Rawhide

The horizon line that inspires me
The horizon line that inspires me

I remember very clearly when I was 24, my friend saying “you’re going to have to grow up”. This was when I’d just bought my new mountain bike. In his eyes, in the south of England, in the mid nineties adults didn’t mountain bike.

Of course, being stubborn, I carried on with mountain biking. And, as I’ve explained before it was the bike that brought me to live in North Wales and ultimately run the Marathon des Sables. Two wheels have always been fun, and the more I’ve reflected on MdS, the more I’ve realised that its even simpler.

I like moving.

BMX bikes rocked
BMX bikes rocked

As children we’d ride bikes round and round the same route. We’d learn and know little tracks, jumps, kerb edges, alley ways and back lanes really well. I lived on my BMX for at least 6 weeks each summer holiday for at least 5 years. From early in the morning til it got dark, and sometimes beyond we’d be repetitively skidding in the same place, wheelieing between shadows, lampposts, encouraging each other up and down steeper hills, bigger jumps, higher bunny hops, riding by a stream eyes shut, or disastrously, the night before a maths exam riding down the biggest hill cross handed. Looking back there was no reason. It was fun, no winners, no losers in a competitive sense, just the joy of living in the moment.

My very first road bike in around 1990
My very first road bike in around 1990

BMX bikes gave way to road bikes, I found my love of surfing along the edge of the lactate threshold, the moment where the noisiest thing is your breathing, your heart or the wind.

All that repetitive stuff creates something that is now known as physical literacy, and a healthy heart. I know I played ball sports and racquet sports (I’ll miss out accurate stone throwing) and that does develop a different kind of physical literacy.

Bikes, pedal or engine powered are lovely, I like the feeling that moving on one creates. That sensation in your inner ear, leaning in, trimming the bike, lifting the front wheel, whipping the back wheel or free-wheeling with the wind blowing is something I can always fall back on. It is moving quickly so close to nature, so part of nature that is enjoyable. But, as a mode of transport you’re not in a steel box, people talk to you empathise with you. Also, if you drift from the now, there are consequences that tend to keep you in the now.

I got into simple multi-day mountain walking, not instead of bikes, as well as bikes. The camp craft, the endurance, the touching nature really hit home with me in my mid teens. An escape from daily life and the extra responsibilities I had due to terminally ill parents. On reflection this taught me self reliance as well as new skills. Scrambling up Cneifion Arete with a big pack, having crossed the Carneddau was a big moment in my teens. I suddenly felt capable of surviving in a very primitive way. Add a few ropes and some more skills and new dimensions are available, bigger mountains. Never a rock climber, more a mountaineer, but that sounds too grand. Just journeying through mountains, immersed in some remote spots.

Then boats came in to play, sailing, paddling, navigating. This was a new challenge, moving on a dynamic environment. I was fascinated by being able to predict the water height on the sea at any given point, the variance the weather made. And on water, to move effectively there needs to be a different reaction. A sailing boat on a different point of sail, with a different sea way needs to be helmed differently. Kayaking, journeying on white water initially seems even more chaotic, but the more you learn, the more you become experienced, again through repetition, the more reaction can be instinctive. The now becomes more fluid [sic] but still a journey, a movement.

“Big black” in Morocco

And then trail or mountain running, far more basic, far more heart, lungs and legs and far simpler. But, all the skills come together in a different way. The exposure felt is more immediate. I can  compare travelling in the sub-Sahara on a motorbike to my recent experience running. A lot is the same, managing hydration, fuel (for you or the bike) and keeping moving, and I enjoy the journey in very different ways. Probably, even though much harder, on foot is more enjoyable.

I still ride bikes, I still visit the mountains, I still love boats. I like doing these things solo, I love the feeling of self dependence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete misanthrope and I do love sharing the experiences too, but to get the most I like, if not need to be exposed, on my own. That original enjoyment of lungs, heart and wind being the only noise, the movement being beautiful things.

Many see my pursuits as dangerous, but that’s different to the view I hold. Managing danger and fear is about experience and judgement. And when you’re in that moment there is an element of purity that is really grabbing. I have and do walk away, the hills, rivers, forests and oceans will be there another day. So far I’ve never regretted keeping going. I’ve regretted stopping, but that is a momentary regret compared to the alternative. Yes, having children has taken the extremes out. Those moments where a wrong decision means instant injury. Big jumps and steep gradients are mighty thrilling, but the adrenaline can come in different, more controllable ways.

