“But aren’t you worried about your knees?”

“When you’re young, you don’t really appreciate how what you’re doing will affect you later in life; you just do what you want, and to hell with the consequences.” – My dad.

“Time to bleed, time to breed.” – Also my dad, included for balance, because even though my father is a very smart man, he is not just a font of wisdom.

Inherited: awkward smile

Inherited: awkward smile and paleness

 Earlier this year, I lost a toenail for the second time in my life. It happened without incident – I was sitting on the sofa with my feet up on the coffee table in my living room, happened to glance at my feet, and noticed that there was ‘too much light’ coming from behind one of my toenails. Sure enough, it was hanging on by a thin ribbon of hardened skin, like a creaky old door on one hinge, and I plucked it off painlessly, much to my boyfriend’s disgust (despite the fact that he likes to make neat piles of his toenail clippings all around my apartment, so now you know that).

I looked at my mangled feet, covered in callouses, blisters, and black toenails, and realised that I used to do things like paint my nails, wear moisturiser with socks in bed, and generally make an effort to keep them in a state fit for public consumption. In fact, the first time I had a toenail fall off was a mere 8 days after I’d had a deluxe pedicure, and the little toenail still had a glossy coating of teal polish as I held it in my hand, examining it like some rare gem.

Unfortunately, running is not always kind to feet. Or knees, if I were to listen to my dad’s constant warnings about the health of my poor joints.

I am regularly reminded of the consequences of ‘not looking after your body’ by my father. He used to be an avid rugby player, and there are in existence countless 35mm film slides packed away somewhere with a projector capable of illuminating my dad, clutching a rugby ball and determinedly ploughing through burly men to score a try, onto my parents’ kitchen wall in Houston.

Ever since I stopped being a rippling tower of lard and started running, I have had my dad tell me that I need to be careful of all the impact activities I do, because I’ll live to regret them later in like. Or, perhaps more accurately, my joints will. Having broached the topic of a second hip replacement recently, he may know what he’s talking about. Despite his warnings, I continue to run because it’s something I really enjoy taking part in. And despite me brushing off his advice, he continues to try and be a knight in shining armour for my knees.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

I was recently speaking to my dad on the phone when the topic came up – again. We got to talking about conflicting advice (my doctor is in the ‘use it or lose it’ camp that I tend to subscribe to), and eventually I asked him a question.

“If you knew that you’d have to have both of your hips replaced at your age, would you have stopped playing rugby and listened to the same advice you’re giving me?”

The sigh on the other end of the line, my friends, is what victory sounds like.

“No, Rachel, I would not have.”

“Exactly.”

I am my father’s daughter, and to his credit, I don’t think he’s mentioned my crunchy knees or my future as a cripple since that conversation.  But this is probably because despite the fact that my knees sounds like Rice Krispies being crushed when I come out of a squat, he knows I have no intention of stopping, and nothing he can say – whether it has merit or not – will change my mind.
Now, I’m not saying running does necessarily destroy your joints.  I’m sure there is some wear and tear going on when you are a distance runner, but if you gradually increase the load, I believe your body adapts to that.  Even though my knees sound g-r-o-s-s sometimes, they have done since I was about 20, and I don’t feel any pain, so it’s really not an issue for me, or my doctor (which is reassuring).
What I am saying is that whether running trashes your knees or not, it’s something that brings me joy and allows me to connect with so many people.  And without trying to sound like some twee, pseudo-deep pop song, what’s the point of going through the only shot you have at life holding back when you could be diagnosed with incurable cancer tomorrow, get hit by a bus, or have a cargo plane transporting circus animals accidentally drop its load over you, causing death by elephant crushing?  Am I right?

BRG Challenge 2013

Time: 3:02 ish

Medal: Yes (same as last year’s)

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And yes, that is what my nail looks like currently after it lost a fight with a closing door back in April.

Having been back at work for a full week, I feel like I’ve aged 20 years, and the suggestion that I’ve just had 6 weeks off seems laughable.  Throw into the mix a disgusting head cold, and I present you with a girl who has run once this week, and has done a grand total of zero other workouts.  Waking up this morning, shuffling to the bathroom to cough up a night’s worth of grossness so I could breathe properly, looking outside at the rain pelting down – I was so, so unenthusiastic about running 17+ miles today.

