Cycling the C2c Day 1 Whitehaven to Threlkeld

Cycling the C2C – Day one of the challenge begins with Lakes and hills.

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The C2C, or sea to sea is a popular route that crosses England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. And, like many others, we decided we’d like to take on the challenge of cycling the route from Whitehaven on the West coast to Tynemouth on the East – over 140 miles.

20160507-3We opted for the easy option of an organised tour with Newcastle based cycling holiday company Saddle Skedaddle, and doing the route over four days. It meant that we handed over the hassle of arranging accommodation, transporting luggage, understanding the route, and importantly where and when we were going to eat to someone else. A good move as I’d need all my energy for cycling, especially some of the big climbs.

Our challenge began in Gateshead, where we met our fellow cyclists and guides, Brad and Les. Here we loaded our bikes onto a trailer and piled into a minibus for the road trip over to our starting point.

We stayed overnight at The Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld, where a warm welcome and a pub meal gave us chance to get to know each other. Out of a group of ten, there were four using electric bikes on this trip and a mixture of experienced and less experienced cyclists. Most had travelled from far further afield to enjoy the scenery and challenge of the ride starting in the Lake District.

The forecast was fair for our first day cycling, so after an early breakfast, we took the bus and the bikes over to Whitehaven for the start of our trek. As we arrived, we saw plenty of other cyclists getting ready to set off. They all looked better prepared that we did!

We were a little delayed as there was a problem with one of the electric bikes. But support guide Les got his hands mucky and sorted it out and we were soon lining up for a photo on the slipway with the sea in the background. The North East coast felt a very long way away.

The first section was a gradual steady climb along old railway tracks and we motored along really nicely, enjoying the sunshine as the temperature rose. We stopped for a snack break and regroup after about 10 miles along the tracks and then the climbs really started.

We cycled on, into real Lakes scenery – glowering hills and still waters. Pale yellow primroses peeped out from deep green banks. It really was stunning.

To get the best views, you have to climb and, living on the North East coast as I do, it’s not something I do much of, so I found it challenging, but the descent into Loweswater was fantastic fun and allowed me to reach unheard of speeds on my bike.

Just after Loweswater was our first stop and our first experience of a Skedaddle lunch. No soggy sandwiches here – Les set out the first of many magnificent spreads and we fuelled up for the afternoon.

By now the wind had picked up and was in our faces. It wasn’t cold, but it added a resistance factor. I dropped into the lowest gears for the uphills and kept pedalling slowly, getting the feel for climbing on the bike.

It was an undulating afternoon, with a climb up to Whinlatter and then another thrilling fast descent. I lost my nerve a bit on this downhill and made good use of my disc brakes. I was glad I was on my Crosstrail, rather than my road bike.

20160507-15Parts of the route have been diverted due to the damage in the winter floods, meaning that after Keswick we had no option but to climb up through Castlerigg Stone Circle. That was a brute of a climb and I struggled to keep my balance in the lowest gear, and resorted to  walking the steepest bits.

But the view and the atmosphere in the Neolithic stone circle were worth the stiff legs. It was stunning in the early evening sunshine.

From here it was an easy descent and a run back to Threkeld to the Horse and Farrier, where we made the most of the sunshine in the beer garden before a well deserved evening meal. Day two was set to be a tough one…

North Tyneside 10k 2016

The North Tyneside 10k, is traditionally the first race of the year for me. As my first ever race, it signifies another year of running and acts as a marker for performance and progress.

I’ve been less focused on training and sporting goals this winter. Maybe that’s no bad thing, given how dominant they have been in the past. My energies have been directed elsewhere, dealing with changes at work, setting up a new website and co-creating another writing project.

I have, just about, give or take, kept a level of activity ticking over with a mixture of strength sessions, runs and a bit of cycling. But I’ve felt slow, heavy, stuck in the rut of an easy plod and going no faster, even over shorter distances.

