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How to cre­ate your ul­ti­mate run­ning ad­ven­ture

very ad­ven­ture I’ve em­barked on seems to be­gin with this sim­ple state­ment: ‘ I’ve got an idea…’

These are words my friends and fam­ily are now ac­cus­tomed to – they usu­ally re­sult in a few raised eye­brows, a snort of laugh­ter and, if cir­cum­stances al­low, an­other drink as we dis­cuss the mer­its of my idea. I’ll ad­mit that some have been pretty out there, but as ex­treme ad­ven­turer Anna Mc­nuff once told me, the ge­n­e­sis of ev­ery great idea starts off as ‘bonkers’ and goes through the rein­ing-in process un­til it be­comes ‘just about pos­si­ble’.

Ever since I pinned on my first bib num­ber to rep­re­sent the Royal Mil­i­tary Academy Sand­hurst in cross- coun­try, some 15 years ago, I’ve been on a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery. The army awoke in me this nag­ging feel­ing that I was not tap­ping into my true ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Through my train­ing, as I delved deeper into the un­known, I learned to read my sur­round­ings – the go­ing of the land, ac­cess and es­cape routes, mov­ing at night. Hav­ing re­tired my com­mis­sion, the same drive led me to com­plete some 250 races, but then I started to look for some­thing be­yond or­gan­ised events. Yes, they of­fer sup­port staff, marked routes, med­i­cal backup, goody bags, tim­ing chips, aid sta­tions and all those con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing things that mean you just have to turn up and run. But that very buf­fer can di­min­ish the sense of ad­ven­ture. For one thing, a great part of any ad­ven­ture is the plan­ning – com­ing up with that bonkers idea, spread­ing a map on the ta­ble, chat­ting with friends and work­ing it all out. This is the bit race di­rec­tors get to do.

And, of course, or­gan­ised races hap­pen in set places and on set days. When I fin­ished the Dragon’s Back Race in 2015, which formed the fi­nal chap­ter of my first book, 50Racesto Run­be­forey­oudie (Au­rum), I was blown away by what I’d ex­pe­ri­enced, but gut­ted when I re­alised I’d have to wait an­other two years to re­peat it. Then it oc­curred to me: what if you were your own race di­rec­tor, cre­at­ing your own race, that you can do any time, any­where? Wouldn’t that be great? The race-it-your­self run­ning ad­ven­ture con­cept was born.

But how do you go about cre­at­ing your own run­ning ad­ven­ture? Well, whether you’re plan­ning a 60-minute chal­lenge or one that will take years, the first key in­gre­di­ent is a map. The next (op­tional) in­gre­di­ent is a drop of al­co­hol to fire the more ad­ven­tur­ous of your synapses. (Man v Horse was born in a pub; even the ge­n­e­sis of the su­per-se­ri­ous Ironman came about over a drunken wa­ger.) And the third in­gre­di­ent is friends. A run­ning ad­ven­ture shared is the best kind.

Next is time. The most ac­ces­si­ble run­ning ad­ven­tures are those you can do in and around your work­ing day: rac­ing the com­mute; a 60-minute run­ning ad­ven­ture dur­ing your lunch break; per­haps fol­low­ing un­der­ground rivers or run­ning your city’s bridges. But there are also more ex­pan­sive and cre­ative things you can do with longer stretches of time, which is why, over the fol­low­ing pages, I have bro­ken up the whys and where­fores of var­i­ous run­ning ad­ven­tures by time. Now you have a de­ci­sion to make: just like in the film The­ma­trix, you can swal­low the blue pill ( by skip­ping the next few pages) and you’ll con­tinue just as you were. Or you can take the red pill ( by read­ing on) and you’ll see the world in a new light – one filled with pos­si­bil­i­ties.

time-pressed run­ning ad­ven­ture is adapt­ing it to your sur­round­ings. With al­most 90 per cent of the UK’S pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas, it’s easy to think we ur­ban­ites are ham­strung in our abil­ity to cre­ate ad­ven­tures. On the con­trary, towns and cities are a ver­i­ta­ble play­ground for run­ning mis­chief.

If you live in an ur­ban sprawl, you may as­sume that adding as­cent to your runs is ask­ing a lot. But run­ning the New York City Marathon gave me a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for bridges. The blighters had me huff­ing and puff­ing, and the dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives they gave on the city were won­der­ful, too. If there’s a river in your home­town, try run­ning a stretch, cross­ing each bridge as you go. This can be a lot of fun, and sur­pris­ingly tough.

Talk­ing of rivers, in some cities they are hid­den be­neath our feet. Lon­don has dozens, in­vis­i­bly me­an­der­ing deep be­low the met­ro­pol­i­tan maze. With a lit­tle re­search you can lace up your train­ers and try to trace their wa­tery cour­ses as faith­fully as the city will al­low. One of my favourite run­ning ad­ven­tures was fol­low­ing one of Lon­don’s sub­ter­ranean rivers, the Fleet, from the trickle of wa­ter at its source on Hamp­stead Heath down to the mighty Thames.

Think­ing big­ger, there are your five-to-nine pos­si­bil­i­ties. Ad­ven­turer and au­thor Alas­tair Humphreys is a pro­po­nent of us­ing this 16-hour win­dow to do a mi­cro-ad­ven­ture. You could even fit in an ul­tra­ma­rathon be­tween leav­ing work on Tues­day night and the ‘cut- off’ of be­ing back at your desk on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. You will prob­a­bly be in need of a lot more cof­fee than usual.

There are a huge num­ber of pos­si­bil­i­ties on our ur­ban doorsteps – you can ver­ti­cally chal­lenge your­self by run­ning up sky­scrapers; run un­der­ground routes over­ground; race boats, trains and buses; or throw dice to de­ter­mine your run­ning chal­lenge. The only limit is your imag­i­na­tion.

SIGN UP Even time- con­strained run­ners can add a lit­tle ad­ven­ture to a run. And some cul­ture, too

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