Reacting = bad, responding = good says Seth

Seth-Godin-620x310I really enjoy receiving the blog posts that Seth Godin sends out every day. More often than not he touches upon something that is relevant or pertinent to what is going on in my life. At the very least that means that I know I am not alone!

Today, Seth advised us not to react to the playground bullies – they are childish and petulant and what they really want is to get a rise out of you. Seth’s advice is to respond to them – to come up with a way of dealing with their behaviour that is mature. Here is Seth’s advice:

… we can respond. With something that works. With an approach we’re proud of, proud of even after the moment has passed. It’s not easy, it’s often not fun, but it’s the professional’s choice.

I needed to hear that from a professional point of view today. It allowed me to let go of some pent-up frustration that I was feeling. Good.

But it has also allowed me to see my current running-slump in a different light. It is no one’s fault that I am not running much at the moment. It is not even my fault. It is just a fact that I am struggling to get motivated and actually that is fine. The best thing I can do is not react – don’t get all panicky and try to smash out back to back (to back) hour long runs every day to make up for lost runs, which is what I was planning. Much better is to respond with a plan that is sustainable, sensible and achievable in the circumstances.

Thanks Seth!




Who the hell am I racing against?

In the second in a series of very self-indulgent posts this weekend (sorry!) I want to answer the questions: who am I competing with? Who am I measuring myself with? Who am I racing against?

Watching the best of the best

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Gwen Jorgensen winning the World Triathlon Series race in London against the best in the world

I watched the the women’s World Triathlon Series race that took place in Hyde Park yesterday, whilst relaxing on the sofa after a long run this morning and a picnic in the park with Julie at lunchtime. Gwen Jorgensen, from the US, took on the best triathletes in the world who made up the field of other elite women over the 750m swim – 20km bike – 5km run race course. It was magnificent to watch and fascinating to see the others in the race respond and react and in the end race for the minor places.

One thing that struck me as I watched the race – which, like pretty much all elite Olympic and shorter distance triathlons that I have seen recently, came down to the run – was the fact that Jorgensen was a couple of kilometers into the run and there were still elite athletes racking their bikes and heading out for the 5km on foot. The first thing that crossed my mind was “why bother?”

These are elite level athletes. Almost certainly all of them make their living from triathlon and coming 63rd out of a field of 65 is – in terms of their earnings and career prospects – totally pointless. Why not just rack the bike and go for a recovery shake and get ready for the next race when they might do better?

No expectation of winning: just doing the best you can

But then I realised that most of us – and I mean 99.9999999% of the people who do any sort of sport – aren’t doing it with the expectation of winning. Most of us have other reasons for training and competing. We must have, because we sure as hell aren’t going to win.

So now I am back to my initial question. Why do I care about what time I get in a race or what position I get? In reality I am never going to win anything (certainly not anything worthwhile or meaningful) so why care?

Well I think that the answer is that I am racing against myself. Trying to match up to the standards that I aspire to for myself. Half of why I race is so that I can feel proud of what I have achieved because – especially with endurance sports (and thank you to my training partner on my run this morning, who reminded me of this point) you get out what you put in. So if I get a what I think is a pretty good result, then I know that I have worked hard and achieved something. The beauty of this, of course, is that it applies to everyone, no matter how fast they are. So everyone can know the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from having put in the effort and come out with a result.

My results & my frustrations

Mario Mola, winner of the men's race in the World Triathlon  Series race in London
Mario Mola, winner of the men’s race in the World Triathlon Series race in London

So… why am I frustrated with myself at the moment? Because I know I am not putting in the work and I am therefore not getting results that I think I can be proud of. For me. Not results that someone else thinks they would be happy with: results that I would be happy with. The irony is, of course, that it is entirely possible to win races and still not really be proud of what you achieved, because there is no one there to challenge you – you get the bling but it is meaningless without meaningful challenge. What I love about sport like the Elite triathlons at the weekend, is that there are so many people at the same level that, for example, in the elite men’s race in Hyde Park this weekend, the winner can feel immensely proud that he beat the best in the world. Same for Jorgensen. Same for you and me, if we beat the expectations that we set ourselves!

