Put some art into Fartlek: be creative, find your inner child and you will go faster.

I wrote this sometime ago, but I don’t think it ever saw the light of day.


I must be getting old because it took two tree-related incidents to fire up my imagination to come up with the theme for this blog post; fun! Newton just sat under one tree, had an apple fall on his head, and hey presto he’d thought up the whole law of gravity thing.

I was running along a route which passes under a group of trees with widespread branches and noticed that a massive flock of starlings were resting there. The white patches underneath indicated this was not the place to hang around. I sprinted through that section as fast as I could and escaped without any blemishes. I was quite impressed with my speed. A few days later I passed by a very old and twisted oak tree and remembered passing it a few years earlier running with two ladies who insisted on climbing it. They were both in their sixties, but had not lost their youthful enthusiasm for climbing. It was then I had my eureka moment (I know different scientist) connecting the two tree incidents – a lot of the time we’ve lost the child-like fun of running. Running books talk about ‘Fartlek’, a Swedish word for “speed play”, but unfortunately it has become just another interval session; we’ve hammered the joy out of it.

When I thought about the fun times I’ve had running I realised that many have come about by accident, but I am now more alert to the opportunities. The first that springs to mind was a rather incongruous event that happened in the middle of a 40-mile training run in preparation for the Comrades Marathon. I was about halfway into the run when I meet some young children on a farm track. One of them asked where I had come from, when I explained he didn’t know where I meant until his sister said, “It’s near where we stop for McDonald’s when we visit Nan.” “Cor that’s miles away” he said “you must be knackered. Do you want to race me on my bike?” I’ve never understood why he thought I would want to, but I took up the challenge. He pedalled furiously, and I ran as fast as I could. Fortunately, the track was muddy, making cycling hard and I just managed to beat him to the gate at the end of the track. The children went off for their tea and I had the prospect of 20 miles more running after exhausting myself in a pointless race. I chuckled to myself most of the way back at the stupidity of it, but it had been fun.

The next fun bit was post-Comrades, on a recovery run. I was jogging along at a comfortable pace, on a narrow path in a wood, when I disturbed a pheasant. He decided to run away from me by running straight ahead along the path, rather than dodging to the side into the wood. I sped up to see how fast he was, he sped up, I sped up some more. He was more than a match for me. I tried even harder and he resolutely refused to fly or escape to the side. I was determined to beat him. Then there was a sudden urgency as I realised that we would soon reach a busy road and I was probably chasing him to his death.  I put in a lung-bursting effort and started gaining on him before he casually flew off to the side and into the woods. What a great speed session that was.

Since then I have chased deer, kingfishers, hares, herons, outrun lippy kids on housing estates, played aeroplanes running down hills, raced cars (not that difficult in London), run to beat the breaking waves on Hastings seafront and on one occasion chased a shoal of fish up a stream.

Release your inner child, have fun and at the same time get some speed work in.




Serendipity – or running is like life

I didn’t want a hilly lung-bursting run today, I just wanted to cruise along, so I needed to find somewhere flat. Not an easy task when you live in Cornwall and, as I have just moved to this particular area, I had no idea where to go. I could have used a map to plan a route, but that is no way to explore. With a predetermined route there is a compulsion to stick with it and ignore interesting looking side tracks. I set off clueless, trusting in my judgement and Lady Luck. She is normally more reliable than my judgement.

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As you can see from the photographs above she delivered; a nice flat run along the Red River Valley Nature Reserve. She also delivered a sighting of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker; it flew off before I could get a photograph, which probably explains its name.

If you look closely at the picture above with the fence in you will spot the runner’s equivalent of the door in the back of the wardrobe to Narnia. If you haven’t spotted it there is a bigger picture below.

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Yep, that is a big picture. Obviously I went through there and discovered a magical wonderland full of enchantment. Oh yes I did, and unlike the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, I have photographic evidence.

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I had an absolute ball and the great thing is, there are even more little paths to explore.

So why do I say running is like life? Well, so often runners only follow a few predetermined routes and are so obsessed with time and distance that they pass up the opportunities to disappear into Narnia, just like we do in life. The humdrum crowding out the exceptional.  Surprise yourself, do something different and really feel alive.

Trailrunningman® publisher of RUN Magazine



parkrun games

parkrun-logo.jpgparkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, are free, safe and easy to take part in. These events take place in pleasant parkland surroundings and people of every ability are encouraged to participate. Sound idyllic don’t they, but let me tell you these things bite.

My first one back after fully recovering from an injury was going to be fairly gentle and be the foundation upon which I built a return to my former speed. It didn’t go like that.
I started conservatively enough from the back of the small pack. Our parkrun, being in a rural area, only attracts about 40 runners during the winter. I eased past a few people then settled into a steady, but reasonable pace. However, there was someone just in front of me so I thought I’d pass them. They had other ideas and soon came past me. ‘Okay you want a contest, let’s duel’ I thought. I sped up and passed them then increased the pace. I stayed in front for a few minutes before they overtook me again. ‘Ah a worthy adversary’; I decided to sit a couple of metres behind, observe how they were running and work on a plan.

