Qualifying for Boston

Running Boston often appears on many marathon runners radars, it had appeared on mine. I did however think a qualifier was a long way off, perhaps 5 years down the line. That was until I had breakfast with a friend of mine.

We were chatting about marathons and I flippantly said yeah cant run Boston this year as its the same day as Manchester. “No it isn’t Simon, its the day after”. Wait so if I ran Manchester quick enough I could get on a plane and run Boston? Then jump on another plane and run London?

After realising it was possible there was only one thing left to do, find a qualifier. It turned out there was one, and only one qualifier left in the UK. Therefore, I had one shot, the only snag, I hadn’t trained since returning injured from the USA.

I turned up to Birchington-on-sea barely fit enough to run a half and had to run a Boston qualifier. It turned out to be one of the toughest races in recent memory. The course itself was a simple out and back repeat, with an aid station back at the start. The first half went reasonably well, then my lack of training shone through, my body just wasnt conditioned to run a marathon, it had been two months of little training while I healed.

My stomach shut down shortly after the half way point, my legs turned into rocks and my guide runner had begun to “motivate” me in his own particular fashion. After a few difficult moments and the very real thought of backing out of the race, it was time to just dig deep. I somehow inched across the line with 2 minutes and change to spare to qualify for Boston. The race had been hell 13 miles of constant struggle. It taught me a valuable lesson, never take distance running lightly, turn up trained or just dont turn up at all.

Thankfully, I did eek out that time, partly due to the “motivation” from my guide and partly because we had travelled way too far to qualify for Boston and I just couldn’t fail.

But now the adventure is on, running 3 major marathons in 7 days!

An international half

Over the past few months I have been training primarily with a friend, she is relatively new to running and is yet to compete heavily. So when the topic of her running her first half marathon came up I thought it might be fun to run it in the snow. That idea was quickly quashed as it turns out it is incredibly expensive to run a snow race – who knew!

A little searching around and we found another half in Terassa, a town an hours train journey from Barcelona. Neither of us could speak spanish but thanks to Google translate and a spanish speaking friend we managed to enter the race. A quick check of the race entrants we noticed we were the only brits, time to represent our country!

It wouldn’t just be a case of turning up and running, we first needed to collect our race numbers and timing chips from Terrassa the day before the race. After 8 modes of transport we finally arrived to collect our numbers and timing chips. This is the first time we noticed there may be a slight language barrier, while a high proportion of people in Barcelona can speak spanish, heading to the smaller towns reduces this considerably. To the point no one at the number collection spoke english, we managed to collect our number, chip, sack and present, we did however, lack any pins to attach our numbers.A prepared runner may have brought their own safety pins, but neither Rachel or I were particulary prepared.

After eating our tea consisting of a chocolate pastry on a bench, unable to find milk in a supermarket ?!?! and somehow even failing to order a meal at McDonald’s, we figured it was time to call it a night.

Waking early we headed to the train station, it was closed… Google maps to the rescue! There was another train station a short walk down the road. As we headed down the stairs we heard the warning beep for doors closing, “*giggling* you don’t think thats our train do you Rachel?”. As we stepped onto the platform our train did indeed pull out of the station. No need to panic though, another train will be along in 20 minutes, it may now be close to make it in time, but we will make it! So we sat down attached our timing chips and ate Jelly Babies as we waited for the train.

Sat on the train we giggled about what a fun story this would make – we only just made it to the race! It would be a great tale to tell. We arrived at the train station, booted up Google maps and we were on our way to the start. We arrived with 15 minutes to spare! We had a quick scoot around the staging area and decided we had time to head to the toilet and grab some pins for our numbers.

There was one portaloo, one toilet, one toilet for thousands of runners. Therefore, the queue ate into our time but it was ok, we were not starting first we would be fine! We hunted around for someone who spoke english and we found a little old lady managing the information stand. We told her we needed pins for our numbers and she gladly obliged. We stood around chatting for a while and heard the starting pistol for the first wave of people. We politely left, but only after persuading her to save all our things while we ran, and headed to the start. We gated with the other runners and set about making sure all our kit was ready to race. It was only then that Rachel noticed everyone elses numbers were a different colour, “you dont suppose this is the 5k race do you?”, “Nah, it cant be!”, “Or is it?”, “Yeah it is, this is the wrong race!”.

Hunting around for someone who spoke english we couldn’t find anyone, convinced marathon was the same in spanish we kept asking anyone in an ear shot where the start of the half marathon was. We quickly realised we were at the start line, we had just missed the start!

