March 2020 was a month of fear and food. When Sainsbury’s unleashed the 12 pack of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs onto the shelves, how could I refuse as I anxiously did our shopping after work. Everybody was fighting their own battles, shielding their loved ones, trying to understand the world as it shifted on its axis around us. And for some of us, Creme Eggs were a coping mechanism.
But we needed better, longer term and let’s face it, healthier ways to survive our times. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was after hoodies!
Oh, and challenges.
In stepped many of our favourite event and race organisers with ways of challenging us ‘virtually’ in our running. Huge races got involved, including the Great North Run and London Marathon. Even better though, local, less high profile companies were finding ways to keep our running mojo up.
I threw my hat in the ring of Cornish race organisers, Bys Vyken, as they created the wonderfully titled Dark Clyde Of The Moon virtual 100 or 50 mile challenge. It worked! I gave myself 14 days to complete the 100 miles. There was no time limit (you can still enter in fact) but I decided to really go for it. At that time I was more comfortable away from the more popular trails and sea fronts and found myself running quite obscure, and very hilly routes.
My goals are still to accomplish epic distances on the type of demanding terrain Bys Vyken are so renowned for. So hills are where I need to train,
Bys Vyken must have been reading my mind because the next virtual challenge on offer was The Goat. The task: to run the equivalent elevation gain as the highest 40 hills in Cornwall in a fixed time frame. Bloody made for me that challenge. As ever, my beautiful lady wife took up the challenge too and we’re both now proud members of the goat academy! Not only that, there was a rather lovely hoody as a souvenir.
With our love of Cornwall, being lucky enough to call Dave and Sally from Bys Vyken friends and the epic medal and hoody this challenge was a perfect distraction from the world around us.
The last ten years have seen a deluge of running communities appear on the internet. Ways of recording our exercise and training transformed by the devices we wear and the apps we use. I was lucky when I started running back in 2007, I almost immediately stumbled upon the lovely running community Fetcheveryone.Com There I found a place to keep a track of my running of course, but also forums of fellow ‘newbies’, a directory of events taking place, blogs and inspirational stories and just the best bunch of people.
Jump forward 13 years and despite all of the competition out there, Fetch goes from strength to strength. As many of us have found this year, the ‘performance’ based analysis and competitive nature of more bullish sites hasn’t really sat comfortably with our mental health. Founder, Ian Williams, has kept Fetch as almost a cottage industry. There is no charge for any feature and never will be. Fetch survives on its advertising income and the goodwill of those of us happy to make a monthly donation. Whilst it feels like sharing your running life with a couple of mates, there are actually 100,000+ users and 2020 has seen many come and join us.
And, of course, I’ve recently acquired a much needed Fetcheveryone hoody.
Visit Fetch for the best people, great running data stats, a comprehensive event guide, blogs, games, forums, podcasts……
Here in the South West of England we are blessed with thousands of miles of paths, lanes and trails, plus every sort of terrain when it comes to choosing which gorgeous routes to run on. Any regular readers of the blog will know that I am at my happiest when running out in the open air, particularly on the coast path.
Well, a very old friend, Jamie (back in the day we both managed public houses in Totnes) was almost born on the trails of South Devon. Jamie decided a few years ago to combine his passion for trail running with his natural gregarious and philanthropic nature and create an online space for us all to share these wonderful trails.
And so Trail Running South West was born. A Facebook community which has grown to over 4000 members in nearly 4 years. Jamie is not just a keen runner, he is often found volunteering at trail events hosted in the region and even hosts the quirky, always sold out Stoke Gabriel Carnival 10k (I’ve volunteered at the event a couple of times – I even wrote all about it here)
The TRSW Facebook group is a great place to share in others’ runs as the feed is flooded with amazing photographs from around the peninsular.
Local organisers keep us up to speed with upcoming events and gatherings using the page too.
As the group grows, Jamie is adding more ways of engaging and sharing the community he has created. Obviously, for me, the best of these is the introduction of some Trail Running South West merchandise, not least, the rather toasty hoody!!
Visit the Facebook group for the great merchandise but also to find out where to run and what events are (hopefully) planned around the South West.
And rest assured I’m going to be toasty this winter!
I once ran with headphones. Well, earphones really. It wasn’t for me.
