About Me

My photo

Breathing in the forest air, my heartbeat and footfall are settling into rhythm as I climb the trail... The autumnal canopy is scattering bronze, copper and golden jewels like a carpet beneath my feet. Ducking under a spiderweb laced with diamonds of morning dew, I see the stag as he scampers deeper into the forest.... My muscles and heart are pumped as I push up and out of the tree line and onto the ridge. Climbing up onto the top of the world, and a panorama I silently soak in. A buzzard lazily flaps away from the cairn. Now the fun begins as I run down the trail, twisting, turning, feeling every contour of the earth beneath the soles of my feet. A log to jump, a branch I scoop under, my feet going quicker, quicker, dancing down into the tree line as a fox darts across my path.... This blog is based on tales of my trail and ultra running exploits. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Hadrian's Wall Adventure

So it was a Friday afternoon in mid June and it was pissing down with rain as Mark aqua-planed his mini along the M54 in a desperate bid to get us to the train station on time. We made it with minutes to spare... apparently they had changed the road layout (I believe you Mark!).

Our plan was to traverse the country West coast to East coast via Hadrian's Wall path in just two days.

We hopped onto First Class (free - oh yeah!) already wearing our running gear with our minimal race packs bursting at the seams with the stuff we thought may just keep us alive on our traverse across the country.

I think it was at this point that I realised Mark had decided not to bother with a full waterproof and had settled for a windproof. Mark has special powers... when the Met office say "heavy rain" all weekend, he packs for "perfect sunny breezy running weather" and apart from a good dousing at day break on Day 1, "Mark the weather boy" was right!

Realising the local bus out to Bowness On Solway was to leave at exactly the same time as our train was due into Carlisle, we reluctantly hailed a taxi to take us to the village where we would begin our 84 mile, two day run.
What was even more annoying was that we caught up said bus and proceeded to follow it along the road. We fought off the urge to ask our driver to overtake and drop us at the next bus stop, as he was a friendly and informative driver... so we kissed goodbye to £30.

So we checked into our B&B and met our colourful landlady for the night. She showered us with compliments about what we were planning to do, told us how young and fresh faced we looked after checking out our ages and how fit we were... Then proceeded to call in her other half to look at my legs! Which he duly did much to his and my embarrassment, and Mark's amusment!

Off to the local for a pint and some food where I chicked Mark at pool, twice ;-)

Then down to recce the start of Hadrian's Wall way, if a little tipsy!

Wrong way!

Whilst getting an early night in prep for rising at day break, it struck me how unbelievably quiet Bowness was. A massive expanse of salt flats where river and sea merged, a small sleepy village and complete silence. So quiet that I could hear a daddy long legs fluttering against the outside of my double glazed window. With no light pollution for miles the day gently faded into night... a vast open landscape so unfamiliar to me, compared to the woodland greenery of Shropshire many miles south.

My alarm, aptly set to the sound of a curlew woke me at 4am and I tiptoed downstairs to see Mark tucking into his 3rd course of what appeared to be a business trip breakfast! I grabbed some toast and coffee then we stole out into the darkness (The landlord poked his head out as we were leaving to tell us he didn't get to bed because the cat had fallen asleep on him, so he couldn't move!! One spoilt cat?!).

That morning at Bowness was magical as the sun rose...

We were to cover approximately 42 miles on Day 1 and we were hoping to arrive at Once Brewed Youth Hostel by late afternoon giving us time to relax and recover... errr and drink of course!

The long straight road out of Bowness ended up seeing us get absolutely soaked. The heavens really did open as we struggled on towards Carlisle trying to stay positive. But soon enough it subsided and by about 7am jackets were off and the sun was shining. We also had the treat of seeing a tawny owl perched on a gate 4 foot away from us. It kind of gave us a wink then fluttered away!

The next delight was the randy bull and the crazy farmer (or was it vice versa?). As we waited for the cows to come in for milking the bull seemed to be humping them one by one! Followed by a very friendly wild looking farmer, a cross between Billy Connelly and a long haired Mr Bean.

The miles went by and we were both running comfortably and easily, relaxing into our efficient ultra type gait. Although Mark is generally quicker than me, we have ended up running various ultras together unplanned, due to similar pace. One of the reasons I asked him along on the adventure. I couldn't cope with having to chase somebody for 80 odd miles!

We decided upon Checkpoint 1 as a costa coffee from a Shell garage in Carlisle.... 15 miles in.

The sun was shining as we followed the river through Carlisle and out into the beautiful countryside again. It was evident to us by now how clearly marked the trail was although there was no sign of any wall!!

The route was perfectly tended to throughout, with a range of flag stones and steps, ant-corrosion mats and bark chippings. But the most beautiful running surfaces were the metre wide mown strips that were in virtually every field. Who would have thought Hadrian was into Brazilians! :-D


Although be warned... it was on such a manicured pathway that my right foot disappeared into a hole resulting in a face plant. Mark thought I'd "Just collapsed" really!?