Running has been a release, a place to settle my thoughts or simply breathe in fresh air and escape for a while. So I’ve gone easy on myself, just enjoying the activity for itself, no goals or targets.

Except there always are, aren’t there? Try as I might, I always compare against myself. And there are certain thresholds I think I should always be able to hit – like the 30 minute 5k and a sub 1hr 10k. And I haven’t been close to those for a while.

I wasn’t much feeling like racing on Easter Sunday. The weather forecast promised gusty winds and showers. But the day came bright and warmer than anticipated, and the wind, uncharacteristically from the south, promised to push all us runners along the seafront towards St Mary’s Lighthouse.

There’s a spring like feeling of anticipation and excitement as I arrive at the start. Throngs of runners warming up, greeting club mates and friends, getting ready for another road race season. I spot a few Newcastle parkrunners and have a good chat with my running pal Kathryn who I rarely see nowadays. I jog along for a bit of a warm up, and spot Jacquie and Alister up form Durham for the race. It feels like old times and I’m starting to relax and look forward to racing.

We line up before the start, the tang of deep heat and the laughter of some gentle mickey taking among the gathered runners. I’ve placed myself somewhere anonymous, nearer the back of the pack than the front. I do not hear any of the announcements and only know we’ve started when the crowd begins to walk forwards.

Start the watch as the timing chips beep over the line and get my feet moving through the streets of North Shields. Careful of the curbs, dodging a few elbows, looking for space among the pack I trot into an easy run. Cadence high, small steps, light feet, don’t go off too fast.

I’m aware of runners around me putting the brakes on down the steep bank to the Fish Quay. I let myself go a little, have confidence in my footing and core to keep me upright, trying not to surge away too fast, but taking advantage of the slope. This feels good, my pace just on the right side of uncomfortable.

lighthouse-1065319_1920
St Mary’s lighthouse

I settle quickly into a nice groove, still mindful of the busy running traffic around me and my space among it. The shops and businesses pass by in a blur, and I navigate the turn around the street furniture and out along the promenade.

The multi-coloured shirts stretch out ahead in a glorious bright ribbon as far as the eye can see. A long straight before the climb gives a chance for the field to spread out before it narrows again on the path up to the Priory.

A short, steep slope, and a curve and another. I pick up my feet, use my arms but don’t try to power up too hard. I need to keep my breath knowing there’s another longer slope to come. On the main road beside the Priory, photographers snap grimacing faces, and some walk the steep bank. But I keep my cool and trot to the top and power on.

It’s warm now and I’ve regretted my choice of a long sleeve top. In my head I’ve been thinking, I’m not so fast as I was, I need to keep warm. On the descent towards Longsands, I catch a welcome breeze across my face. Not far off half way and I’m feeling good.

I smile at the stretch of golden sand, so familiar, but still a sight to lift the spirits. I sneak a peak at my watch at half way and am pleasantly surprised at my time. Half distance and the hill behind me. I just have to hold onto this pace and I’m on target for under an hour.

I keep reminding myself of coaching points, keep my feet light, lift my chin, lean forwards a little. I realise I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at feet just ahead and try to raise my gaze. Everything’s working okay, no niggles and even the usual three mile pins and needles don’t make an appearance.

I focus on keeping going, keeping up the pace. I run beside a couple of men for a while. They are chatting easily to each other, probably taking in this race as part of a longer run. Their pace feels like the right kind of push on for me, so I stick with them for as long as I can.

The advantage of knowing this coastline so well is that I soon start to count off the landmarks, and the miles passing by. With two miles to go, I give myself another mental shove to dig in and keep moving.

With a mile to go, the course is getting congested with supporters looking out for their friends and family. A driver tries to leave the car park at the Rendezvous Café and is held back by a marshal, until a break in the flow of runners.

I watch out for Ian and Kelda and wave as I see them on the bank, happy that I still feel like I’m running well and putting the effort in. It is staring to hurt a bit now, my feet feeling hot spots and by hips beginning to ache. But with the end in sight, all it takes is another mental push to abandon thoughts of easing off.

