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.

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From Viaduct to Nelson Mandela

I’m currently sat with a chesty cough that I quickly learned you can’t run with by the way (pace was really slow yet heart rate through the roof – an interesting feeling for me ha ha).   So I’ve been doing a little ‘thinking’.  And yes, my head now hurts, but that’s just something else to add to the collection.

I’ve been thinking about adventure.  And as bad as I could claim this year to be – injured from March, bum still hurts, hamstrings still bad, didn’t achieve GFA, didn’t get London, a few DNS – there has also been a few adventurous experiences in there.

Manchester. Ok so it didn’t turn out to be the London qualifier I was hoping for but it was a marathon ‘technically’ in another country. It involved travelling and education as I learned that no I wasn’t running through an area where no one wanted to live and was selling up but an area simply called ‘Sale’. Still find that weird though.

Ireland. No official race but does it have to be? I got to run for fun past one of my Bucket List places to go – The Titanic museum. And thanks to that I discovered the back of the museum which had the layout of the magnificent ship. I also had my first proper fall there when running and returned to the apartment bleeding and with a broken phone. Good memories.

Race To The Stones. The initial plan was to run the entire 100km straight through. Then I was hit even worse with the injuries and couldn’t run a step without pain. Mr Cardio was not so secretly pleased. I tried every single profession possible to find a solution – including a podiatrist (lovely man, Alistair Dall). I reluctantly changed my entry to complete it over 2 days. Clutching at straws but I was definitely in the ‘go hard or die trying’ camp by then. Even my physio had that look of ‘it’s not happening’ but she gave me lots of advice and understood my need. When I reached base camp half way through the race I changed my mind and pushed through. My challenge was to do it in one day, not two. It was pointed out to me a couple of months later how insane it was to just decide to start another 50km running at 5’o’clock at night. I learned so so much from completing my goal that day.

South Africa. I ran the Nelson Mandela Fun Run. Never will there be a cooler name of a race. Enough said.

50th parkrun. 2018 was the year I hit 50, and I’m not talking looks. I teamed up with my friend Lorner for a few and I completely removed the stress of going for a PB. I don’t care if it affects my average or any of that, that’s not my focus. I’ve kind of fallen out of love with my local parkrun though so I’m going to try some tourism.

Aberfeldy Middle Distance Relay. Ginnie was the swimmer (4th relay team out the water I believe) Joe was on the bike (sub 3hrs!) and I ran the half marathon at the end. It took me 2 hours and was no performance to be shouting of – we dropped places once I started running – but we all had fun. Would definitely do a relay again. Wouldn’t attempt to make porridge in a flask again though. Nope. Can still hear the gloopy sludge of the spoon being sucked in.

Glen Ogle 33. Loved, loved, LOVED everything about this race! From speeding up to register the night before and discovering Lorner gets travel sick, the pack lunch she brought me, seeing a friendly face at the start line, another at the bottom of what felt like a waterfall I had just ran down to the surprise of Joe and the kids finding me on the trail with just 3 miles to go. My second ultra of the year. And I got to run over a viaduct! A viaduct!  Well worth it.

Did I get any PB’s last year? No. Did I get slower? Definitely. Did I die though? No.

I didn’t manage to complete any of the road runners series and I’ve not won any awards. (I did get a nomination for club personality which genuinely put a grin on my face) but no medals or trophies this year. I’m also not doing Marcothon because I can remember how miserable that made me feel. A Christmas Day run is on the calendar though.

Next year starts with a return to my first ever triathlon – the New Years Day Tri. That’s just for fun. It also has more ‘adventurous’ running. It would be very easy to feel depressed about what I didn’t do this year but what’s the point, it won’t change it. I will get London one day. I will continue to run past places on my bucket list. And I will continue to try and not drown and not fall off my bike.

xx

What a Weekend

I don’t even know where to start with this.

Last year I stepped up my running and had a really good year. I wanted to do more this year but for Joe to do what he wants to do it wouldn’t be possible so I took a step back as he cranked it up. (And then of course I got injured and just wanted to crawl under a stone for the first half of this year).

Ironman 70.3 Stafford was his first race and although he was fighting fit he had a mechanical on the bike and was sat for over an hour at the side of the road waiting for the support vehicle. He had a good swim though and he finished the race with a good attitude.

Edinburgh was the big one. It was the one he had been training for over the winter months. We had both done it last year but this year he wanted to really nail it. Plus there were championship slots available – it would be hard but not impossible. As soon as he had his plan he signed up and I put myself down for volunteering.

