Saturday, 31 December 2011

Year's End Anti-summary

2011 all but gone. Shame. There were some good bits in there, I hope I remember them in years to come.

Never mind - there's a 2012 on the way. Thank goodness the new year always arrives on time, so we don't find ourselves holding party poppers and champagne, waiting in limbo for Radio 1, Jools Holland, or Big Ben to tell us we can get on with things again.

My last day of 2011 contained a bunch of worthwhile moments, and couple of Local Adventures. A few hours out on the mountain bike riding some local singletrack, and giving a private coaching session to a guy I run with, and his 14yr old son; followed by a five mile walk in the mild evening air, behind a pushchair, giving my wife a bit of a breather, and my son a bit of a rumble to help him sort out some wind.

My first day of 2012 will include a run of some sort to start off a month of jogging, logging and blogging for Janathon, though the route and distance are to be determined, depending solely on how much sleep Jacob allows us tonight.

As for champagne and party poppers - I'll be surprised if we're still awake at eleven!

See you on the other side - Janathon blog entries will include photos as in 2011.

MTB - 13.4miles, 3(ish) hours, 2x mince pies, no punctures.
Pushchair - 4.9miles, 1:24hrs, 466cals, no leaks.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Boxing Day (Belated) Run

An annual bout between recreation and excess. Previously known as the Boxing Day Ride before we realised we preferred the social element of the event, to the hours we'd invariably spend, cleaning and fixing filthy and tired mountain bikes.

This year we were all to be hosted by Beany, at his, for food and company post run. This meant we'd be running somewhere local to his place (food always dictates the time and location). So I thought it a good opportunity to introduce the uninitiated to the official Caesar's Camp 100 race route. 10 tough miles on hilly army land, covering approx 1500 ft of ascent (and therefore descent).

Joining us to today (with excuses listed):

Gary Vallance: "I ran quite fast yesterday, my legs are still tired."
James Bean: "I've had to eat a lot of business lunches this month."
John McFall: "I haven't run since October, and my prosthetic limb isn't very good at steep hills."
Tom Phillips: "I'm still getting rid of this cold."

The conditions were superb, a mild and still 11 degrees, and the sandy trails were well consolidated after recent heavy rain.

The runners were also on excellent form, despite the excuses in the book. The pace started off quite social, eventually speeding up after seven miles, once the route allowed a bit of pace. Mile nine passed in a blistering 7:14mins, which is good going over winter ground, even if it did include a long downhill.

However, the post-run company was definitely the highlight, joined as we were by better halves, young children and dogs; enriched further by a culinary masterpiece which climaxed with pickled-onion flavoured cheddar on beetroot infused crackers, with homemade spiced apple chutney.

I reckon if we'd started training in October, we could have eaten more. Next year maybe.

Run stats: 10.40 miles, 1hr41, 1446 cals.
Food stats: 2x bowls sausage hotpot. 1x festive pint Guiness. Much x cheese and crackers.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas Cracker

He sleeps.
For me, this Christmas has been the best in a long while, and for only one reason. My new son, Jacob. I can't deny that the last four weeks have been eventful, challenging, and "a bit of an eye-opener", but all the things that make Jacob the handful that he is, will also make him the boy he's going to be. Clearly I have to take some genetic responsibility for his constant activity, stubbornness and refusal to sleep, but I can't remember ever being as grateful for anything, or as excited about what is yet to come.

Keeping myself in good shape (mentally and physically) will become more important, yet harder than ever to fit into the day-to-day. As we reconfigure our routines and schedules round our tiny endurance-monkey, just getting out the house has become a worthy adventure.

But there is no reward without challenge, and the chance to introduce the world to a pair of eyes that are only just beginning to focus is an opportunity, and privilege.

My month of self-inflicted activity begins in a matter of days, to try and start the year off as I mean to go on. In 2011 I ran 450 miles in January, using up all my spare time and domestic credits. Many months later, my son's arrival has moved the goalposts right out of the field, meaning 2012's Janathon will be a comparatively sane-looking affair from the outside. From within, I suspect it will be every bit as testing, though distinctly less "runny", and decidedly more "push-chairy" as I include a little hitchhiker in some of my exploits....

....which is definitely the way I mean to go on.

Slept 4ish hours
Ran 5km in 21:04 min
Road biked 36.7 miles (to and from Basingstoke Parkrun)

Friday, 23 December 2011


If pre-amble means an amble before the main event (ie Janathon), then this title isn't perhaps the best suited to today's entry.

The little run I went on today with Javed was anything but an amble - it was a beasting.

I ran the couple of miles to meet him at a carpark, and then the pair of us ran straight for the tallest, most relentless hill in the immediate vicinity, and proceeded to run up and down it via a number of different routes. At the top, Javed did a few press ups and ab crunches for the benefit of his (already exceptional) core strength, whereas I abstained in order to focus on not passing out.

The run then eased off a bit (it bluddy needed to!), and we had a bit of a chat on our way round. I've not run with Javed in months, so this was a nice little catch up. I hope there to be a few more on the horizon as he limbers up for a year of serious ultra-distance challenges.

Anyway, home again, now able to focus, a bit wobbly.

If pre-amble means an introduction to things to come (ie Janathon), then this title might be well suited after all.

161 bpm avg,
193 bpm max,
1244 cals (equivalent to 23 gin and tonics - happy christmas!)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Year end systems check

Running shoes - check

Garmin - check

Computer - check

Sanity - negative

Looks like it's Janathon time. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Riding to London to seek my Garmin

What a great day!

What seemed like forever away at the beginning ogf January had rapidly arrived, and today I awoke to "Janathon Lunch Day".

I was really looking forward to it.

When I initially accepted my Facebook invite, Cathy (Instigator in Chief of Janathon, and runner of the infamous "dressing gown shuffle" round her garden on January 1st)  jokingly inquired whether I was going to run to the London meeting from home. "I don't think so" I thought, and immediately looked up the distance. Thirty four miles on foot, and I definitely didn't think so (I tend not to run more than twenty if meeting people for the first time - ho ho).