Starting to see the faster finishers walking back along the course carrying goody bags and wearing this year’s bright T-shirts. Don’t get distracted, stay focused, keep pushing.

I never really know how far along the road to St Mary’s the finish is. I started to push along the straight before the turn and power up through all the gears into a final sprint, passing a few runners as I stretch out for the line. There was still a bit in the tank after all. Over the line, stop the watch and catch my breath – 59:10. Oh yes, that’ll do.

I’ve run this route faster, and slower. Last year I was 3 minutes faster, and that’s not an unrealistic time to aim for for the future. But I’d doubted I could go under an hour given my training and lack of fast running this year. But I did it and I didn’t have to battle all the way or stress to the max to get there. I enjoyed running, racing, being out on the gorgeous coastline near where I live and sharing the experience with members of my running tribe.

I’ll take that as a good start to the season and build on it with optimism.

Sunrise run

There is something quite special about an early morning run. I love the quietness. The solitude.

An early start. Cool and clear as I head out in the darkness. Steady, steady, run for an hour, no hassle, no pressure.

The tarmac glistened and Jack Frost had been skating over the car windscreens as I rolled my shoulders and got my legs moving along my street and out along the coast.

I was weary, feeling the effects of a tough training session the day before, and then the stiff, creeping stillness of a day sitting in front of a screen. But I’d put my kit out ready, roused myself to the alarm and got out of the door before my brain really cottoned on to what was happening.

There is something quite special about an early morning run. I love the quietness. The solitude. The sense that I’m experiencing something that others miss.

My thoughts drift easily as I head out towards the lighthouse, wondering if I’m in the right time frame to spot the International Space Station in the clear sky.

I warm into my stride, try to pick up my feet when I hear them slapping down and feel the pull on my calf muscles. Easy, easy, call it base training.

The familiar tingle of pins and needles in my right foot. No matter how gently I ease my laces, I get this on longer runs until my trainers are well worn in. As I turn back, I walk a few steps and shake it out.

I’m wrapped up in long tights, long sleeved top, gloves and a hat, but as so often on this route, if I feel warm in one direction, I’m glad of the layers in the other. Today it’s as I turn, I feel there is a chill wind after all and now it’s in my face.

photo (1)But the light is lifting as I run into the sunrise, and even out early along this stretch I’m never alone. Runners pass with good morning greetings, recognising the shared experience of braving the darkness and finding this time.

I stop for a few seconds and take a photo as the gold begins to lift over the North Sea – flat, calm and gentle against the cold sands today, a contrast to the churning grey of recent days.

Back home for a warm shower, porridge and my day proper to begin. Already it’s been a success. My legs may ache and my body may stiffen as I spend much of the rest of it in a chair in front of a screen, but it started with a run with the sunrise.

On the move

This week, I’ve launched my new professional website Word Struck for writing and training services. So, from now on, I’ll post my weekly thoughts on a writing theme on the Word Struck blog.

photo of the Book of BecauseAs many of you know, I’m a writer. I write for business and for pleasure. I’ve been fortunate enough to make my living from writing of one sort or another, first as a journalist and more recently as a copywriter.

This week, I’ve launched my new professional website Word Struck for writing and training services. So, from now on, I’ll post my weekly thoughts on a writing theme on the Word Struck blog.

This week, I offer my answer to the question why be inspired to a greater love of words in business and in life and preview the latest 26 characters publication The Book of Because, which features my work.

I’m not ditching The Scribbler. I’ll keep on posting about running, racing and triathlons here. And from time to time, I may post links here to Word Struck.

Thanks to everyone who has commented, linked, liked or just dropped in to my little corner of the world wide web. It’s been a great place for me to indulge my love of writing, and that will continue in my new place.

