Written by Chase Parnell - https://chaseparnell.com


“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” -Mark Twain

Fear is in all of us. But it’s what we do with that fear that distinguishes us as humans. Twain hits on this idea of mastery of fear. This is a tall order. How do we master our fears? Just like how we master anything else … practice.

When I watched Kilian Jornet’s Matterhorn speed record video [click to watch] a few years ago, I was certain he was otherworldly, insane, a freak – a psychological anomaly – maybe he was born without the fear gland in his brain. Yet the more I consider what Kilian and others do, the more I believe that it was only by repetition, habitually choosing courage, and utilizing experiential confidence that allows them to not back down – to overcome the fear – to slay the dragon.

I am as scared as hell before a hundred. At the start of a hundred miler, we often stand around, using jokes and small-talk as coping mechanisms to battle the dread and fear that comes with running 100 miles (or really any distance for that matter). Every runner on that starting line has had to overcome some demons just to toe the line. This needs to be celebrated.

Personally, I fear literal death the most. I am totally aware that it is irrational. I know the odds are heavily in my favor that I’ll return home safely, yet the fear of that one in a million chance remains. I don’t want to die while running. I don’t want to slip off a rock face, get eaten by something higher on the food chain, get lost in the night, or have a freak heart-attack.  I think about these things before long solo training runs and races. I lay awake at night pondering what might happen to me, and then subsequently, my poor family. And I’m supposed to be some “elite level” ultra runner! Psssssht. I’m still a novice at courage. But I’m getting better.

If you are human, you are like me. So if we all have those little whispers of fear running through our minds, why do we plow on? Our human nature tells us to avoid danger – to avoid pursuits that implant fear and anxiety. I think we forge on because of the overcoming. It’s in the overcoming of adversity that soaks us with euphoric satisfaction. If you just finished your first 5k and you were scared that people were going to judge you because of your body, but you did it anyway, hell yeah! That’s an achievement to be proud of – you are now ready to step it up a notch – to gain a little more ground – to take another stab at the dragon. If you got spooked on your solo moonlight trail run and carried on anyways. That’s a victory. You can draw on that as the stakes rise.

So what can we do? This is the crux. This is hard. This will hurt. My fear manifests itself in anxiety. Sometimes, when I’m all alone in the mountains, and I begin to look around and contemplate all the ways things could go wrong, waves of nausea flood through my body. I get weak in knees and my self-preservation bells start singing like a boiling water.

I have to get down. Down. Down. Down. As fast as I can. I don’t want these feelings.

But you know what…SCREW THAT! I love it up there. I love the feeling of being alone in the world – away from social media, away from life pressures, soaking in the elements of a unique environment. It’s totally worth it and I refuse to let fear ruin it for me.

Exposure therapy. This is real and this is what I do. There’s no getting around it. If you truly have the desire to begin a journey towards mastery, you need to make incremental gains. But rest assured, you don’t need to do it all overnight! If you are deathly afraid of running alone in the woods at night, don’t start with a 4 hour night run on a remote trail in grizzly country. Instead, shoot for an early morning start when you know the sun will soon rise – perhaps on trail you know well with city lights in view. Remember: incremental gains.

When I’m on a summit and my fear is telling me to go down, I purposefully resist. What I started doing was bringing my lunch and forcing myself to eat it on the summit. To sit and ruminate in my discomfort and strive for a sense of calm. It has helped.

Whatever your fear, start chipping away at it.

The reward is worth it – it really is. Progression towards emotional maturity is a lifelong journey. I have improved a lot over the years but I am still far from where I want to be. I am not aiming for the fortitude of a Kilian Jornet or a Ueli Steck [click to watch] – I didn’t grow up in the mountains and have only been sojourning there for a handful of years now – but I am willing myself to improve. I don’t want to open another can of worms, but I also know this skill will transcend into other areas of my life: in my work, in my relationships, and in my quiet space. It’s a worthy pursuit.

So here’s to getting after it. Today’s the day to push your limits. To overcome. To challenge your inner demons.

Free the chains.

Written by Mark Cameron - https://markcameronrunner.wordpress.com

Rather than my usual race report I wanted to do something different with my blog, it still involves a race but from a different angle, linking it into work, I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed the process I will describe.

