Trail running : A tale of the trails

friday1

As a trail running blogger, by definition, I love to write about where I’ve been. I enjoy sharing my experiences and maybe, just maybe it will motivate others to follow in my trainer footsteps on a rural run.

My most recent run was along the Meon Valley Trail (MVT) which heads north out of Wickham with a gradual incline, as befits an old railway line, on its way toward West Meon.

The trail is reasonably wide and is sheltered on either side by well established trees that form a green tunnel of foliage at this time of the year. I planned seven miles of the MVT which would take me to the point where the South Downs Way crosses and I’d use this to run up Old Winchester Hill.

I ran on a Friday morning which curiously gave my adventure an unexpected feeling of freedom, on the one hand I felt like I was skipping school (even though that was many years ago) and on the over I knew most people would be on their way to work. Starting at 7.30 a.m. also gave me a mindful experience with few distractions.

My early start was rewarded with the views of a white carpet of frost on many of the fields that back onto the MVT as well as the birdsong that comes from there being no one else interfering with their morning rituals.

To my left the Meon River winds its way towards Wickham and ultimately Titchfield and the sea. The water flows at quite a pace due to the gradual incline and it is crystal clear. On a good day you could potentially spot either a kingfisher or a vowel. An additional benefit of today’s run was the seasonal abundance of beautiful bluebells.

The wind swishes through the trees and there’s an occasional rustle of branches, probably due to a squirrel. Days like today are to be fully absorbed, who needs headphones when there’s so much to take in.

As I reach my appointment with the South Downs Way I leave the shelter of the trees and start the climb up towards Old Winchester Hill. I can immediately feel the sun on my face and the wind on my cheek as the elements welcome me to the open countryside.

The trail isn’t too muddy but I pay attention to the sections were horses have churned up the soil. As my elevation ramps up the tree roots that appear from under the hedgerows remind me that taking in the views needs to be combined with focusing on the matter at hand.

friday4

My next reminder of Spring is the sight of lambs with their protective parents. I try my best not to startle them but I guess they’re quite familiar with ramblers and runners.

Reaching Old Winchester Hill the surrounding countryside pans out 360 degrees around you from the trig point.

friday2

Green, yellow and brown farmers fields all contrast against the mornings blue sky. Again on a good day Red Kites and buzzards can be spotted, however it was man made fight that I observed today with two paragliders.

There’s one last drag up to the highest point in this area of the park and it kept the best until last. Yet more contrasts of colour.

friday6All that was left was to retrace my steps, take care on the downhill and carry on soaking up both the views and the peace and quiet.

Mindfulness is all about living in the moment even if that moment lasted 18 miles and just over 3 hours.

Go for a run in the country and connect with your surroundings.

Thanks for reading

Roger

Running with a “Spring” in your stride

abb1

The phrase “Winter miles make Summer smiles” can apply in a number of difference circumstances. For me it refers to building my running miles back up again after a quiet spell. Rediscovering your self belief is a powerful emotion and this weekend has fuelled the fire even more.

I ran on Friday and Saturday for the second week in a row and as you can see from the photo above I’ve washed my Ultimate Direction running vest now that I’m on the verge of justifying it with the miles I’m achieving.

Running 3.3 and 8 miles last weekend and then 4.5 and 9 this now means that I’m on track for a training run approaching two hours. My clean and considerably better smelling running vest is another metaphor towards starting a fresh. I’m excited, I’m ready to commit.

There’s no better feeling than leaving work on a Friday afternoon knowing the weekend is waiting for you. Having plans with goals attached to them really does add to your anticipation.

My largely desk bound job does mean the first half of my run commute feels a little laboured but once you’re out there all those project lists, meeting requests and deadlines simply fade away.

abb4

I’m a firm believer of living in the moment and that’s exactly what I did. I took this photo because I went out of my way to include this stretch. Getting outdoors and discovering these footpaths add an extra dimension to your running.

Saturdays alarm clock went off at 7.30am and it was a case of “up and at them”, I polished off my porridge and contemplated where I would run. My target mileage was 9 ish miles and knowing the coast is about 3 & 1/2 I set off in search of the seaside.

The early morning mist soon burned off and the glorious morning sunshine came streaming through. Technically today was still a run in the Winter sun but the daffodil’s and snowdrops really add to your sense of anticipation that Spring isn’t far away.

