Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

It’s not often I read something which resonates so strongly with me that I want to immediately share it. It’s so easy in this day and age to hit the re-tweet / like / re-press button without necessarily stopping to think about the words.

This quote came from reading about Dave Alley’s ‘Race around Australia 2’ – he’s already cycled it, and now aims to become the first person to have both cycled and run around Australia – a 13,383km distance. His website is here. He’s running it to raise funds and awareness for The White Cloud Foundation, an organisation with a mission to help increase resources and improve access to support for people, families and carers who live with depression in Australia.

Mental Health issues affect an increasing number of us yet it remains a taboo to talk about it. Sometimes it can be due to an acute situation which triggers it and with the appropriate help can pretty much be resolved.  In other cases it occur over many years and at best can be managed. Either way, it’s no laughing matter, made that much more difficult because it is an invisible illness. No broken bones, no cast or sling. People who are fortunate to have not experienced depression can find this intangible nature of the illness difficult to comprehend.

So with that in mind, the quote:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

“This is one of our favourite quotes that really emphasises that we truly have no clue what battle the people around us are facing. They could be your closest friend, brother, work colleague, daughter or someone you walk past in the street.

Take the time to smile at people, open a door for them, give up your seat on the train for them, let them merge in traffic. Too often we are far too quick to judge and criticise rather than listen and congratulate.

Today is the day to start the rest of your life.

Make a decision to be more supportive of those around you as they may be fighting a battle that you know nothing about.

Forgive errors, accept flaws, share your warmth and make a difference in someone else’s life.

They may just be in need of that little bit of energy that you are giving to them”

Hitting the training – with a foam roller

It’s been a business as usual approach to the training recently. But not without a few eye opening moments.

I’ve written in the past about the usefulness of the variety of ‘challenges’ which are set up on the various training websites I use. Strava – the place where running/cycling meets social media (but without the adverts for Stairlifts and funeral planning – I seem to be of that age now, or at least it’s the age I tell the various sites I am……..) and Smashrun (geek central) each give me the opportunity to push (punish?) myself each month. And over the last few months, my Smashrun challenge has been a gradual increase in total mileage on a monthly basis.

This challenge was originally quite an easy one, with me starting with a low initial mileage to give ample scope to extend the progress over the 6 month period. However, one injury later which broke the progression in March, and a breakdown in April which resulted in me adding 60 miles on my total rather than 10 has made things a little more of a test.

Effect of the mind on the body

It was actually whilst I was reviewing the statistics that I discovered something I didn’t reaslise. Whilst my recent illness has been purely mental, it appears my heart data showed a major physical hit as well.

Long distance running is an aerobic exercise, where normal breathing is possible to ensure the muscles receive the oxygen they need to operate. This is the opposite of anaerobic exercise which is something akin to a sudden burst of energy where the oxygen in doesn’t keep up with the working rate of the muscles. Obviously this is something that can only be sustained for short periods and is the method which more describes that in short sprints.

Heart rate data showing impact of illness
Heart rate data showing impact of illness

At the left side of the graph (April 2014) you’ll see a relatively even mixture of recovery (green) and aerobic (yellow) running with a smaller chunk of anaerobic running (orange), which is very much what I was doing whilst I was well. Indeed, at the very right in August 2015 you’ll see that equilibrium has returned. The darker colours that come in at the top are where my heart is above 175 bpm, essentially showing where the heart is having to work that much harder to get a relatively limited amount of oxygen to the muscles.

So looking at the period around April 2015 and the graph has changed significantly. Now to confirm, my running training approach is no different, I’m off out running (at that time) 5-8 miles at a time which isn’t unusual. However, my heart is working at a significantly higher rate. Indeed at around the date when I was taken ill, something like 70% of the running time has been at this much higher heart rate.

I’d not appreciated the physical impact of the illness. Thankfully during the two weeks after things began to return to ‘normal’.

