The aim of this Blog is to hopefully paint a picture of the joy I get from running off road
The definition of “putting your best foot forward” is to embark on an undertaking with as much effort and determination as possible. Saturdays heat meant my half marathon training run had strategic effort rather than maximum but the determination was set to max. Since starting this blog I’ve run a second Saturday 13.1 mile run so I’ll incorporate a few more thoughts.
We all go through different phases with our running and I’d like to try and explain why I believe I’m excited for the future. It’s inevitable that my running expectations are different now, at sixty, than they were when I was fifty, however, seeing as I’m only six weeks into this decade I’m keen to make the most of it.
I finally seem to have shaken off a number of niggles and with my newly found orthotics providing the foundation for increased mileage (literally) I can start to relive the joys of going out for a descent amount of time. My last endurance race was December 2019’s Portsmouth Coastal marathon, at last I feel like I can prepare for my next challenge.
The plan was to run 6.5 miles from Meonstock to Holden Farm and visit the newly established Cadence Cafe. The temperatures were in the balmy low to mid twenties but thankfully the cloud cover and sections of wooded areas meant I wasn’t too much at the mercy of this current heatwave.
The out and back nature of this run meant a 400 feet climb out of Exton but naturally the prospect of a lovely downhill finish. The theme for the day was to build on the last two weekends ten milers with a view to this being a springboard for the rest of the Summer and a launching pad for the Autumn.
As I limbered up outside the Meonstock village hall a smartly turned out, senior gentleman, walked passed and recalled that when he was in the army, stationed in London, they would run in Regents Park. I guess he lived locally and that park would have reminded him of the green pastures of home. As I set off on my run I pondered to myself now that my form is returning I have the fortune and opportunity to add to my running memories.
Fitness is often looked upon as a given, by others, but you have to work at it and if you don’t it takes some time to regain it. The beauty of this ebb and flow is that the journey back to fitness and endurance gives you an upward spiral of motivation, because, by definition you are out longer doing what makes you happy.
I can listen to and observe the world around me, the chance conversations with strangers, the changing landscape of the seasons and the knowledge that you are propelling yourself forward, under your own steam while reaping both the physical and emotional benefits. Another less obvious benefit is that as your confidence grows you relax more, you enjoy it more and when these two traits combine your mind starts to fully appreciate your progress. Pace isn’t a factor just let, it’s all about time on your feet.
The rising challenge that is Beacon Hill gave me my first reminder of both the heat and my fitness. The droplets of sweat that were running off my forehead and the need for occasional walks could have been regarded as negatives but the warmth of the sun on my back and the fact that the next time I run up this hill I’ll walk fewer times, all added to my cup half full mindset.
Reaching the trig point I turned and took a photo of the gate that marks the end of the climb, a symbolic wodden structure that you pass through when you’ve scaled your first objective. The remaining miles out to Holden Farm gave me wild flowers of many colours and a number of brief encounters with mountain bikers, walkers and a horse rider.
Once arriving at the farm I ventured round to the cafe. A selection of picnic tables and bike stands made for an inviting area with the functional but also quite stylish unit that had been open for business since 9 a.m. The manicured grass, a sprinkling of customers and the trees swaying in the light breeze all gave a sense of relaxation and calm. I mentioned I’d seen the cafe on Instagram and it only seemed fitting that I took a couple of photos to mark my visit. Naturally the first was the shot at the beginning of my blog, below is my sugar rush !! The cola and sweet jam on granary toast both hit the mark as my turn around pit stop. The funky blue benches with the Cadence logo showed the thought these guys have put into their project. Refreshed and replenished I bid my farewells and set off just as more people were arriving. It’s worth noting here payments are card only.
As I set off on the return 6.5 miles it struck me that the cafe and Holden Farm are almost spot on half way between Winchester and Exton / Meonstock so which ever way you are travelling it’s worth a visit.
I was met with a refreshing breeze as I set off again on the home leg of my South Downs run. Now, stopping mid run can sometimes be a physiological mistake but I do believe my recent hilly runs had set me up well for the remaining miles. Confidence and self belief are fantastic motivators and even though I incorporated a couple of strategic walking sections I’m a firm believer that walking with purpose can be just as constructive as a slow jog.
Life as well as running can be judged on benchmarks so it was great to see ten miles appear on my watch and know I had a good downhill section ahead, after all I’d earned these free miles from the efforts earlier in the morning.
