Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Deep Atlantic Low

Well that’s what they call it; don’t know why ‘cos I was high as a kite after my run yesterday.
Looking out of the window it didn’t look too promising. The rain lashing against the windows and the wind regularly gusting up to 50mph. So what do you do on a day like that? Go for a run of course, just a short on up my local hill, up onto the shoulder of Craigentaggert then down by the modest 1400” top of Kinpauch.
Running through the catchment area of Highland Spring was reasonably ok if a little slow, the wind occasionally bringing me to a complete stop. Then rounding the shoulder into the glen the wind swung to a tail giving me a good helping hand up to the gate at the track top.
The final push up onto Craigentaggert shoulder was where the fun started though. It was wild and I found myself running steeply uphill, at times completely out of control. Then on the ridge I started to feel the power of the wind like I’d never felt before.
The only way forward was to turn sideways to my direction of travel reducing cross section area and at the same time leaning forward at 45 degrees. I was then able to carefully inch forward a bit at a time. Even then I had to keep throwing myself down flat or be blown goodness knows where.
Running was impossible along there, except for Moss the dog that is. She took it very much in her stride. She gets excited by the smallest of air blasts from my bike pump so in this wind she went insane completely. She was racing round in crazy circles like somebody had let go a balloon, nipping annoyingly at my feet and tugging my trouser leg as she passed me.
Passing the cairn on Kinpauch the wind got even stronger and I had to slither down the first 50m on my backside as it was impossible to stand. Moss was way down the hill at this point standing watching in abject disgust at my pathetic attempts to make headway.
Reaching the track again was blissful as the wind finally reduced to manageable proportions and I eventually got back to the road feeling absolutely thrilled by my experience.
It may have been a Personal Worst time but it was a Personal Best in terms of how much I enjoyed it.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Maggie's Millions

Well that’s what they used to call it, finding yourself without a job. This week my employer who's been a lame duck for a couple of years now has finally had the rug pulled from under them and the lights are about to be turned off for good.
It's really strange, I mean this has by a long way been the best job I've ever had and I'm surprised how I feel. I don't feel sad or even apprehensive about the future. I feel fired up, happy and excited. To be honest a couple of months back I'd pretty well decided to move on and then a week ago I'd fully committed to going and I think being in this frame of mind already has undoubtedly helped when this hit a couple of days ago,
So it's a case of moving on to pastures new but luckily the job I've been doing is fairly specialised and not many are out there doing it so I'm hoping a competitor snaps up me and all my fantastic work mates who are like a family and at least some of us can work together again. If not I'll do something completely different and as an electrical engineer there's plenty of scope for that.
So, heyho the jobs gone but now I can’t wait to see where my life goes next.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Let the Train Take the Strain...

....Or at least some of it anyway. That was what we did on Saturday. We’d camped overnight at the Victoria Bridge car park and set off to walk over the hill to Bridge of Orchy station, catching the 10:45 train just for one stop 20 minutes down the line getting off at Rannoch Station.
Conditions were perfect as we headed west across Rannoch Moor, a bright sunny, warm day with a brisk following wind and as we’d had a nice long dry spell the marshes were fairly dry underfoot too. We were in the woods to begin with walking on a good track that formed the first few miles of the route. The packet of sandwiches lying forlornly by the track spoke of a poor traveller ahead of us who maybe even yet had to discover the loss of his lunch.
Moss, the dog plumbed new depths of depravity today discovering a pile of poo, possibly human in which to roll. Later on a dead deer gave another roll opportunity and an abandoned cow horn complete with scalp provided a tasty snack to accompany the deer thigh she’d been carrying for some while.
Once clear of the woods the route strikes out across the open moor with a temperamental path sometimes there sometimes not though one thing not to desert us was the view. Looking across toward Glencoe it felt almost Tolkienesque like we were marching across Middle Earth on route towards the mountains of Mordor. I fully expected Gollum to pop out of a peat bog at any moment.
This is a thoroughly wild area with very little shelter. The lonely ruin of Tigh-na Chruaiche provides a roof and walls making a good lunch stop. Despite the lack of path, navigation is easy. In good weather, heading west aim for the distinctive Buachaille, heading east aim for the equally distinctive Schiehallion. In bad weather there’s a handy power line to follow. The track suddenly reappears a few miles from Kingshouse and guided us quickly into the Climbers Bar for a welcome break.
The rest of the way followed highly familiar West Highland Way route back toward Victoria Bridge. Strangely, in all the times I’d done that section I’d never done it north to south so taking in the views this way on was a very refreshing change.
A thing that struck us along the route was the number of dead deer. There are loads of them all over the place, a testament indeed to the harsh winter just gone.
Forest Lodge was a welcome site and the motorhome even more welcome. A great end to the day involved much red wine and hot shepherd’s pie watching the sun go down behind Beinn Suidhe.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Rummaging Through the Shed

