Monday, 17 July 2017

The Peculiar World of 24 Hour Running + top ten tips



It’s a ridiculous concept, yet to some it’s intriguing and challenging.  On paper, it’s simple.  See how far you can run in 24-hours. Super slow running on mostly flat and looped courses, with copious amounts of support and no navigation or mandatory kit required.  But to those who have ventured into the crazy world of 24 hour running know that it’s an emotionally, mentally and physically challenging journey.

There is no finish line, so you can’t DNF.  There are no checkpoints to tick off and there’s nothing to strive towards.  It’s you against the clock.  A clock that you’ll be convinced doesn’t move.
Many great athletes can run 100 or 150 miles in a race, but don't have the head for 24 hour running. Without sections or a finish line it's hard to keep going. The clock keeps ticking regardless of what pace you're doing.  Yet people see big distances run by athletes they compete with in other races and want to give it a shot.  Often thinking they can run further, because the courses aren't physically demanding.  Unfortunately that bravado often doesn't see them through 12 hours.  In reality it's probably one of the toughest ultra-races and requires a high level of mental toughness - and stubbornness.

I’ve added some top ten tips at the bottom.  Not because I’m an expert, but because I have made many mistakes.  I’ve never had a 24-hour go right, but some have been less catastrophic than others.

My first venture into 24-hour running starting in 2011 at the Commonwealth Ultra Champs in North Wales.  I was selected for the Scotland team based on form from local ultra-races in Scotland. I was rightfully terrified of the concept and blissfully ignorant.  The course was a 1km loop in the seaside town of Llandudno, a favourite for those of retirement age.  It was 500m up one side of the road, turn 180 degrees and return down the other 500m into a head wind.  Always running clockwise, with a central reservation to the right and metal railing separating us from a cheering crowd of about 12. Repeat for 24 hours.  My ignorance stood me in good stead, because this was one of the most mind rattling courses I’ve even run on.
My calves ballooned, my feet nearly fell off and the next day it took me 45 minutes to walk a mile.  I ran 208kms, even after believing running over 200kms was way beyond my ability.  I had no idea what the qualifying distance for the GB team was.  I hadn’t bothered to look into that, as that was even further beyond my ability.  If my memory serves me right, it was 204.  I was just an average runner with a knack for pace management.  I had no major running aspirations and my life revolved around an exuberant two-year-old boy. I ran the furthest out of the Scotland team (including the boys) and finished 4th gal.
Fast forward a year, and I was in my first GB vest at the World Championships in Poland.  I felt like a complete charlatan and was woefully out of my depth. A mix of excitement, ignorance and nerves and I went off too fast.  I set a Scottish 100 mile record (which remains uncontested) in 15:48.  Despite a massive kaboom I also broke the Scottish 200km and 24-hour death marching round to a 217km. Both those records are currently held by Fionna Ross from Tooting Bec track.  

It’s a god awful strategy, but it wasn’t my intention.  I didn’t appreciate that slow meant super slow.  My feet were still suffering from GUCR a few months earlier and both my big toenails came off during the race.   At first I stopped to remove what I thought was a stone in shoe, which turned out to be a nail that wasn’t really ready to come off.  It was a pretty agonising few hours.  Not as agonising as going to the unlit portaloo in the dark and using my hands to lowering myself down… and not realising someone had missed the pan.  So my hand was covered in human shit!   

I was second counter in the team that won World and European silver.  We lost out on gold to the French team - by 42 metres!
The distance in Katowice meant I qualified for the team at the World Champs in Steenbergen, Holland in 2013.    This was probably the longest lap I’ve run on, at a hefty 2.3kms. The conditions for this race were pretty grim.  Quintessentially Scottish, so it didn’t bother me too much.  There was a strong wind along the bending back stretch and heavy cold downpours during the night.  I even put on a light waterproof.  Very comical seeing some of the Japanese team running wrapped in foil blankets.  

For me, mentally this was the toughest of all my 24s.  I felt flat the whole time.  And pre-menstrual, which causes massive issues. I was pretty bored early on and just found the whole race really frustrating.  At one point I was going to pretend to faint, so I didn’t need to continue.  Not my proudest confession, but at least I didn’t follow through with it.  Despite the mental challenges, I pushed on to PB with 220km.  The biggest positive I can take from this, was I still running in the final few hours.    Also second counter on the team which won European Silver medals.  

There was a break in championships in 2014, as various host countries pulled out. It was on, it was off, it was moved and in the end the IAU pulled the plug on all possibilities of a 2014 event and focussed on the World Championship in Turin, Italy in 2015.

So, Turin, a few days after I turned 40 I lined up for my third GB outing.  Prior to that I had two failed attempts at the Barcelona 24 track race.  The first year I was so ill I shouldn’t have even got on the flight out.  I lasted 12km.  I quit so early the organisers didn’t know what to do with my chip.  And the other competitors must have thought I was a complete lightweight after vomiting over the track railings - twice - within the first hour.  Marco was ill the whole journey home, so all in all a pretty successful mini break.