As I approached my car I concluded that considering the heat I still had some more energy in the tank but I’d hold that back for next time. I’m a firm believer that you can draw on your past but the prospect of looking forward with anticipation gave me a buzz for the rest of the day and it was my first thought on Sunday morning.
Running has always given me satisfaction, knowing I can hopefully keep going to horizons further in the distance is exciting. As I mentioned it’s been a week since I started this blog so I’ll breifly add a couple more thoughts. My second Saturday was also a 13.1 mile run, this time up the Meon Valley trail, from Wickham to the Meonstock village shop and back. The shaded old railway line was perfect as there’s lots of tree cover from the heat. Both runs have averaged 11.5 minute miles which might sound slow but I’m thankful to be moving up the mileage and the positivity and motivation that comes from a second two and a half hour run far outweighs the need for speed.
In many ways I find distance running starts after the first hour, it’s a phycological time which generally means I’ve settled into a rhythm. The out and back nature of my run inevitably means that’s a two hour run once you’ve returned. All in all a long positive weekend run gives you the joy of looking forward to your mid week shorter efforts and the prospect of what’s to come !!
If you have been struggling with your form or motivation, hang in there, the good times will return.
Thanks for reading, Roger.
A favourite phrase of mine is “your health is your wealth” and having running as my main pastime, outside of work and family means I’ve stayed fairly healthy. Reaching my 60th birthday was initially a bit daunting but I have a lot to be thankful for, not least of which is being able to exercise in stunning locations which massively contribute to my overall wellbeing and physical condition.
June the 13th to the 19th is World Men’s Health week were men are encouraged to focus on their health, be aware of problems they could have developed and do something about it. One way to achieve this is exercising outdoors.
I think it’s really important to appreciate the beauty that’s around us. This blog has three photos from my recent May / June running, I hope to express the feelings that you can experience while taking in the countryside. Outdoor exercise really does give you a “Field” good factor 🙂
The first photo was taken at about 6.30pm after a long day wrestling with spreadsheets. Working in an office inevitably means sitting down for long periods and being surrounded by four walls. On arriving at the car park I had this particular field in mind as by the nature of the seasons I knew it would be a sea of yellow. I might have only been on the outskirts of town but I had been transported into a calm and tranquil place both visually and in my mind. All my spreadsheet thoughts had disappeared.
Spring is so uplifting, April’s bluebells have been and gone but the wild flowers come in waves, all you need to know is where to find them. Closer to hand the flowers are spread out but as you take in the brightly coloured meadow it reminded me of a painting where dots and splashes of sunshine yellow paint had been applied. Buttercups radiate happiness and optimism which, when combined with lush green grass and a clear blue sky, makes for a perfect palette of colours.
I’m not 100% sure which wild flowers these are in my second photo but this mauve cluster of plants really caught my eye while running through the South Downs national park. The trees dark green leaves blended and yet contrasted with the lighter green grass and the pale purple flowers. I say pale purple but in the bright midday sunshine you could pick out greys, blue and even violet shades.
While running through a national park you’d be expecting areas of outstanding natural beauty but in some ways pockets of vibrant joy can catch your eye just as easily. With the sun being directly overhead I guess you take in the sights around you to there fullest extent, sunrise and sunset naturally get all the attention but I feel the light is at its best under the noon sun.
What you can’t see and hear from this photo are the various insects flying, buzzing and generally interacting with both the flowers and me, ha ha. The heat, along with the view made me ponder that I could have been in The Alps rather than a few miles from Petersfield !!
My final field photo is a rising path between the crops which later in the Summer will be a field of gold. This man made track divides your view between the cultivated grain and the cotton wool clouds. Were as buttercups and other wild flowers don’t have a purpose this crop has been managed and will eventually be reaped and sold so there’s a structure to it, a reason and a goal, as opposed to the first two photos were nature has randomly sprinkled the flowers for pollinators and insects as food and shelter.
Inevitably I ran slower up the hill and this allowed me to take in the swishing and swaying almost as if I was running through a green sea. The tide wasn’t so much coming in or going out but making small circles. Not the crop circles that appear on the end of the evening news but circles that you could have made by dipping your hand in the sea.
The benefits of nature are well known and when you couple this with exercise then it’s a recipe for good healthy living. As Louis Armstrong famously sang ….
