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.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Holiday, hills and a cheeky half

Chilly at 4000metres
Matterhorn selfie
Our family summer holiday to Switzerland just happened to coincide with the Zermatt Marathon.  No one believes me when I said it was purely coincidental, but it's the god's honest truth.  As it was a sign, it would be rude not to partake surely?

The race series offers a marathon, half marathon and an ultra.  All with the same profile: Up, up and more up. I opted for the half.  Actually I only entered because of the profile - no pressure to run at a certain pace and I could use the hills to hide behind a rubbish finishing time.

When I finally decided to enter the race, they had already reached their 500 capacity.  One of the fantastic things the organisers offes, was an online entry exchange, so I managed to buy a place from a Czech girl who could no longer participate.

When I went to pick up the pack from race HQ in St Niklaus, I realised my race number had me in the very last starting pen.  I would have tried to change it, but then I remembered I'm no hill runner.  And I'm certainly not a half marathon runner.

The forecast for race day was thunder and lightening storms.  But even in Switzerland the forecast lies, as we were greeted with a beautiful sunny day. 

There was no compulsory kit for the race - even though I would have classed it as a mountain race - so it felt a bit alien rocking up with only a hankie and a gel in my pocket.

Sonic and Cairn were going to get the train to the finish in Riffenberg, so I said my goodbyes and went off to join the joggers pen.  Not without stopping to join the queue for the portaloos for the 27th time. A lady asked to jump in the queue because spotted my remedial class green start number and she was donning the super-fast red race number and would be starting soon.  I took great joy in passing her at around mile four of the race ;-) 

The race starts with loop of Zermatt and then it hit the trails. It's certainly a cheeky course.  I don't recall every going uphill for so long without some kind of respite.

The great thing about starting in the last pen was that I spent the whole race passing people.  Like most races, the majority go off too fast and blow up quickly, so that added to the ease of picking off runners.   I was using a run/walk play run strategy.  2 x 40 breaths of running and 1 x 40 breaths of stomping.  I found it more efficient and passed loads of people who were continuously running in the process.

Thankfully with the profile of the race, no one tried to speak to me.  So I didn't have that awkward moment of having to tell people - who are most likely fluent in many languages - that I'm your typical ignorant Brit and can only speak one. Badly.

I really enjoyed the race.  All good training too. Even that nasty sting in the tail.  I finished 17th gal in 2 hrs 36, which I was pleased with.  Especially with 4418ft (1347 metres) of ascent.  Of the 483 starters 203 were female, which is I think is a great representation for the ladies.

I would highly recommend the race.  Great course and amazing scenery.  How can you beat the Matterhorn as a back drop? And it's fabulously organised. There are even shower cabins at the finish line - at the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.  Plus, if you're at the sharp end, there's some serious prize money up for grabs.

Results here


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Ultimate Direction Body Bottle

At first I thought soft flasks were a giant stride for trail kit, but I fell out of love with the Salomon ones. On paper, they are fantastic - there's no swooshing sounds or bruised ribs from hard bottles and they are super lightweight - but I had problems with them leaking.  They leaked all over my rucksack, car seat and down my clothes.  Even without pressure.   Plus, they only fit inside the Salomon sack, which I also gave up on.  Granted, they were designed for the Salomon pack, but even when using that, one fell out during a run and I didn't notice.  They're not exactly cheap, so you definitely don't want to loose any.

When I bought the Ultimate Direction pack back in September, I stuck with the bottles that came with the pack.  It might take a bit more work to get the fluid out of the kicker valve, but they're 100% leak proof.  They're not just great for runners, but for kids too!  Especially if you've got one like mine, who spills everything and leaves juice bottles leaking on the back seat of the car. 

But they still swoosh - and I have noise issues! - so when I first saw the design of the Ultimate Direction Body Bottles, I was quite excited.  They've taken what's brilliant about soft flasks and perfected them with a hi-flow bite valve. 

I was expecting great things from them.  And after trying them for the first time at the weekend, they did not disappoint.  Ultimate Direction have rekindled my love of the soft flask. 

The technie bit...

