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.

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!

A weekend of running and the Metro Beach 10k

The marathon training’s going pretty well so I was looking forward to the Metro Beach 10k – it’s fast, flat, and usually by the time evening comes the wind along the prom has died down. This unfortunately was not the case last night …

My legs were tired from the weekend’s running. The long run has a nasty habit of hanging around in the background like a bad smell, so I opted to get it out of the way on Friday evening, heading up to Hazlehead on my own, and running solo 2 miles up the road, through Hazlehead, over to Countesswells, 4 loops of Kingshill, the hill at the other side and an extra bit on the flatter terrain before heading back home via Hazlehead once again. To say it was warm is somewhat of an understatement. On the upside though, the run was done. It was one of those character building efforts – what started off feeling easy ended up feeling rather tough.

Saturday saw me hit Aberdeen parkrun. To begin with I wasn’t sure whether my legs would be able to run at all so I opted to walk up round the bend on my warm up run. At this point I reasoned with my body and concluded that a slow shuffle may be an option, so did manage a warm up effort, then was most delighted to meet my sister which meant that we could run together, chat all the way around, and really not think about the miles that are Aberdeen parkrun. She’s getting better – the pace noticeably picked up on the home straight!

Aberdeen parkrun

Then on Sunday I’d contemplated a lie in but the body clock woke me in time to meet the Metro social gang. Once again, we hit the trails at Hazlehead and Countesswells for varying distances. I decided to opt out with Ali and do the 10 mile route (only one lap of Kingshill) as my legs were weary and didn’t fancy venturing around a second time. This also ensured that I’d have suficient time for my post run coffee at Cognito at the Cross before venturing up to Huntly to see Mum and Dad for lunch. Win win!

So, back to the 10k. I ran it last year (and have only just looked back at the diary to find I did it in 43:15). I don’t recall there being any wind then so hopefully that’s what I can attribute to the slowing this year. I went out with the intention of warming up for two miles. However, it was very windy, so I bailed and decided I’d just head out for a jolly and forget about the time. Anyone that knows me will also know that this was never truly going to be the case – the Metro vest was on so this does mean business.

The start was somewhat larger than previous years and everyone was ahead of the start line before having to move backwards. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so hemmed in during a race! I think the last time was Paris Marathon where I was surrounded by tall people and couldn’t see a thing. Suffice to say, I was relieved when we set off and the crowd started to thin out a little.

The headwind along the upper prom was tough, but the legs were fresh at this point (surprisingly so). Before long the Stones marshals were reached and it was a sheer joy to hit the lower prom with no wind! What a blast it was running freely along here, probably why it felt all the harder when we reached the Footdee turn and hit the headwind again!

The second stretch along the upper prom from Footdee all the way to the Stones was brutal! I honestly felt like I was going backwards (and in terms of time I was). However, as with elsewhere on the course it was lovely to hear shouts of support from the marshals (Bryan, the FLJs/Metros) and other friends and clubmates. By this point I think the best you got was a grimace, so please know that your support truly was appreciated!

The final stretch along the lower prom to the finish was again wind free and it was here that I was able to truly relax and enjoy the run. I was delighted to be feeling strong, both in mind and body, and very happy to complete the run in a time of 43:49. I went in with no idea of where I was at and ran faster than I have in any training session to date – so far the marathon training has focused on Endurance and Lactate Threshold. The next part is Race Preparation – wish me luck!

A little addendum: many thanks to everyone that supported our cause last night by buying fudge. Much appreciated! Alongside my work colleagues, you’ve supported me in banking £100 for our charities!

White Chocolate Fudge for Metro Coast to Coast Fundraising

Should anyone wish to donate further, please visit our Total Giving page:https://www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/metrocoast2coast

Weekend Away

In contrast to my usual hectic weekends, for once I totally relaxed! Heading away straight from work on Friday, we (Mum, big sister, cousin, two Aunties & I) spent two nights at the Golf View Hotel & Spa in Nairn.

The hotel has mixed reviews on Tripadvisor but we loved it. The staff were great, very welcoming, and the food was amazing! Six course taster menu each night and a few glasses of wine … what more can you ask for?

