Tag Archives: Running

Squamish 50km. A devil of a race! 20th August 2017

I’m number 666!!! I text to Peter.

Is that good????  He messages a few minutes later.

Hell yeah!!!! I text back.

A Saturday in August. I’m in downtown Squamish at the finish line of the super hard Squamish 50 mile ultra, waiting to see the winner. My race, the 50km, is the next day and I’ve just picked up my race package with my T-shirt and number.

I can’t remember the significance of 666, but I recall it’s association with a really scary movie from my childhood, The Omen. It’s something to do with the devil, I’m sure. But no way can I see it as bad luck, so I tell myself it’s an auspicious number – one that’s going to bring me not bad but GOOD luck! So, with my apocalyptic number, I watch, inspired, as the 50 mile front runners cross the finish line and get their hugs from always-happy Gary Robbins who’s one of the race directors.

And here’s a couple of photos of Mike Murphy crossing the 50 mile finish line in first place and getting his warm hugs from Gary. Congratulations Mike!




Squamish is a town sandwiched between Vancouver and Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway. Its trails are fantastic. Running on them is so much fun. They wind their way through lush rainforest. Many are rocky and rooty and steep, and often they’re muddy, but this year they are dry and dusty. Hardly any rain has fallen this summer.

I’ve done the Squamish 50km twice before this year. It’s awesomely organised and has wonderful volunteers. The race is recognised for being tough with gnarly single track trails. It’s point-to-point and has a total of 2500m of elevation gain.

There are four events over the weekend: 50 miles, 50km, 23km, and if that’s not enough you can do the 50/50 where you get to run 50 miles on Saturday and, after a short rest, 50km on Sunday…Now that’s crazy.

And so to Sunday and my race!

I leave the hotel in the dark at 4.30am and drive to the race’s designated parking area and spot where you catch the bus to the start. The start is at Alice Lake Provincial Park. It’s about a 15 minute drive.

At Alice Lake, I peer into the dark. I see the vans where you put your drop bags. I’ve two drop bags – one with 3 Cliff Bars in it for the aid station at Quest, and one for the finish line. I get them to the correct place then scope out the rest of the starting area. After a couple of trips to the toilets, and a final mad dash to the bushes (whoever invents a way to get rid of long toilet queues at races will be a hero) it’s time for Gary’s pre-race briefing in the dawn-light.


I look around. Everyone seems relaxed. I soak it all up, relax and wander to the back of the pack. I look at the runners who are wearing  50/50 numbers, and I study them, trying to figure out what it takes to be one of them. None of them looks too crazy. None of them looks too beat up even after running 50 challenging miles a few hours previously. Superhuman is all I can think.

Then . . .  GO! We’re off!

For the first few minutes, I check in with myself. I feel OK. My hamstrings feel better than they have in a long, long time. I think to myself that, despite my lack of specific training, I can do this. There’s no rush. Chill. Relax, You’ll get to the finish line.

While I’m deep in my thoughts, two girls run past. I recognise them. They recognise me. Trail friends! They are the two girls I had met during the Be Fearless Trail Marathon on these same trails in June (my only long training run this summer). We chat and laugh. They too haven’t done much running since Be Fearless. We’re all pumped at our impromptu get-together. This is what it’s all about.



My trail friends


I hear other runners’ conversations. One guy is saying he just hiked the West Coast Trail. Well, Peter and I hiked the West Coast Trail a month before (that trail is awesome). And so I join in and chat about that fantastic backpacking trip. I hear another guy say he’s done no running for 6 weeks because he ripped some muscle or other. This makes me feel better. At least I’ve done SOME running. Another guy says he’s from Texas. “The hills are going to be tough,” he says. There are a lot of hills on this course!! And so with some smooth running and hiking and camaraderie the section to the first aid station passes.



The first aid station


I’m energised with some snacks. Good! Because the section between aid stations 1 and 2 is a biggie. It has a huge climb. After running a bit on forest service road, you duck left into the trees and onto a trail called Plastic Scheisse which leads to Galactic Scheisse. It’s a steady climb of 2500ft over 4km. I go slow here. There are lots of runners around me. It’s challenging, but at least it’s early in the day, and my legs and feet (and stomach!) aren’t too beat up. I chat with a 50/50 runner. He feels OK. I’m inspired by his achievement.



Going up Galactic


Cresting the top of the climb, I get chatting to Lara, and we leapfrog each other and encourage each other for much of the rest of the day.

The section after the summit of Galactic is, for me, the best part of the race. It’s a long, steep single-track downhill. It’s rocky and rooty. I’ve loved running down hills ever since I was a kid, the steeper the better – and this gnarly downhill is a thrill. I let myself go, on this long dusty drop, passing quite a few runners on the way. I love it.

We shoot out at another aid station (number 2). I stock up on water then there’s a 5km section of really nice rolling trail before the busy aid station (number 3) at Quest University.



The aid station at Quest University


Leaving Quest, after a short section of forest service road, you nip into the trees and the single track again. This is the Climb Trail, and it does what it says: climb! Like previous years I walk most of this section, up the dusty switch backs, enjoying the views at one spot where you can see the Tantalus Mountain Range. I’m with quite a few runners here including another 50/50 female runner. These 50/50 runners are so tough. With 50 miles in her legs, she’s still crushing me going up these switch backs.



The Climb Trail


At the top of Climb Trail, taking numbers and shouting encouragement, is a lovely volunteer who I recognise from previous races. “Be careful going down the next section,” she says, referring to what we are about to drop into  – Angry Midget Trail. It’s another lovely downhill!

