After a year out from racing due to injury, last weekend I decided to ease myself back in and take on the Box Hill Fell Race. A BM graded monster hill race, I figured those mountainous peaks would be a nice gentle segue back into the running world.

My good friend and spiritual guru Simon Lamb asked me to write about the day for his website, so I guess I better pen a race report. But as I didn’t technically race (I licked my way around on my hands and knees in the mud) and no one reads race reports anyway because they’re boring as fuck, I’m just going to tell you some stories instead.


Nice box

Although it’s a great way to measure your running progress, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with race day. I respond well to the training and having a routine encourages me to get out there every day, but I turn into a rotting zombie under too much pressure. If I over train I get mouth ulcers, lose sleep and my eyelashes fall out. I shit you not. And a girl needs her eyelashes.

However, for a 34-year-old woman with no musical talents and a thirst for the disco limelight, running down a road (or hill) to a cacophony of cheers is the closest I’m ever going to get to being a rock star. So as much as I suck at running races, take it away from me and I’m a miserable old trout.

Until last weekend, I hadn’t entered a race since the Edinburgh Marathon 2012; that fateful day I tore a muscle in the freak 30-degree sunshine and was forced to stop running shortly before moving to the Scottish mountains. (Perhaps the run gods were trying to tell me something). After taking a long time off running, I was so desperate to get back out there I was humping chair legs. I missed the long Sunday runs, I missed the build up to race day, I missed the exhilaration and the crowds and feeling like a superstar. (All the things you don’t get from a muddy hill race in Surrey).


Peter the sweeper

Despite this, I was reluctant to step into the fray again and get caught up in the quest for PBs, intensive training and mounting pressure. Having only started running again with any frequency in September, I decided not to enter a race until late 2014. But then some lovely friends of mine who I missed terribly while I was away asked me to run the Box Hill Fell Race with them. At 7.5 miles, a gentle stretch across the Surrey hills sounded doable; what’s the worst that can happen? Under the watchful eye (and dexterous thumbs) of the mighty Lamb my injured leg has come on leaps and bounds, so I figured I was ready for a challenge.

I went into (or up) Box Hill with no expectations. It’s the hilliest race in the south frequented by club runners and bona fide runnerds, so I knew I didn’t stand a chance. The start line is basically a vertical cliff face and I was on my knees within minutes. But if success is measured by how much fun we all had, I definitely won.

By the time I got to the top of the first hill, the other 200 odd runners had disappeared, so I assumed I would be on my own for the rest of the day. But then I turned around and saw three people panting behind me! An angry looking woman, a smiley old dude and my friend Tom. The woman dropped out within minutes, so I decided to run with Tom. ‘As long as we beat this old dude behind us we won’t be last!’ I figured. Until I realised he was purposefully running slower than us to pick up the mile markers.

Luckily Peter the sweeper liked a good natter and was happy to trot at our pace for the entire race. He told us stories, gave us orienteering advice, cracked jokes, and cut the route down into bite-sized chunks so we knew what was coming around every corner. I might have to enlist Peter’s help on all future races.

The route was a roller coaster of mud coated hills, lush woodland and verdant undergrowth and despite having utterly inappropriate footwear and the lung capacity of a ferret, I loved every minute of it. I honestly didn’t give a rat’s arse that we were at least 40 minutes behind the other runners; this was my comeback race and I was determined to run it in my own good time.

After falling flat on my bum taking a selfie over a muddy ditch, scrambling up and down monstrous hills and politely nodding at fell walkers moving much faster than me, we made it to the final descent. As we started to run downhill I grabbed Tom’s hand. There was no way we’d be racing against each other. We’d gotten through the adventure alive together and no one was going to be last. Running down a hill into the cheering arms of over a dozen of my favourite runner friends (everyone else had already buggered off, the bastards) was nothing short of euphoric and I’m so happy I was stupid enough to do it.

Setting a course record

Setting a course record

Afterwards awards consisting of marmalade jars and biscuit tins were handed out to scrawny club runners with weather-beaten faces and saggy tights. But then we discovered that we’d set our very own course record. At 2.10, Tom and I were the slowest runners in the race’s history! And we didn’t need marmalade to prove it, because the amazing Linda made us all our very own medals.

Smothered in mud, our gang shuffled off to the pub to eat deep fried stuff and marvel at our achievements. Surrounded by my cool friends and bathing in the warm glow of post race elation, I was so glad to just be there. Whether you choose to run up muddy hills, along concrete roads or on antiseptic treadmills, it really doesn’t matter how fast you run. You can run a good time or you can have a good time, and I know which I’d prefer. In the journey of my life, I’ve come a long way this past year but the race is far from over.

After showing the World Wide Web my bare naked bottom, I’m not sure I can top my last blog. I admit I was being deliberately facetious. I am well aware my nudist utopian vision of the future was slightly fanciful. Apart from breast and testicle support issues, which would seriously hinder recreational sporting activities, the seasonal nature of UK weather does make excessive nudity rather impractical. Especially for those of us lucky enough to live north of the border.

