Saturday, 1 March 2008

Runners' Bug Bears - My Race March 2008

Rattling the runner’s cage

Runners are generally quite cheery people: Full of endorphins, doped up on a “runner’s high”. Right? Well, not entirely true. Although physical exercise – and in particular running – has a valid place in the treatment and prevention of some mental health problems, there are times when I think these mental health issues are an inside job. Ask any runner and I bet they could rhythm off a comprehensive list of bug bears. I’ve got a whole soap box dedicated to it.

OK, I’m probably not the most tolerant of people. I graduated from the spade’s a spade school of thought. A lethal combination used as a basis to compile a list of things that annoy me about running and racing. Yes, I’m about to commence on a rant marathon, but I bet you’ll be nodding in agreement.

So here goes. In no particular order, let’s start with general training.

Top of the pack: Dogs. Everyone’s had a situation that involves a dog. I’ve never been a big fan of the canine, namely because they like to attack me. But I’m not alone. Jill O’Neil from Garscube Harriers commented: “Why can’t dogs be kept on leads? Best still, kept indoors. It drives me nuts when owners say ‘aye, he’ll no touch hen’ or ‘he’s just saying hello’. I once ran passed a dog which went for me, but missed my leg and ripped my shorts instead. And the response from the owner: ‘well he’s never done that before’. Oh well, that’s ok then.” John Kynaston of Kilbarchan AAC also commented on his love of dog-walkers: “especially the ones who are wired up to an ipod and jump out there skin when you run by”.

Why do runners have to fight for pavement space? There you are trotting along and coming towards you there is a group walking two, three or four abreast on the pavement. They’ve seen you coming, so why can’t one of them step aside? Oh no, you’re forced to run on the road to get by. It’s even worse when it’s another running group. Shameful - they should at least know better. Or a courting couple? Is their relationship that insecure that they can’t let their hands go for a couple of seconds? And don’t even get me started on cyclists on pavements.

Kids running along beside you: Given the state of the youth today, they’d be lucky to keep it up for 50 metres. Give it up. You’re mates aren’t impressed. Get back to your alcopops and Malboro Lights. Know our limits. Then there are the various chants and jibes from local youths and the fuelled-up fraternity. My favourites are “118”, “Keep on running” and “Run, Forest. Run”. Hilarious. Really, it is.

What about people stopping you to ask for directions? No! Don’t do it. I don’t want to tell you how to find xyz street. And I’ve got no idea when the number 53 will be along. Marco Consani of Garscube Harriers said: “One person even stopped me to ask and me for a light!”

Non-runners trying to give you advice: My brother (who has never donned a pair of running shoes) was adamant that my marathon training runs should all be over 26 miles. What’s worse is advice from runners when it’s not welcome. My husband is forever trying to drown me in his worldly-wise words – change your route, your stride, your pace...your husband.

Then there are non-runners who are completely clueless: Firstly, I don’t jog. I run. Don’t tell me you saw me “out jogging”. And if you don’t appreciate what it takes to run, don’t comment on it. Ian Beattie of Strathearn Harriers said “It really riles me when people who have no knowledge of running say that Paula Radcliffe is a quitter. Go run a 2:15 marathon and win a world championship and then come back with your opinion”. Oh and don’t forget the folks that say they don’t like running because it’s so boring. An ex-colleague used to say this to me all the time. I thought it was quite ironic considering said ex-colleague was so dull he was like the human equivalent of beige.

What about “runners” who use the weather as an excuse not to go out? I appreciate there are valid reasons in abstaining if it’s stormy/icy/blowing a gale, but raining? What a whiny, cry-baby excuse. It rains in Scotland. A lot actually. If we all used that excuse, there would be an obesity epidemic. You go figure.

On the note, I do get the rage with the wind: Is it just me, or is it windy all the time now? I refer to it as runners’ wind. No not a symptom if the runners’ trot. It’s the wind that seems to follow you. Regardless of the direction you’re heading, the wind always seems to be in your face.

Then there’s the frustration of choosing the wrong gear. Given Scotland’s unpredictable and frequently changing weather system, this happens on the majority of runs. You think it is cold, so you pile on the layers. One mile in and you’re practically fainting. Or you venture out scantily-clad only to be hit with a snow-storm.

And finally: other runners who don’t acknowledge you. I’m a runner. You’re a runner. I’ve said hello. I don’t want a conversation. And I don’t want to upset your running stride. But snap out of your zone, stop being ignorant and at the very least nod your head. It’s the law.

Now, let me get stuck in to the drivers. They are so special they deserve a whole section of their own. You can pretty much guarantee that most sessions will involve a run-in with a driver or maybe that’s just me. I’ve been at the receiving end of many a fist-shake. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve been blinded by full-beams. In the dark of night, I’ve got enough reflectors to light up a small town. How can you possibly not see me?

Then there are the rants and hurls of abuse from car windows. Especially from a car-full of neds. You know the delightful little blighters who try to make you jump with their beeping horns. Davie Bell of Lothian Running Club said: “I’ve had things thrown at me from passing cars. It was not so long ago that I got hit on the head with a packet of Trebor mints! When the car’s doing 50mph, it hurts. I also been blasted by a super-soaker and used as target practice by the local airgun club. Try zig-zagging on a cycle path that’s only 6ft wide. That’s what you call a good speed session.”

OK, but my favourite is the hesitant driver. Let me set the familiar scene. You both get to the junction at the same time. You think he’s stopped. He thinks you’ve stopped. He goes. You go. He waves you on. You wave him on. You both go. Both stop. Grrr. Too late, you’ve already out of your pacing and you want to throw a tantrum on the pavement. And what’s worse than that are the drivers who don’t even offer to let you go first. Not forgetting to mention the ones that cut you up at junctions, deliberately splash you, neglect to use their indicators or pull out of driveways without looking.

Now let’s move to the race circuit. And we best start at the very beginning. These days you’re lucky to actually get a place. Mark Hamilton from Prestwick commented: “I get really annoyed about the lack of racing places in big races. Why are the majority taken up by charity runners?” Now I’m all for doing my bit for charity, but I can understand when people get the hump when they lose out on the ballot. There are so many random charities these days. I don’t fancy my chances of trying to raise two million pounds for the dysfunctional budgerigar foundation, just to get a place. On the flipside, there are loads of other fabulous races to enter, so we can’t whine about everything.

When you actually do make it there, the parking situation is always a joke. Especially when participants try to get as close to the start/finish as possible. You’re a runner. Run! I have to run, as I usually need to find the nearest loo. Nerves play havoc with my bladder. Unfortunately the runner to toilet ratio is usually 5000:1. I really don’t mind being at one with nature, but you’d get an ASBO for a fly tinkle in the middle of a housing estate. So I’m forced to join the never-ending queue for the experience that is the portaloo. I may be lining up for my third “make sure”, but I get really annoyed if there are spectators in the queue ahead? Why can’t they wait until after the race starts?

Everyone always moans about runners/joggers starting the race way out of their pace. OK, I’m probably quite guilty of this therefore I’m outing myself as a pest. But in my defence, I’m not as slow as some. And chances are I will have passed most the people who raced off by the time I get to the half-way mark.

On that note, people who race off – usually wearing combat shorts and football trainers – and then start slowing down (and often walking) a mile in to the race. Then to add to their annoyance they suddenly have a burst of energy when you’re overtaking them.

People who run beside you during races: Do I look like a pacer? Either run behind me or run in front of me. Not beside me. We’re not mates. Unfortunately, even when the person next to me is in fact a mate, the same rules apply. Leave me alone. I want to suffer in solidarity.

Ian Beattie added another belter: “Marshalls who stop you to let traffic passed. Yeah, that will be right. Did no one explain that it’s a road race? The cars are supposed to stop for the runners, not the other way round”
Then it’s all over and you burst across the finishing line. You’re breathing through you ears and bleeding from you eyes, when one of your club mates is right in your face with “what was your time? What was your time?” I don’t know about you, but I have an overwhelming urge to flick them on the forehead.

Excuses for poor performance: Everybody knows someone who has a whole list of excuses - often before the race even starts. There’s the injury, fatigue, cold (or man flu) curry the night before, the wind, the heat, not wearing their lucky knickers. Just accept your time. And accept that no body cares about your time.

There’s generally a lot of annoying chatter at the finishing line. Supersonic athletes who get a PB, yet still complain about their performance. If you think you could have gone faster, why didn’t you? Of course, there’s the mandatory debate about the length of the course (always incorrect!) and the lack of prizes for specific age categories – generally when the person moaning is the only person in that category.

And after all that you get handed some rubbish goodie bag and a cheap chocolate-coin effort of a medal. What am I supposed to do with a vacuum-packed portion of pasta and accompanying sauce? And only in Scotland would you get a Mars Bar or a caramel log. What’s the story with the T-shirts? Rachel Stevenson said: “It’s one size fits no one. As a general rule, runners are pretty slim. I’ve still yet to see a runner who is extra-large.” The only thing worse, is having no medal or goodie bag at all.

At the risk of dedicating a whole issue of MyRace to my rant fest, I thought I best cover the rest as briefly as possible: getting pipped at the post by your nearest rival; getting pipped to the post by a womble or rhino; runners who stink before the race has even started; colleagues who laugh at my tights – laugh it up, fatty; dafties who run about with those silly water bottles, when it’s obvious they’re only out for a couple of miles; jogging on a track; people who think running on a treadmill actually counts; fast runners who wear sunglasses regardless of weather or daylight; whippet-thin runners who still want to loose weight to shave a few seconds of their 10K; spitting in the wind for it to come back and land on you; someone else’s spit landing on you; chaffing, cramp, stitches and emergency toilet stops. And last, but not least, photographers who capture you broken-bodied, red-faced and foaming at the mouth.

Phew, all done. It’s over and out from me. I’m off to noise up some runners.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Year. New Plan - My Race Jan 2008

Go on…try something new this year

One definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That could basically sum up my approach to running throughout 2007. I didn’t have a structured training plan. I ran the same sessions, on the same nights at the same consistent pace. Ironically I had the cheek to sulk when I didn’t improve my race times. After only hitting one PB in 2007 - and that was only by one second in a 10K - I vowed to make 2008 my running year.