I said hello to quite a few runners including Lee Rhodes, over literally 200 metres. I crossed the road he said hello, I said I’m puffing and blowing already, he said I’m off to the parkrun, I said I’m off to the coast, so we wished each other well and carried on.

abb3Arriving at the coast I was reminded just how lucky we are in this part of Hampshire to have the South Downs in striking distance as well as the sea on our doorstep. With the Isle of Wight on the horizon and the shingle stretched out ahead of me the only question was when to turn around and head back.

abb2I stopped for a drink and took these couple of photos before setting off. There’s something very relaxing about running by the sea, you can taste the salt on your lips and the sound of the lapping waves adds a sense of calm.

Running challenges me on some days and it relaxes me on others. The benefits are endless and I’m so glad I’ve rediscovered all of these aspects.

Today might have been February but I was running with a “Spring” in my stride. Nine miles to add to yesterdays 4 & 1/2, even with a slight cold, has motivated me for the coming weeks. A pace of around nine minute miles was fine for what I had in mind.

Talking of a run in the sun if you follow this link I’ve been impressed with their Instagram page photos and website, who knows one day it could be irunoffroad in Spain !!

On my return home I was reminded of a badge I made with my kids probably ten years ago. It sits with all my other favourite endurance race medals.

abb6

It’s good to know that ten years ago I considered “I’ve still got it” and even though I’ll never be fast I’m still content with being fit, healthy and happy.

Yes, I believe “I’ve still got it” 🙂 ………. Thanks for reading

Roger

 

 

Running sets you free !!

 

white

My last two blog posts have charted how I’ve turned around quite a few weeks of low motivation for running. It’s great to say I’m back on track.

I finished work a little earlier on Friday because the sunshine was streaming through the office windows. Yes, the local woods were calling me ….. “come and run, come and run”.

I only had limited time but 5K was still on the cards and after the recent rain that run-shine really charged up my batteries, #solar power.

The pace wasn’t great and I’d admit to stopping for a couple of photos but with the late afternoon sun peaking out between the trees it was a joy to be out there.

I often add hash tags like #getoutside #nature and #countryside to my twitter posts and its locations and moments like this that both inspire and motivate me. Running sets you free 🙂

As off road runners we can sometimes take these glorious places for granted but it reinforced why I love what we do and why I enjoy writing about it.

So, that was me fired up for Saturday morning. The alarm went off at 7.30am and I looked out of the window to see thick fog. OK, I’m not going to lie this was a little disappointing after Fridays pre Spring and Summer sun but the fact that I hadn’t spent time pondering whether to get out of bed in the first place meant ….. “the boy is back” !!

I had eight miles planned for the next step in my progression which also included 1,000 feet of elevation. I may have lost some basic fitness but I still have good legs from cycling 🙂

This Strava elevation graphic gives you the basic idea of what I wanted to achieve, and did.

ex1

Setting off from Meonstock my first priority was to enjoy it. I headed for Beacon Hill which is on the South Downs Way and is at about 40 of the 53 miles of the Race to the King route.

The race uses a country lane to get to the top so I used this approach rather than the trail alternative. I’m a firm believer in practicing what I’m going to encounter. The heavy mist meant small droplets of water were dripping off the overhanging branches and the rows of vines in the vineyard to my left could only be seen for a hundred metres.

The lane that leads to the trig point ramps up in three different places so the order of the day was slow and steady. I was very pleased to reach the top without walking.

I took this photo on the way back down, no views across the valley but the eerie mist made my trail experience quite different to the norm.

ex3Reaching Exton I set my sights on Old Winchester Hill. I knew it would be muddy and the trail didn’t disappoint. Good traction, balance and feet to eye coordination were all employed to the max. That said I needed to walk through a couple of very boggy sections !!

The final leg of OWH is the steepest and with damp tree roots, care needs to be taken. Once at the top again I was robbed of the view so I settled for a trig photo while I took a drink.

ex4

The various destinations are mapped out but one was missing …. Rogers route back to running 🙂

I took care on the descent (if you are running RTTK this is probably the most technical section of the whole run)

Returning to Meonstock I’d bagged eight miles and two trig points but most importantly I was smiling and plotting my next run.

“All blue eyes is back”

Thanks for reading, Roger

Are you a Running Believer ?

field

I love running, it’s been really good for me, it helps me relax, it helps me sleep, it gives me a sense of achievement and it boosts my wellbeing, so why am I struggling to get out ?

We all have callings on our time, jobs, family’s, responsibilities etc etc but it’s really important to have a distraction, a hobby, a pastime. Mine is running.

I wrote a blog recently about wellbeing and to be honest I haven’t been taking my own advice. I talked about making payments into the “Bank of Me”. Creating a life balance between you, your family and your work is the key.

This might sound selfish but I’m not the same person without running so, ironically, getting back out there will benefit everyone.

I cycle commute virtually every weekday but unless I’m running I find the edge goes off my lung and leg capacity.

