Rat Race Dirty Weekend

Finally got around to writing about the recent Dirty Weekend. Not, not that kind of dirty weekend (tsk), this was the Rat Race Dirty Weekend event at Burleigh House in Stamford earlier this month.

20 miles, 200 obstacles. They claim it’s the ‘world’s biggest obstacle course’ and invite people to come and show whether they’re hard enough (similar to that other type of dirty weekend really). I’d heard about this event a couple of years ago when Vic B had suggested we do it (I think we’d not long done the Wolf Run). I think I remember telling her she was a twat and to sod off, like how the hell could I run 20 miles, let alone with 200 obstacles. So, it was with bemusement that I found myself standing in the starting pen for that very race this year, asking myself not for the first time, what the hell I was doing.

When I took someone’s ticket in about October last year it was far enough away to promptly forget all about it. Back then, it sounded like a fun weekend that loads of people from BMF were off to and I’d get FOMO. I basically just wanted to join in the after party really, but I know I’d also not be able to stand by and watch everyone else go running. And besides, I do actually really love throwing myself into mud and over walls. No really, I do. When I used to watch the Krypton Factor as a kid, I’d always want to do the obstacle course. That and the film where you’d have to look out for difference and stuff. Observation round – that was it! Sod the shape sorting thing, get me outside. Me and my brother made various obstacles when we were younger but never a whole course. Think we ran out of spare wood.

Anyway, winter skipped along. Christmas came and went. I went on holiday. Spring started. Work project went live. Easter brought chocolate. My birthday happened. Then, all of a sudden, that weekend was a week away. I think all of us from BMF who were doing it collectively thought “Fuck!”. It crept up, the sneaky little bastard. So, with training consisting of runs when I could, hikes, hitting gym classes and trying to BMF the shit out of the week I was as prepared as I could have been.

First things first, this is not just an obstacle race, this is a weekend. Friday to Sunday with pre-parties and after parties and everything in between. It’s brilliantly organised from start to finish, so hats off to Rat Race for making everything run like clockwork (or at least seem like it). From the booking process online all through the email comms, then parking, registration, facilities, race and marshalls, finish, after party and clear up, it was top notch.

I’m not going to go through everything because that would a) take AGES and b) probably be dull for you. So let’s try and keep it in a nutshell-cat-page . The dirty weekend started on Friday with a ROAD TRIP. Everyone knows a road trip has to involve SHOTGUN and the worlds ROAD TRIP in capitals. We did this with Adam being a sore loser about shotgun, Sian slating my music choices, me trying (and failing) to work Ben’s SD card media thingy and Ben just trying to make sure he’s going the right way.

Arriving in good time (but still later than we’d thought) we parked up and skipped off like four eager beavers to find registration and the campsite, only to realise how fucking far away the car park was. For people that were planning on running 20 miles the next day this seemed unnecessary energy wastage. We got through registration, felt sick marvelled at the last obstacle (5 shipping containers high) and found the BMF campsite at near full capacity. So with some fence manoeuvring we claimed our corner patch with the same triumph as I imagined Christopher Columbus felt when discovering America.

Most of us had our tents up before Adam had even got his pole out so had time to figure out where all the most important facilities (toilets, showers, bar, waffle truck) were. Elena arrived hoping to smash the record for the smallest tent in the world and actually smashed the quickest tent erection record. We never did try the ‘most people in the smallest tent in the world record’. Next time. Next to the smallest tent was the Mansion Tent, still put up before Adam had finished whatever he was faffing around with. Surprisingly, Bev was not on the cider at this point, preferring to abstain, but we made up for her and had a good luck beverage. Not as many as the Dutch Mud Men and Mudstacle groups though, who presumably had read a study about how getting smashed and staying up late (and being LOUD) the day before a 20 mile ocr is excellent preparation. I’m not sure my body could handle that amount of preparation.

Race morning comes, and we had to get up at something like 6am for our start at some time around 8. I never actually knew what exact time we were starting, instead choosing to do what I normally do at BMF and rely on someone else to know what is going on. It was an exciting morning for me, as I got to try out my new Trangia mini camping stove for the first time to cook my porridge. This was important as this is the stove I’m planning on using if (when) I go on a bike adventure, and needed to test out whether I could work it without setting fire to myself, my tent or someone else. Test passed, hurrah!

