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.

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Where Have You Been?

Has it really been 2 months since I last wrote? Crickey!

Well it hasn’t been that quiet a 2 months. I haven’t been back in ‘that’ loch again but I have been swimming at a loch closer to home. It’s smaller, a lot calmer, and, most importantly, it does not contain any extras from a Chris Pratt movie. (It does however have lots of a lot braver women than me who swim with no wet suit!)

I’ve been doing more cycling too. I’ve been out on a couple of group cycles with other members of the tri club. I may or may not have refused to ride down the completely vertical freshly gravelled path and gotten off my bike savagely repeating ‘nope,nope,nope,nope’ (I was not the only one who did this. The other guy didn’t want to scratch his hugely expensive frame. I didn’t want to scratch my well worn in human body. Same priorities – just slightly different details.)

It helped a lot going out in a group though. Finding new routes, chatting away, picking up tips. I’ve also been on what was called a Cornering Course at a bike track. That was fantastic! Absolutely bucketing with rain, couldn’t see a thing at times, shivering to death, but man how smooth the track was! I can’t wait to go back and try and whiz round it. Great cup of tea after too.

And then there was Australia. AUSTRALIA! 2 weeks on the other side of the world seeing my brother and his family and basically falling in love with that way of life. We took our bikes over and discovered the roads were so much more friendlier than here. We went running and discovered places we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I ticked off a couple of places on my bucket list – Natural Bridge in Springbrook and Mount Warning – there are genuinely no words at how awesome that was.

And now I’m 2 nights away from my next race. A half marathon up and down a Munro.

Because, you know, a flat road one would be boring.

I’m so excited. Ridiculously excited in fact. I get to run up a Munro! In an actual race! Oh and did I mention it will be as the sun rises?

I KNOW!!!

I’m going to need people to phone me and text me reminding me I’m meant to be running and not just taking in the views. I honestly can’t wait.

Not so keen on the huge compulsory kit list I need to carry but rules are rules.

The run is part of the Starman Triathlon. Jo from the club is doing the midnight swim (midnight swim!) and her husband is doing the cycle. I’m definitely getting the better section. Sunrise on the mountain! Hello bucket list!

It’s 2 miles up hill to start then down again with a run up a Corbett after. It finishes through the woods and on to the beach.

Can you think of a better run? Nope. Me neither.

Of course there are cut off times and I am slightly cautious about them. I need to work out where I need to be by when to know I’m on track. Unfortunately my other half won’t exactly be awake at 4am to text me and tell me to get a move on either. Hmm, could be an issue here.

I’m sure it will be fine. Either way it will be a great ‘night’ out with lots of laughter and pictures. The best thing about it is it advertises itself as ‘not a race’. It’s an experience. One I’m looking forward to.

I should however, be experienced to know that I should have checked my kit by now. I’ve spent most of the night scrambling round for a compass, spare batteries (not for the compass) and the ever faithful flapjack I like to have when running. I really should be better organised than this.

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.

 

And It’s Back To Tri-ing

East Fife Sprint Triathlon.  The day I returned to my Oscar winning performance of ‘look like you’ve just seen someone murdered but you can’t tell anyone or you’ll die too’.  Although being murdered – however gruesomely – was an option I would have been willing to take at some points of today.

750m pool swim.  The distance wasn’t an issue but I know my already questionable technique flounders even more as the time goes on.  I also knew I was slower than the girl who was behind me in the lane so that tap to the foot was a guarantee.  Had it been allowed I would have said she can just go in front from the start.

24km cycle on roads which were not closed.  I’ve been on the roads twice this year.  New Years Day Tri and about a month ago.  I may have done a few spin sessions with the club but it’s not the same.  Goal for the cycle?  Don’t fall or crash.

5km run.  3 miles.  Usually this would be no issue but my IT band had suddenly woken up and that’s not pain I’m used to running with.  In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I would manage the cycle based on the spasms I was getting the 2 days before but what could I do?  Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must – but you’re crossing that finish line.

Joe came along with the kids which was a good distraction.  There were 26 registered from Perth Tri Club and all I kept hearing around me was ‘Joe’s here, Joe Webley, have you seen him?’.   He’s still in the process of adjusting to his meds so he hasn’t been out and about.  I was hoping being there in the atmosphere of a race would keep his head in the game.   A bit of a gamble I know as it could have completely put him off however lets be honest, who doesn’t love their ego being stroked a little – and he loved poking fun at my nerves.

