California Dreaming

Sunshine, healthy food, mountains…It’s hard not to like California.

I have just come back from a work trip to Los Angeles and I’m once again smitten by this beautiful part of the world. To be honest, downtown LA does very little for me, but the coastline and mountains surrounding the city fill me with smiles.

Due to the way my travel plans worked out, I was lucky to get a day at either end of my trip where I had the opportunity to head out onto the trails. After arriving late on a Saturday night and staying at a hotel in LA, I’d already planned my Sunday morning. In the Santa Monica mountains, there is the Trail Runners Club who meet Saturday and Sunday mornings, this particular Sunday they had a scheduled club run along the same Mandeville Canyon ridgeline I ran a couple of years ago when I visited LA. As well as a phenomenal trail run, the weekend I was there they had Mira Rai from the Salomon team visiting too, so I got to meet the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year!

Mira Rai Selife

Mira Rai Selife

The run was just wonderful, it was the perfect antidote to my 8 hour jet lag. They have had a whole load of rain this winter in LA, but for the days I was up there in those mountains, the sun shone and it felt amazing to be running in warm conditions again.

Sunshine over LA

Sunshine over LA

The trail runners club were an incredibly friendly bunch and if you are ever in the Santa Monica\LA area, I can highly recommend taking the time to meet up with them for a run. They are a fun bunch and have some incredible trails on their doorstep. The run was pretty tough, a 19km ridge with loads of single track heaven and over 700m of up and down. Perfect start to the trip.

The next morning, due to a combination of jet lag being on my side and meetings not starting until later in the day, I plotted a run in the San Gabriel mountains, picking up a 10km stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This icnonic long distance route trails all the way up the west coast of America and covers some incredible territory. The stretch I had started at about 1000m elevation and climbed gradually over 10km to 1700m. The area it cuts through was a burn zone and the whole place was a barren, charred landscape. There was some evidence of new growth starting to emerge, but on the whole it was a lonely feeling place.

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Swarthout Canyon on the PCT

After this, I had five days of work where the best I could hope for was some hard pavements looping around the convention center where I was based. Before I took my flight hom though, I had an afternoon spare and didn’t hesitate to jump in the car and head back to the Santa Monica mountains with a guy I’d met in the previous Sunday run with the club. Bizarrely, the worst rain storm for decades blew through the area at exactly the point when we were heading out onto the trails from Will Rogers park up the backbone ridge trail. It was so torrential I didn’t both to even try to take my phone with me, so no pictures sadly. I can say though that it was another incredible trail to run and I felt very envious of those people who have it on their doorstep.

Flash flooding in Santa Monica

Flash flooding in Santa Monica

It was a great week, not just because of the great running opportunity I had. It did feel good though getting in a couple of long runs in some big countryside. I felt like my running was coming back and much more relaxed as a consequence.

2017 Training Vibes

Here we go again, folks. Happy New Year to both of my readers. 2016 was an excellent vintage for running in the end, but now it’s time to get 2017 up and running in preparation for what lies ahead.

I’ve been reading a book since the start of December called “Beyond Training“. It’s been an interesting book which has given me some inspiration for how to approach my training for this year’s races. I liked it, mainly because it takes a fairly holistic view on how to improve performance.

There are a couple of the main areas the book highlights which I plan to adopt in my approach to training this year, and I’ll talk about those in a minute. I’ve wanted to shake things up for a while, as my training recently has been more a case of simply stepping out of the door to run as frequently as I can afford to. Inevitably, this leads to a situation where I can continue to complete races, but my ability to improve in them feels like it is becoming more and more limited. I think that, most, if not all runners reach this point from time to time. So I believe it’s important to not allow yourself to settle for what is, but to think about how to evolve and give yourself an opportunity to improve. What I liked about this book is that it isn’t a strict regime to follow, it’s more of a collection of things which can contribute to improved performance. Here’s me take away list of things I’m going to use this year

80/20 Training

The book talks about how most amateur athletes, and I do feel weird using that term about myself, think that they have a structured approach to training and split sessions into high and low intensity. The sprint session, the long Sunday run, the mid week tempo etc. In reality, the author claims that the probability is the high intensity sessions are not high enough and the low intensity are not low enough. The consequences of this are that muscles don’t recover strong enough between sessions, training effect plateus after a while and there is a long term risk in endurance sports of health issues if this type of training carries on for a long time.

