Tag Archives: friends

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.

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.

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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.

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And everything stops

I was on my way home last night and just for a few moments, I had to stop. I could hear a familiar pattern of notes coming from a guitar. I wasn’t close enough to the busker to start with, but as I made my way further down Sauchiehall Street, I recognised the song. The tears came and just for a little moment or two, I couldn’t move.

A few years ago one of my friends was killed. As is common in the bike racing world, people who you don’t know terribly well and don’t see terribly often become friends, because of shared experiences and passions. It can be hard to describe why you love doing something so dangerous to those who have never tried it, but with people who have, there’s a kind of shortcut and you don’t have to explain.

The church was packed to the rafters with standing room only, and the first few bars of Hallelujah started up as her funeral started.

It’s a beautiful song which I’ve tried to play many times on the harp. As I settle into the next phase, where there are no big plans on the immediate horizon, maybe this will be something to work on. I’m a lot better at playing through strong emotions now, and I hope I can use them to bring something special to my arrangement.

I’ve been a bit guilty of wishing my life away lately, worrying about the future and making plans for next year so I have something to focus on over the winter.

L/G always reminds me to think of the here and now. I am desperately sad that she has gone, but happy that she had and continues to have such a positive impact on my life.

I hope the weather is kind tomorrow as I fancy a bike ride. I haven’t said that in a long time.

Ultra running, Ultra recovering

This is Lossiemouth beach, on the north east coast of Scotland. It was last Sunday, August bank holiday weekend (well, if you’re in England) and as you can see, we had the best of the weather while it was miserable down south.

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This was our away day after the darkness of the day before. It seemed crazy not to visit the nearest beach when we were so close, and I had ditched the planned race so we had time to spare.

It was everything we needed and more. We had ice cream and Irn Bru and we bought seaside rock. We softened our gnarly feet on the sand. One of us burst our blisters and got sand in them (ouch). We froze our toes in the sea, and were wearing more clothes than most.

We laughed as we got out of the car and shuffled along the sea front. One of us suggested stealing a walking stick off a passing old man. The other gently pointed out that we would be in no position to run away afterwards. We laughed some more. We saw a small child wearing a t-shirt proclaiming him Small But Epic. One of us wondered if it would be possible to steal this too, and realised that perhaps we weren’t quite in our right minds today. The strop over the lack of coffee at breakfast was further evidence of this.

Back to the day before. We ran approximately 37 miles, or as much as we could of this, along the Speyside Way. We started at Ballindalloch and traced the River Spey all the way to Spey Bay, then followed the coastline round to the village of Buckie.

The course should have been easier than our trip to Kintyre in May. It would have been, had we been a bit more prepared.

The first 12 miles were wonderful. We ran past some distilleries and some disused stations.

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A few weeks before, the route had been under several feet of water in all the floods. It was still damp underfoot, but this made for good soft ground to run on. We made it to the first checkpoint in good time, in last place but well ahead of last place last year.

However, life had got in the way, long runs went out the window and we really paid for this. We got to know the sweeper very well. Through chatting to him, I learnt some good starting points for mountain biking and ski mountaineering. We made it up the biggest climb to Ben Aigan and despite a couple of heavy rain showers, we were treated to the most beautiful view down the Spey to the sea. This should have been the tough bit out of the way, and all downhill from here.

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This was to be rather more literally downhill than I expected. Soon after, the wheels came off. I had a big wobble at 18 miles and had we been near the river, I would have thrown my running shoes in it. Everything was wrong and I just didn’t want to run any more, at all, ever. Surprisingly after a few minutes break, a bit of reassurance in the form of a squeezy hand hold from my friend Angela and then some unexpectedly reviving crystallised ginger from sweeper Sean got me back on track.

