Monday, 14 September 2015

Total Warrior Edinburgh 2015

After managing to successfully navigate my way out of Tough Mudder this year, I was kind of hoping that my dalliance with mud runs was at an end.

Then I remembered that I had signed up for Total Warrior. This was at the cajolement of my friend Ruth (on the left in the picture above), who also added a few challenges on to my list for last year. I'm reconsidering our friendship, if you were wondering. The day seemed so far away when I agreed to take part but alas, time moves swiftly and before I really knew it, it was a cold, wet and windy Saturday morning and I was getting out of bed at 6.30am to make my way to Balgone Estate in order to throw myself around in some puddles - which, let me be very clear about this, is the very biggest understatement ever.

It was freezing when we arrived and I desperately wanted to keep my jumper on as a defence against the weather but after much discussion I agreed with the others that it would only get wet and I'd end up even colder. I knew this. I did. I still didn't want to take my lovely, warm jumper off. However, I capitulated to everybody else's good sense and that is how I came to be standing outside on a freezing September day in Scotland in a state of undress.

The course design team at Total Warrior obviously predicted my upset at the cold weather and decided to make the first obstacle a run up and down a steep hill, four times. That was nice of them, I thought.

I got to the end of the hill runs and no longer felt concern about hypothermia, rather I was somewhat more concerned with whether or not my legs would continue to hold me upright. Then we entered into the woods and made our way down to the lake, navigating the tree roots and the muddy spots. As with Tough Mudder there were plenty of water obstacles. I look strangely happy about this fact. Appearances can be deceiving.

My particular favourite was the one which you had to jump over a fire to get into. As I approached it I screamed to the steward

'I can't do it! I can't hold my nose because my hands are muddy!'

The horrifying thought of a nose full of water clearly helped me get over my reservations about my muddy hands.



Look at me - leaping like a gazelle!! Exquisite form if I do say so myself.

As a result of the whole whiplash situation there were a couple of obstacles I didn't bother to attempt because I knew that I wouldn't manage them and I didn't want to fall and jerk my neck again. This included the monkey bars (not a forte of mine) and a wall with climbing footholds which we had to traverse horizontally, falling into water if we slipped off. I was definitely going to slip off so I just daintily trotted around the side. All in the name of health and safety, obviously.

I did however give the obstacle titled 'Logging it' a shot. This involved carrying a log up a hill (those course designers bloody loved hills). I'm glad I did it if only for the photographic evidence in which I am the epitome of Scottishness.


All in all, a great day was had so I'm thankful to Ruth for roping me into this challenge (honestly) and it was great to catch up with my old pals from NFU Scotland and run around in a muddy field being a bit of a prat.

Next stop - half marathon!

Plans

I leaned back into the comfort of the passenger seat and allowed the sunshine which streamed through the window to percolate through my skin and warm me up from the outside in. It was September in Scotland so this type of warmth was surprising and I wanted to soak up every bit of enjoyment it offered me. I squinted out from under my hands at the road ahead, which was a grey haze because of the heat. My eyes were drawn to the mountains which rose up around the road and reached towards the sky. They reminded me of just how much space there is here that I haven't explored yet.

***

I grew up in Dundee which is slightly north of Edinburgh.  When I first moved through to Edinburgh people would regularly ask me if I was going 'up north' at the weekend. That seemed strange to me because Dundee, to my mind, doesn't qualify as North Scotland. To those of us belonging to the Scotland south of Inverness the 'north' brings to mind images of remoteness, smallness (in terms of the sizes of the towns) and vastness (in terms of the landscape). It is the Scotland that tourists flock here for and the Scotland of literature and Hollywood films.

The road to take north from Edinburgh is the A9, Scotland's longest road at 273 miles and depicted in the James Bond Skyfall movie as some kind of single track, crumbling road to nowhere. Actually, it's a bizarre mix of a scenic route whilst also being a major trunk route. It's rarely as still and quiet as the landscape surrounding it, as commuters, weekend hikers and haulage lorries crowd onto its sometimes single, sometimes dual carriageways. The changes between single and dual are regular and abrupt. It's easy to be caught in the outside lane, trying desperately to find a space to pull in as the road narrows. When driving along this road it isn't too much of a stretch to see why it has the nickname 'the Killer A9'.

Of course, despite the fact that I'm a Scot, my idea of North Scotland is as vague as the tourist's visions because I've never actually been. Well, I've been to Inverness and Golspie too, but both for flying visits and I didn't explore as much as I might have liked. I fancy remedying that.

