Tag Archives: moving on

A pause

I’m flying. I’m out of Clearways and as I come round Clark Curve and onto the Brabham Straight, I wind the revs on and click up the gears, and I’m flying.

I crouch as low as I can over the long tank, in control of far too many kilos for the 48.6 bhp bike I am riding. I’m not fat, but there’s no escaping the fact that this bike was built for posing on Italian piazzas, not hurtling round race tracks.

I see my markers for Paddock Hill. I ease off, brake and tip in. I can’t see it but I know the apex is there just slightly round the corner.

I giggle in my helmet as I feel the swoosh and the splash as I hit the dip at the bottom of Paddock Hill and ride through the duck pond.*

I feel the wind hit my helmet and my arms as I come up Hailwood Hill, and I drift towards the left of the circuit to get ready for Druids. Not too far over, so no one can take an inside line and come past me, but enough to give me a good line into the corner and set up a good fast exit. My knee just skims the tarmac.

I come out of the corner, heading left again towards the edge of the circuit. Not too far over, as Graham Hill is next and I need to move over to the right for the entry to this one.

I tip in as cautiously as possible when trying to go fast on a track. It’s the only left hand corner on the circuit, and so the left side of my tyre will be considerably cooler than the right side.

I’m onto the Cooper Straight now, getting ready to flick through Surtees and McLaren. I know the medical centre is in sight but I won’t be visiting it with any luck. One day, I will turn left here, but for now it’s straight over and ready for Clearways.

My line is terrible through here. I’ve been taught the right line, but I’m not going fast enough on it and it feels wrong, so I am always trying to find a better one for the speed I am going at. My knee touches the floor again, and then I’m into Clark Curve and back onto the Brabham Straight.

It has taken me just over a minute. One day it will be less. I have  hardly breathed. My heart is beating so hard and my legs and arms are shaking so much I will struggle to get off my bike afterwards.

I’ve been here on sunny days, on rainy days and on one freezing day in February when the icy cold air blowing down Hailwood Hill hit my lungs so hard I could barely breathe.

One time round Clearways, I was on the inside of the track, blocked in by a pack of bikes with much more power than mine. If I had braked, or hesitated or moved off line in any, the consequences would have been pretty serious. But I didn’t. I believed I could get round and I hung on, back into Clark and onto the Cooper Straight where the faster bikes would pull away again.

Another time, I spent a weekend here in baking hot sunshine,  watching World Superbikes with the hordes. I barely spoke to another soul, apart from the ice cream man. It was wonderful.

This is Brands Hatch and it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

It will be a while before my next visit, but when I shut my eyes I can hear my bike bouncing off the rev limiter and my kneeslider scraping on the tarmac.

I can feel the rubber of my Renthals and the end of my foot pegs digging into the middle of the sole of my boots. I feel one knee dink the tank as it grips on tight, as the other drops away towards the track.

I think of nothing else beyond getting safely round the next corner.

*a somewhat misnamed puddle, as it is tiny and no ducks go on it

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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Winter sun

What could be better than a sunset?

A sunset on a beach?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration, with slightly sore legs and arms from a spot of scrambling on the side of a mountain the day before?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration, with slightly sore legs and arms from a spot of scrambling on the side of a mountain the day before, followed by some very fine fish and chips in Ullapool?

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At last …. some Strings!

Given the title of this blog, you could be forgiven for wondering what on earth had happened to the harp. As it happens, the harpist has been pretty quiet too, but the world of full time work has been something of a shock after almost a year away from an office of any kind and it has taken a while to adjust to a different pace of life once again.

I left the RCS at the end of October. It was a horrendously stressful time for all manner of reasons, but finally the final bowline was thrown off and the house down south was no longer mine. In its place, a lot of debt and still far too much clutter in the current abode. But the weight had well and truly lifted. January 1st/2nd/3rd came and for the first time in 12 years, no mortgage payment left my bank account. I had made huge sacrifices each month to pay my bills, and it was very hard adjusting to the fact that financially, I had made some dreadful mistakes that I will be paying for for some years to come.

But. I have a supportive family, brilliant friends both old and new, and the constant that is a pair of furry but windy greyhounds.

I’ve had a long break from the harp. I played in a Remembrance Day concert in the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, an experience both good and bad for reasons that are not to be shared here. I vowed never to work again for nothing. I promised myself I would never again play orchestral music I didn’t love.

