Running across Scotland from east to west was a huge success. Whilst the wildlife sightings were distinctly underwhelming (no golden eagles, no red squirrels and only a small heard of apologetic deer on the penultimate day), the scenery was fantastic. Winding our way up the rough track at the head of Glen Affric before bounding and whooping our way down the other side, with the waterfalls and streams tumbling off the Kintail mountains now flowing alongside us for the first time, was the absolute highlight. Not even 22 miles of incessant rain and an ice-cream headache inducing wind could dampen our spirits after that and we hobbled across the bridge to the Isle of Skye already planning future runs.
Whether it was the run across Scotland that helped get me through London marathon, or the incredible atmosphere and cheering crowds, that was another day to remember. A punchy mix of bone-rattling bass from countless bands and speakers, bowls of jelly babies and slices of orange, smiles and shouts of encouragement from strangers, and the determination of all those runners who made it to the start line, never mind the finish. With survival my only goal, I soaked up the atmosphere and took in on the chin when a rhino overtook me in the final mile. Within 24 hours of finishing – with so many muscles still groaning and my running shoes sticky with Lucozade – I entered the ballot for the 2020 Virgin London marathon. Fingers crossed!
Really I should be cycling. Cycling from Alaska to Mexico will hurt less if I train more now. However, I have a couple of marathons coming up – London in April and Edinburgh in May – and I want them to hurt as little as possible too. As part of my training, I am travelling to Inverness this weekend to attempt to run coast to coast across Scotland. That’ll be from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, approximately 86 miles over five days. Some will be over fairly friendly terrain, alongside Loch Ness for example, while other sections will be remote and more gruelling.
Elements of the trip will undoubtedly parallel the Gray Whale Cycle: getting up each day with a destination to reach and only myself to make it happen, watching the scenery evolve as I progress, documenting and sharing my journey as I go, cursing headwinds and, hopefully, having a sense of achievement when I reach my goal. Whilst I’m not convinced that running fitness equates to cycling fitness, I’m excited to consider this a practise run.
Preparing for the Gray Whale Cycle has been difficult while I’ve been working offshore this year. As often happens in the offshore industry, two 10-day surveys quickly became 43 days at sea. It was a great project and I’m absolutely not complaining, it’s just the way things go. There wasn’t much time on the ship for reading up on gray whales, nor sufficient WiFi to be Googling cycling routes and stopovers, and my spells on the gym’s spin bike were shorter and less frequent than I would have liked (quite unlike my cake stops in the ship’s galley). Something that remained achievable though, was my daily Duolingo practise.
There’s no way round it, I’m terrible at languages. Even when I have previously grasped a little French (from five long years of secondary school lessons) or Swahili (whilst working in Kenya for six months), I’ve not had the nerve to practise what little I know, out loud and with actual people. This time I’m working to change that. This blog post hereby serves as an apology to the unsuspecting people of Mexico who will have my new skills unleashed upon them, a thank you to Duolingo’s little green owl for its patience and unwavering support (even if it seems tinged with sarcasm at times) and a pledge to stick with the daily Duolingo practise. That way, come the autumn, I’ll be ready and confident to habla español a todo el mundo.
It has now been over a month since I heard that I have been awarded the David Henderson Inspiring Journey grant and the news still excites and terrifies me in equal measure. Being anxious about a plan is a surefire way of knowing it’s a good one, so I’m not overly concerned about that. More of a worry is how much of the last month I spent sitting around eating mince pies and Terry’s chocolate orange.
With that in mind I have been making a concerted effort to get out on my bike when I can, which wasn’t today because I was hurrying to catch a flight. It’s not tomorrow either; I’ll be on another plane then. Then I board a ship the day after. Luckily it’s a ship with an exercise bike and a treadmill, but also with excellent and abundant food. The struggle is real.
As well as training, there are routes to plan, people to
contact, kit lists to refine and anti-bear strategies to devise. I’ve more
questions than answers right now: are any of the ultra-light tents on the
market really weather-proof? Can I remember how to repair a punctured inner
tube? Do muffins really cost $5 in Alaska? My to-do lists (yes, there’s more
than one and none are written in the notebook I bought especially for the task)
keep on growing and October is creeping closer. It’s time to get moving; the
count down has begun!