Christmassy Cairngorms – a training hike at Minus 14C

Christmassy Cairngorms – a training hike at Minus 14C

Two things coincided recently in Scotland; 1.) Duffy was flying up for a meeting on the Monday morning; and 2.) a massive dump of snow in the Cairngorms was followed by clear weather. These two combined made for ideal reasons to head up North and get some quality (hard) miles of tabbing under our belt, carrying weight.

Distance: About 15miles (the Garmin died about 2 miles from the end)
Kit Carried: About 15kg.  Full winter kit, including crampons, ice axe, and a couple of kg of camera stabiliser.
Weather: Clear skies, deep snow, minus 14C.

As is the perpetual situation of any parent, asking your partner in crime to shoulder the full burden of an eleven month old baby and a potty training three year old is not something done lightly, or without huge sensations of guilt. So in order to actually use this occasion to reduce my time away from family, I decided to take some kit along to film stock for my new freelance website. The extra, unwieldy weight was probably the only price to pay with a benefit arriving in the form of more rest breaks. But permission granted, we set out.

The roads North to the Cairngorms were suspect, and Duffy’s rental Astra objected a few times but we got there ok. The weather was promising to offer up spectacular conditions and we weren’t disappointed to say the least.

cairngorms winter training

OK, so let’s start by saying that Duffy had already clocked 16 miles the day before doing Beinn a’Ghlo, and was brutally hungover following a late night catch up with his brother in law. That gave some hope of a level playing field, but hope that was soon to be dashed. The man eats up miles in the same way I have been eating up mince pies.

Getting out of the car was the first challenge of the day. Two other people reported the temp being -14C, which is a  bit cheeky. So you’re presented with the age old dilemma of  “do we start with warm kit on, and strip off, or just be brave”. We were cowards. There was no way in hell the buffalo was coming off until I was sweating profusely.

It must be said, the conditions in the Cairngorms were stunning. There is something utterly invigorating about crunching through the frozen forests from the Linn of Dee car park before opening out into wider vistas of sparkling hills on the way to Glen Lui. There was not a sole to be seen and it was totally silent, beyond the occasionally bird chirp and the gentle rustling of the river.

cairngorms snow river

Anyway, this was a training exercise and the aim had been to climb Devil’s Peak (a somewhat sanitised translation from the Gaelic to save Queen Vic’s blushes – though she was apparently a total randy mare so I doubt she’d have been shocked) from Linn of Dee in the 7 hours of daylight available to us. This required us to be in the Cairngorms at about half eight. Road conditions made this timeframe impossible, so we altered plans to just see how far we would get and enjoy the walk while we went.

The initial walk to Derry Lodge was simple, as that track was well used and shallow. Beyond that it started to get deeper, but still fairly simple until we started getting towards Luibeg Burn. The snow still wasn’t too deep, with a simple path of trodden snow weaving through the laden branches. After the burn however, Lordy, the pain started. Climbing from Luibeg Bridge around to the Lairig Ghru was exhausting, with each step seeing us drop to knee or nether regions in snow. The effort required to haul the leg out, sinking in with the other, then lurching forward, will surely be as good a preparation for the energy sapping sand dunes as any amount of powdered silica could be.

The weight we were carrying was certainly heavier than we’ll have to haul on the MdS. My old Craghopper’s rucksack has seen better days and wasn’t doing my back any favours so one take away is that the pack used in the desert will want to be packed with priority given to weight distribution. Hopefully the front pack can be used to counterbalance the backpack.

Having hauled ourselves to the highest point of the shoulder of Carn a’Mhaim, we stopped, dropped packs and took in the views of Devils Point as the sun dropped behind the hills.and what little warmth there was went with it. If things could have got more silent, I don’t know how. But then we realised we had a rapid tab out to undertake and it was on the way to darkness. Darkness in itself is not a problem, as we have headtorches, spare batteries, etc. But we wanted to get shifting before the next ice age descended on the car.

devils point in winter cairngorms

Without the time taken to film or take in the views, our pace dramatically increased on the way out. Duffy was habitually getting about 100-200m ahead of me every few miles, but that’s fine, given our event ambitions. What is reassuring is that after a hard few hours or total energy draining hiking, carrying perhaps 50-100% more than we will in the Sahara, we were able to maintain somewhere around the 4mph pace without too much issue. The other take away was that biltong is great food for the trail but causes serious lactic acid built up in the jaws when it is largely frozen.

A quality Cairngorms mountain day, in every definition of the term, and one which instils a bit of confidence in advance of the months of training ahead.



Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

Prime Beef Bars – Ultramarathon Race & Recovery Nutrition

Prime Beef Bars – Ultramarathon Race & Recovery Nutrition

Prime Bar – beefy goodness for weary bodies

The information you actually want, without having to read my chat.

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Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

Shin splints & shiny new shoes – Dad Bod Diaries #2

Shin splints & shiny new shoes – Dad Bod Diaries #2

Shin splints – they are the devil. A ridiculous level of discomfort for what they are but it doesn’t bear thinking about to try and train consistently through them for the next 8 months, let alone run the 150 miles through the desert at the end.

Wooaaaooo my shins are on fiiireee

So what are they? Well the NHS website (always go to a reliable source) is actually fairly vague, but states that shin splints is swelling of the tissue surrounding the shin bone. They list the likely causes of shin splints too

  • a sudden change in your activity level – such as starting a new exercise plan or suddenly increasing the distance or pace you run

Yep, whoops, typically me. I was doing ok at 2 miles so though “och, let’s just go up to 10”. My poor wee legs having my 16 stone frame crashing through them for 10 miles might have come as a shock.

  • running on hard or uneven surfaces

Yep, it’s mostly tarmac where I live.

  • wearing poorly fitting or worn-out trainers that don’t cushion and support your feet properly

I did not realise that trainers needed replacing. My Sauconys have done me proud for at least 7 years.

  • being overweight

I’ve only once managed to sneak into my recommended BMI range, and that was after 3 months living in Africa living off one meal of rice and beans per day (student debt induced diet). I’m a bit doughy at the moment, sure, but genetic inherited from a shot put chucking, caber tossing grandfather means that I am never likely to be a waif.

  • having flat feet or feet that roll inwards (known as over-pronation)

Well there you go, I thought I supinated (opposite of over-pronation) because I don’t feel much pressure through my big toe and the outside of my shoes wear out faster, but according to the gurus at Run and Become, I have a neutral, if slightly over-pronating gait. Which explains the splints I suppose.

  • having tight calf muscles, weak ankles, or a tight Achilles tendon (the band of tissue connecting the heel to the calf muscle)

Finally, one box I don’t tick. Though, my Achilles could do with a stretch now you come to mention it.

Off to get my gait analysed

In light of the above, I decided I need to try and get the mechanics of my running checked, and buy some decent shoes. A ban on Mrs Unis samosas for the foreseeable will hopefully deal with the weight thing (they are God’s own snack of choice – true story). I heard about fancy computer tech, etc and the physio round the corner from me looks to offer a good service, but I’m stereotypically Scottish when it comes to parting with cash. Run and Become is a famous running shop in Edinburgh and they claim to do a more holistic (full mechanical spectrum) analysis just by watching you run. They explain it better here..

So off I went, did lots of running up and down in the road and came out 20min later with a pair of Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3. I tried on Sauconys again. They were beautifully light and comfortable but we had concerns about how they would fare in tougher conditions. The adviser also pointed out that stitching on velcro for gaiters would weaken the overall fabric as the stitching would be tougher than the shoe upper. . I tried Brooks as well, but felt like my big toe was about to pop straight through the top. I liked the Hokas for the cushioning and the solidity. They feel like they could kick a rock or two and live to tell the tale.

Anyway, I got the old bat phone out and filmed a quick vid as I went along, which you can watch below. We’ll try and get more content on YouTube but in the meantime, sign up to our email updates to get all the latest blogs and chat..



Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

How to have the confidence to try

How to have the confidence to try

Confidence. It’s an elusive and powerful thing. If you have ever fancied doing something outside your normal repertoire, does the following conversation seem familiar to you?

“You’re going to do what? What makes you think you can do that?”

This attitude, so often seen, really says more about the person asking the question I think. They don’t have the confidence to take on their ambitions, so have to ask with undermining incredulity how others feel so brazen as to do so.

So we’ll ignore them shall we? That is a good first step. Remember, it is not the critic who counts. That renders their influence mute and impotent.

Let’s instead ask ourselves some better questions;

Instead of “why?” ask “why not?”

If you ask yourself why do you think you can do something, this has the effect of focusing on yourself, and not the matter in hand. If I asked why do I think I can run a marathon, I’ll end up scrutinising my own current levels of fitness at this point in time. If I ask instead, why can’t I do a marathon, then the answers often become practical steps to achieving the goal. Or they provoke further questions. So maybe the answer is, there is no reason I can’t run it, but then the question might become, why can’t I run it under 3hrs? In which case the serious of measures needed to improve to that level would arise; technique, training, injury recovery, etc. Really, we throw up so many imaginary barriers in front of ourselves sometimes that it is often best to really scrutinise them and if we tackle them one by one, there is no reason why we should have the confidence to take on any challenge.

