Away Days – NE England

Having been working (and cycling) away since I came home from my Fijian adventure, I was keen to get away for a while. A change of scene was needed and just about anywhere would do. I had thought about going abroad, but decided to leave that until the end of the month instead – I’ll write about where I went soon!

No instead I decided to stay in the sunny UK, taking my long suffering Dad along with me. He did the driving so he actually kind of took me with him.

Anyway we ended up deciding to go to Northumberland for no good reason whatsoever, apart from having never really been there before. Maybe that is a good reason for going somewhere.

Early on a Tuesday morning we set of on our perilous voyage down the East Coast of Scotland to Englandshire, stopping first just across the border in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I had only ever viewed this town from the window of a London bound train so it was nice to explore the old town walls which had protected the town from the English, the Scots, the English, and then… I could go on. Basically for a period in Berwick’s history it was difficult to figure out which nation the town belonged to.

Picking up a cycle map, I studied some of the local routes, looking for one which would be suitable for me to test my legs on, as we headed towards our campsite for the next two nights. We camped on the outskirts of a small town called Wooler, 13 miles south-west of Berwick.

Taken aback by how quiet the roads seemed, I hopped on my bike as soon as we had set up camp. I soon found myself heading north up traffic free, dusty roads, meeting nothing but the odd combine.

If you know me at all you’ll have realised riding a bike is something I already find immensely fun (mostly!). However, there is something about riding on new unknown roads which adds to this sense of enjoyment. Using my phone as a map I flew down small country lanes and soon realised I was heading back towards the mother nation.

With around an hour’s riding done I decided to make crossing the border into Scotland by bike today’s target, only slightly concerned about the dark clouds forming to the west. Several miles and much (phone) map reading later, I came across a pedestrianised bridge with a plaque reading “ENGLAND” stuck to one of the archways. I had found the border!

On the other side of this picturesque bridge (picture below) across the River Tweed, I was welcomed to Scotland. For some reason it felt more special to be riding across the border which holds much less importance than it once did many years ago.

Changing direction once I was in Scotland, I headed towards Kelso, before swinging south across the border again towards Wooler, using my phone to navigate the peaceful country lanes. Although there were no particularly long climbs, the roads were undualting, with fun to be had on the steep short climbs and the technical descents which followed.

That evening I compared notes with Dad about the local roads. He had gone for a shorter cycle, something which was encouraging as health issues had often meant he couldn’t enjoy exercise as much as he sometimes wanted to. And the next day we dicided to cycle across the causeway to the Holy Island, an island only accessible by roads for 12 hours a day. Spinning across the slippery seaweed soaken tarmac was a somewhat surreal experience as small lakes of water surrounded us.

After crossing we didn’t stay around for too long. A hot drink and a short look around and we set of across the causeway and back to the car. It was a cold day and the clouds looked full of rain. Yesterday I had managed to stay dry but today the heavens opened after we had returned to the campsite.

Sitting in the car I suggested we go to Newcastle or “N,Castle” as locals like to call it. The city seemed a sensible idea when the weather was this vile. Again I had only ever passed through this city on the train and was impressed but what I saw. During a break in the weather we wandered down to the river, where there was bridges galore.

Having enjoyed my first “Nandos” ever (shock horror) and many a “geordie” voice in Newcastle we overheard many more broad accents in the pub that night back in Wooler. That night my mattress deflated so I got up at first light. First priority was water followed by getting my lycra on and hopping on my bike again. It being 6 am the roads were empty, though it was very cold.

It quickly warmed though and I did a similar route to the one two days previous, adding some miles to make it a 50 mile effort. Not a bad mornings work. With the sun on my back and my legs taking me were I needed to go I felt lucky to be alive. Sometimes getting up so early can be of significant benefit and I felt set up for the rest of the day.

It may have been a short trip but it was definetly an enjoyable one and worth it to explore a new place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daydreaming

Is daydreaming good, bad for you or a little bit of both? This is a question I have been pondering over recently, often when I’m actually daydreaming. Yes, some parts of my life are seemingly similar to the 2010 film “Inception”, though perhaps a little less complex and thrilling. Which is a relief because I’ve seen that film three times now and still don’t understand what’s happening in many parts. Maybe it is more similar to my life than I’m willing to admit.

