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Breaking the cycle

Wow I have been running daily for 18 months, I am a fully fledged #runstreaker. Forcing miles here and there just to make sure I got my daily run in. I was never going to stop this streak, I was going to be one of those guys who had run daily for 10 years, the I got injured and it all went wrong…. Or did it?

In all honestly the running I was doing for the most part was pathetic! It was silly little miles, 3 here 4 there and sometimes just the 1 mile, that magic mile to ensure the streak continued. I could have been much more productive with my time, even the 10 or 20 minutes that some runs took. I could have cross trained, I could have cycled and enjoyed it, I could have spent more time at the gym lifting weights building specific muscles that would have helped me running the longer distances that I enjoyed, but I didn’t. I spent at least 6 months just getting by without anything changing, I wasn’t getting any fitter or any stronger, something had to change and call it fate call it Chris Asquith call it what you like, but upon sprinting down hill up the Pentland Hills I managed to thump my right foot down hard and get an instant surge of pain unlike anything I had ever felt wash over my right knee. I knew it was bad. I hobbled the last few miles to the car and headed home.

Now to cut a long boring story short, I done what I always do, kept going, strapped it up and waited for it to go away, some 3 months later it hadn’t gone away and I still wasn’t able to run or cycle or play football and I was starting to get worried. After weeks going through the NHS I was on a 3 month waiting list to see about my knee. Once I was told this I went and got myself checked out. In about 1 minute 11 seconds I was relieved to find out it was nothing serious but something rather annoying. It was a recurring problem I had with my hips being incorrectly aligned and having a weak core, and instability in my hips (something cross training and weights could have helped with). All the symptoms I had/have on and off over the last year or so are linked to this, my piriformis pain, my runner’s knee, my ITBS, the pain in my calf and hamstring. Ironically all the running was just keeping everything moving until I crashed my right foot down one sunny evening up the hills and twisted my knee and further abused my body.  I am now doing daily strengthening and flexibility exercises/stretches to correct all the wrongs I had forced my body into by my laziness and obsession with doing a silly run daily.

Poor me poor me I know, but is there something positive about all this Stuart? Why yes there is Mon Ami, let me explain.

Food

The first thing I thought to myself when I knew I wasn’t able to continue eating the way I had been, which was “I can eat anything I run every day”. No the reality was my diet, whilst not terrible was FULL of carbs (well I am running daily I need the fuel) and I was most certainly overeating, especially the late night cheese raids that were almost daily occurrences. The carbs seemed to disappear without much effort really when I started to take notice of my intake. I just wanted more vegetables and by doubling my portions of greens there was so much food on my plate something had to go. Secondly due to being quite ill for a few days around the same time, I hadn’t eaten in almost 2 days so my stomach had shrunk and suddenly I couldn’t finish my usual sized portions, let alone go back for the nightly cheese session. So all of a sudden I had cut carbs and reduced my portion size. I thought to myself right then lets get serious about the intake of food whilst I’m unable to do any cardio and make sure I don’t put any weight on over the summer whilst I recover and who knows maybe I’ll shift a few lbs at the same time, win win. 4 or 5 months later I am eating barely any carbs in my diet and have lost over a stone in weight without really trying or setting out to do so (annoying isn’t it).

Weights

Right then, I can’t do any cardio, even swimming is causing me discomfort I must have done something pretty bad, maybe a tear, maybe ligaments!! I’m not doing anything until I find out what’s wrong with my knee I thought. But I have a gym membership so all I can do really is lift some weights. I had gone through phases of enjoying lifting weights to hating them. I was doing half-hearted session after or before a run thinking, if I double this up with my running I will be super strong and super fit! It turns out a combination of doing pathetic little runs and lifting weights that were probably not light enough to make any difference, didn’t in fact do anything like that, it just fed into me thinking I was fitter and stronger than I actually was. It wasn’t until I got injured I realised how weak I really was.

Until recently I was just lifting a few weights, doing a few bicep curls, a few lat pull downs and using some of the other machines in the gym without any real focus or intention. Now I am following a proper program and find an hour fly’s by and I’m almost wishing I had more time to do more, than the other way around wishing the time away just to say I had done half an hour of weights after a run!. I only ever use free weights now (machines have their place though) and understand the muscles I’m working much better than before. And best of all I am really enjoying lifting weights which surprised me. I don’t enjoy however, spending so much time with giant tanned men in tiny vests grunting. Anyway back to the gym…

Overall my diet is much better, I have lost easily over a stone in weight and added lean muscle. Maybe everyone needs to take some time off training to reflect on what it is you are actually doing and of what benefit it is actually of, or like me are you just getting by, quoting facts and figures that are maybe not as impressive as they could have been with a little more focus and knowledge.

“If you think you are training hard enough, double it”

24 Hour Haggis Run

It’s a strange feeling waking up on the morning of a challenge or an event that you have been planning for weeks or months, It never seems real, it never seems you’re about to do what it is your about to do, and for me that feeling is constant throughout the whole event. Even as I sat in the back of a people carrier at around 6am, on a cold, windy and rainy Sunday morning being handed a freshly cooked pancake with Nutella spread on it and a mug of hot coffee, it certainly didn’t seem like I had been running (hobbling) since 9am the previous morning and was fuelling up for one last push to get to 9am this new morning and complete a 24hr run….but this is exactly what was happening!

My alarm was set for 7am, but as I thought might be the case I was awake well before then. It may have been excitement or nervousness or a combination of both, but I was awake and that was that. I didn’t want to look at the clock but I reckon I lay there for around an hour before my alarm sounded and I got out bed. The plan was to leave at 9am so as to give a couple of hours for breakfast to settle, not that I needed much as I had been carbo loading to great effect the last 72 hours, my body was bursting with stored energy! I was fairly calm about the prospect of being outside for 24 hours trying to run back to Edinburgh. As you will have already noticed, I didn’t wake that morning at home in Edinburgh, but at the home of the Turner family in the small village of Balmullo, around 7 or 8 miles from St Andrew’s. The reason I woke here was a good man named Chris Turner (@Kwistaffa) had agreed to cycle with me as I ran home, partly as a safety precaution but also for the adventure. Now Chris being the great man he is had initially agreed to cycle the entire route and 24 hours along side me, but was over the moon when the equally brilliant Ally Hunter (@allyhunter) agreed to get involved and help Chris taking turns cycling beside me as I stumbled my way homewards for 24 hours. I met both gentlemen through our connection to the Tartan Army Children’s Charity but this would be the first time we as a 3 all got involved in a challenge together and I couldn’t wait.

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9am came in a flash and it was time to get going. We grabbed a few photos to mark the occasion and off we went. We had been weather watching for the last few days, and after a bit of rain of the morning we looked to be in for a dry 20 hours. A local paper had sent a photographer down to grab a few pictures of us setting off down the road for a story being run in the local paper. It was a welcome break after 3 minutes of running to stop and get some photos. After posing and jogging around for a few minutes we said our goodbyes we headed off down a quiet country road on our way to St Andrews, the adventure had begun. It was surreal plodding on in the light rain, I hadn’t and still haven’t accepted the fact it was a 24 hour run! I kept to my usual reserved pace to ensure I wasn’t f****d later in the run. To be honest I had no real idea what I was doing, I had no game plan, I had no run strategy, nothing…I was just out for a run.  I mean I have ran 30 and 40+ miles a few times so know what to expect, but this was a bit different as I had no idea how I would perform at 2am, and as I strolled along enjoying the banter at 9:30am this seemed so far away I didn’t really bother thinking about it to much, I just tried to enjoy it while I could.

