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.
I was lucky enough to be able to extend my festive holiday to accommodate a short break in the Cairngorms. My wife was not quite so lucky in that she had to return to work briefly before we could both head up to Aviemore. Having taken a couple of days off to recover from 61 days of consecutive running, I thought it would be a great idea to run the 18 miles from our house to my wife’s work, arriving at the end of her working day. The perceived benefits of this were as follows:
I could get a long run in, my first of the year
It would save the wife having to travel all the way back (in the wrong direction) just to pick me up and head back that way again
As I would be running at least some of it in darkness, I would get the opportunity to test out my recently acquired Hope head torch
I was sincerely regretting the decision by approximately mile 2! My legs felt stiff, I felt generally lethargic and mentally I really was questioning my sanity!
Fortunately I settled in to a good pace and despite a fairly cold wind I began to enjoy the solitude of the run, south towards Aberdeen along the old Formatine & Buchan railway line. By the time I arrived at the end of the line in Dyce, approximately 15 miles later, I was ahead of schedule and thoroughly enjoying the torchlit run. I would even go so far as to say that it was the best I had felt whilst running South on the line – quite a turn around from my earlier feelings!
Having arrived in Dyce I phoned the wife to ask for her work address postcode. Her company had previously been situated right at the end of the railway line, perfect for those times when I would run in to meet her there. However, a recent move had seen the company move away from the end of the line, leaving me in a position of having to navigate an industrial estate and airport!
I had a rough idea of the new location and, when I ran right past the Google Maps postcode pin, I started to suspect that all was not well.
With helicopters coming in from all directions, planes landing and the general darkness of the night, I just could not get my bearings and phoned my wife again to ask for more specific directions. At this point, she admitted to having given me the wrong postcode. An easy mistake to make, and especially as she was focusing on getting things finished so that she could go on holiday with nothing on her mind. Armed with the correct postcode, I set off circling around the airport to the other side of the industrial estate.
Now perhaps they just don’t want people walking around that area, or maybe they just don’t expect people to walk there but the lack of pavements was something else. On top of this, it was not ‘just’ grass verges underfoot. The verges were as unkempt and pot holed as they could possibly be and, navigating by torchlight, it was all I could do not to trip up. Due to the long line of traffic attempting to exit the industrial estate, I felt like a bit of a circus attraction and I am sure the people in their cars were not accustomed to seeing someone bumble along the verges, attempting to run.
This was definitely my least favourite part of the run and it has to be said, it took the shine off of an otherwise cracking run. However, I finally made it to my wifes work, just in time to throw back a couple of coffees. With her work finished we were now officially on holiday and were bound for Aviemore. My objectives of a long run and of saving time in getting going were both achieved.
The following day, feeling none too worse for wear, I joined the family on a hiking trip in Glencoe. The weather was fairly kind to us and we soon ascended up into the Hidden Valley of Glencoe (Coire Gabhail is the hidden valley where the MacDonalds of Glen Coe apparently hid their rustled cattle) where the views of the valley itself and back down to Glencoe were simply stunning. With a good deal of climbing and descending, this was also perfect training for the ultramarathons that lie ahead in 2012.
The next day I was intent on running but had no set destination and no idea how far and/or long I wanted to run for. I cadged a lift to Glenmore and set off from there, off along the route towards the Green Loch. Given the wind, bitterly cold temperatures and the treacherous conditions underfoot, I opted to stay low and decided against a run up and over Meall a Bhuachaille. As the conditions underfoot worsened I realised that I had forgotten to take any form of spikes and, as such, would have to rely solely (no pun intended!) on the tread of my Hoka Mafates.
I passed The Green Loch and decided to venture on to Ryvoan Bothy. I was relishing the tough conditions underfoot, a mix of boulders, compacted snow, and ice, with the last option being the least preferred! There were times when it was preferable to run through the water streaming down the path as it was often better to get wet feet than to take any chances on the sheet ice!
I continued on past Ryvoan Bothy to the fork in the path that takes you to Abernethy (left) or Braemar (right). Despite having been to this point many times I had never continued further. Realising that there would be no easy was to return from Braemar, I opted to go left towards Abernethy Forest, the largest remaining remnant of the Ancient Caledonian Forest in Scotland. I was enticed along the way by the beauty of the landscape, made all the more glorious by a dusting of snow.
When the opportunity arose and my phone picked up a signal I texted the wife to let her know my intentions. I had experienced enough slip sliding by this point to realise that this could all go pear shaped without anyone being any the wiser to my location! Better to be safe than sorry (and to remember the spikes next time!).
What started out as a run with an unspecified destination and distance ended up as an ‘accidental’ 21 mile run taking me through Abernethy Forest (many forks, few signs, much beauty!) to Nethy Bridge and then back to Aviemore via Boat of Garten on The Speyside Way.
It was great to see a bit of The Speyside Way that I have not seen before. I am more used to the upper half of The Speyside Way thanks to The Speyside Way Ultramarathon.
It was also great to exceed the boundaries of past visits and to be able to continue running and exploring.
Finally, it was great to get some more long run miles in the legs. When I set off, I had thought that I might run somewhere between 10 to 13 miles and, as such, I surpassed my expectations by a fair bit!
As it happened, all of the family returned from their various walks, runs, and ski trips at the same time and so everyone settled down to relax in the knowledge that they had made the most of the day, in their own chosen way.
When I toed the line at the start of The D33 Ultramarathon last year, my longest run had only been 18 miles. 7 days into January and I have already matched and beaten that. All in all, not a bad start to the year.