Get Up And Go
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.
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