Thursday, 23 April 2015

All roads lead to Milngavie

I haven't written anything for a while so here’s a wee catch up.

Devilla Forest 15km on the 8th February had perfect conditions for running. It was dry, bright but a wee bit too cold for my liking but I have clothes and the race plan was – Go hard and hang on!

At the start I stood fairly well up, last year I started well back the field and I got a bit held up by the white shoe runners on the technical bits, I wasn’t going to let that happen this year, even though it wasn’t going to be a mud-fest, the paths and tracks were reported dry, frozen, maybe a bit rutted but nothing I couldn’t handle. After about a mile or so we turned on to the narrow path and it was all very civilised, the pace eased slightly because of the rough terrain but we all stayed in the trail conga with nobody fighting past anyone-else, once back on to wider track, positions changed a fair bit, I’d go past someone then they’d go by me, not something I’m used to in a race, I tend to have a blether until someone stops for a comfort break or to take out a sandwich!  I felt as if I might’ve over cooked the pace, but then thought to myself, what was the worst that could happen? My legs would get heavy and I’d go slower!  Ok, I can live with that, just hang with it; it’s only six miles to go! I had a wee glance at my time at half way, if I maintained the pace, a PB was on. 

We were back onto a narrow track and again the pace eased slightly, but I didn’t stress it, just stayed in the conga, no point wasting energy trying to get round someone, the course was well marked with plenty marshals, (no chance of last year’s shenanigans whether it was nasty sabotage or delinquent neds having a laugh) the marshals were encouraging everyone, I was happy to comply to Kevin’s instructions and walk the skitey plank bridge, yay, a wee breather!  But not for long, once off the steep narrow path I pushed as hard as I could go. The final mile I was running like my arse was on fire, once back on the tarmac two or three runners went past me, I consoled myself that they obviously couldn’t have worked as hard as I did for the whole way if they had a sprint finish!
It felt like my lungs were back to front or inside out and took a few minutes to get my breathing back to normal but it was brilliant!  I knocked 2.46 minutes off from 2012, with the conditions being perfect I think there were a few PB’s to be had that day but I’m glad to see my strength has returned and a great confidence boost.

Smokies 10 1st March

After such a great run at Devilla I was chomping at the bit for another blast at Go hard and hang on. I doubted a PB would happen, I set a Smokies PB in 2013, I was on a mission that day to prove I was fit for the fight ahead; the race was days before I went into hospital for surgery at the start of my cancer treatment.

I was aiming at finishing in around the same time as Devilla, I thought that the easier going tarmac would equal-out the extra half mile of the ten miler but the hill would make it a quality challenge.  I wasn’t taking into account that it was blowin’ a hoolie in the moosh for the first half which is up-hill to boot! On the way out I tried to find an odd bit of shelter behind other runners but it wasn’t happening.  I worked hard to try and hang on to those that were a bit faster than me, but I wasn’t prepared to use someone at a slightly slower pace to get a breather from the wind. I sneaked a peek at my watch at half way. Ooft! I felt I was working harder than that! But I’d be guaranteed negative splits with the downhill and the wind now working with me. I spread my shoulder blades as wide as they would go and imagined they were kites. I didn’t let the effort go and still worked as hard as I could, pushing all the way. I finished around a minute slower than Devilla but very happy with that considering how hard the wind was blowing. I was well outside my PB, but five minutes faster than last year where I felt I was at the start of rebuilding my strength and on the grand scale of twenty-two Smokies races it was in the top third of my times.  Another confirmation that I’m back.
Photo from Duncan McGougan - definitely not my ultra-shuffle stride! 

That’s the speed work done and onto the next phase of training, getting in some long comfortable cruise miles.  Driving home from Smokies Sue mentioned that she was running the Borders Marathon the following weekend and there were still places available. I’ve never entered a marathon six days before the event before but it sounded loads more fun than the Billy-no-mates twenty miler I had planned, so on Monday I entered it. I wasn’t going to race it, just use it as a training run but with sticking on a race number I’d give it a bit of welly at the end and hopefully pick up the pace for the last six miles.  

Borders Marathon 8th March

Sue and I travelled down to Kelso in good timing for the 9.00am start, the course was twenty-three and a half laps on the safety track at Kelso Racecourse.  I quite enjoy running round and round, my introduction to laps was at Glenrothes 50km in 2001 with a mere fourteen to count, and since 2008 all my races that have had laps have been a minimum of twenty-four hours so it was a novelty to run a “wee” race on laps!  From the start I clicked into my ultra-cruise mode and keep a fine steady pace, it was lovely to have snippets of conversation with everyone, I probably had more blether with the fast guys and gals since they lapped me loads!

Although there was a table stocked with drinks and sweeties available every lap with great marshals handing them out I wore my bottle belt and carried a couple of gels I only had to stop once to swap my water bottle (technically I stopped twice, more about that in a minute) the loop looked flat but there was a bit of a slope to it that wasn’t very noticeable at the start but as the miles clocked up the wind picked up too, and flaming typical, the wind was in our faces on the up side of the loop!  My slowest mile was the twentieth one where I had a struggle getting my second gel in, it was an awfy thick one and needed a lot of water to sloosh it round my mouth but once it was down I did manage to pick up the pace and push on to the finish.  I’d gone round the final bend and was winding up for a strong finish with about fifty yards to go… SPLAT! My nose was an inch from the ground! How did that happen?  I was back up as quick as I went down.  When saving myself from a fall I’m an aficionado of the starfish technique, landing evenly on all points of contact, no serious damage done, apart from being a bit dusty and feeling like a proper muppet! I don’t think anyone saw me, well, maybe the girl sitting right where I hit the deck and all the lap counters!  (At bath time just found some wee bumps and scuffs on both my knees, elbows and hands, also my left hip and thigh.) Sue finished not long after me, a quality training run for her too, pleased with her pacing and reassuring herself of making the cut off for the Two Oceans, her first big race since ankle surgery.

