Friday, 26 June 2015

Time for Reflection

I've just passed an anniversary, one year since I stopped running. 

Not normally something to celebrate, so I'm putting fingers to keyboard to explain why, and to clear my head.

I still can't find the motivation to go out and run, but that probably a combination of being busy at work and in the midst of a house extension. Finding time to do anything other than those two things seems to be a tough ask right now.

But I don’t miss it, I've stuck to my objective of just enjoying what I do and focusing on creating for a bit and i've learnt a few things along the way.

The event that broke me was the London to Brighton Ultra (100km). I trained hard for that event, a full year of slowly increasing my mileage from my usual 10k distance to running past marathon distance. I did the Brighton marathon as a training run and ran 36 half marathons in a year, avoided injury, followed my training plan, ate healthily, all in preparation for the ultra. Then I failed to complete it.

Several things contributed to me having to pull out at the first medal point at 56 km. Mainly a strange recurring pain in my leg that comes when I walk (running no issue, cycling no issue, walking is agony). Due to the horrendous mud on the event I walked a lot, my leg played up. I pushed on, I got exhausted. I started holding my team up. The best option was to retire. I've visited doctors, had MRI’s and other tests but nobody knows what’s wrong with my leg. Motivation gone, training stopped. 

Life became pretty sedentary, I didn't want to train, I didn’t want to do events; in fact I got pretty good at turning people down when they asked me to take part in things. I felt disappointed with myself and felt I had wasted a year, sacrificing everything else to get in the training for the ultra and then failed to get the result I wanted.

So I decided to take a step back. Start doing things for fun, no competition, just good old fashioned type 1  fun (types of fun explained:

Throw in a bunch of less energetic stuff whenever possible and it’s been a great year.  A year to rediscover that it’s not all about racing across the country as fast as possible, it’s about taking the time to enjoy the journey. To spend time with great people and to spend time creating.

Creating memories, doing crafts, building houses and woodland camps; and most importantly rebuilding what is me. I may even find time to fit in the odd run.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Snowdon Adventure

Back in late 2014 one of my work colleagues asked me to organise a trip to Snowdon to walk Crib Goch, a host of invites were sent out and accepted and the planning began. The loose plan was to walk the Snowdon horseshoe, which goes up Crib Goch to the summit, heads down via the Watkin Path before heading up Y Lliwedd and then on to Cwm Llan and returns to the car park at Pen-y-Pass via the Miners’ track. Priority for the trip was a relaxed enjoyable weekend and not a test of endurance.

Fast forward 6 months and said work colleagues had abandoned the idea and this left Emma, Lee and myself as the sole adventurers on what would turn out to be a fantastic weekend in Wales.

I’d booked us into the superb Plascurig hostel ( which boasts a five star rating with comfortable and well-appointed bunks. Emma and I were staying in our own private room and Lee was bunked in one of the dorm rooms. We arrived early and got settled in, spending some time chatting with the friendly staff and guests where we learned that Jude Law was apparently filming nearby, hence the fleets of off roaders and film trucks in the area. The facilities in the hostel are superb with a contemporary design punctuated with individual pieces of furniture, large kitchen and dining area
and comfortable living areas. A host of showers meant at worst a short wait to get washed and the backdrop of Snowdon and the river helped set the scene for a truly memorable weekend.

A short stroll down to the river and along to the village gave us a chance to unwind from the journey and to check out the river. Lee announced this as the perfect habitat for dippers and we began to suspect that his interest in birds ran a bit deeper than first hinted at.  Shortly after this the first dipper was spotted and ever since it’s been our most sort after bird.

Over a decent evening meal (thanks Emma) we discussed the possible routes to take. Knowing Emma’s fear of heights and my tendency to underplay the technicality of things (never trust me when I say “it’s just a small technical trail”) we agreed to modify our route and follow the Miners’ track to the summit rather than face the exposure of Crib Goch. At this point I have to confess to withholding that the route up Y Lliwedd may be more of a scramble than a walk, but hey there has to be a tricky part. Route confirmed, we retired with the aim of getting an early start.

