Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Finding form

April's barely started but the orienteering season feels like it is in full swing. The last month has been busy with a week sprinting in Italy, a club (IL Tyrving) trip to the Danish Spring, the GB World Championship selection races and most recently two World Cup races in Spain. The World Cup races have been the highlight so far as I came 5th in an epic long distance and 7th in the middle distance. I've really worked on my technique over the winter and I knew there were some good races in me. I really clicked with the terrain and felt confident and comfortable racing. I'm not going to pretend that I would have got such good results had more national teams turned up but the performances were good and probably still World Cup PBs for forest races.

Photos from David Rosen

My long distance route.
GPS tracking seemed to be a bit unreliable so this is what I think I did!
(It's a bit clipped on the right. My computer skills not up to much.)

The weekend before was also pleasing in terms of performance but less so on the results side. We had our World Championship selection races in relevant limestone terrain to this year's competition - the stuff I had tried (and failed) to get my head around when preparing for the 2011 World Championships. I did a much better job this time round with two solid forest runs, not perfect, but I felt like they were a fair reflection of my ability. Sadly it wasn't enough to get an individual forest run which I had been half hoping to prepare for, but I am part of the relay squad. I finished the weekend off with a good sprint run, coming 2nd to a flying Cat. That earned me a sprint and sprint relay run, two races that were always in the plans. The full team is here and it's really exciting to be part of. We had a great world championships week last year and we're capable of surpassing that.

So with two good weekends in the last fortnight it's easier to put aside some bad runs at MOC where I couldn't explain why I was so far behind the winners. It's time for me to move on and forget about what I have and haven't done in training and get on and race. I'm clearly in decent enough shape to pull out some good results so time to get rid of the excuses and get ready to race hard at the Europeans.

Amazing forest in Italy

It's going to be tough preparing for WOC sprint in Venice

I'm really grateful to Silva UK for their support over the winter. I've been using the new race compass that has been designed with the Swedish Orienteering Team. It's really clear helping you to see more of the map underneath. Also, they provided me with a Silva sprint headtorch which I've been using for weekly night orienteering sessions. I think this training has been great for making me be so much more precise when orientering. It's also been great fun, thanks Forth Valley Orienteers!  

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Winter Frustrations

Yet again I'm unpacking clean kit as another training weekend didn't go to plan. It's been the story of my winter as a whole load of little problems have chipped away at my over ambitious plans. First it was a knee problem that took a while to diagnose and has since taken three months to just about clear up. Then there's been a cold that has lasted far too long (I do take full responsibility for that though as I got tempted by a hard track session when I really hadn't recovered).

I'm hoping nothing has been disastrous as I've managed to keep running through most of it. I'm relatively confident that I'll be in decent shape once I get a few consistent weeks behind me. It's a just a bit scary as there are some big races early on this season (GB World Champs selection races and European Champs) and they seem to last a month meaning that the regular training routine will be disrupted then too.

2014 is going to be an 'in-between' year for me. Last year I had a clear focus of WOC sprint and I did everything I possibly could to be ready for that one race. 2015 might be along similar lines and so I'm taking 2014 as an opportunity to set a few different goals.

One big area I'm hoping to improve is my forest orienteering. I've not felt confident and comfortable in the forest for a few years now and I'd like to get those feelings back. A lot of that is in my head but one weakness I've always had is paying attention to my compass. Now that I'm a proud ambassador for Silva UK, it seemed appropriate to sort that out. I've found night training to be particularly good for making me focus on direction and Silva have been really generous and provided me with their Sprint headtorch. It has revolutionised night training for me as I never managed to get up any flow (or find anything) before with about 1m of visibility.

Obviously I've still got a big sprint focus and with the addition of a mixed sprint relay in the World Championships, there's a few new elements to add into training which will keep things interesting.

