Sneezing and the Parallax

“There is no truth. There is only perspective.”

– Gustave Flaubert

When I travelled to my childhood home in Germany this weekend, little did I know that I would also discover a thing or two about perspective. Most of you know by now that I was born in Germany; and my blatant lack of any sense of humour as well as my passport confirm that I’m still German as of now. Until my twelfth year of age I grew up and lived in the lovely city of Cologne, famous for its fragrances, beer, and a stunning Gothic cathedral that is home to the remains of the three wise men.

Cologne

But I digress. After all, this blog is dedicated to my trail running adventures, and running in nature is a fiendishly tricky thing to do in a big city, no matter how much perfume, booze or bones of biblical characters it has to offer.

It was obvious to me that the chances of being able to fit in any genuine training towards my ultramarathon were approximately zero while I was staying with my family, so I had always planned it as a rest weekend in my training cycle. However, only a non-runner would assume that this meant that I didn’t bring my running gear. I stayed in the house where I grew up, so I knew the area like a beaver knows his dam and was keen to see how many sneaky little runs I could fit in.

When I laced up for the first time and stepped off my father’s porch, I was faced with my first dilemma: I had no idea how far anything was away. At home, in Scotland, I know the lengths of my typical running routes better than the periodic table, and I’m a scientist. In Germany, I soon realised that my estimations of distances were all still based on the perception of a pre-pubescent me.

In the absence of trails and nature to keep me entertained on my run, I made a game out of re-visiting places that were once important to me in my youth: I first ran to my kindergarden, then primary school, secondary school, visited the church where I spent many a Sunday morning, the on to the park where I used to play, ran past the house where my best friends lived, as well as the yard where I first learned to ride horses. I visited some long-lost but never forgotten loved ones at the graveyard, and then continued my journey onwards to the banks of the Rhine where I used to play with my friends.

What struck me was how little had actually changed. Sure, there were new fences and more buildings in what were once open spaces, but in essence, everything is still where it was a quarter of a century ago. What has changed completely, however, is my own perception of the importance of these places. What used to be the whole world to me as a child now fit into an easy morning run. I guess it really is all just a matter of perspective.

Father Ted Joke(“These are small, but the ones out there are far away.” – Father Ted)

On a slightly different note, I also made another novel discovery related to my beloved act of running while in Germany, and that is that it doesn’t mix at all well with hay fever. As soon as I stepped off the plane, my sinuses were blocked up, my eyes were itchy and my nose was running. At first, I found the constant sneezing on the run mildly entertaining, but it soon made me feel first exhausted and then miserable. It was so bad that I even tried running on the dreadmill at one point, and lasted a whopping 20 minutes before my rapidly dwindling will to live forced me to stop. Oh well, at least I got my scheduled rest!

I’m back in Scotland now, where I’m enjoying my completely sneeze-free trail runs once more and with renewed vigour. I’ve also come to see that I’m really only an inch or two away from Germany, depending on the scale of the map I look at…

Mind the Map

You guys, I’ve gone and done it again. I’ve gotten lost. And this time, I don’t just mean to say that I got lost on my long run again (although that happened, too!). Instead I seem to have gotten a bit lost in this beautiful spring and life in general. It’s all good though. I think I’ll call it wander lost.

One side effect of this wander lost is that I haven’t found the time to update my blog in ages, even though I’ve experienced, seen and realised much that I would love to share.

Last weekend, for example, I went on a Hebridean island-hopping long run. My journey took me from the mainland to three different islands and involved five ferry crossings. The views were just stunning; sleepy fishing boats, sea birds, the occasional seal and more mountainous islands shrouded in mist on the horizon. I spent almost the entire day travelling and on my feet that day, although I only ran for four hours and covered just over 40 kilometres. The best part was that it didn’t feel like a long training run at all; instead it felt like a real adventure.

20140426_110432(Views from the long run, looking out towards Arran)

On Tuesday night, I commemorated my return home from the west coast of Scotland by running another accidental half marathon. I had only set out to run about 10km on the cold and misty evening, but bumped into a running buddy on my way home and couldn’t help myself but join him for more of the same again. It’s been a lovely reminder how mental milestones can be shifted.

Fog Coast(A foggy evening on the coast, near Crail)

Yesterday, I had to travel to Stirling for work. The downside of this is that it means a painfully early start to my day. However, this is more than made up for by the fact that the drive home takes me past the lovely Ochil mountain range in central Scotland. Thus, I ran up the Mill Glen, straight up to the peak of the Law (in fairness, this part of the route involves significantly more scrambling and power-hiking rather than running), and then over to the summits of Ben Cleuch and Ben Ever. While descending from Ben Ever, I set a new personal record; by adopting a running style that can only be described as a renegade miniature human windmill impersonation, I not only struck terror into the hearts of sheep all over the mountain, but also ran my fastest kilometre of the year so far, in 3:26. My quads hate me today, but it was totally worth it!

