Mind the Map

You guys, I’ve gone and done it again. I’ve gotten lost. And this time, I don’t just mean to say that I got lost on my long run again (although that happened, too!). Instead I seem to have gotten a bit lost in this beautiful spring and life in general. It’s all good though. I think I’ll call it wander lost.

One side effect of this wander lost is that I haven’t found the time to update my blog in ages, even though I’ve experienced, seen and realised much that I would love to share.

Last weekend, for example, I went on a Hebridean island-hopping long run. My journey took me from the mainland to three different islands and involved five ferry crossings. The views were just stunning; sleepy fishing boats, sea birds, the occasional seal and more mountainous islands shrouded in mist on the horizon. I spent almost the entire day travelling and on my feet that day, although I only ran for four hours and covered just over 40 kilometres. The best part was that it didn’t feel like a long training run at all; instead it felt like a real adventure.

20140426_110432(Views from the long run, looking out towards Arran)

On Tuesday night, I commemorated my return home from the west coast of Scotland by running another accidental half marathon. I had only set out to run about 10km on the cold and misty evening, but bumped into a running buddy on my way home and couldn’t help myself but join him for more of the same again. It’s been a lovely reminder how mental milestones can be shifted.

Fog Coast(A foggy evening on the coast, near Crail)

Yesterday, I had to travel to Stirling for work. The downside of this is that it means a painfully early start to my day. However, this is more than made up for by the fact that the drive home takes me past the lovely Ochil mountain range in central Scotland. Thus, I ran up the Mill Glen, straight up to the peak of the Law (in fairness, this part of the route involves significantly more scrambling and power-hiking rather than running), and then over to the summits of Ben Cleuch and Ben Ever. While descending from Ben Ever, I set a new personal record; by adopting a running style that can only be described as a renegade miniature human windmill impersonation, I not only struck terror into the hearts of sheep all over the mountain, but also ran my fastest kilometre of the year so far, in 3:26. My quads hate me today, but it was totally worth it!

20140502_151019(Looking east from the summit of Ben Cleuch)

Tomorrow I am heading back up to the Cateran trail for more proper ultramarathon long run training. In the rain. I genuinely can’t wait!

Finally, I came across this nifty heat map of popular running routes around the world today. I immediately consulted it to find out if others are privy to what I believe to be my very own secret running places. Apart from looking really pretty, I think this map could be very useful at times. For example, if I ever really want to run on my own (say, when I have just been to see my horse and haven’t had a shower), it could direct me to places where I’d be highly unlikely to encounter another runner. The local motorway, for instance.

I hope you are all doing well and are enjoying the spring as much as I am.

20140502_143350(Spring in Mill Glen)



On the Long Run

Oh, Sunday morning – in my world, that means one thing: long run! And what a glorious day it was today; in the midst of the cold, grey Scottish winter the sun managed to melt away the clouds for the morning and even the wind was howling with less vigour that before.

Today, I ran out of my front door and along the Fife Coastal Path for 20 miles. I absolutely loved the feeling of going on a running journey – while circular runs are very convenient, it’s always a bit frustrating to run for three or four hours only to finish where I’ve started. The only downside to the point-to-point run was that I had to catch a bus back home, but it wasn’t all bad – while waiting for the bus, I had time to grab a massive sandwich and a Chai Tea Latte – heaven! The ground conditions on the coastal path were ever changing and ranged from harbour roads and crossing flat, bouncy grass tracks to staggering through deep sand and unrunnable scrambles over slippery rocks on the shore. I took each hurdle as it came and stayed happy and relaxed the whole way, as evidenced by the fact that I kept stopping to take photographs:

Heading to the trail:


Is it just me, or is this just asking to be run?


I passed several pretty fishing villages:


Stopped to admire the views:


This came out of nowhere – I suspect  that I took a wrong turn somewhere and ran into a fairytale…


Passing some interesting rock formations on the route:


This is where the going got tougher, but the end (St. Andrews) was in sight:


After 32 kilometres the sun was still shining on me:


When training for a marathon, my long runs involve running up to 35 km (or 22 miles) at a reasonably steady pace. In those runs, the goal is to keep moving forward, to dial into a pace and stick to it for the next 3 hours or so.