I didn’t see a lot of him in the week leading up to the race and I will be honest, some of that was my choice! I’ve never spent so much time in the kitchen. Not cooking, don’t be silly. More looking at the saucepans and wondering just how loud the noise would be if I actually did clunk him round the head with one.

We stayed over in Edinburgh the night before. I was marshalling at the swim and had to be there for 6am so it gave some extra hours sleep and time to relax. My favourite movie was on the telly and there was red bull in the vending machine so I was literally like a pig in sh!t. Joe got the best nights sleep he’s had before a race ever so it was a real win.

Down at the swim I kissed him goodbye and wished him luck. I was soon put to work stopping people entering the swim exit. Part of me wanted to be right down at the swim but to be honest, all areas were good to be at. I got to shout and whoop and encourage the athletes on as they were a bit more ‘with it’ by the time they reached me. I was marshalling a cross over point and the lovely girl I was working with was from China. She didn’t really know what Ironman was and had volunteered as she was doing Sport and Science at University.

I had a great position to see Joe coming into T1 and true enough I spotted him straight away. He was shoulder to shoulder with Barclay, another Perth Tri Club member. Unfortunately I missed Sarah who was Frazers relay team swimmer but I caught all the others from the club and also Steven Bonthrone. What I really loved about volunteering was the smiles on some of the athletes faces when they went past to my very loud cheers that just read ‘I did it! I did the first part!’ You could see it plain as day on their faces. I loved it.

I did not love the next part. Driving by myself in to Edinburgh city centre. Nope. Not for me. But I had to stay strong. Many many deep breathes and I turned the engine on. I clicked on the sat nav. I slowly pulled out of the car park. This part was ok. This road I kind of know as it’s the marathon route. The roads are also quiet – probably because it’s 9:30am on a Sunday morning. Ok. I’m approaching the centre now. This means more turns. I can do this.

‘Road closed’

What the f@ck!!!! Ok don’t panic don’t panic. I turn left, then left again, then left again. And yup, you guessed it, left again. Road still closed. Come on!! I then go up a ridiculously steep hill (what is that with Edinburgh?!?) and can’t see where I’m going. So naturally I pull out in front of at least 3 cars then brace myself for an almighty smash. Thankfully doesn’t happen but I apologise if that was you.

Eventually I just dump it down a side street, spend 20 minutes trying to figure out how to drop a god damn pin on my google maps to tell me where the hell I’m parked before realising that I’ve got about 15 minutes to get to T2 before Joe gets there. And I’m wearing flip flops.

I take off down the hill and almost fall off the kerb that in gods honest truth is at least a meter high, phone in hand with Mrs Google telling me to turn right (well it wasn’t going to be left again was it). I turn right and see Holyrood right in front of me. Result! And here wasn’t even any tears!

I’m desperate for a wee but there’s no way I’m missing Joe coming in. I check the tracker again and do a little calculation. I soon realise that I really should do a maths course as Joe is at least half an hour away. This allows me time to pee though so it’s not a bad thing. I pop over to the finish line (after I’ve been!) to see if there’s anything I can do to help and grab a bottle of water. Then I head to the Bike In. Tracker in hand. Sun cream on. I’m in a great position. So is Joe though. He’s in front of Barclay. I can only imagine the friendly rivalry going on between them right now.

I start getting really nervous. He’s having a great race and as far as I can see there’s no issues. Everyone around is cheering but it’s a dull cheer. I’m nervously looking between my watch, the tracker and the road.

Then I see him.

Had I not been jumping around so much I probably would have gotten a better video but I really can’t help myself. I run up to the fence and across to where he’s coming out on the run where I catch him again. He’s still strong but the sun is now so hot. This is going to be tough for him.

Barclay comes through just minutes later and I catch Andy too, who by the way, completed The Celtman just 3 weeks earlier!! If you don’t know what that is look it up!

The run is 3 laps and when Joe comes back down I know instantly he’s not feeling great. I shout to him he needs to take on water. I’m a bit concerned at how he’s looking so I head further up the route to try and surprise him at a difficult climb and give him a boost. Everyone’s struggling. The heat is relentless and it’s a hard run. I lose count of how many times someone comments on how hot it is. I see Andy coming back down the hill. ‘I spy a Celtman!!’ I yell out at him. ‘This is harder!’ He shouts back.