Running 2000 miles

When I re-commenced training after a rather long lapse in August 2011 the world of GPS in phones, watches and tech in general had all moved along. As such, on setting up Smashrun at the beginning of 2014 I was able to pull in all of this data. Earlier this month, I ticked over the milestone of 2000 miles having been run and recorded on one electronic device or another. It seemed rude to miss this opportunity, so here it is!

2000 miles and counting!
2000 miles and counting!

Sadomasochism with a Foam Roller

Whilst up in Auchterarder, the physio advised me to invest in a foam roller. To the untrained eye, this is an innocuous 45 cm cylinder of blue foam. However, when rolling muscles out with it, it turns into a portable torture device. Rolling one’s ITB brings tears to the eyes although I’m assured that it’s good for me! I know for certain that an annoying knot of muscle in my right calf has been squished out of existence in the face of this blue monster, so who am I to argue…….

A Foam Roller  - As seen in the Tower of London
A Foam Roller – As seen in the Tower of London

August long run

It has almost become a tradition that I’ll do a long hilly run in the weeks leading up to a long race. Now as it stands, there is no race planned at this point. I’d originally hoped to take part in the Bullock Smithy Hike in September, but along with the illness and a general lack of any preparation (save for getting a map of the route) this simply isn’t going to happen in 2015.

However in my quest to run at least 128 miles in August and having done only short runs (10 miles each) in the last week I started mapping out a route last night with a view of making the most of the decent weather today. I mostly stuck with the route, although varied my route through Lyme Park as I wanted to maximise the ascent prior to dropping into the National Trust parkland.

The route tracked along the Middlewood Way from Higher Poynton through to Bollington before climbing Blaze Hill and returning along the top of the hills at the edge of the Cheshire Plain, past the Bowstones and through Lyme Park and back into Higher Poynton and back home.

The run itself was mostly not a problem with my legs becoming tired only at the very end. I took it steady and was happy with my pacing. And the weather was great – not too warm but very sunny and clear – giving me fantastic views across the Cheshire Plain whilst descending from Bowstones into Lyme Park. Here’s the route and profile, courtesy of Strava:

Run route from Poynton to Bollington. And back again!
Run route from Poynton to Bollington. And back again!

So after all of that exertion, I’ll return to playing with the computer, updating the blog and no doubt losing at Scrabble!

The Bees they are a bumbling and a bouncing. Mostly in purple.

I keep having to remind myself that, whilst it’s quite warm at the moment, it is also August. Mid Summer in the UK, although to look at the weather over the last month, you might be hard pressed to be able to tell that this is likely as good as it gets!

At the same token, I have managed to spend some time sat outside in the garden, without full waterproofs or one of those thick woolly jumpers that Sea Captains are always depicted wearing in films and cartoons (think Captain Haddock in Tintin if you don’t know what I mean).

And to top it off I started August 2015 with a cold! Where did it all go wrong?!!

Anyway, today I’m sat in the garden, and whilst the sun seems to have left Stockport for the time being(we do grey clouds at a world-class level here) it isn’t actually unpleasant. Well except for a cloud of flying ants who have decided that ‘today is the day’ and they’re off to wherever flying ants fly off to. Magaluf I presume……….

The garden has certainly been confused by the weather this year, with things starting with a mild winter, then an unseasonably warm bit followed by an unseasonably cold bit and a typical wet bit. And a few frosts thrown in at near random, just to keep us all guessing.

As such the tomatoes and peppers had a cracking start, then shuddering (literally) to a halt before being baked to a crisp whilst I was in Scotland, and then rained upon with gusto whilst I was in Kent. The result was a few malformed peppers, some late ripening tomatoes and a lot of slugs eating everything.

That said, the garden is in full bloom (the bits that weren’t devoured by slime-monsters) and most of it seems to be purple, with the Lavender, Buddleja, Sage and Agapanthus all being different hues of the same colour! Only the bit daisies (they probably have a proper name but I don’t know what it is) and the Fuchsia daring to differ, although even the latter plant is an homage to all things purple!