The two girls I’m with here had been together, ahead of me, all the way up Climb Trail. I had heard them chatting away (one of them was the 50/50 runner). Now I’m in their little group, and we chit-chat going down. One of them tells a heart-warming story; her boyfriend had just proposed to her on a mountain top at the end of a multi-pitch climb. She’s thrilled!

Whooshing down this steep trail through the trees, while chatting, I feel the first grumblings of stomach pain. Oh Oh, I think.

This downhill ejects us onto another forest service road. I’ve overtaken some more runners on the way down, but as I make my way along the road to aid station number 4, my stomach complains even more. A girl flies by me as I slow down.

I’m hurting. This could get worse. This WILL get worse: I know from past experience. I try to keep on top of calories during an ultra. This tactic is supposed to prevent the dreaded bonk. But…it’s a fine line between avoiding bonking and overeating. Right now I think I’ve overeaten: too many jelly sweeties grabbed at the aid station. I should have stuck to my Cliff Bars, I keep berating myself.

At the aid station, a kind volunteer fills my hydration pack. I stuff my pockets with salty snacks, leaving the sweet ones alone, and look around me. How’s everyone doing? Everyone looks great. Not me. My stomach! I stand around hoping the rest will help. I see a volunteer I know – David! David sees me taking photos and offers to take one of me. I forget my pain and smile.



David’s photo at the 4th aid station. Thinking of Betty.

David is a friend of a dear friend. That dear friend was Betty. Betty loved to hike and run and bike, but sadly she passed away last year with bowel cancer.

With emotions bubbling thinking of Betty, I leave the aid station and go down the hill into the woods again wondering how my stomach will do. I feel ok for the next 10 minutes, but then my GI distress explodes. There’s a ball of gas in my upper intestines. It hurts! A lot! OK, this run is about to get a whole lot more difficult. I burp away trying to get relief and apologise to all who pass me.

A girl who had been in her own distress just moments earlier passes me as I’m crawling along. Be patient I say to myself, you’ll recover in time like that runner. The next hour or two goes like this: walk, moan to myself, burp, chat to anyone I see to keep my spirits up, burp, try to jog, stop as the pain’s too bad, start walking again.

But, I’m still going forward. Still making progress.

I pass a girl going very slowly. I actually pass someone, and I think there must be something wrong with her too. “What’s up I say to her. Is it your stomach too?”

“No, it’s my knees,” she replies. She’s hobbling.

I’m glad it’s my stomach that’s hurting and not my knees; my stomach’s got a better chance of recovering in the next while than beat up knees.

There’s a part of this section, between aid stations 4 and 5, where you leave the forest, and you’re out in the open under the full glare of the midday sun. I’m scorched and sweating here, but glad I’d soaked my Buff in water. I mop my brow. Overheating with stomach pain – what fun!

I’m delighted to leave the blazing sun when the trail goes into the shaded forest once more.  It’s undulating here: up, down, ouch, up, down, ouch. There’s a final down and then a final ouch, before some flat road and gentle uphill, which is easier on my stomach. But, the trail is in the full glare of the sun again.

Feeling very hot, I slowly make my way along. But at least my stomach feels better. I catch up with a guy who looks in worse shape than me. I say hello to my comrade. Then, finally, I know I’m at the aid station because I see a crowd of people: crew and volunteers. It’s the final aid station of the day, at the entrance to The Far Side – the trail we’ll leave this aid station on.

Forty kilometres have passed.



This photo was taken at the 5th aid station in 2013 when Peter was crewing. He couldn’t make it this year.


With gratitude, I stop. I need a rest. First, I fill up my hydration pack. A volunteer asks me if I want ice. ICE! ICE!!! Yeah, if you’ve got it I’ll have it. She pours it down my shirt. It’s bliss.

Now I need to sit.

Next to the table of snacks and under the trees in the shade, I see a small plastic box. I sit down on it…and rest. What joy! I breathe slowly and relax. Every part of my body gives in, and a feeling of peace comes over me. That elusive feeling. I sit with it…and remember it….and smile.

After a minute or two, I think I better get going. I don’t want to, but I get up. Then, I see another volunteer standing next to two buckets of icy water; he’s pouring some of this watery delight over a runner’s head. I go over to him, look at him and smile longingly. “Would you like some,” he says.

“Yes please,” I reply. The feeling of this coldness being poured onto my neck and my head is so good. So healing.

And with these loving encounters enveloping me, I head into the woods once more.

Ten kilometres to go.

A girl from Australia, who I’d seen during much of the previous section, leaves at the same time. We walk along together, and she says she’s happy to have company; she’s anxious about being on her own: there are bears in these woods, you see. I tell her I’ll be slow, but she says that’s OK. She has a pain in her leg – it’s her IT band – and tells me she’ll also be slow.

We walk and jog, and soon I realise my stomach doesn’t hurt anymore.  The pain is gone! Yippee! I reward myself with a nibble of a pretzel that’s been in my shorts pocket for hours.

We keep making progress. We pass over some bear poo, and my Australian trail friend asks me, “Was that bear poo?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Oh no, oh no, OH NO,” she replies, or at least something like that. She sounds anxious.

I feel bad to have caused her worry, so backtrack and say, “Well maybe it wasn’t. It was a small pile, perhaps too small for a bear. Let’s make lots of noise anyway.”

So we shout and sing and chase away any bears. And, for some reason, the songs that pop into my head are Christmas songs. I’m singing along with Wizard, “I wish it could be Christmas every day,” and hoping the bears are enjoying my festive cheer.

My trail friend is just behind me for the whole of this section. I hear her shouts behind me, and I keep shouting and singing too. There are a few other runners scattered about, so I’m sure the bears are staying away.

