Managing Equipment On Multi-Day Trips – Brief Thoughts After #BareFootLeJog Part 3

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

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

Solving the problem of gear to carry is pretty simple.  First your decide on your tipping point between comfort and weight, then you work out what you can afford.  The more you go towards weight, the more uncomfortable you’re going to be at the start of your journey, and the more comfortable you are the harder it will be to carry all your equipment.

I saw a young lad, I think his name was Duncan, on his way to Helmsdale from JOG.  it was his 3rd day and he looked distraught.  The first thing he said when he found out I was on my way to JOG was “Where the hell is all your equipment?”, since my neatly packed Fastpack 20 was less than a 3rd the size of his gear.  I had the advantage of having planned for the lightest weight pack with comfort, although after my finely tuned foam mat blew away, I had to add 200g to my pack weight with my backup blow up bed.

That small pack held everything I needed to survive on a day to day basis.  There was even enough room to add a few things!!

That small pack held everything I needed to survive on a day to day basis. There was even enough room to add a few things!!

My kit ended up coming from 3 sources,  self funded purchases like my MSR titanium kettle, LifeStraw water filter, Ricoh GR digital and the Ultimate Direction FastPack 20, borrowed like my sleeping bag and blow up bed, or kindly donated by BackPackingLight (which included the Vaude Lizard GUL tent, a thermatex blanket, a Syphon alcohol stove and a Ti Pocket Stove).  I’m all for minimal amounts of writing, so I’ll stick be as to the point as I can with each review.  I did test the equipment before I set off on numerous occasions, and it paid off since I didn’t have any equipment problems.  The only thing I did end up having to do was buy a new water proof.  The Inov-8 Ultra shell began to fall apart after 29 days and was no loner waterproof, so to get me through the rest of bonnie (wet) old Scotland I purchased a Montane shell.

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.

Packing of the kit became an art!  Sleeping bag, blow up bed, waterproofs and warm layer  would all end up being layers along the back end of the pack and then the extra bits and bobs (spare batteries for camera, cables and chargers etc) would end up in front of these. It gave a pack a nice supported back and kept the profile as slim as possible.  The mesh section of the pack got a hammering, with anything from food to my hat would just get shoved in there.  The tent was small enough to sit happily in the side mesh pocket, with the poles along side it.  The bungee cord that seemed to be pointless when I got the bag did a good job of keeping the tent poles in place while I bounced along day after day.  The opposite side to the tent held a 500-750ml bottle of water, with another 500 ml bottle in the bottle pouch on the left strap.  The UD fastpack 20 was the perfect pack, although it would be awesome if it was fully waterproof.

Right!  Time to review…

Vaude Lizard GUL Tent

I love this tent so much that I am going to do a full on review of it.  It kept me warm and dry for so many days that I feel I need to do it justice, but in the mean time, here’s a fairly concise review.

This thing is incredible.  The total weight of the pole, pegs and both layers is 706g and I could pack it small enough to fit it in the side stretch pouches of the UD Fastback 20.

Now, it’s not the cheapest of tents, but it’s versatilely, ability to pitch it in the most ridiculously small spaces and sheltering from the strongest winds and from serious rain make it well worth it.   And did I mention it’s a 3 season tent that only weighs 700g?

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.

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)

Thermatex blanket

Three out of the 38 nights were cold enough for me to really have to use this miracle of clever thinking.  It does exactly what its supposed to and keeps you warm when you need it.  It’s a fairly low tech piece of kit since its a blanket with one green and one silver side.  The science is as follows:

Silver is a poor emitter of heat, so you have the silver side facing out and are amazed at the warm that is absorbed by the green internals and then emitted back at you.  Kind of like a Polar bears skin and fur combo.

The only thing I would say as a negative, is that the silver coating rubbed off fairly easily, which is combatted by folding the blanket with the silver side inwards.  Now this small problem is supposed to have been sorted on the new versions, so you needn’t worry about the silver completely rubbing off.  The other thing I liked about the blanket was that I could trim it down to size and then sew it into a neat little sleeping bag.  The other nice thing is that it performed better than a silk sleeping bag liner (I did a quick comparison whilst out on LeJog)

The blanket is huge enough to wrap round the average person one and a half times and weighs 210g.  If you need to have a warmth backup then this is going to be the thing to get.

