Sunday, 28 June 2015

Half-way there

I wasn't sure what to expect from today's long run.  I wasn't even sure if it would be a long run; I was kind of anticipating it being an 'oh well, I tried' run.  But my adductor felt okay this morning and my knees weren't grumbling too much and the torrential rain had stopped, so I decided to give it a go. 

Three minutes into the run, the torrential rain started again.  I hadn't taken a jacket because...well, because the rain had stopped...and it was so warm that I was just wearing my vest (and tights and shoes, of course)...but I did have a technical t-shirt with me in case I got cold so I pulled that over my sodden vest to try to give some protection from the wind that had picked up.  I was drenched within minutes and rain in greater or lesser concentrations continued to fall for most of the first 6 miles.  But I like running in the rain, so this wasn't really a hardship.

My adductor teetered on the line between discomfort and pain for the first couple of miles.  It wasn't quite bad enough to give up and go home, but it was uncomfortable enough to wonder whether that would be the sensible thing to do.  However, by mile 3, it had settled into just feeling stiff and by mile 6, it pretty much felt normal.  So I carried on.  There was a brief respite from the rain between miles 6 and 10, but then the rain started again, and I ran the last three miles with the lovely sensation of rain dripping down my legs and pooling in my shoes.

So, 13 miles.  That's the furthest that I've run since the Aviemore HM last October and a psychological milestone.  The adductor and knees don't feel too traumatised by the distance but, as Adam says, what's important is how it all feels in the next 24 hours.  So, while we're all waiting to see whether I've gone one step too far and whether my grand plan (still to be announced) is realistic, here's a photo taken during today's run...

Between the raindrops

Saturday, 27 June 2015

This time last week...

A week ago today, I did my first ever long run in Shetland.  It wasn't possible to find an off-road route that was long enough (well, there were a couple but it's bonxie breeding season and the longer routes went through their territory and I really didn't fancy getting pecked to death by birds), so I decided to go as far north on the mainland as it is possible to go in order to do the 6ish mile loop from Isbister to the Point of Fethaland and back, and then make up the difference with some road running on quiet single track roads.

There were no cars in the small car park when I got there, which made my heart happy as being in the hills on my own is one of my most favourite things ever.  I put on my Camelbak, tightened my shoe laces, and trotted off.  I first went up a veeery steep hill, and then picked my way around a bog, and then realised that this part of the route didn't have a track.  Or even sheep trails.   I felt very adventurous indeed!

After 1.5 miles, the route connected up with a proper track which continued on to the Point of Fethaland, where there are amazing cliffs and a lighthouse.  I wandered around for a bit then retraced my steps, but this time staying on the track for the whole way back.  There were lots of veeery steep uphills that I needed to walk, and my mantra became 'run where you can, walk where you have to, and stop to look at the view.'  The downhills were fun, though.

Back at the car park, I changed out of my trail shoes and into my road shoes, and did a lovely 6 miles out and back along the road with nothing around except for hills, sheep, and assorted birds.  A very satisfying day, especially as my knees and adductor felt absolutely fine during the run itself.  Unfortunately, I could barely put weight on my right leg by that evening and am still struggling now, but that's another post.  For now, here are some photos of beautiful, beautiful Shetland...

Along coastal cliffs, through trackless fields...I'm so brave!

Looking towards the Point of Fethaland

Point of Fethaland

Running with Sheep (on the track on the way back to the car) 

If you have to run on the road, this is a not a bad choice.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

