Thursday, 27 March 2014

Loch Katrine Marathon

I was pleasantly surprised when the alarm went off at 5.30am that it wasn’t totally dark, I haven’t seen this time in the morning for ages. After a big bowl of porridge and a big mug of coffee, I was ready to go.  Sue picked up Morna and then me, and we arrived in time for a pot of tea before the start, very civilised for pre-race preparation. It was lovely to have a wee catch up with folk I haven’t seen in ages, especially Ellen; we compared notes on returning to running.  Yep, we both agreed that the fatigue from chemo and radiotherapy is a bit of a pace killer, but we are on our way back.   

It was a stunning day although a bit of an icy cold wind, the snow topped hills were sparkling in the brilliant sunshine. I was looking forward to running somewhere new to me. My race plan was to have a quality training run, I still felt heavy legged from the Great Glen runs nearly a fortnight ago. My goals were to be quicker than my Loch Ness Marathon in September, and, if possible, to run it all. My quads still need building up and hill work is the way to do it and from what I’d heard about the course, this was place to do it!  I was also carrying my camera, I didn’t plan on stopping to frame photos but the scenery was too gorgeous not to try and capture it even if it was just a point and click on the hoof.

After a photo and a short race briefing from Audrey we were off.

I love an out and back course, it’s great to see and say Hi to everyone face to face, I tried to photograph everyone (all my photos here) but since I was shooting from the hip, I ended up with quite a few fuzzy ones, some tarmac and close up nostril selfie!  I got a better selfie with Sue near the turn.

On the way out I wasn’t confident of being able to run all the hills, especially when I saw the one at around six miles, it would be climbed again at twenty miles!  

I maintained a steady plod and didn’t stop at all except to hug a few marshals and to pee (I’m blaming that pot of tea) also a quick pause for a photo shoot-out with Lorna near the turn. 

I got this cracker pointing my camera over my shoulder earlier

But more importantly was the way I felt.  I was comfortable the whole way, maybe because I remember how empty and exhausted I was at Loch Ness, I felt as if I eased myself round, not fighting the cold wind or the terrain, on the hills I told myself I could go as slow as I liked as long as I didn’t walk, and shuffled my way up.  I had a wee cheer to myself seeing this sign on the hill at twenty miles. 
Mission accomplished, no walking! 

I finished with a big daft grin which I think was on my face all the whole way round. I was also thirty-three minutes quicker than Loch Ness, a great confidence boost in my recovery and another step towards my goal in June.
photo from Running Gannet

Loch Katrine is a small no frills running festival organised by Audrey for the first time last year as a one off fund raiser incorporating a 10k, a half marathon and marathon and after its success she was persuaded to put it on again this year.  I'm so glad she did, I've just found my new favourite marathon. Now don't tell anyone about it, it's our secret, 'cause when the entries open next year, there's going to be a stampede! 
You can follow Audrey's Adventures and find details of Loch Katrine Running Festival here

Friday, 14 March 2014

A Recce in the Snecky

Pauline is doing the Great Glen Ultra in July this year and wants to cover most of it before hand. I’m happy to go along with that and it’s lovely to go and run somewhere new.  So plans were made and perfect weather booked.

We drove up to Inverness Sunday afternoon. We did budget hostel instead of our usual B&B we stay in for the Loch Ness Marathon since it’s just training, only slight problem, they have no car park but for the princely sum of £3 for twenty-four hours we left the car in the car park above the Market Brae Steps which wasn’t too far away.  We then wandered down to the Bus Station to buy our tickets for the following morning, and it was lovely to have a wee blether with Robert Kinnaird who had ran the Half Marathon in the morning before he headed home on the train.  Then back to the hostel for some pasta, we pushed the boat out and had a couple of pints in the pub before heading to bed.

