Final Blog Post before the big day….. :)

And so the VERY big day is rapidly approaching now. Indeed in just two days time I will be in Berlin (or I hope I will anyway :O) getting nervously ready for the big day on Sunday. It has been a long road for sure…..

It feels a bit incredible now that I started my training plan for this event in May. Especially as we sit here now with much cooler days, the nights drawing in, and yes, I saw Christmas decorations and mince pies in the supermarket yesterday – ridiculous but true!! Since then I’ve covered approximately 700 miles, gone through two pairs of trainers (they tell you they last 350 miles and I’m a stickler for the rules!) and countless energy drinks, tabs, gels and the like.

I’ve also bought several new running vests (it is going to be about 17 degrees in Berlin and that demands being as cool as I can get), new shorts, some fancy Alphafly shoes that I may well not even wear (more on that below), and had the flight cancelled that I was supposed to be going on. But no matter, I’ll get there, by hook or by crook, and give it my best shot.

Speaking of best shots, I’ll put it down here now – I will as things stand be (only a little bit) disappointed if I don’t/can’t break (but just!) 3hrs 40 mins. That’s the target, and I’m going to everything I can to get to it. 3 hrs 39 mins and 59.9 seconds will do – that’ll have me cheering/doing metaphorical cartwheels. When I started my training, using Hanson’s Marathon Method (great book, but VERY detailed :O), I wanted to get to 3 hrs 45mins, and so that’s what I’ve trained for. That is 8m 35s miles. To put that into perspective for me, my only marathon was in New York, 3 years ago, and I did 3hrs 54mins, and I was delighted with that.

I’ve found though that as the training has gone on, despite the odd hiccup (like having to go for a colonoscopy in week 15 for example!) I’ve got generally stronger in terms of how relaxed it has all been. That doesn’t mean faster, but in terms of heartbeat. I ran today for example, for 5 miles, at an overall average of 9mins 2 secs, and my heartbeat averaged 133bpm. I think at the start of this programme that would have been about 20 beats higher. So that doesn’t necessarily mean I can do much better in terms of outcome of course, it just hopefully means I have a greater aerobic capacity to get through it. According to my Garmin watch too, my VO2 max predictor has gone up from 48 to 52 over the programme. Again, it doesn’t mean diddly squat when it comes to the day necessarily, but hopefully it at least brings confidence. After all, a lot of running is in the head too.

But what it has translated to is a faster pace per mile in training on tempo runs without getting over-exerted. My tempo (marathon pace) has gradually slightly been lowered (by me, based only on ‘feel’) to around 8 mins 20 seconds a mile, and that would equate to 3hrs 38mins and 20 seconds (precisely!). So let’s see if I can sustain 8:20 pace for 26.2 miles, and see what happens!

So the schedule is to get to Berlin (early) on Friday morning, go to the Expo (which is mandatory as you have to collect your bib etc there) in the afternoon, and then just chill as much as I can. There is a ‘shakeout’ run scheduled on the Saturday morning which I may do too though. In fact there are a couple of those – one with Sports Tours International (the company with whom I’ve booked the trip), and one with Ben Parkes and his followers. Ben is a 2:25 marathoner and esteemed YouTuber, who I follow too – he’s a bit geeky but also entertaining and informative. He unsuccessfully attempted the UTMB a few weeks ago, and I found myself absolutely crying with him even on the starting line he was that emotional.

Interestingly, in Ben’s very latest post he was deliberating on choice of shoes. He can’t decide between three different pairs, and you’d think that someone who is a 2:25 marathoner would have it nailed down with three days to go, but apparently not! That makes me feel slightly better as I can’t decide between two pairs. I have loved Nike Vaporfly since I bought them before New York, but I bought some Nike Alphafly this year, intending them for this very race. However, the Alphafly are a bit heavier and clunkier (I wore them for the Great North Run two weeks ago), as opposed to lighter and more nimble for the Vaporfly. But, most of the serious athletes (including none other than the GOAT Eliud Kipchoge who I noticed arrived in Berlin today (not that I’m stalking him or anything :O)) choose the Alphafly, and quite honestly I’ll take all of the artificial advantages I can possibly get my hands on!

I’ll take both pairs to Berlin and it might be a toss up in the morning of the run as two which go on my feet, but the Vaporfly are favourites at this point in time, probably :D. First world problems indeed!

So the run itself begins at 9:15 on Sunday morning. I will have to try very very hard to contain emotions of just being by the Brandenburg Gate, where it also finishes. The Brandenburg Gate is just such an iconic monument in history. When I saw it last time (I’ve only been to Berlin once and was fortunate enough to have a little run through it too) it was almost overwhelming then, so what it will be like with the excitement of the event I can only imagine.

When I did New York I was very lucky to have Dan and Sadi come and cheer me on and meet up at the end. And the picture below was during the post race beer (or two) we all had in some bar afterwards. I love this photo so have put it here for at least my own posterity! Unfortunately they can’t be with me this time, but they’ll be tracking me (or watching Eliud Kipchoge on TV anyway, hopefully breaking the world record, as is rumoured….). I am so thankful for all the support and cheers that I’ve got along the journey from various other people too.

