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!
#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.
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.
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.
It’s probably going to be a soggy #upandrun on tomorrow when I trot from Cheltenham to Bath along the Cotswold Way. The weather has hit the UK over the weekend, another sure sign of climate change and reason to look after our planet and ourselves — the two entwined.
#upandrun 12 is an unsupported, or solo run. Whilst I do enjoy the excitement of an event, there is something about doing it alone. Not seeing another person for miles or hours and simply connecting with nature has special qualities. For company you have the trail, the fields, the trees, animals, birds, sounds of the wind and silence.
Our experience of nature is embodied of course, so no matter what we perceive ‘out there’, the inner world informs what that is like. Running for long periods of time means inevitable connecting with the self, one’s body and how they are unified. Each step, each twinge, each ache and each pain tell a story. Your story.
Challenging moments arise. On a solo, there’s no-one there to encourage, no aid station and no medal at the end. There’s a purity to this; what’s the motivator? A purpose. Undoubtedly, having a strong sense of purpose is fuel. The ‘why’. So why?
My shared purpose with UP is simply to help people improve their lives, in particular those suffering chronic pain. And why? Because I believe that we can truly help others transform their lives and move on. This belief has strengthened over the years. We are designed to do better than just survive, which is what many people are doing day to day; surviving their lives.
Then there is the ‘why’ of running…
Recently I was considering the practice of curiosity, and it dawned on me that this is the reason I run. I am curious about what is over the next hill, how the day unfolds, the scene in front of me and how it emerges in my awareness and passes. I am curious about how far I can go and what it will feel like; the unknown.
Tapping into the natural explorer, these ultra-runs quench that thirst. We are born explorers, learning about the world and ourselves with every movement and experience from the outset. Picture a baby starting to move, crawl and then walk, building a lived experience of the world. We create that world by acting upon it, predicting what comes next based on what came before. Touching nature by stepping on the trail, I a perceiving that very trail by the act of running.
#upandrun is made complete by workshops and spending time coaching and encouraging people to reach their potential and achieve the results that they desire. The current project focuses upon people suffering pain from osteoarthritis. There are more free places available, so please share or do get in touch to sign up for your place (see the link below).
Yesterday morning I set off to conquer the 12 summits of London, inspired by The Guardian’s running blog by Jonny Muir. It was #upandrun number 11 kicking off 2020 with a run around the capital, which offers so much of interest, best seen on foot.
#upandrun is the running project from Understand Pain, raising awareness of the problem of pain in society, and what we can do to make a difference
We know that London is diverse. Yet it is only by passing through multiple boroughs that we can actually witness and feel this diversity. On the way round I encountered wailing ambulances, dogs, kids on bikes, a drone, pushchairs, cars, boats, cats and more. I ran along streets and paths bordered by terraced housing, mansions, premises boarded up, high rise blocks, walls, fences, the Thames, industrial units, skyscrapers, canals, woods, shops, and parks. Whilst much can seem unremarkable because we see it each day, it is in fact quite remarkable how this all works. A living city.
Putney Heath, Wandsworth
Westow Hill, Lambeth
Sydenham Hill, Lambeth
Sydenham Hill, Southwark
Shooters Hill, Greenwich (Eaglesfield Recreation Park)
Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets
Seven Sisters Road, Hackney
Highgate Hill, Islington
Spaniards Road, Camden
Park Road, Westminster
Harrow Road, Kensington and Chelsea
Harrow Road, Hammersmith and Fulham
The route was 80k. Here are some of the highlights in pictures.
What is lined up for 2020?
#upandrun will continue with monthly ultramarathons — you are welcome to join me for a leg; get in touch.
Understand Pain has a new exciting project starting imminently. The focus is upon helping people suffering pain associated with osteoarthritis (OA), to improve their lives . Supported by GSK, I will be delivering Pain Coaching in small group workshops and 1:1 sessions (face to face and Skype). Information about how to sign up will be posted soon, so keep an eye out if you are interested. This is a free service delivered by myself, Richmond Stace, pioneer of Pain Coaching.
Undoubtedly, choosing the way of the vegan is gaining momentum. Each person will have their reasons. Here are mine.
There’s little doubt in my mind that I have chosen a vegan diet over the past couple of months to test the effects in me. It is likely I have been influenced by notable ultrarunners such as Scott Jurek and Capra Corbett.
(Being slightly philosophical for a moment, any decision that we make is the culmination of a range of beliefs, most of which are hidden away from our conscious awareness).
So how has it gone? It’s been interesting, that’s for sure, including other people’s responses. All in all, I can summarise by saying that I feel more energised, my running times appear to have improved (maybe I’m pushing harder?) and my digestive system seems to be working better (less bloating, discomfort, lighter). It is early days.
At the end of the blog are some of my favourite vegan things to eat
Initially being vegan meant a very different shopping experience. I had to really think about what I was going to eat and hence what I needed to buy. It has become easier with new habits of where to look, such as knowing where the oat milk is located.
Then there is the challenge of being vegan and eating a healthy diet. The two do not have to co-exist. It would be easy to go for processed vegan food, all neatly packed at the end of one aisle in my local supermarket. When you look, there are plenty of vegan options, replacing day to day foods: cheese, sweets, biscuits, chocolate, bacon, sausages etc. I have had some scrumptious vegan sausages!
A recent trip to Liverpool meant finding places to eat. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was rather easy, with plenty of vegan options. I even saw a vegan chicken burger ad on a huge billboard from a well known fast food company — not my thing, but an interesting shift.
