Category Archives: Running

Highland Fling – Done and Dusted

Well what a day that was!

Last Saturday (25th April), I left Milngavie train station at 6.05am, and arrived 53 miles away at a campsite in Tyndrum at 8.44pm.

That’s 14 hours and 39 minutes later.

This wasn’t because of an epic train delay, or a long traffic jam.

It’s because I ran (well, mostly). 53 miles.

There were big hills along the way. Lots of big hills. There were boulders, tree roots, knee high steps, ladders, stiles, bridges, gravel beaches, bogs. There was cow poo (although not as much as any of us were expecting).

I couldn’t run every single bit of all of that but I ran as much as I could.

It was a ridiculously long day that started with a 4.15 alarm. It would make a very long post if I wrote about exactly what I wore, ate, saw on the day etc, and longer still if I mentioned all the preparation and everyone I spoke to on the day. So I’ll share the highs and lows, and a few thoughts along the way.

All week, all eyes were on the weather. Every chart I looked at seemed to suggest a soggy start and a glorious finish. In the end it was even better than forecast, and while we started in the rain, it lasted about 10 minutes and wasn’t very heavy. Later on I got far too hot and managed to get rather sunburnt in the afternoon on my lochside arm.

Dumgoyne, with Glengoyne distillery at the foot of the hill. Somewhere there’s my happy stile at the bottom of the big grassy patch between the trees.

The first best bit of the day was Dumgoyne emerging on the horizon as I ran through Mugdock. This is my least favourite part of the route – it’s pretty dull until it hits the road crossing at Carbeth when things open out a bit and it gets a bit more spectacular. Dumgoyne is the lump at the western end of the Campsies, the head of the sleeping giant that lies across the north of Glasgow, and seeing it at such an ungodly hour reminded me we wouldn’t be in the park forever. Just after the road crossing we were greeted by a fiddler and a drummer, both with big smiles. There’s often a musical element to Scottish ultras and I love how uplifting this can be.


After the road crossing, there’s a lovely drop into a wide open valley. Here you get your first view of the mountains and a sense of changing scenery, and for me it’s the first real feeling of starting to move north on your long journey. This morning, the sun was coming up over the mountains around Loch Lomond and I felt my heart start to swell out of my chest again. Ben Lomond had a tiny puff of cloud over the top and it looked like a volcano erupting.

I adore this section of the route, and I run here often. In fact I run here so often, I felt extremely comfortable. I was starting to relax and enjoy myself, but as I looked down at my watch I realised I was going far too fast so I needed to back off.

I saw my friend Kay briefly at the Drymen checkpoint, it was a lovely surprise and so good to see her. I knew she was running in the relay and hoped she’d have a good day – in fact her team won!

I started the long drag towards Conic Hill and took a look back at another favourite part of the route, this time at the whole of the Campsie Fells from ‘behind’. I normally see them from the south side and it’s always quite a sight for me seeing them the other way round.

Dumgoyne is now the hill on the right – looking south

Conic Hill is another favourite section. I had a brilliant training run here last spring, on a beautiful sunny day. I thought I’d never see Conic in better weather, but Fling day proved me utterly wrong.

a long trail up but I love seeing the path stretching out up the hill, and the views of the loch as you come up and over the top

I’ve never seen the loch and the mountains looking so beautiful here. I’m sure there were a few people who felt like they’d been given a bit of a gift on race day, with such clear views and blue skies. The colour of the loch was something else.

I caught up with my photographer friend Graeme as I came down the hill, it was great to see him and we had a good chuckle as both of us looked rather different from the last time we saw each other when he was taking photos at my harp concert !

I felt great coming into Balmaha but afterwards things unravelled. Whether I’d had too much fun going over Conic, or whether I was too tired or my lack of a caffeine fix was catching up with me I’m not sure, but the 7 mile stretch to the Rowardennan checkpoint was absolutely horrendous.

