Finding New Ways

In my last blog I mentioned feeling a bit bored of the lockdown and the same old routines. I know I’m not alone in that. I’m also beginning to notice more traffic on the roads, more cars in the car parks at the local parks and trails, more people out and about and a greater ignorance around social distancing. This last one is the thing that’s pushing my buttons right now. I have no objection to running on the road to accommodate pedestrians on the pavement, but do get irritated if they don’t acknowledge it in any way. It’s just plain rudeness to ignore someone and does nothing towards teaching good manners to youngsters when families hog the pavement en masse, looking at you as if you have three heads rather than smiling or saying hello. Thankfully not everyone is like this; there’s definitely a great number of people being friendly, exchanging pleasantries or even giving way to others. To those, thank you!

New Trails

I’ve been trying to find new routes to run, becoming a little jaded with what’s now becoming very familiar. During the week I found another single-track trail alongside the River Dee. It was a bit lumpy and bumpy with plenty of roots and boulders. Not ideal for running at any pace, but ultimately I’ve no need to go anywhere fast right now so I enjoyed it for what it was.

Biking

Yesterday, we hit the trails again on our mountain bikes which was fun. I’m really enjoying being out on the bike again and when we’re finally permitted to return to the hills any ride ins will certainly feel easier than they previously would have done!

Trail Finding

While biking, we wondered where some of the wee trails along the route went but lacked the inclination to investigate. In the past, when we were keen bikers, we’d sometimes explore on foot to get a handle on how routes link up and how good they’d be for riding. Not being close enough to Countesswells to do this without the car or the will to be out walking for many hours, I volunteered to run them instead.

Cheating a little, my run began midway up Anderson Drive having bummed a lift from Bruce who was headed for his Mum’s with the essential shopping. Thrown out at the bus stop, I ran a new trail that took me parallel to Kingsgate. In the morning sunshine it was extremely pretty!

Running alongside the burn, popping out to cross a couple of roads, it ended near Hazlehead with the option to continue to the Den of Maidencraig. That’s for another day. Today’s goal was Countesswells via the shortest route.

Hazlehead was relatively quiet. I’ve noticed more people taking to the fairways as this gives a much more open space on which to walk. I’m sure the footfall is no higher than normal, but I do wonder about the impact of kids on their bikes. For the sake of the golfers, I hope everyone’s staying off the greens!

Over to Countesswells, it was a relief to run downhill, my legs feeling a little like running through treacle today. This is largely due to the work I’ve been doing through @Jcru05’s programme, #unlacethebrace. I know that in the longer term this will ease and the benefits will pay off so I just need to embrace the discomfort and fatigue for now. If anyone is interested in learning more, there’s also an E-book available: https://payhip.com/Physiorun, well worth a look!

I opted to run straight down the fire road; the most direct route to the area I wanted to explore. There’s a lovely swooping section through the trees when you come off Kingshill, but further along there’s a section that gets slower due to a good descent with a subsequent ninety degree turn to go uphill. I ran the reverse of my usual route, surprised by the initial incline. I always thought it was virtually flat coming off this section and back towards the fire road; it transpires it’s not.

Back down the fire road, I followed another single-track path up from our usual trail. Again, this was not quite so much fun and I found it particularly hard going with my heavy legs. While it would be rideable, it was a wee bit more technical and definitely more of an effort, leading back to the other path I’d been on. It allowed me to link up to the usual route again, providing another piece in the puzzle. Those that know me (and my distinct lack of directional sense) will be suitably impressed, I’m sure!

Homeward Bound

Leaving Countesswells, I took the opportunity to try another route we’ve seen folks coming down. This took me along a wee road in the first instance, then up a single-track path through a field. Definitely another one that would be fun on the descent. I’m pretty certain that on the return leg I’ll stick to the gradual ascent and follow the gate to gate section.

Having been advised by a biker I got chatting to that Hazlehead was now horrendously busy, I stayed off the beaten track for as long as possible, following the horsey trails instead. Down to Den Wood, I then cut along the trail to Walker Dam where I was delighted to see some ducklings!

Just over 11 miles in the legs by the time I reached home. My waterproof jacket stayed in my rucksack and I found some fun new routes. I’d call that a win!