The second Barcelona race, I had GI problems, which followed me for the remainder of my 24-hour running journey.  I was in Barcelona to run a specific distance, not just to finish a 24 hour race.  I called it a day around 11 hours, as I already had a qualifying distance for team for the next championships and didn’t want to jeopardise that.  Well, at the time that was my bullshit excuse.  

So, back to World Championships in Turin.  It was April in Italy.  Which is like the height of summer in Scotland.  It might have possibly been the worst designed course, with a hairpin bend and a hill.  Now I do enjoy a good hill, but after 12 hours it was a mountain.  It wasn’t without it many dramas, but it was an ok race.  I sat in last GB position for a lot of the race and finished 2nd counter for the team (see the pattern here) prize and 12th lady.   I scraped a PB of shy of 222km.

Then came the tragedy that was the European Championships in Albi France in 2016.  I’ve well documented that my heart and head wasn’t in the race.  I also expected it to all in line with the fun stuff I wanted to do.  My stomach fell apart, I started peeing red, my feet and quads were destroyed.  When it all started to unravel, I just didn’t have any fight left in me.  My amazing support, Eddie squeezed every last ounce of me to complete an agonising 178km. I learned so much from the experience.  Mainly I never want to get to end knowing I haven’t given my best again.  I love running, but my god it sometimes breaks my heart.  

And last but not least, the recent World Championships in Belfast.  I had aspirations of this being a killer swan song.  The pièce de résistance of my 24-hour running career.  Unfortunately it was a lesson in digging deep and finding the will to continue when everything went out the window (via the portaloo) pretty early on.  I was obviously disappointed with my distance of 204km, but I’m not disappointed with how I handled the situation.  I could have easily given up when I PB was off the table, like I did in Albi.  But I knew I never wanted to feel that way again.

So, five GB vests later, I have met some amazing people and pushed my mind and body beyond breaking point.  I have laugh and cried and experienced lots of pain and suffering.  “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change” Fred Devito.  Running 24-hour races is certainly character building.  They haven’t made me a better running, but have made me more resilient.    I can withstand much more and push through some dark times in races.  Maybe not dark portaloos though. Nothing is as tough as a 24-hour race.  It takes a special breed of crazy.
Top ten tips for running a 24-hour race

  1. Focus on lap splits or one hour at a time.  Or split the race into day-night-day sections.  If you’re lucky, your race might turn direction every few hours.  Which, will literally, blow your mind!
  2. Don’t count the laps.  You’ll go nuts.  If possible try to avoid looking at the clock too.  It doesn’t actually move.
  3. Make the challenge to run (or at least to stay on your feet) for 24 hours - with the goal distance being secondary.  You will be torn between the drive to stay on your feet and the devil on your shoulder screaming at you to stop.  Once your you start drifting from your target goal, the devil will win.
  4. Be prepared to reassess your goals.  Possibly about 17 times.  
  5. When you get to 8 hours you will probably want to die.  That’s normal.  Embrace the darkness:  The night-time is always my favourite as I enjoy the cooler temperatures, the peace and the fact that a bit chunk of the field are now off the course.  Usually due to bad pacing.
  6. Races are won and lost in the last four hours, so don’t worry if someone is running Yannis Kouros pace for the first few hours.  The make-up of the race completely changes after the first six hours. Japan's Yoshihiko Ishikawa who won this year's World Champ with 267km, was in 90th position after the first hour. 90th! That's what you call moving through the field.
  7. Things happen in 24-hours that don’t happen in other ultras.  Feet take a real battering.  You will be using the same muscles to the point of destruction.  And nausea will be your friend.  You will probably witness more peeing, farting and spewing than you can imagine.  
  8. Treat yourself:  Keep your iPod for desperate stages, have a walking break on the hour, save the pee stop for the next hour.  Trust me, it’s the best seat in the house.   It’s the little things that make a big difference
  9. Smile and be polite to crew/volunteers.  It forces you mind stay positive.
  10. You have to really want it.  If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse

Friday, 7 July 2017

World 24 Hour Champs, Belfast


Always an honour and privilege to wear the GB vest.  Always a pleasure to be part of a tight-knit and super-talented bunch of wonderful people. But more so, it was a huge relief to be selected to represent GB at the World 24 Hour Champs in Belfast.  After my tragic effort at last year’s European 24-hour Championships, I needed some redemption.  Some closure. 

With Nigel Holl and Donna Fraser from British Athletics
Running for 24 hour around a one mile loop - weaving between 400 people on the course – is an acquired taste.  As a race concept, it’s probably the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding of them all.  It’s a massive battle of will.  Just you and a clock.  A race with no finish line requires a lot of drive to keep moving. 

On paper, it looks simple.  Everyone thinks they can run qualifying distances.    Super slow running on mostly flat and looped course, with copious amounts of support and no navigation or mandatory kit required.  How hard can it be?  Most who venture into the crazy world of 24-hour fall way short of their target.  Not because they’re not talented enough, but because they don’t respect, understand or require the mental strength. 

