Friday, 17 January 2014

Winter Training in Scotland

 I generally don’t really enjoy writing about training, but winter training in Scotland is not just training, winter training in Scotland is a crash course in “how to toughen up in 10 days and stay tough".
I arrived in Kirriemuir at the end of October after 10 days of cycling in the South of France in lovely warm weather. I started my job straight away as my European Xterra Extravaganza had left me with quite a bit of debt and after 4 months off I was eager to be a veterinarian again. Being a horse vet means that on a busy day I will be outside 80-90% of the time enduring whatever the weather throws at you. In Scotland that meant I had to deal with temperatures way below my level of comfort. And it took a good few weeks and a wardrobe readjustment for me to not to be all crunched up and turn into the hunch back of Notre dame in an attempt to stay warm.
After a busy morning working out in the cold I was patiently listening to years of clinical history of one of my patients whilst trying to cope with a sharp icy cold wind against my face. Half way through the very detailed list of ailments the horse had had for the last 5 years,  the owner  of the horse stopped mid-sentence looked at me worried and asked “are you alright?” by this stage my jaws had frozen stiff so I could only nod yes. “your lips have turned blue” she said. It took a nice hot cup of tea and two chocolate biscuits to snap me out of my hypothermic state. From then on the lovely woman had a cup of tea and biscuits waiting for me whenever I had to visit her yard to treat any of her horses.

Having started my athletic career in Singapore from which I moved to Australia, I didn’t own any winter training gear as I had never needed it.  I was told I had to invest in some good cycling booties and gloves, it was only Autumn I thought, I will be alright for a while to come. I thought wrong.
On one of my first weekends in Kirriemuir I decided to go for a descent bike ride up to the local ski field Glenshee, I calculated it to be roughly a 3-4hr ride with a great amount of climbing which would keep me nice and warm. ( In a blond moment I forgot that what goes up must come down)When the day came and the weather conditions were less than ideal, I still went ahead with the ride. I did not want to let my boss down who so kindly had mapped out the cycle route for me. After a good 4hrs on the bike I returned, barely able to move with frost bites all over my feet (I had to google it to make sure that was what they were as I had never seen them before). It took an hour in a hot bath to remotely turn back to normal. Although the scenery of the ride was absolutely amazing, the hail storm high in the hills was not. Determined to finish the ride I made it to the top. I had to descend in below zero temperatures and extreme winds which was close to insanity. Unlike Sydney I did not pass any petrol stations or cafés on my ride in order to regain my core temperature. I did get some comforting beeps from cars passing by. I never saw one other cyclist on the road that day, or many of the other days I went out for a long ride in wet conditions.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch, hugging a hot water bottle and buying winter cycling gear online, but I still haven’t  managed to find gloves or booties able to keep my hands and feet warm on a long ride through the Scottish country side. It was only Autumn with the winter still to come. I suddenly realised why the Euro’s were such tough competitors. If you can beat the wind, snow, hail, rain in these temperatures on any training ride or run, you can beat anything.
Whilst I was struggling with the Scottish winter training conditions, my training pal, a Husky cross Shepherd called Fynn was coping much better. In Sydney he would barely keep up with me on any of my runs, loving the snow here he was the one hard to keep up with! But even Fynn had to toughen up, the first time he sighted water at one of the local Lochs he enthusiastically threw himself in it being used to the comfortable water temperatures of the ponds at Centennial park in Sydney. I wish I had a camera to capture the look on his face when he hit the water “what the *****!!” , he run out as enthusiastically as he run in and didn’t touch the water for a few weeks.

I decided to learn from the locals and team up with the marathon trail runner of our veterinary practice for a training run. If he was able to train during the winter time for his ultra-marathon’s so should I for my triathlons. We left straight after work which meant it was pretty dark. I was following  him up a hill (mountain) in the pitch black wearing head torches and wet weather gear, I felt like I was about 5kg heavier with all my layers of clothing on. Watching where to place my feet with a bare minimum of light made the run just as hard as the incline of the hill. I realised this now had become the reality of my training conditions. When he left me behind for dead on the downhill whilst I was worrying about breaking an ankle in the slippery darkness of the forest I knew it was time to toughen up. It was a relief to make it safely down to the bottom, 3 more repeats I was told by Gavin with a torturing smile (the run had 200m elevation gain over just over a km each repeat)!
Since then I have struggled my way through snow storms on my hill runs following Fynns paw prints, I have grinded my teeth when I believed my hands and feet were going to fall off towards the end of a long cycle, and I have faced my fear of the dark going out for runs after work with no city light for support. The most comfortable place these winter months has been the Dundee pool. And although I have to leave my warm bed just after 5am to squeeze in swim squad before work, the pool is nicely warm, brightly lit and the girls from the Dundee City Aquatics and coach Chic are bubbly enthusiastic. The place to be this winter!

 Whilst I am dreaming of being a proper professional athlete escaping winter and training in perfect weather conditions I am putting a new meaning to the saying “rain, hail or shine”.  Whilst I shrivel up in hot baths in between training session, the smell of wet gear drying on every available radiator is taking over my home. The joy of winter training. Whilst the cold months are passing by (slowly) I am dealing with them, and I must say, there is no better feeling then sitting on the couch with dog Fynn, enjoying a hot cup of coco after a long day of work and hard training. If Scotland doesn’t make me stronger I don’t know what will!!

"Bad weather always looks worse through a window"


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