The Other Side

I’ve lived alongside the Bristol Channel my whole life, it’s always been there and part of my life whether I’ve actively thought about it or not.  Where I have always lived has been bounded on one side by a wide strip of water, I’ve never really thought about it, it’s just there. Being able to go to the beach just a mile or so away has always been part of life and I’ve never considered actually how lucky I am.

And for all my life the opposite side of the Bristol Channel has been called “The Other Side” and I’ve never thought about that either.  People around here will say something like “It was such a beautiful day,  you could see the other side so clearly” or “You couldn’t see the other side because of the fog”  and everyone knows that the other side is simply the other side of the Bristol Channel.

I see the other side a lot as it’s visible from not only my home but also from the beach where I run a lot and the fields where I walk Murph.  As I say it’s just a geographical feature on the horizon but lately I’ve started thinking about it a lot more. Like what does here look like from over there?  And what does Foreland Point Lighthouse actually look like up close?  I can see this lighthouse – or rather in the early morning or late evening dark I can see it’s distinctive repeating 4 flashes followed by a pause.

And how much of over there can I actually see from over here. And can I run the length of all the other side that i can see? In a day?

So the blue dot is Monknash beach and the two red arrows mark the section of the other side I can see from “our side”  

Luckily (or not) the South West Coastal path runs along this section of coast too – in fact Minehead which will be my finishing point is actually the end of the SW path too.  So the plan is to run from Bull Point Lighthouse in the west to Minehead in the east following the coastal path.  A handy SW coastal path calculator tells me it’s around 43 miles with plenty of ascending and descending – One thing I learned about the SW coastal path while running an ultra on it a few years ago (on the south coast) is that it is rarely flat and there is a lot of steep climbing up and down into the coves.

Yeah – check out that flat profile …

17 hours is the walking estimate so I would be thinking closer to 10 or 11 but as ever it depends on so many factors. 

Timing wise looking at spring 2022 because it’s the best weather for both myself and Murph to be doing this kind of thing – He cant do the full distance but he could do sections maybe.  Well he could probably do the full distance but I would never make him try. I can make the choice to stop but he cant communicate that to me and I know he would just keep going. School holidays run from the 8th April 2022 to 25th. Easter weekend is the 17th so that’s one to avoid. Preseli is the 7th May this year and I’d like some recovery time between the two as I want to run the ultrabeast this year as it’s been a while and I know how hard that one is with the elevation too. I need to get some hills under my belt!

So it’s some consistent winter training coming u – Plan is to get after it avoid injury and stop the weather watching – Murph fetch your rain gear!

It’s real

I got to thinking after xmas. My nephew brought a virtual reality headset with him on boxing day and it started me thinking about reality. I can see the use of VR in education – you can fire pupil’s imaginations like nothing else with it. But what concerns me is the disconnect from the real world and actually experiencing things.

I thought about this while running this morning, it was still semi dark, the wind was howling and then it started to hammer down rain too. And as I ran through it all I thought about how although some may consider it a miserable experience to me me it wasn’t. I could feel the lash of the rain on my face, feel the water running down my face and mingling with sweat and stinging my eyes. I could feel the salt in my mouth as I sucked in air. I could smell the wet earth beneath my feet, the aroma of wet grass. I could sense the freshness of the storm, the wind blasting over and around me, pushing me this way and that, making me drive into it.

I looked down to see Murphy trotting alongside me, as usual when i transfer attention to him he looks up at me and seems to grin. I know deep down it’s just the way we percieve and anthropomorphalise animals but it seems like he grins and smiles at me, sometimes its almost as if he looks up to agree how utterly ridiculous the situation is, why are we running ankle deep through streams of water into a biting wind anyway? Not that he cares because I know at that moment he feels alive, no matter the weather he is out doing something he loves with someone he loves – and so am I. Because right now we are alive.

And can VR give this? Of course not. But corporations will tell you it can. Because they want to sell it to you. And all the attendant “experiences” they can sell you too. They want you at home, sat in your lounge where you are comfortable, malleable and ready to part with cash. How can they sell things to someone stood ankle deep in mud in a field? So they will tell you be comfortable. There is no need to leave your home. Be safe. We can bring the world to you.

