Tuesday, 11 March 2014

2014 - KENYA


Masai warriors at the new track opening
My first training session in the UK after spending five weeks out in the sunshine of Kenya was definitely a shock to the system. Snow, sleet and rain which quickly transformed into hailstones was a far cry from the sunshine I had got used to out in the heights of the Rift Valley. The hailstones knocked against my skin like small thunderbolts of lighting and I really struggled to get moving any quicker than snails pace! But maybe this is karma. I have been spoilt with perfect weather conditions for the past month - perhaps the weather gods are just wanting to make sure I don't get things too easy and become too complacent.

Myself and Paula Radcliffe after the hill session
Track disruptions!
There definitely wasn't a lack of motivation to get out the door and get running on this Kenyan training camp. I had the company of Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram alongside me (the latter being here on coaching purposes) – so it really has been a once in a lifetime experience to hear their insights on training. To have Paula Radcliffe handing out drinks on a long run whilst Steve Cram cycles alongside – it really is a unique experience!

The dusty, dirt track is amass with Kenyan athletes in the early hours of the morning, completing large training sessions. It really is an amazing experience to go along and witness. Olympic Champions, World Champions and World Record Holders all share the same dirt track and can be seen most days churning out the miles along the dusty paths. Whilst out running, you can easily count up to 200 athletes at a time – the depth of competition out here, truly is fascinating and it's easy to see why the Kenyan athletes are amongst the best in the world. There really is nowhere else quite like Iten.

During my time on camp we also had a visit from UK Anti Doping – who had flown out a practitioner specifically to take a urine and blood test from Mo Farah, myself and two other GB athletes. It really is an intense system that the UK enforce in order to stop drug cheats ruining our sport. It is just a little unfair and unfortunate that not all countries enforce the same system – none of the Romanians, Turkish, Chinese or Algerian athletes that are also currently out training here, were called in for tests. The UK also implement a whereabouts system of which all athletes (of an elite level) have to give their whereabouts for a single hour every single day, along with their overnight address. Failure to do so – results in a missed test. This is why the drug testers knew that we were all out training in Kenya. It really is a fascinating system and one that definitely works but unfortunately not all countries feel the need to impose such strict rules.

Kenya yet again was a fantastic training camp but unfortunately I have come back fighting off a cold. Some people like collecting stamps – I seem to collect colds. It's unfortunate as I would of loved to have raced some indoors races this season. For me – it's a little disheartening after training intensely for the last month but my main focus has always been and still remains to be the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year.

So it's back to the cold, lonely grind of training in the UK. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger... so they say! But in my case.. it lands me with yet another nice little illness!

Day trek in the forest
Tempted to quote TLC but i'll resist! We found the waterfall!
Hidden in the forest - Iten.
Waterfall in Kenya
Back to the snow! Loughborough track

Friday, 28 February 2014

Catch Up - OCT/NOV/DEC

This time last year, I was studying at University and working part-time in a small shop. Fast forward one year and I am now a full time athlete - training out in the heights of Kenya, preparing for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. It's amazing the difference a year can make.

This is my second visit to the High Altitude Training Camp in Iten, Kenya. It is situated at 8,000ft high in the Rift Valley and home to hundreds of the world’s top athletes. Training here – is a huge eye-opener. There is not a bit of flat land in sight and the thousands of trails which surround the town are of tough, uneven mud terrain. Running in Iten... doesn't come easy. It really is an awe-inspiring place to visit and the locals are the friendliest people I have had the pleasure of coming across.

Made some new friends - Kenya
The whole culture in Iten is altogether different to anything I have ever seen before. Running is the norm. Back in my hometown of Dundee... running is definitely not the norm. You have to persuade people out on a run by claiming they can have a McDonald's after it or that they can have a bottle of wine later that evening. On the majority of my runs, I had numerous little kids – some as young as five, with no shoes on – running alongside me. It was impressive to see. They get excited seeing 'mazungos' (white people) out running. There are always kids joining in, asking my name, what country I come from – a really unique experience. I would literally have to throw my little brothers Xbox out the window to watch him run outside two metres to collect it – yet these tiny children were out nonchalantly jogging alongside me.

