Those that know me well, or have read this blog over the years, will be aware that I do enjoy a spot of running. Oh yes, such a simple sport, just pop on your kicks and out the door you go. That’s how it normally is anyway…….
Right now I’m injured. It’s a foot thing. Luckily it only seems to really hurt when I, er, run. Hmmm. It hurts a bit when I walk, not at all when I’m doing nothing. I still haven’t really got any further with it being diagnosed, despite it originally happening on March 15th.
It’s not all about me.
While I’ve been keeping fit on the turbo trainer, swimming lots and doing my circuit training, Nicky is hard in training for some rather epic events over the summer. I (alongside our faithful Border Terrier Charlie) have been offering enthusiastic support over the last few weeks as Nicky has been out doing events.
We went to Parke Parkrun in Bovey Tracey last weekend and Nicky had a great run. It really is a stunning location to visit and the run route explores the beautiful woodlands, including a couple of naughty hills. It can be a mud fest in winter, but after a dry spell it was more dusty than anything.
Nicky skipped around with her usual determination, hidden by her ever present, gorgeous smile. Me and Charlie stumbled around to offer support. Excellent coffee and vegan cake in the grounds of the house rounded off a marvellous morning.
Just two days later and we find ourselves in Yeovil, 5 years since we’d gone there and both ran close to our fastest 10k’s (which I wrote about here). A very different preparation this year – me hobbling with a support under my foot (so obviously not running!) and Nicky in the middle of heavy training for her epic upcoming events.
Having hinted that she’d be happy with 1h10m, she proceeded to skip over the line alongside the 1 hour pacer! Bloody ace my wife is!
She’s following, as best she can with the time available, a plan to get her to her much postponed Ironman in August. On the way though, she’s also got some pretty epic swims planned. If I thought I was heroic knocking out 100 lengths in the pool, she has done as many as 200……… and then gone back in the evening for another 80.
Not forgetting her casually knocking out long rides of 50 – 80 miles every week on the bike. She’s also done unmpteen half marathons this year! Absolutely inspirational.
The latest of these was The Sid Valley Ring, hosted by Climb Southwest. And there was plenty of climbing on the route I’m reliably informed. It is this type of event where I get jealous of those running. Lots of trails, gorgeous scenery, a bit of coastline, yeah, as an old friend who we bumped into on the day said, “You’d have hated it Kevin!”
But it was great for me and Charlie to have a morning out exploring East Devon trying to catch Nicky at a couple of places. We succeeded and Nicky, and all the other runners too, seemed to be having a ball. Finishing on the sea front in Sidmouth made for a spectacular backdrop to end a fabulous event.
So I’m, as ever, in awe of Nicky, and will be using the example of her determination to keep as fit as I can while I’m injured and to come back stronger and build my running back up to where it was waaaaay back in January when Covid struck.
Well, well, well, a running race review. There hasn’t been one of them since we ran the gorgeous Big Pilgrimage Marathon back in August. Normally these blogs are reserved for those big away day adventures or marathons, but we had such a good time at The Cockington Christmas Caper that I thought I should share the story.
The event starts and finishes probably less than two miles from our house, the route takes in a selection of trails, most of which I run a couple of times a week, and the distance is 7.5ish miles. Yet I have the urge to tell you ALLLL about it. The day started with a leisurely breakfast as the event didn’t get under way until 10.30. We didn’t even need to warm the car up as our good friend, and regular star of running stories on this blog, Martin (a.k.a. The Silver Fox), was kind enough to pick us up on the way.
Parking in the beautiful village of Cockington, we made our way, wrapped in hoodies and coats – it was feckin’ freezing – to race HQ outside the cricket pavilion at what must be the quaintest cricket club in the land. Numbers pinned, we kept our hoodies on until very nearly kick-off time before handing them to the friendly young chaps manning the baggage tent. A word here for the event organisers, volunteers, marshals, registration staff and everybody else involved in the event – they were quite frankly awesome.
The Cockington Christmas Caper is in its (I believe) 17th year (having missed 2020 because of you-know-what) and is a truly local event. Organised by The Barnabas Sport Trust and helping to fund their great work with those less able to access education, training or sporting activities, they manage to keep the price at £14. A rather pleasant surprise to receive a tote bag, mug and medal at the finish considering the entry fee.
The 220 (sold out every year) runners set off for a brief 200 meter of downhill charge on slippery grass before starting the first of umpteen climbs. This pretty much set the tone for the run, if you like running on flat, predictable surfaces, this definitely isn’t for you. Martin set off chasing the youngsters while me and Nicky settled nicely into the pack.
The grounds in front of Cockington Court are beautiful and seeing a line of colourful running tops snaking through them as the freezing rain gave way to winter sunshine gave an added brightness to the scene. I ran most of these trails the day before The Caper and there wasn’t a hint of where the course might go – all of the signs and tape must have been put in place early on race day. I’m quite confident (and I do have history with this) that it would be a near impossibility to miss a turn, or veer off the route, the markings were so comprehensive.
Add to that the marshals, at every pinch point and major turn a high-viz hero was there to cheerfully point us in the right direction. What is there to say about the course? Probably 70% is on gnarly or muddy trails and fields and the rest on more made up trails like compacted gravel and about 100m on tarmac! I bloomin’ loved every step. There are so many ups and downs, totalling about 1600 feet of elevation. Some of the muddy downhill sections were bordering on ski slopes by the time half the pack had charged down them. Martin is as generous a friend as you could ever wish for, both with his time, energy and support and he is always happy to get the coffees in. He is also known for being as tight as a you-know-what’s-wotsit when he thinks he’s being done over by marketeers……. “How was the mud in those old road shoes Martin?” “Terrible, I was sliding everywhere…….” I’m saying nothing!
The finish is naughty, back up the same 200m hill we started on and with everybody watching and cheering, we felt the need to offer something in the way of a ‘sprint’ finish.
