My Year In Running

I spotted this write up on Vikki's blog If You Can't Move It, Climb It. and thought it was a really cool idea to round off the year. Obviously there are more runs to come in December, but most of 2014 has been and gone.

Best Race Experience

I really haven't raced a lot this year. Perhaps Dumyat Hill Race in May? I was proud of my time and Dumyat is a fun, pacey little hike of a hill. I had a really great time at this race, compared to not very enjoyable days at others. I am looking forward to 2015 races though, even though my plan has totally gone to pot!

Best Run

I cannot possibly choose one. This is like choosing a favourite child, except more difficult because sometimes children are mean and messy so you can score them off the favourites list... All runs teach you something (I am so wise). So the candidates are... the time in the hills- particularly the Whangie with friends-; the insanely gorgeous bird sanctuary run I did out at my aunt's house; running the Clydeside bridges in beautiful weather; or Aberdeen parkrun in all its wooded, autumnal glory.

The Whangie
Bird Sanctuary


Best New Piece of Gear

I am going to have to nominate multiple gear pieces. I love my Sweaty Betty kit to bits, but particularly the chill resistor top, which is so comfy I have to resist (sorry, couldn't help myself) wearing it every day to every thing. Then also the Believe I Am Training Journal- beautiful and inspirational wee book. Its already making me see the issues in my training and I've only just opened the thing.

Best Piece of Running Advice I Received

Personally, N telling me I was doing 'Pretty fucking well' really helped me re-frame how I thought of my own running. Not personally (Twitter advice ahoy!) seeing this tweet to pro runner Emelia Gorecka:

Demonstrating that even the greats need to be told to give themselves a break. And I absolutely agree that progress is not always linear, or even obvious at all. 

Best Inspirational Runner

Every runner I have met through Twitter has been without exception, awesome. Seriously, you guys are motivating, funny, real, and just brilliant humans. Every day that I log in and read your run chat helps me. As for one specific inspirational runner, I'd currently choose Cat Simpson, who was kind enough to give me her time for an interview that you should read here.

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?

Working my way uphill.


What would your answers be? Either link to posts or just answer below :)


Glasgow Uni 5 Mile Road Race

Going into this race the only aim I had was sub-10 minute miles. This would put me in a position where I performed relatively similar to my previous outing on the course (2010). The week before my knee was a little odd feeling so in the run up to the race I focused on making this feel good and hoped the lessened running would help.

It felt good to put my new GUHH vest on for the first time to actually race; and good to be at a race again given that Braids didn't work out. Was also nice to see people I hadn't seen in a while. I finished this year in 48.25; my watch says 47.40 and it wasn't chipped so I'm tempted to go for the watch's interpretation which gives an average pace of 9.32. This is very slightly slower than 2010 but since that was pre-injury, and I was a ton lighter, I think I can handle that.

The course is a double loop of 2 and a bit miles then almost 3 on the second loop. First you take a short warm up jog from Garscube along the river to the start, which is a lot further around than you think. Unfortunately this warm up jog will later be part of your race and will take forever. Its a hard course, starts on uphill out of the park and into the streets, which feels so long the second time you complete the loop. There are also several sharper hills on route. You essentially spend the loop jumping in and out of the park and up and down the surrounding hilly terrain. There's a long downhill towards the end of the first loop/the end of the whole course on loop 2, which very much helps your times. The Nigel Barge 10K follows a very similar course there and describes it as a 'short sharp roller coaster of a race' - this is pretty accurate.

Unfortunately I have zero photos of me at this race (did I even race?! Oh the web of lies!). So, instead I will treat you to the course map and elevation profile.


She's Got Gumption: Cat Simpson

gumption[guhmp-shuh n]  
  1. initiative; resourcefulness:
  2. courage; spunk; guts
  3. common sense

Gumption is an excellent, old-fashioned and sadly underused word. To me it captures all that I find inspiring in others- self reliant spirit bordering on feistiness, and a serious backbone of common sense. So many people in the running and sport community inspire me, and they're usually not 'professional' athletes. It's the people making their sport work in their world, because they love it, because they need it. 

I wanted to start a series of posts, interviewing these total badasses and gaining some insight into what drives them. The person to immediately spring to mind was Cat Simpson. She is an incredible ultrarunner; has raced all over the globe; placed in multiple marathons; and has just launched a new career as a coach.

