Race Organising

When I started Fell running, or running off road before that, I had no ambition to race (despite that being the impetus to get me started – I got entered into a race in 2008 – the GRIM).  But as the runs got longer, faster and more challenging and my fitness grew and being a smidge competitive the racing idea really bit.  Now lets be frank – I am a mid to back pack runner.  A top 50% finish for me is a good day and racing typically for me is as much an extension to the ‘adventure’ an off road run offers me – but typically in a different place over unfamiliar ground .

That all said I have grown to really enjoy the buzz and the sense of camaraderie at Fell races.  a Fell race start line is second only to a doctors waiting room for horrific medical stories.  “Hello mate – how are you?”, “oh blimey, you wouldn’t believe the ache I have in my left leg..” OR “well I’ve got this cold and I’ve not run for over two weeks”, “rough mate, I just want to get round and finish today you know..?” and so on.  Make no mistake, the minute “go!” is shouted these people, if you so much as blink, will have left you in their wake for dead.

Its great.

2018 SBPR start line, just before my brief.

One such race that I really enjoyed was the Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round.  A classic race on Pendle Hill, just short of ten miles and about 590m of climb its reputation is that of a very runnable race – the record is an hour and six minutes.  The bulk of the climb is all at the beginning, the rest is level or trending downhill, bar too short sharp climbs near the end. It is a race organised by my running club – Clayton Le Moors Harriers. Check points to run too, no marked course to follow, local knowledge and or navigation skills required.  In Fell runners speak it looks like this: BM, 16.7km/590m ER/LK/NS over 18.

The extra challenge is that it is an early spring race – the first Saturday in March so the weather can play its role too.  I ran it three times in all and continue to enjoy the running the route to this day, which is just as well really!

After the 2015 the Race Organiser (RO) wanted to step down and was keen to off load the race ASAP.  I had long thought that organising races might be a way to make some income – you know £25 race entry for a medal and t-shirt type races. Fell Running is about as far from that as one could imagine, but might be a good place to learn the skills required to operate commercial races.  The SBPR was essentially a fundraiser for the Clayton Junior section (subsidised vests and race entries for the kids etc.) but also made a donation to the local Mountain Rescue Team (Rossendale and Pendle MRT). the conversation ran between various committee members and running training nights, but no one wanted to pick it up.  I wanted to run it, so stayed quiet.. (RO’s cant run in their own races… ish) Then I thought, well perhaps I should be the one to RO, I like the race, I know the hill and the route well, i felt I would be a suitable ‘custodian’ of such a well established race.  Although the SBPR came in to being in 2011 before this it was named the Half Tour Of Pendle and goes back over 40 years.  I tentatively put my hand up….

Eek! what have I done! How hard can it be?  Book the hall, a few entries, get a few marshals, bit of cash handling….  And to be fair that’s what it is.  Its quite busy for a really short space of time and then it goes silent for about 9 months of the year.  I am fortunate to be a part of a big running club. Clayton organise multiple local races and have a huge amount of resource and expertise an such matters and whatever questions I had – they were well answered.  My regular running group pals were all keen to help out and support me in 2016 – my first bout as RO as well as several of the ‘legacy’ marshals who like to help out at that race in a specific location – some of those I have yet to meet! (CP3)

A big part of Fell Runners Association (FRA) races is the Race HQ, frequently rural, a local school or marquee at a summer fete for example, the SBPR runs out of Barley Village Hall where the committee there put on soup and cakes and drinks for the runners post race – always a long queue for Audrey’s soup! A formal expectation is that RO’s liaise with local land owners to get permission for the race to be run.  This is where the fun started… Most of the land owners are very supportive and understand that 200 odd runners are not going to have a long term impact on some of the less well used tracks and trods on the hill and so are happy to give consent, this includes United Utilities – the local water company who have been nothing but supportive as I learn this trade. One individual farmer however has a tricky set up, his sheep lamb in early March and the home fields he uses to keep the ewe’s close are the same fields we want to finish our race in.  The big concern is rainfall – too much and the ground (boggy at the best of times) gets cut up making it difficult to get his quad bikes up the hill to collect any struggling ewe’s and bring them back to the yard.  Now I get that – this land is his income essentially, where as it is my recreation. Of course I will support him in that and do not want to make a tough job harder but I do believe the impact of the runners – on a public right of way anyway – is over stated.  Either way, I have been asked to re route the finish.  Not a major problem and actually the re route has been praised as a better finish by many.

After that first discussion – and refusal I decided in the medium term I wanted to change the route.  That said in 2017 – were were on the usual finish, 2018 changed again!  I am now determined to change the route to avoid his land full stop.   Best get the map out!

So what are the stresses and worries?

Well, entry forms in advance.  It should be an easy matter – I know, I fill them in to, but peoples hand writing is at least as bad as mine!  ( I type and print mine out). Also – email addresses, I ask for an email so I can acknowledge I have received the runners entry  – a simple courtesy to my mind but also to pass information regarding route changes, or even a possible cancellation, if runners don’t supply an email address – it is a pain – potentially for them! I must confess the idea of an online entry system is appealing….

Flagging the amended course in sub zero gale force winds the night before.

The weather.  We had snow in 2016 and 2018. Barley village is in a valley with several steep hill roads around that regularly get cut off in snow.  The weather is the main consideration really, although the concern is less for the runners well being – they will have decent kit (we check) and tend to like the adventure… it is the marshals, who are stood largely still for several hours and have to get in to position and off the hill again.  I marshal myself in both a paid professional basis and as a club volunteer – I know how baltic it can be stood still for a few hours – even on a summers evening! So the initial risk assessment I did, in line with the FRA’s RO guidelines gave consideration to weather impacting on the race.  In short, if we can get to the start line there will be a race – it just may be a shortened one, as this year 2018.

Marshals.  Getting the right people in the right place at the right time. It takes approximately 25 people to steward the race to the standard I want. This is in part due to various Checkpoints (CP’s) requiring a count of the runners – not just heads, but the actual number on their vest so we know not just how many but WHO is on the hill and ultimatley safe back again. Believe me the various sweepers who have supported the race all tell tales of runners “heading off in the wrong direction” or generally looking confused with a map in their hands.  The count is a vital mechanism.  Following a fatality during a race – that could have possibly been prevented -no one new the runner was missing, the start line count has become a part of the fell running tradition.  We know that as so few people grumble about it now! Especially on the longer races or when the weather is poor.

Three orange marshals

For accounts of the tragic side of fell running – it does have its very real risks – do read Steve Chilton’s “its a hill – get over it”  A great book on Fell running, which mentions several Clayton legends and races including the SBPR amongst its place in the wider athletic world.

Future Plans

As a club Clayton are keen to encourage more people in to the sport (fell running) as are the FRA, so with this in mind, as as a tool to help me keep abreast of the race course conditions as much as anything else, in 2017 I offered to host two reconnoiters of the course (recce’s) for people who perhaps had never done the race, but weren’t sure if that distance on the fell was for them. I offered it at a slow pace, (c2.5 hours) with time spent looking at the map to explore route options and also allow people the time to gain some familiarity with the course.  In 2017 over the two dates I had just under 30 people join me from the club and in 2018 over two dates we had 14.  Most of which came and did the actual race – so time well spent!  Next year I am going to run one for the club and one for the wider fell running community – I shall advertise it to local clubs I expect. I do intend to develop a new route also…. before the bracken gets too tall!

Here is a copy of the race report from the 2018 which should be in the Spring 2018 Fellrunner magazine.

 

The 2018 SBPR started as a pleasure to organise.  The land owner conversations were ‘positive’ despite not getting the usual route (please believe me there is a usual route!). Changed course it is then. I prefer that amended route anyway! I know many of you did to.With a changed course, marshals sorted and memories of last year’s balmy conditions… what could possibly go wrong?                                                                                            Enter “the beast from the east” some family commitments, and various other situations requiring attention in the South East in the preceding days and all of a sudden it got quite tense…. The plan was to leave the South 8.00am Friday morning to be in Barley for 17.00 to assess the route/flag the amendment and make any final decisions that evening to get the word out the night before what was happening – by 8.00pm at the latest.  “The best laid plans…” and all that. After an epic journey back north on Friday, caused not by weather, but by road works led to me being over two hours late (thanks Steve B and Mark N for being so flexible!). Several villagers kept me updated on road conditions, so knew as long as we could get to Barley there would be a race of some sort! (Three times round the car park anyone?)

