I guess life can sometimes be defined by confidence.
Well after absolutely loving the AONB North Devon Half Marathon both Nicky and Myself are a little bit happier with our fitness and prospects at the RAT trail running festival where Nicky is running the Black Rat (32 miles) for the 4th year running. She’s a veteran of the event having completed the Red Rat (20 miles) the year before that. Me? I’ve gone for THE PLAGUE, a 64 mile night epic challenge.
Anyway, back to North Devon where several hundred intrepid trail runners assembled in the gathering heat and set out for either the 13.1 miles that we did or, leaving 15 minutes before us, the full 26.2.
Neither of us had ever been to Woolacombe. In the glorious sunshine, this town was radiant, the colours of 800 or so runners adding to the kaleidoscope.
As we made our way along the spectacular coastline, both of us lapping up the scenery, it felt like running through an oil painting.
The event is the showpiece of North Devon Hospice and truly is up there with some of the best trail races we’ve done.
We saw dozens of marshals and water station volunteers, every single one friendly and bright as they directed us on our way.
They must have been wilting in the heat but this didn’t curb their enthusiasm. They had some belting views to enjoy and at least 2 of the numerous water stops were in quite incredible locations. One on the beach at Croyde and one quite literally in the middle of a herd of cows.
The finish area is fabulous too, so many marshals and volunteers, a PA system calling every single name as they cross the line and a cream tea for every single runner in both distances.
Anyway, I was thinking about the concept of banking training miles, trying to deposit enough in the bank so that when you ask your body to write a cheque on race day, it doesn’t bounce!
Well, with the Roseland August Trail fast approaching, this great day out on the North Devon Coast has definitely put some pennies in the ratty bank!
I don’t know if at any point I consciously set out to believe in myself, to believe myself to be a writer. But with each baby step I am delving a tad deeper into the world of ‘us’ writers. That took some time, to get myself to admit that, hell Kevin, you write…. You are a writer!
Talking of belief. I may be the trumpet blowing, flag waving, bag carrying, shouting believer in my beautiful wife’s amazing challenges and adventures (check out my blog of her amazing 70.3 triathlon HERE), but she is more circumspect in her support. A simple text message, whilst I was at work this week, said “you CAN do it” about my writing. Sometimes it’s not grand speeches that are needed, it’s simply genuine belief. Not only that but I came home to a beautiful new notebook as a surprise present too. Anybody else who writes will know what a great and inspiring surprise that is.
Another day this week I came home to a gingerbread man. Mmm mmmm
Yup. My wife is ace ❤️
Well, here I am, writing. And how I’ve embraced the pen and keyboard this week. My membership of Writers’ HQ is up and running, giving me access to all of their fabulous courses, their members only online groups and a world of motivation and drive.
Poor Nicky was exhausted when she asked “What are you writing?” “Well,” I enthused “Writers HQ suggested I take an every day situation and then come up with five ways of interpreting them, then find the best one and then find the character within that and and and and and……..” and, and, and on I went! Childish excitement? Damn right.
So, my novel is back on track, a poetry theme in my head has started forming on paper, I’ve got two firm short story ideas already being fleshed out and a piece of flash fiction I’m rather proud of.
So, whilst Nicky is delicately picking out some Beethoven, devouring some Ross Raisin, performing miracles with the jigsaw and plotting her next set of fantastic challenges (including the BIG one…. watch this space), I’m writing, reading, writing and reading.
Whilst I was enjoying reading some blogs and social media posts from the more independent side of the writing and publishing world, I came across a Twitter campaign started by Salt Publishing (#justonebook) who were in need of a financial lift. It had a tremendous response and a quick glance through their titles soon had me ordering Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness by Simon Kinch.
What an absolute treat. It arrived within a week with a lovely hand written post card.
Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness is a debut novel by Kinch, a Spanish resident hailing from the UK. The book promised an experimental feel, an exploration of choices and consequences, of reflection and regret.