Wish me luck, as I badly need it, and see you on the other side……….

In some basement bar in Manhattan, post race of course (!) 3rd November 2019.

The one and only Great North Run 2022

The masses gather for as far as the eye can see at the start of the 41st Great North Run…

This is the DAY. This morning is THE Great North Run. As I write this I’m (literally) sat on the starting line, having arrived very early with over an hour to go, and am beyond excitement, anticipation, joy, appreciation, and also remembrance. 

Excitement that I am taking part in the 41st Great North Run in the first place. The journey home from Newcastle to South Shields, the place of my upbringing and all of my formative years. And I’ll tell you how excited this gets me. On my way up here first thing this morning from South Shields (an approximately 13.1 mile journey by Metro train, as it is a ‘point to point’ course) I stood in the queue for a ticket along with many other runners, and when I got to press the buttons on the machine I just clicked ‘return journey’ – it had somehow bypassed my befuddled braincells that I would be heading back under my own steam!!

Anticipation for the unbridled rush of emotions that this event always brings. It is a run through the places of my life, and all of my family’s lives. Every year that I have taken part (I think this is my 8th one now, but it might be 7, as I said, I’m excited 🙂 ) it doesn’t take long for me to get a total head rush. I have to bring myself out of it every time or I would literally have to stop and be properly overcome. It is generally about mile 1 when it happens, and you go though the tunnels before Tyne Bridge. There will be choruses of “oggy oggy oggy…..” and it overwhelms me every time. It actually contributes to my heart rate going through the roof, and me running too fast at the start. Happens every time and will probably happen today too. Just can’t help myself!

Joy and happiness to be together as part of the weekend with old friends, some who put me up last night (thanks Kate and Mark!) and others whom I met yesterday (fab to see you as always JB and Janine – it’s becoming a ritual 🙂 ). Joy also to be able to see the places and things that did indeed shape who I am. The beach at South Shields, the streets where I spent time with my grandparents when I was a kid, the baths where I learnt to swim, the technical college where my Dad used to teach pottery classes, my school, and the shops and sights and smells of the place of my birth are all, simply amazing. I am so grateful to be able to be in the midst of them once again. Yesterday I went down to the beach, as I always do when I am here, to just drink it all in. The word ‘sentimental’ doesn’t even begin to get close.

And my appreciation to all of those things and people extends very far and wide. To the founder of this race, the iconic and humble Sir Brendan Foster. He almost single handedly created an institution, from which so many people benefit. The charities and their beneficiaries who today alone will be some £25m better off because of it, the local communities and hospitality trade in the North East who have struggled over the last few years due to the pandemic.

And also to and on behalf of all the people of the area to whom this event alone brings in a lot of money in terms of hospitality revenues, they are all I know very grateful. There are 60,000 runners, mostly from out of the immediate area, and their families and friends, who are all spending money, on top of the half a million or so people who will be lining the route to cheer us on. Yes ‘us’, I’m one of the 60,000!

And so to remembrance. This weekend of course is very poignant for the whole country due to the death of the Queen. The event nearly didn’t take place because of it, and I’m just so glad that it is on. Many millions of people will be paying their respects over the next week or so, and this event will play its part in that. But remembrance for me, in the main, as it is every year, is for my Mam and Dad. The course will run past the street I grew up in, and where my Dad used to stand on the corner every year to cheer on the runners. He used to enthuse so much about it, and as I run past the corner of The Nook (about mile 10 1/2 on the course) it will bring every ounce of love and emotion out of my body. It’s probably even more special a place for me than the crematorium where their ashes are scattered, which incidentally we also run right past about a mile before that.

And so this week will end week 16 of the 18 weeks of the training schedule for Berlin. Another 50 or so miles – 57 I think including today. I won’t run hard, it wouldn’t be good. I am supposed (according to my religiously observed training schedule) to be doing a 10 mile run at a slow pace today. I won’t be able to run slow either, but hopefully I can just pace it well and come out at the end without injury. That’s really the most important thing. Actually writing that, I’m wrong, 100% wrong. The most important thing is all of the above things – to enjoy the very reasons why I am here, and why I will ALWAYS be here.

Come what may, this is the event of my life. The time, the weather, how quick or slow I run, anything and everything else in fact, don’t matter. This is more than special, and what I look forward to all year. This, is THE Great North Run 🙂

And it’s all done! This was shortly after the finish, and a 1:43 run, so not too fast, and not too slow either 🙂

If this helps just one person then it is worth it….