The first 2 heats were the fastest guys then it was slowest to fastest.  I was in heat 5.  Quite a wait to begin which does absolutely nothing to help the butterflies and the nausea feeling – great.  There was some light relief provided in the form of a participants daughter though.  ‘How many people do they have counting your lengths?’  Answer: 2.  ‘But there’s 6 in a lane – how can they count 6 people!’.  ‘She just hit a swimmer with a float!’.  The mother kept apologising saying she had never seen a triathlon before.  It was a welcomed tension breaker.

The physio I had seen at the New Years Day Tri was in heat 3 so I had time to cheer her on before I had to go get ready for my heat.  Once changed I sat at pool side in my usual ‘I want to die’ stance.  ‘You look pretty nervous’ – it was a regular from the pool whom I had no idea would be here.  I thought it best not to say what a crap swimmer I am given I lifeguard when he is there.

In the pool now and I decide against the offer of a 50m warm up.  I just want to get this started.  There is 5 seconds between each swimmer but the person in front of me hasn’t turned up so there is now a 10 second gap between me and the guy in front.  I know it won’t be long before the girl behind me needs past either.  Surprisingly I don’t go out too fast.  I want to catch the guy in front but I’m not going to go hell for leather in the first 50m.  I’m on his toes before long and I feel a tap behind me so I wait at the end to be passed and then go in front.  Thus then begins a swim of him drafting me, touching my toes and then falling back so I’m waiting ages at the wall for him to pass and then because he has no one to draft he’s slower and I have to pass him.  Frustrating does not quite cut it.  Especially not when he didn’t always stop and let me past.  I’m frustrated even further when I realise I haven’t started my watch.  Are you kidding me!  I have no idea how far I have swum, what pace I am doing, nothing!  Anger kicks in and when the guy in front doesn’t stop at the wall the next time he gets a big old slap on the ankle.  Yes he does!

Last 2 laps and he isn’t getting past me.  I’m not in the mood.

I climb out the pool and head to the bike.  I’m fine on the tiles but as soon as I hit the gravelly car park I turn in to a fairy and start prancing around on my tip toes – it was sore!  It’s also cold so I fight with my straight jacket trying to put it on whilst repeating over and over ‘don’t touch the bike, helmet on, don’t touch the bike’.  Not the best chant to be honest as there is a high likely hood that I would actually leave transition 1 without my bike.  Best change that for future.  I cross the mount line and decide to zip up my top before getting on.  I can put my gloves on whilst cycling but I’m not convinced I’m pro-cyclist enough to zip a jacket.  There would be definite wobble going on.  And I’m not talking thighs or bottom lip (maybe double chin though).

So I’m on the bike and I know this is not only going to hurt but I’m going to suck at this part.  I’m just not a cyclist.  Probably (read that as factually) because I don’t ever ride my bike.  Could have something to do with it, who knows.  This will change though as my working hours are changing so I have no excuse not to cycle to work.  (Kind of hoping no one is going to read that).  I’m over taken by a few and I notice that they are all pedalling faster than me on the incline.  I remember talking to John when we were waiting to start.  He’s a mountain biker/cyclo cross rider and he had mentioned he was going to spin his legs on this ride.  Well.  He bloody knows better than me so I drop a few gears and push on.  This strategy does me well.  At least as well as someone who should still have stabilisers on can do.  Jo from the club goes past me and I manage a shout out to her.  She’s invited me out a few times for a cycle but due to work etc I haven’t managed.  Also, I’m not completely confident I could keep up with her.

Well now’s the time to try!  I put some effort in and go for it.  She’s bloody fast.  We come to a sharp left and typically I all but slow to a halt and she briefly goes out of my sight.  Damn it.  I eventually get her back in my sights but as soon as she turns to go up the climb that’s it.  Game over.  My full concentration is now on the fact I am trying to get my legs to keep pedalling up this hill whilst fully aware I am clipped in and highly likely to perform an extremely slow fall to the side whilst the guy behind me shouts ‘TIMBER!’.  Thankfully this doesn’t happen.  I get up out of my seat and try to force my legs round before sitting back down again.

It is at this point I remember I am still in my tri-suit which I wore for the swim.  There is ever so slight padding in my tri-suit for a certain area.  Padding which appears to retain water for a little time.  Nothing quite like a cold squelchy feeling when cycling up a hill in to the wind and cold.  No one told me about that!

