Part 2: Spring Holiday in Achnasheen

Day 4: Slioch

At night we retired to bed with a forecast of overnight snow. I’d suggested we should take a photo from the living room window so that we’d have an idea how much snow had fallen to gauge potential conditions for morning. In the event, it was very apparent there had been a significant dump of snow, the dusting of the tops now increased to a real covering!

Slioch, despite the long walk in, fitted the bill for us as other potential routes had river crossings, never ideal after heavy rain or snow, but especially when temperatures have been good with a fairly quick thaw in recent days.

Parking up we met a couple of men (father and son) and their dog, Bowie. We were all headed the same way so ended up walking quite a bit with them when it became apparent our paces were similar.

The first couple of miles were along a track that didn’t gain any height. I was quite happy with this as it meant an easy walk out later. We soon reached Loch Maree; it looked rather inviting on the return, as did the river that we crossed!

We then began our ascent, heading gradually upwards over some stony, boggy ground. The pull was steady and we finally reached the col where we had a brief reprieve, gentler walking that led us to Coire na Sleaghaich. Continuing on, we headed up to a ridge that enveloped the small lochans.

Slioch, viewed on the ascent

The real challenging climb then began. Ordinarily I don’t think this would have phased me, but the snow was lying in places. It was soft and wet; this meant it was more slippery than we’d have liked. The path was a little eroded and we had to be mindful of the conditions as the path rose quite steeply and, as the snow lay slightly thicker, it was not always clear which way the path meandered next. I was relieved to reach the top of this section, seeing the trig point ahead, but slightly less thrilled at the prospect of returning by the same route.

Heading up to Slioch

From the trig point the true summit cairn can be seen; this was just a short distance away. Having reached this together, we were all in agreement that the best route of descent would be down the gentler slope from the ridge further along. It certainly had appeared easier when viewed on the ascent.

Continuing along the ridge we initially thought there may be snow heading our direction; thankfully it appeared just to be cloud! The ridge, An t-Aon Cheum, was only about half a kilometre in length, but the snow again made it a little more challenging for me. It narrowed, there was a snowy cornice, and also a small rocky outcrop to navigate my way around. Here Bruce’s calming words were appreciated again as I had a bit of a wobble and questioned whether I was able to go any further; bear in mind I wasn’t that enthused about the route down should the decision be made to head back, so my options were limited.

Fortunately for all the ridge opened up again. On this wider section I fell, bashing my finger on a rock. It hurt but I didn’t think much of it until I realised my glove was wet as I was bleeding. Being less than comfortable overall I opted to get up the final pull to Sgurr an Tuill Bhain before seeking first aid in the form of a plaster. The final small ascent had as many rocky patches as it did snow and it was with relief that I reached the top of this peak. First aid administered by the ever patient husband, it was agreed that evacuation by helicopter would not be necessary on this occasion.

Our descent then began, heading across a rocky, snowy ridge. We bore left here, trying to avoid dropping too soon as there appeared to be some steeper ground below and the snow again was making things more slippery due to the lack of substance. It was here that Bruce took an impressive slide.

Descent from Slioch

Our companions took more of a straight down the hillside route, while we veered towards the edge of the ridge, then sweeping around on reacher more gentle terrain. We met once again on the main path, neither route having been any quicker.

The trudge back down the boggy stony path then began; the legs (hello quads) were feeling it by this point, although lacking the tremor of yesterday. Finally reaching Loch Maree again I celebrated by eating a Mars.

Loch Maree on the descent from Slioch

The final couple of miles back from here seemed to take an eternity, the rest of the day having flown past. There seemed to be so many little burns to hop across that I’d not registered on the way out, and by the end I was pretty much plowtering straight through everything!

A quarter of a mile away from the car, suddenly the breeze picked up a little, the sky going from stunningly clear to dark very rapidly. We picked up the pace, clearly seeing a rainstorm moving in ahead, just catching the edge of it as we hot-footed it back into the car park. The heavens then opened as we drove home, temperature rapidly dropping and another sleety snow-shower passing by.

