The 40th Race: Virtual London Marathon (Running My Way)

When I signed up to run the London Marathon virtually I decided against running at ‘home’. The thought of pounding the streets did not appeal, while running my local trails would require multiple loops of the dreaded Kingshill in order to make the distance. I’ve love Aviemore so decided to go there!

Torrential Downpours

Throughout the lead up to race day, the forecast looked bleak. I swithered as to whether I should cancel and run locally, but having frequently biked the trails in Aviemore in years gone by I’m aware of they drain well and made the decision just to go.

Heading to Aviemore was not the most pleasant journey. Driving over the Lecht, there was a significant amount of surface water lying as the rain fell throughout the day; it was a relief to reach our destination.

Sad Times

Aviemore usually has a great buzz about it and it was a sad reflection of current times on Saturday night, the two household rule alongside restricted numbers sucking the life out of the evening, the usual buzz of the Cairngorm Hotel sadly lacking. That said, we were well fed and able to enjoy a nightcap before an early night.

Morning Showers

Waking up during the night, I checked my phone a couple of times. Sadly it appeared that conditions were deteriorating rather than improving. Meanwhile Aberdeen looked to be getting better (or at least dryer). Happy for those that were running at home, I began to wish I’d stayed there!

I’d planned to set off around 9 am, so rose at 7 am for breakfast of a bun with banana and nut butter, and a couple of mugs of peppermint tea. Showered and dressed, I laid out another set of running kit in case I chose to stop off for a mid-marathon change, figuring this might be welcome if completely drookit!

Setting off as planned, it was drizzly but not dinging down as forecast. Cloud was hanging very low over the hills. I debated before leaving – jacket, no jacket. Feeling the relative warmth, I concluded it should be left. I knew I’d warm up quickly enough; even a decent jacket leaves you feeling like you’re being boiled in the bag!

The Route

If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll be aware that when we go walking it’s not me that does the planning. In the same way, I had a vague notion of where I might run for my marathon but no definite plan and no real research done. I wouldn’t say this was a regret, but I did get some surprises later.

The Old Logging Way

Starting out, I headed towards the ski road and followed the Old Logging Way, my reasoning being that it would give a little shelter from the drizzle that was later to turn to rain. Along with not planning the route, I’d not planned a pace, deciding I’d just run by feel. I did however have 3 goals in mind:

A) Sub 4 hour marathon

B) Run all the way

C) Finish with something other than a personal worst!

I’ll let you into a secret – I achieved two of the three!

The Old Logging Way passes by Rothiemurchus and then gently meanders up towards Glenmore. The path was mainly dry with the odd puddle, one or two of which slowed me right down as I tried to step through on my heels rather than stomping through and getting wet feet. In my experience wet feet = blisters. Reaching a high point after about 3.5 miles, I decided to about turn rather than going downhill only to have to come back up.

This was so much easier! I hadn’t appreciated the incline until turning back.

Speyside Way

Continuing through Aviemore, I headed all the way along the main street until the end of the village, taking up the trail of the Speyside Way. Initially, this was on a single track path, but quickly opened up onto a wide, hard packed track. I’d envisaged this being flat; in effect it was gently undulating and I did groan inwardly (maybe even outwardly) on a couple of occasions as I had to go up yet again.

The plan had been to continue along to Boat of Garten. I’m not sure if I lost the Way, but found myself further on the Red Squirrel Trail after a few miles. This, I believe, did continue to the Boat; however, a couple of huge puddles taking up the width of the fire track presented a challenge, and having tramped over the heather to avoid them I came upon a wee burn that was too big to jump across. The path was covered in water with lots of grass growing under it making it challenging to identify solid ground from grass under water, so at this point I bailed and about turned. I tried heading up the Roe Deer Trail but only made it about 50 metres before meeting yet more muddy puddles. Back to Aviemore it was.

Reaching the village, my Garmin showed I’d covered around 17 miles. In a way this delighted me; however, by this point I was aware of the discrepancy between the London Marathon app and my Garmin, the former being 0.6 miles shy. There was also the thought that nearly 10 miles is still a mighty long way! However, pace was still okay and I continued running by feel.

The Logging Way Revisited

I decided to head out the opposite end of the Speyside Way towards Kincraig. I very quickly realised that this was downhill, at least leaving Aviemore initially – I couldn’t see very far ahead – meaning an uphill finish, so a snap decision was made to stick with what I know and head back onto the Logging Way. This was hard going! Beyond 18 miles, my calves were beginning to tighten and emotions were running high. I did shed a few tears as I ran past the Fish Farm, quickly getting my focus back on the task in hand.

