Monday, 22 June 2015

seven hills race 21/06/15

I am suffering from post holiday blues. A bit wiped out from all that travel, sunshine and exertion. And returning to a mid-summer that is cold, grim and dull. Nothing to light my candle. Mary allowed me to come along on her Saturday run and I cheered up just getting out and it was quite warm once we got going. And the activity stirs the sludge in the bottom of your cage, gets things moving. Then the following day I nearly woke up feeling chipper for the 7 Hills. Not super-keen but ok-lets-get-this-race-done.

On the way up the road I bought a large can of Red Bull thinking Mary would share it. However she was already maxed out on coffee so I drank a little too much before pouring the rest away. There's always a huge crowd for this race. Looking back at previous years it's hard to believe less than 100 did it in the early days. Mary had opted for the Challenge rather than the race, since it has been a long time since she has been near 1.40 for a half. She would be a fun target for me to try to catch before the end.

I had thought I would start moderately and try to pace myself. However the Red Bull insisted I leg it and it is fun to gallop up the High St to the surprise of the traffic and tourists. I was just in touch with the leaders and saw Iain and Mike head back down Johnston Terrace, (heading towards Morrison St) whereas David L and Stewart went through into Princes St Gardens heading towards the West End. I had thought I would go down Johnston Terrace and then Castle Terrace, Lothian Rd and through the West End. Nick was just ahead and this route pays out the altitude much more efficiently than dropping into Princes St. Gdns. down some hideous grass slides (Paul E cracked a rib or 2 here in a previous year,) before climbing back up to the West End. Johnston Terr makes for a long gradual downhill all the way to Lothian Rd where after dodging through the cars I looked to see how far ahead Mr Limmer and Mr Whitlie were. They were behind. I can count the times I have overtaken Stewart in a race on, er, one finger.

challenge start

Mary only realised this year that Ravelston Dykes road is an uphill. Having run it the opposite direction with GH a while back, it is v apparent it has a gradient. And being long and straight seems never ending. And when it does end it does so with a steep trail into Corstorphine Woods, which is no relief. Stewart began to pull away here. I can't remember who was in front but all of a sudden we are looking around, and having just been blindly following the person ahead into the trees after the water table, we have gone the wrong way. Usually I mess up the exit but this is a new one. Davids Limmer and Fulton are there. We manage to get the right line across to the check point then Stewart follows Megan off the sharp right, down tarmac while I return towards the water tables and take a good line back out to the clearing then sharp right down the dirt trail parallel to Kaimes Rd. I am hoping others are lost in the trees (David F went wrong here.) But Megan and Stewart bomb down the main road 30yards before I reach it. Well there goes the m50 trophy. (Actually short of an RTA I realistically waved bye-bye to the trip to the engravers when I saw Stewart in the queue to pick up numbers.)

However I hadn't thrown in the towel and kept the two of them in sight for over 40minutes, definitely a during-race record. We overtook challengers 36 minutes into the race. How is it possible to make up 30 minutes in 36 minutes??? Over the tram tracks – I wondered if anyone would have a run in with a tram. I crossed all the roads without incident however going across Gorgie Rd before Chesser Ave someone did shout loudly out the passenger window. Whether it was words of encouragement from a spectator or words of discouragement (I had just dodged between moving vehicles as there wasn't any substantial gaps in the traffic) from an irate motorist, I never found out.

photo thanks to Cat M

Craiglockhart hill was dry and dusty and very slippy. I was wearing Hoka Trail shoes and they were good although the sand pits of beech nut shells and dry dirt provided no traction for poorly placed feet. Olly went past. Last year I got to Arthur Seat before he overhauled me. Great to see Michael G and Martin cheering us on, although sad that neither were fit to run. On the downhill I made some ground on Olly and then the long haul up to the Braids I seemed to be getting a bit closer. Passed Doug Runner here. Olly asked me to tell him about my childhood as we set off across the golf course.”Brief” was my answer. He was ahead again by the Lang Linn path which I was glad about as I suspect I know a better line through the Hermitage. I called to David Limmer to follow me but he seemed intent on taking as many long cuts as possible racking up an extra mile more than some folk. Olly went left which is the right way but then headed down too soon which (in an unsporting manner) pleased me. I followed the path which zig-zags down to the stream but crosses the bridge and keeps feet dry. Up the near vertical dirt immediately and along the top to the stile. 50 yards ahead of Olly. Nick was just ahead and I was shouting encouragement to him (charge the sleepers!) as we jogged up the terrible steps to Blackford Hill. Cat and friends gave us a welcome.

