Where the ‘Hell Down South’ did this come from?

Here I was just minding my own business in North Wales, when suddenly up pops a message on Twitter saying:

Image courtesy of www.hellrunner.co.uk

The winner of our 2nd race entry give away into Hell Down South is….. me!

Now I never grumble at winning anything, the last two things I won were Super Bike Weekend Tickets and Family Tickets to the Cinema, which I gave away to family and friends.  This time it was a running event so I was delighted to have won entry to Hell Down South, it seems like, well, hell!  First things first I better see when and where it is before accepting.

The good news is that I am free on that date and it’s just around the corner in a place I know and have been to before.  The bad news is that it is in 9 days time and having been ill for the last 2 weeks, my fitness has declined a little.  I can still push out 10km with no problems, but this race is 10 miles.

Come to think of it 10 miles is not too bad, I used to run further than that every weekend.  But this race has the added bonus of being cross country, up and down hills, through mud, sand and rivers… rivers!!!  The bog of doom as it is delightfully called.

The more I read the more I know this is right up my alley! We just love getting wet and muddy, but then we are islanders.

I was filled with some trepidation as I was driving to the event and the snow began to fall, how cold was it going to be?  But I arrived at the staging area just as the tannoy announced that we had 10 mins before the start of the race.  I had not time to think as I needed to find the baggage area and make sure I had my gloves and hat on.

IMG_2583
Image courtesy of YouTube clip by www.mudstacle.com

We were off. This wasn’t too bad at all the first km was along a gravel track, but then, we turned off and were going cross country and within seconds we were crossing a knee deep stream.  This would be the last time my feet were going to be warm.

As I was in Wave 2, the kind runners in the first wave had broken all the ice!

I felt fully of energy and even though there were a couple of muddy hills to climb, before I realised it we were greeted at the half way point  by the army cadets and a water station.

Quite frankly the second half of the race is incredibly difficult compared to the first.  The hill climbs are relentless and at one point I had to stop and help the person behind me climb up a 4ft ledge created by a tree route.  The only way you were getting up this was to help the person next to you when you reached it.  I also realised that the only way I was going to finish this was to use my energy efficiently.  This meant walking and scrambling up the hills, then hop, skip or slide down the other side and when you reach a flat section to jog and get your energy back.  This is not easy when you have just scrambled up a 100m muddy slope and your jelly legs feel like balloons.  Push on I keep telling myself and it helped to have my Garmin watch on to keep track of the distance.

Image courtesy of www.mudstacle.com

Then it was time for the legendary ‘Bog of Doom’ and even though I had seen the pictures I still wasn’t quite prepared for this. Walking into the bog, then there was a sudden drop and you were up to your chest.  As you start wading through the submerged mud it is a surreal sight.  Wading through this bog, with high banks on either side were spectators had gathered to cheer us on.  Flamethrowers going off on either side and smoke machines enhancing the eeriness of it all. The odd scream would ring out as another competitor drops into the bog, but you have to keep moving forward as you start to lose all feeling in your legs and torso as the ice cold starts to set in and sap your strength.

IMG_2581
Image courtesy of YouTube clip by www.mudstacle.com

Through the smoke you can see the end, but then it drops down further and I find myself neck deep in this smelly, muddy bog.  Someone is actually doing the breast stroke next to me as they can’t touch the bottom!  The water level starts to subside and next thing I know I am being cheered as I exit the water, covered in mud and freezing.  It takes mental will power to get your limbs back into action again, but the only way you are going to warm them is to run again.

Image courtesy of YouTube clip by www.mudstacle.com

Angels appear in front of me!  Yes I am still running but we arrive at the Heaven from Hell tent with people dressed as angels handing out water and jelly babies.  These were well needed jelly babies as I was starting to feel quite drained at the this point.  I actually think it was this brief 2 min stop that helped me recover enough to get to the end of the race.

