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 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

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

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

Mar 15

2018 Review

I’ve not blogged for nearly a many noticed?  Very few I say, but this is still for me rather than others.  I did eventually fix both my sites, no idea why things worked this time instead of when I have previously tried things…but work it did.

So what did I do in 2018?  Change and challenges is the best overview I think.

We’ll start with the stats!

The stats

  • Swarm checkins: 944 (+101)
  • Countries visited: 5 (-)  (Germany, Spain, Bhutan, Nepal, Austria (just for lunch))
  • Michelin Meals: 2 (-4)
  • Miles run: 62 (- 28)
  • Races completed: 2 (-)
  • Miles walked: 570 (+391)
  • Cathedrals visited: 2 (+1) (Bamberg, Vienna)
  • Movies seen at cinema: 6 (-)
  • Theatre visits: 0 (-2)

There appeared to be a lack of cultural activities.  With training for a long distance walk and then much of my time took up travelling to work abroad, there was less time to get out and do things around town. Something to do more of in 2019.


The first event of note was my first Escape Room, with my German colleagues.  I ended up on the winning team, even if we finished it with only a couple of minutes to spare. 

The only other highlight was a weekend camping out with Adventure Queens.    This is a Facebook group, with the aim of connecting and encouraging women who want to get out and do things.  From doing their first night in a tent to walking around the world, it is a very supportive group, ready to offer support, encouragement, ideas and congratulations to all who post.

Tents in a field, surrounded by trees
Camping out in Guildford


The month started off with one of my regular runs – The Winter Run.  This is my 4th time taking part.  With my overall lack of running miles, wasn’t expecting much, but I did have a great run/walk race.  About a mile in I complemented a fellow runner on her leggings and ended up going round the course with her and getting her to the finish (she’d been about to give up)

I went to The Story conference in the middle of the month – see the previous blog posts for my write up of that day.

This year’s challenge was another attempt at a 100km ultra walk.  After pulling out last year before the event, due to injury, I decided to have another go, so I seriously started my training this month. These walks were usually on my own, but I did get out for a few miles with Wine Club.  As the years go by, we have turned to more than just drinking wine 😊

Four women grinning in the woods
Walking in Surrey woods


This month I made the biggest change.  I stopped working for a company and started my own with a former colleague. In the same area (digital and marketing strategy), but smaller and more targeted.  This took me a long time to make the step (it’s quite scary) but looking back, it was a good thing to do. Year 1 has been great, we’ll see how we go in year 2.

Th first Michelin meal of the year was at Celeste at the Lanesborough. An amazing room and fantastic meal

White plate, with cabbage, stuffed with mince.
Stuffed cabbage at Celeste

More walking this month, with an outing onto the South Downs.  From Arundel, myself and 2 other women from Adventrue Queens headed west to the Gumbar Bothy for a nights camping, before carrying on to Chichester.

Stone barn, with wooden benches in front of it
Gumbar Bothy

The main reason for this was to try out my new rucksack and tent – which I’d bought in preparation for my “holiday” at the end of the month.  It was holiday only in being away from home – I spent a week walking around the Isle of Wight.  In the end, only 2 days camping due to the rain and mud, but a successful perambulation of the island. A total of 73 miles covered across the week.

The Needles, from hill above. Whote chalk pillars in the sea
The Needles
The cliffs on the South of the Isle of Wight Green hills, red stone cliffs. cloud over the sea
sea cliffs


At the end of my week of walking, it was time to start the new “job”.  So instead of going into the office every day, I started to work from home. Initially difficult, I have slowly worked out how to do this, even without a study to work from (the ironing board acts as my desk).

Walk training carried on, along with volunteering at 2 races.  A small one to start with, my running club’s race and then the London Marathon again. Fewer photos this time, but I quite like my Mo Farah picture

Mo Farah, in orange top and blue shorts, running the London marathon in April 2018
Mo Farah


Lots of walking done this month.  Final weeks of training before the main event in the last weekend – walking 100km from London to Brighton.  This was done with Action Challenge, who had great organisation across the event

Me standing in front of a big Finisheer sign, holding my medal
A happy finisher

I’d decided to split this across the 2 days, with camping overnight.  Just over 36 miles on day 1 and 29 on day 2.  Waking up and getting day done was not too bad, it was however far worse on the day after, very hard to walk and feet in agony!  But I did it, in a final walking time of 30 hours, with an elapsed time of about 36 hours.  

