Ever Changing Scenery

I suffered a serious lapse of self-control over the Easter weekend. And no, I’m not even talking about the inexcusable amounts of chocolate eggs I have annihilated. Here’s what really happened: four days off work, mixed with the most beautiful spring weather, sprinkled with the threat of a looming ultramarathon was all it took to turn me into a temporary binge runner.

The first run was a long trail run on the coastal path; I loved rolling out of bed and simply hitting the trail until I felt like jumping ship, at which point I headed for the road and jumped on a homeward bound bus. Saturday was parkrun day, and my legs were so fresh they even had a PB in them. It was a lovely day for it, as it also happened to be the second anniversary of my local parkrun. As such, there was much cake eating and rejoicing with the totally awesome people that make St. Andrews parkrun the fantastic event that it is!

Sunday saw me back on the amazing Cateran trail, for more exploration of the ultramarathon route. This time, I went on my own, and although the going was tough, I enjoyed every moment of it. Yes, even the bit where I got lost in a swamp and power hiking was all I could do to ensure that my shoes would stay attached to my feet. There’s learning in that, too, I am sure!

SONY DSC(Loch Beanie, near the Shoe-Stealing-Swamp-of-Doom)

On Monday morning, I joined a real ultramarathon runner for another 18 mile run in a local Nature Reserve. My legs still felt surprisingly good, but general fatigue was finally and predictably nipping at my heels. It was a challenging run, but I’m glad I did it.

All in all, I ran 96km over the four day weekend. The only explanation I can offer to explain the fact that I felt perfectly fine on Tuesday morning is that my legs were so traumatised that they simply stopped talking to me. Still, I’m sure that they are grateful for the little (relative) rest they are getting right now.

As I am typing this, I’ve put said legs up on a very cosy sofa of a holiday cottage on the west coast of Scotland. While I’m here on business (I’m attending a training course on animal assisted therapies – it’s awesome!), I can’t help but feel that this is almost a mini vacation. For a start, I’m waking up to this view every morning:

cumbrae

This cosy little cottage also happens to be fully decked out with maps and hiking guides for the area, which I continue to study vigorously. Naturally, you can expect another post about my explorunning upon my return to civilisation (and a stable internet connection)!

I hope you are all having a great week, too!

Advertisements

Ultra Grateful

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.”

– Greg Anderson

I think everyone here would agree that running is mental, in every possible way. Does it follow then, than ultramarathon running is ultra mental? I guess I’m about to find out.

I admit that when I first looked at my training schedule for the next twelve weeks in its entirety, I promptly had to spend the next few minutes breathing rapidly into a paper bag. The usual “what I have done?” freak-out had definitely taken on ultra proportions.

However, as with all things in life, I’ve once again found that everything is temporary if you give it enough time. Now that I’m two weeks into my ultramarathon training, I couldn’t be more excited about finding myself in all the weird and wonderful places this journey is yet to take me.

Sadly, a significant contributing factor to this change in attitude has been a very sombre event. Ten days ago I lost someone very dear to me in a cruel car accident. I can’t say that I’ve come to terms with the loss at all yet, but for now this brutal reminder of the finality of life has made me all the more adamant to live mine to the fullest.

Right now, I can’t think of anything that makes me feel more alive and happy than being in the wilderness. It’s beautiful, powerful, healthy and life-affirming. It gives me space to think and breathe. And with the arrival of spring, the trails have never felt more wonderful and alive. As such, I’m really happy that the looming ultramarathon in June is only another reason for me to spend much time on the wicked and wonderful trails that Scotland has to offer.

But there’s more to any running training than merely clocking the miles, of course. One of the best parts of spending much time alone in the wilderness is that I keep getting to know myself a little bit better every time. By venturing further than ever before, even after 10 years of running, I’m not only learning valuable new things about how my mind and body work on the run, but also about the extremes of feeling tired, content, ecstatic, fed up, and all the other emotions that come out in the safe solitude that mother nature offers.

By definition, endurance events should involve an aspect of carrying on regardless of feeling a various degrees of fatigue, ranging from weary legs to a full blown death-grip bonk. In those battles, the mind can be either a dangerous master or a beautiful servant. In shorter races, I find that my usual strategy for dealing with any signs of trouble is to keep telling myself that it’ll be over soon al while clinging on until the bitter end. However, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that in an ultramarathon this strategy would at best result in an abysmally miserable run, and at worst – and far more likely – result in the sobbing mess of a runner in need of urgent trailside rescue (and possibly therapy). Of course I accept that parts of the run (and life!) will be gloomy, but also that it’s up to me to banish the negative thoughts over and over again. In that sense, running is once again a great metaphor for life.

My recent brush with the frailty of life has reminded me of something very important, which I am sure can help me out in darker times. At the moment, I am just grateful to be able to run at all: grateful to have this life, grateful for my health, grateful to live in such a beautiful place, grateful for this powerful body that puts up with all the nonsense I inflict upon it, and ultimately, incredibly grateful for this opportunity to run and learn and grow.

If this all sounds very fatalistic or depressing, let me assure you, it’s not. In fact, when I did a terrible job at awkwardly trying to explain all of this to a wonderfully eloquent friend this morning, he eventually described it as “relentless positivity”. It sure works for me!

