Tag Archives: in with the new

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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All you have to do

After plodding along pretty steadily and mostly pretty happily for the last couple of years, I finally made a big decision on the morning of Day 2 of the Saltmarsh 75.

It was shortly before I took this photo. This is looking out along the Blackwater Estuary towards Bradwell power station, which you can just see on the horizon.

It was a beautiful day, in an incredible part of the country. I had run a long way the day before in some pretty tough conditions. I’d been looking forward to and training hard for this event for a whole year, but I was about to pull out of the race. I’d just had enough, and nothing was going to change my mind about carrying on.

I decided that I really needed to start thinking about running a bit more quickly.

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In theory this should be easy. To run a bit faster, you just… ermm… run a bit faster right?

There’s a great quote I read in a motorbike magazine a few years ago. Something along the lines of:

“All you have to do is lean a little further, get on the gas a little earlier, brake a little later and then you’ll win the race”

See? Easy!

But to lean, you have to understand how and why and when to lean. You have to learn when a little further is a little too far.

You have to learn how much gas/throttle is too much. You have to learn how early is too early.

Learning to go fast on a motorbike can be dangerous, even assuming you are in the relatively controlled environment that is a road racing circuit. It hurts when you fall off, and you can break yourself and your bike. If you are anything like most bike racers, you will cry far more about the latter.

I guess I’m trying to say there are always barriers when you learn something new, or try to improve something you can do already. There is a reason why you do things the way you do them. Mostly it’s easy, or comfortable, or you like doing it that way. And you are scared of the unknown.

The main thing that stops me pushing my running speed is my asthma. I had a bad run last night where it wasn’t settling as it should and it really started to hurt. I know enough about managing it to realise when to stop, so backed off and went home.

But once I start to learn how to go faster, I’m frightened my breathing will get out of control and I won’t be able to calm it down. This can be due to a variety of factors, and a damp Scottish winter is a fairly big one.

So what can I do about this?

I have to know why I want to do it.

I have to find a starting point.

I have to understand what I am going to do and how I am going to try and do it.

I have to be sure I want to do it, so that when it gets hard, I don’t give up.

I have to practice it. Lots.

I have to appreciate it might not work, and I might have to change my approach several times before I find a way.

Reading through this list, I realise how much of this applies to music and learning a big new piece, and how my time at the RCS changed how I approach things.

I also think back to some of the incredible things I’ve done this year, and how I never thought I’d be able to do them.

But I did.

So there’s no reason I can’t learn to run faster. I have an inhaler, I know when too far is really too far, I know that there might have to be some considerable discomfort and I know it will be worth it.

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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In praise of tea

It has been hectic lately. The tail end of Bertha has caused havoc further north, and has brought some windy whirly weather to Glasgow too. The last couple of days have felt like summer is coming to an end – it has been very cold, wet and very gloomy in the mornings. The nights are drawing in already, the winter dog walking coat has been re-commissioned and there has been a distinct feeling of “how the hell did that happen?”

But today, the weather has paused a little. The sun is streaming in over the tops of the hills and through the harp room window, and the sky is blue. It was too warm for a big coat this morning on dog walking duty.

Today I seem to have more time. I’ve ironed. I’ve had time for a quick blog post. I’ve had breakfast sitting down with the hounds. And best of all I’ve had that most wonderful of things that says there is a little more time than you thought.

I’ve had a second cup of tea.

 

Back into balance

It has been an exhausting few weeks. Somehow January ended up being as full-on as November and December, and I couldn’t get going again after having a long Christmas break.

Re-adjusting to full time work in an office has really taken it out of me, a lot more than I realised, and finding space for all the other things in life has come at a price.

February came and the calendar was pretty empty for the first time in ages. Normally this would make me feel uneasy, but actually I was glad as I desperately needed some time and space to bring things back under control. The house was a bombsite, diet and sleep patterns have been appalling and I have generally felt as though I was starting to run myself ragged again.

Running has been a bit hit and miss too – my longest ever run of 16 miles went brilliantly, 5 miles last Wednesday felt torturous and finally yesterday I ran out of puff. 2 miles into a run with some speedier friends and I knew I needed to call it quits for a bit. I felt tight, stressed and exhausted both physically and emotionally, and I could feel the tears starting to prick at my eyes. I made my excuses and ducked out, headed back to the car and then determined not to waste the day or the fuel, I decided to go and spend a bit of time on my own further down the valley.

There were some trails on the map that I had wanted to explore for a while. I set off, determined not to put any pressure on myself, and started to feel better. My legs felt better now and the calf that had been screaming at me earlier had settled right down. After missing the correct turning and ending up a bit further along a road than I thought, I turned back and found the right path.

As I headed too far up the road, I’d passed a group of Land Rovers out on a jolly. One of them was stuck in the road and this held up the whole convoy. I wasn’t sure whether it was a puncture or getting stuck in all the snow, but I took great pleasure in the fact that I was so nimble on just my two wee feet, and I skipped past them. We looked at each other, most of them on the round side and in the warmth of their cars, and me on the small side out in the snow in my tights and running shoes with just a jacket and a rucksack protecting me from the elements. I’m not sure who thought who was the strangest, but I felt happy and very glad to be out enjoying the day.

Along the trail, I saw three sets of footprints, one smaller than the others. This was the friends I had left earlier, and I realised where we had been running earlier. In a strange way, it felt like I had a little company along the way. I knew they were just across the valley from me, and while I enjoyed the peace and quiet of being alone, there was solidarity in knowing there were others not far away doing the same as me and loving every minute.

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I ran as much as I could, but stopped for a walk when I needed to. I’d hoped to get further, but called it a day while I still felt good. I’d done enough struggling earlier, and didn’t want to run out of energy again.

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^ Looking west over the Carron Valley Reservoir

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^ Looking south with Meikle Bin in the background

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^ Looking north-west, Todholes farm just visible in front of the hills

Before long I was back at the car. I headed back down into Fintry, past some horses flinging themselves around in the sunshine, and then back up and over the Crow Road which is now such a regular part of my week. Every time I drive on this road, I remember the first time I came up it, just a few days into my new life up here, and I feel incredibly grateful for all that I am able to do now. I have beautiful surroundings and the fitness to be able to really make the most of them.

I’d been meaning to get some proper stretching done for a while, and decided that now was the time. Cutting my run short meant I had some spare time, and after 45 minutes of yoga I really felt like a new woman. Everything was nicely pulled out and rather than feeling more tired, my energy levels were restored. I had a blissful hour soaking in the bath with the fantastic Feet in the Clouds, and I felt very spoiled. It had cost me a couple of pounds in diesel and car park charges, but otherwise my day was free of charge and the benefits were priceless.

I had come home from work on Friday and found my house had been cleaned for me. Today I have been at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival with friends. Body and soul were restored yesterday, but my spirit really came back into normal service today.

Paul Pritchard‘s film reminded me that my body may be injured but it can still do amazing things and the only thing stopping me is me. His climbing accident happened a month before mine, but left him considerably worse off. My right side is considerably weaker than my left, but it still works, and he has managed to complete some fantastic journeys using just his left leg so really I shouldn’t be complaining too much.

Earlier this week I looked at everything I had planned for this year, and wondered if perhaps I had taken on too much again. After spending time with some brilliant people this weekend, I am ready to go again. However, I have been reminded once again that I really, really need to look after myself, and that if I don’t do this, the only person that will miss out is me.

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.

IMG_2652(thanks to Ross for the fab photos!)