But... after the revelation of buying a new road bike last week, I started to think about cycling there. Of course if was coming back by train (no point in overdoing it) there would only be an infinitessimal saving on my single ticket versus a return,  and I'd have to carry some running gear on the bike, probably running in my lightweight sandals, but I figured it was worth a go.

I picked a route avoiding the A3 (and M3), and totted it up at about 37 miles. I figured that three hours was probably doable for my rusty road-legs, so I awoke early, and left the house just after half eight.


  ...and arrived at Hyde Park at half ten. Ooops.

I'd kept an eye on my pace just out of curiousity, and was amazed to be averaging between 19 and 20mph, including a glorious peak at over 30mph (where's a speed camera when you want one?), but I never expected to be able to sustain it. For a month, my bike has been on sale across the country for £350 - and today, that suddenly seems like apocalyptically good value.

It's been years since I owned a road bike, and whilst I've borrowed a couple for a few rides here and there, they've always been a bit too big, or a lot too small, and it's never been a comfortable experience. Today, on the other hand, was incredible. Gobsmacked with my sustained pace I pootled round Piccadilly for a bit, twiddled my thumbs in my stretchy clothes and clippety clogs, had a cup of tea, and joined the Janathonists at 1145 with a big grin on my face.

The Janathon mob were brilliant. It was great seeing a bunch of people that until then, had mostly been connected only by computer, and mileage. I shan't try to list them for fear of overlooking anyone, but they were all very smiley, and didn't look too nervous about being in the company of a person they clearly thought a little unhinged.. Sean AudioFuel (with cold) arrived from the Triathlon Show to oversee proceeedings, and despatched the half dozen of us that fancied a run on a loop round Hyde Park, in the capable hands of navigator Rachel.

Next followed the presentation of my new Garmin 405, for which I was, and am incredibly grateful, a quick call from Pyro and Duncan, who where having a northern Janathon get-together at Hype Park in Leeds, and then onto Prezzo off Park Lane for some much deserved scoff, and a chance to have a natter to a couple of other Janathonists.

Highlight of the  afternoon was definitely seeing Cathy (the originator of all this Janathnonsence) receiving tokens of thanks from Cass and Adele on behalf of all Janathonites. Cathy brought hands up to face, to cover mouth-agog, and had a little happy cry. Which I think was shock and gratitude, rather than fear and sadness. They'd also produced some fantastic gifts to commemorate the occasion for her. Well done team.

All in all, a really inspiring day: a love affair with road-bikes truly rekindled, and a very fitting and comfortable conclusion to all that jogging and blogging.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Wheels of freedom.

There is a mathematical formula that relates to bikes. It is as simple as it is accurate. It is:

N = n+1

"N" represents the ideal number of bicycles a person should own, and "n" is the number of bicycles that person currently owns.

I have for some time, been a two-bike man. As of last weekend, I'm now a three-bike man, and I have to say, my life is considerably improved. Whilst I bask in the dewy afterglow of my recent acquisition (the formula above only applies once this honeymoon period wears off), let me share my bikes with you.

I got my first bike aged three and a half. My parents bought my elder brother and I identical bikes for Christmas, which my Dad assembled out of large, flat boxes. These "Golden Arrows" came complete with one brake, solid tyres and stabilisers. My brother and I tore up and down the flagstone pavements of our seafront road, and before long it was a race to see who could take the stabilisers off first. I think mine lasted about two weeks.

Our next bikes were Christmas presents again, a few years later. The Golden Arrows had fallen from favour, and the three letters in the heads of small boys everywhere were BMX. Our parents took us to the shop to pick our bikes, and a yellow Raleigh Boxer was the closest thing I could get to the Holy Grail, in my size.

Raleigh Boxer

By that spring, my brother and I would be lost for hours on evenings and weekends, riding our bikes up and down our road to a quite cul-de-sac so we could jump off the kerbs, and over the park, where we would see if we could clear the bunkers at the pitch-and-putt. Always returning home "when the street lights come on", we'd rig bicycle assault courses in the garden from bricks and planks, turn all the lights on in the house, and ride in the dark.

At barely seven years old, I took a fairly innocuous tumble, and unbeknownst to everyone, busted my spleen with the end of a handlebar. The following morning I was rushed to hospital and brought back from the brink. A week later I was back on the bike.
Peugeot Super Sport

Eventually, as we grew, so did our need to get further afield, and for our birthdays, our parents bought us second hand racing bikes from the newpaper. My dad cleaned them up, put new tyres on, rewound the handlebar tape, and we got to grips with gears for the first time. As much as I still wanted a BMX, there was no hiding the fact that this little ten-speed Peugeot gave me an independence that I thrived on. For the first time, we would venture from the house at a weekend, either together, with friends, or solo, armed with basic supplies and spares, and pedal between towns and villages we'd previously only thought you could drive to. The outside world became smaller, as ours suddenly seemed huge.

Redline RL20

These racers got us into paper-rounds. Pocket-money stopped, if there was anything we wanted, we got on our bikes, and earned it. My brother first, then a year later, I followed, and soon enough, every day began at 0530, as we each took a couple of rounds to save for "stuff".

We both bought second hand BMXs. We stripped them down, and fixed them up, and these became daily workhorses, and weekend thrashers. Sunday morning excursions across building sites and waste ground would often leave one of our group coming home on a "backy", someone else carrying the broken bike. Mostly it was me. If there was something stupid to do on a bike, I was your man, and by now I'd learned how to heal fast and fix anything.

Raleigh Pursuit
In the meantime, our parents had put some money towards "grown up" bikes for our thirteenth birthdays. Full sized racers, twelve gears, and the fastest things we'd known.