Agapanthus in bud
Agapanthus in bud

I’ve always been proud of the fact that the garden appears to be very bee friendly; indeed I had a bumble bee nest in the eaves of the house a couple of years ago which I was very excited about. And true to form the bees are having a purple nectar field-day at the moment.

Bumble Bees on Lavender
Bumble Bees on Lavender

There’s something strangely soothing and mesmerising about watching a huge bumble bee balancing on the end of the longest stalk of lavender it can find and the whole stalk bouncing up and down in sympathetic rhythm with the insect going about its life’s work. My lavender bush, which was a cutting of an old plant which was on its last legs when I first moved in, is huge at this time of year, with the whole bush springing back and forth as a colony of bumblebees and others work their way around the plant.

It appears that bumble bee photography is a lot more difficult than I imagined. Thankfully being in the digital age I can at least delete the many failed images although the best ones will not be winning any awards either!

A old moggy

Squeak had his tenth birthday last week, not that he was apparently aware of this fact, save for a few extra cat treats throughout the day. He’s been slowing down for most of those ten years to be fair, but with the warmth of the days recently he seems to be doing less than normal. In fact he’s spent a lot more time on my lap than ever before. Possibly due to the greater availability of my lap having been away  for the majority of July, but he does seem to be nursing a few more lumps and bumps at the moment and I wonder if a younger upstart of fluff has challenged him whilst on his rounds. He’s always been a scrapper, but generally picks on easier targets (like me). Whilst he’s a solid cat, he’s actually on the small size compared to most around here.

Squeak - at 10
Squeak – at 10

War and Peace Revival Festival 2015

Having only just returned from my trip to Auchterarder,  there was about enough time to run a half-marathon training route and pack up my desert combat uniform in order to head south to Folkstone Racecourse, between Hythe and the Channel Tunnel.

As usual, the War and Peace Revival Festival was billed as a five day event, running Wednesday through to Sunday.

Unofficially the event includes an  obligatory monsoon on the Friday night turning the entrance to Kitcheners field (where we have camped for the past 2 years) into something akin to the morning after Glastonbury and a mass exodus of half of the exhibitors on Sunday morning trying to beat the Sunday rain storm and the queues on the M20…..

I’ll be referring to the site throughout the post, so here’s the layout:

War and Peace Site Map
War and Peace Site Map

Also as usual, our arrival with the 1993 Landrover Snatch was about 6 hours later than anticipated due to spending far longer than expected packing up all the camping stuff into the Snatch and constructing the barbecue! At least I had to do my packing in advance of travelling south!

Either way, we arrived at roughly the same time as we did in 2014 but with the added bonus that we knew how to assemble the tent. So it took about an hour to get moved in, rather than about 4 hours last year :-)

The rest of Camp SOC (Snatch Owners Club) had already arrived by this point and as we set ourselves up, the warning signs were attached to the boundary tape and we were there, ready and camped.

Camp SOC
Camp SOC

In our tent there were three humans and a dog – Simba, a 14 month old Mastiff/Lab cross who was already as big as any Lab, but with the bounce, enthusiasm and lunacy of a puppy. Having erected the tent Simba took us for a walk into the event arena to get some food as by this time it was 10pm.

Simba and me upon arrival
Simba and me upon arrival

Wednesday – The Show Opens

We set out across Kitcheners and into the event arena with Simba keen to meet anyone and anything.  However, the first sounds of heavy shelling from the battle in the arena freaked him out and Chris took him further away to recover whilst Paul and I watched the German re-enactors kicking the stuffing out of the USA re-enactors (this seems to be a common theme of all the battles we’ve watched at the show).

Once we met back up with Chris and Simba on the opposite side of the grandstand near the Home Front exhibition, we met some other exhibitors with their cross-bred dog – this time Mastiff crossed with a…… PUG!

A Mastiff-Pug cross - let's home the Pug was the father!
A Mastiff-Pug cross called “Chunky” – let’s hope the Pug was the father!

We found out at the last minute that the Hythe procession for post-WW2 vehicles was that night by which time Chris, our only driver, had drunk a couple of cans. So he remained at Camp SOC keeping Simba entertained whilst Paul and I jumped in with other drivers, and off we went.