Steven’s wife messages to say she is at T2 and I head back down. I see her on the other side of the finish chute. Joes on his last lap and I’m not going to miss him on the red carpet. I’m gutted I haven’t seen Frazer at all but I couldn’t get him on the tracker. It’s the only problem I had with it. At the finish and I see Barclays wife and daughters. He comes in not long after all smiles. It’s an anxious wait for Joe. This is ‘A’ race this year. He wants a qualifier spot which we know is going to be ridiculously difficult but not completely out of reach.

I see him before the commentator does and I start banging like crazy on the boards. He’s had a much better race than last years and Stafford. And this is in more difficult conditions. As soon as he’s across the line I head to the finishers tent.

Where I wait patiently for over an hour for him to appear.

This is clearly a part of the day that needs more planning. That’s all I’m going to say.

He’s done a tremendous job. He really did have a good race. Unfortunately he’s not finished in the top 10 of his category but it’s a hugely competitive category. Still. I convince him to wait around for the slot allocation. If nothing else he will get to know what happens and what more he needs to do.

There’s a few hours to chill out before the slot allocation begins. Not a bad thing lying on the grass after thousands and thousands of steps. Then we head in to the marque. The awards are read out first and Alicjia from the tri club gets second in her category.

They then start with the World Championships South Africa slots. It’s a very confusing situation – at least it is for me, but it involves maths, so that probably explains that! Joe goes up. Did she say there are 34 or 36 slots? There are 34 people standing up there. Oh my god I’m so confused what’s happening?! Another guy goes up. That’s 35. No!! What does this mean?

Well basically this means HE’S ONLY GONE AND GOT A PLACE!!

This was the goal. It was THE goal and he’s done it! Holy cow!

I have a slight panic attack as I know we have to pay just now for it but they ask for credit card and we don’t do credit cards. I’m still a bit dazed when his coach comes over and says there’s a group going so it will be good and I won’t be on my own etc. Thankfully they take any card. Well, for that amount of money, why wouldn’t they?

So that’s it. Off to South Africa in 2 months time. I never doubted even for a second he could do it but I don’t think I realised just how soon it would happen. The next couple of months are going to be intense but I can’t get over just how awesome this is. He’s worked hard for it but what an opportunity.

Guess I need to stop joking at him now that it’s ‘still not a marathon or an ultra’ as you have to admit this is somewhat better ha ha.

It’s a No from me

Confession time.

This weekend I am meant to be running my second Ultra Trail Marathon.

I am not.

I received an email from the events medical doctor asking for a letter from Mr Cardio stating I was ok to run the 53 mile route.

I’m pretty sure he spat his coffee out when I asked for it.

Instead he insisted on seeing me to ‘talk about things’. Last time I heard those words I was dumped so I took this as a good sign! If he was ‘dumping’ me then that meant I didn’t have a problem and I could run.

Naive to the very end Ella.

I will be honest. There were many tears over the phone begging for this letter but even his assistant couldn’t be convinced. I was politely but firmly told I shouldn’t be participating in such endurance events.

This happened before Manchester. Before what was meant to be my GFA race. So now you know why I wasn’t having a class 1 tantrum at not getting that time and picking up the issue with my hamstrings. I already knew it was highly unlikely to happen at that race and I was lucky not to be pulled from it. I actually think the hamstring issue was my bodies way of forcing me to take it easy.

My appointment with him was after I ran Manchester (and I use the word ‘ran’ very loosely). He seemed to understand just how big a part of my life running is but he wasn’t budging. I didn’t really know what to say when he told me he was dreading me coming in. I knew what he meant though. He couldn’t give me any answers other than ‘your heart isn’t normal’. I have an MRI coming up but even if that shows up nothing it doesn’t mean anything. And now he thinks when my heart is beating it beats too fast.

The medical world is confusing.

When I spoke to the race medic he was very nice. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. If something did happen and the medical team were attending to me then that prevents them getting to someone else. I am classed as high risk – even though nothings ever happened. His words were ‘people like you give me kittens’. Good thing I don’t take things too personally! First Mr Cardio not looking forward to seeing me and then the race medic saying I was giving him kittens! That’s enough to give anyone a complex!

I completely understand though. It isn’t fair on the volunteers or the race in the unlikely event I did have a problem.

But what does this mean for Race To The Stones?

I’ve had to agree to do it over two days and not one as planned. It’s a compromise. I still get to run but just not quite the race I had hoped for. But I’m still running it. Let’s just take this one step at a time. No need to over react.