This section feels never ending. The names of the trails here are Endo, Seven Stitches and Pipe Trails. It’s all lush, beautiful single track. The foliage is thick. I focus on the beauty around me. I need to forget how tired I feel. I’ve lots to look at – stripy chipmunks and furry squirrels darting about and squeaking. They seem to be laughing at us. They’re so cute! As well, I admire the many blueberry bushes. They’re bursting with perfect looking dark purple berries. Yummy.

So with the help of nature’s beauty, I get through this section. After Pipe Trail,  I’m scrambling up the final climb of the day: Mountain of Phlegm. Volunteers in their red T-shirts are at the top cheering everyone on. From this high ledge, it’s almost all downhill until the end. Yippee. I can smell the finish line.

I start down and see a runner who I recognise at the side of the trail. “Hello!” I shout.

“ I’m out of energy,” he says.

“Keep going,” I reply.

Then I scramble down terrain I know well. Soon I see something uplifting. Somebody’s put up a sign. It says 4km to go!

Just after this sign, I hear a rustle in the bushes to my left. I look over, and there’s a bear. I shout loudly, so he knows I’m there. He ignores me. He couldn’t care less. The blueberry bushes are much more interesting. He keeps his snout in those berries and keeps munching away. “Goodbye Mr Bear,” I shout.

Down and down I go. At the bottom of some steps, there’s another sign – 3km to go – and another volunteer with high fives and encouragement galore. I run through the rock climbing area (hello climbers!) and through the parking lot. A left turn, and it’s all flat road to the finish.

My earlier crawl results, now, in a stock of energy I didn’t know I had. Who would have thought? It’s 9 hours into my 50km, and I can run! Not just shuffle, actually run! And so, I “charge” along the flat final kilometre or two heading for the finish line, feeling alive. I pass people, not just one but a few. I always feel emotional coming to the end of any hard event, and I’m fighting back the tears. I turn the final corner into the little park where the finish line is. I sprint along the well-trodden grassy stretch and jump across the oh so sweet finish line.

A finish line is never guaranteed, but this time I had made it. I get my medal and my hug from Gary. He hugs every single dusty, sweaty finisher in all the events of the weekend. What a job Gary!

While standing at the food table waiting for my post race veggie burger, I get chatting. I show my number to the guy waiting beside me. He tells me what 666 is all about – satan…the devil….the bible…Jings!


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A study that shows running may be good for your knees!


Science geek alert! Here’s some information about knees and running for you to muse over.

The other week I came across a really interesting article published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that showed running appears to reduce inflammation in knee joints and may be beneficial for long-term joint health.

That’s right, running might actually keep your knees healthy.

Researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah measured inflammatory markers in synovial fluid taken from the knee joints of six healthy people before and after running for 30 minutes.

Specifically, they measured the concentration of two proteins (GM-CSF and IL-15) that indicate the presence of inflammation and have been associated with the development of joint disease.

They found that levels of both proteins went down after 30 minutes of running, suggesting a decrease in inflammation in the joint. The researchers also performed a control test, taking fluid samples before and after a 30 minute seated rest. During that test, protein levels did not change.

The study was very small: samples were taken from only six participants. But the researchers felt the study was valuable because it’s the first to measure these inflammatory markers in the knees of healthy people before and after exercise. In that sense it’s groundbreaking.

So the concern that running is bad for our knees is getting more and more to be an old wives tale.

Here’s the link to the article on Pubmed.

Eur J Appl Physiol (2016) 116:2305-2314

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! Happy, healthy running 🙂



Club Fat Ass North Shore Enduro Trail Run


My running mojo’s been gone for months now. But I’m hoping with the nearly-here summer I’ll get that mojo back. The summer … and joining in with some running groups.

And so, with a can-do attitude, I went along to the Club Fat Ass North Shore Enduro event this morning in North Vancouver, BC. The Club Fat Ass people are a fun, relaxed group to run with and they put on a lot of cool events.

And look, here they are this morning at the gazebo at the Lower Seymour Conservation Area in North Vancouver. I’m the little head right at the back. We’re about to start.


Their North Shore Enduro is a six hour event with numerous course options. And there’s absolutely no need to run for the whole six hours!! I did one of the ‘Lynn Peak Loop’ loops. This gave me 13.7km and 897m of elevation gain. Yeah! A good solid workout.

But more than the workout  I loved being back running the Lynn Valley trails – my favourite trails in North Vancouver. I’d been away too long. The majestic trees in Lynn Valley always give out some kind of spiritual energy. And I soaked all up. All that lovely woodland chi.


Here’s me at the top of Lynn Peak.


And there was still snow up there.


For a new season’s running, I got some new shoes: Brooks Cascadia. I last ran in Cascadias two or three years ago and today reminded me of how much I used to love them. They went on my feet fresh out the box this morning. And they were great! They were comfy and grippy and responsive. They did the job just nicely on the rooty, rocky, wet, snowy, steep North Shore trails.

So, after finding contentment in the woods today I can’t wait for my next trail run 🙂

Here’s a link to my strava if you’re interested in the route.

Have a great Sunday you guys! Enjoy every moment.

A Royal Run at the London Marathon

You never know who you might see at a big city marathon!

Just less than a week ago I ran the London Marathon and had an amazing day soaking up the brilliant carnival atmosphere. I hadn’t done any proper marathon training for it (ie no long runs!), but there was enough endurance in my old legs to see me around the 26 and a bit miles without suffering too, too much  – the last hour, though, as always, was hard! But I loved every minute of it and was awe-struck by the mind-boggling number of runners taking part. I was even more awe-struck by the mind-boggling number of spectators; crowds and crowds of cheering people lined every inch of those London streets. And the roar of support was never ending. It pushed you on and on.