Armed with a new training plan and new found motivation, I pledged to vary my training. Knuckling down with some speed work and trying new things is a novel concept to someone who’ss club nickname is One-pace Debs.

Even though I’ve been a member of a running club for a few years, I’ve managed to wiggle my way out of anything too tough. Namely road relays (too fast), cross country (too mucky) and hill running (my calves whimper at the thought of it). A mix of idleness, training for a spring marathon and intimidation have forced me to spend the winter months pounding the pavements at the weekend on my own.

Road relay

OK, first things first. I signed up for my debut road relay: the George Cumming. I went along feeling quite nervous, as I always associated these races with the elite. When I arrived at the cosy wee church hall in Houston, my intimidation was heightened when my mate shouted across the room: “Oi, Martin! You cannae run this at your usual marathon race pace”. Witch. As I scuttled over, I apologised to my team mates in advance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a donkey, but I’d hardly be the first picked in gym class.

The girls’ teams were made up of three members. I don’t know whether it was the luck of the draw or vain attempt to spare the club any necessary embarrassment, but I was the middle runner. Phew! The thought of being left behind at the start or trampled on at the end scared me.

Sauntering on down to the starting line, towards the sea of whippet-thin runners limbering up, I desperately scanned the crowd looking for someone I could beat. This category was a bit thin on the ground, as I could only see the familiar fast faces from the race circuit.

The horn went and runners zoomed off in a flurry of branded vests. It was a fiercely competitive game. Faces were stern and elbows were out, as runners tried to break free from the crowd.

As I hung around waiting for my turn, I noticed that one home-owner had posted signs on his house wall stating “no spitting”, which would suggest the villagers weren’t impressed with the vulgarities of athletes. There was also a wedding taking place in the local church. Can you imagine the confetti scene, as hoards of sweating, panting runners paraded past?

The legs were only 2.7miles. I prefer to call myself an endurance runner (something to do with the distinct lack of speed), so I thought this stint was hardly worth getting out of bed for. The first home was an Inverclyde runner in an impressive 12:50. I’m sure I couldn’t even drive the route that fast. My first team mate Ailsa came back in just short of 18 minutes. A quick signal from the marshal and it was my turn. So off I went - along the road, round the first bend and finally out of sight and on my own. I passed one runner on the downhill, so at least I made up one place. The bendy course follows road, trail, town and rural with a few a cheeky wee hills thrown in. I felt quite invigorated, as I nipped up the inclines. I was amazed at how competitive you feel when you’re part of a team - especially when I heard the pitter-patter of my nearest rival behind me. I managed to lose her on the last hill. It’s a long downhill, so nice for a fast finish – with the opportunity to look quite spritely.

Most runners came in and slumped over. Or the still-vertical staggered about with rolling eyes and foaming mouths. I crossed in 20 minutes and cheerfully said: “Wow that was great. I loved it”. Now there’s a tell-tale sign that suggests I probably wasn’t working hard enough.

The race was a fabulous introduction to road relays. It was a really nice, well-organised, sociable, local event. The main thing is that it has made me want to be faster. I’ll definitely be back next year. And I’ll definitely be much faster. Hope my teammates don’t quote me on that though. So, one road relay down. Big tick.

Hill running

Next on the agenda was a hill run. Ideally I would have signed up for a hill race, but we’re out of season now. So then any normal person would have headed up their local hills for an hour or two. Oh no, not I. No stranger to a long slow run, I opted for 24 miles across the seven Munros of the South Glen Shiel Ridge. As you do.I've been a keen hill-walker for a couple years and have bagged close to 100 Munros. I could safely say that my two great loves are now hill-walking and running. So, why have I never combined them both?

In a quest to find the answer, I headed out on a crisp winter’s morning. Armed with my trusty Salomon hydration pack, far too many layers and my equally unhinged side-kick, I started on the epic route with a gentle six mile along the base of the ridge. Most of the walkers out that day were using two cars to save this part of the journey. Already slightly puffed, we started the ascent. It was mostly walking/stomping/a laughable attempt at jogging on the way up, but I was definitely moving faster. Probably down to the footwear and light load. Up to the first cairn we ran down and over to Munro number two and then on to number three. Slight navigational error and we were on our way to number four. I started to slow and wilt with the exhausting gradient. My side-kick hit the nail on the head when he said: "It's like hill-walking, but with less clothes, less food and less grip". Trail shoes aren't really the best for rocky hills. And we packed extra light with just some biscuits and oatcakes for fuel. A few hours in and it was a game of peaks and troughs. And by Munro number five it was mostly troughs and troughs. We were out there, practically naked, exposed to the elements. When the cold rain started, my mojo hitched a lift on the wind. Even the power of the oatcake (I should be an ambassador of oats) couldn't save the day. After the last Munro I had enough energy to run all the way off the hill and then down the four mile military road back to the car.So, back to my original question: Why haven't I combined running with hillwalking? Because they don't bloody well belong together that's way. They are both glorious pastimes that deserve there own special attention. I missed my sack full of protective gear, nice lunches and comfy waterproof boots. So, will I do it again? Damn tooting. Seven Munros in nine hours is not a bad day out.I came. I saw. I conquered. I'm broken.

Cross-Country.

To be honest, I only signed up for this because it involved pre-race shoe shopping. And to a girlie girl as shallow as me, that was incentive enough. One purchase of a pair of bright yellow and black Saucony and I was raring to go. I may have looked like a walking bumble bee, but I felt like the bee’s knees.

I was duly informed that this was going to make me a “stronger runner”. Apparently the benefits of cross-country are both mental and physical. The experience makes the runner more robust, more versatile and less likely to be thrown by sudden changes in the unpredictable Scottish weather. The terrain forces different stride length, leg action and foot strike from road and track running. The ups and downs, unevenness, the turns all use different muscles. I was hoping that this would improve my speed, dexterity, balance and general confidence.

Unlike road relays and hill running, I’ve always wanted to try a cross-country race. I adore trail running and love muddy terrain and was really looking forward to a new challenge and breaking free from the monotony of the same old, same old. Unfortunately, cross-country running is a glorious and invigorating activity that is in urgent need of a branding overhaul. Mention the dreaded CC words and people cower, whilst recalling humiliating images of school races. There’s even a published school textbook that refers to cross-country as “a form of child abuse that breaches human rights” and suggest it is as “damaging as bullying”. How’s that for a bad name? Now what do you think would happen if the events were rebranded as adventure racing? I bet the organisers would be turning entrants away. It even sounds more intriguing, more reckless and daring, and much more this century.

Anyway, I digress. There’s no point harking on when I haven’t even got my new shoes (I think I’m supposed to call them spikes) dirty.

Well, I think I was broken in gently when I signed up for the Dumbartonshire AAA Cross Country Relays. The ground was quite hard as the weather had behaved that week. You must remember that one dry day last year?

I ran for my club’s Senior Women’s B Team. Coincidently (or maybe not) I was the second runner or middle leg. As my first team buddy, Laura, went off, I tried a warm up. Lord those shoes (OK spikes) take a bit of getting use to. I am used to nice spongy road shoes. Those plimsolls with laces and nails were anything but comfortable.

Down by the start the second runners were waiting for their mates to appear. A while after the fast boys came in, through the trees came the red-faced Laura. One high-five cross over and it was my turn. I slid, jerked and almost hobbled round the playing fields and along the side of the river. The course then crossed a foot bridge. The blood-crawling crunching of spikes sounded like a herd of excited golfers. Back on the turf, we crossed a green, hopped a wall and then headed along a trail. I ducked trees, whilst following bits a sticky tape attached to branches. Shoes still clean, so far so good. Up and over hills, more turf and more trails. Autumn had striped the trees of their leaves, so the ground was mushy and slippy. Onwards and upwards, a marshal directed me across a road and passed a car-park. This is the bit I was warned about. Trying to run on a road whilst wearing spikes, is a certifiable offense. Thankfully this section was short lived, as I was redirected back on the trail and down some leaf-clad steps.

I could hear the distant sounds of chatter and cheering, so I knew I was close. I had abandoned my trusty Garmin for the day, so had no idea how long I was out or how far I’d gone. Just when I thought I had come home squeaky clean, the course took in a long stretch of very deep mud. I squelched, slurped and slid my way to the fence, rounded the corner and was homeward bound. I do love the terrain and the limited pressure on time. I was more focused on my feet and surroundings than I was on time and splits. Plus I can to stomp about in the mud like a big kid. It’s just unfortunate that my club vest is white. It would make the perfect example for the Daz Doorstep Challenge.

Will I be back? Auch well, now that my shoes are dirty, I may as well give cross-country another bash.


Go on, try something new today. For a full list of events across Scotland, visit www.scottishathletics.org.uk. If anything you can add to your shoe collection.



Why not compile a list of goals and aims for 2008? Write them down and post them somewhere where you can see them everyday.

Draw up your three main goals for each distance: Your achievable goal over the next three months; what you want to achieve this year; and your ultimate goal.

If you’re all out of personal bests, try a new distance. There are lots of unusual distances out there like 5miles, 10 miles and 8Ks.

Create your own blog. Monitoring and sharing your achievements and thoughts, is a fabulous motivator. Log on to www.blogspot.com and join the running revolution.

Abandon your trusty ensemble and dress up for the occasion. Still harbouring fantasies of being a superhero or your favourite cartoon character? Then 2008 could be your year.

Encourage someone to sign up for their first race. Everyone’s got a 5K fundraiser in them. They’ll thank you for it afterwards. I promise. Bring one more person to the running family.

Take a break from your usual races. And more importantly take a break from your usual race rivals. Try a race away from home. You could combine it with an overseas holiday. Or even just a break in another part of the country. It’s a great way to include your family too.