The cycle was 2 loops so I knew I had to go round again (this time I didn’t stand up, one squelch was enough thank you).  As I came to the end there were 2 signs – Sprint to the left and Duathlon straight on.  The marshall again directed me left.  Hmmmm.  I’ve done this twice now and can’t see where the turn would be to transition.  I am NOT doing that hill again.  I keep going but I’m slowing down as this doesn’t feel right.  Another cyclist goes past and out of nowhere I say to him ‘I think I’m going the wrong way’.  He asks if I have done my loops and then tells me yup, I am wrong.  Should have gone straight on.

I turn back around and head back.

As I come back in for the run Scott and Kathleen (also tri club members) are standing cheering.  I shout out to them I went the wrong way.  I can kind of see the funny side.  I’m not a top cyclist so it’s not going to affect anything.

Into transition and I also tell Joe.  Oliver rather ‘helpfully’ tells me what way to run out of transition.  There are a couple of people who come in at the same time and I head out trying to make sure I am not overtaken.  I grab some water at the station and naturally choke a little on it.  For me it is virtually impossible to drink and keep running.  Absolute nightmare.  And do you know how much it hurts your throat when you choke on water?!

Anyway.  Back to the run.  It’s only a 5km so there’s not much to say.  I get onto the playing fields and Scott and Kathleen are there.  Kathleen’s cheering and Scott’s shouting obscenities/encouragement like ‘at least put SOME effort into it’.  I’m not going to lie.  Being shouted at to run and move faster pushes me on more than being told I’m doing great.  Probably because it’s been a while since I have done great a race ha ha.  Definitely a coaching mentality ha ha.

Nigel’s up ahead and I decide to try and catch him.  I’ve left it too late but I’m pleased I still had a little something in the tank for the finish.  I check my finishing times and overall I am quite happy.  It has given me starting times to work on.  Joan checks I didn’t fall off my bike and I very happily tell her no, I did not.

I go and get changed and grab my bike as Joe is keen to get home.  I can’t find him when I come out of the bike area so I walk to the car with Deborah.  She was as nervous as me and we had a little competition for last place.  Neither of us won.  She has parked right next to us bit Joe isn’t here and the car is locked so I turn to head back.  As I do so I some how tangle my feet up on the bike and before I know it – yup, you guessed it – I am face planting my bike frame and then lying on the ground with my right ankle twisted under the pedal.  I wasn’t even ON the thing!!  I was pushing it!!

Deborah is just stood there looking at me as if I am a 2 year old child at the end of an almighty tantrum and asks in a plain voice ‘Are you ok’.  She’s probably just as mortified as me.  I scuttle back to find Joe so we can get home.

Next up is Stirling Marathon.  This means no bikes to fall over and no wet crotches.  I’m not going for a PB but I would like a respectable time.  Then it’s a couple of ultra’s and more work on swimming and cycling.  I have to admit I really enjoyed doing a triathlon again.  I’m definitely not done with that.

 

John Muir Way Ultra

John Muir Way Ultra

‘Your mum looks like she’s about to cry’ he says to Oliver.  This is met with a sharp look and the sternest of cold replies ‘Don’t!’.  He grins.  I leave the room.

I don’t know what it is but at certain races – typically the bigger ones that mean something to me – I have to fight back the tears.  And it’s been 4 years!!  I didn’t cry though.  Not this time.  But it did make me realise how much I wanted this.

I had decided to stay overnight near the race even though it was only 2 hours down the road if that.  Being 5 years old Oliver sees this as a little holiday so it makes it more fun for him.  Being only 10 minutes from registration made for more time in bed too.

Registration was pretty straight forward.  Are you running the half?  ‘No, full’.  This is your envelope.  Inside it is your bib and your chip.  Here’s your map.  Bus is over there.  I got on the bus, pulled my hat as far over my eyes as I could and concentrated on not letting the nerves get the better of me.  The chat on the bus was casual and not running related which was weirdly relaxing.  And I received a few good luck messages on my phone which made me smile.  A small gesture that goes a long way in times like that.

All the runners were bussed to the start which is on the promenade (because where else do you want to be in shorts and t-shirt other than a beach front in the cold wind?!?)  Luckily there was a bag drop so I kept my hoodie on until the very last minute.  Waiting in the queue for the bathroom I got chatting to 2 other ladies running.  They looked at me and asked if I was running the half.  Again I said no to this question.  ‘Oh’ was the reply.  ‘Have you ran this distance before?’.   ‘Just a couple of times’ I said.  Conversation was then cut short as the bathroom became free.