I work with processes (and people) in my day job, continuous improvement is my role, 2 key things I’ve learnt about processes

  1. Standardisation may result in a slower process, but also results in a more stable process, to do this you need to set upper and lower control limits and work within them, we are not robots and we rarely have standard inputs, so setting just one limit (a goal) does not work
  2. Measures can drive the wrong behaviours, productivity measured by speed can mean poor quality

I like to put what I talk about it theory into practice, sometimes at work this is hard as the people can be difficult to convince or pressures make us forget these basics, so this weekend I tried demonstrating these important points in a different way – through my running.

I love this African proverb, I truly believe in it which is why I enjoy long distance runs as I find myself running with others, not against others, but I still find it hard to ignore the word “fast”.

download (2)

This links back to the title of this blog, measures drive behaviours.  I find myself forever checking pace while running, and when i check pace i translate that into fast/slow (almost always just “fast”).  As a result of this my splits while running are all over the place, usually the classic positive split (start fast, burn out, finish slow), and over the last 12 months have resulted in quite a few injuries.

I’ve read a lot about the sub-conscious self, I knew I was doing wrong, I was gaining experience however not really improving, but I wasn’t acknowledging this and trying anything new, so recently I’ve decided to end my racing year which started with a bad injury and is in danger of ending similar, a little different.

Determined to move away from speed, I’ve dug out my heart rate monitor, turned off the pace/speed fields on my Garmin watch, and just run within certain heart rate zones.  My watch vibrates to tell me if I’m running too fast or slow, so I slow down or speed up, but I am never conscious of the speed.  I do know distance and total race time, but that’s it.

This weekend I put this to the test in a race, just a short local race (Chichester Half Marathon), running within the limits of heart rate zone 4 (apart from an uphill section where it went up, then the downhill I had to slow down to keep it low), not having a clue of my speed, and the result was, pretty much a perfect negative split, fresh enough at the end to sprint the final half kilometer, and a finishing time that was better than my lowest goal time.


So I ran within limits, I slowed down, but I improved my process (the race) –  the theory worked for me, a super end to a very up and down year.  Maybe I need to demonstrate this a few more times before I can convince others (in and out of work) to try similar, not just to target performance within limits, but also to challenge current measures, behaviors, and thinking.




Written by Ian Campbell - https://1ancampbell.wordpress.com


As ultra runners we are truly obsessed with getting miles in as we focus on a target race. But of course we ultra runners need to run big miles and sometimes those big miles just need to be run at whatever pace you can do them in. But, you tempt yourself into that potentially ever declining circle of running at the same pace and getting slower and slower. What is required? A sharp injection of a different type of running that will freshen up and pimp your ride.

I am training for Comrades, yeah I’ve said it publicly now! There is a great deal of road running involved with this one, in fact all of it, you don’t say. I originally came from a road marathon background and then found ultras and the love of trails, so naturally I gravitated to running most of my miles off road. What’s wrong with that I hear you say? Well, if truth be told, that along with the steady ageing process, that I can’t do anything about, had made me a slower runner. I had neglected to do anything about it as my focus had been miles and having fun on the trails.

Like seeing a long lost first love of your life, I have rekindled a love of road running. There is simplicity in this form of running. You only need a limited amount of gear – running shoes, shorts and shirt, no backpacks, no head-torch, no compulsory gear and no trail shoes. To my surprise it’s like exploring again. In the same way that I found a love of trails and that ‘what’s round the corner’ surprise, I’ve come to enjoy and explore the environment and roads around where I live. True, I tend to only go out very early in the morning so the roads are empty of cars and people – but it’s truly reawakened my view of road running.

I’m back with a vengeance. I am running lots of road miles, seeking out hills and long climbs, pounding down hills trashing my quads and churning out interval sessions. I’m having a lot of fun just running on road and I’ve got faster. And do you know what I threw in the other day to liven it all up? – a trail run – and it just felt truly wonderful exploring something that I had not seen for quite a while.

Do something different with your running, enter a different type of race, train somewhere different, throw in a new type of session – just remember you can always go back to what you love but you might find something else that you love just as much. Happy running!

All images copyright – Ian Campbell Photography

Written by Apostolos Baranowski - https://medium.com

Definition: There is a fair amount of disagreement within the running community as to what distance constitutes an ultra marathon. Some say it’s anything over the standard marathon distance. (42km) Others insist that the race has to be a 24 hour all night affair. In my humble opinion, an ultra distance is 100km or anything over that.