What I learned from the Grasmere Gallop

Lessons (practical, emotional, and psychological) learned from the Grasmere Gallop, in no particular order:
  • I thought that I had been training on hills.  And I had.  Sort of.  But even low-level Lake District hills proved to be a world apart from my safe forestry tracks. 
  • The impact of mind games on my running has never been more apparent.  I was convinced that I wasn't going to be able to do this, and I ran as though that were true.  Even though, with hindsight and a revisiting of parts of the course, there is no reason why I could not have run more of the uphills than I did, I believed that it was going to be too difficult for me.  And so it was. 
  • I had never run on the road in my trail shoes and wasn't sure what to expect from them on that surface.  I don't know if this played a role in how non-energetic my legs felt around miles 6-8 but, even if that were true, it still would have been a worthwhile trade-off because I finished with no shouting from my blisters.  None.  At all.  In fact, they are now officially ex-blisters.  Which lends confirmation to my belief that the blisters are caused by my road shoes being slightly too narrow through the toe box, as opposed to being caused by overpronation.  Time for new road shoes then. 
  • Although I'm never in the thick of things in road races, there still are enough people in range that I can focus on either keeping up with them or overtaking them - it's a reminder to Keep Moving!  In the GG, however, I was running on my own for a significant part of the race and hadn't thought about how to keep myself motivated in a situation like that.
  • If I had taken my iPod with me, I could have listened to my running tunes when I started to flag.  But I left it at the cottage because I thought that it would be so windy that I wouldn't be able to hear it.  Turns out that the course was sheltered enough that this wouldn't have been an issue.  But even if it had been, I still could have sung some of the songs out loud to motivate myself and to quicken my cadence.  It isn't like there was anyone around to hear me!
  • Despite 'it's only a long run' contributing to dawdling along, while I thought that it was just a long run, I really did enjoy myself.  It was only once I started the last mile and overtook someone that I remembered that this was a race.  I hadn't run it like a race - FFS, it took me longer to do this than it did my 12.5 mile training run - but somehow I still expected to get a 'racing' time.  Cue big - but misplaced - disappointment. 
  • While I don't think that my breakfast choice played a huge role in my energy slump mid-race, there's the possibility that it had some impact.   I don't know why I thought that I could get away with just porridge and a banana for breakfast, when I know that this only works for me for runs of under a hour or so.  The huge bowl of granola that I normally eat before a long run - and which I didn't bring with me from home because I assumed that I'd be able to buy it in Grasmere but which, of course I couldn't, and I wasn't about to experiment with anything new in my tummy for race day - would have set me up much better. 
  • I would wear fewer layers, remembering that I never want my jacket for more than the first 10 minutes of most runs.  And anyway, if I get cold, that's only incentive to run faster to warm myself up. 
  • I would take my Camelbak instead of the hand-held water bottle, which I hate carrying and which annoyed the piss out of me for the entire race.  I can tolerate it for shortish runs but that's about it.  But I kept remembering the overweight woman at the Balmoral 10k who had 4 gels in a waist belt, her Camelbak, and some snacks and how amusing I found this - and I didn't want to be anyone's source of amusement, especially when I already was feeling so unconfident.  But actually, she didn't give a toss and carried what made her feel comfortable and probably had a great race, and that's what I should have done too.  
  • I wouldn't stop for a lengthy chat with the marshals at various points.  They were lovely, but I was supposed to be running.  
Now that I've written this out, I'm struck by how much I deviated from what I know works for me and by the impact of my thoughts and anxieties on my performance.  After the GG, I thought that I might be finished with racing but it has occurred to me that I might as well put all of this self-knowledge to use.  So I'm giving a lot of thought to what comes next. 

But that will have to be another post, because I'm still dithering!  So watch this space.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Grasmere Gallop 2015 Race Report

Three days ago saw me and Bassman driving south, having handed over cat care to Soo and Tony, so that I could join Cathy and Paul for the Grasmere Gallop (17k distance) on 6 June - my very first trail race ever.  I had no idea what to expect but was quite looking forward to giving it a go.

Until, that is, the weather report began predicting 40-50mph winds for race day.  And until I realised that I had misread the website and that the field for the 17k was only a couple of hundred runners, not the over-800 runners that I had thought (this latter number included all runners in all races).  Cue mega-angst and a not-so-secret hope that the race would be called off due to the weather and I could then avoid being blown off the hill and, more importantly, not coming last.  I might be middle of the field in larger road races but in a small trail race, in heavy winds, with mostly club runners?  I could feel a nightmare coming on!

But Cathy and Paul were encouraging and, despite my doubts, I did turn up on race day.  The 17k and 10k trail runners, 5k fun runners, and 10k Nordic walkers all mingled on our way to the start, and then we very gradually began to run in one of the more low key starts that I've been in.  Paul was in the front with the super-whizzy runners and Cathy very kindly stayed near the back with me.  We ran together for about the first 20 minutes, up a gentle and then not-so-gentle but still manageable incline and then off the road onto a forest path where, on an uphill section, I chose to walk.  Cathy floated off into the distance, looking very strong.