I was mentally prepared for the race.  Well, I wasn’t dreading it, so that was a pretty good start.  I was fired up and ready to give it everything.  One last time.  Bow out with style - like Obama’s drop the mic.  Last year, if I’m honest with myself, I’d lost my heart and head for 24-hour running.  I just expected it to fall in line with all the other fun races I wanted to do.  I wasn’t complacent, just now committed. When things started to go wrong, I just didn’t want it anymore.  Stupidly I thought anything less than a PB was a waste of time.

Bombing out was the kick up the ass I needed.  I was distraught for weeks after that and vowed never to feel that way again.  Of course races are always going to go belly up, but I will never walk away thinking I hadn’t given it my very best. 

The race started well.  I was relaxed and in control.  I was placing last in the team ranking, but that was fine.  I was sticking to my plan and was confident and experienced enough to know if would come good in the end.

After a few hours, my stomach problems started.  Again.  I can’t get to the bottom of this (pardon the pun) but running in circles and on roads kills me stomach.  From about 4-8 hours, there were quite a lot of emergency stops.   Last year, I caved to it and let it destroy me.  This time, there was no way it was going to break my spirit.  With Renee we did everything we could to work through it.  Medicine, ginger and lots of fluids.

I was losing time/distance, but I tried to stay positive.  Unfortunately with a 24 hour it’s about control, staying strong and then hanging tough at the end.  I was hanging tough from four hours. 

I felt wiped, but my head was good.  I didn’t get the angry/frustrated mental way I can usually do on looped course.  Whenever anything nasty crept into my head, I took a few deep breaths, cleared my mind and brought everything back to a neutral zone. 

I’m a firm believer you can control your mood.  I didn’t necessary need to be in a great mood, just not an angry or sad one.  Smiling.  I made sure I smiled a lot.  I made an effort to communicate with people or even acknowledge words from spectators.  I was all out of internal energy, so I was taking it from external sources. 

The support around the course was amazing.  There were a huge bunch helping the open race who were on their feet all night, expending way more energy than those in race.  Dancing, high-five, Mexican waves and playing the best party tunes ever!  Of course Johnny Fling and Noanie’s makeshift Woodstock festival was just brilliant. 

I was having a really tough day out there, but some of my team mates were having it much worse.  The carnage from around 12 hours was the worst I’d ever seen.  Marco, James, Robbie, Sharon and Beth were all having problems and would either stop or drop back considerably.

I didn’t get annoyed with the loops.  Actually I thought the course was the best I’ve run on.  I’ve heard a few moans about the camber and the hard concrete surface, but I’d be lying if I used them as an excuse for poor performance.  My feet paid the price of the flat surface, but no more than usual.  My quads ached, but no more than usual.

The final hour
The timing system going down around didn’t help the situation.  I was wearing a Garmin, but it’s unreliable for distances on looped courses, so I was just working on lap splits.  But the lights also went down at the chip mat, so couldn’t see my watch.  It did cause a lot of stress, but mostly for crew and management. Surely the runners had the simple job.  Just run.  I was aware that runners were getting quite upset about it.  If I’d have known there would be no stats for the duration of the race, I might have too. 

The only split I got was at 22:15 hours.  I had spent the previous few hours’ power walking with Sharon.  I guess in the latter stages when your brain doesn’t work on a rational level and you look for comfort and it’s easy to get into company.  Justifying by moving well and not taking the easy option of sitting it out because you’re race wasn’t going well.

Sharon stopped to get something to eat before 22 hours and I started running again.  It hurt so bad, but I had to try.  I was the third counter on the team, but it wasn’t going to make much difference.  The best I could have hoped for was 200km.  Big deal.  But it was a big deal to me, as I didn’t want to fall below that.  Mustering up the enthusiasm to break 200 when your PB is 221 and target was 230+ involves some deep digging.  Those seats were looking mighty comfy too. 

I ran 204.118 kilometres and finished 39th in the women’s race.  Even considering this was the crème de la crème of ultra-running and the world record was smashed, I would have been bitterly disappointed with that.  I probably wouldn’t have turned up. All things considered, I did the best I could on the day.  

Thanks Emily Proto for the insta quote you posted… “You never fail until you stop trying”

No ultra-race is an individual achievement and I was part of an amazing troop.  Meeting with old friends and making news ones.  Thanks to team manager John, my GB team mates and the rest of the crew.  Big thanks to Renee for smashing her crewing debut and putting up with me.  You were amazing.   Thanks to my Mum and Sister for looking after our boy, so Marco and I can do these crazy things.  Last but certainly not least to my great coach, Paul Giblin who got me to the start line in the best shape ever.  All good training for better races to come.

...  I’m off to the hills now.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

SCOTT Supertrac RC - 400 mile review

I’ll be upfront and say I got these shoes for free - before the launch earlier this year -  to test them out.  So before the purists and sceptics jump on their soapbox, I thought it best to reserve judgement until I put them through the wringer.  400 miles of wringing.  Even though I fell in love with them instantly. 

