Notes From My Head – The Comeback – Week #7

Age. It’s just a number. Although the number does get bigger each year. And THIS (fucking) year I’m starting to feel like I am the number. Covid came and has lingered alongside the every present aches and pains. The year went from Covid directly into my first serious running injury since I turned my ankle into an ominously dark and bulbous monster with the help of a rabbit hole. Oh and then refusing to accept that it hurt for the final 40 odd miles of The Gower 50 ultra marathon (read all about that adventure HERE.)

When I went into the computer shop to change my last laptop, the 19-year-old kid behind the counter looked at my six-year-old model and described it as ‘vintage.’ ‘Vintage?’ I wanted to scream. ‘Son, I’ve got shirts older than you! I own underpants that have seen more of the world!’

John Niven – also feeling his age

All of which has got very little to do with writing.

Except that it has left me digging for answers to some existential questions deep down in my soul. And this has definitely allowed my mind to search for creative answers, mostly through words. The resignation that my foot injury probably spells the end of my big running ambitions has prompted me to spread my interest around and see what else this is on offer to challenge me in my leisure time.

I want to write without shame or pride or over-compensation in one direction or another. To write freely.

Zadie Smith

Swimming. I’m loving a bit of swimming and I reckon I can morph that into loving a lot of swimming. Cycling and strength training too, focussing on what I can do.

And, of course, writing (and reading).

For those that haven’t been following these blog posts, I’m writing a novel with the working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners (or DTDLLTO) and I am using the blog to hold myself to account every week. This is week seven of the great writing comeback, you can read all about the previous 6 weeks HERE.

In numbers, this might look like a fallow week. A couple of thousand words of the first draft doesn’t quite hit my target of averaging 400 words a day. I need this number if I hope to have a rough first draft down by the end of the year.

That didn’t sound like much writing until I flick through my journal. I must have written about 30 pages in the last week. What on earth do I write about? Well, I am really into my my free writing. If I’m at work and 15 minutes ahead of schedule I might set an alarm on my phone for 15 minutes and then just write whatever comes into my head. I’ve read about something called ‘morning pages‘. A simple meditative tool – instead of reaching for Twitter as I make my morning coffee, I reach for my notebook and pen. Go me eh? Except…….

Embarrassed that I ever allowed a pack of sociopathic dweebs from Silicon Valley to manipulate my reality, to fuck with my dopamine levels, to monetise my personal information, replicating the details of my identity and selling them back to me.

Author Brad Listi on giving up Twitter

Except……. I know I’m a bloomin’ addict, and I know that addiction reveals its disgusting yet inviting head whenever Twitter saunters into sight. So keeping it out of sight is probably the way forward. From today (Monday) I will be writing in my journal exactly the amount of time I spend on Twitter, I’ve installed a brilliant app which counts this time for me. It is eye wateringly embarrassing just how much time on spend on the app, despite constantly declaring that I’m challenged for time.

Talking of time…..

We live by the clock.

I’d love to be so free spirited that time didn’t matter to me. We’ve set our lives up to happen in blocks of time. Some of this is of course essential – the dog needs feeding twice a day and never mind the dog, I NEED feeding at regular intervals. And in order to eat, I need to buy food. In order to buy food I need an income. In order to have an income I need to work. And work, like it or not, happens at VERY SPECIFIC TIMES. Not only that, once I’m at work, the customers expect their deliveries in the time windows they’ve booked. And on and on it goes.

We live by the clock.

Another phone gripe. Autocorrect. I’m writing this on the laptop. The WordPress app highlights in red the words which it doesn’t recognise or believes to be wrong. This is nannying to a certain extent but nowhere near as much as the feckin’ phone. The phone actually replaces words without asking me first. The thing completely rules us doesn’t it? Taking what we are trying to say and converting it into a sentence which pleases the algorithm.

I feel watched. But not in a morally superior way. I am aware that I too am watching.

There are five whole pages in my journal devoted to ‘wants and needs’. And this is the beauty of ‘morning pages’, the thoughts just pour on to the page before the challenges of the day have chance to distract me, to suck me in, to muddle my mind and leave me unable to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time.

These blog posts fulfil the same purpose – they’re just me being me. I’m nothing special, there’s nothing remarkable, astonishing, inspiring about me. BUT, this is about ME. And it feels good to have a relationship with the truths of my existence.

What do I need? What do I want?

They should be quite different questions.

I definitely need the basics of life – food, water, shelter, security.

But what about love? Freedom? Privacy? Having a voice? Are these needs or wants? Or are they simply rights?

And what about opportunities to be creative, to express myself? I feel like I need this in my life, but maybe I’m just greedy.

Here’s my take – I exchange my labour and my time for the means to secure my basic needs. I’m one of the lucky ones, I also have the means to enrich my life with pleasures that might be classed as wants. I believe that those of us with excess of any size should pool a proportion of spare resources in order to secure the basic needs, and rights, of those less able to do so themselves.

