In 2015 I signed up and completed the Transrockies Run after looking at the race for years and wondering whether I was mad to even think of trying to do something like that. What gave me the motivation to eventually click 'enter' was precisely because I wasn't sure I could complete it and so I thought I would use the scale of the challenge to raise money in memory of my friend Helen Clark who died from aplastic anaemia in 2013 after three failed bone marrow transplants. However hard this race would be, it wasn't even a drop in the ocean compared to what Helen went through and when I approached the finish line after 6 days and 120 miles through the mountains, I felt very emotional having been driven along by a determination to honour her memory.
Signing up to the 2020 Transrockies Run feels very different. Although I am five years older, I know I have completed the race before and I know where it gets hard. I also know that I probably didn't train correctly for it last time and spent too much time running slow, flat miles rather than working on strength for hiking up steep inclines. This time, my husband isn't joining me for the last few yards to the finish line, he has signed up for the whole thing! Several of the 2015 alumni are signed up again so I am going to be there with lots of friends rather than not knowing any of the other runners.
Despite all of the 'known' elements and being able to visualise the race, I still get butterflies in my stomach thinking about the excitement of standing on the start line in Buena Vista, Colorado with "Highway to Hell" playing at full volume. You have to respect this race. It is doable but it is hard and you might not make the start line or the finish line for all kinds of reasons and that element of uncertainty makes it exciting no matter how many times you sign up. It reminds me of a line from the cinematic masterpiece that is "A League of Their Own":
"If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it, it's the hard that makes it great".
I am really looking forward to the training over the next twelve months and hope to be able to share some of the journey with the inevitable ups and downs that come with preparing for something like this. I feel incredibly honoured to be one of the brand ambassadors for the 2020 Transrockies Run and so happy to spread the word and hopefully encourage others to join in what has been accurately described as "summer camp for big kids".
There are days when there is nowhere else you would rather be than outside. Those balmy summer evenings when the temperature is just perfect and you can enjoy a leisurely walk or a glass of wine sitting in the garden. A frosty morning in February is a different matter altogether. So I decided that I would write a post about my thought processes before, during and after going for a run on a February morning…
The alarm goes and bed is at peak coziness. My first thought is how I really deserve to stay in bed because life is hard and it is so nice and warm and I feel so happy right here. But, on the other hand, I think about how I promised myself I would go for a run this morning. This is where I go through the process of identifying any of what I call my PTQs…my permissions to quit. My back is a little bit stiff. That can be fixed by some pre-run yoga. It’s pretty frosty this morning. I am running on rough trails for the first half of the run so no danger of slipping and I can wear my Salomon Speedcross trainers with good grip. I try to come up with something else, anything that might justify staying in bed, but I feel good, no trace of a cold or any other illness so I get up and put on my running gear and do a few stretches to loosen my back.
At this point I try and think of a positive mantra. I tell myself that I am lucky, some day I may not be able to do this but today is not that day. Part of my brain starts to respond to that but that other part is saying ‘I would still rather be in bed, please go back and snuggle under the duvet.’ Over the years I have become very atuned to what I need to wear when running to stay at the right temperature and as I get quite hot I don’t wear too many layers to start with. That means that the first step out the door in winter is always accompanied by a gasp and probably a slight whining noise as I react to how cold it feels. I usually run without music but early morning can sometimes need help so I put in my earphones and the first song on my running playlist that plays on the shuffle setting is, appropriately enough, ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen. This makes me smile and I think, yes, I am frozen. Why do I do this?
We have had some stunning frosty sunny mornings recently but this is not one of them. It is frosty but dull and grey. I am still cold and moving pretty slowly. As I shuffle along I start to notice the frozen surface on some of the puddles and enjoy cracking the ice as I run through them. I smile for the second time this morning thinking of how childish I am. My slow pace slows further as I run along a public right of way across a ploughed field and I jump over and past the puddles feeling grateful for the frost that keeps the muddy ground slightly firmer.