Cat very kindly agreed to give me some of her time and answer a few questions I had rattling inside my head.

The Atacama at one of its less dry spots- all photos from Cat's site

So, Cat, you're a month out from kicking ass in Chile at the Atacama Crossing. Congratulations on your 2nd place and placing 3rd in the marathon del Bío Bío so soon after! Did you expect to do so well in the Atacama?

Thank you! I'd hoped to do well and secretly wanted to finish on the podium, but nothing was a given during a race like Atacama - so much can go wrong. But fortunately everything went to plan, albeit that the race was much, much tougher than I expected!

Could you tell us about your highest moment in that monumental race, and about your lowest?

The lowest was probably on the first day, when I had a very big reality check. The course started at over 3,000m altitude and I felt exhausted. It was much tougher and more technical than I expected, and I spent most of the day kicking myself for not feeling prepared. But after that, it was all one big high, to be honest. Once I chilled the f-ck out I really enjoyed myself. The scenery was beautiful and I can't really think of anything I'd rather do than spend a week doing something I love, surrounding by like-minded people.

The Atacama is very dry, did you struggle at all with dehydration?

No - a lot of people did, and to be honest, I hadn't trained under hot conditions, so replacing electrolytes was a guessing game, but I took salt tablets and drank regularly and it all worked out OK.

Would you say Atacama was more a mental or physical challenge?

Definitely mental. That's not to say that it was physically easy, but it's easier to train your body than your mind; I sort of feel that mental training is something that comes with time, but then it's easy for it all to come crashing down again (as it nearly did on the first day). Atacama (and other long, multistage races) is one of those things where it really helps to be able to zone out and not think about what's ahead (as it's inevitably going to be lots of tough miles!).

Are you considering doing any of the other desert races in the series in future? Why or why not?

Well, never say never, but they're not cheap, so not in the near future. If money was no object I'd do the next Marathon des Sables, as I'd love to compare the two.

On Training

How did you get into ultras?

Probably because I was trying to out do my other half, Jon. Or I think it was more likely to be because I'd got bored of running road marathons and chasing PBs, and had heard ultras were 'easier', because the pace was slower and the scenery nicer than running on a road around a generic city.

What would you say is the no 1 training required for ultras?

I think listening to and respecting your body (and mind) is really important, learning when to stop.

What is your diet like during training? During life?

Hm, it could be better, but I think it's fairly 'balanced', ie I don't deny myself anything or really worry about what I eat.

I look at people like you and think you are superhuman, but do you struggle with training at all? Or with motivation?

Aw! I struggle with motivation from time to time, but find that having big race goals that I'm genuinely excited about, and mixing up training by using it as a chance to see new places and hang out with friends, helps.

What do you like most and least about training where you live?

London is an amazing city, but it's pretty rubbish for big hills or technical trains. But it's pretty well linked, so there's no excuse for not travelling further afield for these.

It's no secret that training for any racing takes time and energy- ultras even more so- would you say you've sacrificed anything to be as good a runner as you are?

I definitely wouldn't say I've sacrificed anything; if anything, running has massively enriched my life, both in terms of experiences and friendships. I'm not really sure where I'd be without it.

Now for the big questions, what keeps you running? What is your favourite thing about it?

Although I love that I've met so many amazing people through running, I think the solitude and opportunity to have time to think and reflect on life is what keeps me running (and sane).

Cat with Susie Chan at the Race to the Stones finish- all photos from Cat's site

On Racing

Do you have a particular strategy for the marathons and ultras you compete in?

Not really, but I think that enjoying yourself leads to a much higher chance of success - I tend to do better in races when I'm happy and relaxed.

When things get tough, what keeps you going?

Food and alcohol at the end, probably. Mental lows are inevitable though so it's good to know why and when there might crop up and to have strategies in place to cope with them; sometimes I count to 100 or focus on my breathing, or something else that I'm grateful for.

On Travel

Your website makes it clear that you gain joy in seeing the world and exploring it through running. Where would you say is the best place you have run in the world?

It's freshest in my mind, so it has to be Atacama - it was completely unique. There are also loads of great big city marathons out there; Budapest and Marrakech both stand out for me as favourites.

And where would you say is the best place you've traveled, irrespective of running?

I loved India: it was before I was a runner anyway, but it couldn't have been more different from Western culture, which I like to get away from when I travel.

