I about to DNS at the Ring of Steall Skyline. This will be my second year in a row not starting a race in this series. The weather looks perfect too. Last year I didn’t start the Ben Nevis ultra after not recovering from the WHWrace in time to prepare. This year I will resign myself to turning up to simply get my race number just so I can attend the ceilidh.
I do not enter that many races, partly because I have moved around lot the past 2 years so I rarely planned far ahead. Also because I tend not to enter races to be competitive, and for a lot of races, well that is the point. I find races are, however, a good way to take on a challenge I did not know how to do alone. For example, the Ring of Steall. I did not know how to get into the mountains or have the confidence to tackle routes off the beaten track. Here was a mountain race with ridge lines (something very new and an exciting prospect for me) that would have the route way marked and with other people around to follow. A great introduction! Needless to say I obviously did train to be able to complete the race safely, but before I ran that route in the race, I would not have done it alone. Another reason I do not race often is cost, and also cut-offs.
Anyway, so it is weird in a way or maybe natural to find myself as race director for a new race, and at a time when I am struggling to want to race myself. So why the Tyndrum 24?
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.
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.
I had not intended to enter the 2018 Fling, with the West Highland Way race in the same year. Back in 2016 it took me 6 weeks to recover enough to even want to run again. I was scared I could not recover in time for the WHWrace, just 8 weeks later. Neil my Chief Crewman, however, advised I run the Fling as my longest training run for the WHWrace. Against my better judgment, I entered and got a ballot place. So the race was not a race, but a dress rehearsal for June 23rd. I am so glad I listened to Neil.
My longest training run will be the Highland Fling on Saturday at 53miles (eep!). I will use the race to practise my WHW race pacing so it will not be a PB (must put my ego away and not race!!). Racing at WHWrace pace will allow me to estimate realistically my splits for my crew to meet me and work out what I will need from them at different stages and know where my low points might come. So now just about to pack and already seen the amazing Liz Bennet of Body Balance Sport massage who supporting me this year and has massaged my legs which now feel awesome and ready for fast hiking/slow running across Scotland!
The Fling is an unsupported race so here is my race plan!
Firstly, that whole excel spreadsheet training plan thing I tried, well that did not last! But hey, I gave it a go and it was not for me. I even tried having Max prescribe my training from his very complex and clever spreadsheet (he cites three athletes in its creation, it is a pretty amazing spreadsheet if anyone is interested in a training plan from him!). That said, he is injured, and I am not (smug face).
The last 2 months or so of training has gone ok, I am not as tired as I expected I would be from training around 10hours a week. This is because I do 80% of the training at a really low intensity, in fact 50% of my training is simply brisk walking.
The benefits of the walking is paying off, my mindless amble on the flat is now at 6.1km per hour. I am aiming to get it to 6.5km per hour. Also my ‘slow’ running is now at a 6.10min/km pace, where it was at 6.30min/km.
Going through some old files, came across the visualisation piece I had written for our final race. This was the race we had worked together for 2 years to win. When I read this, I still get nervous! I never recorded big races as had a superstition that the recording may add subconscious extra pressure, plus pressing play was another thing to remember.
Photo credit: cover photo by Benjamin Valsler, Cambridge
The back story…
I moved back from Switzerland after a great autumn coxing and racing there and needed a new crew that wanted to be competitive. I met the Nines boys who had a goal of racing at Henley. The goal was to win a round in two years time. So we got to work.
We were your typical town crew, Okay-ish boat (The Client – part of my heart will forever exist in that shell), we all worked or studied full time, sporadic coaching, and we never had a full 8 due to injury. But we were so hungry, and for some reason, pretty raw. We were also lucky to have a hugely supportive club backing us.