Syphon Alcohol Stove and Pocket Stove Combo

I have no idea why I ever used a gas burner!  This 1.5″ high and 2″ wide cylinder weighs in at less than 20g and is efficient enough to boil around 500ml of water in less than 5 minutes!!  Admittedly, you need to couple it with the Pocket Stove, but that means you have a full cooking solution that is under 200g including 100g of alcohol.  I didn’t use it every night or every morning, but it was great to have.  My whole cooking setup was no bigger than my MSR titanium Kettle (everything fit neatly inside the kettle).  If you fancy being lazy, you can use the stove with a trivet.  Things take longer to heat up, but when your wild camping and travelling on the road, I’m to sure that having super fast cooking times is that essential.

 

Compact and perfect for cooking

 
The perfect cooking kit combo.  Everything takes up no more space than the MSR titanium kettle and is less than 400g in weight!

The perfect cooking kit combo. Everything takes up no more space than the MSR titanium kettle and is less than 400g in weight!


The LifeStraw water filter

Not much to say about this thing.  It’s around 30g, it filters the nastiest looking water and stops you getting those nasty stomach bugs and its blue.  This thing saved me the hassle of carrying litres of water and meant that I could drink water anywhere I saw water.  I even tested it out before LeJog in a pool of standing water that was teaming with aquatic life.  It was so teaming that I was expecting to have to cut a run short after drinking the water through the straw.  Needless to say, I was fine.  The other great thing is that the company uses profits to supply the LifeStraws to places that need them.  So, not only do you reduce your pack weight and have pretty much limitless drinkable water, you also get that hazy warmth knowing that you are buying an ethically minded product.

Yeti sleeping bag

I had never heard of Yeti before I was loaned the sleeping bag.  Now, I think I might have to buy me one!  The sleeping bag kept me warm on almost all the nights, until the temperature dropped to around 5 degrees.  Then I had the Thermatex as a back up.

It’s a down filled sleeping bag that packs down to about the size of a can of beer.  I shouldn’t believe how small it packed and it weighs in at 400g with the stuff sac (which is actually more than big enough for the sleeping bag).  The only thing was the lack of a hood, but it is an older model.  The newer version has a hood built in and is around 50g lighter.

I slept each night on a small, inflatable bed.  It was around 350g in weight, inflated quickly and did what it was supposed to as a bed, holding the air for a whole night without the usual deflated feeling in the morning.  The only thing I would say about blow up beds is this…   Get enough air into it so that it stays level.  The majority of our mass is near our hips, so I found in the mornings I would have slightly aching hip flexors, or an aching lower back if I didn’t get enough air into the bed the night before.  The reason was the folding effect your body will have as you lie flat.  It was easy enough to fix, but it took me a few days to work out I needed to really get some air into the bed, before going to sleep on it.

Really, I think the equipment I ended up with is likely to be my standard fastpacking kit, since it is all light and functional.  The only thing I will have to invest in, is a sleeping bag and a replacement foam mat.  I’m more than comfortable on a foam mat, since the comfort part comes from the choice of pitch site, as apposed to the material you sleep on.  There seem to be some super light and super cheap sleeping bags available on-line, so will wait till payday and treat myself.  It would be great to be able to get out in the winter months and get some multi-day mini adventures done.

 

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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.

Day 28 – The Nature Of Endurance

I’m no expert, and the words below are likely the result of dehydration, malnutrition and a distinct lack of sleep.

I rambled about this in an earlier post but yesterday, feeling oddly ill and making my way (at a slower than slow pace) to Bellingham I seemed to have had a moment.

The nature of endurance and the drive to move forwards is somehqta schizophrenic.  I’m not making light of the condition in anyway however.

When those difficult moments hit, there is a part of a persons mind that says “Stop! You don’t have to go any further”

This is true of my situation as I have everything needed to stop at any moment and be comfortable for a day or so.  But here’s the paradoxical bit.  I don’t seem to stop.  There’s another part that seems to reply “I know.  Still gonna keep going till I reach….”