Well, you know how it is, springtime, it brings out a sort of tidying splurge. So there I was rummaging around amongst the plant pots and sawn off bits of wood and other general rubbish when there it was, my old mountain bike. It was in a sorry state all covered in cobwebs and robbed of many of its component parts over the years but now it was looking at me pleadingly like a dog asking if we’re going out yet.
I dragged it out and sat it on the lawn and surveyed it critically. It was missing a chain, rear mech, seat post and saddle. It was rather rusty but only in parts and superficially so. It took me right back looking at it. I bought it way back around 1985. It’s a Madison Ridgeback 531 and was one of the first mountain bikes to appear in the UK just before mountain biking took off here. All Reynolds 531 tubing including the handle bars and cost me a fortune at the time. Prior to that I’d been riding off road on an old Sun racer but when I got this it was revolutionary to me in what it could do with it.
So I set to work hunting around the shed for bike bits and managed to find everything I needed except for the seat post to bring it back to life. This proved a bit problematic as the diameter of the tube is an obsolete size, the norm being 27.2mm. With the bike shops help though I found it needed a 27.4mm which I now have and finally got the old girl up and running again yesterday.
With some trepidation I went out for a test ride taking it up from Blackford to the top gate on Kinpauch, a distance of 2.5 mile uphill with no problems at all. A final check of everything, especially the brakes and I plummeted back down to the village, a huge adrenaline rush hanging on to the bucking bronco beneath me.
Now I’ve got some great routes in mind to supplement my running and get my crazy dog even fitter than she already is. Can’t wait!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Oh For The Simple Days of Old

In the olden days things were very simple weren’t they? You stuck on your boots, rousted the dog then belted off up the nearest hill and back down again. Then after a night in the pub you did it all again the next day with never any problems, except for the odd toenail disfigurement or some such.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise in your 5th decade that the old bod starts to exhibit signs of being well, over the hill. I mean here am I, desperate to get out of this closet and fledge, somewhat latterly as an ultra-runner, only to find I’ve run less this year than I have in many a year.
I mean just as I’m starting to recover from my worst running injury ever that’s kept me from building the miles up I now find at least over the last week I’m stricken with a calf pull on the other leg. Still, at least it’s only a pull so it won’t take long to heal hopefully. To help everything along I’ve actually stopped running for a whole week. Well, it was going to be two weeks but that thought was just too hard to bear so a week it will be and it terminates this Friday.
It’s actually not been too bad as I’ve been able to do 150 miles cycling this week and that hasn’t bothered the legs at all and it’s kept my fitness going. So with a bit of luck the rest will rejuvenate the old running bits. The weekend will be the telling point as it looks like mother-in-law duty is imminent. At least that means I get to go for a nice long trot on the North Yorkshire Moors. Mind you that’s where the leg first blew up so hopefully no omen there.
Fingers crossed for some miles next week.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

My Dog, Moss

Today my dog gave me one hell of a scare disappearing as she did for well over an hour out in the Ochil’s. She has a bad habit of chasing deer and this time she got herself majorly lost in heavy snow and thick fog.
Being by myself and minus Moss, it was difficult to decide what exactly to do about it. I was in ten minds as to what she might do and so decided to run on home and check she hadn’t got back there somehow. She wasn’t home though so I had no option but to get into full walking gear and launch a one man search mission.
Amazingly, not ten minutes after resuming the search I saw her racing across the hillside. I called her and she changed course, bounded down the hill to me and gave me a huge doggy welcome. I was very, very relieved to find her with the weather closing in again.
Dogs are amazing companions for running.  Thinking back over the dogs I’ve had in my life. They’ve all been completely different from each other but I’ve loved them all just the same.
As a runner, my most consistent running companion was Meg, a collie who lived to the grand old age of 15 and ran with me for 13 of those years before going into retirement. She was the best friend I've ever had and whom I'd known longer than my wife. Ok, she was a pain in the arse at times ( Meg that is) but she ran thousands of miles with me.

