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 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.

Highland Cross 2018 – Race Report

It is now Monday night and your legs are still sore from taking part in a 50 mile duathlon on Saturday. It was worth it however because you raised money for charities that do brilliant work in the Scottish Highlands. You also thoroughly enjoyed yourself and pushed yourself to the limits of endurance while travelling through some awe inspiring scenery.

Now its back to washing dishes though and your still pretty tired. So how did you get to this point. Well, 36 years after its conception the Highland Cross is still going as strong as ever with a field of over 700 taking part every year. Some choose to walk and cycle the distance while others, including you, choose to run and then cycle it. This is actually the second year you have taken part in the crossing across the Highlands from Morvich to Beauly, passing the stunning Sisters of Kintail and running through Glen Affric.

Organisation is a word you have always feared and has never ever been a strength. In fact its likely the reason teachers at school often became frustrated with you. Unfortunately a significant amount of organisation is needed to compete in this awesome event. Though fortunately the race organisation itself is top notch. To anyone participating in this event it is recommend to make a weekend of it. Take the option of dropping your precious bike in Inverness on the Friday evening to be transported to the transition point of the race after 20 miles.

Arriving in the capital of the Highlands, you will wrap your almunium bike, that you love dearly, in copious amounts of cardboard and bubble wrap while watching fellow competitors  wheel their carbon frames about. Its okay though because you’ve always believed its not at all about the bike and that the totally worn out tryes on your steed don’t make it easier to puncture. Basic science isn’t important right?

With the bike now at the back of your mind, as no last minute repairs can be made, you drive to Beauly where you will be spending the night with your team mate/mother in a hotel room. You have convinced yourself over the last week that the reason you couldn’t find anyone else than your Mum to join your team is that you are a maverick when it comes to running and cycling. You go it alone. Maybe its actually because you look shit in lycra. Oh well.

Anyway on arrival you meet with your team leader who you raced with last year. He is a strong athlete and therefore deserves his carbon bike (please write in), and has given you the great opportunity to do this event again. See you do have some friends in the athletic community.

The night before is less stressful than it was last year when you spent the wee hours pacing around your room and hoping you wouldn’t be using the bathroom as much when the morning came. Last year was more stressful as you really wanted to put in a good shift for your team leader to help him record a sub 5 hour crossing which you managed with 20 minutes to spare.

This year isn’t as stressful as you are purely racing for yourself, being given free lease to see if you can beat your previous time of 4:40. Training hasn’t been ideal and your health has been bit sporadic but you feel confident you can beat 4:30, not using excuses in a desperate attempt to provide a safety net for massive failure.

Feeling sick with nerves the next morning you force down some lumps of porridge which you are sure is actually a living organism, and head of on the 2 hours, 30 minutes bus journey to the west coast. This is where sheep have free will and the roads curve through towering mountains shrouded in low cloud. It is also where you will start the race.

Now standing on the start line your bladder gives it usual last minute reminder that its there, before the starting gun is fired at 11am. Your off at a storming pace and you feel great, strolling along a nice wide path through the beautiful countryside. At this pace you’ll get there in under four hours and you won’t even have to worry about finding a tree to take a piss behind.

Soon you hit the first climb and the legs aren’t the happy, reminding you there’s the best part of 17 miles remaining until transition. Slowing down you take water from every station you pass, commandeered by enthuasutic  volunteers with loud and encouraging voices. Taking it easy to the high point of the race you take in the amazing waterfall below and finally after an hour, relive yourself behind a small wall.

The descent to the halfway point is great fun and you revel in ploughing through deep streams which cross the path. Suddenly you are over two hours in and are still going well. You have munched through half an energy bar, finding out how hard it is to keep running while eating. Others are taking in gels and other food, but you think this will give you a sore stomach so keep going. You will regret this when your blood sugar levels drop through the floor after the race.

Its not long until you can hop on your bike and your getting excited about getting a seat of some sort. Your lycra is beginning to become uncomfortable and you want to start wearing it for its primary use, to protect your fruit and veg from the exertion of cycling. When running its heavy and feels like more of a hindrance than anything else. When thinking about all this you find yourself on the “Yellow Brick Road”, a seemingly endless hell of undulating double track which leaves cramp in almost every part of your body.

In reality this section only lasts five miles but it takes a lot of resolve to not start walking or stop. After a section of tarmac which adds to the pain, you arrive at the transition point to your absolute relief. This part of the race is brilliantly organised and you only spend five minutes here, changing into your circa 2012 cycling clip ins (I haven’t really grown) with the help of a friendly and patience race volunteer.

The cycle was great fun last year and you enjoyed it again this year, weaving through groups of slower cyclists and being passed by the quicker ones on the often technical run down to Beauly. It feels like your competing in a clean Tour de France. With your eye on the clock you power through the cycle in 1hour, 23 minutes, meaning your total time is 4 hours, 20 minutes. Success!

This joy at your time is short lived however, as you miss your team mates finishing as you pass out in your hotel room and sleep for the next three hours, obviously suffering from major calorie defiency. Both of your team mates ran storming times and you leave the Scottish Highlands with a great sense of happiness, hoping to return again to a great event for a good cause.

If you have been good enough to listen to my ramblings it would be awesome if you could sponser me a wee bit for completing the Highland Cross 2018. The work the Cross does goes back into the communities which play such a big role in helping the race continue successfully….

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/finn-nixon1

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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!