Pounding Aberdeen’s Pavements with Purpose

Bringing in the distant bells of 2021 atop Creag Choinnich, I felt truly hopeful. I didn’t know what the start of this year would bring, but I did have one definite purpose: To cycle, run and walk 300 miles between New Year’s Day and the 6th February.

It had all started with a message into a family group chat from my Dad. The old man suggested my brother and I join him in logging our miles for the Doddie Aid challenge. This challenge would run throughout January and up until Scotland’s Calcutta Cup clash with England.

He didn’t have to wait long for my reply and I promised to donate a tenth of the miles I completed to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. This is a charity inspired by Scotland rugby stalwart Doddie Weir following his diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease a few years ago.

After we had negotiated the treacherous descent of Creag Choinnich, my Mum and I woke early the next morning, setting off to find the Secret Howff. The location of this secret bothy is meant to be kept secret and we battled through deep snow to find it hidden on an outcrop after a five mile walk in.

At several moments during this mini-adventure I felt the cold ease into my bones. Casually chatting with Mum and glancing at Cora dog’s frozen paws warmed me up pretty quickly though. I had barely seen Mum during 2020 due to the sporadic nature of the previous year. This 10 mile walk had been the perfect sociable beginning to Doddie Aid.

I left the natural beauty of Braemar, three furry companions and my mother behind two days later for Aberdeen, just before another lockdown was announced. I added another nine miles in Upper Deeside to my total and then hopped on a bus. I knew I had to try and keep this momentum going in the Granite City.

I walked everyday, trying to discover route variations between Leah’s flat and mine or wandering down to the beach often in the dark. My phone can’t handle GPS, so every mile was being logged manually with the help of Strava’s routes function. Although this process had a time consuming element to it, I love maps so it wasn’t too testing a task.

My running was steady, if not slightly scattered into intermittent blocks of activity. I had habitual routes, but quickly became obsessed with running along the River Don where it almost felt like I was venturing into the countryside again. If only for a short while, I was able to get away from Aberdeen’s cold grey granite and the unnatural right angles of the city streets.

On two successive Saturdays I jogged to the Bridge of Don from my King Street flat, running a 7.4 mile loop around the River Don and timing myself. When I would return around 90 minutes later I was cold, sweaty and clarted in mud. The air felt fresher by the riverside, the trails fun and the nature more…natural. Those two runs were tough and magical in equal measure.

A difficult aspect of the challenge was the weather, with the mercury often plummeting towards freezing for most of the five weeks. This all but put the kibosh on my plans to brush the cobwebs of my bike. I could have ridden it, but I was admittedly nervous to face a potentially sketchy time in the saddle. I hadn’t ridden my stead for nearly six months following a crash at speed in the summer. I didn’t want to dent my confidence and more importantly my body, more seriously.

My original target of 300 miles would have still been reachable, but I unashamedly let this target go. I just wanted to be on my feet and to continue moving. Figures outside my daily totals began to feel meaningless. I took reassurance in taking every day as it comes.

The walking continued and I began to enjoy this less laboured form of exercise more. Towards the end of January the snow was beginning to deepen in areas of Aberdeenshire, but the city remained predominantly icy and sleety. On the penultimate day of the month I ran to the top of Danestone and found some feeble snow underfoot. Sometimes getting that wee bit of altitude opens up the city for those of us who like to explore its many streets.

On Friday 5th February I ran four easy miles around the beach and went straight into the shower on my return, running late for placement. It was only later that I realised my Doddie Aid total was at 190.4 miles. I stared at this figure for a while, in the knowledge that the day after was the final day of the challenge. Surely I had to try and finish on 200 miles?

And so the next day I set off with a 10 mile route planned out. I plodded towards a ominous sky along the Spital, scrambling across the slippery cobblestones of Aberdeen University’s cobblestones. From there I powered up Gordon Brae, breathlessly ascending this longish hill, before joining Whitestripes Road. On the final day of this personal journey I was finally leaving the city by foot. With a dull football playlist on low volume in the background, I ran with purpose in an easterly direction before turning back towards Dyce.

The Raynaud’s in my gloveless hands kicked in without mercy and the pain of having to clasp my phone became slightly overwhelming as I ran on. Continuing back towards the city, I passed a raging River Don which made me feel colder every time I glanced it. For the first time I was able to inspect the paper mills on the other side of the river in more detail. Running is a brilliant medium for actually experiencing your surroundings.