There was a lot of hype around the launch of the SCOTT Supertrac RC.  I’d seen pictures of some of my idols donning the flagship #blackandyellow shoes and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a pair.  Obviously I jumped at the chance to try them out.  Despite my many years of working in marketing, I’m an absolute sucker the next-big-thing.  


My first impression was they are lighter and sturdier than I thought they would be. I wore them straight out the box on the Ben Lawers ridge, a mere seven Munros in the Scottish highlands in December.  We pretty much had all terrain and weather that day and the Supertrac RC were a dream.  
I look for a shoe that gives me confidence on mud and wet rock.  I’ve had so many accidents
over the years and every time crash I get a little more timid.  Other that the Inov-8 X-Talon I didn’t have much faith in shoes.  Especially a shoe that’s designed for trails, rather than fell or hills.
Living and training in Scotland, it’s a great place to put them to the test.  I’ve taken them on short hilly muddy runs, long off-road runs, snow-covered wainwrights, rocky paths, lots of bog, compressed trail, grassy descents, wet rocks and icy Munro tops.  They’re pretty much a Jack-of-all-trades shoe and perform really well on varying terrains - especially well on rocks and mountainous courses. 
I wore them for last month’s Transgrancanaria 125km and boy I’m glad I did.  I was debating in the lead up whether to wear them or the Salomon S-Lab sense.  I definitely made the right decision, as there were a few muddy sections and the rocks would have destroyed my feet.  Even on the notorious dried riverbed section, I didn’t feel anything under my feet.  More importantly for the first time in nearly 10 years of ultra-running and almost 40 ultras, I didn’t get a single blister or have any foot issues.
I’ve had a few pairs of SCOTT shoes in the past.  I bought a pair of the Kinabalu years ago, because I liked the colours.  True story.  And a pair of the Rockets – where the lugs fell off (no joke!) after a 30 mile run.  At that time I thought Scott were a long way off tapping into the ever-demanding trail running market.  Since then Scott have built up their reputation with shoes that perform exceptionally well and the Supertrac RC is their masterpiece.  It’s apparent that it’s an athlete-led design and that’s why it’s already a popular shoe.  


I don’t like a lot of cushioning and my first choice would always be a lightweight shoe.  In 2016, I alternated between Salomon S-Lab Sense, La Sportiva Helios SR and Inov-8 Terraclaw depending on the terrain.  That said, I also need to protect my feet from unforgiving terrain.  We’re not blessed with miles of dry trails, so I need a shoe that works for soft ground and wet rocks.  Most shoes work best on one or the other.  









A bit about the grip.  The 360 traction outsole was developed in partnership with SCOTT athletes such as Andy Symonds, Jo Meek and Ruth Croft and The Technical University of Munich and was tweaked and fine tuned before it was eventually released in January.   SCOTT are using the term “controlled power”  The size and positioning of each stud has been laid out to provide good traction in multiple directions, twist and turns.   Most shoes have lugs designed for forward movement.  
The main outsole is made for racing on (wet and dry) rocks and therefore probably not as secure on mud as say some of the Inov-8 range, but it still holds up pretty well.  Of course, I’m less concerned about sliding on wet grass than I am at landing on my coccyx on a wet slab of rock.   They really excel on rocky technical terrain, and I’m sure it will be popular shoe choice for Skyrunner and mountain races this year.
The lightweight mesh upper has been bonded together, rather than stitched, to reduce the possibility of irritation.  As previously mentioned, it’s the first time I’ve never had any issues with my feet during a race. The overlays act as a great support as my feet feel stable, but it’s not restrictive and feels  really comfortable.  
There also a sturdy toe cap.  After kicking many rocks over the months, I can say it’s not only effective but perfect.
400 miles on the clock
The lacing system is pretty simply, but works just fine.  Maybe I prefer the Salomon S-Lab system with the lace pocket, but I think I’m just trying really hard to find something to say that’s not completely gushy.  Is it worth changing? Probably not. The laces didn’t cause any discomfort and didn’t come loose.  A lace pocket just looks neater.
They are protective and cushioned enough (17.5/22.5mm of AeroFoam)  for everyday training, but light and responsive for racing.   I’m a mid-forefoot striker, so the 5mm drop suits me.  
So, 400 miles later the shoes are starting to show some wear and tear.  There's some slight splitting on the side bend (I'm sure there's a more technical term for that), which happens to all my shoes. I put that down to forefoot landing.  Loads of miles left in the lugs though - even after many routes that have involved some road miles.   They'll be good for another few months for sure.  
If you train on hills and mountains in the UK, you’d be hard pushed to find a better multi-terrain shoe.  Retailing at £125 they’re not cheap, but they do live up to the hype.   

