May, June and July 2018

“Your lean process should be a lean process.”

Unknown

After reflecting on the delays between the last couple of posts, I have realised that batching them together should be an approach experimented with. By batching them together quarterly the process potentially becomes a little more streamlined, a little more substantial and just a little less intrusive.

As such, the last three months, May, June and July, are covered here.

May 2018

Copenhagen

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One of the elements of #Project20nine that I had been most excited about was taking part in Nordic Run in Copenhagen. The race would be the first time that I’d ventured to another country specifically for this kind of competition. It also had the added bonus of doing so with a friend. Yet, what transpired over the course of a few days was far more than just doing the run and hanging out with great people. From start to finish it was a trip that was a non-stop joy ride of all things awesome. Here are the major beats of this symphony of adrenaline and experience.

10am, Thursday – Coffee training session with Exmouth Coffee Roasters, London

Before leaving for Demark, there was coffee to be enjoyed. Let me begin by saying friends or not, the folks over at Exmouth Coffee Roasters are wonderful and, in my opinion, make some of the best coffee in the city.

Today I’d arranged to spend a few hours with Martin, the chief roaster, coffee expert extraordinaire and all-round Jedi with a coffee bean, to learn the basics of being a barista. That is, I was going to learn how to brew, and pour, the perfect coffee-base.

So, over the course of a morning, I learnt:

  • How many grams of ground beans make the ideal coffee and at what temperature and for how long;
  • how much pressure to tamp the grounds with;
  • how to begin to determine a good coffee from a bad one;
  • how to froth the milk and then pour it for Flat Whites and Cappuccinos.

The answers, forever etched into my brain, are there for the taking but it’s not here that you’ll find them. No sir. The answers are to be found during a lesson or two with Martin – the finest way of learning them.

9pm, Thursday – Land in Copenhagen; briefly catch up over chicken soup; bed

From coffee-making to luggage-packing, we headed home and left almost immediately for the airport and boarded a flight bound for Copenhagen where, upon arrival, we were quite literally jumped upon by Lina. Welcome back to Denmark!

7.30am, Friday – Quick grocery shop then First-day-of-holiday Breakfast followed by 4 hours of mountain boarding

Having turned up late on Thursday night we Four Musketeers hung out for an hour or so over Stefan’s tasty chicken soup before we turned in for the night. It was a school night and our hosts still had work on Friday. So we got up, hydrated and headed straight out for some groceries. The walk to the supermarket is about 20 minutes away so it was approaching 10am by the time we whipped up breakfast.

After breakfast it was back outside to make the most of the good weather and our time. We’d been left as the temporary custodians of a couple of electric mountain boards and there was no way we were going to flounder such a generous offering.

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What followed was more than 4 hours of zipping along the quiet backstreets, country paths and coastal walkways.

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4pm, Friday – Head down to the docklands for a bungee jump and a bite to eat

As a way of kicking the weekend off we’d planned on doing a bungee jump down at the docklands. Up until about a week before I’d always considered bungee jumping a no go – jumping from the Death Zone with nothing but a little string around my ankles to keep me safe? Hmm, that doesn’t seem quite sensible. But, when such opportunities to experience new things unexpectedly present themselves then there can be only one response: ‘when are we doing this?’.

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You might have caught the great little speech Will Smith gave about the life lesson he learned after jumping out of a plane.

“The best things in life are on the other side of terror, on the other side of your maximum fear, are all of the best things in life.” Will Smith

It’s true. Sure, bungee jumping isn’t skydiving (that’s for a future post) but skydiving is not the point: confronting fears and doubts and uncertainties is. There’s a moment, the space between holding on to the platform and falling towards the earth, that feels like a vacuum. In that moment there is a total clarity and a total awareness that washes over you: suddenly the crispness of the air is so much crisper, the peace of such a height is so much richer, the weight off one’s body so much more present and the focus of one’s mind so much sharper. In that moment fear falls away and even jumping out after it won’t bring it all back.

10am, Saturday – Nordic Run. Game on.

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This is what we came for. The Nordic Run first appealed to me, I confess, because the medal is so damn cool. Have you seen it??

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Doing the run also meant doing so with a buddy, getting a bit of exercise and, generally, having a blast doing something so physical. The majority of the course was set out along the beach, itself an undeclared obstacle (ever tried running a high intensity 5K on soft sand?), and was filled with around 30 different things to climb over, lift, climb under, climb through or generally traverse successfully in order to save oneself from time penalties and forfeits.

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The crowd was super focused and there was a sense that this kind of event is second nature to much of the population. Unlike Tough Mudder there’s a real sense of independence and zero emphasis on teamwork – seldom did I see anyone looking for help or support from anyone else and on the one occasion I offered a hand, it took a moment for the person to relent and accept it.

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Despite remaining invested in our own progress, Stefan and I crossed the line with respectable times as a team. This is race I’d love to do again and again.

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1pm, Saturday – Viking re-enactment camp

This one was a little bit of a ‘will we, won’t we’ visit given that we’d run the race in the morning and didn’t know whether we’d all be in a fit enough shape to make it. But of course we were! Never doubted it for a second.

