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?

What A Difference A Day Makes: Aberdeen parkrun and Scolty Trails

Injury Update

I’m delighted to report that I’m still pain free! My previously mentioned Christmas miracle in the form of a (very expensive) cortisone injection has paid off. I’ve slowly been building the miles up and have now ran around 20 miles a week for a couple of weeks, with no heel pain. Any signs of plantar fasciitis and swelling have gone. A tweak to my orthotic insole (Version 2) courtesy of Shand Podiatry will hopefully ensure that my heel spur is comfortably accommodated and does not cause further issues.

What I have experienced though, with the heel relief, is forefoot pain. Having struggled with pain post-run for a couple of weeks I decided to see to this sooner rather than later. Back to see Scott at Shand Practice,  and a small inexpensive tweak sees orthotic Version 3. I’m very happy to report that’s early indications aware good. I have no forefoot pain after two runs in them, my only gripe being a near blister after 9 miles today. Why did I think it was a good idea to do 9 miles on modified insoles without even a whiff of BodyGlide to ease things along?!

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Aberdeen parkrun

Yesterday should have seen us on a winter skills course. However, there’s been too much weather of late, and thankfully the decision was made to postpone due to 70 mph winds not providing an optimal learning environment.

Instead, I decided to head for Aberdeen parkrun. Driving down I did admittedly have second thoughts as the temperature dropped and the rain became very sleety. However, on reaching the prom the rain was almost off and a group of running friends happened to come along – perfect timing! The wind paled into the background as the chat took over. Turning onto the lower prom it was, as is often the case, an entirely different experience. The wind was gentler and the sky was blue, sun shining down and warning me up nicely. I even contemplated ditching my jacket and gloves, with the knowledge that this was an ‘easy’ parkun, no speed required – I do like a plan.

Waiting for the briefing I saw my sister and niece, offering my niece some of my clothing as she was feeling the cold whole waiting. Hindsight is a great thing: I bet she’d have taken it if she’d known what was ahead. The darkening sky (think black rather than blue) looming across the bridge made me slightly apprehensive so the clothing stayed on.

The Run Director shouted, ‘Go’, and it wasn’t just the parkrunners that started. Very quickly we were being battered by very cold sleet / snowy stuff and a side wind that compounded the biting cold and wind and low temperatures. Most unpleasant!

Having opted to run / walk with my sister, I think we ran more than intended just to keep warm and get it done. We got completely soaked down one side, turned and had the joy of the other side being soaked too. Had my car been anywhere other than the finish I’d have gladly forgone my run credit and bailed.

Then as swiftly as it started, the precipitation ceased and the sky turned back to a beautiful, clear blue once again. Another few miles might have seen us dry, but instead it was shoes off and clean socks on at the door of the Brig O’Don before the post run breakfast and chat.

Scolty: Trail Running with the Metro Ladies

In complete contrast with yesterday’s run, today was glorious for joining some of the Metro ladies for a social run at Scolty. For once in my life I was early, so I opted to run a couple of miles to warm my legs up, bumping into Kirsty (Chief Organiser and Queen of the Trails) midway.

Scolty Trails, Banchory

Back at the car park, we met the other ladies, a small select band with 7 of us in total, and were briefed on our route. Setting off, I was very happy to bimble along at the back. Speed is not my strength at present and the chat was good. As we settled into our paces the gap never grew too big, everyone mindful of the instruction to stop and wait at key junctions.

Metro Aberdeen Running Club: Ladies Trail Run, Scolty Hill

It was a beautiful route, mainly on fire roads, initially heading down and then following the River Dee, before ascending gradually up through the trees to encounter lovely views.

Views from Scolty trails overlooking River Dee

Scolty trails, Banchory
Continuing up, we reached our highest point on the route before a lovely, well earned, descent.

Finally, there was a short ascent to finish and Kirsty guided us up through a narrower path with more underfoot interest, thus taking the mind off any effort involved.

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A fantastic run, thoroughly enjoyable, and great company to boot, ended perfectly on Ride Coffee House in Banchory with carrot cake to die for!

Delicious gluten free carrot cake at Ride Coffee House, Banchory

Roll on the next one! Never mind the route, let’s just make sure the coffee meets the standard set today!

