Thames Ring 250 Preparations

I have been thinking about and planning for the Thames Ring 250 since last year. After a great end to 2022 with the Sunrise Ultra I took 3 weeks break in December to give my body a rest and focus on Christmas. The plan was to start 2023 fresh and ready for a big training block. The reality was everyone, including me, had the lurgy over Christmas and I started 2023 feeling tired and drained!

I don’t have a coach and tend to make my own training plans, which seems to have worked well so far! My plan for the start of 2023 was to increase my miles both walking and running and focus on time on the feet. I started with 2 aims in January. The first was a run streak (all good so far!), hopefully for the year but at least up to race day. The second was an accumulator challenge in January adding a mile a day.

The January accumulator went really well and meant plenty of miles in the legs and plenty of back to back long runs. It also meant I gradually built up the miles at the start of January which was great after being ill. Overall January was a huge success with only 2 really challenging days. There were a few niggles during the month but I was able to run through these and the difficult days have boosted my confidence that I can keep at it even when things are tough. It was a great challenge to complete but I’m not sure I will rush back to doing it again as the time commitments at the end of the month were tough to fit in to family life.

February was planned as a quieter month. The first week I reduced my running considerably to allow my body to recover and adapt from January’s efforts. I added in more walking to keep my overall mileage up. The second week was school holidays which I always struggle to train through. I just planned short runs to keep the legs ticking over and then increased the mileage again the last two weeks of the month. I also added in a pilates class in February, which is new to me. I really struggle with strength and conditioning so figured a structured class was the way to go. It has been great and has really challenged me to be aware of and strengthen individual muscles – my abs had a big shock!

March was all about the miles – no massively long runs just lots of shorter runs (up to 18 miles). Lunch runs and the odd weekend run with Iain added in some speedwork and I tried to run with my race vest as often as I could. I really enjoyed this month and felt great. By the end of the month I was tired and ready for a slow gradual taper. I deliberately opted for a long taper because of school holidays and the challenge I have training during them. It has all gone to plan and I feel as ready as I can be for race day.

The last couple of weeks when my mileage had been less I have focussed on race prep, studying the route and organising everything at home for while I am away. My bags are packed and the buses booked – I am good to go! Can’t wait for the adventure 😁

Beating The Drop

Last year I ran “The Drop – Edinburgh“, finishing second overall so I had a bit of unfinished business when it came to this race and I signed up for the 2023 edition quite early on. After a few short and fast races I knew this one would be a good test of my fitness at 15+ miles distance, although without being able to wear a watch judging pace is a challenge. The finish location had moved a little from last year and was hosted at Up and Running in the West End, so the routes I had worked out last year were still pretty much relevant. Given that we had started to the West last year, I was betting on a start location in East Lothian somewhere, so I made sure to recce the major routes via Google Street View, Strava Heatmap and Bing/OS Maps. Starting from the A68 and as far round as Humbie the best way would be to reach Pathhead and go via Dalkeith and into Edinburgh via Cameron Toll. For anywhere further East, then Tranent, Musselburgh and Meadowbank looked best.

This year, The Drop have strarted providing live tracking for all their events, which makes them much more fun to spectate (virtually). In theory, you should also be able to replay the event to see where everyone went, but it doesn’t seem to be working (yet) for the Edinburgh race. Worth a look though:

Julie was able to drop me off in Edinburgh on the way down to Selkirk, and I made sure to stop off at McDonald’s for a pre-race cup of tea and loo stop. Before long we were blindfolded and on the coach! It seemed to take longer than I expected but after a while the 10 milers were dropped off and we headed to the 15 mile start. Once we finally came to a stop and took our blindfolds off I could see we were in a village with a war memorial and some signs at junctions pointing to Gifford and Duns, Humbie and West Saltoun – most of which were further Southeast! With that in mind I guessed we were in East Saltoun, one of the likely locations I had expected might be drop location and headed in the opposite direction towards (I hoped) Pencaitland.

I was one of the quickest off the bus but stopped half a mile down the road for a pee and several people went past me. I quickly caught up with them and was soon in the lead… at least of the people going in the same direction as me! Before too long, Pencaitland came into sight as expected, confirming I was where I thought I was and was heading in the right direction. One runner came past me, but turned left for Dalkeith rather than keeping straight on towards Tranent, so I was back on my own and heading as fast as I could along the road. As I passed through the centre of Tranent I caught sight of him again a short distance behind me (it turned out he’d only made a short detout to ask for directions in Pencaitland and then rejoined my route), and before we reached Musselburgh he passed me again. There was no way I could stick with his pace so I just hoped he would make another navigational error!

Passing the racecourse in Musselburgh I made my only (minor) navigational error – there is a short cut over a footbridge that saves about 0.1mi but I didn’t recognise the turnoff and took the more obvious route down the high street, dodging Saturday morning shoppers! The route thus far has been gradually downhill towards the coast, and now it levelled out as I made my way out of Musselburgh and along the coast towards Joppa and Portobello. I made sure to ignore the obvious left turn which is signposted Edinburgh by the A199 and A1 – probably the best route in a car, but for running has an awkward section around the back of Arthur’s Seat and the Meadows, plus it has quite a bit more climb than my route. I headed straight ahead through Portobello High Street to the junction at the end of Seafield Road. Fortunately the traffic lights were kind to me and I was able to slip across without delay. The road turned gradually uphill for a few miles through Jock’s Lodge, Meadowbank and Abbeyhill – I ran out of fluids at the this point but I knew I had just over a mile to go so wasn’t concerned. I passed a few of what looked like the tail end of the 10 mile runners (still not quite sure where they were dropped!), and before too long crested the hill at the Old Royal High School. No chance of getting lost from here – just lots of shoppers, tourists and buses to dodge on the way down Princes Street, a quick dash through the West End and in to the finish at Up and Running!

After a bit of confusion it turned out I was the first 15 mile runner back, and only a minute later second place turned up – he was the runner who had passed me earlier but had taken the harder route South of Arthur’s Seat (and had taken a wrong turn). In total he went over a mile further than me, so although I wasn’t the fastest on the day my route was good enough to sneak home first! You can see my complete route on Strava here:

My finishing time was 1 hour 53, about 20 minutes faster than I managed last year and my route was pretty much optimal (barring the missed shortcut in Musselburgh) – so I’m very pleased with how it went. I was also pleased to find I’d kept up a pretty steady pace, and way faster than I thought, setting new Strava PRs for a Half Marathon (1:29:04).

Overall, I’m happy to have managed to win this event at the second attempt – although I really like the format so I’m already thinking about coming back next year, or possibly fitting in the Glasgow Drop later this year. We’ll see!

February Roundup

“Winter miles mean summer smiles” is a well-known phrase among runners, and both of us are midway through out winter/spring training blocks getting ready for big races to come. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a few smiles along the way too 😃

Only 4 weeks after Feel The Burns, it was time for Selkirk Fund Runners’ second race of the year – the Heart Burn Run. We ran this one last year and it’s a great wee race. Thoroughly low key, open to walkers and runners, pay-on-the-day, 10k round the hills above Selkirk on a vaguely heart-shaped route (Valentine’s themed, see!), and back to a excellent selection of cake laid out on a table in a car park!

The weather on the day was excellent and after a good week or so without much rain underfoot conditions were perfect. Even the infamous turnip field which is usually a huge bog was like a bowling green! There were 51 walkers already on the route when the 15 runners (including us) set off. We had the unusual experience of setting the pace from the start and we managed to stay ahead all the way to the top of Peat Law. A fast, fun descent followed across heathery slopes and past the path the to Three Brethren, before the nasty “Rocky Road” climb up to Foulshiels Hill. Here we were passed by the eventual winner, and we couldn’t stay with him. From the top it’s pretty much downhill all the way to the finish, with the grassy slopes between Tibbie’s and the Top Pond making it easy (and fun) to reach top speed! We pushed hard all the way, finishing together a few minutes behind the winner but agonisingly 3 seconds over the one hour mark – leaving a target to aim for next year 🤪

The following weekend Iain had entered the Bertha Park Trail 10k – a bit of an “impulse buy” but since it was the inaugural edition of the race and is pretty much on out doorstep it seemed rude not to 😉 The race starts on the outskirts of the Bertha Park housing development, follows some woodland trails around the back of Bertha Loch for the first 5k then a flat dash down the Almond cycle path, before turning back for a short kicker of a climb back up to Bertha Park and a finish on the green. Iain regularly runs this route while Angus is at football training so he knew what to expect – although it looked a bit different in daylight! The trail section is very narrow, with lots of overhanging trees, roots, rocks and streams/bogs, so with that in mind the only strategy was to head out hard to avoid having to pass anyone on the trails and then try to hang on to the end.

In the end that’s pretty much how it turned out. After a slightly chaotic start where the air horn failed to sound at the end of the countdown, Iain was ahead at the first turn and opened up nearly a minute’s lead in the first mile. The plan worked and he held the gap steady to second place and crossed the line first in a time of 43:50 🎉

Sadly no race photos – but a decent spread of cakes, cookies and watermelon at the finish. Definitely worth a look next year if you’re in the area.

So lots of smiles to be had in February after all, and great to see we are both in pretty good shape heading in to the spring. Hope you are having a good start to the year too!