I eventually got my boots on the hill around 19.30.  Goodness it was windy!  But actually aside from the odd drift, the ground conditions were pretty good. The wind was forecast to be dropping, so the “shortened race” option was the obvious one.  Thank you to my wife for getting a “he is on his way” message out on Facebook!  I eventually got to speak to the Marshal team and all of them were very prepared to don their big coats and make the race happen. Phew!

The race delivered some testing conditions which will live long in the memory of the 156 runners who set off.  A strong field with some great route choice saw a tight battle between some Pendle regulars and an Airedale Orienteer– Alasdair McLeod, eventually stealing a march on Holmesy and Clayton local Holdsworth to take top honours.  Thank you to everyone who thanked me on the day and in the days after, but as ever the biggest thanks go to the marshals who we hope to have thawed by March 2nd 2019. 

Colin.

The race nets about £500 for the club and Mountain Rescue.  I do enjoy the process and like very much seeing racing from a different perspective.

It enables me to “put something back in” to a sport I have come to love and feel passionately about.  I fully intend to continue organising the race for the foreseeable future.

For those wondering who Stan Bradshaw was, and why he has a race named after him, you will have to come to Barley Village Hall, on the first Saturday in March with your fell shoes on and read the history of the great man on a display I put up inside the hall to occupy the awaiting runners.

See you on the fell.

 

Open 5 Series – Lake District – Coniston

Another winter, another Open 5 series… Yay! I look forward to these in a big way, once Barley Badgers start night running on Pendle again I know its not long to wait before the Open 5’s kick off.  Previous Open 5 posts and an explanation of the format are here.  This season there are only three events, every other month which I am disappointed about, but with Dark Mountains coming up in January, perhaps that’s no bad thing!

Coniston.  An area I know well having biked, walked, run, camped, climbed and raced around before, bring it on.  Feeling quite fit, with a sound bike under me I was fired up… the only curve ball might be the weather. the forecast for the preceding few days was for heavy snow, with yellow and amber warnings from the midlands up I loaded a van on Friday ready for an epic journey and was prepared to battle up the night before to ensure I could reach the start line….but on the Saturday (day before) the forecast changed and it looked like benign conditions, for the journey and settled snow and ice around Coniston with sunny skies promised too. Perfect conditions for an entertaining race.

With low level patches of snow and ice and definitely snow on the ground the scene was a pretty one.

Start/Transition/Finish area at John Ruskin School, Coniston

Last season I had biked first, then run.  Time to go back to run first then bike.  The theory being no matter how tired I am I can bike faster than I can run and if all else fails I would be able to walk and push the bike. Last seasons experiment hadn’t done anything to convince me biking first was a better bet.

The first job on collecting the map for me is to try and come up with a possible run and bike strategy, its a rough sketch of a plan as the control points values are not given to you until you cross the start line and the clock is ticking. This map revealed a few controls along the lake shore, meaning a good flat run, that appeals to me as it gets me warmed up and the blood pumping rather than straight over the line and uphill – which any where north of the Start line would be, so subject to points values, I would be heading south first.  The bike was more complex with some fast roads in and out of Coniston and a big hill or two in either direction I decided it was an anti or clockwise choice, involving the quarries or not subject to how many points were available.

Ready to go.

I started at 9.21 by my watch, meaning I had to be back for 14.21, I knelt down on some dryish looking tarmac to mark up the map…clock ticking.  My plan was sound for the run, the bike bit was looking like skipping the quarries and heading east first. I would reflect more on that later.  So I tore off at a good pace heading toward Coniston Hall and the water. With three controls bagged in the first 25 minutes I was feeling good and the conditions although intermittently slippy (wearing my usual roclite 280’s) it was definitely runnable.  Sub zero and crisp – a beautiful morning!  I try to bag points against time and scoring something every fifteen minutes is my usual aim, I was well on plan… but maybe I paused and took one too many pictures..?  Still part of doing this is all about appreciating where I am. Well it is for me anyway!

Torver Common Woods

The real uphill began at Little Arrow, a path I know well and my aim was Walna Scar Road to pick up the furthest westerly controls before heading back to Transition, bagging a few more on the way. Its been a while since I last ran in snow and it definitely hit my pace, but by now I was just beaming, I love running being out in conditions like this.

Looking north to the Old Man of Coniston

The Walna Scar Road was a mix of runnable compact snow and icy patches easily avoided. I knew it was time to start heading in once I had bagged 34 on Torver Bridge, but a part of me was thinking its cracking out here, should I just complete the run course and get all the points (250) and give myself only a short bike?  But no, I bailed out of that thought process as there are 350 points available on the bike so I picked up the controls close to the main track on my way back in (32&30). I did take a tumble on the hill into town, some black ice caught me out, but in true fell running style I bounced back up, although as I type this my elbow is still bloody sore!

The furthest west control worth a meagre 10 points…looks pretty though.

At transition I prepared to bike and whilst slurping on some soup and scoffing a scotch egg (the food of champions) I nailed my bike plan down to east first toward Hawkshead and then north toward Skelwith. I knew most of these tracks and roads so figured with an unknown quantity of ice on the roads I would manage that better on familiar territory.  The plan started with control 16, worth a bold 30 points…… which wasn’t where it was marked on the map. I expected the way mark with control on it no more than a couple of hundred metres from the buildings, yet I reached my catching feature (a sharp bend in the track with no control.  I stopped and checked the map again, measuring for accuracy… I knew where I was for sure, but no control.  I noticed a marshal on the course – very rare to see one of those on these events…”so where is it then?” I asked, “a bit further up” was the reply, so I carried on and sure enough another few hundred metres up the track there was a marshal holding control 16 in his hand, “its in the wrong place then eh?” I offered, “yes, we are thinking of moving it” came the reply.  “I would” -beep-“cheers!”. In the seven years I have been doing these events I think is the first time a control has been marked on the map wrong/placed wrong (depending upon how you look at it).  No big issue, It cost me maybe three or four minutes or so maximum.  Onward!

The next few controls were where I expected them to be, so things were going well. Really well to be honest and I started thinking this could be a really good day following on from a great run, a fun bike trip and then a possible good score (350+ ish I reckoned) to boot!  I got to control 11 with my plan being to head up and over to 10 before hitting Hodge Close and then the fast track back to town. I had an hour to play with and felt confident of squeezing it all in time. I then looked at the on the ground conditions – boggy icy hell it looked like, up a steepening hill, a theory supported by the chap coming down, who suggested it was like that all the way up, I would be managing a slow trudge at best, so I decided to drop control 10 (worth 20pts) and pile down to Yewfield and go over Tarn Hows to pick up the main road, control 14&15 and then in to the finish, if I got there sharp I could possibly get the 20 pointer at Hodge Close there and back. Head down and peddle!

Tarn Hows looking lovely. Picture by James Kirby.

It was looking like a good plan right up to to the point I got to the parking place at Tarn Hows.  The road down the hill on the other side was sheet ice and looked and felt treacherous. I stayed on my bike, but images of a fast descent froze in the winter sun and I trickled down the tarmac hill painfully slowly. I got to 14 knowing I was going to have to drop the 20 pointer at Hodge Close, but I had time (about 15 minutes) to get back in the five hours,so I set off at a pace to be proud of 4 hours 45 minutes into the event and was buzzing right up to the puncture!  My first ever competitive puncture!  ARRGGGHH! I reckoned I had just under 2km to go and a control to find. I think I got the hole dodging some kids on the track out for a walk, I am sure I went over a bramble branch and that’s what got me (as I write this I have yet to repair it…). My thought process was this, put a new inner tube in and peddle back, having got really cold (hands especially) and be late in or just run the bike back in, be late – but stay warm.  Well, warm won out so I started trotting… Thank you to all those who inquired if I was okay..”yep, just a puncture” was the often repeated reply, I got 15 (worth 30 points) with three minutes to spare and I eventually crossed the finish line seven minutes over time. Bugger!  The points loss, coupled with the forty points I  Left on the course left me with a disappointing 314 after penalties, well down the field.

