Follow your own personal compass in 2022

As trail runners we are familiar with navigating our way through the countryside but sometimes it’s also worth considering which direction do we want to be going in. Where are you now and where do you want to be ?

Life sometimes throws us off track and just like being out on the trails a wrong turn isn’t always your fault, it can just be a chain of events. Getting back on track suggests something negative has happened but it’s important to turn this into a positive by reassessing your personal compass.

Whether you’ve had niggling injuries (like me), a loss of motivation or your circumstances have got on top of you it’s easy to become discouraged. These frustrations can be channeled, you can get back on an even keel. I’ve tried to consider what works for me, what makes me happy, what’s good for me and the answer is consistent running.

What do you learn from getting lost ? I’m not myself when my running isn’t going well, I’m sure we can all relate to this. However, rather than dwelling on it, the best course of action is to plan ahead. I recently read “if you aim at nothing, you hit nothing” and that spurred me on to consider what could I do to stop the downward spiral of annoyance due to silly injuries.

I came across the concept of “getting back to your center” hence the compass analogy. Running is my center, it’s who I am, it’s my mindfulness, wellbeing, fitness, health (mentally and physically), it’s my friends, it’s fresh air and without it a small part of me becomes lost.

Once you are aware you’ve become unhappy then you can accept it and move on. There probably isn’t a quick fix, maybe you need to press the reset button. When you aren’t running you feel like you are missing out, you are falling behind, your senses aren’t being stimulated, you are “off center”. I’ve had four visits to the physio in recent months to sort out two minor issues, I didn’t want sympathy, I just wanted to get going again !!

Paying attention to an causes means stripping everything back to basics. Correcting any issues now, will hopefully be the springboard for going forwards. I’ve accepted that I’m getting older and I need to develop and maintain better habits.

Everyone’s personal compass is specific to them, for me, I’ve come to the conclusion I need to be more flexible, warm up for longer and take any opportunity to stretch and limber up, whether it’s waiting for the kettle to boil or taking five minutes away from my computer, it’s surprising how rotating your neck, making circular movements with your arms outstretched or simple knee lifts can loosen you up. What might you change in 2022 ?

Another aspect of long distance running that I hadn’t considered is walking. This might sound obvious initially but a short lunch time walk or an early evening walk with the family means you are being active, almost without realising it. I’ve then taken it a step further by wearing kit and setting myself the target of walking four miles in under an hour (4 mph). Your heart rate is raised and your muscles are being exercised, just with less impact.

I know weights related strength and conditioning would help but I have to be realistic, gym’s aren’t my thing, getting outdoors is what does it for me. I’m finding my patio warm up / flexibility before walks or running is becoming enjoyable rather than a chore, because I know making these changes will benefit my run. This weeks 15 miles of walking and running has been the best for a few months !!

The final piece in this jigsaw was when I watched Allie Baileys video on Instagram were she talked about her twenty-twenty-you approach for 2022. It initially revolves around intensions and affirmations rather than New Years Resolutions which tend to be black and white i.e. “Dry January” or “I will loose 6 pounds”, her idea of intentions fits in perfectly with my “finding your center or direction” because these are more positive and achievable, rather than setting yourself up for failure with a numeric target i.e. weight, units of alcohol or mileage.

I intend to correct 2021’s stop / start year by walking, exercising and generally trying to head in the right direction on a number of levels to support my running. Captain Jack Sparrow’s compass didn’t appear to show the correct North, South, East or West, it showed him the horizon and the direction he needed to reach his goals.

Where will your inner compass take you in 2022 ?

I’m no pirate but I do intend to be a “Jolly Roger” in 2022.

Armed with their compass and sense of direction, why are trail runners good at navigation …. they just “Arrr”, Happy New Year

Thanks for reading.

Rog

Woolacombe Dunes parkrun – A sandy challenge !!

Woolacombe Dunes parkrun, lets take these three words one at a time. Woolacombe, is a seaside resort on the North Devon coast. The resort beach has a fantastic two mile stretch of golden sand that faces the Atlantic Ocean and draws in tourists all year round.

