Why I run off road : Old Winchester Hill

owhIf one photograph sums up why I run off road then its this one. I chose it to be the banner for my blog three and a half years ago and it still remains there. This stunning view of the Meon Valley and the South Downs Way (SDW) trail takes you on a rollercoaster of physical and mental effort as well as giving you an emotional experience which calls you back, like an addiction.

In practical terms I ran up and down Old Winchester hill (OWH) three times with almost 1,000 feet of elevation. This Strava link shows you the gps and hopefully my blog will give you a sense of what running through the countryside on a bright and brisk November morning means to me.

Running isn’t just my hobby, it’s my passion and a huge part of who I am. Just lacing up your trainers improves your mood and does wonders for your mental health and self esteem.

Setting off from Meonstoke I joined the Meon Valley trail via one of the many bridges that cross over it, what with it being an old railway line.

owh2The fallen brown, yellow, orange and gold leaves all combined into a carpet of colour along the corridor of trees. The temperature was about 7 degrees which meant the day had a bright and crisp feel to it, in other words, a perfect November running morning.

With only half a mile run I caught my first glimpse of Old Winchester Hill, the surrounding fields and the hedge line that marks the route up it. After a mile the South Downs Way signposts both confirm I’m in my happy place and serve as a reminder that the path ahead will need some concentration.

For the Centurion Running racers who run the whole 100 miles of the South Downs Way this is 13 miles from Winchester and 87 to Eastbourne !!

owh4

Over the years people often ask “what do you think about while you’re running”, well, very little is the answer !! That’s the whole point of my running. Get out there and soak up the countryside. Secondly, at this time of year, there’s mud, tree roots and the camber of the trail to concentrate on.

The technical side of navigating November trails comes with practise but having said that it’s a case of taking them at your own pace. A training run is just that, training for a race or for future running, so pace isn’t as high on your off road priority.

owh5Some tree roots stand out more than others !! , some are cunningly hidden under leaves, !! but all of them can be managed with practise and care.

On colder days the air that you breath seems to energise you that little bit more than usual. Naturally, breathing in big lungful’s makes a difference and maybe its because you are out of town but if it could be bottled, there’d be a fortune to be made.

owh9

When running these hills I wouldn’t be without my SKINS compression socks and shorts. I’ve blogged about the socks before and I’ll blog about the shorts after my longer run next week.

As the trail starts to ramp up you find your stride shortens and your lungs are working harder, in short, you are challenging yourself and it feels great (ok it hurts a bit too). The satisfaction of pitting yourself against natural obstacles and winning becomes a powerful lure. It’s you versus mother nature and its so easy to access.

owh6

As the climb continues it’s also worth pointing out that some of the challenges are man made. The electric fence to my right clearly needs avoiding.

By now I was about two thirds up the hill and was presented with two options. Firstly, skirt around the base of the main hill and run up the steepest section or carry on climbing steadily along the rooted path up to the trig point. I chose the later knowing I’d save the steepest climb for last.

Reaching the top of OWH naturally you are rewarded with the views in all directions but I also felt a sense of history in that the Meon Valley view would largely have been the same for hundreds of years and knowing this elevated position was once used as an Iron Age hill fort.

We are very lucky in Hampshire to have both the countryside and the coast on our doorstep.

strava2With the first hill under my belt I ran across the top and encountered some very hardy looking sheep. Two of the sheep were directly in my path and neither were moving. If I didn’t know better I’d say they were staring me out, so I ran around them. No sense in upsetting the locals 🙂

Oh yes, obstacles, I haven’t mentioned gates yet. You come across all sorts of shapes and sized gates and the curious thing is that they all open in slightly different ways. I distinctly remember running the North Devon marathon and holding up quite a few runners with not being able to open a gate. The best I could come up with was, “sorry I’m from Southampton” ha ha 🙂

Generally speaking if you pull the leaver to the left and check the latch, then you may proceed.

After a short narrow section of trail I arrived at the gate where the first photo of this blog is. Referencing the map above I was now in the 2.5 to 4.5 mile section of my run. This descent and subsequent ascent was completely different.

strava1

The SDW is know for its chalk base and as I ran down the weather and frequent use has exposed the white chalk. It is quite rutted and again the challenge of negotiating the downhill needs as much concentration as the tree roots on the other side. On my return back up I knew my calves and thighs are being tested but I made steady progress.

This particular hill will always remind me of the Race to the King which is a double marathon that finishes in Winchester. On that day this hill was about 35 miles through the race and I walked every stride of it, so it’s always empowering to run it all in one go. This photo was on that hot June day.

DSC00438

And so, my final challenge lay ahead, the steepest climb. On the map above if you look up from mile 5 you’ll see a 120 feet short and fierce climb. As I descended you actually need to plant your feet with purpose because otherwise you’d start running away with yourself !!

DSC00434

Again this photo was from a sunnier day but you get the scale of the trail. It’s just a case of one foot in front of the other and try to spread out your effort. Your calves are burning, your thighs are burning and your lungs feel like they will bust out of your chest but that the thrill, the excitement, the adrenaline, that sense of “really” being alive !!