The two different personalities jostle for dominance and really, it seems that at the core of it, endurance is an unwillingness to listen to the part of the mind that says “stop”.

Today, many people will endure lots of hardships and they will do it because it is in our nature as humans, but only if we allow it and encourage its flurishing in the young people we interact with.

Day 22 & 23 – Thoughts Whilst Crossing The Moor

We all have that dark part of us that we hide and in doing so we hide from it.  We teeter on its edges, occasionally moving just beyond its horizons, but we avoid it at all costs.  We stare into the abyss and nothing but dread stares back.

Yet, at some point I made the conscious decision to go in.  It is easier to be in a dark place and stare up at the light than it is to stand out of reach of the dark and wander what demons lurk within.

Gradually, this dark place began to fill with light.  Where once there were undefined shapes of forbidding, there now stands figures of encouraging challenge.  The way out is easy to find, no longer a distant star, but more a beaming beacon.  The euphoria of reaching a stop point was simply the realisation that it is possible to sink lower than you imagined and then rise out.  I am no longer ashamed or fearful of this dark place. 

It is easier to crawl out of the pit of despair than it is to avoid falling in.  

Pasta meal curtosy of Bob from The Outdoor Station.

Pleasant Surprise & Fuel For The Flames

This morning I had some mail in my inbox.  Not the sort of mail that goes straight to the trash, but one that you read and get stoked about.  

The email was forwarded from the ever helpful Peter Ambrose, who has been super supportive and been that voice of genius through the last few months of training and planning.

Mark Hartell appears to have acquired a purple tshirt!!  Here’s the words he sent with his picture…

“Britain has a fine tradition of eccentrics and nothing could be more so than running the entire length of our country off road and barefoot. It will certainly require uncommon dedication and endurance, but Aleks already has a pedigree that shows he is made of the right stuff. 

I wish him well on his endeavour and hope that he smashes his fundraising target for the Stroke Association!”

Mark Hartell

11 Time winner of the Fellsman 60 mile fell race.  Holder of the Lake District 24 hour fell record (77 Peaks)

If you’re not sure who this guy is do a quick google search.  He’s a legend in running and despite numerous attempts, especially recently by Adam Perry.  All I need now is a little of his ultra powers, combined with a purple power tshirt and all will be well!

So, as the event draws nearer, I’m finding it slightly difficult to find time to train and carry on doing my job.  Last week was a definite reset week, with little running or other training, and huge focus on sleep and school work.

This week things pick back up.  Running, gym, work and supporting a fellow ultra runner Clare Holdcroft on her Bob Graham Round attempt.  Hopefully not too much of it will be in the dark as I’m aiming to support her on 3 out of 5 legs. The big challenge will be to get recovered in time for the Peak Districts Kinder Trog fell race the day after. 

BGR is a monster of a route with lots of uphill, so if I can use it as part of training and do it successfully, it’s going to be a huge tail boost.  Here’s to the next 5 weeks before the utter madness begins.

The Point Of No Return

Ive read a few book that are true stories about some incredible acts of human survival, and I’ve wandered what they must have had running through their minds.

I’ve asked these questions of others and myself…

“When do you know you’re ready?”

“What happens if you fail whilst under the watchful eyes of others?”

I think I’ve reached a point where I can answer both.  Oddly, it’s dawned on me not when running, but when revisiting my old hobby of Tai Chi.

How do I know that I’m ready?

It’s hard to put into to words, but in short, there’s a certain clarity to my thinking and I know that even when utterly destroyed from a previous days running that I can still move and my body will respond by becoming more fluid with each step.  I know I can embrace the dark moments of doubt and use my persistent forward motion to break through them.  Staying in the moment, listening to the feedback my body provides and acting as much on instinct as is possible.

Then there’s the whole issue of failure.

