Journeys and destinations

You often hear the adage “it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters”, or words to that effect. And I often hear runners describe how crossing the finish line can feel like a fleeting experience that, although bursting with an overwhelming sense of achievement does not necessarily endure. Ultrarunner Sam Gash talks about feeling an immense sense of loss and emptiness after completing a major challenge, and other ultrarunners describe how the ‘black dog’ awaits them at the finish line.

Meanwhile Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the Buddhist monk, author and runner advises that we should first determine an “ultimate motivation” in life as well as in running in order to identify our immediate direction and intermediate goals. And I lose count of the runners who say that signing up to a race is the best motivation for sticking with a training plan. I wonder then whether setting an objective is to some extent just a means to an end, to create the opportunity for a ‘journey’? Or can you have a perfectly good journey without first setting a destination? Some might call that freedom, while others would see it as just being aimless. 

I set an objective myself 2 1/2 years ago when I signed up for a 10K race while living in Singapore. It was the the first running event I had entered for a long time and it triggered a journey for me that has since taken in 2 more 10K’s, 13 half marathons, 2 marathons, a 50k ultra, £2,500 raised for charity, 30lbs (13.6kg) lost around the middle, 85% lower intake of alcohol and a blog.

This succession of bucket list ticks has unfolded because as each challenge is met it creates a void, a vacuum that must then be filled by a subsequent challenge, a new goal, a fresh aspiration, the next objective, new destination. It is a self perpetuating and seemingly never ending cycle. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, not for me anyway; my recent journey has been mind-blowing so far and I am loving every step. So yes, I do think it is the journey that really counts after all, and long may mine continue. But targets are necessary along the way too, you need them to at least signpost your journey.

My next major destination is the 2 day 100K Race To The Stones in July. The journey to this has been under way for a while. Signing up for the Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon on March 19, to increase my experience in trail marathons has meant following a training plan through the cold, dark, wet evenings of January and February. Sure, the journey counts, it’s just not always a picnic!

  

If there’s no destination will there still be a path to follow? 

  

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Spirit… and the Virgin London Marathon 2015

I am reading the back of the lady’s t shirt in front of me, it says:

“I am running to help cure Meningitis

For Amy, sleep safe in heaven our beautiful angel”

Beneath the words is a picture of an infant, not more than a year old.

I feel myself welling up and we haven’t even started moving yet, let alone running. This won’t be the last time I will be moved like this today. It is 10:08am on Sunday April 26, 2015 and I am lining up with my fellow runners, waiting for the Virgin London Marathon flag off. I quickly realise that this is not simply 38,000 athletes taking part in one of the world’s premier sporting events. This is 38,000 stories; stories of sadness, tragedy, adversity, grief; but each and every one a story of courage, immense courage. I immediately feel honoured and humbled to run shoulder to shoulder with these amazing people.

The London Marathon is many many things, but above all it is the perfect confluence of everything that is good about being human. And not just the thousands of runners, whose months of commitment and training through winter has prepared them to face 26.2 miles of sweat, exertion, pain, tears and elation. But also the thousands of people who come out to support, you (you know who you are!) – ALL 750,000 of you – are amazing too, this incredible day would not be the same without you, and many of us runners would probably not make the finish line without you either!

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this world famous event to be honest, a supersized version of the 1/2 marathons I have run maybe? Maybe I just hadn’t given it a much thought, more focused on planning for the run; training programme, kit choices, fuel strategy, route to the start, pace etc. In a nutshell all about me really. I know I hadn’t anticipated the experience of a lifetime that would unfold from Greenwich to Pall Mall, I hadn’t anticipated the emotional roller-coaster, the immense support along the way, the privilege of running this great city, exploring new neighbourhoods, seeing the sights and all from the middle of the road! I hadn’t expected a buzz and natural highs way past any party, club, gig or rave. Nor had I expected the drum bands, bagpipes, jazz bands, DJs, sound systems, roadside parties, woofers jammed into open windows… I hadn’t expected a road race that felt like running through 26.2 miles of Notting Hill Carnival!

There are many moments along the route of this iconic marathon when you actually do feel like an Olympic athlete, cheered on by thousands of people. I had no idea how potent this is, believe me when total strangers cheer you by name, either look you in the eye with thoughtful words of encouragement, or scream at you like you are the new member of One Direction the boost you feel is unbelievable.

