Belated new year wishes to you all. It’s been a bit of a damp squib thus far, but after the year that was 2020 I don’t think we could ask for much else! Here’s hoping that with vaccines on the horizon for our most vulnerable, we may be able to celebrate as the year goes on.
Reflections of 2020
I’m trying to start the year with a renewed focus. It was tricky to stay motivated last year with all the planned races disappearing off the calendar one by one. On the upside, we did manage to fit in a couple of great holidays and Bruce compleated the munros.
The virtual London Marathon, sandwiched between, was a relatively impromptu affair but I’m very glad I did it. Having a goal definitely renewed my focus and energy.
Focus on 2021
Looking ahead, it’s unclear at present what the racing year holds. My current ‘big’ goal is the October London Marathon. Whether or not we’ll be in a position to have mass events by then remains to be seen, but training will be done regardless.
Short Term Goals
My short term goal is to develop consistency in training. I have a tendency to go through phases of being very focused versus taking my foot off the gas and coasting. I know that consistency is probably the biggest gain available right now so that’s the priority. Sadly the gyms are closed, the treadmill (which I generally dislike) not an option, so I’m getting runs in where and when I can.
Today saw me complete a very enjoyable 8 miles on Aberdeen beach, as pavements around town were a little icy for my liking. I have in the past shied away from the sand as I don’t like the wet feet associated with the water jumps, but today it felt perfect. Just what was needed!
Let’s see what the year brings! Surely it can only get better. If nothing else, Spring isn’t too far off the horizon now. Stay strong!
I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas, however you chose to spend it. Due to restrictions around social gatherings and travel, we had a Merry Christmas for two. Not quite the same, but we made the most of it, cooking turkey and all the trimmings. I made my special tiramisu trifle (for me as Bruce isn’t a fan of Amaretto) and we enjoyed some smoked salmon, this year in the form of brunch with scrambled eggs after a chilly morning walk.
I think my parents made more of a Christmas effort than we did! Well done Mum and Dad; I wonder if that was due to the novelty of cooking their own Christmas dinner for the first time in many years?
Christmas dinner (Round 2) was delivered to the in-laws – meals on wheels style – then home to relax for the evening.
Today saw a thaw in the icy conditions from yesterday, much to our delight. This permitted summer greens on the golf course (for him) and a good day on the trails for me. Only a few short icy sections, easily avoided, I was very happy to get outside. So happy that I even ran Kingshill, first time in a while.
Cobwebs blown away, Boxing Day dinner beckons. The Prosecco is open – just for me. Merry Christmas one and all!
Yesterday I felt really down! I’d been looking forward to the Christmas break after a long term. Although we’ve been well supported locally, it’s felt harder than normal and certainly more tiring. Doing everything online and not having the same social contact takes it’s toll.
Today, however, was the last day of term and it was a good feeling heading for work, secure in the knowledge that there are now two weeks of rest and recuperation, putting aside the frustration around being back in Tier 3 and thus restricted on many fronts.
Leaving work tonight I went running. I swithered about a headtorch run in the woods but opted to head out the old road towards Kingswells. Just entering the village, I met a lady taking her bin in. She stopped me and said, ‘I know you’re running, but I’d like to gift you this.’
What a lovely gesture of Christmas kindness! Our very own Covid angel who is now home and decorating the Christmas tree. Thank you! Merry Christmas to you all. Celebrate it in whichever way you can.
In awe of his achievement (I just go along for the walk and fresh air occasionally), I formulated a list of questions for Bruce and last night got him to humour me and share his journey.
When and how did your Munro journey begin?
August 2009. Clare and I used to do a lot of mountain biking and regularly went to Fort William. On hearing we were going to Fort William on holiday, we were often asked if we were going up Ben Nevis, so on one trip we decided to. We got views, didn’t injure ourselves falling off anything, unlike on the bikes, and enjoyed the experience. (Clare: although not so much the following day when we couldn’t get down the stairs without walking backwards)
Although it took a further 3 years to do the second munro, we decided that climbing munros would be a very good way for us to see Scotland.
What have been the highlights over the years?
There are too many to mention, but becoming an awful lot more knowledgeable of my home country and making a lot of new friends along the way.
Do you have a favourite Munro?
No, I think the munros very much depend on the conditions that you climb them. Some days are better than others and your favourites tend to be on the days with the best conditions.
However, doing the Aonach Eagach Ridge (this is the U.K. mainland’s narrowest ridge, linking the munros of Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh) was one of my favourite days and a turning point as I realised rather than being scared of scrambling and exposure I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. (Clare: There’s no way you’d get me near the Aonach Eagach; I feel sick looking at these pictures!)
