Thursday, 10 September 2015

The (running) tour of Arran - the return

So we did it again.  Another 55 miles run around the beautiful Isle of Arran.  
The GM first did this route in August 2012 and had so much fun we thought we'd do it again.  

Perfect training for Spartathlon with lots of tarmac and a few cheeky hills.  Slight temperature differential, but we used it to try out our Spartathlon fancy dress outfits regardless. The GM dubbed it #fullkitwanker day.

MdA:  Toughest Footrace in the World
Strava stats here.  A sociably paced 55 miles with nearly 4000ft on bumps in 8hr:31. Average 9:18m/m

It was one of those days I wished I could bottle.  And one of those runs I will remember forever.  And for all the right reasons.

We certainly kept the tourists, cyclists and the local bus driver amused.

Friday, 28 August 2015

From hills to heat

I'm quintessentially Celtic.  Red hair, green eyes, fair skin and freckles.  I don't belong in the heat.  I'm just not designed for it.  I go purple, moan like a bitch and swell up like a space hopper.  But I like a new challenge and - like most ultra-runners - thrive on pushing the boundaries.  Always searching for new levels of stupidity. 

So Spartathlon's next.  I don't have high expectations.  It's a bucket list race, and I'll be happy happy if I get to Sparta.  Ideally, on foot.   Link to British Spartathon team website 

At the start of the month, we went on a heat training camp...I mean family Croatia.  Temps were around 37 degrees every day, so it was a feet-first introduction to to the similar conditions I'll experience in Greece next month.

Wow.  It wasn't pretty.  I literally got my ass handed to me on a (hot) plate.  But I spent the first 18 years of my life in desert climates and I don't recall melting and I certainly didn't wear suncream every day, so surely it's a case of adapting to heat?  Maybe not adapting to comfortably running 153 miles in it, but just making it a little more bearable would suffice. 

That was actually my happy face ;-)
At first I did a few easy runs early morning and late evening, because it fitted better with our not-so-hectic holiday itinerary. OK, it fitted better with attacking the resort's buffet meals better.

Day three I went for a mid-day 10-miler.    Just an out and back on a cycle dirt track, without the benefit of the sea breeze.  It was relentless.  I had to lie down after four miles and I honestly didn't know how I was going to get back.   I was emotional, dehydrated and beyond melting point.

Taking relief from the heat while standing in the middle of a hotel's sprinkler system, I had a major confidence crisis.  What was I thinking? How am I ever going to move in that heat, let alone run? But backing out of it never crossed my mind. In fact the shock of that day was just what I needed.  

I learned so much and subsequent runs were much better.  

1) Knocking back the pace:  Slow isn't slow enough. Even just 20-30 per mile made a huge difference. If I'm overheating, I'm going too fast.

2) The point of no return:  I made the mistake of overheating too quickly and it was hard to back down from that.  Starting slower certainly helped keep temperature in check. 

2) Dousing myself in water whenever possible kept me cool.  Although even after my sprinkler session,  my clothes were bone dry after about half a mile.

3) The conditions were much drier than I'm used to.  Scotland is very muggy and humid.  Although I didn't think I was sweating as much, my skin was really salty and my clothes had white salt marks. 

4) I needed heat!  So I went along to heat chamber session at Napier University and I'm incorporating a few sauna sessions per week from now until race day.  

5) Saunas attract some right weirdos.  Then I remembered.  I was sitting there too. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Lakeland 50: The stats

As per my race report, I was "hoping" to sneak in under nine hours.  In my heart I knew I could run 9:05, just stitching together race-paced runs.  Maybe I'd already let the sub-9 slide before I even started. Next time, I'll need to aim a bit higher.   Here are my goal splits v actual splits.  Close, but no cigar.

Ladies all-time top 10 race splits...just because it's interesting.  Even to me, and I don't do numbers.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Montane Lakeland 50 race report

After running the Montane Lakeland 100 for the past two years, it was time to up my game and join the sprinters in the Montane Lakeland 50.  Actually, it fitted better with my plan for running Spartathlon in two months time, but I prefer the first story. 

Lakeland 50 was my main focus after running the World 24-hour in April.  It's no secret that I'm more competitive at longer distances, but I wanted to give it my best shot. 

I called on my friend, Centurion Running team mate and endurance coach Eddie Sutton for her help and guidance to transform me from a 24 hour plodder to something that might resemble a hill runner.

No mean feat, but after weeks of killer hill sessions and race-paced runs on the course, I was in a better place. Not just physically, but I actually believed in myself.

Using my race-paced runs as a gauge, I'd worked out a realistic race target of 9:05.  Adding some adrenaline and a bit of competition, I was hopeful I could sneak under nine hours.

In it's 8th year, the Lakeland 100/50 has grown from strength to strength.  The atmosphere is electric. Attracting a field of nearly 1000 athletes - from the super fast to the super terrified - nobody is out of their depth as the camaraderie is magical.  It's not just a race, it's a festival.  There is always a huge sense of relief at the finish line, but it's sad to drive out the campsite on Sunday afternoon knowing it's over.

Top right by Jen Regan. Bottom right pic from Susan Graham
The Lakeland 100 starts on the Friday evening and circumnavigates the beautiful Lake District. I was lucky enough to win the ladies race last year, which rates quite highly in my life's best moments.  The Lakeland 50, which starts late morning on Saturday, is basically the same route from half way. Simple, right?  Not quite.  It's a bit bumpy, boggy and baffling.  It's unmarked, unrelenting and the weather in the Lakes is unpredictable to say the least.  But if you get to the start line, you're one of the race's "Legends". And if you make it to the end?  Well, you're part of the 50% that do.

