Run the Wild with Simon James


In between us both working I managed to catch up with Simon James the founder of Run the Wild which launched last year as the UK’s premier running holiday. It’s been built around the passion of running and exploring the outdoors.

Running in Chamonix

Running in Chamonix

http://www.runthewild.co.uk/

As an incredibly experienced ultra runner and mountaineer he has conquered peaks over numerous continents and run in some of the most extreme environments. I first met him a few years go whilst training for Marathon des Sables, he has gone on to do the GR20 (the toughest long distance trail in Europe) and Ultra Trail Mont Blanc considered by many to be one of the ultimate races when it comes to ultra running mixing distance (160km ) and elevation gaining more height than Mount Everest.(you can find some interesting facts in the link below http://visual.ly/ultra-trail-du-mont-blanc-utmb-all-stats-youll-ever-need-know)

Marathon Des Sables 2011

Marathon Des Sables 2011

Where did the idea of Run the Wild come from?

After being made redundant from the city I spent 2013 running and climbing full time. It was a big shock after working 12 years at the same bank, but looking back, one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Whilst I was climbing an 8,000m peak in the Himalayas (manaslu) it suddenly came to me. I love climbing because of the amazing places as well as friendships you make, but it’s not a race. I love running self sufficient style over the alps, so why isn’t the mentality of climbing in running? Running for the love of running, with a team… So “exploring places, not running races” was born and Run the Wild.

Denali Summit

Denali Summit

How did you get into running?

I used to run as a kid on the cliffs in Gower, South Wales where I grew up. But I didn’t do any running really until I was 28, when a business client challenged me one evening whilst in a bar to a 36hr walk across 54 miles of the West Highland Way in Scotland. I foolishly said “yes”. He then rang me the next day to tell me we would be running it. I was 3 stone overweight and had not run more than 8 miles in my life. We finished it in 14hrs and I was hooked. And he’s now one of my best friends.

Most enjoyable event you have taken part in?

Race – London Marathon, no one normally shouts my name like that crowd!

Trail Run – running round Mt Blanc on my own in 2.5days, self sufficient.

Maxim Bouevs Photo

Maxim Bouevs Photo

Hardest challenge you have taken on?

Running The Walkers Haute route when there is too much snow and with a broken backpack.

Best bit of trail running?

Freedom

Most important item you carry with you?

My lightweight Patagonia smock

What is your luxury item on multi day challenges or expeditions?

Jelly babies

Check out run the wild and if your a runner of any level get yourself booked onto one of the trips as they are certainly worth the experience. Until then where abouts do you normally go running? Have you got a favourite place or route?

Running the Chilterns


Myself, Si (tent mate from Marathon des Sables and a few other adventures) and his friend Chris finally got round to running a section of the Chilterns earlier in the year. Despite the horrific conditions that had been devastating the country and flooding parts of it we had managed to choose a weekend with a break in the weather, as sunshine was the forecast for the day.

Bridgewater Monument
I was a little apprehensive as my running training had not been ideal over the previous months but the prospect of getting out and kicking starting my trail running again was very exciting. The route for the day was due to finish at Ashridge estate visible from miles around by Bridgewater monument, after sorting out the logistics for the day we headed to the start. Packs at the ready I had definitely too much stuff and my pack was more suitable for a few days rather than a quick marathon ish distance.

The wet conditions soon revealed themselves as we found ourselves with wet feet, skating and sliding through the mud and that was within meters of starting.

We were soon eating up the miles along sections of the Chilterns way through woodlands across fields and along some of the other paths that crisis cross it which did result in a few unexpected deviations from the route. Although some of the trails were so slippy it was hard keeping a decent pace whilst running and so our pace slowed to a quick walk in places.

Checking our deviations

With the sun out we were meeting all sorts of people enjoying the outdoors from mountain bikers to Duke of Edinburgh groups all dressed in the standard green or black waterproofs with tents, sleeping mats and all sorts of other items spewing from their rucksacks. It was great to see them all out and about.
The Chilterns
Some large sections of the trail were flooded still which we tried to avoid as well as one section where it looked like a mudslide had occurred before setting solid which we had to cross. It turned it was not set as my foot sank into it ankle deep thick, gluppy mud. The most interesting of all was passing through a field full horses which in the conditions had opted to stand on the hay they were due to eat, looking slightly sorry for themselves. As we crossed the same field I think we all had similar looks on our faces too.