So this weekend when my fellow PRR’s take to the West Highland Way I will be running a very slow handful of miles at the most. I’ve still got races to look forward to and The Highland Fling have guaranteed I can get a place next year (provided I get signed off obviously).

2018 – you’re certainly testing me!

Manchester and the failed GFA

Manchester and the failed GFA

Ok. Let’s get this over with.

Manchester’s done. And no. I did not get my GFA.

This time.

So here’s how it went…..

We travelled down on the Saturday and surprisingly for me I didn’t make a big fuss about not going to Parkrun. We didn’t leave until 11am so I would have had plenty of time but Joe and I have had lots of ‘discussions’ on how much I’m running and I didn’t want another one. He didn’t want me running a marathon right now anyway and Mr Cardio wasn’t exactly in agreement so I didn’t push it. I could get a few miles in at the hotel at a more sensible pace.

It was a relaxed journey down. Probably a bit too relaxed at some points as I had been forcing the intake of water for the whole week and my bladder was now having a fit every 30 minutes. This meant many, many stops for what was meant to be a five hour car journey! The youngest however was in heaven with his new DVD player. Best money we’ve ever spent!

We pulled up at the hotel and instantly the regret was clear that I had stupidly been allowed to choose it. The couple in front had a solid 10 minute argument with the receptionist over her refusal to let them use the ‘spa’ (a word I use in the loosest of terms for that place!) until she finally agreed to get them a manager.

We gave our name and took our key. The receptionist asked if we would be having breakfast (it’s food – is that a real question?) . I asked what time it was at and she said it started at 8am. Hmm, that might be too late to get to the marathon so I asked if she knew how far away the start was.

‘Marathon? What Marathon?’

It was then our turn to be stood at the desk for 10 minutes. Not arguing. Just dumbfounded. I still don’t know what to say.

I put my things in the room and headed to the gym for a gentle few miles. After much googling and phoning of NASA I eventually figured out how to use their lockers. The ‘spa’ receptionist clearly having went through the same customer service training as the hotel one. In to the gym and the smell hit me like a tidal wave. Excuse the pun but it was clearly ‘run down’. The treadmill must have been older than god himself, I’ve never seen such a thing. I made a mental note to let the receptionist know that air conditioning has in fact been invented.

A quick dip in the pool after with Joe and Oliver, a quick tea and it was an early night.

We parked at the metro/train/moving vehicle station and it was an easy ride to the start. No traditional porridge for breakfast for me as we had had to leave at 7:30am but I was lucky to find a burger van selling bananas. If I wasn’t already married I would be now! Life saver!

In true Webley style we were late getting to the start so I couldn’t get close to my pen. This didn’t bother me too much as the same happened in Stirling. I would just have to chase down the 3:45 pacer and then stick to them like glue. A steady shuffle to the line and I was off. Within just a few hundred yards I spotted a fellow PRR and instantly felt better. I ran up to Caroline and turned round to wave manically as I went by before quickly realising running backwards in a crowd of people is not a good idea.

The first couple of miles is a loop and I was pleased to see Joe and Ollie so soon after starting. I thought they had headed to a cafe to get food so wasn’t expecting it. Big smiles all round.

Now. I don’t know what it is, but, when it comes to marathons, I always seem to have a ‘wardrobe’ issue for the first few miles. This race was no different. I wear 2 layered Adidas Climates. I love them. They are perfect. I have many of the exact same pair I love them that much. However, on this day, the outer layer had decided to pull right up. And I mean right up. Many a mile was spent pulling it right back down! Then my vest decided to pull up – exposing my belly. Oh the horror!! Seriously!! Parents were shielding their innocent child’s eyes as I went past – and I couldn’t blame them! Thankfully I was eventually able to sort the problem but to anyone that saw this, please accept my most humble apology.

Photo 5

Finally finding my stride I was just beginning to settle into the torture of what was 26.2 miles when my old demon came back to haunt me. If you’ve ever read any of my race recaps you will know that the element that is water has it in for me. Hands down it’s truly trying to kill me. Now, being Manchester is a road marathon with no rivers, lakes, swamps or such in sight I thought I would be safe. It wasn’t even raining!! But alas, no. It got me. Out of nowhere as well. Hit me smack in the face. How?

Water station.

A man on my right decided to reach ACROSS MY FACE for a bottle of water. The poor volunteer didn’t know what to do and so bang – literally all over me. Up my nose, in my eyes, down my legs. You sir, are a twat! That was it. His race bib was marked.

Moving on.

