Tag : getoutside

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Why I Love to Run

If you had asked me a two years ago whether I liked to run, I would have probably remarked that running is the activity you only do when you’re being chased. I did adventure running for two years in the build up to climbing Everest in 2012, but I still retain the ‘being chased’ quip. Perhaps this is some overly complex Orwellian metaphor about me wanting to run away from something in my past… I digress.

The point is, up until 2017, running wasn’t something I did. Running has always previously been something I would do in desperation, either to get fit for a big mountain, or to pass a fitness test, but running has never previously been something I did purely for the love; for ‘that’ enjoyment feeling all actual runners seem to get.

But I wasn’t unfit. Far from it, I used to relish in getting up at ungodly hours on a Saturday and Sunday to sit on a hard saddle for 100 miles with the local chain gang or middle-aged-men-in-lycra-gang. I raced for road racing teams in Scotland, and generally had a pretty enjoyable time of trying to keep pace with the back of the peloton, occasionally daring to venture to the front just to see what all the fuss was about before quickly deciding it didn’t seem like the place for me.

In all my years of keeping road cycling as my main training tool, I racked up countless miles. Well, actually according to Strava, it’s not quite as countless as I’d like it to be, but still, I was putting in the miles, 200 each week on a good summer, perhaps 250 if I was feeling overly strong. Not bad considering I used to work for 5 days out of 7 with a driving commute. But over all those miles, I started to feel weak. I started to feel like something was missing from my physicality, that I wasn’t quite as strong as I had once been. Perhaps pro road cyclists also get this feeling, but whilst my legs were strong with an FTP of around 5W/KG, I started to feel like a strong breeze could blow me over at any minute. And indeed they often did whilst topping out from winter climbs onto the Cairngorm plateau.

So I gradually petered down my cycling, and in the winter, started to get some running miles back under my belt. I gradually built up the miles and started to relish running up my local hill, just to get out there, simply to complete another run. I guess that’s how my buzz for cycling started. Strava made getting out fun, you could record your rides and like no social platform before it, actually track your progress against friends, locals, unknowns, and importantly yourself. This is the buzz I seemed to find again on taking up running, as an actual runner. I started to eagerly upload my route, not because I wanted to be the leader of any segments, but just to see where I had been on an actual map with distances put into grid-like perspective; a very simple pleasure.

As I got stronger, I started to run further, explore my area, and eventually started to do some more mountain runs, just like I had done before Everest, but this time with an even bigger and much longer lasting purpose than a single event. I was doing this for enjoyment. So why do I love to run? I only realised why I now love running so much quite recently. The past year has been an exploration for me; other runners will have their own reasons, but as I have become busier, with more goals and life targets, and the ceiling for what I feel like I can achieve continually moving higher as I achieve my goals, I realise the reason I love to run is for the opposite of all those things. It’s for the simplicity.

Even before going out on a bike ride, you need all your equipment, you probably need some nutrition to fuel your ride, particularly as rides over the winter months need to last upwards of 3 hours. If you didn’t do it the night before, you probably have a bit of maintenance to do, tyre pressures, oiling the chain, tightening the QR’s if you’ve driven out to a ride in the car. You then need to think about clothing; sure you’ll be exercising, but at the end of the day you’re sitting down so keeping warm is quite a priority, especially when the gritters start coming out and the horizontal rain turns positively slushy. You’re now ready, you get on your bike which surely totals over £5,000 when you’ve factored in frame, wheels and a power meter which no budding cyclist worth their road salt is found without. You’ve also got those bib shorts which somehow cost £120 on Wiggle, and that jersey that you magically picked up for £60 in a sale. Four hours later, you’ve burned the morning away and you’re now ready for a well-earned shower to thaw out those toes.

But running? I take out my £120 Inov8 shoes which I picked up on SportsPursuit for £60. I put on my clothes, perhaps £200 total when the compression socks, sunglasses and cheap Garmin are counted. I then stare around the room. Surely I need something else, I feel naked without a helmet, or some other form of protection. But no, there really is nothing else I need. I walk out the door, turn my watch on and start walking. I’m warm now, I start to run. I don’t need any nutrition, I only need to run for an hour, I run fast, I get warm, it’s mid-winter but I’m only running in a thin base layer and shorts. I’m home now, showered and stretched. It’s only two hours since I woke up and regardless of whether I intend to spend the next 12 hours jumping off mountains, making calls or laying prone on the sofa, I’m now ready for my day.