Price: £13.50
Weight: 1.08 oz / 30g
Fluid Capacity: 14.2 oz / 420 mL
Material: BPA-Free TPU
Clear - you can see how much fluid is left
Collapsible - is only as large as the liquid being carried
Pliable - conforms to any shape
Cleanable - can be placed in dishwasher
Cap - Hi-Flow Bite Valve

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Lessons learned on the track


  • The track isn't that boring.  Unfortunately that probably means that's because I am
  • Changing direction will blow your mind
  • People who hog the inside lane are annoying
  • I hogged the inside lane, therefore I am annoying
  • Banging on the toilet door to hurry up a spectator is probably inappropriate behaviour
  • Maw Broon's caramel shortcake is awesome
  • Chia Charge bars are tasty, calorie dense and easy to eat
  • I didn't need the 20 snack/protein bars I packed.  Two was suffice
  • People Boys go off like rockets and die
  • Even though it was raining at the start, putting on suncream is still a good idea
  • Toenails can just pop off without any warming
  • Focussing on lap time is easier to deal with mentally, than race time and distance
  • I struggle with an Irish accent.  Sorry, Aodhagan, I just smiled and nodded
  • Most runners probably didn't understand my Glasgow accent and just smiled and nodded
  • The six hour race starting in the middle of the 12 hour is very exciting
  • For about 20 minutes and then you want them off the track
  • People run together.  Leo and Dan ran the whole way together.  And I only overheard one girlie spat
  • It's the most time Sonic and I have spent together this year - when he lapped me 40 times
  • Lapped races are the only kind of races when you get to interact with everyone
  • Lap counters have a really tough job
  • I have more in the tank than I think
  • I'm a real drama.  Check me slumped on the track in tears.  Sonic ran 10 miles more than me and he's neither here nor there
  • I don't need an ipod.  I made a bit of a song and dance when the race organisers cited the ban as a UKA rule.  It's not.  My first words to Pam, RD was "it pains me to say this, but not having an ipod made me focus on just running"
  • Distractions are not necessary a good thing
  • I found myself getting defensive when someone on a social media site called the race "pointless"
  • Even though I know it's "pointless"

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Crawley 12 Hour Track Race

There's not really much you can say about a 12-hour track race in Crawley, is there? Somehow I've managed to talk at considerable lengths about it though.  Cutting the trailers, here's the short version: 1st lady with 129km/80miles. 2nd overall. Course record. Scottish record.  And a second world best for 2014

And now the tea-and-biscuit version...

I'll be honest, this race wasn't on my bucket list.  Or any list for that matter.  I had floated the idea of doing a 12 hour race - and I had unfinished business with the track - but I wasn't overexcited about going to Crawley.  Granted a track's a track.  But the scheduled GB team meeting/training weekend clashed with the other races that I did have a burning urge to do.  I did train properly for it and it was always an A-race, but I was in a bit of a huff about doing it.  Am I back tracking on that a bit now? You bet. 

Check us out,  just joking around ;-)
The race was the first time that Sonic and I would go head-to-head in quite a few years.  He did say that we were running in different races, but I know he had moments of mild panic.    We all know he would run circles around me and he quite literally did.  But on paper, I was his biggest threat and me beating him would be his biggest nightmare.

Sonic was taking on the race three weeks after her fantastic run at the Glasgow Edinburgh Ultramarathon. He set a new record on the 55 course in 6:19.  A mere 55 minutes ahead of second place in a very pedestrian 6:52m/m average pace. I was secretly (or not) hoping that his exertions would have taken it's toll, but in reality his confidence would reign supreme on race day.  He had been - as my colleague would say -  "walking about like a dog with two d*cks" since, well, Tooting. Crude, but apt. 

As previously mentioned we were there for a GB 24 hour team gathering.  Despite the grey cloud of having to churn out some laps on the track, it was great to catch up with the troops.  And BrotherSonic and Gillian had come over from Bournemouth my gorgeous little nephew, Luca.  Socially, it was always going to be a top-notch weekend.

On the Friday evening, we had a  team meeting to discuss various points from last year's 24 hour World Championships and plans for this year's championships.  At the time the only information that we had - after the event in the Czech Republic was cancelled - was it may or may not be rescheduled to take place in Taiwan later in the year.  

On race morning, the rain was pouring and the trees were bending in the wind outside the hotel room.  Less than ideal for an exposed track, but the forecast had promised fairer conditions from mid morning.  So, I covered myself in factor 50 before starting the race in a rain jacket and gloves and donning a sun visor. Fashion a la Scottish summer style.

