Sunday, 11 October 2020

DNS at A100

I am sitting in my spare bedroom surrounded by the carnage of packing for my first 100 miler. A 100 miler that I have decided not to start at. I can't quite believe it but as I was packing this morning I got a call from Test and Trace telling me that as I had been in contact with someone during the last two weeks who has tested positive for Covid-19 and that irrespective of the negative test I have since had, I was by law required to isolate until the Tuesday after my race.

Two years ago I decided to do my first hundred mile race. I'd just completed Ironman and I knew that that had always been a stepping stone for me in to the misty world of ultrarunning. I run these races because I want to pursue a deeper sense of who I am: to understand myself further and to overcome whatever darkness I might find on the road. I could try and keep secret that I have been told to isolate. Pretend it hasn't happened. Observe that if I'd tested positive I'd be allowed to race (I would be only forced to isolate for 10 days - which would end this Friday rather than 14 days as I tested negative - next Tuesday) and that seemingly makes little sense.

But I run ultras to help prove the kind of person I am: true to myself, honourable, determined. And therefore it is with heartbreak I won't be starting at Autumn 100. My bags are packed, I have had the most wonderful block of training, I've tapered well and I feel so ready to take it on. But Covid-19 has taken far bigger things away from people this year than some UTMB points and a finishers t-shirt.

I've got plans now to tackle the same route a week later. Amusingly the dry weather forecast due on race weekend is replaced with torrential weather the week after. I won't have the same level of support from access to toilets and aid stations to cheer points from the volunteers. I'll get no buckle for completing it, receive no t-shirt, no UTMB points and won't be on the official finishers list. But again: that isn't why I run Ultras.

I am crying my eyes out. But I "forget what is behind and strain towards what's ahead." I'll see you on the other side of this weird, wild ride.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Racing | My race is cancelled: now what?

2020 will surely be defined by two words: unprecedented and cancelled. Due to these unprecedented times, every single one of the world marathon majors has now been cancelled for everyday runners. Runners up and down the country who've got used to a pattern of training from race to race are suddenly left wondering, now what?

After I chose to drop out of my A race this year due to restrictions on training during lockdown, I've been thinking through quite a lot of alternatives about what training, racing and running looks like for me in 2020 and here are some of my thoughts of how you could answer your own 'what now' questions.

1. Virtual races
There are still lots of virtual races happening around the country - why not sign up for one of these and train with the same dedication you would for your usual race? The great Run Through offer virtually every distance up to marathons and their races cost just £20 to enter. You can still show off your #medalmonday and feel like you are part of the racing community with their bubbly online Facebook community and lovely hand written notes each finisher receives in the post.

2. Seek adventure
Who said running required finish lines? This summer the number of people chasing FKTs (fastest known times) is proof of how there are plenty of alternative ways to set a target and work towards it. Take the path less travelled, explore more, try the things you don't usually: road lovers - why not try trails? trail queen - why not try track? Slow down, take a whole day hiking, get in to wild swimming, pick up cycling - remember that adventure is out there for those brave enough to seek it.

3. Go wilder
While many races are cancelled lots of the smaller, often more wild ones are still happening! I'm a big fan of Maverick and from next weekend they are back with mindful Covid-19 returns to racing. The 5km PB might not be on the cards, but you are bound to have a brilliant day on new exciting trails, hanging out in a race village and soaking in the festival style atmosphere.

4. Go faster
This is such a great time to dedicate some effort to getting your shorter distances faster. If you don't fancy hitting the trails, why not work towards a new 5km PB? Follow an 8 week training plan, even work with a coach if you are saving your usual gym/race entry money, and see what you can achieve at the end of a dedicated training block.

5. Go further
The road racing community might have abruptly stopped but there is plenty going on in the ultrarunning community. Always fancied a longer distance? This could be an amazing time to work towards a longer goal: train mindfully, build up slowly but why not work towards a longer distance while the number of races you usually would be smashing round are on hold?

Whatever you decide is next: stay safe, train mindfully and work hard and you never know what you might achieve.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Trigs | Fan Brycheiniog, Carmarthen Fan, Brecon Beacons

Just 6 days before Christmas, I had managed to persuade my Dad to take an impromptu trip to Wales, thanks to some annual leave I swiftly needed to use up before the end of the year.

While I've spent time in the Brecon Beacons before, I had managed to miss off many of the major summits and was keen to explore some of the higher, but still not so touristy, tops. And so with that we drove deep in to the national park, parking at the Tafarn-y-Garreg pub and headed for an incredible ridgeline.

On a clear day, I am told the views from the Carmarthen Fan ridegeline are some of the best in Wales. I, however, was instead treated to misty rolling clouds, with occasional sunlight piercing through the clouds and sudden glimpses of the valley beyond.

That, and not seeing a single other person in our 6 hours out. And that, is why I love winter hiking.

