Sunday, 9 October 2011

West Highland Way Race?

I went for a 'recovery jog' up around arthur's seat this week. Since California I've developed even more of a hatred of mind-numbingly monotonous treadmill running and have missed being out in the elements. I never thought I'd start to enjoy runnning in harsh conditions such as the heat we dealt with through Napa, or the Scottish wind and driving rain, but those are the things I've begun to enjoy most. A far cry from the days when I refused to go out in a slight breeze or took shelter from hailstones under a Mull bridge (although they were pretty painful).

I've been thinking recently that if I can master getting enjoyment from running in all elements, have a firmer grasp on the kit that works for me, and now have more experience at pacing myself through the variety of ultras I've done this year maybe an attempt at the full West Highland Way race next June would be a natural progression. Although not a particularly natural thing to do to your body. For those that don't know the Race folows the 95-mile West Highland Way from Milngavie in the north of Glasgow up through Tyndrum then Glencoe to reach Fort William, with 14,760ft of ascent. There is a 35 hour time limit, and many runners hope to finish in under 24 hours. The male course record (Jezz Bragg) is 15hrs 44 and the female is held by Lucy Colquhoun at 17hrs 16. There have only ever been 5 women who've finished in less than 20 hours, since the year the race started in 1986. It requires motorised backup and a support team of at least 2 people. I've never thought I'd want to attempt this, especially not after the damage I did to my feet last Highland Fling, but I think the raw challenge of it has been slowly seeping into my consciousness, finally becoming an active consideration this month when I found out entries are taken from 1st November.

If any of you lovely lovely friends are free the weekend of 23 June next year and would be up for a different kind of weekend supporting me for a day or so up the WHW do let me know! This is if I am given an entry - with only 200 places, the race is growing in popularity every year and entrants must pass a strict entry criteria: Automatic places will be granted to the following:
• Entrants who have completed 5 or more previous WHW races
• All previous winners of the race, male and female
• Any entrant who, in the opinion of the race committee, has made or is expected to make a significant contribution to the race's overall success

All entries will then be reviewed by the race committee, with the race committee placing each entrant into 1 of 3 categories:-
1. Those who they consider have sufficient experience to take part in the race (fully qualified)
2. Those required to provide further evidence to the committee that they have or will have sufficient experience (provisionally qualified)
3. Those who do not have sufficient experience (rejected)
The decision of the committee is final.

On the theme of amazing friends, thanks to all of my lovely Edinburgh people - firstly for the surprise gathering organised on my return from California and secondly for feeding me delicious meals for what seems like all of this week! Particularly dangerous whilst taking a break from intensive training but incredible nonetheless. Dont think I need to eat for a week now :-)

So anyway I would love to hear anyone's advice on taking on the WHW Race next year.

And as Ric Elias says, don't postpone anything in life:

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

SUMS Done, Ultra Exhausted...

Actually 10 days after the event I've bounced back and ready to rock again but I certainly was in a destroyed state after this final race effort - the River Ayr Way ultra on 24th September.

The last race in the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS), RAW is a 44 mile walking route from source (the loch in the tiny village of Glenbuck) to sea in Ayr. New to me, this one has been going for a few years now and this year the distance was reduced to under 41 for a stadium finish in Dam Park.

It never seemed a bright idea to do this race. I'd already run my required 4 out of the 9 SUMS and would be fresh back from 200 miles in the US. But as usual I changed my mind and thought it might be a nice way to finish the season and secure my third overall place in the Series, plus I wanted to see how I felt after TransCon. I could have either been in my best form due to the number of miles and elevation run recently, or worst due to recovery. I'd arrived back to the UK the weekend before and developed a very strange sickness lurgy that I think might've been jetlag - so left the decision up to the last minute.

Promising myself I'd stop the race if I really needed to I set off from Edinburgh to Ayr at the ungodly hour of 5.30am to get to Ayr. A bus deposited us at Glenbuck late for the start so there was just time to sprint to the woods for toilet breaks with 20 others (stopped caring by now)before a few words of briefing. I set off laughing after a start consisting of the marshall shouting 'GO' - reminding me of the 10 mile race Gregg and I ran in Ballater with a similar low key beginning.

Karl Zeiner was running and I knew I'd likely be able to keep him in my sights for 5 or 10 miles or so. Was glad to keep him amused with the cobbled-together race plan I decided on 20 mins before start - 8min miles for 20 then 9 min miles for 20. In reality I just wanted to finish as my body was physically fairly exhausted, more with recent lack of sleep than anything else.

Pace was fine if a little fast over the first 5 miles (did not stick to that 8 min mile thing!) but conditions surprisingly tough. I knew there wasn't much elevation in the route and in fact that we dropped 200metres from Glenbuck to sea level at Ayr - but sadly we were into the wind the whole route. Plus rainfall had apparently been high over the few weeks previous, transforming the race literally into a bogtrot in parts. I think from mile 4 I had wet feet which has shown to be a disaster for me in terms of blister issues. Quickly got used to this though, as well as having to run through patches of nettles encroaching the path - they were everywhere - my vest and capris not appropriate! My running style evolved into some kind of dancing trot as I held my arms above my head to avoid stings and skipped around the bogs, before manning up and just running gritted teeth through it all at full throttle.

Scenery was beautiful at times, with the fast-flowing river, overgrown path and neighbouring woodlands. I kept checking the direction of the river just to check it was flowing in the right direction - yes, I could make that mistake!

From mile 12 I was in discomfort and felt significant lack of power in my muscles, any slight incline was a struggle and my old glute injury was niggling. Very close to throwing the towel in from mile 23, once again this season I was saved by the Mars bar and lovely marshalls at the 27 mile checkpoint.

A few of the race signs had blown down here and there but fortunately I always found myself back on track on the river, though later found my Australian friend Peter - whom I've bumped into during the last three ultras - wasn't so lucky. The nagivational lanyards we'd been given - a first for me in a race - were fantastic to have on hand as reference.

Marshalls kept encouraging me that I was in first female position which spurred me to finish, I'm not sure I would have done otherwise despite having a much stronger second half of race than the first 20 miles. I ran into Dam Head at 6 hours 27 mins, most probably a sight to behold covered in mud and nettlestings.

Karl had finished earlier having run an incredible race in 6.12. Second and third women were Justine Eveleigh at 6.41 and Elaine Calder with 6.54. First overall, as last year, was Grant Jeans with 5.24.