Yes, the atmosphere was incredible, and my plan was to run/walk, soak it all up and take some photos along the way.

And talking of photos … well, I got one with The Royals! At around the 10 km mark, just before the Cutty Sark, I saw in front of me a crew of people from the Heads Together charity, recognisable by the blue colour of their banners and the blue headbands some were wearing – the same headbands that were given out to all us runners this year in our Expo goody bags.

Heads Together is a mental health charity and was the London marathon’s Charity of the Year for this year. Representing the charity were no other than The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. And guess what! There they were, up ahead of me, William, Kate and Harry, in the middle of the Heads Together crew, cheering and supporting their runners. I just had to go up to them and take a selfie…


… and this shot too …


I fumbled with my iPhone camera buttons for many minutes while taking the shots and one of the bodyguards said to me, “well there goes your three hour marathon”. Ha, ha, funny guy!!

It’s awesome that a mental health charity got centre stage at the London marathon. Not only that but support from Royalty!

About the charity – this is taken from the Heads Together website:

Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives. Heads Together wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing and have the practical tools to support their friends and family.

Being the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year was the perfect springboard for the Heads Together campaign. Seeing hundreds of runners hitting the streets of London during the marathon to end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all was incredible!

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading the Heads Together campaign to end stigma around mental health. Heads Together aims to change the national conversation on mental health and wellbeing, and is a partnership with inspiring charities with decades of experience in tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health challenges.

Also, I caught the three Royals for a second time! That’s to say, at the world famous finish line on the Mall where they were giving out medals. Here are William and Harry again …

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I was in line to receive my medal from Kate, but she saw me hobbling towards her and did a runner before I got to the front of the queue and my medal. Never mind!

Another great day of running and of memories. Yeah!

Have a great day!

Running route in Edinburgh; a lovely early morning run

Last Saturday morning (which was April Fool’s Day!) I found myself beside the ticket machine at Glasgow Queen Street Station collecting my Glasgow to Edinburgh train ticket. As I pulled the ticket out from behind the plastic flap, I thought to myself, ‘well getting to Edinburgh is going to be a helluva lot easier than originally planned!’

You see, at the last minute I bailed from the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra (55 miles). I’d been looking forward to it–another ultra in my homeland–but my training leading up to the race was a fraction of what it should have been to get me from start to finish (even considering the course had been cut short by a mile!) Trying out my running legs in the days before, I realised it was silly to think I could run 54 miles.

But I’d booked a hotel in Edinburgh and had also made plans to visit a friend not too far from that beautiful city, a city I love to visit. So I went! Not by foot, but by train! Needless to say, the journey was a breeze!

And good things happened that weekend. I got to have a run in Edinburgh, on a sunny spring morning, very early and long before the crowds were up. It was a great wee run, taking in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile and Holyrood Park.

Here are some pics and the route.

First, my squiggly strava image of the route.Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.43.06 PM


The hotel where I stayed was close to Haymarket (I’d chosen a hotel that was only a short hobble from the finish line of my race-that-didn’t-happen) and from the hotel I ran to Princes Street gardens and past The Ross Fountain. The plaque next to the fountain tells its history and tells that, for now, the fountain is switched off, apparently because water was leaking into the monument’s structure; so experts are having to figure out what repairs are needed to prevent damage to this magnificent piece of history.


Not far from the fountain is the Norwegian Brigade War Memorial, which is a great big boulder made of gneiss. You can read the inscription and ponder the words, as I did. Jeez, thinking about that era always makes me feel so humble.

It reads: During the war years 1940-45 the Norwegian brigade and other army units were raised and trained in Scotland where we found hospitality, friendship and hope during dark years of exile. In grateful memory of our friends and allies on these isles. This stone was erected in the year 1978


I left Princes Street Gardens and found a nice stair workout up towards the castle esplanade.



Up there on the castle esplanade, I saw council workmen emptying bins, a couple of walkers, and one other runner. Other than that, the palce was empty! The castle looked so lovely in the quiet morning sunshine.


Heading down the Royal Mile I came across, down a narrow alley, a sign for The Writer’s Museum. Now, I’ve got to return to have a look in there.



Here’s a couple more pics from the Royal Mile. There were a lot of white vans and cables around and I’m guessing from the looks of it that there’s currently a film or TV show being filmed on these mean, ancient streets.


I headed downhill and passed by The Scottish Parliament and “Our Dynamic Earth”, before heading back uphill. Yeah, I was in Holyrood Park. I took the trail that wound below Salisbury crags heading uphill towards Arthur’s seat with amazing views of Edinburgh and beyond. I was blessed with a clear day so got these nice shots.



OK, here’s a funny sign seen on the trail up to Arthur’s seat.



I more or less retraced my route back to the hotel stopping to take a picture of the Scott Monument. It was built after Scottish author Sir Walter Scott’s death in 1832 and is the largest monument to a writer in the world! Get that!


I jogged the final stretch of Princes Street gardens. More people were up and about but it was still pretty quiet.



I headed back to the hotel to get my stuff,  before walking the mile or so back to Waverly Station to get a train to see my friend. So out of a failed ultra, I had a great couple of days in Edinburgh.

