Rothiemurchus Holiday, June 2014

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)

Return Of The Mac’s Mojo

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.

I’ve also been busy on the review side of things, with a review of the Salomon Sky Tee for The Running Bug, and with reviews to follow of the Vivobarefoot Evo Pure, Vivobarefoot Trail Freak, Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and, finally, the long awaited The North Face FL Race Vest that I first spied on the backs of the likes of Jez Bragg and Sebastien Chaigneau a couple of years back.

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: 

  1. Squeeze the bag & filter water into your water bottle or container of choice
  2. Drink directly from the filter which has a built in cap for on/off functions
  3. Attach the filter onto most threaded water bottles including 2 litre bottles.”

[more information…]

Cairngorms Holiday, May 2014

We were due to arrive in Coylumbridge on Friday 25th April. However, a sickness bug struck myself and then Leanne, rendering us unable to travel until the Sunday. Two days gone out of our seven before we had even arrived! Given how bad we both felt (I lost 1/2 a stone in 24 hours thanks to vomiting alone!), we were happy just to be there and determined to make the most of the remaining 5 days.

I’ve seen us spend 14 days in the Cairngorms in the middle of Summer and have 13 days solid torrential rain so my expectations are never that high when it comes to the weather. Monday started misty but soon gave way to temperatures of 22 degrees, making the Cairngorms the hottest place in the country. Bonus! The rest of the week, although not as hot, ranged from sunny to very occasional rain showers and ended with a beautifully sunny day that saw us delay our planned departure by a good few hours.

Myself and Harris made the most of the trails on our doorstep for our early morning run/walks, with Harris enjoying the comfort of the Croozer. We were then joined by Leanne and various family members for walks throughout the day, enjoying trails both old and new.

The above gallery gives an indication of where we went, exploring the trails of Rothiemurchus, the Uath Lochans & Farleitter Crag, Lochan Uaine – The Green Loch, Revack and Loch an Eilein.

So, back to normality come Monday but I can’t complain too much. We are heading back to the Cairngorms for another week in a months time. Can’t wait :o)

#nosuchthingasabadrun

New post at ‘The Running Bug‘, ‘#nosuchthingasabadrun‘.

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.

Happy running

#nosuchthingasabadrun

Milestones & Losing My Mojo

New post on The Running Bug, ‘Milestones & Losing My Mojo‘.

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.

My final thought on turning 40:

If I am ‘over the hill’, it is only because I chose to run up it!

Cairngorm Weekend & A Triple Countdown

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Cairngorm Weekend & A Triple Countdown‘.

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.

Sense prevailed.

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.

Countdown!

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!

Happy Running!