Rachel hurridly asked people if we were still allowed to start, we were! So we stood there, with no other runners and crowds of people no doubt staring at us. We began to run and realised we had no idea what the route actually was. We had intended just to follow everyone else. There were a number of road closures but more roads than simply the route had been closed, so we decided the only thing we could do was run fast in the hopes of finding other runners. So with no idea where to go we just started running faster and faster. After asking a few people in high vis where to go we found the sweeper bus. This made us smug with confidence, we were on the right route! We hurriedly sped by as people hung out of the van laughing at the people who missed the start.

We ran off into the distance past roundabouts and barriers, then Rachel noticed we were heading back to the start. The barrier had been moved to account for the 5k race! We had to double back and attempt to find the route. We decided the solution was once again to run even faster, afterall we would surely find someone soon!

After a few minutes we did find someone, the sweeper bus. Yet again shamed by the people on the bus we quickly overtook and headed down the road. This time however, we found another runner. In our heads we celebrated but didn’t want to particularly gloat that we were overtaking a 90 year old man that the crowd who had gathered on the corner were cheering. We continued to run at pace and find more and more people. We quickly decided to settle in to a pace and get on with the race.

Everything was going well until around mile 11 and I began to cramp. This was new to me, in all the races I have run I have never cramped. It hit our pace and we had to slow, we continued to eek out the distance as Rachel – a relatively new runner was putting me to shame. We were approaching the finish! But as as is common in these races it was a false finish, you first had to pass the finish line just to taunt you, then run a further 2k out and back.

A few hundred metres from the finish my leg began to spasm, surely it would hold out to the finish? Thankfully, it did and we crossed the finish line. We had no idea of our time, as I had started RunKeeper a little early, while we gated for the wrong race, but the race clock showed 2h20m. We knew we had definitely beaten that as we were still busy chatting in the race village as the clock started.

After crashing hard after the race, thanks to the last time we ate being 8 hours earlier, we headed back to Barcelona. We celebrated Rachel’s first ever half with a 3 euro bottle of fizzy and handfuls of Pringles. What a race! I wonder when we will find out our result.

The next day we did, 2h20m. It turned out they had turned off the timing gate at the start in preparation for the next race, so our chips never triggered a start, only a finish!

But the race served as a great example of my philosophy around running, its never about the time, its about the experience. We will never forget the moment of panic as we started the race alone, with no idea of the route, or the elation of finding the sweeper bus, for the first and second time. But we would of forgot the time. It’s a number and not a number that affects my experience.

Dream to Reality

A few years ago I began to think of a few adventures I would love to embark on. I came up with three: The Pilgrimage, The Return and The Dream. Late last month I was fortunate enough for The Pilgramage to become a reality.

The basic premise of The Pilgrimage was to pay homage to RunKeeper and visit a city close to my heart – NYC. The dream was to run from the HQ of RunKeeper in Boston, to NYC then compete in the NYC marathon. The idea to visit the RunKeeper HQ was to thank them for where I am today. Their app enabled me to believe running solo was possible, the reason NYC? I spent a bit of time there, while I could still see. Therefore, the city remains close to my heart.

The adventure was made possible by a few select companies, namely Twitter, PayPal and AirBnB, Little did I know that partnering with AirBnB would elevate the adventure so greatly.

I have decided to break the details of the adventure up into a little series of moments, rather than detailing the adventure chronologically, I will highlight the memories that were forged and hopefully paint a picture of how I will remember the adventure.

It is worth noting at this point how great all the companies, hosts and especially my crew were in making this a reality. Even now 2 weeks after my return the experiences are difficult to comprehend. It became more than a run, and far more than the pilgrimage I had intended it to be.

Guide running

For first time guide runners the thought of guiding someone who cannot see can be scary. Essentially guide running is not difficult, you just have to do what you would normally do while running, be aware of your surroundings. The only difference is you have to account for being at least as wide as yourself and the person you are guiding.

This means any obstacles you would normally avoid, be it a post, tree branch, another runner, all need to be avoided, by taking into account your fellow runner. Of note, is that your fellow runner may be slightly taller than you, so watch out for branches that you may normally avoid!

The other key element is communication, note when you are going to move to avoid an obstacles, and highlight serious dips or raises in the running path. Kerbs and tree roots have to be avoided, this is something that is best worked out ahead of time. For example, do you count down 3, 2, 1, dip, or just say dip! I have found in the past for myself, my guide saying “next step” is enough to forewarn me of a drop in a kerb or a tree root.

Tethering – this also comes down to personal preference. Some visually impaired runners may prefer to be tethered to their guide. This can be by a physical tether that both runners may hold, such as a shoe lace, or simply the visually impaired runner touching the guides elbow. Personally, I rarely tether, instead I can quite accurately track my guide by just running along side, when things become difficult I do reach out and touch my guides elbow.

