Long Run & Clachnaben Walk

After yesterday’s wind we woke to a calm day today. Unfortunately this also meant ground frost and disappointment for the golfer of the house (no winter eclectic competition due to winter greens). Thus, he fancied a hill day instead. The runner of the house had other ideas though, in the shape of the first 16 miler of the marathon plan.

Off I set, a fraction later than planned – the only thing I’m ever on time for is work – and the planned four miles before meeting the Social Sunday gang turned into three and a bit instead. I made it up to the gate and all the way back down to the car park unfortunately. Picking them up part way would have made things a little easier on the legs!

Alan had amassed a fair crowd, twenty runners he said. I was glad of not having to stop and just kept on back up the side of the golf course at Hazlehead. Chat was good, pace was comfortable, and before I knew it we were at the road crossing for Countesswells. I must apologise to my fellow social Sunday runners as this was where I became antisocial. We generally regroup at this point, but my logical head was thinking along the lines of, ‘if sixteen miles is the furthest you go on this plan and you want to stand on the start line believing you can run twenty six miles, you’d better just keep your body going!’ So I muttered something about being antisocial and headed on solo.

Twice around the lovely Kingshill, I felt comfortable in the pace and ran steady, finishing back at Hazlehead under the sixteen miles which meant bimbling up and down the reps lane briefly.

Timed well, the hard core of the Sunday gang (Graham, Alan and George) then arrived, having completed their miles, and the most important part of the run, coffee, was had in the warmth of Cafe Cognito alongside some other reprobates who had knocked out their miles and headed down a little earlier.

The legs felt good, thankfully, as the golfer of the house messaged suggesting an afternoon walk. Headed out to Clachnaben for a lovely walk in the afternoon sunshine.

The view towards Clachnaben

Prepared for snowy conditions we were pleasantly surprised to find the hill clear. A fairly gentle climb, the wind picked up towards the top necessitating both down jacket and shell. We encountered only one small section of hard packed snow / ice, and being rather precious about my legs at the moment the Kahtoola spikes went on for me; Bruce managed fine without his.

Soup at the top was tasty, turned around and headed back the way we’d come. Legs felt good; it was only when we stopped off at Asda to pick up pizza I felt the efforts of the day. Hopefully short lived, another week of the plan completed.

Stonehaven’s Delights

Having done my long run yesterday, the intention for today was to head for the hills. Bruce, having been out yesterday and experiencing the powdery snow that made walking challenging, was less than inclined to head back out for more of the same today. The decision was therefore made to run an easy 6 miles for the day before doing something more local.

After some deliberation, we settled on Stonehaven and what a great decision that was! Parking in the Market Square, we headed up to the War Memorial. This offers views towards Dunnotar Castle and on a fine day the sea is stunning. What amazed me most was the lack of snow considering what we’d left in the city.

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Continuing onwards we came to Dunnotar Castle, stunning in all weathers and particularly beautiful when the tide is in.

Dunnotar Castle

I was drawn to the sign offering hot food and was somewhat disappointed to see a burger van rather than a cafe. However, on closer inspection it looked decent, and the very friendly chap served up a tasty hot dog. Food does taste so much better outdoors on a chilly day!

Retracing our steps we headed back towards Stonehaven taking a shortcut back down towards the harbour.

Stonehaven Harbour

Never having visited Auntie Betty’s before, Bruce’s walk had to be extended to allow him to partake of the fine offerings here. Unlike in summer, the queue was inside the shop and it wasn’t long before we were served:

Obligatory Auntie Betty’s ice cream

The other delight of the day was the wonderful sculptures along the beach front. I’ve only recently read about them – the Banksy of Sculpture in Stonehaven. They really are amazingly detailed and made me smile with delight! What a wonderful talent and a great gift to share. Thank you!

Ice, snow … the joys of winter training

This week the weather has been somewhat irritating. Being Winter ‘bad’ weather is to be expected; sadly it does not assist in the enjoyment of winter training. Making it through our long run last weekend, only having a short section of icy ground that was avoided by running along the verge, I felt positive about the week ahead.

However, by the time Monday came, the thaw and subsequent freeze saw pavements becoming a little more treacherous. I opted to run around the local playing fields in the early morning, a joy as the snow was crisp, and I had the pleasure of seeing two foxes and a deer. The day was rounded off with a sports massage and positive comments from my therapist about the healthy state of my legs!

