Monday, 31 August 2015

Ride the North 2015

Way back in November 2014 I was at a party at my friend Jackie's house and the words Ride the North were mentioned. Several of my friends had taken part in previous years and I thought hmmm might be fun! The website tells you what it is:

A quote from the website: There has been a remarkable boom in cycling over recent years and the North East of Scotland boasts some truly wonderful cycling experiences. RIDE the NORTH is not a race, but rather a challenge ride for cyclists of all abilities.

Next thing I know my friend and work colleague Chris from CNR International told me that CNR were one of the sponsors for Ride the North (RtN) and therefore were putting a team in. I can't resist being part of a team so I signed up immediately! Then I must admit I didn't give cycling much thought for a few months as it was winter. And I'm a runner! Our CNR team met each month for "lunch and learns" as we call them where we discussed cycling and had demonstrations about how to change inner tubes etc, Neil Innes the RtN organiser came in to speak to us and tell us all about the route. Lots of hills got mentioned. I was still thinking about running and had gotten in to the West Highland Way Race for the third time so I was still concentrating on running training, but I bought a new road bike so that was a start:

It's a road touring bike

The months rolled by and I finally had a proper spin on the new bike in April where I went out for 10 miles with Iain and our two older boys. It was not fast but I managed fine. In May I went out on the bike twice, once with a new club which has started up - Stonehaven Cycling Club and really enjoyed it. June was all about the WHW for me but I did have two cycle rides adding up to 20 miles of training. July I actually managed 3 rides but two were with the boys so very easy as Magnus is only seven. 44 miles training in July... Now I was starting to get a bit worried as friends were doing very long training rides - 60+ miles etc. I went out with the SCC again and was right at the back this time and it was a wake up call to me and told me I needed to cycle more, which meant giving up running until after RtN. I knew I could do it but I wanted to have a chance at enjoying it so I managed 6 training rides in August (and only one wee run) totalling 152 miles. This included a demoralising 51 mile cycle to Balmakewan and back with Iain where I bonked at 26 miles and cried twice. I had serious doubts about taking part now because it took me 6 hours 5 minutes to do 51 miles and I knew I had to do 85 miles one day then 90 the next! This is when rule #5 kicked in:

I had to harden the f*ck up and stop whining. So I went for one more ride then it was time to get ready and go for it. I had the day off work on the Thursday and Iain worked from home. He took the bikes to Aberdeen to get loaded on a lorry and taken to Inverness. We went to catch our train to Aberdeen where I was going to meet the CNR team and get my train ticket from our leader Judy and catch the train to Inverness. But aargh the train was delayed! We missed our connection and ended up stuck in Aberdeen waiting an hour for the next train. I was lucky in that a bunch of us were in the same position and I knew Neil and Jane McArthur and they had a spare train ticket which they gave to me :-). We had a very pleasant train journey in the end sitting next to other RtN entrants who were very friendly and chatty. This was to be a theme of the event.

We caught up with the CNR team in an Italian restaurant in Inverness and had a fine meal. I was really nervous about the next day but there was no going back now. We were up at 6:15am so we could get to the Eden Court Centre for half an hour before our 7:52 start. Here are some of Team CNR at the start: 

Richard missed the memo about wearing our RtN tops

Day 1: Inverness to Elgin  -  85 miles, 4,640 ft of ascent

There were five different waves of starters depending on how long you were predicted to take. I was in the first wave i.e. I was one of the slowest. Iain started twenty minutes after me and he said he would catch me up (which didn't take him long). The first morning was due to be tough, with two major climbs. I was focussing on the first feed stop at 21 miles and trying to eat little and often so I didn't bonk, I basically treated it like an ultra. The first 6 miles were flat which was good so I felt warmed up when we approached the first climb. It was tough but I took it steady, settled in to the lowest gear and puffed and panted my way up. Several of the women commented that it was like being in labour! Certainly part of my body was starting to feel very sore :-(. This was obviously due to the fact I'd only put in one month of proper training and the bottom needs more time than that to acclimatise ;-). After the steep climbs we were rewarded with wonderful descents and all around us the scenery was stunning, we were also very lucky with the weather. I was smiling:

Look matching shoes and gloves

The first refreshment stop was excellent, proper coffee and tea and energy drinks and bars, bananas etc. Portaloos a plenty. Pretty soon lots of familiar faces appeared and I probably stayed too long hugging and chatting to Stoney folk. About 150 folk with Stonehaven postcodes had entered the event and I probably knew 100 of them! Lunch was wonderful steak pies and more tea. The organisation was top notch. The afternoon of day 1 was loads of fun as it was mostly long descents on wide roads. I was keeping an eye on my Garmin to see how long it took me to cycle 51 miles and I got there in 5 hours 35 mins, 30 minutes quicker than my dodgy training run the weekend before :-). We eventually got in to Elgin at the back of 5pm and received a nip of whisky from the distillery. I felt elated as the previous furthest I had ever cycled was 55 miles and that was 4 years ago! We stashed our bikes then headed for our coach to Lossiemouth where we were booked in to a hotel. Another fine night with friends and we also had a moonlit walk along the beach before a very good night's sleep.

