OK, this could get a little whimsical, so you might want to look away now.

I went for a bit of a run this evening, starting off as dusk was working it’s pink magic on the world. Up the road and onto the football pitch. Normally this is where I spark up the head torch and bimble off to the woods via the golf course.

Tonight though, as it wasn’t properly dark yet, I left the torch off and managed not to trip and impale myself on a damp flag. It may not sound like much to you, but let me tell you that my co-ordination is non-existent when I can see where I’m going, never mind when the light’s out.

Into the woods and it was getting darker – but I kinda know where I’m going, so maybe hold off a little longer? And then a bit more – into the closed in trees now, but there’s a bit of a glimmer, right, so maybe chance it?

Cut back, through the Secret Village and down the hill. Onto the trail past the giant leaf (no, really) and then further down to the bottom of the wood and the muddy path past the Highland Cattle (didn’t see ‘em, it was dark, you see).

Over the road, up the hill, and onto the old railway track. Now normally I should turn left and head to Rowlands Gill, per the plan, but I wanted to see what was in the other direction – I’d gone a little way along a couple of weeks ago, though that was in the light.

It was proper dark now, with only the light pollution to see me right. And the car lights coming over my shoulder – what? I’m on a disused railway, why is there a bright, white light? Hang on, that’s the moon! Popping out from behind the clouds it lit up the path for a minute or two, then scuttled away again – it was catching the odd silver birch something rotten and lighting them right up.

A bit like this (only the moon is better at drawing than me)…

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Maybe a bit less light pollution, I don’t know, I’m not that good at the drawing thing.

I got to the road through Hamsterley Mill, went a wee bit further then turned back – realising I was going to be a little longer out the house than the hour I’d reckoned.

Back along the railway and towards Rowlands Gill, and part way an early contender for magical moments of 2015, running through an avenue of silver birch in the dark with the moon lighting them up. Just fab.

Rowlands Gill now, and the street lights were a bit blinding to be honest – turn off onto Hollinhill Lane and the Hill of Doom . It’s easier, it turns out, plodding up a steep hill in the pitch black as you can’t see (even if you know) how much further there is to go.

Up the hill, and the world opened up – above Rowlands Gill and I could see across to Burnopfield and the TV mast at Pontop Pike. Imagine if all of a sudden all the myths, folklore and fairy stories became true, and you couldn’t be sure if that glint in the hedge was a redcap watching carefully, and you’re sure there are wizards out there in the woods. The ruin on the side of the hill looked like something out of Arthurian legend, not the tumble-down house mouldering into the trees. Even the sprawl of Newcastle, light-polluting monster that it is looked twinkly and exotic, like the start of Blade Runner, perhaps?

(OK, that’s the whimsical bit done, you can look again now).

I’ve done a wee bit of running in the dark and moonlight before, but this was a good nine miles of it, some on new trails I haven’t run before, and I’m fairly chuffed I came out alive. I reckon I might have another go again, it was exhilarating, and I think I’ve found another stupid thing I enjoy. Saves on the batteries too… :-)

Rock on!

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Image  —  Posted: 18/01/2015 in It happened in the night, It's bloomin' art!, Tree hugging, Uncategorized, What's in the woods?
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Sooooo, I rarely win competitions.

I won a competition a couple of years ago and landed a pair of running shoes, that was cool.

Other than that, not so much.

At the start of the year, replete with Christmas feed and festivities, I was at work when an e-mail popped in with the chance to win a place on a two week METAFIT course. It sounded interesting, I mean, no one’s going to argue with ‘fit’, are they and ‘meta’ is exactly the sort of jargon-y motivational thing that’s guaranteed to make me wonder “eh?”.

So, I replied with my e-mail and that and thought nothing more about it. Until the end of last week when another e-mail arrived saying that I’d won a place on the course. Get in! I think. It suddenly dawned on me that I still had no idea what metafit is, and now I was going to do it. Had I misread, was it METALFIT, aerobics to the tunes of Iron Maiden and Motorhead? Actually, that would be quite cool, let’s hope I can’t read.

