Up until August 2014, my one and only encounter with The Burma Road had been a cycle trip with a friend, all the way back in 1999! I don’t know why it has taken me quite so long to return to the route as it’s an excellent route, from a location that I visit so often. It is a fair commitment, especially if you plan to do the complete route.
However, I think the main stumbling block has to be the fairly awkward start, involving a short distance on the busy, main road out of Aviemore, before then having to cross the main A9 Perth road. But, once this is out of the way, it’s a venture into mostly remote countryside, with some ‘seriously, serious’ ascent to start with!
I’ll be back to The Burma Road soon, with a view to running the 25 miles of the route, hopefully accompanied by Ian Minty, and will likely start with the mental ascent up into the mountains.
It took the best part of 10 minutes to descend from the top on my bike if memory serves correctly, involving considerable use of the break to keep the speed manageable and safe. That should give an indication just how steep it is, with the description ‘brutal’ often appearing alongside any online reviews of the route.
I’ve seen reference to a 17% gradient online, and I don’t doubt that for a second, such was the angle that I found myself as I attempted to pedal up that hill! According to my own watch stats, there was 1,952 feet of elevation.
More than worth it for the stunning views of The Cairngorm mountains however and, once over the hill, you encounter a variety of scenery, from open farmland to forested areas. You even pass close to The Slochd:
“The Slochd Summit is a mountain pass on the A9 road and the Highland Main Line Railway in the Scottish Highlands between Inverness and Aviemore. An old military road also goes through the pass. National Cycle Network route 7 also goes over the summit, largely following the old A9. Both the road and the railway have signs marking the spot – the A9 is at a height of 1,328 feet (405 m), while the railway reaches 1,315 feet (401 m). The Slochd Summit is the second highest place on the route from Inverness to Perth – the Pass of Drumochter at 1,500 feet (460 m) is higher and bleaker.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slochd_Summit)
Be prepared before you venture onto The Burma Road. It’s definitely a route to do with full body waterproofs and a good supply of food and fluids.
I disappeared to explore the route on two separate occasions, making the most of time afforded by Harris’s afternoon nap. On the first day, I headed out of Aviemore on the B9152, crossing the A9 and heading up the steep ascent, before then returning by the same route. On the second day, I headed out the back of Aviemore, exploring Kinveachy Forest for the first time, before getting picked up in Carrbridge which, incidentally, also has numerous forest paths to explore.
Hillies View is a short walk/run/cycle heading South out of Ellon on what must be the steepest hill around! Follow Hillhead Road, off of Riverside Road, up and over the hill. As you start to descend the hill, still on Hillhead Road, you will come across a house on your right. Almost immediately after this house, you will find the left turn that takes you on to the dirt track road that leads to Hillies View.
It’s a fairly obvious ‘route’ from this point, on a rough and often very muddy path that takes you up the side of a field to your eventual destination.
There’s also a wooded area that supposedly has walks. However, having explored the wood a couple of times, I’ve yet to come across anything that would really qualify as a path!
Returning to the Hillhead Road, retrace your steps to return to Ellon via the most direct route, or continue South for a more circular return.
Take a right turn at the next opportunity and follow this road. This offers another right, taking you directly to the edge of Meiklemill via an almost equally steep road, or keep on the road, which will eventually deposit you on the busier A920 road. A right turn onto the A920 will take you back into Ellon.
I’ve often used the above route for ‘circuit’ training when training for long distance events, with each ‘circuit’ being approx. 4.5 to 5 miles. It’s fairly quiet, especially early in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday, but is quite popular with work commuters looking to miss some of the traffic on the main roads throughout the week.
“The Ambit 3 Peak not only has a fully featured GPS but also has a barometric altimeter, making it the perfect tool for mountaineering, navigating and recording activites. The Ambit 3 watch will pair with your iPhone (and android in the future) via bluetooth so you can see watch data on your phone screen and phone notifications on the watch. All the watch settings can be configured through the Movescount app so you can change things even when away from your PC. In short a pretty great piece of kit.“
Note that body part drawing submissions will not be accepted for the main competition!
When it comes to hydration, I’ve gone from favouring bladders, to bottles, to soft flasks and now, most recently, favouring a mix of bladder and soft flask. It’s interesting to note that they do all have their own benefits and quirks.
