Ring of Steall Skyrace Weekend

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.

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Four Munros and a Marathon: week 3

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!

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Four Munros and a Marathon: week 2

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.

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Four Munros and a Marathon: week 1

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.

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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.

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Aviemore Half Marathon recap

In the week before this race, I wasn’t even sure it would happen. After yet another term of stress and feeling run down from it, I got a cold and throat thing the week before the half marathon that just wouldn’t go away. I assumed I’d get better as the week progressed and the race neared, but I didn’t. In fact, with just days to go, I thought there was a possibility I wouldn’t even start the race, never mind try for a good result.

But I wanted to run the race, partly because my mom was visiting from Canada and she had never seen me at a finish line before. Also, partly because, with its downhill course, the Aviemore Half is a PB shoe-in.

With two days before, I finally started to feel better. Even on the not-so-good days, during a long hill walk with my mom, I was able to breathe normally. My head didn’t feel heavy. I wasn’t coughing so much. I felt normal and slightly energized. I decided to chance racing and just see what happened, see how I felt. Had it been someone in my position, however, I probably would’ve advised to take it easy, don’t race the race, and possibly not even run it. But I’m stubborn like that.

Another running error I committed with this race was to wear brand new, never worn running shoes. I bought another pair literally the week before the race, thinking I’d get a run or two in beforehand, but with my illness I decided not to run at all, not wanting to add any more stress to my current state. I was going to chance illness, and also blisters. I was a running rebel.

Race morning hit a bit hard: I had been up throughout the night coughing, and as a result, didn’t get much sleep. In the week leading up to the race, I had spent so much thinking about ‘What if?’ rather than a race plan, that I spent my race morning quietly mapping out a last-minute strategy in my head. I tried to eat my usual breakfast of bulletproof coffee, fruit + coconut cream + Nutter Bomb, and veggie omelette, but was struggling with the lack of preparation race nerves, making it quite difficult to get through breakfast, never mind finish it.

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Train Low, Race High for Endurance Athletes

After a brief hiatus due to our annual summer holiday, I’m back! Kinda.

Check out my third article for Primal Eye Magazine, a fitness piece on a weapon in my training arsenal: Train Low, Race High. It’s all about training in a lower glycogen state – achieved through timely carb consumption – then racing with muscles stocked to the brim with energy. This allows the paleo or primal fat-adapted endurance athlete to use fat as a main fuel for training, and makes more efficient use of glycogen stores, which results in not hitting the wall or bonking so quickly. You can effectively run without needing to depend on pre-run and mid-run fuel, and run towards many PB’s. Like me.

Read the full article here.

And, if you’re wondering about being fat-adapted, or a fat-burner as opposed to a sugar-burner, check out my Primal Lessons post all about the two types of fuel your body can use. I also have an updated version on tap for Primal Eye as well.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my post about our trip to Ireland!

Balmoral Race 2 of 2: Glacier Energy 15 Mile Trail Race recap

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.

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