I had crashed completely within a few yards and couldn’t get running again. I had some food, walked a bit, waited for the energy to return from a magic Marmite sandwich, but nothing came. I tried a gel as a quick desperate pick me up, but still nothing. I had a reaction to the gel – an instant rash down the side of my arm but thankfully it passed quickly. I started to feel very sick indeed and just had to keep walking in the hope that something would come. I needed to make the next checkpoint by 1pm to be able to continue, I would have plenty of time as long as I just kept going, but I couldn’t afford to drag my heels. I was feeling every gram of weight in my pack even though I didn’t have much extra kit with me. Looking back, this leg was definitely the lowest point of the race, but at the time I was worried I would only feel worse throughout the day and wouldn’t be able to continue to the end.

I made it with time to spare but it was not a happy face that entered the checkpoint. My friend Angela was cheering and shouting at me, but I shook my head at her and walked straight past as I knew I would burst into tears if she said anything nice. Jen was just round the corner, and she sat me down, helped me sort myself out and took the things I didn’t need from my bag. There was a risk of rain so I’d packed waterproof trousers and some extra layers, but it was now clear I didn’t need any of this and everything was digging into my back through my bag. I had a long swig of Coke and started to feel better. I set off, munching another sandwich on the long climb out of the forest. I vowed that I would get running again as soon as I could, and sure enough some downhill sections came, and I started to recover. Then suddenly my left knee started to hurt, completely out of the blue. It was really sore and seemed to be a dull grinding sensation – not a pleasant feeling at all and I was really concerned. The infamous scrambling/technical section was ahead – tree roots, branches, large boulders, broken paths, mud, possible dead sheep, likely mad goats. This was not going to be fun.

I took a couple of painkillers and tried to keep going. I wasn’t in the business of carrying on risking further damage for the sake of a finish, but thankfully the pain started to ease and my pace picked up. By the time I got to Inversnaid, my energy levels had completely recovered, my knee was no longer sore and I skipped through the checkpoint as quickly as I could to try and make some time up on the next section. It was nowhere near as bad as I’d remembered and I started to feel really strong again.

I was utterly stunned to come across a group of blind walkers (with guides). This section of the West Highland Way involves using all available hands and feet – there are some big stretches and some very loose ground. I was so impressed with how much detail the guides included in their description of the route and the actions required by the blind walkers, and in awe of the trust that was being placed in the guides in return. I forgot everything I’d been feeling, the pain and the lack of energy, and began to concentrate more on what I was doing. Or I started to at least – it didn’t last long as I managed to smack my head on a large section of tree root that was overhanging the path. Fortunately no lasting effects beyond a rather large egg and even bigger dent to my pride.

I pushed on towards the only stretch of the route I hadn’t seen before. This was just north of Ardlui up to Beinglas, and as many Scottish ultra runners know, on this section Dario’s post sits looking back over the loch. I decided to save this bit and keep it as a surprise for the day and I wasn’t disappointed.  It is truly a beautiful place for a memorial. I never met him but so many of my friends hold him in very high regard and it was a very special spot to spend a few moments.

At the north end of the loch looking south. I’d taken the wee lion with me to give me some strength on the day.

I made it into Beinglas Farm with time to spare. I knew what was in store so I took the opportunity to munch on some of the goodies I’d put in my drop bag. Walk up the hills as fast as I can manage, and run down them carefully so I don’t trip. This is a really tough bit after such a long distance, but again I knew as long as I didn’t hang around, I could complete the race by walking now and so the time pressure was lifted.

I came across a field of cows just before going under the road. The smell was pretty awful. Unfortunately it lingered after I left them, and I had the dreadful realisation that the smell was a sweaty sticky runner smell and it was me.

I bashed my head again coming out from the tunnel, once again just a lack of concentration. But this was a bigger bang and I looked round to see if anyone was about just in case I was bleeding or concussed. A few tears threatened but I managed to pull myself back together and carry on.

Here it felt like I was walking constantly – just a gradual incline but so many rocks and potholes made it quite tricky on such tired legs, and I felt safer going that bit slower so as not to bash anything else.