The dunes are the area of sand between the beach and the headland that have been blow into mounds or small hills and require a good amount of energy to scale. The 230 feet elevation gain might not sound too much but the majority of the course is sand and the icing on the cake is the Dune of Doom !!

parkrun is an all inclusive, 5 kilometer, world wide phenomenon for anyone that wants to run, jog or walk that distance on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

This is my run review of a course that sites in National Trust land, includes the South West coastal path and proudly relishes its North Devon AONB status (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Woolacombe Dunes parkrun has been labelled the toughest in the UK and it has been on my bucket list for a while, I can confirm that the event lives up to its billing and on top of the difficulty the inspiring views almost make up for the lung and calf busting test that you experience.

Parking on top of the headland the beach’s full glory takes your breath away, facilities wise the Porthole café has toilets and naturally tempting food and drink on offer. I arrived early so as to get my bearings and have a chat with Paul Cooper the race director. Parkrun simply wouldn’t exist without the volunteers who cover all that’s required to give us a great run, so thankyou to Woolacombe’s volunteers.

Our run briefing was informative and entertaining, lets say we all knew what was in store and we all knew we were in good hands.

142 of us set off in an orderly fashion due to the width of Marine Drive, at the standard 9 a.m. time. The first 400 meters were slightly quicker than I’d planned but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did this, however, it allowed us to space out. A sharp right hand turn took us onto a compacted track that was no more than ten feet wide and quite steep. In no time at all we took a sharp left hand turn onto the South West coastal path, a sandy undulating track that immediately introduced you to the “sand factor” that would play a part in the rest of our run. The ferns and rough grass either side of the track made it easy to see where the trail was heading.

Apparently according to studies running on sand requires 1.6 times more energy than running on a hard surface. Yes, our friend “Lactic acid” was about to kick in. That burning sensation in your lungs and muscles is a sure sign you really are trying your best.

The undulating path then took a steep drop down to the beach, so care was needed as your momentum meant your feet sunk quite deeply into the shifting sand. As we hit the beach it was a magnificent sight, no wonder it’s an award winner !! This was the first mile done and with hindsight, the easiest mile of the three.

Next a mile of beach running and what immediately struck me was just how far the leading pace setters were ahead. However, first things first, this is a run and not a race. The sand was reasonably good underfoot but still with that slight “sinking” sensation. We had lots of room with it being out of Summer season, no jellyfish, children’s sand castles or Dad’s buried up to necks to avoid !!

The white water of the breaking Atlantic waves, the squawks of seagulls overhead and the salty taste in the air all added to the seaside vibe but even though nature was trying to offer us wellbeing and mindful distractions the inevitable trip back up the sand dunes couldn’t be disguised.

The golden sand is clearly what beings tourism to the area and I, like the majority of the parkrun tourists that have run here, contemplated how lovely it would be to live here.

As the two mile mark approached so did the Dune of Doom. A twenty meter incline that had our names nailed on it, character building, yes, painful, yes but that said, an experience to remember.

With seventy odd runners already having scaled the dune with was a mixed blessing. The imbedded footprints were almost like stepping stones to aim for so as not to interrupt new shifting sand but at the same time where the sand had been churned up it gave you an unbalanced feeling.

The lactic acid in my lungs and calves had hit in big time and there was almost a sense of an anxiety dreams when you are running with lots of effort but not actually getting anywhere !!

What encouraged me was the fact that I overtook a coupe of people with my fast walking and once at the top there was definitely a “Rocky” moment when he runs to the top of those stairs in the film. However, there was no time to dwell on reaching the top it was a case of trying to get back into a rhythm and trying to even out you breathing.

We were once again on the sandy Coastal path with a repeat of the undulating trail until, as I suspected, we joined the compacted path that that took us up the headland to Marine Drive. The speed that I generated on my return was in stark contrast to almost having to put the breaks on coming down.