This is an almost impossible post to write, and one I probably shouldn’t even attempt. As I start it now, I am envisaging that by the time (or possibly well before) I finish it, it will be consigned to the delete bin. But I’m writing it not for me, but maybe for just one other person reading this, almost certainly that I will never know about. Here’s why:

Yesterday I went for a colonoscopy. To detect for bowel cancer. It was horrible, and frankly traumatic, but thankfully they didn’t detect any cancer. Now I might well get knocked down by a bus on my way home this evening, or die later this month from something else unknown at this point in time. After all, we are all going to die at some point. But, for this week or this month and hopefully a few years still, bowel cancer can fuck right off. I make no apologies at all for the language.

Cancer killed both my parents before their time was (or should have been) up. And it was bowel cancer that got my Mam. She was in her 50s at the time (when she got the bowel cancer, although she died a few years later from secondary cancer), and that is why it is so hard, and painful, and still (she died 22 years ago now) so very raw.

Bowel cancer is the 3rd most prevalent cancer in men, 4th in women, and about 1 person in 20 will get it in their lifetime. Caught early, you have an 84% chance of living for 10 years. Caught late, then 47% of people will die within a year or so. Shocking, appalling, and very sad. But bowel cancer is treatable, and you can if you are lucky carry on a normal life.

So why the story? Well, about a month or so ago, I started having some (actually quite a bit) rectal bleeding (I told you this was a hard post to write, but there’s no way of dressing this up really). Also I had a bit of bloating and some uncomfortable feelings ‘down there’. Now haemorrhoids cause blood, but this to me didn’t feel like that (as I’ve had piles before).

Now I’m a typical bloke I guess, and I said to myself that I should get checked out. But I was busy at work, and trying to sort my house out, and maybe the cat needed feeding too. There’s always an easy excuse for not ‘bothering’ your GP. There has after all been a big strain on the NHS for way too long now, and other people are (definitely) more important than me. Bollocks.

But eventually, a few weeks later, I picked up the phone to my GP, and the process of getting checked out started.

The NHS were absolutely magnificent from start to finish. No judgement, no fuss, no stress. Just efficiency, brilliance, compassion. They were focussed on me from start to finish. I was I should say fortunate in being fast tracked, due to family history, and also due to this having also happened to me (rectal bleeding and a resultant anal fissure) about 7 years ago. 

The week of the procedure isn’t pleasant, I can tell you. You have five days of a (very) low fibre diet, which is harder than it sounds (for me anyway), as the list of prohibited substances is massive (fruit, vegetables, red meat, brown bread, cereal, nuts, crisps, chips….the list goes on). Then you have a day of fasting, whilst you drink two lots of bowel emptying laxative. You can’t even leave the house, as you will go to the loo about 47 times in this 24 hour period, and probably almost run out of toilet rolls like I did.

Then there’s the anxiety. I did ask when they phoned me to make the final preparations for the colonoscopy, as to how soon they would give me the results. They told me that they would know there and then if there was ‘an issue’, and then at that time they would take a biopsy which would need to be evaluated. Any nasty looking polyps would be removed at the time if possible.

So you basically go into this knowing it is very binary. You’re either clear, or you’re not. No pressure! When they took my blood pressure in the ante room before the procedure the top reading was above 140, and whilst this isn’t exactly life threatening, mine is never above 120, other than after/during exercise. I test it regularly at home, an old habit from mountain/high altitude training. I was a bit of a basket case really. 

You also are given the choice for the procedure of sedation, in which case you need someone to look after you for 24 hours, or gas & air (Entonox). As I live on my own and have no family anywhere near I didn’t have a choice but to go for the gas and air. I say this as a bit of a wimp when it comes to pain! 

During the procedure they basically inflate the bowel with air all the way around to where your appendix is/was, and the combined camera/polyp removing tube does the rest. It’s a bit painful at times, and I was sucking on the gas and air like some gasping smoker who’d been given their last ever cigarette to make the most of. You’re in the theatre for about an hour all told, so let’s call it ‘thorough’.

I’ll dwell no more on the gory bits. Suffice to say that as they finished and the consultant told me that I was ‘clear’, I got very emotional. Then when I was taken into the ‘recovery’ room and given a cup of tea and a biscuit (I had sugar in my tea, which normally would be anathema to me, but I just needed anything I could get at that point) I got very emotional too. It was a release, a relief. I spoke with two of the most wonderful nurses on this planet, one called Vickie, and the other Sheree. They looked after me like I was the most important and precariously poised patient on the planet. I spoke with Sheree about how her Mum had died from cancer too. Relating to other people’s sad experiences really brings home just how prevalent this disease really is.

It makes it all so incredibly real too when you are sitting there imagining if the result had gone the other way. But with bowel cancer you don’t know unless you get tested. The call it ‘the silent killer’, as there are generally no symptoms at all.

After I got home I was on the phone to a very good friend of mine. I told him about my procedure. He mentioned that he’d had a test through the post a little while ago, but hadn’t done it. A ‘stool test’ they call them, and I think that now everyone over the age of 55 should get them. I told him to do it, straight away, and I hope he has done so. I’m making a note now to call him again and nag him to do so.