Last Chance marathon, Bellingham, 31st Dec 2016: Race review

Hello and happy new year.  I hope your 2017 is off to a good start 🙂

So, I managed to find a race to run on the very last day of 2016. I can’t think of a better way of finishing off a year than with a race – a lovely trail marathon at that. The race was The Last Chance Marathon in Bellingham, Washinton. That’s just a hop, skip and a jump over the border to the USA from home-sweet-home in BC, Canada.

There were two events, a marathon and half-marathon. For the marathon, we ran two out-and-back sections on the interurban trail, starting at Fairhaven Park Pavilion with the turn around at Clayton Beach. You can probably guess that the half-marathon was one out-and-back section. There was an early start if you wanted it, an hour before the main start at 9 am.

It was a lovely route on undulating soft trails, under a canopy of trees and peering through the trees in some places you could see the ocean. The day was damp and chilly, and towards the end, we got to run under falling snow which didn’t come to much but, hey, it was lovely to run with the snowflakes floating down in front of you.


Happy Runner at the Last Chance Marathon. Thanks to Takao Suzuki for photo

I really enjoyed this marathon. The last one I’d done, I started too fast and finished with a painful hobble for the never-ending second-half. This one, I paced sensibly and finished strong. Always a good feeling 🙂 I finished mid-pack which I’m always overjoyed with when doing any marathon or ultra.

This was a great event: a lovely course; great aid stations; great organisation; great post-race food (vegan option of yummy spicy soup)

I used this race as my final long training run for my next ultra. Hmm….that’s going to be the Coldwater 100 miler on 21st January. I can’t believe that I’m trying another 100, that I’m heading into that great unknown again…yikes!! As well, it’s in the desert. Hope it’s not too hot as it’s freezing here. I’m thinking about going to the sauna for heat training 🙂


Hoping to finish strong! Takao Suzuki photo


Everybody got a nice ‘buff’ and finisher’s medal. Billy’s showing mine off.

A short story

Jings, it seems like ages since I’ve written something on my blog. I’ve been busy. Sorry blog! But….I have been writing, in fact, I’ve been scratching my head, getting the old creaky brain cells oiled and doing an online writing course with Gotham Writers. The class I did was ‘Creative Writing 101‘ described as …a great entry point for all prose writing – fiction or non-fiction. It was very good and very worthwhile….I’d definitely consider doing another of their classes.

One of the little pieces I wrote was a short story and seeing it ended up being about running I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by making it material for my blog. How’s that for being efficient! Ha ha!

But before that, something far more interesting, a cool video! I wrote about my adventures at the Glen Coe Skyline. This wonderful event was filmed by the BBC no less! It’s about to be aired on The Adventure Show, (on the 15th December) and I came across this preview video which I wanted to share.


Last time I checked, the BBC iplayer had got the better of VPNs. Sadly that means I won’t get to see the programme.

Finally, here’s the short story. The gig was to write a 500 word piece of fiction beginning…  Chris began to question the wisdom of this trip …. The last time I wrote any fiction was in an English class at high school thirty-five years ago!



A Short Story

Chris began to question the wisdom of this trip. Hadn’t he already questioned it? His body’s sense of time, usually spot-on, must have stopped working because the light was dim, it seemed like evening. Wasn’t it supposed to be morning? Pushing with his hands on the rock that was his seat, he stood up. The tips of his fingers found their way to his forehead, and to a swelling.  He flinched. He gagged as he tasted blood. An unbearable cold was eating away at him, his body shuddered and at the same time the trees and the rocks that were all around him pulsed and swayed. Shaking his head, he hoped his thoughts would clear, he couldn’t work out what was happening and he felt his heart beat violently and his breath come out in frantic gasps of fear.

He sat back down, finding a flat spot in the rubble. He folded himself, knees to chin, shrouding his escaping body heat. He put all his focus into his breath, like he’d learned. His breath and heart-beat slowed.

Looking upward with half-shut eyes, his neck stiff and painful, he saw rocks and rubble, then a steep slope in shadow. A chill shadow. Black rocky ridges were high above him.

His head hurt. He gathered together the jumbled thoughts that were whirling around inside his head. This felt like hell.

Gradually, he remembered. Images came back to him from the morning. A barely-there stony trail, an animal track maybe, cutting into a steep slope of scree, the slope falling far into the valley below. His easy stride, belying his anxiety, moving his runner’s body along, confident on the trail. Lost in his thoughts, mindlessly running far away into the mountains to ease his angst. Then blackness.

His heart-beat picked up again, he was in a scary situation. He was cold and he was in the middle of nowhere, injured. His back-pack. Moving his arm behind his back, he felt it and was relieved. Of course he would have emergency supplies, at the very least a jacket. He moved his stiff joints and struggled with the pack until it was off. Unzipping it, he pulled out his orange jacket, some water and a good-sized bag of trail-mix. There was a small head-torch too. Good. He relaxed just a little.

He’d eaten something and that had cleared his head just a little. Enough to make him feel it was worth trying to get out of his predicament, even though it was now dark. The beam of his torch led the way. The slope was steep and hellish; he was clawing at it with his hands. The broken rocks under his feet moved backwards, trying to pull him back down. Tiny balls of stone spilled inside his shoes, pushing forward under his feet. More discomfort. He would stop and empty his shoes when he reached the trail high above.

He fought with the moving slope, exhausted, his head still pounding. He found strength from somewhere to push on. He knew how to push on. The freezing cold he felt, barely kept out by his flimsy jacket, was the drive to keep going up this never-ending, energy-sapping slope. His thoughts were ricocheting about inside his head. What was he doing on this mountain-side in the blackness? If he’d stayed at the bottom of the rubbly chute, waiting for morning, he could have died with the cold and a head injury. That terrifying thought was with him as he battled up the ugly slope. He wondered who would miss him if he didn’t get home. Not Julie, she was gone, but his mum and Joe would soon start to worry. He’d made the mistake of not telling anyone where he was going that morning. After seeing Julie’s text, he’d fled to the sanctuary of the mountains, to his running.