Breakfast on Monday morning was porridge at a civilised hour then we headed for the 8.45am Fort William bus with a wee detour to the car park to pay for the parking.  The bus driver took the ticket from Pauline and said “The Youth Hostel, are you sure? There’s nothing there.” Then he looked at us dressed in tights with back packs and stated the obvious, “Ah, you’re runners!”  Glad he didn’t just think we had a lycra fetish!  I asked him to give us a shout when we got there, I didn’t want to miss the stop, the run was going to be around twenty seven/twenty eight miles and that was long enough!

Once we got off the bus, there was no obvious sign to the Great Glen Way but it wasn’t hard to find, with the loch at our backs, we walked towards a house over the road with a track leading up, and tad-ah, a blue marker post! Yaay! Now just a wee run back to Inverness! 

The weather was perfect, no wind and wall to wall sunshine, I even took my gloves off just after we got going. It was fairly steep from the start, so we walked and jogged our way up watching a helicopter that was buzzing back and forward trailing a big bucket, not realising as we climbed, we were going to come face to face with it. We had to wait a few minutes as it was parked on the path to refuel.  We were quite happy to have a wee breather even though we’d just started, that first climb was a steep two miles long!

The path under-foot varied from wide forest track to soft woodland path, and a fair bit of tarmac and pavement, Pauline was wearing trail shoes, I had on road shoes, we were both happy with our choice of footwear.  We carried a map with us but never felt the need to bring it out, the blue marker posts were well placed and sufficient.  There was a long road section where we didn’t see a marker for ages, although there was nowhere else to go it was reassuring to finally see a blue post.

After Drumnadrochit we’d been stomping up a steep, twisty path in the woods, every bend I’d look up and it got steeper, we’d go round another bend and it got even steeper, Pauline said “What are you laughing at?” Oops, I didn’t realise I laughed out loud, this hill is ridiculously steep and I’m daft enough to find it funny.  I think I covered it when I answered “This hill… come race day, I’ll be one of BaM’s lovely assistants and I won’t have to come up here again!”  Pauline wasn’t exaggerating when she said, “This is like climbing out of Kinlochleven but twice as long!” 

Emerald Forest

Profile for the last 30 miles of the GGW

There’s a long section on road through open moorland where you can see the path for miles which was fine in the sunshine, but come race day, if your head isn’t in a happy place it could be soul destroying, especially if the weather is foul.  
Looking back

Don’t know what these padlocks were meant to keep locked in (or out) but the gate was wide open!
 Eventually we were back on meandering forest tracks and paths

Finally we could see Inverness which was probably about four miles away, we plodded on, looking at the Garmin, our run was going to be closer to twenty nine miles, the race finishes in the stadium at Bught Park but we decided we would stop at the bouncy bridge which is just past the park, but the GGW path takes you over the river before that so we just followed the markers, I then suggested we finish at the Castle which would round up our run to thirty miles, I knew Pauline wouldn’t want to log twenty-nine and a half miles We needed to burl round a bucket right beside the Castle and back down to the traffic lights before the Garmin beeped, a tad OCD but always good to push on further than you plan. I was tired, my feet were a bit achy but nothing hurt, I was moving easily albeit slowly.  I was really pleased with how I felt, going from my last long run of sixteen miles to almost double is quite a big jump in mileage but I didn’t think the sensible rule of increasing training by ten percent applies to old warhorses!

After a lovely hot shower followed by pasta and beer at the hostel, we thought a brisk walk would do us good.  We took some of our gear back to the car so we weren’t too laden in the morning and bought some more beer, well, we had earned it.

Tuesday morning saw us heading towards Fort Augustus, we weren’t finished with the GGW yet, a wee out and back run with a max of ten miles was the plan, we parked at the wee forestry commission car park at Allt na Criche about a mile outside Fort Augustus.  We managed a gentle pace along the Caledonian Canal and turned back after five miles out, if either of us was struggling we would’ve turned earlier but I’m happy to say all I felt was tired.

Next was the decision of which way to go home, I suggested the A82 and a call into the Woolly Mill at Fort William for a cup of tea and a scone first, then we changed our minds to a bowl of soup but when we got there we changed our minds again, a baked tattie with haggis, when it arrived it was served with salad which I punted onto Pauline’s plate, as much as I’d love to eat salad it’s just not worth the time or effort but I did manage to eat all my tattie and haggis even though Pauline had to twiddle her thumbs for a bit and it was cold when I finished.  