Chris Baynham-Hughes is a very experienced mountain ultra runner. In his blog here he goes through the iterative process of defining risk. In many cases we experience risk when it is managed by someone else, at an event where the judgement of Event Directors either cossets or denies you your own responsibility in decision making. I agree with Chris the more experienced you get, the more intuitive risk judgement becomes and therefore in many ways the better mentally we’re prepared to handle experiences.

The video here is from Daz who has kayaked solo down Everest and in the last minute sums up, for me, the feeling that pushing yourself in whatever format “is”. Surfer, climber, cyclist, runner or even businessman the question Daz asks is one we should ask ourselves, regularly.

“When was the last time you put yourself in  place to open yourself up to the passion and the grace and the silence and the noise of the now” 

I’m fortunate to have met some very inspirational people, especially in the years I have lived in North Wales. And now I recognise that not “growing up” is something that is challenging to those in the mainstream.

Being responsible doesn’t mean not having fun; it can do if that is your choice. But to live a satisfied life, to live in the now is so important. None of know when the now won’t exist for each of us. Experiences are so subjective, it’s not possible to judge whether one experience is more satisfying for one person, than it is for another. 

How we express ourselves is limitless, music, art, sport, gardening, religion, what ever.

For me feeling the “passion of the now” needs me to move, to take responsibility for my own movement, use my own judgement. The mechanism doesn’t matter. The journey and the experiences on the way are far more exciting to me than the destination.

When my parents died I had a choice-join the gravy train and conspicuous consumption. Or move and consume life. It went a bit blurry in there for a while, but the Marathon des Sables has really reminded me… 

“Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’, Keep movin’, movin’, movin’, Though they’re disapprovin’, Keep them doggies movin’ Rawhide!”

Why go so far?

The last month has been the start of a new chapter for me. I resigned from my job – sometimes when all other things are equal and you’ve looked at all options, voting with your feet is the thing to do, even when you don’t know where you’re going. I feel like I’ve achieved a lot and I’ll continue to follow the discussion on access to the natural resources of Wales very closely. The personal drive for countryside access is something fundamental to me and it’s at the heart of why I love being active in the outdoors.

Doors close, other opportunities open. Time is now my commodity again and the need for income will replace this only to quickly!

Bugeilyn abover Aberhosan
Bugeilyn abover Aberhosan

Along with leaving my job, a couple of other experiences have been making me do some soul searching. Amongst these, the reason for this blog, is a very dear friend in Australia. He asked me to consider a book by someone who doesn’t see distance running as healthy. I greatly respect this friend, he’s known me since being at my most vulnerable and has a certain insight that makes his thoughts challenging and valuable. However, on pushing myself hard physically I know that it is fundamental to me, its a non negotiable.

It’s a strange feeling, and one that I have tried to understand why it is at my core. It should be obvious I suppose, but it’s just outside what I can see clearly. To explain it, I have to look backwards to look forwards.

I’ve always been above average in sports – good hand eye co-ordination and plenty of opportunity has been useful for that. I’ve never been ‘elite’ but I’ve been to selections for county sports and other higher teams. Despite enjoying the “killer” moments when beating someone was there, I never found winning the real core of my enjoyment. The central enjoyment is in using my body and mind to it’s limit. Sure there is a point where that makes you a winner, but I’ve never really experienced that. The point for me is that exertion makes me feel vital, alive and me, not at the whim of someone else.

The only place that this happens for me is in wild areas. Perhaps it is my safe place because I used the outdoors as a place to escape the non school hours whilst my parents journeyed through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to their death. By escaping into the woods, the outdoors, riding bikes, swimming in lakes, fishing, canoeing tin baths, wild camping, map reading, climbing and making fires I didn’t have time to focus on morphine pumps, colostomy bags, anti-emetics, iced Complan meals and the day to day focus of parents suffering with cancer as a teenager. Sure, I had more chores to do than my peers, and expectations of academic success were daily reminders of who I “needed” to become p gain approval. Even then I knew city life wasn’t where my head was at, but I had access to woods and lakes right out my back gate and a dog for company when I wanted it.