Great timing (almost), and another memorable hill day.

Day 5: Inverness

A day of rain (at road level), sleet and snow on the hills. No walking, day of rest, and a wee wander around the shops.

Top recommendation: Cafe Artysans
A great independent cafe (close to the bus and train stations) with a social enterprise focus; great coffee and very good scones!
http://www.cafeartysans.org.uk/about-us/

Day 6: Mission aborted

Spent the latter part of yesterday swithering as to whether or not we should bomb up Fionn Bhein in the evening. Bands of rain kept moving across so in the end we decided against it, hoping that today would be better.

Sadly, on waking this morning it was snowing, pretty much at sea level, and with heavy snow predicted for much of the day we abandoned the plan of ascending anything. Coverage very quickly progressed from the odd white fleck on the road outside to a fairly thick covering of snow. While it had the potential to be an exciting adventure, there was also a forecast for fog. In combination with the boggy terrain we decided that Fionn Bhein is meant for another day.

Snow in Achnasheen

A quick whizz around saw us packed up and on the road. Stopped off for an impromptu lunch with my Mum and Dad on route home so all things considered not the day we’d planned but not entirely wasted either.

Attempted a run on the Deeside line later. Fail! Managed just short of 10 miles instead of the planned 15 miles. Schedule called for: 2 mile warm up, 2 x 5 miles @ tempo pace with 1 mile recovery, 2 mile cool down. I managed: 2 mile warm up, 4 miles @ tempo pace before my stomach knocked fast running on the head, then a 4 mile shuffle (which on reflection was at easy pace) home. Let’s chalk that one up to experience, call it character building as I ran all the way home (despite my brain calling for me to walk from mile 6), and refocus the energy tomorrow.

Spring Holiday in Achnasheen

Day 1: Maol Chean-dearg

Starting our journey on Friday evening with a stop off in Inverness – we’d recommend the pizzas at the Black Isle Brewery – the morning was only a short drive to Coulags where our walk began.

The weather was definitely in our favour. Skies were clear and it was a balmy 8C at the car park! We met another couple of lads there and exchanged pleasantries before heading on our way. We met them at various points again on the route up and down, and I’m delighted that it was third time lucky indeed for one of them, succeeding in reaching the top today.

The path was signposted from the car park and the path was good on the easy walk out to the Coire Fionnaraich Bothy. A fine bothy this was, upstairs and downstairs, and I enjoyed reading some of the comments in the Visitors Book.

Coire Fionnaraich Bothy

Further on the path started to climb upwards, zig zagging as it went. Reaching the bealach I was less than impressed by the sight that looked ahead: a rather steep looking scree slope!

Bealach at Maol Chean-dearg with the nearby Corbett in the background

As always, sometimes these things look worse than they are, and for the most part it didn’t present any real challenge. There was only one point at which I felt slightly uncomfortable as the path was pretty steep and the scree cover was loose. However, we were soon over this and reaching the top of this section.

Heading up the bouldery path at Maol Chean-dearg

Continuing on, we had a brief reprisal in the form of a grassy plateau before climbing again for the final 200 metres. This final section was bouldery, with small stones. Not challenging but quite slow, trying to pick the path through. Reaching the top we saw the summit cairn and thankfully the very short flurries of snow stopped in order for us to gain stunning views when the cloud cleared. The windshelters at the cairn provided sanctuary for a snack stop, the direction of the slope determining whether there was a slight dusting of snow or clear ground. At this point we concluded the ice axes and crampons may remain at home for the next couple of days.

Heading back down the way we’d come steady progress was made. We discovered a better path through the lower scree slopes and before long had reached the bottom of this section leaving only the trudge back along the good path.

Reaching our accommodation for the week at ‘The Old Checkpoint’, we were welcomed by our host, Barry. A great find, a cosy, comfortable wee house booked through Airbnb, I may just be a convert!

