Ultra running: my first year

Richmond on the trail

My first year, what have I learned from ultra running?

I started ultrarunning at the start of 2019 as I prepared for a run around the Isle of Wight in May. My decision to take up ultra-distance came before.

In July 2018 whilst waiting for a mate, Chris, to finish Race to the Stones, I had a strong urge to give it a go. The vibe at the finish line was exciting and infectious. I loved the unconditional support for each runner as he or she finished. At the same time, I was wondering how it would be possible to run all day over that distance; 100k.

Soon enough, Race to the Stones was in my diary for 2019. How do I prepare, I wondered? That was when I came up with the idea of the Isle of Wight 106km challenge in two halves. This was to be my first experience of running an ultramarathon, trotting round the island. It was awesome and I was hooked.

In fact, I was so hooked that I quickly booked another race. This time it was a full-on 100k in one day from London to Brighton. And on it went.

At some point I decided that it should be monthly. Partly because I had a cause, #upandrun, and partly because the way to get over the last run is to organise another.

For some time I resisted calling myself a runner. I think that I now qualify. Plus Adharanand Finn told me so.

This is on the basis that I am out at least 5 days a week, covering 70-100k, and our habits form our self-identity. I also have a good collection of running books, often watch running films on YouTube, have a box of running shoes, a selection of hydration vests and running belts, headphones, and a pile of running clothes.

Also, I often find myself talking about running. Typically to myself or on #ukrunchat.

Learnings:

I can

First up, a sense that I can and will complete the task at hand. I start here and end there. By whatever human means, I will make it to the other side. That is not to say that a DNF (did not finish) is not possible, as part of the adventure is the stretch, the push and the risk. Anything is possible en route.

The unknown beckons. Uncertainty is fuel as each moment unfolds, step by step along the changing terrain: trails, roads, fields and more. Each footfall is new and feels different.

Ending up somewhere that started as a mere pin drop on a map beholds a deep sense of connection with one’s own resources. These are available to us each day of course, no matter what we are doing.

Discomfort

Running an ultra is decidedly uncomfortable, which is putting it mildly.

The perceived bodily pain in the form of muscle and joint noise, stomach pains, the blisters, the chaffing, the rubbing from the straps and more.

You plan what you will do in the tough moments. Visualisations, mantras, music and plain old ignoring, all have their time. What can I focus upon? Some prefer a more mindful approach.

To be mindful is to be completely aware and present. There is no judgement: good or bad? Who knows? This is the practice. Noticing all sensations, thoughts and feelings as they arise and pass on. Nothing is permanent.

What do I learn from this deep discomfort? I understand my mind under pressure: what do I think? What are my leanings? How much am I prepared to endure to reach the other end? In essence, I learn what is under the hood. We all have much more than we might think.

Day to day, it means we can deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life with a clearer perspective. This allows us to make better choices.

Nature

Out in nature for hour upon hour, you cannot help but connect. Or reconnect. You see the planet as you pass through: the changing shades, shapes, sounds and smells.

Nature bathing or forest bathing enriches our wellness. At least two hours a week is beneficial. As a trail runner, you may be out for five to ten hours or more a week, sucking it all in.

Touching nature lets you into its secret world. Paradoxically, it is protective and nourishing, yet also a source of extreme danger if you stop paying attention. Rocks, cliffs, rivers, tree roots all create a wonderful landscape. But, lose touch with your body for too long and you may come a cropper.

Interconnectedness

Wrapped up with the immersion in nature, you realise the interconnectedness of things. As well as creating the perception of nature, ‘I’ am also within and part of that very nature.

During a race I am interconnected with other runners. It is a wonderful state of interbeing. We are all in this together, sharing the experience through our own unique lenses.

Both this and a sense of loyalty towards nature means that the world takes on a new importance as our collective home. Artificial boundaries dissolve.

Awe

One of the experiences I love most is reaching the top of a hill or mountain and absorbing the view. The feeling of awe is potent.