At the start line.  Actually can I call it the start line, when it was the same line I crossed every two minutes for 12 hours?  Anyway at the line, I was nervous.  My heart rate was through the roof.  Way more than I expected to be.  I think it's down to the fact I don't race enough.  I don't do races as training runs.  Or training runs as race for that matter.  I even get the jitters doing my local Parkrun.

BrotherSonic had kindly volunteered to do my support, but I didn't have a plan for him. At the end of the day I would only be a couple of minutes away from another lap, so I was just going to shout up requests for the next time around.  It worked perfect.  Plus, I was using the race to test all the ideas that I never got the chance to try at the Barcelona 24. Or in my case, the Barcelona 12km.

I only had one goal. There was no bronze, silver or gold, just one.  To run 130km (81 miles), which worked out at 325 in total/ 27 laps per hour/2:13 per lap.

I'm not going to give you the lap-by-lap account, or even the hour-by-hour version, but running around a track is a lot easier than I thought it would be.  To be fair, races do always seem easier when the stars align for you on that given day, don't they?

Physically, I knew I was in OK shape.  But more importantly, on race day, my head was in a good place.  I was certainly happier being there than I have been on any of my 24-hour races. I wouldn't go as far as to say I really enjoyed it, but I was very content in the moment.  I didn't think about the distance or the clock. Only each lap/hour.

Even in the latter stages there was no stressing and frustration and willing the race to end (which is the norm for me).  There was no killing time (also the norm).  I was focussed on lap splits to the bitter end.

This is a display of my lap splits.  The red dots (or slow laps) were: First, removing all warm/waterproofs and then three toilet breaks.


My friend and GB team mate Karen Hathaway kept me on my toes for the whole day.  Jeez, I nearly caused myself internal injuries not going to the toilet as often as I should have, as I deemed this as a luxury I couldn't afford :-) She ran a brilliant and very even-paced race.  I suppose on paper it looks closer that it was, but it took me the whole 12 hours to build up to that < 2km lead.

At around nine hours (I think!) it was announced that the 24 hour World Championship had been confirmed for Taiwan and this really spurred Karen on.  She had a real power hour, which quite frankly put the shitters up me. I knew I had lapped her every two hours, so I had to at least match her lap for lap to keep my position. From previously races, I knew that Karen really comes into her own in the final stages, so I couldn't rest on my laurels.

During the 11th hour I knew I would comfortably break the (unofficial) Scottish 12 hour record and informed BrotherSonic of this.  Then there was a little kerfuffle amongst the support crews as - I later discovered - they were frantically trying to confirm what the British record.  I didn't know what the record was, who had it or when it was set.  Nothing.  It hadn't even crossed my mind before or during the race, as I just assumed it was so far out of my reach.  

Turns out the record belonged to Eleanor Robinson - one of the GB 24 hour team officials - who was on the sidelines that day.  She set the record of 128km (79 miles) in 1985 and it'sstood for nearly 30 years!


Then with a little over 20 minutes to go, BrotherSonic told me I needed to complete another nine laps to beat the British record. Calculating that in my already frazzled brain meant that I'd have to run my fastest laps to get it.  It's amazing what your body can do when pushed, because I ended up doing nearly 11 laps to clear the record by 771 metres.   Eleanor was very gracious about it and has since sent me a lovely email to congratulate me. 

The support from those on the sidelines and the runners within the race was amazing.  I apologise for anyone who felt bullied out of the way as I charged around in he latter stages.  OK, in my head I was charging.  But, visually, think Chief Brody in the get-out-of-the-water scene in Jaws. 

Sonic joined me for the last lap, despite my request for him to leave me. He's kicking himself now though, as he lost out on the world best second place by two metres!!  He maintains that he was happy to join me for the British record moment, but I knew if he were to do it again, he wouldn't be sitting in third just now!   He had a great race though and set a new course record of 90 miles.  

So there you have it.  The Condensed version.  Big thanks for BrotherSonic for being brilliant on support. It can't be a coincidence that he was on duty for the GUCR, TP100 and Crawley 12, so he is now officially my lucky charm.  Thanks to Pam Storey and the race officials who put on a great show.  And to the Crazy German for chipping in and taking such great photos. 

