May has come and almost gone in a flash. In that time, the lockdown has eased slightly meaning that we can get out for more exercise. In turn, this opened different opportunities for upandrun 15. In the end I chose the 3 Parks, not the 3 Peaks! The latter is on my radar as soon as it is acceptable to travel further.
I am fortunate to live near plenty of green despite being on the edge of London. The 3 Parks are Bushy Park, Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common. A bimble around the edge of these and back home takes in around 50k — a nice distance for an afternoon in the sun.
The last upandrun was dedicated to raising money for my local hospital. I ran around my block for 100k and managed to reach over £3000 in donations — thanks to all those generous people!
Now I am back on the case for chronic pain, one of the largest and most costly of health burdens across the globe. This is in tandem with the end of the Pain Coaching project as I tot up the outcomes and study both the data and the key features of the coaching conversations. Just as a brief insight, the average satisfaction score given by participants in the programme was 9.4/10. They also all agreed that they would recommend pain coaching to another person suffering chronic pain as a way to understand their pain and learn how to improve their life.
There is something special about getting into nature; running along the trail. Out there for hours, you can appreciate the changing colours, shadows, light, terrain, thoughts and feelings. It is a privilege. Nature offers itself to us. When we respect it, nature provides us with all we need including a listening ear. The past year of ultrarunning has brought that home to me. We are all wounded at times in our lives, yet we can heal. Nature offers that healing. Experiencing this so strongly, I have started Trail Life.
Trail Life is about immersing yourself in nature, on the trails or even carving your own trails on your way to wellness: moving, breathing, feeling, running, walking, talking, silence, feeling, seeing, listening, being present, being aware and more.
A year ago I started on a new running journey. May 2020 is my ultra 1st birthday!
The first weekend in May 2019, I set off on a journey around the Isle of Wight. It was my first ultra marathon and I had no idea what was in store. All I did know was that it was going to be an adventure.
My introduction to ultras feels longer than a year ago. Since then, I have completed 14 ultras for my upandrun campaign, which is on-going. ‘Where shall I go next month?’, is always a fun conversation with myself. With no races, at the moment I continue with solos, or unsupported runs. This means I head off on my own, carrying whatever I need, and get myself from A to B. We are allowed to travel now, so this opens a few options for May 2020.
Once running begins, there is no end point until you decide or have to stop. The next run always beckons. My shoes sit quietly by the back door, waiting.
I have never been particularly interested in times and pace. When I do become embroiled in the figures, quickly the joy fades. My body also starts to hurt more when I push the pace, and not in a way that is sustainable. Long distance suits me, especially on trails. The vibe is different, featuring connection, camaraderie and a sense of achievement by completion.
The relationship between pain and running is an interesting one and an experience I explore with curiosity. I am my own laboratory. Ultras require a mode that keeps going. The next step, and the next and so on. All sorts of aches, pain, thoughts and feelings come and go. It is a roller coaster that mimics life in many ways. This is perhaps why it is a fascinating experiment.
Build trust in yourself
What will appear next, and how will I deal with it? Certainly, completing ultra events gives you a sense of ‘yes, I can and I will’ that you bring forth into your life. The trust in yourself to do a job and reach the end before starting again strengthens enormously. Our habits inform our identity to an extent. If I have the habit of finishing or doing my best with each task, then this is who I am. This is my narrative. The same would be true for running 100k as to clearing the dishwasher.
Over the past few months I have been running a Pain Coaching project supported by GSK. They came to me with an interest in the concept, resulting in a programme that I have been delivering over the past few months. Now we are looking at the data, which at first glance is highlighting the strengths of Pain Coaching for chronic pain. The feedback from the participants averaged 9.3/10. More on this as we mine the data.
These are the gifts I have received for my first ultra birthday. There are more, many more, and they keep coming: the joy of movement, freedom, connecting with space and nature, engaging with a community, and let us not forget the kit….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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