So many runners do love music on their runs. Or podcasts. What a great way to keep up to speed with your favourites. It simply isn’t for me though.
I prefer the rhythm of my stride, like a perfect metronome counting out the time signature of my efforts.
It’s more like random stomps giving away the uneven swing of my legs as they chaotically guide each foot to the floor. Nobody has ever shouted “Oi! your beautiful running gait is pure eye candy for the endurance sport enthusiast.”
In fact, back when I ran with a training group, the coach described me as “running like a drunk man herding cats”! This is the same coach who, at a training session on an actual running track, was calling out the lap splits as we all went through 400 meters in our 800 meters reps. As the speedy guys and girls whizzed past he was calling “60, 65, 68” etc, informing the athletes of their pace. As I trailed through some way behind the young and the athletic, he called out “Thursday……. Friday…..” Ahh he’s a wit!
Where was I? Headphones, earbuds, ear phones. They are just not for me. I tend to avoid roads and so I’m never really looking to drown out any ambient noise. And, joking aside, I really enjoy the sound of my feet striking the ground, the different rhythms of uphill, downhill and flat and the textured layers of sound created by the wide variety of surfaces once I get away from the concrete, paving slabs or tarmac. Who doesn’t enjoy the squelch of deeply packed fallen leaves on a damp day?
Autumn running. Marvellous isn’t it? It’s the colours. Man, those colours. I don’t mind repeating my favourite trail routes, they look, feel, sound and even smell different on every visit. The time of day, the season, the wind speed and direction, rain, sunshine and the direction I’m running in all vary the sensations the run rewards me with. And I keep coming back for more.
I was on one of my favourite long and hilly routes last weekend and I found myself so in tune with my running that it was almost dream like. The weather was changeable; strong winds, hail storms, mist and drizzle, heavy rain and gorgeous bright sunshine all made an appearance over the 26ish miles of South Devon’s finest trails.
For some reason, I started focussing on colours. Every surface varying its shade with the changes in the weather. It was like choosing a paint texture. The gloss sheen on wet, freshly fallen leaves, giving them an almost mirror like quality. The flat matt of a grazing pony’s fur as it stood in shadow. The subtle, fine silk of moss on a north facing rock. And so it goes on.
The run started as the clouds which had delayed the dawn and denied us a sunrise drifted towards the horizon. The sun appeared above them, candle flame bright and daffodil yellow. Paignton beach, soft sand above the tide line asking for an increase in effort level as every foot strike sunk deep into it, offered the perfect surface to exaggerate the power of the sun. Too coarse to be golden, but certainly more glitzy than a simple beige, Paignton’s sand is perfect for family beach days.
The South West Coast Path dominates the first 16 miles of this route, all the way from Paignton to Kingswear. It is a lung bursting onslaught of ups and downs with a brief flat respite through Brixham. The seaside fishing town rewarded me with sunshine after the eye watering blitz of a hail storm. With everything freshly dampened, the bright sun showcased the broad pallet of the cottages’ colours, looking like they’ve been painted onto the slopes heading down to the harbour. Pastel yellows, blues, pinks, reds…… it really is a living picture postcard.
And what about the sea? What colour is the sea? Under dark clouds and with a handsome swell, the water takes on a full range of military greys. Dark, gunboat shades, almost black, through to a pale matt silver, glints of light reflecting where the sun sneaks down through gaps in the cloud. From high up on Berry Head, with the old fort in the foreground, the vista could be an arty monochrome photograph come to life.
Greens! You want greens. Well, from yellowy limes, a bit like the colour of a Skoda I once owned (I also had a lime green Allegro at one time, and a shit-brown Datsun – I’ve had some horrendous cars!), fragile grasses almost translucent in the low sun. Green is such a versatile colour. From some angles the dark seas take on a green hue as the wave tops briefly capture some extra light. Lush meadows on the cliff tops make a British Racing Green statement whilst tufts of grass on the upslopes sway from light to dark with the wind.
Not forgetting the browns. Dark and blackened cow pats, shiny oak shades in muddy puddles, golden rusts of leaves about to give up and fall to the trail and plenty of beige too in the bark of trunks, peeling to reveal a smooth pale yellowing of fresh wood. Even the flakey patchwork of rusting, burned oranges on long forgotten ironmongery caught my attention on this run.