Our world widened again. By this time, my Raleigh Pursuit meant some space between siblings. The year between my brother and I somethimes seemed more, sometimes less, and whilst we still wanted to do the same things, by now it would be alone, or in the company of separate friends. By now, a week might involve hundreds of miles of cycling, just doing our paper rounds, and nipping off for a long ride at the weekend.

Understanding nostalgia for the first time as an awkward teenager, my cycle rides would often take me the fifty miles down to the coast to the old house. I'm sure my brother's may have done too. Interesting how we keep rejoining those dots.

Before the arrival of motorised transport into our lives, these racing bikes were transport. I'd cycle the thirty mile round trip to college a few times a week to pocket the train fare, and if I wanted to take a girl out,  I'd leave my bike locked round the corner of her house, with a binbag full of my cycling gear tucked under a hedge.

And then, motorcyles, and cars. Suddenly, the bikes just stopped getting used. The appeal of the open road was now measured in tanks of petrol, and after years of BMX related injuries, I just wasn't that crazy kid anymore.

Issimo F100

The combustion engines have stayed with us. But like the bikes before them, the cars and vans have become the transport, the means to an end. My brother's back on two wheels at the weekend, bombing about on his 900cc Triumph Bonny, but for me, it's still pedal power.

On-One Inbred

I realised this evening that in the last seven days I've ridden all three of my bikes, covered over fifty miles, and unthinkingly, bicycles are an important part of my life again.

Last Wednesday's commute to the office was on my Issimo folding bike. A £40 eBay bargain, and now wearing triathlon-style "aero" bars. You can't help but see the funny side, especially when you're doing fifteen miles on most outings, overtaking everyone.

Monday saw me darting around a country estate on my steel-framed hardtail mountain bike. Frame by UK firm "On-One", and built by me, this bike has won races, crossed the Hebrides, taught people to ride, and belted up and down the trails and mountains of this country in the company of my friends. It has never let me down.

bTwin Sport 2
Finally, today I pedalled my new roadie to Farnborough Pool. The swim was rubbish, I got out early, rode the long way home to blow it out of my hair, and felt better for it. For the first time in years I was back on a bike that seems to weigh nothing, and yet devours the tarmac beneath it, craving the far, and the fast.

Every bicycle I have owned has come with something intangible, beyond the glow of owning a new trinket. Quite apart from the exhileration of the actual riding, the bikes themselves awake within me a sense of opportunity. Whether it's the foldie that slices past public transport; the mountain bike that thinks it's a sheepdog; or now, the roadie, that may only come out when the sun is shining or the roads are dry, but feels like it may again broaden my horizons.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Thames Trot

The Thames Trot is a race from Oxford to Henley on Thames, comprising of almost fifty miles of the Thames Path, on foot.

I wouldn't recommend it to anyone that's just doubled their "most mileage in one month" record, for the following reasons:

1. It's an early start. An 0515 alarm call and an early train - euch. 
2. It's a long way, mostly through vast riverside fields of grazing sheep, with the occasional narrow footpath of mud so claggy you finish each section an inch taller than you started.
3. It's flat. No hills means no reason to slow down, and no chance to catch your breath. It's relentless.

For the freakishly fast, the course record is something like six and a half hours. Which, frankly, is just ridiculous.

I was one of four Hart Road Runners to enter this year: I'd pulled out of this event after thirty miles in 2010, so I had unfinished business; Javed has run sections of this route in other ultra challenges; plus Fiona and Nellie, for whom this would be an ultra-landmark of going beyond thirty-ish miles.

All in all, I had a pretty worthwhile run. Nine and a half minutes per mile felt comfortable (if a little slow) initially, and I managed to maintain this pace for the first half. I suspected it was probably half a minute too quick on tired legs, but any slower felt uncomfortable.

Approaching mile thirty the pace started suffering. The morning's headwind returned a field at a time, along with some soft ground underfoot. Keen to dispel last year’s bad memories, head down, I held position among the few runners ahead and behind.

Thirty two miles and it was time for a mental adjustment. The legs were dead weight, and I was struggling to lift my feet high enough to clear mole-hills, or move them fast enough to maintain a run. No cramp, no blisters, no stomach upsets, but just nothing there.

“A to B, Vallance, A to B”

I pulled my windproof on, and continued at a fast hike, running sections when the wind died, or "past that gate", or "beyond that bridge". A couple of runners overtook me, with pats on the back, and words of comfort. I assured them I was going to make it, and continued my run a bit, shuffle a bit strategy: chin up, taking in the view.

“When going through hell, keep going”

But I really wanted to stop.... but I couldn't, and I wouldn't, so I didn't. So I'd walk instead, because running was too hard. But then I'd think about how long I'd have to walk for, and I wanted to finish sooner, not later. So I chose to run, or to walk. At times, I had to make that choice with every step.

“Play the odds” 

There must be a better analogy, but I don't know one, so this is what I mean:

Consider the goal, and the path that leads towards it.
Consider whether the choices you make on that path increase your chance of success, or defeat.
Choose success.

It sounds easy, but the reality is hard. If the target is to run fifty miles, then the only choice is to keep going. Commiting to run the next step is much easier when you're already on foot, moving forwards; particularly if the alternative is to stand in the middle of a field.

Drop the spade, and you never find
out how much deeper you can dig.

Yesterday, as I plodded forwards, there was never a question of stopping. I was finishing, it was simply a matter of when. After every few minutes of dragging my feet, the legs would recover enough to start running again, and if the ground ahead was good I might string together a couple of miles before I had to slow again.

When I was told at the final checkpoint that only six miles remained, I saw a chance to finish in eight hours twenty, my original “best case scenario”. I’d need to run at least two thirds of this last section, though possibly more as my pace waned with the evening light.

With the end ever nearer, the ground hardened, the running became sustained, and places were held and regained. Then finally, from half a mile away, the illuminated finish line dragged me towards it, while the first of the spectators cheered us in. Within minutes my world had turned from grim determination to a deckchair, a cup of tea, and a glow of satisfaction.

