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by Elspeth Luke
Run the Sights Glasgow
I recently completed the inaugural Glencoe Ultra marathon, finishing in 2nd place overall. Here are a few words about my experience running 45 miles through some wonderfully remote glens of Scotland.
This race was a spectacular mixture of ups and downs, trails and bogs as well as crags and river crossings. Unlike many of the current races in Scotland which follow established 'ways', meaning they're well trodden, easy to follow and in good condition, the Glencoe Ultra doesn't! Although it was always on paths, these paths are of a mixed quality, which in places added a fun navigational element to the race, despite the way marking signs.
We were lucky to have a beautiful and sunny day with very little wind which made the scenery all the more spectacular.
The race starts at the Glencoe Mountain Resort and begins by following the West Highland Way. It turns off after 4 miles to take in one of Scotland's most iconic munros; Buachaille Etive Mor. Having seen a lot of rain in the preceding days the rocky path was a little treacherous and towards the top, I slipped. There was an awful moment where I wondered if I was going to lose control entirely, but luckily I managed to straddle a rock and stop myself falling downwards over the rocks. I felt a bit sobered after that and was consequently very cautious on the descent.
The hill path eventually joins up with the Laraig Gartain and from here it's a fun trail down to the road that leads to Loch Etive. However, the Loch side is a totally different story. It's a classic example of how misleading OS maps can be. This path depicted with a single dashed line, like the Lariag Garten path, but the usability is very different. The Loch Etive path was not easy to follow and where it was visible it was very boggy, in places it looked more like a stream than a path. The river crossings didn't seem much wetter! However, it was great to be there; it's wonderfully remote and rugged and on such a beautiful day, I felt really lucky to be seeing the views. I was nonetheless delighted to see the land rover track after almost 10 miles of slipping and sliding and tripping!
Most of the rest of the route was straightforward, and I was so pleased with how strong I felt mentally and physically. I continued to enjoy the challenge, despite feeling tired. It was great to see Jamie Aarons along the way and she kept me company for a while before leaving me to run up a Munro!
There was a final sting in the tail to the route which slightly spoilt the journey for me. The last section of the ultra follows the West Highland Way from Victoria Bridge, almost back to the Mountain Resort where the race ends. Instead of sticking with the path the race then cut off up the hill towards the top of the chairlift. This was an awful plan as it was more swamp like than anything I'd seen on the route so far. It was completely un-runnable and very frustrating as it didn't offer any more views or interest to the race. Still, I suppose it was nice to experience a different bit of the hill side rather than the all too familiar West Highland Way!
It's always a treat to get out and see new bits of Scotland and find routes to connect more familiar areas; this was no exception and I'm so glad to have explored this area.
EXPLORE SCOTLAND ON THE RUN | RUN THE SIGHTS | RUNNING TOURS FOR EVERYONE
by Ali Wyllie
Run the Sights
Cath and I took to the Fife Coastal Path for a 12-mile run, and to quench my desire to visit some well-cherished family memories, naturally my super fit, Hungarian Vizsla; Princess Jasper also joined us.
Before I tell you about this amazing running route, let me explain why Elie (the start of our run), is so incredibly special and personal to me.
My Granny was always immaculately presented and well spoken. She was a stern but loveable lady. She had 6 children and 15 grandchildren and having lost her husband at an early age she raised her family as a single mum in a generation that did not favour a strong female. She was the family spine and matriarch. She is the inspiration behind a string of strong ladies following in her footsteps.
Granny ruled at Breakwater House in Elie, this was the family hub, the place all the cousins would congregate, willing away the hours playing on the beach whilst the adults did boring adult things. In Elie, I was a feral child with sea salt and sand perpetually in my hair and at the bottom of my bed.
I found running a couple of years before Granny passed away. My last memory of this wonderful lady is one I cherish and hold very dear. I was about 16 years old and by this point, Granny was in a home, at Braids Nursing Home in Edinburgh. Seeing her confined to a small room was like seeing a magnificent eagle caged. Here was a lady who soared the skies, never missing a beat. But her wings had been clipped. Although by this point, she was tired, she wasn’t fighting and she was perfectly content on her perch, as if resting a while before taking to the skies again.
I had raced in a cross-country race in the borders, my first race out with the school environment. I was buzzing. I bounded into Granny’s room and yapped on and on about my race. She was proud as punch and pulled out the sherry. I had never had a drink with my Granny before and here I was sipping on a sherry and talking about running.
My Granny wasn’t a runner, but she listened and was enthused by my energy. During this conversation she had a glint in her eye and a softness I hadn’t seen very often.
She didn’t last long after this and I am still grateful for this precious moment with her; to share a running story with her and feel her warmth and pride. I’m not convinced she understood why anyone wanted to run for fun, but she was chuffed to bits for me and I can still feel her support today.
A little over an hour from Edinburgh, Elie rests on the Fife coastline. You will find the best car park for the FCP on the east side of the village, behind the harbour road and conveniently close to the amazing Ship Inn. From here the FCP is well marked.
The first point of interest along the way is Lady’s Tower, built in 1760 for Lady Janet Anstruther (renowned for her physical beauty and flirtatious character), to use as a changing room prior to her morning skinny dips. Tragically Lady Anstruther met her death by drowning in the waters below the tower. I remember many a walk to gaze out to sea with Granny by my side at this very point, as she told me tales of Lady Anstruther.
The route then skims past the ruins of Newark Castle, an ancient 13th century building, believed to have been the residence of King Alexander III during part of his childhood.
With twisting and undulating, single tracked, sandy terrain this section of the route is laugh out loud fun! It is heaven for trail running legs.
The view towards St Monans is breath-taking. Like most of the small villages along the coast, St Monans is an old fishing village. One of the most eye-catching features is an old windmill situated on the coast as the FCP leaves the village. This windmill was historically used to power the salt-panning industry.