Lucy brought out the camo paint for the obligatory BMF stripes. Harry, founder of BMF gave us words of encouragement (and a t-shirt). Ibuprofen taken, snacks prepared and various body parts were strapped and taped up. Sian’s head was not complete without the camo buff and Toby got into the beo-uff spirit by making his into horns. Pre-race joviality amongst the slight nervousness (yes, Adam actually admitted he was nervous, but shhh, don’t tell anyone). For anyone who doesn’t know, these races have ‘waves’ where a certain amount of people start the race at the same time. This mean that we are all herded into pens where we all wait, the air tight with anticipation and impatience. There was a pre-race warm up where there is a extremely attractive BMF instructor; which distracts the nerves of most of the women for a short while. And then all of a sudden, there’s some incomprehensible words shouted into a microphone! Some music! A countdown! Air horn! Flares! AND WE’RE OFF! Reach and jump to touch the inflatable start line. Why? Because. That’s. What. You. Do. Running! Into a throng of people, flare smoke, cheering, spectators. And so it begins. “Do not think about it’s 20 miles. Do not think about how tired you are already. Do not think about how little sleep you have had.” says the little voice.

And so you don’t. Not for a while anyway, you try and keep up with the rest of your group and have a laugh jogging, climbing, jumping, crawling and admiring the views. Helping your friends and making sure everyone is through each bit. Making sure Bev is OK when she hits her back and head on a trampette after slipping. Congratulating Elena when she jumps off the top bit of the water jump (it was bloody high, involuntary scream-type high). Cheering Rich on for going on the monkey bars over the water while having a bit of a boogie to the singer. Being helped onto the water platforms by Toby, and helping him through the tyre birth canal. Jogging with Linda on the long stretches and all having a laugh at the food stops, especially the one with crisps where we were all shovelling them in like we’d not eaten for weeks (believe me, the 6am breakfast was a long time ago by that point). We had a combination of serious running, clambering and jumping and then a bit of dicking about. Toby and I enjoyed a gentle float and splash about in the reservoir (while Elena and a friendly chap from Belgium made sure Bev got safely across). I enjoyed doing somersaults over the bars in the forest pretending I was 8 again.

Mile markers were measured against Bev’s garmin, and each time it came out different, but at least it gave us something to talk about and distract from the fact that we were still only at 3 miles. We were carrying a BMF flag, that became as precious to us as a newborn baby, cradled and carried the whole 20 miles (although you probably wouldn’t throw a newborn baby over some of the obstacles like we did).

The weather was pretty fab too. Because YES, weather is important. Not too hot, but warm enough that you didn’t get hypothermia as soon as you hit any water. Sunny enough for strange tan marks and that “been outside all day” look. This also helps conversation afterwards when you’re running out of things to say because you’re tired or drunk and so can just point to body parts instead, and that person knows exactly what you mean.

Elena and I ended up splitting from the rest of our group at some point. Not sure exactly where, but it was before the 13 mile mark, as this was the point you could finish at a half, or carry on for the full 20. There was no question what we would do, but this point was marked with some weirdly shaped box things to clamber over. I tried one but had run out of a energy as it was just before a food stop, so I ended up being pulled up in a most ungracious fashion by one arm and one leg by some Dutch bloke. I ended up sprawled out on the top shouting “thank you” while him and his girlfriend shouted “no problem”, already leaping over the next one like gazelles. The Dutch preparation was clearly working well.

Elena and I made our way over the next 7 miles getting to know each other a bit more, chatting to strangers and realising our previous lives had more in common than we thought, like a secret club no one actually wants to be a part of. Before we knew it, we were on the last mile! That 19 mile marker got a whoop-whoop. We arrived smiling at an obstacle where the incredibly enthusiastic marshall told us there was only one more obstacle to go. Hurrah we thought! But no! That cheery-faced cherub WAS LYING. There was at least 3 or 4. With some last surges of energy (and a rather painful mishap where I fell off one of the obstacles and slid down the wooden battens and onto the floor on my back like a comedy sketch) we emerged down the final straight, running head first into The 5-Storied Beast. That final wall/cargo net/slide. We looked at each other! We could do it! Off we shot, like rockets (as fast as rockets go that have already been let off 20 miles previous), reaching the top like triumphant adventurers. I imagine it was rather the same feeling as Roald Amundsen must have had when he was the first man to reach the South Pole.

Stopping for a quick photo shoot13179260_10154081316726341_5012695865979688295_n and look around, we threw ourselves down the last water slide with more gusto than you’d expect of people that had just ran 20 miles. Easy to do when you know you’re nearly done.

And that was it. We’d done it. YAY!

A more civilised photo shoot later, with medals is the requisite proof that the event was actually completed, in case you wake up and think it’s all a dream.

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Race done, first up was a quick chat with the guys who’d already finished, but most importantly it was then time for a shower. This simple daily task that most people take for granted suddenly takes on the same importance scale of what you’re going to name your first born. It’s one of the Best. Feelings. Ever. Especially if it’s warm.