From the pub, for 5km we followed a wide uphill path that lead us to the ridgeline. From here, we followed the ridgeline over multiple tops: quiet Fan Hir bleeds in to Fan Brycheioniog, and the highest point and trig on this summit ridge (802.5m), before blending away in to Fan Foel.

From Fan Foel, the path veers West leaving behind the glacial lake of  Llyn y Fan Fach, taking you down and back up before you hit the summit of Bannau Sir Gaer (known also as Picws Du) before dropping down off the ridgeline via the final summit of Waun Lefrith.

Mountains are temperamental things and as prepared as you might be, the weather can change in an instant. As we begun to descend off Waun Lefrith a sudden icy rain storm blew in and all the layers in the world could not protect us from the biting water that descended.

I'm a pretty decent endurance distance athlete because I'm fundamentally pretty stubborn and don't like giving in when things get tough. I get that trait from my father. And as such, we went traipsing off, leaving the comfort of the paths behind, through the now hail-storm in search of Garreg Las, a Nuttall which is characterised by two distinctive Bronze Age cairns on the summit. It's hard to marvel at a prehistoric pile of stones when you're being whipped sideways by icy blasts of freezing cold water though and we scarpered as quickly as we arrived.

Now with quite some pace, we headed back towards the valley and the rain that had fallen made the formerly easy to jump river crossings swell. As such, we were forced to wade through 7 rivers on the way back, the freezing December Welsh rivers getting the last laugh on our way down.

Suddenly the boggy, pathless monster of a route was transformed by the best Christmas present a girl could ask for: a wide, beautifully laid path. Bliss. As we plodded back dreaming of what we might order at the pub, we were treated to passing four wild ponies who looked more miserable about being out in the rain than I was.

As we arrived back at the pub we threw ourselves in front of the tiny roaring stove and ordered a mountain of piping hot food. After a plate of gammon, egg and chips, a bowl of sticky toffee pudding and custard and a glass of red wine I began to feel my drenched toes again. Sitting in front of the fire, my wet clothing strewn about the fireplace, I was filled with such contentment that only a truly wild mountain experience can give you. Don't get me wrong: I love a beautiful sunny day with clear views and wide paths. But there is nothing like the raw, visceral, wilderness on an untameable day to make your heart beat faster and your spirit truly soar.


"High up in a hollow of the Black Mountains of South Wales is a lonely sheet of water called Llyn y Fan Fach.
In a farm not far from this lake there lived in the olden time a widow, with an only son whose name was Gwyn. When this son grew up, he was often sent by his mother to look after the cattle grazing. The place where the sweetest food was to be found was near the lake, and it was thither that the mild-eyed beasts wandered whenever they had their will. One day when Gwyn was walking along the banks of the mere, watching the kine cropping the short grass, he was astonished to see a lady standing in the clear smooth water, some distance from the land.
She was the most beautiful creature that he had ever set eyes upon, and she was combing her long hair with a golden comb, the unruffled surface of the lake serving her as a mirror."

The Lady of the Lake is a folklore story from the 13th century. The authors name has been long forgotten as the story has been passed down verbally through generations. She has always been associated with Llyn y Fan Fach. She appears also in the stories of King Arthur. 

Monday, 15 June 2020

Trigs | Ben Hope, the Highlands

My father is without a doubt, one of the best hill walkers I've ever met. His passion for the hills has lasted since he snuck out of a school trip to 'nip up' Robinson in the Lake District at 16, to his now inspirational long weeks out in the remote highlands traipsing up and down pathless routes at the age of 70+.

In May 2019, my Dad planned a 30 day trip through the Highlands and I was fortunate enough to be allowed to tag along for chunks of time. While Dad was ticking off new Marilyns, we detoured a couple of times to allow me to tick off Munros.

A short history for you now on Munros: a Munro is any mountain in Scotland over 3,000 feet (roughly 915m) and the approved list is held by the SMC (Scottish Mountaineering Club). There are 282 Munros and a further 227 Munro Tops, lesser peaks of other primary mountains that are still over 3,000 feet.

Munros are named after Sir Hugh Munro (1856-1919) who produced 'Munro's Tables' in 1891 the first list of these hills. As of today, over 6,500 people have climbed all of the Munros.

We woke up on what has to have been the most perfect Scottish May morning: the sky was shockingly blue and the air was warm with no threat of rain. So we headed to the most northerly of Scotland's Munros, Ben Hope, a beautiful lonesome 927m peak set in the most incredible remote Highlands.

Parking at the bottom of the main route by the Strathmore River at Muiseal, I was bemused that a simple sign states 'WAY UP BEN HOPE'. Not one for a navigational challenge then. The route is cut beautifully in to the mountain and consists for a huge part in a series of almost steps, winding up past waterfalls and incredible rock formations gaining height quickly and easily. Once you leave the small river behind, the steps fall away to leave a more exposed flatter final ascent that weaves through spiky rock formations and up grassy slopes.

