Giving up races

Organised races are not cheap. With the exception of some club based events, most professionally organised races cost £30-40 or a lot more for obstacle races or triathlons.

I’m really starting to question whether this is good value for money for me? What do you pay for in the average running race? An accurately measured distance, an official time, sometimes road closures and some kind of goody bag with t-shirt and medal.

How many of these things do I want or need?

  • Accurately measured distance – I feel that google maps can do a decent enough job here + fancy apps do an even better job
  • Official time – I have a watch or said fancy app (MapMyRun)
  • Road closures – This is often pretty good actually and I can’t organise this myself
  • Goody bag, t-shirt and medal – I have quite a few medals knocking around, none in pride of place. With very rare exceptions, the t-shirts [a day-glo long sleeved nike run shirt has been brilliant] are usually charity shopped either because the size is wrong or I don’t like the design. Not much in the goody bags that I’d miss!

In the plus column I could also add that running in large crowds can be pretty cool an add a sense of camaraderie. Supporters can also be great, even if they are not mine.

All in all, the only thing I’d want is the road closures and i’m not sure this is worth the £30-40 entry fee.

In 2015 I did ‘The Major series’ and the ‘Loch Ness Marathon’ both of which cost forty odd pounds, but these types of thing may be the exception. With the marathon an official time was really important to me and with obstacle races, they are things that would not be possible to organise myself.

In most road or trail races though, i’m really just ‘racing myself’ and unless i do a route multiple times any specific time is meaningless. Let’s be honest, i’m not going to be winning any of these things.

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Organise my own ‘races’?
Inspired in part by all the adventurer type people that I read about and talk to I feel a lot more confident about just striking out on my own or getting a group of friends together.

I picked up a free book recently (Good Run Guide) describing 40 amazing looking trail runs in the UK. I might be better off targeting some of these or even making my own routes. The entry money saved could be better used on either more trips or some fancy kit that I lust after (or saved???).

The Lure of the Tough Guy
Before giving up the organised event game, an opportunity came up recently to enter THE TOUGH GUY race in January 2016. I’ve been hankering to do this for years but wanted to do so in a team rather than just on my jack-jones. It is eye-wateringly expensive but i’d only regret it it if I missed it. Yes, i’d regret not being immersed for 2-3 hours in possibly actually freezing water and covered in oozing mud. Yup, crazy is as crazy does.

Apart from this one time though, i’m out……for now…

Cool points

The major series 2013

I have found that if I tell someone that I have gone for a run (especially in the rain/cold), slept outdoors in a bivvy, done press-ups in the mud, got up very early to exercise, got soaked kayaking, climbed a mountain (or similar) I typically get one of three reactions:

  1. What a nutter (what sane person would do that?)
  2. That is cool, but I could/would never do that
  3. Awesome, I love that too!

If I get the first reaction, that is a shame, if I get the second, I think ‘here is someone to work on’ and if I get the third it is ‘let’s go!’. This has got me thinking though, why do I like doing these seemingly crazy things. Why is it actually fun to exhaust myself in a muddy park on a cold, dark wintry morning?

Over the years I seem to have organically been awarding myself ‘cool points’ (I might also have thought of them as ‘smug points’). Gone for a run, that is x number of cool points. Running in the rain, well that is double cool points. Got up at 0530 to go run in the freezing cold in January must surely be quadruple points right?

It’s worth noting that I never seem to have actually associated any actual numbers or any official scaled chart, only that the harder or tougher it is it, it is worth more. As weird as this system is, it does actually work with me as a motivational tool.

This does raise the tricky question of why I feel I need these points? The truth is probably a long held insecurity that leads to a need to test myself. The good news is that I do genuinely feel better for doing these things. They are not joyless achievements or hollow victories but uplifting and often lovely moments.

I wonder if anyone else has devised an internal reward mechanism or if it is just me? Let me know….

Anyway, cool points for everyone!

Microadventure: Cycle, run and bivvy at Houghton Forest

This microadventure started with the unusual motivation of needing some new trail running shoes. I had been very happy with my Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes that i had run almost to pieces. When I spotted an event that included a complimentary pair it seemed a no-brainer to sign up.