January Hill Races

The plan was to take a little break over Christmas, have a couple of weeks to build back up my base mileage then run a couple of short, fast hill races in mid-January as a bit of a sighter as to where my fitness was before pushing on with a big training block ready for big races later in the year. That plan went out the window when I was floored by the winter lurgy over the New Year period and didn’t even manage my first run on the year until the 6th of Jan! So what were supposed to be two ‘effort’ races with decent fitness became a case of ‘push as hard as I can and hope for the best’… oh well 🤷‍♂️

First up was a new local race that was announced late on in 2022 – the Falkland Yomp. Hosted by Lomond Hill Runners, this is an 11km route in and around the Falkland Estate, an area we have often gone for walks in but never run in yet. Although the route doesn’t go all the way up to the top of East Lomond, it does pack in two mile-long climbs up to the top of Maspie Den via the Temple of Decision, then back up again to the Tyndall Bruce Monument, and a final kicker within the last mile called the “Wee Bastard” – a total of 1400 feet of climbing. The race is almost all on good forest tracks or fire roads, except for a couple of boggy sections.

From the start, it took about a couple of minutes to realise I didn’t have the fitness to stick near the front of the pack and I was passed by lots of people on the way up the hill. Didn’t seem to be too much wrong with my descending legs though and I took a couple of places back on the fast track down Maspie Den. The route passes the start and Julie was there to wave me on, and the cowbells that we bought last year but keep forgetting to bring to races finally got some use. Along the flattish “Beech Hedges” track my legs felt dead, and with still half of the race to go the climb up to the momument was a bit of a slog. Downhill was fun again, and the “Wee Bastard” wasn’t as bad as its reputation suggested – at least I was able to pass a few people here, and hold them off on the quarter-mile sprint down to the finish. Just missed out on finishing under an hour with a 1:01:20 time, and 31st place out of 117. Not bad all things considered! A really fun course, and I hope to come back again in future, especially as it’s only 20 mins from home.

Downhill finish, just about held off the guy behind me!

The following weekend, my legs had just about recovered and we headed down to Selkirk for Feel The Burns, the hill half-marathon that we both ran last year. My expectations were somewhat dampened by last weekend’s result, plus the fact that my cousin Dougie wasn’t there this year to chase! Julie was also running today, but as she was on day 15 of a January Accumulator challenge (more on that here), with a couple of extra miles to do before and after, and 16 miles planned the next day this was not the time for an all-out effort!

It was a bright, calm day, perfect weather conditions for running. There had been a lot of rain around so anything grassy was expected to be boggy, and there were reports of snow lying at the top of the Three Brethren. Over 260 runners gathered for the start in a very muddy field at the Corbie Linn but soon strung out on the way up to the top pond and then up the grassy and heathery slopes of Peat Law. This was a longer climb that anything the Falkland Yomp had to offer and by the time I reached the top I was a minute or more down on last year’s time, and lost another minute by the top of the Three Brethren.

The run along the Southern Upload way was snowy, but made for good running conditions and great views to distract from the hard work. At the turnaround point after Brown Knowe I had lost another couple of minutes and resolved just to push as hard as I could on the down and see how I got on. The three miles of descent to Broadmeadows is great fun – unfortunately mid-way down two of my lace loops on my right shoe snapped, fortunately the top one held so the shoe stayed on as it would not be a good place to try barefooting. The final big climb up and over Foulsheils hill was as grim as always, but at least from there on it’s pretty much downhill all the way to the finish. In the end I crossed the line in 2:04:45 and 81st place, about five minutes slower than last year. I’ll tell myself most of that was due to the muddy conditions, but I suspect it was more to do with my condition!

Julie finished half an hour later with a 2:39:15, and promptly kept running to finish off her 15 miles for the day! After a well deserved hot soup and haggis pie, we headed back to my parents’ for a Sunday roast dinner, what better way to end the day?

An easy-paced run for Julie but still plenty of energy left to sprint past two people at the finish 🤣

Year in Review: 2022

Where did the year go? Time flies when you’re having fun, and we had a lot of it! Here are just some of the highlights:

We hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures, and maybe going on a few of your own too! See you out on the trails in 2023 – we’ve got quite a few things planned already 🤫

Goals: Iain

The only trouble with setting goals (and posting them on the internet!) is that you’re held accountable to them – although I guess that’s part of the point. Let’s see how I got on with what I set out to achieve in 2022…

  • A sub-24 hilly 100 miler – I didn’t manage this at either LAW100 or Ultra Scotland 100, but did it in (ever-so-slightly-less-than) 24 hours at both BYU races I entered. So not what I intended, but still a technical ✅
  • Run further than ever before (130 miles +) – I only managed 112.5 miles at the Cow Shed, but eventually went way further with over 154 miles at GOBYU ✅
  • Complete a marathon in under 3 hours 15 minutes – the Stirling Marathon was cancelled at the last minute, and I didn’t manage to fit in a replacement race, so this one will have to roll over to 2023 ❌
  • Complete the Ramsay’s Round – I made a failed attempt in August but learned a lot in the process and definitely plan to give this another shot in 2023 ❌

2 out of 4 isn’t too bad! Besides rolling over my Marathon and Ramsay’s Round goals to 2023, I am also aiming to go further than ever before, with a link-up of the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way (~180 miles) planned. I’ll also be very proud to be representing my country as part of Team Scotland at the Four Nations BYU championship race in Wales in May. It’s going to be another big year!

Goals: Julie

Wow what a year 2022 has been, lots of races in the later half of the year has meant a 3 week break from running in December before starting afresh in 2023. Unfortunately I have been hit hard by the lurgy over Christmas so it hasn’t felt like the recharge I would have liked. I think it will be a gentle start to 2023, at least the first few days! I am hoping to run the Frozen Accumulator in January – a virtual challenge set by Mark Cockbain in previous Januarys – not sure if I will get to the 31st but I’ll take it one day at a time!

The first race of 2021 started with the LAW100, Iain and I ran together and the wheels definitely fell off overnight! It wasn’t the sub 24hr finish we has hoped for but it was a good learning experience and I still finished 3rd female so can’t complain.

The Stirling marathon being cancelled was a disappointment and I never did test my marathon pace. A half marathon in April led straight into ultra races for the rest of the year. I was made up with my new half marathon PB and now know that with a little speed work I am able to run faster than I thought possible! It didn’t last the rest of the year with longer, hillier races and tired legs!

I was made up with first place female finishes at Glen Lyon, KACR, The Ochil Ultra and The Sunrise Ultra and a new course record on the Sunrise Ultra. All these races had different challenges and I love the fact that I learnt so much from every one. KACR was probably my biggest achievement – especially straight after having COVID, although Glen Lyon was the race I had to race hardest for to get the first place – I still struggle with finding that competitive drive!

At LochNess 24 I achieved my first sub 24hr 100miles on a hilly course. GOBYU has left me feeling frustrated with myself for quitting while I could still keep going… something to work on next year!

2023 is going to have some new and longer challenges! I am still keen to see how far I can go and to improve my competitive edge and mental toughness (no quitting in 2023 🤣) With that in mind I have signed up for 2 longer 250mile races, The Thames Ring 250 and the Lon Las Ultra later in the year (I am super excited about this one). Ultra Scotland 100 is in the middle of the year to test both my legs and navigation on a challenging 100miler and then 2 backyard ultras to see if I can really stick it to the end – Twatt (Orkney) and November GOBYU.

I can’t wait to get a solid training block in at the start of the year as with tapers, races and recoveries it is hard to find consistency sometimes! But 2022 has been injury free and hopefully with a solid training block to start with 2023 can be the same. Happy running eevryone, add some adventures to 2023 and do what you love to do 🏃🏻‍♀️😃

God’s Own Backyard Ultra 2022

Where to even start this post? Julie and I went to GOBYU planning to go a long way, exactly how far neither of us quite knew. This way my second Backyard Ultra (after the Cow Shed BYU in April – read that post for a quick intro to the format) so I aimed at a minimum to beat my 27 loop result, and it was Julie’s first go – but we were focused, well organised and worked together as a team. In the end, Julie stopped after 27 loops of her own and I pushed on into the second night of the race, eventually finishing as the last man standing with a total of 37 loops (154 miles) – a new GOBYU course record, not to mention smashing my own longest run by nearly 30 miles! I could stop there, but that would make a very short post indeed. We had such a great time at GOBYU that I thought we’d give you a tour of the event, the route, and of course what I learned along the way to the finish.

For those wondering where the name comes from, GOBYU is held in the outskirts of Leeds, in Yorkshire (“God’s Own County”). The race is based on a Scout campsite at Hunter’s Greave, sandwiched between the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the River Aire, just a few hundred metres from Kirkstall Forge train station. This makes it feasible to get to the race by train – we did, carrying all our food, race gear, tent and sleeping bags. While it was quite a lot to carry, most of the food got eaten and it avoided one of us having to drive back home afterwards. As a bonus, you also get to see lots of trains passing by during the race. The site has plenty of room for tents, a small toilet block (better than portaloos, but only just!), a kitchen and importantly a massive marquee/gazebo for runners to use between laps. The race is organised by 12 in 12 and supported by an awesome team of volunteers – marshals, timekeepers, and tail bikers – all of whom are the friendliest, most welcoming and supportive people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. We went to the November edition of the race, but they also run one in May, the only difference being the number of day and night loops (which use different routes), depending on the available hours of daylight. In November, the race started at 8am with 8 loops in daylight, before switching to the night loop for the next 16 hours and returning to the day loop again at 8am the following day. You can see both loops clearly on Strava below, and the day loop even has its own segment but let’s take a proper tour…

GOBYU day loop

Starting from the corral when the cowbell rings, the first half a mile is on a narrow tarmac path which runs past Kirkstall Forge station before making a short climb up to the canal towpath (I had previous run past here during LLCR – although I don’t remember much of it). Although we didn’t want to have to run too fast at any point, this part can easily bottleneck so we found it worth starting out with a run to get ahead of the crowd in the early laps. A short section of level towpath heads East, leading to a descent of two locks before half a mile of flat. We walked most of this section, letting plenty of people past on the wide path. The first mile ends with a shorter descent down one more lock, before a few hundred metres to the road bridge.