The problem with having such a fantastic hill walker as a father is that I, a rather fit 30-something ultrarunner, am often slightly shocked that I can't keep up with my pensioner of a father! He requires no breaks and just the occasional biscuit to keep him going. Our pace therefore up Ben Hope was enjoyably tough as this simple route gives you the full ascent in your legs thanks to starting at near on sea level. Up and up we climbed.

Towards the summit we were treated to beautiful snowy plains, thick snow crunching under our boots as we continued to gently snake up. As we crossed the final snow field, the summit trig poked out and as we hit the top itself the view to end all views opened out in front of us. Because Ben Hope is the highest point for miles, Scotland seems to open up before you - the weaving coast, the awesome sea, Cape Wrath to the North West, lochs dotted around and miles of rolling landscape. It is quite possibly the most incredible view I've ever been treated to from the top of a mountain.

As it was quiet on the top, we ate our lunch while leaning up against the trig point before having to tear ourselves away from the summit to make our way back down the way we'd come.

If you are looking for views to take your breath away, Ben Hope is the mountain for you.


Syenite, mid-way between Granite and who knows what,
Proud above the Loch of the same name.
Jagged, distinctive multitude of rocky summits,
Each ideal to survey the wise expanse of flow,
Always the same,
The roaring stags of October are King here,
The true Loyal residents.

It was not always so, Ribigill, Mharraich
and Bronze age settlement so old no name remains,
but the circle in the moor and the clearance carins,
Speak loud in the silence,
Stone Rows, now buried in the peat,
Peak tentatively out at a world,
That no longer understands their meaning.

Hope springs eternal, smooth to the sunrise,
Optimistic above the loch of the same name,
Falling vertically and catastrophically towards the sunset,
Cliffs tumbling so far they will never end until,
You look towards sunset at the Wrath,
Where the mightiest cliff on the mainland stands,
And beyond Wrath there is nothing.

Crouching down on Hope, I brace myself,
Against the West wind from nothingness and Wrath,
And turn back to gaze upon the rocky security,
Of multi-headed Loyal,
I listen for the Stag's roar,
And await the next sunrise.

Loyal Hope ends with Wrath, Stuart Graham, 2017

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Trigs | Noss Head, Shetland

I am sitting in my running kit on a generously named ferry with a large lifejacket around my neck. Now I respect that this is not what most people request for their 30th birthday present but I was clear: I wanted to go to Shetland with my family and I specifically wanted to participate in Bressay parkrun and climb the hills of Shetland.

Quick detour in case you don't know what parkrun is: parkrun is a free 5km run/jog/walk that takes place around the world every Saturday morning. I love the instant community feel of arriving at a parkrun anywhere in the world and the joy of being outdoors regularly so parkrun is a real home for me. Bressay parkrun, on Bressay island, is a short hop on a ferry over from Lerwick, the main town on Shetland and because it's run on such a tiny island, you run down the main roads on a Saturday morning finishing with coffee and cake in the local community run cafe. It is a total joy.

If you find yourself on Bressay, you can then take another ferry over to the tiny protected island of Noss, a national nature reserve known for phenomenal bird life. And that was why I was, on the weekend of my birthday, I found myself sitting in my running kit on a tiny boat being taken over the Noss Sound to a minuscule island.

Subject to sea conditions, the ferry runs from 1 May to 31 August (you can check if the ferry is running by calling 0800 107 7818) and costs just £5 return per person. On arrival the little visitors centre gives a thorough list of sightings of wildlife recently and we are given an in depth warning about Bonxies (also known as great skuas), a huge sea bird known for dive bombing anyone silly enough to get near their nests. The message is very clearly: stick to the path.

We head out East, following the coastal trail south that in just 9km takes you round the entire island. The sweeping sea views and phenomenal cliffs that are so remote and wild yet well protected are like nowhere in Britain I've been before and it's not long before we've stumbled upon hundreds of puffins, flying in and out of the island between fishing trips. In this protected paradise, they have no qualms about us sitting metres from them and watching them get on with their day.

After nearly an hour happily sitting in the early August sunshine watching these beautiful birds we carry on round the costal path coming to the dramatic cliff of Charlie's Holm and what looks like a speckled white cliff. Upon further inspection these white dots are thousands of gannets, nesting on the sea cliffs. They drop in and out on their quest for fish and maintenance of their nests and the sea seems almost alive with the continual movement caused by diving birds.

Charlie's Holm continues uphill to the main destination of the day, the Marilyn of Noss Head, a 181m summit and amazing view point. This trig point is a beautifully rounded shape, known as a Vanessa pillar, and sits proudly at the top of this phenomenal little island. Standing at the summit, islets and islands forming pinpricks on the horizon, this remote trig point feels like the most remarkable place in the world.

We descend along the northernly side of the island where we are treated to a seal lazily bobbing around in the water. On other days it is possible to see killer whales and minke whales as well as dolphins and porpoise all of whom make the most of the warmer pockets of water that form in the shallows around the islands.

Before we know it we are back at the ferry, slightly shellshocked by the beauty of the island we have just discovered.


