Time is precious, use it wisely.

It’s been a while, a long while. A long while indeed since I wrote a blog post, finished an ultra, practiced yoga regularly, or just felt like myself.

The reasons are many and varied: a DNF at TDS started the downhill trend in my general feeling of wellbeing, a new job in November with some pretty big responsibilities, a further ultra DNF at Country to Capital and then moving in with my [wonderful] girlfriend a week later all conspired to make me feel quite anxious. New routines, new responsibilities, a new found running vulnerability and a new home town!

For about the last month I’ve started to come around again and to feel like myself. I have started practicing yoga regularly again, albeit at home as I have been unable to shake the anxiety that came from nowhere relating to going to yoga classes – it’s a start. A good start too as I’m feeling a lot more grounded, my body and mind feel stronger and I believe it’s helped me to get back to running form.

I have still yet to finish an ultra, haven’t done since July last year but I did enter two after TDS: Country to Capital in January which I DNF’ed due to shot quads and then a DNS at TransGranCanaria Advanced in February due to aforementioned trashed quads messing up my training. However, for about a month now I have been training regularly and gradually increasing my weekly mileage from around 3 post-Country to Capital to currently around 40 – I’m aiming to hit a peak week of 80-90km before my next ultra which is in May. The return to regular running – in addition to what is now a weekly hike and daily yoga – put me in the frame of mind where I felt I could possibly finish a race over 10 miles so I entered a local 16 mile trail race this Saturday. Lo and behold, I finished. In fact, I did quite well considering everything that’s happened since my DNF at TDS back in August! I was aiming for a 2:15 finish, if the day was good, a 2:30 or ‘just a finish’ if things conspired against me. I finished in 26th place from 241 runners in 2:12 and I felt really good afterwards – I definitely held myself back which bodes well for the rest of this year if I can keep my consistency.

Over the past month I’ve also started to look at how I spend my time. I wanted to find out what I could do differently to stay motivated and more positive for longer periods. I wanted to find a way to try to stave off the anxiety that creeps up occasionally and to fight the depression that seems to set in for a couple of months each year. With this in mind I have taken the decision to stop offering my services as a running coach – Flowers Endurance is no more. On close inspection the venture added undue stress and pressure to my life without really adding anything positive be that in terms of income for myself or outcomes for my [very small] client base. I used to cram my weekly training plan creation into a Sunday night and Monday’s after work would be spent adjusting these, e-mailing clients and generally feeling a bit pushed for time. Instead Sunday’s are now spent hiking with Sarah and I am looking to volunteer my time on Monday evenings to a local Cub Scout group as I feel it’s a great opportunity to instil a love of the outdoors, and the skills required to enjoy it to the maximum, into a younger generation.

As I mentioned above, the Sunday hikes with Sarah have added to my motivation and positivity. I know that should I become injured again and unable to run, I should at least be able to hike and explore on foot, albeit in a slower and more genteel fashion! The hikes that we go on usually follow circular routes as Sarah purchased the Ordnance Survey Pathfinder guide for Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire as we moved to the border of these counties – I’m so glad she did because that book really started to pull me back from the brink of a deep depression and got me back outside! So, at present we follow the basic maps and the route descriptions but in the future we are looking to buy area maps and to start planning and navigating our own routes. For me, this means I can start working towards the goal of running the 10Peaks double next year! The 10Peaks Lake District is in June and requires competitors to visit the 10 highest summits in the Lake District, covering about 75km with 5600m of ascent. The 10Peaks Brecon Beacons follows in September and requires competitors to visit the summit of the 10 highest peaks in the Brecons covering around 89km with 4800m of ascent. For Sarah this means feeling more comfortable when we visit Dartmoor in April and the Southern Highlands of Scotland in August!

So I’ve started to feel like me again. Yoga’s back, running is back and I’m settled into my new living arrangements but the writing has not been with me since late last year. I can’t put my finger on why but it’s probably the build-up of anxiety and the fact that I really haven’t made time for it due to getting used to all the new things happening. I’m writing these words today though, because I wanted to at least make a start at getting back to doing something else that I love. But the reason I’m writing right now is mostly because the inspiration was sparked earlier this week when the world lost a great writer, and a great friend, who unfortunately is no longer with us. Dan Lucas.