Basically the first three quarters of Day 1 became a "Hadrian's Tea Shop Tour" A blissful sunny day taking in the sights and reading the history of the various forts... and running of course!

Stall On The Wall!

Running was easy and comfortable when we met a lovely couple who were travelling the opposite way, at our spontaneously designated Checkpoint 2. 

They kindly took a shot and gently advised us that we had some tough "craggy bits" to negotiate ahead before we reached our beds for the night at the Once Brewed Youth Hostel. And although we had covered over half the distance, we had not dealt with half the day's effort.

They were not bloody wrong!!

Quite soon after this we started to climb up into the hills. This was what it was all about! I ran up a long tough hill pushing my heart rate up and working my legs on the climb, something I would normally avoid during any ultra distance, but we were both hungry for the height and the views to come!

On Top Of The World!!!

So it got steeper as we became more tired.. The terrain was by no means technical but the craggy landscape was vast and we had a long way to go. The miles got slower and there were no more little tea shops.. 

We were both at that familiar stage in an ultra where little things become difficult, confusion sets in and funny things happen such as unclipping your back pack strap but your bum bag falls off?! That sort of thing!
We both took on the ultra stagger... that drunken veering off the path that is always worth a giggle. Probably not the best time to mess around daring each other to look over the sheer drops of the crags...
Where was this hostel? After studying the map several times we realised we had to climb over the hills in the distance to reach our digs. So climb we did and digs we reached!

Descending down to civilisation after miles of steps, stiles and walls was a godsend.. 

I was so very thankful for the pint(s) and pie I devoured at Twice Brewed! 

With little signal and very tired legs I crashed after setting the curlew to wake me at 4am...

By 4.30am Sunday morning we were climbing back onto the ridge to rejoin the Wall. It was one of the most beautiful magical sunrises I've ever seen. Perfectly timed as we dropped down into Sycamore Gap

We soon warmed up and got back into an easy running pace enjoying the dips and troughs of the craggy landscape before we started to drop down towards sea level

Of all the prep and planning for the weekends adventure that we did, this was the part where we f***ed up. It was early sunday morning we were both craving real food, a proper breakfast and all I had was Halva and Cashew Nut Butter sachets and my little carb junkie friend just had gels and energy bars.

Now I can quite happily trot along with little fuelling as I'm pretty much fat adapted... Since I changed my diet to low carb/paleo and do the majority of my raining in an aerobic state my body seems to be happy burning fat and I don't seem to bonk anymore. Not to say I wasn't craving bacon, sausage and eggs!

Mark was having a bad time though, lacking energy and verging on the mother of all bonks... Luckily for us it was downhill and the beauty of the scenery kept us from throwing our toys out of the pram!

Finally after 6 hours on our feet, we found somewhere open for breakfast and it was goooooood!

Mark's t-shirt was not so apt at this stage...

With a Moroccan lamb pastry baton and a very apt packet of crisps stashed for later, we were back on the trails feeling refreshed!

We ticked the miles off through beautiful countryside, rolling fields of waving barley and many more manicured mown strips in the fields. I was getting tired, sore and had been having knee issues so we walked the ups, jogged the downs and mixed it up on the flats.

Day 2 was Hadrian's Power Hike.... although towards the end of the day it was minus the power and more of a shuffle. We were runners turned ramblers... I respect the rambling fraternity more than ever after Day 2 of Hadrian's Wall. 

We had set off at sunrise because we had a pre-booked train to catch home from Newcastle. If we didn't catch the 17:39 then we would need to stay away another night which was not an option. So throughout Day 2 we were clock watching, pushing on at a steady pace and trying not to stop at every cafe!

After running with a local lady aged 70 ish at Heddon for a while, we discovered that Wallsend was about 8 miles further than we had estimated. And that was 8 miles PAST the train station. A DNF was looking like a very strong possibility! 

The last 10 miles into and through Newcastle were all tarmac and although we had some nice river views... I was pretty much broken. My feet were tender and sore and my knee was swollen so we power walked the last few miles stopping briefly for an ice cream....

As the tarmac went on and on and on and on.... I muttered to Mark "God this map is so slow!" to which he replied "I don't think it's the map that is slow Em ;-)"....
Many hours on my feet appeared to have distorted any logic relating to maps and their scales!

We climbed up the final bank to the train station and stopped our Garmins. 83 miles over 2 days. We would never have made it to Wallsend and back so we called it a day!

What an incredible and amazing weekend... Perfect company, scenery and memories to cherish forever.... 
And my Peroni tasted gooooooood!

Below are the GPS tracks and short MOVIE!!  of our adventure....

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Cherish your Child's Feet...

I have chosen to write about this topic as it is something I feel strongly about and I would like to raise more awareness. 

There is nothing quite as pure or delicate as a newborn baby's hand or foot. Photographed for their beauty and put in picture frames and cards the little hands and feet are miniatures of ourselves to cherish.....
We dress our babes in little woollen, soft leather booties as they wriggle in their prams and start to learn to crawl... A child's foot starts as a bundle of cartilage growing and developing into a mature foot at around 18 years. By then it consists of 28 bones supported by an array of muscles, ligaments and tendons. A structure that has evolved over millions of years in order for our species to walk, run, play, hunt and gather.....