The sound of water on a shore.

Robert I have noticed that something draws us towards outlying islands. Some force pulls. A quiet bay, an island in its middle - we take a small boat and we row out from the land. We circle the island, looking for a beach. We pull up the boat and light cigarettes. We walk the island's boundaries. We make a fire.
We sit on the beach and drink beer.
We cast our eyes back to the far shore from which we've come.
Night falls and the mainland slips into darkness.
We listen to the waves.
The island claims us.

The crash of the sea on rocks.
A cliff. 
A thousand seabirds.

I have noticed from the study of maps,
The more outlying the island - 
The further out it is in the remote ocean -
The stronger the force that pulls us towards it.

Outlying Islands, David Greig, 2002

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Training | How to conquer the self-powered commute

As lockdown starts to lift here in London I've seen more of my friends than ever before realise that our city can be pretty easy to navigate by foot or pedal and is a brilliant alternative to taking public transport.

I've been cycle and run commuting for many years now and love the freedom it gives me as well as it being a great way of clocking sessions when you have a busy work week.

With that in mind, here is my guide to take on the city as a self-powered commuter.

1. Be Safe 
City traffic is pretty notorious, if you're planning on commuting by running/walking or cycling make sure you are safe. Be cautious at traffic lights and if you are cycling wear a helmet. It isn't about your cycling skills, it's about those around you - if a driver has a lapse in concentration a helmet could save your life. I've got a nice one from Decathlon that's comfy and fits my head (another important thing!).

2. Be Seen
I also wear a high vis both on my bike and if I'm taking on particularly busy intersections, while running. I've got a snazzy one from Proviz and you can use my code BBFI for 20% off their stuff: Finally make sure you've got some lights if you are cycling - it's so easy to think you won't be out and about after dark and then suddenly the sun sets and you're stuck not able to get home.

My funky running high-vis was gifted by Proviz

3. Pick a better route
Yes - running down the main road is 0.2 miles faster. But is it really better for your lungs than running through the park? Allow yourself enough time and pick enjoyable routes that make your commute something you love not something you loathe. Check out the local cycle routes near to you and try different routes to see which ones you like. If you are running detour routes can be the best - I always detour to the top of Primrose Hill as I cut West to East on my commute through London and those snatched moments looking across London are one of the highlights of my day.

4. Invest in a good bag
Your back will thank you for it. If you're cycling think about one that is bright and will keep you lit up especially if you've invested in a bright jacket or high vis - there is no point covering it up! I've got a fluro orange one that helps people see me. If you are running consider your body type: girls get a female specific one! How much stuff do you really need? Can you leave your laptop locked at work? Can you keep shoes in a locker or under your desk? Weight savings make a massive difference. I tend to try and go super light (with no need to take my laptop home and shoes kept under my desk) I wear a decathlon 10 litre vest and I pre-pack my clothes in a plastic bag to keep them non-sweaty. If I need my laptop or shoes I have a brilliant female specific Gregory running rucksack. I've owned it 5 years and it's as great as the day I bought it. Invest in a good bag that is made for your shape and needs. Your back will thank you.

5. Take it easy
Don't have a shower at work? Me neither. Go slow. Take it easy. Walk if you fancy it. Try to leave a bit too much time and if you arrive really early why not treat yourself to a coffee? That £2.90 peak tube fare you saved should cover a flat white instead. Be kind to yourself!

Good luck and have fun out there.

Post in conjunction with Proviz Sports. 

Friday, 22 May 2020

Trigs | Snowdon, Snowdonia

It is less than a week before Christmas and the guy at the Youth Hostel reception desk is looking at me like I'm nuts. "You want to go over Crib Goch?" he repeats, "At this time of year we'd only recommend that for people who really know what they're doing, you know, people who've spent a lot of time in the hills." This should annoy me but actually it makes me laugh, what does a person who spends a lot of time in the hills look like? I'm evidently giving off the wrong vibe as I hold my beer and quiz him in the bar the night before my planned ascent.

I love the idea that people think hill baggers are still 'anoraks'. Obvious in the daylight. I continue to shock new friends that I can bore them for hours with my supposedly needless trivia about trig points. I confirm to the guy on the front desk that I definitely fall in to the camp of "know what I'm doing", hence the quizzing. "I'm just trying to ascertain how much ice is up there: is it crampons and ice axe kind of weather or not? Happy to carry stuff I don't need just in case just thought I'd ask your opinion." I then find out the route of the problem: he's not actually been over Crib Goch himself. Ever.

There are many routes up Wales' highest summit, Snowdon, and many are wonderfully friendly to beginners. Personally my love of the hills doesn't involve snaking up behind hundreds of other hill walkers so for me the natural route of choice is Crib Goch, in deepest winter. On the 20th December I make my bid for Wales' summit. Heading out of the YHA which is happily perched at one of the highest starting points for Snowdon, Pen-y-Pass, this crisp morning leads the valleys around me to be lit with the most phenomenal ethereal light while clouds trap the sunlight above me. I follow the easily marked Pyg Track until it splinters off to it's much unfriendlier elder brother of a route, the Crib Goch climb.