The pace was good, I wouldn’t say I was comfortable, but I had a little more speed left and they were breathing heavily. There was a short section ahead that had a slight rise and I always run that bit well; I’d make my move there, pull out a lead and hang on. That is exactly how it happened, I could tell from the heavy breathing that I was maintaining a reasonable gap. I could hold this pace until the end, there was about 2k to go, so I concentrated on good running form and keeping things smooth.

Then I heard ‘heavy breathing’ getting closer, but not very rapidly, no need to panic just yet, just open the throttle ever so slightly. That did the trick, the breathing never got any closer, but a little worryingly it didn’t get any further away either. This could be a problem, I’m not a good sprint finisher so I wanted a reasonable lead. Right I’ll keep at this pace, then about 1k out I’ll move it up a notch then with 200m to go I’ll give it everything.

Then there was a game changer, we’d been moving at a pace that was quick enough to be catching up someone in front and they suddenly came into view as we rounded a bend. This spurred ‘heavy breathing’ on, but it spurred me one even more, I like chasing people down. Gradually I was hauling them in and with about 500 metres to go I passed them. They looked as though they had nothing more to give, but you never know. Being passed near the end can give some people the ability to reach deep inside and find extra energy. I’d listen carefully, I never look behind, and respond early if necessary.

Everything was alright as I reached the bottom of the short sharp hill near the finish. Several weeks earlier, when I was a marshal at that point, I’d noticed that everyone that bent at the waist into the hill slowed down significantly, but the people who kept a straight back maintained their pace. My back was ramrod straight (well as near as possible for me) and I ran well up the hill. Just the final 100 metres or so of the gentle slope then the sprint across the grass to the finish line.

But there was a final piece of drama, someone was catching me up, it wasn’t the person I’d just passed and it wasn’t ‘heavy breathing’, it was someone new; an unknown quantity. It was all out now, I was not going to be passed. This was hurting, hurting lots, and it wasn’t working, they were going to come flying past on the grass to steal my victory. Desperate measures time; override the central governor and push it right into the red. I crossed the finish line, then bent double with my hands on my knees desperately trying to drag oxygen into my lungs, which were on fire, and listening to my heart hammering away.

Then I heard sweet music, someone put their hand on my back and said, “I tried my hardest, but just couldn’t catch you.” I was still in too much discomfort to look up and find out who it was. I’d look in the results later to find out. A little later I heard the runner I’d passed come in, then ‘heavy breathing’. Once I felt a little better I went over to a bench, sat down, chatted to some friends and cheered the rest of the runners in.

None of it mattered, I didn’t win anything, didn’t run a particularly fast time. There were no spectators, other that the volunteers at the finish. No one knew about the battles, except the protagonists and we probably had completely different views about what was going on. But we set ourselves these challenges, well at least I do, and it makes things more interesting and helps us push a little harder and feel good about ourselves, even if we lose, because we’ve tried our best.


SOAR – Sort Of About Running.


People who know me well will know that I hate TLAs (being ironic here) because they confuse and also lessen the impact of what is being said. TLAs are Three Letter Acronyms; acronyms are words which are formed from the first letter of words, and which are pronounced as other words. For example, CAD (Computer Aided Design) or WHO (World Health Organisation). People often refer abbreviations like BBC or DVD as acronyms, but they are not because they cannot be pronounced as a word. They are initialisations.

Now what has this got to do with running I hear you say, well I would except for the fact that you are reading this online and are probably 100s of miles away and I may well be asleep. In the world or running we have some great FLAs (four letter acronyms) RICE (rest, ice, compression & elevation) and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), but that is not what I want to talk about.

Last week I was recording a video interview for the December issue of RUN Magazine from Trailrunningman. I was talking to Colin Kirk-Potter, Run Venture Trail Running Hub, and being ex-military he is rather fond of acronyms and initialisations. Their use in the conversation neatly illustrated my point that they confuse and lessen the impact of what is being said.  One of them was OMM, which caused the pedant in me to worry about whether it was an acronym or an initialisation, but that is my problem. The OMM is a running event and unless you know that you could be confused about what Colin was talking about. Even if you know that you might not get the full picture. OMM stands for Original Mountain Marathon which gives you a lot more information. Original suggests it might be old; in fact it had its 50th anniversary this year. Mountain suggests it might be tough; it is. And Marathon tells you it is a distance race. So ditching the acronyms gives a richer experience.

The other abbreviation he used was KIA, which perhaps truly illustrates that the use of acronyms and initialisations lessens the impact; it means Killed in Action. Colin was talking about people in his unit who had lost their lives serving our country.

It was a fascinating interview that covered all sorts of running: running in the fells, running on a ship, running along a yellow line in an army camp in Belfast, running on roads, not running, running on Dartmoor, mindful running and a lot more.