Fabulous run in a glorious location and I can’t believe that, despite it being so close to home, I’ve never run it before!
Nicky and I do get so, so much joy from trail running together and today was bliss, we ran well, the woods and countryside looked just splendid with leaves of all colours carpeting the floor and I feel like weve added to the bank of precious memories of our adventures together. And we were home for lunch!
Some books speak to me, speak of truth. Some have me nodding along with a wry smile, like I’ve been found out. Some books find the words which have previously failed me, expressing how I feel. Some have me laughing out loud when an ironic, or comedic moment lurches from the page. Some have me needing to take a quiet moment.
This book does all of that.
So. Why should YOU read this book? Read on and you will discover……
Firstly, you don’t need to be a fan of running and/or passionate about music to enjoy Running Tracks?
Not as much as you’d think.
The years since Rob Deering discovered running are richly documented here, along with the soundtrack to those years. So, if you had absolutely zero interest in either running or music, it could potentially pass you by. But, I promise you it won’t.
Running Tracks is about so much more than that.
This book is about how we progress in life, about what makes us, what develops within us. Rob Deering has music in his blood – as a musician and as a listener. Running appeared later in his life. But it has become just as much a part of his DNA. The book goes far deeper than merely chronicling that progression. The author beautifully shows us how a new hobby or passion gets moulded into our soul, our personality, our very way of life, whilst still maintaining the truth of our self. It’s a neat, clever and humbly delivered trick which worked to get me thinking about how I personally have evolved into the person I am now.
Rob Deering is a comedian, musician, director, radio host, podcaster, and now author. He is also a runner. Through his running, and the platform of his other work, he is a prolific fundraiser for Parkinson’s UK, a cause which isn’t just close to his heart, it is in his heart.
He delivers his debut foray into the publishing world with a refreshing and poised pen. Using the parallel of music and running to coincide with moments of his life, he has given us a unique take on ‘memoir’.
From his personally curated, but randomly delivered playlist, there’s a tune for 26 (point two, naturally) of these occasions and each paints a vivid picture of an unforgettable moment in time for Rob.
The book feels rich and warm. His passion for the combination of music and running radiates from every page. There is nothing dictatorial about the musical choices, the author doesn’t impose his listening preferences upon us, he simply says why each piece of music so perfectly fitted each moment of the run in question, and how that reflects equally perfectly on a point in his life.
The details he adds about the structure of each tune only serves to immerse us deeper into why a rhythm, bass line, chord structure or sample hit the spot for him.
Similarly with running, Deering has a refreshing honesty to his writing – I have no doubt that even non-runners will have no trouble relating to him. He employs an accessible style of narration and there is no attempt to mystify the act of running. The author, like most of us, has learned as he has progressed, often (again like most of us) by getting things wrong! This journey plays out through the book – putting routes together, pacing himself, finding the types of runs which bring him the most pleasure – his writing celebrates all of this and shows how available exercise can be.
Why did I enjoy this book so much?
Running Tracks feels personal to me in many ways. Not least because (full disclosure), my name features in the back of the book alongside the many hundreds of others who supported the book at its inception.
My to-be-read pile was always likely to feature a book about running and music. This is especially the case when it is written by half of the duo behind my favourite podcast (Running Commentary, alongside Paul Tonkinson). The fact that it is a fine work of writing is icing on the cake.
Music and running feature so heavily in my own life and even though we might often be on quite different pages in our choices of runs or tunes, it is most definitely the same love. We both put on a pair of trainers and get out of the door, and we’re always glad that we did.
Rob Deering loves the big (and not so big) city marathons, the book visits London and both New and old York, whilst I’m more likely to be found at a low key event in a field somewhere. Also, some of the random and inconsistent distances of my events might play with his head, the crowds of runners and spectators at his favourites would play with mine. BUT, it is still the same love.
And here’s the biggie, I simply don’t like running with headphones. Rob Deering feels that so much of the running experience ties into the playlist accompanying him. It is STILL the same love, we all find our rhythm when we set out on our running journeys and how we access that rhythm is a personal thing.
All of which still doesn’t mean that music doesn’t feature in, nor evoke memories of, my own running. I admit to being slightly jealous as my running and music associations will never have the immediacy of Deering’s, but it is still, I reckon, the same love.
Take chapter 20 where he talks about the incredible band, Rush. I won’t spoil any of his stories by expanding on where and how Rush’s The Camera Eye sound-tracked a run for Rob (go and buy the book and find out!). BUT I can tell you that every time I hear Rush it transports me back to Toronto Beaches Jazz Festival Half Marathon on a trip as a guest of their long time producer, Terry Brown. A story for another day……
There are many other moments and references in this fabulous tome which speak directly to me, but the book is Rob Deering’s story to tell, not mine. I simply whole heartily recommend that you grab yourself a copy and find out for your selves.
As a work of standalone creative non fiction, Running Tracks is a joy to me. It is a refreshing departure from those generic and formulaic memoirs of the famous. I was thrilled to read a book full of tricks and surprises which deals emotions in spades. I rolled easily from chapter to chapter, eager to peer through another window into the author’s world.
You know what, go and buy it, find out for yourself!
Look around and you’ll spot something which has become a virtual version of its former self.
Fitness classes performed at home. A screen full of fellow Zumba or Yoga enthusiasts has become common place. In fact, Nicky signing up for a Pilates class has meant that, 10 months after everybody else, we started to do battle with Zoom! Has it been a success? The jury is out! On week two we managed to work out how to enable the instructor to see Nicky as she contorted herself into the unlikely poses. Week three seems to have slipped by without it being mentioned!