2014 also works out quite neatly from a skyrunning point of view. With the World Championships in early July, the summer is open to roam the mountains. I'm extremely lucky to be running for Arc'teryx for another year but I'll be trying a few new things there too. I'll be competing in the SkyRace series (races between 20-46km) with that longest one being at Ultraks in Zermatt. Last year I ran the 30km course but now it is time to step up to the full 46km (+3000m climb!) I've never run a marathon before, let alone a monster race like Ultraks but I'm looking forward to some epic long training runs over the summer months in preparation.

So I think the summary is that for all my moaning, I'm ridiculously lucky yet again to be able to plan a year like this. Support from Arc'teryx, Silva, British Orienteering and many others make this happen and I am really grateful for that. Fingers crossed I'm back on track with training soon to be able to make the most of it all.

It wouldn't be a proper blog post with out a few jealousy-inducing pictures so here we go:

Training in the Cairngorms in the first November snow.
I think it will be a while before we'll be able to get up running 
high again given the amount of snowfall in Scotland.

The sight I will enjoy for my first marathon+

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Skyrunning success on Lake Garda

The start through the cobbled streets of Limone
From the Limone Extreme facebook page

This weekend was my last Arc'teryx adventure for the year: the finale of the skyrunning vertical km and skyrace series on the side of Lake Garda.

These races had provided a bit of a focus over the last few months - or maybe more of an excuse to spend days out on the Scottish hillsides. I cared most about the vertical km as I spent most of the year in 2nd place in the overall series. A tactical error not to go to Greece (a less well attended race provided bumper points for those that made the trip) made me realise that I would need a very good run to get 3rd - my target was set.

The Trail Runner II
Photo from ISF -
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my descriptions of vertical kilometres: mad, crazy, bonkers are words I tend to use. Well this one really was all of those and then some. For starters, it was a generous km (1100m climb). And the race was at night. Mass start. Single track. Minor rock climbing involved and certainly sections that would be classified as containing mild peril. Thankfully we couldn't see what would happen if we put a foot wrong. I guess what really topped it was the 4 saxophonists blasting it out about 50m from the top. In the pitch black on the side of a very steep slope.

I am really grateful to Silva who gave me a Trail Runner II headtorch to use which was perfect for the race. Super lightweight but 140 lumens meaning I had more light than most and I could spot some tight corners for cutting. You can see what I mean in a great video of the race here.

Looking down on Limone
From the Limone Extreme facebook page
My own race contained far less drama than the course itself, thankfully. I played a bit of a tactical game making sure I got to the trickier climbing sections ahead of people to minimise queuing. It helped to have checked the course out before and I felt like I paced it well - overtaking into 4th about 5 minutes before the finish.

In hindsight I wished I had stayed on the tiny finish summit plateau a little longer, enjoying the carnival of fireworks, music and excited runners. But I was freezing and wrapped in a foil blanket I set off towards a refuge where hot tea, a fire and my kit was promised. Magical end to a great race.

4th place is a result I'm proud of. In a completely spurious calculation, my time behind the winner is the best of my races this year when I take into account extra climb, race distance and other random factors. This was enough to secure 3rd in the series. In short, I'm happy.

The top 3 girls in the Vertical series 2013
From the ISF -
After spending a wonderful Saturday recovery running in the mountains and dipping my feet in Lake Garda, never too far from an ice cream shop, it was time to focus on racing again. The skyrace was 'only' 24km but involved 2000m climb, most of it done at gradients similar to that of the vertical km.

With that in mind I set off cautiously on the initial 2km flat section. Thankfully the pace wasn't as crazy as the vertical race and I didn't lose too much ground to the main pack of girls. I managed to overtake quite a few of them over the next 6km/1000m climb as I steadily plugged away at it. It was quite a sight looking down on the trail of runners zigzagging up the hillside with Limone getting ever smaller.

Enjoying a laugh with Ian Corless on the way up

I got a stitch after a short downhill and couldn't make the most of a decent flat section. But as soon as I started to climb and my pace dropped again everything was fine. I reached the high point (at 10km/1600m) in 7th position. Mentally that was my race over. I don't really like descending so I set off through through the forest a little cautiously and enjoying the autumnal colours.

