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A Purer Form of Purpose

 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – Theodore Roosevelt

About fifteen minutes before we are due to start the race, the heavens have opened. Rain pounds the ground around me as I stand, camera in hand, attempting to capture the scene. I’m in a waterproof jacket, shorts, and a luminous tabard that conspicuously identifies me as today’s race sweeper. The shorts have already drawn a lot of comments and questions.

Ten feet away a couple of hundred runners in various states of undress huddle together under a large white marquee tent seeking shelter, warmth and comfort from the canvas and each other. It seems like the sensible place to be. I take the picture and join them.

The clock ticks on and the runners are called in to the field to start. I’m not really sure what to do at this point, I’ve never swept a race before, so I stand at the back making idle conversation with likeminded strangers as we wait. We are not held long, and the crowd soon thins through the funnel of the track that takes us up towards Burbage Rocks as the race gets underway.

By the time we pass through the first checkpoint (worked, amongst others, by my wife and six month old son), the pack has settled in to a nice steady rhythm and I am alongside a group of four ladies, all from the same club. For three of them this is only their second fell race after cutting their teeth at Salt Cellar a few weeks ago. For the fourth, it is her first time doing this.

Once up on the rocks the rain gets even heavier, and a cold wind bites at anything exposed to the elements. The ladies are all wearing vests, and so I ask after them, whether they are warm enough. I am met with a with good natured communal brush off and friendly laughter. Despite the hostile weather and the soggy conditions underfoot, they are having a total blast.

The conversation between us is constant, a mixture of musings on running, wonder at the scenery, and a healthy dose of gentle teasing. Every sentence seems punctuated by an exclamation of joy at the backdrop of the Burbage Valley. I am by no means blind to it’s beauty, but this is essentially my training back yard and as such, familiar to the point of knowing every rock. I find myself taking great delight in their delight, new perspectives on old views.

The path keeps climbing, and there is not a word of discontent from my companions. We get a great view across the valley to the ‘Plummet’, a locally famous flank of Higger Tor and for today the steepest climb in the race. We can pick out through a light hanging fog the tiny colourful dots of the race leaders, already starting their hands on knees ascent. I point to what waits for us. There are a few amusing expletives but an overriding sense of acceptance and pleasure. They focus on each other’s company, the places we are running through, and the challenge of getting around this race. There is never the slightest hint of a question in my mind that any of them will not make it. They are acutely present in the moment.

I am really enjoying this run.

We work through checkpoints at a constant, steady pace. I wish I could pace my own races this evenly. All the other marshalls out and about on the course are overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. My arrival at each point signals the end of their duties and a return to race HQ, whilst here at the back of the pack the race continues, the cadence metronomical, the vibes high. I’ll be out here the longest of the officials today, but I’m willing to bet I’m having the most fun.

 

 

 

 

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Serotinal

The chill in the early morning air is palpable, so I pull the sleeves down on my shirt to keep it at bay a little longer before laboriously manoeuvring my feet into a pair of well worn shoes. It shouldn’t be such an effort, but it is 6am and Finlay was up a few times through the night needing to be fed. I’m not feeling particularly alert, my head is fuzzy, and I’m only huddled here on the doorstep because my wife instructed me to ‘get up and get it done’.

I start my watch and ease into a gentle trot down the short stretch of road and into the valley. The cold air still bites, and so I take a steep route to begin with, hauling myself straight up the opposite side of the valley and hoping that this extra early effort will warm me up a little.

I pass the tree line and notice immediately the change in the light. There is a dullness to my surroundings that belies the rich and vibrant greens I usually enjoy lining this section of singletrack. There is no pale blue sky peeking through the trees. The ground is darker and indistinct under the shade of the canopy. Tree roots that I know are lurking, waiting to trip, are not immediately apparent. It occurs to me that in a week or so I will need to be making these efforts with a headtorch just to stay upright. For now it is enough to stimulate my weary senses and focus on keeping my ankles intact.

