So - that’s it - a month away on holidays already! Damn that went quick. The trip has been equal parts mooching at the in-laws whilst leisurely filling in the days and equal parts travelling around the UK and continental Europe.
Week 1 (14-20 Jan)
We bused up to Sydney airport on the Monday afternoon, and stayed in the airport hotel for a 6:30am flight out to Dubai. With much more gear than we ever travel with - enough to cater for all 4 seasons, camping, running missions, pack rafts and presents - we felt like we were off for an adventure.
Arriving into the UK on a Tuesday night - the jetlag was gentle (thanks to Business class R&R) and I was quickly into the early to bed, early to rise routine. The first few days were relatively mild - and a nice escape from the Australian heatwave that had been accosting us in Canberra. I settled into further exploring and running the trails in the forests directly behind Denises parents. A loop of the “backyard forest” is about 10k, and there are many neighbouring forests, trails, bridleways and public footpaths that can take you in most directions. Unlike last year, without too much rain, the dirt trails were relatively free of shoe sucking bogs.
On the Thursday night we hung at Nicolas place in Reading, and on Friday Denise and I did a long walk up on chalk on the Ridgeway trail. The day was freezing - but the walk was nice and as the terrain was so easy our pace was fairly brisk all day. We finished at about the 20k mark early - and got back to Nicolas via Newbury by early afternoon.
I took the quick train from Reading into London on Saturday to catchup with a good friend Will. I had a few hours exploring a couple of areas of London on my own which was nice. Will and I then caught up in a classic boozer in the heart of posh London with an eclectic jukebox that would bounce between dueling customers sense of taste and patience. After a few pints and a meal, we finally settled to hustle out to a mate of Wills who was having a poker night. We walked in mid-game, and it was a nicely wild affair. Friendly people, cranking music, smoke-filled and an over-flow darts board for those not in the game!
Denise headed down to London on Sunday to catch up with a friend of hers, so I met up with her for a nice early lunch at Ethos, before I headed back to Reading. From Reading I snuck in a wonderful run along the canal bathed in winters sun, and streaming good music.
Week 2 (21-27 Jan)
On the Monday Denise and I made plans to meet up at the Cunning man pub on the Kennet canal. She had acquired the loan of her sisters mountain bike, and I would make it there on foot. It turned into a 16k one-way haul; and what felt like a longer 16k return after a meal and a pint. Vegan has become a trend - so a lot of places had a “Veganuary” menu throughout January - a bonus for us as more nice options opened up.
On the Wednesday I got a good longish-run in and explored Banyans enclosure. This had some lovely trails and trees to run through. On the Thursday we picked up the bikes and rolled through back roads to Longmills for a guiness or a cup-of-tea, depending on your cup of tea.
We escaped the quiet of Pamber Heath for Nicola’s place Thursday night - so we could escape on Friday afternoon for a road trip to Manchester and the CAMRA beer festival. We stayed in a lovely airBNB in the old perfume factory and walked into the event Friday evening for a few hours for our entree of drinking. The next day, after breakfast in town we re-entered the cavernous hall for 7 hours of sampling cask ales. This was again an awesome event, and hangovers were avoided which is a double win!
On Monday night we returned to Reading so that we could easily get a coach on the Tuesday morning to Heathrow for our flight to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam we were staying with our good friends Martin and Sonja. As Martin is a teacher he was away on a school camp, so we met Sonja after she finished work and took her out to the Volkshotel restaurant on the top floor near their house. This was a delightful start to our time in Amsterdam, with a dj playing relaxed music, lovely food and a cracker of a view out across Amsterdam.
I laced up on Wednesday morning for a run up the Amstel, and then took the liberty to pop into Tweed Kamer to enjoy the Dutch tolerance. Hopefully the ACT will progress this issue in the next month when it votes on liberalising possession and growing. The afternoon we spent in the Amsterdam museum followed by the fascinating Church in the Attic.
On Thursday Denise and I travelled down to Delft to see Mishka for dinner. It was another freezing day - so we combined walking with visits to shops and cafes for warmth. We had a lovely but unofortunately too brief dinner (parental duties beckoned) at a local eet-huis.