I slogged my way back up the track, slowing to a walk for a few steps on one ascent. Again, further up I walked 40 steps on the return leg before picking up the pace again. I knew I’d meet the 4 hour goal if I could just keep running!

Heading back alongside the road I received a friendly toot as Bruce drove past and this perked me up. The final challenge was having to run past the hotel after the Garmin said I’d finished, to make up the distance for the app to record an official time. While irritated by this, my rational brain countered that a race distance is never quite bang on with the GPS, nor would I have followed the blue line in London, so this extra distance was quite apt.

Finishing was pretty cool! I immediately received a ‘Congratulations’ text from London Marathon and the app registered my official time. That was welcome as there was absolutely no other fanfare.

Thank You

Thanks to all the lovely people who commented on my run or wished me luck along the way. The kindness of strangers was appreciated. Toots from cars, thumbs up from behind the windows at junctions, all these things encouraged me along the way.

Running Solo

While it was a good experience, I don’t think I’d ever choose to run a solo marathon. It was hard work covering the distance alone with only my own thoughts for company.

I think this is partly what made it such an emotional experience; my thoughts often turned to someone that also loved the trails but sadly is no longer here to run them. I believe this helped me find the strength to go on as it made me realise how fortunate I am.

Run free! X

Visiting Old Friends: The Glas Maol Munros

Neither of us can quite remember when we last did this circuit, our guess being around 2012. We’ve since done Carn an Tuirc individually, but not the whole round. Today, being yet another forecast of clear skies and sunshine, seemed the perfect opportunity!

Glenshee

Parking in the big car park by Glenshee, sadly the cafe remaining closed, we set off around midday, later than usual; however, I am on holiday and the forecast looked like the afternoon into evening was set to be the best part of the day.

The initial warm up involved walking along the roadside verge to head back downhill to the parking area at Carn an Tuirc. We had to do this at either end of the day, so figured the start would be the best option. It’s always a little soul destroying finishing a hill day with a slog along the road.

Walking from Glen Shee with Carn an Tuirc in view

Carn an Tuirc

I’d forgotten what a boggy mess parts of this path are. Wearing my old comfy boots seemed a good idea on a dry day. However, as we made our way up the path and hit the boggy section I began to question my judgement. Nothing too serious though and the feet stayed dry so all was well.

The path up is pretty clear, becoming steeper as you progress. Towards the upper section the option of going straight up or veering right and then taking an easier stroll up the ridge was offered. My legs ruled and opted for easy. Hindsight is a great thing. I’m not convinced this was the best option as we ended up crossing stones and boulders to reach the summit.

Summit of Carn an Tuirc

However, we made it safely and found that the shelter cairn was large enough to accommodate physical distancing while sharing with fellow walkers. The first lunch of the day was consumed.

Cairn of Claise

Leaving Carn an Tuirc, the next munro was visible in the distance, across a grassy plateau. There was no significant change in altitude, making for an easy ‘bag’ of completing the circuit for the first time.

We barely paused for breath here, such was the ease of passing from one to the other.

Cairn of Claise

Glas Maol

Again, the terrain was grassy and easy allowing good pace between the second and third munros of the day.

Walking between Cairn of Claise and Glas Maol

A second lunch was enjoyed on Glas Maol, taking in the fine views ahead, Creag Leacach looking large and impressive on the horizon (despite being the smallest of the four munros on the circuit).

Creag Leacach

The final stop of the day looked a little intimidating until getting up close. The path between Glas Maol and Creag Leacach followed a dyke, passing a cairn at Bathach Beag that indicated our descent route for the return.

Drystone dyke leading to Creag Leacach

We veered away from the dyke slightly, crossing stony, bouldery ground. On the way back we chose to stay closer to it and found the path easier. The hill proved much less intimidating up close, instead appearing like the easy walk it is, and we quickly found our way to the summit cairn, meeting again the folks we’d met on the first munro of the day.

Summit cairn on Creag Leacach

Returning today we were able to retrace our steps before descending from the cairn at Bathach Beag to skirt around Glas Maol. Previously when we did this route there was snow so we had to take an alternative route which led to a long slog back up the road.

Today though, we initially retraced our steps taking the line along the dyke.

Leaving Creag Leacach behind on the Glas Maol circuit

We then followed a narrow single track path along the side of Glas Maol, finally leading us onto the Meall Ohdar ridge and down into the ski area where we encountered the ski tows and slowly zig zagged and traversed the ski area until we descended back to the car park. The final descent reminded me of coming off Cairngorm some years ago where I slipped on the grit, landed on my bum and sat on my walking pole, bending it out of shape! I was therefore glad to come off the path onto the grassy side and arrive at the car with poles intact!

