Lockdown Life – ‘On Yer Bike’

Lockdown Life – ‘On Yer Bike’

When we first went into lockdown I have to admit, the fact I wouldn’t be able to get outside on my bike didn’t really bother me that much. I’m ashamed to say I am 100% a fair weather cyclist.

I’m also a ‘any excuse NOT to’ cyclist. It’s too busy, it’s too windy, it’s too late, it’s getting dark, I can’t find a water bottle, I’ve got a paper cut – all fantastic reasons that have resulted in me jumping on the turbo instead.

And to be honest, when we first got the stay at home message, for me personally, it would have been the most irresponsible move on my part to hit the roads. Guaranteed I would be the one to end up crashing and need an ambulance thus putting unnecessary pressure on the NHS and being front page news of every paper no doubt along with a photo of my sausage legs in Lycra just for good measure.

However. Weathers been inexcusable/great. Daylight never seems to end. And I’ve finished reading my umpteenth book so I’ve been all out of excuses. Out on the roads it’s been.

I started with my usual out and back route. It has no turns other than at the very start but yes, I still go a different way/get it wrong every single time. A road bike on gravel is up there with swimming with sharks I would say. How I manage to still end up on that road is beyond me. Every. Single. Time. But to get used to being outside again I thought best to stick with what I know. I could squeeze 30 miles out of it but I was stuck if I wanted to go further.

I mentioned this to Joe and also about how tough the first half was as it seemed you were always against the wind. ‘And it’s uphill all the way’ he said.

What the?

How had I not noticed that?? I would even say to myself how much faster it seemed on the way back and check my splits and plainly see a difference!

That’s it. Time for a new route.

I got a recommendation from someone in the club on a quiet route, most of which I know, near where I grew up. It was about 30 miles again but had options to add to it for when I had my porridge and felt brave.

So off I went (after my usual hour of faffing). It wasn’t long before my first panic set in. In fact, it was bang on 2 miles.

The bridge.

The bridge is (somewhat obviously) on a hill. If I didn’t get straight through I would need to do a hill start on a push bike. Fucccckkkk. Last time I tried that I fell over and bent my handle bars.

I was sweating bucket loads! How am I going to do that?? Think, think, think. I took the cowards way out. I stopped on the flat before it then waited for the light to go green before setting off.

The only thing I’m missing on my bike rides is the basket of flowers on my ha dale bars it appears.

Feeling a little smug I got onto the bridge and cycled over. Mission accomplished. Just 2 miles in.

The route was good. Very quiet for most of it, gorgeous countryside and views. One road I didn’t like so the next couple of times I tried to avoid it. Very unsuccessfully the first time – I just did a loop and ended up back in the exact same spot – but quite well on the fourth time.

My plan was to cycle to a village called Abernyte and head back that way. It was only 4 miles from the turning I had been using so a nice little add on. And you never know, maybe slightly flatter.

I could not have been more wrong. The hill started just a couple of miles in. Slowly at first, just a gentle incline, easing you in. ‘Come this way, it’s gorgeous, oh don’t worry about going up, it’s just a wee bit.’

I was soon changing rings. Yes you read that right. She who has no idea about gears actually changed rings for this one. There was no choice. I had a flashback to a hill in Aberfeldy and my hand was moving before my brain could register what was about to happen. Twisting and turning and in true hill style you were NEVER at the top. Just round this corner? My arse it is. Up you go!

By now it was game on. I wasn’t quitting. If I had got this far (which was probably only about 200m let’s be honest) I was going to the top. Surely it can’t go on that long? I even had images in my head if I did one of those slow motion falls to the side I would have to somehow get back up whilst still on the bike and continue.

I received a lot of sympathetic lols from the cars that passed me – on their way down. They knew what was coming. They knew my fate. I wasn’t anywhere close to the top.

I’m sure I saw a snail go past me at one point.

Just as I was nearing the top another cyclist went past me free wheeling down the hill. Another sympathetic look to add to the bag. The temptation to turn around and join him was high but I resisted. I had the fear that what had taken me half the day to cycle up would only take seconds to cycle down and I would realise it was actually just a bump and not a hill. (It was a hill!)

Back home and my parents had popped round for a garden chat. Restrictions have been lifted and you are allowed members of one household in your garden only. My dads not a fan of cyclists. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t just drive up it.

Looking for – and losing – a loch

Looking for – and losing – a loch

I am just SO sick of running the same route over and over again. It’s boring. And it has too much tarmac.

So. Armed with the knowledge that there was a loch nearby with a trail round it I decided to go ‘adventuring’. It did involve a mile or 2 of the same old route but knowing I was turning off of it made it just slightly better. Spotting a rainbow painted rock also made me smile. (Obsessed with rainbows right now, can’t get enough of them.)

Up the hill and past the school I went. I had been told the Loch was sign posted so I kept my head up looking for it. Past a few houses and a nice looking farm. Down the hill and…wait a minute… I know where this is. I’m just metres away from that boring route I’ve been doing for weeks! I turned round and looked back up the hill.

Nope. Not going back up there. It’s too hot. I will go down the river instead on the other side and hopefully find some trail.

Best decision ever. It was a fab run. Slow, as the path is extremely narrow, but really enjoyed it. And so quiet.

After a thorough google of where the turning should be (and several Strava stalks later) I headed back out for attempt no 2 a couple days later.

Ok I’m at the school. It’s somewhere between here and the bottom of that hill. I know I’ve to keep left. Stay left, stay left, stay left. Ooh a path!

Up the path I trundle reciting my mantra/guide ‘stay left, stay left, stay left.’ I almost enter a field before I realise it is just that – a field – and not a path. Not that far left Ella. Be careful.

Another quite steep hill bit but this time it’s in the shade. Seeing as it’s really quite hot now I decide to slow right down and take advantage of the cooler air. The forest is lovely, so peaceful.

Top of the hill and I’ve found it! I’ve found the loch! Whoo hoo. Mission accomplished. I have a short chat with a couple who are walking back (well, more of a raised voice conversation given the social distancing). They’ve just discovered the loch as well.

It’s really small so I decide to run round it before heading back home. I head anti clockwise, still with my mantra of ‘stay left’.

There’s a short bit of path and then you have to find your own way. Not a problem. I’m enjoying this! I’ve gotten so sick of tarmac recently. My mind starts wandering back to a couple of the ultras I have done and how much I have loved them. I miss running that distance. I have my goal for next year but I’m pretty sure I could fit in a decent ultra or two.

I’m still telling myself I could convince Joe it’s something I could do when I suddenly realise I haven’t seen the loch in a while. I’ve ran round enough bodies of water to know you’re not always on the waters edge but I try to have a look around. I can just about see it through all the trees. Sweet.

I continue on the path I find and it’s quite tricky underfoot so I’m being careful not to fall. Now is not the time to be needing to be saved. My thoughts turn to the most recent phone call from his doctor gently reminding him of how serious this current situation is. It’s a hard thing to hear.

This head space time is exactly what I need though and the fact I haven’t seen anyone since finally finding the loch makes it even better. It’s getting steeper and hotter and although I’m thoroughly enjoying the run, I certainly don’t have any power in me. I eventually make it to the top of a hilly bit and see nothing but open fields.

Hmm. When I googled this place on the map it wasn’t that close to a field I should be seeing. I should at this point be on the waters edge. I stop and try to spot my location on my phone using Find Friends.

I’m nowhere bloody near the loch! How has that happened? It was there. It was right there! I sit on a stump for a minute or two and try to figure out where I went so wrong. I can’t be wrong though. I kept left. Just as I saw on someone else’s. My phone must be wrong. There’s no way I’m that far from the loch. I’ve barely been moving for a start.

None the less I head back down the way I came. The lochs got to be down here somewhere. Carefully watching where I put my feet I retrace my steps. Or at least I think I do. When I look up I don’t recognise anything around me. None of it looks familiar.

Have I entered Narnia? Did I fall out the back of a wardrobe and not notice?

All of a sudden I’m at a gate to a field and being stared at by horses. Well I’m not going in there! How has this happened? Where the hell am I?

By now I’ve almost had enough and stomp my way back up the hill. I know Joes going to be on the phone soon asking how much longer I’m going to be. His doctor had advised limiting the time everyone in the house was outside as well and by now I was getting close to the hour mark.

I had only gone a short way when I saw it. The bloody loch was right there. But yet again I had stuck to my mantra of ‘stay left’ and had gone too far left. Not only was I back with the loch but I was also back where I started.

It took the full 2 miles home before it clicked that although I had studied google and had it set in my head how to follow the path. And I had indeed stayed left when I began to go round it, I had to go RIGHT to actually GET round it…….

I’m now researching navigation courses because quite clearly this is not a strong point for me!