Schooling, of course, is now delivered in multiple ways, and, in my humble opinion, teachers and school staff need bloomin’ medals for the work they’ve done these last ten months or so. Us grown ups too can be schooled via WhatsApp or tested online – Nicky has had dozens of video call piano lessons on her ‘phone and even passed her virtual performance Grade I. That was featured in one of my blogs trying to find the positives from 2020. The rate she’s already progressing, she may well be troubling the scorers for Grade II before you know it.
Job interviews, whole work places even, house viewings, trips to the zoo, literary festivals, so many of us have found, and enjoyed, innovative ways of still experiencing as much of life as possible via the internet.
We’ve already looked at the virtual world of books and book shops, so let’s have a dig into my other hobby and passion, running.
You’d think running was something which really can’t be replicated at home, well that isn’t necessarily so…..
Aside from people running marathons in their gardens, climbing Everest on the stairs or completing half marathons on their balconies, there is an (admittedly expensive) way of replicating running challenges without leaving the building. You’ll need a swanky treadmill and a computer and then you can run in the virtual world of Zwift.
We do have the cycling version here ourselves, as Nicky tries to keep her mileage up. Obviously it’s a bit easier with cycling as you can put your actual bike in a turbo trainer, far less cumbersome, and certainly more portable than a treadmill.
And then there are virtual events. Using apps, links to training programs and websites, smart watches or just good old honesty, we have been able to take part in events with others whilst running alone. As I put together my series of features onrunning events companies, I’ve been learning just what lengths some have gone to in creating virtual challenges.
Running clubs too are hosting virtual relays and time trial challenges. It not only gives members something to focus their training on, but also keeps people communicating in these anxious and sometimes lonely times.
I listen to a podcast, Running Commentary, presented by two stand up comedians, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson. Deering went all in and did the Great North Run virtual event and also the London Marathon. These events had the added technical challenge of everybody running at the same time! His reports on the two events were great episodes. Particularly the marathon, a huge achievement at any time, never mind without the usual London crowds or fellow competitors.
I’ve found myself clicking the enter now button for distance and elevation challenges. Mostly, it has to be said, from the quirky and quite excellent Bys Vyken. The Cornish event organiser has created a series of challenges during the pandemic, each with a back story related to the region. I’m currently about a third of the way through their GOAT 2 challenge (and three quarters of the way through Lamps On Lockdown too). The combination of these two virtual events means I’m often out running the local hills during the hours of darkness.
Do I miss doing events in the flesh. Oh my yes. Our road trips with our ‘team mate’ Martin are such adventures. The middle aged banter in the car, some coffee and more giggles waiting for the start are so much part of the experience. Bumping into regular faces at the types of trail events we tend to prefer give them a real community feel. Yes, yes, yes, we miss those days.
I’ve avoided any ‘see how fast you can go’ type of virtual event, but I can see the attraction for those who still enjoy training to better their previous times or win the bragging rights over a running nemesis. I’d rather ignore the watch and just keep enjoying my running on the trails we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep.
It is no secret that Nicky and I love our trips to Cornwall. We’ve tackled some truly amazing events in the county. Mudcrew have hosted much of our fondly remembered Cornish running. It was my great pleasure to catch up with Andrew Ferguson (Ferg) and Jane Stephens who make up ⅔ of the Mudcrew team.
Mudcrew’s Black RAT (32 miles) was the first event I’d ever done in Cornwall. That was back in 2015. My beautiful lady wife had successfully completed the Red RAT (20 miles) in 2014 and absolutely loved it. The RAT (or Roseland August Trail) was also the first ever Mudcrew event, in 2011. That first year saw the 32 and 20 miles versions plus an 11 mile, White RAT.
The RAT festival of trail running has expanded to now include The Plague (the whole of the Black RAT in both directions!). 2019 saw the introduction of BOYD24 (Bring Out Your Dead), 24 hours of repeating the brutal last section of the RAT course. Truly for the lion hearted!
Mudcrew is headed by Ferg, Jane and Andy Trudge. Jane was the last to join the team after co-founder Jo Lake went on to new challenges.
The first RAT was an ambitious undertaking with coach transport for nearly 500 people to three different start locations and 32 miles of coast path to be marked and checked. Ferg was relieved that the first year was such a great success and made the effort that had gone into creating it worthwhile.
“It was a huge learning curve though. I didn’t finish marking the course until 5AM the day of the event, I was exhausted before the day even started.”
There weren’t the number of trail events companies that we are now spoiled with back then. Those that did exist were putting on some epic events, most of which Ferg had taken part in. Yet he felt that there was scope to add a bit more to event day than these early companies were offering.
“Although they were commercial pioneers, we thought the events lacked passion…….. We wanted to put on a party afterwards, with camping, so that everyone could chill and enjoy a social evening together….. The RAT afterparty is now legendary.”
Social media was in its infancy back then and the Mudcrew team were out there using the old school method of handing flyers to runners at other races. At The Grizzly (an epic trail race in East Devon) they tucked 1000 leaflets under car windscreen wipers. As the success of that first RAT proved, Ferg’s belief that they were offering something new and different was lapped up by the trail running community.
Jane was already a fan by the time she joined the team:
“I ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff! MudCrew had been going for a couple of years when I came on board, so I was lucky enough to join an existing company with a great following. Apart from helping out at club level, I was fairly new to the game. My first event as part of the team was the RAT in 2015…… it was amazing, I was so glad I took the plunge.”
Andy, Jane and Ferg have naturally found how their individual strengths help the Mudcrew team work so effectively. Ferg points to Andy’s exceptional organisational skills:
“Andy is quietly behind the scenes doing all the crucial stuff, dealing with permissions, councils, timing and safety, financials, all the real important stuff that I would be terrible at!”
Ferg takes responsibility for the course and crew, plus their social media whilst Jane is, as Ferg explains:
“..super organised, the smiling front face of the company, she lives and breathes Mudcrew and the sport.”