So, I am one of the lucky ones, so far. I feel very grateful to have all that I have in life. Cancer can hit you at any time, and so of course can many other illnesses and diseases. Listen to your body, and if you feel there is something wrong, then call your GP, please! I’m not preaching, I’m just talking as someone who feels grateful and lucky. You get one life. Live it, but also look after it.

Love to all.

It’s back!

Greetings – after a long time away from doing this, I left one of my last blog posts before this with the following quote: “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

That was in January 2020 and of course an awful lot of things have happened to the world since then. An aborted trip to Nepal was the last ‘disappointment’ personally, and in line with the above quote it still smarts a bit, but I shouldn’t (and won’t) dwell on that one bit. It also got ‘replaced’ that same summer with a great adventure on the Coast to Coast walk, which I loved and would love to actually do again sometime. But apart from one (wonderful and so enjoyable) trip skiing last month, I literally haven’t travelled anywhere since then, as of course has been the case for most people.

Life is of course what you make of it from one day to the next, and so looking over your shoulder has never been my thing. What matters is what you make of the cards that you have in your hand, at any time. Sometimes they are good ones, and sometimes they aren’t.

You only have to look at the (sub)title of my blog to know my philosophy on life. And I now speak (some two years after that last mission statement) in a somewhat different place for several reasons. The most fundamental of these are that in only 32 days time I will retire from work, maybe forever (!). That final decision will ultimately be made by the passage of time and events, but for now it will take the form of a break at least. I also find myself living, very fortunately, in the place of my childhood (and indeed lifelong) dreams, the Lake District, of which more in a later blog post. Suffice to say that in terms of fulfilling ambitions it is up there with the very best of them.

I’ve decided to start up my blog again now for several reasons. One, I love doing it, and over the last 10 or more years it has seen me in places and adventures that I couldn’t have even imagined or written the script for. Secondly it becomes for me both prophetic and self-fulfilling. Thirdly I’m about to (per the above!) about to have a lot more time on my hands. And fourthly (and ultimately now for me most importantly), I’m about to embark on some more adventures!

The first (not adventure but challenge) thing I have booked is the Berlin Marathon later this year. I want to say so much more about this, and so will do so in a subsequent blog post, but for now I know that I can’t wait to do it, and hope moreover that my body allows me to do so. I need to get properly fit to do that, and I know am not in the best shape I can be right now.

Why Berlin? Well, amongst other things it is such an incredible city, with the history of Brandenburg, the Prussian Empire, the Weimar Republic, The fall of World War 2, and of course the Wall and the Cold War, to name but a few. It also happens to be one of the six World Marathon majors, and is a flat course where Eliot Kipchoge set the (still current) world record. So if it is good enough for him…….. 😃.

The marathon is in September, two weeks after my favourite running event of them all, the Great North Run. I’ve paid for a place through an international travel operator, who buy and sell places on at a premium, so at least I know I’m in, if at a price. And already, even if this decision was taken only last week, I am bursting with excitement at the thought of just being on the starting line, and running through the Brandenburg Gate at the end. There are surely not many places of such combined majestic prominence and historical significance than that. I also know that the operator, Sports Tours International, who I used for my one and only marathon to date (New York in 2019) are a good company to go with.

I know from experience just how hard marathon training is. It’s simply a massive commitment in terms of time, effort, money and the impact on other things you might want to do. But I don’t want that disappointment of never having tried. My bowlines are thrown off, and safe harbors are not for me. Unfurl those sails and explore, that’s where I most surely am right now. 

More soon……… 😊

From the finish line in New York in 2019 – hopefully I get to be celebrating again in September.

Week 12 – the fine margins on which we sometimes hang….and some more adventures ahead!

Two things have occupied my thoughts as much as anything this week (except one other quite big thing, more of that at the end….), and both relate to just how fine margins are in running. The first relates to timings of runs, and the second to injuries, of which I am now suffering a bit…

This weeks programme called for 43 miles of running. The second last week of really big mileage before we start tapering in Week 14. The midweek runs were 6, 9 and 7 miles, and the weekend was 4 and 17, so a reduction from last week, which is good! It’s funny how all of a sudden 17 miles doesn’t seem too far any more!

The Tuesday run was a random Fartlek job of four miles, with a mile warm up and warm down. I got almost as wet as I did the Tuesday before and it simply lashed down the whole way. I didn’t really mind too much though, as it was almost a distraction from my leg pain, which is almost constant now, if still manageable.

On the Wednesday it was a tempo run of 9 miles. Despite the cold (3 or 4 degrees at 6am) I was really looking forward to it. It’s more or less the longest tempo run yet, and there will be quite a few more of these to come in the next few weeks. So the idea is to run at the pace we will run at in New York for the whole of the 26.2 miles. The run went well, and was followed on Thursday by more quicker paced running. This time it was 18 lots of 200m sprints (well, all things are relative as they say!) followed by 18 x 200m slow, as part of a 7 mile run. The weather was this time down to just 1 degree, and it felt colder still. I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold on a run, and was glad to get finished.

