The real cost of a good playground.

In a previous post I said that I think about random stuff when I run; well, not today. I had decided last week that I wanted to get some more clips of running around the Dolgellau area and decided to head up on to Rhobell Fawr after work. Such a nice day, and my first chance to run in just shorts and a vest this year. Lovely. I'll get round to editing it into a short clip soon.   So why no random stuff channeling? Well, yesterday I went to a meeting about the branding of outdoor activity in North Wales.
In a previous post I said that I think about random stuff when I run; well, not today. I had decided last week that I wanted to get some more clips of running around the Dolgellau area and decided to head up on to Rhobell Fawr after work. Such a nice day, and my first chance to run in just shorts and a vest this year. Lovely. I’ll get round to editing it into a short clip soon.   So why no random stuff channeling? Well, yesterday I went to a meeting about the branding of outdoor activity in North Wales. “Play” was a word that was suggested alongside lots of other concepts. It resonates with some people, but also has connotations that others were less comfortable with. As I headed out of Llanfachreth on my run, I was thinking about what a privilege it is to live where I do. I was thinking back to the times I came to North Wales as a 14 year old, and why I ended up where I did. From the South of England, North Wales represented so many things to me. It was a place to escape, a place with a different language and culture and a place to “play”. Whether it was in the hills, on the water, in the woods, or as part of a community the whole of North Wales offers such a beautiful location and experience. So, there I was thinking about the branding of “Play”. And then, I suppose I did my random flit. I punted into work. I’ve been involved in “access to inland water” now for over ten years, seven of which as part of my paid job. As time goes along it is becoming less about just access to water and more about access to the wider natural resources in Wales. Access to the countryside has always been a political beast in England and Wales always bouncing between two agendas; the needs of the population and the landowning lobby not wanting people to be there by right. This lack of right doesn’t confer the need for responsibility, which is something most outdoor people advocate for. Sure, 10 years ago the so called “right to roam” was introduced, but it has largely been unsuccessful in addressing the areas where the population wants to go or already goes. The areas up high and in remote places (Mountain and Moorland) were mapped, and now can be used by right. In terms of what Benny Rothman tried to achieve with the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932, it is a step in the right direction. However, there was a need for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW or Right to Roam) to be extended to other areas, the coast, the inland waters and the woodlands. In Wales, the state owned Forestry Commission land was dedicated for public access in 2005, using CRoW. The Welsh Government could do this as the land owner, and there was a hope other landowners would follow suit. They didn’t. Don’t even mention swimming, bikes, boats, paragliders, caving or horses. Walking is the limit of the Act. Access to the coast has been done in a linear manner with a footpath, but whilst you can now almost parallel the coast around Wales you can’t get to the water by right. In some places the “coast path” is not in sight of the sea!  The lowlands are a mess, non state owned woods fenced off, and inland water is just a myriad of disconnected arguments at the moment too. It wouldn’t be hard to argue that the CRoW act, 10 years on, is already out of date. Society is evolving, the health agenda is evolving, the Publics’ spending patterns are changing. The CRoW act is quite restricted in what it can do. The result-100% Adventure-50% Welcome, nice brand eh? And my brain went to numbers. The mapping exercise for CRoW was nearly £80 million pounds. No promotional or educational time in this, just process. So for that small percentage of the population who already wanted to go high in the mountains £80 million was spent. Then I was thinking about the cost per capita of “playing”. The childrens playground in Dolgellau was nearly £100,000. Based on the numbers at school. there are about 800 kids a year that could use this.  Scotland, in 2003 had watched CRoW, decided it didn’t work and addressed all places in the countryside with the Land Reform Act. Everywhere a certain distance from private dwellings is accessible for non motorised recreation as long as behaviour is responsible. This means that where the Public want to take healthy recreation, they can. The whole of the Scottish landscape is available for healthy recreation for every member of the public, resident, or tourist. The legal cost was less than £200,000. There has been television campaigns and education, which might come to about £3 million. Comparing this to a structured play area for the same cost as 30 playgrounds in rural areas for 24,000 kids, and the opportunity it creates seems a “no brainer”. Take a comparative snapshot of numbers for outdoor recreation-each year there are 150,000 visitors in Coed y Brenin, 400,000 people up Snowdon, 120,000 people at the National White Water Centre. That is just three centres, all those people re-invest in Wales, and yet an investment in promoting greater, responsible use of the whole countryside isn’t on the agenda of Government. For Wales to be a healthy nation, a successful sporting nation, don’t we need our natural resources available for “play”? Don’t we need to be able to instil those values in our children? Shouldn’t we be an active nation. I couldn’t even begin to explain the Right to Roam legislation to an 8 year old and how it fits into the Rights of Way network. But I can the Scottish Land Reform Act, the Scandinavians do it for their kids, the Kiwi’s do it at primary school. In fact most of Europe does it. Teaching kids how to play, responsibly and sustainably in the countryside isn’t impossible. in Wales, it might be a long term goal. It’s not something that will happen overnight. But in a generation, what would the impact be? What is the real cost of a proper National playground? Might there actually be a short term measurable tangible return? Sport Wales want every child hooked on sport for life. A new leisure centre costs upwards of £5million pounds. I wonder how much impact the cost of a capital investment the scale of one leisure centre development would have for Wales. If that money were put towards a piece of legislation and its promotion. Not localised benefit, National benefit. Not just sporting benefit, but business benefit, health benefit, community benefit, environmental benefit. I wonder whether, if Greece had CRoW, this aging programme of work would survive the cuts; not that they need CRoW, they have exisitng rights to their natural resources. But it does strike me that cost/benefit or some solid analysis of the real cost of natural playgrounds might just show the need for a completely different approach? It would be a bold step for Wales, but not one without precedent. Perhaps, I might watch my Grandkids and their friends grow up using the wonderful playground of Wales that our generation use so surreptitiously only once we are committed enthusiasts.