We shared a tent and a sleeping bag when she was soaked as we wild camping in winter. She growled at me when I dared to move while she was curled in the foot of the bag and she coveted my food when she’d eaten her own but I think I can honestly say she made me laugh every time I went out with her, with those peculiar little idiosyncratic ways of hers.

When she was old and couldn’t run anymore, despite the fact that she was deaf as a post, with poor eyesight she was still full of beans despite the ravages of a couple of strokes.  I still loved her though and now I cherish the memories I have of times shared with her. It’s a fact though that one day when you put on your running shoes your dog will no longer want go with you and that is the inevitable tragedy of being a dog owner.
Now my four legged companion is Moss, another border collie. A sprightly skinny bundle of energy as all 3 year old collies should be. She could never replace Meg but she follows neatly on from her and the times we have in the hills are every bit as good.
There’s something really nice about a dog running alongside you with paws tick tick ticking along the path and her own breathing just as controlled and rhythmic as my own. Mind you it’s only at the end of the run that she’ll deem to run alongside me. Most of the time she will be bounding across the heather like a thing possessed convinced she can catch the grouse that are flying over her head.
As I write this she’s curled up asleep next to me on the sofa and very soon she’ll start twitching and yipping as she goes into dream land where she’s racing through the hills again.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Coming Back?

It’s been an unbelievably frustrating month with injury meaning my last proper run was on the 1st February. This time of year is normally so good for a runner. The worst of the winter is passed and spring is not far away. These are days of running without snow, with the blackbirds singing in the tree tops and the only slippy sliding is caused by mud instead of ice.
For me though it’s been a time of feeling down watching other runners and wondering if I’ll ever get back into it again. Amanda, my physio has been urging rest, rest, rest and I have been resting with just the occasional little try out to see if the pain comes back. So far without fail, every time the pain comes back, often after a mile or so and sometimes after only half a mile
Today though it was different, I know walking doesn’t seem to aggravate my leg so I thought I’ll take Moss the dog for a walk up Kinpauch Hill, a nice little top across the road from Blackford that gives a 6m 1100” circuit. I had a brief debate with myself about footwear and the devil in me said go with the fell shoes not the boots.
Of we went and I set a brisk 4mph walking pace to get the breathing going. Hey, I thought, this feels pretty good I could even do the WHW sub 24hr going no faster than this. I felt great forcing the pace up the front of Kinpauch.
On reaching the top I had no pain whatsoever, so, thought I, I wonder what would happen if I broke into a trot? Well nothing happened except I went faster as I jogged toward the boundary fence at the back of Kinpauch. So down the track I went sort of jog/walking to minimise shock to the knee and still no problems.
The last couple of miles are an easy gradient on soft grass and mossy track centre so I jogged the whole of this back down to the road. Amazingly still no problems as I jogged into the village.
So here I’m sitting post run (did I say run) feeling bloody marvellous. I’ve plastered my knee in Deep Freeze to ward of any evils and my knee feels fine.
If Amanda reads this she’ll no doubt be frowning on her rash and impetuous client but I just couldn’t help myself. I’ll be seeing her tomorrow and I’ll get her to give it a thorough appraisal and tell her about my experience today but it really, really feels like I’m coming back.

Friday, 11 February 2011


It’ so frustrating is this injury lark. I’ve not had a proper run now for 10 days. The knee feels a lot better now but it’s still not right. A couple of days ago I tried a run but only got 100 yards and had to pull up with the calf feeling sore. Today I tried again and this time got a mile and a half before the knee made itself felt again forcing me to walk home.
I suppose I’m lucky in a way as this is the first real problem in years but I don’t feel lucky. I’m seeing my yearly average slipping downwards. I’m feeling a bit like when you have a bad cold and you can’t imagine ever feeling better. Illogical as I know I will get better. With the leg problem having dragged on so long I so want it to be alright again. Surely it will soon be and I can get some miles in.
What a strange week at work. It never fails to amaze me that a public company can happily arrange for a colleague and me to turn up on site only for the operator not to turn up to let us in. Thus they end up paying my company £1200 just for the two of us to turn up and eat our sandwiches outside the gate.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Woes and Strifes

