Friday, 28 October 2016

Ups and Downs

So, that's it! The mountain running season is officially over for another year. I can't help but smile at the many amazing memories created during this season but I internally weep at the fact that there will be no more mountain adventures with inspiring mountain running friends until next year. Okay, maybe it's only six months until the start of the next mountain season... that makes me feel a little bit better....

If you regularly read my blog posts, you will know I was selected to run for Britain at the World Mountain Running Championships again this year. The World Champs were held on September 11th at Sapareva Banya, Bulgaria. 

Prior to the World Champs, I was so lucky to be able to spend some time in the absolutely beautiful valley of Livigno in Northern Italy near the Swiss border. It’s 1,800m above sea level and every mountain runners’ paradise.

The beautiful Livigno valley
"I’m here with some of the British Athletics mountain running team to acclimatise for the World Mountain Running Championships, being held in Bulgaria on Sunday (September 11). It’s been an invaluable experience – and my first at altitude. I love waking up each day to a chorus of cowbells and marmots whistling, seeing the magnificent mountains encompassing the horizon, and then heading out to explore them. A run in the mountains at the hands of mother nature. There is so much freedom in that."~from my blog post for Inov-8 about life as a teenage trail runner.
A big thank you to British Athletics for allowing me to experience that amazing opportunity. The camp really opened up my eyes to the mountains and the incredible world in which we live. The time spent in Livigno with some of the senior British mountain runners really increased my passion for the sport of mountain running and made me understand the dedication and determination elite athletes need to achieve their full potential as we basically lived as full time athletes during that time.

Livigno was extremely beautiful and I really want to return there again one day to make more unforgettable mountain memories.

Sunday long run in the mountains
Training alongside Emmie Collinge // Pic: Phil Gale

After the time spent in Livigno; it was time to head onto Bulgaria to meet the rest of the British Atheletics team for the World Champs.

Straight from the first stride forward on my warm up for the race; I knew it was going to be tough out there. I felt awful; like I was running through treacle. My breathing sounded like a steam train chugging into the station.


I tried to be competitive throughout the race. I got out okay but then I just went backwards. My legs had nothing. A very very bad day at the office. I admit coming over the line; I was devastated. For me, that race was more of a learning experience rather than a success.

For others, it was one of the main highlights of the Summer season. This was the case for my friend and team mate Bronwen Jenkinson. Earlier in the race Bronwen had passed me looking really strong. Upon finishing whilst I was lying on the floor trying to come to terms with the race, I was so excited to hear that Bronwen had finished in the bronze medal position. Seeing her receive her flowers on the podium and her medal later on in the evening was so lovely. Her medal is testament to all the hard work she has put in. It couldn't have happened to a nicer person. She was one of the first people I met when I started mountain running many years ago and I am truly happy for her.

Team GB in Bulgaria

A week later, it was time to head to the Lake District with the Welsh team for the Junior British and Irish Mountain Running Championships. We would once again meet with Little Man, Skiddaw. I just hoped I could put the bad race behind me and run a positive race here. Although I felt a little bit better than I did in Bulgaria; my body still felt tired and lethargic. When I finished I admit I was unhappy with third position and wish I had listened to my family who had told me to rest and not try to put my body through any more stress.

British & Irish MR Champs // Pic: Woodentops

When I went to the training camp at altitude, I was taking a huge gamble as I had never been to altitude before and so was unsure how my body would respond. As it was, the altitude didn't do me any favours when it came to the two races and looking back now I think perhaps I did try to do too much at altitude. Nevertheless, I wouldn't swap that experience in Livigno for the world because it has allowed me to learn new things as an athlete and has allowed me to grow as a person. Next time I go to altitude, I will be more aware and knowledgeable about how my body will respond.

The two races in September may have not been successful for me but they have added to my experience which I will call upon in the future. At the end of the day, I am only young and I've still (hopefully!) got many more races to run. Ultimately, I run because it is fun and something I enjoy. I've learnt that there's no point in beating yourself up about the bad races. The bad days just make the good days even sweeter.
“Frame every so-called disaster with the words; In five years time will this matter?”
I've already moved on from my poor performances and I am looking to the exciting future ahead.