It is an incredibly crowded run too though and this does perhaps prevent you from settling into an even pace. At times in the first 15 miles when feeling strong I felt a little held back and boxed in by the hoards, with people slowing down or stopping in front. You do spend a lot of energy going sideways and nipping around people! At about 12 miles my watch was bumped onto pause in a particularly crowded section, and I lost about 3 minutes before restarting it. This flustered me a bit but I calmed down and reminded myself that my training plan had taught me to ‘feel’ my pace and go with my senses, so I decided to just enjoy the journey and pressed on, no longer relying on the Garmin bleeping. But these niggles, along with flying water bottles do fade into insignificance as this run really is the most fun I’ve had in Lycra, ever!

The first 15M seemed to fly by and I felt great, I found 18 – 21 the toughest when everything seemed to hurt and feel very heavy. I knew my family was at the mile 24 mark and that kept me going. And I managed to see them too, which is a miracle amongst so many spectators and everyone shouting your name. So a quick pause for kisses and encouragement and off again with renewed vigour for the last 2.2 miles. From mile 24 to the finish you do get another natural boost as the crowds quite literally seem to ‘go wild’ and every step takes you closer to the finish.

Crossing the finish line is one final gargantuan rush of emotion. Yes there is an amazing sense of accomplishment and achievement but that’s not what brings you to tears. While pushing yourself to your outer limits during this run the exertion, exhaustion, pain and emotion are all countered by a bombardment of love, support, belief, passion, determination and above all bravery. In the London Marathon you become immersed deep in human spirit; the human spirit that enables people to rise up against adversity, to fight on, to take the worse nightmares that life can throw at you and find positivity, to put one foot in front of the other and to quite simply keep on going. Believe me this is powerful stuff, and this is what causes you to sob as you cross that line.

As for my own story? Well, 10 years ago my mother underwent open heart surgery. The treatment extended her life allowing her enough time to know all of her grandchildren, something my family will be eternally grateful for. So, in her memory I ran to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, for other families like mine whose lives might be changed by the research and treatment the BHF supports.

If you have liked my post and can find it in your heart to visit my fundraising page (here) to make a small donation I would be truly thankful, even £1, $1, €1… any amount will make a difference.

I overheard somebody at the start say that with so many runners you don’t get to run your own race at the VLM, you run everyone else’s race. Well that’s ok with me, 37,675 heroes went for a run through London last Sunday and I am proud to have run amongst them.

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Read That Run

It’s Saturday, it’s a cold, crisp, dry winter’s day; perfect conditions for a long trail run but instead I am lying in bed with a chronic dose of ManFlu. For those of you not familiar with this term I’ve asked my wife for a definition:

“Oh he’s fine, really, ignore him. He has a head cold that’s all, a bit of a sniffle, not even sure he even has a sore throat. A lot of fuss and drama. Suck it up and stop being such a big baby!”

So there you have it, I really am quite ill, practically at death’s door in fact. Certainly no running for me today, I am barely able to get out of bed. Which is all rather frustrating to be honest; 11 weeks tomorrow I will be running the Virgin London Marathon and preparation for this should be well under way by now. Doubly frustrating as this week I received my personalised training plan prepared by Full Potential. The plan is a fresh approach for me based around time duration of training runs rather than distance and ‘threshold’ sessions. It is a far more comprehensive plan than any I have followed before and best of all the coaches at Full Potential, who prepared the plan for me are on hand throughout if I need advice, and they can even modify the plan if I am struggling or pick up an injury. I was really excited to get stuck into the first sessions this weekend but I’ve been scuppered by this malady. I have been rendered bedridden so rather than getting outside into the fresh air I have to console myself with flicking through my stack of running magazines and reading kit reviews online, or “looking at shoe-porn” as Mrs M puts it!

So a day lazing about, catching up on my reading and never ending kit research. Things could be worse, ManFlu is not an injury, I will be out and running again in a day or so, an injury could keep me on the bench for much longer.

I enjoy reading about running, and monthly mags are all well and good, but you can’t beat a good running book. So while I’m lying here I thought I might jot down a few of my favourite running reads, not reviews exactly, just books I’ve enjoyed and recommend you take a look at.

