Tag : running

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Speed Flying Through The Storm

The end of winter 2017-18 presented the perfect opportunity to fly some incredibly marginal and storm conditions with the 11m speed wing. On the world’s highest mountains, the conditions for flying are rarely perfect, so in training for the Riding Giants expedition we took to the stormy skies via the path rarely travelled. I say rarely travelled as I doubt anyone has ascended Watson’s Dodd in quite the same way. Gearing up in moderate snow conditions, we started the Lake District run up to Stybarrow Dodd via Sticks Pass, however the weather was quickly deteriorating. With only thin slivers of sunshine, the snow really started coming down, and turned into a full whiteout by the time we reached the sheepfold. Dressed in thin running clothes, shorts and compression socks was possibly not the most appropriate choice of clothing, but running up the steep hill in shelter from the wind with a speed wing and harness on the back still pained the lungs and we were well warm by the time the weather truly descended.

We quickly realised the weather wouldn’t hold out for long, if at all, so we took a detour straight for Watson’s Dodd. We crossed Stanah Gill just above the sheepfold and started plodding up the increasingly deep snow pack. Out of the wind shadow of Stybarrow’s western flank, the breeze picked up until at around 700m, onward progress became futile. The higher we went, the windier it became, and with every step upwards the visibility reduced a few hundred metres. So there we stood, at 700m, standing in shin deep snow, in running shoes, compression socks and shorts. One sweaty base layer, an ultra thin running jacket and my winter saviour, a Rab Generator jacket. I was cosy on the top, but becoming positively chilly on the legs, particularly the exposed knee caps which were receiving the full brunt of the wind when trying to peer through the horizontal snow towards Thirlmere. Every so often I could see Thirlmere through the gloom and swirling snow as the wind periodically dropped, but after no more than a minute, it was back to storm conditions. Flying would be relatively treacherous, but we’d been standing on the hill for over 10 minutes, and the thought of descending by foot was becoming decidedly less appetising. So the head calculations commence; can I fly away safely? Can I see the landing zone? What is the cloud base? Is it too turbulent?

It took long enough to come to the realisation that I could probably fly, so long as I was prepared for a bumpy ride. The main difficulty would probably be the launch, which is always tough in strong winds, particularly on the more gentle slopes. I took out the wing, anchored it with snow, but almost immediately, a squall came through. The wing was almost blown away, but I quickly dived on the trailing edge and regretted undoing my neatly folded wing which I had packed only an hour before. Another 10 minutes was spent agonising over the decision to fly, but the squall soon blew out, and we were back to light snow, and a (very hazy) view all the way down to Thirlmere and the landing zone.

It was on.

I clipped in, checked the lines, brought the wing up, turned, and started running as fast through the snowy heather as I could. The take-off was fast, I must have launched in a lull, but then all of a sudden I was rising on a pillow of air, soaring, which is always unnerving under 11m of cloth and a few strands of Dyneema. As soon as that gust had come, it was racing up the hill behind me, and I quickly sank back into the channel leading to a particularly spiky barbed wire fence. With the feet brushing along the top of the snow, I just scraped over the edge and into the river gully. This is where the flight got truly rough and active piloting was required all the way to stop the fast surging and easing the fast collisions with the intense gusts. As I descended though, the visibility improved and the landing was clear. I just had to get above the road to St John’s in the Vale, then I could put in some turns and get down to the landing field.

With the feet skimming the grass, I was truly happy to be down. I love the flying, but turbulence, particularly with a speed wing is rarely a pleasant experience. In the UK we rarely get the type of thermals which halt late afternoon Alpine flying, but we sure make up for it with days of endless gusts. No laminar breeze, no smooth airflow from the sea, just pure tempestuous gusts formed over the wild North Atlantic and raging Irish Sea. It was a horrible flight, particularly in the latter stages where this unstable air mass throws the wing up and down like an overzealous puppet master, the pilot continuously fighting to remain in control. But flights like this, whilst not good for the stomach, are good experience, they help you to understand the limits of the wing, or at least of the pilot, and to fine tune the active inputs needed for good flying.

With summer finally poking its head round the corner, I’m now more ready than ever for some smooth flying under blue skies and over green fields with the occasional flock of sheep or marmot..