Saturday morning arrived to a bright and clear day and I was surprised with the number  of people leaving the hostel at 7am. None the wiser to what this indicated we breakfasted and left at around 8am for the Pen-y-pass car park.

Which upon arrival was full.

Following instructions from the car park attendant we headed down the road about 2 miles and found
a layby with a bus stop opposite. A strong cold wind greeted us as we exited the car and after a short wait we squeezed onto a very full bus. The cries of sympathy for the late arrivals held no sway for the bus driver who’s clearly overloaded bus could simply take no more people. I certainly felt sorry for the dad and two young kids facing a half hour wait in the bitter wind.

Upon being deposited at the Pen-y-pass car park we did a quick kit check and then set off along the Miners’ track on the start of our walk. The high winds certainly made the decision to avoid Crib Goch more favourable and we enjoyed the gradual climb and shelter of the lower path while taking in the fantastic views along the way. With no time pressures and no kids to worry about we strolled along the Miners’ track to the start of the climb to the Pyg track, stopping for photos and snacks as we went.

The climb to intersect with the Pyg track was steep and we had warmed up nicely by the time we joined the main track and followed the stream of people up to the summit.
The wind was howling over the summit with a frost coating the vegetation at the top; and as we climbed the cairn for the obligatory ‘I conquered the mountain pose’
we struggled to keep our footing in the high wind. The bright clear day offered us impressive views of the surrounding countryside and we could see Ireland across the sea. With heat being stripped from our bodies we didn't linger at the summit, instead choosing to drop down into the leeward side of the mountain to have lunch, bundled up in our extra layers.

Taking lunch out of the wind
Our choice of lunch spot proved great entertainment, as with the café at the top closed (you can also take the train up!) we watched people searching for a toilet spot only to turn a corner and find three people watching them, which resulted in some hilarious rapid retreats.

 I collected a summit rock for our daughters rock collection and we began our descent via the Watkins path. The steep and loose path contrasted the gradual and well warn Miners’ and Pyg tracks we had used to ascend and we deviated off trail to take in the views around the ridge (translate as ‘we got a bit off track’) before beginning the ascent to Y Lliwedd.

Scrambling to the top of y LliweddThe trail soon turned to a scramble and Emma’s fear of heights reared its head, reassuring me that the additional exposure of Crib Goch would have pushed her too far outside her comfort zone.

Summiting the west peak of Y Lliwedd we stopped to enjoy the more sheltered view and removed a few layers as the temperature began to rise. I was glad I applied some suntan lotion as a precaution as the full power of the sun could be felt now the wind had dropped.

We then started our dascent (a term Lee coined as yet another of my “it’s all down from here” comments revealed yet another climb), following the well-worn path down gullies and steep descents to join the Miners’ track again in the shelter of the horseshoe. In high spirits we enjoyed a strange game of hopscotch with a veiled lady determined to be the first down. Fortunately we gained the upper hand on the next dascent, clinching the victory and reaching the carpark first.

A short trek back to the car and we were soon on our way back to Plascurig for a well-earned shower.

Suitably refreshed, our next port of call was obviously the pub. Our destination was the Tyn-y-Coed Inn at Capel Curig, a short walk (with obligatory dipper spotting) down the road from the hostel and we all enjoyed a hearty meal. I opted for what was possibly one of the largest desserts I've ever eaten and was certainly ‘calorie neutral’ afterwards. A few pints later saw a much slower return to the hostel and we ended the evening with some Jack Daniels Honey before retiring for the night.

Sunday morning saw us heading back home where our families waited. A quick stop for breakfast at the café next door to the hostel where Lee confused everyone by playing bird songs on his phone (told you his interest for birds ran deeper than first revealed) and then the long drive home. Definitely a highlight of the year and opting for the more sedate adventure in great company over our usual demanding adventures made for a relaxing and enjoyable time.