“I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them blossom for me and you, and I think to myself what a wonderful world”
Make the most of your time and health, hopefully it will repay you in the long run
Thanks for reading
I travelled up to Farnborough twice last weekend to absorb myself in this running community event. We were promised inspirational speakers, the latest kit, cutting edge technology, the best races, coaches, nutritional snacks and all under one roof. In short this had the makings of a truly memorable experience and it lived up to the billing.
On a personal note, the icing on the cake, was when Paula Radcliffe (our GB marathon phenomena) referenced my T shirt and commented, “I run off road too”, naturally, this made my day !! If this blog means too much reading, please skip to section 5 !! It might just change your life.
During the fifty mile drive home I decided to try and cherry pick my standout moments, rather than write an account of the whole event. Our venue, the impressive Farnborough International, set the tone for a first class weekend. Our hosts on the Inspiration Stage were Jo Pavey (5 time Olympian) and adventurer Danny Bent, both of whom seamlessly brought enthusiasm, knowledge and fun to the proceedings. Added to this free parking and concessionary tickets, then its a win – win. The venue and guys are pictured below.
1. Middle Distance running – Steve Cram
First things first, at the age of 61, Olympic gold medalist and presenter Steve Cram looks the picture of health, that combination of a lifetime involved with sport as well as the Sunderland air clearly agrees with him. Steve claimed never to have had a real job but to have been involved in what he loved all his life.
It’s probably worth pointing out at this stage that I arrived early, so as to get great vantage points. Typically there were hundreds of people in the audience behind me even if these photo suggests there were only a handful of us there !!
For the younger readers of this blog you will know Steve Cram as a presenter but for us older runners you will recognise him in the middle of the three guys on the screen off to the right of the stage. Bonus points for who else is pictured on the screen ??
Steve’s talk revolved around, “what running had done for him” and charted his early years when running the streets of Sunderland wasn’t the activity we’d take for granted these days, the use of a multistorey carpark for training, so as to include hills and avoid the weather, and the concept of multi day training, so as to build him into the champion that he became.
Steve was one of our top middle distance runners during the 80’s setting three world records in 19 days during 1985 for the 1,500m, 2,000m and the mile. It was interesting to hear Steve talk about his diet as a youngest that was influenced by his German mother. Steve’s trademark winding the speed up over the last 300 meters was no doubt fed by intense training and a good variety of food. A BBC Sports Personality of the year in 1983 and in 1999, an impressive 2.35 marathon time !!
When Steve talked about his commentating career he recalled his first attempt which could well have been his last as he was unexpectedly called upon to commentate on a race while his co-commentator wasn’t to hand. A combination of not knowing all the runners names or how to use the microphone amounted to a baptism of fire which was then coupled with swear words on the return of his colleague, that also went out on air, as Steve hadn’t turned off his mike. However, he is still a regular voice to this day on all the big athletics nights so practice clearly does make perfect.
2. Long Distance Running – Paula Radcliffe
With three London and New York marathon wins under her belt as well as numerous track and cross country wins on the world and European stage Paula’s greatest achievement was probably the 2003 London marathon time of 2.15.25 that stood as a world record for sixteen years !!
The mornings conversations had an added layer due to, our host, Jo Pavey’s running career chris crossing Paula’s so there were a number of insightful questions around negative splits, preparation and emotions which brought the historical facts to life.
One of Paula’s earliest anecdotes was that she’d attended the London marathon with her father at the age of ten and watched Ingrid Kristiansen which inspired her to become an athlete. Studying at Loughborough University would have meant great facilities for both sport and academic achievements and she certainly didn’t let having asthma slow her down.
Perhaps one of the greatest legacies an athlete can be remembered for is if they use their fame to give back to others. The Families on Track project is a great initiative that Paula has been developing. As well as encouraging her own children to be active and embrace healthy habits this project revolves around a lapped relay format with all the family contributing at different stages. So all ages and levels of fitness add up to an accumulated distance that they can all be proud of. Having fun together and developing their mental and physical fitness sounds like a great family bonding experience.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my blog it was an honor to say hello and have my photo taken. When I created this blog and called it “i run off road” the “i” was always meant to apply to everyone on the trails, not just me. It was a massive thumbs up when Paula immediately picked up on it.
3. Ultra Long Distance Running – Allie Bailey
After briefly introducing myself on Saturday and listening to her along with Dave Hellard and Jody Raynsford on Saturday, as part of the Bay Boy Running group / podcast, I was pleased to catch up early on Sunday to chat a little further with a person who has greatly promoted the recent decades activity of going beyond a marathon.
