Tag Archives: asthma

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.

 

And…. Action!

Inevitably at the start of the year, we look back on what was, and start to think once again about what might be.

2014 was a pretty transformative year for me. I set myself some monster targets running and cycling wise, and achieved all but the very last one of them.

Everything else was left more fluid. For the first year in a while, I had just a small handful of harp gigs in the diary and I played much less than normal. This was deliberate, for reasons I’ll talk about another time. At the start of last year, I was in a brand new relationship, in a temporary job, with no commitments beyond demolishing a serious debt mountain, looking after two big black furries, and working my way through a long-held list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I deliberately flung myself face first down a Munro in the snow to practice self-arrest with an ice axe, on my first day of proper winter hill walking (under supervision I should add).

I ran my first ever marathon. On Easter Saturday, I had a brilliant run on the West Highland Way with a favoured running buddy. A few weeks later, I ran my first ever ultra marathon.

I put myself forward as a support runner for the West Highland Way race, potentially running through the night in the Scottish wilderness with someone I’d never met, to help them achieve their goal. I wasn’t needed in the end sadly, due to them becoming injured, but the fact that my offer was accepted was wonderful and a huge honour! Instead, I spent my second Summer Solstice at the top of Meikle Bin, and this time I ran almost to the top.

I cycled up a truly brutal, epic Tour de France climb, in horrendous conditions, again to help someone else achieve their goal. Two days later we did it again.

I took part in my first ever club cycle race.

I had a minor tantrum in the middle of my second ultramarathon and was rescued by crystallised ginger and kind people, and the combination of both enabled me to finish the race.

I spent my birthday weekend in a forest just outside Aviemore, getting rained and hailed on, running/staggering round in circles, and sleeping for approximately 2 hours, to support someone through a big race.

I got my revenge the next week by dragging him up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (along with a fab guide) for my alternative birthday weekend.

I ran 38 miles in a day, 20 of these through the most extreme conditions I’ve ever encountered. The first 18 miles were horrendous for other reasons, but somehow when the weather turned, something magical happened. Then the day after, I DNF’d in an event for the first time.

I spent an incredible week exploring the north west Highlands, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for almost twenty years.

I bought a new-to-me harp, and signed up for an online course with an inspirational teacher.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my harp journey started again.

I’ve been to some incredible beaches.

I’ve had lots of time and space to think about lots of things.

I achieved a lot in 2014, and I am incredibly proud of all of it. I’m particularly of getting up Mont Ventoux.

IMG_3142

Photobombing the Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe – 12 miles out from Bridge of Orchy with 12 miles still ahead on the first truly hot day in months.

Fling 2

Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for the above fab photo, taken along the bonny banks at the Highland Fling.

DSCF2139

Looking surprisingly glam given how knackered I was here – second ascent of Mont Ventoux in three days (Malaucene route this time)

DSCF2108

This was the first time up Ventoux. We could see…. nothing. Both very tired and very cold but full of beans.

DSCN0144

Spidean Coire nan Clach – Beinn Eighe, November in Scotland. Who’d have thought it. Blue, clear skies.

IMG_3586

I think of these words often now – the Tom Simpson memorial on the Bedoin ascent of Mont Ventoux

IMG_2945

Getting to the top of the big hill at Loch Katrine, for the first time.

But there is more to come.

2014 was really about trying to escape from previous failures. I can confirm that if you run far enough and cycle up enough big tough hills, you will find some answers. They probably won’t be what you expect but you definitely won’t forget them if you learn them the hard way.

When you find the things you truly love doing, it becomes ever more important to make space for them in your life.

The fact is that now, there are not enough hours in the day for running, cycling, hill walking, motorcycling. Let alone looking after pets, seeing friends and family, earning a living.

In my previous life, I didn’t know what to do with myself much beyond working.

As a result of a lot of thinking while covering a serious amount of self-propelled miles last year, I have everything I need in terms of ideas and plans for the next step of the journey.

Now, they need action, and commitment, and confidence and the drive to see them through.

But the last year has taught me that if you are brave and keep trying enough big bold things, sometimes they will work out after all.

PS just to prove it’s not all highs and happy faces, here’s me remembering just how much I hate chossy damp dark slimey chimneys! Thanks to guide Dave Chapman for the photo and a brilliant day despite a few squeaky bits.

Tower Ridge 2

All is calm – Day 16

I’m just home from work, I feel sick from the bus journey home, I’m tired and I’m just starting to come down with yet another cold.

I live by the hills just north of Glasgow so obviously it’s raining outside.

I check my peak flow. It’s just above the self-imposed limit where running is questionable, but my chest feels OK and after being inside all day, I am desperate for some fresh air. I get changed and head out of the front door.

All my other winter running kit is in the wash so I’m wearing a pair of incredibly badly fitting running tights that were stashed at the back of the drawer in case of an emergency. They are slightly too see-through for daytime public consumption, and they don’t stay up without a good yank every couple of hundred metres.

I’m also wearing a very brightly coloured top that is too bright for daytime public consumption, especially when worn with these running tights. My colour coordination this evening leaves much to be desired.

It’s raining quite heavily now. I’m actually really glad about this because it means the footpaths won’t be icy, and so I am less likely to slip over.

It’s 16th December and this is my 16th day of running this month.

The reason for this madness is Marcothon.

This is an informal challenge to run every day in December (including Christmas Day), for 3 miles or 25 minutes, whichever comes first.

I first heard of it last year, but didn’t think it was something I’d be able to do. The previous winter had been incredibly icy and my asthma had been pretty bad so I didn’t feel able to commit to running every day.

So instead, I challenged myself to log an 80 mile month, a challenge set by Bangs and a Bun, whose running/fitness blog had helped inspire me when I first started out on this incredible journey in early 2012.

As a direct result of my 80 mile month, I learned how to manage my asthma on really bad days. I pushed my distances way further than I thought was possible, and just when I thought I’d left it too late, I managed to clock up 50 miles in 8 days and completed the challenge.

