Saturday, 30 January 2016

Changes of Plan

Normally I quite like Run Home Thursday. Running home over Corstorphine hill in the dark after work gives me a frisson of fear and excitement, which helps me forget that I am tired and hungry.
But this Thursday it was a busy, busy day, and as 5.30pm approached  hard rain was blattering off the windows. The thought of changing into my running gear was too much for me, so I took the bus home. Maybe it would be good for me to have an extra rest day....

When I got home I saw the forecast for wind though, and realised that taking my bike to work the next day looked like a bit of a no-no. I've cycled to work before in 70 mph winds, but it didn't seem wise at the time. But I couldn't just sit on a bus and go to work and then sit on a bus and go home again could I? I tried to square it with myself. Winter is making me mighty hungry. The only hope I have of not becoming barn-sized is by getting out and exercising fairly regularly. (Although maybe that's what's making me so hungry.) There was no way round it - it would have to be Run Home Friday.

Somehow on Friday I got caught up with myself and I realised by early afternoon that taking a couple of hours annual leave to get out of work before dark looked quite feasible. So it was a delight to burst out the door just after 3.30pm, into a windy but bright day and take on the hill in the light for the first time since last November.

I took a slight detour to see if I could see any zebras in their field (sadly, no)  and then dropped down back onto what I thought was my usual path. Imagine my surprise then to go through a kind of doorway (I don't remember seeing this before, Maybe it was too dark?) and then out onto some unfamiliar open hill-side. I was disorientated and half-fearful that I had somehow found my way into the zoo and was right now in the big cat's enclosure!

Fairly soon however I found myself opening a gate out onto St John's Road. Which was exactly where I hadn't meant to go. Now how in the hell did that happen?
That road isn't the prettiest of roads but there was a healthy west wind blowing me along so I enjoyed it all the same.

I also got a rush of excitement realising that it will soon be spring!!! How good is that? Light evenings, maybe even some warmth eventually. Nearly unbelievable.


Today we were going to go and pick up our friend Jane who is up from Cumbria and go to the Pentlands for a recce of the Carnethy 5. It was Jane's idea. I now think the best preparation for the Carnethy is to never ever think about it beforehand. That long calf-burning slog up Scald Law is bad enough without reminding yourself in advance just how bad it is. Peter's views are stronger than mine, and you've probably heard them if you've stood within 100 feet of him on the 2nd weekend of February any year since 2001.
We were going to do it, despite our misgivings, but that weather was saying blizzard conditions at sea-level, 50 mph gusts...what the hell would it be like up on the high tops? We messaged Jane to suggest that a nice run on the beach might be more the thing. She messaged back to say she was glugging wine and yes.
So we picked her up today from a back street in Portobello and magicked her to Gullane in the Berlingo. 

I know these are bad but they're all I've got!

Oh look here's a better one from Peter!

When we got there the wind was blowing, well, coldly, decisively, incisively. It was hard to get out of the car. But out we got, and we were rewarded with a fair amount of bright, shiny weather despite the stiff breeze. Jane and I had a good couple of years of news to catch up on so there was much chatting and the run flew by.
At the end of the run we introduced Jane to Falko's coffee and cake. It would have been rude not to join her. Oh my god I'll have to run again tomorrow to off-set that. Is there no end to this treadmill existence of eating and off-setting, eating and off-setting? Actually it seems pretty good. I quite like it.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Why you shouldn't do the same thing every day.

On Thursday it had looked like Saturday morning was going to be clear and sunny and we had reluctantly agreed that what we really should do was go to the Pentlands in time for sun-up because it would be spectacular in the snow. Both of us were a bit glad when on Friday the forecast was saying it was going to be okay but kinda cloudy on Saturday instead. No need for heroics then. Plus Peter had ordered some new shoes that he wanted to pick up from Run4It and test out in the hills ahead of the Feel the Burns race on Sunday. So we didn't arrive early to the hills. Far from it. On the way into the car park at Flotterstone there was a queue of cars. Would we even get a parking space? Last time we'd been in this predicament, however, Ian Campbell of HBT had been there and just leaving, so he gave us his space. Maybe we'd get lucky again.

