Sep 30

Quarter Notes 3 2022

Another episode of the quarter notes, written purely for my benefit so I can remember what I was up to!

A bowler throws to the batter; behind them the Media Stand
T20 Cricket at Lords
  • I started the quarter with another trip to London, this time to go to my first cricket match, a T20 country game at Lords. I’d been invited along by a Twitter Friend to learn about the game as I had never watched it and my placement at the Commonwealth Games was at the Cricket. Excellent time was had a Lords – even if my first impression of the Pavillion was a sea of men in blazers, with the only women being staff members.
  • I added another Michelin restaurant to the list, this time Wild Honey.  An excellent lunch.
Leather Glad men marching at Pride
Pride Parade, London
  • The Saturday was Pride in London, not something I knew when I booked the weekend. So I had a great time making my way slowly back to the hotel along the route of the parade. I was all in black so very, very underdressed for the colourful crowd, but did have a great time (link to pictures)
view down a hill to a river swimming pool, with children and parents all swimming
The Swimming river at Youlgreve
  • Two days later…tested positive for Covid, my first exposure. Luckily I had a mild case, so minimal impact. I’m not sure when I was exposed, possibly in the travel down to London, but it could have been earlier.  The timing was not good – I was due to be house sitting in Youlgreve for a week – back to the Peaks. A few messages later, the house sitting was still on but my plan to do a lot of walking that week was not happening. I did manage some at the weekend, but before that was not leaving the house and exposing people
view from balcony at Chatsworth. Floor is black and white tiles. walls are covered in classic paintings.
Main Gallery at Chatsworth
  •  I took the opportunity to visit Chatsworth, which was absolutely amazing. I loved how they are still collecting art and mixing this up with the older stuff.
A view looking up at Pen Y Fan and Corn Du mountains. Blue skies so you can actually see them.
Corn Du and Pen Y Fan
  • A week later, I was out walking back into the Brecons. I was staying in a different YHA, this one with a lovely direct route up to Pen Y Fan, that was extremely quiet until the last mile or so. So more distance and elevation achieved.
  • A quiet weekend was had before the Commonwealth Games started. Except for the running accident – I  put my foot in a hole and really strained the ankle. Cue a few days with limited mobility but luckily I had crutches at home.  I kept using them for the next 2 weeks at the Games, as lots of pain. Only nearly 3 weeks later did I feel OK going without them and there was still bruising.
View looking down at the playing field at Coventry stadium, with coloured smoke and fireworks
Smoke and Fireworks at the Rugby
  • You can read my Games  experience here . In addition, I had tickets to see the finals of the Rugby 7s in Coventry on the Sunday, which was an excellent event. 
A view of Fan Y Big, Cribyn, Pen Y Fan and Corn Du. Green hills and blue sky
A view of Fan Y Big, Cribyn, Pen Y Fan and Corn Du
  • Headed back to the Brecons in August, deciding to do the Pen Y Fan Horseshoe The original plan was to walk from the YHA Danyenwalt, making a 18m loop. Two things stopped that, the temperatures and my sore ankle. Next plan was to drive closer to a car park, so I was out the hostel by 700 and parked up ready to go at 730. I headed up to the Gwaun Cerrig Llwydion plateau and made my way to Fan Y Big and Cribyn. At this point the ankle was not happy so I bailed out before Pen Y Fan and headed back. It was still 9.5 miles! And one swollen ankle.
Selfie with the Snowdon Peak marker behind me in the mist
On Top of Snowdon. The peak marker is behind me
  • Next weekend was Snowdon. Again I parked down in Nant Peris, staying in the Pen Y Pass Hostel. At least this time the hostel was doing its own food, unlike the first stay in June. Following morning, off to catch the bus, going down to pick up the start of the Watkins trail, for a steady 1000m of ascent. The bus driver was ready to warn his passengers it was a longer walk, but we were all ready for it.  It started off in good weather, but all you could see ahead was the clouds over the summit. Upwards, most of it a fairly straightforward ascent up clear paths. The last 200m or so was more a slight scramble, with no absolute clear path, made worse by low visibility and a high wind, that fortunately was blowing onto the mountain. Finally got to the top, with a gale and cloud cover – also a queue for the summit marker. I did not wait for it, I’d done the training walk and it was now time to travel back down. I headed down the Miners’ track, straight back to the hostel.  My ankle is still sore, but it’s getting better every day.
  • Another weekend, another hiking trip, but this one was a lot more low key. Up to Bollington to meet a past colleague, with a trip along the Gritstone way and a great night out. With a fair bit of wine. One more small walk in the morning before heading back
  • Next weekend – back to the Brecons. This Horseshoe walk was not beating me!  This time managed the full circuit all the way round, including Pen Y Fan
A group of people in hiking gear, listening to group lead talking about Nepal and Hiking
Taking a break
  • The holiday is getting closer and I headed up to Sheffield on a pre-trip weekend with Jagged Globe. This was for all the groups heading out to Nepal, so there were about 45 people there across about 10 trips.  There was only 1 other person from my trip there – turns out she lives about 3 miles from me 😊  The trip has 7 people listed, let’s hope we all make it out there.
  • I went along to the Wolverhampton Mountaineering club for a couple of indoor climbing sessions In September; the intention is to carry on after Nepal, building up skills for next year.
View of a tree, with college in the background, with light and tree reflected in the windows
Catz Quad
  • I went back to college for a Gaudy again – the last one was in 2016.  A very good turn out of people across the years 83-92.  I was in one of the old rooms, which have magically being turned into en-suite rooms – when I was there, only 3rd years had sinks, now it looks like all have a full bathroom squeezed in.
  • The last outing of the quarter was down to London to speak at a conference about the metaverse (or lack of it). I treated myself to a tasting menu at the Ritz – gorgeous meal.  I particularly liked the at-table preparation of the pigeon and sauce!
Aug 11

Quarter Notes 2 2022

Selfie of me, with trig marker behind me
Me on Wolfescote Hill
  • I started April with a trip to the Peaks. It was supposed to be a walking weekend with my Wine Club weekend, but covid intervened. I ended up visiting on my own for a few walks.
  • The rest of April was very quiet, little done. I carried on with fitness, getting progressively fiter and stronger. I have a weekly session with the PT for strength training and the rest of the time is mainly spent on walking and running, getting in as much elevation as possible
  • At the end of the month, I made a trip down to London for a conference.  I was on one panel and moderated another
Carrots in various form on a black dish
Carrot Dish at the Restaurant Home
  • The following week I headed up to Leeds for another conference, this just listening. It was supposed to be on “the metaverse” (which does not exist) but had morphed to general digital marketing stuff. So not quite what I expected.  Whilst there, I added another fine dining experience, at HOME. I had the tasting menu; there were a few outstanding courses, but in general, was a bit underwhelmed by this.
Image through a pair of iron railing gates of a house
Birks House
  • Whilst I was in the area, I took the opportunity of visit a number of locations associated with my ancestors. A few churches and also Birks House, where John Harpin died after falling on his own sword.
  • The next 2 weekends were spent in the Peak District. The first at Eyam, the second a replay of the Wine Club weekend.   Lots of walking, talking and not quite as much wine as we would have had in the earlier years.
Very bad selfie with only half a face showing; me on the cobbled street of the Royal mile with runners heading down the hill
On the royal mile
  • My Weekends away continued with a trip up to Edinburgh, to take part in the delayed Edinburgh Half Marathon. I’d originally booked it do the full in 2020, but dropped down a level given my current fitness levels.
  • Next I headed to Snowdon for the long Jubilee weekend. For this, I’d booked a guide and we did scrambling and skills weekend. We did not make it to the top of Snowdon but that was never the plan – there’s another weekend for that.
  • June then got busy – I actually got on a plane again. First of all to Amsterdam, for a conference about the Metaverse (which does not exist 😊) and then to Cannes with the work team for the Festival of Creativity. That was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. We have some work from it, which is excellent, as well as a great list of new contacts.  I also managed to get a great hill walk in at the end of the week, heading up to Grasse and the mountains behind the town.
taken from hotel upper floor, a view of the Cannes beach and bay
A view of the Cannes
Aug 11

Quarter Notes 1 2022

I missed 2 years, but then again, so did a lot of the world.  Now back to usual service of boring blogging.

The big news is I sold the London flat and moved back up to the Midlands, which meant buying a car. Still not bought a new place but working on it

Crouching at the summit marker on Pen Y Fan, 886m high
At top of Pen Y Fan

I started the year with a trip to The Brecons. My trip to Nepal has been postponed twice and is now on for October 2022. But lockdowns and covid messed with my head and I let all the fitness go. So I have employed a personal trainer and making the most of being closer to Wales to get some hills in. The first weekend continues my tradition of going away for New Years, with a trip to Crickhowell for some cold, wet hill walking.

Indoor ice walls, with people holding ropes and climbing the walls
Ice climbing

In February, I finally did my Winter Mountaineering Course. This was cancelled ion 2019 at the last moment – I was actually in Glasgow ready to get on a bus up to Fort William.  Then I was fit, now I was not. I should have delayed, but still made sure I went up, did the skills and made the most of the walking I could get it, even if did not do all the hills with the course.  I also got a great day doing indoor climbing.

people in running gear on the closed roads of London
Winterrun 2022

Immediately after that week, I headed to London for a weekend tourism.  I went to the Theatre to see James McAvoy in Cyrano de Bergerac and then took part on the London Winter Run 10k, maintaining my streak of competing in all these races.  I finished off the weekend with a Sunday lunch at Rules, the “oldest restaurant in London”

selfie with me in a wooly hat with a hill ridge behind me
On a hill top,

At the beginning of March, I was back in Wales, the first of a number of weekends booked at hostels in great walking areas.  This one was at Danywenalt, in the Brecons

Myself and sister stanning in front of the Wolves football pitch with medals after our 10k run
We have our medals
  • The final trip of the quarter was down to the South Coast, to meet up with a work colleague for a few days actually working together.
  • And wrapped everything up with the Wolverhampton 10k, run with my sister.
Aug 11

The Commonwealth Collective

Selfie of me in volunteer uniform with Edgbaston Cricket pitch in background
On duty at Edgbaston

Ah, my time is done, the Games are over and now to reflect on the time I spent as a volunteer as part of the Commonwealth Collective.    After failing for 2012 but getting in for 2017, (You can read all about my experience at the World Athletics in 2017) I decided to try and be part of another multi-sports event – the 2022 Commonwealth Games held in my local city Birmingham.  

Recruitment

I registered as a volunteer in September 2020, when covid was hitting everything and this was hope for the future, that things would change. I got invited to an interview in October 2021, over a year later, with a role confirmed in Feb 2022. These things take time – there were over 500 volunteer interviewers talking to over 20000 applicants from a pool of around 40000 people.

