The delightful mess

Minor (?) injury, major pain in the backside…well, ankle, really.

Hmm. The delightful mess I made of my ankle last year has apparently come back to bite me and is hurting like nobody’s business at the moment.

This was it in October last year, nothing like that now but the weakness is very much evident at the moment.

I think the crazy downhill trashing my ankles took at Glentress Marathon have really taken their toll and rolling the right ankle a couple of times on a great fun Inov8 shoe testing run in Fort William didn’t help either.

So I need to rest. But that’s no fun, is it? Short term pain (as in not running) for long term gain is the thinking, but it’s really tough. Especially when running is the thing that makes everything else ok.

Hopefully I’ll get back on it soon. John Muir Way Ultra in no time at all so it really is everything crossed time.


with gentle undulations

When the ladies’ course record holder blogs that *she* found the race tricky, you know it’s been a toughie…

I met Rachel via TrailfestScotland‘s Maps for Trail Runners project at the tail end of last year and read her thoughts on this year’s Glentress Trail Marathon a couple of days after the event.

I’d ended up – I say that like it was an accident – entered into the Glentress Trail Marathon when the organisers were good enough to take my ankle ligament damage into account back in November and allow me to transfer my place in their Ultra Marathon to this event.

Living in the Highlands, it’s easy to think of the hills of the Borders as rolling countryside with gentle undulations. That’s categorically not the case at Glentress. For one thing it’s a mountain biking centre, home to daredevil black runs and vertiginous singletrack sections.

See? Hills and everything!

Arriving the day before I had my usual pre-big-event rubbish sleep but got up feeling rested enough and very much looking forward to the day. A glorious, if chilly sub-zero morning, greeted me in Peebles and I sorted out my kit, taking the brave decision – at minus 4 degrees – to go for shorts. I’d decided the Inov8 Roclite would be the right choice for the feet…

Parking and registration were straightforward enough and I had time for a coffee pre-race and a chat with some other runners…

… before getting down to the serious business of panicking about kit choice and whether I’d be warm enough in shorts. Turned out that about midway through lap two I wasn’t but by then I was too tired to care.

Briefing was – unusually in my race day experience – audible and before long we were away on the very dot of ten am.

Clear blue skies, the slightest breeze and glorious surroundings. Perfect running conditions. The hill I spotted didn’t, at this point, look too ominous.

Under the archway and down the hill, worrying as I heard people say things like ” yeah I’ll stick to 9, maybe 8 minute miles…” but trying not to pay too much attention as I tried to work out my own rhythm and pace. I don’t run for times, places or prizes; I’m not fast enough and have long since lost any competitive streak where sports are concerned. I run because I love it, I like to run in new places and, as I’ve said here before, it protects my mental health. This relaxed attitude doesn’t make setting a pace particularly easy but I just wanted to enjoy myself.

Nice and easy just about five miles in…

On the first of the two loops – and what a psychological nightmare they would turn out to be – I can honestly say I had a thoroughly brilliant time. It was hard going and seemed to be mostly uphill, managing to defy the laws of physics. As more than one person remarked on the day, “how can it all be up the way?”

The whole thing was brilliantly runnable, freezing temperatures had turned patches of mud to hard packed technical permafrost-bog and it was fun to be leaping over lumps of earth and hurdling tree roots in the forest canopy’s single track sections. But the climbs. Oh the climbs. The highest point on the course (here) …

… wasn’t even close to being the toughest ascent, following as it did a nice switchback zigzag section through a carpet of pine needles under the towering forestry stock. The views from the top were quite breathtaking and by that point there wasn’t much breath to take. A truly glorious day to be running.

The hardest climb was mercifully short and came around the ten mile mark. A near vertical dry earth and scrub face after a relatively easy but hugely enjoyable technical section in the forest, finding the route by following red and white tape hung from branches in a kind of Hansel and Gretel meets the Barkley Marathons style…

Four seconds was as much as I could manage to film what with trying to breathe and all…

It was brutal. A word that kept popping into my head all the way through both loops. But obviously more so on the second. Walking up that slope and the second, thankfully shorter one, which soon followed allowed some respite from the annoying rubbing on the inside of my left foot. I’d first noticed it after getting a bit wet on a muddy section about five or six miles in and had thought I’d maybe stop and investigate when I reached the summit as I’d figured I’d be stopping for some photos then anyway. As it turned out I decided just to adjust my sock a bit and that seemed to do the trick. The shoes were okay at this point, enough grip when needed and enough cushioning when running form allowed a decent forefoot strike…something which was to become an issue later on as tiredness set in.

