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.
We’ve been back from our Rothiemurchus holiday a few weeks and are already eagerly anticipating our next stay there at the beginning of August but here, finally, are some of the highlights of our week away.
We added a couple of days on to the beginning of the holiday with a stopover in Elgin, making the most of the sunny weather at the lovely Silver Sands Beach in Lossiemouth, before travelling through to Inverness and on to Urquhart Castle, Harris’s first visit to Loch Ness and the Castle.
From there, we headed on to Aviemore and on to our final destination in Rothiemurchus, where we met up with Leanne’s family.
Location wise, this has to be one of my favourites. Staying in the Spey Lodge, just off the B970 Aviemore to Insh road, our ‘back garden’ led straight on to some awesome forest trails – rocky and rooty, just the way I like it!
We soon had a swing and slackline set up in the ‘garden’, making the most of these throughout our stay. Harris in particular spent a lot of time on his woodland swing.
The main seating and dining area of the Spey Lodge, located in an almost circular element of the building, looked out over the forest, challenging the enormous projector/tv for attention of an evening. It’s certainly one of the best views I’ve had from accommodation before.
Approx 1/2 mile of trail took us out onto the main Rothiemurchus to Milton Cottage route, opening up a number of different walk/run options. Taking a right immediately took us out at Lochan Mor, also known as ‘the Lily Loch’, and a further 1/2 mile walk/run led to Milton Cottage, itself approx 1/2 mile from the entrance to Loch an Eilein. As you can imagine, Loch an Eilein became our ‘local’, hosting a number of runs and walks.
I’ve often wondered where some of the small trails that lead off from the main Loch an Eilein circular lead to and took the opportunity to explore, ending up off in the hills above the loch. On our final day, we walked to Loch an Eilein and followed the unmaintained path around Loch Gamhna. It’s arguably got a better view than Loch an Eilein and the path is mostly ok. It’s a shame that it isn’t maintained, to avoid those few occasions where you do find yourself ankle deep in mud lol!
By the end of the week, I had taken a number of new trails that, in turn, led on to old favourites, adding to my local trail knowledge and coming together nicely to form longer walk/run options.
We also did a number of our regular walks, including The Green Loch, Lochan Uaine, which we extended to include a visit to the Ryvoan Bothy, our regular circuit of Loch an Eilein, and Farleitter Crag and Uath Lochans.
For all the years we have been coming to the Cairngorms, I can’t recall having seen so much pollen pooled loch side before, adding a colourful yellow element to the photographs.
Having long admired the Duke of Gordon’s Monument (erected in 1840 in memory of the 5th Duke of Gordon), we finally ascended Torr Alvie, passing the amazing Waterloo Cairn en route. Definitely a walk we will be doing again and well worth it for a stunning view of the Cairngorms.
I’ve seen us spending 14 days in the Cairngorms and get 13 days of torrential rain so we were really lucky to have decent weather, occasionally very hot, with very little rain. Our final day saw us blessed with temperatures in the 20s, leading to a busy Loch Morlich that started to resemble the Mediterranean as people flocked to the ‘beach’!
Finally, if you are a fan of real ales, the Cairngorm Brewery, located in the Dalfaber Industrial Estate, is well worth a visit, to sample the lovely ales, to purchase supplies of your favourites, and to take the tour (2.30pm daily – book before going).
Counting down the days until our next visit – only 6 weeks to go :o)
“A perfect destination for a stroll from Aviemore, the woodland of this reserve brings together the gentle motion of silver birch trees with the constant activity of countless insects in summer. In spring and summer the woodland floor bursts into a blaze of colour as flowers like tormentil and foxglove take hold. The crags loom above the woodland like sleeping grey giants and provide a home for peregrines, who quarter the sky in search of prey below.” (Scotland’s National Nature Reserves)
Aviemore is a great base for exploring Rothiemurchus and the Cairngorms. There are some excellent routes right on the doorstep, including the Craigellachie Nature Reserve. Access to the Reserve comes in the shape of a corrugated iron tunnel that runs under the A9. This can be accessed from the back of the Macdonald hotel or from a path to the side of the Aviemore Youth Hostel. Look out for signs next to the hostel that direct you to the Reserve entrance.
Once through the tunnel you are presented with several woodland trails and a couple of picturesque lochans. Take the high route up to the peak of Craigellachie (490m) for extensive views over Aviemore, the Cairngorms and Kincardine Ridge.
