Running Diaries – The River Don Trail

On an afternoon of icy rain in Aberdeen I found temporary shelter under the arching Diamond Bridge. This is the third Don crossing, a structure completed in 2016 which connects the housing estates of Danestone and Middleton Park with the city centre.

Five miles into a nine mile run and the bridge was offering little respite from the biting cold. My hands were damp and almost numb. Despite this, I was most definitely in my happy place.

I scanned my surroudings. The River Don looked heavy from rainfall and snowmelt from the Eastern Cairngorms, 70 odd miles upstream. The thought of the icy water made me shiver.

For the last two years I’ve enjoyed following the river’s journey through Aberdeen on foot, switching between its north and south banks in different combinations. For a country lover like me, the area surrounding the Don isn’t too distant from a rural setting.

Monday’s muddy scramble had began by shadowing the river at Persley Bridge, a workmanlike crossing which carries the A92 as it heads North-East. The surroundings hadn’t been too glamorous for the beginning of this mini-adventure but I didn’t mind.

Separated by a roundabout, a sewage works sits across from the two storey Danestone Tesco store complete with massive car park. However, it was a steep embankment beside a Bannatyne gym that started my journey down the Don proper, leading me onto the path to Danestone Country Park.

On entering the park I had crossed the Bridge of Wellies. As my name for it suggests, this is a bridge with dozens of Wellies clinging to its fencing. Each welly boot contains a plant as part of a local initiative to brighten up the otherwise barren country park.

The Bridge of Wellies which crosses the Grandholm Mill Lade.

The path then distances itself from the river, but on Monday I turned back on myself and onto an always slippery slope. In my opinion, it isn’t really trail running if there aren’t some slips and trips. This time was no different and I soon had a mud splattered knee.

This excursion led me right down to the riverside for the first time and onto a more technical path. Careful attention has to be paid here to not tripping over a large tree root and headfirst into the Don’s dark waters. I’ve accidentally dunked myself in the River Dee at Kincardine O’Neil previously, but I think I’d rather fall in there for obvious reasons.

Across the water from this section is the Woodside sports pitches where I last attended a rugby match. That was in March last year, while on reporting duties as Aberdeenshire narrowly defeated Ross Sutherland.

Meanwhile, the trail meanders around trees with more lethal roots and stingy nettles in abundance. This is what a trail runner cooped up in a concrete jungle longs for.

Across the river from the Woodside Sports Complex.

This section soon gaive way to the cobble stoned Grandholm Avenue which leads to a complex of houses, shops and a care home. There are options here to cross a narrow girder bridge and tackle a cobbled ascent into Tillydrone. I personally prefer the muddy route to Diamond Bridge where I then crossed over onto the river’s south bank.

Between the Third Don Crossing and Seaton Park is an impressive Archimedes Screw and an island which seems to be permanently closed off despite there being a small wooden bridge across to it.

After my break under the Diamond Bridge, I had passed both these landmarks and traversed a short section of trail on boardwalk before reaching Seaton Park. This is a particularly picturesque area of the Granite City, especially when the sun shines and a plethora of flowers start to blossom in the summer months.

On Monday, the path towards Brig of Balgownie could be compared to a slip n slide. In my road runners I struggled to gain much grip with the path gaining altitude as it passed the prison like Hillhead student halls.

This exceedingly muddy section comes to an end at the scenic of Brig of Balgownie. Originally built in the 14th century, this bridge would have been the primary crossing across the Don in the locality for many years.

Night falls at the Brig O’Balgownie.

Addicted to polished running statistics and Strava segments, I used to foolishly view stopping for breaks during a run as almost a cardinal sin. Since moving away from Strava as a platform however, I now always ensure I include a moment or two of respite here. I watch the river flow lazily downstream and under the much newer Bridge of Don towards the nearby Donmouth Nature Reserve.

Just upstream from the Brig an ordinarily small trickle down the side of a steep drop sometimes becomes a majestic waterfall following a period of heavy rainfall. It cascades down from just below Balgownie Road and into the Don.

Crossing the river again here, its didn’t take long to reach Ellon Road. Often this is where I bid farewell to the river, returning to the realities of the bustling city. On other occasions I venture slightly further and into the small sand dunes of the Donmouth, the quieter side of the river’s completion point where there are often more seals than people.

On this occasion I ventured no further, flying down King Street. My hands reminded me that my poor circulation had taken a hammering. The ensuing discomfort of thawing them out in the flat is always worth it if there is mud and trails involved.

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?

A Crash Related Ramble

Never do I feel so confident as when I’m going great guns on a bike or tearing down a technical hill side like an ungraceful mountain goat, just about managing to keep my balance. Those moments are blissfully rare insights into a fantasy life which could resemble total self-belief while anxiety remains absent.