This is the second part of knowing you are ready.  You accept failure.  The Hagakura (samurai code) describes the perfect samurai mentality as one who has already accepted death.  A little morbid, I agree, but I’m ready to fail, learn, train and repeat the whole thing in the following year.  It is something I will keep trying till it is done and borrowing the words of Edison, I will learn 99 ways not to run 1206 miles in barefeet and one way to do it. 

Enjoy your day 😊

Cocophany Of Voices – The Final Few Steps @trailrunningmag @runnersworld 

justgiving.com/barefootlejog 

There’s 6 weeks left to get everything sorted, to finish physical training and mental training.

It’s getting trickier to balance work time and training time along side publicising BarefootLeJog to make the concept of raising money for Stroke Association and raising awareness of strokes successful, and to top it off, the quite sanctuary that I call the void seems to have gained some new occupants that I don’t remember inviting!

One of these unwanted guests spread a message of doubt whilst the other one briefly acknowledges the progress made in training.  Luckily, the more positive voice tends to win since training gets completed, recovery happens and damage repairs quickly.

So what left to do?

  • Set waypoints on a map and send to the company providing the GPS tracking
  • Sorting out the missing kit that is going to be essential
  • Working with the helpful Bob at Backpacking Lightweight to improve the possibility of corporate type sponsors
  • Mapping the entire route to allow people to organise joining me along the route
  • Potential accommodation for the odd bit of creature comforts and the essential showers or baths
  • Testing kit to make sure that it is 100% useable

Next week starts an easy week, so runs and cross training will be lower mileage or intensity, which I think my body is crying out for and I’d rather not force it towards injury by over training.  

The final piece of this puzzle is preparing mentally for the extreme change in lifestyle and focusing on small steps along the way, acknowledging the inevitable pain and blocking out the optional suffering.  Hopefully, I can evict the negative voice that’s invaded my void and get back to just running because it allows me to return to myself. 

Thanks for everyone’s support so far.  I’ll do everything in the run up to the run, and during the run, that I can to live up to the kind words and acts.

The Punishment For Treadmill Use…

Well, it had to happen sooner or later.  I developed a small blister on the outside of my left foot.  

Not from a long run, not from some hardcore technical terrain or even the roughest road surface imaginable.  Instead I get a blister from running for 5k on a treadmill!!

Time to try out some blister management techniques.

Step 1 – Sterilise a pin.

Step 2 – use pin to drain the blister.

Step 3 – leave it alone.

Now to keep everything crossed and think healing thoughts.   The little spot is no where near as sore as it was before draining the blister and with a bit of luck it’ll be runnable, all be it minimally shod, tomorrow.  

One more day till the weekend  🙂

The Beautiful Art Of Moving Slowly

Over the last few days I’ve come to one scary realisation…

I need to relearn how to walk when barefooted.  It’s a completely different movement to walking with shoes.  Even the most minimal of shoes like the vivobarefoot shoes, which I use at work, change your “natural” movement.

What is this shod movement I’m on about

Wel… 

The heels comes down, makes ground contact and you roll on to your foot before pushing off on to the other foot.

This doesn’t work on harsh surfaces or over any given distance.  Your heel will start to feel sore and if you don’t change your movement pattern, the mother of all blisters is going to erupt, like a volcano, at the base of your heel. I’ve been experiencing it, but sensibly stopping before a blister forms trying to work out if it’s how hard I stroke the floor, the position if my foot in relation to my knee or pelvis, or just how I place my foot down. 

So, I now need to incorporate some serious retraining of something I’ve been doing all my life.  It’s inevitable that I will walk a fair chunk of the route from Land’s End to John O’Groats, so if I don’t address this need for change, I can see lots of pain in the near future.

The way of walking that seems to work is to place your forefoot down first and let the foot squash down as you move forwards, adding a certain salsaesc swing to the hips!  It’s lots quieter, feels smoother and seems to be faster than moving with the same cadence (number of steps per minute) as heel striking.

It’s kind of interesting since the general consensus is to land forefoot first when running too. 

So, if you see someone wandering around, looking like they should be holding castanets as they walk, it might just be that they’ve mastered this barefoot skill.  Who knows, if they’re not wearing shoes and it’s summer, it might even be me 😉