Crib Goch is a knife-edged arête which translates as 'red ridge' in Welsh. As I slowly pull myself along the ridge I'm delighted that while there is fresh snow, there is no ice making for really enjoyable climbing. On the day I'm there the ridgeline opposite, along with the famous Miners Track and the lake, Llyn Llydaw, keep swelling in and out of the mist and I feel like I have been lost to a dream world. It is believed that much of J R R Tolkein's vision for The Lord of the Rings came from the time he spent in North Wales and you can see why. For hours I see no one, which surely is not a statement many can say on their ascent of Snowdon.

Once over the knife blade of Crib Goch's summit, the kind-of-path threads it's way onwards before curving over Garnedd Ugain's trig point and continuing round to the left and the giant of Snowdon makes itself known with the surprising path convergence of my route and the railway line. There are no trains at this time of year and a smattering of other walkers pass cheerily but with hurried pace as the chill has started picking up and it has begun to snow. The mountain is reminding me that winter is here.

At the summit itself I gaze longingly at the cafe and dream of hot chocolate I could buy on days other than a wintery December before climbing the final twisting stairs that lead to the trig point itself. This trig is of special significance, as the highest point in Wales it was crucial in the triangulation of 1802 that led to the first accurate map of Wales by the Ordnance Survey. The Surveyor's work on top of the mountain, using a 200-pound theodolite they had had to carry up the mountain, was hard going due to the tapered nature of the summit but the discomfort they faced in triangulating from such a point was offset by the view, described by a witness at the time; 'Snowdon lies right in the centre of the British world, and commands from it's summit, views at once of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and of the intermediate islands of Anglesey and Man.' (This quote is taken from Rachel Hewitt's wonderful Map of a Nation: A biography of the Ordnance Survey).

The view from Snowdon (1085m) has the potential to be as astounding today but on the day I reach the summit I'm nearly blown off sideways by the snow that is now attempting to lodge itself in any crevice I have failed to cover with waterproofing material and the sky is a thick white of snow drift which doesn't lend itself to great views. I quickly skim off the summit and head South down the Watkins path to cross the summit of Y Lliwedd. This amazing ridge line gives views back of Snowdon and Crib Goch that make this longer route down worth the effort and I eventually drop back down on to the Miner's Track which feels like a motorway compared to some of the paths I've ventured on today.

The Miner's Path drops me back off at the Youth Hostel and inside I order a whisky from the same guy at the reception desk. He's slightly impressed and slightly surprised by my order but as I settle down in front of the roaring fire of the hostel bar and pour over The Mountains of England and Wales (Volume 1: Wales) by John and Anne Nuttall I think he starts to realise that underneath my rather sheep-like appearance, an anorak of a wolf lies.


"A week ago, when I left home,
I little thought that I should come
To Snowdon's châlet - thence to see
The sun in heavenliest majesty.
Moonlight and mist at night-fall threw
A veil o'er all; - one argent hue
Enclos'd the earth, while far above
Gleams of a brighter world of Love
Wafter the soul beyond the sky,
Far, far, into Eternity!
But when the morning broke, and day
Once more resum'd his brilliant sway,
I saw - but words can never tell
That fire-line on the horizon creeping! -
At once upon my knees I fell,
And, for my very joy, much weeping!"
Written on the Summit of Snowdon, September 11th, 1845, Rev Henry Wellington Starr, 1845
Tragically, on the Rev Starr's second ascent of Snowdon in 1846, he had an accident on the descent. The weather had been poor and he'd chosen to climb alone something rarely done at the time. His body was discovered by a huntsman in 1847.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Trigs | Pitch Hill, Surrey Hills

It's a beautiful 25 degrees in May in the UK today which is obviously an absolute rarity. I've spent the morning at the more famous 'true summit' of Pitch Hill's parent, Leith Hill, the second highest point in the South East of England having great fun attempting to run up and down the steps that lead from the Windy Gap car park to the tower that sits proudly at the summit.

While Leith Hill is an amazing viewpoint, it holds nothing to it's much less well known child of a hill, Pitch Hill. Just further up the road, I have parked in 'Hurtwood Car Park 3' and while the name is less than inspiring this area is far from. The Hurtwood is an area of 2000 acres of privately owned Common land in the Surrey Hills that feels like it has been pulled straight out of a Lewis Carroll novel.

Rather than following the most direct line up to Pitch Hill, I head out West along a narrow footpath and past The Warren, a small summit with a privately owned windmill sitting proudly on top before turning left to lose some height as I descend South down Horseblock Hollow, picking up an access only road and footpath that cuts back across the Warren lower down with beautiful views all the way across to eventually the South Downs.

