Course Preview: Ring of Steall Skyrace

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!

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 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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A Holistic Approach to Half Marathon Training

Sunday, I was listening to the episode 71 of the Primal Blueprint podcast, an interview with big wave surfer Laird Hamilton, done by Mark Sisson. Two pretty impressive names in fitness. Two memorable messages stuck with me from that episode: train smarter, not harder, and approaching training more holistically. I found this last message most important because it perfectly describes my current approach to training for the Stonehaven Half Marathon.


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SwimBikeRun – an update

I am two weeks away from my first triathlon, the Grantown Try a Tri. I’ve been training all summer for it, but have kept it all under wraps, until now. When you have so much information you want to share regarding primal eating, one gets distracted 😉


Although I’m a capable swimmer, having taken lessons and earned all my badges as a child, I literally hadn’t swam laps in a pool for about twenty years. I got back into it at the end of June, after entering my triathlon. Monday nights were designated swim nights in our house, where Pat and I would head up to Stonehaven to swim laps. The pool itself is 50m long, heated, outdoor and a combination of saltwater and chlorine, which makes for some very shriveled lips post session.


My goal initially was to just survive a session. I started swimming straight laps of front crawl, with brief rests between each length; I managed 800m my first time. And I was exhausted afterwards! As the summer progressed, so did my swim fitness to the point where each session is easily 1000m (or 1km), without rests, and even incorporating some speed intervals into the mix. I’ve done either 5 x 50m one way with 50m back as my recovery, or 3 x 100m with 50m recovery. I genuinely enjoy swimming in the outdoor pool, especially on sunny days. Continue reading

{Coconut Friends} Amie the Runner

Coconut Friends is a new, monthly series I’ve started to showcase people’s journeys and success using a variation of primal eating. Primal eating affects us all in different ways, and the reasons we start doing it varies as well. The term comes from my friend Amie’s boyfriend Jamie: whenever she would talk to him about me, he called me her ‘Coconut Friend,’ especially since Amie cooks so much with coconut oil. And, as we know, coconuts and all their goodness are the cornerstone for any primal eater.

It’s only fitting that Amie is my first Coconut Friend. She is a good friend of mine: we met through work, but we’ve bonded over some running, but mainly our passion for paleo and primal eating, and spreading the message of just eating real food (aka JERF!) to others. I think Amie is an elite runner, but she’s so humble she’ll never tell you that. Amie will also be a partner in my primal business. Here is her primal journey.

I’m an athlete therefore I’m healthy!

I didn’t get into the Paleo lifestyle to lose weight, far from it; I was just over 8 stone (112 lbs = 51 kg. Amie is 5′ 1″ tall), with an enviable body fat percentage of just 14.5%. I run for a well respected athletic club: Fife AC, representing my club at regional and national events in Scotland. I have been selected to run for the East of Scotland in the international championships on two occasions. I train six days a week and sometimes twice a day. I thought I was fit and healthy. My half marathon PB – 1:24:57 – told me so, right?

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{WIAW} What I Ate Wednesday: August 27th

Linking up with Peas and Crayons today because it’s What I Ate Wednesday, a day to share the meals I’ve prepared for myself and eaten, and an opportunity for you to see the day to day meals of a primal eater.

*hint: click on the links for recipe ideas!



My most favourite bulletproof espresso made of 2 shots Lavazza espresso, 1 tbsp Kerrygold butter, 1 tbsp coconut oil, 1 heaped tsp of xylitol to sweeten. Continue reading

2014 Edinburgh Marathon Festival half marathon recap

It’s been about a week since the Edinburgh Marathon Festival Half. Stress time is now over: training is finished, our school inspection has taken place (we did very well!), and our schedule of jam-packed weekend after jam-packed weekend is finished. June will be a quiet month, on purpose. I now have more time to write, and first on the agenda: this half recap!