Whilst chatting to other competitors (Steve and Andy) it turned out I wasn’t the only one who  had considered having a long run and shorter bike – they had executed that plan and done really well on it scoring 370 each!  Next time I might give that plan some more serious thought, I would say I am a better runner than MTB’er. Having scanned the results there were some big scores which seemed run heavy/bike light. Perhaps I missed a trick there.

Irrespective of a disappointing result  I had a fantastic day, the course planners did a great job offering some testing route choices and well positioned controls.  Roll on Edale in February!

Leave No Trace.

(bit long this one, 15 minute read time – not including clicking the links)

What do those words mean to you?  To me, they were an idea. Something to do with environmental impact/not dropping rubbish, possibly some sort of eco-fascism with a dash of tree hugging….. oh and an American idea.

I’d been broadly aware of the Leave No Trace ethos for some time now. “Take only memories, leave only foot prints” is a phrase most people with a passing curiosity on the outdoors will have come across I am sure – and it makes good sense! One does not have to travel too far from their own front door to see the impact ‘we’ have on the world around us. Sadly that impact is highlighted further once we arrive in a rural or semi rural area, even in a town park I am sure we have all grunted/tutted/sworn at the pile of fast food packaging dropped from a vehicle, 20 metres from a bin, or the cigarette ends that some smokers seem to believe is not rubbish.  Lets not start on dog poo bags just yet, for fear I may not be able to tell you about my LNT experience as I will just be ranting.

A conversation with a fellow freelancer whilst working on a DofE program in the Summer introduced the concept further, along with the knowledge that she and her partner had experience of delivering LNT training, including train the trainer type courses and that they have done this globally.  I parked all that information as being interesting and something to remember. It wasn’t until reading the Professional Mountaineer, (a trade publication)  that it popped back in to my head. Heidi Schwenk (the freelancer I had worked with and Seb Shingler had a feature in there on Leave No Trace and I read it with interest.  There was something about it that captured my curiosity and I could see it dovetailing nicely in to most areas of my work.  On further investigation, a Leave No Trace Trainers course was being run by Heidi and Seb – Lifetrek Adventures and that completing the course could count as CPD for Mountain Training.  Several years ago I decided as and when CPD type ‘things’ came along I would look at them as I need to (and want to!) continue my development  as an outdoors professional as ultimately that will benefit those I am working with and for.  So I signed up.  A little apprehensively, as is was still a cost in the “quiet season” and time away from the family and I was not at all sure what to expect (beyond eco-fascism and/or tree hugging).

I am delighted to report the course was neither.  It has left me inspired and determined to spread the message, although as I write this I am still reflecting on what ‘my’ interpretation of that message is.  I plan on creating and delivering  LNT Awareness workshops next year.

So what is Leave No Trace?

The Leave No Trace Foundation is indeed an American idea, born from a number of educational and Government based agencies/organisations including the National Parks Service and Forest Service who have been developing the concept of minimising your impact in nature since the 1960’s.  The idea that our ‘consumer society’ has a negative impact on the world around us is not new  – in fact the first study which began to quantify the impact of carbon on the environment (‘Global Warming’) was in 1896! (Arrhenius).

The LNT vision is:

To sustain healthy, vibrant natural lands for all people to enjoy, now and into the future. Every person who ventures outside puts Leave No Trace practices into action.

Their mission is a seemingly simple one: To protect the outdoors by teaching  and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly.

What is not to like?!  Something that came across in spades during the weekend was that this is a concept, an ethos, an idea – but one with a high bar and a large number of small steps to take in order to ‘leave no trace’.  If everyone that accessed the countryside did just one thing in striving for leaving no trace – how would that impact on you, each other, your children in future generations?  This is basic stuff, the obvious ones like carry out your litter.  Better still don’t carry potential litter in in the first place!  Be conscious of path erosion – tread lightly and try not to contribute. How could your actions impact upon the enjoyment of others? Mobile on silent for example? or better still turn it off altogether and enjoy that tech free window in your day.  I found some of the ideas involved with LNT  naturally shared space and aims with mindfulness, well being and generally being considerate to those around. Again – what is not to like about an ethos like that?

The team, heading out of Trefriw.

The LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics capture all of this in seven principles:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

 Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
    • In popular areas:
      • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
      • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
      • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
    • In pristine areas:
      • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
      • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

 Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

 Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

 Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

 Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

 Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
Some of the stunning scenery around Llyn Crafnant

So what did we do?

The two days were based on two low key walks around the Welsh village of Trefriw, in Snowdonia.  The walks themselves were simply vehicles to move us through a landscape in order we might see and realise some of the concepts and ethics being explored. Heidi and Seb used a good mixture of practical instruction, discussion (debate!) and some games/exercises to help each course delegate realise their own LNT ethos and shine light on the many ambiguities of human behavior.  One such game that sticks in the mind was we each had to find a piece of litter and then as a group order the rubbish in length of time it takes for each piece to break down in to non recognisable form/fully degraded. They used some flash cards to take the place of other pieces of litter, we found some wire, a tissue, a plastic bottle (of course), the head of a golf club (aluminium driver), sweet bag, carrier bag, some old wooden fence post. Among the flash cards added were fishing line and a glass bottle.  Where would you start? Which one will break down to nothing first, which one takes longest? Are any of those not litter?  What is litter? These were the basis for much discussion! The fact that struck me most on this was about plastic.  All the plastic that has ever been produced, has still not degraded yet and is out there. It will be for some time to come and yet we still produce more.

Creating the worlds best outdoors toilet, or cat hole so one might poo with a view….

We dug ‘cat holes’, looked at what constitutes man made vs natural, experimented with path erosion, considered impact on other people on the hill, the wildlife around, land management, positive impact, re-wilding, education and a whole heap of ideas aimed at supporting people to both protect the outdoors and help people enjoy it responsibly.

Another exercise gave me a phrase which will live long in my mind as it is a phrase that reflects my approach to working with people in the outdoors, it defines what I enjoy most about being out and about: the gift of discovery.  That moment where you get a jaw dropping view, find a small tarn, perhaps with island and are able to sit a while and enjoy the serenity, the run where you go somewhere you’ve never been before and see no one and nothing but the natural world, the hidden cave at the back of the crag, fresh in my mind from last nights run on Pendle a hill I know so well- a ‘new’ line downhill linking two familiar paths…. ALL these things we discover as we play out.  I ‘discovered’ them and relished that experience, so I keep doing it… looking for more new discoveries and finding them.  Why wouldn’t I, or any of us not want to pass that gift on?  Leave No Trace is all about passing that gift of discovery on to the next person.

My day to day aims are many and varied as I work & play outdoors, with groups of three year old’s to groups or individuals of seventy three years old, but all of those aims can be wrapped up and packaged under a broader heading:

I strive to inspire people to be inspired by and connect with the natural world around them.

So, added to my winter work list  is the following; to devise a Leave No Trace awareness course to promote and deliver next year as well as exploring how  I currently and how I could further incorporate LNT principles in to my work.

tread lightly.

More to follow in 2018…..

 

 

 

 

 

Boulder UK

So I went bouldering again last week.  With Graham from WAVE.  You may recall the last time I went bouldering…. I wrote about it here.

I wont recap the finer points of my thoughts on said pursuit suffice to say my expectations of myself were low.  My expectations of the shiny new centre… were high, not least because the original Boulder UK in Blackburn was often mistaken for the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta‘ not just in decor but complete with over crowded sweaty bodies and woeful toilet facility (yes, singular).

So the newly relocated Boulder UK has been open a few months on the edge of Preston, just off the M65 in fact, making it ludicrously easy to get to for anyone in East Lancs, certainly easier than the Depot and possibly even the other Manchester walls, certainly for me anyway!

view from the car park

In an industrial estate near Bamber Bridge I found the place easily which was handy as I’d forgotten the directions I’d noted down from the website….

First impressions were good – light, bright, airy and open on two sides to provide a good through draft. The registration process was easy and brief, and the staff were friendly.  Although a Thursday afternoon, there were a dozen or so people inside working problems.  However there was ample space for many more to be kept busy.

With Cafe area and toilet facilities (note – plural) it was instantly better than the old Boulder UK!  The question remained however was my bouldering worthy of such a location?