Reality does however bite when I dismount my bike or fling of my trail shoes. With this in mind, I hold those blissful moments before with added value. Only now as I relapse through a period of being anxious about those very activities do I realise how significant a role they play in my quality of life.

A wide spectrum of situations will undoubtedly make different individuals anxious and for me personally there are many. Public speaking, meeting strangers, driving in the city and visiting the dentist to name just a few.

Many of my anxieties need to be overcome if I’m serious in the long term about becoming a journalist or to indeed enjoy a good quality of life. And in truth many of them have been overcome several times. But life isn’t that simple unfortunately. So often its a case of one step backwards to make two steps forward and I’ve come to accept that.

Feeling anxious about an activity you’ve held as a remedy to detrimental mental health though? That’s a bit tougher to accept.

For so long riding a bike has been the love hate relationship which I’ve always enjoyed coming back to. I can’t exactly pinpoint my first experience on two wheels, but I can almost create the images in my head of a chubby blonde haired four-year-old on a bike with oversized stabilisers.

Likely pushed along gently by an incredibly patient parent or grandparent until eventually reaching that pleasing moment when I could ride unassisted. Sounds of encouragement coming thick and fast as I wobbled along at a snail’s pace.

Fast forward 20 years and the bowl haircut is gone, replaced by an even more horrendous hair style. This time inflicted by yours truly in a late night cider fuelled haircut session with some full sized scissors and a sink full of damp hair.

On a more serious note, that came last week when my anxiety felt as out of control as my ever growing lockdown mullet. Cutting my hair, however poorly, felt like one of the only things I could control on a visual level.

My legs are also thankfully stronger nowadays and I’m able to propel myself along at a much faster pace, thanks in part to getting rid of the stabilisers. Unfortunately however, in another addition to a comedy of errors I discovered I maybe still needed them.

It had been a surprisingly warm June day after the week previous had proved there isn’t really a Scottish Spring weather wise. It just seems to jump straight from winter to summer. Must be a baptism of fire for those poor calves and lambs.

Anyway, on a pretty depressingly unproductive day last week I decided to brush of the cobwebs, aiming for a wee spin out to Linn O’Dee. I wanted to add a few mild evening miles to the cyclometer. I wanted something, however small, to show for when I lay my head on my pillow later that evening.

I sped up to the Linn O’Dee Bridge, brushing past a father and son with an arrogant greeting as I sped past. I felt like Bradley Wiggins if he had a shit hairdo and no side burns.

I felt so good I decided to extend my ride slightly to the Linn O’Quoich. A car park further down the road heading back east where the tarmac comes to an end.

The road was unsurprisingly devoid of traffic and pedestrians until I glanced a couple leaning on their grey vovlo after reaching the brow of a slight hill. On seeing a potential crowd to my incredible Tour de France cycling skills, I decided my gratification levels needed an unnecessary boost.

As an inconsistent user of Strava and social media in general, I feel like I don’t look for that gratification and justification quite enough. Even if I guiltily concluded recently that this very blog is also seemingly often geared towards lazily gaining those two elements.

And so I hit the accelerator, pummelling my way down the other side of the slight incline, imagining I was time trialling.

Suddenly I wasn’t peddling anymore. There was no saddle beneath my lycra cladded buttocks. I lay sprawled on the tarmac, my long suffering bike slightly mangled beside me as a sat like a startled ugly deer for a split second. I had crashed good and proper.

Regaining some sense quickly, I leapt to my feet praying that the nearby couple hadn’t seen my wee incident. There prayers weren’t answered.

“Are you alright?”, asked the woman as I followed her voice to see the concerned Volvo owners giving me discerning looks from a safe distance. Fuck.

My go to response was nervous humour as I tried to mount my poor bicycle with some urgency. I joked about the number one rule of crashing being to always crash with an audience, before quickly realising my front brakes were jammed.

While fixing it I noticed the blood pouring profusely from my left knee and found some solace in my right knee’s rare avoidance of harm in an accident. I was likely fairly lucky not to break anything. Especially after coming down at some speed.

Instead of the fulfilment I’d hoped I would have felt after my ride, I spent the rest of that evening cleaning my wounds and trying to figure out why I’d so unexpectedly ended up on the tarmac.

Only once previously had I bailed from a road bike. That occasion being seven years ago and occurring in an almost comically controlled and deliberate manner. A swinging tractor’s trailer resulting from a mistimed overtaking attempt forced me to fall into a soft verge in slow motion.

