Bennachie and it’s neighbours – lazy Sunday afternoon

Deciding to make the most of the comparatively fine afternoon we decided to head for Bennachie. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here, usually favouring munros or the smaller hills out Deeside way. However, a change can be good and this meant we’d get both an afternoon walk and an evening at home.

There are many routes up Bennachie, as is very evident from the multiple signposts now adorning the hillside! We chose to start our walk at the Rowantree Car Park today which gives a relatively gentle pull up the hill.

Approaching Mither Tap (Bennachie) from Rowantree Car Park

It was a great day for it. The rain from this morning had cleared and there was barely a breath of wind. It’s amazing how quickly you find yourself on the summit when doing a smaller hill!

We sat chatting with another couple for a good while before heading off, then making the decision to do the neighbouring summits of Oxen Craig, higher than Bennachie, but less visited. While looking quite far off there’s a very good path (as there is on all these hills) and it’s a very short hop between them.

We then retraced our steps a little to branch off onto Craig Shannoch before heading back down to join the path back to the Rowantree car park.

A fine afternoon out. The only disappointing thing was the amount of discarded litter we encountered. I wonder if people who leave their water bottles and other junk believe that there’s a refuse collection mid-week? We did out bit for the environment though and in true Womble style carried quite a few pieces off the hill.

Setting the bar: Aberdeen parkrun

It’s a run, not a race! However, it’s also a time trial if you want it to be. About to embark on a 12 week training plan to try and pick up some speed again I decided I’d run parkrun hard today. I’ll be honest – I’d hoped I would manage to run 21 minutes (or even 20:59); the reality is that I’m not in shape for that at present, finishing in 21:59 instead.

Despite that it was a good morning out (as always)! Meeting the 8:30 crew, on this occasion that was Alan only as I was a few minutes late and he waited for me, we caught up with the others on the lower prom. This is a fine wee recce to get the legs warmed up and assess the conditions on the course. Today it was very mild but there was quite a breeze to run into on the first half. Turning onto the lower prom at the halfway point it was still, sadly lacking a tailwind though.

No excuses today – just lacking the speedwork to run a fast (for me) 5k at present. It did amuse me somewhat how hard it felt to try and sustain the pace, particularly as people stormed past me on the last few hundred metres (Graham, Craig and Alastair to name but a few – look out guys; you’ve now got targets on your backs!)

Malcolm, one of our regular runners celebrated 150 runs today and kindly bought the post-run coffees at Satrosphere Cafe. Much appreciated and very generous indeed!

So, the goals have now been updated. I need motivation beyond the love of running to get out:

Pick up speed and aim to get under 21 mins again;
Run some faster times to half marathon distance by the end of the year.

parkrun

And the long term:
Get to the starting line of the London Marathon next year;
Run Fort William Marathon for the third time next July.

Virgin London Marathon Good for Age Confirmation

Racing for the fun of it: Peace Coaches Metro Dyce Half Marathon

The Metro Dyce Half Marathon (alongside the Metro Beach 10k in June) being our club’s bread and butter, it’s encouraged that we either run or help out. I’d swithered as to which was the best option but having had a few enjoyable recovery runs since the marathon I made the decision mid-week to throw my hat in the ring and run. I’d never intended to race as I wasn’t sure how recovered my legs were but there’s this thing of putting on the Metro vest and something happening in my mind/body; I just can’t help but put my race head on and try harder.

Not the best preparation, I decided to make fudge yesterday for the post-run spread. I’ve got this down to a fine art so that was no bother. The bit I struggled with was the white chocolate peanut butter balls. The recipe made it sound so easy! The recipe, however, is from a charity cookbook and I wonder if the lady who wrote it down missed out an ingredient! There was no way I was rolling anything into balls! A few more tablespoons of peanut butter and a splash or two of water later I finally managed. A couple of extra hours on my feet standing in the kitchen, plans to do my ironing, hoover etc were put to one side as by this point said kitchen looked a little like it had exploded!