Finishing last year's #80milemonth as the sun went down on 2013 - Hogmanay on the Forth Road Bridge
Finishing last year’s #80milemonth as the sun went down on 2013 – Hogmanay on the Forth Road Bridge

On my very worst asthma day last winter, I set out for a short run. It can take a while for my lungs to warm up sometimes, but this time nothing was happening. I almost turned round and went home. But I happened to look at my Strava and realised that not only had I already run a mile and would have to run a mile home again anyway, but it was a fast mile and I was on track to hit a new PB for 5k. So I carried on. I still have no idea where that came from, and it was another sign that my life had really changed.

This year, largely thanks to a great winter of training behind me (which itself was largely thanks to previously unknown levels of commitment and discipline), I did some amazing things. I have run, climbed, walked and cycled in some incredible places and covered some pretty impressive distances under my own steam.

After such a big year, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a bit of a dip. I didn’t finish my last race, back in early October. I took a couple of weeks off to rest and recover, and then just as I was hoping to start running again, I was absolutely flattened for the best part of three weeks with a sinus infection. I had wanted to get going again, but my body could barely make it from my bed to the sofa and back. I’d been incredibly unlucky, but there was nothing for it other than to let it take its course and wait until I was better.

I’d thought about entering the Highland Fling in April  but had no idea whether I was capable of completing it, certainly not in the state I was now in. ntries opened not long after my last race, and knowing it would quickly sell out, I needed to make up my mind pretty quickly.

I reminded myself that I’d felt the same way this time last year about entering my first marathon and ultra marathon, and committing to cycle up a big mountain in France. I had no idea whether I was capable of those either, but I’d said yes and then trained and prepared as much as I could. Knowing this had all paid off gave me a bit of confidence to put my Fling entry in.

We had a wonderful week’s holiday in the north west Highlands, with some running, walking and a bit of scrambling. Marcothon would start just after we got back and this year I felt ready to give it a go.

I didn’t expect to love it as much as I have.

I didn’t expect to see the results I’ve seen.

In just over two weeks, I’m pretty much back to the speed I was running at the start of the year when I’d set a 5k and 10k PB. Admittedly these are short distances compared to my ‘normal’ preferred distances, and nothing like the terrain I will be running on come race day, but given how bad my chest has been recently, frankly I am astonished.

The first week, I was absolutely shattered. Even running half an hour a day on top of a normal working day was more than I had done for a few weeks. But within a few days, I felt fine. My legs haven’t been sore at all, just a little tired on a longer run on Saturday.

The hardest days so far have been Day 3, when I was just getting going again and really struggled to shove myself out of the front door, and Day 9 when I had to run at 6am because I was out in the evening and would be in no fit state to run when I got home.

Icy footpaths have been a bit scary, but the worst thing about the ice has been having to slow down when my legs have felt ready to go faster.

I miss running in the daylight, but I know that logging these winter miles will mean that once again I will be ready to make the most of the long summer evenings when they come.

Running is responsible for so much of the good stuff in my life, and the fitness it has given me has pushed me on to do other things as well.

Marcothon has reminded me of just how much I love running, and how despite this being my third winter of training, it still feels like a complete novelty that I’m able to do it, especially in this part of the world.

I feel a bit more like my old self again. There’s a challenge on the table and I know what I am working towards. Away from running, this isn’t always the case, but it’s amazing how having a running goal keeps me going in other areas of life too.

All you have to do

After plodding along pretty steadily and mostly pretty happily for the last couple of years, I finally made a big decision on the morning of Day 2 of the Saltmarsh 75.

It was shortly before I took this photo. This is looking out along the Blackwater Estuary towards Bradwell power station, which you can just see on the horizon.

It was a beautiful day, in an incredible part of the country. I had run a long way the day before in some pretty tough conditions. I’d been looking forward to and training hard for this event for a whole year, but I was about to pull out of the race. I’d just had enough, and nothing was going to change my mind about carrying on.

I decided that I really needed to start thinking about running a bit more quickly.

20141010-081506.jpg

In theory this should be easy. To run a bit faster, you just… ermm… run a bit faster right?

There’s a great quote I read in a motorbike magazine a few years ago. Something along the lines of:

“All you have to do is lean a little further, get on the gas a little earlier, brake a little later and then you’ll win the race”

See? Easy!

But to lean, you have to understand how and why and when to lean. You have to learn when a little further is a little too far.

You have to learn how much gas/throttle is too much. You have to learn how early is too early.

Learning to go fast on a motorbike can be dangerous, even assuming you are in the relatively controlled environment that is a road racing circuit. It hurts when you fall off, and you can break yourself and your bike. If you are anything like most bike racers, you will cry far more about the latter.

I guess I’m trying to say there are always barriers when you learn something new, or try to improve something you can do already. There is a reason why you do things the way you do them. Mostly it’s easy, or comfortable, or you like doing it that way. And you are scared of the unknown.

The main thing that stops me pushing my running speed is my asthma. I had a bad run last night where it wasn’t settling as it should and it really started to hurt. I know enough about managing it to realise when to stop, so backed off and went home.

But once I start to learn how to go faster, I’m frightened my breathing will get out of control and I won’t be able to calm it down. This can be due to a variety of factors, and a damp Scottish winter is a fairly big one.

So what can I do about this?

I have to know why I want to do it.

I have to find a starting point.

I have to understand what I am going to do and how I am going to try and do it.

I have to be sure I want to do it, so that when it gets hard, I don’t give up.

I have to practice it. Lots.

I have to appreciate it might not work, and I might have to change my approach several times before I find a way.

Reading through this list, I realise how much of this applies to music and learning a big new piece, and how my time at the RCS changed how I approach things.

I also think back to some of the incredible things I’ve done this year, and how I never thought I’d be able to do them.

But I did.

So there’s no reason I can’t learn to run faster. I have an inhaler, I know when too far is really too far, I know that there might have to be some considerable discomfort and I know it will be worth it.