Lockdown Life – Running Outside

When we went in to lockdown we were told we could still exercise once a day outside the house. My stress levels instantly went down and I shrugged off the rest of it. I had already accepted swimming was out for a while so as long as I could still get a run in fantastic.

So day 1 on lockdown and instead of having to squeeze in a trip round the streets on two legs I had the luxury of being able to head out just after lunch.

I chose my regular weekend/late afternoon route as it’s usually quiet and has very little road so no cars. The first kilometre out my door was eerily quiet. The image of an army tank rolling by flashed through my mind but I quickly shook my head and told myself to stop being so stupid.

On to the track and instantly I could see it was busier than normal. Didn’t think much of it. Then I met my first family of 4 out on bikes. Kids zooming along zig zagging across the path with dad who had clearly had a beer or two with lunch and mum who didn’t look like she had been on a bike since she had taken the stabilisers off 30 years ago.

But, you know, exercise is for everyone, it should be encouraged….

Dodging them whilst trying to keep at least 6 feet between us was difficult but it’s a big path and I have no objection to running up the side on the grass and mud as there’s a trail part later on anyway.

A little further up is when I first began to notice it though. And at first I thought I was imagining it. I’ve been doing this running malarkey for a few years now and whilst I admit I probably don’t blend in to the country side or the trails or anything after the 1990’s in my exceptional get up, I am still a regular sight.

So when I first thought someone gave me a dirty look I thought surely not, I must be mistaken. Then it happened again, and again. And very quickly they looked more like looks of ‘oh my god she’s going to kill me’.

I’m knee height to a grass hopper wearing neon pink full length socks and a t-shirt to match. The only thing I’m killing is the song I’m trying to sing a long to right now.

Then my thoughts turned to the reason we are in lockdown – the virus.

All of a sudden it wasn’t just looks of death being shot left, right and centre but people were jumping into bushes to avoid me. Not just jumping, falling!

Yup. In my head, I had now turned in to a zombie and I was chasing down humans to eat. The scene from The Beach when Leonardo takes those drugs and it turns in to a computer game was now, me, right now.

This was great entertainment for a couple of miles I’m not going to lie. I was even winning at this game in my head. That was, until, I suddenly remembered that one of them could give me the virus if we weren’t keeping far enough apart.

All of a sudden this was no laughing matter. The mums out with their kids on bikes for the first time ever just so they could post about it on Facebook (look at us doing family activities!) were no longer amusing but down right annoying. Get out of the bloody way!!!! HOW do you not know how far 6 feet is??? Move!!!! Do you even bloody live in Perth?!?!?! Oh wait, there’s your car you drove here in!!

What started as a peaceful run had turned in to the most stressful run of all time. And this, unfortunately, is the way it’s going to be from now on. I totally get that kids locked up in houses need to get out and get fresh air and exercise. I have kids. I know. But unfortunately it has only increased the first world problem that is ‘path etiquette’. Ie EVERYONE should move to the side – not just me running but the person (or family) I’m passing. Create the space people!

Back at home and I felt like a true survivor (cue Destiny’s Child – Obviously the tune of choice to be belted out in the shower that day.)Is this going to change? Probably not in the near future. It’s actually getting busier and busier as the weather gets nicer and nicer. So my original plan of running every second day is being re-considered and I’m going to go for my run when I think it’s quieter. Having to run by myself doesn’t bother me either as I’m more used to that.

I’ve managed to put a new playlist together too – it matches my 1990’s fashion.

I would call that ‘winning at life’ right now.

5 Words

Is it possible to write – or even think – about anything other than that virus right now?

From day 1 both Joe and I had our heads turned by what we were hearing. Now, I’m not about to go down the ‘I told you so’ track as I’ve never really paid much attention to the latest big topic and it could have been something over nothing.

But it wasn’t. It’s here. Our lives are affected.

At first I was a bit disappointed when my races started to get cancelled but I wasn’t surprised. My coping strategy with everything is (in true scout behaviour) be prepared. Through preparation I pass through acceptance, usually quite smoothly as I’m distracted. And this works for me.

Knowing the effect this virus could have on Joe and not fully believing that kids aren’t likely to catch it I wasn’t one for taking chances. I pulled our daughter out of school when a bus load of kids and teachers returned from a ski trip to northern Italy and were at the school the day after. My decision as her parent. Had something similar happened at our sons school or at my work I would have taken the same action.

Joe has been told by his doctor if he catches this virus he will go straight to intensive care as he has nothing in his body that can fight it.

So yes – if I mention social distancing to you I AM FUCKING SERIOUS!!

I have been mocked and ridiculed by those who haven’t taken the situation seriously. I’ve seen the eye rolls, I’ve heard the back handed comments. I’ve chosen to respect your opinion on the matter and not ram my opinion down your throat but, eventually, it all got too much.

I thought I was coping with it. I actually thought it wasn’t something big enough to have to be coping with. But I was wrong. I ended up phoning Joe from work – I could only get 5 words out – ‘can you come get me’ – he knew instantly – ‘be there in 5’.

I spent 4 days in tears with a crushing elephant on my chest, not wanting to go back to work, not wanting to see anyone or speak to anyone, worried what I was going to do about child care, feeling useless because I should be at home with my family. I did every errand, afraid if Joe goes out he might catch it. And let me tell you – doing the food shopping when you have NO idea about food does nothing to calm you down. Every two minutes I was on the phone because I either didn’t know what something was (still don’t know) or where it is. But it has to be done, by me, alone.

I went paddle boarding with a friend down the river. I was in two minds but I checked with the centre who reassured me everything was sanitised and they were following strict distancing rules. It turned out to be the best therapy. I paddled off to the side whilst she chatted up the instructor. An hour and a half of peace and fresh air.

Back on dry land and the elephant resumed its position on my chest. All good things come to an end as they say.

The next day I tried a run. Running is my go to companion. Feeling down? Go for a run. Need to think something through? Go for a run. Make the tea? Order take out and go for a run. But I couldn’t breath. It was a constant stop start and it genuinely freaked me out. I didn’t want to walk as I wanted to get home. I couldn’t phone Joe because I didn’t want him leaving the house. A herd had now descended on my chest.

Then came the news. Lockdown. No non-essential travel. No work. Pubs, clubs, leisure centres, gyms all to close. You are allowed to leave the house once a day for exercise. You can go food shopping and you can get medicine. That’s it. This. Is. Real.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned my goals for this year. How the virus has put me back in training etc etc. That’s because it’s not the most important thing. (Did I really just say that?) Yes I’ve gone from 10 hours training a week to countless rest days and a pathetic attempt at a push up challenge but I don’t care. Not right now. I care about my family.

Of course that may change after 3 weeks of being locked up with them – we lasted less than 10mins in the living room all together yesterday morning.

Times are hard. They’re hard for everyone right now. But as I keep saying to our daughter, we are all in the same position. This is hard for everyone in different ways and we all need to respect that. For now, I will enjoy the time with my family. I will listen to the government and follow what they say. I will run when I can, turbo till the cows come home and maybe try the push up challenge again. Maybe.

Team Webley On Tour – the Weymouth edition

Team Webley On Tour – the Weymouth edition

What can be said about Weymouth? Well. The words ‘easy, flat, smooth’ do not enter my thoughts put it that way!

Just one week before, my entire race was put in jeopardy after being struck by an episode. I’ve had nothing in almost 2 years and then out of nowhere I hit the ground 7 days before race day. Luckily Joe was with me but I didn’t escape a trip to A &E later that night. I did convince them I didn’t need to stay in for observation though. There was no need.

So it was touch and go whether I would be starting, and if I got to start whether I would finish. The only way to deal with it was to break it down step by step.

We get down there and, well, it’s Weymouth. It’s windy! The sea was horrendous. We tried a practise swim but no. It was like being thrown back to Edinburgh 70.3 that first year. It did tell me I needed nose plugs though and after much running around trying to 1) get people to understand my accent and 2) find someone who knew what nose plugs were I eventually found a swimming pool that had a pair. And like the hero he is Joe took off to get them as the place shut in 20 minutes.

I also didn’t have a bike pump so had to buy one of them. I could only find a huge, heavy lump of metal which Joe didn’t think I could get on to my bike but you’ll be amazed what a girl with a bunch of hair bobbles can do!

The night before the race was spent practising removing my wet suit. After taking a Stanley blade to the sleeves (not during a timed removal, let’s not be too dramatic) the arms were ok but there was no getting my fat legs out the bottom. I did consider taking the blade to my legs but it would take a chain saw to get through these tree trunks.

Race morning and my heart and chest are ok. I’m going to join the race start and see what happens. Joe on the other hand is not. As much as it was touch and go for me, it was the same for him. He is constantly in pain. The only thing that changes is the level. When he sent me to my start area an hour before go time I was convinced he was pulling out. With crohns it’s very much a case of yes, you can make plans but you might have to cancel them last minute. He did start though and he did have a good race.

