ALPKIT’S BIG SHAKEOUT

Published on sidetracked.co.uk on October 7th.

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When I was twelve, I wrote an essay in primary school. It was called, “A perfect summers day’. Today, the scribbles of my childhood climbed from my copybook and materialised before my eyes. It was all there. The backdrop of sun, tents, tepees, a temporary bmx track, smiling people pushing bikes, climbing walls, kids on their fathers shoulders laughing like lunatics. I walk amongst them on my own, a huge red backpack hugging my shoulders. Just outside the quaint little village of Ashford on the Water sat Thornbridge. A village so perfect it eerily reminds me of the film ‘Hot Fuzz’. This was the Peak District, curved and sloping hills, hijacked for the weekend by five hundred outdoorsy folk wanting to escape the city and breath in the country air. Alpkit’s Big Shake Out was in full swing.

The Friday night audience has the honour of spending an evening with adventurer Alastair Humphreys. A dummy wrapped in a bivvy bag, a hat and head torch sits amongst the audience. Al’s edits play in the background, a copy of his mapazine, ‘There are other Rivers’ sits on every chair. Humphreys is the absolute best for making mad expeditions seem in reach of everyone’s abilities; “All you have to be able to do is get on your bike and pitch your tent in the same day. Do that every day and eventually you’ll get around the world.” He was entertaining, spirited, reeling us in one by one, spilling out great lines like; “I had a huge support team of seven billion people that were ready to help me.” He has kids and adults alike oohing and aahing as he retells the stories of his Empty Quarter Expedition, his river walk in India, his microadventures.

Read the rest of this story on sidetracked.co.uk

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Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest – Edinburgh

It’s the day after the race and my body is in pain. The sweet, delicious pain that only comes after you put your body to the test. After you make it run up a few hundred steps, climb a slick hill, do the monkey bars, crawl under nets, climb walls and jump off the other side. As I said; sweet, delicious pain. Everyone tells me that day two post race is always worse. I cannot wait. Because I know when my body recovers in a couple of days, I will be stronger.

Red and green t-shirts dominate my line of sight at the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest in Edinburgh. The world around me is set ablaze, the crowd buzzing, high on life and adrenaline. Thirteen waves took off one by one from the start point; the iconic Royal Mile. Off we went in troves; climbing over bales of hay, swerving down narrow streets,  jumping over barricades, climbing iron structures, trotting up the steps of Calton Hill to where an assault course lay waiting. The click, click of knees in pain as we descend, praying for a stretch of flat but no such luck. A walking ascent up a part of Arthur’s seat followed, too slippery and too steep to run but some studs managed it. I was not one of them.

It felt like been a child again, free to roam the countryside running amuck in the fields and forests . Instead of descending the typical way we slid down on a home-made wet plastic bag slide, spinning into the mud to a chorus of hearty laughs and applause from the spectators. Chug, chug, up we get and on we run, through a caged maze in the Grassmarket area.  1km to go, 3 more obstacles to face. We re-enter civilisation and return to the event village stationed at Princes Street gardens. A leg up over the boxes, a frantic scramble through the water, up a small but deadly hill, we know the end is near. “Keep ‘er going,” a man urges as I begin to stutter and slow. I dig deep and push on to face the famous wall.

A recurring theme of the day and of this event is the kindness people show. As I face the dreaded wall, I do not have to hesitate, a man in front of me asks if I want a boost up, another catches me as I rise and pulls me up. I look down at the height I will have to jump but another stranger says ” I’ve got you” and off I go. People, especially adventurous people, I am quickly discovering are good, to the very core.

I finish. I survive. Soaked and dirty with a mad grin plastered on my face, I amble home utterly content. Now it is your turn. You want to do a 10km obstacle course, well your choices in the UK for the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest are London, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Manchester. Take your pick.

 

Marathon des Sables

Published in OutDare Adventures 1 Oct 2012

The progression of an endurance runner:

First you go for a walk down your street.  Then you progress to a 10km run, a sprint distance triathlon, followed by an Olympic distance.  Now you do a marathon, a double Olympics even, and then, duh duh duh, the legendary Ironman!

You still want more you say?

How about the Race across America (RAAM), or the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, the Antarctic 100k Ultra Race, or perhaps even the Namibian 24 hour Ultra Marathon?

But, none are quite as prestigious as the Marathon des Sables.  This event is the equivalent of six regular marathons all rolled up into one and dropped down in the middle of the Sahara desert. It is crazy, but it is brilliant.