I decided to warm up gradually and I did think I would look at the kids/beginners area, but changed my mind when I realised the number of V0-V1 problems was pretty large – a dozen or more which I ticked off slowly and steadily over the next hour or so. Each problem is colour coded to indicate grade by little plastic dots, up to V8+ also indicating the starting position for each line.  I stepped up on to some V2’s and beasted in poor style my way up these.  Graeme and I resolved to spend more time climbing for ourselves this winter and less for groups! I was beaten off the V3’s I tried (both of them) and carried on for about 1 hour 45 in total, somewhere in the region of 19/20 or so problems and I have to say I was impressed. the routes were different in character and style – even at the same grade, meaning there was plenty to work on. Good music piped through out, good coffee, interesting mix of people and ages.  I am certainly resolved to head back again soon. God knows I need to do the training! There is a formal training area, although I did not visit that, but imagine its full of problem boards, campus cboards and various holds designed to torture  train you in to being a better climber!

a slice of the action.

So this is very much the style of the new Bouldering walls and one that can only add to the growing momentum around climbing as a whole that is building as we head toward the 2020 olympics, where climbing makes its debut….  I look forward to the interest that will bring our sport with eager anticipation.

 

The ROC Mountain Marathon 23rd&24th September 2017

Confidence was high approaching this Mountain Marathon. Following the (still) amazing result at the OMM Lite a few weeks ago, described here, I was well up for the ROC, formerly the RAB. This event has changed quite a bit over recent years as the new owners (Ourea Events) seek to leave their mark.  What attracts me to this event is that you can compete as a solo. Most MM’s are aimed at teams of two, so this one is a real novelty.  This would be my 6th RAB/ROC.

Since the OMM Lite, I had kept  my running to a minimum, wanting to be rested for the ROC and had decided that my regular Tuesday CleM runs (about 10-13km per evening) and one other 10km run the weekend between would be enough to ‘turn my legs over’. the Tuesday before the weekend I went off for the usual session BUT with new Mudclaws on.  Fresh out of the box, I wanted to bring these in to circulation as the RAB previously has finished shoes off – and I mean absolutely trashed them, so I thought I would be ahead of the curve and get some km’s on some new shoes, leaving my regular pair ready for the weekend.  That was mistake number one!  I have worn classic Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s for the past x many years, I have had well over ten pairs, same brand, model and for the last three pairs same colour and probably even the same batch, as I bought a job lot from Pete Bland Sports in a sale.  This was the last pair from that batch – why would they be any different?  Clearly they were and for whatever reason, this pair gave me a hot spot on my left heel two km’s in to the run and by km three I knew I had a blister…  I stopped, had a look and thought with a bit of re lacing I could get back to the van/pub at a slow trot.  Wrong. Within 500m I had bent the back of the heel down and was running gingerly as I was now wearing the equivalent of fell running Crocs…. (a gap in the market may be?)  I left the group and made my way back to the pub.

The blister,from the Tuesday evening run. Picture taken on the Thursday evening before the ROC weekend.

I am pretty good at managing and treating blisters, learnt over many years walking, running, first aiding on running events and reading many articles/books etc, particularly  “Fixing Your Feet” by Jon Vonhof (well worth purchasing – here) so I was confident I could get to a point where I could trot round the ROC, I may not get the result I was hoping for, but still, I would be there… with expectations suitably lowered.

The ROC arrived, or rather I arrived in South West Cumbria, in the shadow of Black Combe, near Millom and I was ready to start and collect my map and control sheet.  The premise behind a “score” event is you have a time (6 hours day one, 5 hours day two for the ROC) to find as many controls as you can over a given area. You get the details at the start line and it is part of the challenge to formulate a plan/route that allows you to collect as many controls on your electronic dibber as you can and get back to where you need to be  – in this event an overnight camp- before the time runs out and you start to lose points by way of penalties.  I have lost all my day one points before on these events… gutting to say the least!

Mistake number 2 then was a real school boy error. somehow in my haste I marked up the map incorrectly and gave a control a points value when it wasn’t in fact live that day – or indeed in use at any point over the weekend!  This tipped my route choice into a direction I otherwise wouldn’t have taken.  I realised my error as I was charging along to what I thought was the first control. I reached for the control description, expecting to see something like “stream source” or “spring” looking at how the map was marked but what I found was nothing. Control 210 wasn’t even on the live list, so why and how I had given it a value of 10 points was beyond me.  I quickly checked the others I had marked…. all fine. Phew!  Not for the mad house yet then… but that took up more precious time. Oh well, I will carry on, I will lose more time if I head back and take an alternative route from the start, the next control about a km away, was in my plan anyway, I’m just down a few points than I had expected.

It was at this point that the cloud came in.

The weather forecast for Saturday was clear, overcast, but not raining and clear visibility on the tops.  By 10.30 am the cloud base was down to about 400 m, it was very damp in the air and any chance at a view was lost.

Famous Lakeland scenic vista.

Now I am a good navigator and back myself in poor conditions like this, but with a scrambled brain from trying to understand why I had made a control up, sore heel and still cursing myself for starting so poorly my relocation took longer than it should have, with the added pressure being against the clock brings I was getting decidedly cranky! Several expletives may well have passed my lips, much to the amusement of the ever present Herdwick Sheep on Black Combe. Rumours I asked ‘lost’ fell runners still on the hill from the 2016 championships held here are unfounded.

I got there in the end- the next control a 20 point one loomed out of the mist.  The game was on!  I tore off north east following a trod heading gently down I was certain about my location and where to head next and the terrain was very runnable.  This would still rank as my worst start ever – 2 hours in and only 20 points!  I then came across three other competitors, a solo male and a male pair, all studying their maps and with compass in hand. They didn’t know where they were with any great conviction, so I advised them accordingly. “We’re here mate”, much gratitude was expressed and the pair carried on their way, the solo – a chap named Dan on his first MM asked to team up for a while.  Sure, with no view, conversation would be good for the next few km’s!

“OS Trig Pillar” control description

Dan was clearly a better runner than I and as we got lower down and the visibility improved he sped off to follow his own plan.

From here on in I was navigating to my usual standard and hitting controls exactly where I expected them to be.  I still get a massive buzz from that, but essentially the damage was done.  The poor tactics, dodgy heel and slower going in the clagg meant I was in damage limitation mode and the main objective was to get back to camp without incurring penalties, which I was able to do and got back in with a meagre 200 points and four minutes to spare.  My plan had seen me get somewhere between 270 and 300 which would have left me comfortably mid table at half way, instead I was languishing in the bottom 20 or so 90 something out of 113.

But tomorrow was another day!

Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent to the left
Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent on the left…

Day two and the weather was much improved.

Sunrise, early in the morning, making all the runners look around…

Feeling good and less achy than I usually feel on day two of these things and with a heel blister that hadn’t got any worse I was raring to go and at 8.13 am I dibbed out of camp to head back via as many controls as I could in a bid to make amends for the previous days woes.

And oh what a day.  Stunning conditions, runnable, although wet ground and with clear visibility.  It was like running a different event, my route choice saw me tackle some controls I had visited the previous day (all correctly marked up this time!) but the views were stunning, with Eskdale and the Scafell Massif to the north and the Irish Sea and coast to the south and west it was a view to inspire.

The going was good and I was pleased with my lines and nav to the controls.  We were all wearing GPS trackers supplied by Open Tracking (part of the Open Adventure team) and being able to review the routes you took is an excellent feature of the ROC -one I hope they continue to maintain.  You can see my day one and two routes with each click search for my name or “303”.

By two hours in from the five I had about 120 points… a much better haul!  My day two total was 300, which placed me 53rd on the day from the 113 that started – which is where I usually am, mid pack, but because of day one’s error and conditions I finished overall in a disappointing 75th.  The heel is now healing nicely and although somewhere between uncomfortable and painful did not get any worse which was pleasing.  Just as well as I am DofEing this weekend for Sam Sykes Ltd down south so will be on my feet all weekend.

I almost wish I was competing at this year’s OMM… I’m gonna have to wait till 2018 for my next Mountain Marathon fix… Still, the adventure racing season is almost upon us!

This short video captures the 2017 ROC nicely I think.

