Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness

We took a day-long bus tour from Edinburgh through the Highlands up to Loch Ness. While the Highlands were spectacular and I’m so glad I got to see them, one day on a bus was not long enough! I wanted so badly to explore, but there just wasn’t time.

Now I want to go back and do some hiking, biking and trail running.

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The Kelpies

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I’m at my happiest in nature.

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We saw Nessie!

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There were so many bike and hiking paths and we didn’t get to explore any of them!

IMG_20180807_180842374IMG_20180807_183201179 (1)I searched every field hoping to spot a Highland Coo and actually saw a couple, but wasn’t able to get any pictures. They’re such cool creatures!

I may have developed a slight Highland Coo obsession while I was in Scotland.

Odyssey Trail Running Rampage half marathon (September 8, 2018)

This race has been on my radar for many years, but it never seemed to fit into my schedule.

Since I had two big overseas trips planned for spring and summer this year, I decided that I didn’t want the stress of training for a fall ultra. I registered for the half figuring that it would give me something to train for without feeling any pressure to get in really long trail runs (especially during the vacation weeks.)

I have to admit that a big draw for me for this race was that I knew there was a lake at Douthat State Park (where the race is held) and I was hoping I’d be able to jump in after I finished like I do at Conquer the Cove. I knew there was a good possibility that it would be one of those annoying swim-only-when-a-lifeguard-is-on-duty type of lakes, but that didn’t stop me from fantasizing.

Brian registered for the race too, and we made reservations at a local hotel. There are cabins at the park too, and in my earlier race-planning optimism, I pictured us spending the night convening with nature, waking up and leisurely sipping coffee on our lake-front porch before walking down the road to the start. But alas, the cabins are only available for two nights minimum on weekends.

So hotel it was.

Until it wasn’t. In the two weeks leading up to the race, Brian hurt his back and was no longer planning to run, we adopted a cat that our resident cat doesn’t like, and the weather forecast was calling for rain on race day. Driving down the night before and paying for a hotel no longer seemed worth it, so we decided to just drive down race morning. The half didn’t start until 10am and the drive was less than two hours. It just seemed to make more sense under the circumstances.

It was foggy and damp when we arrived at the park. There were tree branches and debris covering the ground. It looked like a big storm had just come through and apparently one had the night before. I was happy we weren’t tenting out (which had been another option I’d considered).

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There was a relaxed, low-key feel to the event. Runners doing the marathon and 40 miler had gear arranged in a circle on the far end of the field that they had access to when they came through after each 13.4 mile loop.

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When the RD described the course, he said the first mile was rolling, followed by a couple miles of climbing. To me, it felt like we were climbing from the time we turned out of the field and into the woods. I stayed in the conga line for the first mile or so as we all walked the steeper inclines and jogged the rest. I knew I didn’t want to push the pace too much early on, but after we’d been walking for a while at a much slower pace than I wanted, I mustered up the courage to ask if I could scoot by. I always hate doing that. When I hear someone behind me I always ask if they want to get by, or just move over so they can and I really appreciate when people do that for me. Many do.

Not long before I reached the top, I passed a lady who told me I was fifth woman. Seriously?! Could that be true? Was I going too fast? Was she confused about which distance I was doing?

The trail flattened out a bit as we headed to the first aid station at mile 3.5. It was overgrown in places and I tried not to freak out about all of the poison ivy that I was seeing. There were several blow-downs to hop over too.

The view from the aid station is supposed to be beautiful, but all I could see was fog. I didn’t need any water, so I just thanked the volunteers (who we were told had to hike in all that water) and was on my way. I was pleasantly surprised that the downhill wasn’t too technical. There were a few wet, rocky sections, but it was all totally runnable. Even so, I expected most of the people I’d passed on the way up to come flying by me, but only one guy did. I ran for maybe 2 or 3 miles before people started catching up, and only a few passed me.

The rain held off, but the humidity was pretty intense. Everyone was soaked. I was hot and thirsty and really glad that I had decided to start the race with my bladder about 1/3 filled with Nuun. I should have grabbed a water at the first aid station too, because I ran out of Nuun before the second aid station. When I got there, I drank a cup of Heed and a cup of water. I did the same thing at the third aid station.

As usual, the last couple of miles were the hardest. Mostly, I was hot and thirsty. I’d been looking forward to running by the lake, but by the time I got there the sun had come out and the heat was killing me. I would have gone a little faster if I’d known how close to the finish I was, though. My Garmin said I had almost a mile left to go when I crossed the finish line.

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The RD gave me a high-five. As far as I could tell, he stood there all day congratulating each runner as they finished.

I ended up placing 4th female which seems pretty crazy, but I’ll take it.

The race shirts and pint glasses for finishers were really nice. I love it when races give out something useful instead of medals.

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The race start/finish wasn’t on the lake and I wasn’t sure how to get to the beach. I also felt bad that Brian had gotten up early to drive me to the race and then hung around for hours in the humidity with the mosquitoes. Plus I wanted to get home to check on the kitties, so I never found out if I could have jumped in the lake. I did submerge myself in a little stream by the finish line, though. It felt good, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Maybe next year.

Brian and I have already registered for the 40 miler. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay a little longer to explore the park and maybe go for a swim. Although I think most Virginia State Parks only allow you to swim when there’s a lifeguard on duty.

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Glasgow, Scotland (August 2018)

My grandfather, John Smart, once told me that he considered himself the nut on the family tree and possibly out of step with the rest of the world. He then quickly assured me that he’s always been happy doing his own thing and does not regret the way he lived his life.

This is precisely why I’ve always admired the man so much.

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He was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1917.

In August, my family took a trip to his hometown.

The house he lived in is still standing.

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A couple of blocks from his house, my nephew scattered some of his ashes in the river Clyde.

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We took refuge from the chilly, wet, (typical) Scottish weather in a funky little bar and made a whisky toast in his honor.

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To John!

I think he would approve.

But I still don’t like whisky.

 

 

Scotland (August 2018)

Edinburgh

Such a beautiful and walkable city.

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Scott Monument

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Manna House Bakery & Patisserie

Our daily coffee and breakfast spot. The man at the cash register was there almost every day.  He told us he’d like to visit the U.S. sometime “when there’s a different president and my skin is a different color”.

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National Monument

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Dean Cemetary
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Pizza, yummy local beer and a few hands of War
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backyard at our airbnb

Holyrood Park

We were so lucky that our airbnb was less than a mile from this park!

I ran to Arthur’s Seat (the highest point in the park) on two of my morning runs and we did a family hike there one afternoon.

The 640 acre park has many miles of trails and offers 360° views of the city and the North Sea.

It was one of my favorite things about Edinburgh.

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Salisbury Crags

 

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St. Anthony’s Chapel

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

An awe inspiring performance and display. It did an amazing job of celebrating diversity and unity all at once.

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I also really enjoyed the bagpipes.

There’s definitely some Scottish blood in my veins.