That is not what I meant at all…

July 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Posted in Run | Leave a comment

Dartmoor Runners today, and I got about as wet as I have when kayaking or sea-swimming. And the only thing worse than the weather was my navigating.

But but but, for once in a while my running did seem to come together a bit, and in fact I ran pretty much all the way round apart from a climb that was hands-on-gorse-up towards Crazywell Pool. And better than that, I ran for nearly two-and-half-hours, and it would have been much less of an achievement if I’d got the directions right and only ran a much shorter route…

And I’d done quite a lot (for me) on the bike yesterday, and still felt good, so all in all I’m a happy runner, if not a fast or navigationally accurate one.

CP1 at Ringmoor Cottage was nice and easy, just a reverse of the Burrator horseshoe race route. I did try to see if the bloodstains were still there from my enthusiastic descent last month.

Then off to CP2 at Legis Tor, which wasn’t there. The flag, obv, not the tor. It’s the first time I’ve not found a Dartmoor Runners control, but I met another runner looking, and we agreed we were in the right place. And as we headed off to CP3, a cairn NW of Eylesbarrow, I was sure I could hear distant swearing from the east.

Claggy now, and I chose a different route than planned because I didn’t feel like following, and it was nice to pass some mountain-bikers on an uphill. Less nice when they said they were embarrassed at being passed by “a jogger”. Fortunately my self-esteem was still resilient at this point.

Chucking it down now, and a bit of faffing round (I’m summarising) to find the cairn, which wasn’t where I had wanted it to be. Continental drift, I reckoned.

We don’t talk about the next bit, on the way to CP4 at the aqueduct. I headed north from Crazywell Cross, with the aim of hitting the leat after 150m and turning east. Instead though, I sort of dropped off into a rainy daydream, and half a mile later I was on top of Cramber Tor. I have no real explanation as to how this happened, but when I think back I can remember crossing a stream. A stream? A stream? It was the bloody leat. I think the mountain-bikers were right.

Difficult ground to get back to the aqueduct then, and a long long run through the woods, still in the rain to CP5 and the finish, and all the time thinking I would be the last one out, and everyone would have gone home (much like sea-swimming again). So it was nice to get passed by a couple of people on the last leg, so that at least I knew I wasn’t keeping people waiting…

And back at the car, I had brought my bike in case I could bring myself to go out for a steady 45 minutes to get used to biking on runny legs. But I had a puncture. If I’d been wet and cold but the bike was fine, I would have done it. If it had been sunny, I’d have changed the tube. But fixing the bike with cold wet shaky hands?

Not today. Today was now going to be a drive home and cups of tea, and hanging the map up to dry but not my soggy kit yet, and sitting in a nice warm house thinking about how very much I enjoyed my morning of losing and finding where I was. 

Seven lessons in kayaking

July 24, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Wet | Leave a comment
eight lessons, if you include me finding out about cormorant trees

eight lessons, if you include me finding out about cormorant trees

1. If you are going kayaking with someone fitter than you, make sure they have the heavy double kayak and the small sweet child. This means they will spend the day thinking you have chosen a better line, when all you’ve done is chosen a lighter boat.

2. Expect to get wet, and don’t be surprised at getting even wetter. I started with an inch of water in the boat already. I did look for a hole in the bottom of the boat to let the water out, but then decided a hole might not be such a good idea. Then it rained on me in every direction, while meanwhile I drenched myself with splashy paddling. And if that wasn’t wet enough, I had to give stern looks over the stern (look, I spoke nautical) at someone trying to steal the flapjack box by washing it off my boat.

3. The water escapes. When we stopped for a soggy lunch (I left a wet patch in the pub), we carefully hoicked the boats up onto the jetty, away from a short patch of horrid mud. Then when we came back later, all buoyant and a bit drier, the horrid mud had sort of grown, and all the river had run away.

4. Some bits of water go faster than you. When we had happily splodged our way back down the creeky bit, there was a sort of motorway effect as we reached the main river and watched the current and tide hurtling towards the sea. In exactly the direction we weren’t planning on going. There may even have been a sort of rushing noise, like with tube trains. And, like battling the crowds outside tube trains, there was no way we were going anywhere that the water didn’t want to take us. In the time it took to say “oops”, we were already halfway to France (well, halfway-ish), and there was then a hand-over-hand slog back up the river thinking maybe, just maybe, the kayak people were right when they said that we were Going Too Far.