20140502_151019(Looking east from the summit of Ben Cleuch)

Tomorrow I am heading back up to the Cateran trail for more proper ultramarathon long run training. In the rain. I genuinely can’t wait!

Finally, I came across this nifty heat map of popular running routes around the world today. I immediately consulted it to find out if others are privy to what I believe to be my very own secret running places. Apart from looking really pretty, I think this map could be very useful at times. For example, if I ever really want to run on my own (say, when I have just been to see my horse and haven’t had a shower), it could direct me to places where I’d be highly unlikely to encounter another runner. The local motorway, for instance.

I hope you are all doing well and are enjoying the spring as much as I am.

20140502_143350(Spring in Mill Glen)

 

Snow = Seriously Nifty Outdoor Wanderings

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it’s a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different. If this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?

– J.B. Priestley

When my friend and I met up this morning for a long hill run in the beautiful Ochil mountain range in the Scottish Lowlands, little did we know that the world that awaited us on the high plateau would be so very different from the one we were about to leave behind.

As we climbed higher up into the mountain range, we were amazed to catch the first glimpse of a snow-dusted peak ahead of us – the temperatures have been mild lately and we were genuinely surprised and excited in equal measures by the prospects of running in the white stuff.

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But it wasn’t just a little snow that lay in wait – the higher we climbed, the more apparent it became that the snow was plentiful, new and untouched. High up in the mountains we found an unscathed winter-wonderland, inviting us to leave our footprints.

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Above the fast moving and moody clouds the sun was shining brightly, giving rise to an ever-changing spectacle of light as we made our way from summit to summit across the white wilderness. I have lost count of the number of times that I turned and was greeted by views that literally took my breath away.

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We spent the better part of four hours running, skipping, slipping, bouncing and ploughing through the snow-covered mountains. I can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday!

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I Love Explorunning

Lately, my response to virtually any natural scenery on TV has been embarrassingly predictable. Whenever I find myself staring at an image of a beautiful field, rugged mountain, endless beach, old forest, or a wide open desert, my mind gets all bouncy and screams: “I want to run there!”

I am aware that this is due to  a combination of my serious, chronic affliction of wanderlust washed down with a good old case of the grass being greener on the other side mentality. The truth is that I already live in a truly beautiful corner of the world. A whopping two minutes from my doorstep lies the sea, where I only have to decide whether to turn east or west, for forty kilometres of coastal trails await me in either direction. A short drive takes me to run on mountain trails, up the famous Glens, under waterfalls and to award winning beaches that have even featured in movies about running.

But still, that lust for new adventures remains as strong as ever. It’s a bottomless pit really. I hope to travel and run for a long time yet, but naturally and for all the right reasons I can’t do this all the time.

In the meantime, there is really no reason why I can’t at least partially satisfy my hunger for new adventures in the beautiful part of the world that I happen to live in. (When life hands you awesome trails, you’ve got to run them!) I’ve had some of best fun while running new routes, and here’s why:

  1. New trails, new fun. Running means I can cover more ground in one go than I ever could while walking. Win!
  2. It widens my horizons. I love adding to my ever growing repertoire of stomping grounds. Even on the rare occasions when the whole route turned out to be terrible (for running or otherwise), at least the run gave me some new knowledge that I didn’t have before. But no matter what happens, it’s always a new adventure.
  3. I tend to focus much more on the surroundings and orienteering aspect of the run, rather than the run itself when I recce a new trail. This can be great on long runs, as I tend to eat up the miles without my mind noticing what’s happening and hence it never proceeds to moan about it or tries to convince me to stop.
  4. Running new trails invites me to let go of any plans and just enjoy every moment of the outing itself. It’s impossible to fully plan how the run will pan out in terms of distance and pace when running on new ground. I have lost count of the number of times I had to double back on myself when trying to find new routes. On a recent run I took a trail up a mountain so steep I could reach the top only by climbing up on all fours. While this was a workout that would make even a Navy Seal break a sweat, my recorded pace was somewhere in the laughable region of 20 minutes per kilometre for that part of my so-called run. But oh, the views!
  5. Running new trails is great for building my confidence and challenges me to be ready for anything. I’ve come across obstacles and paths that I would never have contemplated traversing if I had known about them beforehand. I’ve come up against streams, hills, and piles of fallen trees that would make me turn around on my heels if I had encountered them on my home turf. However, after running for 15 kilometres, I usually find the prospects of conquering these obstacles much more tempting than turning around. As a result, I’ve found myself up to the hip in icy waters, knee deep in the mud, clinging to walls and climbing over as well as under numerous trees. I’m growing increasingly comfortable and skilled at running in the mud and through water, jumping over logs and climbing over fences.
  6. It gets me lost. At first, the idea of being lost was a bit scary, but with each time the fear got less while the the fun factor grew. I like getting a little lost now and know how to deal with it. I have come to the conclusion that being lost (within reason) is good for me, because it really pushes me into the unknown.

