Feel free to blame John Bew and Clement Attlee for holding up my book writing progress.
One of the books I devoured on holiday was Citizen Clem. Nicky and I are both avid readers, so a week in the sun with our books was a very welcome rest.
Nicky claims (without any foundation, I hasten to add) that I am prone to being more ‘high brow’ in my book choice. We actually both enjoy being entertained and challenged and are as happy to be lightly titillated by a read as we are to have our beliefs, or realities suspended.
It’s probably true that I’m more likely to pick up a 700 page political biography, but then I suppose I’m the whiny, leftie dreamer amongst us!
I imagine this weighty volume, which kept me in sunglasses for many hours, leaving gorgeous white rings on my weathered face, has become prominent again in recent months after the apparent resurgence in Socialism, and of the Labour movement, as Jeremy Corbyn led his party to savage the hideous majority previously enjoyed by Theresa May.
Truthfully, I’m no great political historian and cannot claim to have been a frustrated Attleeite awaiting a chance to be part of a larger crusade. Aware of his tenure through regular references and opinion columns in the type of newspaper I lean towards, his name was also our dinner table topic a few months ago.
“Who was Prime Minister when the NHS was founded?” Why this question? Nicky and I share a home with Frank, Nicky’s father. As regular readers will know, Frank suffers from dementia and quite often struggles to join in topical conversations over dinner.
Whilst he may struggle, on occasions, to remember the days events, either domestic or from the news, he can quite often hold more detailed conversations when delving into his longer term memory.
With this in mind, we sometimes pick something in the news (like the NHS) and try and relate it to occurrences in the past. We try and have our social time over a meal each evening and this ‘tool’ we’ve developed can often lead to a more inclusive conversation.
Anyway, between us we, I’m ashamed to say, failed to answer with any certainty, until we delved into the magic little google machine. To be fair to Frank, he was only 9 at the time!
I picked the book up at Bristol Airport on the way out, and was initially daunted by it’s weight, page count and small print (and luggage allowance!). BUT, as Nicky will testify, I became quite antisocial as I feasted on the glorious cradle to grave chronicle of one of the truly ‘great’ Britons.
A man who was born in the 19th century, fought in one world war, was deputy leader of the country through another, won an absolute landslide general election victory for Labour and steered the country through the carnage of the post war years, his is a tale to behold.
It is a chronicle told with poise and elegance, an insight into the man as much through what he himself read as much as what he did. Bew’s ability to make such a potentially academic subject so ALIVE is wonderful.
After a few days of slowly cooking myself in the sun, with my head buried deep in the book, I felt I truly knew this gentleman of a statesman. Despite Attlee dying the year I was born, I find him to be the type of political figure who feels me relevant to me.
Having enjoyed (enjoyed!) a 40 mile outing the day before our holiday, I felt I was ready for, firstly, a REST and secondly the Gower 50 which is rapidly approaching…
I managed a few little runs on holiday and a couple of lovely sea swims just to tick over the fitness but with only now a week to go until the big one, I don’t feel I need, nor would I benefit from, any more epic runs.
So, this weekend we’re off to a secret location where I’ll be supporting Nicky as she, yet again, pushes herself to find new skills, new limits, new potential, and most wonderfully, new adventure. Yes, she’s making her debut in………..
Find out next week!
PS I’m a bit shy about this – but I occasionally post poems and scribblings here too –
I guess sometimes our heroes really ARE ghosts. We’ve all lost people too early, before they had chance to realise their own dreams and potentials. Equally, I imagine we’ve all drawn inspiration from those lost to us and, maybe, felt the urge to push a little bit harder to realise OUR dreams and find OUR capabilities whilst we are still blessed with the good fortune of health to do so.
Grief top-trumps is a game I find objectionable, the idea that there is a scale of tragedy worthy of different levels of sympathy is, quite frankly, unsavoury at best. And whilst I’m airing my gggrrrrs, what is this social media phenomenon of being asked to ‘prove’ you care by ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’ somebody else’s story? I don’t need to prove I’ve read all of your post in order to care. And yes I DO know how tragic cancer can be. Believe me. I know. tragic, cruel, relentless, indiscriminate, debilitating, destructive, painful and despicable. Yup.
So, where was I? Ah yes, ghosts as heroes.
It’s a breath of fresh air to read some books. The Road To Sparta by Dean Karnazes…. Now, I don’t know how many losses or tragedies have befallen the Karnazes family but I do know that he tragically lost his sister just as she turned 18 (the details of which are covered in his first book). This latest tome is a journey into his family history (him being of Greek parentage) and deep into the history of the Greek nation and the people therein.