He advocates for a more polarised view of training, one where 80% is done at very low intensity, or zone 2 as most of us know it in heart rate training categories. The other 20% should be done at high intensity, zone 4 & 5 in short periods to provide a truly differentiated training effect. He still recognises the need for long runs for endurance, but these should be done in the 80% category and at low intensity. All this makes sense to me as an ultra runner.

This translates for me, into an approach where I have dug out my HR monitor strap for my Suunto and put it to good use. My runs over the past three weeks (The week where I was almost killed by Man-fly aside!) have been mostly slow, steady paced affairs in Z2. It is damned hard to stay at such a low HR. Zone 2 for me is around 120-149bpm, so aiming for an average of something around 130bpm is pretty tough to maintain, considering my comfortable running pace has me at around 160bpm. It’s a marginal difference in HR, but I can see how it has an impact already. I’ve enjoyed the lower intensity much more and it gives me time to settle into a run without pressure to go faster, which is what I would normally be doing, at least mentally, if not physically.

Cross Training

This has been a huge hole in my training over the past couple of years. I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that simply going out and running a high volume of miles is enough. It isn’t. Therefore I need to do something different. The book talks a lot about high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, and the need to develop strength and endurance in many forms, and not just activity specific training.

My plan is to do two things, firstly, twice a week I am going to do an HIIT session. One for running and one for general strength work. The running will take the form of hill repeats or sprint intervals, and the strength work will be focused on core, abs, and leg strength. I found the annoyingly good looking and fit “The Body Coach” recently. His 20-25min sessions are a perfect workout and are currently doing the trick for me. I mix them up to get a range of exercise, but they immediately highlight my weakness in strength terms and I’m intrigued to see the results of sticking to this for a month or two over the start of this year.

The second adaptation I’m making is to introduce yoga back into my routine. I used to practice yoga a lot before I ran, but strangely I haven’t returned to it since my running has taken off. The flexibility it provides and also the stress eliminating aspect of it is probably exactly what I need at the moment. My life is pretty hectic with family and works responsibilities, and I feel it in the way of tightness in my neck, shoulders and upper spine. My hips are also rock solid and need to see daylight again, so I’m hoping 3-4 sessions of yoga a week will make a big difference too. Nothing crazy, just a 30-minute program early morning to wake up and stretch out those bits of me which don’t normally get a stretch.

Diet and Lifestyle

My diet has been, in general, pretty good over the past few years. At home, we naturally eat an organic, mainly veggie and even vegan diet, without trying too hard. Alcohol is a rare treat these days and post-Christmas, I’m ready to stay dry for several months in the interest of improving my fitness. My two main weaknesses are sugar and caffeine. I can consume both in considerable quantities and I know they are really bad for me. It is going to take discipline to eliminate them from my diet and I think wholesale reduction might be more achievable for now.

The book also talks about nutrition in some detail and the supplements that can help with specific training impact. Last summer I used to make myself a fresh smoothie every day and add into it vitamin C, zinc, a micro-nutrient mix and some milled flax seed. My ever patient partner, Nichola, who is an avid nutritionist has been pressing me to take a whole range of nutrient supplements for a long time, so it’s time for me to start to listen to her, which I’m certain she will relish for the “I told you so” opportunity.

Sleep is a major factor in recovery too, which most people know. The book talks about many things which influence sleep, including blue light which we get from all the many devices and computers we use. I’m now the proud owner of a pair of glasses which filters out that blue light, in an effort to help improve sleep when it comes. Minimising phone use and a bunch of other things will also play a part, but I already know that is harder to achieve.

