Tag Archives: training

Loch Katrine Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing the sunset

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

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

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

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

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

 

Destination Distillery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space

The snow is falling. I have a cap on to try and keep it out of my eyes, but it’s more designed for keeping the sun off my face, and as a result, the peak is obstructing my head torch. I keep fiddling with the beam and my cap but it’s no use, I just can’t get it in a decent position.

Until a minute ago, the path was very dark and very wet, lit only by the glow of an occasional streetlight.

Now, the trees are clearing though. All around me, everything is white. There are hills on my left and my right, but I’m in the valley between them. I’ve passed all the housing estates and apart from the occasional farm, the space is wide open around me.

I’ve given up with the head torch and the cap.

Now, the light of the moon combined with the brightness of the snowy fields and hills means I can see perfectly.

My shoulders drop, my arms relax, there is a little more spring in my feet and my lungs fill that bit easier. My heart feels fit to burst.

I get to the 10k tree, and turn round to head for home.

Across the valley, I can see car headlights picking their way up the Crow Road. The snow is quite heavy now. It’s Wednesday evening so a couple of miles away, just over the hills behind the Crow Road, my friends are out running. I’ve chosen to head out without them tonight. I give them a wave in my head. I love their company, but I also love my own.

I run across two wooden bridges. My footprints from earlier have disappeared, and the deeper snow is soft as I pick my way over carefully.

I’ve seen two people in 6 miles.

When I open the door, two furry heads lift from the sofa with a slight jangle. They are past getting up to greet me, it’s far too much effort and they both know they will get their ears rubbed if they wait just a minute.

I lift a couple of back legs belonging to the nearest sofa-sprawled dog so I can sit down, and their paws fall and relax against me. I sit for a while, enjoying the warmth of the room, and listening as my breathing slows back to normal.

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.

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.

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

Ultra running, Ultra recovering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back into balance

It has been an exhausting few weeks. Somehow January ended up being as full-on as November and December, and I couldn’t get going again after having a long Christmas break.

Re-adjusting to full time work in an office has really taken it out of me, a lot more than I realised, and finding space for all the other things in life has come at a price.

February came and the calendar was pretty empty for the first time in ages. Normally this would make me feel uneasy, but actually I was glad as I desperately needed some time and space to bring things back under control. The house was a bombsite, diet and sleep patterns have been appalling and I have generally felt as though I was starting to run myself ragged again.

Running has been a bit hit and miss too – my longest ever run of 16 miles went brilliantly, 5 miles last Wednesday felt torturous and finally yesterday I ran out of puff. 2 miles into a run with some speedier friends and I knew I needed to call it quits for a bit. I felt tight, stressed and exhausted both physically and emotionally, and I could feel the tears starting to prick at my eyes. I made my excuses and ducked out, headed back to the car and then determined not to waste the day or the fuel, I decided to go and spend a bit of time on my own further down the valley.

There were some trails on the map that I had wanted to explore for a while. I set off, determined not to put any pressure on myself, and started to feel better. My legs felt better now and the calf that had been screaming at me earlier had settled right down. After missing the correct turning and ending up a bit further along a road than I thought, I turned back and found the right path.

As I headed too far up the road, I’d passed a group of Land Rovers out on a jolly. One of them was stuck in the road and this held up the whole convoy. I wasn’t sure whether it was a puncture or getting stuck in all the snow, but I took great pleasure in the fact that I was so nimble on just my two wee feet, and I skipped past them. We looked at each other, most of them on the round side and in the warmth of their cars, and me on the small side out in the snow in my tights and running shoes with just a jacket and a rucksack protecting me from the elements. I’m not sure who thought who was the strangest, but I felt happy and very glad to be out enjoying the day.

Along the trail, I saw three sets of footprints, one smaller than the others. This was the friends I had left earlier, and I realised where we had been running earlier. In a strange way, it felt like I had a little company along the way. I knew they were just across the valley from me, and while I enjoyed the peace and quiet of being alone, there was solidarity in knowing there were others not far away doing the same as me and loving every minute.

