Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A chocolate egg or a pickled egg?

It may be an odd title for a blog post, but both types of egg were on offer over my Easter weekend.....no surprises that I had a whole chocolate egg myself and left the pickled egg to the guys to fight over (though eating it did earn them a free steak and ale pie in the pub!).

My Easter weekend was rather varied in that it consisted of work (Good Friday isn't an NHS holiday in Scotland), catching up with old friends (some of whom I hadn't seen in 20 years), making new friends......and unsurprisingly eating, drinking and running!

Climbing up from Threlkeld
One of my GB trail teammates (Katie) was recceing the BGR (Bob Graham Round) over the course of the weekend, and so I decided to join her for Leg 2 on Saturday. This leg starts at Threlkeld and finished at Dunmail Raise. I'd thought of doing a bike/car shuffle by my friend Andy Jackson (credit to him for the photos) had the novel idea of us leaving our cars at Dunmail and running round to Threlkeld before returning along the BGR route.

I think I'm showing how cold I was...

The initial run was grand..... relatively warm temperatures and a nice sociable chatty paced run, but when we met Katie and her husband Casper at Threlkeld the pace picked up and the weather deteriorated. We chatted up the initial ascent but when we hit the ridgeline, the wind made it hard to hear each other. Not only that, but at times it was hard to make much forward progress.

Into the wind along the ridge
Unsurprisingly, there were few people out (how often are you alone on the top of Helvellyn on a Bank Holiday weekend?) and those that did commented on my shorts. In all honesty, my legs were nice and warm.....but is was a different kettle of fish for my hands and face. An "ice cream headache" might be the best way of describing the pain I had down the right side of my face/ear/eye etc.

Descending to Grizedale

I decided to duck out as soon as I could sensibly do so, but as it turned out, everyone decided to call it a day at Grizedale and so we all dropped down to Dunmail from there (luckily just as a bus was passing to take Katie and Casper back to Keswick).

Getting back to the warmth didn't help that much and my right eye and sinus streamed  all night and a lot of the next day so I sensibly opted out of a run.

Monday was the day chosen by another friend (Jon Whilock) for his Joss Naylor Challenge (Pooley Bridge to Wasdale in under 12 hours) and I was due to support him on Leg 2 (Kirkstone Pass to Dunmail Raise).

Leg 2 "The Doctors' Leg" support
 ready to go...
In order to avoid lots of car shuffling, I left my car outside Ambleside and "ran" the 3 miles up "The Struggle" to the Kirkstone Pass. I would say it's rather generous to call my forward motion running (especially as I fielded a phone call at the same time) but I managed to avoid walking the whole way up.

Simon and Jon climbing up
Jon was about 5 minutes down on his schedule at Kirkstone but just took a banana and powered on through (picking up myself and Simon - a fellow GP - for support whilst his  Leg 1 support came down off the hill slightly behind him. He was looking strong and remained so for the whole of that leg.

A nice runnable (if boggy) ridge

As usual I was worried about being rubbish on the descents, but most of them were grassy and so runnable (even for me). They dropped me on the scree path down from Fairfield but I caught back up on the climb up Seat Sandal. Between us (Simon was carrying Jon's water, while I had his food and clothes) we ensured he ate and drank well throughout the leg so left us for the next leg still looking strong.

Off Seat Sandal down to Dunmail
He was going so well that he actually left Dunmail 16 minutes ahead of schedule.....and he just got stronger and stronger, finishing the challenge in 11 hours and 20 minutes (well inside his predicted time).....great going and massive congrats Jon! Luckily I'm too young to even contemplate doing such a challenge myself (it's only for people who've turned 50) 😂😂😂

Friday, 14 April 2017

An accidentally busy weekend

The best laid plans of mice and men....
Enjoying an accidental race...

It started out with the idea of a nice bike ride out to help with the time-keeping for Screel hill race. This is a "local" one, so I'd forgotten that cycling out there whilst avoiding the main road where possible would be over 21miles. Still, we discovered a new cafe in Palnackie (ie en route) which served the most amazing chocolate cake so that was an added bonus.

Team DRC pre-race
A respite in the climb
On arriving at Screel, I changed into more comfortable shorts and shoes for wandering around in (the "nappy pants and cleats" look isn't the best!) and realised that I wasn't actually going to be needed for the timekeeping as there were 2 people doing it already. It was quite chilly in the shade of the trees at the start/finish area and I couldn't resist the draw of the sunshine higher up, so decided to enter the race, though I promised myself "no heroics"!

