Teaching an old dog new tricks

When I left school, some time in the last century (sounds dramatic doesn’t it?), I assumed that my days of revising and textbooks were behind me. In higher education, I was lucky to choose a vocation that assessed me on coursework, with no examinations, so I survived all of that and allowed my brain to absorb other things, like the back catalogue of the Manic Street Preachers, and alcohol.

Fast forward some twenty-odd years and I find myself huddled in the corner on the train to work, trying desperately to absorb something and block out the background prattle about what so-and-so did to such-and-such and then put it on the internet.

I decided three years ago that I loved being outdoors so much and keeping fit, and being in the mountains that I wanted to do something beyond the occasional hike. After the usual internet sweep, I found mountain leadership qualifications, that allow you to (unsurprisingly) lead groups in the mountains. The mixture of being outdoors, learning new skills and meeting new people was too strong to resist. So I joined. My course in particular is at your own speed, no deadline, but at the same timet I don’t want to dawdle.

For the first time in a long time I have had to buy textbooks to revise from. In the revision process, which I admit I have been intermittent with at best, I have noticed that, just like I was at school, I am naff at revising and get too easily distracted.

It is quite frustrating because when I last tried to take on information, it was because I had to. What is different now is that this is something I want to do. So I find myself researching revision techniques. Using highlighters. Eyeing up stationery. But at the same time, I am driven to achieve, and I think that will make all the difference this time around. So it’s a double test – trying to get to that end goal, and also seeing how stretchy my brain is these days. Ironic that I have to do so much indoor revising for an outdoor pursuit!

Mixing it up

Well the illness that held me down last weekend was starting to dissipate by Wednesday and I didn’t fancy another weekend watching from the sidelines. I ended up by really looking forward to the weekend, and spent a chilled out Friday night catching up with stuff on TV, hoping for a good night’s sleep.

I definitely got a good night’s sleep because I overslept. Unfortunately, Saturday morning is Park Run time and I’m on a pretty good streak at the moment, edging towards completing 100 runs. I’m in an unofficial competition with a mate of mine to see who can get to 100 first. As it stands, I have a distinct advantage but I can’t afford many slip ups. When I got out of bed on Saturday, I wasn’t too worried, just get dressed, jump in the car and head down there. 5 mins, job done. However, it dawned on me as I was getting ready that the car, and indeed the roads, were frozen solid. It would take 15 minutes to clear the car, and I would definitely miss the run. Only one thing for it. I would have to run the two miles to the park, and only had 12 minutes to do it in. Long story short, I did it, but only just. I sprinted across the field to the start line where everybody was lined up ready to go. I must have looked hilarious. I slipped in to the line just in time to hear, 3…2…1…Go! A tough run, silly story, but a good one to recall all the same.

A few years ago, the same friend who introduced me to tabbing, also introduced me to a local-ish 10 mile cross country race that happens every February. A kind of curtain raiser for the year. Sunday just gone was my fourth. I like this event particularly because of its atmosphere and reputation as well as for the fact that you don’t get a medal! I’m not sure about all this medal (or bling) lot. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a few medals that I’m incredibly proud of and are a memento of a great day, but I don’t enter races just to get them. Anyway, given the week I’d had with the black death and all, I knew I wouldn’t be shooting for a personal best on Sunday, so I decided to run it in my military boots, carrying my Bergen. It made it a test of another dimension and I thoroughly enjoyed it, feeling the pressure of another kind. It made me think about doing it with other events like half marathons and 10k races etc.

In a roundabout way, both weekend events required my mindset to switch tracks – to crack on and complete my task in whichever way possible. Granted, a little surreal, but that’s what makes the adventure all the more richer.

King of the Ill

It only happens once a year. A bit like the tax return, or Christmas, but last Friday afternoon, just as the weekend came into view…I got ill.

