Transvulcania 2018

Andree Walkin – Transvulcania 2018 Half Marathon Race Report

I’m sure we all have a friend or friends who rope you into interesting things at particularly vulnerable moments in your life right? Well, I’m glad to say I’ve got a few of these types of friends.  On a car journey following an epic Art O’ Neill 2018 event my buddy and our go-tri adventure founder and guru Paul Tierney mentioned about a group travelling out to Transvulcania Ultra race in Spain in May.   

At that point in time, with my feet still feeling like blocks of ice I could think of nothing better than some sunshine on my bones and a run up a volcano!  So I thought, ‘yes why not? I’ll tag along, support you guys and maybe do the half distance while I’m out there.’

Definitely a little bit delirious from the long night in the hills I really couldn’t think of anything nicer than running up a volcano on a sunny day!  Hmmm note to self don’t agree to anything when you’ve been out running in hail, wind and sleet for the night.

The run-up to May involved a lot of broken training sessions. I did get some quality snow days in the hills with the other Go Tri Adventure loonies but not much consistency, however, I decided to head out, get a taste for the race, soak up the atmosphere and some sun and see what the legs could do on the day.

Four of us travelled in the end. Our travel agent Alan Webb managed to sort flights for the four of us in and out of Shannon which was just ideal.  So off we went early Thursday morning from Shannon. After a nice flight to Tenerife and then joining forces with some other Irish guys we hopped on another short flight to the beautiful little volcanic island of La Palma. I immediately liked the feel of the island. Very Spanish and not at all touristy. After a few detours and tight street car manoeuvres, excellently performed by Loren, we eventually found our way to our air bnb home for the weekend and then hit on to watch the first big event of the weekend – the vertical KM. This was a fun event to see but let’s just say we were happier to watch and cheer for this one – I’m not sure the plane legs would have tackled that climb!  


The lead up to race day was very relaxed. For our usual pre-race routine on Friday morning we went for a little trot to stretch and loosen the legs followed by a nice stretching/yoga session on the pier.   Our short run ended up being a little longer due to a slight Tierney exploration but it was so much fun and I got to see some of the gorge route which I wouldn’t get to run and wow it was pretty spectacular. I then took the lads through some improvised yoga moves overlooking the water which they were very open tnd I think I may have converted them:) 

A relaxing day was followed by an early night.

Race morning

At 3am I stuck my sleepy head out the door to wish the boys well and then back to snoozey land for another hour for this chica.  Then at 5am Loren my lovely chauffeur arrived to take me to the bus station. I felt pretty good considering the early hour and I even ended up snoozing again a little on the way to the start line (yes over the years I have learned to take every available opportunity to sleep and luckily I am particularly prone to sleeping on buses) So 50 mins or so later still in darkness we arrived at a very windy Faro de Fuencaliente.  A few moans and groans before the bus was vacated and we all made our way to the spectacular Fuencaliente lighthouse.  

I could feel the buzz of the Ultra which kicked off an hour prior still in the air.  The usual pre-race milling around took place but I managed to just enjoy the atmosphere and find a nice spot inside the lighthouse to stay warm and stay off my feet for an hour.  Then before I knew it was time to hit the start line. The feeling was simply electric there with music pumping and everyone dancing and jumping up and down most likely to keep warm as there was still a crisp chill in the air.  So exactly on time at 7.30am off the hooter went and we began the first climb up the volcanic sand of Malpais.  

After a good slog on volcanic sand the first aid station was 7k in and I think this was my most favourite experience of the . What seemed like the entire population of Fuencaliente had come out at this early hour of the morning and lined the streets to cheer on the runners up the hill to the aid stations.  I couldn’t help but think of the Tour de France as people were so close they almost were touching me. It was some feeling. I think the shouts of “Vamos” and “Go Chica” will stay with me forever.    It certainly carried me onwards – that and the friendly cola bottle guy I met at 15k☺  Before I knew it I was at the highest point Las Desedas and the views! Well I just had to stop for a pic or two.  Again the aid station was perfectly placed and manned and the marshals were so helpful. So onwards again to the final stage and the forest area which reminded me of my local run at Ballycuggaran, every twist and turn was manned with friendly marshals or first aid people and I have to say it was so nice to see their smiling faces.  Before I knew it I was descending (for once) into the finish straight and the area of El Pilar and that was it – my first half marathon-up-a-volcano done! I really can’t recommend this race highly enough.


