Robert Louis Stevenson was no hill runner. Not that such a pursuit would have occurred to the Edinburgh novelist. In Stevenson’s lifetime, running up hills was not a thing, certainly not in the recreational sense. It was not until 1895 – a year after his death – that a man decided to time himself to run from Fort William to the summit of Ben Nevis and back.
But Stevenson was a visionary: he defined a sport that had not even been invented. Continue reading →
Some years ago I was running in the Eastern Fells of the Lake District. As I descended a mountain called High Street, I passed a walker. He shook his head. ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ he shouted incredulously into the breeze. I smiled. Encumbered by boots and bag, I wondered the same: How do you do it?
I know what you might be thinking: you are with the walker on this one. Running is hard enough. Why increase the struggle by adding hills and mountains? The prospect is absurd. Nonetheless, hear me out.
I have never told you how much you mean to me. Until now.
I did not want you at first. All those years ago, when I first saw you – in the flesh, not just in those glossy pictures on the web that I couldn’t stop gazing at – I was not sure. I didn’t know then that I needed you. I went away. I left you. But I never stopped thinking about you. I was young and indecisive. I came back. I realised you were worth it.
A British expat living in Thailand was visiting a tourist centre on Koh Chang when a photograph, purportedly of the island’s Kai Bae beach, engaged his attention. To the casual observer, nothing was amiss. Here was an illustration of the unerring beauty of the Koh Chang coastline: a white-sand beach, a cobalt sea, a shimmering sky. It was unquestionably a Thai paradise.
Or not, for something was indeed amiss. This was no Thai beach, the expat realised. It was a beach on Berneray, a Hebridean island pitched off the west coast of Scotland, some 6,000 miles from south-east Asia. The hills in the Continue reading →
Iain Whiteside was running. What was Whiteside thinking about when he was running? Strava, of course. ‘I realised I had spent the previous 30 minutes thinking about what I was going to name this run,’ he admitted. Whiteside stopped running. He was on Braid Hill in Edinburgh. Inspiration came to him: ‘At a standstill on Braid Hill,’ he would later write on his Strava feed. Literally.
For Whiteside, the Braid Hill moment was the second part of an epiphany. The first half came in a Keswick café after an attempt on a winter Bob Graham round had floundered in deep snow at the Back o’Skiddaw. Continue reading →
In the course of researching for my next book I came across the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame. Established in 2002, the hall of fame ‘celebrates and pays tribute to Scotland’s iconic sports men and women from the past 100 years, and inspires future generations’. The aims are noble and – as it led by sportscotland, ‘the national agency for sport’ – it has credibility. In total, 26 sports are represented, from the more obvious Scottish pursuits of football, golf and rugby to the minority sports of shooting, table tennis and water polo.
Furthermore, the list recognises the sports that define what it is to be Scottish Continue reading →
I was planning a break from running today. But then I had cause to go to IKEA. And the panorama of the snow-capped Pentlands from the car park of aforementioned Swedish emporium was like gazing up at a hill runners’ nirvana. And my running stuff happened to be in the car just in case. So I drove to Flotterstone and ran uphill. Now at home and poised in front of a laptop, I am searching for an appropriate adjective to describe what I saw. Lots come to mind: scintillating, breathtaking, inspiring, beautiful… They all sound cliché, though. You know what, I can’t grasp the right word, the word I really want. But it was scintillating, breathtaking, Continue reading →
Having only lived in Scotland for five months, snow still excites me. ‘It’s snowing!’ I announce to the household whenever the stuff starts falling from the sky. ‘It’s snowing,’ I tell my daughter, frogmarching her to the window. ‘Look at the snow,’ I point. ‘Look at it!’ She shrugs and walks off.
Snow comes and goes in the promiscuous Pentlands. The hills can be clad in white one day, only to be stripped under the cover of darkness. On Friday, 24 hours before the annual Carnethy 5 hill race, the Pentlands were brazenly green and brown; by Saturday morning, modesty had intervened: they were clothed like a virginal bride. Continue reading →
I am running down a hill. I am running down a hill in Scotland. I am running down a hill while holding the hand of my shrieking two-year-old daughter. I am running down a hill while wincing from a dull, groaning pain in an ankle. I am running down a hill in jeans and a jumper. I am running down a hill, nonetheless. From high on the Pentland Hills, Edinburgh is at my feet.
I live here. I live in Scotland.
I can breath.
The Pentlands today are a green and brown cluster of hills stretching 20 miles from Biggar to Edinburgh; some 430 Continue reading →
Sitting at home, dry and warm and for the first time in almost 36 hours, I re-read the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) blurb: ‘Held in some of most remote locations and at a time of year when conditions can be extremely challenging, the OMM is meant to be hard.’
Soon after finishing my first OMM, I was asked for three words to define the experience – the experience of slogging for 13 hours across tussock mazes, calf-deep heather and frigid bog, covering some 40 miles while ascending and descending around 3,000 metres. It was too soon to rationally coordinate my thoughts. It is only now that a single word to describe the Continue reading →
Midges clung to the perspiring face of Emilie Forsberg as she caught her breath. Forsberg – an extraordinarily talented Swedish ultrarunner and girlfriend of the equally extraordinarily talented Kilian Jornet – had spent the previous eight hours running across towering summits and precipitous ridges in the Highlands as skyrunning came to Scotland for the first time.
‘How was it?’ I asked. ‘It’ being the inaugural Glen Coe Skyline race, the Scottish leg of the 2015 Skyrunning UK National Series.
She smiled. ‘I am so happy,’ she said. ‘That was so cool. Pure mountains.’ Forsberg Continue reading →
Lots of obstacle races claim to be the toughest thing out there. Do you think that’s true?
There is a place for obstacles races. Tough Mudder, for instance, laudably promotes teamwork over the individual, and raises millions of pounds for charity. It is the rhetoric that is laughable. At the south west Tough Mudder, ‘you will soon think you’ve stumbled into hell’. Tough Mudder, apparently, tests ‘physical strength and mental grit’. And the clichéd ‘hardcore’ is the umbrella term for Tough Mudder events. It is perspective, of course, but obstacle races are contrived. They are the natural off-shoot of a society dominated by social media. They are not real. Continue reading →