(Note: added 17th November 2014. I had completely forgotten about my ‘Bottles Vs Bladders‘ post from November 2012. Written just as soft flasks were starting to make an impact, it just goes to show how preferences change over time.)
Whilst bladders are generally able to carry more, they can be cumbersome to refill, especially when buried deep inside a race vest or backpack, residing somewhere underneath every item of kit in the pack.
On occasion, I’ve thought I was going to have to resort to extreme levels of aggression to free the top of my Camelbak bladder and, of late, it has been a Salomon bladder that I’ve used, with a much more user friendly slide-off top.
My main concern when using a bladder is that, more often than not, I’ve returned from whatever event I have been participating in only to find that my bladder is still 3/4s full, and all the time I have been kidding myself that I am still taking onboard enough fluid.
Other than access issues, visibility has to be the main problem when it comes to using bladders.
After experiencing the above on one too many occasions, I purchased my The North Face Enduro 13 running pack which, to this day, remains as one of my favourite packs.
It was capable of holding a bladder, but had two rear mounted bottle holders which facilitated easy access to bottles, perfect for filling and also for checking how little (or more often how much) water remained.
Bottles provided easy access, easy checking, easy refilling (or even quick swapping on supported events), and easy cleaning, especially when compared to a bladder.
Whilst the advent of the race vest has resulted in the development of many more bottle friendly packs, most of these have tended to have the bottles placed on the front and I have to admit to not really taking to this positioning.
Most recently, however, it has seen the development of the soft flask, a particular favourite of mine.
Soft flasks share many of the benefits of bottles. They are easily accessed, easily checked, and easy to clean.
However, they can be a bit fiddly to refill, especially if you are trying to be quick. Unlike a rigid bottle, they can’t be set down to fill, therefore requiring the use of two hands, or some form or outside assistance!
Where soft flasks really win for me is their reduced volume when empty. Once empty, it can be rolled up and stuffed away easily.
Remember that this also works in reverse. On days when the weather may turn out to be hotter than you might hope, and, as a result, your fluid requirements might be more than usual, it’s easy to stuff an additional soft flask or two into a race vest or pocket, just on the off-chance that you may find you do need to carry more fluid. (Obviously this approach does require somewhere to fill up along your route, such as a checkpoint/aid station.)
Compare that to a bottle. It’s very unlikely that you would ever carry an empty bottle as a spare, just in case you needed to carry more fluid.
For a while, soft flasks were, at least as far as I am aware, limited to Salomon race vests. However, a number of manufacturers, including Ultimate Direction and Hydrapak now sell soft flasks.
One of the upsides of this is that you are no longer limited to 150ml and 500ml soft flasks, with Hydrapak in particular producing a variety of sizes.
I’ve found the Hydrapak to feel more hard wearing than the Salomon offerings, with some additional features such as a dirt cap and the ability lock off water flow. However, they are slightly more rigid and do take up more space as they don’t pack down quite as well.
I now favour a solution which is mainly reliant on soft flasks, with a 1.5 litre bladder (where the pack/race vest is bladder capable), usually only approx. 1/3 full, as a backup, just to ensure that I don’t run out of fluids.
At the end of the day, no one approach is 100% right 100% of the time. It’s just a matter of testing to see what works for you.
There’s nothing quite like new technology to mark the resumption of training and the intent to return to ultramarathon running in 2015. Released just last week, the Suunto Ambit 3 offers improved functionality alongside connectivity with the iPhone (Android to follow), facilitating on the go customization, push notifications, and the ability to create movies of your activities, complete with photographs taken en route.
My last ultramarathon was back in March 2013, when I crawled around the D33 in a personal worst time of 6:18:33. Admittedly, it was only 15 minutes slower than the first time I ran it which, given that my longest training run had been just 11 miles, surprised everyone, myself included. With a baby due to arrive and a house to prepare, there just wasn’t the time for quality training!
Harris arrived just weeks before the D33 and I soon appreciated that training time was a luxury I could not afford, despite my intentions to try and continue running ultras.
Ironically, since I stopped subjecting my body to the battering of ultramarathons and ultra training, I have been almost constantly injured in one way or another.