I'm not sure that I absolutely had to walk at that point, but the psychological games in my head had already started.  'It's a long race, save your energy' - not entirely bad advice from myself.  But 'It's just a long slow run, no need to push yourself' - not really helpful in a race, especially when you're less than 2 miles into the course.

Anyway, we came out of the woods and onto Loughrigg Terrace, which gave me my first experience of running downhill on a trail with rocky obstacles.  I was tentative at first, especially after coming across one woman who had fallen and was sitting in tears by the path, but seemed to find a rhythm of sorts; I did a weird hoppy gallop over the larger rocks and ran on the flatter bits and very fun it was, too.

Loughrigg Terrace
All too soon we were back on the road, although it was a very quiet and wooded and pretty road.  I had ignored Paul's mantra of 'be bold, go cold' and had overdressed so, by this time, I was soooo hot.  I walked briefly while I shrugged out of my jacket sleeves & tied them around my waist but this was too uncomfortable so eventually I gave up, stopped, fully took off my jacket, tied it around my waist, and re-pinned my race number from the jacket to my shirt.  When I looked up from this, I was alone.  All alone.  I thought that everyone had gone past me & I was now last.  It didn't bother me as much as I thought that it would, but any desire to push myself had gone.  Now, I was just out to have as enjoyable a time as I could.

Somewhere around mile 5, the route veered off the road onto a VERY steep lane that turned into a VERY steep rocky path.  I walked.  I walked the whole thing.  Slowly.  It wasn't fun.  I don't know how far it was but it felt like it was forever.  When I got to the top, I snuck a look at my Garmin and realised that I was on track for a finishing time of close to 2:30.  I still thought that I was last and this just confirmed my attitude of 'why push myself?'  It even occurred me to quit....but the trail was flat and then downhill after this point, the views into the next valley were stunning, and while I was standing around chatting with the marshals and wasting time (i.e. catching my breath), some other 17k runners came into view.

I said cheerio to the marshals, and ran.  Down what felt like a VERY steep rocky path where the dangers were divided between taking a huge tumble or running full force into the OAPs walking up the path with no understanding that maybe they should step off to the side so that I could get through.  I only went over on my ankle once, though, and didn't curse at the walkers at all.  Not out loud, anyway.

The path gave way to another bit of road running, past Loughrigg Tarn and past lots of fields with lots of sheep and lambs.  I started to feel tired and had a gel, walked a bit because my quads were suddenly expressing their fatigue and my head kept saying 'It doesn't matter if you walk or not,' but eventually pulled myself together and started to run again.  I perked up when I came around a bend to see two women that I had been behind when I stopped to take off my jacket - they were walking and I passed them!  Yay!  The first people that I had overtaken since the first mile!

This road wound its way up a hill - at the time, it felt very steep and I ran/walked it (but having walked up it today with Bassman, it actually wasn't that bad and if I had been in a different head space, I could have run more of it) - and eventually a path to the right took us back through the woods and again onto Loughrigg Terrace.  It felt like I ran this more confidently the second time, and I enjoyed it just as much.  Where we had gone right at the end of the Terrace on the first pass through, this time we went left and down towards Grasmere lake itself.  A quick jog across a pebbly beach where one of the official photographers was waiting at the far end (I had to shout at three portly walkers coming towards me to get out of the way so that the photographer could take my picture), a short section through the woods, and I was out on the wide and flat path that runs along the lake.

The beach is just around the corner.
There was one last hill to tackle - a short but steep incline at approximately mile 9, when my legs had already decided that it was flat or downhill from there on in.  Sigh.  I trudged up the hill to encouragement from the marshals, who turned out to be the same ones that I had chatted with at the top of the hill at mile 5.  I stopped to stretch my calves while we discussed how I was finding the course, then I trotted off to complete the last mile and yes, it WAS either downhill or flat all the way to the finish line. 

In this last mile, I overtook two other people who had been ahead of me way back when I had stopped to take off my jacket.  My legs felt fine, my speed picked up to a reasonable level, and I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. Then I checked my Garmin.  2:06 (and some random seconds).  I almost burst into tears.  I'll write more about this in the next post, as I've done a lot of thinking about why I reacted this way and about what this race means for future running plans and this post is already way too long. 