I also own a Compex machine, which I bought last year to help with minor muscle injuries. They promote blood flow amongst many other things and are a useful addition to the training plan. I’ve started to use mine a couple of times a week to help with strength building in certain muscle groups. They are low impact sessions from a cardio perspective, so they fit with my overall 80/20 plan, and again, I will see how it impacts me over time.

The only other thing I’m hoping to do in modification of my training this year is to spend more time out in the hills on my long runs. I suffered greatly in TDS last year due to the lack of appropriate training for mountainous races. I’m determined to make an impact on this over the coming months, so hopefully I will have some adventures to share with you soon.

UTMB TDS preparation

We are in Chamonix at the moment as I prepare to take on the TDS race, part of the UTMB race event. I’m here with Nichola and William for a long overdue two week holiday and we are loving it. The race is just under a week away now and I’ve been getting a few practice runs in this week before it’s time to put my feet up and relax for a few days before the start.

All smiles in Chamonix

All smiles in Chamonix

As anyone who has spent any time in Chamonix will tell you, it is a trail running paradise here. The options for running seem endless, but I’ve tried to focus my runs this week on segments of the course and some climbing to get my legs into work mode. The route is 116km long with almost 8000m of vertical to deal with up and down.

TDS Race Profile

TDS Race Profile

Over the last week, I’ve been able to get out and run almost everything in the race from Col Est de la Gitte onwards. To say my training leading up to this hasn’t gone well would be an understatement. Since the WHW race, a combination of prioritising family and work have meant I’ve barely run more than 30km per week since June. Thankfully, my legs seem to have done well despite that and I dare say my WHW race was great preparation and that I’ve just been ticking over ever since.

With 5 days left before the start, I’m starting to feel more confident. I’ve seen and felt what a lot of those hard climbs are like now and I’ve got into a mental state that I need to in order to get through the race. I’m disappointed that I haven’t trained more, but things are how they are and I’m here and ready to race, so I just have to give it my best shot.

I’m hoping for a sub-24hr finish, but with all those sharp, pointy hills to get over, who knows. I like uphill running and I seem to cope with long, persistent climbs in this kind of environment well, so I should do ok. I’ve got a dogged feel about me now that means I might just do ok in this race.

Until then though, we are enjoying the warmth of the alpine sunshine. We are taking in the sights of these spectacular mountains and we are enjoying time together. Who cares how the race goes when you have all that?

Bionnassay

Book Review – Between the Sunset and the Sea by Simon Ingram

We live quite close to St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland and one of the finds of the century from my perspective was a book shop there called Topping & Co. It’s a traditional, independent bookshop that seems to be successfully sticking two fingers up to the rest of the publishing world and defying the trend for digital reading punishing book sellers. Whenever we pay a visit to St Andrews a visit to Topping & Co. is mandatory and always a treat and usually ends up with me walking out with at least one book. They have tables laid out brimming with books sitting between walls which are filled from floor to ceiling with the marvellous objects and ladders attached to the shelving which always suggests a proper bookshop to me. I’ve been guilty of trending towards a kindle for years. Let’s face it, they are handy devices enabling you to carry around an entire library without noticing. However, a book is something to cherish, to have in your hands and admire; some more than others.

On a recent visit, a book caught my eye sitting on one of the tables. I’m a sucker for anything to do with Mountains, Scotland, running or adventure and this book had 3 out of the four and arguably would enable the fourth, running, by association. The book is called “Between the Sunset and the Sea”, quite an evocative title I’d argue if you’ve ever spent any time on a mountain. It is written by Simon Ingram who is editor at Trail magazine in the UK and who knows a thing or two about mountains despite his bashful suggestions otherwise in the book. The short summary of the book is that it’s a personal account by Simon of his time exploring 16 of the UK’s mountains. Now if like me you’ve been puzzled for years about what constitutes a mountain, then this might be reason number one to read the book. As Simon describes, there isn’t an official classification and anyone who has spent time in mountainous areas outside the UK knows that our mountains are significantly lacking in the height category compared to some others. However, as Simon points out, height is just one qualification, there are lots of others and each of the ones he describes have some quality or other than I challenge you to declare them not to be worth of the title. In his words, if it looks a mountain and feels like a mountain, then it is one.