At the start line and we were told to get in to our waves.  How did we know what wave we were in?  ‘Competitive runners at the front, leisurely competitive in the middle and those out for a good day at the back.’  Leisurely competitive – I love it!!  Best comment of the day!  Squashed in to the crowd and the conversation around me turned to expected time.  Most were aiming for about 9 to 10 minute miles and a good day.  I relaxed some more, thankful it wasn’t a case of sub 7 min milers.  Then an older man turned to me and asked ‘are you running the half?’

What is going on??  Do I not look like a runner?? (What ever a runner looks like).  Why am I being asked this question so much?  I picture my reflection in the mirror from that morning – trainers check, shorts and t-shirt check, hydration vest check, proper running jacket check, running cap check, fear of god expression on face as if I’m about to die – oh wait, that might be it.

Very quickly we are off and I start slow.  Within just a few hundred metres I’m already warm enough and strip off my jacket and put it in my bag.  Whilst still running might I add.  Quite proud of this.  Ha ha.  And yes, I have been practising.  I’m wearing road trainers mainly because I have been training in them but also because someone from the club had said road were fine if it hadn’t been raining too much.  We start on tarmac but are soon on the trail and then on the beach.  When I first see the beach I naturally have Chariots of Fire playing in my head and I almost begin a slow motion run.  However once I have taken a few steps on the beach I am no longer in ‘let’s have fun’ mode and quickly move to ‘how the f@ck do you run on sand?!’.  Answer?  You don’t really.  You find the most solid looking bit and then miserably make your way to the end.  Thankfully it wasn’t a long patch and we were back on trail once again.

Then we were on gravel.  Then we were on tarmac.  Then back to trail.  I’ve never noticed the cushioning on my trainers other than on day 1 of a new pair but this route was giving me an education in foot wear let me tell you.  You want to learn the difference between trail shoes and road shoes?  Run the John Muir Way Ultra.  (Probably a bit extreme to run 50km to learn that but you get my point).

By now I’m at 8 miles and I am cheekily grinning to myself as I am only just feeling a slight twinge in my hamstring.  This is good for me.  I am happy with this.  I fully expected it to kick in at about 3 miles and be torture from the get go.  It has however started to rain but I know the aid station is at 10 miles so decide to stop and put my jacket on there.  I may be able to take it off whilst running but putting it on is a different challenge altogether.  As I reach there I see Joe and Oliver so I get a nice cuddle before sending them back to the car as they are cold.

My goal at this point is to get the half way point before cut off which is 3 and half hours from the start.  A goal which is, in reality, not really a goal as my pace has never indicated that it could be an issue but in my head, it was.  So when I saw Joe and Oliver again only 500 metres before the halfway point I couldn’t bring myself to stop.  Not even when he asked if I wanted the jelly babies I had asked him to get for me.  Karma got me straight away though as I had to run on the beach again straight after that to get to the life boat station.

Having learnt my lesson from The Stones I knew not to waste too much time there.  I waited for a little bit to see if Joe would make it there but I wasn’t surprised when the text came through to say he couldn’t get parked so he would see me further up.   My legs were hurting now and it wasn’t getting any warmer so I had some banana and headed back out, wishing I had remembered a spare pair of socks as there was a definite ‘feeling’ going on down there on the soles.

As soon as I left the life boat station I was back on the beach.  Good old karma just making sure I felt bad for not stopping to speak to Joe and Ollie.  I pulled my hat right down so I could barely see a foot in front of me and grumped and groaned for every step.  Every step that is, until I stepped in something I really didn’t want to see.

What do you get at a beach?  The sea.  What is the sea made of?  Water!  Instead of being focused on where I was going I was focused on being a moaner and so had gone off track and ended up in the sea!  What the actual hell! Good thing I hadn’t changed socks as that would have been pointless.  Needless to say the grumping and the groaning just hiked it’s way up another level after that until I reached tarmac again.  Bloody water.

