Making a passion a lifestyle

Moving outside, making a journey has always been something that forms a very central part of my life. Whether learning how to access the countryside in Sussex amongst the network of footpaths, bridleways and areas of commonage like Ashdown Forest, or later out on the open ocean, the journey has always been important.

I am less a cyclist, less a runner, less a sailor, less a mountaineer, less a runner, less a paddler, less a biker than I have ever been. The label of the activity feeling like it has given way to a 'journeyman'.

The love of running is the total simplification of the journey. The stripping back
of superfluous equipment. The removal of the 'need' for different kit. Just me, my engine, my knowledge and a direction to travel.

In all the journeys I have I end up with a little more knowledge. And this is knowledge I take into different journeys. What I learnt on a motorbike in the Sahara is useful when running. It may seem strange but it is deeply true.

The passion to share these skills has always been with me, but it has taken a long time to solve how those skills go together. Organising Dolgellau parkrun I find more enjoyable than running in the parkrun. I realised quite early on, that the people that were finishing in under 30 minutes value support, but don't need it. It is the people on the other side of the 30 mins that usually value that support more. That is the reason to be there, for me. Not for first finisher, but for the parkrunner who is, through parkrun addressing a massive personal challenge.

I suppose I have only creepingly accepted that my ability to go long distances, albeit not at the front of an event is slightly unusual. I can look at a map, judge my ability, need for kit, and then go and make that journey, usually comfortably.

Handing on that confidence is something that I find totally, and deeply fulfilling. The birth of no-mad running and it's development is one that has caused me some real head scratches. A few people have suggested that for what we do, we should charge more. And that, fundamentally cuts across one of my beliefs about being a journeyman.

Passing on skills is about a passion. Education is something that has to be affordable to all. It would be slightly hard for me to stomach if the person that would benefit from learning outdoor skills was restricted by the fact that I wanted to wholly fund my life from running.

But if no-mad running can finance my time to be outside, and pass on skills then it would truly feel like I had made a successful lifestyle. I'm fortunate I suppose in that my day job is also flexible, because I have made it that way. So I have two lifestyles, one that supports the other, and vice versa. Every day is a school day.

But for me, the running brings me something even more special. The feedback of the attendees!

 

 

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As if people really mattered!

Crossing the summer Alpage
Crossing the summer Alpage

An alert, this is not a trail running post – it is affected by trail running and what it means to me, but it’ll take a little more explanation to describe the context.

So, I’ve been reading a book published in 1973, by E.F. Schumacher “Small Is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered”. In this there are some jarringly powerful statements and thoughts, some of which I am trying to pull into context as the things that matter to me, and to the outdoor sector more generally.

A basic understanding of accounting for this argument is useful. My aim is to keep it succinct, but it is necessarily a bit detailed.

For those not familiar with accounts I’m going to try and run a very quick explanation. Bear with me, it is important! In most business accounts there are two elements to an accounting report, the Profit and Loss (P&L) statement and the Balance Sheet.

The P&L describes the performance of the company over a given time and includes all income and costs – there is a little more about direct costs and overheads but this isn’t needed here.

The Balance Sheet gives a snapshot in time of the assets held by a company. Broadly, this is what it owns, minus what it owes.

So, together the two elements give the total value of a company. The P&L is what is spent to make the income, the balance sheet is the bit that is protected to increase value of ownership.

Right, accounting descriptions over for a bit. The outdoors, nature, natural resources and recreation.

When I started to work within countryside access, there was a very interesting statement in the conclusion of an Environment Agency (Government Agency) technical document, W266 “The Effect of Canoeing on Fish Stocks”. (2000)

The general conclusion from this study is that canoeing is not harmful to fish populations. Therefore, the main area of conflict between anglers and canoeist centres around the actual or perceived disturbance of angling. Disturbance is in turn allied to the concept of exclusivity with its attendant financial implications for riparian interests and anglers.

This amazed me whilst I was learning; whilst biosecurity and safety were the regular arguments – the financial situation is what repeatedly led to conflict over the use of natural resources. Take away the rights and wrongs of either recreation. It reduces to money and control. Then in 2007, another academic paper was published “Negotiating Recreational Access Under Asymmetrical Power Relations: The Case of Inland Waterways in England” by Andrew Church , Paul Gilchrist & Neil Ravenscroft. This again related to the way in which “ownership” of natural resources changed the way in which moral and social gain can be described and achieved.

From Fordd Ddu, and old drovers road.
From Fordd Ddu, and old drovers road.

