Friday, 20 September 2013

A Happy Devil & A Glenmore Struggle

It's been a while since I've had the time or energy to report on any of the three ultras I've run since Western States (well, two and a half...more on that later) and I had to remind myself why I decided to blog in the first place, back in 2010. To have a record of my races in all their gritty glory, to help me gain perspective, learn and keep on moving forward. And hopefully improve. Despite writing this feeling slightly broken from a mixture of injury, stonking cold and bout of cockle-induced food poisoning, I am hoping this theory will be true and I'll be able to bounce back stronger next year after taking stock of all I've learnt this year and some much-needed R & R. So here's a recap of my final races of 2013...

Devil o' the Highlands
43 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William along the West Highland Way
Saturday 3rd August

A less than ideal sleep was had the night before. I managed to mess up the booking at Strathfillan Wigwams, which had me and lovely support Lizzie and James in a super compact hut. Cosy times! We're all seasoned campers and not averse to roughing it, but I told them I'd booked a lodge so they were expecting a bit more. Oops! This combined with slight worries over not having covered much distance after the Western States and whether I'd be fully recovered didn't make for the soundest night's sleep.

But 4am came and I snuck out the hut to torrential rain and dark, low cloud stretching as far as I could see. Not a surprise due to the usual pre-race obsessive forecast checking, but still didn't make for a feeling of positive anticipation. Headfirst into the ritual: wash, dress, tape feet (yes, this is what I do post-Western States), prep race belt, force feed myself greek yoghurt & fruit and wake sleeping crew. It feels like a repeat of the 2012 West Highland Way weather-wise but we try to be cheerful and head to registration at the Green Welly in Tyndrum, where Liz made me down a shot of beetroot juice. After registering and chatting to a few folk, we stupidly all huddle underneath the few bits of shelter at the start line in order to stay dry, before we run for 43 miles in the rain. 

The first miles were fantastic, my legs felt fresh and I felt like running. As soon as we started, the rain didn't bother me and I ran along chatting to a few boys, including Davie Gow who later found out he'd run the Devil with a stress fracture. First race fail was the conservative race plan I'd given Lizzie & James, which had me running through the first checkpoint at Bridge of Orchy (6.75 miles) in a little over an hour, but I found myself, as ususal, hurtling off without feeling like I was hurtling and passing through in around 53 minutes. Nope, I'm not conservative. And no crew to be seen. Fortunately a lovely guy I'd met the night before at the wigwams who was supporting his wife gave me a water refill and I didn't need anything else. The Devil is the first race I think I've ever done with no water available at checkpoints.

The lack of crew at BoO threw me for a few miles as I ran/fast-hiked the hill out, but only because I wondered if they'd stay at BoO too long wondering if I'd fallen or something had happened in the first miles. But by the road section after Inveroran I got chatting to some more dudes (sorry, names escape me) and forgot all about it. This section of over 10 miles passed surprisingly fast - I think because the last time I ran it I was slightly broken on day two of a long back to back with Fionna, Lorna, Davie and Bob - and despite wet & windy conditions and terrible visibility over Rannoch Moor it really was a lot of fun this time, and I felt so surprisingly fresh.

Running the long gentle descent towards the Glencoe checkpoint I spotted with relief the distinctive waterproofs of Liz & James. It was the swift and smooth transition  I'd hoped for as I didn't want to stop for more than a minute at each cp. They handed me a fresh handheld with sweet potato zipped into the pocket and I was off down the hill to the A82. On my own on the trail again, I took the chance to nip not too far into the bracken for a she wee. And I'm very sorry to the guy who at that minute came trotting over the hill - at that moment I was wishing the cloud cover was lower than low.

Into Lundavra avec nosebleed
Onwards to the 3 or so miles of trail before the Devil's Staircase and the wind was truly howling down the trail now. Up until then it had largely been behind us but now we were running fully into it and it was taking my breath away and massively affecting speed. The Devil was a joy, had a much-needed walking break and took down a potato and I think a gel on the hike up. The conditions up there were horrendous but two souls cheering at the top despite screaming winds astonished me - Fiona Rennie and Pauline Walker. They put a smile on my face ready for the wild descent, which was so much fun. Miles later came the fire road down into Kinlochleven, which I hadn't run in ages and it dragged a bit. I was conscious of time, and by the time I reached the village I was 10 minutes behind schedule.