However, the morning of my ‘fun’ run arrived and for once I was outside and ready when Alan stopped off to pick me up. He was most impressed. This was a first, and quite possibly a last too, hence it being noteworthy. We headed over to Dyce and were greeted by various friendly faces directing us to the parking area. More friendly faces appeared in the car park in the form of clubmates and parkrunners. Always a joy to see friends at races.

Heading for registration we got our numbers on and I secured the cooler weather by putting on my suncream. Having vitiligo I can never be too careful and have maintained my pale complexion well despite the heat this summer.

Lots of Metro vests were dotted around the registration point and outside warming up. Eventually I decided I probably should have some semblance of a warm up, aside from working my jaws with all the chat, and headed out to do some dynamic stretching (hope you’re reading this Helen!) and two laps of the field to get my legs moving. Weirdly, my legs felt very leaden and heavy at this point. Figured it didn’t matter as the plan had always been to run the first couple of miles and then drop back if need be.

Lining up alongside Alan I was a little concerned that we were awfully far forward again! It’s funny how at some races nobody wants to get too close to the start while at others you need to work your way through the throngs. A quick race briefing followed and then we were off, round the field and out onto the old Formantine and Buchan railway line. The first part of the route is on tarmac pavement and is slightly downhill. It’s a fast start and we went quicker than planned; always a danger doing this on a longer run as it usually means you suffer later! I was conscious of not wishing to slow down people behind us and having felt someone clip my forefoot when it was behind me I ducked in ahead of Alan as there was no space to drop back due to the proximity of others.

The changes to the route with the roadworks were not too traumatic and I settled into my run, the earlier leg heaviness having left me. I was a little concerned that I was maybe going a little too fast but figured it didn’t matter at the end of the day. This run was not about chasing times; instead, running as I felt and most importantly enjoying it.

Settling into the run, it wasn’t long before the first minor road crossing was reached and again, it was great to see friendly faces here and receive support – thank you! The water station was manned by clubmates and again, plenty of encouragement was shouted which was very much appreciated.

Further along I appeared to cause hilarity at the second water station by shouting a cheery, ‘Good morning!’ From the laughter that ensued I’m guessing that’s not up there in the top 10 high frequency exchanges. This party station was staffed by the lovely Fit Like Joggers and Metro alike. It was great to see the purple FLJ gazebo and hear their music as I approached.

Further along I started to see the return of the first runners. The lead runner was way out in front along with Roy on lead bike, and I really appreciated the vocal support offered by him (Roy that is)! The faster folks then started coming pretty quickly with Claire leading up the ladies. I’m sure I’ve said it before but I do love an out and back course. I really enjoy seeing the speedier people and marvelling at the apparent ease of their running.

The miles ticking away nicely and legs feeling pretty good, I now figured I should just keep on going as I was to get to halfway. Once again it was lovely to see a familiar face, Dino snapping away at the halfway turn.

Peace Coaches Metro Dyce Half Marathon
Thanks to Dino Roussais for the halfway turn photo!

From here I resolved to try and pick the pace up further knowing that the course is gradually downhill. I slowly started picking off the odd runner as I went. One or two commented that I’d found a new gear, my response being that I had no idea how long it’d last! Thankfully I was able to continue strongly, passing one or two others as I did so. Reaching the road crossing again I was very grateful to the marshals as I timed it to perfection to coincide with a taxi coming down the road. Thankfully the driver opted to be courteous and hold back, allowing me to cross without breaking my stride. I may not have been able to get up the slope at the other side had I stopped.

Not much further along I started to see the buildings on the outskirts of Dyce and knew by both this and my watch that I was nearly ‘home’. I was prepared for the slight incline to the finish, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the transition from trail to tarmac. I couldn’t believe how this affected my legs, honestly feeling like my shoes were stuck to the pavement as I tried to lift my feet on every stride. Fortunately this was relatively short-lived, although it felt like an eternity, and it wasn’t long before I reached the field in which the run finishes. A quick skirt around the perimeter led me to the finish with shouts and cheers of encouragement along the way. I was most delighted to receive my medal, water and banana, and even a can of beer.