It doesn’t matter how well rehearsed you are. How meticulously you trained and how seasoned a runner you may be. Although these attributes are unarguably essential, the one thing you cannot escape, is the fact that things can (and often do) go wrong. During a competition you’re constantly fighting the pain, the fatigue, your mind begging for you to stop and end the madness! Even the most detailed and well though out plans can falter. The reason for this is simple: There are just too many variables in the equation, so many unpredictable events that can occur. -as in life.

Ultra running is a pilgrimage where the journey starts within, you travel though many stages to ultimately discover your real self. It’s here that one finds out what they are made of.

As I persevere along the route there are times that all I want to do is throw in the towel and quit. I’m at the half way mark, It’s three in the morning and day has long since given way to night. The other runners have thinned out along the course and I find myself alone on a stretch of road, with five more kilometres to the next check point. I’m Hurting, joints are swollen, the pain has been with me for what seems an eternity, and it’s my only companion. With so much more distance left to cover and I’m at breaking point. Physically I have nothing left to give. My once proud strides now resemble the careless steps of a drunkard, Staggering to find his way back home. Breathing erratic at best, a cumbersome chore. I double up, hands on hips and come to an abrupt stop. Trying to straighten myself and restore some decorum, I look up into the dark sky, the clouds swimming in a sea of sorrow. It seems inevitable that my adventure will end here. I feel clinically dead.

Resurrection. In the darkest of places in which I find myself, the universe presents me with a unique opportunity. It’s here that I am given the choice to turn my darkest hour into my finest. I must dig deep, deeper than I’ve ever dug before. Substituting negative thought with positive, visualising my father and the sacrifices he made. I know that there is still something left in the tank, and I start to move forward. The pervious steps are in the past and no longer belong to me. — gone and none of my business. The next steps are yet to come so I needn’t worry about them. From now on I will only be as good as the next step I take!

With the finish line now in sight, I quicken my pace to embrace it like a long lost friend. It does not feel like I’ve reached a destination but rather a continuation of a journey. Everything that has happened in those hours of running was for a reason. The walls I encountered where not put there to stop me from finishing, they were put there to see how badly I wanted to finish. In life It really doesn’t matter how many walls you’ll find in front of you, know that you have the courage to smash them down. You just have too dig in deep and believe that there is aways going to be something left in the tank that’s going to propel you forward. Always!

Ultra lessons for a successful life.

There is alway light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to have the courage and belief to find it

Never give up. Understand the situation and adapt

Sometimes understanding why something is the way it is, is better than trying to change it

walls are there not to keep you from achieving your goals. Walls are there to see how badly you want to achieve those goals.

It’s in your darkest hour that you’ll have the opportunity to shine the most.

Don’t worry about the past because it no longer belongs to you. Don’t worry about the future because it has yet to come. Concentrate on the present.

There is no such thing as failure. Accept it, investigate it (learn from it) and move on

The only limitations are the ones we set up in our own minds.

Written by William Robertson - http://williamrobertson281285.blogspot.co.uk

I don't run to be like anyone else. I run to be myself and to share the me that I've found through these long runs and meditation. To explain it easier lets talk footballers ... Ibrahimovic didn't become Zlatan by copying Ronaldo, he became his first name by acting like his first name. So people like to model themselves on others which is good and it's great to have idols but never lose yourself in it. I have my own idols and inspiration too when it comes to my life and what I've learned along with my own self discovery. I chose to share my running life, my writing, my diet and my mediation practice. I share me because that's who I am and I will give my best to hammer down my running times but I know I'm not going to catch the Kenyans or Mo Farah but that's not who I am, I'm William Robertson and I get people taking to me on a personal level by my name not a title. 

I can run over 200 miles a week, I live of plants (fruit&veg) and people question this and even put me onto other runners who have there own methods of training to tell me what to do saying and say I need rest etc etc.  I never tell others what to do but one thing they need to understand is that I do things my way and the results I have are from my way and choices from mental attitude to food. When it comes to speed work I'm back at running club as I know that being around faster runners and the the whole community in general will make me better at the sport and this helps me develop individually but with a group or even by trying out ideas I see online. The exact same as someone wanting to get of alcohol would go to alcoholics annomminis  or someone who liked books would go to book club and look up books online. We become ourselves then we develop ourselves everyday by surrounding ourselves with people who share similar goals, plans and outlooks on our day to day life. I don't go to McDonald's to say I'm vegan or to the pub to say I drink water, I'm careful what I surround myself with the same as I am careful with what I put into my mind. 
So I run to be the best me that I can be, I run for the adventure and the new people I meet on the journey. To celebrate overcoming adversity and to enjoy life and the person that I have became through all of it. There will always be faster runners but I got of a foreign mental hospital in Greece, lost 7 stone and ran a 100 mile ultra marathon as a vegan ultra running athlete now I'm happy with my choices. We all have different goals, ambitions and plans and I get my motivation and have my idols too but I don't imitate them I learn from them and my life is mine and it's about sharing who I am. I'm not telling others how to live im just sharing my story and journey through recovery and enjoying life with better health. You see the real me through running, in person or online, you see the real me on my blog and the real me in my life. Your part of it, namaste  
Smile every mile & never stop living