Whilst the run itself is only 1.5 miles approx to the top, it offers a steep, technical trail perfect for hill training. It is possible to extend the run slightly at the top but the path soon gives way to boggy terrain underfoot. Any speed lost on the ascent is more than made up for on the descent as you are literally ‘thrown’ back down the trail, providing an overall run distance of approx. 3 miles.
Now this is a running club I would love to be in a position to join – the Cairngorm Runners. Unfortunately, I am a long way off retiring and moving to the Cairngorms permanently so will have to make do with a long weekend in the Cairngorms, making the most of the scenic trails. Will hopefully get the opportunity to run the Craigellachie Nature Reserve route amongst others, which reminds me that there are countless other Cairngorm based routes that I need to add to the new Routes section of the website.
I have the Merrell Mix Master Tuff trainers, Montane Minimus jacket and Helly Hansen Dry Revolution base layer with me to test out this weekend in what could potentially be fairly miserable weather conditions. Reviews of all three to follow soon.
Mix Master Tuff: “Designed for the toughest conditions you’ll encounter on the trail, the Mix Master Tuff is a beefed up version of the Men’s Mix Master 2, with additional overlays and a gusseted tongue up top along with a shock absorption plate and more aggressive lug pattern for the platform. This trail beast arrives February 2013.”
Counting down the final hours of the working week before heading to the Coylumbridge Hilton, situated perfectly for access to some of my favourite routes. It’s Mrs Macs birthday on Monday and most likely the last opportunity we will have to get away before the arrival of Bubbs (due 6 weeks this Wednesday past). So, a long weekend of early morning runs, shortish walks, and even some relaxing lies ahead. Roll on 4pm and the beginning of the weekend :o)
It may well be UTMB weekend but there’s still plenty going on back in Scotland. The Glenmore 24 is back after the success of last years event and there are more than a few familiar faces from the S.U.M.S. regulars, including Ian Minty, who supported me so well in this year’s West Highland Way Race.
The weekend consists of a 12 hour and a 24 hour race, with approx 30 starters and 40 starters respectively. The event takes place in the Glenmore forest, not far from Aviemore and just beneath the Cairngorm mountains, on a 4 mile loop, the majority of which is on wide forest trails and landrover tracks. It’s an excellent location, and, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I have a particular fondness for Cairngorm trails.
All the best to everyone running the Glenmore 24 this weekend. Definitely an event that I plan to do at some point in the future. I will be thinking of you all as I head off to (hopefully) sunnier climes!
Given the ‘summer’ we have been experiencing of late, I am sure that many of you have found yourself in a similar position to the one that I was in this weekend past. I hadn’t actually intended to post again so soon, given that I only recently posted my ‘Lessons Learned‘ thoughts. However, something came to me over the weekend – read on!
I was fortunate enough to find myself back in the Cairngorms for the weekend but, along with the rest of the country, I found myself suitably challenged by the never ending rain!
My weekend runs were my first since completing the 95 mile West Highland Way Race back on Saturday 23rd/Sunday 24th June. On the plus side, the legs didn’t feel too bad. A little sluggish but nothing that couldn’t be run off. On the negative side, I was still suffering from the effects of the blistering picked up on the long 95 miles and, in particular, the remnants of a blister on the sole of my right foot, where old skin met new skin, leaving a particularly sensitive area – unfortunately for me, right on the point where my foot landed with each strike!
I woke in time for a 6am run on the Saturday morning and enjoyed a wet and hilly 10 miles, running an out and back towards Loch Einich and making it back in time for breakfast with the family. I don’t think the rain stopped for more than 30 minutes all day but we did not let this dampen our spirits (no pun intended) and we ended up on various walks in and around Aviemore.
I woke early again on Sunday, only this time it was quite different. Peeling back the curtains to reveal continued rain, I found my resolve wavering. It was all I could do not to return to bed. In fact, I have to admit, I did actually lie back down. I could quite easily have drifted back to sleep, something that I normally can’t do. However, the guilt of not making the best of my surroundings quickly got the better of me.
I might have been tired, it was definitely raining, it was definitely not inviting but – and this is a huge but – I was in the Cairngorms. How could I not make the most of the opportunity to get out and hit those trails!
I ended up running from Coylumbridge out towards Loch Einich again but, instead of following the route from the previous day, I took a right turn towards Loch an Eilein. 3 miles in to the run I arrived at Loch an Eilein and proceeded to run right around the Loch before returning to Coylumbridge by my approach route. One of the things that made that run for me was that I did the run ‘in reverse’. When I arrived at the Loch, I ran right instead of left as I always do on that route. On the return, in coming back along my approach route, I ran the approach in reverse, something that I have never done as I always take an alternative route back.