Downhill sections were mostly good fun up to this point, fast and slightly hair-raising but on soft peaty tracks or covered forest sections with some give in the dry earth underfoot…this all changed after about the 11 mile mark when it was quite literally downhill all the way for a good mile or so of hard, rutted tree-rooty permafrost. It was really tough on the knees and feet and I was having difficulty maintaining pace without falling over. The pounding on my legs – down to poor conditioning on my part, I’m under no illusions – was a real downer and it was on the brief climb back into the forest at the end of this section that I began to have real thoughts of just stopping when I got to the end of the loop. There was the option to drop out at half way and get a time for the half marathon distance. This felt like a good idea, it was knocking on for 2hrs25 by this point and I honestly couldn’t see myself managing to get back out for the same distance again, particularly when I knew now what the course entailed.

As the final downhill section before the start/finish/halfway checkpoint area opened out in front of me I was still trying to decide what to do. I knew I’d be annoyed with myself if I didn’t at least try to finish but equally I was all too aware of how hard it had already been and didn’t know if I could force another thirteen miles out of my legs.

Coming into the aid station and turnaround there was great enthusiasm and encouragement from the volunteers and HiTerrain staff. I grabbed some flat Irn-Bru and a handful of salted peanuts (bliss!) and got them down before heading to the toilet block. I genuinely still hadn’t decided what to do but I took off my annoying shoe, messed about with the insole and my sock and put it back on anyway. It felt immediately more comfortable and I went back out, took some more Irn-Bru and headed out for round two.

As I was fixing my shoe a chap – who I later learned as we chatted on the trail was Polish – said to me “the half for the body is done, now it’s the half for the mind”. A very profound and pretty accurate thought, though my body was complaining pretty bitterly by about mile 22!

My new companion and I headed off down the slope and back onto the road that leads to the trails, it was a quick walk more than anything else at this point as we chatted about other events we’d done and how tough this course was. My legs were glad of the rest but after a while his suggestion of “run a little?” seemed a good one and we settled into a couple of miles of walk-run-chat. He had far more stamina than me and after a couple of miles he was away on his own again.

Soon after, following a long uphill stretch I thought I was done. I was seriously considering walking the 3.5 miles or so back down to the start/finish line and calling it a day. Here I happened upon my second inspirational figure of the day; a young lady who didn’t look more than about 19 or 20 was standing, hands on hips, shaking her head and said to me, “I’m giving up. No. Am I?” I asked how annoyed she’d be if she quit. “I made it my new year’s resolution not to hate running…but…ach…on we go!” and she was away. Onwards, not quitting. I asked myself the same question. How annoyed would I be?

One foot in front of the other. No one is going to do it for you Bryan. If I walk the whole thing it will only take about another four hours anyway. Positive thinking and the next couple of miles disappeared. I was passed by the guy I’d met at breakfast at the hotel who had also done the 10k the day before, “single figures now!” he shouted as he strode past. This was a nice long, gentle downhill on fairly groomed trails and I resolved to let gravity do the work and run where I could. Back into a bit of woodland before the views into the valleys below opened up to Peebles nestled at the foot of the hills…

…then a brief text exchange with my other half who offered support for my flagging morale with a “you know you’ve got this” message. Positive thinking. I did a lot of negative thinking on this run – this half for the mind! – mostly complaining to myself that I wasn’t suited to running and certainly not to this distance and these kind of climbs. But, and here’s the thing, I did a lot more positive thinking – “what a stunning day”, “I love running in new places”, “I can do this, how satisfying is it going to be to finish this?” and it really helped.

I’ve blogged before about the mantra from Chris McDougall’s Born To Run that running on trails should be:

Easy, smooth, light and fast…and if easy’s all you get, that’s not so bad

I kept saying this to myself even though it was far from easy. The photo below was just after coming out of one particular section of techical forest trail – loads of rocks and tree roots and boulders to negotiate. Not easy but definitely – despite my weariness – smooth, light and fast, I have a vivid recollection of landing after a small jump and saying out loud, “see? This is what you run for!” Truly exhilerating.