My running did benefit from nutritional, training and running form advice that I received whilst participating in The Running Bug’s PUMA PB Challenge back in July-October 2013. The aim was to smash a 1/2 marathon PB set way back in 2008 which was considerably faster than I was running at that point.
Unfortunately, injury struck just 5 weeks into training and it looked doubtful that I would even toe the start line of the Great Scottish Run, my target event. Despite injury, I came within 1 minute and 45 seconds of beating my target, considerably better than I had hoped for and way faster than my running had been for years. However, it was still a failure, and a very public one at that!
In the wake of this failure, I will admit to losing my running mojo and, beset with one injury after another, I lost focus on running altogether, something that just a year previously would have been almost unthinkable.
Weight gain saw me shoot up to just under 16 stones, the heaviest I have ever been, and certainly not conducive to running.
As a baby-wearing dad, it was evident to me on an almost daily basis what carrying an extra 1-2 stone in weight felt like. Losing this amount from my own frame would make such a difference to activities, my daily life, and my general confidence.
Thus, approx. 3 months ago, I set about implementing a different food strategy. I wont call it dieting as there was considerably more to it than that.
I have since lost over 2 stone and am lighter than I have been in many, many years. I am even a stone lighter than I was when I ran the 95 mile West Highland Way Race which is quite a thought!
Each pound is increasingly difficult to shift but, encouraged by weight loss to date, I am persevering and intend to shift at least another stone in weight before I focus on consolidating at a target weight.
If there’s ever an incentive to continue, it has to be the impact on my running. Yesterday, for example, I ran 3 miles on the treadmill 4 minutes faster than it would take me back when I was happily running 6-7 ultras a year. Not only that, I ran most of it at various stages of incline, including 1/2 mile at 5% incline. That improvement is before I really get back into training in any shape or form!
(Update 17th September 2014: I managed to take another 2 minutes off of my previous 5k time yesterday lunchtime. Feeling it in the legs today but this is hardly surprising considering how hard I was pushing and, also, given that both runs were done in Vivobarefoot Trail Freak shoes with absolutely no cushioning whatsoever. Today’s a ‘swim day’ so I can give the legs a well earned rest, but I am wondering now how much further I can take the speed and if it can be translated into ultra PBs.)
So, even with some continued aches and pains, I now find myself in a place where I feel happy and able to balance a return to training while continuing to be the best dad possible. I certainly won’t be returning to pre-Harris levels of running and my training will focus on quality rather than quantity of miles.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve slowly increased activity levels, based on a mixture of swimming, cross training and running and it is with this mix that I intend to continue, with the majority of training slotted into a lunchtime and/or of an evening once Harris is tucked up in bed.
Hopefully, come early 2015, I will have a better idea if this will be sufficient to see me comfortably complete a 2015 ultramarathon, or two, or three… :o)
Suunto Ambit 3
Up to 25 h battery life with GPS
Heart rate in swimming**
Activity based recovery time
Speed, pace and distance
Bike power support (Bluetooth Smart)
Multiple sports in one log
Growing feature set through Suunto Apps
Upload and share your moves instantly*
Customize your watch on the go*
Time and GPS satellite data up to date on the go*
Use your phone as second watch display *
See calls, messages and push notifications on the watch*
Enrich, Relive & Share
Take photos during your Move showing your current speed, distance, and more*
Create a Suunto Movie of your Move with 3D map, key metrics and images*
Share your experience instantly to your social media networks*
*with the Suunto Movescount App and smartphone
**with Suunto Smart Sensor
Installing the .NET Framework 3.5 on Windows 8 or 8.1
Try as I might, I could not get Moveslink to install on my Windows 8 PC in preparation for the arrival of my new Suunto and I was starting to think that I was never going to be able to hook it up to the PC!
The installation of Moveslink would only get so far before bombing out with a .NET Framework 3.5 installation error. I finally found the answer to my problems, not on the Suunto site, but from general searches concerning .NET Framework 3.5.
“The .NET Framework is an integral part of many applications running on Windows and provides common functionality for those applications to run. For developers, the .NET Framework provides a consistent programming model for building applications. if you are using the Windows operating system, the .NET Framework may already be installed on your computer. Specifically, the .NET Framework 4.5 is included with Windows 8 and installed on your computer with the Windows 8 operating system.”