By this stage impromptu plans were firming up to have a road-trip to the Beligan Ardennes with Martin and Sonja on Friday for the weekend. We booked an airBNB in Stavelot - a simple few hours drive from Amsterstdam. When we arrived we were in thick snow, and staying on a road out of town that was part ofthe old Belgian F1 race track. The town was quaint - and that night we strolled around and had a nice mix of pizza’s at the local Italian restaurant, with a night-cap at the local bar.
The next morning I got out early to explore the rail trail above our accomodation for a morning run. The snow up off the road was probably 20+ cm deep, deep enough to slow me down, but not so deep it wasn’t fun or practical without snowshoes. Later that day we all setoff on a mission to visit the local brewery Brasserie de Belevaux. It turned into a longer than anticipated 3 hour walk.
Once we finally arrived we grabbed a beer and a bite to eat, then improvised with our patchy French to see if a taxi could collect us and return us back to Stavelot. One was found after a few tries, and despite a steep 40 Euro price, it was worth it to ferry us and our takeaways home.
We returned to Amsterdam early on Sunday so we could meet up with Wendy and Roland. We had a lovely walk around a large park outside of Amsterdam and returned via Veesp, a town older than Amsterdam, where we snuck in a sneaky beer in the local bar.
We visited, briefly, the Rijks museum on Monday and spent the remainder of our time walking the city and exploring Denise’ old haunts and memories of Amsterdam. On the Wednesday morning we said our goodbyes and caught our train to Cologne. The trip only took a couple of hours and we arrived at lunchtime to check-in. I explored a bit through a loop run - down and then up - the Rheine. In the late afternoon we both headed out to explore the city including the impressive Dom. We tucked into some Canadian streetfood (poutine and a salad bowl) and walked over the main rail bridge to the viewing tower on the other side of the river.
Denise then retired to catchup on sleep and I went to find Papa Joe’s Jazz bar (the venue I had been to when last in Cologne almost 20 years ago). After a quick and disapointing drink here I sniffed out a local craft beer venue and settled into a few of their lovely beers.
The next morning I snuck in a quick run exploring another part of the river before we lined up for our next train up to Berlin. This train flew along at up to 250kph, and the 5 hour journey passed easily in our comfortable first class seats. We had 3 nights booked in Berlin - staying at the Hotel Hackersmarkt. We easily bought tickets on our smartphone to jump a S-bahn train to our station and the short walk to our hotel. We had an upgrade too into an attic room with a large lounge.
We had a date for a vegetarian degustacion at the well awareded Kopps restaurant soon after we arrived. So we promptly spruced ourselves up and strolled through the neighbourhood to the restaurant. We ordered the 7 course option and I took up the paired drinks. The restaurant was stifflingly hot, but the food was delightful. The smoked lentils was the highlight as was the yuzu drink.
The following day we made our way by the U-bahn to find the Berlin underground tours. We joined a tour of the air raid shelter that was not destroyed after the war as it sat above the U-bahn line. From here we walked into the park to walk up a flokturm (a hill that has enveloped a pile of rubble amassed from all the destroyed buildings in WWII) for a good view out across the city. Based on a conveniently found walking map we headed to the Brandenburg gates, before walking our way back through museum island and through the shops of the Mitte district we were staying in. We discovered through this map ecoalf - a nice concept including the pretty cool collapsable helmet.
The evening we opted for a mexican place we had waked past the previous night. Very prompt service, large servings and good food. To wind up a wild Friday night in Berlin I made a bee-line for the Mikkeler bar. A very relaxed and contemporary bar - with 20 beers on tap, mostly from Mikkeler but with a couple of NZ guest beers. After tasting a couple of their sour beers (spontaneous sour, and cherry sour) I moved onto some brown and scotch ale. Yum.
On Saturday we visited the “best Melbourne breakfast in Berlin” - and funnily enough got served by an Ozzy too. Our plan for the day was to hire a bike and go exploring. We opted for the on-street bikes by Donkey Republic to hoon around on. Our travels took us out to the impressively large Tempelhoff - an old airport that was given over to open space for the community. Despite the blustery cold wind - a lot of walkers, cyclists, runners and everything in-between enjoying the space. Following this we headed to the Espionage museum, the Großer Tiergarten, the Siegessäule (Victory Column), and back via the Berlin Wall memorial. Dinner was easy burgers at the Vegan Kitchen, followed by a return to Mikkeler for a few nice beers as a nightcap.
