Four Munros and a Marathon

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.

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Complication #1: Training plan?

The Ring of Steall (pronounced ‘Shtohl’) is 16 miles in distance, which in a normal trail race would probably take me over 3 hours to run; unfortunately (fortunately?) there’s so much more involved with this race. Summiting then running down four munros – Scottish mountains over 3000 feet (or 914 metres) – takes a lot of time. I know I’m not going to be running up each munro, but I’d like to think I’ll run down each one and along any flat sections. To do this, my legs need to be fit for that grand task. I’ve already bagged a few munros lately and in the last year. In the last month, I’ve run up to Glas Maol once, and Mount Keen, twice. At the end of this month, I’m running Lochnagar and its five munros with people from my running club – I’ve also ‘run’ (walked) up two munros and a top of Lochnagar last year with Pat. In terms of munro ranking, out of the 282 in Scotland, Mount Keen is #235 (an 11 mile out and back, 2200 foot climb I did in 2:28:xx last weekend), Glas Maol is #68 and Lochnagar is #21. The Ring of Steall munros are An Gearanach (#166), Stob Coire a’Chairn (#177), Am Bodach (#99), Sgurr a’Mhaim (#51) – a bit of comfort in the rankings, however I’ve not even run two munros in a row yet, let alone four! The Ring of Steall (RoS) will be both a major physical challenge, and definitely mental as well.

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Canness Glen after running up to Glas Maol

Let’s look at the facts surrounding both races: the RoS is shorter in distance but has a vastly larger elevation gain than the marathon, meaning I will spend more time on my feet running the RoS race than I will the marathon. A running club friend has walked the 10 mile shorter route of the RoS in six hours, so I anticipate I’ll be on my feet for around the same time? Hopefully under? The RoS terrain will be rocky, requiring scrambling at times; there will also be soft points. The marathon is on tarmac, which isn’t nearly as forgiving as trail surfaces, and will be flat as a pancake in comparison.

So how do you train for this type of challenge? A major road block is that there is no training plan set in stone. You can’t just google ‘four munros and a marathon training plan’ because it doesn’t exist – I know because I’ve looked. I don’t like how I can’t just read a few plans and select one that best suits my ability, fitness and lifestyle. I don’t like the guess work and problem-solving involved in trying to figure out a run route, never mind a detailed training plan for weeks on end. All of this is creating stress and anxiety on top of the negative feelings I have for the amount of sheer difficulty these races will present.

I’m basically approaching training as though I’m running a mountain marathon, and have looked into articles on how to train for a mountain marathon and ultramarathon, as well as different types of runs to do for normal marathon training. I’ve decided, for now, that this is what my run week will look like:

  • 1 long hills run, off-road with huge hills
  • 1 short hills run – most likely with my running club, off-road, big hills
  • 1 longer distance run on tarmac, with some miles at tempo pace. This is also known as lactate threshold (LT).
  • 1 long trail run on the weekend, including a munro/some munros.

I’ll do one body weight session a week, focusing on building my quad, glute, hip and hamstring strength, as well as core and some upper body exercises. I’m also going to do a yoga session a week.

I need to build my leg strength and hill endurance, so most of my focus will go to RoS training, which will actually compliment my marathon training. The LT runs on tarmac will give me that time on my feet on tarmac, which will hopefully mean the marathon won’t hurt so much. I’ll be active six days a week, which is a lot…. I do have the school summer holiday on my side, allowing me six weeks of no work (and no long days) to just focus on racking up the miles and feet in elevation. I’m going to see how this all goes, and if it’s doable – hopefully, I won’t put myself into overtraining syndrome.

Complication #2: Footwear

As you’ve read in a previous post, I’ve become a minimalist runner, and now wear minimalist shoes on every run; even my long runs. My road shoes, Merrell Bare Access’, have been fantastic and have just enough cushioning. I will continue to run in these, and hopefully run the marathon in them?