Again, aggressive fast walking and some slow running were required. Thankfully the lactic acid kicked in for the final time. However, with only the prospect of 400 meters left once summitted this spurred me on to dig deep and find my “inner fell runner”. Once we hit that home straight it was still curiously uphill when it felt quite flat at the beginning of our 5K.

I guess these are the tricks our mind plays on us when we are fresh and when we are done in, ha ha.

I took out my parkrun barcode, thanked the volunteer for scanning the tags and briefly thanked Paul the Race Director with my final words being “I’ll be back”. The event is a great partnership between the National Trust land and the spirit of parkruns inclusive community running . Naturally there are hundreds of parkruns up and down the country but this is a special one.

Time wise 33.40 and position wise 76th out of 142 wasn’t too bad but I know I can do better now I know what’s involved. Whether this review has wet your appetite or confirmed that you will be steering well clear thanks for reading.

In summary, if you look up the words scenic or challenging in the dictionary there will be a picture of Woolacombe Dunes parkrun but it’s the same picture when you look up rewarding too . A great day, a tick on my bucket list and a pleasure writing about it.

Cheers, Roger

Make time, for your “Running” peace of mind

Have you enjoyed the Olympics ? I certainly have, obviously the running events have been great but it’s funny how you get sucked into watching sports you hadn’t even considered like BMX, skateboarding and gymnastics. The strength and concentration that Matt Whitlock showed in his pommel horse routine was amazing but possibly the most telling moment of the two weeks was when Simone Biles chose to withdraw from the team gymnastics due to her mental health stating her mind and body weren’t in sync.

The pressure and expectations on top athletes must be immense knowing that they’ve trained for four years, or in this Olympic case five, to compete for three places on a podium.

For us mere mortals everyday life presents it’s own challenges so it’s important that we have an outlet that benefits us both physically and mentally, which absorbs us and transports us to the point that we have a clear head with no intruding thoughts. You could call this being in the zone or even zoning out but when your mind is completely focused on your chosen activity then you will find peace of mind.

For me this activity is a run in the countryside. Speed isn’t necessary, age and experience aren’t necessary, therefore the fact that it’s achievable to so many people is what makes it special. Whether you run on your own or you share the experience with others a good run gives you a rhythm, a feeling that everything has aligned and that your whole body is in tune.

We all have barriers, distractions and even excuses that can stop us getting out and fulfilling this goal but we really must try to overcome them and not short change ourselves because we all deserve to experience peace of mind.

The pandemic has put a huge strain on all our lives, financial pressures have been tested, relationships and even our quality of life so we need some balance, we need to feel like a circular peg in a circular hole, to embrace your positivity and set the tone for the rest of your week.

A good run won’t solve all your problems but it’s a point of reference to draw on when life’s pressures mount. In a curious way physical exercise may make you ache but you feel refreshed and revitalized. The peace of mind that you can gain means you are free from worries, anxiety and stress as you literally process one stride after another. In a way this is escapism but it isn’t “running away” from any issues it’s parking them and embracing your running.

I’ve had a niggling pain in my foot for a while and after seeing Jason from Bodyfusion he has corrected the problem. However, my three mile tester run today was more about finding myself again rather than checking the niggle had gone. I didn’t take my phone with me today so the main photo represents another day when everything clicked !!

Trail Running gives me peace of mind, find your activity that fits the rhythm of your life. I’d imagine Matt Whitlock would have said his mind was completely clear of any other thoughts as he executed his routine to perfection. Simone Biles has presumably had too much pressure but at least she managed to return for one of her events.

In short the fresh air, green grass and blue sky cleared my head and all combined, even in a thirty minute spell, to take me far from the madding crowd and reflect that doing what you love is the key to loving what you do.

Thanks for reading.

Roger

Trail Running – “A sense of place”

Writing a trail running blog naturally includes descriptions of where I’ve been, so in many ways, I’m trying to create an image in the readers mind of them running beside me and “virtually” experiencing what I’ve seen and felt first hand.