But when does that get in the way of running a race?  Pretty much never.  So I threw myself into the shower (running fresh is important), lubed up generously (I learned my lesson after 1st degree chafe during a 12 mile run whilst the heaven’s opened last month, and did not care to repeat that experience), threw on my kit, and had a bowl of cereal.  And then did a load of washing.  And then washed the dishes that had piled up during the week (let me remind you I was sick).  And then I vacuumed.  Oh, sorry, did I not mention that I woke up at 4:37 am and could not, despite feeling exhausted, get back to sleep?  Because that happened.

At about 9:30, I reluctantly left my warm, dry apartment with everything I needed, and made my way to the pick up point, where Naomi was waiting for me.  She had already picked up Sheri, so it was a quick trip to pick up Susan, and then we were off to Fraserburgh, which I have had a hate-hate relationship with since the 10k there last year.  I was uplifted when we drove past the sign to ‘Gash’, because sometimes I have the maturity of a 13 year old boy.  The sky was overcast and grey, and rain continued to fall, but it could have been much worse, as we discovered upon arrival that there was no discernible wind – a miracle along the Scottish coast!

This place exists.

This place exists.

Ronnie had driven to Fraserburgh the night before and registered us all, which involved picking up our numbers and t-shirts, which were a step up from last year’s white, I must say.  He had also been up early to drive his car to Gardenstown (the finish), so that we could all be driven back to Naomi’s car at the start.  Luckily we arrived early, as this took longer than anticipated, and we had to navigate to Ronnie’s mum’s to pick him up, nearly driving the wrong way down a one way street!

Back of the technical shirt

Back of the technical shirt

Once back at the start, we had a quick toilet break before congregating in the rain with the decent turnout of runners for a safety briefing.  We were all told that the clock had started 2 hours ago with the walkers, and at 11:00 we were off along the relatively flat first 5/6 miles along the coast that lulls you into a false sense of security.

L-R: Sheri, Me, Ronnie, Susan, Naomi

L-R: Sheri, Me, Ronnie, Susan, Naomi

The five of us set out together at a steady pace, walking through the water stations because we knew there were a lot of relay teams, and as we were treating this as a training run for Loch Ness, weren’t keen on competing with fresh legs.  Despite how I felt earlier this morning, I was feeling pretty strong, possibly down to the fact that my body got a bit of a rest this week (apart from a 12.5 mile run on Thursday evening).  Susan and I fell in behind a youngish boy who was running as part of a relay team, and Naomi and Sheri were treated to a history of Ronnie’s childhood a little further back.

After about 6 miles, ‘flat’ was no longer an option.  If you weren’t going up, you were going down, and there was no let up until the end.  Ronnie, myself, and Susan powered up the hills, and Sheri and Naomi fell back.  It stayed like this for another mile or so, and then Ronnie fell back as well, as Susan and I aimed to catch ‘man in yellow’, the gentleman running the second leg of the relay with the young boy from earlier that had been tagged just as the hills started.

Knowing this was some great hill training for Loch Ness, Susan and I kept going, and eventually passed ‘man in yellow’, but we could see him, as well as Ronnie and Naomi close behind every time we stopped for water.  Having run this last year, I knew what was coming, so Susan (and the rest) had been warned in particular about the 17% incline at about 14 miles.  Possibly inspired by my photo from last year, Naomi made her feelings about the hill quite clear when she reached it:

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Photo: Ronnie Mutch

I will say, this photo does not do the steepness of the hill justice.  You’ll just have to take my word for that.

Susan and I battled up the hill next to cyclists that had come off their bikes to push them up the hill (they had set off an hour after the runners), and were eventually rewarded with some downhill running that didn’t make us fear for our lives (ie, not the 20% incline we had to run down earlier). At this point I still felt strong, which I was thrilled about, because at this point last year I was nearly a broken woman.  Susan, however, was starting to feel fatigued, and when my Mr. Motivator chat wasn’t helping, she told me to go ahead for the last couple of miles.

There was a woman up ahead who was running the last 3 miles or so as the final leg of her relay team, and I made it my mission to pass her.  I grunted hello as I overtook her, and continued on the mostly downhill path until I saw the town sign up ahead – nearly done!

I kept at a steady pace for the final mile or so, but had to try and slow myself down during the steep and slippery descent towards to harbour!  During my final few strides of the race, I overtook a couple of walkers (an added bonus), and clocked my time as being just over 3 hours, which is only a couple of minutes slower than last year.