(FYI Karl your running/walking race plan is a clear winner - it worked beautifully - may I adopt it?!)

After seriously long showers we met up with the lovely Sally who'd come from Edinburgh as my prizegiving plus one, before heading over the road for a pint, a pizza and ceremony. Weird to see people you've seen all year in race gear dressed normally!

Here are the final SUMS results for men and women. Brilliantly well done to all who ran especially Frank Skachill who attempted and finished ALL 9 ultra marathons, including the full West Highland Way Race (winning him a unique prize at the prizegiving)! I hope he is having a thorough rest now. Not to mention a visually-impaired woman who ran RAW with a guide, achieving a strong finish. Proof that anyone can take on these challenges with the right prep. And sometimes without!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Californian Running Experiment

Standing on the steps of San Francisco City Hall jet-lagged after 3 hours sleep and fuelled by coffee was not the start situation I had expected for the Transcontinental Challenge but the weeks, days and hours leading up were so eventful that a decent nights sleep had become a luxury.

I was joining my Glasgow friend Don Lennox as he embarked upon a run across the United States from San Francisco to New York, a distance of 3,063 miles. He is the first Scottish man to attempt this, and hoped to exceed the current world record of 46 days. I'd helped Don plan and gain sponsorship for the run during the last three months and the idea to try and keep up with him for five days happened naturally.

Events leading up to day one on Saturday 3rd September were rather hectic. In typical bus-like fashion sponsorship was seemingly impossible to secure right up until the last two weeks, when we succeeded in gaining several sponsors. On arrival into San Francisco there was immediately an intense time pressure to finalise a list of complex things, from route-planning to sourcing appropriate communications, smart phone, GPS etc. Worryingly the much-needed solar charging panels for the communications had not been ordered correctly and so were not to arrive prior to running. We also met with the US sponsor and the film crew/support team he was awarding to the project, who were keen to film Don in his kilt in a variety of hotspots around the city.

Don is a natural behind the camera whereas I just learnt a lot: I don't like talking to a camera and not being able to look at the person behind it. I'm not much better at looking at someone talking into the camera and keeping a straight face. Filming requires much hanging around. San Francisco is cold!

So we packed the necessary into the support vehicle, and made it to City Hall. One of our film crew John was on his bike in order to lead us out of the city - a route we had been warned as tough to navigate.
It was almost anti-climatic after the months of planning and thinking about the first few days of this run. Conditions were decent for running although not so much for visibility crossing the iconic Golden Gate bridge - foggy and chilly. Having crossed the bridge at around 7 miles we stopped briefly for a water re-fill and when I came back from the fountain Don had managed to meet a man who was cycling across all 50 states during 2011. We ran alongside his bike for a bit and learned California was his second-last state before heading to Hawaii (see his vid below).

We ran for 30 miles on 101 to reach San Rafael then Novato, stopping en route at a taqueria before continuing for another 22. It would have been much easier for us to cross east out of the city over the Bay bridge rather than the Golden Gate but pedestrians are not permitted to use this bridge. Instead we had to take a detour up around San Pablo bay and towards Vallejo.

The pressure in these first days to run 68 miles was intense. Partly due to the plans Don had emphasised about the world record, and partly now because we had a sponsor on board who was intent on this being achieved. We might have stood a good chance of making this mileage but route preparation left something to be desired, and our directions led us to some strange turns that first day. These included a left which should have been a right and a dead end down a housing estate (luckily on this occasion we met a dog-walker who threw on his running shoes to run us a few miles across some fields to the correct highway. Where did the road go?!). Looking back I'm convinced we ran far more than the 52 clocked miles on day one, considering we were on our feet from 9am until past midnight with only several stops.

Lasting memories from the day which I am letting overide the starting stresses: the stunning Sausalito with its artsy bayfront villas, in which I am assured space and property are at one of the highest premiums in California. Testament again to my expensive taste. The fact that sunsets viewed even from the Highway are spectacular in California. The discovery of fig rolls as running fuel. That even after a handful of confusing directions and several dead ends courtesy of Google walking routes we still managed to laugh hysterically whilst running down the hard shoulder of the highway at midnight. Admittedly it was a fine line with delerium. Just a short while after Don and I reckoned on how likely it was that we would get stopped by a patrol car at some point during the run, what should pull up but a police car. Stopping ahead of us to shine lights in our faces and check us out, the policeman listened to what we were doing as if it were the most normal of things, thankfully assuring us that we were legal, though running down the same highway or interstate back south was not. We continued for an hour or two more before stopping for the night, chalking the road so we'd know where to pick up the next day. Being a few miles off target and the campsite we'd planned to get to for the night, plus the fact it was Labor Day weekend, accommodation options were limited. However having met back with film guys John and Rob, John demonstrated his master charm at convincing an unsuspecting man leaving a wedding dance on the streets of Sonoma to let us stay on his guest house floor for the night. Ten minutes later and we were there, sleeping bags on the floor and alarms set for dawn.

A day of highs, lows, snakes and stripy sunburn, which looking back seemed like 3 days rolled into one. Testament to how much can be squeezed into 24 hours if necessary...

John drove us back to the chalk-line on the Napa highway, instructing us to stay on the same highway for 30 miles and head straight over to Vallejo instead of going through Napa (what the original directions instructed us to do). A couple of hours in and several dead snakes later I instead caught sight of a rather alive snake, by which time I was almost treading on it (I may have made a bit of noise according to Don). Luckily I'd hopped over the top of it, though to me it looked harmless. We investigated and photographed, reckoning it couldn't be a rattlesnake without a rattle. Later John and Rob had a look at the photos, exclaiming that it was very definitely a rattler baby. Although they don't have rattles at that age they are dangerous from birth and frequently defensive (apparently coiling as per photo), biting often when disturbed. They can inject 2.5 x the venom of an adult as can't yet control it. Certainly a beautiful little specimen though.

The rest of the morning went well but around the 25 mile point and a confusing junction that old navigational sinking feeling struck us that we were in fact running through wine country. John told us the highway we thought we'd kept on had in fact merged into 121 and we'd missed the signs to stay on 37 to Vallejo miles and miles ago. I'm sure Californian signs are only visible to Americans! Add to that a searing midday heat and the fact the GPS kept sucking the life out of the smartphone battery, and the tensions of the day were rising.