This run has to be steady as I am building up my mileage again after a long time of not running consistently and I want to avoid any injuries. I enjoy not feeling any pressure to speed up. At just over a mile in, I turn down a long path through some fields and even though it looks so bleak there is something eerie and beautiful about the landscape. I try to take in the shapes and outlines of the silhouettes of the bare trees against the misty grey sky because in a few weeks the leaves should start to make an appearance again and this landscape will look very different.
After about 2.5 miles, I turn on to a road and where I will run along a footpath all the way down to the train station. Although the best bit of the run is over I am starting to feel really happy that I am outside in the fresh air. It has taken until this point for my longing to get back into bed to be outweighed by my enjoyment of being outside. Another 2 miles at a steady pace and I reach the train station feeling full of endorphins and ready to take on the day ahead.
I take time to congratulate myself on getting outside and enjoy the positive post-run feeling. I also think about how good breakfast and coffee will taste now after the fresh air and exercise. There is a saying that nothing worth having comes easy and pushing through your own reluctance to #GetOutside often makes for the highest of highs, the biggest of smiles and the most gratitude for being able to enjoy the outdoors. We beat you this time #snuggleinbed.
The TV show, The Only Way is Essex, has portrayed a caricature of Essex that obscures some of the great things about this county. For me, it was a pleasant surprise to discover the beauty of the countryside when my husband and I first decided to look for a house that was in the country but commutable to London (where we both work). As I mentioned in my first blog post, Let’s Get Ready to Ramble, I have loved exploring the public rights of way around where I live, including parts of the 81 mile, 130 km footpath called the Essex Way. However, the Essex Way is not the ‘only way’ in Essex. Every time I go out walking or running and can pass through fields and woods along marked trails and look out across the beautiful countryside I feel incredibly grateful but, being a lawyer, it made me wonder why and how I am lucky enough to have this right and who is responsible for maintaining all these routes?
According to The Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management, a public right of way “is not, strictly speaking, a path, but a right possessed by the public, to pass along linear routes over land at all times. Although the land may be owned by a private individual, the public have a legal right across that land along a specific route. The mode of transport allowed differs according to what type of public right of way it is. Public rights of way are all highways in law, but the term ‘public rights of way’ is generally used to cover more minor highways.”
Having read into it a bit more, there is quite a bit of relevant legislation that may not make for particularly exciting reading but deals with creation, maintenance and stopping up.
In Essex, according to the essexhighways.org website, there are over 6000km of public rights of way comprising footpaths, bridleways and byways and the statutory duty to maintain and protect the network of public rights of way sits with Essex County Council. I grew up in Northern Ireland which has comparatively few public rights of way (as access to land in Northern Ireland is more restricted than other parts of the UK) and so I don't think I will ever take it for granted or feel blasé about how many different routes I have to follow and explore. I feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful country where so much land is accessible and gives us so many opportunities to #GetOutside.
I have long considered writing a blog but I have always had mixed feelings about blogging and social media generally. Although I love following other people’s blogs and posts about things that interest me, I worry that if I blog or post about what I do, it will come across as bragging or just downright boring. Perhaps my concern comes from how we edit our lives for social media as most people tend to show the best things that are happening to them or one particular aspect of their lives. My assessment is not intended as a criticism of people who post on social media because I do not think it is possible to publish a ‘rounded’ view of your life.
When I was considering this topic recently, I was reminded of a statement by the eponymous hero in Virginia Woolf’s novel, Jacob’s Room, when he says: “And the Greeks, like sensible men, never bothered to finish the backs of their statues.” I remember a lecturer at university commenting on this line and explaining it as possibly having the meaning that the world only sees the façade and it is rare or sometimes impossible for anyone to look behind to see the chisel marks. Similarly, on social media we can hide the messy and the half finished elements of our lives and that is as it should be. Those parts of our lives are reserved for the closest of friends and family members or even for our own private thoughts.