I recently asked a fellow writer for some feedback on my blog, the remainder of this post will be to explore their comment of “You have a real knack of creating a sense of place”. That short phrase pretty much sums up trail running for me, it’s all about “where” you run.

Trail running by definition is off road and away from the urban developments, it congers up images such as the photo above and the central theme is your location. Running under a blue sky, surrounded by nature gives me a real sense of identity. There’s definitely a combination of belonging when you are physically there and a feeling of longing, when you aren’t.

The special bond that can be formed with the countryside means you can experience its positive impact from a far as well as when you are there. This sense of belonging can be quite powerful and I believe it’s what draws us back time and time again.

Life is ultimately about creating memories and I have so many experiences from running which I can both enjoy as well as revisit. Whether it’s a memorable race or a great training run with friends those thoughts stay with you and even if you return to the same location on your own you can’t help but smile as you watch yourself through your mind’s eye.

The phrase “happy place” often comes up when I’m talking about trail running and this feeling can be invoked in many ways. The simple act of putting out your training shoes, your back pack and the rest of your kit gives you a buzz of anticipation the night before a run. In may ways my back pack, compression socks and a bright race t shirt are a uniform, to be worn, that I associate with where I’m going and what I’ll be doing.

The beauty of great trail locations is also the fact that many of them are linked. Hampshire has a never ending source of trails, footpaths, bye ways, river banks and seashores to explore as these would all have been the means of travel for people over the centuries.

No matter what the season there’s woods, fields, streams, wide open spaces and narrow pathways, hedgerows with birds song and hills with fantastic views. The sights and sounds of our rural lands are what make it a special place.

The South Downs Way is a particularly good example with it stretching one hundred miles from Winchester to Eastbourne and crossing a number of counties. The history, the views and the scope for travelling to different sections means this National Trail is the jewel in my location crown of places to run.

The countryside earns it’s place in my affections due to it’s scenery, its distinctive challenges and a unique bond that’s emotional and a pleasure to experience. Probably the greatest advantage of the countryside is that there is always more to explore. Trail running is more than just running off road it’s a passion and a way of life for me and many other people.

If you already trail run then you’ll know what I mean, if you don’t then maybe try it but be warned you’ll soon be hooked !!

Thanks for reading

Roger

Run to the beat of your own drum

Running in its purest sense is a repetitive action that propels you forwards. The constant tapping of your feet on the ground creates a rhythm, a beat if you like and the tap, tap tap of your trainers can become hypnotic, however, in a curious way, even though you are moving, everything around you is largely standing still.

As a runner how do we know what speed we are travelling at ? We check our garmin or other such time pieces. How often do we need to check our garmin ? Will it have changed significantly a hundred meters further along our route, probably not. What if we didn’t look at our watches but went on feel occasionally to measure our efforts ?

As I ran down Old Winchester hill last weekend I paused my watch, took in the views, snapped the photo above and set off again. Some time later I realised I hadn’t started my watch, initially I was a bit peeved, there may have even been a swear word but it dawned on me that I’d hardly looked at it from the start of my run anyway so why was it such a big deal.

Pace is very subjective, your pace and someone else’s pace are only comparable when you are both running the same terrain. All sorts of factors come into play, the wind, your route, how you slept etc and none of these are reflected on your garmin. A good example of this is your personal best, the clue is in the question, it’s “your” best so don’t compare it to other peoples.

Now, are you ready for this, for the remainder of my exercise I switched off my watch. Switched off his watch !! I can hear the gasps, the cries of dismay, the “did he really say that” comments. Just take a minute to digest this and I will explain.

Firstly it felt liberating, like I’d taken off my shirt when arriving at the beach, secondly I felt empowered, I could do exactly what I wanted and it wouldn’t reflect on a Strava post. It was almost like having the TV remote control in my hand, I could pause, fast forward or even rewind if I wanted to. How would I cope ??

The South Downs are a very special place and I’ve really missed running here, without any time expectations I pondered what actually dictates the pace you run at, other than your watch. I discovered that looking at the bigger picture can be quite enlightening.