All you need to survive for the 7 day, 151 mile race, rests on your back. Literally. Competitors carry all their supplies; food, water, sleeping bag, etc., in a backpack for the duration of the race. Competitors battle through rugged terrain and punishing heat; they suffer exhaustion and swollen aching feet.

The Marathon Des Sables course changes annually. The route  is not released until two days before the race begins adding another dimension to this extreme endeavor. The dates for this year are April 7-13 and will set you back a tasty US $3,900.

But just think how would it feel if you completed this feat of physical and mental endurance?

If you smile when you think of the answer, then start saving and start training, because this race could be for you.

Click here to learn more.

Emrys Davies – The Atacama Crossing

Featured in Beyond Limits Magazine 5th June 2012

The desert?

The Atacama Desert?

You are going to run across the Atacama desert?

This is the place where temperatures summit at 40 degrees Celsius by day and plummet to 5 degrees by night. The place where rain has never fell, where shade has never crept, where altitude sits 3000m above sea-level and where storms are made of sand.

No offence Mr. Davies but are you crazy?

I jest, I know he is not crazy, Emrys Davies is just another being to aspire to be like. This is not a first attempt or a Guinness world record . This is just another man trying to find his limits by entering a race dubbed the second greatest endurance challenge on the planet by TIME magazine. Bow down before the 6 stage, 7 day, 250km ‘Atacama Crossing‘.

Emrys Davies has served for 14 years with the South Wales fire brigade and eight years with the urban search and rescue team. On top of that he is a sector medic, mountain leader and expedition leader. Apt training for a desert sprint. This event which is a blend of too far and seriously awesome is seen as a welcome release by Davies.

“I’m 43 this year,” Davies said, “I’ve had a few family related hard times recently and the training and organization for the event has become my coping mechanism.” Sometimes it is easy to forget the power of adventure.”

The Welshman has taking the long term approach to training, rotating between 45 minute to two hour runs.

“I’m just out there pounding the trails, tracks, hills, beaches and sand dunes and mixing it up, running with no rucksack, running and walking with rucksack, walking and running with poles too,” Davies explained, “In the summer I will be getting down to Pembrokeshire coastal path to do some back to back long distance days and increase the distances throughout the year, peaking by the time next March comes round.”

The crossing will require competitors to cover 40km a day and on the “long march” day, they will need to cover a distance of 60-70km. There will be no vehicle support, no support team, everything he needs for the march is literally on the participant’s back. Checkpoints sit at every 10km, the final checkpoint of each day being the finishline and campsite.

Davies runs for three charities – the Fire Fighters Charity, Help For Heroes, and Bobath, a therapy centre for children with cerebral palsy. Davies aims to raise £1,500.00 for them and he is going about it the traditional way; organising supermarket collection days and quiz nights with raffles. He is also sponsored by Outlook Expeditions, the sports trauma management company Lubas Medical and The Village Kitchen and bar. Sponsorship is a necessary step to cover an entry fee of $3,500. It’s a big deal.

“I’m definitely nervous about it but in a good way..a respectful way,” Davies said, “I respect the challenge so therefore I will be preparing to the best of my ability for it. it’s a kind of nervous that gives you motivation ..a certain level of nerves is a good thing as it prevents you from being blasé about it.”

It’s easy to see only the rawness of the course, to be caught up in the sheer scale of the task he will soon endure. But as always in adventure there will be beauty in the trip that is guaranteed to make the pain worth it. The Atacama Desert is a world away from the Welsh background of Emrys Davies youth but in March 2013 he will join a throng of 150 competitors to race by day and assemble around a campfire by night. Then after 7 horribly blissful days, after all the preparation, the exhaustion, the pain, it will all over and he will have done it, he will cross a finish line manned with the flag of every competitor’s nation.

“There is definitely a mental challenge to processing the idea that I’m going to embark on one of the greatest endurance challenges on the planet but part of that process is realizing how fortunate I am to be doing it and what an opportunity I have in front of me to prove myself, this really isn’t for the fainthearted and I want to prove beyond a doubt that I have the mental toughness to do this,” Davies said, “I want to be able to say I was up to the challenge and I delivered, failure isn’t an option for me!”

To help Emrys complete his adventure, visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=Atacamacrossing 

Mark Beaumont’s Lecture:

Mark Beaumont‘s Twitter tagline reads; “Adventurer, author, expedition cameraman, speaker.” I think he should add marketing genius to that one. His latest talk took place Thursday night at the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh.  The selling point, ‘come to my talk, buy my book at the door for a reduced rate and I will sign it for you.’ Cheeky. But who am I to judge, I was the first in the queue and now I hold in my possession an autographed copy which the legend held and signed with a pen. By the end of the evening the queue was so long, it could have been a Justin Bieber concert, except on this occasion it was middle-aged men and women doing the blushing and giggling as opposed to 14-year-old girls.

