Monday 25 April 2016

The Moray Coastal Trail - Redemption

Looking back through the recent posts (what recent posts??), it's pretty clear I've not run much since August.  To get an idea of what I've been up to, imagine my non-existent posts entitled "Ouch, Cross-country hurts this year!" and "How to injure yourself while out shopping for paint."  The rebuild since December has been long and tortuous, but last week I passed my self-imposed fitness test and can happily declare that I'm back to running properly again.  The test, as it happens, was to run the Moray Coastal Trail that I'd attempted last June (see the post for the first attempt to learn how not to prepare for a long run).

After a very long drive up to Elgin, which we had split into 2 days over the Easter weekend, I had originally planned to enjoy the forecast sunny weather on the following Thursday.  On Thursday morning, I awoke early at around 5:30, courtesy of miniature lungs requesting attention from the next room.  For me, the timing was perfect.  I had the chance to enjoy a long relaxing morning, which generally makes for a much more pleasant run.  Unfortunately, it threw mini-me's day out of whack, and meant that I'd probably be finishing my run at about the time I was meant to be elsewhere for dinner.  Nic suggested that I reschedule, and I'll be honest, I wasn't too happy with the idea.  Having been dressed and ready to go, blah blah blah, I was a bit cheesed off to miss the one day of the week that I had both the opportunity to run and the chance for sunny weather.  Oh well, that's the way life works some days.  In hindsight, Nic knew best (oooh, how I hate it when this happens!), and my left calf was very happy to have a few extra days of short running to loosen up after the drive.

Roll forwards to the following Monday, with non-stop rain forecast combined with a nice northeasterly breeze.  This was the day I had free, so this was the day to do the run.  Due to the wind-direction, I decided not to do the run from Forres this time, since an entire day of headwind isn't really the smartest choice.  So, we drove out to Cullen where I would hopefully begin my wind-assisted bit of fun.

Starting at Cullen - it's boil-in-a-bag Kurt

One of the joys of changing run dates is that I forgot to turn off the little camera-phone I use while I'm out on long runs.  So, I don't have many pictures from the day. Luckily, Nic took some when we first walked along parts of the route in 2008.  So, for any pictures where the weather looks half decent, just imagine grey skies and occasionally driving rain, and you'll get the drift - just as pretty, but with added damp.

In spite of the heavy rain at the start, or perhaps even because of it, I set off down the steep hill from Cullen's square to the beach in stupidly jolly mood.  At that moment, I didn't care about the weather, I was just happy to be able to get out for a whole day of running.  I was also overjoyed to know I would be finishing on a flat road, instead of having to climb up this hill after 45 miles.  So, following a few brief stops to adjust shoe tightness, I was running and singing in my head and happy.   The fact that I was mostly singing a mishmash of "Yankee Doodle" and "London Bridge is Falling Down" didn't even dampen my spirits.  The tide was receding, so I had firm sand to run on, and all was right with the world as I headed towards Portknockie.

Rocks on Cullen Beach

Looking back to Cullen

Neat rock formation

Having not seen this section of trail for 8 years, I had forgotten how lovely it is.  It reminds me a lot of the trails on the northern edge of Exmoor.  The tops of the cliffs are lovely and bouncy grass interspersed with hard rock trails - really enjoyable to run on.  As a result, the miles simply ticked over and I enjoyed the views along the cliffs, through the harbour village of Findochty (and caravan park 1 of the day), eventually popping off the trails at Portessie on the eastern outskirts of Buckie.

On my sojourn through Buckie and surrounding ports, I decided that I had definitely chosen the right shoes for my run.  I remembered the western section as being mostly good track or tarmac, so went with road shoes (Adidas Boost Supernova), in part because they are the only shoes I have that I can run more than 3 consecutive road miles on that also have even a little bit of grip on grass.  From Portessie to Portgordon (look out for the seals bobbing along in the water!), the trail is essentially 4 miles of pavement next to the harbour road (A990).  It passed quite quickly, except where I thought I'd dropped my eTrex and did a short backtrack before realizing I'd put it back in the wrong pocket (bonus mileage?!).  I did manage to see quite a few seals in the water, but it wasn't really the right weather for them to be sunning on the rocks.