Told with a wit and eloquence often lacking in ‘sports’ biographies and combining, cleverly, his strength of character and his confidence with his self depreciating humour and his self doubts.
Embarking on a mission to truly follow in the footsteps of the original ultra marathon man Pheidippides, it charts his frustrations as he struggled to make this happen alone. Ultimately tracing the route by competing in the uber long Spartathon, he compares his progress, diet, emotions and fatigue to how he imagines Pheidippides was coping way way back when.
Acknowledging the new modern fandangle of aid stations, crews and fuelling products, Karnazes made his attempt by sticking to traditional Greek foodstuffs instead of tubes of sickly gunk and power bars. These are the foods that would have been available in 490bc, although Dean concludes that the stomachs of ancient times must have been made of strong stuff.
His constitution wasn’t playing ball and he graphically describes his stomach churning attempts to eat or digest this food in the second half of the race. Don’t read these passages too close to your Greek supper, as I did on holiday!!
The second half of the 153 mile race was survived on water, an iron will and muscle memory. Hallucinations (or reality?), despair, negotiations with his maker, negotiations with his mind, body and soul are all charted and delivered in Karnazes’ trademark boisterous, page turning rhetoric.
Yes, it’s ‘in yer face’ stuff, the way life should be lived, honouring those ghosts. This book should be read at full tilt. you don’t need to be an ultra marathon runner (or a runner at all) to enjoy this book, nor a Karnazes aficionado, although you may well become both before long as a direct result of reading it.
I’m not claiming to produce a literary chronicle, but we do like a good read……… and this is DEFINITELY that.
I think, tomorrow, I shall run with my ghosts!
Anyway, find me on Facebook – here, Twitter – here, Instagram – here
AND, please check out the new online magazine RUN DEEP where you might just find some more words by yours truly!
If we 100% KNEW we would succeed, well, it wouldn’t be a challenge…..
Prior to this weekend just gone, my proudest ‘Team Bonfield’ moment had been when we crossed the finish line of the Dartmoor Discovery 50k Ultra just inside the time limit.
The Snowdonia Trail Marathon topped that, in so many ways. WOW. Too many breathtaking views to take in. WOWs by the sack full.
AND 3, count ’em, THREE ‘YEEESSSSSS!’ moments.
Ahhh, the dreaded cut-offs. Only one here, after the climb up to Pen Y Pass. About 19 miles in. From there it’s up the mountain proper on the Pyg Track.
As we left the starting pen in Llanberris, nothing was certain. Nearly 700 runners, some strutting, some staring, some nervously pacing or muttering (‘madness’ whispered one guy as he fidgeted and fussed), listened to the race briefing.
Yes we can hear you at the back. Yes we can clearly hear that it is VERY important not to veer from the route and DEFINITELY not climb any gates or fences. More on that later…..
We had dined with my brother and his wife, who live in Kimnel Bay, a feast on the eve of this epic adventure. Regular Snowdonia hikers, they were eager to share their local knowledge and we pored over the route to get ‘beat the cut off’ tactics in place.
9am. A brief road section through the crowds of spectators and Half and 10k runners awaiting their turn. Then up.
Nicky pushed hard here, brisk hiking the steepest bits, easy paced running where possible. When we reached the top of this climb, the 3.5 miles had taken us about 15 minutes less than my loose plan. Result.
Some moor like terrain, downhill and flat and we were feerrrlying…… oh hang on….
A queue. When I say a queue, probably about 200 people waiting to negotiate a stile. Hhhmmmm.
Some, whose race was obviously more important than ours, decided climbing a padlocked gate followed by a wire fence would mean they didn’t have to wait like everyone else.
Mildly annoying after 5 minutes.
Annoying after 10 minutes.
Absolutely infuriating when, after 15 minutes, the marshall charged with the unfortunate task of policing this area shouted to the approaching runners at the back of the field to take this alternative route…….
Nicky had worked so hard to get this far in this time, yet, now I was contemplating the cut off again whilst participants who had taken considerably longer on the climb didn’t even pause as they disappeared off ahead of us.
Potentially, a scenario where some of those runners who hadn’t had to wait at all, but took 15+ minutes longer than us over the first 4 miles, narrowly made the cut off whilst we narrowly missed it, was starting to play out in my head.