Sunday I took the opportunity to sneak in a final run - and headed to Volkspark Friedrichshain park to find a couple more flokturms to run up for a hint of vertical gain. A nice run, and finished just as the rain set in. We checked out and grabbed a quick coffee and breakfast and headed off to the airport for our mid-day flight back to Heathrow. After landing we picked up our “compact” hire car for the next week and a half; although it seems we got an upgrade as we have a “compact” SUV instead. Nice to be mobile and have the option of where and when we head places.
… and that’s it… a month away - stay tuned as soon another month will have gone and in that time I will have been to Wales (twice), Norway and Sweden.
The year started with me drunkenly crumpled on the bitumen after spectacularly missing any cognition of a crossbar in a carpark and sumersaulting myself off my bike. Fortunately the rest of the year was less incompetent and bruising, and 2019 started with no hangover and an early run. Winning!
Our major improvement to our home this year was to finally act on having our bathroom replaced. We had the plans drawn up years ago - but had defered doing anything about it for a number of years. When work kicked of in mid August we expected we would be without our only bathroom for a few weeks. It turned into a couple of months; so we got well acquanted with our local public toilets. Despite everything the company doing the work did a quality job despite being shit communicators - and the layout, fitings and light filled room is now much betteror. That’s also the last major thing we had to do to our house - so we can get back to squirelling money away for a rainy day (or a holiday home).
I spent my second year on the Wybalena Grove Executive Committee. It’s been mosty fun - except for the bits involving a dispute with an owner and the protracted use of engineers and lawyers. One of the most succesful parts of the year was seeing the Grove finally getting a community garden. The garden beds have only been in for a couple of months but are already brimming with vegetables, fruit and brassica. Our tiny 1mx1m plot has already given us a fair swag of lettuce - and aside from some garlic bulbs tucked in there will lie dormant for the first half of 2019.
I set myself a goal of increasing my yearly mileage by another 500k this year to 3000km. That was going to require a pretty consistant 60+ km / week. As you can see below I’ve hit my target with a very consistant year, which I was pleased with.
I’ve only had one injury - a badly rolled ankle 12 days out from Ultra Trail Australia. That injury, along with my headspace caused my first DNF. A good learning experience - and a step on the path to completing my first 100k race later in the year - at the Hume and Hovell ultra.
I took part in three main races this year - plus a 3rd in the mixed team Sri Chinmoy Canberra 105 relay event.
I bought 3 pairs of shoes this year (*), my current stock on rotation is looking pretty good:
Inov-8 Trailroc 285 (1173 km)
Inov-8 Trailroc 245 #2 (1215 km)
La Sportiva Arkasha (784 km)
La Sportiva Mutant (340 km)
New Balance Vazee Summit * (313)
La Sportiva Lycan * (169)
Altra Lone Peak 4.0 * (13k)
Next year I should have plenty of time to lace up and explore new places on the trails (or roads where I have to). This should build up to the 5 day Dragons Back Race along the length of Wales, taking in all the mountains in late May. 315k, 15000m of climbing, and an unmarked course - should be epic and a real challenge.
Early in 2018 Dense and I took a few weeks to see her family, and our friends in Europe. The trip was excellent - despite Denise picking up a nasty flu that kept her in bed for a chunk of our time at the parents. A full write-up of our trip is here. We did realise during the trip that we should try to spend some more time closer to Denise’ parents for a while. This spurred on our always planned, but never enacted Australian privilege of taking Long Service Leave. We both locked in a mix of Long Service Leave and annual leave - at half pay - and locked in 6 months of travel in early 2019!
The trip is coming up fast now - with everything important booked for the first couple of months, with arrangements to visit Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Norway, Stockholm planned. We then in mid March head to Peru for two full months of treking and touring around the whole country! On our return to the UK (post Brexit?!) in mid-May I then have my Dragons Back race. That just leaves June, and some milder weather where we will play it by ear. Should be grand. Expect more updates on here as I go.