By this point, I was on familiar territory, having now joined the tail end of the Speyside Way, where I'd raced last summer.  The path through the fields and woods was no longer spongy grass, so much as standing water, but it held happy memories anyway.  After leaving Spey Bay, I enjoyed the one-time rail crossing over the Spey into Garmouth.  It's an oddly converted bridge, with a raised wooden platform running down the middle to make it easier to roll across.  Helpful for the bicycles (it's part of cycle route 1), but a little slippery in the rain.  Apparently, it was recently shut for renovations, so I was quite lucky to find it open - otherwise I'd have had a nice little 3-4 mile diversion!  The views down into the river were lovely, with all that peaty water flowing by.

Upon leaving Garmouth, I encountered a the final part of the trail I'd not experienced before.  The little run into Kingston on Spey was nice, with a short hill that gave me the opportunity to let Nic know what time I'd be getting to Lossiemouth for a quick restock.  I was then looking forward to the rest of the route from Kingston, assuming that I'd have some nice long sandy beach to run on.  Assumption. Hmph.  There's a saying that to "assume makes an ass out of u and me".  Well, it certainly meant my bubble got a bit burst when I saw there would be no nice beach for quite some time.  Instead, I got lots of gravelly/cobble rubble running in and out of the tank traps that line the little dip between the shingle-covered seawall on my right and the woods to my left.  Aside from some stunning mist rising up off of Binn Hill and its firing range (actually, properly beautiful and making me wish I'd charged my phone, so you could see a grainy picture of it), it was 7 miles of "nothing to see here, move along".  I'll admit, I came to hate that section of the route with a passion, and was deeply relieved to hit the sands on the run into Lossiemouth.  My core had taken a battering on the persistently evil cobbles, and I really needed some stable footing.

At Lossie, had the day been sunny, or warm, or even dry, I'd have expected to meet an ice-cream chomping crew, complete with mini-supporters jumping up and down. As it was, the quick handover of some Gu Brew, jelly beans, and crisps involved me coaxing Nic to walk a little section of the West Beach car park with me while I munched.  Granny was babysitting for the afternoon (thank you!), but Nic had a cake date with our niece that was much more inviting than standing around in the rain, so she was ready to send me on my way and get moving.

Arriving in Lossiemouth - 24 miles done and mostly the easy bits left to go

Once onto West Beach, I jollied along, enjoying the firm sand underfoot.  Since the tide was out, I stayed off the dune path, only popping in occasionally to confirm where the high-tide route was that I would eventually have to join near Covesea.  With a bit of rain (did I mention it was a fairly wet day?), one of the runoff streams from the RAF base across the beach was a bit more full than usual, and I was a bit less nimble than usual, with 25 miles in my legs already.  Consequently, I fell in as I attempted to jump across.  I have a history with this little gully - plenty of easy crossings when the beach is empty, two good falls while people are watching.  At least I didn't get any wetter - there wasn't much dry going on below the knee anyway.

As I passed the end of the runway, a Tornado (I think) took off and buzzed right over my head.  The noise was fantastic, pushing right through my lungs.  For some, that's probably not a welcome sound, but for me it was exhilarating.  Jogging along with a goofy grin, I did a quick check of how I felt compared to how I'd hoped to feel, and realized I was probably a bit down on food and salts, so worked on repairing that as I carried on down the beach.  I'd been drinking plenty, but with my waterproof and race pack on, I was sweating a lot more than I probably would on a dry day. The Gu Brew and some Torq gels helped get me back on track, and I left the beach for the Covesea to Hopeman section in fine fettle.
What West Beach looks like on a nicer day.
 Then I fell down (again, oh, and yet again just for good measure).  40 miles of this route is ideal for road shoes.  In drier conditions, the whole route would be fine.  However, I had finally reached the section that, given the combination of rain and spongy ground, was not.  Over the 3.5 miles from Covesea golf course to Hopeman, I slipped about on both little hills and flat paths.  Judging by the long hoof prints along the way, I wasn't the only one who found the slurry-topped peat to be a little tricky underfoot.  Having slid a good few feet down the path on my now muddy backside, I rather lost a bit of confidence in my shoes and my legs.  I reached Hopeman slower than expected, but relieved not to have attempted more than a couple of times to use the prickly gorse bushes to stop my falls - I think I pulled out the last thorn more than a week later.

Lovely track on the way to Hopeman - plenty of gorse, and no mud in sight (it's around the corner).