To take our minds off the frustration we began an ongoing tally of the gruesomely diverse array of road kill we'd seen in just two days - Don's grim version of the generation game. This included countless racoons, a skunk, grass snakes, many deer, various birds, a puppy.

It was a baking dry heat leaving Napa and worryingly towards the late afternoon Don was feeling the effects of what we thought was the beginnings of deydration. The gradual but relentless incline leaving wine country didn't help. We made it to the (correct!) junction outside of Napa to get onto highway 12. A couple of miles down and Don wasn't faring well at all so we met the support guys and rested on the banks of the highway for a while. Here we were blessed with yet another spectacular Californian sunset - the most beautiful light I've seen in a long time. What better backdrop for Don to be sick and for me to mourn the loss of yet more toenails, all filmed by our boys.

Don called it a day (night) at this point as carrying on in that state would have been most probably counter productive for the next few days. We headed in the car back into Napa town to try find a motel, after many attempts at negotiating free rooms we settled for a discounted rate and pizza in bed.

I can only have had another 4 hours sleep before we were up early to drive back to where we'd stopped the night before, but our grand plans were hampered by Don having realised smartphone was missing. With it safely found, we got underway onto highway 12 east which led to Rio Vista, our planned destination of the previous day 40 odd miles away. A mere 2 or 3 hours down the road and my feet were absolute agony, I could feel the taping was doing more harm than good. I tried to grin and bear it but pretty soon I didn't want to talk to anyone and was close to tears so decided to let Don continue on his own for a few hours and I'd keep John company. Rob meanwhile put in an impressive effort and ran for the whole morning with Don.

These two guys are amazing. Young talented film makers living in San Francisco - but John from Colorado and Rob from New York - they entertained us constantly with stories of their lives; documentaries they are making, circus skills they can teach and how they'd both been through pretty horrific accidents recently (Rob having fallen out a second storey window and broken his back). Their immediate warmth, positivity and charm to us and everyone we met made up ten-fold for their interesting car-packing skill:

With the happenings of the last few days the record was looking increasingly unlikely but Don made around 40 miles that day, making it to Rio Vista. Much of this was down long, flat highways with absolutely no protection from the elements - save another break to shelter and rest under some ancient farm machinery on the side of the highway, prompting another police stop. Then much later that evening there came twists and turns which made for sad times for all of us, with John and Rob having to leave the project after three days of filming, signalling the end of a sponsorship which we realised had never been a good fit for Don or the run. Every one of us was entered into an unexpected situation and I chose at that point to head back to San Francisco. Having originally planned to undertake the whole expedition completely unsupported, Don continued with his backback, after spending the night in Rio Vista.

After time in San Francisco - a relaxing mini-break for my feet - I retuned several days later, courtesy of my most lovely friend Lisa from Sacramento.

Well technically no longer day four, but Don's day seven. Transported by Lisa to the bustling metropolis of Jackson, just 70 odd miles from the Nevada border, I re-joined Don for a few days. My feet were so thankful of the break I'd given them and were magically healed enough to run on. However Don's feet were now in a mess, a side effect of running with the 60lb backpack for the first time since John and Rob had left. The weight had meant terrible impact on his feet with an impressive selection of blisters to rival my own. We didn't run that day and treated them as best we could to give them a decent chance of being ok to tape up to run tomorrow.

Don had also had some fantastic support since the town of Lodi several days before from a friend of a friend Richard, who had magically produced a jogging stroller for Don to push his backback in, and avoid more damage. An interesting sight but surprisingly efficient!

With the new addition to the team of Dan from Reno and his Lexus, we didn't need to test the stroller just yet. We taped feet and set off for Pine Grove 10 miles away, another tiny town further up Highway 88. A wholly different experience from the suburbs of San Francisco, we were edging into remoter territory, with obscure town names to match - Pioneer, Ham Station and Tragedy Springs. A good preparation for Don for Nevada, which has a tiny population by US standards and plenty of lonely desert highway.

Dan was a perfect support, driving ahead 5 or so miles, running back to meet us for a few miles, picking up the car and continuing, always making sure we were on the right path. We ran 30 miles, taking in a couple of thousand feet of ascent. To the Nevada border over the next 48 hours there would be over 7,000 ft of ascent, of which we did not know how sudden the climbs would be, or the likelihood of altitude affecting us.

I can honestly say the surroundings up there more than compensate for any element of physical challenge, and I would have run for 12 hours a day through it. The smell of pine up there is almost overpowering and the landscape spectacular - canyons, mountains, forests, birds of prey, marmots, threatening storm clouds.

After a decent sleep in a Pioneer motel we were to hit the real ascent today deep into the Sierra Nevada's. After what seemed like just an hour running we passed the 6,000ft signage, and then not long after the 7,000 ft one. I'm not sure I felt real effects of the altitude and they say only 20% of people feel effects at 8,000ft, but it was hard to tell with the climbs being tough anyway. They were actually quite gradual but just never ended, and we had to take many walking breaks. We were nearly at the planned 20 miles stop when Don began to suffer quite suddenly with leg pain which he realised was a tendonitis injury. We tried brisk walking but the hills were too much for that type of strain so we gave it a rest and he decided to stay off the running for the afternoon. I knew I'd have to stop running tonight and head back to Lisa's anyway, otherwise we'd get too far away for me to actually get back to her place in Sacramento. Having checked out everything from the almost non-existent public transport to complex car hire we had concluded that the only option in remote Sierra Nevada country was for Lisa to pick me up. I decided to end my part in the run with a solitary run back down - so asked Don and Dan to come pick me up later, turned around and headed off 10 miles back down the mountains.

Thanks so much to you Lisa for giving up many hours and driving into the mountains two nights running straight from a hard day in the office. Only to meet us in some small town diner for a few hours and drive home again.

My thanks also go unreservedly to marketing pro Lindsay Branscombe from CT who provided and is still providing massive support for Don in the US, helping him get the kit and support people he needs.

So reluctantly we left Don and Dan, with Lisa's gifts of clean washing and bear spray in hand, not far from the Nevada border. Dan was due to stay supporting Don for another few days before heading back to Reno, and has now been back out again to help on his journey into the truly remote Nevada desert. Superstar!

Don, keep running....Nevada can't go on for that much longer. Soon you'll be into the beautiful Utah and Colorado.