With this in mind, I started midpack (of the small select field), but found myself constantly passing people on the way up - you start straight a gravelly forest road, then move onto a rocky single track, followed by an open felled area with lots of stumps and roots, a muddy section in the trees, then a steep heathery climb to the first summit cairn.

I probably reached the sunny summit in about 5th place overall but that was really my run over. I headed along the rocky ridge path up and down to the next cairn, but realised that most people knew the area better than me. There was a boggy path that skirted round just below the ridge which appeared to be much more runnable, as guys seemed to shoot past and appear suddenly in front of me. When I finally crossed over to it, I found the going to be much better (if filthier) than scrabbling over rocks.

Not windmilling too much
 on the way down!
The last time I ran this race, there had been a lot of storm damage and so we descended steeply off the summit ridge and down to the forestry road for a longer run in along it (which suited me), but now the course has returned to closer to it's original line. This means that just before you reach the forestry road, a marshal sends you back up the hillside again. There is a faint trail, but it does involve some interesting scrambling - I found myself having to get my feet up to waistheight at certain points, and trying to find foliage that I could safely use to help haul myself up. Still, this climb meant that I could close back up to some of those that had shot past me on the ridge and descending, but all too soon it was more steep rough downhill.....and I waved "Byebye" to position after position.

The final run-in...
Fell runners are so friendly that you don't mind being overtaken - the guys always have a kind word as they barrel past you down the hill (while I pansy around trying to find good foot placements!). A last little run in down the forestry road still takes it out of quads that are tired even if the race itself it a very short one, but I was happy to finish in one piece, 17th overall, and in time to help serve water and drinks for thirsty runners. Not a fast time by any stretch of the imagination, but an accidental victory due to there being no speedy ladies there this year (I think I've been second on every other occasion I've run it!).

It would have been rude to pass the cafe again on the way home without a stop for an amazing lunch (that we eyed up on our first visit) but even that didn't make the hills seem easier on the way home!!

I hadn't realised how much I'd worked my calves until I almost fell over when getting out of bed the next morning....not the best thing to happen when you're about to head off with your clubmates to a 10 mile road race!

We were going to new event just east of Carlisle - the "3 Villages 10" - which you'll be unsurprised to hear is a 10 mile road race that goes through 3 villages (well, twice actually as it is a 2 lap course).

A brief warmup still left me feeling lethargic and as if I was going to tear my calf muscles any minute, so I started slightly off the front as the hooter sounded.
We started on a downhill slope of the main road through Wetherall, past the green and then up out into the countryside.
After some roadworks (the signals were kindly set to red so that we could run throguh without worrying about traffic coming the other way) we reached ran down and up into Scotby and then it was on to Cumwhinton before returning to Wetheral.

Ready for the off
Downhill starts seem to make people hare off as if it was a shirt track race, so it took me almost all of the first mile to catch up to and pass people I would usually expect to be in front of. By that time, the field had stretched out quite a lot and I found myself running mainly alone, gradually reeling a couple of guys ahead of me. I felt like I had little spring in my step, and it was rather hot as well as "undulating", so I knew that I wasn't going to run a great time. I caught up to a couple of guys at about 3.5 miles and one of them then came with me - actually running so close behind me that he almost took my shoe off on a couple of occasions.

It was very tempting to stop after the first lap, especially when I saw several friends out on the road both marshalling and supporting, but I knew I was then on a countdown to the finish. The next pair that I reeled in also tucked in behind for a couple of miles, but although we tried a bit, noone was up for much chat!

Finally finishing....
By the time I got to the 9 mile marker I was solo again - and it was very tempting to just jog it home as I didn't think there was another female close behind and I didn't see much point in flogging myself to move up a place or two in the overall results. Not wanting to be a pathetic woos, I forced myself to keep going right to the finish (the last mile was a good 1.25miles, which made up for the very short 9th mile to give an accurate distance overall) and was absolutely astonished to find that although the lead two men had been way ahead of the field, the two that I'd seen in front of me were actually 3rd and 4th overall.