Then, all dry and cosy (especially if you have a DryRobe) it’s time for food and BEER (or just beer, but I wouldn’t recommend this – see below) and a chat with fellow survivors team mates about all the best bits, how great it was, who fell off what, who completed what and any funny bits along the way. All this while also shouting congratulations to all the people coming in, looking weary and muddy and tired but deliriously happy. Probably at the thought of beer and that they don’t have to climb over another bit of wood (for at least a few hours until they get drunk and forget there’s an entrance to the campsite).

Then, the party extends to other groups of people (either the wider BMF group or Sian and I infiltrating Mudstacle). Then the Party becomes the Official After Party where we head to a big tent to drink more drink, dance like mad loons (because we are all surprised our legs still work, and feel the need to show this with various high-knee type dancing, facilitated by the Reverend telling us to “fookin bounce”) until it gets late and we are thrown out of the Big Tent and we head back to the campsite where it’s like the race is actually a weird futuristic society-controlling drug that has put everyone into a coma by 12pm.

And so we wake on the Sunday morning, bleary eyed and weary but triumphant, each one remembering what we have achieved, both as individuals and as a team, proud as punch.

We move slowly to pack up, both to enjoy the sunshine some more and also because of stiff legs and sore heads. And after hugs and fond farewells, the road trip back home begins. It is no longer in capitals. There is no shouting of shotgun, just a slightly subdued journey (me with my head out the window but that’s more because of the amount of beer imbibed). The sense of achievement does not need to be spoken about (mainly because speaking takes effort) but is known amongst us all, waiting to be taken home to be shared with loved ones.

As a post on Facebook says [something like] “This was not just an obstacle race. This was a Dirty Weekend”.

As this is a kind of review (it’s not really, but nevermind), here’s a few handy tips for if you’re thinking of doing it next year:

  • There are plenty of snacks at the food/drink stops so there’s really not much need to carry extra with you, especially in a running bumbag which either cuts you in half or bulks up underneath a t-shirt making you either look odd or pregnant in photos. It is NOT flattering, although this could just be me. I have yet to find ANY race photos I’d actually confess they were me. Maybe carry gels if you like them, they can be stuck down socks/pants/bras/arse cracks. Apparently. I’ve not tried them but I have tried similar ‘sports’ bar type things when doing London to Paris which well, let’s just say, it wasn’t good. I’ll stick to the bananas.
  • The camping is miles away from the car park. Take a wheeled contraption to take over the million and one things you will need for camping. Prepare to completely forget where you park your car, even if it’s right near the front gate.
  • Stick with your mates or find someone who is interesting for at least the second half. Towards the end you will need someone to talk to to distract you from the countdown of miles (“seriously, how is it STILL only 17 miles?”) and hallucinations of beer you get from about mile 15 (“mmmm is that beer? Oh, no, it’s a rabbit.”).
  • DO NOT forget ibuprofen. It’s useful for EVERYTHING.
  • Eat something after you finish, preferably with protein and carbs. The temptation to just hit the beer is overwhelming and WILL result in a massive crash in the days afterwards. I have tried and tested this many times, so take my word for it. These kind of events take so much more out of your body than you realise, even if you feel OK. Be kind to your bod and give it some TLC after, it’s the only one you get (unless your shares in cloning or human robots come to fruition at some point in the future).
  • But DO take more booze than you think you’ll need. There is a somewhat frivolous atmosphere requiring a high level of celebration.
  • DO speak to as many random strangers as you can. They are interesting and funny and make for a fully rounded experience. Hug them if you can, especially if they are foreign and don’t understand you. They WILL love it.
  • Go for a shower as soon as you can after you finish. That shower will feel amazing and having a beer knowing that you’re not sitting with mud up your arse is pretty special.
  • Take lots of pictures but don’t forget to stop and look around and up every once in a while. Remember the smiles and look of satisfaction on the faces of the people around you, the constant positive energy of the marshalls, the bright lights of a party done well and the stars in the sky once it’s all over and the world is quiet.

Don’t just take my word for it, oh no. Watch Ben’s most awesome gopro video of the weekend here. It’s bloody AWESOME, has great music and just sums up the whole weekend.

All this is more than just running around outside and getting muddy. It’s about trying something new and pushing yourself. It’s about facing fears and doing it anyway. It’s about seeing what your body is capable of. It’s about doing something different with your weekend and not watching the world through someone else’s screen. It’s about maxing the shit out of life, if this is your idea of fun. But most of all, it’s about the people you do it with. The people that help you over that fence, old friends, new friends or strangers. The people that help you on that water jump. The people that keep you going when you think you’re fading. Being part of a team, a collective. The people that make you laugh. The people that share their prosecco or big tub of rice. The people that you make memories with.