The slightly flatter zigzags and switchbacks leading to the summit for a second time were a welcome sight and I ran as much of them as I could before a short walk-run jaunt through now defrosted muddier trails to the top. The wind was really howling as I stopped to get some more photos but it was worth the effort.

The benefit of it being the second lap now was that I knew what was to come with just about 5 miles to go. The downside to it being the second lap now was that I knew what was to come with just about 5 miles to go.

The evil hill.

At this point I felt like I’d been running on my own for a good while. The twists and turns meaning that even when other runners weren’t too far away, you often went for a good few minutes without seeing them as they disappeared around a bend or into the trees…I caught another runner on the zigzags after the summit and walked with her for a bit until the peaty track across the exposed heather moor. The wind was really coming in and my feet were sore but the springy peat is familiar from my home runs and it’s a delight to run on so I fairly bounded across the narrow trail before hitting the switchback leading to the trees and the return to the evil hill.

A sensible power walk with hands pushing down knees approach saw this pass more comfortably than first time around bizarrely and then it was out onto an open section of moorland and over a bike track before the last aid station. A quick, “no, you’re fine thanks” to the ever cheery marshalls and it was onto the quad-trashing, foot-pounding penultimate descent over the rutted bike trails. My legs were well and truly done by this point – maybe mile 23.5? – but I knew I wanted to run as much as I could of what remained. A very short bout of walking after coming off this tricky downhill gave me a chance to catch my breath before I saw a marshall clapping me onwards with a shout of “brilliant effort, last click and you’re in” which I thought must mean I was nearly home.

Back off the forest road and into the trees again, spurred on by this thought I somehow got my pace up and legs moving again with what I’m going to describe as textbook uphill technique: up on the balls of my feet, leaning forward, arms really driving; I don’t know where the energy came from but the end was most definitely in sight. Metaphorically at any rate.

Round the top car park and into a short downhill section where the tracks converged and there were lots of bikers around. One stopped to let me through an opening, “go on mate, great effort!” I managed a “Cheers, nearly there thank Christ!” which got a laugh and a “Yeah, fantastic, last push!” which further inspired me – he could’ve just let me go through and nodded but he took time to cheer me on my way. This thought brought me to the final section – across the access road and past the marshall onto more pine needle covered trails through the last forest part of the course. The six hour mark was approaching and I still had a good half mile to go so that wasn’t going to happen but the sheer joy of knowing it was nearly over gave me enough of a boost to keep the legs turning for a non-stop run all the way to the end.

The last 30yards or so are all uphill on the steep access slope to the wooden “wigwams” at Glentress and I found the energy from goodness only knows where to give it everything on the hill to get under the finishing arch to an “amazing sprint finish on that hill!” from the man presenting me with my medal.


I was delighted to finish in 6:03:42. Slow I know but I’m really chuffed to have kept going and I can honestly say I had more positive thoughts on the way round than negative ones. It was a stunning day to be running, a beautiful setting and some amazing trails. I probably had the wrong shoes on – feet, knees and ankles were really sore by the end but by that point I had a cup of tea and some milk chocolate raisins from the amazing HiTerrain team so I wasn’t caring.

About 17 miles or so in I was definitely questioning my life choices…but I’m already planning to come back next year!



Plagued by indecision

Sometimes the ups and downs of running aren’t on the trails and in the hills.

I’ve read lots of running blogs where folks talk about “the bad run” – the run that was rubbish for whatever reason: weather, injury worries, not hitting the desired pace, etc, etc. Whilst not dismissive of this notion, it certainly wasn’t something I’d any experience of. The benefits I’ve accrued from running have meant that, for me at any rate, running is always something to be encouraged, providing as it does, a welcome psychological benefit and a buffer against the worry of potential mental health issues.

But of course it had to come, didn’t it?

After that first event of the year I had the Monday off and, as is my want on such days, decided to hit the road. Or the trails. Or maybe both. For a wee run. Or a long run. Maybe some hill reps. And that was the problem. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do and as a result couldn’t quite get into the right mindset. Even my usual attitude of “och, I’ll see where I end up” didn’t materialise. I think my malaise is probably evident from the less than enthusiastic pre-run Instagram post…

And so it came to pass. Plagued by indecision even as I ran onto the lower paths of the local community woodland, I started up the fairly steep first hill at a gentle pace before deciding, midway, to put the foot down and get the heart rate up before the main trail and the three or so miles up to my usual loop in the Oakwoods.