Written by Chris Baynham Hughes - http://baynham-hughes.com/

Risk, perception of risk and calculation of risk is a fascinating beast. The idiosyncratic element is so large it’s almost a social science in itself!

A recent disagreement on a facebook post got me thinking about this topic; whilst a stolen run in the Langdale Pikes pushed me to write about it. As I ran, alone, light fading, snow underfoot, rain coming in, visibility poor, wind picking up, in shorts, carrying a small belt kit I figured some people would think me reckless, some fool hardy or irresponsible, others may see it as calculated, assessed and reasonable – although these views would probably require greater insight into my preparations.

In this case I’d told my wife where I was going, how I would get there, after how long she should start to look for my head torch on the mountain, at what point to raise her concern/ look harder and how long before she should raise the alarm. I’d also packed a map, compass, survival bag, knew the area, was never more than two miles from a road, had full body cover, an exceptionally bright head torch and I’m reasonably experienced and competent in the mountains… well I’d at least argue I know how and when to use my kit and the limitations of the kit.

Still, for some (my parents at least) I suspect that I’m not taking sufficient precaution (sorry mum and dad) but herein lies the issue at hand. Why are perceptions of risk so different and why is it important to make a proper assessment and to recognise/ question the reasons behind the different choices we make as a result?

There are many factors that influence a calculation of risk, the primary ones I’d note are:

  1. Likelihood of occurrence
  2. Impact/ severity
  3. Risk appetite (whether the individual is a risk lover or are risk adverse)
  4. Models/ Experience
  5. Mitigation – strategies to avoid the risk becoming an issue* or to deal with it if it does

*a risk is something that might happen; an issue is something that has happened.

Factors 1 and 2 combine to give a calculation of risk, 3 and 4 are social (idiosyncratic) factors that will impact perception of 1 and 2, ultimately leading to an appropriate decision for that individual to satisfy their risk profile and feel comfortable that they have made an educated and calculated decision.


My argument would be that many never actually critically think about the likelihood/ severity in enough depth and jump straight to risk profile (lover/ adverse). A quick search of forums/ FB kit list posts highlights this immediately and where this post started to germinate from. I’ve lost count of the “but what if…” “bogie man” style  statements, typically presented as a black and white with no room for a shade of grey let alone fifty! It’s not a phenomenon restricted to ultra/ fell running forums, indeed I would argue it is an extension of the same arguments that have parents afraid to let their children out to play through a fear of the “paedophile lurking on every corner!” It’s not that the risk isn’t there, it’s just that the likelihood is significantly lower than certain newspapers would have us believe – the baby gets thrown out with the bath water as a result. This is low quality thinking.

To be as clear as I can be, the following examples and text are not intended to have a pop at any race organisers. I believe they are being placed in an increasingly difficult position in making these judgement calls. I always carry full mandated kit and don’t complain whether I believe it should or should be mandated (although I have sought clarification and when it wasn’t provided in a meaningful way I have complained there was a lack of clarity; e.g., if a race is going to put ‘emergency food’ on then it needs to quantify it by weight or calories… I digress).

Like I say, being an RD is not easy, especially given the decisions runners make; e.g., I turned up at a race with micro-spikes and ski goggles due to the freak conditions and snow fall; I lined up on a heavily altered course (for safety – which was bemoaned my many) next to people in barefoot style trail shoes with zero grip suitable for a summer run in very dry conditions. I wore the goggles almost all day and used my micro-spikes on ~35% of the course. Finishing I was asked if I’d done one or two laps as most had dropped or been pulled after one – considering the amount of moaning at the RD’s decision to adjust the course I think the decision was vindicated and a good called made. The point is that the RD shouldn’t have to make what was clearly a common sense call and it shows just how many people put blind faith in an event “it must be safe because they are letting us go out”. I digress. Essentially I totally respect an RDs decision and treat a kit list as a minimum. I may take thinks that border on acceptability, but take them I do.