Here’s a nice bit of footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxt2Iu6eeVk&sns=em

Paul was passenger in Snatch number 2 and I was passenger in Snatch 3. And the French Onion Sellers were neither French. Nor Onion Sellers……..

Very menacing - I don't think
Very menacing – I don’t think

The enjoyment of the procession was tempered when we got back to camp to find Chris had been taken ill. Following a visit from about 6 Red Cross paramedics, Paul drove Chris and Simba back to their home to recover.

Thursday – a closer look at the show

The temporary departure of the others left me camping alone for about 20 hours although having Camp SOC on hand meant I was far from lonely!

Due to the late hour of their departure I ended up cooking on the gas ring in the dark, but the pasta meal hit the spot nicely and I got a reasonable night’s sleep despite the 1am fireworks courtesy of the North London Barmy Army.

During Thursday I walked around the site at length, my pedometer suggesting something like 23600 steps, taking in the many surplus stores and the living history sections. In all honesty there was an element of Deja Vu with many of the sellers occupying the same locations as they did in 2014. Similarly a number of the living history exhibitors rolled out the same stuff as last year – with Camp Bastion having the same walls (and same lack of content) whilst the Blackhawk Down exhibition was bigger and grander (and even more impressive) than in 2014.

I took my GoPro out with me to get some snaps whilst I was wandering through the living history. Having left my small camera at work and not wanting to drag the DSLR around with me, this was the best option as my camera phone is very poor quality. It seems that the Go Pro does however suffer badly from barrel distortion and the verticals look somewhat banana-like, albeit in a non-yellow edible sort of way.

To say I was knackered by the time Paul returned to the site in the evening was an understatement!

But Thursday was about to become far more interesting when one of the group announced that we had been given some evening arena time. Whilst Paul was insured on the Snatch he’d never driven it. He was given a few verbal instructions about driving a vehicle with a choke, was told by Camp SOC it would have to be a baptism of fire and off we went.

In fact when our convoy got there, we were filmed using a professional camera drone system, the footage which we had a sneak preview of being amazing, save for the random vehicle in the background burning rubbish at the back of the arena. Well, you can’t have it all your own way. See it here!

Camp SOC on manoeuvres
Camp SOC on manoeuvres

Friday – Ready for the Storm

Friday was a day of anticipation of the incoming storm, due in at midday, but actually striking at about 6.30pm, at the point where Paul and I were roughly as far from Camp SOC as we could have been (I’d guess about 1.25 miles away) whilst we were working our way around the Living History exhibitions. So we got a little wet.

As the wind picked up and the rain intensified, we had a bit of a panic that the tent may fly away or flood, so all belongings ended up in the Snatch. As it happens, Armageddon didn’t come and everything was returned to the tent in the morning.

Saturday – When everyone else visits

Despite the fact the show opens on Wednesday, Saturday tends to be the busiest day with all those who work in the week visiting at the weekend.

Due to the 10 or so hours of rain the night before, the site was now rather boggy underfoot. In addition, all the roads in the area were entirely gridlocked due to queued up lorries on the motorway and some other catastrophe on the A20. Despite all of this, by lunchtime the place seemed well attended.

I picked a few items of gear which I needed/wanted however unlike in previous years, I didn’t get carried away. A couple of the stalls were from Leeds which was helpful as it’s an accent I’m much more familiar with than the more local South-East accent, and thus much easier for me to understand!

We managed to track down other friends Kevin and Coral who exhibit their landrovers as part of a Green Howards exhibition. Whilst chatting Coral mentioned there was a Challenger Tank in the exhibition. There are not many occasions when one could walk past something that big and not notice it. Yet I managed to do this although I’ll blame that on the large number of other vehicles on the site…….

So after we left them we visited the food area and then went for a mooch. We chatted to the RMPs who were no site to advertise themselves along with a few other parts of the British Army. A slightly odd situation where Paul recognised one of them from a wedding they’d both been at several years earlier.