Thanks to everyone for the support especially my travel companions, Ultra men and support crew Paul, Alan and Loren.  Now all I can say is roll on Transvulcania 2019, though maybe with a little extra training and added distance;) Oh and hopefully a few more brave Irish soles/souls☺ to join in the fun!

Course details:  24.28 km 2,097 meters of positive cumulative gain and 689 meters of negative cumulative gain

New State of Consciousness

Ellen Baggs: Facebook age 29. Real age 12…

(Please read the following bearing in mind I am not an emotional person.)

Recently I embarked on ‘a travel journey’ as a 45 year old backpacker! Did you know insurance companies only do backpacker insurance up to 35 years? (And yes there is my first mental stumbling block!)

A younger friend suggested backpacking. Okay; I thought about it for a whole minute.

‘I’ll go with you….’

So of we went to Brazil, via New York and Atlanta. #cheapflight


Rio is a massive city of 9 million people of which 1.9 million live in favelas (slums).  Huge expensive apartment blocks and hotels back on the favelas that cover most of Rio and other cities of Brazil.  The opposites of this place are extreme.  Did I really need to expose myself to all this?  I had forgotten how scared, how intimidated and overwhelmed I could be.


I just wasn’t prepared mentally for the culture shock!  We hit Copacabana beach, (cried) jewellery off, carrying hardly any monies (whatever happened to travellers cheques?) and old clothes on.

This put my ‘I only have one bar and 0.5 of a meg on my internet’ life into perspective. (By the way the internet connection was soooo much better all over Brazil, even in the remote areas, than where I live in Ireland.) #justsayin.

First two days in Brazil: non stop rain and fifteen degrees, just like the West coast of Ireland.  Boom!

img_0769I didn’t realise how big Brazil actually was. What looks like a thumb and a finger distance away on the map is actually a 24 hour bus journey in real hours.  Internal flights became a must-have luxury, to spontaneously see what we wanted.  Salvador, the slaves, (cried) the multi-culture society, again the vast favelas that stretch from the airport to where we were staying… four days in and still in shock.  We stayed in very cheap Airbnbs which was great, but because of the language barrier (we didn’t know Portuguese) we decided to stay in guest houses/hostels for the latter part of the trip, which proved to be much more sociable.


img_0252he rain started to follow us again so instead of going further north we went back to Rio and to the stunningly beautiful island of Ilha Grande. No transport, no bank machines and about four street lights.  It was perfect and amazingly super fast broadband.  The days that followed were made up of speed boat tours, snorkelling, trekking through jungle (with real life monkeys screeching from the tree tops, half wild dogs, and melodic crickets), and of course, idealistic beaches.  Lopes Mendes beach (cried), my died-and-gone-to-beach-heaven beach where the sand was as fine as dust and actually crunched like virgin snow when you walked on it.






Then on to Paraty; this national historic site has amazing colonial buildings, rich on history, the Slave trade (cried), with gigantic cobblestone streets set on the waters edge.  No vehicles were allowed into the town.  Met a couple of very nice French guys reassuring me that my social skills (even in French) were not completely dead.  Social skill point to myself!  Who as it happens were going to the same destination as ourselves, Iguacu Falls.  We also became locals in the local Samba Forro (type of dance) bar.  Boom number 2 social skill!


Drove back to Rio via Angra dos Reis, where an English tourist was shot the day before, the family had taken a wrong turn into the favelas whilst trying to look for a place to buy water.

img_0634Took a two hour plane journey to Iguacu Falls; one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.  An expansive (to say the least) waterfall stretching across two countries. We went to the dramatic Argentina side the first day and then what felt like the more subdued Brazilian side the following day, getting right up close and nearly into the Falls themselves. Then, flew back to Rio and spent the last part of the holiday in Ipanema which was totally different and more upmarket that Copacabana.




img_0818Rio: Went up in two James Bond cable cars (Dr No.) to Sugar Loaf mountain where we saw Christ the Redeemer (cried), Rio, the mountains, the bays and the favelas start to light up as we watched the sun set.

