Posted on May 18, 2012Should 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 “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.