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The camp was exactly what it says on the tin: a Viking re-enactment camp filled to bursting with authentic camp sites, market stalls and food venders, people dressed in period-specific clothing and, the reason we came, Viking battles.

Stefan’s team had a number of matches that afternoon and so we dropped by to watch and cheer them on. I’d not fully anticipated such viciousness but having become familiar with the armour and equipment and rules and etiquette throughout the last few visits to Copenhagen, finally seeing the combat brought all of the pieces of the puzzle into place. Yes, it’s violent and people clearly do get hurt but pound for pound this doesn’t seem all that more dangerous that rugby or American Football. Or maybe it is… those swords, axes and maces do look a little bit scary.

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5pm, Saturday – Collect the rabbit, make a new best bud.

I’ll come right out and say it: I want a rabbit now. I mean, look at him…

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He did get a bit rough one time though and somehow managed to take me down and stand atop of me like the champ he is.

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By the way, if anyone knows the breed of this little guy I’d love to know. Hands down the coolest little rabbit I’ve ever seen!

10am, Sunday – Spend the day exploring Faxe

Wow. This place, in this weather, is startlingly beautiful for an old chalk pit. After the excitement of the last couple of days walking around Faxe offered something of a change in pace and a more laid back time to spend all together.

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9am, Monday – Wakeboarding

‘Hey guys, we’ve got, like, 2 whole hours before we need to jump back on the plane. I think we’ve got time to do something. Who’s up for wakeboarding?’

Boy, if there’s been a trip this year that has defined ‘fun’, it was this one. Rounding off a weekend packed full of adventure was a morning session down at the cable park. I’d never wakeboarded before and was excited to finally give it a go. The four of us turned up nice and early, so keen were we to make the most of our time that we had to wait 20 minutes for the crew to open up. Once we’d lugged the gear on site and paid for entry we changed into our suits and headed down to the water ready to rock and roll. Having been briefed by our resident wakeboarding pro I felt confident that I knew what I was doing. Only, knowledge does not equal experience, as I found out the hard way…

Stepping up to the edge of the platform, cable in hand and wearing a Big Boy board that was nicely strapped to my feet, I waited for the snap of the line to hoist me towards the water and a virgin’s glory. I’d glide around the course with the grace of a swan coming in to land on a calm boating lake and arrive back at the start to the wild cheers and applause of my friends and fellow boarders. And so it all happened in slow motion. The sudden tautening of the line, the micro bounce into the air, the hoist towards the water, the heart-skipping realisation that ‘yes, I’m doing it!’. But then, as if time itself realised there was some catching up to do, I raced from slow motion to super fast forward and slammed, face first into the water. I’d made it about a meter before faceplanting the frigid Danish waters and catching a mouthful of the seaweed reaching up for me.

I would have gotten right back to it if it hadn’t have been for the fact I’d almost dislocated a shoulder and would spend the next month waiting for full mobility to return to it. Should have worn the beginner board…

1pm, Monday – Flight home.

With that, and after the rest of the gang had officially shown me how the pros do it, it was back home for a quick shower and some dry clothes before hurtling off to the airport to catch the plane before it left without us.

Hero of the Month: Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins (1965 – present) is a celebrated film producer and director. His works include the incredible The Story of Film: An Odyssey and The Story of Children and Film. His books include The Story of Film: A concise history of film and an odyssey of international cinema (upon which ...An Odyssey is based) and The Story of Looking. Mark’s perception of, and passion for, cinema is second to none and inspiring for its range and depth. I first watched ..An Odyssey upon release in 2011 but had owned the book since first publication way back in 2004 – I would have been 15 years old at the time and this book made a particular impression on me and it remains an essential read for all cineastes.

His most recent film, The Eyes of Orson Welles, was released earlier this year.

Books

  1. Neil Gaiman – Norse Mythology
  2. Tim Ferris – Tribe of Mentors

June 2018

The Folks Got Remarried

About a year ago, on their 29th anniversary as husband and wife, my parents decided it was high time to do it all over again. To celebrate the 30th year together as a married couple, they chose to do so with their family and closest friends and invited us all to witness the renewal of their vows. For them it was about saying thank you for a life together and for the community of friends and family that has built up around them. The day was beautiful and really reminded me that love, actual, real love, is time immortal. I was even asked to give a little speech…

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Nida

This was a wonderful little 3-4 day adventure in Nida, an idyllic resort town nestled towards the southern-most part of Lithuania’s half of the Curonian Spit, which lies between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea (the other half is a Russian territory). For half a week we visited the dunes, saw dolphins, explored historic sites, ate tasty food, splashed about in the sea (hey, if it’s only painful for a moment before your legs go numb then it’s good for a swim….right?), played ‘stupid’ (I’ll never be smart enough for this game), road bikes, went for runs and did typical, holiday things. I’d never been this far east of Lithuania before (it’s not possible to get any further east) and had never been away with the in-laws before either and both were a real treat and a highlight of the month.

