Dan Fance

From reading previous blog ramblings of mine, you’ll probably see a few references to me running with a weighted military backpack (Bergen) and why I do it. Not sure if there’s a better reason to go back through my posts and feast your eyes. I’ve probably mentioned that it’s largely training for an organised event called the Fan Dance, which is a civilian version of one of the key test marches for the UK Special Forces.

It is called the Fan Dance because it is held, like the real thing, in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, and involves summiting the mountain Pen Y Fan twice, which is the highest peak in the south of England and Wales. Typically, the course is 15 miles (24km) and is out and back (along the same route each way, not circular). Recruits are given 4 hours in which to complete the march and pass it. It is probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not keen on the muddy obstacle courses. They’re fairly boring and most allow you to skip some of the obstacles if you can’t do them, usually with a penalty. There is no choice with this march. You either complete it – or withdraw. No halfway house.

I have completed this event twice, in 2014 and 2016. The closest I have got to 4 hours is about 4 hours 15 minutes. Close but no vape. I’ve said on numerous occasions that I’d keep doing it until one of two things happened: One, I pass; two, I die. I don’t intend on trying number two anytime soon so let’s try number one shall we?

Having trouble sleeping the other night, I took the plunge and entered the event. I did quite a lot of training before Christmas, but haven’t done a hell of a lot since, so the effort level needs to be ramped right up. Possibly until it’s flipping vertical. I always forget, I was younger when I did it last and it’s harder to train these days. I train for so many different events I think I probably spread myself a little too thin across the disciplines.

Yesterday morning, instead of doing my customary Tuesday hell-for-leather 10k blast, I put my boots on, grabbed my Bergen and went out and did some hill repeats. It’s a start. I think getting inspired is a huge push to help you to get motivated for anything, so this will be no different. I’ll be hoping to get that click where it all drops into place and becomes easier. I also need to sleep better. It’s dangerous for entering races I’m not quite ready for.

Je ne suis pas Jenson Button

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, hence missing last week’s blog. As mentioned at the end of my last post, I spent the weekend before last in France. Being as the subject of this blog is about getting outdoors, it won’t surprise anyone that I explored the local vicinity on foot as much as possible, mainly in the medium of running.

Having a keen eye for anything pain inducing, I spotted there was a hill on the edge of the city, not far from the Air BnB. There was a fort on top so it had to be quite high. It wasn’t as high as the mountainous foothills behind it, but they were out of range really. I mean, I go on holiday and run to relax, not run hilly half marathons, that would be insane (tuts, rolls eyes).

On day one, off I went up the winding coast road, getting lost more than once. On one of these occasions, I found myself on the main road from Nice to Monaco. Stopping to look at the map, my navigation was disturbed by a rabble of French tourists, enthusiastically making their way across the road towards me looking both incredibly pleased and excited. My first thought was, “Crikey, don’t ask me for directions because firstly, I’m lost, and secondly, my grip on the French language is so loose I sound like I’m doing a bad impression of Officer Crabtree from Allo Allo.” Anyway, through the alien words that they said, I heard the phrase, “C’est Jenson Button!”. For years, my sister and countless others have remarked on a slight resemblance to the former Formula 1 champion, so as soon as they said it I thought, “Oh no, not this again”. Basic year 9 French left me only with the phrase, “Je suis Anglais”, which of course is probably exactly what he would say. Now I did something I’m not particularly proud of. I went along with it. I posed for photos, and stopped short of signing autographs. I mean, that would just be fraudulent and upset innocent people. I managed to gesture towards my watch, and pointed to the summit of the hill, and promptly legged it, chuckling to myself.

Despite the language problem, I found Nice to be very warm, vibrant, friendly and safe, despite its terror problems in recent years. I’ve now added the Nice marathon to my bucket list, as well as the surrounding mountains, and have even started learning French again for the first time since 1996. Particularly the phrase, “I am NOT Jenson Button”.

How NOT to prep

What a difference a year makes. On Sunday I had my first half marathon of the year. Twelve months ago, it was postponed for a month because of the Beast From the East cold weather. Sunday was just wet. The Pest From the West.

The run itself was a bit of a disaster for me really. There were many factors that contributed. The main one was my lack of training at the pace needed over that distance. I’ve definitely put the miles in, but for longer distances, or quick 5ks or hilly runs with my Bergen. But none geared up for a quick half marathon. Then, on Saturday, I met up with a friend and we sat over multiple coffees and had a catch up. Not being a coffee drinker, I’d say I was wired for a good few hours afterwards and couldn’t wind down enough to sleep, eventually getting just two hours.

So as you can probably guess, the wheels came off. I did ok for the first 5 miles, but started going backwards at 6. A couple of energy gels meant I rallied at 10 miles and put in a quick last bit to save the day slightly. My finish line photo does not reflect the discomfort I was in, more the relief at finally finishing without needing the St John’s Ambulance.