At the end of The Warren a network of tiny incredibly steep paths lead me up towards Pitch Hill. These routes up crisscross and snake up the hill in such a steep manner I feel like a naughty schoolgirl creeping in to the woodlands along long forgotten paths. At times I am almost crawling, dragging myself up the path through the dense woodland until I suddenly hit a clearing that opens out to my right and the summit of Pitch Hill. After tapping the trig point at the top I continue to the far corner and the main Viewpoint where a small information board has been built in memory of the founders of the Long Distance Walkers Association, Alan Blatchford and Chris Steer. You can see why they would have chosen to put a memorial here of all places. I catch my breath and take in the 270 degree vista that enables me to see all the way out to the Shoreham gap and the channel beyond.

South East England opens up before me and in the beautifully quiet woods, I feel like I am a million miles away from London - just 30 miles away as the crow flies to the buzz and hum of Canary Wharf and the centre of town. Here I find myself in a moment of true serenity, caught between the rays of the sun, the dense wood and the eye wateringly beautiful views.


"The heathland earth enmeshes secret glass, come see through this
cyclists flicker and echo down braided greensand paths,
their hunt in the forest ripping new wounds
in land enriched by scars. Lightening, flash-bulb blue,
ghosts the moment, lost voices alive in birch and oak,
at hide-and-seek inside the fort's enclosure.
A grasshopper's shed skin clings to a stalk - what's flown,
flies here still, its breath a maze of insect shadows."
Greensand Way, John Wedgewood Clarke, 2016

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Trigs | Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

I'm standing on top of an ancient volcano in the middle of the second largest city in Scotland. Arthur's Seat is a glorious central hill summit with fantastic views over the city and out to the sea.

At 251m this sleeping giant is a must do while visiting Edinburgh. I find myself in Edinburgh every August for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world and I will at least once every summer therefore make the ascent to the top of this sleeping giant.

Arthur's Seat sits within Holyrood Park and my favourite ascent involves tacking on a climb of Salisbury Crags as well.

Starting at my favourite arts venue (which also has a fantastic cafe) Summerhall on the edge of the Meadows, I make my way down the majestic former fronts of Edinburgh's beautiful old houses on East Preston Street passing the old Commonwealth pool as I continue down Holyrood Park Road. I've snuck out at lunchtime in the middle of a busy festival day packed with seeing shows and the festival atmosphere spills on to the sunny streets with music and laughter filling the buzzy atmosphere. While there are many things to adore about the fringe festival, the overwhelming volume of people is not one of them and I start to break in to a jog as I hit Queen's Drive, the circular road and footpath that runs around the edge of Holyrood Park. I head away from Arthur's Seat itself, skirting the park to the left first and watch the looming Salisbury Crags rise to my right as I leave behind the crowds and the noise. As I pass the Scottish Parliament on my left I start to hug Salisbury Crags following Volunteer's Walk before turning almost a complete U-turn to start to follow the line that takes you directly over this summit.

As I start to hit the expanse of cliff that forms the Crags I am hit with my first really proper view of Arthur's Seat rising up to my left. I follow the Crags all the way over to rejoin one of the main ascents to Arthur's Seat itself, Pipers Walk. In 1778 soldiers from the Seaforth highlanders mutinied in this very spot and the regiment's piper paced the path playing hence the name. Today I can make out some of the pipers playing for tourists back in the centre as I follow the curling path up towards the summit, my run now reduced to a walk due to the gradient. As you hit the summit itself there is a final scramble to get to the top and my quiet escape suddenly finds me once again surrounded by tourists, selfie sticks in their hands throwing quizzical looks at my heavy breathing and even heavier running style.

I climb the final few steps to the trig itself from where you get the most amazing 360 degree view all the way over to the sea and beyond. I quickly touch the trig and I'm gone, flying down the most direct route, heading East towards Dunsapie Crags down the grassy slope that eventually leads me back on to Queen's Drive. Heart pounding I slow down from a wild fall to a gentle jog, as I skirt Holyrood Park once again on Queen's Drive before exiting the park the way I'd come. Back at Summerhall I'm salty and sweaty and shot with even more quizzical looks as I queue with my running rucksack for the tiny bathrooms. I'll change from my secret hill bagging ways back in to an arts professional just in time for the next show to start: heart full once again of the joy of the hills.


"I visited Edinburgh with languid eyes and mind; and yet that city might have interested the most unfortunate being. Clerval did not like it so well as Oxford; for the antiquity of the latter city was more pleasing to him. But the beauty and regularity of the new town of Edinburgh, its romantic castle and its environs, the most delightful in the world, Arthur's Seat, St Bernard's Well, and the Pentland Hills, compensated him for the change, and filled him with cheerfulness and admiration."
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, 1818

Monday, 18 May 2020

Trigs | Stiperstones, Shropshire Hills

The light has just started slipping down the sky and the sunset over Wales is opening out in to the most beautiful array of colours.