Day 2: Beinn Liath Mhor & Sgurr Ruadh

Another stunning day on the hills! We woke to a slight ground frost but the skies were beautifully clear, the sun was out and the forecast suggested a 90% chance of cloud free munros. It doesn’t get much better.

Heading out, our plan (or certainly Bruce’s plan) was to do two munros. I was a little less sure of this given the mention of ‘scramble’ in the route guide, but decided I’d make a decision on the move. The hills were listed separately on Walk Highlands, but the suggestion was they’d make a good pairing for a longer day.

Beinn Liath Mhor & Sgorr Ruadh circuit: view to Fuar Tholl

We began with Beinn Liath Mhor, parking on the verge as the parking area was already full of others with similar ideas. This took us up through the woods, across the railway line – quite literally: look both directions and listen out for trains – and followed a well maintained track steadily upwards.

As the views opened up we could see the very impressive ridge along which we’d walk to reach the first summit of the day, also seeing Sgorr Ruadh, our second peak. A couple of small cairns confirmed directions, and before long we were making our ascent steadily, and steeply, up the zig zagging path. This path was a little intimidating – the gradient did not make me wish to return this way, but there were some ‘easy’ scrambles ahead (subjective judgement) and I had a very small fear I might end up stuck! By this time we’d gotten in tow with another walker, Charlie. He’d gotten into conversation with us, we’d given him a spare copy of a map as he didn’t have one, and having caught him again he’d just kind of stuck with us.

Part way up we met another couple of walkers and a dog. Chatting to them for a bit, Bruce recognised the man as none other than the legendary Heavy Whalley. Lovely to make his acquaintance.

Gaining height there was a bouldery section that climbed to reach the ridge. Then the fun began! The ridge dropped a little, then rose again before descending and here was the first scramble. It wasn’t anything particularly challenging, just a little bit narrow, and the next scary looking section that we thought we needed to go over was actually just a skirt around.

The summit itself was glorious. A sizeable cairn marked it clearly and the views were amazing in all directions. A better picnic stop you’d be hard pressed to find!

Continuing onwards, the descent started to get interesting. Initially the path was clear and easy, then leading to a scramble down a rocky gully. I found myself surprised in that I actually enjoyed it! Looking back it was quite an impressive way down. Had I thought I had to go up it I’d probably have been less than impressed.

Descending from Beinn Liath Mhor on route to Sgorr Ruadh

Being in my happy place when the decision time came, I opted to continue up Sgorr Ruadh, bouyed by the fact that I’d managed to scramble and with a little more belief that I might do it again.

The hill ahead looked impressive but also not too far away, and we didn’t have too much more work to do before beginning to ascend again. The path flanked the hill and headed up fairly gradually, weaving a way through the boulders. Towards the upper reaches we met with another scramble. Charlie led the way and I was encouraged by Bruce who followed behind.

I really appreciated the calming words he repeated if I was hesitant, ‘three points of contact,’ as I navigated my way up, conscious of the light dusting of snow and the proximity to the edge of the ridge. I was quite delighted with myself to reach the summit cairn!

Snack stop near the summit of Sgorr Ruadh overlooking Maol Chean-dearg

After another brief stop we began our descent. Again this was mixed with some steeper sections and a lack of clarity on where the path went, disappearing into nothing.

Just off the summit of Sgorr Ruadh

We navigated our way across the bouldery terrain that held a few patches of snow, finally ending on a more grassy rake. From here we managed to find our way back onto the path that would take us all the way back to complete the loop.

At this point Charlie decided to pick up the pace, and we said our farewells, Bruce and I happy to amble back gently.

The river crossing was reached and Bruce effortlessly boulder hopped across. I followed in his footsteps (more or less) with only a short dip of one foot, not enough to get wet feet with my gaiters.

Reaching the path by which we’d originally ascended we made our way steadily back down. Looking back, the sunlight was highlighting the hills and the panorama was simple amazing! We were both firmly in agreement firmly that this truly had been a great day out.