Lap times. Click to view
The most impressive feat of endurance had to come from our lap counter, Sharon Herbert.  Sharon had the unenviable task of counting laps for BOTH Sonic and I.  And we're not talking ticking a box.  Our laps sheets have race time per lap and lap splits.  My head hurts just thinking about all the numbers.  Plus, she didn't even take so much as a comfort break. She was there every time I passed.  Amazing! Thank you, Sharon.

It was a great day out.  The nicest thing about a track race is having the opportunity to speak to everyone in race and meet lots of lovely people.  

Full results here

Well done to everyone who took part in the six-hour race too. Especially to Adam (winner) and Emily, Fionna and the GM who were 1st, 2nd and 3rd ladies respectively.

I'm off to run about on some hills now.  I've had my fill of track for one year. 

Friday, 28 February 2014

Hoka Clifton review (Available August 2014)

Hoka have come a long way since I first clapped eyes on the super soles back in 2010.   Love them or hate them, there's no denying their huge increase in popularity and dominance in the niche market of maximalist shoes.   Even popular brands such as Brooks and New Balance and lifestyle footwear manufacture Sketchers have introduced new models which look suspiciously like Hoka to me.
(Clockwise: Conquest (top), Bondi 3 and Kailua)

Last year, the introduction of the Rapa Nui and Kailua appealed to running shoe traditionalists, looking for a more toned-down version of the plush-riders.  

This year, it's all changed again. The Conquest Tarmac,  Bondi 3 and Kailua Trail will be available from next month and I'll be first in the queue to try them out.

In meantime, I was lucky enough to receive a pair of the still-in-progress Hoka Clifton to test. Available in the UK from August, 2014.


They look nice and cushioned, don't they?

Would you believe me if I told you these size 5.5 weighed 193 grams (6.8 oz) ?  Didn't think so, so I did a photo comparison between the Hoka Clifton and the ridiculously light Adidas Adizero Adios.




Shocked?  Me too.  I know it's only one gram, but it's hard to believe that a cushioned shoe could be lighter than a racing shoe.  And they are so comfortable.  It's like wearing slippers made of fresh air.

I'll be honest, although I'm a Hoka gal, I do mix up my footwear.  Any competitive runner will know that there's no one shoe fits all when your training schedule calls for a variety of sessions and terrains.  Originally, Hoka were most suited to super distance runs and races, but the new models will change that.  The brand even have a sponsored track runner!

Watch more videos on Flotrack

Even True minimalists and lightweighters who tsk at the mere site of a chunky sole could fall head over their low-drop heels with the launch of the new Clifton.

Friday, 17 January 2014

UltraRunning magazine now available in the UK

There have been many times when I've nearly hit the "subscribe" button for the UltraRunning magazine.  I already subscribe to Runner's World, Running Fitness and Trail Running, so what's one more?  However, I've always been put off by the $100 annual subscription fee.   Even when I selflessly considered getting it for Sonic for a Birthday/Christmas gift.

But fret not, it's now available in the UK from the ULTRAmarathonRuningStore.  With no hefty upfront costs.   Click here for info

Here's the marketing bit..."Serving a loyal market of long-distance runners since 1981, UltraRunning magazine has long been established as “the voice of the sport”. Containing comprehensive and informative articles about all aspects of the sport of ultramarathoning, UltraRunning is a must-read for all who participate in the sport.  UltraRunning magazine is an invaluable resource for ultrarunners – experienced, new and aspiring endurance athletes seeking to go beyond the marathon. We provide helpful and entertaining content to ultrarunners, and measure our success by the accomplishments of our readers, and ultimately by the growth of the sport"

I received a copy this morning and I'm really impressed.  It's no flick-through read.  It's more like a book, so can safely justify the cover price.  Plus, it's completely different from my other magazine subscriptions.  

The January/February 2014 issue features: Rob Krar, Men's Ultrarunner of the Year; Are you tough enough? by Dean Karnazes ; 100-mile prep by Ian Sharman and ultra/life balance by Ellie Greenwood to name a few - as well as top race reports and product reviews. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Gear of the year 2013

These are the products that got my seal of approval in 2013...



Ultimate Direction SJ Race Vest was the best purchase of the year.  Although I previously confessed my undying love for the Salomon S-lab, I have huge issues with the clips when my hands are cold. As my jaunts don't frequent fairer climes, this is a big problem for me.  I swithered for months about buying the UD pack. Mainly because I'd already bought the Salomon, but also because the GM had the one.  It's bad enough that we look like Mary-Kate and Ashley by default, without purposely kitting out in the same gear. Anyway, I caved and it was a great decision. 