Although not necessarily the most scenic of munros, on a gorgeous day they gave us what we needed.

 

 

 

Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach: A Quiet Munro

Trying to stay away from the crowds but keen to gain some height, ‘we’ decided to head for Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach, a neighbour of Lochnagar (Cac Carn Beag) accessed from Keiloch rather than Loch Muick, which we’d envisaged would be rather hoaching, all the more so with such a fine forecast.

Heading out the road there was a little dissent, one of us having done outstanding preparation, the other not even bothering to read the route guide (again). No prizes for guessing which role I had! Not having a map for the section through the forest, we needed to know where we were headed. In my defence, even if I had read it I’d have forgotten it by the time we arrived!

Parking at Keiloch and finding that there were still around half the parking spaces free the mood lifted. We were onto a winner! That and the toilets being open, what more can you ask for?

To begin, we retraced the route back to the main road. On finishing the day we realised that there was a wee path immediately across the road that would have avoided walking along the road itself. Thankfully it’s a slower stretch with the traffic lights ahead. Across the Invercauld Bridge, we left the traffic behind and headed along a good track into the woodland.

A couple of gates and a few junctions later, we had gradually climbed and were rewarded with the falls of Garbh Allt. A very short detour took us to a lovely viewpoint.

Falls of Garbh Allt

The good track continued and we left the trees, now onto the map. The path ran alongside the Feindallacher Burn and further up we had to cross this. It was very easy with lots of big boulders, for once spoilt for choice with crossing points. Prior to this, we met a couple that had biked in, our paths then set to cross several times despite following different routes.

As we progressed the heat built and layers were shed. The day was perfect for being on the hills, clear skies and lovely views. Lochnagar was clearly visible and it was interesting to see such a familiar hill from an alternative angle.

To reach our destination, we passed between two familiar hills: Carn an t-Sagairt Mor and Carn an t-Sagairt Beag. As we skirted around the latter, we debated whether we’d be better heading back over it on the reverse.

The last pull up to the summit was a long slog. Nothing challenging underfoot, no great ascent, just a slow pull. It was with relish that we reached the final path junction leading the way to the top of Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach. Being my first time up here, I was given the privilege of leading the way to the summit cairn. Here we met a couple with Wallace, a very friendly dog, keen to try and scrounge a treat or two.

We also met more people on this section (doing a round of several munros) than we did during the rest of the walk! As we’d thought, they shared that Loch Muick was extremely busy. Despite this, lunch at the summit was peaceful and topped up the energy levels for the return leg.

Summit cairn, Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach

Leaving the top we headed for The Stuic, a scrambly section of rocks that some like to ascend. This rewarded us with views to Loch nan Eun.

Loch nan Eun

To avoid the long walk back, we opted to go straight across to Carn an t-Sagairt Beag. As we progressed across the grassy hillside, I spotted a large herd of deer. Sensing our presence, they took off in the direction of the masses so I’m sure there were many walkers rewarded by the sight.

Further down we crossed some small, bouldery outcrops, all the time heading directly for the return path.

As always, it’s faster (or certainly seems that way) on the descent. We made fine time, stopping at the far side of the burn to top up on snacks before the yomp down through the trees.

All in all, a great day out. Another ‘pin’ on my munro map, a successful day of largely avoiding people, and great views! What’s not to like?

Sgor Mor: Blowin’ A Hoolie

Taking advantage of a decent forecast we decided to head for the hills. Driving out to Braemar the skies looked clearer than expected. Despite being winter there also appeared to be very little snow on the horizon.

After a quick pitstop in Braemar conditions did change as we drove out to Linn of Dee, the road having a light covering of snow and a few icy puddles, just enough for the driver to rein it in as you’re never quite sure of the skid risk.

Arriving at the car park we were greeted by a very friendly robin! He’d just been in the boot of the car next to us and hopped onto my rucksack, perching there proudly. Sadly we didn’t have a camera to hand to capture this lovely moment. He continued to dot around for some time before realising we didn’t have any food for him, leaving to visit the next arrival in the car park.

Setting off, we headed back along the road towards the bridge before following the track alongside the river for a short distance. It wasn’t long before we branched off, beginning our climb (heather bash) up the hillside. This was easy enough in terms of ascent, but a little bit of a slog for the legs due to the lift required with every footstep.

Reaching the deer fence, we headed for the gate, then traversing the hillside a little to reach the flatter ridge. Again, this took time and was hard work. On reaching the flatter ground the heather bashing lessened, the ground becoming more grassy, the grassy tussocks now providing the challenge as they squished underfoot, sinking a little with each step.