Trofeo Vanoni is always a brilliant race to end the mountain running season with. This year was no different. I headed to Morbegno with the Welsh team for this prestigious mountain race just last week. We met with the Snowdon race team at Hotel Margna once again and we were all soon busy catching up with each others' adventures.


This whole weekend was kind of like a spell of Deja Vu as we seemed to follow the same sort of itinerary as last year. One of the highlights was another trip to Lake Como where some of the members of the British teams enjoyed a chilly dip in the lake. Like last year, I accidentally (on purpose!) forgot to bring a spare change of clothes to swim in the cold waters.

A chilly dip in Lake Como

Beautiful Lake Como ft. the legend Ben Mounsey

Soon it was race day and I stood on the start line, excited for the challenging race ahead. Throughout the race, I found I was really having a good time. I felt strong, definitely better than the races in September and much more like my normal self. I enjoyed the steep climbs up out of the town and the descent was over in a whirlwind of noise as the Italian atmosphere was fantastic. I finished the race in 7th place, 22 seconds quicker than last year. I'm very happy with this performance and this was just what I needed to boost my confidence again.

Start line

Making my way up the hill // Pic: Gareth Hughes

Pic: Ben Mounsey

Pic: Achille Marchi

The rest of the British ladies did well again this year with Heidi Dent (Snowdon Race Team) in 6th, Lou Roberts (Snowdon Race Team) in 9th and Sian Williams (Wales) in 15th. I have a really vivid happy memory of us all laughing and smiling together near the finish line, exhilarated by the race.


All of us ladies went out on the course to cheer the men on during their relay. The clouds came down and it started to rain which really made the descent very tricky. The Snowdon Race Team ran well to finish in 4th place and the Welsh team finished 11th. Next year the women's race will be a relay too and I really hope I will be selected again to experience this as the men's relay race looks so fun!

The two HD's and matching Inov-8 XTalon225

Welsh flag out on the course

At the finish with the Snowdon Race and Irish Teams



The next day, there was time for a run from Morbegno up into the mountains before our flight back home. It's always so nice to run with a group of runners who all share the same passion and love for the trails and the mountains. The views were incredible and this run once again reminded me why I love the mountains and the natural beauty of the world. I just wish I could run in the mountains forever!

Autumn mountain adventures


So with the season over there is time to reflect and remember. 2016 will be the year I remember for winning my first international individual medal at the European Mountain Running Championships and it will also be the season I remember for having a disastrous race at the World Championships. But that's okay... it's all a learning process.

European Mountain Running Championships 2016

The mountain running season of 2016 will be remembered for the magical time I got to spend in the Italian mountains in the beautiful valley of Livigno. It will be remembered for the many new friends I have made throughout the mountain running world. It will be remembered for the ups and also the downs. I am even hungrier and more determined for next season. I hope you will continue to follow me along this journey.

Mountain Running Friendships

I would just like to thank my family, friends, teammates, Welsh athletics coaches, British athletics coaches, Sport Wales, Welsh Athletics, Inov-8, The Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, SportsAid, The Metropole Hotel, Junk n Disorderly, Arvon Ales, Happy Home Gift Company and everyone else how has had their hand in helping to make me the athlete and person I am today. You know who you are. Thank you to you all for your unwavering support and I hope I am doing you all proud.


Finally, I would just like to finish by telling you all about a really exciting film all about Nicky Spinks and her Double Bob Graham Round.

In May 2016, Nicky Spinks made history by becoming the fastest person ever to complete a DOUBLE Bob Graham Round. I don't know about you, but one time around sounds enough to me!

This Double Bob Graham included 132 miles around the Lake District, covering 84 summits with over 54,000 ft of ascent. This took Nicky just 45 hours and 30 minutes. She took over an hour off the previous record set in 1979 by Roger Baumeister, who was there in person to support Nicky during her attempt.

Now the story of Nicky’s incredible life and phenomenal Double Bob Graham Round success will be told in a new film called RUN FOREVER. The film will be premiered at the Kendal Mountain Festival in November, after which it will have its public release. To whet your appetite here's the exclusive film trailer.



That's enough of my ramblings for one day. Time to get running around some muddy cross country fields.

