Training round-up June 2018 - Fast, Slow and Not At All

June was a difficult training month. I had a busy month with work, and we had a heatwave. Yeah, a heatwave. And I'm ginger. 'fair' as we brits like to understate. And susceptible to heat. 

I've suffered. And at times really suffered. In fact, I've suffered physically and then psychologically in a vicious cycle.  

June got off to a great start fastpacking in the Peaks, and I thought it would be the perfect kickstart to the month, but as the land warmed up, I started to wear down, pushing my runs earlier and earlier into the morning to avoid the heat but ultimately grinding to a near-halt altogether. The problem has been not so much the heat of the run itself, but the 'compound interest' of all the hot days stacking up on top of each other; the accrued heat sitting in my arms and legs and fatiguing me to the point of despair. I generally wilt at temperatures above ~24C, and whilst I can handle this (and much hotter) in the Alps (trail running in Austria last August, for example) I can't cope without the wind effect, which you can generally bank on at altitude. 

You might then wonder why I decided to catch a ferry from Mallaig to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula to run Scotland's westernmost mainland Munro at the peak of June's sticky, stagnant heat. Why I decided to run in 'Britain's Last Wilderness' on barely-there paths, on a peaky horseshoe route, knowing from the map it could be punishing.  

It's July and I'm still asking myself the same questions. 

As we know the spirit of adventure is at it's most alive when the risk factor is notched up. Indeed, adventure only really becomes adventure when you've overcome a perilous moment that could end the whole enterprise. And this is basically the summation of my 15-mile bid for Ladhar Bheinn 'the long way' round.

The first mistake was 'spicing' up the route by needing to be back for the 4pm ferry back to Mallaig. My second mistake was finding a pair of stag antlers 1 mile in, and deciding to carry them with me as 'treasure' for the remaining 14. My third mistake was everything I chose to wear, which rubbed me raw on the seams, and still didn't keep out the ticks and horseflies. My fourth mistake was considering the mountain runnable at all for my capability. 

Because let's face it: My life purpose is not 'owning the mountains'. I am an accidental runner. A wannabe. A person who finds joy in exploring mountains quickly. But my calling is to help people turn their lives around. I am not an athlete. I don't run fell races. I don't train endlessly for my fitness. I do it for love, not ability. Mainly, I just want to feel alive. 

And I spent most of the 15 miles either wishing I wasn't, or fearing that I might not be for much longer. This mountain on this day, was really beyond my running capability, the heat was beyond my tolerance and the boat home was beyond hope. 

But, I did run what I could. In fact, I staggered onto the jetty an hour before the boat was due finishing a route that is generally walked in 12 hours, in 7 hours. Neil encouraged me on for the final few kms (himself more tired than usual) when I could barely see straight or put one foot in front of another. By the time I collapsed into a hot heap at the end, legs and antlers flailing into the yellowing grass at the harbour's edge, I could barely talk. 

Yes, I took on a lot of water. But the truth is I was already wildly dehydrated from 3 of the most wonderful days seakayaking and sea-swimming that I have ever experienced. I couldn't make up the difference without also carrying a hundred gallon water-butt. 

I was pretty gutted. As I lay face down in the daisies, no longer swatting away the flies, or worrying about ticks, I sobbed inside (because there were holiday-makers around who were actually enjoying their holiday here) about ruining my first experience of the Knoydart. Since kayaking Loch Hourn two years ago, I was desperate to explore the terrain, but instead my whole experience was fuelled with despair at my lack of ability and anxiety about missing the 4pm boat. It was a force of will, even at the summit, to acknowledge how beautiful the views from Knoydart were. And they were stunning. I've never seen so many mountain hazy blue mountain tops roll out to infinity below me. But still I blew snot bubbles and sobbed to myself, silently, painfully, sucking on Monster Munch. Even my jaw, set so tight on the descents, for fear of impaling myself on the antlers hanging low on my back, wouldn't loosen up enough to eat. 

Yeah, I broke me. 

As we sat on the boat back to Mallaig sipping a hot tea from below deck, I reflected on how elated I was the day before to be planning this route. I noted how it often goes this way: the routes I lovingly plan are freighted too heavily with expectation, and the ones I don't become unexpected joys. Most of all though I knew I was done for for a least a week. My legs were already ceasing. I was sunburnt. My body was saying No More Please. 

And actually I was done for about 11 days. Returning home, I tried to resume my normal runs but I could barely jog without feeling exhausted. The sun continued to beat down on Derbyshire, and I disappeared into a fret bubble of worry about Bosnia. How could I have envisaged a heat wave during my key training period? Why am I so rubbish? Am I the only one who can't do this? Will I get too behind in my training now? Will Bosnia be this hot and this hard? The thoughts rolled on. 

