Archive for May, 2018

Legs versus appeal

May 29, 2018

Ok so I should be sitting here at 04:10 being useful like writing my appeal letter to get it finalised for Friday. Really, I should be fast asleep after 60 ish hours without sleep from Friday morning. My legs have had other ideas. It’s like they have got so used to moving, that they can’t stop, even when I’m in bed. Get up. Use us. You can’t give us all that work to do and then put us down like we don’t matter. Sorry I drifted back into my appeal there with that last bit.

My leg twitch twitchiness is one of the effects for me of running 160 miles in the Hardmoors Ring of Steel. This is an ultra marathon (somewhere in the region of 6 back to back marathons) along the Tabular Hills and the Cleveland Way from where the Tabular Hills route meets the sea at Scarborough. It’s a long way. It took me a long time. 50 hours 51 minutes and 13 seconds to be precise. Thank you legs.

On Friday 25th May, 17 of us gathered at Sutton Bank Visitors Centre before our 5pm departure. A couple of guys I knew and everyone else, I would either get to know a bit on the route or not as you can spend so much time on your own with a small stretched out group. I guess people like this who are toeing the line at a race so long, just received my instant respect for turning up and taking part.

For people who haven’t ran much or have ran much and want to run much more, or people like me who just love running whether it’s a quick and dirty fell race or a seized opportunity to run around the block while the kettle is boiling, I want to try to give a little sense of what taking on something like this feels like.

Whats that saying? Fail to prepare and prepare to fail? For me I was not too bad at putting the word out for a support crew early enough. I am usually very last minute (check out my appeal paperwork!). Every runner for this race must have motorised back up and there are compulsory checkpoints where your crew must attend. A dancing, drumming sailor stepped up first and said he would do it. Doug the Drummer. Next came Karen (with the pronunciation of Care on – very appropriate that care bit). The third amigo was Jonny, ex work colleague and sharer of ultra adventures and snatched opportunities to head to the hills and up the coast.

Its a big ask to be a support crew member. I am not very good at asking for help – it’s something I’m working on. Old stories from childhood and help not coming when I needed it and just getting on with things because that’s what I needed to do. Work could be the same. Andy, just do a job where everyone is so stretched there’s not much chance of getting help when you need it, then you don’t have to ask.

I did ask, and they came. And wow, did they deliver. I am so very lucky to have had these people by my side over this race. It’s not just that they showed up, it’s the kindness, the encouragement, Doug drumming in his fabulous red robe at Hole of Horcrum where he was so into it, he hadn’t realised I’d ran past him! Me banging on about how ginger settles my stomach but forgetting to have any and then Jonny turns up with crystallised ginger in his bag. Karen’s tea making at every checkpoint. Even if I could only manage a few sips, it was there and in my hand ready. Table out, deck chair erected, blanket in the seat and down jacket to stave off the chill.

And it’s like, who am I? Who am I to deserve this kindness and attention. This long distance running thing. It’s for me, it’s very personal. I love it, I love the time on my own, I love the chance to empty my head. I lay bare my soul on these tracks and trails. For me. Yet these beautiful people came for me and us and gave up their weekend, beds, energy. They drove hundreds of miles in mist and bank holiday traffic. And they never faltered. Not once. Jonny came out and ran 27 miles from Saltburn with me, post pizza fuel stop. His attentiveness was needed when I fell asleep running about 3 times in quick succession on the second night out. If you’ve ever had the faintest sense of nodding off at the wheel of the car, it’s like that but you are the car too.

As I arrived in Osmotherley and was still two miles from the checkpoint, I could hear Doug’s drumming up at Osmotherley Square Corner. It was calling me up the hill. I thought about how amazing it would be to have a cold drink and there was Karen standing part way down the hill with cold Fanta. Such gratitude for those random acts of kindness.

Then of course there are the other marshals. This endless group of giving and encouraging people. I got rice pudding, my head torch batteries got changed when life and my torch made no sense, there were shouts of “160 runner coming in”, photos, handshakes, and a lot of love. Must also mention the light show and the inflatables which are a feature of Hardmoors brought by Lauren and Christopher. It’s hard to imagine the lift you get from a human size inflatable dinosaur blowing in the breeze.