5. If someone who knows the river is going a different way to you, chances are you’ve gone the wrong way. Tom! Tom! You’ve gone the wrong way. Quick, look damply nonchalant and pretend you’ve found a better line. Yeah, right.

6. The boats escape. We found a particularly attractive bit of stinky mud to stagger across for a little sit down on something less hard and cold and wet than a kayak (a hard cold wet stone would do nicely). And, being sensible people we happily dragged the boats up loads across the mud, way way more than the tide would come in ten minutes. Which would have been fine if we hadn’t stopped for half an hour. In the spare twenty minutes, boat #2 ended up in the middle of the suddenly-much-wider river. Luckily. boat #1 was still cautiously paddling at the edge because it thought the water looked a bit cold, so we at least didn’t have to swim for it. I wouldn’t have got any wetter if I had though.

7. Like so many things, it can suddenly and unexpectedly all become wonderful. As we turned the corner towards home, the boats were moving as they should. And the wind hid and it was the sun’s turn to look, and the seagull’s reflection flew across the bright river-sky-clouds, and people were singing to small children, and we were playing i-spy, and L was for lovely.

Taking the girls to the Race for Life

July 19, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Stuff | Leave a comment
The girls

the girls

We had a nice time at the Race for Life at Exeter this morning, and I do like the way the women-only thing makes it much more accessible for all sorts of women.

Mind you, Isaac and I might have preferred to be running rather than standing in a downpour holding an awful lot of bags…

Recceing the Sticklepath horseshoe

July 15, 2009 at 11:34 pm | Posted in Run | Leave a comment
Steeperton Tor, with Cosdon Beacon in the backgroind

Steeperton Tor, with Cosdon Beacon in the background

It’s a lovely race, the Sticklepath Horseshoe. Based at a village fair, organised by an enthusiast, with local people being kind enough to trek out onto the moor to do the checkpoints.

And, it’s a brilliant natural, runnable course that really stretches you (or me, anyway).

Today though we were recceing it, and while it threatened to rain it was clear and lovely all the way round.

And I found out two things:

– first was that I think I finally know the route. That’s a big thing, actually, having spectacularly arsed up the navigation the two times I’ve raced it before. FFS, Tom, it’s a horseshoe, all you need to do is follow the ridges. South out, north back. Cheeses.

– second was that maybe I need to run a bit quicker sometimes. Last time (only two weeks ago?) I pottered round the course in two hours, but today we did a bit less than 1:50.  And, I was happily wittering a lot of the way round, even though I knew I was working harder than before.

So maybe I need to potter a little less, and run a little more…

How can 5k feel such a long way?

July 7, 2009 at 3:00 am | Posted in Run | Leave a comment

Well when I was warming up I wasn’t massively keen, because I knew I had tired legs after the hard run on Friday and Sunday, and a hard bike on Saturday and yesterday’s long swim, but I was also thinking how important it was to get my racing head back on again.

But of course having my racing head on means knowing how to suffer, and that’s not a good thing to be looking forward to.

And last time I did 20:05, and that was ok, but this time I would like to be under 20, but it was very windy….

And I started with my friend Dave, and he went ahead a bit in the first 1k, but I knew he starts too quick so I let him go, and then I gradually came back up to him.

But from there it was a funny race, because I had nobody breathing down my neck, and the next person was a good or bad 50 metres ahead of me, and now twice in two days I’m on a solitary trundle.

And I have to say, my mental attitude stank at that point, too full of excuses why I might not do well, and not enough just hardening the fuck up.

4 minutes for the first k, then 4.12 (windy bit) and 4.03 to make 12.15 at 3k, and it was only then that I started to get my head right. It was then that I remembered to ask myself how bad I actually felt on a scale of 1 to 10, and of course it was only a 6, because I was just meeting trouble half way.

And I counted that the trio ahead of me were 15 elephants away, and gradually, oh so gradually, I began to catch them as we turned for home, and then 4k in 16.12 (so a 3.57 k even though that was the windy bit again, it’s a two lap course) , and I’m beginning to push properly now and feel myself running.

