Tag Archives: feeling the love

Destination Distillery

It has been a long, long winter. Normally it doesn’t bother me but this year, and also when I look back, last year, I have struggled to keep things in perspective at times.

Running has been haphazard thanks to two sinus infections and a chest infection in quick succession. The latter saw me on steroids which had more of an impact than I’d anticipated, and so the return to training has been cautious.

Finally, I got out for a decent long run on Sunday.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was out when I set off, and stayed out for most of my run. There were some impressive rain showers early on, but thankfully they were short-lived.

It was the first run of the year in just a single layer of clothing,  (admittedly long sleeves and long tights), and it was great not to be rustling along in my jacket. I was trying out a new backpack that I’d wanted for ages, and it felt brilliant.

It was also a rare daylight run, and after months and months of running in the dark, at last there was no need for my headtorch.

The world was out enjoying the weather and the scenery. Dogs were being walked, children were learning to ride bikes, sheep were being rounded up on the hillside. The highland cattle I’d seen on my last run down this route had increased their number by one, a tiny calf who could just be seen sticking very close to its mother.

For me, a long run isn’t a long run without a hug from a dog along the way. I stopped counting border collies when I got to ten. It was a similar story with black labradors. No greyhounds this time, but I did see a couple of whippets.

This week’s dogs of the day were Maisie the Westie and Ben the miniature Schnauzer, both happily showing off their newly clipped streamlined spring coats.

My route covered a mixture of the newly designated John Muir Way down to Strathblane, then up the Stockiemuir Road to Carbeth and then onto the popular West Highland Way, before crossing the road at Glengoyne distillery. I had my now customary stop at the stile, and paused for a think before stomping up the hill and then picking up the Pipe Track that runs back to Blanefield.

I’ve been quite homesick lately, and the stile has become a bit of a place to sit and think about friends and family far away.

Glengoyne is a favourite whisky of one of my dearest friends. We go back to days of Ducatis and random meetups with unknown bikers in car parks. It has become a tradition that each time I run past the distillery, I have a quick stop to take a picture of the distillery for her, as a reminder that it’s still there.

Despite being just nine miles from home, I’ve never been to visit, and I hope that when I do, it’s with her.

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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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Press 6 for Ebola

It hadn’t been the best of weeks. Suddenly everything started to catch up with me last weekend and I felt things starting to unravel. Every time I paused for breath there was an email to reply to, washing to do, dinner to make, dogs to be walked.

It lifted last night. My 12 year old harp/greyhound shifting Audi estate workhorse sailed through its MOT for the first time since I’ve had it. It’s pushing 180,000 miles on the clock, but it’s still a joy to drive and the thought of replacing it is just too much to bear at the moment. Other, shinier things beckon constantly, but for now I have no funds and even less desire to change car. I squealed with joy in the garage when they told me it was all going to be OK. I can’t tell you how relieved I was.

And then very early this morning, just for a few hours, things were very wrong again.

My boyfriend R was in agony next to me and things were getting worse and worse. I rang NHS24 for help. We ignored the option to press 6 if I/he had recently returned from West Africa, which made both of us smile for a moment. A few questions and answers followed, accompanied by more painful yelps, and then we were directed to an out of hours GP service at the local hospital. He was seen quickly, thoroughly attended to and then passed on to another hospital for more tests.

He’d barely got changed before a cheerful nurse arrived with a trolley. “Ah’m here to do your ECG, pal.”

This made me smile, as in my head I still expect people to speak with an Essex accent and use the word “mate” not “pal”

I clearly remember the first time I used “pal” without even thinking, just as I now occasionally say “Aye” or “Aye right!” or “ragin’” or “Naw!”

“Ah’ll be quick as a can pal, as a don’t wan’tae miss ma bus” she joked, as another nurse appeared because the machine was playing up a little.

His ridiculously low heart rate was a source of much curiosity for everyone, as they are more used to dealing with considerably less healthy members of the public. At that very point in time, he was hardly the best advert for long distance running as a life-prolonging activity, but everyone was in awe of what he does/we do with our spare time, and they were keen to make sure that everything was alright.

Needles were put in, which rather elevated the low heart rate. A chest X-ray was done. And then, almost as swiftly as we’d arrived, we were on our way again, everything fine and nothing to worry about.

In the space of three and a half hours, we’d dealt with three separate parts of the NHS, in three different locations.

The standard of care was excellent, and I felt so angry that all we read about is the bad news about our health service. For those few desperately worrying hours, we felt as though we were the only ones that mattered, even though we certainly weren’t the only ones being treated in the hospital today. The doctors addressed both of us. I wasn’t left out of anything, or asked to wait separately. Admittedly we arrived very early in the day, which will have had an effect on our waiting time, but I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly everything progressed.

