#17: Stonehaven

Fatigue is a funny thing, and operates in a completely different way to how I imagine it should. Though I’m not exactly new to regular exercise, my perceived way of how it should operate is still my default assumption, despite me coming a cropper of it a few times now.

My assumption is that the more I do, the more tired I should get. That fatigue is a little cat, sat purring round my neck. As I do more exercise, it’s like I feed that cat and it gets progressively heavier until I need to stop feeding it for a while. If I can get the meal times right, and the portion sizes enough to satisfy both parties then I should be able to continue exercising indefinitely.

The reality though is much more like the cat hiding behind a bush, skulking in my shadow watching me. Periodically, it ambushes me by jumping on my head, then pinning me to the ground for a while. I had a bit of a run in with him last week, and found that Monday and Tuesday I just couldn’t be bothered to do much. I managed to force myself to Pilates on Tuesday, but still felt pretty guilty about going two whole days (gasp) without running.

Throughout my twenties I did very little by way of exercise. It would have been difficult to accommodate both that and my hobbies at the time, which were playing in a band and consuming a lot of alcohol. Most weeks at work would start on Monday with me feeling a bit fuzzy, jaded, and if truth be known, something of a liability. I’m glad to say the only person who ever really was impacted by this was me, on Tuesday when I had to fix all of Monday Ollie’s mistakes.

Fast forward to now, and in my thirties I barely drink at all, and spend my weekends doing all manner of boring middle aged things that teenage me would have resolutely scowled at. My weekend will often be structured around a run of some sort (especially at the moment), and following this I will often be a bit tired. The upshot of this is that though I am now leading the sort of lifestyle that normally requires a midlife crisis, I still walk into the office on Monday in a sort of fuzzy haze, often a bit low and jaded from the highs of the weekend. I tend to think of this as an exercise hangover, and thankfully it’s a lot more manageable than the booze-induced ones, and I can at least function in my job with a degree of competence.

After last week’s adventure to #16: Hazlehead, I was a little bit concerned about the train ride north. Had I not booked the two trips at the same time, I would have certainly started to rethink, since to get to Stonehaven I would be getting the exact same train north. As it was, I needn’t have worried. Aside from the small issue of getting turfed off a train at Waverley and having to move to the train further up the platform the journey was beautifully dull. As we left the station and started to move into Fife, the mist started to descend around us, which hunkered down over the land swallowing everything from sight. Crossing the Tay into Dundee, the city was almost invisible from halfway over the bridge.

With two weeks to go until the Edinburgh half, I had decided that the weekend in Stonehaven would be a good opportunity for a last long (ish) run. I had been looking around on maps and had seen a few intriguing trail paths out to Dunnottar Castle, and I’m a sucker for a sea view at the best of times. Since I prefer to socialise after a parkrun rather than just have to crack on, I decided that the best course of action would be to get up early and go exploring. Breakfast at the hotel sadly wasn’t going to be served until 8.30am, which wasn’t ideal; however, thankfully I had the mint chocolate flapjack given to me by one of my colleagues the day before. I’m not entirely sure why he gave it to me, or why he had it in the first place, or even for that matter why a mint chocolate flapjack exists. Still, combined with the tea making facilities in the hotel, I was ready for the morning. I set an early alarm, got myself as comfortable as it’s possible to be in a bed that’s not quite horizontal, and went to sleep.

I woke up at 6.04am, a good 41 minutes before the alarm I had set. I’ve no idea why I even bother setting alarms anymore, it’s rare that I’m not awake before they go off these days. Pulling back the curtains I see that the fog has grown overnight and everything is locked into a deep haze. I find the kettle, get some tea on and make a start on the mint chocolate flapjack. The reality of this is no less weird than it sounds, and not one I’ll be choosing again anytime soon, not that I had previously realised it was even a thing. I managed to stuff about half of it over my neck before admitting defeat and heading out to see what I could see.

I headed straight down to the sea, then along to the harbour. I probably stopped every minute to take yet another photo which was a collage of grey with pebbles in the foreground, and gasping at it again. I trundled on a bit, following some signs to the castle. When I’d been planning on this, it hadn’t occurred to me that the trail was along a cliff top, and that the town was at sea level. Scrambling up the path, and onto the trail, I could hear the sea roaring to one side always, but could rarely actually see it.

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I went past a gate with a sign describing a war memorial, so I decided to investigate. The memorial was at the top of a very short hill, but was completely invisible from the gate probably only 50 metres away. Later down the trail I found a sign pointing down some stairs indicating the castle in this direction. Down these stairs I encountered some tourists who asked me if I knew where the castle was. I replied that I had honestly no idea. I continued down the stairs, and nearly at the sea level I found myself right outside the castle, which had been completely obscured just seconds ago.

By the time I got back into town, I had covered about 6 miles with a fair bit of climbing. Having gone out quite early, I also had a good amount of time to get back to the hotel, dry the mist out of my hair and have something more sensible for breakfast.