  • Saw amazing 4 meter surf on Ipanema beach.
  • Went to a Samba Forro class and then on to a club till 3am (5 hours past my bed time).
  • Went up Christ the Redeemer (cried) and saw him in all his majesty (with free wifi at the top)…
  • Went on a favela tour (cried), where the monies from the tour go to the peeps of the favelas. Words cannot describe how they live and we went to the middle part of the favelas where they live in open sewers..(I cried a bit more).
  • One of the absolute highlights for me being a 2 Fast 2 Furious fan (don’t dis the franchise) was seeing the actual favela where they filmed 2 Fast 2 Furious 5!!

The people of Brazil are so friendly, smiley, warm people it is hard not to fall in love with the place. I felt like they really opened me up and let me in.

Then, a two day journey back from Copacabana beach to Rio GIG airport, to Atlanta, to JFK to Shannon.






In summary; I don’t know quite where I am at. My brain and eyes are in Brazil/Atlanta/New York and my body is in Mountshannon.  I feel a sense of personal growth  – the realisation that I am not a complete fuck-up and I am able to actually get from A to B. I do have actual social skills despite living in a rural place and ‘staying in’.

I am able to emotional connect with my body and feelings #cry.

My brain is still not with my body,  but I think I am liking my new state ofconsciousness/unconsciousness.

P.S yoga classes start next week, let’s see where we all end up…




Bitchmittens Ellen



Notes from the Ed. 

Ellen’s Yoga classes recommence this week. If you’d like to check out her classes you can find her on




Five Awesome Sleep Hacks to Nail Early Starts

(From a Chronic Night Owl)

There are two kinds of people in this world. Night owls and early birds, or as I prefer to call them, bright-eyed morning bastards who should leave me the fuck alone for at least 5 more minutes. As a night owl, I am very good at late night activities. Box set watching, experimental cookery, cupboard cleaning, clothes alterations and of course, furniture rearranging. With almost four decades of sleep-onset insomnia under my belt, I have at the other end an equal amount of morning horror to draw upon.

Sleep-onset insomnia is also described as ‘delayed sleep-phase disorder’ – DSPD for short. This disruption in circadian rhythms simply means that my natural falling asleep and waking up patterns are out of whack. I have over the years used alcohol, medication, meditation, hypnosis, yoga nidra, more booze and of course, exercise to try and deal with falling asleep, but I’ll save those findings for another blog post. This one is about facing the morning after the never ending night before.

Basically, if I knew for sure there was a fire in the building, I probably wouldn’t get out of bed until the walls got hot. But three years ago, I began working in an office three hours from home, and so I had to drag my sorry ass out of bed even earlier than normal people.  My Monday mornings begin at 5am, a time at which I would much rather be going to bed.

For the first six months of the new job I would fall asleep at my usual 2am, wake up at 5am and stumble through the day like a member of the undead, pale of face and trembling from the sixth coffee. Eventually as the months passed, I figured out some tricks to make the morning eviction that little bit easier.


1: Step into the Light

Did you know sunlight triggers melatonin?



This one I learned the hard way when our firstborn kept waking up at 4.30am. Sunlight is a major influencer on our circadian rhythms and our melatonin levels. Sleeping with the curtains open in a room with lots of natural light will mean that (in summer time at least) it is slightly easier to wake up. You can buy lights that replicate sunlight for this exact reason. This tip is TOTALLY FECKING USELESS in the winter time.



2: Alarms 

Ease through three different settings.

So when you’re woken up before your time, it helps to set a series of alarms to bring you to full (or semi) consciousness. I’m going to go right ahead and assume you’ve got a decent phone with multiple alarm tones. Set the first one with a gentle tone. I like ‘Silk’ for iOS. You may sleep through it, or you may knock it off without even reaching consciousness. That’s OK.

Have another tone of more urgency set for about 5 minutes later. And then for five minutes after that, go in for the kill with the ‘Old Car Horn’ sound. This bad boy is horrendous, and will jack your anxiety up to 11, but it will probably get you moving.