However, to end on a positive note:  I ran 17k on terrain that I have never run on before, on uphills and downhills that are steeper than any I've ever done before, and nothing hurt.  My knees, adductor, hip flexor, calves, achilles...nothing.  Not a peep from any of them and, in fact, I didn't even think about them at all during the run.  Two days later, and there's just a bit of residual stiffness caused more from sitting around all day yesterday than from any running damage. 

So, if nothing else, that's a phenomenal result and one that I can happily live with.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Race report: Balmoral 10k (or, hungry but happy)

Less than two weeks after the Glenlivet 10k, yesterday it was time for the Balmoral 10k.  I was dithering about going right up until the very last minute as 1) the weather looked like it was going to be miserable and 2) a four hour round-trip for a race that would be over in an hour felt like a waste of time.  But, after much whingeing which was ignored by Bassman (which, really, was the wisest thing that he could have done), I loaded up the car with two running jackets, three long-sleeved tops, three pairs of running tights, two pairs of socks, and two pairs of running shoes.  Because you can never be too prepared for the unpredictable Scottish weather...

The drive to Balmoral was lovely and, by the time that I reached the queue for parking, the snow and sleet had stopped and the sun had come out.  Yay!  It took 30 minutes or so to reach the car park and there was then a 20 minute walk to the castle grounds so, by the time that I reached Race HQ, it was noon.  Now, I had had a bowl of porridge and a banana at 8am before I left the house.  The race started at 2pm which I figured would leave me plenty of time to get a bite to eat - and to let it digest - before the race.  What I hadn't counted on was not being able to find anything sufficiently vegetarian.  There were lots of sausages, burgers (beef and venison), and other meat-based things but I couldn't find anything for the runner who prefers not to eat sentient beings.  There was a cake vendor, but I didn't want cake.  I just wanted a nice, healthy, slow-release, carb-based lunch. 

Sigh.  Fortunately, I had a banana with me that was meant to be for after the race but needs must.  I ate it in four bites while sitting out of the wind in the sun, looking at the hills and watching the school pupils run their races.  At 1pm, I tried to make my way to the Changing Tent but the 5k race was still finishing and there was no way that the marshalls were letting anyone cross the track until every...single...runner had finished.  Cue a wild round of applause for the last two - who strolled by, arm in arm, chatting and laughing; perhaps they had ended up on the track by mistake on their way to the cake vendor? - and then a mad dash by a great many people to get to the Changing Tents, loos, and baggage drop before our race started.

I decided to follow Paul's advice - 'Be bold, go cold' - and opted to wear 3/4 length tights with my Gore running shirt over a technical t-shirt.  Given that the temperature was around 6 degrees with a 20mph wind and that it was sleeting when I left the Changing Tent, I froze until I managed to insert myself into the middle of the crush of people at the start line.  That helped a great deal! 

And then we were off.  I had read other people's reports of this race so I knew to expect a bottleneck of runners until we reached the trails.  And this is indeed what happened.  I was proud of myself for staying calm when I got stuck behind people walking three abreast and when I was cut off by people who zoomed by me only to step in front of me and slow down, and practiced conserving my energy by not weaving in and out of the masses (and by not cursing).  It was a slower first two miles than I had wanted but there wasn't much that I could have done about it, aside from starting further up in the corral with the faster runners, but then I would have gotten in their way just as much as people were getting in mine. 

The second mile was a gradual incline but I felt strong on it.  Shame that I couldn't get around people to go any faster!  But then we took a sharp left turn by a sign that said, 'Beware of the hill!' and the climbing started in earnest.  I had learned my lesson from the Glenlivet hill and immediately slowed down, focusing on effort rather than pace and this worked fairly well until about a third of the way up when my lungs insisted that I walk.  In all, I walked five or six times up this 2k hill but unlike Glenlivet, I walked briskly instead of dejectedly and only walked 20-30 seconds each time, just until my lungs stopped heaving.  And I didn't give myself a hard time either, all of which meant that I reached the top in good spirits and ready for the downhill run.  After all, the sign at the top promised 'It's all downhill from here!'

The Hill felt A LOT steeper than this looks!