Javed, Fiona and Nellie all finished soon after, with smiles intact.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

....and the rest

Ahhhhh, Rest.

I've always prescribed to the principle that training makes us weak, and only rest makes us strong. But I've always suspected that rest alone is an over-simplification, hence the accepted abbreviation of R&R.

Different people take the expression R&R to mean different things, most assume it's "rest and relaxation", but perhaps the sportier minded prefer "....and recovery" instead.

So my Janathon of daily masochism finally reached a conclusion on Monday night, with a short(ish) run bringing my total distance run in January to a very satisfactory, and slightly mind-blowing 450 miles. With that particular episode of my life complete, I looked forward to a few days to "repair and recharge".

At which point I was reminded of two things:

1. That simply "not running" doesn't really count, you have to get some sleep too.
2. The body can feel worse before it feels better.

The first three days of February were less comfortable physically than the last three weeks of January, and I felt shattered. With the constant weight of planning runs, running runs, and blogging about runs lifted from my shoulders, it's as if I suddenly lost traction, and instead of floating above it all, I just spun my wheels, late into the night, convinced there was something I should be doing.

Multiply that by a couple of very early mornings, add some whooshing around on the folding bike, plus some dashing about in a country park, and I've been really glad of today, my first guilt-free lay-in of the year, and the first day of real R&R.

Ahhhh, Recovery.

Oh yeah - I almost forgot! We have a new addition to the family!

On Friday night, I arrived home the proud father of a beautiful bouncing bike. 21lb 11oz, with perfect little carbon forks, and perfect little carbon seat-stays. It's a roadie.

Father and bicycle are doing well.

Mother is going to the pub to wet the bike's head.

Monday, 31 January 2011

....and ....I’m ....spent

Summary time! Let the cringing commence!

True, perhaps, but it would be remiss to wrap this up without some reflection.

For me, Janathon has been equally invigorating, and exhausting. From the initial trepidation of logging and blogging, the dread of watching Jenks and Auswomble bunging on the miles in that first crazy fortnight, and finally the enduring battle to honour the efforts of Janathoners everywhere, to keep it on, and make it good.

I’ve become increasingly grateful for many things, but particularly: the sense of community, the applications of technology, the joy of geography, and ultimately, the arrival of February.

But three things stand out above all else, which have continued to amaze, inspire and encourage.

First, that this carcass of mine has gone the distance. I expected some degree of dilapidation, but it’s hung together, and I’m hugely relieved. To put this into perspective, this is seven and a half times further than I ran in December, and the last time I last ran for six days in a row was 1993. I hadn’t planned on reaching half the mileage I ended up with, and good health should never be taken for granted.

Second, that runners of all abilities, with very different demands on their time and efforts, have risen to the challenge, and motivated one another with their blogs, comments and daily miles. Personal goals have been set and smashed, and I’ve watched people with plans foiled by illness, injury and loss, simply pick themselves up, set new targets, and go on to reach them. When I’ve felt least like hitting the trails, or most like just going round the block, it’s the thought of these achievements that have produced the miles.

Thirdly, that my wife puts up with all this. She doesn’t necessarily understand why I choose to set these targets, or why I feel compelled to exceed them (how could she, when I don’t?), but she understands that it’s important to me. She’s lived with a month of stinky running gear, prolonged absences and late nights, and my limited ability to focus on much else than the next run, or the last blog. I love you Rabbit.

As much as it would have been nice to finish with a mammoth run, thankfully I did that yesterday, and tonight’s run had a pleasant irony instead. On the 4th of January I printed a map of an eight and a half mile tarmac loop and stuck it on my wall. I’d intended to run it that night, and to continue with five to ten miles on weekdays, and a bit more at weekends. However, seeing myself in the top three, the game changed, the route never got a look in, and I beasted myself on ten and fifteen milers instead.

In order to hit the magic 450, yesterday’s efforts left just eight and a bit miles to go, and the discarded route was finally unpinned and studied. Perfect. For the first time in January I left the pack at home. No bottle, no phone, no iPod, no map: just the route in my head, and some ground to cover. It felt good.

Running clockwise left a gradual descent for the final mile and a half. Kicking hard on the home straight was such a luxury, I felt alive, and optimistic. I hope that Janathon becomes for many people the foundation stone of a year of activity. I'm glad to have been a part of it.

Thanks to Cathy and Sean for setting it up, and roping me in respectively. To the dozen or so local runners that have joined me, and to all those that have jogged, logged and blogged alongside.

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible in London, on the 12th. I’ll be the sleepy looking one in the corner.

: )

Today: 8.6 miles, 1:04 hrs, 1204 cals
January: 450.3 miles, 65:05 hrs, 61025 cals (that's 263 Cadbury's Twirls I owe myself)

Sunday, 30 January 2011

End Game

Yesterday, Javed and I discussed my final targets for Janathon. It seems a little late in the day to be working out what to do next, but Janathon Plans A, B and C all went out the window weeks ago, and with two days left, three possibilities remained:

A. Do very little. I’ve cleared 400 miles, I’ve exceeded all my expectations. Let recovery begin.
B. Do a “reasonable” amount. Back off the mileage a bit, but not so much as to look like I’m resting on any laurels, taking the mickey, or whatever.
C. Keep it on. Set a target, make it happen.

In the process of discussing this, we also weighed up some potential targets, if option C were chosen:

434 miles – equivalent to exactly 14 miles every day in January. Tidy.
438 miles – equivalent to 700km. A nice round figure (in metric at least).
444 miles – equivalent to nothing much, but a good looking number.
450 miles – beautiful, but realistically ridiculous. Too much, too late.

