Glen Einich Run

I was fortunate enough to be back in the Cairngorms for a few days this weekend just past. More photos to follow but, for now, here’s some of my favourite shots, taken on an early morning run from Rothiemurchus towards Loch Einich.

The sky was gradually lit with a red hue, making for some interesting photographs. The images show the view back towards Aviemore, and the view towards Loch Einich, mostly taken from a high point on the route. I opted to take some panoramas to make the most of the light/scenery combination as standard photos (iPhone 6) just wouldn’t do it justice.

It’s one of my favourite runs when staying in Rothiemurchus, with the option to ‘go long’, running right up to Loch Einich, or, as I did on this occasion, to run approx. 8.5 miles in an out and back with approx 780ft of ascent, to the high point from where I took most of the photos.

The Burma Road, Cairngorms, August 2014

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.

There’s a complete route map available at: http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/Th-Burma-Road-Aviemore

I’m already looking forward to running the entire route!

Rothiemurchus, Cairngorms, August 2014

Described on www.rothiemurchus.net as “a special place at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, near Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands”, Rothiemurchus is, more often than not, our base when in The Cairngorms.

It also happens to be where Team Mac aim to one day move, finances permitting, the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned! There’s nowhere better for mountains, lochs and forests, all well served with a variety of paths, from B roads, to landrover track, to gnarly singletrack, perfect for trail running and biking.

The photos above were taken at various points throughout our August 2014 Cairngorm break, when running, walking or biking on the numerous tracks on offer.

I even enjoyed some evening runs & cycles, making the most of the training opportunities on offer thanks to the excellent Petzl Nao headtorch which ably lit up the path before me.

With so many paths, many leading to other paths, it’s easy to cover considerable distances in and around Rothiemurchus without even heaving to go near a road. It’s taken me a few years to see the bigger picture of interconnected paths, facilitated by a desire to explore and the need to train for various ultramarathon events.

In June 2014, we stayed at the Spey Lodge, just off the B970 Aviemore to Insh road. With a ‘back garden’ that led straight into the forest, onto some excellent trails, I soon discovered another ‘piece of the puzzle’, linking up paths that had, until that point, had no connection that I was aware of.

Rothiemurchus is also home to the Inshriach Nursery & Potting Shed Tearoom, described by The Observer’s Dan Lepard as “one of Britain’s best cake shops”, where the choice of quality, home-baked cake is something to behold. Once you have your coffee and cake, you can enjoy it whilst watching hundreds of birds and, more often than not, a squirrel or two, as they feed on the provided nuts, seeds and fat-balls.

Having taken a wrong turn while out on a training run on one of the many paths a couple of years back, I ended up finally popping out of the forest close to Loch Insh Watersports Centre, quite some distance from my intended destination. Fortunately, the Inshriach Nursery & Potting Shed Tearoom just so happened to be on my route home and, fuelled with cake, I finished what ended up being a 20+ mile run.

Note that the final picture in the gallery above shows the sorry state of affairs when my bike came a cropper on an early morning cycle, thankfully no more than 1 to 1.5 miles from our accommodation. Bothy Bikes in Aviemore saved the day, as they had done earlier in the week when one of my pedals came apart. My trusty 2007 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp is starting to show its age!

A Summer In Columbia

I’d love to tell you about a summer spent trekking in the Andes mountain range, or in the Amazon rainforest. However, the slight deviation in spelling, ‘Columbia’ rather than ‘Colombia’, may already have given it away.

The Columbia that I am referring to is, of course, the outerwear and sportswear company, who were kind enough to kit me out at the start of the summer with the Zero Rules Short Sleeve ShirtSilver Ridge Convertible trousers (shorts/trousers), Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt, and Conspiracy II OutDry shoes.

My summer was spent firmly in the UK and, it has to be said, it was excellent. Most importantly, I got to spend loads of time with my son Harris (quickly approaching his second birthday) and wife Leanne, with an added bonus being that we spent a good portion of our time in the Cairngorms, my favourite Scottish location.