Down to the allotments and past Johnny who was saving himself for the remaining Heb Halves. David L would catch Nick and I on the road running sections, get a bit ahead, and then take a terrible route. Then 10 minutes later would overtake again. He was also suffering from the cold. Despite all this he really seemed to be enjoying himself. As we ran up Ratcliffe Terrace turning right at Duncan St we watched as David continued along Causewayside, too far ahead to shout back. No doubt we would see him again soon.

Then the highlight of the run, I saw Mary just ahead. I crossed Minto St with no real memory of traffic or how I got through it, then started shouting stuff at Mary and how we were coming for her. She was shouting abuse back and in very high spirits. I knew from the good runners in the challenge I had already passed that Mary was running well. She was just behind as we all went into Pollock Halls and was able to follow the smartest line through to the limbo at the turnstile. Unfortunately Olly was just ahead and also took this best line. I knew if he was ahead here he would be ahead at the finish. I could feel twinges of cramp in my legs meaning I couldn't afford to race flat out in the descent from the summit.

As Willie J who took these photos put it...
a former Porty legend (Tony) meets a current one (Johnny)
with Portobello in the background

Last year I took the Gutted Haddie. This year I returned to the usual sleeper-steps going up Nether Hill then taking the line around to the left and up the wee gully to the summit. Getting through all the challengers was challenging and I found I was shouting COMING THROUGH and pushing folk (metaphorically) out the way. In my defence I did say thanks a lot and other encouraging things. Towards the top I could hear the dulcet tones of Tony the Tiger who likes to use your first and second names so everyone around can hear. Great support from him and Willie J who was cruelly taking photos of the battered corpses as we struggled up the last hill.

Off the top I chose the less vertical path (sort of tourist route) down to the first shoulder but then left to the steps and single track down to the Dasses and across the end of the bog to the tarmac track that leads to Holyrood Car Park. Cruella De Cramp is always waiting for me here and in the past I have been reduced to stopping and slapping my wooden legs. This year I was running beside Nick and had to reduce my stride and shout the f word loud and long while I wrestled with the iron snakes constricting my calves. I managed to keep going but dropped 30secs behind Nick. An EAC dude who had been with us for a few miles was stretching his legs in the car park and I commiserated. Unfortunately he recovered in time to get between Nick and I on the last ascent to the finish. I crossed the line 10th in 1.53.58 although I stopped my watch on 1.54 exactly. (Faster than the last 2 years by less than a minute both times.) Another beer mat. Stewart W had accelerated 7+ minutes or more away to place third in 1.46.32! Megan had dropped back a bit to just a couple of mins ahead and first lady in an impressive 1.52.36. Dessie had an amazing run and came first in 1.38.31. Iain dropped out leaving Mike in second place just seconds behind Dessie. There was never going to be any doubt about Carnethy getting first team but I was proud that Porty came second and got towels and beers despite David doing the 8 Hills of Edinburgh. (Joke on loan from Willie J) Well done to Dougie leading Porty home in 1.51.09 just 3 secs behind David Fulton in fourth and one place ahead of Megan. I was second m50 and got a more generous envelope than many first50 prizes. And a beer. The best news of the day was that Mary had found a form she hasn't really displayed since her procedure for Atrial Fibrillation. I suspect this was because she got caught up in the challenge of the event (she used to enjoy (up)hills more than anything although we haven't been training for them other than 10 flights of hotel stairs) rather than having suddenly mended. Great to see. It is an event that really grabs you. The daft nature of the course and the mix of challengers and racers all running about the city with enough dirt and hazards to keep your attention makes the couple of hours whiz by. Great fun!

(If you can do the thing in under 2.10 you should really be in the Race not the Challenge.)

It was tempting to go to the pub but after standing around chatting till nearly everyone had left we went home. But not before Kathy had talked an ebullient Mary and I into signing up for Craggy Island Tri. So that gives us something to train for. A couple of months to hone the open water swimming and mtb-ing. Fingers crossed for better weather.

swim from here to there? (Then cycle and run over the hills.)
pic: thanks to boardinbob (flickr) linked off the Craggy Island Tri site.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Solstice Triathlon 18/06/15

When we got back from holiday I was a bit alarmed to be reminded the Solstice Tri was this week. I have felt a bit jet lagged – all that travelling and the dregs of a cold and this crappy weather and just a bit low energy. I was seriously thinking about not showing up. Then I checked the entry fee (£36) and non-refundable this late in the day, and so reluctantly dragged myself along.

Having no other way of getting myself there I cycled – with a couple of pannier bags on the back of the bike full of towels, wet-suit, running gear, standing around gear, biking gear and various options of all of the above. There is a lot of fannying about in Triathlon. And that's without shaving my legs or wearing sunglasses when there's no sun.

reflective or shit scared? 
My first open water race.