Considering you were already drenched, cold and tired and were hoping the end was coming and you could hear the tannoy in the distance. No such luck.  Turn a corner drop down a muddy slope on your backside and land straight into a river.  Wading chest deep across the river, up the steep banking the other side, traverse along the ridge line and then back down to the river again!

Image courtesy of YouTube clip by www.trekandrun.com

Then hell was really starting to set in as you reach the sand pit!  Running about a km along sand really started to take what energy I had left in my legs. Just keep moving on, a glance at my Garmin said we were almost at 15km!

 

Next thing we were on a gravel track, which I vaguely recognised.  This was it the end was coming.  I picked up my pace, I saw the barriers lining the track I was at the end, but…..

You were never going to finish this race without one last dunking and literally 15m from the finish line you leave the track and wade knee deep through a stream before coming out the other side and sprint the 10 meters to the finish line!

That was it, Hell Down South had been conquered.  Considering I only found out I was running this race 10 days ago and I had done no training at all for it, I was really happy finishing 597 with a time of 2 hours 10 mins.

IMG_2570

Would I do it again?  You bet I would!

Image courtesy of www.hellrunner.co.uk

 

 

 

Due to the fact that you will be submerged in water up to your neck, I was unable to take any photos during this race.  All photos attached to this blog have been appropriately credited. If the original authors wish them to be removed, contact me and I shall immediately delete them.

Mini Break to North Wales

One of my New Year Resolutions was to get away for three mini breaks in 2015.  We are getting off to a great start as here we are in January and we are spending three nights at the Quay Hotel and Spa in Deganwy, Conwy, North Wales.

View from hotel room

We had a pretty good drive, stopping off at an Ikea near Birmingham to break the journey up and so we could feed the little one.  We arrived in Deganwy around 3.30pm and checked in with no problems. It didn’t surprise us to see that our room was at the far end of the hotel, this seems to be a trend with us which we can only put down to the fact that we have a baby.  It doesn’t bother us and in this case we were shocked to see how big room 257 was, although we discovered an extra bathroom designed for disabled people.

There was no time to go out and explore as the weather was closing in and darkness was falling quickly.  In fact the weather was getting really bad and it was blowing a gale outside, which sort of reminded me of 1987 when I listened to that howling gale (!) in a little place called Touchen End in Berkshire.  Thankfully the little man didn’t notice the wind and he went to sleep as normal. Or so we thought as he was up at 2.30am and wouldn’t go back to sleep again until nearly 5am!

After a very restless night we were up, had a very light breakfast before going to the pool.  Even though the little man was a little tired, he still enjoyed his 30mins in the pool.  Afterwards we needed to get out into the fresh air before the weather turned.  It was a gentle 10min stroll into the centre of Deganwy, which doesn’t have much to offer apart from Antique shops and cafes.  After only a couple of minutes we had seen the entire village so we parked ourselves in a quaint little delicatessen called The Olive Grove Deli & Cafe.  It was a small establishment, but the staff were extremely friendly and the Bakewell Tarts were a delight.

Street Art near the Long Stay Car Park, Conwy

Our next stop was the short drive to Conwy as we wanted to visit Conwy Castle. The long term car park just around the corner was a bargain at £2 for 8 hours, and at £6.75 per person the Castle wasn’t too bad either.  Castles are not renowned for being pram friendly but Conwy was ok. A slope leads up to the main entrance and then you have about 6 steps and then you are in.  As long as your pram can deal with cobbles then you are fine once you get in. The odd step here and there but nothing too bad.  You are never going to be able to get up any turrets but you know this before going in.  We always take it in turns to go stairs to investigate the narrow passageways to see where they lead.

It was interesting to be in Edward I bedchamber (or what was left of it) and for some bizarre reason I was intrigued with his secret room used to watch the chapel service with its en suite.  I had a surreal moment as I sat on his private toilet and thought to myself that just over 800 years ago Edward I was sat on this very spot!