I managed to get up fine on Saturday and go to the ParkRun, probably running quicker than I should have done, given how I was beginning to feel. I started off steady and got competitive! What started out as a “making up the numbers, pleased to be here, just going to enjoy it blah blah” run, turned into a pretty intense sub-20 minutes 5k. Again, despite feeling on the brink, I went for a walk in the afternoon, trying to keep illness at bay. I have a very strong “get up and go” attitude when I’m ill, preferring to carry on as normal and just get on with it. By Saturday evening however, things were looking bleak. My get up and go attitude seemingly had gotten up and gone. Being male, I was the most unwell person in the world. I took to the sofa, then bed, and began going over my Will and insurance policies. With all that over with, I slipped into a paracetamol-induced coma and spent ten hours having trippy dreams, with surreal shapes whizzing about and having conversations with dead relatives.

Eventually, after what felt like the longest night, morning came. As odd as it sounds, I still harboured ideas of going for a ten mile run with my 20kg Bergen. Over the course of the day, my attitude adjusted accordingly, and not wanting to fail RED January right at the end, I went for a lung-burning, mucus-moving, ill-advised 5k run in the late afternoon.

I look back now, partly thanks to the miracles of what could be found in the chemists, and I’m glad I went out. Granted, if it wasn’t RED January I more than likely would have stayed in. On Monday evening, I barely scraped a mile and wore more layers than I would if I were in the mountains. But just as a friend reminded me, it’s only a mile, but they all count. Strangely it was only the cold that worried me. Once I got out there and saw that the ungritted pavements looked like glass, it dawned on me that I might actually slip on my arse. I’m surely due one soon as I believe it was 2017 that I last got on the wrong side of Jack Frost. But sure enough, my self-proclaimed nickname of The Cat, lived up to its hype. I stayed on my feet with dignity in tact. In fact, The Cat nickname is more likely down to my past reputation of scratching at the door at around pub closing time, looking for milk.

As I now reach mid-week, I’m almost back to normal and inevitably I’m thinking, “I could have ran 3 miles instead of 1”. Better look at that Will again.

Great tales and adventure or health and safety? January.

Ah, the January blues. I can remember a time when life was a little more simple and it was just a case of not wanting to go back to school after the Christmas break. Then you grow up and things change and you look back in hindsight and realise that those really were simpler times and you’d give your season Railcard to finish at 3.30 every day and kick a pop bottle home.

I don’t feel I suffer from the January blues much, but if I have a bad day, the dark, damp, cold weather amplifies it. At least in spring and summer you can console yourself with a warm walk in the evening. Despite not feeling the need to, I accepted the challenge this year of taking part in RED January. RED stands for Run Every Day, and is designed to keep you active and boost mental health. At the time of writing, I’ve managed every day thus far. It’s not exclusive to running either, it’s merely keeping active every day. So if you’re not doing Dry January, Veganuary, or on some vile diet where you can only eat sprouts on any day with a T in it, I recommend it. Obviously, you’ve missed it as it’s now nearly February, but you could still do it in principle. RED February anyone?

Sunday was one of my weighted backpack cross country slog sessions. A new route – more trails, heavier weight. It was pretty chilly and dull, the sun just diving behind the clouds as soon as I stepped out of the door. Typical. I couldn’t help but feel very positive and hopeful however because it felt very spring-like. As simple as it is, one of my favourite countryside sounds is the chirp of the Great Tit. A very common bird here luckily, so in woodland up and down the country, you can hear one tweeting away. I also saw my first snowdrops of the year, always bringing a smile, as well as crocus and daffodil shoots coming through. Thoughts will soon turn to the allotment and the rise in optimism begins.

