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?

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?