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‘Born To Run’ by Christopher McDougall

Should be sub-headed ‘A Brief History of Running’, this book begins with a question when the author asks “Why does my foot hurt?” Trying to find the answer leads him on rip roaring adventures and an exploration of running history from Adam’s early jogs through Eden to the present day. Along the way we meet a fascinating array of experts, heroes and colourful characters. This book is renowned for its investigation and endorsement of barefoot running, and while this is certainly a focus and a subject that Christopher forensically unpacks, he also imparts a mass of knowledge and information about the evolution of our sport as well as the human race! Not to mention research into nutrition and health.
If you call yourself a runner and haven’t read this book I would be surprised, and would probably say “shame on you!”

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‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek

Essentially an autobiography, Scott’s honest narrative charts the story of how a small town American boy becomes one the world’s most extraordinary ultra runners. A riveting story in itself and one sensitively recounted with heart and soul. But what gives this story an extra dimension is Scott’s decision to become a vegan and so answer the question whether it is possible to sustainably remain a world class endurance athlete while pursuing a wholly plant based diet? I think we all know the answer to that by now, well in Scott’s case certainly. Throughout the book Scott takes time to explain his diet from both a nutritional fact basis and his clear passion for food. Chapters begin with recipes and food punctuates the story and life he recounts. I’ve tried some of the recipes, they are amazing.

As well as nosh there are great descriptions of some heroic running achievements too, told from the perspective of the front runner – a viewpoint we mere mortals never experience.

He’s a complex soul is Scott Jurek, clearly a thoughtful, spiritual guy who is at the same time fiercely competitive. I can’t help but think though that the real competition will always be with himself.

Part sporting anthology, part gastronomic lexicon you gain rare insights into the life and mind of an incredible athlete and a nourishing post run dinner into the bargain!

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‘The Long Run’ by Mishka Shubaly

Mishka is not a world class athlete, hasn’t won any ultras or broken any records. A recovering alcoholic and habitual drug user, he tells the story of how running played a key role in his recovery and of his transformation from addict to ultra runner. This book is short, pacey but no less compelling than any of the champion runner stories. Mishka’s recount is as candid as his journey is hardcore and it is the honesty in his storytelling that helps you empathise with experiences we might normally struggle to relate with.

It’s well documented that ultra marathon running seems a draw for recovering addicts and I wonder there’s a belief that endurance running is simply some form of substance replacement. Timothy Olsen, one of the elite, is open about his own past and through Mishka’s story we begin to understand how there is a transitional process perhaps that runs so much deeper than simply replacement.

Mishka is funny and endearing, a guy you’d want to run the trails with and then hang out after.

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‘Running on Empty’ by Marshall Ulrich

Marshall ran from San Fransisco to New York, he ran 3,063 miles in 52 days, he was 57. If that isn’t enough to send you clicking madly to Amazon I don’t know what is! Well that synopsis is just the tip of the iceberg and this story is actually about much more than just a very long run.

Marshall’s story tracks an intensely personal journey while at the same time examines that of the country he is traveling through, his own country, the USA. In the process he explores both his own demons and those of a stressed nation on the verge of economic meltdown, it is autumn 2008 when he takes on this epic venture giving an intense context and backdrop. Marshall’s endeavour is like an incision across America, it physically bisects the U.S. allowing Marshall to get under its skin and examine what lies beneath the surface. Seeing his country from one end to the other at running pace gives him time to breath in and take a long look around, while giving us a unique perspective on US history and present day.

Meanwhile, there is still the matter of an unfeasibly long run and this book documents his monumental challenge practically step by step with all it’s joys and struggles. Marshall runs 20 hours a day, seven days a week with the impact on his body every bit as extreme as you’d expect, not to mention the emotional impact.

One of the most accomplished endurance athletes on the planet, Marshall has many tales to tell and much wisdom to impart – and in his book he is generous with both.

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‘Running Like A Girl’ by Alexandra Heminsley

Alexandra’s account from her first huffing puffing red faced jog, to completing her first marathon is a tale us ‘normals’ can really relate to. In reading Hemmo’s escapades I felt she would empathise as much with my running exploits as I might with hers. Hemmo is honest, very self effacing and very funny. Oh and unlucky too as it turns out – my word how much bad luck can the running gods heap onto one girl during her races??!

