96 Miles of Birthday Adventure

Abi braved the West Highland Way in the summer as an adventuring birthday treat: 96 miles of brutal loveliness, the WHW starts in Milngavie, follows the shores of Loch Loman, crosses Rannoch Moor, climbs over Devil’s Staircase and drops into Glen Nevis before finishing in Fort William: 

Here is a description of doing the West Highland Way as a run! I did it with my other half, over 6 days, finishing day 6 on my 40th birthday. He’d done bits of it about 20 years ago, but had cheated and caught the bus one day, so had always wanted to do it again! We’d bought the little guide book about 10 years ago, which turned out to be amusing in itself reading it – it highlighted in bold where you might find the internet – and for the weather forecast you had to phone a premium rate number!!! How things have changed!

First day West Highland Way: Milngavie to Balmaha – went OK. We’d spent the day before ‘carb loading’ at some of our favourite cafés in abiGlasgow, and the night in the Premier Travel Inn in Milngavie. We met our baggage carrying man Fraser early doors and enjoyed a good chat with him, before using the cash point for the last time. Then cracked on! Glad to get underway, through woodland and then disused railway line. We had actually done part of this section two years ago in the other direction, so hardly any map reading was required. And actually the waymarking on the West Highland Way is generally great everywhere! After near Drymen it started raining, at first we couldn’t decide whether to put waterproofs on or not – but instinct came in and we were duly grateful – as soon it was teeming down. Then one last push over Conic Hill – the first bit of real moorland we had seen, and I admit to walking some of this section. On the last mile we overtook what sounded like a young Italian man, who was impressed to see runners but shouted out he thought we were mad! Then we dropped down to Balmaha for chips and beer in a pub garden, in the sun, on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond! Spent the night at the Balmaha bunkhouse, because our stuff was all wet we soon made our bedroom smell like a mouldy laundry! Made ourselves vegan burgers in the bunkhouse kitchen – yum.

Second day West Highland Way: Balmaha to Inversnaid: we had been warned about tree roots and stones on a difficult loch side section, but that turned out not to be today. No trip-ups on any trees at the edge of the loch and up through ancient oak / aspen / birch woodland. Actually quite a lot of today was in trees and woodland – some good forest paths, gently20150822_100924 undulating, and quite a good surface to run on – but not great for photos! We had a coffee at the Rowardennan Hotel, when the Italian man passed us again, waving out a cheery hello! Saw a tiny frog less than an inch long cross the path in front of me! We stopped our run for today at the loch side hotel and treated ourselves to more chips (salt cravings?!). We stayed at Inversnaid bunkhouse, which is a way uphill from there – walking it was a real leg stretcher after the running! Here we had a private double room booked, so we lounged in bed and read the paper in the afternoon, explored a bit before tea, then enjoyed the vegan meal that the bunkhouse cooked for us. There was a self-catering kitchen there, but the home cooked food looked better!

Day 3, West Highland Way – Inversnaid to Strathfillan: First part of the route incredibly difficult – the path barely clings on to the NE shore of Loch Lomond – scrambled over tree roots and rocks and up ladders. One mile took us 25 minutes! It had rained a lot in the night so some of the stream crossings were in spate. Combined with another really boggy area made for wet feet. Then we left behind the Loch, one last look behind us, as the path climbs up some bracken areas, really hot and humid here – the

bracken makes a microclimate. Finally up into some open moorland areas with a welcome breeze, I don’t mind about the pylons, as the drover’s road was a good surface! We met our Italian friend again, and this time stopped for a chat – he is a referee in Italy and had not come across people doing long-distance trail running before! Then, onwards – the route is close / parallel to a main road, which was eerily quiet. At the half way point (a deer fence!) we decided to make a detour for ice pops to Crianlarich, before heading on to our next base, our glamping wigwam, only to find we’d beaten the bags here! We discovered that was because there had been an accident on that eerily quiet road, so our bags and Fraser were stuck in the tail backs! We sat looking at our day-old socks and our small day packs, hoping we could eek everything out for tomorrow, in case our bags didn’t arrive at all. The wigwam place lent us a pair of towels so we could shower at least. Then the bags arrived and they even brought them up the hill to us in a land rover! We chose here so we could be self catering and so we made up a lovely meal with more of our vegan rations from the bags. Wild rabbits around our cabin in the evening, fab memories!