The event is organised by the lovely people of Pentland Tri so I mustn't be too rude about it because they (and just about everyone I bumped into last night) are lovely! But the whole fear factor on top of the not-feeling-up-for-it energy levels, did make me a little grumpy. (Hey no change there I hear you say.)

So the thing began with an hour of cycling a heavy load up-hill from Leith to Threipmuir. I gave myself plenty of time as I wanted to stop off at EBC and get a new pair of cycle mitts. I suspected there was a really good chance of taking a dive over the handlebars and I wanted some padding on my paws. I tried not to race up the long drags but still managed to arrive a bit damp and woolly legged. (Excuse #1.)

(JoTho) Jim, pb, Mike
All going well so far

I changed into my standing-around clothes. Seona drew a marker pen number 22 on my arm and I picked up my swim cap, number, Stinger Honey Waffle (scoffed immediately) towel and handlebar sticker. I hadn't quite timed my lunch properly (too early) and had been snacking since to fill the gaps before a 7.30pm kick off.

Did I mention the weather (for mid summer) was appalling? What was a cold stiff breeze in town was an arctic gale at Threipmuir and we all stood about with chattering teeth hugging ourselves, looking at the water, into which we would be getting, with disbelief. What was I doing here?

Berit, Mitch and Kate

And I remembered, or was reminded by Mitch that it was himself that suggested a few off-road tri events, this one being particularly recommended, after I got a new mtb. He was there and shared a few top tips immediately before, some helpful (don't wear a jacket for the bike even though you are freezing right now). And some just bizarre: rub this baby-oil on the cuffs of your wetsuit to aid extrication! So now I am standing painfully barefoot on the shores of a Pentland reservoir on a baltic Thursday evening, about to immerse myself in the frigid waters, like a lubed condom.

But first we stand and listen to a long and largely unnecessary talk about where the route goes. Only the first 5 need to know really, we'll just be following them. During the chat my feet turn to ice. And (prob due to landowners concerns) the bike route has been changed. This is the kernal of my fear (not the swim) since I recci-ed the previous route a couple of times in the last few weeks. And (tough climbs aside) it was ok. During a recent cycle with Mike however we gingerly descended the gravelly trail to Bonaly car park. I remarked at the time how pleased I was that we didn't have to do this in the race. (“Thank fuck that's not in the race.”) No prizes for guessing where the new route went? So if I survived the swim I could look forward to this bowel loosening downhill career. The gradient is very steep encouaging speed, but the terrain is loose deep large gravel. If you turn the front wheel it skitters and slides sideways, the precursor to a high speed mash up. Thankfully for some of the quarter mile there is a grass path on the right although it is rutted and undulating.

that descent into Bonaly from a couple of weeks ago

I was so terrified of this part of the course that I forgot to be wary of the swim. Just back from Portugal where I swam every day, partly with this event in mind but more because I like swimming. However I wasn't wearing a wet suit and the water was just right for swimming, cool but not cold. I did 60 lengths of the hotel pool on one occasion. Although that was only about 12m long. I think the swim last night was about 750m. Certainly more than I have swum in one go outdoors. And when I swim at Threipmuir I tend to stick to the shore and walk every hundred yards and tip the water out my goggles. That was another point of contention. I took an old pair of swim goggles and my usual ones which are recreational (for looking at stuff underwater.) I meant to get into the water early and find out which worked best. On dry land it seemed the recreational ones formed the best seal but I know from experience I have to empty them every 100 yards. Can't be doing that in a race. But better the devil you know etc. So I wore them.

Photo Lesley Marshall
This looks like a cult baptism or mass suicide.

We all got into the water and it was a bit like standing in a line to be executed by firing squad. I deliberately went deep as Jim H said it is like being in a washing machine at the start and there's a good chance of get kicked in the goggles. What's not to like? Before I had properly accustomed myself to the water (not that cold) a hooter sounded and we were off. I had told myself not to head off too fast and be out of breath in 50 strokes and I thought I was doing ok. Until after about 100 strokes and I was out of breath. Despite hearing Jones's “don't panic” I was feeling a rising panic. My wetsuit felt tight and restricting over my chest and round my neck (it felt absolutely fine before we got in the water) and although I was breathing every second stroke (I only do the one side) it was not enough. I wondered if anyone else was breast-stroking yet. (They were.) I had to swim on my back and gulp air. I thought I would give it a few yards of this till I caught my breath then return to crawl (freestyle they call it these days I hear). Crawl = more apt.

