Planning The Next Adventure

There are protocols and rules to follow when planning any adventure, but I have no idea what thy are so I’m kinda making it up as I go along.

The steps seem to be:

  • Write down (decide) what the adventure is going to be.
  • Research the place – visits, other people’s adventures and books are great for this
  • Workout how to get to the location and the start of the adventure
  • Workout how to get back
  • Plan the route
  • Gather and test the equipment
  • Sort out food and water
  • Go adventure

So here’s step one..

I’m planning on running (in my usually shonkily shod fashion) either Coast to Coast in Iceland, the circumference of Iceland or a similar thing to the UK’s LeJog (furthest south easterly point to the furthest north westerly point in the case of Iceland).

Now I need to get my self a guide book on the trails and a while load of maps.  Let the fun begin 🙂

Shoes optional – A Barefoot Runner’s Journey Along The Length Of Britain – Chapter 1 – Before I begin

It’s early and I’m regretting the previous night’s drinking.  Head feels like a small demon is inside it, pommeling my skull in an attempt to break free.  Quick motions are followed by a wave of nausea and I have to get myself to a rendezvous with my good friends Rooth and Adam’s to make the trip to Land’s End.  A quick coffee is all I can handle, so I go stand in the shower in the impossible hope that the water will wash away the hangover, but it doesn’t.   That odd taste of nail varnish remover that accompanies the night before stays, and it’s time to leave.  Luckily I had packed everything the morning before and after some dithering I get in the car and I manage to get to Ashbourne before I have to pull over and let the nausea take over.

Kit laid out ready to pack the morning before the day after.

Kit laid out ready to pack the morning before the day after.

“Why the hell do I drink so much?”

Well, the answer to that is a collection of ex-sixth formers chanting the name of the teacher at the bar followed by “get us a drink!” and several shots of tequila.  Can’t say it’s the best start to an adventure but then it makes it more interesting.  I get myself together and head to my mother’s house to drop off my car so my uncle can borrow it while I’m away.

“That stone you’re going to pick up at Land’s End made me remember something about Dziadek” my uncle says as though we had been taking for hours.

“Really?  What?” was the only reply I could muster.

“Well, when I was smaller, he used to take me and my friends down to the canal and he showed us how to skim stones across the water.  It’s made me think.  He introduced the whole idea of picking the right shaped stone for skimming and without him the idea would have completely alien to me.”

Now, the conversation continued but my mind was fixated on this newly learnt bit of family history.  There seem to be certain links in what we do and our past that we aren’t really aware of.  I remember seeing people press stones to the graves of loved ones in Iran and then leaving them there, but I never thought there would be any link to the polish side of my family.  We carried on towards Long Eaton and if we carried on talking j couldn’t really say, but eventually we arrived at Rooth’s.  I said farewell, we shook hands and I may have imagined it but there was something in my uncles eyes that made me think he wanted to say something, but he didn’t.  I wander if I imagined it or there was something he wanted to say?

I emptied my pack at this point and decided to pack everything one last time, decide what I’d leave behind and get ready to jump in the van. At some completely unregistered time we left, I got in the back of the van, lay flat and promptly went to sleep. I don’t remember much about the journey down apart from the food stops and a traffic jam that seemed to appear then vanish with no apparent reason.

My view of the road trip to Land's End accompanied by a bag of protein truffles made by Rooth for SK1 Fuel.  Delicious and the perfect keep the hangover at bay food.

My view of the road trip to Land’s End accompanied by a bag of protein truffles made by Rooth for SK1 Fuel. Delicious and the perfect keep the hangover at bay food.

Rooth & Adam - Two of the best people I know. I guess I'd perked up a bit at this point.

Rooth & Adam – Two of the best people I know.
I guess I’d perked up a bit at this point.

Once we got to Land’s End, I wandered down the rocket cliff to find a pebble to carry the length of the country. The south west coast is made up of lots of granite, but amongst it all was a small piece of white quartz. I grabbed it, along with a piece of granite and scrambled back up to the van. It was time for food, followed by pitching up the tent and sleeping. It was all about to begin and I was filled with an odd mixture of calm excitement, complete disbelief and a lack of comprehension as to what I had to do, all with an undertone of doubt. The doubt was all to do with the unknowns that Id have no control of.

“Are you ready then?”

“I have no idea. Gonna find out tomorrow though”

Luna Origen Review – First Impressions

It’s no secret I’m a bit of a Luna addict, so it’s no surprise that I have yet another pair of Lunas to run in. There are other Luna sandals that I’ve looked at and not considered buying, but when I saw the Origen, I was suckered in. They are actually made, in part, out of tyres! So, last Wednesday I decided I’d waited enough, visited LunaSandals.com and ordered a pair.

By Friday, I was amazed as always, as to how quickly they arrived from the US. Then I got them out the FEDEX envelop and first impression was their weight. They’re heavier than any of the other sandals I own, but then I flipped them over and grinned.  

There’s something oddly rad about having some tyres strapped to your feet when you’re running, so the day after, despite feeling a little ropey (virus induced as apposed to alcohol!), I headed out to one of my favourite trail routes.
The route is actually a great mix for testing shoes out, with a mix of sharp rocks, polished limestone, mud, concrete and gravel trails, so the Lunas were strapped on, adjusted and it was time to have a little gentle trot.