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Completion of The Portfolio

Over the last couple of months I’d been piling time into this in the hopes of using it to secure a little bit of part-time writing work. Most evenings and a fair bit of time squeezed into the weekends resulted in the below 40 pages. The idea was that it would be a CV and portfolio rolled into a package just like an actual magazine. The reason it took the best part of 2 months was that alongside producing the content I was also getting to grips with learning how to properly use Adobe InDesign – a software that I’d never used before but have since built a substantial knowledge of and affinity for.

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That’s how it started out, a few doodles in a note book. Here’s the finished thing:

http://online.anyflip.com/hjgo/qvaj/

Building this from scratch, educating myself about the basics of magazine layout and construction and how to use a completely new piece of software was a fun learning journey and one which I’d like to continue developing into the future.

Hero of the Month: Anna Biller, Film Director

Anna Biller (?? – present), is the director of the unexpectedly charming film, The Love Witch. The film, which Biller has gone on record for stating how some of her crew had deliberately tried to sabotage it, currently holds a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As a point of comparison, Oscar-winner The Shape of Water holds 92%

For those interested, here’s a trailer.

Fun fact: Biller’s partner is Robert Greene.

Books

  1. Christopher Ross – Mishima’s Sword
  2. A Geek In Japan – Hector Garcia

July

The Color Run

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Ah, The Color Run, you are not what you appear to be, my friend! Your name (officially spelt the American way, no matter which country you’re in) is misleading as only half of it is correct.

Whilst I cannot contest the amount of fun everyone seemed to have here I can’t help but feel a bit let down by it. First, the sheer volume of people, coupled with the number of them deciding not to run, resulted in a <25% run rate. The course, running through streets and pedestrianised areas, was inevitably tight, which only compounded the difficulty in finding space to run. For this reason I believe the run should be considered the ‘Most Laid Back 5k on the Planet’… In fact, whilst ‘The Color Run’ might be a snappy, marketing ploy, ‘The Happy Color Walk’ would be far more accurate. It’s lovely to do, once, with friends, for the experience of getting caked in colourful dust but for anyone expecting a nice little run should look elsewhere…

Spartan Race

Ok, now we’re talking. This is how we do social running and obstacle dodging. Vita and I had signed up to do this one together: our first one together! Nothing about this race was a disappointment: the weather was fantastic, the course was rewardingly challenging, the volume of people was just right and the overall atmosphere was lovely. Oh, and the medal was very cool too!

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The thing that made this course particularly tasty was that a lot of it was built on the side of a steep hill, and the starting line was positioned right at the foot of it. However, we quickly found a rhythm and hustled our muscles to push and pull us along the path. Along the way we climbed the obligatory cargo nets, traversed balance beams, climbed ropes, dragged sledges, threw javelins, hauled sandbags and generally beat ourselves up all in the name of personal growth and discovery.

By the time we got to the finish line, after jumping over flaming chunks of tree, we were buzzing for the next one…

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Skydive Training

This has been part of #project20nine since before it even became official and the experience was gifted to me by Vita. So finally, after making it to the glory of summer and finding a free weekend to book in, I headed down to Redlands Airfield in Swindon for 6 hours of pre-jump training and, hopefully, good enough weather to complete the experience – after all, this year the UK had been subjected to one of the hottest, driest summers on record, was it really going to start storming now?

The answer, unfortunately, was yes. But the afternoon was a lot of fun and has set me up for a future jump when the weather is kind enough to allow us to do so!

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Hero of the Month: Tony Robbins, the ‘why guy’

Tony Robbins (1960 – present), life coach and philanthropist (among many, many other things) has proven to be a hugely enlightening individual for me over the last 18-24 months. Yes, he has a huge following and has been at the top of his game for the last 4 decades, but the way he explains his approach to life, the values he holds and how others can shift the perspective on their problems is nonetheless incredibly motivating.

Books

  1. The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Ken Liu
  2. The Food and Cooking of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – Silvena Johan Lauta

And with that, we’re here in August for the final Quarter of being a 20-something. The next 3 months have some pretty significant things lined up and I’m very much looking forward to experiencing them all…


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

In The Blink of an Eye

“Time passes so slowly if you are unaware of it

and so quickly if you are aware of it.”    

Marc Bolan

Wow, talk about blinking and missing it. It’s May already and having missed the last few monthly updates, there’s a LOT to catch up with. It looks even worse than the November/December update! Unfortunately the reason for the lack of posting is valid, but that’s all there is to be said of it. I haven’t been slacking…


January 2018

Goals

  • Flotation Tank
  • Pedicure
  • Book a massage
  • Swimming: Malta
  • Begin new training
  • Blog posts
    • Monthly weigh-in and muscle-in: Going into #project20nine what are my baseline stats?
    • 29 Things to be Grateful for in 2017
    • How Much Coffee is Too Much Coffee?
    • Where’s my concentration? The disappearance of the human attention span
    • How to make the most of a long weekend in Reykjavik
    • How to Meditate With Purpose
  • Contact a new hero: Tim Ferriss

Summary of the Month

The flotation experience was the first I had ever had and I loved it. If my expectations were speckled with a dusting of ‘oh, this is going to be a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo’, that limited oversight was dispelled pretty quickly. I visited the London Floatation Centre over on the Isle of Dogs which took me around 45 minutes to reach and a little bit of exploring once out of the station. But I found it quickly enough and hung out in the waiting room for the 20 minutes or so before my session, chatting with the guy on reception and a fellow floater.