Team DRC (with bling)!
As I said, not a time to write home about, but a good solid hard run on tired legs (and if it's a new race then it must surely be a course record) so definitely worthy of cake in the Village Hall afterwards!!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Marathon Tourism

I don't often do long races twice.....and I admit to a liking for visiting new places, so I guess that makes me rather a "marathon tourist". Mind you, if you look at the typical British spring weather, who wouldn't be interested in getting away for a bit of sunshine?

When someone mentioned the Limassol marathon to me, it seemed like the perfect excuse for a long weekend in Cyprus. Admittedly, it didn't look like a very fast race - last year's winning times were 2:41 (for men) and 3:12 (for women) - but I hoped that was due to adverse conditions on the day rather than a bad course, especially as it was advertised as a flat course out and back along the coastline.

Snow in the mountains

Fun in the snow
Things didn't bode well when I got off the plane to pouring rain and "unseasonably cold" weather, and the next day's sightseeing trip to Mount Olympus (in the Troodos Mountains) saw us throwing snowballs at each other (though it meant it was good weather for wine, chocolate and Turkish delight tasting).

A Cypriot "Boris-bike"
Mountain tasting spoils
The next day saw an about change in the weather, with warmth and sunny spells on a trip downtown to check out the race start/finish area. In order to avoid walking around too much, the local version of a "Boris bike" came in very handy (but it would have been better to have realised that back-pedalling was the braking mechanism before setting off!). I was rather worried that I'd got my weekends muddled up, as there was no sign that roads would be closed or that anything out of the ordinary would be occurring the next day (and there was still no evidence of this in the road outside the hotel, ie the race route, at 9pm).

While eating my lovely 5am breakfast, I was told this was actually a well established race and so all would be sorted by race time. I boarded the bus to the start just before 6 (standing room only but the driver still made sure no one got on without a ticket) only to hear my name being called (Julie Mollison of Scottish Athletics had seen the races advertised while on holiday there and so entered the 5k). On arrival we queued for the portaloos, jogged to warmup (it was only about 8 degrees) and then went to the start.

There were 4 races starting together but it appeared that marathoners had to go to the front and 5k runners to the back (with the half marathoners and 10kers in between). We didn't know this at the time (as everyone was told to be there at 6am) but the plan was for the marathon to start at 7am with the other races going off in 2minute intervals. A few select elite runners (some Kenyans and some Cypriots) were allowed to warm up on the course, but the rest of us were kept back behind tape while some officials spoke to us/the crowd. I'm afraid that I don't know what was said, but it went on until 7:20am and I was rather chilly, having stripped down to my running gear ready for the official 7am start.

Actually leading the Kenyans out...
All of a sudden we were off, which seemed to prompt a hectic charge down the prom for a kilometre until we met the main road and were directed about 180 degrees back on ourselves along it (all the other race routes carried straight on so there was no chance of getting caught up with fast starters from later races). I saw a Cypriot lady already away in the distance, but the three Kenyan ladies seemed to be easing their way into the race, and so surprisingly I slotted in behind them for the next couple of kilometres.

They'd picked up the pace by the time we got to the next 180 degree turnaround (this one was actually a small roundabout) at 5km, and so that was the end of any marathon company for me for the rest of the race. There were roadworks just before we returned to the start and so I actually managed to go off course as I was confused by the barriers, but luckily a marshal shouted me back before I'd gone more than a few paces the wrong way (I wasn't really being clueless, but I couldn't see the runners ahead and it seemed like we should run the way the barriers were pointing).

On the correct course
As the road passed the start/finish area, I could see people pounding down the prom and was rather jealous that their races were almost over, though it did distract me from my run trying to work out if they had run 5 or 10k. I was very surprised to start catching up with people in the road.....and they were jogging not walking. These were people that hadn't yet reached the 2.5k turnaround of the 5k, and I was about 11-12k into my marathon. One actually managed to hit me in the face (by accident when taking their jacket off) as they probably didn't expect people to be running past them.

I have to say that I was rather tempted by both the 5k and the 10k turnaround signs, as the temperature was climbing rapidly and for some reason I really wasn't enjoying my run. I'm not sure if it was the heat or not, but I didn't feel like taking the gels I was carrying, and whenever I picked up a water bottle I poured almost all of it over my body (using just a bit to wet my lips).

Some way after passing my hotel, the road started to "undulate" a bit and I spotted the leaders of the half marathon flying back along the other side of the road. Both were Kenyan, both had massive leads, and both were making it look easy to cover the ground. As for my own race, I couldn't see any marathoners in the road ahead of me, but I had started to weave my way through the half marathon tailenders.