Treat yourself. Introduce a point system to your training regime. Say, one point for each mile. 20 points could be a slice of your favourite cake. 200 points could be a new running top or a sports massage.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Hellrunner - My Race September 2007

Hellrunner: Scots to the Slaughter July 14, 2007 Mugdock Country Park




Who in their right mind would sign up for a race aptly named Scots to the Slaughter? Well, I’ve never been known for my mental stability, so I paid my entry fee and lined up for the first Scottish leg of the Hellrunner series, without a single clue what was in store. All I knew was that if was a tough adventure race and it was “not necessary to be able to swim”. The clue was in the latter part…

Paul Magner from Trailplus commented: “We created Hellrunner back 2004 when we came up with the idea of an off-road running experience that would put a smile on people's faces as well mud and sweat on their brow. If I were to ask any runner to describe their favourite run, almost everyone would describe an off-road route. Yet most runners stick to usual races, pounding away 10k, half and full marathons on concrete”. He continued: “Hellrunner is a multi-terrain race made up of three zones. There will be everything from trails to water-filled areas and plenty of steep hills. Everyone gets very wet and mucky. It’s nature at its toughest. Courses are marked but there are no mile markers - that’s for those softy road running types. All participants need to know is that the course will be probably more than 10 and less than 12 miles in length. But with what’s in store, who’s counting?”

Armed with a the checklist’s most important element – a sense of humour - a small field of less than 300 runners turned out on the sunny Saturday evening in July. A mixed bag of competitors – from the sprightly adventure race veteran to the novice in shiny new trail shoes to the guys who’d bet each other in the pub – gathered, ready to set out on the unknown. There was to be no chip, no markers and no route. The devil playing the bagpipes sent us on our way – through a cloud of smoke and fireworks.

The race started with a trot along a pleasant narrow trail, leading us into a false security. The biggest obstacle was the amount of people in the confined space. I’m sure I was more of an obstacle to others though, as I skipped around rocks and puddles.

The course – only distinguished with strips of tape from tree branches - made its way up the first of many hills. A few Londoners went racing up with excitement and then burst at the top. I’m sure the only hill they experienced was the ascent out the tube station if the escalator broke down. The entertainment of watching them pussyfoot round the first mud bath was worth the entry fee alone.

There was no point trying to stay clean, so I waded though the shoe-sucking mud, thankful that I’d tied my laces tight. On through some the forestry, the swinging branches were the next obstructions. A pine tree branch in the face would definitely leave a mark, so most runners cowered and shielded themselves – whilst the not so cautious yelped and cursed.

Out of the forest and across a bogey field, there was gridlock as we queued to pass over a few stiles. Up and over, the path continued down some steep rocky hill sides. The momentum meant my feet were moving faster than my brain and my heart was racing from sheer exhaustion and adrenaline. On through more marsh and bogs, the challenge was to stay vertical and not dislocate a hip trying to retrieve my feet. Up a few slippy hills – smile at the photographer – and it was on to more welcoming pine tree forests. The spongy bed of pine needles was a delightful surface to run, but the army assault course of fallen trees stopped me from tuning out. Having to concentrate really made the minutes and miles pass quickly.

Deeper into the forest and further from daylight, we were suddenly thrown into darkness. My eyes adjusted enough to see my steps and the runner it front. The concentration was deathly silent. I could actually hear my blood pumping and faint sound of panting from the runner behind. Heading towards the circle of daylight, we tackled another deep bog. Back into the bright summer’s light onto a rocky trail, it was humorous to hear the slurping of mud and the shrieks and giggles of runners struggling with their balance.

We continued along a rocky trail for about a mile before turning up another steep hill. My thighs were aching as I reached the top and turned along the path before making my way down again. The gradient and slippy terrain was almost suicidal. Some runners gave up and actually went down on their backsides. Back on the trail, I tried to stamp off the mud as my feet were starting to weigh more than me. Another mile along, I was heading down towards the more familiar track of the West Highland Way, but not before a marshall directed me on a small detour – a completely unnecessary vertical incline. The high-pitched squeals in the distance suggested that we were in for another adventure. I slowed to a stomp as I struggled with the gradient. At the peak I followed the path round the corner and was faced with a very wet descent. Slipping and slushing about in the jungle-like environs, I was desperately trying to stop myself falling face-first. The angle forced us to gather a scary momentum and runners grasped on the long grass to stop themselves from falling. The St John’s Ambulance Crew stationed at the bottom reassured me that I wasn’t being a big fairy after all. I was starting to wilt in the heat, so I was glad to see the only water station, which marked the half-way point. I didn’t know whether to drink it or throw it all over me.

Finally I was on the West Highland Way, passing the Carbeth Huts. An easy pace for about a mile before an official sent us up a path less travelled. Living close by, the Way is a regular training ground, but I was totally unaware that these paths existed. Up though a faint track the route winded and twisted, with sharps bends and detours. “Is anyone else feeling nauseous” someone shouted from the back. Nods and agreeing sighs, before we climbed over the obstacles and ducked under trees. Heading down, the pace was dictated by the runners in front. It was like the M8 during rush hour. One person slows down and it has on knock-on-effect on everyone. Single file we dodged fallen wire fences, swinging tree branches and the remains of a Ned’s camping site. The combat-zone conditions triggered camaraderie amongst runners. There was respect and an unspoken non-competitiveness. No one tried to overtake and fore runners stopped to hold back tree branches. I’m sure it was a different story at the front of the field though.

With eight miles down, we were back along the West Highland Way. The adventure part was over. The last two miles consisted of a few more inclines and narrow paths. Retracing the track of early stages of the race, a marshall shouted: “Back to the castle. Just listen out for the bagpipes and you’re there.” Just when you thought it was over, it was just one more for good measure. With an evil glint in his eye, another official sent us up a vertical ascent up a steep muddy hill. And that is what the organisers call the “Hills of Hell”. Every race in the series has a killer finish. I grabbed on to grass and branches to pull myself up, as my feet came away from underneath me. I passed one runner practically going up on his stomach and a girl taking one step forward and three steps back. Sprinting down the other side - praying not to trip - it was back on the trail for the last 200m sprint to the finish line.

When I finished I was on a complete high. Although I looked like Worzel Gummidge and my shoes were only worthy of the bin, I think I’ve found my favourite race. It was a hoot. After months of long distance pavement pounding, my body and mind were in danger of cracking up. I was starting to fall out of love with running, but Hellrunner saved the day. If definitely put the fun back into to running. It’s your worst cross-country nightmare, but I’ll be there next year.

Fact box.
Scots to the Slaughter at Mugdock Country Park Glasgow was the Hellrunner’s first visit north of the border. Other events take place in Delamere Forest, Cheshire and Longmoor Camp, Hampshire. Following the success of this year’s event, the organisers will be back again next year. For further information, visit http://www.hellrunner.co.uk/, email info@trailplus.com or call 01628 820368. There’s also a Little Devil’s Fun Run on the day. See website for details.

Results

Male

1 Chris Steele 1:03:32
2 Nick Fish 1:03:49
3 Matt Williamson 1:05:18

Female

1 Megan Mowbray 1:15:59
2 Lisa Pettes 1:17:56
3 Claire Thomson 1:21:44

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Devil o’ the Highlands - My Race July 2007

Speak of the Devil / Better the Devil you know



When I first started running, even the thought of a marathon – a mere 26.2 miles - was usually met with comments that involved hell and freezing over. Little did I know that several marathons down the line the devil would grab me and drag on a gut-wrenching 43 miles through the Highlands.

Since my pavement-pounding debut many moons ago, many have been impressed with my dedication and devotion to running. More are bewildered as to why I actually enjoy long distance running. But few shared my excitement when I signed up for the Devil o’ The Highlands (DOTH) – a 43-mile hill race along the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Fort William.

Garry Milne, Race Director came up with the idea whilst running the West Highland Way Race in 1994. I put that down to delirium. Nevertheless I had to agree with him when he said: “the most enjoyable and beautiful part of the route is from the village of Tyndrum all the way up to Fort William”. He toyed with the idea for a few years, until his long-suffering wife bullied him into stop talking and start organising. Enlisting the help of his athletic family, including his Father Stan who was a race director for the West Highland Way Race, they formed The Bigrace Group. Since the event’s maiden voyage in August 2003, it has attracted international athletes keen to take part in one of the world’s most scenic ultra marathons.
Unlike an ordinary ultra, this is advertised as mountain race. Not just 43 miles, but over 6000ft in ascent - in a region known for its unpredictable and severe weather. Because of this, the registration process and race guidelines are very stringent. Applicants are selected on case-by-case basis and must possess the desired level of ability. The race rules are: Runners have 12 hours to finish and must pass through the four manned checkpoints. Each runner must have a back-up team and as it’s a mountain event, the minimum survival equipment – map, compass, waterproofs and foil blanket - must be carried at all times. Participants are allowed companions, but not pacers. The difference being that if you’re chasing a prize then you are not allowed anyone to help you along. And each runner must carry their own pack at all times.


Parking up at the Green Welly Stop just after dawn on June 9, I put my enrolment down to a temporary lapse of sanity rather than an aspirational achievement. I had walked the route and jogged most of sections, so I thought it was a case of stitching some bits together, upping the pace and getting to Fort William within the time limit. Na├»ve I know. Thankfully my equally unhinged side-kick, Marco, was there to experience the pain too. We’re known by our nearest and dearest as the certifiable fruitloops. I’m not sure whether we’re compatible or just a bad influence on each other.

We met up with my bleary-eyed support teams – more to do with a night at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel’s bar than the god-awful hour - to go over last minute details and hand over my supplies. The weather forecast predicted hot sunshine and 25 degree heat. Given the Scottish highlands’ famed fickle weather, I had packed for every eventuality from a Sahara to Everest adventure.

Last minute hugs and words of encouragement and I lined up with the other 52 runners. My stomach was in knots, my eyes resembled a startled rabbit and my hands were flapping about attempting to elude a midges attack.

Stage 1 - Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy 10.75km/6.75miles
Bang on 6am, Garry honked the horn and off we went, trotting up the gentle slope out of the village of Tyndrum on an old military road. The easiest section of the route was made more enjoyable with the fresh morning air and the magical sight of the rising mist. The combination of fear and anticipation meant that no one was in the mood for conversation. The only sound was the scuffling off trail shoes, swishing sound of energy drink in back packs and the odd toot from drivers on the A82.

