Ditchling and the Downs

In April, I visited the recently-opened Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. The tiny Sussex village of Ditchling was home to Eric Gill and his apprentice Joseph Gibb, where they founded the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic. Gill gathered around him a number of talented men and women artists, who were inspired by the ethos of the late-Victorian arts and crafts movement whilst evolving a new kind of English modernism that bridged the medieval and the present day. (Gill, of course, is well known for his iconic typeface Gill sans as well as for his unorthodox sexual practices).

The exhibition is smart and high quality – less is more for this architect-led redesign that unifies a collection of farm buildings through strategic use of honest metal and wood materiality. The interpretation is, as expected, beautifully designed by graphic design heavyweight Phil Baines, with elegant wayfinding symbols (also found on the cafe’s cups and plates). Sadly, I found the writing on those panels failed to catch my attention, and often left panels half-read, even in this very small exhibition. Given that I had an existing interest in the subject matter, I suspect I just wasn’t in the mood, or that the text was dense or dull in a way that made it hard to digest whilst standing up and walking around. I’ll be interested to revisit and see how my outlook changes.

From Ditchling, you can follow a very lovely walk across the Downs to Lewes, only 5 or 6 miles away, and from there, take the train back to London. A perfect little day.

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London Marathon with a Pacemaker

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Me and my brother at the start of Edinburgh marathon in 2015

I’m not running London Marathon this year (one of the many who didn’t get a place) but my brother is. Not only that, but he’s also running it with a pacemaker – a battery heart – owing to a rare heart condition he had when he was 12. He’s already raised over £5,000 for the British Heart Foundation, but the donations keep coming – click here if you’d like to give.

My brother’s story…

“I am raising money for the British Heart Foundation who have worked tirelessly to halve the number of people dying from heart and circulatory disease in the U.K. Quite simply, I would not be alive today without the research and development of the BHF.

When I was just 12 years old, I was diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome, a rare type of heart disease that is best described as having an accessory pathway in the heart. The additional pathway caused my heart to “short circuit” and beat erratically, at times in excess of 320BPM. At the time, it was curable with an operation called an ablation; but because the technology wasn’t as sophisticated then as it is now, the operation was unsuccessful and I was left with complete heart block. The doctors felt the best solution was to input a Cardiac Pacemaker, which is exactly what they did. I was one of the youngest children in the U.K. to have a Pacemaker.

Now in my twenties, I am on my second Pacemaker and it’s ticking along nicely. This year I’m running the London Marathon, with a target time of 3 hours 5 minutes. In fact, I’m aiming to set a world record as fastest person to run the London Marathon with a Pacemaker. I have applied to Guinness World Records and if they approve my claim I will update this page so your donation can also be a part of history….

As you can imagine, this charity is incredibly close to my heart. Thanks to the BHF, the technology I needed to keep me going as a young athletic child was available to me, and their research and expertise continues to help thousands of people to live healthy and fulfilling lives. It’s only thanks to support from people like us that the BHF can create new treatments and discover new cures. £25 could pay for an hour of research by an early career scientist, but every pound helps so please give what you can to help me hit my target.

Thank you so much for reading and please give generously to a great charity!”

We made some banners for him and we’ll be there cheering along on Sunday!

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Twilight People: Stories of Gender and Faith Beyond the Binary

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This time last year I was deep in a volunteer project; this year I’m freelancing and full-time working… Here’s a quick recap on that project and what it meant to me. 

Cast yourself back to February 2016… for LGBT History Month, I was part of a brilliant team of volunteers and professionals to realise a temporary photography and oral history exhibition called Twilight People. It featured beautiful photographs by Christa Holka, media by Susanne Hakuba, graphics by Lai Couto, and took place at Islington Museum. Subsequently, the exhibition has toured to Coventry, Manchester and had a pop up event at the LGBT Police Conference at the Guildhall in London.

