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.

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.