The Glen Coe Skyline… a back-of-the-pack story. Race review

The Salomon Glen Coe Skyline, in the majestic mountains of Glen Coe, was the most amazing event on the most brutal but beautiful course ever. I’m saying that now, but two weeks ago I was cursing the course. After 33.8 km and about 3000 m of ascent I’d missed the cut-off time. I was too slow. I was a duffer. My spirits were as damp as the weather. I had so badly wanted to be strong and finish. It was too hard and I’d failed. No way was I doing this again….



The race course tattoo! I made it to the deep V two-thirds of the way along!


Why did I run this race? I love running in the mountains and I love scrambling. The sport of Skyrunning has fascinated me for the last few years. When I heard about the Glen Coe Skyline I knew I had to try and get an entry and make it my first ever real mountain running race. Glen Coe holds a special place in my heart. It’s close to where I was born and brought up in Dumbarton. Decades ago, when I was a Munro bagger I sought out its peaks in the snow and the rain; these adventures are etched in my memory. The first time I ever remember being aware of the awesomeness of a mountain landscape was in Glen Coe. I was a kid in the car on the A82 with my mum, dad and twin brother Graeme. A moment in time— gazing out the car window up towards the Glen Coe mountains and thinking “wow”— has stayed with me for forty years or more.

The Glen Coe Skyline—it drew me more than any other race I’ve done or read about.

And so, earlier this year the minute entries opened I was at my computer with my answers prepared for the vetting questions. It was the dead of night. These days I live in Canada so with the time difference I had set my alarm, I think for 2 am. I had the necessary climbing, scrambling and running experience, I filled out the entry, then waited. I got a spot. I was over the moon!

The Glen Coe Skyline is one of three races in the Extreme Skyrunner world series. The other two are Tromso and Trofeo Kima. To give you an idea of the nature of the Glen Coe course, I’ve copied and pasted part of the website description:

The course is designed to challenge the most experienced and competent mountain runners. The proposed race route traverses high and remote mountainous terrain. Once committed to many sections it is impossible to retreat. The entire race route is subject to rapidly changing and extremely severe weather. For this reason, competitors must be capable of ‘robust completion’ of the route in all but the most serious weather conditions. The route is very rough underfoot with long sections of rock and scree-covered terrain. There will be an enormous amount of ascent and descent. Experienced but slower competitors are very welcome at the race but please note that the cut-offs will be strictly enforced.

The stats: 55 km and 4700 m of elevation gain

Get the idea?

I wasn’t daunted by the terrain or the distance: I’ve scrambled and climbed for years and I’ve run a good number of ultras. What scared the living daylights out of me was “the enormous amount of ascent and descent”. As race day approached I knew I hadn’t managed to do enough training for the vertical and I knew I would be one of the slower runners chasing the cut-offs. I hoped I’d be able to pull it off with the training that I had been able to do.

So, back to the race! It started in Kinlochleven. On race morning I didn’t feel great. Nothing new! But, when I saw everybody milling about in the start area I felt really nervous and wanted to run away. All I could see were lean mean mountain-running machines: the athletes I hear about and admire when I listen to Talk Ultra podcast. There weren’t many women and even fewer veteran/masters women like me. I started wondering why I was there and my mind went into a downward spiral of doubts and worries. But negative thoughts will be the death of you and with a few deep breaths, I put aside those destructive thoughts. Breath!! I visualised images of happiness and joy. The mountain spirits would carry me round. It was going to be amazing to be part of this scary event. Yeah!



The race start


I stood at the back of the pack. I was carrying the mandatory gear, water and enough calories for eight hours of hard effort. There was no aid available until checkpoint 11. My pack felt heavy! Then, to the sound of bagpipes, we were off!

For the first 10 km or so we followed the West Highland Way out of Kinlochleven and up and down The Devil’s staircase to checkpoint 1 at Altnafeadh. I felt crappy! To be suffering from the off was not good!

We hopped over the A82 and from there we traversed across and up a hillside heading straight for Curved Ridge. Curved Ridge is a Grade III scramble and the most technical part of the course. I was one of the stragglers near the back. The front-runners had long since bounded up. The scramble was airy and it was exhilarating! I focused on every move and forgot about my tiredness. Mountain instructors were on the route pointing out the handholds. At the top of the scramble, there was an amazing view of Rannoch Moor, desolate and beautiful, stretching far into the distance. I looked back at it and was absolutely awe-struck.



Happy scrambler. Photo thanks to Zoe Procter


Curved Ridge. Photo thanks to Zoe Procter


The steep face of the scramble gave way to flatter, rocky ground and then checkpoint 2 on the summit of Stob Dearg. I still wasn’t feeling great and felt a bit woozy. I checked in by beeper and asked the marshal “what way?” It must’ve been a silly question! She asked me if I was OK? Had I fallen? Crumbs, I must have looked bad! I was fine I said, just slow, and I went on my merry way from there, over the rocky vastness of Buachaille Etive Mor. It was spectacular. The clouds had gently rolled in and I was seeing the last of the sun but the visibility was still good. I looked all around for other runners. I saw only one person far behind and one person far in front. Peace and solitude. Quietness, I’m always searching for that rare thing. Here it was and I was storing it up and relishing it.