 

 

 

2018 Fort William Marathon – As good as I remembered and then some!

A week has passed since I completed the 2018 Fort William Marathon, my second attempt at this beautiful race. Having loved it in 2017, I signed up for 2018 pretty much immediately afterwards, my main fear going into the race that it might not be as good as I remembered and I’d be disappointed. Fear not, it was as good and even better!

2017 was a solo expedition as the weather forecast wasn’t great. Bruce therefore decided against joining me as the hill walking he’d hoped for looked unlikely. This year, however, he was again hankering after hills and had decided to come along, hoping to complete the Ring of Steall. Sadly the weather was against him on this – no point in going if there’s no chance of a view – but he did get some walking in elsewhere. He also opted in last minute to volunteer … more on that later.

Making a weekend of it, we headed over to Fort William on Friday afternoon, settling into our B & B before heading out for a meal. An early night was called for as I like to sleep plenty in the run up to the marathon, easing any worries of being restless the night before. Bruce, having checked the forecast for Corrour, had opted for an early start on Saturday. This worked out perfectly for me as I barely registered him getting up to catch the first train out of Fort William, opting for a more leisurely breakfast time myself. I then headed back to bed and enjoyed the luxury of yet more sleep before waking at 11 am and heading for the station to meet him off the train, returning happy having walked the single train munro, Beinn na Lap.

A leisurely afternoon was spent having lunch and browsing the shops in Fort William, later heading to the Grog and Gruel, our favourite pub, for dinner. Having stocked up on carbs over the previous couple of days I opted for the ‘eat what you fancy’ train of thought and enjoyed a burger. Home early, I laid out my tried and tested kit – Brooks Ghost shoes, Metro Aberdeen club vest, Ronhill shorts, Balega Hidden Comfort socks, and my current preferred race fuel, Clif Shot Bloks and Lucozade Sport.

Surprisingly enough, I slept pretty soundly again – if sleep was the only key to success I might have won the race – and felt quite relaxed going for breakfast. Not one to shake things up on race day, I opted for my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge with banana and chia seeds, and toast with peanut butter, washed down with plenty of peppermint tea.

Bruce volunteering, we had to be at the Nevis Range for 8:30 am. In my usual style, I was running late by this point and was grateful to him for geeing me along. Had he not been in the car with the engine running outside I’d probably have continued faffing for at least another 10 minutes or so, only to then panic when I realised how little time I had left to get there! He headed off for the volunteer briefing when we reached the Nevis Range and I faffed as only I can for some considerable time. I bumped into fellow Aberdeen parkrunner, Ally, and his wife Kay, enjoying a chat with them before going to get clarted in suncream. The weather was overcast with a forecast of rain later but I was taking no chances. Being of true Scottish fair skin I have an ability to get sunburn in any weather.

Chip on my shoe, suncream on, and at least one comfort break later, I bumped into Natalia, my clubmate from Metro Aberdeen. Her first marathon, she was fun of enthusiasm. Pleasantries exchanged, she headed off for a warm-up. My warm up routine consisted of some stretches (courtesy of Helen Strachan, physio extraordinaire), and the first few miles of the run. If I’m running 26.2 miles there’s no way I’m running further before I begin!

Pre-marathon at Fort William Marathon

Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were being called to the start. I’d briefly seen Bruce to pass on the car key and say a final goodbye, and was aware that he was going to be somewhere in the first few hundred metres. In his usual style, he made me laugh as he called out, asking me how it was going so far as I passed by having almost missed him.

Fort William Marathon - Leaving the Nevis Range at the start

The first few miles are gradually uphill, starting near the Gondola Station, and I’d cautioned both Natalia and Ally to take it easy here. The temptation with all races is to go off too quickly, and in a marathon you can’t claw this time back at the end if your legs give up or your energy runs out. I happily plodded along giving myself time to get into the swing of running, confident that I’d gain more than I’d lose by letting others pass me at this stage.

Fort William Marathon Elevation Profile

Heading up the fire road, I exchanged a bit of chat with some other runners. There were a few 100 marathon club t-shirts on the go – I have no idea how these people do it, and always enjoy hearing about their favourite marathons and the number they’ve completed in total. Further along I got chatting to a young man from Edinburgh who told me he’s getting married in two weeks – less than a week to go now! Should he read this, all the very best for a long and happy future with your new wife.