Some of the great art and culture this country has every produced was created in the time afforded by having a society which supports and rewards such endeavours. And unless we want to move towards a soulless, methodically sound but culturally empty world, we surely need to champion our creatives, not punish them for operating outside a world which celebrates the worst of capitalism.

That’s what I think anyway.

The main character in DTDLLTO is wracked with guilt and shame about the state of the world. He sees inequality, discrimination, othering, terrorism and any amount of ‘bad news’ and feels guilty that he feels guilty. But he doesn’t know what he can DO if he wants to be part of any counter movement. In fact he grapples with his own prejudices, he is aware of them but they might be culturally written into the dna of his life, and he doesn’t come up with solutions.

I think there’s a bit of all of us in him and maybe I’m looking to write my way to a clearer mind for myself as well as for him.

Seven weeks in to my writing recovery and I’m having a ball with the pen and keyboard. There are so many ideas appearing in my journal and it feels liberating. My writing time and energy might be shared out rather thinly amongst my projects and ideas but that’s ok, because, well, that’s ok.

Whatever else people, keep on keeping on.

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?

The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life

Zadie Smith

Why am I writing THIS novel? Why am I writing it NOW?

We need to get to the root of my story…..

Is this story actually my truth?

Does it successfully and eloquently articulate the struggles,? The questions? The confusions of life? Does it ask and try to answer the BIG quandries?

Life eh – There’s no weekly email newsletter we can subscribe to which might act as a handbook – no roadmap to steer us from young to old.

We have to work this shit out ourselves.

If we’re lucky enough to meet someone who gives us the courage to tackle the questions, then that makes for a golden life.

It took me 47 years. And 8 years later it is still getting more golden by the day.

We’ve been married for 7 of those years – I have whatever is the opposite of a 7 year itch.

May 16th 2015

7 Years today, if you’re reading this, er, TODAY! (May 16th)

Yes, we’re celebrating the best 7 years of my life. Nicky truly has asked me over and over, “why shouldn’t people like ‘us’ chase our dreams?”

And so I write.

I’m getting much better at writing a shit sentence. I am allowing myself simply get the thoughts out of my head. Releasing them it into the physical world makes them real. My story needs to be a presence – a sentence may be shit, and I might cringe as I write it, but once typed, it is there ready to be edited.

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult

So, my book.

What book? The one I affectionately nick name DTDLLTO (working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners). My first book, my first novel, my first attempt to tell the truth and have the conviction to carry it through.

I was stuttering with it, but this year, particularly with my new gung ho draft zero approach, it has started to flow from me.

I needed the freedom, the freedom to choose to look inside myself, to find the truths of who I am.

I give myself permission to write it.

What are my truths? What are my stories? Who should be telling my truths and who has the authority to narrate my stories? Well, I’m finding out…..

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

Maya Angelou

Traps I’m trying to avoid – creating a character in the shadow of me. I started taking all of the parts of my life where I believe I am morally right and getting my character to ‘virtue signal’ through their behaviour.

As Brad Listi says, the reader will spot the puppet strings pretty quickly. It’s bullshit anyway, nobody is that morally pure!

Who am I writing the book for?

Does it even need readers? Am I the author and the reader? Are you the reader? One tip I’ve heard is to imagine how different the story would be if it was read allowed to my mum, or my boss, or my best friend, or YOU! It’s a great exercise in finding the right voice.

In the first draft, everything seems to be all too obvious. It is in no way elegant. Yet. Hopefully this draft will contain the truth though and I can add my wished for subtlety in future drafts. I don’t want to dictate to the reader, whoever that might be.

There weren’t many words last week, about a 1000. What I have achieved is the feeling of why I’m writing this story and I’ve given myself the go ahead to crack on.

Life is confusing. Our emotions are confusing. Our opinions can feel confusing. The challenge for me is to harness all that confusion and let my two main characters in DTDLLTO navigate the swirling waters of truth.

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Social media has us by the balls!

I’m still a Twitter addict and as with every other addiction that I’m recovering from, moderation seems to be an impossible option. I need to find a solution though because I like Twitter for the communities I’m lucky enough to be part of. I’m not great at ‘real life’ socialising, and the running, writing and Coventry City supporting friends I’ve made on Twitter have become important to me.

I’ve installed an app to monitor my internet use and have set limits for the sites I use – It’s working so far I’m pleased to say. Let’s see if more efficient Twitter time translates into more productive writing time!

Come on, let’s hurl ourselves into the next creative week.

Onwards comrades.

It’s Not All About Me

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.

This is who we’re talking about – my amazing wife, Nicky

Enough.

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.

Charlie watching Nicky charge to the finish at Parke

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!

