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Fast Packing the West Wight

Fast Packing. Apparently its a thing. Rather than simply hiking with a big pack its a combination of hiking and trail running. Using gear that increases in price as it decreases in weight, packs are light, kit is minimal and miles get covered.

I started training this year for an ultra marathon so I’ve been building up my mileage on the local trails. A week or so ago I decided to test myself and after packing enough kit to keep me alive overnight I headed out to see how far I’d come since I started running regularly in July.

Why I Want to Run an Ultra Marathon

WHY?
This is probably the first thing that people have said to me when I’ve told them of our plans to run an ultramarathon. Actually the the first person I mentioned it to simply said “F*** That!” and turned and walked away from me.

If I’m being honest, I don’t know why I want to do this but if I try and explain the timeline of events that brought about the decision, we might all end up a little wiser.

A few years ago while hiking up Moel Siabod, a runner passed us as she speeded up the mountain and we sat and watched her bounding gracefully up and along the Deaer Ddu ridge. She looked effortless and I gazed on enviously before plodding on breathlessly to the summit. Wow, I wish I could move like that.

Sometimes on hiking trips I get impatient as I want to cover some miles quickly. We all know that a hiking trip is sometimes about getting your head down and eating up miles between spectacular viewpoints or simply camping spots. Sometimes those flatter miles could go by quicker.

I caught an episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast with Courtenay Dewaulter and holy s*** is she inspiring. I looked her up on youtube and after going down a massive rabbit hole, including some Netflix docs about the Barkley Marathons and someone running the Long Trail in the USA, a seed was definitely sown.

Back in June I was on Dartmoor with a friend for a hiking and wild camping trip. Unfortunately due to injury he didn’t make it back to the car park after about 12/13 miles of hiking. So I left him in Princetown with the back packs and armed with only my trekking poles and a bottle of water I went to fetch the car.
I hiked fairly quickly up North Hessary Tor and with quite a sweat on I ran across the moor for the remaining 3 or 4 miles to the car. I was knackered when I got there but felt quietly proud of myself, I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought I was.

I think the biggest factor was that feeling of simply moving through a landscape at a pace dictated by me. Not the weight in my pack or how fast the kids were moving or what the trail was like or how much my legs ached. If I wanted to run, I ran. If it got steep, I slowed to a jog or even a quick hike but just the feeling of moving (even slowly) was exhilarating.

There’s another reason too. I’m just not getting out on trail as often as I’d like or my at times fragile mental health needs. There have been issues this year and while I’m not going to go into great details here, it has affected all of us. The longer it is between trips, the more susceptible I am to dips and lows. But then a trip away comes and I’ll feel better. Except I put so much pressure on it to be perfect and “just what the doctor ordered” that when it doesn’t go as well as it should in my head I feel worse.

So because of this I’m going to try and get out more, but with the restrictions of money and school and general boring stuff, there will be more solo trips, just me, alone, all by myself. I would love to do some 100 mile hiking trails solo but that would mean 4 or 5 days away and I can’t swing that. But if I can pack light, move quicker and recover better overnight I might be able to do them in 3 days instead.  What if I hiked the uphills, jogged the flats and downhills, had a tiny tent and ultralight sleeping bag. Could I cover 30 miles in a day? Would I be able to do the same the next day? And the next? Suddenly long trails could be do-able on a long weekend. I’ll just need to be much fitter. Which is where the running comes in.

So that’s it really. The goal of running 100 miles is an arbitrary one at the moment, I can just about manage 10km without stopping, but somewhere along the way I’ll get to the point where anything is possible and thats the real goal of this adventure isn’t it?

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A Minor Milestone

or Holy S**t, I just ran 10k.

So on Friday I decided to just get up to the woods and try something. After struggling to get around a 5k loop the last view times I went out I had decided that my problem was pacing. I’d just go off too quick and then really struggle later.

The plan I had was to try and find this mythical forever pace I keep reading about, so I set up an interval timer to 10:1 and would aim to cover the same distance in each 10 minute block for half an hour or 5km whichever came first.

It very quickly became clear that it would be easier to measure km splits and although it was closer to 35 minutes the splits over 5km were pretty consistent, 7.09, 6.58, 7.13, 7.15, and 7.15 but more importantly I felt great.

Time for a proper challenge. I turned on my heels and retraced my steps. While I thought I’d have no chance of running all the way back I would at least try. Even if I walked the last 3km I was going to cover the ground.

And here’s the thing, I just kept it going and if anything I got a bit quicker. 7.26, ok a little slower, 6.48, woah slow up a bit, 6.55, 7.07 and then the last kilometres really didn’t matter. I was going to run 10 km (it was 6.58)

I was so pleased and it really feels like a game changer. If I can consistently hit 10km this next week I think I’ll be in a position to start looking at training plans for longer distances. I just need to not get carried away and hurt myself.