And what about me? Well, I got what I deserved in the 5km run that I did on Saturday: a taste of blood in my mouth, sore legs and a sinking feeling that age and lack of training are catching up on me.

But you want to know the best thing? I know that I can pull it around. Whether or not I feel proud of my future results is entirely in my hands – I just have to work for them. Sounds pretty good, eh?

Book & talk about ‘Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists’ by Michael Hutchinson

Running is such a simple sport. The common wisdom is that all you need is a pair of shoes and enough functional clothing for the weather / legal requirements of the place you are running in. Some even argue that you don’t need shoes. Or clothes.

But that is also, perhaps, one of the downsides of running. I don’t think there is much that science can do to help runners go faster. Certainly the footwear and apparel brands are doing their best with shoes that give more return or weigh less and clothes that are designed to wick sweat and support muscles. And nutrition brands undoubtedly create products that are scientifically superior to the beer and butties that our running forefathers trained and raced on. And of course there are GPS devices and heart rate monitors that mean that training can be more and more specific and controlled. And yet…

Despite all the technological advances, runners in the UK and Europe are – on average and at every level – getting slower. Not only slower than the runners coming from the distance-running powerhouses in east Africa but also slower than the aforementioned beer-and-butty fuelled runners of the past.

Maybe in cycling it is different? Well Michael Hutchinson is certainly obsessed with finding out.

On 6 May, Michael will be at the Bloomsbury Institute to talk about his new book;

Faster_image001Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists

Hutchinson will explain why cyclists do what they do, what the riders, their coaches and the experts get up to in preparation and why the idea of going faster is such an appealing, universal instinct for all of us.

This examination of what it takes to get faster on two wheels has garnered high praise already from none other than the man who has made cycling fast a national obsession: Sir Dave Brailsfor. He says of Faster,

Fantastic. An intelligent and personal insight in to the world of elite cycling

There should be no surprise that Michael has written a good book on the subject of cycling fast. Hutchinson is a former professional cyclist and won multiple national titles in both Britain and Ireland, represented both countries internationally and rode for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, 2006 and 2010. He also has writing-form having already penned an award-winning book, The Hour: Sporting Immortality the Hard Way.

So I would say that this is going to be a very interesting read. And if you can get to the talk, then I think it will be a fascinating discussion around the subjects in the book. I went to the Bloomsbury Institute for a talk by Scott Jurek about his book Eat and Run as well as a talk by Graeme Obree for his book A Training Manual For Cyclists (I still need to post my review of that book… sorry!) – both were utterly brilliant! If you want to go to this latest talk click here and book a ticket (in case you need to copy and paste it: – it’ll be a very worthwhile £10 I assure you!


What lies beyond the edge of running – My #AdventureList

At freestak we have recently started working with Berghaus on a campaign that will be hitting magazines and computer screens near you soon. Now that we are part of the Berghaus team, we have been included in a few things that this great British brand have been organising. One of the big ones this year is their #AdventureList campaign which is an opportunity for everyone who loves the outdoors to get involved in some amazing adventures (and be in with a chance of winning some rather lovely stuff if they tell Berghaus about what they have been doing).

Hiking with Sir Chris Bonington

Me and Sir Chris Bonington - hero worship in full effect!
Me and Sir Chris Bonington – hero worship in full effect!

It was as part of this, that Berghaus invited Julie and me to join a group for a hike with legendary climber and adventurer Sir Chris Bonington in the Lake District. That was far too good an opportunity to miss out on, so late on Friday afternoon J. and I climbed in the trusty Matrix and headed north.

The Berghaus team were putting together a little film, that will be out in March, about some of the adventures that the people linked to the brand are embarking on. Hopefully Julie and I will make the cut – I will certainly post the video once it is out, because the group that Berghaus had gathered together were really fascinating and inspiring, so there will be plenty of moments to savour in the film even if yours truly ends up on the cutting room floor!