I hope you are all moving forward as well, whatever your purpose or pace. 🙂

parkrunnin_birthday

(A relentless optimist on the run:

contemplating the meaning of life while clocking a parkrun PB of 22:10 this morning)

That Happy Place

My happy place is a wonderful place to be; everything is fluffy and warm there and the sun always shines. It’s the place where I go to in my head when life hands me lemons and the juicer is broken. Yesterday, I spent the better part of 1 hour and 44 minutes hanging out there while running the St. Andrews Half Marathon.

My single biggest mistake was lining up at the start in the first place. You see, I had registered for the race many months ago, long before I started to go steady with this ultramarathon beast. It just so happened that I did a 24 mile trail training run the day before running the St. Andrews Half Marathon.

But because I clearly have an affinity for acts of futility and because my legs were feeling alright, I decided to make my way to the start line regardless and see what happens. After all, if I didn’t try this, how would I ever know whether or not a 5 hour trail run the day before is a winning strategy for an endurance race?

The event itself was complete chaos*; the whole thing was so poorly organised it had blasted right through the borders of the land of ridiculousness and had settled somewhere in the world of great entertainment value. With this being a local race, there were many familiar faces and we shared many a giggle about the latest race day calamity. But really, when has a little mayhem and complete disregard for basic health and safety ever been able to eclipse the fun of running with good friends and being cheered on by others?

My legs continued to feel pretty good as I was busy running my laps and going loopy on the beach in St. Andrews. However and predictably, after blowing all my fuel on the trails the day before, there was nothing in the tank for me to run on. There was no power in the engine, and when I commanded my legs to turn over a little faster shortly after the half-way point, they simply handed over their P45s.

I was bonking pretty hard, and the water station’s untimely demise also put an end to my chances of wolfing down an energy gel. Physically, I was totally spent and running on empty.

But mentally, interesting things were starting to happen. I’d like to say that I have experiencing something akin to an epiphany, but I wouldn’t rule out exhaustion-induced hallucinations either. Mentally, I felt strong – while there was none of the joy usually associated with running, I did feel a quiet determination in my mind to win the battle against the empty tank and disobedient legs. I thought a lot about the ultra challenge ahead, and what it really means to run an endurance race. I have accepted that the whole essence of endurance is that things will get tough and uncomfortable, and that I have to learn to keep going regardless. And that’s precisely what I am training for. With that in mind, I simply embraced the run for what it was – a valuable experience – and told myself that all I had to do was to keep going.

But then all these stubborn and inconsequential thoughts about training made way to a much more important and meaningful realisation. I suddenly thought about all of those people who can’t do what I’m doing. My thoughts turned to loved ones who are no longer with me. I thought about friends and family who are battling devastating illnesses and are fighting every day for the energy to make it through the day. Then I thought about my injured running friends. And that’s when I realised how lucky I am. I didn’t have to keep going – I was able to keep going. I am able to run, and in that moment that was the greatest privilege of them all.

Of course the official times for the race aren’t published yet, and I’m not holding my breath for any remotely meaningful information to ever be released. My sportswatch informed me that I crossed the finish line after 1:44 and that the course was 21.78 km in length. Physically, it was one of the hardest runs I have ever gutted out. I’m so glad that I did it though, because I have learned something very important. This particular run has made me fully realise that it’s gratitude that brings me happiness.

St. Andrews Half

 (A tired, but happy me arriving at – or near – the finish line)

 ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The organisation of the St. Andrews Half Marathon was very reliable and consistent: the organisers unfailingly messed up on virtually all aspects of the racing experience. Personal favourites included several changes to the start time and route in the days leading up to the event, and the fact that the start line was still being assembled when the official start time came and went. We did eventually start by running into a field of parked cars and then the route took us straight into oncoming traffic. There were a total of three marshals on the entire route and the aid station promptly ran out of water.

The half marathon route was changed more times that I can shake a stick at, and on the day it involved running four laps of the 5km route, which actually turned out to be close to 22 km in length. That’s if you actually ran four laps of the course, because nobody was counting. Really, I couldn’t make this up. I felt so sorry for the first time runners. At the end of the day, I’m just really happy that nobody came to any harm.

Off The Trails

I’m writing this post from my bed, where I’ve put my feet up and am enjoying a glass of red wine; it’s a perfect ending to an amazing day. After a brutally early start and a few hours of driving into a very grey morning, I met up with three friends in Blairgowrie at the start of the Cateran Trail in the Scottish Highlands. Today, we embarked on a reconnaissance run of the first section of the trail, which we will attempt to run in its 54 mile entirety in June.

cateran gate

As soon as we stretched our legs out on the trail, the clouds were blown away by a formidable wind, which although it was responsible for a tougher start to our run than any of us would have liked, also cleared the way for the sun to brighten up the awesome and ever-changing views.

cateran run me

The trail winds its way through three distinct glens, and took us through the some wonderful and wonderfully Scottish scenery. We ran through open farmland and quaint little granite villages, jumped over several little streams and crossed others via bouncy wooden bridges, and enjoyed some shelter from the wind in old pine forests. We crossed wide open stretches of dark, reddish-brown heather, bordered by snow-capped mountains which grew larger and larger on the horizon as we made our way towards them. We eventually climbed over one mountain pass before descending into Spittal of Glenshee, our final destination for the day. We swiftly proceeded to reflect upon our 24 miles of trail running over a round of hot chocolates from the local hotel bar. I know, how hardcore are we, right?

cateran running

As a recce run for the ultramarathon, it has done nothing but inspired me completely. After running the first 10 km or so into the wind, I was feeling so good that I wanted to run the whole trail immediately. Thankfully (or unfortunately?), my comrades weren’t so keen on the idea.