First though, here’s a brief overview of what a floating experience is all about:

  • The tank itself is filled with a dense combination of water and 525kg of magnesium rich Epsom-salts. At 25cm deep, the ratio of salt to water is very high and slightly greasy to the touch.
  • The temperature of the salty solution is raised to skin temperature (35.5°C) and the environment inside the tank, when the lid is closed, also matches that of skin temperature. This creates the odd sensation of not actually being able to really feel the water or the air: everything is in sync with the body.
  • The salty solution also means that you’ll float: helplessly so. The body naturally sinks into the kind of position it would be should it be reclined on an arm chair. Except…there’s no chair!

Once the pod had been prepared, I was given a brief tour and explanation of the following 60 minutes before being left alone in the dimly lit room. I showered, to rinse myself of dirt and ‘impurities’, but of course, being someone with the biological disposition to take a long time a-washin’, took around 7 minutes to do so.

I took too long….

Now, the interesting thing about floating is that the experience is pretty much set to a schedule. Once the doors to the room are shut, the process works like this:

  • Person showers and gets in the pod, closing the lid behind them
  • Room lights go out completely so as to contribute to the sensory deprivation (can’t be running the risk of light sneaking into the pod and diluting the experience)
  • Inside the pod, sensory lights swirl and tinkle whilst you get into position and slowly begin to relax. Nature sounds play too.
  • Lights and sound are shut off and the world is black and silent.
  • The float experience, for real, commences.

Obviously, having taken longer than was typical to wash I ended up showering in the dark and shuffling towards the low glow of the pod. But. once I was in the magic began. As I bobbed around, helpless against the might of the dense water, my body relaxed and as it settled in its weightlessness various joints cracked back into their natural positions and a ridiculous sense of peace washed over me. The fact that I could not see anything, hear anything but the invisible swish and swoosh of water, feel anything (the water and pod both matched body temperature perfectly), taste anything (‘water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink…’) or really smell all that much (maybe there was a slight whiff of saltiness, maybe…) really did confuse my brain as to whether I was awake, asleep or somewhere dreamily in between. Time passed both slowly and quickly and by the time the dim lights switched back on and the gentle chirrup of birdsong drifted from the sound system I knew one thing: I’d never felt so restored and relaxed. This, I decided, has to be experienced as much as possible.

This month is also Vita’s birthday month and so I booked us a weekend break to Malta – a country that I’d long heard about from my mum who had lived there some years ago, but had never taken the opportunity to visit it. Until now.

The thing about Malta is that it is as if the retiring population of the UK, for any given year, had all decided to up sticks and relocate with the following agenda:

  1. no foreign languages
  2. driving on the left-hand side of the road
  3. lots of sun
  4. in fact, I just want the UK with more sun…

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Arriving there, it was quite surreal in that so many people spoke with such thick British accents. Cockney? Check. Scouse? Check. Brummie? Yup. Once the novelty of this wore off [pretty quickly] it was easy to see why Malta is such an attractive option for so many – it really is like a laid-back Britain in the sun. It’s also very small, so upon making the final descent it’s not unreasonable to make out the entire island, coast to coast. So, we spent our time exploring the island, hoping over to Gozo and generally having fun. The hotel even had access to an offsite pool which was cosey.

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Making posts…Ok, we’ll keep this short: posting this month has been a non-starter. There, I said it. Posting took a backseat.

Though I had initially thought it would be fun to give my gratitude to Tim Ferris, the hero I actually contacted was Anna Hart, and the reason for this is that I wanted to increase my likelihood of interaction. And she replied pretty quickly. At the time of emailing she was on the cusp of releasing her book, Departures, and I was keen to talk with her about it. Unfortunately, despite the conversation going well and a seemingly agreeable idea to meet for a coffee to talk about the journey of becoming a writer, the line went dead. Nevertheless, I remain an admirer of her work and hope the book has sold well.

The other thing about this month is with regards to training. One of the goals for this year is to run several races [see below] so in preparation for them I needed to begin incorporating more cardio into my workouts alongside endurance work, more mobility drills and, unfortunately, cold water acclimatisation (I’m looking at you Nordic Race). The training has incrementally increased the incorporation of each of these elements – the biggest test regarding the hardest part (cold water, yikes!) recently happened in Baden Baden, so I feel confident that the body is becoming a little more acclimatised to it. But that’s the thing with training – it’s ever present and never ending.