In my blog, I am deliberately showing just one part of my life that is intended to be positive and uplifting in the hope of inspiring people to spend more time outside. However, there is also a 'barbsindoors' who has the same struggles and woes as everyone and my life is not just one long hike or trail run (even if it appears that way from the things I choose to post here and on my instagram account @barbs_outdoors).
The other element of having a social media presence and writing a blog that I am grappling with at the moment is making sure that I am not disrupting my time outside by taking pictures just for posting here or on instagram. Since having an iphone, I have always taken pictures when out running or walking and I enjoy looking at them when having a break at work or sitting on the train on my commute. However, those pictures have always been just for me so the angles, the filters and the composition do not matter. As I mentioned in my first post Let’s Get Ready to Ramble, walking or running outside helps clear my mind and I do not want to pollute that with worries about taking the right selfie or the best picture. There are so many talented photographers out there who post sumptuous scenery and dramatic action shots and, although I can learn something from them, I will just snap what I see and share the pictures I enjoy when discussing all things outdoors on this blog. Fortunately, today was one of those days where I could point my iphone anywhere and the blue sky and winter sun made the scenery look stunning.
I am not a huge fan of celebrating new year’s eve and am usually tucked up in bed well before it is time to link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne. However, I love getting up on new year’s day and going for a run. It always feels as if you have somehow wiped the slate clean and the next twelve months are full of possibilities and potential. I usually have a few events lined up to help motivate me to get outside and run but this year my mum, my sister and I are going to try and complete the 1000 mile challenge.
We don’t really have any strict rules but we are aiming to discount the random steps. The idea is that the miles we log are intentional walks or runs outside rather than walking around the house or the office. It will work out at just over 19 miles per week or just under 3 miles per day. My mum lives in Northern Ireland, I live in East Anglia and my sister lives in Brighton so we are not able to walk together daily but we can motivate each other by keeping track of the others' progress and going for walks when we do meet up.
This is a different kind of challenge for me and I think I will find it harder than cramming in a few weeks of training before an event. Finding time to log a few miles each day in London near my office will be better than trying to cover 19 miles every weekend so it will hopefully make me get out of the office more than usual at lunch time.
Although I really enjoy the outdoors, having a goal really helps on those winter days when sitting in front of the fire with a book is more appealing than going out for a run.
Unfortunately, even though I usually love new year’s day runs, today was one of those days when I was feeling a little bit under the weather and more inclined to sit by the fire than wrap up and go for a run. It was the thought of getting in a few extra miles on the 1000 mile challenge that got me out the door today. I felt really sluggish and it was a fairly dull and uninspiring day but I kept going to hit my target of 5 miles. So that is 5 miles down, 995 miles to go and I am looking forward to wherever the trails may take me in 2018.
For my first ever blog post for barbsoutdoors, I thought I would try to explore where my love of getting outside and rambling around came from. I think I can trace it back to around the time this photograph was taken of me and my Dad in the field behind our house in Northern Ireland where I grew up.
This was what my parents called 'going over the fields' and I can remember the thrill of being lifted through the hedge at the bottom of the garden to start the adventure. I think it was the excitement of exploring something that was so close but so unfamiliar that sparked my love of getting outside and breaking away from the known and the normal.
Today I am very fortunate to live in East Anglia near a vast network of public rights of way. I have lived here for over two years and have not even scratched the surface of all the paths within a 10 mile radius (including the Essex Way, the St Edmund Way and the Stour Valley Path). However, using the OS explorer app I enjoy discovering new routes near my house for running and walking. Each time I tie up my shoelaces and trot out through the gate, I feel that same excitement and sense of breaking away from the norm as my three year old self.
I find that exploring new paths near familiar areas provides a new perspective on where I live but it also seems to give a new perspective on whatever problems I am currently grappling with whether in work or in my personal life. By the time I potter back through the gate after my run or walk, my mood is lifted and I can usually see a way through whatever has been troubling me. The mental health benefits of walking, running (or just being outside) are something that I feel strongly about and hope to consider more in future blog posts.
A winter view from the Essex Way