Schoolboy error, Racing your Training

A favourite picture of mine taken on a trip out to Grassholm, and island of Pembrokeshire I try to work on things harder when I make a mistake, especially frustratng ones. Trying to work out why I injured my calf is something that has been under my skin for a few weeks..  I was so sure that in order to race Trail Marathon Wales I needed a programme. What I forgot is that I need to enjoy running. So when I plugged myself into a phone based MiCoach training programme and ran with that voice in my ear phones saying
A favourite picture of mine taken on a trip out to Grassholm, and island of Pembrokeshire I try to work on things harder when I make a mistake, especially frustratng ones. Trying to work out why I injured my calf is something that has been under my skin for a few weeks..  I was so sure that in order to race Trail Marathon Wales I needed a programme. What I forgot is that I need to enjoy running. So when I plugged myself into a phone based MiCoach training programme and ran with that voice in my ear phones saying “Speed up to yellow zone”, or “Slow down to blue zone” I was compromising. I wasn’t enjoying the reason I run. I like running outdoors, I like music. MiCoach seemed to address both these things. I had never exercised with ear phones in, but that was a definite appeal during the winter months. I overlooked that it takes one of your senses away. I like hearing my breathing, I like hearing the birds, I like hearing a squirrel firing off into the woods, rustling through the dry leaves. It was like gagging one of my most important senses when I ran. It also fired up my competitive streak. I was trying to beat that voice. I wasn’t content to ‘just’ do the session, just complete it, I wanted to BEAT the session. This goes along way in identifying why I got injured. So for Trail Marathon Wales, I’ve taken personal goals of times away. I’m going to treat the run as training. Part of a bigger things. I run purely to enjoy; with a specfic race time in mind, I would definitely need a race programme. But the big challenge- Marathon des Sable is about getting to the end. I’m never going to race it. I’m going to get through each day. As I said in a previous blog, I want to get to those last ten steps. To do that I need to keep active, I need to run in the hills, in wild places. I need to mix it up with some mountain biking, some open water swimming, some kayaking, some sets on a rowing machine or just riding into work and back. Since reading about Pavel Tsatsouline a couple of years agi, I love a good session with a Kettlebell-I want to get my 200 in the Secret Service Snatch Test before the race. I can’t do that range of things whilst running 6 sessions a week, “on programme”. I know a programme means keeping focus is easier, but the dedication to train is about doing it. Like brushing your teeth, putting a schedule into habit. But listening to feedback that your body and brain gives. Not sweating the small stuff, one session missed isn’t going to ruin a weeks training. The game for me is mental. I need to train my mind too. I can’t do that effectively when “on programme”. I need the balance. My Dad tried to train my brain when I was a teenager with “De Bono’s Thinking Course”. I didn’t respond well! I hope I won’t be proved wrong, but volume of training is important for a long race. Sustaining that volume needs mental fortitude. To have that means being mentally relaxed. I believe that as long as I remember not to race my training, don’t break myself physically or mentally, those last ten steps will be mine.  