There hadn’t even been any bruises that day and it hadn’t at all discouraged me from going out and doing the same the next day. This time however, was different.

This time there had been no obvious risks. I was sure I hadn’t pulled my brakes and the accident had taken place on a fairly straightforward section of road. Perhaps a pine cone laid by an evil squirrel had been the culprit. Maybe my front brake had jammed before the crash, but this seemed difficult to explain if I hadn’t touched the lever.

A week on and my bruises are now healing well and I’ve realised this crash shouldn’t have really been that big a deal. Yet, I also realised I’m now worrying about my recurring cure for worry. That in itself is worrying!

Forgivable confusion from that last statement aside and I’ve now suitably recovered from my bruising encounter with the tarmac. I’ve left the bike and its buckled wheel alone for the moment and am focusing on the running.

After saying I would, I eventually made it up the mighty Morrone on Tuesday and plan to do the same tomorrow after laying low for the last few days.

Hopefully I’ll be back on the bike soon. Able to banish any nervousness which comes with riding it. Wish me luck!

 

 

Weekly Ramblings

Issue 9 – Wednesday 10th June

The Good

A slightly late Weekly Ramblings comes to you from a fifth week of lockdown spent in a slightly colder and cloudier Braemar. Later this morning I’ll be leaving the village to perform a socially distant visit of my Granny with my brother.

Armed with muffins, I’ll be taking Dad’s diesel Mitsibushi on a proper spin for the first time after embarrassingly being unable to figure out how to pop the fuel cap open earlier last week.

Apparently the car itself is slightly top heavy, meaning I’ll have to take the many corners between here and Ballater with care. This week it was finally given its MOT and is now road ready. I just need to remember it takes unleaded? No, diesel!

This week has also seen less lycra action out with a weetabix fuelled ride over Glenshee on Thursday in unseasonably cold temperatures. That ride definitely doesn’t rank as being one of the more enjoyable ones.

Indeed, neither was it one of my finest moments as I often loudly cursed the existence of a moderate North-Westerly wind all the way home.

As always though, there was a recognisable overriding feeling of achievement after completing a Rule Five ride for the first time in a while. More obviously enjoyable at the  however, has been my strive to find my hill running legs again.

Starting of relatively small, I’ve started going further and finding some more challenging climbs to test myself on. The Morrone Birkwood and forest beyond it has proved a good testing ground, with a multitude of climbs amidst colourful heather providing a strong backdrop to several outings now.

Next week I’ll be targeting a rare attempt at Morrone Hill itself and lets hope the Old Women of Winter doesn’t leave me needing temporary stitches in my knee this time. I’ll also be attempting once again to improve my poor diet habits in the hope of making the load I need to carry with me up the Corbett a bit lighter.

The Bad

In order to avoid making this segment a weekly rant, I’ll try and cut to the chase as quick as possible. As the title of this segment suggests that alone can be difficult for me at times.

On Thursday evening I sent a letter to the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie. Within the short-ish (for me anyway) essay I asked Mr Bowie about his views on: (a) The Black Lives Matter Movement and its significance in his constituency.

(b) What he thought about Donald Trump’s dangerous and perverse reaction to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests in his country.

(c) Whether he would be willing to call out cases of institutionalised racism in the House of Commons.

Now there has yet to be a reply, but I want to give my local Westminster representative the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe he’s been flooded by similar letters and is replying to them when he can. Maybe my email landed in his spam folder.

I also realise he’s likely been heavily involved in the political response to the Covid-19 outbreak, amongst other localised and national issues. It is therefore unfair to locate Mr Bowie in this week’s bad section purely for his failure to reply to my email.

Although, I would be interested to find out how many of those who have written to their local MPs have received a reply. Perhaps an Instagram poll later in the week will provide a vague idea of their response to those who did put pen to paper.

That being said, I have been slightly irked by the general response amongst Conservative Mps (and others) to the growing movement behind Black Lives Matter. This response from some MPs local to Aberdeenshire seems to be either pretty meagre or actually focused on choosing a different issue of the here and now.

This issue being the violence which has been perceived as marring the UK based protests. Protests which have been largely peaceful, with the tearing down of statutes and defacing of others being widely reported.

At this point let’s be clear. In no way I’m I defending the vandalising of the Cenotaph, an important war memorial to those who bravely fought and died for this country.

Instead, I’d suggest that many who have a political platform and a clear voice aren’t doing enough to back this pivotal movement and the toxic rhetoric and behaviour of those who still base suppression on a person’s skin colour.

Its arguably easier to discuss violence on the streets and protest related social disorder rather than attempting to tackle an ugly racist undercurrent within our society. I just feel this isn’t a time to pick and choose issues.