After seeing off the 100 competitors on Friday evening, I felt quite smug about the prospect of not losing a night's sleep.  Really I should have just done the race, as I had about two hours sleep after spending the night pressing the refresh button on a mac in the school hall for results.

Pic by Jen Regan
After the race briefing on Saturday morning, it was off for the long journey to the start.  Thankfully the lovely Bev and Steve (the makers of Paul) offered me a lift, sparing me the cattle bus journey. Nici and Kat - also running the 50 - were in the car too.  A mix of nerves and mild hysteria made for a jovial  journey.

The weather was perfect.  After last year's heatwave, this concerned me the most.  It was heating up a bit, but promised to be clear and dry.

The race was off at 11:30am.  A 4-ish mile loop around some hilly fields and then we hit the route for the 45 miles to Coniston.  I hadn't covered the opening section before. Thankfully it was first, as it was the only unpleasant part of the race.  A grassy underfoot is my least favourite terrain.

Like most races, go off fast and you'll get caught short.  And like most races, loads of people still do it.  I just did my usual and stuck with an effort level I knew I could maintain and was confident I could pick my way through the field.  My race plan was all about consistent momentum.

Prior to the race, I'd researched splits of previous placing ladies.  I knew I had to keep to the slower end of the spectrum if I didn't want the wheels to come off after Ambleside (35 miles).  Not that I could have recreated CR holder Tracy Dean's early times - even if the race was just to Howtown.

Arriving in Pooley Bridge (5 miles) I was in my groove - on the trails and in very familiar territory.  I wanted to jog all the hills, to keep the rhythm.  I often feel if I start to hike the hills too early in training runs and races, it's hard to break the cycle.

I got to the Howtown checkpoint a little slower than my race plan, but that was fine.  Good, even. Having not covered the first section, the time was a bit of a guess.  I dibbed in and was straight back out.  One spectator commented on "my good checkpoint action".  My plan was always to save time by topping up fluid at streams and carrying all the food I needed.  Which worked out as not a lot of food.  No shock there then.

I was also actively avoiding anyone giving me updates on Marco's race in 100. After watching the live results through the night, I knew Marco was having issues.  I was pretty sure there was going to be lots of shitting-in-bushes chat to follow.   For purely selfish reasons, I just had to focus on my own race.

Heading towards Fusedale - and the highest point of the course - the race breaks up fairly quickly.  I was passing 50 and 100 runners.   I wasn't quite sure how it would be passing runners in, essentially, another race.  I'm not sure how I would have dealt with being passed if I was in that situation.  But I really enjoyed the exchanging of mutual respect.   I have been there twice and know what that climb does with 70 miles in your legs.

Pics by Jen Regan
Fast hiking to reach the peak, everything felt like it was starting to come together.  My head was in its happy place, my legs felt light and my energy levels were tip top.   I'm not the best descender, but I passed a few chaps and then hit my favourite section of the course, along Haweswater.  I'd been given some information about race position by other competitors, which I took with a pinch of salt. When I got to the Mardale Head checkpoint, I knew Mel Varvel was about a minute ahead in second place.

Call me a race w*nker, but I'd done my research and knew who my competition was going into the race. The favourite was GB ultra trail team athlete, Sally Fawcett.  Also on my list were Mel Varvel, Kim England, Joanne Hazell and Tracy Entwistle

As I've already outed myself as race w*nker, I may as well add that If someone comes back to me in a race, I will most likely overtake them.  With Mel is my sights on the climb up Gatescarth, I gave myself the target of moving into 2nd before Kentmere.  Mel is a super endurance triathlete and has some fine ultra results, but I kinda sorta actually knew she hadn't been racing for the past two years. Sorry, Mel!

My next target was to find John Kynaston.  Over the years, John and I have had quite a few friendly race challenges.  Usually involving me winding him up and his love of competition.  I think he's still yet to win one.  If he has, no doubt he'll be the first to comment. So, the challenge was that he was going to hold me off until Ambleside.  Now, I'm shit at maths, but I was pretty sure going by his race targets and my race targets - even if they went a bit astray - that I would pass him before Kentmere. And I did.  A few miles before Kentmere.   He was so gracious about it. I think we were both just happy to see a friendly face.

Between Mardale and Kentmere was went the calf and quad cramp started.  I didn't come to much, but it was causing me great concern.  I'm not sure whether it was humidity or the intensity, but it's not something I've really experienced in a race.  I even considered not packing s-caps, as I'd never needed them before.

I got to Kentmere in 2nd place.  Phew!  As I knew Eddie would be watching the results.  I downed two cups of a coke and was out like a shot.  My legs were shooting all over the place with cramp on the ascent up Garburn, so I tried to stay off my tip toes.  Which felt completely unnatural to me.

On the descent I was trying to thud my feet down because on Planet Debs that would help clear what was causing the cramp.  Don't ask!  I added my one and only electrolyte tab to some water I'd picked from a stream and that gave me some relief for 30 minutes.  The S-Caps did nothing.

Pic by Perky:  Everyone is staring at me like I'm bonkers ;-) 
At Kentmere I was back on my race splits - to the minute - and wanted to stay that way through Ambleside.  I was in such a good place, mentally, and was loving the race.  Just enjoying the present and the great experience.

As always, the reception in Ambleside was amazing, but I didn't stay around to enjoy it.  It looked so much fun, I wouldn't have left.  I must have been so focussed that I missed running passed marshals dressed as clowns! Two cups of coke and I was off.


Video leaving Ambleside (35 miles) by Bev

Only 15 miles to go.  I didn't think about positions or finishing, just on my own personal times.  I wanted to get there with enough in the tank to run some of the hills, and I did.  Although at one point I tripped and then kicked a rock and my leg shot rigid.  No more hiking, as jogging was the only thing that loosen my legs off.