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That’s what BMF is so great at. It provides you a ready made team, a set of buddies to do crazy shit like this with. Full of friends from the off, whichever park you’re at.

Give it a go, what you got to lose?

 

 

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Runs around the world #21

Tupholme, Lincolnshire, UK

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This is my final Run around the world. No, don’t worry, I’m not giving up running, it’s just the last run I will write about on this blog. So it seems fitting that it’s back in the UK, in the place where I grew up as a child.

Tupholme in Lincolnshire is so small it doesn’t have any place signs. So you really wouldn’t know it was here. Apart from Tupholme Abbey and Tupholme Hall all that’s here is a few houses dotted along the B1190, one of which is where my parents live, and which is one of the places I’m squatting at until I get my own place again. I’ve been pretty lucky with the weather since I’ve been back and there’s been a few glorious mornings so I’ve taken the opportunity to have a little trot out. There’s a nice 5K loop from the house that takes in my old childhood stomping ground. Apart from a little bit of main road, the rest of the route is on country lanes or bridleways, where I spent many hours riding my bike, playing with friends or riding horses. It takes me past the ruins of Tupholme Abbey, of which there’s only one wall left, but in the olden days was a huge monastery. It was also the site of the huge Tupholme Pop festival in 1972 where the Beach Boys and Rod Stewart played.

Being away for a year has made me realise just how beautiful it is around here, and how lucky I was to have grown up in such amazing surroundings, and I’m really pleased I’ve got the time and opportunity to run around here right now. Well, I make as well make the most of the weather and unemployment right?

And yes, it’s been great to get back into a bit more of a running routine, to run more than once a week. It feels AMAZING. I’ve done a lot of my catching up now, and so time for a bit of exercise, fitness, fresh air, good food and no alcohol.

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So, thank you for reading about my runs around the world over the last 18 months or so. Some have been really tough, some have been easy and some have been out of this world. I’ve run by myself, I’ve run with other people and I’ve run with animals. I’ve run in the most amazing scenery. I’ve ran in the dark, in the snow and in the hot, humid heat. I’ve ran up and down hills, and on the flat. In parks, along roads and by rivers. In altitude and in rain.

And you know what? They’ve been incredible. Every. Single. One. In their own way. Whether it’s been tough, hard work or great it’s still been a run. I’ve still got out there, got some fresh air and explored. Most of the time I’ve not known where I’m going, where I was going to end up or whether I’d actually make it round. Yes, I’m not as fit as I was when I went travelling, but I didn’t stop completely. Well, I couldn’t. Running is as much a part of me now as everything else. I’m proud of myself, even though I didn’t do it as much as I thought I would. I didn’t quit, that’s the main thing.

So here’s to many more runs, wherever they might be. And one thing’s for sure, my runners will always be coming on travels with me in the future. It’s still one of the best ways to explore.

Runs around the world #20

San Francisco, USA

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Where I’m staying in San Francisco is really close to The Golden Gate Park. As I’ve found everywhere, parks are [mostly] a runners heaven, and tend to be full of people doing all kinds of fitness-ey things. This one was no different; lots of walkers, runners, cyclists. OK, so there were also a lot of homeless people and people sat smoking weed, but this is San Francisco, where that seems to be normal pretty much all over.

If you know anything about San Francisco, it’s probably that it’s hilly. Now, when back in the UK, I didn’t mind hills really. I’d got used to running up them. I used to run home, which was up the top of a hill. I used to do hill sprints up Steep Hill in Lincoln (not easy, but I used to do them). I’m not as fit as I was, I’ve mentioned that before. I’ve not done as much running, and although I climbed a fair few mountains in New Zealand, it doesn’t mean they were easy (or that I enjoyed them). And I certainly didn’t run up any mountains in NZ (although I did run down one). Luckily for this temporarily lazy runner, the park is pretty flat.

So, I did a lovely little round route of 4 miles. From where I was staying, I ran down the hill (oh yes, I’m staying on a hill) to the park, through and round a bit of the park, then back up the hill. I hadn’t actually planned on running back up the hill, but I was nearly at 4 miles and I needed to get to a round figure on my runkeeper stats. I’m sure most runners can identify with this slight OCD-ness.

The famous San Francisco fog was around this particular morning, but there was also a bit of sunshine. But not too hot. Perfect for running really. I’d not run for probably about a week, and I’d been a bit lazy in Auckland and dipped out of going for a run with Ross one morning, and so really had to force myself to go here, but once I’d got going I remembered why I loved running. It felt great and I just enjoyed the pure beauty of running in a new place, not really knowing where I was going, just enjoying the new views and surroundings.