The EMF half started at 8 am Sunday, which gave us a very good reason to book a room in a  (posh) B & B in Edinburgh’s New Town, take our time driving down, and dine at our favourite Chinese food restaurant, Chop Chop in Haymarket, the night before the race.  And this is exactly what we did.


Pat and I walked the 15 minutes-ish from our New Town accommodation to Haymarket, stopping for an alcoholic beverage on the way. Continue reading

#trustthetraining | The value of a training programme

This week, I started training for my second half marathon. I am using the same programme I used for the Aviemore half, the same one that incorporated speed work, hill training and long runs and that was rolled into a neat little package of three days a week, perfect for my needs and my body. This programme gave me the chance to rest, to do ab work and to learn so much more about myself than I ever imagined. This programme solidified my love for running and helped me run a strong first half marathon.


This isn’t the case for everyone though. As runners, I think it’s safe to say that we think we know it all, but really we only know the tip of the iceberg. We hear tips, we assume, and we push ourselves far beyond our body’s limits, and as a result, we become more prone to injury and illness.  And because we think we know it all, we train ourselves, we assume that the programme we’ve created in our minds (and that can be so easily manipulated because nothing is really set in stone) will be the one that will help us smash our current personal bests and allow us to become stronger, faster runners. Only we’re wrong, and race day comes and goes, the PB was non-existent, and we’re left wondering what happened. And in case you’re wondering, yes I’m describing myself for the most part.

I now know that training programmes work for me and today I’m writing to preach the benefits of choosing a structured programme over trying to train yourself. I’m not a certified run coach or personal trainer, I’m just someone who’s been there, done that and failed, then been there, done the programme and succeeded, and I want that for other runners too. During these next twelve weeks of half marathon training, on top of Half Mary Musings (my weekly reflection on training), I’m going to write a series of posts on the benefits of training programmes, all with that familiar hashtag #trustthetraining.

Today, as you may have guessed, we begin with the value of a training programme:

1. They are created by fitness professionals who have studied extensively in this field and know what they’re talking about. They understand the science of the sport, the human body and the science of recovery, so they’re best placed to be making the training calls. They’ve done the ground work, you just need to follow willingly.

2. And because the ground work is already done, there is no thinking involved in a training programme, just doing. Actually, I take that back: you do, at times, have to re-read what’s set out to make sure you understand it. Or maybe that’s just me 😉

3. A no-brainer: they improve your overall fitness to ultimately help you succeed race day.

4. You go outside your comfort zone and you make space between I can and I can’t. I know that over the twelve weeks I trained for Aviemore my confidence in my running improved greatly. While I didn’t become the fastest person in my running group, I became the fastest I’d ever been to date, and all down to the different types of runs I did for my programme.

5. You will do runs that make you feel like a more serious runner. I used to read running blogs and articles with the words tempo, threshold, negative splits, progression, intervals, and hill sprints and think to myself “I’ll never do those, only serious runners do those.” Now, along with long runs, these are the only types of runs I seem to do!

6. You learn what your paces feel like. When I first started half marathon training, I kinda panicked because I had to know my 10km pace and 5km for some training runs. At first, I thought using the McMillan Running calculator and my Garmin would help, but I found this made me into a perfectionist runner, and I didn’t like that. Then, I read an article and with the advice of a friend, went by effort and feel for paces rather than what my watch said. I’ve been doing that ever since, and it’s been working.

7. You learn how to run smart. I ran 10 races last year, and only after half marathon training and seven of those races did I finally learn how to be a smart runner. Rather than start out way too fast at the beginning of a race then fading away and losing speed, I learned to start slow and finish fast, all because of some clever 80 minute long runs with the last 20 at threshold pace. After my first run like this, it clicked. And it’s been clicking ever since.

8. You learn your running time. This is a difficult one to explain and I’m not quite sure ‘running time’ best describes it, but I’m going with it. You know you’ve got to run another half mile and based on your training to date, you know that that half mile will be, say, up that hill and around the bend. And sure enough, it is. It’s a strange thing to try to explain, but I’m sure there’s a few of you reading this right now, nodding your head in agreement.

