Category Archives: Wings

posts to do with me and what I’m thinking/feeling

A Dozen Days

About this time last year, I went to the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival with a few friends.

We were there to see a friend of my friends, Andrew Murray, but had tickets for the whole afternoon programme.

One of the films shown was Paul Pritchard’s The Journey, about a cycling trip across the Himalayas via Everest Base Camp.

His was a name from the past for me, from my rock climbing days when I lived in Manchester. My own climbing career was short and ultimately rather painful, but it further indulged my love of high adrenaline adventures, gave me a freedom I’d never felt before and I loved being in the mountains.

I climbed small crags in the Peak District, bigger ones in the Lakes, my first proper mountain in Snowdonia and I thoroughly loved sea cliff climbing in Pembrokeshire. I loved everything that went with it, the planning, the friends, the kit, the weather, the stories, the travelling.

In March 1998, I had an accident when I fell from my first lead, a VDiff called Pocket Wall in Hobson Moor Quarry. I didn’t fall very far, but made a dreadful mess of my ankle on the way down and the accident had a pretty big impact on my life for a long time afterwards.

A few weeks later, Paul Pritchard had a much more serious accident on the other side of the world while climbing a sea stack, and suffered a major head injury. His was a much longer recovery. I remember hearing about it at the time, being a name I knew but not someone I knew if that makes sense. Everyone had an opinion about it, just as they’d had about mine, and I hated that part of it all.

And then, as I drifted away from climbing, and from Manchester, and from who I was back then, I forgot all about it.

The part of the film that stood out for me was where he talked about a part of the trip that had been unexpectedly brilliant, not the actual getting to the end but a step along the way, one of the days that becomes a defining part of your life.

His words were something along the lines of “you only get a handful of days, maybe a dozen days like this, where you really feel… in tune….., but you should maybe aim for that every day”

I had a couple of these days last year, and when the chips have been down over the winter, as they seem to have been perhaps a little more than I’d realised this year, I’ve enjoyed thinking about them and wondering when the next ones will come around.

There was also a very funny part of the film, where he talked about being able to look at and appreciate the beauty of the mountains and the relief of knowing that he doesn’t have to climb them any more. I could relate to this as it’s kind of how I feel about rock now. I climbed Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis last year, because I’d wanted to do it for years and I wanted to see if I still loved it as much as I had. I really enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold what it used to for me, and it was strange realizing how much things had changed.

The film is here, it’s about life, and about change, and it’s excellent.

The Journey – Paul Pritchard and Carol Hurst

This photo was taken while cycling down Mont Ventoux with my dad last year. It’s one of my own dozen days, and I’ll be writing about these over the next few months.

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The snow is falling. I have a cap on to try and keep it out of my eyes, but it’s more designed for keeping the sun off my face, and as a result, the peak is obstructing my head torch. I keep fiddling with the beam and my cap but it’s no use, I just can’t get it in a decent position.

Until a minute ago, the path was very dark and very wet, lit only by the glow of an occasional streetlight.

Now, the trees are clearing though. All around me, everything is white. There are hills on my left and my right, but I’m in the valley between them. I’ve passed all the housing estates and apart from the occasional farm, the space is wide open around me.

I’ve given up with the head torch and the cap.

Now, the light of the moon combined with the brightness of the snowy fields and hills means I can see perfectly.

My shoulders drop, my arms relax, there is a little more spring in my feet and my lungs fill that bit easier. My heart feels fit to burst.

I get to the 10k tree, and turn round to head for home.

Across the valley, I can see car headlights picking their way up the Crow Road. The snow is quite heavy now. It’s Wednesday evening so a couple of miles away, just over the hills behind the Crow Road, my friends are out running. I’ve chosen to head out without them tonight. I give them a wave in my head. I love their company, but I also love my own.

I run across two wooden bridges. My footprints from earlier have disappeared, and the deeper snow is soft as I pick my way over carefully.

I’ve seen two people in 6 miles.