We reached St Andrews, grabbed a few photos on the old course and made our way to the coastal trail, and once there the adventure was really beginning. Neither of us had been on the trail before and our only exposure was from the maps we had looked at to plot small sections of the run. The first section was marked red on the map, and as you can imagine the red marker wasn’t a good one. I expected it to be a wild trail mixed with some beach section ie sand…..but what it turned out to be was a short section of single track, that was reminiscent of a mud slide! It was ok going for me slipping around in the mud, but for Chris on the bike, and although a decent roadie, his first exposure to the mtb experience was not a pleasant one. Due to the slickness of the mud and the last few days of heavy rain, it resulted in the back tyre just spinning in the mud and unable to get any grip at all. There was maybe a couple of hundred meters here and there that Chris could cycle on but for the most part it was a case of pushing the bike along the mud, up some stairs and over some massive rocks along the rough beach sections. It wasn’t how either of us had pictured it.

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After an hour or so I could see on Chris’s face a mixture of guilt and frustration. He kept telling me to push on and not let him hold me back, as at times our pace had slowed to a slow jog/walk. Stopping to lift the bike over the many fences and gates was also unwelcome. I knew he was feeling like he was letting me down and even though I kept telling him it was fine, I don’t think he really believed me. In all honesty I was loving it, the tables had turned and this wasn’t about my run just now it was about his battle with the bike and him over coming it. I assured him there was plenty of time for me to suffer but for now it was his adventure, his challenge, his misery that I was enjoying whilst I could. A few miles later we decided to miss small section of the trail and nip onto the road to save another few hours of misery on the trail. We got onto the road and I resumed my steady running along side Chris on the bike. We were both happy to be moving again. We got hit by a short but heavy rain shower and I got some food on while we went. Everything was going so well until I felt my ongoing hip problem rear its painful head. I was very worried this could get so bad I would need to stop! We took a quick stop outside a pub (no pint though), and I got a good stretch on one of the picnic benches outside. This seemed to help but the pain was still there just somewhat duller than before. My fears about my hip pain were about to be a long forgotten memory a few miles down the road as the dreaded ITB pain came back with a vengeance. This now topped my fear list because; ‘The Symptoms of ITB syndrome consist of pain on the outside of the knee at or around the lateral epicondyle of the femur or bony bit on the outside of the knee. The pain comes on at a certain time in a run and gradually gets worse until often the runner has to stop’  

I felt the same pain before on a remote section of the West highland Way whilst on our J4H adventure, and then my knee was just giving way every second or third step and made running almost impossible. Thankfully this was near the end of the day and I managed to hobble home for the night. This however was at the start of a long day, and I had ‘the fear’. We stopped and I popped on a tube grip on, especially tight just above the knee to support the muscles and hopefully as I had done previously be able to continue running with the pain. I don’t want to sound like a hero here “running in pain” in fact this was the stupidest thing to do to continue, but at the time this was my only option (failure wasn’t). So off I went like a true hero running in pain, what a legend…

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So we plodded on, Chris cycling freely now and me sort of wincing every so often all the way to Crail. We stopped here to dry off a bit and get a nice hot mug of coffee and a couple of Haggis rolls, it was burns night after all. After the food barely had time to settle we were off again heading for the trail and more fun and games. Once we got to the trail again it looked brilliant, rugged coast for as far as the eye could see and lovely single track, there was one slight problem thought…mud.  Although we were to be lucky on the day itself and stay reasonably dry, in previous days/weeks the rain had fallen and fallen well, the lovely single track was just a mud bath and made cycling pretty hard going once again for poor Chris. We pushed on, me slipping and sliding about and Chris cycling when he could over the hostile terrain. This was a walker’s paradise but a novice mountain biker’s hell as it was. The last section towards Anstruther was not too bad and we made decent time and actually started to enjoy it. By now it was around 3:30pm and this is when Ally was coming to take over from Chris on the bike. We got to Anstruther and waited the 10 minutes that it was going to take Ally to get here, 45 minutes later there he was, bursting in like a man possessed, bursting with energy and enthusiasm, ready for the night ahead, and still a little rough from the burns party the night before!

After some time waiting and stretching, I was getting cold and starting to get too comfortable standing around, so was glad we got going again. We set off from the harbour and back onto the coastal trail. Chris had explained how bad it had been up to this point and jokingly said “I bet this is the best part so far coming up and I’ll miss it”… He was right the next section along Pitenweem, St. Monans to Ellie was magnificent, perfect dry single-track following an amazing coastline with the sun setting over the water, it was the stand out section so far. Chris had put in a great shift and knew he had more to come so had drove Ally’s mobile food bank (his people carrier) along the coast to get some rest and perhaps a bit of shut eye. We arrived at the end of another section to the sun almost setting and Chris still wide awake in the van. It was here we would experience the first of Ally’s culinary delights, 3 of the tastiest chicken skewers I have had in my mouth, lashing of coffee and a packet of tim tams, all very welcome.

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It was now around 5:30pm, the sun had set and it was pitch black, I was sitting in the van keeping warm while I ate. I had been on the go for 8 ½ hours now and I couldn’t wait to go past 12 hours as this would be me on the home straight. With the food settled and the caffeine kicking in we jumped out the restaurant on wheels, turned on the head torches and headed back out on the trail. I have ran around the hills in the dark before so was used to running in just a small amount of light guiding my path, fortunately behind me was Ally on the bike with a front light that could blind you in an instant. The next section would take us down towards the beach again and in this light we decided instead to cut over the adjacent golf course and link up with the old railway tracks that ran almost parallel to the trail path. I was lucky to have a local lad in Ally guiding me along these sections as he was familiar with the route and kept me right in terms of where to go and how far each section was. The small but important information he was feeding me regularly was such a big help and I’m not sure how aware he was of its benefit. I didn’t want to ask how far we had gone or how far we had left in each section but Ally, as if with an additional sense fed me this information at just the right times and this keep me pushing on as best I could.

The old railway track was muddy, most of the day had been muddy, but it was straight and it was flat and by now I wasn’t too bothered about running about in the mud. It was a wet mud and a lot easier to cycle in than the early parts of the morning so we really couldn’t complain as we were making decent progress. There was a moment as we passed YET ANOTHER farm gate when we stopped for a chat and just took in what was around us and what we were doing. We were stood in the pitch black alongside some fields on what must have been one of the clearest nights I can remember. I looked up to the sky and swear the amount of stars in the sky had quadrupled since I last looked. I saw familiar shapes and constellations that I looked up at as a kid, and lots of good, old memories flooded back as we stood there in the mud and darkness. We had a laugh about our “moment” together, switched the lights back on and got moving again.

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Parking the car to meet up sort of dictated where each section would finish. The next stop would be a pub car park just off the trail. By now it was getting pretty cold, so popping into the pub to sit down and warm up was initially a great idea. However as soon as I sat down and let the warmth invade my body I was ready for a sleep. It must have only been around 8pm so we weren’t even at the half way stage and I was feeling sleepy. I wasn’t that hungry so just had a pint of fresh orange as we sat organising the next section. This was a stupid mistake to make and went against the ‘eat when you’re not hungry and drink when you’re not thirsty’ mantra! At the time I just couldn’t force anything down and would pay on the next section. Drinks downed it was back out to the cold for the next section. It felt much colder leaving a warm pub and I could feel a chill in me for the first time. I know getting running would help so off we went again into the dark with a fairly long 7 or 8 mile section ahead, I should have eaten.