Panoramic view of Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor

Day 3: Moruisg

The forecast had suggested heavy snow would be coming early afternoon so we decided to go for a shorter walk, hopefully missing it. Moruisg seemed ideal, a short walk with a big pull up from the road.

Renowned for being boggy and very wet underfoot we figured having had a couple of dry days it might not be too bad. I think we probably did get off lightly in the grand scheme of things. Apart from a near slip on the way up we came off unscathed.

The bog eases as the path rises after the railway line and before long a stonier section is reached. This is where the big pull begins and it is pretty relentless from here until the ridge. Zig zagging back and forth a little helps on the upper grassy sections where the legs are weary and the terrain is softer underfoot.

Steep ascent from the road to Moruisg

On the ridge, a big cairn is soon reached. Although impressive, this is not the true summit. Another cairn lies a short distance along the ridge. We didn’t loiter here as the wind has picked up a little and the chill was noticeable.

Summit cairn: Moruisg

The initial descent was quick and easy before slowing for the steeper section. The path was easy to find and we continued to make decent progress, before long dropping down onto the flatter boggy terrain at the bottom.

View from Moruisg

A wee burn provided enough water to clean the muddy boots, and we reached the car dry. Aside from a tiny flurry of hail near the top the forecast snow is yet to materialise. Today is 1st April – surely MWIS and the Met Office aren’t conspiring together for April Fools?!

London Marathon: 5 weeks to go!

I’ve tried to take the training one day at a time. I have a plan, I get daily e-mails from Final Surge, the week is laid out in my diary – one week at a time – but essentially I’m just focusing on today, not thinking about the next run (or runs) as that’s when it all becomes a bit overwhelming.

I’ve now completed 11 weeks of training and have followed the plan pretty much to the letter. I’ve missed only two easy 6 mile runs during this time: one because I ended up working too late and was shattered, the other in favour of a 10 mile walk. The only other variations on the plan have been the conversion of a planned tempo run from 3-2-3 miles with 1 mile jog recovery to an 8 mile tempo as I was lacking time, an easy 6 miles trimmed down to 3 in order to have a 5 mile walk in the afternoon, and an easy 6 shortened to 2 miles as I had a massage booked and not enough time to fit the miles in! Two miles is better than nothing and the book states that you should do what you can if you can’t manage the full session.

The upshot of these little tweaks is that with a few additional easy miles added to date I’ve got 537 miles in my legs and have only missed a total of 10 miles. I’m not convinced that will impact on the final marathon time.

I’ve come to enjoy the SOS (something of substance) sessions. Initially I dreaded them but I’ve come to realise that they are achievable and I usually feel pretty good during them. Surprisingly, it’s the easy runs that can feel harder; I think this is where the recovery happens.

So, 5 weeks left to train. I’m now starting to think ahead to the rest of the season as I’m currently feeling strong and would like to maximise the benefits of this training block however the marathon goes.

2019 Smokies 10

I really enjoy the Smokies 10 ladies race and try to fit it into my race calendar. Last year it had to be rescheduled due to snow, thus I missed it due to a clash with another race and deferred to this year instead. A very different day, the temperature was mild (8C), but the wind was strong, gusting 45 mph if the Met Office are to be believed. Having felt at times like I was running into a wall I have no reason to doubt!

Registration was smooth, thankfully, as despite my best intentions I was cutting it fine for getting my two mile warm up in (alongside a toilet stop).

2019 Smokies 10

The real positive in the warm up was realising that it really wasn’t that cold. I was swithering as usual about clothing. I was definite on the shorts and vest. The decision was whether or not to wear arm warmers as well as gloves. Warming up made me realise the only risk of the wind was my vest blowing up and exposing more of me than I’d care to! No arm warmers, just gloves, decision made.

Lining up for the briefing was a strange experience. Usually you have to find your space and try to move forward a bit through the throngs of runners. Here, there was a big space in front of the line and nobody wanted to get too close. Chatting to a lady beside me we agreed that we should just move towards the line and others could get past us if needed. A short briefing and off we went.