When training for this, you only really go up to about 30 miles max – or at least the plan I followed did.  The rest of it is all mental struggle, to just keep pushing onwards.  (although the ability to NOT get blisters is an essential skill)


I managed to remember to get tickets for Trooping the Colour this year. Not the main event, but the one of the 2 rehearsals. An excellent event, definitely something you should go to

A carriage pulle dby two grey horses, making its way across Horse Guards parade in front of a line of red jacketed soldiers
Trooping the Colour
Solidiers on horseback, in a balck jacket with gold frogging
Artillery and guns and horses

Another Wine Club event…this time we headed to Manchester for an attempt at Go Ape.  We generally managed it, except for one obstacle which caused a fair bit of trouble. A very silly afternoon – and at least the rain waited until we had finished.

Four women wearing climbing harneses in the woods
ready to go at Go Ape

One final mini outing was to Kew – I don’t use my membership nearly enough, but I enjoy it when I can

An aisle of trees


A little busier this month.  My ‘regular’ trip to the British Grand Prix for a day in hospitality was made slightly even more sporty by staying to watch England in the football World Cup on telly.  I did a second GP this month, with a trip to the German event.  As I was in Germany for that week, I drove to Hockenheim and camped.

 Parade of cars along Silverstone circuit
Cars at Silverstone

An old school friend was visiting London, so we met up and then joined in with the anti-Trump march for a few hours. The Trump baby balloon that could be found in Westminster Square was something special!

A Baby Trump balloon, orange and snarling
Baby trump

But a sad end to the month as my remaining granddad died. He’d had a fall and had been in hospital; he’d recovered from that but it was too much for his body.

My sister and I, with Granddad, in the 19702.
Sarah and me with Granddad in the 1970s


A fun day at the Running Club sports day. Some serious races and some fun ones, especially the fancy dress.  

3 runners dressed in fancy dress standing on running track
Fancy Dress race

Plus my first geekcon, a trip to Nine Worlds. For some reason, I took no photos here, even of the excellent cos play that was evident 


I spent a lot of this month on Germany, so had a weekend trip out to Bamberg  which is a World Heritage site.  Fascinating medieval town.

A gate in Bamberg. Tower standing guard at the end of a bridge
Bamberg Gates

And another weekend sent me back to Garmisch and Zugspitze.  This time I took the cable car up and then walked all the way down. A total of 15.6 miles, all downhill, a few scrambles but basically walking. A good day, but my legs suffered the next one!

View from summit of Zugspitze. Blue skies and peaks of mountains sticking through clouds
Looking down
Zugsmoitze mountain, a stony path heading down into the valley
More down

I took the opportunity of having a day with no meetings to fly back from Germany the long way round, via Vienna.  I booked flights with a long lay over and nipped into the city to see the cathedral and to have lunch

Vienna cathedral Whote and brown tiled floor, long columns
Vienna Cathedral


This was a month of seconds.  My second Michelin meal of the year was at Bibendum  Another superb room and great meal. And the following weekend I ran my second race, the Royal Parks half, on a day that started wet but eventually dried out.

A sweetbread on a white place, with black and white dolups of puree and sauce

The next weekend was spent at Yestival, a festival dedicated to adventures and challenges.  Lots of ideas shared about adventures as well as lots of practical advice about planning, fund raising and executing them

A sign saying "say yes more", white lights against the darkness

At the end of the month, Charlotte, my cousin, had finally decided to get married.  A vey different experience, as it was a Greek Orthodox service and party, but it was good fun

Bride and groom in front of priest. Behind alter are gold icons of saints
A marriage day


A month of holidays – which I’ll write up separately. But first a visit to Bhutan (via a day in Nepal) with the parents.   And then a week in Tenerife on my own, with time spent walking the mountains

A red and white monastery on the side of a mountain in Bhutan
Tigers Nest Monestary
Mountains and blue skies
Volcanic mountains


I finished the year in the same way I finished last year, with a few days away walking. This time I went to the Peak District for a couple of days walking up hills, along with a day on a navigation course.  Dome good learnings, even if the weather was wet and windy.

A Green public footpath sign on the Moors
Peakk District sign
Apr 15

The Story 2018: Jarvis Cocker

Jarvis Cocker

WARNING: liveblogged – left in first person

Jarvis Cocker

Jarvis Cocker

This is about the Extraordinary

Artists are storytellers, they tell us different versions of the story about what it means to be a human being. Lots of people want to be an artist, but everyone of you is an artist, but perhaps you have not realised it yet maybe you have been looking for information on how to be an artist in the wrong place.

You are trying to be unique, like everyone else. But you unique and maybe you are overlooking at in your quest to be unique.

