The Badger Divide Conquered!

An off road cycle ride from Inverness to Glasgow 330km/ 210miles, 6176m/ 20202ft elevation in 3days and 2 nights with Clare.

The adventure begun when I started looking for a bike on Ebay. I chose the Cannondale Topstone 105 because it was the only XS frame I could find after lockdown cleared out most bike sales. I fitted some Schwalbe X-One All-round Evo Super ground tyres (700 x 35mm) on aware that the width would be inadequate but anything else wider rubbed my rear chain stay tube so unless I bought 650mm wheels they would have to do. That’s as geeky as I got with my bike set up. I got it serviced, wrapped the bike in electrical tape where I thought the packs would rub, loaded it up and out it in the car to drive to Scotland. We had downloaded the GPX files- I used my Garmin 945 watch and Clare used her Garmin Edge computer. It was useful to have both to navigate some of the trickier parts.

We got to Glasgow, parked the car, loaded the bikes and headed to the station to catch the train to Inverness. Unfortunately it had been cancelled due to flash flooding in Perth. We tried not to think about the implications of cycling in the rain for the next 3 days by just getting on with trying to persuade the Megabus driver to take us and our bikes on his coach which he did. It was then a wait for a few hours before departure!

It’s a bizarre memory because this is where we learnt of the Queen’s death. RIP Queen Elizabeth II.

On arrival in Inverness it was beginning to get dark and we wanted to head out of the city to find somewhere to camp. Food first though …..

Getting out of the city was the hardest bit to navigate with our devices. Eventually we got onto the Great Glen Way and found a camping spot. The next morning we headed off early with a steep climb up to Dunain Hill.

I felt I needed some time to re-skill on the technical aspects of cycling but it was straight into it! We pedalled along in the early morning mist through forest tracks, rocky trails and tarmac past Abriachan before descending through the trees down into Drumnadrochit. Food here was well timed- black pudding and egg bap!

Our first loch was Loch Ness

We head past the Loch and onward to Fort Augustus. More food before the climb up to The Corrieyarick Pass. The photos do not do justice to the steepness of this pass. It was like interval training- cycle a bit, stop to catch my breath, repeat!

The Corrieyairack Pass, originally built as a military road by General Wade, leads across the Monadhliath mountains from Fort Augustus to Laggan in Badenoch. It climbs to over 770m through remote terrain, however, it shares its route with the Beauly – Denny power line which detracts from the otherwise very wild feel of the pass.

The descent down was by far the most technical part. For the most part I just closed my eyes, held by breath and just let the bike go forward.

We really wanted to do 70miles on the first day so after dropping down towards Spey Dam Reservoir we rode a brief stint in the Cairngorms National Park to cycle past Loch Crunachdan and Loch Laggan via the Ardverikie Estate.

Our campsite was next to Lochan na h-Earba. We carried 2 nights worth of dehydrated meals (Expedition Food) and oats breakfast- perfect options.

It was a cold start and as we descended into some low lying freezing fog I struggled to appreciate any of the surrounding beauty. It was agony, when we stopped in a sunny spot, as the blood returned to my hands and Clare’s feet.

We made relatively rapid progress going past Loch Ghuilbinn, Loch Ossian, Loch Eigheach and onwards to Loch Rannoch passing through the Corrour Estate (home to the most remote railway and pub in Britain). Rannoch Moor was my favourite part; I loved its remoteness and the technicality of the trail challenged me but was not overwhelming. During a wee stop I spotted a tick – by the end of the Divide I had pulled off over a dozen of the buggers!

Regular food stops essential! Supernatural Fuel pouches were ideal for carrying and instant energy!

Loch Rannoch went on forever as the route takes you away through some gnarly forest paths just to torture your quads some more before bringing you back to the Loch! The descent is a sharp off road one where everything is rattled and blisters appear on your hands from holding on! It was down to the Bridge of Balgie, past Loch Lyon, and the destination was an amazing cafe at Glen Lyon. It was by now 4pm and that coffee and panini was desperately needed.

Replete we gratefully cycled some easy miles on tarmac following the River Lyon as it gently climbed to Stronuich Resevoir.

The 3km KenKonock climb was steep but paved and easy to get into a rhythm. We then descended down into Glen Lochay, to Loch Tay and Killin village where we planned to camp after another 70mile day.

Killin sewage works as our backdrop!

Killin provided all we needed- a Coop, public toilet and an outside tap!

A few miles on tarmac to warm up before passing into the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The first climb was in Auchmore Wood on the forestry road that marks the boundary of the park. It was rooty with some technical bits and single track that required walking. I think it was here that I fell off for the 5th and final time after not being able to clip out quick enough!

It was the Rob Roy Way, the no 7 cycle route, the Glen Ogle Way, pass Lochearnhead, pass the beautiful Edinample Castle, through Strathyre Forest to the east of the River Balvag, through Glen Ample before descending to Loch Lubnaig and then onto Aberfoyle.

The town was hosting the Dukes weekender gravel bike racing so had a lively atmosphere and a great cafe stop. By now we were tired and it was reflected in our temperature regulation- coats on, coats off all day long!

We climbed out of the town into the Loch Ard Forest on the Rob Roy Way again.

Efforts not to get wet feet failed!

The summit of this climb comes as you pass the peak of Bàt a’ Charchel, then onto the West Highland Way (having just raced the Highland Fling 50miler it bought back all sorts of memories!), a descent down through Garadhban Forest and then along Blane Water river on the John Muir Way. 

The very last climb was a sharp singletrack route up Carbeth Loch. It was by now wet and slippery as the rain fell. The weather had been miraculous – we only had rain for the first and last hour of the whole trip!

Cycling into Glasgow along the West Highland Way, through Milngavie we followed the River Kelvin dodging people and their dogs on their Sunday walks.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum = Finish line!

The finish was in Kelvingrove and it was really raining by now but the smiles came out for the finish photo!

It was a tough route, not one to be underestimated. Thanks to Komfuel for the cycle kit – a great energy company- we felt suitably pro even if my bike skills lacked that description! I hung on through the downs and my fitness pulled through on the ups; our emotions and efforts mirrored the terrain!