My friends all did great, which was good. They all deserved their quick times. Hopefully next year I’ll get back on the half marathon training properly. It’s my favourite distance.

It capped off a strange weekend. Not necessarily a good strange either. I suppose it’s a tectonic plate shift of life sometimes that needs to happen, like growing pains.

The next blog will probably be about all things French, as I’m jetting out there tomorrow for a few days of international blue in Nice. The Instagram page will be getting a pounding so I apologise in advance! Vive la Outdoor Living Room!

Spring is (not) here?

Here in Blighty (marked on maps as England, Great Britain or United Kingdom) we have been having some really abnormally mild weather for February. I’m pretty sure I smelled the whiff of a barbeque on Saturday.

Out and about, the signs of spring are everywhere. The birds aren’t sure what to do. They now think it’s April and are frantically building nests. My walk in the woods on Saturday afternoon taking photographs captured bluebells coming up rapidly. The snowdrops from January are beginning to fade away, and it’s nice to see the seasons moving on, even if it is a little peculiar.

I do have a rational fear though. One of my many voluntary occupations (also known as hobbies) is allotmenteering. At the moment, my allotment is looking pretty stark and bleak, but it is a work in progress. Within the allotment territory, where it crosses over with my outdoors interests, there is a widespread interest in flora and fauna and gardening in general. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than sweeping autumn leaves aside to reveal spring shoots pushing through, such as now. However, my fear is that this mild weather is short-lived and will soon be replaced by cold, frosty weather, effectively wiping out the new growth, as well as the insects already awake looking for nectar (I’ve seen butterflies, and bees this weekend), stunting the whole process of nature. I want to avoid the whole global warming thing as that’s a massive area. Let’s just blame Brexit. Much easier.

I’m not complaining obviously. It’s nice to see the back of what feels like a long winter, and just like a mountain hare, I shed my winter coat over the weekend, having my first wet shave since October 31st 2017. I now look like a man ten years younger. On my run yesterday morning, I found that the sweat had nowhere to go and just ran off my chin like a dodgy gutter.

As mentioned, Saturday afternoon was spent strolling around the woods trying to capture something photographically. I found initially that I struggled to get going. My photography over the past few months has been city-based and city-inspired and faced with nature and all of its non-man made glory, I struggled to see shots and scenes. Eventually I was snapping away, but it struck me as interesting that my inspiration can shift like that. In the city, there is intentional symmetry, something on every corner, reflections in glass. In nature, it’s a different thread, and you almost have to undergo a personality change, or put on a different pair of glasses. I guess it goes back to a previous post where I discussed beauty, asking what is beauty? What makes the woods beautiful? Is it something we’re taught to think? Nature is beautiful, yet cities aren’t? I know the difference, and I see beauty in both, and I’m still able to choose between them. It’s just a problem as a photographer!

When the (big) smoke gets in your eyes

Every weekend I do something outdoors-related, whether it’s running or walking, or cycling and nine times out of ten it’s in the British hills, mountains and countryside. Except last weekend. I was in London. If you’re anything like the majority of people I told I was going, you’re probably saying to yourself in an awful Cockney accent, “Laaaandaaaaan Taaaaaannnn”, which baffled me and I found mildly irritating after the fifth person felt the need to say it.

Anyway, it was a good trip. Most of it was actually spent outdoors, even if it was urban. I’ve always liked London, especially at times like the weekend where you are just free to stroll along. Time was spent in Regent’s Park, which is a huge open space. I wasn’t completely able to switch off and pretend I was in the countryside however as hovering in the distance at all times were high rise buildings and the sound of sirens. I thought on a couple of occasions I heard a green woodpecker, but it was some of the many thousands of parakeets that populate the city.

rhdr

I was impressed with the bits of greenery that I saw as well as the random standard trees in places, so old that the city has been built around them. I love to explore, no matter where I am, and I was not disappointed, when in Fitzrovia, there was a narrow passage with Regency period houses terraced on each side, and almost every one of them had a frontage jam-packed with potted plants, adding greenery where there is none, fulfilling the need to care for something.

rhdr

I have always said I could never live in a city, although I can see the appeal. One thing to be said about city living is that it’s a constant flow of change – redevelopment of areas already developed. There is no need to fight for the greenbelt, and stand up for the countryside because put simply, there is none. It went centuries ago. People in London fight for the preservation of historical buildings, not nature for the greater part. They don’t get that pang of disappointment, coupled with anger and dread when another developer’s sign goes up on a narrow country lane that was once enjoyed as an escape route from modern life and urban mundanity. Rubbing shoulders with city dwellers, you can sense that they are different. Whether it’s a good different or bad different isn’t an argument short enough to go on this blog, and it also isn’t my argument to make.

As good as the two days were, as the old saying goes, it was good to be home.

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.