Day 2: Elgin to Stonehaven  -  90 miles, 6,706 ft of ascent

So now all the talk at breakfast was we had to do it all again, and further, and wow our bums hurt!! I took paracetamol before I even got on the bike but it didn't take the edge off. The start was more brutal too as we had a hill to cycle up to even get out of the distillery grounds. Off we went at the same time as the day before and it was another fine day, but a bit windier. The first refreshment stop came as a huge relief and it was nice to meet Dave Scott, an ultrarunner who was helping out. Probably stayed too long again but it was such a good atmosphere at the stops it was hard to leave. I had a bit of a low after this stop as we were straight in to a long, steep climb and there was a strong headwind. I nearly cried but managed to stop myself, I kept scoffing the cashew nuts and swigging lucosade to keep my energy levels up. One thing I'd learned though that after every big climb we'd get a fantastic descent and the feeling of speed is something I don't get while running! I had tears in my eyes when a bunch of ladies and children appeared at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and cheered us as we cycled past.

Lunch on day 2:

Me with some of the speedy CNR Team
I felt good on day 2 as I was catching up with people at the food stops I hadn't seen on day 1, like John from the running club. I kept an eye at what time I passed 51 miles again and this time I managed it in 5 hours 5 mins which is a whopping hour off my Balmakewan time! My endurance training through running was coming good, although I was still wincing every time I went over a bump. 

Iain waited on me at the top of each big climb
I enjoyed cycling through Lumsden where an old bloke outside a pub gave us a big cheer! The afternoon was tough with many more climbs including at Shooting Greens where many of the Stonehaven Cycling Club folk overtook us. It was great to chat to so many friends and get their encouragement. I had written my name on my number on my back and so I got loads of shout outs. The folk of Torphins did themselves proud and put on a good spread for us and there was a brass band:
Brass band at Torphins
I was getting a bit weary by the late afternoon on the day 2 but my spirits soared the first time Iain pointed out Durris Mast to me - we were nearly home :-). When I saw Clachnaben I cheered! When I saw Knockburn I cheered! I was less cheery at the long climb on the Slug Road but I knew we were nearly there. We took a right to go past Swanley so there was yet another climb before the awesome downhill all the way to Stoney. When we saw how many folk had turned out to cheer us in we were tearful. It had been an adventure and a huge challenge for me and I was so relieved and pleased to be home. My parents and children were there:

So many friends were there, but the most special was my friend Gillian who is only alive today because her life was saved by 2 amazing people, 2 doctors and a defibrillator supplied by the Sandpiper Trust which happens to be one of the charities CNR have been raising money for (the one I chose). If you can spare any cash please click on the link and donate to 4 excellent causes:

We are also raising money for Northsound Cash for Kids, Yorkhill Children's Charity, and the Brain Tumour Charity. Thanks in advance for any donations, they will be appreciated.

I found Ride the North to be very testing physically for me, my puny runners legs were not so good on a bike. One guy made me laugh when he zoomed past me on a descent and shouted out "This is when it pays to be fat!". I have been inpsired to keep at it though and I want to take part again next year. I joined the Stonehaven Cycling Club and they are a great bunch of folk and very encouraging. Maybe there is more to life than running...

Monday, 29 June 2015

3 is the Magic Number - West Highland Way Race 2015

I was really looking forward to the 2015 West Highland Way Race for many reasons, the main one being a bunch of us from Stonehaven Running Club were taking part and I was looking forward to running with friends and seeing other friends along the way as I knew all of the people in their crews too. I didn't blog about last year's race, so here's a summary: everything went really well until KLL when I felt sick. I think what happened was I ran too quickly down the Devil and overexerted myself. I was very happy with my time as I went from 31:06 in 2012 to 27:13. My crew were my husband Iain, and friends Kate, Kate's twin brother Alex, his wife Laura, and Richard who was a last minute addition as a runner because Kate had an unfortunate accident the week of the race and couldn't run. They were wonderful crew and I'm very grateful to them. This year Iain, Kate, and Richard were back (and Kate was running this time) and we were joined by a new friend I have made since starting my job at CNR: Chris. Chris had done the Lairig Ghru race and since I've got to know him he has done the D33 and the Fling and wants to do WHW in 2016 so he was very keen to crew and see what it was all about.