I realised by late afternoon that our discussion had rendered Options A and B obsolete.
With 416.5 miles already banked, I’d need to average over 9 miles today, and tomorrow. Potentially less than I’ve done up until now, but would I be content with hitting the lowest of those targets, if the opportunity was there to do more? I was sure the bigger numbers remained possible, though a month ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d be sat here writing this.

But....  I want some time at home, I need some more sleep, I have a long trail run in the diary for next week, and frankly, the tanks are pretty empty.
Anti-Janathon Public Notice
So last night, I considered today’s run. I figured the least I should do was enough to keep my options open. Thinking back to last weekend’s long ‘un, I decided on a quick train journey to Alton, then a run home on the St Swithuns Way: no short cuts, no bail outs. I could get home with much of the day left, or tack some more miles on the end, depending on how I felt. I printed a map, prepared my waistpack and set out my clothes.

I awoke feeling ropey. Ablutions, clothes, breakfast, run to the train station, no turning back. From Alton station, map in hand, I pointed myself northeast, and followed residential roads to pick up the trail at Eggar School, which coincidentally hosted my first LDWA hundred mile walk in 2009. Another half mile of familiar track, then new ground, knowing that in a hour’s time I’d be recognising the trails once again, from the outrun of last weekend’s big loop.

The going was thankfully good, with an overnight frost and bright morning allowing steady progress. Rough, hard trails might be slow going, but a firm footing saves precious effort. Two steps forward, no steps back.

As the sun continued to rise, the wind dropped, and soon enough, I found myself covering old ground. The trail became hillier as I neared Farnham, and I faced my first choice, to either head north for home and bank thirteen miles, or open the box....

Private driveway to Wayne Manor
I turned south, towards Farnham station. I could link to the start of the North Downs way, and that little swerve alone should be worth another three miles. I ran on.
A mile later, I figured I could keep heading up this road, jump onto the footpath at Compton Way, and probably add another half mile, of good running. I ran on.

Soon after, and I was on trails that formed my regular loop, south of Farnham. Having been on my feet for over two and a half hours, I was already pushing the mileage, out of liquids, and with one big decision approaching. A left turn would head home, and a right turn would commit me to at least another hour of running, but a chance to hit 450 miles.


My thirteen miler became a twenty five. I feel like I’m joyriding in someone else’s body.

Today: 25.1 miles, 3:34 hrs, 3474 cals
January: 441.7 miles, 64:01 hrs, 59821 cals

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Lord Wandsworth Loop

I look at maps with an inquisitive mind. As habits go, it’s probably not as infuriating for other people as leaving the lids off things, or playing music loudly on the train; but now and again, I might blurt out an oblique observation that’ll have my nearest and dearest rolling their eyes in despair.

However, I, like most people, take my immediate surrounding for granted. Not necessarily the landscape, or the features, but more the names that these places are given. Once you’ve spent your formative years in a particular part of the world, place names become part of a geographical vocabulary, and retain very little of their original meaning.

For example, there is an agreeable town nearby, surrounded by mixed heath, good transport links etc, but my wife (who’s not from round these parts) had no intention of living, or even going there. When asked why, she replied “It’s the name... ‘Deepcut’...  like a deep cut... that’s horrible”. She screwed up her face, and I conceded the point, I’d just never thought of it that way.

This is much easier done with the objectivity of a stranger: I’m sure a hill called Brown Willy isn’t particularly funny if you live in North Devon, and if Brooklyn Beckham’s baby sister were to be conceived in Surrey rather than New York, the people of Leatherhead would see no harm in Dave and Vicky continuing the naming tradition.

Pip leads the way

Today’s run was led by Javed, in the company of Fiona, and Pip the Labrador. We were initially joined by Andy and Huw again, on one of their pre-marathon long runs from further afield. Javed once again took us from his home, and over windy fields towards the villages of Crondall, Well and Bentley. Some fresh growth underfoot highlighted the mild January we’ve experienced in the South, but last night’s frost had set the ground rock hard in most places, and broken it into chocolate sponge cake in others. Javed and Fi were great company as always, and the running was so much easier than yesterday, it felt good to be out in the morning, in crisp air, and gently ticking off another thirteen miles.

This morning’s far point was the rolling farmland estate owned and run by Lord Wandsworth College. This location also planted the seed of this blog, but the link is tenuous. Wandsworth himself created this school to teach farming skills to orphaned boys. Yet, the name “Lord Wandsworth College” on its own might conjure up a host of preconceptions.

Some might automatically associate the name with the urban density of south west London, others may focus on the title within, and assume this is a private school, for privileged children (and it might well be). I, as a local, always remembered it as “the school that wouldn’t play rugby against ours”. I've since learned that the college has nurtured ruugby internationals like Jonny Wilkinson, so had this not been the case, I may instead think of it as “the school that used to batter us”.
A clearly wandering mind today – which feels good.

Today: 13.2 miles, 2:03 hrs, 1830 cals
January: 416.6 miles, 60:26 hrs, 56347 cals

Just More

Two runs. Big target. Low motivation.

The first run was a work thing. Which sounds great, that I get to run around for work. And it is great, and I am grateful.... but it is work.

No matter how good the day, or the running, a line is drawn underneath that says "This is work, and you must run this way, and that way, you must stop and start, go backwards and forwards, take notes and pictures and carry many things". It's not like leaving your pens on the desk to disappear for a couple of hours.

The best bit about what I do is "running, jumping and climbing trees" (as Eddie Izzard would say) in lots of different places. The sharp edge of the sword is that these things are my hobbies, my passion, my release; and when you put work and play next to each other, play doesn't taste as good for a while.

The Mansfield Office

Today's worky run was to make sure a race route linked up, to think about where all the fun stuff can be placed, and consider how to waymark, and marshal it. For Janathon's sake, I resolved to run as much as possible, and tapped away at the start/stop button on my watch, to record my dashings, in between note-takings, and head-scratchings.

After a few hours spent on foot at various speeds, a clean shirt, a cup of tea, and I was ready for the journey home. Friday night, rush hour, heading towards the M25. Perfect.