I have always been a competent swimmer. I was in a pool 5 times a week in my early teens, and although I didn't do lengths as training I became familiar with how to get through water. I was third best swimmer in my year at secondary and they asked me to represent my house in the school gala. I said I didn't want to and when they asked why I said I swam for fun not to compete. Partly true, although the real reason included that I didn't need to get wet to find out I was the third best swimmer in the year. The other 2 were club swimmers from generations of swimmers and did mindless lengths at shit o'clock in the morning. They “forgot” to take my name off the gala and because I had my kit, (5 times a week) I swam. I was third. The whole process struck me as dim. Swimming pools are full of noxious stuff like chlorine and kids. I like swimming in interesting places. I would recommend the Algarve. Less so Threipmuir with its mud brown water although it does taste better than sea. However (with the recent 60 lengths the exception) I keep forgetting to TRAIN.

This is the sort of swimming I prefer (last week in the Algarve.)

I think I would have done considerably better if I'd got into the water earlier and done a decent warm up. I mostly backstroked the first half to the buoy. Jim said afterwards that he had remarkably similar experiences – tight wetsuit, trouble breathing, misting up goggles etc. We stayed about the same part of the field and he watched me backstroke the first half, probably wondering why he wasn't going considerably faster. My breathing recovered to an extent although I was still having to empty my goggles every hundred yards. In fact I raised my goggles for a while in the first half while on my back. The second half I began to relax into the turmoil. OK head down and lets see if I can get out of the back third. I got into a rhythm but then looking up I saw nobody ahead. Doing a double take and swallowing water I turned to my right and still nobody. I turned almost right round before seeing the crowd, and that I was heading off perpendicularly to it. I reckon I could have been about 75m off course and cursed myself. I kept some feet in sight for a while although in the second half I was making ground (water) over a lot of the field. Then I would get too close to the feet and have to overtake. It certainly manages to remove most of the pleasure from swimming.

The business of being in deep water, that idea that you are out of your depth, that can seem alarming beforehand: I was so caught up in the turmoil I didn't have time to freak out about it and it was the least of many problems. Jim reckons we left the water around the same time. I couldn't confirm this as I wasn't fully in charge. I was struggling to unzip and de-neoprene, while running on blocks of ice trying not to kick submerged bricks.

Mitch's tip: remove your swim hat (and hood – I was wearing a neoprene hood as well, mainly to keep some water out my ears) and goggles with one hand, then pull that hand through the arm of your suit, leaving the gubbins trapped in your wet suit arm. Contains it all at T1.

T1 was leisurely. I had cut 3inch slits up the back of my wetsuit legs to speed removal and it seemed to work ok but then I had to put on heavily talc-ed socks over numb feet and into shoes tying laces with fumbling fingers. T-shirt on (and it rumples like a straight jacket around the shoulder blades) then helmet and new mitts on and suddenly I'm flying down the road almost immediately overtaking folk letting them know I'm coming past on the right. And there's Bob taking photos. I am worried about how far down the field I have dropped as the people seem to be cycling in a very non-competitive way. Am I the only one standing on the pedals? I overtake about 10 folk on the climb up to Maiden's Cleugh. Or more. A few towards the top stay with me and then a couple zip off on the descent. I am cautious, especially overtaking folk on the downhill and sit behind someone for a while waiting for a wider spot before making a move. The guys ahead are already off the radar.

almost having fun - thanks to Bob for photo

My cycling is like my swimming. I have always had a bike – even in the drunkest darkest moments of my art school years I would cycle into college (late). However I have never raced and as such, am uncertain what speed is competitive and what, breakneck. Trying to avoid the latter. Recces are of course the answer. Then they changed the route at the last moment. So now we are going down from Maiden's to Glencorse but before the bottom we turn sharp left, down onto the granny chainring and up steeply up-hill rutted (thankfully dry) dirt tracks. A competent cyclist nearby nails the turn and keeps on the pedals. I am off and running, pushing the bike, and pleased I seem to be keeping up with the competent dude. Very much a runner's answer to triathlon: push the bike and run over the technical stuff. I keep up with him as we overtake 5 or 6 more who seem stymied by the tricky cycling and are walking pushing bikes or cycling slower yet. Eventually the gradient allows a re-mount and I hop on refreshed from the run. Overtaking is fraught although sort of necessary as people ahead display a variety of abilities. I think the adrenalin and red bull (consumed at 5pm) are encouraging me to push through and generally I am pleased that most of the judgement calls I have made on the bike have panned out. The bike is going well. (I have already passed several punctures including sadly Jim H whose race (on a thinner tyred cyclocross) ended at Maidens Cleugh, pretty much the first opportunity to burst a tube. He was 12 bikes ahead of me at Bob Marshall.) The 29” wheels roll over gaps: as if to prove the point a girl upends her 26” in a ditch she forgot to lift her front over. I am operating on fear and self preservation rather than skills learned. But now we are approaching the dreaded Bonaly gravel.