Mark has circled the globe, all 18,000 miles of it and in a Guinness World Record speed.And oh boy, that makes for a good talk. It was a breath of fresh air in a host of talks that were becoming too similar in their tactics. Mr. Beaumont took a different, less explored root. Fitting for him I suppose. He talked about the reality, the pain and hardship involved and the before part that no one ever gets to hear.

In truth, it was hard work. The expedition took two years to plan to perfection, then it took another year and a half to convince the media and the sponsors that he could actually pull it off. He admitted quiet a scary truth; in order to keep going during feats like this, your whole mind-set must change, after years of being told this is the way you have to think, now in order to succeed you must get completely lost in the here and now. However if this works, “It is a wonderful feeling.”

He talked of the importance of documenting the experience. The storytelling reminded him to enjoy it, to value it. Without that aspect he questions if he would have made it. He  scaled the vastness of the trip back and showed us its bones, the everyday problems and what he learned. In Iran for instance, the truth is very far off from how the media has painted it. It is simply a communication problem, both sides mistrust the other side. The Iranian cycling Federation even joined him for a pedal. His life was stripped down to a very black and white status. Survive. If he could find the basics each day; enough food to ease his 6,000 calorie a day requirement and a safe place to sleep, then all was well.

Then, somehow, quite astonishingly he made it home. He crossed the finish line like a Tour de France winner by the Arc de Triomphe. He had lived out his dream.

Mark Beaumont - Courtesy of the BBC archives

Now, you want to know the good stuff, the facts that made this achievable. Mark Beaumont trained at a far higher intensity before the trip then when he was actually on route. He combined cross training with sprints. When he finished the race, he had no perspective, it took him three weeks to float down and absorb his achievement. He says; “You prepare yourself to go, you don’t prepare yourself to come back.” With regards to packing, if you don’t use an item for two weeks, send it home. He used a  Koga Miyata bike, and installed disc brakes as opposed to rear brakes to make the tyres last longer. When asked during the Q&A session  if he listened to music, his response was that the music’s beat punctuates time, to succeed you need to zone out, but music will keep bringing you back. So music was a luxury to be used sparingly.

A person has already broken his record but he will not endure it again. “There so much other stuff to be done”, spoken like a true adventurer.

The lecture was hosted by the World Cycle Challenge; “the only fully supported cycle around the world.” There is no need for me to sell it to you, it sells itself, 8 stages, 18,000 miles, 20 countries, 9 months, 24/7 support team and one life changing experience. Are you dancing on the spot right now, getting sweaty with excitement? I am afraid I will have to ever so cruelly kick you now while your guard is down. It will cost you, £34,000.

 

£34,000

Breath.

The redeeming factor is you can do a stage of it:

Stages 1: London – Istanbul

2.Istanbul – Lahore

3.Lahore to Calcutta

4.Bangkok – Singapore

5.Perth – Sydney

6.Christchurch – Auckland

7.San Francisco – Miami

8.Lisbon – London

 

So far nine people are signed up. In his attempt to put the cost in perspective. Mark’s unsupported round the world trip cost the bones of £24,000 and it costs more, apparently to climb Mount Everest.

So are you in?

The Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival

I took my place amongst the crowd in George Square Lecture Theatre. I was alone, as usual so I automatically tuned into the casual banter taking place around me. Common themes arose, travel, adventure, kayaking, cycling….. I looked around and unsurprisingly the words matched that of their owners. They all, myself included, had that rugged look that can’t be faked, the mark of a life outdoors. I realised that I was way too comfortable for an unfamiliar territory. I was settled in to my comfy chair, notepad in hand, listening to people talk about their adventures. I was home.

On cue, the room was plunged into darkness, the laughter stilled and the host Stevie Christie took to the stage. Sunday afternoons agenda at the Edinburgh Mountain Film festival included three diverse films and a lecture by the notorious (in a good way) Alistair Humphreys.

The first film,’ La Logia’, saw four adventurers kayak Norway, India and Nepal, riding the craziest drops I have ever seen, exploring unmarked routes and generally making up their trip as they went along. “The bigger the risk, the better the reward”, is what they were preaching and I quote; “it’s not a test of your paddling capabilities but of how big your balls are”, aka it is a head game. However the film was more than simply watching kayakers doing crazy shit, it was a documentary on risk taking. A successful one, converting the fainthearted into full on adrenaline junkies.