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Matterhorn Ultraks Sky Race 49km

The race started at 0700 on Saturday. It went straight up from Zermatt (1600m) to Sunnegga (2260m) in 7km. There was a brief respite from ascending before climbing again to Gornergrat (3130m) covering 15km in total to get this point and 2.5hrs of running! Well, I say running I mean hands on knees hiking!

I felt the altitude effects pretty much immediately. My breathing was laboured and I felt horribly bloated. I had my period so this probably didn’t help things. I sat around 4th place and although I saw the 3 girls in front of me for at least half of the race I didn’t try to hang onto them. I was reassured I could see them and then I asked myself why was this important?

I had started the week off hurting my back and I couldn’t even put my socks on. I guess it was my body’s way of saying it was tired (after my work stint at the Commonwealth Games)! It eased as the week went on and I headed out to Zermatt undecided about racing. It was going to be a SCOTT meet up as they sponsored the event. I was looking forward to meeting some of the other athletes and staff.

Talking to Pete Cable- footwear division

As I watched some of the other races I got more and more geared up.

However as I collected my number I went through the process of preparing my kit (and mind) to race.

Flat lay of race kit

If I could run the day before I’d race. We went for a group run and it felt ok.

Photo credit: Black Forest Collective

It was the lack of oxygen in the air that was more profoundly felt.

So as I was running along feeling uncomfortable I asked myself ‘would you rather be sat at the bottom watching everyone else come in… or getting to do your first Sky race?’ The answer was clear. So I told my grumbling self ‘to shut up and get on with it minus the negativity’. Plus the sun was shining and the views were spectacular when I dared look around rather than at the trail in front of me!

As I did my mindset inadvertently changed my race goals and optimistically hoped if I could just keep the other ladies in sight then when I felt better I could try to catch them. The feeling better bit never really happened and although my descents were good my uphill efforts we’re so laboured.

From the Gornergrat peak it was a long descent to Furi at 1900m. I was trying a new fuelling strategy so I could be self sufficient- just add water. I carried Komfuel energy drink in one flask and all my 32Gi gels in another (like a tropical cocktail of pure energy). I topped up my energy drink flask with more powder and water as the race went on. Fuelling worked with less hassle associated with gel wrappers and rubbish.

The climb back up to 2600m, Schwarzee, was a zig zag trail – I sounded like a train huffing and puffing my way up. It was the same climb as the Vertical km held the previous night which I had gone up in the cable car to see the finish.

Then a short descent to Stafelalp (2200m) and I was still holding onto 4th. The climb back up to 2700m was bearable because in my memorisation of the course profile it was downhill from there on in. I had lost a place and thought I could catch her on the descent. Stupid girl- I’d forgotten the climb from Thrift (2340m) to 2500m. In this climb not only did I lose her but another Swiss lady overtook me. I thought no problem I can give it everything on the descent. And I did… including my skin and clothing. I fell twice and the third time saw me forward roll. My knees, elbows, back all got a couple grazing and my bib number clean ripped off my T-shirt.

Finish Line. Photo: Michelle Castro

I picked myself up but feeling a little stiffer struggled to catch them. I finished in 6hrs 56mins, 6th female, 49th overall.

I was pleased to finish my first Sky race and one day I’ll learn to be pleased with my performances knowing I always give my best at the time. This process currently requires perspective which takes time. My perspective this time is I live pretty much at sea level; I was beaten by Swiss and French ladies; and I know my hiking is poor (I could practise more but I just love to run) so why do I think I’ll suddenly be able to do more! Damn Ego!

I soaked my wounds and back in the bath and checked in with my body. All was intact! It was rewarded with wine over dinner.

The next day was a SCOTT filming morning. Up at 6am we caught the train to Rotenboden. The views of the Matterhorn we’re spectacular. I felt so lucky to be there.

We filmed for 4.5hrs and then headed back down. I then left Zermatt with sore legs, exasperated lungs, tired eyes but, with perspective, so a happy heart.

Thanks to SCOTT running for the opportunity and support.

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XXII Commonwealth Games Ultra

I was working as a Physio at a British Gymnastics event when I got recruited to work at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) as a Venue Medical Manager (VMM). It was a chance job offer after someone had dropped out and I readily accepted it even with only 3 weeks to go. What an opportunity! They wanted me for 3 weeks as well but I couldn’t quite commit to that so offered 16days. 

The Commonwealth Games have been held every 4 years since 1930 (except 1942 and 1946 due to WWW II). Although there are 56 members of the Commonwealth of Nations, there are 72 CWG associations who will participate. They are fully inclusive since 2002 with athletes competing with a disability. 

In Birmingham there were to be approximately 6500 athletes (and team officials) competing in 280 events in 20 sports. 

Perry and I (physio with the obligatory bag of ice)

It’s fair to say I hit the ground running. I was to be based at the NEC in Birmingham and manage two halls of sport – weight lifting and Badminton. The other halls were full of boxing, table tennis and netball and had their own VMM’s and volunteer teams although we all communicated regularly especially on the radio system as required. We were all managed by a cluster manager and I soon learnt the importance of balancing management and helping day to day but not micro-managing. Also looking after oneself was key; getting enough sleep was significant in order to keep showing up for 10days without a degradation of performance.

Full team of VMMs at the NEC

Everyone else had been in their VMM role for a week prior to my arrival which meant they had a good understanding of the job role, the supporting computer systems and the venue. I had 24hrs to learn it all. The organisation was incredible- the amount of work involved; the amount of teams of people from the athletes to the press, to the traffic, to the catering, to the workforce volunteers, to the security and finally to the medical. My first few days were full on especially as we had to bump in (unpack everything and get established) as well. 

Day to day my role was responsible for supporting and directing a multi-disciplinary volunteer workforce consisting of doctors, nurses, first aiders, paramedics, physiotherapists and massage therapists for the fields of play (FOP) and athlete medical rooms. The NEC was open from 0700hrs to 2355hrs so there were two of us in the role in which I carried out the evening shift from 1400 to 2355. I was dreading this shift because I’m not an evening person but I adapted pretty quickly to the change although by the end I was missing daylight and fresh air A LOT!