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But don’t get me wrong, I still love the bike…

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Flying Bannerdale Crags

Waking up early on a crisp April morning, we headed to Mungrisdale. The weather was calm, the wind was good. There were 4 Wainwrights to tick off and a flight of Bannerdale Crags’ easterly ridge, awaiting us through the unusual calm of a crisp spring morning. But would the weather hold for the 4 hour trip? The Lake District is notorious, both for its poor, generally non-flyable weather, and for it’s changeable conditions. You might wake up to glorious sunshine, but by the time you’ve packed your bags and spent an hour walking up the hill, the conditions change and you spend an impatient late morning sitting on the summit cairn in cloud waiting for the arrival of some blue sky and a hazy view of the landing zone. This is Lake District flying to me, countless days of carrying the wing to the top of the mountain only to carry it right back down again; too few days of airtime. Thank god for Swing’s light speed wings, and viva la Chamonix!

Bannerdale Crags OS Maps RoutwBannerdale Crags Flight Map Pan

So having used Ordnance Survey’s handy mapping programme (where you can virtually agonise over your route before actually agonising over it), we set off for our first Wainwright, Souther Fell, swiftly followed by Mungrisdale Common, then an even shorter hop across to Bannerdale Crags. I spied the easterly ridge which I was aiming to cruise down with the speed wing, but then we saw Bowscale fell on the horizon, another one to tick off the seemingly endless list. 139 down, 75 to go, we grumbled.

Bannderdale Crags East Ridge

The weather was set to be good all day, but I always remain sceptical until I’m running down the hill with my wing overhead, surrounded by blue skies. But amazingly, the weather had held. As those local to the Lake District know, this simply doesn’t happen. There must always be a period in Cumbria during each 24 hours where precipitation must be seen to fall, where the waters must be topped up, but not this day it seemed. Today was one of those rare days where the weather just got better, the wind got lighter, and on standing at the top of Bannerdale Crags in the early afternoon having essentially summited it twice within the hour, I was left with only the descent.

It’s quite hard to sum up what it feels like, having spent hours wandering round the fells, getting higher and higher until you’re finally in a position to fly. When you eventually get to the launch site, a small sense of euphoria comes over you, the sense that you made it to the good part, that it’s now time to say goodbye to the mountain tops and speed down with the long grass brushing against your legs as you hurdle past knolls and rocky intersections at well over 50mph.

So the flight itself? Well it wasn’t fully mind blowing, just a do-or-die launch, a rapid descent to cruise the ridge, followed by some carving turns down the face. The Lake District isn’t big, but when it delivers, you can’t fail to land amongst the sheep and heather with a big smile and a heart of adrenaline.

Video permalink: Ridge Speed Flying Line


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Getting Outside More

This post forms part 2 of my #GetOutside blog posts for early 2018. If you haven’t read the first one, you can do so using the link here.

If you’ve already read part 1 of this article, you’ll know that Ordnance Survey are continuing their GetOutside programme which has the simple overriding aim of increasing public participation in the outdoors. This is facilitated via increasing awareness of the tools already in existence, such as the country network of footpaths and bridleways, often starting only metres from home, and also education of the public, such as how to use a map to take you from local paths to mountain routes. The GetOutside ambassador scheme which I’m fortunate enough to be a part of is one way of disseminating this information and helping OS achieve it’s participation goals.

