A month ago yesterday was the Ring of Steall Skyrace, part of a phenomenal weekend put together by the Skyline Scotland team, Ourea Events and the amazing people that make up the mountain running community.
This was my big race of 2016. I was trying something new (skyrunning: big ascents, tough terrain), flirting with ultra running time-on-your-feet territory, and pushing my boundaries physically, but most importantly, mentally. I learned so much about myself during the entire training period, about what I can do, how my mind puts limitations on my abilities, and how to continue to push through mental barriers. In a way, when it comes to trail running, I grew up.
The weekend started with a drive in the dark from our home in Aberdeenshire to Kinlochleven, the location of the Skyline Scotland race weekend, as well as Ice Factor, the very important event centre. Pat and I arrived at Ice Factor with minutes to spare before registration shut. Thankfully, we were the only ones registering at the time, despite the many competitors lingering about the place. We picked up our race bibs and maps, got our dibbers fastened onto our wrists, got photos taken, picked up our complimentary race t-shirt, and got our kit bags checked by staff. We also impulse-purchased the Skyline Scotland hoodies. It was then off to our accommodation to attempt to unpack, unwind and get some sleep before the biggest race of our lives.
In almost two week’s time, I will be racing in the biggest event of my running ‘career’ ever. Along with Pat, I will be running the inaugural Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace, in the West Highlands of Scotland. Pat and I have been training all summer, accumulating hours upon hours of time on our feet, thousands of feet elevation gain, and seeing some stunning, raw and dramatic Scottish scenery along the way. As part of our training, we ran the current Ring of Steall race route a few weeks ago, to see what we were in for. It was an eye-opening ‘run’ that is easily the most physically demanding task I’ve ever done to date, encompassing 8200 feet/2500 metres elevation gain (the most for me in a single run), and the longest time spent on my feet. I write ‘run’ because there wasn’t much running done, and in my tired, emotionally spent post-recce state, I used the expression ‘unrunnable’ to describe the route because it is so technical and steep, I wonder how people will actually run the flats and descents.
I experienced my lowest lows and highest highs on this run – crying a few times and also in complete awe of the landscape and what we accomplished – and found it to be great mental preparation for the race. I now know what I’m in for and what to expect, and where. I know what the terrain is like, how difficult the scrambling will be, and how seriously muddy and wet the race route could be. While this was a training run to gage physical race-day readiness, I’ve realised that the training process also involves training the mind to deal with and get through the most mentally (and physically) exhausting of challenges. This recce, and subsequent runs since, has been very good mental preparation!
We got views of Ben Nevis throughout this run
Now I want to share this race route recce in hopes that it will help those that are also racing, but haven’t made it out to Kinlochleven. I guess it’s the teacher in me that wants to plan, prepare and help others.
Our recce followed the current Ring of Steall good weather race route on the Skyline Scotland website, and this course preview relies on the given map for guidance. We were very fortunate to have ideal weather conditions for our recce: sun, clear skies, no wind, dry. But the midges were horrendous, so be prepared!
I’m writing this post on my Samsung S5 Neo, not because I downloaded the WordPress app for fun, but because I downloaded it out of necessity. A blogger needs access to their blogging platform to keep the blog going…. right?
The problem with blogging is… well there are several problems. The first being that a blogger needs a computer, and currently I am without one. Last week, my less-than-two-year-old Lenovo touchscreen laptop started to not function properly. It either showed a perpetual black screen, despite being turned on, or the screen did this:
This September and October, I’ll be running two tough races, three weeks apart: the inaugural Ring of Steall Skyrace and the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon. Every week, I’ll be reflecting on my training – what worked, what didn’t, changes made, fueling, diet, sleep, etc.
What I learned this week:
- One of the reasons the Ring of Steall has a huge elevation gain (8200 feet or 2500 m) in so little distance (16 miles or 25km) is that it starts, and finishes, at sea level. There is a sea loch at Kinlochleven, the site of the race start/finish. This means, that rather than the usual inland ascent of say 2000 feet (which is still a lot but doable), we’re climbing from the very bottom to the very top of a munro, immediately. That’s over 3000 feet. Good thing I’m still in the early phases of training.
- Take more clothes on long trail runs because you never know what Mother Nature will throw at you!
- My fitness is much better than it was a few months ago. This training is paying off big time.
- Never drink alcohol, even a small amount, the day of a long trail run. You’ll find out why!
This September and October, I’ll be running two tough races, three weeks apart: the inaugural Ring of Steall Skyrace and then Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon. Every week, I’ll be reflecting on my training – what worked, what didn’t, changes made, fueling, diet, sleep.. everything.
What I learned this week:
- You can think outside of the box when it comes to mid-race fuel for long distance trail runs and ultras. It doesn’t have to be typical energy gels or chews – which for me, get sickening very quickly – it can be actual food that you can eat on the go and carry in your pack. This week, I bought a bunch of higher carb, paleo-ish, real food options to experiment with during long trail runs: dried mango, dried mixed fruit (mango, pineapple, coconut), Bounce protein energy balls (roasted almond), Kallo organic milk chocolate-covered rice cakes, gluten-free pretzels (super high carb and salty!), Nakd salted caramel bites.