February 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Northampton
  2. Hero: Michael Booth
  3. Swimming: London x 2
  4. Books:
    1. Spies – Michael Frayn
    2. Gone – Michael Grant
  5. Other:
    1. Sunrise yoga at the shard
    2. Hammilton
    3. Snow!
  6. Blog Posts: none

Summary of the Month

No big travels this week, just a nice little jaunt back home for a long weekend and a bit of reading, which was built around the English lessons I deliver. Spies is a typical school text which I always think, in a way, is a shame because being made to read a book doesn’t often do much for one’s appreciation of it. Spies is a great read concerning an old man’s memories of his life a child during WW2 and deals a lot with memory and the perception of it. Gone, on the other hand, is firmly a YA thriller set in a world where everyone over the age of 15 disappears, leaving the kids to figure out what on earth has happened. It’s a bit Lord of the Flies meets The Maze Runner. It’s a fun read even if it does happen to be a bit forgettable.

And speaking of books, Michael Booth has been an author I’ve long admired, in particular for his book Sushi and Beyond – a charming account of a trip through Japan with a focus on its culinary offerings. As a long-time Japanophile it was the first book of its kind that I’d read about the country so it also has a bit of a sentimental value to it too. I reached out to him after noticing he’d followed it up, almost a decade later, with The Meaning of Rice and I wanted to talk with him about it. Michael and I exchanged a few nice emails and I came away with the opinion that he really is a decent, down to earth guy with a talent and curiosity that both inspires and educates me.

This month was also good for theatre because, having waited for over a year, the day finally arrived for our showing of Hammilton and boy, did it deliver. Ever since first hearing about it, loving the video of Lin-Manuel Miranda delivering a knock out performance of The Hammilton Mixtape at the White House Poetry Jam 2009 and being knocked over by the incredible soundtrack, and then waiting the 14 months since buying the tickets for the London show, I’d been expecting something special and cautiously apprehensive about it too. After all, it’s not everyday something truly deserves its hype. But, Hammilton does. Everything about it was worked to precision and seeing the soundtrack performed (the entire performance is set to music; all spoken words are lyrics) was a transformative experience. Needless to say, the soundtrack has been worn out this month.

It was also Valentines this month and for it, Vita had arranged a surprise treat: sunrise yoga up at the Shard. Somehow we’d managed to get incredibly lucky: not only was the teacher great and the location within easy walking distance, the weather was so perfect, and the room so well positioned, that watching the sun rise on London was a bit distracting!

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And, of course, this month also brought the snow! I do love a good bit of snow every once in a while 🙂

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March 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Whitstable, Broadstairs and Canterbury
  2. Hero: Amelia Allen
  3. Swimming: no swimming!
  4. Books:
    1. The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge – Andy Ramage and Ruari Fairbairns
  5. Other: Complete first assigned sporting event of the year: March 24th, Tough Mudder @ Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
  6. Blog Posts:
    1. Tough Mudder

Summary of the Month

The weather had started to warm up this month, at least sporadically, and so being able to start the year with a run in relative comfort was a real treat. I’ve posted about the run already but to summarise it here: far better than expected!

This month was also the last month of the film course I put together at Imperial College London and I really can’t believe how quickly it all went by. The Wednesday night sessions were always one of the main highlights of the week and it was sad to have to wrap things up for the year. Everyone who attended the classes really helped to make the 2 hour sessions enjoyable and I feel lucky to have had such a great group of people to work with every week. Delivering the course offered me a lot of new perspectives and I’m pretty sure it was me who ultimately ended up learning the most! A teacher can deliver the material but it takes a class to transform the experience. My thanks and gratitude are forever theirs.

The book reading this month was a little slower (in part due to that issue alluded to at the top) than I intended and I managed to only get through two: The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge by Andy Ramage and Ruari Fairbairns. The book was chosen as a matter of inspiration and proved to be very helpful in further shaping some of my own ideas and whilst it is not particularly a fun read, it is highly visual with a sharp, clean geometric layout. Maybe that sounds boring…

This month I also achieved a 2x bodyweight deadlift with a 160kg single repetition. See here. Not fantastic form but an acceptable PB nonetheless.

This month’s hero, Amelia Allen, is a local photographer who came to my attention after a few pieces about her work hit the headlines and I wanted to reach out to her regarding it. Her work dealt with the perception of public nudity within British culture but it was the fact that it was garnering so much attention that interested me. Amelia’s work is tastefully shot and compiled with grace, respect and intimacy. I did, however, see that the media had latched on to a quality that placed her work second: content. Nudity in the UK is subject to endless association with sex and titilation so a relatively high profile project about a rarely exposed element of British culture was bound to be note worthy for the media. Amelia had tackled the spotlight well and she was equally gracious enough to make a few email exchanges with me. Her work can be found here.

The final note to be made about this month is with regards to the trip to the south east with Vita and her aunt, Lina. It was the last weekend that Lina would be in London with us after spending a couple of months her, brushing up her English and getting familiar with London. I’d suggested we explore a more quiet corner of England and Broadstairs, Canterbury and Whitstable, to my mind at least, seemed to tick a lot of boxes. So we started early and started north, working south before looping back up to London at the end of the day. We drank coffee in the picturesque town of Whitstable, took afternoon tea in the cosiest of Canterbury’s tea rooms and enjoyed a fish dinner on the Broadstairs coast. And between it all we explored the towns, each distinctly their own, and experienced an utterly joyous Sunday.