Jane tells me how when it comes to race day, the team effort culminates in the incredible experience us runners are treated to:
“During the event we work very much as a team, doing what needs doing. Ferg tends to stay out on the course and Andy and I look after race HQ. I deal with the finish line and awards etc. “
Mudcrew’s other flagship event is the Arc Of Attrition. A winter 100 ultra marathon, ran entirely on the South West Coast. It is both revered and feared. With good reason. The finish rate is around 50% in a good year! A 50 mile race has been added to the weekend in recent years. Sharing a finish line with the 100 and starting on the stage of the iconic Minack Theatre, it is no ‘baby’ ultra marathon!
The ARC has been digging itself into my brain since I first learned of its existence back in 2015. I even wrote a piece (here) about how I would *never* entertain such a challenge…..
I had a place in the ARC 50 for this year. I was taking it very seriously, I’ve run recees on the whole course and was training hard. Like so many of us, my challenges are on hold, which is obviously frustrating, but health must be our priority. The amount of work Mudcrew put into creating these events means these frustrations must be tenfold for them.
As a competitor I’d been kept informed about the incredible lengths to which Jane and the team had gone in order to make the event Covid safe:
“We had an incredible plan ready for the Arc that was really tricky to get right but the latest lockdown meant it was impossible.”
Both Jane and Ferg say that their favourite memories as race organisers are all about seeing those final runners through the finish line on both the RAT and the ARC. On a personal level, Jane also treasures the moment she got to present her own daughter with a RAT trophy.
Jane and Ferg are proud of the standing and reputation their events have earned in the trail running and ultra marathon communities.
Ferg, as will we learn later, is a fan of the big ultra marathons around the world and is chuffed to link The ARC to that world.
“I’m most proud that the RaidLight Arc 100 is now made it to Western States Qualification status. It was a personal ambition of mine for the race”
Janes ambitions for Mudrew are simply:
“To continue to grow our flagship events and to be a name known everywhere synonymous with great races!”
Ferg agrees, also pointing out that they have plans to extend the scope of their latest event to be announced, The South West Traverse. This will hopefully be the next event they host, if Covid risks and restrictions are sufficiently reduced by then.
As well as celebrating every single finisher in their events, the level of elite athletes who seem to be drawn to Cornwall to take these challenges is also a source of much pride.
Both Jane and Ferg say it can be frustrating when some participants don’t understand the work that goes into their events, sometimes bombarding them with queries when they are at their most busy, in the days immediately before race day. Or indeed afterwards, when they finally allow fatigue to take over:
“One of the busiest times for emails/ questions is immediately after a event when all you want to do/ can do is sleep … we can go 3 nights without sleep (or very little sleep) on the Arc sometimes.”
Mudcrew has quite a large loyal army of volunteers who help make race days so special, the ARC Angels are credited by many runners as the reason they managed to complete the event. Jane too says that their crew are the reason the events are so successful. She also has the support of her husband who, along with her daughter, make each event a genuine family affair. Although she does say “The thing I miss the most is being able to take part!”
In fact, carrying on the family theme, when asked who inspires her most Jane replies:
“My daughter and my close running friends.”
Jane is also grateful to the support Mudcrew have received during the most challenging of years for events organisers:
“It has been an extremely difficult year granted, but I love how supportive the running community has been on the whole. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made (with cancellations of the RAT and the ARC particularly). It is made a little easier when you get messages supporting our decision.“
Ferg also draws inspiration from local running legends such as Jo Meek and Paul Maskell.
“Definitely Jo Meek , a good friend who has raced at the very highest level seemingly forever. She continues to train like a ninja and is as competitive today as ever … she shows no sign of slowing down or losing her zest for the sport“
“Paul Maskell is a GB 24 hour team runner who manages to mix training with family and a full time air ambulance paramedic job. 24 hour track running is by far and away the hardest discipline in the sport of ultra running, I have crewed enough of them to see how it has broken the very best in the UK.”
Mudcrew haven’t offered any virtual events during this challenging time, letting others fill that gap in our race plans. Ferg doesn’t find himself tempted to get involved but Jane has completed a few in the last year to keep her motivation levels up. She wasn’t able to create a “Lockdown gym” though, as her garage doubled as the Mudcrew store.
Both Jane ane Ferg are clearly motivated runners, as we discover whilst delving into their impressive trail and ultra marathon accomplishments.
Like so many of us of a certain age, they both came to this wonderful sport relatively late. Ferg, around the age of 40, had finished his football career and was looking to fill that void:
“I missed the social aspect and the exercise when I was too old to play anymore. I quickly found out that I was never going to be fast and that I soon got fed up with road marathons. I got into the trail ultra scene in the early days, around 2007. I did the very first Classic Quarter when there were only 18 entrants. I loved it and quickly got addicted to distance trail running.”
Jane seems to be equally addicted, she started her running journey almost 10 years ago and her glittering array of achievements in that time is extraordinary:
“I started running in 2011 and ran my first marathon in 2013. I then ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff!
I have run approximately 75 marathons and ultras to date.”
Amongst this eye watering list of achievements is the 145 mile long Grand Union Canal race, which she rates as her proudest achievement to date. Jane has completed both the 100 and 50 mile versions of Centurion Running’s South Downs Way events saying the 50 is probably her favourite – “I loved the 50 because it was the second half of the 100, but in daylight!”
Ferg enjoys most of the local events, he tends to support them all. I’ve bumped into him at quite a few over the years. He gets frustrated at the lack of passion he finds at some events, but has high praise for some of the South West’s epic trail races:
“The Grizzly, which I’ve done at least 15 times…. As a Race Director I can see what a massive amount of work goes into it, with a mind boggling number of runners. I also really like Bys Vyken events such as the Cousin Jack, I love the passion which David puts in (Bys Vyken RD, see my interview with him here).”
Ferg has also completed the Grand Union Canal Race as well as an ever growing list of epic events from across Europe and beyond. These include such classics as The Spine Race, Leadville 100 and The Golden Ring 100 in Russia.