Crashing out on the grass alongside clubmates, we exchanged stories of how our runs had panned out, cheering others in, before retreating to the Scout Hut for a fine spread and lots more chat. The prize giving later took place. Overall winners were Jason Kelly (also of Stonehaven) and Claire Bruce of Metro Aberdeen who ran another brilliant time. Meanwhile, I was both surprised and delighted to find that I’d ranked as 3rd Female Veteran, following behind the every awesome Hazel Wyness of Metro Aberdeen in 1st place and Ann Gallon of Stonehaven in 2nd. Full results are available here: http://www.metroaberdeen.co.uk

As always, thanks to the organisers and volunteers for doing our club proud!

2018 Fort William Marathon – As good as I remembered and then some!

A week has passed since I completed the 2018 Fort William Marathon, my second attempt at this beautiful race. Having loved it in 2017, I signed up for 2018 pretty much immediately afterwards, my main fear going into the race that it might not be as good as I remembered and I’d be disappointed. Fear not, it was as good and even better!

2017 was a solo expedition as the weather forecast wasn’t great. Bruce therefore decided against joining me as the hill walking he’d hoped for looked unlikely. This year, however, he was again hankering after hills and had decided to come along, hoping to complete the Ring of Steall. Sadly the weather was against him on this – no point in going if there’s no chance of a view – but he did get some walking in elsewhere. He also opted in last minute to volunteer … more on that later.

Making a weekend of it, we headed over to Fort William on Friday afternoon, settling into our B & B before heading out for a meal. An early night was called for as I like to sleep plenty in the run up to the marathon, easing any worries of being restless the night before. Bruce, having checked the forecast for Corrour, had opted for an early start on Saturday. This worked out perfectly for me as I barely registered him getting up to catch the first train out of Fort William, opting for a more leisurely breakfast time myself. I then headed back to bed and enjoyed the luxury of yet more sleep before waking at 11 am and heading for the station to meet him off the train, returning happy having walked the single train munro, Beinn na Lap.

A leisurely afternoon was spent having lunch and browsing the shops in Fort William, later heading to the Grog and Gruel, our favourite pub, for dinner. Having stocked up on carbs over the previous couple of days I opted for the ‘eat what you fancy’ train of thought and enjoyed a burger. Home early, I laid out my tried and tested kit – Brooks Ghost shoes, Metro Aberdeen club vest, Ronhill shorts, Balega Hidden Comfort socks, and my current preferred race fuel, Clif Shot Bloks and Lucozade Sport.

Surprisingly enough, I slept pretty soundly again – if sleep was the only key to success I might have won the race – and felt quite relaxed going for breakfast. Not one to shake things up on race day, I opted for my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge with banana and chia seeds, and toast with peanut butter, washed down with plenty of peppermint tea.

Bruce volunteering, we had to be at the Nevis Range for 8:30 am. In my usual style, I was running late by this point and was grateful to him for geeing me along. Had he not been in the car with the engine running outside I’d probably have continued faffing for at least another 10 minutes or so, only to then panic when I realised how little time I had left to get there! He headed off for the volunteer briefing when we reached the Nevis Range and I faffed as only I can for some considerable time. I bumped into fellow Aberdeen parkrunner, Ally, and his wife Kay, enjoying a chat with them before going to get clarted in suncream. The weather was overcast with a forecast of rain later but I was taking no chances. Being of true Scottish fair skin I have an ability to get sunburn in any weather.

Chip on my shoe, suncream on, and at least one comfort break later, I bumped into Natalia, my clubmate from Metro Aberdeen. Her first marathon, she was fun of enthusiasm. Pleasantries exchanged, she headed off for a warm-up. My warm up routine consisted of some stretches (courtesy of Helen Strachan, physio extraordinaire), and the first few miles of the run. If I’m running 26.2 miles there’s no way I’m running further before I begin!