This was to prove invaluable experience when tackling the Black Cuillin on Skye.
Are there any other highlights?
Bidean nam Bian in Glencoe on a beautiful May Day holiday when you could see for miles:
Slioch beside Kinlochewe after a night of heavy snow:
Lochnagar on New Year’s Day with the supermoon rising as we walked back along the edge of Loch Muick meaning we didn’t need to use the head torches:
Ben More on Mull where we climbed through the cloud and got a 360 degree cloud inversion:
Geal Charn, beside Loch Laggan, when the American Thunderbirds (US red arrows) flew right over our heads:
Beinn Alligin, my first trip to Torridon, such a spectacular area:
I’ve been really lucky to have so many highlights.
Have there been any low points?
Thankfully not many. There have been a few days where the weather started badly and got worse, with days turning into a wet boggy trudge, but we generally used these days with poor visibility as a test of navigation.
Probably the low point was when I witnessed a companion slipping and falling around 60 feet down cliffs on the Black Cuillin on Skye. I had no idea of the extent of his injuries and spent a highly emotional few hours walking back to my car as our guide waited with him for Mountain Rescue to make a helicopter recovery. Thankfully I discovered later that evening that his injuries, albeit serious, were not life-threatening and he’s since made a full recovery.
What was your longest day in the hills?
Fourteen hours, when I did the Fisherfield round covering 5 munros in one day. We walked out, wild camped, then climbed the 5 munros before having to make 2 river crossings, the first of which I fell into, to make the return to our camp. We waded across the second in the dark, so I was rather wet by the time I got back to my tent.
There have also been two 12 hour days – one covering the Ben Alder 6 with a cycle out and back in high summer (Clare: When it was first suggested that we might consider the 6 munros rather than the planned 4 there were various thoughts in my head, none of them polite! However, it turned into one of the best hill days I’ve experienced):
Another was when I did all 9 of the Fannichs in a day, the most munros I’ve covered in one go. It poured all day and we got no views at all! That day certainly tested map and compass skills.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in taking up hill walking?
Learn the basics – how to use a map and compass.
Spend the most money you can on boots as you could be wearing them for a long day.
Never be afraid to turn back. The hills will always be there another day.
On that note, have you ever had to turn back on a day out?
Thankfully not too many times but I turned back on Beinn Bhuide during a complete white-out, despite the fact that it was a very long walk in before we even started ascending. We turned back at just over 700 metres, probably less than an hour from the top. I went back a few weeks later and had one of the best winter walks I’ve ever had with blue skies and great visibility which I’d have missed out on had we continued that first day.
What’s been your best purchase – clothing and kit?
On clothing, possibly my Berghaus Light Hike waterproof trousers. They pack down really small and are so light you hardly notice you’re wearing them. They’re a perfect fit for me and despite several holes and a repaired 6 inch split after an ice axe arrest practise went wrong (Clare: duct tape is your friend!), they’re still totally waterproof and going strong. They don’t make them anymore, so when I saw a company on Amazon selling them off last year I had to buy another pair for when my current ones finally get binned.
On the equipment side, I bought a basic Garmin GPS (eTrex 10) many years ago as a back-up to using a map and compass. It’s clarified positions and routes we want to travel many times and is worth it’s weight in gold.
What’s in your rucksack that you wouldn’t be without?
Everything! I regularly go through my rucksack to make sure everything is being used. Other than First Aid stuff, if there’s anything I’ve not used in the last 2 or 3 walks it gets taken out.
SAIS (Scottish Avalanche Information Service) is an essential site to check before going into the hills in winter: https://www.sais.gov.uk
Hill Lists is a fantastic App for tracking which hills you’ve climbed.
I’m sure there are others, but they’re my go-tos.
What’s next on the agenda?
Next on the agenda is to re-climb some of the munros that I didn’t get any views from, along with revisiting some of my favourites. A few non hill walking friends have expressed a desire to climb a munro so I’ll be making a point of joining them on some of their initial ventures out into the hills.
For anyone reading this who’s inspired to try a munro, what’s a good hill to start with or what should they avoid?
Know your limits. Consider your experience and fitness levels. Initially go out with someone with experience. Start with something small and easy and work up from there. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a munro as a lot of these are long days. Make sure you enjoy it before committing to a long and strenuous day.
Finally, which munro are you most looking forward to climbing again?
