Movember 2013

Now I’ll admit there have been plenty of occasions during the last three months of run, sleep, rinse and repeat, that I’ve not had a clue which day if the week it is.

I’ve also not kept an exact count of every step I’ve taken (approximately five million, three hundred and seventy six thousand so far) although I can tell you what every country I’ve passed through looks like when you experience every inch of it under your own steam, step by step.

Still, I’ve not gotten so carried away in my own alternative world that the month of the year escapes me, you didn’t think I’d forgotten its “Movember” did you? Oh hell no!

It started with my first wet shave of the run in a hotel room in Finland. The results were the foundation of the lesser spotted “Ginger Mo”

It may only have been a little ‘cub’ of a Mo but it was too dangerous to keep in the city, it’d never have made it to maturity, grabbing far too much attention!

Bringing a Ginger Mo into this world isn’t for the faint hearted, there’s a reason they’re so rare.

So we went underground, hiding in the woods of Finland, a Swiss army knife helped me to tend to the Mo’s needs.

Now the Mo was becoming strong and no longer wanted to hide, I couldn’t contain him in the woods, he dragged me to Finland’s capital to parade his rare beauty. It wasn’t enough, the Mo wanted to share recognition!

The lesser spotted Ginger Mo is now about to hit his fourth country inside of three weeks!

Even though Eastern Europe provides a natural habitat for Mos where they’re found year round, in far higher numbers than the Western climate where they hibernate 11months of the year, the lesser spotted Ginger Mo is still as rare as unicorn droppings.

It’s not easy being a sidekick to the Ginger Mo, he grabs inordinate amounts of attention. It can only be a matter of time until a poacher steels him or the fashion Interpol deports him!

Please do the right thing and help make sure this international ginger Mo smuggling operation has not been in vain!

I’m part of the Lucky Seven team fundraising for Movember, raising awareness of the need for men to take male health issues seriously (and check themselves every now and then)!

Please donate here: http://uk.movember.com/team/1001329

Movember – “silly things matter”

My top 8 camping tips

There’s a big difference between actually living outdoors compared to spending a couple of nights camping and it definitely takes some getting used to. Here are a few tips to make extended camping trips more comfortable in the short term, and safer in the long run (we’re talking wild camping here, not a campsite with toilets, showers etc.)

1. Keep your kit clean

Your kit is the only thing looking after you when the elements close in.

Unlike a weekend’s camping, where the kit can take some abuse, then dry and air out once home until your next micro adventure, with long term camping you can’t allow your kit to become dirty, damp or damaged. When you’re using your kit back to back and depending on it still working next week (or next month/year as in my case) it’s imperative to take care of it.

I always use a sleeping bag liner that can be washed in the shower and dries fast because washing your bag is impossible until you’re back home.

2. Keep your kit in tact

This one sounds obvious, but one handy tip that often goes overlooked is to make a footprint – a footprint is something you put down under the tent to take the damage of sticks, thorns, brambles, and stones hidden under leaves.

This can be purpose bought for your tent or you can cut a shower curtain or tarp to fit. It needs to be slightly smaller than the tent to not catch water running off the fly. Most modern tents have bath tub ground sheets built into the lining which is fine for use on grass but not suitable for less well manicured terrain (which is what I’ve mostly been camping on during my world run).

I use a roll matt, it’s much thicker than plastic, offering more protection for both my tent floor and the air bed above it from punctures, and it also adds some much appreciated thermal insulation.

3. Keep dry

Not only is it miserable if your kit becomes damp, it’s also twice the weight, smelly, and downright dangerous to sleep in – hypothermia isn’t something you get to experience twice!

Use a dry bag for your sleeping bag and have this inside a larger dry bag with other kit you need to keep dry. A wet sleeping bag can kill you, so do not risk it!

4. Keep your tent ventilated

A fully zipped up tent might feel cosy and logically seems warmer but it won’t be. In fact, after a few weeks spent like this you’ll be much colder as a consequence.

Your breath and sweat evaporating in the evening form condensation, and if you’ve been active during the day then this can amount to well over half a litre of moisture. Without adequate airflow, as soon as that moisture hits the cool inside of your tent it turns to water droplets. After weeks camping in a poorly ventilated tent your kit will be much heavier and smellier.

5. Create a living space

When camping for extended periods I wholly recommend using a tarp placed above the tent and extended beyond the entrance to create a dry area for cooking, dressing, packing your tent away or putting the tent up…or anything else you’d like to do without being rained on!

A tarp above your tent keeps your tent dry, keeps the inner dry from condensation and you can sleep with the doors wide open as there is no chance of rain coming in; it’s the best way to keep the tent fully ventilated.

