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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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!