9. Your body adapts to the long runs and recovery. I used to never think that I could run further than 6 miles because whenever I did, my knees and hips ached. All it took was for me to gradually increase the distance of my long runs and my body adapted to them. Recovery is something that we don’t seem to think about, and some take for granted, but it’s one of the most important aspects of your running. We push our body to work hard in our training programme, but then equally, with scheduled rest days and strategic easy weeks, our body’s are also learning to adapt to the hard exercise and as a result, they become more efficient. They are learning to recover, which will lead to easier recovery after the big race.

10. You will have a great race because you’ve trained hard, done all of your sessions and given your body the required amount of time to adapt and recover.

Do you follow training programmes for your races?

What kind of running mistakes did you make after you assumed something?

What races are you training for?

Bum Belly Blast! or New Training Program

The new training programme! I’ve been running for three (?) years now, and I can safely say that I’ve hit a plateau. I have had aspirations of becoming a faster runner and a runner of longer distances for a while now, but I’ve never actually done anything about it. I’ve stuck within my comfort zone of 4-5.5 mile runs, with the occasional 6 mile run (gasp!), and intentions of doing interval training, but only ever doing one session. The hill running has helped over these three years of running, but I know I need to do more. And while the running has been beneficial for my physical fitness and keeping my weight in check for the last two years (up until earlier this year, I was overdoing the IEat Therefore I Run mentality), my no-training-programme regime has done nothing to improve my fitness for longer distances and faster paces. I need to venture out of my comfort zone to get better, and in order to do that, I need to increase the intensity of my running.

Which is exactly what I’ve decided to do. Combine my desire to improve my running with the mixed feelings I have towards my 33 year old body, and you get what’s been dubbed the Bum Belly Blast training programme. The phrase ‘Bum belly blast!’ is from my friend Amy, who leads our running group. Whenever we do hills, her mantra is ‘Bum belly blast!’ and it’s rubbed off on the rest of us. This programme is from Runner’s World Complete Guide to Women’s Running, a novel-sized book jammed full of articles on getting started, training, health, nutrition, weight loss, running & pregnancy, motivation, cross-training and racing. It is my bible in many ways, and is already worn out from all the dog-earing I’ve done to pages and referencing I’ve used it for. It also has some fantastic recipes in it, and yes I will be sharing them here.


The programme comes from the article ‘Your Bespoke Body in Just Six Weeks’ (p. 180 – 187), which, as I write this, seems like some loss weight quickly scheme that doesn’t really work, found in the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine. Seriously though, I’m doing this because it’s an actual programme that contains the type of training I want to do to (but don’t know what to do) to get faster: interval running, tempo runs and the long run. The fact that it is also a bum belly blast is secondary. It is designed to help you ‘sculpt up’ and train you to potentially run a trail race, but also helps develop ‘your aerobic capacity and running economy so you can run faster using less oxygen,’ (p. 185). In a nutshell, my stamina and speed will get better, which is exactly why I’m doing this.

The programme runs for six weeks, three days a week and is as follows:

Tuesday – intervals
Thursday – tempo
Weekend – long run
6 x 3 min, 1 min rest between each
3 x 10 min at race pace, 5 min jog recovery between each
60 to 90 min
20-30 sec hill reps x 10 (recovery is the jog back down between each rep)
30 min. Hilly at 85% max heart rate
65 – 80 min
12 x 90 sec, 1 min rest between each
20 min at  race pace
75 – 90 min
2-3 min hill reps x 8 
3 x 15 min, 5 min jog recovery between each
75 – 90 min or adventure race
8 x 3 min, 1 min rest between each
25 min hilly at 85% max heart rate
80-105 min
1 min hill reps x 10
20 min
90-120 min