We ended up having to go down the A9, as the A82 was closed, I later found out it was due to a lorry spilling its load of hydrogen peroxide, hopefully it was just a clean up and no one was hurt. I was a bit disappointed not to go through Glencoe it would’ve been stunning with snow on the hills in the sunshine but the view at the Commando Memorial didn’t disappoint.

Now a few days later, I’m still not suffering any after effects other than tiredness and I’m not sure whether it was running on new trails or the sunshine but I feel as if I’ve had a holiday, plans are for more of the same and hopefully soon. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Smokies 10

I ran Smokies for the first time in 1992 and this was my twenty-first running of the race, over the years I’ve had some strong runs and some with lingering illness or injury, last year I was in excellent running shape and ran a PB of 1.18.27. It was also my last race before the two surgeries, chemo and radiotherapy.  Pauline asked me at training on Thursday if running this weekend would bookend the last twelve months.  Hmm, I gave it some thought as she powered on up the hill and I shuffled on in her wake.  No, not yet, I’m still working hard regaining my health and fitness, and once I feel back to full strength, from the neck down at least, I can move on.  My treatment started just after last year’s race but didn’t finish until the last day of May with no running at all in that time, so it’s June I’m targeting and specifically the 21st,  it will be then I’ll slam that book shut!  From the neck up I’ll never be the same again but I’m learning to adapt, I saw the consultant a couple of weeks ago, he is happy with my progress and reiterated healing is slow and I’ll only notice improvement retrospectively 
My last ten mile training run was at the end of January and in a time of 1.51.05 but training and racing are two different entities, and I’ve been working hard at the speed work at the club but it’s one thing hanging on to a sub nine minute mile for a five minute effort and trying to maintain it for a hilly ten miles. My plan was to push hard and see what happens, no matter what my finishing time, the work rate would be maintained throughout, I had hoped to run around ninety minutes knowing that that would be a tough ask but a quality test of where I am fitness wise.

The conditions were good, bright and sunny, with a little bit of a chilly wind, I was in my usual long sleeved top, long tights, Buffs and gloves although they were fingerless, a few were in shorts and vests.  I put myself in the middle of the pack for the start and we were off, round the first corner is always into the wind, occasionally I tried to shelter behind the runner in front but it never worked out for long, they were either too fast or too slow.  We were soon strung out and heading towards the drink station, I didn’t bother taking a cup, I always carry a wee water bottle since having a permanently dry mouth from the side effects of the chemo and radio, but swallowing gets in the way of breathing when I’m working hard so I just rinse and spit, luckily it’s only been my shoes that I’ve splattered… so far!

The third and fourth mile are a long slog up, I didn’t let the effort go but quite a few went past me, Ann, who I’ve known since we were five years old went by saying “You sound like me, you’re puffing!”  I managed to puff back a monosyllabic “Aye!”  At last, the left turn at the top and a good mile and half downhill, I used gravity to pull me down and I past quite a few here, I’m not competitive with anyone other than myself, it just gave me a gauge of my pace against those around me.  I always run to my body and never my watch, but at half way I sneaked a peek, forty-five minutes, there are no more big hills just some wee undulations, if I could hang on, the ninety minutes is on!

When it levelled out I was close to pushing it over the edge.  Control!  Don’t waste energy thrashing it out! I shouted in my head, and once again I enlisted the help of William Sichel.  I first did a William at Smokies 2011, (2011 race report here) He runs with a short stride, the cadence kept at a fair clip and minimal movement above the knees, I tried to emulate his excellent, efficient style and regain a semblance of composure.