After this high ground, we dropped down to checkpoint 4 in Lairig Gartain and hopped on boulders to cross the River Coupall. That led to a good path and a steady trundle up the valley, then the next steep ascent, this one grassy. Up and up and up we went heading towards a pass, Mam Buidhe on Buachaille Etive Beag. It was here that I met another runner, Scott from Manchester. It was great to have his company. Up and over the pass we went, then we had a quick, steep descent on a rocky trail to checkpoint 5 in Lairig Eilde.

This next valley section was just about runnable. There weren’t too many places you could run on this course! The clouds had been thickening and half-way up the valley the rain appeared and stayed for the day. Stopping to put on my jacket I could see the next tough, steep climb ahead of me disappearing into the clouds. I trundled on up the valley and reached the climb. Here goes…

I hiked up the steep grass into the mist and a miracle happened: I started to feel better. Those mischievous mountain spirits were finally giving me some help! I caught up to and passed some runners. On the upper, steepest section I was with Scott and an Irish guy and we breathed a sigh of relief when we topped out. But, instead of picking up speed after the near vertical grassy slope we had to stop to look for the route. Ahead we could see only rocks and mist. Nothing else! The little red flags we had been following all day had become invisible.

Time passed slowly and the next couple of hours saw us crossing rocky ground peering into the wet mist looking for flags. The flags would appear out of nowhere if you stared hard enough. Thankfully we didn’t get lost and finally we found the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach and checkpoint 7.

The stretch to the next summit didn’t look far on the map but it was! It was also rocky, wet and foggy. I lost track of time but it took me forever get over the difficult ground and reach the next marshals with their blue jackets and encouragement on the summit of Bidean nam Bian (checkpoints 8 and 10). I’d last been there maybe 20 years ago. Today it was unrecognisable in the Scotch mist. I said a quick hello and got checked in with my beep.

Throughout these long misty sections of high summits, I had been chasing my dream of reaching the finish line in Kinlochleven. It had been tantalising me in my mind’s eye. In a foggy vision, I saw myself cross the line, drop to my knees and kiss the ground. If only! Reaching Bidean, I knew time had run out and it would be impossible to get to checkpoint 11 by the cutoff at 3pm. My daft vision disappeared with a puff into the cloud and rain.

With a heavy heart, I did the next section, an out-and-back to Stob Coire Lochan (checkpoint 9). As I was going out to that summit over a rocky, gravelly, down then up trail I was thankful to see and say hello to a few runners coming back on it. I consoled myself. There were people not too far ahead of me. I wasn’t miles and miles behind everyone. I reached the marshal at checkpoint 9 on the summit and another beep. The race blurb described this out-and-back ridge as “another stunning mountain spur into Glen Coe”. Today there was a grand view of mist.

Heading back to Bidean and checkpoint 10, I saw a girl who I had played leapfrog with earlier in the day. She was on her way out to checkpoint 9 and looked strong and determined. While going past each other she asked me if I thought we would make the cut-off. I said I didn’t think so. She was truly devastated. Geez, I should have kept my mouth shut so she could enjoy it all for a wee while longer. (We met up again on the merry bus-ride for the DNF’ers from checkpoint 11 to Kinlochleven).

So it was back up to the summit of Bidean and checkpoint 10; to another wonderful marshal and another beep. He pointed and said straight down there to checkpoint 11. Ha ha! This descent was something else. First, there was more expansive, rocky ground and playing the game of trying to spot little red flags while trying not to get lost in the nothingness. Then, finally, there was an obvious trail. Yeah! But it was no ordinary trail! I’ve run a lot of descents in my time. This was one of the trickiest ever: long, steep and treacherous! The zillions of rocky steps were wet and very slippery. A fall would take you on a nasty tumble for sure. Slowly, my tired legs took me down.

After that final downhill adventure, I was at the A82 and checkpoint 11—the end of my race. It was almost 4pm and fifty-seven minutes over the cut-off. I was sad and happy at the same time. It had been an amazing mountain journey. Over the next hour, a few more runners arrived from the misty descent and joined in the damp party under the awning; where the marshals were so caring, making sure we didn’t get too cold and giving us tea, crisps and bananas while we waited for the bus.

We found out that the Jonathan Albon had won the race in six and a half hours. Six and a half hours! That is unbelievable; so amazing; so inspiring. Jasmin Paris was the first female in just over eight hours. Amazing and inspiring too.

While waiting I looked upwards into the clouds and the next section of the race, the section that wasn’t to be—the Aonach Eagach, that legendary mountain ridge. The rain was still coming down, the clouds were thick and I thought to myself it must be treacherous for the runners, way up there hidden in the damp mountain greyness.

And so, the warm bus took us back to Kinlochleven. The bus of shame! I’d got cold waiting and I was glad to have all the mandatory gear. Better to have to use it on a bus than lost in a white-out on a mountain top! I wrapped myself in my emergency bivvy bag and was as warm as toast. Everybody on the bus chatted as we headed to Kinlochleven and the race finish. I handed in my spotter and beeper, ate some wonderfully delicious hot food and headed back to the  campsite and my little tent and dry clothes. I made use of the extra time afforded by not finishing by snuggling up in my sleeping bag with a cup of tea listening to the birds chirping around Loch Leven. Relaxation and post-race celebrations Mandy-style!

My tale’s not quite finished. The next day when I was driving down the A82 to Dumbarton I made my usual stop in Tyndrum at the Green Welly Stop. Sitting with my cuppa and scone, iPad perched on the table, a fellow Glen Coe Skyliner sat down beside me. He had noticed I was looking for the results on the race webpage and asked me how I had got on. His name was Paul. We chatted about the race, about that slippery descent to checkpoint 11; about the Aonach Eagach. He was one of the runners on the Aonach Eagach around the time I was gazing at it, hidden in cloud and rain. He said the footing was treacherous; also, he’d caught up to a Polish runner who was struggling and was very cold, maybe hypothermic. Paul said he helped the cold runner, making him put on his extra clothes, and staying with him. They both made it to the finish line in under thirteen hours. The final cut off was fourteen hours. So inspiring, Paul. Well done!