While I have a degree in Kinesiology and Applied Health, I’m no expert when it comes to running programmes or even fitness programmes. So I consulted one of my colleagues, an elite runner who, at close to 60 years old, runs a cycle of seven days on and two days off. His marathon personal best is 2:46:xx, which in case you don’t know, was the 2012 qualifying time for female marathon runners for the Olympics. His current marathon time is around the 3:16:xx mark; still amazing! From now on in this blog, I will refer to him as my Unofficial Running Coach (or URC), as I suspect he’ll be helping me out more in the future. The guidelines below come from him:

  • Each interval and tempo run should include 10 minute easy jog warm-up and cool down.You should always stretch after the warm-up run and after the cool down run.
  • Intervals on a flat should be done at 80% maximum effort (unless otherwise stated), while hill reps are sprints that should be done at 100% effort going uphill.
  • Tempo runs are done at your desired ‘race pace;’ the McMillan Running Calculator can help you figure out your race pace. I want to run a sub-57:00 10km, so my race pace should be around the 9:08 /mile mark.
  • Long runs are run at a significantly slower pace, about 1:30 slower than desired race pace. You should be able to have a conversation without any problems. For me, this is around10:30/mile. Once the long run is over, elevate your feet for a while, (I did this yesterday after my seven mile run, it made my feet feel so much better!).

It is an intense and difficult programme, which requires dedication, discipline and willpower. You’ll also notice that it alternates between running on a flat surface one week, and hilly running the next. After two weeks of sticking to the programme, I can say that it is such a feeling of accomplishment to get through each session without modifying things, (which is something myself and my running group have been guilty of in the past). Yes the sessions are tiring, but I know they will help for my upcoming races. There are fears before every run, but about half way through, those fears dissipate and become excitement instead. I’ve also done a few of the sessions with my running group ladies, and having them there doing it with me, as well as giving me encouragement, makes it all worth while. I can also admit that I woke up yesterday morning excited for my seven mile run. What is wrong with me? The former Danielle would have dreaded that. 

And should I feel totally drained and not at all up for a speedy interval or tempo run? I can supplement with a normal run as per my URC. I could then push back the workout to the following week.

Finally, the training programme is supplemented with high intensity interval training exercises to help continue to improve my overall strength, stability and plyometric strength (read: the training that helps for speed). I do these two days a week:

  • Wednesday: Do each exercise for 15 seconds, with 15 second rest between each. Once all four exercises are complete, rest for one minute. Aim for 10 sets, (I’ve done eight so far).
        • unassisted chin-ups – I’ve not got a bar at home nor the upper body strength, so I do modified pull-ups lying on the floor while holding on to table top above, then pulling myself up.
          • Jackknife – I don’t have an exercise ball so I use an office chair with wheels instead. See image below.
            • Split lunges – Standing in a lunge position with both legs at a 90′ angle. Power upwards and jump off your toes and switch legs in the air, landing in the lunge position again.
              • Squat jumps – with feet hip width apart and hands on hips, squat down with your weight in your heels. Power upwards and jump off your toes, then land and repeat.
            How to do a jackknife – source
            • Saturday: Same set of exercises as above. Do each exercise for 30 seconds, with 30 seconds rest between each. Once all four exercises are complete, rest for one minute. Aim for six sets to start, then build up to ten sets by the end of the programme. 

            In case you’re wondering, my rest days are Monday and Friday. 

            Overall, I’m very happy I’m doing an actual running programme and, with it full of intervals, tempo runs and long runs, I now feel like a proper runner because I can throw around that terminology no longer in aspiration of doing them, but because they’re a regular part of my running routine. I will post some reflections on the programme soon, as well as some stuff I’ve been thinking about lately that I want to turn into posts:

            Aren’t you happy I have this entire week off??!?!? Happy Monday everyone!

            What’s your current running programme like? Any big goals you’re working towards?
            Which do you prefer: interval running, tempo runs or long runs?
            What’s your favourite healthy recipe?