Over the first few miles there was a mix of enthusiasm from the over-expending runner who got caught up in the first spurt action to the over-cautious who started to walk at the first sign of a hill.

After a while, the field was split and people started to relax and settle into their stride. I spent the rest of the stage chatting to two other gals. Up and over the rocky track we excitedly gibbered about previous races, running experience and how we ended up there in the first place. It was like a mobile coffee-morning, but it was nice to chat.

As the train line at Bridge of Orchy drew nearer the army of support teams – clad in midge nets – came into sight. The railway underpass, which donates the entrance to the village, was a haven for the highland pests. Shielding my face, I jogged down the minor road, flashed my race number as I passed the checkpoint and crossed the A82 to meet my support team.
Jill and Sara looked like they were having the toughest time. Ducking swarms of Scotland’s scourge that filled the air like smog, the tried to look cheery, but I felt their frustration. Jill’s welcoming words were: “next time can you choose a race that’s not in Scotland”. Non-disputable advice which I banked for a future ponder as I stripped off a few layers of clothing, grabbed a bag of jelly babies and headed off for the next stage.
Stage 2 - Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse

Bridge of Orchy to Inveroran 4km/2.5miles
I could still hear the cheers behind me as I stepped on the trail, which immediately started to head steeply towards the first major peak - the Mam Carraigh ridge which stands at 1000ft/308 metres. I didn’t have much of a game plan, but I knew I was going to walk the three peaks. I started to slow down and settle in to a stomp as I continued up through the woods. I was probably going a bit rapid, but I was otherwise in danger of asphyxiation by insects. I ran and stumbled out of woods on to the track which marks the beginning of the rougher country underfoot.
Heading over the ridge the morning sunshine was beaming down. Cloudless blue skies allowed for magnificent views over the sparking Loch Tulla and the magnificent Rannoch Moor in the distance. Feeling the burn from the uphill, the downhill offered little relief as the rocky zigzag route down to Inveroran was tough on the ankles and taxing on the brain.

Inveroran to Kingshouse 16.1km/10miles
Passing the Inveroran hotel over a few bridges and stiles and it back on the Old Drovers road heading towards Rannoch Moor. Feeling quite self-righteous, I passed the runners who blew up exerting themselves over the previous peaks.

Rannoch Moor is the most remote, but most splendid part of the race. A magnificent plateau dotted with innumerable lochs, lochans, peat bogs, streams and surrounded by heather-clad country and mountains. To the unaware runner you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re wilting, when in fact there’s a cheeky wee incline most of the way.

Up and out of the moor, the path then swings around the flanks of Meall a' Bhuiridh to reveal the head of Glencoe. Still feeling energised, I bounced the two miles down the hill to the second checkpoint at the White Corries ski lifts.
I desperately searched for my support team, but they were nowhere in sight. Panic set in. Quick call from my mobile and I tracked them down at the Kingshouse Hotel – a short distance across the A82 and along the minor pot-holed road. By this time, the gals had stripped down to their shorts and tees and were topping up there tans. There were amazed and confused when I said that I was “absolutely loving it”. I topped up on fluids, grabbed a cereal bar and headed passed the hotel and campsite and over the bridge. A few sleep stirring campers lifted their heavy heads and waved over, whilst others looked on in shocked.
Stage 3 - Kingshouse to Kinlochleven 14.5km/9miles
A pleasant 2.7 miles along the Way, with a few skips over streams and jumps over stiles and I was at the foot of the dreaded Devil’s Staircase - the highest point at 1798ft/549m. Aptly the race was named after this hill, because of its energy draining ability. By no means a mountain, but not an ascent I wanted to waste energy by running up. I decided to walk/stomp up, as I knew I’d be faster. Strangely, I was actually looking forward to the rest. I passed a few runners on the way up. The simultaneous rolling of our eyes was the unspoken language that screamed we should be doing something else on a sunny Saturday morning. Why can’t I be like a normal girl and go shopping? To add another cruel twist a photographer was heading towards me as I pulled my dead legs up. Snapping away I asked him if hair was OK. Thankfully he humoured me. Nearing the summit, I passed and chatted to some Dutch tourists, who shouted behind me “You must come to Holland to run marathon. It is very flat. Not like this crazy country”. Thoughts of how Dutch people trained for the WHW kept my frazzled brain occupied for a while.
Views from the summit were spectacular. I had trained on this section two weeks prior and I was battered with forceful hailstones and snow. Yes, even in May! This time the crystal clear day provided magnificent views of Lairig Gartain that runs through Glen Etive and the mighty Buachailles.
Skipping along, the track meanders its way down for the next six miles. The rocky route and downhill gradient was unforgiving on the quads and my toes ached as my feet pressed forward in my shoes.
Trying to enjoy the sights of the glorious mountain ranges and the glistening eight-mile reservoir, I was cautiously aware of my stepping. One false move and I’d be backside over elbow. En route I passed a few male runners who were really pussyfooting around the rocks.
Nearing Kinlochleven the track continued to drop and my toes continued to scream as the pipes of a town’s aluminium smelter came in to view. My tired legs were suffering from the concrete pounding as I turned towards the next checkpoint. Again, I frantically searched for my support team. I was starting to question my choice, when my half-naked soon-to-be Brother-in-law Paul hurled himself across the street and said: “The girls are parked at the end. I can’t run with you and I don’t want to panic you, but you’re third lady”. What? Me? I’ve never been known for my speed, but One-pace Debs was on for a place. I suddenly felt lighter and more energised. Springing away, I figured Paul was having a rare wee day of sun-basking, but I later discovered that Marco had swiped his t-shirt at the last checkpoint.
A quick pip-stop, restocking energy drink, packing some food and slapping on more sunscreen and I was on my way to the finish. Unfortunately it was along the toughest and most draining section. Up until that part I was feeling pretty fresh, but experience had warned me that that was about to be zapped. I accepted that it was going to hurt, but I knew I’d get through it.
Stage 4 - Kinlochleven to Fort William
Kinlochleven to Lundavra 12km/7.5miles
Leaving the town, my jovial stride proved short-lived as I turned up the steep track towards Lairig-Mor (330m/1100ft.). Climbing up and up through birch and mountain ash, the sun was out in full-force. My skin felt like it was melting. Drips of sweat – which were running faster than I was - were stinging my eyes and blurring my vision.
After a staggered ascent I finally reached the Lairig-Mor track. From there on in it was an isolated jog through a long empty valley. The undulating track was very tough on heavy legs. Every incline felt like a mountain. My energy levels were depleting, so I frantically stuffed jelly babies in my mouth. My thighs were searing with and the rough terrain was making my feet slip and ankles roll. I knew I was in danger of losing a nail or two, but hey ho, toenails are so over-rated.
To keep positive, I knew I was going to finish. And finish in a better time than expected. I had got that far so I was committed to dragging myself to the end. Passing another few male runners, their shocked faces on seeing a girl overtake, continued to provide sweet satisfaction.
After a series of mental peaks and troughs, I eventually reached the track which drops down towards woodlands. The change of scenery and terrain was a welcome sight.
Lundavra to Fort William 10.5km/6.5miles
The walkers were out in force – although there seemed to be more sitting enjoying the sunshine than walking. It was great to see some smiley faces and hear some cheers of support. Meeting other people en route forced me to be positive and pull myself together. I couldn’t show weakness after all.

Running into more forest spruce, the track crossed a high stile followed by a steep climb up a hill. A narrow dirt track curves around a hillside before I was faced with the most welcoming sight of the day – the mighty Ben Nevis. The name translates as venomous or malicious mountain. Quite fitting considering its sight would suggest the ending was near, when in fact there was still over five miles to go.

The additional stiles were becoming more difficult to climb as a continued on the roller-coasting path through the pine forest. The new terrain – a lovely blanket of pine needles – and the shade were a pleasant relief. My legs started to rebel as I hit more inclines. My brain couldn’t grasp it. If fort William is at sea level why oh why was I still climbing? Negotiating the last stile with limited grace – much to the amusement of on a few chuckling onlookers - I hit the long winding gravel track. My legs were like jelly, my hands were shaking and I was starting to feel quite emotional. Out of nowhere the photographer appeared again forcing me to smile and reform my running style.

I continued on my scuffle down towards the Braveheart Forestry Carpark on to the main road, for the last stretch. I desperately willed the 30mph sign to appear, as I knew the town of Fort William would be round the corner.

And there it was. My oasis. I used up the last ounce of energy to step over the finishing line. After running for 8 hours and 49 minutes my legs buckled like I’d just jumped off a bar stool after drinking 10 shots. My waistline had shrunk, my hair looked like something the cat coughed up and my skin was so salty, you could shake me on a bag of chips. I finished third female and joint 20th overall. I would have cried with joy, but it would have probably used up the last drop of liquid I had in my body.

After the initial jovial celebrations, my support team had to grab me as I stumbled back on to the main road. The only cure, of course, was to slump on the grass and watch the pain of the other runners coming in.

So, will I be there next year? Count me in. Will I be attempting the full 95-mile journey in a one-er? Of course. Just as soon as hell freezes over.

2007 results
John Kennedy 06:31:18
Philip Atherton 06:51:38
Duncan Gilmour 06:54:12
Marco Consani 07:03:23
Helen Johnson 07:07:53

Fact box.
Devil o’ the Highlands is organised by the Big Race Group. The event is non-profit making race, sponsored by the Green Welly Stop, Del Monte and Arnold Clark. For further information, visit www http://www.devilothehighlandsfootrace.co.uk/. Next race scheduled for August 9, 2008. Entry forms are available online. For information on the full WHW race, Visit http://www.westhighlandwayrace.org/

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Join the club - My Race March 2007

Going clubbing





It’s 7pm. I’ve just finished a long and stressful day in the office. It’s freezing. The rain is torrential and it’s blowing a gale. I’m standing shivering with a group of “athletes” waiting to embark on a sprint through gloomy city streets. I begin question my sanity when I not only volunteered for it, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

If you haven’t already joined a club, then you will have probably toyed with idea since you first donned your running shoes. With companionship and improvement in performance – you know it makes sense. Once you’ve caught the “runners’ bug”, signing up should be a no-brainer. But then you line up at a race surrounded by a gang of whippet-thin zombies in matching vests and your confidence is thrown and replaced by intimidation. Well, have no fear. Nowadays running clubs are far more diverse – not only in terms of members’ ability, but also in their attitude to running. Of course there’s always going to be a squad of “fast boys” or the “elite team”. But there are more of the just-for-fun runners and plodders. It’s isn’t just a domain for serious athletes. And there isn’t a club in Scotland that wouldn’t welcome new members.