Back in mid 2013, I was sent a Columbia Omni Freeze t-shirt for review and, to quote myself, “was blown away at just how well it helped me maintain a desirable body temperature, from the extremes of keeping me cool while running on a treadmill in our sun house in 30°C+ temperatures, through to keeping me from freezing while being buffeted by winds at altitude while out on a trail run high in the Cairngorm mountains.”

I had high hopes for the gear on the basis of my previous experience and, to cut a long story short, I wasn’t disappointed.

Now I would be lying if I was to say that I had spent all day, every day in the provided Columbia gear, but the truth of it is that I have actually spent the majority of summer and autumn dressed in Columbia.

Last year I described my Columbia Omni Freeze t-shirt as “without a doubt, one of the stand-out items of kit for me this past year” and, it has to be said, that same t-shirt still is.

It has, however, now been joined in the clothing rotation by the Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt that Columbia sent me and this garment has also gone down a storm, to the extent that I have purchased a further two Zero Rules t-shirts.  That alone should speak volumes with regard to how I rate the garment.

I will admit to having worn the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers as trousers on only a handful of occasions but have worn them as shorts on an almost daily basis.

This was always likely to be the case as I am firmly a shorts & t-shirt kind of guy, through pretty much most weather conditions. People actually do pass comment on the rare occasions that they see me in long trousers, either in person or in photographs!

On the occasions that I have attached the handy zip-off legs to the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers, the additional protection afforded has been most welcome, most notably in the face of continued ‘tick attack’ whilst walking amidst ferns in the Cairngorms.

Coming back from one particular walk, a thoroughly recommended trek up Torr Alvie and the Duke of Gordon Monument, I removed no less than 10 ticks of varying size. This was enough to make me reconsider my preference for shorts, especially given the potential for Lyme disease. As such, I made sure to carry and attach the lower leg portion of the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers whenever I ventured into potential tick hotspots. Thanks to the mild winter of 2013/14, the tick population has apparently thrived.

The versatility of quickly and easily being able to swap between trousers and shorts is a bonus, with obvious implications for travelling and packing light.

As a fan of minimalist shoes, I was initially slightly unsure about the Conspiracy II OutDry shoes, with considerably more cushioning than my normal shoes. However, putting the shoes on for the first time, it soon became apparent that they offered a supremely comfortable fit, with a spacious toe-box that was roomy even for my wide feet. Aesthetically, the grey/orange colourscheme is a real winner, that also works well for casual wear.

Superior traction meets waterproof-breathable construction for an ultra-lightweight shoe that will keep you nimble, comfortable and dry during all kinds of outdoor activities. The mesh upper is fortified with a protective rubber screen-print to maximize durability while the Fluidframe midsole provides ideal underfoot support for a lively, responsive ride.” (http://www.columbia.com/mens-conspiracy-ii-outdry-BM2580.html)

After a good few months of considerable use both the upper and the sole are in as new condition, other than accumulated dirt. I’ve used the shoe mostly for walking/hiking, especially where I anticipated spending long days on my feet, but have also used them for both trail and treadmill running.

I will admit to initially being slightly sceptical of the waterproof and breathable claims but have to admit that the Conspiracy II OutDry actually does pass both claims with flying colours. If you have any doubts, stick them on and stand in flowing water. It’s quite remarkable just how dry your feet remain. Obviously, as is always the case with footwear, once water levels are sufficiently high, any water will be up and over, seeping into your shoe around the ankle. However, I’ve found that the shoe soon dries.

Further, I’ve found in the past that waterproof shoes generally aren’t breathable but, even on the hottest days I have had no problems with the Conspiracy II OutDry and my feet have remained sweat free.

Of all the items, the Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt has received the least wear. As mentioned previously, I’m a shorts & t-shirt kind of guy and, thankfully, we were blessed with a pretty good summer, which looked favourably on my preferred clothing choice. However, as the temperatures continue to drop, I do expect to get more use out of this garment.