The remainder of the run was a lot drier and we managed to pick the speed up as the patches of blue sky and sunshine seemed to be diminishing and rain began to look more likely. The Bridgewater monument came into view high up on a ridge that we were due to finish at. Despite being a bit of a distance away still, it was a welcome sight. There was the final short and steep section just to kick us into gear at the end before arriving at the top to a welcome cup of hot chocolate.

The biggest relief being my legs felt surprisingly good, even after the drive back which can be a slightly uncomfortable experience. Now that the summer is getting into full swing have you got any routes your running, walking and exploring?

Rockett heads to Baffin Island


One of the things I particularly enjoy is hearing about peoples adventures, expeditions and challenges that they are taking on regardless of what or where it is.  I was very pleased to be able to grab some time with Ben in between a busy schedule of last minute packing and preparing, for a quick interview on his thoughts prior to him heading north to Baffin Island and his next adventure. Having followed his progress cycling from land end to john  o’ groats and back and nailing the world record in the process to seeing how far he can cycling in 24 hours I am very interested in seeing how this one goes. Baffin Island is an incredibly inhospitable place up in the Arctic circle where temperatures reach -30C. You can follow his progress on the link below:

http://www.rockettrides.com/?page_id=2214

How did you come up with the idea?
For a while I had been thinking about taking on something that posed a new challenge. I was not sure what that would ultimately become, but a few conversations with a variety of people turned to the idea of cycling somewhere that was completely different from the road scene and attempting a ride on snow. I’d also felt a bit flat after the previous year’s competitive racing and I was eager to get back to what I loved about cycling; using a bike for an adventure! Eventually, (and I know I’m missing out a lot of details!) the idea of attempting the traverse of Baffin Island arose and I was straight on it. 

Baffin Island

Baffin Island

 

Have you done any specific training to cope with the environment over there?
Absolutely. Getting used to the temperature and ensuring that not only the bike but also I function in that environment was essential. And I can tell you I’m not the most resilient to the cold! Getting used to that by being in simulation situations (sitting in a freezer) and preparing myself to get in the right physical shape has taken its time. Especially as it’s rather different from any event I’ve done before. I’ve had to train to be more efficient with my packing, too! 

 

What do you think will be the hardest end most enjoyable part of the expedition?
I am particularly looking forward to experiencing the isolation when I’m up there. My ‘professional’ lifestyle keeps me pretty inactive and there’s so much that happens with a computer screen. I’m excited by the physicality of the expedition and the absence of a screen! I think the hardest part will also be overcoming the struggles whilst being so isolated, and fighting through soft snow! So the hardest and the most enjoyable aspects I’m guessing will be the same. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m excited about overcoming the hardest parts. 

 

A Snap shot as the Adventure Begins

A Snap shot as the Adventure Begins

What food will you be eating?
I’m going to be surviving on dehydrated ration packs and regular snacks, such as biscuits and chocolate bars (which I need to keep near my body to prevent them from freezing). 

 

Lance Armstrong said its night about the bike but what will you be riding for this adventure?
My longstanding bike sponsors, Qoroz, have built an entirely bespoke bike for this expedition. They’ve taken the demands of the environment and the self-sufficient nature of the traverse into consideration as they’ve constructed the bike, and the finest of details have been tested and modified to ensure the bike is up to the task. We are extremely grateful to Hope Technology who have provided the components and Strada Wheels for supplying the hand-built wheels. There’s a lot of rubber under this thing! 

 

A specially designed Qoroz bike

A specially designed Qoroz bike

Why did you opt for working with action for children?
Having spent several years working with children in care, I had come to see just how vital the work of Fostering and Adoption services were. They provided safe homes for children most in need and sensitively helped those children towards more secure futures. Accordingly, I wanted to do something that would support those services in a different way than the research I was doing. I wanted to try and raise necessary funds to assist the Fostering & Adoption work of Action for Children who play a remarkable role in helping some of the most vulnerable children and continually seek to improve the system for children and youth of all ages.  