Sunset down the Mawddach Estuary
Sunset down the Mawddach Estuary

I found the immediate loss of parents pretty tough, 20 years old, selling family homes, deciding what had sentimental value, where to live and what to do had a great deal to play in my bereavement journey. But it also shifted my life expectations. My Dad, my hero, lived to 47. The lack of “life” available to us as a family after 7 years of Mum, then Dad fighting cancer really made me aware of the continual passing of time and hence, its value. As a 20 year old thinking you could be half way through your available life, reference points become very different. Yes, I partied, yes, I struggled with the concept of premature death happening to me. As I did this the outdoors became even more important to me. Oceans, rivers, mountains, deserts, forests, wild spaces and even Lordswood in Southampton showed me more than the night-life in East Grinstead ever could. Whilst others were saving up for designer jeans, I was buying Trangia stoves. It sounds very Crocodile Dundee, but the urban space is relatively simple to understand if you know nature. Initially, for me the battle was mental, how to be and feel safe in these different environments and then as these skills developed the challenge became physical.

My expectations for life shifted from quantity to quality. Whether here for another day, year, decade or however long wasn’t important. Living in the moment and feeling alive is something that underpins who I am.

In a very scientific, physics oriented point of view, our frames of reference can be very different all at the same time. Think two cars travelling towards each other and the view of speed from passengers, observers and a plane flying overheard. Being in the middle of the ocean and watching the stars and thinking how far away those things are is incomprehensible. Journeying through vast landscapes makes a small human being feel totally inconsequential. Stuck 40 km into a run and faced with 100m of short steep trail that scale is the important one, not how far it is to Alpha Centauri. And yet those can all seem insurmountable. Those big things can be quite frightening if you over think them. But its the small things we exist in, that 100m of steep trail. Who are we, what are we, what happens when you die? All very fundamental things, but as a society we don’t really think about them. I guess if you can’t answer them robustly it asks what is the point in your life? If we believe it is about “the greater good” there is every chance that our lives will end up like a scene from Hot Fuzz with a church steeple stuck in our throat – “i’ hur’s”.

That sense of scale, all happening at once is why I love moving through nature. Sometimes I do it well, sometimes I don’t. Looking ahead and looking down at the same time, seeing how what I’m doing now can affect what I’m doing in 2 hours. The planning and the discipline puts big things in small steps that can be coped with. The journey is so much more to me than the destination. When that journey is about my own effort I find it even more rewarding. That I can move, that I can make decisions that I am in control of where I’m going is really rewarding. Of course most of the time the “in control” bit is really what or where you can go as a result of natural forces – down stream, working with wind and tide, nature is omnipotent in its control of us. But sometimes we can judge whether we have the skills, strength or stamina to win; very occasionally we can “win” our objectives over nature. Sometimes we get our asses handed back to us on a plate and coping with that is a skill too. 

Llyn Tegid
Llyn Tegid

So, why go so far? Why do things that may either finish your life immediately, or reduce your life expectancy? How can I answer my friends request to consider the damage I’m potentially doing to myself in pushing myself hard? Why am I qualified to know better than a Psychology degree holder?

The answer is easier for me if I consider the norms that I don’t understand. If I knew when I was going to die then maybe I’d dial it back a bit, but I don’t. When will I become unable to live in my own way? Given a choice between watching an hours TV and going running in the cold, dark and wet, I’d always choose the run. I learn more, feel more, see more and relax more than when watching the TV. Yes, I have to rest, but I’d prefer to cook food for the family, or cut the grass than sit and read a newspaper. So when the day is crisp and bright and I can run, bike, canoe, sail or walk into a new place the experience fills me more deeply than anything else I have ever known.

Out for a run in the hills
Out for a run in the hills

Whether that activity is “extreme” in others frames of reference doesn’t matter to me. I’m never going to be the quickest, or able to go the furthest – that is the winning mentality again that just isn’t important to me. It’s my personal challenge, I do enjoy measuring myself against others occasionally, but it’s the feeling of being alive, being connected yet insignificant in the environment that I love. Running far is a mental challenge – continual forward progress, a metaphor for life. As that progress gets harder, the further you go, knowing who you are and how you cope is knowledge that helps completes a journey.