I decided to go round the back of the car park with the car - and as we were waiting for someone else to reverse out of a space we saw that the black Volkswagon in the space next to it had the letters WWF on the numberplate. I have a thing about number plates, maybe it's left over from hitch-hiking when I was younger, or maybe it's because I've got a toe on the first rungs of the spectrum - but I notice car number-plates and I remember them. "World Wildlife Fund" I said. (Peter's used to this.) "That's like Ben and Alison's car." And indeed it was. We were plunked next to our friends Ben and Alison and their two boys, who had had some kind of melt-down whilst sledging. Somebody got cold and then somebody got jealous of the attention the other one was getting for being cold. Tears and angry words had taken place. Is it wrong to count yourself lucky for being childless?

Anyway - it was lovely to see them - and we had to try to rein in the number of things we had to say as we hadn't seen them in a while. The boys were needing to go and we were needing to get up the hill as night-time, in his dark chariot, was fast approaching. Well not quite. It was after 1pm and not bright.

The hills were bloody marvellous and we enjoyed the whole thing so much. It's a cliche but being out in the snow made everything look magical - and it is great fun running in the hills when everyone around you is walking as you can wear a lot less and move a lot faster. We were also deliberately not pushing the pace at all as Peter had his race the next day. It meant it was comfortable and fun.

At the top of Scald law someone had made a mysterious portal out of wind-slab. An older couple offered to take our picture. It was all dramatic and beautiful.

After Scald Law we headed down just before East Kip to the Howe and ran back down the road. 8 miles and a couple of hours.

So the next day Peter was going to do Feel the Burns - and I wanted to do some more hill running. The Carnethy is fast approaching and I want to get as ready as I can for those nasty steep climbs.
I thought maybe I should go and do what we'd originally planned - and try to get up in those hills so I'd be at the top of Turnhouse for sun-rise. Or I thought about going round the other side of the Pentlands and setting off from Balerno, but it had snowed a bit the evening before and I was concerned that maybe the road up to the Red Moss car park might be slippy and difficult - so I went back to Flotterstone. I thought I could vary it a bit - go up the big hills on the way out but then maybe come back via Black Hill and Bell's Hill and maybe even Harbour Hill if I was having a good time.

I didn't quite make it in time, so the hills were turning pink just as I set out. There was more of a wind than there had been the day before. It was sharp and it was hard to linger for any amount of time at the tops. My camera battery seems to be losing the ability to hold a charge, so even though it was fully charged it started flashing a warning at me after I'd been using the zoom for only a couple of seconds.

The further West I got, the more drifted snow there was. The going underfoot had been pretty easy the day before, with just a light snow covering over obvious paths. But this morning some of the paths had all but disappeared. There were a lot of people at the Turnhouse end of the hills, but as I got further  West there was just the odd heavily clad soul. The wind made it feel much more severe. I was adequately dressed - but only so long as I kept moving. Belatedly I thought maybe an extra top and a phone might have been an idea. As if to emphasise the point I tripped up on the way down from Scald Law and I did a full somersault before getting upright again - a bit dazed and muttering sweary words. All thought of adding in extra hills had melted away as I slogged up Scald law, post-holing in the deeper snow, - so I realised I was pretty much doomed to do exactly the same run as the day before. On the way down to the Howe, there was more drifting snow, and yet more post-holing. It was harder work and less fun than the day before.  On the way down the road I knew what to expect so I was no longer caught up in admiring the spectacle of it all...but actually bored...tired...cold...hungry...and wanting to get home.

I got home and ate an enormous amount for lunch and then fell asleep, like a fat snake, on the sofa with the heater on. ZZZZZZZZZ the end.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

No XC, 4 hills and a spot of tidying....

Hours later - tidying? or playing? Hard to say. There was something so pleasing about just how full this hoover bag was.


And after. Ahh, that's better!  All it takes is a bit of elbow grease!

7am this morning I got up and felt kind of sick. Did I really want a 100 mile round trip in a car to run 4 or so miles to retain my position of c. 14th FV in the cross-country? Or would I cry out of it, go a gentle run if I felt better and maybe do a little "decluttering".

Yep, it was  what our American Cousins would call a no-brainer. Plus, if I didn't go, there'd be space in the car for Gavin Brown, which would be good for him, good for the environment, so really for the highest good all round.

I didn't get out running until after 11am. Nothing about the grey skies, the cold and the wet pavements made me want to be out there. I dressed up warmly and had a cup of cocoa before leaving the house. It was fine to be out after a while but my deep reluctance every time I headed up a hill confirmed that I would have been lack-lustre on the country today. Still, it's the Carnethy 5 sooner than I'd like and I'm trying to put more hills in these legs, so I headed up the crags, and then up to the top of the seat and then down and around Calton Hill. Home and it was time to address part 2 of my plan...after some lunch.