It got worse. By the last water station at 31 miles, I was ready to pull out. Everything hurt. But two unbelievably upbeat marshals, who had been at the very first water station as well, kept our spirits high. By the time we left, I’d forgotten all thoughts of finishing up and we were on the way to the finish line. I later found out the pink-haired marshal was Race Director Sarah’s mum, and she promised to pass on my heartfelt thanks. Without her encouragement, I would have given in.

Somehow we made it to the end. The welcoming committee was small as we had missed the cut-off, but we were handed our goody bags and medals, and a chap in a Celtic top seemed delighted to shake our hands and was full of so many kind words we really didn’t know what to say. A couple who should have been running but pulled out with an injury had come up to marshal and waited for us, and gave us a lift back to the car to save us walking just an extra 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a long way when you have run 37 miles, and I can’t begin to tell you how much we appreciated this too.

The support from those people made the disappointment of the day so much easier to deal with. I had been very, very hard on myself and realised there was no need. I spoke to fellow runner Ray McCurdy in Glasgow today. He had run his 120th ultramarathon on Saturday, and had also found himself about half an hour behind where he expected to be. At the other end of the race, a new race record had been set by local runner Terry Forrest – a truly staggering time of 4.01.42.

Both of those runners will have had good days and bad days, just as I did on Saturday. I nearly pulled out of my next race, the big one looming large in just 5 weeks time, but have decided to leave the decision until nearer the time.

First, there is a good bit more recovering to be done.

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Into the new

Hasn’t it been a while! I have missed my blog, but I’ve been in the truly wonderful position of squeezing every last drop from the last few weeks and only today have I felt that I’ve caught myself up coming back the other way.

Over the last year I decided I would minimise the looking back, and at this most special time of the year, for me it is all about looking forward.

I’m not really a girl for resolutions any more, but it’s good to take the time to re-focus on what’s truly important and start making some plans for the year ahead.

Despite this, I feel it’s necessary to review just a little. November started with great fear and trepidation, but ended up being a wonderful month thanks to pushing myself out of my comfort zone again and being able to lean on my friends. I ran out of white space on the calendar and it was christened Nuclear November. This gave way to Divine December, where things went mostly well and I didn’t have that awful feeling of “this is going too well, what’s going to go wrong”. Don’t get me wrong, plenty did, but it mostly bounced off the surface and was dealt with as required. I spent lots of precious time with friends old and new. I even squeezed in a couple of concerts, and enjoyed the complete contrast of show tunes with a large orchestra in a huge modern concert hall versus a choral piece with a small string ensemble and harp in a beautiful old church.

How I didn’t make myself ill I will never know, but somehow I made it to the end of the year in one piece and even managed to run 80 miles in the month – an achievement I am hugely proud of especially given that due to a hectic social life (three little words I never thought I would use), 50 of those were run in the last 8 days. A significant number of those miles were run with friends, which was a new experience having done most of my running on my own.

The year was rounded off with an 11 mile run over the Forth road bridge and back on New Year’s Eve. I’d headed east and we were incredibly lucky with the weather – not only did the rain stay away but the expected icy blasts never came, despite the recent storms of epic proportions, and I ended up having to remove rather than add layers.

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I would never have imagined finishing my year here and in this way, despite starting it circling Arthur’s Seat rather too many times, and was chuckling away about this to myself most of the way (apart from the last mile which is a story for another day). I wonder where I will be seeing out 2014.

My body held out despite the increase in miles in a short space of time, and my hard work paid off with my first gift of 2014 – a comfortably sub-60 minute 10k run.

I’m pretty proud of that too, and given the miles that lie ahead as I prepare for my first marathon in March and my first ultra marathon in May, I know the elation of achieving these goals will carry me through many dark and soggy runs to come.

There is much that is uncertain about the coming months but based on recent weeks, I am both optimistic and extremely excited about what’s waiting for me in 2014.

2013 was my first complete calendar year living in Scotland. I’m pleased to say I have the new life I wanted, even though it doesn’t look as I thought it might. Seeing the seasons come and go and come round once again has been a very special experience which I hope to write about over the next couple of weeks.

