2015 can only be summed up as a year of some serious highs and lows. It began with an incredible expedition which at points had some interesting ups and downs. Despite that Jamie and myself had learnt a great deal, saw some amazing sites and experienced the Arctic in all its harsh beauty. Although it wasn’t a trip that broke records and I’m not sure if we were or weren’t the first people to ski up the east coast of Baffin Island the experience humbled us. It showed what was important in an expedition; seeing new places, meeting new people from different cultures and pushing our comfort zones. We were helped by a huge number of people back in the UK and all across Canada and particularly on Baffin Island
On getting back to the UK I felt raring to go. I had a game plan of what I wanted to do for the remainder of the year. First up and even I would admit a rather bizarre one which was a desire to make croissants from scratch. This came about part the way through the trip in a rather random train of thinking during a ski session and it had stuck.
Then followed it up with an interview on radio scotland.
Not long after getting back and following what sounded like a seriously tough eight months of physical and mental preparation my brother passed out of the Royal Marines. It was a fantastic weekend watching them march out, heads held high and their pristine uniforms. Despite the torrential rain it was still an awesome sight.
Once the formalities had finished he showed us some of the areas they had been trained on to give us a snippet of an insight into their daily training regime. It was like an adults playground and looked incredible, I can only try and imagine the sight of it early on a cold wet morning is probably a lot less appetising.
I got into some new sports which made for a change of thinking, one of which was trying my hand at a spot of kite surfing. Dragging face first through water was a new experience. Never the less a good one as I’m keen to do some more and hopefully some kite skiing at some stage.
There was then a huge curve ball. One that has continued to make me think deeply about family, friends and loved ones. My dad was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumour. It was one of those things that you don’t see coming, there had been no signs just one day after work a call from my mum. It has changed my perspective on, well everything.
My plans, ideas and thoughts evaporated in the space of a short phone call.
Up till Christmas has been spent with regular trips back to Scotland, visiting hospitals, Macmillan centers and hospices as well as time spent researching into the diagnosis and the possible treatments available. I can’t comprehend the number of friends which have stepped up and helped everything from just being on the end of the phone to many a kind gesture, for that no words can describe how lucky and thankful we are for that.
As I said it made me stop and think. Like an expedition you begin to appreciate the simple things. Moments of happiness and laughter are held tighter than before and time together is suddenly invaluable. There has been some serious laughter and of course some tears too. I realised that something’s I planned on doing I was waiting for no reason.
Since going back to work after my expedition I have been living and working in Yorkshire. I had been thinking of it for a while but I decided that I wanted Laura to be permanently in my life. I got her up to Yorkshire and after a bit of persuading she agreed on marrying me in 2016.
Now you maybe thinking why am I telling you this? Is it some sob story, raising awareness of the work cancer charities do or the NHS. Although they all do a fantastic job. However the answer is no. As I write this I’ve had a video of my dad walking again which may sound small but it is something I am incredibly proud of and amazed at his strength to continue and aspire to better things. He has since been walking down the road, which a few months ago we were only hoping for. I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell the story other than to ask that after reading this you pause, reflect and learn from our families experience. Try and spend time with friends, family, loved ones and do stuff that is important to you. There is one thing certain in life but how we get there is what’s important.
Everyone’s life is for living and open to adventure whatever that might be.
Since getting back I have been asked quite a few times on “what next” or “how do you top rowing the Atlantic”, both very difficult questions to answer. Despite the fact that there was plenty of time to think on board and so many different forms, types and ideas for my next challenge it’s all about finding and more importantly actually choosing the right one. It all started whilst having breakfast with my dad the morning before flying out to the start, who asked those questions before I had even completed it. He then went on to suggest that it would be good to have an idea before I arrived back. Something I would definitely recommend you do before taking on any sort of challenge, adventure, career step anything always have the next step in mind. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to have a concrete one by the time I got back but I do have a good few ideas up my sleeve and still very much have the desire for one or two.
I have done some smaller events or challenges but it wasn’t until I read an article in a recent copy of national geographic (check the full article out http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/06/125-risk-takers/gwin-text) that made me think about the motivation for taking on a challenge, adventure or similar in a completely different way to previously.