The overall key is two way communication, the visually impaired runner has to tell you what they personally need to guide, and the guide, needs to give feedback about the surroundings. It is quite simple being a guide, and good communication can make is seem like you are just out running with a friend. People who run with me often forget they are guiding, as after a while it can become quite natural.

Below are a few questions from a guide runner, to give a sense of some common worries.

What if we fail to communicate and you are injured?

Injuries and mistakes happen. As a sighted runner stumbling or bumping into things happens. So as a visually impaired runner I am comfortable with the fact that now and again something will go wrong. This is perfectly fine, its just part of running! If it is a total collapse of communication that causes the problem, this is perhaps a time to have a quick chat on how communication could be improved to reduce mistakes in the future. This has happened to me with a few guides, and it was just a case of working out simpler and faster ways to communicate.

How much do we communicate

Very little, I just need to know which way to move to avoid something and if there is an obstacle underfoot, or the path narrows so I may need to drop behind. Simple and effective is key!

Is there such a thing as too much communication

Yes, I do not need to know all the details of my surroundings, for example, that I am passing a house with a red door, or what type of asphalt I am running on. However, if the guiding instructions are effective, there will be plenty of time to have a pleasant chat, like you would with any other runner. I generally end up having standard chit chat while running with guides, as that is what a sighted runner does, when running with friends.

How do i know if you are happy with my guiding

If you are turning up and helping me I will be happy with your guiding! Beyond that point it is about communication, if I feel I needed more assistance at a particular point, then I have to communicate that. If you are not providing enough information or too little, again it is up to me to tell you.

Outside

After borrowing a GoPro camera from a friend and a suitable harness from another, I headed out today to film my classic running route. I was filming the route to add some additional content to an interview I gave a few weeks ago. It was an interesting run as it saw the return to running outside.

Since the birth of my second son I haven’t ran outside, this is mainly due to time constraints. In order to run outside my wife has to drop me off. With another child in the house this was proving difficult, so I had decided to conduct most of my running indoors. The result being a little over 7 months since I ran my traditional route. So there was a nagging question in my mind, could I still run the route? Had it changed? How many things would I run into? – The answers, yes, yes and none.

In order to demonstrate the first time I stepped out onto the dual carriageway I began my run at the closed road. This seemed incredibly apt, for a return to running outdoors. I would begin at the very same spot it did a few years ago. The closed road is simple, you just have to keep one foot on the line and run. It is far easier to only keep your outside foot on the line, this is because if you run central to the lines its difficult to read both feet on opposite lines. Often you can become confused and drift far more than you do with one line to follow. So I quickly breezed up and down the road and returned to the dual carriageway.

I stood on the edge of the curb, paused, then stepped down onto the line and followed the much trodden path. With yellow lines the majority of the distance, it was again easy to follow. My running of the line changes slightly for this section however. As the road is cambered heavily it is easier and safer to run the inside of the line, unlike the usual outside of the lines. It is very easy to follow and much safer as it means you are tighter into the curb, therefore further away from the cars!

The tricky bit arrives when the road meets the path, a quick transition to the path means I have to identify the camber and move towards the curb. This particular section can be tricky as the cambers are not amazingly obvious and there are a few posts. This is the bit I always found hard as both sides of the path are littered with obstacles, traffic lights, junction boxes and fences. The next section involves a slight incline and then some of the more interesting obstacles. If I follow a white line perfectly, I miss about 5 road signs. Go slightly wrong and I hit about 5 road signs. It seemed a little tricky to identify the line underfoot, mainly because its been a while! Luckily I found it and avoided all the signs. Once again its relatively simple – hug the curb for around half a mile. A sharp turn to the left results in a nice straight 0.7 mile section.

The straights can often be where it goes wrong, as there is a tendency to drift. Thankfully this section is flanked by grass on one side and bushes/trees on the other. Well at least there used to be trees! They seem to have disappeared! So in future I must be careful to stick to the grass side and avoid the dreaded drift! I made it back to the car with no bumps or bruises, so an incredibly successful return.

It was great to be back outside, I had forgotten how different it feels to be alone and outside. It takes a great deal of confidence just to keep moving forward. The mindset that there are no obstacles, nothing has changed since last time is difficult to maintain. But perhaps that difficult arrises from it being a while since it was common place. With more practice will come the confidence that running alone is easy. It will only take a couple of weeks!

Hardmoors Osmotherly Half Trail Race Report

When I first entertained the thought of running at the ultra distance, I told myself I would only ever run on the road. There is one problem with this however, as not many ultras are run on the road – they are predominantly trail-based events. I avoided the idea of running on trails for as long as I could. But the longer you dream of ultras the idea of running trails comes to the forefront. I decided to bite the bullet and enter a trail race, the SDW50 – a 50 mile run across the South Downs Way.

