Friday, 22 October 2010

Sockhanded in the Moonlight

The weather over this last week has definately took a large step towards winter.The proceeding weeks of mild weather have given way to near frosty nights,combined with biting winds.This change,combined with the rapidly diminishing hours of daylight,has put me into prime winter mode,where the motivation to step out the door,into the cold,is often tested,but,where,once out and running,a whole new dimension is added to the training experience.Wednesday night was a case in point.I've had an easy week this week,due to feeling the effects of the weekends efforts.Monday,I did not run-my thighs were way too tight and Tuesday was only a steady 5 mile or so run with the folks from the running club.By Wednesday,I was ready for something slightly longer.By the time I had returned from work and got ready,it must have been 7 p.m or so.The night was bitter,mainly due to a virtual,cloud free sky.Armed in tights,hat,thermal top with a t shirt on top, I set off.I looked for a pair of gloves,but couldn't find any,so settled for a pair of socks,worn over each hand.If you haven't got to carry anything,I prefer these to gloves-you just look abit strange wearing them in daylight.

I decided to head up to the seafront.I had run this route,from Winthorpe to Chapel,so many times over the summer-sometimes twice a day that I had got totally fed up with it,and ,consequently,had not run it for a while.However,tonight,in the darkness,it appealed to me,as I knew it would be very quiet.The view I get when I crest the top of the path,before hitting the promenade,always takes my breath away-winter or summer-the vast expanses of sand,stretching in both directions,and the varying conditions of the sea-sometimes calm,sometimes wild,sometimes somewhere in between.As I headed north towards Chapel,the quiet,the darkness-my path illuminated by a single white beam of light,the cold and the nights full moon reflecting exquisitly on the still expanses of ocean,made the journey quite magical.To think that,within 20 minutes of leaving the banger,I was enjoying this beauty amply rewarded the effort needed to break out into the darkness.Glancing into the brightly lit front rooms of residences on the way up,noticing people glued to ever increasingly big flat screen tvs,at ever increasingly bad quality programmes,made me thankful for the gift I had been given within--to actually want to carry out,and,indeed,enjoy the basic freedom of running.

Last night was another great night run,this time with David J,for around an hour,in similar conditions,in and around Skegness.I went to sleep last night feeling the onset of a cold and ,on waking this morning felt terrible.The first cold weather of the year had taken its toll!Not wanting to make things any worse,I decided to take the day off-keeping warm,checking out bloggs,sleeping and listening to the radio.

As mentioned in the previous post,one area I want to concentrate on in the year ahead is,what I will coin 'Eco-running'-essentially trying to keep the adverse enviromental damage caused by running to as low levels as I possibly can.This will involve work in several key areas:

(1) Transport/Travel
This is an area where I have been a culprit as much as,if not more so,than other people.Last year I travelled to Mexico,in order to complete The Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon.Although I have not taken many long haul flights in recent years,the enviromental impact ,and the ethics of travelling for 10/11 hours certainly have to be questioned.I am not ruling out extensive travel,but the adoption of less carbon hungry ways of transport will,in future ,be used.I have been extensively reading about the concept known as 'Slow Travel.'This basically emphasises the merits that the actual journey can add to your trips-avoiding air transportation and instead using 'slower' means of transport-buses,trains,ocean liners,freight ships,houseboats,bikes etc.A large element of my whole experience in Mexico was,indeed,the travel.Landing at Mexico,I had to take buses and trains all the way to the canyons.This gave me a wonderful oppurtunity to interact with the local people,try out my bad spanish and savour amazing scenery,as well as a wide variety of other interesting sights and sounds.This did take time,but is an experience I valve.I have visions of other epic trips to Mexico-this time taking freight ships across the Atlantic-what an experience that would be.

Travelling to local races can also cause problems also.A change in recent years for races to be held on Sundays is a big problem,especially in a public transport back water like Skegness,as Sunday services are drastically reduced compared with the rest of the week.Some local places are easy to access-Lincoln and Boston-by bus,Mablethorpe can easily be reached without too much effort by bicycle-but with many local races occuring in small villages,off the beaten track,the chance to reach these races are limited without cars.Purchasing a fold up bike and travelling to a place near by ,by bus or train ,then cycling,is an option-the other being not to do them.If there were enough people who followed this lead,then race organisers would have to factor in public transport concerns when organising races.People run for alot of different reasons,but my main enjoyment is connecting with nature,enjoying the great outdoors-and if causing damage to this-by using cars or planes-results,it is a great irony.A great irony I will try hard to address.