Whenever I run in a place with a lot of other people, especially people going the other way, I always feel tempted to high five them. I thought about it a lot on this run. I was in America after all, surely out of all the places I’ve been, this is the place for it? But, I chickened out, despite feeling mildly hyper/giddy/hysterical (it’s those endorphins you know) as everyone coming the other way just looked SUPER serious. Still should have just done it. I did chat to a bloke who offered to take my picture when he saw me taking a selfie after I’d finished. He then told me about some more trails up in the hills where there was poison oak. Not sure there was the need to lift his shorts up to show me where it had got him, but hey, this is San Francisco. Everything and anything goes.

I’m still surprised I can run 4 miles. I feel like I’ve hardly run at all over the last few months, so I’m glad there’s still something left in there. I feel really quite unfit so it’s always a nice feeling to have churned out just over 4 miles quite easily (including ending a run on a bloody steep hill). As I come to the end of my trip, I CANNOT wait to ramp it up now. I’m chomping at the bit. I do need to sort out my damaged shoulder though, but hey, I can still run, and that’s enough for now.

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Runs around the world #19

Christchurch, New Zealand

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When I first got to Christchurch at the beginning of March I couldn’t run because of my broken rib. I was staying right next to Hagley Park, the massive bit of green space in the middle of the city which is a runners playground. I was sad. I watched everyone else with envy as they trotted round morning, noon and night. All at a great party that I wasn’t invited to.

But! Fear not! I had to come back to Christchurch, and when I did, I was healed! I could run again! So, first day back and out for a run I went. Well, probably more accurate to call it a jog. I’m not as fast as I once was (temporary glitch, when I can get back into proper training I’ll be back on it like a moth in a light box).

So I managed to do 5 wonderful miles in the early morning autumn sunshine. Easter Monday (yes, Easter in autumn, really quite odd), joining what seemed like half the population of Christchurch all burning off a day of chocolate. My favourite season, especially for running, I missed it in the UK last year so I’m so chuffed to experience it here. And, dare I say it, Autumn in NZ is a lot better than the UK! Amazing colours, lots of sunshine, not a lot of rain and crunchy leaves underfoot – perfect for running!

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I don’t feel fit at all any more. I’ve got a little layer of travelling fat and just not feeling mega healthy, so I actually surprised myself that I could do 5 miles. And it was 5 fairly easy miles really (at just under 10 mins per mile, so not too bad I guess) so I was pretty chuffed with it. Maybe I’m not so unfit after all. I’m pleased I’ve not lost it completely. It was never an option to give up running, I still can’t live without it, but I’m at ease a bit more now about not running so much (compared to the panic I felt in Africa when I thought I wouldn’t be able to run for a month). Maybe because I’d ramped it back up in Australia so I knew I still had passion for it, or maybe it’s because I know I’m not that far off coming home and will be ramping it up again then. But it’s been good to keep at it all year, even if it’s just once every couple of weeks. It’s still a run, and it’s still on my mind when I’m not doing it so much. The fact that I’m still able to run a 10K after all this travel, food, drink and transient lifestyle makes me very bloody happy.

People reading this who don’t run, you probably won’t understand. People reading this who do run (and love it) hopefully will know exactly what I mean.

And it’s amazing how good everything is after a run. How it makes me feel alive and just, well, great. Makes me happy and lifts my spirits. Reminds me that there’s nothing I like better than putting my trainers on and getting out there in the fresh air. I was so perky I nearly started high-fiving the other runners I kept passing, but they all looked a bit serious for that. Just went for a big grin instead.

The air was a little cold, just how I like it. My favourite condition to run in. The kind where you can feel it in your lungs when breathing (or at least to start with). Where you have little goosebumps until you get going but you don’t overheat. Where the air is fresh and when blinking it feels a bit like its cleaning your eyeballs. When the sun’s out but it’s not too hot (although this being NZ and no ozone layer means that it’s stronger than the World’s Strongest Man).

Sometimes when I run, especially after a little while, it’s like resetting myself and the world. Suddenly everything is all right again, even if things weren’t ‘wrong’ to start with. Running is good for me. Fact.

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Runs around the world #18

Wanaka, New Zealand

Wanaka is a beautiful little place on the edge of Lake Wanaka, not far from Queenstown on the South Island. Surrounded by mountains, there’s a really nice feel here. I’ve heard it referred to as Queenstown’s laid back cousin. It’s true. It’s a lovely place to kick back and relax for a few days, do some walks and have a stroll around the town. There’s a great path around the lake so I decided to go for a little jog.