With a mile to go I swithered about checking the time, I couldn’t have gone any harder, I did have a wee look, it will be under ninety if I can hold on.  The last half mile was into the wind. My mantra was I can boak at the finish.  I pushed on,  round the gates and onto the grass for the final few yards. There wasn’t a big race clock but I checked my watch, 1.28.57. (My official time 1.29.15) Inside my goal! I managed not to boak but needed a minute hanging over with my hands on my knees to get control of my breathing.
Once I’d gathered myself I headed straight in, had a quick change, and headed for the food.  I felt a bit guilty not waiting to see everyone else finish but eating is a slow process even when it’s just one wee triangle egg sandwich, a wee sausage roll and a wee chocolate cake, I took the liberty of bringing a big thermal travel mug, and the lady at the tea table didn’t mind filling it for me, I knew a wee polystyrene cup would not be enough fluid to aid my eating, but looking back six, seven months ago I wouldn’t have attempted eating these things in public, so I am making progress albeit slow.

There were fourteen Carnegie ladies running and Gail, Isobel, Mary and Morna picked up prizes in the old dear categories, and these old dearies can still shift, they also got second team too.  A bit disappointing that for the first year, as far as I can remember, not one of us got a spot prize, of which there is quantity as well as quality.

Next stop was the fish shop at the harbour for our Smokies, again another tradition.

Comparing my old Smokies 10 results I didn’t think this year was my slowest, in 2010 I ran 1.32.41, I was a bit injured then but it is still a great boost to see how far I've come. I’ve still a lot of work to do but it is in hand. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

An overdue progress report

Sorry I've not written anything in ages but not much has been happening, or so it feels.

I didn't want to do the usual review of last year, I'm just glad to slam the door shut on that one and hope never to see its like again.  But just looking back at my running, it still proved I'm alive and very much kicking! A PB at Smokies 10 in March, a week before my treatment started showed I was in the best shape possible for the fight ahead. Then in June, covering the Skye half marathon in just under three hours a week after my radio and chemo finished did wonders for my morale.  Then filed under How the Hell did I manage that!  127 miles at the 48 hour race at the British Ultra Fest in August,  which according to the DUV Ultra Marathon Statistics website, the World ranking for 48 hours in 2013 has me in at 46 from the 131 women listed! Then I'll always remember my 25 miles in 6 hours at Glenmore24 with an emotional smile, I was back where I belonged.  Loch Ness Marathon was tough, and although my slowest marathon in over five hours it still showed progress.

After the Loch Ness Marathon I had a bit of a rest, I felt very tired afterwards and thought I better try and recoup my strength, (the words of my specialist nurse ringing in my ears, "The fatigue can take a year to go away!") I had done some big daft stuff so decided just to take it easy for the rest of the year and start 2014 fresh. In mid October I went back to the club for the first time in months, I wanted to try and get some quality back into the 15 to 20 miles a week I was starting to do.  The first session back was five minute efforts with ninety second recovery, the plan was to ease back gently to speed work.  Ha!  Gentle speed work?  I think it's more likely I win the lottery and see the Loch Ness Monster on the same day than that happen!  Generally the pace recommended is either 5km or 10km. Now, how am I supposed to know my pace for these distances?  So I think doing "push 'til I boak" is close enough!  I'd missed running at the club, at Carnegie the sessions are tailored so that we all work together, there are no wee cliques and it was great being back. I'm also back to my yoga class, and that has and will continue to make a big difference to the damage to my shoulder and neck. 

The plan for the new year is to gradually increase my training, aiming at covering around 30 miles a week for January and increase the number of days a week from three/four to five/six.  So far so good, yesterday I rounded off the week with my longest run in training so far, a slow 14 mile run with Sue on a very muddy, hilly route, a great time on feet day.  

My mouth is taking a lot longer to heal than I thought it would, it's still sensitive to a lot of foods and eating is, at best, a chore and quite often an ordeal and sometimes I feel I could quite happily never eat again but if I want my body to perform it has to have the fuel so I will persevere.  It is hard to come to terms with the fact that I'll never eat properly again but still a small price to pay if I'm to stay alive.  I haven't been able to get my weight back to what it was pre-surgery but it is fairly stable, so I'll just take it that I have a new fighting weight.  I don't have a schedule to work to, I'm just going on how I feel, working hard then taking the recovery and rest days needed.  I have a lot of work to do, my quads are still puny, especially on hills, but I have noticed a difference,  I'm no longer dragging my carcass, I'm pushing it. That's huge progress! 