When I open the door, two furry heads lift from the sofa with a slight jangle. They are past getting up to greet me, it’s far too much effort and they both know they will get their ears rubbed if they wait just a minute.

I lift a couple of back legs belonging to the nearest sofa-sprawled dog so I can sit down, and their paws fall and relax against me. I sit for a while, enjoying the warmth of the room, and listening as my breathing slows back to normal.

A pause

I’m flying. I’m out of Clearways and as I come round Clark Curve and onto the Brabham Straight, I wind the revs on and click up the gears, and I’m flying.

I crouch as low as I can over the long tank, in control of far too many kilos for the 48.6 bhp bike I am riding. I’m not fat, but there’s no escaping the fact that this bike was built for posing on Italian piazzas, not hurtling round race tracks.

I see my markers for Paddock Hill. I ease off, brake and tip in. I can’t see it but I know the apex is there just slightly round the corner.

I giggle in my helmet as I feel the swoosh and the splash as I hit the dip at the bottom of Paddock Hill and ride through the duck pond.*

I feel the wind hit my helmet and my arms as I come up Hailwood Hill, and I drift towards the left of the circuit to get ready for Druids. Not too far over, so no one can take an inside line and come past me, but enough to give me a good line into the corner and set up a good fast exit. My knee just skims the tarmac.

I come out of the corner, heading left again towards the edge of the circuit. Not too far over, as Graham Hill is next and I need to move over to the right for the entry to this one.

I tip in as cautiously as possible when trying to go fast on a track. It’s the only left hand corner on the circuit, and so the left side of my tyre will be considerably cooler than the right side.

I’m onto the Cooper Straight now, getting ready to flick through Surtees and McLaren. I know the medical centre is in sight but I won’t be visiting it with any luck. One day, I will turn left here, but for now it’s straight over and ready for Clearways.

My line is terrible through here. I’ve been taught the right line, but I’m not going fast enough on it and it feels wrong, so I am always trying to find a better one for the speed I am going at. My knee touches the floor again, and then I’m into Clark Curve and back onto the Brabham Straight.

It has taken me just over a minute. One day it will be less. I have  hardly breathed. My heart is beating so hard and my legs and arms are shaking so much I will struggle to get off my bike afterwards.

I’ve been here on sunny days, on rainy days and on one freezing day in February when the icy cold air blowing down Hailwood Hill hit my lungs so hard I could barely breathe.

One time round Clearways, I was on the inside of the track, blocked in by a pack of bikes with much more power than mine. If I had braked, or hesitated or moved off line in any, the consequences would have been pretty serious. But I didn’t. I believed I could get round and I hung on, back into Clark and onto the Cooper Straight where the faster bikes would pull away again.

Another time, I spent a weekend here in baking hot sunshine,  watching World Superbikes with the hordes. I barely spoke to another soul, apart from the ice cream man. It was wonderful.

This is Brands Hatch and it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

It will be a while before my next visit, but when I shut my eyes I can hear my bike bouncing off the rev limiter and my kneeslider scraping on the tarmac.

I can feel the rubber of my Renthals and the end of my foot pegs digging into the middle of the sole of my boots. I feel one knee dink the tank as it grips on tight, as the other drops away towards the track.

I think of nothing else beyond getting safely round the next corner.

*a somewhat misnamed puddle, as it is tiny and no ducks go on it

Beinn Eighe

It feels like it has been raining for weeks. Christmas is 3 days away and somehow I don’t think it will be a white one. The Scottish word for this weather is dreich, a marvellous word that doesn’t have a literal translation into English, but is approximately wet, miserable and unrelenting.

The weekend has been a write-off. Both of us have been wiped out by a horrendous cold, just when we thought we’d bounced back from the last one at the end of October. Marcothon is sadly over for me, but I hope to be running again as soon as I’ve lost the death rattle in my lungs. A day off on Thursday was spent tucked up with the hounds on the sofa, as was Friday, Saturday and again yesterday, which should have been an important trip south to celebrate my granny’s birthday.