A couple of minutes later, Susan appeared, followed shortly by Ronnie and Naomi, and then Sheri.  Adorned with medals and shivering, we made our way to Ronnie’s car to warm up (and hopefully dry off), stopping to take a couple of shots of the finish/harbour.  The blurriness of Ronnie’s phone’s camera should indicate the levels of precipitation:

Soggy and cold.

Soggy and cold.

Very excited about boats, it would appear.

Very excited about boats, it would appear.

My goal for this run was to run at a steady pace instead of shooting off fast and burning out like I did last year.  Despite being slightly slower, I count it as a success.  I was also curious to see how much more successfully I handled the hills since I’ve been including quite a bit of trail running during this training cycle, and was pleased that I didn’t feel the need to walk quite as often.  The real test, however, will be how I feel tomorrow.  Or, more specifically, how my legs feel tomorrow.

Ben Avon, Beinn a’Bhuird, and the Secret Howff

Disclaimer:  Ian has requested that I mention the fact that he has very successfully navigated to the summits of several munros in his life.  In fact, every one we have climbed together, bar Ben Avon, which is obviously ‘cursed’.

Just the thought of attempting to reach the summit of Ben Avon made me grumpy.  You see, previously Ian and I had two failed attempts to our credit.  The first time, a companion’s babysitting duties (and Ian’s shocking navigation) caused us to turn back early on a beautiful day.  You can re-live everything going wrong here.  The second attempt I didn’t even feel warranted a mention on this site, because it basically consisted of the following:

  1. Ian and I arrive at the car park with out mountain bikes, sometime in March.
  2. Ian and I look around at other walkers who are wearing a gajillion layers, and are equipped with such extravagances as walking sticks and gloves.
  3. Ian and I (in lycra running shorts and a long sleeved top) both agree that these people are amateurs and that we are far superior (and badass) hill walkers, and smugly set off on our way.
  4. After an arduous 5 mile cycle, an enormous snow drift blocks our path before we even begin our main ascent on foot.  We scramble to higher ground only to realize the entire munro is hidden under snow.  It is very windy.  I am very cold.
  5. We meet some walkers who inform us that they checked the mountain weather forecast before they chose their outfits, and they did not seem surprised when we told them we did not do the same.
  6. Ian gets annoyed that I am unwilling to risk hypothermia/death by continuing, I cry and shiver.
  7. We turn back, stopping only to locate the Secret Howff that we didn’t manage to find last time.

Unwilling to face failure a third time, and determined to get this over and done with, Ian checked the forecast and took a day off work when the weather looked like it would be on our side.  We left early, arriving at the car park at about 10, and setting off for the first 5 miles on the gradual ascent on our mountain bikes.

We both commented on how much less efficient they felt than our road bikes, which have been getting a lot of use this summer thanks to an atypically glorious Scottish summer (featuring special guests, Sun and Warmth).  In fact, the mountain bike section was a lot less crappy than I remembered it to be.  Hopefully this is a reflection of my quad strength.  Once it became a bit too life-threatening to continue by bike (at least for me), we locked them together near a burn (American translation: stream), and continued on foot.

We followed the path that I had wanted to follow the first time we tried (and failed) to reach the summit.  Ian, however, had decided to abandon the path and climb the steep edge of the mountain as his map reading skills led him to believe that the path would be the wrong course to take.  In case you missed what happened previously, the path would have absolutely been the correct course to take, an opinion I strongly voiced at the time, and for several weeks afterwards, when we checked my Garmin details to confirm where we were.

I am smug that I was right about the path.

I am smug that I was right about the path.

Eventually, we came to a T-junction in the path as we reached some very steep cliffs.  To the right, a steep ascent close to the cliff face.  To the left, a steep ascent close to the cliff face.  At this point, we realized that we must have had the wind to our backs the whole time, because once we had stopped it felt like we were in a wind tunnel.

“Left or right?” I asked Ian.
“Left.” he replied.
“You sure?  The summit definitely isn’t to the right?” I asked, because, you know, I wanted confirmation.
“Yes.  We’re definitely going left.”  I sensed a little hostility from Ian after questioning his judgement.