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For the most part the section was great, trail was friendly and the mud had subsided somewhat from earlier parts of the trail. However at one point the path was swallowed up by a massive puddle of water, I tried to run through but it was going up past my ankles. After Ally had cycled through it and with no other option, we decided that getting a lift was my only option, other than to run with freezing cold, wet trainers for the next few miles. Ally backed towards me slowly and with tired legs I hoisted my right leg over the back of the bike and saddle. It must have been 20 years since I had done this and I was worried I would go flying off the back into the water. As I just about sat on the saddle we were off like a shot, we thought speed was key here as we were worried the weight might slow and topple us. At one point I was leaning backwards just clinging to the saddle by my left testicle as we shot over the water. I jumped off the back laughing at how ridiculous this was and jogged on down the trail. We must have only had 2 or 3 miles to go and I felt a familiar feeling coming over me, a weakness in my legs and a slight light headedness. I knew I should have eaten, I cant remember if I did take on food or not but from memory I just wanted to get this section done as we were on our way to Ally’s mum to pay her a visit and hopefully get a good feed. The last mile was brutal I felt very weak and tired and this was probably the worst I felt the whole 24 hours, and it was my fault, I was annoyed at myself. Slowly we made our way through the deserted streets until Ally told me “see that car, the blue car down the road? That’s us” I was so glad and instantly got a little boost. By the time we met Chris (who had yet to sleep) I wasn’t in the mood to talk I just needed food and coffee.

I was first up the stairs and the door flew open, we were greeted by one of the nicest people I have ever met. Being a mother she greeted the 3 of us like her sons when in fact Chris and I had never met her before. We were shepherded into the living room and told to sit down. I was first in and straight away clocked the freshly cooked mini sausage rolls and before even making it to the seat had 3 in my mouth. I was surprised by the initial strange mixture of tastes until I realised some where sausage rolls and some mini cheese and onion rolls, I was in heaven. Pizza and coffee followed, with fizzy juice and mini chocolate éclairs. Not only was the comfy seat and food most welcome but we couldn’t be in the company of a greater host. Ally’s mother was just the tonic I needed and it was like visiting a member of my own family, I felt like I had known her for years, I couldn’t have been happier.

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After the much needed fuel and banter we were off with bags full of sweets an orange in my hand and a new found energy ready to motor on through the night. We passed through Buckhaven, east and west Wemyss and Dysart on the next section before meeting up with Chris again the deserted Asda car park at the end of the esplanade that seemed to last for an age. I chapped the window peered through to see his weary face peeking back as he opened up and let us in. “Get any sleep” was the standard question at each stop, and the answer was always the same…no. This time however Chris did manage to get some shut eye, well that was until a policeman came banging on the window wanting to know what a 30 something man in full lycra was doing lying in the back of a people carrier with a little blanket pulled up over him! Chris explained the situation to the perplexed and grumpy officer and was left in peace, wide awake and a little angry. So wow Ally had just put in a monster shift of around 11 or 12 hours with me on the bike and deserved his rest. We had looked at the next section of the map earlier and didn’t like the look of the next red section, especially as there was a section that required you to cross some cliff edges and a section that uses a chain walk (Google it). At around 2am I probably wasn’t in the best shape to be doing this, so with safety in mind we quickly drove past this section and plonked me back out at inverkeithing.

I was tired now, at points I did feel like I was drunk, my arms moved in slow motion and I was slurring a bit. However Ally kept the food coming and this helped immensely, I was never left waiting around and going hungry at any section we stopped at and I thank both lads for this, they were like a well oiled machine. We mapped out the next section and Chris was back on the bike for the last 7 hours. I was excited to run over the Forth Road Bridge as I knew I would be crossing back into Edinburgh, but also because I knew the rail bridge would be looking amazing as we crossed over beside it.  As I was waiting ready to head to the bridge I was very cold, my teeth started chattering and I was chilled to the bone. It wasn’t cold enough for me to feel like this so I could only out this down to fatigue and perhaps standing about in running tights! I felt like I had a full blown cold coming on and felt my throat closing up and filling with phlegm. This would only last around 10 minutes as once I got running and warmed up I felt instantly better and full of beans again, the gloves would come off and the thermal buff was no longer required. But those moments before I got going were not very nice at all.

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We crossed the bridge and into Edinburgh pausing for a few snaps. I was feeling great being back in Edinburgh and knew this was the home straight, just over 6 hours to go, time was flying now. I was also back on familiar ground and knew exactly where I was going, this was the first time on the run I felt so comfortable. We followed a cycle path for a while that ran side by side with the road before veering left into the quiet back roads of Edinburgh. We paused and looked out over towards the bridges and the spattering of lights that ran along the coast we had just traversed, it was a satisfying feeling and I turned to run again feeling happy. My knee was still sore and I did feel tired but I knew with every section we completed that the time was ticking away and we were going to do it. At one point Chris asked if I thought I might not complete the run or have to stop, I said absolutely not.

We finished a fairly long 8 mile section before meeting Ally again, who was parked down the bottom of a quiet street not looking dodgy in the slightest. It wasn’t dodgy that he knew this quiet little street that had a dead end where he could park and try and sleep in peace, no its normal for someone who isn’t from around these parts to know little quiet spots like these isn’t it??? We rapped on the window, waking ally from a light slumber and the man jumped into action once again, this time rustling up coffee and the much alluded to haggis balls and sweet chilli dip. Sitting and eating was great as it gave everyone time to warm up, get coffee and food and a bit of banter that helped everyone. It was great to feel knackered and hungry but pissing myself laughing sitting in the back of a people carrier at the bottom of a dead end street with a guy cooking haggis balls in the boot. But before long it was time to hop out and welcome the cold back into my body.

It was good to have Chris back beside me, he constantly kept me going telling me how good I was doing and that we were making good progress. These little words of encouragement really helped me keep going and I was thankful for this and I’m not sure I told him that. I was also conscious he had been on the go since 9am also, cycling with me at the start, driving around to meet me and Ally at each section start/end point once Ally took over bike duties. He had also been awake the whole time and was probably tired, but he jumped on the bike and just got on with it and didn’t once say anything negative, moan or complain he was a legend in that respect.  It was around 4:30am as we set off towards the car park of Spartans FC where we would meet Ally again for what would be the most infamous stop of the whole run, unfortunately I can’t disclose the full details of this stop but its one of the best memories I have from the run. Once again I started off freezing cold and my teeth chattering like mad. I was swinging my arms around like a lunatic trying to get some warmth in me and my blood flowing, and once again 10 minutes later I was good to go. This section was a mix of bike paths and quiet residential roads. I was very familiar with this section as I have run and cycled around here many times. This section was over in a flash and we dropped off the cycle path into the car park where after a heads up Ally was up and about awaiting our arrival.

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I hopped into the back seat and although mentally feeling good I was rather jaded and my face felt asleep, it was a struggle to keep my eyes open at times. I let myself close my eyes for a second or 2 as a treat, but quickly snapped back into the moment knowing I only had around 3 hours to go. As usual a freshly brewed coffee was thrust into my hand as well as a freshly cooked pancake spread thickly with Nutella. I slowly lifted the chocolate treat up to my mouth, from a distance you would of swore I was drunk, my eyes were stinging and bleary, my movements in slow motion, I must of looked like a baby trying to feed itself. However as always the lads banter was on form and before long I was howling with laughter once again. My belly was full and warm, the coffee was kicking in and I was pumped knowing this section would take us through the city centre making our way towards Arthur’s Seat where we as a team would climb to the top for 9am and complete this wonderful challenge. As I looked out the window the rain was back, it was frosty on the ground and I wasn’t looking forward to those first moments getting back into the run, but I had no choice.