Of course, it wasn't ALL downhill but that's okay as I didn't believe the sign anyway.  However, for the next 2k, there was indeed some lovely downhill running where I felt like I was flying.  I know that I had a big smile on my face, especially when it started to snow - there aren't many better feelings than running fast through the snow!  Then the downhills started to turn a bit more undulating, and then we were back on the road, still undulating, but I continued to feel strong.

And then, out of the blue, around the 8k mark, my energy completely disappeared.  It was like a switch had been turned off.  I'm not sure that it's possible to hit the wall in a race this short, but I think that I now have some idea of what that feels like.  My legs felt heavy, the stride that had felt so smooth felt awkward and ungainly, I felt sick, I had a stitch in my side, and I just wanted to stop.  It felt like I was running at a slow jogging pace through treacle but I refused to look at my Garmin.  I told myself that I could only do what I could do and that this was happening because I hadn't eaten (my stomach was grumbling big time and I suddenly became aware of how very hungry I was), not because I was a crap runner.

I should have had the cake.

Mind games, but I am coming to believe that for me, a lot of what holds me back is in my head.  So I carried on, running womanfully, trying not spew in front of the cheering crowds lining the road for the last kilometre, trying not to curse as I turned sharp left into a vicious headwind for the last 200m to the finish, trying not to walk...

I stopped my Garmin as I crossed the finish line and didn't even bother to look at it until I was in the Changing Tent because, really, what was the point?  I hadn't walked (aside from on The Hill) and I had done the best that I could, and that was honestly fine with me.  So, when I finally looked, I was taken aback to see that my finishing time was 1:00:53.  My mile splits were 9:38 (crowded path), 9:56 (still crowded), 12:16 (The Hill), 8:46, 9:07, 9:04, and 9:19 (the last .22 kilometres). 

So, given the day's confounding factors (Cathy's phrase, which I vastly prefer to 'excuses'), I am more than happy with my time.  I'm happy that I've done two races two weeks apart - something that I never thought my body would be able to do - with no ill effects.  I'm happy that I've run some proper downhills with nary a twinge from my knee, either during or after.  I'm happy that I've run up hills without blowing out my calf or straining my achilles, which also is something that I never thought I'd be able to do.  And I'm happy that I'm finally learning to ignore, if not exactly silence, that negative voice in my head.  I can't change my biomechanics, but I can change how I think about them!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

So close and yet so far...Glenlivet 10k race report

Oops, it's been two months since my last post.  How time flies when nothing is going wrong.  My niggly ankle has sorted itself out and my knee is cooperating with everything that I throw at it.  I'm up to consistent 20-22 mile weeks, with my most recent long run coming in at 11 miles, and enjoying myself immensely. What a good place to be in, then, for today's Glenlivet 10k.  It's the hilliest race that I've ever attempted and I had no idea what to expect in terms of finishing time, especially as I haven't exactly been pushing myself on the speed front, but I was more excited than nervous.

I stayed the night near Glenlivet at the Delnashaugh Hotel because I wasn't too keen on getting up at silly o'clock to drive two hours on race day.  It proved to be a good decision.  My room was lovely and spacious and had a fabulous view over the river to the hills beyond.  Even better, I discovered at the last minute that my friend Lizzie and her friend Morag were going to be staying in Aberlour in preparation for Morag doing her first ever 10k (Lizzie was there for moral support and to carry Morag's bags).

We arranged to have dinner together at The Mash Tun in Aberlour where I was disconcerted to find even fewer veggie options on the menu than I have come to expect from pubs.  I ended up having a brie and beetroot tart that was very tasty, but the massive cheese overload made for restless sleep later that night.  If I'm being honest, the sticky toffee pudding might have played a role too.  As did the child in the room next door who cried from 4am to 4.45am.  However, that's not much different than having cats whingeing for their breakfast while it's still dark so my tiredness level was normal when I finally got up.

Breakfast was a disappointment as I had optimistically - and foolishly - expected that porridge would be an option.  It wasn't.  The idea of running 10k with eggs stodging up my stomach was not an appealing one so I settled for cereal and a slice of toast and a banana.  Meh.