I am trying to keep the speed up but can feel the bars buffet and wobble as the front tyre snakes through the deeper gravel ponds. Fuck it, I'm up on the grass. A guy whizzes by at a speed I wouldn't even think about. Just not worth it mate. I presume we're not even in the top ten, though I have no idea. Whatever, it's not worth breaking bones over. I stick to the grass verge as much as possible but there are parts where you have to do the gravel. Then through the gate (held open as are all the gates, thank you lovely Pentland Tri people) and down to the sharp left, change down gear and climb like a bastard. Various riders express relief at getting past the gravel and it slowly sinks in I have squeaked through without spilling any blood. Oh I forgot to mention the blood red towels they gave us at the start (for mopping up spills no doubt). I do like a nice (small) towel. Take them to work. These are very red and might have to be washed seperately.

Anyway I blast past more folk on the flat easy ground, but mostly it's quite up and down round the same route as the 7 Reservoirs from here. Bit of a climb up towards Maidens again, where with absorbing big fat 2.2” tyres I overtake a dude sweating on his thin cyclocross wheels. Not a course for cyclocross. Very choppy rocky stuff and the 29er rolls over it without complaint. And whizz along the flat. Bob again and I'm still out the saddle. At some point my instincts tell me Mike is hunting me down. Sure enough he goes past just before T2, I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner. (His swimming is slowish, his cycling is fast.) However he has to change shoes from spds. All I have to do is rack my bike, remove my helmet and run. I use toe clips on my bike. They give enough pull and are super quick release. And I don't race my bike so I don't really need spds. But best of all I can bike and run in Hokas. I take off on the run and make short work of the 2 dudes who were just ahead on the bike. I think Mike is still changing his shoes. Then third lady. There is nobody ahead within sight so I settle in to the run. I am a bit concerned that there are no marshals or markings at the far end where I just follow the trail and worry I might have gone wrong. Can we be turning already? Appears so. There is Bob again who asks am I enjoying it yet? I am certainly relieved not to have drowned or broken bones or bike parts but maybe the enjoyment threshold has yet to be breached. And is that the finish line already? So the bike is longer than the swim and run combined? This is plainly a scam put on by bikers to take the piss out of runners. Whoever decided on the relevant distances was not a runner. Trouble is, I am.

I have no idea where I came and because I am not wearing a watch or garmin (due to wetsuit and water) how long it took. I saw the third overall dude more than half way through his run before I got off the bike, although the run was only about as far as you could spit. Jim dnf-ed and pushed his bike back to the finish. Mike finished right on my heels. I didn't even sweat into my running shirt and wore it home, that's how short the run was. James Harrison was there. Really good to catch up with him (exPRCer) and he had a reasonable time, coming fourth. Although he did admit to being as scared as myself about the biking. He is a roadie and had to borrow an MTB. He was on the grass at Bonaly as well, although I suspect travelling a little quicker than myself. Mary and I spoke of James just the other day: Mary had been searching some old (2006) NHS newspaper and come across this article.

James has since had 2 kids and takes the majority role of child carer, his wife being the main wage earner. We chatted together on the cycle home. His focus this year is hillrunning and cycling.

Before we left there was a quick prizegiving for top 3 m&f and NO AGE GROUP PRIZES. I guess £36 per entry doesn't go very far these days then? OK that was pretty much my only grump with the organisers who went to a LOT of trouble making a transition area where you could rack a bike etc, and putting up marquees for those modest enough to need to change indoors. Best thing was a hot drink and a really excellent large burger (freshly BBQed) in a bun free of charge. (As part of your £36) And a banana and water and a biscuit as you finished. So yes, lovely folk, but a bit expensive. Probably not by Tri standards. From what I hear they're normally an arm and a leg and some of your teeth as well. The sport of doctors and lawyers on carbon bikes. But not good runners. Just what I hear. If I was a doctor I'm sure I wouldn't blanch at the cost either. And I'd have an expensive bike. And run slowly.

There is a tempting event (Craggy Island) in Sept. I'm tempted but the jury is still out and it may sell out before I get there. Do I want to take time out from being a reasonable runner to being a third rate tri-guy? I'm not sure I need to go along to that particular gala to find out what I already know. But if you are in the mood sometimes it can be fun to test yourself at something new, just for the buzz. Thoughts are with Richard L who is doing an Ironman in the Lakes this weekend. This accounts for his numerous 100+milers on the bike and a lack of proper running of late. He knows the score.