All the sofa time meant I could sit with my laptop going through some GoPro footage from earlier in the year. I’m reasonably handy at putting something musical together, but film is a whole new world.

There’s a film competition open at the moment, with a theme of women in the mountains, and I’m hoping to make something documenting the wonderful year I’ve had. So this was a bit of a chance to practice.

Sitting inside watching and listening to the endless rain outside reminded both of us just how incredibly lucky with the weather while we were away.

We stayed in Gairloch the last week of November, and apart from a little rain on the Sunday evening, it was dry and wonderfully clear the whole week we were there.

We were spoilt for choice with mountains to climb, and decided to explore Beinn Eighe. Neither of us were prepared for Coire Mhic Fearchair, and after a very misty day on Tower Ridge in September, we’d forgotten what it’s like when you can actually see for miles at the top.

There was a small dusting of snow at the top of Ruadh Stac Mor, and a few icy rocks on the approach to Spidean Coire nan Clach.

The greyness of the shattered rock was vast, and just for a few moments on the ridge, I had to sit down as the whole range was spinning. All I could see was grey rock, it was very unnerving and I was glad to have company as I had a little word with myself in my head and then carried on.

We started early to make the most of the limited daylight hours, which meant we had the beauty of a sunrise around Sail Mhor, and then were left open mouthed as the sun set over Glen Torridon on the walk back to the car.

It’ll take a bit more experimenting with the GoPro, and there’s lots of stills in this, but it was fun to make and even better to watch back thinking of the blueness of the morning light in Coire Mhic Fearchair.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=m4gmoBMGHOQ

All is calm – Day 16

I’m just home from work, I feel sick from the bus journey home, I’m tired and I’m just starting to come down with yet another cold.

I live by the hills just north of Glasgow so obviously it’s raining outside.

I check my peak flow. It’s just above the self-imposed limit where running is questionable, but my chest feels OK and after being inside all day, I am desperate for some fresh air. I get changed and head out of the front door.

All my other winter running kit is in the wash so I’m wearing a pair of incredibly badly fitting running tights that were stashed at the back of the drawer in case of an emergency. They are slightly too see-through for daytime public consumption, and they don’t stay up without a good yank every couple of hundred metres.

I’m also wearing a very brightly coloured top that is too bright for daytime public consumption, especially when worn with these running tights. My colour coordination this evening leaves much to be desired.

It’s raining quite heavily now. I’m actually really glad about this because it means the footpaths won’t be icy, and so I am less likely to slip over.

It’s 16th December and this is my 16th day of running this month.

The reason for this madness is Marcothon.

This is an informal challenge to run every day in December (including Christmas Day), for 3 miles or 25 minutes, whichever comes first.

I first heard of it last year, but didn’t think it was something I’d be able to do. The previous winter had been incredibly icy and my asthma had been pretty bad so I didn’t feel able to commit to running every day.

So instead, I challenged myself to log an 80 mile month, a challenge set by Bangs and a Bun, whose running/fitness blog had helped inspire me when I first started out on this incredible journey in early 2012.

As a direct result of my 80 mile month, I learned how to manage my asthma on really bad days. I pushed my distances way further than I thought was possible, and just when I thought I’d left it too late, I managed to clock up 50 miles in 8 days and completed the challenge.

Finishing last year's #80milemonth as the sun went down on 2013 - Hogmanay on the Forth Road Bridge
Finishing last year’s #80milemonth as the sun went down on 2013 – Hogmanay on the Forth Road Bridge

On my very worst asthma day last winter, I set out for a short run. It can take a while for my lungs to warm up sometimes, but this time nothing was happening. I almost turned round and went home. But I happened to look at my Strava and realised that not only had I already run a mile and would have to run a mile home again anyway, but it was a fast mile and I was on track to hit a new PB for 5k. So I carried on. I still have no idea where that came from, and it was another sign that my life had really changed.