Then 400m to go and I’ve nearly caught them and with one part of my head I’m saying not to be heroic and just go sensibly to the finish, but as we turn the corner I kick and kick again, and I find my extra gear, and I pass the first of them and the last of them, and I can hear them still there but I still have gears left, and there is no way they will ever come past me.

And then I’m bent over at the finish and it’s 20.09, which isn’t under 20 at all, but what I’ve done is run the last 2k at least a little bit like a proper runner, and I know it’s still all coming together.

Swimming in a cold sea

July 6, 2009 at 2:46 am | Posted in Wet | Leave a comment

Swimming is so far outside my comfort zone. It’s good for my body and soul that I do it, but I wonder if it will ever feel right?

It was so cold today, so cold. Whether it was the high tide, or the rain, I don’t know, but it took your breath away. You walked in and your feet were freezing, and then the only thing that hid your gasps as the rest of you went in was everyone else’s gasps.

The idea was to get in and get over the physical shock, and then bob round while we were told what to do. And while we were bobbing round I had to take my hands out of the water because they were so cold.

Then it was out to the buoys, where we swim along the line of them along the shore, and this time they were about 150-200m from the shore, which is a Long Way but the current was with us so we were ok.

And as you go out you can see the rippled sand at the bottom, and it looks like you could touch it but it’s 10 metres below, 20 metres below. And then almost suddenly it’s just darkness below you, but as you turn your head on each stroke you’re looking upwards at the under-surface of the water, the shiny sky that fishes see.

And all the time I’m trying not to be last out to the buoy, because I’ve chosen to be in the middle group rather than the slower group, and I know that stretches my meagre ability, and I don’t want to make people wait and I don’t want to stick out. But, all I can see is the patch of water around me, and I don’t know if people are days ahead of me. And when I get there, there is still someone behind me, and that makes me happy. I take my happiness in very simple ways when I’m swimming.

Then our next thing is to swim to the next buoy along, “steady and with good technique”. They talk a lot about different paces, but I only really have one, and I don’t have any good technique, but what it does mean is that the other people aren’t hammering along, and the current is still with us, and I’m not too far behind.

And now we’re going back to the other buoy again, and we’re told to swim hard, and now I’m by myself, and there could be no one left in the sea, and the current is against me, and I can’t see the buoy, and I could do with some of my happiness back again. But after an interminable while – the current makes such a difference, such a difference, I’m at the buoy, and I’m not last, but it’s not my best swimming day ever, and I’m wondering why I’m here.

But we’re still going, and I’m still going, and I don’t stop, because I never do, because once I ever do then there will be no stopping me from stopping all the time ever again.

And now we’re back with the current behind us again. And I can feel the water moving round me, and I even feel a little bit like a swimmer, and this time we’re swimming two buoys along, and I’m not too far behind, like an eager but not-very-bright puppy that the grown-ups let tag along. And it’s ok, but in the back of my mind is how on earth we are going to get back again.

And when we get to the buoy I kind of hover just short of everybody else, so that I have that little bit less distance to swim back. And even while we’re just floating there being told what comes next (swimming hard back against the current two buoys again), we’re all swept by the current 20, 30, 40 metres past the buoy.

Then we turn and it’s back again, and it’s like swimming up a river. Except it’s worse, because all the fast people are swimming past me and on me and over me and it’s like being in a washing machine, except one with cold dead feet in front of me.

And then it’s calm, and I have a solipsistic 10 minutes struggling against the current to the buoys that I can’t even see, and which never come, against waves that weren’t there before, in an element that seems far from mine.

And then when I finally get there everyone has just turned for home, but Mike who’s leading us today is still there, and he points me to the beach, and it’s the long swim in, still against the current, but I know I’ve managed everything now, and even though I seem to be barely moving, I know I can do it, and I watch the bubbles sparkling on my hands as they point the way in front of me in the water, and the light changes from dark to less dark to green and to a bit like silver and gold as the sand reappears below me, and I have a moment where it all seems right for that moment, and I think that sea-swimming is like fell-running.

And when I get to the beach, and I’m walking back along the seafront to the cars, I realise that perhaps some people weren’t really that far in front of me (although lots were). And it’s also just like fell-running because there are people in proper shoes and socks and clothes who are looking at me like I’ve taken leave of my senses, and that’s a nice thing because I’ve been somewhere they haven’t, and some of that place was in the cold deep sea and some of it was a bit inside me.

Teignmouth webcam

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.