When I used to do this on a regular basis, I would change into running gear at the office, and start driving. I'd then let the traffic decide where and when I would get my Friday night run. Tonight, I made good progress as far south as Northampton, when the brake lights ahead suggested I look for something nearby.

Five minutes later, I was parked in Blisworth village, within fifty yards of a bridge over the Grand Union Canal, and trying to muster some enthusiasm to go for another run, within just a few hours of the last.

Getting out of a warm car when it's minus one outside, and your legs still feel jangly and detached is not an easy task. Today's "work-running" had drained me, and I wanted to be home with my wife. Still, that traffic was going to keep me on the road til past nine anyway, and if I just got another six miles, I'll have cracked four hundred miles in four weeks. It still felt lousy.

I set off along the towpath, heading south. I should have gone the other way. Blisworth Tunnel doesn't have a towpath, so walkers are sent over the top, to get instantly lost among useless bridleway signs. I never found the other end. Instead I ran over deep hoof pockets in a wide loop, guided by the glow of Northampton, to return to my start point.

A stone's throw from the car, I checked my watch, and I was still a mile and a half short. Turning back onto the towpath, north this time, I decided to run a mile out, then back, to clear my target. In the time it took to run that mile, I'd already convinced myself that I would do a bit more, and tacked another mile onto the end, doubling up to eight and a half by the time I took my shoes off, and a million percent happier for it.
"Tacking a bit onto the end" has become a Janathon theme. If I were to add all those bits up, it might add up to a marathon. However, all of those extra bits together weren't as much of a struggle as leaving the car this evening for just six miles. I must remember this.

"Just" is hard. "More" is easy.

Today: 16.2 miles, 2:26 hrs, 2055 cals
January: 403.4 miles, 58:23 hrs, 54517 cals

Friday, 28 January 2011

Sherwood Pinery

I'm in the Midlands. I checked. Looking at the map, there is England all over the place, plenty above and below, and a similar amount left and right.

Yet strangely (or so I've always thought), I'm officially in the East Midlands, but when I look at a map, I'm actually about five miles east of the middle. Doesn'tt that make this the Middle Midlands?

It's 150 miles from Chester to Skegness as the crow flies, so I reckon there should be about fifty miles of West Midlands (maybe Chester to Buxton), fifty miles of East Midlands (maybe Newton-on-Trent to Skegness), with roughly fifty miles of Actual Midlands in the middle?

I digress.

So I'm in this neck of the woods planning an adventure sports/trail running event for April. For the newest of the "Notorious Night Run" series, I've spent the day at the venue of the third in the trilogy, the "Legends of Sherwood".

Sherwood Pines is the bit of Sherwood Forest that the Foresty Commission own (for now). It's not got the "Sherwood Forest TM" stamp owned by the patch of woods which surrounds the Major Oak, but this area has proven connections to medieval England that are much less tenuous.

It's also got some great trails, and some really mixed forest - both of which will be key to my event. Where the Mighty Deerstalker has mountains and river crossings, and the Horseplay has horsejumps and a movie set, Legends of Sherwood has real darkness throughout, and some proper scary forest. And men in tights.

"Red. Difficult. Are these trails for you?"
Ohhh yes.
So after today's meetings, I snuck back into the forest to make the most of its mountain bikes trails on foot. I do this quite regularly, as my job can take me all over the country, and running mounatin bike routes at night is normally a pretty fun way to spend a couple of hours. The trails are well waymarked, well maintained, almost always bring you back to the start. You don't need to know the area, or even take a map (though a few emergency supplies are a smart idea)

I've ridden Sherwood Pines's "Kitchener Trail" Red route a few times, and have run nearly all the trails in the forest (including the deer paths and guerilla tracks) during my initial survey for the Legends event, but running it in one hit was superb. From my stealthy parking spot I gained swift access to the forest, and following the Red to the visitor centre, included a quick lap of the "Family Trail" Green route to make up the miles, before returning to the car on the Red.

My sole and welcome company in the forest tonight were hundreds of fallow deer. Not the reddy-brown-with-white-bits fallow deer you see in parks and calendars, but the mostly-grey-with-almost-black-sides fallow deer that you can't see unless you're travelling fast, deep in the woods. They might not look as pretty, but seeing the owners of forty pairs of shining eyes can look pretty amazing.

Today: 13.6 miles, 1:52 hrs, 1906 cals
January: 387.2 miles, 55:57 hrs, 52462 cals

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Station to station

An adventure racer friend of mine sent me a link to a DIY animation that takes the mickey out of ultra-runners, and Ironman tri-athletes. It was clearly created by someone with firsthand knowledge of ultra-runners, and the ability to identify the most entertaining (embarrassing) elements of their behaviour. I suspect it was written by my wife.

It included the notion that ultra-runners take futile rail journeys to the middle of nowhere, just to run back. Which made me laugh out loud, since this is obviously true, but I didn’t think many people (ie. except me) did this.

So tonight, I decided to do the opposite; donned road shoes and a vague sense of direction, and set off to run past five railway stations, using roadside pavements only, without catching any trains.

Two-and-a-bit miles to my first destination: Aldershot Station. Since I’ve run here twice already in Janathon, I opted for a slightly different route again, and while working out which way to go, I decided to spice things up by adding a couple of extra micro-challenges to tonight’s mission. I considered that I should complete the whole thing as a pure loop, containing no criss-crossing, overlapping, or doublebacking at all (even little ones). Oh yeah, and that I would have to cross the railway at each station. Simple huh?

On from Aldershot, north through the old military town, to pick up the mile and a half long Queens Avenue, over the Basingstoke Canal, into North Camp, over the bypass, and at five and bit miles, North Camp Station.

A strange little one this. Tucked away at the end of a string of lakes, and sitting at a lower level than the surrounding roads, it’s easily missed. It doesn’t run into London like most stations nearby, but instead is on a direct line to Gatwick Airport. Occasionally you can drive past and see po-faced ex-holidaymakers in shorts and sandals damply loading cases into wet cars.