We were cross.
Once we were over the stile, and then through the next couple of miles and occasional further stiles, we made great progress on the rough terrain. Unfortunately the field of runners was out of sync now and we were constantly trying to weave through those who had been behind us until the stile incident. Or stilegate, as it shall be known.
Once we’d reached mile 6 we had found some space to run in and easier terrain for a while. A familiar face, Kevin (a regular face at events we have enjoyed in Dorset), greeted us at this point which was a real boost as well. We settled in to rattling off some miles as we ran through forests, around lakes, alongside miniature railways. All to the spectacular backdrop of the mountains around us.
Progress was good. I started to fear the cut off less and less and more and more enjoy absolute joy of running in this incredible place with this incredible woman.
I made a pact with myself to take no pictures until we reached that cut off. After negotiating a runner-jam in a single track section through the woods at the bottom of Pen Y Pass, we freed ourselves from the pack and marched the 2 mile climb to reach the cut off with about 40 minutes to spare.
Now the hard climbing started. Please forgive us a smug moment here! We are rather proud to be running grandparents knowing our grandchildren can point at a map of Snowdon and say ‘Nanny and Grandad’ did that!
It’s a great leveller, a mountain and we were amongst runners of all ages as an unspoken comradery developed.
Nicky, strong as an ox. The climb is about 5km long from that point and is pretty relentless. It scrambles and winds and teases then punishes and it does go on and on. All to the incredible backdrop of the peaks and ridges all around.
My sister, Karen, who regular readers will know, was taken from us just so tragically early, would have loved to see us doing this. She would have revelled in the happiness I have found with Nicky and would have been championing us in all our adventures. I wore my ‘Karen Ribbon’ for this run, and definitely felt a gentle extra push as we reached for the top of the climb.
Talking of which, it turned out my brother, mother and uncle were all glued to the tracker and shared in our ‘YEEESSS!’ moments ‘live’!
Suddenly, through the descending mist (which was quite welcome as the heat was starting to build), a high-viz vest in the distance, still way up above us, but a welcome sight.
Exiting the other worldly atmosphere of the Pyg Track as the tourist trail becomes the Miner’s Track, with the train passing too, was completely bizarre and quite magical.
Knowing it was quite literally all down hill from here, we high-fived and then set about the descent…….
Unfortunately, almost immediately, Nicky had a sharp and immobilising pain in the back of her knee. This stopped us in our steep and gravelly tracks, on this, er, steep gravelly track.
A fistful of vitamin I (Ibruprofen), gently and gingerly building up speed, we soon got up to ‘Ahhhweeeeeee’ velocity as we tumbled down and down and down.
Llanberris was soon coming into view, as we went further down and down and down. The very bottom of the descent was sooooo steep as it turned to tarmac before a naughty loop through a park and we could clearly hear the announcer calling the runners in.
“….. and coming in now, holding hands, in a cracking time of 7 hours and 24 minutes, it’s KEVIN BONFIELD and AMY SOMETHING…………..
…….. oh No it’s not it’s Kevin and NICKY BONFIELD!!!”
We truly felt (still feel) we had achieved something extraordinary.
A fabulous, brutal, beautiful event. It’s big, probably 2000 runners across the 3 distances, yet it was so welcoming, brilliantly marked and marshalled (I think stilegate is a glitch, it needs addressing, but certainly the only real blip) and the event base in Lanberris has the cosy feel of a much smaller event.
It wasn’t necessarily on our bucket list, but it has given us a wonderful glow……..
Next up, the Cornish coast beckons in the R.A.T. ……..
We were sat on the beach in Negril, Jamaica in December 2015, having completed the Reggae Marathon, when a couple of unlikely looking buskers sauntered along the beach looking for somebody to entertain. “I’m going to get them to play my favourite Marley tune…” I announced. “Baby don’t worry, ’bout a thing…”. A dollar well spent me thinks. Well, it’s been mine and Nicky’s song ever since, the beautiful innocent optimism of the lyrics a refreshing contrast to the tensions that life can create.
After completing the awesome Coniston Trail Marathon on Sunday, the lakeside venue was richly entertained by an engaging chap with an acoustic guitar and an ear for a tune. Whilst we were guzzling our post race Ribena and 7UP, chomping on venison burgers, the guy played “Don’t look back in anger”, an unannounced yet beautifully poignant tribute. He then donned a harmonica and rolled into, you guessed it….”Three Little Birds”. I was in the immediate post race glow of pride, of loving the atmosphere as runners and walkers from the 5 events across the day soaked up the rays and the views in the late afternoon sun. We were chuffed with our achievements. I don’t mind admitting to feeling a little emotional and falling a little bit deeper in love with the astonishing lady in my arms!