Above Ambleside.  Only 14 miles to go 
Thankfully the sight of  Matt Wilson's back along Elterwater perked me up and kept me on pace through to Langdale.  Although I got there bang on time and it pretty good shape - considering - it was the lowest point for me. Possibly for Matt too, when he spotted me approaching.

I lost a few minutes from Langdale to Tilberthwaite because of cramps, but I just kept chipping away at it.  Bryan passed me at this point.  Not quite sure where he had been the rest of the race, but he looked pretty fresh.

Prior to the race one of my mini goals was to run up the last long climb before Tilberthwaite (Fitz Steps?).  I think I did about 80% of it.  Or at least I made sure I was running whenever Matt looked back.

We ran in and out of Tilberthwaite checkpoint, with Matt a few seconds ahead.    Those steps!  And that hill!  Always a sting in the tail.  I was another few minutes down on my sub 9 schedule.  9:05 was looking my realistic.

I passed Matt, who looked like he didn't care. We exchanged a few words.  Not sure what they were though.  I passed another and then spotted Forest Bethall.  I was keeping similar pace to him, but he shot off down the hill.  Hitting the track, I was closing in on him. And he knew it.  I wasn't bothered about passing him, I was just using him to keep focussed.

Arriving in Coniston for the sprint finish, I had full on tunnel senses.  I could see people and hear people, but I was just hanging on to Forest.

I got there in 9:04:30.   If I was told when I signed up I was going to run that, I wouldn't have believed it. So, I'm not going to allow myself to be disappointed that I didn't hit the elusive sub 9.

I was second lady to the amazing and super lovely Sally Fawcett. And 10th overall.  10th!  That's the best bit. Closely followed by NINE Strava course records :-)

Mel had a cracking come back race to finish third in 9:21.  She's a little powerhouse. Once she gets her ultra legs back, so will be a force!

I managed to avoid updates on Marco, but chuffed he finished second.  And as suspected there was a lot of toilet chat.

Full results here 
My Strava overview here 

Thank you to the organisers, marshals, supporters and sponsors who brought together comedy and misery to make dreams come true.  I can't wait until next year.  But will it be the 50 or the 100? Decisions, decisions.

Which allows me to finish with a response to the question I was asked a few times over the weekend: Did I find the 100 tougher than the 50? Or vice versa?  It's hard to say.  It's like comparing a 10K and a marathon.    Both require differing levels of effort, but you still cross the finish line completely fecked.  With both, you leave a little bit of yourself on the course, but you take home pride, achievement and the knowing that you've been a part of something wonderful.

I didn't visit those dark places, destroy my feet or peel layers of skin from my back.  But I didn't have time to enjoy the ride, take in the views, share the journey with new lifelong friends, use the hills as a rest hike or even pee!  Say what you like about me "only doing the 50".  Just don't call it the fun run.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

World 24 hour Championships - take three

My third visit to the World 24 Hour Championships.  Always an honour and a privilege to be part of the amazing British team and compete in such a fantastic event - even if the outcome is generally catastrophic.

Cutting the trailers, I finished 12th female (61 overall) with a distance of 221.714km.  A PB by a whopping 1677km!  But hey, a PB is a PB.  I was also the second counter on the team, which took European bronze.  

So, my fourth 24 hour and my fourth consecutive PB.  I shouldn't complain, should I?  You bet I can! I'm my own worse critic after all.  

If I was told prior to the race I was going to run 221, I would have been bitterly disappointed. But as I type, I'm satisfied-ish  Not by the distance, but it was a more dignified performance.  I didn't have the car crash last four hours, I wasn't rendered to a death march, I didn't will it to end, my stomach didn't fall apart and I wasn't tormented with negative thoughts.

I did, however, struggle with the heat for the first eight hours, felt sick for most of it and - shock, horror - take on very little fuel in the last 12 hours.  Standard practice then.

What I lost in the first eight hours I may have gained in the latter stages (maybe), as I was 70th lady at three hours and 12th when the hooter went.

Huge congratulations to the guys team who GOLD!  And to Centurion team mate Robbie Britton who  took home bronze for the World and European.  That's an impressive collection of medals.

More to follow....but, firstly, a HUGE thank you to my Brother-in-law Paul who put up with my diva demands.  And even burst my blisters!  Thank you!

Full results here

The sprint finish...OK, in my head I was sprinting...

Friday, 20 February 2015

Donadea 50K

You're only as good as your last race, right?  Well, after dropping out of the Barcelona 24 (for the second time) that philosophy was hanging over me like a dark cloud.

My confidence took a kicking, so I needed a race to go right.  I'd PB-d at shorter road races, but it wasn't the same.  I needed a race with a bit more meat on the bones.  But is a 50k an ultra? That's debatable. Technically, yes, but I think it's really a marathon with a detour.

I have toyed with the idea of the Donadea 50k for a few years and have corresponded with race organiser Anto Lee a few times.  So when we on a bus going to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, I received an email from Anto asking if I'd like to go over to Ireland for the race on February 14 I had a mini lightbulb moment.  With the World 24 eight weeks after, a 50k might just be the thing.  A tuner-upper, I'd say. Of course I managed to convince Sonic to do it too.
What better way to celebrate St Valentine's Day?

Donadea 50k is the Irish Championships and attracts a quality friend.  The cut off time of five hours speaks volumes.  But there's nowt worse than pot-hunting and it's good to put yourself among some great marathon runners.  For me, it was never about position and all about the personal challenge.  I'd never done a 50k before, so it was good get an official time.

In training, my main focus was (and is) obviously the Worlds on April 10.  Everything else is just part of the journey.  I hadn't really done any marathon specific training, but it was going in the right direction.