The athletes arrived in the middle of my first week and were just training and getting used to their arenas. I did quite a bit of physio especially on athletes (and officials) that had travelled a distance to get here. Obviously, a lot of teams bought their own physios and so we were there for the ones that hadn’t. The Games opened officially on July 28th. I enjoyed my last hot meal for 10days (didn’t fully appreciate this at the time) as I watched the ceremony on TV with my fellow VMM’s. There was a workforce canteen based at the NEC but it was only sandwiches/ salads so I was fed well but after 10days I was keen for a hot dinner! 

Then it was down to business. 

I would wake in the morning, go for a run (even got two different park runs in!), have breakfast and then head into work. My hotel was about 2miles away from the NEC so everyday I ran in, past the airport runway, and out again- usually under a lovely starry sky which was a good way to decompress after 10hours under artificial lights and screaming crowds. 

I arrived for my shift and had to go through security before reaching the athlete medical room. On arrival I briefed the volunteers; on the venue and FOP; the sport specific rules and responses required; the Medical Encounter System for notes; co-ordinating with the ambulance services; how to use the radio and the call signs; managing the equipment, medication and supplies; carry out pre-event training for FOP recovery extraction; etiquette; and general delivery of what was required.

The volunteer roles consisted of a team lead, team members, physios and massage therapists. I had some fantastic volunteers and some excellent team leaders which meant I could walk between my halls with confidence that the FOP was in good hands. They ensured there was a plan in place for breaks and rotations. Sometimes it was a balancing act between the international federation (IF) doctors and our doctors!

Once the athletes had been treated I had the goal of ensuring the volunteers got the most out of their shift and as a team we built up some really good comradeship. 

Between my two halls VMM role I also fitted in assessing and treating some of the athletes. We were sometimes quite short of physios or had physios not used to working in a sports environment so I would treat the athlete in front of them so they could learn. There was also sometimes a request for a female physio to treat a female athlete so I obliged.

I enjoyed both roles and had some great feedback from my volunteers on my reputation in organising a good shift and the atmosphere I created for the team. It made the long hours worthwhile. 

Everyday was the same but with some variation. There was a polyclinic located in the Games Village which I had to take an athlete to after she hurt her back weight lifting. The polyclinic had more doctors, physios and equipment such as an x-ray machine and an ultrasound scanner. I got the opportunity to sit in on the consultation and fully appreciate the medical journey that was available to the athlete. Language was not often a barrier but in this case it was. I found myself having to use google translate for anus and urine! All in a days work!

I had to locate our spinal board after an athlete took it to hospital with her. Liaison with all agencies as well!  

Weightlifting was my first sport to finish and I had to ‘bump out’/ pack up the athlete medical room. It was a case of boxing everything up – things that hadn’t been used could go back to the supplier and things that had been used were to be picked up by logistics and issued out. 

After that I took on another hall of sport- table tennis. I was pleased to get to watch sports I’m not involved in. During my time at the NEC I took a walk around all the halls to make sure I got to experience and see all the sports in action- badminton, weightlifting, para power lifting, table tennis, boxing and netball. The crowds really made the atmosphere electric and there were memorable climatic moments. 

I was so impressed by all the volunteers – not just medical ones. They were a sea of people in blue and orange helping, advising and generally showing a friendly face to all the spectators. The time donated and enthusiasm was truly remarkable and really demonstrated the best of Birmingham!

My last day was also one of bumping out as the Games had finished. I was tired and keen to travel home but was so pleased I had been given the opportunity to fulfil such a role and experience a Games. 

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Mozart 100 (105km) race

Registering the day before and enjoying the sites of the city was the calm before the storm. Salzburg is a majestic city with a huge baroque cathedral imposing down on the square- if you look closely at the photo you can see how big it is as I stand in the corner. Built in 1614 it exudes historical significance.

📷 Clare Capper

The race started at 0500hrs so it was up at 0300. Breakfast when you least feel like it especially when the pizza from the previous night is still sitting pretty high. Coffee helps.

I handed in my drop bag (one bag which I could access twice at 31km/ 75km) and headed for the start line. My focus for the first flat 7km was not to go off to fast. I think I managed it. The women in front were two strong Spaniards I knew and respected and 3 others. We soon entered the Glasenbachklamm Gorge and the ascent began peaking up towards Gitzenberg. Lake Fuschlsee led to the Fuschl checkpoint and my drop bag.

📷 Victoria Ford

There were 11 aid stations and it was definitely a case of filling up with water at every single one. I took a salt tablet every 3hrs. I ate a Komfuel gel of some variety every 30-40mins. Flossing and brushing my teeth was one of the first things I did when I got in!

📷Victoria Ford

I ran out of Fuschl carrying my bag full of fuel and poles. I should have sorted it all out at the aid station but then spent 10mins juggling items around until they found a home. I wanted to be as quick as possible aware that the other ladies in front had crew to support them.

I tried to settle into a rhythm but didn’t feel massively comfortable from the off. 5 weeks before I had ran a Bob Graham Round (65miles). Then had to rest for 2 weeks to recover from an injury. I managed to train for 2 weeks before tapering (thanks to David Roche for coaching me through this despite not thinking it a good idea!). I’d practised ascending on my NoblePro treadmill but the downs was something I’d have to embrace on route.

The run up Zwolferhorn (1500m) was lovely in the shade as the temperatures began to reach 34°. The panoramic view from the top was amazing – I wish I’d savoured it properly – but I was soon heading down again to descend the 1000m towards St Gilgen. The run around Lake Wolfgang here with its turquoise water was beautiful. Those leading the 70km were coming in the other direction at some speed. We then had to climb Schalberg (1300m). It was a technical single track for 750m heading back down towards St Gilgen. By the time I hit the nice runnable lake trail my legs did not want to fully cooperate. All I could think about was how fast the leading ultra men had traveled along it before me and the effort I was now making was not even comparable.

I then started back on the marathon route that Clare was racing. It was full of short (ish), sharp inclines and technical descents and in the last 3km there were 600 steps!