I met up with Lizzie and Morag at Race Reception HQ at the Glenlivet Distillery.  We huddled indoors until the very last minute so as to avoid the biting, bitterly cold wind and to make frequent use of the luxurious loos.  I didn't have enough time to do my usual warm-up - too busy huddling in the warmth - but hey ho, that's what the first kilometre is for!  And off we went, downhill (yay!), uphill, downhill again (more yay!), and then more or less on the flat until a sharp left turn to the start of a 2k hill.

The view from the start line. 
No running occurred on this mountain.  Phew.

Now, I have been running lots on hills and inclines recently.  On trails and on the road, including a 5k uphill only a couple of weeks ago.  I'm not fast but I get there in the end.  My head was saying, 'You know that you can do this; slow and steady, just like the Mount High road,' and I wanted to listen to that voice, I really did.  Unfortunately, my legs were shouting, 'Woo hoo, we feel great, gogogogogogogo!' and not listening to the words of warning from my lungs.  Reader, I had to walk.  Several times.  I wasn't the only one by any means but that doesn't matter - I COULD have run up the whole bloody hill if I only had stuck to my game plan.  Sigh.

Anyway, after about 4k, the uphill ended and a fairly steady downhill started (with a couple of surprise steep uphills, one of which had the guy who was sticking close by my shoulder loudly exclaim, 'What the fuck???').  I felt relaxed on the downhills and reverted to slow and steady on the uphills, which meant that I easily ran up all of them.  At 5k, I snuck a look at my Garmin and the time was 32:30ish.  I knew before I started that a sub-60min time was not going to be possible with all of these hills but I still felt a bit disappointed and I had to give myself a bit of a talking to to keep my motivation up.

When we finally reached the bottom, we were at 6.5k and the 'undulating' section to the finish was, true to all previous uses of this descriptor in races, pretty much a steady incline to almost 9k.  The wind was fiercer on parts of this section too (blowing my hat off at one point so that I had to retrace my steps to fetch it, and blowing me into another runner at another point), but I kept up a fairly steady pace until the top of the incline.  And then it was all downhill for the last kilometre.  I snuck another look at my Garmin at the 9k marker and the time was 55 minutes. What????  How did that happen?  All of sudden, I felt a hell of lot perkier!

I didn't look at the Garmin again until I crossed the finish line, trying instead to focus on finishing strong and with good form and with a smile on my face.  Which I did.  My final time?  1:00:33.  Arrrggghhh!  Sooooo close.  If only I had run even one of those walking stretches...if only my hat hadn't blown off...if only I had done some hill repeats in training...

However.  This is the fastest 10k that I've done in seven years.  On my first ever hilly course.  My knee and ankle felt fine.  My legs had tons of energy.  And I had a blast.  So, I choose to be well pleased with this time and I'll take what I've learned and put it towards the Balmoral 10k in two weeks.

And I already know that next year, I'll do this one all over again.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The best laid plans...again

In the Big Storm a couple of weeks ago, a Big Tree fell into Newhall Burn and smashed into Newhall Bridge, thus damaging the link between our part of the Black Isle and Mount High, where I have been enjoying my trail runs.  With the bridge intact, it takes 5 minutes by car to get to the woods.  Without the bridge, the long way round takes upwards of 30 minutes, and I don't see the point in driving 30 minutes for a run that will take only a little longer than that.  (And before any bright spark says why don't you run there...because it's a loooong and steeeeep uphill trek to get there, and I can't be arsed.)
The inconveniently damaged Newhall Bridge source
So most of my runs have been on the road since the bridge came down, which is fine, but as today's blue sky and relatively milder temperature made me think longingly of off-road, I bravely sought out a different trail. Actually, it's the other end of the trail that I usually run; it's still only a 5 minute drive away, starts from the woods near Springfield and on my map, it looked like there was a forestry road leading into the woods (just like at the Mount High end).  I arrived in good spirits and set off on what was intended to be a nice, easy 4 miles.  Ha!  I laugh in the face of my optimism...

The forestry road turned out to be a narrow, muddy, wet, icy path skirting the edge of a field.  I put on my trail runner persona and tried to pretend that I didn't mind my feet sinking ankle deep in the mud, but the truth is that I did mind.  Plus, I was running into the sun and the glare from the ice and snow made it too hard to see where the rocks and even the edge of the path were, so I walked.  I crossed a raging burn on a dilapidated foot bridge, briefly cheered up into a run on the path covered with soft pine needles on the other side, then engaged in a bit of creative cursing as I tried to figure out how to climb across the very substantial tree that had fallen across the path.  Then I ran for a little way further before coming to a standstill at a long stretch of deep, muddy, icy water.  I inched my way along the side of the water by clinging to the barbed wire fence that lined that section of the path, then ran again briefly before being stopped by huge, overgrown, waist high bushes with 2-inch spikes that blocked the path.  I eased my way through them but ow ow ow ow - not nice at all.