Cat with Jon at the Country to Capital finish- all photos from Cat's site

On What's Next

You've recently changed careers to become a coach, could you tell us more about that and how its going for you?

It's going really well! After spending many years traveling to run races, I just really wanted to be able to pass on some of the knowledge to other budding run adventurers!

And I think we are all dying to know, whats the next race, the next challenge?

I'm doing two really hilly, technically races next year, because that's what I'm really shit hot at running on (not)! The first is Trans Gran Canaria, a 125k race across Gran Canaria, and the second is my first 100 miler along the North Downs Way.


Thank you so much to Cat for taking the time to reply to my questions. You are amazing.

So the message from Cat to you: enjoy yourself, enjoy the people you meet and enjoy whats around you. In addition to being such an athlete, through every interaction I've had with her Cat has been humble, friendly, and kind. That's a role model folks! This is also my 100th post, can't think of anyone better to spend it on.

Who inspires you?


What to Buy Your Runner for Christmas 2014

So, you know a runner. You know because they never. Shut. Up. About. It. Or maybe you know because you are also a runner, so you both natter on about it. Say you want to get them a cheeky wee Christmas present, well here are some ideas...

I'f You're Their Mate

How about the new Believe I Am Training Journal. Lets be straight here, the last one was irritatingly saccharine and gendered, with it's butterfly-festooned pink design. I was not into that. However, this years edition is slick red and blue with an engraved style cover. Much, much better. Inspire your mate to train as best as they can. I actually ordered one for my own Christmas present... to myself.

If You're Their Parent... and you don't know running

How about a safe running ID like Safesport or Road ID? We all hope that those nasty statistics about cars and attackers and dogs are not going to happen to our loved ones. Problem is they have to happen to someone's loved ones. So whilst you can't stop them running, and only so much precaution is possible, you can make sure that if the worst did happen emergency services know your number; their allergies and who they are. There have been cases where runners have been harmed and medical care been given with no idea at all of the victim's identity. Phones help yes, but phones are often locked. Safe from prying friends but also sadly closed to the well-intentioned emergency responders.

If You're Their Parent... and you do know running

A goal race. Get them the gift of a race they didn't have to think about the price for. Maybe something that's a little nudge up to something they've always wanted to do but never been quite confident enough for. If you also run, they've probably mentioned it to you. Better still, if your pace is similar, or if its more fun challenge than time trial, why not enter you both?

If You're Their Team Mate

That one is always complaining about their ITB or their quads being, 'soooooooooooooo dead' from that Tuesday hills session. Get them something useful and get them a foam roller. You can now get super cute mini ones, but I'd go for something with a bit of quality so it wont lose its impact quickly, something like a Trigger Point The Grid Mini Foam Roller.

If You're Their Grandparent ... and you don't know running

I'd recommend something like a subscription to a running magazine, as most renew around Christmas they likely won't already have one. There are also usually Christmas deals on in running magazines. Runners World is a safe bet, but there are also other awesome options like Trail Running, Triathletes World if they swim or bike too. If you want to shell out a bit for something really beautiful how about Like the Wind magazine- its completely gorgeous.

If You're Their Grandparent ... and you do know running

Hey, go you! You're probably one of those elderly hill runners that beats me all the time. You get no advice... Just kidding. I bet you're proud of them, how about a frame for their race numbers? You get specialised ones. Or some fuel- we all know Grandparents like to check we are eating right!

If You Fancy Them... and you don't run.

Well sir or madam, you can do something for yourself too. How about some tight nylon to get both of your heart rates up? Try Nike, Sweaty Betty for the ladies, Achilles Heel if you're in Glasgow, or Sweatshop. Easy days. You can act all innocent like you are just investing in their hobby. If they're going to be sweaty all the time, you may as well get something to look at. Also include some vouchers for guilt free miles on days where you'd rather have a lie in (you can still have your lie in without them, even get them to return with a coffee!). You could also buy them some bodyglide and present it with a wink... but that MAY get you dumped.

Hey, I'm an equal opportunities perve

If You Fancy Them... and you do run.

Get them a custom medal holder. Chances are something heartfelt will go down better than something they'd buy themselves (side note: on another runners gift list I saw body fat scales, Id be pissed if someone bought me that, don't do that).

If You're Rich/Really, Really, Really Fancy Them...