Pre-marathon at Fort William Marathon

Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were being called to the start. I’d briefly seen Bruce to pass on the car key and say a final goodbye, and was aware that he was going to be somewhere in the first few hundred metres. In his usual style, he made me laugh as he called out, asking me how it was going so far as I passed by having almost missed him.

Fort William Marathon - Leaving the Nevis Range at the start

The first few miles are gradually uphill, starting near the Gondola Station, and I’d cautioned both Natalia and Ally to take it easy here. The temptation with all races is to go off too quickly, and in a marathon you can’t claw this time back at the end if your legs give up or your energy runs out. I happily plodded along giving myself time to get into the swing of running, confident that I’d gain more than I’d lose by letting others pass me at this stage.

Fort William Marathon Elevation Profile

Heading up the fire road, I exchanged a bit of chat with some other runners. There were a few 100 marathon club t-shirts on the go – I have no idea how these people do it, and always enjoy hearing about their favourite marathons and the number they’ve completed in total. Further along I got chatting to a young man from Edinburgh who told me he’s getting married in two weeks – less than a week to go now! Should he read this, all the very best for a long and happy future with your new wife.

The marathon route is stunning. For me, this beats a road marathon any day. I defy anyone to try running here and not fail to be impressed by the views on offer. Despite the rain on Saturday, it was clear, and with less humidity than we’ve been used to the running conditions were pleasant. Drainage has been improved on the flat fire road section around 6 miles, and the huge muddy puddle that had us skirting around it and up the bank before the (failed) leap of faith last year had gone with a big drainage ditch running alongside instead.

Further on we started to make our way downhill so I decided to stop chatting and push on a little more, enjoying the opportunity to relax and stretch out the legs. The path narrows in places and there were some gentle undulations and single track paths to keep the mind focused a little more.

Finally reaching the road crossing at Spean Bridge it was a pleasant surprise to find the Police holding traffic and giving runners priority. One cheeky cyclist decided he was going instead and I’m sure regretted this move when given a ticking off by the Policeman! Rules are rules! I’m sure next time he’ll do as told without question.

Continuing on, we crossed the bridge and had a short section along the pavement before heading swiftly off road again onto more single track paths. This took us up, up, up and the enthusiastic spectators at the Commando Memorial could be heard long before they were seen! On reaching them and another water station, I passed Natalia before heading downwards towards Gairlochy.

Fort William Marathon - first 13 miles (Strava splits)

Being a bit of a running geek, I like to keep a paper diary in addition to the more modern online record that is Strava. My plan had therefore been to pace in a similar manner to last year as that earned me a PB, and I therefore chose to pick up the pace further at this point. Reaching the canal path I felt strong and began to pick people off targeting one runner after the other. There was a slight breeze along the canal but unfortunately it felt like we were running into it; it was refreshing nonetheless. Encouragement from walkers, canoeists and boats was welcomed.

As I progressed along this section, I became increasingly aware of my tightening calves and pain in my back. By the time I reached Neptune’s staircase I wondered if ditching my waistpack would help and was surveying the terrain for somewhere to dump it, planning to collect it later. Turning onto the minor road, I wondered about leaving it in the long grass but was concerned that it might get picked up as rubbish. There was also the worry that driving back up this road when other runners were potentially still on the course wasn’t the safest move ever so I fastened it back on and held onto it until finally the temptation of the the manicured lawn at Lochaber High School proved too much; over the railings it was flung!

Carrying on, I reached a further road crossing at the A82, and again the Police were holding traffic and giving runners priority. This took me back onto the bike path that heads up to the Nevis Range and I was pleased to be on this final drag. I continued to pass a few more people but felt like I was beginning to struggle, despite the pace holding out fairly well.

Fort William Marathon (Last 13 miles, Strava splits)

Turning off towards the North Face car park I was greeted by the familiar small bridge and I’m sure it was steeper than last year! Heading up towards the car park I was passed by one runner who was looking stronger than me and we exchanged brief pleasantries.

