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Saturday morning started off sunny enough, or at least it did for the first 3 miles. With the prospect of a long day ahead, I did not think twice and stopped to pull on my trusty North Face Triumph jacket. If ever a product was aptly named, it was the Triumph. Super lightweight and extremely packable, it is the kind of jacket that happily sits in your pack until those rare days when it really is needed. Today was one of those days.
My plan had been to run from Coylumbridge, where I was staying for the weekend along with some of Mrs Macs family, up and in to the Lairig Ghru. I walked the Lairig Ghru in 2005 and then had a partial foray from Braemar as far as the Devil's Point in 2006. Both visits preceded my interest in ultra running and, as such, I felt that a return to the Lairig Ghru was long overdue.
I had spent a great deal of time pouring over maps on the Friday evening, formulating a number of different options for the following day. As it was, I ended up following an entirely different route! Approaching the 5 mile mark, the weather was quickly deteriorating. The rain, by now bordering on torrential, was starting to take on a more snow like quality. That alone would have been tolerable. However, as I ascended towards the Lairig Ghru, the wind was increasing in it's ferocity, by now to the point that I couldn't even hear the music in my headphones.
Looking ahead, I could see only the most unwelcoming of grey skies. Today was most definitely not the day for a run in the Lairig Ghru and, given that most of my preferred route options also involved bagging some Munros and taking in the views, I questioned the sensibility of continuing on. Today I would be lucky to see the trail, never mind the stunning views that the mountains of the Cairngorms can offer.
I hummed and hawed and even took some photos, quickly wiping the sleety rain from the lens of my iPhone.
I turned and started to descend. 5 miles of uphill slog soon gave way to a cracking bit of descent and, as far as payback goes, it does not get much better than this; rocky, rooty, singletrack that eventually opens out into wider forest trail.
A quick text to the in-laws let them know of the change in plans. If anything did go wrong, I certainly did not want them to be looking in the wrong place!
I set off in the direction of Loch an Eilein, a route quite familiar to me.
Just as an aside, this route makes for some excellent biking. The route lends itself to building up a fair speed and there are a number of burns that just have to be cycled, usually resulting in a good soaking from the spray.
Running the route meant I actually got to take in a bit more of my surroundings than usual and stayed drier than normal!
As I ran around Loch an Eilein I passed a turnoff that takes you out and around Loch Gamha. Generally I miss this bit out but I figured that it would add on approximately 1 mile to today's route and would make for a good change in scenery.
As it was, I ended up going wrong somewhere and ended up instead heading westwards in the forests around Inshriach. (This might sound daft but I came across a couple who had done exactly the same thing!) I finally popped out of the forest somewhere just above Loch Insh, some 7 miles south of Aviemore. I stuck to the quiet B970 road on the return to Aviemore, for fear of once more going astray!
Now, whenever I hear the word Inshriach, it is usually quickly followed by the words cake and shop! Described by The Observer's Dan Lepard as "one of Britain's Best Cake Shops", the Inshriach Nursey & Cake Shop just happens to be on the B970.
As I ran past the entrance I did an automatic left turn. I was approximately 18 miles into the run by this point and figured that there was no harm in stopping for some coffee and cake.
The cakes alone should be enough to tempt you but, just in case you need any more convincing, I should also mention the view. The majority of customers sit along the back wall, facing out onto a variety of bird feeders. The number of birds there is quite astounding. What's even more astounding is that any of them can take off after gorging themselves on what's on offer! While I was there I was fortunate enough to see a woodpecker as well as all manner of smaller birds. There were no squirrels on this occasion but the birds, only a couple of feet from my position at the window, more than entertained me.
Leaving the cake shop was difficult! Not only was I enjoying the view but my muscles were also starting to seize up. I soon got back into the running and finished off not long after, back in Coylumbridge, with a total of 22 miles. Not a bad day. Not the anticipated location or mileage but I did get some great hill training in, covered some new ground, and had the added bonus of coffee and cake.
Funnily enough, cake also featured in the excellent Talk Ultra podcast that I spent a large part of the run listening to. The cake element came in an interview with Salomon athlete Anna Frost. Normally I listen to trance music while running but, on this occasion, I decided to catch up on my podcasts. It seemed quite appropriate to be tuned into a running podcast while out on the trail and I enjoyed the 'company' of human voices!
Saturday evening consisted of an excellent meal at the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore before returning to our accommodation in Coylumbridge. Sitting at the window, making the most of the starry Cairngorm view, I was fortunate enough to see something fairly sizeable shooting southwards through the sky. It turns out that I was not alone in my observations and the meteorite made quite an impact (no pun intended) on the following days news.
Waking early on Sunday morning, I was aware that we would be departing around lunchtime and, as such, threw on some running kit and headed out the door.
I ran up towards the Lairig Ghru, covering the 5 miles of uphill yet again. What a difference a day makes. Whilst not exactly blue skies, the weather was a considerable improvement on the previous day and would have been sufficient to entice me further up in to the Lairig Ghru had I not been due to return home.
Tired legs soon gave way to reckless abandonment as I ran/fell/plummeted down the first 2 miles of the trail. With arms swinging like windmills, my hands were trying in vain to act like wind paddles and provide at least a degree of stability and control. My attempts were doomed to failure. It was all I could do not to go over my ankle, almost coming a cropper on two occasions in a fashion that would have seen a very early end to the season through injury.
If Carlsberg made trails, they would surely lay claim to this one. My eyes remained glued to the trail before me, whilst also trying to ensure that I didn't wipe out on any low branches. As I arrived at the bottom of the first two miles of downhill I stopped for breath and checked the Garmin. I had hit just over 7 minute miles. If only I could run that fast on the flat!
Arriving back in Coylumbridge 10 miles later, I was happy in the knowledge that I had squeezed the most out of my weekend in the Cairngorms.
I have a week in the Cairngorms at the end of March to look forward to so I will be back on the trail there soon.
It's countdown time, or, to be more specific, triple countdown time. Firstly, I am counting down the days to the return of Mrs Mac after a month without her thanks to time spent in Houston with work.
The second countdown is for the first ultra of the year, the D33 an out and back from Aberdeen to Banchory on the 17th March.
The final countdown is to my 40th at the end of the month. The 'blow' of turning 40 is slightly softened by the change of status that 40 years affords, to Male Vet and an accompanying earlier start at the Hoka Highland Fling.
Actually, let me retract that. I have never felt as good as I do now thanks in large part to running. I certainly don't feel 40 and I very much doubt that this will change in the next 24 days :o)
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