However, in preparation for the 88km ultramarathon in June, I’m aware that I’ll have to make some significant changes to my approach to running for a really long time. For a start, my long runs will have to get a lot longer; I’m hoping to clock several long runs of 6 hours and in excess of 50 kilometres before then. Right in this moment, even writing about those kind of distances makes me feel a little queasy! I’m sure that training my body to endure what I’m planning on inflicting upon it will be the relatively doable part – it’s the taming of the craziness that is my mind which leaves me feeling a little twitchy!

I’ll also have to take my long runs onto the trails a lot more often before the ultra. At the moment, I like to alternate my long runs between the roads and flat-ish trails and footpaths, which I find is a good combination to prepare me for a road marathon.

Finally, I’ll have to slow things down a lot. At the very least, there will be several pit stops on race day. Although the plan is to run the whole 88km, the reality is that there will of course be stretches that I’ll walk: necessitated, for instance, by particularly steep climbs, eating dinner on the go, giving sore muscles a stretch or break, or even the temporary surrender to fatigue. The idea of walking on long runs is new to me, and while I won’t have to practice the walking itself (duh!), I need to get used to the transition back to running as soon as possible. And I have no doubt that this will get increasingly harder with every passing mile!


What have you been up to this weekend? Did anyone else get to enjoy the surprisingly fantastic weather?

My Accidental Marathon

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh the places we go

I would like to propose another item to add to the infamous “death and taxes” list: the dreaded car service. But while the first two really are entirely dreadful and predictable, I have come to discover that there can be interesting and unintended consequences to the latter…

I had to take a day off work only to be stranded for the better part of that day in a town which I don’t like and wait for a certain car dealership to charge me a minor fortune before reuniting me with my vehicle. Sounds like a hoot, doesn’t it? Well actually, it was.

Rather than twiddling my thumbs all day over a good book and a series of lattes, I instead opted to go for a run. I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that running has the power to make everything a lot more fun – even dull cities and waiting to be robbed blind by a corporate giant. I hadn’t planned the run in any way; I decided this morning that I’ll go for a run and just grabbed my trainers, hydration pack, £5 and some good tunes.

I dropped off the car and then I ran. And ran. And ran some more. I meandered my way around the city, following a vague path from green space to green space, hoping to find some trails in the urban jungle. After I had passed the imaginary 20 kilometre marker, I felt worthy of a reward and briefly dashed into the next bakery, bought some cake and nibbled away at this over the course of the next kilometre or so. Eating a slice of carrot cake on a long run was a novel experiment in running nutrition and as such had the potential to go very wrong indeed. However, although it wasn’t the most practical thing to eat while moving, it proved to be great fuel for even more running. But after another 45 minutes had passed I felt renewed prangs of hunger, and briefly contemplated more cake. A bout of soul (or rather, stomach) searching, however, revealed that what I really craved was something savoury, so I made a beeline for the nearest supermarket and acquired a bag of crisps – the second experiment in running nutrition, with results comparable to the carrot cake case study. I also picked up a tried-and-tested chocolate bar to avoid the need for further pit stops.

With no news on the car and my body willing and able, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and continued my quest as a seeker of green spaces in a grey city. When the call finally came to inform me that my car was ready I had run 45km. By Pheidippides!

marathon thoughts

Okay, I admit that I just love the fact that I accidentally ran a marathon and a bit. However, once the sheepish schoolgirl giggles calmed down, there are a few important lessons which I have learned from this particular run:

1)      Long runs are all about having fun and staying comfortable. Ok, this isn’t exactly an epiphany, but this particular run brought these truths home to me like never before. Long runs are most enjoyable when the pace is being kept to something that feels like a doddle and much time is spent simply enjoying the scenery. I just went for it and took care of my physical needs and – lo and behold – it turns out I continued to run strong for a very long time. I should add that I felt that I could have gone on for much longer and only stopped because it was time to get my car. And it’s a good thing too that I stopped before I did something seriously silly, as I still need my legs to handle the demands of an intensive half-marathon training schedule!