Here you leave the towpath and follow a muddy, gravel track (sadly strewn with fly-tipped rubbish) to reach the road before doubling back and crossing the canal on the bridge. Follow the road for a short while before turning right over a metal barrier – easy at first but required a little effort to “get you leg over” after several laps. It was also possible to squeeze between the barrier and the wall, or duck under the neighbouring, higher barrier if you preferred. A nice section of single-track trail takes you back down to the canal and through some trees before popping out in a field. This was a lot of fun to run along (watch out for the roots hidden under fallen leaves!) but a lot of people went slowly here if they were not confident on trails, or perhaps had road shoes on so again we found it worthwhile either speeding up or slowing down while on the road to ensure their was a good gap ahead before the trail section. An easy run across the field (there were horses in it but they stayed well away) then back in to another twisty, wooded section featuring a shopping trolley, several car tyres, a pylon, a ditch, and another metal barrier to be crossed. In between there was lots of nice twisty trail to be enjoyed! On one loop a rogue swan came wandering off the canal blocking the trail – fortunately we managed to sneak past him without incident. This mile was often the slowest as the trail was muddy and it was hard to avoid getting stuck behind other runners at one point or another.

The third mile begins with the “Stairs of Doom” – a flight of 20 or so large steps that mark the start of the climb up into Bramley Fall park. A very brief level section is followed by a long climb up a tree-lined avenue, eventually topping out about 150 feet above the canal. Good walking speed meant that we often powered past people on this climb. The way back down is a fantastic run, zig-zagging down through open woodlands on soft, easy, leaf-covered trail. I’d thought this mile was going to be the slowest but it was easy to make up for the slower pace of the climb without having to push too hard on the descent. Reaching the canal, you pass by an old concrete pipe section which it seems the neighbourhood dog walkers have designated as a poop bin – this became known (to us) as Poo Corner! Turning hard right, you run along a level embankment, parallel to the canal to complete mile 3.

The first half of mile four consists of a gradually rising (but very runnable) wide trail, before two short flights of stone steps and a little rooty path lead back to the bottom of the Stairs of Doom. This time, however, you turned left and crossed over the canal on the top lock of the flight we ran down in the first mile. Heading back along the canal to the West, you pass the end of the path that leads back to the start and instead continue for almost half a mile to reach the next pair of locks. A short but steep climb to the top before doubling back into the woods to the left to complete the mile.

The final section back to camp was my favourite – a short, twisty trail which was an ideal opportunity to stretch out your legs, before a steep slope down to the Hunter’s Greave access road – a wide, easy, gradual descent back to the starting corral. Most loops we just walked this in, getting ready to have our numbers checked in and head back to do out interloopal tasks.

GOBYU night loop

We had barely got our pacing dialled in on the day loop when dusk fell and it was time to don head torches and switch to the night loop. On the first night (Saturday 5th November), of course we also had a LOT of fireworks to keep us entertained and awake! Fortunately, the weather had been kind and although a thick fog developed, the rain and wind stayed away so it didn’t get too cold and an extra layer and a pair of gloves were all that was needed to stay comfortable. The night loop avoided the technicalities of the trail and the potential danger of the canal crossing on a narrow lock bridge, and stuck mainly to good tarmac paths. The first half was an out-and-back, following the same route as the first mile of the day loop. Passing by the camp, we then continued up the access road to rejoin the canal towpath via a short muddy/grassy section and a few steps. Passing under a bridge, there was a little over half a mile to the turnaround. This section felt quite long (especially in the fog) although there were a few features of interest, including a house on the other side of the canal where the occupants watched us runners with increasing admiration and incredulity, especially when they found us still going on after 36 hours! One marker we used to judge our progress was a metal Heras fence – can’t say I’ve ever had a love/hate relationship with a fence before, but at least once it loomed out of the fog it was only another 0.2 miles to the end of the third mile. From there it was only a short distance to the turnaround, where we retraced our steps to return to the start.

During the night loops, we were followed by a tail biker, and since the course consisted of two out-and-back segments, you got two chances to count lights at the turnaround and get an idea of how people were maintaining (or not) their pace relative to us.

My thoughts

Hopefully the course descriptions give you a good idea of what’s involved, and if you like the sound of it I’d encourage you to come and give it a try. While it’s definitely not flat, it’s a lot easier than some other UK backyard courses, and the night loop gives a good break with much easier underfoot conditions. As I said at the start, I managed to come away with the win – so of course a lot of things went right, but there are also things to improve for next time (!)

  • Team work – while there can only be one winner, this was very definitely built on rock solid team work during the first 24 hours. While we had originally planned on slightly different pacing schedules, on the first loop we decided to stick together and ended up having the best day (and night!) running together that we have ever had 😍 We had a great time out on the loop, and the miles just seemed to fly by! Julie pulled me though my one really tired spell between midnight and 3am where my body was just trying to shut down and go to sleep. In hindsight, I don’t think I returned the favour as when she started to struggle in the morning and eventually decided to quit, I didn’t do enough to convince her to come back out for “one more loop” (and another, and another) as we both think she had more than 27 loops in her legs. Even once she’d quit, Julie got stuck straight into crewing me and made sure I was looked after right till the end.
  • Pacing – we maintained a rock solid 12 min/mile pace for the entire first 24 hours, finishing every loop in 49 or 50 minutes. Keeping to the same pace meant we quickly worked out marker points at which we knew we could run or walk, and meant we didn’t have to think to much about pacing, just sticking to the plan mile by mile. Having 10 minutes spare each loop seemed about right, we had plenty of time to eat, drink and do whatever else needed done (loo stop, change of socks etc.), and during the night loops time for a few minutes of shut-eye before the 3 minute whistles signalled it was time to get ready to go again. The only issue we had with pacing was that when Julie was tired and struggling to stick to the same consistent pace at the start of the second day, we decided to split up and do our own pacing, when in fact we had plenty of time in hand and it would have been better to stick together at a slightly slower pace (only a couple minutes per loop slower), get through the day loop, then go back to the original pacing plan on the night loops. Need to balance consistency with adaptability!
  • Fast walking – Julie has been ‘encouraging’ me for a long time to spend more time practicing walking fast. She can easily hold a pace of under 15 mins/mile, but if I take a walk break in an ultra it would normally be about 17 mins/mile. I ended up taking a couple of weeks off running in the lead-up to GOBYU, to give me knee time to properly heal up and put this to use practising my walking. I’m definitely still slower – I had to break into a trot periodically to keep up with her – but I’m getting closer. One thing that helped was my ‘imaginary poles’ i.e. using my arms like I was walking with poles. This definitely helps to avoid ambling and instead walk with purpose and pace. Walking is much less demanding on the whole body, so the faster you walk the less you’ll have to run, and the longer you’ll be able to keep going overall.
  • Food and drink – Whether it was the slightly slower pace, or the chance to stop and sit for a few minutes, but this was the first ultra where I’ve really felt like I was able to eat whatever I wanted without it making me feel sick. Over the course of the two days, I ate 6 pork pies, several bananas, lots of home-made chia bars, several packets of crisps and biscuits, a bag of dried mango, and of course an entire watermelon! I organised it so I was eating more substantial foods (pie, crisps) at lunch (12 noon) and dinner (5pm) time, and in between snacking. I even had a mid-afternoon tea (cup of tea and chocolate biscuits). As night fell food started to feel like not such a great idea again (as usual), but I switched to taking one gel per hour and that got me through until morning when it was time for a breakfast pork pie again. I drank around 3 litres of KMC Isomix, as well as lots of cups of tea. Hopefully I can replicate this at other ultras – it worked really well!
  • Foot care – I opted to run in my Sense Ride GTX which worked really well, although the grass and leaves were damp my feet stayed dry. I changed socks about half way through, and the only real issues I had were one toenail which dug in to the neighbouring toe – lots of blood but didn’t hurt too bad – and some blistering on the balls of my feet. This seemed to be caused mainly by the combination of repeated towpath pounding, and then switching back onto the trail loop and having my feet move around a bit again. We managed to get them patched up and they were no bother during the second night, but might have got quite sore if I had ended up back on the trails for a third day. Another argument for taking it slower on the day loop!
  • Mind games – having solid pacing for the first day was the foundation for everything. We could see people ahead of us slowing and then gradually dropping out, which gave us both a lot of confidence we were doing well. On the second morning I got a massive buzz as the sun came up and switching back onto the trail loop felt like it gave me a new pair of legs, and of course I made sure everyone in the corral knew it! Even after she dropped, Julie was making sure to sow the seeds of doubt in other runner’s mind and point out at the start of each loop that I was still looking great. Whether it made any difference or not I don’t know, but it was fun to try! Once it was down to two of us, I just made sure that I was always going to be in front, and gradually ground down Luke (the eventual assist) over the course of the 8 or so loops that we ran as the final pair.
  • Camping – logistically it all worked fine, but the night after the race neither of us slept well with sore bodies in small sleeping bags and basic roll mats. I eventually got up in the night and curled up to sleep in the scout hut! Next time, we might book a room somewhere for the night after – the only challenge being if that should be the Monday or the Tuesday night…

Julie’s thoughts

I came away from GOBYU having had a brilliant weekend, I loved running with Iain and everyone was so welcoming and friendly. The day loop wasn’t my favourite but I loved the night loop (apart from the run to the fence) and luckily there were a lot more night loops! The whole event was well organised and great to be a part of.

