“I am the Queen of falling over”
#OtherRunners: Scenes from other runners lives
Fiona, or Scallywag, is runner who dabbles in bouldering, Thai-boxing, hiking, paddle-boarding and surfing. She’s been running since University and has come back from a pretty gross knee injury (see her blog for the gory details). Running helped Fiona find love.
We now find her at the start of another journey, refinding her love of running after having a break to complete a PhD in Neuroscience (like you do).
Fiona and I haven’t met, but but I think if we did, we would get on well, she sounds as bonkers and clumsy as me.
My name is Fiona, not Scallywag (although a surprising number of people actually do nickname me that, so I’m glad I chose a catchy blog title). I am Glaswegian born and bred but sadly don’t have the fun thick Scots accent that people expect from that background. I recently completed a PhD in Psychology/Neuroscience and I feel like I’m still working on getting my life back and becoming ‘me’ again (whoever that is).
How long have you been running?
I’ve been running for around 7 years, after joining the university running club during my undergraduate degree. I joined after I bounced up to my now-partner in a bar with the immortal line, “Aren’t you in the running club?”, having recognised his crazy hair from club photos. I was interested in running as well as the guy, honest.
What do you love about running?
Paradoxically I love both the runs where it’s easy and feels all floaty and disconnected and dreamlike, and also the runs where you dig in straight from the offset and it feels like death. I especially love running in the hills because you get aching, lung burning, right into the red effort death on the up journey, then weightless flying on the down journey, unable to feel your completely dead legs. The turn point at the top of the hill feels incredible, like going over a sharp bump in the car and feeling your belly rise.
What do you not love about running?
Sometimes running interacts really badly with my anxiety and perfectionism — I can experience sadness about not being any good at running and paralysis when I feel like I’m no good. This paralysis leads me to sit on my sofa at 6am, not running but wishing I could feel the same way as I describe above.
What is your goal?
My biggest goal at the moment is to get consistency back in my exercise schedule and as an extension to kind of re-find myself (I’m sorry that I’m sounding like a total tosser in this interview thus far). I don’t feel I have either at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, PhDs have their great moments. But completing it definitely also took a lot of energy out of me. I feel I need to get back to a good place before I strive for any races or times.
What is your biggest achievement?
My favourite race experience was probably either the Vertical Kilometre in Kinlochleven or the Liverpool Marathon. My biggest achievement was probably the PhD though. In all cases that thread of perfectionism I mentioned ruins them a bit — completing the VK took it in my head from ‘this is a mountain athlete’s race’ to ‘oh I guess anyone could do one’ when I had hoped it would take my head from ‘I suck’ to ‘ I guess I’m a mountain athlete!’. Exact same thing happened mentally for my PhD and despite passing with only minor corrections, I was pretty disappointed in how that went.
Any embarrassing stories?
Oh, I am the queen of falling over. So much so that a daft trip on a run in 2012 completely mashed open my knee. I get huge bruises and scrapes constantly. It’s a wonder that I’m allowed in mountains at all without mountain rescue being pre-alerted.
If you are currently injured or taking a break, could you tell me more about this?
I guess I took an unofficial, unplanned break post-PhD. I felt really overwhelmed and I still feel really tired a lot of the time. I feel like there is a vague flavour of post-traumatic stress to the whole thing. I know that sounds DRAMATIC. I’m just getting back out there now really and even then I’m not really into the consistency yet.
What other activities do you enjoy?
I love to boulder (non-roped climbing below 5m tall) — it’s much more strength based than running and the need to plan your routes makes it good for total mental immersion. I also enjoy Muay Thai (Thai boxing) with a friend, which is an extreme cardio workout. Both make me feel really badass. Both are also bad for covering me in bruises! I also like mountains, any mountains, so I’m happy to take them in at a slower hiking pace with family and friends. I have enjoyed paddleboarding and surfing too, and want to do more of those at the next possible opportunity.
Biggest tip for newbies?
Consistency trumps intensity at the start. There is an ‘ideal’ way to train for speed but I would a hundred per cent prioritise the runs you enjoy as really in future the love will keep you doing it. If you aren’t enjoying running after a good 6 months then I’d try another sport — people in general seem to feel running is the sport they ‘should’ do, when you ‘should’ do the sport you enjoy, because that is the sport you’ll KEEP doing.
Another runner/athlete/”influencer” you admire and why?
So many. Jo Cowper and Ryan Scott (who organise TrailFest social runs and the TrailFest events) for their enthusiasm about trails, distance, and hills, and also their kindness and warmth. Lucia Leonard, who is a complete ultrarunning badass (she ran across the Netherlands in her pants) and wicked charming to boot. Graham Kelly, who to me really embodies a mountain running ethos, who looks like a pirate, and who is the friendliest chap you’d meet on a trail. Then so many more that I don’t have space to mention.
What inspires/motivates you?
Views. Summits too I guess. And fun and camaraderie — group hill runs, messaging friends or Tweeting about running, talking about running. This is why I need active friends, else the non-active ones would be bored sick of me by now.
What do you do on rest days?
Netflix and chill. Literal Netflix and chill, not the way the kids are using that phrase these days.
You can follow Fiona on her blog: cadsandscallywags.blogspot.co.uk,