This year, largely thanks to a great winter of training behind me (which itself was largely thanks to previously unknown levels of commitment and discipline), I did some amazing things. I have run, climbed, walked and cycled in some incredible places and covered some pretty impressive distances under my own steam.

After such a big year, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a bit of a dip. I didn’t finish my last race, back in early October. I took a couple of weeks off to rest and recover, and then just as I was hoping to start running again, I was absolutely flattened for the best part of three weeks with a sinus infection. I had wanted to get going again, but my body could barely make it from my bed to the sofa and back. I’d been incredibly unlucky, but there was nothing for it other than to let it take its course and wait until I was better.

I’d thought about entering the Highland Fling in April  but had no idea whether I was capable of completing it, certainly not in the state I was now in. ntries opened not long after my last race, and knowing it would quickly sell out, I needed to make up my mind pretty quickly.

I reminded myself that I’d felt the same way this time last year about entering my first marathon and ultra marathon, and committing to cycle up a big mountain in France. I had no idea whether I was capable of those either, but I’d said yes and then trained and prepared as much as I could. Knowing this had all paid off gave me a bit of confidence to put my Fling entry in.

We had a wonderful week’s holiday in the north west Highlands, with some running, walking and a bit of scrambling. Marcothon would start just after we got back and this year I felt ready to give it a go.

I didn’t expect to love it as much as I have.

I didn’t expect to see the results I’ve seen.

In just over two weeks, I’m pretty much back to the speed I was running at the start of the year when I’d set a 5k and 10k PB. Admittedly these are short distances compared to my ‘normal’ preferred distances, and nothing like the terrain I will be running on come race day, but given how bad my chest has been recently, frankly I am astonished.

The first week, I was absolutely shattered. Even running half an hour a day on top of a normal working day was more than I had done for a few weeks. But within a few days, I felt fine. My legs haven’t been sore at all, just a little tired on a longer run on Saturday.

The hardest days so far have been Day 3, when I was just getting going again and really struggled to shove myself out of the front door, and Day 9 when I had to run at 6am because I was out in the evening and would be in no fit state to run when I got home.

Icy footpaths have been a bit scary, but the worst thing about the ice has been having to slow down when my legs have felt ready to go faster.

I miss running in the daylight, but I know that logging these winter miles will mean that once again I will be ready to make the most of the long summer evenings when they come.

Running is responsible for so much of the good stuff in my life, and the fitness it has given me has pushed me on to do other things as well.

Marcothon has reminded me of just how much I love running, and how despite this being my third winter of training, it still feels like a complete novelty that I’m able to do it, especially in this part of the world.

I feel a bit more like my old self again. There’s a challenge on the table and I know what I am working towards. Away from running, this isn’t always the case, but it’s amazing how having a running goal keeps me going in other areas of life too.

Winter sun

What could be better than a sunset?

A sunset on a beach?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration, with slightly sore legs and arms from a spot of scrambling on the side of a mountain the day before?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration, with slightly sore legs and arms from a spot of scrambling on the side of a mountain the day before, followed by some very fine fish and chips in Ullapool?

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A proper set-up job

It’s fair to say that it has been a while since I rode my motorbike regularly. It’s strange how something that had been such a huge part of my life for so long, and something so important to my identity and how I define and describe myself, can have fallen by the wayside to the extent it has. I was so excited about him coming back home, and then horrified that I just have not got back into it the way I had expected.

There are a few reasons for this. I am an experienced rider – I’ve had my bike licence for almost 20 years, I’ve done speedway, trackdays and held an ACU Clubman road race licence a few years back (meaning I didn’t just have the licence, I’d used it a fair few times as well!). I’ve ridden all sorts of bikes from little 100cc learner bikes to full on 1000cc sportsbikes. For 18 months I had a daily commute of 80-90 miles which I alternated between a CBR400, CB500, 748 and GSXR1000.