However I hadn't remembered the course profile and it wasn't long before I was climbing again. I felt really good just keeping a steady consistent speed and I think I made up some ground here. I was rewarded at the top by overtaking into 5th position just as I launched myself off a fairly precipitous cliff at the beginning to the long descent back to Limone.

The ever present jazz band giving it some
From the Limone Extreme facebook page
Unusually for me I really loved the next few km. It wasn't too technical and it was pretty exhilarating. There were lots of marshals standing at corners telling us to take care - I hear that they were protecting us from some substantial drops. It was eerily quiet behind me, the usual train of runners queuing to overtake me never materialised. But it was all a bit too calm.

The last 4km turned out to be quite dramatic. I ran through the timing gate to signify the start of the stupidly difficult downhill and almost immediately a Spaniard crashed passed me. I was now 6th. But within a few minutes I had overtaken a different Spaniard, bringing me back to 5th.

Starting the long way home
From the Limone Extreme facebook page
None of us were going to give up easily and we all bunched up on a tiny single track with a small incline upwards. After a fairly bold overtaking manoeuvre I had got myself up to 4th with only 1km of tarmac to go. I raced down the side of the river not daring to look back. I started to prepare the mind for a sprint finish. I rounded the corner at the lakeside and stole a glance. No one. Really? I didn't trust myself so I tried to push hard to the 300m to go sign. I turned properly now and did indeed have a large gap which I loved using to high five the lines of spectators on the finish chute.

Race website here. Race video here. Talk Ultra reports: VK, Skyrace.

Photo: Ian Corless
This result was far better than I could ever have hoped for and gives me more confidence to run these longer races in the future. Hopefully the timing of the orienteering season next year will mean there are a few more opportunities for getting involved. However, I should look back and thank Arc'teryx for all the adventures that I have already had. I must be one of the luckiest girls of 2013 - they took me to some of the world's most beautiful places and continued to support me fully through all the ups and downs of a running season. Thank you guys.

Looking forward I'm going to return to the maps and have a real go at improving my forest orienteering. It's time to stop the indulgent long runs in the hills and swap them for hard intervals in the dark windy winter rain. It's these memories that will make getting out of the door a lot easier.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A change is as good a rest - Matterhorn Ultraks

I know I said I would stop blogging here for a bit as that was the end of my competition season but I 'forgot' about a rather tough 30km race around Zermatt that was fast approaching.

Photo from @jsaragossa (

I had agreed to go to Ultraks quite late on in the season and knew that I would not be able to complete the skyrunning world series race (46km +/- 3000m climb) given my lack of preparation for such a distance and the timing of it. But Arc'teryx are always keen to get people out in the mountains so we decided I would run the 30km course (+/- 2000m climb) and come and support the Arc'teryx boys doing the full distance.

When I returned from Colombia I took a few days off completely. I needed it. I had no inclination to train and I enjoyed playing with lego and delaying looking at my post-season to-do list. But it wasn't too long before I was back in the hills getting some hours in the legs. After a few months of high intensity training, pottering about in the hills for a few hours was just the way to ease my body back into moving again. Well, I say 'ease' - my first run back was 32km from the south to north across the Pentland hills. I was fairly broken by the end. I got another four 3-hour days in the legs over the following two weeks and I felt much better prepared for Ultraks.

Race day started early with a 6am wake up. I opened the curtains to see the moon rising over the Matterhorn and the morning sun just catching the side of it. It's not a bad life.

I broke the course down into three 10km sections: the first was a relatively substantial climb to Sunnegga and then an undulating bit to Riffelalp, the second was the big ascent to Schwarzsee, the last was 'just' downhill.