Denise and I just got back from a long overdue trip down to Tassie over xmas. It was a terrific trip - we got in a lot of walking, relaxing, catching up, and obligitory food and drink. Of particular note we managed a couple of excellent walks out to Cape Huay and Cape Raoul.
A lot less reading this year for some reason. I’m sure I’ll rectify that with a lot of long bus rides, air travel and lounging at the in-laws. The virtual bookshelf this year consisted of the following (although I swear I’ve forgotten a book or two!)
Not many adventurous beers brewed this year - but my method is simple and the results are reliably good. I’ll need a new brew bag next year when I return - as my long standing one is now a bit clogged and slow to drain.
Very few tech purchases this year :( but the one I did acquire I am very pleased I did - the Garmin inReach mini. This tiny satellite based GPS and Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) also supports two way SMS/email communication with friends and family. Super useful when out on very long and remote missions - where a simple checkin can make a huge difference. If your interested - this is a great write up of it’s features.
Here’s some other awesome things I discovered in 2018:
CAMRA real ale festivals in the UK are brilliant. I should get to go back to the Manchester one again this year link
Dan Whitehead is worth following on youtube - brilliant quality videos, and takes in the best of good food, good trails and good coffee.
Dan put me onto Ciele hats - and I confess they are really good
In the middle of the year after my first DNF attempting UTA100 - I started casting for my next ultra. It was going to be a toss up between the Sri Chinmoy Canberra 105 and the Hume and Hovell. Whilst the former was in my backyard - the tiping point was when a few friends indicated they might head to Tumbarumba for for the Hume and Hovell. I’d heard it was a nice trail, well run, small event. So I signed up - booked a room in the local pub and hoped not to suffer an injury 13 days before the race like happened last time.
Denise headed down with me on the Friday afternoon and after a “relaxed” check-in procedure at the local pub we made our way up to the motel for race check-in, dinner and the briefing. We caught up with Graham who was lining up for the 50k the next day and his partner Ruth had a nice meal and turned in early to organise myself and try to get a good nights rest.
Of course in an uncomfortable bed the night before a race - only a few hours of sleep was had. Then a quick aeropress, and the drop bags and my racing pack were loaded into the car with Denise to Henry Angel campsite. In the pre-dawn light 100k and 100 mile runners huddled around roaring fires. Drop bags were dropped ready for me to re-unite with them at the 40k and 70k mark.
Once frst light was upon us and runners could safetly head off without a head torch - we got the go ahead in an informal and quick kick off. We all left the campsite north, under the road, and off for the first stretch of what was almost solely single-track towards Manus Lake and our first turn around point. The pace was gentle, but fast enough to keep me warm in the still frosty morning. We followed the river for a while, before crossing a steel bridge, and up over Mt Garland as the sun started its arc for the day. A day I would see it rise and set whilst out in some beautfiul country on some beautiful trails.
I started a conversation with Kevin - he was here for the first time too. But unlike me was very much used to the “long run” having regularly competed in the Coast2Kosci 250k run. We carried on through the first checkpoint at 12k, and down into Mannus Lake. The lake looked stunning in the early morning light with swans and bird life. This was the first stretch of fire trail, and the first stretch you could relax and enter auto-pilot. Not long on this stretch the front-runner, Brendan Davies, ran past - a good 20-30 minutes ahead already and we were only about 20k in. After the turnaround point we entered the second checkpoint - and I topped up a water bottle I’d prefilled with TailWind and grabbed a vegemite sandwich. I hadn’t had a big breakfast and I was hungry already!
Heading back towards Henry Angel and the start/finish - the day was now moving into comfortable temperatures, I caught back up with Kevin and we chatted casually. At 30k in - I was feeling comfortable and running within a comfortable zone. As we got closer to the start, we started to see the 50k runners passing through.
I was getting tired and warm under the late morning sun as I came into Henry Angel. I took time to swap out my shoes, swap out my top, pack my headtorch and change out my hat for the hottest part of the day. I also turned ond threw in the garmin mini inreach and set it into track mode. I headed off talking with David who was an acquiantance I met at last years Run Larapinta, and again at UTA this year. It was nice to be back running alongside a stream, although now quite hot, so I began semi-regularly stopping to dunk my hat in the stream for immediate relief.