Left we went, climbing the very steep section where the path kind of disappeared, eventually making it onto the flatter section leading up to a summit.  I looked behind us, mainly to marvel at how steep the ascent was, and told Ian that I was glad we were doing a loop, because I didn’t think I’d be able to go back down because I’m such a wimp with heights and descending steep bits.  Especially next to cliffs with very, very, very high drops.

Quite steep

Quite steep

Steeper

Steeper – to the right, sheer drops

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Entering ‘all fours’ territory.

I then looked across to where the path to the right would have led, and noticed a very high summit.

“You’re absolutely sure that’s not the top of Ben Avon, right?” I cautiously inquired.  This was met by a frustrated confirmation that we were indeed on the right path.  About 10 minutes of steady climbing later, we were at the top, where we took a couple of photos and shared a pack of fig rolls (American translation: Fig Newtons).

Ian at the incorrect summit.

Ian at the incorrect summit (with the real summit off in the distance to the left)

Me at the false summit.

Me at the false summit (with the ridge leading to the second munro behind me, to the left)

Despite Ian’s certainty, I couldn’t help noticing that the summit across the valley we’d just come up from looked noticeably higher than we were.  I asked for Ian to point out where we were on the map, which he did, but looking at the gradient around where we were supposed to be, and looking at our surroundings, my heart sank as I became certain that we had taken a wrong turn, and that I would have to go back down the steep path.  To prove that I was being paranoid, Ian took out his Garmin edge and switched it on.  I sat back and enjoyed the view while it was loading up, and then Ian said, “Oh, shit.”

As if you couldn’t see this coming, we were not at the summit of this shitting mountain.  And yes, in order to reach the summit, we’d have to double back.  Before that, however, we decided to bag another summit which was a few kilometers away along a ridge, with very little extra climbing, so off we set for Beinn a’Bhuird (I have no idea how to pronounce that, so if you want to find out, go here).  I was obviously super happy that instead of a gentle downhill walk back to the bikes like we had planned, we were only halfway through the scary cliff part of the day.

At the summit of Beinn a'Bhuird

At the summit of Beinn a’Bhuird, with the summit of Ben Avon (the highest one in the distance) behind me.

At least now Ian knew which way we were going:

That way.  I promise.

That way. I promise.

After a couple of photos, we retraced our steps and headed towards the summit of Ben Avon.  Again.  Going down the steep bit was terrifying, and I made Ian walk in front of me in case I lost my footing – a human shield, if you will.  Finally, we were back at the junction, and then we started a long, steady ascent.  Again.  This side wasn’t quite as steep, but it went on for longer, before flattening out a bit with a clear path to the tors at the top.

After the steep bit, approaching the summit of Ben Avon.

After the steep bit, approaching the summit of Ben Avon.

Finally, several hours after beginning our journey, we made it to the summit, where Ian forced me to climb on top of the tors for the official ‘summit photo’.  I am not standing because there was a very real risk of being blown off the mountain (you may think I’m exaggerating, but I’ve witnessed a kid blown off his feet before, and yes, it was hilarious).

Summit of Ben Avon

Summit of Ben Avon

Someone is feeling accomplished.

Someone is feeling accomplished.

We shared our second packet of fig rolls, and started our descent, running into a few ptarmigans on our way.

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Heading back, with the false summit just to my right.

Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan

Despite being behind schedule, we had decided to go a little bit out of our way to go to the Secret Howff again.  Ian’s late father and one of his friends had helped to repair it many years ago, and Ian’s brother had told us recently that he had carved his name into one of the wooden beams in the 60’s.  Obviously, since we had missed this the first time we went, Ian wanted to go back and see if he could find the name.

Ian outside the Secret Howff

Ian outside the Secret Howff

Sure enough, his dad’s vandalism from nearly 50 years ago was there!  Although it’s kind of hard to see from a camera phone photo:

Inside the Secret Howff

Inside the Secret Howff

We signed the guestbook again, and then hopped back onto our bikes for the luxuriously (mostly) downhill section to the parking lot.

After a hearty dinner, we both slept well that night, and enjoyed a bit of a long lie the next morning.  Ah, to be back on my summer holidays…

Today, my first day back at school, was a bit of a shock to the system.

Hare and Hounds relay

Time (Garmin): 19:21

Medal: Surprisingly, yes!

L-R: Ishbel (pink), me (&), Teri (brown).