Huge thanks to Bob and Lesley coming out on a flippin' cold evening to take photos and cheer us on, really appreciated and the excellent results (many of which I have used here) were posted pronto last night and can be found here

presumably the results will be on the Pentland Tri website here

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

algarve holiday

We arrived in Portimão in the self-catering Solmonte Apartment on Monday 8th June at 11pm and weren't in much of a fit state for anything but eating the few foodstuffs we had brought with us then falling into bed. The sitting room and bedroom were a bit 1970's but this was expected as we had paid remarkably little for the week's holiday. We actually had to ask for a kettle. But we weren't planning on being indoors much so it worked out fine.

The beaches along the front of Portimão make up for the high rise urban crush immediately behind. There is a nice beachfront walk along the rocky cliffs which leads to amazing trails, west towards Alvor. It had a more relaxed feel than some of the Canary Islands I've been to and the atmosphere of pine and eucalyptus smells drift around the place. 

I quite liked the high rise skyscape from our 10th floor balcony.

my new best friend, cold beer in a frosted glass

The first day we spent walking around the shops - buying stuff the apartment was short of, like decent bowls, cups and knives! And a couple of electronic things that hadn't got packed, charger cable etc. After a beer on the way "home" Mary cooked dinner while I checked out the local trails. I only managed about 6 miles as I kept stopping to take photos. Every turn and bay had even more spectacular scenery. When I got back I did a few lengths of the hotel pool which was about the same temperature as the sea: cool but just nice after you got in. I ran and swam every day.

And west to Alvor. 

A couple of days before we left I googled trail running (+hiking) in Algarve. So we knew there was a raised boardwalk in Alvor. We targetted this for the next day although strangely the run over the cliff top trails to get there was far more entertaining. 

I can only imagine it's the gulls making the trails along the tops of these deadly walkways and pinnacles. I was v reluctant to go near the edges (and would crouch a metre away with the camera at full stretch,) as there were lots of signs warning not to sunbathe directly below the rockfall prone edges. A kind of hellish heaven.

have you got a signal?

The boardwalk at Alvor.

After the spectacular clifftops, Alvor was a bit disappointing. There was a lot of boardwalk along the miles of beach which was essential as the soft sand made progress difficult. And then around 10.30am the sun came out and it was oven-like. I felt I had been promised many different types of exotic birds from flamingos to eagles, hoopoes to bee-eaters, and failed to see pretty much all of them. I don't know where the bustards were hiding but they weren't at Alvor. (It was quite busy with walkers, despite lack of, in photos.)

We did see azure winged magpies along these trails. 
Well I did, Mary refused to take her eyes from immediately ahead.

Mary kindly took some photos for my grindr profile pics.

The sea was delightfully warm (compared to Gullane in the Winter) and the front at Portimão felt very safe - both in terms of natural difficulties (tides and sharks, although we did wonder about Portuguese men-o-war and where they got their name,) and locals not nicking your wallet off the beach while you swam. 

Local food and drink was fab and reasonably priced. That said, we cooked nearly all our meals in our apartment. The fruit and veg was spectacular as was (supermercado) wine at £3 per bottle for pretty much the best wine I've tasted. £3.50 for a bottle of white port. 

psycho teeth
Every time we took the lift (tenth floor) we would take a photo.
Sometimes I would take the stairs and race the lift. (Never came close.) 7 Hills training.

if only you knew the amount of photos I took trying to get fish underwater....
(and this was the best!)

view of thunderbirds headquarters

my best new friend

This looks photoshopped - like several extreme landscapes clumsily pasted together. (And just to the right, out the picture a sinkhole that you could easily fall through onto the beach.) 

Thursday turned out to be the BIG day for running. 

Mary said she only wanted a small recovery run and we should go down the clifftop trails. It was about 5 miles. We then went for a swim in the sea which was pretty fab. Then about mid afternoon I thought I would go in search of the 7 Hanging Valleys Trail. We walked into the area by the harbour where the bus stances are to find info on bus travel.  We had been the evening before to the Tourist Information Bureau. Which was hilarious. The woman behind the counter was the least helpful person we dealt with the whole week. She asked briskly where we wanted to go and said she didn't have timetables. She gave us a local map and some confusing info about buses, the only useful thing was where they sold tickets and imparted times. We couldn't believe she was so rude and unforthcoming and reckoned there must be a plot to keep the tourists off the buses and strictly using hired cars. Everyone else we dealt with during the week was really helpful.

lift revisited in the manner of shadow laughter

One of the better bits of graffiti. There was quite a bit of tagging across Portimão which spoiled the look of the otherwise clean walls. ("Kongo" should be caught and flogged.) I reckon if there was more room for the young people to spread their creative wings painting large murals on end walls there might be less spray paint vandalism.