The lake is massive and it’s miles around it so I just did 2 miles out and turned round and came back. It’s flat and I didn’t want to push myself so it was fairly uninteresting as runs go, but the scenery more than makes up for it. Beautiful New Zealand mountains every way you look, including seeing them reflecting in the lake.

It was a good run, and it felt good to be back out there. Decent temperature, clear skies and no rain. Pretty perfect running conditions. Running at the moment seems less important. I’m doing lots of hikes and walks so I’m keeping active and getting out and about. I know when I get back home and in one place I’ll pick up the running again, and do it bigger, better and stronger. But until now, a few little jogs here and there will do me nicely.

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Runs around the world #17

Arrowtown, New Zealand

OK, I know it’s ages since my last Runs around the world post. The last one was about Melbourne parkrun in January. I have run since then, honest. I ran loads in Australia, up until I got to Sydney. Because that’s when I broke a rib.

Which put paid to running for a bit. Because, let’s face it, when I couldn’t even walk up stairs without being in agony and struggling to breathe, there’s no way I could do any type of running/jogging/anything more than a shuffle. Such a shame when I was in Christchurch as I was staying right next to Hagley Park which is just built for runners.

But, the pain has stopped now. It’s not healed, it won’t be for quite another few weeks yet, but running is OK. the doc said so.

So, in Arrowtown in New Zealand, one chilly morning, I pulled on my runners and headed out to see how it would feel. I planned on doing just as much as I was able but being sensible about it. I thought I’d probably manage a couple of miles at the most. As it happened, I did 5km (just over 3 miles). And oh, was it wonderful. Any runners out there will know that feeling of not running for a bit. I was getting quite twitchy and a little bit grumpy. I missed it like mad. I’d been doing a bit of walking but it’s not the same, not the same at all.

So, this run was great. I went in the morning, which, in autumnal New Zealand, is a little bit chilly. I should have worn gloves. My body warmed up after I’d been running for a bit but my hands were cold; the first time in months that I’d had that. My perfect conditions for running really though, not too hot, not too cold.

My run took me through the woods down by the Arrow River, once a gold mining haven, now a quaint little town, full of preserved buildings from the 1800’s, making the main street look like something out of a wild west film. The town is surrounded by mountains, which I could see when there were breaks in the trees. The scenery is just amazing in New Zealand, and I always have to be careful when running and walking that I keep looking at where I’m going. I don’t want any more accidents now!

I missed autumn in the UK last year as I was in South East Asia, so this is my autumn now. The leaves are changing colour and falling off the trees. It’s my most favourite season, and one of my most favourite times of the year to run, so I ended up after this 5K with a big fat smile on my face.

Running makes me happy. Fact.

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Runs around the world #16

parkrun, Melbourne, Australia

I wouldn’t normally post about two runs around the world in the same city but this one deserves a post of it’s own. This is a special post. My very first parkrun. Ever heard of parkrun? It’s a free, weekly, 5km timed run that are held around the world and are open to everyone.

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They take place in parkland surroundings and people of every ability are encouraged to take part; from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians; from juniors to those with more experience; everyone is welcome. I’d been waiting for one in Lincoln for ages (it had been in the pipeline for a while) as they are such a good idea, but by the time I left the UK in May there still wasn’t one in Lincoln (there is now though, whoop!), and I’d not been anywhere on a Saturday where one was held to try somewhere else. So, I made a promise to myself that I would do the Albert Park parkrun in Melbourne when I got here. And so I did!

So, the second Saturday after I arrived (I was busy cherry-picking the first Saturday) I set my alarm stupidly early (although Albert Park is not that far away from where I’m staying it’s a bit of a trek to get to – walk, train then tram) and headed for Albert Park, a big lake near the CBD in Melbourne, surrounded by lot of lovely green stuff. I’d already been tweeting with one of the race directors so was great to put a face to a name and have a chat before the race.

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The actual run was bloody hard work. A fast 5km after months of slow short runs was bound to be hard. And also add in the fact I’d done a 45km bike ride the day before. The lake seemed to go on forever and when I thought we were at about 3/4 of the way round I realised it was still less than half. Gah! But, I soldiered on, despite my legs pretty much screaming at me, and ran all the way round for a time of around 26 minutes. I would have been happy just to get round in under 30 mins so I was pretty chuffed with that. It’s only about 3 minutes off my 5K PB so with a little bit of work I could be back up there, although, I’m not that bothered about PB’s and times these days. I’m all about the distance.

It’s a beautiful setting for a run. All the way around the edge of Albert Park lake, passing swans, palm trees and rowing clubs, with the skyscrapers of the city in the background.