On race day, the conditions were perfect.  Fresh, still and a dry week meant the route around Donadea Forest was favourable for some fast running.  The course is 10 x 4.968 km loops with a 0.32km run up to the start line to make it 50k.  It's relatively flat, with some gentle incline and declines.  Enough to shift the legs, but not enough to notice.  Well until about the 8th lap.  Then you notice!

It truly is one of the nicest and friendliest races I've ever done.  The enthusiasm from the stewards supporters was amazing.  And all the runners were so kind and supportive, whether you were the lapped or lapper.  No idea what they were saying half the time, but the delivery was good ;-) It's got a nice family feel to it.  Everybody knows everybody, but we were made to feel so welcome.

Credit: Peter Mooney
Credit: Paul Daly
My race plan was a) Run even-pace b) start at 8m/m c) If I could hear myself breathing, knock back the pace d) finish happy. 

My lap splits were 25:55, 24:36, 24:34, 24:35, 24:01, 24:02, 24:15, 24:28, 24:50, 24:17, so pretty even-pace.  And I finished happy as 5th lady and 35th over

1st Mary Laverty 3:43 (20th)
2nd Dena Hogan 3:49 (22nd)
3rd Theresa Majeed 3:56 (25th)
4th Eilis Connery 4:04 (32rd)
5th Debbie Martin-Consani 4:05 (35th)

The men's field was pretty spectacular. The winner Gary O'Hanlon passed me as I set out on my third lap.  Rumour has it the leaders were clocking 4:50 miles at the start.  Although there was a 2.5 minute difference between his faster and last lap.  Maybe I should have a chat to him about pacing ;-)

Marco, Anto and 3rd place Peter Mooney

1st Gary O'Hanlon 2:57
2nd Tom Hogan 3:05
3rd Peter Mooney 3:14
4th Marco Consani 3:14
5th Mark Doyle 3:17

Full results and lap splits here

Friday, 13 February 2015

Kahtoola NANOspikes

In Scotland, we've had our fair share of snow and ice this year.  Snow is lovely, pretty and quite therapeutic to run on.  Ice, on the other hand, is a total pain in the backside.  Often, quite literally, a pain in the backside.

I've switched between Kahtoolas' MICROspikes and Yaktraks, depending on terrain and severity of ice. Both have served me well - and upright - over the years.   I wrote a blog post comparing both back in 2012.  Click here

The Kahtoolas MICROspikes are without doubt one of the best winter running investments.  They're not cheap, but worth it.  On thick ice (especially canal paths) and off road, they give you 100% confidence.  I've actually lost count of the the number of dog walkers who have stopped me to enquiry about my fancy footwear.  

Previously, I used Yaktraks for slippy pavements or thin ice.  MICROspikes are far too aggressive for these conditions.  But after trying the NANOspikes, the Yaktraks really are pale in comparison.  They certainly address all the issues I had with Yaktraks - time consuming to put on, not feeling very secure on ice, tendency to snap and slip off and they catch on everything. Plus, they get a bit tangled up if you squeeze to reduce overall space they take up in your pack.
  • The NANOspikes are lighter, more minimal and altogether a more toned down version of the MICROspikes.  
  • They are made with the same superior quality, hence the price tag.  
  • Your foot literally slips into the rubber, so they are relatively easy to snap on.  There has been many a time that I've carried my Yaktraks in my pack and endured icy pavements (or even run on roads!), just because I couldn't be bothered with the hassle of wresting them on. 
  • The fold in half and come with a compact carry case, so perfect for transporting.  Without tearing holes in your gear.
  • They really comfortable and kinder on the feet, especially on harder surfaces. 
  • Superb traction for icy roads, pavements, paths and compact trails.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Races for 2015

First post for a while.  I feel this post is like having a silly argument with a loved one.  It just needs someone to break the silence and then all will be forgotten and forgiven.  So, this is me breaking the silence.  

Here's my plans for 2015. Subject to change.  Possibly by the time I've pressed "publish".

February 14, 2015:  Donadea 50K
What better place for a romantic St Valentine's weekend than the beautiful surrounds of Donadea Forest Park in Co. Kildare, Ireland?  Shame we're only going there to run 10 loops of the forest trails. And then jump on a Ryanair flight home the same day.  It's the Irish 50K championship and an IAU champs selections race, so I guess it will be wicked fast and I'm prepared to be lapped. Lots. Last year's winning time was 2:59.  I've never run a 50K before, so I'm looking forward to it. Although if the weather is grim - let's face it, it's Ireland in February - it will be an interesting experience. 

Following on from my PB of 1:35:12 at the Great Scottish Run in October, I'd like to have another crack at the half marathon distance.  This is a local point-to-point race and popular with club runners.  Fingers crossed for a tail wind. 

April 10-11, 2015:  World and European 24-hour Championships

I was delighted and honoured to be selected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the championships in Torino, Italy.  Even more delighted that most of my old team mates will be there too.  With some new faces - including Sonic in a vest, not with a crew badge.

This will be my third outing in the GB vest. Obviously this is my A+ race for the year.  

Click here for British Athletic's team announcement 

May 17, 2015:  Glasgow Women's 10K
Probably not the best idea a month after a 24-hour race, but I love this event.  It's the reason why I started running nearly 13 years ago.  I did it 10 years on the trot, but the last couple of years ultra racing has got in the way.  Given the lack of recovery time, this might be the year I do it in fancy dress.

May 27: Kilpatrick Hill Race
Strava buddies will know that I do a fair bit of joggings around the Kilpatrick hills.  Just a few miles from my doorstep, it's the perfect escape without the logistical dramas.  This has been on my to-do list for a few years, but for one reason or another - mainly because I find hill racing quite intimidating - I've never got around to it.  Now I've blogged about it, I better not back down.

