Friday, 22 May 2015

not enough kicks on route 76

or washing my hands of the Forth basin 20/05/15

At the beginning of the week I noticed the forecast was looking fab for Wednesday so had a loose plan to do May's Tynecastle Bronze before the next job gets underway and the reluctant taper for the marathon begins. I wanted to run somewhere new and the wind was coming from the west so getting a train to Stirling and running back to Edinburgh seemed the obvious choice. Stupidly I stayed up too late on Tuesday night printing out 4 x A4 maps following sustrans route 76 which I presumed would be quiet roads and trails suitable for running. This pdf is slightly more helpful (I found) than the sustrans website but because the pdf didn't have full ordnance survey type marking of ALL roads, I printed out a proper map and drew on the route 76 markings at a scale that wouldn't require me to wear specs to see the next turning. I also marked a couple of places where I thought I might make route improvements and take shortcuts. Reinvent the wheel as it were. Huh! Right!

He looks great in a dress, so why doesn't Grayson Perry?

Anyway I woke up exhausted and only just had time to throw some stuff in my new Salomon back pack before running like a maniac to catch the 11.03 to Stirling. Never sprint the first mile of an ultra. The plan was to hit the googled war memorial in Stirling leaving me free of chores except to have a jolly old run back towards Edinburgh. I had measured the distance along the route to be approximately 30ish to the bridges. If I was going like a train I might make it all the way home but the likeliest option was to catch the train at Inverkeithing assuming 30 miles on the garmin.

I used to travel to Stirling regularly to visit a couple of friends and get wildly intoxicated. I wondered just how much I would recall when I stepped off the train and the answer was not as much as I thought. I took a little trip to the memorial and just about managed to find my way back to the station from where I set off in the direction of the Wallace monument almost immediately coming across the following directional advice.

You can see where the top arrow has been changed and my thoughts were well I don't want Bridge of Allan (don't know where Cambuskenneth is)(it's where I should have gone) so Forthside sounds good. WRONG. I am so annoyed at this sign - the very first turn and I am led along past the sewage works (of 10k fame) to this fucking road which feels like running along a motorway hard shoulder...

I am swearing like a mental and sprinting along this verge. Never sprint the second mile of an ultra. BASTARDS. I hate this so much. Who changed that sign and why didn't I just go the other way. (I have gone too far to turn around.) (Much much later I realise that route 76 goes on either side of the Forth - give the idiot who thought that one up, a prize - and in fact all quiet roads around the banks of the Forth are probably called route 76, except this isn't quiet, this is MOTORWAY DEATHKILL and cars are whizzing by at 50~80mph.) I run a mile with my buttocks clenched hoping the police get word there's a nutter loose on the busy roads and pick me up for jay-running. This is awful. (I did try climbing through the plastic-bottle-and-condom-shrubs to run along the field edges but I was reduced to walking pace and got sticks in the eye every 8 steps so returned to the hard shoulder and 7min-miled to the next junction where I met - yes - route 76.)

Now while this is a massive improvement it is not running heaven. Ok, I have been spoiled by East Lothian's beauty spots and perfect trails. A lot of the route today is like the above photo. The sort of thing you might be grateful for if you ran out of fuel while piloting a light aircraft and needed to land somewhere in a hurry. Or maybe a bike ride. It would be do-able on a bike because you could go fast and there would be nothing to make you want to stop for a photo. Nothing.

Ok one photo. Its not like we don't have rapeseed in E Lothian, but this was the first time in several miles I felt compelled to get the camera out. Normally I'd have taken several hundred photos by now. Also because I was checking the map regularly - I really didn't fancy any further navigational errors - I was making very slow progress. You would think with fast tarmac and nothing to stop and photo I'd be romping along but I really wasn't. None of this cheered me up but I was kind of ok with it as well, putting it down as useful, if blunt, marathon training.

WM at Alloa
I made another nav error near Alloa. It was more wishful thinking as a pleasant riverside dirt trail wound off into the distance. Half a mile into it I had to concede it was taking me along the wrong side of the river and I had to backtrack unless I wanted to spend the rest of the day on the South side of the Forth.