I’ve just packed my little Christmas tree away and I feel rather sad as it was so beautiful. I am back at work tomorrow after two weeks off, but rather than dreading it I’m raring to go and get back into the swing of things.

I wish you a very happy new year and hope it brings you everything you wish for.

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Mooching of an afternoon

(Written on a gloriously wi-fi free Thursday)

This afternoon finds me in Leiden in the Netherlands. A quick tot up on the plane revealed that this is my most visited country which both surprised me and made me happy.

I’ve been here before, on a school trip some 20+ years ago. I can’t remember why we came to Leiden, I think it was on the way to somewhere else. We didn’t see much anyway, other than a slightly strange artistic installation of wedding dresses in one of the canal basins.

This time I’m here for a rather different reason. This is my second visit to the Jazz Harp Academy. It’s a full-circle thing – the first time I came in 2010, it was in a bid to do something that scared me silly during one of the lowest points in my life.

It worked, and led to many wonderful things, including my move to Glasgow. I met a very dear friend and we have supported each other on our own individual musical adventures.

We are very similar and yet very different. Someone asked how they would recognise us to collect us from the airport once. I said we are both very small with big smiles and we will probably be the noisiest people there as we will be laughing so much.

My friend arrives this evening so I made the most of an afternoon in a different place. For all intents and purposes it’s a new place, as I don’t really recognise any of it.

It was raining heavily when I got off the train from Amsterdam. The windmill count was up to 2 within 15 minutes. I saw a museum and wondered about going in, but at 11 euros I decided against it. Not a huge sum but I figured I could make better use of the time and money.

I had a map but only used it to make sure I was heading in the right direction from the station to check out the venue for the next few days. Other than that, I just strolled, taking whichever street or canal I fancied.

It is so quiet here. It’s a mixture of old and new and they sit comfortably with each other.

The reason for the peace is the humble bicycle. This is Holland, where the bike is king. Near the station, bikes are all you can see wherever you look. There is an occasional car in the town but they are conspicuous by their sound.

I found a gorgeous cafe to have lunch in. I settled down with a book and enjoyed seeing the world going past outside. The cafe was quiet too – unusually in a world of piped music, there was no soundtrack at all, not even a radio. I enjoyed this. I’m a musician but there are times where silence is just what’s needed.

I’m reading Miles Davis’s autobiography and have just read about the first time he heard Thelonious Monk play. He was struck by the spaces left in between the notes as much as the notes themselves.

My harp has 47 strings and 7 pedals. As a classical harpist, when I’m improvising I often feel obliged to use as many of these as possible. (With some orchestral parts it is not so much expected as compulsory to use all of them at once!)

This often adds unnecessary pressure and complexity, and leaves no space for breathing (for me or the music) or thinking about what comes next.

My first time at the jazz academy taught me the importance of listening to what was going on around me, and thinking about bass, rhythm and lead. Now when I create music of my own, I try to use as few notes as possible, to leave room.

It’s hard to find space in everyday life, and today has been a great opportunity to sit, to breathe and to think before the next few days of full-on learning and bashing against my comfort zone in an attempt to push myself forwards som more.

My afternoon cost me considerably less than 11 euros, but was worth much, much more and I’ve probably learnt more than I would have done in the museum. It did have an awesome totem pole outside, though, so I’m off for a proper look at that tomorrow.

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The healing power of cake

Sometimes, when even the pips’ pips are squeaking, the decision is made to invest a few pounds in a cup of tea and a piece of cake with a good friend.

Handing over £10 for a replacement student ID card earlier in the afternoon was like stabbing myself through the heart, so when I came back from the (rather fabulous) loo to find my share of the bill had been paid, I was both lost for words and incredibly grateful. I protested briefly but we both knew what this meant and how much it was needed.

(I didn’t sneak off to avoid paying)

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