Tuesday, 9 May 2017

There is No Map in Hell - Blog Tour - Guest Blog From Steve Birkinshaw

If you are anything like me, you tend to spend part of most weekends either running or dot-watching on a computer screen (following someone else who is running)! In the increasingly 'connected' world of social media there seems to be a race to 'follow' every weekend. In general this only takes a few hours or a day of our time, dipping in and out of the coverage. Back in 2014 the relatively new experience of dot-watching really took off as runners and non-runners alike found themselves glued to their phones or computer screens for an entire week, following the little-known sport of fell-running!

Sporting achievements often become media stories, but generally these are limited to mainstream sports or have a celebrity element to them.  But for 7 days in June 2014 the British public became enthralled by the almost super-human effort of fell runner Steve Birkinshaw. Fell running is a niche sport, and most people are unaware it even exists. But each day of his heroic effort Steve Birkinshaw was featuring in news bulletins and being discussed on social media around the country.
The Wainwrights record required him to summit all 214 Wainwright fells, covering a distance of 519km with 35,000m of ascent over the challenging terrain of the Lake District - that’s over 12 marathons and climbing more than 4 times the height of Everest. This had to be completed in less than 7 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes in order to break the 1986 record held by fell running legend Joss Naylor.

There in No Map in Hell is his account of this incredible achievement.  It is a captivating read and I am honoured to be part of the blog tour to promote Steve's book. The book covers his general running background but is primarily about his record breaking round and features some wonderful extracts from others involved in the attempt such as his wife Emma (as can be seen in the extract below). The style of the book is a reflection of the fell running community and you get a real sense of the type of people fell runners are. 

To get your hands on a copy of the book go HERE.

Here is an exclusive extract from There is No Map in Hell. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.