It’s one way to get a conversation started!

We then went and looked at the tank, which I even got to sit in. Despite it being huge, there’s not a lot of room for someone of my size. Which to be fair isn’t particularly big! I’m hopeful there is a photo out there to capture this event :-)

The evening, as last year involved Camp SOC sat around a fire talking nonsense. When I say ‘fire’ what I mean is a red glow-stick and two small paraffin lamps. Paul produced his Pimms recipe for the group which to my untrained eye appeared to involved a lot of fruit, a thimble of lemonade and a bottle of Pimms. I’m a non-drinker, so perhaps this is the correct method of production…..

In 2014 this esteemed forum introduced the genre of ‘Action Romance’ into common use in the English language. Whilst no new genres were discovered in 2015 the bizarre concept of an LED-lit Cucumber cock-ring received some discussion and ultimately resulted in some fruit-based graffiti on the front of one of the vehicles.

I'm not sure what the penalty is for the misuse of fruit on a military vehicle.......
I’m not sure what the penalty is for the misuse of fruit on a military vehicle…….

We are all grown ups after all. I blame the Pimms.

Sunday – mass exodus and more rain

We got up very early Sunday morning. Mostly due to the vast amount of noise generated by other campers dismantling their tents and beeping their horns to each other as they set off home.

The ‘Rules’ of the event state that exhibitors should stay to the end, which is only fair as anyone paying to attend on Sunday deserves to get a full exhibition – after all, they’ve paid the same as any other day visitor.

However, vehicles were leaving left right and centre. The traffic chaos on the M20, coupled with the fact that a significant number of exhibitors were from mainland Europe and thus needed to battle through it to get to the ferry port made this worse. And of course there were a number of casualties of HGVs stuck in the mud, just to churn up the ground even more.

At least today the showers were working and hot :-)

After breakfast, Paul and I emptied the tent before I walked all of my gear across to one of the stores who had, as in previous years, allowed me to leave my bags with them so it was only a 5 minute walk to the train rather than a 25 minute walk. This was important as at this time it was still dry. The forecast was very much rain and more rain, and this started as I walked back.

Paul had by this time flattened the tent and between us it was packed away into the Snatch as the rain became more persistent.

Goodbyes were made to the rest of Camp SOC and with all our belongings now packed away we went into the main arena. Where the main spectacle appeared to be the queue of exhibitors and campers trying to leave the site! Some of which were rather up to their axles in mud.

We took shelter in the Victory Tent where the charity ‘Scotties Little Soldiers‘ were brewing up (how can I refuse a cuppa when the proceeds are going to a great charity) before heading over to the nearby Westenhanger Castle for a Sunday Roast, a meal hands-down better than anything we’d eaten all the time we were camping!

Paul and me in the victory tent
Paul and me in the victory tent

To anyone looking in it must have been a very odd sight – two 1990s era soldiers eating with a WW1 British army officer and a similarly vintage Russian fighter. As we ate, Chunky and his owners also came in for their dinner!

Although my train journey was supposed to begin at 4pm, as it wasn’t too wet at 3pm, I decided now was a good time to make an exit, taking the view that an hour spent at Euston Station would be at least a little drier than the weather forecast for the rest of the afternoon in Westenhanger. Walking to the station, the place felt very much emptied from the previous days, with many stalls having vacated their spaces and others all closed down. There weren’t that many people walking around (hardly a surprise).

Far from it being a big exciting end to a festival, it was more a whimper. And a wet one at that. Overall though the time away was very welcome, giving me a good break from home and a chance to catch up with friends a long way from home.

I’m sure we’ll do it all again in 2016!

Back to Manchester

I must admit that the two weeks in Scotland have flown by. And it has been a mostly pleasant and relaxing time, away from all I had left behind at home.

With being physically fit this time around it meant that I was able to explore a little more of the area which was great, despite the Scottish weather’s best efforts to put me off.