I tried to break it up by talking with people more experienced than me with running, by reaching out on Instagram for advice, by just chilling the heck out. 

And the turning point came this week - the first week of July. Where a knowledgeable friend spend quality time reassuring me of the value-added benefit of even just plodding a mile in the sun. She also reminded me of my tenacity and drive to even try. Neil reminded me that 15 miles is further than I have run before full stop, let alone in the conditions we had that day. And also his stock reminder of 'How many other people did you see running or even walking it?'. Answer: ZERO. No other runners, or walkers. 

This really helped me break my funk, and yesterday putting my fear aside I laid down a solid, hot (but breezy), 8 miles in the Peaks. My legs felt solid, my chest open, my jaw relaxed. I was so chill, that I spent several miles considering getting a tattoo on my leading leg should I get through Bosnia unscathed. 

The run broke the spell, and got me back on track with myself. It's July and we're still baking here in the Peaks. But I'm over the worst and have learnt a lot. Firstly, there is no need for added spice when the plan is spicy enough. Secondly, drink more, and more. Thirdly, leave the bones alone. 

I also really have some ongoing work to do with self-compassion, and self-belief. This will be important on my own in Bosnia. I can't afford to have any of these sorts of moments. That said, I won't be worrying about catching a boat. If I am, then things have gone very wrong. 

SPONSOR MY RUN HERE. 

 

 

 

 

Why am I asking for sponsorship anyway? Aren't I rich or something?

Ruth Allen on Fairfield May 2018

The common misconception of social media is that a stranger's life must be perfect based on the grid of squares put forth to the world. The nice photos, the gentle words. The togetherness of the whole business. And not just that. 

Perhaps they also have an air of positivity. A sense of grounding. An attitude of confidence. Perhaps subconsciously we think that all of these qualities must point to having money

Some people will be surprised therefore, that I'm seeking sponsorship for my Bosnia run. I think they equate the sense of me they have online with a false image. One of affluence and abundance. They might feel affronted then, that I would ask for help with my endurance challenge - 'why doesn't she pay for it herself given that she can volunteer and live in the countryside!'

So, I suppose I wanted to say a little more about why I'm asking for sponsorship. And the honest answer is because I can't afford to do this if I don't ask for help.

That's because when I retrained to be a counsellor, I gave up a well-paid job and career to follow my calling to compassion, and I took few savings along with me. I volunteer my time to abuse and bereavement services, more than the hours I do privately. Counselling is not well paid, and the additional writing, photography and speaking opportunities are AMAZING but not going to make you a millionaire. So you do it for the love of people. And the work. Because you are called to alleviate suffering, to work alongside people in their process and journey. Because you can no longer imagine doing anything else. It's entirely my choice. 

I ask for support because I'm a low-income earner.  I've been fully self-employed for 6 months now and I don't think I'll be paying tax in my first year of trading. I hope it won't always be this way, but for now it is. I am not surprised, nor am I unduly worried. It's my choice and I love what I do. Really love it. I love what I'm building. The whole thing just oozes out of me, occupying every waking moment and passionate cell in my body. But mainly, the money I earn goes directly on fuel for the car, and investments for my work. I'm lucky to have a partner who can carry our mortgage, and pay for our food, for a little while whilst I get back on my feet. We moved to the countryside whilst I was still earning well. I'm luckier than many.

And as I say, all of this is my choice of course. If I wanted to I could go back to the sector I was in before. I went into this with my eyes wide open. And with a smile. 

Living frugally has been great for me in truth. I make better decisions about what I buy, I value my money more, and I understand that every penny now counts. But it will only stretch so far. Lightweight adventure gear is expensive, and is a luxury I can't justify without help from well-wishers. 

So, why do it all then perhaps some people will ask? If you can't afford it, then you don't get to do it. And I suppose my answer to that is, well I don't think the world has to work that way. I trust that there are people out there with a few more pounds/dollars/euros than I have right now. I trust in the universe to provide, knowing that I'm doing it with an open and honest heart, and not through greed. That I am doing this run for more than my ego. That I'm doing it to learn, and to push. and to extend. I trust that if people have got something from my work online (or with me in person) that they will spare a few pennies to help me on my way. I don't expect it, but I trust in the kindness of others, and that sponsors will know my intentions. This run is something I feel called to try, just as I feel called to supporting people in crisis. It all flows from the same spring. 

It's a leap of faith to ask strangers to contribute to my dream, and I hope that those who hold out their hands to me realise how much it means, and that it's not taken for granted. 