With 20km to go I was caught. I pulled away again with everything I could muster. In hindsight it was too fast too soon and when she caught me with 10km to go I had nothing left. I had given everything already. I was well fuelled despite my stomach not really moving anything through. It was like a lump just sat there. Running downhill was pretty uncomfortable.

Everything hurt- my quads combusted and my stomach thrown up. I had missed third by 90seconds!

I finished in 13hrs 30mins, 50th overall and 4th female. I gave it my all.

Congratulations to all those who raced. Jon survived and crossed the finish line in 20hrs with a grey haunted look, sickness and some horrendous armpit and bottom cheek chafing (no photos!) but pleased. Clare successfully completed her first marathon with tears of joy despite the brutality of the heat and course.

Time to head home!

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My Bob Graham Round

Setting off from Moot Hall in Keswick filled me with fear.

I was not underestimating this run. This is the epitomy of fell running challenges 65miles/ 105km, 28000ft/ 8300m. There were to be 4 runners from Devon trying to complete it; helped by 4 road crew (Jane & Derek Jackson, Clare Capper and Michelle Gastro) and 5 pacers (Rowan Wood, Tim Pigott, George Foster, Gary Thwaites and Josh Ring). The offer of help from the Bob Graham Facebook page was immense. What a community! This was definitely an overwhelming theme through the build up and during the adventure itself.

A schedule was set and meetings arranged to organise over the preceding months.

Pre BGR meeting 1

As the day approached I began to lay out all my kit and fuel. I aimed to eat something every hour and used Komfuel to select various bars and 32 Gi gels, Supernatural Fuel pouches, and good old Rice Pudding at the pit stops!

Pre flat lay

We started at 0001 (to avoid Friday 13th). Running out of Keswick I was so excited. Reality was finally here! Our pace early on was spot it although our schedule may have been a bit ambitious. It was essentially plucked out of the air to set a goal. Leg 1 was Keswick to Threlkeld (14miles, 5500ft). It was cool so I started with arm warmers on and gloves. I held back from the pushing pace at the front and just enjoyed the tranquility of running through the night through the beam of my head torch. We climbed Skiddaw, a lonely Great Calva, crossed a boggy Caldew and climbed Blencathra. The most memorable moment was the descent off Blencathra down Hall’s Fell. My bottom became my 5th appendage as I used it on certain sections scrambling down!

We met the road crew; dropped off Rowan, with thanks, picked up George and Tim continued on with us. Clare also joined us to run this leg.

Leg 2 was Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise (14miles, 6000ft). The pace felt steady as we climbed Clough Head, all the Dodd’s (Great, Watson, Stybarrow). It was windy high up and I had to put my rain coat on. Daylight arrived but only a small sunrise was visible.

Dawn

We continued on to climb Raise, White side and Helvellyn. It was noticeable that Paul and Andy were beginning to feel the effects of the previous 6hrs. They had worn raincoats from the start and I wonder whether this intensified their sweat rate so dehydrating them more. We climbed Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike and skirted around Grisedale Tarn.

Coats were removed and we climbed Fairfield and then Seat Sandal before descending onto Dunmail Raise. I was feeling ok so pushed on a little (so did George but I was WAY behind him- god! his descending skills are phenomenal!) and arranged for some Hydrate to be available for Paul and Andy. The effects were immediate for Andy but unfortunately by the time Paul had got out of his wet t-shirt he was shivering uncontrollably. He made the generous decision to allow us to go on as he felt it couldn’t recover in time. We ate, changed socks and I had to deal with my period! I had to take out and clean my moon cup which I did behind a towel as discreetly as I could, by a main road, only for a double decker bus to go past! Embarrassing!!

Dunmail

We left George behind, with thanks, and continued on with the amazing Tim (his third and final leg for us- a legend!). We left, climbing Steel Fell, with heavy hearts having to leave Paul behind.

Leg 3 was Dunmail Raise to Wasdale Head (16miles, 6500m). It was meant to be 5.5hrs of running according to the schedule (we’d essentially plucked out of the air as a good goal) but ended up being 6.5hrs of running. As we crossed Calf Crag, High Raise, Sergeant Man things felt good but then it’s almost like time stood still. The sun was out, the wind had dropped and the going was the same boggy terrain. It felt like we’d been out there for 6 weeks as we traversed over Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle, Pike of Stickle, Rossettis Pike, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End and onto Ill Crag. Patrick was struggling to eat enough and Andy was pretty vocal about this thoughts on not being able to go after this leg. Although one flapjack later it felt better and could readjust his outlook.

I first noticed a small twinge in my hamstring along this stretch. It didn’t take long to become quite distracting and I even asked the multi-tasking Tim (navigating, running, looking after us and a physio) to try and loosen it off as we left Broad Crag and approached Scarfell Pike. It helped for a few steps but essentially I was now trying to find ways to move without further aggravating it. It was busy on Scarfell Pike which felt really odd after hours of solitude.

Scarfell pike

The next challenge was to get to Scarfell via the scree gully, Lord’s Rake. I must admit I’m not great with heights and so felt slightly vulnerable at times but we were magnificently lead my Tim. From there it was downhill and this is where I really noticed my leg pain. I also ran out of energy as I’d given my last flapjack to Andy earlier but luckily Patrick still has some supplies and Tim had a gel. I gobbled it all down and got to enjoy the scree descent. I limped into Wasdale head.

I got a painful last minute dose of physio from Tim and taped myself up. I had made the decision to continue.

Patrick decided his energy levels had left him and stopped (he has done it before) and Tim got a well deserved rest! We picked up Josh and Gary. I set off with poles thinking they might help but in actual fact the terrain doesn’t really lend itself to their use so eventually folded them away.

Leg 4 was Wasdale Head to Honister Pass (11miles, 6500ft). Leaving Wasdale was a climb straight up, the third steepest climb, Yewbarrow. We passed a chap who was also struggling on his round and I think eventually bailed on it. It has a 42% success rate. I desperately wanted to run between fells where possible but felt really hampered by the pain in my hamstring everytime I lifted my right foot up behind me. I developed an ungainly canter topping Red Pike, Scoat Fell and Pillar.