What I've found most inspiring about this trip is that the things I thought I would find hardest (physically) were not the things that proved most challenging, such as simply running for 40 or 50 miles every day or running in midday sun. I loved the novelty of running in the heat, and breaking the day up into 3 or 4 sections of mileage seemed almost natural. Its amazing how achievable running another 10 or 15 miles becomes when you've had even just a short break and decent nutrition, and know your kit well. The most difficult things were the complex social and logistical decisions we had to make which weren't black or white but shades of grey: the sponsorship issues, the constant planning ahead. Oh and I guess the navigation..

I spent a luxurious couple of days in Sacramento but missed the mountains and struggled to come back down to earth after running, though Lisa and I did come back down 8,000 ft in a night. Another few nights in San Francisco and it was time to wake up and get on a flight home...on which the drama continued when the cabin crew announced half an hour in that the right side of the aircraft was experiencing technical problems. To which the man beside me began laughing hysterically that this wasn't going to turn out well. Luckily it did.

Back home I'm completely relaxed. If its impossible to ensure a major expedition such as TransCon goes entirely and perfectly to plan then there is little value in stressing about the minor things. All you can ever do is put your best work into something, and if it doesn't go to plan keep your patience and rational thinking intact to deal with the cards that are shown to you. I reckon there's good sense in welcoming such unique situations as we had in California, it was a thousand opportunities rolled into a very short time. Its serendipitous effect is allowing me to take pleasure in the uncomplicated back here in Scotland. Which ironically is one of the reasons I love running in the first place - for its no-frills simplicity.

I'll leave you with a few small clips of footage from Day One:

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Clyde Stride (Wonderful) 40

Glasgow Partick to New Lanark, 40 miles

To much amusement this race presented a few risks, namely that I cover myself in cuts & bruises ahead of the wedding of the year in a few days time, probably not a good way to complete the bridesmaid styling. Minus a few minor fence-scaling scrapes, definitely concealable, I'm still in one piece. Plus ultra running is one fast way to get a good tan for an occasion (safely of course).

To cut to the chase I loved this race. Saturday was one of the rare days you thank unreliable British weather forecasting for being so, well, unreliable. The predicted torrential downpours didn't materialise save a few light showers at the start. The sun shone and for the most part we were shaded within beautiful woodland.

Around 140 runners assembled at the Partick start, in a WHW/Milngavie-esque tunnel. For some reason, like the monsoon, my usual pre-race nerves had taken leave. I knew I'd be running against a pretty strong field of experienced female ultra runners, but I think it made me somewhat calmer. I felt content with just doing my best, enjoying the run and seeking my own PB rather than trying for any more. And that would be easy, as bizarrely having only having raced a 33, 43 and 53 mile ultra before, a 40 was a first! We set off out along the Clyde past the SECC and a rather putrid-smelling sewage works. Running to music again was a joy with the shuffle being an improvement on the heavy i-touch. I did my best to slow it down to a controlled pace as per my race plan (scrawled the day before on the back of my work to-do list). I did a much better job of this than the Highland Fling, around 7.45's, slowing to 8 min miles approaching the first checkpoint at Cambuslang 10 miles in, and banking 1.5mins for later. Bryan Adams sang me into this one, what a superstar.

My stop strategy was, well, not to stop, so I quickly refilled and went straight through the bridge out towards a section of grassy trails. A welcome change from tarmac, though dangerous for the ankle which has been slightly misbehaving of late. This is where Race Director Lee's impressive route-marking came in helpful as I ended up running on my own for pretty much the next 6 or 7 miles, perfect. If the white arrows hadnt been marked I most definitely would've been off on a few navigational adventures, despite studying maps and race directions beforehand.

Section two was pretty uneventful: another 8 miles into second checkpoint of Strathclyde Park, where out in the open it was heating up. I forced a minute's stop to whip off my shoes and change socks (a vivid image in mind of the sparkly peep toes I must wear on Friday, I CANT lose any more nails out of the 7 left!) A lovely marshall even helped me with this unattractive task and sent me off out into hot expanse of the park clutching the contents of my drop bag, flapjack and banana.

And just around the corner 4 miles away came the navigational silliness. In a bid to make up a few minutes lost time from the last section I'd lifted the pace and neglected to keep looking at the arrows on the ground, missed one turning right and headed straight in (and round and round) a council estate before my instinct told me to retrace - not before I disturbed an elderly man in his garden to ask where the Clyde Walkway had gone. After re-tracing and around 8 mins lost I found a group of runners and knew that probably I'd lost the placing I had until then. Ah well just keep going and keep your calm. I then met a lovely ginger Australian who cheered me up and we chatted for a few mins through a pretty woodland trail. It was all ok.

The next stretch seemed to go on forever, as I'd expected checkpoint 3 to be at 28 miles but I'm convinced it didnt materialise until 30, or perhaps the Garmin was playing tricks on me again. A few miles previously I'd managed to finish all of the carb drink and the water bottles I was carrying and as if magic an Italian chap called Ricardo offered me some of his - the second time this has happened an I'd made a conscious effort to carry more this time but it was very welcome. He was perfect to run next to for a while, some friendly chat but not too much constant talk. He kept skidding everywhere - not quite sure how he was doing it but I'm still surprised he finished in an upright position!

The final checkpoint was again pretty uneventful - we refilled and I attempted to eat a Muller Rice without a spoon. Glad there are no photos of that. I couldnt stomach the Stoats so grabbed it and ran off behind the unsteady Italian. Attempted to eat the flapjack but for the first time in a race I was starting to feel quite sick so I threw it to the wildlife.

This would be the longest stretch of 12 miles (but I'm sure it was 10)with the most elevation of the entire route, around 150 metres. Not immense but tough in the final stretch, and it consisted mostly of slippery and wide wooden trail steps. I ran with the Italian and Aussie contingent and chatted about other ultras on the horizon. Then we came onto a blissful stretch of trail woodland and I took off slightly ahead, before realising I was completely on my own again. Thankfully you're never quite alone when you have some 80's geniuses on the ipod so I made use of them to take my mind off the final few miles. Before I knew it I popped out the woodland onto a pretty cobbled street winding down into the World Heritage village of New Lanark, with a welcoming but premature sight of the finish and spectators down below. The route then predictably veered away and up another hill to detour around the village and back onto the trails to make up the final mileage. The Garmin clocked 40 and 6 hours 17 as I finished. Seeing the girls in already I knew my place would be fourth.