Me & Charlie had a very stressful morning in Yeovil!

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.

It was pretty chilly on Sidmouth sea front for the race briefing

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.

Onwards…..

Reset The Dials

I’m enjoying the positivity this post has created. Onwards my friends, onwards…..

Born To Run And Write

Quite a lot.

Is the answer.

To what question?

Maybe this one:

Anything new in my life since I wrote this manifesto?

Yup. Quite a lot indeed.

A quarter of the year has now gone. I can’t think of anything in which I’ve achieved anywhere near a quarter of my aims.

Which sounds rather negative when I say it outloud.

To discover what’s been going on, let’s unpack my 2022 manifesto.

My Journal

At least my first pledge is going well! I said I’d write in my journal every single day, and I’m pleased to say that I always, always do. Winning eh? One nil up and we’ve only just kicked off. (Spoiler alert, this isn’t going to be a goal fest!)

Submitting Fiction

Ah. Well, er, well, you see, hhmmm. I’ve submitted a couple of times to Paragraph Planet (with one success!) but, alas, I am…

View original post 1,106 more words

But Where Will You Get Your Protein?

“I’m not looking for someone to cook for!”

Nicky, my better half, announced on our first date.

This suited me fine as I love cooking.

I moved in with Nicky once that became easier than trying to get me to remove all of my belongings. I’d accidently left things each time I visited. From that day on, I have probably cooked about three quarters of our meals. And we’ve always eaten well I think.

And then we became vegans, and our kitchen dynamic changed.

But before we get on to that, let’s back track….. We’ve talked about become vegan for a few years now. Many of the endurance athletes we look up to have a vegan lifestyle. Not only are these guys and girls at the pointy end of their sports, they always look so flippin well.

We talk about becoming vegans, then it stalls. Again. We just couldn’t imagine ourselves without a roast, or cheese, or without chicken in our curry………

It was a cycle we were stuck in. But each time it came around, the subject was getting more and more agenda time at our house meetings. We needed something, we knew not what, to push us over the line.

We did genuinely asked ourselves the protein question (chick peas, tofu, oats, nuts, lentils….. pretty much every ingredient as it turns out). We also worried the food would be boring and predictable, although we knew our regular go-to dishes had become boring and predictable anyway.

Change was coming.

The decider for me happened about six months before we actually made the leap. I was running in a 100k event, The Ham And Lyme. It is an out-and-back course starting and finishing in Lyme Regis and turning at Ham Hill in Somerset. Out-and-back that is, unless you get lost (twice!) during the ‘out’ section! If, like me, you are that getting lost type runner, you will only experience some of the actual course on the way back (I added about 5 bloomin’ kilometres to my day!)

One of the sights I didn’t see until I was on my way back was a massive, I mean MASSIVE, factory dairy farm. I will not describe it here, but all I could think was, I want no further part in this.

I’m not that strong though am I? Six months later, still eating animal products, and I get wiped out by Covid. On the couple of days during which I was genuinely fearful for my health with the virus, I started really questioning some of my life choices. I’d trained so feckin’ hard all winter to be ready for The Arc 50 and here I was, a week before the event, unable to climb the stairs. I know the virus was the cause, but I felt, at that low point, it was time to make some changes.

My two favourite podcasts are Running Commentary and Other PPL. One of the presenters of Running Commentary, Rob Deering and Other PPL host, Brad Listi happen to be vegans. Neither have ever come across as preachy in anyway but if it ever comes up, they are both proud, happy and feel good on their plant based diet. In one interview on Other PPL, Listi made the comment I’ve used myself, he wanted no further part in the violence of it all. That has stayed with me, always will I think. On a lighter note, I also remember Deering recounting a trip abroad (I want to say Dubai but I might be wrong), after asking the waiting staff at a restaurant for their vegan options, he was offered a chicken salad!

I knew, Nicky knew, we both knew, that our snacking habits contributed to us always exhibiting a bit more ‘love handle’ than we would ideally like to. But more than that, our conversations about becoming vegans had become so frequent, so serious that we were both ready for that final trigger.

The trigger arrived in Cornwall. Enjoying the trip whilst convalescing from Covid, I sauntered into The Bookseller in St Ives and purchased (along with a few other titles, I mean it would be rude not to) Ed Winter’s new book, Vegan Propaganda. I absolutely promised not to become ‘preachy’, although, 65 days in to our vegan journey, I get it, so if you fancy reading Ed Winter’s remarkable book then the link is there. It had a massive impact on me. It brought me to tears, reaffirmed much of what I already knew or believed and the book definitely gave us that final push.

Here’s where the story gets fun.

Nicky absolutely went for it. We both did. But Nicky was in charge of the kitchen before I could say ‘black bean burrito’! She was now definitely happy to have someone to cook for!

We have acquired several amazing vegan cook books, the best of which is BOSH! and Nicky set to equipping and stocking our kitchen to accommodate our new way of eating.