Until next time,
Heidi x

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Paradise

Her ragged breath escaped her lungs, creating a cloud of water vapour, adding to the misty haze already floating over the damp forest clinging onto the tops of the ancient conifers. 

And her feet; how they gracefully stroked the rocky undulating forest track. An eternal rhythm, an eternal pace, an eternal awareness that she was traveling forward using the power formulated by her own two feet. How truly mesmerizing was it that she felt so alive in this forest wilderness; surrounded by nothing but her own frantically beating heart and all that the untamed habitat around her possessed. 


She was not in nature. She was simply part of Mother Nature. An unspoken alliance was built with the tall trees surrounding her. A deep understanding; no matter how far she swerved along the path, flying on silent strides, breathing in the damp, fresh, wood-like air. And, no matter how exhausted she felt; if there was ever a time when each stride forward felt heavier and more laborious than the last, as the monotony of dragging her slight frame up a lung-bursting ascent became too much. All she would need to do was stop. Draw to halt and simply take a moment to survey the spectacle of nature. 

This was performed now as her legs screamed for their need of oxygen at the summit of a lengthy climb. Her body and mind had carried her to a new height, well above the forest. The misty cloud had parted and given way to rays of sunbeams which penetrated her skin just as they penetrated the earths'. The girl held her sweaty hands on her pounding head and sighed a sigh of contentment for there was a panorama of stunning, wild landscape all around. At that moment, she could conceive the idea her own flesh, body and mind was just a tiny speck in the enormity of the universe. These had to be the moments she lived for. She was not to be tamed and neither was nature; as they worked together in harmony.


A wave of new strength pulsed through her body, unravelling from her feet, right through to the top of her head. There was a gentle nudge, a forceful ache arising from deep within her soul. She needed to move her body once more and feel the gentle breeze caress her face. The descent was waiting for her and she graciously obliged after lingering to steel one last glance, committing the image to memory. She would need to obtain that photograph later.

She tore down the single track, descending as fast as her body and the laws of physics would allow. Her limbs; a tangle of blurring momentum. The wind; rushing in her ears, and her eyes; streaming tears of sheer velocity but also tears of happiness. This was the closest she could get to flying and she had never felt so alive.


Each jarring bend caused her rhythm to change. Moving swiftly, dancing over the terrain that seemed to laugh with amusement at her gleeful sense of wonder. It was only natural that a monumental mouthful of joy escaped her lips and filled the eerie silence. She encompassed the forest with these sounds, scattering the notes as if she was the conductor of this marvellous created kingdom. She was soaring on pure, raw human emotion with her senses activated to their highest heights.

All too soon, the forest floor began to level off slightly and with it her legs began to move less frantically. Her muscles and bones were slowly able to relax into a settled rhythm once more.  She began to stare up, towards the tops of the tallest trees, enchanted by the stories they must have to tell of lives and adventures gone by. She almost stumbled into a lone deer, gracefully racing over the dirt path. Stopping dead at the same time, the two creatures stood eye to eye. One; chest heaving, breathless from the exhilarating descent. The other; calm and motionless, more confident than fearful, as if knowing the girl would do no harm. 

Fascinated by the deer's continuous gaze, the girl extended her arm outwards; silently pondering whether the deer would agree to be touched. She longed to feel its warm fur beneath the palm of her hand. Alas; the spell was broken and the deer made off into the thicket, not wanting to make contact with the foreign human world. For the girl, just feasting her eyes upon the deer would have to be enough today.


Again, commencing her movement along the winding paths through the trees, the girl began to realise she would soon be transported back to reality. To a modern world far away from this peaceful, tranquil place. The forest haven conjured up a magical, mystical atmosphere, where in the shade and amongst the protection of the great trees, time seemed to slow and she had space to breath, think and ultimately; live rather than exist.

The green forest from where she was emerging provided her with a place to play, be free and escape the monotony she experienced in everyday life. With each familiar stride forward she was nearing her materialistic, metal car that would provide transport to the concrete forest where she lived, worked and interacted with other people.

She always felt a pang of regret as she drove away from her blissful sanctuary. A pang, often replaced by a feeling of protection. She knew deep in her heart she would return tomorrow to run her well-trodden path once more. In person or to explore in her dreams; either way would be enough. To once again, run wild hand in hand with nature’s paradise.