I've parked at The Bog visitor's centre, a lovely little former mining village that now is a tiny hamlet on the edge of the Shropshire Hills. The Shropshire Hills are wonderful because while they have some of the wilderness and feel of other national parks in the UK, by being slightly lower they are far less visited and the evening I've come to Stiperstones there is a beautiful stillness over the village of The Bog.

Stiperstones is part of the group of hills in Britain known as Marilyns, hills with a 150m drop on all sides. Amusingly they were named Marilyns by Alan Dawson in his 1992 book The Relative Hills of Britain as a counterpoint to their Scottish mountain cousins, Munroes. Marilyn. Munro. Get it? 

From the main car park, you cut across a field slowly climbing until you hit The Shropshire Way, a bridleway that climbs through punchy pockets of heather before opening out on to a glorious long ridgeline with multiple forked up quartzite stones. These jagged outcrops in total run for an incredible 5 miles causing a dramatic summit for its modest 536m. One of these outcrops is even poetically named Devil's Chair. 

As you open out on to the summit ridge you see in the distance one of the most remarkable placings of a trig point ever: on the highest jagged quartzite, known as Manstone Rock, amazingly a trig has been cast at the very top. A scramble to the top later and you can cling on to the narrow depression in the centre and lean back in to nothingness.

The night in question I scrambled up bravely, thinking myself somewhat impressive in the half light of the evening. After I'd summited and gingerly made my way back down, through the twilight a fell runner came peeling out of the skyline and after a swift acknowledge of "Evening" threw himself up and back down in less than 10 steps. It rather put my cautious clamber to shame. But locals loving their hills has always been one of the joys of a truly great summit: loved by many, in many different ways. Loved through seasons, times of day, stages of life. The mountain is always there for you when you need it and no matter how you arrive or depart.


"They came at last, trotting in file along a narrow track between heather, along the saddle of the hill, to where the knot of pale granite suddenly cropped out. It was one of those places where the spirit of aboriginal England still lingers, the old savage England, whose last blood flows in a few Englishmen, Welshmen, Cornishmen. The rocks, whitish with weather of all ages, jutted against the blue August sky, heavy with age-moulded roundness. 
[...] At length they stood in the place called the Chair, looking west, west towards Wales, that rolled in golden folds upwards. It was neither impressive nor a very picturesque landscape: the hollow valley with farms, and the rather bare upheaval of hills, slopes with corn and moor and pasture, rising like a barricade, seemingly high, slantingly. Yet it had a strange effect on the imagination."
St Mawr, D H Lawrence, 1925

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Finding motivation when the going gets tough

Motivation is a funny thing. It seems to come and go like the wind and I tend to find I'm motivated at really useless times (think 11pm at night I'm dreaming of that long run or stuck at my desk I'm fantasising about a core workout I want to nail).

Home working can be tough and being constricted by external limitations can really cause motivation to run away scared. Here are some tips of how to stay motivated when times get tough:

1 Plan
Sit down at the start of week and make a plan of when you're going to workout and what you are hoping to do. Planning in advance helps you prioritise the time and forces you to think through when things won't work (planning a 3 hour long run the same day as you're due to be working a long day - probably unrealistic).
As well as simply planning I really recommend you write it down - this makes it more likely to happen. Personally I use a journal and go old-school but you could do this online or on a calendar app if that works better for you.

2 Be Accountable
Community is so useful in helping us get through the hard sessions. I also have found my running transformed since being coached by someone as this has enabled me be accountable for the sessions I'm going to attempt and how they did or didn't go.
Text a friend and ask if they fancy doing a session with you remotely this week - you could both commit to doing an interval session on Tuesday say or to doing the Tempo Thursday set. Check in with that person afterwards, share what you found hard and what you're proud of for yourself for.
Accountability is such a powerful tool in helping get a session in when motivation is waning.

3 Find Positive Inspiration
Inspiration is everywhere around us from those we find positive influences on social media (note positive influences: if they're not uplifting - unfollow!) to stories you can read from heroes of the running community (now is a great time to read that book you've always wanted to) through to documentaries and short films and of course from those around us. I particularly find the people in my everyday life really inspire me: the colleague who did her first 5km run in the park yesterday, my parents getting out for a daily walk, my We Are Daybreak friends committing to their workouts and finding strength and resilience.
Channel that positivity and let it fuel your workout.

4 If you're struggling
Sometimes life can be quite overwhelming. At times when I've been really struggling I've committed to the simple tool of completing three things a day. Just three things. When I've been in a really tough place that might be as simple as shower, eat one proper meal and get outside once today. When I'm doing well it might be bigger things: laundry, a running session, pay that nagging bill. Write it down. Celebrate each thing you complete but remember if things are tough that you can do small things. Sticking to just three helps keep it manageable and gives you create a positive outlook to approaching tasks throughout the rest of the week.