I again clocked Liz & James who thrust a replacement bottle at me with some hill snacks packed in there for good measure, to eat on the final big climb out of KL. I asked them if they knew where the next female was behind me but noone knew - I'd known I was first lady since Bridge of Orchy and was keeping decent pace but wanted an idea of placings.

Up into the hike feeling good and mentally ready for the Larig Mor. The last time I'd run it had been during the 2012 West Highland Way Race and I was broken, seeing imaginary ski lifts all around me and cursing the loose rocks and streams to a long-suffering Gregg. It was amazing how fast it passed this time. I jumped at one point hearing a chirpy female voice behind me but it was just Paul Foster with his female support runner friend. We chatted about Western States a bit and kept overtaking each other. In fact I'm pretty sure they were using me as a rabbit to chase down.
shiny devils
Onto Lundavra and I wasn't sure the crew would be there but there they were, sheltering from the driving rain. It had long since stopped bothering me and I was loving being out in the wild elements and dramatic scenery, surrounded by Munros on all sides. A mile or so before the CP I'd developed a random nose bleed, so ran up to the guys asking for tissues and Lorna & Johnny Fling sprung to the rescue with some. Lorna also told me the second place female was within ten minutes of me, which served to put a rocket where it needed to be. I set off for the humps and bumps up into the forest before the descent to Fort William, running all of them steadily. By the descent I was feeling great despite the familiar ache of the right hamstring and glute, and hammered down into Braveheart car park, spotting the point Gregg and I went wrong during the WHW Race. Then came the road section, less than a mile up to finish at the roundabout in Fort William. I'd known for a while my sub 7 target was well out of reach but I'd settle for sub 7 15 in the conditions, so ran as hard as I could to reach the rather sudden pavement finish in 7.14, where James, Liz, Lorna and John stood in the rain. Delighted. 11 minutes later Gail Tait crossed the line in second then came Noanie in 7 33. Overall winner was John McLaughlin with a time of 6.02. Overall results here.

energy balls
During the race I fuelled mainly on natural energy sources - roast sweet potatoes, energy balls (made from dates, nuts, and coconut) and I think there was a cheeky carbolicious Stoats bar in there somewhere- it all worked really well for me on the day. I felt positive throughout and enjoyed every section, despite the wind & rain. Well, I think I did - it was a while ago now, race amnesia may have kicked in.

Glenmore 24
Saturday 6th September, 12 and 24 hour race options on a 4 mile loop around Glenmore Forest in the Cairngorms

My physio, Guy Van Herp, gave me the green card the week before Glenmore. I'd been to him following two long runs after the Devil, during which I'd experienced sudden knee pain, both times having to stop (can't stand stopping even for traffic lights so this was new). By the time I saw him I'd had a week off running and couldn't feel any pain in the knee anymore, so after a spot of lasering and manipulating my SI joint he said I should be fine.

Glenmore is a bit of a unique and special race. I knew this even before I'd run it, and had been meaning to since it began in 2011. There is a 12 and a 24 hour option, with the lion's share of runners taking on the 24. It is a loop race, with a 4 mile trail around Glenmore forest and Loch Morlich shaping the route. Runners pass their camping and support area every 4 miles (the Hayfield) and another half way drinks station on the other side of the loop.

Co-organiser Mike of Bill and Mike fame (BaM) had only recently given me a spot from the waiting list for the 12 and that was fine with me, what with the recent issues and summer miles in the body. I didn't have support for this one, as James was off foraging for his dinner with friends in the wilds of Perthshire and friends were all away so I rocked up in a truly ridiculous hire car that only a total girl would drive. Once again the weather had been atrocious on the drive up on Saturday morning - torrential downpours and high winds on the A9 - and negotiating the roads in the little red tin can of a car was interesting but took my mind off running 12 hours in this weather. Hold on, didn't I say I would never complain about gruesome Scottish weather again after Western States?

Support crew
There was already a cracking vibe in the Hayfield - familiar smiling faces, banter and Ada with her cattle prod for keeping runners under control (seriously). I set up my tent on my own - first time in 2 years - then laid out a box of race supplies, nutrition etc in front of the tent ready for re-fuelling each time I passed on each four mile lap. Extremely handy for self-support. Then lo and behold, the sun emerged and the clouds cleared to leave brilliant blue skies ready for the midday start. After an entertaining race briefing by Bill and Andrew Murray (little did I know the advice on painkillers would become very relevant to me) we assembled ourselves loosely around the start and set off into the sun.
Go. Thanks to BaM for pic.