Hills, they certainly slow you down but at the same time they are building up your strength, willpower and resilience. Generally speaking whatever you run up you will run back down so that’s a real benefit, coupled with that glow of satisfaction once you’ve scaled your chosen hill.

The wind is another resistance factor that you have to endure but it makes your cheeks tingle and reaffirms that you are outdoors, you are alive and you won’t give in. Naturally you’d hope that on your return leg the wind will be behind you but curiously this rarely seems to be the case, ha ha !!

The temperature can be a blessing or a burden but ultimately with the correct kit and hydration it ought to be manageable. Your watch won’t tell you that you haven’t been drinking enough until it’s too late.

The terrain, are you running on soft mud or baked Summer soil that’s had ruts moulded into it. Have you run this way before ? Do you know what’s around the next corner ? Is there livestock that you need to look out for or maybe a family walking there inquisitive dog ?

What dictates our pace and how we measure it can only recorded with elapsed time on your watch so take a break. Maybe just press start and finish without considering the seconds, minutes and hours in-between.
Try it as an experiment and consider which factors are shaping your run, this way you will absorb why, where and how your run went therefore allowing you to consider which elements you can work on instead of purely “clocking” it.

There’s no such thing as a bad run and because no two runs are the same you can take something positive from every outing. Just because you aren’t running at your desired pace this doesn’t mean you aren’t having a good run.

Running doesn’t need to be mechanical (for most of us) it’s emotional, ever changing and you are always learning so it’s worth fully experiencing every step. Your timings are a good indicator but from now on I’m going to embrace my whole run and how it unfolded rather than just what the Strava upload tells me. Naturally these are just my observations but I’m glad I forgot to start my watch because it’s given me a new perspective.

In summary, don’t be a slave to your watch, take as much out of your running experience as possible by noting what effects you. Be the boss, set your own rhythm according to your surroundings, try listening to your running drum beat.

Thanks for reading

Roger

A Mindful run on the South Downs

Mindfulness to me is running with focus but also relaxation. I recently wrote this as an Instagram post, now I’d like to fully explain what it means to me. Paying attention to both your surroundings and your thoughts helps you “live” in the moment. The scenery and trail make you concentrate which then fills you with positive energy.

These days I enjoy stopping for a moment to take in the beauty of nature or simply absorbing where I’m running rather than concentrating on pace.

Over the years I’ve definitely appreciated my running more because my goals have changed. A good run to me is the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve clocked up a descent amount of miles and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Reflecting on Saturdays run I can pinpoint a number of occasions when I felt 100% engaged in what I was doing. These moments of clear purpose mean that you are processing the task, how to achieve it and finding the solution by listening to both your body and your mind.

A good example of being completely immersed in what I was doing would be the climb up Beacon Hill as I left Exton. There are two routes up Beacon Hill, the first crosses the cow fields and has a number of gates and styles, the second is a winding country lane. On some days I enjoy the technical challenge of the obstacles but on other days the country lane means you aren’t distracted it’s simply you against the hill.

Naturally your stride shortens and in many ways your determination is as important as what’s in your legs. The lane has a couple of corners and the gradient varies with a couple of easier sections but ultimately you are being tested from the the time you leave the pretty village until you reach the trig point.

My metronomic stride had purpose, concentration and belief, it also meant that I was so focused I didn’t hear the cyclist behind me and when he overtook it made me jump like a startled deer when it hears a noise in the forest. Slightly embarrassing on my part and yet his fitting comment of “keep working” only underlined that I was totally aware and yet unaware, both at the same time. You could say I was in the zone.

I do believe that understanding what you are capable of as well as plotting how you’ll reach your target can be quite intense over a short period but once I reached the top of the hill I knew I’d enjoy the rest of my run after this boost in confidence and mindfulness.

Once arriving at the trig point you are rewarded with the view of the valley towards Old Winchester Hill further along the Downs but most of all you know that you’ve got there by noticing every meter of the climb, the gradient, the trees, the vineyard off to the left, the sound of your breathing and even the birds song. In a funny way you were part of the hill and it acknowledged that you’d scaled it without walking.