Anyway, daydreaming has always been an activity which I spend quite a lot of my time participating in, mostly when doing other activities which are arguably monotonous or extremely ordinary. For example, when waiting for a bus, or walking my three crazy dogs. I would imagine daydreaming while doing activities like these is highly regular among the general population, unless your waiting for a bus on Bolivia’s North Yungas Road (“Road of Death”) or scaling Mount Everest with your dogs.

But does being slightly aloof a lot of the time have a negative effect on an individual’s life? Straight of the bat, I’m guilty of drifting off into my own head space at inappropriate times. At school I would miss crucial information being given by teachers and at work I tend to loose focus sometimes. In fairness I wash dishes. Its a job which I’m grateful and very lucky to have, but its not the most stimulating. Anyone who questions why your not enjoying washing dishes for six hours needs to have their head checked. As I said I am grateful to be employed though and it is worth it.

So in an attempt to stimulate myself a bit more at work I daydream. I imagine riding my bike in le Tour de France, overtaking all the pros on the climbs with ease because in my dreams I actually weigh like 55 kg and have a really cool, expensive pair of sunglasses on. Its usually either that or thinking about being back in Fiji sitting under a palm tree, with no concerns or worries. Sometimes I’m thinking darker more serious thoughts, but usually there pretty bright and fluffy.

This sounds pretty harmless doesn’t it? I mean its not like I’m daydreaming about shoplifting, writing left-wing political graffiti all over the walls of the kitchen or verablly offending one of the Queen’s swans (probably with the graffiti). I’m not very hardcore so don’t think I would do anything much worse than that. The issue comes when I’m mid daydream and another human being tries to interact with me.

Now, I like speaking to people. I’m not amazing at it but I enjoy it as I don’t think life would be much fun without interacting with others. However, deafened by the sporadic dishwasher (the machine not the teenager drying the dishes beside me) I’m slow to respond when someone says my name. Seemingly slow processing doesn’t help as my brain seems to go through the stages of response slowly. Almost like its in too high a gear for its actual speed and is grinding painfully and slowly up a steep climb. “Come on brain respond!” I’ll stop the cycling metaphors there.

Some point to daydreaming as being a bad habit because it almost removes an individual from the here and now. Living in the moment is often seen as being a key to happiness for many, but I personally see it in a different way. Yes there are times when you should definitely live in the moment. Times that are special, which can’t just be captured and remembered on social media, and perhaps shouldn’t be (an argument for another day).

There is no point in pretending that life for everyone can’t be painful at times. No matter how good a life you live, there will be moments when you’ll have to pick yourself off the ground and will find it difficult to carry on. Its during these moments in particular, that I like to daydream. I’ll think about happier times in the future or the past, or I’ll just make believe at an attempt at distraction.

So to answer to the question of whether daydreaming is good for you. Well perhaps its a little tricky. Sometimes life is incredibly exciting but in other times it is incredibly banal. Maybe appreciating these duller moments makes the exciting or happier times even better. Though, as someone who isn’t a physiological or even that deep a thinker, I believe daydreaming helps me.

Yes, I’m often unfocused and do way too much overthinking about little things that happen, but I need my own head space. I have no evidence to support this being an activity which is actually helpful to my mind health wise. I did start reading an article about it but then I started daydreaming again. I may not have managed to figure out what is happening in “Inception” but I always know what I’m going to buy from the co-op with my tips after work. Guess I won’t be becoming the first Scottish rider to win the Tour de France anytime soon…

5 Reasons Why I Run and Cycle

1. It gets me out and about – Its hard to complain about the scenery where I live. A great way to see this scenery is to get out and explore it by foot or by pedal power. There is nothing better than after killing yourself on a brutal climb to be welcomed by a great view of the surrounding landscape. Even in the winter when it is very tempting to stay inside and escape the sub-zero temperatures, the scenery is spectacular. The snow patches on the Cairngorms making them look even more stunning.