 

For those interested Kit wise I used:

OMM 3/4 length leggings, TNF boxers, Injinji socks ( a pair for each day), and a Berghaus LS tech tee. I wore a Haglofs windproof gillet also as main kit with an Innov 8 cap on top.

I had a Montane Minimus smock and over trousers, both worn at camp. Also a Montane fleece jacket thing – very light and a Rab micro down jacket and New Balance full length running tights and a Montane beanie hat all worn at the over night camp and meeting mandatory kit requirements. Gloves (Aldi Merino ones) and a buff (race swag) were carried but not worn.  I ran in Mudclaws – the classic 300s with the proper 10mm lugs – a well worn in pair!

I slept in a PHD bespoke down sleeping bag, with a silk liner on a 3/4 Thermarest Neo Air mattress which has a slow puncture despite multiple repairs, it takes all night to go down, so it kinda works. Tent wise it is a TerraNova Laser Photon 1, with a foil blanket as a foot print to protect the floor.  I use Alpkit titanium pegs rather than the tooth picks the tent comes with.  I cooked on an Optimus Crux Lite stove and used a 650ml Evernew pan and 300ml cup (titanium)- it all sits together with an aluminium wind shield (home made). I used a 3 litre Nalgene ‘canteen’ for water capture at the camp and on the hill i used a 750ml SIS bottle – filled as a I passed suitable water sources. Food wise I used two small zip lock bags of trail mix, one for each day (Peanut M&M’s jelly babies, cereal bars cut into thirds and malt loaf) plus a couple of gels (SIS) and a Peperami and a Babybel cheese or two. Over night I used a mug shot and some Extreme Adventure Food (dehydrated beef stogganof – disapointing it was..), with a few handfuls of salted peanuts to finish the job of refueling off. (oh and maybe a small whisky to go with them nuts…) two tea bags, two lemon and ginger tea bags and a small serving of coffee for the morning and a porridge pot for breakfast.

My first aid kit got boosted and I deliberately took a 50g tube of Sudacream and some dressings, relifix tape and moleskin to dress and protect the blister. This worked really well. The other stuff that’s in there didn’t get used.

All this was carried in 2 dry bags and an OMM Jirishanca rucsack (35l I think – but it never seems big enough for that number, this is an old one – 7-8 years maybe, not sure they make them anymore.). A few extra bits like contact lenses, specs, a small MUVI Camera (poor mans GoPro!), Smidge and a small ‘swiss army card’, lighter, gas cannister partially used one weighted in at 200g and titanium long handled spork thing (Alpkit again). Despite carrying a tent and sleeping bag you are supposed to carry an emergency bivi as well. I took a SOL Emergency Bivi cause its tiny and light. I took an Alpkit headtorch, whistle, red and black sharpies for map marking on each day, my phone (off) in a sealed bag as it is GPS enabled. I have a small PAYG hill phone, but discovered it wasn’t working to late to do anything about it which is a shame as its very light an weighs next to nothing where as my Phone is a Samsung Edge brick type thing….   All of this kit is well tried and tested – no issues with any of it! I think that’s all the stuff I hauled about, oh two Warburtons bread bags for my feet at camp.

It weighed about 9kg at the start before water and was 7.5kg on the Sunday before water but including all my rubbish, which we quite rightly have to carry out.

midway camp, waiting for the kettle to boil, detritus all around!

Heavy for this sort of event – the elites would be running with between 4 and 6 kg’s.  Personally I prefer a bit of comfort these days so as long as its around 9kg starting weight its good enough for me. I camped next to a competitor who finished in the top ten – she was a tougher nut than I! With a real lightweight purist approach to her kit… may be one day eh?

The OMM Lite, September 9-10 2017

The OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) is just that, a marathon in the mountains originally launched as test of team work, mountain skill and running ability. The OMM has long been the bench mark of multi day navigation based events in the fell running/orienteering community.  The OMM Lite is a more recent idea, developed as an entry point to multi day running events, or as a training vehicle, it is on trails and rights of way rather than open fell/mountain with the navigation being less daunting. The checkpoints are at path junctions or significant features rather than on some tiny contour feature in the middle of nowhere!
The Day One map – with weather enforced edits
The other key difference is that the the competitors in teams of two, don’t need to carry their overnight kit like on the full OMM, you return to a central point to refuel, recover and sleep.  The OMM also want to encourage families to attend so family tents, partners and children  are welcome to make use of the event cafe and bar!  This would be my second OMM Lite (and 10th Mountain Marathon) and the plan was that  last years team mate (and previous OMM partner and general running pal) – Graeme from Scotland would run with me whilst our wives and children would amuse themselves around the Yorkshire Dales for the 7 hours on the Saturday and the 5 hours on the Sunday of the “Long Score” format.  We would be charging around the Hawes area finding red and white flags with Sport Ident dibbers and collecting points.
What we were seeking
Well, that was the plan….
On Wednesday before the Friday night drive to Hawes, Graeme rang to say his wife had been quite poorly and that the weekend was in doubt… They would know more after a Thursday morning doctors visit.  By 10.00 am Thursday morning, the weekend was off!
With Jenny ordered to bed rest, Graeme clearly wasn’t going to abandon her with their 6 year old to come and charge around boggy bits of Yorkshire with me.  Gutted!  A quick scan of the website and OMM rules and a brief exchange of emails and text messages with the organisers and it became clear I could turn up and run solo, but be ‘non competitive’ for the weekend having been judged to have had enough experience to do so -or find a partner and transfer the entry, which we could do right up till the start on Saturday morning.
I was working for Outdoor Elements that day on a ‘big group’ day, so it was much later that afternoon before I could start reaching out to people I thought might be up for it.  But… No joy with the ‘usual suspects’ from the BG Whats App group so I thought it was time for drastic measures and potentially to find someone I perhaps didnt know. After all, worse case scenario I would treat it as work!  A quick post on the Team Clayton Facebook page, after all its a big enough club- someone must be up for it and available!  But no… desperation kicked in… the idea of being non competitive just did not appeal – those that know me, know I am never going to win these things – but I am damn well going to put a shift in and the idea of getting a “good score” but it meaning nothing was too frustrating to consider.  Time for a post on the Fell Runners Association Facebook page.  BINGO!  Within thirty minutes I had some potential partners, with one looking promising, he (Paul) had done the OMM before, completed the Spine Challenger race (110 miles up the Pennine Way) and could get a pass for the weekend which by 9 pm on a Thursday evening was no mean feat!
We arranged to speak Friday lunch time and by then,  the show was back on the road. so Paul, and I met at registration on Saturday morning in Hawes at 8.30 am and by 9.45 were running the OMM Long Score together.
a muddy field with some stuff in it
And what a weekend it was! The weather was wet to say the least, torrential rain had caused many of the rivers to be in spate so several fords were now marked as out of bounds and a few checkpoints were dropped for competitor safety, but the two of us seemed to find an even stride. When you have 7 hours to fill on the hill with a complete stranger, you talk about a lot of stuff! With weirdly loads of that stuff in common, we discussed the possibility that either of us could be some kind of axe murderer, but ultimately agreed the fact we were there meant we were the right kind of crazy!
Day one team selfie
It turned out we were both generally “mid table” in our results. I’ve always said top 50% is a good result for me, top 75% is more common!  SO what happened that Saturday was just bizarre…and amazing.  We came in after 6 hours 45 minutes, 41 km and a score of 500 points to find ourselves in 9th!!!  9th!!! I’ve never been that high up a leader board in my life!  A celebratory beer was in order!
Athlete! We are actually sat with the team in 12th place overnight swapping stories from the days doings.
We were both gob smacked, but very thankful that we clicked the way we did.  Our strategy and tactics seemed in tune.  We were keen to put in a good performance to see what we could achieve on the Sunday…could we improve our lot? Would we slip down the field? Was this as good as it was going to get? We had met the teams in 7th and 12th and seen several of the other teams around us earlier on the hill – competition was going to be strong.  For me, sleep that night was good and deep, tired and satisfied at a good days trot.
A little too good in fact – My alarm went off at 6.55… I shut it off and promptly went back to sleep!  Waking again at 7.25, I was decidedly on the back foot – we had arranged to meet at 8.30 am to set off soon after!
The forecast was shocking – heavy rain due in from mid morning and a stronger wind for the rest of the day. We were going to have to dig deep to battle the elements and see if we would hold on. Neither Paul or I had ever finished in the top ten before… but we were kinda liking the view!
We eventually set off at 8.40.  At a gentle pace initially to allow ourselves a gradual warm up and legs creaking back to life. It was a tough day over much more traditional OMM terrain, with greater distance between the check points to boot.  The high ground was particularly tough in the wind, but we both felt we had enough in the tank to push for the higher value checkpoints – the risk with these events is always that you can push too far and end up burnt out and miles away from the finish line which leads to penalty deductions if you are late back. I have on several occasions early on in my mountain marathon/adventure racing career made this mistake and lost most of my points by being 30 minutes and later back to base! We were both keen to avoid such a mistake today.
Day two. Tired, wet – but determined.
We nailed it. 4 hours 56 minutes and 30km on our feet we came back knowing we couldn’t have done any better or given anymore.  Cold, wet and keen to get the results we sat down to eat the finishers meal and waited for the course to close and results to come in….7th!!!  7th!!!  We’d made up places!  My highest finish ever in a race, never mind a mountain marathon – with a complete stranger by my side!  Astonished didn’t begin to describe the expression on our faces. We knew we had run well, but 7th!
Paul was every bit as amazed as I was, 7th was his best ever result also. To top it all we were 3rd in age category.  3rd!!!
BOOM!
All in all we had plucked triumph from the jaws of my despair – on Thursday evening I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be there at all. To then place in the top ten is still, a few days later, quite astonishing.  I am sure there is a message in there somewhere…..  I am still to chuffed to work out what it is though.
Roll on the ROC Mountain Marathon in two weeks time!
For those interested, I ran in Injinji toe socks, Innov-8 Roclite 280’s (old model) New Balance shorts, and Berghaus zip l/s tech tee with a Haglofs wind proof gillet on top. An 18 litre Mountain Hardwear bag with bladder carried the kit, Montane Minimus waterproofs, first aid kit, survival bag, snacks, SIS gels and electrolyte tabs, 2x buffs (not used), gloves (not used), cap and whistle. My extra ‘warm’ layer (not used) was a Marmot Dri-clime gillet.  Food wise I was a bag a day trail mix man – jelly babies, wine gums, cereal bars cut in to chunks and malt loaf in chunks with peanut M&M’s. Saturday I ate two sausage rolls as snacks, Sunday a small pork pie.