So I could get used to running trails I decided to enter a half trail marathon – the Osmotherly half trail marathon. After speaking to the race director he assured me the trail could be easily run by a blind runner. Encouraged by this, I linked up with a guide runner from down south and we had arranged to run this race together. I have never run a true trail event, and Braddan had never acted as a guide runner, so this was going to be a true challenge for both of us.

Stood on the start line we were looking forward to the race ahead. We had decided to start right at the back, so we could get used to the guiding without hindering other runners. The race started off on a relatively easy road section, with the only issue being a little ice here and there. We quickly entered the true trail sections and we were instantly hit by the difficulty of the terrain. It was a deeply rutted split track, meaning there were 2 dipped tracks with a raised section in between. Neither track was wide enough for 2 runners, which meant I had to drop in behind. This gave Braddan the difficult job of shouting out possible obstacles I may encounter. We were quickly brought down to a walk for 2 reasons; i) I suck at hills, and ii) the terrain was becoming difficult to describe simply. It didn’t take long, however, until the terrain levelled out and we returned to Braddon giving short instructions of what to expect.

Running through deep puddles and even deeper mud puddles we were beginning to have fun. While the terrain was difficult it remained entertaining and we laughed and joked as we ran along. With pieces of the track narrowing I had to attempt to be as precise as possible while trailing Braddan. This proved too difficult a little way down the trail and my left foot slipped and I began to fall. With cat like balance and dexterity I remained upright, and triumphant in my gymnastic-level balance we plodded on. We arrived at a truly difficult section – a section I remember being warned of.

As a blind runner, in my mind’s eye it felt like we were descending down a trail version of a pyramid. I remain convinced an excavation of the trail would reveal a lost egyptian temple. This section was incredibly difficult and I noted to Braddan that my leg was beginning to hurt, my cat like balance from earlier had come at the price of a little twinge. We plodded on and even managed to get into a little flow of running. The trail weaved in and out of woods, fields and a little road. After a particularly tricky downhill section in the woods we found ourselves in a field. Braddan says it was a field – I believe it was an ice rink. The “mud” as Braddan called it was like sheet ice. I constantly slipped and slid around the rink and we finally reached the bottom. At the bottom Braddan gave me a choice – run through a river or take the bridge. This seemed like a no brainer. Let’s take the bridge!

With my first step onto the bridge I nearly fell, saved only by Braddan managing to give me an arm before I fell. We quickly decided running through the river was the better choice. We continued running and made reasonable progress until another uphill section through the woods. As we went through a gate we found another pyramid. This time we would have to ascend it – walking up a pyramid is just as hard as coming down one! After a while we made it to the top, only to discover it was the start of a big climb. The hill was far too difficult for a novice trail runner and a novice guide, so we decided to walk. Around this point all the quick runners began to pass us by. Somehow we had been reasonably close to everyone as the turnaround point was around 1 mile away. We believed everyone must have gotten lost and that is why we had made such a reasonable time. After a lot of plodding and becoming the last 2 runners in the race we reached the turnaround point. So now we had to do a lot of it again!

Running down the hill we got into a really good flow, we had shortened the guiding communication down and we were running/walking smoothly across the top of the hills. We were quickly brought down to earth by the descent and Braddan fell over. Now I saw he fell over – I might of pushed him a little, I assumed he had cat balance! Arriving atop the pyramid, we now had to descend it – this is where it all fell apart. My twinge had now turned into outright pain. I was struggling to put any weight on my leg and from this point we had another 5-6 miles. Determined, I wanted to move on.

Our speed had reduced to a crawl, I was struggling to bend my left leg. I was beginning to hoddle when a marshall arrived, “are you injured?” Me? No, of course not! However, this lie couldn’t be held up for long, as the marshall said they would come along with us to the finish line. It only took a couple of hundred metres before I had to admit to being in quite substantial pain. I had assured her I wanted to continue and she seemed happy to let me push as far as I wanted to. While attempting to numb the pain with a little fast walking we had become lost, as it appeared had a whole bunch of other runners. After realising our mistake we doubled back – a little disheartening to discover you have gone the wrong way when injured, but this was made a little easier by the fact that so had everyone else!