I’ve been in many heated arguments, right up to Ministerial level, about the fact that some people pay for countryside access through “ownership” of sporting rights. This is where the accounting bit comes in. In his book, Schumacher argues convincingly that there needs to be a change in our perception of the value of natural resources. Remember this is 1973, and he was the chief economic adviser to the Coal Board. He argues that many government policies, corporations, and at the time, society as a whole put natural resources in the P&L part of the National accounts. Those in ownership, therefore can dictate where the value sits. As an example the Forestry Commission would say, “we can grow a coniferous forest, it’ll cost us this much in staff and this much in machinery and in  20 years it will yield us an income of £x”. That is a P&L calculation, not an assessment of the balance sheet value in doing so.

Schumacher argues that if, as society, we placed natural resources in the Balance Sheet part of accounting, then we’d be more concerned with maintaining the value of our assets. We wouldn’t be eroding the societal and moral value of those assets to prop up our failing P&L.  We now all accept that our natural assets are finite and irreplaceable, there is no business adviser that could promote this as a sustainable business practise.

Our actions, post industrialisation have removed the natural buffer. Where nature in the 1800’s could adapt and protect itself from man, we now dominate nature, and tell it what we want to do. We’d like to arrogantly think, at least.

So why is this so important for the outdoor sector? Well in Wales we have the North Wales Outdoor Charter Group, in Pembrokeshire there is the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Charter Group and in the Brecons there is Brecon Beacon Outdoor Charter Group. Fundamentally this group of people place the Natural Resources of Wales in the balance sheet. They see the environment as finite and in need of management to ensure that the asset is maintained, or enhanced for society generally. As a sweeping statement, most land managers are looking at the P&L – the value to them is in the produce of the land, not of the long term asset value. 

And there, perhaps the argument ends? Each group looks at the same natural resource in differing ways? Well that is a blinkered and oversimplified view. Many land managers recognise there is a compromise – stripping all the assets from their land leads to cycling and unpredictable cash flow, and so a realistic policy needs to be in place. We’ve ‘developed’ at a high rate through to being a society content with consumption – 100 years ago subsistence farming meant growing food for local communities. Now, we consume all commodities, land managers have to provide competitively and efficiently to maintain their personal way of life – but what is acceptable practise now, we may prove in a decade to be damaging to the value of the natural asset.

Young people, being healthy, climbing has more value than adventure.
Young people, being healthy, climbing has more value than adventure.

Likewise, historically there is also the sweeping statement that outdoor enthusiasts only use the natural resource, and whilst accepting the value of the asset perhaps didn’t enhance it. The formation of charter groups, and the development of responsible recreation is doing much, and discussions about pressure points are encouraging.

However, personally, I think there needs to be a greater realisation of the fact that all those outdoor enthusiasts, and those enabling others, are doing much to help the National profit and loss. The NHS is measured in the P&L area of accounts – money in from government, expenditure out. If we can reduce the expenditure then the profitability of the government, and the nation increases. Outdoor sports reduce expenditure. They create a healthier nation.  On Saturday morning parkruns around the UK help people with physical and mental health. They engage volunteers and bring together communities. By running outdoors. Walking, Cycling, Swimming, Canoeing, Climbing and pretty much every non-motorised activity recognises the asset value (balance sheet) whilst contributing massively to the economic viability of a nation (P&L). We don’t need cyclical stresses of funding created by political ambition in the NHS. We need a healthier nation.

However, in England and Wales, the “leisure centre” that creates this, the access system giving public rights to the countryside, is a long way behind Scotland, and other European nations. The feudal system in England and Wales has created a dynamic where personal rights, and wealth can control, through perceived ownership, the asset value of Natural Resources. That feudal system was delivered originally to support the creation of power and wealth, to help with the control of the poor. The emphasis being that if people really mattered, then everyone needed wealth to allow others (those beneath them) to exist. Relatively, it ha succeeded, now the majority has leisure time, rather than the minority wealthy. And yet, when Wales wanted coastal access in the early 2000’s, a few of that historical minority controlled the coastal path delivery to be not entirely coastal! Therefore, this “system” though well developed and embedded is ancient and out of date. The success of wealth creation for more than a few does not reflect the space that the country, society and people now require. Quite a big realisation, perhaps.

It’s worth noting that this “system” is the one that is mainly understood by the political system. The system that defines the policies that regulate and license the use of natural resources. So, when you see a scheme that is treating a natural resource as a short term (in environmental terms) profit stream (like the Conwy Hydroscheme) the public must recognise that Government policy in many places treats our natural assets, not as an asset, but as a part of their P&L. Ironically, and perhaps importantly for this argument, the Conwy scheme is in a National Park, and the very founding principles of a National Park place the natural asset in the National balance sheet. But, because the argument is being brought on a different part of the National accounts, money (P&L) is occasionally more persuasive than looking at the wider value of our National balance sheet and it’s long term contribution to the wealth of a nation beyond any single person or companies value of “ownership”.

