The Moray Coast Trail & Return To Quarrel Wood

New post at The Running Bug, ‘The Moray Coast Trail & Return To Quarrel Wood‘.

If I ever write a book, ‘Return To Quarrel Wood’ will most definitely be a contender for the title. It just has such a cool ring to it.

Sticking with the book analogy, my return to Quarrel Wood made for a perfect finale to a weekend in which I was subjected to the worst of the elements.

Arriving late in Elgin on the Friday evening, I was aware that the forecast for the North of Scotland promised snow.

I woke early on the Saturday morning to the sound of hailstones bouncing somewhat viciously off of the roof and, looking out, tried not to get too despondent at the sight in front of me. I could barely see the end of the garden thanks to the wall of hail that was thundering down.

Not quite the start to the day that I had planned. However, by the time I had worked my way through a super-sized mug of coffee and a banana, nut and honey filled bowl of porridge, things were looking up. The sky was filled with blue and I spotted my window of opportunity.

I headed out of Elgin along the reverse of the 10k route, along quiet roads that had, at one point, contained a railway line between Elgin and Lossiemouth. Following a trail alongside the cemetery, I soon arrived in Lossiemouth itself and set out across the distinctive bridge that connects the East Beach. From here I ran along the beach and then along The Moray Coast Trail along by the remains of war time defences. I had come across the monolithic structures before on other beaches but had never encountered anything like this before. The structures, erected during World War II give an idea into just how seriously the threat of a seaborne invasion was taken. Lines of solid concrete blocks, the anti-tank defences, were interspersed with pillboxes, 6 sided shelters with narrow windows, no doubt designed to aid efforts to both spot and repel any incoming invasion. Further along the path I encountered some really imposing gun emplacements, now providing a canvas for varying degrees of ‘artwork’.

The extent of the defences prompted me to find out a bit more about the route upon my return:

“It had been noted that during 1938, the Graf Zepplin photographed the North East Scottish coast in great detail in preparation for a possible future invasion. Other German aircraft had also been seen photographing the coast around north east Scotland.”

I was also surprised to find out that the dunes of the East Beach were not quite as ‘natural’ as they appeared:

“The dunes here were created by using old railway carriages from the, now closed, railway line that used to bring day trippers to the town. The carriages trapped the sand which built up to form the high dunes which protect Seatown from storms.”

Continuing along the trail I passed a firing range. A quick check assured me that I was not about to become today’s target and I pressed on, towards the half way point of my journey, the mouth of the Spey River. At Kingston, I left the path and headed along the shingle beach to the furthest point that I could reach. The shingle was almost impossible to run on and I frequently found myself sliding down towards the debris brought in by the last tide.

Up until this point I had been fairly fortunate weather wise with only occasional flurries of snow.

After a quick check for dolphins (there were none!) I turned back to retrace my route back to Lossiemouth. The clouds ahead looked ominous and this gave an idea of what lay in store for me.

Not long after I started my return, it began to snow. Initially the snow was not too bad. However, by the time I turned back on to the road for the final 6 miles of my run, snow and hail was taking turns at testing me. The snow was coming from my right side, ‘falling’ horizontally in such a way that my entire right side felt like it was turning to ice. I tried hard not to move my arm as any movement only served to remind me just how wet and cold the limb was. When the snow was replaced by hail, I found myself running with my right ear pressed against my shoulder, trying to shelter as much of my face as I could from the needle like hail. I can only imagine that this is what getting shot by a nail gun feels like. With no desire to test this theory, I shall hopefully never know!

I arrived back in Elgin having covered just over 27 miles, my longest run of the year so far.

I have to admit to feeling quite ‘broken’. I don’t know if it was down to the length of the run, or to the running on sand and/or shingle but, overall, the feeling was quite disheartening and my plans for the coming weekend have already been shaped by this. I will be looking to complete another long run of between 25 to 30 miles, this time completely on trail.

Waking on the Sunday, the first thing that struck me was my body’s anticipation of my intentions for the day. Before I had even moved a muscle I could feel my body begging for mercy, sore from the aches and pains in the aftermath of the years first ultra distance run (though admittedly at 27 miles, only just ultra distance and no more).

It would have been far too easy to curl up in a ball and neglect what essentially had been my reason for coming through in the first place – a shot at the Quarrel Woods with their many paths and hills.