Weighing in at a teeny 212 grams and providing 9.2 litres (it's like a tardis in there!), it's perfect for long training runs and races.  As it's so light, I don't use a bottle belt for medium-distance runs any more.  It's a really well thought out product with compartments and pockets for everything you will need on a day's run. It's doesn't bounce, rustle, rub and fits like a glove.  Even on ladies who are less blessed around the chest, like me.


LED Lenser SEO7R head torch is another gem. I'm not very technical, so I'll save myself the embarrassment and just tell you how I see it.   The beam is fantastic.  It weighs next to nothing, so I'm more likely to carry it as emergency kit on training runs.   It can be used with 3xAAA batteries, but also comes with rechargeable lithium battery pack. So, you save a fortune on expensive batteries.  Especially if you're like me and replace batteries that don't need replacing just to be on the safe side.  Plus, because it's rechargeable I use it more on runs that I probably wouldn't bother with during winter nights.   And it's only priced at around £70.  Bargain!


Montane Mountain Minimus Jacket is one my favourite bits of kit.  It's ultra lightweight and packable, so perfect for a day on the trails. I also wear it quite often on my daily running commute.  With only one base layer underneath it's perfect for winter mornings.  I feel really comfortable without overheating two miles into the run.

HOKA Rapa Nui and Kailua:  I've been a Hoka fan for a couple of years now and the Rapa Nui (trail) and Kailua (road) are my favourites. My endorsement has more credibility when I can say I bought these - and raved about them - before I became a Hoka sponsored athlete though!  I'm quite excited about trying out the new Conquest Tarmac in the spring though.


Hoka and Dirty Girl Gaiters
Drymax socks: Running in the UK, I've certainly put my Drymax through the wringer.  The range includes socks for different weather and conditions.  As previously documented I went from blister-plagued to blister free on the very wet and muddy Thames Path 100, using the Lite Mess No Show  and for warmer termperatures the Drymax Hot Weather Mini Crew are fantastic.  For really wet and cold weather the Drymax Maximum Protection Running Socks are in a league of their own.  I know, it's a wonder I have time to run at all with all the dilemmas I face before even getting out of the door!

Dirty Girl GaitersI'm a gal who likes to accessorise, so the these are right up my street. Plus, there serve a pretty good purpose and stop little nasties getting into your shoes.  Double bonus.  

Lansinoh Lanolin: This is my new must-have for feet and areas prone to chaffing. Yes, it's for breastfeeding Mother's cracked nipples, but it works a treat.  The small tube is also light enough to carry on long runs and races. This one retails around £10 (available from Boots), but supermarkets do their own cheaper version. I have used one from Asda. which is only £5. Lanolin is Lanolin after all.

Engo Blister Patches:  I used these for the first time during the Lakeland 100 and didn't have any issues with my feet. Of course, this is only one part of my foot care regime.   The Engo Patches are different in that they are applied to the inside of the shoe - not too skin.   There are proven to last over 300 miles, but mine last the duration of the Rapa Nui, which was about 500 miles.  Not cheap for what they are, but worth a look.
Pulsin Protein Bars are my new favourite training snack. They are the only junk free (and tasty) protein bars that I've came across. Made with whey and pea protein isolates, Pulsin's Maple Protein Bars contain 15 grams of protein. And certainly the only one I could find without sweeteners.   Click here for ingredients.  Plus, they're vegetarian, gluten free, no added sugar, no trans fat and non GMO.  You might be a bit dubious the first time you try one, but after that it's like a nice bar of chocolate. 

Bounce's Coconut & Macadamia Protein Balls are a little bit of heaven. I see them more of a treat, that something you have to endure for energy on a run.  Although I'm not sure I could eat them during a race, as the chewing would be an endurance event in itself. Still very tasty though. 

Accelerade Energy Gels are perfect for racing.   Personally I don't use gels or sugar for training runs, but I used these for the Lakeland 100 and Glencoe Marathon. Accelerade contain 4:1 carbohydrate and protein.  They are the only running gels on the market that protein, with 5g in each pack. There are some interesting favours such as strawberry kiwi and key lime and raspberry cream.  The chocolate and expresso flavours also contain 100mg of caffeine.