I finally start to come alive, and feel my body relax and fall into the familiar rhythm that defines my morning routine. It feels good to be out and putting in the work before much of the city has woken. There is nobody else in the valley but still I pick the most remote lines as I chart a route up to the head of the Porter, more out of habit than curiosity. The whole ascent has a quiet, alpine feel.

As I top out at the viewpoint, the sun finally makes a fuller appearance. I pause for a moment and contemplate the changing of the seasons, and the changing nature of these morning runs. A little discomfort seems a small price to pay for getting out and witnessing these subtleties first hand, the true value in breaking down singularity of purpose from a long term fixed goal to the day to day routine of training. The real joy to be found in the daily practice whilst quietly, unobtrusively, bringing that ultimate goal tangibly closer. With some trepidation I allow my thoughts to wander further forward, dawn raids without a dawn, sub zero temperatures, only the movement of my breath in the light of a headtorch for company.

Not yet. For now a cold serotinal morning is enough. I turn for home, my family and breakfast, and make a mental note to find my headtorch.

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Out of the box review: Mizuno Wave Sonic

 

Mizuno Wave Sonic.

Everything’s Gone Green

Awesome.  So far.

Structure which feels useful upon push off, while also providing stability and efficency while in mid-stance.

Not a single objectionable lump or bump, no seams or pressure points to concern myself about.  It feels as if I’ve been using it for ages and it’s day one!

Not too heavy, but definitely built to last, unlike some other racing flats in my collection, which feel as if too much use and they’ll be trashed in no time.

The feedback through the shoe is incredible, giving me a very clear impression of the impact upon landing, without anything too impactful.  In fact, they’re surprisingly comfortable and are beginning to give me the impression that longer runs would be fair game.

In the looks department, well – amazing.  I really like the lines.  The colour’s a winner, being good and loud, but not sickly.

All in all – a 4mm drop shoe from the Mizuno stable, which is fun to use, looks smart, feels like it’ll give me a turn of speed when I put the effort in and it won’t bite me when I test myself over longer distances.

So far, so good.

Full review coming next week, but as sneak peeks go……. close to perfection.

 

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How not to race Snowdon Trail Half Marathon

 

Peter Down is the Physiotherapist at Accelerate Performance Centre (APC).

A regular cyclist, who also swims and runs, so naturally participates in the odd Triathlon.

This year (2017), he took part in the Scott Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon for the first time.

This is his account.

 

 

My training was great.

I did my long runs up to or around 10 miles, nice and steady and flat, I kept it flat because I don’t like hills. I did one speed session per week which was running fast for 4-ish miles with a friend. I would also do one hill session per week, this was generally hill reps (this, however, doesn’t replicate the hills you need to run up Snowdon).

I was told by a couple of friends who have previously run this is race that the route is runnable for the first 5 miles, then it went uphill and I could walk the mile or so to the turning point on Snowdon ridge. Then it’s a run down to Llanberis before the slate quarry for the last 2 miles which was the hardest bit. All I can say to those friends is, they must have done a different race.

My weekend started well, Chris, a friend and very good runner had agreed to run with me. He won this race last year, however, this year he wanted to see the scenery, so my pace was suitable for him, it may have been a little slow as it turned out.

We travelled to Llanberis on the Saturday and after collecting our race numbers we decided it would be a good idea for me to recce the quarry section. During the walk, I started with cramp in my right quad, this was soon made worse by my left quad joining the cramp party. I hobbled back to the car where I started consuming electrolytes and stretching like it was going out of fashion. I’m glad to say by the time we got to the YHA the pain had subsided but my worries about Sunday had increased.

The evening was nice and the food in a local pub was okay, but the other people staying at the YHA didn’t know how to use door handles, they just slammed the doors to ensure they had shut them, therefore sleep was sporadic. The problem with sharing a room with a postman is he was awake at 5:30 am, so by 6am I had stretched again had more electrolytes and breakfast. There were no concerns about being late to the start and we meet up with Stuart who was doing the marathon.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

 

 

Flying solo, as Chris ‘recces the summit’. (!)