The next two films were composed by local men. The first, ‘The Fastest man in Kashmir’ dealt with skiing in Northern India. The second, Running Wild, obviously dealt with running. Pete Rennie made it about his wife Fiona who runs The West Highland way. Alot.  Her message, “Just do what you want to do and don’t mind other people.”

The films were truly amazing but the finale, Al Humphreys lecture cycled away with the show. He made these grand expeditions accessible, proving that anyone can do them. The self pronounced loser dedicated the lecture to all his fellow losers in the audience. Then, with our guard temporarily down with laughter, he caught us and reeled us in, pulling us with him on his 46,000 mile bike journey across the globe.

According to Al, I think I can call him Al, the best bit of every trip is buying the map, sprawling it across the kitchen table with a cup of tea and imaging yourself as a hero in all these exotic locations.His tale is simple. During university, he scraped up £7,000 and after the four years, degree stowed in his back pocket he mounted a bike alone and left for four years and three months. It was his game, therefore his rules. Being free of sponsors meant he had the added bonus of spontaneity.

What did I learn from this? More than I have in a long time that’s for sure. The following thoughts are probably ridiculously obvious to your genius minds but they had failed to click with me before Mr. Al Humphreys said them.

  • If you cycle all day, every day, you are going to get ridiculously fit. Therefore the actual physical activity itself is no longer the challenge but the mental aspect.
  • The majority of the Middle East’s inhabitants are nice, nicer than us. So ignore what the media are telling us, man up and get over there.
  • In Siberia, ice-cream never melts so you don’t have to bring a portable freezer with you!
  • Don’t be in a hurry to reach the destination or get home, explore it all, enjoy it all. Chill the beans.
  • “In cycling there is no such thing as a tailwind, there is only a headwind and the days that you are a bit of a legend” – Al Humphreys
  • When you are away you will want to be home, you will crave a normal life, but when you are home, you will be bored. Fact.
  • If you need help just ask. What you need to do is phone up local newspapers, radios or get a job in an obvious place (ie if you need a boat, work in a boat shop).  Eventually someone, somewhere will help you. Persistence is the key.

At twenty eight years old he rolled back into Yorkshire, showered, ate and was bored. So he ran the equivalent of six marathons in six days in the Sahara desert, and then he canoed 500 miles down the length of the Yukon River, then he walked across India, and then he did a lap of the M25 motorway.

Nice.

Bupa Great North Run

Thousands of soaking wet people stood gathered at the foot of Arthur’s seat, me amongst them, the iconic Scottish fog encasing us all. The atmosphere was entire. That perfect balance of tension and eagerness. It was hard not to feel small in the huge crowd, in the open space of Holyrood gardens where the Bupa Great North run kicked off at 09.30am on Sunday 2 October. But you did not feel small, because these people, the active campaign type are quite similar. They are all essentially approachable and warm and even though I was there alone, I never once felt it.

The day fell as follows, 09:30am the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run 5k start time, then the Elite Women start the 10k slog, followed by the elite male. Then the mass, which I was in, and finally the Mini Great Edinburgh Run and  the Junior Great Edinburgh Run

An entrance fee of £26.55  is a bit steep but as it’s in aid of a charity of your choice , you are willing to let it slide. The opportunity to run Edinburgh city, traffic free is worth the money all by itself. The organisation was flawless and between the turnout of supporters and the complimentary Bupa pack at the end has me convinced me that I will be loping around the same route in the torrential rain this time next year.

Scotland’s Outdoor Pursuits 2011

Hats off to Andrew Richardson, managing director of The Scotsman Publications Limited who pulled off this weekends Scotland’s Outdoor pursuits 2011. Scotland’s landscape is a playground for adventurers and for the first time ever The Scotsman in association with Rat Race adventure sports decided to prove it by hosting Scotland’s Outdoor Pursuits 2011, a two day event in the Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, which showcased the best adventure organisations that Scotland has to offer.

Tickets were reasonably priced at £10 per adult, £5 student and £1 children. It brought together 60 plus exhibitions, 6 speakers, 4 activities and of course free stuff all in one hall, mapping  out the sporting calendar for the coming year and psyching up the audience to try their hand at something new.

The exhibition consisted of five themed zones: Bike, cycling and off-road; water; camping and walking; xtra zone and finally snow, rock and adrenalin sports. Experts manned each stand offering advice and information to anyone who would listen. A thrilling set of activities provided entertainment for the weekend with Sno!zone’s snowboard stimulator and Keswick adventure’s climbing wall present to give a lash at, while Ben Savage and his Savage Skills display team launched themselves through the air on mountain bikes much to the audiences delight.