Our significance pales. Self-importance fades if it was there in the first place. How small I really am in this world.

Pain

It would not be a blog from me without mentioning the P word. This is not the same as discomfort. I somewhat blended these above.

Western culture promotes the idea that we should be comfortable; perhaps even deserving it because …… . This is on the basis that more comfort results in more happiness. It’s an idea. It’s wrong. There has not been an increase in happiness (a fleeting emotion like all the rest) by having more comfort.

It is through discomfort and challenge that we have the opportunity to grow and learn.

Pain is different. Pain is complex. Pain is human. And, pain is far too fascinating to nail in a few words here. That is for another time.

On perceiving pain, we try to elucidate the meaning. What is my need? It can often run deep. Pain is poorly related to tissue state or injury; although slightly better perhaps in an acute scenario. Pain is about the person, their life, the context, their past experiences, their expectations, their outlook and more.

Pain is poorly understood. This is the reason why persistent pain continues to be one of the largest global health burdens.

And what of ultrarunning and pain? Yes, they come together. We have to expect it, and welcome it rather than resist. The latter only causes more suffering.

On the run, there are a number of ways to deal with pain. Again a big topic. Suffice for now and this blog to acknowledge the normalcy of pain, an experience that many of the well-known runners describe.

I have been making study of pain for some years now, both the science and the experience. Ultrarunning gives me insights that I did not have before. All of this will be explored at a later date.

There are of course plenty of other lessons learned. You will have your own to ponder upon and share.

On we go. Step by step: the run I am on, and in life.

RS

My work as an oncology physiotherapist ~ Hannah Leach

My career to date

Hannah Leach

Since becoming a physiotherapist, I knew I wanted to work in oncology. This decision was shaped by various experiences in my teenage years, including watching my Granny go through ten years of cancer treatment before she died when I was 16. I sometimes think about the sliding doors that led me to the job I’m in now – and how close I was to choosing an entirely different career path. I know somehow my Granny led me into my dream job and I’m grateful every day for it.

Working in oncology is different every day; cancer can affect any part of the body, so for every patient I work with, I may see any combination of cardiovascular, orthopaedic, respiratory, neurological, musculoskeletal and holistic problems. For this reason, I must be flexible, creative and patient-centred, in order to provide my patients with the best possible care.

I am a huge advocate for the NHS, and extremely proud of the work I have done and continue to do within our incredible national treasure. I am currently working full-time in a hospice, while also doing bank shifts in an oncology intensive care unit. It is such rewarding work but, as someone who is made up of both a scientific and creative mind, I found the strict structure of the NHS curbed my visions for better ways of providing care.

The current situation in oncology rehabilitation

Currently, physiotherapy and other allied health professions are hugely under-utilised in oncology. With ​only 30% of the people needing cancer rehabilitation receiving it​, it’s clear we have a long way to go.

Thanks to incredible research and trials, we are seeing better outcomes in cancer; there is now an average ten-year survival rate of around 50 % across all cancer types. The flip side of the coin is that we are seeing more long term side-effects resulting from more advanced cancer treatments. I have met people who are in remission, but have

accepted living with a compromised quality of life because they believed this was the cost of being cancer-free. This is ​not​ true!

Physiotherapists and allied health professionals can work with people to manage the side effects of cancer and treatment, allowing them to live fulfilling, active lives. My vision is to use physiotherapy to help as many people as possible to enjoy a meaningful life after cancer. Is this not why we go through the treatment in the first place? We ​must get more people talking about cancer and rehabilitation.

My vision

In the face of our uncertain future in healthcare, I feel passionate about providing those going through cancer with the highest quality support. ​When seeing outpatients in the hospital, I found there were patients travelling from outside of London to see a specialised oncology physiotherapist. Since a majority of these people were experiencing fatigue and pain, this felt so backwards to me and I knew there must be a better way to deliver high-quality advice – without the financial, time and physical implications of a hospital round-trip!