The blue/black and greys of dark clouds give way to their paler, fluffier cousins as the day brightens. Whites in every shade of the Dulux deluxe range, I was imagining Egyptian Cotton, Lamb’s Wool and Old Piano Keys might be new shades of paint to sell to those who need to impress the neighbours!
This route, on a blustery Autumn day, with the song Four Seasons In One Day becoming an ear worm, shows off South Devon in all of its finery.
Images from a lovely Dartmoor run with Nicky last week
No Lazy Steps
Three years ago I ran my first 50 mile ultra marathon. I might have mentioned it once or twice (you can still read alllll about it HERE). I took a tumble early on in that race, making the remaining 43 miles extremely painful! I’d share a picture of my post-race ankle with you, but to be honest I’m not in a massive hurry to look at it again myself.
Well, I’m planning on attempting another coastal 50 mile event. And I would rather not attempt it on a bulging ankle. So I’ve been rolling out my favourite running mantras as training starts to (and I apologise for employing the phrase which has been wrung out by 2020) ramp up.
The most important of those mantras has to be no lazy steps, no lazy steps, which I tend to repeat to myself when the terrain starts to become, to use another cliched expression, technical. And by technical I mean when there is an abundance of rocks, roots and rabbit holes. But also to be negotiated carefully are steep edges, muddy descents, steps, loose, gravely paths, sheer drops on the side of the trail, standing water (you never know what it might be concealing!) etc etc.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
I heard a great interview with Beth Pascall on Adharanand Finn’s podcast The Way Of The Runner where she explained that there really isn’t any substitute for practice. Not just training to get fit, but specifically experiencing the type of terrain you are training for. I guess it’s no different to any other skill, like writing, playing the guitar, or driving or anything else, it doesn’t matter how many instruction manuals you read or videos you watch you’ve just got to get out there and do it.
Never stop learning.
I’ve been trail running and tackling ultra marathons for quite a few years now, but I still like to try and learn something new, improve something about my running every time I go out. I started running later in life and for the first couple of years only ran on the road.
The biggest thing I’ve learned to change is not to trust the ground! Doing laps around Paignton Green on the pavement, I would only need to consider the ground below me a couple of times in a mile, where the curb drops and rises again.
On the trails by contrast, as Beth Pascall says, I need to be reading the ground a few steps ahead. All the time. I guess we learn to cover the ground quicker the more experienced we get on the terrain.
Running For The Joy Of It
Another major change in my own running from those time-chasing days on the roads is that I really no longer care how fast I run, nor where I might place in an event. Selfishly, the Covid restrictions which mean events starting in small waves doesn’t affect how I might approach the event.
For those who enjoy a good tear up on the roads, racing the girls and guys around them, this has taken some of the fun and motivation out of the events. I’m there to run the best I can still, but really don’t mind what that looks like in terms of time or pace.
The first thing I look at when considering an event is the cut-off time. That becomes my goal, to be quick enough to be inside that. Whatever else I might achieve is a bonus, but sort of unimportant.
After battering myself for a couple of years early in my running career, it is bloomin’ liberating to be running just for the pure pleasure of it.
So on loose rocky descents, covered in freshly fallen leaves and where the light is inconsistent thanks to a canopy of trees, giving the image of running along a blissful tunnel of autumn colour, I slow down to make sure I’m not going to hurl myself to the ground. I think I’ve improved over the years. As I get fitter, I will hopefully be naturally covering the ground a bit quicker without really noticing. But if not, then so be it.
Don’t Be A Whiny Git
With all of this in mind, and in response to me becoming a bit of an annoying whiny git a few weeks ago (‘I’m so tired, I can’t do it’ etc!), I’ve written myself a training program.
10 days in and I’m still following it. I want to be fit enough to complete a challenging (and long) trail marathon in a few weeks time and then continue getting fitter for the big 50 mile challenge at the end of January.
I bloomin’ love being on the trails, and this week I’ve rediscovered my love of running by torch light in the dark too. Even if the situation changes for event organisers, and for their sake I truly hope it doesn’t, I’ll still be happy to get out there and enjoy the process.
And After That?