Yet another early start saw us on the 8 am boat from Knoydart back to Mallaig. Meall nan Tarmachan was our target for the day. This munro had been on the back burner this week and was weather dependent. The forecast looking okayish, we opted for a detour on route home. Exciting times lay ahead as this would see Bruce compleat his munro round – all 282!
A Long Journey
Arriving in Mallaig we made the decision to stop in Fort William for a second breakfast. McDonald’s won!
Revived by coffee we continued down the road. This was a bit of a road of reminiscence for Bruce as we passed through Glencoe and he recalled the hills he’d summited throughout his journey.
The weather changed as we drove. At times the skies looked ominous, dark and brooding, at other times there were glints of sunlight and the promise of blue skies. By now we’d committed and pretty much decided that today was the day!
Meall nan Tarmachan
There’s not a lot to this munro, an easy up and down from the car park (which is around halfway up the hill) and this is one of the reasons why Bruce saved it for last. That and the fact that a day trip from home is do-able. Had various things not conspired to folly his efforts this year it may have been a different day, but he wanted to get it done and felt it right to go as a two as I’ve been his companion on many occasions over the years.
Reflecting on our journey on return, the reality is still setting in for him that his goal has been achieved, while I felt quite emotional on his behalf as we started out on our walk today.
There’s a path leading all the way from the car park to the summit so no navigational skill was required. The biggest challenge was the steps, again still wet from recent rains with mud on the paths too. The danger of a path like this is that people veer off it to avoid the mud and there were small sections of erosion and widening of the path, although not to the extent of the Ben Lomond motorway, thankfully!
Reaching a high point of just over 900 metres, we had a very short descent before heading around and up onto the summit. Bruce had been clear – no banging of sticks, no great fanfare. I did however tell the other chap at the summit cairn that Bruce was compleating though and he offered congratulations, raising his beer in a toast as we had a celebratory nip.
Summit shots taken, quiet celebrations over, we descended back the way we’d come. The Tarmachan Ridge is supposedly well worth doing, but it’s been left for another day. It was a little windy and I think Bruce was probably being kind to me also.
It transpired that the weather Gods were looking down on us as we had literally returned to the car and taken off our boots when the heavens opened for a heavy downpour. We were then blessed with a beautifully bright and full rainbow as we left.
I’m super proud of Bruce for compleating the munros. It’s taken a lot of planning, time and effort over a few years and I’ve enjoyed sharing in some of his journey. He’s agreed to humour me by doing an ‘interview’ to reflect on the achievement, so watch this space – blog to follow.
Having left Mull on the first ferry on Monday morning, we later caught a boat from Mallaig to Inverie. As forecast, the rain was tipping down from the moment we awoke and I had a sense of deja vu. On this occasion it was Bruce’s goal at stake – his quest to complete the remaining few munros, three of which are in Knoydart – where previously it had been my trip to Aviemore for the virtual marathon.
The rain didn’t let up at all and we were somewhat dismayed to find that there was no need to ‘check in’ for the boat as we’d been advised, instead having to find a doorway in which to shelter before departure. Setting sail, we were on a smaller boat (Larven) rather than the scheduled Western Isles ferry; for reasons that escape me not many people were travelling!
Having settled into our accommodation, we found ourselves with an evening with little to do. No WiFi, no working television, an evening with some chat and a good book was enjoyed before an early night. Just what was needed after a 5:30 am start.
Waking a couple of times during the night the rain continued plopping against the Velux windows. In one sense that was good – it confirmed the forecast was right; in another sense it was bad – it confirmed the forecast was right. Glass half full or half empty?
Meall Bhuide and Luinne Bheinn
It was with a sense of foreboding that we got up and organised following the 6:00 am alarm clock. While we felt we should go, both of us were feeling a little trepidation at what lay ahead: potentially an 11 hour day, the possibility of rain until lunchtime (or worse) and the prospect of very water-logged ground following the substantial rainfall. However, we got ourselves in gear (finally) and headed out into the rain at first light, head torches stashed for the way home in anticipation of running out of daylight.
One positive was starting the day from the front door. A long walk in gave the opportunity to get the legs warmed up before beginning the ascent and although it was raining it really wasn’t that heavy. It appears that glass was half full after all.
The initial walk took us along a good track with a couple of gentle undulations. We passed some highland cows, very interested in what we were doing but happy to give way and move off the track to ‘protect’ their calf. Past the memorial, we turned and crossed the river via a good bridge. The route guide suggested that most streams had bridges and seeing this river in spate we sincerely hoped that was the case. The thought of getting stuck on the way home and having to retrace our steps did not appeal!
