Thursday, June 21, 2018

A baby at mid-camp, and other running tales from a new mum

It’s 5 in the morning, and I’m already climbing out of the valley, my sights on the sun-tipped summit above me. The record from our Czech cottage to  Boubín (1362m) and back stands at 1:52 (Václav Paris, 2012), a time that seems impossibly fast to me today. I’m not even taking the fastest route, and there’s a good chance I’ll need to stop somewhere along the way.

Team Paris-Rawlik(jr.) set the Boubin buggy record

There’s a difference to this summit bid though... it’s a team effort, and only one of the pair is pulling their weight. The other is asleep, wrapped in a sheepskin to keep off the morning chill, dreaming of her next feed. She doesn’t even wake up when I reach the col and transfer her to the carrier, stashing the buggy in the bushes as I clamber the last 1.5km upwards along the boulder strewn track. I reach the top, touch the cairn and turn, supporting her head with my hand as I pick my way down. Back at the buggy I execute a hasty changeover and we’re running again, flying down the hill through the forest. We arrive back at our cottage in time for breakfast. My teammate sleepily stretches and smiles, clearly delighted to have run our target sub-3 hours time (2:53).

My teammate is our daughter, Rowan, born in November just 10 days after her last fell race as a ‘bump’. She surprised everyone by entering the world bottom first, eschewing convention from the word go. Seven months later, I’m preparing to go back to work (Konrad will be on baby duty for a couple of months now), and it seems like a good time to write up the next instalment of our running diary.

In spite of Rowan’s unconventional presentation, I was lucky to have a fairly straightforward labour and delivery. By the following morning we were out walking with our dog Moss, and within a couple of weeks I was venturing into the Pentland Hills with Rowan in a sling on my tummy. At 4 weeks post partum I started a bit of gentle jogging (with Moss, I didn’t run with Rowan until she was 6 months old), and after my 6 week GP check I slowly eased back into training. Konrad and I developed a routine in which he would look after Rowan every day from 6 to 8 am whilst I went running.  Other, more innovative ‘maternity leave training’ strategies included hill reps and intervals, whilst Rowan slept in her buggy in full sight.

Ready to race at the Mourne Highline
Returning to fitness wasn’t all plain sailing. I pulled something in my back when lifting Rowan up in the night, and just as I’d recovered from that I developed mild posterior tibial tendonitis (an injury I’ve had once before), which grumbled on for about 6 weeks, stubbornly refusing to settle. With these breaks in training, my first serious race back - the opening counter for the British Fellrunning Championships (Mourne Highline, Ireland, in April) - arrived all too quickly, and I lined up on the start line feeling somewhat unprepared. The weather (pea soup fog) and the linear course (necessitating that I finish) did little to quell my nerves, and I purposefully started well down the field. To my great surprise, I not only made it back to the finish without getting lost and before Rowan started to cry, but I also finished first lady. The rough terrain helped by slowing everyone down, as did the fog (I raced Emma Gould for much of the race, but she went wrong on the final descent), nevertheless it was a great boost for post-baby running morale. Caitlin Rice, a good friend who also started out with Glossopdale Harriers, finished second, which I was delighted about. She has since won the short counter (Tal Y Mignedd), which we didn’t travel to, so the next two races in the British Championships should be exciting. 

My next race, just a week later, was the Teenager with Altitude in the Lake District (24.7km, 2300m ascent). Rowan had received her vaccinations the day before, and spent the majority of the night awake, so my preparation wasn’t exactly ideal, although it did involve a generous amount of midnight cake eating. The day was also unseasonably hot, more suitable for swimming than running, but it did make for wonderful views. Sharon Taylor had a great race, and although I could see her in front of me for much of it, I had nothing in my legs to mount a credible chase. Nevertheless, it was my longest run since having Rowan, and I was plenty happy with the result.