The Role

Unlike 2017, this time the role I was offered stuck all the way through – I was invited to be part of the Protocol Team based at Edgbaston (for the Women’s T20 cricket) – they’d selected “confident and culturally aware candidates with excellent communication and interpersonal skills” which is a nice piece of feedback on how I came across the interview.

Chatting in the various Facebook groups later, it turned out that few who were selected for this role knew exactly what we were in for but all was to become clear in our training in April.  In essence we were there to help out in the Games Family Lounges, which were basically hospitality lounges for the team staff and guests, Commonwealth governance, politicians and designated VIPs. This involved greeting them in the drop off zones, directing them to the lounge, helping with transports back and answering any questions they had. There was a bit of door opening and sorting out coffees, but most of it was to be present and supportive as needed. So similar to what I finally ended up doing in 2017 (just interacting with guests), but indoors with a smaller, select bunch of people.

The Team

Having talked to quite a few volunteers, our team were very lucky across the board.  We had relatively short shifts of 6 hours, either afternoon or evening. We had a purpose built room at Edgbaston, with a catering crew that did this all the time at the event, we had air conditioning (very nice with these temps). We were also never overly busy, as cricket was not seen as a hot ticket, the max attendance was 111.  A better experience for me than 2017 in general, but with some of the same considerations

  • I come across as having great interpersonal skills but exercising them is hard!  I was exhausted after every shift and had to have quiet time. People-ing is just hard work. In contrast, I watched team members totally feed off the energy, chatting to people, working from group to group checking all was OK. In contrast, they could not be put on a post on their own and be expected to stay there, 😊  So a mixed team was always going to be needed.  I do think that if I am lucky enough in the future, I would prefer a more task based role than a general people based one.
  • These games appear to have far better volunteer organisation than 2017. There were very few stories of roles being dropped, massive changes being made or people being unhappy. There were definitely some issues, with some of the (paid) Team Managers not necessarily doing what they needed to do and some volunteers having a hard time, but overall, it seemed to be a lot happier and more organised.  The general feedback and tone of comments in the “back channels” were very positive. It also helped that these channels were also positive when it came to the balance of experienced vs novices. I understand the selection process looked hard to give new volunteers a chance, combining them with old hands, so this mix worked well.
From the balcony,the medal ceremony at the podium for the T20 cricket, with New Zealand, India and Australia in Bronze, Silver and Gold.
The Medal Ceremony

The Experience

Overall I loved it. There were frustrating moments, but I’d made the decision to just go with the flow, to not get annoyed at anything and focus on what I needed to do; by doing that I made sure I had a good time and presented my best face to our guests.   The team was great, pulling together to make sure we delivered the best experience possible.

I am honoured to have the chance to be part of this, of being able to showcase Birmingham to the world. As always, the energy and enthusiasm shines through, and guests, teams, athletes and media were all positive about it. 

We had some really interesting guests in the lounge, from regulars such as the Anguilla delegates through to the VIPS such as Malala and Theresa May. We even got a royal visit from Prince Edward, but that was not on my shift. 

The Aftermath

There’s always a thread across the social groups about how events like this will be the best experience ever, you’ll never have done anything like it and you’ll make friends for life. For some, that is the reality. For people like me, it’s never quite like that, because we all have different approaches to people and events. It was an amazing time, I really enjoyed it, but I never quite get the transformational experience that some others have.  I have no regrets in doing it, but also no post event blues that many in the groups are talking about. On to the next thing I say!

Crowd of people all in the orange and blue voluteer uniform at the after-party
The Volunteer After-Party
Oct 03

A History: Florence Pashley

Florence Pashley, 2nd from Left. 1st from left is her monther-in-law, Jemima Robinson (formerly Hickman)

Florence Pashley was my great-grandmother and was one of the first relatives we started to gather information on way back in the 80’s when all of this research was done by occasional trips to London to the records office (in Islington at that point) and trips to local records.  A slow build-up of information that often left more questions than answers, especially when we could not find the next link in the chain.

As I recall, it started off because granddad was never 100% sure of her surname, or rather the surnames of his maternal grandparents, (he was also not 100% sure of his birthday until he had to get a passport, celebrating it on one day then finding out his birth certificate was another date).  Her surname was known to be Pashley, but other names that were possible were Fletcher or Tolley. So what was happening here?  Our starting point was the birth certificate.

Florence Elizabeth Pashley was born 6 November 1899, to Kate Malia and Samuel Pashley, who was listed as a Curtain Maker. What surprised us was the location of the birth – Wolverhampton Workhouse. What was Kate doing there?  Where was Samuel? And what were they doing in Wolverhampton?

Kate and Samuel were married 18 months earlier, 21 May 1898, in Nottingham. Samuel was listed as as Lacemaker, born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire but now resident at 127 Waterway St, Nottingham.  His father, Frank, was also a Lacemaker and came from a family in the same industry, all from the area around Chesterfield but starting to appear in Nottingham, which had a thriving international lace industry.

Kate was listed as resident at the same address, and her father named as John Malia, a cycle maker. And that is all we know, that is the only record I have managed to find that references John – or at least confirmed as him. I have no birth record for Kate, nor any mother’s name.  From later evidence, there was about 11 years age difference between them, although on the marriage certificate they were listed as Samuel being 28 (correct) and Kate being 21 (about 4 years older than we think she was). If they married for pregnancy reasons, there is no record of another birth around that time, Florence appears to be their first child.

The only route we had to explore was the Pashleys, and we started with the parents marriage certificate (Enoch Pashley married Elizabeth Clayworth,  20 Apr 1861, both were living in Brampton , DBY) and slowly, through message boards and personal genealogical sites connected that line to research that had been done elsewhere. This family is the one that has connected with my oldest known ancestor, the Del Rodes from Sowerby in the 14th century.

The next breakthrough into Florence’s life came with the release of the 1901 census. Here she was  -Florence Pashley, 1 year old, born Wolverhampton and living at 51 Park St, Wolverhampton. But not with Kate and Samuel, instead she is listed as an Adopted Child, living with Sarah Ann and Frederick Fletcher, along with Sarah’s brother, Frederick Tolley. So that’s where the other surnames come from!  Sarah and Frederick were 23 and 26 respectively and had married at the end of 1898.

There was no formal need to register adoptions in England until 1927 ; many were private, found through networks, or even through newspaper ads. Charities were often involved. But in this case, there was a high probability it was Poor Law adoption; where Poor Law Guardians were appointed to take over the parental rights of children who had been deserted, or orphaned or judged unfit to look after them. The Guardians found families for them, often for long term fostering as the guardians were still responsible; this was also known as Boarding out.

There was no record of a Samuel and Kate Pashley in the 1901 census, so my initial guess was that they had died; Samuel first, leading to Kate being in the Workhouse, and then Kate. Entering into a workhouse was generally voluntary because there was no other choice. With no local family, perhaps that was the only place where Kate could get the care needed for childbirth?  The Workhouse provided lodging and food, so may have been a better choice than trying to head back  up to Nottingham for family.  But as time went by, it appears the story was stranger than that.

Let’s take a short side trip to look at the Workhouse

The first workhouse in Wolverhampton was built in 1700; this was closed with the building of the  Wolverhampton Union Workhouse in 1836-38, with space for 750 inmates. (which is about 3% of the population of Woverhampton at the time). Over the next few decades it grew to house around 1000 people, but even so, in 1885, the Guardians were sending people elsewhere as they ran out of room. Workhouses were seen as a solution to some of society’s problems, but created even more. Conditions were bad, children were being exploited through sending them out to work and overcrowding common. Wolverhampton Workhouse was reviewed by The Lancet   as part of their investigation of Workshouse Infirmaries in 1867 (extract here ) This was just after new wards had been opened and the inspectors were quite pleased with the new areas, even if the rest of the place was not the same, with this description of the elderly men’s ward:

Their life is practically one of perpetual confinement, with the sole prospect of being released by death. But, further than the mere confinement, their generally dirty aspect struck us with peculiar pain. We never saw criminal prisoners in such dirty clothes, or with such filthy persons. There are no baths, and, with one exception, the lavatories are insufficient. The fifty inmates of the ward already noticed wash in a kind of sink, and only two towels are given out daily for their use.

This was 30 years before Florence’s birth, but overcrowding did not ease, leading to the development of a new Workhouse in 1900. This is now New Cross Hospital in Woverhampton. But Florence was born in the old, dirty, cramped workhouse and conditions must have been poor.

But, back to Florence. I have no ideas where she was in 1911. I’ve tried all sorts of combinations for the census search, but nothing can be found for Florence or her adopted family.  The next data point I have is her marriage to James Robinson, on Valentines Day 1925. One of the witnesses was an Annie Tolley, who appears to be the wife of her adopted brother; we knew the family stayed connected from granddad’s recollections, but here it was in writing.

James was a Pipe-Moulder, from Brierley Hill. His parents were Charles Robinson and Jemima Hickman.  Charles was listed as a Labourer on the wedding certificate and on the 1911 census, but before then he’d been a brickmaker and by 1939 he was listed as a Steel Worker. Typical of many men in the area, his whole life working was in the heavy industries. Jemima was not a stranger to outside work, she was working as a Claymaker in 1891 at the age of 16 and even after marriage and two children she was listed as a Brick Finisher in the 1901 census.

Both Florence and James were listed as resident at 7 North St, Brierley Hill. Taking a look at Streetview, whatever house they lived in has been demolished, it’s all newer houses or empty land. James has been born in 10 North St in 1900. He’d also end up dying there in 1958, this time at 1 North St.  James had not stayed in North St all the time though; in 1911 his family were in Wordsley and in 1939 James and Florence were living in Church St – which was the road perpendicular to North St! They did not move far at all; I recall visiting Florence in the same road as a child in the 70s

Florence and James had 3 children and by the time James died, they had all married and started their own families.  Florence did not marry again, living alone in Brierley Hill, until her death in 1983. At this point, it was never clear what had happened to her birth parents. 

But I mentioned the story got stranger?  it turns out, Samuel and Kate Pashley had not died but had in fact emigrated!

We haven’t been able to track all the movements, but this is what we know so far

  • in 1890, Samuel H Pashley, a single Lacemaker aged 21, travelled from Liverpool to New York on the Etruria. How long he stayed there we don’t know
  • But his father visited in 1892. A Frank Pashley, 50 years old, a lacemaker from Nottingham, travelled over from Liverpool to New York in the Etruria
  • At some point, he travelled back, as in May 1898, Samuel married Kate at the Registry Office in Nottingham
  • 18 months later, in November 1899, Kate gave birth to Florence in Wolverhampton Workshop
  • Sometime in 1899, Samuel moved to the US, as recorded in his 1910 census results. Although I can’t find a passenger record
  • In June 1900, Samuel Pashley was registered in the US Census, a boarder in Philadephia
  • On 24th Oct 1900, Kate Pashley travelled on her own from Liverpool to Philadelphia
  • A son, Frank Samuel Pashley, was born 20 Mar 1902 in Philadelphia
  • In 1904, Kate and Frank had travelled back to the UK, as there was a record of them entering the US on 24th Oct 1904, to return home having being visting Nottingham

So we know that Samuel had moved back the US in 1899, probably while Kate was pregnant ans was living in Philadelphia. Kate joined him on 1900, leaving Florence behind. This may have been in the workhouse or with the Fletchers. They had another child, Frank, and visited to the family in Nottingham before coming back the the US. Did Kate visit Florence?  Or was the decision made to leave her there without a visit. We will never know.

