You Can’t Lock A Good Man Down

The physical and mental challenges of training during lockdown

After 4 years where the mountains of Glencoe and the surrounding areas were almost like a gym for my brother and I, the events of 2020 have left my training unhinged to say the least. Sure, there’s been the varying degree of challenge to find a physical space to train but it’s the phycological aspects, the changes in routine and the ongoing uncertainty, which have made the task almost impossible for me. Less motivation to go out when there’s no mountains in my local council area and so much easier to stay in out of the rain when the government says we should be doing that anyway. Fair to say my approach has been a tad negative, perhaps even lazy, but I have managed to train of sorts in these crazy times. Here’s what I managed.

I remember the last free ramble before we were all locked down earlier this year. Myself, my brother Abel and my daughter Julia up in the Campsie Fells. We were huddled together to make ourselves heard over the wind as we discussed the next stage of a 6 mile circuit we were doing. 3 people from 3 households, 2 of us more than 5 miles from home in a different council Area than the one we lived in. No distance between us and not a facemask in sight. In that moment, none of us had the slightest idea just how much things were going to change.

It was during my training for the London Marathon that the main lockdown hit. My pace was pretty much, run a mile, walk for a few minutes and run a mile. Having reached 10.5 miles in training I knew it was going to be a very slow marathon but I was quietly confident of finishing. Almost at the same time, the country was locked down and the London Marathon was pushed out until 4th October. We were confined to our homes with one trip out a day for exercise and not to go more than 5 miles from our homes.

Stretching In The Living Room And Walking The Promenade

Training indoors was not new to me. I had developed a series of stretches which I did either before a run or just to get me moving at the start of the day. In my early 50s and a good bit overweight, I’m nowhere near as supple or as fit as I’d like to be. In the video below I describe the stretches I do and why I do them.

Daily Stretches

With the marathon now pushed out by over 6 months and less of a sense of urgency to reach peak fitness, my running pretty much stopped. Within the confines of that first lockdown I was walking from my flat, in the town of Prestwick on Scotland’s West Coast, to the beach and along the promenade and back. It was about 2.5 miles of total flat tarmac. Nowhere near far enough or fast enough for marathon training and nothing much really to prepare you for the mountains.

I was struggling to maintain my weight which was then at an all time high and the more I put on, the more thankful I was that my training was limited.

Climbing Suilven Between The Lockdowns

Suilven, remote and beautiful

At last the restrictions were lifted and we were able to move almost freely once more. My brother and I celebrated by packing up the tents and heading to the beautiful and remote area of Assynt for a few days to climb the spectacular mountain of Suilven. For me the 5 mile walk-in felt somewhat arduous as we tramped along the undulating path inland from the tiny coastal village of Lochinver with our tents and everything we needed for the next few days on our backs. Despite the effort, the sheer beauty of the place made everything well worth while and we soon had the tents up beside a small lochan at the foot of the mountain.

Our campsite beside a small lochan at the foot of Suilven

Though not as high as a Munro (Scottish mountain over 3,000ft) Suilven is a magnificent climb. A steep 1,000ft gulley took us up onto the bealach between the it’s 2 summits from which the views were stunning over the wilderness of Assynt and out to the coast. Turning right we started to alternately walk and scramble up towards the highest of Suilven’s 2 summits. Between the amazing views all the way back to Lochinver and the spectacular terrain through which we were ascending, there was never a dull moment. After weeks in my living Room, I’d been dreading coming out onto the hills again. Now among them at their very best, I was thrilled.

Spectacular Route to the top of Suilven

Marathon Cancelled, The Isle Of Arran And A Mountain Above Tyndrum

On my return from Suilven, I started to focus again on running to get ready for the marathon. For the rest of the summer I built myself up to 45 minute runs with small walks between them following the Basic London Marathon Training Schedule set out by Martin Yelling. When the news finally broke that the marathon was cancelled for all but elite athletes, my resolve to keep running broke with it. After an extremely long and weary half marathon in training, I had to admit that I just wasn’t fit enough even to cover the newly arranged ‘run your own marathon’ event. By this time I had booked a trip back to Nepal early next year where I’ll be meeting up with some old friends on the second half of the trip and spending a few nights on Everest Base Camp. It was time to think about getting Mountain Fit again.

The rules of level three were not too restrictive when it came to reaching mountains. Travel between areas of the same level was not restricted which meant, in South Ayrshire, I had access to the Isle of Arran in North Ayrshire and the mountains near Crianlarich and Tyndrum in the Stirling Council Area which was also at level three.

Arran in the morning mist

My first trip was onto Arran where I covered a 9 mile circuit between Brodick Bay, where the ferry arrived, and the neighbouring bay of Lamlash. In the outward leg, along the coast, the going was quite tough with boggy and rocky terrain underfoot for several miles. The return inland, over a small 400ft rise, was on tarmac road and clear paths. The views across to the Goatfell mountain range and over to Brodick Bay were fantastic.

The summit of my second, and biggest, mountain in 2020 came when I went with my brother to Beinn Odhar at just under 3,000ft above Tyndrum. My brother had already managed several mountains and spectacular routes this year but this was only my second big climb. It was good to travel the familiar route out along the banks of loch Lomond to Tyndrum for the first time in ages and great to get plodding up a mountain once more.

Beinn Odhar

My brother and I managed one more trip to Arran whilst still in Level 3 and this time covered an undulating and boggy circuit out to Glen Rosa at the foot of the Goatfell range. It was another 9 miles underfoot and, though for me the training sessions were becoming all too rare, the terrain and the distance made this another good training session.

Looking back towards Glen Rosa on Arran

Training Closer To Home

As the year drew to a close and the nights were closing in, the Lockdown rules for South Ayrshire along with many other regions in Scotland, tightened still further. Under Level 4 restrictions, you are not meant to leave your local council area unless for work or essential travel.

I started my training in this phase by clambering along the rocks just north of the small coastal village of Dunure. The distance of the route was less than 3 miles but I wanted to get some rocky, uneven terrain under my feet as it always helps to maintain the ‘mountain legs’. What I came to realize however is that, no matter how rugged and rocky the shore, it’s generally on a level gradient which simply doesn’t compare to the steep rocky ascents and descents I’d come to know among the mountains. I clambered out and back along the shore with far too little effort.

Clambering among the rocks north of Dunure

On the plus, I started to explore the South Ayrshire section of Galloway Forest Park and exploring some great walks in the region of Loch Bradan. There are some paths but a lot of open, boggy ground which is perfect for map reading. So far I’ve just had one short recce of the area and another slightly longer walk with my brother who is recovering from surgery. I certainly have some good walks planned in that area among the high ground to the south of the loch and over towards the much larger Loch Doon.

Loch Braden, Galloway Forest Park

I find myself going into the Christmas Season having put on a stone through this unprecedented year. I would probably describe my fitness as just about average and with a lot of progress to make before I head back out to Nepal at the end of March next year. That said, the ‘good fight’ may have been somewhat more rare and reluctant this year than in previous years but it’s never fully left me. I’m now eagerly waiting for the world to open up again so that we can get out amongst it and living more adventures.

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