Allie’s videos, Instagram page and Facebook group (Ultra Awesome) show the infectious enthusiasm she has, as well as offering endless advice in a no nonsense way that means you know she isn’t doing it as a business, it’s coming from the heart.
I was interesting to hear what Allie had to say when I mentioned I hadn’t raced for some time and there was absolutely no judgement, choose you path and follow your own journey were typical of the generous spirit she offers everyone.
4. Running Exhibitors – My favorite three
There must have been one hundred names on the “who’s here” board so naturally over the two days I made my way around a large proportion of them and here’s a snippet of the best ones that I interacted with. The Club LaSanta Lanzarote complex has a world wide reputation and the photos looked fantastic with a 400m track, 50m pool, amazing scenery and the promise of activities from sunrise to sunset. The caption “Disneyland for Runners” made me smile but at the same time it looked quite accurate.
The Forestry England guys were kindred spirits and I had a great chat with them. Check out their Forest Runner 5K & 10K series from September 22 onwards. We talked forest bathing, I’ve previously blogged about this (just type it in the search bar) and I particularly like their marketing slogan of – Seek adventure, make memories and find your escape. I truly believe you don’t escape “from” your day to day life you escape “to” the countryside.
My third stall choice was a tie between meeting up with Umberto from Absolute 360 running and trying the Pulse Roll vibration technology. The Pulse Roll increases blood circulation, improves mobility and reduces muscle soreness, I guess you could say it was a massage gun to help in your recovery. I certainly felt the benefit on my calves !! Umberto is one of life’s boundlessly enthusiastic runners who I chat to on twitter so it was great to meet him in person.
5. Adventurous Running – Jay Worthy
Before attending the show Jay was probably the person I knew least about and for that reason I’d say he had the most impact. Jay Worthy is the host of a podcast called 28 Summers. Now, I like the idea of podcasts but I wouldn’t say I’ve embraced them yet. However, I’m now hooked on this fantastic resource of adventure, human endeavor and positivity. I don’t run with headphones but I’ve started to use then when I walk, so, these episodes will play an increasing part in my future motivation.
After an adventurous childhood, Jay described his journey on working his way up the corporate ladder to becoming a CEO with a high profile Chicago fitness equipment company, but, to achieve this he’d put his own wellbeing on hold and as he put it his adventurous side had gone into hibernation. The phrase all work and no play meant even with all the financial trappings, he wasn’t happy.
This is when the 28 Summers analogy turned his life around. Jay recalled listening to a motivational speaker who stated than the average American male lived until 78 and that speaker was 50 when he’d contemplated this, consequently this meant there were potentially 28 years left to fulfill any dreams he was harboring.
Naturally more can be achieved in the Summer, especially with your children, hence the name of the podcast. Jay took this onboard and now try’s to really “live” his life. After all, working for a future that you might not want is quite a revaluation. This concept of clocking up experiences and memories rather than counting down your remaining years puts a completely different spin on your outlook, no matter what your age, but more so if you are older.
To compound this he talked about how while trying to reclaim his mornings with exercise his life changed for the worst with no longer holding the position he’d worked for. Depression soon took over and he needed to try and find a way out. Jay talked about the perspective of looking down from a tall building or the top of a hill, the fast paced life at ground level can be viewed differently with an elevated view.
Focusing on health, family and asking himself “what makes my heart sing” has taken him full circle back to his childhood by searching out adventures endeavors. I also like the fact that as well as challenging his own thoughts he also challenges his children to think outside their comfort zones. I’m 60 at the end of May and this really struck me that at a time when people are considering pensions, savings and grey hair why not turn those negatives into positives. Trail running has already started me on this journey, I just needed this added focus to channel making the most of it.
I especially like the comment “No zero days” i.e. no matter how small the thought or action we can make a positive impact on our lives each day and if that sounds too much then “win your week” i.e. have more days in it with these stepping stones towards your goals, than not. These aspirations may sound quite grand initially and how could we achieve them on our own but if there’s one thing being part of the running community teaches you it’s that there’s so many like minded people who are looking for the same kind of adventure. Jay’s comment “find your tribe” summed this up in three words 🙂
Adventure might not solve all your circumstances, or the prospect of getting older, but the buzz of the outdoors with its vitamin D sunshine can only help. You don’t have to row the Atlantic, start small and build up. Jay mentioned his favorite T.S. Eliot quote, “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are”. I love this, until you start to find your limits you’ll never know what they are and by this it could also mean the limits of your enjoyment as well as physical capability.