As we waited, I had time to appreciate everything we had and that was being done for us. We were safe, warm, had access to excellent, free medical care, and we were being so well looked after. I’d been able to get us to the hospital/s quickly and safely. Normally, we fight like cat and dog a large proportion of the time, but this morning we were together and the only thing that mattered was that he was alright, and if he wasn’t, I was with him.

It was 10am when I finally got my first mug of tea today. I was less than impressed about that.

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

And…. Action!

Inevitably at the start of the year, we look back on what was, and start to think once again about what might be.

2014 was a pretty transformative year for me. I set myself some monster targets running and cycling wise, and achieved all but the very last one of them.

Everything else was left more fluid. For the first year in a while, I had just a small handful of harp gigs in the diary and I played much less than normal. This was deliberate, for reasons I’ll talk about another time. At the start of last year, I was in a brand new relationship, in a temporary job, with no commitments beyond demolishing a serious debt mountain, looking after two big black furries, and working my way through a long-held list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I deliberately flung myself face first down a Munro in the snow to practice self-arrest with an ice axe, on my first day of proper winter hill walking (under supervision I should add).

I ran my first ever marathon. On Easter Saturday, I had a brilliant run on the West Highland Way with a favoured running buddy. A few weeks later, I ran my first ever ultra marathon.

I put myself forward as a support runner for the West Highland Way race, potentially running through the night in the Scottish wilderness with someone I’d never met, to help them achieve their goal. I wasn’t needed in the end sadly, due to them becoming injured, but the fact that my offer was accepted was wonderful and a huge honour! Instead, I spent my second Summer Solstice at the top of Meikle Bin, and this time I ran almost to the top.

I cycled up a truly brutal, epic Tour de France climb, in horrendous conditions, again to help someone else achieve their goal. Two days later we did it again.

I took part in my first ever club cycle race.

I had a minor tantrum in the middle of my second ultramarathon and was rescued by crystallised ginger and kind people, and the combination of both enabled me to finish the race.

I spent my birthday weekend in a forest just outside Aviemore, getting rained and hailed on, running/staggering round in circles, and sleeping for approximately 2 hours, to support someone through a big race.

I got my revenge the next week by dragging him up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (along with a fab guide) for my alternative birthday weekend.

I ran 38 miles in a day, 20 of these through the most extreme conditions I’ve ever encountered. The first 18 miles were horrendous for other reasons, but somehow when the weather turned, something magical happened. Then the day after, I DNF’d in an event for the first time.

I spent an incredible week exploring the north west Highlands, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for almost twenty years.

I bought a new-to-me harp, and signed up for an online course with an inspirational teacher.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my harp journey started again.

I’ve been to some incredible beaches.

I’ve had lots of time and space to think about lots of things.

I achieved a lot in 2014, and I am incredibly proud of all of it. I’m particularly of getting up Mont Ventoux.

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Photobombing the Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe – 12 miles out from Bridge of Orchy with 12 miles still ahead on the first truly hot day in months.

Fling 2

Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for the above fab photo, taken along the bonny banks at the Highland Fling.

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Looking surprisingly glam given how knackered I was here – second ascent of Mont Ventoux in three days (Malaucene route this time)

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This was the first time up Ventoux. We could see…. nothing. Both very tired and very cold but full of beans.

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Spidean Coire nan Clach – Beinn Eighe, November in Scotland. Who’d have thought it. Blue, clear skies.

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I think of these words often now – the Tom Simpson memorial on the Bedoin ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Getting to the top of the big hill at Loch Katrine, for the first time.

But there is more to come.

2014 was really about trying to escape from previous failures. I can confirm that if you run far enough and cycle up enough big tough hills, you will find some answers. They probably won’t be what you expect but you definitely won’t forget them if you learn them the hard way.

When you find the things you truly love doing, it becomes ever more important to make space for them in your life.

The fact is that now, there are not enough hours in the day for running, cycling, hill walking, motorcycling. Let alone looking after pets, seeing friends and family, earning a living.

In my previous life, I didn’t know what to do with myself much beyond working.

As a result of a lot of thinking while covering a serious amount of self-propelled miles last year, I have everything I need in terms of ideas and plans for the next step of the journey.

Now, they need action, and commitment, and confidence and the drive to see them through.

But the last year has taught me that if you are brave and keep trying enough big bold things, sometimes they will work out after all.

PS just to prove it’s not all highs and happy faces, here’s me remembering just how much I hate chossy damp dark slimey chimneys! Thanks to guide Dave Chapman for the photo and a brilliant day despite a few squeaky bits.

Tower Ridge 2

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.