Northern Italy by Train: Monday

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After the Milan marathon, the Milan Furniture Fair moved into town.  Apparently this is a thing, and it’s big enough to cause the majority of hostels and hotels in Milan to become fully booked.  So I guess we weren’t hanging … Continue reading

Stinking Rich Husband on Death Bed: position available

One of the consequences of scrolling through running blogs in your feeder in January is being made aware of a slew of fantastic sounding races that have made it onto 2014 race calendars.  Sadly, my races for the year are nearly all mapped out (I’m opting for more quality, less quantity this year because, well, money), so I don’t really have the option of getting overly excited filling up my schedule with exotic locations.  Instead, I get to create a ‘to-do’ list of races that I would love to one day participate in sometime in the future (or when I win the lottery, though I hear you have to buy a ticket for that, so I’m not holding my breath).

Take a (virtual) trip around the world with me as I investigate some of the races I would to see in my future!  And leave me any suggestions!

E.T. Full Moon Midnight marathon (Rachel, Nevada)

This race takes place in Rachel, Nevada.  My name is Rachel.  Not that I even need to explain any further why I am interested in this one, but it is also takes place at night, and I would imagine fancy dress is encouraged.  Because aliens.

I need a photo standing next to this sign.

I need a photo standing next to this sign.

Caracas marathon (Caracas, Venezuela)

I figure, having ticked Houston off the list, I should try and run a marathon in every city I’ve lived in.  Why not start here?  Besides, I love the idea of carb loading on arepas and queso de mano.  I’m drooling.  It could also turn into a nice extended holiday.  To Aruba.

Jakarta marathon (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Continuing the ‘cities I’ve lived in’ tour, Jakarta would be my next stop.  I would be equally excited about the food options available for pre- and post-race nutrition.  Many of my childhood favourites (chicken satay, sambal olek, nasi goring, beef rending… Oh. My. God. Yes.) would feature prominently, and I would top it all off with a trip to Sambolo beach to relax and watch anak Krakatoa simmer in the distance at night.

Puncak.  Late 80's/early 90's.

Puncak. Late 80’s/early 90’s.

Giulietta e Romeo ½ marathon (Verona, Italy)

I’m a high school English teacher, so this totally appeals.  I’m also Italian, and Verona is like a 2 hour drive from my Great Aunt’s house, so I could make it a family affair.  I had this in mind for my 30th next month, but the timing for flights was super awkward, so I’ll have to wait until flights are more regular from Scotland.  Or until I can afford the better flights.  Or a private jet.  Whatever comes first.

I have even illustrated the whole play for my senior class.  I love Romeo and Juliet.

I have even illustrated the whole play for my senior class. I love Romeo and Juliet.

London marathon (London, England)

One of the most famous marathons in the world, London would be great to run for fun, and for the experience.  I’m not really willing to get an entry via a charity place, because you need to commit to raising, like, 4.8billion pounds, and I pretty much maxed out friends (and strangers – thank you again!) generosity with the whole sled-pulling trick in September.  However, I’ve entered the ballot 5 times and lost out, so we’ll see.  I’d also be ticking off a ‘cities  I’ve lived in’ marathon, so there’s that.

Great Wall marathon (Great Wall, China)

Because who WOULDN’T want to run this?  And I’m using the term loosely – it would be a challenge with all the steps.  But steeped in history, and with beautiful views, who cares how long it takes to finish?

Williams Route 66 marathon (Tulsa, Oklahoma)

This is where I hit a brick wall with trying to run a marathon in every city I’ve lived in.  Ponca City, Oklahoma – population 24,974 – does not have a marathon*.  I have decided to get around this by picking another race in the same state (totally legit), and have chosen, easily, the Route 66 marathon in Tulsa.  The medal is meant to be fantastic, which is a bonus, and I’ve only ever read good reviews, so in all honesty, I need no elaborate reason to want to run this.

Berlin marathon (Berlin, Germany)

Another marathon with a ballot entry, which means my biggest challenge for ticking this off the list is getting a spot in the first place.  A couple I know both entered the ballot for this year.  He got in.  She did not.  For the sake of their marriage, he turned down his place.

