I still have a lot of logistical stuff to sort out, I’m starting to believe that I will be able to do it.

The bigger one is about 10 weeks away and that feels like it will be OK again too.

There’s also a holiday in the diary, and I’m so looking forward to seeing another part of Scotland I’ve always wanted to visit.

I found myself looking at places to live, just daydreaming really. But I came across a disused barn for sale for development in a perfect location. Although there were big plans to make it someone else’s idea of just so, I couldn’t help think that with a loo, shower, kitchen and plenty of hot water, it was pretty much perfect as it was. It reminded me of a friend’s workshop where I’d spent some happy times a few years back.

And there are other good things quietly going on in my life too, scary but in a good way. 

Ultra running is about many things, but for me one of the biggest is dealing with the highs and lows as they develop over the course of a long training run, or an even longer race. I accept that these are part of the game, and I’ve enjoyed learning to cope as things change over a long day. Dipping energy levels, sore legs, wheezy lungs, poor weather conditions, tough terrain, landscape that isn’t always beautiful. These all come and go, often unpredictably.

You’d think I’d have worked out by now that life is just the same, and that I really don’t need to worry so much when I find myself under a bit of a cloud for a while.