June 27, 2015: Arrochar Alps race
Again, not too far from home.  I've done all the munros there, but not as a circuit.  With 2400m of climbing across the 25km course, it's certainly going to be cheeky.  Good training for Lakeland 50 though, right?

July 25, 2015: Montane Lakeland 50
Which, of course, leads me on to the Montane Lakeland 50.  After running the Lakeland 100 twice, it's time to up my game and have a crack at the 50.  It's a different ball game.  I think the 100 is the easier option.  Once I get the 24 is over, this is my next main focus.  Hills and more hills.  Actually running on hills!

September 26, 2015: Spartathlon
Well, I've completed the application.  Just waiting to hear if it's been successful or not.  I'm hopeful as I'm lead to believe females athletes who have run further that 204km in a 24 hour race "will be automatically initially accepted".  I guess it depends on how many athletes enter with the same prerequisites.    Anyway, this race is high on my bucket list.  153 miles through the boiling streets of Greece. Anyone who knows me, know I don't cope well in heat.  Why then?  I'll get back to you on that one.

And that's as far as I've got.  There will be a few Parkruns thrown in there too. Nothing for last quarter yet.  Although don't mention Barcelona!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

New sponsor: Ultimate Direction

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of their products, so I'm honoured to be an ambassador for Ultimate Direction.

Designed by athletes for athletes, they are well thought out packs and belts.  The look and feel different and fit perfectly.  

You can read more about the products on the the UD Blog, follow them on Twitter @UDhydrates or find them on Facebook.

Friday, 3 October 2014

I admit it. I'm a Strava addict

I guess my downward spiral to addiction started like everyone else’s.  Innocently curious. I didn’t think it would happen to me.  I looked on in pity – and almost distaste – at those dependent.  Those modern-day junkies. How it controlled their every step. Ravaged their minds.  I didn’t even want to do it.  The peer pressure just got too much.  They made it sound so fun and glamorous. “All the cool kids are doing it”: They said. I thought I would just try it.  Dabble a bit. Recreationally, I suppose.  I even did it privately, so no one could see what I was doing.  But, before long, it quickly enveloped my life and now I have to admit I have an addiction. It started with the soft drugs, like Garmin Connect.  Just monitoring miles and occasional checking previously results for progress.  But now I’m an A-Class user.  I’m addicted to Strava.

For those of you who have not been drawn to the dark side, Strava was founded by Michael Gainey in 2009 and allows members around the world to track their runs and rides via mobile and GPS.  Strava - from the Swedish verb “to strive” – has been dubbed social fitness, as you can connect and compete with other athletes. I’m not so sure about the “camaraderie” it claims to evoke, but it dishes out gallons of motivation.  There’s nowhere to hide or slightly exaggerate the pace, time, elevation or mileage.  Let’s be honest, we’ve all done it. It’s black and white and totally transparent.  You’re forced to “prove it”.

Sounds a bit OCD, right? Well, don’t judge me until you’ve tried it.  I’m not a speedster and I don’t obsess over stats, but it sucks you in with its special little community feel and its nice Americanised dialogue that makes you feel so warm and fuzzy inside. 

If someone follows you, the message is “Whoa, you're kind of a big deal. Mr/Ms ABC is now following you on Strava.  Let's show him what you can do. Go get 'em”.  Of course, evoking said camaraderie?  Not likely. 

You receive kudos – which is similar to a Facebook “like”, but so much more – from your followers.  Kudos is my new favourite thing. Strava sends the admiration with a “great job out there…keep it up”.  A big thumbs up from your running companions – and competitors! – what’s not to love about it? Like a needy child seeking approval and praise, I thrive on those digital pats on the back.

The leaderboards open up a whole new level of a competition. And obsession. As well as potential overtraining and injuries.  Each club you join has its own leaderboard, ranking athletes by mileage, time and climb. As an ultra-runner, a distance board is like porn, but even I look at some people’s training and think WTF? Why?  Not you, Paul.  You need to up your game.  I do have a bit of friendly rivalry with mileage with my Centurion team mate, Paul, but that’s healthy.  Unfortunately I will always win on the time spent running leader board - and that’s not a good thing.  Sonic won’t admit it, but he’s also thrown down the mileage gauntlet.  Either that or he doesn’t like hanging out with me. 

The key ingredient in the fanatical cocktail that is Strava are the segments.  The mini courses with invisible timing mats that turn easy runs into eyeballs out.  Each segments has its own course records (CR) and a leaderboard.  And if you don’t make the record, you’ve got personal bests to beat.  So even if you’re not competing at the sharp end, every run is a race against yourself.  I find myself uploading to Strava before I’ve taken my shoes off to see if you’ve added to my virtual trophy case.

When I’m in segment territory, there no messing about.  One morning I was jogging to work and wanted to have a crack at the “Great Western ShortRun”.  I stopped at the lights and removed my jacket.  OK, I was already a little warm.  Then absolutely whored it along the road…only to get to the end and realise I hadn’t started my GPS.  Ahhh!  I had a concealed meltdown on the pavement, which may have looked like some kind of fit.  I’ve still not got close to the CR.

Last week, I was running through Glasgow’s west end when an elderly lady fell on the road. The knock-on effect of an impatient twat who honked his horn, she panicked, tripped and split her eye open.  The wee soul was 96-years-old and weighed less than a small child.  Of course I stopped to help and used my snotty hankies to hold the wound.  After the ambulance appeared and she was in the capable hands of the paramedics, I pushed on and restarted my Garmin.  First thing was: “Feck, I was so on a PB on that segment”.  It crosses over three sets of traffic lights.  To have the lights in my favour during rush hour was a massive thing.  Too much?  You’re probably right.  I mean, who creates a segment that goes across three main roads in a city anyway?

