My year so far..
2019 has been a turbulent year for me, and running has been my escape. As Summer came round I found new joy in travelling to races across Europe. The excitement, camaraderie, and adrenaline of these weekends have been the highlight of my year. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to go, and who has made these trips special.
This has also been the most successful year in my running career. In part I attribute that to my move to the Scottish Highlands. It is also because I made a conscious effort to reflect on my new experiences and learn from them. As the season draws to a close I'd like to recap some of the most important races of my Summer:
Training in the Cairngorms
Skyrace des Matheysins
This was the first big race of the season, and only the second skyrace I'd traveled to abroad. Life had been so busy before I got there that I hadn't had time to think about it much, but when I arrived the reality of racing the next day in such a strong field seemed very intimidating! I'm so glad Pascal and Katrine were there to keep me company and boost my confidence.
The race didn't start well for me, I was too nervous and my legs felt heavy. I felt overwhelmed and had to walk the slightest uphill. I began to question why I was there, but since I was there there was no point in dropping out. Might as well push through, eh?
It took me an hour to get into the swing of things, but once I did I felt strong! I overtook lots of girls power walking up through Devil's Garden and enjoyed slipping and sliding through the snow once we were higher up. I attacked all the way down and took a couple of girls in the zig zags. In the end I scraped into the top 10 and got a real confidence boost for pulling it together after a rocky start. By the time I was on the plane home I was already planning skyraces for the rest of the season!
Trail Running World Championships
I'd found out that I'd been selected for the GB team in January, and at the time the race seemed an age away. In reality it came round alarmingly quickly. My training hadn't been as consistent as I'd planned, but when is it ever? I went into the race knowing that I was in good shape and feeling secure in the knowledge that the team was strong.
I felt good from the start, but was careful not too push too hard too early. It was hot and humid in the forest, and I'm a sweaty runner even in cool weather, so I made a conscious effort throughout to drink a lot. As I came into the first aid station I was second Brit behind Charlotte. It was so exciting to run through the chaos of runners, managers and supporters and a relief to find Adrian and Angela in the middle of it. Running out of the aid station we went up a steep flight of stairs lined with crowds on either side. It was like running into a wall of noise and the enthusiasm of the supporters was contagious - I set off up another long climb with a huge smile on my face.
Representing Great Britain at the World Trail Running Championships
Throughout the race I was running well and taking places on the climbs. The uphills are always my strongest area. Once the path started to plateau I struggled more. It was almost impossible to drink enough water and once the downhill started my legs were threatening to cramp. This made the technical sections slow and painful, but thankfully I was able to stride out in the smoother sections and hang on to 25th. Crossing the finish line I was totally exhausted. I crumpled to the floor relieved to have a chance to catch my breath. Lying on the cool grass was bliss, until one of the men came over and told me I was lying in dog poo..!
Snowdonia Trail Marathon
After the World Champs I was exhausted, mentally and emotionally as much as physically. I lost focus and decided to cut myself some slack. I ran for fun, I spent time with my friends, and I spent the week before the race canoeing the Spey. It wasn't ideal preparation, and consequently my race didn't go well. I pushed as hard as I could on the day, which was enough to finish in third. Unfortunately only the top two qualified for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Argentina, and so I left disappointed. It wasn't only a lack of fitness that held me back, it was a lack of concentration. I found myself unable to push through tough moments and lost the mental battle as well as the physical.
In the following days, however, I reflected on what had happened. I hadn't trained properly and my performance had suffered as a result, but I felt refreshed after my break and motivated to work hard again. I had found new energy, and don't regret my decisions.
Running in Snowdonia, Spey Adventure
Skyrace Comapedosa was the first race of the year to which I would be travelling to alone and not know anyone at. As a naturally shy person I always find these races intimidating! In fact, my aunt said afterwards "is this really the same girl who was once too afraid to ask for a glass of water?".
In the end it was a lovely weekend and a solid race, though in hindsight I think the altitude affected me more than I realised at the time - I shouldn't have felt as tired as I did so early.
Skyrace Comapedrosa, 2019
Race day dawned bright and beautiful, and a delayed start because of 'cold' weather meant an extra hour in bed! I started off quickly but soon realised I needed to be sensible and drop back. As we hit the single track there was a bit of a backlog and we were forced to walk until the path cleared. This gave me time to warm up and soon I was confidently running past the men and up the mountain. Once the technical descent started, however, I began to struggle. Descending has always been a weak point for me and I made a mental vow to work on this in training.
The second climb of the race is brutal: 1,000 metres of climb in 2 kilometres. Normally this terrain would suit me but the altitude was wearing me down. As the descent back to the village smoothed out I began to feel better. It was reassuring to be able to hold a steady pace to the finish line and finish 6th, my best result yet.
Last year I raced Hamperokken with an injury and finished 6th in 10:20:42. This year I returned fitter and determined to run faster. Hillary asked me what my goal was the day before the race and I told her I wanted to go sub-10, but I knew this was achievable and I wanted to go faster. Conditions were perfect for a fast time as the morning broke with clear skies and warm temperatures.
I, however, woke up with a streaming cold and felt totally grotty. I nearly didn't race at all, but it was such a beautiful day I couldn't face missing out. Of course, once I was running my competitive spirit kicked in and I raced as hard as I could. I started off slow and felt strong on the first climb up Tromsdalstind, throwing myself into the snow to begin the descent. Soon after I began to feel tired and I felt like I was carrying a golf ball in my throat. My nose was running and weirdly I had pins and needles in my tongue! The rest of the race was a matter of pushing hard and trying to maintain the desire to race. I was happy with the way I pushed through and ran as hard as I could all the way. In the end I finished 8th, but knocked 40 minutes off my time from last year!
Working my way along the ridge
This was my fourth race in the Skyrunning World Series and I decided to travel out for a bit longer this time. All previous trips had seen me staying in the country for two nights, but this time I was able to travel out early. I spent the run up to the race walking, reading and relaxing in the sun, and I think this made a big difference to my performance.
Relaxing in Pasturo
From the moment the race started I felt good and pushed consistently up the climbs. I was able to get into a good rhythm in the runnable sections and flowed through the stretches of undulating terrain. Held up only by pausing for a wee! The closer we got to the summit the steeper the terrain became. Chains and footholds were bolted into the rock to help us scramble up the 75% incline. This is where I feel most at home.
The descent of the summit was steep and rocky, reminiscent of Comapedrosa. I fell early on and spent a few minutes sat at the side trying to assess how badly my knee was bruised. I can still feel the swelling a few days later but luckily it was not enough to stop me from continuing. In fact, I had one of my best descents which led me to my best result of the year. I was so happy to finish in 5th and to officially qualify for Limone, the Sky Masters race where the best skyrunners in the world will soon be going head to head!
Zacup Skyrace, 2019
My next race will be Glen Coe Skyline, which I decided to enter last week. It's so close to home and one of my favourite weekends of the year. I've always wanted to run this route having only raced the VK and Ring of Steall in previous years. I'm looking forward to pushing myself on technical terrain.
After that I will travel to Spain for Sky Pirineu (my last race in SWS) and in October I will compete at the Sky Masters in Limone. My final race of the season will be Meall a'Bhuachaille - a local race on one of my favourite hills. I can't wait to don the brown vest again!