The sea had calmed down a lot but the decision had been made to shorten the course. My first panic was whether or not I would make cut off. I think I will always worry about that though. In the end I had a good swim for me. I was only elbowed and hit a few times and I kept to a very straight line.

I would love to ‘gloss’ over T1 but in the time it took me to remove my wetsuit you could not only have had a cup of tea and a biscuit, but you could have had the entire weeks worth of tea and biscuits! Bit disappointed no one offered to help if I’m honest. If I’d seen someone struggle like that I would have helped rip the thing off.

The bike was good. Apart from the punctures. Both of them! How do you get 2 punctures?? I may have spent Saturday night practising wet suit removal but maybe some of it should have been spent practising punctures. There must have been well over a hundred on course. I had 2, another PTC had 2, I read online someone had 4. The mechanics ran out of everything and the punctures cost quite a few their race. I lost an awful lot of time and I would be disappointed but that’s part of racing. It’s why you can’t compare races. Weather plays a huge part as well and we may have had calmer seas but the wind was definitely present on the cycle! And it brought its friend the rain with it too.

At least my second transition was marginally better – but by this time my head had given up and I was solidly in ‘ultra’ mode. There was no rush. My bike split had been ruined in my eyes at that time so I wasn’t wasting effort.

I had no hunger to get a good time on the run and with the heat rising I was acutely aware of my heart so held back. I could have pushed, I probably should have pushed, but I chose to be cautious/lazy. I knew I would have regrets after but I also knew I needed to have trained more with my run. Yes I can run 50 miles plus but running 13.1 after a swim and a bike isn’t the same. It’s not the place for long pacing techniques.

Having family out on the run though was fantastic. 2 years ago I secretly planned for them to show up for Joe doing Weymouth and it meant a lot to him. Having them there again this time with what he’s dealing with with his crohns had the same effect. And they are not quiet cheerleaders! I could hear them way after I had shuffled by. It was awesome.

Being back of the pack means one absolutely fantastic thing – you get that red carpet to yourself! All the way up! And did I cross the line holding the stop button on my garmin? Did I heck, what was the point! I actually forgot all about it until I was in the finishers hall. I raised both arms, grin on my face as I reminded myself I very nearly wasn’t able to start this race, never mind finish it! Albeit a very, very long time after I had started ha ha.

Afterwards I had to get my tracking fixed as my ankle tracker had not worked and the results had DQ’d me. Now I know my race time was bad but I still finished ha ha. It was a relatively easy fix though thanks to my garmin.

So lots of areas to improve on. Didn’t think I would be saying this but the run needs work. I’m not ready to admit Joe was right and doing ultras at the same time as triathlon isn’t working but ‘I’m just saying’. Bike and swim too have some way to go.

And as for that wet suit……..

Star Light Star Bright

Star Light Star Bright

4:10am.  Ski Centre.  Cairn Gorm.

‘I’m really not sure I can do this.  It is absolutely freezing, I don’t think I am going to cope with the cold. I really don’t think I can complete this.  I have never seen dark like this.  This is a bad idea.’

Just a few minutes later I am off.

Those were my genuine thoughts as I stood in the early hours of the morning waiting to do the run section of the Starman Triathlon.  Jo from tri club had entered a relay team and her husband (Bill) was originally doing both the cycle and the run but he hadn’t done a lot of hill training so they asked if I would run.  This wasn’t any old half marathon.  This was a run up to the top of a Munro (mountain over 3000ft) in the middle of the night and where you will get to see the sun rise.

Of course I am in!!

Didn’t quite think it all through.  At least, not until those last few minutes before I was to start.  I was too blinded by the thought of seeing the sun rise on the top of a Munro.  Bucket List item no 33 – check.

Jo had arranged everything.  She had booked a hostel right across from T1 we could use as basecamp and we were heading up the day before.  Oh did I mention?  For me to start running at 4am Jo would be starting her swim at midnight.  Yes that’s right.  Midnight.

What the actual f……

Honestly though, how can that NOT excite you?   Even just a little bit!  Naturally nerves were high.  This was Jo’s first race of that distance, first OW race I believe and first swim in the middle of the night.  You can almost understand why she went to put her wet suit on at 9pm with nerves like that.  To calm herself down she decided to post on facebook a photo of all the snacks we had ALL brought and claim they were just mine for the run.  I’m still astounded that everyone in the club believed her!

There was talk of closing one or possibly even both if the summits on the run due to the high winds.  Did I forget that bit as well?  Oh yeah.  You didn’t just start the run with a climb up a Munro.  You finished it with a climb up a Corbett.

Someone with a very unique imagination had designed this course.

I prayed to the run gods I would get to run up them both.  There were cut offs for both ascents and I had been over and over them.  I would be deeply disappointed if I didn’t get to do both of them.  It wouldn’t feel like I had completed the run.  (This was obviously before reality hit me of what this run was really asking.)

 

At the beach for the race brief and there are just under 80 people in wetsuits, donning glowsticks from their heads like antennas, awaiting the start of the swim.  It’s a very relaxed event and they advertise it as ‘not a race, an experience’.  This meant that not every swimmer had to complete the 4 laps of the swim.  If they wanted to get out after 2 or 3, they could.  A strange concept when you are used to ‘this is the finish line, this is the distance’ but a relaxing one.  I think it helped with some peoples nerves.

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Then it was time for Jo to get in.  As soon as she was off, she was gone.  It was impossible to figure out what one she was.  She also had ear plugs in and couldn’t hear a thing.  Naturally I still shouted, encouraged her on, just on the off chance she heard me.  She was in the last group to go in and by then you couldn’t tell what group was what.  One woman came out not long after going in, it wasn’t for her.  There were a few who came out after 3 laps.  Jo’s personal goal was to complete it.  As the swimmers came out and the numbers remaining dwindled I did start to get a little concerned.  I was sure I hadn’t missed her.

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To be on the safe side I took a run up to T2 and saw Bill chatting away to another cyclist.  Nope.  Not missed her.  I ran back down and paced the waters edge.

2 swimmers stood up and walked towards the beach.  I saw the green of her wet suit and ran over to help guide her up to transition.  She was wobbly and disorientated but she had done it.  Passing the dibber on to Bill he set off on his cycle.

It was a short walk back to the hostel and Jo told me all about the swim.  Choppier than she expected, not ‘too’ cold, but challenging.  She had started chatting to another swimmer and they had thought they were not going to make the cut off so nearly came out after 3 laps.  I wouldn’t have let her.  And she knows it.  She came to do 4 laps, that was her goal.  And she did it!  And she did it within time.  Great result!

Straight in to the trickly shower at the hostel and she was soon warmed up – ish.  Then it was time to track Bill.  I figured I had a solid 3hrs/3.5hrs so briefly tried to doze on a chair.  My legs were feeling heavy and giving me signs to say ‘we should be resting, go to bed woman’.  It was impossible to sleep but I tried.  Jo kept a vigilant eye on the tracker.

About 3am and she said he was doing really well, flying past people.  Now.  If I’m honest.  I kind of took this as a bit of ‘proud wifey’ talk.  I had no idea what he was like on a bike other than what she had said and naturally she had said he was really good.  Good to me meant under 3 hours on a 56 mile cycle.  And this route had a horrendous climb at the end.  It was also pitch black, very few street lights anywhere (we were in the Highlands) and windy.  So I just gave the polite nod and ‘uh huh’ and closed my eyes again.

About 3:20am and I checked the tracker myself.  I zoomed out so I could see where he was in comparison to T2.

I’ve never moved so fast to go and grab my gear.  He was just down the road from where we were in the hostel and we had a 20 min drive to the change over.  ‘He still has the climb’ I told myself.  ‘That will slow him down’.

The wind was howling and I mean howling outside now.  Do I really want to run in that?  It will be fine.  It will be fine.  I bundle my stuff in to a bag and after 2 trips back to the room because I can’t decide what top I should go with we head up to transition.  I’m convinced we are going to pass him on the road up and I think we do but it is really hard to tell in the dark.

We get out the car and I have 3 tops a jumper and a jacket on.  I don’t do cold.  And I most certainly don’t do cold before a race.  I don’t like this. My friend messages me having set her alarm to – let’s be honest – laugh at me for what I’m about to do.  ‘I don’t think I can do this’ I can tell her.  ‘I’m genuinely panicking’.

‘Shut up and get it done’ is the polite version of her reply.  I can’t see where I am meant to be running.  I try to watch a runner go off but he disappears within seconds.  I’m petrified I’m going to get lost.  I’m going to be referred to as ‘that idiot that didn’t know what she was doing’.  Pretty sure one or two have already looked at me and thought ‘yup, she’s going to die’.

