Friday, 30 January 2015

The best laid plans...again

In the Big Storm a couple of weeks ago, a Big Tree fell into Newhall Burn and smashed into Newhall Bridge, thus damaging the link between our part of the Black Isle and Mount High, where I have been enjoying my trail runs.  With the bridge intact, it takes 5 minutes by car to get to the woods.  Without the bridge, the long way round takes upwards of 30 minutes, and I don't see the point in driving 30 minutes for a run that will take only a little longer than that.  (And before any bright spark says why don't you run there...because it's a loooong and steeeeep uphill trek to get there, and I can't be arsed.)
The inconveniently damaged Newhall Bridge source
So most of my runs have been on the road since the bridge came down, which is fine, but as today's blue sky and relatively milder temperature made me think longingly of off-road, I bravely sought out a different trail. Actually, it's the other end of the trail that I usually run; it's still only a 5 minute drive away, starts from the woods near Springfield and on my map, it looked like there was a forestry road leading into the woods (just like at the Mount High end).  I arrived in good spirits and set off on what was intended to be a nice, easy 4 miles.  Ha!  I laugh in the face of my optimism...

The forestry road turned out to be a narrow, muddy, wet, icy path skirting the edge of a field.  I put on my trail runner persona and tried to pretend that I didn't mind my feet sinking ankle deep in the mud, but the truth is that I did mind.  Plus, I was running into the sun and the glare from the ice and snow made it too hard to see where the rocks and even the edge of the path were, so I walked.  I crossed a raging burn on a dilapidated foot bridge, briefly cheered up into a run on the path covered with soft pine needles on the other side, then engaged in a bit of creative cursing as I tried to figure out how to climb across the very substantial tree that had fallen across the path.  Then I ran for a little way further before coming to a standstill at a long stretch of deep, muddy, icy water.  I inched my way along the side of the water by clinging to the barbed wire fence that lined that section of the path, then ran again briefly before being stopped by huge, overgrown, waist high bushes with 2-inch spikes that blocked the path.  I eased my way through them but ow ow ow ow - not nice at all.

Eventually, I ended up where I had planned - the forestry commission trails - but by that point I was so irritated and annoyed by my wet feet, aching ankle, punctured legs from those bastard bushes, and all of the walking that I contemplated running to Mount High (which was maybe 2 miles from where I was) and then making my way home on the road so that Bassman could give me a lift back to my car.  But trail runners never give up...

I ran one mile into the woods, crunching my way through the snow that was still on the ground.  I ran one mile back to the start of the muddy, icy, spiky-bush-infested path and thought again about taking the easy route to Mount High.  I asked myself what I was going to do if things were unpleasant underfoot during the Grasmere Gallop - was I going to sulk?  Was I going to want to give up and go home?  Was I going to walk because it wasn't easy?  Mmmmm, probably...but trail runners carry on in the face of insurmountable odds.  So I carried on too.

And funnily enough, the muddy, icy, spiky-bush-infested path didn't seem nearly as difficult on the way back.  I ran most of the way (except for when I clung to the barbed wire fence again) and quite enjoyed splashing through the water and mud.  I finished back at my car with a smile on my face and not sure why I had been fussing so much on the outward route.

I'd even go so far as to say that I'd use this route again but next time, I'm taking my secateurs so that I can clip back those bastard bushes.  Muddy and wet feet, I can cope with.  Legs that look like I've used them for a pin cushion, not acceptable.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The best laid plans...

At the start of the week, I had made a firm plan about routes and mileage for the coming week.  Plans???  I should have been able to hear the Running Gods scoffing.

Wednesday 21 January:  My working day ended at 12.30 which I thought gave me the perfect opportunity to do a quick three miles in the Craig Phadrig woods above Inverness.  I haven't been back that way in years, well before the new housing estates were built, so it took me ages to find the start of the path.  I crept behind and between the huge houses with their amazing views, trying to be invisible and feeling like an intruder and waiting for the police to show up and ask me what I was doing, until I figured out that the lovely path that I remembered is now a tarmacked road.  Sigh. 

The first bit of the road was snowy and slushy but runnable.  However, where the road ended and the trail began, the slush became thick, rough, broken ice.  There were brief pockets of thawed trail here and there and I also tried running along the side of the trail in the snow, but the trail eventually became a sheet of ice as far into the distance as I could see.  It took me 17 minutes to do the first mile; I don't often cut a run short, but this one I did.  Two miles in 33 minutes.  Can I count that as a negative split?

Friday 23 January:  My car had to be into Inverness for 10am to have the windscreen replaced, so my plan was to go to the gym, do five miles on the treadmill (to make up for the mile that I didn't do on Wednesday), do some weights, and sit in the sauna by which time my car would be ready. The windscreen place was running two hours behind schedule but, on the positive side, the rain which had been pelting down all morning had stopped and I'd always much rather run outside than I got a taxi to the Aquadome, which is a short walk away from the start of the canal path.