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I ran as much as I could, but stopped for a walk when I needed to. I’d hoped to get further, but called it a day while I still felt good. I’d done enough struggling earlier, and didn’t want to run out of energy again.

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^ Looking west over the Carron Valley Reservoir

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^ Looking south with Meikle Bin in the background

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^ Looking north-west, Todholes farm just visible in front of the hills

Before long I was back at the car. I headed back down into Fintry, past some horses flinging themselves around in the sunshine, and then back up and over the Crow Road which is now such a regular part of my week. Every time I drive on this road, I remember the first time I came up it, just a few days into my new life up here, and I feel incredibly grateful for all that I am able to do now. I have beautiful surroundings and the fitness to be able to really make the most of them.

I’d been meaning to get some proper stretching done for a while, and decided that now was the time. Cutting my run short meant I had some spare time, and after 45 minutes of yoga I really felt like a new woman. Everything was nicely pulled out and rather than feeling more tired, my energy levels were restored. I had a blissful hour soaking in the bath with the fantastic Feet in the Clouds, and I felt very spoiled. It had cost me a couple of pounds in diesel and car park charges, but otherwise my day was free of charge and the benefits were priceless.

I had come home from work on Friday and found my house had been cleaned for me. Today I have been at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival with friends. Body and soul were restored yesterday, but my spirit really came back into normal service today.

Paul Pritchard‘s film reminded me that my body may be injured but it can still do amazing things and the only thing stopping me is me. His climbing accident happened a month before mine, but left him considerably worse off. My right side is considerably weaker than my left, but it still works, and he has managed to complete some fantastic journeys using just his left leg so really I shouldn’t be complaining too much.

Earlier this week I looked at everything I had planned for this year, and wondered if perhaps I had taken on too much again. After spending time with some brilliant people this weekend, I am ready to go again. However, I have been reminded once again that I really, really need to look after myself, and that if I don’t do this, the only person that will miss out is me.

Solstices, donkeys and the wrong path yet again

Friday was of course the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

This has a new significance for me since I moved so far north. As I look at the map, Glasgow is level with cities such as Copenhagen and Moscow.

The drawing in of the nights approaching the winter solstice had proved to be a real shock. The same can be said for letting the dogs out at 11pm for their last visit to the garden, and still seeing blue sky these last few weeks.

I decided to go for a run, and make another attempt up the pesky hill that has been evading me so far. Meikle Bin is, at 570m, one of the highest hills in the area. Only Earl’s Seat, at 578m, is higher as far as I can tell from the map.

I knew that running all the way up would be optimistic, but as per my last hilly effort, I was happy enough to run when I could and walk the rest.

I saw just one person out for a walk with a lovely 2 year old collie called Louis. My running rules are such that if I see a dog I am allowed to stop to say hello. Louis was a little nervous of strangers but calmed down enough for a fuss, and then showed his displeasure at my leaving by giving me a little mouth (bite without teeth) on the thigh. His owner was mortified but I didn’t mind at all, I’d clearly spooked him by making to move off a bit too quickly for him. No blood or bruise was left, which was more than can be said for the chihuahua incident in December… but that’s a story for another day.

The route I was following said the last stage was to take a newly created gravel path off the main path. It should have said, but not that one, as there were 2. I took the first, and quickly found myself on some very uneven terrain strewn with boulders and dead branches. As I started to descend quite rapidly I realised this was the wrong path, so turned back on myself. I couldn’t believe this was happening again!

I returned to the main path, continued and finally saw a very new looking zig zagging path that would take me up through the last of the trees. I started up this instead.

I had to keep turning round because the world was opening up more and more as I went higher. I could see over to Ben Lomond and further afield. I don’t know the names of all the peaks I saw, so will be looking these up.

The last bit to the summit – quite steep as you can see on the profile below – was a real stagger for me and I was incredibly tired by now. I’ve only just started running regularly again and have been out quite a lot over the last couple of weeks.

I have another running rule that if I’m feeling really bad, I keep going for 5 minutes, and if I don’t feel better after that, I turn back.