The little man was almost ready for a feed, so we had a quick walk around Conwy seeing the smallest house in Wales, possibly the UK, and it was pretty small and looked like it needed some extra TLC as it is looking somewhat dishevelled now, nothing like the red building that appears on google searches.  I am 6ft and I could just about see through the upstairs window.  Not sure I could lay down in that house!

Feed time and we stopped at the Time Cafe Bar for some late lunch.  This family run cafe is a real gem, with artistic clocks mounted on the walls that give a real sense of London chic.  There is a wide selection of homemade food on the menu, but ensure you check out the specials board as the fishcakes, salad and new potatoes and chicken & leek pie with chips and mushy peas that we both had was delicious.  Just a shame we couldn’t eat together, as the little one decided just as our food came out that he didn’t want to sit anymore and wanted to be held. Would certainly recommend a visit.

So concluded day one.

The wind was out again last night but the little guy slept through most of it and was wide awake by 5.30am.  The weather today was miserable so our sight seeing was going to mainly confined to the car.

Our first stop was at Betws-y-Coed to see the Swallow Falls.  According to Trip Advisor it was best to stop in the lay-by next to the Swallow Falls Hotel because then you do not have to pay for parking.  After getting dressed in my arctic gear, armed with camera and umbrella I made my way to the steps leading down to the falls.  Only to discover you had to pay to get through the turnstile! It would have been nice to see the falls but I am not paying to walk down some steps in the rain to see them.  We had just driven through Gwydyr Forest Park and with all this rain there are plenty of falls to see for free!

We needed to feed the little guy so a nice little cafe was required.  Looking at the map the small village of Llanberis looked as good as any.  After driving through the spectacular countryside with the rain blowing horizontal we discovered there really wasn’t very much in Llanberis when the weather is like this.  Thankfully the little guy had fallen asleep so we decided to push on to Caernarfon.

Parking next to the impressive castle I struggled up the hill because the wind was getting really fierce.  We found a little place call Y Gegin Fach or The Little Kitchen. The place was pretty empty but that was due to the weather.  The staff were extremely friendly the food was very tasty and piping hot.  Even the little guy made an impression on the staff.  Would highly recommend anyone to visit, although I hear this place is very popular so you would have to time you visit just right to get a table.

View from Penmaenmawr with the wind whipping up the sea

After a walk around the town, time was starting to be against us so it was time to head back, stopping of briefly at Penmaenmawr as we thought there was a spectacular long beach.  `Turns out there wasn’t, but there was some good views of the sea being whipped up by the strong winds.  So strong in fact that I was having difficulty standing at times.

Back in Conwy there was just enough time to have gelato at Parisella’s on the high street.  Couldn’t quite bring myself to try the ‘Blue Banana’, but judging by how empty the container was, this was obviously a local favourite.

So concluded day two.

When you thought it couldn’t get even windier, last night proved us wrong.  Unfortunately the little man had a restless night and we were up eight times.  On my fourth time of getting up we decided to put him in the bed with us and he then slept through until morning.

We had a great stay at the Quay Hotel and Spa, the rooms were spacious, the staff really helpful and between the two of us we used the spa, gym and swimming pool.  It was just a shame the weather wasn’t on our side.

Random Castle we passed

On our way home we travelled through the vast Snowdonia park, along the A55, A5 and A470 all the way down to Dolgellau.  We were going to stop for lunch here but as the little man was asleep we thought we would push on to Welshpool.  That wasn’t such a good idea and he woke up wanting to be fed and we were still some 30 mins away from Welshpool.  In the end we saw a place called Cann Office Hotel that was in a place called Llangadfan.  Just the right place at the right time and the little man had his lunch.

After 6 hours driving we finally arrived home. All in all this was a great three nights away.  We managed to see plenty of North Wales and if the weather had been kinder we would have seen plenty more.  Definitely worth a trip back again someday.