Arriving back at the ice rink was my first real challenge. I was unable to bend my leg while ascending or descending and the rink was on a slope. So only able to bend my right leg I hobbled to the top. Arriving at the top of the rink there was a nice undulating section through the woods. A great chance to push the walking pace and numb my leg. This proved a great idea and we began to make decent time. I was quickly brought back down to my one legged shuffle when we arrived at a series of steps. Unable to manage the pain effectively I had to continually rest. However, this simply made the problem worse, for every time I stopped the pain would just increase when I started again. I told Braddan and the marshall not to let me stop again, no matter how much I complained about the pain. After 4 steps I said we have to stop it’s too painful. Sticking to their guns they didn’t allow me to stop, and I made it to the top after a few minutes.

This gave me a further opportunity to numb my leg – with an undulating surface I could pick up the pace and stop my leg from hurting. Worried I wouldn’t make the cut off I began asking the time constantly. The marshall assured me I would be allowed to finish even if I missed the cut off. I put on a brave face as I entered the checkpoint and made it through – I grabbed a handful of Jelly Babies with the idea I would reward myself every so often to keep me going. It was a slightly different route to the finish and this involved an enormous climb. I could only return to my one legged shuffle, and so it was taking me a long time to ascend this short section. The pain was now obvious on my face as other runners began to comment. I say my face, but it may have been the fact I was shouting out in pain. A very kind runner stopped and offered me his hiking poles to help with the ascent. I gratefully accepted them and continued my shuffle. By this time the pain was at the point of unmanageable, but I still had a few miles to go. I had already told myself I would finish, I just now had to continue to push. Reaching the top I rewarded myself with a Jelly Baby. The route continued to undulate and I had brief moments where I could numb my leg intersected with deep mud holes that brought the pain back. I continued to motivate myself with a Jelly Baby here and there.

After a short while another runner passed by and asked if I wanted some pain relief. I replied with “give me everything you have!”. Thankfully he was a nurse so gave me the appropriate dosage rather than me popping numerous tablets. I swallowed the pills with a Jelly Baby chaser and continued on. The route continued to be difficult for me with me stumbling over rocks and becoming stuck in the muddied track. I kept asking if we were close, I was assured we were, so I plodded on. We arrived at a field which the marshall proclaimed – “Oh, I forgot about this bit!”. Perhaps we weren’t that close after all. Leaving the muddy field I ate another Jelly Baby, but I was now getting low, I had to ration from this point on. I could feel the surface underfoot beginning to harden, I knew we couldn’t be too far from the village and the finish.

After a short while we turned a corner onto a road. This meant the finish was close by, I ate my penultimate Jelly Baby and decided to keep my last one for crossing the finish. Dodging a few cars and weaving in and out of the road and pavement we arrived at the finish line. I limped over the line, ate my final Jelly Baby and picked up my medal. It was only then I realised just how slow I had been moving, for the last few miles I had been averaging just over 1mph. My straight legged shuffle had been a long fought out slog to the finish. I was happy just to get to the end and importantly learnt some valuable lessons along the way.

The margin of error running the road can be measured in metres, the margin of error in the trail is measured in centimetres. One misaligned foot fall had caused me to stumble down a gradient and hampered my ability to compete. It taught me that if I am to conquer trail running as a blind runner I really need to tighten up how I run the trail. I think the only way I can achieve this is with a dedicated trail guide runner. That would give us an opportunity to develop a guiding relationship where the communication can be distilled to a couple of words and we both know exactly what that means in terms of me avoiding obstacles, While I spend the next week or so healing I am going to take the opportunity to realign my trail goals for the next year, with the aim to develop my ability on such terrain before entering the ultra trail distance.

I would like to say a massive thank you to Braddan for guiding me along the way and Kerry (the marshall) for letting me finish despite the limp. I would also like to thank the anonymous runners that stopped to help with equipment and pain relief.

Want to buy a book? Buy this one!

Visiting the Buxton Adventure Film Festival last month I was inspired by one of the speakers: Rosie Swale Pope. Her story of running around the world was incredible, her delivery and energy was invigorating and I left believing I could achieve anything!

So when I returned home I decided to buy her book on Kindle. I did intend on buying a copy at the actual event but did wonder what I would do with a physical copy. I had decided to avoid reading the book until I had finished Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman. Something that was important to my extended essay for my degree. But procrastination got the better of me and I decided to start reading it during my Starbuck visits. This also coincided with my attempt to reach gold status at Starbucks so I read the book quite quickly!

The book is titled A Little Run Around The World. The book is simply breathtaking. It took Rosie 5 years to run around the world and the book tells a wonderful story of the people and animals she met along the way. It would have been so easy to be drawn into writing a book about the stats of running such an epic distance of over 20,000 miles. But it is far from that, its a story driven by experience of people and the countries she visits.

As I read the book there was a constant wow factor. I couldn’t believe one person could endure so much under difficult conditions. As part of her journey she spent an extraordinary amount of time in Syberia camping out in conditions of -60. I simply cannot imagine being that cold, I wuss out if the temperature is approaching 0! I cant imagine being that far down in the negative.