As far as I can see, that’s the last time they visited the UK, there are no other passenger records seen.  We can track them in the US census, finding them in Newburgh, Orange County, NY in 1910 and they were still there in 1925.  Sometime in the next 5 years, Kate died as Samuel was living with son Frank in the 1930 census, having moved to Beacon.

Frank married Elizabeth Greene sometime before 1925 and moved to Beacon, staying there until his death in 1969. They had one daughter, Jane, in 1923. From lowly beginnings, the family were moving up in the world, with Elizabeth and Jane both being left 1/3rd of a $10k estate, which could be seen as the equivalent of $60k each today. Jane married Henry Rogers in 1943 and died, in New Windsor, in 2003. Through Elizabeth, Jane was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and from the death notice was a fine, church-going member of society. I’ve always wondered if I could have met her and if she had known of the aunt left behind in England after having been born in a workhouse.

May 12

Home testing for Covid-19

Covid test components – bags, vials and swabs

As part of this long lockdown I’ve been tracking my health through the app developed by the Covid Sympton Study I try and go in and record symptons (or lack of them) daily.

During the nearly 2 months I’ve been doing this (I think it’s 2 months, time gets a bit concatenated) I’ve had 2 sets of not quite right; the first in the middle of March with a heavy chest and breathing, the second this last week with itchy, weeping eyes and again a heavy chest. No other symptons apart from those – which could be a chest infection and then later hayfever. I’ve also not been out the house for 6 weeks – so if I am positive now, it’s been a long, slow burn or I’ve caught it off a delivery. (very unlikely)

On Friday, I received an email from the study, asking me to take a test, either because my symptoms have triggered something, or I’m in a control group.

“As you know, we are using data from millions of people to determine who may have COVID-19 based on their symptoms. You’ve recently reported feeling unwell with a particular combination of symptoms. We would like to test you to understand if you have the virus right now. This does not necessarily mean you have COVID-19 as we are also inviting some people we believe do not have the virus.”

(email from Covid 19 sudy)

So here is my experience to date, to compare with the account of a drive in test from Nick

  • Email came in during the evening. Clicked through to Government test site and saw I had options for booking a drive through or to order a test. Trying to find out WHERE the drive through test would be and if I could walk to it failed – there is no real information, so it meant I needed a home test. None available, as not bookable until the morning.
  • Logged on at 8am and home test available. Filled in form, following the instructions in the email to make sure categories were correct. Disconnect 1: Instructions and form fields to complete were not aligned between email and actual form
  • 1230 am Sunday – so 16.5 hours after booking – got an email that test had been despatched and was due that day. It is delivered by Amazon
  • Sunday afternoon – test arrives. I wiped it down; by the time I opened it, it was too late to book a courier. The courier has to be booked BEFORE taking test and you can only book until 4pm
  • Monday, fully read the 12 page booklet, which covers the 5 steps. They have done their best to make something quite complicated simple to follow, but it is still complicated. I would guess there are going to be many wrongly done tests, or wrongly labelled tests. Booked courier. It is collected by eCourier (or Royal Mail)
  • Monday evening; registered test and then took test. You need to do it between 9pm and 7am before the courier. Red the instructions, laid everything out. Slowly followed the instructions and still got one step wrong! (missed a label, managed to get it sorted)
    • wash hands.
    • take swab and swirl it on tonsils (or where tonsils were in my case) for 15 seconds, not touching tongue, teeth or rest of mouth.
    • put same swab up nose about an inch. swirl it for 15 seconds. (get this the right way round throat before nose!)
    • Put swab in vial (and remember to loosen it first, as you can’t put swab down to open it
    • Label (or do this before), but in plastic bag one, put in plastic bag 2 and seal; label again, put it in the packaging box (not the easiest to build), security seal it, put address label on.
  • At this point, i think about the account of the drive through study who needed to do the testing in a car. HOW!! you need room, you need to be able to lay things out. A hard job there.
  • Wait. The courier is due between 8am and 4pm on Tuesday
  • 4:15pm Tuesday. No courier. Follow instructions on email (and instruction booklet) and call the service centre (because there’s a time limit on test liability. Disconnect 2: Service Centre has time for collection until 6pm, unlike email, booklet and courier booking website. Disconnect 3: the service centre can’t do anything and gives me a number to call the courier.
  • Call courier. Wait. Disconnect 4: I shouldn’t call the courier, I need to email. He gives me an email address. A PERSONAL email address. I wonder how many emails poor Charlie is getting. Disconnect 5: You book the courier before the test as there is 48 hours from the swab before expiring (according to the booklet) – so it needs to be TESTED before 48 hours. If you delay the courier to the next day, then unlikely to be tested. Courier companyseems to think 48 hours for collecting.
  • 4:45pm. Courier turns up
  • 4:50 pm I get an email thanking me for ordering my Covid test. Wondering if this is a mistake, or if one of the calls I made just triggered a new order. (and I assume added the wrong order to the daily stats?)

Now I wait for results, which should come by test in the next 2-3 days. It’s a complex series of steps to get right; it’s not an easy test to self-adminster. Having a simpler blood antigen test can’t come soon enough!

Apr 07

Quarter Notes 4 2019

Hah. blogging – what’s that?  I see more daily notes happening in these time of lockdowns..so finally documenting what I did in the last quarter of 2019, when the future was rosy, seems a good idea. Remember those times!

View of sea cliffs and sea, with climbers in the back ground
South coast cliffs
  • Bournemouth Half Marathon: I’d originally signed up to the do the full, but with a summer training for a mountain, I decided that switching to the half would be better. A lovely event, although with a route that was a lot of back and forth – and going through the finish line multiple times was a bit weird (weirder for the  full runners I think). I did a coastal walk on the Saturday to get my hill work in.
Two runners heading towards finish with ferris wheel in background.
Runners at Bournmouth Running Festival
  • Pre-Trip weekend: As part of the prep for my trip to Aconcagua, there was a weekend up in Sheffield with Jagged Globe in preparation. Members of all 3 of their expeditions were there, to get an advice and information about the trip. We also did a couple of walks in the peaks to get some time in the hills.  An excellent weekend, although unfortunately I picked up what appeared to be a stress facture that plagued me for the next few months. It didn’t finally clear up until Feb (so I didn’t do the remaining races of the year)
The team lined up with their alpacas
The team and the alpacas
  • Company Meeting:  we had a 2 day company meeting down on the Isle of Wight. All was looking good in our future plans (hah, no one expected a global pandemic). And then we went and walked alpacas
  • Hansard: An actual theatre trip, this time to the national, to see Hansard. This was a 2 parter with Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings. Set in the late 80s, a fascinating reminder of the political (and social) attitudes of the time, many (though not all) have moved forward. This kept me focused for the full (interval-less) 90 minutes of the play. Although left with the feeling that white, public school educated men are still in charge and still screwing things up
Mom and Dad posing at their wedding aniversary
Mom and Dad at their wedding anniversary party
  • Mom and Dad Wedding anniversary: the big surprise!. We’d (my sisters and I) had been working on this for at least 6 months.  I’d devised a reason to visit (as I wouldn’t be there for Christmas, I’d come up now for dinner) and the surprise was set. We had organised to have a meal out and wouldn’t give all the details, turns out Mom though we’d set up a small meal with rest of family. She hadn’t realised we’d set up an afternoon tea party with friends and family from the last 50+ years. There were tears of surprise and lots of fun
  • Trip Prep: most of the other ‘events’ in this quarter were about prepping for the Aconcagua trip. Doctors’ visits for vaccinations (Rabies is a very expensive set of injections! Well, expensive for the UK), buying the final bits of kit, getting prescription sunglasses for the mountain). Got all of these fitted in between regular visits to Germany.
  • Aconcagua:  finally, the trip I’d been working for all year. There’ll be a write up at some point, but in general, an excellent trip
Orange and white tent set up at edge of cliff with more tents on plateau below. Mountains in the distance
My tent at camp 3

And that’s it for the year. The business travel has tended to mean my activities are reduced from years before, but the business gives me far more opportunities for expeditions and travel, even if the smaller weekly and weekend events are curtailed.

Oct 08

Quarter Notes 3 2019

Summer is a memory, the leaves are falling and it’s time for quarter notes number 3 of the year.  So what have I been up to?

Henley regatta - dressed up crowds facing the river
  • First up in this quarter was Henley Regatta.  I went on both the Friday and the Sunday this year, catching up with a friend from New Zealand and various army rowing connections.   The weather was excellent, the rowing was great and a really good time was had. 
  • An actual social event with friends! It was a supposed to be a follow up to the earlier walk around Richmond, but with a BBQ at Juliet’s house instead of a pub lunch.  But this time, the others declined to do the walking bit, so I got my training in around Box Hill before joining them for wine and grilled stuff.
  • Quite a few training and running events this quarter. There was a 5k around the Olympic park, a couple of half marathons, an ultra, another 25 walk. There were 3 days along the North Downs Way and plenty of trips to Box Hill.   It is all adding up.  I also had another trip to Chamonix, for an ultra running and yoga retreat. 
  • I had a follow-up MRI scan for the research group I’m part of.  They’d not found any “sinister” issues in the first scan (and that is a terrible word to use in a report!). There will be second follow-up n 6 months time
Oct 08

Operation Fitter Rachel: Sept

Yes, another month with improved motivation.  Not perfect, but getting there.

A group of runners posed, in the mountains

The numbers

  • 23 activities.  (+3, some great quality sessions)
  • 37 hrs (- 11. back to more normal parameters in events, no 12 hour walk in there, up 10 on Jul)
  • 101 miles.  (-27, again not skewed by a 35m event, so therefore in line with plan, up 30 from AUg)

This month was topped and tailed by events.  At the start of the month I did a 25km walk, called the Thames Bridges Trek.  Organised by the same team who organise the ultra’s I do, this was a walk from Putney to Bermondsey, crossing over all the bridges.  All on pavement, so not the best for the feet, it was still an excellent event.

The month ended with Ealing Half Marathon.  definitely not raced!  Used this as part of a heavy training weekend, with 10 miles done the day before.  As ever, amazing organisation for the closed road event and massive local turnout of support. I really do love this race

I returned to Chamonix for a running and yoga weekend, organised by Adharanand Finn, Tom and Rachel Bonn Payn. I was concerned about this, as “beginners welcome” and “need to be able to complete a half marathon” are conflicting messages in the sales bumpf!  I was both right and wrong with my concerns.  I was, by far, the slowest. My fitness training has not been targeted at running up hills but at slowly slogging up them carrying weights!  But the team were amazing and made it work. I had some great runs and walks in the mountains. The yoga was also enlightening, being specifically designed for runners. This meant I enjoyed it rather then spending the session not being able to do a lot, which is my usual state.