It doesn’t disappoint. Within a page I found myself hurriedly devouring the words, so many questions to be answered by the next page, and the next and the next. I started the (admittedly shortish) offering immediately upon opening and finished it the following lunchtime.
A young man, Granville, an American travelling in Europe, receives a message as he prepares for the final legs of his journey home. The mystery of the message’s detail is never truly revealed, but this news and Granville’s subsequent actions, combined with a piece of misfortune, leave him pondering a massive decision. To reverse his direction and choose a Spanish destination or to plough on towards his flight home.
I turned page after page, absolutely engrossed as one choice was apparently taken over the other. A study of young adult, of isolation, of timid suggestions of romance, all with the heavy weight of the relationship back home hanging over the story.
A gradual introduction of the imagined consequence of taking the other direction slowly blurs the boundaries between truth and hypothesis. This blurring left me, the reader, reeling, grasping to make to make my own choice as to which reality to believe.
The attempted romances are so delicate and nervous, I almost cringed for Granville. As with the direction he might have chosen, the reader gets to decide if he is shy, timidly coy and sensitive or maybe aloof and a little arrogant with little regard for the consequence for others of his actions.
I don’t wish to spoil the book for anybody wishing to tackle it but I do, thoroughly recommend it. With advice coming my way to read, read and read some more, to expand my reading net, to step out of my comfort zone, I feel Simon Kinch has handed me a gift. A book which dissolves into the reader’s mind is a prized possession and Two Sketches is firmly in that category for me….
I had just finished On Writing by Stephen King when Kinch’s cracking debut arrived. I have a very treasured possession, also entitled On Writing by AL Kennedy, a beautiful study of the craft of the pen. King’s book is more ‘manly’, more raaaahhhh if you like, but no less inspiring for it. It shames me to admit that I’ve never read a single novel of his, something I shall be correcting in the very near future.
All of this reading has me itching to grab the pen. Nicky, as she embarks on her piano journey, is finding that she hears music differently now, appreciating more of the subtleties, just as I now do with my reading.
Running – feeling good and enjoyed a terrific Parkrun battle with my visiting brother last weekend, just squeezing in front of him as we both snuck under 20 minutes.
Then on Sunday I embarked on an epic (well it felt epic!) 23 mile off road trek, taking in lots of beautiful countryside and coastline (Check it out HERE). We truly are lucky to have this wonderful coastline to go and play on so close to home, and it is perfect training for the upcoming Plague (which is 64 miles long and starts at midnight), Nicky and I have completed the 32 mile Black Rat version in each of the last three years and it really is my favourite ever event.
Nicky spent all 32 miles last year telling anybody who’d listen, and everybody else in fact, that this was her last EVER ultra marathon.
What’s she doing this year, I hear you ask, yup, you’ve guessed it, the 32 mile Black Rat. It is a complete sell out again (there are 4 distances on offer), read about last year’s shenanigans HERE.
grit, determination, relentlessness and a refusal to accept that she “can’t”.
Yes, yes, YES.
Regular readers will know what’s coming……
For new readers, brace yourselves, you are about to be subjected to a barrage of me eulogising about my quite amazing lady wife. Our lives of challenges and adventures brought us, last weekend, into the gorgeous Cotswolds for the culmination of Nicky’s determined training for this, her first middle distance (half Ironman) triathlon.
Training had been stalled by a calf injury (which also scuppered her 2 Oceans ambitions – read about that HERE). Having had some excellent therapy and trained hard and around the problem, she arrived at the Cotswold 113 in as good a shape as circumstances could possibly have allowed.
So, with our great friend Martin tucked safely in the back of the mini and their trusty steeds securely on the roof, we hit the road.
Glorious sunshine greeted us as we arrived for registration and the detailed race briefing on Saturday. There are a number of lakes at the race location and lots of great facilities for water sports enthusiasts, adrenaline junkies, kids and adults alike. There was a super friendly, slightly nervous buzz about the place as we enjoyed the warmth and sauntered around the registration area.