I have plans for several races that I could easily do-any race in Lincoln(Lincoln 10k,Tales of the riverbank,Ducks and Drakes,The Spires and Steeples),Boston(Poppy run,6/12 hr races)and any races in Louth and Mablethorpe.I am also looking to compete in several LDWA events,held on Saturdays over distances from 20-100 miles.By not working on Fridays this gives me the idea opportunity to travel on that day,stay overnight near the race,then return on the Saturday afternoon.The time taken and the costs will be more than travelling on the morning by car,but a whole weekend adventure will more than make up for that.

(2)Equipment

Just a look at the athletes at the start of any road race,and especially trail races,and you cannot help but notice the plethora of products worn by runners.From Gps watches,Heart Monitors,Bladder packs and different shoes for every condition-the list goes on and on.Of course all of these have their valve in certain situations.A GPS watch may be wise if venturing into the mountains,but on a road race?A Bladder pack may be useful on long unsupported runs-but on a trail marathon with water stations every 4 miles?
Running shoes are advisely changed every 6/800 miles.By whom?The shoe manufacturers ,of course.In my experience this is totally unnecessary,and will get any old school runner from the 60s/70s and 80s shaking their heads.Back in the day a resole and copious amounts of shoe goo were the order of the day and shoes were not discarded until they,literally, fell apart.My current footwear cost £14.99(Fair enough-it was a sale item) and have logged pretty close to 3000 miles,I would estimate,and still have plenty of life left in them.By realising that the majority of claims about the merits of certain items of footwear and clothing is ,usually,marketing hype by businesses,primarily aiming to maximise profits,runners should be able to use more discretion in purchasing products,and cut down on unnecessary comsumption.And ,of course,lower levels of comsumption can only have positive effects as far as enviromental impact is concerned.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Steeples and Spires Trail Marathon

I was looking forward to this event for several reasons.Firstly ,it was a chance to have a good run out.The event is run in a similar fashion to the LDWA events-being a walk and a run.The walkers set off at 8.30,followed by the runners at 9.30.The cost of the event,to enter on the day was £12-if you entered before it was £10.For that you got a rather nice t-shirt,plastic cups of finest tap water(well presume it was tap water!),and thats about it.That's exactly how I like it.The race was over the marathon distance-but the accuracy has to be questioned-and if you wanted to know how fast you ran,it was up to you to time yourself.These type of events always tend to be really friendly,with alot less big egos around than sometimes found at races.

The conditions were near perfect.The proceeding night was cold,and a heavy mist hung over Lincoln Castle at the start.The forecast was good-about 14 degrees,combined with a clear,sunny autumnal day.Setting off from the castle grounds on the way down Steep Hill to the river saw its normal fast start and the usual exuberance by people who should perhaps have taken it a little easier at the start.Once we hit the cycle path a lead group started to form with myself,Jon Hobbs,a couple of army guys and a couple of lads I had not seen before-and not forgetting Pip-Jons dog!We stayed together,until the army lads tailed off,leaving 4 of us together.If anything I thought the start was alittle to fast.Jon is smack bang in the middle of a hard training block,in preparation for the Florence Marathon at the end of November,and seemed to want a long,hard training run.Combined with having to stop/start regularly to keep check on his dog,who couldn't resist chasing the local wildlife-usually in the opposite direction to the race,I think a good training run was what he got.

At the aid station around half way,I inadvertently developed a 50m lead.I think it was solely a case of the other runners spending more time getting drinks,rather than me speeding up.I knew I was approaching an area where last year I took a wrong turn.This year I did exactly the same and found that my lead had disappeared,and had to chase the leading two runners up the subsequent inclined field to catch up.I was feeling good and decided to up the pace slightly.The rest of the run was on my own.I crossed the line in 3hrs 02 mins to win,and was slightly disappointed at not registering a quicker time(my brother won the event last year in 2hrs 52mins),but several runners clocked the course longer this year-the finish was moved,and we had a detour this year to miss a railway bridge,which added extra distance,so my time was probably worth a sub 3hr run.Anyway,I'm not bothered.It was a pleasant day,nice scenery and good company.On days like these positions and times are largely irrelevant.

The logistics of getting to and from the race also added to the experience.Choosing not to have a car can cause problems,especially if no-one else you know is going ,to share a lift with.Sundays are the worst-the reduction in the number of trains and buses make travelling,even relatively locally,a task in itself.I,ve been looking at LDWA events for the coming year precisely because some of the events are held on Saturdays,making travelling on public transport a hell of alot easier.In days of old-well the 60's and 70's,the majority of road races were held on Saturdays.This would be ideal for me,but I suppose the passage of modern day life,in relation especially to working patterns ,have eroded this.Shame.