Visiting the archaeological site the next day
Unfortunately, the half marathoners soon turned back on themselves and I was left to go it alone on the open road stretching out in front of me. This middle section of the course certainly involved a lot more "up and down" than advertised (in fact my garmin registered 590 feet of elevation gain and loss over the length of the race) and there were no clouds the sky to provide shelter from the sun. I did, however, spot some archeological ruins by the side of the road that I was eager to come back and explore later.

I passed through the halfway mark in a decent time, and started counting down the miles until I could turn and run for home. The leading Kenyan men came past on the far side of the road - they were running together but even at this point had a lead of about 1.5k on the next man. The leading Kenyan lady was 4th overall with the other two having dropped back slightly off her pace.

Just after the 14 mile marker, there was a marshal standing in the middle of the road with a bollard to run round. This turnaround point gave you a good view of other runners going in the opposite direction, and I realised that I wasn't ridiculously far behind the third Kenyan lady, and had a lead over the chasing Russian lady of just under 1.5k.

Woohoo....the finish!
This should have spurred me on but all I could think about was how far it was to get back to the finish, and that I still had all those "cheeky" climbs and descents to get through. To make matters worse, when we got to 22 miles there was another turn in the road and we had to double back on ourselves for a couple of miles (just the marathoners, not the half marathoners). Although I'd been closing the Kenyan lady down (and had actually passed one of her compatriots....though she later DNF'd) I could see that she was now moving away from me again. I had nothing in the tank and couldn't have made myself run any faster even if you'd paid me to. I knew that I was pretty safe in my position as the Russian was now about 2.5k behind me and I was into the last 5k myself.

Me, after the finish ;-)
First vet :-)
It felt like it was all I could do to keep picking my feet up and moving forwards towards the finish, though I realise I was probably moving a bit faster than it felt (especially as I did pass some half marathoners for the third time in the race!). Finally I turned onto the prom for the final kilometre. This would be the time for the glory sprint finish but I couldn't really muster one up. However, I was delighted to cross the line in a time much better than what I'd expected considering how bad I'd felt during the race, even though it was much slower than I'd have liked. As it turned out, it was my 15th sub 2:50 marathon, I was 4th lady, 11th overall and first vet, so had earned my finishers' beer (and wine and ice cream.....well, it was now 22 degrees!!)!!!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Not just a Fair Weather runner....

My fell running friends always joke that roadrunners are really "fair weather runners", whereas they are as "hard as nails "and go out whatever the weather. That has certainly seemed to be the case on the mountain rounds that I have assisted on recently, as I've seen (or "not seen" due to the weather or the time of day) fog, rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind etc.
However, I think that the Netherhall 10 proved that road races can also be run in rather "less than perfect" conditions.

Not the flattest race profile
The night before the race, there was talk of it being cancelled due to the forecast (rain and wind), ie the presence of Storm Ewan, but luckily the organiser's decided to go ahead with it. The race does not lend itself to fast times on the best of days as it is rather "undulating" to say the least, and as it was also doubling up as the British Masters' 10 mile Championships, it was more about positions than finish times anyway.

Whilst driving down to Cumbria, I looked at the horizontal rain out of the car and rather wondered why I was going to put myself through it, but I was keen to see how I was actually running, as I felt that I might have become stronger from the hills (though maybe no faster). 

With clubmate Kelly pre-race
The race starts with a 400m stretch of road that is slightly downhill so as usual people hared off away from me, but then we turned a 90 degree bend and were faced with about 2 miles of steady uphill. Almost as soon as we started to climb, I started to pick some of the fast-starting men off.....and this trend seemed to continue right up to the summit. This did wonders for my confidence, as it is always tempting to give up in the first few miles of a race, especially if they are a hard slog.

At the top of that climb, some of the guys moved away slightly as they opened up their stride on the descent, but I made up the gap as soon as we started back uphill again. It became a game of cat and mouse for me, seeing how many I could close up on before each downhill section......though luckily nobody actually passed me on a downhill. As I caught 1 guy up, he seemed determined to run by my side, which is not something I enjoy  in a race, especially when we are running on narrow country roads that are still open to traffic. I would try to get ahead of him, and could hear him grunting as he increased his effort to stay there, so I would try to drop back, only to find him slowing down as well. It didn't feel very safe (especially as I got elbowed a few times, even when they weren't cars coming) and it also stopped me running the line I would have liked to take. 