Anyway, here’s a little video I made while running my first ever 10km

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Couch to 5k

So the first part of this journey is complete. While not completely couch potato to running 5 kilometres, my physical job and hiking “prowess” gave a bit of a start, I’ve reached the end of the first training program in this long road to ultramarathons.

After a couple of false starts in June, July saw training start for real and using the “Get Running” couch to 5k app on my phone I was able to find some consistency in my running. It was still hard but the app really helped to get me out consistently 3 times a week.

I skipped ahead a few weeks on the program a point where it got quite hard but soon progressed to running, without stopping for a 1/2 hour. For most people this is the advertised 5k on the box, but because I’m slow, the reality for me was that I was only covering 2.5 km in the time.

So I set out to run the distance and while it hurt loads I managed to complete my first full 5km run in 37 minutes. The week after I ran it again 3 times and the times were consistent, but I also decided that actually time doesn’t matter just yet. Just hitting mini targets is good enough for know. Whether it’s 5km or 30 minutes or whatever, just doing more every week is the current goal.

So were well into this little project and I’ve hit the first target. I’m quietly pleased with myself, not because I run well, more because I’ve found a routine which seems to work and I feel like I’m making slow but forward progress.

Here’s all the Couch to 5km Training diaries edited into a nice little video on YouTube if you’re interested, (spoiler alerts! It wasn’t pretty!)

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Planning Our Way

A little while ago I stumbled across a Facebook post about the New Forest Film Festival. This perked my interest because a couple of years ago Evan and I made a little film as we hiked across the National Park in an attempt to reach Salisbury. Once I checked the guidelines for submissions I noticed that we had filmed that hike just a little too long ago to enter it this time around, so without needing much arm twisting we set our sights on making another film. (more…)

Round the Island; Not a Trip Report

So while this isn’t quite a trip report of our hike around the Isle of Wight, which will come in the next couple of weeks once we’ve sorted the 1300ish photos, I do feel I want to write something about the hike which we finished less than 48 hours ago. (Today is Friday, we finished Wednesday evening, and this should be up Monday).

Lets call it a highlights package!

Day One – Gurnard to St Helens. 17 and a bit miles.

Ryde Seafront

Highlights – The section from Ryde to St Helens. Our first real experience at night hiking. Isaacs reaction to reaching St Helens, which he recognised, even in the dark, from a recent school trip. £6 Camping.

Lowlights – “Tarmac-geddon”. Apart from maybe the last mile and a half, the whole day was on tarmac or alongside a road, and after leaving East Cowes we hardly saw the coast until Ryde esplanade.

Hazels Round the Island - 110Day Two – St Helens to Shanklin. 13 ish miles.

Highlights – Through the Duver and across the causeway at St Helens. The climb up Culver and resulting ice cream. Late lunch on the beach. Playing the Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Kids Vote for that one).

Lowlights – The Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Dads). More tarmac. Few wild camp opportunities so had to use another campsite.

Day Three – Shanklin to Somewhere along the South Coast – 14 ish miles.

Hazels Round the Island - 263Highlights –  The landslip from Luccombe to Bonchurch, the Sea wall to Ventnor. The Cliff tops to St Lawrence, Steephill Cove, finding new beaches, the views from above Blackgang, Wild Camping on the cliffs beyond Chale, the whole day really.

Lowlights –  None, best day on the trail.

Day 4 – Chale – Totland -Around 17 miles

Hazels Round the Island - 371Highlights – Trail all except last mile. Expansive views.Ice Cream at Totland. Climb up Tennyson Down and along to Needles. Spotting a fox about 3 feet away from us and having a staring contest with it.

Lowlights – Views of Needles obscured by the Old Battery which requires entry fee and was closed anyway. Once again someone commoditising our natural landmarks!

 

 

Day 5 – Totland to Home – 18 and a half miles.Hazels Round the Island - 554

Highlights – Second breakfast in Yarmouth, Bouldnor Forest and Hampstead. Thorness Bay and the last 1/2 mile to Gurnard Beach where we were practically jogging to catch the sunset from our local beach.

Lowlights – Some very dodgy road walking through Shalfleet and around Porchfield. Running out of trail.

We had a really good time on the trail and would definitely repeat some of it again, probably Shanklin round to Yarmouth, but you can keep East Cowes to Ryde, I’m never hiking that section again. #Tarmac-geddon.

I’ll do a full trip report in the next couple of weeks so keep your eyes peeled, click the follow button or find us on social places @justupthetrail

Cheers

Rob

Meet the Family.

Please allow me to introduce the stars of this little blog, the kids.