SECTION 19 Mosedale Road End to Dodd Wood Car Park
DETAIL 37.5km, 2,200m ascent, 17 Wainwrights
SUPPORT TEAM Martin Indge, Chris Baynham-Hughes, Jim Mann, Paul ‘Corny’
Cornforth and Nic Davies
TIMES Start time 10.02, end time 19.35, break at end of leg 01.08
Mosedale Road End with the daunting prospect of a long section over the Northern Fells to come. Everything hurts.
This is a crucial ten-hour section over the northern fells. But cleverly my
support team decide to split it into two with an additional stop above
Whitewater Dash. This is about an hour’s walk uphill from the nearest
road, so it is great they are happy to do it as it makes the section much
easier mentally.
Emma: ‘I have the day off work and the children are at school so I finally have the chance to run with Steve; it is lovely to get up Carrock Fell and I am encouraged to see how well Steve is running once he gets warmed up. Maybe there is a chance he can complete it now. I would love to run further, but I have a long shopping list of things to buy including Torq gels (about all he is eating whilst running now), cream and dressings for his feet. I also have a heap of sweaty running clothes to wash and food to cook.’
It is really nice that Emma has time to join me up Carrock Fell. She has been incredibly busy sorting out everything, so the fact she has managed to get an hour and a half on the fells with me is great. It also gives her a chance to see me when I am going well and happy out on the fells rather than at the support points when I am at my worst.
As we go along this section it begins to dawn on me how many people are interested in my progress. I was expecting some interest amongst the fell-running community, but the interest is much wider than I ever imagined and growing rapidly. The mixture of the trackers, the regular blogs, television and social media mean that thousands of people are now really excited about my progress. As well as people watching my progress from their computer screens, they are also coming out to see me. So when we arrive on High Pike someone comes up and gives a generous donation. Then some fell runners who I recognise but do not know turn up. These are Paul Dobson, Andrew Martindale, and Paul and Chris Wilson, and they run with us for a couple of hours. From the top of Brae Fell I can see the next top, Longlands Fell, and there is a massive flag on top. It seems a bit strange and we all wonder why someone would have done that. When we get there we find that it has been put up for me by Jeff Ford, who lives locally and is chair of the Mountain Heritage Trust. I had never met Jeff before, but like so many other people he had been following my progress and came out to give me some support.
Having a five-minute power nap on the summit of Great Cockup on day 6.
My afternoon dip happens as we approach Great Cockup. I suddenly come over extremely sleepy; I am walking along barely able to keep my eyes open. The guys try pouring water over my head and talking to me but it is no use. I need to sleep. So, on the top of Great Cockup I decide I have to have a power nap. I lie down with a rucksack as a pillow and close my eyes. Meanwhile Jim Mann decides to fill in the time by running around with the tracker so it will make a picture on the OS map that thousands of people are following on the Open Tracking website. After five minutes I suddenly get up and start moving again – unfortunately Jim does not have time to finish his picture. I feel slightly less sleepy but for the next hour I am still really struggling to stay awake. I feel like I am midway between being awake and asleep.
The descent off Little Calva to the track above Whitewater Dash is heathery without any real path. I place my foot badly on many occasions and let out a little scream as the shoes press on my blister. I am desperate to get through this descent but I am even more worried about the descent from Ullock Pike at the end of this section, which is even rougher with taller heather and no path at all. It is good to finally reach the track and see the support team of Jon Bardgett and Mel and Kate Culleton-Wright. I have food, drink and more foot treatment and another little doze.
The big climb up Skiddaw goes well and at the summit there are more people looking out for me, together with Al Lee and Rob Jarman doing some filming. After all the difficulties of the first two days it is great that Al and Rob have finally caught up with me when the tops of the fells are clear of cloud. After Skiddaw there is a long out-and-back to Lonscale Fell and as we approach this top Andy Blackett turns up with some ice creams. He has carried them up from Keswick in an ice bag – a really nice surprise. The ice cream goes down very well on such a nice warm afternoon, although with my lack of coordination a lot of it ends up on my face.
As we approach Ullock Pike I have a discussion with Scoffer, who has turned up after work, and Corny about the route down that I am dreading. We decide it will be better to go back over Long Side, contour round Carl Side and then down the path, which is a bit longer than my planned route but avoids the knee-deep heather. I can run the descent, so it’s a good route. There are even more people on the top of Dodd, the last top in this section. I was planning on taking the north-west ridge off Dodd but again we make a sensible decision and decide to take the longer route which goes along a good track. I descend well running at nine-minute-mile pace according to Bill Williamson’s GPS.
Crossing a beck before the climb on Knott with Martin Indge and Chris Lines.
There are around twenty people waiting for me as we get to Dodd Wood car park, including Emma, Matthew and Hannah. I arrive there one minute up on my schedule, although as usual I will leave quite a bit behind due to my longer-than-anticipated stops. We follow the normal routine of getting washed and straight in the campervan. Eating is getting progressively harder; anything even slightly warm feels really painful as it goes down my throat. Tepid soup seems to be best at the moment. I don’t know what Mel is doing to my feet but it is absolute agony – the worst yet. With Matthew and Hannah present I try really hard not to scream out in pain and show them how terrible it is, but I cannot help a few squeaks. Eventually, it is so painful I grab a towel to muffle the sound and so that they cannot see the tears in my eyes from the pain. Matthew is really sweet and gives me a hug and says ‘it will be worth it when you have finished’.

I know my body is gradually disintegrating. Everything is becoming harder and slower. My mind is gradually going and all I can focus on is just moving forward – one foot in front of the other. I do not even try to think about anything else, that is what my support team is for, and they do everything brilliantly. Talking is sometimes hard, so if I no longer need my poles I just throw them down as I know someone will pick them up for me. Luckily the end is almost within reach and it is approaching a bit faster than the rate at which my body is falling apart. But it is a close-run thing.


Friday, 28 April 2017

If you love fellrunning then you'll love this book

There is No Map in Hell - Steve Birkinshaw

Thursday 4th May is the official publication date of the much anticipated book by fell and ultra-running legend Steve Birkinshaw. To help promote the release of There is no Map in Hell I will be one of a number of runner-bloggers participating in a blog tour with each of the bloggers providing some exclusive content and images from the book. It is an honour to be taking part in the tour as Steve is a legend of the sport and I'm completely in awe of his super-human achievements.  His record-breaking Wainwrights round captured the attention of the fell-running and ultra-running communities back in 2014, and the achievement was so great that even beyond our relatively small sporting community people were glued to social media and local media following his progress during that history-making week.