Do they not know I’m from Manchester and therefore used to it? 😊

Whilst most people at the centre I was staying at departed for the weekend, I set out to see a friend over in Dollar, about 15 miles away by road. I was tipped off about a trail through Dollar Glen, which helpfully reduced the distance by a just over a mile and got me away from the traffic on the main road, most of which appeared to be heading towards the T in the Park event close by.

Route to Dollar
Route to Dollar

The weather held out at least until I got to my destination, and this was finally my first half marathon distance north of the border! being driven back later in the evening however and the clouds were firmly down over the mountain route that Dollar Glen cuts through. which would probably explain the rivers underfoot which I encountered earlier in the day!

Note the final descent into Dollar as shown on the graph…..

Having a social catch up with another local friend on the Sunday allowed the legs to recover, although a trip to the physio a couple of days earlier resulted in a pile of stretches which would be beneficial.

Despite it being my second visit in the area it was only in the next week that I began to explore Gleneagles itself. Now I’m not one to hit the shops,or the bars in these places, however there is a route designed for runners and cyclists which covers both the Kings and the Queens courses, which of course I had to try. And then try again in order to see if I could do it any quicker (curse you, Strava!).

Gleneagles Golf run
Gleneagles Golf run

My final run from Auchterarder was in the nearby hills, looking to visit a number of the Strava segments that I’d not run. This is less about trying to beat the world at running (besides I’m not fast enough) but an opportunity to see where other people have run and felt it worthwhile to tell the world. It is in fact one of the ways I look for new routes.

Cenotaph and the old church
Cenotaph and the old church

 

St Margarets hospital
St Margaret’s hospital

My final couple of days were far more reserved. Mostly because I was physically exhausted but I was also struggling a bit myself. Perhaps it was talking through some of the issues which had led up to the visit in the first place, but it dampened things down. In many ways it was a shame as the fortnight had been positive for the most part.

The trip back was marred by a bunch of drunken and leery Scots on the way to destruction it would appear in Preston, thinking it was acceptable to play loud music and swear loudly throughout the journey. On arrival in Manchester their counterparts – a gaggle of girls on a 40th birthday do screaming at each other from either end of  platform 13.

North-bound

Contrary to the lack of updates on here of late, it has been a rather involved time.

I hesitate to call it a ‘busy time’ because that would largely negate the purpose of taking time out to recover.

I was last in Auchterarder in late May 2014 following the piriformitis/sciatica fiasco of the spring before it. Two weeks of intensive physio got everything moving right again and Challenge 2014 was completed successfully when I crossed the finish line of the Chester Marathon during October 2014.

When one is dealing with the more hidden aspect of the mind, a parallel approach needs to be taken to fix things. That can involve training, via education and exercise as well as time out to recuperate and allow for the natural healing processes to take over.

What is rather more difficult is the lack of visible ‘injury’ and similarly the lack of any ‘visible recovery’. A broken leg looks obviously not right, but over time as it heals the improvement is clear to see.

Getting away from home is very difficult for me at the moment. I can find every excuse under the sun to stay put and even as I headed out of the door part of me was wanting to turn around. I understand why I feel this way, but it’s far from helpful!

As last year, I broke my journey north with a stop in Edinburgh to catch up with a friend. This being the first weekend away that didn’t have a bike or running shoes in tow, although to be fair the relevant footwear was in the suitcase, primed and ready! The weekend was very pleasant, with a lot of conversation and the change to walk around the city in reasonable weather.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh

Come Monday morning and it was time to continue further north for my stay in Auchterarder. Last time I visited the area was awash with roadworks as the council tried to make all its repairs to the roads and infrastructure ahead of the Ryder Cup which was being played at the nearby course of Gleneagles. Despite the sleepy appearance of the area, it was all hands to the pump again in 2015 with the music festival ‘T in the Park’ being staged only a few miles away.

In fact this latter point left me a touch miffed with all the road closures, which went through the exact middle of one of the runs I undertook in 2014! So without further ado, I figured I would get a run around that route as soon as I could, before the stewards tried to turn me back whilst a band I’d never heard of were being paraded on a nearby stage to the acclamation of their fans (who were probably young enough for me to be my kids)!