However a week later and I can’t help but feel disappointed not so much with how I ran but how I finished! I knew going into the event that backyard ultras are a mental game as much as about running and I was confident that after crewing Iain at the Cowshed Backyard Ultra earlier in the year I had learnt a lot about keeping going. I knew my weak spot would be at daybreak when for whatever reason having happily kept going all night my body decides it is time for sleep! This also coincided with swapping to the day loop which I didn’t enjoy as much and then on top of that Iain got a second wind and spent the first 2 day laps super excited and happy.

Rightly or wrongly I was left feeling that I was holding Iain back and I decided it was time for us to run seperately. I think this could have worked but for the fact I hadn’t put a plan or structure for the lap in place, everyone else still looked strong and at that point I mentally quit. I had decided I wanted to match the 27 laps that Iain ran on his first backyard and when that target was met I just stopped. In hindsight I should have had many more mini goals in place but I had lost the mental game by now. I was still easily finishing the loop in the hour, nothing was broken and I was still eating and drinking well. So why did I stop??? In that moment I was 100% certain that stopping was the right decision – that’s the danger of a backyard ultra! Looking back I am certain that I had a good number of laps still in me and the fact that I could walk normally the next day and had only one small blister on a toe supports that.

GOBYU is an event that I need to come back to as I am certain I have more to give. And before next November I need to work on building my own internal self drive and determination so that when external factors are a challenge I keep pushing on!

That’s a wrap on the blog for now – I still can’t believe I managed to pull off my first race win since 2019 😃 We’ll be back at a GOBYU next year to see if I can defend my title, but first Julie is planning to do a solo race at the Highlander BYU, and see if she can go further with my support as a full-time crew. Let us know if you’re planning any Backyard races in the coming year – we might see you there 👋

Some photos are taken from the GOBYU Facebook group – thanks to everyone who posted them 🙏 Apologies for the blurred ones which are mostly mine, taken on the run!

Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra 2022

After having three big races – the Cow Shed BYU, Ultra Scotland and St. Cuthbert’s Way – all completed by July, the rest of the year was looking pretty quiet. I was keeping the calendar free to allow for an attempt at Ramsay’s Round in August (more on that another time!), but after volunteering for two full days at Race Across Scotland, I had a free entry for a GB Ultras event to use and it didn’t take long to decide I’d give the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra a shot! I’m a big fan of point-to-point races so what’s not to like about running the 56-ish miles from between Scotland’s two largest cities. It’s pretty close to home, so no difficulties getting there and back – the main challenge would be that since I know I can do the distance and the course is basically dead flat I’d have to put the effort in and go for a time!

Cut to mid September, three weeks out from the race and I’m just finishing off a solid block of training – two 50 mile weeks in the bag and one last long run to make a 60 mile week and then it’s time to taper… or so I planned. From out of nowhere, I fell over on an innocuous bit of woodland trail and slashed my right knee open on a rock. A quick trip to the local A&E to be stitched back up and instead of a nice taper it’s a week with my knee swollen, sore and bandaged up. I was told 10 days until I could get the stitches out, but in the end I took them out myself after 5 days, was walking after a week, and then did a 40 mile week of easy running culminating in a 15 mile long run to convince myself I was OK to race. In reality I had rushed the recovery a bit, but the wound had healed up well and wasn’t causing me much issue while running – it would just be sore afterwards. Now committed to running G2E, I worked out a rough pace plan: the last time I had run that sort of flat distance was on the LLCR130, which had taken me nearly 11 hours (but I was holding back as I had another 80 miles to go). I figured I could hold a pace of 8:45 min/mile for the first half of the race and aim to negative split slightly. If that went well my A goal would be to finish close in close to 8 hours, the B goal was 9 hours, and if everything went wrong and my knee caused to much trouble the C goal was just to finish!

On the morning of the race, I’d arranged to travel down with Andy Ogilvie – another runner from Bridge of Earn, who had roped in a friend to give us both a lift. The roads were quiet so it only took an hour to get to Glasgow and registration at the Riverside Museum. We got our trackers and numbers and had the luxury of indoor seating at the museum for the hour or so before the start. Time for a second breakfast, and plentiful toilet facilities (no mile-long queue for portaloos here)! With 10 minutes to go we headed out to the start line and I bagged a spot in the front row. There were over 300 entrants so it was easily the largest mass start I’ve ever been part of for an ultra. Same as Race Across Scotland and Ultra Scotland, we had a piper playing to get us revved up. All race organisers should have one! Although it was still dark (6am) it wasn’t cold or particularly windy so I was wearing just a lightweight long-sleeved base layer and no gloves. Head torches would be needed for the first hour or so. After a (very) short briefing we were set off on time, headed for Edinburgh!

A few runners dashed off at impressive (and unsustainable, at least for me) pace and I settled into a good steady rhythm as we wound our way out of the museum, through an underpass and along some deserted streets to join the River Kelvin walkway in Kelvingrove Park. The first four miles of the route follow footpaths through the park and briefly crosses the river and back again and although there was plenty of reflective tape this was the only really navigationally tricky part as there are lots of paths branching off left and right and with lots of other runners around with head torches, care was needed… A group ahead of me definitely went wrong where we had to leave the Kelvin and climb a short, steep path to join the canal as they went right under the canal and had to loop round and cross over at one of the Maryhill Locks to rejoin the towpath! One last bit to watch out for – down some steps and under the canal to rejoin the East-bound branch rather than return to Glasgow. There was a marshall there to keep everyone right though. With those bits out of the way it was a case of go straight for 21 miles with the canal on your right!

The first CP (mile 5) was only a little further on at Lambhill and I just whizzed right through. Not too far to the next one at Kirkintilloch (mile 11) either. By now it was light enough to take of and stow head torch, and a short section of flooded towpath was easily crossed without getting my feet actually wet, thanks to Gore-Tex shoes! We were now properly out of Glasgow, and the canal gained a more rural feel. CP2 had quite a crowd of supporters as it was the first checkpoint where crews were allowed. I had everything I needed though and was dialled in to a nice steady 8:40 mins per mile so I just grabbed a handful of sweets and kept going. After CP2, although the sun was getting up I was starting to get a bit cold, maybe it was being out of the city – in any case I put my gloves on which was a bit of a challenge while running and with numb fingers. After a couple of miles they defrosted again but I kept them on for most of the morning! I was still keeping up a good pace but despite my usual pre-race loo stops I was really needing a 💩. The last few miles to CP3 were not the most comfortable, but fortunately there was a portaloo waiting. Apologies to everyone else who used it after me… lets just say I must have come out a couple of kilos lighter! Feeling much better now, and with the first chance to grab some watermelon (my all time favourite race food), I got straight back onto pace for the 9 mile run to the Falkirk Wheel, enjoying the occasional views as far as the Stirling in the distance.

Turning right over the bridge to the Falkirk Wheel would be hard to miss, and again there was a marshal there. It was also good to see RD Wayne out with his GoPro – I joked that it was nice to have a hill for a change (even if it was only 100 or so feet high). CP4 was half way up the path between the Forth & Clyde Canal basin and the Union Canal and again there was a good crowd, including some of the medical team who I recognised from Race Across Scotland. No watermelon this time, but they had salted potatoes, which I munched as I headed up the last little rise to the Union Canal. I had recce’d this section (walking) a few weeks ago and I enjoyed the run through the lit up tunnel and up a few locks before topping out at the high point of the course. More simple navigation ahead – stay on the left for 20 miles, then turn left. The sun had come out a bit and now that I was past the mental half-way point (although it was still a few miles short of actually being half way) it was time to turn up the pace!

At least that was the plan! I put in a couple of miles at around 8:30 mins, but my legs started to tighten up straight away and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to maintain it. After passing through CP5 I started to really slow up and I started getting a bit ‘faffy’. A bit of a shower blew in and I stopped to put on my waterproof, then stopped again a couple of miles later to take it off again. Gradually my pace dropped to around 10 minute per mile as I arrived at CP6 at Linlithgow. I downed a cup of coke, hoping for a bit of a caffiene/sugar rush and picked up some more watermelon but it didn’t really pick me up and I settled down to grind out the longest section of the race (around 13 miles) to the final CP at Ratho.