Runner restored (temporarily?)

I had my best run in months last night.

Just my normal 5km/3 mile route along a tarmac path at the bottom of the Campsie Fells.

I can see the hills for the first half a mile and then it’s into the trees and down the back of a local housing estate. Compared to some of the routes I’m lucky enough to be able to call local, it’s pretty dull, but it serves its purpose well. It’s safe, flat and quiet.

5k is probably my most hated distance. My asthmatic lungs seem to take this distance to warm themselves up, so generally the enjoyment level is pretty low but the satisfaction level is high.

It has been a while since I’ve found running so easy. A big Ventoux-sized hole was carved in my run training and I’ve found it really, really hard to get back into the swing of things after focusing on my cycling.

Shortly after my return from Provence, I discovered I was quite badly anaemic (quite common in distance runners particularly female ones) and the prescribed iron tablets caused absolute havoc.

The few runs I managed to get in before the Speyside Way race were horrendous. I got so frustrated with myself I started to have panic attacks mid-run, and with a new member of the household able to collect me, I now had a way of abandoning rather than just slogging it out to the end as I would have had to do previously.

Last night was different. It was still harder than I would have liked, but I started to feel that I could enjoy my running again and that I was in with a shout of being able to at least have a good stab at my next race.

This is the one I’ve been working towards all year and desperately don’t want to pull out of.

The Saltmarsh 75 will take me round the wild coastline of Essex. It couldn’t be more different from the more familiar face of Essex. I’ll pass one of my favourite places on the planet along the way.

At the moment, the nearest salt-related monument is the grit bucket at the bottom of my road.

20140902-134445.jpg

But I can’t wait to be back ‘home’ and am looking forward to giving the last month of training my best shot.

Two halves, a bit of a hole, and a very important cow

*LONG POST, GET COFFEE*

In September last year, newly arrived off the M6/M74, I remembered seeing fluorescent signs on the roads near my new house warning of a road race coming up. I looked it up, but a half marathon looked like a step too far after my recent triathlon efforts.

This year, Applecross had been and gone, and I found myself with a worryingly empty weekend approaching. Someone was looking out for me though, as the previous year’s race popped into my head while queuing in the Co-op. I got home, found the entries for the Neil McCover Half Marathon (the Kirky Half for short) closed in four hours, my decision was made and the entry was in for the coming weekend.

13.1 miles. The furthest I’d run/walked before this was 10 miles. I’d done this once. I’d done a few hilly 9 milers but I’d never run any further than 10 on tarmac. The furthest I’d gone without stopping for a brief walk or two was 6 miles. At my steady 11-minute mile-ish pace, I would finish just within 2h30 if I could keep going. The website suggested preferred completion within this time otherwise marshall cover would be withdrawn but I was pretty confident I could do it.

The day before the race, I made the mistake of checking the previous year’s times. I was going to be last. I had a big wobble. Having spent most of my bike racing career bringing up the rear, albeit with a huge smile and a lot of giggles, once again I found myself wondering what on earth I was trying to prove, why I needed to spend £20 on a run I could go out and do on my own any time.

The day came. The weather had looked a bit grim ahead of the weekend, and at 6am on the first hound turn-out, it was looking pretty biblical. Others were away on Arran and I felt for them. A couple of hours later and there was some blue sky in evidence. I contemplated pulling out, still questioning what I was doing while my bed was warm, but the need to not waste money and the constant new-girl-in-town buzz of “go along, you never know who you might meet and sitting at home being miserable won’t change anything” helped push me out of the front door.

Lots of very serious looking people were warming up around the start line but I found another girl who was there on her own and we chatted away. She had done her first half marathon a few months before and finished in 2h06min. I was thrilled for her but it didn’t help the nerves, especially as she was running by her own admission in a 99p vest from Asda and what looked suspiciously like a wonderbra.

Eventually we got started. The pack pushed on, and soon there were just a few of us towards the back. It was an interesting experience running along closed roads where I’d normally sit for ages in traffic, and this was my first race with no cycling or swimming involved – ‘just a run’ albeit a long one.

Before very long at all, I was right at the back. Being kerb-crawled by a police car and a St Johns Ambulance. This certainly kept me focused but didn’t exactly settle the nerves any further. I was pleased to trot happily up the hills and before I knew it I was turning off towards Milton of Campsie, again all along roads I’d normally drive along.

There were some cows and sheep in the field next to the road, and I couldn’t help noticing that one cow was ignoring all the others. There was plenty of lovely green grass and friends to moo with in his/her field, but he/she was out on his/her own and had stuck his/her head all the way through the fence in search of more/better grass. It didn’t look particularly comfy, but I had to admire him/her for his/her spirit.

I missed a couple of the mile markers after mile 4, but did notice a little girl in a pram who was waving at us as we ran along. I hoped she wasn’t getting too wet/cold. By this point, I had company in the form of another runner. Angela and I would trade places and chat/puff pretty much the rest of the way round.

At one point I could almost see my front door, and guessed I was approaching the half-way mark. I was still accompanied by the police car, but the ambulance had now turned into 2 ambulance people on bikes. I had to use my inhaler a couple of times as it was rather damp – I was dreading them being over-enthusiastic and pouncing on me in their excitement at something happening. By this point, my lucky knickers had headed into a rather uncomfortable position, but with my entourage so close behind, there was no way I could do anything about them.

Miles 6-7, 7-8 and 8-9 felt like very hard going. Once I got to 9 miles, things started to lift, although I realised that at 11 minutes per mile, I still had at least 44 minutes to run. But, I was still running. By this point, I had decided that police car or no police car, I was going to keep going to see what would happen. I knew if I stopped to walk on the flat I probably wouldn’t get going again.

A big hill came at mile 10, but I managed to keep going up it. Angela and I were swapping places happily, with heads down and a bit of chat when we could manage. Eventually, a point came where the police car couldn’t drive with us, and I was able to have a quick stretch and sort out the undie situation without giving the policeman an eyeful. I could just imagine the radio chat going on and didn’t want to add any further fuel to the fire.

