The West Highland Way Race was my only race booked for 2020. I had been injured and needed something to keep me focused and to look forward to. I got the green light end of Jan to run the race from the physio, and by mid March I was starting to get close to pre- injury fitness. I bagged a week long holiday/family visit/training camp in Spain with several mountain days and squeezed a 32 mile run in just days before the country went into full lockdown.
I kept running and training as the race was not cancelled, but as soon as it looked like it would be my motivation flat-lined and training tailed off. I have not run once in May and gained about 3kg in 2 months. I have also really been struggling with lethargy and feelings of despair and emptiness the past month. I miss going anywhere beyond my village the A roads around it, miss my McGowan family who, due to my work commitments with my job and WayOutside, I have not seen since October and miss my friends. I was particularly gutted when I realised I would not see my best friend during her pregnancy. However, I know how lucky I am, I have Max and a home, a garden, my family are well and safe and we have access to beautiful stunning views.
I was injured in my last post, and I am still injured, maybe even more so now! What I thought was a normal sprain turned out to be a 3rd degree sprain (torn ligament) so returning to running after just over 2 weeks rest was insufficient and I may have done more damage than originally. Not only that, I thought my ankle was fine as I had no pain running or walking so I kept running.
In 1 week I had taken two falls, one at orienteering where I got the sprain and then a week later stupidly hiking the first section of the Ring of Steall skyrace where I took a tumble on the Devil’s ridge infront of everyone, hurting my pride more than my skinned knees and bruised tummy. I never fall running. I have always prided myself on never having had an injury, yes I get niggles, but I normally rest a couple weeks or see Liz for her advice and healing hands and am fine. I had 2 falls, my first real DNF and experienced the ‘sad bus’ and am now staring a DNS (or another DNF) in the face as the Goat Race (55miles) is in 4 weeks.
Today my planned easy hike with poles in off as this morning I was limping again, so emailed the Goat to ask if they have a deferral policy. I am afraid I will be withdrawing my name from the WHWrace hat too at this rate as I know with a race on the horizon I am more likely to rush back to training too soon again. I just want to be out enjoying this beautiful winter, instead I am sat at home feeling sad and trying to summon the will to get on the turbo (the bike shop is shut so could not rent a MTB!).
Not only did my body fall on that ridgeline, but my confidence too and that has yet to get back on its feet. I have found myself struggling to know what to do, to know if I am being lazy or sensible and found my confidence in other areas of my life has plummeted too. I am struggling with running WayOutside alongside my day job and find that I do not have the energy to organise the training camps for next year and feel like giving up. As a result I am making bad choices driven by fear desperate to climb way way back up to where I was.
I know it is just an ankle. Compared to where we were just one year ago, this is a drop in the sea and plus, I know it will heal. I think I am so sad as I just wanted to get faster so I could keep up with Max! As a slower runner in groups I am often on my own and want to be able to keep up with the others, it can get lonely on your own for hours! I had decided to get a coach to see if I can be faster, if I could keep up as I have started to realise I hide behind my own label ‘slow runner’ as an excuse sometimes. I still have not given up on that, maybe will start agin after xmas.
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.
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 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.
Now I am less than 3 weeks out from the the West Highland Way Race. The work, however much I managed, is done.
I have been thinking about this race for about a year, it has been in my mind daily since then. I started ‘pre-training’ in mid October, 1 month after the Ring of Steall Skyrace, and began 100 mile training the first week of January 2018.
I had a huge wobble. I had an amazing March where training was going perfectly to plan, then in April work and travel caused havoc for my schedule. In hindsight, Max being injured was also a factor. Without my running buddy I was skimping unintentionally on my long runs and back to backs. I missed spending time with him. The Fling had gone great, but I had tapered so lost out on WHW training. Then a brief injury post Fling meant the following 3 weeks were sub par seeing two thirds less running than was planned. I never completed a peak phase in my training as I was wiped out.
I have never written on here about this, but in 2011 I had glandular fever, which in itself was not much of a big deal. Unfortunately, I was unaware at the time how close to burnout I was, which meant I never recovered from the post viral fatigue and developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E). I look back at this time in three parts, the acute post viral phase, the chronic M.E phase and the recovery phase. Recovery took me years, I would say I am recovered now, but the fear that should I forget myself, is ever present. I want to discuss a method I leant from my recovery that I still apply to daily life now as a healthy person. In particular, how to mitigate the risk of overtraining and injury through a holistic approach to viewing how we spend energy, pace ourselves and what stress is.
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!