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There’s a great atmosphere; as with any running community, everyone is so very friendly and happy. On that first run there was a couple who regularly go who were getting married that day. So them, and their whole wedding party turned up to do parkrun. On their wedding day. Commitment or what. The organisers had arranged a veil, tutu, flowers and bubbles to celebrate. See? Running community = awesome.

I managed to chat to a few people, although they were mainly English – there’s a lot of us out here! It was either people just on holiday like me, or people who had emigrated. But, great to meet loads of different, interesting people. I love how running is so inclusive for everyone, and especially parkrun where you see athletes running alongside kids, running clubs alongside pushchairs and everyone in between. You’ve immediately got something in common with all those people there. It was a great experience for me to join in with something I love on the other side of the world. It really is universal.

Love it.

Runs around the world #15

Melbourne, Australia

First things first. HELLO cooler non-humid weather! Oh, how I’ve missed you. You are wonderful. Let me give you a kiss, you are that wonderful. You’re a little bit cold, but I’m not complaining. At ALL.

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Pretty much as soon as I landed in Melbourne I was raring to go out for a run. I didn’t go the first day though. I was a bit tired from all the flights and lack of sleep, plus I needed to go and buy some new clothes seeing as though the laundry place in Sihanoukville had lost half of mine. Including a pair of my running socks. Not that I’m still a little pissed off at that, oh no.

But the next day was a different matter. I woke up all excited, desperate to get my trainers on and get out there. So I did. For over 6 and a half miles. The longest I’d run in a long time. Since Hong Kong I think, which was the beginning of September. A long time ago. Whoop!

I didn’t plan to run that far. I didn’t actually plan to run any distance, I just wanted to go out and run. So I went to the end of the road and down by the creek, and just ran and explored. That’s the best way for me to run sometimes, not knowing where I’m going. Just running to see what’s round the corner, or just turning round and trying somewhere else if you find a dead end. You see all sorts by doing this. So, I got a good bit of exploring of Ivanhoe done on that first run. 

My legs didn’t like the last couple of miles, that’s for sure. I kept it nice and slow though, and I could actually breathe for once without feeling like I was breathing through a wet towel. I was pretty surprised how green it was around here and down by the creek. Loads of trees, grass and green stuff. My first taster of realising what a green city Melbourne is. There’s trees and parks and grass everywhere. Even in the city centre, most streets are lined with trees. 

I loved this run. It was great to be back somewhere it didn’t seem odd to be running. It was great to be somewhere I could run ‘easily’. It was great to be able to run somewhere where there’s clearly loads of different places to run (that aren’t on roads). I’ve got a feeling I’m going to like Melbourne for running.

I told you I’d be back on it when I got to Australia. Yes!

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Yes. Yes. Yes.

Nope, I’m not watching When Harry met Sally.

It’s how I feel right now at getting to Australia and being able to get back into doing more exercise. YES. More exercise. No doubt a lot of people might think I’m crazy but you have NO idea how much I’ve missed it. Yes I know I’m travelling and seeing all these wonderful things but I also love all the fitness shizzle, so it’s been hard to see that slide over the last few months. I’ve felt lazy and unfit, wobbly and just generally quite bleuuuuurgh. Too much beer and rubbish food, and not enough running and stuff.

But now I’m in Oz, I’m back on it with a vengeance. The weather helps. It’s much cooler here, and not humid, so it’s oh-so-pleasant to run in. There are lots of other runners here; it’s nice to run somewhere where it’s a popular pastime. I don’t feel like an oddity. I’m staying in the same place for a bit, so I’ve got time to run, to join running groups, to see what stuff is on at the local leisure centre. I’m lucky enough to be able to borrow a bike here so I can get out for bike rides. All that normal exercise stuff that can be fitted around a bit of sightseeing and mooching about.

You see, I enjoy it. Exercise that is. I don’t do it because I should, or because I have to. I don’t do it to lose weight. I do it because I enjoy it. It makes me happy. It makes me feel good. It’s a huge part of my life. It’s not something that has to get squeezed in; rather it’s something that time is made for, in place of other things. I like to feel fit. I like that post-exercise high (especially after running). I like to be pushed to go that little bit further, or faster. It’s how I spend my spare time. It’s my hobby, my passion. Especially if it’s outside. That’s my favourite.

So I am LOVING Australia for how easy it makes it for me to crack on with my hobby. I’ve been for a few runs, a bike ride and done plenty of walking already. There’s a leisure centre just round the corner from where I’m staying which I’m going to check out soon. There’s a real outdoors vibe here in Melbourne. Bike trails are everywhere. There are loads of parks and leisure centres. Lots of people always out and about. I feel like I belong here. It’s my kind of place.