Another hill came at mile 12. Again I kept going, but by now I was incredibly sore and ready to stop. The last mile was in and out of a housing estate and was deceptive as we really felt we were getting closer to the line. We could see the finish line flags but kept twisting around. The mile 13 marker appeared at last.

On the last corner, we were clapped and cheered by three girls who had waited to run the last bit with us. This really gave us a boost – so many people moan about young people today but here they were, on a Sunday morning probably with much better things to do, lifting our spirits and keeping us going. Angela asked if I wanted to share last place and I was thrilled to accept. We held hands over the line, even managing a brief sprint to a big cheer from those who were still hanging around at the finish.

I couldn’t believe I’d done it. I stopped my Strava and looked at my time – 2h27 something although I wasn’t sure how accurate it was. I was over the moon, in a very quiet and very tired way. I thanked the policeman for his patience and apologised for the likely state of his clutch. He patted his belly and said he admired our perseverance.

Angela’s friend Al was waiting for her at the line. Hugs were being doled out, and I wasn’t sure of the protocol but managed to claim one anyway. The hand of friendship was further extended and I joined them both for an utterly wonderful post-race hot chocolate. Facebook details were swapped, and this being Scotland we worked out who knew who else, and before long, just like that, I had a whole new world of people to run with….

…..And another race to enter, in a fortnight’s time!

The Antonine trail race had been mentioned in a new Facebook group I’d joined at Angela’s suggestion. At 13.8 miles long, it was just over the half-marathon distance I’d done but being off-road it was much more my normal thing. It also had the advantage of being just down the road again. With nothing else planned, I put an entry in. I knew it would be hilly so wasn’t sure I’d be able to run the whole lot, but I was really happy to be going somewhere completely new.

I felt immensely pleased that I was at a stage with my running to be able to enter not just one but two half marathons, on a whim, with just a week to go before race day, and to know I’d done enough work to have a decent chance of finishing. I’ll never be particularly quick but this does have its advantages, in that even the smallest of improvements are celebrated with great joy.

A couple of days before, I found out I would have some company on the start line and at the end. This was really appreciated and made the build up just that bit more special. It was great to share the chat afterwards, although I was in pretty lousy shape at the end this time.

I found this race much, much tougher. The going under foot was much more varied, making things more entertaining but harder work. Ankle deep mud, bogs, tree roots, slippy wooden boards, gravel, rubble, tarmac, there was everything other than ice and snow. I was in my trail shoes, and had never done a long/mixed run in these. With the state of my ankle, I am a bit more sensitive to shoes than I’d like, but I’m getting there.

I had to stop to walk a couple of times – I wasn’t sure whether this was down to me being tired or down to the route. I had much more company at the back this time, and swapped around with a handful of others. There was only one other girl running on her own, everyone else seemed to have brought someone with them. The majority of my running is done on my own, I’ve never really known anything else and am totally content with my own company while I’m huffing and puffing away.

A swan appeared briefly just after the mile-8 marker, and disappeared just as quickly as it had arrived. This picked me up no end, for reasons I won’t go into here.

The route sits just across the other side of the Kilsyth Hills, which are the eastern end of the Campsie Fells and are a major part of home for me. I drive past them almost every day for work. If they’re on the left of me, it’s the morning. If they’re on the right, I’m on my way home. On race day however, the route twisted and turned and I kept losing track of where I was in relation to everything else, expecting to see the hills on my right but finding them somewhere else.

Again there were 2 hills of particular note – one at mile 9/10 which was a beautiful run up through a forest. I could have been anywhere in the world but was really happy to be enjoying myself in my adopted homeland. It was a gorgeous morning by now, there was some sunlight shimmering through the trees in between the showers, and I felt very lucky to be out enjoying the scenery.

Coming down this hill, the monster mile-12 Croy Hill suddenly came into sight. I could see a variety of different colours of running kit working their way up it and my heart sank. I was craving Jelly Babies by this point, and almost utterly depleted. So I couldn’t believe my luck when a very kind marshall appeared with a magic yellow packet of just what I desired. There was a faintly magical feel to the day for a variety of reasons, just a general sense of being looked after by others who weren’t there, and so I took a handful of my favourites – the orange and yellow ones – and set off up the hill.

Ever since I started running, I’ve often felt a magical hand between my shoulder blades, pushing me on when I know I should be stopping. I can’t explain it, but at the same time, I know exactly why it is. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s a wonderful feeling and very much welcome when it comes. Today was one of those days, but this time the signs were manifesting themselves in the physical world a little more than was usual.

I’ve not done a lot of hill walking for a very long time, but what I have been lucky enough to do this summer really helped me up this particular hill. Others were flagging but I kept myself going.

The last mile came, and headed back down towards the start of the race. There were a couple of small hills before the end, and for some reason I decided I needed to run up these. The last one was a total mistake and I felt the sudden and very real terror of an approaching asthma attack. The sharp and audible rasp, the complete contraction of my lungs like when you scrunch up a crisp packet, and the feeling of a very determined elephant being sat on my chest and stomach.

I tried to keep calm but the tears started to come and I knew if I couldn’t pull myself together I would be wearing a nebuliser at the end. I heard someone shouting/cheering at me from further down the path and I got more upset. As I got closer, I realised who it was (he’d got changed from his running kit!) and started to panic even more which was very silly. Somehow I managed to calm down and keep breathing and made it to the line. Gradually everything subsided, but it was incredibly frightening and I was glad not to be on my own.

The first race hurt more in my hips and my feet – I had several layers of blister on my big toe (thanks to my road shoes) which took a good few days to calm down. I felt OK the next day as long as I kept moving. Sitting down for 2 hour long lectures was definitely not a good idea though. By the day after, I felt fine.