I head inside for yet another toilet trip and turn back to tell Jo where I am running away to and almost walk straight in to Bill.

‘How the f@ck are you here already????????’

I don’t have any time to think.  He passes me the dibber and I’m walking over to the start.  Jo shouts for a photo and I turn round, the look of absolute fear in my eyes, and quickly turn back before I can change my mind.

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50 metres in.  50 metres.  And….

I’m loving it!!!  THIS is what I came for!  Yes it’s cold, windy, raining, but oh my god I am heading up a munro in the middle of the night!  This is awesome!

I no longer fear getting lost.  I’ve walked up over 20 Munros by myself and not died.  I know how to navigate this.  If it were following roads, well, that’s a different story.  Oddly enough.  I’m only overtaken by one guy in the first section (and I go past him later on).  This makes me feel very good.  I set my sights on the lights where I know the marshalls will be.  This will be the part they tell me if I can or can’t go to the summit.  I head up to them almost too nervous to ask.  ‘Can I head to the summit?’

‘Yup, up you go’.

Result!  I wouldn’t say I exactly skip up there but I’m certainly grinning away.  Another runner falls in step beside me and asks if it gets any easier.  ‘Em, not really’ I laugh back at him.  He keeps up with me for a little then stops to take a break.  I’m almost at the summit before I see someone coming back down.

2 marshalls at the summit and I have to admit I feel very sorry but very grateful for them at the top.  They must be frozen!  They ask if I am warm enough and I apologise for not bringing them a cup of tea.  Then it’s back down.

Back to the intersection and the light is beginning to come up.  I stop for a photo.  It’s gorgeous.  This is well worth it.  My quads soon come to life though and remind me what it means to run hills like this – in their lovely, painful way.

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I’m now back at the ski-centre where I see Neil again.  He was my husband Joe’s coach for IM 70.3 South Africa and he’s a volunteer at this event.  His wife – the lovely Beth – is also doing this but she is a solo entry.  I go past him screaming ‘that was awesome, I loved it!’ and carry on down the hill.

When I get near the bottom it’s on to road.  Tarmac.  This section in trail shoes is not the best.  I miss my roadies.  The guy I had chatted to before goes past and I try to keep with him but his legs are the length of my entire body and I have no hope.  He tells he’s been told the next summit is even worse to which I laugh again.  I would rather be going up there than running on this road.

I have a few haribos and drink my juice to keep me going.  Remembering my nutrition is all to pot with the different start time.  I’m a lot warmer now as well and there is nothing I hate more than running in tights when I could be in shorts.  I decide to stop and de-layer my top.  In one sense this is a good decision as I am way too hot.  But in another, it just cause me no end of grief.  I am now uncomfortable in the top I am wearing with my hydration bag and running belt.  I’m constantly pulling my top down, my trousers up, my face in to all sorts of frustrated emotions.  Time to research some gear that will get me through running in both cold and hot weather in the one race.

Eventually I am at the start of the second summit and the winds have died down enough to keep it open.  This one has many, many stone steps and boy do they kill your legs.  Still, I’m not overtaken on the hill and I’m taking that as a victory.  The views are spectacular.  Just what you expect in Scotland.  The wind is challenging but not death defying.  It’s hard and unrelenting but eventually I am at the top, big smiles for the marshalls, and heading back down.  I don’t charge forward as I’m not great on these sections and I have a big race in a few weeks so I go somewhat cautiously.  Further down and my phone starts ringing.  It’s Joe face timing me.  ‘Are you still in bed?’ I ask him quite surprised and completely forgetting it’s 6:30am.  He tells me later it was me that face timed him and on checking my phone I find array of weird and wonderful text messages I have sent him along with a song.  I don’t even know how to send a song!  Turns out I had been bumping my phone in my bag on the way down.

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Last section.  Almost done.  It’s a quiet trail back to the Loch where it all started.  Coming through the trees it’s spectacular as you head out on to the beach.

I have to say, finishing a run on the beach, in the sand, that’s just cruel!  Especially a run like that!  But I’m done.  And Jo and her husband Bill are there waiting.  We’ve done it.

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4th relay team we were.  4th!  A result I think we are all proud of.  There was a huge contingency from Glenrothes Tri club which had a really good team feel to it.  They all did fantastic.  It’s had us thinking we should convince our own club to take it on next year.  A little away trip near the end of season.

Would I recommend Starman?  Absolutely.  It’s a challenge and a half.  There aren’t many races you can say you get to swim in the witching hour, cycle in the dark and see the sunrise on a Munro.  So awesome.

Race To The King 2019

Race To The King 2019

What a weekend I’ve had!

Saturday was Race To The King – this years ‘A’ race for me. I had to do better than Race To The Stones last year. That race was my wake up call. A true learning into the world of long distance running.

The original plan was to start the 500 mile journey at about 4am on Friday. This meant I could pack Thursday after work and take my time. Then Joe threw a spanner in the works and suggested/decided we were leaving as soon as I finished on Thursday. Now. I may have had a list but I hadn’t checked it so this made me a little stressed (and naturally I spent all day moaning about it because that helps).

We rented the campervan we had used in Skye giving us ample room so I launched everything I could think of in it. Dropped the kids at my parents and started down the road.

Usually the kids would come with us but I was in such a state after The Stones Lucie was a little unnerved so we decided against it.

We drove a few hundred miles then kipped in the camper before setting off again. I had picked out a camp site for the night but hadn’t had a reply from them so I spent much of the journey on the phone talking to their answer machine. I knew they had to answer at some point though so I wasn’t worried.

Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race before now but noticed on the gps we were heading close to where his side of the family were. A couple of messages later and we took a slight detour to go and have lunch with them. Nothing quite beats seeing the youngest member of the tribe, a cousin on her birthday or a grandad who was on top form with his jokes. My face hurt from laughing so much.

It really was a flying visit though so after stocking up on chocolate biscuits (thanks aunty) we headed onwards to refuel the camper. At this point I eventually got through to the campsite. ‘Ah sorry we are full, there’s an event on’ they tell me. Oh no. ‘I can give you a number for another one though, it’s only 5 minutes up the road’. Phew. He gives me the number and the post code, a very helpful guy. I look at the post code. Hmm. I check the area code. Cambridge. I’m pretty sure Cambridge isn’t that close to Arundel. I google it. Shit. I’ve been phoning the wrong god damn campsite all day!! I quickly find the right one and beg for their last pitch. They agree to let it to us as long as it’s one night only. On to the campsite. The right one this time.

As we pulled in to our spot it was abundantly clear by the numerous tanned-to-an-inch-of-their (not very long left now) life’s other campers that not many younger folk stay there. Not that that bothered us – we weren’t exactly there for an all-night rave. Would have liked less staring though. God how they stared!

Early night before an early start though so it was roof up and curtains closed after our pasta and non-alcoholic apple and mango wine. (Not buckfast as someone thought ha ha)

 

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In the morning I had what turned out to be the most luxurious shower of the weekend (I actually had to shower at a service station!) It was already warm so I chose vest and shorts and got the rest of my gear together. I had as much of the porridge and banana as I could stomach and then we were off on the short drive to the start. Once there I made a bee line for the info tent. Last year I didn’t know about the temporary tattoos so this time around I was making sure I got them. I slapped the elevation one on my forearm whilst Joe kept slapping me with sun cream despite my protests of ‘its only 7:30am! I don’t need it yet’.

 

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Then it was over to the start line. The pen was already that full it was overflowing. I had no intention of trying to squeeze in so I ended up being one of the very last from my wave to go over the official start line. Unfortunately that made for a very slow first few miles. However. What’s missing from my story so far?

Tears.

There were no tears. Yes I was nervous but I hadn’t given myself enough time to get really worked up at the start. We had parked, walked in, tattoo’s and sun creamed up then I was off. No messing, no waiting.

Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race so he didn’t know where he was going to see me or where he could get to me. I had given him all the postcodes but with my lack of geographic anything I could have given him a postcode from the highlands! (I did spot the mistake with the camp site though!). The only thing I knew was he that he was going to see me at check point 2. The rest he was playing by ear.

The chat around me from the start was fantastic. I fell in step just behind 3 guys who were chatting away about anything and everything. One of them mentioned he had started cycling to work. Nice, me too. He had worked out it was saving him £8 in petrol but he was eating more than £8 in food because of it. This had me laughing out loud. But he made a fair point.

 

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Check point 1 and I had to put a blister plaster on. I could feel that burning starting already. And definitely not in a good way. What I haven’t mentioned is that my big toe nail fell off a few days before the race. Not what you need before a double marathon! So I knew I was going to have issues. I gave Joe a quick phone to see how he was getting on. He told me to get plastered up and eat something. ‘I’m eating my trail mix, I’m good.’ I told him. He proceeded to tell me I needed more calories than that and to eat something better. I proceeded out of the checkpoint and didn’t listen.