The rain, that had been light on starting out, petered out and although it was still cloudy the sun looked like it was trying to break through at times, the cloud was high on surrounding peaks.
It was a fair bit in before we reached the initial dreaded ascent. The plan was to cut up onto the ridge after passing the crags of Druim Righeanaich. This is reportedly a real challenge in summer due to the bracken that hides any semblance of path. We were in luck today. Autumn had killed the bracken off substantially, withered and brown, and this made the going far easier. The rain being off by this point, we were much relieved. There was even a faint path to follow which definitely made for easier walking. The pull up was tough all the same and height gained was not quite as much as I’d hoped when Bruce gave the Garmin reading.
However, it wasn’t too challenging once the initial pull of the day had been completed and we easily found our way onto the first summit, Meall Buidhe. This made me happy, but I was also a little concerned about what lay ahead.
The descent from Meall Buidhe was very steep but there was a clear path that led us between the crags; one of those descents where you look back and think, ‘Wow, did I just come down there?’
That sealed it. No going back! The ridge was wide and grassy with rocky outcrops. The only concern was wet stone, so careful foot placement was require. My seasoned hill walking companion (Bruce) advised me to use my heel to anchor myself on descent, providing additional security.
We wound our way round to Bealach Ile Coire, stopping for some lunch in a sheltered area, admiring the intermittent views. The cloud was blowing finely, coming and going, giving tantalising glimpses of the lochs below and neighbouring hills. More ground was covered, up and down, round rocky areas, through slightly boggy parts, before skirting around Druim Leac a’Shith. By this time Luinne Bheinn was very much looming large and I wondered how on earth we were getting up and where the dreaded scramble would be!
The path continued, leading us round towards an easier slope approaching the eastern top of Luinne Bheinn. A little further up we encountered the scramble. The route guide described it as simple and it was – about the right level for me! Nothing too exposed, a wee bit of a challenge (for me) but again my guide came up trumps, coaching me up and giving tips on hand holds, maintaining points of contact etc. Dare I say it, I think I maybe enjoyed it.
On the first summit, the clouds drifted in and out offering great views including Beinn Sgritheall, one of Bruce’s more recent munros. I was happy to see that the west summit was in easy reach and there was nothing challenging between the two. Again, we paused to appreciate the beautiful views.
Leaving the tops behind, we had another steep descent, assisted by a path zig-zagging downwards. Again, care was needed to avoid slippery stones, but there was nothing too challenging to contend with. The ultimate aim was to reach the Mam Barrisdale pass and with the descent path becoming increasingly boggy we were very happy indeed to finally get there. We did conclude that in light o the recent rainfall we were getting off lightly as far as boggy paths go.
The pass was monotonous as we were beginning to tire and really just wanted to be back on a flat track. On the upside, the streams coming down were crossed by bridges and there was nothing tricky, only the weary knees complaining a little.
Reaching the Loch an Dubh-Lochain was a relief as the path then improved quite a bit. What was a greater relief was seeing the monument again and knowing from here we only had about 40 minutes of walking left. Even better still was reaching the road towards Inverie. By this point the rain was back on but we were beyond caring; the hard work was done.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable day out in the end; we were both so glad we dragged ourselves out in the rain first thing. Finished up just shy of 18 miles with 10 hrs 15 mins including breaks. Not too shoddy!
A Day of Rest
After a long day with a dodgy forecast, we opted for a day of rest. There’s not a lot to do in Inverie on a rainy day, so we had a walk down to the pier in the hope that we’d find someone to quiz about options for eating as the shop was closed and the pizza we’d hoped to partake of suggested pre-order, a bit of a challenge with no mobile reception or internet access.
As luck would have it, we met a lovely Swiss chap, the owner of a B & B along the road, and he gave us lots of useful information. Having recced the initial route for Ladhar Bheinn, we headed back to the village and as luck would have it, bumped into Kira, the lady that runs the Knoydart pizza oven, currently only operational on Wednesday evening. Pizza ordered for evening – result!
Our wanders took us up to The Lookout (at The Gathering) where we were warmly welcomed for lunch despite them being officially closed for the day. Options were limited as a result, but we had delicious toasties, homemade millionaires shortbread and coffee. Oh, I’ve missed my coffee!
The rest of the afternoon was spent reading, such a simple pleasure. It really has been good to disconnect from the world this week.
Evening took us down to collect our pizzas – such a tasty treat! Just a shame the shop was closed – no beer on offer.
Hoping for a dry day, we set out with the jackets safely stowed in our packs. Boggy path ahead, the waterproof trousers were on. With temperatures mild, it wasn’t long before that delightful ‘boil in the bag’ feeling engulfed us.