Back to the grind in Eldoret
Kenyan athletes to these kids are like gods – athletics is a way of life. The dusty, dirt track is constantly inundated with groups of 20-60 kenyan athletes which is a stark contrast to our modern, tartan tracks back home which rarely see more than ten people pass through the gates weekly. The only setback they have here are the sheep, cows and goats which regularly graze on the infield!

The food within the camp is very basic and after four weeks, it does become very repetitive. Ugali (a form of maize - tastes of nothing, has the texture of play-doh and if you threw it against a wall, it would probably stay there) is on offer every single day as the Kenyans swear by it. Alongside this kenyan 'delight', there is the option of rice and beef stew most evenings. For desert, we have watermelon or oranges. The repetitiveness of daily life does eventually start to get to you... but once you are back home, you genuinely do appreciate how nice it is to live in this manner. No worries. No stress.

Life is simple. Eat, sleep, train, repeat. There are no distractions. That's the difference to back home, there are umpteen distractions – silly little things you don’t think about until you realise out in Kenya - they aren’t there. It is the bare minimum – constant power cuts,cold showers, limited internet. Running is the only priority.

I will be returning out here again for another training spell at the beginning of January for four to six weeks. I hope these two trips to altitude will truly give me the training boost I need for the summer racing season. In my event, the 3000m steeplechase – the World Rankings are amass with Kenyan athletes and so I feel this is essential for my development in order to make the next step forward.

To be the best – you have to train like the best.

Thankfully this year, Christmas Day landed on a Wednesday which also coincides with my easy training day. It was lovely to spend some quality time at home with my family and friends as I rarely get to see them throughout the year. The 'Driving Home for Christmas' experience definitely wasn't as smooth as Chris Rea depicts. After almost ten hours of what should have been a six hour journey, my fateful windscreen wipers decided to break! A crashed car, two new wheels and a large bill to a car garage wasn't really what I was expecting for Christmas! However, I did finally make it back to Scotland in time! To makes things even more difficult, I haven't been able to avoid the winter illness spreading around this festive period and so have been fighting off an illness for the past week which unfortunately means my time at home has been cut short in order to get myself back to full health in time for a five week training spell out in Kenya!

Training out in Portland with the Oregon Project
Portland, Oregon
2013 has been a fantastic year from me. From racing in places I've always dreamed of visiting - Monaco, Rome, New York to a last minute trip over to America to visit the Nike Headquarters in Oregon, to watching Andy Murray win the Sports Personality of the Year – I couldn't of asked for anymore. I never thought I could cram so many fantastic moments into 365 days!

Very lucky to have the most amazing friends!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The long slog.

Berlin Olympic Stadium
Berlin Wall

Brussels DL

Brussels DL
After the World Championships I decided to continue on with the remainder of my season but relax a little and get some enjoyment back into my racing, rather than chasing qualifying times. My last steeplechase of the year was in Brussels at the Diamond League Final. It was another amazing experience being in the Belgium Olympic Stadium and they really do go all out to make it an electric event. There is music on throughout the entire meet with dancers, fireworks and lights – they try to create an exciting atmosphere inside the stadium for the spectators. For me, it wasn't my best run – I came 8th but I was very heavy-legged and tired from the World Championships. I would of liked to have finished my steeplechasing season on a high but it wasn't to be! I did however, have another race – this time a 3000m flat – in Rieti only a few days later! Instead of training hard, I let my body rest and just travelled from race to race, hanging onto the small bit of fitness that remained from all the cross training over the summer! In Brussels, I was so excited about the fact Sean Paul was the guest performer with Usain Bolt DJ'ing! Throughout my last few years at school and my first year at university – Sean Paul was the KING. Haha – albeit he may not be as cool anymore... I was still way too worked up about it all and must of spoke about it/tweeted about it every few seconds. Nevertheless, things didn't really go to plan! After not touching alcohol for a whole year – I thought I could sustain a few more drinks, like I used to be able to do at university. This was not the case. I don't think I ever got to see Sean Paul – I was cosily wrapped up in bed well before the event finished. Brussels was a huge blur. I thought I had went all out – however my room-mate (who will remain nameless) didn't make it home after ending up in hospital whilst my other roomie came back without their shoes. This is a very simple, vague representation of that evening. Athletes don't get to party very often but when they do... it's hard. I'll be able to write a hilarious book at some point...
Laura and myself. 