I have finally purchased my weight vest. Now I’m wondering if I can get it on a plane so I can do weighted walks in Germany

Sep 02

Operation Fitter Rachel: August

a view of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, looking west across the coast,
Seven Sisters cliffs

August was better than July, definitely in motivation.  Felt I was back on the plan and starting to see results of training coming through.

The numbers

  • 20 activities (-2 but all quality, not just to and from gym/work)
  • 46 hours activity (+19 hours (although slightly exaggerated due to one event)
  • 128 miles (+57)

Not every session was completed but overall, I think a good month of training.  My strength training went up a level, I’ve now started step ups/down with the mountain boots, whilst carrying weights. I’m going to be getting a weight vest to add to this – and makes it slightly more aligned with actual mountain work, as I’ll be carrying weight in pack, not in hands. One of the most boring sessions was the hour I spent running up and down the Chiswick Bridge steps, in the rain.  My calves ached for 3 days!  I am going to be adding calf raises to the routines.

The month included a half marathon (which was my slowest ever, as not doing any speed work obviously means you have no speed.  I spent 3 days on the North Downs Way, carrying kit but stopping in hotels.  This was a good training event, although hills could have been more.

I wrapped the month up with an ultra – 35 miles walked along the South Coast, from Eastbourne, out along the Seven Sisters, cutting inland up to the South Downs and then down to Brighton and Hove.  14 hours total, 12 walking, I cut 2 hours off my last 55km from last year, so a good result.  More importantly, it’s 2 days after and I’m feeling pretty good, so the training is definitely working.

14 weeks left for training and it intensifies again in September. Onwards!

Looking down across the vineyards to Denbies hotel, with the chalk cliffs of Box Hill behind
Denbies Vineyard and Box Hill
Aug 16

Operation Fitter Rachel: July

looking down a mountain, covered in pine trees, to the valley and the town of Chamonix
Chamonix from above

July was basically a disaster when it came to training. And I think that is obvious as I’m only now just writing about it. Travel, illness, trainer being on holiday, all conspired to drive away any mojo and determination I had.. And that’s just not good enough. Thankfully August is turning out better, but that’s for the next report

The Numbers

  • 22 Activities (-8)
  • 27 hours of activity (-)
  • 71 miles (+8)

But you look at the number and it does not appear too bad.  Fewer activities, but I was recording less of the short walks/runs to office or trainer. Slightly more miles and the same time spent in training.  But it should have been higher, I missed a lot of planned sessions and the tracking I do on fitness markers did not show much progress. So I held steady, but did not improve.

During the month I did 3 trips to Box Hill, trying out different routes each time, but practicing steady uphill walking and then running flats and the safe downhills.

A selfie of me in the Olympic Stadium, on the track
On the Track

I took part in a free women’s 5k race around the Olympic Stadium,, run jointly by BBC Get Inspired and UK Athletics. The lovely thing about that was the start and finish were in the stadium and it was great to run around the track.

The last week of the month involved a trip to Chamonix, where the plan was to do a mix of working and walking.  Unfortunately, a stomach bug put paid to that and I only managed 1 walk, but it was excellent. 5.5 hours of walking, 1500m elevation and then 8 minutes down in the cable. I’ll be going back as it’s an excellent place for walking.

View up into the mountains from apartment in Chamonix
View from Chamonix apartment
Jul 14

Quarter Notes 2 2019

Isn’t this year going quickly?  That’s what it feels like – I quite like the theory that years go quicker as you grow older, because they become a smaller fraction of your life.  So, what have I been up to?  Honestly, not a lot.  training, working. But not much else.

Canal in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam canals
  • First up was https://blog.bibrik.com/archives/2019/04/race_report_-_manchester_marathon_2019.htmlManchester Marathon.  And then later on the month was London Marathon. You can read the full reports of those in my earlier posts.
  • Still doing half my time (not quite, but that’s what it feels like) in Germany, so mid-week activities are quite reduced.  Although this quarter, I had a couple of trip to Amsterdam instead, which was a nice change. A couple of meals with friends in the quarter, but not that many.
Yellow Irises bordering a pond, Isabella Plantation.
Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park
  • I tried something a bit different in May, spending a week in the Lake District on a “work from home” week. 
  • Moving into June, I started to up my weekend walking as part of the training plan. My first outing was with a friend to Box Hill, just to get into the groove.  it was definitely a light walk, with me walking ahead on the hills and then back to her, but it was fun to have someone to chat with rather than my usual head down and push approach.   
  • I did a couple of sessions volunteering at #parkrun – but did not manage to actually run a parkrun this quarter except for 1 session at Easter, when I visited family for Easter.
  • I went to a social evening at the London Mountaineering Club, where there was a talk about Aconcagua. Planning on joining this group, to get some walking partners, hopefully.
  • Finally, at the end of the Month, I head to Yestival.

And that was it. Now I feel like I’m missing out!!!

Jul 01

Operation Fitter Rachel – Month 2

Say Yes More sign
SAY YES MORE sign at Yestival

Definitely not the best of months.  A number of routine changes through me off my plan..something I need to work through, as I can’t have that happening again.

The Numbers

  • 30 recorded activities (+1).  9 walks, 14 runs, 6 strength sessions
  • 27 hours of activity (-1)
  • 63 miles (-7)

The month started well, with a local run and then a trip down to Box Hill, with a friend, to get to know the place and do some initial walks.  This was kept slow as my friend was not that fit, but it game me a chance to check out some hills for later use

View from Box Hill over Dorking
View from Box Hill

The next week was a Germany week. I tested out my ability to do routines in hotel rooms – so yes to that, but only managed one small run. Back to Box Hill the end of the week, to find some more hills.  I’m happy now with the options I have, if this is going to be my usual place.

Stag facing me, large antlers, in Richmond Park
A stag in Richmond Park

The following week was also Germany, and this was far better for getting out for sessions.  I had a good session with Trainer, then a hotel strength session, instead of going to the beer festival! I also went for a run with colleagues there, something I’m going to try and do everytime I visit. A run home from park run then a longer run round Richmond Park finished off the week.

View from Beacon Hill, with green fields and blue skies
View from Beacon Hill

The next 2 weeks were where it all went wrong.  I had some days in a clients office in London – and I’d forgotten how tiring the commute is!  Then I sent the week in Amsterdam and had meetings and meals out, so did not manage to put in the time I needed for sessions.  This is all a mental battle, I do have the time available, but my brain plays tricks with me and I end up not doing anything – even though I have kit with me.  This is what I need to focus on for this month – hitting all the planned sessions. I did manage to get out to the Chilterns for a different walk route. Nice to go, but Box Hill wins for closeness.

The last weekend in June, I went to Yestival, so again, no longer walks done.  However, I was inspired by lots of great talks, including one by Jo Bradshaw, about her challenge to do the 7 Summits.  I chatted with her about Aconcagua and it reinforced the need to get the training done…unlike Kili or EBC, you can’t get by with just general fitness.

Trainer sessions seem to be going well, the weights are slowly going up and then I’m taking some of exercises and adding them to my sessions at home.

So mixed month, with some things to think about.  My official 6 months plan started on 24th June, so I am slightly ahead of that, but this month has shown that it can easily slip away if I don’t keep on top of it.

Jun 01

Operation Fitter Rachel – the road to Aconcagua

a picture of me, with Scafell Pike trip point behind
Scafell Pike Summit

My first report on OFR.  I started off calling this Operation Fit Rachel…until it was pointed out as I’d just ran a marathon I wasn’t exactly unfit, so Fitter it is.  But it’s all relative. I may have had the stamina and the mental stubbornness to plod around 26.2 miles, but I was still getting out of breath running up a flight of stairs and I had absolutely no strength or toning in most of the muscles, especially the core.  That’s not good enough for my end of year target, so I need to make a massive step change in what I do.

Why am I doing this?  Because I have booked a trip to “climb” a seriously large mountain in December and I need to be fitter than I have ever been to give me the best chance to do this. There’s no actual climbing involved, as it rock faces or ice walls, it can be “walked” up but it is a serious undertaking at altitude that I need to have the right foundations for.

Setting Up

The first month therefore was all about setting things up the right way to give me a chance to succeed, which meant 3 things:

  • sorting out a training plan
  • finding a personal trainer
  • getting the right equipment at home

The first part was relatively straightforward.  The expedition company recommends a book called Training for the New Alpinism as a starting point.  This is an excellent read about how to go about training for mountains. Having read that, I could have attempted crafting my own plan, but I went the easy way and purchased a plan.  So I now have a daily plan for the rest of the year, which suits how I work – it’s in the spreadsheet, I need to do it.  This usually works, especially when I keep the goal in mind. We’ll see how it goes.

To help focus, I’ve also booked a number of events during the year:

  • Aug: Half Marathon
  • Aug: 55km ultra along a hilly coast
  • Sept: Half Marathon
  • Oct: Marathon

I made the decision to find a local personal trainer, mainly to keep me accountable.  I’ve tried remote training before, which has worked, but this time I felt I needed the requirement for regular face to face meetings.  A fair bit of research into local trainers and I found a couple of possibilities.  One intro meeting later, where we discussed requirements and I’ve signed up with a local guy with access to a private gym a mile or so away.   The focus of these sessions will be building up the strength in the body, so one session week with him and one at home.

Finally, I’ve added a couple more pieces of equipment for home training. I already have weights, kettle bell and resistance bands. I’ve now added a pull up bar and, most important of all, a step.  It took me a while to find the right step, as I needed one that could be set quite high and most of the ones available only go up to 15cm. I needed one that I could raise to 30cm, or 1ft in height. A lot of my training requires uphills and steps and living in London, there’s not a lot of that around so it’s hard to do any hills in the midweek.  But a step will help that, especially as I slowly start to add equipment and weights to the workout. At some point I will be doing sessions in the mountaineering boots and a weighted pack.

In general, I have had a good start to the month, hitting all of the planned sessions over the last few weeks, even if not completed fully to plan.

Looking at my records I have recorded:

  • 28 hours
  • 70 miles
  • 29 activities – 15 runs (which includes short runs to and from the gym), 7 walks, 7 strength sessions, 3 of those with the trainer.

I spent 1 week in the Lake district, getting in a few walks and still working.  This did not go quite to plan, due to a cold (the first one in over a year) and bad weather, but I did manage to walk up Scafell Pike).

The challenge is definitely going to be getting in enough hills; I see myself taking a lot of weekend trips to various places, although probably a lot of Box Hill and the downs.

Apr 29

Race Report – London Marathon 2019

Holding up medal a tthe end of London Marathon
Got the medal!