On Beinn an Oir (second Pap)
A month later, after another chunk of training and a couple of 24-hour round supports (a Bob Graham and a Ramsay – both involving ‘pass-the-baby’ from daddy to mummy between legs), we travelled to Jura for the annual highlight of my racing calendar, the Jura Fell race. It felt great to be there, racing, and part of the scene again. Despite a fall coming off the third Pap, during with I slashed my knee open (fellrunning legend Wendy Dodds and I had matching injuries at the finish, although she had 4 stitches, whereas I just got glued together) I finished in 3:49 (1st F, although still 11 minutes off a PB). The following day Liz Barker and I swim-ran the islands of Small Isles (more on that to follow), and the remainder of the week was spent taking Rowan onto the Paps for her first race recce, introducing her to the sea, and trying not to let her eat too much sand.

Team coach, in obligatory LAMM mid-camp attire
On Thursday we headed north to Harris for the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM). To those who don’t know, a mountain marathon is a 2-day orienteering-type race, which is run in teams of two, carrying everything necessary for an overnight camp. When this year’s fantastic location (Harris) was first announced last winter, we predicted it was going to be something special, and set about trying to work out how we’d be able to compete with Rowan in the mix. We made a plan that involved my mum carrying Rowan into mid-camp, where she could sleep with me and breastfeed overnight before travelling to the finish the following morning with my mum. Luckily for us the organizer Martin Stone was incredibly accommodating, and set up a private email correspondence with my mum to ensure she would know the mid-camp location (something we wouldn’t know until our clock started ticking on day 1 of the event). Konrad and I had originally planned to run the Elite class, but after some deliberation we switched over to the Score class, on the premise that the 7-hour daily time limit would be preferable as a fixed end point for Rowan. I expressed a bottle of milk for day 1, and my mum packed the breast pump for me to use at mid-camp to do the same on day 2. We were set to go.

It felt simultaneously ridiculous (most people wouldn’t even dream of mixing the two), and also completely natural (fell runners are not most people), to be travelling to a mountain marathon with a baby. In the end, as I predicted, the support from everyone was overwhelming, and Rowan was made to feel very welcome. In fact, she was extremely well behaved and even those camped right beside us hardly heard a cry. Moss, who also walked in with my mum, actually caused more hassle, as he went acutely lame overnight and thus secured himself a lift out of mid-camp on the boat with the injured runners on day 2 (by the evening he’d recovered, so we think he just wanted a boat ride). 

Reviewing our route choices at the end of day 2
Anyway, to get back to the race... We had a steady first day, neither of us feeling particularly brilliant, not taking any risks and finishing with 10 minutes to spare. It was a little too hot for racing, but the views were absolutely spectacular, in particular the final descent to mid-camp (which was located at Loch Crabhadail, a splendidly remote stretch of soft green grass beside an incredible white-sand beach). Being amongst the first teams back, we were sure that others would pass our temporarily leading score of 300. But we were wrong; by the end of the day we were still in front, albeit with several teams barking at our heels (with scores of 295, 280 etc.). With this incentive, we went out hard on day 2 and gave it everything to try and keep the lead. We even took the option (which secured a 50-60-35 point control trio) of climbing back over An Cliseam (799m), a summit we’d already bagged on day 1. We cut it fine, a little too fine in fact, and finished 2 minutes over time, both falling at the finish control – me because I tripped up, Konrad because he was overcome by the heat. Still, we came away with a day 2 score of 379 points (385 minus a 6 point time penalty), which gave us a comfortable margin over the next team. Martin announced at the prize giving that this had been the last ever LAMM, and received a thoroughly deserved standing ovation that refused to finish. In these circumstances, our win felt particularly special. Although as I’ve come to realise, the greatest prize in any race is now the little person with the beaming smile, waiting for us at the finish line.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Adventures of the Bump - Part 2