I knew the solution was to take my expertise online, to reach as many people as possible, regardless of geographical location and local services. I spent most of 2019 thinking about my idea, unsure of where to begin. Then, on New Year’s Day, while on a flight home from New York, I decided I had to just go for it (I always do my best thinking on planes and trains – anyone else?).

The very next morning, I set up my website and STRONGERTHAN was founded!

What do I offer?

I offer 1:1 online physiotherapy appointments to those living with and beyond cancer., to help them stay strong in body and in mind. I love to work with a diverse range of people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and abilities. There are countless reasons that someone may seek physiotherapy; from exercise and lifestyle advice, to managing peripheral neuropathy or breathlessness. My role is extremely versatile and I am constantly learning from my patients, about the realities of life with cancer.

Some examples of the people I may meet and work with are:

 

●  A young athlete, recently diagnosed with cancer, who is aiming to complete treatment and return to competing as soon and as safely as possible.

●  A busy mother, who wants to improve her shoulder function following a mastectomy, so she can play with her children comfortably again.

●  An older person having chemotherapy, who wishes to maintain their strength and manage their fatigue, to continue living independently at home.

●  A business-professional, who would like to be able to return to their cycling commute to work, following abdominal surgery and radiotherapy.

●  A person receiving palliative care, who wishes to improve their exercise tolerance in order to comfortably attend an important wedding.

●  A young person in their 20s, who has poor body image following extensive treatment and wishes to maintain their weight and muscle mass.

The patient is the centre of my work – I wouldn’t have a job without them! I listen very closely to what they have to say and I want to know their story. This is something that can be done very easily by video consultation. Research has found that more people feel comfortable opening up to health-care professionals during video appointments, compared with face-to-face. This is likely due to the security that being in the comfort and privacy of their own homes brings.

I always ask myself: if it were me, ‘would I follow that advice?’. If I felt my health-care professional heard and understood what I had told them and felt excited about my goals with me – I would feel more confident to make adjustments to my lifestyle and change my habits, to better my quality of life.

Investing in physiotherapy, your health and your future is an important decision for anybody. Working with a health-care professional will provide someone with support, encouragement and accountability to ensure they are able to make the changes they need, to live their life the way they want to.

In summary…

With cancer treatments advancing, it is essential that we provide innovative after-care to match. To reach as many people as possible living with and beyond cancer, we must continue to re-think how we provide specialist physiotherapy advice.
I will continue to shout about online physiotherapy, because I strongly believe that having expert rehabilitation a few clicks away, is the path to a brighter future for those

living with and beyond cancer. So, to anyone reading this post now, who thinks you or a loved one might benefit from this support – book your appointment now and thank yourself later!

Hannah Leach

www.strongerthan.co.uk

upandrun 13 Table Mountain

upandrun understand pain
upandrun 13

At the end of the Adcock Ingram roadshow in South Africa, I tackled Table Mountain for upandrun 13. It was awesome, but much tougher than I expected.

In another time, when we were able to travel, I was in South Africa. It was March 2020.

I had been invited to give a series of talks on the Adcock Ingram roadshow to launch their Sports Science and Rehabilitation division. My host was TensCare CEO Neil Wright.

TensCare logo
Thanks to TensCare for sponsoring upandrun 13

visit TensCare Pain Relief and Therapies for a range of devices for pain, maternity care, continence issues, pelvic floor and muscle stimulation

We started the tour in Johannesburg, then on to Durban and finally to Cape Town. It was a whirlwind. Each event drew local physiotherapists, kinesiologists and other healthcare professionals together for a burst of education, socialising and presentation of the product range.

The organisers and sales teams created a positive vibe, which made the delivery of the pain talks a pleasure. I also had the opportunity to gain an insight into the pain problems that exist in South Africa by talking to the therapists.