Some have clearly decided to give more airtime to the unfortunate and indeed, unforgivable incidents where British police officers have been harmed. They seem to have given this issue prominence over the systematic killing of black people at the hands of American police for generations. This to me seems slightly puzzling, if not a tad inconsistent.

The Ugly

My hair is pretty ugly right now, floating between a poor attempt at a surfer dude and a 1980’s lower league footballer. Getting a haircut is definitely one of the items on the post-lockdown priorities list.

A slightly ugly scenario also played out on Tuesday’s run when an oyster catcher became anxious about the threat a bedraggled bandanna sporting runner poised to its nearby nest.

Running down towards the Games Park I was suddenly bombarded by a flood of bird shit. This being accompanied by several rounds of good old fashioned dive bombing.

Although, this was an unnerving run in, my similar experience with a buzzard in a field a few years ago was definitely more intimidating. During that encounter I could feel the bird of prey breathing down my neck as I breathlessly sprinted towards the nearby trees. I will however, consider an alternative route next time for the angry oyster catcher’s benefit.

Hoping that this relatively harmless bird anecdote has distracted you from the slightly politicised section beforehand its time to go and fill up the car. I realise I’ve broken my unwritten rule of not being political on this blog, but I hope you realise these are unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone.

 

Up eh Road

Before setting out on my long-suffering Cannondale bicycle last week I first delved into my inconsistent Strava history. Strava for those unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately out of the loop, is an app which provides a relatively detailed account of how far or fast you have gone on a ride or a run.

According to my run-dominated profile, my lonely steed hadn’t been ridden for at least seven months, which is likely a long time in bike years. So, when considering how to keep my restless legs entertained during lockdown I decided to boldly go where my legs hadn’t been for a while.

The first two ventures on my bike didn’t take me far from home. This was partly due to the lockdown restrictions, but mostly because my runner legs weren’t pleased with this foreign activity. My backside was also displeased at taking an unacquainted battering from a hard road bike saddle.

Pressing on from unfortunate innuendos however, and I want to put a positive spin (see what I did there) on these two 30-mile cycles. Despite some unfortunate gearing issues and the incessant wind which seemingly blows down the two valleys which define Braemar’s environs, I could still ride a bike. That in itself was pleasing.

Next on the agenda was to discover whether yours truly and a mistreated 2014 Cannondale could tackle a good old-fashioned hill. Setting out on another planned local ride to Fraser’s Bridge and around to the Linn of Quoich, I climbed carefully out of the village and towards Glenshee Ski Centre. My unambitious plan was to turn off well before the climb at the top of the valley, taking a U-turn along the rough and bumpy golf course road and back into the village.

After riding for ten minutes into a slight headwind, the crossing over the 18th century crossing over the River Clunie came into sight. I looked up from my unprofessional position on my bike and caught a glimpse of wild lands which lay beyond. It was mild yet dull morning and low cloud enveloped the summits of munros such as Cairn an Tuirc, amongst others which I knew surrounded the nearby ski centre.

The right turn never came, and I could almost hear my brain arguing with my legs. If I wanted an insight into any leftover climbing resolve from last summer this was a primary opportunity. Though in all honesty, the climb up to the popular snow sports destination wasn’t actually that steep. I reckon it must average a 5-6% gradient from the Sean Spittal Bridge and its non-descript layby.

That is where I’d argue the climb begins good and proper for just over two kilometres. This is where you say goodbye to the valley floor and your hopes and dreams. It is a lesser climb from Fraser’s Bridge up until that point and can be a struggle in the prevailing south-westerly which consistently blows down Glen Clunie.

Passing through the barren landscape of very few trees and an occasional uninterested sheep, I finally reached the bottom of the climb. The wind dropped as a shifted down the gears. This was the moment of truth. Could I still climb?

The answer is complicated. Breathlessly slugging my way past the desolate ski centre with its deserted café and chairlifts, I eventually reached the ‘Welcome to Perth & Kinross’ sign (pictured).

The last stretch of the hill had been the most challenging, as I struggled to find a suitable gear on my worn-out chain set. Perhaps its worth pointing out here there often isn’t a correct gear. Climbing in granny gear is still unlikely to be an enjoyable affair for the mere cider guzzling student amateur.

I had however, survived the dreaded climb, also avoiding any serious incident on the steep descent back into the valley. Now I just need to pluck up the courage to tackle the other side as well. But’s that can be for another week…or month.

Two Different Types of Lockdown

It was 17 days ago that I dragged the last item of my student belongings through the door of my Aberdeen flat. My mood was rather sombre as I carried my annoying elephant costume, which I regret ever purchasing, and placed it beside the dusty staircase. Having said my final goodbyes to my Jamaica Street accommodation, I turned the keys in the door for the final time.

