If Running were Everything ...

As a lad I used to spend Hogmanay with my friends at some remote and basic cabin, far away from the noise and clutter of the city. There were two customs we invariably welcomed the New Year in with. We chucked one of our mates into the nearest pond to mark his birthday (which meant cutting a hole though the ice the evening before). And then we sat down and each wrote a letter to themselves, reflecting on the year just gone by, hoping for the future, one of the more responsible lads charged with keeping the, gradually thickening, envelopes from Hogmanay to Hogmanay.

I still have that old envelope full of my teenage dreams somewhere, though it’s been many years since I’ve added a page; different times, different place. Yet, I was reminded of it yesterday reflecting on 2017, recalling with unexpected clarity that every year reading the previous year’s letter I was struck by how differently it panned out, indeed, how often those very aspirations were swept away by the flow of time.

If running was everything, and running stats something to worry about, with a mere 1,353km run and just 47,100m ascended, this would have been a decisively poor year. But running is not everything, and I couldn’t care less about stats.

It kicked off pretty well, with a late February trip to the remote Strathfarrar hills, providing minimal support to John Fleetwood on his Strathfarrar Watershed challenge. It was the first bigger outing I was able to do since October of the year before, and one which exceeded expectations—well worth an Achilles heel injury I picked up along the way, even if it kept me out of the hills for the next couple of months.

As always, our two week holiday in Assynt didn’t disappoint. The highlights included an extended variation on the Coigach Horseshoe, a run from Inchnadamph to Kylesku over the Stack of Glencoul (something I wanted to do for years, but never got to) and, what ultimately turned out to be my best, most memorable, day in the hills this year, a run taking in the south ridge of Ben More Assynt. That too came at a cost, another foot injury, one that, unfortunately, has plagued me for the rest of the year.

June brought the West Highland Way Race, on which Linda and I were crewing for our friend David, and while the whole trail running / ultra scene is not my kind of a thing, this was a truly special experience, and all in all possibly the most memorable weekend of our year.

In July Linda and I spent an excellent weekend fast-packing in the Cairngorms, and I also managed to squeeze in the Eastern Mamores and Grey Corries that eluded me last year, plus a couple of fun days on the south side of Glen Etive. But by the end of July I could no longer ignore the nasty plantar fasciitis I picked up in Assynt. By mid September the foot seemed back to normal, but only lasted a couple of trail runs while on a visit to Portland, OR, and I haven’t run since.

I admit, over the last five months I have really missed running, not least because of the inescapable loss of fitness and the sniggering bathroom scale. There really is nothing like it, the simplicity, the lack of faffing, the fact I can run seven days a week from my front door if I want to.

Yet, at the same time, that gap created new opportunities. I have been spending more time in the woods, with no objectives, just binoculars and/or a camera. In many ways this has been very liberating, bringing back memories, and reminding me how much I miss proper forests in Scotland.

Then there have been numerous wee camping trips. I much prefer these to just single day hikes. I like the peace and quiet of the night in the hills you get even in the middle of a raging storm, the uninterrupted time, to think, to listen to audio books (having reached an age where reading glasses have become a necessity, I avoid reading in the tent). The early mornings, the first light. (But also, during the single days out I always find myself wishing I was running, knowing that most of the time I could travel farther, along a more interesting route.)

And then, of course, after some nine months of planning, last May we have launched runslessepic.scot, offering bespoke guiding services, navigation courses, as well as a rudimentary Hillcraft for Runners course. We are planning some guided hillrunning weekends in the summer, watch this space ...

So yes, that was my year. 2018? All I know is, it starts tomorrow, and I am going for a run first thing!