The techy spec:
Range of use:  Racing. Mountain.
Features: 360 lug design and wet traction rubber
Composition: Upper mesh/no sew.  Lower AeroFoam+/rubber
Heel: 22.5mm
Forefoot: 17.5mm
Drop: 5mm
Weight: 250g

Friday, 17 March 2017

Transgrancanaria race report

It’s a course that notoriously chews up and spits out the most hardy and experienced of competitors.      Even with 10 years of ultra-distance running under my belt, I was stepping into the unknown.  With a climbing equivalent shy of Everest across 125km of unforgiving terrain, it was very much out of my comfort zone.  

I had trained specifically for this race for the previous for three months, so had every intention of giving it my best shot.  I had no major aspirations other than finishing with a performance I was happy with.  And preferably in one piece.

So my first Euro mountain adventure at Transgrancanaria found me in starting pen in the harbour town of Ageate behind some of ultra-running’s finest athletes.  On what is believed to be one of the toughest courses.  My initial thoughts were everyone looked so fast and svelte, and so very sponsored.  There wasn’t the same mix of of sizes and ability you find in UK races. 

Ageate to Tamadaba 9.8 km (4767ft)

The atmosphere was electric and everyone seemed so happy, although slightly shivering from cool air and fear of what lay ahead.  Tightly penned in listening to the call of the elites, the Gran Canaria song and then the countdown.  And we were off.  I ran along with Johnny Fling, through the town and then up the track.  I lost Johnny.  It wasn’t a decision to push on,  it was just really busy and I didn’t look back. 

It was eerily silent.  Until the poles came out.  I’m sure there was something in the rules about poles not allowed during first few kilometres.  If that was the case, it wasn’t long enough.  It was far too busy and cramped for flying poles. 

I was pinned in a four way of pole owners who had a blatant disregard for anyone around them.  I tried to push away but just using up unnecessary energy.    Before long we were on a narrow hill track and things settled into a groove.  I was trying to eat early in the race, but ended up nearly choking on a sandwich. 

Following the long single file of runners, we turned around the hilltop.  I looked up and saw a vertical line of headtorches. It looked liked plane was dangling some christmas tree fairy lights  My first thoughts were: Feck that’s high; Feck that steep;  And how did they get up there that fast?

Stuck on a dark narrow path, all packed in, it was hard to see where I was placing my feet.  I was so busy looking up at the daunting headtorch line that I tripped and my right arm hit a rock.  I couldn’t do anything but get up as quickly as I landed or I was danger of being trampled on.  Or thrown off the hillside for stopping the traffic.

My arm hurt and felt dead at the same time.  I hadn’t really broken the skin, but I was concerned I’d broke the bone (drama).  Although (no shocker) I have broken both my arms in the past so knew it wasn’t that bad, just not something I wanted to happen four miles into a long race.

The route zig zags up, so the climb was fairly easy.  Other than a few sneaky overtakes when it was safe to do so, I kept in line.  No point burning up unnecessary energy to shave off a few seconds or minutes.  I got poles out and my arm started to ease.  I figured by daylight a bruised arm would be the least of my worries.

Johnny Fling said when you hit the trees you’re nearly at the top.  It was a couple of miles of running/hiking, but I could hear the cowbells in the distance.  I passed through the timing mat, then the aid station and met Marco a short while later.  Thankfully Cairn was sparked out on the backseat.  He doesn’t like to miss anything, so I had fears he would stay awake all night. I picked up some Tailwind and Shotblocks and pushed on. 

Tamadaba to Tirma 18.8km (1423ft ascent)

It was pretty blustery and fresh at the top - it was after all nearly 5000ft up - but I was still comfortable in my vest and arm warmers.  If I was to stop though, I would chill down real quick. 

The descent was pretty steep.  I had been warned that the first descent can make or break the race, so I was trying to keep everything in check as not to destroy my quads too early.  Although the initial descent was on a wider path, it soon narrowed and we were back in single.  Didn’t want to feel under pressure to go faster, but the pace was dictated by the line and I didn’t want to step off or upset the flow of traffic. 
The trails were amazing and I know I was missing out on some spectacular views.  Although flicking my head torch down, I know I was also missing out on some serious drops, so maybe ignorance was bliss.  One false move on the narrow path and it was a long way down.

After a fairly arduous descent, my legs felt like jelly.  I scoffed a Trek bar and some Shot Bloks.  After seeing some of drops I least wanted to keep my brain alert. 

I passed quite a few runners on the hike up to the small village of Tirma.   Even though it was a mostly downhill section, there was still 1500ft of climbing.  I arrived at the aid station in Tirma with one of their local runners, so there was a massive noise and lots of cheering. 

Tirma to Altavista/Alterera 33.2km (4868ft)

I picked up some water and left Tirma pretty sharp.  Along the wide track, I overshot the route and got shouted back.  It was only 100 metres or so, but I had a stern chat with myself about paying attention.  Although the course was well marked, my mind has a tendency to wander.