Photo credit: Gary Thwaites

Reaching the Gables took forever. This was such a scenic and beautiful leg but unfortunately I was too emotionally involved in moving forward. I could see Andy was moving well and it was a humbling experience to be trying to keep up. I felt well- fuelled, my feet had no blisters (thanks to my Injinii socks and SCOTT Supertrac RC 2 shoes) but I just couldn’t move any faster because it was too sore.

Andy was forever asking ‘is this Great Gable?’. Finally from Kirk Fell we could see it. Climbing it was initially grassy and then rocky in which bouldering skills were required.

Photo credit: Gary Thwaites

From there is was descent down to Honister Pass. Here we said goodbye to Gary, with thanks.

Leg 5 was Honister Pass to Keswick (11miles, 2500ft). I feel pretty sorry for myself at this checkpoint as I was limping around.

However, it was only self pity so picked up my head torch, re-fuelled and headed on up Dale Head. Clare was so encouraging and then Paul joined me to run this leg. Andy and Josh went on in case I slowed too much. Paul never actually got to run- he ended up supporting and encouraging me for the whole 3.5hrs. He was absolutely superb. Up on Hindscarth we got to witness a beautiful sunset.

I then had to really push on as it dawned on my I may miss the time. I ate, focused and became a woman possessed up Robinson. It was then a technical descent down to the road. I could see Andy’s head torch getting closer and eventually we caught them. Andy graciously chose not to push on which meant we could finish together. From Chapel Bridge we ran the road section in. I laughed at being encouraged to go as quick as I could- 14min/mile pace! I joked about if the distance wasn’t a round number on finishing I’d have to ‘run’ some more- yeah right!!

Moot Hall was getting closer as I limped in. I didn’t cry (think leg 4 took all my emotions out of me) but I was so so delighted to succeed in 23hrs 46mins.

I am not local to the Lake District and so was aware that this would not have been possible without any of the navigational pacers and the road crew. As I slowed I was so grateful to them all for their patience and support.

As I write this our round has been ratified and it’s a complete honour to join the Bob Graham Round Club.

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Ding Ding! The Highland Fling

All of me!

This John Legend song was playing at the end of the race as I crossed the finish line and it seemed very apt.

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

I applied all of me to every moment of this race.

The finishing times of this race do not truly reflect the closeness of the battle. I lined up on the start line with 500 other runners and among them was Chrissie Wellington (4 x World Ironman Champion). We said hello at the start but it was all nerves and fresh cold air. It was chilly so I decided to start in arm warmers edged over my hands although I knew the forecast predicted warmth and sunshine. What a privilege in Scotland!

I was pretty excited for this race as it was a pre-covid entry and I had waited two years for it. Frustratingly I got covid 3 weeks out from the start. All I could do was rest, maximise sleep, good food and be patient for the virus to work it’s way out. I managed two reasonable runs prior to race day and then rolled my ankle! I did question whether all this was a sign not to race but choose to ignore it.

I was committed. Jon and I drove the 8hours up split over two days before arriving in Milngavie and a fantastic Airbnb run by a fellow runner Jamie Aarons.

The race started at 0600 Saturday 24th April.

It was a fast start as you’d expect because it was a very smooth runnable trail. The only thing was I wasn’t entirely sure how long it was going to last for. We got 20 miles in and I was beginning to realise that it wasn’t sustainable for the whole 53. I didn’t look at my watch which was buried underneath my arm warmers. However when I did I got a bit of a shock as it said 7.28 average pace over the past 20 miles.

Photo: Chris Sutherland

So I decided to regroup a bit and just check in with my body although ultimately I knew the reality- my legs were toast! It was going to be a case of slowing the least amount possible rather than trying to speed up. Chrissie kept pushing me as she commented it was a bit like cat and mouse.

I found this quite mentally challenging because I didn’t know if it was going to go on for the whole day however when I decided to regroup, I got my breath, and I had a good talk to myself and then pushed back on again. I ran into an aid station, filled up my prearranged gel and fuel selection and also caught Chrissie back up.

I introduced a new fuelling strategy for this race. I went with the 80 g of carbohydrates per hour recommendation which meant a gel every half an hour and an energy drink. The day was quite warm and I was carrying two 600ml flasks which I consumed between aid stations. There were four aid stations. In total I consume 16 gels and about 4l of energy drink which now makes me feel quite ill but it did the job really well. The fuel I used was Tailwind, 32Gi RacePro and Maurten; and the gels I used were 32Gi coffee gels, Supernatural Fuel pouches, Maurten and Mountain Fuel jelly ‘gels’ – the mix bought from Komfuel.

In the first 20 miles I had to stop twice for the toilet but that was nothing to do with the fuel I was consuming. It was just one of those things. We then reached a technical section which lasted for about 6km after Inversnaid along the edge of Loch Lomond. On this path Chrissie suggested I go ahead of her because I was obviously quick on the technical ground and I thought this is my opportunity to push on- so I did. I never looked back and I kept pushing and pushing to the end of the race. I had no feedback where she was so in my head I played the game that she was only ever 30secs behind me. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable, my legs felt heavy and tired, my breathing was laboured, however, I kept moving forward; I kept running.

I would like to say, I enjoyed the beauty of the course especially as the sun was shining but in all honesty I kept on looking down, as I didn’t want to roll my ankle again, and I concentrated so hard, kept on pushing the pace and didn’t look up. I was mainly running on my own after halfway so every time I went past someone it was nice to give them a bit of encouragement. Running from the last fuel aid station was 12 miles and I counted down every mile. It was a very welcome distraction to see the last checkpoint with about 5 miles to go. It was run by Ruth Howie and she was extraordinarily enthusiastic with cheering cowbells and this certainly helped motivate me as I ran up the hill towards the finish. I had no idea where the end was because I had not run the course before but I was determined not to slow and take for granted the lead I had. I was absolutely delighted to hear the sound of the Scottish bagpipes as I begun to enter the finishing straight which much to my surprise was carpeted, flagged and surrounded by smiling cheering people which was an incredible welcome in.

1st lady, 8hrs 24mins, 9th overall. 53miles. 2300m

What a race! Thank you to John, the organiser, and the whole Scottish running community who get behind this event. The memories live on!

