A running thread in life’s rich tapestry.

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Over the last few days I have been trying to find the right words for this post because I didn’t want to sound arrogant or condescending, but I did, very much, want to explore the topic.

On Friday afternoon I ran a half-marathon to check the route had been properly marked, and that the markers hadn’t been tampered with, before the actual race took place the following day as part of the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series South Devon event. In the evening I met up with the other course checkers who had run the other section which linked with the half-marathon course to make up the marathon and ultramarathon routes. Mike (64), who I had not met before, was semi-retired, but still led out coasteering groups and had some years earlier won his age group at the Bog Snorkelling Triathlon. Annie (63) I knew already as we had met some years ago at the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon and been friends ever since.

As Mike & I supped our beer and Annie enjoyed a few glasses of the Cricket Inn’s excellent red wine, we remarked on the fact that it was the ‘oldies’ that were checking the course and would be up early in the morning to help at registration before looking after a checkpoint, so that young weekend warriors coming down from London, and others, could feel good about completing a tough half-marathon. And they should feel good about completing a half-marathon (especial a tough off-road one). The fact that a bunch of oldies had beaten them to it and made it possible doesn’t detract from that. We had a rewarding and challenging time and they had a challenging and, hopefully, rewarding time.

We share the same thread in life’s rich tapestry although we are in different positions along that thread. It is not our position that is notable, but how we move along it and the effort we put in to making that progress. First time half-marathon runners, repeat marathon runners and old-timers like Mike, Annie and myself, with many different achievements under our belts, can all mingle at these sort of events and view each other with equally respect.

Commitment – Hill Reps, Goethe & Goats

everestI love this quote commonly attributed to Goethe:

Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth — that the moment one definitely commits oneself then divine providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred and which no man could have dreamed would have come their way.”

I have found that once I have committed to something then all sorts of things occur to help me, whether it is meeting someone who can help with a project I’ve just started or coming across useful material on the internet, in newspapers or the books I’m reading.  Of course I would have probably met those people anyway and read those articles, however, because I had made a commitment I was aware of their potential to help.

For example: I have known a fellow runner, who is a GP for several years, it wasn’t until I bumped into her at a race after I decided to write a crime novel that the fact she also worked in Accident & Emergency registered with me. I needed to know some details about the workings of an A & E department.

Divine providence moving has helped me with hill reps, although sometimes I give the process a nudge. I knew that today the weather was going to be wet & windy and I would not feel like going out to do the planned hill reps, which I have a love/hate relationship with (mostly hate). So yesterday I posted on Facebook “Hill reps tomorrow. Will “it’s raining” be a good enough excuse not to do them?” and waited. The comments were mostly along the lines ‘No’, but one friend said “Depends why you are doing the hill reps?!” to which I replied “Have a very hilly race in Switzerland beginning of June” and she came back with “Then get your ass to the rep session Edward Chapman!!! ” And there it was, a thing  to help that would never otherwise occurred. She had reminded me of why I was doing the hill reps and why they were so important to me. Sometimes we get so focused on what we are doing and the negatives we forget the why and the huge positives that will come later. (Bounding up the Swiss Alps like a mountain goat 🙂 – I’m an optimist).

The other thing that happened occurred without a nudge. I had been feeling that I wasn’t getting the most out of my hill sessions, but didn’t know why that was. Then when I checked Twitter before I set off (classic delaying tactic) this popped up from @KineticRev “Hill Running Workouts Made Easier With One Simple Tip”. I watched the video and set off for my hill rep session with a renewed sense of purpose; I knew why I was doing them and I knew what I needed to do to get even better. It was a great session and I came back tired, but exhilarated.

W H Murray, Scottish mountaineer and author, also liked the Goethe quote; he used it in his book The Scottish Himalaya Expedition (1951)

“But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money — booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

 

 


 

Walking on the moon requires rocket science: Running doesn’t

buzz-aldrin-moon_856_990x742Why, oh why, do people have to complicate something that is not? I love running because it is so simple (nothing even close to rocket science involved) just one foot in front of the other and repeat. I’m not a complete Luddite and do appreciate some of the technical advances; wicking socks (I love Wigwam Trail Trax Pro), breathable waterproof jackets and Facebook. I enjoy posting photos of my scenic runs to wind up my friends living in cities. But for me running is basically the same as when Ron Hill first invented those brilliant tracksters and when men were running across the plains of Africa.

So I was disheartened and a little annoyed (very annoyed actually) when I saw on Facebook someone asking how much they should eat and at what intervals during a half-marathon. Their Garmin told them how many calories they used on various runs so they were trying to work out how much to eat based on that. I wanted to go on there and shout rather loudly (type in capital letters) just eat your breakfast run the half-marathon a bit later, then have lunch and have a few more chips and a pint of beer to allow for the fact you have done a bit of exercise. But quite a few people had already commented with ‘helpful’ advice about how much to eat and whether gels were better than real food like jelly babies (when have Jelly Babies been real food?). If it wasn’t for marketing departments and magazines and websites needing to sell advertising the world of running would be a lot simpler.