We’d arrived (as those prone to regular perusal of this ramshackle chronical will know) in the lakes pretty exhausted. We thought we could add to this less-than-perfect preparation by getting up at 5 in this utopia of quiet to prepare our marathon weaponry and drive the hour to Windermere to drop Charlie off at the dog sitter. We found Lakes Pet Services via the internet, and what a great service Petra provides. Charlie will be back, he was pooped by the time we picked him up!
Back to Coniston, and the special atmosphere at Old Coniston Hall was apparent from the moment we parked up by the lake, a buzz of excitement, so many cheery ‘hello’s, and some rather splendid coffee.
We somehow ended up talking to the lovely people at the Inov8 stand. Now, it’s easy to be cynical about corporate sponsorship (and I am!) but these guys were on hand in force to offer guidance and, something I’ve never seen before, a chance to try out some part-worn shoes.
To cut a long story short, we both ended up running the marathon in borrowed shoes. A resounding success for me and Nicky’s were incredibly comfortable, if a little less cushioned than she’s used to.
As we lined up for the start, some of the talk inevitably turned to the dreaded cut offs and time limit. As we can now confirm, this
is a genuinely tough trail race, with some proper climbs and sections of really rugged terrain and technical sections. Therefore, just like last week’s Pure Trail event, it is made plain that participants need to be fit and strong enough for several hours of tough running. BUT, you’re not expected to be Joss Naylor.
Talking of which, the spirit of such running greats is almost tangible on this route, especially in the second half as the route climbs a couple of fells
and circumnavigates some gorgeous tarns. What a privilege it was to be running here.
The first half of the race is a series of ups and downs, but on the whole climbing. Overall pace is reduced by the need to stop every 5 minutes to say ‘WOW’ at the views, but kept brisk by the runability of the terrain. Short road sections are all accompanied by more stunning views and so barely noticed. The route is one great big loop, a wide rounding of
the whole of the lake. Nicky was braving some quite considerable calf pain, her powerful calves are prone to tightness and we suspect wearing some more ‘racey’ profiled shoes may have contributed to this, combined with a less than ideal preparation, but we still made great progress and the cut offs soon became far from our minds. A long, and rocky, decent in miles 17, 18 and 19 had her exclaiming “I am running like a wooden top!” (younger readers may need to click the link!).
I think the phrase is ‘technical terrain’, this decent and, in fact, the climb up into the fells that followed and the fall back towards the lake AND most of the flat section along the shore edge towards the finish could all be classed as ‘technical’. What a fabulous course, what a treat the whole event is. Visually jaw dropping and it gets right inside you, you can FEEL the beauty here. There is no better way than to spend Sunday than running in such humbling
surroundings in the company of my perfect soul mate.
“Don’t you ever get bored running with me?” Nicky asked as we both tried and failed, despite our finest efforts, to fall flat on our faces as we tripped over the massed network of roots along the lake side. Bored!!?? This really is EVERYTHING I could ever want.
So, we reached the finish, both now 30something in terms of marathons completed and both struggling to imagine any we’ve done which top this one. I truly feel blessed.
We’re lucky enough to have another 5 days here in this beautiful place, and whatever the weather (it’s not looking good!) we’re going to indulge in not setting the alarm and plenty of the 2 ‘R’s and 2 ‘W’s (reading, running, writing, walking), oh and watch out, Nicky might just have a surprise lined up for later in the week…….
Anyway, briefly as I’ve taken enough of your time, having been relieved of several £10 notes yesterday, I thought I’d better take the new trail shoes out in the P!55ing rain today. Nicky, wisely, is resting her rather tight calves.
So I went out and did 7 or so miles, finishing going up to the tarn on the fell opposite where we’re staying and enjoying the grip these new shoes offer on the wet, rocky decent. You can check out this run here, and yesterdays marathon here.
I write this blog because I truly enjoy writing, it is relaxing, I enjoy sharing how running is so much part of mine and Nicky’s lives and how I am never quite able to fully believe that I get to live this life with Nicky. Our day to day world is great, with a particular set of challenges which is the same for everybody and I’m sure our adventures (and my writing about them) is very much part of how we contrast that whirly-gig of life with our down time.