So why is this about trail running? For me trail running is about the journey, it’s about valuing the asset through which we move. If we look after the quality of that asset as best we can, then we are all richer. This generation, and future generations.

Then we’d be able to make choices as if people, and not money, really mattered.

 

 

 

 

Charging for access in public forests (1 of ?)

Countryside access – a health benefit, or a revenue stream?

parkrun a regular free run is being targeted for charges in Little Stoke, Bristol.

British cycling is advocating a change in the law in Wales to encourage more responsible cycling in the countryside

Several discussions I have had suggest that Natural Resources for Wales (NRW) are looking at charging structures available to them for recreation that isn’t happening by Public Right. This would potentially include mountain biking that is there by permission only.

Confirmation that there is a newly formed “Mynediad Permissions and Charges working group” is, at best, worrying.

It would be a travesty if NRW, who already seek to charge for any commercial use of the public estate (although perhaps not coherently) seek to effectively ‘tax’ those who are taking part in healthy and responsible recreation. The public estate welcomes massive socio economic benefit to rural areas of Wales – I am hopeful that there can be some innovative solutions, rather than another high profile PR discussion.

I’ve spent a good few years reconciling the Grant in Aid funding that NRW and its legacy bodies (Forestry Commission (Wales), Environment Agency Wales and Countryside Council for Wales) receive(d) with the opportunities they provide to certain (small or exclusive) sectors of society. I will welcome the opportunity to discuss this further.

See my Freedom of Information request and response beneath, and make your own mind. Make your own representation if you feel it necessary!

Being your best; learning to walk.

This blog was finally pulled from my mind by a friend who sent me a quote:

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

I love reading inspirational quotes on social media – they resonate with people, for good reason usually. As much as I like reading them, I try and use them to help me develop my own inspiration.

Whilst I don’t really personally see that I have done anything particularly amazing with my life, I have overcome a number of challenges. Some challenges fell in my path, some I have set myself. Some I’ve overcome easily and some have been a real battle. People call me resilient. I don’t know anything else, I’m me.

I had been trying, for a while, to develop a thought about how sometimes, occasional success is better than occasional failure. I don’t like the word failure. There is not getting to where you want to be, but that isn’t necessarily failure. Only the person who is experiencing it can call it failure. And that one label can be so extremely damaging, I honestly don’t feel it has a place in most peoples vocabulary of thought.

To totally explain where this blog sits, I think ‘success’ needs to be explained. Having worked in a National Governing Body for sport that was driven by success being defined by Government criteria I feel very strongly about the definition of this in sport. Success isn’t necessarily Gold medals, the top coaching award or number of national caps won. I’d agree that this is the pinnacle of sport for some. In fact a very few. But success is how the participant defines it. It is personal. We can talk about athlete centred coaching. That is important, essential. But what about the 1,000’s of people who volunteer at parkrun every Saturday morning. Their contribution, in itself, is success. The run/walker who completes a 5km run for the first time in whatever time, I would suggest is a massive success. A kayaker may not choose an Olympic discipline, but instead be an expedition paddler, or coach educator, or use his skills in a rescue team – more or less of a success than a Gold medal? Who has the right to ask that question?

The same in work, create your own business, create your own success. Earn a squillion pounds, or earn a little. Invest time in your children, grow vegetables, mend cars, stitch blankets, anything, anything that makes you feel proud of yourself. That is success, however you feel it compares to anyone else. Comparison, I think, is nearly as destructive as defining failure, it needs using very carefully.

Being your best then, is about working towards success. There are two parts to this. One is where you’re going, but the other bit is how you get there. In formal speak, one is outcome, one is process.

Success is very rarely about hitting the goal first time. Sure, if your dream is small, then yes, it will happen easily. And, that is the important part to why I see myself as resilient. I will often see success in small things on the way to bigger things. Using an example of climbing a mountain in a certain time. That’s my big goal. I might not get it the first time, the fifth time or the fiftieth time, but I’ll get back up there and give it another go. That isn’t necessarily resilience, just stubbornness! I’ll look at where I’ve gotten better, or where I can improve. Sometimes it is as simple as enjoying the view, and knowing that being outdoors is better (for me) than being in front of a laptop.

And, you know what? For most people I can give them a number of examples where they have taught themselves how not to feel that way. How they’ve been ‘resilient’ and then forgotten it.