Here are the Stonehaven folk at Milngavie:

Leon, me, Nicola R, Rhona, Nicola S, Karen
Karen was going for a 4th goblet, Nicola R and I were both going for our 3rd, and Leon, Rhona, and Nicola S were lining up for the first time. I was just wanting to get started! I had taken a half day off work to go home to get some sleep which I managed, but not as much as planned because my street is opposite a school and it gets quite noisy with car doors slamming at pick up time. Iain, Chris, and I drove down to Glasgow and arrived at 9pm just in time for registration. The plan was for Richard and Kate to stay up North and get a good night's sleep and meet us in Tyndrum the next day.

Start: Milngavie 01:00 20/6/15

The start was the same as usual until about 5 minutes in to the race when suddenly a heap of runners were running towards us with headtorches blazing! Some of the fast guys had missed a turning. Luckily I was not going fast enough to miss any turnings at any point! I ran with the two Nicolas mainly, but chatted to a few other folk for the first section. I found it quite busy but was pleased to see Gavin and Minty. Iain and Chris were at the Beech Tree Inn just to say hello. The run to Drymen was drizzly and it was not so good for vision with the headtorch, but I'll never complain when I can compare it to the monsoon of 2012! We saw bats and it was really dark as there was no moon but it was soon daylight again, although misty, so we couldn't see Conic Hill until later than usual. The view from Conic was still breathtaking and I took lots of care walking down the hill as the rocks were slippy and I was paranoid about falling. 

CP1: Balmaha 04:00 20/6/15  19 miles
Leg Time: 04:00    Position 142

Cup of tea

Chris getting comfy


I reached Balmaha on schedule and had a lovely cup of tea. It was good to see Iain and Chris. There was practically no faffing and I was on my way again. I was still with the Nicolas at this point and we were all doing well. 

CP2: Rowardennan 06:00 20/6/15  27 miles
Leg Time: 02:00    Position 137

Can't remember much about the run to Rowardennan except that I was enjoying myself and feeling good. This was the first drop bag point and I was determined not to faff. It was good to see Christina there and I was sorted for water and my drop bag in super quick time. I used the loo and so did the Nics but I was ready to go before them and I made the choice to go on my own as I was feeling so good. They would catch me up anyway I was sure. I really loved the next section, I was on a bit of a high and I met Stan Bland and we had a long chat. I love meeting people and hearing their stories, In how many races does that happen? That's why ultras are special. I was very inspired by him and was chuffed to see he got a PB. Keep it steady! That's the way to do it. Inversnaid came surprisingly quickly and I got my second drop bag. I think the Nics caught me up at Inversnaid and we carried on together. Before Bein Glas Nic R and I went ahead but by the time we reached Bein Glas there were only 5 minutes in it. 

Iain and Mike at Bein Glas
CP3: Beinglas Farm 10:10 20/6/15  42 miles
Leg Time: 04:09    Position 128

Another good checkpoint experience, I didn't sit down and I ate and drank. I asked Iain for suncream and he didn't have it handy which was a shame as I ended up with sunburned arms. The sun had broken through a few times but it still seemed cloudy. Doesn't stop sunburn when you are outside for so many hours though. I walked out of the checkpoint with Nicola R and we didn't get too far out before Nic S joined us. I was still running a lot at this stage but they were stronger than me by now and went ahead. The roller coaster was ok,, I had some knee pain starting but my legs were alright and I ran a lot of it. Auchtertyre seemed a long time coming but finally I saw Richard and Iain and the welcome sight of the checkpoint.

CP4: Auchtertyre 12:43 20/6/15  51 miles
Leg Time: 02:33    Position 124

Being a diva

Richard, Kate, and Iain
Richard ran back to the crew to let them know I had arrived and they got my tea and a chicken tikka curry ready. This was one of those camp food freeze dried meals and it was very fine! I got weighed first and there were no problems. I had a sit down to eat my curry and drink more tea, which went against my original plans for the race. I had thought I would try and walk through all the checkpoints carrying any food but by the time I got to Auchtertyre I wanted to take the weight off my feet and have a rest. My race time had already become irrelevant to me, I just wanted to enjoy it and get my goblet. I took painkillers for my knees at this point too. Iain ran with me to Tyndrum and we got caught up on the race chat. It's a huge boost to be allowed a buddy runner and I was really happy at this point. I saw Rhona's Mum and Dad which was nice too. I liked chatting to the other crew folk at Tyndrum and I used the facilities at the Green Welly.

