Every Single Gram

Weight in an obsession whether we talk about cycling, trekking, walking or any form of racing.

Expeditions take on a whole new level, given the duration they cover and the huge weights that must be dragged or carried.

Polar explorer Ben Saunders takes us through the meticulous level required for their 4 month world first Antarctic expedition last year.

Every Single Gram

Weight in an obsession whether we talk about cycling, trekking, walking or any form of racing.

Expeditions take on a whole new level, given the duration they cover and the huge weights that must be dragged or carried.

Polar explorer Ben Saunders takes us through the meticulous level required for their 4 month world first Antarctic expedition last year.

Maverick Races – West Sussex

I feel the need – the need for speed!

The Maverick races set out to make the most of the British countryside, weaving trails across the South of England from Surrey to Dorset. Aimed at all abilities, 3 course lengths provide options and unlike many series out there, you can switch on the day of the race and even on the course if required.

Accommodating is a word fit to describe their way of doing things.


Now the race.

 The Original West Sussex Race was held at Cowdray Park, a magnificent estate nestled outside of Midhurst. This was my first time to the area, and once I had left the M25, the scenery was stunning. Rolling hills and tree lined B roads a plenty. Pulling in following signs and brightly coloured beach flags, I pulled up outside a large stately home, the setting for race HQ.

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After collecting my number and electing to run the long course, I slipped into a Zebra onsie (dressed up for a friend) and joined a couple hundred nervous runners under the start arch. A short and sweet brief followed, and with that we were off. Bounding down the first lane, surrounded by blossom coated trees, onto hard packed trails in felled forests.

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With a marked route, signs and orange tape provided ample navigation through the downs, allowing all participants to focus on the task in hand. Running. Through a combination of ploughed fields and bridleways, the route snaked its way to the first checkpoint. Draped in further flags, it was visible from far away, boosting spirits on a deceptively hot day (that could be the fleece lined zebra suit doing the talking). 2 enthusiastic volunteers manned the table, offering water, energy drinks, jelly beans and fruit. A brief swig and mouth full of sugary satisfaction and it was up the adjacent hill.

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This would be the harshest climb of the day, with all of the runners around me having to walk at some point to conserve their legs. At this point the heat was taking its toll and I lost 10 or so places. Topping out, rolling chalky bridleways, 10 feet wide lay ahead. Slow up, fast down.

These roads would narrow eventually, down twisting and loose descents, where I amongst others encountered horses and walkers. As I ran past I shouted “Don’t worry, you’re not seeing things” as people laughed or looked bemused.

The final check point lay on the edge of a village, single crewed by a lovely lady who was mightily impressed with my tail. What can I say, it’s something special.

Crossing fields and reentering the woodland, legs ran heavy with the dehydration running in a fleece costume in 15 degree heat brings. I doff my hat to all fancy dress runners running London this weekend, it isn’t easy.

Picking up the last 2km, relief hit runners around me, the heat had taken a greater toll then expected across the board and the promise of relaxing was so close. Running back up the same road we started on, surrounded my blossom, I smiled to the camera for one last time.

Crossing the line had lots of significance. Firstly I had achieved the goal of finishing, secondly I could cool down and take the suit off. But more importantly I had helped a friend in need.

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The Maverick Races were something I was unaware of until I saw an advert on Facebook and subsequently won a free entry via their page. What I now know is they put on a great event, in a truly stunning location and they are a really friendly bunch of people.

I whole-heartedly recommend you take a look and even give it ago. Remember, they are about all abilities taking part and you can change your mind on the day.

Check out my race video, spot the sweaty Zebra… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA6fay8jnJ4

Maverick, you stud!

Inov8 Ultra 1

Bumbags, waist packs, call them what you will, have a strange existence in the UK. Our perceptions are of people stood in fields at car boot sales and pensioners on coach trips. However, they have long been the weapon of choice for storage for fell runners and those travelling fast and light.

Inov8’s Race Ultra™ 1 takes minimalism to a new level.