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Breakfast was amazing …

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Fantastic company, no running (packed the kit but decide against it after a bracing walk along the beachfront), and so much laughter. Looking forward to the next one already!

Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon: Running on ‘Home’ Turf

I love races in Moray as that’s the area that I still consider home, despite having now lived more than half my life in Aberdeen. Racing here also has the advantage of an easy start with the great hospitality provided by my Mum & Dad!

Arriving in Elgin late on Saturday afternoon the pampering started: cup of tea and a fine piece. This continued throughout the evening with dinner provided (a great pre-race fuelling meal of steak pie followed by sticky toffee pudding) and an evening cuppa. I then enjoyed an early night, in bed by 9:30 pm (awesome!) and a long sleep, rising at 7:30 am. Bliss!

Usual breakfast of porridge (today with dates) and a peppermint tea, I was fuelled and ready to go. Headed off to Lossiemouth (or Lossie as us locals know it) to collect my race number and exchange pleasantries with running friends before heading back home to be driven to the race by my ‘support crew’.

We arrived just behind the buses and I headed off for a short warm up before joining the toilet queue. Having misunderstood the location of the toilets I thought there was no queue so did my dynamic stretching routine as per Physio Helen’s instructions. I was then somewhat alarmed when I did find the loos as the queue was longer than anticipated! Apologies to Mum & Dad who essentially had the last of my clothes thrown at them as I shouted ‘Thanks’, they called ‘Good Luck and I ran for the start line.

The upside of this was that I had no time to have pre-race doubts creep in, although to be honest I was out for fun and really quite mindful of that. Training has been somewhat lax of late and I’ve not done a great deal of mileage with only the odd quality session thrown in. The plan was therefore to run a decent pace, hopefully not blow up, and establish a baseline for when marathon training starts.

With this in mind I wished the Metro folks around me a good run and we were off! The weather was kind to us – shorts and vest with gloves was more than adequate – and the only disappointment was the absence of last year’s tailwind.

A lovely course, the route follows the road along from Kinloss to the Maltings where a homely smell greeted me. Dad worked in Glenmoray as a stillman for many years so this smell reminds me of him, although I seem to recall being less fond of it when the car was stinking after a night shift. These early miles felt comfortable and my aim was to hold the pace throughout if possible, conscious that this may not work!

Before long we came to the first water station and the pace was knocked off briefly as I’m not a fan of water in cups. I find it hard to drink and often end up wearing it instead. I was not disappointed.

Coming up to Burghead the main ‘hill’ (it doesn’t really merit the term ‘hill’ but is steep in comparison with the rest of the course) put the legs to the test. I opted just to slow the pace down with a view to picking up on the flat again and this served me well. Along towards Hopeman the pavement was up and down with dropped kerbs which was a little frustrating. I therefore took my chances and ran on the road. Thankfully most drivers on the route were very courteous.

Leaving Hopeman, I was pleased to see Mum & Dad’s car. As I approached they rushed out to meet me, Dad timing his run perfectly to catch the gloves that I threw in his direction, shouting that they’d see me in Lossie.

The next part of the route sees a flat stretch and then the final wee drag before the 10 mile mark is reached, after which it’s all downhill or flat, and I had the happy thought of ‘its only a parkrun!’

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This thinking proved positive indeed and allowed me to push on, passing a few people along the way. Before I knew it I was heading towards the final turn in towards the end where I saw Mum & Dad again and received their cheers of support.

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I was absolutely delighted to finish in a time of 1:36:10! Not a PB, but knowing I’m not in PB shape, this really is a time that I’m happy with.

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As usual, a great post race feed, one of the joys of club races! Then ‘home’ for a relaxing bath followed by a great Sunday dinner! I may just move back!!

Huge thanks to the organisers, Moray Road Runners, for another great event and to all the volunteers who helped things run so smoothly.

Congratulations also to all the runners, especially my Metro teammates who did so well with prizes in various categories and quite a few PBs! Great to be part of such a club. Here’s to continued success this year!