Monday, 28 November 2016

doing it with the coach

Often after a big event or run there is a post-natal-like sense of flatness where nothing measures up to the recent excitement and it is difficult to return to normal life, or in this case, some short and dull local runs in ordinary winter weather. Luckily I have the coach who gets me out the door by suggesting we do the Musselburgh lagoons, or whatever. Usually we manage sufficient banter to enhance the dullest of runs, burning off a few calories, and are surprised by just how gloomy the scenery was when the photos are uploaded later. 

On Monday, following on from a 72 mile weekend I ran 5 with the coach and even some short sprints, and felt, all things considered, pretty good. Not so on Wednesday evening when a mile or 2 into the tempo run with club I could feel all the sore bits in my legs from the weekend begin to hurt to the point where I was obliged to ease back and contain the pace.

too dear? 

On Saturday I was happy to be doing a low key weekend. Sandwiched between the Great Glen and the Water of Leith Race (and Borders XC) I was enjoying just pottering around the usual 5 or 6 miles with the coach. We nearly did some sprints on the beach but coach threw in the towel after a very short distance and I wasn't insisting. It's going to be a difficult and possibly hurty return to racing next weekend.

frozen windows on the beach

stick and ball fun

(new)hailesland half
btw, loving the full screen maps (as above) you can screen-grab from Suunto movescount

So on Sunday the coach says she is taking me on a mystery tour. I did suspect this was another cunning way of calling the shots (yet again) with no redress or input from myself. However the coach actually had a plan and a route in mind she had done before. And parts of the route I had never been on, which at least kept my interest. Although the last few miles could defo do with improving: along the front, the godawful familiar prom, from Musselburgh. However it was 13 miles I prob wouldn't have got out the door and done myself. So thanks to Mary for the run and chat. Pity the sun didn't stay out.

round the seat and down innocent railway

simply, well, or just bo...

similar to the glove tree on the coast, a winter flowering bra tree

here comes the peloton 

The Brunstane Burn seemed to have been cleaned up recently and for a short while I thought maybe I wouldn't get the classic trolley shot.

pug swapping meet?

never been here before!

The good thing about the prom is bumping into Porties!

Gav and Ellie remarked upon us wearing his-and-hers Hokas. (Claytons)

There were big waves crashing over the prom.
This is the nearest I got to snapping any after making Mary stand there for ages!

Monday, 21 November 2016

great glen weekend

the three amigos

So the big weekend finally arrived. I was a bit concerned about my health; the cold hadn't cleared up as much as I hoped. Otherwise my health was okay, but what about fitness? We would find out shortly. The trip was ostensibly to test Gore jackets, organised by Matt Davies, who kindly picked up the travel, food and accommodation costs, and in exchange we wear the Gore Jackets as part of the fast and light crew. And run the length of the Great Glen over a weekend. Unfortunately Matt has a knee injury so it was just the three amigos.

Friday night spent in Fort William

The last time I was running with Gregor and Graham it was in thigh deep snow (in shorts) in the Cairngorms wondering if I would die. And here we were again. Happy days! What with being under the weather, I hadn't really been paying attention in class and didn't start doing my homework till just before we left. I looked at google maps and noted that the distances between our destinations was 2 x 32 road miles. Probably just as well I didn't realise the Great Glen Way (a way-marked ramblers trail like the West Highland Way) is considerably longer in the second half, than on the road. 

We arrived in Fort William in the dark, had some refreshments in a pub and went to the booked hostel. There was nobody there to let us in. A quick phone call to the warden and in no time Mr Gumpy arrived, showed us round and left us to it. The place was Baltic and the fire was about as powerful as a 100watt lightbulb. Nevertheless fun was had and we stayed up quite late chatting and drinking beers Graham produced as if by magic. Four of us in a small dorm which warmed up quickly, in fact Gregor had to get up in the night and switch off the dorm heater, before it cooked the 2 in the top bunks.

I felt pretty good despite an early start. I worried that I maybe was carrying too much stuff in the 30litre back pack. I certainly was and 48 hours later, back in Edinburgh, I finally unpacked the uneaten sandwich and half a dozen snack bars. If only we had got stuck up a hill in a snow cave....