I got to Ewich forest, to the dreaded rollercoaster section. I knew what to expect but it just seemed to go on forever. I had been leap-frogging the same runners since Beinglas and it was really quite funny passing and being passed back. My stomach had held out pretty well all day but suddenly put in a huge protest. I lost a few minutes but felt much better and got going once again. Soon, I got to the last road crossing – just three miles to go and much easier underfoot.

I ran through the farm and almost tried to cross the road again in my tired state, but was redirected by another couple of even more tired runners. I pushed on, and on, and on, and then I could hear a crowd. I carried on towards the party in the forest. I heard the pipes. I turned the corner and saw the piper. I gave him a nod and a big smile and at last there was the red carpet, and the flags, and the finishing line.

Somehow I was still running. People were cheering, I was smiling and I couldn’t wait to finish. My friend Elizabeth was marshalling and she was the first person to give me a huge hug, then the rest of my Carron Valley friends, and Ross, and Norry. Ross had run brilliantly, as had Norry and I was thrilled for both of them. I was given my medal and a bottle of water and was then ushered off to collect my goodie bag. It’s hard to imagine a better one, stashed with a buff, a t-shirt (properly sized too!) and a bottle of prosecco.

thanks to Fiona K for the picture

A word about Norry. I frequently refer to him as my running Yoda. If I have a question, or a worry, I ask him. He knew how nervous I was about making it on the day. The Sunday before the race, he struck a bet that if I finished, inside 15 hours, with a smile on my face, he would give up smoking. Not many things leave me speechless but that really did. He announced he’d backed a dead cert, and while it could have made me even more worried, it actually gave me a lot of confidence because I figured he wouldn’t have set me up to fail and so he must have really believed I could do it. I took a lot of strength from this on the day. After I crossed the line, he gave me a massive hug and handed me his tobacco tin and rolling papers.

Not a great advert for running, crossing the line and being handed a tin of tobacco and some rollies! But there was a good reason.

I met some wonderful people along the way – too many to mention everyone, but Twitter buddy Rhalou, Donna, Ashly and another Fiona all helped make the day a special one. Julie, smiling as ever, filled my bottles up at Balmaha and chased me away to the loo while she did so. Jen took me under her wing and sorted me out at Rowardennan. Gannet kept me smiling and reminded me to put another layer on as I left the forest now I was out of the sun. Stewart helped me realise that ceilidh dancing after running for almost 15 hours was all well and good until it involved spinning round.

And now some reflection. I love running. I have been on the most incredible journey since I started running three years ago, training for the Clacton triathlon to raise money for a cancer charity, then a few weeks after that moving up to Scotland and joining Kay’s Sunday band of off-road coaching guinea pigs. Last place at my first half marathon got me a new friend and then more new running friends than I knew what to do with, and then a new man to boot.

Running has been my way of exploring my new home, of dealing with my worries and of keeping myself fit. It has given me an incredible social network, taken me to some beautiful parts of Scotland and I’ve now got a body (and a mind) that can endure incredible things. People rarely change, but through running I really have – I used to be a real lazy bones, too frightened to do too much exercise in case I damaged my already trashed ankle or made my severe asthma even worse.

But it takes up an awful lot of time training for things like this. It is a massive commitment of time and energy and effort. It means training runs in conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Last year I spent about £50 on clothes for me, and several times that on running kit and race entries. I’m not sure yet if I’d do it again. I proved I was up to the required standard, as I suspected I was but worried I wasn’t. But it never feels like enough, which can be both positive and extremely negative.

In the past I’ve found it very easy for life to become completely consumed by and built around one thing – be it playing the harp, racing motorbikes or now running. Everything is rosy when it’s going well, but when it’s not, it can be really soul destroying, and things can feel very empty when it’s time to take a break or move on. I need to balance it with something else, but I’m not sure what just yet.