Round for the first lap: short, sharp uphill on the grass, gorgeous wooded trail to the Loch, flat paths around the Loch, up a few gentle rises to the half-way checkpoint (excellent tunes!), up a longer gentle rise then down and round some trails back to the Hayfield. I need to do this 16 times for the minimum mileage I'd be happy with. I really want to do it 18 times. Simple, right?

Johnny Fling and I ran much of the first few laps together and it just felt like a training run. Except we were probably running a bit faster. He was feeling great, racing me for a 10k best it seemed and flying past on all the downhills. It was so sunny, the trail was beautiful and my knee felt good, all my excuses for flying off at a similar rate. We had some good chats, and passed through the Hayfield to complete the first four mile lap in just over 30 minutes. Oh dear. I dropped back and ended up trailing close behind Johnny Downhill for a few more laps, whilst chatting to a few others at various points too, including the picture of radiance Antonia, who was literally bouncing up the trail. We had a nice catch up until we reached the Hayfield again and our respective support points - her cheering Scott and my plastic box.

Lap 5 came and went, followed by a sinking feeling from some familiar sharp pains around the outer right knee and the mental downer that came with it. I ran on my own as felt I needed to focus and think about what to do.

The beautiful Loch Morlich (thanks BaM)
Lap 8 (mile 32) and I was now in real pain - across the knee, down the hamstring, deep in the glute and up my back, all connected. The main downhill on the course was really hurting and my form was blown to pieces as I was putting a lot of weight on the other leg. I decided to stop in the physio tent (thank goodness for this creation!) and had a mini meltdown as I hobbled in with a lump in my throat, pretty sure I was going to have to DNF this amazing race when I wasn't even halfway through. The physio, from Active Health in Edinburgh - whose name escapes me, sorry - took a look and agreed it was the ITB problem and that my hamstring was in spasm too. She spent 15 minutes or so getting right in there and stripping out the tough bits. Andrew Murray gave me some paracetamol and they both surprised me by telling me to get back out there and try another lap after taking in some calories. I'd been concerned about doing more damage but when they told me this wouldn't really happen with the ITB it gave me the kick I needed to suck it up and get back out there. In two minutes I was back on the trail, with dramatic improvement. The leg felt looser with hardly any pressure around the knee.

I looped around for 3 or so more laps, feeling so much better and hoping it would last. The addition of the i-Shuffle helped massively to put me in a better place, 80's classics were the theme to Glenmore. Mentioning no names. After mile 44 things began to get blurry again and the pain came back with a vengeance. I took more paracetamol but it didn't seem to make any difference. It was getting dark too, and I held off on the headtorch for as long as possible, wanting to run in the evening light.

I was also having stomach problems for one of the first times in a race and was wondering if I'd taken in too many calories, or too much sugar for my system. I'd certainly had more than usual in races - sweet potatoes but also quite a few gels and Clif Builder bars.

Bob Steel ran my final lap with me and it was great to catch up about his UTMB experience and have my mind taken off the dud leg. I think he might have told me to man up, but stuck with me the whole way round even though he was running a relay and could have gone a lot faster. I'd already decided this was my last big lap and I didn't want to do any mini ones.

Wincing through the wee loops
But back to Hayfield and the mini-laps were starting - runners without enough time to start another 4 mile would now run around on a 0.2 mile stretch of undulating grass until the 12 hour whistle was blown. I decided in the grand scheme of things it was only another 40 minutes. I tried to start it against the grain but BaM called me back and set me right. I don't know how many laps I did but it felt like about 15 and I was physically and mentally done by this point, with every downhill jarring my knee. Lorna and a heap of others were cheering us round on every lap which was lovely. Meanwhile, the brave crew of 24 hour runners were heading out on more big laps. I couldn't imagine anything more terrible at this point and think I needed to be told to man up again. We were doing the sprint option after all. With a few minutes to go we were all given our own special tent peg with our race number taped onto it, to plug into the ground wherever we were when time was up, so BaM could measure our additional distance. I ended up slap bang right outside my tent. Done.