Defending top ultra runner extraordinaire Lucy Colquhoun ran an impressive 5.18 to take first female, with Debbie Martin-Consani second in 5.56 and the third female 40 seconds ahead of me.

The men's/overall winner was Paul Raistrick, who broke 5 hrs with 4.44, Grant Jeans just behind with 4.53 (both illustrated beautifully below).

We recognised Paul - I think he once won the Mull Half Marathon amongst many other races of a variety of distances and sure I've seen him at the Seven Hills.

Finish was bliss. I found out the exception to not liking Bud is when you're handed one straight after running 40 miles, and that this goes extremely well with homemade tablet. Gregg came storming in shortly after 7 hours, a brilliant run by the man machine! The injuries held out and it seemed a really positive race atmosphere for everyone, with slick organisation and lovely marshalls.

Once again a few more pearls of ultra running wisdom have been banked from this race. Research and run the route beforehand, and know what to expect. Carry more water and carbs yet again. The scrawled race plan containing significantly more realistic targets that I've ever set for myself before definitely worked. I'm excited already about the next, the Speyside Way at the end of August - though ankle pains are warning me to stick off the running this week.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Two Down

The Highland Fling is one of 9 Ultras included in the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS). To qualify for the Championship, athletes must compete in 4 ultras out of these 9, concluding at the end of September.

Having raced in the D33 and Highland Fling, I seem to have crawled up the Results Table on the site:
Scottish Ultra Marathon Series

I don't think I should get too excited! This is but a temporary position...many of the fast girls are yet to race two.

I'm now carefully considering my options for which two to attempt assured these will not include the West Highland Way or Devil of the Highlands, not least as they are full.

The Clyde Stride on 16th July seems a tamer option, even if its title does make it sound more of a walk in a Glasgow park than a 40-mile ultra marathon. This type of race one week before Richard's wedding will earn me many champagne credits. Although I may encounter some family disapproval if I turn up looking too race-battered.
The Clyde Stride

Then we have the Speyside Way Race at the end of August, a definite favourite - route looks beautiful, relatively flat and distance not as taxing as others, at 36 miles.
Speyside Way Race

The SUMS closing race will be the appropriately named RAW, or River Ayr Way. It might be sensible to leave this as a fallback race should anything go wrong with completion of the Clyde and Speyside.
River Ayr Way Challenge

Any comments or advice most welcome :-)

Oh today's dose of inspiration came courtesy of a lovely man I met in the Sweatshop, who is a part-time photographer and writer for Runners World. He travelled around the world with Rosie Swale-Pope, taking her picture as she ran around it:

Five year race anyone?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Highland Fling Ultra: Race Report

Saturday 30 April 2011
53 miles of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum (or 54 if you're navigationally-challenged like me), 12,300 ft ascent, 10hr 34mins

I set out at 4am from a west end hotel room for Milngavie train station, prepped as possible and bursting with adrenaline despite distinct lack of sleep. Going from a champagne breakfast and royal wedding to running a most challenging ultra marathon, it would be an interesting 24 hours.

I'd really struggled to eat any kind of a decent ultra-fuelling breakfast, and practically force-fed myself porridge and water. So with 30 minutes to wait around after registration in the cool early morning of Milngavie, I attempted to hydrate with more water and eat some fruit.

To give a bit of background about the Fling, it forms a trio of annual WHW races, along with the Devil O' the Highlands (the northern half from Tyndrum to Fort William)and the full WHW. Having expanded from a handful of runners to over 450 this year, it is the only WHW ultra which runners are strongly encouraged to run unsupported. There aren't the facilities or space along the route for many support cars, and the HF organisers run a highly efficient drop-bag system. Runners pack their own drop bags of food, water, clothing changes etc they think they'll need at four different points along the way.

I knew starting out too fast would be a downfall, so I kept a close eye on my pace and from the start tried to keep to just under 8 min miles. This is difficult when you're revved to go! I ended up running second out at the front with the leader Kate Jenkins (us women had started with the 50+ male age group, with the fastest younger male age groups starting later at 8am).

I managed to get a 20 min chat in with Kate, and was inspired to hear of her record-setting 95 mile West Highland Way race of a few years ago (which was then peaked by Lucy Colquhoun). She's completed it six times but this would be the first time she'd run just the southern half - oh the strange logic! She'd also competed the other week in the Scottish Athletics 50k championships, and when asked how she did, gave a modest reply of she was happy with her time (she won the female race, in 3.43).

It was around this time I decided I should not be going her speed! So I dropped back, looking to keep it steady at 8 min miles from now on. We kept our positions until well after the first timing chip point at Drymen, 14.6 miles, and I reckoned there was about 5 minutes between me and a small group of steady runners. Several miles out of Drymen the WHW route takes you into forestry tracks, and we'd been warned at the briefing that some forestry work was currently underway, and to be careful with directions here.

To be honest having never run the race before I did not expect to be at the head of the start group nor did I expect I would have to navigate (although I did have emergency WHW map in my waist bag). Kate had opened a larger lead by this point with no sign of her ahead and no sign of anyone behind me. I came to a forestry junction, with the straight-on option being the WHW route, but with 'no entry due to works' signs here, and 'diversion' signs pointing to the left. I assumed we had to take the diversion (maybe I missed this being mentioned in the briefing, but dont recall being told not to follow them). I had a worrying instinct it could have been wrong but kept going. A while later I came to another 'diversion' sign, this time fallen from its post on the ground, pointing in neither direction of a second cross roads. What to do?! I took the left again for good measure. After around 10 minutes I heard voices and came out at another crossroads, wherein a group of runners emerged from the trees of the other direction. It was clear this was the group from behind me, and they hadn't followed the diversion. I think I lost 10-15 minutes in the grand scheme of things - although the way the race developed its extemely unlikely I would have kept any semblance of placing!

To take my mind off my forestry faux pas I got chatting to race veteran and amazingly knowledgeable runner John Kynaston, he thought I was Jamie Aarons before he realised he didn't know me. I reassured him that I however knew him as a result of blog-stalking! I think he said it was his fifth HF, and he's also an experienced WHW racer, taking part in the big one in June. He was running with a girl called Claire, who was taking on her first ultra after taking part in the London marathon several weeks ago with a 3hr time.

We hit Conic hill together. It is obviously a lot more energy-saving to walk the steepest hills in ultras rather than run. Attempting to run them all as I'd originally planned would have resulted in fatigue further down the line so I changed tactic with this.