There were number of old style red brick chimneys around the place some of which even looked retro-fitted. On top of each one was a nest of storks. Some looked so archetypal I began to wonder if they were an art installation with animatronic storks. Others, like these nesting on a roundabout floodlight, were less so.

Simon Boliver was a military and political leader who, at the peak of his power held near-absolute power over a vast territory from the Argentine border to the Caribbean.
(This is one third of my TB wms!)

So I set out to check out the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. Vale de Centianes looked about 10 miles away and the trail was 3 miles long. I could run there and get a bus back. If I could find a bus. There weren't any buses that would be leaving for Centianes when I was, so I left on foot from the apartment telling Mary (who was suffering a bit from a sore hip) not to worry if I wasn't home in a few hours. I set off about 4.30pm. It was pretty much all on road for the most part and as I ran I considered that if I ran 12miles out and 12 back I (with the additional 5 + 2.5 earlier) would manage 30+ for the day hence a Portuguese Tynecastle Bronze. The war memorial was the tricky bit as they didn't have any that I could see. In the end I settled for three vaguely warish memorials. I also had a swim and lunch between the first 5 miles and the rest so I was bending the rules every which way, knowing I had already done a TB for June immediately after the marathon.


memorialish number 2
(I could have photoshopped on '14 ~ '18 or '39 ~ '45)

I ran through some lovely places, not entirely sure at any point exactly where I was but knowing if I kept the coast on my right I should be okay. I had a map but not very detailed. I also carried my backpack which had a reservoir containing a frozen block of ice in about a litre of water. I had 4 nakd bars but just had a big lunch (homecooked Portuguese omlette, a speciality). The temperature was scorchio for the first 2 or 3hrs.

Things went well to start with, going in a nice straight line to the bridge, crossing over and following the coast along to the East. The return leg starts to wander as the distance kicks in. (Ending in a disastrous last couple of miles across town in the dark and rain.) (Yes, dark and rain. Unsmiley face.)

So the trail starts here.
And it is outstanding from the start. Now I am NOT a big fan of cliffs without guard rails. But there are these fantastic caves below the cliffs that insist you shuffle to the edge gripping tightly with your toes and leaning back while watching for cracks in the edge. Erosion being an ongoing process. Also just to keep you on your toes there are big sinkholes and bits where the land has fallen through into the sea. Most of the biggies are fenced off but you wouldn't want to run blindly about taking photos not paying attention. 

iffy memorial number 3
It says something about national defences on that plaque there. (Ministerio Da Defesa Nacional) Look take it or leave it, I am not trying to pull wool over eyes, they just don't do the war here.

Look at the view! Don't go that close! No but look down there! Watch your feet! 

So this is about 12 miles in and since it is one of the most stunning landscapes I have visited there is no way I'm turning around. I am unlikely to be back in my lifetime so let's see what's round the next corner and hopefully I'll catch a bus from the other end - it's only a handful of miles long. Oooh look at that!

Would you really build on top of that cave? There are holes along the cliffs big enough to swallow that house and they started out as cave roofs.

This bay was a particular favourite - 3 tall walls round an amazing beach. 
I couldn't at first see either of the 2 ways onto the beach

This was one, out of which a family was emerging, it looked like a bit of a squeeze under the rock at the bottom. (Not for the claustrophobic.)

This was the other - a shaft of about 30 steps had been mined through the centre of the back wall. I climbed down and as I emerged onto the pristine beach (except for litter bins!) I felt the hair stand up on my neck - such was the exhilaration of the place. 

I didn't hang around long. Just shot a bit of video, took some photos and left again.

I left the trail at the next bay/village: Benagil as time was getting on. In fact I had to ask someone where we actually were. The trail finished at the next bay round but my cup was full and it was time to head home. Promptly I took the wrong road and made an extra couple of miles taking a long sweeping circle round before meeting up with the right road. I found a deli type shop around the 17 mile mark and knew I needed enough fuel to get me back another 10 miles. I bought a Red Bull (down in 2), 1.5 litres of fresh orange, half of which I drank, half in the reservoir and 2 snickers which cost all but ten euros but were worth twice that. I had only eaten 2 nakd bars (keeping one for emergencies.) 

storks in front of neon warehouse

I couldn't recall what I'd said to Mary about not calling the emergency services if I didn't appear by such and such a time. As dusk turned to night I was ready to be finished. For ages nothing but weary road miles and places I half recognised from coming in the other direction. Then at one point I drifted and found myself in a cul-de-sac and the direction I wanted was all overgrown and scrubby and there might be a trail but I might run another mile and find it was a dead end or cliff. I retraced my steps and ran round an upmarket housing scheme in a large circle, bone weary and cursing. My map was not of the scale that was any use. Eventually I came across a couple who pointed me in the right direction and with relief I joined a road I'd been on hours before. I turned the headland and the distant town wasn't Portimao, it was Alvor. Portimao was a stones throw across the water. I just had to run up the estuary to the bridge and a couple of miles across town to home and Mary. Thank the lord! 