A couple of weeks later, I played the beautiful harp cadenza from the Ravel Piano Concerto with a local orchestra. I had studied the cadenza as part of my first year technical exam at the RCS, and had struggled with it. After  a few months in the pot though, it had matured and felt much more breathy and effortless, which is exactly how it should sound. Nerves on the night got to me a little, but I did a reasonable job and it was wonderful to hear the concerto in its entirety. The harp has a very small part and so I could relax and really listen to the piano. This is one of my favourite pieces of music and was a very special experience.

I then had a late request to play Saint-Saens’ Christmas Oratorio in mid December. This is a gorgeous piece for small ensemble and choir, and was performed in a traditional Scottish kirk on the Southside of Glasgow in an area I had come to know very well. I was dreadfully nervous and unfortunately didn’t play as well as I had hoped. However, it was followed by a good singalong of some carols afterwards and then curling up in front of Match of the Day with company for the first time in many years, so turned out to be a pretty special night.

I’d had high hopes of videoing a couple of carols for friends and family as a Christmas present, but after the Saint-Saens, I was pretty much done for. The harp spent some time wrapped up safely, and I went running and climbed hills a lot.

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The harp didn’t emerge until the middle of January, when he went on an extended holiday to a very smart house again in the south of the city. I was knocked for six by the green eyed monster as I wheeled my harp into their music room which was bigger than the whole downstairs of my house. But I was glad that I was able to help another harpist out of a predicament, and very glad my harp was being played and enjoyed.

There has been much musing on whether to continue playing at all. If I continue to play, at what level? What do I play? Who with? Am I professional? Semi-professional? Amateur? None of the above? Most importantly, do I keep the object worth a five figure sum that I will be paying for for another three years, that takes up a whole room in my house and dictates the car I drive?

All You Need is Love?

You can probably guess some of the answers. Mostly, they are along the lines of I don’t know. But this is reason enough not to sell my harp. I do want to play, and play regularly. Listening to some brilliant music and great radio programmes keeps me in touch with something that is a huge part of me, and reminds me I have a talent that I enjoy sharing in the right ways for me.

Most of all I love playing with others. I love quirky, off beat, different, unexpected. In my old town I was lucky enough to find a bunch of musicians I adored playing with, and who pushed me in directions I never could have imagined.

Back to reality

 

Back to reality

I have struggled without them, and the time has come to begin the search for some others to join in with. This is a scary prospect, and I’m not quite ready to jump right in just yet.

I’ve been inspired by revisiting some of my favourite albums and songs, listening to the radio in the car on the way into work and on the motorway on my way to visit my family.

I’ve been to some brilliant gigs, and travelled to hear and play music in some incredible places. Music has changed me and continues to do so.

I know a few things for certain:

I’m not giving up.

I’m still a harpist, and a musician, and a good one at that.

I have a good tone and a good technique, and I don’t need to worry about not being good enough (whatever that means).

I love performing.

I have something to say.

If I put on a concert I can entertain an audience and they will come back again.

I love practising but am easily distracted when things become busy or stressful.

I’m not selling my harp. Unless it’s for a better one and even then I would struggle.

I love classical music.

I love pop music. In fact there is very little music I don’t love other than happy hardcore (blimey remember that!!).

I don’t have enough hours in the day. But who does.

Other than that, I don’t know. And I’m fine with that.

Into the new

Hasn’t it been a while! I have missed my blog, but I’ve been in the truly wonderful position of squeezing every last drop from the last few weeks and only today have I felt that I’ve caught myself up coming back the other way.

Over the last year I decided I would minimise the looking back, and at this most special time of the year, for me it is all about looking forward.

I’m not really a girl for resolutions any more, but it’s good to take the time to re-focus on what’s truly important and start making some plans for the year ahead.

Despite this, I feel it’s necessary to review just a little. November started with great fear and trepidation, but ended up being a wonderful month thanks to pushing myself out of my comfort zone again and being able to lean on my friends. I ran out of white space on the calendar and it was christened Nuclear November. This gave way to Divine December, where things went mostly well and I didn’t have that awful feeling of “this is going too well, what’s going to go wrong”. Don’t get me wrong, plenty did, but it mostly bounced off the surface and was dealt with as required. I spent lots of precious time with friends old and new. I even squeezed in a couple of concerts, and enjoyed the complete contrast of show tunes with a large orchestra in a huge modern concert hall versus a choral piece with a small string ensemble and harp in a beautiful old church.