I’ve been keeping a diary of how we feel and what we are eating. We are just over two months along as I write and I can honestly say, I have never eaten so well. “We’re eating like kings!” I tell anyone who will listen. And I mean it, we are enjoying food like never before. In the 60+ days since we’ve been vegan, we’ve only eaten one meat substitute meal – that was some sausages which were actually rather splendid.

Our stomachs took some adjusting to our new routine, we definitely live on the windy South West peninsula! During the first week we both felt odd somehow, very hard to explain. By the very nature of the foods we cook with, our fibre intake has increased. This is healthy of course, but takes a bit of adjusting to. Oat milk has been introduced to the fridge which is great in coffee and we’ve both stopped having breakfast cereal.

We bought one of those Nutribullet thingies and have a smoothie to start every day. This has really helped with cutting down food waste, it is amazing how a bit of overly soft cucumber can get mixed in unnoticed.

“But what are you going to EAT?”

a very close family member asked

They were genuinely concerned. Well, I’ve littered this post with pictures of our meals and my dear mother needn’t have worried. In fact, she’s now enjoying finding out how we’re doing and devoured the vegan roast loaf dinner we cooked for them.

The positives so far?

We are certainly sleeping better, we’ve both lost a healthy amount of weight without even thinking about it and we feel we are taking steps which are vital for our long term health as well as the health of the world we live in.

At Last A (Big) Pilgrimage

It’s been a while………

I’m starting to really enjoy avocado by the way. We were having our first meal out since, well, since who knows when (Feb 2020?) and I elected to have a dish where avocado is listed as an ingredient.

The world might have paused on its axis during the last eighteen months, but my palette has become bang up to date, those recipes in the Saturday Guardian are looking almost accessible!

Why were we eating out? The same reason we were having our first night away from home in eighteen months too – we had gone to run an event. The Big Pilgrimage Marathon, the first appearance on the running calendar of this quirky looking offering from Big Feat Events.

I wore a shirt too. With buttons and everything. We felt so grown up as we ordered our chicken and avocado.

Contemplating avocado

Our Premier Inn sat on an identikit retail and industry park which could have been in any number of towns around the UK. Bloomin’ convenient though – as well as our meal next door in The Beefeater, we visited Decathlon and the MASSIVE Tesco without needing to use the car.. We’re from sleepy Devon see, “ooo shiny things” our gaping, gawping mouths dribbled as we hunted for a pint of milk in a supermarket the size of Paignton.

For our first ‘away’ fixture for 18 months we had been tempted by the promise of historic trails, epic skylines, farmland, beaches and boardwalks, not to mention, woods, forests, an abbey, several churches and a cheeky boat ride. Yes, The Big Pilgrimage sounded right up our street. 

The route follows the first 27/28 ish miles of a recently discovered Pilgrim Trail called The Old Way. Our section started at the site from The Pilgrim Fathers left our shores on The Mayflower (in Southampton) and finished at Fort Nelson, home of The Nelson Monument and The Royal Armouries Museum. Which was handily only ten minutes from the aforementioned Premier Inn. Which was where we were to leave our car. It’s almost as if they’ve planned this stuff.

Nothing wrong with the Premier Inn, but we didn’t have the best night’s sleep…… 

one of us is VERY organised…… (it’s not me)

“WE’VE OVERSLEPT!….. Oh no, it’s 11.30pm”

“THERE’S SOMEBODY IN THE ROOM! WHAT ROOM? WHERE AM I? WE’VE OVERSLEPT…….”

That sort of thing. All feckin’ night.

It was quite a relief when the 4.15 alarm went off.

That’s early! I hear you exclaim. Well, yes it is, but the rather snazzy, leather interiored National Express coach charged with delivering us to Southampton was leaving at 6.15am. And we wanted time for showers, coffee and Weetabix complete with lukewarm milk. 

We gathered our kit. A VERY straight forward process for Nicky as she meticulously laid it out the previous night….. I think I ‘put’ mine out and so, as usual, I left the kit gods to decide whether I had everything I needed. 

En route to the start

As the coach pulled away from Fort Nelson (nr Portsmouth) in the gloomy half light, we hadn’t yet appreciated the panoramic view from here. After finishing some hours later in the sunshine, we were astonished by the vistas on offer. The very bright and cheery Big Feat crew member had ticked our name off the coach list and counted us all aboard. The welcoming and friendly driver hadn’t quite grasped the brief as he asked “What time is your return journey?”. “We’re running back.” His face seemed to ask “Why?”

Visit The Isle Of Wight Festival” screamed the huge posters as we pulled in near the Red Funnel ferry terminal. In the spirit of Rob Deering’s Running Tracks (see my review here), this immediately evoked memories of visiting the festival in 2006. What a weekend – The Prodigy, Foo Fighters, The Kooks, Primal Scream, Lou Read, Maximo Park…..