Eventually I reached Aberdeen’s city limits again. Ascending Great Northern Road I was buoyed by the deafening weekend traffic and the pain in my hands. I felt privileged to be able to run and more pertinently, to be able to use my legs for my own enjoyment at this time in my life.

And so with just hours to spare until kick-off at Twickenham I finished the challenge on 200.4ish miles. As promised I donated £20.04 to My Name’s Doddie and I hope I managed to raise a wee bit of awareness through my activities. It was a good excuse to be out and about for a worthwhile cause.

On a more selfish note, as I sat with my hands buried in a towel trying to get some feeling into them again I felt a huge amount of satisfaction. For some 200 miles in five weeks on foot will be impressive, while for others it will be less so. For me, I was just glad I rediscovered a lost love for running and as it turned out, for walking as well. I had pounded Aberdeen’s pavements with a feeling of purpose for five weeks.

Running is Badass. Period.

While flicking through an issue of Runners World recently I came across images of toned athletic specimens in perfect fitting gear. Beside the images of barely sweating bodies are finely tuned weight loss regimes, 10K training plans and endless lists of foods to avoid.

Although I often envy the kitted out gentlemen in these publications tI have accepted that look isn’t for me. It might be one day, but it isn’t now. This is of course all my decision and I could look amazing if I chose to. I’m just bidding my time before I eventually cut out the digestives from my diet.*

As a man with wide thighs, short legs and a 30-32″ waist, most of my cheap running gear is seemingly either too baggy or tight. This perhaps explaining the multitude of curious looks which I think I receive when running around Aberdeen**, which have been compounded by the recent discovery of a large hole in a pair of my shorts. Not a look I would recommend.

My overthinking mind tells me the looks I receive are either for that or the unusual running style I’ve failed to adapt over the last five years since a p*** in a race told me I was running wrong. To say I was annoyed was an understatement.

Luckily I have come to accept my miss match of risque fashion choices and running style as my own. Running through the city has never really bothered me and it is one of the sole activities which I actually don’t feel socially awkward doing.

Several acquaintances have however, voiced their concern about running in the city. Some prefer the treadmill because they feel self-conscious about being seen on the hoof. Some do run outdoors but will only run at dawn or dusk when there are less people, but more zombies roaming the streets.

Unfortunately, our social media dominated society has suffered memory loss of what is real anymore, searching for a level of perfection which will always be difficult to reach. When I pass someone jogging around Aberdeen instead of judging their running style or studying their image for blemishes of imperfection, I instantly consider them a badass.

If your still concerned about feeling too self-aware then consider these points: 1.) Who put that person in a position to judge a badass like you? 2.) If they are judging you its because they are probably jealous that your a badass you badass. 3.) They are probably sad they will never be a badass.

Quite often I participate in the same formulaic discussions with non-runners or joggers who are unable to hide their incredulity at my most recent activities. They say: “How far did you run today?”.

And I’ll reply: “Just 7K”

And they’ll go “Just 7K?!”, often in a high pitched voice filled with shock and undeserved awe, before making it sound like I make it look easy when the reality was that I was blowing my arse out for most of the run. Almost collapsing at traffic lights as the blood rushes to my head when I come to a halt.

There’s a reason why several of my recent routes have taken me past ARI, climbing Foresterhill Road while dodging buses and ambulances. Running should be as hard as you want it to be, but the faster among us (not me) are most definitely not finding the experience painless when they run a 5K in under 20 minutes.

I guess I want to get across a point to those who see running as a higher playing field which they will never reach. Lots of people will never be keen on running and that is in itself understandle. Running can hurt dude and can sometimes be pretty miserable if your like me and suffer bouts of athletes foot. Many non-runners are also badasses. I’m just stating that in my book putting on some shorts and trainers is a qualifying factor for becoming a badass.

Gyms seem to be very popular places to visit, but I’m personally not a fan. I can understand the appeal for the more dedicated and disciplined or those who don’t like the Scottish weather. I like my exercise outside and in nature, even if that involves running through Northfield, probably not Aberdeen’s equivalent to the Amazon Rainforest or the Alps.

Some see this form of painful physical activity as pointless without a clear purpose. This epitomised by a passer by in Dundee who asked me: “What are you running from?”. That deeply philosophical question keeping me up long into the wee hours of the next morning after I had descended the Law in a state of existential crisis. I hadn’t been able to give him a straight answer on the spot.