How I didn’t make myself ill I will never know, but somehow I made it to the end of the year in one piece and even managed to run 80 miles in the month – an achievement I am hugely proud of especially given that due to a hectic social life (three little words I never thought I would use), 50 of those were run in the last 8 days. A significant number of those miles were run with friends, which was a new experience having done most of my running on my own.

The year was rounded off with an 11 mile run over the Forth road bridge and back on New Year’s Eve. I’d headed east and we were incredibly lucky with the weather – not only did the rain stay away but the expected icy blasts never came, despite the recent storms of epic proportions, and I ended up having to remove rather than add layers.

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I would never have imagined finishing my year here and in this way, despite starting it circling Arthur’s Seat rather too many times, and was chuckling away about this to myself most of the way (apart from the last mile which is a story for another day). I wonder where I will be seeing out 2014.

My body held out despite the increase in miles in a short space of time, and my hard work paid off with my first gift of 2014 – a comfortably sub-60 minute 10k run.

I’m pretty proud of that too, and given the miles that lie ahead as I prepare for my first marathon in March and my first ultra marathon in May, I know the elation of achieving these goals will carry me through many dark and soggy runs to come.

There is much that is uncertain about the coming months but based on recent weeks, I am both optimistic and extremely excited about what’s waiting for me in 2014.

2013 was my first complete calendar year living in Scotland. I’m pleased to say I have the new life I wanted, even though it doesn’t look as I thought it might. Seeing the seasons come and go and come round once again has been a very special experience which I hope to write about over the next couple of weeks.

I’ve just packed my little Christmas tree away and I feel rather sad as it was so beautiful. I am back at work tomorrow after two weeks off, but rather than dreading it I’m raring to go and get back into the swing of things.

I wish you a very happy new year and hope it brings you everything you wish for.

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Just for today

I didn’t expect to be de-icing my windscreen at 8am on a Monday morning.

I didn’t expect to be sat in traffic in heavy rain on the motorway every day at 5.45pm.

My plans for winters in Scotland never featured commuting. Life was meant to be different. But circumstances took a turn for the worse, and things have changed yet again.

I’ve gone back to work full time. My musical dreams are over, at least in the short term and in the expected/intended format. I can’t say I’m thrilled to be working where I’m working, but I have work until Christmas and this means the very near future is looking OK. It’s quite challenging work and it buys me a little time to decide what’s next, while allowing me to make some inroads into the horrific financial situation.

I’m deeply ashamed of the state of my finances, despite knowing and being able to justify the reasons for things being as they are. I’ve made some terrible choices and there is only one person to blame. Continuing with my studying would have been utterly restrictive, and also incredibly reckless. The pressure was increasing exponentially, and unfortunately if I had continued there was only going to be one outcome. Fortunately, I have wonderful people around me who have supported me in making my decision. MY decision.

Music works for me when everything else is working. The slightest hint of stress or pressure, and it becomes unbearably hard. Playing and practising is not an escape for me as it is for many of my incredibly talented and devoted colleagues. When I am upset or worrying about things, I can’t play. From the simplest of warm-up exercise to the trickiest and most consuming bits of pedalling, I just can’t concentrate. When I play, I am deeply connected with my instrument and the physical resonance of it really does affect me on every level, but not always in a good way.

Having said that, my instrument isn’t a part of my soul, and it doesn’t define who I am. I wanted to study at a high level, and to have space to explore the part that music would and could play in my life when it was the sole focus. But a lot of other things needed to happen for that space to exist, and losing yet another buyer on my house and the resulting financial disaster meant that this space has unfortunately gone.

I have many other ways of enjoying my life, and while I love music, playing classically has been quite a destructive influence on my life for a very long time. The rewards are small and hard fought, but utterly addictive, which means it had been worth chasing them. I have to accept that I am not committed enough to this as a career in order to make all the necessary sacrifices. I no longer doubt the talent I have, and I’ve also achieved many of the other objectives I had set out when I decided to come. But I couldn’t continue with things as they were any more.

And so I start again. I’ve been here before, so many times. Moved house, moved school, changed job, moved city. Endless introductions, going along to new things in the hope it will mean a connection with like-minded people. I’ve kind of given up on the concept of really feeling at home anywhere for an extended period, but I desperately want to find somewhere I feel I can belong, some sense of permanence. Maybe they are the same thing. I thought I’d found it, but it seems I was wrong.

