Wednesday, 30 December 2020

2020: A review

(The ponies heading into town)

        I’ve been writing annual reviews on my blog for a few years now. Something I would highly recommend. It gives you a chance to remember and reflect on your year. Also, it will help shape and plan a few things that you want to achieve for the coming year ahead. They may seem like trivial goals to some but everyone needs a purpose in life. Without a purpose, life seems very pointless and mundane. You have nothing to look forward to or nothing to strive for. I should know, I’ve felt it many times before. There is a famous saying about the purpose of life but I can’t remember it and can’t be bothered to look it up.

                                                                (Hogmoor Inclosure parkrun)

A great way to start the new year is parkrun of course! 2020 saw me starting off pretty keen or maybe a little stupidly? I decided to cycle to Netley parkrun and run that for 9am. I was feeling pretty fit and skinny though for a cold January morning. I jogged around and chatted to Claire McErlean. Other familiar faces were Ian Bower and Mike Mattingly. Parkrun done in 24.23 but no time to hang around as I had planned to do Eastleigh parkrun at 10am. It was further than I thought but just about made it to the start and ran around tiredly in a time of 24.05. A much muddier course too. I can still remember how tired my legs were on that cycle home. It was a great morning though and a double parkrun done.

                                                      (My film premiere at the Firehouse)

Not long after this I had my first viral infection of the year. I was in bed for a week. I had to have some blood tests which had shown that my white blood cells were very low. Something that isn’t uncommon after having a viral infection. I was thinking that being Vegan had a part to play in this but my then girlfriend also Vegan made me see sense. Although Vegans generally do have a lower white blood cell count anyway and it wasn’t a problem as my second blood test had shown. I had only been Vegan for just over two months then. I look back and think how tough it seemed, compared to how easy it has become over time. Being Vegan is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I feel so much better for it both mentally and physically and great to know that I am not contributing to animal suffering.

                                   (That breathtaking run up and down Cefn Bryn)

Not long after the infection. I did my first Vegan runners meet up at Mountbatten (Romsey) parkrun. I can still remember how fearful I was turning up in my Vegan runners vest. I felt like a fake and a fraud. I had only been Vegan for 3 months and hadn’t long joined the club. I also didn’t know anyone! I coyly walked over to the group of vegan runners and got chatting to a few. Everyone was so nice and encouraging on the run. I ran as hard as I could on a very muddy course with my trail shoes. I was never going to catch the speedy Jhon Cosgrove though, who was P1 and fastest vegan runner that day. I got a very respectable 21.46 though and was really pleased with that, post virus.

                           (My mate Disgo Dan keeping me entertained during Lockdown in Wales)

The next thing you know, I am in a car full of vegans going to Off Beet cafe for breakfast with about 20 other Vegans. It was a fantastic experience. We sure took over the place with Jhon doing a hilarious mock award ceremony for all the runners. Although it was mostly Hampshire vegans, some had travelled from East and West and were booed and jeered like an opposing team. Haha.

                                           (One of our not parkruns on the Fareham course)

   February came around and I was training for Goodwood 10k. The first of February saw me catching a train to Bognor Regis for the parkrun. Goodwood 10k was the following day so it would be a jog round the parkrun course right? Well, I was quite surprised to see I was out in the lead pack and held on to third place in a time of 20.27. A few pints ensued that evening too. Great prep for my 10k the next day? It was a bit of a shock really. I got a 10k pb by 5 seconds with a time of 40.25. This was mainly due to Captain Jim Davies shouting me in with real enthusiasm and encouragement. I really wouldn’t have pushed that hard at the end if he wasn’t there! It was great to see others I knew there as well. Irene, Claire, the legend Alan Graham and I met some new vegan runners including super speedy vegan runner Lisa Gawthorne who I briefly spoke to at the finish.