If you would like to learn more about the charity or donate please see the link below:

http://www.justgiving.com/BaffinIslandBike

 

Into the Atlas Mountains


The alarm sounded or at least I initially thought so, it was in fact the local mosque’s call to prayers, known as Adhan, in the early hours of the morning. After this initial disruption we had a long lie in thanks to some confusion within the group, our phones and we realised the local vicinity as no one really seemed to know what the time was or should be. We were instead woken by a knocking on our door wondering where we were at what ever time it was.
Breakfast arrived and I stuffed my face as if the expedition had already started with bread, omelette, muffins, pancakes coated in honey all washed down with copious amounts of sweet mint tea. It did however lack one ingredient initially, much to the dismay of some coffee lovers within the group. We were soon on our way into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.

 

Heading into the Atlas Mountains

Heading into the Atlas Mountains

The drive was broken up by a quick stop at an argan oil factory. This was also the time to experience having a snake wrapped round your neck as a guy came over and draped it over me. It all felt very touristy!

The snake to be draped round our Necks

The snake to be draped round our Necks

We continued the drive, passing an estate car which quite literally had the entire football team squeezed inside of it before finally arriving at the lunch stop and the point we were to begin the walk up the valley. It had felt like we had spent the whole day eating! Whilst sitting there with me trying to get comfortable in the cross legged position, which seemed much easier when I was smaller, we began to notice a change in the weather. The wind was picking up with the trees swaying and the dust being whipped into the air.

The bags were tied onto the mules which are different to donkeys we discovered  as we were off.

We began the trek wondering up the dirt track past terraced plots and olive trees. It was like a green oasis curving along the side of the river that meander it’s way down the valley. The villages that we passed through appeared to be becoming more basic with the animals living on the ground floor and the family upstairs with mud walls and roofs. Yet there were still the satellite dishes fixed to their sides, it was quite a contrasting sight especially with the smells mixed into it of smoke and manure.

IMG_6627

Villages Gripping onto the Hillside

Local bus service with vertical drops

It started to spit ever now and again, finally the heavens opened, the temperature dropped and we could no longer hold off from wearing a waterproof. It was the first time it had rained in weeks apparently. It was a case of hunkering down and getting to the gite quickly.
We arrived dripping wet and fumbling around for places to hang all the wet items in the low light under head torch. A light bulb was found and screwed in giving us time to take in our surroundings. The village only got electricity a few years ago and mobile reception the following year. It sounded like such a dramatic and quick transition.

Our sleeping area for the next couple of days was effectively a massive covered balcony open to the elements but with loads of blankets laid out.

IMG_6649

Clothes Everywhere (our sleeping area was behind the wall)

Gas fired light bulb
Gas fired light bulb

The wind continued to increase and the clouds rolled in further as we munched down food. We tested our oxygen levels so we could start seeing how we were dealing with the altitude before getting our heads down for the night.

Storm Rolling In

Storm Rolling In

Morocco Bound


My trip to morocco came round a lot quicker than I anticipated as I was throwing and squeezing all the kit I needed into a rucksack that was either far too small for the trip or I had far too much stuff.

Packing for all eventualities

Packing for all eventualities

In between this I was preparing (microwaving leftovers) my last meal in the UK or at least until I reached the airport. My previous trip to morocco had been in the searing heat of the Sahara as part of the Marathon des Sables. This trip had the potential for the heat of the desert to the snow up in the mountains, on top of this we were leaving England as a storm was due to hit so I was packing for all eventualities! As I sat on the tube the rain started to come down hard, I was glad I was going to miss the remainder of what was to come. I made my way to Gatwick to meet the rest of the group who had arrived in a timelier manor than me. Despite it only being a 3 hour flight, not knowing when my next last meal would be I thought I would savour a chocolate bar on the flight which needless to say was eaten before boarding the plane. I was clearly in a mood of great self restraint.
Arriving in Marrakech it came to passport control and spotting a small queue in front of a booth I opted for this one only to receive a wagging finger and being pointed towards the much large queue that had formed and I had being trying to avoid. Finally making it out, we met Steve our expedition leader and Ibrahim our local guide. This formidable pairing of Steve with a huge amount of experience and stories which made many a famous explorer or adventurer seem very tame and Ibrahim with his local knowledge and connections spreading across the Morocco we certainly had the ingredients for a fantastic trip.