As previously discussed, the main group targeted by OS, and many other government backed organisations is the sedentary group. With over 20 million members across the UK at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, amongst many other ailments, this group of chronic inactivity is not a group you want to be active in…

So why does a physically inactive person remain that way? Of course, some prefer a sedentary lifestyle, but the data shows that most inactive individuals wish they were able to increase their activity levels, and crucially maintain that level throughout their life. Here are the five factors of chronic inactivity:

  1. Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.
  2. Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.
  3. Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.
  4. You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).
  5. Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.

os150000One of the largest culprits for individuals not being active outside is simply not knowing how to. You, being a sporty outdoors kind of guy or gal can look out your door and fine a microadventure close to your house. You probably even know how to read a map such as the one above (although over 60% of the UK population are unable to read maps). You may think therefore that getting outside is a simple case of finding the right map, locating your position, and then sticking to the nearest footpath. You probably then also take these skills for granted. How so? Well, because to the majority of the population, the image above is scary. It turns what they can see with their own eyes into a series of concentric rings, red blue and yellow lines, and the occasional funny symbol which seems to indicate the sale of half caravan-half teepee (or CarPee for short) somewhere over the white land. To you however, the above is a method of getting away from it all, because you know if you scramble up to 433198, you’ll probably get a good view of Ullswater on that rare occasion where the cloud is above 400m. To indicate my point, have a look at the chart below, and see if you can navigate around.

SkyVector__Flight_Planning___Aeronautical_Charts-4There really isn’t too much difference from the OS map. This chart still shows a plan view of the world, yet unless you’re a pilot, you will almost certainly lack the skills to make full use of this data.

So whilst you’re frustrated about the lack of ability in identifying the B class airspace above Los Angles, spare a thought for the UK’s 60% who are still struggling with the simple version.

The next point is why. Why bother getting outside? Do you even need to go outside? Probably not is the answer if you’re talking purely physiologically, however for maintenance of good mental health, getting outside is a key aspect. For most of us, 90% of time is spent indoors, maybe even more if your only time outside is from the house to the car, and from the car into the front door at work. We spend our days confined in boxes which whilst entirely survivable, is often not the most enjoyable way to spend time. The people discussed here are sedentary, and so are unlikely to stick to a rigorous gym programme which is often so demoralising. The key for this group is simply to walk outside, getting your foot on the first rung of the exercise ladder, often scary, but always a worthwhile prospect for those previously confined to the bed-sofa-office chair-sofa-bed.

Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.

Climbing Everest is a (really) big walk. It’s huge. It’s not often you go for a walking holiday for 10 weeks and gain almost 15,000m vertical height (in terms of cumulative total). But after all that, Everest is still just a walk. If you’ve climbed it twice, three times, ten times, you’ve enjoyed the big walk, just multiple times. Your climb of Everest (or any other mountain) actually only matters to you. No one else cares, or should care, UNLESS it inspires them to take their own challenge. In simple terms, the sedentary population by and large don’t care about the next big feat on Everest, because it is both meaningless to them, and instead of being inspiring, is oftentimes demoralising. Trying to pluck up the courage just to take one piece of exercise a week and avoid getting lost or feeling insecure outside is not going to be assisted by the knowledge that some young kid has just soloed up the Lhotse Face. For the sedentary person, this is not something they will ever consider in their grasp, it’s just too far from what they’re currently trying to do. Sure, one day that 0.01% will achieve the extraordinary, but the key with GetOutside is to help sedentary and low activity individuals achieve the ordinary – and then to define ordinary as meeting the minimum guidelines for activity, and also feeling confident to venture outside.

So the message here: definitely share tales of grandeur, it’s cool, and you will inspire people. But to inspire the inactive, you have to share grass routes experiences for inspiration, not a slideshow of the latest and greatest on the Nordwand.

Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.

You know the drill, you set yourself a big challenge for New Year, perhaps 100 push-ups every day for 30 days because you saw that YouTube video. You said, how hard can that be? So you get to work, but then suddenly realise that you can’t do more than two pushups on the first day, the second is the same story, and by the third, your shoulders hurt so much that you quit. Judging by my demographics, most of the people reading this blog could tackle the push-up challenge. But for the sedentary population, even one push-up is a big goal. Here’s the spiral: you’re inactive, you set yourself a target of 1,000 steps, you can only manage 200. You give up after day 3, just like the push-up challenge, but this time when you quit, you feel depressed at the inability to do something most people take for granted. You become less healthy by not meeting your target of even a small amount of exercise, and sadly, the spiral continues downward.