Then out of St Monans and on to Pittenweem, with a population of over 1,700 and a thriving fishing industry, the harbour in Pittenweem can be a hive of activity. The FCP brings you into the village past rows of stunning white stone cottages with red roofs and through narrow alleyways. These surroundings and the smell of the sea, leaves you feeling you could almost be in a hot European coastal village.
Dotted along the trail at this point are various bikes, decorated beautifully and sometimes amusingly for the entertainment of the FCP users.
Finally, for this run, we arrived at Anstruther where we were due to turn around and retrace our steps, taking in all the same sights but from a different perspective. Anstruther is the largest of the coastal communities along East Neuk. Whilst it still has a bustling harbour; tourism is massive here.
We ran past numerous cafes, with patrons spilling out onto the street. Perhaps Anstruther’s most famous acclaim is the Anstruther Fish Bar, which professes to be Britain’s best fish shop (caveated by the word “probably”, after this claim).
Upon returning to the car and stretching off, I had to drag Cath over to Granny’s old house. Perched on the breakwater, taking pride of place. Oh the memories! I was initially taken aback to see a mobile café and seating area taking up a large part of the breakwater, Elie Beach café, oh how Granny would turn in her grave at the sight of this. But times change and with the onslaught of tourists and the mad coffee crazy that seems to have swept the UK over the past decade, there is a real demand for this service.
It turned out the owners of the Café also live in and own Break Water House, they very kindly offered me a nosy next time I am in Elie. As kind as this offer is, I feel that would be too much, I can look at the same old familiar shell from the outside. But the heart of this house has changed several times over, I would rather remember it with the sounds of my family and the smell of my Granny.
To me, this running route has everything. Beautiful sights, interesting history, amazing running terrain, fresh sea air and on a personal level - heart-pounding nostalgia. Running on routes like this is exactly why I run. Go on - seize the day and experience as many running adventures as you can, see the world on the run, live life with adrenaline and endorphins pumping through your body. No running adventure is ever a waste of time.
One day I will do the full Fife Coastal Path over a weekend or even in one full stint – running through the night. Anyone care to join me?
EXPLORE SCOTLAND ON THE RUN | RUN THE SIGHTS | RUNNING TOURS FOR EVERYONE
Running tours throughout the world.Read More
by Elaine Omand
As marathon season is now fully upon us, and lots of people are preparing to run their first big event, I’ve been thinking back to my first experience of running a marathon. My relationship with running started when I left school and moved away for uni. It came about almost by chance, as a couple of friends wanted to get fitter by going running, and I liked the social aspect, so tagged along. When they announced they were going to enter Edinburgh marathon for the following year, I was filled with awe, but had no expectations in my mind that I would ever be able to achieve something like that. To go from our little 5km ambles round town to 26.2 miles? No chance!
So the weeks went by, and I continued running with my friends as they built up, while I stuck mainly to the shorter distances. Until one Sunday a few weeks before the marathon, it was a lovely sunny day, so I decided to keep running with them a bit longer. I have no idea now how long I did run that day as it was before the time of GPS watches, but I kept up for the whole of their long run, and absolutely loved it. Being out in the fresh air, taking in the smells and sounds, and seeing so much, gave me an adrenaline rush that I previously hadn’t experienced. When my friends completed the marathon a few weeks later, I was so proud and excited for them, but it also lit a spark in me, and I decided straight away that if they could do it, I wanted to give it a go.
I quickly signed up for the following year, and set about planning a training schedule, nutrition, kit. There was so much to learn about. I decided to enter a couple of local races beforehand to get a feel for what was involved.
I then joined a running club to get advice from other runners. Joining the running club has certainly been a life-changing experience. The beauty of a running club is that everyone is equal. We turn up in sports kit, people from all walks of life, and it doesn’t matter what your profession is, how many kids you have, where you come from. It’s all about getting out in the fresh air and enjoying life. Whether you want to be super competitive, or push your body to the limits, or just have a chat and a bimble with your friends, there is a place for everyone in the running community. I certainly learned a lot from the people there, and made many friends.
The most exciting part of training for your first marathon, is that every week when you do a long run, you are running further than you have ever run before. Every week is a little victory. To go that little bit further, explore that bit more, push yourself that little bit harder, allows for personal growth and satisfaction that can only be achieved through something big like this.
As race day came around, I developed a niggle in my knee, which only came on after 20 or so miles, but I couldn’t sort it before the marathon, and decided I would give it a go anyway. I had done all the training, so I had to try. It was an unusually hot morning. My parents dropped me off near the start, and I walked along to find my starting pen and get myself sorted. I had never taken part in an event so big, with people milling around everywhere. I found a little corner of pavement to sit on and save my legs for the race. I can still remember the nerves in my stomach at the thought of what I was going to attempt, and the doubt of whether I could actually achieve it.
The race started, and we got going, through Leith and out along the coast towards Musselburgh. It didn’t take me too long to settle into my pace, and remember that I had done the training, and this was what it was all for. With the sun shining down, I took in the sights of the beaches, enjoyed the music of the bands along the route, and smiled at the crowds lining the streets to cheer us on. The atmosphere was intense and so positive, it was impossible not to enjoy yourself. I was a part of this movement. We were 16,000 people, doing this for our own reasons, but doing it together.
About 20 miles in, my knee did start to hurt again, and the last 6 miles, were a pretty disappointing jog/walk to the finish. The worst part was getting passed in those last couple of miles by a giant Barney the dinosaur. However, when that finish came into view, and I knew I was going to make it, I certainly found the energy to sprint down the last hundred meters, cheered on by people on either side. I crossed the line, was congratulated by the volunteers and collapsed on the grass in the sun. Relieved, sore, but elated; I was a marathon runner. I had done it, and I was hooked.
Since then, there have been many other races, from 1 mile sprints, to hill races, to marathons and ultras. I still love the challenge and the buzz I get at every one of them. If racing isn’t for you though, this is just one side of running. I have experienced so much, and met so many people, through my passion for running. So go out there and find your adventure.
