FREEDOM in a Pandemic

Another summit in Norway with Abelone.

In recent weeks, as restrictions on travel, social distancing and borders open, it has somehow felt that living in the times of a Pandemic is a little like toeing the line at Big’s Backyard Ultra. Instead of running loops around a yard, we wake up each morning for another loop of 24-hours not knowing where the finish line is and when it will come.

Covid-19 for us runners is a very unique ultramarathon.

In all honesty, I do believe that ultra-runners are somehow better adapted for the challenges that a Pandemic brings. Mental fortitude and resilience have come to the fore and when restrictions were really tough, runners rallied with running at home. Virtual suddenly became the next big thing. It filled a gap and brought people together from all over the world in a mutual coming together to enjoy a love of sport and community.

The impact on work has been huge for all and the consequences of this will continue on for months and years on personal levels and business. It’s a sad time.

But early on, I accepted that 2020 would be a wipe out. Being somewhat of an OCD character, this took a little time to adjust too. My year of work was planned out. The schedule was timetabled and suddenly, it was gone… What was full, soon became empty. I have felt my moods swing with positivity and at times I have wanted to put my head in my hands.

But quarantine and social distancing, in all honesty, was no big deal for me. I actually feel that I have social distanced most of my life and sport has only reaffirmed that.

Yes, I enjoy the company of friends. Yes, I enjoy a trail run with company. Yes, I enjoy a beer and a meal with others and yes, I have missed my family.

The summit os Slogen, Norway in July with Abelone.

But I am good alone, in isolation and finding my own footing. Time on the trail has always allowed me to switch off, think, contemplate, plan, work out problems, come up with solutions and form ideas.

When running with others, I am often asked, ‘Are you ok? You are quiet!’

‘I am perfect; I am just out of the office and soaking up the time,’ often my reply. 

In recent months, or should I say for the whole of 2020 so far, I have immersed myself in a new life in Norway with my girlfriend, Abelone.

Little did we both know in February after being at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica that we would spend 24/7 for the coming months together. I laughed early on saying, ‘Well, this is one way to find out if this relationship will work!’

It has been the best thing to come from a Pandemic.

FREEDOM is something I always had being self-employed but the freedom to do ‘my’ adventures was dictated by travel and a hectic work schedule. Freedom often only really came in the middle of the year when I would block off some time in Summer and then December, which I would treat as sacred and my opportunity to explore and adventure.

2020 has seen my diary flipped with little or no work and constant adventure. 

Here is Scandinavia, we were very lucky with Covid (exception coming from Sweden who handled things differently,) particularly in Norway, cases were low, death rates were low and although social distancing was required, our freedom was not impacted. In all honesty, many locals confirmed that the trails in Norway had never had so many people on them in March, April and May. No doubt helped by some amazing weather. 

Scandinavians love the outdoor life and Covid only emphasized the need for space, outdoor adventure and exercise. A wonderful mental and physical prescription that all doctors should prescribe. 

I am used to travelling when I like, eating in restaurants, meeting friends when I want, and I am used to being surrounded by people at a race. Some would say I was free.

But was I?

August is here and I am now looking back at social interactions in 2020 since March and lockdown.

  • I have seen no family.
  • I have seen 4 friends in Norway.
  • I have run on the trails with Abelone and one other person who we had to social distance with.
  • I have interacted with 3 members of Abelone’s family.

And that is it…

So, my freedom was and is still certainly impacted upon and I relish the opportunity to hug a friend, travel back to the UK and see my Mum and my son and equally embrace them like never before.

But no work has allowed me a freedom of time, not financial, to do what I want.

Adventure is on the doorstep for us all.

Now, here in Norway we have a pretty big doorstep. At a third larger than the UK, getting around Norway can take a while but with just 5.5 million people in contrast to 66 million, finding space and social distancing is no problem. Hardanger, Stranda, Romsdal, and Jotunheimen have all been on our list and even 1,2 or 3-day adventures from home have become regular.

Just yesterday, we ran 15km from home, wild camped in an isolated location and then ran 15km home.

I have always been a lone wolf with adventure. At best, I have shared an experience with just one or two others. I like my pace, my schedule and my itinerary and am somewhat inflexible, yes stubborn with changes and I do like to plan. I can see Abelone roll her eyes now…!

Photo ©JanNyka

The escape of outdoor life has always provided me with an energy. I even got that with my work, often hiking out for hours on a trail to sit and wait, alone, for runners to come. 

So, what am I saying?

The Pandemic is rubbish, for sure. Is it going away? I hope so, as soon as possible, but as I said at the beginning, currently we are all running loops at Big’s Backyard Ultra and nobody knows how many loops are to go and when the finishing will come. 

One thing we do have, albeit at varying levels depending on where one lives in the world, is freedom to explore from home. So, embrace what you have and do not think or focus on what you do not have or what you cannot do.

It’s no surprise that FKT’s have never been more popular. 

Many have said, ‘I cannot wait for life to return to normal!’ I agree to a certain extent, normal would be good… But then again, was normal good?

Will life ever be ‘normal’ again, or, are we looking at a new normal?