Tuesday saw me head indoors to endure the treadmill. Another early morning run, surprisingly I got into my stride and enjoyed the session of reps by the end. Just as well! The icy thaw and freeze continued meaning Thursday’s tempo was also safer on the treadmill. I don’t think I’ll ever love it, but am growing fond enough of the ‘dreadmill’ to accept that if needs must I can in fact bang out the miles without dying of boredom.

Friday saw a significant thaw, albeit still cold, allowing me to run my easy miles around the park after work. I must have looked a real site. Having forgotten my gloves, I wore my leather driving gloves to keep my hands toasty. I’ve managed to lose one hand, thankfully opposites, from two pairs, so had one black and one brown. They did the job!

This morning I woke up with the intention of getting a long run done, hopefully permitting me to walk tomorrow. I was amazed to see the snow dinging down outside my window, a fair bit having fallen overnight. Snow is far more pleasurable for running; I’d even go so far as to say it’s fun! Yaktrax on, I opted for the beach promenade, running the Aberdeen parkrun route and chatting with friends along the way – thanks Bryan, Graham, Colin & Alan for helping me to pass the time!

Opting to continue running in order to get all my miles done before the end of parkrun, I continued to Footdee, then running a little further, back and forth along the lower prom to ensure I didn’t run into the onslaught of parkrunners at 9:30 am. Shockingly bad at maths on the run, I then ended up significantly behind them, even the Tail Walker having passed the stones by the time I reached them!

Running to start Aberdeen parkrun - late!

Running back to the start, I exchanged pleasantries with Nik as I turned and began my ‘official run’, advising that I’d probably just be on a freedom run due to by bad timekeeping! A little injection of pace saw me pleasantly surprised on two fronts – one that I was able to do it, and two, the tail walker was in sight! I managed to catch up by the Beach Ballroom and was then able to relax a little on the lower prom.

14 miles banked, another parkrun logged, what’s not to like?

Successfully caught the Tail Walker at Aberdeen parkrun

Marathon Training is Underway with the Hanson Method

Marathon training is now underway for London. After much deliberation, browsing of plans and reading reviews and blogs, I have opted to shake things up a little. I was a bit disappointed in my last marathon attempt, Fort William, finding myself a few minutes slower than the year before despite having completed a longer marathon training period. This may have been due to a lack of base training prior to commencing the plan, but regardless, I felt the need to do something different this time around. I’ve therefore opted to go with the Hanson Marathon Method instead:

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The key difference between this plan and anything I’ve done before is that the long run tops out at 16 miles. There is lots of explanation in the book as to why this is, backed up by solid research, but the simple way of describing it is that the consistent volume of running throughout the week leads to cumulative fatigue and the body therefore gets used to running on tired legs, particularly on the long run. Thus, the 16 miles should be more like the last 16 miles of the marathon rather than the first.

Having read a few posts in the LHR Running Community group on Facebook it appears that many runners do well off these plans. There are some that add a few miles onto their long runs in order to still their mind, not quite trusting that the plan will work its magic. Personally, I love a plan and will therefore commit to it and do as it says, barring illness or injury, otherwise I won’t know if it’s worked for me. My thinking is that if I’m going to fail dismally and end up walking for miles, where better to do it than London! I’ll be guaranteed to have people to chat to; the only downside, as described by a running buddy who had a howler of a race here, is that you also have to endure 10 miles of people encouraging you with shouts of, “you can do it!” while knowing that in actual fact you can’t! At least not today. NB: the experience of aforementioned friend was not in any way related to Hanson!

The first three weeks of training have gone well. I’ve been running 6 days a week with Pilates on my rest day. I have to say I’m quite enjoying knowing that I go for a run without having to think about weather etc; consistency is key and this is what I have to do. I’ve been slowly building up the mileage, starting with 41 miles in the first week, so far managing to hit my target paces. Another key feature of the plan is that you run the easy runs at a very comfortable pace, with three ‘SOS’ (Something of Substance) runs a week that include the long run. This means having to rein yourself in on shorter runs, but I’m led to believe that as time goes on you truly are grateful for the opportunity to run slowly.

I was extremely glad of the company of my Sunday running buddies from Metro today. The weather this morning was foul, at least when looking out the window, with rain and high winds. Thankfully, the rain of last night had cleared the ice from our regular forest trails, so we managed to seek sanctuary in the woods, enjoying shelter from the winds to quite some degree, and only once really getting the benefit of the stormy weather as the sleet pelted straight into our faces at the top of Kings Hill. Considering the time we were out for this was pretty good going!