All strapped up and ready to go

The first thing you’ll notice if you’ve ran in any other Lunas is how bouncy these things are. They seem to flex and mould to any and every bump and groove in the trail, but they gave enough protection so that no sharp bits of rock stabbed the sole of my feet. I did notice the difference in weight in these sandals, and I started off being a bit more sloppy than I should be usually. Now, I’m not sure if this is because of the density of the tyre rubber, the weight or just bad form on the day, but after a few minutes of running they got quieter.

As soon as I got off the road leading to the trail, I knew the sandals were awesome. They handled everything the trail had to offer, giving just enough grip in the mud, just enough ground feel on the tricky technical sections and surprisingly good grip on the wet polished limestone rocks! This last bit surprised me as there is nothing known to man that can grip polished limestone. So after 6 miles, I’m a fan.

They seemed to grip everything from mud to polished limestone trails!

Testing the flex in he sandalss on a rocky river bed. they seem to flex and mould to the terrain tge way your feet would.

What are the sandals like in comparison to other Lunas?
I’d place them at the perfect midway point between the Oso and the Leadville Pacers. I think they have the same foamy rubber mid section as the Mono (or at least the top feels like the same rubber), so I’m going to presume they will mould to my feet as I put the miles in, and I’m actually looking forward to giving them a baptism of fire on the gnarly terrain of Mordoresc Crib Goch and Tryfan in Snowdonia at some point very soon.

Getting more to the point, they are heavier and more protective when you compare them to the Leadville’s and I think they are going to mould better and quicker, but they are more flexible and match the form of the trail better than the Oso, feeling a little less stiff from the off.

Only more miles will tell if they are going to be a repeat purchase in the future, but first impressions are that these are going to be a favourite for most of the trail runs I do, the Leadville Pacer’s have been relegated and the Oso will come out for those days where I want to feel the extra responsiveness that the stiffer Oso give.

Shoes Optional – A barefoot runner’s journey along the length of Britain – Introduction

IMG_0543

Within these posts you will find no hidden secrets, no magical formulae and no recipes for adventure.  Instead you will read about one person’s journey and their realization that there are no limits other than the ones we set ourselves and it is these limits that hold us back.  We pander to the softer side of our nature, seeking the easiest route through life’s.  At some point we must realise that this is not the way to be true to our nature.  It is as important to embrace and invite discomfort, as it is to invite challenge.   Without these, how are we to grow?

 

Shoes Optional – A barefoot runner’s journey along the length of Britain – Prologue

This is the part of books that I seldom read.  I skip them and get right down to the business of getting my head in to the story, but I guess some will want to know about the training, the mental preparation and how it all ended up coming together in the end, despite the relaxed approach.  If you don’t want to be bored by details like training methodology, how I managed to get sponsors and the journey to Land’s End, I suggest you stop reading after the word ‘starts’, because here is where that information starts.

It’s 12:30am and I feel like death.  Food won’t go down, I feel like I have eaten far too much and not drank enough, but I have more hill reps to complete.  Why the hell, did I chose to run up and down the same small section of hill repeatedly?  Why on earth did I not check the distance of the loop before I started so that I could actually get the distance right?

After 2 days I managed to raise £182 and all because people thought it was a ridiculous idea!

After 2 days I managed to raise £182 and all because people thought it was a ridiculous idea!

And the ticket I ended on because I was told to stop. If I was on my own I would have carried on!!!

And the ticket I ended on because I was told to stop. If I was on my own I would have carried on!!!

You’re wandering what the hell I’m on about… Well, at some point I asked friends how I could raise some money for a charitable school trip and one friend suggested hill reps at a cost of one rep per £1.  What I didn’t comprehend was that the hill reps should be done on a daily basis and not all in one go, so I collected £1 per hill rep and in less than 2 weeks managed to sell 752 rep tickets.  That equated to 75.2 miles or so I thought.  More money did get donated and in the end £2100 was raised for a good cause.  The problem was that the loop I was running wasn’t 0.1 miles in length.  It was 0.2 and after 40 miles of running my soul got squashed as I found out that I’d only done 200 reps!  There are lots of choice words I could use to describe how I felt but I had made the decision to complete this ridiculous challenge and my mind was set.

At some point I recall saying to one of the people who had joined me that next time, I’m running form one place to another.  The whole hill reps idea felt like an utter farce and what was worse was that I had people there counting reps as I slowly ran round in circles.  This is where decision two came in…  I would do it on my own if I did a charity run again.  No one to annoy or have tagging along wasting their time.  I could only think of one thing to do and that was to run form Land’s End to john O’Groats.  Now, in hindsight, I should have done it earlier in my life.  The lessons I learnt about myself would have saved lots of disappointment, annoyance and heart break, but this is all with hind sight.  In other words, a waste of words.

One of those pensive moments where I stopped and thought

One of those pensive moments where I stopped and thought “why didn’t I get here years ago?”

This whole ridiculous task ended, 652 laps completed, 75 miles ran and the same amount of ascent as Mount Fuji in under 23 hours.  But I wasn’t happy.  There was something important missing and I felt like I’d wasted peoples time in what was no more than a one man, run around show!