I’m conscious of how long this is going to go on if I try to do justice to everything so a quick list is needed about omnipresent Ann and her ability to turn up in all the right places taking photos, the angel of mercy on the roadside as I entered Scarborough having ran through the first night, to be offered fresh brewed coffee and water melon. Two deer breaking cover in the woods to scamper over the road in front of me, Jon the race director ringing me to say that my tracker was telling them that I had strayed off path for about a kilometre – how that could have been worse. Poor Jonny, it was just after my falling asleep on my feet trick and he was taking on the navigation. We weren’t the only wanderers as we were met by 5 others coming down the same track!

Hot sun, cooling breezes, not being able to eat so sucking the juice out of grapes to get the moisture in, contact lenses screaming to be taken out as they’d been in too many waking hours, finding out that a Fanta, an orange ice lolly and a bottle of OJ are not a good combination no matter how warm you are. That’s the temptation of Whitby right there.

The other runners. What a band of brothers and sisters. So many 110 mile runners wishing me well as they passed, all those positives pouring in and giving me a lift. My fellow 160 ers. Stephen from UTMB 2015 and other adventures on Hardmoors. Always encouraging and looking solid with his mate Ian. Peter and Nick who drifted in and out of my running days, sometimes in front and sometimes behind. The one and only female finisher. What energy! Mustering up final stretches of leg muscles and dare I say a sprint at mile 155 or so! Respect to her and to all who toed the line, whatever your own personal journey evolved into.

The final bit goes to the organisers. My relationship with Hardmoors goes back to 2012. I completed the 100km Hardmoors 60 as my second ultra. My first had been the Wall. I could not believe the difference between the two. This is no slight on the Wall but there was something about the stripped back humanity and welcome and encouragement at Hardmoors that hooked me in. If all goes well I will complete my 1000th Hardmoors mile during Goathland marathon this November, after revisiting the 60 for the fifth time.

I like to think that as a professional people watcher for many years (or Social Worker) that my reading of our fellow humans is not too bad. Over the years of Hardmoors running I have experienced a level of personal attention, kindness, encouragement and humanity that would be hard to match anywhere. I have had races deferred at no extra cost after my mother died one grand slam year, I have received huge encouragement about making running a career opportunity after my people watching professionally was cut short (think appeal again).

And just the most amazing atmosphere. To be able to create it again and again takes some effort and a whole lot of love Jon and Shirley Steele. And at a time where I need to feel like I belong somewhere and try to retain shreds of attachment to a job I have given my all to,  Hardmoors really does feel like a family and I have my place in it.

Faceplanting and plant planting

May 23, 2018

I am discovering a love for gardening. It is inspired by a young friend of mine Raël who has her own gardening business and is generally a very lush person if you’re looking for garden type assistance or just a chat. She’s awesome for a chat. Raël took a chance on me when I was given the heave ho (or hoe?) and has employed me to do some garden work with her over the last couple of months. Now I am not noted for my green fingers. No, not at all.

Lynn could regale you with tales of my weeding and pruning perfectly healthy and still growing plants and trees. I think nowadays, as a changed man/gardener there is something in there for me about making order out of chaos. And it is relatively stress free, and outside. If you combine digging, weeding and newt and nest rescue with coffee and great chats and company and the chance to use a hose it’s a winner.

So what has this to do with running? Well not a lot really but I am all for widening my appeal and I had to get the bit in about plants to fit in with face planting. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Please? Face planting not gardening.

The thing is Lynn and me had negotiated Swirral and Striding Edge, and Sharp Edge the day before. It was sunny and I was blissed out with the company, the weather, the space, time outside and I was piecing together nicely how I could run some training sessions on ridge running/ walking/ climbing. Lynn went all Trail Runner photo shoot. And she didn’t bring her shopping trolley, just her Aldi zippy boots.

Like letting a puppy off the lead, Lynn said the magic words. “You can run from here if you want”.

We’d just crossed Striding Edge and witnessed a shirtless man crawling on all fours over the ridge, bless him. We’d seen a wee girl cry about the exposure on Swirral and when I said to Lynn, “Ah man the rocks lovely isn’t it?” another voice replied forcefully, “No it isn’t!” We we’re buzzing with the exposure and the weather and being out together but that was to end temporarily.

Off I went. Oh the joy! It was mostly downhill and I was relishing the chance to get my legs bouncing before this weekends exertions. Crunch! That was probably the sound. The weird thing was that as I hit the rock with my right toe, and knew I was falling head first, I had time to register my brain going, “don’t injure yourself for the 160!” Plenty of gravel and protruding rocks to land on.