What is the #AdventureList?

Famous for forty seconds... maybe!
Famous for forty seconds… maybe!

The whole idea of the #AdventureList campaign is that people can create a list of the outdoors challenges that they would like to take on. The big difference between this and the idea of a bucket list is that it is specifically about outdoors adventures, so ‘seeing the Mona Lisa’ or ‘visiting the Taj Mahal’ wouldn’t be on the list… unless you cycled from London to see the Taj Mahal or ran from Edinburgh to see the Mona Lisa. You get the idea.

Hiking with Sir Chris Bonington for the day was an amazing opportunity to meet and talk to someone whose whole life has been about pushing his boundaries ticking off the things that are on his adventure list. To give you a flavour…

  • He made the first British ascent of the North Wall of the Eiger
  • Led the expedition that made the first ascent of The South Face of Annapurna, the biggest and most difficult climb in the Himalaya at the time.
  • Led the successful expedition making the first ascent of the South West Face of Everest in 1975
  • Reached the summit of Everest himself in 1985 with a Norwegian expedition

This is just a tiny fraction of the things that Sir Chris has done. There is much more detail here.

Knowing that I would be meeting a man who had probably done more last week than I have in my 38 years on the planet, I was a little nervous about committing my adventure list to paper. But that is what Berghaus asked us to do and I thought that it would be a really interesting exercise.

My #AdventureList

My twitter biog is “I run marathons. Everything else is a result of that” and one of the things I mean by that is that if it wasn’t for my fascination with trying to find out what I am capable of over 26.2 miles, I wouldn’t have the fitness, confidence and drive to attempt anything that I have now committed to on my dream adventure list. And I will admit that as I get older and I realise that I have to train harder and harder to shave time off my marathon PB, the attraction of the things on the list that are not trying to improve on my time over 26.2 miles, grows ever stronger.

So in no particular order (and most definitely subject to amendment) here is my #AdventureList as it currently stands:

  • Run the UTMB CCC in under 18 hours
  • Train for and race in an Ironman
  • Climb Mont Blanc
  • Complete the Patrouille des Glaciers
  • Go free diving
  • Do more ice-climbing
  • Trek in Patagonia
  • Ski to the South Pole
  • Ride the Dunwich Dynamo
  • Spend time training for a marathon in Iten, Kenya

The list goes on and on and on. I love reading books, magazines and websites about adventure so there is a constant stream of new ideas. The challenge is that whilst the list of things I’d love to do grows, the time and money to do all these things doesn’t!

The first item on my list – the UTMB CCC in under 18 hours – is actually only a few months away (August this year) and whilst the time target is going to be a challenge, I do think it is possible. Last year I ran the race with J. and finished a shade over 24 hours. But J. fell during the race and really hurt her knee which, combined with misjudging the start and really getting caught up in a lot of bottle necks at the start of the race, meant that we never really got into our stride. So this year I hope that I can push harder and be smarter and see how close to 18 hours I can get.

The Berghaus #AdventureList team on Catbells
The Berghaus #AdventureList team on Catbells

Some of the things on the list are really just pipe-dreams but one thing that I have learned since I started trying to get fitter, is that I am (and that means everyone is) more capable than I ever imagined. As far as I am concerned, what we need is determination, imagination, supportive people around us and a bit of luck to make any adventure list a reality.

As I take on the things on the list, tick some off and add others, I will update you as I go.

And if you have something on your adventure list, please tell me – I might want to add one or two to my list. Finally while you are inspiring me to do more interesting stuff, make sure you tell Berghaus (they are on twitter @therealberghaus and you can use #AdventureList) not least because there is a chance to win some of their very, very nice gear if you do. Oh and if you have a twitter account, Sir Chris Bonington is @ChrisBonington – well worth a follow.

Here’s to a future full of adventures.



Peau de what? Trying ski-touring for the first time and loving it!