Naturally this doesn’t stop me having an opinion about kit lists in general, however my guiding principle is that a good kit list has a mandatory and a recommended element. For me, everything on the mandated list should be a risk mitigation. It shouldn’t reflect personal preference or requirements, but be targeted at a specific risk.

The Facebook question was related to the use of pain killers and anti inflammatory pills (NSAIDs). This is a topic in itself and not one I’m looking to debate; suffice to say I’ve read plenty of statements warning against usage due to potential kidney damage. I’ve used them personally on one event, but they didn’t make any real difference for me so I personally wouldn’t take them again. My stance is if I’m in such a state where I’m reaching for the pain killers then it’s time to drop out, but I digress again.

What I did find quite shocking was that a couple of events now had painkillers on their mandatory kit lists. In an age where you can’t get a paracetamol at work/ school due to fears over liability for dispensing such pharmaceuticals, I find it astonishing that a race would mandate carrying the drugs, especially an amount that, taken in one go, would be harmful. The argument was that an experienced doctor had advised this addition to the kit list and nobody would force a competitor to take the pills, but for me this is a tacit stamp of approval/ encouragement that it is not only ok, but it’s expected and encouraged – I am certain that is not what the RD intended, but I’ve lined up at too many races to mention where inexperienced participants are heavily influenced by the kit list, thus I think this is a very dangerous addition.

Aside from all that, I’d question the logic; i.e., what is the risk that is being mitigated here? In this case it seems to me it only creates risk 0 if a situation arose where somebody needed pain killers it would be due to an injury (twist, fall, sprain, etc.) Painkillers are then about comfort for the individual (cue wagging forum finger along the lines of, “well, if you strayed from the course and broke your leg then you’ll be grateful for the extra clothing and painkillers!” – this is taken almost verbatim from a post on the Fb L100 forum) your life is not going to be saved by a paracetamol or Ibuprofen.  – but your internal organs could be damaged and you could put yourself at risk by taking too many through a one-eyed determination to finish coupled with an exhausted, sleep deprived, befuddled thought process. Pretty high likelihood of that state for participants of hundred mile or a non-stop multi day ultra I’d wager!

So getting to likelihood, we must first assess the chances of something happening, this is skewed by experience either direct or indirect (I’ll come back to this) – in the case of the L100 post I’d say it was pretty unlikely and thus not requiring me to carry extra anything as presented by the poster, but wait! Likelihood is only one piece of the risk puzzle. The impact is crucial in deciding on the mitigation strategy, so let’s look at that as perceived, or even evidenced, likelihood is useless without impact.


If the impact is great; i.e., risk to life and/ or future quality of life, then a mitigation strategy should be in place or acceptance of the risk made; e.g., the impact of running off a cliff is high, even if the likelihood is low, but what is my mitigation? Improve my map reading? Don’t sprint in the clag/ dark? Pack a parachute? In reality it’s something I just have to accept, whereas taking a mobile phone with 112 set up (

) may be the mitigation strategy for incapacitation on the mountain.

Jumping back to the broken leg on the L100 post, whilst the impact might be high, my assessment goes something like this:

(a)    It’s difficult to go wrong nav wise as it’s bridleway/ well worn footpaths that I’ve recced

(b)   There are a huge number of people coming through who can raise the alarm

(c)    You are tracked between ~8 mile stretches (CPs) so the organisers know roughly where you are

(d)   Most sections you can pretty much drive a land rover to

(e)   You’re never far from a road or obvious landmark so if your nav really is that bad then you’ll hit one of these soon or should be able to see one to help with your location

So what is the mitigation in the kit list? Well the poster was pointing to extra warm layers and a first aid kit. My assessment? Well stipulate a phone with 112 set up – a ‘First aid kit to include: blister plasters* / sterile pad dressing / bandage or tape to secure dressing as a minimum requirement’ is, frankly, going to do bugger all to your broken leg anyway. A real, useful, make a difference in an emergency, first aid kit will weigh between 5 and 9kgs and would never be stipulated on a run – much like the fact you could twist your ankle on a kerb or get knocked down crossing the road in town, one cannot account for every possibility.

* when was this ever an emergency?