Marrakesh Airport

Marrakesh Airport

Arriving in the main square and the souks in Marrakech in the evening can only be described as mind blowing with such a contrast to the London we had left behind as our sensors were hit with a rich mix of smells, sights and sounds. Locals and tourists mixed together in one big melting pot. Wondering around you were introduced to every kind of smell from incense to freshly cooked food and the odd whiff of drainage system or lack of.

people, bikes, horses and cars all sharing the space

people, bikes, horses and cars all sharing the space

Topping up on supplies

Topping up on supplies

After many offers from different food stalls we were greeted by a cook in his once pristine white uniform, now highly decorated in a variety of colours and food stains, which we opted to stay at. A young couple were mid way through what could have been a romantic meal in Marrakech. This was broken when the waiter realising the lack of space for our group decided without telling them that he would move them along. In his haste he knocked the ladies drink over her and the table. But at least we would all fit now. The meal was really good despite warnings of not eating meat and I assumed that the calamari was probably even riskier given our distance from the sea, all were very tasty. My meal was made slightly more interesting when I felt a rubbing on my arm. Looking round I realised it was the cooks arse going up and down my arm as he bent over to pick up something. All part of the experience. A quick tour of the souk before me and roommate crashed out in the hotel a head of the next day’s trip into the mountains.

Rich Smells of the Souks

Rich Smells of the Souks

An Atlantic Rowers thank you


About this time last year I was arriving a head of my Atlantic row. The festive period had been an incredibly exciting period, in some respects quite a tense one with final preparations and certainly a time to gorge on those extra calories. I thought the timing was right to thank my sponsors, friends, family and work colleagues for all their support as I opted to spend my time training, eating and sleeping on top of my day job impacted on you.

The Team Has Landed

The Team Has Landed

When you make a serious choice in your life I don’t think you can ever comprehend the effects it has on those around you. I think what really brought it home was first seeing my Dad in Barbados, then Mum and brother who were unable to make it out to the finish and the relief that they had for our safe crossing.

So thanks goes to Binn Skips who have supported me on a couple of challenges now. Skye Skyns who provide the softest and most comfortable sheep skins I have ever felt, we sat on them and it made the journey all the more comfortable. Cameras underwater who provide an amazing camera case that allowed me to take my camera underwater and take some incredible pictures! Patra kindly gave me some silk underwear which despite the harsh conditions held up very well and were very comfortable.

A sunny Dover coastal rowing experience

A sunny Dover coastal rowing experience

Numerous people helped me train and prepare for the event Fulontri with their numerous quality training sessions. Rin Cobb from Pnd Comsulting on my nutrition and managed to help me gain the necessary weight in time. Phil Barratt from Physique Body works for regular holistic sports massages. Simon James and Heal physios of Dundee also seriously helped with both my pre-race preparation and post race recovery. Roger Gould from extreme rowing challenges for his advice and enabling me to get some rowing practise including rowing behind the Olympic torch. Dover rowing club enabled me to gain some valuable coastal rowing experience as well as rowing from Gravesend to Richmond with them.

Rowing with the Olympic Torch

Rowing with the Olympic Torch

River views on our row from Gravesend to Richmond

River views on our row from Gravesend to Richmond

Finally the Ocean Row Events support team and most importantly Leven, Livar, Tim, Calum, Pete, James and Jan who made for a thoroughly memorable adventure. If you are interested in and ocean row I would highly recommend checking out Ocean Row Events!

Arrived safe and sound

Arrived safe and sound

There are many others who inspired, helped and kept me going whilst out there. Maybe if the book deals ever comes about then they can be additions to that…

The main thing is I may have been out there in the middle of the ocean but to reach that point there was a much longer journey that involved far more people than just myself. Regardless of what they are exactly without you all life’s challenges and adventures are not possible. So whatever your next challenge remember those who help with the journey in whatever way that might be.