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I’m mixing what I love doing with my travel experience. I’m getting to experience Melbourne as someone living here, not just someone visiting the city for a few days. And I like it. This is travelling for me.

And it’s not just Melbourne. I’ve decided I’m going to cycle round Tasmania soon. Yes, that’s right. Just me, a bike, a tent and some stuff. I don’t know how long for, or my exact route but I’m just going to hit the road and see where it takes me. A proper adventure, and one where I can mix exercise and travel even more. GET IN. You probably have no idea how happy this makes me. I have a huge silly grin on my face just typing this.

If you’d known me 10 odd years ago and told me I’d [slightly] addicted to running, and would be cycling around Tasmania on my own with a tent, I’d have laughed in your face. Hell, even 3 or 4 years ago I probably would have done that. Now? It feels perfectly normal – no laughing here, just excited anticipation. I got the bitten by the bug and now there’s no stopping. This is a lifestyle. My lifestyle.

In fact, I’ve got new fitness goals, inspired by the travelling I’ve done so far and some of the people I have met along the way. Stuff I want to start when I finish my travels. Stuff I can really commit to and throw myself into when I am in the same place for a while. New things I want to try. Being away from that routine and not always being able to do the exercise I love has really made me appreciate it. Given me new ideas and focus for the future. I don’t just want to do a few runs every week. Nope.

I want more now.

Runs around the world #14

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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I hadn’t run since Laos. I didn’t run in Vietnam, and I was there for 3 weeks. So it had been about 4 weeks since I’d last run. Various reasons for it – no ideal places to run, bad weather, flooding, too much drinking and eating, too hot. You name it, it happened. I’m gutted actually, because it’s the only country so far where I’ve not ran. I did do a small sprint down the street but I’m not sure I can count that. No, I definitely can’t.

So, I ran in Cambodia. In a place called Sihanoukville, the only real coastal resort in the country. We ended up being there for 10 days, and I ran 3 times. I got into a bit of a routine and it was lovely. I felt like I had got back to normal a bit with my running. Back in the groove. I loved it, I really did. Felt like I was back to being me.

So, I’ll write about the first run I did there. It was hard. But I was expecting that. No running for a month? Of course it was going to be hard. I think my legs thought I had given up.

It didn’t help that it was hot and humid as hell. Over 30 degrees, even at 8.30am. As I didn’t know how I’d feel, I just decided to run as far as I could, which ended up being 3 miles. I totally wasn’t expecting THAT. I reckoned two at a push. Because, I feel like I’m starting again with my running. Which I hate. But, I managed 3. Which I certainly didn’t when I first started running. So maybe all is not lost! As long as I can do 5K, I reckon I’m good to go and start upping it when I can.

I find running in humidity is hard. I might have mentioned it before. Yes, yes, like a broken record. A sticky sweaty broken record.

Imagine running with a hot wet tea towel over your mouth and breathing through that. Or in a steam room. Or when you’ve got your head over a steaming bowl of water if you have a cold. For me it just makes it harder work; I’m slower and the air I’m breathing doesn’t feel clean and fresh.

But, all that gets forgotten. Kind of. It’s there in the background, along with the burning legs muscles, but the happiness of running again took over. I got to take in the new scenery; the fields, the lake and the people as I ran past. People here didn’t really stare, or even look bemused. I didn’t feel awkward. This is a new thing. I liked it.

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The scenery was lovely. And Flat. Huzzah! But, as I’ve found with Cambodia, there’s a lot of reminders that you’re in a very poor country, and a country with a divide between rich and poor. I ran past fields and grass that could be stunning, but they were covered in litter. I ran past grand hotels next door to families living in shacks. But, that’s what’s out there to see. I’m not on holiday, staying in a complex. Running while travelling helps me see the real stuff, the Real World. Real Life. Helps me understand more about the world we all live in.

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Here, I felt I had time to run. To enjoy it. Every bit of it. A lovely early morning run in the sunshine, then a leisurely walk afterwards to stretch out my muscles and just enjoy the post run high. After that I did some more exercises and had a long shower, and a lolloping stroll down to the beach where I had a post run breakfast of a massive fresh fruit salad. 

 

I’m chuffed. I’m chuffed that I can still run for that long. I’m chuffed that I was able to get out there and do it. It was lovely to get back into a routine. I’m chuffed that the passion for running is still there. I felt alive.

I can’t wait for Australia, where I think there will be even more chance to run. Where it won’t be so humid. Where there’s races I want to take part in. Where there’s running groups and people I’ve arranged to run with. Where I want to get properly fit again.

It’s going to be EPIC.