Eventually, I ended up where I had planned - the forestry commission trails - but by that point I was so irritated and annoyed by my wet feet, aching ankle, punctured legs from those bastard bushes, and all of the walking that I contemplated running to Mount High (which was maybe 2 miles from where I was) and then making my way home on the road so that Bassman could give me a lift back to my car.  But trail runners never give up...

I ran one mile into the woods, crunching my way through the snow that was still on the ground.  I ran one mile back to the start of the muddy, icy, spiky-bush-infested path and thought again about taking the easy route to Mount High.  I asked myself what I was going to do if things were unpleasant underfoot during the Grasmere Gallop - was I going to sulk?  Was I going to want to give up and go home?  Was I going to walk because it wasn't easy?  Mmmmm, probably...but trail runners carry on in the face of insurmountable odds.  So I carried on too.

And funnily enough, the muddy, icy, spiky-bush-infested path didn't seem nearly as difficult on the way back.  I ran most of the way (except for when I clung to the barbed wire fence again) and quite enjoyed splashing through the water and mud.  I finished back at my car with a smile on my face and not sure why I had been fussing so much on the outward route.

I'd even go so far as to say that I'd use this route again but next time, I'm taking my secateurs so that I can clip back those bastard bushes.  Muddy and wet feet, I can cope with.  Legs that look like I've used them for a pin cushion, not acceptable.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The best laid plans...

At the start of the week, I had made a firm plan about routes and mileage for the coming week.  Plans???  I should have been able to hear the Running Gods scoffing.

Wednesday 21 January:  My working day ended at 12.30 which I thought gave me the perfect opportunity to do a quick three miles in the Craig Phadrig woods above Inverness.  I haven't been back that way in years, well before the new housing estates were built, so it took me ages to find the start of the path.  I crept behind and between the huge houses with their amazing views, trying to be invisible and feeling like an intruder and waiting for the police to show up and ask me what I was doing, until I figured out that the lovely path that I remembered is now a tarmacked road.  Sigh. 

The first bit of the road was snowy and slushy but runnable.  However, where the road ended and the trail began, the slush became thick, rough, broken ice.  There were brief pockets of thawed trail here and there and I also tried running along the side of the trail in the snow, but the trail eventually became a sheet of ice as far into the distance as I could see.  It took me 17 minutes to do the first mile; I don't often cut a run short, but this one I did.  Two miles in 33 minutes.  Can I count that as a negative split?

Friday 23 January:  My car had to be into Inverness for 10am to have the windscreen replaced, so my plan was to go to the gym, do five miles on the treadmill (to make up for the mile that I didn't do on Wednesday), do some weights, and sit in the sauna by which time my car would be ready. The windscreen place was running two hours behind schedule but, on the positive side, the rain which had been pelting down all morning had stopped and I'd always much rather run outside than I got a taxi to the Aquadome, which is a short walk away from the start of the canal path.

By the time that I had changed into my running gear, it had started to drizzle.  And by the time that I actually started to run, it was pissing it down.  There was a lot of ice on the path and I did some spectacular skidding as well as some squishy mincing through the mud to avoid the ice.  I was running into such a strong headwind that I felt like I was walking.  My face was frozen and I couldn't see where I was going because the wind was blowing the rain full force into my eyes.  I made it two miles, said fuck it, and headed back.  Despite having a nice hot shower and a very substantial brie & cranberry sandwich, it still took me until later that night to feel warm again.

Sunday 25 January:  Today's plan was to run eight miles in Culbin Forest, that location being a treat to myself to make up for the last two crap runs.  However, due to a slow start to my morning and then helping Bassman to make bread (making bread is a two-person task in our house:  Bassman to make the bread and me to wrangle three enthusiastic moggies so that they don't 1) walk all over the clean kitchen counter where the bread is being kneaded and pummeled 2) stick their heads into the bowl of flour and 3) run off with the butter), by the time that I could stop my cat-management duties it was too late to head out for Culbin Forest.