That aside, the going was good with a very clear track to follow. This took us out for the first few miles of our journey, opting for an out and back from Inverie rather than the traditional loop. All the way out to a bridge crossing, the track was well-made and presented no challenge other than the odd big puddle.
To this point, we’d gained very little height, staying around the 100 metre contour. Thereafter, we began to ascend up some very boggy ground. There was a path, but this was water logged. It was a real plowter and we took care of our footing to avoid slipping on the larger stones, greasy with the recent rainfall. As we progressed up Coire Garbh, the path became steeper and it was tough going, not particularly enjoyable. I battled with myself, part tempted just to head back, especially as the cloud lowered requiring us to stop and put jackets on as the mist engulfed us in a fine drizzle. Slow and steady, we plodded on. One thing I like about going second – I don’t like leading even though I’m slower – is that I can focus on Bruce’s heels in front of me, not requiring to look up too much; occasionally this brings a pleasant surprise on realising how far I’ve actually gone. Today though, there was the dread that the hardest part was yet to come!
As we reached the bealach the going eased and for a short time it was pleasant, flat walking, a welcome relief for the legs. I commented that my legs were feeling good in comparison with Sunday following Ben More when my quads were tight and sore; since then they’ve been brand new.
We expected the next section, the ridge leading up to Ladhar Bheinn, to be tough, but were pleasantly surprised! Rather than the rough path we’d experienced it was a grassy slope, the gradient feeling far easier than the lower slope. The only thing left to be wary of was the steep slope dropping off into the mist. We’d lost the path further down so I made sure to stay well away from the steep stuff at the edge.
In what felt like no time at all we could see the first summit. Marked with a broken trig point, this is not the true summit.
I found this rather disappointing as there was an obvious ridge leading along (with a steep drop on one side in particular; if you’ve read previous blogs you’ll know how much I ‘love’ exposure). However, Bruce coached me through a minor wobble where I suggested I might just not bother adding it to my list of summits. I was glad I made the effort as there really wasn’t anything tricky about it and the path remained good.
The second summit was marked by a cairn and having read the route guide, we felt pretty sure this was the true top. Bruce being on his penultimate munro wanted to be super safe so we continued along to the third top, and much to my delight I got to stop at various points along the ridge to take his photograph.
Retracing our steps, we were both in agreement that we should get out of the wet stuff (drizzle from the cloud, rather than rain) and down to a warmer level before eating. Bruce wanted to get dry and warmed up while my primary concern was getting back to the sanctuary of the first summit and off any semblance of ridge.
We found the path easily – no idea how we lost it on route up – and this led us back to the bealach. By this point it was apparent that the cloud had dropped significantly from our ascent as any limited views we’d had were gone. Descending back down the boggy path, it was some time before my eyes finally recognised the dark patch ahead as being the forestry plantation near the bridge. Happy days!
Once back over the bridge going was great and we hot footed it back to Inverie. The rain came on properly just as we were starting to dry out. Thankfully it remained fairly light, and it was literally as we took or boots off on the doorstep that it started dinging down! Result!
A shorter day in the grand scheme of things – only 7 hours and just over 13 miles. Ready for another early night as more adventure beckons.
Initially planned for April, our trip to Mull was postponed due to lockdown. Having lead relatively quiet, sheltered lives over the last few months, it was a bit of a shock to bear witness to the bustle of Oban. It was thankfully short-lived as we were merely passing through on route to Mull, courtesy of the Calmac ferry to Craignure.
Arriving at the ferry port early we were offered the option of an imminent sailing but declined as current restrictions on the smaller boat meant staying in the car for the duration of the journey – not something that held great appeal. We opted instead to have a coffee and wait for the big ferry.
The journey to Mull was great with very smooth sailing conditions. Good weather allowed us to stay outside for much of the journey, enjoying the views as we progressed.
Arriving in Craignure it’s a relatively short drive to reach Tobermory, the colourful wee town of Balamory fame. Staying at the end of the village we’ve yet to see Josie Jump or Miss Hoolie. I’m pretty certain, however, that it was PC Plum we saw as we returned from our walk today. He really needs to have a word with some of the drivers – I’m assuming they’re locals given the speed they hare along the single-track roads! Quite alarming when meeting them head on at a bend!
Up bright and early(ish), we drove along to Ben More. The map and route guide suggested a large parking area just past a bridge. There were several bridges in the vicinity and a large track heading upwards from the roadside with a couple of vehicles already parked, without neighbouring tents, heralded our arrival at the starting point. Boots and rucksacks on, we set off on our merry way.