After a few years failing at the public ballot and instead marshalling on the course, this year I got into the London Marathon through the marshalls ballot – a number of places are offered to the groups that volunteer.  As the decisions were not known until January, it’s not for everyone, but as I was training for Manchester, I thought it would be great to do another race 3 weeks later.

Runners in fancy dress
Fancy dress

As I was in the last pen at my start, there was no need to get their too early; the 7:47 train meant I got there just after 9, plenty of time until my planned start of 10:48.  I started from the Green start, which is the middle one – so you definitely needed to be there in time to cross the course before the running started.  This start was where all the Guinness World Record attempts were starting from, so there were some impressive costumes on display.   Looking at these, along with watching the screens meant that time ticked along nicely. I was cosy in my trial cape – something the marathon was doing in an attempt to cut down on plastic waste. Before I knew it, it was time for a last minute loo visit (nobody queuing at that point) and time to get into the pen.

Before the marathon, in front of the start line. wrapped in cape
My cozy cape

We were a few minutes later starting than scheduled, but it was not too bad.  It was a very smalls tart, so little pushing or moving around to get some space.  I had no ambitions for this race, in fact, I planned to be slower than last time! As my first London was such a blur, this one I intended to slow down, enjoy the sites and the crowd and take lots of photos.  As I slowly went past the 6 hour pacer, I had a chat, he was running on his own, planning to pick up a few people on the way as they slowed down.  I intended to do my best to stay in front of him, but not too hard!

The first few miles were pretty quiet, heading east, not too many runners and not too many spectators.  We first of all joined up with the Blue start runners and then later the Red start, when it got really busy – and the crowds picked up.  The main joining point tends to be full of runners waiting for friends and family so they can join up with them. The main joining point is also when you turn the corner and start to run west, heading into town for the first time.  Slowly the crowds pick up, but there are still sections when there are just a few outside their houses.  The first big spectator session is in Greenwich, especially around the Cutty Sark. Loud and raucous, they definitely give you a boost and speed you up!

Me in front of the Cutty Sark
Cutty sark

The miles tick by, Deptford and Lewisham and Rotherhithe, all with their own local ambience. Sometimes there’s a church congregration out, sometimes a set of pubgoers, dancing along to the music.   I’d run consistently up to this point, now was the time to switch to run walk…generally a 5:2 run walk patter, with extra time for sites, slopes (not too many of those) and water stations.

Bermondsey Tube station comes into view and I know it can’t be far until the turn across the river. You follow the main road, the crowds getting heavier and louder and you take the right turn and there it is, Tower Bridge.  The first time I ran London, I shed a few tears..I’d made it this far, the famous crossing but I kept going.  This time, I walked and just soaked up the atmosphere.  Amazing!

Me on TowerBridge

Over the Bridge and another right turn, away from town again, heading out to the Isle of Dogs and Caray Wharf.  It’s a dual carriage way here and you can see the runners, 8 miles ahead of you, heading back into town on the final stretch. I’d run pretty much

In Limehouse, another right turn and into narrow streets.  The crowds press in, all good natured, but you need to take care.  A big ushaped loop and back through into dockloads. This is where your gps system goes haywire, with all the buildings, the trace zigzagging to either side of the road, with all the tall buildings.  Your final mileage will always read higher because of this stretch (mine read 26.83 at the end, with a lot of extra feet recorded in this section)

Finally you turn and head back, back to the highway.  I saw no-one on it when running back.  The sweeper bus had passed by and people had joined or given up. The pack up lorries and crew were there.. Sweeping up the rubbish, taking down the mile markers, cleaning the paint off the road.  It’s a huge job to set up and take down the event, but they always seem to manage it, although I’m guessing there will be bottles and gel packets still out there.

22 miles, 23 miles. A few people I know were marshalling along this section, so a bit of chat was had. The crowds were still strong even now, so high fives and jelly babies taken on board. I still (mainly had a grin on my face) but it was hurting now. The mind was still having fun, the body less so. Every other walk break I was chatting with family on whatsapp and sending the occasional photos, looking at social and just letting them know what was going on.   Here’s the Tower, not long now

The Blackfriars underpass – not as long or as steep as I remembered. But still as sticky from the Lucozade on the floor. Mile 24 and the embankment. The final stretch!  So many people, I just couldn’t help but grin and keep looking around. As I said to one of the water station helpers, it was absolutely amazing.

Me on the Embankment, in fron of Big Ben/Elizabeth tower
Nearly there

The embankment is packed, with lots of charity cheering stations.  I spotted my favourite sign again – Go Rachel – not for me, but I’d seen it at least 4 times and it definitely applied.  Round the river bend and there’s Elizabeth Tower, in scaffolding but the clock face visible.

A turn next to Parliament and police rather than marshalls watching the crowd. A deep crowd but surprisingly quiet, the reason becoming obvious as I passed a guy in hand cuffs next to a bike. Had he made a wrong turn or just decided to do something stupid.

Me just before the last 200m to go on the Mall

Westminster Square, a glance over to the Churchill. Less than a mile to go, lets keep pushing on, run walk still in action.  800m sign, 600m, I see people from my local park run with a big sign, they were waiting for me (excellent photo!).  400m and the last but one turn. There’s the sign for 385yards…so that means 26miles is done! Buckingham Palace ticked off my photo list and then onto the red pavement of the mall to the finish line. Quieter than I expected here, the grandstands fairly empty and not replaced by the general crowds, but all eyes were on the finish.  One final push and there I was. A marathon finisher again!

Medal handed out, new cape obtained, photos got, then the goody bag – why wasn’t there chocolate?  Even better, chocolate covered slated peanuts would have been heaven!  No stopping to be done, had to keep moving. The brain had switched off and I felt every step, no running possible now, just foot in front of foot, heading out, time to get to the train station. Why are all these people in medals looking fresh and walking so fast (yep, fitter people who finished a while ago!)

Station, train, one final effort. A shower, washing off the salt crystals and finding the painful chafed bits. A glass of wine, some takeaway Indian and the day was done.

Apr 13

Race Report – Manchester Marathon 2019

Me outside Old Trafford, holding up my Manchester Marathon medal

Last May, when it was getting close to my London to Brighton ultra, I was planning my 2019 run and decided to put a marathon in the programme. I’d failed to start Birmingham the year before – too much going on, not enough headspace for training – so needed to have another in the plan.  Having read a lot of good things about Manchester (after they’d sorted out a couple of years with difficulties) I decided that this would be my target.  (I had entered the London ballot, but never expected to get in again – and I was right, at least through that method).

I booked the marathon, I booked the hotel near to the start and then put it to the back of my mind.  I had a half booked in for October, so the plan was to train for that, and then switch to a marathon programme. The brain decided otherwise, not having anything to do with running or walking for 2 months after London-Brighton and even after that, playing games with me and making it really hard to get stuck in to some serious miles. The travel also made things more difficult, especially as it got into the darker nights, as I didn’t know the routes in the same way. Then I also booked the Kili trip for Februaryand was on holiday for most of November.

All of this meant that in the 6 months before the marathon, I had run a total of 173 miles (and walked another 164 miles). In contrast, for my first marathon I had run 568 miles in the 6 months training.  So I was undertrained, to put it mildly!  Never mind…I’m generally stubborn, I know the effort it will need, I decided to go for it.

I travelled up to Manchester on the Saturday and made my way to the hotel.  The first thing to check was the distance to my start pen, so back out I went and timed the walk as 8 minutes.  Lovely, plenty of time to sort myself out in the morning.  The a meal of pasta before an early night.

Breakfast was from 6 – usually, it only started at 7:30 at the weekends, but given the number of runners staying, they’d made provision.  Coffee and food sorted, it was back to the room to rest for a couple of hours before I needed to move.

One short walk later, I joined the crowds.  This was probably the worst organised start I’d experiences.  Although the information sent out beforehand had clear maps and the pens were clearly marked at the front, there was other structure to the pen apart from a lead barrier to separate then for the different start times. There were no barriers around the groups and no checking you were in the right groups, although the instructions had implied there would be and the pens would close 20 mins before the start time.  I could have stayed in the hotel an extra 30 mins and just wandered up for the start!

Eventually, the horn went, the elites started off and the pens slowly made their way to the front I was in pen G, so by the time we started moving, the first group where heading back towards us to start their mile 3.

I’d finally decided on my race plan. My initial plans were to do a run-walk race, but I knew I could do a half marathon steadily without stopping, and I knew there were plenty of water stations I’d want to walk through to make sure I got gels and water onboard.  So I decided on a mixed strategy of running at least the 1st half and then switch to run walk after that; I though this would be the best strategy. The 5:30 pacer later passed me, having obviously done run walk from the start, however I think the run pace would have been just over what I was comfortable with, having done almost no speed training.  The target was 5:45, which meant I had to average 13:10 per mile – giving a pretty good buffer for the massive slowdown I knew I would get in the latter stages.

Off I went, slow and steady at my “usual” pace, which is just under 12 minute miles.  We first head north east into the city along a dual carriageway before swinging round a loop back to the start area in mile 3. The weather was perfect, overcast, cool, with a breeze, and the course was flat. it was easy to get into a rhythm. Now heading out of the city, I passed by the first water station – nothing needed yet, but took the first gel at 4 miles. By this point, the relay racers were starting to catch us up. In teams of 2 or 4, they were a lot faster than many, especially later in the race, but luckily all had Relay notices on their back so you didn’t feel too bad when they passed you! 

My pace was being maintained, even with a very quick walk break at mile 6. We were now in Sale, continuing to head out into to the suburbs and then onto the country.  Every “centre” had a good crowd, often with music. Timperley, at mile 10 was particularly memorable, a lot of people, a commentator outside a pub and music.  Everytime you passed these groupings, you definitely sped up! I carried on, reaching Altrincham, the turn round point.   Mile 12 was my first slower one, with a water break and the only real hill on the course in the town centre.

The turn round point and we headed back into town, first the way we came and then swinging west to head further out. So far, I was keeping a steady pace, miles 13, 14 and 15 were all at the quicker pace – I’d managed more than the target 13 miles at my “race” pace, now it started to hurt, dropping into 13+ minute miles. My legs felt not too bad, just tired, except for hips, which had been giving a lot of trouble in the weeks before the race, feeling tight.  They started to give me a little pain, but not enough to interrupt the slide. 

Miles 18 to 23 definitely felt they were out in the country. There was support, but not consistent, often large stretches without any one (it was also late in the race, so there are never as many).  I’d now settled into a new run-walk routine.  From each mile marker, walk 0.1 of a mile, run half a mile, walk 0.1 of a mile, run to the next mile marker. If the signs to the water station were showing it was close to my next walk break, (they were signposted 400m out) then just keep running until then and walk through the water station to take on the drink.  This routine kept me going, and gave my mind something to do.