Dan was a proper writer. A journalist. A sports writer for The Guardian covering rugby union and cricket (I always told him I’d read more of his stuff if he’d pay at least a bit of attention to rugby league). A music writer for Drowned in Sound, Louder than War and other great independent music blogs. What I write, and what  a lot of us bloggers write is pretty much stream of consciousness but what Dan wrote was heartfelt, witty, knowledgeable, entertaining and regularly sparked debate amongst peers, friends and fans of his writing! I think I’ll leave that there because whatever else I could write wouldn’t do Dan justice. I guess that’s goodbye sir – I’ll miss the random meetings for a pint here and there and I’ll miss your outlook on life.

“Maybe, just once, someone will call me ‘Sir’ without adding, ‘You’re making a scene.’” – Homer J. Simpson

Here’s to more writing, more yoga, more running and more exploring. Time is precious, use it wisely.

2017 Goals & Resolutions

I’m going to keep this short, sweet and simple! Below are the things I would like to achieve by the end of 2017 in life and in sport:

Endurance Sports

  1. Finish every race I enter
  2. Win a race (I say this every year…). Alternatively, reach the podium!
  3. Gain another coaching qualification
  4. Buy a decent road/Time Trial bike
  5. Swim at least once a week
  6. Race an Aquathlon, a Duathlon and a Triathlon
  7. Improve my 50k or road marathon PR

Life

  1. Expand the Flowers Endurance client base
  2. Finish my Hatha Yoga teacher training course
  3. Drink less alcohol
  4. Commit to a plant based diet
  5. Build on the foundations of a brilliant 2016 to make 2017 an even better year!

2016 in Review

The annual review of the year past from the ‘26.2 & Beyond’ perspective.

Overview

Although the world seems to have been in turmoil this year with so many unexpected political changes , my year has probably been the best I’ve ever had in terms of the direction of my life and the direction of my running and endurance.

Best Race

Mont Blanc Marathon and Lakeland 50.

I couldn’t pick between the two! The Mont Blanc Marathon was my first ever race in the Alps and my first visit to Chamonix and Lakeland represents my best ultra performance to date!

Worst Race

TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie)

Perfect weather, beautiful surroundings but some poor pre-race preparation and a bad stomach led to a DNF. I still pulled it together the day after the race and enjoyed my time in the Alps though so it wasn’t all bad – definitely a learning experience.

Best Moment

Bushey 5k Road Race

I didn’t write a race report for this one but it was my first ever podium at any distance! It was made all the more special because it is my local race and my Dad and Sarah were there to share the experience.

I didn’t set a personal best but I stayed in 3rd from about 500m in, right to the end – not bad considering the weekend before I ran the Mont Blanc Marathon!

Worst Moment

I could choose a few of these all from TDS which I noted above as my worst race of the year! It could be arriving at the first checkpoint and seriously considering dropping from the race then and there. It could be lingering at the second checkpoint hoping that I would be able to use the toilet and then have enough time to refuel, gather myself and get back out on the course before being timed out. Or it could be the descent into Bourg Saint Maurice during which I totally gave up on the idea of racing and committed to dropping on arrival at the checkpoint there. Then again, it could be the depressing bus journey from there to a car park in Courmayer and having to wait there for two hours for a bus back to Chamonix…before making the hour long drive back to my chalet in the neighbouring valley! Not a good day. Definitely one to learn from.

Favourite Run

I woke on Sunday 28th August at dawn and set off on my last Alpine run of 2016. I covered 12.3km (+684m) and made it to the summit of Mont Joux just as the sun began to rise over the distant peaks of Mont Blanc and the Aigulles. It was the most serene I have felt on a run for a long, long time – I saw no other people and heard no sounds but the wind, cow bells and the hooves of semi-wild horses grazing on the side of Mont Joux as I passed them on my descent.

Favourite Kit

If you want to run long in a hot climate and all you really need is some water and some gels, Shot Bloks or other small items I HIGHLY recommend the UltrAspire Speedgoat waistpack!

 

Vote for me! (please)

Click to vote!

For the second year running (Ha!) I’ve been nominated to the shortlist for the RunUltra Blogger Awards.

I’m honoured to be nominated alongside some great writers/runners/adventurers/endurance athletes! 

I have been writing ‘26.2 & Beyond’  since 2012 and although the layout has changed and the frequency of my posts has fluctuated over the past two years, my commitment to the blog and to the process of writing, has remained. 

I love being able to write things that many of you seem to enjoy reading so thank you all for your continued readership and support! 

I would really appreciate it if you could take a couple of minutes to click the image above and vote for my blog. All you need to do is click my name, enter your own name and e-mail address and then click to submit. 

