#18: Aviemore

Though I write a blog every week, I would never dream of calling myself a writer. When I’m not trekking around Scotland in search of the next course, I have one of those boring sounding jobs, the mere mention of which will kill a conversation stone dead. My wife used to find it odd that I rarely know what my friends do for a living. The simple reason I don’t is that if I ask people what they do, they will inevitably ask me the same question. Since what follows me answering that question is usually a puzzled, slightly awkward silence, it’s one that I rarely ask. The only other alternative is that they do the same job, in which case we then have to discuss that, and I’m not entirely sure which scenario is worse.

 

Since moving to Edinburgh a year ago, I feel like the city and its inhabitants have embraced me in a way that I’m not fully sure anyone could merit. We moved up here for a better quality of life, and I’ve been astounded by just how firmly that box has been ticked, again, and again, and again. When we first arrived, we had between us a handful of friends here. In that year, those connections snared us into bigger friendship groups and through that I joined a book group. I’ve noted a few times things I’m reading, and often these have been choices from that group.

A few months ago, I got wind that one of the book groupers had written a novel which would be published in May of this year. I was massively excited on their behalf of course, but it wasn’t until the launch this week at the Central Library in Edinburgh that the penny really dropped at how utterly in awe of this I was. Like I mentioned, I have one of those pretty mundane jobs that everyone has. I wouldn’t have the first idea how to write a whole novel, these blogs should make that pretty clear. Watching at the launch a friend I know to be shy speaking passionately and articulately was a huge inspiration. I’m a short way into the novel, and I can definitely say it’s as amazing as the reviews are saying, and I’m not just saying this because she’s a mate. If you do like reading, then I can definitely recommend ‘Goblin’ by Ever Dundas.

Enough gushing, she’ll kill me for this.

Instead of the usual training session this week, I opted at the very last second to do the Gypsy Glen hill race down in Peebles. The hill was advertised to me as ‘quite runable, actually’ which turned out to be sort of true. I’m a big fan of very small club events, where at the start if you look around, you’ll notice an unofficial competition to see who has the oldest, most threadbare club vest. Recently, I’ve also started to notice a growing trend amongst the fast boys to tuck their vests into their shorts. Does anyone have any idea why this is?

Having done my best to destroy my legs, I took it fairly easy the next few days. I wasn’t greatly worried this week about the mileage total since next week will be the Edinburgh half, so I’m supposed to be winding down anyway.

Wifey had mentioned early in the week that she had both Friday and Saturday off, and that maybe we could go away for a longer distance parkrun, how about Oban. An evening of mild frustration and bemusement followed as we tried and failed to find a room available anywhere near Oban that didn’t cost a fortune. Eventually we gave up and reasoned that maybe there was a wedding on in Oban that weekend and that we’d just stay a bit more local.

The next day though, Aviemore popped into my head, maybe it would be less busy in the Cairngorms? Aviemore is – for the next few weeks at least – the newest addition to the Scottish parkrun circuit. The inaugural run was 3 weeks ago now, which I had to miss having already booked to be in Aberdeen that weekend. I remember hearing rumours about it earlier in the year, and having gotten the train passing through the Cairngorm national park a few times, it’s fair to say I knew it would be a really special run. Finding a room in Aviemore was thankfully a lot easier than in Oban, and with that booked we were all set.

Arriving into Aviemore on Friday, the weather was beautiful. Having not drunk very much water on the drive up, wifey and I reasoned that we should rectify this by inspecting the local brewery. Beer we understand is a made almost entirely of water, and we’re very keen on encouraging local enterprise. As we sat outside enjoying the warmth (!) of the evening with a cool pale session beer, we checked several times the forecast for the following day, which persisted in the notion that it was going to be double raindrop bad. To date this year, I can only think of a couple of times where I’ve had to do a parkrun in the rain, and neither time has been *that bad* really.  In 17 runs, in Scotland, that’s not that bad really…

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During the night whilst we were asleep, the sky fell over and landed face first on the mountains. I’m not sure which of the parties came off worse, but the the sky seemed pretty upset by the whole debacle. As we arrived at the start line, a brief relaxation in the rain was quickly made up for, and we stayed under cover for as long as we could. As the start approached, it was time to face the music and get warmed up. The rain seemed to be taking a short but very welcome breather, and I went off for a brief splash around the track we would shortly be walking along to find the start line.

The start quickly comes, and off we go up the Speyside Way and into the trees. I’m struck by the golden glow along the sides of the path from the pine needles, the smell of which I can faintly detect. The worst of the rain is kept off our heads as we’re under loose tree cover. The woods feel wide and spacious as if we’re in a glowing deep cave, and it’s like we’re chasing the path as it meanders away in front of us. We have a short downhill which reveals the path then snarling up a hill as the Spey river comes into view on our right. We’re gently climbing as we see a marshal in front of us and the path darts to the left. As we take the turn, we emerge from the trees into open country. The change is incredible, it’s almost like that feeling you get when you leave the cinema on a bright afternoon. The path is the grey equivalent of duck egg blue, and the heather on either side is rich in colour and punctuated by pine trees. As we push on through this new moonscape, the trees get smaller and appear less often, as if the landscape is worried to plunge us into this barren world too suddenly. I can see ahead of me that there are only three guys, I’m in 4th place! Surely this can’t last… mile #1 is done in 6.46. That was mainly uphill, and clearly my experience at #16: Hazlehead has taught me absolutely nothing.

We swoop round left before a right hand bend and the trees are back either side of us to guard our way to the turning point. The guards break rank slightly and reveal the mountains in all directions, staring down timelessly at us small, weird creatures who are for the next ten or so minutes very much not timeless. I see the fast boys coming back toward me, and not long after I’m turning and racing back down the way home. The trees close back in and I see the next group behind me, I’m feeling alright and I seem to have a fairly comfortable gap… the first mile though was a bit on the quick side, and it’ll be interesting to see if I can hold on. I see wifey, give her a cheer and we’re at the bend going back out of the trees. Mile #2 done in 7.00.

Back out in the open, and that first mile is now starting to catch up with me. I see the pine trees now grow in size and frequency around me as we snake our way through the silent heather. I start to really see the mountains that surround us as they tussle to dominate the skyline with the swirling clouds of intense grey. I’m doing my best to give everyone I see coming up the way a cheer, and not always managing to form actual words as I am now struggling to keep my own breathing under control. As with any run, all of the hard work comes down to this. I’ve done 15+ minutes of graft, and all of that counts for nothing if I now take my foot off the throttle. It’s this that last section that makes 5k such a challenge, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let myself down. Much.

Back into the trees and I now know I’ve not got far to go. I’m struggling to remember the way out and reverse it, so I’m taking it as it comes. Down a short hill we go as I iron out the course as much as I dare, then the path kicks back up. The hill is short, but already slightly out of control I feel like I’ve stopped altogether. I start to hear footsteps on my heels. I don’t look back, but I can tell I’m being caught, and whoever is there has clearly left more for this last section than I have. I push on, and as I see the sign I recognise as near the finish, I’m passed. I’ve simply nothing left in the tank beyond what I’m already doing and I’m just grateful at the time that it’s only one guy and not the bunch he was leading earlier. Round a quick left hand bend and there’s the finish line. Mile #3 bleeps in at 7.02 and I charge for home.

After the line I’m thanked by the guy who passed me. I know first hand how much easier it is to push yourself hard if you have someone to chase, and today I’m that guy. I’m chuffed for him in honesty, he had a great run. The rain which I’d forgotten about to this point seems to be getting annoyed by me ignoring it, and reasserts itself. Time to head to the cafe for a debrief.

Scores! 5th place, 21.08

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