The weather couldn’t have been further removed from that of the day before and, while the ground was speckled white there was no repeat of Saturday’s snow showers.

I completed a 9 mile run, not exactly an easy 9 miles and most definitely not a graceful 9 miles, but 9 miles nonetheless and completed in the aftermath of the year’s longest run.

What strikes me is that, even in my sore and fatigued state, I still enjoyed running the 9 miles in the Quarrel Woods. Some of the trails I recognised from my last visit whilst others were altogether new. I often found myself aquaplaning on mud, or slipping on ice but at no point did the enjoyment subside. My approach was simple… run and when you come to a junction, choose whichever path looks most interesting. In following this approach I touched on every corner of the woods, found a large former quarry and happened upon 3 deer, who promptly gave me a lesson in graceful running as they took flight.

There was no consideration to getting lost. I knew the borders of the woods and what they overlooked and, thus, was always certain to be able to get my bearings. When the opportunity presented itself and I wanted to know exactly where within the woods my exact location was, I made use of Motion-X GPS on my iPhone.

It was the perfect end to the weekend and, without a doubt, I will again return to Quarrel Wood. My only issue then will be the title for my third instalment!

In The Zone!

New post at The Running Bug, ‘In The Zone‘.

Valentines evening and I painted a forlorn picture, trudging along the streets on a windy, wet night. I passed the local Indian & Italian restaurants and, as you would expect, they were all packed to the rafters, windows covered in condensation from the sheer number of bodies packed inside. Not quite how I had planned my Valentines but that was before Mrs Mac had reminded me that she would be in Houston with her work for a month, starting 11th February – just in time to wipe out any plans for Valentines!

Once Mrs Mac was safely through the check in gates I did my, by now, traditional run back from the airport, a run of approximately 15 miles along an old railway line that eventually deposits me back home in Ellon. Despite some fairly dodgy weather the preceding day, Saturday was (fortunately) perfect running weather.

I would be lying if I said I was in the mood for the run so the improvement in weather was, at least, a small mercy. However, those first 3 miles just didn’t go to plan. I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong until – I realised that I was overheating. It was only February, and the majority of the country lay under a blanket of snow, but where I was it was a balmy 6 degrees and, with this realisation, I peeled off my Gore outer layer. It was like I had freed a caged beast, or at least I like to think of it that way! My body once again felt like it could breathe as I enjoyed the ‘freedom’ of running in a single base layer.

The remaining 12 miles flowed, one of those ‘in the zone’ runs where you feel at one with the world. Checking my splits afterwards confirmed it. Normally I would be looking at 9-10 minutes per mile pace, the kind of pace that I would be aiming for (though not necessarily achieving!) in long ultras. However, with my pace ranging between 7.35-9 minutes per mile, it confirmed that today was indeed a good ‘in the zone’ run and, further, that my efforts at speed work were starting to pay off.

The first time Mrs Mac headed off for work I ran back from the airport and promptly decided to rip up the patio. It was, to say the least, a fairly spur of the moment decision and it was some 3 months before I finally relaid it, laying each slab with OCD like precision. Looking back, my timing could have been better – try explaining your wife’s 10 week absence to the neighbours when it coincides with the patio being ripped up! To say that I regretted my hasty actions would be an understatement. Other than the fact it took me 3 months to get around to relaying it (I really did have the best of intentions, I was just ‘waylaid’!) I woke the next morning feeling like I had gone 12 rounds with a heavyweight! Whilst the body might have been used to distance running, it certainly was not used to the exertion of manual labour and, specifically, lifting slabs!

I was not up at the crack of dawn the following day. Instead, I had a leisurely breakfast before heading out for an undecided length of run. I settled on 10 miles, taking my mileage up to a new weekly PB of 60 miles. As with my run the day before, the splits varied from 7.30 up to 9.00 and, again, I had one of those ‘in the zone’ runs.

I am fortunate in that I quite often experience the kind of runs where I feel tuned in to my surroundings. I do like to listen to music while training (generally trance music) but, even then, I still feel connected to what is around me. On one particular occasion I was running along quite contentedly with my headphones in, only to realise that the music had actually stopped some time ago. Again, one of those runs where you feel ‘in the zone’. It is not something I particularly set out to achieve, though I do believe that the beauty and the peace and quiet of my surroundings (the old Formartine & Buchan Way railway line) do help me to attain that feeling of satisfaction where everything feels right with the world.