Not long after the water incident I felt it. I knew it was there. I knew it wasn’t going to go away. When it was still there after my sports massage a few days before I knew I was in trouble. But I hadn’t wanted to say it out loud because it would be that that would make it true. Now there was no getting away from it. I had no choice but to admit it. My hamstrings were tight. And this was already painful.

This was also only the fifth mile.

Stay positive. You never know what can happen.

I saw Joe and Oliver again. Clearly he was going for a race record of how many cheer spots he could make! I was impressed. Another smile and high five. Nice.

Trying to ignore the hamstrings I battered on. There’s a section where you turn back on yourself and you can see who’s behind you so I concentrated on spotting Caroline. I couldn’t see her and just as I looked down at my feet, debating if I had 26 miles in me I heard her screaming my name. It couldn’t have been at a better time!

On to the section where the front runners are now running towards you I start looking for Garry, also from PRR. There’s a women on my left screaming every single name as they go by. It’s nice at first. For the first 2 to 3 minutes. Not for 5 minutes solid. I am now desperate to see Garry just so I can shout louder and longer than her! Game on love!

‘Jesus Christ, someone tell her to shut the f@ck up!’.

No that didn’t come from my mouth. But I did whole heartedly agree with him. As did many, many others. And unfortunately, I didn’t see Garry.

On I trundled and couldn’t help but notice the number of properties up for sale. It didn’t seem that run down a place, how odd. The signs were odd as well. Not like your usual For Sale signs. Must be an English thing.

Joes at mile 17 and as I see him I cross over to go say hi. I go to stop and very quickly realise if I do I may not continue on so I very, very slowly go past and tell him my hamstrings have gone. He knows this already of course. He just didn’t want to say it.

I round the corner and there’s a man with a microphone. I can’t hear what he says at first but then I hear him loud and clear.

‘Think about why you’re doing this. Think of the many, many people who want to do what you’re doing but can’t. Do it for them!’

At this point I well up. He has a very accurate point. I should be grateful I am here running at all. I was very close to being pulled from doing this. Just be thankful Ella.

Mile 18 and although I’m still in pain I’m feeling in good spirits after that blast of reality. Ok so I wasn’t getting my 3:45 but I had had time before coming down to accept it, even if I didn’t actually admit it. I could still get under 4hrs. That’s the new goal. I glance at my watch and do a quick calculation.

Hold on. 8 miles left to go. I’ve been running for 2hrs 45. I can do 8 miles in an hour.

I can do this!!

I try to push on harder whilst floating on this cloud that has now appeared under me. I might actually get my GFA – Oh My God!!

Somehow in my head the number 8 was being replaced with the number 6. I blame the water incident. It knocked the numbers around.

And don’t worry. It wasn’t long before I realised my maths was indeed wrong again.

Time to put the music in. (I skipped The Greatest Showman. This wasn’t his moment.)

Mile 25 and it just took forever. I swear it must have been at least 3 miles long! I reckon Manchester stretched it out ‘just to be sure’. Bastards.

Coming up to mile 26 and I start vibrating. Who the hell is phoning me? I look at my phone.

‘I’m a bit busy dad what is it?’.

‘The feeds not working – are you not finished yet?’.

‘No dad. I’m not finished yet. I’m at mile 26.’

If nothing else it gave the runners around me a laugh.

Jesus Christ where is that god damn finish line?!? I’ve been staring at the blue archway for 6 years! It’s NOT getting any closer!!

I hear my name being shouted at the side just as I’m debating whether or not to do a sit down protest about how long this final straight is. Just smile and keep going. Keep going.

4:14:08.

Yes ladies and gentleman. That is a SOLID 30 minutes behind target time. I give you, the failed GFA Run. *takes a bow

To add insult to injury I am forced to hobble a further 10 miles to collect my medal and finally a bottle of water.

Who’s doesn’t have water AT the finish line?!?

I waddle past a stand with a loud speaker, protein shakes and an ice bath.

Ooooh. Ice bath.

Should I?

No. You’re by yourself. You’ll look like a twat.

But….

I hobble back and join the very short queue.

I keep my socks on. The public has already seen my belly today, they definitely don’t need to see my feet on top of that! There are 2 separate baths so you go in 2 at a time. It’s only for 45 seconds but it’s ice. I gingerly step forward after watching all the grown men jumping about. I step in. Another guy steps in the other one.

We sit down and they start the clock. He starts shivering straight away and looks like he’s having a fit. I wait for it to hit me. I take a quick video before it gets too much.