I ran into Balmaha at 20 miles, the first checkpoint/drop bag point, feeling quite comfortable. Stopping for just a minute, I reckoned it best to get on with it - it was starting to really heat up even at 9am.

Next came a stretch of 7 miles, to checkpoint numero deux at Rowerdennan. Although I kept forgetting I'd run a mile further than needed - fairly demoralising when you think you're approaching the next checkpoint but you have another 10 mins to go! It was from here I got the first taster of the undulation to come, even after Conic Hill. This race is truly unsettled terrain for most of the way through - after easing you in gently for the first half marathon that is. I dont recall one flat stretch of path longer than a mile.

By Rowardennan I was out of water and slightly concerned I'd need more than the small carry bottle I had around my waist for between checkpoints - the heat was calling for much more. The marshalls helped me re-fill and I had a quick bite of sandwich before heading straight on, for another 7 miles of loch-side track to Inversnaid. We wound around Loch Lomond, with the towering Ben Lomond to the right. The track was significantly rougher terrain that I expected, a challenging combo of loose stones, roots, boulders to negotiate. I had already decided months ago loose gravel and stones to be the enemy of happy feet and this confirmed it.

A wonderful support crew of friends awaited at Inversnaid - Gregg, Sally, Ally and Cat - and by this stage I couldn't wait to see them and inflict them with sweaty hugs. So the few miles before running down the hill to the Inversnaid hotel were going well, until I sidestepped a muddy puddle to save getting damp blister-prone feet, and stepped knee-deep into a bog. Running through the shock of suddenly being covered in mud, I found the next river-crossing down to the loch and jumped in it. I was soaked now but nothing to be done - better water than mud...

Invernsaid and friendly faces were all too brief. I stopped for two minutes, inhaled a banana and bottle of electrolytes and set off. The next stage - 7 miles to Bein Glas Farm - was to be the transition into my most testing race yet. Although not featuring any steep uphills, the path was not easily runnable, with constant boulder obstacles, ample opprtunity to trip and injure yourself. I fell a couple of times, and took to swearing profusely at stones. In the last few miles of that stage I stumbled badly on my left ankle, the ligament I'd torn at Christmas. I felt soft tissues quite literally straining and thought for a minute that was me out, but tested it gently with a few more steps and kept on without too much pain, which soon subsided.

I just hadn't carried enough water, and could really have done with an energy drink rather than just water and electrolytes, blood sugars were low and stomach rumbling but I couldn't bear to eat. I met Debbie Martin-Consani en route who kindly passed me lucozade - thank you.

Bein Glas was an oasis. I gave myself 5 minutes, at that point I wasn't convinced I could finish at all. A few fantastic marshalls poured a bucket of water on my head and shoved a muller rice in my hands, which I tried to eat along with a slice of bread. I could feel my feet were a mess but didn't want to look, but then decided it'd be better to sort them now rather than have to stop during the next 12 final miles to Tyndrum. Compeed-ed up, I struggled to my feet and took off on what I can only call a gentle jog - from now on 11-12 min miles were the best I could do. As I'd expected, a few miles out of Bein Glas came steaming behind me Jez Bragg, the ultra athlete and record holder for HF and WHW, now running for North Face, in second place behind the guy who'd go on to unexpectedly win, Andrew Mills, an unattached runner. A few others closely followed - these guys had started at 8am, so were 2 hours ahead and maintaining amazing stamina against the now 24 degree heat. All I wanted to do was launch myself into the nearest loch. The dry heat was reminiscent of Yosemite.

It was a little comfort that, as the Garmin inched past 43 miles, this was now the furthest I'd ever run. Not much to say on the next 10 miles, apart from I knew I was dehydrated and running erratically, slowing to take on each hill. On two ocassions I had to re-fill water from a fast running stream, by which point I really didn't care if I later got sick or not.

The encouragement from walkers and campers on the route coming into Tyndrum was amazing, as were the two pipers positioned 50 metres or so from the finish. I hadn't made my target of under 10 hours but was delighted to see the finish at all, and knew I'd significantly underestimated the terrain, and the impact of 900m of ascent on pace.

There were the friends, waiting with welcome recovery drinks - including a beer - and pretty much everything I needed. I congratulated Kate who had won the female race with a time of just over 9 hours. She told me I could take half an hour off my time for the heat - alright then if you insist!

- Food
I stubbornly set out on this race to prove I could run an ultra without the overpriced, additive and sugar-packed energy gels and drinks, and that 'real' food would get me through. So against the grain I planned out my four drop bag sustenance carefully: vegetarian sausage sandwich, organic peanut bars, bananas, fruit smoothies, electrolytes.

I stand corrected - there is a reason ultra runners use these easily-consumable forms of fuel. One: you start losing energy at an increasing and incredible rate the further you get into an ultra race and need to replace it with food and drinks that enter your system super-quick. Two: Its really quite difficult to chew anything substantial, however good for you, and you simply can't stomach eating the volume of 'normal' carby foods your body needs to replenish what it's using.

My strategy involved eating half a sandwich at Balmaha and Rowardennan checkpoints to give me maximum energy for later in the race when I may not feel like food. I struggled to eat what I'd planned, all you want is something soft and simple.

Next time I will certainly be consuming more calories, I needed them and would have probably kept a tighter pace. Think I am around 4 pounds lighter now.

- Feet
My feet are in recovery after Saturday, with Sunday and Monday being struggles just to walk. I seriously need to find a strategy for ultras that prevents the type of damage I'm I'm now embarking upon a series of trials in white spirit soaking, vaseline and podiatrists. I will updated on this fascinating topic later!

Despite the physical need for my body to recover for a week or so, the race has left me elated, fitter and lighter for the next. I won't be choosing a multi-terrain, but I can't wait.

Race Results
Happy finish faces - thank you :-)

Monday, 21 March 2011

D33 - lessons in ultra-running

Saturday 19th March

The first race of the 2011 Scottish Ultra Marathon Championships, the D33, had sounded an attractive race to me, following a mostly flat route out of Aberdeen's Duthie Park and 16.5 miles along the Deeside Way to Banchory before back to Aberdeen again. A no frills race costing only £12, I love the small-scale, local aspect, and find the out and back race route reassuring and measurable.