There’s not much that an outsider can do here unless they’re the one prescribing the treatment. What can be learned however is the message that setting goals too big is not just a recipe for acute failure, but a potential cause of something much worse. Missed goals are a leading cause of spiralling, the concept where your performance keeps dropping simply because you keep missing unrealistic goals. If your goal was a 100mph tennis serve, a missed goal may be mildly distressing, but to miss the goal of 10 minutes of exercise each week is potentially catastrophic to a sedentary individual.

The SMART adage of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely is always one to bear in mind; even if you were taught it in year 7 at school, it’s definitely a school lesson with real world applications; (think subprime lenders and less than achievable loan repayments, circa 2008…).

You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).

My favourite piece of encouragement delivered my many super duper motivational speakers. How many times have you heard a speaker advising that a 9-5 is overrated, and subsequently recommending that you should pack it all in now whilst you still have the energy, and take up a life of glorious self-brand promotion on social media so you can spend half your time living in a London pad whilst spending the other half being whisked away to the alps to capture some groundbreaking footage on the newest unbreakable, unsinkable (we’ve heard that one before…), unstoppable action gizmo? I take the view that this really isn’t needed. There are a few problems with not working whilst in the 20-60 age group, not least because while you’re not at work, the rest of the world in your time zone almost certainly is. And equally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a weekend warrior either. As Mallory once famously quoted, you don’t live to go to work, you do exactly the opposite (going to work because it’s there..).

MatthewDThornton Tent

A Kenyan marathon runner has a strange training regime, they do 4 hours vertical (running), and 20 hours horizontal (resting) every day. That’s what it takes to be an Olympic champion, but if you finish work at 5, you can easily get a couple of hours exercise done in the evenings, and even some on the commute into work. The point is, if you’re economical with time, there’s usually ample opportunity to keep fit, whilst also earning money, spending time during the day with (hopefully) nice people, and even some time in the evening to see the family. Again, this comes down to unattainable goals. For many, retiring at 35 to live in a bachelor pad will never be attainable, but for most of the rest, they wouldn’t really want that anyway. Work provides among other things friends and money, which are the two key ingredients missing from the wooded shack. At retirement, the instances of loneliness dramatically increase as many people go from 45 years of 9-5 usually with guaranteed coworkers to absolutely nothing and potentially no one. A recent report suggested that loneliness is actually more deadly than obesity. And despite the old adage that you can’t buy happiness, the wiser I get, the more I find this simply not true. Money creates opportunity, and with that happiness. Of course, there is much debate here, but in answer of the original question, it is generally accepted that the poor use of free time is what cripples sedentary individuals into chronic inactivity rather than their choice of honest profession.

Just to touch on that money part one last time, I’d like to take a quote from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (an immensely thought provoking read), and suggest that it is actually the volume of money, not the money itself, which often instigates this bad reputation: “Beyond the satiation level of income, you can buy more pleasurable experiences, but you will lose some of your ability to enjoy the less expensive ones.”

Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

So what’s my take? If I had 50 cents, I would say plan for your happiness, which invariably means planning fun into your life. Do you need to plan fun? Of course! It’s useless going to the gym if you don’t take the time to plan how you’re going to come across all those gainz (physical adaptations of the muscular and cardiovascular system to a gradual increase in work intensity, to you and me). So when you reach the weekend, or the time you’re not spending at work, why would you not also take the time to plan how your time will be fun, enjoyable, or something you’d like to repeat again?

Focusing on the most vulnerable, sedentary group, it’s clear that to address the prior four points, the activity constituting exercise outside has to be enjoyable. The whole point of venturing outside, at the start at least, is to enjoy the experience, so it’s foolish to prescribe presently inactive individuals an outside activity which is anything less than judiciously satisfying. This group of individuals, all 20+ million of them, need to be shown that the outside is far more enjoyable than sitting at a computer all day and then watching TV in the evening. It’s a case of carefully constructing a goal which is obtainable with only a little effort, and then allowing that success to spiral (upward) into something bigger. The other point I want to make is that with a landscape such as the UK, whilst it is understandably very challenging for many to explore initially, there are so many sights, so many walks and so many rambles, that the sedentary population, including the 80% of UK children aged 11-15 who spend in excess of 4 hours looking at a screen per day, may actually be prised away, should the outdoor kingdom of the UK continue to be made more accessible to every generation.

