Back on the international mountain running scene after a three-year absence
Sometimes as a runner you make a plan and… things don’t go according to plan. For me in 2015 things definitely haven’t gone to plan. So recently my plan has been… you guessed it… not to make a plan!
Subsequently, this year has already led me to destinations I thought I would never be returning too. After competing for England / Great Britain in seven European Mountain Running Championships and nine World Mountain Running Championships between 1997 and 2012, I had taken a step away from international competition because I was no longer enjoying it as much as I should have been.
Don’t get me wrong, I had some fantastic times in an international vest, not least when, aged 19, I won the junior race at the 1997 World Mountain Running Championship, held in the Czech Republic. It was a result I had only dared dream about. That feeling of ecstatic emotion when crossing the finish line was amazing, and left me craving more of the same. But as I was to find out, that win in 1997 was to be my only one at European or World Championship level. After that my best results were 5th in the Europeans and 13th in the Worlds, both in 2008, and both in the senior age category. I remain proud of these performances. Other times I under-performed, though never through a lack of preparation or focus.
Battling injury and adapting plans to suit
After more than a decade of travelling abroad to these events, I found I lost a bit of the enjoyment that I’d previously held, both in terms of training for the championships and actually racing in them. I was very structured in my training and had a programme that I loved following, but more and more I found myself missing just being able to go for a run -by that I mean a run with no planned route, no determined distance and no time restrictions. I wanted more freedom -the opportunity just to run in the hills, wherever trails and terrain took me.
So, this is what I did. I shifted my focus away from the World and European Championship events and adopted a less structured approach to my training. That’s not to say I didn’t have a plan. I did, it was just different.
At the start of this year my 2015 plan centred around The Three Peaks Race in April (37k / 1608m elevation gain). I wanted to repeat my victory of 2014 but run a faster time. Unfortunately, a foot injury (plantar fasciitis) severely hampered my preparations and I was unable to compete.
Winning the trial race and booking a place at the 2015 European Mountain Running Championships
I redirected my focus to the English Fell Championships. I managed a couple of podium places in the opening English Championship races but continued to be troubled by my foot injury. The next big test was to be Duddon (29k / 1830m) -another English Championship race, at the end of May. Again, however, my foot wasn’t up to the demands of a long, gruelling race, so a few weeks before Duddon I made a decision not to take part and decided to focus on the trial race for the European Mountain Running Championships. I was probably onto Plan C by now!
I knew my foot would be fine as it was 8km and uphill only. With a lot of cycling miles in my legs, I felt fairly fit and up for the challenge. Having not being on the international scene for three years, however, I had no idea as to where I would place. All I knew is that I was prepared to give it my best shot. The pre-race nerves and apprehension disappeared once the starting gun sounded… replaced instead by the pain of aching legs and a heart pumping fast. This was hard work, especially into a full-on Lake District headwind.
Despite that, I was still in 3rd position behind Emma Clayton (a World Championship silver medallist) and an in-form Annie Conway. The lead swapped several times, with all three of us spending time on the front while the others sheltered in behind. As the course steepened, Annie and I pulled away from Emma. I felt strong and, with 500m to go to the finish, put in a kick. I managed to open a gap, eventually crossing the line 13 seconds clear of Annie. I was both pleased and surprised to win. To get a place in the team was the aim, not to win outright.
Hitting the steps in preparation for Madeira
The European Mountain Running Championships will to be held on Madeira Island, Portugal, this coming weekend. I’ve researched the race and it appears there are sections of steps involved in the ascent. These are definitely not my forte, so with that in mind I have been training on steps to improve my technique and speed. We have a really strong Great Britain women’s team, so it is crucial we all perform to our best on the day to give ourselves the best chance of a team medal.
And you know what? I feel so happy and proud to be part of the international set-up again. It wasn’t my plan at the start of the year, granted, but maybe it just goes to show that sometimes it’s best not to have a plan!