I also had more physiotherapy on Thursday. The physiotherapist is really good (from a local firm called Progressive Physiotherapy) and I have been now officially diagnosed as having a strain of the medial head of the gastrocnemius muscle, or gastroc. And in case you want to know more about the calf and muscles in it here you go, you’re welcome……. . I hadn’t even heard of the gastroc muscle until this week, but now thanks to the internet I’m an expert of the worst kind 🙂 The injury I have is also referred to as ‘tennis leg’ apparently. It’s manageable and that’s the main thing right now, so whilst it hurts when I’m running, it’s not terrible pain, and with lots of rollering, stretching and tlc, I believe I can (with help) nurse it all the way to New York. Time will tell! I’ve also been told that it has been caused by my anterior glute on my right side being weaker than the left (who knew?) and so I have to strengthen it. That I’ll do too.

The Saturday and Sunday runs were in Cambridge with Melanie. Saturday’s was the usual gentle affair of just four miles. It is funny how four miles now feels like it is not even worth breaking a sweat for. Yet when I started this programme I was averaging 14 miles a week – in September I ran 188 miles, averaging 43 a week – no wonder I feel crocked!

Sunday was a bit of a wet and windy affair, but I’m glad to say that our 17 miles passed without incident. No lost keys, no other injuries, no dramas of any kind in fact. Just the way we like it! The leg was achy and sore, but no worse than it has been, so I just keep ticking these runs off now. There are a mere 19 runs to go until New York, and four of them are just gentle jogs in the week of the run itself. One more big week this week (21 miles next Sunday, gulp!) and then we start to taper….but no taking anything for granted yet. I’m still giving this everything and more. I’m even going to start eating avocados and almonds this week – what has this turned me into!!!

And so, I alluded at the top to the things that occupied my mind. The running is (still) fun, despite my protestations and my injury niggles, and the finishing line IF I make it in just four weeks time, will be simply one of the absolute highlights of my life. It is wonderful though to also have adventures (other than the one you are on!) to look forward to.

I thus asked Melanie this week if she’d like to share a little adventure to Nepal with me next year. She said she’d love to, and so that is amazing and wonderful at the same time. I’ve been to Nepal and the Himalayas/Everest Base Camp three times now, and anyone who knows me knows how much I love it there. It just gets into your soul, your whole being. Each time though I’ve travelled on my own, and this will be the first time I get to share it with someone special. Roll on next April therefore! Meantime, we have a bit more running to do……:)

Room for more than one person in this photo next year…….:)

Week 2 done – in the Alps!

Today is 28th July and it consisted of an 11 mile run this morning in what started out as pretty wet conditions and a temperature of 8 degrees, although it never felt that cold. To be fair, I could be running in -3 degrees or + 35 degrees and I may not notice the difference. Chamonix is that beautiful, that dramatic, that amazing.

So here we are in the Alps, or more particularly Chamonix, one of my favourite places on planet earth. And I’ve, or we’ve (Melanie and I), just completed week two of our New York Marathon training. What a place to do it!

Looking towards Chamonix and Mont Blanc from Le Tour

The week has consisted of 5 runs, as is the case of every week in the training programme. Tuesday was 5 miles, with 3 miles @ 8:15 pace. Wednesday was 5 miles at marathon pace, which for me is around 9 minutes a mile ( we are aiming all being well to finish in a time of approximately 3 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds!).

Mentioning temperature above, this last week (prior to arriving in Chamonix) has been a real challenge as far as weather is concerned. The records will show that the UK recorded its all time highest temperature of Thursday, of 38.7 degrees, which in my book is very much not very conducive to any sort of running. Much less when on this day you’ve been at a Strategy Day from work in a hotel without air conditioning! Thus all of the runs have taken place at around 6 am in the morning, a time not usually known to me, least of all me being out pounding the pavements.

So having arrived on Saturday morning in Chamonix, after a very early start, it was almost straight out to complete the week’s running. Chamonix sits at 1,030m ( or 3,400 feet) above sea level, so whilst this isn’t exactly high altitude, it does take a day or so to adjust to very slightly thinner air.

The town square in Chamonix with its stunning backdrop of Mont Blanc.

This also being (obviously!) very much a mountain resort, each side of the valley slopes extremely steeply, and so there is fairly limited scope for running, unless you are a trail runner, in which case this is your nirvana! The road up and down the valley connecting the various ski areas slopes not too steeply though, and we discovered that running by the river is both stunningly beautiful, and also not too taxing. Frankly, despite the slight inclines, if you can’t run here and enjoy it you really should give up – consider that a week ago I was running on the outskirts of Slough!!

So the week finished with the earlier mentioned 11 mile run on a slightly wet start to the day, but the weather was otherwise quite cool and perfectly suited to what we were doing. I absolutely loved it, and just wish I could run here every day, or just live here in fact. I could never ever tire of this scenery, it is mesmerising.