The nine months I spent there had been for the most part enjoyable, but with the semester coming to an abrupt close and the other complicated outcomes of a global pandemic to consider, I realised it was time to move on.

Indeed, I hadn’t actually inhabited my flat since the nationwide lockdown began following Boris Johnson’s 8pm speech on the 16th March. I watched the announcement in my girlfriend’s flat and decided to stay there, being fortunate enough to isolate with company. A luxury many haven’t been so lucky to enjoy over the last 57 days.

During the first five weeks of the unprecedented restrictions I spent a ludicrous amount of time watching boats manoeuvre in the nearby harbour. This rather than focusing on a challenging, but doable web design project. I even became excited about witnessing the Northern Isles ferry’s arrival and departure on its reduced Covid-19 timetable. Sometimes the small things in life can keep you mildly entertained.

Throughout those first few weeks I lived for my daily opportunity to experience the outdoors, predominantly taking a liberating run down to the often-blustery beach. Often the limited exercise would be reduced to a short trip to the shops to buy essentials and cider. The cider likely negating much of the good work being done through the regular running.

Journeys to the supermarket where anxious affairs with many audible sighs being heard as customers grumbled at other customer’s apparent lack of adherence to the new social distancing precautions. At first, I was disappointed by the absence of patience, before quickly realising that some of these aggrieved customers were likely key workers, experiencing high stress in their jobs.

I was also admittedly irked by a gentleman in the queue one day who was standing so unnaturally close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.

Out with the organised chaos of Morrisons and days of warm spells were spent cooped up inside, with no garden to inhabit. The lack of a green area is of course a common feature of most Aberdeen flats and therefore, an extremely minor issue.

When it comes down to it, I know I have been fortunate to have company and to lead a lifestyle in relative safety. These considerations are likely why I hated myself for beginning to become jaded with my city surroundings by the start of the fourth week of pandemic restrictions.

My longing for a bit of greenery was fulfilled by runs around to the Girdle Ness lighthouse at Nigg Bay, gaining a picturesque view back across Aberdeen. This accompanied by short but breathless efforts up the steep Broad Hill beside Pittodrie Stadium.

I guiltily missed the countryside which lay just outside mu current concrete jungle surroundings. Again, this being offset by the company I was enjoying.

Though ironically, I now find myself in the countryside again, returning to Braemar after my girlfriend and her flatmate opted in for the NHS as students. With the tables turned I realised I should move-out, wanting to decrease the risk of cross-infection for her. I also realised that I would likely not see my girlfriend in the flesh for another several weeks.

It was also time to depart the flat as the unpredictability of the future effects of Covid-19 made me hesitant in agreeing to a lease into next semester and beyond. It was a Friday evening when I gathered all of my belongings into an overladen Vauxhall Corsa and made my way back up the valley.

I would be joining my family in lockdown and hoping that I wasn’t breaking lockdown rules by moving to a new house. I had already set out a two-week self-isolation period which meant avoiding the village.

The journey along the length of Deeside was dark and uneventful. I happened across a couple of buses and five police cars travelling eastwards, but otherwise the roads were spookily quiet. I remained convinced until I reached the confides of the Pass of Ballater that I would be pulled over by a rightfully inquisitive bobby.

Resting up that evening and considering my new quieter surroundings without the pleasant company of my girlfriend, I awoke the next morning to the almost foreign sound of birds singing. Having inhabited rural village settings for around 18 of my 21 unproductive years on this planet I’ve been lucky enjoy this sound of nature along with the eerie hoots of owls in recent nights.

Indeed, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a rural lockdown and an urban lockdown are two quite different prospects. The day after my return to village life I went for a run in the nearby woods, uninterrupted by vehicles or over socially distant pedestrians. It was hugely enjoyable despite the missing presence of some who I hold closest.

There are of course many who don’t experience living in the countryside are prefer inhabiting a concrete jungle. For me, gaining a taste of lockdown in the city made me realise how much of a luxury sitting in a garden at a time like this is.

Race Report – Highland Cross 2019

The word ouch can be used to describe any race which I have previously taken part in. The Lumphanan Detox. Ouch. In fact it could be used in many different contexts in my day to day life.

Going over the handlebars on my bike and hitting my head. Ouch. Having my homework thrown into the bin by my IT teacher in a very public display when I was 15. Not forgiven or forgotten Mrs R. Ouch.

Even my easy run today in the sun was pretty sore at some points. However, there is no other word that so aptly sums up this year’s Highland Cross. It hurt. A lot.