A mile later and I was getting light headed. Should have eaten something better than trail mix. Damn it.

Mile 10 and the hill was vertical. Why are all hills so steep? You never get a nice tumbling hill. It’s always a vertical climb. And this was only 10 miles in. Sake. Up to the top and it kind of evened out a little. That’s to say it was more smaller hills than vertical climbs. The terrain was really difficult and I lost count of how many people I saw trip and fall and roll their ankles. This was not a speedy run.

My calves were feeling tight already so I made a mental note to put the compression sleeves on at the next check point. Joe text to say he was already there. As I came down the hill towards it all I could see was the ruddy great hill behind it I would need to go up. Fantastic. Then ‘crack’. Suddenly my heart skipped a beat and I was falling to the side. Too busy looking at the hill in front of me I had misplaced my footing and rolled my ankle.

‘It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, doesn’t hurt, doesn’t hurt, does not hurt’.

I’m pretty sure that’s every runners mantra when they fall or hurt them selves. Tell yourself it didn’t happen! Thankfully, that seemed to work, and I was able to carry on running. I did then have a huge debate with myself about whether I had ‘heard’ a crack or ‘felt’ a crack and if I had felt it does that mean you subconsciously hear it too?

This ladies and gentleman, is what now goes through my brain on long runs. Crazy maths has now been replaced with just plain crazy thoughts.

When I got in to the check point I sat down to put my sleeves on and Joe started slapping me with the sun cream again. I protested at first but then he put it on my ears and since they were already burnt it hurt! Thing number 2 he was right about. Unusually for me I grabbed a caramel wafer bar. This was risky. Very risky! They have chocolate on them and Ella and chocolate do not go! No sir-ee. And out on a 54 mile run is most definitely not somewhere I want to be when I have a serious case of the runs! (Let’s not sugar coat this, facts are facts). Still. It’s what I seemed to be craving so I rolled the dice and took the chance. Hell my ankle had rolled and I was fine so maybe this will be 2 out of 2.

As soon as I got the sleeves on I was up and off again. Putting tight compression on elephant legs that are already sweating is not an easy job let me tell you! Mental note – buy the next size up – or, better still – put them on at the start.

Up the hill I went, all the time waiting for that ‘uh oh’ moment from the chocolate. It was bound to happen at some point so I kept scanning for bushes or rocks. Quite a good distraction as I was at the top sooner than I thought I would be. The last section I walked with a guy who was struggling with a stitch. He had been running with another bloke but was worried he was holding him back. He was in good humour though and gave very convincing cries of ‘go on without me. I will be ok. Think of me at the finish line. Name your first born after me’. By this time his friend was well out of ear shot but he was certainly entertaining me.

 

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Naturally, when we got to the top, we then had to run down. It was now my turn to provide the entertainment as I involuntarily started humming and singing my way down. I’ve come to realise when I’m nervous as hell, this is what I do to calm down. I don’t go full belt karaoke style – that’s saved for car journeys – but I sing a little tune to keep me steady. It’s usually met with some very weird looks and raised eyebrows. Plus the occasional ‘are you ok?’ Ha ha.

 

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And then back up we went. A steep mother of a hill at mile 20 is most definitely not what you want but this wasn’t even half way. Man up Ella you’ve not even ran a marathon yet! When I got the top I saw what you usually see at the top of corbetts and Munro’s. Have I just ran/walked up a bloody Corbett? Are you joking me?! Do you get corbetts in England? Or are they a scottish thing? Am I in England or Scotland? Or is this Wales? Definitely need to do the 3 peak challenge soon.

I’m telling you. Crazy thoughts.

 

 

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Once the hill had been sumitted (yes, sumitted, it was huge, it had a sumit) it was on to base camp. The plan was to be out of there by 1pm and I was well on track. Base camp wasn’t half way so I was very conscious not to treat it as if it were. I filled up my water, grabbed another chocolate bar (what are you doing???) and phoned Joe.

He wasn’t there yet. Hadn’t expected me to get there quite so soon. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little smug. He said he was just about to park up and get changed as he had planned to run a little with me. I took a few photos and waited around a little.

And waited.

10 minutes later I phoned him again. I wanted to get going. I knew the major mistake I had made at the Stones was the amount of time spent at the pit stops. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. He was just at the camper so he told me to carry on and he would catch up with me.

 

I was out of basecamp on track.

 

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Within seconds he caught up with me. Handed me a few things and seemed genuinely impressed I was doing ok. He didn’t run too far with me as he had to double back to get the camper but it was nice nonetheless.

Pit stop 4 was just after – you guessed it – another great big ruddy hill. This one was weirdly entertaining. I had fallen in step with a guy who was also running solo but was quite a character. He said that once we were up this hill it was pretty much flat or down hill the rest of the way. I looked at him. Then I looked at the tattoo on my arm. Then I looked at him again. And pointed to my arm. ‘Erm, I don’t think it is’ I said to him.

‘Yeah it is’. He said. Followed by ‘do you know where we are? I think we are on Butser Hill but I’m not sure?’. He then asked a couple of people walking down the hill. They laughed. Rather worryingly. ‘Oh no sir, it’s not downhill to Winchester. Or at all.’

‘Lie to me’ he begged them – genuinely begged them. It was hilarious. His comedy honestly got me up that hill.

At the pit stop I refilled with water and carried on. And no. It did not feel downhill after that.

At pit stop 5 Joe met me again. It was time for more blister plasters. Now I apologise if you’re squeamish but truth of the matter is my feet were in pretty bad shape before the run so 37 miles in they weren’t going to be a bed of roses! I had blisters escaping out of the plasters that were already there and many, many more making an appearance. I pretty much looked like I had 10 toes on each foot. I decided the best course of action was to DNF right there and then. You can’t run with feet like that. That’s just stupid.

Ha, yeah right! I slapped on more plasters, wedged my feet back in to my trainers and carried on. Ignorance is bliss. Albeit a little painful.

I also had another chocolate bar. I mean what more could happen right?

More hills. More heat. Another very, very, very close encounter with the ground and the fastest I had moved the entire run (don’t you just love that scary quick movement forward when you trip?) and I get to checkpoint 6. It’s at this point I’m thinking my goal of finishing in the daylight might actually be achieved. I need to keep going though. Usually by now I’ve developed an old woman’s hobble that gets worse with every walk break. Thankfully that hasn’t appeared.

Joe tells me he won’t see me at the next checkpoint as he’s going straight to the finish to park then going to double back and run the last bit with me.

 

 

Pit stop 7 and the only thing I do is stop to take a photo and carry on. I’m getting to that finish before the sun sets. I make a comment about the sound of the crickets to other runners around me. ‘They’re bloody loud aren’t they?’ I say. ‘Eh, that’s not crickets love, that’s an electric fence. Don’t you go touching it now.’

I’m honestly just there to provide entertainment at these things.

 

It’s not easy but I’m running so much more than I expected I would be. I’m wearing my garmin but I’ve not been obsessed with it and I think that’s helping. I’ve also been trying to track Kev and Gillian – the couple who gave me a lift to Glen Lyon. They are doing the West Highland Way which is 95-98 miles! Only in the world of ultras can you be ‘one upped’ on a 53.5 miler ha ha.

Joe is surprised at how quickly I get through the last pit stop. He thought the race would take me between 13 and 14 hours, maybe longer. I have slowed quite a bit but I’m still on a for a good time – at least for someone like me. I see him soon after and he falls in step with me quite easily. I had been worried that I would be really irritable by this point and get annoyed with him but it’s going great. He chats away to everyone around including the supporters at the side who had run past to come and meet me. In the last couple of miles I keep asking him ‘how far now? How far now?’.

Eventually I see the 1 mile to go sign – utter relief. He speeds off at the last little bit so he can catch me crossing the line.

A guy goes past me. I don’t care. Then we turn the corner and the finish is right there. Stuff it.

Sorry mister but I’ve somehow got a little left in these legs so I’m speeding up to the finish! I go past him and whisper ‘sorry’. It’s not exactly a sprint finish but it’s not a walk! Not a stumble!

Oh but it might be! What the hell are these?? Bloody STEPS right before the finish – what the actual hell!! I’m pulling a face before I can remind myself there’s a photographer there. Oh yeah. He got a right good one! I expect to see that on a wall of fame.

I’m done! It’s daylight! It’s still bloody daylight! 12hrs and 23 minutes. Yes sir I most definitely WILL take that! 8pm finish! Get in!!

 

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A quick bite to eat and we then hobble over to the King Alfred statue. I can’t not get a photo of that. I will show it to Albert on the Inch back home on my next run ha ha.

I upload my data and start to get messages through. I get a really nice one from Sarah who I ran with at the stones last year which is just absolutely lovely. What a difference from then though! No hallucinations, no freezing cold, no 25 minute miles because I can barely walk. Amazing.