I swayed with the idea of joining a running club for years. I used every excuse under the sun. Not enough time, too busy at work, too slow or I prefer to run alone. But when I bit the bullet (after sitting nervously in my car for half an hour) and turned up for the first session, I’ve never looked back.

Ask any club runner what they have gained for joining and they will rhythm off a list of reasons. Here’s a few if you need convinced to sign on the doted line.

The benefits

Performance boaster: This will be top on the list for all recruits. Join a club and you’re pretty much guaranteed to shave chunks off your recent times. Scheduled training sessions, personal training plans, knowledgeable advice, speed work and healthy competition will all help you on your way to a new personal best.

Kenny Richmond of Bellahouston Road Runners said “I started out with jogging to keep fit, but quickly got bored. I joined the club four years ago for some company whilst out running. The structured training and competitiveness during sessions has improved my running significantly”. Kenny now runs 32min 10Ks and 2:31 marathons.

Competition: This is particularly strong if you know your fellow runners, as you will have set your sights on beating some of them. Don’t deny it. Even the non-victory hungry runner can stir a latent competitive streak triggered by running in the company of others. A little competitiveness can drive you further and really improve your performance.

“Above everything, I enjoy the competition within the club” said Kenneth Stewart of Perth Road Runners. “Not only is there friendly rivalry amongst club member during training and races, there’s also the rivalry between local clubs – something I had not experienced when I was unattached”.

Camaraderie: Boxing gloves aside, camaraderie and support are a key plus factor. All club runners share the same common goal – to be they best they can be and possibly even enjoy the process.
Even if you enjoy the personal space of solitude running, it is great to hook up with others once a week or so for a group run. You may also find running friends who you can join up with outside of club sessions. The support of others is particularly valuable to relieve the boredom factor on long runs or to keep you going during tough sessions.

Support: Not only is there the support to get round a gruelling training session, there’s usually someone to cheer you on during a race. And possibly scrape you up at the end.

Caroline McDermott has been a member of Gala Harriers for two years. “I started running to lose weight, and I found that I really enjoyed it. After running by myself for a year, I met some girls from the Harriers who encouraged me to join and run with like-minded people. It took a while to pluck up the courage to go, but I’ve never looked back. I am not their fastest runner and never will be, but joining a club and training "properly" has enabled me to improve my speed. There’s also the friendships you make, the support you get from when you're down or having a bad session plus the appreciation of your efforts when you've had a good run”.

Top advice: Forget paying loads for personal training. Most runner clubs have a network of experienced coaches, who can provide you with structure and analysis to your training. Little tips on your technique, such as ‘lift your head’, ‘unclench your fists’ or ‘loosen your shoulders’ are invaluable – and without someone knowledgeable watching, are likely go unnoticed and uncorrected. And if you’re entering a race, a coach can advice you on types of sessions to include in your weekly schedule to maximise your performance.

Susan Harper joined Penicuik Harriers last year: “The club training involves speed sessions and hill reps and has added another dimension to my running. Although they aren't in the least bit easy, everyone manages to have a laugh. Members are very supportive, and the coaches are always on hand to help out with any queries and training suggestions. I’ve managed to knock four minutes off my 10K time, which definite proves that the club has helped my running significantly.”


Good value for money: Actually it’s great value for money. Most annual memberships range from £10 - £100. What a bargain! All that guidance and wealth of knowledge - for next to nothing. The alternative would be to pay £50 per month on an over-priced, under-used gym membership. For an extra value perk, when you sign up to your local running club you’re more likely to get discounts at your local running shops.

Something for everyone: Most clubs are a real mixed bag of ages and ability. Some will moan if they have to run over six miles, whilst others are marathon veterans. Most clubs have “packs” which divide members according to their ability and speed. Everyone is made to feel part of a group and no one is left behind.

Neil Campbell of Carnegie Harriers said: “You’ll be joining group of like-minded people - who all enjoy running and are supportive of others - to help you grow and develop into areas you might never have thought about getting involved in. Clubs are for everyone, not just elite runners. We have a wide range of ages and abilities. All that is required is that you love to run”. Neil now competes in marathons, hill races and ultra-marathons.

Variety is the spice of life: Structured training schedules are a mix of sessions, which vary in distance and pace. Unless you’re very self-motivated, solitude runners often have a tendency to run the same routes at the same speed regardless of the distance - with no variation in gradient and terrain. Running with a club means that the routes will be more diverse. Forget you’re usual set circuit – your club miles are more likely to take in scenic trails, rolling hills, river paths, mystical woods and delightful country tracks. And if you’re running with others you’re less likely to get lost if you go off the beaten track. Unless you’re in my pack. My lack of direction is the best source of adventure in my life.

Feeling a little Wanderlust? Your running shoes can take you anywhere. Well, packed inside your suitcase of course. Not only are there fabulous races on your home soil, but most major cities hold road races. Whether your fancy a sprint round the Eiffel Tower in the Paris Marathon, 26.2 across the North Pole, the Himalayan 100m race or Barcelona’s San Silvestre New Year’s Eve 10K there’s always and excuse to combine a holiday with a race. And there will always be someone willing to chum you along.

Safety in numbers: This is particularly important for winter running, isolated locations and female runners. There are also people to guard you from unleashed dogs and the local neds - when they start pelting you with abuse and snowballs.

Social networking: It’s not all about running. There’s lots of fun too. Graham Macnab of Lochaber A.C. "Although I benefit from the motivation and enjoyment I receive from training and racing with like-minded individuals, I really enjoy socialising with them too. We all compete to improve personal performance and represent the club, so the camaraderie before, during after races is great. The social aspect of the club is very important and results in a lot of fun at various sporting and non-sporting events."

From summer barbecues, post-race karaokes, curry nights and Christmas ceilidhs there will always social outings on the calendar. Throw in some running for good measure and there are training weekend breaks, fancy dress fun runs, relay races and racing holidays. Through blood, sweat, tears and like-minded interests you will meet life-long friends. They will see you at your worse, listen to your tales of injury woes and cheer you up when you need it. Running clubs aren’t without their romantic possibilities (and scandal) too.

“Running became much more fun when I joined Kinross Road Runners” said Judith Dobson. “I met lots of supportive people who gave me encouragement to take on new challenges and improve my running. The club coaches organise training sessions and it's easier to motivate yourself train with a group plus the long Sunday runs seem to pass quickly when you've somebody to chat to. The main benefit from joining is the friends I have made”.

Wealth of information: Running clubs are a great source of local knowledge – from who’s the best physiotherapist or sports masseur in the area, to challenging running circuits and scenic trails or which local races are best for PBs

Community spirit: Most running clubs are organised and attended by local people, so you can part of your local community – and possibly give a little back. Raise the profile of the area with locals races and fund raising events. Stuart Aitken of Wee County Harriers said. “Anyone who stays in Alloa (wee county) knows someone in the Harriers. We are a small club with about 35 members of varied experience and ability. We’re a close, friendly bunch with a strong social spirit. There is gruelling weekly training sessions and long runs on Sunday – which usually end with tea and toast in the local sports centre.”

Team player: You don’t need to worry about what to wear on race day, as your club vest (and shorts if you’re brave) will be practically uniform. You’ll feel proud to be wearing your club colours. The downside to this is pressure to succeed if you’re seen in a club vest.

Fashion parade: Worry not about what to wear on race day. On the other hand, worry lots about what to wear to club training. Forget an old sweatshirt and tatty tights. You can’t blend in to the night, when you’re running with 50 people. There’s more pressure to turn out with matching ensembles and the latest gadgets. Thank heavens for discounts at local running stores.

A real runner: I know this is a little shallow, but for me the psychological shift that allows you to call yourself ‘a runner’, rather than someone who runs is well worth the annual membership. I know, I’m a running snob. I’m ashamed to say that I analyse every runner I see on the road and mentally characterise them as a ‘real runner’ or ‘novice’ according to their gear. And before you all tut, I bet you do it too. I’ve even got my passengers playing the game.

To summarise the benefits John MacDonald of Scottish Athletics said: “Running clubs provide runners with the expertise, motivation and structure to develop their abilities safely. All Scottish Athletics affiliated running clubs have qualified coaches to help runners create their own personal training programmes, encourage them to stick to these and monitor their development to reduce injury risks. Membership of affiliated clubs also opens up opportunities to compete in league events and team championships”.


The benefits are plenty, but for the sake of balance, I better give you the flipside.

Firstly, for anyone with an unpredictable work schedule, the infinite convenience and flexibility of running is the key attraction. This is what will have lead you to training predominantly on your own - when it suits you. Running clubs have set training times and sessions, which might not fit into to your daily work or family life. The good thing is, you don’t need to go to all training sessions. Even once a week or a few times a month will help your performance and keep you motivated. You don’t even need to race if you don’t want to. You can do a little or as much as you want. Just remember, what you put in is what you will get out.

Being part of the running “cult” may also effect your social interaction with the rest of society. Marco Consani of Garscube Harriers commented: “I’ve lost so much weight that my arms look like matchsticks hanging out my club vest. All I talk about is running and I hobble more than walk. I can’t drink more than four pints without becoming a gibbering idiot and there are frightening pictures floating about the internet. My toes look like they belong to a frostbitten mountaineer and I have friction burns in places that have never seen the light of day. I have spent more money on running shoes than the economy of small country and I think it’s normal to prance about the streets in a pair of tights. That aside, joining a running club is the best thing I have ever done. It changed my life forever..for the better.”