The downside of this island munro is that although small in stature, 966 metres, pretty much all of these are gained from sea level. A good path all the way up eases the pain and it’s a short out and back route coming in at around 6 miles in total.
Initially we followed the track towards a house. On reaching (and passing through) a gate we followed a stream (Abhainn Dhiseig) for a short distance. Ahead, the path splits – the route guide suggests taking either branch as both converge further up. For reasons unknown, we opted for the one suggested as being more boggy – it didn’t seem too bad overall, although there was the odd dubby section to circumnavigate.
Gaining height steadily, Bruce commented that we were moving at a fine, slow pace. Easy to see who’s spent the last month or so playing catch up, away most weekends, as this was my happy pace; not too fast and not too slow, just trundling along.
As height was gained, the cloud shrouded the summit of Ben More and it could only just be seen in the shadows. This caused some excitement; the thick cloud, then the full sun melting through as we headed up the zig-zagging path. We realised we may be in for an inversion; Bruce suggested that the right conditions could also give us a Brocken Spectre, something I had a vague notion of but further explanation was required: BBC Brocken Spectre
As if by magic a circular rainbow then appeared! It was amazing! My delight was childlike, total glee at seeing these amazing colours! The photos don’t do it justice at all, colours becoming more vivid and fading in and out in the sunlight.
This may be why the final pull up to the summit seemed effortless. The slope steepened, the zigzagging path continued meandering up and before we knew it we’d reached the second last cairn – there were many on route – the summit cairn visible across an almost flat plateau. We were now high above the cloud. Through the inversion we could see some of the higher peaks peeping through – Ben Nevis and Ben Cruachan particularly standing out. This also gave great joy and made up for the lack of other views.
Reaching the summit we stopped for some time to drink in the surroundings and enjoy the sunshine. We chatted to a few other walkers, waiting to see if the cloud would clear further.
As we descended, the cloud did indeed start to break. Heading off the summit, I was surprised by the incline of the initial descent, not having noticed it being particularly steep on route up. Slowly and steadily we made our way off this slope and onto the easier paths below.
There were other walkers on route up and we stopped to chat to them (from a distance), hearing their stories and exchanging information on hills and routes. One individual was compleating and while he was on his last munro, others in the group were doing their first.
The clearing cloud gave great views of the small islands nearby.
Further down, we took the path to the left (closest to the stream); this was definitely better than that we’d followed up, drier underfoot with less bog to negotiate. Despite this, I still managed to get both feet covered in mud at different points and subsequently used the stream (twice) to clean my feet.
Finally reaching the car, we met the parents of today’s compleatist, eagerly awaiting the return of the masses. Having blethered to them for a bit, we were back on the road in plenty of time to catch a coffee and a pint before the evening chill set in completely. Another successful day out!
When I signed up to run the London Marathon virtually I decided against running at ‘home’. The thought of pounding the streets did not appeal, while running my local trails would require multiple loops of the dreaded Kingshill in order to make the distance. I’ve love Aviemore so decided to go there!
Throughout the lead up to race day, the forecast looked bleak. I swithered as to whether I should cancel and run locally, but having frequently biked the trails in Aviemore in years gone by I’m aware of they drain well and made the decision just to go.
Heading to Aviemore was not the most pleasant journey. Driving over the Lecht, there was a significant amount of surface water lying as the rain fell throughout the day; it was a relief to reach our destination.
Aviemore usually has a great buzz about it and it was a sad reflection of current times on Saturday night, the two household rule alongside restricted numbers sucking the life out of the evening, the usual buzz of the Cairngorm Hotel sadly lacking. That said, we were well fed and able to enjoy a nightcap before an early night.
Waking up during the night, I checked my phone a couple of times. Sadly it appeared that conditions were deteriorating rather than improving. Meanwhile Aberdeen looked to be getting better (or at least dryer). Happy for those that were running at home, I began to wish I’d stayed there!
I’d planned to set off around 9 am, so rose at 7 am for breakfast of a bun with banana and nut butter, and a couple of mugs of peppermint tea. Showered and dressed, I laid out another set of running kit in case I chose to stop off for a mid-marathon change, figuring this might be welcome if completely drookit!
Setting off as planned, it was drizzly but not dinging down as forecast. Cloud was hanging very low over the hills. I debated before leaving – jacket, no jacket. Feeling the relative warmth, I concluded it should be left. I knew I’d warm up quickly enough; even a decent jacket leaves you feeling like you’re being boiled in the bag!