The exhibition features intimate, face-to-face encounters with people who are at the intersection of gender and faith. Pictured holding an object that means something precious to their identity and faith journey, they are also accompanied by their own words taken directly from their oral histories. Together, they give a powerful insight into faiths and identities that are often not seen as compatible, and confounds many stereotypes. For some, faith is the way they have come to terms with their identity; for others, being accepted by a religious community has been a positive marker for them in their transition.

I was honoured to be involved in such a project, not least because I got to work with Surat-Shaan Knaan, whose energy knows no bounds. With my co-curator Sean Curran, and the fabulous volunteers who took part in workshops and played a part in scripting the exhibition, we had such fun leading workshops, choosing images and creating a beautiful space, so here’s a few of the photographs from the install and launch.

The Heritage Lottery Fund, who kindly provided the money to be able to carry out the project, asked me to write a blog post for the project which you can read here.

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2016 in books

img_2530Next to running, the thing I most enjoy doing is reading. I set myself the challenge of trying to read 52 books a year sometime ago, and though I’ve only ever got as close as 51, I now keep a running list of books I finish every year.

So here’s my list of books I’ve finished in 2016. By “finish” I mean: read total contents thereof from front to back. As a result, this year’s list obviously does not reflect books begun in 2016 but not completed: they will go on next year’s list.

  1. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  2. The Shaking Woman, Siri Hustvedt
  3. The Outrun, Amy Liptrot
  4. What Goes Around, Emily Chappell
  5. Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
  6. A Book of Silence, Sara Maitland (re-read)
  7. The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden (re-read)
  9. The Night Bookmobile, Audrey Niffenegger
  10. The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
  11. The Black Spider, Jeremias Gotthelf
  12. To the River, Olivia Laing
  13. The Life Writer, David Constantine
  14. The Lonely City, Olivia Laing
  15. Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
  16. Modernist Estates, Steffi Orazi
  17. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  18. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee (re-read)
  19. The Three Hostages, John Buchan (re-read)
  20. Clear Waters Rising, Nicholas Crane
  21. The Gifts of Reading, Robert Macfarlane
  22. The Past, Tessa Hadley
  23. Railtracks, John Berger and Anne Michaels
  24. Solo Faces, James Salter
  25. Consolations of the Forest, Sylvain Tesson (re-read)
  26. The Isle of Sheep, John Buchan (re-read)
  27. The Devils of Loudon, Aldous Huxley
  28. A Summer of Drowning, John Burnside
  29. Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane
  30. Ways of Curating, Hans Ulrich Obrist
  31. A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
  32. Some Rain Must Fall, Karl Ove Knausgaard
  33. City of Glass, Paul Auster
  34. And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, John Berger
  35. Style Council, Sarah Thompson
  36. Ghosts, Paul Auster
  37. The Locked Room, Paul Auster
  38. Walk Through Walls, Marina Abramovic
  39. Dubliners, James Joyce
  40. Nutshell, Ian McEwan

Not a bad haul, really! Being in two book clubs helps for sure. I’m pleased to see that the first six books of the year were by women, and 17 in total had female authors. I don’t choose my books based on gender, but it’s interesting to observe nonetheless. There are some very thin/slim books on the list too (nos. 9, 21, 23), a couple of photo+interview books only included because the interviews were quite long-form, so I thought they could count (nos. 16 and 35), and some sharp-eyed readers will quibble with my decision to class Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy as three books (nos.33, 36 and 37). But I shall live with their quibbling! In the “should have read” category (i.e. books I feel that by now I should have already digested) there are fewer than I would wish for (no. 39 is the only candidate). And there are six re-reads (nos. 6, 8, 18, 19, 25 and 26) largely because I was in the wilderness and wanted to read about people in similar situations, and my kindle curation is geared towards such novels.

So what will next year hold? Perhaps tackling the big Russians I’ve previously overlooked in favour of fewer re-reads. Since reading Adam Curtis on how to be more Tolstoy and less Wes Anderson, I’m gravitating towards a lower overall number of books in favour of longer, more difficult texts. And there there’s work and running to balance with all that… more on those subjects later!