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Zips, secure pockets, exterior bungees and all things organisational are gone. This isn’t a waist pack for loading with kit for a winter race.

The weight is barely noticeable. 86g without bottles. Effectively the Ultra™ 1 is 86 grams of stretch mesh, buckles and straps.

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With around a kilo added when both 500ml bottles are brimmed, the weight distribution on the hips is precise. This is aided via V-compression straps on the front, which allow adjustments from both sides, providing a custom fit. Between the bottles and compressions straps, there is thin piece of foam on either side, adding comfort and stability. Much like the move to racing vests over traditional rucksacks, this follows the philosophy of creating storage that fits like clothing.

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Storage is provided by three pockets. 2 bottle pockets, with bungee loops for holding the bottles under the caps and a long narrow pocket on the back.

The long pocket sculpts to the body, with a close fit. There is no pocket closure, however this is not an issue given the stretch mesh will fight to return to its normal size. For those looking for something more secure, there is a key loop to attach your metal music makers (I hate running with keys!)

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The bottle pockets are snug with bottles, but these can also be used for gear storage. I’ve fitted in one side pocket 1 pair of Inov8 Racelite gloves, headband and windproof vest with room to spare. You could easily fit a Pertex rain jacket in on top of that.

In use, I often found I only take one 500ml bottle and combine this with a windproof, extremity cover and nutrition in the rear pocket. However, when racing, given many will list 1 litre of water as mandatory kit, this provides an alternate option to carrying bottles on your pack straps.

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The bottles, well there are plenty out there. From traditional cycle style to the ever more popular soft flask. The Inov8 bottles are relatively flat and curved to allow easier fitment on the hips. They work, nice in the hand, have a textured finish to aid grip and you never notice them when on the move.

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And that’s it really.

It’s a minimal piece of kit for those looking to go fast and light, or in conjunction with race vests such as Inov8’s Race Ultra™ 5, 10 or Vest.

I can see more brands adopting a stripped back version to their waist pack collections. Many have more substantial options, but I have yet to find alternatives to better it. Some may argue it needs more security, but Invo8 have an other ranges to suit.

Finding Inspiration

Inspiration is something we sooner or later talk about.

Wether it is an act of charity, a good deed, a celebrity defying great odds or a friend, we all find it in different places. But could it be said we look too hard, expect too much of others or sideline simple acts due to their relative insignificance.

Take running. A subject close to my heart.

Other than the London Marathon, all attention is focused on the elite figures chasing medals and records. This is all well and good, but much like football, as soon as a player makes a mistake in their personal lives, we criticise them for not being a perfect human being. Furthermore, it is hard for us to truly relate to them, given their lifestyle and care they must take in front of camera not to damage their own brand. And this is where lines have to be drawn.

Inspiring figures and role models are often two different things.

Sports men and women chase a career as a professional athlete to compete at the highest level, working in their passion and enjoying what comes with it. Yes, money and fame can motivate some. However, too much attention is given to every minute aspect of their life, especially their private lives.

And this is where annual events such as the London Marathon defy this societal practice. The headline are the elites, as we follow their race, watching every twist and turn, every meter lost and gained.

But, and this is a huge but, the majority of coverage is given to normal athletes, regular people who are doing extraordinary things. Whether they are dressed as a Rhino, skipping, running backwards, juggling or simply hoping to make it round in the cut off time, these are the TRUE inspirational people. The stories are wide and varied, the reasons are numerous, but collectively they are the same. Achieving, inspiring, raising awareness and fundraising quietly in the background, helping society.

They may only run this one race a year, may never again. Their time may be not so great on paper, their gait inefficient and body fat less than ideal, yet their passion and enthusiasm masks this.

And that is where inspiration is found. Hundreds of hours spent training, time spent fundraising, making costumes, money consumed on equipment. But they don’t care. What they care about it those they will help directly or indirectly. What matters is other people.

Let us not forget, you don’t need to look far for inspiration, provided you are open to letting your eyes find it.