Finding the right club: There will probably be more that one running club in your area, so be choosy. It’s worth contacting a member to answer any question you may have or trying out a few training sessions before committing. Then you get an idea of members’ ability, how busy or friendly it is and whether your own level will be catered for. Some clubs may have a hill-running focus, for example, while others are more road-running friendly. Some are fanatical about their position in the league tables and want to recruit new members who are willing to race regularly, while others end every week’s training session with a few beers.

Scottish Athletics has a directory of nationwide affiliated running clubs. (Contact 0870 145 1500 or visit www.scottishathletics.org.uk). But that isn’t to say that non-affiliated groups, such as one operating out of your local gym, aren’t worth a try. Women might consider checking out the sociable and beginner-friendly Women’s Jogging Network, which operates female-only running groups. Jogscotland is a great way of starting out for people with little or no running experience. Groups all over the country offer a warm welcome to joggers of all ages and stage. For further information, vist www.jogscotland.org.uk.

Still not convinced? You don’t even need to run with a registered club. Go out with groups from your gym, friends or workplace. The main thing is you get out there and have fun. And running with others can add to the enjoyment.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Perils of the urban runners - My Race Nov 2006

The perils of the urban runner

Most Scottish runners savour the idea of training in the open country. Using Scotland’s majestic scenery as a backdrop to invigorate and revitalise the senses. Taking time out. Breathing in the fresh air. Admiring the views and vivid colours’ of each season. Spotting wildlife in their indigenous habitat. And most of all, escaping the rat-race of the concrete jungle. But with the increase in crime and the recent murder of power-walker, Farah Noor Adams along the riverside in Glasgow, running off the beaten track or in solitude, secluded places no longer seems an option.

As winter and the dark nights are upon us, personal safety is at the forefront of many Scottish runners’ minds. Although running in public, well-light places may seem like the safer choice, the urban runner often faces a whole new set of hazards and obstacles.

Firstly, there’s the traffic. Top of that list is the exhaust fumes – an invisible, yet toxic combination of harmful gases and particulates - penetrating our healthy, pink lungs. As you huff and puff along a roadside, these pollutants are quickly absorbed by the body and attached to the blood’s haemoglobin. This reduces the blood cells’ capacity to carry oxygen and makes the heart work harder. Symptoms of overexposure include headaches, watery eyes and tightness in the chest. Sometimes I think you’d be better off sitting a home smoking a 20-deck. The only good news is that the pollutants dissipate beyond 50 feet. So, if you must run along a road, keep your distance.

Not only are the vehicles a problem, the drivers are a pain too. They splash you with puddle water, snarl at you and silently wish they could run you over. But the most irritating driver, is the lost driver. Why oh why do people insist on stopping to ask you for directions? If you’re puffed-out and in a good rhythmic stride, the last thing you want to do is stop, let alone hold a conversation.

Mind you, the biggest culprit of snapping you out of the zone is the traffic lights. Hit the lights when they’ve just turned to red, and you could have a long wait ahead of you. By the time you’re set to go, on comes the lactic acid and you’re muscles have seized up. It’s almost like starting from scratch. You could of course prance about while you’re waiting, but then you run the risk of looking like a prize prat.

But far worse than the traffic, is the simple pedestrian. Obviously you’re not alone out there. You’ve got to dodge and fight for your pavement space. People casually walk out in front of you or appear from doorways out of the blue. After a bit of jumping and side-stepping to avoid a collision, they have to cheek to look at you as if it were your fault.

Then there’s the chants and the flurry of abuse from your entourage of ‘support’. “Run, Forest! Run!” is a particular favourite of mine. Closely followed by the singing of “Keep on running”. And last year’s most popular choice, especially amongst the construction fraternity is “118 118. Got your number”. It’s almost entertaining watching the chanters fall about laughing at their wise cracks – as if you hadn’t heard them before. If only I had a pound…

More deadly than the verbal abuse, is the growling. Most Sunday morning runners can relate to this, and possibly even empathise. When you’re feeling a little tender from the previous night’s over-indulgence, the last thing you want to see is some self-righteous, lycra-clad, jelly bean reinforcing your guilt and ill feeling. The view’s enough to justify relaxing the country’s gun laws. Even when I’m feeling delicate, I find myself irritated by runners. There’s even a little voice inside my head screaming “get a life!” Camaraderie is temporarily shelved.

As running is a form of escapism, one’s mind can often wander. With the repetitive motion, runners can often go in a trance like mode and switch off completely. This is particularly dangerous when trotting along in built-up areas or near busy roads. If you’re not paying attention, you’re not going to abide by the green cross code. I’ve lost count of the number of buses and cars I’ve run out in front of. I’ve also developed a dangerous habit of listening for traffic, rather than looking. Not the best idea, considering how quiet cars are these days. As you can imagine, I’ve been on the receiving end of many a fist shake or colourful word spoken from a rolled-down window over the years.

My funniest “switched off” moment happened when I was out running on a particularly wet and windy night. I was running head down, fighting the elements when, to my ultimate embarrassment, I ran straight, slap-bang into the back of some poor bloke who was walking along minding his own business. I don’t know who got the biggest fright. He just stood there in amazement, trying to figure out what actually happened.

On that note, the most startling (yet entertaining) thing is scaring the living daylights out of lone walkers. I fear I may, one day, be walloped with a handbag or umbrella. Hearing footsteps running behind, is enough to make strollers think they going to be attacked or mugged. They’re practically shaking or in a light jog by the time you reach them. Sorry folks, I would whistle on approach, but just breathing is hard enough.

Running in the streets of towns and cities you’re very exposed and, therefore, increase the risk of being seen by someone you know. It’s OK if you’re an experienced runner and being caught re-enacting a scene from Chariots of Fire is fine, if not ego boosting. But for the beginner or the not so athletic, it can be quite traumatic. And, Sod’s law, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be seen as you choke and gasp your way up a hill. I know people to waited until it’s dark before they go out, because they’re worried about being spotted.

Then there are the gangs of youth, prone to hanging out in streets and bus shelters. Chubby, cheeky and wearing enough polyester to start a friction fire. On approach you can see their bling jewellery flickering in the street lights. It would be very bad luck if you were physically attack. But from impish faces under hooded sweatshirts, it’s highly probably there will be comments and chuckling. One of the gals in my club had a bag of chips thrown at her once. Personally, I think that’s a double bonus. Free chips. Plus in their opinion, she needed to eat chips.

So, now we’ve got the external challenges out of the way. Let’s start on the physical impact of pavement pounding on your body. When you’re running, you hit the ground with three times your body weight with each footstrike. And each foot strikes the ground approximately 800 times per mile. Your running shoes and feet absorb the initial impact of running and pass it upwards to your ankles, knees, hips, back and head. Basically, the harder the ground, the harder the impact, which means you’re more prone to injury. And that risk is augmented if you’re overweight.

Plus, pavements are often slanted – sloping towards to the road side - which could mean one leg is “higher” and therefore “shorter” than the other. If you run towards the traffic (which is the safest way to run), your left leg will pronate (turn in more) and your right leg will supinate (turn out). This excessive movement all the way up to your knee can cause an injury. If you must run the same route, alternate your direction each time you run.

Urban running can also impact on your mentally. The lack of route variety or the monotonous motion of pavement pounding can make it harder to motivate yourself to run longer distances – or get you out there in the first place. Plus, comments or jibes can also shatter your esteem – especially for the beginner.

On a more positive note, there’s a pro side to running in urban areas: You may feel safer. If you get lost, you can ask someone. If you’re knackered, you can jump on the bus. Your less likely to be attack by farm animals or dogs. And you can build up a healthy appetite with cooking smells as you pass restaurants and takeaways.

So what can you do to overcome to cons? Well, there’s always the over-cautious advice: Don’t wear headphones, as won’t hear traffic and you’re more vulnerable to attackers. Don’t weave and respect the pace and rights of others on the pavement. Don’t look directly at headlights, as it may temporarily blind you. Leave a note at home stating when you left, where you’ll be running and when you expect to return. Carry a personal attack alarm. Stick to well-populated areas, and steer clear of areas with a high crime rate. Avoid running at night and don’t wear jewellery. Pay attention to your surroundings. And carry identification with your name and an emergency phone number.

But really, who has time for this? Plus doesn’t it take the fun and enjoyment out of your favourite pastime? Just be aware of your surroundings. Run facing the traffic. Get some good shoes. Leave the headphones at home. Watch where you’re going. Dress to be seen. Don’t run on high speed roads. Crosstrain or change routes for variety. And when people growl at you, just think how smug you you’ll feel when you’ve finished your run. Happy pavement pounding everyone!

Ends.

Friday, 1 September 2006

The Queen of Marathons - My Race Sept 2006

Interview with Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson

It is commonly referred to as the "Boston Incident". The infamous spark between runner and race director, which ignited the women's running revolution. Kathrine Switzer created a global frenzy, when the Boston Marathon race director, Jock Semple tried to forcibly remove her from the course.

Since the scuffle during the race in 1967, Switzer will always be best-known as the woman who challenged the all-male tradition and became the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon.




Little did she know that when she laced up her trainers, donned the number 261 and entered the starting pen that day, that she would break the gender barrier and change to face of female running forever.

Whether participating in a Race for Life event, running the Glasgow Women’s 10K, completing a marathon or any mixed gender race, women everywhere owe a little to Kathrine Switzer.

I had the pleasure of meeting the living legend during her visit to Scotland in June – to talk a the Running the Highlands (RTH) weekend in the Royal Deeside.

Dressed with style and elegance, Switzer instantly projects the aura of a winner. She may have spent her life being knocked for being a woman, but she still remains very feminine and graceful - from her perfectly styled hair and make-up to her tailored clothes and kitten-heeled shoes. She is proudly composed, with her head held high. Clutching a Louis Vuitton handbag in one hand, whilst sipping from a cup a coffee with the other.

With a confident and sunny disposition, you instantly warm to her. There’s a magnetic positivity that radiates from her.