I’m going to teach you how to be an artist. And teach you how to fly. I will tell you how I learnt. Where do people learn how to do things – at school. School did not teach me how to be a popstar – which is what I wanted to do. So I formed a band. It was the standard line up, drums, bass guitar and plastic tortoise. Decided wanted to play concert at schools – tickets 20p for live Pulp…but if were going to offer 30mins of live songs, you need to have the songs.

Where do we look for inspiration?

In Pulp’s case, it began with Shakespeare, inspired by an English lit lesson [he played an extract of Shakespeare rock]. It was a bad song that illustrates what starts to happen when you start writing songs; and as a singer, it is often your job to write words. So, to get round fear, so you may write a funny song or the sixth form poetry route (a song that sums up the total of human existence in 3 minutes). Between the 2 pols, you have to try and find the way for something to say.

So a definition of an artist could be someone who has a unique and convincing way of saying something.

If you look that part can you be that part. At 15-16, i knew I wanted to be in a group, but did not know how to do it. My look reflected this. Hair – from Ian McCulloch. I loved Echo and the Bunnymen – perfect for hair that tended towards bushiness. A ‘beard’ from Stranglers Hugh cornel singer. Glasses – from Elvis Costello. That was good – it turned NHS glasses into cool rockstar glasses. Thought if I looked like the stars, then maybe I would develop their talent…

I learnt that I should be looking at closer and more mundane. There anything more mundane than a bus journey (reads lyrics from Inside Susan, about a bus journey) recorded in 1992, based around events of the school picture – so 11 year lag. It took 11 years to recognise the inspiration that was all around him at school

The next chapter, was St Martins School of Art, when it was at Long Acre. The name gave me hope, school of art. surely you learn how to be artist there. We got lectures about artists, etc, but I never got to write a song about the artists. But i got into raving. I wasn’t supposed to, obviously not, but it was an education [he read the original poem song that became “sorted for es and whizz”]. So this was on album in 1995, about events in 88, so down to a 7 year gap ( I’m not going to talk about the other song about st martins college)

He had escaped from Sheffield, felt I had to keep escaping by writing songs. (quotes lyrics of Wicker Man, on the last album – as story about a river in Sheffield). In the end inspiration I’d been looking for had been under my nose all the time, it took a change of scenery. that’s what makes it easy to miss, if you are always gazing towards the horizon it is too easy to discount the underlying reality. the scenery the mundane, the everyday life. but no, that is you , that is the important things.

I promised to unlock your creativity. [picture of a traffic cone]. If you think about an everyday object, you become aware of associations eg town planning, cars, traffic. If you were at uni, the ones on tops of statures or buildings. If you download video, you may think of VLC. Or the album of kraftwerk. Or works of art.

The point is that we see the same world everyday but the way we reconstruct that world inside our heads is to be the complex web of associations of upbringing and culture etc. A human eye is also a projector, we see the same world, but we reconstruct it in different ways, may be slightly different, but everyone is doing that. All you have to do is write that down, express that in some way. it will be a unique and creative work of art. accept uniqueness and capture the associations and you will be artist

You have to tune in to the wonder that is all around you, it is all there

The ordinary moments…becomes the extraordinary.

Apr 15

The Story 2018: Zoe Whitley

Zoe Whitley (Tate Modern)

Zoe Whitley

Zoe Whitley, curator at the Tate

She wants to talk about the “never meet your heroes” statement…because she’s never met hers. It’s about expectations. When you meet people that are larger than your life, you don’t want to meet any who may show something that does not meet that, that shows their imperfections.

She wants to talk about artists as people. She can’t assume that anyone has seen the exhibition she curated, so how does she talk about the exhibition if you have not seen it. So, she’s going to talk about the artists.

On Monday the Obama portraits were unveiled. Her Instagram feed was 100s of pictures of Michelle; every other black curator was so excited about it. She was shocked that ‘regular ‘ people weren’t too happy about them. There were big stories in the press. She challenged friends perceptions, eg how the flowers in barrack’s portrait represented things. She talked about how the artist used colour in particular ways. But those are not the types of things that interest everyone. A starting point – what does it mean to curate for ‘regular’ people (ie not art appreciators). For Michelle, this was a painting that would exist in an intuition that little black girls could visit.

In working on soul of the nation, what it would mean for people who looked like her, what would they think. How do you communicate ideas about who gets to be an artist, the different types.

She started to study art history at 14. She had gone to an elite high school, in which she could do studio art as history. By 15, she could name and recognise modern artists, people who would put LA on the map – male, white etc. However, there were other influences – Guerrilla Girls; a group of visual artists, who talked about representation. She talked to her teacher about this – who did not get defensive but gave her a book about African American artists…so she could learn about the relevant artists.