***

I've been doing this 100 day reading and writing challenge and one of the books I read was partly about an adventure around Scotland. This was the main reason I picked the book up but I ended up being pretty disappointed. Each leg of the journey only had about two pages dedicated to it and it just didn't do much to form the picture in my mind of the places that the author visited. I suppose that reading is as much about discovering what you don't like as much as what you do. In that respect, this book has been as influential as any that I've loved because it solidified an idea about how I might write about Scotland.

Which is all my way of saying that I'm going to try and get a little bit more organised around here. I'm going to save up and buy myself a bike again so that I can get out and about more often and I'm going to make more of my weekends by travelling further afield now and again. I'm also going to try to make the posts more cohesive as opposed to me just rambling on, so I'll try to get a little bit sharper in terms of writing. The ideas are still marinating just now but I'll keep you posted and as ever, if you have any suggestions of places to visit or things to see then I'd be delighted to hear them.


Friday, 11 September 2015

Half Marathon training: Update 1.



If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter then you might have noticed that I'm in training for a half marathon. I really don't know what prompted me to sign up for this because I've made no bones about the fact that I'm not the biggest running fan.

Except from, now I am. 

I'm one of those now. You know the type. The person who wants to chat about pacing, routes and running trainers. The creature who wants to update everyone on how far and fast I managed to put one foot in front of the other. It's dreadful.

It's all because now I have a fancy app that records my runs. Honestly, I might be the most easily pleased person in the world because all I require in order to have a good day is that little green tick that says I've met my target.  My social life is now planned around how I can manage to fit my runs in lest I might miss out on a tick. Clearly my life is really exciting right now.

This half marathon has come at a good time for me. It's given me something specific to focus on when much of the rest of my life seems a little out of focus and perhaps that's one reason I've thrown myself into it so much. The training definitely hasn't been plain sailing though, largely because I am the most useless person ever. 

Firstly, I had to miss a session because I came down with a heavy head cold (my second one in as many months) and then there have also been gigantic blisters to attend to. Neither of these are really my fault so I can just chalk that up as bad luck.

Then I fell while running along a completely flat, smooth road. More concerned about protecting my iPhone from the collision with concrete, I heroically took the brunt of the fall on my right side. A crowd of people gasped (how dramatic) and ran over to my assistance.

One man reached out his hand to help me up. I frantically scrabbled around the ground trying to reach my phone. Glancing at the screen I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that my phone wasn't smashed. Scratched to bits mind you, but intact. His hand still outstretched he asked me,

'Oh god! Are you okay?' 

'My phone isn't broken!' I said.

I beamed excitedly up at him about this fact. My hip, on the other hand, I couldn't be quite so sure about.

I thanked the crowd of people for their assistance and then limped through the final mile and a half of my run. I had a green tick to achieve after all. The experience took a toll on my running pace for the next little while. I didn't particularly wish to relive the experience of getting beaten up by concrete so I concentrated extra hard on picking my feet up properly, the kind of thing that comes naturally to most people over the age of four years old.

And on we move to perhaps the most tragic barrier to my training out of the lot. For the last 10 days I've been training with a touch of whiplash.

That sounds pretty dramatic, I'm sure. That is, it sounds dramatic until you find out that I sustained this injury by falling off a toilet. Honestly. It could only be more pathetic if the ambulance crew had found me on the bathroom floor without any clothes on. Oh wait.... 

This stopped me training for a couple of days and it's still a little sore so the runs have been a touch slower than I might have liked, as I try to take it easy on my poor, pathetic body. Still though, despite my best attempts to get in the way of progress I have somehow managed to break the nine minute mile on some of my 3-4 mile runs and also run further than I've ever managed before so you can go right ahead and feel impressed.

Now I just need to talk to you all about running gait and foot structure......no wait, don't go......




Thursday, 10 September 2015

A trip to the Cairngorms with SYHA

I'm a big fan of Scottish Youth Hostel Association and stayed in their accommodation when I climbed both Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond. Recently, I was invited to stay at their Cairngorm Lodge and write about the adventures that can be had up there.

It was an early start to the day as we left Edinburgh at 8.30am on Saturday morning in order to face the drive up the A9. Some light entertainment was provided when we noticed the traffic slowing, only to realise that it was because there was a loose cow on the road. It was apparently not bothered about holding up a queue of traffic as it sauntered quite calmly along this busy road. We sat behind it for a few minutes while a couple of farmers tried, pretty unsuccessfully, to herd it out of the way of the traffic. Eventually, it decided that the game was over and retired to the grassy knoll at the side of the road to have a little lunch.