Ben Nevis

Not sure if the above is a toilet, a place to wash your mountain bike, or a piece of art. If it is the latter then it is dreadful. We saw many beautiful things over the weekend and this was not one of them.

It's so difficult to pack for a trip like this. Be firm I told myself. Okay just one pair of gloves. I had just bought some waterproof ones in case it rained both days. I would have been better with my fleece ones (left behind) as it rained neither day. My hands were never cold but the insides of the heavy gloves got damp with sweat after several hours and I experimented running with bare hands and letting the cuffs of the jacket cover them a bit. This was one of the better aspects of the jacket which wasn't really made for running - more hiking or walking. The front vertical pockets were handy for stowing my gloves, but other than that the only time the jackets were welcome was towards the end of Sunday as it got really cold. No snow or rain the whole weekend; so unexpectedly, not the "best" weather for putting them through their paces.

The two days were very different. Saturday, Corpach to Fort Augustus, was on flat ground next to the Caledonian Canal. There was an occasional foray up into the treeline but nothing troubling. As a result we ran at a steady pace and covered the ground fairly quickly. There were plenty of attractive views to distract and as a result I was continually impressed by how painlessly the miles were flying by. 

We would slow to eat snacks or have a quick breather or toilet break but it wasn't until late in the day that we stopped for a sandwich. It was too cold to sit for long and we were glad to be off again. Towards the end of the running day the sky cleared, and the sun popped out, raising morale and making for a scenic run into Fort Augustus.

Since we were likely to go over the 30miles I nominated this as November's Tynecastle Bronze. The war memorial is the remains of the LCA training vehicle (Landing Craft; Assault), testament to the recruits who trained here in preparation for the Normandy Landings etc.

food stop

fellow traveller?

Saturday run

We clocked up around 31.5 miles and were in Morag's Lodge Hostel before 2pm. This was a considerably more friendly place full of young folk doing Scotland in minibuses. A very welcome powerful hot shower then back out to wander about the supermarket stocking up for tomorrow's push. I was now aware we had 40 miles in front of us, and was a bit concerned. However no feet or leg problems and the only aches were in my shoulders from carrying too heavy a pack. I didn't buy any further snacks to add to my weight issues. Before dinner I prepped my drinks reservoir for the next day and recharged my gps. Olly was selling his Suunto a while back and I was looking to get something with a longer battery life than my Garmin. I'd only heard good things about Suuntos. Right enough it finds the satellites super fast and lasts all day, or longer. I also texted Mary to let her know I survived and was surprised she didn't text back. 

Sunday began immediately with hills which was to become a theme.

We had a fine dinner and then sat in the bar while young Americans dressed for the tartan toga party played outsized Jenga noisily at another table. The line was drawn at 4 pints and we retired. Slightly more snoring than on day one. I had a couple of snorts of a decongestant I'd brought along, before lights out to try to limit the snoring. Everyone reported sleeping well.

We were up at 7.30 but it was pretty much 8.30 before we set off. Straight away the feel was different to that of Saturday. We were up through the trees and heading past 800 feet in no time. A sprinkling of snow turned into a carpet, but only for a mile or so before we dropped back down below the snowline. The gloves were on, then back off, then back on. It wasn't weather for hanging about in. But many of the climbs were steep and we would walk them, until it levelled off and we would run again. Two hours and we had only covered 8 miles. At this pace, 40miles would take 10 hours, the last 2 being in the dark. To save weight I brought my third best, and lightest headtorch, which was for finding the way to the toilet in the night, not scanning the forest floor for roots and stumps in the pitch black. 

