An antidote to life’s worries and expensive adventure races
Blog post prompted by watching the Bear Gryhlls Survival Race this weekend in Trent Park, N London, and a posting by Jonny Muir.
Why do increasing numbers of people choose to run off-road, whether it be in races or just as a place to train? Isn’t it just a crazy thing to do, to chose to go running and include as many hills and as much rough terrain as possible?
There is no simple answer, but I hope to partly answer those questions. Some of us are escaping from the stressful urban environment that many of us live in. On a run off-road, away from cars, traffic lights and such-like, you have time to think, and can right many wrongs in your life, and the world. There is also a sense that treadmills, road running and marathons in particular are now passé. Many who participate in these arenas have been trying trail running and also fell running in order to revitalize their running, and perhaps to bring some element of ‘challenge’ to it. Sports psychologist Dr Victor Thompson recently suggested: “Humans are essentially animals and animals are, by nature, lazy. But some people choose to do something about it. For years people will have been pushing themselves in their careers, but after a while you need a new challenge, another goal. They’ve been to the gym, they’ve done that, time for something new.”
But for some the challenge of a tough off-road run is not enough. This need for ‘extreme’ challenges results in people feeling that they have to enter events like Tough Mudder – a 10 to 12 mile obstacle course featuring mud, ice baths, barbed wire and electric shocks – and a hefty entrance fee. Tough Mudder – which an insider has described as “a marketing company that puts on events” – puts enormous effort into branding, which surely accounts for the entry fee levels. However, I question whether the addition of artificial difficulties that this type of event incorporates is really necessary.
Give yourself the challenge of even a medium length fell race (such as the Fairfield Horseshoe) and you will have all the challenge you need, together with beautiful views – if you are lucky, and have time to take them in. You could take it a little further by planning to complete one of the 24-hour challenges, such as the Bob Graham Round, the Paddy Buckley Round, or the Charlie Ramsay Round. The training prior to either of those events will give you a whole series of wonderful new experiences, as you run up and through some of the higher and remoter areas of England, Wales and Scotland respectively.
Why not enter what is considered one of UK’s toughest races? The Dragon’s Back race goes along the spine of Wales, and over its five days has 16,000m of ascent in its 300km. The website asks if you are tough enough to enter what is ‘not a trail race, it’s an incredible journey’. This year’s race was won by Jim Mann, with Jasmin Paris in second place. Both are established fell runners, and both showed their excellent fitness and navigational skills over the demanding course, which included the Carneddau, the Snowdon range, Cader Idris and the rough and trackless terrain of the Rhinogs amongst its highlights.
But, back to the Bear Gryhlls Survival Race. I went along to see for myself why over 1,000 people had paid anything from £80 to £120 to enter either of the 5k, 10k or 30k ‘races’ that were being held in the park that I train in nearly every week with the athletes I coach at Barnet & District AC. I saw loads of people seemingly enjoying themselves. I could see that many had trained quite hard to ‘survive’ the event, when they might not have been motivated to do so without the incentive of the event. However, despite that, I still went away thinking it was unnecessarily artificial and ridiculously expensive. You can make things as tough as you like for yourself without doing these sort of events, with their heavy whiff of commercialism (you had to pay £15 to go in to the BG Festival area, where you could spend more money at the various trade and community stands).
Fellow authors Boff Whalley and Richard Askwith have both published books extolling a return to running on the wild side. But you don’t have to go to the extremes described by me above. You could do as Jonny Muir’s blog post suggests, and join an athletic club (Barnet & District AC, if you are around Herts/North London) and run some tough cross country races. Equally, even the simplest of runs on the fells or off-road in Britain’s beautiful countryside can give you some tough, yet magical, (and rather less costly) experiences.
I still have vivid memories of an evening training run from Kendal Youth Hostel out to Scout Scar many years ago. As my training partner and I ran hard up to the viewpoint there we saw the vista of a glorious sunset over the Western Lake District spread out before us – we sat down and marvelled at how lucky we were.