If you want to see it you will have to buy the December issue of the e-magazine (due out 15/12/17) or take out a subscription. https://joom.ag/3Y9L

I will sign off by saying TTFM and I don’t mean Two Tone Frequency Modulation

Non, je ne regrette rien.

kaem_a3-poster-uk-version-3-003-724x1024This post was inspire by a Somali nurse featured on Desert Island Discs selecting the Edith Piaf song ‘Non, je regrette rein’ as one of her choices. The thoughts and ideas had been swirling around inside my head for some considerable time. Hearing that song coalesced them into something coherent. Perhaps because it provided a title to hang those ideas from.

For the last ten years in October I have travelled to South Africa to take part in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. This year I stayed at home. As the time of the event approached friends asked me if I was going to miss being there and during the week of the race it reached a crescendo, with many people asking if I had withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t miss being there, I didn’t have withdrawal symptom; I had no regrets. There is a reason for that; it was planned and I have a very good reason for not going.

Last year, before I went out to South Africa, I decide that, if I finished and thereby completed my tenth race, I would not be back the following year.  During the race in 2016 I took the time to re-examine that decision and decided it was the right decision. At the awards ceremony, when I was presented with my permanent number for completing ten events (the only person to have ever done that), I gave a short, emotional speech and announced to my fellow runners, the support crew and the race organisers, my very good friends, that I would not be back in 2017.

Why did I decide that? The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon has provided me with the most amazing experiences, I have met many wonderful people and made some very deep and enduring friendships. Those things are like bold, colourful brush strokes on a canvas. In 2017 the picture was complete, to add any more would have at best obscured some of what had gone before and may have even ruined that wonderful picture. That canvas now hangs on my memory wall in a very special place. Non, je ne regrette rein.

The break has also opened up a new opportunity. I now have a blank canvas on which more colourful brush strokes can be applied to record the next ten years of taking part in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. I am going back in 2018 to start that whole process again; it will be a different picture, but I am confident that it will be just as beautiful as the first.


DNF also means Did Not Fail

RunnerI have noticed a growing trend on Facebook. People are posting about the races they did not complete starting with the words “Sorry, I failed”.

Now there could be a number of reasons for this: people are not finishing races more often, people are talking about not finishing more often and people are being more harsh on themselves than they used to be or maybe they enjoy public self-flagellation. You may be able to think of more. I find it disturbing that the think they have failed. Perhaps they are bringing a 10k and half-marathon mentality to the wonderful world of ultra running. When you line up for a 10k or half-marathon it is almost certain that you are going to finish, the only doubt is what your time will be, whether it is a pb and where you are placed. When you have run a few marathons the same applies, finishing is never in doubt. However, every time I stood on the start line of the 56-mile Comrades ultramarathon there was always a significant doubt in my mind as to whether I would finish. Ultramarathons are a different breed of events; ultrarunners are a different breed from more normal runners.

Not to finish an ultra is not a failure, it is a sign that you are moving outside your comfort zone and attempting something difficult. It is a learning experience, a chance to change and come back stronger or, perhaps, to realise that this is not one of your strengths. To those people saying “Sorry I failed” I encourage you to change how you look at the world. For example, you might say “My knee failed me” when an existing problem stopped you from finishing an event. Think about saying “I failed my knee”: you entered the event knowing it wasn’t 100% sound.

If you have trained properly are in good health and did not finish an event, you did not fail. You were brave enough to get to the start line and test yourself. That time you were weighed in the scales and the balance was not in your favour, but, because of that experience, the next time the result will be different. You may still post a DNF, but you will be one more step closer to your goal.


Multi-day races – why?

Peopleimage often ask me why I love multi-day races as a competitor and a volunteer. That is a hard question to answer because there are so many reasons and many of them are hard to put into words in a way that those that don’t know can understand. One of the reasons is that I meet real people. That probably needs some explaining.

When you run with someone for a long time on a difficult stage, or you are a sweep and spend time with someone who is grinding it out until they get to the finish, the talk often revolves around what the race does to you. Most people talk about it stripping them down to the basics, removing the layers that we allow other people to see and that hide the true us. They talk about being deconstructed, of looking into very dark places to find answers: Do I have what it takes? Can I go on? Do I want this enough? It is then that you see the real person: the barriers, the defences, the glossy exterior is stripped away. These are very special moments; moments when you really know each other and a bond develops that is deep and profound.

Sometimes you can help, but most of the time the individual has to find their own answers and if they share that with you it is a very humbling experience. I have had many such moments and will share just one with you. I was talking with someone towards the end of a tough desert race, the long day was over and the end was in sight, it was then that she shared with me what had got her through when it got very, very tough and she wanted to quit. She had been in a relationship where her partner belittled and beat her. She told herself that she had survived that and that what she was going through in the race was not as bad as that; she could keep going. It angers me that someone so gentle and so strong should have been so badly treated. Unfortunately, I have heard similar accounts from several people, however, there is a very good ending. Yes multi-day events strip you down, but they also reconstruct you into a much better person, more able to cope with whatever life throws at you. They build you up, put you in control. You see yourself in a different light and want to go through that rebuilding process again to continually improve, to live life, to know yourself and to be with beautiful people.


Why the photo of trees. I love trees and I love multi-day races; it is much easier to find a photo to represent trees than it is to find just one to represent mult- day races.