2. It keeps me fit – I’ve never been one for worrying about my diet and have a pretty unhealthy one in all honesty. I either seem to over eat or under eat, never finding the right balance. Interestingly, research has shown that Infant PS and the following surgery could be behind the feeling of having an on and off switch when it comes to my eating habits. Staying fit has always been a priority for me though and not just because I want to be able to escape flesh eating zombies when the Apocalypse inevitably comes. Being physically fit has a huge effect on my mental fitness and makes me feel more confident in myself.

3. It makes me feel hardcore – There is nothing more hardcore than going for a ride or run on a miserable, freezing, stay-inside kind of Scottish day. Fact. There’s been days when I’ve gone out and thought I was going to die it was so cold. Having especially poor circulation in my hands and feet doesn’t help and family members have often been concerned by the weeping coming from the bathroom as my extremities slowly return back to their normal temperature again. I may not enjoy it when I’m out in bad weather conditions, but when I get home I’m left with a great feeling of achievement. Though I won’t be moving to Alaska any time soon.

4. I like pushing myself – Again this comes down to a feeling of achievement and satisfaction. I like improving myself and will often do the same routes time and time again to improve my times. I used to be obsessed with “Strava” an app used by cyclists and runners as type of social media outlet. Athletes record their rides and go head to head on segments based on climbs are around noticeable landmarks.

At the moment I don’t have the technological means to upload my activities and this might just be a blessing in disguise. I now much prefer to compete with myself than others, this being the same in any races I participate in. I love the feeling of knowing that I have just about pushed my body to the limit.

5. It saves me from poor mental health – This is where I find I’m often playing a bit of a balancing act. When I’m in good health and I’m enjoying exercise I tend to be in a happy place. Exercising is my primary way of releasing pent up feelings of anxiety, anger or frustration. When I’m not exercising I tend to not be in a happy place and can quickly fall into periods of feeling quite depressed.

This is why physical injuries like a bad knee infection and some recent swollen glands can have a significant effect on my whole quality of life. When I’m in bad shape mentally I often find it difficult to get back out and push myself physically. I can put on weight quite quickly and convince myself that I’m unfit. Running in particular has saved me from some dark places, particularity in my first year at university where dragging my weary body around the streets of Dundee just about kept me going.

Glas Tulaichean Uphill – 26/05/18

Last Saturday afternoon I competed in my first ever uphill running race, it also only being the third time I’ve competed this year. It was actually the first time I’ve run up a munro which I found rather surprising when I think about it. The finish line was atop Glas Tulaichean, a munro a few miles west of the Spittal of Glenshee. Two of the most keen runners I know, my Auntie Marie and her partner Stuart, where running and had encouraged me to join them earlier in the week.

With my usual anxiety towards actually participating in races I desperately searched for a good excuse and as usual couldn’t find one. However, instead of looking for a bad excuse, on this occasion I decided that I needed to just go for it. I realised that I didn’t need to worry about placings or speed, I just needed to test my fitness by putting a good effort.

On race day Marie swung by the house and we chatted about the race on the short 30 minute journey. We were accompanied by my cousin, Katie, and our mad new-ish dog, Cora. It would be Katie’s responsibility to look after this hairy wrecking ball. I would be more positive about this good natured dog if I hadn’t returned home yesterday to find it had destroyed my Fijian diary. Don’t worry I can’t stay mad at dogs for long.

Arriving at the start line near Dalmunzie Hotel, we were met by stunning views up a valley with steep slopes, gradients I was secretly hoping we wouldn’t be attempting to run up. The scorching weather added to the beautiful scenery and there was little cloud cover in the sky. If I could survive running in Fiji then surely I would be able to cope with temperatures around 5 degrees cooler.

As it approached starting time my only real worry was some nasty blisters which I had on my feet.  I had counted at least five this morning, a result of running in new shoes which I hadn’t properly worn in yet. I had been forced to make a last minute purchase as my old innovates which I loved dearly had long passed there best before date. The soles were falling off and there was very little grip left. Not a good pair of shoes to be running in. This meant that my sole test of my new shoes had been 10k run the day before.