- I could take an easy week because I had already had a few training weeks under my belt, (though not all have been blogged about), and because I have a huge hill run planned for week 3, so I needed to save my legs a bit.
- A hill running tip from my friend Dee, who is like a mountain goat when it comes to running up huge hills: she makes it straight to the top! She said to keep your torso straight up and down, pump the arms, small steps and just shut out the pain, the toll. I can do all of that, apart from the shutting out – I’m working on that.
Warning: this post contains images of raw animal bones that might offend some. The purpose of this post is to inform people about all aspects of bone broth; it isn’t intended to offend people.
The highly revered, much spoken about liquid gold that is so celebrated in the paleo and primal world. Sooner or later on your paleo journey, you’ll find yourself comfortable and secure with the lifestyle and dietary changes you’ve made, and ready for the next step. You’ll find yourself ready (and willing) to take on the task of making your own bone broth. This was how I felt.
I knew that bone broth was good for you and could be incredibly useful in both one’s cooking arsenal and gut health, and so I took the leap and started making my own bone broth about nine months into paleo. Only, it wasn’t such a big and complicated step as I had expected and had built up in my head: it was actually incredibly simple. All I needed was the right equipment (which I had), and the right ingredients (which were easily bought, even in my neck of rural Scotland). Something that seemed so intricate and complicated, like something out of the kitchen of a Parisian, 5-star restaurant, was actually very easy and practical to make. So easy, it can literally be thrown together in 10 minutes.
In September and October, I’ll be running two tough races, three weeks apart: the inaugural Ring of Steall Skyrace and the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon. Every week, I’ll be reflecting on my training – what worked, what didn’t, changes made, fueling, diet, sleep, etc.
Going into week 1, there were a few things I learned and therefore needed to incorporate into my training:
- Because The Ring of Steall has such a massive elevation gain, all of my runs need to have vertical: there needs to be substantial, preferably repetitive, massive hill climbing every session.
- I was still 18 weeks away from the marathon so I didn’t need to do a 4th run of the week, being the longer road run with some miles at tempo pace.
- After reading Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run – a definite must-read for running tips, persevering, and a few paleo-friendly recipes – I learned a new running technique for uphill: take smaller steps, to the point that it doesn’t feel as though you’re actually running, but you’re still moving efficiently and quickly uphill.
- Until the 9th of October, I’ll be working my ass off each week.
Fun fact: I love cake. Another fun fact: I also love rhubarb. In fact, rhubarb desserts are my absolute favourite. So imagine my surprise last spring when we discovered a rhubarb plant growing in our garden. I was very excited!
My love for all baked things with rhubarb was cultivated at an early age. I remember my mom making rhubarb jam, rhubarb platz, and rhubarb crisp, and my Grandma Dumaine’s rhubarb pie with tapioca is to die for! Though my own plant is small, and already almost decimated from making this cake once and batches of Cookie and Kate’s Rhubarb and Chia Jam, I’ve been able to source rhubarb elsewhere: colleagues at school, a client of Pat’s. His client has so much rhubarb, I’ve been told I can get a few pounds each week! Watch this space for possible further rhubarb recipes this summer.
This year I’ll be running the two most challenging races of my life so far:
- The Ring of Steall Skyrace: a 16 mile trail and sky race summiting and running along the ridges of four Scottish munros. The race has a total altitude gain of 8200 feet (or 2500m), and is the most dangerous trail and hill running I’ll probably ever do. This race takes place Saturday, 17th
- The Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon: my very first marathon, on the 9th of October. I’ll be running it with my Primal Eye boss and blog friend Georgie from Greens of the Stone Age.
With fifteen weeks until the Ring of Steall and eighteen weeks until the marathon, training needs to start now. I am shitting myself. There is so much – too much – to think about for these races. On top of the usual day-to-day work to-do list, meal planning and prepping, and trying to be a free-lance writer, most of my thinking has been focused on these races and my many complications involved with them. These complications, or worries, are pretty stressing, and I’m making my way through each one, trying to find a solution.
Over a month ago, I ran the Glacier Energy 15 mile trail race around Balmoral Estate. I wish I could write that the race was amazing and that I got a new personal course record. I wish I could tell you that racing in my Inov-8’s went smoothly and will set me up well for Ring of Steall training. Finally, I wish I could write a timelier, proper race recap, but instead lots of living and weekly Primal Eye deadlines made that difficult. So here I am, a month on, having done a lot of thinking and learning along the way.
Race goodies + my cat photobomb
In short, the Balmoral Trail Race didn’t go nearly as well as it did last year. I had hoped to best my 2:28:47 result from last year, knocking minutes off my time as I’ve (slightly arrogantly) grown accustom to, but that just didn’t happen. My time was instead 2:30:57, and rather than running the entire race and all of its hills, like I did last year, I stopped to walk a few times, especially during the last few hills. My feet hurt (real bad!) and my calves were so tight, and I finished the race with a huge blister on sole of my foot, below my big toe. I confess, I whimpered as well.