2019 London Marathon: The Taper

The taper has begun – if you can call it a taper with the Hanson Method – harder than usual with regard to the mileage, but in many ways the feelings, both physically and emotionally are the same thus far.

Thursday 18th April: I did my last ‘SOS’ session today – 6 miles at target marathon pace sandwiched between a warm up and cool down. Pacing definitely feels more instinctive although it’s easy to tip into 10k pace at the start. Once I hit the target pace it feels relatively comfortable. Whether that’s enough to hold it for 26.2 miles, we’ll see.

Friday 19th: Today was an easy 4 miles. It felt harder. My legs wanted to go faster and it felt quite uncomfortable, plodding heavily along.

Saturday 20th: Easy 5 miles today, so ran 2 miles before Aberdeen parkrun. Very enjoyable runs today, warming up with Alan, fresh from Kenya, and blethering round the parkrun with Maureen, my sister’s friend.

Sunday 21st: one week to go!
Bruce is hill walking and I’m somewhat envious as it’s a cracking day and he’s doing a lovely route from Loch Muick: over Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch and Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, finishing at Loch Callater, where I’ll pick him up.
My run was a leisurely 12 miles. I opted for the Deeside line from Ballater. While there were so many more attractive options I ultimately wanted somewhere flat with good underfoot terrain to minimise the risk of injury! Was very tempted by the sign for trails at Cambus O’May Forest but given that it was uphill to enter the car park I decided they’d wait for another day.
Very much enjoying refuelling in The Bothy at Braemar while I await the call for pickup.

Monday 22nd:
An easy 4 miles and I took advantage of the wide window for pacing, enjoying running at the slow end. Beautiful evening for a run to Duthie Park.

Tuesday 23rd:
Met the Tuesday crew (Ali, Alan and George). While Alan and George went ahead Ali and I bumbled along blethering. I’ve missed my Tuesday chats while they’ve been in Kenya with Gathimba Edwards Foundation! Threw in a couple of miles at faster pace which felt good. Alan continued beyond the three miles at which we turned on the Garmin beep, and poor George said their run back to catch us had him working the hardest he’s done in a long time. Next time just stick with the ladies George! It’s safer!

Think this may be it now until race day. I’ll see how I feel. Schedule suggests an easy 4 miles tomorrow but I’m tired and have nothing to gain physically but potentially a lot to lose. I’ll see how I feel …

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.

Bikes, Trains and Boots: the Great Glen Way and the Glenfinnan Munros

Day 4: Biking on the Great Glen Way

Due to a less attractive forecast in addition to tired legs we decided to take a rest day. Anyone who knows Bruce well will know that rest doesn’t really figure in his day. I can easily while away a day doing little or nothing. He is happier on the go, and so we opted to get out on the bikes and ride a bit of the Great Glen Way. This also gave me the opportunity to have a wee recce of the canal section of the marathon so win-win!

Having walked the GGW last year it amused us when we reached the start again, remembering how distinctly underwhelmed we felt heading off from the back of McDonalds before passing through a housing estate. Thinking about it now, it’s a little like starting the West Highland Way, but there you’re leaving a shopping precinct in Milngavie.

Before long the shore of Loch Linhe are reached and glimpses of the loch are seen through the trees and beautiful wild flowers.

Wild flowers on the Great Glen Way, Fort William

Continuing on there’s an old boat beached on the shore. While waiting here for Bruce to take photos I met an old lady, walking her dog, who’d originated in Inverurie. We had a very enjoyable chat about life and she was delighted to be able to chat Doric ahead of her visit in August.

Old boat on the Great Glen Way, Fort William

Further along we passed Neptune’s Staircase – a series of lochs that allows boats to pass along the canal. I’m a canal geek! I love watching the boats and could happily sit there for hours. Unfortunately there were none to be seen. There was however a very tasty scone to be had at the cafe and that took away some of the pain.

Tasty treats, Great Glen Way, Neptune’s Staircase, Caledonian Canal, Fort William

We continued along the canal until the rain came ever closer and threatened to engulf us. With the forecast suggesting it would be on for the afternoon once it started we bailed and headed for home. Not a huge ride, but a wee spin of the legs and I can honestly say, paddded shorts are a Godsend!

Caledonian Canal, Great Glen Way, Fort William

Day 6:

Final day of our Fort William holiday, we headed out to Glenfinnan to walk a couple of munros: Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan. The forecast looked good and despite the low cloud in Fort William it was due to clear later in the afternoon, although the MWIS were suggesting only a 40% chance of cloud free munros. For future reference, should you wish to put a bet on in relation to hill forecasts, go with MWIS! They were right.

On arrival at Glenfinnan the car park was getting busy. That means only one thing: the steam train was due to pass! We didn’t see it as we went under the viaduct and were quickly engulfed in the cloud, but there is something exciting in seeing the Harry Potter train go past! We did hear the chugging of the engine later in the day as it passed somewhere below us, and later, on the ride back out we heard the whistle while chatting to a friendly Estate worker who’d stopped his Landrover for a blether. It appears Thomas had escaped as he was all alone!