113 Events are a fabulous organisation. It would be easy to focus on the two ‘main’ guys from the organisers, and I will in fact do that, but every single one of the marshals, volunteers, police officers, water safety crew, motorcycle outriders, aid station teams and, of course, athletes, made this quite an incredible weekend.
So, the ‘main’ men – Graeme, the dry witted, unflappable, composer of emails, organiser and administrator of an extraordinarily personal registration process. Graeme actually suggested any of the thousand or so entrants that may be passing his door in the preceding week could call in to his house and register over a cuppa! He must keep a healthy stock of PG Tips.
Then there’s ‘loud’ Dave. Chief shouter of encouragement, instructions and banter. His booming voice echoing across the lake on Sunday morning as he stood waist deep in water hauling the swimmers up the steps is definitely one of my favourite memories.
The Saturday briefing was delivered twice and was invaluable for Nicky and Martin. Informative, informed, light-hearted, yet serious when it needed to be, those that managed to get there will have had their fears allayed and doubts answered. Graeme used a mic and P.A. speaker.
We decided to drive the bike course, a 28 mile loop (which would be ridden twice on race day), taking in the ‘hills’ which, living in Devon, didn’t present any fears for Nicky and Martin.
I’m acutely aware that I’m starting to get a bit ‘this happened, then this happened….’ soooooooo
I had Sunday morning all planned for my (spreading) stomach. All its ins and outs were to happen in a carefully planned and controlled manner. We’d met our friends Mac and Valerie who were due in the water at 6.10am, 10 minutes after the first wave which included my two eager athletes. With the swim start waves due to take an hour to get everybody in the water, I was going to use the lull in toilet queues to take care of the, er, ‘out’.
The ‘in’? A bacon and egg bap with my name on it which I would munch as I sauntered across to watch the swim exit.
It didn’t happen like that. We arrived lakeside about 4.30am to a thick mist. We couldn’t see the buoys and quite clearly there wasn’t going to be a 6am start.
By 6.30 my tummy’s ‘out’ had started to become urgent……… I simply had to join the increasingly nervous (and chilly) neoprene clad masses in the queue to poo.
The fog cleared and at 7.30 precisely the first wave took the plunge.
A lump in my throat, as pride, love, nerves and trepidation engulfed me. The woman I adore, the woman who inspires me, drives me and makes every moment precious, ploughed across the lake. Unperturbed by the mass of big strong guys crashing their twirling arms through the water, my petite heroine was getting stuck right in.
47 minutes later I watched her hold her ground as a couple of guys’ pincer movement failed to edge her out of the steps at swim exit. A big strong hoick from (loud) Dave and his fellow crew and off she padded towards her bike.
My day had started with a 3am alarm. Nicky got out of the water at 8.17 and I STILL hadn’t had my bacon and egg…….. Anyway, I was looking out for 4 people in the mass (880ish started) and Nicky, Martin and Ian (Mac) were all in transition together meaning I got a few piccies. And as they left, Val arrived. I safely watched them all out on to the bike course.
Then I had my bacon and egg…..
I figured I had about an hour and half before any of them would complete the first lap so I chose one of the many empty blue chairs around one of the food stalls and got my book out.
What am I reading? I hear you yawn. Well, I’m reading On Writing by Stephen King. Regular readers, in fact anybody that’s reading this seeing as I’m, er, writing it, might know I do enjoy scribbling a few words. I’ve had a rocky time with writing lately. I’d signed up to do a high profile brand’s ‘creative writing’ course only to find that their mission statements to be all about loving money rather than loving writing. So back it went.
I’ve since signed up for membership to Writers HQ. With their far more earthy approach and mottos such as “Stop f**cking about and start writing” and the simple “Write what you love” I reckon it was allllll meant to be.
Anyway, I’ve also been ploughing through Stephen King’s memoir of the craft.
“Excuse me is anyone sitting in this…?” (blue chair with no occupant.)
“No, I have no friends, take them all if you like”
Two cups of coffee a BACON AND EGG bap and a few chapters later I packed up my troubles in my old kit bag. Well, my book in my draw stringed bag anyway.