I hopped out and as Ally and Chris chatted, I started to run as I was getting so cold already. Chris caught up with me not far along the path and at this point I felt my weakest and coldest of the whole night. I could barely talk due to the chattering of my teeth, so looking and sounding like a really bad ventriloquists dummy I told Chris I need to speed up and get warm. Although we were around 21 hours into the run I started sprinting as fast as I could, waving my arms around and banging them against my body as I ran. I felt in an almost dream state, half awake not really knowing what I was doing. But all of a sudden the warmth came flooding back and I felt like I had woken up, my body almost started up like and old car, spluttering and creaking into action again. A few miles down the road my teeth stopped chattering and I felt normal again, it was a great feeling. I think Chris was somewhat taken aback by my sudden sprint session and was full of praise for the speed I had ran this section so far.

We edged our way closer to the city centre, seeing the city waking up and feeling like we were just out for a morning run and cycle. We saw people again, and we saw the slightest hint of the sun rising, a very subtle red and purple colour in the distance. By now we were closing in on 23 hours and I felt great (maybe not great but ok). It was brilliant being in the city centre and knowing how close we were to completing this, it was almost like a victory lap. After a slow and steady section we ran past the parliament building and caught sight Ally’s van and gleefully made our way over, me knowing that this would be the last section I would run. We parked the van up and made our way towards Arthur’s Seat as a team. I felt like I still needed to keep pushing on so was out in front leading the way as we snaked up the side of the hill. Slowly but surely we made it up to the summit, I was there first and happily grabbed a seat as the other 2 came around the corner. It was an amazing feeling being up there sharing this experience with these 2 gentlemen, they had both been such an important part of this run and I wanted them to know that. We took in the sights of the city coming to life below before making our way down and eventually home. I would only manage 2 hours sleep when I got in and a couple more later that afternoon, I think the adrenaline was running through my body not allowing me to sleep, but I had got used to this so it wasn’t a big deal, I was lying in my warm comfy bed and I didn’t have to get out into the cold and run anymore. I’m not sure if I was happy about that or not…

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The 1 year #RunStreak review

Well I done it, I ran everyday for 365 consecutive days! The 1 year RunStreak is in the bag. Is it a big deal? Not really, it’s just part of my daily life now. I’m currently writing this blog and don’t actually know what day of the streak I’m on, I’ve stopped counting but I’m still running.

I can’t now remember the main reason why I started the streak, I guess it was to try and become a bit fitter for some challenges I had coming up in 2013, the bulk of these being running challenges.  I also felt I had been a bit lazy in preparation for previous events and suffered for the lack of training. I also wanted to be stronger so as not to get injured as I was looking forward to the year ahead and didn’t want to miss out on anything I had already planned.

At first I guess it was quite exciting doing a week, a month, 2 months, closing in on 100 days and all the milestones like that. It still was sort of like that right up till the big 365. But it was also the additional training that I enjoyed and could feel the benefit. However many of the runs were boring, repetitive and forced. As you know over the course of a year there are many many things that go on that make it easy to make an excuse to not go for a run, but I believe anyone no matter the circumstances can get out for a mile or 2 every day without fail. Also you don’t need to have all the fancy gear, on a few occasions due to circumstance I ran home from work in a work shirt, trousers and my trainers!

Instead of going on and on about the year, I think I will list a small selection of pros and cons of my RunStreak experience

Pros; 

  • Increased millage – You will instantly increase your weekly mileage
  • Alcohol intake – With a morning run planned you may not have that 2nd, 3rd or 4th drink. Or in my case not even bother at all
  • Discipline – You will become more disciplined in many aspects of what you eat and drink with the constant thought of a run the next day.
  • Costs nothing but your time
  • You will get quicker & fitter without even really trying
  • It’s a cool thing to do I guess, running daily for a year
  • You find amazing new off road places to run
  • You learn how calming running alone can be
  • You listen to lots of new music

Cons;

  • Running around the same places day in day out is very boring
  • You have to run everyday!
  • Fitting in a run if you have a busy day and night can be tough but not impossible
  • Running with a hangover
  • Running when you are ill
  • Having loads and loads of running gear to wash, constantly
  • Buying new runners as you will wear your new ones out quickly (depending on mileage) – This is also a pro, everyone loves new trainers
  • It gets boring
  • Really boring

Mind over matter? (Guest Blog By Andy Fallon)

Hi, 

My name is Andy Fallon aka (@MadHeadCyclist). I’m married with 1 daughter.

Some years ago I hit the age of 44. Think that could be the start of my midlife crisis !!

I decided that I would like to start cycling again after years had passed since my teenage years..  I bought a Mountain bike and tried to cycle to Sheffield and back home to Huddersfield (about 50miles)  I did manage to get there on the bike but getting back was not so straight forward – I has to push the thing back lol
I’m no athlete – far from it I just have quite a strong mindset.

After this I was hooked ! I decided I needed a Road bike, my thought was lighter faster get further.  My next jaunt was to friends in Sunderland about 100miles, I managed this cycle after a few pit stops, although for last 20miles I had only 1 pedal but I loved it.

Next trip was Lands end to John O Groats (This is getting out of control) lol

My diet was not good on these trips (My General Diet Blog), was mainly McDs stops although later trips would be no better, but with added John Smiths beers, or wine 🙂

After being inspired by James Cracknell and Mark Beaumont I decided to try to cycle from home to Gibraltar… like James completed for Sport Relief Cross Continent Challenge, although he rowed, cycled and swam.  I just wanted to do the cycling only..

After completing this challenge in only 16 days, I was planning another big trip solo again !

With Mrs F giving the ok my adventures began……  to see what other adventures I get up to, some big ones or day ones…..  visit www.MadHeadCyclist.blogspot.com

Outdoor 24

So its January, its cold, its grey, its raining most of the time, and these are the reasons why I want to do a 24 hour run outside!

So on Saturday the 25th of January I will be celebrating Burns Night by running about (mainly) in  the dark and cold.  I will set off at 9am from Balmullo,  a small village in Fife, around  7 miles from  St Andrews and head east to the Fife Coastal Path for the next 65 miles.

But I won’t be alone, initially I was going to do this run solo, but after discussing the safety aspects of being out in the dark with no sleep for so long I am very happy to have Chris Turner (@Kwistaffa) join me for this mini adventure from the start. Chris who is no stranger to road cycling, will take on a new adventure of his own, jumping on a mountain bike and (slowly) riding a large section of the trail with me from 9am until about 3 or 4pm. We will follow the coastal trail all the way down to Leven where another great man Alistair Hunter (@allyhunter) will join the support crew. From here the boys will take it in turns cycling with me into the darkness and the small hours of the morning  while the other is enjoying the comfort of a support car.

The plan is to then get down to North Queensferry, cross the forth road bridge out towards linlithgow and turn  back towards Edinburgh, get on the canal towpath and run around a lot and await daylight returning before we triumphantly collapse at 9am Sunday morning.

I have no idea what mileage I will cover, the terrain and spending 16-17 hours in the dark will obviously reduce the miles I could run indoors on a treadmill. But it’s not about how many miles will be covered its purely for “fun”.  However this will be the longest I have run both in terms of mileage and time, previously I have run 40 and 47 miles so this will be quite a jump in distance.

I have also been running in constant pain for the last 2-3 months and have just been told that my hips are not properly aligned. My silly little left hip is rotated 2-3 millimeters backwards and this is causing problems with the sciatic nerve in my ride side affecting my lower back, hip, upper and lower leg, so again mileage is not the main concern, finishing is.