There are a couple of things really sickening me off right now, one of them is work and the other is knee trouble.
As far as work is concerned I can’t believe how shabbily we engineers have been treated by the directors. It’s no secret the company’s been right up it financially for a couple of years now but last year it came to light the financial director had been deducting money from our wages for pension contributions but not paying it into our funds and propping the company up instead.
As you would imagine we were furious when we found out. The bloke was very lucky nobody called the police in. Anyway, we’ve now found out he’s been doing it again and the pension fund is several months in arrears. Fortunately we have an investment angel on the scene now so I know the pension will get sorted.
The trouble is the company is for me now tainted and it’s such a shame. I absolutely love the work and I love the people I work with but I’m sick of false promises and subterfuge. So as much as I will be saddened I think me and the company are going to have to part ways. I mean, how can I ever trust them again?
I think I’m going to be a regular viewer of S1Jobs over the coming months but I’ve made myself a promise,  that in six months either things here at my company will be all tickettyboo or I’ll be employed by someone else.
On the running front there’s pain here too. I’ve had a problematic left knee since a sprain back in November.  It doesn’t affect me when I’m actually running but when I’m sitting down relaxing it stiffens up and can get very sore. I had thought it was fading away but I did a hilly 12 miler yesterday and today it is not good at all. Whenever I get up I have to stand there for a minute or so stretching the leg out straight so I can walk properly on it.
Looks like a trip to the physio is on the cards and see if she can lock this stable door having first captured the bolting horse. Hey ho we’ll see.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Bits n Bobs

Made a flying visit to Teesside on mother in law duty this week. I normally hate coming down here but this week I managed to get in a couple of good runs. One of them took me along an old stone flagged pack horse route that traverses the moor between Commondale and Guisborough. 
It’s a fascinating historical path, the flagstones having been laid hundreds of years ago by ancient monks as a means of getting there provisions delivered. Many, many feet have travelled that way such that the stones are badly worn and a groove runs all the way along them. Back in the 1980’s the local authority decided it might be a good idea to turn all the stones up the other way onto the unworn side, only to find some thrifty council from hundreds of years ago had already done that and the stones are worn on both sides.
My other run took me past the scene of the last in England execution by flailing. A particularly nasty form of torture involving the victim being tied arms and legs apart and their skin being stripped from the neck down their bodies. Most were dead by the time the waist was reached.  My daughter’s old history teacher now lives in the house where the condemned man ate his last meal. Can you imagine facing that and wanting to eat!!!!
My runs last week were mainly night runs but I’m really getting to enjoy them. The views from the summit of Dumyat are awesome with all the lights of Stirling and swirling illuminated mist round the Wallace Monument.
Mind you on a run that took me by White Muir lochs by Gleneagles I got the fright of my life putting up several hundred pink-footed geese. Some racket their wings mad as they all took off in the pitch dark. I wonder how they find the water again without landing lights.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Signs of Spring

It was classic temperature inversion weather today so on the tops it was a good few degrees warmer than in the valleys. I went with Marguerite and Moss to the picnic site near Glendevon and we did our route by Glen Sherup that takes us over Innerdownie, Whitewhisp Hill, Tarmangie Hill then returns us via Ben Shee and Glensherup Reservoir.

It was the first time this year I’d actually felt the warmth in the sun when we got into bits sheltered from the wind and the birds were singing their little heads off in the trees. Despite the icy ground it definitely had a touch of Spring about the weather today.

Looking down over the Forth Valley though I recon it was freezing down there as we were looking over a sea of thick low cloud looking very picturesque. I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Night Running

Last night I had a fabulous run after dark.  The conditions were absolutely spot on for it too as there was a full moon, stars and frost everywhere.
The run takes me through fields, woodland and past a couple of small lochs that are still iced over and looked completely white, as did the trees and ground I was running across. It all looked amazingly surreal and contrasted a silvery landscape with a dark backdrop.
I love running when it’s like this and I’m reminded of a similar run a few years ago when it was a dark and star filled night and I suddenly became aware of an aurora playing around in the sky. I remember having to consciously tear my eyes away from the sky and watch where I was putting my feet as I ran.
The other good thing is that as I’m still carrying a niggling knee problem from back in November it forces me to adopt a nice slow pace and so gives my body a bit of a rest too.
I’d really recommend everyone gets away from the streetlights and out into the countryside at night, it’s got loads to offer.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Running With an Absent Friend

