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Archive for the ‘Fun stuff’ Category

During my PhD I’ve been lucky enough to travel regularly, attending conferences and workshops in some rather exciting places. Anyone who attends a lot of conferences will know that no matter how exotic the location, it’s near impossible to stray very far from the conference venue when days begin at 8:30 and finish after dinner and drinks that evening. Unless you tie an extra day or two to the beginning/end of a conference, you can travel pretty far without seeing much other than a conference hall and a table of sandwiches.

It was during my first overseas conference in 2012 that I realised how great it would be to have my running gear along with me for the ride. I was in Stockholm for five days, but most of my time was taken up in the conference itself, so instead I got up early each day and walked the few miles across the city to the venue. I made an effort to take a different route each day, and one day I found a glorious path through a forest which led me right to the university: had I not made the effort to leave my hotel at 7am, there would be no opportunity to discover these things. Ever since, I’ve packed some lycra in my backpack (it takes up no space, after all) and worn my trainers for the journey (comfy, excellent when running for buses/trains, and no problems at airport security) – conference travel has been yet another excuse for some awesome running adventures.

Most recently, I enjoyed a little tour of Warwick University’s excellent campus. Not glamorous, but great for a little bit of headspace before a long day of networking, presenting and thinking. I’ve run along the beaches of San Sebastian at dawn when no one else was around, joined the masses of early-rising Swedes at midsummer on Södermalm, Stockholm, and explored woodland trails in Leipzig. Generally I don’t run far as usually there isn’t time, but when you’re in a new place no running route is boring, and a quick 5km is all you need to see something of a place. When staying for a few nights, I usually make the effort to get up as early as 5am on one morning (so long as it’s light outside) to get a decent long run in – at that time, you get to see a place so differently from in daylight when tourists are at their most enthusiastic.

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Wonky Stockholm, 5:30am at midsummer.

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Less-wonky Stockholm

Running has taken me to some awesome places, too. Last year I was lucky enough to get to a workshop on a Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle, and Daniel met me in Tromsø afterwards to run the Midnight Sun half marathon. This was an experience I’ll never forget; taking part in an overseas race has to be one of my top running highlights to-date, and I’m keen to do more and more as I continue to explore the world.

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Runners on the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø

Equally, I’ve taken running to some awesome places, and used it to my advantage in times of need. Last week I was visiting family in Ontario, Canada, and made use of the early hours presented to me by jetlag to see the sun rise over Lake Ontario. It was an incredible experience: locusts and cicadas sung out but the rest of the world was so still and quiet. The vastness of Lake Ontario was exactly what I needed after weeks of busy thesis-writing, and it was warm enough (actually, it was boiling hot even at that time) to sit down and soak in the views for a while.

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Spot the CN Tower in the distance!

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I have a little Deuter 15L Speedlite which I use as my everyday backpack*, and doubles up perfectly as a running pack for easy runs. I always pop in some water, a map and my phone/camera, just like any proper tourist, before I head out on my exploration runs. And, importantly, I never hesitate to stop and enjoy the views, take photos, and soak in the awesomeness of wherever I might be!

*Unfortunately nobody has paid me to say this; I just genuinely love this backpack.

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Escaping to Keswick in May is becoming a yearly ritual in this house; neither of us are ‘summer people’ so this is the perfect time of year to get out into the mountains for some fresh air before a busy summer of conferences begins – it tides us over until Autumn, which is our preferred time for a main holiday. This year we decided to time our trip to coincide with the Keswick Mountain Festival; I missed out on my annual Keswick Half Marathon fun this year but we planned instead to take part in the trail events put on at the festival – Daniel signed up for the 10km trail race, and I opted for the 25km race as a training run for my upcoming ultra.

We took the Friday off work and headed up to Keswick early that morning, under the usual cloudy skies and with the inevitable promise of challenging weather. The town was already buzzing when we arrived just before lunch, and we struggled to find a spot to park in the rabbit warren of streets around our B&B: every single window declared that there was ‘no room at the inn’ – Keswick was packed to the rafters for the weekend! We headed to our favourite Saddleback cafe for a much-needed mug of builder’s tea and some lunch; this place has just opened when we first found it last year, and it was brilliant to see how well they were doing – very pleased! (Is it just me or is Keswick really lacking in great places to eat and drink? Finally this appears to be changing!).

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After lunch it was time for the first challenge of the weekend: to get myself kitted out for the ultra marathon. I managed to spend a rather disproportionate amount of money on some ultra lightweight waterproof running trousers (costing about £5 a gram!), and also picked up some funky new shorts and a super comfy bra – chafing is starting to become a problem, and Keswick is the place to fix that! Then it was time for Running Inspiration of the Weekend #1 to take place: Graham Patten, race director of the Lakeland Trails events, was due to finish the Bob Graham Round at about 17:40. I’d been keeping an eye on his progress with an online tracker that afternoon, and noticed that he was well ahead of schedule, and would be finishing at 16:30ish instead. I changed into my trainers and ran to the Moot Hall, to find him sitting on the steps with no shoes on looking as bright and as lively as could be, surrounded by a friendly support group. I was disappointed to miss his arrival but so pleased to be able to congratulate him in person – he was running to raise money for BLISS, and can be sponsored here! “See you in three weeks!” I said, as he headed off to celebrate in the pub. GULP.