Thinking about soul of the nation, about physical objects that people would pay to see, to make it a subject matter that was relevant to the lives of young people, to get people through doors in London. They commissioned a series of films that exist on line – you did not have to come to museum to be introduced to the artists.

An artist needs mirrors to see themselves. The young white artist can cobble themselves together from many artists, the young black artist can’t. That is changing. It’s why there is such excitement about Black Panther. It is not everyday that people like her see themselves as nuanced characters in popular culture.

For Soul of the Nation, the lead image was by Barclay Hendricks, a self portrait, in a superman t-shirt, but naked below waits. He created it as it as an icon – with metal leaf. It is focusing on what it means about seeing yourself (about being mirrored).

One artist was Betty Shae, born 1926. She always knew she was going to be an artist, she has one image from when she was be 5, it opened some of her recent shows where there was a lifetime body of work, started with the early crayon drawing. At what age do we become artists – or get messages from society and family that we should not be that, that we need to follow a career path. Picasso said all children were born artists…and the challenge is to remain that.
It was really important that they kept the artists foremost, instead of the work, because of the struggles that had to do the work

Apr 15

The Story 2018: Camilla Wright

WARNING: Liveblogged. Edited for clarity

Camilla Wright is the founder of Popbitch

Camilla Wright

Camilla Wright

You think you know what the story of our time…but often what you see is what one paper wants you see, or an advertiser wants, or a couple of people made up. So what we see becomes narrow. Popbitch can be broader. Founded over 20 years ago, every week they send out about 500k emails, covering the news of the week. In 1998, (the time of Britney Spears, One More Time) pop culture was not the daily currency it is now. Pop for 1998 was just for kids, the coverage of music was boring; they thought there was room for pop coverage for adults.

There was little shared culture. They looked to set up a magazine, but the costs were enormous. it was hard. just getting WH Smith to stock was impossible. A year later, with the initial growth of the net, newsletters were starting. This is something they could do. They were working in news industry, so they know there were more stories than were being told.

They decided to write up the stories and send out to friends. They had one night with weed and whisky to try and come up with something. The following morning, woke up with the name on a piece of paper. Popular and populist is important. They wanted to cover it and cover it properly. They really started with a text email, sending out to friends. Started off talking about Notorious BIG. The first issue ended with Boy George having an ironic death (nearly), being hit by a glitter bomb. They sent lots of trivial facts out. eg Robbie Williams new dog, Mel b Xmas present. Over the next few weeks they tweaked. after a few weeks we realised that people were trying to subscribe to it, people they did not know. It was all handrolled then.

The media started to cover it…people asked to subscribe and they started to share their stories (back with them) they did not pay (fees), people just wanted to share. eg Madonna wanting to name her baby, Geri Halliwell writing cheque to the dentist. A lot of it was trivial gossip, but occasionally was more.

In 2002, they almost blew the story of the phone hacking. In one of their stories, they mentioned d how they could dial into messages. It was 4 more years before the rogue reporter arrested and 2009 before it was pushed out by The Guardian.
They recognised that it is in popular culture that real shifts can take place. They told stories that turned out were important – but the most important was the one they could not tell. One story that got linked to them – Beckham having an affair. It was never published in the newsletter but discussed with a few people on the message board. But that was enough, the lawyers all came down on them. They did write an article about the hassle and there being no smoke without fire…but added nothing about the affair. They were on the 10 o’clock news, the front of the newspapers – all about how they were gossiping and scurrilous. The press punished them (even though everyone was after the story). The press chased them; Popbitch was still a hobby, they were stalked on way to walk. 1000’s signed up; they couldn’t cope. if they were antagonising the lawyers, they were doing something right. The PR world was worried about them, they tried to close it down. the old world was getting worried.

They were telling the stories that people in the know were talking about anyway, but not telling their readers. They just decided to open it up, the democratisation of gossip. You don’t want there to be one approved line, you want there to be many stories, the truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle….doesn’t mean everything is right, nor that they are always right.

Saville: when alive was eulogised for charity. In Popbitch, he was more likely to be a creepy gangster that too close to the girls. When he died, Popbitch said that they had the most bad stories about Saville; when alive everyone loved him, he was now a monster when dead.

But the very nature of this type of gossip mean they get things wrong. Or right.
James Corden, most newspaper coverage would suggest he is the most popular star, but there is no one recently we have had more negative stories about. The story about Ant McPartlin is not the story behind the scenes. Gordon Ramsay’s father in law ( Chris Hutcheson – ran his restaurants) They got a story about him, a second family. They wrote a blind story; his lawyers got in touch and took out a super injunction to stop the press talking about this. So could not talk about it (until recently, when Sun applied for it to be over turned. And Hutcheson is a story that keeps on giving.