If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll be aware that when we go walking it’s not me that does the planning. In the same way, I had a vague notion of where I might run for my marathon but no definite plan and no real research done. I wouldn’t say this was a regret, but I did get some surprises later.
The Old Logging Way
Starting out, I headed towards the ski road and followed the Old Logging Way, my reasoning being that it would give a little shelter from the drizzle that was later to turn to rain. Along with not planning the route, I’d not planned a pace, deciding I’d just run by feel. I did however have 3 goals in mind:
A) Sub 4 hour marathon
B) Run all the way
C) Finish with something other than a personal worst!
I’ll let you into a secret – I achieved two of the three!
The Old Logging Way passes by Rothiemurchus and then gently meanders up towards Glenmore. The path was mainly dry with the odd puddle, one or two of which slowed me right down as I tried to step through on my heels rather than stomping through and getting wet feet. In my experience wet feet = blisters. Reaching a high point after about 3.5 miles, I decided to about turn rather than going downhill only to have to come back up.
This was so much easier! I hadn’t appreciated the incline until turning back.
Continuing through Aviemore, I headed all the way along the main street until the end of the village, taking up the trail of the Speyside Way. Initially, this was on a single track path, but quickly opened up onto a wide, hard packed track. I’d envisaged this being flat; in effect it was gently undulating and I did groan inwardly (maybe even outwardly) on a couple of occasions as I had to go up yet again.
The plan had been to continue along to Boat of Garten. I’m not sure if I lost the Way, but found myself further on the Red Squirrel Trail after a few miles. This, I believe, did continue to the Boat; however, a couple of huge puddles taking up the width of the fire track presented a challenge, and having tramped over the heather to avoid them I came upon a wee burn that was too big to jump across. The path was covered in water with lots of grass growing under it making it challenging to identify solid ground from grass under water, so at this point I bailed and about turned. I tried heading up the Roe Deer Trail but only made it about 50 metres before meeting yet more muddy puddles. Back to Aviemore it was.
Reaching the village, my Garmin showed I’d covered around 17 miles. In a way this delighted me; however, by this point I was aware of the discrepancy between the London Marathon app and my Garmin, the former being 0.6 miles shy. There was also the thought that nearly 10 miles is still a mighty long way! However, pace was still okay and I continued running by feel.
The Logging Way Revisited
I decided to head out the opposite end of the Speyside Way towards Kincraig. I very quickly realised that this was downhill, at least leaving Aviemore initially – I couldn’t see very far ahead – meaning an uphill finish, so a snap decision was made to stick with what I know and head back onto the Logging Way. This was hard going! Beyond 18 miles, my calves were beginning to tighten and emotions were running high. I did shed a few tears as I ran past the Fish Farm, quickly getting my focus back on the task in hand.
I slogged my way back up the track, slowing to a walk for a few steps on one ascent. Again, further up I walked 40 steps on the return leg before picking up the pace again. I knew I’d meet the 4 hour goal if I could just keep running!
Heading back alongside the road I received a friendly toot as Bruce drove past and this perked me up. The final challenge was having to run past the hotel after the Garmin said I’d finished, to make up the distance for the app to record an official time. While irritated by this, my rational brain countered that a race distance is never quite bang on with the GPS, nor would I have followed the blue line in London, so this extra distance was quite apt.
Finishing was pretty cool! I immediately received a ‘Congratulations’ text from London Marathon and the app registered my official time. That was welcome as there was absolutely no other fanfare.
Thanks to all the lovely people who commented on my run or wished me luck along the way. The kindness of strangers was appreciated. Toots from cars, thumbs up from behind the windows at junctions, all these things encouraged me along the way.
While it was a good experience, I don’t think I’d ever choose to run a solo marathon. It was hard work covering the distance alone with only my own thoughts for company.
I think this is partly what made it such an emotional experience; my thoughts often turned to someone that also loved the trails but sadly is no longer here to run them. I believe this helped me find the strength to go on as it made me realise how fortunate I am.
Today was the last 16 mile run of the plan. This sounds okay, particularly if you’re a Hanson devotee. However, theit’s the second of only two 16 mile runs. I’ve squeezed in a 15 and a 14, but the reality is that the training is not what is should have been. This is the problem with spur of the moment decisions. I’m sure at some point during the virtual race I’ll find myself wishing I’d stuck to my guns regarding deferral!