I love the idea of adventure and new endurance sports. I love pushing myself as hard as I can physically. And I love the mountains. So ever since I heard about ski-touring, I have wanted to have a go. For Christmas this year, Mrs. F. and I went to Switzerland and found ourselves for a few days in a resort called Champex Lac.

Champex is a town we – and anyone who has been on the Tour de Mont Blanc, or run the UTMB or the CCC for example – will be familiar with. It is a small town with a handful of restaurants, a couple of shops and a big lake that in winter freezes and is turned into a huge ice-skating rink.

Champex is situated on the trail between La Fouly and Trient on the UTMB CCC route and sits nestled between the steep sides of a gulley at 1447m above sea level. Apart from the lake, it is not flat! But whilst this does not make for a great place to go cross-country skiing (especially if like me, you were trying to learn a new style of cross-country skiing on the day you went out on the ‘flat’ pistes) it does make for an amazing place to try out ski-touring

What is ski-touring?

Ski-touring is described by the good people at Mountain Tracks as:

travelling through mountain landscape in winter on skis under human power rather than through the use of ski lifts, giving access to wild, isolated mountain terrain and a remote and pristine landscape that is rarely experienced by resort-based skiers.

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Attaching the peau de phoque

It basically involved using what look like regular downhill skis with a modified binding that allows the heel to come up in the same way that a cross-country ski works. For the uphill bits, you stick a strap of fabric to the bottom of the ski, which stops the ski sliding backwards. That fabric is called Ski Skins or as the French call them peau de phoque, which translates as seal skins. For the downhill bits you whip the Ski Skins off and clip the heel of the boot down, and away you go!

The attraction for me is that ski-touring promises a bloody hard work out (uphill), an adrenaline hit (downhill), the promise of adventure (go off-piste) and the chance to do something different. The problem is that I wanted to know if it was something I’d like to invest time and money in. Champex offered me that possibility.

Not running

Julie demonstrating perfect ski-touring form

After Julie and I spent a day trying to show my parents and mother-in-law the rudiments of cross-country skiing in an area that really has very little in the way of flat, we decided to have a go with ski-touring skis the next day. The owners of the ski-hire place helpfully told us that many people used the pistes above Champex to try ski-touring, climbing up on the sides of the piste and then skiing down. In fact, doing that was more popular than ever since the Patrouille de Glaciers race comes through Champex, so people wanting to do the race use this as a good training base.

We were fitted out with skis, boots and skins and readied ourselves for the challenge the next morning. I was beyond excited.

The good news for me, was that ski-touring was much easier than I feared it might be. The skins are amazing. They feel like velvet and really stick on the uphills – there is no back-sliding at all, even on the steepest and iciest bits of a prepared piste. In powdery snow, there was not even a hint of sliding backwards.

It does take a bit of getting used to. The boots and skis are big and heavy – certainly much heavier than cross-country skis. And I did have some pretty sore patches on the front of my shins after 4 hours in the boots.

However the sore shins would undoubtedly go after a few days practice and shin-toughening and whilst the boots and skis were a bit heavy they meant you could ski up – and down – a mountain!

Overall impressions

Basically, I loved my first mini-experience of ski-touring. It was really hard work but didn’t hammer the knees at all. My heart rate was high the whole time I was climbing and I loved the steady, plodding relentlessness of it. It really reminded me of ultra-trail running where you zone out and simply plow on and on and on… Typically, I had to go up and down the pistes above Champex three times!

I also enjoyed the downhill elements although I must admit that I need to do some work on my skiing – I am rather ungainly and would need to become a more competent skiier if I want to do more ski-touring (and I undoubtedly do, money notwithstanding!)

I am also happy to admit that I loved the way that ski-touring promises so much in the way of adventure. I can really imagine heading off into the mountains, under my own steam, in the quiet with nothing more than the sound of my breath and the click-clack of the boots and skis under me. I felt like a real adventurer in the moments when I was alone on the route up to the ski lift station. Now I just need to figure out how I can get back there to do more. Any suggestions on a postcard please!