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

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The King Alfred’s Way: 220miles on a gravel bike

King Alfred’s Way is a 350km circular off road cycle route. The route was developed by The CTC to help create a network of long cycling distance paths. It connects four of England’s National Trails: North Downs Way, South Downs Way, Ridgeway and Thames Path on its journey.

Our completed effort

Setting off on a wet blustery morning from Amesbury was daunting. Bike packing was meant to be a fair weather activity surely!! Ha ha!

We had selected to do this on gravel bikes but everyone else we met were on mountain bikes and doing it over 5days. It meant we were under pressure to keep pushing on as we only had 2.5days. I found it technically pretty challenging in places and we never really made up time on the tarmac bits. We didn’t even average 10mph throughout the whole trip. The mountain bike v gravel bike debate continues; however, we thoroughly enjoyed using the gravel bikes and the freedom they gave us to push the pace on road (thanks Clare for letting me use your bike).

5miles into the route I got a puncture. Followed immediately by another one! Then the mud on Salisbury was so sticky and full of clay it stuck between the front forks it was almost impossible to push the tyres forward (tip: tape around the top of the forks as the mud can rub the inside of them. In fact tape the frame especially where the bike packing bags sit!).

The route is named after the Anglo-Saxon ruler of the ancient kingdom of Wessex and passes through some iconic locations including World Heritage Sites at Stonehenge and Avebury and Iron Age hill forts at Old Sarum and Barbury Castle.

Avebury Henge

We pushed on through the rain, found a bike shop (Urchfont) on route to replenish our inner tubes and patches and then pushed on up to Avebury. I wanted us to cross under the M4 and then get onto the Ridgeway so we could find somewhere to camp.

It was getting dark and this Indian restaurant appeared out of nowhere like a mirage. We were so happy to see this place. We had been tackling slippy slidy single track and my efforts to stay upright meant I had been concentrating 100%.

Finding a place to camp was pretty easy and we were so pleased to find the sun shining in the morning.

The next day we set ourselves the target of doing 100miles. We set off with naive smiles prepared for a long day in the saddle and enjoying the adventure. In hindsight, we didn’t get going until too late, we didn’t fully appreciate our average speed, we got held up by more punctures but we still did 90miles before the dark descended.

We left Swindon behind us and arrived in Streatley for a fabulous lunch. Our afternoon lull coincided with a detour around Reading after the official route was temporally closed which was frustrating. However we worked it out and were soon off out of the city.

After all the chalky clay our squeaky chains were in desperate need of some lube (tip: take chain oil) so we made a pit stop at friends on route which broke up the afternoon and gave my bottom some quiet relief from the saddle.

The day took in so much variety as we rode along byways, bridleways, tow paths, through tunnels and country lanes. We passed a woman talking to chickens, a woman high, and a random lone flump on the floor!

Being off road so much meant access to shops for food was actually quite limited. We took lots of Supernatural Fuel pouches and they were brilliant for accessible natural energy on the go (tip: take lots of snacks).

After cycling a little bit of the North Downs trail to Farnham and through the Devils Punch Bowl we were ready for our fish and chips though- strapped on the back and ready to head off to find somewhere to pitch the tent.

Each day we never knew where we would end up but it always worked out.

An early morning dog walker (0430!) passed by the tent and I thought it was someone stealing the bikes so leapt out like a mad woman growling at them. I must have terrified the poor chap and his hairy hound (both wearing head torches Ha ha!).

The early start meant we headed off much earlier than the previous day and got to witness a beautiful sunrise. Cold hands and feet not helped much by putting on dirty wet socks from the previous two days! The day was a beautiful one and by the afternoon we were back to feeling the heat.

Maxing out on blackberries and taking advantage of the #KAW pop up stalls on route we cycled on the South Downs way, up Butser hill (mainly walked!) into Winchester and the burial place of King Alfred.

The route should start and finish in Winchester but it was easier for us to leave the car in Amesbury so we had to journey on along a variety of old Roman Roads and parts of the Clarendon Way. It was really beautiful albeit undulating and rounded off the whole trip with our dirty bikes, tired legs and smiling faces.

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TransRockies Stage Race

Getting out to America was a challenge in itself. I had to get us an exemption to travel under Covid restrictions. Fortunately I had just completed in the UK trail championships and come 2nd (and qualified to represent GB in the World Trail Champs 2021) so seeking an elite athlete exemption did not seem too cheeky. I had planned to do this race in 2020 as a solo participate but after a quiet year due to lockdown I was keen do enter as a pair and share the experience. Siân and I had done lots of running together since meeting in 2019 and she was keen and able to come along.

The flight out to Denver was a connecting one via Dallas. Entry and exit went smoothly.

We spent a night in Denver followed by pancakes for breakfast before catching a Bustang bus ride out to Buena Vista. Our last night in sheets before camping for the next 7.

It rained the whole journey up the mountain with splendid fork lightening. Arriving in BV we soon discovered that race HQ was 3miles from the bus drop off. Amazingly two local ladies were enquiring about what we were doing and then proceeded to offer us a lift up to the road. Admittedly she volunteered to take mints to cover her ethanol breathe incase the police stopped her. We arrived in the rain to an extensive set up of tents and marques. The atmosphere was immediately friendly and we found a tent and made it home.

Sunday was very relaxed. A little run, registration, race opening and bed. The most memorable thing was the effects of altitude on the run. Blimey it felt hard! Camp was at 2400m. Luckily there was a local Burro (donkey) race on to celebrate the towns gold mining history so an opportunity to stop and cheer the contestants on.

Monday was day 1 of the 6 day stage race: 19.4miles/ 31km, 711m/ 2336ft. Jet lag meant we didn’t have to set an alarm.

Woke up, breakfast and then headed to the start.

The starting pace was swift and the temperature was warm and humid. We were both breathless from the start but I found it only really hit me in the ascents. We soon got into a routine of Siân being in front on the climbs and me leading on the descents. A mixture of wide sandy tracks and single paths. The last checkpoint was at the top of a long climb and we were the leading pair with 8miles to go.