I regaled my wife relentlessly for weeks while reading the book, all Sian would hear is — Oh this reminds me of a story from Rosie’s book, when she….. I just wanted to constantly tell people about the book. I think I managed to wrangle it into every conversation I had for weeks. I was even tempted to buy a paper copy and leave it in Starbucks for someone to find, read and enjoy.

I really don’t want to spoil the book for anyone and feel if I tried to relay any of Rosie’s stories I simply would not do them justice. If you want to read a book that inspires and tells a wonderful human story of running around the world I implore you to buy it. You don’t even have to be into running, its just a great story of one woman’s journey. A journey that was undertaken at the age of 57, took 5 years and covered the largest land mass possible.

If you are looking for a stocking filler for anyone this year go and buy the book!

A great day out!

I arrived at the Buxton Adventure Film Festival shortly before Heather Dawe was due to speak. I snook into the theatre a little early (its amazing where a guide dog can get you!) and found a seat. I sat down a few seats away from Jez Bragg and was introduced to him.

Jez was at the event talking about his 3,054km run of the Te Araroa trail covering the entirety of New Zealand including multiple water crossings. After a quick chat and swapping our list of events for the following year it was time for the first talk.

Heather Dawe was talking about her amazing running and cycling career. She has achieved some wonderful things and returned from adversity after suffering what sounded like a terrible accident while riding her bike. A car hit her at 50mph and she was thrown over the car. Her talk was captivating and covered everything from running to painting! After the talk there was a little Q&A.

At the end of the Q&A the organizers of the film festival mentioned I was in the audience and asked if I would give an impromptu talk on how I got into running. So with Ascot in hand I struggled to get on the stage as Ascot was doing his usual jumping around trying to play with everyone. I gave a quick overview of how I started running and why I was attracted to ultra running. It seemed to go down well and I think I did reasonably well considering I had no idea I would end up on stage.

After that was a brilliant little film about the Dragons Back. Thankfully the film was filled with enough dialogue so I could tell what was going on. The few details I did need to know where filled in by Julie who was sat next to me. Its a great film and if you get the chance well worth a watch. It certainly seems like an incredibly gruelling race, it would certainly be an incredibly challenge for anyone to guide me on that course!

Following that film was Jez Bragg’s talk. Its always great hearing little details of peoples adventures and Jez’s was certainly a massive adventure. The water crossings added a great element to an endurance run and maybe came as a great break from the constant running for Jez. It was also interesting to hear that even the elite atheletes end up crying while out running! Its not just us mere mortals that end up breaking down after the body has taken a beating. What really struck me about Jez’s talk was all the mud and the tree roots. When I run I have no idea what my feet are going to land on, I just have to trust that it wont be anything too bad. There is no way I could run a trail like that, well I could but it would probably take me a year rather than the 53 days it took Jez!

It did sound like a wonderful adventure and I really liked the idea of the water crossings. I would love to have a crack at an endurance event that involved a little more than running.

Jez’s talk was followed by two short films,the first “The Journey”

Paul Pritchard became disabled in 1998 during a climbing accident on a sea stack in Tasmania when a TV-sized boulder falling from 25 meters inflicted such terrible head injuries that doctors thought he might never walk or even speak again.
He is still making a remarkable recovery and longed to return to the Himalayan mountain range.  The hemiplegia which has robbed his right side of movement and played tricks with his speech and memory meant pedalling a specially built recumbent trike was the only way he could return to the mountains he loves and make the pilgrimage to Mount Everest.

The film was very humorous and the dialogue was enough to follow the story. Simon filled in a few od the details for me this time, such as the scenery and terrain.

The second film was “The road from Karakol”

In the summer of 2011, alpinist  Kyle Dempster  set out across Kyrgyzstan’s back roads on his bike. His goal – ride across the country via old Soviet roads while climbing as many of the region’s impressive peaks as possible. He was alone. He carried only a minimalist’s ration of climbing gear.  Ten Kyrgyz words rounded out his vocabulary. Part meditation on true spirit of adventure and part epic travelogue, The Road from Karakol is the story of a unique spirit who pedaled to the road’s end and decided to keep going

However the film was more about the adventure he seemed to have along the way discovering the abandoned ruins of a post soviet union. This film told a great story overall and explored the fear of the adventurer and highlighted how overcoming fears seemed to lead to a greater adventure.

