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!

SONY DSC(Loch Beanie, near the Shoe-Stealing-Swamp-of-Doom)

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:

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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!

Lover of the Light

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

– Margaret Atwood

Today, the inconceivable became possible once again. This evening was possibly more awesome than Christmas, New Year and the Winter Solstice combined.

Today there was finally enough light in the sky to allow me to squeeze a trail run in AFTER work.

I only managed to run 9km before I had to surrender to darkness once again, but I don’t care. A little staggering around in the dark has never killed anyone and more importantly, I managed to get safely back to my car without the need for any lights at all. That’s right – for the first time this year, I was able to run after work without having to resemble a renegade Christmas tree.

I can’t stop smiling. The seasons are finally turning and this is only the beginning.

Cambo Evening(As I ran, the sun set over Cambo)

My Great Scottish Run

Nine years ago, the Great Scottish Run was the first Half-Marathon I ever participated in. So when I found myself waiting in the starting pens for the gun to go off on Sunday, it was a special experience in many ways; a trip down memory lane, as well as a realisation of how far I have come.

Moreover, the Great Scottish Run was also my last race before I shall attempt the classic run from Marathon to Athens in November. As such, it was a dress rehearsal for my actual target race, and in many ways “just a long run”. With my training having gone as splendidly as it has, I was quietly confident in my ability to last the distance.

With the race day nerves firmly in check, I was able to just soak in and absorb the electric atmosphere. And boy, it was amazing! The biggest sporting event in Scotland held in its largest city, filled with people who were generous in showing their support of the race by lining the streets and making a plethora of cheerful noise. The event also added fuel to the national hype which is progressively building ahead of the Commonwealth Games, which come next year will be hosted in the very same city through which we trotted. Mortal runners got to line up behind some inspirational and well-known Scottish athletes, but the cherry on top of the icing on the atmosphere cake came in the form of none other than the legendary Haile Gebrselassie, who is of course and without a doubt one of the best distance runners in the world.

Given that I have no time for any form of recovery post-race, I couldn’t afford to race this run, so instead I decided to just have fun on the run and let everyone around me do the racing. I paid attention to the scenery, offered words of encouragement to fellow runners, hollered and waved at all those who cheered us on and tried to look gracefully aloof for any camera I spotted.

I stubbornly ignored my watch until just after the 10 km marker, at which point I noticed a young man who was slowing down. I pulled up next to him and stayed for a little chat, during which I found out that he’d never ran a half-marathon before and was deflated by the realisation that his goal of a sub 1:50 half-marathon was slipping out of his reach. I figured that if he had never before encountered a rough patch on a run, how was he supposed to know that they don’t tend to last? Therefore, I promised him that I’d do my best to pace him to his goal, an offer which lit up his face and instantly lifted his posture and pace.

For the second half of the half-marathon, I kept an eye on the time and my newly adopted running disciple and offered much feedback and encouragement, all while keeping up my earlier endeavours of hollering, waving, cheering and general admiring of the scenery.

Not only did the great Haile win the race, he did so by smashing the course record. In fact, he’s run the fastest half marathon ever on Scottish soil, his legendary status well and truly maintained.

Personally, I skipped across the finish line about 45 minutes after the elite runners, clocking an official time of 1:48, a certain determined young man nipping right at my heels. In hindsight, I realise that of course I ran his race for him in the end, but it was a wonderful and rewarding experience. My genuine delight for him to have achieved his goal eclipsed my own finish of the race. As these things go, we lost sight of each other in the t-shirt area and that marked the end of our journey together.

“If you can’t win, make the fellow in front of you break the record.”

– Author sadly unknown

I don’t even want to say too much about my time in the race, as this was never a goal to begin with. The aim was to prepare for Athens, to stay comfortable, and to enjoy the experience. Still, 1:48 is only nine minutes off my personal best, and I can honestly say that I have never felt so physically comfortable in a race before.