#ashmeiambassadors day 2015

When a room of cyclists, runners and triathletes are given a pair of socks, you could understand the enthusiasm may not be at the same levels as a soft-shell, shoes or GPS watch. However much like inner tubes in a bicycle tyre, they are fundamental to a comfortable and effective performance.

Yet, when you know what’s contained in ashmei’s Trail Running sock, you may never overlook this trivialised piece of athletic clothing again.

But let’s skip back in time momentarily.


The Ambassador Programme

The reason I and many others were being handed socks, was as we had been selected for ashmei’s ambassador day. This is a day where athletes from all 3 disciplines are invited down, all hoping to be selected for ambassador programme. Now an ambassador does more than photo shoots and a blog/social media post here and there. One key area is representing the brand at races, both your own and those sponsored/hosted by the brand. Furthermore, product development. The best way to test new designs, materials and ideas is through athletes in varying climates and situations. There is little point testing on a treadmill or turbo in an office, as all you have created is the perfect gym outfit.

So, many exciting roles for those lucky few.

Having applied and being selected, I took the short drive down from Milton Keynes to Aldbury. I’d already spotted some familiar names on the communications; Simon Freeman and Lenka Istvanova. I had met them at the Like the Wind Pop Up in Shoreditch last year and subsequently bumped into Lenka at a couple of races. After snacks, name tags, funny facts and lots of introductions Stuart Brooke, ashmei founder, presented the birth of his brand and its unique story and ethos.

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Following this interesting presentation looking at the methodology of product development at the brand, the advantage was clear for everyone to see. Prioritising Performance, Quality and Style in that order ensures products which are achieving the highest performance levels.

We were also shown the difference between a oil based garment and that of Merino. Lets just say many people felt the heat was turned up, as their polyester shirts cooked them and me!


And now its sock time!

Merino Carbon

Merino Carbon combines the temperature regulatory benefits of merino wool, with the wicking and drying properties of carbon. Now, cyclists and triathletes, lets not get this mixed up with carbon fibre. This isn’t going to save you weight or give you greater power transfer with each pedal stroke.

What it will do is absorb water 10x faster than not treated fibres, and dry twice as fast.

Big claims, with even bigger performance and comfort benefits.


The Run

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As the clouds closed in, temperature dropped and wind picked up, the majority had come dressed for a run, with only a handful taking the cycling option.

Lead by members of the team, we set off onto trails in the Ashridge estate, taking on the rolling hills at a steady pace. This was not a race, not a test of athletic ability. Instead, this was a chance for us to get to know the ashmei team as well as each other. With many varying and inspiring stories to tell, the 6 miles of chalky trails were over all too quickly. More over as I had run around the group taking video footage with my GoPro.

Back at base it was tea and medals all around – or in this case an Easter cake, croissants and juice.


But not before we were offered the opportunity to give feedback on the socks.

Mine includes;

  • Super comfortable
  • No movement in the shoe
  • Controlled temperature for longevity of run and the 13 hours I wore them for
  • Superb fit, no excess material and not overly tight across the toe box
  • Ventilation – will have to wait until it gets warmer
  • Aesthetics – high level of detailing which fits with the entirety of the ashmei range (many brands don’t bother)
  • I would and will be using these regularly to give long term use feedback

Following on, 5 funny facts were read out from the participants, including;

“I often forget my trunks when going to the pool”

“I forgot my tri-suit at my first triathlon”

“I wish I hadn’t shaved, at work and in the cycling industry I’m called Chuck Norris” (mine)


As all the best things in life there is an end point

As I left, I felt really enthused by what I had experienced. I had gained a deeper insight into the brand and their philosophy in product development. I had once again got to see the Like the Wind crew. I had met 50 other like minded people who are all achieving incredible athletic feats of endurance.

And I had some awesome socks.

In fact I only took them off at midnight, so wore them straight for 13 hours including a 6 mile trail run, which is testament to Stuart’s design philosophy; creating items for performance rather than price points.