On another occasion in the City of Discovery I was offered a lift. A kind yet misplaced offer which clearly showed a lack of understanding around the idea of running for leisure.

If you have never ran before you may find jogging difficult. We all have to start somewhere and it is the recognition that getting over that first hurdle is the hardest part which is a driving force behind my continuous running. I fear starting out again after a period of rest would be too hard.

I guess I just wanted to get across the point that it doesn’t have to be all about fitness, weight or even aiming to look closer to what this society wrongly assumes is aesthetically pleasing. Rain or shine, my running obsession will always be about my mental wellbeing.

The endorphin rush and sense of minor achievement helping me flush out any lasting negativity for a moment. I love the freedom which comes with a pair of trainers and a complimation of old rock songs on Spotify. Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnston has become a recent favourite of mine.

My message is pretty simple. If you want to go for a run or to get fitter then why not try the great outdoors and get some Vitamin D (not assured in Aberdeen). If you prefer the gym there’s nothing wrong with that either. You’re probably still a badass.

If you choose the outdoor version then why not run a 10K at your own pace? Run a mile. Jog for five minutes and then stop. Whatever you do, I swear you’ll look badass.

*Slight hint of sarcasm here for anyone that missed it the first time round.

**Maybe I’m a bit of an egocentrist?

Race Report: Kinloss to Lossiemouth HM

Location: Kinloss & Lossiemouth, Moray

Time: 11:00, 17 February 2019

Distance: 13 miles (approx. 21km)

On Sunday I ran my second half marathon race and was pleased to come away with a Personal Best, running the 13 mile road race in 1:32:35. Achieving this time was especially pleasing because I had failed to PB in the Lumphanan Detox 10K in January.

This was predominantly down to an alcohol fuelled Hogmanay and a lacklustre sleeping schedule in the days before that race. Gladly much less alcohol was consumed in the days leading up to this race, although my sleeping schedule was again slightly out of whack.

On the Saturday night I didn’t sleep very well, though I usually don’t the night before a race. However, I still managed to crawl out of bed at 6.15 am, which was good because race registration closed in Lossiemouth at 9.45 am.

Having this event marked in the calendar in advance, the car, which is owned in my absence by my Mum, was available. As expected the roads were quiet at that time on a Sunday morning and I made good time, arriving in less than two hours.

After registering I joined the other athletes as we were whisked away on buses to the start line in Kinloss. Surprisingly I wasn’t too nervous at the start line, having plenty of time to make the customary pre-race toilet trip.

I hadn’t put too much pressure on myself, as the Edinburgh Marathon is dominating most of my training plans at the moment. Put simply I just wanted to enjoy the race, which was taking place in a nice part of the world.

I often find the first part of the race the most difficult, as it includes a chaotic struggle for positioning and an attempt to find a comfortable pace. Finding a comfortable pace meant I ended up on my own, occasionally being overtaken by faster runners.

The first few miles of the race were ran along quite congested roads, as vehicles struggled to get past the 280 odd competitors. Although breathing in exhaust fumes wasn’t ideal, this is perhaps a sacrifice of designing a course which is fast and flat.

Happily the roads became quieter after Burghead, as the route started to follow the coast line, giving good views of the Moray Firth and the Black Isle. After Burghead, which lay near the halfway point, it wasn’t too long before RAF Lossiemouth and the sprawling town beside it came into view from the top of a slight incline.

After a long final few miles I crossed the finish line. During the race I hadn’t recorded my progress so had no idea which time I had run. I was more glad to have reached the finish than concerned about whether I had achieved a Personal Best.

I had a feeling I had ran a slow time, so was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that had been my fastest half marathon. A big thanks has to go to Moray Road Runners for organising and I would definitely be keen to return next year.

 

 

 

 

Lumphanan Detox 10K 2018

With the festive period coming to a close, there seemed no better option than to make the short journey down the Deeside valley to the village of Lumphanan to participate in the aptly named “Detox” race. After a lull in my running addiction in recent weeks, this seemed the perfect opportunity to create a benchmark at the start of a new year. This challenging 10K race is the only one that is nailed down in my calendar and it has always been a family affair, even before I debuted on the hilly, muddy and often weather beaten course four years ago.