The next thing was the consideration of being barefoot, which for me was really a case of thinking to myself whether its possible to do such a long trip without proper shoes and then realising that it makes the run special and so attracts more potential donations.  It would be a waste to carryout such a selfish challenge without allowing it to do some good along the way, and having lost my grandfather not too long ago, the decision to support Stroke Association was a no brainer.  All I had to do was train without really making a big deal, announce what I was planning near the time and then work on trying to get people to get involved.  The latter was the most time consuming thing ever.  It’s not good enough to say ‘I’m going to do X and no one has done it before” if you are a ‘nobody’, and without the help of Peter Ambrose, a running friend who happened to know Bob Cartwright from backpackinglight, this wouldn’t have ever been possible.  With this spot of good fortune I ended up cutting my pack weight down by around 4kg!  It made the trip a definite possibly in the 6 week time constraints placed on me by my job.

In that small backpack was everything you need to survive. Amazing what we don't need in life really.

In that small backpack was everything you need to survive. Amazing what we don’t need in life really.

Im not sure I can truly call the training I did training.  I had fun, ran up mountains, took photos, completed some ultras and generally did things that were stupid, like running 30 miles with full gear before taking part in a 5k trail relay with my running club, Buxton AC.  I was amazed at how well my body was adapting and repairing itself after tough sessions.  The fact that I finished a 21 miles fell race, in sub-zero conditions without any shoes on filled me with confidence, and the whole barefoot or sandalled running seemed to leave me in a state that allowed my to run the day after an ultra!!  Now, don’t band me with runners who extol the virtues of their techniques.

Edale Skyline completed barefoot. Harsh conditions and 7 MRT call outs yet without shoes I managed to finish the race.

Edale Skyline completed barefoot. Harsh conditions and 7 MRT call outs yet without shoes I managed to finish the race.

I’m not interested in what others run in or not run in.  I simply enjoy getting out, running on the gnarliest terrain I can find and finding routes that no one else will run or everyone else calls ‘unrunnable’.

Somehow, despite my reputation for being disorganised, despite having no more than £400 to use on food and potential spare equipment on the run, I seem to have started and finished.  So I guess next is the point where I tell the story of the run and fill in the gaps between the lines of the various blog posts I made along the way.

An Unexpected Post From LeJog

 

"It's a long road to wisdom and a short one to being ignored" The Lumineers

“It’s a long road to wisdom and a short one to being ignored” The Lumineers

At some point along running the length of the UK I typed this.  It was on Day 24 apparently, but I have no real recollection of where I was or why I didn’t post it.  I only happened to find it because I peaked at the draft posts I have to see if I could finish any of them and reduce the backlog of typing.  So instead of reducing the backlog, I’m sharing a random and typically philosophical set of words.

DAY 24

At some point, we all realise what we are supposed to have done long ago.  It doesn’t matter that you didn’t do it earlier and it doesn’t matter that you have nothing to say or no way to express what it is that you are experiencing.  If only the lack of words was because I’d reached that fabled place called wisdom.

“A wise man speaks little and says lots. A foolish man speaks lots and says little.”

The Ins and Outs – Brief Thoughts After #BareFootLeJog Part 2

Sunday 30th August (Day 34 of my run).  After 38 miles I had an amusing conversation with my Uncle, who joined me to run some of the final sections as the reason for my run was also close to his heart.

“So, when are we actually going home?” he asked

“You’ve seen the schedule haven’t you?” I replied

“Yes, but when are we actually going home? You’ve got over a hundred miles to cover.”

“I’m finishing this thing Wednesday.”

“No you’re not. When are you planning on finishing? I hate camping so when do I get to go home?”

The weather was poor at the start and poor at the end. It didn't matter though. I'd said that I'd finish on the 2nd and that's what I was going to do.

The weather was poor at the start and poor at the end. It didn’t matter though. I’d said that I’d finish on the 2nd and that’s what I was going to do.

But I get ahead of myself, how did I get to the North of Scotland? How can I share, what was an epic journey for me, the scale of the undertaking in a way that doesn’t fill page upon page with thousands of words?

I’ve tried 3 times to make this a concise post on the experience of running LeJog (Lands End to John o’Groats). The problem lies with the fact that it was 38 days, or 35 days of running with lots of different things happening on the majority of days, so I’m going to compress the days into sections of trails to give an idea of what it was like to run, unsupported from one end of the country to the other.

Starting on the South West Coast path meant that navigation was actually fairly easy. Just keep the sea on your left. Occasionally you end up following a desire line (the sections of trail that cut corners or wander off away from the trail only to re-join them later on) or getting carried away on a downhill route, but generally it didn’t take long to realise that the route I was on wasn’t quite right. I even started to try and find more direct routes from A to B as I realised the frustrations of running along fractals! The SWC follows the coast so tightly that in parts a marked 3 mile route would take an hour of running, so I learnt to ignore the distances early on and just focus on place names. You may think that finding drinking water and food was easy, but actually, staying on the coast path you won’t see many shops or places for food. The LifeStraw water filter I was carrying meant I could drink from most for the puddles and streams, but this is where I started to drink less than is normally recommended. It was a balancing act between the weight of the pack and the discomfort of being thirsty. Bigger towns like St. Ives were a good place to stock up or just gorge on food before moving on. The SWC path is incredible to run along and it shouldn’t be seen as being flat, since the day with the most climb per mile was along this glorious bit of trails.