As I mention, the book describes 16 different mountains across the UK. There is a natural inequality in favour of Scottish hills given the geography of the UK, but there is a fair number from other vertically gifted areas which give a fabulous insight for those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to explore them. Simon describes each one in several different ways, with each chapter presenting a new mountain and an underlying theme. Schiehallion is a good example, a largely triangular shaped hill in Perthshire which is somewhat famous for being used in a scientific study in the 1700’s in an attempt to determine the weight of the planet. Our man explores the history of such subjects, gets under the skin of the main people involved and develops an often witty commentary of events and their outcomes. In parallel, Simon explores the hill in question with a specific, related, purpose in mind.

I love the style of Simon’s writing. It has an honesty that I think anyone who enjoys time in wild places will appreciate and I found it really easy to associate with the scenes he describes. I won’t describe all the 16 chapters, as that would stop you from buying the book and enjoying it for yourself, but I will call out a couple of favourite sections. The first is his description of a meeting with a mountain guide from Snowdonia who is describing to him, over a pint, the scramble up Crib Goch, a ridge towards the summit of Snowdon which sounds like some dragons back of gnarly pinnacles and terrifying drops to a near certain death. The guide sounds like the kind of weather beaten, stony eyed man we’ve probably all comes across at some stage in life. In the kind of calm, experienced way mountain people have, the guide talks about how mountain rescue call outs would likely fall by 80% if the ridge didn’t exist, setting the tone for an adventure with spine chilling excitement. Another section describes Simon’s first experience of a midge attack in the Scottish Highlands and introduces me to a pithy comment that will live with me forever “A midge attack has two phases: The first phase where you are afraid you might die and the second phase where you worry that you might not”. You will only really appreciate that statement if you’ve ever experienced a full scale assault by midges in one of their strongholds in the highlands.

As well as honest humour, the book also provides some interesting insights into geology, meteorology, history and social culture surrounding the mountains. If you are in any way interested in mountains, the great outdoors or anything remotely related to them. I strongly encourage you to buy and read this book. It’s the kind of book I want to give to people in the future as a gift who deserve it from having a similar affection for outdoor life as I do. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end and I sincerely hope Simon continues to write and produce more like this. If you enjoy running in these types of environments like I do, whilst the book as no reference to running, I challenge you to read the book and then not have an immediate and growing urge to get out and find a remote mountain to run up and enjoy. I’ve got my eye on An Teallach as my next adventure, it’s the star of chapter 10, the Wilderness chapter. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon in the UK, let me know if you read it and enjoyed it.

Sunday on the WHW

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Officially, it was the first day of British Summer time. That meant that we’d had one hour less sleep due to the clocks changing, but it also makes you hope that you might get some clear, sunny weather. But this is Scotland, in March, on the West Highland Way. We had wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow and some sunshine. But nevertheless, it was still epic.

My mate, Scott, and I are both signed up to run in the West Highland Way race in June. This is some test of endurance as it is 95 miles over some of the most remote trails in the British Isles. We have both spent some time on the trail, either from the Hoka Higland Fling race or from various reasons to walk in this part of the world. But running it. The whole length. Well, that’s something entirely different.

In preparation, we’ve both been increasing our mileage but we know we need to spend some time on the trail itself to train effectively. Knowing where you are and what comes next in a long race like that can make all the difference. So with that in mind, we planned a long run on Easter Sunday, starting at Bridge of Orchy and running north to the top of the Devils Staircase before turning around and running back again. The whole route was expected to be just over 30 miles with about 1000m of elevation.

We met up at 5am after losing that hour of sleep I mentioned and drove over to park at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. After a quick hot drink in the hotel and a bowl of porridge, we set off. The first section is what’s affectionately known as Jelly Baby hill. It’s not much of a hill at all in comparison with some of the Munros around the area, but in the race itself it comes about 60 miles in and will be the last thing tired legs will want to climb. With that out of the way, the path meanders up on to Rannoch moor which is a bleak, open landscape.