What about you? Any books I shouldn’t miss in 2017? Any thoughts on the list above? Talking about books is one of my favourite things to do, so go ahead!

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Race recap (long overdue): Reykjavik Marathon 2016

So a little while (in August. Wow.) ago I ran my second marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland. This was to date the most enjoyable race I’ve done though I did not smash my PB of 3 hrs 49 mins achieved in Edinburgh in 2015. In the end, that didn’t matter one bit, and has helped my mindset to improve around times and races and the pressure I put on myself to finish in good time is slightly lessened as a result. This is quite a long race recap so settle in!

Pre-race organisation

I flew into Reykjavik the day before the marathon, arriving mid afternoon. I deliberately avoided the early morning cheap Easyjet flight as I knew I wanted to be well rested. Two friends and I rented an Air Bnb which meant that we could buy and cook our own food – very welcome in advance of a marathon abroad.

However I was slightly too relaxed about getting to the race Expo, located in the large sports complex a couple of miles east of the city centre. If you’re staying in the campsite or big youth hostel it’s super convenient, but for me, at the opposite end of the city, getting there required a taxi ride.

I’m not going to whine about the cost of this trip – but suffice to say, it was expensive. Iceland is normally quite a pricey place to visit and Brexit has pushed the pound right down. Things that cost £5 in 2012 now cost £7. So taking taxis was far from idea!

Race morning

2016-08-20-08-22-08We could not have had better weather! 17 degrees celsius, beautiful sunshine and absolutely no wind. This never happens in Iceland! It was almost too warm for some people. There were a stream of runners walking down to the start line which was easy to find and not very crowded. This is a small race, and so they allow the marathoners, half marathoners and 10K runners to start together, meaning the atmosphere for the first 10K is really energising.

Having my support crew of two in tow was a new experience for me and one that I loved. To have someone to laugh with at the start line was a really positive experience for me. 

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The only critique of the start was that the timing pens were not clearly marked. Pacers carried balloons with times written on them, but it was confusing for a first timer here what they referred to and I worried I was in the wrong pen / place. I should have just relaxed, as things made much more sense later.

During the race

The first 10K were incredible. So many Icelanders came out of their houses to cheer, and it was clear that many runners were personally recognised by family and friends. This made for a very happy and relaxed atmosphere – there were few clock watchers here. A series of live bands played a good range of music – traditional stuff and covers – and many people handed out cupcakes, sweets and drinks. The aid stations were well set up using cups of water rather than bottles (and the cups did make it slippy underfoot). Most stations had a mix of energy drink and water. The food offer was limited though – mostly just bananas which I don’t like – so I carried my own gels for the whole race.

Note to runners going abroad for marathons: I recommend carrying your gels for the race in your carry on plastic bag – just in case your hold luggage gets lost and you need your race fuel to be just right!

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To begin with the streets were quite crowded with runners, though nothing too difficult to navigate, but this quickly thinned out once the 10K runners peeled away. At half time, the field really thinned out as the majority went on to complete the half marathon. The rest of us turned left to finish the full 42km by heading south of the city. This was probably the prettiest part of the race. As we headed south and then west again, we were running through suburban Reykjavik, filled with interesting architecture, and lit up in splendid sunshine. We then ran south of the domestic airport, which serves flights to other parts of the country, and ran alongside the sea for ages. An arctic tern flew beside me, and the sunshine was warm on my legs and shoulders.

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I was glad to have my own hydration pack with me (I wasn’t sure if I would need it, having not used one in Edinburgh) but the combination of only cups to drink from, and a lack of water stations for the second half of the race meant that I was really relieved to have my own water supply. In fact I even had to top it up at the penultimate aid station as I’d run out. This obviously lost me some time, but hey, did I mention the arctic tern?!

Also, though the field was much slimmer and supporters were fewer, there were still fantastic people cheering us on, smiling and clapping. Favourite Iceland expressions of encouragement include:

“You are good!” (succinct and to the point)

“Keep up!” (I think this would be better as “keep it up” as it sounded a bit like they were chiding my speed!).