The second race really tired me out. My legs were fine the day after, but it took me a good couple of days to really bounce back from it. I’ve lost a stone in a six-week period, unintended and mostly due to not eating enough through house-selling stress. This is a lot for a small person. I’m not sure how much of an impact this has had on how I felt after both runs. It wouldn’t have made me any faster, but maybe I’d have felt a bit more with it afterwards. Definitely something to think about though, as the urge becomes stronger to run further and further to new places.

So now I’m left with a bit of a hole. I hadn’t planned anything else after Applecross beyond continuing to enjoy my running over the winter, but I’ve been grateful for having a couple of big things in the diary. I doubt I would have run all 13.1 miles for quite a while if I’d just been out running on my own. I’ve also met some brilliant people, been supported by some brilliant marshalls, and enjoyed being in the company of others who also enjoy what I enjoy. There are lots of routes planned for the winter, partly to push my distances but really just to continue to enjoy myself being outside in the country that has become home.

I was awful at sports at school, excluded because of my asthma and too frightened to challenge this because it meant getting my wobbly thighs out in front of all the thin girls. My dad always described me as built for comfort not for speed. He’d hate it if he knew now but I carry those words with me everywhere, and when I look in the mirror, even at a body that is shrinking before my eyes, all I see is an overweight teenager.

Even my mum had to ask what the aliens had done with her daughter when I said I was doing my second half and going in for a marathon next year. It has always felt like a bit of a joke, but I guess I can call myself a runner now.

So what of the cow? I’m sure it’s obvious, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do to stay in the field and eat grass with your mates. Sometimes it’s right to poke your head through the fence in search of something new, something better, even if it means risking getting stuck, or hurt, or worse. Sometimes it’s right to move between the two. There’s only one way to find out.

IMG_2332

Daring to dream

Well that all sounds a bit dramatic doesn’t it. The truth is, it’s been a while since I’ve even thought about dreaming and what might or might not be in the future.

When you go through a big change in your life, be it a traumatic break up, major house renovations, house move, change of job, change of career, change of country, or perhaps a perfect storm of several of the above all at once, your brain switches into practical/survival mode to keep you ticking over.

Your focus is intense, and complex logistics are processed with ease. There’s only one way through, which is to keep your head down and not stop for anything. You balance many things in one go, to-do lists of biblical proportions are tackled with gusto and you barely stop to breathe, let alone look further than the end of your own nose. Stopping means thinking, which is debilitating and often upsetting.

There comes a point, however, when you realise that not only is this pace unsustainable, but also that actually, most of the hard work is behind you. The final bowline still remains but the signs are good and progress is being made.

You realise you’ve achieved (almost) everything you set out to achieve, which is exhilarating but strangely scary when you look back to how stuck you had to get before you made the break. In fact, not only have you achieved it, but it’s gone better than you could ever have hoped for. You think back to the things you put on your perfect day list, and most of them are there.

This point arrived on Wednesday night. I went out for a run with a new club, somewhere very near where I now live, but not somewhere I’d been before. I knew everyone would be faster than me, which wasn’t a problem, but it still hit quite hard and I wasn’t prepared for the way I felt. An old sense of panic began to rise, and the first hill came quite quickly which is always a problem for me. However I was with someone who I desperately didn’t want to wobble in front of, and I managed to keep it under control. It had been a while since I’d had to do this, but last time things were very different and I took some comfort from this.

Gradually the hill was over with, and the mountains started to open out in front of me, seemingly a long way off but in reality not so far away. It was a beautiful evening, the sun lit up the hills around me and I really didn’t want to run any more. I wanted to stop and breathe and think and chat and look around me. But I managed to keep going, walking far more than normal, as my lungs slowly warmed up and I began to feel much better.

IMG_1621

(the picture above isn’t where I was running but I was looking in the same direction, out towards Loch Lomond)

The rest of the club was miles away by now, but a sneaky shortcut soon brought us back together, as well as providing great lungfuls of whisky from the local distillery which was a very pleasant distraction. Before long we were running downhill again and I was enjoying myself, while cursing my legs for not being able to go as quickly as my head wanted to run.

I stopped to watch a beautiful chestnut horse having a jolly good wriggle to scratch his/her back. It looked very satisfying, and I thought about what it must be like being a horse (or a greyhound for that matter) and having nothing more pressing in your day than scratching an itch.

We started to reach some houses, and suddenly I found myself standing outside what was almost my perfect place to live.

For such a long time, the dream was to live where I am now, in fact it was just to get here, get my boxes unloaded and register for my course and start meeting new friends and work out what my timetable was going to look like so I knew whether I’d need a dogwalker or not.

It’s hard to picture the Hollywood Hills while up in the Campsies, especially given the typical climate here, but the sprawling modernist mansions featured in films like The Limey and Mulholland Drive have always held a strong pull for me. I used to spend far too long on Wowhaus, and Grand Designs was not to be missed under any circumstances.

The house and the top of the street had that kind of vibe, secluded and spacious but with a panoramic view of the hills and the valley beneath it. Or rather, I guessed it had such a view as it was so tucked away.

Thinking of the perfect house and creating a home there has always been difficult, for a variety of reasons which run too deep, even for this blog.

I felt a slight movement beneath my feet as I started to look into the future, rather than just being in the present. My head span a little bit, and I don’t think it was to do with the running. It took me well into the next day before I could really process what I was feeling, and I realised that I’d now moved onto a new phase. One where I need to start daydreaming again, and contemplating what the next phase will be.

My initial determination that I wouldn’t think too far into the future is no longer appropriate, although it was entirely correct as a self-preservation strategy this time last year.

The term paradigm shift is now overused and cliched, thought of as a very significant big dramatic thing, but in my experience, those of the non-scientific variety are often very small and subtle but with big consequences. Sometimes you don’t even see them until you look back on events with the crystal clear vision that only hindsight can give you. But when you do, you realise you can pinpoint the exact moment where things changed.

 

Nearly but not quite… take 3

My house sits at the foot of the Campsie Fells and I feel incredibly lucky that I wake up and see these fabulous hills almost at the bottom of my garden each day.