So it was very propitious that Matt had bought us anytime train tickets and not opted for a specific train, notably the 4.24; which at yesterday's pace was do-able but with today's terrain, unlikely. However, the upside of ascending is the view and the view was terrific. Deer galloping off and bellowing, the dark slash of Loch Ness below, heading North and a rather well manicured path for a number of miles contouring along the hillside. I spent most of the time trying to eat and drink my pack lighter while taking hundreds of photos. A pretty good way to spend a day.

our route stretching ahead

Great care was taken on the steep and icy descent into Invermoriston.

all the way down, all the way back up

Now compare this anonymous and rather splendid artwork, the Viewcatcher, to that piss poor shiny urinal earlier. Laces were tied, food consumed and photos taken. Unfortunately the mist or cloud obscured the view so it wasn't really caught, but fun was still being had and we moved on to catch up with the walkers we had seen just ahead. Surprisingly, given the decent weather, there were very few fellow travellers. Underlining the difference between this Way and the WHW.

crown of thorns?
random luck - couldn't have planned this

Vitruvian Nasher

The cloud and the snow thickened as we climbed.

There was a mix of good trails and trickier stuff that slowed us down, before we passed a deer fence (complete with deer, barking) then began to descend to Drumnadrochit. I haven't been there in a long while and remembered it as a centre of tourist tat, the worst of tartan shite and nessie flavoured bullshit for lowbrow tourists. As we came off the hill I said to Gregor if someone offered me a lift to Inverness I wouldn't fight them off. This was definitely my lowest point of the whole trip. I felt weary and about ready to stop - my legs were spent and I couldn't see how I could possibly go another 20 miles the same distance we had already covered.

Graham asked if we fancied a stop in Drumnadrochit and I said I would like a bowl of hot soup. Very shortly we came across cafe Eighty 2 and they gave us 3 bowls of Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup with bread, which was hot and began to revive my flagging spirits. I unpacked my sack and retrieved the Tunnocks Wafer that had worked its way to a point where it jabbed my lower back. However I was far from fully repaired, and definitely floundering for a few hundred yards once we set off up the road. To make matters worse the Inverness bus stopped right by where we were. If G and G had said shall we just call it a day? I would have happily climbed aboard and got into Inverness for that 4.42 train.

But they didn't. After a bit the 3 paracetamols began to work their magic and the shroud of pain began to lift. Which was fortunate as there followed ascent after ascent through the trees then back up through the snow line and continued on steepish forestry trails until we could go no higher. It was a real battle but at least it kept me warm and slowly the worst patch passed.

After a good long way (the photos becoming fewer and further between) we passed first this sign (only 12 glorious miles to the end!!!) then another saying highest point of the footpath. Which I really appreciated. There were still small rises along the way but psychologically it meant the rest of the run was just going to be a long roll down the hill into Inverness. My spirits lifted, especially as the sun began to break through the gloom. I might actually make it.

I took this pic thinking it would be the last of the sun. Then after a bit more forestry trails we got onto this single track. I was messing about with gloves, the camera and blowing snot rockets and fell behind the other 2. I was blowing out the remains of my cold the whole weekend and I'm sure it was bugging the other 2, but they were too kind to mention it. I nearly wrote polite. Given the depths of filth of some of the chat, purely as distraction you understand, polite might not be the most apt word. But we all looked out for one another. I wondered what would happen if one of us took the wrong path and got separated. This increased my pace and yet they were still 2 corners ahead. I began to sprint! The bushes closed in, frosted and slightly magical, as we got deeper into Narnia. The low sun was casting an orange glow and there was a tipsy feeling in the air. 

Happily I saw the others ahead and quickly caught up. We continued along the narrow winding trail and then noticed signposts for foodstuffs, not sure if we were conjuring them up from our own needs. A cafe in the middle of frozen woods in Winter? A gingerbread house perhaps or something out a Grimm tale? We came to a junction where the signs pointed us away from our route and up into the woods. "Open all year" We agreed to go and have a look, but I was cautious about how many miles we had to run and how many hours remained before the last train. And daylight was fading.