Those journeys give me time. Meditative, rhythmic time. Time to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Time to find answers. Time to find more questions.

My young daughters tolerate my journeys, I include them when I can, but sometimes, just now, I can’t. I try to share the journeys in the traditional way, through story telling, but Dad’s run, bike ride, paddle or whatever can never compete with the Octanauts or One Direction. It won’t be long until I can journey with them in different ways and that excites me. Not to push them physically, but to let their mind develop in a way that means that they can journey in any environment. Ultimately having the confidence to journey through life independently. Occasionally, I look at the pain of losing my parents early, and feel selfish about the chance I place that same experience in front of my daughters. But, I watched my Mum and Dad live for retirement, I’m sad they didn’t do half the things we spoke about. If they had lived their life in the moment I’d be in some way happier that they died young. It’s the fact that they lived for the future and the future never quite came that jars with me. I hope, if my daughters have to deal with the same situation I did that they understand how much “the journey” is important to me. Yes, they would be angry, but hell very few people are content to lose their parents at any age!

Running with Ciara
Running with Ciara
Puddle jumping with Katie
Puddle jumping with Katie

The shared journey with my girls has started – the canoeing, the walking, the scrambling, the camping, the picnics, the runs and the cycling are all journeys. Special journeys because they are shared journeys. Journeys into our wild areas. Discussions about caring for those resources, those finite resources that are being used up. About being responsible, about appreciating what others appreciate in the outdoors and sharing it. In that sense, I’m still doing the day job just to an audience of two. I can add so much more time and value to my children, to their knowledge and value of the outdoors. Every minute I can get them to value being in the outdoors is a journey, a soft learning experience. One where their body and their mind controls their experience. Not the TV, not the tablet, not some electrical gizmo, but them. Nothing else to blame, every minute is their making. If they fall, it is their mistake. There is no reset button, no start this level again. Pretty fundamental.

That in a nutshell is why I go so far, for every minute you go further, the more you learn. The more you’re to blame. Not some x ,y or z reason. You alone can control your journey. The harder you make the journey, the more you learn about yourself. That means that I may have to eat humble pie, aged 70 with horrific debilitating arthritis, but that’s part of the journey I’m willing to accept in payment for what I’m working hard for now. Knowledge of who I am.

To be aware of this and able to write this is a gift that my children have given me – more knowledge about me.

I’m here for a good time, not necessarily a long time.

An Autumnal picnic
An Autumnal picnic

OMM 2013

I always look forward to the clocks going back, it means its the weekend of the Original Mountain Marathon (used to be call the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon). 

The event moves around various mountainous parts of the UK and is a 2 day race for teams of 2 runners. The teams have to carry everything with them (tent, sleeping bag, cooker, food and various mandatory kit). The race has a range of different classes. Elite, A, B, C and D class follow a preset route along “controls”. These controls are small orange and white cubes of material about 40cm off the ground and are often hidden from view. They have to be “dibbed” with a little wrist worn dibber. When you put the dibber in the hole at the control it logs the time that you check into the control point. On these classes the fastest from start to finish is the winner.

There are three other classes that are ‘score’ classes. These classes have points assigned to each control. Each control has a different value. The classes have a set time on day 1 and an hour less on day 2. The winner is the team that collects the most points over the two days. Navigation and time keeping is critical. The highest points on a control is 40, and runners get 2 points deducted for every minute they’re late to the finish control.

Oh, the other thing is that you only get the map, marked up with the controls for that day, 1 minute before you cross the start line. 

I run with a local and very good friend Jeremy, we enjoy the short score class and we do it for fun, not to be super competitive.  This means 5 hours on day one and 4 hours on day 2.

This year the OMM was in the Brecon Beacons. This meant that the journey for Jeremy and I wasn’t too onerous. We left home at 1730 and after driving down, buying a few bits and bobs, had some food and faffed a good bit we were at race HQ at 2030. 

The car parking was on a big wet field and even as we were parking a few cars were getting bogged down. HQ is a big barn, first job is to register, which means getting the dibber attached to the wrist of one of the runners-me this weekend. A quick look round the shop inside, buy some gas for the cooker, have a quick beer and a natter before getting some sleep. 