Hands and right knee took the brunt of the fall. No-one saw (check). Nothing broken (check). You can still run the 160 (mostly check). Is it bleeding (check). If you get up fast you can almost pretend it didn’t happen. What would Joss Naylor do? He would just run on. Be like Joss. I ran on and then decided to run over the pathless fells down to Glenridding aiming to pick up the path just before the Youth Hostel. That was great. By now my hand was dripping with blood and I had two trickles running down my leg to my sock line. I passed a number of people while still high up. He’s harder than Joss they were probably thinking.

And then it happened. My own pride before fall number two. Three people had stopped at the path and were looking up onto the fell as I ran down it. An audience! They were having a chat, two on one as it turned out but it’s nice to be nice my old mam used to say, so I looked up at the one to say “Hi” and my right foot (again) hit another rock and face plant number two is executed perfectly. Hurty pain in right knee as the original wound hits the ground, grass and gravel embed in my right hand second time around as I land almost at his feet. I think of Rik Mayal as Lord Flashheart or whoever he was in Blackadder, when he would suddenly leap up and go “ah ha!”. I was up in an instant. “Are you ok?” he kindly enquired.

Like a knob I said, “Occupational hazard!” And then realising that sounded foolish and a bit full of myself I cushioned it with, “well it is today anyway” and I let it show that it hurt quite a bit. I ran down into Glenridding with no further ado and licked (well, wet wiped) my wounds. A few people grimaced on my behalf and I made Lynn a sandwich for her return. Now is the time when I say, I loved it. But you know, I did. I bloody (sorry) love running off road and over fells and I realised that I don’t fall that often.

And now it’s tenuous link time. Something grew in my garden of life from my two face plants in one day. One was a sense that I could have had a tumble in any number of more exposed bits of ridge that weekend with more disastrous consequences. A little sense that even though I had taken a tumble, I was still being looked out for somewhere.

The other was that it is ok to fall. That is to say it has been for me. I have had people around who have picked me up, offered me work, tended my wounds and although there are reminders of the fall every day, things heal and for me my dreams don’t have to suffer.

This next dream is completing the Hardmoors 160 this weekend with a scabby knee, and face plants allowing, I will see you on the other side.

Trialling and trailing it

May 23, 2018

It’s over! It’s in the bag. It’s in the can. It’s a wrap. It’s a done deal.

It’s been a privilege.

I’m talking about me delivering my first fell running, ultra running, moving on a bit of road and off road and over hills coaching weekend. What a learning curve that was. First of all people came, even though I advertised late in the day. There’s my first learning. Get the message out sooner than 4 weeks!

This was something about confidence on my behalf. It was hard to retain belief in my “cv” and my offer. Whilst being very keen and positive and hoping for a new venture to work out well, at times I found myself unable to stop measuring this offer against people I respect in the running and coaching world like the Cavills and Ronnie Staton for example.

To help with this imposter syndrome, I emailed someone I respect very highly both as a person and in terms of what they have achieved in the world of off road running professionally and personally. First thank you of this blog then, to Mr Jon Steele, who took time out of his Northern Traverse training to send the most supportive email and offer me the chance to advertise on his Hardmoors site. So much gratitude to you Mr S.

I find that when I look at forums about off road and ultra running there is a great deal on there about people’s struggles with navigation. It became a mission to deliver sessions on this and second gratitude goes to Rich Wood. Rich and I have been on many expeditions together over the last 17 years or so and we previously worked together for 5 ish, teaching navigation and many other skills to 13- 19 year olds and learning a lot ourselves. He’s someone you would want in your corner or in the back of a land rover brewing tea. Rich staked out the orienteering course for us and laminated maps and generally had my back. I salute you!

Saturday was spent with intros and setting the scene and then we ran. At the foot of Brough Law we did some drills on the pasture. Plyometric stuff and looking at technique and use of arms and form and enjoying the sun. Then technique on steep terrain and ascent and descent. We were so lucky with the weather.

Goal setting and interference or blocks to acheiving goals followed and then the navigation. Lovely sunset on the course and a welcome at the base of the hill from the ultra Druid himself! A wound up and wined up farmer seemed to have been a bit spooked by the drumming and drove out to ask us what we were doing.

His gamekeeper mate later came to check us out and was suitably amused at his friend’s worried reaction and very friendly towards us, fascinated by our drumming cloaked hero! Three of us slept on the floor of the village hall.

The course needed stripping so awoken by the rain drumming on the roof I decided to head out at five thirty to pick up the markers in the mist and dreich.

There’s something lovely for me about running twice in one day and as the weather cleared over breakfast I could look forward to our run out to Linhope Spout and the fartlek training on the way back down the valley!