Richmond and Nick the speakers
Richmond and Nick selfie

We can be optimistic. Our knowledge of pain is expanding at a fast rate directly via pain science but largely from related fields. This was a message I tried to get across.

Therapists can choose to see people’s potential and strengths. Through this lens, the possibilities open up and we can help and encourage patients to shape their own positive futures.

The three days of talks in three cities was energising. It did not prepare me for a mountain though. Or the heat.

For the first 10k I was guided up to Lion’s Head by Nicola from Energy in Abundance. We set off on the trail chatting about life, running and philosophy. The photos tell the story.

Sunrise

View from Lion's Head

Lion's Head

Nicola hooked me up with South African ultrarunner Linda Doke for the Table Mountain part of the adventure. Incidentally, Nicola made all the arrangements by email beforehand so I just had to turn up. I would recommend this if you are a runner wanting to explore the area. You’ll be taken safely on the best routes and experience the awesome views.

We set off along the bottom of the mountain to reach the point of ascent. Apparently the weather was to be the best of the season today. It was. The flip side was the heat, which I was not prepared for having come from the English winter. This together with the steep climb took some effort. The reward was the magnificent view and a tin of coke. I love coke on long hot runs. And coffee.

Mountain view
Crossing Table Mountain

Leaving the cable station and heading off along the stony trail, we also left contact with humanity except for a few lone souls we met. Three in total over the coming hours. It was a rugged and jagged terrain, yet covered with green resilient flora. We stopped to look at some of the plants that thrive on the mountain top.

Flora on Table Mountain

There was little shelter from the sun. We knew the temperature would be rising so I had plenty of water on board. Of course this warmed up against my body.

When Linda mentioned stopping at the dam for a dip, I couldn’t wait to get my feet in and refresh. What a moment it was, to step into the reddish water, tanned by the fynbos plants beneath the surface.

The five dams are entwined in the history of Cape Town. They feel remote, sitting above in stillness like a meditating hermit. Some say that they have been forgotten (read here). A small dedicated museum at northern end of the Hely-Hutchinson Reservoir houses the original steam train. It was closed and did not look like it would open any time soon.

blue water
Hely-Hutchinson Reservoir

Recharged, dripping and grateful for the simplicity of fresh, cold water, on we went. To the right appeared the sea. As the reservoir had, it looked so tempting. There was the feeling that I could dive off the mountain into the blue. Later and warming up, I thought of icy drinks on the beach that I could see. The sounds from the people on the sand wafted up on the wind, yet we were a long way from any form of significant rest. Linda kept me going. Plodding along. The initial climb had taken a lot out of me.

The sea

We made a descent down a gorge towards Hout Bay and Llandudno. We chatted about the latter and how it bears no resemblance to the North Wales version. Both have their charms.

This was a bit of a scramble over loose scree before reaching a more defined path around the peak we were navigating. I had to navigate a few tricky points, expertly advised and encouraged by Linda. To many they would be easily traversed, but with a fear of heights I had some extra sweat to manage.

I realised that I had taken something from the Snowden experience in September. Looking back now, I know that these experiences have pushed the balance towards a greater confidence.

There is much to love about mountains: their strength, enormity, resilience, their danger and unpredictable bedfellow in the weather to name a few. I continue to be attracted to the challenge of ultra trails in mountainous regions. The mystery they offer and the contrast to my local running spots draw me in.

The final push up a long jeep track to us to the edge of the park. Across from the parking lot was a smart looking restaurant and bar. Linda assured me they would serve a smelly, dusty runner, and they did. I sat outside amongst the casually dressed Cape Town diners, mostly families, and enjoyed a pint of icy coca-cola reflecting on a tremendous day of trails.

Big thanks to Nicola for organising the tour and to Linda for guiding me and running at the slowest pace that she has had to endure for a long time!