Crossing the (wet) line
I finally broke free at about 6.5 miles when there was another steeper climb, and from then on I was alone right until the finish. The last 3 miles were along the main road, and so there were marshals kindly standing out (well, some were sitting in the boot of their cars with the door up) in the rain guiding us on and off pavements to ensure our safety. I'm told that those last few miles are generally the fastest of the race, as they are slightly downhill and often run with a tailwind, but unfortunately the direction of the gale-force gusts meant that it didn't really feel like downhill to me. 

Masters' Gold!
I was so thankful to turn the last corner and run the final short ascent into the finish as I was doing a fairly good impression of a drowned rat (though luckily I finished before the hail started)  and my legs were almost a filthy as if I'd run a cross country race. I had no idea how I'd actually run in the race, but as it turned out, I ran a decent time and finished well up the field overall, earning a nice Masters gold medal into the bargain. Never mind the results though....I just knew that the faster I ran, the sooner I'd get into the lovely hot showers, and the sooner I could get stuck into the huge buffet provided by the organising club.

Alnwick Castle
The next weekend I was talked into a cross country race (sold to me as a nice run at Alnwick Castle.....and that one didn't sound like it would be the kindest of conditions either as people were suggesting the welly boots were the footwear of choice. It was the last XC of the league and we needed 4 ladies to finish to score a team result. Only 4 of us turned up on the day so the pressure was on for us all to finish, especially as we were only 3 points ahead of our local rival ladies' team.

The DCH ladies' team
I was paranoid about the start, as I hate the different pack start times (ie about 85% of the field goes off together, then about 10% start 1min 40 later, with the final 5% a further minute and 40s afterwards). I was put in the "fast pack" for this season, which means I feel very exposed at the start. Only a handful of ladies go off then, most of whom sprint off (yup, I'm never going to be a fast starter), and so I feel that everybody watching is just feeling sorry for me and thinking "Bless her for giving it a go!"

I worked my way up to about 3rd in my pack by the time we caught some of the back runners of the other groups....maybe half a mile in, and then it got rather chaotic to try to work out what was going on. You have to try to pass some of the slower runners, and I feel rather embarrassed at doing this as you also want to encourage them and definitely don't want to knock anyone out of the way. As we were climbing up some soggy muddy slopes, I think my strength (again rather than speed) helped as I moved into second position from my start group. However, we then had a very muddy, crowded section and so I let people other people have right of way and slipped back a bit. 

Nearing the end of Lap 1
The final section of each lap was a rather steep descent, which reminded me of a fell race.....the only difference being that fell shoes have lugs on the heels whereas XC spikes are just on the forefoot. Still, I let myself go a bit on the downhill and found that most of the other ladies were rather nervous to do so. On the second lap, I concentrated on trying to avoid any of the "fast pack" overtaking me, whilst closing down some of the early starters. It was all I could do to keep pushing on that steep descent the second time as I was sure I was going to get caught. 

Into the finish - phew!
All too soon, the finish line loomed....I guess I ran out of race to move into the top 3 but I was happy enough to be second fastest on the course and 4th over the line (again I had no clue at the time so had to wait until the results came out). The biggest satisfaction was due to the fact that all 4 of us finished, and although we dropped 2 points on our rivals, we finished the league a mere point ahead of them.....a good bit of friendly rivalry and teamwork definitely spurs everyone to run to the best of their ability!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Another Paddy?

"Variety is the spice of life"?
"A change is as good as a break"?
Whatever phrase you choose, if applied to running they all imply that it's good to include different things in your life to avoid getting stuck in a rut. Although my training is mainly road-based, sometimes it's good to take a step back and do something different to keep it exciting and let your body absorb the effort that you have put in.

With this in mind, I got away from the tarmac last weekend and headed for the hills....more specifically the Welsh hills....and even more specifically Snowdonia.

Jim setting off at midnight
I described the Paddy Buckley Round briefly back in October ("If Carlsberg did weekends....") when I went down to Wales and supported my friend Jasmin on her record-breaking run, and so was eager to support another friend (Jim Mann) as he tried to break the "winter Paddy record". A winter round can be defined in various ways, but is generally taken to mean that it is completed before the end of February in winter conditions (ie reduced daylight, snow, wind and whatever else the Welsh weather has to offer).