It's a fantastic book so go and pre-order it here now!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Run - commute - sweat.

Today I did my first even run commute. It was a bit of an experiment really. I wanted to see if it would make an effective training option for me.  Until now run-commuting has not been possible due to my children/work/life situation. A change of circumstances means I can now explore this as an option.  We all have busy lives and trying to fit in our training can be a real challenge.  As a busy working mum of two small children, my running has always had to fit around my children and my work.  And there's been many times when running has to be forgotten about because naturally the other two take priority.

I often find myself running out of hours in the day and wonder how others manage to cram it all in.  I see others running to work or running at lunchtime or running super-early in the morning, or super-late at night and saying that's the only way they can fit it in.  But what if those options are possible for you?  What if you don't really take lunch breaks or you can't run early in the morning as you need to get your kids ready (and to) school because you're the only parent available, or you can't run late at night as you can't get childcare?  Everyone faces different challenges and has to find their own way to fit training into their life.  As the very inspirational Sally McRae says you have to find a way to fit it into your life, work out what you can sacrifice to fit the running in - and there will be times in your life when it simply isn't possible, and that's okay too. We can't all be super-human, and we shouldn't beat ourselves up, but if you can make those sacrifices, and get the training done, you will likely reap the rewards.

So, I had exactly 40 minutes between child duties and work duties this morning. So I was straight into a tempo run (no warm up - ouch). It was tough.  And it was sweaty, despite wearing a vest and shorts!  And in those same (still) sweaty shorts and vest I had 30 minutes between work and child duties this afternoon - making it with just 2 minutes to spare.

Here's what I learned:

  • I sweat a lot when running, and even more so in an office environment straight after running.  I was still mopping myself up an hour after finishing! There are no showers at my work and when you are required to present yourself in a professional manner, the sweaty betty look does not really go down too well. Plus it made me feel quite squirmy and rather unhygienic to be honest.
  • With a tight time-scale, both runs are done as tempo runs without any warm up.  Not really the best way to do a tempo and it adds to the risk of injury (and I've had enough of those!).
  • I would need to keep dry shampoo, baby wipes and deodorant, and spare shoes, and spare clothes and more at work as I simply cannot fit it all into my bag.
  • I need to think about what the weather will be like for the return leg and not just what the weather is in the morning.  I was really cold on my run home as it was no longer the beautiful sunny day I had experienced this morning. And if it's pouring down in the morning, how long will it take my hair to dry out?
  • There's a lot of time-pressure, a lot of feeling yucky at work, and  lot of effort for less than 4 miles of running.  Not really sure it was worth it for me.
  • Running to work and then sitting on a office chair for 8 hours does my back injury absolutely no favours. Bl**dy painful!
  • A tub of salad is not the easiest thing to cram into a running pack. 

So, whilst the run-commute could now provide now me with an option for some extra miles on the road, it will not be my first port of call for training. It's handy to have this extra option available though, especially if I am unable to do one of my other planned runs.  It's all about fitting in what you can, where you can, and making your training work within your own life situation.  Chances are you will have to make sacrifices but hopefully it will all be worth it.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

10 week countdown - injury update

The 10 week countdown has begun and I have had 1 week of running (inconsistently).

30 second round-up: I'm glad to have come through the past through weeks with some positive outcomes. Lots of doctors trips and hospital trips and visits to the physiotherapist.  My back injury has made some improvement but I'm still in pain - it's an ongoing process with lots of work to do to find a new normal for me.  There has been a lot of reflection and re-evaluation during this time. With 10 weeks until the SDW100 it is very clear that I won't be able to race it.  This is extremely disappointing for me as it is a bucket-list race (not that I really do bucket lists).