By the time that I had changed into my running gear, it had started to drizzle.  And by the time that I actually started to run, it was pissing it down.  There was a lot of ice on the path and I did some spectacular skidding as well as some squishy mincing through the mud to avoid the ice.  I was running into such a strong headwind that I felt like I was walking.  My face was frozen and I couldn't see where I was going because the wind was blowing the rain full force into my eyes.  I made it two miles, said fuck it, and headed back.  Despite having a nice hot shower and a very substantial brie & cranberry sandwich, it still took me until later that night to feel warm again.

Sunday 25 January:  Today's plan was to run eight miles in Culbin Forest, that location being a treat to myself to make up for the last two crap runs.  However, due to a slow start to my morning and then helping Bassman to make bread (making bread is a two-person task in our house:  Bassman to make the bread and me to wrangle three enthusiastic moggies so that they don't 1) walk all over the clean kitchen counter where the bread is being kneaded and pummeled 2) stick their heads into the bowl of flour and 3) run off with the butter), by the time that I could stop my cat-management duties it was too late to head out for Culbin Forest.

So it was with reluctance that I resigned myself to eight miles on the road.  My knee has been a bit stiff since overdoing it with the leg extension machine at the gym last week and I was concerned that it might not be too happy on the road.  However, it is with great relief that I can report that it was fine with only the occasional twinge.  It was another very windy day which made the mile and a half stretch by Newhall Point and the almost-mile uphill towards the end a bit of a challenge, but I still enjoyed myself. 

And frankly, that's all that matters.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

On the road again

I had intended for today's run to be on the forest trails but one look outside at the sunny and sparkling day and  I knew, just knew, that the woods would be filled with irresponsible dog owners and their vicious, unleashed hounds.  And I really really couldn't bear to have yet another unpleasant encounter with either human or dog...but, while I chose not to confront that particular fear today, I did confront another one. 

I ran 7 miles on the road.  That's the furthest that I've run on the road by 3 miles since the Aviemore HM, and it felt fine.  My knee only twinged occasionally, which was clearly due to overstriding; as soon as I shortened my stride, the twinges disappeared.  There were a couple of steepish downhills on which I practiced keeping my feet under my hips and a couple of uphills, including almost 1.5 miles uphill at the very end, which I managed with much less huffing and puffing than I did when I last tried this route several months ago.  Nice to see results!

It was also nice to remind myself that road running, at least where I live, can have views that are just as lovely and just as good for my soul as those that occur off-road.  And it's dog free.  I can't ask for much more than that.

Farm lane five minutes from home

Looking across the firth to Cromarty

Saturday, 3 January 2015

New year, new goals

It's the new year and therefore it's time for new resolutions, new goals, and new adventures.  However, I've been holding off on making any decisions about what these resolutions, goals, and adventures might look like because I have no idea what, if anything, my knee is going to be able to handle.  Just because it's all going well at the moment - I'm up to 6.5 miles for my long run and 13.5 miles in total for the week with no adverse effects while running and only minor stiffness and discomfort afterwards - doesn't mean that it won't all come to a screeching, ripping, tearing halt when I least expect it.  But, as Julie the Physio and Adam have both said (independently of each other, so therefore it must be true), 'You'll never know until you try.' 

So, with that ringing endorsement, I've made some decisions based on what I would like this year's theme to be.  If last year's guiding mantra was Fun Running, this year's will be Feel the Fear and Have Fun Anyway (or, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time).  I have realised over the last couple of years that I have a lot of running related fears - some grounded in reality, some only in my head - and I would like this year to be the year that I address at least some of them.  With that in mind, here are the races that I'll be doing in 2015:

The Glenlivet 10k:  12th April.  This is an undulating road race.  As I think I've said before, I tend to avoid hills in case I tear a calf on the way up and blow out my knee on the way down.  I'm also paranoid now about running on the road in case that makes my knee worse, and this will be the first race that I'll have done post-knee injury so I'm already apprehensive about how my knee will hold up. 

Balmoral 10k:  25th April.  Part tarmac and part trail through the grounds around Balmoral Castle.  And there apparently is a killer hill half-way.  Trails, hills, and only two weeks after the previous race...this race tackles three fears for the price of one.

Grasmere Gallop:  6 June.  A 17k trail race that, from my reading of various race reports, has lots and lots of very serious hills.  I felt nervous just reading about it and am already convinced that I will be last across the finish line.  But Cathy and Paul are doing it too, and Bassman and I will make it into a week's holiday, so even if the worst happens during the race, I'll still have fun things to look forward to.

Loch Ness Marathon:  27 September.  Because I have unfinished business with this distance (yes, London Marathon, I'm talking about you).  And because the Loch Ness Marathon was the first marathon that I ever trained for and the first of several that I did not start because of a calf tear.  And because five days after this, I will be 55 and this seems like a good way to celebrate a significant birthday as well as to celebrate having come full circle to achieve the dream that got me into more serious running in the first place.

I look at that list and, despite feeling nervous about what lies ahead, I also feel happy about my choices.  I could have done the same kind of races that I did last year, but where's the challenge in that?  It's time to push my limits a bit, and you're invited to come along with me on the journey!