Rannoch Moor

Rannoch Moor

The WHW rises up over the moor for about 10 miles. It is one of the many old military roads built through the highlands centuries ago and they were built to stand the test of time. The surface is like a cobbled stone and whilst it looks smooth enough, after running on it for an hour or so you are happy to reach the tarmac at the road to the Glencoe ski centre.

WHW over Rannoch Moor

WHW over Rannoch Moor

We stopped by the A82 to take in the views down Glencoe. It is probably one of the most photographed places in Scotland and with good reason. For the next couple of hours, we were spoiled with the huge scenery, which thankfully distracted from the achy legs. We reached Kingshouse in about 2h 30mins and after a quick pit stop to refill our water bottles, we headed back out for the Devils Staircase.

A bit like Jelly Baby hill, the staircase isn’t actually all that much of a hill when you compare it to some of the nearby monsters which look down on it. However, after running for miles, it commands a level of respect and swiftly reminds you if you don’t show it sufficient levels. By this point the weather was starting to allow some sunshine to poke through the clouds and we were treated with some of the best views the planet has to offer for all our hard work.

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy

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Hard not to fall in love with this place – Glencoe

With the hard work done, we celebrated at the top of the staircase with a cereal bar before turning around. With 15 miles in the bag already, we were both feeling surprisingly ok, especially Scott who had already run the best part of 100 miles that week.

Heading back down we had the enjoyment of passing all the people we’d ran past earlier, all of whom described us collectively as mad, insane and other similar badges of honour for any runner. We stopped at Kingshouse Hotel for a quick coffee and cake before crossing back over the road towards the ski center and the path back down Rannoch moor. Thankfully mostly downhill from here, we enjoyed the views some more until a freak hail storm blew in.

Anyone who has experienced a hailstorm will know they can hurt. When you are wearing next to nothing and running in temperatures which are hovering just above zero, and the hail in question is desgined to be the pointiest, sharpest bits of hail you can imagine, they hurt even more. Combine that with about 25 miles of running by two grumpy old men, then the result is a lot of muttering and swearing. I put every piece of clothing I had with me on and I could still feel the hail biting through the thick mountain hat and waterproof jacket. Thankfully it stopped just before we reached Inveroran and we could enjoy the final climb back up Jelly Baby hill and back down into Bridge of Orchy.

By the end, we’d done 32 miles in just over 6 hours. We both felt worried about what the WHW race has in store for us, but equally, we are more content now we’ve run some decent mileage on the route. We are planning another run or two on other sections before the race in June, so look out for more updates. All told though, this was a fantastic run with great company, thanks Scott! It gave me more confidence for the races ahead as my longest run otherwise had been about 20 miles. I’ve managed to get up to running about 100km a week now with a couple of longer runs mixed in so my training is going well.

I hadn’t mentioned this before but I’m being interviewed in the run up to the West Highland Way race in the podcasts series expertly run by John Kynaston. Head over to the race website to hear the first two instalments.

Ashmei Ambassador

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been fortunate enough to be shortlisted to become an ambassador for Ashmei. In case you haven’t discovered Ashmei yet, they make clothing for runners and cyclists using really high quality materials and with a style you simply don’t find anywhere else in this type of clothing.

I’ve had a couple of their long sleeve merino tops for a while and they are outstanding quality, and I’m not just saying that because I’m possibly going to be an ambassador for them. Their motto is to outperform the best and I feel they certainly do that well. Their clothes fit really well, they look fantastic and they wash great and as anyone who runs a lot knows, your kit gets washed a lot!

They are having an ambassador day at their HQ this coming weekend for the people on the shortlist, but sadly due to family commitments I won’t be able to make it. Words can’t describe how disappointed I am not to be there, but family has to come first. Fortunately, the team at Ashmei recognise that not everyone might make it so we have the opportunity to create a 2 minute video to introduce ourselves and show them what we’ve got to offer. As someone who is working hard to overcome years of bodily neglect and become comfortable with how I look, making a video all about me isn’t something that comes easy, let me tell you!