This was the second running of the Borders Marathon and I think it will grow; it’s a good accurately measured course with the possibility of a PB if the wind plays the game. I’ll happily do it again next year.

 Loch Katrine Marathon 22nd March

I was really looking forward to running this again, the scenery is stunning, the course challenging and the everyone involved friendly. With it being an out and back route you get to say hiya to all the runners. 

Just before the start we were honoured with a fly-past from a chevron of geese, I cringed as I looked up and I was glad not to get hit with “luck”!

After Audrey’s briefing we were off, I ran quite a few miles with Ellen and Amanda, lovely to have a catch up with them. 

I think I was around ten or eleven miles when the leaders were on their way back, last year I ran with my camera and I was doing the same again, I tried to get everyone’s photos but some were too blurry. (Loch Katrine photos) I was having a cracking run, really enjoying myself, I think with the memories of how hard last year was, this year I felt so strong in comparison.  Even Graveyard hill which climbs for over a mile at around the nineteenth mile couldn’t take the smile from my face, once up and over I did the same as at Kelso and pushed on to finish strong, (also glad I didn’t stop for a lie-down within spitting distance of finish!)  Surprisingly, considering the climbs, I was four minutes faster than the Borders Marathon two weeks earlier, and sixteen minutes faster than last year. Again proof that I’m back and my training is going well.

The following weekend Pauline and I had a twenty mile jaunt from Derrydarroch down to Inversnaid and back, it was a bit of a dreich day, we had rain-jackets on the whole time, there were a few wee blinks of sun and rainbows, the heavy rain had made the waterfalls thunderous and put some where there usually isn’t any. 
It was also a Fling training weekend and there was a bus load running from Balmaha or Rowardennan up to Tyndrum so it was lovely to say hi to everyone. (photos)

The next weekend had us doing a thirty miler from Bridge of Orchy out and back, I wasn’t sure where we would turn back but the Garmin clocked fifteen miles at Altnafeadh, I was prepared to go up the Devil’s Staircase, but Pauline persuaded me that it wasn’t needed, besides it was in cloud, we’d see nothing from the top, we would have done a fair bit of climbing by the time we’d get back to Bridge of Orchy also we’ll have time for fish and chips at the Real Food Café.  Ok, I’m convinced. (photos)
I was happily weary at the end and according to my Garmin there was over 3000 feet of ascent!  So we fair enjoyed our grub in the Café and a bonus of getting a blether with Helen, John and Amanda when they called in for something to eat after their adventures on the Way too. 

It’s now a  couple of days until the Highland Fling, the highlight of my WHW training, and I’m loving the buzz and excitement on the race facebook page, if the Fling wasn’t there I doubt I’d go this far in training  but this is exactly what brought it about in the first place! A quality training run for the West Highland Way race and it’s amazing to see what a fantastic race it has grown into over the past ten years; it’s just such a brilliant day with the best buddies you’ll ever come across. I don’t doubt I’ll feel as good as I have on all my other long runs this year and hopefully I’ll manage to put in a bit of welly at the end.  

On the medical front my consultant is happy with me and only wants to see me every three months now instead of two, but I’m a bit disappointed that the nerve damage from surgery, chemo and radio has not settled down much, my mouth is still very sensitive and irritated by most foods, eating will always be a chore and eating out is a bit of an ordeal but I’m thriving fairly well on full fat milk, salmon, homemade soup, beer and Tiramisu, I think that covers all the main food groups!  On the plus side I can now feel all of my bottom lip, it is still a bit tingly but feeling is there, nerves take a very long time to repair and there will always be numbness and “fizzy” bits but I still live in hope there will be improvement even if it is slow going. I’m even producing a smidgen of saliva, not enough to make a difference for eating and I’ll always need a bottle of water to hand but at least I don’t feel the need to have a sip of water every time I speak a sentence.  On the big plus quite a few folk have said they have noticed my speech is a lot clearer especially those I haven’t seen for a while, with the progress being slow those close to me probably don’t noticed it so much, I don’t suppose it will ever sound right to me but I’m glad that I’m understood.

It’s now over two years since the surgery and time has been a bit warped, sometimes it feels like it was only a few months ago but when I look back I have managed to do so much. 2013 felt like it was a wide eyed fight, 2014 was a slog, but 2015 has been so good so far, I feel so strong, training has been perfect and I’m really looking forward to this year’s West Highland Way Race. There are no guarantees in future plans, I have entered the race every year since 2003 and I’ve had two DNS’s, in 2005 a brain haemorrhage and 2013 cancer but I have no doubt that I’ll be on the start line on June 20th and I’ll get to Fort William, I’m not going to predict a PB or any finish time for that matter, I’ve ran it enough to know Plan A rarely happens.  One goal is keeping a smile on my face, being the first woman in the history of the race to pick up their eleventh goblet. Now that will be some achievement!