Jasmin, Konrad (and their dog Moss) picked me up at Gretna on Friday after work and we headed down to Capel, which is where Jim had decided to start/finish and use as a base for the weekend. Arriving after 10pm, we managed to catch up with a couple of the other support runners before they headed to bed and then the three of us (sorry Moss...the 4 of us), went up to the crossroads to see Jim off at midnight. It seemed relatively warm (a balmy 3 degrees) and the air was still so Jim and Andy (his Leg 1 support crew) set off in good spirits, while we returned to seek out a few hours of sleep.

When Andy got back he reported that Jim had finished Leg 1 20mins ahead of his schedule so we decided to get to the Leg2/3 changeover almost an hour early in case he made up further time. Unluckily for us he didn't...as by this time it had become considerably colder and was snowing on and off. Still, when he ran in (13mins ahead of schedule) he seemed in good spirits, ate some pasta, drank some coffee and set off up the next hill. Konrad, Moss and I had turfed Jasmin out to support Jim on Leg 3, and picked up those that had finished Leg 2 with him.

The view from Llanberis castle
Back at base, I only just made some more pasta and coffee (and cooked a pizza as Jim's eyes had lit up when it had been mentioned at the 2/3 changeover) when we got a text through to say that he might finish that leg an hour up on schedule. Konrad and I scrambled to get ready and headed back out to Llanberis to be prepared 90mins prior to the planned meeting time. This meant we had time to visit the castle with Moss before spying the Leg 3 team running down the road. Jasmin carried on with us, so we just handed the car keys (and control of Moss) onto those finishing their support at this point.

Leg 4 started at Llanberis and finished at Ogwen taking in several summits en route including the Glyderau and Tryffan. The weather is often bad on this leg, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Jim was climbing well but managing to take on food too (more pasta...while Jasmin enjoyed some pizza) which is really important when you consider the length of the day out and the effort that needs to be put in. Within minutes we had lost all of the views and were ploughing upwards through snow. Jim knew the route well so was leading us up, which meant that we could all go the pace he wanted, while we tried to find the least treacherous route through the slate quarries and up onto the hillside.

Not the best visibility...
Not knowing the area that well, I left the navigation to the others and just made sure I was regularly offering Jim food and drink (whether he wished malt loaf, pizza or apple juice). My fears of being a hindrance rather than a help were unfounded as I seemed to keep up with the rest of the "Dream Team" on both the climbs and the descents - Jim was probably "slightly" tired by now as I found I was even having to slow my descending down (unheard of I know!!).

With the wind whipping the snow around
The wind was vicious but as we dropped out of it and down to the Devil's Kitchen, we were treated to a beautiful vista of a mountain lake surrounded by snow with rocky hillsides ascending away into the clouds - it was stunning! However, the respite was brief as the wind seemed to double in strength as we climbed up onto the Glyders. I wondered if I was ever going to get the feeling back into my chin, nose and cheeks. We had to make sure not to spread out too far as the visibility was rather limited to say the least. I had been trying to warm a gel up inside my gloves (and mitts) for a couple of miles, but all I seemed to have managed to do was cool my hand down to the temperature of the gel, so I have to say that I was rather glad when Jim decided he wanted to consume it! 

Yeay - a summit on the Glyderau!
The rocky summit of Glyder Fach was a good 3-dimensional puzzle - as we wanted to get as close to the very top as possible while making sure no one fell and injured themselves on all the snowy, icy rocks. Coming off the top we made a slight error of direction and nearly headed off just the wrong side of the spur. This was soon corrected, but trying to help Jim with his clothing (taking a jacket off, adding a down layer in, turning the first jacket the right way out and putting it back on him) meant I had to take my hands out of my gloves, and it took me a long time to get a decent amount of warmth back into them.

Climbing up again....
A sharp descent to the col and we were soon climbing up Tryffan (the last summit on our leg). As opposed to when I was last there (New Year's Eve), we didn't hang around to take photos, but headed straight off down the gully towards the lower slopes, though Jasmin somehow managed to record some video footage on her camera. We'd lost quite a lot of time (relatively) on this leg, but it was only to be expected with the appalling weather. I was heading the group as we got to the bottom of the valley and hit the main road so, with Jim's permission, I sprinted off to warn the next leg changeover of his imminent arrival.