This weekend was a blast from start to finish. Getting that extra boost from seeing family the day before, Joe being an absolute star supporting me through out, chocolate not giving me any ‘issues’ but giving me calories when I needed it and the fabulous people I met en route through out. I can’t wait to complete the trilogy next year at the tower.

 

Jurassic Park

I can’t sleep. It’s half past 1 in the morning and I’m wide awake. Wide. Awake.

Why?

Well.

Even though my ‘big race’ is less than a week away it’s nothing to do with that. In true Ella style I’m already thinking about my next race. It’s not booked yet, but I know what I want to do. Unfortunately though, it involves a few things I’m not very good at. Cycling, swimming and well, running.

So with that in mind I’ve been trying to increase my non-ability at these things. Trying to turn it into more of a ‘ah well, she’ll get to the finish line, eventually’.

An opportunity to get back open water swimming came up so I donned my rather unused wet suit and trundled down after work on a Friday.

And let me tell you, getting that thing on, after a year of non use isn’t easy!

After a lot of wriggling and jiggling and many, many, many jumps up/down -stretching-left-right-And-over I made my way to the loch (swearing to my self that I will get back to my yoga again). I climbed in rather gingerly and got myself used to the cold before setting off in possibly the worst example of breaststroke ever to be seen. Thank goodness no one from work was there.

I honestly think that one day I will be told that I only passed my swim teacher course because they needed to tick the OAP box on the equality form.

But let’s get back to the loch.

In all fairness it went not too bad for the first time in a year. I eventually managed to get my face in the water for short bursts and although it may have sounded like it, I didn’t die. I did develop a strange kind of ‘hum’ to myself which must have sounded utterly crazy but it calmed me down.

In the end I managed 4 laps which was about 750 metres. Mostly breaststroke, some weird singing/humming to myself, occasional dip of the face in to the water. I left happy I had done it. But also adamant I would need a new wet suit. The tightness on my chest was too much and I struggled to lift my arms high enough to get a decent stroke.

The next day I had no long run to do. With Race To The King in 1 week I wasn’t about to head out for 15 miles. Wanting to build on what I felt had been a good first session we headed out to a different Loch. Joe had swam there many times and I had been a few so I had no worries about it.

Walking down to the edge Joe spotted some fishing rods so told me we would swim straight out so as to avoid them. No problem. It was cold but I felt ok and my wet suit felt slightly less constrictive. I started with breaststroke so I could work up to properly swimming. It was too cold for Joe though and he just wasn’t in the mood so I suggested he head back to the car and warm up whilst I finished off. I was a little surprised when he agreed to this but put it down to him really not wanting to be there and maybe even possibly believing I could actually do this.

I set off back in the same loop we had done. I even put my face in the water. It was very murky so I closed my eyes when I put my face in and opened them again when I breathed. I went a little further out than we had swam but I was ok.

Then I saw a white thing.

Did I? Did I see something? Maybe it was just my hand, I wasn’t wearing gloves.

I swam a little more.

That was definitely a white thing but blink and you miss it.

I tell myself it was my hand again. But. I know my hand is at the end of my arm. My left arm is out stretched. My right arm is by my side. I saw the white thing, in front of me, to the right. My hand that is in front of me, is way over there. On the left.

The panic starts.

What the f@ck, what the f@ck, holy hell.

(I’m actually beginning to panic again just remembering it now).

I swiftly do a 180 and head back. Face is not in the water. I see it again.

Oh my god what if it IS a hand?!?!? It’s not MINE!! Who’s is it???? Oh my god dead bodies, dead bodies, DEAD BODIES!! What if it’s a zombified dead body?? What if I see an actual face, stare at me as it floats past under the water?!?

If I go into full blown panic attack right now then I’m going to be one of those dead bodies. I’m going to fill up with water, my body will be all blue and swollen and disgusting and squishy and oh my god I’m going to throw up.

I have to stop to wretch a couple of times.

Joes on the shore wrapped in his huge blanket – not paying attention to my life and death situation. He’s on his phone. He’s on his bloody phone. What’s he going to do? Film me dying???

Oh man could you imagine if I honestly have to be rescued from this loch? ‘Swim teacher rescued from loch after having a meltdown’. Loads of people swim here all the time, how am I the only one to come across something in here?

I make it back and stumble up to the edge. I decide against telling Joe about the white hand situation. He’s still on his bloody phone anyway. I look at my watch. I’m 100yards away from 1000.

Yup. I head back in. Reasoning it’s only 50 out and back and if I don’t go back in now I won’t have the guts to return another day. Although I’m not overly sure I even want to.

So I head safely past the fishing rods and about turn and come back again. Nope, I don’t like this. But. Job done.

Once I’m home and have had time to calm down I consider asking others if they have ever seen anything in the Loch. I can’t possibly be the only person, surely. I know for a fact it wasn’t my own hand I saw. I was just telling myself that so I didn’t drown. What the hell was it?

The light bulb eventually goes off in my head. It’s about 10pm now, a good solid 8hours later.

I had to swim past fishing rods at the edge. What do you tend to get near fishing rods?

Fish.

I did not know there were fish in that loch! Had I known that, I’m not sure I would have swam myself. No one has ever mentioned fish in there.

Back on dry land after the ‘white hand’ situation

So today I’m telling this story at work to someone I know has swam in the loch before. She immediately says there’s fish in there and she pretty much swims with her eyes closed because of the pikes.

I google images of pikes, not sure if it was this.

Pikes are huge!!!!! Holy mother of god!!! They are f@cking huge!! And they have teeth!!! What kind of a fish has teeth??? Is this a dinosaur fish???!! Are they in Jurassic f@cking park??? Those things EAT PEOPLE!! Like actually eat people!

I genuinely have a nervous breakdown and spend a solid 10 minutes in the bathroom breathing into a paper bag.

Teeth!!!

I’m not getting in that loch again. F@ck. That.

So. I’m no doctor. Or sleep specialist. But my guess is that I can’t sleep tonight, because I can’t breathe properly because I’m reliving the white hand/giant teeth gnarling monster scenario in my head over and over.

Teeth!

Absolutely not. I’m sticking to running.

The Middle Of The Middle Of Nowhere – Glen Lyon Ultra

The Middle Of The Middle Of Nowhere – Glen Lyon Ultra

I have to admit, after the marathon last week I was feeling just a bit sore. I very much resembled a waddling penguin when attempting stairs for at least a day. Goes to show you don’t need to run a PB for it to hurt.

So it did cross my mind not to run my next race – Glen Lyon Ultra – which was 6 days later. However come midweek I had read a couple of race reports from it, looked through dozens of photos of the area and was now really excited to get out there. After all, there was a dam to run over!

Luckily for me a couple from the running club were also doing it and had offered a lift up. This helped me no end as it meant Joe and Oliver weren’t dragged out their beds at 6am and then left for hours in the inevitable cold, wet and windy countryside to entertain themselves.

Morning of the run and I was up and ready. I hadn’t slept very well the night before because I was, well, excited! This type of running I really enjoy. Middle of nowhere, clean fresh air, seeing things you don’t see on a daily basis (oh my goodness so many newborn lambs!) and a huge dam to run over. What’s not to love? Joe got up at 6am to make me breakfast – bless his cotton socks ha ha – and thoroughly enjoyed going back to bed. I meanwhile jumped in to Kev and Gillian’s car with what felt like enough gear for a weekend away. The race organisers had said to pack for all weather and had stressed several hundred times the importance of getting warm clothes on as soon as you finished. There was one place for a drop bag which was halfway and a couple of checkpoints with water. My drop bag? An actual rucksack. I kid you not. There were river crossings and it had been said you could change your trainers at the halfway point (if you didn’t mind being called a Jessie ha ha) so I thought may as well take them.

It was about a 2 hour drive to get to the start and the chat was good. Gillian is how I found out about Ultras. Shortly after joining the running club we were at a hill session and even though we had finished she was still running back and forth. Someone mentioned she was training for an ultra and proceeded to explain what that was to my blank expression. How far?? Not a chance am I doing that!

How things change.

Now she’s about to take on the West Highland Way along with her partner Kev so as you can imagine there was lots of running chat. Along with chat about the scenery and the animals outside – lambs, hares, no deer though.

Once we arrived I was quite shocked to see they had managed to get portaloos along that road but man was I grateful. It was straight to them. Probably the first and only race I will be at that has no queue for the loo. There were 193 signed up but you always get a percentage who don’t run on the day so it was a small field.

The race is more like a run of two halves. The first section is round the Loch and roughly 17 miles. My aim was to complete this in 3 hours. A number I plucked out the air if I’m honest. It’s undulating with some tricky paths underfoot and those infamous river crossings. I would be happy with 3 hours. On this basis I gave myself 3 hours for the second half. Two horrendous climbs but they came with the downhill so in my head, with Ella logic, 3 hours seemed a good goal.