The pull up the fire road from here saw quite a few people walking, and while my legs and back were sore, I was determined to keep slogging it out. Seeing the 24 mile marker I knew that the race was in the bag and I would complete whatever; I started to feel quite emotional at this point. A little further on I spotted an Insch Trail Runner. Always fine to see a local vest, I yelled at him something to effect that, ‘I thought you teuchters were made of tough stuff!’ This gave him a wee bit of motivation to pick it up again, I hope.

Overwhelmed by mile 25, I struggled to hold back the tears. I could vaguely hear the sounds of the PA system as I headed through the last section of single track, up and down in the footy section of the forest, and was delighted to hear the friendly shouts of Kay and Ally as I headed down the finishing straight towards the line. When Bruce stepped forward to put the medal round my neck and give me a hug the tears did come!

2018 Fort William Marathon Finisher's T-shirt and Medal

It was such a lovely moment to have him do this and will stay in my special memories forever. He then returned to his ‘proper job’, cutting the chip off my shoe and chatting, inviting me to sit for as long as I needed.

I was delighted with my run. No PB today but you can’t have one every time. I ran strongly and once again loved the course. It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when you’re enjoying it!

Each and every one of the marshals and volunteers was great and they were such an encouraging and supportive team throughout the event. The goody bag was great and contained a Ben Nevis whisky miniature (which Bruce later traded for a Fort William buff), alongside some nibbles. I can’t recommend this marathon enough and most definitely plan to return next year.

Congratulations again to Natalia on completing her first marathon, and to Ally for completing his first Fort William Marathon and getting a PB! A great day out for us all.

Recovery Walk: Meall a’ Bhuachaille

Stopping off in Aviemore for a couple of days post-marathon, having done very little yesterday, aside from going to Kincraig to see Hamish, the very cute and playful baby polar bear, I decided to stretch my legs today. (The marathon blog will follow later this week – just waiting for the race pics).

The wind was up and the thought of munros didn’t hold any great appeal. There was also the issue of Bruce having completed the Cairngorms meaning driving back towards Fort William for the two he wanted, and the less than favourable forecast in addition to the prospect of a long day knocked this on the head.

So, Meall a’ Bhuachaille it was, an easy corbett we’ve previously done with good paths and decent views. The first stop after parking up near the Glenmore Visitor Centre was the green loch, Lochan Uaine. This beautiful loch is worthy of a visit in itself – local legend says it’s green as the pixies wash their clothes here. I like that better than the other potential explanations.

Carrying on, we continued along a good track which gently pulled us up to the Ryvoan Bothy. The bothy now has a wood burning stove; I’m sure this would be a welcome sight if spending a night here! We stopped off for a snack and enjoyed the shelter.

It was then onwards and up to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille. Having started at a decent height this does not appear particularly daunting and indeed is an easy walk up. The path has been built up well and there are steps on eroded sections, making for good progress. I carried my walking poles in case my legs felt tired but although aware that they’d worked hard (tight calves) the poles stayed on my rucksack for the duration.

The higher we got the windier it got, and on reaching the summit it was blowing quite strongly. Having stopped at the summit cairn / wind shelter for another snack I realised why the folks coming down were wearing jackets and hats! It’s amazing how quickly the wind chills you when you stop at height.

29740E78-C20D-49A9-AF39-6F845DEEE4C8

We headed down the back of the hill after a chat at the summit with a few other walkers, deciding against going over the two other tops as we’d only be buffeted by the wind and aside from adding distance would be unlikely to gain much in views.

Dropping down it was fine to have the wind ease and eventually I was able to remove my hood and see! One of the hazards of hair that Bruce is blissfully unaware of is that it’s dangerous when blown across your face unexpectedly, cutting off all visibility!

Back down to the lower paths in Glenmore, we continued along past the very impressive ant hills. Quite how they get so spectacularly large is beyond me – a real feat of nature! They were massive!

Returning to the Glenmore Visitor Centre we picked up the car and headed up to the Cairngorm Mountain Cafe for a relaxing afternoon. That’s what holidays are for!

It’s nearly time: Fort William Marathon!

It’s nearly time! I’ve done the training and am now seriously tapering and reminding myself why I signed up for this marathon … for fun!