The thing is I've got an unusual condition. It's close to being a disability. What it is is that I don't see mess. I think it's because my dad had this thing about altering things. The house we grew up in was constantly in a state of transition...missing floorboards...wires coming out the cupboards under the kitchen sink...a bath on stilts...trenches in the garden...I think in his mind there was some kind of end-product. The part of my brain that registers mess either never developed or stopped working. Actually it's probably genetic because my uncle did that thing where you fill your house completely up with stuff so that you can't walk about in it. That was long before it was fashionable and you got a lovely Greek therapist and two brassy but basically kind-hearted cleaning ladies to cajole you into letting go of your pre-war tins of corned beef.

I don't know what Peter's excuse is. He didn't grow up in chaos. His mum has been known to utter these words..."A house doesn't really sparkle unless you clean it properly once a week." She's a nice lady, but really. Houses aren't supposed to sparkle! That's just silly.

At work, the other day, my nursing colleague Karen pointed out that while everyone else's desk was reasonably tidy, mine was spread with notes, books and papers for about 4 feet either side of me. Hmmm. True. And when I got home, whilst flipping about on facebook, I saw that Stuart Hay lived in a state of cleanliness and elegance....sigh. Time for a tidy up.

So I have been tidying ever since. Judging by Peter's face when he came in from the cross-country, I've had the better day by far. Maybe, just maybe tomorrow I will clean my filthy, filthy bike.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

My Bell is Broken, but Everythink will be Alright.


Winter has rusted my bicycle bell right through.

I tried to ping a warning to a slower cyclist the other morning on my way to work, but my bell remained mute. I looked down to see my pinger hanging off at an angle.

Why does everything I'm writing sound like a double entendre? Or a metaphor. A metaphor for the toll all this grey winteryness is taking.

As I'm sure you've all noticed, the sun hasn't really bothered coming out for a week or so. The cold rain keeps on falling. On days when I've got some time off I've been going out and soaking up the uniform greyness. On work days my day is an inky black sandwich with a thin filling of artificial light and occasional glimpses of a forbidding sky lowering behind the Scotbet and the Clermiston Inn.

It seems surprising somehow - although I don't know why it should be. This is my 49th winter and as far back as I can remember winter has been a descent into darkness. Into the freezing black tunnel with you and I'll see you in the spring...Winters in Orkney were days of howling wind-storms until one day you'd wake up and be able to hear and realise that the wind had stopped.

So have I been running? Of course I have. Just most of the time I keep my head down and spend half the time dreaming and not paying too much attention to the drab grass, the damp air, my wet feet.

I've had a few quite nasty runs up Arthur's Seat, where the only pay off is standing at the top looking nonchalant in shorts as everyone else there plods around in full mountain gear with their hoods up. Peter and I had a shockingly grim run up in the Pentlands at the weekend. Running over West and East Kip was best approached by shouting and singing at the tops of our voices. The icy wind hurled sleet in our faces and whipped our legs.

Run Home Thursday on a Thursday night, over Corstorphine Hill in the dark takes some courage. It's helped by the fact I don't know which side of the road to get the bus home from. So I have to just do it. It does make me forget all about work - and it is very good to get home and get in and get warm again.

It takes me past the Modern Art Gallery and I always quite like to see the "Everything is going to be alright" sign. When I first saw that - posted up on social media - it seemed kind of trite and uninteresting. But when you've just run over the hill in the dark and the freezing cold pursued by imaginary zoo animals, it's actually quite nice to see.

There is some other "art" in the grounds of the MAG - which would appear to be a greenhouse with a coloured lightbulb in it. Maybe there's more to it than that.

Today Peter and I had a plan to combat the grey horror out there. The weather forecast was kind of typical. Cold and wet, a bit windy, with some black ice thrown in along the paths. I planned to run 8 miles and Peter was going to give me a handicap of 9 minutes and see if I could beat him home. My motor took a little while to warm up and actually he caught up to me at about 6 miles. Still I was working quite hard and it was taking some mental effort. Half way along the prom there is a green trailer that sells some food and coffee and tea. As I passed it I was surprised to see Basil Brush sitting on the counter. When I looked again I saw that it was 2 croissants sticking out a glass container.