Therein lies the problem! Moveslink relies on .NET Framework 3.5 but 4.5 is already installed on Windows 8. The .NET Framework 3.5 is not automatically installed with Windows 8 and, thus, needs to be enabled.
To enable the .NET Framework 3.5 in Control Panel:
On the Start screen, type and then choose Control Panel
Located approximately 2 miles north of Huntly on the A96, the Bin Forest offers a number of waymarked trails and some stunning views of the surrounding countryside. It’s a forest that we have passed many times en route to/from Elgin but never got around to exploring – until Sunday 24th August that is!
Opting for the Bin Hill Trail, the yellow route, we were taken out of the car park on a steep little start, winding through trees on a fairly narrow path in darkened woods, a wake up call for the legs having been sat in the car for the best part of 50 minutes. The gradient was sharp enough to be challenging yet rideable, even with a toddler in a WeeRide sitting in front of me.
“It might be called ‘the Bin’ but it’s got nothing to do with rubbish! This site takes its unusual sounding name from the Gaelic for hill or mountain – bheinn (pronounced ‘ben’). Bin forest was first planted in the 1840s with fir tree seeds brought back from North America by the famous Scottish plant-hunter David Douglas. Originally planted to supply timber, this forest now offers much more than just wood.” (http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/the-bin)
“Look across from the high paths to the River Deveron, Look up for a glimpse of Peregrine falcons or Sparrowhawks, Look out for signs of Fox and Pine Marten, and look down to see many wild flowers growing along the paths in Summer. Explore this Working Forest to find the Gallon of Water, a shallow pool at the top of Bin Hill, which legend has it was thought to cure whooping cough.” (http://www.visitaberdeen.com/attractions-and-activities/view/the-bin-forest)
We did spot numerous birds of prey circling above, but we didn’t know to look for the Gallon of Water (Should have done my research beforehand!). However, with plenty more routes to explore I’m sure we will be back to explore further in the not too distant future.
Huntly is located close by, which proved to be the perfect place to grab some lunch and to visit the excellent Huntly Castle, a most impressive ruin cared for by Historic Scotland.
Saturday afternoon was spent exploring the forests and beach at Roseisle on the Moray Coast. With the remnants of wartime coastal defences, miles of sandy beach and miles of forest trails, there was plenty to do and see. The parking area even contained purpose-built barbeques, lots of picnic tables and an excellent play area. Definitely one to return to.
The coastal defences include concrete anti-tank blocks and pillboxes.
Located on the Burghead bay, between Findhorn and Burghead, Roseisle can be reached as follows:
From Forres, travel through Kinloss past RAF Kinloss. Roseisle Forest beach is signposted left
From Elgin, travel towards Inverness. Turn right towards Burghead and left at College of Roseisle. Continue along and the beach is signposted right
We spent the afternoon mostly on the bikes, with Harris riding up front in his WeeRide (occasionally attempting to take control of the steering!), cycling the numerous trails and following the ‘Burma Road’ as far as Burghead.
There are also a number of different route options for walks:
Millie Bothy: Easy, 1.7m/2.6km
“An easy stroll through this lovely coastal pineforest, taking in an old fishermen’s bothy and the sparkling Millie Burn.”
Ice House Trail: Easy, 1.3m/2.0km
“A gentle meander through the forest to the Bessie Burn for great views of the Moray Firth.”
Wildlife Walk Trail: Easy, 2.7m/4.2km
“An easy circuit that takes in forest and foreshore, with a chance to spot seals, red squirrels and woodland birds.”