 

Life in Lockdown

The Daily Grind

If I’m honest, at times I’m starting to get a bit fed up of the ‘lockdown’. Being back at work after the ‘holidays’ where I enjoyed having lots of free time, I’m now working 3 days from home / 2 days in school. While some semblance of normality is good, it’s frustrating not being able to see family and friends and having no concept of when this may be feasible. The daily routine is now all too familiar and there are limited possibilities to do something different.

On the other hand, I do consider myself fortunate to have a beautiful garden to enjoy and the good health required to escape the confines of home to enjoy the outdoor spaces close by. I appreciate that not everyone is as fortunate.

Biking Adventures

Yesterday we took our old singlespeed bikes out for a change. We followed the usual route around Hazlehead and Countesswells, not certain at the outset whether Kingshill would feature. In the event we were pleasantly surprised by our burgeoning bike fitness and decided to give the aforementioned hill a bash. Riding clipless pedals, once you’ve committed you keep going – or fall off. My heart was thundering by the time I reached the top with every ounce of weight required for the final couple of pedal turns. Bruce advised that next time I should try zig-zagging towards the top as it makes the effort easier; either that or falling off less hazardous!

Anti-Social Sunday

Sunday is usually Social Sunday – a large group of friends meeting up to run the trails. Sadly, for now this can’t happen, so today was anti-social Sunday instead. I love the Countesswells trails and have enjoyed riding them, so today decided to change my route, find a couple of shortcuts to Hazlehead and hopefully make it over to Countesswells.

I was well prepared with my running pack – gloves, leggings and a base layer plus water and a snack – very conscious that I need to be self sufficient at all times. The lack of people on the trails today surprised me; certainly at the start of the Hazlehead parkrun course there appeared to be far more people walking on the golf course than anywhere else! It was a pleasant surprise to bump into a familiar face along the way and good to enjoy a socially distanced chat.

Continuing on, I reached Countesswells, my favourite local forest. Knowing that we’re all missing our Sunday runs I enjoyed a leisurely pace and frequent stops to take photos to share.

We have a few points along the route where we’d normally regroup. The selfie spot is where we always have a shared photo! Nobody else in sight today!

I decided against Kingshill as the loop adds a couple of miles and my legs aren’t quite up to that distance at the moment. I clocked up 12 miles overall and that was quite sufficient being my longest run since lockdown.

Running back along the usual route, I enjoyed the swooping trails, reminiscing fondly of previous runs in company. Heading back to the car park I took in a couple of new paths to avoid the main trail, somewhat lumpy and rutted, the result of forestry works prior to lockdown.

The final climb of the day led back up towards Hazlehead. Here I met a familiar Metro man, flying down the track; the opposite of me as I plodded my way back up on increasingly weary legs!

Although there were a couple of rain showers, I was fortunate in being sheltered. The lack of rain saw the trails as dry as I’ve seen.

Round the corner towards the golf course the sun broke through again. Definitely a couple of seasons in one day.

From here, it was pretty much all downhill to home. Mixing things up, I headed along to the halfway point of the Hazlehead parkrun course before turning down towards the park. Staying off road for as long as I could, only in the final mile or so was I back on pavements.

Looking to the Future

A beautiful run and a reminder that friends are never far away! Roll on the day that we can be social on Sunday once again.

Be Grateful of the Small Things

Biking

Today was a stunning day. We’ve been truly blessed with the weather thus far during our ‘confinement’, and it was a joy to be out on the trails again today.

Riding out from home, it’s not long before we reach Hazlehead. I love being able to ride across to Countesswells, a favourite running route ordinarily. I’ve managed to the old ‘stables’ but the full route is a step or two (several miles) too far.

On our social Sunday runs we have regular stops to allow everyone the opportunity to regroup. One such stop is our ‘selfie spot’, so in keeping with tradition Bruce and I have taken pictures there on the couple of occasions we’ve been out.

The solitude of the trails is remarkable with so few people out. The car park closed, people are welcome only if they can get there under their own steam.

Reflections

Home and showered I reflected upon the day thus far and decided to look back on previous years to see what I’d been doing then. Way back in December 2014 I decided to start keeping a journal of things I’m grateful for, noting three positives each day. These are often small, relatively insignificant things but the reflection provides some clear light at the end of each day, all the more so during life’s tough times.

Here they are with some annotations along the way:

15th April 2015

1. Relaxed morning in Keswick (Easter holidays – I wonder if it was raining; ‘relaxed mornings’ don’t usually figure in our hols!)