The reviews on tripadvisor (we saw later) say things like "a delightful trip into a parallel universe"; eccentric; and 'you know you're in for something different'.... And they are not wrong. There are more handmade signs and some animals. Some overseas folk are settling the bill from their visit and leaving - a good sign then, you do get out alive. Are we really seeing this? A very jolly lady with a broad accent (Orcadian?) is carrying trays about and serving teas outdoors like it is Summer. I'm for waving hello and scarpering but Graham says he'll have a Hot Chocolate. Hang on shouldn't he be tied to the mast and ignoring the sirens? We've still got 10 miles! At least! And I could have a bad spell at any point or just drop dead of old age and fatigue and Rapunzel here probably washed out the dishes in bath water. They survive without electricity, but refuse to answer any direct question. They do so with a broad grin (They being herself in pigtails and a bearded dude of indeterminate age.) 
GN: How long have you been here?
Him: Since I got out of prison? (Smile)
PB: What are your names?
Her: Jekyll and Hyde
While she makes the hot chocolate and coffee I take photos of the pig, the hen and the robin. I get out one of my sandwiches and tear off bits for the pig. The hen scoots about getting the leftovers and the robin is a poor third but they are all suddenly very motivated, especially the pig who has turned from tame and disinterested into a voracious beast who starts charging at me and doesn't readily back down, trying to bite my arse as I turn my back and collect my stuff off the ground as I have no doubt he'd eat my gloves and shoes if he could.  

squeal like a piggy

The hot chocolate is excellent and biscuits and marshmallows are offered as well. There doesn't seem to be a set price and we come to an agreement although are asked to sign a receipt and have our photos taken for their facebook page, like all of their customers. It is like a group hallucination and apart from the pig (who has calmed down) everything is done with a great deal of laughter and good spirits. No meat cleavers appear and no masks or other traditional elements of the horror genre, although it wouldn't have been incredible had it all gone down that road. The odd couple boast of a previous customer referencing Deliverance and making a video complete with duelling banjos. We say thanks and head off not entirely sure what just happened, but I am also full of full fat hotto chocco and ready to face the worst of the dark night in the forest of doom. The sun starts doing remarkable things to the back of us as a bank of mist rolls along the valley.

All is not well however, and Graham slows saying he feels rough. We walk a few steps and he says he needs to be sick. We run, we walk, Graham leans over and makes a few retching sounds. This happens a few more times before a gurgle and splash. More running but on wobbly legs. On the one hand of course it is the combination of a boiled egg, quickly followed by a non-refrigerated rice pudding and then the hot chocolate on top swirling it all together. On the other... why did they say "if you have any problems, the number's on the receipt - call us. We won't help out, but it will give us a laugh!" But only one hot chocolate was spiked. Cunning. If both were, it would be too obvious. And on the other hand out of the 16 reviews on tripadvisor 14 are the highest score and only 2 the second top score. No scores lower than very good. It'll be the rice pudding then. 

power walking

into the dark woods where....

Well many things went on in the woods. A bell rang and while I was wondering if anyone else heard that Gregor tells us Matt is in Morrisons. Are his telepathic communications preceded with a bell? No. His Suunto watch is bluetoothed to his mobile which has just forwarded a text saying as much to his watch. Hell isn't technology marching on apace? We are in the middle of a pitch black wood and can get messages from 10 miles away displayed on a wristwatch so you don't have to break stride and take your pack off.

Then there was background worry about why Mary hadn't texted back the whole weekend. Either her phone was broken or ....well I didn't like to think why; but dark woods are just the place for exploring your terrors. It wasn't until halfway home on the train a text finally appeared from Mary saying her last 2 texts hadn't been sent.

But it's not all fun and games and miles and miles still have to be run. Since my headtorch is casting less light than a supermoon I have to run in between the other 2 or just behind either. It gets so, that I am surprised when I raise my head to see a rock or root and the light doesn't move with it because it is G or G's headtorch. Just as we see Inverness at the end of the woods about a hundred yards away (hurray) Graham catches his toe on something and nearly does a full length superman, just getting his other foot out in front in time. Narrow escape. We have to run 3 miles through Inverness and as we approach the town centre a large crowd has gathered to clap us in to the finish line. Except they don't clap and are pretending they are there to watch some fairy lights being put on, and pretend they don't know who we are. We make our way to the station and have an hour to stumble about buying chips and changing into dry clothes and hooking up with Matt and in about 25 minutes the hour has whizzed by and we are on a train and at last can stop running. 

another war memorial, another November TB run

Sunday run