Myself and Laura Weightman (Photo-bombed by Christian Taylor. )
Brussels After Party
Rieti - Me, Margaret, Sophie
I then struggled to get up for my 8am flight to Italy for my final track race of the season. In hindsight – it understandably wasn't the best preparation – nevertheless, after a long, gruelling, arduous season of which I have worked my little bum off – I think one night out is acceptable!! I was regretting things on my travels to Rieti – staying awake was a challenge. After one good nights slumber, 5 bottles of water and some Berocca – I was (sort-of) fit and primed ready for race day!

Weirdly enough – it was the best I have felt in a race all year. I had absolutely no expectations on myself and came away with a brand new spanking outdoor PB by 6 second personal best and a 13 second improvement from my 3000m in Rieti, 2012. I couldn't believe it! It was a great way to end my track season. I have now recorded personal best times over all three distances I competed in this year – 1500m, 3000m and the 3000m Steeplechase. I would of liked to have ran a tiny bit quicker over the steeple this year – but I can't be too excessive, considering the injury I picked up and how early on in the season it began.

Great City Games
Gateshead with some lovely GB ladies
Road mile... Eurghhhhhh
I then got a last minute slot in the Road Mile at the Great City Games in Newcastle- but after feeling ill all week – I ran absolutely horrific! Not much to say on it really, apart from the fact I thought the world was genuinely ending! My time in New York was much more pleasant! The New York 5th Avenue Mile is decidedly one of my favourite races of the year. I also got the chance to spend an extra few days out in NY with my boyfriend – doing some normal tourist things. I have had the opportunity to visit so many awesome places over the last two years but I only ever get to visit the track and the hotel - so it was lovely to get the chance to visit all the main sights of NY! 

Last spin session of the year - DEAD
I booked an apartment through AirBnB. It was a good deal cheaper than all the hotels I could find and although I was initially a bit concerned – it worked out really well. The lady whom I was renting the apartment from – asked if I could look after her cat Sterling whilst we stayed – a little weird but I agreed! It didn’t for a second enter my mind that my boyfriend is severely allergic to cats! Ooops! Cue a LOT of sneezing and living off of antihistamines! I felt so bad! We ended up stripping all the covers off the bed and tossing the mattress onto the floor whilst the cat stayed up on the bed with all the covers overflowing in it's hair! Great start Eilish.
Gateshead. Rare picture with my mum!

The NY 5th Avenue Mile didn't particularly go very well for me either. I was starting to battle against the lack of training – no track sessions or cross training in weeks – which slowly began to take it's toll on me. But I needed to take a further 2 weeks of ABSOLUTELY nothing in order to allow the bone stress on my shin to heal. And when I say nothing – I mean NADA. I genuinely didn’t move from my bed for the whole duration – apart from a slight movement to the kitchen for food or the bathroom. Even showering was very scarce. Usually, I really struggle with taking a rest period. In 2011 – I broke my foot and so was forced into a months bed rest after surgery. 2012 – I managed an active recovery – cross training/jogging every few days to keep myself sane. But this year, I knew I required the full 2 weeks and if i'm honest – it was actually pretty scary how promptly two weeks passed by and how natural lying around all day became! I didn't actually go out on my break because I was so slothful and truly couldn't be bothered – i'm such a granny. One night....a year - is my limit!