Another pole frenzied long hike commenced.  I side-stepped a girl projectile vomiting, thinking it was pretty early on for that, and then runners sitting down.  I stopped to ask if everything was ok and if they needed anything (in my best broken English) only be told they were just having a rest.  I know if was my first Euro race, but you are doing what?  Sitting on a hill have a “little rest” Weird that.

Again I was caught in a line of traffic.  Mentally I was removing UTMB from my bucket list.  Already a few hours into the race and it was so busy and not breaking up.  It was ok on the hikes, I accepted that.  But when they continued to hike on the flat I nearly lost the plot in my head I was screaming “IT”S FLAT.  F*CKING RUN”. At least I hope it was in my head.

Heading down into Artnera, we dibbed in at a timing point - even though it was obvious from the first checkpoint my timer on my race number wasn’t working.  Thankfully everyone had a second chip which they had to attach to their backpack.

On the way down - with a few more ups for good measure - I was toing and froing with a chap in Inov-8s.  In a race that involved cautious foot placing, you become quite acquainted with people’s feet.   For the best part of a hour, I used up all be courtesy/civil Spanish … Hola, Gracious, Bravo...I knew.  Hey, I’m British and therefore as ignorant as f*ck.  I’m not even sure Bravo was relevant, but it sounded pretty universal. 

So when Inov-8s and I got lost heading into the town of Artnera, we were communicating in some kind of grunted sign language.  I asked him he spoke English.  “I am English.  I’m from Leamington Spa”.  So Inov8s became Rich from Leamington Spa.  We chatted heading into the town before he stopped to pick up supplies.

Arnera to Fontanales 42.5km (1450ft)

After dibbing in, I ran straight through.  Up the road, along the track and round the hilltop.  I hit the road and just kept going.  I could see headtorches along the bottom of the valley, so presumed I was heading in the right direction.  And there were headtorches behind me, so all ok.  After about half a mile I realised I hadn’t seen an signs, but kept looking. 

Coach Paul had told me if you think you’re off course, you are.  Go back and find the last post.  The chap following me checked his GPS and confirmed we’d gone off course.  We heading back up the road (of course it had to be up!) and picked up about four others who followed us.  We’d missed the post on the left down to the valley.

I passed a few runners who’d got a ahead on my detour and then caught up with Rich again.  We chatted for a few miles and I really enjoyed the company.  There were a few really muddy descents and some sections, which explain the mandatory red flashing light on backpacks. 

I lost Rich on the last long mudslide into Fontanales - thanking my lucky stars I’d chosen shoes with grips and not the Salomon ruby slippers. 

This was the start of the 80km race at 7am, so I was glad to get a 30 minute head start before the speedster stampede.  I picked up some supplies from Marco and headed into the checkpoint.  I saw Gav and Noanie waiting for their race start.  Gav went into for the high-five and I realised my arm and shoulder hurt more than I thought.  It was really frantic at the checkpoint, so I was glad to make a quick getaway.

Fontanales to Vallesco and Teror 56.2km (2420ft)

Even with a 30 minute head start, it didn’t seem that long before the speedsters caught up.  I side stepped to them passed and cheer them on.  Jesus they were fast - even with all the mud!  And very polite too.  Even when I stepped to the wrong side and hit Sebastian Chaigneau with my poles.  Didn’t do him any harm though, as he went on to win it. 

The sun was up around 7:30 so it was great to take in some of the views.  Shame to have run the length of an island and miss most of the it, so I intended to make the most the daylight scenery. 

Arriving in the town of Vallesco, I couldn’t find Marco.  We agreed that if he wasn’t at a checkpoint then I would just push on in case he was having travel issues.  On the hill out of the village I phoned Marco to just make sure he knew I’d gone through to discover he’d got there just after I left.   He may had mentioned once or twice that the journey was a bit cumbersome and time consuming - he chose more colourful words.  Of course Coach Paul - running the 80km - chose the moment to pass me when I was walking.  Of course I had to be walking. 

There was a long hike through some lush green countryside and I chatted to Gerard from Germany for most of it.  He had a pretty impressive race CV, so it was nice to mindlessly chat away the hike.  I lost him on the descent and caught up with a chap from Barcelona.  It wasn’t long before the speedy ladies passed us.  It was lovely to see my ever-smiling Beta Running teamie, Sophie Grant.  There were three ladies packed in tight going up the hill.  Sophie in third, like a little fierce terrier not willing to let go from the two in front.  It made me smile seeing the sheer determination on her face.

With daylight it had started to heat up a bit.  Barca guy joked about me being in a vest and skort and he still had his jacket, gloves and buff on as he found it really cold during the night.  I knew by noon he’d be in his comfort zone and I’d be falling apart though. 

I met Marco just before Teror checkpoint and picked up a bit more, as I’d missed him at last support point.  Stupidity I forgot to give him my headtorch.  Of course I could have put it in my pack but I didn’t.  Just wore it for about three hours after sunrise like a total pleb.