Image

Of course, looking as though they are almost at the bottom of my garden, and being at the bottom of my garden is entirely different.

My road is named after one of the big hills in the area, and twice now I have set off, with a chef and two greyhounds in tow, to explore it. You can just see the top of it by my right ear in this photo.

Image

On both occasions we have got within spitting distance but not quite made it to the top. The first time we took a wrong path (although we had a grand old time doing so and the dogs enjoyed their first drink from a stream) and the second it was just far too hot for two skinny racing machines to be out in such strong sunshine. We had to stop half way for them to recover!

Image

Cort ma Law is a little nearer, and despite my road name, this is the biggest/nearest hill to where I live.

Having been feeling awfully stuck in the mud recently, for a variety of reasons, I decided today was a day of action. I wanted to make the most of the weather before it finally turned, after what feels like weeks and weeks of glorious sunshine. The rain was due on about 12, so just before 10 I set off on a run/stagger/whichever, with the sole mission of seeing how far I got.

Exams are out of the way now (I passed with a good mark so I’m thrilled) and my days are rather empty. I have the luxury of lots of time on my hands, but it’s taking a while to get used to it and my head has been struggling a little.

Usually on a run I start out with a distance to cover and the desire to go faster than last time, but with asthma to contend with, along with the recent heat and the start of the hayfever season, I often end up very frustrated.

So it was important that today’s run was a break from what has become the norm – worrying. If you’re stuck in a rut, a good thing is to do something that scares you a bit.

Setting off into the hills for the first time on my own was just scary enough – I knew where I was going, had a phone and a drink and if the weather got the worst of me, I was happy enough to retrace my steps and head down (NB I wouldn’t do this on a foggy day!).

I had a fabulous time. Since I moved to Scotland, I have discovered a new love of running off road. The best way to push my distances has been to go somewhere new, and pretty much everywhere has been stunning so far. Today was no different. It was wonderful – I was the highest up I’ve been under my own steam in many years.

I didn’t get to the top, but I wasn’t far off. On a clearer day I would have carried on, plus I had a tutorial to get to and while “Sorry I couldn’t come, I was up a hill” would have been an original excuse, it wouldn’t have gone down very well.

I was greeted part of the way up by a beautiful little animal I’d never seen before. I didn’t know what it was – at first I thought it was a stoat, or a weasel, but it then occurred to me it might have been a pine marten. This was very exciting, even more so than the deer I disturbed in the woods a couple of weeks ago.

As I got the top, I encountered the notoriously gnarly hill climbing sheep. In my murky past I have often dragged myself up some soggy crag after a boy I fancied, only to be met by a baa-ing creature that surely could not have got there without assistance or at least a pair of rock boots.

Today I ran where I could run, walked everywhere else and staggered up the really steep bits. I needed the space that was around me, and this brought some quiet to my whirling brain. When I run, I don’t think about much beyond my body and my surroundings. Everything else stops, in the same way it did when I was flinging myself around racetracks on my motorbike.

Last week, I heard a woman on the radio talking about the first time she went sailing. Having recently been through a horrendous divorce and on a mission to try something new, she recalled asking the captain if they could turn and head south. The captain replied that if they did that, they would be sailing further away from the land. She said that’s exactly why she asked. At his suggestion, she ended up taking part in a round-the-world yacht race in her 50s, and saw in the millennium at sea, while her friends were having dinner parties.

I remembered this feeling. Countless times I have set out on my motorbike with no immediate desire to return. A wonderful family and a heap of financial responsibilities have kept me coming home. But I still feel restless. I struggle to understand this, as I also love being at home.

Finances and circumstances are such that my adventures are quite limited at the moment. But really, for now, I have everything I need on my doorstep, and I am truly grateful for this. I have fantastically wild unspoilt countryside very nearby, and there is more than enough to explore with just my own two feet and my eyes.

The little face I saw beneath the rock as I swung myself over a gate was later identified as a stoat. A pine marten would have been an incredibly rare sight, but the stoat was just as wonderful to see.

I look forward to getting to the top of the hills some time soon. But by not doing so, I remind myself that often, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

I found this recently and couldn’t agree more.

Image

Brave? or Stupid?

It has taken a long, long time to feel ready to write this. But I’ve had a good day today, so I’m going for it. It will be quite long.

My triathlon was almost a month ago. 4 weeks tomorrow. I was so excited about it, but in the end it didn’t quite go to plan.

In my last post, I referred to a cold. I didn’t realise at the time, but this was more than a cold. It took a long time to get over, I had 2 days off work and went back before I was ready as I wasn’t getting paid to be at home sleeping it off.

I had almost 2 weeks off training – my body needed it, but in terms of the triathlon it wasn’t great. I missed an open water swim training session, the only one I could have attended due to work commitments, because I was just too ill, and this turned out to cost me very dearly.

I eventually got back to training just 4 days before the big day. I went for a bike ride, and it was unbelievably depressing. My chest felt OK but my legs wouldn’t work on the bike. I took a different route, with different (but no bigger) ‘hills’ to what I was used to. (Inverted commas as I have now moved to Scotland and hills up here are a somewhat different concept). I felt awful, and was really down as I knew this wasn’t going well. I decided to carry on and do a short run, just for practice running on tired bike legs, and also to try out triathlon suit number 3, and the run was a bit better. I’ve found running after a bike ride is much easier as I’m already warmed up.

Friday 7th, 2 days before the race, was my birthday and I wanted to go to the Creek to watch the sunset for possibly the last time from this location. I also wanted to run there, as the last one had gone so badly. This was to be the furthest I had ever run, and while I hadn’t expected to spend my birthday alone yet again, let alone running, I really enjoyed it. The sunset didn’t disappoint and I felt very peaceful despite all that was going on at the time.