Off then to parkrun, I decided to walk along the way to let breakfast settle. I arrived at the park, quickly saw some telltale cones and set about following the course. A little way across the park, and the trail appeared to have run out. Normally a parkrun is quite an easy thing to find, what with people in bright colours congregating, however as today was going on, the all encompassing haar was keeping everything hidden from view. I checked on my phone, pointed myself in the right direction and with time ticking on jogged across the grass. As I got closer, I saw the start line and a few volunteers, I was in the right place. Having done a little research on the course beforehand I was aware that today would be a three lap course, the briefing though also mentioned a hill which was not to be underestimated. This was news to me, and looking around at what little of the park I could see, I started to wonder where the hill was. I was sure though that it would find me soon enough.

Off we go and again into the mist. Having run 6 miles already this morning, I have no aspirations at all of running fast, my sole intention here is to keep to a fairly even tempo which feels manageable. Since I’ve done very few long runs recently, I hope here to get an idea of what sort of pace I can keep to with a bit more fatigue in my legs, which should give me an idea of where I could hope to aim at for the half. We go round a sharp left bend and back on ourselves to skirt along the perimeter of the park on the grass. A building ahead of us comes into view, and we turn hard left again and continue to follow the edge of the park. We follow this section, and then a hard right as we follow the fenced off area on my right. My legs have now realised that they have to do some work again, and I’m feeling fairly comfortable as things slip into place. It’s a bit like when you see a steam engine first starting to move as it heaves, creaks and puffs, then as it builds momentum things start to tick over more easily. The park runs out ahead of us, and another left turn as we go back on ourselves and head into the park again. A small slope appears in front of us, and as we scamper up, and speed down the other side I wonder if this is the hill I’ve been warned about. A sharp right hand bend and I have a clear answer. No. As we disappear into the trees, I see only some of the path as it disappears up. Now, this hill is not long, thankfully, but at over 20% you definitely won’t miss it. I manage to power up the last few metres which bring us into a clearing, thank the marshal and a hair pin bend to take us back down into the park. I’m grateful that the descent is a little less steep than the way up. It’s still quite a slope though, and I’m not going to get a chance to rest just yet. We come out of the trees, and a sharp right hand bend brings us back to where we started. Mile #1 is done in 7.44.

Sharp left and let’s do that again. Along the perimeter, I start to wonder what the big white things are. They look like the top of poly tunnels, but thicker white plastic covering. In my head I wonder if they are anything to do with bees, and I still can’t explain why on earth that would be. In all likelihood they’re to do with sport. I’ve managed to reel in a few runners as I grind away at the pace I’ve set, and as we go round the park I have a fellow runner on my shoulder. He sounds like he’s working quite hard, and each time I go a little in front he surges and comes back in front. I’m feeling pretty comfortable, and I’m definitely not in the mood for racing, but we’ve banged elbows once and I’d rather I had a little more space. I push on down the straight to the end of the park and edge out in front again, this time with no response. I notice there is a massive bridge visible from this end of the park, and wonder if it wasn’t visible before or if I just didn’t spot it. Up that hill again, I’m pleased that I’ve powered up it again, and managed to stay relatively in control. We go round the hairpin and along from which point I can see those runners behind me coming up the hill, my friend from a minute ago has completely disappeared, I hope he is ok as I now fly back down the hill to complete lap 2 mile #2 in 7.43.

Onto lap 3, and I’m starting to fatigue a little. I’m still grinding out the same rhythm, but my thoughts on lap 2 of upping the pace if I had much left now evaporate and I’m only too happy to just dial this one in since I’m now quite enjoying myself. I still have no idea what the big white bee things are, and this remains a mystery as we shimmy round the course, past the bridge which I didn’t imagine after all on the last lap and prepare ourselves for that hill for a third time. I’m starting to catch up with the back markers, and I manage to give some encouragement as I hit the ramp, up up up, onto my toes and one two three four steps and I’m up to the top. Thanks to the marshal for the last time and that’s the heavy lifting done. Along the perimeter toward the line and one of my fellow runners has clearly not worked hard enough as he completely changes gear and flies past me. Mile #3 is done in 7.53, so I’ve dropped a little bit in the last lap, but not so much that I’m concerned.

On the whole, this was a really good run. The course is pretty varied and on nice soft grass and trails. The hill is quite testing, and the descent just steep enough to make you work for it, but not so steep you can’t enjoy it. I’m pretty pleased at being able to hold to around 7.45 pace with a hill in each mile at the end of 9 miles. If I could manage to hold that sort of pace for the half in a few weeks, it would mean a PB by around 5 minutes. I’m now going to take it a bit easier for the next few weeks to try and keep the fatigue kitty at bay. I might have to give the little fella a name, any suggestions?

Scores! 7th place, 23.51

 

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