But, as soon as I take a break from riding for whatever reason, I lose confidence. It becomes a vicious circle – to break it you need to ride to build your confidence, but the confidence only comes from riding more. My dinky legs don’t help, I don’t have the luxury of shoving both feet flat on the floor if I panic on a slow turn.

I had to wait what felt like a very long time between selling my beautiful Big Blue GSXR1000 K6 back in November 2007. I’d had a crash while racing at Cadwell Park in the Desmodue race series, and was in for a potentially long recovery from a badly broken thumb. I’d also just separated from my ex husband and moved to a house with no garage/bike storage. My bike had to go and I had to buy a car instead, and believe me for this girl, that hurt far more than the broken bones did.

After that, I ran out of money. My dad came up trumps with the long term loan of a beautiful VFR750, and then a few years later, some money from my grandmother’s will finally meant I could buy my own road bike again. A friend was selling his GSXR750 K6 which was low mileage, mint and standard with good history I knew I could trust – a rarity indeed. I know most people’s grans might question this use of their money, but not mine.

We’ve had some great times together, including the trip to Ipswich waterfront for an ice cream as above, but I haven’t yet bonded with this bike in the same way I did with the 1000. There’s a number of reasons for this, some riding time/running/harp practice related and some technical.

Moving away from somewhere I’d lived for so long meant leaving all my favourite bike shops behind. Places I’d spent years visiting, and mechanics and technicians I trusted deeply were no more. I was dreading making new contacts again, desperately worried I would encounter a few dodgy characters along the way, and hoping nothing dangerous or uncomfortable would happen as a result.

I needn’t have worried – a local Suzuki dealer were lovely on the phone from the off and my master cylinder recall was done by some great guys who didn’t bat an eyelid when I arrived to collect my bike and skipped around their workshop because I was so excited to take him on his first Scottish escapade.

The next thing was to tackle the suspension. My friend had attempted to adjust it to suit himself, but he was a different build/weight with a different riding style. My first job when I bought the bike was to put this back to standard as a starting point, an easy job that just requires a screwdriver, some patience and the ability to keep count of clicks and turns. It wasn’t enough though, and I’ve really struggled with the bike’s handling, and of course this hasn’t helped the confidence situation.

The bike was twitchy on the front end even at slow speeds, and thoroughly uncomfortable at the back over even the slightest of bumps. I will have a go at most things on a bike, but suspension is quite technical, with many variables involved and the potential to make a bike unrideable. All reversible of course, but enough to put me off fiddling too far.

I asked around and received an interesting recommendation which I decided to follow up in future. Recently however, I was at a wedding in the area and decided to pop in on my way home rather than just ringing up for a chat. I felt really comfortable with the place and booked my bike in.

Yesterday was the big day. I wasn’t disappointed, and I had a thoroughly entertaining Saturday morning playing bikes and hanging round a workshop for the first time in a good while.

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A couple of hours later, and just £45 lighter, my bike is a different animal and I am so much happier riding it. I’m no longer fighting it round bends or scared to go over a bump mid-corner in case the bike spits me off, and manhole covers/bumps in the road are a much more pleasant experience.

However the weather is now against us. While down south I would still be riding over the winter stopped only by snow or ice, up here it’s a different kettle of fish. It was a very wet, extremely windy ride over to the workshop yesterday, to the extent we cancelled our follow on ride to St Andrews because it was neither safe nor comfortable. We saw just one other bike out, a very hardy Fireblade rider. This is just the start of things, and I know those cold dry sunny days that are so enjoyable down south are much more of a rarity now.

But I’m not completely ruling out a few sneaky winter rides. I loved my ride home yesterday, despite fighting to stay upright when climbing on and off at the petrol pump, and I really feel I’m back now.

There are almost 8 years, and 250cc between these pictures – the first was taken on Christmas Day 2006, my first Christmas spent alone and very happily playing on the wonderful A507 near Baldock. The second was taken yesterday, and contains a slight hint as to what the next big run is.

The helmet has changed, the girl has definitely changed, but the feeling I get when I ride is still exactly the same.

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