Registration was a jolly and good humoured affair at the water’s edge. We collected our race numbers complete with our first sticker of the day. Yes, we collected stickers which we then attached to our race numbers. What a great and individual touch – a volunteer in Pilgrim hat, naturally, handed us a bespoke sticker at seven of the notable points along the route. Nice.

The race briefing delivered to the 70 or so marathon runners captured the mood perfectly. Nothing to fear. Keep the water on your right. Look after each other. Don’t fret the ferry crossing………

And we were off, a watery sun soon dispensing with the slightly autumnal chill. 

3 miles of Southampton’s waterside suburbs gave way to greenery at Westwood as we started on the trails proper. Not before we had crossed the impressive bridge over the River Itchen and received a sticker from a young Pilgrim dressed head to toe in Southampton FC gear (getting ready to host Manchester United later in the day I believe). 

From there we tackled all sorts of shore line – paths, shingle beaches, compacted mud – and weaved in and out of the industry and piers lining Southampton Water. Before long (7 ½ ish miles) we had reached the beautiful village of Hamble and its much anticipated ferry ride. Three of the Hamble Pink Ferries were shuttling runners over the short crossing and we waited a couple of minutes before enjoying our mini cruise. 

Nicky and I are quite used to trail events having quirky sections and approximate distances and so, as advised in the race briefing, we didn’t fret about the boat ride. A couple of runners were in a quandary about whether to pause their running watches. We just enjoyed the ride and were soon having to propel ourselves using our feet again as we disembarked. 

The Warsash Nature Reserve on the shoreline came next, lush and green and picturesque and still very, very flat! Through miles 9 to 12 we were still following the shore as it again became quite industrial. Nicky and I are used to running relentlessly up-and-down trails at home and the lack of elevation seemed to be tiring our legs in different ways.

As we approached the halfway point the course turned and headed inland. With the beautiful marshes of Titchfield Haven to our right, the runners in the 14 (ish) mile half marathon race were crossing their finishing line as we passed. Always looking to raise a smile, I drew on my footballing glory years and shaped to swerve left into the finishing funnel before side stepping and running straight past – this raised a smile or too and we exchanged some laughs with a couple of spectators enjoying the chilled out atmosphere in the sunshine. We then headed off through the beautiful village of Titchfield itself.

Titchfield Abbey is really quite spectacular and worth the very brief detour to enjoy in its full glory. The trails from this point on were glorious, old railway lines, farmland and woods. At some point during all of this I managed to take a tumble. “No lazy steps” is one of my trail running mantras – a few years ago I did go through a phase of hurling myself to the floor at random times. 

Anyway, on some particularly firm and even ground, I caught my feet in a trailing bramble and down I went.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes”

“Are you sure?”

“Can we talk about something else!”

“Have you hurt your pride……..?”

That might have been as we went through Wickham (around mile 21) now I think about it!

Then The Meon Valley Trail which was busy ish with families enjoying the gorgeous and accessible countryside. This was followed by The Forest Of Bere which preceded the two longest climbs of the day as we began to sense the finish line within our grasp. From mile 23, still in the forest, we had caught a few fellow runners and felt we were really in our stride. Running well and taking walk breaks for difficult terrain or to eat and drink, combined with being in the company of my partner in adventure, my beautiful and inspiring soul mate Nicky, the miles and time simply slid by.

This really is our happy place – running together on the trails, either talking dribble, solving our quandaries from ‘real’ life, or just enjoying each others company in silence as we let the peace of the surroundings seep into us. Before we knew it we were at the ‘200m to go’ sign. A lovely short downhill section on the grass and we held each others hand aloft to celebrate another challenge completed. Of Nicky’s 38 marathons and my 45, 27 have been completed side by side. It is the best feeling.

This route is a belter. The work that has happened, in advance and on the day, in creating it, marking it and marshalling it shines through. The finished product is superb, take a bow Big Feat Events.

Oooo look, a video too:

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

I posted a picture of this book on social media recently prompting a good friend to remark that he read it 50 (fifty!) years ago. And it was already nearly 50 years old by then. Written originally in Zamyatin’s native Russian in the 1920’s, it wouldn’t appear in print in his homeland until the 1980’s. There have been various translations over the lifetime of the book. My copy is the 1996 Clarence Brown translation, which seems to be universally acknowledged as faithful to the original.

Often, probably too often, We is referred to as the book which inspired George Orwell’s 1984. I don’t dispute the comparison, and the timing is certainly right, I’m looking forward to re-reading the Orwell classic to make my own mind up about this. As an aside, Aldus Huxley is rumoured to have been unlikely to have had a chance to read We before publishing Brave New World.