Before that was the arrival of Lynn and Wilf. Lynn delivered a beautiful stretch, body visualisation exercise and yoga for runners session. I may have nodded off in the journey! Those early starts and also a sense of relief that I wasn’t doing all of the delivery today. Wilf was to deliver his killer abs session later with the particular highlight being mountain climbers in press up position with us all singing happy birthday to Jeannie.

In between yoga and the Abdominator, Wilf got into beasting mode by giving me percentage increase efforts on the fartleks, using the lampposts as we descended into the valley from Hartside. This one’s 70% (my fave). This one’s 90%!! Nearly vomited on that one.

So much gratitude to my family for their support and input. Pride and love and wind at my back.

Birthday cake and more singing and a bit more on goals back at the village hall. Writing letters to our future running selves and then it was over, bar the pack down. Final gratitudes to Doug and Karen and Alastair and Jeannie. I wish you all well on your running journeys and hope to see you again. One of the lovely things about being around other runners is getting inspiration for yourself. Reading Alastair’s now realised plans for a sub eighteen minute park run I realised how I neglected my own speed work. I made an immediate start with Wilf in Ingram Valley. It hurt a lot.

The only setback was arriving home to no hot water and a bust boiler. Cue bathing campsite style! It’s since been fixed with the poor SSE guy ringing me, but I’d got fed up waiting in on such a sunny day and was running with a rucksack full of rocks back to the house. I think he appreciated my need for hot water when the sweaty mess landed next to his van outside our house.

I love the practice of gratitude when I’m running and the other day coming back from the beach in glorious sunshine, I was channelling my gratitude to all the aforementioned people in this blog, the supporters, the family, the friends and of course the participants and everyone who has wished me well on this venture. I’m going to be running some mini versions of this weekends content over the weeks to come so come along, it would be great to see you. From mountain goat to hill hater, you are all very welcome.

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And I would run 160 miles…….

May 2, 2018

It’s been a while since I wrote, and the other day a friend kindly said, “When’s your next blog coming Andy? You have an audience now!” I did write one and lose it in the ether so this one has had a practice run. Also I think my confidence took a bit of a hit.

I started the last blog with a quote and the one that springs to mind as I write this time is:

“It takes discipline to be a free spirit” (Gabrielle Roth)

It appealed to me because after losing my job, I was surprisingly for me, filled with a sense of freedom. It did feel that some shackles were cast off and though I would miss many people, I would not miss the stress and the relentless busy headspace, the long hours, endless data and desk bound death by email.

This sense of freedom ran alongside the more negative feelings of having my choices taken away and worries about paying the mortgage and the “what the hell do I do now?” and a partially frozen feeling that came, accompanied by some sense of shame. My self confidence took a hit. Questions about who would want me to work for them now came, though I got offers of work and what a difference that made.

As I started to dream up ideas of what to do with the rest of my working life, a dream and a strong thread based solidly in the outdoors started to emerge.

I have always loved wild outdoor spaces, and have been lucky to travel and adventure in many beautiful places from high mountains to jungle. I started to think more clearly about coaching running and immersing myself in the world of self employment, and daring to think I could be doing something in my work life that I genuinely would love doing, (like I used to love social work in some distant memory). But me, a freelancer?!

To make these dreams a reality will take discipline and commitment and a sense of self belief that has wandered away at times over the last couple of months. Some of the biggest struggles have been about getting beyond my own doubts. So many people have said, “You’ll be great!” “Do it, do it!” I have such gratitude for that belief in me.

I have marvelled at my wife Lynn, self employed for many years and I have seen how hard she applies herself, but to be honest I have struggled at times to adjust to keeping on top of things that need doing. Maybe part of this is not being used to the space in my life. No 6:20am train and 9pm finishes.

I am trying to have compassion for that part of me that is unsure or late doing something, or forgets, or does not put that advert out or complete that Facebook page, but I am very good at beating myself up before that compassion comes.

It’s not that I have not been busy.

Things worthy of a mention are rescuing newts, working with some truly lovely people, running away with the circus, serious garden makeovers, watching Santa Clarita Diet and Peakie Blinders (we all need sofa downtime), making a Facebook page about running leading, planning a coaching weekend, visiting the Kiln in the Ouseburn Valley more times than is healthy for caffeine levels, making it to an aerial conditioning class and handstand classes at last, and updating my mountain leaders and rock climbing instructors log books!

I’ve had admiration for self employed people everywhere, including these lovelies above.