The day before the race had been the usual faffing and panicking as to whether I had everything I needed and whether I was really fit enough to take part. I worked out what time I would need to get up, shuddered, and decided to try and take things as easy as I could on the Saturday. This didn’t entirely go to plan, as I was renovating my house, moving out, packing, leaving my job etc, but I managed to leave enough time for a little recce trip to the seaside in the evening, to see where I was going on the morning of the race. I looked at the sea, and felt a rush of nerves, excitement and panic all in one. I drove round the bike course and started to relax – no big hills thank goodness.

In my drive to force myself to sit down and rest up the night before (on my dad’s advice), I’d painted my nails a cheerful shade of minty green (to match my motorbike) and to make me smile when I got nervous and looked down. Nail painting happens rarely, but it does slow me down as I have to sit calmly so I don’t smudge anything and then wait for it to dry.

Race day came. I dragged myself out of bed, and my dogs barely stirred as I loaded everything into the car. Their lack of activity was a sign of just how early it was, as we are normally up and out for a walk at 5.45am on weekdays.
It was foggy outside, and I couldn’t see the bottom of the garden or the fields next to it. Driving to the start, I had to really wake up and switch on as the fog was so thick – almost the worst I have driven in. As I got nearer to Clacton, I saw a couple of cars with bikes on the roof, and the butterflies really started up.
The details before the race aren’t that exciting, I flapped lots and didn’t have a clue what to do in what order, but getting my race number inked on was quite fun and I was pleased with my race number – 5. This was one less than my bike racing number 6, and given I’d raced with either 56 or 65 when 6 wasn’t available, 5 was good for me. It’s also Colin Edwards’ race number and he’s a great guy so I was happy about that.
Walking to the swim start took a while, and I chatted to a couple of people about the sea swim element, and triathlons/training in general. One chap I spoke to was celebrating his 50th birthday this year, and he had already done a marathon and was now doing the triathlon. We talked about how we’d enjoyed the training, in particular not doing the same thing all the time. It was a LONG walk and this didn’t exactly calm the nerves.
Finally the time came, and we picked our way over the rocks and dropped into the water. It was surprisingly warm, and considerably less brown than I’d expected. There were about 30 in our wave (the first to go) and I was relieved about this as I had been concerned about getting kicked (see previous blog post), dunked or swum over.

The first part of the swim was to be slightly against the tide, but once round the buoy, we would be tide-assisted. We were encouraged to splash about to get warmed up, which was fine. I got my head in the water, assessed the visibility which was nothing as expected, but the difficulty started when we had to swim back again to start the race. This stirred up the water, and created a bit of confusion as to whether we were in the right place and if we had had started or not.

My heart was pounding, and I was very flustered. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get out of a standing position and get myself onto my front. I flapped my arms, kicked my legs, tried to push myself forward but nothing was happening. Nothing was letting me put my face in the water, but I tried to at least do a few breast stroke movements. Still nothing. Another swimmer, Pauline, had already said hello to the police jetski and let them know we were first timers. She stayed with me for a little bit, but I told her to go as I knew I was struggling and didn’t want her to miss out.

The policeman stayed with me, continually asking if I was OK and reassuring me that there were people around if I needed them.

How are you doing? I’m OK, just struggling a bit and it’s my first time. I have asthma and I can feel myself starting to panic.
Are you OK? Yes. Do you want to come out? No. Do you have your inhaler? (I almost laughed as it’s not like my wetsuit had pockets) No.

Pause.

I thought about getting out, but didn’t want to give up.

Are you OK? Yes. Do you want to come out? No.

Pause.

Again, I thought about coming out, but realised my race would be over and all my training would have been for nothing. However, I wasn’t getting anywhere and could feel my wetsuit constricting around my neck and arms.

Then for the last time. Are you OK? No. Do you want to come out? Yes.

In no time at all, he helped me up onto the back of the jetski and before I knew it, the RNLI rib was over and I was being pulled into it (all very undignified but I didn’t care!).

By this time I was in a proper panic, in floods of tears and devastated I’d had to call it quits so early on. The RNLI guys were brilliant, very reassuring and trying to make me smile and calm me down. Most of all, I was incredibly embarrassed that I had been so stupid and badly prepared. They told me not to be so daft, said that was why they were there and to try and breathe easy.

My wetsuit was still choking me (this was psychological rather than actual) and I asked them to get me out of it. This got some chuckles and at last I started to relax. They told me their names although I can’t remember them now. One of them asked if I was single! I started to laugh, and huffed and puffed that yes I was, but I was moving to Scotland in a week. The non-single one laughed, it seemed the single one didn’t have much luck. I knew the feeling. In the end the whole wetsuit had to come off and then I was able to start to breathe more steadily and relax.

Before I knew it, I was back at the shore, and passed into the care of the race marshals and medical support team. One of the volunteers very kindly went back to the transition area to get my inhaler, although I knew it wouldn’t help very much. It was panic rather than asthma, although the former definitely started off the latter. I had a few puffs from my inhaler, but it did nothing.

I couldn’t stop crying, and thought back to when I broke my thumb racing at Cadwell – a kind marshal had put her arm round me while I had a big sob because it hurt so much and a few people had gathered to see what was going on and I didn’t want them to see me crying like a girl, even though I was a girl! One of the medics asked how my asthma was, I told him about the cold and he said that explained everything. I felt even more careless and stupid, but then he told me that he thought what we were doing was way harder than the Olympics! Full marks for trying to make me feel better, and I understood what he was saying, but I had to point out that I hadn’t done the swim. I could have kissed him when he said he admired people that tried.

I walked slowly back to the transition area, utterly distraught. I was exhausted and had stopped crying by this point. The race director came over and asked what had gone wrong, I told him and he asked if I wanted to do the bike and run. I was so relieved that it wasn’t all in vain after all, even though of course I wouldn’t show as a finisher.

I had a few minutes to get myself together, and headed over to get my bike. Once I was away on the bike, I felt a bit better. I smiled for the photographer, but shortly after this, I realised how hard this was going to be. Everything was burning, my chest was ready to burst and I had to work hard to calm myself down again. I had an idea of times I wanted to achieve, but early on I decided I just wanted to finish no matter what.