The day before the race I was ridiculously excited about running it, my first official ultra. Myself and a friend (with fantastic support team of friends cycling) have run the route before - 42 miles from Aberdeen to Ballater last summer as a foray into ultra distance following a few marathons. Despite being in constant rain, I absolutely loved running it and felt as though I could keep going when we completed with a sprint finish.

So I have read lots about how expertise at ultra's is built up over many races and years, and really saw this confirmed at first hand on Saturday's race- it's encouraging to know if women stick at it they're likely to keep improving with age rather than the opposite. So I was viewing the D33 as an exploratory race to learn how to better prepare for the Highland Fling at the end of April. I certainly learnt a few things about preparation, mental attitude and kit.

Fistly - some positives.

The weather was cracking. Beautiful sunshine with not a cloud in the sky. Having stayed at brother Rich's in Kingswells the night before, fellow runner and friend Gregg and I set out for the race start at Duthie Park in Aberdeen, somewhat late in the day, arriving just 20 mins before the race start. Lesson #1 - give yourself plenty of time to get out there, and check and double kit both before you leave the house and when about to start. I left my gloves at Rich's which was a bother as it was a pretty chilly morning, it always makes me feel comforted to start a race in the cold seasons with gloves on, even though they come off after a few miles.

The first 6 miles are an easy and pretty path heading straight out of the Park, and I set off in a second pack of runners from the start, with Lucy Colquhoun up ahead (and Grant Jeans sprinting right ahead of all - he would later win the D33 for the second time setting a record of 3.29). I was holding 7.30's for a while before thinking I should slow it down - got chatting to a guy who was giving me advice its better to keep it absolutely steady and focus on the way back rather than the way in - he was aiming to arrive in Banchory after 2.05 hrs. I silently aimed to join him.

Just ahead of the quarter way checkpoint at mile 8, a runner commented my backpack was swinging quite a bit. This confirmed to me I'd got the kit wrong - for a start I was carrying a heavy water bottle and food which I could feel on my shoulders the more I thought about it. Having never run the race before, I hadn't realised there would be three water stations along the way so carried quite a lot. I made the impulse decision to drink as much as I could then drop it at the checkpoint and wait until Banchory for more, then again wait until three quarters checkpoint to drink again. This was fine, I dropped the water and some food and felt instantly so much lighter. I also discovered the bacon sandwich Gregg had made me (in our attempt to swap the sugar overload gels and mainstream running fuel for more substantial real food) had come out of its tinfoil and pretty much managed to liquidise itself in the bag. This bothered me way more than it should have done, obsessive cleanliness made me want to clean it out there and then!!

I think for the Highland Fling I will forego the backpack completely, in favour of a lighter, smaller running pouch. In any case I was fine until Banchory for water and food. A few miles away from turnaround, the leaders began passing, first Grant Jeans (lightning), then later Lucy passed, smiling cheerily - one amazing woman!

At Banchory I dealt with the bag, and managed some beautiful homemade quiche from the marshalls, with a few cups of water. A few minutes and I set off again, and not far down the trail passed Gregg on his way in, running strongly, chatting and shouting encouraging things. The next few miles were surprisingly strong, with my energy levels picked up from the fuel stop, running at 7.45/m. I knew I was placing third female at that time as a runner had shouted it at me as he came in to the checkpoint as I was leaving, but 3 or 4 miles I developed a raging thirst, thinking maybe more water had been needed at Banchory, and I was now carrying none. I had another 4 miles to go to the next checkpoint and it was a seriously tough stretch for me, including pretty much the only hill in the race right ahead of the checkpoint. I arrived there feeling slightly dizzy and not at all right, and had to drink for quite some time - electrolytes and water - before I felt I could get going again. I really hadn't accounted for being in the sun for so much of the race. It was only a minute or so at the checkpoint but in that time the fourth placed female Claire Imrie passed me and took third position. I set off thinking I have to stay mentally strong and just run my own race, I was well on track to maintain my target finish time of under 4.40.

It took a few more miles to feel restored following my brush with deydration but running into Petercoulter I felt slightly better, for only a period of another few miles though. After this it just became painful to maintain the same speed, and I was doing 8.45's slowing to 9 min miles. Sensing another girl behind me I picked it up again and was running 8.20's and dug in until 3 miles or so out of Duthie Park, where she passed me, a brilliantly strong pace which I couldn't compete with. As ever the last few miles were a mental battle where I tried to clear my head and not focus on the sun beating down on the path - I focused my mind on reaching a different tree every few hundred metres and staying below 9 min miles.

Running into Duthie Park should have been a fantastic feeling, as I knew I had a hundred or so metres of downhill to the finish line, but I was seriously thirsty again and not particularly compos mentis. I crossed the line in 4.38, a relief to exceed the target. I was apparently babbling to Rich and Kirsty for a while about the bacon sandwich issue, and was starting to realise the extent of my shredded feet. Not sure if this was due to running through water a few times early on, or if its time for new shoes. In any case they are quite some state and will take a bit of recovery.

Gregg finished in 5.16, seriously impressive achievement for having done little training of late! He'd met another runner before Banchory and they'd run and chatted a lot of the way round which summed up the community feel to the race, although he had second thoughts later on about how they'd crossed the finish line holding hands and whooping - fearing he might end up on the internet in this pose! I think there is a lovely sense of collective encouragement in these type of races which you might not get in the larger more mainstream runs in Scotland today - most runners I passed or who passed me said hello or chatted. Lucy of course finished first female with a time of 4.05, Jamie Aarons in second with 4.24 and Claire Imrie with 4.35. The race organisation and marshalling was also faultless and friendly, particularly the post-race Brewdog.

So I'm taking away the determination to control my mental expectations for the Highland Fling - and expect it to be painful and uncomfortable, not an elated adventure as I'd found the 42-mile Ballater run (we didn't do this at race pace so undoubtably the D33 would be tougher). Ultra running isn't supposed to be wholly easy or pleasant (10% exciting/90% slog as David Bedford warned) and I have to remember therein lies the challenge.

I think this week, as the third week of racing, has signalled my highest running mileage to date with 57.5 miles. So this week is definitely rest time, where I'll do a couple of swims, stretching and a lot of healthy eating. Then its back to training for the Fling, and getting familiar with the trails of the Pentlands every weekend.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Balloch to Clydebank Half Marathon

Sunday 12th March...