I can read. It wasn’t going to involve Slayer or System of a Down it would appear. On reflection that’s probably as well – those kick drums are quite quick and I may have spun a limb off if that was the tempo.

On Monday, I turned up with a bag containing my shorts, t-shirt and shoesies. And some water. They were pretty hot on the idea of hydration, so I felt I should go with it.

Lesson #1 – there’s nowhere to change, get changed at work and then skip over already be-shorted. Likewise with showers.

The course was run by NUCAS Bootcamps – they have a van with the name on the side, which makes them a pro-outfit in my book, I don’t have a van, so I’m full of respect.

Turns out they have trainers too, people rather than shoes, although they have those too. Chris was the trainer we had, and I think he may be the main man at NUCAS. He was canny, engaging and seemed to know what he was about.

Warmup first  – which was leg kicks, arm spins and so on, high-knee jogging on the spot and that kind of thing. All good, and I was frankly a bit tired from that section never mind the actual exercises.

Now the main event – a selection of things such as star jumps, burpees (that’s get down, feet back, then back below your shoulders, up to your feet with maybe a little jump, repeat), press-ups, more high-knees jogging, and the Plank.

Why woodwork, I hear you ask? And that would be a good question. But it’s not.

A Plank is where you get on the floor, and when the buzzer goes you get on your toes and elbows (below your shoulders) and maintain that pose with a straight back for however long. The first was ten seconds, then twenty, then thirty, forty and finally fifty. Ouch.

Anyone who’s read any of this blog will realise that I run, and that’s pretty much it. A bit of cycling recently and a bit of swimming, but in essence nothing that affects the core muscles (in as much as I understand them, which is like those ice-creams I used to get at the cinema with the chocolate sauce in the middle, which was called a Core). Again, as I run that’s arms pretty much not required, so they’re like the pipe cleaners. Really weedy pipe cleaners. Can you even get pipe cleaners in these anti-smoking times? Maybe they’re renamed and called “fake tiny arms” now?

Anyhow, the leggy bits were pretty canny, the arm and core bits were really hard and the plank bits were nice, but along with the press-ups played havoc with my temperamental big toes. Press-ups more than the others to the point that I started doing knee press-ups (which was nothing to do with the tiny arms, honest).

About forty-five minutes of exercise, rest, exercise, rest, exercise, rest, you get the idea and we were done. I was dripping in the same way I would expect from a hard run in the summer. Proper dripping, not some rubbish metaphor.

Back to work, shower, and on we go – a bit stiff as the day wore on to be honest.

Next morning my shoulders and calves were ouchy to the max – back to the doddery old man walk that I last used when I ran an ultra. Crikey!

Repeat on Tuesday, more focussed on core work, which didn’t involve chocolate sauce and sprinkles in the ice-cream-like manner I’d expected, but did involved a lot of Plank, and other exercises to knacker the bits that hadn’t been covered the day before.

Wednesday was rest day – thank goodness, more doddering, and I had to miss out Thursday for a meeting, which I have to admit was rather disappointing.

And then today, Friday.

Plank, burpees, star jumps, something called a volleyball jump, which is to crouch, jump to the side, jump up, crouch, jump to the other side, jump up, and so on. Some sprinting too, which was nice, I like a bit of sprinting as it goes.

Again with the dripping.

I’m really enjoying it, and there’s still another week to go yet – I’m a bit knackered but not broken yet.

I could get used to doing METAFIT, presuming the second week doesn’t kill me. Heck, I might even write an update if I make it through.

Rock on!

My wayward path declineth soon,
But she shines not the less.

Henry David Thoreau – “The Moon”

Getting a bit arty, eh? Well, how about this then…

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See, that’s me being expressive and the rest. I’ve started doodling a bit recently, and while I’m going out of my way to point out that it’s not very good, I am quite enjoying myself.

Anyway, on with the running related nonsense, I suppose.

New Year’s Day is pretty much the most traditional day for a run I can think of. Whether you are building on a successful prior year, making up for a lax finish to the year gone by or starting out as a new runner, there must be more people out training on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year by my reckoning.