The Cairngorms is a mountain range in the eastern highlands of Scotland and is situated within the Cairngorms national park. Our first stop when we reached the area was to the Funicular railway which takes visitors to the summit of Cairn Gorm mountain. It wasn't possible for us to exit the mountain at the top (you need to be booked onto a walking or cycling tour for this) so we stepped out onto the viewing platform for a bit before quickly retiring to the cafe for a warming bowl of soup. Cairn Gorm, because of its elevation and closeness to the North Atlantic, has a very cold climate, which is particularly illustrated by the low temperatures during the summer so something to warm me up was very much called for. You will notice that I look particularly bulky in the photograph below. I have five layers on. I should have worn six. It was cold, so very cold. Despite the low temperature, the trip up to the top of the mountain was well worth it for the views across the mountain range.





If I had taken the time to do a little research before the trip I might have realised that Cairn Gorm is home to Britain's only herd of free ranging reindeer. But no research was done and so, we were surprised to come down from the mountain and find a number of reindeer pottering around in the car park. We were even more surprised by how close we were able to get and how comfortable they seemed with our presence.



Visitors to the Cairngorms can take part in a vast array of activities from skiing, biking and watersports. Ryan and I decided to stick to walking for this weekend. There are almost too many routes to choose from so we took the advice of the SYHA staff at the Cairngorm lodge and headed down to Loch Morlich first of all which is situated very close to the hostel so we didn't have to walk too far at all.



After dinner at the Cairngorm hotel in Aviemore we returned to the hostel and bedded down for the night. The next day, the hostel staff suggested a nice walk around Loch an Eilein. We parked at the Rothiemurchus visitor centre and set off from here. We walked for four miles around spectacular woodland. At some points the forest floor was completely covered with purple heather as far as the eye could see. Apart from the occasional walker or cyclist, the route was very quiet and I was reminded of just how wild Scotland is, which is all to easy to forget when I'm surrounded by the noise and hustle of a central belt city.





Thursday, 3 September 2015

100 days of reading and writing



One of the things I like best about writing on this blog is the record of my life that it holds. Even if nobody else reads it, I still like to flick through some of the old posts and remind myself about what I got up to and what fun was had along the way. I have a faint obsession with tracking time because sometimes it seems to slip away from me too quickly. I find that this blog is a good way to do that.

I've never been one to keep a journal, save for an awkward teenage diary which was only written in intermittently,  usually when I was having some hormone fuelled rage about something or other. I never really got into the habit of documenting each day, preferring instead to just savour the moments in real time.

Sometimes I feel regret about that, particularly when I think back over particularly enjoyable parts of my life and the memories are a little fuzzy. I can remember how I felt, but not the specific details of the conversations, or the names of some of the people involved. The general location sticks in my mind but I'll be damned if I can remember exactly how the buildings looked to me, or which route I wandered along to get there. I try to bring the memories into focus but as hard as I try, they're just a blurry mess. If I wanted to write about them now, it would be largely fiction, with only a small basis in reality.

***

I used to read a lot. All the time in fact. I do that less often now. Partly it's because Ryan and I like to spend our spare time together (barf) so after tea we will sit together and watch a mutually agreeable television show rather than go off into separate rooms and do something independently.

When I do have a few spare moments, during my lunch hour at work for example, I tend to spend them scrolling through social media and reading articles online. All of which is fine of course, but really I'm tired of skimming the surface of things.

***

I was reading Katy's blog and saw that she's taking on a 100 day challenge during which she'll run every day. The original idea started here and there's a Facebook group and all that jazz to help you commit to the 100 days.

I'm already doing a lot of running to train for the Great Scottish Run in October, (I'll come back to this in another post) however I liked the idea and thought that I'd amend it a little to suit my current needs and desires.

So for the next 100 days, I'm going to read and write something everyday. Some of the writing might make it onto the blog but likely, more of it will remain unfinished scribbles. Regardless, I'm keen to start writing with more frequency and get flexing that muscle. Recently, I've been thinking about playing around with short stories but I'm a bit nervous about putting them out here on the blog in case they're a bit crap.

I'll keep a track of what I'm reading over on my Instagram and as ever, I'm interested in getting some suggestions, fiction or non-fiction.

