Wednesday, November 2, 2011


       Sue and I went for a hike in the hills today and I was pointing out all the different places I run (yawn, yawn) and then she asked me a question;- 'Why do you never say Why?'... 'Well', I replied, 'I would have thought it was obvious'.........'No, I think your blogs are far too technical, you don't explain how you feel'.....I guess its a good point and maybe it isn't obvious if you've never done it, so here goes....
       Primarily before I start I consider the possible time, elevation and distance that I have in mind, then what food, water, extra clothing etc that I may need. I plot out the proposed route on Google Earth, which if you've never used it is completely brilliant, and then the possible diversions and changes I may make depending on how I feel. I keep all this in my head and give Sue a brief outline before leaving ...(I'm convinced she's forgotten the moment I go out the door). If its a long one I will put vaseline on my feet and possibly tape just as I would in a proper race.
       I stretch before I go......current thinking suggests this is only neccessary after a run but I've been doing it for 20 odd years and it works for me. Sometimes I feel great and sometimes not but it makes no difference, I always go. I like to get high into the hills or mountains as soon as possible because its stunningly beautiful and feels fantastic, obviously. I listen to my breathing and then just let nature take over with all the sights, sounds and smells washing over my senses. Relax, I'm not going to start quoting Wordsworth or Ted Hughes but I understand their poetry a lot better now than I ever did at school. I would say without exception that all trail runners run for primarily the same be connected to nature in its simplest form.
      Trail running at its best is quite raw, you feel the stones and rough terrain under your feet, spiky bushes cut your arms and legs as you run through an overgrown track, cobwebs in your face and all manner of insects, birds and animals are always making their presence known.  I am constantly startled by a wild deer or wild boar running close by, quite often I can smell them just before I see them. On the last race I came across huge cows right in the middle of the track.....and they didn't move, so I gingerly edged past them imagining some kind of wild stampede was about to take place. Then of course in hot countries the slithering in the bushes scares me to death; snakes are scary at the best of times but in the middle of nowhere it really gets to you.....well it does me anyway. In the US its bears and mountain lions, I've never seen any but once when running along the ridge of the Grand Canyon at 6:0 am, miles from anywhere, I did feel vunerable.......and a Forest Ranger later told me that I shouldn't really have run alone......shiiit! Most of the time though its great and I guess that slightly risky element of being alone in the wild  adds to the romance and the excitement.
       Besides, its dogs that are usually the worst, so the further away from people who think their cute dog is perfectly harmless, the better. Personally, when I'm running I think a lot about how I am running and how 'the machine' is performing, I listen to my breathing and heart rate whilst considering my posture etc.  Its really important to concentrate on the route ahead because one slip can be disastrous but at the same time I try to keep  relaxed and calm. When all is going well I feel incredibly grateful just to be able to do it......I still don't understand why  people run along roads full of traffic when there are hills right next to them just waiting to be explored and appreciated.
       Even in storms when its raining and windy that too can add a primeval edge to it, although to be honest I hate mud, it sticks to your shoes and its like carrying lead weights around with you. As long as I feel on top of what I am doing then I am okay. Sometimes when I will run along a high ridge or across a rocky precipice its fun and scary in equal measure but at least you feel 'alive' and when you have finished a good run its incredibly energizing.
        I used to run and sort out day to day problems in my head but I never do that now.....I only think 'happy' thoughts and let my mind wander off in wild imaginings....blimey, I'm starting to sound loopy, Stephanie, a friend of ours, thinks I've lost the plot anyway so who cares. When you do feel aches and pains its okay as long as they are manageable and most of the time they just get used to it. I love the variety, one minute you are bombing down a track and the next you are scrabbling up a rocky ravine with water from a stream splashing all over you, its  exhilerating. You 'feel' the temperature of the seasons and the day. Running first thing in the morning is a different experience to running at dusk, both are stimulating and have their own unique sensation. I really quite enjoyed running in the dark in my recent trail race its just so unusual and not what you might expect. Because your sight is greatly impaired you rely much more on your other senses which then become sharper and more focused, this in turn gives a whole new dimension to the world around you. Even when I am tired....or in long races, exhausted, I still feel connected and its that oneness with nature that does it for me.
        I know many trail runners never race; they don't see the point and I do empathise because, as I may have mentioned before, if you train on your own and then suddenly are running with lots of people its a bit weird. The nature part sort of disappears as now its humans and their respective idiosyncrasies which you notice. I do it because it adds to the variety and besides after an hour or two  I'm usually on my own again anyway.....
        Generally I find the combination of man and nature utterly absorbing and when I moved up to ultra running a whole new  perspective began to develop. The relentless hours are not all fun but it really does test you, there is nowhere to hide and it breaks you down to your naked self. Its weird because you can stop and end the pain at any time ....but you don't.......'Why?' there is a question. As one ultra runner once said, a physchiatrist would have a field day if he stopped to ask endurance athletes what they were thinking at mile 60,....with 40 miles still to go. I have experienced this in my own little way at 60 k and its not really does strip you mentally. I mean physically you are already buggered so all you have left is the mental side......and thats the bit you have to conquer....its not easy but its your 'will' that keeps you going. I get annoyed with myself and that seems to work for me but your brain really is constantly shouting at you saying, 'Stop.....why are you doing this?.... STOP!'.........
          At the end of the day, I guess you just have to be there but I can totally understand it if you don't want to be........besides, normal trail running is fab and I really urge you to give it a might even suprise yourself and enjoy it.


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