If you’d like to follow me, I’d appreciate the company. I’ll put the kettle on…

Reading wildly

One of the sessions I attended at Wordstock last week was to hear Andy Miller speak about his year of reading dangerously. Picking up and actually finishing books he’d once claimed to read but hadn’t. Books that people consider difficult to read. Books like Moby Dick and Anna Karenina.

There was lots that struck me in his empassioned presentation, but one that chimed true is what he said about the books we have read recently. How they are limited, and for a large part, chosen for us.

Bookshelf full of classics
Books are there for reading

If you still have a bookshop, the fiction section is largely dominated by the top ten hardback or paperback titles, pushed forward by the major publishing companies. Unless it’s a very large, independent or particularly quirky place, there’s little space for anything outside the popular in all genres and the well known classics. And so, those of us who read, get a narrowing choice of the new, and we all pick up “We need to talk about Kevin” or “Wolf Hall’.

Ah, and there’s the other thing that Andy spoke about. If you start a book, you should finish it. And I haven’t finished Wolf Hall. It isn’t very often that I fail to finish a book, but Wolf Hall I put aside after giving it a really good try, with that standard excuse of “Life’s too short to read something I’m not enjoying.”

And yet where would I be if I hadn’t persisted with difficult books? As a student, I toughed it out through the Faerie Queene, various medieval texts and far more impenetrable stuff. I stuck with Dickens Our Mutual Friend, which, quite frankly, really takes some time to get going, but does pay off.

The Japanese have a word for a pile of books waiting to be read – it’s Tsundoku.  I’ve managed to keep mine manageable this year, by virtue of not acquiring new books, until I’ve read the ones I already have. I currently have four in waiting, including two non-fiction titles, but I’m prepared to put them to one side a little longer to take up a challenge to read outside my usual range. To finish books I’ve started, to read some older stuff I may have missed.

I am starting with John Buchan’s 39 Steps, which I don’t expect to be a difficult read, but I prepared to be challenged. This is a rich time for my reading list, with a birthday and Christmas approaching. So I’m asking you to recommend some titles and until the end of January, I’ll read a little more dangerously.

Wordstock 2015 – a festival of words and creative fun

Wordstock, the annual gathering of members of 26 is a place where words bubble up into a rich and fragrant stew; where the tick of time inspires the tock of activity. Where we celebrate creativity, learn, laugh and fire up new writing projects for the next 12 months.

I arrived a little late at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon, so missed the opening celebrations of projects that 26 writers have taken part in during 2015, including 26 Pairs of Eyes, 26 Under a Northern Sky and 26 Children’s Winters.

Think like a poet
Thinking poetically

But I was there for the launch of the latest, which I’m also involved in. Over the next 26 weeks, 26 postcodes will reveal a sestude inspired by a postcode together with the story behind it. Gillian Colhoun kicked things off by reading her piece, based on the Gaelic football ground where Seamus Heaney played. My own contribution, based on Dove Cottage, the Lake District home of William and Dorothy Wordworth, will appear next year.

The day was split into a series of sessions, with a choice of workshops in the morning and afternoon. I first opted for Rishi Dastidar‘s session. As head of verbal identity at BrandPie and a published poet, he’s a mash up of Don Draper and Byron and showed us four ways to use poetry techniques in copywriting.

A packed session, full of useful content and some speedy writing. And I’ve already used one of the techniques to inspire a new brand name. Who says you can’t measure the value of inspiration?

Next up, more poetry from spoken word artist and Barnes’ answer to Eminem Charlie Du Pre. He serenaded us on ukulele, and left us wondering why we’ve never heard rhymes like:  ‘I engage with lots of faces pretty much on a daily basis’, before. Fast-paced, funny and rapping genius.

I spent the afternoon session with independent copywriter, author and trainer, Roger Horberry who loves alliteration even more than I do. He demonstrated that the forms of rhetoric pack a punch in modern marketing. And, for this writer at least, brought back memories of studying Spenser, Donne and Pope at university.