Early Years Outdoors Pt.3 – Risk (Or, how many accident books do you get through in a term)

The third part here of three pieces hopefully articulating why I do a lot of work in early years, why I believe that is important, how it works in practice and in this part, what are the risks and how are they managed. I of course am happy to discuss any or all of the issues raised here and can be reached by email here, Twitter & Facebook.

Lets answer that question in the head line – None!  The starting point here is the acceptance that being a child outside is going to result in the occasional bump, scrape, bruise or cut.  It just is.  Children everywhere will fall over and graze a knee on a busy high street, get a carpet burn at home, or stub a toe on the door frame.  And as for standing barefoot on a  piece of lego… say no more.  More often than not society subjects the children in our care to what WE are afraid of in terms of risk perception which in turn has led to children becoming more and more solitary and sedentary as mentioned in Part 1.

To be clear we do not want to see our own children or the children in our care get hurt at all, but it is going to happen to them at some time, in varying degrees of severity some how, so its vital we help to equip them to manage those situations when they happen, regardless of if that event is on our watch or not as professionals.  Part of that equipping is to instill the skill at spotting and then managing a risk.  Those of us of a certain age will remember videos like this (and far worse… Google ‘Apache Safety Film’ then sit behind sofa at your leisure peeking occasionally at the screen).

I come back to this quote every time I visit a new setting to risk assess the proposed or planned activity in that venue :

“we must provide a risk-assessed environment that allows children to be safe to do, rather than safe from doing.”

Future Olympic contender. Yes, Climbing is in the 2020 Tokyo games

Where I got that line from I am afraid is lost in the mists of time, but there are endless good sources of information and justification from academics, advisory bodies,government around the world and other teachers/early years professionals all extolling the virtue of risky play.  Perhaps the phrasing is part of the problem? Use of the word risk is inherently loaded with negativity I think.  I prefer the term “adventurous play”, it certainly sounds exciting!

A little context here may be helpful.  In my other world, the British Mountaineering Council (The BMC) offer a ‘Participation Statement’ which goes like this:

“The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.”

Woah. Heavy stuff.  Now clearly my planned 2019 “EYFS Everest Expedition” may now have to wait indefinitely, but we must recognise our children from a very young age climb several ‘Everest’s’ worth of risk as they grow older, from leaving the hospital in the arms of new parents who could well be terrified of their new status, to learning to walk or using cutlery and simple tools like scissors, through to riding a bike and learning to drive. Taking risks is a natural process and wrapping up our charges in cotton wool does not help them learn how to manage those risks at all.  That risk management may be as simple as holding their hand out so you might take it to assist their balance. It could be more sophisticated, such as a four year old asking why they have to wear a helmet before climbing or riding that bike.  This is all helping our youngsters learn about risk.  The outdoors is a great environment to facilitate that learning journey and have an adventure.

So what are the risks and most importantly are they worth it? This ultimately is the question we must pose to determine if the play is to go ahead. If the risk is a splinter or a small scrape, but the outcome is hours of imaginatively driven physical play such as with pallets, then to my mind it is worth taking.  We can remove or bang in protruding nails, sand down excessively rough edges, use only soft wood pallets etc to help reduce the chance of that scrape further. But if they did then get a scrape – is it really that bad?  Show me the four year old that doesn’t respond to some TLC and if you are desperate a smiley face/superhero placebo plaster. More often than not I believe it is our fear of their reaction, or indeed our reaction to that event that causes more stress and upset in the child than the event itself.

Best nursery play things ever. Fact.

It is essential that children learn that their actions have real results and consequences.  I am sure most of us can think of an adult or two who could benefit from some revision in that area!

In the real world, young children are capable of assessing many of their own day-to-day risks, for instance if you asked a three year old to drop a hammer on their toe – they would likely give you a funny look and flatly refuse.  However they must have the chance to learn and practice that type of risk management.  Only if they’re well versed in critical thinking and not the habits that blind obedience creates can they achieve what to us is logical thought – which it isn’t! It is our experience at risk management that tells us not to drop heavy tools on our feet.  Children need to learn that too.   The parent who shouts, “Don’t slide down the stairs!” might well be keeping a child safe in that split second, but is also, at the same time, robbing them of a chance to think for themselves, which makes that child that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him or her what to do. How about we offer the facts (“If you slide down those stairs you might get hurt.”) and let them practice thinking things through, to consider the possible consequences of their actions, to assess his own risks, to ask herself, “Is this a risk worth taking?” or “Could I do this differently” (For the record, if it is my son you are asking this of, he will just smile at you and slide down the stairs having decided the risk is worth taking – he just might not do it head first!).

What about the zip lines, the climbing, etcetera? Well again in the climbing world the cliche line is usually ‘you are more likely to get hurt in the car on the way to or from the crag than at the crag itself’.  This really is that simple, all the equipment used is fit for purpose, used in the appropriate context by someone (me!) with the National Governing Body recognised skills to be able to use that equipment appropriately.  For those that don’t know, climbing ropes are strong enough to lift a car/small van.  They simply do not break in normal context of use.  Where there has been recorded incident is usually down to either a knot being incorrectly tied or the rope was cut over a sharp rock edge or a damaged karabiner or was exposed to corrosive chemicals and subsequently failed.  Three instances that as a climber I check for each time I use that equipment in line with my training, my own due diligence, insurance requirements, common sense and desire to keep doing a job I love.  Five pretty powerful motivators!  Using this equipment in a Nursery’s garden, where I have yet to come across acid bathed sharp rocks is out of the equipment’s usual context for sure, but one could very easily argue it is a safer one!  That said please be assured if ever I do spot acid covered sharp rocks in your setting whilst I do a site visit and risk assessment I will be sure to avoid them and let you know….  As for the knots, I keep it simple and recognisable – Figures 8’s, Bowlines, Hitches and double check each one before using the set up as planned or as if I were climbing myself.