Having smashed the record!
Konrad carried on for the final leg (with several others joining in), but Jasmin and I headed back to base for a shower, change, snack and then walked out with Moss to cheer him in as he finally finished 21 hours and 37minutes after he started (over an hour quicker than the previous winter round record). What an epic day.... I confess that there were a few occasions when I was rather chilly and wondered if I'd ever warm up...but overall I loved the whole thing from start to finish and was honoured to have been asked to be apart of it!!

"Dinner" at 11pm. but all smiles :-)
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I went along for a cheeky Leg 4 support run (ie with Jasmin and Konrad...but also with Moss) up another hill early the next morning, though I did realise just how tired my legs where when I was still only halfway up.....however, it just made going out for a big breakfast seem even better!!!

Monday, 6 February 2017

The odd couple of races...

I've mentioned before how difficult it can feel to get back into training, but racing early in the year can take it to a whole new level of effort. Most people feel rather slow in the winter (with notable exceptions such as Laura Muir and Callum Hawkins) but sometimes forcing yourself to get out there and put the effort in is just what you need. Team events can give you extra motivation as you do not want to let your teammates down. It may seem like I have taken this to an extreme level with 4 races run in under 2 weeks, but at least they were all relatively short and I managed to fit them in around my general training plans.

Dumfries Angels
The 2017 team
First up was the Scottish Masters Road Relay Championships which were held at Strathclyde Park. Each leg is just over 3.6miles long and, having won the trophy for the past 2 years running, we Dumfries ladies felt rather under pressure to perform.
 Lisa led us off as usual, and despite saying that she didn't feel fully fit, she covered the distance a mere 10s slower than last year.

Hazel took over in 3rd place (she was worried as it was her first year running with myself and Lisa) and although she was passed by 2 ladies, she also managed to overtake 2 others, keeping us in the running. I felt that I might let the team down if I didn't anchor us well, but Lisa told me not to worry if they had left me too much to make up. I started about 36 second behind the leaders and managed to move into second position about a mile later.

Retaining the trophy
I only caught the leading lady with under a mile to go, and realised that she looked rather younger than myself so would probably have a better sprint finish on her (never my forte!!). I passed her just before the "hill" of the lap and so tried to look strong and push on hoping she'd drop back. People were cheering me on, but when I asked them if I had a gap I don't get an answer, which rather led me to believe that I didn't. The last 3/4 mile is in full view of the finish so the pressure was really on not to let my teammates down, but thankfully a clubmate on his bike let me know that with 200m to go, I had a decent enough gap that I would hold on (as long as I didn't trip over the sleeping policeman coming into the finish). Although I felt I had had to work much harder this time, as we'd only won by 19s, my time was identical to last year's (down to the second).

My doubleheader weekend
The following weekend I managed to pack in socialising with racing. It was my first trip to the Scottish Masters' XC Championships as this year's venue of Dundee seemed slightly closer than last year's (Forres) - and I also crammed in a brief catchup with friends (for what else but cake?) in Edinburgh on the drive up, and then stayed overnight with other friends in Dunfermline. Red wine and prosecco may be everyone's pre-race drink of choice, but it helped me sleep and possibly numbed the pain of the race to come.

Race morning dawned rather wet - and the rain turned to sleet as I headed north (with snow by the side of the road in places). Still, I bravely stripped off down to my vest and shorts and donned my spikes for the race. We were doing a 2-lap course which was just shy of 4 miles, so having looked at the start lists and spotted speedy short-distance runners, I thought that 5th in my age category would be a good target to aim for.

"Settling" for 5th?
By the time we got to the top of the first hill, I must've been behind 20-30 runners with Jenny MacLean pushing the pace on out front. Letting myself go down the hill and into the mud as we exited the grass onto a narrow path through a wild field moved me up a bit, but I wondered if I would have been better sticking with my fell shoes rather than my spikes as I was still slipping a bit. A couple of sharp turns and we were climbing again, this time avoiding trees roots on a pretty path up through woodland. A bit of gravel to cross and we were back onto the grass, running the length of the park, then down, around and back along to the end of the first lap.