Images of the number 26
Celebrating the best in writing at 26

Self-styled biblio-fundamentalist Andy Miller was next, sharing his experience of actually reading the books that he always wanted to and some he even pretended he had. He finished by ‘persuading’ a handful of 26ers to commit to reading their own choice of books. For my part, I’ve signed up to read John Buchan’s 39 Steps, spurred on by another conversation I had during the day.

The final session was a fascinating insight into storytelling from John Yorke, former Eastenders script editor and head of drama at BBC and Channel 4. I love a good bit of story-theory and this so much fired up my interest that I’ve been looking for the mid points and reversals of fortune in every TV drama I’ve watched since.

I learned something new too. Did you know that the acts in Shakespeare plays were determined by the length of time it took to burn a candle?

Last time I came to Wordstock, I was introduced to the music of Nick Drake and on the journey home, sparked the idea that became 26 Under A Northern Sky along with co-conspirator Sandy Wilkie. This time we collaborated again and have put forward another idea that we both hope will be adopted as another creative brief.

I really couldn’t have asked more from a packed day of words, writers and mind-blowing creativity. The train journey north wasn’t nearly enough time to process it all. And the pile of books on my reading list has grown by at least 3 volumes. If you can make it next year, I heartily recommend it.

Seeking inspiration

In the world of business writing you’ll find plenty of objectives, measures and rationale. Sometimes they even sit alongside insights, research and objectives. And they always come with deadlines. But I’ve rarely found much creative inspiration.

Little wonder really when you think about how hard it is to measure and quantify. What’s the ROI of a book? How much value did watching that film bring to the project? What’s the cost per idea ratio?

Creative inspiration can’t be easily quantified and defies attempts to render it into the boxes of a spreadsheet.

And yet, it’s that spark, that different way of looking at things, that new metaphor that my marketing customers are searching for and hope that creative teams will supply.

As a writer, its almost as hard for me to quantify its importance in terms of how it makes me feel or inspires me to think and write. Except to say that it is.

Performers at the Edinburgh Fringe festival
Performers at the Edinburgh Fringe festival

And that’s why I make an effort to seek it out, enjoy it and expect nothing from it. Yet it’s proved its worth beyond measure.

My yearly trips to the Edinburgh Book Festival are a liberal dousing of inspiration. The speakers, events and readings a rich seam, along with travelling there to take in the sights, sounds and general hullaballoo of the fringe – a huge outpouring of creative energy.

Art, theatre, cinema, music, travel, nature – these have all supplied inspiration in their time. And when all else fails I’ll read. Stories will never fail me.

On Sunday, I went to hear Simon Armitage at the Durham Book festival. He was talking about and reading from his latest prose work, based on walking part of the South West coast, relying on strangers for food and lodging and giving poetry readings at his stopping points. Themes of journey and return. Of language and experience. Of travelling in the landscape, encountering strangers. Of simultaneously craving company and wanting to be alone.

I filled a page of my notebook with phrases and filled my head with even more thoughts and ideas which may spark and grow. What will become of them, it’s too early to say. Even when I write I may not realise that’s where the idea came from.

But I was able to thank Simon Armitage for helping me find a way in to a piece of personal writing. I first encountered his poem ‘Not the Furniture Game’ http://www.simonarmitage.com/kid.html on a Dark Angels course. It’s a striking, harsh and rich piece in its own right, and when  used as a loose framework for our own creative writing, produced deep, emotional responses. It’s an exercise I’ve repeated on subsequent courses, with different objects, and it’s always bubbled up beautiful, touching and expressive images.

It helped me find a way into a personal piece I was finding impossible to write. When draft after draft nothing fit, everything sounded trite and cliched, I used the structure and exercise to unlock a way in. Sometimes that’s all it takes – a nudge in the right direction.

This weekend I’m off to Wordstock for another dose of inspiration. A journey, the fellowship of fellow writers, and a chance to listen and enjoy a range of different talks and sessions. Last time, it inspired the amazing 26 Under a Northern Sky collection.

Where do you find your creative inspiration?