None of that mattered once I’d sat down with the book, it is a fine piece of stand alone literature. I’m a sucker for a good dystopia, but this is so much more than that. It’s more of an anti-utopia I reckon.

Set in One State, a world where nature and the ancient ways are excluded by a green wall. One State is ruled by The Benefactor, to whom all humans now both worship and service. It is narrated in the first person, by way of a series of written records to be carried to other worlds, by our protagonist, D-503 (people all have code numbers instead of names).

It is an intense read, it doesn’t have the grand gestures or jingoism of other dystopian fiction. The narrator gives us the story of rebellion and glimpses of past worlds (as well as the life still happening outside the wall) with a very personal, intimate and increasingly emotional delivery.

Like 1984’s Winston, D-503 is drawn into becoming involved with anti-One State thoughts by a woman. I-330, as she is known, is a corrupter, seducer but more, she is a leader, capable of influencing even the most loyal minds to follow her rebellion.

Often the prose is, to use modern slang, quite ‘naval gazing’ and, like I say, very personal to D-503. His mental health deteriorates and improves in waves as his loyalties are drawn from side to side. I sometimes found the abstract telling of his thoughts quite challenging and there was a bit of re-reading as I tried to uncover his motives.

I imagine generations of people have read We and used the story to hold a mirror to the fears of whichever time it was being read in. That the masses actually felt that One State was utopia, perhaps echoes the fears of what is sometimes imagined to be socialism, certainly communism. But, conversely, the tables could be turned and fears of a fascist state with a leader who can’t be removed are also here.

It would be churlish of me to expand further and spoil the plot. We is a powerful and deeply thought provoking book which does require the reader to get involved in order to enjoy its full impact. Don’t expect a racy, pacey, hard hitting dystopia, but do expect to be challenged and maybe need to look away occasionally as the text provokes your own reactions.

If I’m going to be ever able to say “I read We fifty years ago” I will need to live to an unlikely age…….

ambition

For some inexplicable reason, I get Frankie Goes To Hollywood giving my inner ear a tick when I hear the word ‘ambition’. “Whaaaat is it good for…..?” Well…….

A cursory glance at a dictionary (or indeed, Dr Google) finds definitions such as “A strong desire to do or achieve something” and “Desire and determination to achieve success.” 

And dotted around this piece you’ll see a selection of quotes from friends and allies. I used that there social media to ask “what does ambition mean to you, in one sentence?” 

So, where am I with the word?

As is so often the case with my navel gazing, soul searching inner dialogue, it seems to go back to… duh duh duuuuuh… my childhood. It’s almost nauseating how corny that sounds, but that genuinely is where my thoughts arrive from. 

Yup.

A traditional upbringing I was offered. Stable home, stable schooling, stable this, stable that. Which is ironic considering my first memory of ‘running away’ was when my sister bailed out of the family home. She was protesting the fact that putting an actual horse on your letter to Santa was overly, er, ambitious.

We were encouraged to lock in ‘stability’ as an ambition. Do well at school (but university isn’t for ‘people like us’) then get a good steady, stable job. Maybe get a few steady promotions over the next 50 years. Meet a suitable, stable partner for life, a good stable wife/husband. Have 3 or 4 suitable and stable cars and/or children.

Sadly (or not, actually), I was more interested in hearing what John Peel had to offer me when I was a teenager, sampling local cider and mastering rolling a fag whilst cycling were the limits of my ambition.

There was always going to be a clash of cultures……..

But honestly, as an adult, what have my ambitions been?

I never thought I’d find true love for a start, so that was never an ambition. But what do you know, ta daaaaaa, here I am!

Without realising it, I think my main ambition was to never have a proper career. TICK.

But I have *always* wanted to be a writer, a musician, an artist, a poet. I suppose I formed my ambitions based on anything which has a genuine impact on me. Words and music, words and music. 

As it turned out, we can add love to the list.

Does this make my ambition “words, music and love”?

Sort of, but that’s not really the story here. Take love out of the equation – even though I wake up every single day and pinch myself that I get to share another day with the most wonderful human being I’ve ever met. No, love was never an ‘ambition’, it was more like winning the lottery with a ticket I hadn’t realised I’d bought. 

Music and words. Are they ‘ambitions’ though? Not really. I achieved things I never thought I would; played in a band, played my own songs in a band, heard other people sing my songs, I’ve written for magazines (and even started one back in the day), I’ve written for various fanzines (football and music), I had a piece published by Metal Hammer magazine once. 

And in more recent times there’s been so much happening with my writing that I’m extremely proud of. But what makes me really proud. I can’t measure this success, there’s no end game. I can’t see there being any “right, now I’ve achieved that, there’s nothing else to work towards” moments. Because I don’t set any goals. So maybe I don’t have ambition at all. As one popular running podcast puts it, I simply enjoy the process.

Ah yes, running. But what about running? Surely I’ve got running ambitions?