In this area I feel many RDs lack courage/ fear the backlash of an uneducated back lash of “how irresponsible!” if they don’t have a first aid kit on their list, rather than a practical, considered approach to not mandate it (notable exceptions include NAV4 events which makes it’s kit list decision based upon first class, firsthand experience). At this point it’s clear I’ve drifted into mitigation and whether the mitigation is effective; getting back to the point, if the risk is a small cut to the finger or a blister and the mitigation is about comfort rather than safety then IMO the items should be on an optional list rather than a mandatory one. Again, looking at the first aid kit a more serious wound can be dealt with through construction of a tourniquet using clothing if required. So far we have likelihood (crystal ball) and impact (not so much worst case, although it should be considered and balanced with a likelihood of it going wrong, but realistic case scenarios.


For me it’s really clear. Every race risk which has a severe impact should be mitigated or accepted due to low likelihood/ impracticality of mitigation. Rapid core temperature loss due to rain and wind leading to hypothermia can be mitigated by waterproofs. Nobody is saying that you can sit down in a blizzard as if you are in San Tropez providing you have a “minimus suit” on, but waterproofs make a significant and genuine difference and enough to get an individual to safety.

Another fine example of excellent, well thought out mandated kit was the addition of a bothy bag on Dark Mountains. Some may say; “but you’re carrying a tent!” they would be right, but if you’ve got so cold that you need to pitch your tent or a weather front has come in so quickly as it did on us, then being able to jump in a bothy, make a considered decision, warm up and then pitch the tent, wait it out, etc. is a superb mitigation and is far more likely to be used – I know we talked about it at one point! Others include a survival bag not a blanket, map and compass, not GPS alone, etc.

Items that do not meet this criteria should not be on a mandatory kit list in my view – recommended kit, yeah, but not mandated – some people are happy to risk a DNF if the situation gets more hairy than the mandatory list. The notable exception to this is what I call “levelling kit”; e.g., a mountain marathon list includes a stove – hot food is not a requirement to survive, so a stove is arguably outside of the justification for the mandatory list (if you ignore the ability to provide a warm beverage in a hypothermia situation – one reason why I suspect it is on there) however it keeps the playing field a little more level.

So far, logic enables us to assess and draw a strategy together for risk, but two very vital elements are missing – appetite for risk and models/ experience. These have a huge influence upon our perceived likelihood and potential impact.

Appetite for risk – risk adverse or risk lover?

One’s tolerance for risk will have an influence on one’s assessment of likelihood and impact which one should be very mindful of – maybe even ask the question; “Have I really got that risk assessment right? Am I being a little too gung ho?” however the major influencing factor it has is over one’s mitigation strategy. A risk lover will be far more comfortable with less kit, it doesn’t mean they wont take enough to be safe, just that they will view the requirement differently to a person that is risk adverse.

The “yeah, but what if” people amongst us may take items to ensure they get to the end at all costs whereas a risk lover may simply say, “well if that happens I’ll just have to drop out & DNF as I believe the chances of it happening are so low compared with the burden of the mitigation strategy”. So risk lovers will tend to mark likelihood lower and be pragmatic (sometimes overly so) about kit. In a sport like ultra running which can see a start line flooded with machismo, this can lead to events being cancelled due to poor decisions; e.g., the 2012 Fellsman was cancelled part way through for the first time in 50 years due to the sheer volume of hypothermia cases. IMO this was about a lack of experience and poor decision making; both in the kit taken and, more importantly when people put it on. “Runners” making “runners decisions” in the mountains is a poor choice; i.e., “I’ll put my jacket on at the next CP” rather than stopping for 2 minutes to stay safe – I’m no martyr, I’ve done this myself several times!

Experience/ Models

These greatly influence our lives in all facets and influence the view of likelihood and impact significantly. As an abstract example, I have a great idea for a business, whilst I know abit about running a business and in the past have been paid to advise organisations as to how they should do it, I see the risk of setting up my own business as way too great – the potential pitfalls and risks outweigh the reward for me. A major influencer on this assessment is down to the fact that I don’t know anybody that has built a business from scratch – I have no first, second or third hand experience of this. Thus all I see is a question mark as to how I pay the mortgage, let alone finance the company.

The same applies to an assessment for the mountains. Once you’ve experienced or witnessed a case of hypothermia it’s harder to believe it can’t happen to you. Is it just a big “bogie man” that only happens to others? Ever badly twisted an ankle and had to get off a mountain alone? All this has a major impact and is generally positive; i.e., results in a morerealistic risk assessment.