I had originally earmarked this weekend as that of the Dyce half marathon, as I have yet to run it (and haven’t been put off by Ronnie’s description of it as a dull, never-ending stretch on an old railway line).  However, due to essential railway line maintenance, the event was called off this year.  In its place, Aberdeen Metro Running Club set up a Hare and Hounds relay race.

Each relay team was to consist of three runners, and Ishbel, Teri, and myself quickly agreed we’d run as a team.  We ‘creatively’ went by the team name ‘Pink and Brown’ because Teri’s surname is ‘Brown’, and combining bits of my surname (the letter ‘P’), and Ishbel’s surname (‘ink’) created ‘pink’.  And yes, I am aware this sounds a bit rude.  There was a fancy dress element to this race, and we had kind of hoped that:

a.) nobody else would bother, or
b.) people would really get behind our creativity.

Sadly, there was a fabulous team of cockatoos (feathered limbs and everything), as well as kilted and wigged runners, so despite our monumental effort, we didn’t take away the fancy dress prize with this (sidenote: Teri did not own anything brown, so we improvized):

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L-R: Ishbel (pink), me (&), Teri (brown)

Although the relay was originally advertised as a 3k loop through trails in Hazelhead park, we were warned the distance would be closer to 4k, and that although it would start on road, we would soon be galivanting around the trails.  I was the first leg of our team, so I lined up with all of the (ridiculously tall, lean, and athletic looking) club runners, and a few other people that had been suckered into this run like me.  After a, “Ready – go!” we were off, and for about 10 seconds I was trailing the back of the gazelle-esque (totally a legitimate word) pack of runners before my lungs and legs begged for forgiveness, and I settled into a more reasonable pace.

I kept telling myself it would be over soon, just don’t slow down, and being on Ronnie’s tail gave me the motivation to stop myself from slacking (and he was also an exceedingly useful navigational tool).  Being familiar with the trails in and around the park meant that I knew when I was close to the finish, and I picked up before closing in on Teri.  We were told that one part or another of our body must ‘make contact’ with our team mate’s during the handover (as there were no batons), so with a literal run-up, I gave Teri a very spirited slap on the right butt cheek, and she went flying off!  I would just like to mention that I got excellent purchase on her backside with the palm of my hand, and it was a truly satisfying slap.  In fact, I believe that added propulsion is what helped her overtake one of the other team’s runners!

Once Teri was in sight, Ishbel geared up for the final leg, during which Teri and I enjoyed the crisps and water on offer to finishers.  At one point we had entertained the idea of being the first all female team to finish, but as Ishbel came gliding into the finish, we settled with second.  Still, there were no ill-feelings towards any of the winning teams:

L-R: Naomi, Teri, Ishbel, me (squatting so Ishbel's head would be in view), Ronnie, Stu

L-R: Naomi, Teri, Ishbel, me (squatting so Ishbel’s head would be in view, which in hindsight was unnecessary), Ronnie, Stu

After the relay, Ishbel and Teri headed off, and I joined Ronnie and our friend Susan for a ‘long run’, which consisted of an additional 13.3 miles through the outskirts of Aberdeen.

We saw a lot of livestock.

We saw a lot of livestock.

When we made it back to Ronnie’s car, Susan opted to run the 3 extra miles home, and I opted for a lift to the supermarket for key ingredients to the snack I had been craving all day:

Sweet potato fries (except they're baked).

Sweet potato fries (except they’re baked).

And now?  Another voyage to the grovery store for a couple of ingredients for some tuna patties for dinner, and hopefully a cold root beer (or two).  Seven weeks until Loch Ness marathon, which means 5 weeks until blissful taper time!

Perth Kilt Run 2013

Time (chip): 27:51 [Results here]

Category Position: 36/183

Medal: Yes

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Short version: You are now in the presence of a World Record holder!

Long version:  After missing out on the World Record to Perth, Canada last year for the number of kilted runners by less than 20 people, I was keen to return to the Perth Kilt run for another shot this year, and, rather amazingly, I had managed to persuade (translation: forced) Ian to sign up last week.  We planned on running around together, but being unenthusiastic about running, Ian wanted to add a couple of items to our Saturday itinerary, including visiting Elcho Castle and exploring a tower that sits precariously at the edge of some cliffs, both within about 5 miles from Perth city center.

Despite setting off early, we ran into one or two navigational issues, and would be cutting it pretty fine for registration if we visited the castle first, so we opted to register before sightseeing, which actually worked out because it meant we could rock up half an hour before the race prepared.  After winding in between farmhouses, we eventually reached Elcho Castle, which is pretty well maintained (as in, it has a roof, and (some) floors, and even some glass in the windows).