Finding Sleeping spots became easier, and on some nights you'd bump into kind people who'd recommend a glorious spot like this one (thanks Keith)

Finding Sleeping spots became easier, and on some nights you’d bump into kind people who’d recommend a glorious spot like this one (thanks Keith)

Then there’s the weather and tide times. If you’re lucky, there won’t be any rain or wind. If like me you aren’t, be ready to be blown around a fair bit and to get wet. But there is a distinct advantage to running the coast. If you get tired or bored of the winding, technical and hilly routes you have the option of running along the sandy beaches and do a little bit of scrambling along the rockier parts of the coast. If you know the tide times, then they make for a fun game of beat the tide, as you see how far you can get before the tide forces you back on to the coastal path. It was along this path and early on that I picked up the first of two injuries.

It's possible to carry on moving with lots of injuries, but this one led to tendonitis in the opposite leg! Compensation injuries suck.

It’s possible to carry on moving with lots of injuries, but this one led to tendonitis in the opposite leg! Compensation injuries suck.

The gales on the second day had a tendency to catch me off guard and on one of them I was running towards a rock stile and got pushed off balance, catching the top of my foot on the rock. It did what most body parts do if you hit them hard enough. The swelling was fairly impressive and egg shaped, but it didn’t affect my running, or so I thought. I lucked out on the camping sites and managed to get a few good sleeps in, although not having seen any of the trails or areas I ran through (this was the case for everywhere I went apart from the stretch between Bakewell and Hathersage) it took me a while to get the whole skill of finding a suitable sleeping spot sorted. The best way is to use Googlemaps on satellite view and locate a field that is sheltered from view and if the weather is dire, sheltered from the weather.

The worse spot I found to sleep. I was paranoid all night that someone would return!!

The worse spot I found to sleep. I was paranoid all night that someone would return!!

There are a few sections along the coast path that can’t be crossed at high tide (like the section between Crantock and Newquay) so those tide times come in handy and you can buy a book cheaply with a years’ worth of tide times in!!

The beach at Crantock at low tide makes for a short route to Newquay. Otherwise your choice is to swim or head in land and on to the roads.

The beach at Crantock at low tide makes for a short route to Newquay. Otherwise your choice is to swim or head in land and on to the roads.

Luckily the tide was out enough to cross the estuary and get up and out towards the SWC in Newquay.

Luckily the tide was out enough to cross the estuary and get up and out towards the SWC in Newquay.

But I’m getting side tracked…

The euphoria of reaching the end of a day and being on track with your schedule. Upper parts of Closely.

The euphoria of reaching the end of a day and being on track with your schedule. Upper parts of Closely.

Clovelly is a delightful little place, where you either go steeply down or have to crawl up.

Clovelly is a delightful little place, where you either go steeply down or have to crawl up.

The journey takes you to Clovelly and this is the first part where you notice a distinct change in the terrain. Gone are the rocky technical trails. They’re replaced by mud and dirt trails with larger rocks that occasionally poke out the ground. There are still some of those awesome hills to run down and up which makes arriving at the mouth of the estuary and Barnstaple a bit of an anti-climax. 5 days in I arrived at Barnstaple and up until the last few miles I felt great. Crossing the estuary along the A39 I could feel my right calf getting tighter and an annoying ache developing at the point where the Achilles tendon joins the Soleus muscle. Here’s injury number two…. Tendonitis!

This was the moment when I had to decide whether the journey was over or not. Luckily a friend sent me a message that did the trick. Thanks Amy.

This was the moment when I had to decide whether the journey was over or not. Luckily a friend sent me a message that did the trick. Thanks Amy.

Sometimes you just have to make the most of a shit situation. Thanks to some friends, the injury could be forgotten for a bit.

Sometimes you just have to make the most of a shit situation. Thanks to some friends, the injury could be forgotten for a bit.

I managed to hook up with an old friend and then spent the next day working out whether this was the end of the trip. With a swollen foot on one side and tendonitis on the other I wasn’t sure if I should carry on with a schedule that was around 35 miles every day, so, I changed the schedule. This is probably key to people completing or failing a LeJog. I was really hell bent on sticking to the route and the schedule until that point. After it I seemed to adopt a nice daily routine and it must have been a good one. I finished 31 days later. So, here’s there routine that seemed to develop organically. Wake up around 5:30am, check the schedule for place names and then plant the route. The planning of the route involved plotting waypoints on the OS map app and making a mental note of the overall mileage. Next was packing the equipment and getting it in the pack in a specific order to minimise the size of the pack and make it comfortable to carry. Tent was always packed away last. The days running and walking was done at my leisure. It was my holiday time after all, so if I wanted to sit and have a coffee in a cafe or a drink in a pub I did do. I found the combination of half a pint of beer, a pint of cola and a pack of pork scratchings to be the perfect pick me up before doing any part of a route that I knew would be difficult. The navigation was done by memorising small 1-3 miles sections and just going along them until I either reached the end of what I remembered or I needed to be sure that I was heading in the right direction. I even managed to navigate across Exmoor using the most basic road map ever. I have to say I loved my compass that day.

Exmoor. Completely different to the SWC path and the start of some good weather.

Exmoor. Completely different to the SWC path and the start of some good weather.

Finding those hidden places on open access land made up for the excruciating pain of the hugely swollen Achilles tendon on my right foot.

Finding those hidden places on open access land made up for the excruciating pain of the hugely swollen Achilles tendon on my right foot.

The days had a tendency of blending into each other and the coping strategy of not focusing on the entire journey and only small sections, meant that I could never really say where I started a day or two before. The tendonitis was managed using a stout wooden walking stick that I picked up somewhere on a hill in Exmoor. It was the most Lord of the Rings stick I could find and being a fan of the Hobbit, a fair few quotes were randomly shared with any vegetation or animal that was close enough to hear me.