This year’s New Year’s Day was a good bit stormy, to say the least – my hat got blown off when I was walking the dog, and I had to chase it across the field. As it looked a bit drizzly, I stuck a waterproof on with the hood up in the hope it would stop my hat from making another trip across the night sky. There were branches on the paths and ominous creaking from the trees around me.

One plus side of the wind was the sky was pretty clear, and the moon was making its way towards being full (on the 5th, I think).

As I bumbled along, I realised my head torch was fading a bit, the batteries must be getting ready to run out, but that’s fine, I’ve got another small torch off my bike that I carry along for just this kind of thing, and also so I can make out the tree roots on the path on the wilder part of the track.

Coming out the back of the Secret Village (it’s a secret), and heading down the path where the trees have been cleared on one side I realised the moon was silvery-bright, and I could barely see my head-torch beam.

So I turned it off…

And the night opened up…

Seriously – I can’t really explain it, other than to enthuse that everyone should give it a go, but I can give an especially geeky comparison – if you’ve ever played the computer game Elder Scrolls: Oblivion on a big display, like a PS3 on a big TV, and been out in the woods when a clear night starts and the stars appear, then it’s like that, only less showy and infinitely better.

Stars, silver moonlight, a vague impression of what’s around and underfoot. A lot of it is the difference between the path, which is pretty dark, and the grass at the side, which reflects a bit of the moonlight back at you.

But you can’t run in it, can you, that would be daft.

Wouldn’t it?

Might as well find out.

No, it’s great, you just need to have a bit of wits about you and hope you don’t fall over. This is not necessarily a simple thing, but I pretty much managed it, using the other torch every now and then where the woods drew in overhead and I could barely see where I was going.

The view is fantastic, the stars above, moving above the dark branches, the faint silver light on the trees around you, it’s just the most atmospheric thing.

It’s slower than usual, and I did have that one incident where I thought I was going to be mobbed by a badger, but it all worked out and I reckon this is the start of a ridiculous new bit of night-time running.

Rock on, and welcome to 2015!

…Here comes 2015.

The last year has been a bit lacklustre, to be honest – I haven’t run that far, I haven’t run that fast, and bar a few stonkingly fantastic ultras I haven’t done anything that outlandishly different.

I guess the main thing is that I don’t feel like I really stretched myself over the last year, pretty much as I wrote at the end of October in my ‘running-year’ report. Last year was the year of consolidating the two years since I started running at the end of 2011.

Long story short, I’m aiming to be a better runner in 2015, a bit more committed to putting my shoes on regularly, a bit more thoughtful in how often I shovel chips down my neck at the canteen at work and perhaps to push myself a little more when I’ve actually got my shoes on.

On a less introspective, gloomy front, I have been running around the woods a bit more – I really like the woods, and while I haven’t seen the deer for a while, there are a remarkable number of plump grey squirrels bouncing about the place like furry bouncy-balls of nut-hunting mania. What I’d never realised was that they don’t just run up any tree, each squirrel has it’s own tree, and they’ll scurry off to get back to it.

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More than once I’ve ended up accidentally chasing a squirrel down the path as it heads back to it’s tree, slowing down so I don’t scare the life out of the poor thing. So far everyone’s got away safely.

Back to Day Zero!

Seriously, I felt so unfit plodding around this morning – I have no idea why (other than lack of fitness, which is my current guess). It was the bit where I run up a long, medium incline of about a mile and 300 feet in total, and found myself stopping for a sneaky walk three times. I’m not even sure why; a body-sub-section analysis led to the discovery that my legs weren’t that stiff, my lungs weren’t especially burning and my arms weren’t entirely knackered. My brain just decided I was done in and a bit of a walk was the best option thank you.

Ok, so statistics-wise I may have put on a half stone over the last few months, and that may need some shifting – when I did the Parkrun last week I could feel the flesh on my back moving, something that I’ve not encountered since the first few months I ran, and considerably heavier than I am, even with the extra half added in.