Guilty pleasure. Music and Pizza.

I woke up exhausted this morning. 1400miles driven this week and a couple of big issues at work have left me pooped. I had wanted to get a long run in today but I just couldn't find the va-va-voom.   A quick mission round town this morning to get the motorbike trailer tyre fixed, pick up some compost for the pots and plant them up with youngest daughter... A 2 year old planting things is like a pig in muck. I guess thats why I still enjoy it! Eldest daughter has her dance exam tomorrow so she has to head to a practise today. This means I get 3 hours in the house, a quiet house. On with my old manky headphones that the foam has gone on, hit shuffle on one playlist and let James, Eminem, Metallica, Linkin Park and the Fray flood into my ears whilst I enjoy an olfactory assault. My guilty pleasure as a foody is really good pizza, ideally from the amazing Pizzeria behind the Wynnstay Hotel in Machynlleth, but as I'm sat here to my right I have a bowl of pizza dough proving and to my left a pan with tomato sauce reducing down. Eldest daughter was quite specific about her toppings, Salami, Mozzarella and Pineapple. I can suffer that. A quiet house means that moving from the fridge to the stove, or from the chopping board to the sink takes on slightly more movement than the rest of the family thinks is normal. Head bobbing, foot tapping, arm waving, the occasional spin, stirring, tasting, wiping down. Wiping down the worktop but wiping down the week too. Maybe it’s that man provider thing, but making a meal that gets someone to say “Yum” is a great feeling. Given the Italian theme-esegui domani!  
I woke up exhausted this morning. 1400miles driven this week and a couple of big issues at work have left me pooped. I had wanted to get a long run in today but I just couldn’t find the va-va-voom.   A quick mission round town this morning to get the motorbike trailer tyre fixed, pick up some compost for the pots and plant them up with youngest daughter… A 2 year old planting things is like a pig in muck. I guess thats why I still enjoy it! Eldest daughter has her dance exam tomorrow so she has to head to a practise today. This means I get 3 hours in the house, a quiet house. On with my old manky headphones that the foam has gone on, hit shuffle on one playlist and let James, Eminem, Metallica, Linkin Park and the Fray flood into my ears whilst I enjoy an olfactory assault. My guilty pleasure as a foody is really good pizza, ideally from the amazing Pizzeria behind the Wynnstay Hotel in Machynlleth, but as I’m sat here to my right I have a bowl of pizza dough proving and to my left a pan with tomato sauce reducing down. Eldest daughter was quite specific about her toppings, Salami, Mozzarella and Pineapple. I can suffer that. A quiet house means that moving from the fridge to the stove, or from the chopping board to the sink takes on slightly more movement than the rest of the family thinks is normal. Head bobbing, foot tapping, arm waving, the occasional spin, stirring, tasting, wiping down. Wiping down the worktop but wiping down the week too. Maybe it’s that man provider thing, but making a meal that gets someone to say “Yum” is a great feeling. Given the Italian theme-esegui domani!  

Should I be here?