We had driven around the potentially difficult corner (a VERY sharp right turn) which ends lap one, quite a few times on Saturday. It is a VERY sharp corner and comes after 28 miles. Martin was struggling to understand the junction, so we went back AGAIN and walked him through it. Nope, he really didn’t see how it would work….
….. I chose this spot to watch the end of the first lap. Mac, flew through almost immediately, going really strong in his bright and easy to spot Torbay Tri racing kit.
I’ll take this opportunity to big-up 113 Events AGAIN! This potential pinch point on the course had had all the hedges and verges trimmed to increase visibility, there were massive signs specific to this junction, marshals on both sides of the approach yelling “sharp right turn”. A further marshal stood in the middle of the road, blocking the straight on option and another on the inside. All the gravel had been swept off the road.
I have, over the last 10 years entered dozens and dozens of running events, most of them incredibly well organised, but I honestly do not think I have attended such a ‘no stone unturned’, athlete centred event as this and its ‘SOLD OUT’ sign will appear even earlier next year as athletes’ word of mouth advertising spirals. I’ve heard that a high profile triathlon of similar distance taking place on the same weekend still had the ‘VACANCIES’ sign up.
I eagerly awaited Martin’s arrival…….
He waved enthusiastically and took the corner with ease.
Unlike about 20 or so guys who, heads down and focused, had to over run the corner and then turn back, most of whom took the cheers of the massed spectators in good humour.
As did the guy who tumbled over his bike as he entered transition at the end of his ride.
Mac and Martin safely negotiated themselves onto the run and then my excitement levels and bursting pride started reaching fever pitch as Nicky came steaming back into transition.
She calmly handed me her cycling top as she headed out for the first of her 3 run laps.
For the next 2 and a bit hours I charged around various points around the lakes and surrounding lanes to give as many cheers as I possibly could.
I was humbled by the sheer determination on show from everyone and with the competitors names printed on their numbers I was able to personalise my relentless encouragement.
Mac was fading the final lap, hardly surprising as he’d absolutely smashed the thing out of the park. Martin seemed knackered but in control and Valerie judged her efforts all the way to the finish.
As for Nicky……… As I’ve said many many times (and will say many many more times) she is a wonderful lady, a fabulous role model to all of us. Takes what she’s got, works as hard as she possibly can to turn that into the best version of herself through grit, determination, relentlessness and a refusal to accept that she “can’t”.
Three years ago Nicky was unable to swim 33 meters without pausing. On Sunday she completed 1.2 miles in the water and the total of 70.3 miles in under 7 hours and did so with a bounce and a sparkle and a smile.
The announcer yelled “… and from Paignton in Devon it’s NICKY BONFIELD…” as Nicky eschewed her normal self consciousness and threw her exhausted arms in the air.
ABOVE THE LINE a poem by Kevin Bonfield (part of my dementia inspired collection)
Highlight, in bright pink, the chosen pictures
And trace the words below. Smooth.
Only, what’s this? Something about dates
Dates, what about dates, hang on, dates
I remember them. I think.
It has somehow changed, I wanted the chairs
The ones that turn, yes I definitely yearn
For those turning chairs.
Yet on here, it’s something about dates
Dates? dates? choosing dates. Not DATES!
I didn’t want them. I know.
I’ve highlighted. In bright pink. the chairs.
But it doesn’t say so. Only chairs.
It’s no wonder people explode. More and
More confusion, wanting chairs that turn.
But getting dates. Young people laughing.
But I highlighted it. I think.
Above the line, bright pink, above the line
Above the? Hang on, let me see that.
“You need to highlight below the line”
And yet they keep telling me he’s fine.
I wanted THIS! the chairs that turn!
I know the time. Don’t I?
Learning how to tell a man his pink
Highlights are above the line, not below
That that is why he’s got dates, not chairs
Not belittling, not patronising, not hurrying
Not controlling, not demoralising, but guiding
Take the lead. Highlight his fears.