Likewise, it's not all about money. Far from it. I'm getting some invaluable help with mapping from a new friend (more on that to follow) because there are no commercially available maps of the mountains where I will be running. Likewise, another friend is helping me out with my nutrition and lending me some of the pricier gear that will help me purify water and cook food safely etc. I am also being gifted a few bits of gear by brands I love to start me on my way. More on all of this to follow. 

Needless to say, the generosity of others always restores my faith in humans and reassures me that there are people out there who 'get it'; who get me, get my schemes, get my dreams. And who in turn are helping me support others in theirs, whether that's sat in a room together holding a safe space for pain, or walking up hills with people who want to give their cares to the sky. 

All in, I hope this clarifies why I'm asking for your support. And hopefully it will bring a bit of needed reality to the social media impressions that we give out without ever even intending to :-) 

xo 

 

EDIT: You can sponsor me here, thank you! :)

 

 

Training round-up May 2018 - Spain, France, Wales and the Lake District

It's been a month since my last training update, which is not to say that I haven't been training, but rather that I've been training around the 'edges' of life this May, which has thrown up it's own challenges and woes.

April ended with a week working in Asturias, Spain and though we were out and about every day I only ran once. Though what a run it was! An early morning trot around the hills that left my legs pricked and bruised from the endless undergrowth mis-turns that I took, but found it's literal and metaphorical high-point looking over the countryside to the Picos de Europa mountains, as a beautiful temperature inversion broke over the villages below.

Our hosts Dave and Jave kindly enabled a selection of their mapped local routes on Wikiloc for me to choose from and follow, but problems with my phone connectivity left me stumbling blind, and going with instinct rather than map. No matter. It was a glorious introduction to the area. I really fell in love with Asturias, but that's a whole other story. 

This work trip was the first I'd had since committing to the Bosnia challenge, and was a chance to prove to myself that 'Yes, you can still train whilst working if you make allowances for the time'. A pair of running shoes doesn't require a lot of extra space in the travel kit. No more excuses. 

Asturias Trail Running May 2018

Five days after returning from Spain, I was on silent retreat in France, and training was preemptively positioning in my mind as a chance to be alone, to shake off the endless hours of quiet sitting, and a chance to do mindfulness my way

I managed to run three times - sneaking out of the dorm during 'personal time' in the rainy afternoons that beleaguered the Dordogne area during the second week of May - and followed various road routes to local towns and villages for which I had no map and no phone to guide me. 

The first run was an unremarkable hill jog to suss out the lie of the land, but the following two were each (I know now, and felt intuitively at the time) about 11-12km through undulating wine country on route to Bordeaux. I ended up in a hilltop town called Monsegur, where I ran primarily to obtain sugary contraband, and Duras - where I'd hoped to find a Patisserie only to discover after an hour of running that nothing is open in France on a Tuesday afternoon. 

Karma. 

These training runs were best described as odd. My diet on retreat was so different from my usual fare, that I was running heavy every time. I also like to do fasting runs regularly in the mornings, and this week I was running mainly in the afternoons. This left me feeling full and lumbering. Not good for my sports psychology. Nevertheless, I did the miles and aside from the rain, the mischief making with bags of sweets stuffed in my RAB, and the heavy legs, I was pleased to have got out at all during the retreat. 

Training lessons learnt? Timing and nutrition matter even on a daily timescale, and it's possible to run really mindfully and 'think' away your aches and pains. Several times I'd felt my knees yelling at me. Several times I outwardly acknowledged their pain and invited them to move for me anyway. Letting go of my physical suffering and accepting that it was to be either way allowed me to step above the nagging insistence to stop, and get on with the job in hand. I'll be using this trick in Bosnia. 

 Photo taken at the end of retreat at Plum Village retreat centre, France. No running shots taken, sorry!

Photo taken at the end of retreat at Plum Village retreat centre, France. No running shots taken, sorry!

When I returned from France, I was conscious than in two weeks I had run much less than usual. I run about 5 times a week at home, and those tend to be hilly miles. As soon as the plane landed I was itching to hit my local routes. I have reached that hallowed and fearful point where not running makes me fidgety. I have started to need it for mental balance. Ironic, given the frequency that it also breaks me. 

My first run out was a scared affair. I went in to it full of internal voice around 'Oh, this is going to be hard' and 'Clearly, I will have lost all of my fitness'. And sure enough the first miles were strenuous. I was back on my own schedule, but with the hangover of someone else's diet and everything in me was determined to prove I was right. This would be hard. I might as well accept that Bosnia is doomed. Two weeks can't be made-up for, I will die on my feet probably. Right here, right now. 