As we went up, the wind picked up, the windchill causing the temperature to drop. Having begun with two pairs of thinner gloves, it wasn’t long before the Tuff Bags went on, warming me up nicely and taking the wind away. My freebie Gore neckwarmer (courtesy of a Gore rep at one of the Tiso open evenings) also came up trumps. Pulled up over my mouth, sunglasses on to protect my eyes, hood up for extra warmth, and what was exposed still felt the cold, a wee flurry of snow adding to the wintry feel.

We sheltered near the top of the first minor peak for a snack stop. It was a different world, just dropping a few feet down and totally losing the wind. Refreshed, we battled on into the wind. It really was tough going! The wind was definitely trying to sweep away my walking poles, at times also knocking me off my stride. Bruce later shared that after the second top he’d wondered about just cutting down. I had very similar thoughts, having decided if we’d had any more height to gain I’d have bailed.

As it was we were close to the summit and after a short time we were there. Again, we dropped out of the wind, sheltering to enjoy our lunch before soaking up the views of the neighbouring munros. These had a little more sign of winter but snow cover is still pretty light for the time of year.

Retracing our steps, wind at our backs, we were blown back down towards the stream where we cut down, initially following the stream and then heading for White Bridge. This provided a more gradual descent although it was a tiny bit boggy due to the flatter terrain. The high point of the descent came in the form of a large herd of deer. Impressive in number, we got close enough to see some large antlers before they took flight.

Reaching the path, there was a really wet section. I only realised this as I sank into it, soaking my waterproofs to just below the knee! A slight detour took us back towards the Chest of Dee, some very fast water pouring down; you’d never guess seeing the River Dee meandering along gently further down the path that this was just upstream.

A good track saw us yomp back along to Linn of Dee, making decent time. It was a relief to have some easy terrain after a fairly taxing day. As always, no day out in Braemar is complete without a trip to The Bothy for coffee, and so things were rounded off perfectly.

Sgor Mor

Arriving at the Linn of Dee car park it was with a little trepidation that we set off, the car thermometer reading a chilly -5C! Thus, 3 pairs of gloves went on at the outset, prevention being better than cure, and off we went.

A short distance along the track we turned off and headed up through the trees. Looking back (always remember to look back when out in the hills) the sun shone beautifully, a lovely reminder of why we were out today. Continuing on and out of the trees we were then faced with some heather bashing, always a joy! (If you’re not a hill walker you may not detect the sarcasm here).

Coming upon the expected deer fence we headed along to the gate, only to find it frozen shut. Over the gate it was then!

6B9FCB00-9D70-437B-9459-3E9201511348

A further pull up took us onto the plateau that leads to the summit of Sgor Mor. This was stunning as always and today we were treated to blue skies and views of the big mountains around the Cairngorms.

A5FA6F27-1AD1-42D2-B868-9BEA22B7AE50

The trek across the plateau proved frustratingly slow, although on return to the car we realised we’d made decent time so perhaps in this case perception was not quite reality. It did feel like a drag at times – fresh snow having fallen last night provided a very powdery underfoot condition which meant sinking deep as we broke trail. Bruce did most of the work, but I did take a turn on occasion to give his legs a little relief.

9DDC89E8-4F0C-41CC-B4AC-FB28CC3A1A21

Finally reaching the summit we took in the 360 views:

33B0287D-9277-41C3-BFB8-BFD6EA43AE1F

The breeze had picked up and the temperature felt like it had dropped quite a bit, so we chose not to linger and instead  found sanctuary just a little way from the cairn to rehydrate with some hot soup. As usual, neither soup nor the accompanying teacake have ever tasted so good!

To return we took a different route, heading cross country to drop down to the path leading  back from White Bridge. Again, the terrain proved frustrating, both of us unexpectedly landing over our knees in snow at points. At this point we looked back but rather than being surprised at how far we’d come, instead, we were disappointed and concerned about how long it had taken to cover such a paltry distance! What was that I said about looking back?!?

Thankfully the boots stayed on, despite having to wriggle out of our indentations in the snow, and it wasn’t long before gaiters were added to keep further snow out. The descent became easier as gravity assisted and we made our way downhill alongside the stream.

37D95510-BEB1-450B-9B00-8C125C1C8F5A

The path was finally reached and good pace was then made back to the car, at which point we agreed that it had been a worthwhile and enjoyable day.

D6DAD260-FC25-4C17-A522-D290283E803E

One final stop led us to The Bothy in Braemar, purveyors of very good coffee and cakes. Then homeward bound it was, thoughts of work and routine starting to creep in. Hopefully not too long until the next escape!