Elcho Castle from the front

Elcho Castle from the front

It’s described as a 4-storey mansion, and Ian and I both marvelled at the amount of spiral staircases (and latrines) this place had in comparison to other castles.  After exploring inside, we found that we could even walk along the roof, where there were rooms for people to guard the castle (complete with arrow slits), but with the luxury of their own toilet and fireplace; these people were living the dream!  Being up on the roof also meant excellent views:

View from the guard room on the top floor.

View from the guard room on the top floor.

IMG_20130810_195655From our vantage point, we could see the tower we planned on visiting later in the day above the cliffs in the distance.  If you squint extra hard, you can maybe see the tower on top of the cliffs that kind of look like a shark fin swimming through trees:

IMG_20130810_195624Once we had looked around (and I had embarrassed Ian by playing around with the kid’s fancy dress selection – no photo), we decided to head back into Perth to find a parking spot and ready ourselves for the main event.  We lucked out, scoring what I would imagine was the last free spot at the sports center, and kilted up.  Ian decided on the ‘extra patriotic’ look, perhaps inspired by my Paris ensemble:

Before the Perth Kilt Run

Before the Perth Kilt Run

I swung into the ladies at the sports center for a final bathroom call, and then we ambled towards the start line, marvelling at some of the costumes.  There was even a team of 10 carrying a Chinese dragon:

IMG_20130810_195209Ian and I stood in the starting pen and were just aware of the countdown to the start over the noise of people, and started shuffling forward before settling into a steady pace.  As this was a fun run, there were people pushing strollers, people with dogs, handfuls of small children dotted about the course, so it wasn’t unusual to have to do a bit of weaving, but we were just enjoying the atmosphere.  I even ran into a fellow dailymiler, Gavin, who shot past after saying hello.  Just when we were starting to get warmed up, the finish line came into sight.  I had joked earlier with Ian that we should cross the finish line holding hands like vomit-inducing couples sometimes feel the need to do, but instead he challenged me to a friendly sprint that I couldn’t say no to.  We both sped up, and we could hear Gavin shout, “Go Rachel! Go Ian!” from the crowds.  For the record, I won, although he claims he was “stuck behind someone who darted in front.”

The plan was to set off for the tower, but as we were leaving, Ian’s mind turned to his stomach, so he had a gourmet burger from one of the (several) stalls, while I had some juice and the banana I picked up at the finish.  And a bite of his burger, which was delicious.

Finally, we set off towards Kinnoull Tower, which, believe it or not, sits on top of Kinnoull hill.  Because the tower is at the edge of some pretty steep cliffs, it is unfortunately a popular suicide spot, which we were reminded of as we set off on the woodland walk to the top:

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It was about a mile or so to the top of the hill, but the views from the top were great, and we could even spot the Elcho Castle:

Elcho Castle - in that clump of trees Ian is pointing to

Elcho Castle – in that clump of trees Ian is pointing to

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Dangerous cliffs

Dangerous cliffs

Once back in the car and en route to Aberdeen, I fell asleep, and upon my return enjoyed a warm shower and something tasty to eat.  Another early night (hopefully) for a relay tomorrow!

Activites in the Highlands and Beinn Mheadhoin

After the Dundee half marathon, Ian took a week off work and we went for a mini camping trip to Aviemore, a small town situated in the middle of the Cairngorm Mountains.  We set off on Monday morning, and camped at Glenmore, which is a campsite a short walk from a lake, Loch Morlich.  We had been here once before, but the weather had not been our friend on that occasion, and all outdoor activities we did were in the rain.  And maybe sleet.

This time, however, we were greeted by people sunbathing outside of their tents, so once ours was set up, we put on our swimming costumes and headed for the Loch Morlich water sports center.  Ian had wanted to go sailing on a fun boat (which we had done before, with limited success), and we were soon in our wetsuits hauling the fun boat into the water excitedly.  Unfortunately, the crappy weather we were glad to have avoided is much more conducive to sailing, and the calm, warm breeze was not launching us through the lake at any decent speed.  In fact, at one point we were mildly worried that unless a breeze came along, we’d be forced to swim back to shore!  Eventually, we made it back, stripped off the wetsuits, and even managed to enjoy a bit of time sunbathing (I use this term very loosely) on the shore before heading back to the tent.  Once dressed, we drove to the nearest supermarket and picked up dinner, as well as supplies for tomorrow, and had a fairly early night after I destroyed Ian at backgammon.