Most importantly, my run of the Great Scottish Run 2013 was without a doubt the most fun I have ever had in a race.

I can’t wait to line up at the start line of my next adventure and run a marathon from Marathon!

Great Scottish Run

Trailbound

There are many reasons why I love to hit the trails. It’s always a fun adventure that focusses my attention on the world around me while permitting my imagination to run wild. Besides, running on the uneven surfaces and frequent inclines is a fantastic way to build aerobic fitness and toughen up the legs, all while being spellbound by ever changing scenery.

Today, I set out to explore some new territory after work. Based on what I found, I can only conclude that I have unsuspectingly ventured through a secret portal into Middle Earth…

I followed a little stream…

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… ran through a tunnel…

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… crossed over (and under) several bridges…

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… ran under a waterfall…

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… and ended up on a mountain top!

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Days like today always remind me that I have so much to be grateful for. I am so lucky to live in such a beautiful corner of our world.  I am blessed with a strong and healthy body that allows me to explore the world around me, an inquisitive mind that always challenges me to keep moving forward and a heart full of wanderlust. Life can be amazing!

Running Tentsmuir

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Tentsmuir Forest on the east coast of Scotland is, hands down, one of my favourite places to run. It is as flat as a modern TV, but far more exciting. The absence of hills sure is a novelty in Scotland, and as someone who generally does a lot of running on grounds that are anything but flat, it’s a great place to stretch out my legs.

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The area is large enough to not get bored or go loopy on even a proper long run (I have ran a few 25 – 35km runs there), while still being quite overseeable. Most importantly, it offers some great trails and magnificent vistas, from a massive Tolkienesque forest, some charming lochs, open moorland to award winning and seemingly endless beaches. What more could a runner’s heart possibly desire?

tentsmuir

If you ever find yourself in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit. Be warned though, it’s hardly a secret location and can get busy on popular days!

I guess I’ll have to find my way by heart…

… until I can grow accustomed to the dark.

Moon

The name of this blog is a dedication to one particular run, which is very special to me.

Earlier this year, a good friend of mine sadly passed away unexpectedly, and apart from the grief the event itself catapulted me into a mental hurricane of existential questions. In this shell-shocked state of mourning, I found myself lying awake at night; my mind wrestling with unhelpful thoughts and questions for which I am not sure there are any answers.

I was tossing and turning like that for a few hours, until I finally decided to take a stand against the intellectual self-harm. I wasn’t getting any sleep and I was miserable, so the logical thing to do was: do something else. I needed to clear my mind, and there’s one way I know that always works. And yes, it does involve a pair of trainers.

Going for a run on the wrong side of midnight was, perhaps, not the most rational thing to do; but then again, this was hardly a situation that had so far been helped by rational thinking. I did have the mind to give a flying thought to the potential dangers of running in the weary dark of night, and therefore decided that a run on a long beach was a sensible option. After all, it is flat by definition and even I with my infantile sense of direction would have to try awfully hard to get lost while running on a beach.

In the early summer, the nights struggle to get truly dark here in Scotland, so I did not take any lights with me. And I needn’t have worried, as I was treated to another one of nature’s delights: the beautiful glow of a full moon.

The night itself was peaceful and silent, in stark contrast to the war that was raging in my heart. I ran hard that night and broke the stillness with the rhythmical sounds of my breath and the dull thumping of my footfalls in the sand. Guided only by the light of the full moon and my desire to move forwards, I ran for two hours along the waterline.

Slowly, the gentle lashing of the waves calmed my pace and I tuned into the rhythm of the night. With every step, the pain and anger slipped away a little more and the peace of the night began to embrace me. Before I knew it, the night was starting to step aside for the dawn.

The spectacle of the sunrise was magnificent that morning, and my spirits rose with the new day and raging, scarlet sun. In that moment, the world made sense again, I was feeling calm and powerful and capable of finding joy in life even when it decides to dish out some painful challenges.

I don’t always run by the light of the full moon; but sometimes, it sure is a great idea.