I think Peter had to hang back to make it as far as 6 miles before he caught me. Still, by that time, we'd both stretched out and we were in good humour for running the last 2 miles together. We saw Johnny and Yana storming back from where ever they'd been, which was fun.

So tomorrow is the cross-country down at Paxton House. The weather forecast looks horrible. Paxton has some fairly epic mud. We've been very lucky with the Borders XC series so far, with the weather relenting for each race. So maybe it'll be like that tomorrow.

If I happen to win the lottery tonight I am going to go to Nelson in New Zealand. An FB friend lives there and has been posting pictures of it every day. They're having summer there at the moment and she's been out on her mountain bike in the hills in a t-shirt and shorts and swimming in the sea.

Friday, 1 January 2016

"Don't go into the light" NYD NDE

Photo pinched from Scott Craighead

Nah, just attention-seeking. This was hell on earth but I didn't go through a tunnel or come out into a beautiful light. I didn't choose to come back and I'm not sure I would have. Oh well. At least I beat last year's time. Oh no, wait, I didn't. I was quite a bit slower. Strava told me when I got home. I uploaded my data, onto the computer, hoping to at least get a pat on the back from electro-geek world but Strava said it was my 2nd best time on this course and that I'd only run 3.9 miles. Jesus, go easy would you?

I'm talking, of course, about the Portobello Promathon. 4 miles of Promathon Hell. I still know every inch of it from Wednesday night training with the club. There's no kidding yourself it's nearly over.

I'm glad it's over. I've had too much for lunch and now I'm trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the day. This racing business is over-stimulating and leaves you a bit apt to sit on the computer and enter races if you're not careful. I've got myself on the waiting list for the Foxtrail 20K as it's a Porty Championship race - and entered the Great Run Edinburgh 10 miler for the same reason. Peter's not doing it on principle. I don't mind lining Brendon Foster's voluminous pockets because I love him.

The thing I'm most excited about for this year is that we've entered the St Magnus Marathon in July and I've booked flights so we'll have 10 days knocking about in Orkney. I haven't been up there since before I got my driving licence so it will be a delight to be there and drive around. A lot of the good places are kind of inaccessible by public transport and there's usually a good stiff head-wind for biking. Unbelievably, me and most of my classmates will be turning 50 this year so there are rumours of a reunion going around. A lot of people I won't have seen since we were in our teens, so it might be quite horrible, like waking up from a coma and realising everyone around you has reached their peak a while back and are now heading down the other side. Not me though, I haven't peaked yet.

I might have a review of the year since I'm more interested in drinking cups of tea than getting on with my life.

It's quite easy really. 2015 was an extraordinarily bad year for long running for me. I got sizeable PWs in the marathon, the E2NB 20 miler and the half marathon. I hope it was extraordinarily bad, anyway, and not just the new standard. This year will tell. I hope that some of it was bad luck and boredom. I'm hoping that I'll enjoy the training for the StM Marathon more because it'll be in better weather than for the usual spring marathons. And I think I need to make an effort to be creative about long runs instead of thinking that I'll either run to North Berwick, or run back, depending on which direction the wind's going. I probably have to start doing some speed training too. I do keep trying to do it on my own but then I forget. Could I bear to start doing Tuesday night intervals again? Could I? I actually don't know.

In contrast, the 7 hills race was quite good, and I've been enjoying the cross country and maybe even improving a wee bit. So that probably holds a clue or two. Make it hill and make it off-road and I'll probably do better. What I was thinking on the Prom today was that I'm working just as hard in the cross-country, but I'm thinking about my route choice and where I'm placing my feet, and I just don't feel it the same way. I need something to keep my brain busy.

Now I've worked off most of my spleen so here are some happier thoughts for 2016. It was great fun seeing Aileen Ross today, especially finding out she is now in the next category of the championships. I am vicariously enjoying the run up to her retirement as my current predicted age of retirement is 67. I know people complain about the NHS at the moment but it's going to get even better now the retiral age is soaring up. Have you seen Dad's Army? It'll be like that.

It was great fun seeing ALL the runners today. Quite an impressive turn out for a race on New Year's Day. I remember a time when to do that race would have been unthinkable because even being able to get up on NYD was unlikely. Maybe the Scot's passion for drink is lessening. Or maybe I just live in a different milieu.

Happy New  Year to All of You.

Photo pinched from t'internet.