They do push the bitch with the pop, but try not to be mean. They try to be sharp. but have got this wrong sometimes, They want people to feel love and warmth, not just bitching. They want people to share, you may want something sharp to take off the saccharine of the celebrity culture.

Mar 25

The Story 2018: Elijah

WARNING: Liveblogged, only minor edits

Elijah at The Story

Elijah at The Story

Elijah (and on twitter) talked about his history with Grime music and culture from London pirate radio in early 2000s.

Jamaican parents, born in Hackney, lived there all life. Got involved in music in late teens, eg in Notting hill carnival 1994. The sound developed, reggae, jungle, garage through to grime

He listened to pirate radio, and did not realise that not everyone had the same experience; he thought the radio was the radio, music is music, grew up listening too all types of local music. It was something he wanted to do that..but was at school and was being pushed toward an education – get exams, get a job, make money, make family proud. The push was not to be the guy that left behind…but he still loved music.

He got his a-levels, then studied business (to be employable). Lots of people he was listening too were selling own records..making music in house, sell locally, plough money back into the making. He was not ready to go to his mom and say he was going to be a grime off he went to Uni in Hertfordshire. It was a shock, he was not used to it being that quiet! There, he met a music partner and started to work with him. A year into degree, started on Rinse FM, a pirate station, hidden away. The first time he went, there was no one to play for ages. Asked for feedback, he was just asked to come back (nothing else!)

He graduated in 2009, but the crash happened. He interviewed a lot and no one had anything; he was being told he was not fit for anything. So in end 2010, decided to take the music seriously, to be independent on his creativity. So he moved from asking for things and asking for permission to just doing things. And then people started to ask things from him. the moment he decided he was not going to look for a job and he stated he was going to make music and he had a label…so people started asking him stuff. His first album was 200 quid cheaper to do in 2 colours, that’s why black and yellow in his label colours.

He has never been in the charts, or ‘blown up’ (something he could tell his grandmas, for them to understand what he does) but has had freedom of creation, and chances to travel etc. Far better than what he expected, entering a the office job treadmill

Even though he does something niche, he wants to show it is good, he wants to get niche ideas in front as many he put his label logo up in shopping malls etc, he just put his stuff out there. Don’t have staff, interns etc, just learning things as they go. It was comfortable, doing things he wanted. Grime particularly gave them a blank canvas, there were no rules..they were forming them as they went.

Does not take for granted his living in london…he may not have lots of privileges, but still many than most places, the freedom of speech should not be take for granted.

You hear the phrase ‘bring people though’ a lot in grime..getting people into the scene, giving back to the community, share info, share with other people. help people make deals etc. He’s now doing a lot of that.

Mar 15

The Story 2018: Mandy Rose

WARNING: Liveblogged. Only minor edits/amends

Mandy Rose and Video Nation

Mandy Rose and Video Nation

About 25 years ago, she found herself watching a tape that had arrived in the post. There were shots of mirrors around the house. Then colonel Gordon Henshaw started talking..about how mentally you don’t feel older, the mirrors show you the reality of time

He would have been the last person you would go to…and wouldn’t necessary ask the question. but in his home with his own camera, he was great.

This was the first of Video Nation. 2 min stories at 10:29, just before Newsnight. Before youtube, something not seen much before.

Gordon was one of 55 people who had been given cameras a year before and asked them to record everyday life. it came from a bbc team, to open up public space and get people to tell own stories on their own terms.

They had been experimenting with camcorders with video diaries..15 mins programmes. this was intimate, brought a sense of place, a breath of fresh air instead of what was seen as documentaries then

Video Nation developed this, a group of people around the UK to record over time

Mandy had found the traditional docu making process problematic, using someone’s story for own project. She had found herself on arts programmes, the Late Show. less ethically problematic for her. She saw an advert that married video diaries and the mass observation project. this had 2 aspects..the traditional anthropological study of UK life…oxbridge went to live in Bolton to look at locals. the other aspect, a national panel was established, to write diaries about their own lives.

It owed as much to surealism as it did to journalism, as their manifesto illustrated. eg shots and gestures of motorists, the football pools, bare armpits and eyebrows.

Mass observation offered an alternative approach to docs. They started with an intriguing to get a group of people to record everyday life. They visited the mass observation archives to get ideas.