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As often happens when climbing, walking or mountaineering, what you think is the top is far from the top. I knew the summit would be marked with a trig point and I must have gone over three deceptively steep bumps before I finally caught sight of it.

Fortunately, I didn’t check my watch again after deciding to give myself those 5 minutes, and soon after this at just before 8pm, I was really glad to reach the top. I was grateful for the extra layer I’d brought with me, suspecting it would be quite windy when I got there. I had a few minutes pondering and snapping a couple of pictures before I started to head back down.

It wasn’t a particularly clear night, and in fact it felt as though it was getting darker much more quickly than in the previous few days, so the pictures look rather grey.

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From the top, I could see all the way over to the Forth (just visible on the horizon towards the centre of the picture below).

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Just off the summit, there is some wreckage left over from a plane that crashed here in 1950. I didn’t see this, but then I wasn’t really looking for it and I think it’s over the other side from where I came up. I’m looking forward to taking my dad up here later in the summer, so we can explore a bit more then.

Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination, but tonight was about seeing the bigger picture (getting to the top!) and not worrying about the detail (getting on the wrong path).

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I’ve not been that high up since I went up Scafell some years ago with my ex husband and some friends. Prior to that, it was a trip up Whernside, and before that it was Tryfan – the mountain that started it all in December 1997. I’d been on a few climbing trips but these were focussed on getting to a particular crag or route to climb, rather than enjoying being out in the hills for the day.

I’d never climbed a such a big hill on my own. It’s easy to get hung up on what might happen, all the scary things that can go wrong even when you are the most prepared and most experienced person on the planet. It’s even easier to let these thoughts stop you doing anything exciting.

I’m looking forward to exploring more.

But I do really, really need to learn to use a map and compass together to feel more safe when I’m on my own. Up here, I was always on an obvious path (even if it was the wrong one) and I was out in clear, dry, warm conditions with a phone, map, extra clothing and plenty to drink. My level of experience means I’m not safe to do much more than this at the moment. Plenty of people do, but not everyone gets away with it and I know the MRTs are busy enough without coming out to collect wee Essex birds from the hills.

So what about the donkey? Well, he/she lives in a field just before you get to the car park by the reservoir. I’d never seen a donkey in a field before, just on the beach or in the farm section of a zoo. I had my finger bitten by one as a child, while filming an episode of The Clothes Show at Woburn Safari Park. Jeff Banks kissed it better. Admiring a donkey in a field from inside a car is plenty close enough thanks.

Troy…. meet granny.

This is Troy, my little red bike. (The seat is a lot higher now, this was when I was still a bit nervous last year)

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Troy was only given his name this time last year, but I’ve had him for 15 years this year. He was built and given to me by my dad so I could get some vital rehab done after my climbing accident in March 1998. At the time, cycling was easier than walking and also proved excellent for rebuilding the strength in my wasted right leg.

In his previous life, he sported some very smart star-spangled banner handlebar tape, Lance Armstrong style. After I moved away from Manchester though, my poor bike sat outside ignored in the garage until early last year, when he was called back into service for Nightrider 2012.

This time, he was given back to me with blue handlebar tape. By this time, the doubts were well-known about the integrity of said Mr Armstrong, although the full story hadn’t come out. By the time it did, I was very glad to have new handlebar tape (choice of colours – blue, blue or blue).

He’s named Troy after Troy Bayliss, all-round super Ducati rider.

I was already besotted with him, a lovely smile and beautiful blue eyes and gutsy riding was enough for that. I knew he was a big cycling fan, but when he won the WSB championship in 2006 he wore a set of customised rainbow jersey leathers with a matching helmet. That was me, head over heels… although I did slightly go off him after I saw how scrawny his bum was after he showed the TV cameras his recent bike crash scars on the MotoGP coverage at Assen in 2007.

So when I started riding again, I decided Troy would be named Troy. His only performance-enhancing mod has been the addition of two lucky turtle stickers. When I raced motorbikes, I decided that since Valentino Rossi had turtles for luck, so would I. Before my first triathlon, I figured I needed all the luck I could get, and had two stickers left in my toolbox.