2019 Smokies 10
Not loving the wind!

Rounding the first corner the wind hit! The runners had spread out a little, the leaders heading off and opening a gap, while a couple of groups gathered. I latched onto a group as I realised after being on my own that the gusts were too tough to battle alone. I did try to work with others here, at times moving towards the front and taking the lead before dropping back into the group again. It was amazing how tough it was; a gust could really slow you in your tracks! As a result, the pace was slower than I would have liked and I got the impression that was the case for others too.

Strava splits: Smokies 10

The first half of the run is slightly uphill with a couple of steeper inclines. I felt quite strong on the ups but was delighted to reach the point in the run where it starts to go down.

Smokies 10 Route

Obviously not as happy as the other ladies in the pack, as they all took off at some pace! It took me a moment to gather myself, get the legs into gear, and get going. When I did manage I felt strong and then enjoyed slowing picking people off one by one, targeting the runner in front of me until I caught them. I hope this is a sign of the marathon training going well as with an average of 50 miles a week for the last few weeks, and a solid week of training ahead of today, I’m happy with the paces I hit in this second half. There was definitely some wind assistance here too I think, at times a gust giving a push in the right direction.

Before long I could see the houses as we approached Arbroath again. This, and the 9 mile marker, gave me the impetus to dig deep again, picking up the pace for the final mile.

2019 Smokies 10

Having anticipated continuing along to the main entrance gate for the finish, I was pleasantly surprised to be pointed left at the near end of the campus. This proved a better finish, running down onto the playing field and along the grass, then up a steep little bank (only three steps, but I made a silent request to not be the one to slip and face plant) to the finish line. Thanks to Shona for the cheers! Much appreciated.

I was very happy with my finishing time. Having said yesterday I’d be disappointed if not sub-80, I did wonder if I’d manage given the wind on the way out. However, the end result was pleasing …

Smokies 10 Result

Goodie bag and t-shirt collected, and a brief chat with those who’d finished around me, I dutifully headed off to complete my prescribed cool down (another two miles). This did garner some odd looks as I ran on the opposite side of the road to avoid getting in the way.

Following a lovely hot shower I was rewarded with a long queue for refreshments but as always, the Arbroath Footers did us proud, and the baker’s sandwiches and cakes were second to none. Tesco did the healthy bit, providing some fruit. I’m saving my banana for my porridge in the morning!

Lovely to share the post run celebrations with friends from Jog Scotland Hazlehead and parkrun. Huge congratulations to Marion (Maz) for scoring a PB on her birthday! Way to go!

The upshot … this race never gets easier but is definitely worth attending. Always sells out and there’s good reason for that. I’ll definitely return (provided I get my entry in before it sells out!)

Hill of Rowan

Racing tomorrow, miles in my legs this week, and a husband keen to get up a hill, thankfully the routes he offered were easy. I opted for the shortest of two, Hill of Rowan.

Down Glen Esk, we headed for Tarfside where we parked. Along this road is a Folk Museum with a fine tearoom. Sadly this is seasonal so we couldn’t partake of their offerings at the end of the walk today. The toilets at the Tarfside car park, thankfully are not, although the opening hours are. Outdoorsy types welcome!

Warm welcome for campers at Tarfside

Leaving the car park we had a very short walk along the road before heading onto a good track. This headed upwards, climbing gently, and was good underfoot.

Looking around we could see evidence of estate management, the heather having been burned recently and other areas smoking away in the distance.

Burning heather in the distance, looking back from Hill of Rowan

As we lost sight of the very impressively sized monument as we rounded the hill, a large post marked the track that led up to the top. This continued a very gentle climb up.

Approaching the monument, Hill of Rowan

The monument, when reached was sadly locked.

Hill of Rowan monument

Very blustery at the top, we realised how sheltered we’d been on the side of the hill. The unseasonably mild weather, however, meant that although windy it was far from cold. We took in the views, then headed back down via another track that took a longer route back.