Despite my inhibitions, I set off out on Saturday in a rare day of sunshine to have a short run up my local hill to do some filming. Armed with my trusty phone and a mini tripod I took about an hour of footage in short clips that I planned to edit together using some simple video software. Having never done this before, I was excited to play around with all of this, but also unaware of what it takes to make a good quality video.

Now, after a few days of tinkering around trying to make it as good as I can, I feel like I’ve got the final edit ready to send through to Ashmei.

I also have to submit two Polaroids; one of myself in any pose and one of my choosing related to my sport.

Do you have any idea how hard choosing these can be? 🙂

The one of myself was easily narrowed down to a few pictures. I don’t find myself particularly photogenic in running shots, mainly because I always seem to get snapped at my lowest point! However, I do have some good images so here is the shortlist I got to:

For each, you need a story:

The Ben Nevis shot is me coming down after a torturous ‘run’ to the summit in my first Ben Nevis race last year. I was utterly exhausted and the down hill was at least as horrible as the uphill. Despite that, the sense of achievement was mind-blowing to run in that iconic race. So much so I signed up again this year!

The Cascades is from my training run around the Alpine Lake area in the Cascades Mountains in Washington state, America. This was at the end of a work trip last Summer and was by far the best day adventure I’ve had. The weather was incredible, scenery even more incredible and running across big mountains fuelled even more running obsession for me.

The Carnethy race is from this years first hill race and, I think, is the best running picture I’ve seen of me. The race was run in a blizzard, which I loved, and despite the weather I knocked 4 minutes off my time from the first time I ran it last year. It was a great measure for how far I’ve come in the year I’ve been running hill races.

I’m still working on the final picture of the set. I want one that captures the fun I have of running with other people. I belong to two running clubs as you know, Falkland Trail Runners and Lomond Hill Runners. Both clubs have different focuses, but both embrace a strong sense of community and social running. I never knew this existed and I believe it is why I’ve enjoyed my exploration of running so much in the past few years. Here’s the picture I’m thinking of choosing:

Summit Community

Summit Community

This was taken on a frosty winter run to the summit of West Lomond with the trail runners. As is the norm, we stopped on the summit and took in the views. While everyone else was staring at the big peaks of the Cairngorms and Trossachs on the horizon, I chose to capture my friends as they enjoyed the moment.

If you have any feedback before I submit my Polaroids, I’d love to hear from you.

Kicking Back

The past few weeks have been fairly laid back after the Jedburgh race and we managed to arrange a weeks holiday up in the Highlands last week to really get a chance to unwind. It was a perfect short break in an exceptional place I found on the internet. It’s one of those place that, when you find it, you don’t really want to share it in case everyone starts to go. However, it’s so bloody good that I won’t be able to not talk about it, so here it is: Eagle Brae. More about that in a moment. Staying there gave me the chance to get in a few longish runs in some epic locations and most of all, broke my training regime from a rigorous focused approach (I’m laughing to myself writing that), to simply getting out and enjoying my running again; and it worked.

Now a bit about Eagle Brae. It is a place which as soon as you start to learn about it, it makes you wish that it was you who’d come up with the idea. It achieves that nirvana of situations, combining a lifestyle with a business. The owners, Mike and Pawana (pronounced Pubna), are a really nice couple who deserve the success their business is achieving through the hard work they have put into it. It has apparently taken them 8 years to convert a plot of land on a bracken covered steep highland glenside into a luxurious, eco-friendly range of log-cabins, the likes of which this country has never seen. This is no Center Parcs folks, think 5 star hotel made out of giant Canadian logs with cashmere tartan blankets.