The next few miles were weaving countryside tracks that due to lockdown I haven’t run for a few months. I’ve run this way many a time before but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. You can’t take rural settings for granted because they are constantly changing. It would have been Winter the last time I was here and now it’s Spring, the colours have changed, the trees and bushes are slowly starting to fill out and the going underfoot has certainly improved !! These differences seem obvious but making a point of looking for them makes you appreciate that changes happen constantly.

Running through the countryside is an uncomplicated activity, you absorb what you see, you take it in and you smile.

On my return to Exton I had a small diversion in mind that I’ve been looking forward to visiting while cooped up in my living room working from home. The River Meon flows through the village of Exton with its clear water and high levels to the banks. Watching a fast flowing, crystal clear river is almost hypnotic and I have a small opening in the bushes in mind. As an added bonus the daffodils were still out so I paused my watch and I stood there for a few minutes totally transfixed.

During those minutes looking at the stones on the riverbed, the small ripples of waves on the surface and even a random tree branch that was along for the ride I thought to myself, I’m glad I popped by and I’ll come and visit again.

I really enjoy observing what I see on my travels and I believe my mindful running adds to the experience. Whether it’s a hill, the trails or a river take them home with you in your minds eye and reflect on their positive effect to your day.

Thanks for reading

Roger

Spring 2021 : A time for optimism

Saturday March the 20th officially marks the beginning of Spring 2021. I chose to get out on the Friday so as to experience our local countryside on a slightly quieter day and to enjoy the forecast sunshine. I’m always heartened with the evenings gradually getting lighter but I feel the whole country is waiting to embrace Spring. This year, more than any other year, there’s hope, anticipation and optimism in the air.

Setting off from Wickham along the Meon Valley trail (MVT) I had an hour and a half to play with and my main goal was to soak up all of my surroundings. Apart from the birdsong I first noticed the sound of the River Meon. This clear and fast flowing chalk bed river has worked its way from a spring in the Meon Valley and will eventually flow out into the Solent at Hill Head.

For centuries Wickham has been a fording point to cross the river and the small waterfalls near the bridge had bubbling water with the force of the current pushing it downstream. In many ways the last year can be compared with the river, our progress has been halted, diverted, been put back on track and then diverted again. Hopefully with the covid vaccine being rolled out we can now flow in the right direction !!

Once heading out along the MVT the conditions underfoot were pretty good with only occasional mud. The tree line route is still quite bear as it’s too early in the season but the sense of more to come was definitely in the air. I was in no rush and quite open to trying a few new twists and turns in the woods ahead. All outdoor exercise starts with excited anticipation but even more so after the last year that we’ve all endured.

The MVT was previously a railway line and the arch of the bridge in my first photo made me stop and take a snap. The arch almost acted like a picture frame for the view ahead. At this point I was near the Forestry England maintained Upperford Copse which then leads onto West Walk and 100 Acres, it was time to explore !!

The densely packed trees seemed curiously spaced out with so few leaves but with a variety of species planted in the area I was soon running through a lush green canopy over the trails. This might sound silly be being out on a Friday almost seemed to fit in with Spring officially starting on the Saturday. The prospect of what lays ahead for your weekend being a similar thought for the rest of Spring, exciting times.

Entering the West Walk car park there were quite a few cars with people taking lockdown exercise. If the last year can give one legacy I do hope it means people carry on enjoying the fresh air and sights of the countryside. Even with a minimal car parking charge the benefits of getting outdoors will hopefully have been embedded in the nations minds and legs.

I chose to bypass the family friendly compacted paths and head out into the forest for some muddy adventure. The blue skies and towering trees give off such an energy which we sorely need to charge our weary lockdown batteries. Knowing the next six months will bring better weather for Mother Nature to weave her magic really adds a spring to your stride.