CP5: Bridge of Orchy 15:20 20/6/15  60 miles
Leg Time: 02:36    Position 112

Towards BoO with Amanda & Lorna in front

Bridge of Orchy

Richard took over buddy running duties at Tyndrum and we had a good catch up of all our usual chat. We have trained together almost every Saturday morning for our long runs since we did our first half marathon together in 2008 so we know what we like to talk about. Politics mainly and current affairs, music, and books. We share books so we can chat about them. I was starting to feel a wee bit nauseous a couple of miles after Tyndrum and I still don't know why. I was eating and drinking and taking the electrolyte tablets but maybe not enough. It was very humid and I'm not used to that so I wondered if that was it. So I didn't have as good a section as I did last year but it was OK. It was nice to see Amanda and Lorna running well. Another highlight was Colin marshalling and giving out hugs. At least Bridge of Orchy was relatively midge-free this year, in fact I wasn't bothered as much as normal so that was a big plus. Kate was my friendly face at BoO and she spurred us on out the checkpoint. I am always happy to leave BoO because the next wonderful thing to happen along the Way is Jelly Baby Hill where Murdo the Magnificent is dishing out the jelly babies and hugs and Peter is playing the penny whistle. Truly worth doing the race just for this sight:
Peter playing a tune

I didn't feel at my best for the run down from JBH and walked a bit. I decided I would have a sleep at Glencoe and see if that would perk me up. But first I had to negotiate Rannoch Moor. We met a bunch of mountain bikers who were doing a charity ride of the WHW in 3 days which I think is amazing, can't imagine taking mountain bike over the lochside section! They were nice guys. Mike saw us when he was running out to meet Rhona. He said hurry up Vikki, it's nearly your bridge! Chris also ran out to meet us and he was a smiley, bouncy thing all the way to Glencoe. I was at this point dreaming about the chips I was going to eat when I got to Glencoe.

me and Murdo
So I finally arrived at Glencoe and I said to my crew I would like a 20 minute sleep, followed by chips. So they said ok, and I slept in my car and they went to the cafe. They returned with the terrible news: NO CHIPS!!!!! I was so late they had stopped doing chips apparently. But this was weird, I was actually at Glencoe earlier than last year and they had chips then. Never mind, they bought me some tomato soup which was fine. I felt a lot better and got going again after quite a long stop. This is where I started to take much longer than last year.

CP6: Glencoe 18:35 20/6/15  71 miles
Leg Time: 03:14    Position 112

Someone getting pumped
Feeling suitably refreshed I carried on my race with Chris and Kate for the best bit - going over the Devil. It was so nice to finally run with Kate and get all her chat. She has some stories about people that could be made in to a film, honestly, glad my life is not that complicated! Perfect for keeping me going though. We caught up with Rhona at this point and chatted for a while. I passed her but I had a feeling she'd overtake on the way down, (I was right) as I was planning to walk down. I didn't want to make the same mistake as last year and feel even more sick at KLL.

Add caption


I was having highs and lows over the Devil and Kate did her thing of singing to keep our spirits up. This time she sang most of Les Mis, and some Wicked and I sang the Aristocats - Siamese Cat song. Chris told some jokes and they were both great fun. I took a long time over this section and ended up in the dark before KLL and reached it 1hr 20 mins slower than last year, so a PB was unlikely now.

CP7: Kinlochleven 23:08 20/6/15  81 miles
Leg Time: 04:33   Position 120

So as you can see my leg time was terrible (I took 02:54 last year) and I had dropped back 8 places in the race due to sleeping and faffing about in Glencoe and being slow for the bit I should have been running. What the hell, I was still enjoying it and I was very relieved to see the friendly faces of Julie and Sarah and others at KLL. I was weighed and everything was fine, I was compos mentis but I needed another sit down and another cuppa. The midgies were inside the building so I tried not to stay too long. I asked Iain if he would do the next bit with me and he was annoyed as this was changing the plan, but I knew the next bit was the toughest section and I needed him with me.
Another cup of tea? Relaxing at KLL