 

‘Tiger Style Kung Fu’ hands?

 

Smiles all round (close anyway).

 

The weather was very nice with wispy clouds which hung over the summit of Snowdon. The marathon started at 9am so we watched them all run past knowing we would be following them shortly and glad we only had half the distance but nearly the same amount of height as them.

9:30, I must remember not to set off too fast, I must remember not to set off too fast. Okay, for once in my life I may have set off too slow. But after the first half mile the road started to climb, and apart from a couple of undulating parts it climbed then climbed a bit more.

Chris was having fun and ran ahead for a bit then returned to run with me.

It soon came to a point where the inclines outweighed my hill training so walking was the only option, I was still passing people who had a running style but walking proved to be quicker. When the angle of the path levelled out again I returned to running. At the top of the first long climb there was a short flat/downhill section which was marsh, (how does water stay on the hillside and not run off?). My first fall was going through the marsh, nothing too bad, just my feet slipping out from under me, I made a high pitch noise and looked around to see if anyone noticed, but everyone was busy with their own race. The path improved and I only nearly fell again a couple of times.

As we approached the base of the ranger path up Snowdon my right foot landed at a strange angle on a rock and then I hit the floor, not too hard, but my ankle and pride hurt a bit. I sat there for a couple of seconds and everyone who came past stopped to make sure I was okay. To stop people asking me, I got up and started walking, the ankle would hold my weight so I started to run. All was well. I was on target, 5 miles completed in 1hr.

The ranger path goes up with a zig, then up with a zag and repeated until you reached the top, will this hill never end?? Chris kept popping back to see how I was, he had been to the top, had a chat to the marshalls and come back. The other runners around me had noticed him running up and down and had decided he was insane.

We crossed the train line just before the descending train passed, we’d reached the turning point. I had a couple of energy blocks and to started to head down, 1 hour 30 mins into the race, a little slower than planned but there was no sign of cramp and I was feeling good. I had passed everyone who passed me when I was assessing my ankle at the bottom of the path, so just the run down Snowdon then the hard bit of the quarry left. Only 400 metres later, cramp, trip, fall.  There may have been use of a swear word.  As I sat there with both my quads protesting at the fact I was descending, everyone I passed on the ascent streamed past me. All checking I was okay. Another self assessment of any injuries, things hurt, a bit of blood but everything worked apart from the quads. So with help from Chris I stood and started to walk, then I tried to run. That was a bad idea. Walking was the only option, the cramp was getting worse. Stretching was agony so I gave up trying to do that, walking backwards didn’t hurt but was dangerous so I couldn’t do that, so again – walking was the only option.

Chris helped with route selection to ensure no big step downs but not all could be avoided.  At the next aid station I had a couple of gels and carried on walking, but as the slope angle decreased I found I could sort of run in a strange style but I was moving faster than walking.

Due to a charity event the following weekend where I’m riding 100 miles for cancer research I didn’t want to damage myself too much, I spoke to Chris about not finishing, but at this point all I could do was to keep moving and heading towards Llanberis.  We then hit the road section, which is so steep I have no idea how they laid the tarmac. I was moving okay-ish. Chris was running up and down the road like it was flat, I think he was bored.

On the flat road through the town it started to feel like running again, and I looked at my

watch, 7:30 min per mile, things can’t be that bad, Chris passed me another gel. I passed the last aid station at the bottom of the quarry, leaving Chris to collect more gels, he then ran back up to me as I had returned to a high paced walk uphill and I was passing people again. This was going to be okay.

 

Reaching the top I still had some running left in me then we started to descend, our progress was impeded by slower runners but with some expert route selection by my guide we managed to manoeuvre in front of them and it was downhill all the way. But then my right calf wanted to remind me it was there so it started to cramp, by this point I didn’t care, I altered my gait to a limp, run, thing and carried on.

The finish line was a blessing and it would (by now) have been easier to list the body parts which didn’t hurt. Chris continued to provide food and drinks as I lay on the floor. It wasn’t long before the full marathon finished and Stu came in looking better than I felt.