2. Lovely walk with Bruce & Rob (Rob is one of Bruce’s friends and I recall he’d driven some way to join us for a walk)

3. Post walk beers and chat

15th April 2016

1. Last 3 Wainwrights: Ling Fell, Sale Fell, then on to Binsey! (I should clarify that these were the last 3 Wainwrights of OUR holiday; still a long way to go overall!)

2. Home – although I enjoy being away I’m always happy to be home again.

3. Chat with Mum & Dad

15th April 2017

1. parkrun fun as Run Director

2. Nuart walk around Aberdeen with Bruce followed by a visit to CASC

3. Dinner catch up at Dizzy’s with Elaine, Heidi & Jacq – we need to get together when this is all over, although with one in USA and Dizzy’s sadly no longer standing we’ll need a new venue.

15th April 2018

1. Social run (Quite possibly around the trails we did today)

2. Coffee at Cognito – a post run tradition and a place I’m missing very much right now!

3. Trip to Stonehaven for ice cream – probably Aunty Betty’s; I’ve since discovered E Giulianotti (up the hill from the Square) that does equally good ice cream and has less of a queue!)

15th April 2019

1. Happy boys after the holidays – Easter holidays are a moveable feast. One of the joys of working as a teacher is that the kids are generally happy to return; you can’t fail to be swept up in their enthusiasm.

2. More fudge sold – this was part of my fundraising efforts for the London Marathon last year.

3. Sarah – home to a clean house. I work full-time and am a part-time ‘athlete’. What more can I say?

Have you found any small pleasures during the ‘lockdown’? What are you grateful for?

Loving the trails!

Having set the bar at parkrun at the end of May, I fell off the pace in June. Half marathon training should have started (and in theory has), but the tall task of getting back to speed leaves me a little lacking in enthusiasm. June has also seen me away for work related things a few of times and overall it’s just been a very busy month.

I felt like I’d lost my mojo a little, but have been pleased to rediscover it on the trails. Thursday saw me dropped off on the back road as husband headed north. This allowed me to enjoy a loop of my favourite forest before making my way home, barely touching tar until the final mile.

Then today saw the social Sunday group hit our usual loop of Hazlehead and Countesswells. After yesterday’s hot parkrun at the beach, the damp, cool air among the trees was a true blessing!

The run started with a warm up loop with Alan before meeting the others. We then headed up the trail at Hazlehead, through the gates and over to Countesswells Forest.

Gate to Gate between Hazlehead and Countesswells

Stopped at our usual spot for the group photo, minus Ali, our usual photographer, so a couple of people are missing from shot!

Group photo in Countesswells minus a couple due to lack of photographic skill

Onwards along the beautiful trails, great in all weathers but especially pleasurable on such a lovely summer’s day!

Kingshill, the big hill of the run, is tough on the legs, but definitely helps with overall strength. First time around …

Bottom of Kingshill - waiting for everyone to regroup

And around again …

Finishing loop 2 of Kingshill

I have no idea how I ever managed to do this 5 times! That was probably around this time last year when peaking for the Fort William Marathon.

Crossing over to the other side of the Forest we run up what I consider to be the last hill – in actual fact there are two more but I find them comparatively easy.

Top of the hill at the opposite side to Kingshill, Countesswells Forest

No sprint back through Hazlehead this week as my legs were more than happy (or fatigued) by what we’d done. Finished with a run up and down the reps lane to round the day off with 14 miles.

Goal for the week ahead is to try to get some regular running in, whatever the weather.

This is where I’m at. What keeps you motivated? Feel free to share any tips by commenting.

Metro Social Sunday

Alan’s back from his travels (again! Retirement suits him!) so there was some element of organisation for today’s Sunday social run. He’s the one that posts on Facebook to remind others that we’ll be running. Admittedly it is usually the same route, place and time, but occasionally this varies). One such variation was when Ali, Marie and I opted for Scolty a few weeks ago. Marie is not Metro – she is in fact a Garioch imposter – however, we’re sociable and welcome others on our runs. It was only halfway round Scolty that I suddenly realised I’d invited a work colleague and he may well have turned up at Hazlehead at 9 am. Thankfully he had failed in his mission to get up and out; it appeared that way today also as he was a no show again. Rein in the Saturday nights if you’re reading this!