 I don't know how long I was at KLL for but it was too long. One happy note was seeing Dave H marshalling outside the community centre. I told him your turn next year! Richard wanted to do the next bit as it was the only bit of the way he hadn't done. Unfortunately the rain had started and by the time we had finally finished the steep climb out of KLL it was very heavy. Luckily we all had waterproofs although my waterproof trews were in my back pack and I didn't want to put them on. Richard was the best prepared and when I started getting a cold he gave me a spare down jacket to put on under my waterproof, I was very cosy. I was not a happy bunny though. Iain is a speedy walker and he held my hand to stop me slipping but sometimes I felt he was pulling me a bit and I would stumble. I kept trying to run a few little sections but the pointy stones shredded my feet and it was so wet and miserable. Basically this was the low point of my race abut it only lasted 3 hours. I was looking forward to seeing Jeff and the Wilderness rescue guys but when we got to them they were gone. We later found out they were rescuing someone. The wonderful big bonfire that greeted me at Lundavra last year was not there this year - fizzled out in the rain. Never mind, I got in my car for a change of clothes on my lower half. Iain gave me my trackies and a towel but I didn't manage to get my trackies on, they seemed too tight! I think I hadn't dried myself properly. Couldn't find any pants either so I ended up going commando wearing Iain's trackies with my waterproof trews over the top plus a vest, long sleeve WHW race garment, down jacket, plus waterproof jacket. Iain and Richard drove to Fort William for a well-deserved shower at the leisure centre while Chris and Kate took over for the last section. It's only a 10k says Kate! She's right, it's not far and you've got to forget the rest and go for it. She shoved a mars bar down my throat and they told me to run so we could finish! I felt a lot better and had a great last section. We met a guy called Steve who didn't have a support runner with him and he joined us for the last few miles.

On the very last leg

It was nice to chat with another runner, and although he was from Manchester he had done the Stonehaven Half mara!

I went from 120th to 108th between KLL and FW and I must admit every time I saw someone in the distance it gave me a target. Chris said it was noticeable that I sped up when I saw someone up ahead. I didn't expect to see Rhona again but I there she was walking with Ali and Mike. When I caught her up she said I was looking strong and I said it was the mars bar. I said it was not long to go now and said I'd see her at the finish. When I got to the top of the fire road I started running and had to take my jackets off! I actually peaked too early, 3 miles is a long way to run after 92 miles! Steve was with me and we walked a bit again until we got to Fort William and saw the 30 mph sign. I said to him he should go first since I felt he was quicker than me, but he told me to go first. Iain by then had walked up to meet us and we ran together to the finish and that wonderful sight of the leisure centre doors.

Finish: Fort William 28:45 21/6/15  95 miles
Leg Time: 05:36   Position 108

Finish at last

Me with my fab crew and the goblet

When you are running down that fire road you feel that the finish will never come, but it does. And with it another cup of tea and more chatting with friends. Rhona finished not long after me so I was soon on my feet cheering her at the finish and giving her a hug. We could read the results on the computer at the leisure centre and I was pleased to see the two Nicolas had already finished in great times. Karen's crew were at the finish and she would soon be finishing the race too. I'm very proud of our club folk that we all finished.

If there are any folk reading this who are contemplating doing the WHW race I say go for it. You must really want to do it to put yourself through the pain (which for most folk there is at times) and love running. For me it is not about the time or the goblet but the whole experience. I was having a great race this year until BoO  but after that there were still many fun times and the last 6 miles were awesome. The curry with Rhona and crew after was superb and the afterparty was the best one yet, Minty made it to chucking out time!! *faints*. I was on such a high I ended up doing karaoke with Chris and another Richard from my club (crew for Sean McMimm). Not Richard C, he was sober (and sensible!). Who should we meet but the mountain bikers from Rannoch Moor! We ended up pogoing to Loch Lomand by Runrig which was an amazing finish to the evening.

The beautiful goblets

 I said after the race that I wouldn't enter the ballot for 2016 as I have done it two years in a row and it's time to let others have a chance. Several friends have already said they will enter the ballot so it will be exciting to find out who has got in and I will support someone else. Then 2017 I'll be entering again. Picking your crew is very important and I picked very well as they were brilliant. Even when they admitted to me later in the pub that the 20 minute nap I thought I had at Glencoe was actually 12 minutes, they lied to me!! But I don't mind, they did the right thing. So my next challenge is at the end of August and I fear it may be tougher than WHW! At least it is not a race but a social cycle with tea and cake. Right up my street :-)

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Playing with LEGO

So, this is shanksi-nxt-droid-b0. I'm thinking of calling him "Bo" but the next version might be "Bi" and I'm not sure where we go after that.

What is it? It's a simple LEGO Nxt based robot that I constructed.

Why? Well, LEGO's fun, and robots are cool, and it seemed like a good idea.

The idea is to build a (semi) autonomous robot using the LEGO Mindstorms platform and a smartphone. So far, I've just been playing with some modified ripped off code in order to build a system where I can use my phone to control the LEGO. Hopefully I'll blog more with enhancements, thoughts, links to code etc.