Sleeping spot at Wheedon Cross. I actually could decide where to sleep it was such a big space!

Sleeping spot at Wheedon Cross. I actually could decide where to sleep it was such a big space!

Eating left over roast potatoes thanks to the kind folks at Wheedon Cross. Exmoor has some great woodland trails.

Eating left over roast potatoes thanks to the kind folks at Wheedon Cross. Exmoor has some great woodland trails.

part 2-16

Typical of the Exmoor I saw. Big rolling hills and woodlands. And lots of dried out thistles!

This is where the weather improved and then got warm! The Somerset flats were like running in an oven and with the constant change between footpath and road, my feet were either comfortably cold or burning hot. As you hit Exmoor and move away from the coast you get farms. This is where you can feast on fruit, vegetables and eggs, and all at a really low price. Little stalls with honesty boxes are the only reason I managed to find food as I made my way to Cheddar, since most of the villages and hamlets didn’t have shops or… The shops didn’t open until I was a fair few miles away.

The night before reaching Cheddar. Great little hidden spot and a glorious sunset.

The night before reaching Cheddar. Great little hidden spot and a glorious sunset.

This is where the animals have a tendency of following you around a field. Be ready to be a cow or sheep magnet!

This is where the animals have a tendency of following you around a field. Be ready to be a cow or sheep magnet!

Adhoc physio to try and reduce that egg on my foot and help deal with the tendonitis. In the words of my physio friend Nick, 'Squeeze the F*@% out of it!"

Adhoc physio to try and reduce that egg on my foot and help deal with the tendonitis. In the words of my physio friend Nick, ‘Squeeze the F*@% out of it!”

Heading away from Cheddar and towards the Severn Bridge.

Heading away from Cheddar and towards the Severn Bridge.

The flatness made this part of the trip a little monotonous but at the same time you can cover a good amount of ground without the strain of running hills. That is until you hit the Cheddar Gorge. If you get there, go over it. The view was amazing, even in under the grey sky that threatened me with yet more rain. Apart from the view, going up a big hill always means running down the other side, and the descent was fun! Even running with a gnarly walking stick didn’t seem to matter, and then it was back down and along flat trails. The days that followed were all about getting from A to B. the A and the B didn’t really matter and I think I must have completely zoned out. I don’t actually remember where I went through at all. That is until one of those moments that make everything worthwhile…

I realised that regardless of how much I disliked the urban sections, they still provided some great views.

I realised that regardless of how much I disliked the urban sections, they still provided some great views.

A hidden gem along that you won't find unless you leave the Offa's Dyke path and explore. Don't expect to find footpath though, since no one uses them anymore.

A hidden gem along that you won’t find unless you leave the Offa’s Dyke path and explore. Don’t expect to find footpath though, since no one uses them anymore.

The final trig on the Black Mountains. Didn't have to bag this one, but I'm so glad I did.

The final trig on the Black Mountains. Didn’t have to bag this one, but I’m so glad I did.

View of the sky at Hay-On-Wye

View of the sky at Hay-On-Wye

A classic Offa's Dyke path Style on route to Knighton.

A classic Offa’s Dyke path Style on route to Knighton.

part 2-28

Sometimes, you just have to take a nap. doesn't matter where since there never seemed to be any people about!

Sometimes, you just have to take a nap. doesn’t matter where since there never seemed to be any people about!

One of these moments happened on the trail that meanders along Wenlock Edge. Lots of woodland trails and if you move quietly enough you might be lucky enough to walk or run along with deer. I was amazed at the way they moved up the hill like I wasn’t there and wish I hadn’t decided to try and take a picture. Before I did, I walked up the hill with them about 2m from me on a higher section of the path, side by side. All I can say is that if you see it in a film and think “stuff like that never happens”, it does. One of the best memories of the trip, even though it only lasted about 2-3minutes max. The next few days seemed to fly by. Before I knew it, I had crossed the river Severn, experienced the wonder that if the Offa’s Dyke path (especially leading from Chepstow to Monmouth), met up with some really old friends and I was in Yorkshire and heading towards the North and Scotland. The tendonitis had improved by managing the amount of walking and running I did. I forced myself to walk lots of sections, reminding myself of the agony of walking across Exmoor and towards Cheddar. Now, research the Pennine Way and you should make sure you pay attention to the word BOG! The first sections are glorious to run and walk, with good ground beneath your feet, lots of places to stop for food and drink and plenty of water sources. The section through the Somerset flats had little to no suitable drinking water. That were I realised that the 2l of water recommendation didn’t seem to be true for my body. The litre to litre and a half I drank per day didn’t leave me with that dehydration ache that you can get after or even during a race. I managed the swelling of my feet by wrapping each foot in a bike inner tube, moving the foot backwards and forwards for about a minute before repeating it with the other foot, and purposefully sleeping with my feet higher than my head. But again I’m off on a tangent, so back to the Pennine Way…

Sunrise at Abbots Bromley, with the next stop being Bakewell.

Sunrise at Abbots Bromley, with the next stop being Bakewell.

part 2-37

Meal curtsy of Bob at The Outdoor Stations and Backpackinglight.co.uk The strategy was simply 'eat when and where you can'

Meal curtsy of Bob at The Outdoor Stations and Backpackinglight.co.uk
The strategy was simply ‘eat when and where you can’

The Pennine Way, before I realised it was most BOG!