South east for barely half a mile, and Ash Vale Station is ticked off the list. Equally hard to spot, Ash Vale sits almost thirty feet above road level, beside a bridge that carries the tracks over the B3411, it’s easier to spot the carpark, always overflowing with commuter vehicles.

Turning south, crossing back over the canal, over a small hill, and it's Ash Station, complete with level crossing. The reputation of this crossing for causing rush-hour mayhem reaches almost as far as the queues.

Maybe eight miles in and just the final station to clear. Back over the bypass, then through the suburbs of southern Aldershot, past my brother’s place, to brush past Weybourne (bizarrely pronounced Webbon) via Badshot Lea. And here’s where I realise the payback on my earlier decision. Passing momentarily within a mile of home, the limited choice of pavements between here, Farnham Station, and home again leaves me no option than to cross the tracks at the station, heading in the wrong direction, box round, then back into Farnham, and then up over the top of Folly Hill. Very good for Janathon mileage, not very good for the legs.

Well, the legs survived for another day, and another run. Tonight's route probably wasn't as engaging as some of the recent trail loops, or as satisfying as the occasional “train out, run back” that inspired it in the first place. But if was fairly fast going through the mid-section, and I can hold my head up in the company of normal runners as having done a normal run, and not some ultra-nonsense.

Providing, that is, they’re the kind of normal runners that go out on a Wednesday evening, run past a bunch of railway stations, making up the rules (and therefore the distance) as they go.

Today: 16.6 miles, 2:06 hrs, 2317 cals
January: 373.6 miles, 54:04 hrs, 50556 cals

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Hole in the Wall

Winter wall
In spring 2009 I said farewell to the company car, the daily suit and tie, and the two hundred mile commute. I left behind working trips to the Middle East. I parted company with targets and bonuses and quarterly reviews.

I gained perspective, a certain amount of freedom, and a much greater desire to go to work each Monday morning. And... a bombproof little video camera, courtesy of a very generous whip-round from my ex-colleagues.

I’m not the most technically minded person. I'm practically a luddite, and to be honest, this is where I’m comfortable. I become happy with a level of technology, and stick with that. My laptop, Garmin, iPod, and this swanky little video camera must all despair of my limited abilities.

So in summer last year, I went running with the intention of shooting some video, and trying to make something watchable. I chose a reasonable out-and-back that took me from my front step, a few miles out, and a few miles back. I figured it had some aesthetically okay bits, and the turning point was a throwback to my youth that always made me smile.

 “The Wall” is a term some runners use, referring to a point in a marathon where the body only wants to stop. I’ve heard different mantras and mottos intended to get people through this psycho/physiological barricade. Strangely, it wasn’t until I was thinking of a name for this video that I saw the metaphor. It seems that in this case, they might be right: the Wall does indeed have a Hole in it.

 I’ve moved since I made this. The Hole in the Wall run is no longer an out-and-back from my front step. But since I wanted to share this video, this evening I composed a loop that would take me back there, and through it again.

Running solo tonight, armed with underutilised phone, overused headtorch, and the ubiquitous water bottle, I felt good, ran fast, and rounded the distance up to fifteen miles. The trails were soft, the rain was cooling, and the Hole in the Wall felt bigger than I remember. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that February is almost here.

Perhaps going through the Wall is like everything else; it gets easier with practice.

Today: 15.2 miles, 1:57 hrs, 2126 cals
January: 357.0 miles, 51:58 hrs, 48239 cals

Get into the groove ii. "The Forgotten Loop"

What a revelation last night's run turned out to be.

Tom and I set off from a dark carpark at around half past eight, heading in a clockwise direction. Within a hundred yards of leaving tarmac we were slipping around in claggy mud, descending from the railway lines between chainlink fences through a small industrial park. In my head, I tried to remember whether this was the reason for not wanting to go anti-clockwise: this wouldn't have been the best way to finish a run.

Keeping map and compass in hand to negotiate a dozen or so field crossings in the dark, the going was mostly good. Small pockets of woodland were firm underfoot, and deep in oak leaves, and the occasional patches of heavy mud were mostly restricted to the gates and stiles.

And what about those stiles! Tom found it hard to believe that I had no recollection of the sheer number of them we would have to overcome. Within a mile and a half he'd run out of fingers to count on, and in sections of the run, we found ourselves entering a trail section over a stile, and simply shining our headtorches ahead, spotting the next and heading for it. With each little hedge, fence and wall crossing to negotiate, despite some fast running where the opportunities arose, our our average pace wallowed at nine and a half minutes per mile.

But I was loving it. With clear skies above dispelling the threat of rain, and some solid navigation on-the-go buoying my confidence, I was amazed that I hadn't revisited this route before. Through the mid section, we started to loose the smooth fields, to be replaced by some ridge running, and sharp inclines, and by the final quarter we found ourselves either pushing hard uphill, or stretching our legs on the descents.

Maybe this was my reason for not coming back sooner? By the time we were within a mile of our finish point, I started to recognised half a dozen locations where I'd struggled to find my way, last time round. Memories of battling over the navigation within the first ten minutes came flooding back, as did the disappointment of having so much gradient change so early on. The first time I did this run, it had taken a lot more out of me than it had on this occasion, and the combination of getting lost, early hills and a million stiles had clearly been too much for me.

Not this time though.

In respect of yesterday's thoughts, it seems that our memories can indeed be selective, and perhaps we can all be too quick in forming our opinions. Perhaps instead, all running is good, and every route can be a favourite, providing you're in the right frame of mind to make the most of it. And if you're not? Come back in eighteen months when you've forgotten it, and run it the other way round, at night, with a mate.

Today: 11.0 miles, 1:41 hrs, 1412 cals
January: 341.8 miles, 50:01 hrs, 46113 cals

Monday, 24 January 2011

Get into the groove?