Finally, there was just a parkrun to do (I looked for a sign, there is often one, but did not see anything). Everything was slowing down further and my hips were getting worse, mainly the right side (the usual bad one). More and more people were stopping to stretch out, but luckily, I was not hit by cramp and could keep moving forward, it was just uncomfortable.  There was no speed in the legs now and I wasn’t even tempted to try and keep up with the 5:30 pacer.  I knew I could finish, and it was just a matter of keeping going – which means the brain slightly switched off and I spent a little longer walking, especially up any slight rise!

Turning the last corner, you could see the finish – about half a mile ahead.  A bit more at a walk and then time to gather everything together and head for the line.  The crowd was still massive around this section and there were plenty of cheers and encouragement, especially helpful as the finish took a long time to get to! 

And I was done!  With a time of 5:36, my 2nd fastest time out of the 4 I have done, which was really pleasing. Overall, I felt not too bad, far better than the previous two. Although I had no speed, the walk training and the mountain training had definitely helped my overall stamina, so I knew that the distance was doable.  Time to pick up the medal, the maltloaf and the beer!  Well, Erdinger Alkoholfrei, which appears to be marketed as an isotonic drink therefore should be perfect for after a marathon!!!  It was fine for sipping as I wandered back to the hotel.  25 minutes after finishing, I was in the shower, stretching, before food and a welcome glass of wine.  Definitely good having a hotel so close.

Manchester marathon is a great marathon. Well supported, a good course, great marshalls and well organised (except for the start pens).  I full recommend having a go – especially if you’re a fast one as it’s actually pretty flat.  They’d upped the numbers this year to 20k, so it’s one of the largest in Europe and I think they’re going to keep seeing how they can grow it.

I don’t have to look far ahead for my next marathon – after 2 years without one, I now have 2 in 2 months. I got a marshall’s ballot place this year and so Manchester, at 3 weeks before London this year, has acted as the perfect last long run before London – so I’m now in taper!  See you there 😊

My Strava splits for Manchester Marathon
Apr 13

QuarterNotes 1 2019

Weeknotes, monthnotes, annual reviews. I’ve tried them all, depending on how bloggy I feel.  With its restoration, it’s time to try another favour of diary, so it’s time for QuarterNotes!

But! But! What have I actually done this quarter?  Not as much as I could have, I think. As has been my usual, I spent what felt like about half my time at clients in Germany, being in the UK every other week.

  • I finally got to go see Hamilton.  I’d being keeping an eye on the tickets for a while, tried the last minute lottery on occasion and was prepared to buy one of the expensive tickets if I could get one in my preferred row (the one with the extra legroom). In the end, another opportunity came up, a not so expensive ticket in the very front row.  So £75 only, plenty of leg room and really good views of most of the action.  You could see the stage and all the action, just not the footwork.  Excellent show, and much of the music still sticks in my head – especially as it is actually all available on YouTube.  My only disappointment was that it was a downbeat ending, which left you a little flat on leaving
A view from the stage from the front row of Hamilton, empty s it's before the show starts
My front row view
  • Another Michelin restaurant, my first for a while, I took in The Goring after my Hamilton visit.  I had to try the traditional Eggs Drumkilbo, (reportedly the Queen Mother’s favourite)
Glass bowl, with eggs, black caviar, aspic jelly and green leaves of herbs.
Start at the Goring
  • Back to Sheffield the second trip in 4 weeks after my New Year walking trip. this time it was the pre-trip weekend for my Kili trip.  Information about kit, the trip, a walk up in the Peaks and most importantly, a chance to meet all but 3 of my fellow adventurers. 
Sheer cliffs, a quarry in the Peak District. Blue sly and brown grass
Peak District Quarry
  • Another trip round London for the Winter Run 10k. Definitely my favourite race, this was my 5th time running it.
Me next to a Polar bear - a person in a polar bear outfit, after the Winter Run
  • A quick pop over to Barcelona for the F1 testing.  I missed last year, due to uncertainty about jobs, but took the chance this year to go over for a day, spending it in Red Bull hospitality. A most excellent day, I love just being able to watch cars all day, without it being a race.  The following day was spent in the city, having lunch down in the harbour.
Me, next to Max Verstappen, standing in front of a Red Bull back drop
  • The first trip to Kew this year was also accomplished. Taking advantage of a work from home day, with a quiet sunny afternoon available, I walked along the river to spend a couple of hours in the gardens.  I love having membership, it allows you to take advantage of spare hours like this.
Pyramid glasshouses in Kew Gardens. In front there is a sea of golden daffodils

An that’s it really for the first 3months of the year.   One theatre trip, one restaurant. A couple of trips abroad that weren’t work. And a few miles spent running and walking, as always.

Apr 02

Trip Report – Lessons from Kilimanjaro

In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro.  One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.

Me in front of the wooden sign on top of Kibo, the main summit of Kilimanjaro,, Snow on the ground
At the summit

This the third part of the story, including some practical advice and considerations . Part 1 is about the first week of the trip. Part 2 covers summit day and getting back down

  • Choose the longest route you can afford/find.  None of the routes are great for acclimatisation options, as not that many opportunities to climb high, sleep low. The routes all seem to have a very large final day climb, with the most popular route from Barafu climbing 1200m for the last climb. That’s a lot and a reason why so many turn back.  So look for opportunities to spend time as high as possible.
  • Check the reputation of the local company. Kilmanjaro trips are big business and not every local company spends the money needed to kit out and pay the local team enough.
  • Read the kit list. Follow the kit list. It’s there for a reason!  And if your company does not provide a kit list, consider somewhere else! For most, Kili is a one off, it’s a challenge for charity, or a tick on a bucket list, and many will never need the kit again so will either skimp on it or decide not to take it.  If you can’t afford to buy, then look to hire or to borrow.  I’d suggest these are the key things you need to focus on:
    • Sleeping bag. It gets cold, really cold, so make sure you will be warm at night. You’re unlikely to sleep brilliantly with the altitude, but don’t make being cold a factor too. Use a liner as well, and warm night clothes to stay warm
    • Down jacket. You spend a lot of time not walking, hanging around camp. The jacket keeps you warm. You could always add extra layers but that is also extra weight.
    • Gloves – mittens are definitely best for the summit night.  I had 2 pairs of gloves but it was not enough, I borrowed mittens and put them over my base gloves and I was fine.
    • Waterproofs.  It rains and they will stop the wind too. Essential.
    • Nail brush. There’s so much dirt and dust, your hands get filthy so extremely useful
    • Hand gel. Buy your usual amount and buy another bottle.  It’s essential for all stops and eating opportunities. Also take moisturiser for hands, as it dries them out quickly
    • Painkillers and general travel medicine.  I was surprised that some had not brought these (or had not brought enough) and they had to ask others.  Take headache tablets!
  • Slowly slowly.  Your guides should be making sure you are doing this. If they’re too fast for you, then raise your voice and ask.  There’s always going to be someone faster than you, but that does not mean you need to keep up with them. Another reason to pick a longer schedule, it gives more time and hopefully you’ll never need to rush too much.  There’s nothing wrong with splitting up groups if needed to allow pace to suit all the team.
  • Take your preferred snacks for summit night. Your appetite will be low (it’s high, it’s dark, your body clock is all over the place) and you’ll find it difficult to eat, so have something with you that you know you like – both sweet and savoury.
  • TRAIN!  Train uphill, lots of uphill. If you have no uphills near you, then find stairs.  Go for long walks, to build up your stamina. This is about having legs to go for long periods of times and legs than can go uphill for ever. So think about body strength as well. Lunges and squats are your friend.
  • Practice with walking poles; don’t turn up having never used them. There’s videos around, but just getting our there with them, trying them on flat and up and down hills will give you a confidence with using them. They do help with saving energy when used correctly and with maintaining stability on the up and down hills.
One of the team taking a photo with three of our guides
Some of the guides

Most of all enjoy yourself. I can guarantee that at some point you’ll wander why you did this. You’ll be tired and hungry and grumpy. You may be hurting and miserable. You may be cold and feeling terrible. But think about what you are doing and what you have done to get there – it’s an achievement and you should be proud. Even if you don’t make the summit on the last push, you’ve still got our there and tried.

Snow and glaciers on the top of the mountain, Looking out across the clouds,
Looking down
Mar 26

Trip Report – Climbing Kilimanjaro: Part 2

In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro.  One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.

This the second part of the story, all about summit day and getting down the mountain. Part 1 is about the first week of the trip. Part 3 will add some practical advice and considerations.

Kilimanjaro mountain, covered in snow, peaks over the jungle
Kilimanjaro

A full photoset can be found on Flickr

Sat 16 Feb

  • Barafu to summit and back to Barafu
  • Distance: 7:01m
  • Walking Time:  10:32
  • Elevation Gain: 1251m
  • Max Elevation: 5865m (official height is 5895m)
Looking down from summit, over a glacier
The view down

Slowly, slowly we got into line and headed out through camp. It was all uphill and we were completely reliant on the guides to keep us on the right track through the campsite.  You caught glimpses of other groups, of other tents, but in general you had no idea where you are.  Paths wound different ways between the various clusters of tents and I can imagine it would be easy to get confused – in fact, we apparently did later, a halt was called and the guides gathered to discuss, eventually deciding on the right way.

We’d been put into various groups, based on predicted speed, with each group an assigned guide.  If we had gotten separated, we would at least have the group.  For most of the climb, this was not needed, we managed to stick together.  The groups meant that for most of the time you stayed in the same order, with your vision filled only with the backpack or heels of the person in front. You just plod on, following in their footsteps, a long conga line heading up the hill.

The plan was to stop about every 2 hours, although the times varied as we tended to stop at specific areas.  Short stops, just time for a quick drink, a bite to eat, even if few of us had much appetite at this time of night, at this altitude.  We’d all been issued with a snack collection, gels and bars, some cake, some sweets.  I brought most of mine back down – but if you have your favourites, take them along.

As we started out, about 1am, the clouds were gathering and it soon started to snow.  Just lightly, with a light wind, but it did not stay like that for long.  More and more snow came down, the wind got harder.  Often all you could see in the torchlight was reflected snowflakes, staying close to the person in front was important.  Trudge, trudge, trudge, up the zigzags of the path.  The wind appeared to be coming from the East, directly into your face for one zig, then into your back for the next zag.

I remember looking at my watch no long after 4am. The first glimmers of dawn were still at least 90mins away. The now was coming down hard and sticking, my hands were freezing and my breathing was heavy.  This was the lowest point, but I kept focusing on just one step and the next– I knew if I could make it to dawn, then my chances were good.

In my memories, it was dark and then it was light.  I know I looked up as the sky was slowly lighting up, but did not take much in of surroundings.  I just started feeling more confident that this was doable.  We started to hear voices.  People were above us and had made the crater rim, or had walked around from the other routes up.  But it was still snowing.  At this point, as the sun was rising, our UK guide spoke up and let us know we may not get everything we wanted.  The snow was sticking and the paths were getting slippy. He was concerned that if it didn’t stop, then we would have difficulty getting back down, he needed to raise the risk and let us know that he may end up turning us back.  Risk management here, let us know, let us take in the reality.  We heard and we agreed to abide by the instructions.  And all eyes kept looking out for breaks in the clouds, hoping it would stop snowing.