Scrambling in the Alps (photo Jasmin Paris collection)
After the excitement of the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM) described in instalment 1, Bump’s adventures continued with a trip to Gran Paradiso National Park, in Italy. In theory, this was to be a relaxing week of ambling across the mountains, with frequent opportunities to sample the local cuisine.  In reality, it started with a 2000m ascent out of the Aosta valley, carrying all of our gear (in Konrad’s case this included all of the group kit, in my case it included a 20 week old foetus), and continued with a fantastic technical scramble, fortunately aided by a plethora of ladders and chains. On day 2 we descended into the valley to rendez-vous with my brothers, and assured by them that they had plenty of food to last us all for the remainder of the trip, we re-ascended into the high mountains. For the next 3 days we climbed up and down (and up and down, and up and down...), swimming in icy mountain lakes (except Konrad, who is a wimp), and sleeping under the stars in the company of Ibex. Rather predictably, our food supplies dwindled, and in the face of rationing my threshold for what qualified as a ‘hard cheese’ (many soft cheeses being on the ‘no no’ list for pregnant ladies) became increasingly dubious, justified only as an effect of the day’s heat 😉 As is always the case, the week ended far too soon, and we parted from my brothers already making plans for how we’d manage wild camping with the Bump next year.

Enjoying the Sun at Gran Paradiso (photo Jasmin Paris collection)

Bump reaching 3000m (photo Jasmin Paris collection)
Upon returning home to Scotland we were keen to make the most of our altitude training, so looked around for a suitable challenge. The local Caerketton Hill race, a gnarly 3.6km out-and-back, with a testing 300m climb, seemed just the thing. Competition was fierce, and Bump put up a valiant fight against Bob, catching him at the summit, only to be overtaken again on the descent. I’ve promised Bob a re-match next year...

Catching Bob at the summit (photo Steve Fallon)
 Unfortunately, this was Bump’s last race for some time, owing to a sacroiliac injury I sustained whilst scything the most overgrown area in our ridiculously large garden (I have since come to the conclusion that we should just get a couple of sheep). Since cycling had already become impossible (the forward position my bike forces me to adopt is not very compatible with a Bump), I contented myself with outdoor swimming – at least I did until about month 6 ½, when I could no longer do my wetsuit up.

At 7 months pregnant, just about able to run again, I took part in the ROC Mountain Marathon with my trusted partner mum. We opted for the Short Score Category, theorising that this would give us the option of taking the most direct route to mid-camp if necessary. As it was, the claggy conditions probably favoured our slow pace and ample navigation time, because we managed to collect quite a reasonable score, when one considers that our team included one baby, and one artificial hip, in addition to the required kit.  Day 2 was splendid, and we enjoyed seeing the views we’d missed the previous day as we navigated our way back to the Event Centre.  We finished as first Female Vet team, (48/114 overall), in spite of a 15-minute retrospective time penalty for having accidentally crossed a boundary line (we were just one of several teams that did this, and the Race Organiser agreed that the line was not visible enough on the maps, but understandably a penalty had to be imposed).

Team Paris at the ROC (photo © Steve Ashworth)

At 36 weeks pregnant I ran my first ever Parkrun (our local one is Vogrie), inspired by my dad Jeff, who has been participating (his local one is Glossop) for the last year, with an ever-faster weekly time. Konrad sped off and won easily, in 17 minutes something, whilst I started steady, and enjoyed the feeling of running on the flat rather than hauling the Bump up a hill. We gradually started making up places, and I finished feeling really good, in 23 minutes 35, which made me 4th lady on the day, and 30/148 overall.

The feeling of easy running didn’t last long though, as the Bump dropped down a few days later, settling in its new position directly atop my bladder. As a result, I felt for the first few days as if I was carrying a bowling ball between my legs, with my ‘running’ resembling a ‘fast-forward waddle’ rather than anything remotely athletic. My plan of running the Tinto Hill Race (7km, 460m ascent) two weeks later suddenly seemed like wishful thinking, but as the day approached I grew accustomed to Bump’s new position, and decided to give it a go after all. And so, at 38 weeks pregnant exactly, I lined up for the start of Tinto, along with 243 other runners, waiting for the starter’s signal. In the event, I didn’t actually hear this (I was so far back), but I knew from the forward rush of the mass in front that the race was underway. 