Apart from the blisters I was feeling confident, knowing I just had to give it my best shot. At 2pm we were ushered to the start line and the race to the summit started. The first three kilometres or so were raced at a high pace as we made our way along the valley floor to the bottom of Glas Tuilachen. With a race distance of seven kilometres, much of the next 4K was raced up a frighteningly steep gradient, made harder by the fact you could see the rest of the climb ahead at all times.

Passing through a river at the bottom of the climb my blisters had stung as water had filled my shoes and I really started to feel them getting worse as I slowly ascended the steep land rover track. I was maybe overtaken by four runners on the climb. I have a bad habit of starting races too fast. I was however motivated by the fact that I could see the runners walking like most hill runners should at some point. I am not one of these runners and like to continue running even when it is obviously more efficient to put your hands on your knees and walk.

I manged to catch one of these fellow competitors in the last few hundred meters, to take back a position I had lost. 50 minutes and 47 seconds after starting this 7.2 kilometre race I had reached the finish line. As I collapsed in a heap (okay it wasn’t that dramatic, I took a seat) I was able to take fantastic 360 views of the surrounding hills and munros, looking up the Larig Ghru and down on the highest peaks in Perthshire.

I was pleased that I had been able to keep running the whole way and hadn’t given into the incredible pain which I was now feeling in my feet. I was also pleased for Marie who smashed her 1 hour target by at least 3 minutes, while Stuart finished far ahead of me in a very respectable eight place out of a 44 strong field. I had finished 13th and had learnt a bit about my form with the Highland Cross approaching in four weeks time.

I had also learnt that you shouldn’t race in new shoes you haven’t worn in yet. Running back down to the start line with the others, I tentatively plodded along the land rover track as my feet felt like they were on fire. Returning to the car, I surveyed the damage and found lots of blood and some impressive holes in my heels. This had been a bit of a learning curve.

At least I have an excuse to blow the cobwebs of the bike this week! Despite the blisters it had been a great experience and again reminded me of the perks of racing in terms of being a good motivator to go out and put in the effort. Hopefully I able to get my running shoes on again by the weekend. Now where can I get some compeads?

 

Highland Cross 2017

I actually wrote this ages ago midway through June but forgot about it. Was a great experience and would love to get another opportunity to participate in the same or a similar event.

I had been standing at the window of the bathroom in my hotel room for a while, looking at the Highland village I was staying in. The view from my window was of Beauly square which was barely dark as the summer night had nearly come to an end, it being around 4 am. It had been a sleepless night to say the least, my body kept awake by the pre-race nerves which were haunting me before the race which would now start in little over seven hours. This was perhaps a useful warning that the 2017 “Highland Cross” couldn’t be underestimated, that a 20 mile run over rough hilly terrain starting on the west coast followed by a 30 mile ride back to Beauly wasn’t going to be at all easy. I eventually stopped staring at the flickering lamppost outside the bathroom window and made my way back to bed, telling myself to think positive thoughts. I must have woken up about 25 minutes later, cursing the butterflies in my stomach for causing my far from helpful sleep deprivation.

To participate in the “Highland Cross” you need to enter as a part of a team of three and pledge to raise money for charitable causes in the Highlands. I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in a team with a local to Deeside who had been competing in the Cross for many years, while also boasting an impressive set of marathon medals. In the run up to race day we had discussed the fact that he had been wanting to break five hours for the event for a while now, finishing just outside this target for the last few years. This led to discussions about completing the route as an actual team. A team that would stick together and hopefully assist in helping him achieve that elusive sub five hour time. I could feel that the frustration at coming so close to doing this was nearing boiling point, increased by the fact that when actually competing as a team before, his team mates hadn’t actually raced with him, looking for their own individual times.