Still, it is always good to mix up the scenery and, with that in mind, I will likely head to Elgin again this weekend, specifically with the intention of getting some long runs done in and around the Quarrel Woods. The woods might not be the biggest of areas but, given the copious amount of trails that lie within the woods, I reckon I can get at least half of a planned 20 mile run done there. On top of that there is the close proximity of the coastal towns and the opportunity for some beach running. Whatever the outcome, it will be a nice change of scenery and an opportunity to run some of my old childhood haunts – something that certainly didn’t cross my mind back then!

Happy running!

Treadmill Or Dreadmill, Hitting The Wall, Sheer Determination & Podcasts – A Hotchpotch Of Musings

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Treadmill Or Dreadmill, Hitting The Wall, Sheer Determination & Podcasts – A Hotchpotch Of Musings‘.

This weeks post is a bit of a hotchpotch of musings. With a solid start to the year, including a new personal best in terms of monthly mileage, I was determined to keep up the mileage momentum. I approached Friday 3rd of February having covered 40 miles that week and, with the potential for weekend long runs, looked set to beat my highest weekly mileage total. Or at least, that was, until illness derailed my plans! Bugger! So, no long runs and no new PB. However, the ‘plus side’ to being ill is that I have found some time to catch up on all those articles that I have spotted online and sent to myself for reading when time permits. So here goes:

Treadmill or Dreadmill?

Anyone who has read my post Confessions of a Treadmill Runner already know which side of the fence I sit on. The treadmill has been my saviour this past week, as in the past, as it has enabled me to log at least some miles whilst under the weather. It is definitely a contentious issue and the following may well fan the flames that I quite often come across on the forums.

I found the following article ‘Think Outside The Mill: How To Make The Most Of Treadmill Running‘ which stood out from the majority of treadmill articles for me in that it contained a pro treadmill line from none other than Michael Wardian, silver medalist at the 2011 100k World Championships and USATF Ultra Runner of the Year in 2008, 2009, and 2010. To quote Michael Wardian:

“I tend to use the treadmill like I am outside and that means I use my imagination, I pretend I am coming up to a tough section of the race and then increase the incline or speed or then I am crushing down the hill and I might speed the treadmill up,” Wardian explains. A large number of his 120 miles per week are done on his downstairs treadmill. “We got our treadmill the day our second son Grant was born – I watch both our sons most mornings and I can still do my workouts and spend time with them.”

“The one good thing is that the treadmill keeps you on pace so during a tempo run there is a tendency to back off when you start feeling tired, the treadmill won’t let you do that unless you push the button!”

Once you read past the 120 miles per week element (wow!), the potential benefits are laid out and the article expands on the above, mentioning family, safety & weather as reasons for making use of the treadmill.

One further point that I pulled from the article is a cautionary one, and is a useful bit of information for anyone who does make use of the treadmill:

“Another factor to keep in mind is that because the belt is constantly running, it will be dragging your legs under and behind you during your stride cycle. By doing this, your hamstring muscles (which would typically be doing this work when outside) will be working less and you will be relying more heavily on your quads. Be mindful of weakened hamstrings if you’ve spent a lot of time on the treadmill when you move back outdoors; though, strength work in the gym can counteract this.”

Hitting the Wall

The article Hitting the wall – how to avoid it and what to do when it happens would appear to be well timed given the number of marathon related queries on the forums and given the fact that many Running Bug readers may well be gearing up for their first marathon. This excellent article highlights that each and every marathon is different, no matter how many of them you run and suggests that you always keep something in reserve for mile 18 and beyond, the point at which people generally experience the sensation of ‘hitting the wall’. In case you do hit the wall, try to remember the following:

“It is also important to remember that just because you’ve hit the wall, all is not lost. When we hit the dreaded wall, we need to dig deep to why we are running to begin with. We need to bring our mind and soul to the present moment and ask ourselves why we are doing such a race. This isn’t to say you should keep going and do more damage if you are seriously injured. Rather I want to challenge you to think in the moment and to push your body to the limit. You’ve worked so long for this day and sometimes it is helpful to remind yourself of this journey. Think about how challenging it was to find the time to properly train for your race. Remember how hard you ran the many, many distance runs you did for practice. And keep in mind that all along, you’ve known the race day would be the hardest part of all. Now that you are here, do you really want to throw in the towel? Or is there a small part, somewhere deep inside of you, that has the strength to keep pushing on? If you can tap into that part and go on at a pace that is safe for you, you’ll probably feel a huge sense of accomplishment.”