People always ask why? when they hear I’m doing something like this and I always answer for fun, but this isn’t always the reason (if you have to ask you don’t understand). Secondly people ask is it for charity? Generally people mean are you raising money for charity, but this can be hard to do, if like me you enjoy taking on lots of challenges across the year, you can’t keep asking people to donate. So I answer no but the reality of this run is it would not be possible without my connection to TACC (The Tartan Army Children’s Charity) and in turn my connection to Chris and Ally. Before my Jog4Hampden run I didn’t know either of these great men and now through the charity connection we are setting out on a mini adventure together this coming weekend as well as well as planning future events.  So if people want to donate to this or any charity just because I will be running for 24 hours most likely in the rain (it is Scotland after all) then these people are the real heroes. If by me doing something I enjoy and being able to highlight a great children’s charity then I’m more than happy to help.

Since news of the run got around it seems more people are happy to help promote a good cause. Andy Hain at Leslie Bike shop has given the trusty mountain bike riders a light that will be visible from space. This will be great for the dark sections of the trail. And It seems thanks to the generosity of Lee Murray, Chairman of East Fife FC, I shall be nipping onto the pitch at half time for some important half time duties! This will be a welcome break around the 40 mile mark and should give us all a good bit of banter.

Should probably have some haggis and a nip en route, it will be Burns Night after all #24HourHaggisRun

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankitt

Icelandic Mountain Men

If you can’t be bothered reading this waffle, feel free to watch a short VIDEO I made. It doesn’t tell half of the story of our trip, but it looks pretty rad.

Right lets start by getting the facts right. I did not forget my wedding anniversary, I couldn’t have as it hadn’t even been yet. But what I did do was not pay the slightest attention to the dates of the flights, but merely the cost of the flights. By keeping the cost down as much as possible when visiting a notoriously expensive country, I knew my wife would be more accepting of the fact that I was heading away to Iceland with a couple of mates for a yet another fun adventure. So a few months after booking the flights I found myself on ‘All Hallows Eve’ on a bleak, dark and wet Thursday evening at Edinburgh airport with Chris Asquith & Andrew Milne taking a very reasonably priced flight to Iceland (£77 return, thanks EasyJet) for a 4 day adventure.

After quite a long discussion surrounding what you can put in those little clear 100ml liquid bags, and whether you could use your own clear toiletries bag (I’m still unsure if you can or not) we boarded the flight with the correct sized hand luggage, unlike 20 or 30 other idiots. We arrived at around 8pm in Iceland’s Keflavik airport, jumped on the airport bus, logged onto the free WiFi and settled in for a good hour and a half as we slowly made our way to the first of our 2 hostels on the island. Upon our late arrival at the hostel we were met by a cross between Grotbags & Thor (well from memory I’m sure that’s what she claimed to be dressed as) who couldn’t have been nicer in sorting our room, advising where we could get food at this time and trying her best to tell us where we could get the bus north in the morning (I would later check with another member of staff who confirmed exactly where to go).

After unpacking and claiming the bottom or top bunk, we headed out into the wild in search of food. Now being around 11pm if not later our only option was a pre packed sandwich or salad from the local garage. I opted for a noodle type salad and the lads each got what looked to be a dry and tasteless sandwich, however upon arriving home and out the icy cold and into the warmth of our 4 bed dorm room we tucked into our somewhat surprisingly tasty treats from this gourmet garage. I can safely the general consensus in the room was that this was easily the tastiest food ever eaten from an Icelandic garage. So with satisfied tummies it was time for bed and time to start thinking about tomorrows breakfast!

We woke early on the Friday with the sole purpose of eating as much as possible and we didn’t disappoint. Nor did the freshly baked pain au chocolats. After eating almost everything laid out for the hostel guests we slowly checked out of the hostel, trying not to squash the hidden sandwiches and snacks that laced our pockets. It was only a short and chilly 10 minute walk to the bus stop, where we could take the short ride to the main bus station that would allow us to transfer onto the bus headed north and for us our base for the next 2 days Borgarnes.

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After a very scenic couple of hours north we arrived in Borgarnes and at what would become our second home away from home. Ultimately it was a petrol station, but the greatest petrol station ever!! We never ventured into the right hand side of the building, this was more the petrol station side, we stayed in the left side, the cafe side of the building. The cafe was if you like the Harthill of Iceland, no more than a stop off for the hoards of people and young groups of what seemed to be school children filling up on everything from fuel, souvenirs and chips (those kids loved their chips). Before settling into the comfort of the cafe we had a wander around the town snapping away and trying not to think too much about the size of the mountains we were about to run around tomorrow. We found the hostel and had a look around to check out what the town offered before heading back to get a warm drink and discuss the plan of action for the next 2 days as we really didn’t have much of a plan to be honest, apart from go out and run.  Across the road from our dream cafe was a Netto supermarket a welcome sight in a fairly small town. As we were staying in a hostel we would later stock up on everything we needed for the next 2 days.

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Now you’re probably wondering why I speak so highly of a cafe connected to a petrol station in a small town on the west coast of Iceland. Well it’s purely down to the cheapness of the coffee and tea on offer, well the chips also looked amazing. As we approached the generic self-service style refrigerated units offering pre packed sandwiches and already prepared salads, an offer caught our eye, the offer was the classic soup and sandwich combo for the amazingly low price of £10. My initial thought was “Fuck that” and I dreaded to see what they would charge for the potentially lukewarm filter coffee that was also self-service. As we reluctantly dished out 2 coffee’s and 1 tea and approached the less than enthused looking till operator, I waited in fear for him to reveal the price…After a few seconds we worked out it was only about £1.20 a cup! This was very welcome and surprising news, but this young man wasn’t done, he then upon handing over our change advised us it was free refills on the coffee’s and belatedly the tea. Well I can’t recall a happier moment in my life. Unlimited coffee for £1.20?!?! I love Iceland. We settled down to enjoy what was actually a very good cup of coffee going about how cheap it was for about at least 20 minutes, we were all very happy about this as we had just paid £12 for a bus journey here.

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After 3 hours drinking enough coffee to keep a narcoleptic awake, we popped to Netto for a big shop and then off to our hostel. We settled in had some food and had a wee look at maps of the mountains trying to figure out a route for day 1. The problem was we could easily find lots of information about the fairly easy route up the mountain, but we wanted to go up and over and for the life of us we could not find anything referring to the route down the other side. The hostel manager offered some advice about the best way to navigate our way up the mountain and explained we needed to be careful going up as there would be snow and ice on the path making it hard to follow in some sections and of course slightly dangerous in others. I asked about getting down the other side, he wasn’t to sure about a route down the other side so advised us to just come back down the same way especially if the weather got really bad. So good, that was that, the plan for day 1 was sorted, we would run the 4 or 5 miles to the base of the mountain, run up to the top and take it from there…Flawless.

We decided to go for a short run while it was still light outside. It would also give us a good idea how cold it was going to be tomorrow in our running gear. We ran out towards the water and along the coastline for a while, it was quite breathtaking especially with the mountains standing across the water looking equally menacing as they were beautiful. We ran past some football pitches, past the swimming pool and headed for home. It was clear that we would need a good couple of layers for the run in the morning especially as we would be far more exposed to the conditions the higher we got. The weather forecast was looking favorable for us, there was no sign of rain nor would there be any snow falling thankfully. It was going to be clear, however it was going to be cold and quite windy, and with the wind comes the wind chill, this was estimated to be anywhere from -10 to -15. Before settling in for the night we went out to watch the sun setting and to have one last look at the now dark and stormy looking mountains that stood tall, icy and now covered in a thick dark blanket of cloud at their peak.  No match for 3 men in tights and trainers.