But what is this? This is awesome! It feels sooooo good!!

The other guy jumps out.

’15 seconds’ is shouted out. ‘Can I take his spot’ laughs someone else.

I’m just sitting there. Relaxed. Loving it. This is almost better than…..

’45 seconds love, you’re done.’

I don’t really want to get out.

I walk over to my trainers and that’s when I crumple. ‘Oh my god it’s so bad when you get out!!’.

I grab my beer, get my photo taken at the wall, refuse to fist pump as let’s face it that was a miserable time, and find Joe and Oliver. Manchester done.

Eyes Open

So no. It was not meant to be. I didn’t do it. I failed. Woe is me and all of the other sad things that can be said. Reality is though that anything can happen and Manchester just wasn’t ‘my time’ (oh that’s cold!). I’ve learnt from it though and that’s what makes it NOT a failure. I also had no issues with my heart and that’s a huge bonus!! The words of the man with the mic rang clear as day – I’m lucky I can run. I’ve ran 5 marathons. No I didn’t hit my goal but that just makes my journey longer. Unsurprisingly I already have a plan to get there. And this time it’s not just me. I have enlisted some help. And I have no choice but to listen to it. I will get to London Marathon.

Oh, and just to clarify, there weren’t actually a huge number of properties for sale – the area was called Sale.

My bad.

Championship Has Begun

Championship Has Begun

Well aren’t we all just sick fed up of this weather? It’s an absolute nightmare. Lots of disruption for everyone in all walks of life. Someone seriously needs to apologise to Elsa!

Race after race has been cancelled and if I’m honest, I thought the first Championship race would be too. Loch Katrine half marathon was one I was looking forward to but if it wasn’t to be there was nothing I could do. I checked Facebook every few minutes and Joe checked the road cameras too. We decided to make an attempt to get there but if the roads were bad we would turn back. We dropped the youngest at his grampaws with a box of toys and central heating and off we went. Porridge and banana keeping my tummy warm at least.

The roads turned out to be ok. We’ve driven in worse. The race route seemed icy and slippy though so there was a lot of debate whether it was going ahead. It was an out and back route and you had the choice of 3 distances – full marathon, half marathon or 10k. A lot of runners had not turned up so it was quite a small crowd for each one. Joe debated several times whether or not to run but I don’t think he liked the idea of waiting about for 2 hours for me so got changed.

I had had a slight panic in the car as I didn’t have a buff with me but luckily Joe found one in the bottom of his bag. Needless to say it was stinking. Eugh – did I really want to put this on? I decided if it got too much I could put it in my bag. I was taking my hydration vest because this was a ‘bring your own cup’ race and I’m practising where I can with it.

Team photo done and we were soon off. I had been well warned it was an undulating course and some more honest runners had used the words ‘killer hills’ , ‘vertical climbs’ and ‘Mount Everest’. I was under no illusion for this race. Focus on the turn around and then you’re heading home.

I should have been a rocket scientist honestly.

It wasn’t long before I heated up and the wind was keeping to a minimum. I may even have seen the sun at one point but I may also have been delusional and wearing rose tinted glasses. A lot can be said for positive thinking though. The route was gorgeous. It reminded me a lot of Loch Ness marathon – the give away probably being the fact I was running next to a Loch. In Scotland.

Rocket scientist. I’m telling you.

4 miles in and I was feeling quite chirpy. I had taken my clif shot blok and was playing the game of trying to get it out my teeth (so attractive). A little further on and the first runner Duncan was coming towards me. How does anyone run that fast? It astounds me. But I’m too lazy to push for that kind of speed and I know that. I was just pleased to get to 5.45 miles before he went by. This was the only time I checked my watched during the whole race.

By now the hill I was on was steep. I’m talking the kind you need to be wearing a nappy if you’re cycling down it! With the ultra being next month I decided to walk. After all, I’m going to have to walk the hills in that one so may as well get practising. Naturally as soon as I did another road runner went by, chasing down Duncan. Did I care he saw me walking? Not really. Well, maybe a little bit. But it was a bloomin steep hill!

Realising Joe would be along soon I picked the pace up. Club members seeing me walk is one thing but the husband seeing me walk? Not a chance! He went past soon enough and shouted the headwind when you turned was picking up. Great.

On to the turn and I gave a cheery ‘thank you’ to the marshal. The wind had picked up (just as Joe had said) and it was getting difficult trying to climb the hills. Strange, I don’t remember much of a downhill on the first half! My breathing was getting unusually heavily so I tried another clif block and took a short walk break to try and calm it down.