“Explore the forest at Kirkhill. There’s plenty of space beneath Kirkhill’s trees for walking, running, cycling and horse riding. This working forest has a mountain bike fun park too, where you can practise those technical skills. There are great views all round from the Tappie Tower, a Victorian folly. See if you can spot the Mither Tap – the hill at Bennachie forest away to the north.” (http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/kirkhill)
“The paths in Kirkhill vary from fast fire-track / land-rover paths to a few testing climbs through the trees as well as a lot of good technical single track sections with various downhill sections as well…
A ‘Fun Park’ has been built next to the Forestry Commission car park for Kirkill Forest. The fun park is a series of small jumps and tabletops which have been constructed in an otherwise smooth ‘kitty-litter’ type surface. This serves as a good introduction to jumping for novice riders, and can still be a bit of fun for more advanced riders, but it doesn’t have the ‘flow’ needed to compare favourably with other similar tracks in Scotland (e.g. Glentress, Laggan, Golspie, etc.).” (MTB Trails Info)
It’s been too long since I last ventured to Kirkhill Forest, for so long an almost weekly destination for me. But then, that was back when I was mountain biking on a regular basis, before ultra running came along and took up all my time, and before Harris came along and took the time back all for himself!
Having done a bit of research about Kirkhill Forest online, I see that the fun park opened way back in 2005, and I was cycling around Kirkhill quite a bit before the park arrived. That just makes me feel old lol!
At 16 months, Harris is of an age where he is more than happy to sit in the Croozer or, as was the case this weekend past, in the WeeRide, giving him an even better view of his surroundings.
Given the precious cargo we were carrying, with Leanne and myself alternating cycling with Harris, we stuck mostly to the wider trails, other than the brief foray to Tappie Tower, right at the top of Kirkhill.
It’s a location best known as ‘Kirkhill Forest’, but it also includes Gorehead Wood, Gueval Wood, and Standingstones Wood, all of which you may cycle through depending on the route options that you take.
Located between Blackburn and Dyce, it offers a variety of route options and a fun park. The following information from Cycle Grampian provides some idea with regard to the kind of routes available:
MTB Fun Park
“Officially opened in March 2005, this short section of trail (about a mile) was purposely built to provide a range of technically challenging features – jumps, bumps, berms, switchbacks and more. It’s designed specifically to help you perfect your offroad biking skills. Be aware however that it is best suited to intermediate and advanced riders as it is tricky in parts.
It begins with an easy uphill ride through mature conifer forest to an open area, from where the descent back to the start takes you through all the classic mountain biking features you would expect. It finishes in the main car park giving you a great chance to show off to your mates and the other riders getting ready to hit the trails.”
“The 6¾ mile Kirkhill Loop, way marked by a red bike icon, starts from the MTB fun park and climbs steadily along fire break roads to Tappie Tower at the summit of Tyrebagger Hill. Tappie Tower offers good views to Inverurie and Bennachie to the north. From here the trail drops slowly for the remaining 4 or so miles back to the car park. The relatively easy gradients make this trail suitable for all, although the first few hundred yards are uphill.
For the more adventurous there is a choice of 3 single tracks leading from the tower back on to the Kirkhill Loop.”
“The short (½ mile) south spur also begins (or ends?) next to the Fun Park and cuts off a corner of the Kirkhill Loop – follow the white markings. This is steep, rough, rocky and criss crossed with roots making it ideal for experienced riders, and adrenalin junkies.”
“Its not single track, and its not fire break. It’s the North Spur. This slightly narrow trail, shared by horses, walkers and cyclists leads slightly uphill from the East Woodlands car park to the Kirkhill Loop. White markings guide the way.” (http://www.cyclegrampian.co.uk/mtb/routes/kirkhill.html)
Cycling approx. 10 miles, it was an excellent start to a lovely, sunny Sunday, even if it did feel predominantly uphill, somehow disputed by the GPS! Given the close proximity to Ellon (no more than 30 minutes drive from us, assuming traffic conditions are favourable) and the fact that Harris appeared to enjoy it so much, it looks like Kirkhill will once again become a regular haunt for us :o)
It’s been 21 days since my last post, hardly the scenario I expected when I put all that hard work into the www.pixelscotland.com revamp.
However, it’s not without good reason. For one, Harris has, as always, been keeping us busy, and also entertained. He has also taken to rising around 5am, something which tests even my penchant for early rises! I’ve had to curtail the late nights just to keep up with him, with an obvious impact on the time available to me when I actually add to and develop this web site.
Secondly, I’ve been a man on a mission, finally getting around to all those jobs that I have put off for years. This weekend, for example, I managed to fit in a complete clear out of the garage, alongside playing dad and head chef at Mac HQ. I’ve finally cleared space to let me get my weights out and once again resume weight training.