Joining her at the RTH weekend is husband, Roger Robinson. Another high achiever, Robinson enjoyed a 30-year career as an international elite runner - representing both England and New Zealand in World Championships. He has set marathon records for his age group and written three of running’s most original books.

Equally proud and turned-out in razor-sharp pressed trousers and shirt, they wouldn’t look out of place in Monaco. Switzer’s cheery “have-a-nice-day” Americaness is a contrast to Robinson’s quintessential English - complete dry sense of humour - manner. But together, it works. Their are duo act. Smiling and giggling at their inside jokes and finishing each others sentences. It’s a charming synergy that’s spurned from 18 years of common ground and companionship.

Notepads at the ready, the RTH participants were alert and keen to hear Switzer and Robinson speak. Looking for divine inspiration. Anything that would help them run better, faster or longer.

Addressing an entranced and fascinated audience, Switzer commenced with the history of her life.

“At the age of 12, I was a keen hockey player.” She started: “My Father advised me run a mile everyday. To a young girl, that’s like climbing Kilimanjaro. I struggled everyday, but the conditioning made me a better player. I thought I had something magical, so I kept it a secret. Running gave me the self-esteem and empowerment that the other girls didn’t have. It was my little sense of victory every day.”

She continued with her daily run and hockey through to college in Virginia, where the men's track coach asked her if she would run a mile for the team at a meet. In a small religious town, this was something almost sacrilegious. The media where out in force to capture the woman who dared to run with men. She finished the mile in an admirable 5:58, but later received hate mail saying that God would strike her dead for running with men.

Switzer decided to become a sports journalist and transferred to Syracuse University in 1966. At Syracuse she went to see the men's cross country coach. As it was against the NCAA rules, she couldn’t run officially, but she could train with them. It was at Syracuse where she met Arnie Briggs, who was the University postman and unofficial team manager. An ex-marathon runner, who had run the Boston Marathon 15 times, Briggs took Switzer under his wing and taught her about running.

Switzer: “We were running six to ten miles a night. Arnie would keep me entertained with stories of the Boston Marathon. I was entranced and fascinated. Finally, I said let's stop talking about Boston and just go and run the damn thing. He turned to me and said, ‘women aren't capable of running 26.2 miles.”

Switzer knew that In 1966, Roberta Gibb had run the Boston Marathon. She hid in the bushes until the gun went off and then slipped into the pack. She finished in 3:21 – beating two thirds of the men - but her time was not recorded as she had not officially entered.

Briggs didn’t believe that story, but told Switzer that if she could prove to him that she could run 26.2 miles, he would personally take her to Boston.

Switzer trained consistently. She added: “On my first attempt at 18 miles, I hit the wall. But I kept going and finally we set the day to run distance. We mapped out about four 10K loops and as we were finishing up the last loop, Arnie turned and said, 'I can't believe you are going to make it.' All of a sudden I put on the brakes and said, 'What if we mismeasured the course and we're short of 26.2 miles?' I began to doubt we had measured the distance accurately. Just to be totally sure, I wanted to add another five miles. During the last stage of the 31-mile run, Arnie began weaving. At our finish line, I threw my arms around him…and he passed out!”

The next day, Briggs gave Switzer a race entry form. They checked the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) rulebook for regulations on woman’s marathon running, but there was no reference to gender. Switzer filled out the entry form, paid the $3 entry fee, and signed it – the way she always did - K.V. Switzer.

That night, she went out with her boyfriend Tom Miller, who was a 17-stone hammer thrower. He was always amused by her ‘jogging’ tales, but even more so about her marathon attempts. He decided to sign up on the basis that if a girl could do it, he could do it too.

The weather on the day was pretty cold and grim, so most of the runners were wrapped up. As Switzer pinned on her number, some of the other runners noticed her and got very excited and supportive. Switzer lined up to go through the starting pen with Arnie Briggs, her boyfriend Tom and John Leonard from her cross country team. As they passed through the pen, they had to lift their sweatshirts to display their numbers. Will Cloney, the co-race director, pushed Switzer through the starting gate. The race started and off went the first registered female marathon runner.

Four miles into the race, the media truck - packed with photographers - came along. The journalists’ bus - with race directors Will Cloney and Jock Semple on board - followed. Switzer explained: “By then, I had disposed of my sweatshirt and my hair was flying. I didn't try to disguise my gender at all. Heck, I was so proud of myself I was wearing lipstick.” The journalists started to taunt Jock that a girl had infiltrated his race. Jock, well-known for his violent temper, jumped off the bus and went after her. “I tried to get away from him but he had me by the shirt. Tom came to the rescue and smacked Jock with a cross body block and sent him flying through the air. At first I thought he had killed him. Arnie just looked at me and said, 'Run like hell,' . I did. And the photographers snapped away. The rest is history”.

Switzer went on to finish the 1967 Boston Marathon in 4:20, but was later disqualified by Jock Semple. She was also expelled from the AAU for “running with men” and “running without a chaperone”. Despite the set back she went on to run 35 marathons, including eight boston marathons. she ran a personal best of 2:51 in 1975 and won the 1974 new york city marathon. For three decades, switzer has dedicated her multifaceted career to creating opportunities and equal status for women in sport. She started the Avon International Running Circuit, a global series of events in 27 countries - which have reached over a million women - and lead to the inclusion of the women's marathon in the olympic games.

Switzer and Robinson now split their year across two homes. New Paltz, north of New York in the summer and Wellington, New Zealand in the winter. Both still run about six miles each day, but don’t consider themselves competitive. Switzer: “I still participate in races, but don’t take my myself real seriously until the last 200m, then I get competitive”. She laughs: If there’s a grey-haired woman near me, she’s dead meat!”. Robinson: “I still run, but always with a hobble. One knee retired in 1996.”


Together, Switzer and Robinson have written and compiled their latest book – 26.2 Marathon Stories.

The marathon is the most popular individual athletic event in the world, with over a million people set to enter one this year and another 50 million cheering them on from the sidelines. This beautiful coffee table book is the ultimate tribute to the marathon and the ultimate inspiration to the runner.

With 26.2 chapters and over 200 photographs, the book examines the marathon through the lenses of history, philosophy, sociology, athletics, culture, fashion and science. It delves into all that a marathon entails: the endless hours of training, the demands on your body, the fear at the starting line, the sinking feeling of hitting of wall and the overwhelming high of crossing the finishing line. It takes at trip through history and lists the heroes (and the villains!) of the race, looks at the world’s greatest marathons, captures the determination of the runners and analyses the agony and ecstasy of this solitary endurance feat.

The content of their book was the basis for their talk at the RTH event. Robinson spoke about the history of running – a subject he is fascinated by and very knowledgeable on. There’s a glint in his eye when he goes on to discuss the bygone times of his first and life-long love – cross-country running. He even recited some of James Fleming’s poetry on running – in a Scottish accent. He paid tribute to Scottish runners including Dale Greig and Alasdair Wood and his life-long pal, Mel Edwards, who he described as a “Labrador that’s just been let out the car”. He even talked of his love and admiration for Glasgow-born ship riveter Jock Semple – the man who tried to throw his future wife out of the Boston Marathon.

Together, they recited some of the inspirational and comical personal quotations from well-known marathoners, that are published in the book.

26.2 Marathon Stories is not a training guide. It’s not physical. It’s emotional. It’s passionate and gripping. There are bits that move you to tears. There are lines that make you laugh out loud and there are chapters that spur you to throw on your gear and sprint down the street. There are lots of interesting facts, but mostly it salutes the marathon runner with overwhelming accounts of this magical event. It’s captivating and essential reading from cover to cover.

If you’re considering running a marathon or would like to remember the swirling emotions of your marathon accomplishments, then this is a must-have read. Tap in to the energy of some of running’s greatest athletes and prepare for goosebumps. As a marathon runner myself, the line that ends chapter 26.2 will be stamped on my heart forever…”In truth a marathon has no finish. Its effects are carried for life within the body, the memory, the life story and the self-image. To finish a marathon is to attain a small piece of immortality.

Fact box

26.2 Marathon Stories is published by Rodale and retails at £16.99. Visit, www.rodalestore.com for further information. Buy online at www.amazon.co.uk.

Running the Highland weekend breaks run throughout the year and cost from £208 per person. The price includes accommodation, expert advice, guided runs and all meals. For further information, visit www.runningthehighlands.com, call 08451-577422 or email neil@runningthehighlands.com.

Switzer and Robinson’s top tips

Switzer on training: Get out there everyday and do something. Even if it’s just 10 minutes. Go for a little bit of magic everyday.

Robinson on training: Know the purpose of each training run. Run hard on hard days and easy on easy days. Never compete. Save that for races

Switzer on racing: Preparation prevents intimidation.

Robinson racing tip: Go out slow. Pretend you’re running inside a plastic bag. Enjoy the adrenaline, but remain apart from it. Don’t start racing until you’re half way round the marathon. You’ll know when to break. It’s a instinct. You can smell it. Your body will tell you when it’s time.

______________

Editor’s note:

Useful quotes from the book, that might make good display quotes.

Ahead lies strenuous effort, weariness, and pain, but we will endure it all voluntarily for the sheer enjoyment of trying.

Running marathons is not the long sought Fountain of Youth, but it may be the nearest humanity has yet come to finding it.

Each runner can run with world record holders like Paula Radcliffe and Paul Tergat. It’s like singing at the Met or playing in US Open.

The marathon attracts people from all walks of life, from all over the world, with every possible kind of motivation. Each has a different story and a different experience. Nothing else in the world unites so many people in a single purpose – men and women, rich and poor, from every ethnic group, every age and in every physical shape.

Every marathoner runs alone. Breath, heartbeat, the strike of the feet on the road, the sweat-soaked shirt, the aching legs – it’s all private. To run the marathon is a wholly personal decision. Only the runner can summon the will to complete it, and the satisfaction of finishing will be each runner’s alone. Yet every marathoner runs with many others. They share the road, the purpose, the struggle and the satisfaction. Together they make up a race, a field and a community.

Robinson’s philosophy on running: Running is a fundamental movement that puts you in contact with the earth, the elements and your body. In the modern world, that is beyond price.