The Pennine Way, before I realised it was most BOG!

part 2-34 part 2-33

One of many pub stops, but this one was one near home and with my Uncle who has a tendency of erm... speaking his mind ;)

One of many pub stops, but this one was one near home and with my Uncle who has a tendency of erm… speaking his mind 😉

part 2-38 part 2-39 part 2-40 part 2-42

Hadrian’s Wall is such fun to run along but the boggy sections after are likely to wipe it from your short term memory. All I remember thinking to myself was, I will be in Scotland tomorrow and despite being tired, I plotted and followed my route through Bellingham and up on to the Cheviots. The views were great and it was good to jump over the gate that marked the boundary between English and Scottish soil. I headed down out of the hills and made my way to Jedburgh the first Scottish stopping point.

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The last section of England up on the Cheviots.

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Post Jedburgh sunset. A miscalculation of distance meant a night in a field next to the A9. It was just ever so slightly noisy.

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The Forth Firth from the road. Luckily to have had this view, since after the earlier sections, the road would have been should destroying otherwise.

Amusingly, a person in the pub mistook me for someone who was homeless and told me that I should get my pint and make sure I don’t leave my bag behind as I leave the pub to drink outside! At the time I had no idea what he meant, and it’s only the sign on the back of my pack that let him know he was being a bit of a ‘prat’, which got quickly followed by the people he was drinking with ripping into him with little jibes. For some reason I decided to have a day off after Jedburgh. I’m not 100% sure that I needed the break, but something in my head convinced me that it was a good idea, and I spend the next day replanning my route. Why? Because my dear friend and constant source of common sense and information, Pete Ambrose nagged me until I did.

Extract of conversations with the home support guru…

Pete “Do you want me to see if there is a shorter straighter route? Is that the question?”

“I guess yeah” Aleks

Pete “Keld to John O’Groats via the Cicerone route is 580 miles…”

“on the road via google maps, 410 miles”

“Choices Choices.”

 

Pete “Look at this for a beautiful clean line

http://www.hockeylejog.co.uk/map.htm

http://www.hockeylejog.co.uk/journal6.htm

Route from Edinburgh to JOG

Thank the Rustons for this.”

 

“I’ll get the maps and start looking at some point. Struggling to move legs today.” Aleks

 

Pete “Are the legs stuck in a bog?”

 

“No, but probably aching because of the bog trotting. Slow day today” Aleks

Mr Ruston on holiday. It was great to see people I knew along the way, and I gladly waited for them if I was ahead of schedule. It made the trip worth while in some ways.

Mr Ruston on holiday. It was great to see people I knew along the way, and I gladly waited for them if I was ahead of schedule. It made the trip worth while in some ways.

Why is bad weather good? Because it give you sunsets of incredible beauty!

Why is bad weather good? Because it give you sunsets of incredible beauty!

I wanted to get back home a little earlier and actually spend a bit of time enjoying the experience, as opposed to getting back and going straight into work the next day. This is where I became more of a road runner, with the odd trail thrown in to stop me going insane. Still, the route I followed provided some amazing views and gave me the change to cut straight through the Cairngorms. The start of the Cairngorms was ok, the middle was dire (bogs, wind and rain that actually got me cold enough to find it difficult to move my arms) but then, the little stormy section of weather blew over and gave me some of the best views of the whole LeJog trip. This is where I stared to get a little flippant with the mileage. From Jedburgh to John O’Groats I averaged around 38-40 miles per day, finishing around 6-7pm each evening. With 4 days left, I decided to cut a 38 mile day down to 18!! Why? Laziness I guess.

The wooded section from Blair Athol on route to the Cairngorms. Have to say it was all pleasant, even with the freezing weather!

The wooded section from Blair Athol on route to the Cairngorms. Have to say it was all pleasant, even with the freezing weather!

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The storm that blew over as I reached the 912m peak of the route. It was more like winter than summer.

The storm that blew over as I reached the 912m peak of the route. It was more like winter than summer.

The joy of being off the bog and having glorious sunshine!

The joy of being off the bog and having glorious sunshine!

Scotland has to be the land of rainbows. I've never seem so many in so few days.

Scotland has to be the land of rainbows. I’ve never seem so many in so few days.

Barefoot running sometimes results in a hippy look! Flowers between toes is a barefooting hazard.

Barefoot running sometimes results in a hippy look! Flowers between toes is a barefooting hazard.

The thing is, our bodies and brains, once we let them know who is boss, will do what we want them to. Especially when we pay attention to what they are feeding back and understanding it. What did this look like in reality? It looked like 3 days that would normally be seen as this isn’t happening, time to rest and wait a day or two…

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The 2nd to last day and the road was dull! Occasionally, the view was grand in its simplicity.

The 2nd to last day and the road was dull! Occasionally, the view was grand in its simplicity.

Sunday I managed to cover 38 miles along the A9. Not the nicest route, but there are no trails in Scotland that go north!! They all seem to go from East to West, so being on the East coast, this was my only option. Then I had ‘that’ conversation with my Uncle, who joined me to run some sections as the reason for my run was also close to his heart.

“So, when are we actually going home?” he asked

“You’ve seen the schedule haven’t you?” I replied

“Yes, but when are we actually going home? You’ve got over a hundred miles to cover.”