My preparations for my third crossing hadn’t been ideal ( getting the excuses in early). I had struggled to train consistently and was gutted that I had decided to sit out the Edinburgh Marathon in May due to a lack of miles in the legs.

In the weeks leading up to the 50 mile duathalon I’d also struggled with the old foot injury which has occasionaly caused some bother for me since running became a hobby. It was touch and go as to whether I would be on the start line in Morvich, but luckily I recovered in the few days before the event. Phew.

This year the set up was different. Our team was composed of My Mum, Auntie Marie and yours truly. It was an absolute family affair and we were all staying in Inverness on the Friday night before.

As usual I didn’t sleep. The seagulls seemingly circled my Holiday Express room window as I tossed and turned throughout the mild summer solstice night.

I wasn’t however, anywhere near as anxious as I had felt before the Cross during the previous two years. I knew what to expect. I knew it was going to be tough.

The next morning I managed to  bypass the usual sickness which made eating difficult and had some porridge around 6.30am after seeing Mum off. She would be walking the route before hopping on her bike for the last 30 miles. This had been tempting as I stressed about my (lack of) fitness in the seven days previous.

Travelling with Marie and Stuart, who was participating as part of another team, we hopped on a bus at Beauly bound for the West Coast.

The journey lasted around two hours as we arrived near Morvich after travelling through some stunning scenery on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh. The rugged mountains, lochs and glorious sunshine acted as a good distraction from thinking about the pain which was now just around the corner.

At 11:00am a gunshot sent us off in a mad scramble for position during the first few miles of double track before the climbs started in earnest. I took it fairly easy, knowing I didn’t have the endurance to sustain such a fast pace that early on.

The heroics could be saved for the last few miles of the run when I thought it likely I’d have to dig deep. And man did I have to dig deep.

After 15 miles of endulating and challenging running I set foot on the Yellow Brick Road. A section of track which is always a struggle as I carried my tired body over seemingly endless track and then tarmac. I was desperate for the transition point to come into view.

I was desperate to get on my bike as my legs tried to convince me to stop. This Yellow Brick Road may not lead to the Emerald City, but it does provide the 700+ runners and walkers with a certain degree of courage.

Knowing the course relatively well this year was both a bonus and a curse as I found myself getting ahead of myself at some points. This meant some sections felt like a drag, albeit through some stunning Highland scenery. I shouldn’t complain really but the run was tough.

Eventually the transition point came into view as I uttered a celebratory “thank f***”. It sounds weird, but I just needed a seat. Even if that seat would be on an uncompromising bike saddle for nearly 30 miles. I don’t just wear lycra shorts to be fashionable you know.

At the transition point the staff, as always, were amazingly helpful as an older man held my bike as I changed my shoes and put my helmet on. He said some encouraging words as I set off down the twisty descent which begins the second leg of the crossing.

It was on this technical descent that I lost concentration and nearly came off on a nasty corner. That had been the second squeaky bum time moment of the day after I stumbled during the run.

Fortunately I was able to correct before I landed in a ditch at speeds in excess of 30mph. Once again, I’d been lucky.

Carrying on towards Beauly I was able to slipstream for a while before riding away from the competitors I had been working with in a short lived chaingang. My legs started to fail me on the last few short climbs as I struggled to stay focused on completing the last few miles towards the finish line.

My motivation wasn’t to beat my best time as by this point I was pretty sure this was now unattainable. Instead, my main motivation was finishing.

The extra motivation being that my girlfriend had travelled to Beauly especially to see me. Even after  had warned her about the lycra. Ultimately, this kept me going as waves of low blood sugar infused nausea and pain washed over me. Ouch.

As I tentatively rounded the last bend into Beauly my main concern was an unusual one. I knew I’d now finish and hopefully in a decent enough time.

Instead, I was concerned I would throw up the content of my breakfast when I arrived in the square. For this reason I was really hoping Leah wasn’t standing beside the finish line.

Fantastically my wish wasn’t granted and I was welcomed across the line by a beaming Leah who gave me a big hug before I wondered through the crowds to receive my medal. I had survived another year and hadn’t thrown up in front of my girlfriend and the other spectators. Life was good.

A flat coca cola later, and my nausea was gone as I watched Marie finishing in a decent time. Our team had done well as I unfortunately missed Mum coming in.

Mum had also done brilliantly as I met her after the event, interrupting her from a very messy but well deserved chocolate eating session. There must be something good in Granny Helen’s soup.

All in all it was another great crossing and I would love to return next year, perhaps with the same team if they can convince themselves to face the tough challenge which is the Highland Cross. Ouch.