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We woke slowly and made our way to the kitchen to fuel up for the task at hand. I always find it hard to eat breakfast on the morning of a big run/cycle/adventure, mainly due to carb loading the previous 24-48 hours and having a big old fat belly full of fuel (cake). We did all managed to get some scrambled egg, toast and coffee in us before setting off for the day. The first section of our run was a strange one as we just headed back into the familiar territory of the petrol station cafe and the Netto we had spent so much time in already. This was a nice gentle jog to get us warmed up before we headed into the less sheltered sections out of the town.  With the shops now behind us we headed for the bridge that would take us across the water and to the start of the road that would lead us to the mountain trail. We ran across a narrow and slushy pedestrian section of the bridge, checking out what looked like the coldest water I had laid eyes on! This was proper fall in and your done for type water, very fast currents dragging  and tossing around beautiful chunks of ice that raced under the bridge and away. After a few miles we got on the path that lead us up the mountain’s base and to the start of the trail. Before making our way up, we as a tight-knit team went for a team pee pee, something that in this weather wasn’t the easiest of jobs for a few different reasons.

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Anyway feeling refreshed we stared, with huge smiles, jogging up the snowy trail. At first it was difficult to trace the path due to the snowfall, but luckily a fence ran adjacent to the path so we could track it this way. On our way up it was clear just how windy it was going to be the further up we went and the more exposed we got. Slowly but surely we plodded upwards, taking the odd snap and chatting when we could hear our own voices over the howling wind. The path slowly wound up the mountain side while at times flirting with the steep sides of the icy, and jaggy beast. By now the wind was picking up and we felt the chill nipping at us as the pace slowed as the conditions worsened. Looking up towards the summit there was zero visibility and the wind was getting stronger, not a great mix. We decided to head upwards towards a saddle near the peak and make our way up and over to the unknown on the other side  and hopefully down to safety before heading home. As we made our way up and into the now howling gale our visibility had all but gone, but we kept going up to see what lay over the top of the saddle. As we almost reached the top we braced ourselves for the impending gust of wind that was blowing up and whipping over the saddle we approached. In about 5 steps we went from slightly sheltered to completely exposed to the wind as we stood delicately looking over the saddle we were perched on trying to get some sort of view of a route down the other side. As it turned out we couldn’t see a thing!

(can you spot me and Chris in the below picture?)

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We were now stood freezing cold, being battered by a wind that threatened to knock you off-balance if you got complacent. There were a few glances towards each other, those glances that without a word you know what everyone was thinking, and we were all thinking exactly the same thing…fuck this! In a flash we spun around and as fast as we could in these conditions and made our way back the way we came. The wind still battering us but now onto our right hand side giving the numb left side a break. The ice and snow made our decent a careful but very fun one, and in a matter of minutes we were out the worst of it and back to the sheltered trail and regained visibility. We stopped after a few minutes to make sure we were all together and had a wee giggle about our thoughts of actually thinking we could make it over the other side in these conditions. After a small break filming Andy chucking himself face first down the snow we ran down to the base of the mountain and out towards the entrance to the trail. We all stopped and looked back up at the clouds still covering the peak, it was a beautiful and somewhat menacing sight from where we stood. Feeling the chill we started running again back over the bridge and into the warmth of OUR cafe. The warmth was very welcome indeed. We slumped into the comfy seats, dumped the bags, got a few layers off and then grabbed a coffee. A satisfying day.

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The following morning we woke in a warm, damp smelling room for the start of our second day running around the mountains. The night before we checked the map and found a trail that ran through the heart of the mountains from east to west. If it was what we thought it would be this was going to be a scenic and relatively easy days running compared to the previous days climbing.  We all decided we would try to hitch our way to the start of the trail as opposed to running the 10-15 miles over parts of the same route we ran the day before. So once again we headed out the hostel doors and back towards good old Netto and the bridge. As we approached the bridge we joined the main road where after a few false starts en route we were still confident of a lift. After the first 2 cars passed with no luck, a third car slowed as we (looking like lycra clad grinning maniacs) shoved our thumbs out and flagged it down. After explaining quickly where  we wanted to go we were told to hop in. After telling our new friend where and why we wanted dropped at the start of the trail, our driver asked if we were out running towards the mountain yesterday (he saw us the previous day), we replied we were and gave him a brief overview of our adventure. I can’t remember exactly what he replied but I’m sure he thought we were a bit mad. After a brief stop to see if our drivers brother was in his hotel (he wasn’t) and a great story about the history about the Scots and the people of Iceland, and how he had himself planned to ride this trail in the summer on a horse we arrived at the start of the trail, said thank you and hopped out the car into the morning sun.

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The start of the trail was magical almost perfect, the sun shining, underfoot was gravel and dirt, to the left we could see the mountains and to the right the low-lying sun, this was going to be a brilliant day. After a few miles we made our turn left and into the valley of the mountains. We climbed for a short amount of time before the trail plateaued. For a good few miles we were running on beautiful crisp snow and the slight hint of the dusty trail that lay below. As we ventured further into the valley we stayed high on the left side so as to stay in the sun and keep ‘warm’. The sun made a huge difference and it was much more fun having the slight warmth of the sun on our icy wee bodies as we plodded onward.

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We had been on the go for a good few hours now and after a while we started to lose the trail to the fresh looking snow that lay on top covering its tracks. Strangely we were able to follow the tracks of a birds footprints that followed the trail perfectly for some reason, it seemed to have walked for more than a mile or 2 along the trail, this was quite a bizarre way to be guided along a random mountain pass in Iceland but an enjoyable one none the less. We would pause every now and then for food and water but also to take in the stunning landscape around us and really try to be in, and enjoy the moment. There were certain parts of the route as we dipped into the valley where all we could see around us  was the high mountains, white and magnificent, standing tall and proud, captivating to the eye, enveloped in magnificent untouched snow and ice. There was one moment we all stood silent just taking it all in without another person in sight nor any sign of human life, we could have been the only people on this icy world,…..buuuuuut we weren’t, just up the road we would see a hunter and his dog cutting about the snow hunting for something. As I think back now I’m not sure what they were looking for as we seen nothing apart from the bird footprints in the snow.  Maybe it was us?!

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It was maybe about 5 hours in, we had ran/trampled our way through some deep snow in places and we were getting slightly leg weary from yesterdays hilly miles and today’s run so far. As we looked out into the distance we could make out our exit point, the other side of the trail and on to the ring road that wrapped itself around the side of the mountains and back ‘home’. By now the  already low-lying sun had started slowly creeping down below one of the bigger peaks, so to stay in the sun’s rays we decided to climb higher up the left side of the mountain. As we done this we decided it may be a good idea to just go up and over and drop out on the side of the mountain and cut a few miles off our trip home as this was the direction we would need to go anyway once we reached the end of the path. After quite a while and a good few false summits later we got to the edge of a sheer drop, not only in front of us but as far as we could see either side of us. The thought of having to go all the way back was not one we wanted to entertain and we looked for possible routes down. There was no route down, well no safe route that we could see. Off to the right there was a gully leading down that looked like it might offer a chance of us exiting but we would need to climb back up and away from where we stood to see if we could even get into the gully as from where we stood it was quite a drop in, also there was lots of snow lying so it was hard to tell how deep it was and what lay beneath.

