Sunday, 17 September 2017

On Why I Run

While running a pretty tough but rewarding 15km loop recently I got thinking about why I run. I was never a sporty type at school, and would more than often be found in the last group to be picked for football teams, staying in front of the ball in Rugby to avoid having to take part, and falling in ditches in an ultimately failed attempt to get out of cross country.  When we got to sixth form and could do off site sports I chose Golf in the summer and Squash in the winter, mainly because they were a fair distance away and we went via McDonalds.

Looking back on it if we had some coaching in P.E. I may have gotten into it better, but no one told me how to run.  That may seem a stupid statement to someone to whom running comes naturally, but there was absolute zero guidance on body position, stride length, cadence, or any of the other things runners obsess over. It was simply a case of those who had natural talent joined the teams, those who were of a driven personality type pushed themselves, those who enjoyed sport had fun, and the rest of us resented both the unguided physical exertion and the mocking and humiliation we attracted.

Anyway, that was then and this is now. The first run of my adult life was on January 1st, 2014 as a result of seeing Kelly D try and get as many people out for a New Year run as possible. I had recently separated from my wife and was trying to work out who I was again - nothing was off the cards.  I was reconnecting with people I knew 10 years previous, this was happening, so I gave it a go.

I ran 2.19km in 16:07, with an average pace of 7:21/km.  It was awful - the ground underfoot was slippery mud and I was totally unprepared for it, walking in places because when I tried to run my feet went from under me. I ran three more times that month, getting up to 6:52/km average pace, and then stopped.  I can’t recall why, but apparently I restarted in June 2015 with a 4.68km run in 29:18 and managed to run once or twice a month with an aim to get a 5km in under 30 minutes which I achieved in October. Through 2016 I was very lax again and it wasn’t until I moved back to Sheffield in December 2016 that I got into it properly with Hillsborough parkrun just down the road and the encouragement of Liz. The rest is history, and you can read more about it right here.

Back to the original question: Why do I run?

It goes without saying that exercise is good for you, and I knew I needed to do more of it.  Over the years my weight had crept up to over 13st and my waist to 34”, I remembered having a 30” waist and losing weight had the added benefit of making climbing (which I had also got back in to) easier.  Exercise was only part of the game, I also had to adjust what I ate. The weight slowly came off and I got to 11 stone and a 30” waist (weight has crept up a bit since but waist hasn’t so I assume it’s gobe to muscle somewhere).  My general fitness and stamina are also much higher which I’m really happy with, and has had additional benefits for swimming as well as the aforementioned climbing.

But this isn’t the only reason. Running is physically hard, and walking could have delivered similar benefits with less wear on the body, though it would have required more time.  Running also gave me something to measure myself against, especially with parkrun.  I’m not an ambitious type when it comes to comparing myself to other people, but I do like to track my own progress and see improvements.  Seeing my times come down quickly at parkrun was a real boost, and the community of Strava made it easy to track how I was doing when I went on runs by myself, and soon I was adding in more runs whenever I could - including the work running club. I still surprise myself with things like signing up to the Amsterdam Half Marathon though.

Running is also a brilliant way to get out in to the countryside, or the urban landscape you otherwise wouldn’t explore.  I’ve run many KMs along the rivers and canals around Sheffield, I’ve entered races which have taken me up dramatic hills in the Peak District, and I am lucky enough to live near some beautiful spots like Rivelin Valley, Loxley Valley, Upper Don Valley and with a bit of effort the Peak District itself. The run which inspired this post had a fairly tough climb taking up most of the first half, but it rewards you with stunning views in every direction across the peaks, even when you turn back and face the city it doesn’t dominate the landscape, instead nestling in the hills for which Sheffield is famous.  I was taken with just how lucky I am to live near here and was very grateful for it.

But (and well done if you are still with me, I know I am quite a verbose writer - largely because this is as much for me as it is for you.  Hopefully this section will help make this clear) there is more to it than that. Something much more important.

You see, running is good for the head.

Well, for my head anyway - I know everyone is different.

I said earlier that I was trying to work out who I was again, and one of the things I have discovered is I am a lot less mentally resilient than I thought I was.  The precise details are for another discussion, but I am prone to prolonged periods of introspection and self doubt which manifest in anxiety and despair, and I needed to get a grip on this as it was leading to destructive behaviours.  I was drinking too much, and I wasn’t looking after myself.

Running at parkrun gave me a regular commitment which meant I was more likely to do it rather than find reasons not to.  I’ve discovered that I am far more likely to do something if I have told other people I am going to do it as I’m far more inclined to let myself down than I am others, and running as a social activity meant I also got the support and encouragement of my friends - people who are massively important to me and to whom I owe a lot of gratitude. Being able to return that by running with people and offering then encouragement and support is equally as rewarding.