Thank you to Stuart, Simon, Julie, Lenka and everyone else (I apologise for not remembering your names).

Now there is no denying I will be watching my inbox intently, hoping to see an amazing email in the following days, but either way, I would wholeheartedly recommend keeping an eye out for their next ambassador day.

You won’t regret it.

What kind of runner are you?

We spend most of our lives defining who we are. Whether we use job titles, hobbies or interests, not a week goes by without someone using something to define, reinforce and give ourselves confidence. But are titles what defines us a people and should we get so hung up about them? There are countless titles out there and running is no exception.


Running

Fun, club, park, road, trail, track, sprint, short distance, middle distance, ultra, vertical, sky, fell, multi day, marathon, half marathon, 5k, 10k, 50k, 100km, 50mile, 100 mile, adventure….. the list of disciplines/tags/titles is pretty endless and diverse.

And yet, if you ask many runners they will immediately jump to the greatest distance they have run, or their biggest achievement.

On this basis I am an ultra runner, given I have run one ultra or a multi day, having run 5 trail marathons in 5 days last year.


But what am I?

A runner.

First and foremost, a runner.

My passion may sway towards ultra and multi day mountain running, however the reality is for the vast majority of runs they will fall between 3-10 miles. Of these, most will be at relatively comfortable paces and on flat, tarmac roads around Milton Keynes. It is  becoming apparent, the reality of titles is very different from the images they may project.

Furthermore, the majority of races I take part in will be under ultra distance, so in reality out of say 10 races and countless training runs, only 3 times will I breech the ultra criteria.


The reality

I run every distance from a mile to 50 (if 2 races are successful this year).

I am a runner and that is what I embrace and chose to be.

We can all distinguish ourselves by titles, but really they are a distraction from what we have all set out to do.

Run.

This is where i started my blog journey……

My partner Lisa has started a blog following her exploits, with an aim to encourage women to participate in sport and know that they can. I put this video together from our recent break to the Lake District.

Find your inspiration and embrace it.

Exploring a healthier happier life with running

I find it hard to find places to run around London with all the concrete, people and traffic.

Although, i re – kindled my love for running again and being in the country away from the hustle and bustle when my James took me away on a surprise valentines weekend break to Ambleside, heart of the lake district.

You can watch my adventure here –

Also, a surprise video which James has been working on – talented or what hey?!

I hope it puts a smile on your face 🙂

Enjoy

x

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The Diary

Us runners, we all have one.

Whether we like to admit it or not we all have a running diary. On paper, in a book, computer or in our head. We all have several races, goals, dates set in stone to aim for. So what are mine for 2015.


Goals

Stay injury free.

Train regularly.

Use my car less for commuting and replace with running and cycling.

Experience more.


Races/planned runs

TrailScape Wendover – Volunteering – Route running

Grindleford Gallop – 21 miles of Peaks running

Maverick Race – 24km of Sussex trails

Wings for Life – Silverstone – Race the car

Montane 26 – Howgills

Ox Trail Half Marathon – Running with partner

Running Ben Nevis

Endure 24 – Reading

Clif Bar 10 Peaks – 45 Lakeland miles

Lakeland 50

Snowdonia Road Marathon

Dawn till Dusk – 50 night Peak miles


Quite a fair bit of racing and travelling.

But oh so exciting.

DNF – Do Not Fail

Did Not Finish –
“A term used in sports events whereby the participant is unable to complete the event”

We are taught from a young age that failure or not completing a task is negative, and should be avoided. We are pressurised to achieve, whether this is in Key Stages at School, Degrees at Universities or success on the sports field. But aren’t we also told that we must learn from our mistakes?

Consequently, we nurture a fear of failure, rather than taking a risk where the outcome is not set in stone. In order to learn from our mistakes, we must first put ourselves in a position where there is a chance of such an event occurring. For most of us, such a mistake will not hold severe consequences and we make decisions limiting risk where the result could be dangerous; i.e. driving a car, using knifes.