Teror to Cruz de Arinex 64.3km (3320ft)

Teror was a bustling little place with lots of people out supporting and cheering. Well, maybe a few hundred so not quite NYC marathon standards, but it was nice to see.  I, again, just pushed through which caused the marshals mass confusion.  NB:  Must learn “I don’t need anything.  I have my own support” in Spanish.  Even with two seasons of Narcos, all I learned was “Rata” and then discovered it wasn’t even the right Spanish. 

Then the next hike began.  BIG hike number three.  Three of four.  The rest were just big hikes. I had been warned that Arinez never seemed to end and it was indeed the gift that kept on giving.  Every corner there was more.  Every peak there was another peak.  Even when I got to the hill with massive cross thinking that would at least signify the top, there was even more.

When I passed the aid station, there was more up, and weather had started to close in.  Grey, cold, foggy, blustery and damp.  Others runners were piling on the layers, I just pulled up my arm warmers.  Even though I was cold, I couldn’t be bothered to get my jacket out and hoped we would be heading out soon.

Cruz de Arinez to Tejada 71km (958ft)

Climbing through some forest trails until I reached a road which I assumed was a visitor point, I passed two guys in the 80km race and exchanged some mutual encouragement.   At the time, I didn’t realise I would see that same two guys on and off until the end. 

The views down to Tejada were simply breathtaking.  I nearly broke my own rule on taking photos during races, but I didn’t.  Kinda wished I had now though as I can’t put into words the beauty of the course.

Tejada to Garanan 81.7 (3605ft)

Leaving Tejada it was starting to get warm and I was kicking myself for not picking up extra water.  Rationing was not something I wanted to do, but I had to if I didn’t want to die on my ass half way through the section.

On the initial ascent of Roque Nublo (BIG climb number four), I was chatting to a Spanish guy - who I think just came out the local pub - dressed in a kilt and see-you-jimmy hat.  Definitely a bizarre moment.  Then I was hiking alongside another chap who kept farting.  I think he felt the need to excuse himself to me in the best English he knew, so every time he farted he said: “bless you”.  Mate, my pelvic floor is not what is used to be.  Quite literally nearly wet myself laughing. 

This was by far the hottest part of the race, but the most amazingly breathtaking views.  Everything around was massive and beautiful.    Near the summit, it flattens out before the final ascent.  I was admiring the view when my foot hit a rock and crash.  Skinned hand, knees and elbows.  I really wanted to cry, but the two aforementioned 80km guys came to rescue and I tried to hold it together.  They were being really helpful, but I ushered them on as I just needed a moment to compose myself. 

I was pretty dehydrated at this point and was almost tempted to ask some tourists for water, but didn’t have the brass neck.  I knew I was nearing the top, but I was starting to drag myself. 

The summit of Roque Nublo was quite simply stunning.  I would go back to Gran Canaria just to that section again and spend time taking in the views.  Unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen during a race, so I timed in and headed back down - passing runners on the short out and back section to the summit.

The trails and tracks were amazing, but really dry and rocky.  I was super conscious of the fact I was dehydrated and bit woozy, so was really careful on the descent.    It wasn’t too long before I saw Marco and Cairn, when I downed some sparkling water and topped up on some Tailwind and Shotbloks, which I’d finished before I even hit Garanan.

Garanan was the main aid station - where runners had their one and only drop bag.  It was a busy place with runners resting, eating and drinking.  Crew and supporters were cheering some the sidelines and mashals were buzzing around tending to everyone’s needs.  It also the place where you can lose a lot of time.  I know even just dropping a few things into my bag, replacing my bottles and emptying some rubbish probably took about 10 minutes. 

Garanan to Tunte 94.2 (1627ft)

Leaving the checkpoint through the park, I met Marco again who was panicking that I didn’t have enough for the section.  I reassured him I’d picked up my drop bag stuff and had more than enough, but he still went up the the next hilltop checkpoint at Nieves.  Didn’t need anything there either, which I felt bad about. 

By this time my glutes had pretty much given up the ghost and my quads were aching.  Every footstep on the descent was like a shudder. 

The paths en route to Tunte were amazing.  Obviously a lot of time and money had been spent on the trails, but they were still rocky, rugged and in keeping with the surrounding area.  Unlike the UK where H&S come in and bulldoze  and routes and put in ugly metal gates. 

My glutes and quads were screaming at me on the roads into Tunte, but it was nice to arrive there to see Cairn’s standing poised at the roadside.    For once he ran alongside me rather than trying to outsprint me.  I swear he had a look of pride, rather than inconvenience, on his face.  But I was
on the darker side of spaced out. 

I was feeling pretty good and upbeat there.  And was even happier to realise that my goal of sub:20 was still doable - if I didn’t mess around. 


Tunte to Ayaguarus 106.3 (1541ft)

And I was off.  Only one big hill and one aid station to conquer.  I was less excited about the 1800ft climb out of the town, but I knew I just had to keep picking away at it.  It did seem to go on for longer than I thought, with switchbacks and false peaks.  But I needn’t have complained, but the descent was way worse.  My legs were tired, but my head was worse.  I kept catching my toes on rocks and nearly decking it, so I lost all confidence in running downhill.  So it became a slow jogging motion gingerly making my way down.