It probably would of stayed that way but with 2miles to go I took us on a detour following …yes …red tape but not red flags. In that time a mixed pair overtook us. We corrected quickly but then Siân got cramps and in the final straight the Canadian female pair shot in front. It was all so close. We finished in 2hrs 53mins; 6secs behind.

All that was required in the afternoon was to rest and recover.

Then watch the rain come in and stay all night. Overnight a small flood entered the tent. My race kit got wet along with some of my duffel bag but nothing too serious.

Tuesday was Day 2. 13.5miles/ 21km, 3130ft/ 954m. We were apprehensive- we started at Vicksburg at a height of 2800m, ran 1.7miles and then climbed hands on knees puffing and panting to Hope Pass 2.7miles up at 3800m/ 12600ft. No views for the first time in 14yrs unfortunately. Mist and rain all the way! We climbed with our competitors.

Well Siân did I couldn’t keep up so was permanently 60m behind until the top when I could unleash my new found (been working hard on this) descending skill.

The descent was 4miles down a single muddy slippy slidy rocky technical trail to Twin Lakes and then an undulating single track following the lake around for 5miles. It wasn’t until the last 4miles when the Canadian girls team just pushed on to win the stage.

It was so interesting (if you’re interested in physiology) I was racing as hard as I could- breathing was loud and laboured and yet my HR was relatively low considering the effort. My brain was telling my legs to go faster but there was no change of gear available. I was reading Endurance by Alex Hutchinson which talks about the effects of altitude. Endurance athletes have hearts that pump so powerfully that their blood barely has time to load up with oxygen ferried by the blood to the working muscles. A measurable drop in arterial oxygen levels is noted during all out exercise and add in lower ambient oxygen when at altitude and blood oxygen levels decline enough to affect how much oxygen your muscles get. It’s also really hard to accumulate lactate at altitude. It seems the higher the altitude the weaker the brain’s signals to the muscle.

These effects can happen much lower than the 914m/ 3000ft most people associate with ‘being at altitude’ and we were at 3000+m/ 10000ft. The effects are also more pronounced in woman and older athletes! We have lower levels of oxygen carrying haemoglobin.

Anyway we puffed our way to finish in 2hrs 28mins; 2nd female pair but still in front of the mixed pairs and the male pairs.

The camp was in Leadville. The volunteers are incredible- they moved the camp whilst we raced and were mopping out tents on our arrival. So much rain they were saturated inside! A lot of the runners (especially the leaders) all moved to hotels and Airbnb’s!

Day 3 was 24.2miles/ 40km, 2800ft/ 850m. It was cold start but not for long. Running out of Leadville was spectacular. We climbed up to cross the highway at Tennessee Pass onto the Continental Divide; one side the river runs east and on the other, westRunning out of Leadville – past the odd saloon bar – then onto the tracks passing 🦌🐿- climbing up to cross the highway at Tennessee Pass onto the Continental Divide (which separates the water that drains into the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean).. My memories of the run was through shady single track down the Continental divide scenic trail. I saw deer, chipmunks and squirrels.

I struggled today; I had to rein in my overriding instinct to race and remember I was in a pair. Siân was having a bad day but she dug in to finish.

We finished together in 3hrs 59mins holding onto second female pair. We stayed in tents on the Eagle River at Camp Hale which was was a US Army training facility constructed in 1942 for what became the 10th Mountain division.

Day 4 was a cold start with ice on the tent.

It was 14miles/ 23km, 2800ft/ 850m peaking at 3500m essentially up for 7 and down for 7miles. There was a short river stint from mile 11 so I ran to the top of the Wearyman Creek and waited for Siân.

This worked well as we could descend at our own paces. We then ran in together reaching Red Cliff in 2hrs 40mins.

The temperatures then reached 30degs during the day. We were driven back to Camp Hale for a second night there.

Day 5 was a struggle. 24miles/ 39km, 1200m/ 3900ft. It was from Red Cliff to Vale.

The first 8miles was uphill climbing about 600m annoyingly runnable. I then waited for Siân at the checkpoint. It was then single track climbing for about 400m to the next checkpoint at 14miles.

The final check point was at 19miles and it was downhill along a ski slope (green!) into Vale. I struggled up the hills I guess I was fatigued. I couldn’t keep up with the front girls and eventually due to the switch back paths I lost sight of them. I felt my downhill pace was competitive but I had no one to compare it too as the field was pretty stretched out.

On finishing there was a massive thunderstorm with lightning but luckily it blew over in 20mins.

Day 6 was 22.5miles/ 37km, 4357ft/ 1350m. It was the last day! I must admit the prospect of not sleeping in a tent spurred me on the get to the start line. I headed off with the front ladies and ran with them to the first CP; 8miles & 800m up.

After I was reunited with Siân we ran through the CP and headed on. There was quite a bit of smoke in the air from the California fires. The miles slipped by through Silver beech forests, meadows, single track, wide ski paths. Running from CP3 to the end was a climb and then a glorious descent. We crossed the finish line in Beaver creek together arms held high.

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A day of racing- The Lakeland trails 100km

I entered this race because I wanted to try and qualify for the GB World Trails Championships (top 2). Entering was the easy part.

Training went well. I got my quadricep muscles prepared for the 3500m of elevation by a training run in the Brecon Beacons amongst many Dartmoor runs.

Wilfred, the border terrier, arrived in April and I had to plan to take him with me because no one else could look after him. I had booked camping but the thought of a puppy experiencing tent life for the first time and the dawn chorus was not appealing pre race so I had to book a hotel room for my last full nights sleep. I also had to ask nicely and take a friend with me to help look after him whilst I raced. Thank you, again, Clare!

Pre- race napping!

I prepared all race kit and fuel the day before. I used 32Gi (RacePro, Endure, gels, chews), Tailwind, Maurten all from Komfuel and also Supernatural fuel energy pouches. I fuelled regularly and reliably and honestly felt like for once I got my strategy right.

Friday, waiting for the race to start at midnight was LOOOOOOOONG! We had to move to the campsite on the local football pitch because I could not get two nights in the hotel. We set up camp, got a parking ticket, ate, chilled, ate, walked Wilfred, registered, ate, tried to sleep, got nervous and got more nervous. Finally the alarm went off at 2300hrs. The temperature was kind; I could wear a vest from the start. Although cuddling Wilfred kept some of the initially freshness off!