I'll also try to post as much of the semi-acceptable writing on the blog or snippets on social media so you can follow along if you like. I've decided to start a little hashtag to keep it all in one place #readwrite100

Creative, huh?

So... use the hashtag. Let me see what you're writing, what you're reading and what words you're loving right now and I'll do the same too.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

It's a cat's life


This week is Scottish Animal Week and I was asked by the lovely Charlene to get involved with blogging about it to raise awareness of the work and fundraising efforts of the Scottish SPCA.

With the focus on animals, I thought I'd take some time to introduce my pet. He lives with my parents so I don't see him as often as I like, and I have, at times, cried to Ryan about this fact. I even once suggested that we move back home because 'I miss cuddling my cat'. So that's the extent of our bond. Just so we're clear. At least, that's how strongly I feel about him. I'm pretty sure that he's less bothered about me. I can't think about his lack of emotion for me in this photograph below for too long or I start to get a little upset.



Crunchie is, in my humble opinion, the best cat who has ever blessed this earth. He's got attitude like I've never seen before. He also has a preponderance for getting himself into difficult situations. Much like his owner, then.

He's used up a few of his nine lives in his thirteen years. He's been run over by a car. My Mum's car actually (oops). He's also gone for a spin in the tumble drier (again my Mum's fault). Crunchie doesn't let her forget about it easily. If his food and milk bowl isn't constantly full he exaggerates his limp a little bit until she feels sorry for him. Other than guilt tripping my Mum, his hobbies include tripping humans up, eating ice cream, sleeping in the sun and gazing disdainfully at the neighbour's cat. He also likes taking selfies with me. Clearly.



Aside from the 'accidents' Crunchie has had a pretty good life with us and he's just like another member of our family. Sadly, not every animal has such good luck and that's where the Scottish SPCA come in. They are Scotland's animal welfare charity which prevents cruelty to animals through education. They also investigate animal abuse cases, rescue animals in distress and find them new homes.

This week is Scottish Animal Week which aims to raise funds to care for Scotland's injured and abused animals. You can find out more about how to get involved in the week here or if you're feeling generous and would like to make a donation then you can do that through this page.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A random collection of adventures - St Andrews, Kelpies and Corstorphine Hill

I had some time off in August so I decided to explore a few places close to home.

Firstly Ryan and I ventured to St Andrews to check out a potential wedding venue. We don't think it's the one for us but we had a great sunny day out and managed to sneak in an ice cream from the one and only Janetta's ice cream parlour. St Andrews holds a special little place in my heart because when I first passed my driving test it was the standard day trip for me and my friends. We'd come here, eat too much ice cream and trot around town marvelling at how pretty everything was.






While we're on the subject of eating too much ice cream, I recently heard about Scotland's ice cream trail and have decided that this definitely has to be incorporated into a challenge for the blog. Sadly, the Scottish summer (all two weeks of it) is likely over for this year so this idea will be put on pause for a while.

We also had a trip up to Go Ape in Aberfoyle. This is in the Trossachs area of Scotland which makes for an awesome road trip filled with plenty of spectacular scenery. On our way back we decided to pop in to Helix Park in Falkirk to get a closer look at the Kelpies as neither of us had seen them up close before despite driving past them quite a few times.





These magnificent statues pay homage to the Scottish mythology of the 'Kelpies' which are said to be shape shifting horses living in the lochs of Scotland, preying on any humans that they encounter. Most often this takes the form of the Kelpie encouraging the humans (usually children) to ride on its back which then becomes sticky so that they can't fall off. It then drags them into the water. Most of Scotland's Lochs have their own story about the Kelpies lurking in the depths.

The Kelpie statues pay homage to this myth but also embody the industrial history of Scotland and in particular, of the Falkirk / Grangemouth area in which heavy horses would once have been crucial, providing the necessary 'horse power'. You can read more about the inspiration behind the Kelpies here. They are definitely worth a visit and it's a fairly cheap day out as all you'll need is enough money to park in the on site car park.

Then to round off a week of activities I went for a jaunt up Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh. I walk past a little opening into a wooded area each day on my way to work and often wonder what I'd find if I ventured in. It turns out that after a (very steep climb) I'd find some of the best views of Edinburgh. It's definitely a bit underrated, with Arthur's Seat and Calton Hill getting all the glory, but if you're looking for a nice walk in Edinburgh, this one is definitely a must see.