As far as exercising is concerned, I have once again found my mojo, and it’s not just the running mojo! It all started with a swim in the newly opened Aberdeen Aquatics Centre, linked to the equally impressive Aberdeen Sports Village. What started out as a single swim is now a 4 times a week regular visit, slotted in to the day in place of taking lunch at my desk.
The overall impact has been huge and I would once again consider myself to be back ‘in training’, albeit still at a lesser rate than pre Harris days, and, of course, all done to fit in with his schedule. I’ve been mixing up swimming, walking, running, the spin bike, treadmill and cross trainer quite happily, with no actual plan, just taking what I feel like at the time, or what best fits the time available.
What’s more, in mixing it up quite so much, I haven’t found myself feeling like a ‘slave to the miles’, as I have done in the past when training specifically for ultras.
Even at this early stage of training, I am already formulating a full on ultra challenge that will see me tackle some of my favourite terrain, outwith an organised event and, with a bit of luck, in the company of a good friend. Hopefully more to follow on that front if things go according to plan.
In keeping with the minimal, zero drop, footwear approach, I have also been enjoying feeling slightly smarter than usual in a pair of Vivobarefoot Freud’s. Thanks to Vivobarefoot, I can now maintain my preference for minimalist footwear without having to wear out my trainers.
Finally, I’m feeling decidedly upbeat, despite being a Monday and back in the office, as I have only 4 more working days before we head back to The Cairngorms once again.
I can’t wait to get back on the trails and, this time around, we will be located in Rothiemurchus, close to Loch an Eilein, offering the best possible access to the numerous Cairngorm trails.
Expect loads more photographs, routes and reviews to follow, including a full review of the Croozer, a review of The North Face FL Race Vest, and, again if everything goes to plan, a review of a piece of kit that was recommended to enable me to cut back on the amount of water that I have to carry – a Sawyer Mini Filter.
“At just 65grams, and fitting in the palm of your hand, this is simply the best there is for Weight, Size and Performance. Drink directly as a straw, attach to Sawyer Squeeze Pouches, use inline, or attach to standard threaded bottles. The MINI uses the same exclusive 0.1 micron hollow fiber membrane filter used in our other filters. Although not quite as quick as the SP129 version, you will still be bowled over by the flowrate of this amazing little filter. The MINI comes with a 100,000 gallon (378,540 Litre) guarantee which is still the best rating there is ANYWHERE, and will last for anybody’s lifetime.
Simply fill up the pouch at a lake, stream or river, screw the filter directly onto the pouch and:
Squeeze the bag & filter water into your water bottle or container of choice
Drink directly from the filter which has a built in cap for on/off functions
Attach the filter onto most threaded water bottles including 2 litre bottles.”
The addition of walking and cycling sections to www.pixelscotland.com got me thinking back to perhaps the pinnacle of all the time I have spent on a bike, our time spent in the mountain bike mecca – Whistler.
“Whistler is a Canadian resort town in the southern Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in the province of British Columbia, Canada, approximately 125 km (78 mi) north of Vancouver and 36 km (22 mi) south of the town of Pemberton. Incorporated as the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), it has a permanent population of approximately 9,965, plus a larger but rotating “transient” population of workers, typically younger people from beyond BC, notably from Australia and Europe. Over two million people visit Whistler annually, primarily for alpine skiing and snowboarding and, in summer, mountain biking at Whistler-Blackcomb.”
Back in 2010, we scheduled a few days in Whistler as part of our Canadian wedding & honeymoon adventure, staying in an excellent hotel overlooking the bike trails. Once we had had enough for the day, we could retreat to our room, to the pool or sauna, and watch riders far more competent than ourselves complete their runs.
The trails there really are something to be experienced, not just for their technical nature, but for the length of runs, far exceeding anything cycled in Scotland, and for the sheer volume of different options.
It’s not everywhere that you get to share the trails with ‘mamma bear’ and her cubs. Fortunately, sightings were restricted to passing overhead on the gondolas or seeing them off in the distance. I hate to think how meeting a protective bear on the trails might turn out!
Hopefully somewhere we will return to in the not too distant future – happy days :o)