Taken from the Ultraks website

I planned to be conservative through the first section and that worked well. I didn't notice any other women around me after the start and so I was able to dictate my own rhythm without feeling under pressure to keep up with a fast starter. I got in a nice group with fellow Arc' athlete Stian Hagen, enjoying the occasional conversation and enjoying the spectacular views of the Matterhorn together.

I got to Riffelalp feeling fine - I just had a few stomach problems that had been there since I woke up. It meant I wasn't able to take on the gels I had planned to. I decided to just take a jelly baby every 15 minutes to top up sugar levels and that worked out ok. The main thing was the legs were still moving and the head was still happy.

The descent off Riffelalp was technical and I coped pretty well by my standards. I was running with a very encouraging Swiss man who kept reminding me to concentrate - the mountains were looking really quite stunning! I tried to be a little cautious on using my quad muscles as brakes because I knew that would scupper them for the big climb ahead. The end of the descent was marked by crossing the suspension bridge on the Gletscher Gorge. I'm pretty scared of heights so it was no looking down for me!

Photo from

And so the real crux of the course: the 600m climb to Schwarzsee starting at 1900m. I tried to get a rhythm going which for me means trying to keep running, no matter how small the steps. It's no faster than a good power walk but I definitely prefer to jog. We had rejoined the same course as the 46km runners so I was able to target some poor tired legs ahead and try to overtake. I was really struggling by half way and hallucinating of the water at the top. Legs were barely moving and the head was getting a bit miserable. I tried to keep going with the thought that this really was the end of the course - Mr Gravity was going to push me through the last 10km. I was reduced to a walk by the end but I could hear the shouts of a Lithuanian friend from a long way off. This encouraged me a lot and finally the last few uphill steps were completed.

Photo from

The downhill was far from a freebie - a mixture of fast quad-destroying track running and some technical steep sections. They even threw in a few cheeky small climbs which felt quite substantial to my battered legs. My GPS watch battery beeped to tell me it was running low and I could sympathise. The 2km to go sign seemed to take forever to appear (in fact my watch was already showing 29.5km) and from then on it was tarmac through the town to the finish line. The crowds cheering made it a little bit more bearable but it was all worth it once I could collapse over the line.

Photo from

I'm really pleased with my performance. I predicted a best case scenario of 3 hours 30 - so my 3.32 means I don't think I could have done much better. I didn't have so much competition from other girls on my course but I kept it an honest race against the clock and hopefully the experience will be good for when I come to race a similar distance again. It was certainly a much more successful outing than last year's Sierre Zinal.

So I'm not sure that doing a race like this, or preparing for it, really counts as 'resting' but I certainly feel like I've got my energy and motivation back. I find the international orienteering season can get quite intense so maybe it was just a change that I needed.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Crashed in Colombia

It was a massive honour to be at the World Games (quick description: Olympics for non-Olympic sports) in Cali, Colombia. It's not often that orienteering is part of a multi sport competition or in South America. Sadly for me the body just said no. Maybe it was the excessive heat or the long flight there but more likely I think I've just already cashed in on my bank of winter training and I'm now into the overdraft.

This season was the first time I've felt like I've properly peaked for a competition (the aim being the World Orienteering Champs in early July). This involved taking most of June pretty easy to the point where I was starting to feel lazy. But I got my reward - mainly getting on the podium at the World Champs sprint but also I managed a good vertical km the week before in the Skyrunning World Series.

But since WOC I have felt flat both in the legs and the head. The goals have been achieved for the year yet the racing calendar is still going. Last year I managed to race well straight after WOC (I won the Snowdon race) so I had a little hope that I might have a similar boost this year. But the seasons were totally different. Last year was plagued with injuries and I was always playing catch up physically - training hard until quite close to WOC. I found the season stressful and once WOC was over I felt a huge weight off my shoulders and my legs responded positively to that too. So maybe I was silly to expect some kind of similar response after this season has just gone so perfectly. But I am definitely not complaining - I know which template I'd like to repeat next year.