As Bruce Springsteen famously once said “You can’t start a fire without a spark” and I believe listening to Jay has been the spark I needed to build on what I’ve started with trail running.
If you get the chance to attend future Running Shows there’s something for everyone.
Thanks for reading
As with all great sequels you wonder whether they’ll match up to the original. My first experience of the Woolacombe Dunes parkrun (WDp from now on) was September 2021, so, seven months later here I was eagerly awaiting my second experience of this breath taking course.
Breath taking in terms of the location and views, breath taking in terms of the sapping sandy beach and sand dunes !! Once parked I strolled along the Marine Drive headland looking down at the never ending waves rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean currents. Yes the weather was overcast but the setting was undeniably stunning.
Woolacombe is a glorious, award winning beach, however, it is also quite exposed, so the flapping National Trust flag was definitely a indication of the onshore breeze . Would the wind be in our favor, of course not, ha ha !! I’d anticipated a challenging 5K and the elements, as well as the course, were living up to the billing.
As I approached a cluster of volunteers they were discussing last weeks large Easter Bank Holiday turnout, I myself, was on a family visit so I could also class my attendance as parkrun tourism. Once I’d chatted and thanked the guys they mentioned there were two runners from my local area and sure enough I bumped into a couple, one with a Stubbington Green top and one a Hedge End runners top, small world.
While warming up along the first section of the course I was reminded of a question from twitter that I’d been asked, “with this being badged as a beach run, would a barefoot runner manage”. Well the headland road is made of pretty rough tarmac and there’s a number of loose stones so unless you have leather feet then perhaps not.
On listening to the course briefing I spotted Simon Oliver who was the organizer of the AONB North Devon marathon when I ran it in 2013. I introduced myself and as we chatted I glanced down at the time 8.55, all ready for the “off” and then I mouthed under my breath, “shit, barcode !!” So, I legged it in a very unprofessional way back to the car, rescued my parkrun barcode from the glove compartment and returned slightly red faced but luckily just in time for our final instructions and the 9am start.
The first significant change of direction at WDp is a sharp diagonal right hand turn that drops quite quickly down into the sand dunes. Inevitably, our well spread out initial numbers, would need to channel onto this path which would fit three abreast, with a push. The excitement and impending need for positioning got the better of me and I started of far too quickly !!
We’ve all done it but by now you’d think experience would play a part in a more measured strategy, nope, I over cooked it. You live and learn ha ha !! . As I caught my breath the solid path then gave way to a left hand turn with undulating sand as we worked our way down towards the beach. It’s worth noting there’s quite a steep final ten meters or so of shifting loose sand that brings you onto the more compact beach sand.
As this photo suggests the field was already well strung out after the first mile and while this would have been impressive on any day the fact that the wind was most definitely against us meant the guys ahead really were performing well. I came into this run with limited expectations so I wasn’t going to fret about the distance between me and the leaders, I figured I had the advantage of more time to enjoy it !!
We’d be advised that there might been horse riders on the beach, and to take care, but I didn’t spot any, only the white crests of the the waves which as I child I remember us calling sea horses.
Following Issac Newtons laws of gravity I figured that whenever you go downhill inevitably you’ll need to go back up again and there, looming in the distance, was the famous dune of doom. In a weird way I was a little disappointed there wasn’t someone capturing our tortured faces on film, a bit like those flattering theme park rides photos you get just before your stomach rises towards your throat.
I commented to the chap next to me how the sand dune felt like a sadistic game show, what was it ? Takeshis Castle ? The lung bursting and calf screaming was, however, only momentarily painful as we made our way across the dunes, parallel with the beach and back towards that steep downhill path which again thanks to Issac was now our final uphill slog.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I love pushing myself and questioning my ability, by definition a challenge accepted is a challenge to embrace. I reverted to “walking with purpose” which can be quite effective. After thanking the marshal at the top of the hill, honest, I did thanks him, it was the final rough tarmac leg before accepting and handing in my token.
My final photo is of the Porthole cafe that has seating inside and out as well as toilets on the right hand side of the building which means parkrunners can use “all” of the facilities. A large queue formed quite quickly for the refreshments which is always a good indication.