Jez and I knew our start time was 0906 on day 1 and 0851 on day 2. We have a bit of a sort out of kit-splitting the tent up, sharing out our food and packing everything down. The nights sleep was reasonable, and we were up to get breakfast and hit the toilets before it got too busy. 

The start was about 3km from the car park so we set off through the forestry and wound our way up to the start area. A few people milling around and a chance to chat with the course setter who assured us the layout would be plenty challenging this year. The weather forecast was ominous and the streams in the area were already high, with some being un-crossable.  We had arrived 9 minutes before time, and at 0903 we are called forward. At the first line, the dibber number is checked in against the correct start time. A minute later move through to the check control to ensure the dibber is registering. A minute later we’re handed the days map and we’re stood on the start line. One compulsory control about 750m from the finish. But the finish is only 5 km away? That’s unusual. Normally the finish would be a distance away with the controls laid out spread across the route. Jez and I are talking about where we’re going as the start horn goes.

We’ve about 1.5 km down a channel with out of bounds either side. We’re run/walking in the steady rain whilst talking about which way we’re going to get points. We get to the control at the edge of the out of bounds channel. We’ve now got the whole of the Black Mountain range in front of us and some tricky decisions to make. Picking controls is a compromise between picking easy to run terrain, easy navigation (!) and enough points to make it worthwhile slogging some big hills.

The event maps are 1:40000 which I only use once a year and so the second control takes me a little while to judge. But we hit it after being about 100m away on the way in. I’m checking my now ancient Suunto Vector watch for height and time and working off a dead reckoning bearing. We’ve made good distance in the first hour so we agree to change our route and go for some more points. A hard pull over a ridge sends us towards a control that is Waterfall (E). This is the big waterfall on the Haffes, a mountain river that gets kayaked in big water. Although it’s a long leg, my nav is spot on and we hit the control directly on the opposite bank of the river… a few metres upstream and then splash across and dib. Thankfully the rain has stopped and though the wind is high it’s quite nice. Now for a really long leg to get a 40 pointer and a long way South. The area is full of rock, sinkholes and featureless terrain. We work hard to get south and I realise we’re drifting a little East of where the control should be. I’m planning to run through a saddle and then contour off West at the right height to hit the control. Hmmm over shot a little in finding the saddle, this means I now knew that the control was behind to our right. A quick turn round and gain some higher ground. We’re too far away from home to spend ages looking for this. Jez and I agree we’ve got no more than 5 minutes to get this one. With about 30 seconds left on the clock, I spot the orange and white material I’m after and I rush over and touch in. 

Now it’s a dash North collecting as many controls as we can on the way to the finish. There have been literally no paths, really wild running and the going has been slow through tussock grass, broken rock and marshy land, but suddenly we’re on sheep grazed firmer land. This is now nearly pleasant to run on…passed the wreckage of a crashed airplane, then a series of river crossings and a climb up on to Fan Brycheiniog. From this control there IS a path, and a few teams are visible on it. However, we decide that if we straightline the descent we can get another control comfortably on the way into the finish. It works out and 25 minutes later we run under a finish line frame being held up by volunteers-it’d had just been blown over in the wind. 

Jez showing off the warm feet technology and freezer bag water carriers.
Jez showing off the warm feet technology and freezer bag water carriers.

Down to the download area where all the information get’s sucked off the dibber. This show’s us we’re without penalties and scored 240 points (out of a possible 500). We scoot into the camping field and manage to get the last flatish piece of sheltered land,,we’re probably the 20th team in and there are lots to come so we’re pretty lucky. Time to fill some freezer bags with water to save getting up and down and get into some clean dry clothes. Because we’re travelling lightish, the only way to have warm dry feet with wet minging fell shoes is to switch to dry sock, ram these into freezer bags and then back in the shoes. We start boiling water, have a cup of tea, rehydrating food and letting the legs rest a bit. The rain and wind come back with a vengeance and we’re pleased to be dry and warm and getting food. There are a lot of runners still on the hill and we can hear some terrific volunteers encouraging them down to download in increasingly more worried tones. As the hours pass the message changes from a cheery “well done, download is only 2 minutes away” to “download is 60 seconds away” to a fairly concerned “are you ok?”.