I've been thinking lots when I've been running; lots of random thoughts about lots of things. Random, a word used fairly frequently, so I'll add context from a recent run: what were those little pink sweets I used to buy
I’ve been thinking lots when I’ve been running; lots of random thoughts about lots of things. Random, a word used fairly frequently, so I’ll add context from a recent run: what were those little pink sweets I used to buy “a quarter” of before school, the link between  Perry Mason’s brain and a Fell Runners brain, how to raise money for Marathon des Sable, rituals, does Lana del Rey sound a bit like Berlinda Carlisle?- that kind of random. I guess the journey to Marathon des Sable is much deeper for me than just completing the race. It is really important to me to raise money for Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund. First up I wonder whether I can do the race. Everyone’s reaction is “I’ve thought about it, it’s a tough race though” or “You’re nuts thats too tough”. Maybe, but tough is all on a scale. My feeling is you have to put a basic level of fitness in, and by basic I mean the ability to get up the day after a Marathon, and do it all again. But the game is in the mental. Not quitting, having a really focussed thought process. If I visualise anything it is the last ten steps of the last stage, I can’t focus on anything else. Those ten steps, the tens of thousands before don’t matter. It’s too big, I can’t think about that, but plod, plod, plod look up see the banner, plod, plod, plod, the sense of relief coming, plod, plod nearly there, plod going to drink lots of water, and enjoy, plod I’m finished, I can comprehend that. Ten plods a wave of emotion. A really structured mental image. It’s got to be the way forward for me. Or, maybe thats the final chapter in a range of mental approaches. My good friend, Bill, came up with the idea of a “stuff channel”. It normally kicked in when things were stressful when we were sailing. So maybe there is a parallel here. “Stuffing on the Stuff Channel”, is where you mind goes through stuff. Bill and I “stuffed” our way across the North Sea, one January in F10 gusting 11. Lost to ferries on radar due to the massive swell height. It was sporty. But we jabbered on about weird stuff, relaxing our minds when the checks on the boat were complete. This is what I do when I run. I run almost exclusively on my own, in remote places. The chances of getting something wrong, I feel, are low due to skill and experience. It would have to be pretty bad for me not to be able to sort myself out of most incidents, but I do enjoy the heightened sense of self reliance. Before I run, I go through my little processes. I’ll spend a couple of days thinking about a new route, or which route I want to return to. On the day, I look at the weather, I mentally plan the route, I pick my kit. I like to travel light, usually no food or drink. Perhaps a bum bag with a hat and a thermal layer in case I did have to get uncomfortable. I pick the least amount of clothes I can get away with. I pick my shoes to be the best for the route I have in mind. Sometimes I just pick the shoes as I haven’t fully deicded where I am going but kind of know what I want to run on. Then I go out the door, warming up slowly, going through my rituals. Checking laces, checking straps on the bum bag aren’t flapping around. If I’m wearing an altimeter making sure it’s calibrated right. Waiting for my heart rate to spike, breathing to peak, before settling back down. Knowing my bodys’ messages is something I’ve learnt the longer I run. Running up hill, is all about pacing,  heart beat drowning all other sound out. Listening to breathing, pushing legs to the edge of lactic production. Picking the terrain that is secure. Sometimes listening to my shorts rustle. Trying to keep an eye on the conditions, feeling for changes in the wind, deciding if cloud is building or likely to precipitate, monitoring the air temperature. Should I be here? What is my way off the hill if something goes wrong? Most of my home hills are familiar and so Navigation isn’t necessary all the time. I know lots of the weak lines off summits – clefts and gulleys, which I would go down at a push if I had to. In reality, I know that staying put, on the trail, however uncomfortable is always going to be the best option if I have any doubt about getting off the hill-more chance of being found. As the gradient flattens and the pace picks up the sound of my heartbeat gets overtaken by the thump of footstrike. Breathing slows. Time for rituals again, a quick pat down of zips and straps on bum bags, making sure nothing has worked loose. A quick visual check of laces. Maybe a quick wipe of a wrist over a sweaty head. If I’m navigating, is my “hand rail” visible? Am I on bearing? What is my next land mark? Do I know where I am on the map? Again, that recurring ritual-should I be here? Has anything changed? Do I know where I am? Is the ground safe? The start of any descent, lengthening your stride, really feel free. Focusing on foot placement, trying to avoid turning an ankle. Field of vision smaller, not because of physcial extremis but pure need to concentrate. Leaping, enjoying the sole of a good shoe biting on the terrain. This is where the risk is for me, a heavier taller runner. The consequences of piling my weight onto an ankle that isn’t place properly, or a trip could be disastrous. I usually err on the side of caution if I’d fall onto rock, but on big grassy areas that cry out for it, running like an 8 year old without brakes down a grassy slope is awesome. Again a moment to think, the omnipresent ritual, should I be here? And here is the rub, for me, with running. Long distance rowers refer to the “moment of glide”. In a rowing cycle there is a part of the stroke where the boat isn’t being driven, the body is relaxing but the boat is making progress. It’s a bit like freewheeling on a bike. Quite thrilling as moments go. With running I used to think there wasn’t a similar moment of glide. And in a sense, there isn’t a point when the body completely relaxes. But it is the moments when you come off “should I be here”, carried out your rituals and know that your brain can relax into the stuff channel. That is the moment of glide for me when running. When you have the chance to think about something truly random and not checking lots of things to get home, it’s so relaxing it’s like gliding.  For me, those moments come during periods of heavy physcial exertion either lung busting climbs, paced contouring or quadricep punishing descents. That’s when I “stuff” that is my “moment of glide”, that is when I should absolutely be there.  