However today was very,very simple.Bus to Lincoln from Skegness,arriving half an hour before the start,and a train from Sleaford an hour or so after the race finished.I was back in Skeg for just after 3.

All in all,a good day!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Search for Adventure

'No matter what you're doing,or where you are in your life right now,it is crucial to be vigilant in a dedication towards adventure.It is immensely important and keeps the existential fires burning brightly.Adventure keeps you creative and alive'.



I was sat at my wife's flat at the tail end of last week.The flat is on the 3rd floor and has large patio doors which overlook a communal,grassed play area.The weather was bad.Strong winds blew the torrents of rain straight against the doors-the resulting noise making the weather seem even worse.It was comforting to be inside and warm,but the wildness of the weather always stirs the wild edges of the spirit and sets the mind wandering of potential adventures new.

Browsing facebook,I came across pictures of a friend who had carried out a 130km hike to Santiago ,in Northern Spain.This interested me.It reminded me of the walks that Ken,a member of my running club,had done carried out over the same routes earlier in the year.On his return ,he told me that it was the sort of thing that would be right up my street.Remembering this I carried out a piece of impromptu research.

There are a number of walks,all converging on Santiago,due to bones being found that were rumoured to be the bones of St James.This resulted in the routes being used by Catholic pilgrims.The routes are still walked by many Catholic pilgrims,but also by people seeking a spiritual experience,or by people just doing the walks for sport.The religious and spiritual aspects of the walks appealed to me.The religious pilgrims were the first people who really travelled for long distances,with peaceful aims,rather than the aim of claiming and taking over land.I am not religious,but would like to consider myself as spiritual-and am interested in seeking a spiritual experience ,through running.

The Camino De Santiago route that caught my eye was the Camino Frances,starting at St Jean de Port,in France,crossing the Pyrenees and finishing 780km later in Santiago de Compostela-travelling the breath of Northern Spain.There are cheap hostels situated every 20km or so along the route,so the options are:(1)Run 40ish miles per day,stay at the hostel and repeat for 2 weeks or (2)take a lightweight tarp and sleeping bag,run as long as possible each day and then just wild camp,get a few hours sleep and continue.I've pencilled the trip in for the start of March,and which ever option I decide,I'm sure it will be a spiritual voyage.


Adventure does not only mean going to far flung places-just putting yourself in situations outside the norm.This year,over the Christmas and New Year period,I have a months holiday.On the lookout for adventure I have come up with the following,more local options:

The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path.

This route begins in Knettishall Country Park and follows the Roman Road to Holme next the Sea on the North Norfolk Coast and then joins the Norfolk Coast path-as it runs from Hunstanton to Cromer.

Distance --93 miles/150km



The Lindsey Loop


This route is a figure of 8,which takes in six market towns-Market Rasen,Spilsby,Alford,Caistor,Horncastle and Louth.

Distance --95 miles/153 km



The Yorkshire Wolds Way/Cleveland Way


The Wolds Way runs 79 miles from Hessle ,near the Humber Bridge,across the Yorkshire Wolds to Filey.

This route can then be connected to The Cleveland Way ,which runs for a distance of 110 miles,from Filey,skirting the upland ridges on the edge of the North York National Park.



These routes will certainly provide me with several days of adventure soon.



On the more mondane front,things have progressed well over the last two weeks.Last Sunday marked the seasons first Cross Country -The Louth Open.The weather was brilliant country weather-raining and windy.I had a relatively good run,placing 11th-about 1mins 30secs faster than last years performance.
Today was the Ducks and Drakes 10 mile-off road at Lincoln.Again I had a relatively good run,placing second-time unknown ,so far-but it didn't seem too fast!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A Soulful Journey to the Depths of The Copper Canyons.



It was a cold,dark morning in mid December.I was on the way to work 11 miles away,running with a head torch with a rapidly diminishing light ,left ankle hurting and I was-well-feeling miserable.I'd made a commitment to run The Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon in the deep canyons of the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico,having sent my entry donation to race organiser,Micah True.Yes-the Micah True-the person I'd read so much about over the previous year and who was the star turn in the best selling book 'Born To Run'.I knew I had to go there-to take a voyage of discovery into the deep canyons-but the voices of sanity were chipping away that dark morning.