The final talk was by Rosie Swale Pope. As earlier we had snook into the theatre a little early so Rosie was still setting up. She had decided to hide on stage inside a tent – so after everyone had filled the room she could just appear on stage. I had heard a little about Rosie on the way to the event. After a few brief conversations I had found out at the age of 60 she had decided to run around the world, making her the first person ever to achieve this unsupported. I was amazed, it seemed an adventure like that would be something a crazed 20 year old would undertake, but someone old enough to be a grandma? It seemed incredible.

Her talk simply did not disappoint. Hearing Rosie talk is energizing and its easy to see why she delivers motivational talks all over the world. Her tales of not only the run but her life are simply amazing, if there is ever an opportunity to hear her talk it should certainly be jumped upon!

Thankfully her book is available on Kindle so I grabbed that today. As soon as I have read the mountain of books for my extended essay and disseration I will get right on it!

Overall the event was fantastic, I got to hear some amazing people talk about their wonderful adventures. I came away inspired and with little tidbits of information that I will introduce into my own training. It was also great to hear that Jez ate junk and rice pudding on his Te Araroa trail run as that is pretty much what I survive on! (So I cant be doing it that wrong). The amount of incline everyone at the event seemed to have covered during events was another take home for me. Being very limited to running my one route inclines are things of nightmares. But I am determined to at least do a gair few thousand feet a week albeit on the treadmill. Rosie had some great tips on socks and something I will bare in mind if I ever do a multi day ultra.

So the event achieved exactly what I hoped it would, inspire me to reach further and train harder. I would highgly recommend people attend next year, I know I will be trying my hardest to!

It keeps on changing

I often get asked how I mentally prepare myself to run my outdoor route.  I always answer with the same thing “I just assume the route stays constant and their won’t be any obstacles”.  However that assertion doesn’t reflect reality.  The route has been different recently due to two variable speed and the time of year.

I rarely enter races to obtain a specific time, I am usually happy to finish.  So running quick is not something I usually concentrate on.  But there is a local 5k in my hometown that I decided I would run.   But not just run, run in a competitive time [competitive for me anyway].  So I have been doing some shorted runs outdoors at an increased pace.  This has made navigating a lot harder.  I don’t get a very good read underfoot at speed, so I struggle to correctly locate myself on the pavement, it also means obstacles appear much quicker than they usually do.  An obstacle that usually takes 1 minute to reach now takes a lot less than that.  So Ihave to be a lot more vigilant and try and read the pavement quicker.  Because I don’t have much practice at this it has led to me running into a few things.

Running into to random objects has also been worsened by the time of year.  Everything from the trees to the bushes has grown enormously over the past coupled of months.  This has introduced lots of new obstacles on the route.  The problem is it keeps changing so quickly I cannot learn where all the new branches are!

This led to a very frustrating run at the weekend where I was remembering where a new branch was moving slightly to the other side of the pavement and running into another obstacle I didn’t know was there!  I ran into more things this past weekend than I have in months of training.  Everything is just becoming so overgrown.

This has happened before and I took matters into my own hands.  I went down with some garden shears and cut down all the branches and the large bushes.  I think I may have to do that again this year in order to to run hazard free!

Filming for Carphone Warehouse

Around november last year a researcher got in touch with me to talk about how I use my smartphone. It turned out there were looking for individuals to feature in micro documentary commercials for Carphone Warehouse. Because I rarely say no to an opportunity I agreed to do it. Rather strangely in the same week another reseracher also got in touch asking if I would be interesed in a commercial for SKINS.

After a couple months of speaking to SKINS it fell through. I am still not to sure why, I don’t know if the campaign was cancelled or they went with someone else. However as the SKINS commercial fell through Carphone Warehouse got back in touch. I was still very interested in doing the commercial as my smartphone really has enabled me to do great things. In total it took around 6 months from initial talks to actual filming.

So where do these opportunities come from?

It all began with a single blog post. I began talking about what I do with smartphones and running. For the past couple of years I have continued to talk about my loss of vision, technology, running and my general life. This has meant I am ranked quite high on google for a lot of search terms. So when researchers are given a task to find an individual that meets a certain criteria I am ranked quite highly. This has the effect of me being featured on news sites and other blogs. In turn increasing the ranking on google and other serach engines. So essentially it just boils down to me talking about what I do and saying yes to every opportunity that comes along.

Filming

In order to make the commercial have a nicer “look” it was decided to shoot at multiple locations. So instead of focussing on the route I use near my house we travelled around the local area and a little beyond to feature more locations.

Day 1

The shoot began at my house in Doncaster. We had previously chatted about what apps I use on my phone to allow me to achieve daily tasks. The idea was to feature these apps in use at home. Using ColorID and the weather app we shot a few scenes of me identifying the colour of my clothes and accessing the weather forecast. While this may only take up a few seconds in the commercial this took around 4 hours.