                                       (Beautiful sunsets were very common on the Marsh road)

Eighth of February would see me doing more tourism and my quickest parkrun time of the year. I was surprised how good Bournemouth parkrun is. A fantastic course. There were quite a few vegan runners there that day including a girl who had got the train from Portsmouth. I spoke to them all, it was a lady’s birthday (Fiona I think) and her son was a newly converted vegan too. A vegan runner called Oliver Herdsman got me in with lots of encouragement as he paced me to the finish line. He obviously wasn’t racing that day. 19.30 was my time. I was over the moon. I then went to the awesome “Mad cucumber cafe”. Such a great breakfast. I need to go back. Bournemouth parkrun and Mad cucumber definitely on my 2021 list.

                                                 (My birthday run to Portland from Weymouth)

February was also the month that I had quit work and was planning a move to Wales. Something I had thought about in the previous year. I had saved enough money and would hopefully find work when I moved. I was looking at places to move too. It was between two in the end. Obviously the decision would be made upon the basis of public transport ease as I don’t drive, having a parkrun or two nearby and an industrial area for employment. Milford haven was one and Crofty was the other. I chose the latter. Crofty is about 12 miles from Swansea on the Gower peninsula. Oh yeah, I also wanted a nice place for running. Anyway, I feel like I’ve jumped ahead in the story here…

                                          (One of my bike rides to a Castle near Three Cliffs on the Gower)

I quit my warehouse job at DX on the twenty first of February. The plan was to house view in Crofty during a weekend of running in Wales. I stayed in Penarth on Friday night and on the twenty first did Cosmeston country park parkrun. Nice and scenic with massive puddles. Very nice people as always. I forgot to jog again with a time of 20.31. Fourth place shamelessly beating an under fifteen year old in a sprint finish. After parkrun, breakfast and a shower, I got a few trains to Gowerton which is the nearest train station to Crofty. About 5 miles away. I then got the bus to Crofty. It was now dark. I couldn’t really see the surroundings or coast. I viewed the room in a bungalow and said I’d take it. My new landlady gave me a lift back to Gowerton to get the train to Newport. It was really late and I was really tired by the time I got to my hotel in Newport and the next day I had the Newport half marathon.

I wanted to get a sub 1.30 on the half marathon. I didn’t happen. The parkrun played a part in this I reckon as my legs got tired early on and then there was a fierce headwind at one point and at maximum effort the miles were getting slower. 131.23 was my time. Pretty good for me, but disappointing all the same. It was also the first race that I got shouted abuse at for being a vegan. I turned it into a positive of awareness for veganism and animal cruelty. I’m out there getting noticed.

                                        (My medals for the year despite a lack of proper races)

March the seventh saw my second vegan runners parkrun meet up at Hogmoor Inclosure. This would be my fifty fourth different parkrun location. And what a parkrun it was. A lovely wooded undulating course with vegan support and even a photographer. I forgot to add that the legendary Mike Harper picked me up from Fareham train station to get me to Hogmoor along with other vegan pick ups along the way. I sure met some really nice and inspiring people that day. Twelfth place with a time of 20.37. We then went to “Earth” in Petersfield where we took over the place again with lots of orders. More great food and chat. I remember thinking that I was going to miss these Vegan meet ups in Wales. They sure had a great community here in my beloved Hampshire.  

      (One of my runs into Penclawdd: Translates into Hedge end. Pen meaning end and Clawdd meaning hedge in Welsh).

A week later was sadly to be my last parkrun of 2020. Fourteenth of March saw me running around a very familiar Southampton parkrun in a time of 19.39. Great to be getting those sub 20 parkruns back! The same day I later had my new skateboard film preimere at the firehouse pub in town. Little did we know it was to be our last big gathering for a long time.

Four days later my Dad would drive me to Crofty. There was mention of this virus “Covid 19” spreading. My Dad stayed in Penclawdd, with me in Crofty about 2k away. I waved him off the next day in Penclawdd and watched as his car got smaller and smaller. This was it. I was stranded in this little town by the coast. The next couple of days I did some exploring on my bike on the Gower. Wow, what a stunning place. I hadn’t really done much research on the place before moving here.