I was incredibly tense, and I think this was down to all the adrenaline going through my body after the ‘swim’. I had really bad pins and needles in my right hand, to the point where I couldn’t feel my fingers to change gear or use my brakes, but remembered from my previous racing life that this was probably because my glove was on too tight. I undid the strap completely, and gradually, the feeling came back. My chest was fine by this point, but my legs had nothing in them and even the flattest sections of the course felt very hard.

The first time I heard the howl of a bike with a disc wheel come past me, I wondered what on earth was going on. Soon after this, I noticed a beautiful Fireblade in HRC colours with a For Sale sign on, and this nearly sent me straight into the back of a parked car. I pulled over a couple of times as I am comically unable to get my drink bottle out from the cage without wobbling dangerously. Another marshal asked me how this was possible as surely I could multitask as a woman. I told him that breathing and cycling at the same time were hard enough today and we shared a laugh.

Riders who came past me shouted encouragement, which helped although it did make me feel very pathetic as I really was very slow.

The second lap was harder, but as the end of the bike leg came into sight, I was able to relax and begin thinking about the run. As I came onto the first bit of the ride to the transition area, I saw a blue and white jersey and a shape that looked suspiciously like my Dad. I didn’t recognise the bike, but then my Dad has more bikes than my mum has shoes and handbags so this wasn’t a surprise. I was so glad to see him, but embarrassed as I knew I would have to tell him what had happened. I managed to shout that the swim had been a disaster but that was all.

I got into the transition area, and as there was no pressure to get a result, I could take my time and not rush. I had another drink, and a couple of biscuits, and then headed out to start my run. I debated whether to wear my yellow running vest, but in the end I’m glad I did.

The start of the run was awful. I’d practiced the bike/run thing before, although the distances weren’t quite the same. But my legs felt so sore. My calves were so tight, and though logically I knew this wouldn’t last, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to complete the run. I also knew that the furthest I’d ever run was 4 miles, 2 days before the race. It was also unbelievably hot, and all in all it was not looking good.

Shortly after the start of the run, I saw a guy running just ahead of me, at a similar pace. I remember speaking to him briefly although I can’t remember what we said to each other. He started walking fairly soon, so did I. I decided to try running on my toes for a little bit, in an attempt to change how I was running, hoping this might help stretch things out. Gradually things eased and I settled into some vague running/walking routine. I ran as long as I could, then walked a couple of lamp posts and then ran again. I saw my Dad a couple of times, he was encouraging although I continued to feel rather daft.

Again, lots of people shouted encouragement as they came past which was great. Lots of shouts of “Come on number 5” and “Keep going number 5” – I shouted back “still alive” in a feeble voice when I could. People clapped in between eating their ice-creams and enjoying their beach huts. I was grateful to reach the halfway point of the pier. It was getting really hard, but somehow I felt confident I would make it to the end.

Soon after the half way point, I started to focus on the shadow that the railings cast on the path, just for something to concentrate on. This was dead straight and followed the edge of the path all the way along the promenade. If I looked away from this, I started to lose the plot a bit, and started to lose control of my breathing. On the return stretch of the run (to the pier then back), Lee came up to me with some encouraging words – he headed off and it took me a while to get myself back together again. Back to looking at the shadow…

We got near the end, and more and more people shouted nice things as they came past me. I saw the 2k to go marker and started to think about why I was running – not for long as the breathing started to go again, but it was very emotional. It was made more so by a guy coming past me who shouted ” A fine charity – keep going! ” and I felt very proud (and glad I had worn my vest!).

The end was in sight and I was determined to run the last stretch. I crossed the line. (Photo by Neil Williams)

All I wanted to do was go and hide in the toilet for a year, but my Dad had ridden a long way to come and get me. He has been there to help me through some very hard days, and I know that he wouldn’t have minded if I had collapsed in a little heap of wailing and gnashing of teeth. But I felt I wanted to leave that in the past.

I didn’t want to look at my times. I had a rough idea of how slow I’d gone, and didn’t want to face any more disappointment. We got home, and while I tried to stay awake while my parents did various DIY bits on my house, in the end I had to give in and go to bed for a while. I think this was partly due to the sun, and of course when adrenaline leaves the body, there is always a tremendous crash in energy levels.

It has taken the best part of a month to write this. My colleagues at work asked what had happened, but I had deliberately posted a summary on Facebook so I wouldn’t have to tell the whole story. Just giving a brief version to my new boss proved almost impossible.

I raised a terrific amount of money for the Lymphoma Association, and I am proud of that. I am sad that I didn’t complete the whole event. Mostly I am angry that I got so ill so near the race.

The next day I woke up and my chest felt awful. I went straight to the doctors and was given steroids to try and settle my asthma down. This is only the second course of Prednisolone in more than 15 years, and I was devastated. It’s easy to use the virus as an excuse, and I really didn’t want to do that.

In hindsight, should I have pulled my entry? Absolutely. Am I glad I went ahead? Yes.

Would I do it again? I’m not sure. I have a long, long way to go with my swimming before I will feel confident enough to try in open water again. I hope to give triathlon another go next year, but with a lot more practice next time.

But I have loved the running and the cycling, and the whole focus of the training. It took me outside my day-to-day life at an incredibly stressful time, when I really needed something else to thing about. I met some amazing people and (cliche ahoy) learnt so much about myself along the way.

Yes the asthma thing is a huge thing to tackle, but really, living such a sedentary lifestyle (working in an office, long commuting to my day job, sitting down to play the harp for hours at a time on background gigs and driving to and from those) was not sustainable so I needed to face it at some point. I now live close to some amazing scenery and I hope to enjoy this on my bike and in my running shoes.

I will be making a donation to the RNLI.

If you would like to donate to the Lymphoma Association, my Virgin Money Giving page is here.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/harrietheharpist

Thanks for reading if you’ve made it to here!