Krister’s Secret Sauce and the mysterious clicking sound

On Saturday morning, after a week slogging it around the Brecon Beacons, I found myself at 7 am on the starting line of my first ultra marathon of the year. In the past couple of weeks I have raised concerns about my lack of training for this event, not helped by it being brought forward a week, squashing any hope of a recovery week.

So Friday was spent unpacking everything from the mountain escapades and repacking for overnight camping at the race HQ as well as for the run itself. Once there, dinner was made, as well as chatting to the other camper, a guy named Jonny who was doing one of the shorter distances (a mere 31 miles).

rrem

After a humble speech, and rapturous applause, the race field set off. The field quickly spread out and I found myself behind a guy, who awkwardly held every gate for me. Fortunately, I’d had too many coffees and had to stop for relief and he plodded off ahead. I eventually did catch him up again shortly before the first checkpoint, overtook him, and pulled away.

A few miles later, on a beautiful descent down to the River, there was a field of yellow rapeseed crops, with our path cutting through it. On this path I could see two small heads meandering through it. It would have made a fantastic photograph, their blue kit contrasting the yellow, epitomising the beauty of the region and why we get up so bloody early and do this to ourselves.

I had prepared to spend the entire 46 mile course alone, mainly by creating a playlist on my phone for when it got tough, and different techniques to push through when I had to. Such is life and these events that I did catch up with the two guys that I had seen previously in the yellow field, and after running as a trio, three became two. As luck would have it, the two of us were very similar in outlook, humour, pace and temperament. He was a Swedish guy called Krister, though at first I thought he was a Londoner! In all we ran about 20 odd miles together, well over half the race. We talked at length about life, our different cultures, humour, Vikings and cracked a few jokes, usually around our respective nationalities. We created an ultra marathon mantra to ourselves which went something like this:

If you can’t run, there’s always walking. If you can’t walk, there’s always crawling. If you can’t crawl, there’s always Uber!

Two things amused me the most in the final few miles that we were together. The first was a bottle he kept sipping from, which contained his magic sauce. Now, I know what was in it, but I believe it is Krister’s right to secrecy so I won’t reveal the recipe. I should add that there’s nothing illegal in it! It was the sauce (ha ha) of humour that kept me going through some tough climbs, along with trying to work out what this strange clicking sound was. I first heard it, and thought it was me. Or something in my bag, or something in Krister’s bag. It sounded like two pebbles being trapped together. I didn’t say anything until at one point Krister turned and said, “What’s that noise?!” and he worked out it was in fact his shoes. It was like running to a metronome!

It was about 5 miles from the finish that I had to let Krister continue alone, as just of a farm track, sat on the grass with her dog, was a longstanding school friend, who despite being in contact with on social media many times a week, I haven’t seen face to face since we left school in 1998. I often think that your friends will tell you what they think you want to hear, but the best friends you have tell you like it is, and this rang true on Saturday. I mentioned that I had in fact stopped sweating, probably due to dehydration, and quick as you like, my friend looked at my face and neck and said, “Yeah, you’re really crusty, mate!”. After twenty years, five minutes in and those are amongst her first words! It made me laugh all the way to the finish. Really great to see her and humbling to have support.

Eventually I crossed the finish in a time one hour and a quarter faster than last year, finishing seventh in the process. On the back of the success of my midweek test march test march, this gave me more confidence, and has pushed me to begin to consider much bigger goals for the next two years.

The freedom of the mountains (after careful planning)

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. There is a legitimate reason for this and it is relevant. It’s not an excuse, honestly.

Radio silence was the fault of spending four days and three nights in the mountains. I’ve been trying to get away since winter really and booked a week off work to get some quality hikes in. The planning of the trip was quite full on. Booking the campsite was easy, but it was the three or four days leading up to the trip that required the most organisation. I like to think I’m well organised, but I have been known to forget obvious things. Example one; there was the time I drove 20 miles to watch and photograph a friend’s band, only to discover as they walked out on stage that my camera battery was at home, still charging. Example two; the time I drove 100 miles for a weekend away taking part in a civilians version of a military test march, only to discover that the bag with all of my (quite expensive) nutrition for the march was still at home.

For this reason, I am quite methodical in the way I pack for trips. I pack in stages, after a few days making lists of what to take. If I don’t pack in stages, or leave those stages half complete, I’m that scatty that I’ll return to the task and completely lose my train of thought and overlook something blinking obvious. Think walking boots, maps, tent.

DSC_0904

This trip was particularly difficult to pack for because it involved three things – the tent and all the camping paraphernalia, the clothing and equipment for three separate hikes, and clothing and other items for the day-to-day activities. I had to start very slowly and be very thorough, and I am proud to say, didn’t miss a thing.

The biggest part of the planning process was actively planning each hike. And we’re not talking about grabbing a map, choosing where to go, and following it without getting lost. Those simple days are behind me! Those wonderful lowland walks. Gone. No, in the mountains, every step must be planned, distances, expected timings, speed, elevation climbed, compass bearings and weather conditions. Not everything goes to plan however, as my account of the week will reveal.

Whilst the hills and mountains can’t be made 100% safe, the risks we take while there can be minimised. One way of doing this is having a contactable person elsewhere who knows exactly where you are and where you last were, so if you’re not back when you said you were going to be back, the appropriate action can be taken.

I had a very pleasant, but at times, testing, three days, which I will describe in the following three blogs in the coming weeks.

Reconsideration. Reconciliation.

After a couple of weeks despairing over losing what we have, I thought I’d lighten the mood a little today by writing about my weekend where I got out and enjoyed what we have instead. After all, if I spent all my life fighting for something I’d probably neglect to enjoy it during the process too, leading to an awkward paradox.

In preparation for my ultra marathon in a few weeks time I went and ran some of the route on Sunday morning. It was the best day weather wise of the long Easter weekend, a little chilly but bright.

The route is a hilly one, but the paths, trees and views help you forget all of that in no time.

The woodland that I ran through were flooded with spring sunlight and birdsong. The brown woodland floor starting to turn green in the glades and a few wildflowers popping up, such as the Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). 

Among the many highlights were hearing the woodpeckers drilling, seeing buzzards soaring and seeing the first bees of the year. My favourite part was glimpsing a fox across the field as it nonchalantly trotted away, occasionally pausing to glance back at me as if he were daring me to pursue him.

It truly is a beautiful part of the county, if not the country altogether. After considering the countryside we have lost, I’m proud we’ve managed to keep hold of some – and may it always be so.