Bump racing at Tinto (photo Charlie Ramsay)
The race was great. I started very slowly, and gradually moved up through the field. I think I must have smiled the whole way - I was having such fun. I lost a few places on the way down, since I was being very careful not to slip, but still surprised myself by finishing 148th, in 49:01 (for reference, our recce, done on a very windy day – but at 4 weeks less pregnant, had taken us 1 hour 8 minutes). Bump was very well behaved, and didn’t force a single wee stop 😉   

I wont pretend that running during pregnancy has always been easy. There have been days when I’ve turned around and walked home thwarted by a stitch, or been plagued by constant stops to empty an already-empty bladder. And yet, in spite of the challenges, running during pregnancy has also been fantastic, for so many reasons. It has held my gateway to the hills open, and thereby kept me sane. It has kept me feeling fit, and more confident about the challenge of pushing Bump into the world. It has allowed me to keep in touch with friends, and stay part of the scene that I love. And maybe the Adventures of Bump and I will even have inspired other ladies – those who might otherwise have feared to do so - to keep up the sports they love, when they have Bumps too. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Adventures of the Bump – Part 1

Ski Touring

Since my first outings, carried over the local moors on my parents’ backs, to the wild camping trips with my brother in my teens, and the fell-running adventures of recent years, moving fast and light through the mountains has become a joy. This year for the first time, I experienced the feeling in winter, when Konrad and I joined Loic Tregan for a ski touring adventure in the Glarus Alps, Switzerland. Below is a brief summary, and a few photos of our experience - which I hope will be the first of many in years to come.

Clariden Ridge (photo Loic Tregan)
Fridolins Hut (photo Loic Tregan)
Setting off on skis straight from the car, we started the tour with a 1700m climb, up through the debris of a huge avalanche, to Claridenshütte, where we enjoyed excellent food and a comfortable night. Day 2 turned into rather an epic. After a fantastic morning on Clariden Ridge, our return route transpired to be more challenging than anticipated, and after additional navigation and technical (ski binding) delays, we were forced to re-route, and head for the rather basic Fridolinshütte winter-hut. After a smoke-filled hour, we succeeded in lighting the ancient stove, and having re-fuelled with stock and noodles sourced from the hut cupboard, we curled up together on the mattresses least covered by mouse droppings or snow. Not exactly five star accommodation, but as we all agreed, a great deal better than the outdoor alternative. 

Gaining the pass (photo Loic Tregan)
Early morning glacier (photo Loic Tregan)
The next day was spent getting back to where we were supposed to be, and eating copious quantities of bread, cheese, ham and pickles. On day 4 we skied up the Clariden glacier and, aided by Konrad’s mountaineering experience, crossed a steep col before a super 2000m descent cutting fresh tracks into the valley. We climbed up to the fantastically situated Cavardiras Hütte, and left early the next morning (picture below) to cross the Brunnifirn glacier, on our way to Oberalpstock summit (3300m).

Leaving the Cavardiras Hut (photo Loic Tregan)

Sunrise (photo Loic Tregan)

With a spectacular sunrise to start, a 3-summit ridge day from Oberalppass rounded off a brilliant first week of ski touring.

Above Oberalppass (photo Loic Tregan)
Of note, I found the week rather harder than I expected to. In contrast to previous mountain trips, I was pushed to keep up with the others, even after a week of altitude acclimatization. At the time I put it down to my skis, which were relatively heavier, but when I got back I discovered the happy explanation – I’d been carrying an extra passenger 😃

Scottish Islands Peaks Race

Reever (photo Liz Barker)
The advantage of doing SIPR 13-weeks pregnant is that you are used to feeling sick, so you’re already prepped for what’s to come. The disadvantage is that you have the added challenge of wave motion, and are unable to take any anti-sea sickness medication. As it turned out, my worries were unjustified. In the end, only one person on our team vomited, and that was a sailor – on the running section 😃

SIPR is a race for teams of sailors and fell runners, which takes place every year off the West Coast of Scotland. The race starts with a short hill run in Oban, then a sail to Salen on Mull and a run up Ben More, followed by a sail to Craighouse on Jura and a run over the Paps, then a sail to Lamlash on Arran and a run up Goat Fell, and finally a sail to finish in Troon. All in all, it’s a long weekend of non-stop adventure, and a lot of fun.