I genuinely hate to think what my school teachers would think of my maths skills and logic.

Anyway. We were strictly warned to keep away from one section at the start as there was a lamb there that had been born the night before. And when I say strictly I mean they shouted at you over the microphone if you went anywhere near it. (Not me, I’m not that stupid). The race directors were taking no chances with their agreement from the landowners to hold this race and quite right. It was in spectacular surroundings.

At the start line and we were advised the river crossings were only ankle deep and we would have one gate that was locked so we would have to climb over it. Be careful of using stepping stones and don’t stray from the path. I did briefly wonder if I had entered an obstacle race and not an ultra but hey ho.

Once we were off it felt good to begin at a slow steady pace. Up the first hill and we were soon being rewarded with the gorgeous view of the dam from above. Many runners stopped to take a photo so for once I wasn’t the only one!

The track was what I would describe as quite ‘knobbly’ – you had to pay attention so as not to twist over your ankle. In reality, a proper trail track. It was very undulating but nothing too steep either up or down. I had started off in my water proof jacket, sleeved top and T-shirt underneath. After just 2 miles I was removing a layer. Having learnt from Glen Ogle 33 I had chosen to wear a middle layer I could strip easy. Yes I did give myself a small pat on the back for this ha ha.

Very soon after I stopped to remove my water proof jacket also. It was heating up quite nice in the sun. Another excuse for a quick photo.

The first river crossing was as they had said – ankle deep. If that. I managed to skip across the stones, just like I used to do as a child. Probably still looked like a child too. Just a bit more stiff jointed and bent over ha ha.

I had fallen in pace just behind a guy and a woman. They were chatting away but I don’t think they had come to the race together. Suddenly the woman tripped and fell on both knees. She sat up and went straight in to shock. We were only about 8 miles in and she feared her race was over. My job has many benefits, one of which being I’m trained in first aid so thankfully I was able to calm her down and get her back on her feet again. She seemed ok but I stuck with her for a little bit to make sure she really was. She kept apologising for falling and getting shocked and kept telling me to carry on and that she was fine. I think she just needed a moment or two to herself after that to regain her thoughts so I went ahead a little.

Shortly after this was a deeper crossing. I say deeper but in reality you could again use the stones or if you really insisted you could just plod through and possibly splash a little water on your ankles. I most certainly wouldn’t be needing my arm bands. (Yes I did have them in my bag, I was taking no chances with the element that is water that is quite clearly out to get me in races).

There was an aid station not long after that and I mentioned to the Marshall a woman behind me had fallen but had carried on so keep an eye out. Turns out she was hot on my heels and had recovered well. Good stuff.

By now the wind was quite seriously getting to me. I couldn’t hear what the woman beside me was saying, my nose was running faster than Bolt with no stop cock in sight and I had more than once been blown backwards when trying to move forwards. For f@ck sake!!!!! My jacket was back on and working well against it but seriously wind – BACK OFF!!!

Then all of a sudden it would stop. And the sun would blare down. So I had to remove my jacket. And just as I was thinking I probably should have worn my shorts, out would come gale and her wind of force. And on the jacket would go again. I lost count of the number of times this happened. More costume changes than Beyoncé. I did become quite skilful at doing this whilst on the move though.

Ok. Here it comes. The dam. The actual dam that I am going to run across. I’m excited!!

I’m also knee height to a grasshopper which naturally means I’m too small to see over the frigging wall!! Is this the water trying to get at me? It couldn’t drown me at the river crossings so it’s going to hide from me on this dam? Well ‘dam’ you water!

I try and take a video as I run across the bloody thing but no one needs to try and count how many chins are in my phone book so it was quickly deleted. I got one photo. And my face looks like Will Smith in Hitch when he takes an allergic reaction and it swells up. (Or maybe I do just have a really fat face – probably).

Tantrum over with it’s down the little hill to the ‘half way’ check point and I’m pleased to see I’ve reached it in under the 3 hours. However my watch is reading 15.6 miles and we were told it’s about 17 so this then sets me thinking the race is going to be short. No complaints from me about that though!

I go straight in to my rucksack and grab my bread and butter. Yes ladies and gentleman. My fuel of choice for this race was pure water and bread and butter (with a handful of emergency jelly babies). Some may say I was Moses – although I didn’t part any seas. But technically you could argue I walked on water as I used the stepping stones the majority of the time.

This little scenario of tales is what kept me going over the next 15+ miles by the way.

I was very conscious not to stay too long at the checkpoint and I didn’t feel I needed to change my socks or trainers so I filled up my water and carried on. I knew the first of the big climbs was coming and I would inevitably be walking up some of it so I could munch my ‘council sandwich’ then. As predicted, I did.

The thing with this first climb is that it was the replica of climbing a mountain. Every time you think you’re at the top, you go round the corner and you just keep going up and up again. It never seemed to stop. Obviously my legs were hurting by this point but not as much as they were at Stirling so I pushed on. Then came the down hill. Oh my word the down hill. That’s when the pain came and the realisation that there was a high possibility I wouldn’t be walking after this. I kept in my head that it was only going to reach 30 miles though as it was short at the halfway so get to 20 and you’ve only got 10 to do. 10 miles is a good number. You can do 10 miles easy. That’s a basic training run. Over in a jiffy.

Still going down hill and I see something you never want to see in a race. The lead runner coming towards you. But not just coming towards you on this vertical drop of a decent. He was running.

RUNNING?!?!?

UP this bloody hill?? Are you kidding me?? I can barely run down the dam thing! I’ve even passed people walking down it it’s that steep!

There’s another one behind him. Another one running up this thing.

It’s about this time I wonder to myself if this is the moment I should give Uber a call.

But then I remember you don’t get any phone signal when you are in the middle of the middle of nowhere.

This is worse than being taken out by an Arianna Grande song snipering your play list. Thankfully my music is not on for that to happen.

I then come across a turning to the right. Ok. Happy with that as it means no more front runners coming past me. But then I see it. Something no one wants to see when they are 19 miles in to a race.

‘8 mile loop’

I start dialling every taxi number known to man.

I’m now crying in to my emergency stash of jelly babies wondering at what point in my life I genuinely thought running 31.5 miles in the Scottish Highlands would ever be a good idea. Sure, I’ve made mistakes in the past. Worn a short white dress to a grungy pub when it was snowing outside, dyed half my hair an aluminous green colour looking like I had the worlds biggest bogey on my head, drank milk that was 3 days out of date when hungover (soooo much sickness after that one). But running? This far? Here? Why?

It’s at this point the woman I had helped earlier comes past me. I think she quite clearly spotted I was flagging (read that as having a mental breakdown) and said….

‘We head down just at that shed then it’s pretty much flat along the river.’

Words. Of. An. Angel.

However….

‘Have you ran this before?’ I ask her. Genuinely thinking what an absolutely ridiculous question. Who in their right mind would do this more than once.

‘Yeah. Hoping to get under 6 and a half hours this time.’

She’s nuts. She’s absolutely bloody nuts.

But she has a point.

The shed doesn’t look that far away. And it does look nice down by the river. She has somehow managed to encourage me on without saying those awful words ‘almost there’.

FYI – you are NEVER almost there until you are one step in front of that finish line.

It is as if a miracle is bestowed upon me as I manage to pick up the pace and get moving. It’s probably only by about 5 or 10 seconds a mile but I feel like I’m moving much better and faster than before. I’m still having the on again off again argument with the jacket but I don’t care.

And soon I’m hitting that hill.

Not a hairy chance am I even attempting to run up that monstrosity of a torture task. A brisk walk will be done.

Ok a walk then. Turns out I’m not that grand at walking fast up a hill. The woman who had the fall however is and she’s off up the hill on a mission!

It feels never ending. Mainly because it is. That’s a fact right there. That hill does not end. I’m actually still trying to reach the top.

Joking.

Obviously it ends. And it flattens out a little , just a little. I’m overtaken by 2 guys and a lady who – in true ultra runner fashion – check politely I’m still doing good and heading for the finish. That’s the best thing about ultras. Everyone speaks! Everyone says hello. Exchanges the silent ‘are you ok’ and encourages you on. That doesn’t happen in the road marathons.

Downhill now and it’s painful but more uncomfortable than ‘ouchie’. I’m telling myself the course is short so I’ve only got to get to 30 miles. I’m fine. I’ve got this.

30 miles passes by and I can’t even see the finish. This course is not going to be short. Dam it!

I plod on. Finish. Finish. Finish. Finish. Joe should be down there by now and he won’t be overly happy about having waited hours for me to eventually finish. Get moving, get moving.