Friday, 11 October 2013

To Loch Ness and beyond...

I had a check up on Wednesday before the marathon, the consultant is pleased with my progress although I'm impatient that my mouth is still sensitive to a lot of foods, I was told that it is still early days  and I was reminded that I have had major surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy and the fatigue from that can take up to a year to go away. Which funnily enough made me feel a bit better, lately I've felt guilty "wasting" the mornings, since I'm now getting up around eight thirty, an hour later than my old normal and by the time I've had my breakfast and footered aboot a bit it's nearly lunchtime!  Hopefully I'll get myself a bit more productive soon.

Back in 2011 there were ten of us who had done all ten Loch Ness Marathons and I'm not sure how many of us are still managing to keep the streak  going  but this is my favourite marathon and I'll continue to enjoy do it as long as I can put one foot in front of the other no matter how long it takes me.  
Pauline and I arrived at our B&B early Saturday afternoon, we stay with Amy and Ewan at Craigside Lodge every year, and they had a wee present for me.

The B&B is perfectly sited  just down from the Castle and less then a fifteen minute walk over the bouncy foot bridge to the race village, and after being in the car for a few hours it was good to stretch our legs on our walk down to Bught Park to pick up our numbers. We then strolled along and had a browse in the shops, stood and listened to the live music in the Square, a fund raising event for the STV Appeal until it was time for our meal, I booked our table for 5.30pm to give me plenty time to eat, I had checked the menu online to see if there was something I would manage, there was, pasta in a blue cheese sauce, and I managed it all except for a couple of forkfuls Pauline had, just to taste how delicious it was, and a pint of Guinness to round it off before heading  back for an early night.

Breakfast for the runners was at 6.00am and there was six of us up for it, I had a huge bowl of porridge with banana and honey followed by a couple of poached eggs.  (Amy was running the 10km, I'm sure she had plenty time to clear up before heading off for her race.) This was the first time Pauline and I were staying on Sunday night so it was nice just to walk down to the busses rather than have to take the car and join the queue to park the car.  Pauline and I didn't get to sit together on the bus but I had a lovely wee blether with Ross, Pauline was dozing until I prodded her to look out the window, the bus was going round by Fort Augustus, the mist was lifting and the view down the loch was stunning.  Not sure she appreciated it though.

After getting off the bus we used the forest facilities or what was left of the trees, kinda handy wearing a wee kilt.  Then we managed to say hi to quite a few friends before putting our belongings on the baggage lorry then headed down to the start, we stood in the middle trying to do the penguin huddle thing, the sun was out but the wind was cold, I was frozen, it made my back ache and I felt brittle. I was wearing long tights, my kilt, short-sleeved top, vest and arm warmers, I wished I'd brought a Buff, I was chittering and was dying to get going and hopefully warm up.

Eventually we were off, I ran with Pauline for the first mile or so before letting her go on, even though she wasn't going to run hard, her training has been minimal this year with family stuff taking priority and she still felt the British Ultra Fest in her legs.  The first few miles were fairly fast but I didn't worry,  it was just gravity doing it's job since it's all down hill for around five-ish miles.  Then on the first short sharp up hill I had to tell myself to stop being a daft bugger and walk, stupid pride/tradition getting in the way,  I don't walk in marathons, it's speed work! A standing joke amongst ultra runners.  But this year hasn't been my traditional preparation so if I wanted to survive I had to change my tactics, and once I broke the tradition and did that first wee walk I would let the gradient dictate my mode of movement, I did have a wee problem when I walked, down my right hamstring and behind my knee was tight and sore and it was hard to stride out when I walked, I wondered if it was because I'd been so cold and tight at the start .  This wasn't going to be easy and I didn't expect it to be, running a marathon never is but I have had practice at running this race tired.  For the previous five years of running Loch Ness I've done a 24 hour race about a fortnight beforehand  and my energy levels have been low but this year my energy was nonexistent.  I've lurched from the British Ultra Fest to my emotional fun run at Glenmore24 and now to a marathon in the space of just over six weeks, and  I'm not quite four months post treatment!  In between these events I'd rested rather than trained, thinking gathering my strength more important than tiring myself trying to train. The muscles in my legs are empty, my quads have softened and atrophied but no matter how tired I felt it was far better than being in hospital!  