I believe that if I’m talking to someone, walking with someone, then they have lost the ability. Somewhere along the line of life, for whatever reason, the joy of being resilient disappeared. I believe we’re all born to succeed. I believe that we teach ourselves to lack belief in achieving our goals. Here’s why. The process of learning to walk, and talk is the same as running up a mountain in a certain time. Ever seen a baby learning to walk? The way different babies achieve it is different. Some crawl, some bum-shuffle, but all develop strength over a few months. Then, they develop balance…keeping that relatively heavy head over relatively small feet happens bit by bit. And then, chaos reigns, they walk. Babies don’t give up because they can’t walk the first time they try. They even chuckle and laugh as they bump back down when they got it wrong. The same with speech, rarely do babies get it right first time, but they keep trying, keep practising.

If you can teach yourself to walk, and talk, what can’t you do? Somewhere along the line we get taught what is ‘normal’. People who choose to challenge that, not to accept mediocrity can be seen as high achievers, obsessive or something else. Perhaps however, they just haven’t forgotten how they learnt to walk?

Once the wall blocking success in our mind has been built, then dreams can be scary, as per the opening quote. However, if you accept that occasionally bumping down taught you to walk, you can also accept that occasionally bumping down when you’re chasing a goal doesn’t make you a failure. That wall will crumble. Obstacles won’t stop you, they might slow you down, but you’ll keep moving. Life isn’t about occasionally not reaching goals, it’s about occasionally achieving success. The journey isn’t smooth. But, just like a coach load of kids love a humpback bridge, learn to love the bumpy. It makes the journey less tiring, less stressful.

Set where you want to go. Then remember, you learnt to walk, and talk, against the odds. So, go where you want. Fly!

Keeping the direction.

Trigpoint on the summit of Cader Idris
Trigpoint on the summit of Cader Idris

Life. It just gets in the way sometimes. Kids, Work, Jobs… for most of us it takes priority over our leisure time.

I’m gently working away at changing that, confident that the balance will get driven back the right way.

Every now and then, snatching a run, making it count, but nothing that has been as consistent as the training during 2015.

That said, the moments, and journeys have offered up more views, more memories than the competitive running, and as I take time to capture them, there is a growing portfolio of running shots that I value.

But, the reason to write this note was inspired after a ‘big three’ 59km, 2,600m of ascent in 6hrs 50 mins – all within 48 hours. I sit here now, my legs feeling ‘shelled’ but my mind feeling inspired.

Work, volunteering with Dolgellau parkrun, cooking, and jobs, all fit within that 48 hours. But away from the numbers I’ve seen amazing views, Deer, Raven, Kites, Buzzards, Barn Owls, Frog spawn, Woodcock, Buffalo, Llama, Black Sheep, heaps of tracks, little birds and little animals. And, in those runs, only a handful of people.

As I ran with Katie around y Garn on Sunday morning, I talked about what it is that defines me as a runner. It is very personal. It is not the runs I do to maintain my fitness and mental health. It’s not the progressive sprints, or hill sessions.

What defines me is new routes, new places, new views, new experiences. It is adventure through running that motivates me. My love of Navigation, my love of wild places and my love of journeying. The times and distances I accumulate as a runner are useful distractions to the fundamental, vital engagement that running gives me with the outdoors. 

Here’s to a year of footprints left, and memories taken.

 

Not quite a full thought

The Rhinogs in the distance
The Rhinogs in the distance

Today I stood on a very pretty crossroads and watched 505 people run Winter Trail Wales. This is a brilliant trail half marathon  in Coed y Brenin.

As I stood there watching people racing, and achieving goals it really let me think a little bit more about running for me.

 

And this is how I thought – in 2015, I ran for 224 hours. 8 hrs and 13 minutes of that was race time.

 

Night time turn round on Mynydd Moel
Night time turn round on Mynydd Moel

Now, I really enjoyed my races last year, there were some bits of really important achievement, but I ran for nearly 30 times longer than I raced. And my training last year, whilst I did it, I didn’t love it.

So here’s my not-quite-finished-thought. Where should my focus be, on the  hours that I run in training, or on the events. And why are events important to me.

If you run, or train for something, does your event time, or the feeling you get from the event compensate or give a reason for the time and effort in training?

And the importance of these pictures? Well it is a reminder to me that instead of the stress, and anxiety of lining up on a start line, at a given time, to compare myself to a previous time, or to some other runners there is a deep sense of satisfaction of journeying in wild places, on foot. Challenging myself in a way that feels right for where I am on that given day.

I know I need to focus on the good times between a few events, rather than the events themselves, for now at least!

So, maybe I’ll go gentle on myself, or maybe I’ll get cabin fever and need an event to push my training. Can’t be sure, it’s not quite a full thought yet.

Rhobell Fawr
Rhobell Fawr

Facing the Dragon

Trail Marathon Wales 2015 - 27th overall
Trail Marathon Wales 2015 – 27th overall

The Dragon, facing the Dragon. It has always been pretty symbolic for me. Representing something that was  easy to run from, hard to face. I can still hear my Dad telling me, aged 10 to “Face your Dragons!”.