I sometimes hate the sitting pondering plotting phase, wondering what’s next, but I know that when I work out what that is, I’ll be off again chasing after it with a big smile on my face (mostly) and an unshakable urge to keep going to the end. This is what distance running has taught me.

Happy Hill

A long weekend feels as though it must be jam-packed with Things To Do and/or Places To Go.

For me, this weekend was about catching myself up coming the other way.

A week after the concert, I was still absolutely shattered. I managed a slow shuffle along a new-to-me stretch of the West Highland Way on Friday morning, and a rideout to St Andrews on Saturday.

But after that I felt all I could manage was some loafing about and a whole lot of guilt-induced tidying up. 

My house tends to look messy, lived in, some would say cluttered and/or disorganised. It’s true that I’m not the tidiest of people, but I can generally put my finger on whatever I need whenever I need it. I don’t have masses of spare time, but the (lack of) tidiness issue is more one of failure to prioritise rather than anything else.

I’ve been in Scotland for 2 ½ years now. I packed up and moved in a relatively short space of time, given how long I’d lived in my old house. Much as I hate the word downsize, this is exactly what I did, from a big old detached house initially bought to raise a family in, into a tiny modern little shoebox on a hillside with just enough space for one person, two large but lazy dogs and three harps.

And so it was time for a clear out. It felt slightly criminal using rare Scottish sunny days to do so, but I’d been putting it off long enough and this weekend I didn’t have the energy to do much else. It felt good, as if I’m lightening the load for the next move, and honing down what’s important and what is just superficial.

After a trip to the tip, I gave my poor motorbike a long overdue clean and fitted the new clutch lever that has remained snug in its box since last year.

By yesterday evening, the messy-related guilt had eased, and the glorious weather/not enough running guilt had kicked in instead so I set off for a run around the forest.

Unfortunately, my local forest is undergoing a pretty dire programme of felling at the moment and as a result is gradually turning from beautiful shady soft trails of pine needles, acorn shells and small rubbly rocks into muddy widened paths made only for lorries and diggers. The No Entry signs I came across last night had to be obeyed – I wasn’t going to pick a fight with a digger, so I retraced my steps and took another route instead.

What this did mean, however, was that I ran up a hill I would normally only run down. I might as well have been in a different place altogether – I just couldn’t believe the change in scenery just from turning around. I was now heading west towards the setting sun and it was glorious.

I extended my normal forest run a little out to visit a new favourite spot. This is a trig point that is marked on the map but marking a hill with no discernible name. It’s a minor diversion from the forest path, across a short stretch of very tussocky bog. It felt good to be ankle deep in muddy slushy greeny brown icy cold water again. The view from the trig point was tremendous, looking north-west towards Loch Lomond and the start of the mountains. Perhaps rather predictably, I’ve named it Happy Hill.

My weekend finished with very muddy feet and still-slightly-oily fingers, so I call that a bit of a result.




Loch Katrine Marathon

Yesterday was a brilliant day. I ran the Loch Katrine Marathon for the second time. The weather was perfect, cool first thing and sunny later on. I wrote a very long detailed race report last year so won’t do the same again, but there is still lots to say.

Although I finished in a slightly slower time (5.18 this year vs 5.08 last year), there were so many positives I almost can’t list them all. I’ll have a go though, because there have been so many negatives and some pretty dark times these last few weeks:

I ran the whole of the first 14 miles, including all the hills.

I felt great afterwards, and although rather tired, I feel brilliant today.

I had a blister going into the race, but it didn’t get any worse and I didn’t collect any more.

All my kit was brilliant, no rubbing or discomfort or faffing required at all. I wasn’t too hot or too cold at any point. I didn’t over pack for a change. I had everything I needed and a couple of spare bits just in case.

My energy levels stayed pretty even, I ate really well throughout, no sugar highs or crashes, and I didn’t get any stomach cramps.

My asthma behaved pretty well. I needed a few puffs on my blue inhaler but nothing major.