Peace & Blessings 

Lost: Yoga Mojo (reward for return: inner peace, outer strength)

I have been practicing yoga since December 2015 so it hasn’t even been a year! I took to it really quickly, and up until recently I enjoyed my regular practice often attending three classes a week and practicing at home. In June of 2016 I was enjoying learning about the spiritual, physical and historical aspects of yoga so much that I began a Hatha yoga teacher training course! I am still on that course and I am due to complete the theory side of it in April 2017, with the practical side being completed by the end of June 2017 if all goes to plan.

But it’s not all going to plan.

chakra

I feel like I’ve lost my yoga mojo and I can’t quite grasp what it is.

Maybe it’s the physical fatigue from a tough summer of ultra racing, maybe it’s the mental fatigue of planning a house move and moving into a new job? Whatever it is, I just don’t feel motivated to go into a class and when I do, I don’t feel as confident as I used to – it’s like a kind of anxiety and sometimes fear overcomes me and I either cannot relax sufficiently to smile and enjoy the flow of the class and energy or I stiffen up and even the simplest of asanas becomes painful or unduly uncomfortable.

I will be continuing to take some time away from organised yoga classes, and perhaps even from my home practice which has lapsed quite significantly over the past few months anyway. I doubt that I will get back into a two to three class per week routine as had been my habit prior to July, for quite some time. It seems that since early September I have been forcing myself to attend some classes and that adds to the anxiety, the fear and the pressure – yoga should be a peaceful practice that the mind and body lends itself to. Never, in my opinion, should it be just another workout or form of ‘exercise’ that needs to be done for a person to feel accomplished.

I think I will likely wait to see what is on offer when I move to a new area at the end of January. Maybe it is time for a change of teachers to reenergise the way I see, feel and experience yoga.

Having reflected on my recent experiences of yoga, unfortunately I currently feel a bit jaded by it all. It does seem overly commercial with each teacher pushing their ‘brand’ or ‘style’ and oftentimes it seems they don’t even realise it. It pains me to see various yogis on social media pushing quasi-spirituality in a bid to fill their classes whilst at the same time it pains me to see yet other yogis promoting their classes more like a pilates fitness workout, again in a bid to fill their classes and attract ‘customers’.

The connections I have built with my yoga teachers, when tested, do seem to be tenuous and fragile too – if I miss a few classes there is one teacher who immediately seems to forget my name but who seems to insist that we have a friendship beyond guided yoga classes. Another teacher does seem to be genuinely interested in everybody who attends their class but (maybe I’m being cynical) I can’t see how this is at all possible without becoming mentally, and at times emotionally, draining for that particular teacher, thus impacting on their own practice and indeed the quality of their life. In fact, of the three teachers I see regularly there is only really one who cuts through all of the commercialism and the desire to seem open, accessible and ‘genuine’ to those who they teach.

They show up to class and they are approachable, knowledgeable and happy to guide the class but they don’t seem to be pushing any spiritual, friendship or any other agenda beyond a decent 60 to 90 minutes session of yoga before it’s time for everybody to return to their daily business – at first I found that strange but now I find it refreshing and the classes they run seem to be the only classes that I consistently enjoy anymore! At the moment these are the only classes where my mind and my body relax. 

Unfortunately, this particular teacher isn’t around at the moment. Hopefully they will return before I move to another area in January as I would like to think I could at least attend one of their classes on a regular basis until that time!
I will continue to explore my feelings and thoughts around yoga theory and practice, and I am sure that in the near future I will return to actually practicing yoga on a regular basis. I truly hope that the near future I speak about is nearer in reality than it currently feels when I take my hour a day to reflect on it!

Om

Namaste, Peace & Blessings.

Tri-ing something new!

Back in August of 2013 I was planning to run my first marathon and hoping this would then lead into triathlon training.

This never came to pass. The marathon came and went, and that led me down a running path that I’ve been on ever since. I never did get around to buying a bike and I never did get around to entering any triathlons or open water swim races. I was severely bitten by the running bug and threw myself wholeheartedly into it, as this blog attests.

Well, with a lot of miles now registered in my legs and some decent short distance speed and long distance endurance, I feel the time has come for a newer challenge. Indeed, the time has come to become an all-rounder! It’s not that I’m bored of running; it’s just that I feel I need a break from pounding my legs and doing nothing else. I figure that triathlon, and a journey to long course racing, is just the ticket.

All being well this will lead to a faster road marathon, a stronger physique for ultra-trail running and in the process I will come to conquer one of my fears. Namely, riding a bike on the open road! In addition to these great plus points I feel that training for triathlon will extend my running life as I will be taking some of the stress from my running mechanics and redistributing it across swimming and cycling too.