3: The Holy Grail Tip

I swear to Jebus, this really fucking works. Because science!

Photo of freediver Hanli Prinsloo by Annelie Pompe.

I can’t begin to impress upon you how unbelievably powerful this next bit is. It’s all about the water. As soon as that car horn blows, get your tired, headachy, miserable, shaky self to the bathroom and get some water onto your face. Here’s the science bit:

In 1962, Per Scholander, a Swedish-born researcher began to uncover the powerful effect that water has on the human body. (he was studying divers) Basically, when we submerge our bodies the blood moves away from our limbs and to our vital organs. This is called “peripheral vasoconstriction” which has a profound affect on the body and brain. What’s interesting is that you need only put your face in water to trigger these “life-lengthening (and lifesaving) reflexes.” Swedish people, first naked saunas, now this. I love the Swedes. You should read the much longer, totally fascinating article here on TED.* Note this beautiful image is taken from that feature.

At a fundamental level, splashing water on your face makes you feel more human. It also seems to help if you’re in that place where you think you may not be able to stop crying until every drop of water has left your body. Splashy splashy, fixy fixy.

 *TED.Com [online] Extracted 03/08/15) (source:

4: Prep like a Pro

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Three down, two to go. This next tip is more practical but it involves going back in time to the night before. You know, when you were bouncing off the walls like a meth head on rollerblades. Now is the time to pick what you want to wear, pack your bag, make your breakfast, get your parking change ready.  Make all your planning decisions when your mind is operating at full tilt. Do everything you can to reduce decisions when you are in the zombie state. Put toothpaste on your brush. Leave your car keys in the door. This has the added benefit of making sure you have less to be anxious about when you’re staring at the ceiling later on.

Last tip. This works for me, but took me a decade to master. It may not be for everyone.

5: Nail the naps

Don’t give up, even a tiny bit of shut eye helps.

disco napI was never able for disco naps. DSPD means that it takes about 2 hours for to fall asleep and so napping was always an exercise in frustration. HOWEVER. I have learned to put my brain into a semi-sleep mode. I’m awake and I’ll answer you, but I’m getting some sort of brain rest. In truth, it’s only possible when I’m extremely tired, but there are a couple of ways to get into it that you might want to try.

  • If you’re travelling by train, plane or bus, take a seat on the inside, so you have something to lean against.
  • Always wear a huge hipster scarf that can double as a rug/pillow.
  • Bring socks. No-one can nap with cold feet.
  • Cover your eyes. Pulling a beanie down over your eyes will mean you look like a tool, but it helps to remove visual stimulation. Or cultivate a handy fringe, as I have demonstrated here.
  • Plug in your earphones and listen to something soothing. Please don’t judge me, but Coldplay seems to work a treat.

imageThere’s an amazing clinical hypnotherapist called Patrick Browning who has a bunch of apps in iTunes and his voice is probably one of the most relaxing I’ve ever heard. They are a couple of bucks each. The best three for napping are the ones on relaxation, coping with anxiety and the one specifically for falling asleep – though this may work too well, you might want to save that for night time. I actually use this on the kids, it is, quite simply, valium for the ears.

I hope some of these help other night owls face the day. If anyone has any more suggestions, I’d love to grow this list! Put them in the comments 🙂

Everest Base Camp


One girl’s trek to the foot of the World’s highest Mountain – Everest Base Camp.

So three weeks before the departure date, I get an opportunity to tag along on an expedition to Everest Base Camp.  Anyone who knows me knows I am not one to turn this type of thing down so before I know it I have landed in Kathmandu and am waiting for my spin to the hotel (I say spin because even though it’s close to midnight when I arrive, the ride from the airport certainly leaves me spinning!)

A & Sherpas

Meeting the Sherpa team


At the hotel I was reunited with the expedition guide aka my husband Mike (who was guiding this trip) I also get to meet the rest of my trekking group and my new best friends for the next few weeks. Kathmandu is as crazy as you can imagine, it is busy, smoggy, some might say dirty and every place you look there is something weird and wonderful going on. Buying, selling, wheeling, dealing, everything seems to happen right out in the open at street level.  The food hygiene authorities might be a bit uncomfortable as very often food is dissected and butchered in the open air.  At times my inner vegetarian wept!