I have not gone to Trinidad for a planned jungle trip, and not gone to work in the Alps (because not doing things takes work too and having to entertain thoughts about leaving that solid base of home and family). I have had three catch ups with ex work colleagues and one of these being my own leaving do, or sacking do if you like. I’ve arranged an appeal, caught up with many friends and family (away from the Kiln) and attended two tender and beautiful wakes.

And I have ran. Not loads, not obsessively, just running for pure enjoyment and air and space and occasional warmth and sand, mud and trail beneath my feet. After I ran the Sandstone Way last year I commented on how ultra running was like giving myself, maybe my inner child self, permission to play out all day and all night with my friends and not have to come home for tea

Now, as the title of this blog suggests, I plan to run 160 miles on the 25th to 27th May 2018. I will not be home for tea, breakfast, lunch, tea, breakfast or lunch.

Also, “Run” sounds a bit grand. Some running, some limping, shuffling, maybe a bit of crying, walking but edging ever nearer to that finish line at Helmsley in North Yorkshire. Supported from afar by many but close up and personal by Doug the drummer and Karen and Jonny.

I guess the free spirit and discipline thing really speaks to me when I prepare to run and then actually run long distances. Nothing empties my head like a long run, few things feed my soul more than being in nature. I love challenging myself and throwing myself at the mercy of the elements. The camaraderie of the ultra running world takes some beating. With my loved ones wishing me well and being the wind at my back, the freedom to take part and be out in nature all that time is a privilege.

The preparation takes discipline. Mandatory kit to collate and remember. Maps, route descriptions, food, making sure my support team are well looked after and sorted. Weather reports, clothing, travel arrangements, sleep beforehand, arrangements afterwards. Think about what interference there is- what’s going to get in the way of hitting that finishing line? Will the pizza shop be open at Saltburn? Will I make the cut offs? The weather can’t be as bad as the 55 can it? Where might my head go down? Bloworth Crossing again? If I didn’t keep making it past Bloworth Crossing it would be my nemesis.

And all of the preparation and build up is worth it, for those moments of freedom, that moving lightly over the earth, the first glimpses of sunrise, sunsets, wildlife, seeing your fellow runners pitting themselves against the course, sharing words of encouragement, cheery marshalls at all hours and reading the encouraging signs at the checkpoints like, “Call that a hill? Wait until you see the next one”.

And though there is no way this won’t seem like a shameless plug, I want others to share this. I want to train, cajole, coax, lead and encourage others to feel the feeling of completing a challenge that they have set themselves. I have taken young people and adults into the mountains since 1990 and brought most of them back! (All of them really)

I’ve held my Mountain Leaders Award since 2002. I have coached rock climbing from the same time (1990) indoors and then obtained my Rock Climbing Instructors award (until recently SPA) in 2005. I’ve completed my Fell Running Leadership level one and I am booked on to complete the full coaching award this year. My 20 plus ultras include the Hardmoors 110, Sandstone Way North and 120 and the West Highland Way and I want to put all of that time coaching and leading and being in the outdoors to good use. I genuinely love being outside. I see it as a privilege, that freedom and physical ability to pull on some trainers and run. I would like to share that joy and if I can make a even a fraction of my living from it then that would be a great feeling.

The initial freedom I felt when I lost my job, may have allowed me to open another door. If I can get over the imposter syndrome and listen to the encouragement a bit more. It strikes me that as much as I try to pretend I am coping with being sacked, there is still shame, sadness and injustice to contend with. I can choose to run whenever I like, but I did not choose to lose my job at 53.

And yet, last Sunday as I completed the Hardmoors Wainstones Trail Marathon, there it was again, that beautiful sense of peace and freedom and an empty brain, drained body and a sense of deep satisfaction. I choose this though. I choose to run 160 miles in less than 4 weeks time and though my stomach flips a little every time I think about the distance, I totally choose to stand on that start line. And during Sunday’s marathon and many times during the Hardmoors 160 those choices will feed my soul.

Earth under feet, fire in my heart and belly, air in and out of my lungs and airy spaces all around, and over a May bank holiday every chance of a fair bit of water too!

If you fancy spending some time in the outdoors, climbing, scrambling, running, walking, navigating, or a combination of any of them, or if you know anyone who would, please get in touch. I’m a bit tied up between the 25th and 27th May though! Thanks for reading. Next blog circa 28th May, whatever happens on that 160 mile journey. Discipline to prepare and show up and to run with a free spirit.