The noise of branches rustling to my right makes me wonder if I’d be lucky enough to see a deer but instead it was two squirrels chasing each other from branch to branch. I really do wonder what the animals have made of fewer human beings in their natural habitat ? Fewer people will have meant less car pollution, litter and disturbance. After all nature has carried on over the last fours seasons even if we’ve been on hold.

I do enjoy a muddy hill as the elevation makes you work for your miles. Once rounding the trail towards the mobile café and toilets it was time to turn and head back. I do think it’s important to take what you have seen, heard and smelt on your travels and use it as motivation in your day to day life. The peace and beauty of these surroundings can remain in your thoughts for when life’s pressures mount up.

Heading out of the woods the sun has become stronger, the shadows were lengthening and you simply can’t help but simile. Spring is a time of new beginnings and goodness knows we could all do with a rosier future. If covid has done one thing it’s made me not take anything for granted.

I’m already thinking about March 29th and being able to go further afield for my green fix. The Hampshire countryside has so much to offer and even though I’ve been happy to settle for what’s on my doorstep for much of this year I’m truly excited that April’s bluebells aren’t too far away and then we’ll be treated to the explosion of colour that Spring delivers as well as the optimism we all crave and deserve.

Thanks for reading and remember the outdoors is waiting for you.

What is it about being Outdoors ?

Inspirational presenter Julia Bradbury recently asked the question “What is it about being outdoors ?” on her Cornwall and Devon Walking program. “It makes my heart sing” was the answer and Julia acknowledged a kindred spirit. I’m keen to try and describe what it means to me, not necessarily from a running point of view but more from a life long appreciation.

On a day to day basis the tasks that we set ourselves tend to be close at hand, for example, working from home on a laptop, the washing up, DIY and even more so, with us tied to the house due to the covid lockdowns. Therefore, your gaze can range from a meter, then increase to the end of the living room and at best finish with the end of the garden. I appreciate that many people are happy pottering around their house but I crave more !!

Being at home you inevitably connect with close at hand thoughts. The triggers to these thoughts might be the unfinished washing up or the letters that arrived in the post, more often than not you are thinking about a variety of tasks. When possible, I like to escape these four walls for some outdoor enrichment, even if it’s only for an hour.

The photo above is from half way up Butser Hill looking towards Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Being outdoors gives you a different outlook, the soil that you are standing on is a path, the South Downs Way to be precise and where the carpet at home links you to the house, the trail links you to the countryside. To use another sporting analogy you could say that “time out” was being applied in the basketball sense of stopping and regrouping as well as physically having “time out” – doors.

This different outlook is both visual and phycological so it allows you to focus on what’s in front of you but instead of a few meters worth in your house it’s the flowers off to your far right, it’s half a mile to the bottom of the hill, it’s a mile to the tree line and then the sky takes you to infinity and beyond !!

Every new view that you come across can be likened to meeting a new person, you pick out their distinguishing features, the colour of their eyes, facial expressions and their demeanor, in the same way when you are outdoors you see the colour of the wild flowers, the uneven trail where the wet mud has dried in the sun and the prospect of what’s over the next hill. All your senses are activated, you’ve left your living room and instead you are in the great outdoors, where there’s so much room, to live.

This next photo is again on the South Downs Way as you climb towards Old Winchester hill, for me it shows the contrasts of a view, the dappled sunlight from the overhanging trees can be compared with the cloudless sky, your eyesight is drawn from the complicated criss-cross patterns of the shade to the never ending canvas of blue above you. These far reaching views literally widen your horizons.

The more I’ve thought about the outdoors there’s one aspect that I hadn’t initially considered, the silence. At home or in town there are constant noises but out there you can be surrounded by silence. Saying that, the outdoors is always talking to you, the sheep, the wind, and even a tractor in the distance, however, whether you are running or walking the sound of the silence can actually take some getting used to.

Silence is peaceful, it lowers your blood pressure, it relaxes you, it’s like when you’re in the company of good friends and there are moments when nobody speaks but this is a comfortable silence. I guess I’m almost processing my surroundings while at the same time I’m not thinking about anything at all, just breathing it in. People often ask me do I listen to music when I’m on a long run and I reply that there’s no need.