Delighted to have banked the miles, today’s character building long run ended with coffee and chat; always a delight to warm up in the cosy cafe. Thanks run chums – I really do appreciate you!

Lumphanan Detox 10k: the baseline

With a total of 66.72 miles run in December (35.83 of which were during the last 8 days of the month) I was less than convinced about the prospect of running at all well at Lumphanan. However, with marathon training looming large on the horizon I felt I needed to get a baseline in order to start training realistically. This in mind, I set off on my wee jolly with friends, Ruth and Rosey.

I’ve done Lumphanan Detox a couple of times previously, on one occasion even running a PB, so am familiar with the course. There’s a tough start with a long hill but this then leads to some fast descent. While not being sure what I’d be capable of I did share with Ruth that I’d be pretty hacked off if I took over 50 minutes to finish. Please don’t think me elitist; while I appreciate that for many this would be a good time right now though that’s not what I’m shooting for and I want to give London (my one and only marathon this year due to the cancellation of Fort William) my best shot.

Arriving with loads of time, always good in my book as I like to faff, chat, warm up a little and go to the loo a few times, the registration hall was lovely and toasty. Conditions outside were pretty much perfect: 2C, clear skies, sunshine and no wind! Despite this it did feel pretty fresh and I debated both internally, and with anyone that would listen, about how many layers should be lost. Finally I decided to brave the chill and go for the vest and gloves (minus the base layer), agreeing with Ruth that wearing less clothes may make us run faster. Meanwhile due to other priorities today, Rosey sensibly opted for keeping warm and running easy, still banging out an impressive time and winning a prize in her age category!

Toilet queues were large just prior to the start with Ruth and I just making it around to the starting field in time to duck under the tape and join the line up a few seconds before the starting gun. It was at this point I realised my optimism about having a chip and starting after the gun would have been misplaced; we’d have been flattened by the onslaught had this happened!

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Quickly out of the village, the long slog up the hill begins. As always, some people take off a little over enthusiastically; I, meanwhile, prefer a more conservative start, especially with the knowledge of the hill climb ahead. Starting slowly, I managed to pass a few people, eventually the hill plateaued and the downhill began. This was a great boost as my legs had previously began to feel like I was carrying lead weights!

Running downhill gave me confidence; I felt good and was able to pick the pace up. I’ve not been running hard or fast for some time and it was good to know that I’ve not lost all speed.

Continuing on, we came to the farm track past the halfway point. This is another tough section of the course, although admittedly conditions here were excellent this year; very little mud and no puddles of significance. At the end of the track there’s a very short section where continued effort is required, mainly due to the change in terrain and the impact on tired legs, before heading back onto the road to descend towards Lumphanan once again.

The farm track at Lumphanan Detox 10k

This was where I felt the pace take it’s toll and I was grateful for the encouragement of a fellow runner who motivated me to pick up the pace again. He had the edge and left me further down the road, but I did really appreciate his words as they motivated me and got my legs going faster.

Lumphanan Detox 10k

The road to the village felt longer than it was. My legs were feeling relatively good but it was the breathing that was the challenge. By the time I rounded one of the final corners I was done and it was lovely to see clubmate Alison being a ‘race angel’, encouraging someone ahead of me and then shouting encouragement as I passed. The power of a friendly face!

Heading towards the finish area at Lumphanan Detox 10k

Running into the field I regrettably lost several places as I was pipped at the post by 3 others. On the upside, I knew I’d well and truly emptied the tank and had nothing left to give.

Final time: 45:18 chip time

Delighted with that. Well within the goal I’d set for myself and given the lack of focused training most certainly something on which to build.

Finally, great to see so many friends and club mates out today. Some cracking PBs and times today. Here’s to more to come in 2019!

A very Happy New Year to you all! What are your goals for this year?

Last Outing of the Year: Pressendye

In an ideal world we’d have finished the year as we started – on a munro. However, the weather had other ideas, and with the prospect of blustery tops and cloud we decided to stay lower instead. The plan was therefore to head for Ballater to do the Seven Bridges Walk. No arrangements had been made with regards to timing and one of us (me!) decided to stay in bed late, the upshot being that we were then left questioning the wisdom of this decision given the journey time and length of walk. Hence, we happened upon Pressendye instead.

Pressendye’s a fine wee hill (a Graham) and is easily accessed on a circular route from Tarland. The initial walk out on the road is about 2 miles and is the least enjoyable part. After that you reach the track that heads upwards, leading to fields, then up towards the summit of the hill. There’s nothing overly strenuous about it, navigation is easy – we’ve done it a few times so didn’t bother with route guides or maps today – and before you know it you’re up, with views to Mount Keen in one direction and Bennachie in the other.