I say no thanks, I’d rather be cold, wet, tired … and alive.

A short break

Another day another injury – not me this time but the Murph who had a cut on his paw. No idea how he does it, theres just a lot of sharp stuff out there and when you have an active dog in nature it’s gonna happen.

So the decision then becomes do I run without him? And I can’t bring myself to leave him at home and go out and enjoy myself without him so therefore how do we make the best of the situation? So I dialled up the mobility and strength part of the training. Ok so it’s not running in nature but it’s going to help in the long run. So stretching and weights it was.

And yesterday and today we are back to running – keeping it short and sweet while I keep an eye on his paw – to be honest it wasn’t even making him limp and I only noticed it because he was playing on the floor next to me while I stretched so I am probably being over cautious but hey look at me being all responsible!

So thats been the last week or so – but now we are back! It’s not like we haven’t been out.

Three Woods

Not the golf club three wood but rather our small three woods challenge. On our regular runs there are three seperate woods that we visit just not on the same run. Murph loves woods as there are furries to hunt and things to sniff. So I figured why not do a run that links up all three so he gets to visit them all in the same day. I had a vague idea it would be around half marathon length and would mean we could take in the fields, woods, cliffs, beach and the lanes.

Plus it was an excuse to take sandwiches and extra dog treats. Of course everything is easier in phot form so here goes the story of the day (spoiler its not that exciting)

6 Since But 6 To Go To The 6 The Beast

I shared this blog with someone the other day and realised I haven’t posted in six months.  Which kinda makes me sad as it used to be daily. I havent lost my love of running. I think I’ve just transitioned into a different phase of it. At the end of the day how many times can you write about the same runs over and over. And I’ve progressed from worrying about progression to just running by feel.  Just as I can tell the time on the run without a watch I can feel my effort and distance.  

Six months – a whole summer has passed and summer for us tends to be our off-season, I don’t like to run Murph when the mercury rises, he tends to overheat fast despite being Portuguese. Drawback of a black dog perhaps. So runs gravitate towards early mornings.

But now as the countryside cools we are back at it again and it does feel good to move more and quickly.  I have raced once since Covid, back in August when the Preseli Beast Bach (small beast) was rearranged.  It was a shame there was no Beast (24 miles) or Ultrabeast (32 miles) this year but I can totally understand why and it was good to be invited to the Beast Bach and no way was I turning that down – I love that part of the country.

As it’s only an 11 mile race (though the elevation is tough) I decided beforehand that I would just go all out and leave nothing in reserve. Which I did. And I was happy with the effort and results. I wanted under 2 hours and I got 1.54 and I was comfortably in the top half of the field and top 50. Can’t ask for much more than that really. 

Mostly I was happy with the effort I put in, it was a staggered start and you don’t know if the runner you are chasing started before or after you, all you can do is your best and I felt I couldn’t have given much more.  Especially as I chose to race without a watch too – risky if you have set yourself a time goal. But I figured knowing the time wasn’t going to make me go faster if I was at full effort anyway and so it proved.  I’m not sure I would want to run without a watch on ultras just for the sake of timing food and cutoffs but we shall see, it’s something I’d like to try.

Apart from Preseli it’s just been a case of Murph and I starting to rack up the miles on a consistent basis again. He’s loving it as much as I do. It’s something I cherish now as I know it won’t last forever so every run is special in some way.

Update – not sure I can update something I didn’t actually post but i’m updating anyway. Looks like the Preseli Ultrabeast is back in May – six months is a long time but something to train and focus on. I love that race and will be good to stretch my legs for the full 32 mile version again. It’s so beautiful up there.

Enough talk more photos – can also catch him at https://www.instagram.com/murph_the_traildog/

Making It Up

Last saturday we marked the spring equinox with a run. An ultra in fact. Due to pandemics etc I hadn’t run one since the 50 miler back in 2019 so I figured it was time to get back on the horse and why not do it by marking the beginning of my favourite season. I’ve learned that a bit of preperation goes a long way in running ultras even in your own local area so although I didn’t plan a route I left a drop bag at my parents and left gear and food at home so I had two “aid stations” to visit when I needed.