6. Don’t blindly follow the manufacturer’s recommendations

I recommend disregarding the manufacturer’s bags if they don’t serve your purpose. For example, do you really want to put your dry tent and a soaking wet outer into the same tent bag if you plan on using that tent again before it’s been aired out at home?  I use two separate bags for tent inner and outer. The same goes for stuff sacks. Do you really want to spend the extra ten minutes every morning wrestling a sleeping bag back into its tiny pack? No! Use a compression bag or dry bag instead.

7. Don’t be afraid to DIY

If you’re short on cash, there are a lot of things that can be made yourself at home for a fraction of the cost of buying them at expensive camping stores. I mentioned the footprint already above, but there are also windshields for cooking which are nothing more than a sheet of foil, and cosies for your cooking pans.

8. Cook smart

A cosy for your pans can half your fuel requirements, cut cooking  times and save you a tonne of cash as you can avoid those expensive,  dehydrated meals. Instead, you can use quick cook meals from a regular supermarket rather than the specialist camping stores. These meals will be about five times cheaper than the camping store ones. The only trouble is they need boiling then simmering for seven minutes or so, which can require a lot of extra fuel being used. However, a simple pan cosy overcomes this. Instead of simmering your food once you’ve brought it to the boil, turn the stove off and place the pan in its cosy. Almost none of the heat will escape. Pasta takes seven minutes simmering but will cook through in a cosy in less than ten minutes without any extra fuel.

You also don’t have to attend the stove, it doesn’t sound like much of a deal, but it’s an extra hour to yourself each week if you add it all up! While my dinners cooking in the cosy I can inflate my air bed, get changed, send through my camping coordinates and update twitter, then my dinner is ready!

I made my pan cosy myself out of a cheap foil coated roll mat. I’ve never seen them commercially available but it takes half an hour to make your own and they’re brilliant, just look on YouTube for guidance.

Ok there are plenty more small things you pick up along the way but those are the main ones I’d recommend if you’re planning your own extended camping adventure!

 

More haste, less speed

Eight miles from Latvia having run Estonia this last week, I’m taking my first full day off in 40 days.

I don’t believe planned days off are of huge benefit in events like this, but yesterday my legs ached all day for the first time and this morning the feeling was only worse, and this was following a night in a guesthouse vs. wild camping, so I’d had a much deeper sleep.

I’ve had an absurd amount to eat today. I’ve tried sleeping extra hours to recuperate, but to no avail, my body has been screaming out for food incessantly!

It’s only 8pm and I’ve eaten well over 7000 calories. I’m writing this and about to go and have dinner and get snacks for later. Seriously, my stomach is rumbling, and it’s hard to concentrate on typing as I just have an overwhelming urge to eat!

It’s the first time I’ve felt this hungry for a long, long time since setting out on this run. I’ve struggled to eat anywhere near the required 6000 calories a day in order to maintain weight.

My legs are visibly larger than this morning, much larger!  It’s the empty glycogen stores refilling. I never though it possible to comfortably eat over 5000 calories in a day and today will be well over 10,000 calories without any force feeding, my body and appetite are just screaming out for more.

The last three weeks I’ve been on a somewhat downward spiral, it’s taken a day off to realise the problem and the solution.

I’ve been running faster and stronger but covering fewer miles, how? Intensity – I’ve been struggling to get going in the mornings. Sure climbing out of your cosy sleeping bag into the rain or snow isn’t very appealing but it’s what I signed up for, so it is to be expected and dealt with.

The problem though is a self-fulfilling fatigue, having woken up late and been slow to strike camp, I’m forced to chase my tail all day long, trying make up for lost time. When winter is closing in and the days are shrinking it just can’t be done!

Running 20% faster is 20% tougher right? Wrong! It’s about 40% tougher; it’s draining, not just physically but mentally. There is only so hard you can push if you are doing it again and again day after day, I’ve been running too fast.

It’s left me mentally burnt out; in the morning I’m exhausted following the previous days efforts. Dragging myself out of bed has taken up to two hours just to eat, dress and strike camp, it’s an absurd amount of wasted time but I’ve been like a zombie!

I think it’s caused by sustained very low glycogen levels, running at higher intensities asks the body to burn a lot of sugar. I don’t normally need this as I usually train to run off body fat, sugar just being a turbo boost in events but never in training, but the brain requires sugar.

Running faster, blunts appetite also making it impractical to eat much during the running block, this means having to gorge myself in the evenings to make up the calories.

It doesn’t work, I’ve been eating less, sleeping less (due to eating so much extra just before bed) and then wasting hours in the morning like a zombie trying to get going. I hadn’t realised what I was doing until a few days ago, honestly during prolonged fatigue your mental acuity drifts very quickly into foggy territories.