Well yes, for a while back there I was setting myself goals (ambitions?) to run a certain distance in a certain time or finish in a particular position in a race or beat this or that person. And when I achieved any of this, was I satisfied? Of course not, there’s always a different time to beat, a new distance to run, a new person to chase. 

There is a scene in the film Chariots Of Fire where Harold Abrahams has won his gold medal and sits, almost forlorn, in the locker room. When the team quiz each other, they conclude that “he’s won” was the best explanation. His whole ambition had been to win that medal. Having achieved it, the journey was over, finished. What would he do the next day?

Ambition is different for everyone. People are more ambitious or less ambitious. They might be ambitious in some areas of life but not in others. We’re all different and that’s what makes life so interesting. 

I decided to have some checklists for myself this year, so I guess that qualifies as ambitions? Simply a set of ways I’d like to live my life, something to hold myself to account with. Have a gander.

In the mean time, here’s to fair winds as we chase our dreams……..

Winding Paths

Over the years this blog has featured so many races and events which I’ve attended with my amazing lady wife Nicky. Pretty much all of them have been hosted by small outfits creating amazing events just for us. I’m sure we can all be guilty of taking this for granted.

I thought it would be great to delve behind the scenes and have a look at the sort of characters who make up this wonderful world of trail running in our region. We can all be guilty of scrolling through life, picking snippets from a blur of social media nonsense. We miss out on engaging with some great people. And some great stories.

First up is Winding Paths, the brainchild of local runner Brian Lewis. As with all events companies, 2020 has not been kind to Winding Paths. But, a succession of cancelled events hasn’t stopped Brian from pushing ahead with his plans for the company. 

Only in its second year, Brian set the company up in June 2019, it would have been easy to let his initial enthusiasm slip during this challenging year. He hasn’t let that happen though and still strives for the very best routes, medals and finish line locations.

The loyal following Winding Paths has already acquired (social media is full of stories from those who enjoyed his events so far) is credited with keeping his motivation strong.

“what has kept me going is the very supportive comments, messages and emails from participants of my events”. 

Brian’s events do have a wonderful community spirit about them. As well as the runners, he has a great army of volunteers – friends, family and other runners all donating their time to make each event possible. Brian knows that Winding Paths’ events are nothing without this crew and he looks after them well to thank them.

As the pandemic became the author of the 2020 story, Winding Paths were immediately informing participants of their options when events were cancelled or delayed. This has been another reason why so many are staying loyal. Brian is determined to take the positivity and encouragement he gets and use it to arrive in 2021 on the front foot, looking forward.

As we speak in late November, Brian’s next physical event will be The Final Countdown, which, by coincidence, was also Winding Path’s first event on New Year’s Eve last year. 

Winding Path’s Summer Trails event was a welcome bit of ‘normality’ for those that managed to grab a place.

The Final Countdown 10k starts and finishes in the Dartington Estate and runners get to sample some of the best countryside (and mud!) that South Devon has to offer. Sold out in its first year, the route gives Brian the chance to share some of his favourite trails with the rest of us. Numbers are restricted this year and the event will feature a series of starting waves, but it is still a great chance to end the year on a muddy high. The staggered starts, and all the other measures Brian has taken, keep the event Covid secure without taking away from the atmosphere. 

Winding Paths were one of the first to host a Covid secure event when regulations permitted them back in August. On a scorching weekend, he managed to get 150 runners to complete either 5km or 10km in a series of waved starts. It was an enormous success. Those that took part waxed lyrical about the sheer volume of work which had clearly been undertaken to create the event. It is staged on the same course as his Totally Muddy races.

Brian also set up an ambitious virtual challenge – participants linked their Strava (other apps are available!) accounts and were given from May until December to complete the total distance of the South West Coast Path. The 300 places he created soon sold out, his 12 Runs Of Christmas virtual event has been similarly popular, with all the slots already taken.

Brian is very much a keen trail runner, and like so many of our local running leaders has a naturally philanthropic nature. He has been leading run groups for a few years now and when regulations and time allows he offers guided runs on his favourite trails. 

Just one of Brian’s many running achievements he doesn’t boast about – The London Marathon

When asked for his proudest moments in the world of running, his generosity of spirit again shows itself as his first thought is for the achievements of others. For five years he has coached, motivated and encouraged a couch-to-5k running group. “there is nothing that beats seeing a non-runner improve, shed the doubt and run their first 5k.”

But he can’t help but swell with pride when he sees one of his own events succeed. When pushed he’ll even allow himself to accept that his own running achievements are a source of great pride.

Brian’s initial motivation was a personal challenge. He was already involved with THHN (Torbay Holiday Helpers Network), a fabulous charity which supports families with seriously ill children, or those that have been bereaved by offering holidays, making memories to be treasured for families in their dark times.