But after those first couple of miles, I found my legs and settled into the pace I had been running before the Spanish-French interlude. After that first run at home I ran into the house declaring 'It's OK! It's OK! I'm going to be OK' to my husband's withering look of 'No shit', and so it was that I returned into a relatively normal pattern this last fortnight. 

Bring on Wales. 

Views to Snowdon and Wildswim spot

I was determined to spend the bank holiday weekend back in Snowdonia. We'd not been back since 2017, which was a long absence when we try and visit every couple of months. The weather looked worse than the Lakes (our second option) but we turned our back on the promise of sun in favour of less crowds, better van camping options and frankly, just a yearning to return.

On Saturday then, we completed a long mountain run taking in Moel Hebog and the surrounding peaks and forest of Beddgelert. The weather was windy and humid with gathering storms overhead, and despite my positive mood heading into the run I mentally cracked 45 minutes in. I have walked the planned loop several times - not viewing it with a runner's eyes - but found it hard work from the get-go. Dragging my legs. Taking tiny steps. Seemingly making no progress whatsoever. And sweating. A lot. 

It's not uncommon that I have a meltdown on a long mountain run, the main problem is I can't predict it. If I'm feeling rubbish then I tend to do better, stoically digging into myself for resolve. When I'm buoyant it's as if the true effort still required takes me by surprise. I had a similar 'moment' in Austria in August 2017 after a long alpine run uphill. You can read about that one here

At moments like this I am grateful to the steadying words of my long-suffering husband. He reminds me of how many other runners we have seen (usually none). How many walkers we have overtaken (everyone) thus proving that I am still running, and not walking. How hard the incline is in reality (might as well be vertical). How predictable I am in a kindly tone (very). This last part usually involves a big hearty, snot-bubbly sob of self-reproach and is generally just the tonic I need to brush myself down and carry on. 

Which I did. And you know, the rest of the run was glorious despite the trials and the muggy air. We rounded the route off with a wildswim in the Lyn above - I need very little excuse to shed off to my skin - and finished back in town with veggie burgers and A LOT of drink. 

Later that night we walked quietly and I reflected on how I'll cope when I only have myself to save me if I psychologically crack on a run. There won't be any sweet potato fries to bring me round, water might be rationed and I'll be higher in the wild and basically alone. I haven't got the answer to this dilemma yet. I'm not anticipating finding one. 

Waking up early on Sunday, the van was wrapped in cloud and the rain hammering on the roof. We had lucked out yesterday, and though I would usually see it through I was tormented by the good weather in the Lakes, and in need of running redemption. My calves were achey, but I wasn't done with training. So we bit the bullet, stuffed down some breakfast, and drove to the Lakes. We would have all of Sunday to have a lazy swim day on Coniston, and then give the Fairfield Horeshoe a go on Monday before heading home. 

 Tiny me on the final approach to the top. 

Tiny me on the final approach to the top. 

View from Fairfield May 2018

And that was such a good decision.  Because I really got to push myself and rise above my own silliness of Saturday. 

I wasn't hopeful for this run. It was swelteringly hot for a pale redhead and wind lick was low. I've walked Fairfield several times and I know that there's no water to cool off in, no shade to duck under, nowhere to hide from yourself. 

I also have the beginning of an eye infection and my tummy wasn't feeling great so I had already resolved this would be hard, but I would do it anyway. And I had added incentive. I had been promised any item off my Bosnia kit-list if I could keep my head together. These sort of incentives work for me as a low-income earner. You can call me Pavlov's Dog.  

Almost every step of the run in the midday sun was hard, but I settled into my slow pace and distracted myself with the big views, the sheer number of people I was overtaking (and being praised by - hello ego!) and the promise of a treat back in Ambleside. In that way the miles flowed and by the top I was in great mental form. Elated to have ticked off another mountain classic under difficult temperature conditions, legs still knackered from Saturday and with one weeping eye. 

Also the visor was invaluable. I've not worn one since the 80s,  but that will be an essential in Bosnia. I kept my kit-list treat modest, feeling undeserving after Sunday's shenanigans, and opted for a midweight Capilene Patagonia baselayer that was in the sale. I snuck in a veggie scotch egg and Twister too. 

IMG_20180528_123801[1].jpg

All in all, May has been a testing month for running with some overwhelming highs and dismal lows. 

In terms of learning, I have to remember to take each run as it comes. Because none are forewarning of how the next will be. To be more 'in the moment' with each run is my aim - I learnt this through my Buddhist education in France - and this will be vital in Bosnia when I will be running maybe 10-14 days back to back. Each will have their own 'arc' of pain and joy and I hope to be present to each day with mental freshness, if not physical. 