As I read this, having myself experienced the awful sensation of ‘hitting the wall’, I found myself nodding in agreement. What a perfect strategy for dealing with the wall.

Finally, the article finishes with some sage advice “if you can’t continue on, don’t make this race define your running career”. There will always be other days and other marathons.

Sheer Determination

As anyone who has read any of my posts will know, I am all for appreciating each and every run, regardless of how it went, how the weather was etc. I came across another inspirational video the other day on YouTube. If you have ever experienced a bad run, be sure to watch this video. Hopefully it will put your bad run into perspective. The clip shows Holland Reynolds, a star runner at San Francisco University High, stumble towards the finish line at a cross country race. Her legs give out and she tumbles to the ground. Any assistance over the line would have resulted in instant disqualification and, obviously mindful of this, Holland crawls over the finish line before being whisked away to the medical tent. I have had a fair few bad finishes in my time, including everything from projectile vomit to three miles of run-hopping with cramp. However, I have (fortunately) never found myself in the same position as Holland. Anyone who has ever struggled over a finish line will no doubt appreciate the sheer determination shown by Holland.

Running Podcasts

For those of you who listen to podcasts, there are a couple of new podcasts out there that are well worth a listen:

Talk Ultra, presented by Ian Corless and Ian Sharman is billed as ‘a podcast for ultra runners and enthusiasts’.

The first podcast has been downloaded over 6000 times already and the show looks set to be a huge success.

Anyone who is interested in my ‘A’ race for the year, the 95 mile West Highland Way Race might also appreciate the new West Highland Way Race Podcast produced by John Kynaston. The podcast covers everything from the history of the race through to tips from and interviews with some of those who have completed the race in the past. Essential listening for anyone who is looking to complete the race this year or, indeed, at any point in the future.

That’s all for this post. Slightly different to my usual posts but hopefully something of interest in there for everyone.

January 2012 Summary

After 61 consecutive days of running throughout November and December (Movember & The Marcothon), I could have been forgiven for taking more than a few days off. However, I was back running by 3rd January, and, despite the lack of a long run since 6th January, I have clocked up a total of 160 miles for the month.

This exactly doubles what I ran in January 2011 and exceeds the combined mileage of January 2010 and January 2011. My new monthly mileage PB (personal best) is only 5 miles more than my previous monthly PB but, given the lack of long runs, I am delighted with it. Further, I have only run 155 mile months twice previously.

I have run in the Cairngorms, in the Quarrel Wood on the outskirts of Elgin, in and around Ellon itself and even on the treadmill! It has to be said that the mild winter weather has contributed significantly to the mileage as there have been no impediments to getting out there and clocking up the miles.

I have also had some great runs with the Ellon Running Group and have found these beneficial in terms of pushing myself that bit extra when, normally, I might still just be getting in to my stride.

Finally, after years of running ‘single speed’, I have now made progress in terms of speed work and am starting to see some improvements on my times at last. Whether this will translate into faster ultra times is anyone’s guess but, with the first ultra coming up mid-March, I will soon find out!

Run highlights of the month most definitely centre around the ‘accidental’ 21 mile run I did in the Cairngorms, from Glenmore, past the Ryvoan Bothy and Abernethy Forest, to Nethy Bridge and then back to Aviemore via Boat of Garten on the lower part of The Speyside Way. This was uncharted territory for me in fairly difficult conditions underfoot and came only 2 days after my first long run of the year, an 18 mile run from Ellon to Dyce. Overall, it was a great start to my 2012 training and I will definitely be looking to retrace this route.

Another highlight was my 10 mile run in the Quarrel Wood on the outskirts of Elgin. An undulating run on a very cold but sunny morning and with already tight calf muscles from a minimalist run 2 nights previously. Again, I will be looking to return to the Quarrel Woods with a view to putting in some longer runs.

Kit wise, I have been battering the HOKAs on my trail runs, and alternating between Merrell and New Balance trainers on the road and the treadmill. I am also looking forward to receiving Brooks and Pearl Izumi trainers as a result of competition wins towards the end of 2011.

Finally, I have also added 4 new posts to The Running Bug web site:
All in all, a positive start to the year and, hopefully, a solid start to my training for the 95 mile West Highland Way Race that awaits me in June!