They puzzled how to reflect it in a group of 50 people they may not be accurate in a scientific way. but they had a model to represent diversity, to reflect what was really out there. 50% women, 20% over 60, a wide range of political views, a wide range of incomes (split into 20% cohorts), and different communities

The stories were about family life, about identity, about being others, when it came to migrants.

As the tapes bagan to arrive, (they were sent in the post). it became clear the project was tapping into a rich seam, you would never know what would appear next. they refused to conform to expectations. the emotional world was rich, full of details, often tender. they were often in the home (where people felt comfortable).

It was not just handing over cameras. training was key, showed people different ways to record them self. straight to camera, behind the camera, the handheld selfie’. They encouraged people to say things aloud, to articulate values, to reflect their world, when things both good and bad, when things were on their life.

The bbc edited, the people had the right of veto. and this was critical, as people were free with what was recorded as they knew that they could see the final version and could say no (the lawyers were not originally happy with this, but it was a good thing)

Mostly it was pretty banal..occasionally things were more serious (eg something about northern ireland)

Shorts was not something the audience were that comfortable with…the call log was interested, people called up what aws the point of the programmes, were they supposed to real.

The BBC needed to find ways of reflecting the wide range of people that were out there, and this was one of the ways this was done. over time the calls stopped, the audience started to accept the form. they were seeing how there were many different views, how they reflected the people and finding out how complicated people are.

They got films they would never had asked for (eg lady with pregnancy bump) You look on yt and there are many similar videos now, (the woman at about 39 weeks) but they’re not on bbc2

Many people watched shorts, could get an audience of 5m, people never knew what they were going to get. they paid attention. people often spokes about them

When she was asked about them, she described the whole process,and she felt the interest drain away, it was though this took away the magic if the films the collaboration was not a compromise but the best way to get the story

The participants were in control of their agenda…they developed that opportunity over time, to understand how to use it

Video Nation’s success was about the balance between the edit team and the subjects, a co creation.

Mar 14

The Story 2018: Tanya Byrne

Note: this was liveblogged at The Story 2018. Minor amends and edits only

Tanya Burn

Tanya Burn

Will be talking about ‘Who am i’

It should be a simple as ‘I’m Tanya‘. But is there anyone in the room who hasn’t asked further.

To explore that, will be telling the story of how she was born

Wed 22nd Dec, her mother was due to have a caesarean the following morning. Her mother knew the family would become three in the morning. It did, and after a few weeks they went home. That was the nice story.

The real story? It was the coldest winter on record. Her mother had had 3 miscarriages; and this was 6 weeks before due date. but there were issues, and her mother, a midwife, was aware there were issues. So they agreed to do a little caesarean. After it, she was handed a child, and she said it could have been anyone.

The nice story was what she was told when she was young. The real story is what she was told later, when her father left. Again. He’d also left 3 days after the baby was taken home, he left many times

Father was Irish, mother was Guyanese. She never felt either. She asked her mom is she was guyanese..he mom said she was british. but she never fully felt british, given the names she was called etc

She felt her mom had it easier, she knew was it is. she knew she was Guyanese

Her mom was the first to leave the village…the british had come over recruiting for nhs. she came over and was not treated well, she got training. but all of the hard shifts etc. She met the father, he was a porter. When the parents got married, they became estranged from their families…that was the story she was told, that her parent’s families had disowned them.

For much of her growing up, it was her, her mother and her brother. growing up she felt raw, unfinished, she did not know how she fit, not having the family. her father died when she was 26, that was done, she has not had that history.

She managed to get her mom reconciled with her family..and things started to make sense. she saw people who looked like her..and she could see where the behaviours came from, her sisters were the same, she started to eat food she had never had. She heard stories that she never had. the women were cooking and talking, the men in the other room drinking and smoking…she started to hear stories about her mother, how she was a little hellcat. the mom used to ride bikes (not done, she would ‘lose virginity’. she used to ride to river and paddle in the river.

she learned more about her mom in those few years than she had in the 15 years before it now a lot of the stories had gone and she would not get it back.