A scene familiar to this winter awaited in my garden on Saturday morning, a slushy carpet of snow. With it came the possibility of race #2 of the year being cancelled, with an update from trusty reporter in the west Mr Wallace advising it was falling thick and fast over in Glasgow. A frustrating setback following the already frustrating start to the year, however scatterings of snow in Scotland pale into insignificance compared with recent events in Japan, so I complain not.

In any case the organisers took a hardy view, and snowy conditions turned to rain, so I decided to make the dreich potholed drive to Glasgow in prep for the the morning. Thanks to Allan for a perfect pre-race feast, not to mention being the Racing Knowledge :-)

9 am: around 400 runners are pretty much huddled at the start in drenching rain, keen to get going to get warm. The first few hundred metres followed the pothole theme as the road was in bits out of Balloch, but soon cleared as we got to the main road. I warmed into the race quicker than expected despite not following usual pacing advice again (far too much energy to get rid of!) and ran the first few miles at 6.20/m pace. The route was quite a dream after Lasswade last weekend - largely flat road with slight undulations 2/3 in, as well as a welcome stretch of sheltered path. I ran quite flat out for the first 3-4 miles then slowed and attempted to stick at 7 min miles.

This week I had the sense to charge the Garmin prior to race, and tried to strike a balance of not getting obsessed with constantly checking speed on it thus stressing myself, but using it to keep myself on target. Not sure I got it right on this occasion but a work in progress. The speeds showing can sometimes fluctuate quite wildly so there's a danger of over compensation by checking it and constantly altering speed constantly - i.e. if you aren't on track with 7 min miles and speed up you can end up going too fast and tiring yourself before slowing even more than you were previously.

The rain grew heavier at one stage of the race to the point of slight discomfort but improved again as we were nearing the end. As ever the last two miles stretched for what seemed some time..not the time to get chatting as I did with a guy just heading into the final mile, asking me if I was trying for under 1.30. I was, but didn't quite make it (Garmin 1:30:57/results 1:31:05/tenth female). Ah well - that was the best effort I could put out that day - and I finished feeling really good, and a little closer to being back on track.

An impressive field of runners were doing their thing today - including winning male Michael Deason of Glasgow Uni at 1:08, winning female Charlotte Wilson from Garscube Harriers at an amazing 1:24, and Allan at 1:25, fantastic effort.

A fantastically organised, friendly and good value race to try....

...despite a rather anti-climatic finish

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lasswade 10 Mile Race

Lasswade....ah the joy of being back in the competition...and lessons in patience.

The Lasswade Athletics 10 Mile Road Race was intended to be my second of 2011, after Carnethy Five Hills in February, but given the frustrating ligament issue I managed to inflict on myself two days before Carnethy, attempting a fell race would have been insanity, though it was considered. Lucky the race hadn't been a road as I may have attempted it.

So waiting until Lassade in March allowed my attention-seeking and still-swollen ankle some decent recovery time. We arrived in Rosewell on Sunday 6th for the start of the race in what felt like freezing conditions. One of those days where you just feel chilled to the bone (although supposedly it was 3 degrees; temperate compared with the arctic sub-zero running conditions I'd been out in throughout winter).

I have some fond memories of running Lasswade two years ago, particularly the sense of elation that came from running my first 10-mile race, and really improving the distance I could comfortably run in prep for my first marathon. I remember a challenging but expected steep climb up Roslin Glen in mile 2...then some miles of undulation before a literal sprint of energy downhill to find the finish line back in Rosewell.

Unfortunately my happy experience wasn't repeated this year. I remained cold for miles following the start, despite setting out far too fast. A mistake again to start at the front - I've done this before - as from the word go I was continually passed. Looking forward to using the new Garmin, the damn thing gave out at mile 2, right ahead of the Glen. Death by meagre battery-power. This negativity was persisted by a growing lack of confidence in my race speed and fitness. The course was also considerably more undulating than in my rose-tinted memory, and the final downhill I recalled was no longer part of the route. I finished in 1.09, frustrated. A fairly decent time, but one which - in true form of setting myself up with an unobtainable goal of a couple of minutes faster - I wasn't happy with.

Some good races were run by Katie, Gregg, Lisa and Karl, well done all.

Note to self: don't set unrealistic goals for the first race of the season and after injury. Not all races should be about the racing. Some should be a controlled and patient venture back into regaining speed, fitness and confidence.

I don't want to jinx myself,  but I predict this race will remain the one I found the hardest throughout 2011 and ironically, it is the lowest mileage.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

11 Reasons

I stumbled impulsively upon the idea of focusing on 11 races throughout 2011. It sounded good, especially considering there are more than 11 reasons I love running. This blog is my platform to gather and record running experiences throughout the year, and form a structure from what will undoubtably be a tangled web of thoughts and reflections. It is also going to be the discipline which enforces me to actually do the races!

Rationale to Run:
I think its a good value to live by to make the best of yourself. I don't mean aesthetically but by building positive qualities and characteristics, such as mental strength, energy and alertness. I find running can nurture these qualities, and bring life into sharp focus. At its best it can bring a sense of elation and enthusiasm for learning new things, that can infiltrate other areas of life.  Adapting to being able to run distance can become transferable to other aspects of daily life, for instance, simply being able to just get on with it in the face of unforeseen stumbling blocks. And the sense of physical achievement on completing a challenging race can be unrivalled.

I've also never much been one for staying put on a beach, certainly not without getting so attention-deficit that I'm a nightmare to be around. The diversity of runnning events worldwide is amazing. From running through French chateaus guzzling wine to crossing three European borders in one race, to running in the sun, at midnight, in Norway. What a way to see the world.

Despite my feelings on this, my enthusiasm does peak and trough, and the winter of 2010/11 was a testing one. A complexity of obstacles contributed - arctic conditions, torn ligaments and a few abrupt changes elsewhere in life that came from the blue. I haven't felt the same strong motivation for several months to train or race as I did last year. This is not evident on the outside as I still force myself to go through the motions out of bloody-mindedness.
Still, earlier on in the year I decided to run 11 races and whether I enjoy them or not it is an experiment in discipline, determination and self-improvement that is one tiny fraction of the challenges many amazingly admirable runners and ultra runners put themselves forward for.

The North Face Endurance Challenge: a shortlived high and many lows

4am in a freezing park in Sausalito, Marin County, 12 hours after stepping off a plane in San Francisco, two days after running a work event...