Everything. At once.

There are a few times in your life when you realise how much stuff you really have. I like to think of myself as straightforward, simple and of few possessions. I fully believed this until I moved house. It was further reiterated over the weekend when I began to sort my kit out for my week away next week.

It’s usually a complex operation anyway, sorting stuff out for the actual hiking, and then the camping too, but this time it nearly blew my head off. I think it’s a gender thing, but my mind can only cope with two maybe three things at once, so imagine me pulling all my clobber out for all of the things I have planned for my four days. I’m hoping to get two hikes in for my mountain leadership qualification (the main purpose for the trip), so there’s a load of gear for each hike, assuming I’m going to get wet at least once so I have to take two of everything, plus spares. Then I’m planning to do a dummy run of the Fan Dance, so there’s everything associated with that, like the boots, Bergen, extra clothing too. Add on all the camping stuff as well as food, and campsite equipment. Then on top of it, I’m hoping to squeeze in a mountain run.

By Friday evening, I couldn’t see the floor for bags, clothes, shoes, and other paraphernalia. I have made lists over the years that I can go to for different scenarios to ensure that I pack everything. This trip is somewhat different though, it is everything, all at once. Four whirlwind days.

All this is actually fun though believe it or not. It’s one of those things that keeps me on my toes, like a midget at a urinal. The easy thing would obviously be to have pre-packed bags that I can just grab and go. This has been considered and is almost achievable except it has the potential to be very expensive, with doubling up of kit and equipment, which I’m not in the position to be able to do. But where’s the fun there??!

Bullshit Bingo and the art of talking

In my working life, I am almost a polar opposite to my private life. At work, like most, I am required to dress smart, and have to pop into meetings, where there are buzzwords aplenty. I like to play a game called Bullshit Bingo, where you tick off as many acronyms and buzzwords and phrases as you can until you get a full row. Hours of fun, unfortunately. In my private life, I’m a shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops kind of guy, but with a huge outdoors attitude. I’ve pondered it before that perhaps I need this contrast in order to appreciate what I enjoy.

Working in a sterile office environment is a strange experience, especially like yesterday morning when I got to work after I’d been out training with my Bergen and an hour and a half later, I’m sat talking about marketing strategies, but with a satisfying ache in my shoulders reminding me of what’s more important to me and what hard work really is.

Occasionally in the office, people break out of their professional shells and reveal something really interesting about their outside work self. That’s where real relationships are forged I think, especially at work. That common acknowledgement that goes beyond the seemingly aloof world of business. Granted, there are some dull people, as well as people who just live and breathe their job, though I respect them all the same as I don’t know what they are going through or have been through to get to that point.

I work with many different nationals and cultures, which leads to great conversations, mutual banter too. On Monday this week, I found out that two people whom I have frequent conversations with (not about work I should add!) are both outdoor enthusiasts too. One is a well travelled Bulgarian girl who has been to more countries than I’ve had hot dinners. It turns out, she’s going to North Wales in May to sample Snowdonia because she misses the mountains. I then mentioned my Mountain Leadership Training, and she practically volunteered herself and her group of friends as guinea pigs, and asked for advice about the best paths and summits to tick off.

Talking about your own country to people from other countries reignites the fire that made you fall in love with the hills, fields and mountains in the first place. Almost like you’re seeing it for the first time through fresh eyes. They probably feel the same way as they tell you about their own country.

Given the point at which my life is at the moment, talking about things I love take my mind away from everything for a few minutes, especially if it’s a mutually enthusiastic conversation. A kind of therapy, without being in the outdoors.

I suppose the conclusion is, like with the old adage that you shouldn’t judge anyone as you don’t know what they’ve got going on, you should make the best efforts to chat to people as they may help you and in turn, you may help them.

Lone Wolf

It has suddenly occurred to me that we are already in April and in less than a month I’ll be running in my first ultra marathon of the year. Since the last ultra I completed last June, my training went through a distinct change, when after years of just running miles after miles, I deliberately built in recovery runs to my weekly plan. For any non-runners (or non-obsessed runners I should say), recovery runs are typically deliberately slow runs designed to help the legs recover from big efforts, but better than just resting. Easy miles. With these recovery runs, I quickly reaped the benefits. In two consecutive weekends I smashed both my half marathon personal best as well as my 5k too. Since then however, the training switched to Bergen runs on Sundays for a while, and mixed runs during the week. The Bergen runs have slipped this year, but more importantly, I haven’t been doing the long distance runs in preparation for the ultras.

With this in mind on Sunday, I headed down to my local hills and ran a section of the upcoming ultra. It could have gone better, but could have gone much worse. Lately the struggle has been state of mind. It’s not often I’m so honest about my present feelings, but lately I have faced a struggle where everything feels like it’s dragging me down, turning a pressure screw. So it’s not easy to get up and go and do a trail run that I once enjoyed, when your mind is a pretty dark place and coping is like an ultra marathon in itself. It just becomes so hard to enjoy things. I think my close friends don’t know how to deal with me because I’m the clown of the group, the one dishing out the sought after advice and support, so it’s difficult for them to see me struggle, so therefore I don’t turn to them. It’s just me and the road (or trails).

I’m thankful for the outdoors. I’m thankful for the ability to run. In a month when I’m at the start line, I know I will be focused solely on the task in hand, though my thoughts will wander. I know I will be out there supporting other runners, but not asking for any from others. Funny how my running style reflects my life style.

The 4th toughest ParkRunner

I often think of some sports in the same vein as boxing. In boxing, if you hold a certain belt, or title, and are defeated, the winner inherits them (more often than not), but football is not the same. For example, if world champions France lose in a friendly to Ivory Coast for example, surely as Ivory Coast have beaten them, they should be the new world champions. It’s a logic that I think could make sports more interesting, though it would upset a lot of merchandise manufacturers as their products would be likely out of date pretty rapidly, even before they’re made.

I’m applying this new-found logic to crown myself the 4th toughest ParkRunner in the UK. Actually, I should technically be the 3rd toughest ParkRunner in the UK. Bear with me while I explain. Last Saturday and the previous Saturday, I did my sister’s local ParkRun, which happens to be ranked as the toughest ParkRun in the UK. It achieves this crown based on the average time each finisher takes to complete it. It should be pointed out that it’s all through farmer’s fields, and is constantly up and down. Two weeks ago, I turned up hoping to support my sister in her first ParkRun, but she let me down like a cheap sex doll and didn’t turn up, so I ran it anyway, and came 3rd. Not bad considering the 8 pints the night before. Last Saturday she showed up and I ran again. This time, no hangover, I ran 40 seconds quicker, but finished 4th. So now you see why I’m celebrating my new title. 4th place in the UK’s toughest ParkRun makes me the UK’s 4th toughest ParkRunner. I’m waiting for the official notification to come through. Apparently it’s in the post. Along with my award for Straw Clutcher of the Year.