                                                 (Ponies on the marsh road at low tide)

Sadly, days later, we were in complete lockdown. Who knew it was going to get this bad? We hadn’t experienced anything like it before. Now, I was looking for work but unable to use the public transport. I didn’t know anyone and was cycling nine miles to get food from a Tesco garage near Gowerton. I was only allowed to leave my room for my one fix of exercise a day and to food shop. I didn’t even take a t.v to Wales with me. I listened to the radio a lot and ordered lots of books to read. It was hard going. I had never really experienced isolation like it. I always saw myself as a solitary person who enjoys his own company but this situation made me realise that I actually needed other people in my life and interaction.

                                                               (My longest bike ride to date)

In April I got another viral infection. I was bedridden for another six or seven days. My landlady would get my shopping for me after she finished work at the hospital.

It all started when I got short of breath after one of my runs. It really freaked me out. Then came the fever. Sweating, cold chills etc.. I sure did a lot of thinking in that room for twelve days on my own while I thought I was dying. A bit dramatic maybe!

For some reason my landlady started to dislike me shortly after this. I confronted her about this and asked if everything was ok. She was just off-ish with me. It was bad enough as it was. I had made the decision after nearly three months to move back to Southampton as I still hadn’t found a job and was spending a lot of money on the rent.

                                                       (Walking into town for chips)

In those three months though, I explored the whole of the Gower and did long bike rides around Wales. I lived about a quarter of a mile from the Marsh road which took me to Llanrhidian and into the Gower. You could only use the marsh road at low tide as it got covered and people have been known to die trying to get through at high tide. You had to learn your tide times or had to run the main road back but it wasn’t busy anyway. There were houses on the marsh road too. Imagine being stuck indoors during the tide or not being able to get in your house after work. Madness. Also the ponies used to come inland at high tide and could be seen running into the town of Penclawdd and eating everything in people’s gardens. It was a funny sight. I had all that beautiful wildlife on the Gower. There were a lot more sheep and ponies than people. No cars either. My running fitness was fantastic. I was running comfortable sixteen milers at seven fourty pace. I had Mike harper to thank for his (Not parkrun) on facebook. We just recorded our 5k’s on Saturday mornings and posted them to the community page. It was great to see everyone else running, encouraging, smiling, eating cake and even offering support for the disappointments and failures. Mike would write up a race report including us all with lots of mesmerising facts and stats. It’s great that these are still going too. It gives you something to focus on when there are very few or no races. I also did a Roger Bannister one mile time trial. I did a couple just under six minutes each. I think I want to get quicker on the mile next year too.

                   (A 30 mile bike ride into Wiltshire with my friend Bo. Her longest bike ride at the time)

It was great to be back in Southampton in June. I was injured though after running sixty mile weeks in Wales with fast time trial efforts. It took quite a while for my hip to heal in fact. In the meantime I went to my brother’s funeral which was a day of ambivalence for me. We hadn’t really got on in later years but had a lot of great memories from my childhood. Great to see some distant family too. The same day I had a job interview.

I got the job two days later and am still there now. I am only contracted for fifteen hours a week. I would work Mondays and Fridays. Two days a week. Work got really busy though and the last three months it has been full time and hectic working eight until four p.m, Monday to Friday with occasional Saturdays as well. I am back at my Dad’s house so it has given me a chance to save some money up for my next adventure maybe?

                                             (The Hullavington half with some of my running crew)

In the summer while injured, I did a lot of cycling with the most epic journey being my One hundred and eighteen miler to Frome and back. I was supposed to do a virtual race for “Fluffy Butts Rescue” but did this instead. They are a great rescue looking after rabbits and many other animals. If you join their facebook page you get to see the cutest rabbit photos everyday and get to learn about the residents.  Despite cycling a thousand miles in twelve days once, I had never cycled over a hundred miles in one day. Another one of my little goals ticked off.