Reflections on Training
Last marathon block (London 2019), I seriously committed to training, running 750 miles in the build up to the race, and this fared me well. For the virtual attempt this year, my annual mileage has just nudged past this (we’re in September, London 2019 was in April!) with a measly 420 miles in training over the last 14 weeks. Weekly mileage has topped out at 45 mpw with only 5 runs, as opposed to 55 mpw with 6 runs per week. On the upside, I’ve incorporated strength training this cycle and physically feel I’ve benefited from this.
Bottom line, I knew what I was getting into and need to be realistic about what I can achieve.
Fuelling the Long Run
I decided today to run a flatter route for a change, my longer runs usually on the forest trails. I’ve been experimenting with new gels – Huma – having pretty much tried everything else on the market over the years, and figured it might be an idea to stay closer to civilisation in case they didn’t agree with me. As it transpired they did the business with no ill effects. Having taken one before leaving the house, and two more at 30 minutes and an hour respectively, I felt secure enough to leave Duthie Park, where I’d been running laps and suffering the consequences of boredom, to head out the Deeside Line. A fourth gel further out the line saw me consume what should hopefully be enough to get me through the distance in a couple of weeks time.
No sooner had I started out the line than I bumped into the Mackies. The line was busy, lots of walkers and cyclists along the route, quietening down as I moved further out from the park.
Having gone right out to the AWPR, I bumped into another familiar face, enjoying the sunshine and views over the countryside. Having stopped for a blether, I made a mental note that standing still for 5 minutes mid-run does nothing for my legs. It was a real struggle to persuade them to go again!
While beautiful to see some of the trees beginning to change, some autumnal colours in the leaves, I found it a little sad. This year, I’m sure many will agree, feels to quite some extent like it’s been stolen. There have been so many occasions missed and little social contact with family and friends. To realise that, despite the glorious September sunshine, the days will soon draw in as winter approaches is not a positive thought.
However, before any of that, I have a couple of weeks of rest and recuperation to look forward to, with a long weekend thrown in for good measure. Never looking more than a week ahead having chosen my plan, it fills me with joy to realise that the runs this week are predominantly easy miles, even if I do feel like I’m ‘cheating’ by tapering after such a short plan. No amount of hard work now will make the ‘race’ any better; all I can do is trust in the training and hope my body remembers what it needs to do.
So, easy miles, rest, sleep and recovery. Two weeks to go until the virtual marathon. I may even be a tad excited.
The abbreviated training plan is going well thus far – I’ve completed 2 weeks of it – and I have to say that I’m enjoying my renewed focus. Without the luxury of a full 16-18 weeks for training, I sought advice from the group at LHR Running Community, a Facebook group focusing on training the Hanson way. Luke Humphrey (author of the book, Hanson Marathon Method) was kind enough to reply directly to my question of how to proceed with training, suggesting that realistically the aim would be to finish – it’s not going to be a PB run – and I should aim to increase my mileage to 45 miles per week.
Final Surge Training Plan
Next thing to do was find a plan to support this. Since running a successful London Marathon in 2019 off an LHR plan, I decided this was as good a place as any to start. A little more digging online and I came across an 8 week plan on Final Surge.
Not quite sure that at 30 miles per week I’d have described myself as near my peak mileage, but the other bits resonated with me in that I’d been doing regular workouts over a month. Overall, it looked like following this plan would be achievable, completion the goal, and time largely irrelevant. If I am able to walk the day following the marathon that will be an added bonus!
Progress To Date
Last week saw me run a fraction off 39 miles, this week just short of 42. I plan to add a mile onto my easy run tomorrow and make the warm up on my workouts 2 miles, rather than the planned 1, in order to hit 45 miles next week. I’m also continuing to work on strength training with a running focus so hope that this will also help overall.
It’s been suggested that running a virtual marathon will be hard due to the solitary element. I’m hoping it won’t be any worse than the virtual 5k I did back at the end of June where I ended up walking! While I’m sure there will be ups and downs, aside from last weekend when I ran with two friends, I’ve been training alone since lockdown began in March. I won’t have the support to keep pushing through the tough times, but I have developed the mental strength to be in my own head for a prolonged period of time.
One of the main joys I’ve found in solo running is doing it at a time that suits. Today I allowed myself the luxury of a lie in, starting out at the leisurely time of 10:30 am. While this meant I’d missed the opportunity of company it allowed me additional rest and recovery time, vitally important in the throes of solid training.
I ran a steady 14 miles on the local trails. I had contemplated running somewhere flat but couldn’t think of anywhere inspiring to do this, so the usual stomping ground it was. When you stop to look around it’s easy to understand why this is a favourite.
This week holds easy miles, a session of short reps, a tempo run and a 16 mile long run to round it all off. That’s as far ahead as I’m going. One week at a time!