I haven’t been running a lot the last couple of months in truth, not since the Jedburgh Ultra which left me customarily tired. Maybe the odd Parkrun and one of two jaunts to the woods, but nothing that feels like training, and as 2015 is supposed to be the year of striving, that feels like a pretty poor start.

What this needs is a spot of commitment, I reckon, in order to get me back on the track – my plan is simple, and it’s this:

Each week I will run at least twice. Each run will be at least three miles in length.

There you go, that wasn’t so difficult was it? Well maybe not, but look at the blank weeks stretching back where even once-out-of-the-door has been too much of a slog.

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That’ll be me then, part way around the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra Marathon at the end of October. It was ace, it was immense, but that’s not what this is about (I will eventually finish the race write-up and post it, I promise). What this is about is to point out what a beardy vegan sight I am, verging on the crusty, but not quite in running gear, obviously. I’ll go for being a running hippie and be glad to get away with that.

More importantly, what it’s about is that it’s me still running, after three years of first lacing up a pair of trainers and taking my 17 stone portly smoking self off up the road for a 30 second run / 4.5 minute walk, eight repetition set.  Reading back to my write-up from that first time I discover that I rather enjoyed it, I wasn’t fast but I figured I’d like to do it again. So maybe nothing has changed?

Or maybe everything has – there’s the obvious drop of 3-4 stone (depending on cake intake on any given day), the less obvious fact that I feel much healthier about things  or the fact that in the last three years I’ve done two things that I’d said for the previous 39 years I would never, ever be able to do. One is the running, as you’d expect, the other is swimming – I’ve never been any use at swimming, my high point to date was my 5m badge in Primary School, after that it was all downhill. Back in June I took the decision there was no reason why I couldn’t swim – I only needed a bit of a hand, so I booked a few lessons and now I can swim like a normal person, admittedly one without much upper body strength who can’t manage much front crawl without gasping.

I think I usually do a run down of what things I’ve been up to over the year – but I haven’t done anything especially new – I ran a couple of ultra marathons, including the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra, I ran a calf-squandering trail half marathon with the Trail Outlaws at Penshaw Monument – their inaugural race, I ran the Blaydon Race for the third time – I love the Blaydon Race. I didn’t run the Kintyre Way Ultra, and I didn’t make it to the Berghaus Trail Team day at the lakes, both because family comes first. I ran the Simonside Fell Race for the second time, and fell racing still remains the maddest thing I’ve ever done. Seriously, if you’re tired of life, go and try fell running, you’ll be glad you escaped alive.

But what’s next? Well, another Blaydon Race I think, I’ve got the Kintyre Way place transferred from last year. I’m entered in the Trail Outlaws first ultra, the St Cuthberts Way Ultra, from Lindisfarne to Kelso. I reckon I just might run Jedburgh again – I finished last this year, so I’m not sure I can do anything to improve on that.

Aspirationally I’d like to get better at training. It’s fair to say my approach to training is ‘accidental’ – I run a bit, if I have the time  in the run up to a race then I probably run a bit more. That’s about as good as it gets. I once had a training plan, but I lost it and never bothered to replace it.  I’m fitting in a bit of cross training (that’s posh for stuff that’s not running), doing a bit of cycling with the aim of commuting sometimes to save the planet and trying to fit in a trip to the pool every week to keep going with the swimming.

When I first started running, people thought I was quite possibly mad, and probably stupid. The I entered an ultra and they were sure I was mad, but tinged with a slight hint of approval. Now people assume I’m probably off doing something truly stupid most weekends, wrestling bears and running to Bulgaria and back (now there’a thought – what about a Wombles Ultra? Wimbledon Common to each of the characters names…). I love the fact that every now and then someone tells me that my madness has inspired them to do a bit of running.

More woods, more trails, more hills, goodness knows I need to run more hills. More weather, more mud, more tired legs, more rumbling tum, more random runs, more exploring paths, more moonlight, more thunder, more madness, more oneness.

Year three was the Year of Consolidation (I think) – this is going to be the Year of Striving.

Rock on folks, it’s going to be a good one…