Lacking the solid training base from which I started my marathon training last year, I’ve completed the Pfitzinger & Douglas 18 week/up to 55 mile training plan with only a minor tweak here and there. This has been hard going at times but I’ve made room in life to accommodate the additional training. I appreciate Bruce’s support and encouragement to get out the door for the odd Friday evening long run and the company of my running buddies, particularly the Sunday gang.

I’ve had my ups and downs during training, and if anything seem to have struggled over the last few weeks with times slowing down rather than picking up speed. I’m hoping that the additional rest last week will have done my weary body good.

Yesterday I ‘enjoyed’ a massage. I was told my muscles were ‘solid’ – not convinced that’s necessarily a good thing – and had been blissfully unaware of how tight my glutes were! Funnily enough, the side that was not so tight was the sorest! I’ve got homework to do … lots of stretching and plenty of foot mobilisation too, as my feet are somewhat stiff (and a little crunchy)!

Time now to relax, sleep, stretch, and, most importantly, remember there’s no point in stressing about things that are outwith my control. The weather will do it’s thing, I will feel however I feel and all I can do is enjoy the moment!

Loved it last year …

Fingers crossed I’ll love it again!

The Inaugural Chapelton of Elsick 10k

I was delighted to join my fellow Metros on the start line for the inaugural Chapelton of Elsick 10k. This feeling faded somewhat during the race, but that’s the way of running.

Chapelton village in Aberdeenshire is a lovely wee place, established in the last few years and an ongoing project, situated just off the main A90. It was hot!! On arrival it appeared that we may be blessed with a little cloud coverage and there was a slight breeze. Unfortunately, or fortunately if you were spectating, this changed just ahead of the start, bringing a beautifully sunny day.

It was great to see a good turnout for this event as a huge amount of organisation had gone into it and Metro member Campbell was part of the organising committee. Everything ran seamlessly from registration right through to the finish with refreshments available for runners and a real family feel to the event with face painting and kids races too.

Warming up with Alan and Grant it was good to see lots of familiar faces, especially my former Jog Scotland Bridge of Don friends who Campbell had rounded up for the occasion – Kay, Ashleigh, Ruth and Wendy. A personal invitation goes a long way!

All too soon the Metro team photo had been taken – we’re not all there; trying to round everyone up is reminiscent of putting puppies in a basket! There was time for one let pit stop before making our way to the start line.

I was concerned that I was too far forward but Alan assured me people would pass if they needed to. I’m struggling now to recall the finer points of detail in the route. What I can remember is that there was a mixture of surfaces. Starting and finishing on road, there were some sections of rougher tracks and trails, and also some grass as we ran through the Chapelton of Elsick Estate. There were also some undulations and a particularly nasty hill at 5 miles. Campbell had warned us about this but it didn’t look too bad on Strava – I envisaged it to be short and steep. It turned out longer than I’d imagined. The only upside was hearing the piper and knowing they must be at the top!

I wanted to walk – I didn’t. It was tough. My legs felt like they’d gone to jelly on reaching the top of the hill, but I held onto the thought that this sets the tone for the marathon. If I walk now then I’ll be tempted to walk in future. On reflection, many others were obviously feeling the same way as I did pass a few folks walking. However, there were others thriving and doing well despite the hot conditions. Grant ran well and left me standing – definitely more to come there – while Alan ran like a Kenyan and finished strong, hot on my heels.

The finish was also on an uphill incline and I managed to give it a bit of a push towards the end. Not the race I’d hoped for but my legs are tired. Having consulted with one of the club coaches the next couple of weeks will focus on recovering and a serious taper. If anyone wants to join me in wishing for a cooler day please feel free.

Glad to finish, it was time to enjoy the sunshine and bask in the glory of my clubmates who won lots of prizes! Great performances from many, but a special mention must go to Sarah Milne for her first win! Good to see that hard work does pay off in the end.

A brilliantly organised race, even if we can’t control the weather. Great medals too! Well done Chapelton!

Chapelton of Elsick 10k Medal