Being that I am not a girl though, I must confess there are a few sections in this book I struggled to get with; e.g. the best style of pony tail for running, make up that’s sweat proof, running bras… But Hemmo doesn’t dwell on these and for the most part she speaks to all of us.

I do have a soft spot for this one. My wife handed me this book to read about the same time I was just getting back into running and I found it inspired me to really get going, almost like having a remote running buddy to encourage and compare notes with. As heartfelt as all the other books mentioned here and as I said; very very funny. So thanks Hemmo, you helped motivate me two years ago and I will certainly keep your advice in mind when I attempt my first London Marathon in 11 weeks time.

A common thread that weaves through all of these books is that of soul searching, on one level or other. In the extreme these authors seek redemption, even atonement through running. But all the writers consider in depth that primal urge that drives us forward, the urge that makes us run and keep running even when every fibre in our bodies and every neuron in our brains are screaming for us to to stop. And they all to some extent address the same question; when we run – are we running away from or running toward something?

So next time you are laid up with illness or injury and can’t run… Don’t fret, accept what your body is telling you, curl up with one of these books and get your running fix off the page instead.

Cloudy with a Chance of Vegan Meatballs

Squelch squelch squelch squelch splosh squelch splosh squelch squelch squelch slip squelch slip squelch splosh… That was the sound of the first 5K of the Trailscape Rail To Trail South half marathon in Ashurst, (Kent/Sussex border) on Saturday January 10. Trailscape had promised “trails, cross-country and tracks” and they certainly delivered. They also delivered what can best be described simply as farmland; no actual cows and sheep but fields with plenty of evidence they’d been there recently, fields with fresh furrows, and a farmyard… not a big one but an actual farmyard nonetheless. And all with one thing in common… MUD!

Once upon a time this part of England had quite a thriving industry making bricks. Why? Because you don’t have to dig very deep here to find perfect clay for bricks, and also perfect, as it turns out for making your feet feel like lead weights and for sucking your runners right off ’em. So no surprise then really, that a trail run here in mid January after a week of heavy rain is a bit claggy.

But after a tough first 5K we got some respite from the mud, to run up a hill instead. Not too long and not too steep thankfully, and we quickly joined the Forest Way; a disused single track railway line now a country path enjoyed by runners, cyclists and walkers. Tree lined, firm under foot and flat; this section provided some well needed respite and a chance to enjoy the moment and the countryside around us. And fitting too that a stage of this run is made up of what was once rail now literally the trail.

I took the opportunity to pick up the pace a bit on this section and take advantage of the firm going. Probably misguided as I should in hindsight have reserved more in the tank for when the terrain became a little boggy again, which it did before too long.

Then, after what seemed an eternity of more slipping, sliding, squelching and splashing we rejoined the Forest Way on our return journey. One last farmland section that was… you guessed – a bit muddy. And then for a grand finale a climb up a steep muddy hill before a nice gentle descent to the finish.

Did I mention the headwind?

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Looks quite civilised as we set off…

The Trailscape ‘South’ HM was a small-ish field of 92 runners and a crowd that looked like it meant business. There were not too many club shirts and nobody was dressed as a giant kebab which I always think says a lot about a race’s character. There were also lots of lovely woofers running in both the 1/2 and 10K. This is the second Trailscape race I have done in this series (the other being ‘East’ in Cuxton, Kent) and if I had to sum them up in 3 words, I would say:

Fun
Tough
Friendly

The whole event was well organised, and the Trailscape team really find a nice balance between efficient and informal. The course was clearly marked, there were cheery marshalls at key points, no mile markers, and the first fuel station was at 11K; so you needed to plan to look after yourself – which I quite like actually as it feels just a little bit more of an adventure somehow.

Did I mention the mud?

There was a warm welcome on finishing; the Ashurst Village Hall as race HQ had tea and coffee on sale with a wide range of cake. And if you needed something more substantial to refuel there was a ‘Rupert’s Street’ food truck on site selling delicious vegan grub. (which is amazing by the way, check them out here)

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All finishers were awarded a medal and a nice goodie bag with locally sourced treats and a tech T-shirt (for once a contemporary design and a choice of colour!)

Race Directors Hannah and John are evangelists about the joys of trail running and their mission is to share this, spread the word and design races that encourage more people to try trail running by increasing its accessibility. Admirable ambition indeed, one which I believe they will fulfil if my experience is anything to go on. The two Trailscape races I have done both had a really nice vibe about them, which I think will prove a great basis for success. I hope that as they grow in popularity, which they undoubtedly will, they don’t loose this essence which so far makes them a bit special.