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Back to the hills …

We headed out on our bikes on a decent tarmac road for a few kilometres before heading along a rougher track. Sadly this was the point at which we noticed the incline and the fatigue in our legs! Thereafter there was quite a bit of moaning and some pushing. A quick stop off at the Corryhully Bothy on route suggested that perhaps bothying isn’t all bad. It wasn’t quite en-suite, but this one had electricity! Not long after we dumped our bikes at the signposted path for Sgurr nan Coireachan, the plan being to return by this path, and continued on foot for Sgurr Thuilm.

The initial ascent is always the worst, and alongside the less than favourable weather I was pretty scunnered and wondering why I was doing this at all! Bruce was somewhat more upbeat and looking forward to getting another couple under his belt. We won’t dwell on this climb, suffice to say I wasn’t the best company, however on getting past the worst of it I did perk up. Just as well really as it was around this time that the misty droplets from the low hanging cloud turned to rain and the waterproofs went on. Never the best, it’s particularly unpleasant to have to use them in humid conditions … are they wetting out or are you just drowning from the inside?

Continuing on, we reached the summit of Sgurr Thuilm, pausing briefly as it was still very misty and hoping the cloud may clear. The rain did come and go, along with Bruce’s waterproofs, but ultimately he accepted defeat and just kept them on.

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The route to the second munro should have been a very fine ridge walk. Sadly the low cloud meant that we couldn’t appreciate the fine views but it was very enjoyable going up and over four minor summits on the way to the second munro. There was a clear path alll along the ridge and with the exception of a few very short rockier sections this continued up to the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan.

Heading down was more interesting, following a narrower, steeper ridge. The wet rocks meant that careful footing was required and I was glad to make the descent safely. This continued onto a stalkers path which led steeply downhill, zigzagging to ease the gradient, finally leading us back to the bikes. The views opened up and we were able to see down to Glenfinnan Viaduct and back along the ridge we’d walked.

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Finally, a fast, fun ride took us back down to the car park, making memories of mashed quads on the way up fade away as we basked in the joy of having saved so much time heading out again.

Glenfinnan Viaduct, returning from Sgurr nan Coireachan

Holidays over, time for one last walk into Fort William and a final stop at the Grog & Gruel. Cheers!

Loving the trails again!

For a while after the marathon last July, and over the winter, I felt like I’d lost the love of running. Maybe as I didn’t have a goal? I think I need to have a purpose and something to strive for; although at times I do enjoy running for running’s sake, I’m definitely better when I’m focused.

Today I had to run 16 miles, my longest run in some time. It was scheduled to be a 6 mile warm up followed by 10 miles at marathon pace. I decided to break the rules!

Having run a ‘hard’ 15 miles last week I figured that counts as a marathon paced run. There’s also the challenge of figuring out what marathon pace actually is for Fort William. The undulating, multi-terrain course doesn’t lend itself to the calculators in the same way as a road run. Last year I trained to a notional road pace and did these MP runs on flat pavements figuring I’d get the benefits later in the year. This year I’m open to suggestion on what’s the best approach, today opting more to run by feel.

Setting off before 8 am, the plan being to catch the Metro social Sunday crew for coffee later, I headed from Hazlehead over to Countesswells. It was slightly chilly but the sun was out and I truly loved running today! I ran with a smile on my face, enjoying the freedom, the fresh air, and even the three loops of Kings Hill. I genuinely do believe that more daylight is making me feel much better on the whole.

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It was one of those great days when everything comes together and a true feeling of flow is achieved. Having just tackled the final slope, I was on the way back towards the car park when I stumbled upon the Sunday gang. Timing couldn’t have been better!

A very enjoyable end to the run with lots of chat for the last few miles and even company up and down the reps lane to round off the miles! Perfect 👌

Marathon Spotlight – Clare Russell

Honoured to be invited to share my marathon journey on project345blog

Wishing James every success in his forthcoming marathon!

#projectrun

This #marathonspotlight is Clare Russell.  Clare is frequently found volunteering at the local Parkruns (You can sign up here to volunteer).  This read is fantastic and I really enjoyed the feeling of how much running is a passion for Clare.  Eight marathons (and one coming up) gives us a depth of knowledge on the distance and strategies.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did pulling it together.

Marathons completed?

I’ve now completed eight marathons: Amsterdam (2008), Lochaber (2010), Edinburgh (2010 & 2011) Moray (2010), Paris & Highland Perthshire (2013), Fort William (2017)

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PB Marathon time?

3:42:38 at Fort William

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Favourite marathon and why?

Fort William! It had been on my radar for a couple of years as I love the Fort William area. However, the undulating nature of the course and the fact that it’s multi-terrain mean it’s not billed as a PB course. I had therefore…

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