It must be noted that none of the mitigation strategies are a substitute for experience or knowledge. The best equipped bag in the world is no good if you don’t know how or when to use what is in it. Likewise avoidance of an issue by not taking silly risks is a far greater strategy. This doesn’t mean being over cautious, nor does it mean doing something because you got away with it last time. Regular and realistic in flight assessments should be part of any run in the mountains. My recent run up to Harrison Stickle was a good example of how I personally do that. I looked for signs of successful paths in the snow, regularly checked the crust and if my weight was held before proceeding, I kne my escape routes, slowed down, kept a keen eye on my Nav and ditched the idea of taking in Pike O’ Stickle in favour of getting part way down without the need for my head torch (although I had it on in case I fell and knocked myself out). I knew I was on a well used path and ensured I stuck to it; more importantly I ensured I was warm as toast – overdressing and paying in sweat rather than under dressing and pushing it to keep warm. I also regularly reminded myself that I was on my own.

Was it as much fun as really pushing it? Well as a dedicated sensation seeker I’d say yes, I was forced to concentrate at all times, I got to contemplate my own mortality and it got dark so I got to use some kit ;)

So what, all very interesting but what do I want you to think about/ take away from this ramble? I’d sum it up as follows:

  • Always respect an RD’s kit list and risk assessment
  • It is my firm view that RDs should remember that newbies are greatly influenced by a kit list; put pain killers on there and they may very well think it’s de rigueur – don’t be afraid to put items on the suggested/ recommended list instead , think carefully about what should be mandatory; i.e., if it isn’t mitigating a serious risk with a high impact or a leveller.. if not, suggested list
  • You can’t absolve all responsibility to the RD, do your own personal risk assessment before the race – mandatory kit list is the minimum, the less experience you have the more you should pack!
  • Continue to assess risk throughout your run, especially if solo – take mitigating actions both before (tell somebody your route) and during your run (slowing down, is that potential ankle breaking leap worth it? etc.
  • Kit is no substitute for experience – knowing how and when to use it so search out a course, go on that “crazy” group run in terrible conditions – I’d recommend the FRA run courses, NAV4 (http://www.nav4.co.uk/) and Mountain Run (http://www.mountainrun.co.uk/)

All this talk of risk comes at a time where a race has been found guilty of the deaths of three trail runners. It’s a terrifically tragic case and one nobody ever wants to see or hear about. The only details I have are here and my comment may as a result be deeply misinformed as I am solely going on this.

Ultimately when we take to the mountains for such races we take a risk and a personal responsibility for that risk. The idea that we as participants can absolve all responsibility for our actions is ludicrous. Ok, seeing the weather being a bit iffy could prompt the RD to mandate a bothy bag for all runners, but they can’t account for the actions of the runners to come off the way marked trail. Likewise no matter what is signed before a race, the organisers/planners can still be guilty of gross negligence.

I’ve had a chat with my wife about this very subject and how I wouldn’t want any actions to be taken or any impact as a result of my death if it were to happen. There are times when blame shouldn’t be searched for and it should just be accepted as a tragic accident. I would hate to think that my actions could put limits on the sport I love so much or the freedom that comes with that sport.

The key IMO is to increase the skill levels and knowledge of the participants in these races, I see the governing bodies; FRA, TRA, etc. having a strong hand and influence in this – more cheap/ not for profit navigation courses put on, raising awareness of hypothermia and other issues that pose a great risk to the runner; maybe even a licence system that enables people to run the longer or more challenging races (e.g., AL fell races).

The licence could simply consist of a number of courses and a test of knowledge, phased in over a 3 year period and with an abundance of courses run by local running clubs involved in the fells should make this a relatively painless exercise. It could also strengthen the already strong community. Sure people will grumble, but better than races being cancelled due to organisers not being able to take on the liability.

Numb to the risk?

The final word I wanted to give on risk is that it is calculated but ultimately it is so difficult without a crystal ball that we are forced to subconsciously take risks daily and become numb to them. The key here is that it is the perception of risks that we are ultimately dealing with 0 statistically you are significantly more likely to die or be seriously injured on a standard daily activity; e.g., riving a car, than you are on the mountains. It is out lack of familiarity (and of those around us) with the setting which leads to gross over/ under estimation – much like too much exposure (driving a car) without a reminder (road death/ accident/ near miss).