I arrived back in Coylumbridge some 9 miles later, totally soaked but completely exhilarated. The simple act of running part of the route in reverse made such a difference to how I felt.
How much poorer my day would have been had it not been for my morning run.
At this point it hit me. There really is no such thing as a bad run.
There may be runs that leave you feeling challenged. There may be runs that are really tough. There may be runs completed in inclement weather that leave you soaked to the skin. There may even be runs so challenging that they leave you questioning why you choose to run!
However, if you are anything like me, you will never regret going for a run. Indeed, the challenging runs are more often than not THE most rewarding ones and, as such, the feeling of satisfaction to be gained from these is often far higher!
This leads me to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a bad run and, with this in mind, I am asking you to join me on twitter in using the #nosuchthingasabadrun hash tag.
Lets hear about those runs. Lets see if we can get running AND get trending! Sod the weather. We could be waiting a really long time for summer if the recent weather is anything to go by.
So get out and run, and be sure to tweet about it!
If it takes off, I will include some of the tweets in forthcoming blog posts.
I haven’t posted here on The Running Bug since back on the 20th March. The reason for my absence was an extended leave of absence to mark one of my own milestones – hitting the big 4-0.
I couldn’t have ‘timed’ my 40th better. I have spent a lot of time in the Cairngorms these past few years but never before have I encountered the kind of weather that we had for the duration of my birthday week which was spent running & walking in the Cairngorms with Mrs Mac. I recall two weeks spent in Aviemore one summer in which we had 13 days of torrential rain and a single sunny day. On that day Mrs Mac almost broke her ankle out walking in the hills, an injury that took some 6 months to fully clear, so, all in all, we have definitely had more successful holidays!
This time around, it was a different story altogether and we certainly made the most of it on walks in and around the Cairngorms. My ‘local’ run for the duration of our stay became an out, around and back from the hotel to the stunning Loch an Eilein, a great start to any day! The last run of my 30s came in the form of a hot & brutal 1000ft of ascent in under 2 miles as I ran up the back of Aviemore in the Craigellachie Nature Reserve. On top of an ascent of the Goat Path up Coire an t-Sneachda and back around Coire an Lochan and Lurchers Gully, earlier that day, this left me well and truly in need of a day of rest on my birthday!
“A milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary at intervals of one mile or occasionally, parts of a mile… Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travellers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance travelled or the remaining distance to a destination.” (Wikipedia – Milestone)
I will admit to having had some initial reservations about reaching this particular milestone and this is only to be expected given that 40 is an age which attracts so much attention, in a way that 20 and 30 never did. I did my usual whenever something intrigues me – I Googled it. I actually didn’t find all that much to explain why 40 was such a big deal other than the suggestion that 40 signifies ‘middle age’. Now admittedly, I didn’t search for too long so perhaps I just missed the ‘real’ significance. I don’t know about anyone else, but me, personally… I am aiming for more than 80 years and, with a bit of luck, I will still be fit and active.
Using my 40th as my own particular reference point, I would say without doubt that I am healthier, fitter & happier than at any point in my life up until now. As such, I think it is safe to say that I am indeed following the ‘proper path’ and this all helps to put the big 4-0 into perspective for me.
In terms of running, a large number of my ultra friends have this year turned or are about to turn 40. Coincidentally, most of us are also attempting the 95 mile West Highland Way Race for the first time this coming June. Mid life crises? Maybe so but I would be more inclined to call this our mid life challenges.
Dean Karnazes perhaps sums it up in the opening chapter of Run!
“The human body was made to move. Everything about us was designed for locomotion, engineered for movement. Our modern world, however, invites just the opposite: idleness. We go from our air-conditioned cars to the elevators of our climate-controlled buildings to our comfortable office chairs. Modern rationale equates comfort and convenience – the total absence of pain and struggle – with happiness. I, along with a growing number of like-minded individuals, think that just the opposite may be true. We’ve grown so comfortable, we’re miserable. Personally, I never feel more alive than when I’m in great pain, struggling to persevere against insurmountable odds and untold adversity.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘miserable’ but I agree with the essence of what Dean is saying. I have a comfortable office job throughout the week and, come the weekend, I want to hit the trails, to rack up the miles, to test myself, and perhaps even feel some pain. I am not a natural runner. I am not a fast runner. When I set out on training runs and ultramarathons alike, I expect that there will be periods where I will suffer. And yet, this is the ‘hobby/addiction’ that I, like my ultra friends, have chosen for myself.