2015 has been a tough year in a number of ways. The final heartbreaking throes of a dysfunctional marriage. After 2 years of trying to find answers, finally accepting there are none. The needs of my two daughters, one with me half the time, one all the time, but for 2 days a fortnight. This and developing my business has been quite draining.

Through these times, running has been an optional extra, but also a really important way to work through my thoughts. A place of disconnected Solace. In terms of me time, and healthy time in stressful periods it is essential (honestly). It has also provided me with friends that are the most respected, anchored and trusted people in my life.

My running had two main aims in 2015, a sub 4 hour Trail Marathon Wales, and the 3 day Ring o Fire. I achieved TMW and in the process picked up an overuse injury that ruled me out of Ring o Fire. My tent buddies from MdS and I had a great time at Hope24 and some much needed social running, with a healthy dollop of machismo.

Cwm Ratgoed from Waun Oer
Cwm Ratgoed from Waun Oer

Whilst I rehabilitated my poorly ankle after TMW, I spent a while trying to work out my motivation for running. I don’t really fit the normal profile for a runner. I’ve done one road race, a half marathon, but don’t really derive pleasure from running in crowds, or towns. I don’t run to collect medals, t-shirts, or to beat people. I finally settled on running for the journey as my meaning.

I love the feeling of moving freely, to places that are remote. The challenge of managing myself and my environment. The feeling of resilience to move through those spaces without a massive sense of insurmountable challenge.

That is the reason I run. That it is my validation. Not peer recognition, nor a talking point. I run, for my own satisfaction. To expose my own vulnerabilities, and then conquer them. To face a smaller Dragon in each run, or to just kick up my heels and fly through an environment that I love.

And that then asked the question why I run in events. Why is it that I am drawn to things that I can run any old time. When it suits me, either alone or with a small group of friends. And that I can’t quite answer. There is the feeling of a safety net, being able to push myself harder than I would alone. Running alone I always try and protect my descending and my ascending, without putting anyone else at risk (friends, or Mountain Rescue). So, an event gives me a place to run “on the limiter”, in a more controlled manner. That encourages me to run drills, to further my technique, my fitness, my enjoyment through nasty sessions that don’t fit my criteria in many ways, but to go to a limit, and stretch it a bit more.

The other is the challenge of someone else’s cunning. Mountain Marathons, are so much more than just running. Club runners typically don’t understand why you would run competitively, not for distance or for time. But, it is more about the craft of moving quickly and accurately, and that really needs an event to be truly testing. Navigating, moving, connecting to that environment and focussing on that movement.

I had tentatively decided that 2016 was going to be a soul running kind of year. No events. But, Marmot24 snuck in, after spotting it in 2013. This is a very unique event format and one that really inspires me, endurance navigation. Then a place at the Brecon Ultra was offered, and that fits for so many reasons – a very special race. I suppose then that returning to Trail Marathon Wales is a must do as simply the best local trail marathon I have, and voted one of the seven best trail races in Europe.

Pen y Gader, Mynydd Moel, Gau Craig from the East
Pen y Gader, Mynydd Moel, Gau Craig from the East

So there we are, in the period of a fortnight, the race calendar for 2016 filled up. And that will keep me moving through the winter months of darkness and cold training. And that will put me in places that I love, that I feel alive and connected to. That is my running plan for 2016.

Did I answer why I run, or why I run events? I don’t think so, but actually, I also am growing more calm with not needing to know.

And where did the Dragon go, when I faced him? Not sure to be honest. Might have to run down his back the following year and have a different view!

Just running for the love of it.

I’m searching at the moment, searching for a focus. I don’t want to chase distance, time or winning.

I’m enjoying running for the space and the freedom; the feeling.

Thought I’d share a few recent running related pictures, mainly from around home.

Making a panel van for adventure

Here’s a story, it started 20 years ago.

I love travelling – not so much the destination, but the journey. I like backpacking, bike packing, canoe camping, overlanding, multiday running and much more.

But, a family has to slow these things, but not stop them.

Vehicles have their good points and bad points – bad for carbon footprint, good for easy travelling. What I wanted to achieve was something that would fit a lot of different criteria and really add something to me and my daughters life.

I’ve had Land Rovers, Toyota Hiace, Ford Transits and Transit connects. All good vehicles for their jobs. A lot of outdoor people favour the VW Transporter, and for good reason – however, living in rural North Wales I wanted something that gave a bit of a better fuel return, was well built and would give a few years service.

After a bit of research, my ideal van would be a VW Caddy Maxi Kombi (5 seats and glazing) but it was a good way out of my price range to get something that would have low miles and a good engine.