I only started to get really sore at 24 miles, and to my great relief my favourite running mentor Norry appeared on his bike at 25 miles having finished his marshalling stint. He was brilliant company for the last mile and I’m really grateful to him because I was starting to hurt by then.

I have a slightly sore left heel and a slightly sore right knee today but nothing serious and I will be out for a gentle run tonight.

Best of all, I feel happy and confident about my running again.

I was leaving my should I-shouldn’t I Fling decision until after the concert next week, but after a good gossip with Norry, I feel good to go. I will be slow, I will be just inside the cut-off if I do finish, but my legs feel good and strong and provided I can stay bug-free, I feel ready to give it my best effort.

Thanks to Audrey and to all the marshals and helpers for their support and giving up their time. This is a fantastic race that will sell out quickly again next year.

A couple of friends didn’t have quite so much fun and I feel for them and wish them a speedy recovery 😦















Chasing the sunset

It was a gorgeous day in Glasgow yesterday, and when I got home, it was 11 degrees, not a cloud in the sky and the sun was just starting to fade. There was the promise of a beautiful sunset, so I pulled my running shoes on as quickly as I could and headed out west along the old railway line towards Strathblane.

I had contemplated wearing shorts but decided there was still a bit too much daylight for that – and I’m glad I didn’t as it really was cold once the warmth of the sun had gone.

The target was 8 slow miles. I thought my legs were still tired from a long and very hilly run round the forest on Sunday evening, and with the Loch Katrine marathon coming up at the weekend, I didn’t want to push too hard.

But actually after a couple of miles to shake things off a bit, I felt really strong. I felt so free, with nothing but the hills and the sky around me (and a few sheep). The last three miles were fast for me, but I felt as though I could have just run and run forever.

I’m nervous and excited about Sunday. It was a brilliant race for me last year (see race report) and it  was just the start of what turned out to be an incredible year. I’m not chasing a time, I’m more interested in having a good run and enjoying the stunning surroundings. I hope just a little of the magic I felt last time is still there, although maybe with just a little less wind this time.


Destination Distillery

It has been a long, long winter. Normally it doesn’t bother me but this year, and also when I look back, last year, I have struggled to keep things in perspective at times.

Running has been haphazard thanks to two sinus infections and a chest infection in quick succession. The latter saw me on steroids which had more of an impact than I’d anticipated, and so the return to training has been cautious.

Finally, I got out for a decent long run on Sunday.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was out when I set off, and stayed out for most of my run. There were some impressive rain showers early on, but thankfully they were short-lived.

It was the first run of the year in just a single layer of clothing,  (admittedly long sleeves and long tights), and it was great not to be rustling along in my jacket. I was trying out a new backpack that I’d wanted for ages, and it felt brilliant.

It was also a rare daylight run, and after months and months of running in the dark, at last there was no need for my headtorch.

The world was out enjoying the weather and the scenery. Dogs were being walked, children were learning to ride bikes, sheep were being rounded up on the hillside. The highland cattle I’d seen on my last run down this route had increased their number by one, a tiny calf who could just be seen sticking very close to its mother.

For me, a long run isn’t a long run without a hug from a dog along the way. I stopped counting border collies when I got to ten. It was a similar story with black labradors. No greyhounds this time, but I did see a couple of whippets.

This week’s dogs of the day were Maisie the Westie and Ben the miniature Schnauzer, both happily showing off their newly clipped streamlined spring coats.

My route covered a mixture of the newly designated John Muir Way down to Strathblane, then up the Stockiemuir Road to Carbeth and then onto the popular West Highland Way, before crossing the road at Glengoyne distillery. I had my now customary stop at the stile, and paused for a think before stomping up the hill and then picking up the Pipe Track that runs back to Blanefield.

I’ve been quite homesick lately, and the stile has become a bit of a place to sit and think about friends and family far away.

Glengoyne is a favourite whisky of one of my dearest friends. We go back to days of Ducatis and random meetups with unknown bikers in car parks. It has become a tradition that each time I run past the distillery, I have a quick stop to take a picture of the distillery for her, as a reminder that it’s still there.