“I’m finishing this thing Wednesday.”

“No you’re not. When are you planning on finishing? I hate camping so when do I get to go home?”

I repeated my answer and he insisted that I’m wasn’t going to cover the distance in 3 days and finish a day earlier than my projected finish day. So, I guess it was time to prove a point…

Monday was a 36 mile day and a 6pm finish, followed by a Scotch egg and fish and chips supper. 12:30am however, the meal and scotch egg returned to haunt me. I managed to get food poisoning with only 2 days left. I had around 3 hours sleep that night and felt like a large sack of horse manure that had been repeatedly beaten with a large stick. Despite this, I packed everything up, mixed up the trusty Tailwind that had been my main source of calories and got moving. Around 10 miles later I reached Brora, found a cafe (which my Uncle and Stepfather had already found and where happily sat in drinking a warm drink) and managed to drink half a coffee, borrowed their car key, got in the car and slept for an hour and half. After this it was a case of picking somewhere to end for the night. Helmsdale got the thumbs up and I got my focus head on (assisted by a swig of Gaviscon, 1 pro-plus tablet and 2 ibuprofens) and headed out. I only managed 28 miles that day, but they felt like 38 with the stomach cramps and lack of sleep. That left 55 miles between me and John O’Groats and not surprisingly my Uncle repeated his question. I just replied, I’m finishing tomorrow, but I’m leaving early.

Little did I know that a delightful French fella in the hostel they booked me into was going to keep us up most of the night, with his constant wailing, wandering and generally making us think that he may be an axe wielding maniac, so with around 3-4 hours’ sleep I got out of bed, spend 3 hours waking my brain up with coffee and beans on toast and set of at 9am. It was the last day, I didn’t care whether I could repeat a long day the day after, and so I actually had the option of running with no consequences. Around 20 miles in I had a leisurely pit stop at a cafe, enjoying a scone and carrot cake with a pot of coffee, and I took my time over it. I was in there for an hour and a half smile J

The rest of the day was just determined footsteps. The wind was blowing in from the North and like the start it was raining, but after so many days it really didn’t matter. A quick 15 minutes of sleep at Watten and it was time to cover the last 19 miles. My Uncle joined me. He’d intended on running the last section and it was good to have him there. We reached the Northern coast with 4 miles between me and that fingerpost. The adrenaline must have been flowing because I picked up my pace and managed a spritely 6 minute mile on the final mile. It was done and the time for a celebratory whiskey or two had arrived. The nice thing was, that I started with two old friends and ended with two other old friends. My Uncle insisted that we drink all the whiskey (a bottle and a half) so we stayed up till around 3am, got into my trusty tent and went to sleep on the road for the last time, as part of the adventure.

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The morning after with a coffee and some food. It was time to plan the next adventure or two.

The morning after with a coffee and some food. It was time to plan the next adventure or two.

Posing like a nit wit at the finger post.

Posing like a nit wit at the finger post.

I wouldn’t actually change a single bit of it, even the early injuries. They made the learning curve steep, switched on the important aspect to of my thinking, problem solving on the fly, and let me meet lots and lots of people.

I’ve just looked at the word count!!! I may owe some an apology if they’ve ready this far. I’ve not even looked at the screen as I’ve been typing so I apologise for the quality or lack of in the writing. I have to say that the conversations with Pete Ambrose along the way had a way of focusing the thoughts, so the tip for any adventure is to get yourself a sounding board. Someone that will tell you you are being a total tit, occassionaly enquire about your state of mind or health and generally make sure that your feet stay on the ground and your head out of the clouds.

If you’re wondering what the different parts were like, stay tuned for a later post where I publish some of the 500+ photo’s I’ve taken along the way.

Next up though, I’ll focus on the kit I took and luckily there wasn’t much of it.

 

Final Resting Place

  Focus seems to have shifted to the small granite pebble that at one point was destined to be launched into the sea at John O’Groats, but found its final resting place amongst  the other pebbles that are at the base of the JOG finger post.

The pebble that had some significance didn’t seem to get mentioned, as though all had forgotten its exitence.

Today it reached its final resting place.  It’s journey is done and mine continues…

The 3 Elements Of Trail Running – Brief Thoughts After #BareFootLeJog Part 1

I finished at 10pm on the 2nd of September after a 53 mile day in 10 hours of running.  This was the day after, having had a nice evening of celebrating with the traditional Scottish beverage.

I finished at 10pm on the 2nd of September after a 53 mile day in 10 hours of running. This was the day after, having had a nice evening of celebrating with the traditional Scottish beverage.  There’s nothing like making fun of yourself with a proper wolly pose 😉

Sean Conway, having completed his JogLe posted an article called the 4 elements of trail running.  At the time, I was in the process of putting the final pieces of my LeJog in place, so I read with interest and even added an additional element.

Travelling for 38 days, carrying what you need to survive tends to provide you with lots of time to ponder ephemeral ideas like the nature of endurance or how we escape from that dark place we sometimes find ourselves as ultra runners.  The whole elements of trail running seemed to stick in my head and it seemed to me that there are actually 3 elements to focus on.  The 4 Sean Conway mentions are actually breakdowns of these 3 elements and having complete LeJog, barefooted and unsupported in 38 days, I think I can put my thoughts down (38 days is a long time to think!).