Remember - we provide guided running tours throughout Scotland. From 4 miles all the way up to bespoke ultra distance tours. Keep fit and see the sights at the same time. Explore, run and laugh. Come and Run the Sights!
by Ali Wyllie
To many people, the 1st of April is all about practical jokes and fooling their friends and family. However, to approximately 250 runners, Saturday 1st April 2017 was all about running the John Muir Way from Port Seton to Foxlake, Dunbar, either as a solo runner, completing the 50k ultra marathon or as part of a 2 person relay. This date had one other special meaning to me; Zac's birthday. Zac is my lovable but rogueish rescue dog. I was told his birthday was sometime in March, but if you knew his personality you would understand that April Fools suits him perfectly as a day to celebrate his birthday.
My awesome training partner, Cath and I, completed the relay last year; scooping 1st female team. This year I was meant to run the whole thing. But for reasons I won't bore you with, I found myself off the start list and on the marshal list.
Being on the marshal list is not a bad thing at all. I get a real buzz out of marshalling at races and sharing in the excitement of the day, without having to endure my own nerves and emotional battle.
If you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late and if you are late - just don't bother turning up. My embarrassingly early time keeping is not just applicable when I'm racing, but also to all other areas of my life. This allowed me to take in the views at the start, breathe in the sea air and chat with a huddle of nervous friends as they arrived.
The top team of organisers including; James, John, Mandy, Cal, Zak and Kate were all kicking about at the start. All cool as cucumbers, they certainly seemed comfortable with the organising during the lead up to the day and given this race was in its 2nd year they had the experience of the previous year to draw upon, making for a very chilled out race start.
I scurried off to my first marshal point, just as the buses started to arrive. It was pretty cool to see so many friends and familiar faces from the ultra community, make their way down to the start.
It was simply awesome watching the swarm of runners make their way towards me, where I directed them off the yucky road and onto the wonderful sandy trails of the John Muir Way. I then moved to Longniddry Bents carpark 3, and turned the music UP, singing and dancing runners on as they passed me (sorry if I was annoying). I only just got there in time to see my old mucka Steve Rowntree zoom by, resembling a racing snake with go faster stripes.
Runners buzzed past, some in huddles and some in solitude. They were all there for different reasons. They had all faced different mental and physical challenges to get there. They were all from different backgrounds, different countries, different religions and ethnicities. But none of that mattered, as collectively they belonged together, everyone with equal standing as they aimed for North Berwick and/or Foxlake. I was SOOOOO excited to see my favourite Italian, Chiara, as she ran past with a massive smile on her face, clearly enjoying her first ultra experience.
After Aberlady I was free to make my way to North Berwick and bide my time before taking up the sweeping role.
There was a real party atmosphere at North Berwick. Relay runners nervously waited on their partner, before heading off to tackle the 2nd half of the race. Friends and family of racers, congregated above the beach, watching as the runners made their way along the beach like little ants.
I really enjoyed catching up properly with friends during this stage of the race. There is never a dull moment with the Cani-Sports Edinburgh crew that is for sure!
Armed with scissors and my running pack and joined by Princess Jasper my super duper trail running dog, I set off from North Berwick on my sweeping duties. My job was to be the eyes and ears at the back of the race, administer any urgent first aid and take down all the signs. Easy right? Well it would have been if the signs weren't so damn high (to be fair it was only the one sign that was touching the stars - and I later learnt the original one had been stolen, hence the reason this one was so high up). It made me feel like a failure not being able to reach it and take it down. DAMN you OCD tendencies!
As I passed North Berwick Law, I wondered if next year the race should send runners up to the top. Surely it has to be done?
I was gutted that the gorgeous Exmoor ponies, who live on the Law, were nowhere to be seen. They are normally pretty curious creatures so I imagine many of the runners before me would have been spurred on by them.
Just as I was leaving the Berwick Law area I saw Princess Jasper licking at the ponies salt lick. I couldn't help but wonder if any of the racers had given into temptation and had a few licks themselves; having got their race nutrition so wrong and feeling desperate for salt. Maybe this could be a new race thing? Perhaps race directors could place nutritional race licks in strategic and convenient places along a race. Heck, that would make everyone run faster, as I sure as hell would not want to be the last one out of a race of 200+ to have a lick!
Nutritional race licks - you heard it hear first!
You know when you approach an area you are familiar with, from a completely different direction, rendering the area totally alien! This was me as I ran through the buildings of Balgone Estate. I had no clue where I was, until I actually hit the trails and the penny dropped. Or maybe it's because the last time I was there was with the Foxtrail race and I was so hungover that only 1 brain cell, instead of the standard 2, was firing that day? But these trails, oh my, the trails at Balgone are simply heaven. Princess Jasper and I trotted along under the blue skies and glorious sunshine, to be met by the happy faces of Owain and Mandy Williams who had what I called their own wee en-suite marshal point. A table full of food, a portaloo and a wonderful bed of reeds to snuggle into. What more could you possibly need or want? This duo are so speedy their blog is already up, check it out here.
James popped down when I was in this section. He told me of a dog graveyard about a mile further along, which I "could not miss". Hell, I'm glad he did tell me, as I would have run right past. What a joy to stop and take in this perfect beauty spot, overlooking the wee pond/loch. I counted over 13 graves all with lovely inscriptions. As anyone who has ever read any of my blogs knows, I'm a bit dog mad. My dogs are my pride and joy. Stood there amidst the K9 graves I was overcome with contentness in the knowledge that these dogs had been loved so deeply by their people. But as I trotted on, my mind panicked as it turned to thoughts of what I would put on my own hairy children's gravestone. For them to have a gravestone in the first place, one obvious thing needs to happen and I am wholly in denial of that obvious part of life. So ... moving swiftly on ....
How much fun was the roller coaster single track trail beyond the estate? I mean seriously, Jasper and I were free of signs at this point, meaning we could throw ourselves into the trail and enjoy the ride. Pure trail porn! This section made me smile from ear to ear.