I’d agreed to run SIPR as part of an all-rounders team, at the start of the year. After I discovered I was pregnant I debated pulling out, but knowing that I would be running with my good friend Liz Barker (who knew the situation well in advance) gave me the confidence to stick with it. Luckily for me, Liz had raced SIPR the previous year for the boat Reever (a lovely class 3 monohull) and knew what it was all about.

The other members of our team were Nigel Holl and Gordon Callander - primarily excellent sailors, but handy runners too – and Jon Gay, a true all-rounder, brilliant at both. As an all-rounder team every member was obliged to run at least one of the three islands (Mull, Jura, Arran), and our overall result would be defined not only by our finishing time, bit also by the total number of man-mountain runs. In reality, this meant that the best plan was for Liz and I to run everything, with Jon along for Mull and Jura, and Gordon and Nigel along for Arran.

The race started at noon on Friday 19th May, from Oban boathouse, with a short (roughly 6km) dash over some small, bluebell covered hills adjacent to the town. The main purpose of this mad sprint seems to be to spread teams out to minimise the chaos that inevitably develops as the boats leave their moorings in Oban and race for a place on the open sea.
On this occasion however, the initial run times paled into insignificance given the complete absence of wind in the harbour. Crews of small and medium vessels pulled out oars, and thus inched their way past the larger boats, although one would still have been hard-pushed to describe it as a ‘race’. A youth team added to the general comedy of the situation when their young crew lowered themselves back into their dinghy with the intention of pulling their boat along, only to get left behind when the wind suddenly picked up.

On Ben More on Mull (photo Liz Barker)
We reached Mull at 5.27pm, roughly two thirds of the way through the field (21/36 overall). The Mull run comprises roughly 10km of small road/track, followed by a loop over Ben More, then a return the same way. It was a glorious summer evening, but I found the out-and-back hard work (for me, pregnancy had cardiorespiratory effects from very early on, most apparent on fast flat terrain), but the mountain was splendid, in particular the technical scrambly sections higher up (where I was in my element, leading the way). Buzzing from the evening light and views, we arrived back at the boat after 4 hours 41 minutes (having made up 6 places), and were soon on our way to Jura.
An interesting aspect of SIPR is that the race fractures into several separate races determined by groups of boats making, or alternatively missing, the tides (critical in the Sounds of Luing & Jura, and around the Mull of Kintyre). On this occasion for example, only the two leading boats made it through the Sound of Luing on the sail to Jura. The majority of the fleet milled around, waiting for the tide to turn, but a few (us included), took a calculated risk, and decided to sail around the West Coast of Jura instead, where the tide is less of a problem. Unfortunately for us, the wind subsequently dropped, and so in racing terms we lost time. However, we did have the pleasure of being joined by a pod of dolphins at one point, which I took as a rather marvellous consolation prize.

Jura, as always, was brilliant, and it was a pleasure to run the now familiar Paps (at least for me and Jon, who have raced the Jura Fell race several times), as a team. Once again, we had beautiful evening light and views, and I was reminded how special the island has become for me, since getting married there last year. We arrived onto Jura on exactly 24 hours after arriving onto Mull, in 29th overall, but made up 5 places during the run (4 hours 27 minutes), and as a result we just sneaked around the Mull of Kintyre with the tide, although I can’t claim any credit for this night-time success, given that I slept through it soundly in my bunk below.

Breaking our 5.27pm island arrival pattern, we sailed into Lamlash at lunchtime on Sunday. We made good progress on the run into Brodick (Nigel’s brightly coloured leggings attracted some attention in the process), and up towards the summit of Goatfell. We were intrigued to pass a great many beagles on the mountain (it subsequently transpired that it was an organised event, rather than a coincidental accumulation), one of which was carrying it’s own GoPro - Nigel and his dazzling leggings did their best to get into the shot.

