Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Event horizons

I'm not an "event-motivated" person. I have skills and a focus that make me good at organising events, but they're not traditionally my thing.

Caswell Bay, 1999
I think back through the sports in which I've dabbled, and though there have been notable exceptions, my focus has been less about the start-finish-time-rank of competition, and more about the enjoyment of random, often social, participation.

I consider myself to be a surfer, for example. You can hand me a board and I'll pick a wave, catch it, and ride it. It's not something I do regularly any more, and I've certainly never considered doing so in any kind of competitive event. For me, it was always about taking myself out of the day-to-day and immersing myself in the moment, ideally for hours at a time.

The same is true of other activities I enjoy. Having dragged myself up to a certain level of competence, and got all the kit, sports like sea-kayaking, rock-climbing and cycling can largely be picked up or put down as the mood takes me.

So why enter events at all?

The reality is that quite often, the mood doesn't take me. Time, work, geography and weather can be allowed to get in the way. Like most people, I love the idea of being fitter, healthier, and getting more out of the activities I enjoy; but some days the sofa seems like a better option. The bottom line is that no matter how much you'd like to run a National Trail, or cycle a stage of the Tour de France, on a day-to-day level, you're going to have to work more than just the remote control to make these things happen.

The 2006 Edinburgh Rat Race
This is where events come in. If your goal is to run that National Trail, or cycle that Tour stage, you've got two choices: you can pick a random date and do it for free, or you can pay the money, and participate in an event.

The benefits of the event may be major, or minor. It might mean a prepared map, or waymarking, or marshals. It could mean closed roads, and medical back up. There may at least be a finishers' list, or a medal, or a tshirt, all recording your completion of the challenge. It could simply be the chance to do something you're not normally allowed to do. But most importantly, though most overlooked, is that you're setting in stone an immovable goal, and the terms by which you're going to tackle it.

If that goal is a big one, your preparation will be significant. You'll probably need to break it down into sections, measuring your status at the end of each section. Another perfect opportunity for an event entry or two, and there are obvious benefits in choosing events that align with our personal goals.

Less apparent, but perhaps as valuable to us in hindsight, is that these events give us the focus we need to get out the door for a five mile run on a rainy Tuesday night. Whilst the event itself can be an obvious accolade, their greater benefit may be that they keep us motivated, they ensure we take time out of our lives to be active, and they can play a major part in both creating, and fulfilling our ambitions.

Running on Hadrian's Wall, December 2010
Over Easter 2013 I'm going to run the Viking Way Ultra, 147 miles along a waymarked trail through the East Midlands. It's a significant challenge, and something to get my teeth into.

I'll book a few interim events and build a training plan, and between here and now, these events may constitute 90% of the total cost of my running, for less than 20% of the overall distance. 

Runners are traditionally frugal participants, and some might look at the costs involved and consider these event entries to be an unnecessary expense, particularly when these trails could be run for free at any time. 

And they will be. Between now and Easter, trails all over the UK will feel the regular footfall of many, many runners, all enjoying the freedom they offer, and most of whom will be training for an event. Those that don't have an event on the horizon are more likely to be found on the sofa.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Jetskiing in Surrey

Okay, not really jetskiing, but at times, it looked pretty much like jetskiing.

I've started riding my mountainbike again. Quite a bit, in fact. Not a lot, but quite a bit is quite a lot more than I have been over the last twelve months.

I've been doing much more coaching, which I love. Whether they're fresh-out-the-box or old-dogs-learning-new-tricks mountainbikers, it's great to be with people when they realise that doing "Thing A" at the same time as "Thing B" is all it takes to execute the perfect "Thing C", and you can almost see the lightbulb appear above their head.

Wet, wet, wet, wet... and muddy*
(*wet mud)
But I've also been getting to know my local trails again. A lot can change in a few years, and while I've been route-finding for events up and down the country, the Surrey Hills have become the most comprehensive biking destination in the south. For the fast-track to the... (er...) fastest tracks, I've been joining Danielle and Jess from, on their regular "Love2Ride" evening sessions.

Tonight was one of those rides, and was apocalyptically wet. Technical uphill sections had become wet staircases of shiny roots and leaf litter, and on the fast downhills we were charging hard to stay in the wheeltracks of the rider in front, down the torrents and waterfalls that are normally stony singletrack.

Short, but sweet, and phenomenal fun. I expect to have grit in my teeth for a day or two yet.

The ride is on Strava, by the way. Feel free to look me up for all my local adventures.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Getting back off track

I understand that some bears eat just about anything. They're omnivorous with a capital "O". With a massive stomach to fill, they're driven to be resourceful, versatile, and opportunistic.

I wonder whether a bear would be content to live next to a constant food source. I'm sure they'd be ecstatic the first time they found it, but if they came to rely upon it would they become fat and unhappy? Would they notice the diminishing of their foraging skills? Would they care? 

Who knows.

Three years ago I started working for a company that organises adventure-sports events. Trail runs, obstacle runs, multisport stuff etc. I knew their product from having taken part in some of their earlier offerings, and this seemed like a good fit.

Over the years, my resourcefulness has served the events well, and they've put food on the table. Previous experience borne from a constant hunger for local adventures produced some great work. But as the work/resource balance has incrementally shifted, the opportunities and impetus to exercise these skills outside the workplace has evaporated.

I became a bear at a buffet. I had a nagging sense of having been more active, more capable, more creative, more social, and in a good way, challenged.

So I left.

I don't have another buffet in the pipeline just yet. There's an immediate challenge to take stock, point myself in the right direction and see which new skills I need to develop. In the meantime, I'm starting as I mean to go on, by remembering how to run, to ride, to look at a map and forge a path, and to enjoy some time with my friends and family.

In the spirit of adventure, I'll try and note some of these things down once in a while.