In life you have so many responsibilities, deadlines and expectations of you, sometimes its great just to test yourself purely for your physical and mental resilience. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and revel in your achievement.

You have more to give than you think you have and quite honestly if you need to take a short break or walk for a while then so what !!

owh8

If the first photo from this blog sums up why I run off road then this one above comes a close second. I passed the signpost and smiled, running with other friends clearly adds a different dynamic to your day but sometimes its great to just soak it up on your own.

Old Winchester Hill and the South Downs Way are my favourite … location, location, location and running is great for your heart and soul.

Happy Running

Roger

UK BLOG Awards, Sports & Fitness

thumbnail_Image-27

I’m proud that my blog has been chosen along with 32 others in the UK Blog Awards Sports and Fitness category. If you’ve enjoyed reading my blog over the last three years then maybe you’d consider voting please.

Here’s the link … Vote Here

Clicking on this link will take you directly to the category and then all you need to do is page down to irunoffroad and click the heart icon. It’s as easy as that.

IRO

Voting is open for the next six weeks and then a shortlist will be judged.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog.

Roger

Willpower for all Runners

1

The term willpower is often associated with giving up the nice thinks in life ….. chocolate, crisps, alcohol etc. However, after a recent 5k run I contemplated what part willpower plays in my running. We all have it and we can all increase it, whether during a parkrun or a marathon.

Willpower choices confront you from the moment you wake. It’s Saturday morning and you’ve set your alarm clock for earlier than your working week but that’s ok because you’re going running. No snooze button, no turning over …. just get going !!

Your second choice would be what kind of run are you planning. Whether 5K or twenty miles, applying your willpower can make a huge difference.

The final choice, do I train on my own or with others ? Your willpower can be equally tested here, whether its trying to keep up with your training partners, a parkrun, a race or pushing yourself on your own.

Ok, so you are off and running …. you’ve shown drive, determination and self discipline to be here, let’s face it a lot of people are still at home in bed !!

Whether its race day or a training run not starting too quickly requires willpower, its so easy to get carried away but a measured start pays dividends every time.

As your run progresses, inevitably you’ll reach a point where self doubt becomes a factor. Shall I slow down ? Should I shorten my run ? Regardless of your ability you need to decide what your response will be and which tools you can call on.

We can probably pinpoint the moment the voices start asking these questions of us and its at that point were some previously prepared thoughts can really help.

I used as much willpower as I could muster at this Fareham parkrun. You can see its written all over my face ha ha !!!

prpb

For the shorter distances were your lungs are starting to complain I try to recognise the discomfort and concentrate on the next 100 metres, focus on a point, maybe a lamppost maybe a tree. Once you’ve reached your focus point, set yourself another. During each 100 metres I try to concentrate on controlling my breathing and if that means running slightly slower for a short period, then that’s fine too.

Once you’ve dealt with that moment of feeling out of control a wave of confidence will sweep over you. Running is meant to be challenging but being prepared for the self doubt with a positive strategy can be very empowering. Combine willpower and acknowledging how much you want to reach your goals, for a winning formula.

That burning feeling of lactic acid isn’t going to go away but talking yourself through it rather than talking yourself out of it will see you through. Resist the temptation to slow down for as long as you can, I sometimes try a shorter but quicker stride. Practice this positive thought process of not giving in.

Ultimately this short term discomfort will be rewarded with the time on your watch.

Willpower for marathon training is a different matter. Naturally you are running for considerably longer so its all about spreading your effort in the most realistic and practical manner.

I practise staying positive when running uphill, short burst of walking vigorously for ten strides and then running again can work wonders for your mind set.

Your training will take you most of the way to twenty miles, its the last 6.2 that need willpower. You’ve reached the famous “Wall”, you need a plan to avoid the famous bonk. Break it down, one 10K, two parkruns etc. Remind yourself of what you’re doing, I think its still only 1% of the worlds population that have run a marathon.

dsc00049

Giving your willpower a helping hand by having kept hydrated and energised will add to your mental fortitude. Having the confidence that you “can do it” goes a long way and quite simply “I’m bloody going to do it” helps too. Get fired up, dig deep and as 20 miles become 21,22,23 its surprising how empowering your willpower feels.

I’m quite happy to admit that I get emotional towards the end of a long run. You’ve answered those negative thoughts and that buzz will prepare you for the next time. Positive reinforcement is a huge weapon to have in your armoury.

These thoughts are based on my running experiences and my emotions, both come together in the phrase “your legs achieve what your mind believes”.

I recently read that willpower is the capacity to override an unwanted thought. In sporting terms its replacing negative thoughts with positive strategies.

dscf4875

This photo is of 401 marathons Ben, half way up Butser Hill waiting for other runners to catch up. If anyone epitomises willpower it’s Ben and it was inspiring to meet him.

While training your legs and lungs make some time to work on your willpower.

Your New Years running resolutions might have been tested but you are stronger than you think.

This is your year.

Roger #irunoffroad