At the bottom of all challenges it points out that regardless of whether it’s exploring the unknown, starting a company, going for prime minister or shooting for a goal there is risk involved of varying degrees and types. It comes down to the balancing of the rewards vs the risk, the interesting bit is that this results in a chemical reaction within the brain. Similar to adrenaline fueled sports the difference being that adrenaline makes you effectively flee or fight where as dopamine associated with risk can push you towards the danger to achieve the goal. The article was summed up with a great quote from John Wesley Powell who explored the Colorado river and Grand Canyons:
“They entreat us not to go on, and tell us that it is madness to set out in this place. And yet to leave the exploration unfinished, to say that there is a part of the canyon which I cannot explore, having already nearly accomplished it is more than I am willing to acknowledge and I am determined to go on.”
The important bit is that everyone has this effect to varying degrees. We take some form of risk every day. My take on it is that the more we step outside of our comfort zones regardless of what it might be to overcome the challenges and to ultimately reap the rewards then the more the mind and body will desire the chance to take on another. So whilst I am thinking and working out my next it would be great to hear yours that are coming up.
I thought it would be poignant to combine these two articles, partly because I ran out of time to do my other idea and also I think they go together quite well.Over the summer the Olympic Torch went on a 70 day journey from Greece and round the UK, over which time 8000 inspiring people carried it. Myself and the rest of crew tiger were selected to be part of the penultimate section of the journey rowing with it along the Thames behind the Gloriana in our boat Tiger from Hampton Court to Putney before it continued its journey to Tower Bridge.
It is safe to say that the day was a spectacular experience going along the Thames with people crowding the banks for the entire route. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.
Like the flame coming to the end of my journey with Atlantic Rowing, many hours of training and preparation has gone into it. I have been thinking about it for years, similar to the athletes I expect. Now all that is left is a wee bit of preparation, waiting for the right weather window and then some hard work off to break the world record by rowing it in less than 30 days.
The prospects of the challenge a head are incredibly exciting and it has come round very fast. Thank you to all of those people who have helped in various ways from sponsorship, to training, preparation, advice and of course my friends and family.
Will hopefully be able to provide some updates whilst preparing but in case I can’t I hope you all have a fantastic start to the New Year. See you when I get back!
In case you want to read more about the journey with the flame its below
Arriving in Hampton Court we were welcomed to a huge number of people, far more than any of us expected at 7am on a weekday, all the way from paddling knee deep on the water’s edge, right up the bank and up round onto the bridge. We could see the Gloriana lying up waiting for the torch procession to bring it down and pass the flame on for the journey a head.
As we waited for the start to be announced the boats slowly drifted on the currents. Despite trying to stay a decent distance from one another and from the Gloriana, we soon found all the boats congregating in the same space. At which point oars started to get entwined and it was like playing twister with boats. The time finally arrived and we could see it being brought down to the boat before the signal was given for us all to depart and the row began.
It was certainly very different compared to the usual row along the Thames; people were crammed along many parts of the course particularly in Richmond and Kingston where it was several rows deep. We opted for soaking up the atmosphere as we rowed along the Thames and waving to the people that had decided to make the journey out to the river. It was the longest row we had done together as a team and it felt easy as our minds were taken to checking out the throngs of people who had come down. This included the people who had tried to sneak onto the rowing processions and making some good progress including a few punters and a half naked kayaker. This was shortly before some police pulled them off.
We arrived at Teddington locks at which point all the boats finally came together again while we waited for the gates to open. They opened and the Gloriana put her foot down quite literally. She was off. Due to being behind schedule they needed get a move on, we tried to keep up but the motor was certainly more powerful than any of the rowers of the river. We made our way along the river arriving in Putney shortly after they had passed through and pulled up on the beach outside the boat houses. After several hours rowing it was good to reach the pub and have a well-deserved pint and food with the team and some friends while we waited for the tides to change and make the row back.
I am writing this after an incredible day for sporting achievements. We had the British open in golf which turned out to be a roller coaster ride to all the top players including our home grown talents. There was the German grand prix, ok not in the UK but Jenson did make it onto the podium and the Tour de France where Cavendish had an incredible stage win and Wiggins took the overall win with the yellow jersey. The first Brit to do so in years.
It’s safe to say we are now on the final straight to the huge spectacle hitting our shores this summer. The Olympics have finally come after years of preparation, everyone from the organisers, the athletes and most importantly the supporters and fans.
We have had the odd spate of press on the odd problem but like all big events there always some ironing out. But now most of them are being resolved and as soon as the curtains rise on the first night of the opening ceremony all of that will be forgotten.
Now all we have to wait for is to see how our athletes perform and almost more importantly who and what they inspire other people to do.
A few weekends ago I headed up to the Yorkshire moors as I had entered an event called the Hardmoor 55. It is a 55 mile running race over 1 day along part of the Cleveland way and unbeknown to me the hilliest course I have done.