The SupBikeRun Night Trails offer a 2 hour off road mountain bike in Houghton Forest and the South Down’s followed by a 5-7.5 km trail run. They let you borrow a bike and give you the trainers.

Houghton wood #microadventure

Mountain bike
It was a long drive from London to a small parking bay near Arundel, Sussex and with a bit of traffic congestion I arrived only just in time. With barely any time to say more than ‘hi’ to the three other travellers I found myself quickly paired up with a mountain bike (with ‘fat’ tyres) and we were on our way!

Houghton wood #microadventure

I do a fair amount of exercise but I do hardly any cycling and this was a tough two hours up and around the south downs. The paths were often slippy and muddy and there were a few proper savage climbs. I may have even pushed the bike up a particularly tough bit.

It was, however, pretty cool to be doing this on a crystal clear night under the stars. Finding our way wasn’t too big a problem as we had some powerful ‘exposure’ headlights illuminating the path. I’m told we did a figure eight but to be honest, if our guide Sam had left me behind I may still be up there now! The last section was a fab single track downhill through a tight packed wood. Definitely the highlight for me!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Trail run
It may have only been two hours in real life but it felt like midnight by the time we got back to the cars. Here we had an energy giving giant cookie and a slurp of water before being handed our brand new trail shoes. I was pleased to get a nice blue pair!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Head-torches on, off we went for an invigorating 40 minute trail run through the forest. I’m glad that my new Alpkit headtorch gives out a good 190 lumens as care really needed to be taken with footing with numerous tree roots and branches were there to trip the unwary. Somehow I got through it with no twisted ankles and the shoes turned out to be a perfect fit and really handy on the slippy surface.

Instead of going on forever like the cycle, the run seemed to end before I knew it and we were back at the cars. All good though, what a cool adventure! Shoes showed at least some muddy respectability by then too!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Houghton wood #microadventure

Bivvy in the woods
Feeling a bit tired but far from ‘smashed’ after nearly three hours of zooming around I now had to decide what to do next. I had brought along my #microadventure kit bag but had planned on seeing how I felt on whether to try and stay out or not.

I have to be honest, much more than my previous adventures, I felt really really nervous about this one. If I was nearer to home I may have even gone there, but thankfully I found some ‘steel’, ‘manned-up’, grew a backbone etc. and went for it.

Shouldering my bag I started walking up the gravel path, scanning the forest to side of me for a suitable spot. I wanted somewhere flat(ish) but next to some trees so that I could set up a shelter. This proved a harder set of criteria than I would have imagined. The ground was either clumped with brambles or on a severe slope. Not quite despairing, I carried on till I found something suitable.

Houghton wood #microadventure

Once I picked a spot and had started putting my ‘basha’ [tarpaulin shelter] I relaxed a bit and my nerves went away (for now). Despite only being about 10 metres from the path, my camouflaged basha (plus real leaves scattered on top) made me feel I would be hard to spot from the path if an early morning walker came this way.

The sky was clear now, but rain was due in the morning and I was pleased to be prepared for the worst. By the time I was ‘in bed’ it was 2130 and time to sleep, I was certainly tired enough. It is a bit of a creepy cliche, but the fairly continuous calls of owls did get me nervous again. I wasn’t sure if it was one owl moving about or several answering each other but at one point the calls seemed to be approaching me. I also heard the call of something else, possibly a fox (probably not a werewolf). For a city boy like myself this is all wonderful and at the same time, quite unsettling, especially on my own.

Despite all this, I DID get to sleep and only woke once or twice. It was a cool night but far from bitter and I was cozy and warm. There really is something cool about sleeping with a night breeze on your face.

Not sure it is in the spirit of wild camping but I actually set my alarm for the morning as I wanted to get home as quick as I could. In a mere 15 minutes I was all packed and in another 15 I was back at the car, making myself a quick coffee on the stove before heading home.

What a super evening and night of adventure!