I entered the SDW100 for a number of reasons:
  • UTMB points
  • Western States qualification
  • it's a Centurion race and I've always wanted to run one of their races as I've heard such good things about them.
  • to explore an area I have never been to with what looks like stunning scenery.
  • I wanted to do a race where nobody would know me and I would know nobody and it would be a little adventure with nobody to measure myself against (or JUDGE myself against!)
  • I wanted to run a more runnable 100 miler and get a 'good' time/result.
So, the face that I have done basically no training whatsoever with 10 weeks to go and I'm struggling with this ongoing injury means this will definitely NOT be a runnable 100 miler and I certainly not get a good time - in fact it will be a race against the cut-offs (again *sad face*). I WILL be disappointed with my result because it won't be that 'fast' result I have been wanting to target.

It will not be a solo adventure far away with nobody to compare myself to (or judge myself against, and be disappointed once again with my rubbish result).  Whilst I am going to the race by myself and will NOT have a support crew or pacer-runners, there will be others there I know and whilst I knew there would be this possibility with Centurion races being so popular, I had secretly and I suppose selfishly hoped that this would be my race for the year. It kind of takes away from the 'adventure' aspect for me. I think if I want to be sure of having my own little race then I need to pick something more obscure next time! Or learn to stop judging myself compared to everyone else because there will never be a positive outcome and inevitably I am setting myself up for a fall.

I will be exploring the area and hopefully seeing some scenery later this month when I do a few short recce runs on the route as part of a wee break from work. 

After I have done the recce runs I will decide whether or not I am going to run the race or pull out (and get some return on my entry fee).  The ONLY reasons I will be running would be for the UTMB points and Western States qualification. So it will be a case of survival within the time needed to achieve those. And I will only go if I think I can survive without doing any major damage to my back.
I have bigger, much BIGGER events in the pipeline that I need to make sure I am as strong as possible for and there is no point breaking myself even further.

So, not quite 30 sections but that just about sums up the situation and my intentions.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Criffel Hill Race - the Muddiest Race in the World - FACT!

I didn't get to race my favourite hill race, but over 200 other runners did.  And I think it took a lot of runners by surprise.  It seems it is a bit of a marmite race - you either love the crazy mud, bogs and rocks or you really, really don't.  It's really quite a unique and deceptively difficult race. That's why I love it.  Southern Scotland often gets forgotten, but it has some special races and events.

Friday, 17 March 2017


It's almost 2 weeks since my last training update and I figured I may as well post today rather than Sunday as nothing will change between now and then. Sunday is race day for my favourite local hill race - Criffel.  I entered the race when it first went online, and with it being part of the Scottish Hill Championships this year I watched as some amazing names started appearing on the entry list.  I felt torn: would I run my favourite little race or would I spectate - find one of my favourite gnarly bit and watch how the pros race? I no longer feel torn as that decision has been taken away from me and I will be spectating. I am not sure I ought to be climbing to the gnarly bits but I really don't want to miss out completely. It will be less than a mile each way so I am hoping no damage is done.

Given that I have no even been allowed to walk a mile for the past 2 weeks I am aiming to stay optimistic despite not really having a clue what's going on or what I can do about it.  Am I injured? Yes, but a diagnosis is still unclear.  Am I ill? Kind of.  I don't pretend to understand all the science behind everything that's going on, but I'm trying to stay upbeat despite the pain. I am not allowed ANY kind of exercise beyond what it takes to do my job and be a parent.

It's a strange place to be. Not being allowed to do ANYTHING. And it's definitely not good for my waistline. Surprisingly I'm not completely losing the plot. I'm not thinking about SDW100 at all.  Because if I do, well, it wouldn't be positive, so the door is closed on that for the time being. I don't know when/if I'll be able to run again.  I suspect that I will, but I don't really know. I'm completely in limbo. And if I can run, I am literally going to have a mountain to climb to find the runner that has disappeared deep down inside this broken body. And even then, 3 months until a 100miler - even for the pros that's a bit of an ask.

The spirit is still there. The spirit is willing, the spirit is able. The body on the other hand, well the body is somewhere else completely.  But that's ok.  This year so much has happened. Oftentimes things seem beyond your control, and I am slowly learning to not fight against that. We can't control everything in life, so  we have to learn to roll with the punches. It doesn't always work out how you expect. So take one day at a time and if life gives you a chance, then take it, because you don't always get a second one.