The other runners were also super friendly and I chatted to a number of different people around the course. Towards the end, we were right out on the grassy headlands to the west of Reykjavik – I would never have visited these without this race – and stopping briefly because of some pain in my leg, I was encouraged by a Dutch girl who told me to start again and that she would help me back. I was grateful to Aukje as she saw that I really needed a kick up the backside to get running again!

As the race came to a close, I was a little perturbed to see that roads had been reopened, even with tons of runners coming in on the 5 hour mark. This meant you had to dodge traffic a bit – hardly ideal when you’re knackered.

The final few kilometres were tough, especially as you’re running along the sea front on the north side this time, and you can see runners streaming ahead of you for a mile or two, but no finish line. However, as we approached the looming darkness of the opera house, I heard someone say it was just around the corner. My favourite song came on in my headphones and I pummelled my way to a sprint finish with a huge smile on my face.

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For the supporters

The experience for those watching the race was immeasurably better because of the good weather. The course is also set up in such a way that spectator spots are a short walk from each other but well distributed across the race. My friends were able to see me off, cheer me at 10 miles and 15 miles, and watch me cross the finish without too much hassle.

Post race

The medal and the T-shirts we were given were pretty standard – nothing too special. Post race food was below average though – a kind of hotdog was the only food on offer, which was not what I wanted at all! However, we did get a free ticket to the thermal baths in the city which was definitely put to good use at Vesterbaerlaug. I even got to spend a few minutes in the same hot tub as Björk!

The night after the marathon is Reykjavik’s culture night – a music-filled street party where everyone turns up in their traditional sweaters and drinks and watches fireworks. We found a great little bar called Vinyl who had a fantastic live DJ outside, and started dancing. We began as three, but ended as a street party of 40+ people dancing away. I seemed to have tons of energy despite the marathon and got very tipsy on one delicious Icelandic beer.

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I ran in…

  • Cheap Sportsdirect vest top (unbranded)
  • Sports bra (unbranded – elastic crop top style)
  • Sweaty Betty marathon shorts
  • Sweaty Betty technical socks (highly recommended)
  • Asics Gel Lyte 33.3 trainers (no longer made)
  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest with platypus hydration system

I ate…

  • 4x SIS gels (lemon and mint are a new favourite)
  • Cliff Bloks

I drank…

  • water

Would I do it again?

I’m heading back to Iceland for a different run next year – but I’d never say no to more street dancing in Reykjavik (look at those jazz hands)!

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Oh dear…

Oh dear… what a difference a day makes.

Everyone I know and love is still processing the intense upheaval, betrayal, bafflement, anger, incredulity and realisation caused by the controversial in/out referendum, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, has seen the people of my country vote 52% to leave the European Union. Gulp.

I’ve been glued to the news ever since, ashamed by our government’s inability to address a much longer standing problem, horrified at those who have gambled with the lives of thousands to gain a leg-up for themselves in Westminster, and saddened by the vitriolic abuse from leavers and remainers, and from a minority against people of different cultures and countries. We were never meant to be like this.

What to say in the face of all this? The storm is barely quieting down. The economy continues to flounder. The future looks uncertain at best, catastrophic at worst. This article from Medium writer Jeff Lynn captures fluently the wish to stand together and lead the UK (such as it is) into a brighter future, while at the same time speaking some key truths about the nature of our union with the EU that I wish fervently had been part of the playing field before people took a vote. It’s a must-read, a welcome break from the quite frankly scary reporting happening on the Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard and Daily Mail sites. 

And running? I’ve been trying to move my body and get out there, trying to re-set the tenor of my days through exercise and focus. But it’s hardly working. I went for a great off-road run on Sunday through Epping – intense mud underfoot – and found myself running through every emotional spectrum: pure joy at flying downhill, followed by anger when running back up, and tears when on the flat. This morning I managed a quick 6-miler before work with some of the best times I’ve done recently in the first three miles, but halfway through I started to flag, to give up. My heart just wasn’t in it. I managed to finish pretty strongly, pulling my legs through their treacly feeling.