West Highland Way, day 4 – Strathfillan to Inveroran. A short early blast to Tyndrum where we treated ourselves to tea / coffee – legs feeling stiff but that soon wears off. Then a great stretch on old military road – fab path surface, views, gentle pootle downhill. Looking back on the whole trip, this section was one of my favourites. Felt we could go on like this for miles! Reached Bridge of Orchy for more coffees at midday, then only 3 miles on to tonight’s base! Which was the Inveroran Hotel. We beat the bags again! As we sat with a drink in the hotel bar, chatting to a man from Ireland who was just wondering how far he’d go before camping, Fraser arrived with our bags – he enjoyed another good chat, I don’t think he is used to seeing his customers during their trip! The accommodation sadly has seen better days, just catering for carnivores really, so we showered and WALKED BACK (would you believe) 3 miles to enjoy wifi and vegan side dishes at the Bridge of Orchy. Let’s hope we can check out any time we like tomorrow AND leave!

West Highland Way, day 5 – Inveroran to Kinlochlevan. A nice gentle climb up to moorland where we looked up and around on the off chance of seeing eagles. As we ran along, we passed two walkers with huge back-packs pondering along, and wearing hats with mosquito nets over them. I 20150825_122050heard one say to the other, “that is the way to do it!” and indeed, when running along you aren’t bothered by the midge one bit. However, don’t stop long to take photos! Plus the joys of not carrying tons of luggage are worth writing home about. Today we had views to Rannoch Moor and the route to ourselves, apart from a couple of people who looked like they had camped wild. At one point I thought I might have jarred my right ankle (this is an ankle I sprained about 8 years ago and it has always been weird since) – and I thought to myself, “must go steady, because one injury now would be game over for finishing the route.” We dropped down to Glencoe for a coffee at the ski centre, feeling like we were making great progress. Then off again, along the glen for a few miles (we met the Irish man again, who’d had a great time the night before photographing the sunset in Glencoe – this happens quite a lot of the route, you see the same people a number of times) before the “devil’s suitcase” (actually devil’s staircase but we kept saying it wrong – eventually I said devil’s wardrobe and my other half didn’t bat an eyelid – I wonder what the devil would put in wardrobe, or a suitcase!) – a steep climb on loose stones – admit to walking this bit on and off. The combination of the gradient and what felt like being on someone’s gravel drive made it impossible to run.

Then a long descent to Kinlochlevan – we got here early afternoon and treated ourselves to food from the co-op, and had a lovely chat with a Canadian couple on a bench outside. Lovely B&B tonight (beat the bags here again!) with a bath!! After which we explored the town – a really nice place with really interesting history from aluminium smelting and dam building just 100 years ago (we went to the heritage centre). We started to feel that the end of our goal was in sight!

West Highland Way day 6 – Kinlochlevan to “The Fort”. Beat the bags again! Open ground and a bit of rain to start with. Good highland landscapes. When it stopped raining it was nice to put the hood down as otherwise you just hear yourself! Views of Ben Nevis on the way down steepish forest tracks. Coming out of the forest and into civilisation I caught a glimpse of my shadow and realised the trail running looks quite slow! So I dug deep and tried to run at my normal speed for the glory mile.2015-08-26 15.08.18 This last part through the town a real slog! – they have moved the end point from outside of the town (where you can get a free certificate) to the other end of the high street, seemingly to ensure you pass every pound shop, tat shop and mini Tescos on the way. Anyway, we got to the ‘new’ end point (a bench with a walker statue) before making our way back to the luxury hotel we’d booked to celebrate my birthday in! Had a sauna that afternoon and felt like we had new legs afterwards and could have done it all again! Then, that evening, we went for birthday curry, then we met our Irish friend in a bar for a drink together. He was going to do Ben Nevis itself the next day, 20150826_122824then a week on Skye. We were impressed – quite an active fortnight, for camping too! He is an artist and photographer – and something he said stuck with me … he said he’d often looked forwards and looked back on the path and never felt like he’d been on his own. All the people camping on the route were like a caterpillar, moving forward at roughly the same speed. But as runners, we had OFTEN felt like we were on our own, as we had overtaken the caterpillar each morning, got up in the open sections, before dropping down again.

The Adventure Declaration would love to hear your stories- whether it’s about your favourite adventure item, or sharing one of your adventures, all adventure stories are welcome. Click here to find out how to get in touch.