I woke up on Monday morning feeling quite mobile compared to the previous week. My weighted session that week was a long jaunt over the hills, leading to much pain over the next four days and recovery runs that made me resemble Quasimodo. I had a hunch they’d be difficult. Determined to complete RED January, I set out running even when common sense told me not to. That’s a thing with me, not sure if it’s all runners, just a few or just me, but I will go out running no matter what the conditions if it’s a day I plan to run on. The opportunity to gain tales to tell later far outweigh the risk of slipping on my backside. There was an hilarious moment a few winters back when it had snowed and I had to go running. It was during the school run, and at the time I lived somewhere semi-rural. The footpath was narrow and coming towards me was a mum with three kids in tow. Being a gentleman, I stepped to the left on to the grass to let them past as the road was slushy. Except, it wasn’t a grass verge. It was a great bloody deep ditch full of snow, and I just disappeared into it. I laughed, she laughed, the kids laughed, I couldn’t get out, I cut my legs on thorns, then I cried, which made the kids cry and the mum uncomfortable. I’m joking about the crying bit by the way. Obviously there are worse things to happen to you in adverse conditions, but it’s the closest you can get to high octane fun in your own neighborhood.

I see on Instagram all the time people heading into the mountains in the snow, so it’s all about comfort zones again I guess. Either way, for me, it’s better than staying in and cursing the weather.

Planning to escape

It’s so easy to establish a routine. Especially if you have a day job. I find that my evening routine changes through the seasons. Through summer it is spent outdoors unsurprisingly, sometimes at the allotment. But through winter, it’s tough. I say tough but what I mean is it’s so easy to tune into the crap that fills the TV schedule these days. I mean, seriously, how many dance-off, or ‘reality’ programmes is there room for?! Not wanting to turn into a couch potato, I try to do constructive things. As new year comes around, I feel like we are well over half way through winter, so I start looking hopefully forward to spring. Just this morning I spotted green shoots coming through the soil.

Nothing fills me with more hope than planning things for the warmer, brighter days. Setting out a plan for the allotment, choosing seeds, where to plant everything, gives a strange remedy.

Sitting on the train this week, I have been flicking through a mountain walks guide for Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons to do in the spring and summer. This gives me the greatest pleasure. I love planning a walk from a map of an area that I am not overly familiar with. I read the contours like it’s a novel, and picture the mountains, valleys and every knoll and sinkhole, imagining what it all looks like. Inevitably, when I get there I’m completely wrong. It’s funny because just like when I read a book, I make the film of it in my own head as I’m going through it, and as in the case of The Hobbit, I am perpetually disappointed when the real thing is released. The version in my head as a ten-year-old was much more magical and charming and Bilbo Baggins was not the tit from the mobile phone adverts. It can be the same with my walks. I always picture them taking place on a warm, sunny, spring day but in my experience, especially in Snowdonia, I’ve frozen my manhood off and got wet through to my Dennis the Menace boxer shorts. Unlike the film’s though, I’m never disappointed. I think this is one of the reasons I can sit and look over a map for hours, and the feeling of escape is probably why I used to draw so many of my own when I was very young. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings works by Tolkien to me was a kind of escape that I envied. I still do. Tolkien was a walking enthusiast and spent the mammoth part of his life trying to escape his reality. Drawing maps of distant fantasy lands, elven characters and Norse-like languages. To say he was away with the fairies was an understatement, but what a place to be.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m switching the box on to watch somebody eat a live scorpion, whilst blindfolded, surrounded by dancing midgets. Fascinating.

Happy New Year!

I want to start this post by wishing you all a very Happy New Year, and carrying on with the positive hope that you all achieve what you are hoping for.

It’s that time of year where everything can feel brand new, like the reset button has been pressed and we all have another go at it to be better. The gym car park this morning was full of people with that fitness or weight loss intention!

As I make my way to work this morning, there is a strange other worldly, almost zombie-like stream of people wandering about, trying to remember what they do for a job, vaguely knowing they’re in the right place after ten days off. The Christmas lights still adorn the lamposts, the shops still have festive window displays, and littered around are hints at what may have happened with new year revellers – a bit of tinsel blowing across the street, smashed glasses and pieces of discarded clothes.

New year can also be a time of reflection. For me it was looking back at everything that I achieved in 2018, not just physically, but mentally as well. Following this comes the thinking of how it can be built on, continuing the momentum. I’ve found in my life that major changes can come from small adjustments made over time. Like when I started reducing the sugar I had in my tea, slowly until I began having it without. It’s better than just going cold turkey. That will be the same for me this year, making small tweaks to what I did last year, making everything part of the routine.