The first element, although they are all of equal importance is mechanics.  I’m referring to the understanding of how you move as a person and developing the efficiency of this movement.  I felt I was reasonably efficient when I ran or walked, but on the 5th day I found I was moving far better than day one.  Maybe it was getting used to the 8kg pack or even the breakfast I ate, but regardless, running along the Devon section of the South West Coast path felt more fluid that running ever had.  Later I was using what I knew about physiology (research in book like Anatomy for Runners and various podcasts and websites) and I would then treat the problem and alter my movement as consciously as I could to prevent the problem.  My hips would hurt near the end of the trip and so I dealt with them by working on my quads that were causing the problem.  The was one problem early on that could have ended the barefoot LeJog adventure after just 5 days.  I was thrown off my feet by the gales of day 2 and had a lovely bruised lump on the top of my left foot.  We compensate for injury, no matter how small and alter our mechanics, and mine caused severe tendentious at the join between my Achilles and my Soleous muscle.

This was hard to deal with and then leads to the second element, mentality.  We train our bodies when we take on long distance running (well, any length of running or exercise) but how often do we train our brains?  Day 6 was a difficult day.  I had nothing to do, I could barely walk around and the time seemed to be used by my brain to think about failure.  I realised a few days after that I wasn’t looking into that dark place but I had fallen in.  The people who had virtually joined in, donated money and spoken to me at races before LeJog became a whole host of people I was going to let down.  Then the phone buzzed and a friend sent me a message that threw my own words into my face…

“You either do something or you don’t.  There’s no trying to do something”

I’d like to thank Master Yoda for that pearl of wisdom, but it had a massive impact on me.  I genuinely believed those words when I spoke them and they seemed to trigger some kind of flow state.  The rest of the run was rescheduled so that I had several weeks of short days and I set my mind to getting as far as I could.  I think this is the part of our mentality as ultra runners that we need to celebrate and keep building.  We can enter these flow states and become problem solving machines, but it seems to take utter immersion in what we’re doing and slight changes to our environment to trigger them.  The other part of the mentality that is equally as important is acknowledging the suck!  We know when things are bad, but we don’t always acknowledge them.  I reached a point near the end of the trip where I would just admit I was tired, admit I needed to stop and once I did this, solving the problem seemed to be easier, whether it was related to physical or mental tiredness.  Mental tiredness tended to end in a quick snooze and the physical tiredness was in some cases completely removed by knowing what to eat.

Above Malham Cove.  One of the best climbs of the trip with some awesome limestone slabs to bounce around on.

Above Malham Cove. One of the best climbs of the trip with some awesome limestone slabs to bounce around on.

Now comes the third element which is metabolism.  By this I’m not just referring to what we eat, but how our bodies utilises water and the food we put in.  After 2 weeks, I was barely eating anything.  I would mix a bottle of tailwind up (2 scoops in 600ml) and this would last me for half a days worth of moving, followed by a refill and then an evening meal.  Admittedly I was staying aerobic for most of the time, but even on the occasions where the trail was tremendous and it would be a sin not to unleash for just a few miles, I didn’t seem to need the extra fuel that we are told we need.  I would go into shops after 20-30 miles and what I purchased was specific.  I even left a fair few shops with no extra food and just water, even though I knew the day after would be a long one without any form of food stops.  Now this is all diet based, but there is the side of metabolism that relates to what fuels we burn whilst moving and it really did seem to boil down to fat as fuel and glucose as a minor top up.  I must have been doing something right though since I lost 10lbs over all, which was 4% of body fat with a 2% muscle gain.  I was hoping to at least lose enough to get that coveted six pack!

Two days after I restarted (day 9) I was lucky enough to be given a bag of left over roast potatoes and a nice lunch they made too.

Two days after I restarted (day 9) I was lucky enough to be given a bag of left over roast potatoes and a nice lunch they made too.

Now I’ve been really brief with these elements, since I have lots of thoughts on each one, in particular the mechanics and mentality elements.  They are what made the trip as successful and for the majority of time a joy to do.

What was or wasn’t on my feet aside, once I got my head around the mentality and mechanics elements the metabolism seemed to be second nature.  If something hurt, I would hunt for the source of that pain, whether it was poor movement, tight muscles or the distribution of weight in my pack.  Aches and pains that I was getting seemed to go, new ones developed until I found their source and they would be banished too.

It’s time to round this off as the first part.  These 3 elements deserve a little more time, so I’ll be working on my thoughts some more and posting about them as distinct ideas, but as far as the LeJog write up goes, this is part 1 of a possible 3.

Hope you found something useful or interesting in this post.

Live Life One Adventure At A Time

Both my polish grandparents survived the hardships and atrocities of WWII.

Dziadek (my grandfather) often spoke of his adventures during the war as a soldier and my grandmother has spoken briefly of some of the atrocities she and her family faced having been transported to Siberia in cattle wagons and losing her entire family.

In the previous post I said I will continue to try to live up to Dziadek’s example but in truth I will be living up to both him and Babcia’s example, one adventure at a time.  The Facebook page, Barefootlejog, may slowly become silent, but the adventures and seeking the limit of my endurance and moments in the void will continue.  I’ve come to realise that it is truly these moments of hardship that make us who we are and keep us focused on the things that are important.

The charity or cause may not be the same, but the driving force will always be inspired by two people who have had a part in making this barefoot idiot who he is today.

So, here’s to the next adventure…