The marathon route is stunning. For me, this beats a road marathon any day. I defy anyone to try running here and not fail to be impressed by the views on offer. Despite the rain on Saturday, it was clear, and with less humidity than we’ve been used to the running conditions were pleasant. Drainage has been improved on the flat fire road section around 6 miles, and the huge muddy puddle that had us skirting around it and up the bank before the (failed) leap of faith last year had gone with a big drainage ditch running alongside instead.

Further on we started to make our way downhill so I decided to stop chatting and push on a little more, enjoying the opportunity to relax and stretch out the legs. The path narrows in places and there were some gentle undulations and single track paths to keep the mind focused a little more.

Finally reaching the road crossing at Spean Bridge it was a pleasant surprise to find the Police holding traffic and giving runners priority. One cheeky cyclist decided he was going instead and I’m sure regretted this move when given a ticking off by the Policeman! Rules are rules! I’m sure next time he’ll do as told without question.

Continuing on, we crossed the bridge and had a short section along the pavement before heading swiftly off road again onto more single track paths. This took us up, up, up and the enthusiastic spectators at the Commando Memorial could be heard long before they were seen! On reaching them and another water station, I passed Natalia before heading downwards towards Gairlochy.

Fort William Marathon - first 13 miles (Strava splits)

Being a bit of a running geek, I like to keep a paper diary in addition to the more modern online record that is Strava. My plan had therefore been to pace in a similar manner to last year as that earned me a PB, and I therefore chose to pick up the pace further at this point. Reaching the canal path I felt strong and began to pick people off targeting one runner after the other. There was a slight breeze along the canal but unfortunately it felt like we were running into it; it was refreshing nonetheless. Encouragement from walkers, canoeists and boats was welcomed.

As I progressed along this section, I became increasingly aware of my tightening calves and pain in my back. By the time I reached Neptune’s staircase I wondered if ditching my waistpack would help and was surveying the terrain for somewhere to dump it, planning to collect it later. Turning onto the minor road, I wondered about leaving it in the long grass but was concerned that it might get picked up as rubbish. There was also the worry that driving back up this road when other runners were potentially still on the course wasn’t the safest move ever so I fastened it back on and held onto it until finally the temptation of the the manicured lawn at Lochaber High School proved too much; over the railings it was flung!

Carrying on, I reached a further road crossing at the A82, and again the Police were holding traffic and giving runners priority. This took me back onto the bike path that heads up to the Nevis Range and I was pleased to be on this final drag. I continued to pass a few more people but felt like I was beginning to struggle, despite the pace holding out fairly well.

Fort William Marathon (Last 13 miles, Strava splits)

Turning off towards the North Face car park I was greeted by the familiar small bridge and I’m sure it was steeper than last year! Heading up towards the car park I was passed by one runner who was looking stronger than me and we exchanged brief pleasantries.

The pull up the fire road from here saw quite a few people walking, and while my legs and back were sore, I was determined to keep slogging it out. Seeing the 24 mile marker I knew that the race was in the bag and I would complete whatever; I started to feel quite emotional at this point. A little further on I spotted an Insch Trail Runner. Always fine to see a local vest, I yelled at him something to effect that, ‘I thought you teuchters were made of tough stuff!’ This gave him a wee bit of motivation to pick it up again, I hope.

Overwhelmed by mile 25, I struggled to hold back the tears. I could vaguely hear the sounds of the PA system as I headed through the last section of single track, up and down in the footy section of the forest, and was delighted to hear the friendly shouts of Kay and Ally as I headed down the finishing straight towards the line. When Bruce stepped forward to put the medal round my neck and give me a hug the tears did come!

2018 Fort William Marathon Finisher's T-shirt and Medal

It was such a lovely moment to have him do this and will stay in my special memories forever. He then returned to his ‘proper job’, cutting the chip off my shoe and chatting, inviting me to sit for as long as I needed.

I was delighted with my run. No PB today but you can’t have one every time. I ran strongly and once again loved the course. It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when you’re enjoying it!

Each and every one of the marshals and volunteers was great and they were such an encouraging and supportive team throughout the event. The goody bag was great and contained a Ben Nevis whisky miniature (which Bruce later traded for a Fort William buff), alongside some nibbles. I can’t recommend this marathon enough and most definitely plan to return next year.

Congratulations again to Natalia on completing her first marathon, and to Ally for completing his first Fort William Marathon and getting a PB! A great day out for us all.