A trail run should make you explore and discover; at Trailscape South I discovered new places practically on my own doorstep which is great. And if the first 5K leave you feeling “utterly ruined” as one fellow runner described it, well that’s just a bonus!

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Did I mention the mud?

Time ran away…

2014 is gone. Done. No more. Passed. You get the picture. How did that happen? If you look at my last blog posts you’d think it was still midsummer. Well unfortunately the time has passed and the lack of posts is a simple yet rather damning indictment of my rubbish posting frequency. In 2014 it turned out that although I am not that bad at keeping up with my running I am absolutely pants at keeping a blog updated!

I have managed to keep up the running though – Hurrah for me! I just haven’t written about it. So I will try to summarise what’s been happening, bring everything concisely up to date, then make a fresh effort to follow up more regularly. Although this might short change some quite momentous milestones in my running journey, it might be the only way to get back on track.

So, what’s been occurring? Well….

In July I ran the Surrey Badger Half Marathon, a trail run near Box Hill in Surrey that starts and finishes at Denbies vineyard. A lovely route with a few hills, woodland and vines of course. The event had a great atmosphere, was well managed and had a goodie bag including a bottle of Badger Ale, yum. I really enjoyed the run and was thrilled to be 2 minutes quicker than any previous trail HM’s. Sweeter still when I read race reviews in Runners World that scored it low as a potential PB race.

The summer was focused exclusively on training for my first full marathon. I followed a 16 week Runners World Training Schedule which I found really helpful, stuck to mostly and would recommend to other marathon rookies.

On September 21 I completed my first marathon! Big HURRAH for me! I ran the Farnham Pilgrim Marathon, which in fact turned out to be officially 26.6 miles so technically counts as an ultra… And yes I am taking that! 26.6 miles of Surrey trails and a total elevation of 540m, mixed terrain including sand – yes sand! Not quite UTMB but by all accounts quite a foolish endeavour for one’s maiden marathon. I did have a brilliant time, it was a gorgeous route and as one cheery marshal pointed out – the hills mean you get some great views from the top… And she was right! I learned what a difference having support from loved ones along the way – thank you family and friends! I also learned about ‘The Wall’ (or ‘Bonking’ as our US cousins call it) at about 22 miles. I then experienced the most intense natural high from the biggest endorphin rush I’ve ever experienced. Just incredible. I was in pieces by the end and I must confess a little emotional, just about managed not to blub as I crossed the finish line but my word it’s quite a flood of emotion that you experience, all mixed up with the exhaustion, I wasn’t expecting that. It really is quite something.

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One week later I ran my local half marathon in Tonbridge. This great run is all tarmac and ‘gently undulates’ – neither hilly nor completely flat. I crossed the line 13 minutes quicker than my Badger PB two months earlier. Granted I had trained a lot between the two races but even so, always nice when the Garmin beeps ‘New Record’!

Just prior to running the Pilgrim I learned I had been given a place to run the Virgin London Marathon 2015; a charity allocated place with the British Heart Foundation team. Absolutely thrilled to get the opportunity to run London and in return I pledged to raise £2,500 in sponsorship. Getting my fundraising underway I quickly decided that simply asking for sponsorship to run the London Marathon, still 8 months away, probably wouldn’t cut it so I undertook to run 100 miles of official running events by the time I would cross the line in Pall Mall in April. Not the most extreme endeavour granted, but will be achieved by completing 1 marathon and various halves and 10K’s between September and April.

So far I’ve run a marathon, 2 halves and an 8KM. With the runs I have picked out to take on over the next 4 months I am in line to complete 129.3 miles by the time I finish London, so on target and then some. Jolly good.

By all means check out my fundraising page here – all and any support whatsoever is greatly appreciated!

More about this on another post I think. In the meantime, what else this year?