On the Tuesday, we were both up early, and started cooking a hearty breakfast for three.  Our friend Craig was supposed to be meeting us for food before we all set off hiking.  Unfortunately, he got lost, and Ian and I were forced to eat all the extra food while we waited.  Once Craig turned up, we set off the Cairgorm railway parking lot, which is about halfway up the mountain.  I know technically it’s cheating, but we had all climbed Cairngorm several times before, and today it was merely an obstacle in the way of our main destination, Beinn Mheadhoin (to hear how the hell you pronounce this, go here).

We walked over Cairngorm, and then began a rocky descent into a valley with another lake, Loch Avon (pronounced: Anne, seriously).  Here is a very nice photo of Loch Avon in the valley.  We climbed down Cairngorm (out of shot on the left), before beginning our ascent to the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin (out of shot to the right):

And here we are in the valley having a snack break before our ascent, these photos being pretty much the only ones I took on my camera phone, as Ian was on paparazzi duty:

Starting to cloud over

Starting to cloud over.

Ian and Craig on a big rock.

Ian and Craig on a big rock.

The ascent to the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin was steep, with lots of loose rock which made it pretty hard to get a firm foothold at times.  About halfway up we heard (and occasionally saw) a mountain rescue helicopter fly past, and we hoped it was training rather than necessity, as the cloud was providing very limited visibility – at times we could only really see about 20/30 feet ahead.  About 2/3 the way up it started to rain.  Delightful.

Eventually the gradient of the climb eased and we realized we were pretty much on top of the mountain.  Beinn Mheadhoin is known for its grantite tors at the top, so we used a compass to navigate our way towards them (heavy cloud cover), and climb onto them. The view at the top should have looked a little bit like this:

Unfortunately, our reward for climbing the 13th highest mountain in Scotland was a view similar to, but sadly worse than, this:

You may be wondering why I’m shamelessly using other people’s photos for this post instead of my own.  I’ll get to that.

We had lunch at the top, but it was starting to get a bit cold, so we were soon on our way back down towards Loch Avon for the long walk back to the car.  Overall, we covered 12.5 miles, and had a total elevation gain of 1,388 meters.

Our route.

Our route.

By the time we finished, we all had sore, blistered feet (1000 miles socks, you are the WORST), and were in the mood for food.  After a quick shower at camp, we went out for Italian, and for the first time in my life I didn’t complain when they got my order wrong because I was too hungry to wait for them to re-make what I actually wanted.

Craig left after dinner, and Ian and I went to lie down in the tent “just for a couple of minutes”.  It has been a while since I’ve slept fully dressed.

The next day, the weather seemed alright, but thunderstorms and rain were predicted for the rest of the week.  We followed the other campers who were packing up early, and decided we had had plenty of rainy camping experiences to date, thank you very much.  Before we were willing to leave, however, we decided to go canoeing in Loch Insh.  At the watersports center, we realized we didn’t have time for the canoe day trip, instead opting for a 2 hour hire in the lake.

We began a relaxing journey around the edge of the loch, realizing we probably could have opted for the single hour to get around, at a push, but decided that this way gave us the opportunity to relax and check out the wildlife.  We passed a pair of swans and I asked Ian to take a picture.  We also came across a ram, some ducks, and were just about at a small island where Osprey were nesting when I heard panicked noises from behind me.  Ian was frantically searching himself, but we eventually realized that somehow his camera, which he had tucked into his life jacket, was no longer on his person.  Or on the canoe.  We backtracked for a while to see if we could spot it bobbing in the water, but we weren’t optimistic that it would float in the first place.  Defeated, we rowed to shore.  Ian was not happy, and all of our photos from the day before were lost forever.

Loch Insh.  But this photo is from October 2010.

Loch Insh. But this photo is from October 2010.

The car drive home was not a joyful one, and while it’s annoying that we don’t have the photos (and Ian is down a camera), at least it was an otherwise enjoyable camping trip in remarkably nice weather, for a change!

Oh, and I totally count the 12.5 miles of hiking towards my monthly mileage.  We’ll call it ‘hill reps’.