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.
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.
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.
I realise that my last post was quite heavy, but perhaps it also inspired you to get out there, get in the mountains, blow off some steam and soak in all Mother Nature has to offer.
Perhaps, it also inspired you to try trail running. This article, written by me, first appeared in Primal Eye this past October, under the fitness category. It has everything a trail running rookie needs to get started.
My first trail run was up a Munro – Ben More, on the Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. With an elevation of 966 metres1, underfoot is either loose rock, boulders, or grassy meadows. I did it wearing my usual running clothing including road shoes. I did it because I wanted to join my husband in his training for an off-road triathlon. Most of all, I bagged Ben More as a trail run because I wanted a new challenge and I had grown bored of road running.
Like me, perhaps you too are looking for a new way to challenge yourself both physically and mentally. You’re a road runner looking to kick up your running game a few notches. Trail and fell running is a great activity to do once you’re properly informed. It’s also going back to our primal roots, covering new land in ways our bodies have moved for centuries. This article details everything you need to know to get out on the trails to conquer hills and see new remote land.
Click here to read the full article.
Leaving a toxic job in 2015 was supposed to be the beginning of a better quality of life for me. While some might wonder how going back to teaching mainstream education results in a better quality of life (I’m a Support for Learning teacher, not classroom teacher), I’m experiencing the difficulties associated with big life changes. There was much I enjoyed about my previous job, despite my previous job leaving me emotionally and mentally drained day in and day out, and suffering from the physiological effects of stress (like waking up in the middle of the night due to elevated cortisol levels). I even loved it. Lately, not a day goes by that I don’t experience some kind of FOMO: fear of missing out on teaching my previous students, working with my friends who happened to be colleagues, the laughing and joking around on a daily basis, and experiencing the deep rewards that came with teaching teenagers with complex emotional and behavioural needs. And while Pat, Coconut Friend Amie and other people that know me have said I’ve made the right choice, it’s still a tough choice to deal with. These last few months transitioning into my new job at my new school have been valuable learning experiences, but in general life continues to be – to put it into a trail running analogy – a messy uphill climb. Because change is hard.
So how do I deal with this messy, uphill climb in a constructive way?
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.