It started with an epic drive on a Friday night where I joined thousands of others getting out of London before flying up the motorway. This was done whilst chomping on some tortellini that I had cooked up the previous night. I hadn’t really spent much time looking at exactly where the event was but was slightly surprised when I saw my usual turn off on my route home to Scotland.
I arrived at the B&B/ pub full of people and asked about my room. My mind quickly turned to the much more importantly issue of breakfast. It turned out the cooks had gone home which meant I couldn’t even get some bread or cereal for the morning. Not the most helpful answer. Going upstairs I quickly laid all my kit out, there was a rather excessive food pile for the race and certainly far too much to eat over the space of 1 day. But in it all went split equally for the 2 bag drops allowed in the race.
I was anxious and excited about what the next day would involve as it was much longer than I had run for a while, in fact the longest had been 10 miles plus a bit of cycling and swimming. I wasn’t too concerned though as I knew that my only target was to enjoy the day, get some miles done and finish. This didn’t exactly help for a restful night sleep as I twist and turned with an over active imagination. It wasn’t of winning the event…
5.40 am came round quickly.
I wanted to ensure I arrived early after strict instructions from the race organisers (I was to find that everyone took them seriously) that we had to be bang on time otherwise no lift to the start line. I turned up to the waiting point with all the racers already clad in lycra and I was still munching my breakfast of hummus and pitta bread. However the organiser was late. Everyone one had one thought only “Could have had longer in bed”.
Chatting with some of the racers on the drive over there was a good mix of newbies and experienced ultra runners, some of whom I had met briefly at previous events. I spoke to one individual who claimed although he hadn’t done the whole course the Yorkshire moors aren’t really that hilly. I was pretty happy with this, although he did point out he was from the peak district, the alarm bells should have started, as not that hilly for a fell runner is certainly different to running round London.
Exiting the bus we were quickly ushered in for a kit check and handed the finishers t-shirt at the start. The race seemed to come round incredibly quickly and my plans of looking at the route quickly vanished with last minute bits and pieces, including the usual huge queue for the bathroom. We were soon off trudging along at a brisk pace up the first few inclines, experience told me that this pace would soon drop off. Or at least that is what I hoped for. The day had started much warmer than expected and within a short time I was dripping. Plus my rucksack which was far too large for a one day event, (being the same that I would use for 7 days) wasn’t setup rightly and the pouches on the front were slapping into my sides.
It was a beautiful day, slightly overcast but running through fields, forests and passing confused looking walkers was a great feeling. On the way to the first check point I foolishly followed a couple of guys in front of me, not knowing the way myself only to realise very quickly that it was the wrong way and had to turn back. Although going slightly off track seems a common theme in these longer runs its still frustrating as all the people you had passed trudge past in a slow version of the tortoise and the hare.
Chatting to some of the competitors passed the time including a guy who was in the middle of his 75th marathon a fantastic achievement in 2 years.
I found out that the first check point we had to go back on ourselves but the views were spectacular as we made our way out onto a plateau with patches of mist rolling in and views across the valley opening up as we got closer to the edge. We dropped down to the 1st checkpoint where I found us standing in front of the Yorkshire moors Kilburn white horse. A top up on some water and a quick bite of flapjack. The race was on.
It is amazing especially with hindsight how quickly the miles get eaten up but it went surprisingly quickly up to the next checkpoint. I ended up running by myself for a large portion of this section as my pace settled into a rhythm that I could maintain. It still felt a bit too fast. We continued a long rolling hills dropping down, before climbing and continuing a long ridges. The 2nd checkpoint was down a long decline which helped with passing a few runners. I also found out that this section of 22 miles was the quick section as what was to come would certainly slow everyone down. Not exactly what I wanted to hear as the hills we had already passed seemed quite large.
We came into the small wee village of Osmotherley where our first bag of goodies had been dropped off. I reached the checkpoint had my card stamped to say I had arrived and then started rummaging around for my 1st bag of goodies. It was missing. There was other food on offer but I was looking forward to my nuts and soreen. There was however homemade sausage rolls and after speaking to one of the organisers I managed to get hold of some soreen too. Definitely a positive point.
The race quickly slowed. Exiting the village we worked our way back up onto a long plateau where we could already make out the penultimate checkpoint. Unfortunately it was a lot closer than the route we had selected which took the form of a long sweeping curve. We could also make out most of this path too. Slightly depressing when you can see the whole route practically laid out in front of you for the next 5 or so hours. Regardless of this a group of us trudged on chatting about a whole host of things, as one man described it “anything to take his mind away from the agony”. I’m not sure he was having such I great race as the others all seemed in good form. We covered some spectacular scenery traversing stoned paved paths, up steep side hills, through rocky out crops and the odd sheep or fellow competitor. This was interspersed with periods of cramp an affect from the morning heat. I unfortunately hadn’t managed my electrolytes resulting in these random but uncomfortable twinges as cramp set in.