I’ll admit that Strava does make me act in inappropriate ways and do things that may some a little crackers to the naked eye.  Maybe it’s the universal code for an endurance athlete’s apology.  One morning, The GM and I were prancing about on the Kilpatrick Hills, when a biker passed us.  He ignored our friendly greetings and continued on - hanging over the handlebars, panting and on the cusp of combustion.  How rude? As he reached the brow of the hill he about turned and meandered down in a calmer manner.  As he passed again, he smiled, rolled his eyes and muttered: “Strava”.  We understood and all was forgiven. 

I’m not so forgiving when I receive the dreaded email with “Uh oh! Someone’s stole your CR”.   That’s never a good start to the day.  Frantically checking to see if said thief did it on a bike and loaded it as a run. And if they did, I jump on that “flag” button like a possessed vigilante protecting the food soldiers from those pesky two-wheeled villains.

Like all records though, they’re there to be broken.  You win some and you loss some, right? Wrong, you just set up your own segments.  I’ve set up a few on my usual runs, under the pretence that I’ll use them to gauge where I’m at. We all know it’s just feeding the addiction though.

It may be cheating a bit.  But it really does unearth the real cheats.  There’s a segment which I often frequent on my Monday lunch run, which has a local lady sitting in pole position with her run titled “Matt’s Half Marathon PB”.  Yes, she wasn’t even wearing the GPS at the time.

It's game over if I've forgotten my watch, or worse it's out of battery.  I mean, why even bother?  I went out for my first speed session 10 days after the Lakeland 100.  Stupid, I know.  But I was gutted my watch ran out half way into the session.  Granted, I wasn't exactly pulling up the trees, but how was I supposed to brag about my superhuman recovery? (Said with tongue firmly in cheek)  Manual entries just don't cut it.  You can't "prove it".  While we're at it, neither does anything that's not running or biking.  Especially skipping. I've seen it, no joke. 

The best are those who leave on their app or GPS in the car.  Check out this chap. He’s got the CR on one of my local segments – courtesy of a 400+ mile “morning run” that covers the length of Britain! The face has been covered to protect the not so innocent.

Love it or loathe it, there’s no doubt that Strava provides masses of motivation.  People try harder when they’re being watched.  It’s called social facilitation. How many times have you upped the pace or perfected your form when you see another runner approaching? Well, Strava does that digitally and relentlessly.

Although it is comical that everyone seems to do easy/steady/recovery runs, even though they probably vomited at the end.

Earlier this year, I was toying with the idea of a coach.  Something to stop me plodding about aimlessly or focus on quality rather than quantity.  Now I’ve got my spark back.   I may end up on the scrapheap, but at least there will be fire in my belly.  Just give me kudos when I bow out.

Monday, 8 September 2014

My "please forgive me" shoes

I love shoes.  The only thing I love more than shoes, is new shoes.  Sometimes I think I only run because it justifies more shoes.  I pretty much wear a different pair every day.  Depending on where my journey takes me and the speed I want to get there, I have various options for footwear.  There's trail, road, hill, lightweights, more lightweight, cushioned and even cross-country shoes.  And anyone who knows me, knows I don't do cross-country.

Now I have a new category.  My go-to "please forgive me" shoes.  You know when you've kicked the arse out of training and your legs are in a huff, but you still need to squeeze in another long run because it's back-to-back weekend?  Well, I would highly recommend the new Hoka Stinson ATR  When I've got fat feet and my legs are in dire need of some TLC, these little babies have get me safely and comfortable round day two.

In my opinion they're be perfect for: Recovery jogs; mega distance runs; tired legs runs and multi-terrain.  I did a pretty epic long run last weekend, which took in trails, towpath, lots of tarmac and the West Highland Way.  The Hoka Stinson ATR were the ideal hybrid shoe for the distance and alternating terrain.

The update of the popular Stinson - which still mains the oversized cushioning - includes new breathable mess upper with improved durability and a reduction in weight.   And they have pink in them.  Seriously, what more do you need?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

TomTom Runner Cardio review

I've always been a Garmin gal.  And for no other reason other than it's the brand I've always used, since I bought my first 205 back in 2006.  I'm not the most technie of people - my 5-year-old could beat me on technical skills hands down - so I guess it's a comfort thing too.

The major benefit of the TomTom Runner Cardio for me, is the built in heart rate monitor.   And that's the sole reason why I was lured away from the comfort blanket of my Garmin.  I don't do every run with a HRM, but since following Phil Maffetone's HR training plan last year, I like to do easy runs based on heart rate rather than pace.  Keeps me honest.  Plus, it's always a good gage of current fitness and recovery.

How the TomTom monitor works "Your heartbeat is measured by using light to measure changes in your blood flow. This is done on the  top of your wrist by shining light through the skin onto the capillary veins just below the skin and detecting the changing light reflections"

The Crawley 12 hour track race (April 2013) was the first race I'd run by heart rate.  It was something I was testing - for when the race really matters - and I found it to be a more efficient and effective way to "pace" a looped course, when GPS goes a bit hay wire.  The result was my best paced race - ever

The major problem I have with the Garmin heart rate monitor is that it doesn't go tight enough to fit securely round me frame.  You can snigger, but we all know the strap is placed on the chest under the breasts, don't we?  I can only wear it with a T-Shirt bra over it to keep it in place, other wise is slips down to my stomach. It drives me nuts.  And, more importantly, effects the accuracy of heart rate stats.  I'm often spotted on my easy commuter runs with my hands up my tshirt, trying to reposition the heart rate strap, so for me a GPS watch with an inbuilt heart rate monitor is a little bit of ingenuity.

But could it match up to my beloved Garmin...? Well, here are my favourite things about the TomTom Runner Cardio

1) I'm not harping on about it.  Scrap that, I will harp on about it.  The built in heart rate monitor is a major, major plus.