Beyond that 50 mile event next year, I might even be having another crack at *say it quickly and it won’t sound so scary* the big century. I know the phrase never again might have passed my lips after I very nearly got to end of my last attempt! If I haven’t yet bored you with that tale, feel free to check out my blog about it HERE.
You could subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already. guaranteed fresh content every, er, now and then!
This is my 77th blog post…… Collectively they have been read over 11,000 times and I’m really quite humbled by that fact.
I imagine all of us bloggers are doing our ‘…of the year’ thingy right now, but I’m not going to let that stop me. So if you’re rather full of these lists then maybe you should look away now……….
MOST POPULAR BLOG POST OF THE YEAR
Inspired by some of the naïve errors I made back in my first ever marathon, I wrote this tongue in cheek BLOG POST about ten rookie errors guaranteed to make your marathon experience miserable.
TOP TEN BLOG-VISITING COUNTRIES OF THE YEAR
Aside from the UK, my rather humble wittering has been perused in 70 different countries – most prolifically in The United States, Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, Germany, Finland, Australia, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland & India. There’s even been a visit from somebody in Cambodia.
My book reviews are the least ‘viewed’ posts, but as I’ve always maintained, I absolutely love writing them, therefore every single person that might get a moment’s pleasure from reading is an honour and a bonus.
On this note (and I know they’ll be reading), a big “Hi” to Pieter & Samira from The Hague. They made a point of finding us at the Reggae Marathon to let us know they loved the blog – Happy New Year to all in The Netherlands x
PROUDEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR
A close run thing here – finishing the (32 mile – black) R.A.T. in a fantastic time (blogged about HERE) was a truly magical ‘Team Bonfield’ moment. Successfully completing The Gower 50 Mile Ultra in a time I was chuffed with, despite the rabbit hole incident! Yes, I was so, SO proud to have completed my first ‘solo’ ultra and first 50 miler – read all about it HERE.
BUT – I reckon there hasn’t been a better moment than when Nicky and I pitched up in Snowdonia for the absolutely FABULOUS trail marathon nervous about the 19 mile cut -off. Well, we arrived at that check point, the gateway to the main climb of the day with about 3/4 hour to spare. I waxed lyrical about that fabulous day HERE.
PROUDEST HUSBAND MOMENT OF THE YEAR
The transition master
As ever, the year was jam packed with moments of inspiration, adventure and achievement, as my beautiful, amazing, truly inspirational lady wife, yet again amazed me over and over again. Every single day I feel more and more blessed to have this incredible lady in my life.
So, she smashed her marathon PB at the North Dorset Villages Marathon (read all about it HERE), came so, so close to breaking 2 hours at the Bideford Half Marathon (chatted about HERE), yes it’s been a year of fizzing along. As I’ve said above, she achieved some amazing results in some epic trail events and combined an increasingly absorbing work life and a challenging, at times, domestic life with training for multiple endurance disciplines.
Yes, Nicky also completed her first triathlon and you can read all about that fabulous day HERE.
Also, there were some amazing proud moments as Alisa, Nicky’s eldest daughter completed her first events, alongside her Mum, as she continued her journey to fitness and on her health drive.
BUT, amongst this year of hectic, wonderful, adventurous and fun weekend challenges, my proudest coat-holding moment was the River Dart 10k swim. WOW – having completed this event last year, she set about attempting to break 3 hours this time. You’ll have guessed by now that yes, indeed, she did!
So amongst a forest of proud moments – read about my most bursting day – HERE.
MY FAVOURITE TEN EVENTS OF THE YEAR
Well, apologies to all the other event organisers but, for the best that trail running gives to me, it has to be the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) from Mudcrew. There are point to point 11 mile, 20 mile and 32 mile options. We have completed the 32 miles in each of the last three years. But – I can’t resist it any longer and the ‘out and back’ 64 miler is on my calendar for 2018! Check out the blog from this year’s event HERE.
For quirkiness, brilliant concept, route design, friendliness (I could go on), the Race The Tide from Pure Trail was also a fabulous trail event. (blog, naturally, HERE). As was the already discussed Snowdonia Trail Marathon.
We did some cracking half marathons (including a couple that were supposed to be marathons!), particularly enjoying the great atmosphere at The Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service Half down in Bodmin. My first race as a Vet 50 – scribblings HERE.