So, today’s run. A merry wee band turned up which was good: Alison and Bill (husband and wife duo, they’re also often joined by their speedy daughter, Sarah – not today though); James (physiotherapist from Spear and on a sub 3:45 marathon quest); Graham (parkrun ED and imposter); Alan (who kindly picked me up on route to Hazlehead again); and George who had run an impressive 5 miles prior to meeting us as he needed to get 15 miles in the bank today as he’s marathon training for Manchester.

We did our usual route from Hazlehead, over to Countesswells and around Kingshill. I had initially set out with the intention of doing 14 miles as I’m looking to get myself back into gear for the forthcoming Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon and aiming to build the base mileage before starting on my own marathon journey. However, with George having banked 5 miles already and everyone else happy to opt for 10 I conceded a few miles in favour of company. It didn’t take much (any) persuasion!!

Had a very pleasant run, chatting with George at the back of the pack for much of it. The others ran on ahead but waited at regular intervals for us to catch up. Conditions were excellent today. Yesterday’s wind had completely died down and it was a balmy 6C! Perfect. Another dry week also saw the trails mercifully dry.

Time passed quickly and before we knew it we were round Kingshill and headed back towards Hazlehead. As we ran between the gates I got chatting to James and ended up doing an extra loop around the roads at Hazlehead to round off his miles. That worked well for me taking me to just short of 11.5 miles for the day. I resisted the urge to run laps of the car park to round it off, happy with this. It was very enjoyable chatting to him and hearing his thoughts on various running matters, as with the job that he’s doing and his personal mission he’s picked up lots of information and knowledge.

Arriving back at the car park I was relieved to find that my driver had waited for me and wasn’t making me run home – thanks Alan! As usual, onwards to Cafe Cognito we went, with the classic post-run refreshment of scones (George and I), croissant (Alan), and hot chocolate, latte and Americano with hot milk on the side, respectively. Another great run in great company!

 

Hazlehead & Countesswells

Thankfully despite the cold it’s been very dry (therefore no ice underfoot) and we were able to get out to the woods for one of my favourite long runs: Hazlehead and Countesswells.

Setting off with Ali and Derek, we were nearly a man down before we left the car park with Derek having a minor impromptu slip.

The trails were surprisingly puddle free. It’s very rare indeed that there are no puddles to jump, run through or tiptoe around. Opting for either the former or latter, I have to say I was most delighted! I hate getting my feet wet, especially at the start.

The toughest part of this run is always the start, the first mile leading very gently up, following the route of Hazlehead parkrun. The legs are just getting warmed up and it can be a bit of a slog.

As always, the chatter passed the time and before we knew it we were coming out of Hazlehead and working our way towards Countesswells. I feel sad when I see the urban sprawl that’s developing here as the new houses are built; in my opinion they spoil the views and the overall peace and tranquility of the area.

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Derek and Ali run the gate to gate section

Before long we were in Countesswells. I’ve always loved this forest and adore running here. There are wide forest trails and smaller tracks aplenty. Give me this over the road any day! With so many trails and paths to pick from it’s possible to play here for ages without getting bored.

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Derek stick with us towards the bottom of the forest before heading off as he’s building up strength just now.

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A wee self-timed shot before Derek left us

Ali and I then continued on our way round to conquer Kingshill. This lovely hill takes you round to the back of the forest with views over to Kingswells. It had a special place on Strava where someone has aptly named it to show the love we all feel for it – not! Anyway, we did three loops of Kingshill, managing to run each one pretty steadily so we were happy.

Each loop was unique in it’s own way: the first we chugged up complaining; the second we met a melee of people at the top (including Phil, a fellow Metro man who appeared over the top of Tank Hill, much to my surprise!); the third was great as we felt pretty virtuous having already completed two laps.

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View back over the forest from Kingshill

There’s then the other side of the forest to run. This part always reminds me of Alan (who was running today in sunnier climes, the Gran Canaria Half), as it’s his favourite part of the run, twisting and turning through the trees with little swooping sections. It’s a real fun bit to run. It also reminds me of John (also running the GC Half) as he once performed some sort of levitational feat, attempting to remain upright having stumbled off the path and into the ditch!

We met lots of dogs here including the obligatory one that has to wander in front of you and attempt to trip you up. It failed.

Back over to Hazlehead we ran along to the ‘bus stop’ or shelter at the top of the golf course / Hazlehead  parkrun route before returning to the cars. 14 miles in the bank and 2 happy runners!

At this point Ali headed off so I had to go solo to Cafe Cognito. My favourite coffee shop, it’s an absolute must following the Sunday run. Perfect!

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This is why we run!