Hitting the single track in Arizona

There is possibly no other place I would rather run than along a peacefully scenic, rolling and slightly technical single track trail.

In and out, up and down, round and round, I call it ‘roller coaster’ running. It reminds me of childhood trips to a local theme park; the roller coaster would wind its way up the steep incline, the anticipation building, before gravity took over and the cart descended at speed hurtling round the banked curves.

Running is somewhat different, strength and control is required to handle the descents, the rises sap your every energy and sometimes you find yourself hoping that there is a flat section at the top to enable you to recover. It is when I can run ten miles on single track at pace that I know I am truly fit, not a gauge that is normally used!

Here in Flagstaff, Arizona, there is an abundance of single track trail. Such variety including expansive pine forest trails, rocky mountain paths, wildflower meadows, sandy sections and deep bottomed canyons. It really is a great spot for people who enjoy outdoor sports and lying at over 2000 metres elevation you will undoubtedly get fit!

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Wenchi Lake Trail

Three weeks into my base training block in Ethiopia and I jumped at the opportunity to travel 150 kilometres west of Addis Ababa to discover the beauty of Wenchi Crater Lake.

The area is famed for its dramatic mountainous landscape, used partly as farmland and partly covered by natural forest. Just getting there was dramatic enough, straw roofed huts nestled on steep hillsides and surrounded by a vibrant patchwork of crop fields, eucalyptus forest and banana plantations.

The crater is an extinct volcano and contains a large (wait for it) lake, hot mineral springs and waterfalls. Approximately 4000 people live within the crater and many of them took to the Wenchi Lake Trail course to cheer on the passing runners!

It was a great day out, sharing my joy of the trail with the three hundred or so participants assembled. The course was relatively short but incredibly challenging, starting at 3300 metres elevation before descending steeply into the crater, looping around at the bottom and climbing back out. Off the back of a 100 mile week I will never forget the quadriceps burn I felt that day but high-five-ing the rows of local Ethiopian children on approaching the finish made it all so very worthwhile.



Embracing the winter month

Mid November, in the heat of the African sunshine I planned to spend Christmas at home in the United Kingdom, for the first time in four years.

Relaxation in front of a warm log fire with a glass of mulled wine; laughter, games and lively festivity; a Christmas tree covered in traditional German wooden decorations and illuminated by the flickering of candles; crisp frosty morning runs with the snow crackling beneath my feet.

These are just some of the many joys of this past month, but only half of the reality!

Despite optimistically believing that ‘this year will be different’ every UK winter I acquire a heavy cold. As a youngster, it would routinely plague me in the weeks leading up to the county Championships, where I would typically scrape into the team, securing the very last spot. Years later at the European Cross Country Championships I would toe the line with my airways far from optimal.

So the odds were against me, and this year proved to be no different. However, it did not dampen my spirit and I spent a wonderful time with family and friends. Embracing the way I felt physically whilst making the most of everyday.

Though my running diary looks far removed from what I had planned, training is not just about miles logged and sessions ticked off. There is strength training, fresh thinking, mental drive and focus, inner harmony between body and soul.

Togetherness is a time to be cherished and a time to revitalise. It has given me strength and inspiration for the exciting year ahead.

I love to run, but the love for family and friends is stronger. And, after all, without them I would not have achieved what I have done so far.