Image taken from here
Having said all this, just because the legs aren't in top form, it doesn't mean I still can't enjoy competitions and the experiences that go with them. Going to Cali and taking part in the World Games was something I am very grateful for and will never forget. 

Cali was absolutely buzzing and it didn't seem to be just because of the World Games. Salsa music was a backdrop to most of our adventures and we grew to love waiting for things - mainly buses and lifts. We were very well looked after by an enormous team of volunteers who were mostly students dressed in brightly coloured trousers. 

With security issues in mind, we were a bit conservative with our non-official travels. On our jet lag recovery day we managed to watch some gymnastics of which the men's balance competition was both hysterically funny and impressive at the same time. 4 guys per team looking like a row of Russian dolls ranging from stacked to tiny and then balancing on each others heads in sparkly shorts (really worth a watch here). 

And onto the races themselves. The sprint race was held in a park relatively central in Cali. The course was not the most technically challenging but the incredible heat and humidity meant that most of us felt like we'd had a horrific day out. I felt like I blew up at the 6th control and crawled in for the remaining 14. I ended in 9th place, surprised to be that high and actually pleased with that. (Course, GPS, results all here)

Dying in the heat. Photo from the IOF Gallery

The middle race was held further out of town in what was best described as a jungle with lots of paths through it. It was a bit trickier than it looked as the small paths could be hard to pick out. I never found one to take me to the 5th control. I think I started on it but then it went into a thorn bush so I stopped and tried another route. Apparently carrying on a bit was the answer here, I think I was too quick to doubt myself. The rest of the course went quite straightforwardly. I didn't feel like I was running fast enough and with half a thought to the relay the next day, I didn't push through any pain barriers. I finished in 22nd - again course, GPS, results all here.

Didn't see the route choice through the river! Went back for some post-race recovery instead.

And so the final event, the relay and our strong GB team had been recognised one of the medal contenders. We knew we could do it but there were also a lot of other teams that could also say that. And relays never really go how the paper start list would predict...

Murray started things off well as he is now making a habit of doing. Cat also did the business going through the spectator with about a 2 minute lead. Exciting times. Scott went out on 3rd leg with a small group but with the Swiss starting to fly away.

It then started to get a bit confusing as news of a Norwegian mispunch filtered through and as Sweden's incomplete and mispunched team pulled out. Out of the competitive teams I went out behind Switzerland but with Czech. Or it would have been with them if I had remembered to clear my SI card. I still am shuddering at that moment I saw Scott coming up the run in and I just felt like something was missing. It was my own fault I had been warned that the clear units were hard to find but I had totally forgotten as usually they are impossible to miss.

So after a mild panic I cleared and set off trying to keep calm. I could see Czech ahead. It's all ok. I got number 1 fine but was now alone (think the Czech had made a mistake) and I so looked ahead to the course. I saw the control 3 that my team mates had told me about - "it's just as we planned into that green. Go round the paths. I got so much time on others who were hacking through the green." Easy decision for me then. Round I go. As I came into the control Austria appeared. Hmmm, not ideal.

My long route to 3-D. Cutting through the light green better.
Or better still, going along the edge of the fence apparently.

I ran to 4 and came across Denmark punching their number 3 (C). It all made sense- the gaffles are massive, Murray and Cat had that one (C) and that's why they thought they gained by going on the path! The next few controls involved some doglegs so I saw other teams and knew where I stood. I'd overtaken Czech but them and Austria were not far behind. Norway (already dsq but still running) and Denmark had overtaken in part due to gaffling but I knew I would struggle to hold them both off over the full course.

I had Denmark 10m ahead and used them well to get through a large part of the course putting time into Austria and Czech. Just before the spectator, control 15, I had another long gaffle (sorry I know it is really bad form to moan about gaffle lengths but I really felt that it was silly for me today on combination AD) and Denmark extended the gap. But we were still in the bronze medal position and I was going to secure that. A slog up the hill and through some fences and I was home.