A wise friend introduced me to the following a couple of years ago, and I was reminded of these words today. In the midst of escaping from the aftermath of the wedding-that-wasn’t, which now seems like such a long time ago, I had a Reiki massage which had a profound effect on me at the time.

The 5 principles of Reiki:

1. Just for today, I will not be angry.
2. Just for today, I will not worry.
3. Just for today, I will be grateful.
4. Just for today, I will do my work honestly.
5. Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.

There is a lot going on emotionally at the moment. Things haven’t worked out as I’d planned, let alone as I’d hoped. Despite the deep sense of failure, and the feelings of guilt and inadequacy, there is still a lot to look forward to. The thought of just getting through each day, without pressuring myself too much over what the future may hold, feels like something I can manage. It also reminds me if I get it wrong one day, it’s just one day and I can start again tomorrow.

Even with things as they are, the promise of a fresh start is a welcome one. I’ve made the break from the very worst aspects of my old life, and there was never any compelling reason to return to it. My move here was never just about the harp, although it was the driving force behind me coming to Scotland.

I love where I live. I have good friends here and while I will miss college life terribly and will see my friends much less now, it’s quite exciting knowing that I pretty much have an open book once all my debts are cleared off. I am lucky to have the means to do this although it will mean working very hard for a good while.

I’ve not been back up Meikle Bin since I took this picture, but Tuesday saw me out that way for a rather soggy and very cold night run on the forest trails with a bunch of people I’d never met. I’ve never done that before and I loved every second of it. I felt alive, and it was good to be doing something new that I could never have done down south.

It was a hard run, and being out with other faster people who I didn’t know meant there was some pressure not to push too hard and/or wobble, but I also felt I was doing something to move forward and also to contribute to some other big goals for next year. I don’t find running easy, but I know that if I put the miles in and just keep going, it gets easier and I can make a success of it on my terms. In that way, it’s one of the easiest things I can do in my life and unlike sitting down to practice, I never have any difficulty in getting myself out of the door for a run.

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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.

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Transition….Transmission

Often, when people make big changes in their lives, you hear lots about the good things. There is a lot of pressure (mostly put there by you) to demonstrate it’s all working out and was the best move you ever made.

Sometimes, it goes catastrophically wrong. Whether the signs are there or not, actually realising and accepting that things are not how you thought they would be, and aren’t going to be no matter what you do, is incredibly difficult and very very painful.

Three weeks ago, I had another one of those defining moment phone calls, of the variety that I haven’t had since 2010 and before that, 2007. The news was devastating – another buyer had pulled out of the sale of my house, at the eleventh hour, and after months of waiting for them to sort everything out with lots of reassurance from all sides.

The feasibility of the Scottish adventure rested on the sale of the house. I’d fought very hard to keep afloat over the last year, and it was becoming harder and harder to keep going, both financially and emotionally. This was a house I’d bought with my ex husband expecting to raise a family in, and then worked hard to keep after we separated as it was the longest I’d ever lived in one place and the most ‘at home’ I’d felt anywhere.

Gradually after some bad news at the start of 2012, I came to realise that life had moved on from the hopes that took me to that house and had kept me feeling at home there. Nothing was going to change without a pretty drastic step, and I felt sure I could make the break, with just the house situation to deal with.

I’d hardly eaten in the two weeks before as everything became more and more stressful. Constant requests for ridiculous paperwork, phonecalls to and from so-called professionals every 5 minutes. This was the day when an exchange had been promised and it hadn’t happened. It got nearer 5pm and it became obvious nothing was going to happen that day, but I missed a call on my mobile and then it was returned later on.

Now it was all broken. In the grand scheme of things, nobody died and nobody else had cancer. In terms of the immediate impact on me and everything I’d worked for, it was pretty significant.

But I was on my way to Applecross, one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, for the duathlon I was so excited about. I don’t know how, but somehow I managed to get enough of the distress out of my system to promise myself I wouldn’t let it spoil the weekend.

I slept but barely ate. I was excited about the event itself but at the same time as this, I was dreading the run and was extremely apprehensive about the ride. I knew I needed to get some food down my neck but didn’t want to risk the upset of being even more sick.