Now that winter is firmly on the horizon, I’m actually wearing twice as many clothes as usual and have no desire to be naked. I even have a hot water bottle tucked beneath my jumper as I type so that I don’t incur excessive daytime heating bills and piss my boyfriend off. It’s only October and I can see my breath. Being naked suddenly seems like a really bad idea. Oh how I miss those halcyon days… On the plus side, living in The Borders (AKA the knitwear mecca) I have easy access to cheap cashmere jumpers. Fluffy Mongolian goat’s wool on your skin is arguably the next best thing to being naked.

I am a robot

In my new winter mindset, this week I have mostly been thinking about gadgets. Running gadgets, cooking gadgets, texting gadgets and chicken coop gadgets. I’m a hippy and I want to run naked in the fields, while secretly relying heavily on modernity. I live in the wilderness and yet my life is suffused with technology. Ultraboy is a self-confessed ‘early adopter’ (gadget freak) and insists on having the very latest of everything. Consequently we own a microwave cooker that creates four-course meals in six minutes and cleans itself afterwards, a television the size of a small country and a chicken coop that automatically closes itself at dusk. And don’t get me started on the ridiculous amount of fancy equipment required to go out for a run. Despite technically living in the countryside, I am the commanding officer of a small but perfectly formed spaceship.

I have embraced modernity, but we have a love/hate relationship and sometimes I really fucking hate it. Especially smart phones; or Twitter to be more precise. Oh Twitter, the wonderful social media site which brought me true love, hourly inspirational philosophy, re-housed my wild cat Rocky with Bangs and Charlie Dark and enabled me to acquire two budget iPhones. Twitter you are my greatest friend and my loathsome enemy. I love you when I’m racing and you bring me motivation and encouragement, I cherish you when I’m lonely and you bring me cyber love. But I hate you when my boyfriend ignores me in favour of discussing minimalist footwear with you in minute detail late at night, and I absolutely loathe you when all my friends down south are clearly having a better time than me.

Like last weekend for example, when the Run Dem Crew all jetted off to Amsterdam to run marathons and party like mad, and I did not. Stupid Twitter, taunting me with your euphoric post-race tweets. I suppose I should be grateful, as I would not be here in this crazy, beautiful, technology-obsessed paradise if it wasn’t for you. But sometimes I secretly wish you’d just piss off and let me read a good book.

Alas the lure of the twinkly little bird button is strong and I find myself sneaking a look at you every damn day of my life. Especially as I work from home and my only companion is a small gang of quirky chickens, who don’t particularly care for human interaction, even in 140 characters, unless it involves a fistful of grain and a hasty exit.

Before emigrating to the wilderness, I thought country-life would involve log fires, permaculture and embracing survival basics. But it turns out I am incapable of rejecting modernity. In fact, out here in the hills I need it even more. I moved to the country to be a naked hippy and accidentally turned into a robot. I rely on the Internet heavily for human interaction and now I’ve grown used to a big sexy HD TV, I just don’t think I could ever return to my television-less life. Especially since there are considerably less people up here to distract me from X Factor.

However, in my bid to convince Ultraboy that my freelance career is an effective way to survive, until there’s frost on my laptop, I will continue to eschew central heating during the day. Thank God for running base layers. Two or three ultra tight wicking tops twinned with a fancy cashmere sweater and a hot water bottle make a workable solution. I look like a lunatic, but nobody can see me on Twitter. For all you know, I could still be tweeting naked.


After recently travelling north for The Edinburgh Festival and then south for a Norfolk wedding, something strange has happened to me. Against the odds, I have inadvertently fallen hopelessly in love with the Scottish countryside. That one snuck up on me unexpectedly. I always thought it was nice in a, ‘Ooh look at the pretty view’ sort of way. I even liked it enough to move here. But the strange, passionate, all-consuming love affair type feelings didn’t kick in until I actually left my little Scottish retreat for a few days.

Volcanic love

I’ve always been a die-hard city girl and the move to Scotland was a huge leap of faith. Although the stint in Edinburgh city and fun weekend in the fens were certainly enjoyable, they had an odd effect on me (and not just because I drank my body weight in booze). Being away for a bit really made me appreciate what I have at home, and I’ve since gone and fallen madly in love with Scotland.

I could just sit and gaze lovingly at the hills all day long. I love the way the beautiful fields change colour hourly, and the trees hold stories in their leaves. I feel like I could spend a thousand years wandering through the woods and never get bored. I would even go out the back door and give the view a big fat hug if I could fit the fuck-off great big volcano in my arms. I must remember this next time I’m out of milk and can’t face the six-mile round trip cycle ride to the shops.

The upside to my newfound love affair is it makes enjoying country life that little bit easier. For the first few weeks I felt a bit lost and out of place. But I now have the urge to be outdoors all the time, lapping up the lovely country air (sunshine helps). This fits in quite nicely with my next goal, to master the art of forefoot running.