But what about sport? Is there anything silly about entering a race or challenge, that on paper far exceeds your own ability? Now, before I go any further I am not encouraging people to DNF or take on huge challenges with a high probability of doing so. What I am asking/suggesting is to those that have DNFd, look back at what and why you were unable to finish, learn and become a stronger competitor from it.


 My DNF


Background

In 2013 after running the Glencoe Trail Marathon for charity and literally turning up with 3 miles of training in the previous months, I was looking for a new challenge. Having never run a long distance race and pretty much winging it on the day, my head was thinking bigger. Before, the idea of a marathon was nuts. It would take years to be able to run that distance, however I found through other life events that the mind can control you and if the want is there, you can move through almost anything.

Given this and some people throwing ideas around, I entered Ironman Wales, recognised in the top 5 hardest Ironman triathlons in Europe. Now, I hadn’t swam for years, and rarely ran. I had never taken part in a triathlon of any distance. The only thing I was doing regularly (to a point) was road cycling. And so, I set about an unscientific nor organised training schedule. I upped my rides to 80-100 miles and ran up to half marathons. Yet neglected swimming, with only 10 or so sessions logged.

Now, you can probably guess from that short paragraph why I did not cross the finish line. However, through my previous experience my head told itself the following “The swim will be tough, and you will struggle. However, you can finish ok with the bike and run legs. Make it through the swim and it will be ok.” It’s incredible what a naive mind can justify.


Race Day


A nervous start, huge waves, salt water and fogged goggles. Short of a panic attack I was clearly out of my depth. Though giving up was not an option. I persevered, as I witnessed people being rescued around me, others having panic attacks within 300 meters of the start. As I was windmilled by fellow competitors and thrown around like a rag dole by the ragging swell, I took on water. My system didn’t feel right. Given I had almost lost my eye sight months earlier, I wasn’t willing to lift my goggles up, so I blindly swam, zig zagging along the back straight. I was a mess.

On the approach to beach at the end of the first lap of two, I was asked by a lifeguard on a SUP if I wanted to take a brake. I was clearly not going anywhere fast. Within seconds, my system reset itself, as the contents of my stomach were left to dilute in the sea. It was at this point I asked to be withdrawn from the race and taken to land.

I was pleased I was not the only one. Seeing others made me feel better for my inadequacy. But I also witnessed I was taking this a lot better than many others. All around me there were wetsuit clad competitors crying uncontrollably, their emotions running raw. They clearly had invested their entire mind into the event. As for me, I was more worried about the stick I would get at work.

Why was I taking it so light heartedly? Had it not sunk in that all that had lead to this was now wasted?


The Lesson


I had found my limit, and that is not something many people get the opportunity or are willing to push themselves to. Despite getting a feeling pretty much from the outset that this was not going to end well, I had controlled my worries, pushed on and managed to rationalise a fast changing situation. I had not hurt or injured myself, I got no stick or abuse from friends or colleagues as they thought I was nuts for giving it ago.

Moreover I had fore filled what we are taught in are youth; to learn from our mistakes.

As I emerged from the water of Tenby Bay, I came out a stronger person, with a greater appreciation for training, athletic capabilities (get lapped by an elite, swimming like a flying fish and you will see what I mean) and the value of experiencing life.

We could all dismiss challenges, in the work place or socially if we know the outcome isn’t certain. But what would that achieve? We may not meet our partner, discover a new hobby or interest, find a new passion. All we would achieve is limiting our lives to what we know, and in the grand scheme of things we don’t know a lot. The greatest intellectuals of this world know a lot about a specific field of study, but talk to them about an unrelated area and it could be you teaching them.

To experience we must take risks.

You will learn more about yourself in one DNF, than 100 races that go to plan.

*Since my DNF I have completed the following

– Spitfire Scramble

– Born Survivor Marathon Obstacle Course

– Ennerdale Ultra

– Snowdonia Road Marathon

– Hell of a Hill – 5 trail marathons in 5 days