I could see Erin; the last runner up ahead. But each time I stopped to faff about with signs I lost her. It wasn't until we passed the farm of death that I caught up properly and managed to introduce myself and see how she was. Hang on, rewind. Farm of death? Yes, I did just write that. Come on racers, you all ran past that farm, which smelt like it had rotting corpses inside. EUGH and BOAK is all I can say and I seriously do not want to know what it was!
On our way over to the East Linton aid station Erin was in good spirits, her cousin Jenny; who was visiting from Australia; had joined her for moral support and the 2 of them walked and ran intermittently making good forward progress and sharing a very special experience together. We came face to face with one of the most beautiful dovecots I've ever seen. It was perfect in every way that for a split second, my life's aspirations were simply to be a dove.
Sensibly (she was in jeans and a jumper and not meant to be running), Jenny stopped off at East Linton, leaving Erin to continue the rest of the race herself. We walked and jogged together, although at times I fell behind, fighting with race signs or being so heavily ladened I struggled to run. I took great delight in building piles of race signage for the race vehicle to collect later on.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that Erin and I took a wrong turn and went off course. This is particularly embarrassing as the point of error was exactly at the foot of the most obvious official John Muir Way sign AND James had only just phoned me and warned me not to go off course. Ach - what's a race without a little adventure huh?
Back on track, we circumnavigated the trails towards and then away from Tyninghame village.
I learnt Erin was celebrating her 40th birthday over the weekend and completing this race was her personal challenge. What an amazing thing to do for your 40th. It isn't THAT long until I reach the big 4 - 0, I'm racking my brains on what adventure I can have. Any suggestions?
We drew closer and closer to Foxlake and I could feel Erin's determination and strength grow.
For the final kilometer Erin really pushed on. I was lost in her wake juggling an armful of signs. I'm so glad no one could see me, picture the scene, about 5 signs on poles and 7 loose signs and I looked like a bust couch. I dropped them all at least 3 times, only a few hundred meters from the finish, and naturally each time I had almost picked them all up, and was moving forward again I would drop one. Of course, I could have just left them for the vehicle to pick up, but I was not letting those pesky signs get the better of me, I was carrying them to the end if it killed me!
And so it was, I reached the finish just before the drizzle started. The top team were clearing everything up and I heard fantastic reports of a fabulous and successful day. I was reunited with Zac, who had been treated like royalty by Gail and Avril and off I raced home for a well-deserved night out (even if I say so myself).
Next year I HAVE to race this epic event. It just gets better and better so year 3 is apparently THE year to do it. Whilst I do love marshalling I am always filled with envy as I watch the runners tackling outstanding trails and going through emotional and physical battles that bring me a strange sense of comfort and familiarity.
Well done top team for another awesome event. Well done to everyone who started this epic race - whether or not you finished - you are all heroes! Massive congratulations to everyone who became ultra-runners for the first time - Chiara this shout out is to you!
A full breakdown of results can be found here for the relay and here for the ultra.
Here's to the John Muir Way Ultra 2018, who's joining me on the start line?
EXPLORE ON THE RUN | RUNNING TOURS THROUGHOUT SCOTLAND | WHY WALK .... WHEN YOU CAN RUN!
by Ali Wyllie
The 4th March 2017 saw the final Foxtrail Winter Running Series Race. This 13k route could be described as being fast and furious, with it’s relatively flat and energising trails, idyllic for all the trail loving runners out there.
However, this was not set to be a good race for me. Having been floored with the lurgy in the previous weeks and struggling to get back to fitness, I knew I would be playing a dangerous game trying to race, but I also knew I needed to complete a 4th race to be in with a chance of scooping the female series win. With two 1st places and one 2nd place under my belt, I calculated I simply needed an ok finish to secure the series.
I made a tough but essential decision to race but not race. I find this really difficult and all too often I ignore my own rules and get scooped up with other racers, contrary to my race plan, but on this occasion I was determined to stick with my plan. I even took it one step further and set myself a target of coming in 4th, 5th or 6th, telling myself that if I podiumed I had failed. I set an additional goal of a finish time of 1 hour. Before the race, several people asked me how I was feeling and if I was looking for a win. I voiced my race goals and by saying them out loud, it meant I was committed. My fear of trying to achieve a podium was that I would run too hard for my fitness level and end up not finishing the race or worse still injured.
Lining up on the start line for the last race of the series, I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of sadness. I felt I was surrounded by friends and a familiarity that brings with it a certain level of comfort. I’ve loved seeing my fellow racers tackle each new route with vigour and enthusiasm and bask in their post-race glow in a flurry of chatter and excitement at the end. Yet, here I was waiting to start the final race, lost in my own thoughts and feeling emotional; almost tearful, at the finality of it all. I crept up near to the front and stopped short of joining the speedy folk right at the front.
It felt strange to hear the gunfire and set off at a calm and composed pace . I felt I was sauntering along with ease, but that is exactly what I needed to do and was precisely what my plan was. Nicola Duncan and Jacqui Thomson were quickly lost to sight along with some of the speedy guys. I was sat in third and this bothered me, until about a mile in when Amanda Ferguson zoomed past. For the first time ever in a race, I felt a tremendous sense of relief as I came crashing off the podium. I encouraged her on and told her she was running into 3rd place. She went on to have an incredible race finishing 2nd female.
I cannot profess to this race being easy for me physically or mentally. I ran hard enough to challenge myself, but not hard enough to break. I struggled emotionally with settling for a place outside the podium. The first non-podium place for me in the series and in fact in any Foxtrail race I have ever entered. I felt people had high expectations of me and I was letting them down. I felt I was letting myself down. But I drew strength from my race plan and reassured myself that finishing the race and being injury free was far more important than striving for a podium finish.
Ultimately I was delighted with myself. I stuck to my race plan like glue, coming home in the EXACT time I aimed for: 1:00:16 (this was fluke by the way, not good pacing skills), and in the best position I could have hoped for – 4th female. Let me be clear, although I raced to a plan I do not for one minute think I could have beaten any of the top 3 females, who all ran brilliantly. Nicola Duncan scooped 1st, Amanda Ferguson took 2nd and Jacqui Thomson took 3rd.