5 Set goals
My recent coaching qualifications focused on the importance of goal setting but not perhaps in the way that social media has led us to believe. Firstly don't worry about medals or even times. And while it's great to have something big to aim for (I've been working towards a race in August for over a year now), it is also really important that we set bitesized smaller goals and review our progress. So try setting a fitness based goal of where you would like to be in 8 weeks time and then benchmark your current ability. That could be improving your balance by 20% (try standing on one leg with your eyes shut and time yourself). Or how about improving your core strength through completing regular strength training (try holding a plank for as long as you can).
Goals don't need to be about races or medals and smaller fitness goals will have long term impacts on your running that you will reap for years to come.

6 The 'zero to hero' fallacy
With so many opportunities to take part in exercise at the minute don't overcommit and try and do everything. What does your current average of exercising look like? We would always encourage that you don't step up by more than 20% in a week so that might mean if you regularly take part in 5 running sessions a week adding in an additional yoga class. Start slowly and remember that the phrase 'zero to hero' is a lie. Zero to "Ouch what is that sharp pain?!" more like. There is power in rest days. Since I've introduced two rest days a week, I've got 20 minutes faster at the marathon. Get stronger, stay fit and sane yet move mindfully and allow your body time to recover.

Finally: remember the power of the simple things. Eat mindfully, get some time outdoors, reduce your screen time, exercise, call your friends and family, don't overdo the caffeine.

We're online and connected if you need us. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Race | Seville Marathon

11 marathons in. 4th attempt at achieving a 'Good For Age' time - the time needed to run the London marathon. On paper that means sub-3:45 but in reality this year 3:40:45.

First two times they were more fleeting thoughts rather than hard work plans (Copenhagen 2018 - destroyed in the heat and Chicago 2018 - PB of 3:52:58). The last time in Stockholm I'd worked super hard and it didn't come to plan but thanks to the amazing Speedster pacing me round the hilly course I lowered my PB to 3:45:39.

In the last 10 weeks I've worked harder than I've ever worked in a marathon training cycle. I've achieved a new 10km PB, run virtually my half marathon PB after a 10km warm up and clocked paces I've never seen before.

I was ready.

But this was not the blog I was hoping to write.

Seville was the most wonderful course. Beautiful, flat and early on in the year - perfect for the ultramarathon lover in me to race then get back to the trails.

I've also been struggling with lots of other stuff recently including high levels of stress and little sleep and going in to marathon week I wasn't my usual self but by recognising it properly early on in the week by the weekend I was feeling ready to attack the marathon. I clocked a little shake out on the Saturday and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little shocked at quite how warm I found it. After training in long, cold, wet English winters, and being known for my love of shorts and t-shirts regardless of the weather, I was shocked at quite how warm it felt in Seville.

I made a panic trip to Decathlon and bought a great emergency vest for just €15 to wear on race day. Nothing new before race day slightly out the window but it was definitely the right decision.

On the day itself I felt great. The Speedster had wonderfully offered to pace me and as we set off I felt amazing. I was so ready. Congestion at the start made the first km slow but that felt useful to get us in a groove. We went through 10km in 51:15, on track for 3:35. The next 5km flew past but 17-19km were a bit tough but I still went through the half marathon in 1:48:55, on track for a 3:37 finish. 20km-24km I was back on it but as I got to 25km my chin started repeatedly popping up and I realised I was started to get really uncomfortably warm.

Between 25km-30km I managed to hold my pace for some kms and others started to slip but I was still well on track for a GFA time. But then around 31km something just snapped in a way I've never experienced before. My heart rate soared over 190bpm and I was convinced I was going to pass out/throw up. The heat got to me. And then my calves started cramping horribly (again something I've never had before). I desperately poured cup after cup of water over my head desperately trying to cool myself down but the damage was done.

My brain was screaming to stop. I'd lost all my goals. I felt so unwell. I just desperately wanted to stop.

But somehow I kept moving forward. I walked through the water stations for 10-20 seconds every time to try and give myself the chance to get in fluids. It was agony to keep moving especially as around 35km my by now wet and salty feet were causing me agony (3 blood blisters under toenails and a massive blister on my arch would explain that later) and I felt like I was barely moving.

When the 3:45 pacers passed about 39km it really hurt me mentally. I desperately tried to go with them but my legs were screaming with cramp.

Looking at my splits now for the last 12km I actually see I was still holding a decent pace. But it's hard to come to terms with goals versus paces you formally ran.

I convinced myself for the final 3km I wouldn't walk a single step. Finish well. Flipping heck it hurt. The Speedster was amazing and stuck with me through all of my meltdown. As we approached the finish line it was so overwhelming to not be running towards at least a PB.

Crossing the line I cried. And cried. And cried.

I don't think I've 'deserved' a PB more. But it was not to be.

I'm taking some time this week to regroup and come to terms with how I'm feeling. Next up I've got a trail ultramarathon so I'm excited to next week head off to the trails for mentally a bit of a break from the roads.


Total time: 3:48:19
Average pace: 5:25/km

Finishing position: 5454 (out of 10,299)
Finishing position (gender): 404 (out of 1488)
Percentage of finishers: 88%