I have been thinking a lot about how to go about the next few months ‘blog-wise’ and of course those of you unfortunate enough to read Blog No.1 will remember I haven’t actually got into UTMB yet, so unless Anthony is gracious enough to want a series of blogs written by a bloke who DIDN'T get into UTMB then come January this could all come to a grinding halt, but we’re positive people right? So, I can ramble on for a few months if you can listen?
I’ve been throwing around working titles in my head, trying to make sure I’ve got something fun and hopefully interesting to talk about, and to make sure I stick as closely as I can to my self-imposed blog writing guidelines:
Self Imposed Guidelines.
1. DO NOT AT ANY POINT BLATHER ON ABOUT YOURSELF (unless in a hugely self- deprecating way to establish un-athletic credentials and put reader at ease)
2. DO NOT AT ANY POINT PRETEND TO BE ANYTHING YOU'RE NOT. You are a hobby athlete at best who is on his second bag of mini cheddars sat drinking wine on the sofa, and that’s just fine! Although the Cheddars/wine thing might be a habit that needs revision if I actually ever get into UTMB. I do sometimes long to be one of the beautiful Instagram ultra runners I see dancing down a Colorado ridge, nut brown tanned and wearing nothing but short shorts. (but then where would I put my Cheddars?)
3. TRY AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE TO ACTUALLY HELP. I love ultra running, and to think that I may have actually helped someone with their racing through these rambles would be really cool. Whether that be from making myself sound so utterly hopeless someone thinks ‘If this joker can do it then so can I’ or maybe just maybe there might be something genuinely useful in here somewhere.
4. THE TITLE AND THE FIRST PARAGRAPH IS WHERE PEOPLE DECIDE IF THEY WANT TO READ YOUR ARTICLE OR NOT. Now this is more ‘Martyn based advice’ from my good friend Martyn Brunt, author of ACCIDENTAL IRONMAN a beautifully witty account of his adventures in triathlon that I implore you to check out if you haven't already.
Martyn was super generous with his advice and the whole attention grabbing title thing really resonated with me, so without further ado I give you...
JACK’S BIG FAT NUMBER TWO!
(Oh no, hang on a minute that doesn’t work does it?)
Almost by accident we find ourselves falling into one of my scribbled working titles for this month’s blog which gives me a nice opportunity to name drop another one of my friends ‘Claire’ (surnames withheld to protect the innocent, but she’s really called Claire I promise). Claire is a great athlete in her own right and super inspiring to be around, but she gets a mention here for something that she may not even remember. A few years ago, I was in the eye of the storm in a pretty gnarly ultra (discipline Jack, refer to guideline number 1). The weather was horrific and Claire innocently commented on a Facebook photo of me and my good lady Bee sitting in an aid station, frozen to the bone and staring into the camera like a pair of convicted murderers. Her comment was simple and from the heart, based on knowing me as well as she does.
‘ALL THE IDEA, NO GEAR AGAIN’ she quipped.
(Thanks Claire we have our title)
Now, Claire is a dear friend and wasn’t for a second being unkind, but she’s also responsible for me knowing the term PERSONAL ADMIN, a little barometer she uses for how prepared she feels she is for life’s events, now being an experienced firefighter of 20 years and actual polar bear dodger at the actual NORTH POLE I reckon she’s in pretty good shape to know what a difference having the ‘right gear for the idea’ can make.
So, thanks Claire for kickstarting this chapter and let us examine the evidence that Claire based her scathing but fair review of me on:
- Berlin Marathon - Odd shoes!
- Upton Triathlon - Forgot Bike!
- Ironman Austria - Walked off leaving a £300 wetsuit hanging on a fence!
- Amsterdam Marathon - Got hammered in the hotel bar after the race with my dear friend Steve. Woke up a little too close to my dear friend Steve with everything intact… Yeah everything intact! I’m not an amateur… er apart from my passport, which I guess I would need to fly home. Cue hungover, close to tears vomit dance through the streets of old Amsterdam until we found it!
Now, it’s not that I don’t respect the races I do and it’s certainly not that I don’t like fancy new gear. I own a Petzl Nao headtorch, that I bought in a moment of weakness and definitely don’t regret. It has been used twice to great effect, once at a UTMB qualifying race, and a second time to inspect our 7 year old's hair for nits (I say again. Beat that Kilian).