Me at Stella Point, in front of sign showing altitude of 5756m
Stella Point

And as we kept going, the clouds started to part. Blue sky was seen, small patches at first, then larger ones. The sun was shining on the snow – everyone got their sunglasses out. (although I forgot to apply suncream, so red faces later). The snow stopped and we made our way to the crater rim and the first summit sign at Stella Point. There were still plenty of clouds, drifting around

Time for photos at last, I’d taken none on the way up – we’d done the steeper uphill parts, all that was left was ¾ mile around the crater edge, a gentle stroll at lower levels. It was now we started to separate out. Energy running low, breathing hard, there was nothing to do but plod further and keep looking ahead.  I ended up on my own for the last part, with just a guide behind me, who eventually took my pack for the last bit.  gain memory plays tricks, it can’t have been that slow!  But it was – my watch shows it took 75 mins to go that distance, an interrupted walk of steps and rests.  The group spread out, as they rested, as they took photos, as they plodded on.

View of from summit, looking down the path with people still making their way up
Looking down from summit, the final stretch

As you approach the last bit, you watch the successful trekkers get their photos, in groups, on their own and then head on down.  Talking to the others, there was a lot of similarity in feelings.  Relief, pride, satisfaction and tears.  We’d done it.  And so had the rest of the group, we’d done it together.

Me in front of sign at Uhuru point, summit of Kilmanjaro, heght 5895. Snow on ground and blue skies
Cold at the summit

No group photos for us, but we took turns to grab photos for those who were there. I was in the first batch to get there, and watched the rest make their way up the final stretch.   Our photos done, it was too cold to wait around, so about half of us headed back down to Stella point, ready to head downhill.  A little more time on the way down to take more photos, but there was an urgency to leave, to get back to a little more air, a little more warmth.

My chest and throat were starting to feel really tight and I started coughing a lot, with wheezing on every breath.  When I got to Stella Point, the main thought in my mind was to head down quickly, and this was agreed with the head local guide, who sent me on down ahead of the others instead of waiting around for longer.  Which means I missed the drama behind me.

A couple of the team were feeling nauseous, and there was some vomiting. Worse, and far more dangerous, was one of them started to get disorientated, staggering on their feet and not talking sense.  They’d been fine on the summit, they’d taken my photos, but by the time they’d started the walk down, altitude sickness had them in its grip.

The medical kit was split across the guides, but not all the boxes had all the drugs.  Yells and waves from above and my guide and I sat and waited – one of the team came running down and got some additional drugs…before running back up and administering them. They checked me out, but my symptoms were stable and we were doing the right thing, so we carried on down as fast as possible  – which wasn’t that fast.  It took us just under 3 hours to get back to camp, with my downhill speed.  You take a slightly different route back down; with the sun on the slope, a lot of the snow had gone and the ground has softened.  It was sand and scree so there was a lot of controlled sliding on the way back, the quickest way to get down.

You keep going, on and on. At this point you’ve been going for 10 hours or so; the sight of tents ahead raises the spirits.  Yes, you’ll soon be able to rest and have tea!  Those hopes are soon dashed though, the tents you glimpsed were Kosovo Camp, not Barufa and there’s far more path to take.

Eventually, gratefully,  I was there.  My breathing was still wheezy, I had no voice, but nothing was getting worse. Time for liquids and a rest, time to lie in sleeping bag in the sun and wait for the rest – who proceeded to trickle down in 3 groups.

Our illest member was already there. They’d been “carried” down, supported and moved down by guides and then more help from porters who’d made their way up following a call. Drugs had been administered at the top and more were provided now.  Thankfully, everything was working in the right way.  1200m lower and all symptoms were receding.  A few hours later and there was no trace of them, except a small headache.

Not so mine, I was still wheezy and coughing.  Drugs were provided for a number of options, the general agreement was it was altitude induced bronchitis, the lungs had been triggered by the cold and reacted. That definitely appeared to be the case, I had my voice back the following morning and over the next week it slowly went away.

The day was not yet finished though, we still had to make our way down to the next camp, this time Mweke Camp. This is a further 1500m of descent, heading directly out of the park instead of back around the mountain.  The 3 of us who were not fully fit headed out first, along with another team member, this time with porters to carry our bags.

  • Barafu to Mweke Camp
  • Distance: 4:24m
  • Walking Time:  4:00
  • Elevation Loss: 1500m downhill (approx.)

We all had the memory of the pre-trip report saying this walk was pretty straight forward and fairly level.  We all think that the speaker was referring to the final bits of the track we’d do the next day, as this was by far the worst section of the mountain.  Most of it was rocky, slippy, lots of steps down and extremely eroded, especially from Millenium Camp downwards.  Extremely hard to negotiate and no one had fun.  It took our group 4 hours; we were overtaken by another bunch of the team at one point – and our member who’d been the illest was feeling well enough to join them, whilst we carried on at my slow, not breathing very well pace. If I went too fast and got out of breath  I ended up coughing, so we went at a pace that kept the breathing easy.

At some point, about 30mins out I think, it started to rain. And rain even harder.  The rocks got slippier and visibility was getting worse as it got darker. Finally we made it to the camp, heading down the path another 10minutes to find our space.  Mweke was very similar to the first campsite, in that we had little space and the tents were all very, very close. The majority of us were now here, but one group of 5 were still on the track.  By radio, we established they were only about 30mins away, but that was in normal conditions, not in the dark and rain. Porters were sent back up to help – with extra torches, and they were soon making their way to the tents.  There’d been a few slips and slides, but everyone was in one piece.

A quick meal and time for bed. It had been a LONG day, awake at 2330 and it was now about 2030. 11 miles covered, 14.5 hours walking, 1200m up, 2700m downhill. That’s a LOT of effort in the team.  We had one final effort the following day, but our time on the mountain was nearly over

Sun 17 Feb

  • Mweke Camp to Mweke Gate
  • Distance: 5:32m
  • Walking Time:  3:03
  • Elevation Loss: 1400m downhill (approx.)

Time to finish this and get to the hotel.  The last stretch was fairly straightforward, some rocky sections but much of it had been worked on.  The guides had a cunning plan – the lead local guide and the UK guide would run ahead and sort out the signing out – in the same way the first day was busy, this would be also. So they headed out, jogging, and the rest of us plodded after them.  e were back in the jungle now, trees all around us, but occasionally there was a break and we could see the mountain, now snow covered, shining in the sun.

The group definitely spread out now, I think it was about 45mins between the first and the last, but there was no rushing to be had. Legs were tired, brains were tired and it was better to take it slowly then risk a fall.  This time my downhill appeared to be OK and I kept up with the first group, so settled down to wait with a beer.

Once all there, the bags and kit all loaded, it was time for the farewell ceremony.  Some groups had obviously done this at the previous camp, this company does it at the gate.  The team all gathered, the local crew sang the goodbye song and the tips were handed out by category. And it was done. We’d finished our walking. All that was left was to head home.

First port of call was the hotel.  Excellent service here, we all got a room for the afternoon, to shower, to rest, to sort out the bags.  Then food, a little shopping for some in town and we were finally, finally done. We piled back into the van and headed to the airport for our evening flight back to the UK via Amsterdam.

Me, drinking a beer at the end of the trek, looking rather tired
A well-deserved beer

Mar 26

Trip Report – Climbing Kilmanjaro: Part 1

Sun rising over Kibo, Kilimanjaro
Sun rising over Kibo, Kilimanjaro

In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro.  One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.

This the first part of the story, about the first week of the trip. Part 2 will cover summit day and Part 3 will add some practical advice and considerations.

A full photoset can be found on Flickr

I’d booked with Jagged Globe last summer, once some of the job stuff had settled out and had been training for the climb for a few months.  As ever not quite enough, but more than I had my Nepal trip. 

JG do a pre-trip meeting, so I’d travelled up to their offices in Sheffield a couple of weeks before the trip. All but 3 of the group also made the trip; we sat through some talks about the trip, about altitude sickness and about kit, before doing a couple of walks, one in Sheffield, one out in the Peaks.  An excellent idea, allowing the team to meet before the trip and get to know each other in a low stress environment.

Sat 9 Feb

An early start to the day, with a 0630 flight from Heathrow. I’d gone out the night before, to avoid having an early taxi – and I’d taken the opportunity to get an upgrade to the flight, as a treat for myself.  Not all the group were at Heathrow – many were starting from their local airports and we met up in Amsterdam, where we also met Jamie, our guide, for the first time.

I say we met up – bad weather in Amsterdam meant that there were flight delays and one of the groups did not arrive in time.  They got to Amsterdam too late and had to stay 24 hours.  There was some discussion whether or not they would join us, but they ended up taking a slightly shorter day one trip and met us at a second camp.  They’d have one less day to acclimatise, but luckily it did not matter.

A reasonable flight to Kilimanjaro Airport, with KLM. Getting through immigration took a long time though. Not all the team had got visas in advance – nor had they got cash to pay for them so there was quite a wait to get things sorted.  I was first through and started to gather all the bags, but total wait from start to finish was about 2 hours.  I’d definitely advise you to get a visa in advance if you can, otherwise have the right amount of cash (dollars) available.

Kit bags piled on luggage trollies
Collecting the bags

A hour’s journey by road to the hotel, some food and drink and we were finally in bed for about 1am – once I’d sorted out the mosquito net!!

(all my time, distances and elevations were through my Garmin.  Time and distance usually relatively accurate, elevation less so)

Sun 10 Feb

  • Lemosho Gate to Big Tree Camp
  • Distance: 2.85m
  • Walking Time:  2:03
  • Elevation Gain: 402m
  • Max elevation: 2785m

A planned early start, with breakfast for 0730.  The intent was to leave for 9, but we were about 40mins late once all the admin had been done.  The road trip this time was about 3 hours, as we drove to the other side of the mountain for the sign in point at Londorosi Gate (2250m).  Once there, lots of waiting. We had to sign in, then wait for the porters to organise themselves, split the gear and get weighed in.

A queue of locals, waiting to get their loads weighed
Local crew weighing loads

For a group of 14 trekkers, we had 1 UK guide, 6 local guides and 46 porters.  Yes, a LOT. Unlike Nepal, there is no infrastructure of tea houses and everything has to be carried with the team. So that’s tents for everyone; gear; mess, cook and toilet tents; cooking equipment; food (although we did have a re-supply of this); and all the safety gear.  There is a weight limit which is enforced and checked as you go up the mountain, hence the need for so many people.

Due to the late start, we were one of the last teams to leave the check-in area – back into the van for  drive to the actual start, at Lemosho Gates (2100m) , another 30 mins. Here, the porters’ loads had to be weighed again before being let onto the mountain.