The bridge was good, and appeared sooner than I remembered and I was jogging along at a good pace thinking I'll be in the shower for 9.30, I just need to cut across town. I should have stuck to the desolate road through the harbour, but instead I aimed too much right and got disorientated. And it started to rain. Finally I found the Lidl we had been looking for all week. I asked for directions but didn't quite manage to follow them more than a street before I was lost again and running randomly through streets I had never seen before in the rain and dark with all the cars on the wrong side of the road coming at you from unexpected angles. I wonder if Mary has called the policio yet. There was a minor incident and I eventually found myself about half a mile from where I was 15 minutes ago, and decided to follow that desolate harbour road. At least I'll be home in 15 minutes. Mary was busy trying to work her new android phone and hadn't noticed I'd been out.

Weirdly I didn't eat much after 29.3miles running (plus 5 earlier and 2.5 walking). I think because I was full of orange juice. Managed to squeeze some beer in though. And a little wine. Slept well. 

hip feeling better for a stretch. 

some things seem familiar

So Mary's hip was feeling better on Friday and we went along the prom to the other end and the marina, hotspot for power-walkers and fishermen intent on catching seaweed.

Poor pirates were going to sea to drink rum until their holiday was a living hell.


Happily there wasn't too much of this sort of thing. Mary, despite minutes of searching, failed to find a floaty dress to wear out of an evening and I think spent the whole week in running shorts. There were a number of tourists who had, one presumes, failed to get beach body ready but none the less there they were on the beach, letting it all hang out. 

Mary took this photo which I like so much I've nicked it. 
She also took most of the images with me in them (obvs).

Also I felt maybe passport control could employ a deterrent stamp on the passports of anyone who has overdone the sunbathing and is red and blistered, disallowing them entry to hot countries in the height of summer.

more lifties

Next up the Rocha Delicada Trail which was just near Alvor but across some water requiring a 30min bus ride. Unfortunately the bus driver didn't speak English. Everyone in Portugal speaks English. (Which was lucky since we hadn't once listened to the Speak Portuguese dvd Mary had purchased in a spirit of incandescent optimism.) However not Mr Bussy Driver. So when I asked if he could give us a shout at the unpronounceable Mexilhoeira Grande he shrugged embarrassed as if I had asked for a kiss while Mary takes a photo, you know for Grindr? Like what did he think I might be asking about Mexilhoeira Grande, did he know if I could get a flipping haircut there? Anyway despite M and I peeling our eyes at about the right time we drove through M Grande and only saw the sign as we got back onto N125 which then involved 2 miles of extra curricular running along the side of a large road to the start of the Rocha Delicada. 

This route was a much gentler, softer trip across farmlands and salt marshes. Unfortunately most of the farms had barky dogs and although they were all behind gates and fences they unnerved Mary a bit who spent most of the first few miles being mind-savaged by slavering hounds. She then spent the second half of the route getting it done as quickly as possible so we could get some lunch. I would have preferred a bit longer taking photos of flamingos anad eagles BUT THERE WEREN'T ANY. There was quite a lot of pretty heathery type stuff in a myriad of muted hues and lots of swallows or maybe alpine swifts or well, who knows.

perhaps a Caspian Tern?

quite a few of these

These were great but wouldn't hold still.

This one, lets call it a swallow, had a white collection bag. I suspect it was evolving to use tools and was catching it's family's supper in a white shopping bag clearly visible. You have no idea how many photos I took to get these two - so you can stop complaining about the quality right now.

Back onto the bus (different driver) and back "home" for another Portuguese omelette. Oh and maybe stop off at that nice cafe with the frosted beer glasses if you would like to use the facilities.

friend new best

it never looked like this

swallows again
The sky would fill with swallows (if they are swallows) twice a day. They circled the large tower block across the way dodging up into blank overhangs then stall-turning away. 

the man from Solmonte
our rooms on the tenth

Last day run and swim at the west end.
Mary on left horizon looking at this...

more toe curling scenery

I took the bigger camera but found the daylight was so good that it only came out once or twice in low light. (As above.) I particularly enjoyed the panorama feature on the compact which was the best way to capture the epic widescreen vistas.

Mary took this shot and it kind of sums up the holiday for me.
I like being out and about in the sunshine and nothing else comes close. Top holiday. I'd go there again.