Arran (photo Liz Barker)
On the way back our early speed and the afternoon heat conspired against Gordon... So much so, that when a shopper in Brodick saw us, she said ‘You’re not going all the way to Lamlash like that are you, do you need a lift?’, at which point Gordon perked up, whereas the rest of us in unison said ‘No!’ and forced him onwards... Getting back to the boat was a team effort in which we all played a part, but the greatest credit has to go to Gordon, who unmistakably earned his ‘All Rounders’ certificate that afternoon.

By the time we reached the boat there was little chance of us catching any team in front, and the remaining boats were several hours behind (courtesy of a tide gap), so we had a pleasant sail over to Troon. The final dinghy drop in the inner harbour was still exciting though, and we had to sail around twice before Liz and I were set free to row into the marina, and officially finish our race.

At the finish (offical photo)
SIPR is a race I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and as so many people predicted, I loved it. I’m already looking forward to it becoming a regular on my racing calendar... although given my circumstances, I’m not sure the experience will ever be quite as unique as this first time!

We finished in 26th position overall, after 42 hours 42 minutes of sailing and 14 hours 32 minutes of running, as 3rd All-Rounders. Although as has been pointed out to me since, since we did actually have an extra team member on every summit, we achieved more man mountains than the eventual winning team (and since they were all men, I am making the assumption they had no secret crew).... 😉


Whilst parent-offspring teams are routinely present at mountain marathons, three-generation teams must be exceedingly rare. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to be listed as such, and following on from our successful debut partnership at the Highlander in 2016, my mum and myself teamed up once again to run the score class at the LAMM. Set this year in the spectacular location of An Teallach, Fisherfield & Fannichs, with weather that defied the prior ominous forecasts, and almost no midges to be seen, it was a LAMM to be remembered.

LAMM Day 1 (photo Jasmin Paris collection)

To me, these mountains have an old, forgotten, remote feeling quite unlike the summits we typically frequent further south. As a result, we were enjoying ourselves so much on day 1 that we felt compelled to remain on the ridge and bag the Munro (Sgur Mor), rather than taking the racing line, and an extra 10 points, to our next checkpoint. We arrived there at roughly 4 hours of our total allocated 7, at which point I began to doubt we could make it back in time to the camp... It didn’t help that I was unsure exactly how long we had left, having forgotten to start my watch when we set off (this could never have happened if I had been with Konrad!). In the end we made it back only 2 minutes over (collecting 4 penalty points to our total of 150), although the last half hour was a rather frantic dash along the loch-side, and mummy did fall in a chest-deep bog just before we entered the camp, in her commitment to the cause.
The evening was spent eating and socialising with friends from all over (I love mountain marathons for this reason, especially the LAMM), with a brief thunderstorm interlude, during which everyone retired to their tents for a sleep.

LAMM Day 2 (photo Jasmin Paris collection)

On Sunday we did the majority of climbing in the morning, and then headed back towards the finish in the shadow of An Teallach, eager to make it with time to spare. Nevertheless, a tricky encounter with dense rhododendron bushes in the last km cost us several minutes, and we were forced to sprint (well, in my mum’s case, as much as one can following a hip replacement), finishing just inside the allocated time of 6 hours.

We finished in 38th position of 76 overall, 5th Females, and 3rd Female Vets. As my mum pointed out over the 2 days, with a total 13-hour allowance, we raced for 12 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds. Now that’s what I call getting your money’s worth 😃

Final Thoughts

To some of those reading this blog, these adventures might seem overly ambitious, even foolhardy, in a pregnant state. I just want to stress that I am very aware of the fact that I now have another being to consider besides myself, and that it has definitely changed my approach. All the medical advice is to continue with exercise up to a moderate intensity during pregnancy (providing you did it beforehand). Since I've known I was pregnant, I've consciously made sure not to push myself, always staying well within a comfortable limit. I'm simply taking each week as it comes, with the plan to run for as long as it feels right, and then transition to walking instead.