Lesley Chisholm (defending her title) had kept up with Jenny and they were joined by Di Lauder. There was a small gap back to another girl and myself running in 4th/5th and then a clear space behind us. The cold was causing my hands to hurt so much that it was very tempting to just drop out as I knew warm clothes were not too far away from the start/finish. I also thought about "settling" for 5th as that had been my pre-race target, but when I heard Lesley's clubmates encouraging her to work on the climbs, I thought that I might as well do the same.

Pushing on....

All of a sudden I was in third place and got a great view of the tussle going on ahead as Lesley tried to maintain a lead, while Di worked hard to close her down. As we came along the long final wet undulating grassy run in, Di seemed to be closing the gap slightly but amazingly, I was reeling them both in. In the end I ran out of race, as although Lesley toughed it out and won the race by 6 seconds, I caught up to Di (and actually crashed into her) on the line so a split second too late....but luckily she forgave me for the impact as we had a nice cool down jog together (along with Jenny who came in for 4th place just 20s back). I was over the moon to have finished anywhere near those ladies, and couldn't have asked for more!

DRC at the start
The very next day was the first race in our club's road Grand Prix - the Cross-Border 10k - which is a point to point race from Carlisle (England) to Gretna (Scotland). I knew I'd be a bit slower than usual after the XC, and I really would have preferred to just get a long run in, but thought I should support the club so decided to do the race but then loop round and run back to my car at the start. Not many souls were as hardy as me (in my shorts and club vest), but then again, they might have seen the weather forecast....as the freezing rain that started after a few kms was certainly unpleasant. I was actually running along alternately sucking my thumbs and blowing onto my hands to try to get some feeling back into them.
Heading off

If not fast, I felt relatively strong, and actually completed the second half of the race slightly quicker than the first half. The less said about the race organisation the better, but after finishing I ran round to a nearby carpark where I'd left a jumper tucked onto the wheelarch of a friend's car and headed back down the road. Rather than going straight back to Carlisle, I met my friend Claire en route and ran the last mile or so with her. She had been going well, but was started to flag and doubt herself, and so needed some encouragement. Her only other 10K (run several years ago) had been completed in 62:30 so it was brilliant to be able to help her push on and finish well inside her target time (just dipping under the 60minute barrier). However, I was rather glad when I finally got back to my car to a very welcome hot flask and food!!

NE Masters' XC
This weekend I was over in the North East for the last of my 4 races, and again I felt under pressure when I arrived to register and was welcomed with "Are you here to defend your title?" It was the NE Masters XC Champs, and although I had won overall in 2016 (on my first outing as a v40), I knew that there would be new runners moving up to both the V35 and V40 categories and so who knew what would happen, especially as we didn't have our age groups on our backs this year.

The race was held in Wallsend and although some people were heard to complain that the course was "hilly", I thought that it was everything that a good "proper" XC race should be (in my limited opinion). There was grass, there was bog, there were hills, there were hidden dips, there was gravel....and there was mud!!

You'd think it was warm!!
As seem to be the norm, there were some fast starters so I made my way around through some longer grass and plants to get up to the head of the field over the first 100m. As we crossed the first hidden dip/stream there were a couple of ladies, a man and myself running abreast of each other. The marshals recommended sticking to the left side of the course as we headed up the boggy slope, but as I was stuck over on the right, I definitely did a bit of sideways sliding as my spikes tried to get traction. In order to stop this happening again further on round the course I put in a bit of effort and took the lead, with some of the others dropping back on the steady ascent.

A bit of damp and mud?
The course wound around and up and down over two laps, but there weren't many tight switchbacks to sneak a view of the gap behind you. The marshals were all lovely and supportive with lots of encouragement...and even told me off when they caught me trying to look behind me. From what they said, I gathered that I'd opened up a decent gap on the first lap, and doubled it on the second, so could relax on the last downhill into the line. This was rather a good thing as I nearly lost my shoe in a muddy/boggy patch of the run-in on each lap (you'd think I'd remember and change my line for the second lap, but it's hard to change direction when you're trying to run fast with little grip!!).

As it turns out, all the Durham girls ran well, and so we secured team Bronze as well - and as I ran on to cheer the others in and cool down, I heard the nicest thing that a marshal has ever said to me "Well run Durham - lovely to see you run; a pleasure to cheer you on" - aren't Northerners great??!!!

Not a bad series of races with some good results, but added to that was the fact that I managed to coordinate each one with socialising and catching up with friends and family ...so life is good!