Distance: 48 miles (77 km)

Time: 4:33:07

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Rambling

Issue 7 – Monday 4 March 2019

The Good

As the days gradually get longer and 2019 continues to speed past at lightening pace, the last days of the month felt very unlike February. With temperatures hitting 16 degrees in the Granite City it felt more like June at times this week.

However, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures us brave Scots carried on like usual, perhaps with a little less moaning. Though, if you want to moan about the relentless double figure heat then worrying about climate change might be a good start. Is that too political? I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, this meant I was able to cycle to uni with a shirt and shorts on, feeling the light breeze ruffle through my hair as I rode up Holburn Street and into the sunset. Well, actually onto Union Street, a danger zone of buses, buses and more buses. But I’ll get onto that a bit later.

The cycling has been mostly good though, being much more preferable to sitting in class drenched in sweat after running the three miles to Garthdee. I’m a runner by the way. No instead I just sit in class drenched in sweat with a bike helmet on my desk now.

I think the problem is I never take it easy, meaning I sweat buckets even when just sitting on a bike saddle for a short time. Swerving in and out of bus lanes and traffic at speed can be a fun but terrifying way of getting to uni cheaper faster and for less than the bus.

I’ve actually found this week I’ve been doing less running which is going in this section of this week’s rambling. Granted I would usually see this as a negative, but I think for a while I’ve been over training with little rest days. I have a big run planned this week when I head up to Braemar on Wednesday so I’ll how that goes.

In other news, there was no rugby so that was good. If you read last week’s rambling you may have the impression I’m a tad fed up of Scottish promise fade painfully away. Lets ignore my rant from last week though.

I think we’ll come good again as there’s nothing which works better than some good old Scottish optimism. The best and one of the perhaps rarest types of optimism in existence. I will admit it was a relief to not worry about the Wales game just yet though.

Attempting to ramble about something else than sport, I dressed up on Friday night as a character from ‘Grease’. You know the one with the leather jacket and the stupid hair? Danny! That one.

That’s right I actually went out shopping for something other than alcohol and food, venturing to TX Max (other stores are available) and putting about half a litre of gel in my hair. It was for a costume party my flat mate was holding and I think I just about pulled off the…Danny…Zuko (I have to keep searching his name) look, so I was pretty pleased with myself.

And don’t worry there was a Sandy there as well, but she didn’t need a man and I’m in pretty good shape already. I’ve only seen the film once but I admit I’ve heard the song a few times. You could say its catchy, but you could also say it hasn’t aged that well. I’d be tempted to say both.

The Bad

I was feeling pretty optimistic this week so there isn’t too much bad to report on. I think that’s the way the penny falls for me sometimes. I often feel the way I view my life at certain moments is often based more on my attitude than things which have actually happened to me. This is of course not always true, but I think is something which is perhaps important for me to remember.

Reminiscing about my time at school often brings back good memories of fun moments had with some great friends that I met there. This week while struggling to get a grasp of certain areas of my coursework I was reminded of some classes which I had on my black list at school.

This was a mental note of classes which I dreaded attending. Being someone who isn’t that technical, IT class was at the very top of this list. I was reminded of this while struggling to understand the Digital Media area my course which involves lots of very technical terms and knowledge of the internet.

I was reminded of a horrible moment when I prepared a piece of work for my IT teacher who after taking it of my desk threw it in the bin, claiming I must have copied it from the internet because I didn’t have the intelligence to write what had been typed up on the sheet of paper. That was low.

However, such memories are now desolate and of course unhelpful. My dream is to become a journalist and that means trying my very best when tackling the coursework. A struggle it may be but this time its only my own negativity and lack of self-belief which is a hurdle. I can definitely become a more technical person. I know its in me somewhere…

The Ugly

Cycling in the city can be dangerous. Very dangerous. I know this sounds like an obvious statement, but for someone who has spent their cycling years on rural back roads like yours truly, Aberdeen’s roads can be quite frightening sometimes.

When I first started riding the three miles to RGU I would take a longer, winding route, cycling down to Duthie Park before using the Deeside Way to take me as close to the university as possible.

Recently I have taken to cycling the faster route, perhaps out of curiosity, laziness, stupidity or a combination of all three. Union Street is seemingly the issue as bendy buses weave in and out of bus lanes, surrounded by a steady flow of traffic.

Before you accuse me of hypocrisy, I realise taking the bus is better for the environment than driving your car to which ever exciting Aberdeen destination you are trying to get to. I just think long bendy buses don’t mix that well with cyclists that’s all.

For me this problem is easily solved as I will just return to cycling the longer way to uni this coming week. I realise that means that last section was a pretty pointless ramble then, which makes it a fitting place to conclude my rambling for this week.