Contact Nicola here for information about guided runs around Cape Town

Read about Linda’s running here. She also coaches runners.

upandrun 14 ~ round the block for the NHS

Richmond at 80k

On Monday I ran 100k around the block to raise money for the NHS staff at Kingston Hospital.

I dedicated the April upandrun ultra to raising money to support the staff at Kingston Hospital through the hospital charity. To date we have raised £3215 thanks to all the generous donations.

you can donate here

Considering the need for social distancing, I chose a 5k circuit that I could run twenty times. For variety, I changed direction with each lap.

5k x 20 laps

It was still dark when I set off at 5:08am. I love this time of day. It was so quiet, the sky is just starting to lighten and there were just a few people on their way to work or out walking their dogs. Soon enough the first kilometre was indicated by the familiar sound from my watch. 99 to go. I set my mind to the task, resigned to the fact that there were twelve or thirteen hours to go. There is always some comfort in that.

The day was perfect: a warm sun and a cool breeze. There was no need to carry anything as I could simply grab fuel and drinks on each lap, and even stop for lunch at home. My wife prepared a delicious bowl of plain pasta.

Each time I ran down my street, someone would cheer and clap, shouting out words of encouragement. This gave me energy. There was a purpose behind this run, as there is with each upandrun. Usually I am running to raise awareness of the problem of pain, but this time I was using my legs to show support for the NHS heroes.

No matter what discomfort I was experiencing, I knew that it would ease and that I would be in the bath at the end of the day. However, for our NHS and other essential workers (carers, teachers, delivery people, personnel running the public transport, supermarket staff and more), this goes on for now. The run was about them and showing appreciation for what they are doing to positively contribute to our society.

And so the day proceeded: round and round, legs heavier, strides shorter, but onwards I went. The toughest period was 60 to 80k. I had covered a good distance, but there was still a long way to go.

At 1245 I was interviewed on BBC Radio Surrey by Sarah Gorrell. This was a chance to tell listeners about the run and the cause. It was also a break in the monotony.

A friend who runs jokingly called this the Kingston Hospital Self-Transcendence race after the Sri Chinmoy 3100 that takes place in New York. Runners complete a 3100 mile course around a single block in New York. There is a film about it now: Run and Become. This was my version. A much shorter version.

My sense of time was distorted. I find that this always happens on an ultramarathon. I lose track of time, which is wonderful. I simply focus on the next step. The day begins to blur and soon enough, the end is near.

The final lap approached. For some reason, I was a few hundred metres short and had to take the lower road to loop round and make the 100k total. The neighbours were waiting, and as soon as they saw me coming the cheering and clapping began. It was a super way to end the day.

On we go.

upandrun
Richmond

RS

 

upandrun 14 ~ The Kingston Hospital Self-Transcendence Race

Charity run for NHS
Richmond Stace | The Pain Coach & ultrarunner

upandrun 14 is a special one. 100k round the block to raise money for the #NHSHeroes at Kingston Hospital. This shall be the Kingston Hospital Self-Transcendence Race*, my much shorter version of the 3100!

Each month I run an ultramarathon. That is a distance beyond a marathon, typically 45 kilometers plus. This will be the 14th since I started ultras last May.

There are several purposes of upandrun. One is to raise the awareness of the problem of pain that affects millions and costs billions. Another is to help people understand how they can improve their lives. But, upandrun 14 (April) is different.

Donate here to help NHS Staff keep well

This month upandrun will be dedicated to raising money for NHS staff at Kingston Hospital, my local one. I am pleased to link up with the Kingston Hospital Charity to steer donations to the people who are caring for the sick and vulnerable. It is vital that the NHS Heroes remain well, and our support will help them and their families.

Richmond Stace upandrun

upandrun 14 for the NHS ~ Kingston Hospital: donate here

With upandrun 14 due, it made me wonder how I could use my legs to make a contribution to the NHS. I thought, why not run around the block?. I stay local, the streets are quiet (easy to keep distance from others) and I could clock up a decent mileage. Initially I decided on 50k but then it seemed like a better idea to round it up to 100. A 5k route times 20. Round and round I will go, grabbing refreshments from my crew (mainly my wife, but she does not know yet).

