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”

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

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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?

 

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.

The 21 Day Countdown

Justgiving.com/barefootlejog

  
There’s three weeks left to go, £2647 raised and 1,280 miles and 144,000ft of ascent completed in training. 

Right now I have a nice view up on a hill somewhere between Buxton and Belper, making my way to the Derwent River relays.   The sun is warming up for a spectacular display, I’m about to make a tea and get ready for pitch up and get some sleep before an early start in the morning.  

Hope your weekend starts as pleasantly as mine seems to be 🙂

Self Perpetuating Motivational Device

In all the training, organising potential sponsorship, contacting people regarding potential talks post run and getting the equipment sorted, I completely forgot that there is a Land’s End to John O’Groats Association.  This is what their site says about becoming a member:

“Anyone who has completed the journey From Land’s End to John o’ Groats in either direction, by whatever means of transport is eligible for membership of the Association.  You will have to have completed your trip as a single journey no matter how long that takes and you will be asked to provide evidence of a properly completed trip which could be in the form of a diary or log book with signatures from anyone who has witnessed your trip.  Many places, garages, post offices etc have a date stamp and will be happy to stamp and sign your log.  Other acceptable forms are accommodation receipts or similar which show where you were at any particular time and date.” 

The idea of carrying a small book that is then stamped, signed or is used to collect some kind sign of my passing is really appealing.  One of my favourite pieces of art is by the artist On kawara.  He went on a journey and would send a postcard home that simply said “I am still alive”.  Without getting deep and philosophical he was questioning his own existence.

So here’s what I plan on doing.

I’m going to purchase one of my favourite makes of notebooks, a Moleskine.  On the 26th of July, in the Early hours of a Sunday morning, I’m going to carry this small book and along the journey I’m going to collect items that I can store in this little book, and for each item title them with the date and time.  It is a little arty I guess, but as a personal piece of memorabilia, it’s going to priceless.

It’s the little things that cause out memories to jolt into action and let us relive moments in the past, so this is going to be my little memory jogger, and it’ll give a second goal to focus on whilst moving persistently forward.

I guess that’s what this post is about….

I’ve found a way of redirecting my focus at times when I will be low and struggling.  The book really can’t go unfinished!

I’ve already planned one or two of the Scottish pages.  They will be filled with the daed bodies of midges 😉