Roll on the next trip.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Deery me

I’m numb, well at least my arse is. I'm sat in a tree stand about 10 ft off the ground and I'm trying not to move. I've been there for about two hours and the task is made harder by the midges biting my hands and face. Try sitting completely still for a length of time and you suddenly realise how difficult it is to do; we're constantly moving; scratching a nose, moving an arm, it all happens without conscious thought. Suddenly stopping those movements requires concentration and the longer you’re sat, the more small things begin to demand attention. 

I slowly turn my head to the left and I can see Sam slowly scanning the woods for any sign of deer. It’s a warm evening but he’s kitted out in hat, gloves and several layers and I realise that this is as much for deterring the biting insects as about keeping warm.

Sam manages the deer population in the area of woodland where I own a small piece and he kindly offered to take me out and show me what it’s all about. We've already had some of the venison from the deer in our woodland and understanding more about the animals themselves is something I'm keen to explore.

My personal feelings on deer management is that it’s an important part of protecting the diversity of the woods; it prevents overgrazing, which reduces the food available for other animals and prevents starvation in the deer population. With no other apex predators to control their numbers, deer culling is an important part of countryside management. It also provides a source of food.

I'm interested in all animals and plants and actively discourage the idea of killing anything for sport or causing unnecessary harm to animals, so it was a real opportunity to learn more about this solitary animal.

In general I feel we have become detached from the food we consume, and that we have no idea where our food comes from or the life it lead before it arrived on our plate. I've only eaten pheasant and venison in recent times that came from hunting, but it’s an area I'm keen to explore further and I want to ensure I waste nothing of the animal, so gaining knowledge from people like Sam is an important part of this development.

For those worried about the deer, rest assured they all survived another day; there was a lot of activity in the woodland before we arrived and I think that contributed to keeping them away from the area where we were. We did see two deer, one was out of season and the other came out very close to our tree and took flight before Sam could move the gun.

One of the valuable pieces of information Sam passed onto me, was that trying to creep around the wood like a ninja wouldn’t work. The animals are used to ‘normal’ human behaviour and creeping about is not ‘normal’ this causes alarm in the birds and squirrels, which in turn alerts the deer; who then stay well away. I'll be testing this out in the future as I spend more time in the woods watching the animals.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Lessons Learnt

It’s doubtful that most people set out with the intention of getting themselves into emergency situations, although some decisions are so blatantly stupid they are bound to result in immediate medical intervention (countless YouTube videos and the Darwin awards confirm this). Rather, a collection of small errors accumulate to result in a serious issue. Fortunately a few minor errors on the Gravel Dash did not result in any major problems, but served as a reminder of a few valuable lessons:

Failing to plan is planning to fail – We probably carried too much kit (certainly compared to the racing snakes) but having a few spares just in case was important; the mistake I made was leaving spare clothes behind on day 2. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the very hot day one and a sunny start to day two. Although it never rained, the weather changed and the temperature dropped and if the weather had deteriorated further it could have been a problem.

Knowledge is not the same as experience. Researching methods on the internet is clearly not the same as practicing the real thing. Knowledge will tell you what to try when your normal method fails but experience will help ensure your techniques work in a given situation. The microadventures to date have shown me what kit worked, and on the Gravel Dash everything worked together to make it an enjoyable experience. My knowledge and experience of bike maintenance meant that I was able to quickly repair my stuck brake when it locked on shortly after the start.

Do your own race – We held back a bit at the start, not getting caught up in the early enthusiasm of the ride and were soon passing people on the first big hill of the day, where I went wrong was following everyone else later on. Which lead to:

Don’t rely on technology:

I had a gps in my bag but never used it, instead relying on OS maps for navigation (this was intentional). The map said right then left, everyone else went straight. We followed them as they had GPS devices and thought they had the right route, we were soon off track. We pushed up through some woods and my inner compass said left. Two Gps’s said right, one said left. Out came the map and an compass and we went left. I did make a few navigation mistakes along the way but we were always able to get back on track with a minor detour. Navigation skills are a key skill, but one you lose if you don’t practice.

Pay attention to the little things – I ended up with a bit of one leg getting sunburnt. I burn easily and had put on suntan lotion. However I did it in a bit of a rush and missed a spot; I spotted it before it got too bad but if I had taken my time I could have avoided the problem all together.