Before heading out to film some running shots we popped into the local village for a quick bite to eat. I still had the Galaxy S4 in my running short pocket. To stop it slipping out and breaking on the floor I placed it on the table. This turned out to be a bad idea as a crew member spilt a cup of tea on the phone. So now our pre release phone had a dodgy speaker. The speaker is essential to my use of a phone, but thanks to the powers of post production all the audio could now be added later!

We then headed out to the familiar stomping ground of where I learnt to run: the closed road. We shot a number of scenes here including a time lapse of me running up and down. The idea was to show the transition of me going from the closed road to learning to run on the open road. This however presented a health and safety problem. Despite the fact I do it all the time we were not allowed to film this scene, just incase I was hit by a car.

So instead the plan was to wait for the road to be clear and use a crew vehicle to simulate traffic. This wasn’t as easy as it might sound. As the road I run on is a dual carriageway, so it was a long wait until the road was clear enough to shoot. Then finally an opportunity! so I ran down the road, the crew car passed me by and we had the shot. Except we didn’t, the crew were visible in the background. So again we waited for a break in the traffic, it took 3-4 takes to finally get the shot. That concluded the shooting for the day and the shooting in Doncaster.

Day 2

Today included shooting at the university library and Western Park (the park I walk through to get to the Psychology department). I arrived at the library in the morning and waited for the crew. No one turned up. I rang the producer and asked where everybody was, “we are at the library”, really? Whereabouts?, “just outside”, I am just outside can you see me?, “No?”. This went on for a while. We were at different libraries!

After we all ended up at the same library, the idea was to shoot the interview portion of the commercial that would provide all the audio. This took a couple of hours of sitting around and asking questions. Then we did a few walking shots in the park demonstrating me using accessibility features of the phone.

Time for lunch and a change of venue. We dropped Ascot off back at home and headed up to Whitby and the surrounding villages. We began by doing a quick shot of me running down a bridal path with a guide runner. This didn’t take too long and we moved on pretty quickly.

Heading to the beach we planned to do a few shots on the sand and also show how I get down stairs using touch. This was a great chance to run on the beach. I was running up and down the beach solo as there isn’t much to run into. I didn’t realise how energy sapping running on loose sand can be. It really sucks your feet in and depletes energy quite quickly. We spent an hour doing various bits on the beach then called it a day.

Day 3

Day 3 was the real fun day of filming. This was the day we were using the helicam. The helicam was an octocopter with a HD camera attached. We headed to the Yorkshire Dales and closed a road for me to run on. I spent a short while learning to run up and down the road alone. The road was heavily cambered so it was relatively easy to run down the middle. Or at least click on when you weren’t running down the middle!

The helicam only has a short flight time so we needed to do each scene quickly. So instead of the usual stop start of filming I ran continuously up and down the road as the helicam chased me. The helicam was a little disconcerting as I couldn’t see it but I could hear it, it sounded like a swarm of bees chasing me. The operator was able to get it close enough for the rotors to move my clothes, so it really was a little scary.

Everyone was incredibly impressed with the helicam so we headed to another road to shoot some more. Again I spent a little while learning the road before running solo. This time I had to repeatedly run up and down a steep hill. So it was a great chance to get some hill training in!

We then headed to a forest to shoot some impressive flybys. The helicam would be at one side of the tree with me at the others, and track me as I ran through the woods. At least that was the plan. We couldn’t get clearance to film. So unable to turn the cameras on we headed to a small village for lunch.

After lunch we headed to some fields and shot a few scenes of me running up a little hill. This was relatively easy to learn as there was a defined dip in the field where people had been walking. After this we headed back to the village and did a few quick runs up and down the main street of the village. With the day drawing to a close there was time for one more shot.

We found a little fjord and the director asked if I would run through it. This was a bit tough for me as I would lose all idea of where I was while running through the fjord as there wasn’t really anything underfoot for me to follow. So we decided to break it into two shots. One of me running towards the fjord, breaking, then lining me up to run through the fjord. Again the wonders of post production tidies all that up!

The fjord scene was the final shot and the commercial was wrapped.

Experience

Opportunities like this offer me an opportunity to have a retrospective and introspective look at what got me to where I am. Its something I wouldnt really sit down and do otherwise. I didn’t appreciate at the time where the decisions I was making would lead me to. Its only when I sit back and think do I realise how big an effect small decisions have had on my life. I am very thankful for these opportunities and appreciate how they have helped me examine what I have achieved.

I have attached the finished commercial below!

Prizes

As part of the commercial people are able to win prizes. If you head over to Smarter World and submit your story of how you used a smartphone you can win lots of prizes! So head over there now and claim your prize