I looked up and saw the penultimate control - and Murray with his hand over the unit. Oh dear. Have I disqualified the team? No, it was Scott on third leg. I wasn't allowed to finish as it would confuse the TV so I had a walk back to the arena all a bit of a muddle. (Full course, GPS, results all here)

The next day was weird for me getting over it. I'm obviously gutted that we didn't bring a medal home especially as it would have been my first big international medal. But equally I had a feeling that I had messed it up too - what if I hadn't cleared? I could sympathise with how Scott must be feeling and it is a horrible feeling to have. I was also a bit mixed because I felt like I didn't really hold my own on last leg. I felt like I ran well apart from my route choice to 3 but it was sad not to even get the chance to battle with some teams as they were just suddenly past me. Definitely not how I had hoped and imagined it to be.

Despite the disappointment, walking into a packed 50,000 seater stadium for the
closing ceremony was a moment to enjoy. See my 360 degree shot here.
I tried to salsa and discovered I don't really have hip joints like the Colombians do.

So now I am home and looking forward to a break from competitions. It's been a great season but I can't help but feel a little down as the last few races including the WOC middle, the Dolomite sky racing and now World Games have just pushed me too far in various different ways. It's time to rest up and the start building up the miles in the bank ready for the next year.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Dolomites Sky Race - a weekend in photos

Barely 12 hours after my delayed luggage returned from Finland I found myself back at the airport on the way for the European SkyRunning Championships in the Dolomites, Italy. I'm living the dream at the minute!

There were two races on the menu - the vertical km on Friday and the sky race on Sunday and as always, both pushing my physical limits. Sadly, I wasn't on great form and struggled in the vertical km (my preferred discipline) and never really felt like I was 'racing' the sky race. But the mountains are a great place for thinking everything through and putting things in perspective. I was able to look back at my season so far with ticks against all my ambitious goals, hardly able to recall a race that I haven't been happy with. But that never lasts and thankfully I was in a beautiful part of the world taking part in races that should be on every runners to-do list and I was able to enjoy the whole adventure all the same.

The only way to do the races justice is to include lots of photos so here is a large selection mainly from Ian Corless (Talk Ultra - see website for more photos, race reports and interviews).

Vertical KM - 2.5km, 1000m climb 

Team Arc'teryx looking quite happy pre-race.

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

The start.

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

Up through the forest, to the gap between the rocks and on up the slope to the left

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

The girls' start. I didn't stay at the front for long!

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

On the way up

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

At the gap between the rocks - don't get fooled by the arch, it's not the finish yet!

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

On the final few metres

Picture from Florian Reichert (@trailflowww)

My Arc'teryx team mates Didier Zago and Florian Reichert having a 'sprint' finish


The cross at the top of the hill, just after the finish

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

A little bit muddy after having my head so close to the ground

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

Enjoying the view with team-mate Florian afterwards - it was worth it!

Ian Corless Talk Ultra
Ian Corless race report here, more of his images here, Youtube video here.

The SkyRace - 22km, 1750m climb (up to highest point at 3152m)

The start was in the town of Canazei

Official race photo

We then climbed 800m in 6km on a wide ski piste to Passo Pordoi

Official race photo

From here, the steep bit 'began' up through the gap in the skyline to the Forcella Pordoi

I'm actually in this photo - in the orange about second in line!

Scree Zigzags up to the Forcella


There was still a lot of snow in the gap so they built a tunnel. A photo from our reccie the day before.

With very little oxygen, it was a case of getting through the snow and rock up to the summit

Official race photo

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

My Arc'teryx team-mate Nicola Golinelli on the more technical section

Ian Corless Talk Ultra

And then the summit


It was a bit snowy on the way down - I opted to slide a lot of it, Kilian fared slightly better

Official race photo

It then got rocky (and steep)


Before finishing back in Canazei. 
Nice work Team Arc'teryx - thank you so much for the chance to do this. Fantastic.

Ian Corless race report here, more images here, you tube video here.