Weekly Rambling

Issue 6 – Monday 25 February 2019

The Good

The last week seems to have gone past very quickly so maybe this will be a slightly shorter weekly update. Here’s hoping it is less of a rambling mess than usual.

So once again the last seven days have been pretty good. Not as good as last week because Scotland were playing rugby, but momentarily forgetting about that, its been a good week.

On Monday I returned from Braemar on the bus and I’m already missing being out in the countryside. It was a pleasant surprise to realise my Monday tutorial had been moved to Tuesday and meant I could spend an extra day up the valley annoying my brother.

Poor old Mags is on reading week. When he hasn’t been reading though, he has likely spent the last week harnessing his skills on Rugby O8, a PlayStation game which he uses to inflict pain on yours truly.

Anyway, it was good to spend an extra day with him, resting my legs after the previous day’s half marathon. Did I mention I like running? Joking aside, the running has been going well this week.

I’ve been taking it fairly easy and that’s actually been quite pleasant, as its provided me with quality thinking time. Don’t worry I’ll have the meaning of life figured out in no time. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve found my running quite relaxing this past week, which is probably the most important reason why I run.

I also managed to get my bike up and running again by actually buying a decent bike pump. Now, I just need to oil my chain a little more, as I learnt when I dropped it at a busy roundabout.

University has also been going pretty well and is likely to get better for me and my classmates this coming week, as I will be cycling to campus instead of running. This means I will be slightly less of a smelly and sweaty mess when sitting in class.

However, a downside of this is I will have helmet hair which will affect my usually flawlessly maintained hairstyle. A hairstyle maintained through using women’s shampoo followed by a dollop of hair gel which always does very little.

Its also been a week of reflection as on the 19th February last year I travelled to Fiji for two months. Its been quite interesting reflecting on the happy memories that I was so lucky to make on the other side of the world with some wonderful people.

I’ll probably go into more detail about my memories of this time last year in a separate post at some point. I’ll keep you posted.

The Bad

Well apart from the incident at a roundabout and my dreams of starring in a hair gel advert taking a dent, there hasn’t been too much bad in the last week. I don’t like speaking about alcohol too much as I don’t want to admit to being a bit of a party animal.

But I am. Big time. Anyone who bumps into me while I take the Aberdeen nightclubs by storm with the world famous ‘Finn dance’ will back me up on this. Okay maybe not everyone.

Anyway, I’m rambling again. My original point I was going to make is that I’m never touching coke and vodka again. Its taken me two years too long to realise that, like most alcohol, it is horrible and I’m never going near it again… or at least until next week.

Purchasing alcohol is also expensive (I should work for AA) and means I have gone below the amount in my account that I agreed I wouldn’t go below when I started uni. This basically means I need to saddle up and get some Deliveroo deliveries done, while wasting less money on buying sweets and alcohol.

Lastly, I took a bit of fall while running the other day while passing two concerned citizens who watched me just about fall flat on my face. They both reacted in the most Aberdeen way possible. In their heads I knew they were concerned about whether I was hurt. I just couldn’t tell by their expressions or actions.

In all honesty though, I’m technically from Aberdeen (I like being cutting edge and pretending I wasn’t born in the Granite City) and I maybe would have reacted in a similar way.

The fact my lucky green hat* fell over my eyes and momentarily blinded me probably didn’t help, perhaps making the whole scene look slightly slapstick. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had laughed.

The Ugly 

Being a Scottish rugby fan is hard. Like really hard. After watching Scotland play rugby for the best part of 15 years, I spent Saturday afternoon feeling low.

This was after watching a comedy of the usual errors which were synonymous of the your Frank Hadden’s Scotland. Errors that had seemingly been snuffled out under the tutelage of Cotter and then Townsend.

A 27-10 loss to France at the weekend proved this theory wrong and Scotland seem destined for a worse than average six nations performance. There is still hope of course, but wins against England and Wales look unlikely. Wales coming off the back of a sensational win in Cardiff against an in form England.

However, after the game I was more disappointed but not surprised by the analysis which appeared on the Scottish Rugby section of the BBC Sport website. There is a journalist who I won’t name who seems to savour every Scottish rugby failure.

His article which attempted to promote a non-existent nasty rivalry between Ireland and Scotland before the first round of the Six Nations would have been better placed in a tabloid newspaper than on the BBC website.

Anyway, I’m glad to announce that’s my rant over and apologise that this is another long post. Maybe I need to find another sport to watch. I heard Scotland have a good curling team.

*Because of my lucky hat I remained physically uninjured, although my dignity did take a bit of a knock. 

 

 

 

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.