It only took about 2 hours and 20 mins but it felt much longer. The towpath actually goes through some nice woodland areas (although the less said about the housing estates in Broxburn the better), and the Five Sisters and Greendykes bings were quite interesting to look at. The one highlight was a couple of likely lads who set up an impromptu aid station from the boot of their car just after Winchburgh, offering cheese & biscuits, bottles of port, gin and even an ice bucket full of cider and lager! I was tempted but declined. If it had been at the finish line that would have been another story! Another real kick in the teeth was the fact that instead of heading East to Edinburgh the canal turns first South, and then back West on itself for a bit! There was also a bit of wildlife to avoid on this section – a bunch of swans by a grassy area which fortunately allowed giving them a wide berth and a lone cow which had got out of a field and was roaming the towpath. I was very glad to reach Ratho, where I had a (short) sit down while I topped up my water supply for the first time. I’d reckoned I wouldn’t be able to make it to the end on a single 2L load, but had plenty left at Linlithgow so I think I got it about right. I’d packed a small tub of KMC Isomix so I was able to toss this in to make up some for the final 7 mile stretch to the finish. I was pleased to find more watermelon at this CP, so set of with a few bits and some salted pretzels.

For the first mile or so out of Ratho I was back at my same old 10 min/mile pace but as we were now getting closer to Edinburgh I started to ‘smell the barn’ and was able to push the pace just a little for the last 5 miles. There were a couple of other runners around me, and although I had no idea where I was placed I was determined not to be passed before the finish. There’s lots to see on this section, with Lin’s Mill aqueduct, crossing the city bypass, and the strange metal-clad tower blocks in Wester Hailes so the miles just ticked by. I was in my own little world when I heard a bike behind me and moved to one side of the path to let it past – when I was surprised to see none other than my old buddy Dave McCraw, who had seen that I was running, and used the GPS tracker to find me! He raced ahead to chain up his bike and ran alongside for the final few miles. It was good to have someone to talk to although I’m not sure my monologuing made much sense. He did joke that it only took 50 miles for me to slow down enough that our paces were compatible! I knew to keep an eye out for the turn immediately after the Slateford viaduct, and I also saw assistant RD Laura there, keeping everyone right – although a few people did miss it and got spectacularly lost, less than two miles from the finish. Down the steep steps to the Water of Leith and then just a mile of muddy path before I saw Rhona waiting outside the Saughton athletics centre, where the finish awaited us. We were made to do a three-quarter lap (in the wrong direction!) before I was able to muster something of a sprint finish, crossing the line in 17th place with a time of 9:01:41 🎉

Julie and the rest of the family were waiting at the finish so it was great to be able to see everyone as soon as I’d received my finisher’s medal. GB Ultras do the biggest, heaviest and best medals out there, by the way! Andy was still going well but a few hours back so I was happy to change out of my running stuff and be driven home as I (as usual) seized up completely after crossing the finish line.

Looking back on the race, of course I’m a little disappointed to narrowly miss out on my B goal of 9 hours but overall I’m happy that my knee held out and I was able to finish in good style – my first ultra with no walking involved! I also bagged a new 50 mile PB of 7h55m along the way. After the race my knee has given me quite a lot of trouble – it’s taken a couple of weeks for the swelling to go down and was still painful the day after running, even slowly so I’ve taken a proper break to let it sort itself out 🤞

Similarly to Ultra Scotland 100, I can’t recommend GB Ultras events highly enough – they are a well-oiled machine and put on great events. I’m sure I’ll be along to more of theirs in future, and recommend you do to!

Photos thanks to: GB Ultras team + event photographers, Lewis Bethune, Dave McCraw and Louise Ogilvie 🙏

Ochil Ultra 50 Miler 2022

The Ochil Ultra is our local ultra, with the route literally passing our front door. Iain and I thought we weren’t going to be able to take part this year with Iain having Glasgow to Edinburgh at the start of October and with my parents planning to stay. However plans changed and my parents weren’t able to visit so I began considering whether it would be possible or sensible to enter just 4 weeks after Loch Ness 24. My recovery had gone well but I am aware that I have been asking a lot of my body over the last few months so I was unsure! I looked at the start list and saw there were only a few ladies entered in the 50 mile race, a friend was running and Iain encouraged me to enter. It didn’t take much and I entered on the last day before entries closed! At this point the race was planned to be running from Perth to Stirling which made it easy to get to the start and Iain and the kids would meet me in Stirling at the finish. I knew the first hill, Moncrieffe Hill, well but had only ever ran it in the opposite direction so I did a couple of recce runs running it in race direction. I also planned a recce run of the 10 miles from bridge of Earn up into the Ochils via the Wallace Road. I invited my friend Stephané who was also running the race and she was happy to come along. This would have been a great little practice run but for the very frisky cows in the fields around the wind farm. They were very interested in us and poor Stephané was terrified. We managed to get past the first 2 fields of cows but when a third herd came running over to see us it was too much for Steph and so we cut the run short and headed back via Forgandenny on the roads!

The week before race day the organisers let us know that they were having to change the race direction as Stirling University had suddenly told them they would no longer be able to use their track for the finish. Thankfully Perth and Kinross Council were happy for them to finish at South Inch in Perth, and Stirling University said they could start on their grounds in the morning, so we were now running Stirling to Perth! This is the direction the race was run in 2017, 2018 and 2019. I’m sure this caused a few headaches for the race organisers and some of the racers but actually worked quite well for me as it meant that I would be running towards home and would know the last 18ish miles of the route. It did take me a couple of days to get used to the idea though!

I was quite nervous about this race as it had a lot more elevation than I am used to and I knew it would be wet under foot in places. I also really wanted to finish first female and so made a race plan that would have me finishing in about 10 hours. This would mean averaging about 11 min/mile. I knew some of the big ups would be slower but hoped I would be able to pick up the pace on the flats and downs. I had no real idea if this pacing was doable but figured it was better to be ambitious and I am used to making plans that I can’t stick to on race day! After my usual look over the race route on Strava/Google maps I was good to go. I decided to carry what I needed for the full race only stopping at aid stations to pick up water as and when I needed. I was confident that KMC Isomix hydration, KMC NRG gels, fruit pastilles and Trek salted caramel flapjacks would see me to the end. I also asked Iain to have a coffee ready for me when I ran past the house at 40ish miles! He also had a second pair of shoes at hand in case I wanted to change them.

The race itself is tracked and you also have to check in at each aid station. These were roughly every 10 miles and are minimal with only water bottles available. However, labelled drop bags can be left at the start, to be taken to each of the aid stations en route. Most people seemed to be using this option. Mandatory kit was minimal and with good weather forecast I just carried a waterproof coat as an additional layer (I also had first aid kit and space blanket in case of emergencies). Registration was at the Stirling Court Hotel from 6am on race morning and then race start was 7am. This was plenty of time as it was not a big field with just over 50 runners taking on the 50 mile route. I was able to get a lift with Stephané which meant Iain and the kids could get a lie in!

Registration was straight forward and I collected my bib, tracker and timing chip and then after a short wait and race brief we were good to go! The hotel toilets were a luxury compared to the loos before most races! Just before 7 we headed down to the race start by the edge of Airthrey Loch, it was cold but I knew with a big climb in the first few miles I would soon warm up so started in just shorts and T-shirt, with a buff to keep my head warm! We started at about 7.05am and headed off up the road into a short wood section before hitting the main track up the first big climb up Dumyat hill. With only 4 female runners and wanting to finish first I had to decide if to sit behind the fastest female or go ahead and set my own pace. I briefly sat behind the leading lady but didn’t like feeling like I was running at someone else’s pace and not my own. So I nipped ahead and then pushed the pace a little (for me) to ensure I got a decent gap and wasn’t being chased too closely for the rest of the race! The downside of this was I probably pushed a bit too hard on the first 2 big climbs!

The climb up Dumyat is on a good ‘tourist’ path and I was soon at the top with beautiful views over Stirling. The path off the back of Dumyat is less well trodden, steep and grassy and wet at this time in the morning! Iain had forewarned me it was a trickier decent having run it the week before. I’m not good on steep grassy down hills so tried to take it cautiously! A few runners nipped past at this point but I was happy to go slightly slower and not have a tumble. One guy in front did have a big slip but managed to only roll once before getting back on his feet. It was at this point I realised I had a problem with my shoes. I was wearing my goretex Scarpa Spin Infinity shoes having previously only worn them on shorter and less steep runs. I had swapped the laces that came with them with elasticated ones which I find work well in my Inov8 TerraUltras however these particular laces slipped as I ran downhill and as they loosened my toes started pounding off the front of my shoe. Rather than stopping and trying to sort them I carried on and by the time I got to the bottom the damage was done with one very tender big toe – not the best start but thankfully other than slowing my decents slightly it didn’t give me much bother through the rest of the race. After Dumyat there is a road section and then small climb into a wood before reaching Tillicoultry and the first check point. I started chatting with some other runners along the road and it was great to hear that a lot of them were also aiming for around 10 hours – I figured my pacing wasn’t going too badly!

A quick stop to use the loo at the check point and I was on my way again, heading up Upper Mill Street in Tillicoultry to where the path up into the Ochils starts. The route was really well signed posted so you don’t need to be able to navigate for this ultra, although I did have the GPX on my watch. The route on the GPX file did not exactly match where the route markers went which did cause some confusion at a couple of points, though! The climb up into the Ochils is really steep for a mile or so (this was my slowest mile of the route at 24:19 mins and the only one over 20 mins!) before it eases off and you can catch your breath (even with walking!) The path is soon grassy tracks, at some points clearer than others! At about 10 miles there was split in the path. I headed up the right hand fork with some others runners in front of me but was then shouted from behind to say I was on the wrong path and should be on the left hand path that contoured round the hill rather than going up and over. I nipped back across to the left path but then saw the next marker in the distance on the path I had just left. I pointed it out to the runner who had called me back but he was sticking to the GPX route on his watch! I then ran back across to the path I was originally on deciding I would prefer to stick to the marked course even if it did mean adding in some more climbing! The grassy and now slightly boggy tracks continued and I was loving being up in the hills, and enjoying myself a lot. I had expected to find the runners well spread out by now but actually there were quite a few of us running close together so I was enjoying the odd chat as I went along. The downhill from this top was hard work on grassy, boggy, tussocky tracks, not helped by my sore toe! I was slower than I wanted (or expected) on this section and was pleased when we hit a tarmac track about 14 miles in. It was a nice easy couple of miles running along this road by the side of Upper and Lower Glendevon reservoirs. It was turning into a beautiful day.