20140412_150556

Having said all of these lovely things, it wasn’t an easy run. The trail is rarely flat and was often wet and boggy under foot. I learned that while salted nuts, crackers and jelly beans work well for me nutrition wise, chocolate macaroons shall be adamantly avoided in future. After running the 24 miles, I was happy to give my legs a rest and to warm my hands on my mug of hot chocolate. However, in less than three months’ I’ll have to keep going for another 30 miles in order to complete the challenge. This is not just going to be a personal journey, I’m also doing this run for a good cause; namely to raise money for ABF The Soldier’s Charity, which gives support to soldiers and their families. If you would like to sponsor me, you can do so here and earn my eternal gratitude!

Cateran Waterfall

Right now, I’ll keep resting my feet, as I’m registered to run the St. Andrews Half Marathon in the morning. It would, of course, be completely idiotic to run it, but since idiocy is a particular speciality of mine, I’ll probably make an appearance. I’m not expecting a fast run at all, in fact, I fully anticipate to run on wooden legs. Let’s see how how far they are willing to carry me, shall we?

Runners – We Get Each Other

Last week, I made a mistake when I dared to moan about how busy that particular week was turning out to be. Little did I know that it was merely a warm-up for this current week, and I am now suffering minor calamities on all fronts in my life. However, I am happy to report that I’m still, somehow, standing in the middle of it all. Unfortunately thought, in between keeping all the fires in my life under control (at times literally!) I simply haven’t found the time/words/sanity to compose a remotely coherent blog post.

However, while my life keeps on merrily getting in the way of everything, I am by no means inactive. Waking up on Monday morning with a trapped nerve in my back, a glorious morning run turned accidental bonk training, the official start of my ultramarathon training cycle, running in shorts and a vest and feeling delightfully warm in the evening sun, getting excited about the first reconnaissance run of the ultra trail route this Saturday and debating just how stupid it would be to race a half marathon the day after a 24 mile trail run are just some of the things going in on my running life that are all worthy of their own blog posts.

Runners get each other

However, while I was busy not blogging, the wonderful community of running bloggers has reached out to me regardless. Firstly, I was surprised and delighted to find that I was one of the top three distance runners in Kylabee’s Around the World Running Blog Relay. I absolutely love following and contributing to this event – it’s great to see how far we are running together! I received a surprise e-mail from Kyla asking for my address, as she wants to send me a little something in the mail – I’m really touched and super excited about that!

Secondly, you might remember from earlier posts that Tartan Jogger and I exchanged our running tunes a few weeks ago and had a lot of fun in the process. We are now swapping with two other running bloggers, Kylabee and the Running Princess. I have received an mp3 player full of running tunes and pampering kit from the Running Princess this week, and let me tell you: it’s so awesome! She’s an electric girl and my feet have never been happier with all the pampering they have received thanks to the goodies she has sent!

Allison(Goody bag from the Running Princess)

There are several other bloggers who I’d love to personally acknowledge here for their friendship and support, and I’m thinking that this is the stuff for yet another post that I shall write when I happen to stumble upon a little pocket of free time. I have no words to describe how amazing this community of running bloggers is – thank you all so much for your supreme awesomeness!

Finally, there was yet another little running surprise in store for me today. I was enjoying the current copy of Runner’s World Magazine while soaking in a post-run bath this evening, when I happened to read about… myself?

RW (That’s me in the bottom right bubble)

Apparently, I’m now a public calamity (and oddity). I really had no idea that Facebook comments could end up published in the magazine, but it certainly made me giggle!

Still Standing

This past week, my life has been completely taken over by my other big hobby:

Palera

It’s been one hell of a week, involving amongst other things much carrot cake, a few tears, more logistics than I can shake a stick at, a horse that saved the day and a very successful classical dressage demonstration evening.

I stayed with a friend all week and in between organising everything, running just wasn’t anywhere near the top of my priority list. I just tiptoed out her front door and fitted in a sneaky run in whenever I could – she stays in a beautiful place, so it was easy to just cruise out of her house and into the woods! I realised that I didn’t think of the runs in terms of my training at all, there were no thoughts of time, distance, pace, intervals, etc. Instead, I ran when I needed a bit of space and quiet time to myself.

I was therefore very surprised when I found that I had still managed to sneak in a total of 67 km of zen running over the course of the week (all of which will all go towards Kyla’s Around the World Running Blog Relay).

There are two things which I know for certain: I’m definitely still standing and I’m absolutely not standing still.

Still Standing