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After a brief chat we decided to try the gully, we made our way up the mountain side and found the entrance and the shortest section to drop in. I wont lie I wasn’t overly excited about going in as we had no idea what was underfoot and just where exactly it would lead us. We lowered ourselves into the gully, straight away the snow was up past our ankles and a mixture of running water and stones lay under our feet! Slowly but surely we worked our way along following the water, as we knew it had to lead out and down from the gully. As the walls at either side grew taller the path we were on actually got easier and footing was slightly better, still jumping from one side to the other wasn’t a pleasant experience knowing that one false move, a twist or worse a break of an ankle would be less than ideal in these conditions.

We paused and ate almost the last of the food we had with us and took on some water before edging our way towards what turned out to be and I think what we all knew would a sheer drop straight down the side of the mountain! As we stood there we looked around trying to see if there was any other possible ways to get down. By now we had descended lower and lower and were tantalizingly close to the road we so longed for, we could have jogged down there in no more than 20 minutes but alas there was no way down. We had one final look along to the right of the gully at what would have been a very easy path down apart from a small but sheer drop from the edge before it plateaued out, it was just to far a drop to get down safely so we knew what we had to do, we had to turn around climb back up and over the many false summits we had already crossed to get here. We know we had a few hours to go as we knew how long it took us to get here and we roughly knew how far from the point we turned off the path it was back out the other side of the valley.

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By now it was getting pretty chilly and our legs were starting to stiffen up slightly after trekking for hours to get here, also the pipe from my camelback where i was drinking from had completely frozen so had the water so I was unable to get a drink and this slightly annoyed me, however it was Andy who was about to get slightly more annoyed as his foot crashed through the snow deep into freezing cold water below! By now our spirits not broken but had taken a slight hit, the banter as we came up and over the hills had been replaced with the acceptance of the task ahead. From where we stood all we could see was uphills, no sight of the trail we should have been on. After a few climbs and a few stops for me to get water from the other lads we finally saw the trail again. This gave us a boost as we knew we were on track and making good progress. We also saw a jeep high up to our right and a few hunters wandering around, so we knew if anything happened from here there was someone else around.

The banter was back as we bounced our way back onto the trail and finally heading out the easy valley run for the day. Chris was struggling with an old injury that had flared up and was hobbling along slowly behind myself and Andy. It had been so long since we were able to walk/run without our feet being ankle deep in snow so the gravel track was very welcome. So were the land rover tracks that we were now able to follow as we knew these would take us safely out onto the road ahead. We were never in real danger however there was a sense of relief that we were on the trail out.

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The sun was now very low and running was almost impossible for Chris, so pretty cold and with frozen feet we plodded on for a few more miles and finally out to a road. From here and being so cold we made an effort to run a bit faster towards the main ring road and had already decided to hitch home as 10-15 more miles now was not really what anyone was in the mood for due to the circumstances. After stopping one car who didn’t have room for us the next car along the road was driven by an older gentleman who didn’t speak much English but was more than happy to give us a lift back to Borgarnes as this is where he was heading.  We jumped in the car and our chauffeur promptly turned up the heaters to our satisfaction. It was a short drive but one we enjoyed, going past the side of the mountain we got a clear view of the route down we had thought about taking, although there was some murmurs about the fact it may have been possible, deep down we all knew we made the right choice turning back. Our driver pulled in and stopped as we reached our destination. it was nice to be back standing outside the petrol station cafe again. We glanced in the window to see our comfy seats were available so we made our way in, ice and snow dripping from our legs and feet as we entered making a beeline for our seats. After a few minutes sitting down getting a heat in us it was time to eat! For me there was no seeing past the double cheeseburger and chips and for my 2 veggie friends, 2 veggie burgers were promptly ordered along with coffee’s and fizzy drinks, the standard recovery products. We sat and reminisced about our mini adventure as we waited on our order number being shouted out, not knowing if the number would be shouted in English or Icelandic?! luckily for us after a few Icelandic numbers it was with relief and excitement we heard our number (in English) and collected the goodies. After a great day I didn’t think anything could top it now sitting in a petrol station cafe, but I was wrong, very wrong. As the 2 lads tucked into their Veggie burger and chips, they both noticed that instead of the anticipated standard veggie burger (Chickpeas, beans, lentils, vegetables!) in their burger buns lay……………a hash brown!! So chips and a hash brown roll was their reward for the day! we all saw the funny side of it but I think me more so than anyone as I took another huge bite of my double cheeseburger!!!

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If you got  this far why not check out the VIDEO

Takk Fyrir

Back on the saddle

We had returned home from a week’s holiday in Croatia, soaking up the sun and supping a on beer and wine while stuffing our faces with top quality seafood. Now it was time to get back on the saddle. Back to the daily routine of cycling, eating and sleeping just like on my pan European cycle of 2011. Well not quite…for this as my wife would remind over the next 4 days me was a holiday not one of my silly adventures!! And she cared little for average speed, but did enjoy the QOM activity on Strava…. (The Q stands for Queen….you know like we get KOM…King)

My wife was a new and enthusiastic cyclist having purchased a nice shiny new bike only months earlier. She rode that bike daily and was addicted. I would return home from work to see the bike was gone and there was no sign of my normally perfectly timed dinner waiting for me upon my arrival home. Hungry and confused I would need to fend for myself, delving into the array of foods on offer in the fridge I threw something together and devoured it before I lost consciousness. A while later my wife would return home beaming with delight at her mini adventure on the new bike telling me all about it. By now I had fully gained my strength after eating and listened with great joy as this was something we both enjoyed and maybe I could convince her in a few years to cycle around the world with me. Well maybe France for a couple of weeks next year.

We rolled the bikes out onto the street and headed in the very familiar direction of the cycle network towards the forth road bridge. A cycle we had already completed a few times together. We stopped for a quick coffee at our regular spot before heading over the bridge and into new territory. This was the adventure starting for real I thought as we free wheeled over the bridge taking in the sights. 4 days of this would do me alright, 4 days of escapism, 4 days reliving the excitement of crossing Europe with nothing more than a horribly badly scaled map…but what’s wrong here, why are we only averaging only 7mph when I had planned for at least 10mph!! Well as my wife reminded me she only has little legs unlike me, and she is new to cycling unlike me, and THIS IS A HOLIDAY not one of your stupid adventures.

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What lay ahead was 60 miles of fairly tough cycling for a novice carrying a pannier for the first time, and someone who had only cycled about 25 miles in one go. I tried to explain that going 7mph for the next 60 miles would mean it will take us around 9 hours to complete today’s cycle. We had booked a B&B for the night so had no option but to stay there as it was already paid for. Trying to explain this without sounding like I was having a go was tough, but the thought of spending 9 hours on the bike spurred us on and we would complete the day in just less than 7 hours on the bike. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cycle network we followed that day. I have cycled lots in and around Edinburgh but this was my first exposure to the cycle network further north. There was a fantastic section on the 764 route (one that connects routes 76 and 1) from Dunfermline to Alloa, it was around 18km long and followed an old railway track. There was no sign of traffic just wide open tarmac and fantastic scenery. After Alloa we make our way along towards Stirling, Bridge of Allan, Doune and finally home for the night in Callander. If you have cycled into Callander this way you will know it’s not the flattest of routes, so you can imagine how much my wife was enjoying our holiday by then.

The pain and tiredness subsided in an instant as I pointed out our b&b for the night merely 100 meters ahead of us to the right (As my wife didn’t have a cycle computer I would often tell her we had covered fewer miles than we actually had so the end would come along much quicker). We got into the room and laughed and smiled as the day was complete. I was proud of my wife for cycling such a long way and over some fairly decent hills. I gave her a high 5 and told her so. We drank some tea, got cleaned up and stuffed our faces with well earned burgers and chips, before falling asleep ready to do it again tomorrow.

