My lungs were screaming fit to burst all the way up to the top. The anticipation of the glorious long downhill section where I’d zoom right back down to the finish line kept me going; imagining that feeling of flying; legs no longer like lead; air no longer like treacle; feet dancing down the trail. But now the downhill is here and I soon find I’m no longer as surefooted as I once was and, what’s more, my core isn’t yet strong enough to keep me steady and stable. I quickly realise that even the home strait has its challenges – just in a new and unexpected way…

This is the Women Run Strong 11k trail run, held in the spectacular setting of the Atholl Estates, Dunkeld. It’s my first race outing since I completed the Mont Blanc Marathon last June. It’s also my first race as a new mum of two, following the arrival of baby Rosa just six weeks ago (today’s last-minute pre-race prep included a quick al-fresco breast-feed before strapping on the sports bra and heading to the start!) and I really had no idea what to expect of myself, physically, once the race was underway.

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On your marks! Ladies gather at the start to the strains of Flower of Scotland on the bagpipes

 

In the abstract, today’s 11k distance should be easy; after all, it wasn’t so very long ago that I was running 10k distances three times a week before breakfast. On the other hand, my mind and body have gone through a lot since then, with the net result that I’ve gained weight; lost tone; lost fitness … and of course, produced a beautiful healthy baby girl. So I really can’t decide whether today’s run is likely to be a walk in the park, or a physical challenge of epic proportions. In the event, it feels like a bit of a rollercoaster ride between the two …

Psychologically, I feel stronger than I’ve ever been. The safe delivery of Rosa took me by surprise as an immensely empowering and positive experience, and the speed of my recovery in these early days is a stark contrast with my experience of becoming a new mum for the first time, two years ago. Back then, I naively expected to trot joyfully from the hospital, but found myself hobbling and popping painkillers for weeks. I don’t know how to explain the difference this time round; perhaps my experience of becoming a pre- and post-natal fitness instructor helped me prepare and look after myself better; perhaps it’s simply good luck – but either way, over the past six weeks I have felt a new sense of possibility opening up. Following  the birth of Rosa I’ve noticed a new sense of belief in myself; a new confidence and conviction that it is within the power of my mind and body to achieve more than I thought I had settled for.

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Baby Rosa: 6 weeks old already!

Physically, though, I have a long way to go before I can safely tackle the challenges that my mind feels ready for. The very best thing about today’s race is that it marks the beginning of that journey; a tangible step in the direction that I want to go. The event got off to a splendid start: piper playing ‘Flower of Scotland’ on the loch side as we began to run. Straight away I ran into my first problem: I realised I had no idea how fast to pace myself to make allowance for my current fitness and physical condition. I set off at what felt like a relatively conservative pace by pre-pregnancy standards, running near the front of the pack where the trail was clearest, but conscious that I may soon regret such a cavalier approach – and indeed I did; a mile and a half into the uphill start I could feel my speed fading fast. The regular  ‘jelly baby stations’ became my salvation – the gaps between marshals were blessedly short, and the spacing was perfect for consuming one jelly baby, slowly, between each. The course was a kind one, no nasty surprise hills, and after the long drag up to the high point of the race, we contoured gently around on woodland and moorland trails before dropping gradually back down to the event base.

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Downhill: time to fly – or fall?!

By mile four, however, my legs were feeling truly leaden, and this seven mile race felt every bit as challenging as a 35 mile ultramarathon had felt, this time last year. But that’s OK – I know that what my body is now managing to achieve now is at least as big a challenge for me, in my circumstances today, as anything I did last year.  What’s more, my mindset today feels stronger. Whilst last year I doubted my abilities and felt haunted by imagined limitations, this year I see myself at the start of a new journey, and I know that I will be equal to it; my mind and body helping each other when one or the other feels weak.

At last, the finish tapes came into sight and I knew I’d done it. The icing on the cake: my little boy running up to meet me, grabbing my hand and running the final steps beside me, crossing the finish line at my side (and pilfering my share of finishers’ biscuits and jelly babies!) With its family-friendly atmosphere, laid back vibe and ladies-who-lunch luxury twist, this was the perfect race for me at the perfect time.

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Cheers! If only all races finished with fizz!

Afterwards, lounging in the sun, Ryan and the children beside me, glowing with endorphins, adrenaline (and prosecco) I can feel it more strongly than ever: life is now. The possibilities are endless …

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[With thanks to Women Run Strong for the action photos :)]

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