Then, Clogau Motors, just down the road from me had a Caddy Maxi panel van, with low miles, a 1.6 TDi engine and the right price. A test drive with my daughter and a bit of money calculating later I had the base vehicle.

Inside of a normal pane van
Inside of a normal pane van

Now, I had to convert it, to be a five seater, rear windows, lined and a power supply. I wanted to keep the vehicle as flexible as possible so that it can do the job of a van (i.e. load carrier), take people and kit places, and be a small campervan when needed.

The first job was to decide how to have a power supply. I thought about whether I could have a removable leisure battery, what I wanted to power and when. I quickly realised that I was going to have to give up valuable space to make the van powered, and so decided to go off-grid. More on that later on, but the important thing now was that I didn’t need to run wires whilst I went through the fitting out process.

I really wanted to fit original manufacturers seats – these fold up, lift out, all on simple fixings that are already in the van floor. So after a bit of negotiation I managed to find a supplier, who could get these from a vehicle that had had them removed to allow wheelchair access. To do this the bulkhead had to be removed, this was an unbolt and trim type job. The windows went in at the same time as the seats, and after a bit of negotiation with my insurance company it was accepted as a 5 seater combi van.

The next bit needed a bit of thinking about – because of the camping kit that I wanted to use, I couldn’t box in and insulate the wheel arches, so they got a covering with lining carpet as a first job. Behind the ply-lining on the walls and under the headlining and floor went sheeps wool insulation. On the walls and roof lining went carpet trim, and on the floor went heavy ply, over some ply packers, covered with commercial grade vinyl lining.

There were a few moments of frustration, and the fact I was running out of time before the summer holiday started didn’t do too much to keep things calm.

Lining the strip of bare metal round the rear door was the hardest bit, some awkward, tight radii, and a good bit of swearing I got a finish that I was happy with. YouTube was definitely my friend during this bit of work, and this clip seemed to be the one that I kept coming back to.

 

USB AAA charger from Power Gorilla
USB AAA charger from Power Gorilla

I really wanted make sure that the engine battery was kept as unused as possible when having a camper, and as I said earlier I had chosen not to install the costly split charge system and spacing eating leisure battery. Instead I went for a set of battery LED lights in 3 strategic locations, and then added a solar charging kit to my carried stuff. This is a power gorilla, solar gorilla and a USB AA/AAA battery charging system. I knew that I was going to need to run my laptop, recharge phones, camera and batteries during the time away as I couldn’t not work for the trip. It looked like on bit of the trip was going to tie in nicely with a job – nice to align expenses for work, with a leisure trip.

Solar Gorilla sucking in those suns rays
Solar Gorilla sucking in those suns rays

The range of gear from Power Traveller is well worth considering if you want or need to be off grid for any period of time. 

The solar gorilla worked well recharging phones and AAA batteries straight from the sun, and was an important part of keeping the power gorilla (basically a big rechargeable battery) topped off.

The power gorilla can be charged from the mains, as well as the solar gorilla. This  gave me about 4 hours extra lap top time, but perhaps critically for number one daughter a seemingly endless supply of iPhone recharges. I’ve used both for work when I’ve been away from the office, and the solar charging works really well on the dash of the van inside the windscreen. 

The LED lights had about 20 hours on 3 AAA batteries before they started dimming, and again the power gorilla meant that after a couple of hours, what ever the conditions the van would be lit inside again at night. It needed a bit of thought as to how and when what could be charged, but much better for me than the option of a split charge and leisure battery – all the solar kit is all easily transportable and so works in any environment.

The major addition for turning the now, five seat van into a camper was the addition of a boot jump from Amdro. This bit of kit effectively replaced a family tent (that I always hated and wasn’t particularly well suited to anything other than a flat field). The small lift in lift out unit maintains the ability to be a van in the morning and then a camper in the evening. Made from ply, with storage boxes, a drawer with an alcohol stove, fold out bed easily long enough for me at 6’2″, seating for four, a table and water supply this kit drew many discussions on the trip – a real testament to the skill and creativity of the guys at Amdro.

With the addition of a quality cool box, we were all set to head off on an adventure. That might need an additional write up – Dover/Calais crossing with tight border controls, Eiffel Tower, Disneyland, Aire’s, and the Alps. Great trip!

Mainly French flies making a mess.
Mainly French flies making a mess.

Salomon Trail Marathon Wales, 2015

This journey starts a year ago at Trail Marathon Wales 2014.

TMW is a local event for me, when it comes to participation events in Dolgellau, it is by far the biggest, and as running events go it is a tough marathon. Also, 2015 was the first year of a 3 years sponsorship deal from Salomon. This is fantastic news, and completes major sponsors for all the trail running events hosted by Run. Coed y Brenin.