So it was with reluctance that I resigned myself to eight miles on the road.  My knee has been a bit stiff since overdoing it with the leg extension machine at the gym last week and I was concerned that it might not be too happy on the road.  However, it is with great relief that I can report that it was fine with only the occasional twinge.  It was another very windy day which made the mile and a half stretch by Newhall Point and the almost-mile uphill towards the end a bit of a challenge, but I still enjoyed myself. 

And frankly, that's all that matters.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

On the road again

I had intended for today's run to be on the forest trails but one look outside at the sunny and sparkling day and  I knew, just knew, that the woods would be filled with irresponsible dog owners and their vicious, unleashed hounds.  And I really really couldn't bear to have yet another unpleasant encounter with either human or dog...but, while I chose not to confront that particular fear today, I did confront another one. 

I ran 7 miles on the road.  That's the furthest that I've run on the road by 3 miles since the Aviemore HM, and it felt fine.  My knee only twinged occasionally, which was clearly due to overstriding; as soon as I shortened my stride, the twinges disappeared.  There were a couple of steepish downhills on which I practiced keeping my feet under my hips and a couple of uphills, including almost 1.5 miles uphill at the very end, which I managed with much less huffing and puffing than I did when I last tried this route several months ago.  Nice to see results!

It was also nice to remind myself that road running, at least where I live, can have views that are just as lovely and just as good for my soul as those that occur off-road.  And it's dog free.  I can't ask for much more than that.

Farm lane five minutes from home

Looking across the firth to Cromarty

Saturday, 3 January 2015

New year, new goals

It's the new year and therefore it's time for new resolutions, new goals, and new adventures.  However, I've been holding off on making any decisions about what these resolutions, goals, and adventures might look like because I have no idea what, if anything, my knee is going to be able to handle.  Just because it's all going well at the moment - I'm up to 6.5 miles for my long run and 13.5 miles in total for the week with no adverse effects while running and only minor stiffness and discomfort afterwards - doesn't mean that it won't all come to a screeching, ripping, tearing halt when I least expect it.  But, as Julie the Physio and Adam have both said (independently of each other, so therefore it must be true), 'You'll never know until you try.' 

So, with that ringing endorsement, I've made some decisions based on what I would like this year's theme to be.  If last year's guiding mantra was Fun Running, this year's will be Feel the Fear and Have Fun Anyway (or, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time).  I have realised over the last couple of years that I have a lot of running related fears - some grounded in reality, some only in my head - and I would like this year to be the year that I address at least some of them.  With that in mind, here are the races that I'll be doing in 2015:

The Glenlivet 10k:  12th April.  This is an undulating road race.  As I think I've said before, I tend to avoid hills in case I tear a calf on the way up and blow out my knee on the way down.  I'm also paranoid now about running on the road in case that makes my knee worse, and this will be the first race that I'll have done post-knee injury so I'm already apprehensive about how my knee will hold up. 

Balmoral 10k:  25th April.  Part tarmac and part trail through the grounds around Balmoral Castle.  And there apparently is a killer hill half-way.  Trails, hills, and only two weeks after the previous race...this race tackles three fears for the price of one.

Grasmere Gallop:  6 June.  A 17k trail race that, from my reading of various race reports, has lots and lots of very serious hills.  I felt nervous just reading about it and am already convinced that I will be last across the finish line.  But Cathy and Paul are doing it too, and Bassman and I will make it into a week's holiday, so even if the worst happens during the race, I'll still have fun things to look forward to.

Loch Ness Marathon:  27 September.  Because I have unfinished business with this distance (yes, London Marathon, I'm talking about you).  And because the Loch Ness Marathon was the first marathon that I ever trained for and the first of several that I did not start because of a calf tear.  And because five days after this, I will be 55 and this seems like a good way to celebrate a significant birthday as well as to celebrate having come full circle to achieve the dream that got me into more serious running in the first place.

I look at that list and, despite feeling nervous about what lies ahead, I also feel happy about my choices.  I could have done the same kind of races that I did last year, but where's the challenge in that?  It's time to push my limits a bit, and you're invited to come along with me on the journey!