Call me an anorak who is jumping on the "Barefoot" wagon or somebody who gets easily swept along with the latest fad, but when it comes to children and how my son will develop and grow throughout his life then I  take things seriously.... 

I feel that by the time our tots learn to "toddle", many are wearing heavy and restrictive shoes  that can impair their development and natural growth.

My angle - delivering my thoughts to you today, comes from a reasonable quota of background reading, some links to which can be found at the bottom of the page, my experience as a mother, a big handful of common sense and the very "back to basics", earthy ethos that my parents bestowed upon me.

A hippy? Possibly

There are a lot of people out there who are preaching to both new and seasoned runners about how they should shed their cushioned shoes and get low, light and often painfully minimal in order to improve running gait, efficiency and ultimately crush a PB.

This is not what this article is about... Yes, I'm an advocate of the "barefoot" movement and run in mostly minimal footwear because it suits me and I think it makes a whole lot of sense. However, I'm quite happy to step out on a Saturday night in a pair of heels or (for ultimate foot deformation) a nice pair of bad ass cow girl boots!

Grown ups are just that - they are "grown up". They can make decisions what to wear and more importantly, their feet are no longer developing. The majority of adults feet have been shaped into a variety of strange forms based upon the footwear they wore when their feet were still developing from birth to when they left home (or didn't) at 18 years old.
On that note...  How many of you can say the widest part of your foot is across the toes like that of a native who has never worn shoes?

How many of you suffer from ankle, knee, pelvic, hip, lower back, upper back, neck pain? Could this be down to the inefficiency of the foot to act as that spring, that took millions of years to evolve because your big toe (the main lever) is bent inwards and squashed against the next toe. Who knows!? 

And in fact some of todays adult population and certainly todays grandparents would have worn simple flat black pumps (remember those!?) and the likes of "Green Flash" for PE lessons. So although toes may have been shaped, the flexibilty of the shoe was there, unlike a lot of the trainers worn by kids today. So our kids today could end up even worse off...

I don't claim to be a scientist and I won't be quoting a lot of research although I believe there is growing evidence out there..

Should I get off my high horse? Oh... horses, yes whoever would have thought that people are realising barefoot is better for horses too. Many argue that the shod horse has changed its gait and lost its elegance, probably because somebody nailed a lumped of metal to its foot... Another story.

I'm not suggesting that your child has any such brutish association to his or her footwear but I believe there are a lot of shoes and trainers marketed at children that should quite frankly carry a health warning. Many have raised heels, supported arches, weigh far too much and deform the natural growth of the foot. Take a look at the photo below.....

So this is a 6 yr old childs foot who has worn unrestrictive shoes. Next to it on the right, is the "Airwalk" a random, cheap trainer similar to those that are for sale in sports shops, supermarkets and basically all the brand names apart from a small selection of brands who have different interests. To the left of his foot is a Merrell Barefoot Crush Glove and far left is the Merrell Flux Glove.

Its kind of obvious that the toes are going to get squished whilst wearing the "Airwalk". Whereas the toes are able to splay and remain unrestricted in the roomy toe box provided by the Merrells. So what happens if the child doesn't get to develop naturally? So what if his/her toes lose all ability to splay??

Jay Dicharry "Anatomy of Runners" defines the big toe as the ultimate lever to movement. Please consider that this is no more about running as it is about day to day movement... walking etc. So if the big toe is shaped inwards by footwear common sense says it may well compromise that lever and effect biomechanics further up the body.

When the child is wearing a padded shoe with a raised heel, he/she has to look at the ground more when running because there is zero preprioception - no feedback. A kid is more likely to fall over wearing a big heavy shoe than barefoot or minimal. Does your child fall over a lot? It's not their fault, maybe they have just lost the ground feel and feedback they need to stay agile.

Take a look at the photo below where I am twisting the Crush Glove... the more flexible the shoe the more the child will have a strong arch as it is allowed to develop and grow naturally. 

Below Archie tries to twist the "Airwalk"

And the Crush Glove, which is clearly more flexible.

Below I am folding the Flux Glove demonstrating how a childs foot would easily be able to flex on the run...

Raised heels and extensive cushioning will not help the feet develop into the strong spring from which the littles dudes are going to bound through life on!

I think I may have made my point and perhaps should wrap it up now...

Both Merrell and Vivobarefoot produce childrens minimal footwear. My son wears Vivo's for school and Merrells any other time, when he is not barefoot. The Merrells are reasonably priced and his Crush Gloves weigh in at 154g compared to a whopping 228g for the aforementioned Airwalk tots trainer. Even my size 7 Merrells weigh less at 168g!

Another option, although not as durable, is the neoprene beach shoe. Great for the summer months when you want a little protection for those tootsies.

And now to finish with a spot of humour!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPdb7ZDJKS4

References, Links and further reading :

The Big Book of Health and Fitness - Dr Phil Maffetone