Ever Changing Scenery

I suffered a serious lapse of self-control over the Easter weekend. And no, I’m not even talking about the inexcusable amounts of chocolate eggs I have annihilated. Here’s what really happened: four days off work, mixed with the most beautiful spring weather, sprinkled with the threat of a looming ultramarathon was all it took to turn me into a temporary binge runner.

The first run was a long trail run on the coastal path; I loved rolling out of bed and simply hitting the trail until I felt like jumping ship, at which point I headed for the road and jumped on a homeward bound bus. Saturday was parkrun day, and my legs were so fresh they even had a PB in them. It was a lovely day for it, as it also happened to be the second anniversary of my local parkrun. As such, there was much cake eating and rejoicing with the totally awesome people that make St. Andrews parkrun the fantastic event that it is!

Sunday saw me back on the amazing Cateran trail, for more exploration of the ultramarathon route. This time, I went on my own, and although the going was tough, I enjoyed every moment of it. Yes, even the bit where I got lost in a swamp and power hiking was all I could do to ensure that my shoes would stay attached to my feet. There’s learning in that, too, I am sure!

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On Monday morning, I joined a real ultramarathon runner for another 18 mile run in a local Nature Reserve. My legs still felt surprisingly good, but general fatigue was finally and predictably nipping at my heels. It was a challenging run, but I’m glad I did it.

All in all, I ran 96km over the four day weekend. The only explanation I can offer to explain the fact that I felt perfectly fine on Tuesday morning is that my legs were so traumatised that they simply stopped talking to me. Still, I’m sure that they are grateful for the little (relative) rest they are getting right now.

As I am typing this, I’ve put said legs up on a very cosy sofa of a holiday cottage on the west coast of Scotland. While I’m here on business (I’m attending a training course on animal assisted therapies – it’s awesome!), I can’t help but feel that this is almost a mini vacation. For a start, I’m waking up to this view every morning:

cumbrae

This cosy little cottage also happens to be fully decked out with maps and hiking guides for the area, which I continue to study vigorously. Naturally, you can expect another post about my explorunning upon my return to civilisation (and a stable internet connection)!

I hope you are all having a great week, too!

Off The Trails

I’m writing this post from my bed, where I’ve put my feet up and am enjoying a glass of red wine; it’s a perfect ending to an amazing day. After a brutally early start and a few hours of driving into a very grey morning, I met up with three friends in Blairgowrie at the start of the Cateran Trail in the Scottish Highlands. Today, we embarked on a reconnaissance run of the first section of the trail, which we will attempt to run in its 54 mile entirety in June.

cateran gate

As soon as we stretched our legs out on the trail, the clouds were blown away by a formidable wind, which although it was responsible for a tougher start to our run than any of us would have liked, also cleared the way for the sun to brighten up the awesome and ever-changing views.

cateran run me

The trail winds its way through three distinct glens, and took us through the some wonderful and wonderfully Scottish scenery. We ran through open farmland and quaint little granite villages, jumped over several little streams and crossed others via bouncy wooden bridges, and enjoyed some shelter from the wind in old pine forests. We crossed wide open stretches of dark, reddish-brown heather, bordered by snow-capped mountains which grew larger and larger on the horizon as we made our way towards them. We eventually climbed over one mountain pass before descending into Spittal of Glenshee, our final destination for the day. We swiftly proceeded to reflect upon our 24 miles of trail running over a round of hot chocolates from the local hotel bar. I know, how hardcore are we, right?

cateran running

As a recce run for the ultramarathon, it has done nothing but inspired me completely. After running the first 10 km or so into the wind, I was feeling so good that I wanted to run the whole trail immediately. Thankfully (or unfortunately?), my comrades weren’t so keen on the idea.

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Having said all of these lovely things, it wasn’t an easy run. The trail is rarely flat and was often wet and boggy under foot. I learned that while salted nuts, crackers and jelly beans work well for me nutrition wise, chocolate macaroons shall be adamantly avoided in future. After running the 24 miles, I was happy to give my legs a rest and to warm my hands on my mug of hot chocolate. However, in less than three months’ I’ll have to keep going for another 30 miles in order to complete the challenge. This is not just going to be a personal journey, I’m also doing this run for a good cause; namely to raise money for ABF The Soldier’s Charity, which gives support to soldiers and their families. If you would like to sponsor me, you can do so here and earn my eternal gratitude!