Week two then finished with a total exactly on schedule with 31 miles completed for the week. That’s a new weekly high for me – and so far so good. Next week ramps up to 34 miles with a half marathon to finish on the Sunday, but every one of those runs will also be in Chamonix, so I have no doubt that every one will be cherished and the distance won’t be a problem. The only problem will be having to leave at the end of it all!

Bring on week 3…….

Marathon Training – Week One Done!

So finally week one is done! The tale of the tape for the week is 27 miles, which by my reckoning is the furthest I think I’ve ever run in a single week in my life. And maybe that’s a good thing in itself, but on the other end of the scale, and in the context of what is ahead, it is practically nothing.

Week One, in fact, is the shortest week of the entire programme. Yesterday’s so called ‘long run’, done every Sunday, was 9 miles, and that is the shortest run that we will do between now and the middle of November, or more precisely speaking until after the marathon is finished! So in other words, I’d better get used to this, and a lot more!

I also started last week’s blog post by saying that I was going to follow this programme to the absolute letter, but I inevitably didn’t! For starters, work got in the way (but only slightly), and so I swapped over Thursday’s 5 miler with Wednesday’s four miler (but otherwise did the same runs as the programme said, one a tempo run and the other hill repeats.

But secondly I also had a trip this weekend for a reunion. The reunion was with very special friends, whom I met around 5 years ago when climbing Europe’s highest mountain, Mount Elbrus in Russia. It was a monumental trip in so many ways, defined by awful weather when trying to summit, and a bout of pretty bad altitude sickness for yours truly, commemorated in this blog post below:

The group of us try to have at least one reunion every year, and this year it was in The Lakes and had been organised for quite some time, so there was no way I was missing it. We had a totally amazing time as we always do, and went on some great walks and generally just enjoyed each other’s company in and around Ambleside over three days. It did however involve a 600 mile drive, three walks (one of around 14 miles), and a day off work just to get there, plus (I’m very happy to say!) copious amounts of socialising. I also had then to try to fit in a 5 mile run on the Saturday and a 9 mile one on the Sunday, so something had to give!

In the end I left the rest of the gang to it on the Sunday morning to climb Helvellyn, and came back to do my Sunday run in my home town. Melanie came over from Cambridge to meet me and do it with me too, and we will all being well be able to do all of our long runs together. That’s tremendously motivational for me, especially as she is the reason I’m doing New York in the first place :).

Here are a few pictures from the weekend in the Lakes, the first one of us on the last morning before I left. A finer and more lovely group of people I will never ever meet :).

Me getting a friendly look (or I hope it was friendly!) from one of the local residents
The view over Lake Windermere from Ambleside YHA.

So onwards into week 2, and 31 miles of what looks like some very hot conditions with the forecast to hit 36 degrees C on Thursday. That’s too hot for practically anything in my book, other than a nice gin and tonic or three! Wish me luck………..

Zermatt Day 2

So waking on day two (of two) in Zermatt itself, at about 1,750m, in a hotel, and not in a mountain hut some 1,000m higher up has its advantages. One, you get a nice shower; two, you get a nice comfy bed; three, you don’t get woken up about twenty times in the night by other climbers in your dormitory shuffling and snoring; and four, you get, if you are really really lucky, a view like this from your own balcony:

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn't want to leave the hotel!

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn’t want to leave the hotel!

So today we had planned a much easier trek than the one the day before, which had seen us do about 22km in total, including a climb to about 3,260m on the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn. Today we’d take in a couple of the tourist paths on the other side of Zermatt, the Marmot Trail and the ‘5-Seenweg’, literally the ‘5 lakes trail’.

From the top end of the town (the south, geographically) we walked through town, grabbing breakfast on the way, to the north eastern side, and the rothorn funicular railway. This takes you up entirely inside the mountain in about three minutes to the Sunegga area at about 2,300m. This can be seen in the left middle of the map link below:

Blessed again by absolutely cloudless skies like the day before, and even warmer conditions, we set off firstly up the Marmot Trail, (we didn’t see any today unfortunately, but we had the day before) which is numbered 8 on the map.


The Marmot Trail – a different and lovely side of Zermatt.

Then from the Blauherd cable car station at 2,571m we began on the 5-seenweg trail. The first lake, the Stellisee, is absolutely stunning, as you can see from the picture below: We stayed there for a while just to take it all in, as did many other people, it seems to be a bit of a tourist trap, and quite frankly why shoudn’t it be? It’s a natural lake, and just beautiful.

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

Upon leaving the Stellisee towards the next lake, the Grindjisee, the path takes a pretty sharp descent. At this point Verena decided that her knee, which had been giving her problems on the latter half of yesterday’s walk, was too painful to continue with the rest of the walk. She therefore suggested that I carry on with the rest of the lakes, and she made her way back to the Sunnega cable car, only about 20 minutes away. After checking she was ok and could make it on her own, I took her up on her offer, and carried on.