Lukla Plane

World’s smallest plane?


There was some slight anticipation with regard to actually getting to the mountains. You can walk from Kathmandu in 3 or 4 days but as there are no roads as such, most trekkers save time and energy and brave a hair raising 30min flight, to start the trek from the small mountain town of Lukla.  Those with a fear of flying look away now…

Yak packing

Yak Pack!

The plane is small and so is the runway. In fact it is said to be amongst one of the most dangerous airports in the world. But saying that I also think these pilots are some of the most skilled in the world so it evens itself out☺  After a slight delay due to weather we eventually made it safely to Lukla and the gateway of the Himalaya. We were welcomed with blue skies and my first impression was how nice the clear mountain air was after the dusty city of Kathmandu.  Most hikers’ journey begin from Lukla, it usually starts with an introduction to your wonderful Sherpas, who are invaluable to this journey along with the powerful Yaks who are loaded up daily with expedition bags and gear.  The next important thing is your teahouse; these are dotted along the trail and provide your bed and board for the journey.  The first few days are truly mesmerising, the mountain air, the powerful rivers, the hanging rope bridges and all with a backdrop which can only be described as postcard like.  

Namche Bazzarr

Namche Bazzarr

After two days trekking the first significant stop is the village of Namche Bazaar at 3440m.  Like its name it is a bizarre place, it reminded me of a ski resort with lots of shops selling outdoor gear and some nice coffee shops, of course an Irish bar and a hairdresser! (which was very welcome on the way back down) The village has a nice buzz to it and most people take a rest day/acclimatisation day here which is what we did during which we took the time to visit the Sherpa museum and hike up to the renowned Everest View Hotel.  I also got the chance to test my running or jogging legs around here, which is not recommended by the way unless you are feeling pretty good with regard to the altitude. I’m lucky  – each time I’ve been to altitude I have had little or no ill effects. I was told I must have been a Sherpa in a previous life:)  I felt very much at home and at one with the mountains, the people and the pace of life there.  The simplicity was very therapeutic.  

Prayer Wheel

Temple visit prayer wheel


It’s a funny thing, Altitude; it definitely affects people in different ways.  Once we climbed on and especially after 4000m a lot of people began to suffer headaches and loss of breath, but I was OK.  We had a very specific acclimatisation plan in place and one day we hiked to 5100m and back down to 4400m to sleep. “Climb high sleep low mentality”. From Namche the hard work starts and the villages and tea houses get a little more remote and basic but every place along the way each brought something different to the trek.  We had a night in the village of Tengboche which is home to a Buddhist monastery which we were very honoured to be allowed visit.  Again there is so much to soak up; each place has an array of history, authenticity and its own story.  The days on the trail turn into a mesmerising rotation of eating, trekking, sleeping and between all of that you simply soak up the environment, the atmosphere and the people as best you can.


Base Camp

Our final walk into Base Camp was a beautiful one for us, we had blue skies and the trail wasn’t too busy other than the usual yak jam, it was just perfect. You can see Base Camp from a long way out and when I arrived I found it quieter and more serene than I imagined it.  It could have been the people I was with but there was definitely a sense of calm and a respect for this place.  Funnily there were no remains of tents or expedition life which I was surprised about. I felt I could have stayed there all day. Everyone in our wonderful group made it safely to Base Camp under the expert guidance of our Sherpas and my awesome husband and guide Mike and there was great sense of achievement and congratulations both with us westerners and our Sherpa team.    

Flying high at 5000m

Flying high at 5000m

The hike back to Lukla is challenging and not to be underestimated.  They say that most accidents happen on the way down.  Maybe it’s human nature for complacency to set in once the main event is done but there is still a long way to go to get back to where you start from.  I personally had mixed feelings on the walk back, of course the thoughts of a shower and running water and a glass of red were appealing, but it was really hard to say goodbye to the simplicity of life in the mountains and the people of Nepal.  

The trip had so many highlights and not just reaching Everest Base Camp. In fact, one of my favourite memories is simply watching the young Nepali kids playing with not a care in the world. The trip has  made me appreciate the simple things in life and the things we take for granted.                  