Bearing in mind last time I was here running was going to be a struggle because it was running-related muscles that I had injured, I figured I should be able to hammer my route. However it does seem to be as tricky as I remember it and whilst I did knock a few minutes off the 6 mile route, I thought I might need oxygen after I’d finished!

I must say it was nice to be back in the area as the countryside is wonderful with the mountains in the near distance and a more gently rolling landscape closer to.Whilst I would be getting some support whilst here, most of the purpose of the visit was to be away from everything that was my ‘normal life’ – so away from the usual sights and sounds and routine as well. And with plenty of un-explored roads up here to run along it would give me plenty of space to consider the weighty matters I need to come to terms with, both from the education and from working through the ‘where from here questions’ which have been with me since everything came to a head in April.

Castlebrae
Castlebrae

My second run went out away from the festival site, although I spent a lot of it dodging HGVs bringing various bits of stage and performers into the area – not great on country roads but I managed to not get squashed by anyone’s caravan so took that as a positive sign. I followed the signs to Gleneagles, which bizarrely point past where Gleneagles is, and having ended up at the railway station, far beyond it, retraced my steps back home so I could consult the map.

My next trip on foot took me to the hamlet of Dunning, about 5 miles from Auchterarder, a place with a 12 Century church including Commonwealth graves, and a big monument marking the spot where a witch was burned in the 17 Century. Now I must say I was a little worried as I was carrying my mobile phone at the time to record my run route – hopefully that wouldn’t be construed as witchcraft. Although it’s only a 2013 low-end phone so there’s little magic to be seen………

Dunning Church
Dunning Church

Despite feeling a little tired I managed one further run, heading into Gleneagles a different way, only to fail to find the centre of it. On turning around I ended up giving directions away from the festival site to a driver completely boggled by the road signs – I would have anticipated that looking for the main road to a major city would suggest one would not drive up the road that says ‘local traffic only’ – but then I was lost too so I can hardly make a comment on that front.

So after some relaxing, a lot of reading, two massages, a physio appointment, 32 miles run and a lot of puddings later, I feel this week has been beneficial. I’ve not managed to answer any of my own questions that I brought north with me, but then I wasn’t expecting to be suddenly able to do that. But having the space and different scenery has been of benefit.

Run Fluffy Run

Over the past few months, my running has been my primary outlet for all the emotions that have been spinning around following the events of this spring. However, chuck in a whiff of a challenge or a competition and that side of my brain seems to be very much alive and wanting to give the world a good kicking.

I’ve mentioned in the past about the two main fitness sites I use on the internet – Strava, which is for multiple sports and is pretty well known these days, and Smashrun, a site purely for runners, and which is much lesser known.

Both have free membership for the basic information and I highly recommend you check them both out.

Whilst Smashrun has its challenges set up in electronic badges (it’s very cute I guess but effective) which reward individual achievements, Strava has monthly challenges which can be done against other athletes as well as for the individual. Until recently Strava catered very well for cyclists, but there were precious few running challenges.

So when a couple of these came along, I grabbed them both, and set about working on them. Unfortunately they were both three-week long challenges and they started a week apart, resulting in a high concentration of effort.

Elevation is all you need….

Strava usually themes it’s monthly challenges and the ‘Dipsea’ Challenge was based upon the fact that this famous trail race has an increase in elevation of 2200ft. So the challenge was set at achieving 6600ft of elevation in 3 weeks.

So one might plan to aim for 2200ft per week. Or if you’re me, discover you’ve only achieved 1900ft by the end of week two.

For reasons unknown, I decided this challenge was still alive, I mean how hard can it be to do 4700ft elevation in a week…..

Thankfully living on the edge of the Peak District and close to the hills surrounding the Cheshire Plain, there is plenty of interesting running to be done. And with another spell of reasonable weather I set out to find new routes, in particularly ones with big hills and I achieved the remaining elevation in 4 more runs.