So, in summary, I thoroughly enjoyed my second experience of the North Devon coastline “rollercoaster” also know as Woolacombe Dunes parkrun. If you are in the area it’s a bucket list box ticked. Thankyou to everyone that made the run possible. I will no doubt return for my hattrick of parkruns here at these three and a bit miles of sandy smiles.
Thanks for reading ….. Roger
With this weekend being the 7th anniversary of my blog I was determined to revisit a special place in my heart, Butser Hill, situated in the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) and bathed in early February sunshine, it didn’t let me down. You could almost say the timing was perfect.
During the Winter months, unless you pop out for a lunchtime walk you can spend the whole working week without natural light. As I jumped into the car I was excited to be chasing the day knowing that I was making the most of my time, after all, you can’t put a price on boosting your mood !!
Maximizing the remaining light meant beating the sinking sun as it inevitably drops down below the horizon. Elevation was the answer, the higher you go the more time you have to dodge the shadows from the sunset. My destination, Butser Hill, is the highest point on the South Downs.
The location and weather would provide great photographic opportunities but far outweighing this was the inspiring and emotionally motivating experience of the scenery, fresh air, views and nature (even if it was cold) ha ha.
The base of the hill fills you with anticipation as it slowly ramps up with the well trodden path heading towards a gate which isn’t even half way up. The lower slopes were already covered in shade so I knew I needed to press on. Heading towards the gate is the steepest section, to the point that, you can’t see the gate or the rest of the hill, as the photo above shows.
Looking back towards QECP the light seemed to be getting brighter or clearer, it’s hard to explain, perhaps it was the isolated location, less light pollution as it were or maybe my senses were just that much more focused as I knew the clock was ticking towards sundown.
We often hear of Vitamin D and serotonin as being the sunshine vitamins and even though there certainly wasn’t any warmth in the sun you could feel an inner glow of warmth. This might not be the Alps but you can see Portsmouth in the distance and the Isle of Wight further beyond.
I was in my element breathing in the fresh air on my run/jog/walk and with it being 4.30pm or so I had the whole experience virtually to myself. The phrase “if you could bottle this and keep it for ever” came to mind. I carried on with a measured jog due to Butser being about a 500 feet climb and even though the path is straight, various sections of sheep poo added to a zig zag running pattern but this probably helped with the steep hill !!
I didn’t meet any sheep until further up the hill and when I did they had a certain look in their eyes, especially the fourth one back who appeared to be tapping his foot as if to say “move on there’s nothing to see here, only us sheep”. Being higher up every colour seemed to be more vibrant, the blue sky had started to tinge pink and that was offset against the green grass.
The summit of Butser flattens out and gives you a few hundred meters of grassland before reaching the all important trig point. Once at the highest point my hard work had paid off because I’d literally kept the shadows at bay by climbing the hill. The hight of the hill lends itself to the satellite communications tower which even thought not that pleasing on the eye is probably one of the reasons my smartphone got its signal.
Considering that I’d only left work a matter of hours ago the natural light, even though it was fading, is a stark contrast to the office florescent lighting, computer and phone screens that we are used to using. I thought the satellite tower almost looked like an Apollo space craft and the setting sun could have been the rocket engines firing it up towards the moon (or is that just me ?)
Leaving the trig point I ran down to the gate and back up twice which bagged me just over 1,100 feet of elevation in total. By now the temperature seemed to have dropped while the wind had picked up, however, in many ways this just makes you feel more alive !!
I think it’s important to take something away from an experiences that you have thoroughly enjoyed, to notice that all of your senses have been heightened, to appreciate how lucky you are to live in such a beautiful part of the world but also to use it as a point of reference for the future.
In many ways nothing has changed on this hill in the last twenty five years that I’ve been visiting it but at the same time the world has moved on. Taking moments to fully absorb the surroundings that you choose to visit can have a powerful effect on you. I’ve had a few niggling injuries recently but as I descended towards the car park and the new café (which was unfortunately shut as I’d been having too much fun) I resolved to keep channeling this feeling into not only my running but day to day life.
As I watched the procession of car lights on the A3 with darkness falling I realised my time was almost up. Spring isn’t too far away which means we’ll have the opportunity to delight in so many more daylight hours, make the most of it, embrace it and enjoy sharing it with others.
Before I started writing this I jotted down as many “light” analogies / sayings as I could think of and the one thing I noticed was that they were all positive. So, brighten up your day and watch your face light up when you get outdoors in the natural daylight.
Getting outdoors really does have so many benefits. Thanks for reading.
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.
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.
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.
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