Saturday, 1 July 2006

Girls on the run - My Race July 2006

Femininity Lost: The flipside to girls on the run


It was not so long ago that it was illegal for women to participate in long distance running. Why? Because men thought woman would lose their femininity, their muscles would bulk and their breasts would sag.

In true feisty female style, woman started to rebel. In 1966, Roberta Gibb Bingay was denied entry for the Boston Marathon. The reason the race officials gave her for the rejection was her that women couldn’t go the distance and she would get hurt. She hid in bushes near the start and joined in on the gun. She finished in 3.21 - beating two thirds of the men. The following year, Katherine Swtizer sent in her application under the name “K. Switzer”. As officials thought she was a he, Switzer was granted a place. Unfortunately, during the race, the director chased her and tried to rip off her number. She finished, but was disqualified.

The women's running movement started to take off in the 1970s. But the historical moment that granted equality in the world of runners happened when women were accepted to compete in the 1984 Olympics’ marathon.

The history may seem a little surprising to any present day female runner. Today woman are running, competing and winning everywhere. More and more women are rejecting traditional feminine sporting activities, lacing up their trainers and hitting the pavement.

I do appreciate and almost understand the original male school of thought on the case. I wholeheartedly believe that women should maintain their femininity. Even in this modern day of equality, I’m ashamed to admit that females playing rugby and football horrify me.

Granted, you’ll never find me prancing about in aerobics class or bending myself silly at yoga, but I do consider myself a bit of a girlie girl. I love pink things and perfume. I own about 50 pairs shoes, even more handbags and never miss a copy of Cosmo. I adore shopping, gossip and don’t pretend to understand the offside rule. I’m like a magpie when it comes to sparkly things and jewellery and I can spend hours (and a small fortune) in John Lewis’ beauty hall.

So, yeah, I’m a girlie girl. But when it comes to running, all feminine decorum is temporarily shelved. It’s lady to ladette by the time I’ve laced up my trainers. One double-knot later and all decent and respectable behaviour is out the window.

Firstly, let’s start with the verbals. During particularly hard training sessions, I have been known to use language that would make a drunken sailor blush. The colourful array or vocabulary that tumbles from my lip-glossed mouth would only ever be heard again on building sites.

I’ve also been caught spitting. Frequently actually. I’ve even coughed up and spat out numerous insects over the years. I used to be quite discreet about it. Waiting until I was out of sight. Now I do it during pack runs and races. Of course I always apologise before and after. Like that makes it acceptable.

As you will know, runners sweat buckets. For sake of femininity, let’s refer to it as perspiration. Actually, my favourite expression is: “Ladies don’t perspire. We merely glow”. Huh! Try using that one after a long run in the height of summer. Sweat balls rolling down your back and dripping off your face. Telltale signs of wet patches. A challenge for even the strongest deodorant.

Not only am I drenched it sweat, there’s the issue of a running nose. It doesn’t matter what the weather’s like, my nose runs like a tap. If it’s not running down my face, I’m using my clothes to clean it up.

A pretty, dainty friend of mine who has mastered the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth aura, spent the vast majority of the Jedburgh half-marathon clearing her nose in full view. Her excuse for knocking holes in the road with snot rockets was “she had a cold” and “had lost her hanky at the start of the race”.

I cannot mock, I’ve been known to wipe sweat on my clothes and blow my nose in my gloves. Something you would never consider doing in any other walk of life. And I’m sure my non-running companions would be horrified to discover this.

One morning I received an email from a work colleague, which read: “Saw you out running last night. You were trotting along very gracefully - a vision in pink lycra, with your golden locks bouncing about in a ponytail. You kinda lost the look when you snorted one up, and spat on the pavement.” Oops. The moral of the story: surveillance.

From a foul-mouth down to my smelly feet, running has a repulsive impact on every part of the female physique. I can no longer point the fingers at the boys for rancid trainer pongs. After running through puddles or on a particularly hot day, my socks could toddle off to the washing machine by themselves. And my feet don’t look to pretty either. My once beautifully pedicured totsies, have been replaced with hardskin, black toenails and friction burns. Let’s just say, I won’t bother buying this season’s must-have Jimmy Choos. Nobody wants to see the raw exposed skin that was once a blister. Ah, there’s nothing classier the sitting popping blisters with a hot needle.

My bathroom cabinet that was once stocked with tingling, luxurious peppermint foot lotion has been replaced with tubs of runners’ favourite, Vaseline. Slapping it my feet before a long run, may not be graceful, but it’s effective. A giant tub – which has raised a few eyebrows – is displayed alongside potions for fungal nail infections and athletes foot.

A crime to fashion and beauty

Running attire? Let’s face it, the clobber isn’t exactly stylish. No one can make a pair of Ronhill tracksters look fetching. Shiny lycra tights accentuate every sinful curve and ripple of skin. If you don’t having a figure like Nell McAndrew, then forget wearing hot pants. And if you’ve got cellulite (just for the record, I do), you’re not going to feel attractive in a pair of running shorts. Plus the motion of running, makes you fat bits jiggle about on full show. I lined up for last year’s London Marathon next to the Cheeky Girls. Can you have imagine how demoralising that was? Thankfully I beat them.

What about what’s underneath the running ensemble? You can hardly call it lingerie. Forget silky camisoles, frilly bras and sexy French knickers. It’s been replaced with double-layered wired-up, boulder (or pebble in my case) holders. OK, Anna Kournikova still looks stunning in her Shock Absorber modelling campaign, but my cheekies are squished and strapped down to look like an eight-year-old boy. As for pants, if you’re like me, the pants I use to run in are horrible greying numbers that I wouldn’t even display on my washing line. Oh, sexy stuff eh? Heaven forbid if I was hit by a bus whilst wearing them.

OK, so it’s not supposed to be a fashion show, but I definitely don’t look my best when I’m out running. And there’s nothing more cringe worthy than being spotted by an ex-boyfriend or old school mate. Any other time, I am eternally grateful for an Estee Lauder made-up face, but when I hit the pavement, my face has been stripped pure and soon to resemble a smacked backside.

As for your hair do, well, I generally set out with my hair scraped back, tied up and hidden underneath a cap. A cap than is so disgusting, that it could actually run on its own accord. With the bouncing motion of running, combined with the dampness of sweat, I generally have a mass of knots on the back of my head. A barnet that looks more like something the cat coughed up, rather than a Tony ‘n’ Guy creation.


Embarrassing internals

Well, now we’ve got the external niceties out the way, let’s talk about the disgusting unsociable, unmentionables that running does to your insides.

Firstly, there’s the infamous runner’s trot: A catch-all term for a range of unspeakables including cramping, flatulence and diarrhoea. Most females don’t indulge in “toilet chat”, but runners seem to have some kind of camaraderie in the area and will divulge their most private moments. Again, something you wouldn’t consider doing amongst your non-running friends. But hey, we’ve all suffered from it. Catherine McKeiran’s victory in the 1998 London Marathon wasn’t a ‘clean-sweep’. She suffered from an unfortunate attack of diarrhoea in the last few miles, but stormed on.

Although I may have been spared the public disgrace of the notorious trot, I will shamefully admit that I have been ‘caught short’ in various outdoor locations. Of course, it’s viewed as perfectly acceptable for the boys. One mile in to a race and they’re lining the course. They would be horrified if a girl did the same thing. Mind you, the required position is a little more graphic. Although I wouldn’t even contemplate “doing a Paula”, I’ve Jump behind many a wall and crouched behind many a tree. In true girlie fashion, I’ve even gone with a group. Although, unlike Radcliffe, I can spare the time during a race. Her much publicised “comfort break” during the 2005 London Marathon shocked the nation, caused a media frenzy and even introduced a new catchphrase. But I say, victory over modesty. You go girl!

What about periods? They say that running helps alleviate PMS symptoms and period pain. Fair play. But it’s hard to find the motivation when you’re crabbit, craving chocolate, harbouring murderous thoughts and feeling like an inflatable beachball. Plus, sanitary products aren’t the easiest things to run with and sport bras weren't designed for tender breasts.

Vomiting is also common side effects of running. The motion shakes the internal organs and can cause food and stomach acid to rise. I’m sure you’ve seen many a runner, sprint to the finish only to double over and hurl. One of my favourite race comedy moments was during last year’s Glasgow Women’s 10K. After finishing, I went back to cheer on the rest of the runners. One girl stopped in front of me, grabbed on to the railing and spewed at my feet. She then tilted her head, looked up at me with saliva dripping down her chin and said: “You can’t buy class”. Fair play to her though. She staggered over the finishing line.

So, the moral of the story is two-fold. Running is not for the fainthearted, precious princess types. And if you’re considering joining a club or entering a race in the hope of finding a love interest, don’t. Granted there will be lots of males there, but you ain’t looking your best.

On a more positive note:

Apart from the obvious health benefits, running is fabulous for us gals. We can counteract the chocolate gorging damage, as running burns off more calories and fat than any other physical activity. For a double-bonus, there’s guilt free wine drinking. Hey, life’s all about balancing the good with the bad. The ying and the yang. Shopping is more of a delight when you can slip in to tiny sizes. Skinny jeans will always look better on backsides that have maintained gravity. And we can wear summer tops and dresses, without fear of bat wing arms.

Thankfully many running brands have recognised the growth in female runners and introduced feminine coloured gear to their range. Better. Not perfect. But at the end of the day, regardless of how hideous the running gear is, girls still wear it better than the boys. Vests may not be stylish, but men just look silly in the them. And as for running tights? Enough said.

So, you can keep your poncy aerobics classes. I’m not going to the gym, and my yoga mat can stay under the bed. I stick to mud, sweat and blisters. There’s nothing more invigorating or effective and throwing on your scabby gear and and running through mucky puddles. Bring on a cross-country session in the pouring rain.

Of course afterwards its back for a well deserved girlie pamper session. Bubble bath with candles, luxurious beauty potions, fluffy pink pyjamas, curling up with a big mug of tea (or a glass of Chardonnay) and a chick-flick on TV. Heaven.