2) It pick up satellites much quicker.  I tested it wearing the Garmin and the TomTom and the TomTom won every time.  For someone who starts a lot of runs in the city centre, this is a great bonus. Usually I could be half a mile down before I get anything.   Just think of those missing miles I could have clocked on Strava!

3)  Comfortable, better fit and It can be used for everyday watch.  Granted it's not the ultimate in girl's accessories, but still it looks OK.  I would never ever consider wearing my Garmin for any longer than necessary.

I'm  still getting my head around the main functions and settings on the TomTom, but so far there doesn't seem to be anything better or worse than the Garmin.  Just different.  Simply, habit forming really.  The Garmin has become second nature to me and I press buttons without being consciously aware of it on runs. Even if I forget my watch, I often catch myself pressing phantoms buttons on a phantom watch on my wrist.

Will keep you posted.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Montane Lakeland 100: The return

"The Consani Double".  We heard that a few times in the weeks leading up the Montane Lakeland 100.  The pressure was on.  But pressure is a privilege, right?   well, that's what I told myself.  At least the double was more conceivable than the "will you run together?" question. Pah!  He was up that hill like a rat up a pipe.

It wasn't a race that was going to be possible for either of us, but when the World 24 in June was cancelled, I was glad to have the opportunity to go back and give it another bash.  Call it a silver lining.  Last year I had a good race, but still felt I had more to give.  And I managed to convince Sonic to give it a go.  Even though he wanted to do the West Highland Way - again!

Picture pinched from Nick Ham
I wasn't nervous about the race.  I was scared last year, but knowing I survived, ran well and didn't get lost, meant I was quite comfortable about the prospect.  Of course, I'd forgotten all the nasty bits too, which always help.   But the weather wasn't in keeping of the English fells.  And it certainly wasn't in my favour.   It was hot.  And it was going to be 105 miles of hot.

Standing at the pre-race briefing,
there were beads of sweat rolling down the inside of my T-shirt.  That didn't bode well.  Mike said the temperature in his car had registered 33 degrees.  I think it may have dropped to slightly more manageable (emphasis on the slightly) 27 when we lined up for the 6pm start.  

For me, the first few hours of the race were pretty nasty.  Actually for this report, I'm going to break the race up into four parts:  The nasty; the freaking loved it bit; dragging a dead weight; and just happy to be there.

The nasty:  That was pretty much everything from Coniston until Wasdale - the first 20 miles to checkpoint 3.  No amount of hot yoga classes and midday training was going to prepare me for that.  I was burst.  I really wanted to pull out.  I mean really, really.  I must have looked like such a crabbit bitch, but I felt like the life had been sucked out of me.

For Steve Peter's fans out there, my human and chimp were have a full on scrap.  And my computer had pretty much fecked off and gone home.

I'd made an early decision to pack away my dream race splits and not even bother with them.  I knew if I was off, it would have a negative effect.  From memory though, I knew I was pretty similar to my 2013 race times.  Which was just fine with me.

The freaking loved it bit:  From pretty much an hour after it got dark, I got into my rhythm and sorted out my head.  I knew things would seem brighter (ironically) when the sun went down.  It was a beautiful, clear, fresh night.  It was so quiet and peaceful, running under a blanket of stars.  You couldn't not love it.   I used this time to put my head down and pick off some miles.  

Usually I will the first signs of day light, but I wanted the night to last forever.  The first signs off dawn brought a fiery red skyline, which meant another hot morning was to follow.

I moved into first position, overtaking Beth Pascall, shortly before Dockray.  I ran with Beth briefly during one of the organised recce runs (eh, recce races!) back in March.  I knew then she had fire in her belly and certainly didn't lack killer instinct.  There was no way she was going to give it away willingly.

On the 10 mile section from Dockray to Dalemain, I just focussed on getting to the checkpoint for the race's one and only drop bag.  I was like a homing pigeon and all I want my own stuff.  I'm not sure why.  60 miles down and I still hadn't consumed anything other that Torq gels.  I know I'm not the best at eating during races.  Actually I think I could be the worst, but the heat took away even what little appetite I have at the beginning of races.  

My stomach was gurgling, but even trying to eat something as simple as bread and butter was a struggle.  I eventually fed that to the birds.  Like last year, I spent far too long here - approximately 20 minutes.  I had to change my bra, as the clip had been slowly grating on my back since the race started.  I was trying to be subtle about the change, but I guess it was an epic fail.  I also changed my shoes.  Then thought they were a bit neat, so changed them back again.  

I packed up some supplies, removing all the edibles and replacing with 10 gels, drank some coffee and went on my way.  Of course forgetting my sunglasses and the Kolaband I'd bought specifically for this race.

Dragging a dead weight:  The coffee was not a great idea, as it threatened to return for most of the journey to Howtown.  I was really overheating and using every stream to soak myself and a buff, which I placed attractively ears.   The water dripping from the buff gave slight relief, but also attracted some funny glances from walkers.  I think the retching and stumbling also added to the look. In hindsight I probably looked like some kind of rabid animal.

Leaving Howtown I was actually looking forward to "the big climb" over to Mardale Head.  The ascent was good and enjoyed the descent down to the water.  Last year I hit a massive low along the waterside, which I put down to dehydration.  Readers may remember this is where I head butted a tree.  This time I managed to avoid any collisions (bonus!), but still experienced the same effects.  Heading into the checkpoint, I could barely muster a jog on the flat.  Of course it was just perfect to see Ian Corless pointing his MASSIVE camera at me.  Just what you want pictures of ;-)

The hard slog:  Not quite high-kicking
I zig-zagged my way in the checkpoint and downed four cups of coke.  I grab half a sandwich - the first bit of solid food I managed to chew since starting the race 75 miles ago - to eat on the climb.