As we walked today we chatted and had our own review of the year, sharing our thoughts on what we felt had been our personal achievements and best moments, alongside our goals for next year – London Marathon for me and quite a number of new munros for Bruce.

Heading up it did get blustery, although with temperatures unseasonably high it was far from unpleasant. Heading off the summit it’s an easy track descent with signposts for the circular route further down to guide you back in the direction of Tarland. There are two routes; admittedly we forgot to check where they go on our return to the village!

One of my favourite parts of the walk is the beautiful tree lined path as you get lower. For old times sake I stopped to hug a tree, then remembered how good this feels so hugged another few on the way down. I think this is on a par with being in the mountains; it makes you realise that you really are just a small part of a much bigger picture!

Hug a tree!

On that note, I hope you’re feeling positive should you be reflecting on the year or thinking about the next one. However small, there’s always something to be grateful for.

An Socach: Roaming Free

It feels like a long time since we’ve been in the hills and December has been a long month so far. Despite my best intentions to be active, the dark nights and life in general have conspired against me; a general feeling of malaise and a lack of motivation to get out at all. Thankfully, with the holidays now upon us I had a newfound desire to get out and was delighted to be met with a good forecast for the weekend.

After a little deliberation thanks to Bruce’s planning with various options of offer, but primarily due to the car parking area being full, we made the decision to park a few hundred metres further along and head up An Socach. I had a desire to get up high, and Loch Callater just didn’t hold the same appeal today. We were also in agreement that it’s a better option when the loch is frozen and it’s not cold enough for that as yet.

It did amuse me somewhat that Bruce made mention of the extra walk (all 300 metres of it, making a 600 metre addition in total). I sometimes think similar thoughts when parking in order to go for a run or walk; bizarre given the total distance you’d cover without thinking about it in order to achieve the planned route itself. Anyway, along the road we set, and within a very short time were on the correct route, a good track that leads to the path for ascending the munro.

The first obstacle in our path was a small stream crossing. This shouldn’t have presented any difficulty with a few small rocks and boulders paving the way, but on my crossing I managed to slip on one of the stones, thankfully only dipping my toes in and not getting wet feet, but still enough to make me wary of the others. This later led to us thinking perhaps we could head around and ascend via another route that we could see opposite us.

Heading up to An Socach

Continuing up, I was in a thoughtful mood and my mind wandered to a running friend who has recently passed away. He and I had talked hills on a few occasions and it seemed fitting to say a quiet goodbye as we reached the windshelter cairn on An Socach.

Windshelter cairn on An Socach

The wind on this broad plateau had picked up and it was beginning to get chilly. However, the sun came out and provided warmth as we moved off. We had decided not to go to the second windshelter (the true summit cairn) as we’ve done this munro previously, instead deciding to roam free and head off in another direction rather than retracing our steps. Heading down we followed a large snow patch and it was fun going over this. I have to admit that I did generally follow in Bruce’s footsteps making the going easier for myself. I decided that this was Type 1 fun. This was a topic of discussion at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, and this is genuine fun where you’re enjoying the here and now. This changed to Type 2 fun, the type of thing that isn’t particularly fun at the time, being challenging or tough and involving mind over matter, when we realised that we were in fact heading into Glen Ey, not where we wanted to be at all!

On a positive note, this forced us into testing our navigational skills. With the help of the map, compass and OS Locate to give us very accurate grid references, we realised that we had to head back up towards Sgurr Mor in order to pick up the path back towards our track again. This proved to be quite a slog and involved both boggy ground and heather bashing. On the upside, we saw a herd of deer on the hillside and several mountain hares who made bounding up the hill look very effortless indeed!

Navigational skills being tested

Repeated checks of the map proved that we were on the right line, and reaching the flatter path on the approach to Sgurr Mor we could see where we were aiming for.

Strava elevation profile

Finally we made it onto the path down the opposite side of the stream and had views back to An Socach again looking clear in the late afternoon sun. It was a relief to be able to view the track on which we’d return to the car. Despite never being lost and always feeling confident in our navigational ability, there had been a moment where I’d wondered if we’d be needing our head torches for the return leg. As it transpired, we made good time and got back with daylight remaining.

Back on the correct path, descending from An Socach

All that was left to do was head to The Bothy in Braemar for coffee and cake. Today’s offering of Lemon Drizzle Cake was outstanding and really put the shine back into the day.