Small changes does still mean you can dream big though. They give you the confidence and impetus to push on through to get what you’re looking for. One thing I try to remember though is to stay as humble as I can throughout, instead of bulldozing my way towards a goal, treading on other people along the way.

So if you’re reading this, maybe on your way back to work, have a think. What are your aims for 2019? I wish you the very best!

How many daft Santas does it take…

Most Monday mornings, I sit on the train, trundling into the city with an uneasy feeling. The feeling is one of bewilderment, wondering to myself, “Where did the weekend go?”, “It can’t be over. There’s no way that was two days” and “I’m not ready to go back to work!!!” Sometimes I try not to say these out loud.

A couple of weekends ago, the two days were spent doing other stuff. Under that header, I group anything other than my core weekend training or off-the-script events, like spontaneous drinks with friends that I haven’t seen for a while, family events and freak weather-related incidents. I do really enjoy these weekends but they do leave me feeling a little unfulfilled by Monday morning as I have grown accustomed to the knackered yet happy feeling as I start the new week, content that I’ve suffered and sweated just enough to justify calling myself ‘fit’. So again, this Monday just gone, I found myself sat on the train feeling a little bit strange. I had an odd, unprepared feeling going to work like I had forgotten something or something was wrong. Railcard? Check. Lunch? Check. Trousers? Oh…check. Remind me never to wear check pattern trousers by the way – unless I become a chef or an early nineties rapper.

This uneasy post-weekend emptiness, as I’m calling it, does anyone else get it? I think it’s maybe because I’ve made exercise and being outdoors such a huge and regular part of my life for so long that it’s second nature to me now, and it leaves its mark when it is absent.

I had to rescue last weekend, as it was slipping away into the disappointing post-weekend emptiness (PWE) abyss. I did my usual ParkRun on Saturday, which to me, has become a vital part of my routine because I have made a few friends there and it’s become my weekly social event. My tolerance for cider and general pub-goers under the age of 25 is somewhat diminished, so bang goes my former social events. Sundays are usually spent doing a long run, or a lengthy slog with my Bergen, followed by a country walk until it’s dark. Last Sunday though, I took part in a local charity Santa Dash. 5k in a Santa costume! This isn’t as fun as it sounds. The cause (Claus?!) is fantastic, but the outfit is ridiculous! The first thing that happens is the crotch splits on the trousers. This normally occurs in the first half mile, but that’s only if you haven’t done the group warm up. That’s where they usually split. Then you have 5k of jogging along, one hand holding your trousers up, the other keeping the beard (yes, beard) out of your mouth. The beard sheds hair too, so you’re picking fluff out of your mouth or in my case, your own beard too. The flimsy plastic belt snaps, meaning the jacket flaps open and becomes a cape. The only saving grace, other than the charity aspect, is the fact that there’s 400 of you, so you’re not alone in your outfit issues. I did think it was funny when I looked around me and saw a sea of Santas and remarked what a problem it would be if you were a lost child and you had to describe your parent to the bewildered marshall. As I was plodding along, I started to feel frustrated as I was stuck at essentially walking pace, but managed to get over myself and relax and just enjoy it. I made as many people laugh as I could, making comments to people who were running with their dogs, saying things like, “If I’d have known you were allowed to bring pets, I’d have brought Prancer, Blitzen and Dancer!” Oh the comedy. I was disappointed when at the end all we got was a bottle of water. I was expecting at least a cookie. Luckily for everyone involved, their cheap plastic belts managed to hold up. If they hadn’t, their sides would have well and truly split.

As enjoyable as it was, I still felt like I’d fallen short of my usual weekend physical efforts. An afternoon walk and pub stop still didn’t tick the boxes, so when I got home, despite it being cold, dark and raining, as well as being at the wrong end of the day for my liking, I loaded up the Bergen and did a 6 miler. That definitely ticked boxes. It was still a surreal feeling on the train to work the next day however, but I felt like I’d achieved a decent balance.