All of the items provided were generously sized and extremely comfortable. I did find that the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers were slightly long for me when used as trousers and, as a result, they did tend to ‘collect’ water on wet days. However, they are used as shorts rather than trousers approx 90% of the time so this rarely has any effect.

With regard to the items of clothing, I’ve found that everything washes well and dries quickly, facilitating a quick turnaround. As anyone with a toddler will tell you, this is a godsend, but, on a more serious note, it’s also perfect for travelling light and packing minimally.

Thanks to Columbia for providing me with the opportunity to test out their product, which I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending to others. I’m certain that I will still be wearing these items for many months to come.

Product Details

Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt

£25, Available at Blacks

A super-cooling tech tee with stretch and sun protection, this soft and lightweight men’s shirt sports Columbia’s industry-leading cooling technology, which reacts with your sweat to lower the material’s temperature and keep you cool during dynamic aerobic activity in the heat.

Construction:

  • Omni-Freeze ZERO™ sweat-activated super cooling
  • Omni-Wick™
  • Omni-Shade™ UPF 30 sun protection
  • Modern Classic Fit
  • Comfort stretch
  • Antimicrobial treatment protects this product from bacteria growth

Fabric:

  • 100% polyester ZERO interlock

Silver Ridge Convertible Pant

£55, Available at Blacks

These durable, quick-wicking pants feature built-in sun protection and plentiful storage making them the perfect choice for active days in warm weather.

Construction:

  • Omni-Wick
  • Omni-Shade UPF 50 sun protection
  • Partial elastic at waist
  • Gusset detail
  • Pockets with hook and loop closure
  • Zip-closed security pocket
  • Mesh pocket bags

Fabric:

  • Omni-Shade Main Body
    100% nylon Silver Ridge ripstop
  • Omni-Wick Mesh Panels
    57% recycled polyester/43% polyester mesh

Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt

£50, Available at Snow+Rock

This versatile button up features Insect Blocker™ technology to ward off bugs, UPF 30 wards off harsh UV rays, and Omni-Wick™ advanced evaporation keeps you cool and dry during dynamic activity.

Construction:

  • Insect Blocker
  • Omni-Wick technology actively breathes and pulls sweat away from your body to keep you dry and cool
  • Omni-Shade UPF 30 provides premium protection from the sun
  • Pocket with hook and loop closure
  • Mesh pocket bags
  • Rollup sleeves with tab holders
  • Sun protection collar
  • Vented

Fabric:

  • Omni-Wick, Omni-Shade 100% Insect Blocker nylon basketweave

Conspiracy II OutDry

£80, Available at Blacks

Superior traction meets waterproof-breathable construction for an ultra-lightweight shoe that will keep you nimble, comfortable and dry during all kinds of outdoor activities. The mesh upper is fortified with a protective rubber screen-print to maximise durability while the Fluidframe midsole provides ideal underfoot support for a lively, responsive ride.

Construction:

  • Upper
    • Protective rubber screenprint over mesh
    • OutDry waterproof, breathable construction
    • Synthetic toecap
  • Midsole
    • Techlite™ lightweight midsole, superior cushion, high energy return
    • FluidFrame™ multidensity underfoot support
  • Outsole
    • Omni-Grip™ high traction non-marking rubber
  • Weight: US size 9, ½ pair = 10.3 oz/294 g

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)

And Then There Were 11

This New Year I was fortunate enough to be in the Cairngorms, surrounded by family and enjoying a week there in the aftermath of Harris’s first Christmas. The weather wasn’t too bad for the time of year and I was able to enjoy long early morning walks on The Speyside Way with Harris, albeit in the dark for a lot of the time! The days were spent, as every day should be, walking lots, making the most of the opportunities afforded by our location, and drinking hot chocolate, eating cake and dining well. Perfect!

Unfortunately, I was feeling considerably below par, taking everything at a reduced pace, and tiring far quicker than normal.