Very quickly (apparantly was 6k) the next Check Point appeared. A few relaxed folk around a gazebo and a small campsite. I was starting to get the sickly taste of Tailwind - so had some more coke and when David re-appeared topped him up with half my bottle of TailWind. I refilled both bottles with water - it was a 15k stretch to the next CheckPoint - CoffeePot. I moved out of the aid station and out through an open and pine forest section, even managing a brief glimpse of a feral horse (Brumby). I started to hit some climbs and now at about the 45k mark decided to get out the wizard sticks (poles). David caught me back up and we carried on walking, jogging and running up what was mostly runnable, gentle single track. After a while we both caught up with Kevin - who was walking slowly. He had misjudged the check points and was almost out of water - so asked for some. Both David and I gave him what we could - and kept moving. A few minutes later we heard him hurl it all back up again. We saw someone coming up behind him, and knew we were only 4 or 5k from the next checkpoint so new he would make it if he kept moving slowly.
As we kept slowly climbing, with my hat on and my head bowed watching my feet - I was startled as a shout of “headsup” came at me. It was Brendan Davies on the homeward stretch. It was well over 30 minutes until the next person came on through. Brendan was killing it only 6 days after winning the CBR105 solo event last week. As David and I entered Coffee Pot together we had about 42k left to run - I felt tired but not exhausted, I was still very much enjoying the day and the trails. Leaving Coffee Pot David pulled away and I was back on my own. I noticed my right achilles was starting to feel sore but it wasn’t particularly painful more an annoyance and something to watch. I kept moving through the last of the uphill section, before dropping down into Paddys River dam and the campsite there. This was a nice mental checkpoint, with lovely views acros the water as I moved around the dam, and then onto another small stretch of fire trail to the turnaround checkpoint. As I ticked off the few k’s up this road I could gauge my progress as I saw Kevin, then the David pass me on the return.
I came into the checkpoint feeling relieved to hit this mental milestone. In preparation I had told myself so long as I got to the 70k mark in good nick, it was all “downhill” from there and I’d get it done. Coming into this checkpoint I had no doubt I would finish - and I was pleased my pacing and heat management had worked. My cravings for ginger beer was even answered! I grabbed a banana, and some of a nut bar, filled up my water bottles, messaged Denise and started charging my watch. There were 100 milers and pacers for them arriving - this is where they added on an additional 40+k loop, before returning.
After a good 10 minute or so stop I grabbed my stuff for the 30k home stretch. The sun was waning, I decided it was time to introduce music and started rocking a new 2hr Breaking Bread podcast. Rocking new music kept the motivation high, as the gradual downward trail. Mentally I was continuing to break it down - back through Coffee Pot checkpoint, and a very brief rest here. Then the long 15k section to the next check point. The sun was setting, and a natural urgency arose as I moved relatively quickly trying to make good ground before it was dark. At about 8pm I stoped to put the head torch on and let Denise know where I was - about 10k to go.
There was a fair bit of walking now, and one or two runners who were finishing strong running past me in this home stretch. The end was getting inexorably nearer km by km. As I came into the final checkpoint I was ready to finish - there was just 6k to go. I jogged where I could, and hiked quickly the rest. At some stage I saw a runner coming the other way - which was strange but I put it down to someone heading to the checkpoing to meet a runner.
For the last couple of kilometers I moved pretty quick, then I could see the Henry Angel campsite and the lights of the finish line. I ran it through - feeling good and strong. My first 100k. 15hr 24m. 14th out of 32 runners. I had Denise, Graham and Ruth there to greet me and a medal around my neck. Whilst it was a long and at times hard day out - it was in may ways the most comfortable ultra I’ve run - no cramps, only a few brief moments of stomach distress, and 30k longer than my longest run. A great trail, well run event and a thoroughly enjoyable day out
After 10 minutes or so recuperating - I saw David cross the line - he was well ahead of me but had got lost and was the runner I’d seen running in the wrong direction.
La Sportiva lycan (first 38k), La Sportiva arkasha (back 62k)
gore top (first 38k), run rabbit run top (back 62k)