With my grandmother’s house located along the last kilometre of the race, it often feels like any family members who are competing have been gifted their own personal fan club. This year there was three of us taking part, with my mother and Auntie braving the cold,wet conditions to get their year’s of to a good start. We were also joined by my Auntie’s partner, a strong runner from the local club, Deeside Runners and three of Braemar’s finest, often labelled as the ‘Triplets’ for obvious reasons. These three siblings would act as a personal motivator. If I could finish before, or simply keep one of them in my sites for the whole race I would be pleased.

All of the above including other extended family including my brother, Auntie Claire, Uncle Mark and my three cousins descended on my Grandmother’s house, as the air buzzed with nervous energy and anticipation as the runners amongst us prepared to feel the burn. As we jogged the few hundred meters down to the start line, I started to visual the route in my head, taking in the atmosphere of a quiet rural community which had been enlivened by the arrival of 450 so runners.

Beginning in a grass park in the centre of the village, the often chaotic start to the race was quickly interrupted by a tough mile long incline leading up a minor road averaging just under 6%. A good warm up and often many people’s least favorite part of the route for obvious reasons. After this climb competitors are rewarded by a long descent which continues almost uninterrupted for the next three kilometers, before becoming more gradual, eventually taking the form of a flat incline.

The course creator then throws a spanner in the works for the road runners amongst the field with a challenging two kilometre section along a often icy and always very muddy farm track, before rejoining the main road resulting in a fast finish to agonizingly close to the finish line. With the line in site the route takes you away from the award for your efforts, with a painful 300 metre loop around a housing estate to ensure you’ve done your ten kilometers.

With this mind we entered the village hall and collected our race numbers, discussing how many layers should be worn and what footwear would be best. That morning I had taken a risk and decided to wear my ‘innovates’ or “mudblasters” as I liked to call them. These were ultra grippy shoes and this being Scotland in January it was a reasonable guess to think that there would be lots of mud and ice along the route.

The downside was that they didn’t have a very thick sole and weren’t really that well suited to road running, increasing risk of injury through impact. Having needed three stitches in my knee in muddy conditions a few months previously it was a risk I was willing to take.

Soon enough 11am rolled around and the usual struggle to decide where to place myself amongst the relatively large field took place. I wanted to be quite near the front, but realised with the first runner likely to come in up to ten minutes before yours truly that I needed to choose were to stand with a note of modesty. I also felt the pressure of the ‘Triplets’ taking part in their first ‘Detox’ looking to me in terms of where they should position themselves. All I had to do was stay with one of them…..

The struggle for position continued after the starting pistol had been fired, with a frantic and totally uncontrolled (pacing wise) start. The hill climb was first on the menu and I kept an eye on one of the ‘Triplets’ as the legs started to burn. As the climb winded upwards, I pulled alongside my target and we shared a breathless greeting. Team Braemar was on the move and it was great to feel a bit of companionship as the pain continued.

When we reached the summit of this first challenge, he pulled away and I was overtaken by the usual suspects who I had overtaken on the ascent but were much faster on fast rolling descents. Continuing on to the flat I managed to catch my companion again as I encouraged him to try and catch his brother that just about remained in our eye line.

This section on a south facing road is notorious for there being a headwind and I took off my lucky green hat, worried that it was going to blow away. Passing the halfway water station I managed to wish an old school mate a Happy New Year before reaching the infamous mud fest which was the farm track.

With some slight ice patches this is my least favorite part of the course, as we plodded on through the mud, returning to the tarmac after what felt like an age. From there the fellow Braemarian and I were neck and neck, getting a big cheer as we reached the fan base at my Grandmother’s house. It was the final short descent that made the difference as my speed was again highlighted as something to work on. My go to excuse is that I have short legs.

Finishing a place behind the ‘Triplet’ I felt like death for about a minute before making queries about my time. That had been tough and I knew that my fitness levels hadn’t been particularly high entering the New Year. I reckoned I had ran it in around 45 minutes but was pleased to find out that I had ran a 42:20.

Not a PB but not too far off and I felt more confident that my running was in a better place than it had been previously. It was a successful day for Team Braemar and my Auntie Marie and Mother both ran across the finish line in 46:34 and 58:24 respectively. A good day for all involved and if able to run next time around I have no doubt I will be making my sixth appearance at the 2019 ‘Lumphanan Detox’.