Although I felt confident I had done enough to secure the series, I was not 100% sure until I heard my name being called at the prize giving.
I was warmed to hear my Foxtrail family roar in applause. Stepping up on the podium to accept the 1st female series prize I was overwhelmed with pride. I was joined by Amanda Ferguson who took 2nd place and Jacqui Thomson who took 3rd place. I was chuffed to bits seeing Owain Williams take the 1st place for the males series, following by Richard Laucht and Dave Saunders.
Whilst the Foxtrail Winter Running Series 2016/2017 is complete, the John Muir Way Ultra Marathon is just around the corner. I have sadly had to withdraw and instead offer my services as a helper, I will hopefully see many of you there.
BIG thank you to everyone behind the scenes who make these race happen. James, Cal, John, Mandy and Katie plus all your amazing helpers, you do an outstanding job and it just keeps getting better and better. I don’t know about anyone else but I cannot wait for the 2017/2018 Foxtrail Winter Running Series.
One of my favourite things about the Foxtrail Winter Running Series is how inclusive the races are. I love that canicrosssers are welcome (although if they achieve a podium place they must surrender it as canicross is a dicipline in itself and runners are assisted by their dog). Also, with the introduction of the 5k series this year, many more people have been able to experience the buzz of a trail race - and no doubt become hooked.
Following my race, I cooled down with a celebratory walk on Tyninghame beach along with friends and fellow racers; Lee and Jenny, and our selection of hairy kids.
See you at the 2017/2018 Foxtrail Winter Running Series, the pressure is on to aim for the series win again. EEEEEEK!
by Ali Wyllie & Chiara Franzosi
Having been floored with the dreaded lurgy for a couple of weeks, it was with a heavy heart that I made the final assessment and decided not to run the half marathon. Given I was struggling to walk up stairs let alone run 13 miles, I feel this was the right decision.
I hadn't even run for 2 weeks due to this lurgy I was in a state of panic that my fitness was dissipating into thin air. How do other runners cope with illness and periods of no exercise?
Whilst I knew I could not run, I still went along to the race to support my fellow runners. I love watching races, but I find it particularly difficult to merely spectate if I should have been running. I rocked up after the runners had started and whilst I was annoyed with myself for this I was impressed I had made it full stop, as I had really struggled to drag myself out of my warm bed.
The weather was cold, wet and windy, I wasn't actually prepared for how brutal it was, luckily the amazing Boardside cafe ladies were there; as always, with their selection of hot drinks. I warmed myself up with a coffee and joined friends who were also unable to run for various reasons, and together we cheered on all the runners as they passed the tent. I have to admit that I also spent a lot of my time clinging to the outdoor heaters inside the tent.
Owain Williams bolted through the site as first male with a huge lead on 2nd and 3rd place. I was ecstatic to see Nicola Duncan powering along in first female position. I watched, cheered and felt increasingly envious as all the runners and some canirossers ran through, heading back out onto the trail with the tough beach section still to come (maybe I wasn't so jealous of this section).
It is very difficult to write a blog on a race I haven't actually run, so it gives me great delight to introduce my favourite Italian lady, the wonderfully kind and amazing Chaira Franzosi, who penned a few words of her own experience.
"This time, the most difficult part of the race was getting to the race itself. I always look forward to a FoxTrail event; but for the Harvest Moon Half Marathon, I was quite nervous and worried about the rain, the snow, and the 50mph freezing wind. I could feel my apprehension growing when I arrived at the site: my eyes got a thermal shock as soon as I stepped out of the car and I was struggling on the way to the marquee for the race registration. I couldn’t walk, was I meant to run in that weather?
Fortunately, the friendly atmosphere I found in the tent managed to change my attitude towards the race. A lot of friends who were unable to run (because of flu) had been driving in the awful weather conditions just to come to support. I was grateful for this and felt like I should have run for them as well.
As soon as the runners gathered at the start line, I started getting excited about the race and remembered that I was there to enjoy it. I was ready to run and I started to believe I could have a great race.
I soon realised that it was going to be the worst weather conditions and the most stunning course I had ever run in. The scenery was spectacular and changing all the time – 21 kilometres of breath-taking trails, woodland, farm fields, cliffs, and a magnificent section on the beach.
Around half way, I was running on my own: the very fast people were further ahead and nobody was immediately behind me. It was ok to be alone, but I felt it was a quite long portion of the race – 6 or 7 kilometres. I was constantly listening to my body, checking every part was good, focusing on the arms and on the short steps. I was very focused and enjoying it.
The wind became music and I was singing to myself:
I love my life / I am powerful / I am beautiful / I am free
I love my life / I am wonderful / I am magical / I am me
I was smiling all the way!
In the second half of the course, we had the section on the beach. It was tremendous. An overwhelming force of Nature. The legs got tired as they were hitting the sand and the wind was pushing hard from the sea, however I was loving it. My trail shoes were now running on the ebb tide, stepping on a thick sea foam. The waves were enormous on my right hand side and, from a distance, I could see the Bass Rock standing up wonderfully against the storm. It was epic. I could spot people again and I remembered I was not alone.
I had great fun crossing the shallow Peffer Burn – to the marshal who was standing there, you are a superhero!! – and after turning point, waving at the cani-crossers Lee and Steph – Lee & Bear, when did you overtake me? I did not see you overtaking at all, you speedy! I felt a well-deserved coffee was getting closer and closer as soon as we left the beach and turned back into the trails, one last great scenery with the farm enclosures and some horses that got curious about the passing runners.
I feel like this race can reflect quite well the state of my life at the moment - in fact, this is probably one of the toughest and most beautiful periods of it. The Harvest Moon Half Marathon was a great reminder that no matter how chilly and windy and stormy is, no matter how many trip hazard there are going to be… everything is going to be alright. There will always be someone beautiful I will be running with, some running gurus to meet, some amazing people cheering me up, giving encouragement, and sharing their emotions."