2)      I’m amazed that my body let me get away with eating cake and crisps on a run. It appears that I have been unnecessarily cautious with running nutrition in the past. While I’ve always believed that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to running nutrition, I’m realising now that I haven’t been as open-minded about it as I could and perhaps should have been. The bottom line is that on long runs, we need calories; and we need to get them in whatever form we can tolerate. Giving in to my silly cravings (aka listening to my body!) worked wonderfully for me; it turns out that my body can be bribed to go on forever as long as I keep feeding it calorific comfort food… I expect to get a lot more adventurous in future!

3)      I learned to not worry about long runs. Yes, they are hard, and when things go wrong, they easily have the potential to go very, very wrong. However, it’s not the end of the world.  Long runs are our chance to enjoy our hobby in all its glory; to see a lot of the world and reap the rewards of our hard-earned fitness. They are also a good opportunity to try new stuff.

4)      This particular long run has demystified the marathon, which is a great breakthrough after my meltdown in Athens. Running a marathon doesn’t have to be painful. It doesn’t even have to be particularly hard. Sure, when running to smash that PB, pushing the pace for such a long distance will always require a hefty dose of masochism. However, there’s a different way to run a marathon: it can also be run leisurely and genuinely enjoyed all the way. My whole escapade saw me out and about for 4 hours and 50 minutes, was a fair bit longer than a marathon and included two pit stops at the shops (really, you’ve got to laugh). Sure, it’s slow, but still far from embarrassingly slow. More importantly, it was so much fun that it’s left me wanting to do it all again. And after all, isn’t that one of the most important – but often overlooked – aspect of our training?

A Tale of Twenty Miles

After a very misty but very awesome autumn trail run this afternoon, I’m spending my evening tabbing between the Met Office website and Google Maps in an attempt to decide where to head for my long run this weekend.

My training schedule calls for another 20 miler; the last one before the actual marathon. (Hang on, did anyone else just hear Beethoven’s Fifth ringing in the air?). I could just re-visit the trails, which will no doubt make the run a lot more interesting, not to mention more challenging. As it is, I’m contemplating an excursion to the Hermitage in Dunkeld:


On the other hand, it would probably be wiser to just hit the local roads – I do most of my running on trails and my legs could probably do with the pounding on concrete before the actual marathon. Besides, it’s not as though the roads around where I live are bad either:

Pittenweem Aerial

But while I’m trying to decide where to run, I’m actually finding myself feeling a little apprehensive about this particular run before I’ve even laced up my trainers. I usually love my long runs, so I’m not exactly sure what has brought about this emotional dragging of feet.

Could it be the fact that the met office is promising a type of weather for the weekend which lends itself to little other than curling up in front of the fire with a hot coco? While I’m not exactly a fair weather runner, spending the better part of three hours running around in freezing, horizontal rain will no doubt complicate my strategy for coping with winter (which currently involves simply and stubbornly denying its existence).

I might also just be getting a little twitchy because this long run will be my last run before I cross the all-important boundary into taper territory. If you must know, I taper about as well as a lumberjack would dance the Swan Lake.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I just can’t shake off the feeling that this last long run will have a disproportionately hefty impact on how I’ll feel during the actual race. Sure, I’ve run 20 milers before and have even felt good doing so, but it somehow seems that all good training would be eclipsed by a lousy, final long run with no further chance to redeem myself before the big race. This may not sound very rational, but since when do hearts obey any rules of logic?

I think the best way to handle these feelings will be to drown them in copious amounts of hot coco (hey, the Met Office practically prescribes it!), which I shall see to tomorrow. Once I have selected the scenery for my long run, I shall approach it with my usual curiosity and forward moving strategy (no pun intended). In any case, I think that there is a high probability that I’ll have heaps of fun once I get going, as running in punitive conditions tends to expose a perverse part of my personality which actually revels in the ordeal.

But if, on the other hand, the whole run ends up assuming the shape of a pear, there’ll always be more hot coco when I get back.

awesome run

Long Runs are Mental

Why do I, as a runner, always seem to have to justify what I do to others? And equally, why is it that non-runners always feel compelled to provide me with a plethora of reasons why they don’t run? I’m starting to think that the world is somehow divided into two kinds of people; those who run and those who don’t; only I never got that memo. I was probably out on a long run when it arrived.

