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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!)