Chiara finished in a very respectable 01:48:09 and as has become standard for this series Owain Williams of the Running Beside. Me blog, scooped the first male place with an amazing 01:24:00 with Colin Williams and Richard Laucht 2nd and 3rd place respectfully. Nicola Duncan stole the first female place in 01:34:51 with Amanda Ferguson and Jacqui Thomson in 2nd and 3rd place. For a full breakdown of results see here.
Whilst I am incredibly gutted to have missed this epic race, I was delighted to have been part of it in a small way and to celebrate other people enjoying the podium and to watch racers sheer delight as they crossed the finish line after accomplishing such a difficult race in tough conditions. As ever James, Cal, John, Mandy and all the team did an amazing job and what a wicked venue Harvest Moon was.
See you at the next one: 13k on 4th March at Foxlake. More info can be found here. In the meantime, I will be hoping to shift this lurgy and get out running again, when this happens, I will be the one counting my blessings and feeling extremely grateful for my health and the sense of freedom and release running provides.
EXPLORE ON THE RUN | RUNNING TOURS THROUGHOUT SCOTLAND | WHY WALK.... WHEN YOU CAN RUN!
by Ali Wyllie
I would like to say my race prep for the Foxtrail 10k at Balgone Estate was textbook and sensible. However, the reality is - I'm rather embarrassed to say - I was horrendously hungover and only just made the start of the race. Somehow it seemed like a good idea the night before the race to go out and consume half my body weight in wine, beer and porn star martini cocktails! When my alarm rudely interrupted my slumber on race day the temptation to press snooze and be a no show was greater than I care to admit. I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed, out of sheer stubbornness - I was not going to be beaten by a hangover! I will admit there were a few choice words muttered, but I was also extremely grateful to my organised self for laying out all my race stuff prior to heading out for the night, and for packing my race bag, so really I was all set and did not have any excuses. I was proud of myself getting up and quickly notched up the score - me 1 - hangover 0.
So despite my rather unorthodox race prep evening, I still managed to keep to my usual routine and be the keen bean parked up first in the events field. I love arriving early for races as I have outlined in previous blogs, and this race was no different. It simply means I don't have to queue for registration or toilets. I can sort out my own hairy kidz in a relaxed manner and I can warm myself up and still have time to mingle and chat. At this point I was feeling somewhat smug, me 2 - hangover 0.
The Foxtrail Winter Series has created a great loyal following. It was fabulous to see familiar faces as racers started to arrive at what turned out to be Foxtrail's biggest event so far with a phenomenal 300 entries. It is such a friendly series and there is a real buzz at the start of these races, they attract a down to earth crowd who just want to get out onto good trails and RUN! I feel there is a warm and cuddly Foxtrail family growing around me and I am delighted to be part of it. It was fabby to grab a quick chat to the wonderful Fitness Soul team whilst I was loitering around, Leszek and Joanna are simply bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Of course I have to mention the adorable 3 cuties I chatted to as they stood in the registration queue, clinging onto their mum; Sarah Horsburgh of the Life and Lifting Blog. Full respect to you Sarah - I can barely get myself and the hairies ready and out the door, let alone have to consider 3 mini people as well. All you parents out there, who manage to balance running and parenthood - you are amazing and I salute you - that is all!
I must say the venue was pretty cool. Having the registration/start/podium in a large grain barn worked really well and added to the rustic and down to earth feel of the race, although that said the external heaters were very very welcome!
I can not even begin to outline how perfect the weather was. Cold and crisp with bright sunshine. The air was perfectly still and the sky was crystal clear. It was one of those mornings you just have to get outside and hit the trails and feel the cold air hit your lungs. As perfect as these conditions are for running, it can be difficult to get race clothing right. I must have still had my alcohol jacket on and decided it was a good idea to race in a vest and sleeves. As it turns out though, I made the right decision as my temperature was perfect throughout the race. Ha ha ha me 3 - hangover 0.
I love to canicross with my dogs, however I also enjoy to challenge myself and run without the dogs. The wonderful thing about the Foxtrail series is that they allow canicrossers. I managed to pimp the hairy kidz off to friends. Princess Jasper was scooped up by her number 1 fan; Jane Irvine. They run and race together regularly and have a wonderful connection, I love seeing them together, revelling in each others company.
Lee Preston very kindly and bravely took Zac for me, Zac is not an easy dog and his affectionate nickname; Dickhead, sums him up in a nutshell, although really he is just misunderstood. He is the underdog, he had a horrible start to life and has a few physical issues, but he lives to run. It is a joy to watch Zac Attack in action, we could all learn a thing or two from his determination and focus.
I watched as Joanna from Fitness Soul led the warm up for the 5k race, and cheered loudly as they all burst away from the start line and disappeared down the trail into the frosty glow. At this point, it crossed my mind that given my physical and mental ailments (self-inflicted), I should have asked to do the 5k instead, however I quickly told myself off for being weak, I had signed up for the 10k and I was bloomin well going to do the 10k if it killed me! But at this stage - this is exactly what I was afraid of - DEATH! hmmmm me 3 - hangover 1.
Again, Fitness Soul led the warm up for the 10k racers, as I tried to follow the routine I realised how uncoordinated I was being, normally I am ok at dynamic warm-ups, but I was all over the shop. This certainly was not boding well for a 10k race! I feared I was in trouble - big trouble. We were given a few minutes before the gun. I arrogantly pawed my way to the front along with the fast guys. Why do I do such stupid things? And that day of all days! When will I learn? I looked around me and gave big "good luck" smiles to friends from Cani-Sports Edinburgh and the amazing show of ladies from Race Fitness. Kieron the boss of Race Fitness was at the front, as was Owain Williams of the Running Beside Me blog I wished them both good luck and got ready to switch my timer on. All of a sudden we were off - 2 ladies shot ahead - including Joanna Brown who ended up running to a strong 2nd place finish.