On the run, I couldn’t get into a rhythm for the life of me. I’d run a lot in the preceding weeks – I was wary of doing too much after being ill the month before, but I was loving my running and didn’t want to stop. Whether it was the lack of any meaningful food or too much running before, even after my requisite 3 mile warm up period, nothing was happening and it was all I could do to keep walking. Sometimes this can be an asthma issue, but not this time – just nothing in the tank.

I’d swapped to the Challenge to remove the pressure of possibly missing the cut-off time, which meant I didn’t need to worry about getting back and could take my time.

The wildness of the landscape was staggering. I’d been to Skye before, and to the Summer Isles just a fortnight before. But I’d never been that far off the main road, let alone the beaten track, and I’d had company. Now, I was out on a sunny day pretty much on my own. A couple of people behind me, and a good few a fair way in front. But if I’d had Inspector Gadget style arms, had I reached them out to both sides, they would have gone for miles without touching anything other than sheep and mountains.

At one point, I looked behind me and the mountains around Torridon took my breath away. I wanted to stop for a photo, but knew this would mean seeing the time on my phone and I didn’t want to look at that. I promised myself I would come back, and would remember the sight for a very long time.

Geographically, I was completely isolated, probably the most alone I have ever been. But not lonely. Conversely, the most lonely I have ever felt was sat in a traffic jam on the M25, surrounded by people and cars as far as I could see, on my way home from a wedding I had played the harp for on what should have been my own wedding day.

I realised I was getting nearer the Transition area. At the start of the run, I’d wondered if I would make it round the bike ride. The humiliation of not getting up the hills and/or crashing trying to get out of my pedals was worrying me after a rather embarrassing incident up the Tak ma Doon nearer home.

By the time I got to the last mile of the run (on tarmac which felt very strange), I had calmed right down and was excited about the ride. The thought of those beautiful hills around Torridon had really lifted me, and I felt so lucky to be where I was. No thoughts were of the wider situation – I was truly enjoying the moment and loving every second.

Transition gave me a further lift – there were a few more people there than I had thought were immediately ahead of me, and I managed to head off before them. I even got a very unexpected sweaty sloppy kiss (not from a stranger I should add). I was really buzzing and looking forward to getting going after I’d fished my bike out of a small bog.

(The Transtion area at Applecross is not an average one!)IMG_2045

The hills came, and some of them were quite sharp, but I got over them. I talked to myself a lot and surprised myself with how much I could relax and still keep going. I went past a couple of people up a couple of the hills which amazed me. I guess being a few pounds lighter really does help!

A Eureka moment occurred when I finally realised the difference between tension and effort, something that is critical when playing the harp. I have been affected by tension-related injuries for a while, and my playing has often been restricted because I’ve become too tense. Feeling my legs working hard while my shoulders were completely relaxed was a pretty bizarre thing to get my head round, and I actually chuckled out loud.

I felt very connected with my bike and my body, and with the scenery which I just can’t describe adequately, and I was really, really enjoying myself.

Gradually I realised I’d probably done the last climb, and I cycled round the Bay towards the finish. The pipes at the end brought tears to my eyes, probably combined with the fact that I was shattered.

Although I’d had a good head start, I was one of the later finishers and it didn’t take long before most people had wandered away in search of tea and (wonderful!) cakes at the village hall.

This is my bike, doing a pretty good impression of how I felt afterwards. In need of a lie down. (Note the lucky Rossi turtle stickers had actually proved lucky this time by keeping me going)

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The evening brought some fabulous food and company in the Applecross Inn, having had a wander across the beach on the way to the pub. Finally I got my toes in the sea, for the first time since the Clacton triathlon last September. It was cold but there was no way I was missing out. For a girl who loves to be beside the seaside, it had felt like far too long.

Excellent beer, wonderful food and even more excellent whisky after a fantastic day spent in such a special place with someone you love is something to be treasured.

The Applecross leg of the Scottish adventure was over all too soon, but I know I will be back, and for longer next time. Crucially, the experience of being there, and the release that it brought, will keep me going for a good while yet.

I surprised myself by just how much I could leave behind when I really needed to, and when in such an incredible place.

Admittedly I was very very far from home, and I know this adds an extra dimension. Sometimes it can feel like going away won’t solve anything, that the same problems will be there when you return.

But this trip gave me a lot of strength to face the truth of what had happened, and to cope with the fallout that will come. Accepting you’ve made a mistake is very hard. Moving on from it and not letting it hold you back is even harder.