Look and Learn for adventurous types: Nick Parks event at Berghaus

My life definitely has running at its core. But it is not the be-all-and-end-all. I also really love doing other endurance-type stuff when I get the chance (which sadly is never often enough). I love hiking, fast-packing, climbing, cross-country skiing… anything that involves strenuous exercise really! But as much as I love doing stuff myself, there is a limit to the amount of adventure available in north London… unless you count taking the night bus to Wood Green on a Saturday night as adventurous.

So I find myself living vicariously through people who have done amazing things. Recently I have been following the adventures of Ben Saunders on his Scott Expedition, which is an amazing undertaking that everyone should check out. And I really enjoyed following Philippe and Anna Gatta on their epic run along the Great Himalayan Trail.

So when I heard about a talk at the Berghaus store by adventurer Nick Parks, I jumped at the chance to go. Hosted by the wonderful people at Mountain Tracks (who have taken Mrs. F. and me mountain climbing and ice climbing in the past, which were both absolutely fantastic experiences) this should be another great evening of inspiration and motivation. Berghaus and Mountain Tracks say this about the evening:

In November 2012 British Mountain Guide and Berghaus-sponsored Athlete Nick Parks sailed across the Southern Ocean to ski and climb peaks on the Antarctic Peninsula. Come and listen to his story of adventure in this staggeringly beautiful part of the world at one of two slideshows in Berghaus stores in London and Bristol.

Look and Learn... for grown-ups!
Look and Learn… for grown-ups!

There are two opportunities to hear Nick speak: 21 November in the Berghaus Store in Bristol and 28 November in the Berghaus Store in Covent Garden. And best of all, it is free!

I understand that there are still tickets left for the London event (I don’t know about Bristol, but a quick email will mean that you know). All you have to do is click this link to request a ticket:

If you are coming to the London event, give me a shout either in the comments below or on twitter (@simon_freeman) and we can gawp at beautiful Berghaus kit together! And if you go to the Bristol event, please come back and let me know what you thought of it.

On that note, I am off on a north London adventure… scaling the heights of Hampstead Heath perhaps – wish me luck!

not running: a new category

This blog is about running and specifically about two things:

  1. me trying to find out how good I can be as a runner
  2. hopefully helping and inspiring a few people to be the best runner they can be

So why have I added a category of posts entitled ‘not running’. This is not going to be easy to write, but I have come to the conclusion that running, on its own, is not enough… or perhaps it is too much.

Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 23.32.00I have long understood that there should be other stuff around running – my coach Nick is a strong advocate for core strength and conditioning exercises as part of the weekly routine (I fail badly to do these!) I also know many runners – a few of them quicker than me – who don’t limit themselves to just running. I remember one memorable run with a friend, where we met up with another runner – a 2:28 marathon runner – who said that he cycled every Monday in lieu of a recovery run, because he felt that it was better for his body.

I also know lots of runners, who add cycling and sometimes swimming to compete in duathlons and triathlons – in fact I competed in triathlon for a couple of years.

The conclusion I have come to, is that I love running – it has given me so much, including a sense of self worth, friendships that are more precious to me than almost anything, unbelievable experiences and a livelihood. But I have decided that I also like other stuff too and I am going to allow myself to indulge in a few of these other activities. Specifically the things that I really enjoy, in no particular order, include:

  • cycling
  • swimming
  • hiking
  • cross-country skiing
  • rock climbing
  • mountain climbing

And I want to emphasise that this list is in no way exhaustive and I hope that there will be other things that come along that I get to have a go at, but I am pretty sure they will be in the endurance sphere and I absolutely know that running will always be at the centre of what I do, in fact part of the attraction of doing other stuff is that I hope to elongate my running career by taking some of the pressure off my knees.

So from time to time I will write about the other stuff that I have been doing, Hopefully there will be some guest posts and I will attempt some product reviews. If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, they will be most gratefully received. For now, I am off to see what else the world of endurance sports has to offer…