No, not Madonna on the iPod. More a train of thought...

For the first time in Janathon, I’m writing my blog before I go running. From a seed of an idea planted by MTB endurophile Gary T, I’ve found a map of a route I’ve run only once, and here I am, pre-visualising myself running it once again.

I ran this route in 2009 (or was it 2008?). Highlighted on a photocopied map, scribbled over with notes, and afterwards, stashed in a box, presumably for a day like today. I suspect from the notations that this route was a summer walk suggestion, lifted from a parish magazine or guidebook. Good walks often make great runs, and a number of my favourites begin their lives this way, before being adopted, amended, or as in this case, instantly forgotten.

My memory of this particular loop is almost totally absent, but I find it interesting that certain aspects have stuck. I know I ran it in daylight, but only because I remember driving away from the station car park afterwards. I also know it was summer, because I recall pausing early-on to adjust my waistpack, which was loaded with over a litre of water, and rubbing on my shirtless back.

Plank bridge (photo by Tom)

I also have the vaguest recollection of a mental note that I made afterwards, but tantalisingly, I remember two distinct options. It was either “Best run in a clockwise direction”, or possibly, “Avoid in winter”. Needless to say, I’ll be running clockwise tonight, hoping that it wasn’t the latter.

And it’s uncertainties like this which are the nub of today’s thoughts. Sometimes, I can remember intricacies of a route, almost footstep by footstep, even if I’m a hundred miles away. Others can be recalled only whilst I’m running them, so I know which way to turn, but only as I arrive at each junction. Some leave almost no trace at all.

Does a route become memorable because it was particularly good (or bad)?

Is it more memorable if the runner needs to concentrate throughout – on navigation, or pace?

Is it then possible that the best routes might be the most forgetable?

Many runners talk of moments of being “in the groove” or “zoning out”, and often, the ability to do this for lengths of time can be the measure of a good run, and often an indication of running well. Some runners crave this feeling, and hence only ever run the same routes, at the same pace, at the same time of day to help the autopilot engage. Whether it’s the “Saturday morning loop”, or the “Wet weather circuit”, we all wear our little grooves into our normal routes, into which we can habitually slot ourselves and slip away.

I prefer to combine these grooves with a little adventure. For me, familiarity is a comfort, but the unfamiliar is a passion. Above all, I appreciate the balance: routes, seasons, terrain, people. I may not remember them all, but I remember how much better they can make me feel.  


Sunday, 23 January 2011

When fighting a Bear...

" don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the Bear's tired."

GV going Grizzly
This is the proverb behind a mantra that might flit through my head on a long run, a tough climb - or in the case of Janathon, any waking moment.

Sometimes the Bear is the guy in front, sometimes it's the trail, sometimes it's just your own weaknesses wanting to get the better of you. You must fight, and hope that the Bear tires first, but there is another option (and this bit is the mantra):

Be the Bear

I have others:

"This too, shall pass" - True for good and bad.
"Reel it in" - Courtesy of Tom, refering to the finish.
"It'll all be okay in the end" - (so if it's not okay, it's not the end)

Some might suggest that these same mantras could be applied to life, but if I were relying on these to get me through each day, I think a bit of life re-assessment might be more useful. Or a good hobby. How about running? Hmmm... within reason perhaps.

The St Swithuns/North Downs Loop
"Thank you for editing carefully" (tee hee)

This morning I set out to connect a series of routes I've run for a number of years, with the addition of a new bit near the start to join the dots. If Janathon is responsible for one thing, it's the exponential increase of footpaths, bridleways and open common that I can now incorporate into routes of more than ten miles.

The plan was to be out for about four hours, and complete a wide loop stretching from Bentley (as featured in TV's "The Village") in the west (on the St Swithuns Way) to Puttenham Common in the east (on the North Downs Way).

The highlights were too many to mention, but the general feel of the run was superb from start to finish.

The trails are firmer today than they have been most of January, and with bridlepaths so choppy at the moment, an effort to use the footpath alternatives paid off. This eastern-most section of St Swithuns Way will make an excellent summer run with it's tarmac interludes, worth a train journey to Winchester to do the whole thing, or broken into halves from Alton.

It was also wonderful to keep moving between the familiar, and unfamiliar. Stringing together sections of  routes I knew with strange links, I kept map in hand until almost the end. Being able to repeatedly look up and think "Wow, I'm here" was uplifting throughout. The iPod never got a look in.

Checking if 4B were home
With all the self-enforced running that Janathon has meant to me, days like this are a huge relief. Like many runners, the process of putting one foot in front of the other while the mind wanders, can be a significant way of dealing with stress, strain, anxiety, and all the negativity that life can produce. On occasions when I don't want to run, I find the route planning therapuetic; and I can often choose whether or not to run in company, depending on my mood.

One of the key Janathon challenges for me has been the removal of a degree of choice. I no longer choose whether to run, I can only choose how. And that in itself, has added to, rather than subtracted from my worries. Much of the running I've done this month has reminded me of the cigarettes I used to smoke. Constantly thinking about the next one creates anxiety, and the relief of each fix is shortlived, after which the anxiety returns, placed on top of an in-tray of other issues unresolved.

One of the main drivers of my Janathon has been to get more out of it than simply mileage, or the raw challenge of running daily. I set myself targets within the challenge, figuring if I'm going to become "hooked" on running for a month, there ought to be some lasting positives.

A run like today's is one of those positives. A route I'd been thinking about for a number of years, run well, under unique circumstances. No Janathon, and there may never have been a St Swithuns/North Downs Loop - which revealed itself as twenty five miles of countryside so engaging that I feel completely reset.

Today, Janathon became the tiring man, and I became the Bear.

Today: 25.5 miles, 3:40 hrs, 3518 cals
January: 330.8 miles, 48:07 hrs, 44701 cals