Everest, Volcanoes & The Problem With Adventuring

Claire asks herself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

“Being adventurous is simply who I am – whether it be nature or nurture I’m not sure, but there are stories of me wandering off as a two year old seeking my own adventures, much to the anxiety of my parents, yet it’s also from their influence that I have the desire to try new things instilled in me.

As a child I wasn’t aware that I was particularly adventurous, as going camping in the wild, hiking over the moors and finding new hideouts was the family norm most weekends.CK

However, it was only in my late twenties that I started to push myself beyond my comfort zone and I became more aware of the adventures other people were having, which made me envious, and I developed a thirst for wanting to push myself more and more, often not really sure if I was capable but at the same time not really thinking it through either. I developed an attitude of ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and the more I pushed myself, the more I wanted to see what else I could do.

In 2009 I took a year out, rented my house out and set off on my biggest adventure yet. I booked 4 flights, Manchester to Mexico, Argentina to North Island New Zealand, South Island New Zealand to Hong Kong and Nepal back to Manchester. And that was as far as my planning went. All I knew was that I was craving a culture shock. Although Mexico was a great country, thick in customs and tradition, it also had a large American influence and it wasn’t until I headed south to Guatemala where I started finding life very different and a lot more uncomfortable. I thrived off each nerve-wracking experience, asking myself ’what’s the worst that could happen?’ – It was a love-hate sensation, well more hate (at the time) and love (once I’d succeeded).

I travelled my way by chicken bus through the very poor but beautiful Latin American countries, largely keeping off the tourist path, living with local families, learning Spanish and meeting fantastic people along the way. I made my plan as I went along, either from recommendation or by reading the travel guide whilst being bashed about on a packed out, rickety, old bus on muddy tracks, finding it hard to concentrate as Latin music blurted out of the speakers and at every stop several ladies hopped on trying to convince you that you need to buy yet another snack.

The only goal I had set myself from the outset was to go running in every place I went to, as you see so much more when running around places, and doesn’t require any preparation. Running was the one thing I had in common with people where ever I went, and I often ended up with a local who running alongside me, wanting to chat, intrigued by me (usually as they were often running in jeans, sweatshirts and woolly hats and I was in a t-shirt and running tights).

In Ecuador, I joined a local’s mountaineering group who taught me how to alpine climb and I had some great adventures with them, summiting several of Ecuador’s highest glacier topped volcanoes. Ironically, it wasn’t the mountains which I was most nervous about but whether I would be able to understand a thing with my not so fluent Spanish (at this point I had only been learning for 8 weeks) but I thought ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, when I struggled to understand they simply repeated it louder (and my reaction tended to be smile and nod). I did become a bit of a mascot for the group and gradually made some great friends (as my Spanish improved).

The thing I found was that whatever I was doing, I always met someone doing something ten times more adventurous than me whether it be mountaineers, or people on their own hunt for adventure such as charity workers, using their time and skills to help others, such as the volunteer vets helping the sloths and turtles and the aid workers supporting orphaned children and women who had escaped violent homes. This spurred me on to push myself even more and make the most of every opportunity.

As Nepal was my final destination, and my 30th birthday, I had decided to treat myself and had booked with a company to do a 3 week expedition, incorporating three 6000m mountains in the Everest region. I headed to the Annapurna region and raced around the circuit and sanctuary in ten days, a) to get some fitness and b) to see as much as I could as I only had 2 weeks before my expedition started. On returning to Kathmandu, I found out that my expedition had been cancelled – I was so disappointed. I started walking around the tour offices to find other adventures to do and came across the Tenzing-Hillary Everest marathon. This would be the perfect finale to my goal of running in every place! However, I had never run a marathon – and the running I had done throughout my trip had been an hour maximum at jogging speed. I wasn’t really sure if I was capable but ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ I asked myself…well my flight back to Manchester was on 1st June, and the marathon was on 29th May – that was quite a major factor (as I was pretty homesick by this point and was looking forward to going home). I told myself to stop thinking and just do it, after all I still had 4 weeks to train for it J.

I set off to the Kumbu region, trekking from teahouse to teahouse and visited most of the villages in the area. I met many brilliant people, all doing amazing and inspiring things, people who had either summited, or were en route to summiting Everest; I had afternoon tea with David Walsh, the famous Sports Sunday Journalist who was writing about Lewis Pugh who was there to swim in a glacial lake at 5300m in just speedos to make the world aware of the problems of climate change. I met a guy sponsored by Skype setting up internet links between the primary schools around the region so that they could support each other more and I was humbled by the work of the volunteer doctors who had set up medical rooms in tea houses to treat the porters who often suffered maltreatment.