What is my desired outcome?

The Marathon des Sables is a classic example of this but so is almost every other mass participation run. Some people aim to win, some people aim to just go the distance. Compete or Complete is the pithy way of putting it. If your aim is to compete, that’ll take talent and training. If your aim is to complete, then the bar for performance level lowers dramatically. In so many challenges, for so many people, their relative place is irrelevant. Edmund Hilary said it best; after all it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Set your own ambitions and pursue them with confidence..

What if I don’t succeed?

Fear of failure is a huge barrier for most people. But what is the worst that could happen? You’d be embarrassed? Ok in some cases i.e. free climbing El Capitan you’d be dead, but that isn’t most people’s area of operation. Why be embarrassed? At least you tried. Like we said before, ignore other people. Armchair critics deserve a special place in purgatory, but they don’t need it, as their own bitterness is that in itself. You can inoculate yourself against fear of failure by, at all times, remembering the words of Theodore Roosevelt, H. Jackson Brown’s mother and Wayne Gretsky. If you don’t try, you’ve already failed.

You may also wish to consider the concept that failure is not an outcome in itself, but one result in a larger experiment. Why did you not succeed? Find the reason and fix it next time, again again until success.

What have I got to lose?

The final word goes to Steve Jobs; you’re going to die, so you already have nothing to lose.


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

The things that you didn’t do – The Inspiration Station

The things that you didn’t do – The Inspiration Station

Talking of the the things that you didn’t do, we’ll start by talking about something Mark Twain never did.

He never uttered the following words;

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

In fact, the story behind the quote is even more inspiring in its own way. H. Jackson Brown Jr’s mother used to write to him when he was away. She kept her nuggets of gold for the P.S. of the letter and Brown compiled these in a book in 1991. The quote comes from that.

And Momma Brown is a wise woman, because she is damn right. If you ever need to seek the inspiration to take on something when doubts beset you, try reverse engineering your life. Think about the “rocking chair test”.

Imagine yourself, aged 90, sitting on your porch. There is a glorious sunset in front of you, the warm wind blows gently, the birds fly in from the ocean to nest. At that point, Death (who for our purposes is not a grim reaper but a figure from your past who died years ago e.g. grandparent, parent, friend, dog) comes and says to you; are you ready? Do you suddenly grieve for the opportunities you didn’t take and the times you decided not to take the leap of faith, or, do you nod, knowing that you lived a full life and one that was your own choice?

So pay attention to Mrs Brown, and throw off those bowlines. After all, as someone else put it;

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

Nope, that’s not Mark Twain either, but John A. Shedd.

But Mr Shedd and Mrs Brown, hat’s off to you. In a few words, they give anyone the reason they need to take on a challenge, in my case, the Marathon des Sables


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

You are going to die – The Inspiration Station

You are going to die – The Inspiration Station

You are going to die. A brutal but effective observation from a man who would meet that fate all too soon. Steve Jobs had drive in bucket loads, acting as the visionary’s visionary when it comes to understanding where the modern world was heading. His words speak volumes beyond the tech sector though.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Listen to the whole speech, from a commencement address he gave, here:

Fear of failure, of what people may think of you, is a more powerful force than it ought to be.

As a non-runner signing up to the toughest running event on earth, I am opening myself up to ridicule if I fail. But you know what, I just don’t care, because all that matters is the peace of mind that we can enjoy when the Valkyries come to take us.


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

The shots you don’t take – The Inspiration Station

The shots you don’t take – The Inspiration Station

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”

This quote is attributed mainly to ice hockey legend Wayne Gretsky, though whether he was quoting advise given to him by a mentor or it was his own pearl of wisdom we’re note sure.

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take

What we are sure of is that it reduces a very empowering message into a crystal clear sentence. If you want to fail, the best way of achieving that to simply never try.

Aside from being a pithy motto, it is also a valuable lesson in statistics for anyone attempting anything seemingly difficult. By simply putting yourself in the game, you stand a better chance of succeeding. And if you don’t succeed first time, staying in the game will see your chances of succeeding increase.

That seems obvious put like that, but take that idea in a totally different but common context; sales. You’ve probably had “junk mail” through the letterbox and thought; ‘what a waste of their money’. The thing is that a direct mail campaign with a 5% success rate may be regarded as a huge success. If a campaign of 1000 letters cost £500 in printing and postage, but 50 new customers came on board with a £50 spend, that’s £2,000 profit for a days’s work. Of course that is a simplistic example but imagine 5% of 10000 letters, or 200,000 emails? If you take more shots, you’ll score more often.