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April 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Northampton, Vilnius, Baden-Baden
  2. Hero: Mark Manson
  3. Swimming: Baden Baden x2
  4. Books:
    1. Armada – Ernest Cline
    2. You Were Never Really Here – Jonathan Ames
    3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@!K – Mark Manson
  5. Other: Circus School – Acrobalance Level 2, TedxLondonSalon
  6. Blog Posts:
    1. Baden Baden
    2. Social Nudity and the Germans

Summary of the Month

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April was an interesting month for it’s variety and was also particularly fun for the travel opportunities that it brought about. I’ve written about Germany in a couple of posts but there was also a wonderful trip to Lithuania and an extended weekend stay back home with the parents.

Lithuania has certainly become a home away from home and so whenever I go back now it always feels a little bit like going home. This time, alongside the various things that had to be done, we trundled over to Druskininkai for night, fired up the BBQ, saw friends, saw family, went for lovely spring walks and I even got my hair cut. I know, big deal.

Being in Lithuania also meant that we had to skip out on this year’s London Coffee Festival although earlier this week I did get to be a lot more hands on and behind the scenes at a genuine coffee roastery.

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More about that in the next update though.

This month Vita surprised me with a ticket to TedxLondonSalon where the theme was ‘Tales From the Unexpected’. TED, for the uninitiated, is a fantastic organisation concerning ‘ideas worth spreading’ and the TedXLondonSalon event is one of the many locally curated opportunities to see such inspired presentations first hand. This one was held at the Piccadilly Theatre and had talks from:

  1. DR JULES MONTAGUE Consultant neurologist, author, journalist and storyteller
  2. KAJAL ODEDRA UK Director at Change.org, STEM leader, creative writer and bookworm
  3. SHOSHANA GOLDHILL AND FARAJ ALNASSER Family lawyer, mother and change maker; student, refugee and eternal optimist
  4. DR DARREN SCHREIBER Neuroscientist, lawyer, politics lecturer and rock climber
  5. ADAM ALL Singer, dancer and Drag King extraordinaire

Only realising where we were going as we exited Piccadilly Station, I did not do any background reading regarding any of the guests and so had the benefit of taking everyone at face value. All of the speakers offered insightful perspectives, ranging from dealing with Dementia (Dr. Jules), escaping a life as a refugee (Shosana and Faraj) and how the brain is hardwired for politics (Dr. Darren) but the most impressive story, for me, was from Adam All. I’ll leave it up to you to do a little research but I’ll say this: wonderful, honest talk about identity and sexuality. The organisers had also struck relationships with several book publishers and so were able to offer 1 of 14 different books to every attendee, which I thought was a nice touch, and I received David Adam’s The Genius Within. It’s on the ‘to read’ shelf.

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See if you can spot us, twice, in the highlights video.

The books this month were comprised of 2 fiction and 1 non-fiction. Ernest Cline’s Armada was a considerable let down following the joyride of his previous book, Ready Player One (a title I read on first release so have been able to follow its rise from cult favourite to mainstream behemoth, as well as the development of Spielberg’s fantastic adaptation, from the get-go) and ended up being the first book I refused to waste my time on for quite a while. Admittedly I began by listening to Will Wheaton’s audiobook and felt very uncomfortable with his style immediately. Perhaps I couldn’t shake his presentation and still somehow connected it to the book even when I was reading it for myself, but maybe not. I found the story inconsequential, uninvolving and ultimately very forgetful and I think this is a result of trying to bottle the magic of RPO. Unfortunately the story of a gamer-geek recruited into a real-life version of a computer game is built on a foundation of incredibly niche gaming references and whilst the abundance of pop culture references in RPO was undoubtedly that book’s USP it’s quite the opposite here.

Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here, on the other hand, is a fantastically lean, muscular thriller much in the vein of Taxi Driver, should it have been crossed with James Sallis’s Drive. It’s a novella concerning a war vet who has built a reputable career of returning kidnapped victims safely home. He’s slightly unhinged, clearly suffering from PTSD and completely at home dishing out all manner of violence when necessary but is driven by a fundamental clarity of vision and a belief in the virtue of his life’s mission. Lynn Ramsay turned this one into an equally muscular film starring Joaquin Phoenix last year. After the let down of Armada, this one was a relief.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@!k, Mark Manson’s boldly titled ‘contemplation of how to live a good life’ is one part a genius piece of marketing and another part actually worthwhile treatise on 21st century, western attitudes to life. Manson has built a very solid reputation for himself through his witty, often intelligent blogging and the book is, by and large, more of the same: if you like the blog, you’ll probably like the book. Here, he argues that we all care too much about the wrong things and that ultimately in order to be truly content and happy we need to reconfigure our mindset to focus of the important things in life and not all the bullshit the media heaps on us every waking second. It’s the kind of book you can read cover to cover one sunny afternoon as you lounge about in the sun or, if you like a bit of attention when you’re riding that tube to work, dip in and out of it during your commute: it’s a bright orange-covered book with a gregarious title… Mark’s also won the coveted prize of being this month’s hero.