I managed to summit two 6000m mountains before heading to the Everest Base Camp to start the marathon. The marathon was the best (and hardest) thing I had ever done to date and I was high on adrenaline during the whole race, being cheered on by teahouse owners who I had befriended along the way. I made it to the finish at Namche Bazar in one piece – much to my amazement!

The ‘problem’ with being adventurous is that you’re never satisfied – once you’ve achieved something you thought you couldn’t do, you gain that little more confidence and start looking for something that little bit harder (and scarier!)”

If you enjoyed reading Claire’s Adventure Declaration there’s 4 things you can do…

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  4. Make your declaration to enjoy every second of every adventure!

The Freedom Fizzle

Hetty talks about socks, sandals, checklists and getting outside:

Adventure is addictive, for me it is an essential and fundamental part of living. No matter how big or small it sends that fizzle of excitement through me that reminds me that I am alive.

For those of you who don’t know me I am Hetty, writer of the outdoor, adventure, travel blog – Mud, Chalk and Gears (www.mudchalkandgears.com)! Throughout my life I have always been a keen sports woman, especially when it comes to things that involve being outside exploring and adventuring. I really love pushing myself both physically and mentally to find my limit, often discovering some amazing things along the way. For me, it is also as much about loving the environment I am in, as to giving something 110%, be that mud, mountains, oceans or rain – it’s all part of it. hetty

A few weeks ago Carmen asked me to write a post for The Adventure Declaration on how I get my adventure fix, what it means to me and how I got into it all. This set me thinking – for as long as I can remember I have been adventuring. From climbing every tree in my parents garden – including some particularly tall and precarious ones, which resulted in a very concerned neighbour – to current, bigger explorations around the UK and beyond. I remember going out walking when I was little and refusing to take the path, instead insisting on the “long and dangerous route” clambering over every obstacle I could find. So when it comes to answering the question of how I got into adventuring I guess I can’t tell you – it has always been a part of my life.

I can however tell you what has inspired me to keep exploring and push myself as far as I can – my parents. Growing up I was always encouraged to take every opportunity that came my way. Some of my best memories are out walking and scrambling with my dad and the dogs. Always a keen mountaineer and climber I loved hearing about his trips and stories. These were often combined with grainy photos of him out adventuring with a massive beard and dodgy tan lines – I believe sandals and socks also featured! Regardless this triggered the start of a long checklist adventures I plan on ticking off.unnamed

Without launching into a much longer and heavy story, health-wise both my parents have not had the easiest time to put it lightly. Although I struggle to deal with this, throughout everything they have only ever motivated and supported me. It has taught me to seize the moment. That thing you are thinking about doing – go and do it! The niggling doubt or fear that stops you – push it aside, you can. My mum has a million inspirational quotes to back this up)! The majority of the time the only thing that is holding you back is yourself. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.

Like I said earlier, adventures can be big or small. Whether you are on a micro-adventure nearer home or a scaling a mountain, the key thing is that what you are doing makes you feel alive. There is so much I could write here, however I am choosing to keep it short and sweet. And most importantly I think it’s time we all got outside!

To follow my adventures check out Mud, Chalk & Gears (www.mudchalkandgears.com). Alternatively you can always find me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/MudChalkGears) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/hetty_key/)

If you enjoyed reading Hetty’s Adventure Declaration there’s 4 things you can do…

  1. Share it with your friends so more women hear about the brilliant adventures happening every day.
  2. Join The Adventure Declaration on Facebook or Twitter so we can have a chat about your latest adventures and chance to keep in the loop.
  3. Tell your adventure story- the Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure and all adventures count. We’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch.
  4. Make your declaration to enjoy every second of every adventure!

Wanting to say “Blimey. I did that!”

Jo declares her mission for adventure and dares to challenge the Dales:

“Last mid-summer night I set off with a degree of trepidation and a lot of excitement on an epic 80 mile run. The Yorkshire Dales top 10 was devised as a 5 day walk around the beloved hills of my childhood. I’m not sure if I had something to prove or what drove me to take on the challenge of doing it all in one go, but I really wanted to finish. It was a beautiful night as I set off, summiting Pen-y-ghent well within the hour and climbing the stile at the top to look out over the beautiful hills in the sunset.