When she writes a books, a lot of them are around identify, and she goes back to her teens. when you are a teen, there are massive life changing decisions being made. university or not, sex or not. but it is purgatory, making decisions but not feeling adult enough. maybe she feels that if her characters can work out who they are, then maybe she can

She doesn’t know who she is and maybe never well, she knows who she is not and who she does not want to be. she thought her story was done at 40. but she came out, and she moved..and she started her story again. she does not yet know her story and who she is

but she knows that wherever you are now and who you are then is not where you were then (as a teen) you’ll get there..and when you do, think about the story you are going to be able to tell

Mar 04

The Story 2018: Lisa-Marie Neudert

Note: this was liveblogged at the time. Minor amends and edits only

Lisa-Marie Neudert

Lisa-Marie Neudert

Lisa-Maria Neudert works at the Oxford Internet Institute, researching how algorithms are being used to manipulate public opinion. about how we as a society are having public conversations and how we are participating in public life

So this is about conversational propaganda. Starts with where are you in Brexit and Trump

They are investigating whether what had influence on these, eg Russian propaganda. Not sure yet, but there is definitely an impact from online life. It is global, high impact and very real time..through the web, with your newsfeed tailored to your choices. The shared experience is getting lost. There is increasing talk about polarisation, about echo chambers, the loss of journalist gatekeepers.

We are living in an info rich environment, something that we have not done before, when there is so much content to pick and choose from. and how do we navigate? Attention is highly valued and sought after. How do you grab this as a politician? So we have seen attention hacking…computational propaganda

Story 1. Macedonian teens who figured that fake pro-Trump stories were things that people clicked on. so they set them up and waited for ad dollars to roll in

Bots amplify topics…also with micro targeting, political marketing and advertising to find the people interested. The problem = propaganda has changed. Propaganda is not new, but how it is created and used is. Propaganda started with Alexander the Great = he had storytellers telling about his deeds. But now the channels and forms have changed and increased. We are in the next evolution, making it more powerful and impactful.

At the core you still have manipulation – emotional. what is different know is the methods. It is data driven; it has access to the user data you volunteer as you use the web. Automation both for creation and distribution enables scale. It has never been as low cost to disseminate the message to the wider audience. You have take it out of big tv ads etc to social, where it is low cost. The media is more than a natural evolution. Social media has shifted and provided opportunities to easily get content to users. It has never been so easy to make videos and sites that look professional. Look at the pro-gun bots that flooded about the Parkland shooting, they were pro-gun, pro that is was the lone wolf.

The mainstream phenomenon – the politics of post truth that is about playing around with narratives, pushing stuff that is not true as truth. trump on a daily basis, brexit. See it across Europe. It has become political mainstream. facts are being twisted to the agenda

So do facts matter any longer? Yes, they are important, but it gets harder to distinguish what is a fact..the politician not using them as much, the platforms not acknowledging that they have a problem in sharing things. Also citizens not being able to distinguish. WEF asked about trustworthiness of media..70 % of people said they had difficult to distinguish truth from falsehoods on social media

Her phd is looking at trying to find info…her training would be to gather lots of data about this. but it is difficult, as the platforms won’t share. The platforms that were being challenged to provide the a researcher, she could not get access as not in the groups and the platforms not sharing with researchers

One area of focus has been junk news in elections (US, FR, DE, UK). Looking at sources that people were using. Looking at 30 million feeds and what was shared. Looked at the sources. Big 2 categories, the professional news sources (BBC, CNN, from parties, from candidates). On the other hand junk news. (ie fake news, but can’t use that term due to devaluation of it). this is conspiratorial, biased, non factual. So how much of the latter was being what were the proportions

US 1-1; FR 7-1, UK and DE 4-1.

So US is far more using junk news…UK/DE still quite high, but nowhere near the US.

Who was the target of propaganda?

They looked to see if swing states were targeted? They were sharing the largest amounts of junk information. They were being highly targeted. It is more than the internal society, it is targeted, from somewhere outside. Other areas – blacklivesmatter, gay/lesbian communities, veterans orgs. all targeted – they people who were unhappy with the political situation…tailored for them

‘Destroying the field’ is the technique…it is not so much about a specific agenda, it is about sowing dissent, confusion, making people feel happy in their everyday life

We are shedding light on a couple of things seen, only focused on a couple of networks, but there is so much more to focus on. there are more than political bodies, there are big corporates etc.

  • 2000000 employees are working for Chinese gov on social media and prop
  • 7/10 shared stories on Merkel were fake in the DE news
  • 126million Americans have seen junk news on Facebook alone. 19.1m interacted.
  • 16k dollars was what one person in Macedonia made from 1 news story..because they know how it worked.

Public discourse is at risk.

The junk news is scaleable, immediate, personal. And it leads to the next dangerous element – solutionalism. (something must be done)
That can impact freedom of speech.

Mar 04

The Story 2018 Conference: Juno Dawson

Note: this was liveblogged at the time. Minor amends and edits only

Juno Dawson

Juno Dawson

Juno Dawson

This talk may not be fully on brief… it’s about the side hustle of being a story teller. She is a storyteller first, and everything else second. but there is always the side hustle.