I love fancy kit but I guess I just can’t help being that stereotypical bloke that packs the morning he is due to fly and still ends up having to buy one of those little toothbrushes that fits into its own handle at the airport (then duly loses it).
I’m sure the long suffering Bee grows tired of our little pre race ‘dance’ of me packing my race vest before she kindly offered to check it over only to duly empty the lot all over the spare room floor in a hail of odd gloves and mini cheddars as I scowl on childishly. Let the record reflect that Bee is an experienced ultra-runner herself with LL100 and Hardmoors finishes amongst others.
Bee has been a definite influence on me with regards to kit and has some very nice bits of gear herself that she has saved hard for and picked wisely after countless hours of deliberating. As I sit and think about it I reckon that if any burglar with half a brain broke into our house they should probably leave the car keys and pinch the jackets. One of my favourite relationship moments so far has been when Bee fought her way out of the halfway aid station at the Lakeland 100 in some pretty tricky weather focussing hard on the next 50 miles or so still to do. I strolled up to her and held her shoulders tightly hoping to impart some sage advice to her only to feel what can only be described as the luxury of her brand new Montane waterproof that I didn't know she owned under my hands. A little smile and she was off into the rain warm as toast. sneaky… That's my girl.
So Bee’s not daft. It dawns on me that if UTMB is going to happen then we might have to start thinking about kit that might actually make a difference and keep me safe. If I am really going to be on the top of the Grand Col Ferret (2,537m) in the middle of the night then I’m going to need some gear. This brings me to the two pronged dilemma I seem to be feeling the weight of a bit at the moment.
Prong 1 - If the weather turns nasty at the top of any of those climbs my TK Maxx waterproof is not going to cut it, which means spending some pretty serious cash or running the risk of having an utterly miserable experience or possibly worse (involving helicopters)
Prong 2 - Now, stay with me here all you Salomon wearing Instagram ridge runners (I get it, don’t worry). As the world seems to be going slightly bonkers, I find myself wanting to help somehow and I am starting to twitch slightly about the whole sustainability and ethical impact of sports clothing as a whole, so I need the gear but I don’t want to buy it, but I do want to buy it! Ooh I am in a pickle.
How about I hit this in the middle somewhere for now?
If you are reading this; then there is every chance you have heard of Dan Lawson (if not check him out). Dan is an absolute weapon of a GB Ultra-runner (IAU 24 Hr champ/2nd quickest Brit ever at Spartathlon) and a super interesting guy who I have read about a lot and heard on the Centurion podcasts with James Ellson but wouldn’t claim to know.
Dan has set up a company called Rerun; where he and his team take donations of unwanted running kit, deep clean it and sew it all together to give it a new lease of life. Dan has vowed not to buy any new kit again. Now I wish I had the self discipline to immerse myself in Dan’s project but frankly I can’t stop eating cheddars so having the staying power to not buy shiny new kit is rather shamefully going to take a bit of work. I will offer this consolation though. I am going to give all my old kit to Rerun and I implore you guys to do the same. Dig through your wardrobes for that old 10K T shirt that means nothing to you, stuff it all in a bin bag, find your local Rerun pick up point and Dan and his crew will do the rest.
If I ever get to stand looking out over Mont Blanc in the middle of the night and the mountains decide to unleash hell (and believe me they can). I am going to be stood there in all the right gear (lovingly packed by Bee without me scowling). But it won’t have been a massive ill thought-out binge on the Arcteryx website. I make a promise to Dan Lawson and all the folk like him to try and be a bit more thoughtful about where it all comes from and where it all goes.
So, put simply if you're 6ft 2 with a slender athletic build (cheddar dependant) size 12 feet with a slightly cockeyed right big toe and fancy lending me some kick ass kit if I ever get into UTMB it would be great to hear from you!
I don’t suppose us trail runners can save the world on our own but there’s more of us now than there has ever been and making sure some of the footprints we leave aren’t carbon ones has got to be a good thing.
P.S. Next month. Actually talking a little bit more about the race itself. (301 days to the 2021 UTMB!)
(Remember? That race I haven't got into, and might not go ahead)
P.P.S. I am not ignoring the Covid-19 situation, more trying to escape from it all for a bit in our magical trail running world. I really hope you find that escape too with a hot cuppa or maybe some Cheddars.
Keep safe everybody, until next time!