And that’s how it feels to be a remain voter in Britain right now: halfway between despondent and hopeful, halfway between resignation and fear. I guess the only way is up, but what road we will take is a mystery to me.

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Finally… running for the run

Finally!!! I ran a long run that didn’t feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest or my thighs or my shoulder. I’ve been waiting for this moment all through training for Marathon No. 2, and it’s taken a little while to feel good.  

After a week of squally wet weather and irritably low temperatures (England, you really can’t do summer), last Sunday was actually pretty hot. I actually loathe running in heat. I perform on average 20-30 second worse per mile, my stomach rebels because of the extra fluids I’m drinking, I feel like I need more gels, and it just feels haaaaard. The only thing that’s nice is the immediate aftermath, which can usually be characterised as lying horizontally in grass with beer and a lot of bread.

Sunday began brightly, and initially the temperatures looked as if they were going to peak over 20ºC, but thankfully the clouds came back and the day cooled down into the afternoon. I set off at around 3pm and decided I’d do an urban run for a change. Usually I trot off down the canals or head to Epping Forest, Wanstead Flats or the Isle of Dogs for my long runs, but this time I thought I’d correct the shameful fact that I’d lived in London for nearly 7 years and had only once run in Hyde Park.

I set off westwards, winding my way through Finsbury Park down to Kings Cross before dropping down onto a familiar cycle cut-through past UCL and into Marylebone. I came across two street festivals going on – Cally Festival, on Caledonian Road, where I witnessed an adult dance group moving to Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes; and then the Marylebone Summer Fayre, featuring salsa dance from London Salsa. Each time I took a moment to stop, stretch and enjoy what I was seeing. The endorphins were pumping so hard that I cried a bit with the Sea Interludes (it is some of my favourite music – listen here), and couldn’t help dancing discretely to the salsa.  

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Then on around Hyde Park, through tourists and joggers and kids on bicycles and scooters. A trio of boys were racing up the Broad Walk and that made me smile. Everyone seemed very happy to be out even in the cloudy warm weather.

From there I headed south through Chelsea navigating the lovely red-brick Victorian streets, dodging overgrown roses and small dogs. When I reached the Thames, I crossed Albert Bridge, which I’ve never set foot on before, and then explored Battersea Park a bit – also a new haunt. The area around Battersea Power Station meant the river path was interrupted by private developments and building works, and I had to head into Vauxhall via Nine Elms Road – an unpleasant trafficky mess but made slightly more interesting by the presence of the new Covent Garden Market and new skyscrapers. I don’t like the look of most new developments but at least the visuals on the hoardings give me something to focus on (and get angry about).

I was feeling the distance by this point, but as soon as I hit the river path at Lambeth and Westminster, my energy levels perked up. Running past the Houses of Parliament at such a politically sensitive time felt tremendously uplifting (VOTE REMAIN!), and I picked up the pace for the home stretch back to the Southbank Centre and Waterloo Bridge. At this point the music from all the street performers gave me an extra boost, as did crowd dodging. I sometimes feel a bit self conscious with my running rucksack on (I’ve got a Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction) as more than a couple of people have commented that it looks like a suicide bomber vest. But by the time I got onto Waterloo Bridge I couldn’t care less. The wind was blowing hard, music was filling my ears and I was grinning madly at my personal finish line. (Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be amazing to finish a race crossing Waterloo Bridge going south, with the iMax and Southbank Centre and National Theatre in view?!)

As I pulled up on the Strand I realised  Runkeeper had paused  four miles back, which was a bit annoying, but I knew I’d covered approximately 15 miles in no more than 2.5 hours, including stops and street-party watching. And it had felt really, really good.