As soon as I started running again I was wheezing. This wasn’t like me. My chest was now hurting and that never happens when I’m running. It wasn’t the implant, I knew what that pain was, this was a tightening. As soon as another hill came I walked. Gillian went past with her trade mark bright smile and sun glasses. She was on fire!

I got to 10 miles and I knew this hadn’t been the race for me. I was weaving all across the road, I couldn’t get a breath deep enough in to my chest and it was hurting bad. I began to wonder if I should text Joe but then figured I was on my way back anyway so what was the point. I pulled the buff up over my mouth hoping if I could warm the air I was breathing it might have a better chance of getting deep enough. It worked very slightly but my god, what the hell was that smell on it?!

This is it. You’re poisoning yourself Ella. Never mind your chest pain or the fact you’re struggling to breath. It’s neither of them that’s going to kill you, it’s this buff that’s going to do it! I can see the headlines now ‘Woman dies from poisoning herself trying to breathe through a buff soaked in her husbands sweat.’

Oh god…..

I was dry heaving now at the thought of this. Is his sweat on this? Is that what that is? I had to stop. I paused. I nearly threw up.

To be fair the distraction got me to mile 12.

Ok just a mile to go. Then you might need to get it looked at. Just a mile.

The lead runner from the marathon went by me.

Ok he is quite clearly non human! THIS weather on THIS course and he’s running THAT fast?!

He turned his head and said something to me but I couldn’t hear him. The negative in me heard ‘for crying out loud lassie it’s not that bad, if you can’t run you shouldn’t be here.’

Obviously that’s not what he said. I’ve never heard any runner say anything along those lines before. But I was in a very painful place by then and quite frankly embarrassed by my performance. It’s more likely he said something like ‘cup of tea waiting for you at the end love, you can do it.’

Last corner and I can see the finish. I. Am. A. Mess. I’m pretty sure I walk across the line. By now I’m giving an Oscar performance of Darth Vadar and I’m horrendously close to hyper ventilating so after sitting for a minute (and giving the poor race director a fright) I slide away to the car to try and calm it down.

I don’t know what happened. It is worrying me for my chances at Manchester but as I’ve always said ‘what will be will be’. Maybe it was just too cold for me, maybe the stress and anxiety of my redundancy is affecting it and maybe I should have taken it easier. Or maybe I just had a really crap day running. Who knows. The doctor did the usual tests and my ECG now has dips in a second chamber so it’s back to Mr Cardio (and thankfully this time I didn’t answer the phone thinking he was selling me something! I’m still mortified about that!).

With that in mind I rested completely the following day and had a more relaxed week. With Manchester only 2 weeks away now I should be reducing the miles anyway, and I can only stay positive about the other things going on (Easier said than done though – I am beyond bored!).

Loch Katrine was gorgeous and I really enjoyed the challenging route. Just because it wasn’t my day for running doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great race and I have every intention of taking the kids up there for a night. Just probably in the summer. When it’s a lot warmer.

The Devilla

I ran the Carnegie Harriers Devilla Trail Race last year and I remember being really worried I wouldn’t make the cut off.  It wasn’t the type of running I was used to so I had no idea if I could do it.  Thankfully, I did manage to cross the line before the sweeper so I duly signed up again this year – as you do.  Despite it still not being my type of running.

A 15km trail race doesn’t bring with it the same fears as it used to but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at running them now.  The aim was to beat last years time but the reality was it was unlikely.  I’ve found now I’m concentrating on distance my sub conscious refuses to let me go fast (well, fast for me, maybe not compared to everyone and definitely not compared to most but, fast in my terms).

A couple of days before and the weather returned to it’s usual troublesome self.  Jack Frost seriously needs to do one and let the Easter bunny make an appearance.  Shorts and a vest were unlikely.  But trousers could cause issues when caked in mud and at this race, that was a guarantee.  I decided to make the decision when I was there so packed both.  I also packed a towel for a shower after, congratulating myself on being organised.  For once.

Suitcase in hand I went along to registration where I was handed a bottle of beer.  Scheihallion to be exact.  I rarely drink but I do like this craft beer.  I briefly considered opening it pre-race, you know, for that extra boost.  That little drop of Dutch courage.  And if I’m honest, the only reason I didn’t was because it wasn’t cold (sacrilege).  The entire walk to the start line I was debating whether this had been a good decision or not.