I don’t have answers.

But I will keep running the loops and enjoy the newfound freedom I have for now.

*****

Have you found freedom in 2020? I would love to know.

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Multi-Day Racing – It’s not complicated

It’s Not Complicated…

Let’s get one thing clear, multi-day racing is simple, it is often over complicated and this creates too many questions and too much confusion.

Let’s hark back to Patrick Bauer’s pioneering days and simplify the process, just like he did. Over the years I have interviewed and chatted with many runners in bivouac and after racing who have done just that, they had applied simple logic and worked out what would work for them. 

Yes, they had taken advice, looked at websites, processed information but importantly they had found out what worked for them. They realized early on that they were an individual and as such, they needed a personal approach to multi-day racing and not a generic one. Not all multi-day races are the same, some are completely self-sufficient, some are semi self-sufficient and others are supported where all you need is transported for you.

When you break a race down, particularly a self-sufficient race, key things are really important:

Pack

Must fit and be comfortable when loaded. Have enough room (but not too much) for all your equipment and provide easy access to fluid. You must also make sure that your race number is visible as per race rules. Think about additional pockets, such as a waist belt for snacks.

Sleeping Bag

Lightweight, packs small and warm enough. I would always recommend a sleeping bag and jacket as it offers more flexibility, reduced weight and reduced pack size. Popular sleeping bags year-on-year are PHD, Yeti and OMM. Read HERE on how to choose a sleeping bag.

Clothes

You just need what you will run in. However, a spare pair of socks is often commonplace and many runners have one or all of the following: a warm base layer, a lightweight down jacket or waist coat, buff and maybe long lightweight pants. Remember, you have to carry everything, so, it’s all about getting the pack as close to minimum weight. At MDS that is 6.5kg plus water.

Sleeping Matt

It’s optional but a good nights sleep is important and usually those who do not take one wish they had. It provides comfort and importantly an insulating layer between you and the ground. Two options exist – inflatable and roll out solid foam. The choice is yours. The inflatable ones offer more comfort, more flexibility in packing but with poor admin, you do run the risk of a puncture. I’ve used inflatable for many years with no issue. A solid foam Matt will last the week with no risks of problems but they roll large and need to sit outside the pack.

Shoes and Gaiters

Shoes (more below) are personal, just make sure they have a good fit, appropriate drop for your needs and suit your run/walk style with enough durability for you. I say ‘you’ because someone like Rachid El Morabity can complete the whole of MDS race in say 21-hours whereas most people won’t even do just the long day in that time – his shoe shoe choice will and can be very different to what most of us need!

Continue reading

Nepal Trek – Three High Passes in Images – Renjo La, Cho La and Kongma La to include Kala Patthar / EBC

“Coming back to Earth from the high peaks you can feel like a stranger. Bearing experiences that are beyond expression… And beyond price!”- taken from MOUNTAIN the movie

Just a few day’s have passed since I returned from Lukla, back to Kathmandu. My Nepal trek suddenly feels like a distant dream. As I have slowly worked through my images, I have found it difficult to grasp and come to terms with the journey undertaken.

I cannot find the words… I hope they will come? For now though, I have to let the images tell the story. I need to absorb the process and let my emotions come to terms with a dream fulfilled. Needless to say, this trek was beyond expectations.

What I can write, are the facts.

My plan was to undertake the Three High Passes – Renjo La (5360m), Cho La (5420m) and Kongma La (5545m) in the harder clockwise direction with the addition of a diversion to Gorak Shep to go to Kala Patthar (5545m) and Everest Base Camp (5364m). Finally, I would conclude the trip with Ama Dablam Base Camp (4800m) before returning to Namche Bazaar and onward to Lukla.

Typically, the Three High Pass trek takes 21+ days without including Kala Patthar, EBC or Ama Dablam.

I took one day from Lukla to Namche and on my return, I took another single day to return from Namche to Lukla.

I had one day in Namche for acclimation.

I completed the High Pass Trek with additions in 7-days – I am truly thankful to Sherpa Kaji for his incredible guidance and experience on the trails! Pasang Sherpa for his knowledge and continuing support with all logistics.

You can view my GPS inReach track

My itinerary was as follows:

  • Day 1 – flight to Lukla, trek to Namche.
  • Day 2 – Namche acclimate day.
  • Day 3 – Namche to Lumde
  • Day 4 – Lumde to Gokyo via Renjo La Pass
  • Day 5 – Gokyo to Dzongla via Cho La Pass
  • Day 6 – Dzongla to Gorak Shep and an out and back to Kala Patthar
  • Day 7 – Gorak Shep to EBC and and back and then onward to Lobuche
  • Day 8 – Lobuche to Pangboche via Kongma La Pass
  • Day 9 – Pangboche to Ama Dablam Base Camp and back and then onward to Namche
  • Day 10 – Namche to Lukla

Total distance covered was 173.74km

For now, a visual story – the words and detail will follow. If you would like to read about my equipment and planning, please go HERE.

If I may suggest, please listen to Violin concerto in D major: OP61: II Larghetto – by Beethoven on Spotify here or YouTube here.

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