I began thinking about triathlon and taking it into serious consideration the day after DNFing at TDS in August – that race shook my confidence. Going into it I felt that I had it in me to run past 50 miles and to do that confidently and with some level of success when measured against my own objectives. That night, when I returned to my apartment in the mountains, I realised that I wasn’t really ready to run over 50 miles and it made me question if I really wanted to. That night and the following day I thought about what I wanted from running, what I wanted from myself and my body and what it is that I enjoy about the endurance lifestyle.

What I wanted from running when I really thought about it was twofold – on the road I wanted to be fast, and on the trail I wanted to be free. I haven’t been able to combine speed and freedom on the trail yet but I’ll come back to it after my new adventure with triathlon, I’m sure. What I wanted from myself and from my body was to feel strong, to look good and to find a way to keep on pushing my boundaries without breaking myself. I honestly feel that if I carry on running ultras the way I run them and train for them, I’m going to break myself. Finally, I found that what I enjoy about the endurance lifestyle is the camaraderie of collective suffering, the joy of racing and the mental stability and quiet that only the daily training grind can bring to me. So, with that mapped out in my head I knew that I wasn’t going to just walk away from ultra running or endurance sports. I learned that, actually, in many ways I need endurance sport. So I started to plan. Because that’s what I do!

My plan, which I have been putting together since I was in Ibiza back in September, is to run an ultra-season from January through to July and then to switch my focus over the remaining months of 2017 to triathlon, duathlon and quite possibly open water swimming before taking on a 70.3 race at some point in September .

It has been brought to my attention on many occasions over the years that I am a pretty fast runner over short distances, up to and including the marathon, and that with some focused training I should be able to bring down my PRs from the mile up to the marathon. Although training for long course triathlon racing isn’t purely focused on running speed (it’s more about running economy) it does mean that the running training I will be doing will be more intense, the racing I will be doing will be over shorter distances and therefore my times should really improve.

It’s not just about the running though.

It’s the other two sports that have started to really intrigue me. It’s all new to me after all. It’s like when I first starting running and then started racing – I found joy in finding my limits and boundaries and then pushing them. This is exactly what I’m finding in the pool and in open water at the moment and it is also what I found when I did my first ever focused indoor bike workout last week! I was surprised to find that, in open water, I’m actually a faster swimmer than in the pool and then when I got on the bike I was surprised to find I could hold around 100rpm quite comfortably for 35 minutes and rode through the 10 mile mark in 24 minutes. I have no idea if that’s fast or not, but I do know that is a good mark to start from.

I have a confirmed ultra running season of Country to Capital 45 (January), TransGranCanaria 82k (February), North Downs Way 50 (May) and Lakeland 50 (July). The goal for this ultra running season is to finish the Lakeland 50 faster than I did this year and, consequently, higher up the field. I was very proud to finish under 11 hours this year and to take 82nd place but in 2017 I would like to finish in 10 hours or less and see where that puts me – all of the races prior to Lakeland are training and conditioning for it. It would be great to turn my focus to triathlon and leave ultra running (for a time) on a high!

I haven’t confirmed any triathlon or multisport races as yet but I would like to start doing that early in 2017, if not before. My plan for triathlon is to race a Standard distance Duathlon in May, a Sprint distance triathlon in June, a Standard distance triathlon the weekend prior to Lakeland 50 (with a very disciplined taper) and then, just for fun really, I’d like to take part in an Aquathlon in late August before taking on a Middle distance triathlon at some point around mid to late September. Depending on how that all goes, following the Middle distance triathlon I would like to try and get in a road marathon before the end of the year alongside the club Cross Country season. After that, it’ll be maintenance training through February 2018 before picking it up again in March or April with a focus on fully preparing for a Long Course triathlon at some point during the summer.

But, plans aside, preparation is underway. I have already incorporated swimming and cycling into my training regime – I hope this will prove to be a benefit when it comes to my ultra season because I am hoping to be running on fresher legs. The real triathlon focused training will begin, as I mentioned above, after Lakeland 50. From that point on I envision that my running hours/mileage will probably decrease whilst my time on the bike will likely increase as I seek to strengthen my weakest area at the expense of my strongest. As for the bike, well, I haven’t actually purchased one that is worthy of triathlon training and racing just yet – I’m going to do that in the early part of 2017 once I have moved house, settled into my new job and figured out what it is that I require.