Built for comfort, not speed
Looking at the various 40 jokes, I had to laugh when I came across this one:
“At 40, I realize that I was built for comfort, not speed.”
I have never been known for my speed but, ironically, it is something that I have embraced since turning 40.
My first weekend back after my time away in the Cairngorms was supposed to involve a couple of long runs of at least 20 miles. However, Saturday’s run did not go to plan and I limited the run to 12 miles. My legs felt unresponsive and jelly-like so I saw no point in pushing things. I settled for an afternoon spin bike session.
Sunday was no different and I opted instead to hit the treadmill. I decided to ‘punish myself’ with a hill and speed session rolled in to one. By the end of the 5 mile session, I looked like I had been caught in one almighty (indoor!) rain shower but the change in how I felt was remarkable. That afternoon I hit the cross trainer and the spin bike again and, I have to say, thoroughly enjoyed mixing it up a bit for a change.
I both lost & found my mojo, all in the short span of a single weekend and this morning I completed another 5 mile hill & speed session.
It’s not exactly what I had planned in terms of training at this stage and, reading of friends 30 mile plus runs this weekend, part of me wants to hit the panic button. The Hoka Highland Fling is on the 28th April and I currently have 1 finish and 1 DNF in this race. I am determined to add another finish and, thus, don’t want my training to lose direction. However, there is still time for the long slow run training and, in the meantime, my hill and speed work can only be beneficial.
After a week off to celebrate hitting the big 4-0 it’s back to reality but I can’t really complain. Setting off a day earlier than originally planned, we had an overnight stop-off in Kenmore before motoring up to Aviemore via Ben Lawers and Pitlochry. A week of walks and runs then followed before we eventually returned home on Sunday for which, I think, the bodies are thankful – mine certainly feels like it could do with a rest!
Having previously spent two weeks in the ‘Summer’ in Aviemore with 13 solid days of rain, neither of us had very high hopes weather wise for a week in March but were determined to make the most of it regardless. As it was, our holiday coincided with some of the warmest weather in 50+ years! Other than some very light rain on the Saturday morning, the weather was perfect, with the temperature even hitting 22°!
Heading back in to work this Monday morning, the word is that more snow is on the way and that it will not be confined to the hills. Talk about perfect timing!
Saturday morning started off sunny enough, or at least it did for the first 3 miles. With the prospect of a long day ahead, I did not think twice and stopped to pull on my trusty The North Face Triumph jacket. If ever a product was aptly named, it was the Triumph. Super lightweight and extremely packable, it is the kind of jacket that happily sits in your pack until those rare days when it really is needed. Today was one of those days.
My plan had been to run from Coylumbridge, where I was staying for the weekend along with some of Mrs Macs family, up and in to The Lairig Ghru. I walked The Lairig Ghru in 2005 and then had a partial foray from Braemar as far as the Devil’s Point in 2006. Both visits preceded my interest in ultra running and, as such, I felt that a return to the Lairig Ghru was long overdue.
I had spent a great deal of time pouring over maps on the Friday evening, formulating a number of different options for the following day. As it was, I ended up following an entirely different route! Approaching the 5 mile mark, the weather was quickly deteriorating. The rain, by now bordering on torrential, was starting to take on a more snow like quality. That alone would have been tolerable. However, as I ascended towards The Lairig Ghru, the wind was increasing in it’s ferocity, by now to the point that I couldn’t even hear the music in my headphones.
Looking ahead, I could see only the most unwelcoming of grey skies. Today was most definitely not the day for a run in The Lairig Ghru and, given that most of my preferred route options also involved bagging some Munros and taking in the views, I questioned the sensibility of continuing on. Today I would be lucky to see the trail, never mind the stunning views that the mountains of The Cairngorms can offer.
I hummed and hawed and even took some photos, quickly wiping the sleety rain from the lens of my iPhone.
I turned and started to descend. 5 miles of uphill slog soon gave way to a cracking bit of descent and, as far as payback goes, it does not get much better than this; rocky, rooty, singletrack that eventually opens out into wider forest trail.
A quick text to the in-laws let them know of the change in plans. If anything did go wrong, I certainly did not want them to be looking in the wrong place!
I set off in the direction of Loch an Eilein, a route quite familiar to me.
Just as an aside, this route makes for some excellent biking. The route lends itself to building up a fair speed and there are a number of burns that just have to be cycled, usually resulting in a good soaking from the spray.