Grand plans of staying up over some beers didn't really happen, I managed a seat and a laugh with the others for half an hour instead. With a Yop. Then a night wrapped up three times like a sausage in a damp duvet I thought would be cosy (James never lets me take it on our joint camping trips) and I got up to see the 24'ers still plugging away. Amazing. Sadly I had to get back to Edinburgh to hand back the tin-car but found out placings first and learnt of Antonia's impressive mileage, winning with 75 miles clocked. My mileage was 0.1 beneath 67 (third female), with Melanie Sinclair coming second female with 68 miles. Full results here.

So it was a tough one. I don't wish I hadn't stopped in the physio tent - yes, I might have been able to squeeze in another lap and increase the mileage but on the other hand I know that the pain wouldn't have temporarily improved and my brain would have been telling me running through it was wrong. Both the physio and Andrew Murray played a big role in helping me finished so huge thanks to them :-)

I really want to go back and run Glenmore when I am 100% healthy and feeling good. The forest, the camping, the party, the people, it's a special one that I checked out of far too early this year. Thanks so much BaM, what an amazing weekend you've created. And massive respect and well done to all the other 12 and especially 24 hour runners and selfless, cheerful supporters and marshalls.

River Ayr Way 2013
Saturday 14th September, reverse course of 41.2 miles from Ayr to Glenbuck

RAW start
I'd regsitered for RAW, or WAR, given 2013 would see the first reverse running of the course, several months ago, and given the potential for more SUMS points (RAW was the final SUMS race so the last chance to increase score) I thought even despite the obvious onset of injury I may as well give it a crack. Sometimes injury pain can mysteriously disappear. 

But not this one...we set off from the centre of Ayr against a backdrop of clear blue skies and the sparkling River Ayr and from the second mile I could feel my knee throbbing. As the miles ticked by down the trail and road sections things got worse until I was pulling all kinds of faces on the downhills, which were just gentle slopes. I'd slowed considerably by the first checkpoint at mile 9 and a mile or so past there Kathy Henly passed me and I decided I'd try hang in there until the next major checkpoint at mile 19 then drop. Despite pain up what felt like my entire leg and terrible, unbalanced form, I was struggling to accept I'd have to DNF for the first time. What would it feel like not reaching the finish of a race? Feeling like I'd failed? Like this could happen again if I let it happen this time? I let these thoughts in for a short while then had a stern chat with myself. It's just a race. There are far more important things going on all around us all of the time and it'd be pure ego to focus on the failure for any longer than several minutes.

I stopped running a few miles ahead of the mile 19 checkpoint and took a stroll in the sun. Soon as I stopped I felt relieved and really enjoyed just walking up the trail in the bright sunshine, stretching the leg off and chatting to the folk passing me, including Kirsty Burnett who would come second lady, Carrie Craig who would finish third and Robert Osfield who helped me with his metabolic efficiency research for the Western States and finished a brilliant race in seventh place. A few guys even walked with me for a short while which was lovely, and when I reached the checkpoint I dropped and hung out with the marshalls for a while at a few different points. 

Anneke put on a great race again, and the route was even prettier than I remember from 2011, especially in the autumn sunshine. Like Glenmore, I'm keen to get back and run the race when fit and healthy to do so.
 
SUMS
The Scottish Ultra Marathon Series was reinvented this year, with the premise being that runners have to run a minimum of three of the thirteen eligible Scottish ultra to compete and if they run more than three their best three scores will count. My results from the Highland Fling, the Devil and Glenmore counted as my three and I placed second overall female behind Rosie Bell and ahead of Kathy Henly (winner of River Ayr this year). The pretty little crystal glass is working the mantlepiece next to my 2011 SUMS decanter, though I have a feeling James is soon going to relegate some of these to the spare room with all the Mull half marathon bling. Full SUMS results here.

Plans
Rest. Yoga. Core work. Physio and osteopath. That's about it for this year until I feel this injury is truly healed. I'm not messing about trying to run here and there with just more days off in between. I also have some mental strengthening to do for when I am in pain. I feel I can cope well with that exhausted, end of race pain - if you can call it that - and I actually enjoy it up to a point when I feel race-fit, but when it comes to staying positive through injury pain that's another thing altogether. Admittedly it isn't sensible to run or race at all with an injury, even on the miles that I felt slightly better it was hard to shake the negative mindset and stop counting the miles down to the end of the race. I'm not racing again until 2014 but looking forward to the change. And working on the race plan for next year :-)