His other choice of team mate was an immensely strong tri-athlete, who also happened to be a local. A strong cyclist and runner, this race looked like it would suit him down to the ground. Meanwhile, I had seemingly given the impression to the team leader that I was good at this kind of stuff, despite not having any experience of competing in dualthons. Though I knew that I did have stores of endurance, shown in the past by showings at the annual “Strathpuffer” 24 hour mountain bike race, which I felt would be beaten in terms of challenge by what was coming this time around.

So as race day finally rolled around I awoke from my disturbed sleep at around six in the morning, an early start was needed if I was going to I lot least try and be prepared. I got out of bed and checked my race bag for like the thousandth time after packing it the day before and went looking for my tight lycra which I firmly believe is mandatory. After getting my race gear on I threw on some running tights and a jumper and made my way downstairs for breakfast. One of my team mates was already there and copied he pre race food choice, thinking that he definitely looked like he knew what he was doing unlike me. As we greeted our other team mate I ate the porridge very slowly, seemingly feeling sickly with no appetite as the nerves once again got the better of my body yet again.

Once I had eventually swallowed as much of the porridge as I could, I made my way back to my room to make final preparations before we would get on a bus which would take us to the west coast of Scotland. From that point there was no turning back. Having packed and checked my race bag several times over, I couldn’t help but worry about the nausea that I felt as I contemplated the challenge that lay ahead. My mental preparation didn’t seem to be going to well. Rejoining my team mates, we got onto the nearest bus and I hoped that the knowledge that there was no return ticket would help settle my nerves. I made nervous small talk as the bus seemingly slithered its was through some of the slowest, windiest roads I had ever experienced. This wasn’t helping.

I also had the urge to go pee, and was greatly relieved when we stopped just off the banks of the world famous Loch Ness to let the athletes do what they had to do. When I got back on the bus the empty bladder and the fresh Highland air seemed to have done the job and I started to feel much better, even managing to take on a little bit of food. I felt slightly more at ease and was able to enjoy the dramatic scenery shrouded in cloud as we approached the location of the start line in wet but not cold conditions.

The journey took around two hours and when we arrived we actually had to walk about a mile to the start line. I was relieved to have arrived and felt ready despite the nervous build up. The excitement was papable as we approached the start line which had been at  the front of the mind everytime I had put my running shoes on or got on the bike. The time to shine was now and wanted to everything I could to help my team mate reach the finish line in under five hours. Any worries about mental and physical weakness had to be put to the back of my mind and forgotten about as I convinced myself that perhaps missing out on some of the right type of training in the build up wouldn’t be a justifiable excuse when we returned to Beauly.

It didn’t take long to arrive at the starting point and final preparations didn’t take long. I was carrying a few energy gels, my trusted digital watch and wore a waterproof around my waist in case conditions became wetter. It wasn’t actually really raining as we jostled through the crowd to find a good starting position, though there was many a muddy puddle on the track. After situating ourselves in the middle of the massive field of competitors, it was a short wait until the staring pistol followed. The aftermath was pandemonium as near 500 runners struggled for position in what surely didn’t seem like an effort which was meant to last at least a few hours.

I was relieved that after the first few kilometers the pace settled down as the field became more spread out, as our team managed to regroup. Most people must have realized by this point that it was best just to tackle the puddles head on as we made our way North-East along the flooded path through the mountains. As we neared the ten kilometer mark the path thinned, resulting in a long line of runners as we approached the first real challenge in the form of a steep climb. However, being in a slow moving line of runners meant it wasn’t too much of a struggle and I began to enjoy the dramatic views as I passed a water station at a waterfall. The atmosphere was adeptly assisted by the mountain rescue helicopter as it roared up and down the valley.

By this point we had become separated and I realized that if we were going to support each other we likely needed to stick together. I waited for the team leader, who was a little way down the incline, at the next water station at the beginning of the descent. In fairness to my other team mate he was waiting for us at the next water station down and was looking to be in better shape than I definitely felt. In that moment I seemed to be suffering from discomfort in my knees, which seemed to get worse as we carried on. This was momentarily forgotten about when my team mate took a nasty fall, explaining that he was suffering from bad cramp, hindering his progress. After looking in absolute agony for a few moments his facial expression changed to one of determination and he was back up on his feet.