I have honed my energy management skills to perfection, no pushing, just moving forward as fast as I can with the minimum effort required, following the racing line, walking the inclines, running the flats and down hills. At thirteen miles I was going to pick up a gel at the feed station but there was none left, not to worry, I'd had a good breakfast and I had drank an Ensure milkshake on the bus so I was well fuelled for my sedate pace, I'll just get one later. 

The crowds at Dores were as loud as ever, I was wearing my vest with my name printed on the front and what a boost having people shout my name with their encouragement.  I high-fived the kids, as knackered as I was it was still fun, I walked most of the hill looking over my left shoulder at the stunning view down the loch. 

Eventually I got a gel at around 20 miles but I knew it wasn't going to work any miracles and I now had to put in wee walks on the flat, but I was strict with myself and only took short walks picking the distance between the bollards marking the course, I didn't want to prolong it any more than I had to. Pauline was standing at the bouncy foot bridge, she'd finished ages ago and was pleased to see me within my predicted finishing time of between five and six hours. My final wee walk was in the last mile on the hump of the bridge although earlier I had told myself to run all of the last two miles, my legs weren't playing so after giving them a last wee breather I used every ounce of determination and ran all the way in. I could see the finish and focused on it,  to my right I could hear and see Sandra above everyone else cheering,  she was standing on the barrier waving like mad, seeing her made me emotional I wanted to stop and hug her but if I did I wouldn't get going again, a wee wave was all I managed, then I was over the finish line in 5 hours 6 minutes. I managed to keep control of my emotions, there were children watching, I wanted to hug the wee girl that gave me my medal but that would've invaded her space and scared her so I just thanked her and moved on to collect my t-shirt and goody bag. I was met by Pauline, John and Isobel and stood a bit dazed, John let me finish his can of Sprite before I managed collect my bag and we headed for the post race meal, although I wasn't sure if I would managed what was offered I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't eat it, the veg in my soup was raw and stovies were just inedible, not to worry, we headed back to the B&B.

It was lovely not having to drive home, after a wee rest we met John and hit the town looking for somewhere to eat, but everywhere we fancied was busy so we ended up buying some ready meals and a few bottles of beer at Tesco and we spent the evening in the conservatory at the B&B and the brilliant thing about that was when we were tired and ready for bed, there was no weary walk home from the pub, just a plod up the stairs.

After our large breakfast on Monday morning our parting words with Amy and Ewan were "See you next year." We had a wee detour before heading home, stopping at Dores, which brought back childhood memories, we 'd spent many hours skimming stones, Pauline hasn't lost the knack.

Then an ooyah ooyah walk down the hundreds of steps to the waterfall at Foyers, our quads weren't liking it much but I'm sure it would help. We were still in tourist mode going down the A9, I don't know how many times I've looked over to Ruthven Barracks and said we'll need to stop there one day, so we did.

I didn't run again for a week and I'm now on a "sensible" mission, rebuilding my puny quads.  I don't think I'll do any long runs for a while, but work on short sharp efforts and hills. I've been back to the club this week and did the speed work, with the word speed being used loosely, but my bahooky muscles know they've been doing something.  I'll leave doing hills for another week, and the hill I've chosen is the one that goes up passed Culross Abbey, if you don't know it, it's a cracker but I'll start gently with just two reps.  Pauline did suggest I start with something smaller but I'm not that sensible! I have a lot of work to do!
I have a date with my tenth crystal Goblet in June!