Weight - don't ask
Diet - appalling
Exercise - I think I've covered that - big fat zero
Mood - hey ho
Sleep - unsettled
Songs -

Tilted (Christine and the Queens)
Day Drinking (Little Big Town)
Elysium (Bear's Den)
Human (Rag'n'Bone Man)
Mountains (Biffy Clyro)
Tennessee Whiskey (Chris Stapleton)
It's like that (Run-DMC feat Jason Nevins)
One Dance (Drake)

The music is super varied just now, especially as I'm not using it for running.

A bit of inspiration: “A Shepherd's Hand”

Who knows where the path will lead.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Running Commentary

The running commentary for this week:

Weight - too much

Diet - again, too much birthday cake (but that's the celebrations done now so no more cake)

Exercise - 75% of sessions done but still the volume is not there. On a plus note I've re-started doing short yoga sessions to work on my immovable hips. Need to adjust my plan now to up the mileage.

Sleep - varied from 1 night of 7 unbroken hours to 1 night of 3 very disrupted hours - the challenge of parenting very small humans. Needless to say I've had some tough days.

Mood - post sleep deprivation = sh*tty, otherwise generally controlled by caffeine. Running is not making me especially happy just now as it feels like I'm not progressing enough or not fitting in the training I want = frustrating. Away from my shoddy running I'm generally 'Larry'.

Songs for the past 5 days (since last post)
Wednesday - Chvrches - Bury it
Thursday - Jack Savoretti - Home
Friday - Rachel Platten - Fight Song (after listening to a really awesome podcast with my new favourite inspirational ultra runner.
Saturday - Leftfield - A final hit
Sunday - Maroon 5: This summer

Three month countdown to SDW100. Hmm, could do with six...

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Starting again, again.

Tomorrow is the first of March (and the start of Lent for those of that persuasion) and I feel like I'm starting again. Training has been stop/start and the lack of consistency makes me feel like I'm still stuck on the starting blocks. Running has repeatedly had to take a backseat when more important 'life-stuff' has got in the way, and often as a result I find myself not running when really I should be, and could be. And that's where the guilt starts and I beat myself up for my lack of willpower, motivation or commitment.
So tomorrow I have a threshold session on my plan, and I need to make tomorrow day 1 of  the plan to get to the SDW. I only have 5 weeks to be ready for some major mileage runs planned so getting some quality and consistency is key right now.
Time to sort out my head and sort out my training.

Weight - too much.
Diet - too much birthday cake.
Exercise - not enough.
Mood - feeling the running guilt
Song of the day - Ed Sheeran - Castle on the hill.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Operation SDW100 has begun, or at least, I've written a blog post saying I'm starting it...

So I'm a bit rubbish at running at the moment. Ha, who am I kidding, I'm a LOT rubbish.  But it's only to be expected after 6 months of either no running at all or only a very sparse amount. Injury, other more important commitments, sky-high stress levels and the accompanying eating levels have all led me to this point.

With exactly 5 months till the SDW100 I am at my heaviest (pregnancies aside), most unfit and slowest I have been since I started running 10 years ago.  Heavily entrenched in the vicious cycle of comfort eating, eating numbness, tiredness, stress, lost fitness and the negative psychological associations with all that I find myself struggling to WANT to run (it's always forced) and struggling to keep going once I've started.  With all that life is throwing my way just now I miss being fit and feeling healthy. The road back is probably the toughest I have faced so far in my running journey but new years are about new starts and so I have to start somewhere.

So I have exactly 6 months to lose 20lbs in weight to get back to my old running (ie. pre-children) weight, and in that process I will hopefully find my old fitness. I know it's not really about the weight - that's a by-product of the finding fitness process - but that's the easiest way to verbalise and visualise the issue.

So even though my running is rubbish, I like to take a few photos while I'm out.  In general these are much better quality than my runs, but without the runs I wouldn't get the photos - silver linings and all that!


Our big wee star at the Junior Parkrun

Our wee star at the Junior Parkrun