Jeremy and I have a rule, that we go as light as we can without spoiling our enjoyment of the weekend. So after our rehydrated plap we break out our Wensleydale and Cranberry cheese and some oat crackers. A nearby tent guffaws as Jeremy says “Do you want to have a go at the 12 year old or the 15 year old first?”-I’ve already got the 18 year old between my legs, warming up. As well as the cheese we’d got some miniature single malts. I can’t think how it sounded from outside!

Just the essential then, some freezer bags, cheese and teenagers, Single Malt that is.
Just the essential then, some freezer bags, cheese and teenagers, Single Malt that is.

We spend the next few hours talking rubbish as only boys in a tent can. 

There is a quick break in the rain at 9pm and I shoot down to look at the results and start times. We’d done pretty well and from 151 starting teams in our class, finished the day 25th. This meant we were issued a new start time of 0751. This was great, it meant we might get home before the big weather front was due in!

A reasonable nights sleep came and went, some heavy rain, some thunder and lightning and some big blustery gusts meaning sleep was even harder. The tent we use is a 1+ man tent, so for Jez and I it means a good bit of coziness.  The informal spoon only broken when a hip seizes or a calf cramps.

An enormous thunderclap wakes us at 0545 (now GMT after the clocks change) and so I get on with boiling water for porridge and tea. We shovel that down, get the toileting over and done with-the portaloos are pretty horrific and start breaking camp. 

The rain is coming and going and the wind is much stronger than the previous day. We get everything squared away and we head down to the start area. 

The same process is about to happen, 3 minutes to go. A lot of the nights conversation had been whether we were going to be able to get off the car park, and whether we really wanted to be car 400 of 800 cars being towed out one by one. Jez needs to be at an airport early doors on Monday so sitting in a car park for 12 hours waiting for a tractor wasn’t going to happen. We’d agreed we’d see what the course looked like, but we certainly didn’t want to be on the course for ages. 

The Southerly wind and heavy rain meant that working back over the Black Mountains was going to be a big ask. Jeremy had rolled his ankle and his calves were a bit “tweaky” after last weekends dualthlon. The first climb took me a while to find my rhythm and Jez was definitely suffering. We were looking to do a loop of about 160 points and get to the finish ASAP.

The second long climb was straight into really strong wind, it was cooling down as well, this front was arriving sooner than expected. The nav was spot on and we hit every control we wanted. We turned back under the escarpment of the Black Mountains to be blown in 3 metre strides down the hill with hail pinging off our hoods. Pretty fun, but also not without risks! 

We blast our way across some soggy mush, with both of us falling up to our waists in bog holes. We’re tiring and making mistakes. We discuss whether we can get a 30 pointer off to the North but both agree our legs don’t have the power to do that and get back early. We climb to 600m, grab the penultimate control and then start the best descent of the event (for me) down to the finish. Mucky, soft runnable hillside, then down a piece of forestry track, then picking a route in and out of the trees down to the finish. 

Over the finish line, dib out, then Jez and I have a lovely hug, and then make our way to download. We’re the 6th team in and we know our position will change loads as the other teams come in over the next few hours. 

Our plan is to down the free soup on the way back to the car park, get off the field and find a layby to change in. We made it about 30 feet before the front wheels buried themselves. The farmer came over in his tractor and gently pulled us out to the tarmac…he was going to have a long afternoon and night ahead of him! 

The results were published later; despite taking nearly an hour less than those around us we’d finished Day 2 in 20th position. This meant we’d scored 405 points in 7hrs and 51 minutes, good enough for 26th overall. To compare 25th place had scored 406 points in 8hrs 48 minutes.

The winning team scored 535 points in 8hr 18mins, so there was some epic running out there in really tough conditions. Full results are here

A brilliant weekend! 

We’d planned to do more filming, but the only footage worth sharing is here and the commentary is good from Jez. 

 

What a run!

Coming down from Mynydd Penrhos
Coming down from Mynydd Penrhos

I’ve waited patiently for my leg to heal before going for a run. 6 weeks has felt like a long time.

Couldn’t help but enjoy the descent off Mynydd Penrhos, above Tyn y Groes in Coed y Brenin.

It felt so good!

A bit of an update on human powered miles… February was going to be lower than I expected after an injury and a bit of a virus in the middle of the month.