All of these activities whilst certainly containing a ‘risk’ (which is managed) do I believe present the perception that the risk is at a higher likelihood than it actually is,  or at a comparably higher chance than an actual risk in ‘everyday normal life’ so to speak.  This makes those activities great tools for helping to teach children about risk management, help them learn to manage those emotions such as anxiety or fear and most importantly overcome them. Something I say quite often to older children – 8-9 upwards on residential courses or adventure days at various centres, when they are all to conscious of a perceived risk and the fear sets in before a leap of faith, or climbing activity is that their staff haven’t brought them here to hurt them. That’s far more easily done with less paperwork in school! That all the equipment is safe, tested, countless children before them have done this, I’ve done this and many more children will do it after them.  I offer this to help them begin to rationalise that perception of risk which has caused fear and anxiety. After all, it is natural to be fearful of some instances and certain situations but I believe strongly it is our job to help those children learn to overcome those fears for themselves, manage those risks for themselves, pick themselves up and try again having learnt from the experience so their comfort zone, or sphere of experience grows bigger and faces outward rather than shrinks and cowers inward.

Another line borrowed from a lost source is this:

Our role is simply to eliminate hazards which they may not see and then to let them take us on their own learning adventure.

Which I think concludes things nicely.

Drop me a note on social media to let me know your thoughts on this and some of the other matters I have raised in these three commentaries.

 

 

 

 

Early Years Outdoors Pt. 2 The EYFS Outdoors (Or, what that looks like in educational jargon type words)

This follows on from Early Years Outdoors Pt.1 where I consider why I do this type of work and what I think some of the benefits are.  In this piece my intention is to begin to explain how these sessions can be a part of a broader early years provision.  It also offers insight into how the Early Years Curriculum works for those that perhaps don’t know. If you do know how that hangs together, I welcome the chance to discuss it all with you. You can reach me on email here on Twitter & Facebook

So, what about the EYFS

The Early Years Foundation Stage has four guiding principals. They are:

1.Every child is a unique child, constantly learning and can be RESILIENT, CAPABLE, CONFIDENT and SELF ASSURED.

2.Children learn to be STRONG and INDEPENDENT through POSITIVE relationships

3.Children learn and develop well in ENABLING ENVIRONMENTS, in which their EXPERIENCES respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between all the adults involved

4.Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates.

I have highlighted in capitals the bits I believe the outdoors, in whatever form, can really bring something different to the party, beyond what a classroom can deliver.  As four lines, even out of context, they make a lot of sense. Who wouldn’t want their daughter or son to fit into or at least identify with those statements?

Those guiding principals sit across seven areas of learning  usually split as Prime and Specific.  The Prime: Personal, Social & Emotional Development, Communication & Language and Physical Development. The Specific areas being – Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts & Design.  Now it doesn’t take much creativity to make all of those fit into or apply to an outdoor setting! Each of these areas contains a number of statements that early years professionals use to monitor a childs progress against the expectation of their age, for example in Communication and language  somewhere between the age of 30 and 50 months, a child will begin to:

-Listens to others one to one or in small groups, when
conversation interests them.
-Listens to stories with increasing attention and recall.
-Joins in with repeated refrains and anticipates key events and
phrases in rhymes and stories.
-Focusing attention – still listen or do, but can shift own
attention.
-Is able to follow directions (if not intently focused on own
choice of activity).

The Early Years Practitioner will, through casual and planned observations note down when a child consistently carries out these characteristics or behaviours.  This takes planning of course to create situations and mechanisms to initially provide the opportunity to first learn then develop and ultimately see that behavior consistently – “listens to stories…” is the obvious example. Some of that happens more naturally such as with toileting/personal care skills or the way a child eats.

This format is repeated over each specific area and age range from birth to 60 months.  It is a massive task each practitioner has with each child in their charge typically up to 10 children in a key group- theirs is not an easy job!

Here are a few more, with extracts highlighted that I believe the outdoors lends itself to. This list is not even close to being definitive.

1.Communication and language. “rich language environment” “speak and listen in a variety of situations”

2.Physical development. “develop co-ordination, control and movement” “importance of physical activity”

3.PSE. “Positive sense of self” “confidence in own abilities”

4.Literacy. Physical development – writing. “wide range of reading materials”

5.Maths. Counting, shapes, spaces and measures

6.Understanding the world. “opportunity to explore, observe and find out about people, places technology and the environment

7.Expressive arts and design. “explore and play with a wide range of materials” “variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, roleplay and DT”

Building a Zip line. Team work! making predictions, coordination, effort, following instructions, handling tools, why & how questions, turn taking, being brave, patience, maths (lengths of equipment, weight, faster or slower) and many more.

Where the outdoors and the odd adventurous activity fits in and my take on it particularly is it offers most children something new, different and outside their usual sphere of nursery and bright coloured plastic experience.  This also provides the Early Years Professional the opportunity to focus on observing entirely natural behavior as the child reacts to me and the activity, it frees up the professional to make the observation, when usually they are delivering the activity and trying to observe at the same time, which is a tall order to do both to the high standard they would wish to.  The children are involved in how that session pans out: the timing, the structure, the activity or task itself. Every session has a plan agreed in advance, but believe me every session is very different, as every child is unique and so each responds differently to the same stimulus, which then creates different reactions from me and the practitioners and teaching staff involved. It is astonishing how with one plan for each of the ten key worker groups in a nursery, all ten are unique. Even the simple act of reading a story outside in the sun or under canvass, or in a willow tunnel, perhaps having just experienced something the characters in the story have, takes on a different and deeper meaning to each child if we have just been balancing like Jess in “The Wild Woods” or helping Owl Mummy find her babies and build a nest (Owl Babies) or pitching a tent like Maisie in “Maisie Goes Camping”.  Balancing different fruits on our heads like Handa in “Handa’s Surprise”.   The list goes on.

Making bread to cook on a fire, to then eat together.

I am told after sessions that what we have achieved or created impacts on the children’s play back in nursery, there is frequently imaginative play reflecting what we have done or directly recreating it for several days and weeks afterward. Coupled with art work and drawings helping recall and further self expression (‘how did that make you feel?’) the opportunities for following up those outdoor sessions are full of potential themselves in meeting EYFS statements.

A ‘Floor book’ used to give space for children to draw what they did, or their favourite thing they saw that session along with the chance for the practitioner to write quotes down. Photos are added to begin discussion on ‘what we did last time’, the weather and so on.

What I want to achieve with every early years session is to offer a range of activity which supports the child in their development through opportunity they may otherwise not get and offers the childcare professional the chance to view their charges in a different light and perhaps gives both some different experiences to broaden horizons.

A note on being a bloke.  It helps!  In the Early Years world us chaps are thin on the ground. There is no getting away from the fact that being male in this environment is a little quirky and offers the children a very different approach and delivery to just about everything I ask of them. if nothing else it comes in a different tone!  There is no conclusion there, it just is.

some positive adult relationships, balance, managing risk, experiencing the environment, problem solving, developing agility and physicality, developing language including prepositions, verbs and adjectives and many many more…

A common question in these activities and one that every Head Teacher/Nursery Manager is keen to ask is one of risk.  I will look at risk and most importantly managing risk in a further piece to follow. Part three shall be its name….

 

 

Early Years Outdoors Pt. 1 or (Why kids should play out more…).

As previously mentioned here, I do a lot of work with younger children, ‘the littleies’ who are at varying stages on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EFYS) curriculum. I wanted to explain why I do this and what I believe the benefits are to the children involved.  It begins….

This came about quite by accident.  Whilst working for Lancashire Outdoors Education at Whitehough ( a much missed OEC)  in 2012, I got the chance to shadow the then teacher on site run a “nursery session”. In short, it was painfully obvious she didn’t really enjoy that element of her work, where as for me with a back ground in early years (in the late 90’s I worked in a school then Day Nursery) I found it fascinating and hugely enjoyable.  The reaction of the children to the space to move around in, the way they discovered things, both contrived and naturally occurring was amazing and huge amounts of fun! The giggling and laughter is definitely infectious.  So I offered to take the early years work over – and she jumped at the chance to offload it to me.