Finally it’s over the small bridge and up to the finish line. There’s a handful of people on the hill. ‘Think happy thoughts’ they say. ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m thinking’ I laugh back at them.

I spot Oliver just before the line and manage a smile. It’s done.

Kev comes over and I’m not surprised to hear he managed it in under 5 hours. He found the last hill a killer too so that makes me feel better I wasn’t being a wuss. I grab my bag Gillian comes over the line shortly after. Both her and Kev are running the 15mile trail race the next day. Not a chance!

I head to the massage tent to get my legs seen to whilst Joe takes Oliver up to see the dam. She tells me she can’t feel any unusual tightness in my hamstrings. Given the issues I’ve been having with them I’m very happy with this. I almost jump off the table Tom Cruise style but I’ve just ran 31.5 miles. I’m not jumping anywhere.

So. In conclusion. Did I like this race? I bloody loved it ha ha. How could you not? The scenery is spectacular. The people are so friendly. The organisation is spot on. Even the t-shirt fits!

Would I do it again? Em… it’s tough. Really tough. I didn’t actually cry (that may have been a spot of poetic licence). But it was in no way easy. There’s a chance I would do it again. Maybe. If I can ever forget about that hill.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely!! It has reminded me what I enjoy about running. Not the constant eye on the watch run as fast as you can and throw up at the end. But the fresh air, the scenery, the friendliness of other runners enjoying it.

You can’t beat it.

Stirling Take 2

Stirling Take 2

When I signed up for Stirling it was with the intention – yet again – of a London qualifying time.  However.  Less than a month after signing up it was beyond crystal clear that wasn’t going to happen.  And it wasn’t due to the fact I am looking at longer distances and on trail not road.  It was due to the fact that I hate sprints and fartlek and track SO much that I just don’t do them.  In black and white – I am a lazy runner.  I run to enjoy it and even though I may look at my time and think ‘ah, I wish I was faster’, I’m just not prepared to do anything about that.

I will go out for another ‘Easy 10 miles’ before you see me anywhere close to throwing up after 3 sets of 800m with a 30 second recovery followed by 5 sets of 100m at flat out pace.

So rocking up to the start line of the Stirling Marathon today I had a more realistic expectation of about 4:30.  I wouldn’t be overly happy with that but it was to be expected.

Joe had finally caved/gotten sick of my moaning about needing new trainers and bought me a pair yesterday.  I am fully aware of how ridiculous it would be to wear brand spanking new trainers on race day but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it.  More than once.  And almost put them in the car just in case.  I didn’t wear them though so I was in the usual ones with my shorts and vest – it was going to be a warm day.  I couldn’t find my PRR club vest and I haven’t bought one yet for the tri-club so it was my lovely pink one.  It matched my hair band and my shorts.  Couldn’t have been more girly.  (Well, I could, if I didn’t have the body shape of an 8 year old boy ha ha.  Thank goodness I’m already married.)

It was a ridiculously early start for the family but as usual they didn’t really complain.  Lucie was sold on the offer of going for breakfast once they had dropped me off and Oliver was happy with being able to sleep in the car and play his Switch.  Bribery in it’s finest form.

Dropped at the start I saw a couple from the road runners and went over to say hi.  We were off just minutes later.  The marathon was set off at the same time as the half marathon and I lost count of how many times I repeated in my head ‘keep left, keep left, keep left’.  I even paused at the fork in the road to just make sure I was in fact, turning left.  It wasn’t a huge field so I didn’t feel crowded or have to jostle for space so that was a nice change from other marathons.

The first few miles done and a women from the club came past me.  I didn’t think I had overtaken her and she regaled her emergency stop at the portaloos.  All I’m going to say is I’m glad I am not the only one this happens to!  I resounded there and then that if I was to need during this race, I was going to pick a tree or a big bush.  She was aiming for a certain time goal and unsurprisingly I didn’t see her again.

A little further up and Joe texts me to tell me my parents might be at a village we pass through called Doune.  True enough they are exactly where I thought they would be.  I spotted my mum on the left and started waving.  This gave her enough time to get her phone ready.  Or…at least it should have.  As I went past she gave her usual ‘Well done Ella, keep going’, then I swear I heard her fumbling with her phone and saying ‘Oh I missed her’.  I love seeing her at races, she always makes me laugh.  My dad was on the other side so I crossed over and low and behold he’s there with none other than his Ipad!  He has the thing held right up so there’s no way I am in the picture (I’m knee height to a grass hopper, the sky never appears in my photos) and it looks like he is actually taking a selfie.  Parents ladies and gentleman, you got to love them.

I’m now at about 10/11 miles and my left calf is so tight it could give Scrooge a run for his money.  It’s that bad I stop now and then to try and massage it out but it’s not working.  It’s painful.  And I’m not feeling any cushioning from trainers.  I bloomin knew I should have put my new ones on.  At this point it was a risk I was willing to take.   I spend the next couple of miles in a complete grump that I hadn’t bought trainers earlier and wore them in to wear today.  And naturally, I blame Joe for this.  Because obviously I’m not going to buy myself trainers without him knowing.  (The 4 boxes hidden under the bed don’t count because I have only just re-discovered these ok).

I then spend the following miles after that swearing off marathons completely.  At mile 17 I am enjoying the route but I am still on tarmac – funny that, being a road marathon – and have absolutely had enough of running and am now deciding that I am not going to run the Glen Lyon Ultra which is in just 6 days.  Forget it.  My legs hurt.  The pain has migrated to my quads now, cheers for that body, and I’m now resembling an old woman hobbling down the road with her stick missing swaying side to side.

That’s it.  Time for the music to be cranked up.  Little Mix comes on.

My life could not be any worse right now.

I’m now in the stages of awaiting some ‘K-pop’ coming on – not that I know what that is – so I can just end it right here and now.  But the song turns in to a re-mix and dare I say it, but I quite like it.  So much so in fact that I have it on repeat several times and I am able to pick up the pace for a few miles.

That ends come mile 20 though.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I’m still swearing off marathons when I get a message through with a picture of my instagram moan/post and the caption ‘Other than London’.  You make a good point Ginnie ha ha.  But London will be different.  London will be several HUNDRED photos and videos taken and many, many tears no doubt.  It will happen.

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22 miles and the fast 4 miles Joe wanted for the finish are now as likely as a Donald Trump having a personality transplant.  I do try and my legs feel a little better when I lift them more and take a longer stride but I can’t sustain that.  There’s a lovely marshall at the top of the hill at the University who tries to get me moving faster but I can’t do anything but laugh with him.  This old woman needs her zimmer frame I’m afraid.  The nursing home is calling.

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Wallace Monument behind me – 100000 miles still to go

The only bonus is that I am in no fit state to add on any extra running miles on the way home so Joe’s not going to kick me out the car.  I am however going to have to endure a lecture at some point from him – most likely about my lack of speed training but I don’t doubt he will add something else in there.  My nutrition plan hasn’t worked for me today.  The Clif chewing things mixed with Active Root in my water has not sat well in my stomach and I have had to switch to plain water and nothing else.  I’m going to have to find something to replace the Clif things.  I’ve also ran out of water several times so my flasks aren’t big enough.  Training note there.

I get a text from Joe telling me is right behind the photographer in front of the finishing line and soon enough I spot my youngest waving wildly about with my dad at the side.  He runs along beside me – much faster than me I might add – until I reach the finishing chute and it’s this that makes my day.  It was brilliant.

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I collect my goodie bag, which contains bath salts for recovery – best goodie bag ever!! – and head out.  Stupidly I make the mistake of sitting down and then proceed to spend the next 5 days trying to stand up.  Yup.  Quads don’t like me very much right now.  I bump in to Steve and another from the club and as we regale our stories of sweat, hills and confusion over left and right Joe and the rest of my family find me.

 

So a 4:13.  If I’m honest I fully expected a 4:30.  My trainers are in the bin though and my new ones are ready to go.  Obviously my legs are not and I have no intention of any miles tonight or maybe even tomorrow.  Luckily, being a swim teacher, some of my day tomorrow will be spent in the water so that will be good for the legs.

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My lovely new nightie

The one (ha ha ‘one’) downside of today was missing watching and tracking the London marathon.  I positively love to do that.  I thought running today would be a good distraction of not being there yet again but it was actually worse.  So I wouldn’t book another race on that day.

Am I running the ultra next Saturday?  Well, I’m still in pain so I’m still undecided.  It will be completely different given it’s a trail run.  It has actual river crossings which I find both terrifying and amusing – I’m considering wearing my swimming costume underneath.  It also has the next badge in the collection for me to collect.  It’s a possibility.  But I’m not interested in road marathons anymore.  Not unless these new trainers are something out of this world.

*Disclaimer – I adore my parents and love their support.  It’s just sometimes it can be comical.