I regret to say that it wasn’t long after this that we decided to hit our favourite pub – we had a talk to attend at 9pm and wanted to secure some food and some chilling out beforehand. Plus, it was very cold outside and pretty windy – I hate cold weather and could find no better reason to tuck up in the Dog and Gun. If you’ve never been to the Dog and Gun then I would suggest that you brave the crowds and try it out if you’re ever in the area. It’s hard to get a seat (for good reason!), but if you’re prepared to prop up the bar for a while you usually get lucky, even if you have to share with strangers. They serve an excellent goulash (meaty or veggie) with dumplings, potatoes and garlic bread – there is surely no better way to fuel up or recover before/after an energetic day in the hills.

We got chatting to another couple from Yorkshire who were attending the festival along with everyone else in the pub, and it didn’t seem two minutes before they headed off to the music along with most other people and we were able to get a seat. Not long afterwards a wiry and weathered-looking old man sat down at the adjoining table with his wife, but at the same time a better table came free and we shifted places again. As I sat down I realised that we’d just passed on an opportunity to share a meal with Joss Naylor – legendary fell runner and retired shepherd, whose talk we were due to attend in a couple of hours! I couldn’t help but kick myself, but luckily the enormous bowl of goulash was enough to distract me from this silly mistake!

The talk was held at the Theatre By The Lake, and featured Joss Naylor and his ‘rival’ Steve Birkinshaw, both telling their own stories of their completion of the 214 Wainwrights: Joss was the fatest man to complete the round, in seven days and one hour, in 1987, and Steve was the first runner to beat his time, bringing the record down to 6 days and 13 hours in 2014. Both men were excellent to listen to, delivering completely different but equally entertaining and moving accounts of their own attempts. It was quite startling to hear Joss Naylor, known as ‘Cumbria’s Iron Man’ or ‘King of the Fells’, describe his amazing achievement as ‘done badly’; it was very humbling to listen to them speak so frankly about what was no doubt an equally torturous and amazing venture. I finally got to meet Joss in person afterwards when he signed my ticket and put up with a rather bumbling conversation on my part. We left the venue feeling very inspired: there was no ‘celebrity’ involved in the evening – it was just two runners talking about running, and I was so glad that we decided to attend this event.

Me and Joss getting on famously, of course..!

Me and Joss getting on famously, of course..!

The next morning, after an excellent breakfast spread provided by our hosts Sue and Iain (seriously, if you need somewhere to stay in Keswick, their B&B is the place), I decided to make up for my missed Keswick Half Marathon this year and run the route on my own. Door-to-door it would be about 15 miles, which alongside Sunday’s trail race would make for excellent back-to-back training for UT55. I set out towards Portinscale, weaving through the hoards of people and their teeny tiny dogs (one of my serious running (and normal life) pet hates) in the town centre. It took a while to get onto quiet roads, but once I did it was absolutely marvellous. I’ve only ever run this route in a race, so this time I had chance to slow down a bit and enjoy the views, and even take some photos. Such a gorgeous course. But – and I say this every time – I swear it gets hillier each time I run it! Barring a bridge closure at Stair the run went really smoothly – I did have to go cross-country to get back on course here, but I was running steady and in no rush to get back (Daniel had gone for a morning hike). The last three miles of the course is along the rather hairy Borrowdale Road from Grange, and here I decided to play it safe and take to the lakeside trails instead. It would have been wonderful, but as I was wearing my road shoes I wasn’t confident enough on some parts, as I had no grasp of the terrain. It was cool to notice how different the off-road experience is when not in the right shoes, though.

Views towards Buttermere

Views towards Buttermere

The last couple of miles into Keswick coincided with the running leg of the triathlon, which was taking place that day, and I found myself coming back towards Crow Park alongside some of the runners – it was a bit awkward when people started cheering for me, and I had to explain that I wasn’t actually taking part in the race (they continued cheering anyway)! This was a great way to end a brilliant run though, and I started to really look forward to my race the following day.

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We spent the afternoon browsing the tents and stalls in the festival village. It was so cold, and I was so tired, and definitely didn’t enjoy this bit as much as I’d have liked. We decided to take refuge in a large tent where a great folk band were playing a brilliant variety of music from around the world, including a few Yiddish tunes. The plan was to come back for the evening music after some food, but I was spent and longing for a good sleep before my race the next day, so after some triple-carbs (seriously, lasagne AND chips AND garlic bread in one meal?!) I headed back to the B&B while Daniel went back to the festival to watch Seth Lakeman’s set.

I’ll review the trail race in a separate post, but all in all the Keswick Mountain Festival was a great way to spend an outdoorsy weekend: sport, music, talks, food and drink, in one of the loveliest locations in the UK world. Keswick was busier than I’ve ever seen it, but if you plan ahead AND allow yourself to go with the flow it does work well. It was strange to spend an entire weekend in the Lake District and not find any real space or peace, and I admit that I returned home feeling less rested than when I set off (and am paying for it now with the flu – a serious impediment to my training!), but if you arrive prepared for that, or perhaps plan in some solitary time, then it’s less of a problem. Thanks to the organisers for putting on such a fun weekend!

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