He would attend THHN fund raising events, some of which included running, and would always dismiss invitations to don some trainers and join in. 

His interest was secretly piqued though. He was already organising events such as the fun runs and schools challenge which accompanies the flagship local road race The Torbay Half Marathon. He was inspired by the 20 THHN runners who had completed the half marathon and the following day he attempted to break into a run himself.

“I was out walking along Cockington water meadow and I decided to try and run for a bit, stopping anytime anyone came in sight” 

He was back the next day. And the next. He had the bug. A watch and some decent kit soon arrived and he had entered his first 10k (The Totnes 10k) a mere 2 months later. Those initial 1 mile runs soon grew as Brian himself started to get shrink! The running encouraged him to improve his diet and before long he had lost a considerable amount of weight and was running for the pure pleasure of feeling fit and well.

Brian even turns his own running success into the success of a fellow runner. He has special memories of The Totnes 10k and ran it ‘virtually’ this year. Managing to find way to share this with somebody else, he used the occasion to accompany a friend on the exact course to help them best their previous time on the route

I have no idea whether Brian has a trumpet, but he isn’t inclined to blow it very often if he has!

A festival atmosphere at the City To Sea Finish Line

Those first runs were back in 2014. In September of that year Brian was Race Director of the epic City To Sea ultra marathon and marathon. He is hoping that Winding Paths will make him just as proud as he is of the 4 years in which he was at the helm of City To Sea. It is a major fundraiser for THHN and is a stand out fixture on the South Devon run scene. Selling out every year, it takes a herculean effort to host. Over 60 volunteers to organise, plus the festival at the finish line, Brian is right to celebrate its incredible success. 

Brian cites Luke Tillen, the THHN founder, as being a massive motivator and mentor throughout this journey he has been on. Luke’s own ultra marathon and fund raising efforts led to the birth of The City To Sea ultra marathon and quite possibly Brian’s own adventure in running. 

Brian was also Race Director for The Pennywell Challenge, another THHN fundraiser. Nicky and I enjoyed this challenging 10k back in 2018 on a very hot evening!

He feels that the first year of City To Sea as a Race Director will take some beating – everything was new, locals moved signs and tape which caused massive on course headaches and the event was even longer back in those first years. Up well into the night marking the course, then up in the early hours to chaperone the fleet of transport to the start, runners were on course until 9pm the following night.

You can feel and sense the emotion, even 6 years on, as Brian explains:

“the event was over but we had to go up on stage, in front of everyone and the compere did a speech, going backstage myself, Luke and Carolanne (who helped with the fun day and music festival) were all in tears at the fact we had done it, we had actually done it, that was a very proud moment.”

Since that first year Brian has gone on to achieve so much with his own running. He has clocked up 20 marathons and ultra marathons, the longest of these being 34 miles. He cites his first 50km event as his proudest running moment, completing the event only a year after starting his running journey. He discovered how easy it could be to lose runners in events that day –

“at one stage around ten of us took a wrong turn ran about 100 metres through waist high stingers, realized we were going the wrong way and had to turn around and run back through them, but the joy of finishing was amazing.”

Brian celebrating running over 100 miles in a week during lockdown. But will he attempt the century non stop?

I like to consider myself an ‘ultra runner’ and those that know me will know that I came within a whisker of being a 100 mile ultra runner last year (read about it here if you fancy), so I was eagerly awaiting Brian’s answer to the question “what are your next running ambitions?”

“Dare I say, I have one eye on a 100 miler, I said I would never do it, as while I enjoy shorter night runs, I am not sure about running through the entire night, but recently I have thought that now would be the time to try.”

In fact, Brian has a 50 mile event lined up already for next spring, a stepping stone to the century? I reckon he’s got it in him!

Brian’s ambitions for Winding Paths are about creating fabulous events to be enjoyed by all who enjoy the trails, whether they are chasing at the front or taking selfies and soaking up the views further back. He is trying to have options for all – the Total Coastal event (frustratingly put back a couple of times in 2020) is scheduled for April next year and features a bruising ultra marathon from Kingswear to Shaldon on the South West Coast Path as well as equally challenging but considerably shorter half marathon and 10k routes.

There are sacrifices of course, and Brian can sometimes need to be reminded to take his Winding Paths hat off during family time! He acknowledges that working from home has helped him fit everything and he is getting better at balancing his life whilst still giving his energies to planning his events. 

It is telling that Brian’s positivity and relentless humour both shine through when asked what he’s most looking forward to with Winding Paths in 2021

“I am really looking forward to 2021 with positivity about the events, I am also looking forward to having a dining room that is not full of medals, t-shirts and two gazebos.”

Find Winding Paths – Twitter Facebook Instagram brian@windingpaths.uk

The Colours Of Autumn Running

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.

Or something.

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.

An old favourite is this route
so lucky to have it on our doorstep

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.