Ashton Court “Nova” Mountain Bike Trail Bristol #mountainbiking

Staying away from home with work can alsways be a drag. Either sat in a hotel room watching rubbish telly or working into the night. On a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the South of England, yesterday I ended up in Bristol. A quick call earlier to Matt Willams of The Physio Clinic in Bristol discoverd that I could catch up with Matt. Matt was instrumental in getting my calf injury fixed, is a professional Physio and is really easy to talk with about a range of things. The fact that he can help me out by Skype is really great for me. Matt is currently helping triathlete Jon Wood out. Jon has just acheived 5th in his age group at the European Championships. Matt promised me an evening of mountain biking, and to be honest I was a little sceptical about the riding around Clifton Downs. We parked high above the Avon, as we set off a few spots of rain started and became heavier and as we pedalled across Clifton suspension bridge, I tried to convince myself that I could see the sun behind the squall. Matt stopped to talk to people he knew out on running sessions, a testament to how much sport he is involved with before arriving at Ashton Court. The
Staying away from home with work can alsways be a drag. Either sat in a hotel room watching rubbish telly or working into the night. On a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the South of England, yesterday I ended up in Bristol. A quick call earlier to Matt Willams of The Physio Clinic in Bristol discoverd that I could catch up with Matt. Matt was instrumental in getting my calf injury fixed, is a professional Physio and is really easy to talk with about a range of things. The fact that he can help me out by Skype is really great for me. Matt is currently helping triathlete Jon Wood out. Jon has just acheived 5th in his age group at the European Championships. Matt promised me an evening of mountain biking, and to be honest I was a little sceptical about the riding around Clifton Downs. We parked high above the Avon, as we set off a few spots of rain started and became heavier and as we pedalled across Clifton suspension bridge, I tried to convince myself that I could see the sun behind the squall. Matt stopped to talk to people he knew out on running sessions, a testament to how much sport he is involved with before arriving at Ashton Court. The “Nova” Trail  has no where near the height gain I am used to, but is well laid out with some nice swoopy turns, and jumps. There is a lot crammed in, with the final descent being really enjoyable. Looking back, this last descent is the only bit which doesn’t feel a little bit too contrived. It journeys down through the woodland, jumping and turning with the contours, rather than being forced around a track that is synthetic. Don’t get me wrong, for urban riding it is all really good, but the last descent would be the bit I would “loop” if I did it again. I was riding my XC hardtail with Maxi Hi Rollers, for a more enjoyable ride I’d want a more relaxed hardtail or a full suspension bike with somehing like Larsen TT’s-the surface is hard pack and the rain wasn’t affecting the surface. Some of the smaller whoops wouild flatten out nicely on a bouncer, but a jump bike would be fun doubling up on some of the table tops. The sun broke out the other side of the squall as we arrived back at the car. You couldn’t have writtem it, but we only got a little ‘moist’. Nice to know the trail is there, great to ride in company for the banter. All in all, far better than sitting in a travel lodge. Nice cross training and some more thoughts from Matt about getting more from my training. Just wish I had my foam roller with me as my calf is feeling a bit tight. A bit of post ride research showed me something I completely missed… Nova, backwards is Avon. There was me thinking it was all about the ‘new’!