“Hello love. Going far?” Came a voice from below the wall – a head torch switching on. A head emerged from the bivvy bag. “As far as my legs will carry me” I replied.

Every step counts!

Every step counts!

I was lucky to grow up in the Yorkshire Dales, so while (like most other 14 year olds) I had a sneaky fag with my mates, it wasn’t behind the bike sheds, or outside the local shop but up a hill, in a barn or at the very least up a tree. I love the outdoors – encouraged by my family and a school which arranged pot-holing on a Friday afternoon. I was lucky to learn navigation skills through the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as the confidence to get it wrong and survive! My 15th birthday was spent with 5 mates walking a circuit of youth hostels (well, ok it was a mix of hitching and walking – we weren’t angels!).

I felt like a fish out of water when I went to Portsmouth for University. Frequent dips in the Solent and visits along the waterfront helped, alongside the usual student misdemeanours which took up most of my late teens and early twenties. But every time I went back up North I felt like I was coming home.

I started running on the hills when I came back with exploring seeming the natural thing to do. Being pregnant only made me braver, running til I was 8 months gone up hill and down dale. A small baby drove me out of the house for the odd half hour’s peace. I could get on the trails near my house and ran for my sanity – feeling like myself again after taking on the new and alien role of “mum”.

Holidays are camping trips, and getting up with the lark means I can get the run in and still be back for lunch, but I felt I had something more inside – more of an adventure I wanted to complete.

I’ve never been a thin girl – solid might be the best phrase – and while it intermittently bothers me, I have never let it hold me back. I race (I frequently prop up the bottom of the table, but I race), I train, I improve, I enjoy it. And perhaps because I’ll never do a fast time, or win a race, I wanted to do something which I could look back on and say “Blimey. I did that”

I'm still going

I’m still going

So for a few years, I dwelt on the plan. Bought the maps, read the books, kept it inside, a bit scared to share the idea. Then suddenly I realised it would never happen unless I said it out loud. I shared first with my husband, who didn’t laugh, say I was crazy or even flinch. In fact he just said ‘How can I help?’

Help me, he did- pushing me out of the door when I needed it, taking on the lion’s share of the weekend childcare, camping wherever we needed to be to allow me to recce the route… And so I found myself on 21st June last year, loving the freedom and solitude.

So how did it end? I got lost actually! Then I was way off schedule, miles out of my way, tired and my morale was in my boots. I was lifted – metaphorically carried really – by my fellow adventurer Hannah. She picked me up in Hawes and took me over the next 2. When I saw my husband with a boot full of food and a get out clause, I took it.

55 miles. Not a quitter but a girl who knows her limitations, fit to fight another day and proud of my achievement.

I am still here. My next challenge? Helvellyn Triathlon (gulp). And those Yorkshire peaks are still beckoning….”

Enjoying new adventures

Enjoying new adventures

The Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure. Let’s share and celebrate our stories. All adventures count and we’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch. 

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Hamsters, Wallpapering and Brain-Changing Adventure

Carmen talks about the calm of 24hr running:

For as long as I can remember I’ve always run. I love that feeling of freedom and exploration which comes with lacing up my trainers and heading out to the hills. When I’ve been restricted by my location, lack of time and money at various points in my life, I’ve had to substitute the natural environment for the urban sprawl, hitting the tarmac and dodging traffic whilst trying to visualise my favourite mountains. It taught me a valuable lesson, that even if a run has the potential to feel mundane, there is always the opportunity to find some adventure along the way- albeit sometimes letting the flow of my legs choose my route, or other times relying on my imagination to brighten things up.

My usual habitat

My usual habitat

We already know that experiencing adventure challenges us both physiologically and psychologically, with the balance shifting between the two constantly as we push ourselves onwards. I’ve been reading this week about the plasticity of the brain and how dramatic or significant events modify our brains. I’m not sure Catherine Malabou was thinking about adventuring but it did really resonate with me… I’ve run a lot, had all sorts of adventures, some full of fun, others painful, but if someone asked me what has been a pivotal life changing (and now I’m thinking ‘brain changing’) moment, I would pinpoint it exactly on the track 24 hour race I did last year.

Don’t get me wrong, like most people, I’ve loved and lost along the way and I hold treasured memories of those people. So, although it may sound just complete nonsense that running 400 metre circles for a very long time could possibly have enough of a resounding impact that I came away a different person- it is completely true. It wasn’t even my first 24hr which on the adrenaline of a novice I battled through to run 16 laps on a 10k loop … it wasn’t even the most exciting of locations being on an athletics track. But what it did do, was give me the opportunity to find peace, plus a really bad case of motion sickness which lasted for a few days after.

