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)

Barefootin’

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Barefootin’

When it’s all you can do not to pump your hands in the air as one of your favourite trance tracks comes into the mix, you know that it’s as near to a perfect run as you can get and this run was certainly a contender on that front.

Coming off the back of the Highland Fling in late April and then The Cateran Trail Ultra the previous weekend, I was still carrying the niggle in my right ankle that I had picked up early on in The Cateran. With this in mind, I had planned a fairly gentle weekend of running but, as is so often the case, things just didn’t go to plan.

The location was the first part of the plan to change. We received an invite to join Mrs Mac’s mum and dad staying in Coylumbridge, just outside Aviemore and right at the foot of some of my favourite trails. Little did we know when we accepted the invite that we would arrive on the Friday to temperatures around 28 degrees and that the temperatures were set to continue right through the weekend – bonus!

Waking just after 5.30am on the Saturday to a glorious sunny day, I set out to run the 5 miles approx. of uphill that takes you from Coylumbridge to the mouth of the Lairig Ghru, one of my favourite, rooty, rocky trails consisting of approx. 3 miles of forest road and then a further 2 miles of singletrack.

As they say, what goes up, must come down and, as I have blogged before, this has to be one of the best descents in Scotland, taking me back down to Coylumbridge in time for some pre breakfast sunbathing before everyone else got up (yes, it was THAT hot!).

As the temperatures rose, the plans for the day were scaled back slightly and we ended up spending the morning walking from Glenmore to the Green Loch and then on to Ryvoan Bothy where we had lunch. We took a high path on the way there and then the lower route that we usually take on the way back and, with the discovery of yet another rocky, rooty path, I made a mental note to run the high path in future.

Waking at 6.00am on the Sunday, I set out again, this time in the direction of Loch Einich for a run that totalled just over 12 miles. It felt even hotter than the previous day and I ditched the top to run in Anton Krupicka style (only a ‘slightly’ more rotund version!). I figured that I wasn’t going to meet anyone this far out as 6.00 am. I can only apologise to the two people that I did see – I sincerely hope you were able to erase the image from your minds!

The waters en route were quite high and, coming to the last of these, I waded in until my legs felt like icicles (strangely refreshing) before turning around and heading back to Coylumbridge. I was approx 1 to 1.5 miles short of Loch Einich itself but was conscious of the time and wanted to be back before the family were up. An all day breakfast from the excellent Mountain Cafe was planned and, considering that my food intake up to that point had consisted of half a pack of Honey Stingers, I had built up quite an appetite!

Heading back along the high route this time, listening to Armin van Buuren in the mix, takes me back to the start of this post. I was having an absolute blast. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Now there was one significantly different element in all of this. I spent the entire weekend, both running and walking, in Merrell Trail Gloves. Back at the end of April Merrell were kind enough to send me a pair of their Trail Gloves to test. I have been running in the Trail Gloves through the week over shorter distances but, this weekend, I wanted to give them a real test on some of the best technical and harsh trails that I know.

I have dabbled with minimalist shoes in the past and, after reading Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” the first time, I experimented by running barefoot on a treadmill (gets surprisingly hot underfoot!) before ‘progressing’ to a pair of neoprene surfers booties (gets surprisingly hot in the shoe!). I have since tried a few different minimalist shoes.

The idea behind minimalist running is as follows:

1. Align your posture
2. Balance your foot-landing
3. Count your cadence

As simple as ABC! There is considerably more information over at http://www.merrell.com/UK/en/Barefoot

Be sure to check out the Running Bug Good Form Guide as well.

The one thing that I just can’t stress enough is to start slow and build up barefoot activities, especially if you are new to running any distance.

The idea is to stimulate and strengthen your feet and this may well prove painful in the initial stages until your feet have become accustomed to running without the rigidity and cushioning of trainers. I found that my calf muscles in particular often tightened up during or after a barefoot run so I wore Compressport calf compression whilst running and this appears to have totally removed this issue from the equation.

As regular readers may be aware, the Merrells are quite far removed from my usual medium to long distance trail shoe. Weighing in at only 176g the shoes have a 0mm ball to heel drop with 4mm compression molded EVA midsole cushions and a 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate that maintains forefoot flexibility and protects the foot by distributing pressure.

Up until this weekend I had been testing them on the trails around Ellon and along the old railway line, the Formartine & Buchan Way. Compacted gravel trails, rooty, rocky forest trails, grass and mud all proved no problem as the Trail Gloves took everything that I could throw at them in their stride. Running through muddy puddles, they filled up and emptied again just as quick, leaving the feet to quickly dry off before encountering the next puddle. This was equally true this weekend as they filled with ice cold river water and emptied again, providing temporary refreshment for my feet in the heat.

The things that struck me were the roomy toe box, allowing the feet to splay, the breathability of the shoe, and the change in my running form that came (mostly) naturally. My cadence was increased, taking smaller steps so as not to stride out too far and land on the heel.

The main difference, and possibly even more exaggerated for me given the cushioning that I am used to, was feeling every rock, root and stone underfoot. Whilst strange at first, I soon learned to be more careful in picking my route rather than just trying to run over the top of everything and, in doing so, found myself ‘skipping’ about.

On a rare occasion I would misplace my foot and/or there simply would be no ‘good’ spot for footfall, and on these occasions I would feel whatever was underfoot. However, I actually found that this connecting with the terrain underfoot added to the run.

Blinded by the sun at one point this weekend, I kicked a rock which, unfortunately, turned out to be well rooted in the ground. I was surprised not to break my toe but it would appear that the rubber toe bumper on the Trail Glove offers more protection than might be expected of a shoe that can roll completely into a ball and, other than the initial sharp pain, there were no long term ill effects.

One thing that I can say for sure about running in the Trail Gloves is that it is FUN!

My experience with the Trail Glove has actually left me wondering just how far I could run in them, though with the 95 mile West Highland Way Race now less than 4 weeks away, sensibility prevents me from testing this out… for now at least. Certainly, I know of a couple of ultra runners who have run around the 50 mile mark in Merrell Trail Gloves. Going by my efforts of 10 and 12 miles this weekend, I reckon I could run at least 20 miles in them, if not more. Once the West Highland Way Race has passed it will definitely be time to put my theory to the test!

I have also found myself wearing the shoes for everyday use. Funnily enough, I took to running in them quicker than I did to walking in them and, if anything, it is my walking style that needs improved!

The Merrell minimalist range now includes ranges for Run, Train, Water and Life. Runners contemplating the minimalist approach to running should check out the Trail Glove and/or the Road Glove. Merrell have also recently added the Run Bare Access shoe to the range. Described as “For distance runners and those new on the path to barefoot running”, the shoe maintains the 0mm drop but with additional cushioning. Now that sounds like my next shoe for sure!

Don’t just take my word for it, check out what everyone else thinks online.

One reviewer wrote “The trail glove is to trainers what Apple Macs are to computers”. I don’t think you can pay much more of a compliment than that!

“I bet you can barefoot all night long
Take off your shoes and throw them away,
Come back and get them another day
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin’,
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin'”

Robert Parker – 1966

January 2012 Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Great Start To The Year

New post at The Running Bug, ‘A Great Start To The Year‘.

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.

Happy New Year to you all!