My Chicken Soup on Cader

Well, I feel like I haven’t updated recently enough here. After today I’ve got heaps to say, but I’m going to break it up into a number of posts.

I’ve spent the week watching a high pressure building and really wanted to get out for a run in the hills. Before my calf strain I’d been doing lots of training sessions but not really enjoying my running. I’ve decided it was more important to enjoy the run.

So this morning I woke early and headed out. From the house I look at a sky line of the Cader Idris range, and this morning I’m heading for that skyline. The ascent profile looks like thisIt’s an old friend, this route, views opening, paths unwinding without the need to think too hard. Technically challenging running, my favourite romp across a moorland plateau and enough climb and distance to really clear my lungs and legs.

The sun is low and warm giving beautiful relief on the hills.

Climbing out of a shaded Dolgellau is lovely, racing up the contours as the sun comes rushing down the hillsides quickly letting me chase my own long shadow.

I love that this end of Cader is hardly ever visited, it means that I often see mountain wildlife that is harder to spot on the Western end. This morning is no different. Just on the final pull onto Gau Craig I spotted a couple of Black Grouse scuttling into the heater and minutes later a Hare bounds across my path, zig zagging to confuse me. No chance I am going to catch it though.

Then onto the long plateau towards the base of Mynydd Moel, a stunning place, the Tarrens close, Plymlimon in the distance to the South. The Arrans behind, The Rhinogs just to the North, Rhobell Fawr alone. A great place.

Into the hardest climb of the route, the steep path onto Mynydd Moel. Lungs definitely working hard, my heart thumping in my ears and my legs running along the pleasure/pain barrier of lactic production. The gradient eases as 820m passes, a quick glance over your shoulder as you cross the summit shows you Llyn Cynwch (Precipice Walk) at an unusual angle. Behind this is the square blocks of Trawsfynnydd power station reflecting sun off its flat sides. Then moving west, suddenly Pencoed Pillar appears, then Penygadair, the main peak of Cader Idris appears. Frost and icy puddles still sit in the shadows behind rocks and ridges. This morning whisps of cloud are being blown South over the lowest part of this ridge and in my shorts and light shirt I’m keen to keep moving.

This crossing from Mynydd Moel to Penygadair is quick, I pass the summit hut just before 0700, quickly recalibrate my watch for altitude, and then off the other side. This bit is a bridleway and I unusually spot a mountain bike tyre print. I think about work momentarily, the white paper on the change in definition of Rights of Way. My mind wanders to memories of Pete Burnsall for a few seconds before edging over to Cyfwry and the beautiful lollop down to join the Pony Path at Rhiw Gwerdydd. I have mixed feelings about the path improvements here, but I follow them to try and do my bit to prevent any further degradation of the hill side through heavy use.

The terrain gets easier, the pace increases and quickly you arrive at Ty Nant. From here I head through the car park that most people access the hill from and follow a footpath that goes round the back of Llyn Gwernan, through some woodland and then rejoin the Cader Road for a nicely sloped run into Dolgellau.

Dolgellau, now bathed in sun, is slowly waking up, I run through the small back lanes down to the main bridge. Now feeling hungry and a bit tired but still quite springy. Time to go home, have breakfast and spend time with the kids.

My soul truly fed.