I knew I would come out of the other side when I got to the top.  And I did.  Life was returning and I enjoyed the journey to Kentmere. I saved my iPod for this bit, so my fave gals Taylor Swift and Amy Macdonald (don't judge me!)  had a little party in my head.

It was lovely to see the Montane crew at the Kentmere checkpoint - for the brief moment I was there.  Fellow Montane athlete Jenn Gaskell informed me that Sonic was well in the lead, by over an hour at that point.  I was in and out as swiftly as I could, as it looked far too comfy in there to hang about.  Funnily enough, on paper it looks like I was passed lots of runners, but I was only picking my way through the field because everyone was using the checkpoints like a coffee morning.

It was mid-morning by now and really heating up.  I was joined on the climb by Alan, Chris and Simon.  We chatted for a bit, but I think I left my social skills in Coniston.  Sorry, guys.  Usually my chat it brilliant as well ;-)

I was looking at my Garmin for the time.  Well, it was the Crazy German's Garmin, as I was using his for the second half of the race.   More so to the record the race for future reference than for real time guidance.  I still hadn't looked at my race splits, but given how I felt for the majority of the race I was confused as to why I had so much time to play with. How could I possibly be ahead of last year's time?  Last year I felt good and this year was a bit of a car crash.  I was convinced the Crazy German's watch was on German time and was a hour ahead.  Hey, I was 88 miles down and my brain was completely frazzled.

I got my iPod out the check the time on that.  It was right.  I was on for a PB.  I couldn't quite believe it, but it gave me something positive to focus on and put a little spring in my step.

I arrived at Trout Beck to see the lovely Adrian Stott enjoying an ice cream on a bench.  He was in the Lakes looking for fresh meat for the GB trail team.  He made me laugh with stories of William Sichel's (the currect) running adventure,which involves running in circles in temperatures of 30+ and covering at least 100k for about a million days.  I think he was trying to help.

Running through Ambleside was great, as you're pretty much forced to pull yourself together.  The rabid animal act certainly was appropriate for the family-friendly trekkers town.

I tried to get in and out the checkpoint as quickly as possible but 1) the stairs up to the parish hall were a challenge and 2) the opportunity to use an actual real toilet and wash my hands was too good to pass up on. The lovely Lindley took my hat and buff and dunked it in a barrell of cold water, soaked me and then sent me packing.

Just happy to be there.  16 miles to go...and things were looking up.  Not just because I was nearing the end, but mentally I'd finally found my good place.  The cloud cover helped me physically, as an overdue relief from the sun was almost invigorating.

As with most of the race, I didn't try over think things or focus on the bigger picture.  I wasn't thinking about a PB, being first lady or my position overall.  I just focused on forward motion and ticking off my little mini sections in my head.  I knew Beth was close, as I was getting information from checkpoints, but unless I could see her then I wasn't overly concerned about it.  It was fruitless looking back anyway.

Like last year, I was having major problems with chaffing on my back.  The sting was unbelievable. I had cut off the clip of my Tshirt bra at Dalemain, but the damage had already been done.

I kept waiting for someone from the Lakeland 50 to pass me.  This year the race was the British Trail Championship and I expected to be passed by someone running at the rate of knots like Ben Aberdour did last year.  I suppose bring 30 minutes up on last year's time made the difference.

But there was still no sign of anyone when I arrived at final checkpoint in Tiberthwaite.  Adrian was there again and being his usual chatty self.  I'm not sure whether I was spaced out or just really content, but Adrian had to practically push me out of the checkpoint.  With a small bag of tangerines handed to me by the lovely lady manning goodies.  I may have been a bit over zealous with my appreciation, but those little orange segments were the best thing I've every tasted.

So, there it was.  Just 3.5 miles to go.  One big feck off hill to climb between me and Coniston, but that was fine.  I felt like the job was done and this was my time to enjoy it.  Andy Cole taught me not to get angry or impatient in the last section, but to use the time to reflect on your achievement.  As much as I wanted to tap into my inner hippy, all I could think about was the stinging on my back.  I could walk fine, but any juddering movement was not exactly ticklish.

I could barely run down the hill, because of my back.  So just gritted my teeth, held my breath and took short sprints.  But I was happy and content and even sat on a rock and cheered on Kim Collinson (Lakeland 50 winner) as he  flew down the hill.

As per last year, the welcome in Coniston was amazing.  Except this year I wasn't the bridesmaid.  I did it. It wasn't my dream race, but it meant everything to me.  And even better that we didn't disappoint with the "Consani Double".    Thankfully, or it could have been an awkward journey home.

And I got that PB.  Bettering last year's time by 34 minutes to finish in 25:28.   Full results here.
See me.  See ladylike.

Thanks to all the wonderful dream makers: Marc, Terry, Clare and all the great marshalls. Thanks to Ian Corless and the Crazy German for the amazing pictures.  Thanks to my lovely friend Karen for making the trip to come and see me finish and my Centurion Running team mates for their support over the weekend.

Sonic ran a blinder and finished in 21:14, with Charlie Sharpe in second in 22:47 and Lee Knight 3rd in 23:21.  I'd also like to say a huge congratulations to Beth who gave me a good run for my money and was hot on my heels in 25:44.  She's definitely one to watch.  It was lovely to see Nicky Taylor - who I shared a few miles with - take 3rd in 29:37.

The prize giving was amazing.  And not just because of the obvious.  I loved all the "special" awards for people's daftness on the course.  I can empathise with that.  The celebration of the newly engaged couple was magical.

Marc ended our presentation of awards with: "Can you imagine entering the race as a mixed team and then seeing the Consanis on the entry list"  Don't worry, folks.  That will never happen. One would finish and the other would be in a ravine.