In November I ran the Trailscape Rail To Trail East 1/2 marathon in Cuxton, Kent. Trailscape is a series of trail runs in locations specifically chosen for their accessibility by rail. I’d never heard of Cuxton before, even though, as it turned out, there is a direct train there from where I live, taking 45 minutes! Quite a relatively small event, it was a varied mixed trail route with a few steep climbs and tonnes of mud. The primary lesson learnt at this event was make sure you know what time the flag off is! I confused the various race start times and chipped up to register 8 minutes after the half had set off… “If you go now you could still catch them up!” Said the nice lady. “Catch them up???!!! I’m not Mo bloomin’ Farah luv!” Anyway before I had chance to argue she had shoved a number onto me, stuck pins into my chest, clipped a timer chip around my wrist, relieved me of my bag and frogmarched me to the start… “Go Go Go” she ordered. And off I went! All I could think of was ‘could I do this and at least not come last?’ I did not come last. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

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2014 was my first full year of running for some time and I ran approximately 1,300KM and loved every step (well almost!). I had some great experiences, I enjoyed all the races I did and met some lovely people along the way.

New Years Day, staying with friends in Broadstairs I took the opportunity to blow the cobwebs away with a bracing run along the seafront. A perfect way to welcome in a new year and log my first few miles. I am looking forward to 2015, to running my first major city marathon, to new adventures, new trails, new kit… I look forward to more of this thing that is the simplest of all things, to putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where it will lead.

Simple

“My feet is my only carriage…”

Bob Marley sang this lyric in arguably his most iconic track ‘No Woman No Cry’. In the context of the song life is tough but Bob has to keep going, he has “to push on through…”

For me this lyric speaks of simplicity, and in the context of running it reminds me of the simplicity of our sport and how that is what fundamentally makes it special. “All you need is a pair of trainers” runners will say, and it’s true the necessary kit can be minimal. But there’s more to its simplicity than that; more to its less so to speak.

I’ve taken up many pursuits over the years and learnt it’s often not just the kit you need, but specific environmental conditions too. Surfing for example, yes you need your board and you need to be in the sea, but most important you need waves. Snowboarding is another; once you’re kitted out you need to be up a big hill that’s covered in snow. And not just any snow but the ‘right’ snow, nice soft powdery snow. Windsurfing you need… Well the clue is in the name. And if you don’t need Mother Nature to play ball you might need at least one other person to make your game possible.

Running you can do by yourself, with friends or amongst thousands. You can go out whatever the weather and wherever you are. And as for needing trainers, there’s many would argue that even this minimal concession to kit is superfluous to requirements, that all you really need is two bare feet.

I am gradually becoming an apostle of simplicity, the older I get the more I believe that life really is best when at its most simple. Running embodies that simplicity for me, a moment in the day when life is stripped back to the bare essentials, when the mind can be cleared and the body does nothing more than respond to a primal instinct.

How to make the rest of life as simple is perhaps the real challenge. Maybe a run will help…

Harvel 5

This is a little after the event, but would like to share it anyway.

What do you get if you cross a quintessential English village fete with an inter athletic club cross country race meet? You get the Harvel 5; a Hash House Harriers event consisting of a 5 mile route along country lanes and through picturesque woodland around the village of Harvel in Kent.

The Hash House Harriers describe themselves as “a drinking club with a running problem” so their events are always as much about the social aspect as the run itself. Many years ago I joined in a few Hash House Harrier runs in Dubai which entailed heading off into the desert in a convoy of 4×4’s to a designated base camp, then a group run at sunset before settling in for an evening of drinking games around a massive campfire. At some point a stack of takeaway pizza would appear to soak up an excess ‘hydration’. I have fond memories of these desert ‘soirees’, they were always really good fun. Though I suspect for most the running bit was perhaps secondary to the pizza and beer!

Harvel wasn’t quite as hardcore, although I confess I didn’t stay long after the ‘down downs’ (Hash Harrier post race ritual involving… You guessed it – beer!). It was very much a family affair with Ice Cream and WI cake stalls to keep supporters entertained while the runners were out. My wife Sarah came too with our children Millie and Ned to cheer me on. We’d arranged to meet friends Pru and Matt with their kids, Pru and I ran while Sarah, Matt and the children mucked about on the village green sampling said cake and ice cream.

800 runners set off from a well organised stabled start; signs in the grass verge grading runners from sub-30 at the front to “Finish by Monday eve!” at the rear with some more sensible target time slots in between. I shuffled myself in with the 40 – 50 minutes crew.