Times Square

Race Bibs
Natural History Museum
Manhattan Skyline
Central Park
Statue of Liberty
Overdosed on Twizzlers. Must of bought a 3 month supply. 
During my break – it gave me the chance to do a a couple of events and school talks. I kept myself busy at Monifeith HS, Arboath HS and Carnoustie HS - started the Kids Great Scottish Run through in Glasgow (an event I also competed in when I was a youngster!!) and a Sports Conference in which I did a small Q&A with 150 kids from all over Scotland. It definitely kept me amused! I then had a female mid-life crisis at the age of 22... I was so busy – I couldn't actually get to the hairdressers. My hair was starting to become two-tone with how long my roots were becoming – so after a rash decision -I dyed my hair back brown myself! Saved myself 4 hours of time in the hairdressers and £75 – however as soon as I stepped out the shower and caught myself in the mirror looking like a vampire off of twilight – I quickly regretted my decision! Blonde will be making an appearance again for 2014 when I have the time and effort to be a real girl!
Mid Life Crisis. BROWN HAIR :(

It was also announced that I have been selected for the 3000m Steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games next year in Glasgow! I am obviously thrilled to have been picked in the first wave of selections. Scottish athletes have really upped their game this year and fingers crossed I can make it to the start-line completely fit and healthy. This will be my first ever senior Commonwealth Games - so for it to be a home games in Glasgow - I couldn't think of anything better! I did make the Commonwealth Youth Team back in 2008. However, that was in Pune (India)... VERY different to Glasgow but still an amazing experience nonetheless. It was also my first ever international - so it will be nice to have a senior cap for Team Scotland!

Greatest of all-time!! Haile Geberselassie
Some filming for the BBC
Starting the kids race!
Another stolen - hello Emma Thompson! :D
Some of the kids from the GSR
Stolen from a young athlete's instagram!
Lynsey Sharp and myself in Loughborough 
Loughborough - my second home. (sort-of)
Guy Learmonth and myself - Loughborough
My little sister Orla. 
Resuming training again is always a challenging transition. It has to be built up very gradually in order to avoid picking up other injuries. I haven't been able to do an easy run since May – only track sessions and as you can imagine – my first week of build up was a STRUGGLE. I began jogging 3 miles every day but it was extremely difficult getting used to the time on my feet and the impact going through my legs at such a slow pace but things have gone really well in my build up. My first run....8.20 minute miles and severe chest pains.... Starting back running again always makes me realise why people who have never run before think elite athletes are insane. Running is not enjoyable when you're unfit! My initial shin/calf problem has altogether cleared... finally – and this week I have improved to running 3miles and 5miles, 6 days a week. This is just in time for jetting off to Kenya early tomorrow morning!
Nike kit drop ready for the winter!
Stride 150s. First time on the track!
Escaping Loughborough for 6 weeks :D
Lough Training

2014 training BEGINS!
I am fortunate to be heading back to Kenya again for a months training camp with the assistance of UK Athletics and The London Marathon. I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever camp in January and came back in really good shape – so fingers crossed things are positive this time around. Before heading out, I did a full DXA scan in order to see my bone density and body fat percentage. My bone density is way above the average person which is evidently a good thing – however.... my body fat was one of the highest they've seen for a female distance athlete! Oops. Does make me laugh though as I know I look tiny – and everyone i've told thinks I'm joking... but unfortunately I'm not! I clearly just have skin, bones and fat – my muscle seems to be hiding! Haha. Definitely something I need to work on over the winter months to gain some muscle mass! Next time you see me i'll be looking like The Hulk – well... maybe not.

And finally.. A few pictures from a last minute trip up to Scotland for the MOBO's Awards at The Hydro in Glasgow - it really was an amazing trip and I would like to thank Event Scotland, on behalf of myself and Lynsey Sharp for getting us VIP Table Tickets only two days prior! Thank you!

Our dates for the MOBO's
Lynsey Sharp and myself en route to the MOBO's
Had to get a picture... Gaz - MTV's Geordie Shore