This month also saw a return to the National Centre for Circus Arts for the second level of Acrobalance and, so far, the few lessons have been a ridiculous amount of fun. Turning up each week to do some sort of climbing, rolling, inversion and/or acroyoga really enjoyable. The thing about this circus-y stuff is not that it’s ‘circus’ but the reconnection it develops between mind and body and the child-like appreciation for them both. It fosters a deep respect for simple pleasures and unashamedly reminds and encourages us to leave pretensions at the door. This kind of physical activity is also incredibly good for functional fitness and core strength, flexibility and generally building a more complete awareness of one’s own body.

Overall, a cool month with a number of highlights.


Looking Forwards

May 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Denmark
  2. Hero: Mark Cousins
  3. Swimming: London x2
  4. Books:
    1. Neil Gaiman – Norse Mythology
    2. Tim Ferris – Tribe of Mentors
    3. Christopher Ross – Mishima’s Sword
  5. Other: Nordic Race
  6. Blog Posts:
    1. Nordic Race

Sporting Events

May

  1. Red Bull 400
    1. Finland: May 12
    2. Not applicable. This race sold out way before I had a chance to sign up.
  2. Nordic Race
    1. Copenhagen. 19 May. £70. 5KM.
    2. Booked
  3. Vitality Westminster Mile
    1. London. 27 May. £8. 1mile.
  4. Vitality London 10k
    1. London. 28 May. £35. 10KM.

July

  1. Queen Elizabeth Park Monthly 10k
    1. London. 7 July. £18. 10KM.
  2. Colour Run
    1. London. 8 July. £23. 5KM.
    2. Booked
  3. Spartan Race
    1. Market Harborough. 15 July. £79. 5KM.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

Taking the First Step Towards a New Obstacle: Tough Mudder 5K East London

‘Charm is a product of the unexpected.’

José Martí

The Tough Mudder 5K was never part of the plan. But, somewhere along the way, it emerged and proceeded to muscle its way into first place.

You know what? It turned out to be a doozy.

My relationship with Tough Mudder doesn’t begin here though. Back in 2014 I’d signed up for the Tough Mudder Half in Kettering but had decided to volunteer the day before. I did this for 2 reasons:

  1. Volunteering for a half-day shift meant that I would save quite a generous amount on the ticket prices. The shift bagged me an 80% saving on the ticket price meaning that rather than pay £120+ to take part, I would have paid <£30. Had I have volunteered to work an entire day, I would have been able to run for free.
  2. Working at the event also meant that I’d get to check out the course before running it, and generally get a good feel for the event. I’d meet fellow Mudders, connect with potential team mates and have a largely risk-free opportunity to evaluate my commitment to the actual run.

However, things didn’t go as planned and despite working the shift and betting thoroughly excited about taking part, a change in my schedule meant that I would not be able to run the course the following day. Damn.

So fast forward 4 years and I finally get round to running an event. Given as one of the aims of the year is to run a number of courses, the 5K proved to be an ideal opportunity to warm up into the season.

The interesting thing about the 5K is that, for Tough Mudder at least, it’s a new event. Whereas the events have, historically, been confined to a variety of 5 and 10 mile Challenge Courses alongside the Race Series (which, if a runner is good enough, can lead all the way to the World’s Toughest Mudder event) and, as the name would suggest, involve an awful lot of mud, the 5K is a little different.

Billed as ‘Tough Mudder’s cousin in the city’, the 5K is designed for city dwellers and, what’s more, there seems to be a real consideration of the what that really means. Public transport and easy access. So getting back across the city, riding the tube/bus and covered in dripping mud just wouldn’t work.

In fact, the first thing the FAQs state is: ‘You won’t be getting muddy though, so no need to worry about bringing spare clothes or towels’. As a bit of a clean freak, I liked this bit very much.

The Course

So, having seen the Half a few years ago I figured the set up would be pretty similar, and it was.

Despite waking up to a very damp London, I arrived at the Mudder Village a few hours later and found everywhere to have dried up considerably and sky a less intimidating shade of grey than it had been upon departure.

After spending an unexpectedly long time following the frustratingly sparse signs to the site, I proceeded through to Check-In where time stamped wrist bands were provided, along with an after-run-beer voucher, a RFID chip and a photography sticker that would allow for easy identification of myself in any official photographs.

The Village was filled with several food/coffee stands, a handful of promo tents, a small picnic area, toilets and a smattering of runners waddling around in the quagmire of churned up mud and turf. At this point I realised I’d taken that note about not getting muddy a bit too literally. But there were many other people dressed very similar to me, and besides, city or not, mud is part and parcel of any Tough Mudder event.

The thing about Tough Mudder, and these kind of fun run/obstacle races in general, is just how inclusive they are. This is not an event that attracts the Fit Elite. The age limit for entry dips as low as 14 years old and looking around it was clear that a fair number of teenagers had signed up. So too had an entire microcosm of the London demographic: young, old, in shape, out of shape, solo runners, team runners, couples, friends, colleagues and everyone in between.

From the Village area it was also possible to see a few of the obstacles, so it was nice to get an idea of them in my mind before heading out. I stretched and moved a little to warm up and headed over to the briefing pen.