“I love to combine the sport with travel and have done several other major and low key events in Europe and beyond.”
These adventures are on hold for now. Jane and Ferg both have grand plans for 2021 if health and restrictions allow. Jane has her place in the legendary Marathon des Sables held back from last year, while Ferg has his eye on The Dragon’s Back multi day race in September. Along the way he is hoping to race in Spain and The Azores with further trips to South Africa and Thailand at the end of the year.
One fantastic Mudcrew event neither Jane and Ferg have mentioned is The Scrooge. Sadly the venue is no longer available for this Christmas trail running extravaganza. Many in the trail running community, particularly Nicky and myself, have very fond memories of dressing up in festive costumes and joining Andy, Ferg and Jane for some festive fun in Mevagissey.
First they tell me my entire record collection is in my telephone, now it seems there are maps inside my watch.
I know I’m old school, but surely there is witchcraft at play here!
Weeks spent exercising close to home, months spent shielding, avoiding contact with everyone, events cancelled, holidays postponed, shocking and anxiety inducing news day after day. We were ready for some adventure.
We are lucky that we get so, so much pleasure from simply being outdoors. Walking the dog, running and once the weather and regulations allowed, swimming and cycling.
One thing we found helped us massively was to have an adventure once a week. On my day off work, we would create a route and drive to somewhere relatively local. After a longish run exploring some new trails we would treat ourselves to a snack of Double Deckers and cold Diet Coke (we take our sports nutrition very seriously!)
A city boy by birth, I am not a natural map reader. It hasn’t been unheard of for us to not actually be where my finger is pointing to on a map! In fact I’ve made a few navigation errors since I’ve been attempting these longer trail ultra marathons. I remember coming up behind some runners I’d already overtaken once in the Gower 50!
What a boon then, when I upgraded my running watch to one which can tell me which way to go! It felt like an extravagance. But not being into cars, flashy clothes etc, I reckoned I should use the extra pennies I’ve earned this year to invest in something which I would actually use.
And with it we’ve been on so many adventures………….
Nicky said it feels like being on holiday. After weeks of confining herself to very short trips from home, what a joy to go somewhere else and explore.
Here’s how we do it – we find the trails and lanes on the paper map in the comfort of home, then create a route on the app which accompanies the watch, following the trails we’ve found. Then we sent it to the watch. I shit you not!
So Nicky and I get to joyfully skip around the countryside knowing that my watch will vibrate (honestly, I’m not making this up!) to warn me if we’ve gone off route. We’ve been caught out a couple of times: once we ended up wandering across somebody’s lawn. On another occasion, a landowner had build an ugly block wall across the entrance to a right of way!
Mostly, it’s been a succession of joyous adventures washed down with increasingly elaborate post run nutrition. What started as a drink and snack started to become a full on picnic as autumn arrived!
As we make our plans for 2021 (with the obvious caveats), it would be too easy to stop our adventure runs, particularly as Nicky starts to build towards her Ironman triathlon near the end of the summer. The running in most triathlons is on flat and even surfaces and so 15 miles of rocky, muddy and hilly coast path is hardly specific training. BUT, it really is good for the soul and so we will be substituting some of her longer runs with a few trips out into the countryside.
I heard a great phrase on my favourite running podcast, Running Commentary as the festive season approached. Rob Deering, when asked about whether he might have new year’s resolutions, said he was going further and more in depth with his plans for 2021. He is creating a manifesto for the year. I really like the idea of this. There is no ‘new normal’, no going back to ‘the way things used to be’, there is only what we have. Right here. Right now. It’s the only place we can live. So I’m thinking about what I’d like to achieve as ‘me’ in 2021 and setting out just how I’m going to go about that.
As I said, everything comes with caveats as the world tries to juggle ways to keep us all safe but keep us all moving too.
But that is all for another day, another blog………
We really are thankful for our health and the health of our loved ones. We are also grateful and aware that we are lucky enough not to have to worry about jobs being safe. With this in mind, we know that we can keep planning to be outside, taking every opportunity to enjoy the wonderful coast and countryside we are blessed with being surrounded by.
March 2020 was a month of fear and food. When Sainsbury’s unleashed the 12 pack of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs onto the shelves, how could I refuse as I anxiously did our shopping after work. Everybody was fighting their own battles, shielding their loved ones, trying to understand the world as it shifted on its axis around us. And for some of us, Creme Eggs were a coping mechanism.
But we needed better, longer term and let’s face it, healthier ways to survive our times. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was after hoodies!
Oh, and challenges.
In stepped many of our favourite event and race organisers with ways of challenging us ‘virtually’ in our running. Huge races got involved, including the Great North Run and London Marathon. Even better though, local, less high profile companies were finding ways to keep our running mojo up.
I threw my hat in the ring of Cornish race organisers, Bys Vyken, as they created the wonderfully titled Dark Clyde Of The Moon virtual 100 or 50 mile challenge. It worked! I gave myself 14 days to complete the 100 miles. There was no time limit (you can still enter in fact) but I decided to really go for it. At that time I was more comfortable away from the more popular trails and sea fronts and found myself running quite obscure, and very hilly routes.
My goals are still to accomplish epic distances on the type of demanding terrain Bys Vyken are so renowned for. So hills are where I need to train,
Bys Vyken must have been reading my mind because the next virtual challenge on offer was The Goat. The task: to run the equivalent elevation gain as the highest 40 hills in Cornwall in a fixed time frame. Bloody made for me that challenge. As ever, my beautiful lady wife took up the challenge too and we’re both now proud members of the goat academy! Not only that, there was a rather lovely hoody as a souvenir.
With our love of Cornwall, being lucky enough to call Dave and Sally from Bys Vyken friends and the epic medal and hoody this challenge was a perfect distraction from the world around us.