A running holiday. I would be ecstatic. This one in particular looks fantastic.


Whats on your running Christmas list 2014? 

What are you going to get the runners in your life?

PS: I Hope by now readers are aware that I'm a big fan of disclosure and would always disclose, but just to clarify no one asked me to write this and none of the companies even know I did. These are just things I'd honestly covet and in some cases have asked for! If any of these companies would like to gift me these things, hit me up ;-)


Update on My Greatest Injury


The lovely Rhona from Redwinerunner was recently clearly stalking my back catalogue ;-) and happened upon the details of my injury on a training weekend. Its the most extreme injury I've ever done whilst running, or indeed ever. She asked some questions about healing, about running and about how it looks now. She also encouraged me to write about it, so here I am!

The short version of the story is: fell on a run in October 2011; hit rock; didn't realise was so bad; looked down; wrecked knee; airlifted to hospital. Resulting injury was laceration damage and displaced kneecap, required lots of cleaning and stitches. If you want the full version you can get it here.

So the exact injury was an inch deep laceration, running across the curve at the top of the knee, with a shallower rip downwards to create a sort of 3 point patterned laceration. The brunt of the fall had also displaced the kneecap into the tissue below it. The treatment was enthused cleaning with iodine, replacing the kneecap where it belonged, a few internal stitches and many external ones. I was also x-rayed but nothing was out of place there. The cleaning bit really hurt.

So, how did I heal it? At first with supreme stupidity. I had a stick for a week or two, and a lot of painkillers that I didn't take because they made me dizzy. I ripped open the stitches twice moving house and once whilst tripping. After the stitches came out, I ran too soon afterwards (in November! I'm a total wang). This should really be the guide on how not to heal major lacerations. Running after this was complete and utter monstrous idiocy. There is no way all internal damage was healed. Although, I will point out the hospital had no real idea of what advice to give regarding running again.

In between the running and the moving, my knee got infected and again burst open a little, oozing goo. Thankfully I have no images of this. I got antibiotics, and it finally scabbed over. I gave it a while to properly heal, then started training again. During this training I developed ongoing ITBS problems big time and accompanying tight hips. Physios suggested the instability in this knee was contributing to making me pronate, and cross over in my gait from that left knee, whereas before I had been a neutral runner.

Roughly a few months after this is where I finally start to do things right. I got new shoes, better designed for my new gait. I kept seeing that physio, whom I really liked. I started doing the squats and the stretches and taking care. And that's what I'm doing (sometimes better or worse depending on the week, lets not lie here) to this day. I now do a lot of cross training too- I'm unsure if that would have always helped my running health, or if it particularly helps because of this. A good deal of the cross training I do has squatting in it. I also halt quickly if I feel ITBS issues, after years of struggling with it. I had years of wretched frustration over it. For example this week I had the classic 'side-of-knee-feels-weird; sort of prickly and detached', and as a result I'm not running this week until my race, I'm playing it safe.

As for the scar tissue, it can be weird in winter, almost seems to stiffen up. This can be annoying as its over the knee. It has also grown into an ugly scar but thankfully I'm not bothered by scars, its a mark of where I've been. I still get questions on it at races, its much uglier when cold as it turns raised and purple as opposed to white. I did try Bio Oil but it seemed to neither soften nor reduce appearance so I stopped eventually. It also seems to injure much more easily than other flesh- bouldering tore a hole in the scar line the other day, and I was careful to wash it properly.

This is what it looks like now:

This is upside down compared to the below graphic photo. 

So you can see its at the top of the knee. The scar is a lot less wide (was originally 3 inches long, see below), the connection between the top line and the lower one has gone (it still had both lines originally), and you can see the puckered tissue of the scar line itself. This is what raises and goes more purple when cold.

I'll put my Qs here, incase you are blood phobic!


Have you ever had a major injury? What was it? How did you heal?


Image after the jump is of my leg without stitches, in the middle of getting cleaned. It was deeper than this shows because this image shows it bleeding. Image is COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY NOT.SAFE.FOR.WORK., CHILDREN, THE ELDERLY, ANYONE OF WEAK DISPOSITION, YOUR MUM, ANYONE SCARED OF BLOOD AND GORE, and if you have a HEART ATTACK, NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTURBANCE ETC NONE OF IT IS MY FAULT AS YOU CHOSE TO SEE THIS.

I told you.