At 17 miles you say goodbye to the tarmac and are back onto single track path for a mile and a half until you reach check point 2. Good running with easy navigation, although the path does get slightly lost in the final field before the check point! I just stopped long enough to check in and then I was on my way again. I was happy I had enough water to the next check point and plenty of food. My legs were sore from the tough terrain and steep descents and my pace was slower than I had initially intended but it was a glorious day, with beautiful scenery, good chat and I was happy as long as I finished 1st lady! I knew the next mile or two of the route from a family hill walk and knew we had a steep climb up from the reservoir through the forest! I found myself again running with a couple of guys, Nathan and Gerhard and I was enjoying chatting with other runners, hopefully not boring them too much with stories of other races!

From check point 2 it is a short run up the road before turning off and running across the top of the dam. It is then a short steep climb into the forest and onto the forestry track which you then follow at a slightly gentler incline before again turning off onto a short steep muddy path up through the trees to a deer gate at the top. The route then headed on downhill into Glendevon on a path I hadn’t been on before. I was feeling ridiculously tired at this point and kept tripping over my own feet and stumbling on the path, so I slowed the pace down and took it easy on the single track down hill. It was good running but with tired legs and body I was concerned I may do my self an injury if I wasn’t careful. Nathan, Gerhard and I were all now running at similar paces, running some sections together and then splitting up for a section before finding ourselves back at the same pace again. I really enjoyed running with others and was happy to chat and run/walk along. As the race progressed we ended up running more of it together which I really enjoyed as a lot of my races this year I have been running on my own.

The run into Glendevon over a small bridge is really pretty and then a short section along the road (not so fun) before another big climb up out of the valley, a couple of slower miles before the running again became easier and you hit a landrover track at about 24 miles. All the big climbs were now complete until Moncrieffe hill, I found this a big boost and we were now pretty much half way. I was also looking forward to reaching the more familiar section of the route. After following the track to where it meets the road you cross over to follow a path along the side of a forest. In all honesty I don’t remember much of this next section to check point 3. It mainly either follows forestry tracks or paths at the sides of forests, some of these were pretty uneven and trickier to keep up a pace on! However check point 3 finally arrived and I grabbed a bottle of water to see me through to Bridge of Earn where Iain and the kids would have supplies ready for me.

I had got over my low point and was enjoying myself again! I headed on down the road while Gerhard and Nathan stopped to sort out a few bits and told them to catch me up! I was happy going at a slower pace as I knew I had plenty of time on the second place lady! So I took it easy along the road having a good drink and some food. The path then heads up another short hill before contouring round a few upland fields. I didn’t see a route marker on a gate during this section and had just realised (my watch was frantically beeping at me that I was off course) when the runner behind also gave a shout to say I had missed the turn! Back I trotted and through the gate and next field, I was just approaching the road when Gerhard and Nathan caught me up after their slightly longer stop.

The terrain now changes to farm tracks and upland fields and we ran/walked, chatting as we went. At 34 miles we reached the point in the route where I now knew the rest of the course. When I had reccied this section this field had had some very lively and interested cows in it but thankfully the farmer had shut them in the other half of the field so they were only able to watch us over the gate! After this field there is a road section before the route turns into the wind farm where it eventually meets the Wallace Road (not really much of a road any more!). I like this section through the wind farm although was nervous as the cows had been so frisky last time I had been up here! There was no sign of cows in the first field so I am guessing the farmer had moved them and then the cows in the second field were completely chilled out and not interested in us at all! We were soon on the Wallace Road where I know from previous runs there is a very wet section by the stile. I warned Gerhard and Nathan and managed to get across without getting wet by heading straight up to the fence line after the stile. Gerhard decided to try and avoid the stile altogether with a resultant very wet foot.

I was really enjoying myself now and although really tired was looking forward to getting home and seeing Iain and the kids and nipping to the loo in the comfort of my own home! The run down from the wind farm is fun and easy going and after a short road section and a path between the fields we were heading along the road to check point 4 where I left Gerhard and Nathan and headed on for home (I told them to catch me up once they were sorted!). A slow run through the village (I was finding it hard to push myself when I knew that my pace was slow and that I had plenty of time on the second place lady) and I was heading for home with Iain, the kids and some friends all in the street to give me a cheer – it was a massive boost to see everyone, thank you! A quick loo stop, a coffee (all ready for me) and drink refill and I headed on again. It was hard to get going and I ran/walked along the Rhynd Road to the Moncrieffe car park. I have never enjoyed this long, flat, straight road and today was no exception.

Gerhard and Nathan caught me up as I was heading up the road to the car park. Gerhard still had plenty to give so we soon encouraged him to head on and get to the finish. Nathan and I were happy running/walking at a similar pace so plodded on slightly more slowly. It was great to have company and the chat. Moncrieffe Hill is one of my happy places and even though I was sore and tired I still enjoyed being there. My only annoyance was the little added loop on the downhill section as it was frustrating to take the longer path as it doesn’t even have any good views! However we were soon at the car park where Iain and the kids were there again to cheer us on.

Turning left out of the car park and it is all road running to the finish, an undulating road into Perth and then a downhill to the harbour road and a run through the industrial units to the finish at South Inch (the least scenic section of the whole run!). Iain and the kids were at the finish ready with a big cheer and hug. I was surprised to find the finish as soon as we arrived on the Inch as I had expected it to be by the car park end! A sprint finish and it was done, finishing as 1st lady in a time of 11 hours and 14 minutes. I was happy with that! The route is beautiful and challenging with varied terrain and plenty of ascents and steep descents. My legs have taken a while to recover. Could I have run it faster? I’m not sure, but this run was about a beautiful route with good company along the way. A great day out! I think Iain may be tempted next year 😉

I was able to get home, have a quick shower and some food before heading back out to cheer Stephané over the last couple of miles to the finish. It was lovely to see her finish in 13 hours and 41 mins. I know she found it a tough course and she did amazingly sticking at it to the end. Well done!

The route was well marked with arrows, red and white tape and spray painted arrows on the ground. This worked well for navigation but was a bit frustrating when Iain and I had to remove several signs and tape from Bridge of Earn and Moncrieffe Hill over a week after the event. The sprayed arrows are still visible 4 weeks later 😠 Maybe something to improve on for next time?

Some of the photos are from Stewart Reid – thanks!

Interview: Felicity & Alan

We love an epic running story with a happy ending and this is a proper good one! We first met Felicity Elms and Alan Oliver when we were volunteering at CP3 of Race Across Scotland, an 215 mile non-stop journey along the full length of the Southern Upland Way. CP3, at Bargrennan near Glen Trool, is 42 miles in to the race and the runners had just passed over 20 miles of exposed trail from CP2 at New Luce under a relentless, hot sun and were not even a quarter of the way done! When they arrived, Felicity was chirpy and all smiles, but Alan just slumped into a chair with a 1000 yard stare and fell asleep – no offense intended but he looked like he was headed for a DNF! After a short break, the two of them were ready to continue and headed off together on the trail. We saw them again the next morning at CP5 (Sanquhar), where they were still making good progress and although we had to head home on Sunday night, we kept an eye on the tracker and were really pleased to see they eventually finished in 97 hours and 46 mins – just under the 100 hour cutoff time!

Massive congratulations from us on what must have been a huge effort 👏👏👏 We gave them both a few days to recover before pestering them to do a Q&A with us for the blog, and it’s great to be able to share it with you all now. We hope you find their story as inspiring as we did!

Let’s start with a bit of an intro. How did you get into running?

Felicity: In my teens and early twenties, I was a big girl. At only 5ft3 and nearly 13 stone, I decided it was time to do something about it. So, I changed my eating habits and started walking to university. This soon turned into running. Then, after a trip to New Zealand, I fell in love with hiking. Inevitably, this transformed to cross country running! I knew I would never beat my dad’s marathon speed, so I decided to go for distance instead!

Alan: I used to hate any sort of distance running at school (I was a sprinter as well as doing every other sport I could) but a few years on, after putting on weight, I took up weight training and triathlon but funnily enough, running was the part I still disliked the most.

That was over 30 years ago but shiftwork and life got in the way and I stopped most regular sports. When I moved role in January 2018, I had a spare 3 hours a day of non commuting so I started running and struggled to run 5k!

I signed up for the 2018 Great East Run (Half Marathon) in September and trained for that with the aim of doing at least the same time as my previous half over 30 years before. I managed to get a better time so spurred on I went on to run my first marathon in the December of 2018 coming 5th.

Bitten by the bug I signed up for Brighton marathon in the April of 2019 and then went on to run 10 ultras (100km) and another couple marathons in 2019. I have continued to run a mix of road marathons and trail ultras since.

So you both love distance running, but Race Across Scotland is another level! What led up to you entering, and eventually running it together?