In any case, one of the most frequenly cited reasons I hear from non-runners to justify their non-running existence is that they are convinced they would find it boring. This anxiety is of course completely misplaced, as running is in fact extremely thought provoking and mentally rewarding. To fully demonstrate this point for the benefit of all non-runners, I have kept a note of my own thoughts during a recent long run:

Mile 1: What a beautiful day, this is going to be good. My training has gone well so far, I’m hydrated and have faithfully completed the pasta eating ritual last night, so let’s do this!

Mile 2: Oh look, the first hill. I don’t need a power bar yet. That’s, what, 8 per ce… – No, no! Do not think about the distance ahead, it’s better if my mind doesn’t know what’s coming. Should I be worried that I’m thinking of myself as two people already, given that this is only two miles in? Anyways, better keep moving before I get cold. Is this a good time to re-evaluate the wisdom of my decision to go for my long run wearing nothing but running shorts and a sports bra? In October? In Scotland?

Mile 3: I hope I don’t encounter any out-of-control dogs today. Or ducks. Or highland cows. I love nature, really.

Mile 4: Must not look at my watch. Must not look at the watch… Perhaps I should run a bit faster anyways, just in case.

Mile 5: What’s with all the hills? Really, is this whole country hilly? Two more miles and I can have a power bar.

Mile 6: Have I locked my car?

Mile 7: Power bar! Now that’s fun to say. Power bar. Power bar! A bar that gives you power. Magic! Dammit, lost half of my power bar to an out-of-control dog or possibly highland cow. I’m not sure which, it all happened so fast. Also, am now covered in mud. On the plus side, it’s kind of cooling and affirms my tough-as-nails cross country runner girl image.

Mile 8: This is practically half way, right? Anyways, are running nicknames only cool if they are given to you by other people? I really need to pee…

Mile 9: Did that ranger really just see me wee in his forest?

Mile 10: Is there such a thing as eating an unacceptable number of pancakes? This is a purely hypothetical question of course, which is in no way related to the post-run lunch I’m planning in my head.

Mile 11: Okay, so, I’ve run 18km in 90 minutes. That’s an, uhm, what? 8, 8:30, 9-minute mile-ish pace. At this pace I will finish a marathon in 543 minutes, which is 7:23 hours. No, wait, that’s not right. How far is one mile again…?

Mile 12: Wow, I guess this is what forever feels like. Besides, I’m really getting hungry. Damn you, pancake thoughts… Is it possible to order takeaway food on a run? If I knew where I was, perhaps I could convince someone to meet me with a pizza? That marathon man dude did it once, but I suppose he’s in California where anything is possible. A mountain top in Scotland isn’t really the same as a stretch of Highway 101, is it?

Mile 13: Wait, I’m on top of a hill? How did this happen? Am I still on the right track? This doesn’t look at all familiar… Where am I? Hellooo? Anybody? Which county is this? And really, what is it with all these hills???

Mile 14: Up and right? Motion and poetry? No, seriously, what was my mantra thingy again? I just wish I had eaten that whole power bar earlier.

Mile 15: Looks like it’s just me against trail now. Nothing left to do but to keep going and confront all my inner demons.

Mile 16: …Pancakes…

Mile 17: I definitely didn’t put enough Vaseline under my arms, and I think one of my toenails just fell off. What else can possibly go wrong? At least I haven’t hit the wall yet…

Mile 18: Aaaaaahhhaaaahhhh I’ve just hit the wall… I have never felt so miserable in my whole life. My knees have turned to jelly and even my detached toenail feels tired… I want my bed. Or any bed. Actually, that pile of dirt looks good, too.

Mile 19: No, I will not let this beat me. I’m not a whimp. I’m a mud-covered tough runner girl cross-country person who still needs a nickname. Think of that guy who cut off his own arm when he got stuck on a mountain somewhere. I know, it’s kind of disgusting, but the point is, if he can do it, so can I.

Mile 20: “…I’m a survivor, I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna laa-laaah, keep on, uhm, surviving…”

Finish: Wow, best run EVER… Now, where did I park my car again?