The Kingston Hospital Self-Transcendence Race is a tongue in cheek version of the Sri Chinmoy self-trancendence race. This is a 3100 race around one block in New York totalling, yep, you’ve got it, thirty one hundred miles. If you fancy that, read here. I’ll be doing a mere 60 odd miles.

The course set, the day chosen (Monday 20th April) and the charity on board, it’s all go. I have a JustGiving page set up and on the first afternoon had donations over over £1000 — great start! To get to £3000 would be fantastic, and maybe more…..

Now to take it easy for a few days.

You will be able to follow progress on Instagram (@paincoach) and Twitter (@painphysio) where I will post pics and vids. Please take part, send messages, share and donate what you can!

* The idea for the name of the run came from my old mate Chris, who actually got me into ultrarunning. Ta!

UP on the road in South Africa

The end of a successful roadshow: Neil Wright (TensCare), Juan Schaerer (Adcock Ingram), me, Nick

I was very pleased to be asked to speak at the Adcock Ingram Sports Science & Rehabilitation division launch roadshow — a whistle-stop tour of South Africa.

Innovative TensCare CEO Neil Wright asked me whether I would give a series of talks in South Africa (Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town). He had heard that I bring an ‘edge’ to the topic of pain. I like to think so, but only in terms of challenging out-dated thinking that holds us back. What a great opportunity, I thought. A chance to spread important messages via Understand Pain (UP) and to learn about how chronic and complex pain is addressed in South Africa.

The new Adcock Ingram division was being launched to local physiotherapists, chiropractors and biokineticists, and the theme of the events was pain. How could I resist? Adcock Ingram are engaging with therapists and clinicians in a new way that is generating a great deal of excitement. This is based on creating great relationships and distributing high quality products that compliment rehabilitation, including the range of devices from TensCare.

Both the team putting on the roadshow and the attendees were buzzing! The feedback from the people in the audience was very positive. There was a thirst for quality pain education, and it would be great to follow up with full Pain Coach workshops.

Richmond giving Pain Coach talk
Johannesburg audience

TensCare and TENS

TensCare is an employee owned company, distributing TENS and electrotherapy machines all over the world. One of the main reasons to use TENS is for pain relief, in both acute and chronic pain. It is probably best known and most used in maternity care.

In my experience, TENS is under-used for chronic pain. Whilst TENS will not solve the problem, it can offer relief that helps the journey forwards. As an inexpensive and simple form of self-treatment, it is a good option. The key is that the user understands how it works and how to best use the unit. This can take some time and practice, but with instruction, discovering the right parameters can be found more swiftly.

 

Nick & Richmond selfie in Durban

I shared the stage with Nick Martichenko from Canada. Nick spoke about the use of tape and the understood mechanisms, whilst I focused on pain and pain coaching. I entitled the session ‘The Challenge of Pain’ as a doff of the hat to Pat Wall, the founder of modern pain biology, who wrote a book of that name. It was Wall’s work that resulted in the development of the TENS machine.

Three days, three events

On the road…

The roadshow put on by Adcock Ingram was very high quality from start to finish. They really wanted to make sure that every detail was covered. This was appreciated by the attendees who were most enthusiastic about the event. There was a new precedent being set, and the beginning of a new engagement between Adcock Ingram and therapists/clinicians.

I was particularly impressed by the way that the sales team approached their work. Selected and led by Juan Schaerer and Sheila Keshav, this group has come together in a short period of time. There was a great deal of positivity within the team, supporting each other, and getting jobs done from start to finish. I was privileged to be able to hear some the individual stories about how they came to join the team.