Unfortunately though, as soon as I was back on the road, it was a hike up a little hill.  I say ‘little’ but it was bloody steep.  And not welcomed after what had been quite a gloriously flat run so far.  Still.  Shouldn’t complain.  (But of course I did ha ha).  By now I was breaking it down to 5 mile blocks.  10 miles was my first quick stop.  15 miles was ‘halfway’.  Just another 5 to 20 miles then it’s only 10 miles to the finish from there and I do 10 mile runs all the time.  It’s only 10 miles to my mum and dads and I run that quite a bit.  I am of course ignoring the fact its actually a 31 mile run but the last mile doesn’t really count does it.

Maths.  Running is all about maths.  Fact.

At 20 miles I am going round a loch and I have entered the hurt locker.  The infamous hobble has appeared (or should that be hobbit given my size?) and I am zig zagging my way up every mount everest/mole hill thrown at me.  In truth, I look like I’ve pooped myself.  But I’ve still got 10 miles to go and I am not giving up.  (I do occasionally wonder if I have indeed done the deed but rest assured, I had not).  By about 23 miles I am running just behind a man with a Leven Las Vegas t-shirt.  This running club’s name makes me laugh as I think it’s a pretty cool play on words.  I go past a couple of girls I have seen a few times and they shout ‘love your tattoo by the way’.  I’m grinding my teeth at this point because of the pain so this couldn’t have come at a better time.  It’s amazing how the little things get you through.

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Rounding the corner and it’s back on road.  I see Oliver at the bottom of the hill and he runs up towards me with a much needed cuddle.  He runs down the hill with me and asks why I’m going so slow, pointing out he can run faster.  Ah kids.  Don’t you just love them?  Joe tells me the aid station is just at the bottom of the hill so keep going until I get there.  Which I do.  Gravity has a way of pulling even those who hobble towards the bottom of a hill.  At the aid station the lady behind the food asks me twice if I am ok.  At this point I am just staring at her.  You see, I was trying to make a very, very difficult decision.

Should I eat the flap jack on the table?

This could have some quite serious consequences.  I already look like I have pooped myself.  I had no intention of actually doing that.  But then, it could also help.  Give me a bit of a push.  It’s a very hard call.

I take a tiny bit and set off again.

I’ve only taken about 5 steps and I decide to turn back round and grab some more.  ‘That’s right, get a sugar fix love.  Do you good.’  She understands.  I wasn’t being rude.  I’m just not all there at this moment.

Back on the track and I see Leven Las Vegas man again.  He steps to the side to let me past and offers some encouraging words and I say some back.  And thus begins the final stretch and a beautiful running friendship game of cat and mouse.  He would run past me and then stop to walk a little further up, then I would run past him before stopping to walk and so on and so on.  Always exchanging comments of ‘I will be seeing you soon’ and ‘well done, just you keep going’.  We walked together at one point and I found out he had run this route as a relay last year and this was his first ultra.  I told him the ones I had done before.  ‘You like the hills then?’ he asked.  ‘God no, hate them’ I laughed.  He thought I had sprained my ankle from the way I was hobbling but I explained the pain was further up.

Then we were down to the last 2 miles.  I was determined not to lose him.  I used him to keep me pushing and eventually I reached the marshall who said those blissful , magical words ‘It’s only 1.5km from here’.  He was a fantastic marshall.  He was either a triplet or he had been moving places around the route, helping out and always, always cheery and happy.  But not your usual ‘not far now’ kind of encouragement’.  More ‘I don’t know what to say.  Well done guys you are awesome’.   He deserves a medal.

I see the 400 metres to go sign.  Relief waving over me.  I’m back of the field but there’s still a cheer for me as I cross the line.  I make sure I high five the kids at the side too.  At the finish I turn round and wait for Leven Las Vegas man to come across.  He had kept me going in those last few miles and I was very thankful.  What a lovely man.

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The finish is at a lake – strange given the name of it is Fox Lake…..  Joe was playing with Oliver at the play park whilst I was gathering my things and I saw 2 people wade in.  I love an ice bath.  It was amazing at Manchester.  So I limped over and peeled off my socks and trainers.  It was slippy.  Not ideal.  It was also freezing.  Absolutely blood freezing.  Nope, nope, nope I’m getting out.  Possibly the fastest I had moved all day not a word of a lie.  My ankles have never been in so much pain.  But oh man it felt so good.  Ok.  Deep breaths.  Huff, puff, huff, puff – back in I go.

And straight back out.  Too much.

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I would definitely recommend this race.  From the marshalls to the aid stations to the route itself.  I really liked it.  I’m very tempted to go back next year if I ever get rid of this pain in my legs, just to see how well I could do it injury free.

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