It turns out it goes further than this though, and that’s why the run which inspired this post was entitled ‘Resetting mind and body’. Getting out on to the roads and trails turns out to have a really valuable benefit which I had not foreseen.  It takes a while to get there, but after several kilometres you hit ‘the zone’ where the running has become second nature, you are moving easily and efficiently without having to think too much about form, function or the effort of making your body move; all of these things are occupying your brain to some extent but not fully, and I reach a state where I am able to attain clarity of thought.  Maybe it is the fact that your heart rate is already elevated and your breathing intense, but things which maybe cause anxiety and confusion when sat on the sofa become easy to think about logically and analytically with objective analysis. When I find myself on the sofa fretting and sinking into a spiral of negative thoughts, getting out on a run will at the very least distract me, and hopefully allow me to figure out what is causing these thoughts in the first place and how to address them. I can only assume this state is not dissimilar to the state people seek to acheive through meditation, maybe one day I shall try and find out.

So yeah. I run because it makes me feel good, and feeling good is important.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Fontainebleau Diary 2017 - Day 6

The last day of our holiday was forecast to be an utter washout, to the point we had started thinking about tourist destinations, indoor climbing walls, and other things to stop us getting cabin fever.  As mentioned yesterday the forecast climbed up towards the evening and when we woke up to blue skies we did indeed invoke our backup plan of 91.1 with my plan being warming up on the orange circuit and then pushing myself a little on the red circuit.

Things started off pretty much to plan; we warmed up on a few low level yellows and then started on a taller route which may have been called Les Fuilles Mortes on a boulder known as Casque which was a nice 6 metre climb, but at the top there was a great big hornet sat atop to the ridge I wanted to put my hand on to get to the downclimb. Instead I had to traverse a 45 degree slab while constantly watching it in case it took affront to me being on it's rock. Thankfully it never moved and I got down without incident :)

After this I felt it was time to look at harder things so Andy and I went to Flip Flop to try a couple of crimpy slabby problems on the red circuit - Le Savon and the harder La Savonette. I decided to try straight off on the harder 6a problem but I just couldn't get off the ground, and as it turned out I couldn't start the easier problem either.

From here we moved on to Ingratitude which I was struggling with as I couldn't trust the first foot.  Kelly got it sent without much fuss and then Andy managed to get it done too.  I worked this one for quite a while and eventually managed to find a starting foot which worked for me and get stood up, and then in a few more attempts I had the rest sorted and was over the top.  Totally stoked to get a 5b+ in Font, definitely the hardest thing I have climbed in the forest.

I moved on to try La Gratitude after, but this one was a 5c+ and my energy levels were waning, after a valiant effort where I got half way up and couldn't stick it I was rather shattered so went for a rest and to see what Liz and Ceri were working on for a bit, then to see how Ed was getting on with Le Flipper.

Just as I was thinking of giving it another go there was a brief rain shower so we stopped for lunch, only to have to scatter all directions for shelter when the rain got heavier, hastily stuffing half made sandwiches in any safe location we could find and then hiding under rocks until it started to dry out.  With lunch finally done I was enjoying some digesting time then gently getting my head back in to it on a traverse when the rain came back even heavier, so it was back to our caves.

When we emerged after the worst of the rain had eased off all the rocks were soaked and there was no chance of further climbing, so we packed up and headed home to finish off the last of the beer and wine and to treat ourselves to pizza from Croq Forêt before the long drive home.

In the words of Lars Ulrich, Same time next year?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Fontainebleau Diary 2017 - Day 5

After the torrential rain of our rest day we woke up to a chilly morning with very wet ground, but a mostly blue sky with warming sunshine. This meant we put in to play our plan to see if there was parking at Gorge aux Chats with a backup of 91.1 if it was busy.  As it happened there were only 2 other cars in the small layby at the side of the road (And they too were British).  We made the very short walk in and started to warm up on the new yellow circuit which isn't listed on yet as they have not graded them.  After a while I started to add in blue problems as this year I have been trying not to go for volume on the easy problems but instead climb withing my grade on blues and try to push myself on to reds.  The first to go was Rohald Dalle which was a classic crimpy slab Font problem; as I was figuring it out the first of what transpired to be several rain showers came in giving me time to examine the feet while it dried, and I was stoked to get it sent.

After this Andy and I decided to try Dallain from the red circuit (font 6a), we were both getting up to the good right and side pull, and bailing out.  We both decided it was a dyno to the top as although I could see a static route it wasn't going to go for me.  Andy managed to catch the top and found an awesome ledge but came down, so we popped around the corner and went up the blue to check the top out.  This gave Andy the confidence to try it again and he got it done, I climbed back up to where I had got to before but utterly bottled it, I rarely have the balls for a dyno when I'm inside so this would really have needed me to commit to it.

