Later this year, I will run from Rome to London. As a first-timer on the large scale adventure scene, I am aware that there is much I need to prepare, in order to not be;
a) Trapped under an avalanche in the Alps
b) Starving to death somewhere in the rice fields of Lombardy
c) Lost in a forest in France
I have had access to some fantastic brains in my planning, which has been a real privilege. From them, I have learned the following things.
(If you only have a minute or two to read this on your way to work, skip to the summary at the end to get the condensed version of my adventure plan.)
1. No-one is too cool to stretch
Except of course me, in my little Laura world. I run to and/or from work. I run to a workout session. I run to the shops. I run places. I am a runner. I do not need to stretch or use a foam roller. My legs are used to it by now. I am a running machine… Apart from the time last week when I couldn’t run because my left calf was so tight.
My triathlete friend, Tarek, told me when I started running, “Get into the habit of using your foam roller every day. When I first got into running, I thought I didn’t need to. I was younger and felt like I was invincible but then I could hardly walk sometimes.” I sat listening to him say this. I made all the appropriate interested noises and promised I would start using my foam roller regularly. Honestly, though? Inside my head I was thinking, “Yes, but I’m different to you. I’m different because I am younger and I actually am invincible.” I did not use my foam roller. My foam roller gathered dust. I lost my foam roller. Foam rollers are for losers.
As mentioned above, though, I tried to run to work last week and simply couldn’t. My left calf felt as though someone had cut about two inches off it then tied knots with the remaining bit. I had no flexibility. I couldn’t stretch it forward to step out and had to pull it in immediately that I took the next step as it would not stretch far enough behind me to get up a proper stride. I was terrified of it snapping or something equally scary. When I got home that evening, I hunted down the dusty foam roller and apprehensively laid it on the floor. I won’t lie, it was unpleasant. Like an intensely unpleasant sports massage. I was shouting with pain. I’m sure the neighbours thought there was some domestic violence situation going down.
The next day? I could run.
On Tuesday I couldn’t run. Then I used the foam roller. And on Wednesday I could run. Does it get much simpler than that?
I will not urge you, fellow runners, to use a foam roller or stretch if you are not already doing it. I will not tell you that you’ll regret it. I’ll only say this “Tuesday – couldn’t run. Wednesday – could run.”
Thus, the adventure plan starts to look like this – your body will suffer on this journey, look after it, pack a foam roller.
2. Biscuits are not a food group
Bad adventure planning consists of me mindlessly chomping my way through 15 biscuits a day, then something from the bread family on my way home from work, then chocolates after dinner. This is not because I am a running machine and can consume anything. It is because I am making bad food choices. It is not the way to prepare my body for long training runs. I’m basically eating sugar in many different forms (biscuits, jam, hot cross buns, anything) and lots of carbs. I know, since becoming a vegan, that fresh green vegetables are perfect fuel for running. I run better, I’m naturally hydrated so don’t need water during a run, I keep up a steady pace and don’t tire. I know this. I also know that this is how I will be fuelling myself on the big run from Rome to London. Italy and France are both notoriously cheese-heavy in their diets so I will be on the back foot the whole time, trying to find alternatives. Between fruit, vegetables, nuts and bread, I should be able to cobble together enough to cover the (apparently) 5000 calories I’ll need per day to keep me moving. Yes, it worries me a little but good adventure planning consists of taking up good eating habits now and of learning the appropriate phrases to communicate my desires.
The adventure plan is beginning to look like this – “Non mangio prodotti di origine animale….. senza formaggio…. senza burro….”
3. The chilblains are telling you something
Something happened this year that has never happened to me in my life. I suffered from the cold weather. Weight loss is definitely a double-edged sword and losing weight through running has left me exposed. I have less body fat to keep me insulated when I go out and because I am a runner, I go outside every day for long periods of time. Once I’d got my mind to a place where I felt I was definitely going to do the run and decided to tell the world, it was like someone flipped on the cold switch and it began. I was cold immediately after finishing a run instead of staying toasty warm for a while. My toes felt like ice blocks glued onto my feet and it took fifteen minutes of running before I could feel them again. Both my hands and feet were so sad and cold during my runs that I started to get ugly reddish-purple welts that I realised (through internet research, which is my version of seeing a doctor) were chilblains. I didn’t guard against this cold because I am clearly a fan of bad adventure planning and went into denial mode.
“I’m Northern and hardy, I have always identified with this. People who suffer in the cold are wimpy and weak. There is no place for such nonsense here!”
I no longer knew how to identify myself with this new cold person I had become. Not knowing that the cold thing was going to happen, when I told the world about my run (for this, read: made a Facebook page), I said I was going to do it in October and be home for Christmas because, how cute would that be? Running home for Christmas. My expedition leader friend, Spike, took the podium this time.
“Crossing the Alps through snow is going to be tough, Laura. It’s probably not a good idea.”
“I think it won’t be snowing though.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because I would like it to be true.”
Spike’s gentle insistence that I consider another time of year seemed preposterous at first. One cannot go back on one’s declared departure date! I have said it on Facebook, not to mention Twitter. I have told my work. I have told the people, the people, Spike! I have told them. What will they think of me? After being encouraged to think about the Alps under snow vs the Alps when green, I relented. Good adventure planning dictated that I listen to the chilblains.
The adventure plan has now been brought forward to late summer rather than the dead of winter.
4. You need to practise more than just the running
I will be camping for approximately one third of the trip. Until my brother generously let me use his bivy bag and camping mat, I was completely ill-equipped for this side of things. I figured I’d just get a tent some place (a tent shop, perhaps?), pop it in my bag and set off. I thought I’d be so knackered at the end of each day, it wouldn’t matter too much what I was faced with. This is bad adventure planning. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to sleep in the back garden, to try out the bivy bag. It was certainly different to what I’d expected. I didn’t sleep at all, for starters. I just lay there, awake, listening to the voices and cars, waiting for sleep to arrive. The mat wasn’t springy like my mattress, the pillow was all puffy and wrong. I felt unusually breathy in such a small space and by 4.40am, everything inside was cold and wet with condensation from my excessive breathiness so I went indoors to my normal bed.
Good adventure planning – camping out more often and not coming inside to bed.
5. Consider your insides
I have rebellious insides, people. A few years ago I had a transverse colon volvulus. Translation: my colon decided that staying in a straight line was for losers and instead, it was going to have a party. Problem: when your colon has a party, it sometimes then explodes and you die. That’s kind of how serious it was. Thankfully the doctors bashed down the door to that party and stopped it before it reached explosion stage, thus saving my life. Six months ago, there were two more mini parties, something on the scale of a school disco, perhaps. Not life threatening but I was certainly unable to do anything, like stand up straight or eat. A small part of me knows there is a slight risk of this happening on the run. Bad adventure planning – ignoring this possibility. Good adventure planning – trying to stop the colon twist before it gets too far with peppermint oil (good at relaxing one’s stomach muscles, apparently).
Adventure plan now includes purchasing peppermint oil tablets to take with me.