Beyond being curious and seeking to build wellness, there is also the positive effect upon the planet. Each person doing what they can adds up. This could be reducing plastic, easing back on animal products, or less travel.
From a scientific perspective much more research is needed. The recent film Game Changers provoked controversy with opponents claiming that the studies used were poor quality. However, if the reaction is to reduce the consumption of meat, this can only be a benefit. Many of the people who adjusted their diets subsequently were probably ready for change for different reasons. Whilst some of the quoted research may be inconclusive or lack certainty, it is pointing us in a particular direction.
Veganism is growing. And with the increasing numbers of people choosing this approach, there must be further research to understand the consequences. For instance, are there risks that need countering with vitamin supplements?
Only a couple of months in, I am unable to make any concrete claims about my case study of one. However, I will stick with it for now. Besides, much of the food is so delicious!
Some of may favourite dishes so far…
Vegan Indian food with jackfruit, soya, tofu and vegetables
Roasted vegetables with tofu
Coffee with oat milk
Avocado & green vegetables
Fruit smoothies with chia seeds
Granola with oat milk or soya
Vegan sausages for breakfast with beans and mushrooms
Bean burritos with home made guacamole and salsa, plus vegan cheese
76k along the Thames Path taking in Shepperton, Chertsey, Staines, Windsor, Maidenhead, Marlow and finally the home of one of the most famous regattas
The final ultra of the year for Understand Pain saw me running along the Thames, finishing at Henley-upon-Thames bridge. It’s a flat route meaning that most of the strides were similar, making for monotony as a challenge. The only variation was traversing fields, featuring uneven ground — tyre tracks, mole hills, divets etc. This was especially interesting in just the light of my head torch. Patches of fog provided additional fun.
Now it is time for some planning: monthly races and solos for 2020. There are so many to choose from! My thinking is to go for a 100-miler and another mountain race. I have some unfinished business on Snowdon, but perhaps Europe.
The UP workshops will have a different look in 2020. There are a couple of new projects afoot, which I will announce in more details once the details are finalised.
Exciting times ahead!
Meanwhile, here are some photos from #upandrun 10.
Here’s the plan. Hampton Court to Reading; just over 50 miles along the Thames Path heading west.
Never has the need to understand pain been greater. Undoubtedly we are in times of great suffering for many reasons — mainly driven by our choices as humans on this planet. Whilst suffering is undoubtedly part of the lived experience for all of us, we can do so much better at being there for each other, regardless of background. At the end of the day, we all have the the same needs and desire for a fulfilling life.
Understand Pain plays its part by bringing practical knowledge into society so that people can improve their lives. My preference is face to face at the workshops: UP for people suffering persistent pain, for GPs and for healthcare professionals. The latter includes student physiotherapists who are the next generation and can make a huge difference. Last week I was enormously enthused by a sizeable group of MSc and BSc physio students at Leeds Beckett University where I ran an impromptu session (read here); a kind of surprise gig….
My hope and dream is much more of this as the story gathers momentum — so please share far and wide!
Look out for the next blog and the pics of #upandrun 10 on the day >> @painphysio on Twitter and @paincoach on Insta.
On Friday night Strava told me that I had reached 3000k for the year so far. Undoubtedly, the cause Understand Pain (UP) has been a massive motivator together with a sense of purpose, echoing the thoughts of Dean Karnazes: ‘…ultrarunning is a noble pursuit and has brought purpose to many people’s lives, as it has mine.’
However, there’s a long way to go. Society needs to develop its understanding of pain: what it is really and why it can persist. That’s one of the main purposes of UP.
My intention is to continue with the ultrarunning to raise awareness of the problem of pain. There is no end goal; just to keep going as in the style of shuffling mile after mile. Along the way, I hope to gain partners who want to share the story of making a positive impact in society (do get in touch here if you are interested). For example, UP recently has teamed up with a large healthcare company to work on a really exciting Pain Coaching project — more on this soon.
But, none of this would have been possible without the support and encouragement of a number of people. Therefore, I dedicate this blog and the #upandrun 3000 to them with massive gratitude. Some I know well and some I know of; all have helped in their own unique ways and many won’t have realised!
The North Wales Coastal Path and Oxford to Richmond are on hold for now. A few logistical things to sort out. Meanwhile, the Kent loop of the North Downs way is calling.
Setting off from Wey, not so far from Ashford, the route heads down to Folkestone before following the coast to Dover, taking in the white cliffs. Turning inland, the trail winds its way up to Canterbury. From there it heads south west, meeting the Way back towards Farnham (the West start point). At the split, I will continue back round towards Folkestone for a few kilometres to the start point, Wey. I calculate about 90km in the day.
Keep an eye out for #upandrun on Twitter and Instagram and FB — RT and share the story and the messages: we can help people improve their lives, no matter the start point.
It is time to think about the October #upandrun ultramarathon now that I have recovered from the Snowdonia adventure and am back to running around locally.
There are several choices, both of which are solos. That is when the runner heads off on his or her own, unsupported, making their way from A to B.
The one I shall go for is Richmond to Oxford along the Thames Path. Previously I ran from Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier, so this will be going the other way; out of town so to speak.
The route is 100 miles. I will chunk this into two days, finding somewhere to stop overnight. Any suggestions are welcome. Preferably somewhere quiet, with nourishing food where I can dry out and put my feet up for a few hours before setting off again. All I will carry is what I can fit in my backpack.
So that’s the plan. I will confirm the dates soon.