In many ways it was similar to other ultra events where you meet some amazing people and feel part of a lovely community where you encourage and support each other. But overall it was unlike any other run I’ve done, there was absolutely no hiding from myself and running lap after lap really gave me a lot of time to think, as well as a lot of time to just ‘be’. I’ve always been good at visualising and so was able to ‘wallpaper’ the track with my favourite memories and places which gave me a calmness which I haven’t felt before and also a feeling of closeness to everything (including those I’ve lost). I probably hypnotised myself running like a hamster on a wheel!

So, how did it change me? It’s a bit tricky to explain- and if completely honest I do feel a little bit silly trying- I came away still full of contrasts stronger/ weaker, brave/fragile, but mostly more honest with myself, hopefully more understanding of others and I feel like I see the world in a slightly different way. It’s even a bit reassuring, going back to plasticity, that my brain will have changed too.

Bizarrely then, despite the years of mountain, fell and travel adventures it was the mental challenge of running in very small circles which significantly changed me with its hypnotic calmness!

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Surreal Switch from Snowy Peaks to Home Comforts

Zoe talks about team work, cold fingers and the Highlands:

“I’ve been a fell runner for almost three years since I made the switch from road running after taking part in some of the very sociable summer evening fell races in the Peak District and being introduced by my friend Matt to some routes and to Glossopdale Harriers club. Since then I have increased the length and general toughness of my fell running, both in competitive events and in sociable expeditions around the Peaks, Lakes and Snowdonia. To be honest I amaze myself the things I do out on the hills now – night time winter fell running, navigation events and even competing in fancy dress! It’s the great people around me who I have to thank for getting to where I am now. One thing I loved from my first bash at fell running is how friendly and encouraging the community is to everyone, whatever their ability. I’ve now become involved on the committee of the club and make sure that new members, especially female, are supported and given a fun introduction to off-road adventuring. 

Surprise discoveries add to the fun

Surprise discoveries add to the fun

I entered the Highlander Mountain Marathon in 2015 because every year I try to complete a totally new type of event alongside the regular fell races and occasional road races I do. One year it was an open-water swim race, then a triathlon, then winter fell races- you get the picture! As Mountain Marathons are two day navigation events completed in pairs, you carry everything you need for an overnight camp with you, as well as clothing and food to keep you surviving in the wild in whatever weather the chosen area chucks at you. This year the Highlander announced the location was Elphin, in the Assynt area of the NW Highlands. Stunningly beautiful and very rough terrain was what I was told to expect. I asked my friend Viv if she would be up for pairing with me for this event, although we’ve never raced together before though I know her well enough to appreciate she’s tough enough, experienced enough at navigation and fit enough for the challenge. Being the same build as myself also counts for something when it comes to sharing an ultra-lightweight tent for a night in bad weather 🙂 The weather!! Suffice to say that when we arrived in the area there was snow visible on the tops, and after a week of sunny days in Manchester it was clear we were back in winter. We’d packed all the right clothing but I knew we were both apprehensive about we what might have to endure. We weren’t wrong about the weather or the rough terrain! And we were rightly optimistic about the fun times at the overnight camp – a little festival of likeminded, weather-battered, merry and smelly people. My event report is on my blog.

Team mate Viv tackling snowy summits

Team mate Viv tackling snowy summits

I did have my doubts about completing such a tough challenge with a partner I’d never raced with before but these were unfounded. I was impressed with how easy it was for Viv and I to work as a unit with little training and preparation. It turns out that instinct is a good thing when it comes to assessing race partners! We had chatted a little on the long journey North, about what our aims were for the event , which were to get round each day in a reasonable time, flex our navigation skills a bit and have fun. We’re both at about the same stage in the progress of our navigating skills, in that we’ve not taken sole responsibility for navigating in an event of this kind before and had both refreshed our training recently so we knew that we were going to face some degree of challenge. We’d also talked about making sure we looked after one another’s wellbeing. I mentioned the well-known fact that if I stopped chatting for some minutes then it meant I needed food, or a rest or was in some other way in trouble either physically or mentally. It turned out that we both did a great job of looking out for one another, what with my hearty singing of the Welsh national anthem to Viv whilst she struggled through a low patch, to Viv dressing me in an extra jacket and feeding me an energy bar on the second day when my hands were just too cold for anything. Practically, it was easy for us to stay together as a pair, which we needed to as the rules state that a pair must always remain ‘in contact’ with one another, keeping within sight and hearing of each other at all times. There’s no hard and fast distance to maintain – the weather can alter keeping in contact drastically. For example as we ran along a ridge into the hail and wind, a guy passed us, whistling frantically to his partner up ahead about ten metres and failing to attract his attention. His partner couldn’t hear him at all due to combined effect of wind in ears and hail clattering off of him. Two friends of ours managed to totally lose one another on the second day, due to the landscape being a maze of humps, bumps and bogs. Thankfully they re-joined just near to the event HQ at the end but lost all their points as only one of them had visited all the necessary checkpoints. I think Viv and I did a great job given it was our first outing together. 