Any marathon in Australia.

Australia is a weird place.  Summer and winter are backwards, and the majority of the island is a barren death-trap.  But I’m already starting to save for an Australian trip in summer 2015 with my friend Grant.  We’ll check out Melbourne/Sydney and catch up with old friends for a few days, then I’ll journey solo to visit my grandmother.  If I can time the trip to include a marathon that is within reasonable train distance, I’m in.  There’s also a fantastic cycle trip from where she lives, to the top of Mount Beauty, then back.  A challenge I am keen to complete after visiting a couple of years ago and seeing the huge number of cyclists puffing to the top.  Also, my old sports massage therapist lives in the same town my gran does, so I’d be looked after.  Small world.

New Year, 2012, Australia

New Year, 2012, Australia

 

*Currently, Aberdeen does not have a marathon either.  But I have run several 5 and 10ks here, and – if all goes well – will be running my first ultramarathon here in about 8 weeks.

Hasta la Vista, 2013!

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I am currently gearing up for a raucous New Year’s Eve here in Houston.  I’m planning on whipping up some cinnamon spiced pancakes, courtesy of Chef John’s dulcet voice.  Or plain spaghetti.  It depends on how settled my stomach is … Continue reading

Aviemore half marathon 2013

Time: 2:02:57 [RESULTS HERE]

Medal: Yes (though I’m told it’s the same as last year’s)

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Not every race can be a good one.

I spent all of last week feeling disgusting, and full of a nasty cold.  Kids were dropping like flies at work, and all I wanted to do was have some alone time with my bed, but I can’t help but worry that people will think I’m just being lazy by phoning in sick during the last week of term, right before a 2 week break, so I went to work, and felt like crying.

I had considered DNSing this race.  Despite laying off the gym/running during the week, and resting when I could, I was nowhere near 100% when I woke up on Saturday, but had blind faith that the marginal improvement I felt after the first good night’s sleep in days was a sign that I’d be feeling fabulous on Sunday (I did not actually believe this, but I hoped).  Also, I had told nearly ten people who were also staying in the youth hostel that I would cook for them, so I kind of felt obligated to go.  So I did.

Saturday morning, Ronnie picked up myself and Suzy, who was running the 10k, and off we went to Aviemore, arriving mid-afternoon.  When we arrived at the hostel there was no record of my booking, but the guy on reception gave me a key and said we’d work it out.  Eventually, Ronnie found his booking confirmation e-mail (he had booked for me), and everything was fine.  Apart from the fact that I was in the male wing of the hostel (since that was the only place where there were free rooms), and my room was situated right next to the men’s bathroom.  Nice.  The silver lining here is that I had the entire dorm (4 beds) to myself.

Before heading to registration, I whipped up some banana bread dough (I had 3 beyond-eating bananas at home, so brought them with me), and dumped it in the oven with a note saying I’d be back to take it out in an hour or so.  Ronnie, Suzy, Shona +1, and I walked the 5 minutes down the road to the hotel where registration was.   We got our numbers (I was 5, obviously very keen to enter), and then queued for the shirts, which were £6 each.  It was pretty busy, and they had a few things to keep people busy (a quiz, a couple of charity stalls, whiskey tasting, a pop-up sale, free pasta), but before we knew it, our hour was up, and we went back to the hostel for the banana bread.

By this point, more of our informal group had arrived in Aviemore, so we decided to get dinner started.  There were a lot of other runners staying in the hostel, so the kitchen was a hive of activity, but we managed pasta with a choice of sauces, and a massive pot of chicken, broccoli, mushroom, and white wine risotto.  Suzy, Susan and I decided we’d share the leftover white wine, which amounted to approximately 20ml each.  Cheers:

Wild times.

Wild times.