The presentations were inspirational, delivered mostly by ordinary folk that have achieved amazing feats. They provided a learning element to the day. 6 speakers, 6 topics which included  Tim Ralf and the seven summits, Mark Cooper from smoker to runner, Allan Mitchell on BadaUK, Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival, Full Beam Bike Lights and Why we Run. The variety of stories in the line up ensured that they steered clear of becoming monotonous.

The adventure crowd arrived donning their waterproof Northface jackets, bike shades propped on top of their heads and sporting laceless runners. They left, laden down with plastic bags bursting with free Mick Ickes, pasta and dozens of sturdy booklets  revealing  easy ways to plan and strategise their next adventure.

The Outdoor Pursuits take home booklet is a must keep providing contact details for all the organisations present as well as ideal locations to explore on your chosen sport. It was the perfect place to drop in for a few hours, do it fast, as adventurers do most things. A tip for next years Outdoor Pursuits 2012 (which there most certainly will be) do not go alone, you’ll be bored, make it a family day out and get the most out of it by asking questions, it is an opportunity to not just be embraced, but to sprint head first into and wrestle to the ground.

 

The Irish Rubberman Challenge

Most of us talk crap, our aspirations, our dreams all rolled into one and hoisted on a pedestal. An unreachable, unobtainable pedestal, that we leave up there and frequently gaze up at as they rot into regrets. But then there are the achievers, the straight talkers, devoid of bullshit and pedestals. People who have an idea and a will to follow it up. The Rubberman Challenge was founded by two such men; James Bodels, an Antrim man and Tony Redmond from Wexford, who had not an idea but a bet.

The Irish Rubberman Challenge took off  in 2001.It is a contest of the will to endure a 10mile cycle, 2mile run and 18holes of golf, it is a race to finish not to win. A triathlon with a difference, for the ordinary people, the non sporting people. Held in the quaint yet unfamiliar town of Bunclody, once a year people from all over the world gather together to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. Mr. Redmond says “We’ve had a lot of people that do it every year and we have attracted entrants from New York, Texas, South Africa, and Sweden to name a few.”

The idea came about from two friends jokingly insisting that one was fitter than the other but as usual with the male species rivalry triumphed and the bet ensued. Tony could run, James could cycle, so a triathlon of sorts was decided upon. Tony Redmond one of the founders said; ” The reason we choose golf was because I couldn’t swim but in reality back then we didn’t know anyone who did triathlons and we never even considered it.”

To date they have raised close to €200,000. Charities that they have so far contributed to include Meningitis Research Foundation, Make a Wish foundation, and Brainwave – Irish Epilepsy Association. However, their primary charity is Cystic Fibrosis.

The trek takes place along considerably challenging terrain across the countryside of County Wexford; one gets a taste of the real Ireland. What separates it from all the other triathlons besides the shortened distance is the sense of community that taints it. Many come along for the day to support their friends, their family, and their community. When you cross the finish line the relentless cheer that pulsates through the air is indescribable.

A huge impetus for the transition from a bet in the bar to a fully fledged money-making race was James Bodels sons, Campbell and Chris who both have Cystic Fibrosis. They inspired James to transform the race into something worthwhile. Campbell passed away three years ago. A cup dedicated to him commemorates his part in the founding of The Irish Rubberman Challenge.

Over the years, hundreds of people have taken part but only the founding fathers can say who they thought were the real champions. Tony allows it was; “ Jim Furlong and Orla O’Leary  at the start but later Brian Kavanagh certainly.  Ronan O’Donovan, an excellent athlete and golfer was also a past Rubberman champion (2002) but sadly passed away in 2008 while on holiday in Paris.”

The fun element is a key part of race day, the scary bikes dusted in cobwebs, rusted chains and soft tires make a stark and laughable contrast to the sleek racers and pointed helmets of the pros.People have been bitten by dogs, gone the wrong direction, fallen off, fallen off again, dismounted and pushed their bikes up hills and attempted to play golf for the first time in their lives.

Tony’s favourite memory is;  “ when two ladies (neither ever played before) were over heard on the golf course, there golf balls were close together and neither of them knew which ball to hit. (In golf you have to play the same ball or be penalized 2 shots or be disqualified if you do not declare it.  It’s a very strict rule). They walked up to both balls and after a lengthy discussion one turned to the other said “which one would you prefer”. Priceless.”

The future of the Irish Rubberman Challenge looks bountiful with the possibility of becoming an intercounty event. Mr. Bodels shrugs it off and said; “If they want it, they can organize it”, but he does confirm that it will be expanding to Limerick in the coming year.