I  left that post and had a quick scroll down some others. ‘My Garmin won’t sync to my PC’, ‘ My Garmin and Strava on my iPhone show different results’, ‘What are the best poles to use for a mountain ultra?’, What barefoot shoes do you use? (isn’t that an oxymoron).

So reading that lot I’m thinking to myself that the bit in Born to Run about man being a natural runner and chasing down prey with persistence running is a load of rot. There were no checkpoints with isotonic drinks and Jelly Babies and how did they get back to the women and children with no GPS to show them the way. And if it is not on Strava and posted on social media it didn’t happen. Although looking at the logo on the flier for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon I think the bushmen used poles.

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Hills – I love them; hill reps I hate them

dsc_0004Normally I can’t wait to get out of the house and go running. But, on Tuesdays I have an extra cup of coffee, hang around, put on women’s clothing (sorry wrong sketch), tidy up, check Facebook, anything to put off getting out of the house. Eventually I do go and when I get out there it is usually okay.

Tuesdays are hill rep days and I hate hill reps. If you are not familiar with the term, hill reps are a training method where you run up a hill fast, jog back down then run up fast again and keep repeating until you have done enough. The usual minimum number is 6, but there are all sorts of variation, depending on what you are trying to achieve, the steepness of the hill, etc. The idea is that you can get more overall effort in by having the jogging rest in between than if you tried just running up one big hill. But those reps still hurt, particularly the last few. I’m on two sets of 6 reps with a two minute recovery in between. Next week it’s two sets of 8 – groan.

People do hill reps because it is one of the best ways to improve your performance, but why do I do them. I am not trying to win any races, nor am I trying to beat any of my personal bests. I do them because I love running on Dartmoor and other hilly places. If I can run up hills better then I’ll enjoy my long runs over the moors better and I can go further.

Also now I have another reason, I’m 62 and as you get older, which is unfortunately unavoidable (growing up isn’t), you start to slow down and lose muscle mass; hill reps are one way of slowing down that decline.

So (don’t tell the hill this) I love hill reps because they help me enjoy doing what I love. I still hate doing them 🙂

 

 

Commitment

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This is a copy of an article I wrote for  The Trailrunner.

 

 

I  was leafing through a book and being seduced by vivid pictures and vibrant descriptions when I was suddenly brought back to the straight and narrow by an entry on page 426. The book was ‘World’s Ultimate Running Races’ and the entry on page 426 was about the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon – my true love. I am sorry that for a few moments in my thoughts I was unfaithful to her. Some people say to think a sin is as bad as to commit one.

 
I love entering different events, seeing new places and having unique experiences. However, there is much to be gained from a long-term and deep relationship. Every time I complete the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM) I learn something new about the desert and a lot more about me. I can say the same about the Comrades marathon, except the desert bit; it has taught me a lot and in many ways shaped my life. The severe conditions of the Kalahari and the very intimate relationships you have with the competitors, crew and race organisers mean that the lessons learnt during the KAEM are much richer and deeper.

 

The first time I ran the KAEM I learnt a big lesson. When I completed the Marathon des Sables in 2003 I said I would never do anything as stupid as that again. We are not very good at remembering pain and time makes what little memory we have fade. Still I was a little surprised to find myself on the start line of the 2007 KAEM. The first day was only about 25km so it should have been fairly easy. I went out too fast and was quickly slapped down hard by the Kalahari. I was too hot and dehydrated and close to pulling out of the race. I found some shade, sat down, put some rehydration salts into my bottle and took little sips until I felt better. I made my peace with the Kalahari. That day 5 of the competitors did not finish. Lesson number one – you have to court the Kalahari very, very gently. If you rush it, you will get a very big slap.

 
Over the next 6 days the Kalahari enchanted me with stunning scenery and exciting views of wild animals; giraffe, ostrich, kudu, zebra and springbok. I fell in love and she embraced me with a fierce, fiery passion.

 
I wasn’t sure if I was in love or just infatuated so I went back in 2008 to find out. It was love, but the Kalahari was playing hard to get. It was a tough race and I almost didn’t make it. I think she was playing hard to get and also making it quite clear that she expected to be treated like a princess.

 
When I went back in 2009 she had heard about my dalliance with the 6633ultra in the Arctic. The Kalahari did all she could to win back my heart and succeeded. There were wonderful wide panoramic views to be contrasted with tiny little vibrant coloured flowers, somehow existing in barren sandy river beds. She roasted me in the sun at midday and then when I was almost collapsing, she cooled me with the gentlest of breezes. At night she put on a dazzling displays, first with fantastic sunsets and then a massive array of stars before the big, bright moon rose. That year she totally won my heart and I am completely committed.

 
Now I am committed to her, I will run other races and enjoy them, but the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon need have no fear, I will always be faithful to her. She has been wonderful to me, tolerating my absences, welcoming me back, entertaining the friends I bring with me and most important of all nurturing my soul. This year we will celebrate out 10th anniversary.