The scrambling and the mountains, my memories and my roots—these are what brought me to this race. In the end, it didn’t go right but it was epic. This was my second enormous challenge of the year. The finish line eluded me in both but I had two truly unforgettable experiences, met amazing people, saw beautiful places and learned a hell of a lot. I’m happily planning on returning to them both next year, using what I’ve learned, getting better and finishing! How amazing that would be. That’s assuming I can get in!


What I learned in this race:

I’m sure nobody else did what I’m about to describe and this is a tip to my self: Don’t start with 2 l of water in your race pack! Talk about “carrying coals to Newcastle”. Knowing the one and only aid station was going to be about 8 hours into my race I automatically filled up my 2 l bladder. That’s what I would normally do. You see, most of my ultras have been done in Canada and USA on very different terrain. So, I carried all that water, but as you can guess, there was tonnes of water on the route—in crystal clear mountain streams—probably the same stuff you find in bottles on the shelves in Tesco.  Duh!

I felt out of sorts before I started. I’d been busy with stuff. Of course, we run better when relaxed, with no stress, and this race clearly showed me that. Other than being tired and slow, I didn’t struggle. I think I gained 15 places between checkpoint 1 and checkpoint 10.

But to make things go better next time the biggest thing I need to do is more uphill training. The ascents were what I found most difficult. I wasn’t fit enough and maybe that’s the only reason I felt tired. Maybe it was nothing to do with being busy. We all like to look for excuses!

Next time I would download the GPS file. I think the most time-efficient way of staying out of trouble in a whiteout is to follow a GPS line on your device.


Trail running, encounters of a fun kind, and my next race – Glencoe Skyline…

Good afternoon!!

I’m back in Scotland 😀 … visiting my brother and sister … but also, my next exciting race is on the horizon. It’s this weekend! More later…(it’s in the mountains 😀)

But first, a wee training story.

A couple of days ago I went on my first run since getting here. I parked at Lomond Shores on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. The start of my route was up a steep rickety country road. I was heading for the hills 😀.

As I was puffing up the tree-lined road feeling hot and sweaty – it was a muggy afternoon – I saw ahead of me a funny sight. An elderly man with a very large blue suitcase on wheels was perched at the top of the road looking down at me.

“Do you think I’m lost?” he shouted to me.

I laughed to myself. Have you seen the movie “The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared”? I’d seen it recently and also read the book of the same name. That story came to mind when I saw the gent and his very big suitcase ahead of me.

“I think you are” I shouted up.

I ran up to him smiling. He said he had just got off the bus from Skye. Now, the bus stop was on the main trunk road and, as he had discovered, it was a bit of a hike from the bus stop into Balloch, to where he said he was headed. As he was speaking I couldn’t help but notice a badge on his jacket. It had the words Yukon Legion printed under the Canadian maple leaf. I asked him if he was from Canada and he was. He’d lived in Ontario for more than 60 years (in Wayne Gretzky’s home town he proudly told me)

But here’s the thing, 84 years ago he was born in Alexandria, a mile or two from where we were now standing. Well!! That was that! My mum was born in Alexandria too. So, this man and I were both Scottish and Canadian and we both had roots in the same Scottish town a stones throw away. How amazing!!

His name was James “Jimmy” Taylor and he was on a trip in his birth country, travelling by bus, finding hotels or B&Bs on spec. He had gone to Skye to buy some Harris tweed and had been astonished at the cost of his hotel in Portree (£125). (I guess it’s more expensive if you arrive on spec instead of using hotels.com!) He told me he had a brother in Balloch, close to where we were standing. I asked him if I could phone his brother so that he could come and pick him up. “Oh no I can’t do that” he said. Love it! That reply is so Scottish, we don’t like to bother others even kinsfolk.


James Taylor. Nice to meet you!

We chatted about shared things Scottish and Canadian. I’ve mentioned in other posts how I often meet runners with Scottish connections while doing races on Canadian trails. This leads to long conversations about Scotland and Canada and their connections. Today was no different!

Anyway, I wheeled his heavy suitcase down the steep country road retracing my steps (he said it was too steep for him to take the suitcase himself) and pointed him in the direction of the nearest hotel.

I waved bye and headed back up the road to the hills.

I ran up onto Stoneymollan Muir on the John Muir Way and Three Lochs Way. Loch Lomond and its surrounding mountains were partly hidden by clouds but still, it was so beautiful to be out there breathing the pristine air. My high point was Ben Bowie and from there I headed back to the car and thought about Jimmy hoping he had found a room for the night.

Here’s some pictures of my run!


Follow the waymarks!


John Muir Way signposts


View to Loch Lomond

The race I’m down to do this weekend is The Glencoe Skyline. Woo hoo, a real mountain race. It’s 55 km and 4700 m of elevation gain and it’s the final race of the Skyrunning extreme series.

Here’s a description of the race taken from the website …

The third and final 2016 Skyrunner® World Series EXTREME race, the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline™, will be held in Scotland on Sunday 18th September. The course is widely regarded as the most challenging mountain running race in the world, which features long sections of exposed scrambling including the famous Aonach Eagach and Curved Ridge.

Yikes!! What am I doing!!  Can’t wait!!!