She got into writing a weird way; she was a primary school teacher in Brighton.. she was borrowing the books from her kids. There was a book with an apple on the front that a lot of girls were reading – it was Twilight, started borrowing more, it was felt to be a golden age – eg hunger games etc… started realising these books had everything. She had been a big fan of high school movie and these books were the equivalent.

But she didn’t recognise herself, the characters were very middle class, white, straight, cisgender etc so she decided to have a go at writing her own. Her friends were dubious…she started out on her own experience, about Pendle and growing up there. Took her and her 3 best friends and put them in the plot (it became Hollow Pike). She made goals along the way – sent chapters to friend, who was asking always what was next. then it was a challenge to finish it – that would be an achievement. She also used it as a hobby to keep herself busy…to prevent her cheating on her boyfriend, who was away a lot 🙂 (lots of laughter)

She sent it to an agent. The agent said it wasn’t ready…bu there was something there, so get it finished. Eventually she got it finished an get it accepted. She caught the tail end of big boom on teen fiction (not as easy now). she had her agent, and as her side hustle (the writing) was becoming the hustle..and teaching became less important… When she had a deal she left (she felt it was not fair on her kids as she was not focused on it)

It then stopped being was the job. Her second book was not easy, the sequel to Hollow Pike. Then the 1st book was not selling well, so asked to bench the sequel (after 1 week of sales)…it felt like she had failed, she could not talk to people.

Her advance did not go as far as she thought it would do. The agent got some, it came in chunks, the taxman got it, She had quit her job, moved to London and her money was dwindling really quick. So what could she do? Go back to everyone would see she had failed.

She decided now she needed a side hustle. so that was the Carrie Bradshaw model..a freelance journalist. She had just read Caitlin Moran and recognised that non-fiction could have a character.

Had recognised that sex ed is often very badly done..down to good staff, not consistent. and LGBT is really poor. Teahcers don’t really know what they are meant to be talking about

So she proposed writing a non fiction book – and she knew she could sell the pitch rather than the manuscript. So she had a new book deal…a small advance for ‘Being a Boy’. It sold well and the publisher asked her to write ‘Being a Gay’ But she could not write this; however, inspiration struck and she decided to call it ‘This book is gay‘ (after lots of telling kids should not use this form a lot at school!)

The publisher agreed..she would also interview lots of people of different types. Through this process, she recognised that she herself was trans. The book has just been published in its 22nd language. Has lots of good feedback about it.

The reason she is still here, writing full time and speaking, the side hustle of writing non fcition has become more lucrative.

Storytelling and novel writing is now a lovely hobby again. fiction writing brings her the greatest satisfaction. The pressure has been removed and she does not have to churn out fiction, so not reliant on the advance checks. She has time to breath. Thinks her next novel is one of her best works.. it was fun to write, wrote last summer over 3 months, character just came to her. She was supposed to be writing The Gender Games…but the story was demanding to be told.

The reviews have started to come in and they have been glowing, she thinks the readers can tell how much she enjoyed writing it.

And the reason she can do that is the hustle of non-fiction…she’s just had her first commission from Cosmo.. now shes back to where she was in 2010…really enjoying the storytelling.

Maybe the take home message is get good at something and then get good at something else.

Mar 04

The Story 2018 Conference: Ministry of Stories

Note: this was liveblogged at the time. Minor amends and edits only

Ministry of Stories

Ministry of Stories

From their site: The Ministry of Stories is a local writing and mentoring centre in east London, where anyone aged eight to 18 can come and discover their own gift for writing.

What do they do:

Writing and mentoring space in East London. Hidden behind a shop. Inspired by the Superhero shop and story telling group in the US. Set up about 7 or 8 years ago.

So how did they come to sell monster supplies?

They had to work out what type of the shop they wanted, to provide the story foundations. They started off with 3 ideas: for aliens; for young pickpockets and then finally settled on the shop for monsters – Hoxton St Monster Supplies. They created the fiction around the shop (to encourage storytelling)- ie it opened the same day that Frankenstein was published. Their early products were related, eg a neck bolt tightener.

Kids come along and engage with the signs on the door, with the product etc, eg they set up everything as though it is a real monster supplies. A few principles….the shop is for monsters, it is not about them. It is a very witty joke told with a very straight face. There is no landfill (so recyclable, reusable etc). Products such as fang floss (string), zombie breath mints , ear wax fudge etc. The sales from the products allow them to provide the workshops for free to the local children (looking for more fundraising ideas, eg sponsorship, licensing)

The absence of the monsters in the shop catalyses imaginations – even the cat is invisible. the effort they put into their fiction, gives children permission to make stories