Maybe a run commute could be the answer ? That way the family have the car and I get to run 🙂

Have I just answered my own question, ha ha !! That’s the power of collecting your thoughts while writing.

I’m a firm believer that physical fitness takes mental strength and for that you have to believe in yourself. I’ve entered Race to the King which is a double marathon in June so I now have a focus.

It’s time to become a “believer” again !!

Running the local fields this weekend has fired me up, so, watch out 2019 I’m coming to get you !!!

Roger

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

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

 

 

Don’t Quit

DSC00438

Have you lost your running mojo, are you finding training tough, have you considered dropping out of a race ??? – read on ……………

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, when the funds are low and the debts are high, and you want to smile, but you have to sigh, when care is pressing you down a bit- rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns, as every one of us sometimes learns, and many a fellow turns about when he might have won had he stuck it out. Don’t give up though the pace seems slow – you may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than it seems to a faint and faltering man; often the struggler has given up when he might have captured the victor’s cup; and he learned too late when the night came down, how close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out – the silver tint in the clouds of doubt, and you never can tell how close you are, it might be near when it seems afar; so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit – it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Running is a metaphor for life, you only get out what you put in, so don’t quit.

irunoffroad

Me being interviewed by Alton Sports !!

Thanks very much to Nick from Alton Sports and Gosvegas Running for asking me to sit for one of the #redsofa interviews. The shop that’s located in Gosport caters for all of your running requirements along with Wednesday evening and Saturday morning free runs.

The Alton Sports shop and Nick are at the hub of our local running community.

Image-12

I’ve been running for 30 years now so the 7 & 1/2 minutes chat covered quite a few topics as well as my blogging. The shop offers Nick’s years of experience and a wide selection of shoes, clothing and accessories.

Image-10 The Gosport shop is Alton Sports fifth and I’m sure there will be a sixth and seventh in time to come !!

I feel privileged to have been asked and I hope you find it as entertaining as I did making it 🙂 Whether you are an experienced runner or someone setting out on your parkrun journey there’s great advice and stock just waiting for you.

Image-12

Have a great weekend and happy running 🙂

P.S. I’m chuffed to say that as of this evening the video has had 400 views on facebook and 80+ on twitter. Thanks for watching today.

 

 

 

Looking forward …. it’s a state of mind

today

It’s unusual for me to be sitting here contemplating a blog that explains my current state of mind. I don’t want to sound pretentious and expect people to be interested in my specific thoughts but at the same time I hope this resonates with other runners and you find it worthwhile reading on !!

I ran every day from January 1st to the 24th totalling 98 miles then on day 25 I caught a virus that gave me dizzy spells and meant I had to settle for short walks on the remaining days up to the 31st.

As every runner will tell you their biggest frustrations is not being able to run. OK that’s the self indulgent part over. Yes I walked for a few days instead of running so I did achieve the Run Every Day, in spirit, even if not technically 100% to the letter.

After visiting the doctor to find my blood pressure was normal for someone of my age and giving a blood sample the following week that had no adverse results then you’d have thought it would be all systems go. However, I think you know within yourself whether you are ready to commit to a long run in the middle of know where or stick with shorter local runs.

Yesterdays relatively tame 6 & 1/2 miles with 8 hill reps was one of those workman like runs that’s worthwhile without being overly exciting. However, the first of those 8 hills brought it home to me that I’m ready to push on with my training and get back to the distances and enjoyment that I get from being out in the countryside running with friends for a few hours at a time.

Yes, North Hill, I owe you. My plan was a mile and a half warm up and then “attack” North Hills strava segment which is a regular running club gauge of hill strength. My previous position of 79th out of 486 over this short sharp 0.9 of a mile had taken 41 seconds. So, to find I took 43 seconds today was very rewarding and a real trigger to the rest of this year.

In short, this one hill has change my state of mind from a ship without a rudder to one of purpose and excitement 🙂 Running is much more than a hobby to me so that sense of purpose rather than just going through the motions means a great deal.

43

We all have our triggers, I guess we just need to find them. Thanks for reading, I promise my next blog will be all about the running and not my state of mind 🙂

 

Recognition for your Blog

twit

This is just a short blog to show that if you believe in what you write then it will be recognised by others. I’m proud to say that Threshold sports, who organise the “Race to … series” asked whether they could use my blog as part of their build up to the 2018 races.

A week ago I received a tweet from the RTTK team …. Wow !! …….. just Wow !! 🙂

I’m pleased and proud to say thank you to the race organisers for choosing it. With a healthy 238 hits in the first 5 days we both would seem to have benefited 🙂

So, keep on blogging and let your words do the talking.

Roger T