 

The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is a 250km self-sufficiency run over six stages in seven days with set distances for each day, ranging from 28km to 75km.  Held in the beautiful and contrasting landscape of the “Green Kalahari” in the Northern Cape, South Africa, with temperatures varying from mid-40 degrees Celsius during the day to single figures in the evenings. Participants must carry all their supplies, clothes and compulsory safety/survival equipment for the duration of the event.  Overnight shelter in camps, and water, which is strictly controlled and distributed during the race, is supplied.  The event goes way beyond merely covering 250 kilometers in extreme conditions; it is a challenge to get past what normal people would regard as crazy, and achieve one’s personal goals.
www.kaem.co.za

Imagination and Memories

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In my last two blog posts I talked about the sensuous side of running, particularly sounds and smells, but sensuous things were not to the fore today. My mind was working overtime and coming up with all sorts of stuff.

It was a beautiful day and I would have normally headed straight to the coastal path to enjoy the sea and cliff views, but today my soul wanted to be among trees so I headed inland.  To join up some of the nicer footpaths it was necessary to run along short sections of country lanes and it was the names of some of the houses I passed that fired my imagination.

I did have a sensuous experience early on. As I was stepping over an electric fence my foot sank into the mud and my leg touched the wire. That was a very powerful sensation; quite socking, but it was the only unpleasant thing to happen on the run today and it wasn’t all bad, the adrenaline surge helped me get up the hill.

The first house I passed with an evocative name was called ‘Lindisfarne’. Strange that a house in the far south west of England should be named after an island off the coast in the far north east of England. Were the owners deeply religious or past residents of the island. Perhaps I had it wrong and they were fans of the Newcastle rock band of the same name. The house was on a corner so that would match with one of their hits, ‘Meet me on the Corner’. I ran on singing  Fog on the Tyne, which was annoying because I only know a couple of lines and they were going around and around in my head.

The next was a house called ‘Sweets’. I pondered long and hard but could come up with no sensible reason why anyone would call a house Sweets. I could understand if they had named it after a favourite like Dolly Mixtures or Humbug (perhaps not), but Sweets is far too generic to be a house name in my view. The next was ‘Flanders’; what a rich mixture of images and thoughts that conjured up, as did ‘Benjys Field’, but those were much more pleasant. Although I regretted not having a marker pen with me so I could add an apostrophe.

It was out into the fields and woods after that and I just enjoyed the countryside, listening to the birds, the wind rustling the tress and the sound from the streams. I emerged onto the road along the drive for Manor Farm. I had a little debated with myself whether that was the original name of Animal Farm or was it Home Farm. I finally decided that Manor Farm was the original name of Animal Farm. I checked on Google when I got back home and I was right. Not bad going when you consider I last read the book when I did it for O-level 45 years ago. A little further down the road was a field of pigs; weird. If you don’t get the connection read Animal Farm.

After that I reached the coastal path and starting running back towards Crackington Haven from the Boscastle direction so most of the time I could see the dishes of GCHQ Bude. This reminded me of the time I organised a 40-mile training run on the coastal path for a group of friends, most of who were training for the Comrades marathon. What a huge store of memories that opened. The six hours the run took flew past and I was somewhat sad to arrive back to where I had left the car.

It will be interesting to see what the focus of the next run will be.

 

 

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Running Smells

DSC_0002Yesterday I wrote about running being  a sensuous thing involving all the senses and that on Sunday my auditory senses got the lion’s share. Today it was the turn of my olfactory senses.

As I left the house there was the smell of baking coming from the nearby supermarket, but this was soon wafted away by the breeze and there was nothing remarkable smell-wise until the scent of the massed daffodils in the council flower beds reached my nostrils. I then turned onto the canal towpath where the air has its own smell, which is hard to pin down and describe; it is just different. It’s not a strong smell like you get by some canals in cities, the water in our canal is clean and has a reasonable flow. I was still pondering how to describe it when I turned off across the fields towards the coast. There was a boggy patch with a dank, unpleasant smell of rotting vegetation. Later this was to be outdone by the foul smell of slurry, but not before my nostrils had experienced the sweetness of haylage as I passed some stables.

When I reached the coast the sea breeze, heavy with salt and with a slight hint of seaweed, cleared away the unpleasant smells. I ran along the cliff tops where there are stubby bushes and some old dead long grass, when the breeze dropped a musty smell rose from it as it was bathed in sunshine. I came down off the cliffs and back to the edge of town past the graveyard behind St Michael & All Angels church. There was a confused perfume smell for the flowers laid on the graves, then there was the clear and strong smell from a patches of bluebells on the bank beside the track. I could taste it at the back of my throat.

It was then just the smell of traffic fumes until I got home and was assaulted by the smell of my own sweat. That was soon replaced by the citrusy zing of my Lemon & Lime shower gel followed by the wonderful spicy warm smell of Lynx Africa antiperspirant.

The final notes in this scent symphony were provided by the aroma of freshly ground India Gems of Araku Organic coffee beans bought from Sabins Artisan Roasters.