Richmond Stace The Pain Coach in South Africa
Cape Town Team

From a pain education perspective the roadshow was a great opportunity to talk about ways in which we can help people understand their pain and move on to improve their lives. That’s the purpose of UP. I hope that everyone else enjoyed their time as much I did. This was a super start and I will be very interested to learn how this story unfolds.

RS

 

Pain Coaching Project UPDATE

Pain Coaching Project
Richmond Stace | co-founder of UP and pioneer of Pain Coaching

Pain Coaching Project UPDATE

The Programme is now open to anyone suffering persistent or complex pain.

Face to face or Skype ~ reaching across the globe with Pain Coaching to improve lives

As the project has proceeded, I have been making changes to better suit the needs of the participants. Now I am delighted to be able to offer the programme to a wider audience — chronic pain is one of the biggest global health burdens.

Participants will receive 6 free Pain Coaching sessions: an initial conversation to understand the person’s narrative, clarify what is important to them, what they want to achieve and outline the steps forward. The next four sessions focus on practical tools: e.g./ practices, exercises, strategies, habits of peak performance. The final session is a summary and an opportunity to look at ways to keep momentum.

Read here: Pain Coach Project

If you are suffering, or know someone who suffers persistent or chronic pain, sign up today:

Email Richmond here

 

upandrun in South Africa

Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve

I head off to South Africa tonight on a Pain Talking tour, invited by TensCare and Adcock Ingram. More on the pain side later, but for now, where can I run?

In a week’s time, I will be on the trails near Cape Town, guided by Nicola from Cape Running Tours and ultrarunner Linda Doke. This will be upandrun 13, and I am really excited by this one!

The schedule is pretty packed with talks and meetings, yet there is always time to run. Running gives energy for all else.

Starting in Johannesburg where we arrive tomorrow morning, the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve looks like a great place to get into nature. The second leg sees us in Durban where we have the beachfront as a backdrop. I went there in 2003 on an England Women’s Rugby tour when I was a team physio. The beach was a place to move our bodies, enjoy the sun and the waves, to recover and relax.

Finally, Cape Town where I have not been before. Many people have told me how great this city is to visit. I can’t wait!

Look out for the pics and blogs: links below.

@paincoach on Insta | @painphysio on Twitter | Facebook

RS

 

#upandrun 12: Gloucester to Bath review

Hoka Speedgoats
It was a bit muddy

#upandrun 12 route from Gloucester to Bath, taking in the Cotswold Way

I started running along the road towards Birdlip to pick up the Cotswold Way. It was just after 530am, the streets were quiet and I was on my way. The streetlights came to an end as I reached the edge of town and began to climb.

In the darkness with my head-torch illuminated, I could see on-coming cars in the distance and I hoped they could see me. Running along close to the narrow grassy verge, I continually created an escape plan in case I needed to take evasive action. That plan, which fortunately I did not have to use, was simply to dive into the bush. I thought it through what seemed to be every few seconds.

The sun was just starting to rise as Cotswold Way signs appeared, the trail bisecting the road. I turned right onto the path that immediately started winding its way down into the woods. It was soft underfoot, with occasional muddy patches, but perfectly passable and even supporting a steady running pace.

Running a trail is the perfect time to be present. The ever-changing pink sky delivered a backdrop for the unfolding scenery as I trotted along. Noticing the changes in light is something unique to being in the countryside, almost moment by moment. It is easy to miss, especially in a town or city.

It felt like it was going to be a good day. I had a plan for fuelling, learning from previous ultras that it is important for me to keep it regular, so a snack every 10k. I was loaded with bars, Kendall mint cake and other snacks, plus I was confident that I would come across a cosy cafe serving great coffee and offering respite. That didn’t appear for quite some hours though…

Mud, bogs, rain, wind

The trail was starting to become muddy, slippery and skiddy. My Speedgoats were helping me stay upright, although I had to slow my pace to navigate these patches. Over the day, I only fell once, imprinting a sizeable brown mark on my left buttock.