Despite being just nine miles from home, I’ve never been to visit, and I hope that when I do, it’s with her.

Ultra running, Ultra recovering

This is Lossiemouth beach, on the north east coast of Scotland. It was last Sunday, August bank holiday weekend (well, if you’re in England) and as you can see, we had the best of the weather while it was miserable down south.


This was our away day after the darkness of the day before. It seemed crazy not to visit the nearest beach when we were so close, and I had ditched the planned race so we had time to spare.

It was everything we needed and more. We had ice cream and Irn Bru and we bought seaside rock. We softened our gnarly feet on the sand. One of us burst our blisters and got sand in them (ouch). We froze our toes in the sea, and were wearing more clothes than most.

We laughed as we got out of the car and shuffled along the sea front. One of us suggested stealing a walking stick off a passing old man. The other gently pointed out that we would be in no position to run away afterwards. We laughed some more. We saw a small child wearing a t-shirt proclaiming him Small But Epic. One of us wondered if it would be possible to steal this too, and realised that perhaps we weren’t quite in our right minds today. The strop over the lack of coffee at breakfast was further evidence of this.

Back to the day before. We ran approximately 37 miles, or as much as we could of this, along the Speyside Way. We started at Ballindalloch and traced the River Spey all the way to Spey Bay, then followed the coastline round to the village of Buckie.

The course should have been easier than our trip to Kintyre in May. It would have been, had we been a bit more prepared.

The first 12 miles were wonderful. We ran past some distilleries and some disused stations.


A few weeks before, the route had been under several feet of water in all the floods. It was still damp underfoot, but this made for good soft ground to run on. We made it to the first checkpoint in good time, in last place but well ahead of last place last year.

However, life had got in the way, long runs went out the window and we really paid for this. We got to know the sweeper very well. Through chatting to him, I learnt some good starting points for mountain biking and ski mountaineering. We made it up the biggest climb to Ben Aigan and despite a couple of heavy rain showers, we were treated to the most beautiful view down the Spey to the sea. This should have been the tough bit out of the way, and all downhill from here.


This was to be rather more literally downhill than I expected. Soon after, the wheels came off. I had a big wobble at 18 miles and had we been near the river, I would have thrown my running shoes in it. Everything was wrong and I just didn’t want to run any more, at all, ever. Surprisingly after a few minutes break, a bit of reassurance in the form of a squeezy hand hold from my friend Angela and then some unexpectedly reviving crystallised ginger from sweeper Sean got me back on track.

It got worse. By the last water station at 31 miles, I was ready to pull out. Everything hurt. But two unbelievably upbeat marshals, who had been at the very first water station as well, kept our spirits high. By the time we left, I’d forgotten all thoughts of finishing up and we were on the way to the finish line. I later found out the pink-haired marshal was Race Director Sarah’s mum, and she promised to pass on my heartfelt thanks. Without her encouragement, I would have given in.

Somehow we made it to the end. The welcoming committee was small as we had missed the cut-off, but we were handed our goody bags and medals, and a chap in a Celtic top seemed delighted to shake our hands and was full of so many kind words we really didn’t know what to say. A couple who should have been running but pulled out with an injury had come up to marshal and waited for us, and gave us a lift back to the car to save us walking just an extra 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a long way when you have run 37 miles, and I can’t begin to tell you how much we appreciated this too.

The support from those people made the disappointment of the day so much easier to deal with. I had been very, very hard on myself and realised there was no need. I spoke to fellow runner Ray McCurdy in Glasgow today. He had run his 120th ultramarathon on Saturday, and had also found himself about half an hour behind where he expected to be. At the other end of the race, a new race record had been set by local runner Terry Forrest – a truly staggering time of 4.01.42.

Both of those runners will have had good days and bad days, just as I did on Saturday. I nearly pulled out of my next race, the big one looming large in just 5 weeks time, but have decided to leave the decision until nearer the time.

First, there is a good bit more recovering to be done.