Now I was pretty sure Murph could do the whole 32 miles but I didn’t want him to. After all I get the choice to stop if I have to, I can call it quits but he can’t or won’t. I know he will just go as long as he can and that may be too far, he has no real way of communicating that. So the plan was to drop him off for a few hours rest and then I could pick him up for the end.

We set off at 6.30 on our adventure!

Enjoying himself playing “come on catch up”

As usual the first miles fly by. Murph did his usual run about like a lunatic thing, probably covering twice the distance I do. We raced the tide along the beach and were having a whale of a time.

Through Southerndown and looping back towards home

Our plan went perfectly, as we looped back into Wick at around 9 miles we met our friends who go walking their dogs every morning. Murph loves a blast with his friends so it works out perfectly if we hit the field at the right time. It was also a chance to grab some food and water from my parents

Happy?

After a while spent playing with his pals we set off again in the opposite direction making up the route as we went along. We found ourselves in the woods around Atlantic College and followed the new footpath through the college and back around toward home.

Woods being Murphs favourite place to find furries

By the time we hit home for the first time it was 17 miles in and after a quick break for sustenance it was time to distract Murph with some treats and set up on my own for a few hours. He was probably doing better than me at this point as the legs were finally showing signs of tireness but he seemed raring to go still. The next 11 miles were …. ok I guess. I was at that point where things were starting to hurt so it was a case of grinding out miles plus I was missing Murphs company. Although its easier and faster to run without him as you dont have to constantly monitor him it was kinda sad to not have him there for part of the journey. But part of ultrarunning is just the mentality of “getting it done” and I certainly was going to get it done no matter what.

This is the face of a dog who has had a good day!

It was odd to run an ultra without the normal race setting, no people, no other runners, no defined course, no finishing line and I admit there were “why am I doing this to myself moments?” but I knew there would be those moments and I had prepared myself for them. You get them in every ultra but it’s just easier to drop out when there’s no-one else around. So if I thought about dropping I thought about something else instead. Like picking up Murph at 28 miles!

Although things were certainly starting to fall apart in the legs (and oddly back spasms) releasing the hound certainly gave me a boost for the final miles. As did stopping briefly at my parents house a few times where I could have a chat and get some food and water down me. Where would we be witout aid stations!

As we trotted home I checked my watch (I actually wore one for once) and realised I could still break 8 hours which considering the terrain, dog minding and various stops. But to break 8 we would have to put a final charge on. So after 31.5 miles it was time for a sprint – Sprint being a relative term but we gave it all we had down the road and hit our original starting point and 32 miles later in 7′ 59′ 30

What a tangled web we run

All in all the whole day was a success. As with all ultras I’ve run there are parts I hate while im out there and then I look back and say I loved every minute. It was certainly different to run one with just Murph for company and I was so happy that I could motivate myself to stick at it. I wonder if there will be more …

Seems like its monthly now

My posting that is, I have plenty of time to write but seemingly it’s more fun doing something than writing about it. So as per usual we’ve been out and about, running here, running there but no longer logging the miles like last year. Which took a litle while to get used to but after having to record every single walk and run I think I do prefer just getting out there and doing it and sod the numbers.

We also have a few projects on the go. First up is Run all the Footpaths which does basically what it says on the tin. There’s a vast network of footpaths and bridleways around here and I want to run them all with murph, which takes us maybe to places we haven’t been before. Hopefully it will turn out to be an ever expanding circle of footpaths on a google map that I’m recording them on. Christ I’ve ended up recording things after all.

So far it looks like this with the yellwo lines as completed footpaths

We also now have a Go Pro camera and as of yesterday a camera harness for Murph. So we’re been doing some filming and I’ve been playing around with video editing – which I’m not very good at. And Murph now has his own youtube channel where I can store all the finished videos. The lastest is being uploaded as I type and is his first test run with his hardness for a Murphs eye view of a run.