That was another error, the sudden spurt knackered me by the time I got to the junction with the main trail and I realised there was no way I’d manage the three miles to the woods, let alone the three back again!

Cue a quick mental adjustment as I decided to go for a bit of hill and speedwork by doing some figure-eights on the hilly community woodland trails.

This was trickier than I’d thought it would be. The hills are fairly short but also fairly steep and blasting up them wasn’t offset by letting gravity do the work on the way back down as it wasn’t really long enough to recover. Suffice it to say that after just a couple of miles – about 3 figure eights in all – I gave it up as a bad job and ran home.

I spent the rest of the morning and the early part of the afternoon bemoaning the run and feeling really annoyed with myself. I’m not even entirely sure why, after all, I’d gone out and run and actually worked pretty hard. And it’s not as if anyone was making me run.

Eventually, as I was sorting out the laundry, inspiration struck and I was given a metaphorical kick up the backside by my New York City Marathon t-shirt.

‘Chasing’ the buzz of a good run is, I appreciate as I said in the Instagram post, probably a mistake but thankfully on this occasion it worked. Nothing quite so disheartening as a bad run…but nothing quite so uplifting as a good one!

Chosen for convenience…

The first event of the year is always special. I say that like I’ve been doing events consistently for years…okay, I imagine the first event of the year is always special.

Having had to pull out of three events I’d signed up for in the latter part of 2017 due to injury, I was really looking forward to this one: The Buchlyvie 10k. It had been chosen for convenience as much as anything, my good lady and I were travelling to Glasgow to attend a show at the Celtic Connections festival and this was both en route(ish) and on the same day.

There’s not a huge amount to say about it – it was enjoyable enough, I really felt privileged to be able to run with my other half in her first event and the out and back course on forestry track, while not the most inspiring, was hardly taxing.

I’d been warned online about the “killer hill” at the end but to be honest it barely registered – the Central belt not perhaps being known for its hills in quite the same way as the West Highlands!

I’ve got lots of events in the diary for 2018 and to get one under my belt and for it to be without incident or injury is a major bonus.

Pre-race fuel of scone and coffee at Three Sisters Bake in Killearn was greatly appreciated by me…though not as it transpired by Rachael who said at the end of the run that she’d felt sick most of the way round, which made her 53minute run on her debut race all the more impressive!

The odd woah…

Not blogged for a wee while…been using the #Instagram pictures to capture all manner of weather and scenery related shenanigans round here but I wanted to add a wee bit more to today’s post…

It was a lovely run. First time I’ve run on proper snow I think – crispy underfoot with a mixture of ice and powder and an amazing soundtrack in the form of crunchy footsteps and the occasional birdcall.

I kept laughing and smiling to myself, with the odd “woah!” thrown in when the odd turn or two got a bit slippier than I expected. I took the opportunity to stop and take photos as well as get a bit of air off some of the descents into mini-snowdrifts. Any run where smiling is a feature and where you can feel your spirits lifted with every step is a good one in my book. All hail the trail!

Really felt the muscles…


Got my sensible head on at the moment. A rare sight indeed.

I’ve had to stop running. Albeit temporarily. An injury from July has niggled and niggled and has, I’m pretty sure, led to other injuries as a result of poor running form and not carrying myself properly. So common sense has prevailed.

I’ve got quite a few events either booked or planned for 2018 already, starting with the Buchlyvie 10k in January, en route to Roaming Roots at Celtic Connections, and I really want to make the most of them.

Cue a visit to Gumtree and the purchase of a bike – which I’ll need for the duathlon part of Run Balmoral’s Devil O’ Deeside anyway. Hopefully this will keep me active and maintain some semblance of fitness whilst I rest the feet and ankles until January 1st.

I stuck the bike rack on the other day for a jaunt out to the Nevis Range Witch’s Trails, hard work in the ice but I really felt the muscles burning so that’s got to be a good thing, right?

Anyway, if you spot any blogs on here mentioning the fact that I’ve been running anytime before¬†January, do give me a virtual slap.


Simple human connection….