Rain forecast, our luck was in. A little spot or two started to fall but we made it back to the car before the heavens opened – only just!

A tea stop on route home saw us find the wonderful homebakes at Castleton Farm Shop. I have a feeling this won’t be our last time there!

Toughing it out

Today was the first run of the plan where I’ve really felt I’ve struggled to hit and maintain the pace required. All things considered I guess this isn’t that bad – after all, I’m now onto the eighth consecutive week of training and last week was one of the highest mileage weeks in some time; last time I hit this mileage was probably June when I was training for Fort William Marathon.

Today’s session was an SOS, Something of Substance, and totalled 10 miles. Two easy miles to warm up the weary legs – cumulative fatigue, I’m starting to feel you! Then two sets of three miles at faster than marathon pace with one mile recovery between, followed by a one mile cool down.

I realised on reflection that what got me more than anything was probably starting my speed work on an incline. Not a large incline, but just enough to notice it in the legs.

Enough said. Miles banked. Mountain of food consumed. Rest day tomorrow before the next SOS session on Thursday. This weekend’s race could be interesting! Watch this space …

2019 Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon

I love this race. It’s my PB course. This year had to be different though. Training for a marathon, the training plan advised I run this at the sharp end of long run pace rather than as a race. Had I known I wouldn’t be racing in all honesty I’d probably not have entered as I’ve never believed you can put a number on and not get caught up in racing, especially when that number is 1!

Number 1: Metro Aberdeen do Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon

On the upside, running in Moray always means a visit ‘home’, and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Mum and Dad, as always being well fed, before a good night’s sleep alleviating the need for an early drive through.

Heading for registration, I met lots of familiar faces! Friends from Metro, Hazlehead Jog Scotland, Sunday running buddies, and even Orcadians. Fantastic seeing you all out in force!

I then headed back ‘home’ while the others waited to be bussed along to Kinloss, later chauffeured to the start by my folks, just in time to join the massive toilet queue and make it to the start.

More friendly faces were seen, both in the toilet queue and on the start line, and I enjoyed chatting to people along the way to Lossiemouth. I resisted the urge to get carried away at the beginning, good practice for the GFA start at London, I’m sure, as with lots of much faster people there I’m certain I’ll need to be at the back!

I enjoyed a chat with Elspeth and Peter – hope you made it onto the boat! These early miles felt like I was going quite slowly and I did have to use my watch to settle into the pace. However, settle I did, and the miles passed smoothly. Before I knew it we’d passed the maltings; the smell here always reminds me of childhood (not because my parents were partial to a drink, but because Dad was a Stillman)!

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On through the wooded section, the climb up from Burghead felt far more comfortable when running within my limits.

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Miles were ticking away nicely and I began to look forward to seeing my parents in Hopeman. Soon enough I spotted their car; as I approached they hopped out to greet me; many thanks to you both!

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A friendly toot as they diverted off the main road to get away from the runners, I chatted to others I met along the top road. This greatly assisted in whiling away the miles again. A small world, one of the ladies I chatted to recognised me from Fort William last year where we’d talked before the marathon. It was good to learn more about the world of ultra running – maybe one day.

After the final water station my competitive urge kicked in with a mile to go, and I enjoyed picking off a few runners on the last leg. The wind that had been slight seemed to pick up around the golf course. The final turn saw a tough finish into the headwind. Hats off to anyone who managed a PB! Not the easiest of days for it.

Tough finish into the wind at the 2019 Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon

Post run I was deposited at the community centre where, as always, the Moray Road Runners had laid on a great spread. Refuelled and refreshed, having caught up with a few friends, I stayed for the prize giving (congratulations Metro ladies & George), before heading ‘home’ for yet another feed!

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Overall time – 1:51:08, slower than usual for this course, but steady pacing and a strong run. A great day out again. Despite the wind, good conditions overall – sunshine and warmth in February. It doesn’t get much better than this!