In short, get trained/ gain experience slowly rather than jumping in at the deep-end without a good mentor. Learn to calculate the risks you are taking and consider them before, during and after (review) make your own decisions to match your comfort level and have fun out there!

Written by Chris Baynham-Hughes - http://baynham-hughes.com/

A recent post by Neil Bryant on Facebook started me thinking, so if you get to the end of this blog post feeling like it’s time you’ll never get back then please take it up with Neil :). His post was brimming with positive energy, enthused by the possibilities opened by his choice to move to the adventure playground that is Chamonix. I guess putting so much on the line for a lifestyle change ensures Neil sees the value in everything around him – the post had a childlike joy of discovery  about it, and having been fortunate enough to run out in Chamonix this winter it prompted me to ask whether the snow had melted; had that visible, tangible change had occurred?

All this got me thinking about the running we do. Rather than generalising, I’ll speak from my own experience. During the week I tend to be a creature of habit to a degree. I’m fortunate enough to have woodland trails nearby and as I run in the morning I do get three very distinct changes in the year: the runs in the light, those in the dark, and those where you get to witness the change between the two. My trails are also changed by the seasons, although not as starkly as Neil’s between snow and summer, but still, the flora changes subtly, the sounds and the conditions underfoot oscillate, etc.

These changes are what ensure that my run never seems to feel stale. I frequently read advice stating I should run my trail in reverse, seek other trails, introduce new locations, keep it fresh, run on my hands whilst juggling a small kitten, etc. but I don’t get it. I don’t need these changes, I love the intimacy I have with the trail I run plus spotting the changes and cultivating that childlike mind (not just switching off, putting the blinkers on and getting bored: “I’ve seen it all before”, “Can’t be anything new”) is something I really value. I also think that as humans we like/ crave that stability, that habit.

The value and pleasure of understanding how your trails change and the huge change that can have on your awareness is pretty priceless and I encourage all to work on/ enjoy it.

Another frequently stated/ debated element of running (and many other sports I enjoy) is the empty arguments about which type is best: Road Vs Offroad, fell Vs trail, etc. Nothing turns me off more than reading/ having somebody argue why one is better for you/ more fulfilling/ original/ greater challenge, etc. I confess that this doesn’t preclude me from enjoying the banter generated from time to time; e.g., 

The most ridiculous think is that it tends to be somebody preaching to the converted. As an example of this I picked up Boff Whalley’s ‘Run wild’, looking forward to reading tales of what he gets from being out there and odes to the mountains I love so much – the musings of a kindred spirit. What I got was repetitive droning about why running on roads was a substandard form… why does he care? How many road runners will read the book and be converted? I’ve never understood why people can’t just enjoy what they enjoy and let others enjoy what they enjoy… surely we’d all be happier?

As our world becomes more complex and information rich we look to collectives, mental boxes we can put things in and other methods to enable us to process and keep up. The question on my mind was what this tells us about us? Can we characterise people by the type of running they do? Are the stereotypes true/ fair reflections of the collective? I think there is enough in it for the personality/ characteristics of our favourite trails/ running types to be used as a mirror. Greek Philosophy counsels us to ‘Know thy self’. Running provides countless ways for us to do that.

My proposal is that what you seek when you lace up your trainers reflects who you are. You may live for exploring new trails or busting out a PB, reaching that summit , spreading your arms wide like wings at the top of a descent, racing, taking in views, enjoying the journey, facing up to the challenge, the list goes on!

Exploring a trail for the first time can be liberating and frustrating at the same time – the stop/ start of not knowing which path to take or the roll of some delicious, challenging single track. Over time it develops into a personal playground. Knowing each trail’s quirks and kings, inclines and exposed roots makes them feel like old friends. Driven by repetition and your passion, your running becomes a vehicle to understand the trail’s personality and how it is carved, influences and created by nature.

The events and runs we take on can challenge us and at extremes can put our safety into question. But these are often escapes from the stresses and strains of modern life, from our responsibilities in work, as a parent, or a way to work through feelings like grief or anything where we need time to switch off or focus on your thoughts.

I challenge you to take a look at your running over the years, how it has fitted into your life and what that has meant. Running can be a great release, sport or challenge, but it can also deepen and reveal the best qualities you have as a person. The type of running we do and the trails we run/ really love have a subconscious calling; they are a mirror to the soul if only we are prepared to look and listen.

Know your trails, know your running passion and you will know thy self.