Scotland = sexy

I say forefoot as opposed to barefoot running because I have no desire to wear those funny finger toe shoes (they give me the willies) plus there’s way too much cow shit around here to actually run barefoot. My grandmother was a sprint champion in the 50s and my Dad was also a keen sprinter in his youth, and both advocated the forefoot running technique long before it became fashionable. Although I’m no sprinter, I’ve always liked the idea, but up until now it just seemed like one more thing to think about in a sea of obstacles trying to stop me getting out the door. If I just plod mindlessly without thinking or worrying, I can (or could, pre-injury) keep going for miles. The idea of focusing on form detracted from the fun of running. But then a few months ago I went and fucked my knee up and my attitude has since changed.

Although I’ve been doing bits and pieces in the hills, I haven’t had a decent run since May. (I’m almost at the spontaneous combustion/mass killing spree phase). It occurred to me that as I have to effectively start from scratch, now is also a great time to try out a whole new style. And frankly, my plodding method may have got me there eventually, but I was still erring on the side of tortoise.

As luck would have it, I still have a couple of pairs of minimal trainers from my days at Women’s Running magazine that I never got around to testing, so I’m well-equipped for my new venture. And curiously, despite a slow start, I’ve found the forefoot running technique certainly takes the pressure off the offending knee. It hurts my calves like hell afterwards and I feel like a daft fairy when I’m doing it, but we all have to start somewhere.

Running in six-inch leopard print platforms: bad idea

The bad news is despite being back on my feet I’m just not race ready, so I’ve had to drop out of The Great Scottish Run. I’m a bit gutted about this as it’s the anniversary run of my first date with Ultraboy, but there’s no point in irrevocably buggering up my knee for sentimental purposes, so I’m doing the sensible thing and dropping out.

Maybe he’ll take pity on me and whisk me off to Paris instead like he did for our second date (oh those halcyon days). But considering Ultraboy’s off to Chamonix this Friday to take on the TDS, I doubt it. 60-odd miles in The Alps will probably put him off France for life. Fortunately I have another lover to keep me occupied while he’s away, my beloved Scotland…

Since bothering to change my bank details and managing to survive one whole month in The Borders, I think I may now officially be a Scottish resident. Against the odds I’ve endured four weeks of solitude, relentless rain, enormous hills, undecipherable local lingo and the company of one very handsome but rather grumpy Scotsman. I think I may stay a while…

Thank you for all of your advice on assimilating into Scottish life. Since last week’s blog 10 things I know about Scotland I’ve also learnt some cool new phrases; bogal being my favourite. It means window shopping/having a look, and it’s a Jamaican dance craze. I’m still none the wiser as to what ‘the back of nine’ means. There appears to be a few regional variations to this one. But I am now safely armed with enough local lingo to know that Ken is a word and not a bloke and eating chips with absolutely everything is common practice.

Since mastering the art of communication, I finally mustered up the courage to visit a local physio and get my suspicious knee looked at. She pummelled me to within an inch of my life leaving actual visible bruises in her wake, so I definitely got my money’s worth. Fortunately it turns out I’ve just pulled a muscle in my thigh, so Rhalourella will run to the ball again.

Don’t be fooled by the foam roller’s unassuming appearance

Since then, upon advice, I’ve invested in a foam roller. Despite working in fitness publishing for a few years now, I’ve never actually investigated the murky world of foam rolling before. Ultraboy was sceptical about the introduction of a foam roller in our life, arguing that it was a fad. He studied at the school of true grit and cut his fitness teeth sneaking up sheer rock faces and kayaking down voluptuous gorges before he could even talk, so he didn’t see the point in a puny roll of foam, arguing that a little 20-mile run round the block would sort out his aches and pains. But I forced him to have a go anyway, because I’m a girl, and we have mystical powers that make even the most stubborn Scotsmen do what we want. So I made him mount my puny roll of blue foam on the living room carpet, and sat back to watch him wince like a little girl.

I’m not really a secret sadist and Ultraboy is still the distilled essence of badass. Even in his currently injured state (catastrophic kayaking accident ripped his arm from his socket and now it pops out all the time) he’s the fittest person I know. But even the baddest man in town is no match for a foam roller. Those compact tubes of bubble-filled rubber really bloody hurt. Especially if you’re a runner with thighs like tightly wound granite. It’s like they seek out the pain and drill laser death rays through their tubular foaminess and straight into your soul. Don’t believe me? Jump onboard a foam roller for five minutes and call me back. I defy you not to cry for your mama after stiff foam and IT Band meet and get to know each other intimately upon your thigh.

Even the chickens are sceptical

Despite the extreme agonising pain, the evil roll of foam has now become a staple part of our nightly routine and we’ve been taking turns to sodomise our thighs in front of the telly. It makes quite a fun spectator sport. Here’s hoping that a few weeks of extreme rollering will result in two lean, mean running machines that conquer any race thrown our way. Failing that, it doubles up as a brightly coloured chicken viewing platform.

Meanwhile back on the ranch, to supplement my writing I’ve been helping out some friends Tim and Phil with their bootcamp Sexy in the City. I grew up on the same street as Tim and we’ve been friends since we were about 4. Together the boys run bootcamps that offer fun and friendly workout sessions for city chicks. If any of you happen to live near London Liverpool Street and fancy honing your body to shmoking hot sexy proportions, tell them I sent you. If only Sexy in the City operated in the wilderness too. But Sexy in the Boggy Field doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…