The Grindjisee is at about 2,350m, and is a small and very tranquil place. You’d probably never come across it if you weren’t looking for it in fact. It was in a really pretty area though, and of course you could see a reflection of the Matterhorn in the surface of the lake, what more do you need!

The Grinjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

The Grindjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

From the Grindjisee the walk is mostly flat for about three miles until you get to the Grünsee, which doesn’t have reflections of the Matterhorn, but you can still see it :).


The Grünsee - three down, tow to go!

The Grünsee – three down, two to go!

There was then a pretty steep and narrow trail through the woods towards the Moosjisee, a seemingly man made affair, but stunningly green in colour:


The Moosjisee – and there’s that mountain again!

The Moosjisee is the lowest of the five lakes, and from there after another brief descent with stunning views back towards Zermatt itself, there is a bit of a climb back up to the Leisee, which I unfortunately didn’t photograph.


The walk towards the Leisee, with some very pretty hillside hamlets en route.

Having got back to the Sunegga cablecar station, Verena was thankfully there waiting for me and her knee was fine. There would be no more walking for her though, and so we decided to have lunch at the very lovely mountain restaurant by the Sunegga, it would have been rude not to really! So a beer, a rösti, and some very pleasant views were the order of the day:


Now that’s the way to end a walk!

The 5-Seenweg walk is about two and a half to three hours overall, and well worth it if you are visiting in summer.

After lunch we took the funicular railway back down to Zermatt before a bit of shopping before heading back to Bern, where I would be lucky enough to get to watch Stage 16 of the Tour de France the next day. We’d had a great weekend, and literally didn’t see a cloud in 48 hours.

I’ll leave off with a view more photographs of Zermatt itself. A great little car free town, with lovely shops, and just an idyllic place to be summer or winter. It’s my fifth time here all in all, and it won’t be the last.







So it’s obviously been way way too long since I last put up a blog post. That’s because about 11 months ago I took the decision to stop my apparently futile attempts at high altitude success. I had three or four goes at getting above 6,000m, and they all seemed to end in one thing – me heading downwards feeling like shit. So in the meantime I’ve done some nice sensible things, like change job, move house, and do some cycling.

Lots of cycling in fact, culminating in a fabulous 160-odd mile ride doing the coast to coast in a day. Details of that here of that ride, less the last 6 or so miles as my Garmin battery decided it didn’t want to go for over 12 hours! See Strava section here:


The Coast to Coast was at the end of June, and it was great, but (as is the way with me :)) I finished it and needed a new thing to aim for. And so after a bit of an impromptu flight purchasing, I was off to Switzerland at the end of July for a bit of ‘hill practice’ as they say!

I originally intended to head to Grindelwald, and trek around the North Face of the Eiger, something that has been ‘on the list’ for a little while. But after contacting my friend Verena, who lives in nearby Bern, she suggested that the Eiger and surrounds would be stupidly busy that weekend. She suggested Zermatt instead, as she hadn’t been there before, and would come along too!

And so off to Zermatt it was, for what proved to be an amazingly beautiful weekend in what is such a fabulous part of the world. For those who don’t know me, I have a bit (ok a lot!) of a fixation with The Matterhorn – I just find it a staggeringly beautiful and transfixing mountain. Spellbinding in fact. I also put my only ever Youtube video online with the mountain in it – I could still watch it every day! Skiing down towards Zermatt in 2013:

After a flight to Zurich and a train ride to Bern to meet Verena, we departed at the crack of dawn on the Saturday morning for the drive to Zermatt, about two and a half hours away. After a great drive which went under part of the Alps near to the Eiger in a car train, we arrived in the car free resort of Zermatt and headed up the mountain via cablecar to the Trockener Steg area of the resort. Cable cars aren’t cheap in Zermatt (nothing is cheap in Zermatt in fact!) at about £40 per single ride, but at least it got us up to 2,900m very quickly.

The great thing about the Zermatt area is that from practically anywhere you are, you can see The Matterhorn! It just dominates the place like the outrageous behemoth that it is, towering to 4,478m (14,700 feet), looking all Toblerone-shaped (the Toblerone logo is modelled on it for those who don’t know) and pointy, and just incredible.

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

We had chosen a trail which took us from Trockener Steg down to the Schwarzsee, and then around the west face of the Matterhorn and up to a mountain hut called the Schonbielhutte. I managed to persuade Verena though that en route we should try a tricky path up to the Hornlihutte, which is perched somewhat precariously on the North east ridge of the mountain at 3,260m. Thankfully she didn’t take too much convincing, and after trekking down to about 2,400m initially on what was a fairly uneventful route, we began the very eventful path up.

Approaching the Matterhorn - the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow at about 3pm on the picture.

Approaching the Matterhorn – the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow middle right of the picture.