When it comes to swimming I have started to focus more on my technique in the pool and, again in the new year, I will probably join a triathlon training group or take on a tri-specific swim coach so that I get the most out of it. I certainly won’t be rushing the transition from pure runner to multisport endurance athlete and not just because I still have my ultra season to complete first! No, it’s also because I am learning that to become a triathlete (and hopefully a competitive one at that) does not come cheap! There’s no point disrupting the mental stability and quiet I find through training and racing by pushing myself into financial hardship in the name of a new challenge.

So there it is. I am very excited to get this journey underway and I am really looking forward to learning new things about myself and about swimming, cycling and multisport racing! I hope that you, dear reader, will enjoy following the journey and reading about it here at ’26.2 & Beyond’.

I met Chrissie Wellington back in August 2013. It's taken 3 years for me to finally take the plunge into multi-sport racing!

I met Chrissie Wellington back in August 2013. It’s taken 3 years for me to finally take the plunge into multi-sport racing!

Peace & Blessings

Of lists and goals…

Some time ago I began to think about growing older and as such I began to read into the race reports, articles and blogs of other endurance and adventure aficionados in a different way. I found that a lot of people challenge themselves as they grow older and a good proportion seem to allude to a list of things they might like to do before a certain age.

In my opinion this differs greatly from the standard ‘Bucket List’. A bucket list is, by definition, merely a list. Maybe you can couch it in terms of a list of goals but they don’t tend to follow the principles of goal setting per se, obviously by their nature the things on a bucket list are specific but they tend to miss out on:

How will success be measured?

Can or has the goal been agreed upon by those involved in its development and undertaking?

Is it realistic for you at the time?

What is the timescale for achieving this goal?

What will follow is a list of things (adventures, races, achievements) I would like to achieve before reaching a certain age. I am adding things under each age grouping in the belief that I will be more likely to accomplish the goal during that time frame (due to having more experience and/or time available, i.e. it’s more realistic) and that the time frame is an appropriate one for me to undertake the event, adventure or goal (i.e. I’ll have enough time to train for, save up for and organise for the specific task).

With regard to the other two factors of successful goal setting – the measurement of success and the agreement of all who may be involved in or affected by the undertaking – these are the things that will need to be taken into consideration closer to the goal’s timeframe. For instance, if I want to achieve something before I’m 50 years old will I need to take into consideration family, mortagage payments or any other variables that tend to come into play at a later stage in life? Another thing to consider is my health and wellbeing – although I can write now that I would like to run a sub 3 hour road marathon before the age of 40 and that this is currently achievable given my health and fitness, I may decide to prioritise other goals to the detriment of this. It will be on the list, for sure, but it doesn’t mean I will reach that goal.

 

As Bryon Powell said of his Ultra Trail Gobi race in 2015:

 

“You don’t reach your goal at the end, the beauty and the rewards are along the way.

The goal is the journey.”

 

Here’s my lifetime list. It’s not just focused on racing but on seeing the world and finding out more about myself and others in the process.

 

Before I’m 35…

  • Complete the Bob Graham Round
  • ÖTILLÖ (swim/run)
  • Ice Ultra (snowshoe/run)
  • Lakeland 50
  • Lakeland 100
  • Podium at an ultra!
  • Race in America

Before I’m 40

  • Drive across the Simpson Desert
  • Crocodile Trophy (MTB)
  • Hike/Run the Zermatt trail
  • Trans Portugal (MTB)
  • TransRockies Run
  • Ultra Trail Gobi
  • Win a race!
  • Witness the Aurora Borealis
  • Witness the Aurora Australis

Before I’m 50

  • Visit every island of the Canaries
  • Live and work abroad
  • Hellespont & Dardanelles (swim)
  • Trans Rockies (MTB)
  • Hardrock 100
  • Ironman (swim/bike/run)
  • Tor des Géants (TDG)
  • Mount Rinjani Ultra

Before I’m 60

  • Swim in every ocean
  • Row an ocean
  • Arctic Circle Race (ski)
  • Comrades Marathon
  • La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL)
  • Establish a successful and sustainable remote/rural health and wellbeing program that can be easily replicated across cultures and communities all over the world

Before I’m 70

  • Summit a mountain on every continent
  • Tokyo Marathon

After I’m 70…

  • Enjoy life as much as possible
  • Continue to travel
  • Continue to be involved in endurance and adventure sports as much as possible
  • Inspire my children and grandchildren to aspire to something greater than they think is possible

I will make additions to these lists and tick off achievements over time. To view the evolving lists click here.