Today I did my 20k Glendevon circuit. It’s a run I often used to do with Dario. In fact the very first time I met him we did this run and I remember it like it was yesterday.  About a third of the way round the route he climbed a fence and as if to prove how hard he was he promptly demolished the fence with his testicles, very impressive indeed.
A bit later on we were running along the drovers track through Glendevon.  Dario loved it there, he felt it reminded him of a sort of mini Glencoe and I could certainly see what he meant, and it’s a beautiful track to run on surrounded by spectacular steep hills.
Further on we were going along the single track road toward the reservoirs where he would regale me with stories from the WHW and his time training top class track athletes not to mention his own early life as a very competitive runner. Most of all though, his eyes shone when he spoke about the WHW and the characters he knew, mad Jim Drummond and the Drama queen to name just a couple.
Running back into the village I passed the pub where we used to go for a well earned pint. It’s now closed down so today I just ran home but it had been a brilliant run.
So you see, one thing is certain, every time I do this run I am never alone. Running alongside me all the way is my absent friend and though I miss him that makes me very happy.

Friday, 14 January 2011


Well the symptoms are there sniffles and sneezes etc. It really isn’t fair you know, I mean it was only a couple of weeks ago I shifted the last one, albeit a slight cold.

The strange thing is I seem to get a cold and after a couple of days Marguerite catches it. She then cultivates it, nurtures it, evolves it and mutates it into something akin to bubonic plague. She then gives it back to me a hundred times worse than I gave it to her.
Thank you so much Marguerite.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Snow Is In Retreat!

It was way back in my distant memory the last time there was no snow, maybe around the end of November. Since then there’s been that many varieties of the stuff I didn’t realise there could be so many.

First we had the initial 50cm that was soft and sinky making a normally twenty minute run take nearly an hour. Then came the freeze and for a time the snow was fun to run on, crisp and crunchy. The trouble was a slight rise in temperature meant the run became a series of crunch, crunch, *curse* as a foot disappeared to the knee as it broke through the crust.

Next came a hint of rain and the quantity of snow began to diminish as it melted only for the freeze to return making running a terrifying tippy toeing trot with every step a potential bum on ice moment (and I had one or two of those).

Then there was a series of false dawns where over the last couple of weeks the snow almost went building up hopes of carefree runs then VOILA! I open the curtains in the morning only to find another 100mm has silently materialized overnight.

Now things are different though. Looking at the weather forecast for double figure temperatures the snow is on the run. I believe in a couple of days the snow will finally be gone, at least for now. I am actually looking forward to running in the wet, wind and mud of a normal January. I can’t wait to feel the benefit of the resistance training a couple of months of running in snow has given me. I’ve had a few tantalizing glimpses lately, a couple of dozen meters of ice free grass all soft and squidgy and how easy running on it feels. Bring on the mud I can’t wait!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

It Starts Today

Today I've done two things, firstly I’ve gone public, and I’ve told everyone on Facebook I’m going to attempt to run the West Highland Way. Secondly I’m starting this blog. Not sure which is the scariest really. As for the blog I have got no idea what’s going to get written here. It may be a complete load of rubbish that everyone’s going to see but, heyho, I’m doing it anyway and we’ll see what happens.

As for the run, well I’ve got absolutely no idea what I’m doing with regard to training for an event as long as this one. One thing I do know is that it will be more a trial of mental endurance than physical. I know I’m physically fit but am I mentally strong enough? I also know it’s not a short term project. I’m expecting it to be a good couple of years to get from where I am now to being able to do this. That being the case I would say it will either happen in 2013 or maybe more likely 2014.

At my present level I can probably just about manage with some pain to run 20 mile. I think my first aim will be to up my long run mileage so I can run a reasonably comfortable 20 miles. At that point I’ll join in with the West Highland Way racers on their training runs and stretch this a little further.

I’d like to think by the end of the year I’ll get my long run up to around the 30 mile mark.
Looking further out I’m hoping that in year two I’ll be working between the 30-60 mile mark which should then give me a good platform to jump from to reach the goal the following year.