An emergency appointment at the local surgery on New Year’s Eve resulted in a diagnosis of a chest infection and appropriate medication was dispensed.

When The D33 entries opened on 1st January, I immediately applied, determined to keep up my record as one of the 12 ‘ever presents’, those with 100% attendance at the event. It also gave me something to aim for, a return to ultras, with approximately 3 months in which to get my mileage back up to something sensible for participating in this kind of event.

There would be no turning up at the start line with ‘long run’ training of only 11 miles this year, unlike 2012 when home improvements, baby preparations, and the arrival of Harris put paid to serious ultra mileage.

Positive thoughts to start the year.

What followed was weeks of illness, including some 3 weeks signed off work, as I went from chest infection to flu to viral infection to, well, basically whatever appeared to be on the go, much of it ‘kindly’ passed on by my son, encountering many of these ailments for the first time himself! Oh, and did I mention an infected big toe? Something that was also diagnosed that New Year’s Eve in Aviemore!

As so commonly happens, the month of March snuck up on me at alarming speed, all without anything remotely resembling serious training taking place.

The decision to withdraw from The D33 was a painful one but, under the circumstances, it was the right thing to do. I could perhaps, as I did in 2013, have ground out a finish, but at what cost to my body and overall health? Also, there was the nagging doubt in my mind that, when I did finish in 2013, it was admittedly with reduced training, but was also with 3 years of solid running in the legs. In 2013/14, injury, illness, work and family commitments decimated my running. Would I have been able to pull it off? We will just never know!

The D33 will also be a special race for me. Like so many others, it was my first ultramarathon. Further, I like to be there for RD George Reid, and Karen Donaghue, as a thank you for their efforts and encouragement over the years. It’s admittedly not the most scenic of the ultras that I run and it’s certainly far from hilly, but what else would you expect from a race held on an old railway line!

I may have lost my 100% attendance record, but I will be back!

Update: 7th April 2014

This article was originally titled, ‘And Then There Were 10‘ but, as I found out just after posting it, there are still 11 ever presents who have now completed all 5 D33 events. The 11 are listed below in order of total time taken to complete the 5 races:

  • Mike Raffan
  • Graham Nash
  • Norry Mcneill
  • Michael Dick
  • Ian Minty
  • Victoria Shanks
  • Colin Knox
  • Jo Thom
  • Neil Macritchie
  • Iain Shanks
  • Ray McCurdy

I had to laugh when, shortly after posting this, the following appeared on The D33 Facebook page:

“This ikea bag has secret stuff in it to go somewhere secret to get secret stuff done to it for the 11 ever presents who have ran all 5 D33’s. Hope to have them to you all in a few weeks.”

How typical to have missed out – Wonder what’s inside the bag!

Glenmore 24

The second Glenmore 24 race took place on the weekend of 1st September. Ian Minty, my support runner from this years West Highland Way Race had an excellent day, hitting his target of 100 miles and getting the preparation for his own attempt at the West Highland Way off to a flying start. Read how Ian’s race went online at his new blog ‘This tortoise wants to become a hare’.

24 Hour Race

1st Three Women:

  1. Fiona Rennie, 109.01 miles
  2. Wendy MacKinnon, 106.82 miles
  3. Pauline Walker, 103.02 miles

1st Three Men:

  1. Grant MacDonald, 129.04 miles (new course record)
  2. Mike Raffan, 121.43 miles
  3. Bob Steel 118.82 miles

12 Hour Race

1st Three Women:

  1. Sandra McDougall, 63.83 miles
  2. Carolyn Rae, 63.59 miles
  3. Joanna Rae – 58.01 Miles

1st Three Men:

  1. Stevie Gildea, 74.42 miles
  2. John Jynaston, 65.37 miles
  3. Donald Sandeman, 62.41 miles

Complete results are available on the Glenmore 24 website.

More information is available from the Glenmore 24 Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Glenmore 24

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!