Running the route meant I actually got to take in a bit more of my surroundings than usual and stayed drier than normal!
As I ran around Loch an Eilein I passed a turnoff that takes you out and around Loch Gamha. Generally I miss this bit out but I figured that it would add on approximately 1 mile to today’s route and would make for a good change in scenery.
As it was, I ended up going wrong somewhere and ended up instead heading westwards in the forests around Inshriach. (This might sound daft but I came across a couple who had done exactly the same thing!) I finally popped out of the forest somewhere just above Loch Insh, some 7 miles south of Aviemore. I stuck to the quiet B970 road on the return to Aviemore, for fear of once more going astray!
Now, whenever I hear the word Inshriach, it is usually quickly followed by the words cake and shop! Described by The Observer’s Dan Lepard as “one of Britain’s Best Cake Shops”, the Inshriach Nursey & Cake Shop just happens to be on the B970.
As I ran past the entrance I did an automatic left turn. I was approximately 18 miles into the run by this point and figured that there was no harm in stopping for some coffee and cake.
The cakes alone should be enough to tempt you but, just in case you need any more convincing, I should also mention the view. The majority of customers sit along the back wall, facing out onto a variety of bird feeders. The number of birds there is quite astounding. What’s even more astounding is that any of them can take off after gorging themselves on what’s on offer! While I was there I was fortunate enough to see a woodpecker as well as all manner of smaller birds. There were no squirrels on this occasion but the birds, only a couple of feet from my position at the window, more than entertained me.
Leaving the cake shop was difficult! Not only was I enjoying the view but my muscles were also starting to seize up. I soon got back into the running and finished off not long after, back in Coylumbridge, with a total of 22 miles. Not a bad day. Not the anticipated location or mileage but I did get some great hill training in, covered some new ground, and had the added bonus of coffee and cake.
Funnily enough, cake also featured in the excellent Talk Ultra podcast that I spent a large part of the run listening to. The cake element came in an interview with Salomon athlete Anna Frost. Normally I listen to trance music while running but, on this occasion, I decided to catch up on my podcasts. It seemed quite appropriate to be tuned into a running podcast while out on the trail and I enjoyed the ‘company’ of human voices!
Saturday evening consisted of an excellent meal at The Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore before returning to our accommodation in Coylumbridge. Sitting at the window, making the most of the starry Cairngorm view, I was fortunate enough to see something fairly sizeable shooting southwards through the sky. It turns out that I was not alone in my observations and the meteorite made quite an impact (no pun intended) on the following days news.
Waking early on Sunday morning, I was aware that we would be departing around lunchtime and, as such, threw on some running kit and headed out the door.
I ran up towards The Lairig Ghru, covering the 5 miles of uphill yet again. What a difference a day makes. Whilst not exactly blue skies, the weather was a considerable improvement on the previous day and would have been sufficient to entice me further up in to The Lairig Ghru had I not been due to return home.
Tired legs soon gave way to reckless abandonment as I ran/fell/plummeted down the first 2 miles of the trail. With arms swinging like windmills, my hands were trying in vain to act like wind paddles and provide at least a degree of stability and control. My attempts were doomed to failure. It was all I could do not to go over my ankle, almost coming a cropper on two occasions in a fashion that would have seen a very early end to the season through injury.
If Carlsberg made trails, they would surely lay claim to this one. My eyes remained glued to the trail before me, whilst also trying to ensure that I didn’t wipe out on any low branches. As I arrived at the bottom of the first two miles of downhill I stopped for breath and checked the Garmin. I had hit just over 7 minute miles. If only I could run that fast on the flat!
Arriving back in Coylumbridge 10 miles later, I was happy in the knowledge that I had squeezed the most out of my weekend in the Cairngorms.
I have a week in the Cairngorms at the end of March to look forward to so I will be back on the trail there soon.
It’s countdown time, or, to be more specific, triple countdown time. Firstly, I am counting down the days to the return of Mrs Mac after a month without her thanks to time spent in Houston with work.
The second countdown is for the first ultra of the year, The D33 an out and back from Aberdeen to Banchory on the 17th March.
The final countdown is to my 40th at the end of the month. The ‘blow’ of turning 40 is slightly softened by the change of status that 40 years affords, to Male Vet and an accompanying earlier start at The Hoka Highland Fling.
Actually, let me retract that. I have never felt as good as I do now thanks in large part to running. I certainly don’t feel 40 and I very much doubt that this will change in the next 24 days!
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.