I love the place for so many reasons, the location, how they’ve designed the site so nobody overlooks anyone else, the furnishings inside the cabins and that they recognise the type of folk who are likely to go there want fast internet access and help at the end of a telephone when they need an extra bottle of wine of an evening. From a business perspective, I imagine they are probably one of the few enterprises in the area that are drawing some spectacular incomes. It must be hard making a living in remote places like that, but I suspect the effort and investments they have made are paying off handsomely. To say I’m envious would be an understatement, but they are also inspiring for me in terms of what can be achieved with dedication, hard work and, most importantly I think, a great vision.

The area itself is a part of Scotland I’ve never visited, only passed through on the way to other parts. I now wish I’d paid more attention and found my way there sooner. Being on the north side of the Great Glen, it is remote and wild terrain in abundance. The particular area where we stayed was Strathglass, which is a long meandering river valley, off of which turn handsome glens. I explored two during a couple of runs: Glen Strathfarrar which has some increasingly spectacular hills the deeper you go and Glen Affric which I now feel is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

Glen Strathfarrar

After studying Walk Highlands for a number of hours on our first day, I eventually worked out that Glen Strathfarrar was about a mile away from where we were. The MWIS forecast for the area was grim so I opted for a 16km horseshoe route which took in a couple of Corbetts rather than the more remote and exposed Munros in the area. These Corbetts still looked to provide a challenge, but without the high exposure which would attract the fierce winds and snow that was predicted above 800m for the day. Or so I thought.

Having only been running for just over a year, I had a winter season last year, but didn’t really get to adventure into areas with too much exposure. during the summer I’ve had a chance to get out and about up high, but winter gives the mountains a different experience altogether and this run was just what I needed to remind me.

The route started off up a secluded track before breaking out across open moorland and grouse butts. We had seen some significant rainfall during the previous week and consequently the open ground was saturated and any stalkers path was like a river. Within minutes my feet were sodden and I gave up trying to keep them dry. As I climbed above 600m the wind blew and it started to snow. The summit of the first hill, Beinn Bha’ach Ard, was exposed and as I reached it the wind was pushing me sideways. I dressed in everything I had and kept going past the trig point to get in the lee side and away from the wind and on to the next hill, Sgurr a’ Phollain. From here it was a game of find a path, any path, in a long loop back to where I parked the car. It was beautiful country to run in.

Loch Affric Circuit

Later in the week the weather up high was again threatening to blow your skin off, so another venture to Walk Highlands turned up an 18km loop around a loch I’d never heard of before. Whilst I might not have heard about it before, I will certainly never forget it again. Loch Affric and the glen from which it is named, is simply the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

The route started and finished in a forestry carpark which, on this wintery, wet and blustery day was deserted when I arrived. Great! I have the place to myself. The route seemed simple enough, set off along the northern shore of the loch along a well laid path, cross a burn about half way along, loop around the far end of the loch and enjoy the run back to the car.

There were two problems with that route. The first, and a nice problem to have, was that the place was so scenic, I kept feeling the need to stop every few minutes to take another picture. The second, and not so nice problem, was that burn I mentioned. In the guide it suggested there would be stepping stones to make it easier to cross. Indeed there were, I could see how they were creating turbulence in the torrent that was raging over them! The burn crossing turned into more of a river fording. Despite having to wade waist deep through freezing cold fast flowing water, I was still smiling at the end of the loop.

At the far end of the loch the path meets another, the Affric-Kintail way, which heads off into the remote glen you can see further along. This apparently leads to the most remote youth hostel in the country and it looked a foreboding place. I looked up the Affric-Kintail way when I got back. It looks like it would make a great route for an ultra marathon! Anyone fancy joining me in creating a race there? There is also a bothy at the end of the loch which I found being refurbished by a couple of guys. I took some time to have a chat with them and I still don’t know if they have the best or worst job in the world given the landscape they worked in. Given how cold it was though, I suspect the view wears off after a while. Maybe.

We are back from the short break now and we have snow finally covering the Lomond hills by where we live. Tonight’s run reminded me why I love running here in winter. I’ll leave you with some wonderful pictures from my run tonight.