Felicity: I met Alan on a Facebook group leading up to a 100km event (one of Alan’s 10 races in 2019), then we bumped into each other at the event. As we were in multiple events, we kept bumping into each other and soon my Dad (best crew ever) was soon supporting Alan too! We never really ran side by side as Alan is a lot faster than me, however, it didn’t stop the ultra-bond that was growing between us!

Alan: A special moment though was when we both crossed the line together on the Thames Path Ultra which was the last of that series we completed in.

Felicity took part in the RAS in 2021 but sadly DNF’d at 150 miles. I had followed her progress throughout and was equally disappointed for her. 

When we talked through the DNF, Felicity was not sure about doing it again but not wanting her to have unfinished business and wanting a challenge myself, I suggested if she wanted to have another go, I would do it with her.

Not sure how you find out what a 200+ mile ultra is like except for just giving it a go, but was RAS what you expected?

Felicity: I trained for RAS in 2020, but it was postponed. So, my first attempt was in 2021. Unfortunately, I had difficulties with navigation and with lack of sleep or running buddy, I made the decision to pull out. It has been my one and only DNF and it hit me pretty hard. A few months later, when Alan phoned and asked if I was going to attempt it again I had been in two minds – it was a lot of hard training – however, when Alan said he was game, there was no way I could say no!

Alan: I had not taken part in any event of that magnitude before. The furthest I had run was 100 miles on the South Downs Way which we did together as a training run. I found the lack of sleep the hardest / most challenging on the 3rd night as I started hallucinating. The pain in my feet was also hard but I had to box away the pain in my head to keep going.

When we saw you at CP3 and CP5 Felicity was all bouncy & smiles and Alan looked knackered and ready to quit – how did the two of you work together and encourage each other on the course?

Felicity: Unfortunately, Alan suffered from the heat. He says that I cheat as I had ten years living in Mexico and get on with the heat quite well! This resulted in different reactions. To be honest, I think a lot of it is patience and silent understanding. I believe we each let the other get through what they need to get through. There is no pressure but there is no abandonment either. At the same time, we are supported by the most important person – my Dad. He seems to know the thing to get each of us through. Whether it is a hug and encouragement, tough love, or a pair of clean socks. He always works his magic!

Alan: I struggled with the heat of the first two days and unfortunately my black dog came with me at the same time! I just went into myself and was not all smiles! In my head though there was no way I was going to quit as I did not want to let Felicity down as we were going to finish together. I also have a massive stubborn streak in that I will not stop until I physically cannot continue and have to be medically stopped.

Having run ultras together before, we knew when to talk to each other and when to let the other have some head space and that seemed to work.

Well it certainly did! What were your favourite moments of the race?

Alan: The beautiful views and changing scenery of the landscape as we moved East. The full scottish breakfast cooked by Martin (at CP12, Longformacus) was a fantastic treat which was so welcome. 

Felicity: I don’t know if it was a favourite moment – maybe a worst favourite. There was a point when I started crying. It was on a long quarry section – hot and dry. I cried as I knew that this time, I was going to finish RAS – and it was at the same point last year that I knew I wasn’t going to finish it. That realisation was emotionally over-whelming.

And the hardest bits – if you can pick anything specifically?

Alan: The hardest parts were the nights. There seemed to be never ending miles of fences on some stretches with no views (it was dark!) Later on it was made worse by fog and then hallucinating with lack of sleep.

I also had such painful feet towards the end that every step was agony.

Felicity: Sleep, or lack of sleep! I knew this was always going to be the biggest challenge! If I have less than seven hours a night, I feel it all the next day! It was a challenge! Hallucinations galore!!

In the end you finished with a little over 2 hours remaining out of the 100 hour limit – were you always confident that you could finish?  Were there parts where you were behind schedule and looked like you would DNF?

Felicity: Nope! This year, I was confident from about the third check point, and that was it! Mental challenge resolved and everything else fell into place! I had come up with a race plan beforehand – a worst case scenario / slowest pace plan. It turned out that we needed it as we ended up on this plan exactly! This plan gave us room for an unplanned 90 min sleep crash, heat fatigue, near zero visibility on the third night and a final 20 miles of very slow movement as Alan’s feet were not holding up well.

Alan: Felicity had used her experience from last year to plan our progress throughout with the sole aim of completion. We knew if we stuck to the plan it would work out and we finished at the predicted time. We knew we would build some time at the start which would give us time later so even towards the end we knew we would make it.

Sounds like your plan worked out then! What advice would you give to anyone thinking about doing RAS next year?

Alan: Do it! It was an amazing experience. The support was fantastic and the scenery magnificent. It will push you to your limits and will be an adventure you will remember for the rest of your life.

Felicity: Be mentally strong. As soon as your belief goes, you are doomed. A strong crew person can lead to success. If you can, a good companion and someone to rely on always results in an incredible, shared experience.

We might just give it a try 🤔 So now that you’ve recovered, what’s next for each of you?

Felicity: I have a ten in ten this November – earning some calories for Christmas! My next adventure is out there – I just need to find it! Maybe some hiking somewhere abroad….

Alan: I am running the Berlin and New York Marathons this year and have booked in a couple of marathons next year. I am looking at what Ultras I can fit in and looking at a GB Ultra 100 mile race.

We both plan to complete the George Fisher Tea Round in the Lake District as we had an aborted attempt (due to storms) in February this year. This time we will hopefully get better weather.

Fingers crossed for the weather! And good luck with those races! Before we say goodbye, anything else you’d like to mention?

We’d both love you to support and join Alan in raising money for the PC Nicola Hughes memorial fund.

No problem, we have – and hope some of our readers will too!

What great guys Felicity and Alan are! Hope you enjoyed meeting them and follow them along on their upcoming adventures too…

Loch Ness 24 2022

An inaugural event and my first ever 24hr looped race! The course was a 7km loop on the banks of Loch Ness just outside the small village of Dores and incorporated approx 300ft of elevation per loop, forest paths (with a lot of tree roots), a pebble beach and some fields. The organisers advertised it as the toughest 24hr race in the UK:

“This incredible mix of forest trails, pebble beaches and rolling grassy hillsides makes for THE toughest and most spectacular 24hr relay course in the UK”

The event was open to teams (large, small and pairs) as well as solo runners. When I saw the race and it fitted in to my race calendar I was keen to give it a go – it had the added advantage of not being too far from home and Iain and the kids could come for the weekend for support and to enjoy the atmosphere. I was slightly concerned about running a second big race 5 weeks after KACR but figured if I didn’t try I wouldn’t know if it was possible!

The forecast running up to race weekend looked great with highs of 18 during the day, lows of 10 overnight, light cloud and hardly any breeze – perfect running conditions. On the Friday this changed to sun on the Saturday but still said highs of 18 – all good just a little extra suncream required! In the end it turned out to be really hot on the Saturday which was unexpected and added an additional challenge – thankfully most of the route was in the shade of the forest!

As usual organising for us all to go camping for the weekend was a massive operation, making sure Iain and the kids had everything they needed camping and plenty of food plus planning what I needed for a 24hr race.

My plan was to start steady at an average of 12min/mile pace, walk the first hill from the start, the pebble beach and then the final hill before the end. I would then add in more walking through the night. My goal was to run 100 miles in the 24 hours. I had managed this on KACR but that was a very different course (and flat!) so I didn’t know if I could manage on trail paths with over 7000ft of elevation. I planned to carry fluid and a gel in a waist belt and pick up extra food at the start of each lap from Iain and a table he set up at the side of the course. I could then walk the first hill eating whatever I had collected. I hoped I wouldn’t have to stop at all unless I needed a sock change etc. I had also hoped for portaloos accessible directly from the course but they turned out to be a short walk away!

Camping was available on the Friday night so after the kids had finished school and Iain had finished work we headed off up the A9 to Loch Ness. It was meant to take about 2hr 30min but it turned out the A9 had been shut since 2pm due to an accident and there were massive delays. I had packed all the food in the trailer which was a mistake! The beautiful scenery made queueing slightly more bearable but by 6pm everyone was hungry and getting grumpy so we nipped into a lay-by (at least there are plenty!) and I grabbed as much snack food out of the trailer as I could to keep everyone going – onion rings, apple pies and chocolate bars for tea! By the time we reached Dalwhinnie the road was reopened but traffic was still moving slowly. We finally arrived at the campsite at about 8.30pm (2 hours later than we had been expecting). The field was well signposted from the outskirts of Inverness and when we arrived there were loads of helpful marshals directing us to our camping spot.

Thankfully Iain and I now have putting the tent up down to a fine art, so with a little help from Isla and Rhona we soon had the tent up and organised. I went across and registered and picked up my race number and goodies (I had to go the next morning to collect my dibber to record my laps). It was by now dark and everyone was a little grumpy so we quickly got tea on the go. Pasta with pesto and cheese for tea and then we were soon tucked up in bed just back of 10 hoping to get a good sleep before race day. Everyone else seemed to sleep reasonably well but I tossed and turned! The dog was quite unsettled, there was campsite noise and it was milder than I had expected so I had too many clothes on and was hot!