Badass Lost

I’m sure it will come as no surprise then when I confess that I have just bought detailed maps covering virtually all of central Scotland, and I will be most disappointed if they don’t lead me to even steeper hills, deeper rivers, greater views and bigger adventures in 2014.

However, should I fail to update this blog for a week or so, please assume that I’ve taken the getting lost part a little too far and kindly organise a search party or two, okay?

Running Bloggers, Merrily Running Together?

First of all, I want to wish everyone a very happy Christmas! I hope you’ll have some very relaxing and invigorating festive days as this year draws to a close. Let 2014 be the year when all your wildest dreams come true and chase you, incarnate, down the street.

Snow-Laded-Christmas-Tree

So far, I’ve spend my Christmas riding, running, eating, and getting merry in many ways. I celebrated Christmas Eve with a little evening run around St. Andrews, including a spell of running on the West Sands, the beach made famous by “Chariots of Fire”.

St. Andrews beach

Today, I ran up the Bishop in the Lomond Hills, which seemed appropriate for Christmas Day. However, when I say run, I mean that I crawled up the hill (I took the steep path up from Scotlandwell) only to be almost blown away near the top and getting very wet feet on the boggy descend. Nevertheless, it was lots of fun, life affirming, and certainly a great workout that allowed me to tuck into Christmas dinner without shame.

Bishop 1

Thank you all for being part of this great community of running bloggers! A few days ago, the lovely TartanJogger and I half-jokingly contemplated the possibility of going for a run together at some point. It’s made me think that there are many fellow running bloggers here who I’d just love to meet for a run. Any thoughts, any takers?

21.12 for 12.21

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

– Albert Camus

First of all: Happy Winter Solstice!

solstice_Stonehenge

We’ve made it half way through winter! Sure, some bad weather might still come our way, but in my head at least, it’s only going to get better from now on.

Unusual for me, I decided to do my weekly long run this Saturday afternoon. I decided to go for it when I learned yesterday that Nike has a special charity focus event today: 12.21 Move More. The idea is that individuals from all over the world can pledge the Nike Fuel (Nike’s activity counter) they earn on this day to charity, which Nike will translate into financial donations.

While I’m really not bothered about Nike Fuel, I do use the Nike Sports Watch (which I love) to track all my runs. Therefore, even though I just want to know about the distance, pace, elevation etc. of my runs, courtesy of Nike I also get a number representing my hard-earned Fuel for every run.

It was a no-brainer really: run lots today and let the corporate giant make a donation to charity.

My initial plan was to run a whole marathon, but this proved tricky since I was not able to set out before 1pm. I took my hydration pack and plenty of food with me and set out on an easy, but very long run in a nearby nature reserve. However, on this occasion my otherwise much loved solstice worked against me and I just couldn’t outrun the dusk. If I had planned things a little better I could have brought some lights and reflective clothing, but without either a night run in the forest was off limits.

In the end, I ran 21.12 miles today. It seemed like a good number to give to charity. And I loved every single yard of it! (Which is weird, because I am normally only capable of comprehending distances when they are expressed in the metric system).

Tentsmuir-10

 

 

Let the Storm Rage On

That’s it: I’m officially on annual leave for the next two weeks! Naturally, the weather is terrible, but I didn’t let that stop me from heading out for a cool, celebratory trail run. I was really hoping to find some snow, so that I could finally build my first snowman of the season. With that goal in mind, I ran up the highest ‘mountain’ in the county this afternoon. (Don’t be too impressed though, the highest peak in Fife is West Lomond, which at 522 m isn’t really all that high – the run from base to peak and back is about 12km).

Lomond Storm

Sadly, I found no snow on the peak, just some very wild winds and a hailstorm, neither of which lends itself to the building of snowmen. I only encountered one other person who was crazy enough to also be out -hiking- on the mountain trails in the middle of a storm in December. In typical British style, he made some comment about the weather as I passed him. Call me weird, but I didn’t feel like stopping for a chat while the strom raged on around us; instead I just shouted something about heeding the call of a hot chocolate and resumed my downhill charge – weeeeee. What an awesome run! At the risk of sounding like the good old Coca-Cola advert: The holidays are coming!