It might have taken a lot of strength to keep going physically (and I am really not sure where this came from!), but the emotional strength that comes from completing a significant physical challenge should not be underestimated.

September has been a difficult month. It started with such promise in the wilds of Achiltibuie, dancing (indeed shoogling!) insanely after the consumption of ‘some’ whisky and staggering back from a gig in utter darkness. It ended with another new start back at the RCS for the second year of my course. This had looked impossible even just a few days before, but sometimes even the most stubborn of us have to ask for help in difficult times, and it often comes from unexpected places.

(Thanks to Graham for this photo – if you look carefully, you can just see a person with her toes in the sea…)

Applecross

PS The post title is one of my favourite lyrics, from TVC15 by David Bowie. I loved the thought of going from transition where you are effectively faffing about and changing, to transmission and getting going again.

Don’t Look Back

Birthdays are supposedly a time to celebrate, with family and friends. For me they are also a big indelible mark in the calendar that another year has passed, and this provokes an intense period of serious introspection and the resulting reflection.

This year was to prove no different. Mid-way between two fairly big numbers, and supposedly now at an age where seemingly everyone is pretty well sorted and established, this was my first birthday in a new country and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The last few weeks have been the most wonderful rollercoaster, but pressure outside this has been building and building, with nowhere to go but inwards.

A couple of good runs have helped lift things however temporarily, and it has been truly wonderful to compare photos of my surroundings now to those a year ago.

These pictures below were taken on my birthday last year, on a Friday evening. This was the longest I had ever run at the time – a mighty 4 flat miles from my house down to Alresford Creek in Essex.

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Brave? or Stupid?

Last Friday evening, the day before my birthday, I went out to one of my new favourite places to run. It is reasonably hilly, and takes you through a big forest and out the other side with stunning views up and down the valley, and then takes you back round the edge of the forest and down again. I’d been hopeful of a gorgeous sunset, but the weather wasn’t looking particularly obliging.

As I came out of the forest for the first time, what I did get was a beautifully clear view out to the mountains around Ben Lomond. This was more than enough for me and I still stop in awe at this spot every single time I run here, to look at the hills around me and that I now call home. The green hills are the western end of the Campsie Fells – and the neck and shoulders of what is known here as the sleeping giant (the head is just slightly round the corner).

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In a recent blogpost I wrote about beginning to dream again. I feel as though I’m a long way from where I was when I wrote that, and I am desperately hoping to get there again. But not by looking back. There comes a point where constantly looking back and beating yourself over the head with all your mistakes becomes utterly futile, and becomes damaging not just to you but also to those around you, and I have reached that point over the last few days.

There is a lot of what I call grunt work to be got through over the coming days and weeks. No other way through then keeping your head down and trying to keep everything else as balanced as possible and in perspective.

In between all this is a fantastic trip up to Applecross to take part in another long awaited adventure – the Applecross Duathlon. I need to make sure that nothing gets in the way of this as I am desperately looking forward to it, despite expecting to find it very hard and risking getting even more tired out.

I finished my birthday weekend with another run, an unexpected gift from someone who was also on a tricky journey of their own over the weekend.

We headed up Cort ma Law, over the other side of the valley from the forest where I stood to take the picture above, and just behind my house. The weather had been on the changeable side all day, but we were treated to some incredible sights which were thankfully happening further down the valley from us. Here, the sun is shining through a rain shower over Dunglass (just outside Strathblane).

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It was a steep old climb up in places, but well worth it to get to the top, in so many ways. I’d wanted to be up there for a long time, and needed the space that comes from being high up and having done something new and big, this time with fantastic company.

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I was not prepared for the bog run at the top – I thought it was further over from where we were. I’m afraid this former Essex girl had a bit of a moment when a brave jump off a rock was required to clear a particularly large area of bog. Admitting to someone else (who you hugely admire and does this kind of thing in their sleep) that you are incredibly scared just now takes some doing, and was probably harder than making the leap itself.

As usual, this post has ended up longer than I planned. I’ve missed getting my thoughts down while everything else has been so crazy.

Don’t Look Back is my dad’s favourite quote – from a former speedway champion called Barry Briggs. It has been written in numerous birthday cards over the years, and is often muttered by me but not often enough heeded.

(On another note, a gratuitous scary mountain shot of an entirely different kind – well it was my birthday recently, and I was very scared in this picture too)

cadwell pre crash