So keep writing, keep running, keep practicing drop goals, keep spending hours writing that code, keep driving forward.

Because I know one thing for sure, the one way the chubby, out of shape dad that I am is going to be guaranteed to fail to complete the MdS is to not show up at the start line in the first place.


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

It is not the critic who counts – The Inspiration Station

It is not the critic who counts – The Inspiration Station

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt: “The man in the arena” Paris, 1910

Theodore Roosevelt was a truly incredible human being. as a boy he was weak and frail. But forced himself into a life of adventure to promote personal growth and increase confidence and, suffice to say, it worked. However, it was this address which resonates through the years for a great many people.

In one paragraph he single handedly finds the words to liberate anyone of the fear of failure. Certainly after reading this you’ll be full of the confidence to basically tell your armchair critics to do one. How great it is to be given permission from, arguably, one of the greatest US presidents to not give a monkeys what anyone thinks. Which comes in useful if you want to take on seemingly big challenges.


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

Go as a pilgrim and seek out danger

Go as a pilgrim and seek out danger

Go as a pilgrim and seek out danger
far from the comfort and the well lit avenues of life.

Pit your every soul against the unknown
and seek stimulation in the comfort of the brave.

Experience cold, hunger, heat and thirst
and survive to see another challenge and another dawn.

Only then will you be at peace with yourself
and be able to know and to say;

“I look down the farthest side of the mountain,
fulfilled and understanding all,
and truly content that I lived a full life and one 
that was my own choice”

If ever there were ninety six words which completely encapsulated the desire and purpose in people who seek adventure, it is those above. The author is reported to be James Elroy Flecker and taken from his play Hassan. I’ve searched the text numerous times, both by traditional means and by downloading the plain text and using search function and I cannot find it anywhere. However, perhaps it is in another piece of his work, if you have a source, let us know and we’ll link it here. Whoever wrote the lines above, they deserve a solid handshake. Beyond anything else worth coveting, surely the last two lines of this poem offer something truly worth aspiring to.

What Flecker did write, which is famous inscribed on the clock tower at Hereford, is this passage;

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,

White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lies a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

And in truth, that is no less inspiring.


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

Why I’m running the Marathon des Sables? – Dad Bod Diaries #1

Why I’m running the Marathon des Sables? – Dad Bod Diaries #1

I hate running.

There you have it. That is my reason for signing up for 6 days of running across the Sahara desert.

I try to like it but you see I’m a bit like Gimli in Lord of the Rings;

Even when, during that brief moment in puberty when I grew to the height of a man with the body mass of a medium sized otter, I was physically capable of running long distance effectively I never felt any love for it. That is not to say I was not reasonably athletic. As a boy I played rugby to a reasonable level, being part of a Scottish championship winning youth team and earning modest representative honours for the district. One seminal night in 1996 I learned to love athletics too, as I watched Michael Johnston storm to victory in the 400metres in Atlanta. As 13 year olds, we assumed the 400m was middle distance, not a sprint. In that moment I understood that I could do more than I though it was possible for me to do. In the school years that followed I won multiple sports championships (multi-event athletics) and broke the school discus record. The points for these however, did not come from running far. Genetics meant I was somewhat of a natural mesomorph, destined to be good at shifting heavy things, quickly. Incidentally, all the distance medals were mopped up by Callum anyway.

What I lack in terms of being aerobically fit, I make up for in being spectacularly stubborn. I enjoy endurance competitions when they go well beyond physical fitness and into the realms of mental fortitude. Sure, some 8 stone racing snake will leave me miles behind in a marathon, but how would he fare after two days carrying 50kg without sleep?

Why do people love these self-harming challenges? I could give you many deep and meaningful reasons but your man Johnny Cash hit it on the nugget when he sang(?) the lyrics “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel”. I grew up in the country, did my first munro aged 6 and was rarely ever indoors. My current life, lived in the cosseted world of a city, working in an office, removes you from a sensory connection with what we, as humans, are meant to be. So it’s a mighty good way to blow away the cobwebs of modern life. Self-sufficient long distance running is what humans are designed to do. True story (possibly).

But, and like that overdeveloped gluteous maximus which makes humans so good at running it’s a big butt, that doesn’t mean you have to enjoy the sport of running. I far prefer worshipping at the iron temple, hoisting weights to get pumped for absolutely no practical purpose. I do it because I get a much bigger endorphin rush from that. Basically I enjoy it … and every child of the 80s yearns to be in their own Rocky montage. By taking on and possibly completing one of the hardest running events in the world, I’ll hopefully earn the right to never have to run more than 30 yards between ruck again.


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.