Evan 

IMG_1452Ev is the eldest of the bunch, he’s 11 as I write this and we can’t believe where the time has gone. He’s a steady hiker, although he much prefers hiking in the afternoons and is generally most concerned with the availability of snacks. He also enjoys scrambling around on boulders and has started rock climbing at a local sports centre. Most importantly, he is great company on trail and carries a fair amount of stuff for us. He’s like a little pack pony, so much so his trail name should be “El Burro”. You can watch the little hiking film we made together in the New Forest here.

Lil

IMG_1395Meet Lil, she’s 9, and while she’s sandwiched between the two boys she really holds her own. She is a great hiker, a bold climber and is fearless on the slackline. She’ll try anything in search of adventure and will always be the wettest or muddiest child as soon as possible. Later this year Lil and I and will be trying out hammock camping for the first time  and we really can’t wait. You can read her own account of her birthday hike here

Isaac
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Here’s Isaac, he’s 7 and being the youngest his hiking resume sounds the most impressive. He climbed Snowdon and Cadair Idris at 4, Moel Siabod at 4 and 3/4s and hiked the entirety of the West Highland Way at 5 and a half. He’s a real trooper on the trail and will often be far ahead of the rest of us, looking for scrambly bits! He’s also another one that’s fearless on the climbing wall and wants to climb in the Olympics when he’s bigger!

Mum and Dad or Hazel and Rob if you’d prefer!

IMG_0212We have made our home on the Isle of Wight and while we’re a little far from the mountains, we have found plenty of adventures on the island. We’re the proud parents of 3 adventurous and hardy little people. Whatever challenge we have undertaken, they have risen to meet it and we are  firm believers that kids are more capable and adaptable than they are ever given credit for. We look forward to many, many more adventures with these three and hope to share them with you.

Chasing Shadows and Searching for Dinosaurs

On a balmy evening, during what would turn out to be the hottest summer for quite a while, I set out on a little hike with Lil to celebrate her 9th birthday. About a month before I had asked her what she wanted for a present this year and when, after some thought, she returned with an answer of “a hiking trip with you Dad” I felt quite proud. How many 9 year olds want nothing more for their birthday than to hike into the night, sleep under a tarp and get up super early the next morning to walk some more? What a girl!

Anyway, due to work commitments and school we left home about 4.30pm, had the car parked up by just after 5 and headed along the chalk ridge onto downs. With the sun on our backs and a gentle breeze we headed eastwards, chasing our shadows which were near perfect silhouettes on the brilliant white chalk trail.

After hiking for a few hours, through the golf course and onto the downs we were spoilt by breathtaking views of the coastline, the prospect of a magnificent sunset and an empty trail we settled down to have something to eat before finding camp. Because the summer had been so, so dry I was a little paranoid about cooking up and the fire risk but with Lil especially being hungry we set up our little kitchen in the middle of the trail by a little bench and chowed down on some noodles and some especially disgusting rice pudding which Lil described as, and I quote “Buttery Blurggghhh!!!”.

Our original plan had been to sleep in hammocks at a spot in the woods that was perfect, we had previously used the same spot for slacklining and knew that this small stand of Beech trees in an otherwise Oak and Hazel populated forest would be perfect. The canopy of the beech trees suppresses the growth of bracken and brambles and nettles on the woodland floor so camping here would be ideal. Unfortunately the Forestry Commission had other ideas and had been in that particular stand, thinning, and had left an awful mess and removed some prime hammocking trees so we were a little disappointed. We had hoped to set up camp and head back onto the downs for the sunset so we decided to throw up a tarp off the trail and settled down to watch the sunset and go to sleep. It got quite chilly, but I suppose that was just relative. I don’t think it got lower than about 15°C but when the sun was up it was about 32°. Lil woke up about 2am and shouted in my ear “STARS!!!” and by the time I asked if she wanted a middle of the night hot chocolate, she was already back asleep.

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Lil's first #wildcamp

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IMG_2085We woke up, slightly damp from the dew, packed up our camp and were hiking again before 6am. We were treated to a glorious sunrise and some fresh cobwebs in our faces as we came off the downs, along hedgerow lined trails, to the coast. We had a porridgey breakfast on the cliffs at Brook before continuing along the beach to Hannover Point and a search for dinosaur footprints. Technically they’re “footcasts” after sediment has filled in the footprint and fossilised. After the softer material around it has eroded we’re left with almost perfect imprints of Iguanadon feet.

Heading round to Compton Bay, we climbed the rickety steps and rejoined the costal path, the warm sun again throwing our shadows in front of us and we were back at the car by 8.30 and home by 9 for a busy weekend with the whole family. We were only out for about 15 or 16 hours but we had such a great time. What a birthday treat for Lil.  (And Me!!)