I've reassured myself that I can complete a good run in hot weather as well as my usual rainy preference, and hope that in Bosnia altitude will bring me a welcome wind to cool the skin. 

Now, June lies ahead of me. Three and a half months left of training on the clock. I will soon be getting my pack and tent so that I can begin training loaded with gear. We'll see what comes of that. 

In the meantime, if you like to sponsor me then I'm grateful for every penny. I've nearly raised £300 of my £1500 target to help me get my kit together. I'm beyond grateful and love how it's keeping me accountable. Thank you to everyone's generosity so far. I'm blown away by it. 

 

 

21st April 2018 - on knowing Left and Right, Lamb 69 and Water choices

When I was a kid, I was taught to recall Left and Right by putting my hands in front of me and stretching out my first finger and thumb. The hand that made an 'L' shape was my left hand. This was easy to remember, and revealed my left-handedness. Many years later though I still apparently struggle with left and right.

Despite being a competent map reader, it doesn't take much to disorientate me; the easiest dupe being a car park that intersects a trail, such that the trails looks the same at both ends of the car park. One end goes in your direction, the other end goes away.  

And so it was that I ended up running half a marathon this morning by accident. 

No matter though. I woke in a good mood, and this served me well. As soon as I opened my eyes I had the feeling of at least 10 miles in me, so it was gratifying to prove myself right.  I run intuitively like this all the time - doing what feels right, and listening to my body's readiness (or not) - and I have every intention of preparing for Bosnia in the same spirit. I just don't seem able to follow highly-specified and 'scientific' training plans. I lose interest very quickly, and find them a blunt instrument when you consider all of the personal variables that can enhance or destroy a run.

As it was, today had YES written all over it. The most beautiful deep spring morning wrapped in huge blue sky. And for 8 miles I had the trails around the the white peak to myself. My route took me on the High Peak Trail (HPT), National Cycle Route 548, the Tissington Trail and then back on the HPT to seal the loop. Only on the last 5 miles leg did I come across horses, cyclists and a few other runners. I also ran briefly alongside a young boy on an offroad wheel-chair-bike. I loved his tenacity, and his insistence that he doesn't need chocolate as fuel, only water. He's young, but he'll learn I thought, knowing he was far more mature than me. 

Running at this time of the year with freshly birthed sheep in the fields is just the greatest joy. Lamb 69 brought me much smile. 

Knowing I was feeling strong, and recognising the gift of a warm day, it felt like a good opportunity to find my forever pace. Granted, I am not running with a large pack yet, and the terrain is less spiky, but part of running intuitively is coming to know the pace you can run at forever (or, you know, within the hours of daylight). I am not aiming to run Bosnia fast, just entirely. Day In Day Out. The distances are long, but all I have to do is run, eat and repeat. So my training can be low intensity and steady for the time being. 

Low intensity meaning time for tea. In my defence, I stopped at 9 miles to grab water from Parsley Hay, but the only option was to buy a plastic bottle and then discard it. So I opted for a quick cuppa and scolding throat burns instead. 

At the moment i'm very comfortable and fluid on the 11 minute per mile mark. I arrived back in the car park feeling good and strong, happy that I will have plenty in the tank for tomorrow too. As the sign says in a curiously inspiring and peakland kinda way, dream of noise and wheels and coal and steam

 

 

16th April 2018 - On Shins.

I've just got back from a start-of-the-week training run. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I was feeling for a Monday morning, running straight up the hill without effort. Then a thing happened 10 minutes in. 

I thought 'what happens if I fall over on Day One and get an open fracture of the shin?' 

I hate it when this sort of thought pops into my head. As soon as it's sprouted, it flowers garishly into my imagination, full of blood, pain and helicopter rescues. 

For the remaining 40 minutes of the run I kept a cautious half-eye on my left shin, whilst trying to distract my inner eye with thoughts of victory ice cream in Mostar, five months from now. 

I mean, let's be clear. I have run in a fair few mountains and I have never taken a fall sufficient to break anything, and certainly not to open up the bones in my leg. Yes it could happen. Of course it could. But, it could also happen on any of my runs, at any time, with no regard to distance from home or my inability to grasp the Cyrillic language. This is just my mind finding new and creative ways to make sure I'm fully aware of just how scared it is. 

At the moment I feel as if I am giving it too much voice, but I'm also trying to hear the kindly message. In this instance, learn the words for 'hospital please' and put the number for Bosnia Mountain Rescue in my phone. And entertain the thought of shin pads.