Cateran Waterfall

Right now, I’ll keep resting my feet, as I’m registered to run the St. Andrews Half Marathon in the morning. It would, of course, be completely idiotic to run it, but since idiocy is a particular speciality of mine, I’ll probably make an appearance. I’m not expecting a fast run at all, in fact, I fully anticipate to run on wooden legs. Let’s see how how far they are willing to carry me, shall we?

Feeling Seriously Runspired!

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“There’s an overwhelming cultural mentality today that difficult tasks should be avoided; that volitional discomfort is an indication of some psychological oddity. Meanwhile, ultramarathons promise exactly the opposite; the expectation is that the race will be strenuous. Your body will get battered, your spirit will get broken, and you’ll question your sanity and emotional stability. (What’s more – you’ll pay somebody a lot of money in race fees for this to happen. If it weren’t for ultrarunning, there’d be a huge boom in masochism support groups. Clearly, we NEED this sport.) It’s no wonder most people think we’re insane.

But here’s the good part: our gain for suffering through all of this is something akin to enlightenment. We understand that our bodies and minds are capable of far more than most people ever realize – that the primary limiting factors in life’s journeys are the extent to which our minds can dream, and to which we’re willing to work to achieve them.

These truths we discover about ourselves are what keep us coming back for more. In that regard, ultrarunners are the fishermen leaving the shore: we’re fully aware that the storms might be terrible – but the rewards we harvest by venturing into the sea are always worth the hardship.”

-Donald Buraglio, The Running Life: Wisdom and Observations from a Lifetime of Running

I can’t think of a more wonderful place to run my first ultramarathon than the Scottish Highlands – what a place to be, what a life to live! Am seriously getting excited about pushing the limits, even though the race itself is still four months away. Here’s what’s in store for me, the backdrop to all the pain I’ll no doubt suffer:

Cateran trail

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cateran trail 4

I’m feeling so antsy right now that I’m seriously thinking about heading up there and start to recce the trail this weekend – despite the fact that the whole area is currently buried under several feet of snow!

From 21.2 to 42.2 to 88 to Insanity?

I suspect that I’ve really done it this time. I’ve relinquished whatever shreds of my sanity I still possessed prior to today. I’ve signed myself up for my first ultramarathon. Sort of.

Hey, you know, while I’m on this streak of new running experiences (midnight runs, parkruns, fell races…), I thought, hell, why not try running 88km (or 54 miles) in one day and see what happens?

That’s what I’ll be doing on the 28th of June on the stunning Cateran Trail with two fellow crazy runners. It’s not a race as such (hence I say it’s only sort of an ultramarathon); instead, it’s a charity challenge for a very good cause.

Most people walk the trail, but we’re going to run it. Due to the walkers, it’s got a generous time limit of 24 hours to finish the course. I think it’ll be as gentle an introduction to ultra running as is possible (if such a thing is possible at all!).

Right now, I’m just stupidly excited about the prospects of this new adventure. However, I suspect that my brain is still a little too shell-shocked to fully comprehend what I’ve signed us up for. Until it catches on, I’m just going to enjoy the hype. The fear will come, and I’ve got no doubts that I’m in for some very dark moments that will see me reduced to a shivering, twitching mess of trail trash. Really, I can’t wait!

At the moment, I’m still training for a – hopefully – very fast half-marathon in Inverness in March, followed by a jolly doddle around Rome for the marathon there at the end of March. After that, it looks like I’ll transition into unchartered running territory, by venturing into the land of crazy mileage.

Maspie_waterfall(I’ll be doing lots of this in the spring!)*

But for now, there are other things I must do. For a start, I’ll add my physiotherapist to my Christmas card list and save his number on speed dial. I have a hunch that we’ll become great friends over the next couple of months!

*I realise that this picture might give the misleading impression that I’m planning on standing around a lot under a waterfall in preparation for running an ultramarathon. Although it sounds like good fun too, I don’t think that this would adequately prepare me for running 55 miles. It just so happens that I’m not running (yet) in this picture, as I was walking my most awesome and most loyal friend, the lovely Myra. She’s 14 years old and sadly can’t join me on my runs anymore. I often take her for a little walk before I run, so she gets her exercise and doesn’t feel left out. Note to self: try to get a decent picture of trail running self, so people don’t think that all I do is stand around on the trails!