Yesterday I read a piece in an old Runner’s World (February 2016) about the psychology of celebrating success vs. striving to do better. “You need to shift from outcome-oriented thinking to mastery-oriented thinking” – in other words, run for the run, not the time. My speed might not have been race pace throughout. But the reason it felt so good was that I ran it for the experience – seeing new places, stopping to take in the atmosphere, crossing a new bridge, and finishing in a place I love.

[RW mentioned keeping race diaries as part of the article. Do you do this? This is my first attempt at writing down a long run. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember even 2 days afterwards!]

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Second Marathon: Losing the Fear, Losing the Plot?

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Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

Oh the perils of running a second long-distance race. Has this happened to anyone else? The first time I do something I’ve not done before, e.g. running a marathon, I prepare like crazy. I’m so scared that I won’t be able to manage it that if anything I over do it. For example, I started training 8 months before the race, I ran 5-6 times a week almost without fail, I cried when I got so busy at work that I couldn’t run, I got my mile-per-minute time below 7:20/7:30 for short excursions and comfortably ran a half marathon at just under an 8-minute-mile clip.

Take two. Reykjavik Marathon 2016, and I’ve kind of been taking it easy. I’m not afraid I won’t finish. I’m hoping to better my time, but I’m not filled with the same kind of dread that really really motivates me. And so I have actually done LESS. Much much much less, and now I’m starting to panic!

This happened to me before when I did half marathon distances – I ran Royal Parks Half in 2009, scored an okay PB of 1hr 57 mins (not so bad for someone who did not think of themselves as a runner at all), and then completely ballsed up the Windsor Half the following year. The course is certainly more undulating at Windsor, and the day was pretty hot, but if I’m honest with myself I just didn’t train enough, because I’d done it before. I lost the fear.

It helps that I wasn’t starting from scratch this time around, and that I’d been running pretty consistently throughout the winter and spring. I’m about 4 kilos lighter and my feet have now fully recovered from lost toenail and blood blister hell. My core strength is better having taken up a package at 1Rebel (I ration my sessions to one per week, and that seems to sort me out). I’ve been trying to run more varied terrain – hills, trails, fun runs – and get lost whilst running. And I’ve flirted with the Maffetone method – sadly having to give up before the benefits could really pay off in order to switch gears for the pacier training the marathon requires of me.

Excuses, excuses. Enough! Begone! Now is the hard graft. Now is the getting up at 6am or earlier for the 5 miles before breakfast, which shouldn’t feel as hard as they currently do. Now’s the time to ramp up from my 14 miler down in Bath over the bank holiday to the steady and exhausting 16, 18, 22 mile weekends ahead. I’ve got about 11 weeks to finesse the raw material of my muscle memory and cardio conditioning. Perhaps the fear of not having trained enough will be sufficient motivation!

Has this happened to you? What do you do people to get through this idiotic barrier? How can I find the fear again?? Help!

(A few pics from the weekend below… amazing bank holiday weather!)

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From Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

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Top of Lansdown Hill, Bath

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Stretching on the steps at home afterwards

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Terra Nova Solar Photon 2

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What better way to enjoy the late afternoon sun than playing around with a new tent? With a backdrop of loud dubstep and birdsong, and a superb sunny sky, I spent a happy hour testing my new (and first) lightweight tent purchase.

The questions:

a) Would the tent be upstanding?
b) Could I make it so myself?
c) What do I need to improve for next time?

The answers:

a) Well, sort of. There’s no difficulty in pitching the thing. It has a single pole structure, shaped like a ‘Y’ that gives the overall impression of a whale’s hump. But even in a slight wind the sides were perplexingly bowed and wrinkled (something I will aim to overcome with better guying out).

b) Yes. This tent is super super easy to pitch. The ‘Y’ shape goes up in no time, and Terra Nova’s brainwave of creating eyelets for the pole-tips and using clips to attach the tent fabric means no awkward ‘can I get this pole through the narrow nylon channel without it popping apart and before my inner (and my self) gets completely soaked’. The outer took me a while to work out which was the best way to fix it down, but I’ll perfect this over time.

c) For sure, I need better pegs. And I need to practice!