The last ten years have seen a deluge of running communities appear on the internet. Ways of recording our exercise and training transformed by the devices we wear and the apps we use. I was lucky when I started running back in 2007, I almost immediately stumbled upon the lovely running community Fetcheveryone.Com There I found a place to keep a track of my running of course, but also forums of fellow ‘newbies’, a directory of events taking place, blogs and inspirational stories and just the best bunch of people.
Jump forward 13 years and despite all of the competition out there, Fetch goes from strength to strength. As many of us have found this year, the ‘performance’ based analysis and competitive nature of more bullish sites hasn’t really sat comfortably with our mental health. Founder, Ian Williams, has kept Fetch as almost a cottage industry. There is no charge for any feature and never will be. Fetch survives on its advertising income and the goodwill of those of us happy to make a monthly donation. Whilst it feels like sharing your running life with a couple of mates, there are actually 100,000+ users and 2020 has seen many come and join us.
And, of course, I’ve recently acquired a much needed Fetcheveryone hoody.
Visit Fetch for the best people, great running data stats, a comprehensive event guide, blogs, games, forums, podcasts……
Here in the South West of England we are blessed with thousands of miles of paths, lanes and trails, plus every sort of terrain when it comes to choosing which gorgeous routes to run on. Any regular readers of the blog will know that I am at my happiest when running out in the open air, particularly on the coast path.
Well, a very old friend, Jamie (back in the day we both managed public houses in Totnes) was almost born on the trails of South Devon. Jamie decided a few years ago to combine his passion for trail running with his natural gregarious and philanthropic nature and create an online space for us all to share these wonderful trails.
And so Trail Running South West was born. A Facebook community which has grown to over 4000 members in nearly 4 years. Jamie is not just a keen runner, he is often found volunteering at trail events hosted in the region and even hosts the quirky, always sold out Stoke Gabriel Carnival 10k (I’ve volunteered at the event a couple of times – I even wrote all about it here)
The TRSW Facebook group is a great place to share in others’ runs as the feed is flooded with amazing photographs from around the peninsular.
Local organisers keep us up to speed with upcoming events and gatherings using the page too.
As the group grows, Jamie is adding more ways of engaging and sharing the community he has created. Obviously, for me, the best of these is the introduction of some Trail Running South West merchandise, not least, the rather toasty hoody!!
Visit the Facebook group for the great merchandise but also to find out where to run and what events are (hopefully) planned around the South West.
And rest assured I’m going to be toasty this winter!
I once ran with headphones. Well, earphones really. It wasn’t for me.
So many runners do love music on their runs. Or podcasts. What a great way to keep up to speed with your favourites. It simply isn’t for me though.
I prefer the rhythm of my stride, like a perfect metronome counting out the time signature of my efforts.
It’s more like random stomps giving away the uneven swing of my legs as they chaotically guide each foot to the floor. Nobody has ever shouted “Oi! your beautiful running gait is pure eye candy for the endurance sport enthusiast.”
In fact, back when I ran with a training group, the coach described me as “running like a drunk man herding cats”! This is the same coach who, at a training session on an actual running track, was calling out the lap splits as we all went through 400 meters in our 800 meters reps. As the speedy guys and girls whizzed past he was calling “60, 65, 68” etc, informing the athletes of their pace. As I trailed through some way behind the young and the athletic, he called out “Thursday……. Friday…..” Ahh he’s a wit!
Where was I? Headphones, earbuds, ear phones. They are just not for me. I tend to avoid roads and so I’m never really looking to drown out any ambient noise. And, joking aside, I really enjoy the sound of my feet striking the ground, the different rhythms of uphill, downhill and flat and the textured layers of sound created by the wide variety of surfaces once I get away from the concrete, paving slabs or tarmac. Who doesn’t enjoy the squelch of deeply packed fallen leaves on a damp day?
Autumn running. Marvellous isn’t it? It’s the colours. Man, those colours. I don’t mind repeating my favourite trail routes, they look, feel, sound and even smell different on every visit. The time of day, the season, the wind speed and direction, rain, sunshine and the direction I’m running in all vary the sensations the run rewards me with. And I keep coming back for more.
I was on one of my favourite long and hilly routes last weekend and I found myself so in tune with my running that it was almost dream like. The weather was changeable; strong winds, hail storms, mist and drizzle, heavy rain and gorgeous bright sunshine all made an appearance over the 26ish miles of South Devon’s finest trails.
For some reason, I started focussing on colours. Every surface varying its shade with the changes in the weather. It was like choosing a paint texture. The gloss sheen on wet, freshly fallen leaves, giving them an almost mirror like quality. The flat matt of a grazing pony’s fur as it stood in shadow. The subtle, fine silk of moss on a north facing rock. And so it goes on.
The run started as the clouds which had delayed the dawn and denied us a sunrise drifted towards the horizon. The sun appeared above them, candle flame bright and daffodil yellow. Paignton beach, soft sand above the tide line asking for an increase in effort level as every foot strike sunk deep into it, offered the perfect surface to exaggerate the power of the sun. Too coarse to be golden, but certainly more glitzy than a simple beige, Paignton’s sand is perfect for family beach days.
The South West Coast Path dominates the first 16 miles of this route, all the way from Paignton to Kingswear. It is a lung bursting onslaught of ups and downs with a brief flat respite through Brixham. The seaside fishing town rewarded me with sunshine after the eye watering blitz of a hail storm. With everything freshly dampened, the bright sun showcased the broad pallet of the cottages’ colours, looking like they’ve been painted onto the slopes heading down to the harbour. Pastel yellows, blues, pinks, reds…… it really is a living picture postcard.
And what about the sea? What colour is the sea? Under dark clouds and with a handsome swell, the water takes on a full range of military greys. Dark, gunboat shades, almost black, through to a pale matt silver, glints of light reflecting where the sun sneaks down through gaps in the cloud. From high up on Berry Head, with the old fort in the foreground, the vista could be an arty monochrome photograph come to life.
