The WHWrace still haunts me and nearly a year on and I still have not found my footing again. While volunteering at the Spine Race I met Matt and Ellie Green, the husband and wife Summit Fever Team that most of you will know as the daily Spine Race movie makers! I feel really proud to have some of my footage in their ENDURANCE movie – do watch it, that race was history making stuff! With the Devil o’ the Highlands only 2months away, 42miles of the West Highland Way and the entire section that mentally broke me, I jumped at the opportunity to review UNDERDOG for Summit, maybe it could inspire me back to the trail??
I am swimming in the sea with curious grey seals watching me from a distance. I float above white sands and starfish, seabirds fly overhead to a backdrop of grey moody skies and snow-capped mountains. The salt water carries my tingling body and my heart and face sing with the exhilaration and freedom the cold water brings! My mind still and body totally at ease…
Fast forward to Saturday 23rd March and I am racing 420 metres in the murky waters of the Maryhill canal, climbing 18 metres over eight canal lock gates with cold water crashing down on me to 3000 raucous spectators in central Glasgow.
This is not my normal wild swimming experience.
After struggling with postvrace blues from the WHWrace I have no big race goals for 2019, instead I am volunteering at several events throughout the year and setting up some community events. I started 2019 off by volunteering for a week on the Spine Race Media Team.
The Montane Spine Race is a non-stop race with a 7-day time limit covering the entire length of the 268mile long Pennine, in January. Via Twitter and live tracking ‘dot watchers’ are kept up-to-date with the 100 or so athletes as they journey on foot from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. The darkness, extreme winter weather and sheer distance makes this race unique in the UK and it is billed ‘Britain’s Most Brutal.’
This race was in the mainstream media this year because it was won by a woman (Jasmin Paris incase you missed it), who was also a relatively new mother.
So, before I begin a run down of my time volunteering I want to try explain what it meant to follow Jasmin and then see her win. It is more than just about a race win and it was not about a woman beating a man. Women and girls are both openly and subtly told that they are less and that we should not try. We are taught to curb and limit ourselves, and that our place is not to take an opportunity from a man. You can argue this is not true, but it is ingrained, even in the tiniest detail. I pointed out to Scott on the finish that he had a woman winning overall, but no finisher T-shirts in women’s sizes. Same for the female volunteers, there were no tops in our size. Our bodies are an afterthought. I do not believe this was an intentional oversight, just that it had never occurred to the RDs as a problem.
Then you see what Jasmin is doing. You can argue the weather was good, but the previous course record holder came in 2ndand he did not come in faster than his record. The runner she raced the entire course with, retired 6km from the finish. They both pushed each other to the utter limit. You cannot say she is selfish and put her career first, because she is a mother and an amateur runner, not a professional. She has a profession as a vet and is reading her PhD. Jasmin has gone and done the opposite, and she has done it with such style and with such respect. She was always friendly, polite, running on her terms and with no trace of ego. So many people were wanting her to win. Women have been winning extreme races outright for a while so this is not new, but this was timely and the fact that she was expressing milk only raised awareness of what many mothers go through – maybe not running an ultrarace, but in the workplace and in their daily lives. There should be space for women’s bodies as well as men’s without it feeling like we are an inconvenience or an afterthought. We should be able, without guilt, to be ourselves fully and not to dumb or slow ourselves down, or let notions of what motherhood or womanhood should look like stop us from achieving our goals.
Max and I fulfilled our dream to move to the Scottish Highlands and now we embark on our next aventure; WayOutside
WayOutside aims to bring together like minded people to swim, run and hike in the Scottish outdoors, from the seas and lochs to moors and mountains. WayOutside also wishes to introduce groups of people to the outdoors who may not necessarily see a space for themselves there. To these ends we will also provide online and face-to-face goal coaching.
Last year I entered the water on Hampstead Heath on a December dawn. I could not stand the 4-degree coldness, the pool spat me out. So, in September I decided to take to the water each weekend in attempt to soften my body to it. To open my arms, heart, stomach, liver – exposing my organs and my mind. To learn to accept the cold-water shock with complete calmness.
Every van dweller is different, we converted our van on a budget so skimped on certain things (no toilet, shower, fridge or built in heater) and we also work full time in London. We get asked the same questions about the practicalities of living in a van. I can tell you the answers are the obvious ones! But just incase you are still wondering here are some frequent questions we get asked and our answers!
Written in the back of a ‘colour away stress’ book is a wish list. Words across a page of black and white waves written in the winter after our first West Highland Way in 2016. Written in a cold, damp and dark rental property in Cambridge, on that list is a van.
I came back to running about two weeks after the West Highland Way Race, racing for a sub 24min at the Cambridge parkrun and then the next day took part in a 2.5km river swim. Looking back on Strava, I came back to training far too quickly, despite 2 weeks off running I had been road cycling over 100km just 1 week post race. Open water swimming 2 weeks out from such a large ultramarthon was a huge mistake. My immune system would have taken an absolute beating from the race. Both Max and I caught a bug from the river and were subsequently ill for 2 weeks, all training stopped and I was wiped out.
From our own gardens to the remote highland mountains, from city parks and forest schools to the coasts, and beyond to the islands, Scotland’s nature is that of a national pride and international wonder. The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) aims to further conserve, facilitate enjoyment and advise on sustainable management of Scotland’s nature and land. The SNH vision is to establish Scotland as a recognised world leader for looking after and improving nature by 2030.
I have given a full blow-by-blow race report on John Kynaston’s final podcast; you can find it here.
I completed the 96mile race in 33hrs and 5mins. I am under no assumptions, my finishing was part of a team effort. Without my crew, Neil Scott, Kristin and Jason Main, Susan Barley and my husband Max Holloway I could still be out there somewhere! I cannot thank each of them enough for helping me accomplish this goal, all were absolute heroes. Thank you also to everyone who supported me in the lead up including my family, but also a huge thank you to Liz Bennett. Liz sponsored me, keeping me injury free through my training and had my legs feeling their absolute best come race day. Thank you to the race organisers, volunteers, medics, marshels and supporters. You put on an immense race in every sense. I entered the race to understand myself better, to know how I would react come second sunset, and when the nausea and sleep deprivation hit. Here are some of my insights (the take away parts are in bold) as a first time West Highland Way Race runner and first time running an ultra distance past 53miles.