Saying hello to fellow runners after a long year was great although conversations were stilted as apprehension hung in the air as to what was to come. 0001hrs we were off!

The front group of women left Ambleside in silence as the men disappeared off. I tried to settle into a routine with those around me as I didn’t want to go off too fast. It was only a few miles into racing when Meryl Cooper went past us on a descent that I thought I would speed up a little and go with her. We ran many miles together, head torch leading the way. I loved running through the night; my practice on technical terrain seemed to have paid off and we silently travelled along the trails in peace. We travelled through checkpoint (CP) 1, Kentmere village hall and CP2, Mardale head together.

Unknowingly I was probably leaving my race in these miles; it wasn’t the pace it was my fartlek approach. Basically I had a terrible stomach 2hrs into the race which meant I needed to stop many times and each time I pushed on to catch up. I should have been more patient! By sunrise it seems I had emptied the contents of my stomach enough to continue without gut rot! One of the reasons I wasn’t patient was the race could off had a few more flags on route so it was reassuring to run with company. I went off course twice during the race; once after following some flags which had been moved- thanks Meryl for calling me back! 103km in the end.

We got to CP3 in Bampton and I pushed on, (through a nasty stinging nettle jungle near Askham) however, by CP4 in Howton Meryl had the lead. I needed to stop to refuel. I did not have a crew but I did have fuel bags left at various CP’s to collect. I never saw her again. She ran a strong race.

Daylight emerged and the rain arrived. The trails grew greasy which hampered my descending but ultimately my pace slowed from the previous efforts.

I ran the rest of the race alone, continually pushing as I did not know how far 1st (Meryl) was in front and how far 3rd (Claudia Chmielowska) was behind! I passed through Glenridding village hall (CP5), Grasmere reading rooms (CP6), Little Langdale (CP7) climbed up to Wall End (CP8) and down to Langdale Primary school (CP9).

By now I was pretty keen to finish. My pace was steady but certainly not competitive. My mouth felt furry, my legs were nettle rash itchy and my muscles had had enough for one day. I ran for 12hrs 8mins, came 2nd female and 7th overall.

Now to await GB selection- it’s not automatic and it’s not confirmed.

Congratulations to all those that finished!

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Musings about my Marathon

My first race of 2021. Those pre-race nerves had been long forgotten but this time were welcomed. I get horribly sweaty palms even after 20years of racing! The old routine fell into line as I got up at 5. Had a coffee and then left home to travel 2hours to the race which started at 9. We all queued up to get our bib numbers 2m apart. It felt great to pin on a bib number again.

Pre race pinning

It felt even better to see fellow runners- old friends and meet new ones.

Holly Rush and Jo Meek post race

Smiles and chat! And a sunny day too! The race vibe was there; people were warming up and queuing for the toilets as usual! On arrival we were told we could start anytime between 9-10 so previous allocated times seemed to have been revoked. I stripped off to vest and shorts, applied Premax anti-chaf balm in the appropriate places, wrapped my dodgy ankle in Rocktape, approached the start line and then the starter said go! I started my watch and the timing chip and that was it; no jostling, no going off too fast because others around you are, no chat; just me and my pace. It stayed that way for the whole 26.2miles.

I had a target pace in my head. I had no proof I could sustain it, however, I had done 13miles at it with a friend in training and I wanted to see if I could hang on.

Photo credit: Siân Longthorpe + training buddy

I realise I probably should have done more sessions at marathon pace!

At the start of the year with no specific races to aim for I thought I would concentrate on marathon training. It’s good for targeting speed and pace, however, it also has room for those long runs which is my natural leaning. I lined up a 12 week block and hoped by April there would be a race to enter.

If I’m honest I lost my way a bit in training with reality versus expectations. Up until a month before the race I constantly thought I should be able to run faster than I was. I had randomly pulled a time/ pace out of the air based on what I thought I should be able to do. I have run faster (marathon PB is 2hrs 46), I follow some very talented runners on social media who make it look effortlessly possible and I train with some local legends; all of these and the fact I don’t have much natural speed, so constantly work at it, fed into this narrative. I was setting my pace on the treadmill or road and if I wasn’t meeting it thought something was wrong rather than see that I’d set myself up to fail from the offset.

My mileage throughout was fairly constant but I was training too hard/ too fast. Friends were running or cycling with me and I was finding it hard to elevate my heart rate. I felt awful asking people to join me and then not being able to keep up! I addressed these feelings of over-cooking it, some developing niggles and my covid jab response, with about 4-5 weeks to go, and paused for a week. I also changed my eating and fuelling habits with regards to eating more carbohydrate pre- and during training because I was wondering if my heart rate was a result of not utilising carbohydrate enough being such an efficient fat burner (I wrote a post on it– if you’re interested).

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Contemplative post- run bail out

On returning to training I made my slow runs slow, I only did 2 hard sessions a week and I set realistic pace goals. What a difference this all made! I has satisfaction from completing my sessions and I was looking forward to the race as a positive challenge with an achievable goal.

I set off at 6.40min/mile pace and maintained it for 21miles. I fuelled every 40mins with a 32Gi gel and grabbed water from the aid stations which were about every 5miles.

Photo credit: Clare Capper. Lap 1
Photo credit: Clare Capper. Lap 2

I then turned to run the homeward stretch.

Photo credit: Tosh Simpkin (race photographer)

At the same time as my stomach acid was rising, the wind was more constantly persistent and there were a few lumps to climb in the road so my pace dropped slightly. I managed to average 6.43min/mile pace and finished in 2:56:13; 1st female. “That will do squirrel, that will do!”

Photo credit: Pete Stables

Now back to the trails!

Thanks go to ~ the event organisers for the opportunity to race again; Jon for looking after Puppy Wilfred on the day and the nights before; Andy Valance for running with me on the Granite Way; Siân for the Exe Estuary escapades; and Clare for being that cycling pacer and travel companion and all my sponsors 😍

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