Hopeman is a tiny place, with a sweet harbour, a school, and all the usual things you'd associate with a small seaside village.  How it supports 3 ice cream parlours is beyond me.  Once again, though, I did not stop to enjoy a little of the local flavour.  I didn't really trust myself to manage dairy at that stage, and I didn't know at that point just how good the newest shop is, so I didn't jog the extra 100 yards to grab some extra fuel .  Later in the week, I popped in to Stew 'n' Drew's and enjoyed a scoop of Apple Pie and a scoop of Custard Cream.  Apple pie with custard? Yes, please! Oh, how I wish I'd known about them as I was running through!

From Hopeman to Burghead is fairly mundane, mostly along tarmac on the ex-railway.  Now over 30 miles into the run, I tucked into the jelly beans that I'd picked up from Nic in Lossie.  It's always nice to have a little treat in store for certain milestones on a long run, and I'd saved these little gems from the selection of junk food that forms part of the enjoyment of long drives.  Combined with a caffeinated gel, they gave me quite a mood boost.  I was still dropping my pace through the floor, now reduced to 12/13 minutes per mile, with plenty of short walking breaks, but I was fairly content about things.  Once I got into Roseisle Forest, I had the added bonus of tree cover to keep the wind and rain off for a while.

A miles into the woods, following 6 hours of hard work, my Suunto got bored, and switched off.  Apparently, I'd forgotten to change the power setting for route-following to allow for longer up-time.  Or, perhaps it decided that since there were no hills, it would just take a nap and wait for a more interesting run.  Either way, I no longer had any external pace monitor, and started running on feel.  It turns out I was feeling lazy, as I slowed down a bit.  I'd kind of hoped to use the watch as a motivator to push a bit faster in the final 10 miles.  With that plan down the pan, I enjoyed a leisurely jog through the woods thinking I was pushing a bit faster, when mostly I really wasn't.

When I left the woods near Findhorn, I found a new motivator to pull my finger out and get a move on.  The peninsula at Findhorn is fairly exposed, and the wind had increased while I was sheltered, and it brought back the driving rain.  By now, with around 10km to go, I really just wanted to be finished, warm, and dry.  So, I zipped up my mansuit and really did pick up the pace.

Views from Findhorn (at this point, it was mostly chucking it down and nothing was visible on the day)

Nothing here to block the elements!

From Findhorn, through Kinloss, and on to Forres is dull.  It's along the main road, which was unsurprisingly a bit busy at 5pm.  Since the signs were saying I had anywhere between 5 and 6.5 miles to go, I hoped for the 5 and pushed as hard as I could to finish.  Surprisingly, looking back at the eTrex data, I managed two 10 minute miles.  Unsurprisingly, having gotten a bit behind on calories earlier on, I started to bonk.  After a quick stop into a petrol station to buy some sweets (only after my selection did I remember that Starburst chews are individually wrapped - doh!), I had a quick walk to unwrap my sugary treats and chain chew their fruity happiness.  Then I ran and ran as fast as my aching body would take me, stopping happily at the end in Forres after 8 hours and 48 minutes of fun.

Looking as fresh as a daisy, but smelling much less so!
Every challenge is a learning experience, and this one was no different.  On the whole, things went better than expected, unlike so many long runs.  My gear choice was as much about what I own as about what I wanted to wear, but it worked.  Much to my surprise and delight, I was actually quite dry under my jacket - I've obviously finally learned how to re-waterproof it properly.  Having never spent such a long time in road shoes, I was also happy to find zero blistering when I took them off.  On the food front, I was aiming to replicate the later section of an ultra, where I'm not much interested in solid food any more.  I did that fairly well, but didn't quite have the calories on hand to keep things ticking over once I went onto sugars.  Perhaps next time I'll use my fingers when counting rather than just relying on mental arithmetic.

Kit List:
Cotswold Running headwear
OMM Kamleika 2 jacket
Ronhill longsleeve top
Brooks shorts
Injinji trail socks
Adidas Boost Supernova shoes
Salomon Hydro 5 vest
Nike dri-fit gloves
1 x peanut butter Clif bar
2 x mint chocolate Clif Builders bar
3 x raspberry ripple Torq gel
2 x banoffee Torq caffeinated gel
.5 pack of supermarket own-brand jelly beans
1 fun-sized pack of Sun Bites
1L Gu Brew
2.5L water
Suunto Ambit 2 watch
Garmin eTrex

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