Listening to the outdoors is definitely part of the enjoyment, it’s almost like the more you listen the more you take in. Many outdoor spaces have remained untouched for years whether that’s a park in the middle of town or the wild countryside. The phrase silence is golden certainly applies because you are feeding off the beauty that stretches out in every direction.

One final thought, I really like the phrase that The Great Outdoors website uses, “Find it – Share it – Live it” what great advice. The To come full circle it’s no surprise that Julia Bradbury is also linked with this site.

I hope I’ve answered the original question of “what is it about being outdoors” and hopefully planted some wild flower seeds in you, the readers mind, to get you out there and (safely) enjoy the great outdoors, locally at the moment and then further afield when lockdown is lifted.

And finally it would appear that I made a decent go of answering the question 😀

Thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback Julia 😀

Thanks also to HCC and their kind comment.

That Running Connection

I recently watched the Ben Fogle series “New Lives in the Wild” which featured an Irish chap who had given up technology. One comment that he made specifically rang true with me. He suggested we need to connect more with people, to have actual conversations, eye contact and undivided attention. Television, emails, social media and most of all mobile phones are the route cause of our barriers to connecting.

This got me thinking and not for the first time running was the answer. I pondered when was the last time I had a long conversation with someone totally free from distraction, yes you guessed it, the last long run that I went on with my mate Paul. We covered all sorts of topics from catching up generally to what we had to look forward to, while remaining socially distanced which is easier in the countryside.

The photo from above was naturally taken when there were three of us (thanks Ros) but you get the general idea. Covid has restricted us to only running with one other person but that’s all you need. On our longer runs the pace lends it self to conversations and the beauty of exercise means you are focused on your breathing, the track in front of you and the company you are keeping.

We both had our phones on us but they stayed firmly in our backpacks. I genuinely believe that these one to one chats mean you aren’t just hearing what your friend is saying, you are actually listening because you are both tuned in. This type of focus ought to be easily achieved but as we know, on a day to day basis, it can get diluted.

Naturally we both have the common interest of running and everything that revolves around it, training, races etc etc and the fact that we’ve know each other a long time means we bounce of each other humour wise but it’s still refreshing to maintain a conversation for easily a couple of hours.

An alternative to the last paragraph would of course be to run with someone you don’t know that well. Your starting point would still be running and everything thing else would flow from there. I do run on my own but this blog is written from an accompanied point of view.

Having company on your run, regardless of its duration gives you a sense of support, belonging and extra purpose, while fully engaging with each other multiplies all of those original benefits.

Our only concession to technology would be taking the occasional photo but again this would be a shared decision after weighing up the options while we wind our way through the countryside.

Taking in your surroundings also gives you food for thought and new discussion topics to talk about. When you run through particularly scenic sections (hills) you don’t always have the breath to talk but again this is a meaningful silence.

Good connections can be achieved just as well on a pavement running through town or on a walk but from my point of view the aerobic activity of running has already heightened all your senses which definitely makes me want to share my thoughts more. All time away from the stress of life is quality time, adding the extra dimension of pointing things out and remarking on them while you are 100% in the moment enriches the whole experience.

At this stage it’s also worth mentioning the group dynamic for when we can go back to running with more than just one friend. The concept of undivided attention can be stretched simply by the added numbers but the extra humour, influences, energy and camaraderie all still function without the need for checking your phone or emails.

This photo is one of my favourite group training photos from a few years ago which was on a second wind running recce run. So many people to share your conversations with, a great buzz and everyone living in the moment while totally connecting with each other.

So in summary, take your mind for a run, free from all the influences and communications that can absorb us when we aren’t running. As well as the endorphins that you’d expect you’ll come away with the satisfaction of knowing you have spent some quality time connecting with your fellow runner / runners while escaping the technology trap that so often temps us not to listen properly.

Thanks for reading …. Rog