I went with shorts – the cold was no longer keeping these cellulite enhanced legs covered up – and a long sleeve top under the club vest.  At the start I bumped into a few fellow road runners.  We had quite a few running the 15km and some doing the 5km.  No one was drinking the beer – yet.  I also saw a couple of people from our local tri club who came over and said hello, so quite a few from Perth!

We started talking about what was ahead and Catriona, who had also ran it last year, reminded me of the bottle neck section.  She mentioned she had been caught up in it last year and had had to wait to get through.  I remembered people just stopping in front of me and trying to go round them.  I looked up and realised we were probably starting a bit too far back and were likely to get caught in it this year.

Yet I didn’t move forward.

Big mistake.  Huge.

The whistle went and we found we were walking to the start line.  And then walking past the start line.  And then still walking.  Nope, nope, no.  This won’t do.  You’re meant to be running!  I veered left and tried to cut my way up through the pack.  I managed to get some room and then we went off the forest track and into the woods.

The path shrunk. We were no longer on a wide forest road but we were on a single track.

The mud didn’t bother me, it’s a trail run, you’re not going to stay clean, and the pre-race email made it very clear wearing brand new trainers probably wasn’t wise if you wanted them to stay looking new.  However, it appeared some people were determined to do all they could to stay pristine.

‘Come on man it’s only mud! Get in there!’

A fellow runner took the words out of my mouth.  I enjoyed this race last year but this part was frustrating like hell.  Who stops in the middle of a race? You just go for it!

We eventually came to a little fork and the path on the right slowed way down again so I went left.  Good move Ella, I thought to myself.  You’ll get round the ones not moving and be able to keep running.  Pushing forward I was still in my smug state when I glanced over at the fork on the right only to discover that the people I could now see where actually behind me before I had taken that turn.  No.  I was not so smug now.

We joined up with the original path and again I went to the left to try and weave my way through, crashing through the bushes and going knee high in the mud.  There was no way I was beating last years time now but I could still push for a good finish.  Back on the forest track and we had more space – finally.  Now it was up hill and I could spot Nigel from the tri club in front of me.  Slowly I creeped up.  Not in a stalker ‘I’m going to kill you’ kind of way, but more of a ‘this is a steep hill and walking would be faster but I’m stubborn’ kind of way.  As soon as I was within ear shot of him I took a deep breath and shouted out ‘Nigel, I’m coming for you.  Very slowly but I’m coming!’.  He didn’t turn round.  Oh my god is that not Nigel? Mortified I didn’t know what to do. The runner on my right turned to look at me, clearly wondering who I was taking to. Oh my god could this get any worse?

Ok do I slow down and let them go then hope I don’t catch up with them? No, they will get to the finish line first and therefore see me when I finish and no doubt point me out as the weirdo who thought she knew someone but didn’t and then was too slow to keep up.

Oh the pressure!

Ok. You’ll need to speed up and get past them. Then you’ll need to stay past them. Oh god I can’t run that fast for that long!

I put my head down and slowly, very slowly, get alongside ‘not Nigel’.

It IS Nigel! Oh thank god! He says hi as I go past and I oh so very briefly get the lightest of reliefs that it is him and I’m not quite that weird.

Then realise how stressed out I got about the situation – which lasted all of 10 seconds by the way – and have to admit defeat. I’m a bit weird.

Thankfully there are no further issues and I even manage to keep my hands to myself and not have the same intimate connection with the bush at the infamous plank as I did last year! The 10km sign is still in the wrong place but I’m ready for that. I do giggle as I remember the older guy from last year and his comment of ’10km my @rse!’.

Approaching the finish and I manage a little sprint to get it over and done with and I can hear some lovely people shouting my name as I do. I’m not going to lie. I love that.

Gillian is just seconds behind me and Nigel is just behind her. Poor Gillian fell over in the mud and as she shows me her completely covered right hand side she points out my leg is bleeding. Oh yeah, I picked up some more war wounds! My right leg is scratched like a cats post. Seasoned runner right here ha ha.

I head to the showers with my bag so I can get changed before the cold sets in. I pull out my clean clothes and my towel and……

It’s not a towel.

It’s a tiny piece of material you use for the turbo or spin bike when you’re really sweaty! I may be small but I’m not that small. Trying to get a wash and shower with that was not fun.

So no. I didn’t beat last year’s time. But I did feel I ran a better race. Excluding my little detour of and starting too far back. The beer is still in the fridge and I have great plans to drink it this weekend after my long run. There is every chance that one beer will have me drunk but hey, it’s worth it.