If you want to see his vids go to

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwjERA57Av8_6_iwHv7hKtA

Should be more to come, especially as the weather starts to improve, I don’t really want a harness on him when it’s wet and to be honest I don’t like him wearing one at the best of times but the odd bit of filming won’t hurt I reckon.

We have some more things in the pipeline and for now I leave you with his latest photos!

2434

No 2434 isn’t a date in the future when life on earth ceases to be – though I might as well make it a bold prediction as I won’t be around.

2434 is the final number of miles Murph and I walked and ran this year. 2000 was the target so we beat that by quite some way. I’m actually impressed I managed to keep a log every single day for a year. When I think about how much I enjoy being out with him, even when its cold or raining thats a lot of distance and time to be happy.

We averaged 6.65 miles a day, I can take a wile stab in the dark and say our average speed was 3 and a half miles and hour (averaged out between walking, running and idle ambling) which makes around 700 hours outside with my dog – no wonder I enjoyed 2020 more than most. That’s 30 whole days of pleasure. A month – We spent a whole month of our year wandering through the fields and beaches. Happy dog, happy owner.

I’ve thought about it and I wont be logging the miles this year, my curiousity is sated and despite everything above numbers are pretty meaningless when you can’t measure happiness. We have other projects to be getting on with anyway.

When I think of all the sunrises and sunsets we’ve seen it does make me feel truly blessed

Always live to run another day

It’s been an odd few weeks (probably more than a month I admit) since my last post. At the end of November training and pretty much everything else came to a juddering halt as I caught covid from one of my schools. Them’s the breaks and the risk was always there so you have to be philosophical about things. To be honest it could have been much worse and the part I struggled most with was the removal of my outside world and exercise.

But there are many worse off than me and although I was rough for a while at least I survived and recovered quickly and am back running again. Not quite back where I was but it’s coming. So since we were allowed back out we’ve been off covering some lost ground. And twice our plans have been thwarted by nature. Firstly we headed off to a cove which you reach by a set of steep steps which we discovered had been removed by a landslide!

I swear there were steps here not long ago
Murph explores the area searching for lost steps

What can you do? No point crying over spilt milk and landslides, Murph was happy to navigate the fall but I didn’t fancy plunging to a painful death so we adjusted our afternoon plans and headed off on a different path which meant we got to spend time on a different part of the beach and found a cool new rockfall. Survive and adapt.

Rockfall discovery – as close as we got as the cliffs are lethal this time of year – especially with the amount of rainfall lately

The rain lately has been pretty incessant and yesterday we decided to dodge the showers and get some miles in on the road by navigating the back lanes, we can get some good hill work in too as a bonus. However at one point we need ot cross the river via some stepping stones which had … disappeared

Murph would have made it but maybe not me

Never fear I know another crossing I informed Murph and we trotted onwards …

Ok so now the road has gone too

Only to find that the ford inclusing the stepping stones was completely underwater. Maybe we could have made it, probably not, I’ve been in there before and it’s slippery and the current is surprisingly strong. After a bried discussion we decided Murph would have a treat and we would retrace our steps. He who doesn’t drown and runs away lives to run another day.

So no, things haven’t gone to plan. Plans never survive first contact with the enemy anyway so they say. Who cares, make new plans. As lomng as you live to run another day eh

The difference a day makes

So on saturday it was raining, windy, cold and generally meh. However it’s never a waste if you’re out on the run. I try to learn new things, the general advice with effort and running is that you should be able to hold a conversation while running, if you cant then the effort level is too high. Bollocks I say, I have amended it to if you can run uphill into a gale while singing songs to your dog the effort level is not too high. I have an entire catalog of songs I sing to him, I make them up and then forget them and then make them up again, it makes the miles fly by trust me. What he thinks of it i’m not sure but he does tend to ignore me a lot so I think thats’s probably a clue.

Then on sunday we set out at dawn and what a difference, calm, still and so warm by the end of the run I was shirtless. It was one of those I could run forever mornings so I just kept tagging bits on so we didn’t have to go home so soon. And then we had been back an hour and it was just too nice to be indoors so we ran a few more miles up to see mum and dad (where I had to eat biscuits as I was bonking from not eating – I fed the dog but not me at home)