It’s always worth trying out your tent before you go out for that 6-day overnight walk. You know, just in case the guy ropes are missing. As with many ultralight tents, the tent pegs are little more than titanium toothpicks. I am replacing them with stronger titanium v-pegs (Alpkit order already on the way).

My tent is a Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 – the lightest two-person self-supporting tent in the world! In reality I think it would be more comfortable as a ‘luxury’ 1-person tent, as I think it would be pretty cramped for two people plus gear. It weighs a mere 0.975Kg (2lb 2oz). Apparently it also takes five minutes to pitch. (Er, more like 45 minutes for this first attempt…). I purchased mine at a slight discount from eBay and when I was looking there were several secondhand and new options there that were cheaper than buying direct.

So here’s to summer and roaming the country!  Anyone got a new tent they want to try? 

 

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Slowly goes the Maffetone

 

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Image via Island Midwife

I always thought the best way to train was to push the heart beyond its comfort zone on a regular basis because only that way would it get larger and more efficient. So my previous training plans looked largely like this:

Mon: rest day
Tues: easy run
Weds: fartlek
Thurs: hills / strength session
Fri: rest day
Sat: easy run
Sun: long run

And in reality, this kind of system worked for me. I got fitter, I ran faster, and I could fit it in around my daily working life. The short-fast ones on work days, the longer ones at the weekend. And I was really happy with my marathon time. BUT I was still in a lot of pain at the end of the race last year (especially lower back pain… grrr….) and now I’m thinking of stretching myself, I’m wondering how I will ever manage an ultra.

However, I’ve been reading Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson, (prizes for the most off-putting subtitle. It reads: “how to be a fat burning beast”). So I’m experimenting with the 80/20 rule – 80% slow and long, 20% fast, which is almost the inverse of every training rule I’ve followed so far.  I’m running with a heart rate monitor. And I’m not allowing my heart rate to get above 180 MINUS my age. According to Mark, who is influenced by ultra runner coach Phil Maffetone, I need to be running at a speed that pushes my heart rate no higher than 151 beats per minute.

Initially, I thought this sounded decent. Given my low resting heart rate of sub-50 bpm, I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ll be able to run and stay in that general region”. But oh no. Keeping my heartbeat that low makes me sloooooooooow. 11-minute-mile slow. So slow that I have to walk up all stairs I encounter on my run and sometimes even gentle inclines. Like road bridges, famed for their gentle slopes. The other night I ran home along the southbank and there was a race for testicular cancer going on, and I was literally lapped by everyone.

In essence, the Maffetone method is intended to help you build a really strong aerobic base to burn all your body fat, rather than consistently stressing your anaerobic system, which should be reserved for all-out sessions. It’s in line with a lot of the ‘primal’ thinking out there, where humans should only eat meat, fish, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds, and follow imaginative training regimes that suggest you could race your friend to a ‘mammoth leg’ (read a heavy log lying in the field) and then have a game of tag while one of you runs around with the log.

Now I do like the primal way of eating. One summer I took the Whole 30 challenge, which was pretty tough but most certainly worth it, and it changed my eating habits for good. And usually I don’t mind looking stupid when I run. But this slow running? It’s almost boring, and I never thought I’d say that about long distance running. So we shall see what benefits it brings, though I’m aware that with August only 3 months away, speed running is right around the corner. I think I might have to go back to Maffetone in the autumn in preparation for the ultras next year.

What do you think? Could you take the Maffetone test? For 2-3 months, you can test your progress every four weeks by running 5 miles at the heart rate of 180 bpm minus your age. (You can add 5 if you’ve been training regularly for 2 years without injury). Each time you do the test you should see your times (slow though they may be) drop gradually. Crucially you are not supposed to do any training above this heart rate during this period. This, apparently, will build your aerobic base, which will ensure you are, ahem, a fat burning beast. (Or a lazybones. I’m not sure 🙂

 

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