Fortunately I had packed a few packs of dioralyte which I have found great for rehydrating on long races, though the one major drawback is it doesn’t taste great but it is cheap and works for me. This started getting me back on the road to recovery. I ended up running with 2 others for what was to be the rest of the race. For a few miles we had been constantly playing cat and mouse as I caught up on the up hills before they passed me on the down. That was until the hail started. What had been a blue skied day suddenly turned very cold and dark. The hail bounced off our hands, faces and hoods of our waterproofs. It was certainly a motivator to keep moving forward as we shuffled in silence with nothing but the pitta patta of the hail on our heads. Reaching the second bag drop was fantastic, especially as my food was actually there this time.
We all collapsed in some chairs kindly put out by the staff and tucked into the food in our packs, on the tables and anywhere else we could find it. I also had my first and hopefully last cup of special tea. The recipe for which is 1 strong cup of milky tea, add several heaped teaspoons of sugar and 1 of salt. Pretty disgusting but I hoped this would help with the cramp which still seemed to be plaguing me.
We left the checkpoint shivering uncontrollably, the cold had caught up with us during the short break. But with full bellies we started to make our way towards the goal which we had been so close yet so far all day Roseburry Topping, a single peak that we would first have to make our way to the bottom before scaling it to the summit before going back the way we came. The plan had been to make this in daylight but it was becoming apparent that this was not to be the case as we donned head torches as dusk set in. All you could see was a small patch 3 feet in front of you, the steady stream of people making their way up to the top and back and a glimpse of people’s faces illuminated in an unusual way from their foreheads. After a slog up we made it to the top with views out across the evening landscape. It is amazing the amount of light that is created from all our street lighting and this area felt relatively rural.
The last section was made slightly trickier by the lack of light and the criss cross of paths that went their separate ways. We negotiated our way towards the final push up to a plateau before dropping down towards the finish. It felt tough as hills we weren’t expecting suddenly seemed to appear and as our legs tired what was classed as a hill at the start of a day was very different to that towards the end as each slight incline became an excuse to go that bit slower. Yet finally my legs had stopped cramping and I was still raring to go as the course dropped down towards the finish. Potentially a sprint one. We reckoned that we would have to seriously pick the pace up to beat the 12 hour mark but as it would make little difference to our finishing position we decided to just enjoy the final couple of miles. As we started to sense the finish though we realised that we could still make it and the final meters did become a sprint into the hut to ensure we beat the 12 hours. We were greeted to a round of applause by the competitors who had already finished and a welcome chair. We finished in 11 hours 53 mins joint 43rd overall. I got changed into some clean clothes and the quickest top that came to hand was the finishers t-shirt. I checked it out before putting it on it was bright blue with a bold statement “55 miles and 2700 m ascent”. No wonder my legs hurt so much. I was definitely glad I hadn’t read it before the start line that would definitely have made it more daunting.
Overall another race, a lot learnt but certainly an awesome race to be repeated.
Last week I met up with some of my tent mates from the marathon des sables and chatting to a competitor this year with some last minute tips. It got me thinking about this this time last year and since.
Even before finishing the marathon des sables last year my mind was already whirring with ideas for possible races, expeditions and trips. Just meeting all the people who made it to the start line and hearing many incredibly inspiring stories made we want to experience more challenges.
Since then I completed my 100 mile race, completed an ultra running event called the Hardmoor 55 (still writing the review) and dipped into adventure racing. Also over the last 6 months or so I have spent a wee bit of time researching and discussing various ideas about adventures with some of you (hopefully your reading). I am sure many of you have your own ideas for adventures, challenges and dreams to fulfil over the coming months of 2012 or maybe you have plans for past that point to which is even better. The next challenge will be announced soon….
Whats your next challenge? Have you got plans for the year or maybe a longer term vision? Would be great to hear about them as I know many of you have got them lined up.
Well the last couple of weeks have gone super quick, luckily the weekend before the snow hit London “very severe weather” I managed to grab a spot at the running school in Chiswick.