Since then I estimate having worked with several hundred three and four years old’s from,a variety of maintained, private and voluntary sector nurseries across East Lancashire, at various outdoor centres, open spaces and on their own sites (gardens!) from one off type “experiential learning” sessions to regular, progressive sessions, structured as part of that providers broader EYFS curriculum provision.

Why?  Its about as far removed from climbing or walking up a mountain but it is still huge amounts of FUN.  Secondly because I believe it is important.

We are repeatedly told by Government and the Media that children and young people are leading more and more sedentary lives and this is contributing directly to the obesity crisis we face.  As we can appreciate and some of us will now know, through our own experience or that of family members this obesity thing leads to serious health issues further along in life.  What all that means to me is that if I can help foster an enjoyment of the outdoors in children at an early age and expose those children to outside experiences, which many of them simply would not/might not get, than that can only be a good thing.  Simple.

the simple act of enjoying what stream water feels like on your skin.

Why don’t children play out more?  This I believe is largely due to the experiences and subsequent fears and prejudices of their parents. It’s difficult to not sound overly judgmental reading that! I am trying to not be judgmental- those people had their outside experiences constrained when they were children and that has gone on to shape their beliefs and values as adults. Some cultures place little value on seemingly “non-academic” activities, despite the well documented value of ‘play’.

Parents around the age of 20 to 35 right now are the children whose playing fields were sold off by successive governments in the eighties and nineties for housing (a trend which continues to this day sadly), whose sports days were “non competitive” who were penalised for playing conkers, who became adults at the birth of 24 hour media coverage and are perhaps overly fearful  or cautious of the “stranger danger” that is often put out there, despite the fact that it is reckoned that 90% of children who are abused suffer at the hands of someone they know. (NSPCC information). So if children can go home talking positively about their time outside with me and the adventures they have had, perhaps they can open their parents eyes to the possibility of what they as parents could do with their own children in the great outdoors be it garden, yard, park, woods or fell, wherever!  If those children begin to see the outdoors as a fun place to be, perhaps they will find the fresh air first before the sofa and tablet/TV or ask to go the park at the weekend.  Who knows, maybe even the parents may benefit too!

“Lets go this way” child led exploration (off the path, up the hill!)

From a health perspective, at the age of three and four children are putting the ground work in and developing their agility, balance and co-ordination – all vital in staying fit and being able to work and play throughout life.  The gross motor movements of children at this age directly contribute to developing the strength and control needed for those fine motor movements we still value in society – like writing or using cutlery.  We have barely scratched the surface on physical health but mental health also benefits from time outdoors. With studies reporting improved mood, memory, mental energy after time outside to people being prescribed “walks in the country” to help combat depression and stress, anything we as adults can do to instill a love of being outdoors in our children can only be a positive thing and be a beginning of equipping them with the tools to manage what life is going to put in front of them.

With me so far?

In the next part I will tie the “outdoors” into the EYFS and how this contributes to each child making steps of progress inline with the development outcomes for their age.

 

 

Taywood Nursery School

So, if you have seen any of my social media feeds (Twitter & Facebook), then you cant fail to have noticed the amount of work I do with pre-school children.  Ages three and four specifically. These children typically attend Nursery settings, usually Maintained Nursery Schools; what we used to call ‘State Nurseries’.

I plan to tackle why I do a lot of work in this sector in another post….one day…  But here, as the Taywood journey finished its first part for me a few weeks ago, after two years, I thought it would be good to review what happened, how and what was achieved alongside considering some outcomes.

In April 2015, I received this email:

I am in a nursery school in Burnley and we are looking to develop our outdoor area into an outdoor learning / forest school type provision. I have been lucky enough to secure some funding to develop an area in the grounds but we would also like a practitioner to work throughout the year with the children.

First of all, would you be able to provide us with advice for how to go about developing the area?

And secondly, would you be able to provide regular forest school work with our children in the area? We are also hoping to be able to have a dedicated staff member who would work alongside you, with a view to them training at Forest School Level 1 in the the first instance.

And obviously, if it's yes to either or both, what costs are involved??

Now, lets be clear – I am not Forest Schools!  Although I certainly borrow from that ideology, my ethos is more bushcraft and adventurous activities… much more me!  So following a brief email exchange we arranged to meet on a morning in May.

I found a space with huge potential. (And a nice gateway and willow feature installed) These are just a pair of pics – I took about 30 from all sorts of angles of an approximately 150 square metre space shaped like an ‘L’ around the building.

Some pictures from the initial visit

Further discussion (and Governor Approval) later we agreed a potential year from September 2015 subject to a mutually successful Autumn Term.

 

All that remained was to design and agree the program!

 

 

 

In broad terms, working for Lancs Outdoors Education at their sites my early years work has largely been built around a story, which we then recreate elements of that journey or experience to bring it to life for the children over typically 90 to 120 minutes.  With a space to convert and multiple weeks to work it and no travel to factor in – the shackles of time came off!  We hatched plans to use a specified story to deliver a themed game or activity alongside the remainder of the sessions (one key workers morning and afternoon group) to build/dig/create long term features for the Secret Garden with some ‘free play’ thrown in.

initial session plans

Taywoods budget allowed them to invest in all  in one waterproof suits, child sized tools and various materials as required to create a mud kitchen, dig a pond, insect hotel, a fire area.  Various other fixed installations such as paths and some ‘temporary’ ones such as a shelter to go over the fire area, to still allow for a fire, but provide some weather protection.

 

 

Keeping the sessions semi structured but ultimately child led, so we could engage the children on each task to enable that experiential learning but also keep interest and let the children dictate the direction and tone of the session was without doubt the best way forward. We had a blast! some children were happy digging for 30 minutes, others were reluctant after only 5 minutes, some allowed us to discover the magical properties of pallets and really push boundaries as well as the joy of just sitting together, eating and talking around a fire.  It was without doubt a journey for us all.

So what about the Nursery staff then?  Each key worker came out with their am and pm groups with me part of the ratio.  Different staff had different views, but all led to some very interesting conversations!  Some were pro outdoors learning from the get go, others were a little more reluctant…(One in particular still is!), but all the Taywood staff team were supremely professional and welcomed me with support, an open mind and kindness.  I shall miss working with them regularly a great deal.

That first term flew by and very quickly it became clear that this was great project in the making and one that would take time, so committing to the full academic year was a no brainer.  This in turn led to an extension for another year, but with the focus being on knowledge transfer – get staff skilled up in fire lighting, erecting the shelter etc.

The sessions also progressed from less about a story/journey recreation to more about a specific activity and experience. Cue zip lines, climbing trees, pallet play etc etc.

building a zip line

This is really where it all took off in my mind, the staff relished the opportunity to see their charges in situations very few could have ever imagined and the children, well they just loved it.

As a regular (male) face in the nursery, I began to recognise and have regular interactions with parents, so although I was getting positive feedback from parents via staff, when the parents themselves approached to say ‘thank you’ or to meet the person their child “goes on about” was very special indeed.

We began to document the experiences of the children, by the children using large floor books – we would gather round the book with pens and pencils and the children would be asked to draw something from the garden they did or enjoyed to day, we added quotes from the child and photographs to create a tool for monitoring and recalling each session.  The subsequent session would start with a review of the book “who can remember what we did last time” and “what was the weather like”. They proved a great aide to supporting the children recognise and appreciate change as the seasons passed.

Floor books

 

Outcomes.  Now, I am not in the job of having to measure these as such – but anecdotally the outcomes were significant, children, gained confidence, developed language, memory & imaginative play (reflected in subsequent play) I am told by the Head Teacher that the garden and its sessions has been a huge contributor to children making progress in a variety of areas across the EYFS and created opportunities for learning well beyond expectation.  Taywood was inspected in May 2017 by Ofsted, who found the Nursery again to be “Outstanding”.  Personally I was pleased to see this line in the report:

“Outdoor learning is exceptionally well promoted and contributes significantly to the excellent progress that children make, particularly boys. The outside area is a labyrinth of exciting places for children to learn and play, whatever the weather”

Full report can be found here.

I am booked to go back for a series of “Adventure Weeks” next academic year (2017-2018), one week per term to join the two Staff who have taken on the role of “outdoors practitioner” to further develop the Secret Garden.  I can’t wait.

Some more pictures….