Alloa sort of sprawls into Clackmannan and I wasn't very sure where I was for long miles around here. However my instincts were mysteriously good and more than once I had a strong urge to turn at about the right place to turn. There were small route 76 blue markers but not enough of them to absolutely rely on them, and they were pretty easy to run past without spotting. I had seen Alloa Tower marked on the map and knew I ran near it. I think that may be it above but wasn't that impressed so ran on, and surprisingly into a slightly desperate housing scheme that made me homesick for anywhere else. I think I may have been getting a bit low-blood-sugar as this photo below shows it to look quite cosy and attractive.

Then through a nicer bit of parkland and into Clackmannan where a junction showed the turn off to go towards the coast rather than towards Dunfermline. I stopped at the nearby war memorial for the sandwich I had made at breakfast. It was quite early on - just over 10miles - but it was a good call. I wasn't carrying much in the way of provisions or fluid because I wrongly assumed the route would be lined with shops. I passed very few shops to buy stuff, or rather there was not a superabundance of places. 

Clackmannan wm. 

Everything from this point onwards improves. I'm not saying Alloa and Clackmannan are shit-tips but they had a couple of places that had a minimum-wage-ghost-town feel to them and lacked any kind of quality vernacular architecture the way that Fife, in places, has.

I checked the map and either of these choices, the small doorway into the woods or the straight road, led to the same destination (Kincardine (Bridge)). If you prefer the road we will have to part company here.

Unfortunately this was only for 15mins before more road miles.

I quite like Clackmannan Bridge

Mind you I quite like this although I think whoever wrote it was probably drunk or illiterate. It was in Kincardine where I found a ghost town newsagent and bought a Red Bull, 2 x Turkish Delight, a Double Decker and some chocolate. All quality ultra food.

ghost town

Keep your eyes peeled for the blue 76 through Kincardine as they take you a strange line then duck under the old bridge. 

Satanic Mills of Longannet Power Station. 

I was awestruck by just how grim and desolate it looks although Roly seemed to remember it fondly when he wrote about driving trains into it. It certainly dominates the landscape for miles and in many ways mirrors Cockenzie across the water - the creation, nearby, of lagoons from the spent ashes is identical.

I had high hopes for Torry Bay nature reserve.

Not sure what I expected - ospreys pulling salmon from the sea and tossing them to otters on the shore... but that wasn't the story. In fact I saw a dead hedgehog at the side of the road and that was about as far up the foodchain as I got. Not so much as a longannet. Nada in Torry Bay except for a very long orange train going past on the coastal train line that couldn't be any more beside the sea without being in it. However the ambiance was definitely improving and I was looking forward to Culross which was possibly the cultural highlight of the run.

I can't remember ever actually being here before but my father was very keen and it is the sort of place he would draw/paint a centre-spread of, in the late 60s or 70s for Scottish Field magazine. It has many well preserved old buildings and is almost like running through a living museum of pretty architecture and orange pan-tiles.

The downside of all this beauty is a lack of useful public facilities and I, for some while, had been sensing the approach of a great need. And the only place I could see to go was in the bus stop litter bin. Happily it was a short run to the outskirts and the cover of some wasteland scrub.

Halfway along the bay between the powerstation and Crombie is a couple of square miles of lagoons (from the ash) same as Musselburgh. Worried I'd miss ALL the exotic wildlife if I took the straight line, I travelled around the perimeter of this man made peninsula, adding a couple of miles to the distance. If you are at this point and considering the options here's my advice: DON'T. All there is is a fence, a dirt trail and a short drop into the sea. Maybe at low tide the ospreys are fishing but there was nothing to recommend the long way round other than a very distant glimpse of the bridges. Also when you get back to the main landmass the trail seems to run out and you have to climb 2 fences and cross the train line. And that was the easier option: I thought about taking the straight line across the bay to the houses and I probably would have had to scramble and swim. So in summary - stick to 76 and forget the lagoons - you can't even see them as the surrounding ground is raised. 