Stricking a mt Tree pose

Mountain Yoga 🙂

Personally I will most definitely return to beautiful Nepal hopefully to take on some of the lesser known peaks (no great interest in the big one my mother will be glad to hear)  For this trip I was happy to trek safely to Everest Base Camp and simply soak up Nepali Mountain life while trying to make as little impact or disruption to the locals and the landscape as possible.

As always when you get back from a trip like this people ask the question; would I be able to do it? The answer is yes, while it is a challenging expedition with the proper preparation, the right guide and support team, a good group and an open mind as the saying goes “the world is your oyster” and it is up to you to find your pearls;)


Bitchmittens Andrée


Andrée travelled with which is the company her husband and professional adventure guide Mike works for. It’s an ethical and socially responsible adventure tour company that’s based in Ireland.

The Running Tour

My new favourite tourist discovery…


On a recent work trip to Amsterdam, my friend Andy and I decided to go on a running tour. Concept? Simple. 7.5km running around Amsterdam in a small group, visiting the sites. No buses, no cars, and no trams – “we go where we want”.


We met our tour guide, Hans-Peter (HP), who came to meet us at our hotel. We were the only two booked on so we didn’t have to meet anyone else, and off we went.


HP set a nice steady pace, jogging up alongside the Amstel (not just a beer!) for about 700m until we stopped at our first point, a nice town house with signs on the sides. HP explained that this was to identify who lived in the house back when there were no street names. I’ve been to Amsterdam once before and had never noticed these. After the run, they were everywhere!! From boats, to quills and even a modern-looking sign that had a Euro on it! We went over bridges, HP explaining their history (Amsterdam has a lot of canals and therefore a lot of interesting bridges!). We ran through secret archways which led us through the university. We saw statues made by unknown artists. A favourite of mine, near the Leidseplein, was a bronze statue made in the 80s of a man sawing a tree branch. In the 30 years since, the tree has now grown around it and it looks amazing. As we were coming through the red light district we stopped at the Old Church and HP told us a lovely story. When Saskia van Uylenburgh, Rembrant’s wife, died he had her buried in this church and once a year the sun shines through the window onto her grave – How lovely is that???


I could go on for ever, but I don’t want to ruin it for if you ever go to Amsterdam (do it! it’s brilliant!).


The main points I want to mention is how truly amazing I found it. I’m not the world’s quickest runner but HP kept a good pace, slowed down when he saw I was suffering a bit after the previous night’s beers, and was really a fascinating guy. I saw things I would never have spotted, or thought to look for, like tiny little courtyards in the Jordaan, gorgeous bakeries that smelled phenomenal, statues of musicians that I’d never heard about but I will now look up.


I fell in love with the city of Amsterdam not as a tourist but as a local.


The freedom of being led through a beautiful city when most tourists are still asleep, by a local who clearly loves where he lives and loves running is something truly special. Hands down would do it again!


Bits of interest to note:

  • Stumbling upon the red light district comes as a bit of a shock, lots of naked ladies at 9:30 in the morning is not something you see every day!
  • No matter how unfit you think you are, it is totally worth trying this out. You stop quite often and you go at the pace of the slowest runner, it’s not about the running – it’s about visiting a new city.
  • Dam Square, at 9:45 is remarkably empty and looks very impressive
  • 5km can turn into 9km, but that’s ok! If you’re interested in something, in this case Andy wanted to find out more about breweries, your tour guide might make a slight detour. I don’t know if this is the norm as it was essentially a private tour, but it felt really special.
  • If all running was like this, I’d enjoy it a heck of a lot more
    • As an avid “I hate running but it’s good for me” person, this was fantastic. Sometimes stopping and appreciating where you are and where you’re going is what you need and I am going to use this for my training.


You don’t know what you miss, if you never look!

I can’t wait to go on holiday to a new city and do it all over again! (Got my eyes on Barcelona!)


( was the tour company we used. I wasn’t asked to write this by them, nor was I given any incentives to do so. My thoughts are my own. All that said, I highly recommend them if you’re ever in Amsterdam and fancy a run! )


BitchMittens Clo!

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