Having never really spent much time learning how to run other than laps at school round the same cross country route and a brief spell in my uni triathlon club, it was always going to be a bit of a learning experience. Besides I have previously sought advice on gym training, various sport specific training and learning how to teach skiing so why not running too? Who taught you how to run? Have you run recently? How was it? Have a think and a read, you might start having a few questions yourself there is plenty of info out on the internet or you could be tempted to check them out.
I think most people, including my prior self, considered running to be a case of putting one foot in front of the other, generally faster than walking while others use it in a sport. However the one similarity is that little time is spent focussing on how we run but more on how fast or slow we are going, what we are listening to, looking at or playing. For some people this experience can be uncomfortable or even painful which doesn’t exactly encourage you to hit the trails, run round the pitch or take a wee jog for the bus you are running late for. My own experience has been a bit up and down like many runners, sportsmen and women or your average Joe. My logic has always been that to get fitter, faster and better I have to run more miles. This has sometimes been a pleasurable experience and others agonising and often resulted in frequent visits to the physio, which has also been a pretty painful experience. Does it have to be this constant up and down or could it be improved? What is the ideal situation or pinnacle to aim for? I hoped the day would answer or at least explain some of my questions, hopefully bring up more questions and maybe look at fixing them.
I rocked up at the headquarters in Stamford brook, based under the tube lines where I was greeted to coffee and croissants. Always a good way to start the day, followed by a briefing from the founder of “The Running School” who is an experienced runners and sportsman called Mike Antoniades. He briefed us on how the day would pan out and more importantly what they would work on. Just a point Im not going to reveal their tips of the trade as I don’t think that’s right but I will tell you how it felt, a little of what I had to work on and the info they provide on the net.
Finally we jumped on the running machine while they filmed our technique at the start of the day. Something I would recommend everyone to do, it’s easy to do with a mate or place the camera on a stand behind and to the side. You will be able to see where all your various body parts are going instantly. I was immediately aware of how I was running, did it look wrong or by some miracle could I be gifted with a perfect running style. No matter how positive I was thinking I was to learn that this certainly wasn’t the case! They didn’t say anything it was merely the first stage of our day’s assessment.
It was then time to get outside; it was chilly with snow forecast for the week to come. The group clad in an assortment of leggings, lycra, woolly hats and gloves we made our way to the local park. First up was a warm up, although it is the most obvious and correct place to start it is something that I hadn’t been doing before starting a run but instead opting to warm up quickly by jogging straight from the door. Lesson 1 noted and remembered.
It did help with every part of the body truly warmed up and raring to go. Time for the drills. Like many drills the aim seemed to be to go to the extremes to encourage the mind to remember the feeling so when out on the trails or pitch we could look to replicate this feeling. We worked on a few key areas, the motion of our arms, the motion of our legs, putting these elements together and finally working on how we would create the transition from our old style to new.
Like anything new it felt strange, at points bizarre and even just plain wrong, however the results told a completely different story. Rather than hearing my feet land heavily and thump into the ground I was moving across lighter and quicker than before, muscles that I didn’t normally feel ached having been used for the first time but most importantly the principles of the idea made sense. More filming took place, again the mind went into over drive trying to remember every little tit bit that had been mentioned and I tried, maybe a little too hard, to put them into action. I would have to wait and see if this worked as it was time for lunch.
Following a rather dry and boring lunch of cous cous and whatever was left in fridge that morning it was the time everyone had been waiting for. Video time, the lights went out, the room was warm and the seats incredibly comfortable after the mornings exercise. Perfect snoozing conditions but first the videos as mixed emotions went through my mind between hoping to have my technique ripped apart to dreaming that I had taken everything on board immediately. It was certainly awkward seeing myself run on the screen, put in slow motion to pick out the key areas. The pre and post workshop footage was incredibly useful though. It became clear that I had been trying too hard to think of everything that I had learnt that morning as my robotic like form swept across the screen. Yet there were improvements. My legs were beginning to resemble the technique that we had been working on and I was using my arms more effectively, now I just need to make it more natural amongst a few other corrections.
We looked at everyone’s footage which was a real benefit as we began analysing each other, asking more specific questions and helping our understanding of how we can ultimately improve our own technique. The session finished with some strength & conditioning exercises followed by stretching. At least one thing hand changed over the day and that was my flexibility, still as rubbish as ever. Now I just have to put the lessons into practise….
Following the course my advice would definitely be to work on your technique, it can make a huge benefit if you want to go faster or if nothing else help to reduce the forces through the body. It does take time though to make the transition but why wait for the perfect time as there is no time like the present. See what you could become….
It would be great to hear some of you stories of maybe a memorable run or maybe the first run you remember having to do?