It was a relatively large financial outlay,mainly for the return flight from the UK to Mexico,and Christmas was rapidly approaching.Christmas marked a month long break from work,several weeks of which I would have to take unpaid to utilise the holidays available for Mexico.I'd been having problems with getting a visa for entry to the US-I'd assumed that I'd get a visa exemption,but on close inspection realised that,due to a stupid night of youthful exuberance years earlier,I'd have to attend an interview at the US embassy in London.More expense.Should I just fill in the exemption and take a chance?Would I get turned away at US customs?I just didn't know.

The voices continued.'Save your money-the money you spend will pay your caravan rent for a full season.Theres loads of great races in the UK etc,etc.'These doubts continued for a couple of weeks,until I voiced them to my brother on a snowy,country run during the Christmas vacation.I knew what his response would be.He had ran from John O'Groats to Lands End,ran the coast to coast route from St Bees Head to Robin Hoods Bay,been part of a run across Africa,had cycled across Australia.He began that the easy option is always to stay with what you know-but ,to live life you need to step out of your comfort zone.That I might go to Mexico and think it was a total waste of time and money-that the great things I had read about the people involved with the race,may be hype.However it could also be a life changing experience that I would remember for the rest of my life.If I didn't go.I'd never know'.


Two months later I was sat on a small bus,slowly weaving down the steep roads into the canyons.Darkness was drawing in-our original bus had broken down after miles of making very strange noises and we'd had to wait for a replacement.Rick,an American tourist returning to the canyons ,having visited several weeks earlier,but knowing he would soon to be witnessing something special soon, and having decided to return, pointed out faint lights below.The lights of the small town of Urique. Driving down the main street an hour later in darkness ,all was quite.I was in the most remote area I had been in my life.My mobile phone was dead and my closest friends and family knew I was in the Copper Canyons in Mexico-but didn't have a clue,really,where it was.However I felt relaxed and at home.I'd landed in Mexico City,deciding to bypass the US altogether.I was nervous.The guide books advised of the dangers of unauthorised taxis at the airport-of people being robbed,even killed.At the Norte bus terminal I sat on my pack quietly,viewing everyone as a potential criminal.I was relieved to get on the overnight bus,for an 18 hour trip to Chihuahua.From Chihuahua,I caught the bus to Creel-again a town with a bad reputation for drug related violence and killing.But I was relaxing.The Mexican people were friendly,the foreign travellers had great tales to tell and I was starting to get excited about the race ahead.As I got off the bus and walked down the dark road to the campsite,Entre Amigo,I took in the quietness and serenity of the place and the realisation hit me that I had arrived at the place I had read so much about.

I awoke the next morning,made my way out of the tent and savoured the surrounding.The tent was surrounded by trees bearing oranges and grapefruit,but it was the view beyond the campsite that was jaw dropping.In front of the site was a river,which lazily wound its way through the town of Urique,about half a mile away.I gazed up.We were on the canyon floor-mountains rose high above on both sides,covered with lush greenery.This place truly was beautiful.I dressed quickly into t-shirt,shorts and sandals-desperate to get in my first run for several days.Although it was early,the sun was rising and the temperatures were getting higher.I filled two empty coke bottles in the restroom,dropped in a couple of purification tablets and made my way to the site entrance.There I stood,debating which way to run.To the right was Urique,to the left a dirt road heading to where?.I looked at my watch.I would run for 30 minutes,then come back-paying special attention at any points where I had a choice of routes,in order to not get lost.I set off on the road to the left.

The dirt road headed past several homesteads,keeping close to the river.A mile or two down,the road bent to the left and passed the entrance to a decidedly dodgy looking bridge,which crossed the river.I decided to carry on the dirt road,as it gradually climbed upwards.The light sand colour of the path and the canyon walls made me realise that this was the same road I had seen many times in magazines and the web over the last year-pictures depicting the tarahumara runners,complete in colourful shirts,wrap around skirts and homemade sandals,made from tyres-making their way up the hills,a steely look of determination in their eyes.I continued up that first hill,until the road straightened out and then stopped.I was spent.My head started to go light and I had to quickly crouch down,scared I was about to pass out.I turned round and jogged,gingerly,back down the road.I'd ran,probably 3 miles.In 4 days time I would be running 52 miles,with near on 10,000 ft of climb.This would be harder than I thought.


Over the next few days my confidence returned.I began to feel stronger,the effects of the long trip diminishing.The campsite gradually began to fill with like minded runners,as did Urique itself.Great days were had reecing the course with the rest of the international runners and several tarahumara.Runners,in particular long distance runners usually possess similar attributes.They are comfortable in their own space(the hours of training solo show this),usually modest and easy to get along with.It was great sharing stories about their places of origin and of races and runs they had achieved.The scenery was unbelievable(the single track up to Los Alios must take some beating as the most beautiful run in the world)and the days were rounded off with delicious meals at Grandma Titas,along with beers and more tall tales.