There are books on “mindful running” – I’ll confess I’ve not read any of them; one of them – by Mackenzie Havey – isn’t even published yet so I’ll excuse myself there. As a fan of running books in general I’ll probably get around to them at some point but, and I know this is ridiculously “judgey”, I’m really not sure there’s much point.
Let me explain. I’ve nothing against mindfulness per se, other I suppose than the misappropriation of one part of what is essentially a key element of the the larger Buddhist way of life for the purposes of trying to find space in our busy 21st Century lifestyles. I’ll come down from my soapbox actually, I guess whatever works for someone works for someone…but it is odd that people should try to “study” it in isolation when it’s actually something which is fundamentally woven into the Buddhist path and not something practiced in isolation for those of that persuasion.

I digress…

I’ve actually found it to be useful myself, not in any kind of obsessive or immersive way where I’ve regularly tried to practice it or to do everything from eating to washing, “mindfully”; rather I’ve used small elements from time to time to help me cope with my depressive episodes. At its most basic, elemental level – when it’s not part of the wider Buddhist practice – it seems to me it is about just taking a breath, stepping back and thinking, “right, calm down, pause, have a cuppa” and appreciating what’s going on around you.

Writing that, it occurs it’s probably possible to be mindful in the midst of chaos – you can still appreciate what’s going on around you, even if it’s madness and stressful. I’ve digressed again…

At one point, in the midst of a particularly ‘bad’ bout of depression – which also include severe anxiety and panic attacks – I installed a mindfulness app on my phone. There’s a wonderful irony to that which speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the ‘cult of mindfulness’ when it’s divorced from its origins. Nonetheless, it was quite useful as a sleep aid as the voice was very soothing and in some ways, sleep was the biggest problem at that point. What it didn’t do so well though was help in terms of negative or cluttered thinking – the idea of just “acknowledging” your thoughts and letting them drift off to come back and deal with them later didn’t – and doesn’t – sit well with me.

That happens all the time when I’m running actually – thoughts come and go and I acknowledge them and try to sort them out there and then; running’s a good space for that. Though it helps not to have any music on whilst doing it. And it’s even better done on the free-from-distracting-traffic-and-people trails.

When I used to run exclusively on the road, particularly when I was battering out the miles in preparation for the NYC marathon last year, I always ran with music on. A playlist with everything from Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who to Public Enemy’s Harder Than You Think, uptempo but still singalong-able in my head – I see now something about that was me trying to shut out the difficulty of the running. I was enjoying it, but I wasn’t loving it.

Often these days, as I run on local – mostly Forestry Commission – trails, I think “there is literally nothing I would rather be doing right now.” And that’s a lovely thing. There’s so much to think about but I don’t even notice I’m doing it. The scenery – I’m fortunate to live in a place where the trails afford views like these…

  …and I just accept them. Not in a blas√© way, obviously I acknowledge them, whether that means stopping for a photo or stopping for a look.

The trails themselves: a mis-step can mean a turned ankle or being calf deep in mud in a way that road-running never will, so you don’t switch off. At the same time you don’t obsess; you just keep your head up and look in front of you and see what’s happening with every step. How could you be more “in the moment” than that?

There’s more too; meeting other people whether they are running, cycling or walking their dog, a quick “morning” or “cheers” as they let you pass is a simple human connection and that basic observation of another soul is something to remind us that there are other people out there in “our” space.

Mindfulness practice emphasises breathing awareness. Runners know better than anyone the importance of a good breathing technique. I know when I’m working too hard or not hard enough by the pattern of my breaths. There’s a quote in one of my running books – alas I’ve read too many to recall which or who said it, “if it feels like hard work, you’re working too hard” and that’s so true – if I’m panting hard on what’s meant to be an easy leg-stretcher I know I’ve pushed too hard. Self examination is a key part of mindfulness…

In Chris McDougall’s amazing Born To Run, the ‘hero’ of the book, Caballo Blanco, tells Chris, [when you’re running] “you want easy, smooth, light and fast…in that order…and if easy is all you get, hey, that’s not so bad.” I say that to myself at least three times on every run. It makes me think about form, foot placement, where I’m looking and where I’m going. 

If all that doesn’t chime with ‘mindfulness’ then I don’t know what does. What I do know is that trail running pretty much is mindfulness, and I don’t need a book to tell me that.