We slowly followed them, a 2 hour or so trek through rainforest.  The last uphill led us out onto Mti Mkubwa, or Big Tree Camp (2650m), where the team had not yet got themselves sorted, with the final tents being put up in the dark.  It was a very cramped camp, in amongst trees, with tents overlapping at times. You could tell that not everything was working well, as the vegetarians had not been catered for either, but first day complications soon got sorted out and the rest of the camp sets ups and cooking went well. A meal of cucumber soup and spaghetti bolognaise set the tone for the meals – soup, starch/sauce, followed by fruit usually.

As usual on trips like this, not the best of nights, especially as my airbed developed a leak that we could not fix in the trip, but enough sleep was eventually obtained.

Clearing in the trees. Local crew packing up the tents and gear.
Packing up

Mon 11 Feb

  • Big Tree Camp to Shira 1
  • Distance: 5.1m
  • Walking Time:  4:28
  • Elevation Gain: 814m
  • Max Elevation: 3534m (camp sign said 3610m)
Trekkers walking on path through trees
Heading uphill through the forest

Today was a little longer, starting off in montaine forest and heading up through scrub to “moorland” as the sign at the next camp said. We’d still not seen the mountain (it was behind clouds on our first day) but by the end of the day had still only had tiny glimpses. 

We started to hit some proper uphill in this stretch, and the introduction of “pole pole” ie slowly slowly. Although it wasn’t as slow as some liked, the group starting to break up into smaller groups.  With the number of guides available, this was not a problem.  In general, we managed to stick together over the days, but some days were harder than others.  For some it was the uphills. For me, the downhills were when I got split off, especially with lack of depth perception and the need to check steps down for distance.

We had our first documentable incident today, a near miss.  Not far out of camp we caught our first glimpse of local wildlife, a bunch of monkeys. As we stopped to watch, another, either accidentally or on purpose, decided we were under there tree and suddenly a large chunk of branch came crashing down. luckily it missed us all, but could have done quite a bit of damage if we’d been under it.

Out of the forest, into more scrubland, the growth getting shorter and shorter.  We got to the campsite at Shira 1 (3610m) at around 2, in time for tea and lunch, before resting for the rest of the afternoon, mainly indoors.  It had started raining around noon and carried on for most of the rest of the day.  A pattern was set for the weather, clear in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon, which carried on for the next few days.

Scrub and small trees, looking oput down the plains, with more mountains in the distance
Heading up to Shira Plain

Today our remaining 3 team members had arrived.  They’d been driven up a different way to a trail head which meant they had less than an hour to walk.  They had still had their adventures though – the Land Rover they were in finally bit the dust, and they ended up hitching a lift on top of a lorry for the last stretch!

Another pattern emerged as well, the early nights.  The routine tended to be dinner around 1930, then in the tent for abut 2030, read for a bit and then sleep.  Although then the sleeping pattern tended to be sleep through to 1 and then doze for rest of the night.  Not the best, but it was generally OK.

Tues 12 Feb

  • Shira 1 to Shira 2
  • Distance: 6.44m
  • Walking Time:  4:24
  • Elevation Gain: 473m
  • Max Elevation: 3890m
Tents and ground, covered in Frst. Sleeping bags over chairs drying in sun
Frost

Awake at 0645 and suddenly, the mountain was actually there.  The skies were clear (we had a frost) and the peak now loomed in the distance.  We could now see what we were facing.  It was still in the distance, we had a plain to cross before we got to the real foot of the hill, but it was definitely there.

Everything gets packed up before breakfast – the porters want to start taking things down, so day pack and carried luggage needs to be ready to go.  Breakfast throughout the trip always started with “porridge” – not sure it was oats, but definitely some kind of grain and probably water. Then eggs, or fruit, or pancakes.  Always tea, lots of tea, usually taken with honey. 

A wider view of the campsite, with hills in the background
The campsite

Today we started to see a few health issues.  Definitely headaches, and some stomach issues.  One thing that is drummed into everyone was always, always use sterilising hand gel before hands go anywhere near the mouth.  We had no serious issues with stomach illness, but it was more about the change of diet and routine than an infection. We were also provided with sterilised water throughout the trip – although I was carrying tablets, I did not need to use my own, as they made up large batches for every stop.   The water is collected from the mountain – sometimes from miles away in some camps, so we often came across porter groups coming and going from collecting water.

The team with Kibo in the background
A rare group photo

Today was another “easy” day, 4.5 hours walking but less climbing as most of it was across the plains.  We were heading to Shira 2 camp, with a posted altitude of 3850m, only 200m or so higher than previous camp.   But it’s a key 200m increase, as the vegetation gets a lot, lot less.

Unlike Nepal, it was not as easy to climb high and sleep low on this trip, due to the nature of the terrain; we did make a detour to climb Cathedral peak, at 3872m – so not actually that much higher, but it was a “peak”.  We were in mists and clouds at this point, so the views were not that good.  This involved some scrambling and a little walk along a ridge line

The ridge line up to Cathedral Peak, view obscured with mist and clouds.

Wed 13 Feb

  • Shira 2 to Baranco, via Lava Tower
  • Distance: 6.3m
  • Walking Time:  6:15
  • Elevation Gain: 738m
  • Max Elevation: 4634m

Woke up today to one of the best views; the tent looked out over the plain, with Meru peaking out of the clouds in the sun, and behind me, Kibo covered in ice. After breakfast, there was a little bit of reorganising needed.  Jamie decided to take a look at the bags and see what we had – and move quite a bit out of the backpacks into the luggage bags.  Some because they weren’t needed, others because they thought they could not fit in the bags (if you take a down jacket out of its stuff bags, it’s a lot easier to squeeze in!)

There was definitely a little bit of guilt brought out at this moment in some of the team, as things were put into the bags carried by the porters.  Having 46 people carrying stuff for you is a lot to take in (in Nepal, we had only 4, as no camping kit needed).  From what we had seen, the guiding company we were using locally (Keyes Hotel) do pay well for the job and Jagged Globe do provide kit.  There’s a promotion route for porters.  Not sure of the usual path, but each level had a specific tip requirement – the carriers, the serving team, the kitchen team, the different guide levels.  I hope the toilet man was paid well!  Groups all had portable toilets, put up at each stop in its own little tent.  The toilet man carried this and managed it, emptying it our regularly into the camp drop toilets (which were NOT a nice environment). Our guy was excellent – and mainly invisible – keeping the facilities faultlessly clean and tidy.

Today we definitely had an up and down ahead of us.  We would leave the Shira Plain and head up to Lava Tower (4600m) before heading back down to Baranco Camp (at 3900). So again, little altitude gained in our overall walk, but at least the chance to get some acclimatisation in.  And now we were moving less towards the mountain and more around the main cone, moving anti-clockwise around to the path to the summit.

Lava tower Camp sign, detailing distances to next camps, with Kibo slopes behind
Lava Tower Camp.

The paths were slowly getting busier as various routes combined, so groups were passing up and we were passing some groups, depending on pace and on stopping routines.  Today was a packed lunch day, which we took on the way up to Lava Tower.  When we got to the Tower, we saw that quite a few groups had had lunch there, with mess and toilet tents all brought up to that location.  We saw this on a few days, with lunch breaks all catered, but our team either had shorter day or carried lunch with them.

Going down the 700m to the next camp took quite a while. There were some quite steep bits, along with a lot of gravel and it was quite busy.  The group did split up into smaller groups, although not too far, with about 5mins between the front and back.   Baranco is a very large camp site and as usual, we appeared to be quite a way from the sign in point!

Dry and dusty path leading across a brown slope
Mountain slopes

The usual evening routine, this time with a chat about the challenge of the next day – the Baranco wall, which appears to get quite a lot of bad publicity and cause some concern

Thurs 14 Feb

  • Baranco to Karanga
  • Distance: 3.34m
  • Walking Time:  3:49
  • Elevation Gain: 380m
  • Max Elevation: 4205m
View over campsite, with the Baranco wall cliff at the back of the Camp.  Mountain peak behind
Baranco wall, with Kibo behind

Looking at the numbers it does not look like it should take as long as it did. Just over 5k not that much elevation gain across the walk to Karanga Camp – at 3995m not really that much higher.  We’re again travelling around the mountain, not up it.

Bit we did have the Baranco wall to cope with. How the team approaches this seems to depend on where you are spending the evening – not everyone stops at Karanga camp, instead carrying on an extra 4k (or 4hrs or so) to Barafu Camp (at 4673m). Those teams started the climb early. Others were like us, less to do that day and so could start later. 

Cliff face, with a queue of people walking up the path
The snake of people up the Baranco wall

If you have the time, I’d definitely recommend taking as long as possible to do the trek. Although the profile is not brilliant and causes issues because you don’t do a lot of high/low days, the longer you can spend on the mountain is better.

We started as late as possible…we sat and watched the trekkers tackling the wall, a snake of people. There were 2 main bottle necks we could see that cause lots of jams, it appears there was a lot of slow progress and waiting around for this part of the day.  Once the lower choke point had cleared, we headed across camp to the climb, which means we had a steady walk up with no waiting in queues.

Looking down the path of the Baranco wall, with a poter carrying a load up the path
Carrying loads

The Baranco wall definitely has the most challenging terrain, a path that makes its way up a cliff space. But there’s no real climbing and only a couple of difficult scrambling points that you need to concentrate on. And the guides are excellent at making sure there are no issues at all. We all made it up with little difficulty, taking just under 2 hours for just over a mile of distance.   The rest of the day was a steady down, a steady up and down and then one last steep scramble up to the camp.

In general, I was coping with the altitude, but the days climbing had caused by back to get tight and that niggled me through the rest of the trip.

Fri 15 Feb

  • Karanga to Barafu
  • Distance: 2.31m
  • Walking Time:  2:42
  • Elevation Gain: 610m
  • Max Elevation: 4640m
A look at the hill up from Karanga Camp as the groups start heading up
Heading out from Karanga Camp

This was an extremely short day, under 3 hours, as we made our way to the highest camp of the trip.   We started out at nine and made camp before noon. Today was all about resting and sleeping, for tonight we were heading to the summit.  Over lunch, and again over dinner, we discussed the organisation for the final climb, the kit needed and the timings.  The plan was to have dinner around 1830 and then “breakfast” for 2330, with the intent to start the climb before 0100 on Friday morning.

Some of the team sitting in chairs in the final campsite
Setting up in Barafu – notice the orange loo tent

Barafu camp definitely felt the largest, the tents are spread out over a large area. There’s a higher camp (Kosovo) but most people appear to stop here.  All you could do today was pack your things and then rest. There was a lot of repacking!! 

Looking up the path out of Barafu camp, with trekkers slowly heading downhill
People slowly trickling down from their summits

I managed to get some sleep in both sessions, which felt good. A wake up call at 11:30, breakfast at midnight and then we were ready to go.

End of part 1 – Part 2, summit day, next