As we continued past the halfway point I attempted the difficult task of finding a softer running line than the rocky track to run on, as my knees continued to bother me. Eventually we came to the last few miles of the run, Roshan and I battling pain as I started to feel slightly envious of how content Wilbur’s running style looked. I had been warned about the last section of the run referred to as ‘The Golden Road’. A slow, undulating section on track which for a couple of miles towards the end turned into tarmac was to follow. This was becoming a real challenge, as I counted down the miles to the transition point. My Auntie Marie wasn’t wrong when she told me of her experience of wanting to get on the bike just for a seat, after the 20 miles on foot. I wasn’t comforted by the fact that Roshan had seemingly fallen silent, a unusual occurrence lets say.

I think we were all relieved when we saw all the bikes lined up along the tarmac road. After a few minutes in the transfer zone which was on quite muddy, solid ground, we set off again on our energy sapping journey across the Scottish Highlands. After the first few hundred meters it was even more obvious that Wilbur was in much better form than his two team mates as he ploughed on ahead of us. The first part of cycle was quite technical with some gravel and a rough road surface adding to an already twisting descent. I spent most of the descent focusing on my bike handling skills but Roshan was soon on my tail again as we joined some other riders.

At the bottom of the descent we finally caught up with Wilbur as he slowed to let us catch his back wheel and into his slipstream. This rest from wind resistance didn’t last long as Wilbur sped up again, making it hard to stay on his wheel. As I struggled to stay on his wheel I realized that Roshan had fallen back, and I knew I also had to drop back to help him out. This became a bit of a recurring pattern as Wilbur continue to slow and then sped up when we rejoined his wheel. I can sympathize with this as it is difficult to judge the speed that others are going out when on a bike. On the other hand it was massively frustrating for Roshan and I to watch his back wheel go in and out of sight.

After a while I realised that the best solution for Roshan and I was to stay together and help each other get across the finish line in a time under the elusive five hours. As I pulled him along at a pace which suited us both we came across other riders who had the same idea as us. Though unfortunately these riders’ idea of working together seemed to differ with each individual we encountered. Some riders in a group were happy to give fellow athletes a hand while others seemed more focused on gaining as significant a personal advantage as they could for themselves. This could likely be excused by utter exhaustion which I think we could all sympathise with after four and a bit hours of draining exercise.

The chaotic nature of these groups came to a head when we were almost involved in an accident. As a group of around ten of us blasted down the predominantly flat roads we were met by a car coming towards us. As it became apparent that we needed to make more room for it to pass on our right some sudden maneuverers were made in front of us. I know that I almost became a cropper as I hammered the brakes, avoiding the next riders’ wheel by mere centimeters, exchanging a look and a rude word with Roshan before carrying on a little shaken.

As the cycle went on I began to lose a sense of distance keeping my team mate up to date with the time on my digital watch. Towards the end of the race we were rejoined by Wilbur and were relieved and probably surprised when we saw we were coming to the last corner in a time well under the targeted five hours. After taking the last corner the group of us was lined up like a long sprint lead out as we rode the last mile into Beauly.

Getting cut up by a car and some more questionable mannouveres by other riders couldn’t take the icing of a great day as we all crossed the line around the 4 hours, 40 minutes mark. The pain had been worth it and I was chuffed that I had finished the epic event with a performance I could take pride in. The fact that I had also been there to see Roshan achieve a target which he had held onto for a fair few years was also great and I was pleased that I had contributed in some way.

My legs were shot though a seat and an ice cream soon helped me forget about the aches and pains of the race. However, as I struggled up the stairs to my hotel room the pre race nausea of that morning suddenly returned and  floored me for a couple of hours, meaning I missed the main section of the awards ceremony though was fortunate enough to catch the end of the speeches which thanked the many helpers and supporters of the Highland Cross.

This thanks was the least they deserved as the support and organization of the whole event was top notch, with the money we raised for Highland charities hopefully giving a little back to communities which participated. Hopefully I’ll be back one day!