Losing the trail in a small Cotswold village, an elderly couple pointed me in the right direction, warning that the field I was about to cross was steep and very wet. It was. That was the end of having dry feet for some hours.

Rain was forecast, so I was not surprised when I noticed a few drops on my face. Playing it safe, I donned my waterproof. That, was a wise decision. Within moments the rain was coming at me sideways. On off went the showers for the rest of the day, mainly on from what I recall. The wind whipped around me, especially on the exposed hills, resulting in a crouching style of running that probably did nothing except make my thighs work harder. Note to self.

It was not the water from the sky that was slowing me down though. It was underfoot. I was fortunate not to lose a shoe as I squelched my way through and round fields that were utterly waterlogged. The animals I passed looked at me and wondered what I was doing. This was the sense of their expressions anyway.

How grateful I was when a farmer gave me directions along a lane rather than over his field, which did not look like a field. It was more like the top of a moist chocolate cake.

On I went.

From http://www.cotswoldrunning.co.uk/cotswold-way-century

The Cotswolds Way is far steeper than I had anticipated. Mind you, I do like climbing a hill. There is great satisfaction on reaching the summit and looking back to see where you have stepped and taking in the scenery. King of the hill.

There are moments along the way when you ask yourself why? Pain, cold, wet, miserable weather are all reasons to stop. They are also reasons to go on exploring and discovering. That’s the beauty of ultra. Rolling with the ups and downs, the successes and challenges, one foot after the next. There is no stopping the stream of conscious experience that continually delivers the plethora of unplanned feelings, thoughts, sensations, sounds and other appearances. Noticing this is being mindful.

And so, after about 13 hours, Bath arrived out of the darkness in the distance. The last kilometers followed alongside the A46. The sun had long gone, replaced by a blackness pierced by red and white car lights. Back into urbanity, running along the city streets towards the pizza and beer that had so clearly formed in my mind.

#upandrun 12 finish

The day ended at 90k. I am looking at when I can move this on to a 100-miler, the next natural step. My feeling is that a supported run would be best, but we will see. The next #upandrun will be in South Africa where I am heading in a week’s time to give a series of pain talks — read here. The plan is to take in Table Mountain within an ultra of around 50k.

On we go.

RS

UP heads to South Africa

UP in South Africa
Photo by Tim Johnson

Talking tour March 2020

In a week’s time I head off to South Africa to deliver a series of Understand Pain talks. This is a great opportunity to connect with clinicians, therapists and others who work with people suffering pain. Invited by TensCare, we will be working together on this tour to educate, enable and empower people to provide best care for pain.

TensCare: We provide drug-free pain relief for the long-term treatment of chronic pain conditions and the relief of the acute pain during childbirth

One of the main issues and reasons why pain is such an enormous global health burden is the misunderstanding of what it is and how it arises. The predominant approach remains biomedical despite the fact that this model does not deliver solutions. Society needs us to build on our knowledge about pain and offer person-first care: it is the person who feels pain, not the body part.

In brief, I will be talking about the purpose of pain, why it persists and what we can do to help and encourage people to move on and live fulfilling lives in their own unique way. This is using strengths based coaching together with the latest pain and related sciences, focusing on meeting the person’s needs. This is the essence of Pain Coaching, which is a skillset and way of delivering care that sees a person first, not a patient or a list of problems. Instead, we see someone with strengths and the potential to improve their life. We guide and facilitate this growth in a positive way.

My hope and aim as ever, is to bring the latest understanding and thinking about pain to society in a practical way.

Understand pain to South Africa

Towards the end of the trip I plan to run #upandrun 13 in and around Cape Town, taking in Table Mountain. This is the awareness raising part of the Understand Pain social enterprise work, as I continue with monthly ultramarathons.

You can follow my projects here on the UP website and blog, and on Twitter (@painphysio), Insta (@paincoach) and Facebook (Specialist Pain Physio).

RS