I would like to end this post with a further quote from Thinking, Fast and Slow: “The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time. [Simply] can you find more time to do the things you enjoy doing?”


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Getting Outside

It came as quite a shock to me when Ordnance Survey (OS) mailed the other week to say I was one of their #GetOutside ambassadors for the next couple of years. Whilst I would like to think I’ve walked enough country footpaths (I still hold the record for the fastest (mostly) foot powered return climb of Ben Alder), run up enough UK hills and flown back down them to justify the selection, I don’t particularly feel like an average outdoor-goer able to inspire walkers to get climbing, and climbers to get flying. But perhaps that’s exactly the point. For me, I feel like (to paraphrase the Weasley Twins) my skill set lies askew of the average rambler, in who’s domain, I don’t feel most comfortable (walking 100 miles doesn’t yet fall in my fun category). I do big mountains with small wings, that’s my forte. In fact, the same week I was told about my GetOutside inclusion, I was in the midst of launching my next big expedition; #RidingGiants, a project which I really hope is beyond the means of the average hill goer, if only because I’m finding it so difficult.

But then I sat and listened to the speeches at our recent OS GetOutside launch event, and I realised that the target person of GetOutside isn’t actually the average hill walker in the middle of the spectrum, they’re not even Mr/Mrs average who are yet to take up a sufficient amount of exercise. The target of GetOutside, in my mind at least, is actually an outlier, right at the far end of the activity scale. In a future post, I would like to talk a little about some OS online features which I’m now discovering make getting outside easier, but I’ll save that for another post. I think for now, it’s so important for me to explain the person at the wrong end of activity; why they are the focus of GetOutside, and why they are perpetually stuck at that end of the spectrum.

Ultimately, it boils down to 5 factors that the GetOutside programme can address (and I will address in the next article):

  1. Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.
  2. Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.
  3. Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.
  4. You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).
  5. Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

Before addressing point 1 in the next article, take a look at this continuum:

Continuum of Activity

Firstly to clarify, the target group of people for GetOutside is NOT the active group from ‘average hill walker’ onward.

Secondly, what I want to highlight is that there is an often forgotten step between sedentary and an ‘average hill walker’/generic active person. That person is the average human, and they are the most difficult to define. Mr and Mrs average in the UK get little over 6 hours of sleep per night, eat only 3 servings of fruit/vegetables per day, drink less than half the recommended amount of water, and critically, undertake an average of only 1.5 sessions of exercise per week.

This is a poor assessment compared to many EU countries, however the key is that this group does undertake some exercise, which leads me to believe that if they wanted to get outside, they probably would (with a little encouragement). This group however is only the secondary target of GetOutside because sadly, there are more than 20 million people in the UK who are classed as physically inactive. Twenty million! Even more staggering, almost half (47%) of the adult population in the North West of England are sedentary.

The BHF 2017 Inactivity Report stated that the impact of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles is estimated to cost the economy £1.2 billion a year. To put that in perspective, this figure would allow the government to build over 17,000 new social homes, catering for an estimated 42,000 people; each year. As with many things on a national scale, the financial implications of inactivity are striking, and are the reason why programmes like GetOutside are just so important.

There was one figure however, quite different from the above, which drove me to write this article, and the one that follows. It concerns life expectancy, specifically that millennial children and generation z children (born 1995-2012) have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This is the first time in modern history that such a trend has occurred, and to put this in perspective, life expectancy in Britain has fallen so much that a million years of life could disappear by 2058. The reasons for such a trend are multifarious, however much blame can be attributed to the increase in sedentary behaviour as technology and other factors enable more time to be spent physically inactive.

All these figures are truly staggering, however the underlying problems have, at least on the surface, simple fixes. Once simple mechanisms and a change of culture are brought about (no mean feat!), the rewards will be truly staggering, and have positive ramifications which reach far beyond the pretty white sandy shores of the UK.

In the next part of this article, I will be answering the five aforementioned factors which traditionally prevent people getting outside, particularly those from the sedentary population. In the meantime, please venture outside, do something active, and pay forward an act of kindness by taking along somebody who wouldn’t ordinary brave the outside elements.

Please click here for part two: Getting Outside, More!