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Now for the avid or even less than avid cyclist out there, the mention of one thing strikes fear into your heart….saddle sore!! I have been very lucky to never have really had a bad case but I have cycled seeing the discomfort in others and it’s not a pretty sight. However it had been a while since I had put in that long a shift on the saddle so I felt slightly tender in the morning as I gently lowered my body onto the saddle. My wife, before setting off was not up for buying or wearing padded cycling tights, on the morning of day 2 as she grimiest with disbelief at how tender her tiny little bum was on such a lovely cushioned saddle, told me around 79 times how glad she was to have got padded tights. I had tried to warn her and explain she would be sore the next morning and she would just have to try not adjusting her sitting position and just take the pain for the first hour or so before it would become acceptable. The natural thing to do is of course try to adjust your sitting position and change the main impact point so as to minimize the pain. This can cause you to adjust your pedaling stroke and increase risk of a knee injury due to the awkward cycling style you now have, especially when clipped in. It also looks really silly when you see someone sitting almost sideways shuffling around on the saddle, silly and quite funny.

So after a hearty cooked breakfast (obviously) we set of straight onto a cycle path heading north around the west bank of Loch Lubnaig, past the eastern tip of Loch Voil, through the Strathyre Forrest towards and round the north side of Loch Earn heading west through Comrie towards the end of day 2 in the lovely town of Crieff . In light of last nights mileage “we” had decided to make today’s route slightly shorter and enjoy the holiday. Most of the morning was spent uncomfortably bouncing around our saddles on a fantastic off-road forest trail. When visible, to our right stood Ben Vorlich, a 985 meter mountain that we would be slowly circling around most if not all of the day. Early on we met a young cyclist and his older but equally keen father from Newcastle who were up for a cycling holiday much similar to ours. We traded first day stories as we had followed some of the same route up from Edinburgh as they had from Glasgow, and took a short banana munching break from a fairly technical uphill section on a very narrow and overgrown path at the north tip of Loch Lubnaig. After saying goodbye we headed north following the winding path that itself followed the bendy stream that ran free from the Loch north (or south from) to Loch Voil. It was at the eastern side of this loch that we crossed over the river and swung sharply to the right back towards the A84 and our route north after the trail. As we approached the exit of the trail and the start of our road section, and with our bellies now rumbling, we noticed a fantastic hotel/bar open for business. We swiftly dismounted and walked inside to a roaring fire and the aroma of freshly cooked soup and coffee, as well as an array of other goodies for the weary travellers.

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After demolishing lunch and another intense caffeine hit we were ready to hit the road. If ready was a full tummy, sitting half asleep on what was now easily the comfiest seat I had ever sat on, then yes we were ready! The road north was busy and less impressive than the mornings cycle, but I knew once we turned right onto the quieter A85 that run right across the top of Loch Earn (around 10km) we would be back to the serenity of the mornings cycle, and I was right. We slowly worked our way eastwards towards St Fillans, the mountain slowly slipping away behind us, then to Comrie and before we knew it and much earlier than the previous day (a late 7pm finish), and enjoyably mainly downhill all the way to our home for the night in Crieff.

I woke on day 3 knowing that it was going to be a cold and wet day. So far we had been lucky with the weather but that was changing today for sure. I was apprehensive as I knew like most of us fair weather cyclists how different it is cycling in a glorious sunny day compared to a wet and cold Scottish (insert any month really). For me this wouldn’t be a problem but I was worried about what my darling wife would make of cycling all day in these conditions! To my great and possibly more so my wife’s even greater surprise this would be the day we both enjoyed the most. Straight after leaving Crieff we got on a very quiet B road for a good couple of hours. It was one of those perfect back roads for cycling on, barely a car in sight, surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful Scottish farmland. We made our way south to Auchterarder and stopped for lunch  and coffee before slowly rolling towards the town of Dunning. It was then we started to climb into the hills and further south towards Kinross (our final stop over before home). To get up into the hills we started an assent up what turned out to have an average gradient of 13.4%…an AVERAGE of 13.4% people. But boy it was worth it, once up in the hills we were rewarded with some great cycling through Scotland at its best. Short steep climbs were rewarded with beautifully fast yet scenic downhills that lasted long enough to forget the pain in the legs getting to the top of these roller coasters. It was on the last downhill that my wife hit 35mph. I think I got close to 45mph, tapping on the brakes trying not to get to far in front just in case anything happened. I pulled over eventually after rolling for what could have easily been 2 miles, my wife kept on going grinning as she flew past me. After we caught up another mile or so down the road I could tell my wife was on a proper adrenaline high, this was the fastest she had ever gone on 2 wheels and she loved it! If you have ever gone downhill on a bike at speed you will know exactly how it feels, slowly working up to the big gear and grinding away until you reach that speed where you know its time to steady the bike, hold on and enjoy. And if you haven’t, go get on a bike, climb a big hill and cycle down it as fast as you dare, cycle down it like you used to do as a kid, when you had no fear, its one of the best feelings and one that evokes great memories.

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Day 4 was the final day of our mini adventure, the final day of our holiday and a proper holiday cycle was in store. It was mainly flat or slightly downhill all the way home and we only had about 30 miles to cover.  After our usual lazy morning packing up, eating the B&B breakfast and getting the bikes ready for the road we set off from the banks of Loch Leven and headed south along yet another lovely quiet B road to the cosmopolitan town of Cowdenbeath. After being spoilt with B roads, quiet back roads and off-road cycle paths, it was strange but somewhat a jolt back to reality to once again be tooted at by cars who clearly had to get somewhere quickly and didn’t realize I was I was on a bloody holiday here! The car beeping its horn was strange as I was cycling behind my wife and we were clearly both not blocking the car from going round us. I turned round looked in the car to see a sheepish looking woman staring back at me blankly, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled as to say “good day, may I assist you in any way”, this was met with further blankness. The car noticing a small 50 foot gap in the road and clearly in the wrong gear, roared past and off to whatever important (no)thing lay ahead that day. Further south we headed and closer to home with every pedal stroke. After stopping in Inverkeithing for lunch we headed in the wrong direction completely and back the way we had just cycled. Luckily my wife was more alert than me and announced that we had just cycled on this road, but the other way. I looked around and in all honesty didn’t recognize a thing. I hesitated and asked if she was sure as I didn’t recognize a thing, I was clearly informed we had JUST cycled this was moments ago and we had to go back. I hate going the wrong way if I’m walking, running or cycling, it’s so infuriating going back over old ground!! So back we headed and…Ah yes, now I recognise this road, clearly it looks totally different going the other way.

From Inverkeithing it was a lovely cycle back towards the forth bridges and back to Edinburgh. Back on the familiar cycle paths and rolling hills. As we cycled home thoughts turned to, well a cup of tea first, but then the overall experience of our first mini cycling holiday. On a personal note it was great to be doing this with my wife, not something I would have imagined we would be doing together a few years ago. For my wife it was different, this was all new, this was a step into the unknown, her first cycling adventure, 4 days cycling round the country all on her own steam, something that gives you great satisfaction upon completion. As you head for home at the end of any trip big or small, there is a great sense of achievement and for different reasons I think we both felt it as we turned left into our street, hopped off the bikes hobbled upstairs and put the kettle on.

For my money you will be hard pushed to find a better country to cycle in. You may get a country more tolerant to the humble cyclist than our own, but maybe that’s all part of the charm cycling in this great country, we get to have that little moan about that driver who blankly stares back at you after they toot their horn and you shrug your shoulders, look at them and think………what an arsehole!

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