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Depending on your opinion, they either brought me no luck at all as I didn’t do very well, or they were very lucky indeed as I survived a big panic in the sea thanks to the RNLI at Clacton.

Anyway.

I’ve been running lots recently, but I hadn’t ridden since New Year’s Day when I did the triathlon in Edinburgh. Just as when I haven’t ridden my motorbike for a while, I get awfully nervous and jumpy about going out and so I tend to wait and wait for the right moment.

Cycling is in my blood, thanks to my dad. He is a hard as nails road cyclist, as thin as a whippet, and he has been riding for over 50 years now. My childhood was spent watching him race across the south east of England, and every July we would gather round the TV at 6pm every day for the Tour highlights on Channel 4.

Words such as peloton, tete de la course, maillot jaune, King of the Mountains, maillot vert, Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Champs Elysees are as much a part of my vocabulary as the Italian musical terms that come from my mother’s influence.

On weekends when my mum was away playing in concerts, we went to see the Milk Race and the Tour of Britain.

One year he took me to watch the Paris Six Day races at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. I’d never seen track cycling before and it was quite a spectacle. There was a crazy accordion player in the centre of the velodrome, and when a sprint was on, the siren would go to signal the start and he would play and dance faster and faster with his band until it was over. I saw the Men’s Pursuit Final from the Beijing Olympics, and of course as much of the London Olympics as possible, and they were very exciting but nothing has quite matched up to Paris for me. I couldn’t speak a word of French and only recognised a couple of rider names – Tony Doyle and Laurent Fignon being the two I remember, but I loved every second. And of course, I am a daddy’s girl so the fact that I saw all this with my dad made it extra special.

So when I get out on a bike, I feel like I can’t just get on and have a little trundle about. It’s the same as music for me, yes it’s fun but it’s also so much more than ‘just’ getting on your bike or playing your instrument. It’s part of who I am and I take it terribly seriously.

I now live in very serious cycling country, where you cannot escape hills wherever you go. No slogging up Tenpenny Hill (in Essex) and being done with any more.

The cyclists I’ve met on my rides have generally proved to be much more friendly than the runners I’ve met. When I’ve been passed, it’s always been with a bit of a chat. I know no-one bats an eyelid how fast I’m going, but I really really care and it really bothers me that I’m not very fast and I’m frightened of the inevitable falling off process that comes with wearing proper shoes, so I’m still wearing my trainers despite being on quite a tasty bike.

Today the perfect moment finally came, I finally managed to shut my head up, and I had a good spin around the roads near my house. Nothing terrible happened, unless you were the poor Asda lorry driver that had to wait an eternity for me to climb the hill into Bardowie.

In fact I really enjoyed my ride today. As in many other areas of life recently, I’ve relaxed a lot and calmed right down. I like hills. I like the fact that there is only one way to beat them. I like that if you stop, it’s harder to get going again so you might as well just keep going. I find them agonising but in a sick way, I really enjoy them. Today I stayed relaxed on the climbs and it felt brilliant. I wouldn’t say I breezed up them, but they felt so much easier than the last time I’d been up them.

A few of months ago, I entered a competition to win a place in the Etape du Tour on 7th July. This is an amateur cycle event that is basically a stage of the Tour de France, before the main event occurs. It would have meant some serious training, but I was up for the challenge and I live in the perfect area to give it my best shot.

Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I had hoped to take part in the Rapha Women’s 100 on the same day as the Etape du Tour. This is a worldwide event aimed at getting female cyclists out on the road all on the same day and completing the same distance – 100km. I’ve ridden this far before, on last year’s Nightrider event. My procrastination was making this look unlikely, but today went well and so I have decided to definitely do it (unless it is honking down with rain). I missed out on my half marathon in March because of my knee injury, and suddenly the thought of another big target is very appealing.

And so, over the next couple of weeks I will be making a more concerted effort to get out and do some proper hills. Granny gears or not. At least I have a good excuse for riding like a girl.

I’m also finally going to have my first go up the Crow Road. It’s not the same one as my favourite Iain Banks book, but it seems like as good a time as any.