Through forgettable Torryburn and onto a rather swish coastal path where there are some very attractive properties with high walls and fences. Sort of places that make me wish I had studied harder at the career thing or had fabulously wealthy family. Mainly the second. What, live in a huge seaside home with a lovely seaview, rather than live in a snake pit surrounded by the savages of Leith? Surely not? Oh well, keep running. Actually I had had a moment just as I got onto the path here. I overheard a child shouting for his mother to watch while he demonstrated some acrobatics in the playground at Torryburn. And it reminded me of myself as a child always shouting for the approval of my mum. She was the person I held in highest regard and would always crave the approval of. Despite no family riches, mum was always there for us, and did a great job of raising a family without resources or much input from an absent father and hardly ever the cracks showing, and it is only in the last year the last few months that mum is wandering and a lifetime of independence and looking after, needs a bit more care returned, and now in her 80s she is less sure of her surroundings, gone the firm grip on the who's, the where's and the hard cold light.... I began to get a bit tearful. Jesus. I stopped and got out the Double Decker and 2nd Turkish Delight. I always know when I am out of fuel because I get easily overwhelmed and emotional; only it's really just low blood sugar and 5 minutes later I am back in the room. 

Stop and go up to the road. I know it looks like it continues to the right but it doesn't....

Yup, go back, no joy here. I considered trying to get round the shoreline (that brilliant shortcut) but I was already well behind schedule and didn't need to spend and hour in the brig behind the barbed wire.

Or climb through the woods if you can get across the field without being shot by the farmer.

Apart from the deadgehog this buzzard was the wildlife.

So I followed the small road up to the main road and then eventually down this smaller road towards Charlestown

Someone making a 1 bedroom kiln? 

more posh

Another wm and I'm getting so blasé I don't even get in close.

Nice coastal details along here reminding me of similar over on our side. Route 76 signs are changing into Fife Coastal Path logos.

This was the sort of trail I had hoped there would be more of. My feet were quite tired of road running and I was wondering whether to call it a day at Inverkeithing, or catch the train at Dalmeny or whether I had the stomach to manage all the way home. The ball of my right foot had felt tender then bruised from about mile 10. I reckoned my Hoka Challengers had come to the end of their life. They are my go-to shoes but I felt for roads they had lost their stuffing. A worry as they were primary candidates for the marathon in 10 days.

At last the new bridge comes into view. From here on in the place is one large building site and I was concerned pedestrian traffic might not be catered for. It wasn't too bad though and at several points I was moving quicker than the queued drivetime traffic.

I was 30 miles in and finished by the time I crossed the road bridge. The Samaritans' signs (call us before you jump, or words to that effect, actually no mention of the j word) made me consider (every 200 yards) what it would be like to step over the barrier and face the longest splash. It gave me the heebie geebies and I ran, spooked and toxically thrilled by the height, right in the centre of the pedestrian walkway as far from disaster as I could. Meanwhile dirty faced children, (thinner than the gaps,) on scooters, wheeled past oblivious to caution. I was trying to remember just exactly what bridge Johnny Weismuller had dived from. A quick google suggests he probably didn't but delightfully that they played the Tarzan Yell as his coffin was lowered into the ground.

I hope the new bridge is as accurately engineered as the old.

I considered running to Leith just for the bragging rights but it was 7.20pm by the time I got to Dalmeny and the 7.30 train was calling to me. It would have required more food and drink and probably have taken another 2.5 hrs to run the last 10+ miles so I called it a day. Also I didn't want to aggravate my foot any further - I had already racked up a 2 day injury.

The view from the end of Platform 1.
Note the seagull.

here comes the train

33.33 miles from Stirling to Dalmeny, on Route 76

Plus one up to, and one back from, Waverley. I would cycle this route next time but it is too road based for the running I like. Many nice spots along the way but some pretty ugly ones too and that was in good weather! Elapsed time 7.24 moving time 5.23 - more than 2hrs doing f'all and looking at maps? Maybe I fell asleep? 

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