The previously discussed North Dorset Villages Marathon is probably my favourite road marathon and this was our second year there. Back on the trails, we also returned to The Larmer Tree from White Star Running for a second year. Yet another race with a superb atmosphere – varied and challenging off road route through the Dorset countryside. White Star offer something a little different to the trail running scene, and provide a lovely balance of true endurance challenges and hearty laughter. Guess what – there were words…. HERE.
Also from White Star, was the East Farm Frolic, it barely got a mention in the Blog as we were having a particularly ‘time poor’ period at home around that time. Basically, do as many laps (about 4.5 miles) of an undulating, rural, trail route, on a farm in Dorset, as you either can or want to, for 12 hours. A great, inclusive, fun event with a family atmosphere and camping
After managing to navigate my limping body around the 50 miles of The Gower Ultra – and what a gorgeous place it is – this was always going to feature in this list. With around 200 competitors and seemingly double that working on the fabulous checkpoints, it truly was a breakthrough for me, in so many ways.
So that’s 9 of my favourite events. We’ve done about 30 this year, so picking 10 (in no particular order) was hard. No ‘of the year’ list, though could possibly be complete without Mudcrew’s The Scrooge the ever popular trail running fancy dress romp through the Lost Gardens Of Heligan. See the blog HERE, Yet again, we took it VERY seriously…….
MY FAVOURITE RUNNING ‘THINGS’
My Karen ribbon. My sister was taken from us aged a mere 44 years and a week (9 years ago). On her last night, I ended up with an item of her clothing, which I cut into ribbons. My brother and I both tie them to our wrists for races and she’ll forever be at the side of the road yelling “arms, Kevin, ARMS!” as she expertly analysed my terrifying running style. Will be missed forever.
Fetcheveryone.comstill my favourite website. Brilliantly evolved under the loving gaze of founder and bloke-in-chief, Ian Williams, there still isn’t an online running community to match it. I would never have got anywhere near where I have with my own running without it.
To hear the man himself talk us through his world, check out his fabulous interview on another of my favourite running things Marathon Talk. This is a weekly podcast presented by Martin Yelling and Tom Williams, I’ve listened to every single one of the 400+ episodes and, as with Fetch, it very much has been part of my journey.
Other podcasts I heartily recommend….. Talk Ultra normally fortnightly, presented by the thoroughly engaging Ian Corless who really humanises the sport of Ultra running and manages to gather interviewees from every country, every distance and every ability.
Another podcast I’ve not missed an episode of is Running Commentary. On a weekly basis the two comedians and avid runners, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson don head-sets and record their quirky, irreverent, poignant, witty and downright entertaining banter as they run along. These three podcasts make my working week feel just that little bit shorter.
Another interviewee on Marathon Talk (he’s appeared on three separate occasions) is the infectious Colin McCourt. From an elite international 1500m runner to a rather portly, sedentary chap, he started this year with a challenge to return to his former speedy self. He charted this progress on his Instagram account and has become one of the best running stories of the year. He set out to lose a shed load of weight and attempt to break 16 minutes for 5km. Check out his Instagram and relive his incredible 2017. I won’t give any spoilers……
Oh, and although I’m not into plugging brands (check out my lack of sponsorship HERE) I can’t sum the year up without mentioning my Inov8 trail shoes – I bought them at the Coniston Marathon (BLOG HERE) after the shoe company lent us shoes to run the marathon in! They are, genuinely, gert lush (translation: very good indeed).
Obviously Faith’s (my energetic and LOUD grandaughter) Silver Wellies have stolen the show in any running shoe debate – she smashed her mile fun run at the Templar Ten in them – blogged about (naturally) HERE.
RUNNING BUDDY OF THE YEAR
Probably no surprises here……..
The most beautiful, amazing, inspirational, funny, charming, adventurous and DAMNED HOT person I’ve ever met – she truly is my world and as long as we’re together then “don’t worry, ’bout a thing, ’cause every little thing, gonna be alright”
Obviously, Charlie, the intrepid Border Terrier, is a close second!