I was surprised to pass Kieron, but sadly I could not be smug about this as he was wearing his kilt and was running with a dodgy hamstring. As I past him he inferred his bouncing sporran was not the most comfortable of garments to run in, despite our gender difference, I didn't miss what he was on about - ouch! I made a mental choice then and there, I decided that this hangover could go to hell and for the duration of this race I was going to feel hell, and I sure as hell was going to run like hell and slap this hangover in the face for trying to debilitate me and send me to hell. So I ignored the churning stomach, ran tall, drove my legs and arms forward to take the ladies lead position within the first few hundred meters. Physically I was broken, but I drew upon my mental strength and endured 44 minutes of abuse from myself - and believe you me - no one wants to see inside my brain - that race was an ugly mess of mental torture!
After an initial long and wide farm track, the route soon took us into woodland, where the trails got muddier and with the mud the fun started. We flanked a small fishing loch, decorated with swans and set picturesquely amidst the woodland. It was simply stunning. The trails began twisting and turning and the undulations started. I certainly was not bouncing along, but I was making good forward progress, despite the washing machine action of my stomach and the little children hammering on my skull.
The sun made the trail light up in a glow of colours. By this point I was alone on the trail, I could barely see the guys up ahead and Kieron was too far behind me to engage in conversation. I was alone, just me, my thoughts and the trail - to be honest - this is just how I like it. I heard a rustle and looked up to get eye contact with 2 small roe deer who fled in an awkward panic as soon as I drew even with them. Humph - I'm not that scary am I?
Tree routes rose out of the ground, threatening - luckily unsuccessfully - to trip me up. I darted from foot to foot and paid close attention to the trail up ahead. I trudged through a sea of dried leaves and skimmed the surface of frozen muddy puddles. This is what life is about!
And then came the rollar coaster section. Oh wow, this was simply amazing. Single track trail with twists and turns that a mountain biker would enjoy. I giggled my way along, bouncing down and up and right and left, I felt connected with the trail and for a moment Mr Hangover disappeared. From here there was a section from hell, which fitted well with my living hell. Energy sapping, potted grass verges on the side of large arable fields. No matter how much energy I mustered up to run along here I felt I was making next to no progress and my watch told me I was practically standing still.
As I took advantage of a slight downhill I heard a bellow behind me "GO ALI WYLLIE", a small left hand shoulder check confirmed that Lee and Zac were fast approaching. By the 7.5k mark, Lee and Zac had caught up with me. I could barely speak and I felt incredibly rude not being able to chat with Lee and spur on Zac Attack. Zac was in the zone, he barely acknowledged me and continued to try and run past me. Lee and I ran in close proximity for the rest of the race.
As I climbed the penultimate grassy hill I risked a quick check behind me. I could see Joanna Brown making great progress not too far away from me. If I continued to run pathetically and she grew in strength, I was waving goodbye to 1st place. With this in mind I drew upon my reserves and pulled my finger out for the final kilometer. The steep downhill was awesome and allowed me to build up momentum to power up and down the final set of grassy undulations.
I had almost lost the will to live as I ran up the home straight through the race banners and flags. Lee and Zac drew even with me and powered on to overtake me. I was proud as punch to learn that Zac led Lee to a PB, canicross is classed as assisted running and certainly isn't comparable to running without a dog, although it brings with it a different set of challenges.
I finally turned the corner to see the finish sign about 10 meters ahead of me. I normally have a powerful sprint finish, but I was done in. I even stopped a few meters before the finish line and just walked in - almost too cool for school. I've no shame in admitting that was one hell of a tough race given my condition. James was at the finish, he was clearly laughing at my obvious suffering and gave me a big hug of congratulations. I could not help but feel totally bewildered and amused at my 1st place. I am an exception to the rule book - I am faster over trails than I am on the road, but this race I finished in a time of 44:54 - my slowest ever 10k. It still brought me home 9th overall, which made me extremely happy! Full results can be found here.
I grabbed a black coffee and cheered other racers in, enjoying my favourite part of these races - when everyone is relaxed and happy with a post race glow and full of smiles and endorphins and are eagerly chatting about the trails. It was amazing to learn that my good friend in life and training Cath Dolliver came in with an incredible PB only 2 minutes behind me, to bring her home 4th lady. Cath will absolutely beat me very soon, my days are numbered. Cath - I'm so glad you remembered your trainers this time :-). Fastest male went to Owain Williams in a time of 40:11, Owain has podiumed every race so far and I imagine will be set to take the male series prize.
The original plan was to run an extra 10 miles after the race for my ultra training. There was no danger this was going to happen, however as a punishment to myself I still made myself go out for an extra 4 miles. This feat was made easier given I was joined by 4 other wonderful ladies (Sam, Chiara, Cath and Jasper) and one other wonderful bloke - Zac.
I think is is fair to say I chewed up and spat out that hangover, although I also think I have learnt my lesson - NEVER AGAIN will I race hungover!
A massive shout out to all the canicrossers who raced at Muiravonside on the Sunday following Foxtrail. You guys are hardcore.
Well, the next Foxtrail race is the half marathon on 11th February 2017 at Harvest Moon, Lochhouses. This is a tough course and I gather it is being made even tougher! Can't wait! See you there :-). Thank you James, Cal, John & Mandy and your never ending long list of epic team members! Another truly amazing event!
Run the Sights | Running Tours throughout Scotland | Why walk... when you can run | Explore Scotland on the run
by Ali Wyllie
It had been a rather stressful week (new role in my day job & house sale). I needed The 16k Foxtrail Race to unwind and navigate back to my mental equilibrium. A few nights before the race I scanned through the start list and was delighted to see plenty of my friends from both Cani-Sports Edinburgh and Race Fitness were racing. I also noticed a very strong female field - again! Having won this race in the 2015 series with a time of 01:10:13 I knew I had my work cut out if I wanted to beat this time, let alone achieve a podium. I recalled that last years race I had worked beyond my ability level and ended up with a small calf tear.
As is standard, I was the first one on site. I figure if you are early then you are on time. If you are on time then you are late and if you are late then you may as well not turn up.