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Why I Really Love To Run

I love sequels. I really love writing them. I haven’t yet found any reason to write a sequel to my book, but I definitely want to write a sequel to my last blog: Why I Love to Run. It was, well, a blog about running, why I love it and how simple it is to be precise. For this iteration however, I want to talk about on of the tools I use to get outside and make my experience much easier and far more rewarding, running facilitation, if you will. I’m mainly talking about Ordnance Survey’s mapping tool, which up until 2018 wasn’t something I was even aware of, let alone used. And that’s because I didn’t. I was quite happy going to Bing maps, selecting the region, and then changing the overlay to OS maps, which provided free mapping for the entire UK. Whilst this was a blissfully cheap way to access mapping, there are 3 downsides:

  1. Printing is just bad for the environment. The maps are poor quality, fragile, and even if you laminate, just not that effective. They’ll probably get wet, and then you don’t have a map.
  2. Accessing the maps on Bing prevents you from actually using mapping features such as plotting routes and getting a handle on how far and how high you’re going.
  3. The OS app, when used correctly (particularly when saving your key maps offline) is the perfect tool to finding out your actual location (so long as your phone GPS actually works.

This is one further downside which is the eventual end to the OS map availability on Bing Maps which is perhaps the final nail in the coffin for free online viewing.


Running Facilitation

So how can you facilitate your running? Running facilitation to me is all about making running easier, so you wake up, look at the bright sunshine (general drizzle if you live further north than Matlock?) put on your running shoes and go. Clearly you need to put on other clothes, maybe have a pre-run drink and a little warm-up, but you get the idea. I’m an online user. I like apps and devices that make life that little bit easier, because generally it means more time for fun and less faffing. So I use Strava and Garmin Connect, but in reality, these platforms, like TrainingPeaks, are there to track the activities you’ve already done. This is why I’ve quickly incorporated the OS mapping platform, particularly for my running needs.

For me, it’s the ability to quickly plot a route, with actually useful features such as snapping a route to a footpath/right of way (when in a National Park), and then having the option to either export this route, or simply use that most powerful of computing devices, my brain. When training, adding a bit of mental stress, such as actually remembering a route rather than just following a screen is incredibly beneficial, so I regularly create new routes, put my phone in my pocket, and then run by memory, only checking my location when at a crossroads (or when completely and utterly lost in the hill fog when high up on Pillar…).


A Surprising Feature

There is one added benefit to the OS mapping platform which I truly didn’t expect. It’s the ability to actually find out what’s on your doorstep. I’ve had easy access to Bing Maps for many years, but with a smart phone often making life much simpler, I’m now much more likely to get outside and instead of going on my usual route, taking out my phone and finding a new route right from the house. I’ve run on so many tracks recently which I’ve previously just run straight past because I didn’t know they existed, or how conveniently located they were.

A secondary feature which has some interesting applications is the ability to view your route in 3D; as I mentioned in a previous blog, this is very much a virtual agony prior to actually agonising over your route when you come to run it.


The GetOutside Mission

Part of the mission and vision of GetOutside is to make it much easier for the public to explore footpaths close to where they live, be that for running, or simply walking the dog. When you look at the availability of footpaths and bridleways, even in a city such as Birmingham, there are a surprising number which crisscross the urban landscape and provide great routes for getting outside.

I’m lucky enough to live in a relatively rural setting but only 5 miles from a city. This is great for weekend runs, but to my surprise, I have even found a running route to work which is in the centre of the city. Footpaths go almost unnoticed, especially in urban areas, but they really do provide a great method of routing through even the busiest areas.

In my previous blog, I talked about simplicity being the greatest asset to running. You simply put on your clothes and go. This is great if you know the area, but if you want to know what’s beyond your mind’s eye, utilise Ordnance Survey maps and find out what is truly on your doorstep, you may be quite surprised.



For those new to running, take a look at the maps surrounding where you live and look for the green lines which designate footpaths on a 1:25k scale map (on a 1:50k scale, the footpaths are red). Plot a route of between 4km and 8km depending on how ambitious you are, and then go for it. Take your phone, a Garmin, a print out, or even just a doodle on a piece of paper if you have none of the above, showing the important directions. If you can record your route and upload it back onto the site or a host such as Strava, you can much more easily tack your progress and then find new routes to try out next time. Don’t be stuck in a rut because the only route you know is the endless canal which forces you to spend hours of your week running along the same stretch of water. Use the tools, get excited by new routes, and then get out there and make the most of what we have here in the UK.

And just in case you’re super sceptical about finding a route because you live in a city, here are just a small sample of footpaths, highlighted purple, in the centre of deepest darkest London:

OS Map Running London

What’s your excuse?!

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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…