Now, this being a happy place, there’s no room for negativity, bitterness, moaning, backstabbing or bitching. 2017 has been a challenging year, in many ways, for Nicky and myself, we’ve had to adapt and survive changes and developments in our world and work around the challenges. We’ve been (without bigging us up!) strong and determined, and ‘made it happen’ when ‘it’ didn’t look very likely on many occasions and we have those closest to us to thank for helping us absorb the impact of life.
Riddles, I know, but it’s hard to flamboyantly describe the slow down in the world of someone we love.
So, I’m proud of, and have loved, every minute of our journey together. Yet another year becomes ‘the best yet’ in this world I’ve been blessed to live in. And, yes, I’m proud of my achievements both in running and in life.
BUT, it’s Nicky that fills my heart and soul to bursting point with pride and more love than I could ever have imagined existed in the world……..
Yes, this lady has, in 2017, defied her crazy and demanding job, her crazy and demanding domestic life and her crazy and demanding, er, husband, and constantly, over and over again, pushed her boundaries, gone (literally) higher and faster, conquered new skills and generally been awesome in all of her fabulous endurance challenges…..
For example, she was (wo)man enough to admit that a half was enough at the Portland Coastal Marathon back in February, came back strong to complete cracking half marathons in Bodmin and Bideford, then matched our previous years time at The Larmer Tree Marathon. Another brilliant half at the Tavy 13 (blog HERE – I fell over!), the quirky and hilly Devonshire Dumpling Marathon (blog HERE)and then a blistering time at The Yeovil Easter Bunny 10k (HERE) before absolutely smashing her marathon PB at The North Dorset Villages Marathon (already talked about up there^^).
Then she beat challenging time limitations with (relative) ease at Race The Tide, Coniston Trail Marathon, Snowdonia Trail Marathon, The RAT etc etc……
Nicky blitzed her first ever triathlon, swam four tough open water events, The Swoosh, The Dart 5k, The Great North Swim and The River Dart 10k (breaking the 3 hour barrier).
This is a far from conclusive list, but I think I’ve explained just WHY, I think this lady is extraordinary in every way.
Apologies for this, but feel I need to include the one event that DOESN’T think Nicky is good enough. Think 5h30m time limit for a hilly trail marathon (12m35s per mile) yet has a cut off of 1h30m at 8 miles (11m15s per mile). Only it’s not ACTUALLY at 8 miles… etc etc. Yup THIS BLOG POST curled a few toes!
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Mevagissey, in the heart of R.A.T. territory. An easy drive down, captain chatty – our Martin – for company. Nicky (for the uninitiated, Nicky is my wonderful, amazing lady wife) leading the charge to the portaloos as we ordered and devoured our pre-match coffees.
The Scrooge, a firm fixture on the local running calendar, popular as ever (well over 400 finishers) – 7.5ish miles of mud, water, hills and enough fun and hilarity to last the week.
Another blog regular, Jamie, was loitering with intent at the start and was encouraged into some well fitting festive wear.
“Oh look, a Santa….” “Oh look, a snowman….” etc etc. But elves were, for sure, held a majority today. Plenty of “I’ve been on an elf and safety course….”, “did you have an elfy breakfast?” etc etc
A boisterously chanted “10, 9, 8….” “MERRY CHRISTMAS” and we were off.
On the steady climb up the back lanes to The Lost Gardens Of Heligan, Jamie ably bouncing off to trouble the scorers nearer the front, leaving the three of us warming up nicely…..
Into the ponds. Shut the back door! That first one was cold. Oh, and yes, DEEP (especially for Nicky!)
Then (oh and forgive my reassuringly non-chronological powers of recall) it was up a hill, through some mud, along a stream, up a hill, through some mud, jumping off a pontoon into some water…..
Oh, and then UP UP UP DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN UP UP UP DOWN DOWN DOWN…..
Then some really quite sensible, undulating trails, then through the entrance area to the gardens themselves (to the delight of the bemused visitors!).
Then back to the ponds. Still deep. Still freezing.
The last mile is a charge to the finish.
And at the finish, the rather splendid boys and girls had laid on mince pies and cider.
Oh, and some fine catering, a disco/barn dance and relentless laughter.
Oh, and the results and FREE photographs were pretty much ours by the time we drove home. For the record we smashed last year’s time and over half the field were still out there having a hoot by the time we finished….