People started to stir at about 6.30am on race morning and after my bad nights sleep I admit I was a bit grumpy, I hadn’t realised how hard I would find being mum at the same time as getting in the right frame of mind for a big race and I must admit I didn’t do it very well. By breakfast time Iain asked me to stop grumping at everyone and I didn’t cope with it well. I got really upset and was wanting to go home and not race. I’ve never struggled like this before a race and I didn’t like it! I went and got my dibber but still wasn’t wanting to race! Just after 9am (the race started at 10) I managed to sort myself out enough to get into my running kit, drink a coffee and get to the pre race briefing at 9.45. I was hoping once I started I would get into the race and it would all be ok (and that’s what happened – once I could just focus on running things were easier!).

The race briefing mostly focussed on how to use the dibber to make sure that each lap was counted. I had been nervous about this but it was actually very straightforward. The dibber was on a lanyard (1 per team or 1 each for solo runners) which you could wear around your wrist or neck. I put mine on my wrist as I didn’t like the idea of it swinging around my neck. Each lap you stuck the dibber in the hole in one of the control boxes at the Start/finish line – it beeped and flashed and recorded your lap. All nice and easy which was a relief! If you left the course you dibbed in and out at separate control boxes, and teams swapped over the dibber in the transition area just after the start/ finish line.

At 10am the race started and we were led off by the Loch Ness Monster, carrying several green flares! I was very good and walked the first hill despite the temptation to race up with lots of others! Because there were also teams taking part it meant that there were a good few runners who were running fast 7km loops before swapping with a team mate, I had to be sensible and run my own race (and get used to people dashing past me for the full 24 hours!).

The course itself was really interesting, after the first climb up a grassy field it dropped steeply back down to enter the forest track. You headed left in the forest and soon met the first check point crew (0.4 miles) at a junction in the track which was divided by tape to ensure we headed the right way and no course cutting took place! We headed off right and met the first of the tree roots! This section was fun running although did require you to keep a close eye on where you were placing your feet (especially as you got more tired and at night). At about 0.8 miles there is a sharp turn where you head back to the first check point. Again this section was fun running as long as you kept an eye on the tree roots! At about 1.1 miles you pass check point 1 again before heading right onto a narrower track. This next section until about 1.8 miles is down hill, it has some big tree roots to contend with but then has a nice fast downhill section with only one tight turn. You pop out of the forest onto a path that heads out towards Dores beyond the beach.

At 2 miles you reach the next check point (and water station) before heading back on yourself along the pebble beach and back towards the forest. 0.2 miles of pebble beach feels like a long way! The view was beautiful and it was great to see lots of people on the beach enjoying their Saturday. I walked the pebble beach as I wasn’t sure my ankles had the strength for repeated loops running it, but a fair few people seemed to run it just fine (and at least it would be over quicker then!). At 2.2 miles it was back in the forest for the most technical section of the course – uneven ground, tree roots, rocks and trees to avoid! This section was runnable and I did run it during the Saturday but decided not to even try at night when I was tired (a few people did run it at night but I did see one person have a tumble).

This section lasts to the next check point at 2.6 miles where you hit forest track and good running for nearly a mile. The next check point is at 3.4 miles before a steep climb up and out of the forest (nearly everyone walked this hill!). The final mile and a bit is through grass fields, the grass was short and the ground wasn’t too tussocky. A short, fast, downhill section (less fun after 90 odd miles!) before a little climb up to the far end of the camping field. The last section of the loop heads around the edge of the camping field where it was lovely to hear people cheering you on. At the end of each loop you dibbed your dibber and were then good to go again.

Because this was a short looped course the check points were mainly to check people were OK and to help if there was problem or injury. Water was available at the half way point and start/finish and everyone obviously had access to their crew/ team members every loop for whatever else they required. I thought that number of check points would feel a lot but it actually made it easy to break each loop into smaller sections and I began really looking forward to seeing the lovely volunteers at each check point as they always had a smile even in the middle of the night. These points on the course were lit throughout the night with blue/green lights and most had music playing which was a good boost.

The first few loops of the course soon went by, I was running them slightly faster than I had intended (but had expected I would struggle to keep to a slower pace) and having some great chat with the other runners. It was brilliant to hear so many people that were trying to push themselves to further than they had ever run before and a fair few with 100k and 100 mile goals. My plan of not stopping and just picking up food/drink each lap was working and although it was hot I was enjoying myself. I had got over my morning grump and was in my zone having fun! I swapped into a lighter t-shirt after 3 laps as it was far hotter than had been forecast!

Because of the loop design Iain and/or some of the kids was able to meet me at the far end of the camping field to find out if there was anything I needed and have little chat while they ran through the campsite and I ran on the course! Iain would then nip off and get ready whatever I needed before I passed through the start/finish and headed for the table we had set up just before the first hill. Early afternoon the kids and Spud walked into Dores, to have a play on the beach so it was nice to see them at the start of the beach section as I headed past.

Then on lap 5 things began to go a bit wrong – I had lower back pain that was getting worse and started getting terrible stomach cramps. I thought it may be the waist belt I was wearing as I hadn’t used it on any longer runs before and I thought the stomach cramps must be something I had eaten, so hoped they would just settle with time. I slowed down a bit to see if that helped and when I saw Iain at the end of the lap we both agreed I should stop using the waist belt and use the hand held flask and pockets of my shorts to carry anything I needed. I broke my rule of not stopping and had a sit in one of the camping chairs for a couple of minutes before heading off on the next lap.

As I headed into the trees on this lap I suddenly realised what the back ache, stomach cramps and earlier grumpiness meant – my period had started early! I had a short dilemma of what to do but soon realised I would just need to run this lap, hope for the best and then get sorted at the end of the lap. It was a slow and mentally challenging lap but I got round and found Iain and Isla waiting at the end of the campsite, I explained what had happened and what I needed and they dashed off to get everything sorted. I dibbed off course for a while, got sorted, took some paracetamol for the cramps and then headed back out feeling a lot better – at least I now knew what was going on! I had been thinking about quitting but once the stomach cramps settled I was feeling more positive again. Thanks to my awesome crew for dealing with the unexpected I only lost about 20 minutes sorting everything out.

Iain headed off to Tesco during this next lap (it was only 10 minutess down the road) so when I got back to the start he had a watermelon flavoured ice lolly waiting for me. This was great as it was still hot. I can’t really remember much of the next few laps. I got into a rhythm of running and walking, enjoyed chat with the other runners, enjoyed passing the check points and ticking off each lap. Early evening I enjoyed some salty chips from the onsite catering (these went down well) and was pleased as it cooled in the evening. I was a little behind my optimistic schedule but still had time to complete 100 miles in the 24 hours. However mentally I wasn’t really there and each lap felt like calling it a day, or stopping at 100k! I definitely need to improve how I manage this, especially on a looped course.

When it started getting dark and head torches were required I cut back on my running on the more rooty sections of the course. I was worried that I would either fall over or twist an ankle on them as I don’t have a huge amount of experience of night time running. Having a good head torch really helped and I only needed to use it on medium beam. The course had really thinned out and apart from the odd fast team runner I didn’t see a huge number of people through the night. Once we got to the wee hours of the night I seemed to get over my negativity and got a real second wind where running felt great and I was just really enjoying myself. Again I didn’t suffer too much from the lack of sleep and had a great few laps. I was still having a brief sit at the end of each lap while I had a cup a soup or something else to eat. In hindsight this was a real mistake and an unnecessary luxury – they don’t say ‘beware the chair’ for no reason! It cost me minutes every lap but once I had started sitting down I soon expected it very lap!

When it became light I had my usual dip in energy levels but bacon rolls and then sausages from Iain made a big difference and were something to look forward to at the end of each lap. I knew I was 3rd female at this point and had convinced myself I was happy with that but Iain kept encouraging me that I could still get 1st place if I pushed hard. I did try for a couple of laps, running a lot more of the course and trying hard to make time on second place, I even gave up the chair! But after a couple of laps I realised I wasn’t going to manage it. I also had a sharp pain in the front of my left shin which was concerning me so I decided to just take it easy and enjoy myself for the final 2 laps that I could fit into the time available. For the Loch Ness 24 you are allowed to complete the last lap you start before the 24hrs are up. This meant I had until around 11 am (25hrs) to complete my last lap.

I had some great chats on those last couple of laps and was glad I had made the decision to slow down and just enjoy them, although interestingly this is the first race where at the end I have found it more uncomfortable to walk than run! I also had pain at the front of both shins that I have never had before and when I finished I had bruising on both shins – I thought I had done myself an injury but with a few days rest, the bruising was gone and I have had no pain when running since. I completed my 23rd lap and 100 miles at just over 23hrs and at this point found out that the lady who had been in first place and looking strong had unfortunately injured herself (I had passed her limping a lap or 2 earlier) and had stopped at 23 laps. This meant that by completing my 24th lap I finished 2nd female and 6th overall, only 20mins behind 1st place female.

This was a really well organised event and I am sure it will only get better in future years. The atmosphere was great and the course was interesting and varied. It was a lovely location and it was wonderful to look out across the Loch on every lap, although I must admit to hating the pebble beach by the end! I was really pleased to get my 100miles in 24hours on a challenging course with over 7000ft of elevation but I must also admit to coming away feeling slightly dissatisfied with how I mentally managed the run. I spent too much of the race wanting to stop and looking for excuses why I should stop (a bit like at KACR) and yet I was actually running well and in a good position. I need to start believing in myself more and looking at the positives!

I think Iain is keen to give the course a go next year if it fits in his race calendar and I am looking forward to November when Iain and I have entered God’s Own Backyard Ultra and I really will have to have self belief in bucketloads as only one person can finish the race! For now its back to training and enjoying getting out close to home!