2014, I came back from MdS and treated the event with complacency. It took me a good while to recover my feet, and then I just didn’t commit to training. A full write up from last year is here, but the brief line is that I had a big lesson, and didn’t achieve what I set out to.

I’ve had two goals in running this year, TMW and Ring o Fire (September). As well as challenges in work and family life it has been a bumpy journey for sure. However I’ve had a good deal of support from friends and family, and although not as solid as I wanted I followed a training plan, watched what I ate and stayed focussed on that finish line.

What does training mean, it means doing speed work, distance work and also getting my head in the right space. Training in the dark, the rain,  between meetings and just whenever I could was a strange constant in amongst all the other noise. Even working out how to combine a few shorter runs with my 10 year old Daughter, all very calming.

Focussing on the food a bit was helpful, getting rid of a lot of processed food, and just being sensible with portions helped me. At the startline of TMW 2014 I was 93 kg, where as this year I was 78 kg. For those still in old money thats a couple of pounds shy of two and half stone. On me, it means instead of wearing 34″ waist jeans, 30″ waist is the order of the day now. I’ve lost a lot of upper body strength too, but I’ll work on that in the winter, maybe. Possibly after Ring o Fire, anyway.

I’ve never been so anxious on the lead into the race. A couple of big emotional strains in the week leading in were tiring, and general stress levels had reduced sleep to a few hours a week. Hardly the best preparation for an endurance event.

A few friends came to stay the night before TMW, and we headed up to the pre-race party, nice to catch up with a few people, register, and share the atmosphere with Ciara (my daughter). MG Spalton was around with Lucy Bartholomew. Briefly, Lucy is the Junior World Champion in SkyRunning, and a really warm and inspirational character. MG has always been super supportive and warm towards running, and I’ve always been impressed with how she blends happy, warm, competitive running with duties of being a mum. No mean feat for sure! So after a bit of banter, music from CeadCyf we headed home for fluids and a snooze. With house sharing happening I was treated to my daughters bed, complete with princess net and snuggly blanket. Surprisingly I had a good night sleep, and though I woke feeling jaded the general feeling was good!

We woke to a slight drizzle, so I went with wet weather plan. I’d had two choices to make, shoes and tops. I was absolutely set on my Scott TR10 Trail shorts (no need for a belt). I was between a vest and a t-shirt. The T-shirt won easily. Then the choice was between my newly acquired (after demoing) Salomon Ultra 4 Soft Ground and the tried and tested Salomon Sense Pro. I went for the Soft Ground, knowing that both would struggle a bit on wet rock, but knowing a few soft descents would be quicker in them. I still slathered on the “Skin so Soft” to beat down the midges that are present at this time of year in Coed y Brenin. Breakfast down and then up to the forest.

Parking was even more slick this year (quite an achievement) and we all wobbled down to the event area at around 08:15. We met up with a few people who were also running, and the half marathon an hour later. My mind was all over the place, I just couldn’t focus between trying to make sure I was looking after Ciara, but also trying to get my head around what lay ahead. Gratefully my very good (best) friends Jeremy and Kim appeared, and Ciara happily went to hang out with Kim as planned. Phil and I went off for a short warm up and I tried to get “in the zone”. Phil was very gentle in encouraging me, and as a runner I greatly look up to this was, in hindsight really important.

I was starting to find my focus as we walked down to the start, underneath the Visitors Centre. This year I chose to start somewhere where I thought there was about 100 people ahead of me. This was very different to where I normally look mid pack. It was hard to hear the commentary own in the start box, the general chatter was loud. I could just glimpse Ciara and about 10 seconds out I waved, and then checked my watch. Glanced at Iori (game keeper with a rifle) and waited for the bang. 

Found my focus!!
Found my focus!!

My aim was to chase a 5min42sec km the whole way round. I’d set my watch to give me that information every kilometre. I knew the first half needed careful pacing. I wanted to make sure I went fast enough to hit 4 hours, but not too fast that I blew up too early. The initial jostling settled down, and I started running within myself. I could hear Matty Brenin telling me not to fight the hills. I was remembering that downhill were free miles. But, also I didn’t want to smash my legs, so held back a bit on the initial downhills.

Where people had gone off fast, I settled into a pace, and was picking people off on the climbs. I’d worked hard on my posture  and technique whilst running and this had felt good in training. In the race it felt useful to focus on that and my breathing. 

Mawddach switchback (Pic credit Rhys Williams)
Mawddach switchback (Pic credit Rhys Williams)

At around 3 miles the marshalls, Elly and Chris, were whooping and hollering. Whilst I always try and say thanks to marshalls, I was still not relaxed into the race, and thing I uttered something about not being able to be friendly. The next long descent to the Mawddach is definitely free miles, and as I crossed the bridge, I was now on my own a bit. I spotted Rhys who was out on his bike supporting Sandra. 