Greens! You want greens. Well, from yellowy limes, a bit like the colour of a Skoda I once owned (I also had a lime green Allegro at one time, and a shit-brown Datsun – I’ve had some horrendous cars!), fragile grasses almost translucent in the low sun. Green is such a versatile colour. From some angles the dark seas take on a green hue as the wave tops briefly capture some extra light. Lush meadows on the cliff tops make a British Racing Green statement whilst tufts of grass on the upslopes sway from light to dark with the wind.
Not forgetting the browns. Dark and blackened cow pats, shiny oak shades in muddy puddles, golden rusts of leaves about to give up and fall to the trail and plenty of beige too in the bark of trunks, peeling to reveal a smooth pale yellowing of fresh wood. Even the flakey patchwork of rusting, burned oranges on long forgotten ironmongery caught my attention on this run.
The blue/black and greys of dark clouds give way to their paler, fluffier cousins as the day brightens. Whites in every shade of the Dulux deluxe range, I was imagining Egyptian Cotton, Lamb’s Wool and Old Piano Keys might be new shades of paint to sell to those who need to impress the neighbours!
This route, on a blustery Autumn day, with the song Four Seasons In One Day becoming an ear worm, shows off South Devon in all of its finery.
Images from a lovely Dartmoor run with Nicky last week
No Lazy Steps
Three years ago I ran my first 50 mile ultra marathon. I might have mentioned it once or twice (you can still read alllll about it HERE). I took a tumble early on in that race, making the remaining 43 miles extremely painful! I’d share a picture of my post-race ankle with you, but to be honest I’m not in a massive hurry to look at it again myself.
Well, I’m planning on attempting another coastal 50 mile event. And I would rather not attempt it on a bulging ankle. So I’ve been rolling out my favourite running mantras as training starts to (and I apologise for employing the phrase which has been wrung out by 2020) ramp up.
The most important of those mantras has to be no lazy steps, no lazy steps, which I tend to repeat to myself when the terrain starts to become, to use another cliched expression, technical. And by technical I mean when there is an abundance of rocks, roots and rabbit holes. But also to be negotiated carefully are steep edges, muddy descents, steps, loose, gravely paths, sheer drops on the side of the trail, standing water (you never know what it might be concealing!) etc etc.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
I heard a great interview with Beth Pascall on Adharanand Finn’s podcast The Way Of The Runner where she explained that there really isn’t any substitute for practice. Not just training to get fit, but specifically experiencing the type of terrain you are training for. I guess it’s no different to any other skill, like writing, playing the guitar, or driving or anything else, it doesn’t matter how many instruction manuals you read or videos you watch you’ve just got to get out there and do it.
Never stop learning.
I’ve been trail running and tackling ultra marathons for quite a few years now, but I still like to try and learn something new, improve something about my running every time I go out. I started running later in life and for the first couple of years only ran on the road.
The biggest thing I’ve learned to change is not to trust the ground! Doing laps around Paignton Green on the pavement, I would only need to consider the ground below me a couple of times in a mile, where the curb drops and rises again.
On the trails by contrast, as Beth Pascall says, I need to be reading the ground a few steps ahead. All the time. I guess we learn to cover the ground quicker the more experienced we get on the terrain.
Running For The Joy Of It
Another major change in my own running from those time-chasing days on the roads is that I really no longer care how fast I run, nor where I might place in an event. Selfishly, the Covid restrictions which mean events starting in small waves doesn’t affect how I might approach the event.
For those who enjoy a good tear up on the roads, racing the girls and guys around them, this has taken some of the fun and motivation out of the events. I’m there to run the best I can still, but really don’t mind what that looks like in terms of time or pace.
The first thing I look at when considering an event is the cut-off time. That becomes my goal, to be quick enough to be inside that. Whatever else I might achieve is a bonus, but sort of unimportant.
After battering myself for a couple of years early in my running career, it is bloomin’ liberating to be running just for the pure pleasure of it.
So on loose rocky descents, covered in freshly fallen leaves and where the light is inconsistent thanks to a canopy of trees, giving the image of running along a blissful tunnel of autumn colour, I slow down to make sure I’m not going to hurl myself to the ground. I think I’ve improved over the years. As I get fitter, I will hopefully be naturally covering the ground a bit quicker without really noticing. But if not, then so be it.
Don’t Be A Whiny Git
With all of this in mind, and in response to me becoming a bit of an annoying whiny git a few weeks ago (‘I’m so tired, I can’t do it’ etc!), I’ve written myself a training program.
10 days in and I’m still following it. I want to be fit enough to complete a challenging (and long) trail marathon in a few weeks time and then continue getting fitter for the big 50 mile challenge at the end of January.
I bloomin’ love being on the trails, and this week I’ve rediscovered my love of running by torch light in the dark too. Even if the situation changes for event organisers, and for their sake I truly hope it doesn’t, I’ll still be happy to get out there and enjoy the process.
And After That?
Beyond that 50 mile event next year, I might even be having another crack at *say it quickly and it won’t sound so scary* the big century. I know the phrase never again might have passed my lips after I very nearly got to end of my last attempt! If I haven’t yet bored you with that tale, feel free to check out my blog about it HERE.
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If the words “tooth” and “fairy” have placed a warm cuddly, call-the-cute-police image in your mind, soothing, calming and reassuring memories of those little traditions of childhood we cling to; the innocence and the trusting of our younger years, then I’m afraid I’m going to shatter your inner peace.
Try and imagine a pile of broken glass lying on a concrete road, then (bear with me on this) place a microphone next to the pile and connect to a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Ready? Now close your eyes and try and hear a car tyre slowly driving over the pile, grinding it further into the ground. Now place your clenched fist hard against the back of your jaw and push hard. The harder you push, the louder the glass gets crushed.