It was slow going, as a.) we were up at 3,000m and unacclimatised, and also b.) the path has several places where in simple terms a missed footing could be your last ever step on earth. To add to the perils of point b.) the path was still snowy and icy in places, and without crampons (which I have to say weren’t required at this time of year, but a month earlier and you wouldn’t venture up any of this without them) it added to the general feeling of precariousness. Thankfully at the most tricky parts there was a metal rope in place to cling onto, which I gladly took advantage of.

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply....

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply….

...and there are parts where you have something to hold on to....

…and there are parts where you have something to hold on to….

...and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

…and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

It was a really great climb, requiring the use of hands as well in places to add to the mind’s focus. We reached the hut at about 1.45pm, and sat at the terrace for lunch (it would have been rude not to really) and it became apparent as soon as we stopped moving that the temperature when stopped was considerably colder than it had felt whilst climbing up, so jackets and hoods were quickly donned. The views were majestic – including the view directly upwards of the top of the mountain, which whilst still over 1,100 vertical metres above us, seemed much closer. I vowed looking upwards at the near vertical face to never, ever feel brave or stupid enough to try to climb it :).

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

Just to prove I made it there!

Just to prove I made it there!

The area around Zermatt is also home to around 25 4,000m+ mountains, including the Dufourspitze and the Dom, at 4,630m and 4,550m respectively the second and third highest mountains in the Alps, and the highest points in Switzerland.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

From the Hornlihutte we took trail 27 and then a black-marked steep track down the mountain (see attached map) to Stafel, where we intended to begin the trek back up to Schonbielhutte.

However on getting down near to Stafel at about 4.30pm, Verena was struggling with a twisted and sore knee, and so the climb up to the hut at about 2,700m and about three miles distant all of a sudden looked a bit of a long way. This was more relevant given the fact that the hut needed us there by 6.30pm latest (the cut off point for evening meals) and also there was no alternative should we not make it as the hut is at the end of a long and isolated valley.

Near Stafel - the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

Near Stafel – the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

We thus phoned the hut and said we would not be able to make it, and then tried to find alternatives continuing steadily down the mountain towards Furi. Cutting a very long story short (about which I could write not just another blog post, but actually a fairly lengthy novel) we ended up all the way back in Zermatt itself at about 8pm. This at least left us best-placed for the next day, when we intended to head up to the other side of the resort, the Rothorn area.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it's western face.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it’s western face.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

Our route is in the attached Strava link – it was a fabulous walk of around 22km, showcasing some fabulous views of much of the Matterhorn area, and a lot of ascent and descent

After a very long day, sleep would come very easily, and at the thought of seeing the ‘5 Lakes Trail’ the next morning, where each lake held a different reflection of the Matterhorn, I was very very much looking forward to day 2!


Bolivian Climber Day Ten

Note this is a repeat of a post that I put on Facebook, but it is from my blog entries from my tenth day of my Bolivian trip, and so is repeated here for that reason…….:)

I am now back in La Paz, having come down from the Cordillera Réal range to recuperate, whilst the rest of the group that I was with carry on with their attempts on various mountains therein. I got to 5,340 metres at the top of Pico Austria two days ago, and all felt fine, but since then I haven’t been feeling the full ticket.

So today I took a decision to end my high altitude endeavours. I’ve been above 5,000m five times now, and each time I got varying forms of altitude sickness. My last three trips ended with just one summit, which was itself eclipsed by my getting high altitude cerebral edema (which could have been fatal), and the last two I have had to descend without summitting. My attempts this time to get to 6,500m (21,500 feet) have been futile, and maybe I should have known that before I came out here, but I wanted to give it one last go. I tried, but I haven’t failed. 

Over the last five or so years since I got to the top of Kilimanjaro, I’ve had a brilliant time. I started this episode of my life at age 45, and I don’t regret one single minute, in fact the total opposite. I’ve met some absolutely fabulous people, some of which I hope will be lifelong friends; I’ve seen countries, people and cultures that I would never have been close to had it not been for my pursuit of this; I’m healthier and fitter than I have ever been in my life; I’ve accomplished things and learned a lot more about life, and me, than I ever would have done otherwise.

The roof of Africa.......

The roof of Africa…….

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth..

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth.. the highest point in all of Europe....

…to the highest point in all of Europe…. nearly the roof of South America.... nearly the roof of South America….

...and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes....

…and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes….

...and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

…and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

I fly back in a couple of days time, and will think about things in the meantime, but I’m not going to stop going to the top of (much smaller) mountains, or walking in the hills and fells, or travelling, or doing things outdoors that I love. I’m just not doing any more high altitude trips, ever. I’m done, and I’m good with that. The good thing too is that I have a million things to look forward to, and my life is richer because of what I’ve done. I’m very proud and happy about that.

Meantime, to those great people I’ve met along the way, and probably more importantly to those who have worried about me while I’ve been away, I’ll just say thank you, for everything, and for being part of this adventure. If you look forward on life now with as much enthusiasm as I do, then your life will be a fabulous and fulfilling one. Embrace life, we all only get one of them after all.