Where to next?

Babies Separation Anxiety: celebrate or commiserate?

If I was to say the words ‘Separation Anxiety‘ I would probably here the collective shudder of new parents everywhere. The only reason older parents are dismissive is that they have actively suppressed all memories of it.

Our little one is about to be 10 months old and his brain has  reached that stage of development whereby he now understands the concept of being separated. There were no warning signs, no gradual build up not even a courtesy email or tweet. One day out of the blue it just suddenly happened and it was made all the more worse because he had a really bad winter cold at this point as well.

Crying-baby-cartoonOnce the concept of being alone has been realised, babies naturally don’t like this, panic, get scared and want to be held all the time. When we say all the time, we mean all the time, even to the point that he will not go to sleep unless you are holding him. When you do put him down, the mercury switch in his brain triggers, he wakes up realises he is alone again and cries hysterically until you pick him up again.

After 3 hours of this in the middle of the night, the poor little fellow is so exhausted he can hardly keep his head up. But, as soon as you put him down the cycle begins again.

Googling about causes as we take it in turns to comfort and rock him back to sleep doesn’t offer us, the parents, much salvation.  All I read is this is a phase of emotional development and it will ease at some point between 12-24 months!!! We feel the bags under our eyes sag that little bit further.

The only thing you can do is pick them up and reassure the little one that everything is going to be ok. Letting them ‘cry it out’ is just not an option for us. It is too distressing for them and also for us, as we cant bear to hear him cry that hysterically.

The bond to their mum is the strongest, which can upset mum because they never seem to get a break, but, it also upsets dad because he tries to help but can’t because the little one only wants to be consoled by mum! This is tough, but dads need to persevere and eventually he will be so tired that he will lay on your chest and fall asleep.  He will of course wake up every 30mins or so to double check dad hasn’t left him on his own.

The good news and to be positive about it, this is just a natural stage of development and the little guy is becoming self aware! Cogito Ergo Sum you could say. And that is a moment we should celebrate and be proud of, albeit at 3am when your patience is running a little thin and you may be on the receiving end of a one way diatribe from your better half if you tried to explain that point.

In the end you may both feel fed up with the seemingly endless walks around the bedroom throughout the night trying to cradle him back to sleep, but you should be proud.  Our little boy is growing up.

New Year Resolutions?

new-year-resolutions-2015I have been thinking what, if any, my New Year Resolutions should be.  In the past I have never really set myself any, however I do believe they are a good way of setting out your good intentions for the forthcoming year.  According to the NHS website though only one in ten of us will achieve our goal.

It seems to me that there are a couple of reasons for this failure:

1.  Unattainable goals.  Some people set themselves targets that  they are never really going to achieve.  I have witnessed people saying they are going to quit smoking and actually only last a couple of hours before they start again.  It would have been wiser to say they were going to give up within the year and then have a workable plan in partnership with the NHS or their local GP.  This then brings me on to my next point.

2.  Lack of support.  People will always improve their chances of success if they have a support network to boost their morale and give them encouragement.  This could be through family, friends, community groups or even social media groups such as FB or Twitter.

So thinking all about this what are my New Year Resolutions going to be? I am certainly not a Mark Zuckerberg so I don’t think I can read a cultural book every other week for a year, simply too many things going on at home to have that amount of free time.

5ccacd00-1ae8-4a14-b670-6abcb8e9b2ec

So would any of the most popular resolutions (left) be any good for me? Most of them seem reasonable but I think your New Year Resolutions need to be bespoke to the individual and they also need to be quantifiable so that you can at least have some measure of success.  So here are mine:

Goals for 2015

  1. Get away with the family on at least one holiday and three short breaks.
  2. Complete ten races at any distance.
  3. Read ten books.
  4. Study and pass my Education Course.
  5. Publish a Post on my blog on average once a week.

Well there you go, those are my five aims for this year. Lets see how I progress.