Everything was feeling good, and I wanted to get into the single track ahead in a place where I was free to run at my pace. In previous years I’d been held up, so this year I pushed into a bit of clear trail and tried to clear my head a bit too.

Things were feeling good, I was on target with my splits, and had my first feed coming up at the 10km mark (about 40 minutes in). A quick TORQ gel, and some electrolyte from the ‘usual team’ at feed point 1.

In to the top of one of my favourite descents, down to the Wen, last year I had a bit of a fall here, but this year with a lovely new bench cut trail, and being in the right area of the field the descent went well. The next firetrail shocked me a bit, at an hour MG came into view. Shocked because MG would be on for about a 3:40, and because though she was a good few hundred metres ahead I was closing on her steadily through the climbs.

A quick bit of tidy single track through Penrhos and here I caught MG. A quick hello, then she asked me to pass. I knew from this, and my splits that I was running the first half well. From here through to Sting in the Tail, my head really started going to the “am I going too hard”. As I’ve said before, because I don’t race that often, pacing is my biggest battle, but everything was feeling pretty tidy, so trust in my training was order of the day.

A committed run up Sting, a great undulating run through Cefndeudwr saying hi to half marathoners heading out, including seeing Sharon and Jude looking very strong. A quick TORQ gel ready to take on water at half way. Great camaraderie here, then the cheering (and slightly bonkers) Elly and Chris and the descent down the new demo loop to the half marathon. My chip split was 1:46:38. This was great news for a 4 hour target, potentially a lot better! A cup of water and then off under the A470.

I’d practise the next section a bit, early in the morning. Trying to learn the shapes and where to push well. At the top of the long climb, there is a feed station in an old quarry. Electrolyte, and a bit of banana and quickly on.

Some lovely downhill running here to the water point that gets two visits and cheerfully manned by the Hide’s. I was chasing a pair of runners, and was still gaining on the technical ground, right to the bottom of “snap, crackle and pop”. Well, at least nothing went snap or pop, but coming off the descent into the climb, my right quad started to cramp viciously. I tried shortening up my stride, and this helped a little, but I knew here that it was going to be a tricky run in.

The 20 mile mark was up at about 2hr38, which in theory gave me a decent crack at 3:hr30! This was enough to push on, but coming out of “Heart of Darkness” and starting the descent my left hamstring started cramping really painfully. Again a quick shortening of the stride to try and let it rest. I did manage to run much of the bit in from here, but it wasn’t very enjoyable. The single-track descent was ugly, I could hear the PA over in the visitors centre welcoming runners in, but now I was just trying to keep up enough pace to stay under 4 hours.

Running into the top of R72, not loving cramp here. (Pic Credit Al Jones)
Running into the top of R72, not loving cramp here. (Pic Credit Al Jones)

Al Jones was at the  marshal point at the top of the last single track, a quick sip of water, and then down to Mark Atherton who was on the road crossing.

Just here I lost two places to some quick runners, and then onto Pont yr Eden.

Just as I finished the switchback, there was a shout of “Ash!” and MG was catching me up.

Just as the climb on the animal trail reached it’s steepest, my left hamstring cramped again and MG came passed looking strong as always. I tried to stay with her, but I had nothing left.

The last little rise to the finish line was lined with plenty of people, my daughter, included. Across the line, and I knew I was under 4 hours, but everything was a bit of a blur. A hug from MG, Es (in charge of all the goodie bag packing) and round the finish funnel to find Ciara.

My chip time 3:43:34, and MG? exactly the same. Couldn’t have written it.

Ciara, Katie, Snooby, Phil and I pausing on a cool Foel Offrwm for a Summit Selfie
Ciara, Katie, Snooby, Phil and I pausing on a cool Foel Offrwm for a Summit Selfie

Then the meeting, cheering and supporting people coming in. Yes, I’d smashed the 4hrs, but know there is more in there. To have been on schedule for a quicker time, and then to have got my nutrition wrong is a good lesson. Definitely something to build on, in a positive way.

The trip out to mobile signal caused a bit of a jaw drop – 27th overall and 9th in category. That put the effort in perspective.

A really nice evening wearing my cozy new TMW15 hoody with some good friends, a few beers and some good banter. Then a little recovery jog up Foel Offrwm the next day and a great recovery massage from Katie from the Run.Clinic finished a great weekend.

A load of thanks are needed to quite a few people. Thank you all!

Looking forward to 2016 already, though I hope my legs have recovered by then…it’s taking a while!

For those with love of data, it was a 5:21/km average. Splits are here