Dess Woods Night Race (26/01/18)

On a chilly Friday evening my Mother and I embarked on another adventure down the Deeside Valley to participate in our second race of the year respectively. This time we would be stopping just short of the village of Lumphanan, the destination being a sizable area of woodland two miles short of where we had ran the detox three weeks previously.

This had been a race which I had wanted to take part in for while, taking place in my old training grounds, Dess Woods. These woods were located on a sloping hill, about a mile outside Kincardine O’ Neil, the village which had spent the first 17 years of my life living in. With lots of different trails to explore alongside steep climbs and technical descents it played in major part in kick starting my running obsession. Many a moonlit night had been spent testing my legs in these woods so I was excited to be returning. I was also excited and partly nervous to see how my legs would fare in a full out trail race.

After the Lumphanan Detox at the start of the year, my training had gone into a slight decline again, before I had reversed this in the ten days or so before this next race. I had been doing a lot of trail running, but had struggled slightly as Braemar had been coated by a relatively thick layer of snow for the last couple of weeks. I knew that I wouldn’t be competing for the top places but had the target of perhaps finishing in the top 10. I had looked at the times from the two previous years and thought this was a realistic target if I decided to really push myself.

As I had often been free during the day in recent months I hadn’t done much night running, an activity which I used to love. The fact that this was a night race also added a tinge of excitement as I packed my head torch along with my ‘Garmin’ watch that I had finally got to work!

On arrival at Dess Woods we met my Auntie and her partner and went about picking up our race numbers and safety pins. With our numbers pinned to our clothing, we studied the race route…

The route would be completed by doing two loops, with the first of the loops being completed twice. At 8.7 kilometers it was as hilly as I expected it would be, starting with a tough climb up from the Deeside Activity Park at the bottom of the woods, up to the gate at right at the top of the woods. After this steep fire track climb lasting about 900 meters, there was a slight grassy descent before a left turn took you up through some undulating fields.

When I had trained here I had affectionately referred to these as being part of the ‘sheep fields’ due to the creatures of a wooly nature which usually habited these parts. Great views up and down the valley where gained from this high point, though in the darkness the lights of Kincardine O’Neil could still be viewed, lighting up the valley floor to the east.

After a short loop in these fields a technical bit of the route would have to be negotiated, with an off-piste jump over a wall and a fence to access Dess Woods again. This was followed by an easier section which completed the first loop, with a long-ish descent, in which the route crosses the climb which the runners will have started they’re race on. The route then returns to being undulating, passing a waterfall which is another place which I used to love past.

Following on from the waterfall, is a very steep climb taking competitors on a windy route between the trees before eventually coming to a forest break. This break in the woodland doesn’t last long however, as after a short descent there the route rejoins the first climb, returning runners to the first loop which they will have to complete again before a long descent to the finish line which they will hopefully reach in one piece.

Having completed a short warm-up and taken part in some pre-race chat, I lined up on the start line, hoping that I would be able to hurt enough to finish in a position or time I was happy with. With my trusty innovates I decided to just wear on layer, a long sleeved top knowing I would warm up quite fast. I was also wearing running leggings to try and keep my legs and their muscles warm. If you can’t tell I’m very scientific when it comes to these details.

Soon enough we were off, with 60 so running being unleashed like a frantic group of wild dogs. It took while to find my breath, but when I did I surprisingly felt good on the first climb, deciding to push myself harder than I probably should have and by the time I reached the gate at the top my legs were already shot. “Damn that was stupid!”, my legs shouted.

Making my way towards the ‘Sheep Fields”, it was good to get out into the open, as the lights in the valley below were joined by a starry night sky. This provided an atmospheric background to some tough running over muddy ground which was as equally hard in some places as it was soft in others. At least ice was minimal! The fields where lit up by runners weaving between the old walls and rocks which littered the grassy surface.

After some undulation, it was nice to then get a long descent, on slightly interrupted by the hurdle section over a wall and fence to get back into the woods. On arrival into the woods I felt that there was another runner close behind and I fell back a place on the latter half of the descent towards the waterfall. I attempted to keep her in sight for as long as possible, but lost sight of my fellow competitor on the hard ascent back through the trees.

I was annoyed at myself for letting this happen but was slightly more sympathetic when I found out later that she was the current Scottish Hill Racing Champion. However, I realised I had to carry on pushing on completion of the second loop, continued to push myself as hard as possible up the final ascent of the race, returning to the first loop including the difficult terrain of the fields.

At this point my legs felt like led and I was hurting physically, but still loving it mentally. Again the view of the stars reminded me why I loved running in the great outdoors and I savored every minute of the squidgy ground as my head torch picked up the eyes of deer, rabbits and other creatures acting as the race’s accidental spectators.

Crossing into the woods for the second time, I pounded the long descent hard, aiming to keep three as the maximum number of people that had managed to overtook me when I reached that finish line. Reaching this target, I crossed the line in 13th. It wasn’t a top 10 position but it would do.

That had been tough but I there was no doubt that I was glad that I had taken part. It had provided me with another boost in my confidence and I was realizing that I needed to stop being so hesitant to take part in events like this one. I had ran the hilly 8.7K in just over 41 minutes, so was happy with my overall pace and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. My Auntie wasn’t too far behind finishing in 18th place while my Mother came home well of last position, a placing which she had been convinced she would have finished in.

 

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’.

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!

 

What is This All About?

This is the post excerpt.

Updated – 25/04/18

This blog is about giving an insight into my experiences of adventures which are always out there! Whether this be while running up in the hills, out on my bike, or in my new passion for travelling. A lot of time experiences seen as ordinary can be exciting and maybe slightly scary adventures.

At the start of this year I was in a hugely transitional period in my life. Though I think most of us are most of the time. Anyway, I had done a year at university and  wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue down the pathway I had chosen. I spent months at university seemingly lost, in a poor mental state and cut off from the rest of the world. I had given up the battle against my inner fears and had paid the price when I moved to a new city with new people.

When I arrived home I was relived. The last nine months had been a scary insight into what happens when you become unmotivated and let your anxiety take total control. After finishing first year I worked in my village until the welcome bells of 2018 started ringing. I washed dishes and earned money but that wasn’t what was important. Instead it was more important that I started talking to people again. Yes it took time, but after a while I was relaxed in the company of my colleagues. I started to feel like I had breath in my lungs again.

With this increasing confidence, I decided that I wanted to go travelling in the New Year. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to prove to myself that I was brave enough and that I could push myself to do something a bit mad (by my standards anyway). I wanted to go on a solo adventure to some far off land where I wouldn’t know anyone and would be thousands of miles from home. New Zealand sounded far away enough…

At this point you’re maybe thinking, typical millennial off on a gap year to New Zealand to find himself. This is absolutely true, though I didn’t expect to find myself and having returned I haven’t. However, I have learnt a huge amount and have a better knowledge of the type of person that I want to be. I am in a hugely privileged position to have lived with my mother while I worked for the last six months, meaning I paid little living costs and was able to finance this trip. Thanks Mum.

In the end I didn’t end up in New Zealand, but somewhere equally as far away and perhaps even more magical. Read on to find out more….

This blog has been created with the following words in mind:

  1. Honesty
  2. Modesty
  3. Fun
  4. Adventure
  5. Resilience