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!
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.
2014 was all about pushing my limits, bettering my times, and decreasing the space between ‘I can’ and ‘I can’t.’ I entered the 2015 Glacier Energy 15 mile trail race – the BIG race of the Balmoral race weekend – as way of continuing to extend my boundaries and getting familiar with the unknown. I had also entered to Stena Drilling Tartan 10km, the day before this trail race, as another way to push my limits and challenge myself both physically and mentally. My Balmoral Challenge had been set, I had already succeeded in one race that weekend, what would happen in race #2?
All of my mental preparation and focus had gone into the 10km race; so much so that Pat and I referred to the 10km at my race, and the 15 mile trail race as his race. My race plan leading up to last Sunday was to treat this as a long run, but to also experiment somewhat with pacing over a distance longer than 10 miles. I was also hoping to run the entire race, but I wasn’t sure how I would fare considering our three double-digit long runs we did to train for this race consisted of many large, steep hills, all of which I walked up. Going by Rachel’s recap of this race from 2013, I knew to expect three big hills; if I could run all of them, that would be amazing, but I would have to see what the race brought and how I felt.