After this the rain came back briefly so we sheltered under some roofs while eating lunch and commenting on how similar to The Roaches this weather was (in joke reference to an ill fated trip across the Peak District last year which means I am no longer allowed to proffer an opinion on the weather forecast when we are trying to go climbing.)

After lunch all my motivation had evaporated so I tried to get my head back in to it on some yellows, before getting La Bascule done - the very problem you can see us sheltering under above. It was then back to lovely quartzy crimpy slabs with La Minou and L'Arbre à Pain which I was really pleased to get.

We then headed up to some classic steep roofy problems which Ed, Kelly and Andy were trying, Liz, Kelly and I wandered down to try some easier things and were just getting started on La Boule and the neighbouring Petanque before another and unfortunately heavier rain came in which knocked us out for longer, eventually the sun came out again and we tried Pomme and Le Terrorist but the top was too damp and I lacked balls (again) to finish it.  Instead I got another crimpy slab in La Dalle Bleue and then we finished up with La Traversée des Fougères before returning to base for beer and chilli. Tomorrows forecast has appeared to clear up, so we may yet get to 91.1 - watch this space.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Fontainebleau Diary 2017 - Day 4

Today is a rest day, so I wasn't planning on have anything much to write about as I wasn't planning on doing very much.  When I got up I found Kelly D preparing for a 32km run taking in Le Circuit des 25 bosses which cut through a number of areas we have climbed in.  Liz emerged soon after and we agreed to go on a 5km run, so plotted a route and set off after we had finished our drinks.

We started out ok, but the second crossroads appeared several hundred meters sooner than expected and rather than do the sensible thing and turn left there anyway I decided to carry on. We soon went past the point where the crossroads should have been, so decided to take a trail on our left.  Before too long this started to go up and get quite rocky, and before we knew it we were on top of a rocky ridge and stumbled across what appeared to be a folly

This was all very scenic, and apparently on a good day you can see the Eiffel Tower from up here (it wasn't that clear) but slightly more alarmingly there was a shallow pit with the scorched carcass of a wild boar in it.  A sacrifice? Someone trying to roast a boar and discovering it was much harder than expected? Who knows, but it was a little spooky.

We continued along the ridge path, knowing that on either side of us there was a good trail we could pick up and in front of us there was a path too, so we were on the look out for a way down.  Eventually it felt like we had hit the end of the outcrop and with no obvious way down we were picking our way down freshly turned earth where boar had obviously been foraging for truffles, and ducking and diving between rocks and trees before we eventually found a track we knew and headed back to the gite.  When we got home Ceri had cooked pancakes which were much appreciated.

Over breakfast I researched our journey and discovered that we had stumbled across La Tour de la Vierge à Arbonne-la-Forêt (Google Maps location) which was apparently built in 1862, but does not mention sacrifices of boar...  Further reading suggests it is a religious shrine considered to be the site of the conversion of a poet.

The rest of the day involved much relaxation, Andy and Kelly G both went for runs and came back decidedly damper than we did as the rain is really coming down now - it's a good job this is a rest day.  Really hoping it blows over and we can get another day outside tomorrow, otherwise I may have to bite the bullet and go for a long run. There was almost an interruption to the relaxation when Kelly D didn't return from his epic run when expected but just as we were convening the search party and pulling together a plan to cover his route he appeared around the corner and we could stand down, instead plying him with coffee and cake.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Fontainebleau Diary 2017 - Day 3

For our third day in Fontainebleau we split in to two groups; Ed, Kelly, Andy and Kelly went to Bas Cuvier to session the classic problems La Marie-Rose and Duroxmanie while I went to Rocher du Potala with Liz and Ceri.  Our aim was to get lots of the Yellow and Orange circuits plus anything else which took my fancy.

The first problems on the orange and yellow circuits were on a fairly tall slab, but the climbing was good and I got up both of them.  We meandered around the circuit trying various things along the way, in total I got 7 oranges and 9 yellows.

Depart Yellow and Orange

There were a couple of tasty blue problems which I attempted as well, Scorpion was a lovely traverse under a roof and then over the roof from a ledge, I was really pleased to flash it on sight and it felt really good.


Having noted what I climbed from the book I got thoroughly confused looking at as nothing matched up, I think the others I managed to climb were La Parfumerie and La Douce.

It was a good day at a gentle pace, and once again the rain threatened us but then went away before it could do any damage.  Tomorrow is a rest day, and we will see what the rest of the week brings.

Fontainebleau Diary 2017 - Day 2

Day 2 saw us head to Apremont, targeting the area known to Jingo Wobbly as Apremont Chaos but in it is listed as Apremont Est. Chaos is an appropriate name, as we ended up parking at the wrong car park and taking a while to find the boulders we were looking for - but at least we didn't have the problem which we hit last year and again little bit last year where the circuits have been renumbered since our guide books were written.