 

Peter (left) and Chris (right) displaying ‘type 2’ and ‘type 1’ fun*, respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was it worth the pain, blood and sweat (there were a lot of all 3)? – yes

Did I say I will never do it again several times during the race? – yes.

Will I be back next year? – yes

A big thanks to Chris (Shelton) who guided me around the race and kept us both laughing all weekend.

*Type 1 Fun is when you’re enjoying what you’re doing.  With Type 2 Fun, being something you enjoy looking back on.  Eventually.  Type 3 Fun is not really fun.  Ever.

 

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Write it Down

 

I’ve been running a regular route through the Porter Valley and up to the Oxstones on the boundary of the Peaks for the best part of ten years, and this last weekend, I ran a PB on it. At least, I think I did. I’m fairly sure I’d never dipped under thirty one minutes before until Saturday’s 30:15 effort. I don’t write this stuff down.

Of course, I could go back through my training ‘log’, but that’s just an accumulation of numbers made up from three or four different watches over a period of several years, with few (if any) reference notes added in above and beyond the occasional ‘felt alright’ or ‘bit windy today’. It doesn’t go into route specifics. I’m easily bored with the mechanical function of logging miles for the sake of it, the aimless anticipation of somebody potentially needing that data to refer to at some point. Spoiler: nobody ever has. Including me. So I record it, but never do anything with it. Instead I keep a running total in my head of the mileage I’m turning out every week and it works just fine.

You’ll understand then that I am not on Strava. I’m tech-savvy, but also a bit tech-sick.

There is confidence to be taken from routine, and merit in committing to and then following through with a regular training plan. Recording that is common sense. But joy in running, real joy, comes from the act itself. And in carrying out that act being present in the moment.

The sunrise above Wheelstones on a Derwent Valley Skyline round with Glen in April 2011. The magnitude of the Bossons Glacier & Mont Blanc whilst descending Brevent in Chamonix with Paul in 2013. Running the river path with Nic on a Summer’s evening near our first house together. Hallucinating with dehydration by an undrinkable lochan somewhere in Glentrool. Laying in a raging torrent on a flank of Flegere mid-race. These are all fresh in my mind as if they happened this morning. This is the gift of running. Snapshots, moments, experiences, memories, emotions. There isn’t a watch in the world that can record those. Couldn’t tell you what my heart rate was at any of those points. No idea what my pace was either, other than when I was laying in the river. So how can I make the intangible, tangible? Or at least more so? How can I record and convey these experiences in a meaningful way?

The River Path

In February, we had our first child. Finlay is now five months old. His presence in our world has motivated me in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and that includes my running. I want to set him an example. I want him to see that hard work gets results. I want him to share in the joy that I find when I lace up and head out. I want him to see the same incredible things that running has enabled me to get to. I want him to find joy, and peace, and understanding in nature. So I’m working really hard at my craft, putting in the miles and trying to improve. Which in itself makes no sense, because he’s five months old and he doesn’t have a clue.

And so I’ve resolved to write these things down. On paper. Absolutely not a training log, and not so much a diary either. More an occasional record of what I’m up to in a way that makes sense to me. Drawings, notes, ideas, hopes. A journal to record the gifts of running, something that will hopefully make more sense one day to Finlay in respect of who his Dad is, rather than a spreadsheet with my mile PBs arranged in date order. I attribute value to this process and to these meanderings, where there is little value at the moment other than in my own mind. In making the intangible tangible.

Its early days, but in doing this I’ve also found a renewed sense of purpose. A desire to push new routes and break new ground, to race in different places, a duty of sorts to report back on the world and open up the possibilities on our doorstep. To instil a sense of adventure and escape. It has re-lit a fire inside of me that I didn’t even realise had been waning. To use a skill I have to maybe make things a bit better in some small way. I’ve said it before on this blog and I’ll say it again for the record: running is powerful. Get out there, get it done, and please. Write it down. Let me know what you get up to.

 

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