I managed to cycle 187km and row 88.7km so that gives 275.7km for February.

Year to date- 579.7km which is still slightly ahead of schedule. Looking forward to running some more this month

Running along the ridge of Mynydd Penrhos
Running along the ridge of Mynydd Penrhos

While you were sleeping (timelapse)

I’m finding it difficult to get a regular time together to get out to run when it’s light. Family and work commitments always come before training during the day, and by the time work is done and the children in bed, I’m usually pretty beat.

I’ve always liked running in the dark, and so I’m getting out first thing in the morning with a head torch before breakfast. The saying goes that “champions are made in the winter” it’s certainly a challenge when it’s dipped beneath freezing overnight and you have to pull yourself out of a warm bed in to the frosty dark.

One morning, I decided that I’d leave my phone to capture a timelapse whilst I was running and it caught the day break and the clouds peeling back from Mynydd Moel.

Short runs of about 10km before work set me up nicely, I can pick hills, steady or speed work and if nothing else it’s miles on my feet.

I do enjoy my longer runs and this Sunday morning I was out the door at 0545, after 4 hours sleep for some unknown reason.bimbling off down the road to Barmouth.  Under a toe nail crescent moon peeping over the Cader massif I lost myself in the thoughts of Remembrance Sunday. I’ve always been proud of what my Granddad did in the war, and this 11/11 is the first since he died earlier this year.

I’m certain that I’ve never experienced the fear that young men like him endured and I’m grateful that those that gave and are giving their lives to provide us the freedoms that we enjoy today. The older I get the more I remember.

I crossed the railway bridge in Barmouth and ran back up the Mawddach trail on the south side of the estuary. At this time of the morning I had it all to myself apart from a huge number of Herons lurking in the low water fingers of the estuary. A great way to get a steady, flatish 30km run in.

After getting home, grabbing some breakfast, a wash and some time with the family it was time to take the dog (now too old to run) on a little explore. Such a beautfiul day wiht great colours at this time of the year!

It’s lovely just to explore around the area that I live, work and play. Nice to dip down in to river courses and spot them for what they are without a spate flow.

After this, a few little jobs needed doing, a bit of tidying up. I put away my old Sigg bottle, now pretty battle worn, but full of memories from times in the Alps, overland trips on motorbikes and other adventures. Even when it’s empty it holds so many precious things. I’m always impressed at the quality of the mobile phone camera…a bit of a play with settings pulls some great shots.

 

 

 

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.  

2/26 2012in2012, Tikka, Brecon, and Brenig

The last two weeks have been hard getting the miles in, first of all really cold, then really windy, then really wet and then chilly again.

At least good kit means that the cold stay outside, though Mrs C was pretty “impressed” when I came home with little bits of frost on my shoulders. For impressed read that she thinks I’m a little unhinged but then she is a tropical flower by her own admission.

Work got in the way too with a few 16hr days so I’m pretty happy that in the last two weeks I’ve managed 94 miles 2916m of ascent. That means year to date is 219.4miles and 5679m of ascent which is 64.6 miles ahead of schedule.

This mornings run was really nice, I felt strong and the hills were easy. I’m happy with where I’m at right now.

I broke my old head torch (a Petzl Tikka) this last week too, it’s an old friend that has done some special trips with me, Alps, Scotland, Mountain Marathons, got me out of scrapes night riding and been around Morocco on a motorbike. I’ve replaced it with the updated Tikka XP 2 against alot of advice that the Myo XP is the way forward. I’ll do a little write up when I’ve put some miles in with it.

I had a trip to Brecon with work promoting the tourism opportunity for Paddlesports in Wales with Visit Wales. I had a few spare minutes and wandered along the canal. I’d never realised that Aberhonddu (Brecon) is the end of the Taff trail- I really like the topographical casting they have outside the Brycheiniog Theatre. I can feel a family trip coming on!

Today we managed to get out in brilliant weather to Llyn Brenig. I can’t being really frustrated when I visit places like Brenig on clear bright beautiful days. The fact that the lake is not being used is an absolute disgrace-not by choice but by restriction. Amazing resources that could be unlocked sensibly for no cost. They stayed locked up with objection on Health and Safety grounds and from others who aren’t prepared to share – neither of which sit comfortably with me.