On returning home I found myself struggling to put the Highlander weekend in context. What we had experienced was so extreme, so far removed from the warm dry house with endless space and food on tap. All the concerns we’d had to keep at the front of our minds, lest we slip up and injure ourselves or become lost, for 48 hours, no longer apply in daily life and I sat bewildered in my dining room. I logged on and blogged, it seemed like a good way to make sense of the experience. I realised that once again I had surprised and amazed myself at my capabilities. I was particularly impressed that both Viv and I had come through the onset of hypothermia and out the other side, in snow with wet feet and sustained our progress for a good few hours after that. I know that my navigation skills were not of a professional standard to start with but I learned a lot about taking the time to make decisions to save wasted effort in your legs, as well as how to read the terrain on the map. I feel more capable with navigating unfamiliar terrain now. I do want to do another Mountain Marathon, I would do the Highlander again though probably an easier class and I would definitely go with Viv again if she will allow it!”

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Parking partying for playing in the mud

Meet Renee- inspired in the rain, hugging a stranger & loving fell running:

Rene finishing her first fell race with a smile

Rene finishing her first fell race with a smile

“For a long time I have known that I needed a little bit more adventure in life, but never could come up with something that I really loved. At one time partying the night away satisfied that, but getting a little older I needed something new.

I’ve always enjoyed running, for years I’ve pounded the pavements doing what I can only describe looking back as fairly dull runs, usually to get it out of the way because I needed to clock up some miles or work off the big piece of chocolate cake I’d just eaten!

Things were changing in life and I decided to move towns, so I bought a little house with beautiful views. I’d often stand in the window staring at the hills wondering what people do around here, everyone has walking boots at the front door or waterproof coats hung on the pegs.

While out on a rainy day run pounding the pavement I noticed a group run past with mud splashed up their backs and faces, I kept trying to catch their attention so I could ask where they had been, that’s what I want to do I thought!

Low and behold of all the places I was in the pub and saw Holcombe Harriers written across the back of some rather smart maroon hoodies, I got home googled them, found where they met and went along the following week.

Little did I know what I was in for, the biggest hill I’d ever run up, a ton of mud and let me tell you, pain in my legs like I’ve never known, but not wanting to look a wimp I carried on to the top of the hill regardless. Finally got to the top to look at those views and I knew, at that point it was the beginning of my adventures on the hills.

Within a week I had signed up to a race, I didn’t give it much thought until I saw the line-up and then realised it wasn’t going to be easy. I set off, thinking ‘yes this is ok’ until I hit the hill and then it was more like ‘what am I doing here!’ My legs were on fire, I had pins and needles in my foot for most of it because my road trainers weren’t so good on the fells and I felt a bit of a wimp on the down hills thinking I was going to fall down never mind run down. Getting towards the end I thought I’d not be able to finish this! I never did catch her name, but luckily I ran next to someone (who I’d never met) , if I slowed she carried me through and I did the same: she hugged me at the end to say well done, that was also a first. I felt I belonged.

After a few curve balls life has thrown at me recently I can honestly say that without running I may not have coped, running up the hills has given me a focus and made me feel great, I would say I’m addicted already and I’ve only just started.

I’ve told my friends about it on many an occasion, they think I’m a bit mad, but no matter how bad your day running to the top of a hill and looking at the views will solve all your worries for that moment in time and you’ll be stronger on the way down.

I have just started my new little adventure in life I have even got myself a head torch, I am saving up for some new shoes for the fells and a bike, even thinking about doing a Triathlon, finally I really have found something I love.”

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