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As for trail shoes for the RoS, that’s another story! Since getting rid of my Salomon Speedcross’- a great shoe in some ways but not very durable (too many holes!) – I’ve explored the many off-road shoes Inov-8 has to offer. A word of advice about Inov-8 shoes: do your research and read the product information before buying!!!!! Better yet: buy from a shop with sales clerks that know Inov-8 products well. Each model of shoe has varying heal thicknesses, only apparent by the different number after the model (like the Roclite 280 or 295). These numbers aren’t like conventional running shoes, where the number changes year to year, along with the look of the shoe; these numbers mean a change in sole thickness, shoe width, shoe length, as well as whether the sole is zero-drop (a level sole from toe to heel), or stacked, where the heel is higher than the toe box.

Pat bought me a pair of Trailroc 235’s for my birthday; they’re a 0 mm dry conditions trail shoe that I chose for its prettiness. I should’ve chosen the Trailroc 245, a 6mm heel which would’ve helped transitioning from the 9mm Salomons. I have only worn the Trailrocs as casual shoes and on a 3 mile section of a trail run. At this point in time, they’re too minimalist for the running I’m doing.

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L to R: road shoes, then the 3, 2, 1 arrow system of Inov-8 cushioning (Roclite 280, Roclite 295, Trailroc 235).

I then bought a pair of Roclite 295’s, which, long story short, work well in soft, wet conditions, but hurt me in dry conditions. Remember the Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race? For longer distances, and dry conditions, I need a shoe with more cushioning right now. I also just need to settle on a shoe and train in it! So instead of going back to the more expensive Salomon Speedcross that ripped all over, I opted for Inov-8 shoe #3: the Roclite 280, a 9mm stacked heel trail shoe for all trail conditions – so not completely minimalist, but far more durable and robust than the Speedcross. The UK 6.5 (US 8.5) is more snug than the Roclite 295 6.5, which was just plain too big, making it slide around in my shoe, which is a nightmare trying to run a smooth, confident descent. For the sake of my running confidence, ankles and training, I’m hoping the Roclite 280’s work out! It’s been an expensive journey so far….

Training and footwear aside, I’ve got other complications to think about during this race training:

  • Sleep: trying to sleep past 5 am in these long Scottish days. We’re so far north, the sun rises just after 4 am! Lately, I’ve been waking up with the sunrise, and sometimes manage to fall asleep again. I’ve tried to tackle this by going to bed earlier, with lights out at 10.
  • Finances: we’re going to Iceland this summer with our friends, and I’m saving all my extra money for the trip because I know it will be expensive. This means I have allowed myself very little per month for the extras, and some essentials I’ll need come race day.
  • Nutrition: What am I going to carry on me and eat during the RoS? I want to stay as real food, paleo as possible. I also want to carry both sweet and salty foods, and coconut water as a natural electrolyte drink. I’ll experiment throughout the summer with all sorts of mid-race nutrition options.
  • Diet: I can’t be lax with my diet, but I’ve gotten much better since my thinking-I-was-invincible-blip last winter. I’m also going to try to recover with real food as much as possible, and start drinking bone broth regularly. It’s a cheaper gelatin source than the powdered stuff, that’s for sure!

And you can be sure that I’ll be blogging about all of this on the blog, all summer and all training long! I’m going to be starting a weekly training recap, using the title of this post. Once school is finished in three weeks (!!!!!), I’ll have so much time to write, make recipes, snap photos and post more regularly. No more empty, blog post promises.

Have you trained for a mammoth event/series of events?

What’s your most challenging race ever?

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4 thoughts on “ Four Munros and a Marathon

  1. Respect Danielle this is an awesome (and tough) challenge you’ve signed up for. Looking forward to following your training and the run itself. 🙂

  2. Sounds like you have a great plan in place. I’m excited to follow along and cheer for you! I have no doubt you’ll rock both your training and the race 🙂

    Also, sunrise is at 4a?! What time does it get dark? The longer days are the one thing I miss about living in northern Minnesota… it’s amazing how much lighter is up there compared to MPLS during the summer! And, my parents like to rub it in 😉

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