I believe Ronnie was relaxing in the common room while we were slaving away in the kitchen because, as he put it, “I drive, you cook.”  Several people did offer to help, but after prep, there wasn’t too much to do until we served up. Either everyone is very good at lying, or I am a passable cook, because all the food was eaten apart from the extra bread/garlic bread, which was graciously accepted from some of the other runners dining at the same time.  Warm banana loaf and Suzy’s home made rocky road made up the desert, and everyone was pretty satiated. Slowly, people filtered off to their dorms, but Suzy and Susan swung by mine and we ended up sitting and having very rude conversations until about midnight, when we decided it would probably be wise to get some sleep.  And sleep would have been nice, but was interrupted by men using the toilet, and then at about 3 in the morning, by a troupe of drunk gentlemen falling about the hall. Somehow, I managed to haul myself out of bed in the morning, and get myself dressed.  I felt no worse than the day before, but no better.  I met everyone for breakfast, then we made our way to the buses, which took us a short walk away from the start. It.  Was.  Freezing.  We bounced on the spot and huddled with familiar faces since we had a bit of a wait until the start.  I look positively thrilled (and compos mentis) to be there: 1379784_551254847110_944063357_n Thankfully I managed to pull my face together (kind of) for a photo with Danielle, who was running her first half marathon: IMG_20131013_135948 Thankfully there was a bag drop, and the organizers seemed pretty casual about keeping it open up to the last minute, so we huddled around in our extra layers as long as we could before the half marathoners had to begin arranging ourselves by our time predictions. The pre-crossing-the-start-line shuffle commenced, and then we were running.  The course starts out on trails that weave through the forest, so it was very pretty, but we were focusing on putting our feet places where big rocks were not.  I didn’t feel great, and my heart rate was quite high for the speed I was running, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that any hopes I had of getting an impressive (for me) time were pretty much obliterated.  Especially when we reached the first hill where I saw my heart rate creep up to 185.  So less than two miles into the race, I was done.  I bid farewell to Ronnie and Susan, and tucked in behind the walkers.

Going solo.

Going solo.

The first half of the race is a blur of gorgeous scenery (especially when the mist started lifting), and moderate discomfort.  At the halfway point there was an ambulance, and I actually slowed down and considered pulling out, but I remembered Ronnie saying the night before that from 7 miles, it’s all downhill, so chose to chance it. I was overtaken more times than I care to remember, but apart from that initial walk break on the hill, I managed to keep running (I use this term loosely) until the end, bar the water stops for a few seconds, because who can actually drink out of cups when they’re running?!

About a mile from the end.

About a mile from the end.  No idea why it looks like I’m having a wonderful time.

Special thanks goes out to the song ‘House of the Rising Sun’, which I pretty much played on repeat because I wanted a soundtrack to my despair, and I crossed the finish line without a smile on my face, but relieved.  Mostly that I had managed to avoid a heart attack. Not everyone’s race was a disaster.  Suzy got a PB on her 10k.  Susan PB’ed during the half, as did her mum, June, and Shona, and Danielle came in under her time target for her first half.  Though I caught him with 2 miles to go, Ronnie ran the half comfortably, which is one of the first times since his ankle injury nearly a year ago, and though he beats himself up about not getting the times he used to, I’m confident that he’s getting closer.

So basically, this race only sucked ass for me.  Purely for comparison, let’s just take a look at Shona’s post race, and then my own:

Shona: smiling, elated, loving life.

Shona: smiling, elated, loving life.

Me: hating myself.

Me: hating myself.

After the run, we went back to the hostel, because the nice man on reception had told us we could use the showers there when we were done (I may have been a bit forceful with my asking).  Apparently the towels are £2 to hire (I am an idiot and forgot to bring my towel), but the guy must have taken pity on me, because he told me there was no charge.  Suzy and I got to know each other pretty well in the double shower cubicle, and that warm blast of water was bliss.  Then we all waited for everyone else to clean up in the seating area, finishing off the banana bread in the process.

I really loved the course today, but my body let me down.  Originally this was going to be a PB attempt (and after running the course, I wish it had been!), but that was before I decided to run Loch Ness with a sled, and before some child infected me with their gross disease at school (I don’t even care if they’re blameless (they’re not)).  I would love to return next year to do the course justice, but right now I would love for my cajun chicken to finish cooking so I can eat my dinner, and go to bed – where I clearly belong.

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.

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!