So, some of you will know that I signed up for a ‘Creative Writing’ course recently. Well, I took a let less than the 15 days available in the ‘trial period’ to return it. I felt with the limited time I could commit to my writing I would be breaking my soul following their guidance. I don’t want to construct false ‘real life’ letters for trash magazines in the hope of getting paid sixty quid!
When I explained why the course wasn’t for me, the company told me that ALL writing courses are about trying to get paid. I knew then that I’d made the right decision.
For me, writing is like running, it’s something I just love doing. So they’ve done me a massive favour. I feel free to write what I love. I’ve 100% realised that, whilst I’d be thrilled to be paid for writing, it would need to be because people are thrilled with what I write.
So, highly motivated, I dived head first into a weekend of lovely running, patrolling the beach whilst Nicky swam in the sea and having a jog with my beautiful step daughter Alisa as she starts back on her road to fitness. Not to mention a glorious walk with my amazing wife, Nicky and a good friend. Oh and taking ourselves off for a few hours r & (w)r tucked away with our faithful Border Terrier, Charlie, a picnic and our books.
The aspects of life which are harder to deal with are, well, easier to deal with my soul mate soothing my soul. To be able to just enjoy some peaceful outdoor time together this weekend was perfect. One of the BILLION reasons I am so madly in love with my incredible wife is that we don’t place demands on each other. We have long since dispensed with television and we are so, so comfortable sat reading, soft tunes in the background. Or Nicky practicing the piano whilst I scribble away or clatter the keyboard. And don’t we just love the trails and being outdoors.
Saturday’s run was all trails and photography followed by an hour on the beach with my notebook whilst Nicky swam. Check the run out HERE.
Sunday’s started with a crack at a 7 mile time trial using an old route from when I used to really chase times and ended up with another mooch on the coast path. Check that run out HERE
Then, my step daughter, Alisa joined me for her first run for a while. A very proud step dad, having run 27 miles in 2 days, certainly didn’t mind another 2. All the while we were keeping our eyes on Nicky in the sea.
With our home town being absolutely rammed with people thoroughly enjoying the Torbay Air Show in the glorious sunshine, Sunday afternoon was all about hiding away for us. Being less than gregarious, we squirreled ourselves away in a far corner of the Coleton Fishacre grounds and enjoyed a lovely picnic and a few hours reading (Nicky) & writing (me).
Progress with my novel has been positively bursting since realising that it’s ok to love what I write and just see where it goes. There are courses and mentoring and support groups a plenty out there and when one is right for me then maybe I’ll sign up. In the mean time the main characters in my book, **** ****** and *** ********* have actually encountered each other in chapter three as the views and sea air have fed my muse.
#dogsthatdontlookliketheirowners is still the working title of the book and when our eldest grandson, 9 year old Callum, came to stay last week he was fascinated to learn that I am writing a book and has already started work on the cover artwork for it. I have, of course promised him a heathy commission in return!
A massive compliment came my way from our good friend (and Saturday’s walking partner) Gloria. She declined hearing any specific news on how the book is going as she is going to wait until she can pick it off the shelf and read it!
Regular consumers of this occasionally literal (occasionally literary) ramble through our lives will have noticed I started a “Creative Writing” course….
Well, the course has gone back…… Whilst I’m sure it’s fabulous, it most certainly isn’t for me. Writing lies as fact on topics I don’t enjoy to get ‘paid’ by publications I would rather not support isn’t really where I want to pitch myself…..
And who was I kidding anyway!
The Bank Holiday weekend…..
Lots of time with my beautiful step daughters, their betrothed, our wonderfully energy giving grandchildren and, of course, my breathtakingly beautiful wife. She really is the spark that lights everything that’s fabulous in my life. Even my father-in-law, Frank was up for it – “sod dementia, let’s play swing ball”!
AND…. On Sunday our old gang went on a road trip to Casterbridge Half Marathon. So that’s yours truly and Nicky (the afore mentioned HOT wife) along with blog veteran, Martin in full silver fox / cheeky monkey mode, Jan too, fresh from the Manchester Half Marathon the previous Sunday. Our support crew were Gloria, another blog regular, and Jan’s lovely Mum, Linda.