It was a long way down to Ayaguarus.  You can see the town for a few miles out, but it never seems to get any closer.  There seemed to be never-ending switches and lots of rocks.  Lots of rocks.    It certainly didn’t help I was moving at snail’s pace, terrified I would fall. But emotionally, I was fine.  I wasn’t willing it to be over and I was still gushing at the amazing course, so I was still enjoying it. 

I passed a few runners on the path down and then heard a mighty crash behind.  A British guy, Rob, had fallen hard and cut his head.  I tried to fix him up with a baby wipe and told him it was alright.  It probably wasn’t, but he couldn’t see it.  And he hadn’t broken his sunglasses, so all way well.  I made him promise he’d get it checked at the next aid station.

The dam into Ayaguaras finally came and I crossed into the final checkpoint.  I was going to drop off my poles, but Marco told me there was still another hill as he’d run the course the day before, so I kept hold of them.    Even though the race looked like it was all down for last 20km, I had learned the profile was a little deceiving.  Little bumps that look cheeky little mounds are actually fairly hefty climbs. 

Ayaguarus to Maspalomos 125km (767ft)  Total ascent 26746ft

My sub 20 was looking unlikely, but that was fine.  Too fine.  I didn’t even want it any more.  I was too content just chipping away and getting the job done.

I left over the dam and turned into the last hill - the one that looked teeny tiny on the profile.  A French guy I’d be toing and frong with all day passed me and kept signalling at me to stick with him, which I did for a bit but fell off the pace.  Once you hit the the top the route switches back, which annoyed me because we were moving in the opposite direction from where we should be heading.

Then I hit the notorious dried river bed, which everyone speaks so highly of.  I didn’t think it was too bad, as I’d built it up in my head to be much worse.   Yeah, it was horribly rocky but not too dissimilar to some of the paths in Scotland. 

The problem was my legs and brain were so tired I kept falling.  I didn’t have the reflexes to break the fall, so I seemed to fall really hard.  My knees hurt so bad.  After my 5th fall of the day (I didn’t count the ones on mud, as they didn’t hurt) I just couldn’t handle another one.  Rob (cut head Rob) picked me up after my last fall.  I think I sobbed something pathetic about not being able to stay on my feet.  He said I was stumbling all over the place and should take a gel.  Genius!  No it really was.  My brain wouldn’t have worked that out.  Five minutes after taking the gel, I was more alert and picking off the runners who’d passed me on the river bed.  

Before we hit the town I decided to stop for a comfort break, as I hadn’t peed for nearly 12 hours.  Again it was bright red.  It seems to happen every race now. Last time was at the Euro 24 hour, I got it checked by the medic who confirmed it was muscle wastage and not blood, but I really need to get it sorted.


I reached the final aid station (Parque Sur)  in daylight.  Only a few miles to the finish at the expo.  I knew the route as I’d walked there the day before.  Except that wasn’t the race route, so ended up getting lost.  Retracing my steps I buddied up with another French guy - I’d just worked hard to overtake - and we got more lost together.  Met up with another few runners and we eventually got back on track with the help of a few dog walkers and a clown.  True story.

The French guy out kicked me at the end, but I didn’t care.  He did.  My boy was waiting… who also out kick me.  It’s definitely his thing. 



The aforementioned 80km guys were at the finishing line. They had passed me again on the riverbed and winced at my knees.   They duly informed Cairn:  “Your Mum is a badass Mother F*cker”  I don’t know whether he looked shocked or proud. 

I finished 14th female in 20:35.  Results tell me I moved up over 200 places from CP1 to the finish.

It was amazingly wonderfully brutal.   I know I’ve harped on about it, but the views are truly stunning and the trails are beautiful.  The course is so well marked, you’d have to be a complete numbnut like me to go wrong.  I simply cannot fault the race, the organisers and the energy it brings to island. 

I don’t really want to go rehashing races to chase times, but I will definitely do this one again.  I don’t really like surprises and that’s why I usually make big efforts to recce courses as it make race day so much easier and more enjoyable.  After taking a few wrong turns, I had to be super vigilant, but if you go 400 metres without seeing a marker you know you’re off.  So knowing the route now, I might just sign up for 2018.  I haven’t told Marco that yet, so keep it under your hat.

Thanks for Marco and Cairn for amazing support on the day.  From what I gather, it’s easier to run the drive, so know it was a tough day out.  Probably not as tough as the apartment I booked having the world’s shittest wifi. But it did have a pool (even if Cairn was the only one there to brave the cold water) and Marco didn’t complain about the hire car - so all in all and pretty successful trip.   Once my bruises healed ;-) 

Thanks to coach Paul for guidance and throwing in the casual “try and hit 10,000 feet” training runs.  Thanks to Renee McGregor for the food plan - I had no stomach issues at all!  And last but not least thanks to Montane, Ultimate Direction, Petzl, Drymax and Scott for all the gear.