                                           (Trail running around Fritham with Kev Willsher)

A return to running and a great adventure for my birthday. I always like to plan something memorable for my birthday. Some sort of adventure. It was tough with the virus still around but I managed to book a hotel in Weymouth. My plan was to run from Weymouth to Portland and back. It would be me, my friend Carl from Cornwall and Di and Mike Mattingly. I think it was about eighteen miles. It was a fantastic day and a much better route than I had expected. Definitely not as flat as it looked on the map when I planned the route.

                       (Another not parkrun at Portsmouth with Greg and Josh followed by a sea swim)

There were a lot of races that I didn’t get to do in Wales due to the Covid virus. I decided to do the “Great Welsh Half” as a virtual race. I wasn’t that fit for it but did okay with a 1.36. It would be good training for an actual upcoming race in October. The “Hullavington half”. This was a great race and was very well organised with social distancing. I was very happy and just about kept under ninety minutes for the half. Sadly, not a UKA race so it won’t appear on my “Power of 10” or “Runbritain” pages.

                      (Lots of wild garlic for my tea. I would finish my run and pick the leaves)

Earlier in October I was supposed to do the “Pieces of Eight” 10k race. In contrast to the Hullavington half, this was poorly organised and cancelled at the last minute. I had no other choice but to run it virtually. I picked a fast course and treated it like a race with a time of 40.40. Only fifteen seconds away from my pb! In the meantime, everyone else I knew was running the Virtual London marathon that same day. It sure rained a lot and was windy.

                                                         (An early morning commute to work)

I went out for a friend’s birthday. I sure did a lot of drinking that weekend and was sick everywhere. The next day I felt very rough and then I got a cough, cancelled work and tested positive for the Corona virus. My third viral infection for the year! I knew what to expect at least. Another six or seven days in bed. Nausea, dizzy spells, headaches, fevers, aching body etc.. It gave me more time to reflect yet again. I was sick of drinking to excess. I had no control over it and felt it had been getting me down for a while. I felt that it had become a problem for me. I would, without fail, go out every weekend and drink fifteen to twenty pints on a Saturday. This was often done on my own but I would know familiar faces around and get chatting to others. I didn’t really drink in the week but couldn’t stop this weekend binge drinking. Anyway, I could write a book on this topic… I have now done over two months with no alcohol and it has been very tough and I am still craving it. Even writing this I get a very thirsty taste in the back of my throat. After only two months, I feel a lot calmer though and my anxiety levels and depression has decreased. Something that running really helps me with too.

                           (My last run on the Gower before coming back to Southampton)

Sadly, I end the year with a calf injury (Another virtual race. The “Newport 5” paced by the awesome Kevin Willsher. Time: 33.34) but it has been a good year for me despite this. I really like my job and the people I work with. I catch up with friends via running or skateboarding. I really miss bouldering and the people there. I will do more again next year when “Boulder shack” reopens. I have comprised with my boss at work and said I am happy to work four days if needed but will be taking Wednesdays off for running or climbing. It’s all good. I also have friends who I just go walking with and friends who just want to meet for breakfast and coffee and chat for hours. These little things are the best in my life. I am studying a lot of Buddhism lately and have found a great affinity to it. Strip away everything and start again. Everything has to change. Cut down on the materialism etc..

Hopefully I’ll never drink again and lose a bit of weight in the new year and get some of those faster running times back as well as returning to the ultra running next summer. Most importantly I look forward to catching up with friends and sharing new experiences as well as laughing about the old ones. Peace dudes. X

              (I learned when to race and not to race on the Marsh road. The sheep were released at 8am)

Lastly, a big thanks to the people who have really helped and inspired me throughout this year:

My Dad, The Mattinglys, Mike Harper, Josh Chivers, Kevin Willsher, Captain Jim, Disgo Dan, Kathy Annalls, Vix Hales, Carl Green, James Bell, Chris Odgers, John Cattle and Greg Nowik.

                  (I was learning Welsh for 3 months but have been slack on my return back to England)

And to all the others that I have had the pleasure of running,walking,cycling,climbing or chatting too.