We met at a fairly civilised hour and convoyed our way to Dorchester.
Considering we are such social wallflowers, it’s amazing how many old friends we bumped into – like Kiernan, an old mate from Portsmouth, dropping in to do a half marathon on his way to his family holiday in Cornwall.
If you fancy a road marathon or half, but with the feel of a trail event, beautiful scenery, a festival like atmosphere and a few cheeky hills, then this is for you.
With 1600 runners across the two distances, the campsite was buzzing and the car park field was being marshalled like clockwork.
Plenty of portaloos, food and drink stalls and a massive marquee promising fun and frolics later in the evening for the runners and campers.
The marathon was sent on its way as we made our first trip to the plastic tardis shaped relief cubicles and followed that up with a traditional pre race coffee.
It was good to be back in banter mode with the gang and before we knew it the rain from earlier had given way to glorious sunshine and we were heading for the start line of our race.
I had a race plan – run as fast as I thought I could until I couldn’t and then run slower, or if I thought I could run a bit faster then I’d run faster, or slower, depending on what I felt like doing. So, just run basically.
Regular readers will know I have trouble remembering details of my runs. I remember lots of bits but not necessarily in the right order.
So here’s how my race went: 10, 9, 8…….GO! The mayor sent us on our way. For once I ran about as hard as I intended and quickly found my stride amongst others running my pace. We spread out across the closed roads (closed roads!), soaked up the sunshine, enjoyed the wonderful Dorset countryside and ran up. And down. And up. There is barely a flat section. No monster hills particularly, one very long one and a naughty steeper one near the end, but lots of them.
There were marshals at every junction, fabulous aid stations and the infamous White Star Love Station. The marathon joined the half marathon route with about 6 miles to go (I think!) and I was quite pleased that only one marathoner steamed past me before the end.
That was the legend that is Steve Way, always supporting road races in the South West, he skipped past us on his way to 2h28m in his last big mileage effort before having a crack at getting gold in Comrades in two weeks time. The runner next to me was moved to exclaim “that’s beautiful to watch!” as Steve sped away.
Apart from getting drawn into an unsuccessful attempt to outsprint someone many (10s of) years my junior, my own race was uneventful. This ultra training has really taught me to chill out, as has running with Nicky, who never, ever starts too quickly. So, whilst I felt like I’d ran it hard, I was always in control. Lovely.
There was a fabulous atmosphere at the finish which was helped by the races starting an hour apart, so there was a constant stream of runners getting royally cheered home. I saw Martin come steaming home, then Nicky and then Jan.
The weather was so glorious, we set up on the grass and enjoyed the atmosphere for an hour or so, Martin unable to resist unleashing his well thought out ‘balls’ jokes as he parted with some hard earned dosh for some of the cake stall’s protein balls.
The blog has fallen behind this week, so I’ll leave you with some lovely images from this great race, and some more from our fantastic family Bank Holiday Monday
My two favourite hobbies. The one I tend to do alone and the one I sometimes do alone but MUCH prefer it if my beautiful wife is doing it with me.
“Of what do you witter now?” I hear you cry…..
Writing, of course, and running, naturally. Although keen observers have rarely described me as running ‘naturally’!
Anyway, it turns out you can’t just pitch up with your pen or your trainers and instantly be a published author or complete a marathon.
You’ve got to write.
You’ve got to run.
Luckily for me I REALLY enjoy running and I REALLY enjoy writing.
It all depends what I want my hobbies to give me back.
I could run like Forrest Gump (and there’s plenty who’d suggest I already do!) and still never become an ‘elite’ athlete but I will always get so much pleasure from each and every step.
Writing, on the other hand, well, there might just be a chance of writing becoming a double edged sword, slicing backwards and forwards through the fatigue of life. Yes, with some focus and commitment, writing might just open a few doors.
So what does a man who is regularly barely able to drag his aching feet high enough to stand on the bulging demands and pressures on his time trying to squeeze them into the available hours do?
Signs up for a Creative Writing course. Naturally…….