This was no milk tooth falling out to be placed delicately under the pillow as I drifted off to sleep in my fluffy pyjamas, cuddling my pet Sky Blues elephant (it even had the club badge sewn into its side).
After the first infection developed under the offending tooth, timed perfectly with every single dental surgery (like everything else) closing down back in March, I’ve battled toothache. But, shut the back door, the last two weeks have been horrendous. Eye wateringly painful. Sleep denying agony. Obviously, this has been helped enormously by the tropical night time temperatures.
So, after five days of telephone consultations I found myself nervously loitering outside the dentists’ shop front in Union Street in Torquay. The glitzy, high end window display of the dentist felt rather out of place amongst the nail bars, boarded up shops and old school cafes of the upper stretches of Torquay town. As all walks of life were gathering at the line of bus stops and taxi ranks in front of me, I started to become as self conscious as I was anxious. Standing in my supermarket uniform, fresh from a shift which I had completed without pain killers as I was unsure whether taking them would prevent any treatment taking place, I didn’t know whether I looked like I simply needed the toilet as I rocked from foot to foot, or perhaps I was the world’s least discreet drug dealer.
After what felt like long enough for the firebrand sunlight to raise my temperature above the threshold for being treated, I couldn’t decide whether I was relieved or terrified when a friendly, bemasked dental nurse beckoned me indoors.
I passed the temperature test and was led directly to the executioner’s chair. I’ll save you (and me) the details. And no, I was neither offered, nor asked for the offending tooth. What does happen to such delightful remnants of a life well lived? Actually, I don’t want to know, I’m sure it’s not just popped into the bin with the dentist’s apple core and hummus tub.
My wonderful wife Nicky had thankfully insisted that she drive me and after a brief dribbling call to tell her the deed had been done, the Mini pulled up amongst the Iceland and Argos bags waiting for taxis and I gingerly lowered myself in.
The pain had played havoc with my running ambitions over the previous couple of weeks and I was now resigned to a few days of further down time for my trainers as I recovered from what was starting to feel like a few slaps from Anthony Joshua.
As Nicky blitzed a banana into a bowl of natural yoghurt, I sat in the window nursing my tingling and sore jaw, marveling at just how wonderful my life truly is with this remarkable lady. My recovery would be fine, and I didn’t have toothache!
That night I was, for the first time in a while, glad to lay my head on the pillow and looked forward to a few hours of sleep. The tooth fairy never crossed my mind (not least because I was thankfully not in possession of the feckin’ tooth anymore). Little did I know that Nicky did indeed have a ‘who’s a brave boy’ tooth fairy style treat lined up for me.
I remember (do I actually remember? Let’s pretend I do for a minute) placing milk teeth under my pillow as a child and getting excited that there might be a sixpence (which by then was worth two and half new pence) in its place in the morning. This was significant because at the time it would have bought me a packet of football cards. While many were after Kevin Keegan and Mick Channon, I was hoping for Coventry City legends Ian Wallace, Mick Ferguson and Chris Catlin.
I don’t suppose our grandchildren will be so easily satisfied. A mere coin might not cut it anymore. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s youngsters are only willing to sacrifice their little white treasures in return for a stretch Limousine with six of their friends, a few games of ten pin bowling and a good old Maccy Dees nosh up. Although I’m not sure how we’ll get all that under the pillow? Maybe they’ll settle for a fiver?
What, I here you bleat, has all of this got to do with Matt Haig?
In the absence of running, I enjoyed a walk with Charlie before work yesterday (Charlie being our faithful Border Terrier). When I returned there was a parcel tucked behind the gate.
With my name on it. Book shaped. How very exciting.
Nicky had hinted that the tooth fairy had been on the internet and found a surprise for me. And here it was.
I resisted the urge to tear it open and waited for Nicky to get home before, well, tearing it open. Those that know us and anyone who’s read my previous blogs will know we do love our books. You’ll also understand why, as the box revealed its contents; a signed, hardback first edition of Matt Haig’s latest novel, The Midnight Library. There must have been something in my eye, and I was certainly, at least momentarily, stuck for words.
It’s no secret that Nicky and I took extra measures, especially because of my job, to shield her from any potential exposure to Covid-19. It would be foolish to pretend that during those weeks in March and April we hadn’t been fearful. In May, my employer had given me the green light to ‘shield’ for some weeks. Up until then we were living ‘together apart’ and it definitely played havoc with my mental health. Well, Matt Haig was certainly one of the voices I turned to for comfort in those times. Not only is he a writer of beautiful novels and life affirming nonfiction, he is somebody I both relate to and draw comfort in ‘following’.
His, for want of a better word, humanity is so acutely observational, eloquently expressed and is grounded in a true belief that we should all be living as one community which is constantly looking out for each other. We should all have the opportunities to express ourselves adn chase our dreams, regardless of our background or place in society.
The new book is a thing of actual beauty just to look at and hold, and I can’t wait to start turning the pages.
Before that though, I need to get to London with Stuart Maconie. I’m lapping up his account of retracing the steps, 80 years on, of The Jarrow Crusade in his powerful, almost battle cry of a memoir, Long Road From Jarrow. We’re currently in Bedford, one of my old stomping grounds, having passed through a few public houses I frequented back in the day, particularly in Nottingham.
So my recovery continues, I managed a hard fought 10 miles on the coast path this morning, falling well short of my hoped for mileage but I’m sure my body is still reeling from the physical and emotional assault of the last couple of weeks.
The epic ultra marathon I had hoped to be tackling in October has been cancelled. Understandable of course, but it did leave me without a short term goal for my running. I have decided to create my own one man ultra marathon which I am now officially in training for!
In other news, the grandchildren are now back ‘in da house’ and the new sofa has no trouble in hosting the 6 of us!
With the comforting feeling that the tooth fairy really was looking out for me, onward we go……