John and Mandy were all set up at the registration, ready to welcome the crowds and address any last minute questions or concerns. There was the usual hustle and bustle of the start of an event and as racers flocked around the start I chatted with a few friends. However, I really am not very good company before a race, I am distracted and jittery, I flit around like a butterfly and I am certainly not a good conversationalist. So I apologise now to anyone who has ever had to endure me during the morning build up to a race. In fact I apologise to anyone who may have to endure me in the future. There, apologies done.
I needn't have worried too much, after all I had at least remembered my trainers unlike one of my friends (not mentioning any names, ehm, Cath Dolliver) AND I had remembered my watch this time. I'm sometimes proud of myself for just rocking up to a race in one piece with everything I need (I can be such a liability!).
I stood on the start line repeating out loud "don't set off too fast, don't set off too fast", a few folk chuckled at me, but I sometimes need to give myself a stern talking to. I was hoping this message would subliminally filter through to the front line of racers, which would stop me feeling the impulsive desire to tear off after them. We set off 2 minutes before the canicrossers (running assisted with dogs), I knew the speed merchant Fiona Ramsay who was canicrossing, would pass me at some point, and I was curious as to when this would be. I set off steadily and reduced the urge to stay with the front pack. Within the first kilometre I overtook Julie Oswald, she looked strong and composed and I wondered if I was pushing it too much. Running back through Foxlake HQ James shouted after me "You're first female and in the top 10". The elusive top 10 spot - "was it attainable" I wondered. By the 5k mark my watch read 20:01, I felt good, my legs were light and my breathing was settled. I knew if I could maintain this pace I would have a strong race.
I was bouncing along one of my favourite sections; the small single track on top of the mini cliff top adjacent to the sea, when I heard Fi behind me, talking to other runners warning them of her passing with the dog. She left me for dust, I swear Fuzzy was smiling, her big tongue was hanging out and she was clearly enjoying her run.
I clocked Bob Marshall, sitting patiently, waiting to capture each and every racer's experience in a single freeze frame. I summoned up a bit of cheery banter, gave him a wave and tottled off towards the bridge.
No matter how many times I have run across this bridge I always think it is slippy when it is most clearly not!
Just before the trail took us into the woodland, a lone tree stood out on the horizon, as I drew closer I could see it was decorated like a Christmas tree. It made me giggle. I wondered if it was embarrassed and if the other trees were mocking it (did anyone else wonder this? No? Just me then). It certainly gave me a spring in my step and a smile on my face.
The next woodland stage was simply awesome. It was bouncy and a bit more technical with a few twists and turns. This is my kind of trail and I giggled out loud as I danced along the trail totally engrossed in my surroundings and oblivious to the stresses of my week. All too soon I was on the beach, this was a very tough section and is certainly not a strength of mine. I take my hat off to anyone who runs desert marathons. I opted for the firmer sand and ran close to the tide. My orange tinted glasses made the beach and sky look magical and up ahead I could see the silhouettes of several runners all in their own space, scattered along the beach. I wondered what everyone was thinking about and how they were feeling. Me - I was reminded of my emotional Tiree Ultra earlier in the year, but for most of my race whilst I was on the beach I thought of my Carlsberg job in Broome, Australia, where I worked with camels. My role was to lead a team of 18 camels along the beach whilst the sun set.
After crossing the bridge to nowhere, I knew I was over half way. Each time I felt my form collapse I picked myself up, ran tall and ensured my foot placements were underneath my core and not jarring my body with unnecessary braking action. I think it is fair to say I worked my ass off and was delighted to come in with a time almost 3 minutes faster than last years race. The clock read 1:07:18, placing me first lady. But I was even more delighted to be 10th overall. I had finally conquered a top 10 finish.
I am often asked for running tips, which I find quite humbling and sometimes embarrassing as I feel a bit of a fraud, I see myself as a slightly better than average runner. I have good days and bad days like everyone. I work hard and play hard and I don't do anything by half measures. Do or do not, there is no try! For me, I love trail running and I love the person it has made me. If you don't already love trail running, embrace it, let it captivate you and enjoy the journey as you slowly fall in love and once you love trail running, I mean REALLY love it, the world is your oyster for your running.
I always take time to reflect after each race. What worked, what didn't work and what I need to improve on. This has caused me to become quite superstitious in terms of my warm-up, race attire, food, routine, timings etc. My orange glasses are a godsend as my eyes are pretty sensitive and are prone to streaming when I race. I have an array of glasses ranging from expensive Oakleys to £7 children safety glasses. Can you guess which glasses I chose to wear during this race? Big thanks to Allan Ramsay for sharing these glasses with me!
There were some outstanding performances out on the trail with runners smashing through their personal best times and conquering personal goals (Chiara!!!). As cheesy as it sounds, I truly believe everyone is a winner. Perhaps testimony to the spirit of these events several folk who were unable to race for one reason or another made the effort to come and soak in the atmosphere and lend their support to all the racers; just a couple of mentions - Lan; my personal guru & Sarah of the fab Life and Lifting blog - who I had the pleasure of meeting before the race (Sarah - see the comment above about my poor communication skills prior to a race).
Events like this do not organise themselves. They take a huge amount of work. So a big shout out to John, Callum and James and their amazing team for all the work they continue to do to make this such an epic series.
It's always great to see friends old and new and put faces to names. It was fab to finally meet Owain Williams of the Running Beside Me blog, who also had a strong run, coming in 3rd.
I would like to leave you with a top tip. Following the race, I discovered the best way to revive tired legs. Sod ice baths, rest and massage - 5 hours dancing like a fool in silly girly heels is the best medicine - and has left my legs fresh as daisies :-). You have to love a Christmas night out.
See you at the next one on 21st January - in 2017!
p.s no I did not take the pics on my way round. I took the hairy kidz for a run after the prize giving, which allowed me to capture some of the highlights. Princess Jasper was aghast that I wasn't taking photos of her, so just to keep her happy I took this of her at the start of the beach section.
Why walk.... when you can run!