The race itself was as hard as expected,but the smiles from both the supporters on the roadside,the school children at the aid stations and ,more importantly fellow runners,regardless of where they were from,made the going alot easier.I crossed the line in around 8hrs 45mins,just sneaking into the top 30.However times and positions were irrelevant-the whole experience transcended statistics.


There are several things that stick in my mind.The kindness shown by everyone was immense.From the locals,right down to the runners.I remember being eternally grateful to Mike(also on the campsite),for offering me his stash of antibiotics,after an abscess flared up on my tooth 2 days before the race-of Wes offering me his huaraches after finding that the maker in Urique would not be able to make mine before I returned home.Laughing on the way back to the campsite with Rick after spending a night engrossed in Abi's stories of family and races.Seeing the locals darting off the path on the first part of the race,taking short cuts at every bend.The smiles and words off all the runners I past on route.High fiving Maria as I headed back from Los Alios and noticing her beaming smile,even though she had still far to go.The list could go on and on.


However one thing sticks in my mind more than any other.It was the morning after the race.Most of the runners had departed on the bus from the canyons,returning to normal life and the planning of more adventures.A few of us were hanging around for a few more days.I was in the kitchen,talking to Mike,when Micah entered.Everyone was making idle chit chat when Micah said, 'That sure was a beautiful race yesterday'.I suddenly thought that comment summed up the whole experience-beautiful people,beautiful places,a beautiful ethos to the race-everything was just plain beautiful.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Roll on -The Cross Country season is about to start!



This sums up all that is great about club running in the UK.Nominal entry fee-just short of 3000 runners in the Senior Mens race -and 2009 at Englands Classic Cross Country course-Parliament Hill Fields,London.Starting at the bottom of the hill exemplifies what a tough course is to come!I was in there ---somewhere!!!

End of Summer/Start of Winter

Reading Anton Krupicka's excellent blog 'Riding the Wind' this morning ,I was surprised ,yet heartened to here how his September went.Anton is renowned for running big miles-sometimes up to 200 miles a week-but this last few weeks has been running low miles-probably 4 miles a day.He attributes this to both physical and mental tiredness.It's nice to see normal human fragilities in your running heroes and makes you feel better when faced with times where motivation is sometimes lacking.

Since a month before Christmas I've probably averaged around 100 miles a week.There was always some race on the horizon-The CCUM,London Marathon,Boston 12 hr race.My big goal for the year was the Boston 12hr race at the end of August.Having completed that and achieving a result I was happy with,it has been nice to take things easy-have the occassional day off-go out for a 1 hr run ,instead of a 2-3 hour run after work-just enjoy running and not get too wrapped up in the statistics for the week.I have,even during this'down month',raced regularly.The week after the 12hr race was the Lincolnshire 10,000m county track championships.During the whole week I ran twice,due to the aches and pains caused by the longer race.However I ran 38.15(my years best being about 37.50 at Woodhall Spa 10k) and really enjoyed my first track 10k,and was really surprised my time was as quick.I have also completed a couple of road 10k's-Mablethorpe(8th-38.55ish)ans West Pinchbeck (22nd-38.39).

This weekend sees the start of our cross country season,with our traditional opener at the Louth Open.The weather this last few days has been terrible and the forecast for Sunday itself is not great,but ,hopefully,this will add to the race with some tough underfoot conditions.Through October,November and December I will be racing virtually every weekend-mainly over the country-and it is a time I relish.The atmosphere at these low key races is great-the same faces over and over-the entry fees are nominal and the pressure to achieve time targets are non existant.It is a period I am looking forward to immensely.

Thoughts also turn to goals and races for next year.My main interest is doing abit of something different.I'm going to try and get away to The Peak District at least one weekend a month and reece the area-with the intention of running a few races round there-The Long Tour of Bradwell and The High Peak 40 for starters,and probably a few lower key events.With the increased interest in trail running in the UK,there has been an increase in high participation trail runs,normally sponsored the big players in the footwear/outdoor wear industry.However they are not for me.Encouraging people to enjoy the countryside is certainly admirable,however 1000 people racing the trails over sensitive countryside is,in my opinion ,not a wise idea.I have entered the London Marathon(probably the biggest commercial race in the country),but apart from that will be targeting just low key races-local races-and small races further afield,which can be easily accessed by public transport and which are free from excessive commercial involvement.As Caballo Blanco(CCUM organiser and fierce advocate of keeping the North Face/Saloman et al out of the race)-'Running should be free,man'!