There were a lot of running club teams in the line up and because of that I think, it certainly felt more like a race than a local village fun run. Five miles is a distance that feels like it ought to be quite quick too and the pace seemed brisk to me. It was a very pretty route, undulating, generally inclined upwards for the first half then down to the finish. Overall not especially challenging but very enjoyable all the same. I managed to get home sub 45 mins and clocked a 5KM PB split in the process, so even though I am generally less about the time and more about the journey, I was nonetheless chuffed with that.

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Me ‘attacking’ a hill – haha (photo by Fast2Foto)

The race was really well organised, cheery marshalls all the way round and lots of supporters too. There were a couple of water stations which is great for this distance and both served beer as well as water, yes beer! Can’t say I was tempted myself but nice to know its there if you were!

I did hit the beer tent after finishing though and a pint of Hogs Back ale put the cherry on the cake of a lovely day. We lazed about on the green for a while, it was a sunny afternoon and lots of runners, families and friends seemed happy to hang out.

I really enjoyed this run, my family had a lovely time too. Harvel Hash House Harriers were warm, friendly hosts and put on a great event. We will be back next year for sure.

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And it was also a bit muddy… (Photo by Matt Clements)

For more info check out their website http://www.harvelh3.org

And thanks Fast2Foto for some great pics.

In the middle

This is the inaugural post of my blog about running, health and good food. I hope it will be about the things I love, things I find interesting, the positive directions I am attempting to follow in life, and how these are perhaps connected.

Early one morning in June last year, I signed up to run a 1/2 marathon. Not a wholly random act, I had been toying with the idea for a while. But it wasn’t particularly high on my agenda and I wasn’t a regular runner then. I was living in Singapore and the ‘race’ I had opted for was the Standard Chartered Singapore 1/2 Marathon.

This triggered a new obsession, one that might well be some kind of midlife crisis. Not the classic cringeworthy kind; no new sports car, no hair dye, no mutton dressed as lamb. Just lots of pairs of running shoes, running magazines and brightly coloured ‘technical fabric’. My own midlife crisis seems to be manifesting as a need to feel fit and healthy.

So I trained for that 1/2 marathon in Singapore, and I completed it. I ran alongside 12,000 other people, most of them seemed to have only put on running shoes for the first time that morning, but that’s another story. I finished 1,565th, hardly amongst the elite hardcore at the front but neither along side the stragglers at the back of the pack.

My latest craze has taken hold, over the last 6 months or so I’ve trained for and taken part in three 10km races and 2 half marathons. And now I have a compelling urge to run further, to run long distance, long distance through woods, across fields, over hills, along riverbanks, maybe up and down mountains one day.

This is not simply about vanity; getting fit to lose weight, look slimmer or younger (ok maybe a little!), this is about how I feel. I’m tired of feeling tired, of feeling sluggish, stressed, anxious, addled and a little bit beaten. If I am lucky I might be at ( or just over) the half way point, if I am very lucky I might know my children into their middle age. But, slightly morose reflections aside, more than anything I am no longer content with just being alive – I want to feel alive, to feel alive! I want to feel fit, healthy, alert, clear and energised.

I’ve had an on-off affair with running for most of my life; school cross country teams hacking across the dales and valleys of the Lancashire countryside, Hash Harrier runs over desert wadis of the UAE in my twenties, and most recently dripping along jungle trails in Asia. Running always felt like a kind of freedom, now it is that and much more; it is meditation, it is achievement, it is connecting with the ground beneath my feet and the world around me. I have never won a single race, that’s fine, for me it’s more about enjoying the trip than simply getting there first.

Food is the stuff of life; eating out, cooking in, reading about food, growing food and most of all sharing a meal. Breaking bread with friends plays a central role in our family life. All of my childhood memories involve good food, my mother was a foodie long before the term was ever invented, she instilled that passion in me. I am lucky to have traveled and lived abroad, I’ve tasted local food across Europe, the US, Asia and West Africa. One of the joys of travel and my favorite way to experience different cultures.

Recently I have started to think more about food as fuel, and about the effects the stuff I put into my body has on it. I am increasingly intrigued by how the food I eat affects the way I feel generally. I know if I want to run further I must have the right nutrition to support training and provide energy to go the distance. But I also believe that aside from providing nutrition, food must nourish; it should always feed the soul and raise the spirit.

Eat right and run free might not be the whole answer to unwavering vitality, but maybe it’s a good place to start. Let’s see where it leads….