This fatigue and other underlying reasons are then compounded by my desire to make miles before sunset, running so hard my stomach muscles are sore to the touch! The counter force of pushing the buggy at higher speeds requires a lot of core strength, which I have but it’s just a bit too much.

The simple answer is to slow down and run longer hours, not faster.  I’ve taken today off as my legs told me to! The appetite which has taken me by complete surprise, confirms my suspicions. I’ve been running on empty for too long and hence the zombie state each morning.

Tomorrow I’m rising earlier and comfortably running 30 miles during my day, with time to eat along the way.

It’s crazy how easy it is to fall into a self-defeating pattern of trying harder but getting less done!

Like the old adage goes, ‘more haste, less speed’.

 

Powering through the rain, mist and snow

Since leaving Sweden in the snow I’ve had one dry day in Finland!

I’ve also lost three hours light in the evenings in just two weeks; how? Crossing the border I lost one hour due to the time zone change, one week later the clocks went back another hour. This far north we lose five to six minutes light per day, every day. It takes some getting used to when one day it’s dark just before 7pm and less than a fortnight later it’s dark just after 4pm!

The worst day came at the beginning of last week when it snowed heavily all night. When camping, you need to monitor the amount of snow building up on top of your tent and remove it periodically throughout the night. This is to prevent waking up in claustrophobic panic, while you frantically tear your tent to pieces trying to throw the weighted plastic off your face! That’s just a long winded way of saying, you just don’t sleep in a tent while it’s snowing!

The snow abated at around 6am when I mistakenly thought I’d grab an hour’s shut eye before striking camp, how wrong I was. It began raining instead, which then continued for sixdays straight!

Running in the rain is miserable. It’s too warm to run in full waterproofs, you become almost as wet from sweat as you would if you weren’t wearing waterproofs! There’s also no way to dry your clothes, which means you can become dangerously cold when outside for days on end.

This means striking a fine balance between pulling waterproof layers on and off as the rain intensity varies from deluge to misty drizzle, the dreaded ‘mizzle’, and constantly changing your effort to stop soaking your clothes through with sweat when the layers are on.

It leaves you looking somewhat bedraggled and with the best of wills you probably look sorry for yourself after back to back days of ‘half sleeping’ through the noise of rain on your tent, being awake as the alarm goes off and it’s still raining, knowing you have to leave the warmth of your sleeping bag and then stand in the rain packing your kit and tent away, here’s where determination and willpower are truly tested!

Proof of it making you appear less than your best came on the fourth day of almost no sleep and constant rain, where upon asking an elderly gentleman for directions to the post office where I was collecting a parcel of kit, he looked me up and down, then proceeded to find his wallet and empty out every last coin to give to me! He was quite upset when I refused his cash!

I suppose it just doesn’t cross people’s minds that someone would voluntarily be pushing their life around in a cart and camping in the rain and snow… they just see a homeless guy!

Still come rain or shine, the only real thing to do is keep running on. Finland will be complete within the next couple of days and that’s another milestone to be proud of.

It’s not all bad though, the roads are far safer than Sweden, with adequate hard shoulders clearly marked off on the busy roads, and you know as you approach a town that you’re almost certain to be greeted with a few kilometres  of cycle path leading in and then out of town.

The reindeer have eluded me, and the Finnish elk seem just as shy of runners as their Swedish cousins!

So Western Europe and now Scandinavia crossed, next week I will be entering Eastern Europe and I should hit the border with the Middle East, the Black Sea and Istanbul around Christmas time…yes, Turkey for Christmas!

There’s something in those Devon hills!

Is it something in the air or in the water? There’s definitely something about Devon that inspires would be explorers to set their sights on far flung corners of the globe, and then test themselves with incredible feats of endurance.

But more than inspiring its inhabitants, the national parks of Devon provide the perfect training ground to enable the achievement of these huge goals, it’s not an accident that the elite British force, the Royal Marines, train there!

Perhaps the most famous explorer of all time Ranulph Fiennes honed his fitness on the North Devon hills of Exmoor. The same place I began my obsession with pushing further and further.

Exactly One year to the day before I set off on my Hard Way Round expedition, a couple of fellow Devonians, David and Katherine Lowrie, stood on the southern-most tip of the Americas. Their aim was to run the length of the whole of South America in one year and their goal was to promote conservation issues within South American habitats which affect every one of us.

You can find out more about their incredible expedition, 5000 mile project, here and you can help them bump their total fundraising here.

Once again congratulations guys, it’s been an amazing and inspiring journey to follow.

Katherine and David will soon hold the world record for the first couple to run the length of the South Americas!

…There’s something in those Devon hills!