We started out on the Green Circuit which dates back to 1952 and is an alpine circuit, designed so you can climb the problems in order and link them all together without touching the ground.  Nowadays this is a relatively unusual approach (though still found around Fontainebleau) but it has it's roots in the history of bouldering as a training exercise for mountain climbers, hence the term alpine circuit.  After the first few problems though this was not doing it for me, I suspect that it is wisest to follow such a circuit in a smaller group so there is less queuing. I took the opportunity instead to doze on a rock in the sun for a bit while the others followed it further.

Depart of the white circuit. Elsewhere painting on rocks would be frowned upon, but it's part of the history and tradition of Fontainebleau and most routes and problems are numbered.

Before long we found a small sandy clearing and began working La Bosse which took a few attempts but soon went with a bit of beta from Ed.

La Bosse

I'd already scoped out another problem from the Salmon Circuit which I wanted to try, however I was beginning to bottle it.  After a few other people tried it I got it on the second attempt and it felt really good.

By now Ed, Kelly, Kelly and Andy were trying Hyper Plomb, I didn't even bother as it appeared to be somewhat beyond me.  Instead I wandered around the nearby boulders and found Le Couteau which looked tasty, and with Liz to spot me I really surprised myself by flashing it onsight in a calm and controlled static fashion.

With that it was time for lunch, afterwards we were heading for the classic problem of La John Gill which involved a fair amount of getting lost and squeezing through boulders, at one point ending up on top of a rocky plateau at the summit which was rather stunning.

There were some concerted efforts on this problem from others in the group, I wasn't feeling it (common theme) so went to find some other things to try - there was a nice blue which I got most of the way up but the top was so dirty I couldn't finish it, so sat around watching others instead.  Then it was back to gite for wine and Jambalaya.  Tomorrow I believe the plan is to split in to two groups with one going to Bas Cuvier for classic problems like La Marie-Rose and another heading to Rocher du Potala to get a number of lower grades problems in; I am planning on being in the latter group as I haven't got the head for sessioning right now.

Ed attempting La John Gill

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Fontainebleau Diary 2017 - Day 1

After a late night drive to Dover on Friday night followed by a hasty pint in the first acceptable pub we found it was to the B&B for (attempted) sleep.  Saturday morning saw an early ferry to Calais and a long drive across France through some rather damp weather before we arrived at Le Grand Gîte Franchard ion the late afternoon.  Unpacking and a quick shop done, we proceeded to drink all the wine we had bought and satiate appetites with copious quantities of pasta. Plans were made and in light of the weather we decided to have a relaxed start and head to Rocher Fin as it dries quickly after rain.

We awoke to a grey and damp sky, but no rain was falling. Slowly people surfaced, and we ate the traditional breakfast of coffee, grapefruit, and fried eggs on toast before loading up with climbing gear and a lunch of more coffee, fruit, baguettes, and various meats and cheeses before loading up the cars with mats and people and making the short drive out and rather longer walk in.

Ed and Kelly were planning on doing the full Orange Circuit, whereas I was planning on not going quite as over the top as I did last year when Andy and I climbed everything in sight.  I decided to warm up on a few yellows then try oranges as I went around and any interesting harder problems I spotted.

Touring around the problems went much to plan, occasional orange problems needed a bit of thought  and got the heart going but for the most part they were doable, and I wasn't worried about skipping ones which weren't doing it for me.  It didn't take too long before I started adding in climbs from the Blue Circuit and they were enjoyable, which bodes well for the rest of the holiday.  I was really pleased to get La Fissure Rouge as it felt like it rewarded the effort I put in.

After a break for lunch it took a while to get my energy levels up again and get my head in to climbing, there were a few things I just couldn't comprehend even on the easier circuits, but then it turned out that the Orange was a 5a- which is well out of the usual grades for Orange.  I soon found a blue crack climb which looked interesting and gave it a go, bailing out at the top out.

Later Andy and Kelly came over and both got up it in very different ways, after a rest I tried again and combined bits of both of their beta to come up with a third different approach, successfully sending it.  After this I was pretty much spent and couldn't climb yellows any more, so I resorted to ferrying kit and watching people try and finish the orange circuit - 4 problems from the end and nearing 6pm Ed, Kelly, Andy and Kelly were finishing up on The Cube and we decided it was time for home. 

When we got back to the Gite we went out for an evening Run, with Kelly, Kelly and Andy going for 12km while Liz and I did a gentle 5km through muddy puddles in the forest before it was time for beer and dinner.  Assuming the weather holds up tomorrow we will be heading for Apremont.

UKC Logbook for 10th September 2017 Profile