The first was a 15 mile jaunt out across Marple Ridge, over Jacksons Edge and across Disley, taking the hills all the way up to the Bowstones, before dropping back through Lyme Park.  The wind was doing it’s best to blow me back down to Disley from Bowstones but it was mission accomplished with a total climb of over 1600ft.

3 days later and I returned to Marple, the Ridge, and the Edge in both directions running a further 11 miles distance and another 1040ft climb and clocked up three Strava course records in the process (how, I don’t have a clue). So over the half-way mark of the outstanding feet of elevation.

24 hours later I was out again, this time in Pott Shrigley, and the 2 mile climb of Bakestonedale Road. I actually started back at the main road in order to maximise the climb, doing a linear there-and-back 10 miler and adding 1175ft to the tally.

Near the top of Bakestonedale Road
Near the top of Bakestonedale Road

On seeing this course a colleague pointed me towards another local hill with very much a challenge to do it. So Friday morning I was back in Pott Shrigley, running over to Bollington and up Blaze Hill, a 1.5 mile climb up to the Macclesfield Hill Tops. I say running, the body was screaming at me before I even started the hill, telling me it didn’t really want to do any more hills, ever! But I persevered with the 7.5 mile loop containing 1040ft of elevation, and amazingly completing the challenge!

Climbing challenge complete!
Climbing challenge complete!

Yes, I use kitten pictures from the internet as avatars for my websites!

Feet? No I mean kilometers!

Now, in a perfect world I’d have stopped then, got an ice cream and slept for a week (having consumed the ice cream). But there was a matter of the other challenge, 148km distance (92 miles) in 3 weeks.

Now the combination of the previous week and my hill-attacking current week had clocked up 54 miles in total, and with 6 days of the challenge remaining I had a lot of work to do. Not least given day 6 I would be cycling around Snowdonia and therefore wouldn’t be running. And Day 5 I’d be driving to Snowdonia….. No pressure!

There is a disused Railway Route, called the Middlewood Way, stretching from Rose Hill Marple to Macclesfield. I have run segments of, but never run the whole route. So I set out steadily on Tuesday to see if there was a pot of gold of either end of this rainbow route which I can confirm there is not! However, having run 13 miles away from home, I still had the matter of getting back again which resulted in a 24 mile round trip which brought me back along the canal, a route quickly thought out because in the time since I’d set out the weather had got rather warmer and sunnier, and I only had a limited about of water with me (schoolboy error, I’ll admit). The logic was that the canal tow-path would be more sheltered than other routes but also I was able to beg some water from a barge-owner part way back.

From Marple to Macclesfield (and back!)
From Marple to Macclesfield (and back!)

The response on Strava wasn’t so much ‘wow what a run’ but instead ‘why didn’t you run the full 26.2?’

I had considered it but with 3 miles to go (a 10% of the distance) I decided I wanted to be home in one piece. And there wasn’t a t-shirt or a medal at stake either and besides, I had a load more running to be done that week (me, competitive???)

The following evening, my birthday, and buoyed with the incentive of a commemoration mug (of a gala, not of my birthday), I participated in a 5 mile trail race around the Reservoirs at Tintwistle. Now, I’m not saying it’s anything to do with a limited number of mugs, but I ran that course as quick as I could. Not that I’ve used the mug yet……..

A hard-fought mug!
A hard-fought mug!

But back to the challenge and having 10 miles to find within the next couple of days whilst preparing for a long and hilly bike ride. there was a tactical decision to be made regarding how I should do this.

A number of short runs to get to the target distance would be sensible.

I think you can probably guess that instead I went all out the following day to nail the remaining miles as I did a reprise run through Lyme Park, picking up the road I failed to find on my route down from the Bowstones a week earlier.

149km run - 101% of the challenge!
149km run – 101% of the challenge!

So come the end of June, I’m 2 electronic badges better off and 106 miles have been chalked up in the process as well as managing the Snowdonia bike ride. It’s been fun, but I think I’ll be holding off the challenges for a little while.

Smashrun - check it out, it's great!
Smashrun – check it out, it’s great!

Or at least, that’s the plan………….

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