Spilling through the gate and into this waiting area I was joined by around 100 other runners and we were led through an odd dance/getting-to-know-each other routine by the DJ, before slipping into a warm-up sequence of star jumps and screaming at each other. Job done, we joined in with the Tough Mudder Pledge and were on our merry way towards Obstacle numero uno.

The Obstacles

In the run up to the event an email is sent that provides various bit of information about event day things: what to do if you want/need to change your start time, how registration works, what to bring, what happens to spectators etc. The other thing that is provided is a course map.

As we can see, there are 11 obstacles dotted around the course and they all have names. Some names seem pretty self-explanatory, like Get Low and Mudder Wheelbarrow, whilst others…not so much. Devil’s Beard? Giant A-Hole? Most of the obstacles are either listed on the website, or are up on YouTube, but a few of them are not. These are the obstacles I’d be going in blind for.

But, what’s the worst that could happen?

Bale Bonds

Looking at the map, the first obstacle seemed a fair distance away from the start line but in fact it turned out to be a little less than 1km. This first little run proved to be an immediate deconstruction of the crowd of runners that had just exploded across the start line. It was also here that my first consideration blossomed: how should I be pacing myself here?

I’m a confident runner, but this was not a race and I wanted to enjoy the experience with no pretension to ‘winning’ or leading the pack. I settled in behind the front 10% and found a rhythm. Also, having signed up as a solo runner, I did not have a team mate(s) to keep in line with.

The obstacle in question was a relatively easy introduction to the course: a selection of hay bails that required traversing. The first two rows could effectively be leapt over and the third simply had an extra level, so required just a smidge more effort.

Nevertheless, by this point my blood was warmed and I was already loving it. Grateful for the lack of rain (this is London we’re talking about, after all) I jogged onwards to…

Skid Marked

Having done my research I was curious to find out how successful I would be with this one. Looking at the pictures and a few videos it seemed as though being the first one up would be a bit more tricky than the bails.

I took a run up at an empty wall and muscled my way up and over. I realised that my muscle up training is actually having some transferrable, functional value! I turned round and offered a hand to a few other runners and by the time I jumped down from the wall myself, I found that they had waited for me. Suddenly part of a foursome, we headed on towards something called a…

Devil’s Beard

Despite an intimidating name, the Devil’s Beard is in fact a large cargo net tied to the ground. All we had to do was shuffle under it and shimmy our way back to freedom. Oddly enough this one proved more challenging than Skid Marked simply because of how awkward it was. Though not heavy, the netting continually caught hold of my heels meaning my rhythm was broken by having to frequently untangle them!

We figured that the best way to deal with the obstacle was to stay close to each other, keep as tall as possible and allow the netting to roll over us. After around 30m we rolled out onto the track and heading onwards towards the…

Giant A-Hole

From the Village, the Giant A-Hole is the most impressive looking given its size and function. The construction ultimately served as two different obstacles and the first meant clambering over it.

Built to resemble the ‘A’ of its name, this first encounter meant picking our way up a couple of levels that increased in gradient, using more cargo netting to do so, walking over the top and descending the other side. The genius of this one is that after a few obstacles and the 2km run, doing so requires a little more core strength than first impressions might initially indicate.

Safely back on squidgy, muddy ground, the four of us hustled on over to the next station: a 100m stretch of grass with absolutely nothing on it…

Mudder Wheelbarrow

Arguably the most basic challenge on the course, this was the first obstacle that would be impossible to do solo. Jumping over the bails, climbing the wall, crawling beneath the net and climbing over the ‘A’ could quite feasibly be done with no input from anyone else. The Mudder Wheelbarrow, however, is a two-person game.

As old school as it was basic, the obstacle required partners taking turns in driving the ‘wheelbarrow’. The first person assumes a press-up position whilst the other grabs their legs and supports their weight as they move towards the check point. Partners swap roles and head to the next point.

Having only recently recovered from a wrist injury I was interested to see how it would hold up and was relieved and grateful that it presented no problem at all. So, after catching our breaths for a collective second, the four of us ploughed on to the…

Hero Walls

‘Berlin Walls’ as described here, although remarkably similar to the Hero Walls

Not too dissimilar to Skid Marked, the biggest difference here was the height and the gradient of the wall. Whereas the Skid Marked walls are maybe 7ft high and angled forwards slightly, the Hero Walls are around 10ft high and perpendicular to the ground. The only way for the whole team to get over was work together.

Planting myself at the bottom of the wall in a crouch, I linked my hands together to provide an elevated platform and one by one the group climbed up and over me which each subsequent climber helping to pull the next up.

As I was tall enough I was able to jump up and catch the top of the wall and was helped up by my new Mudder chums. We were proving to be a very nicely functioning team!

We did this a second time before stepping on the gas and making for…

Get Low

A welcome respite and an opportunity to catch a couple more breaths, Get Low is the quintessential crawling-through-mud exercise. Ducking under a low wooden frame roofed with chicken wire we crawled on hands and knees until a dropped level forced us fully prone and crawling like commandos.

Not much need for teamwork and not much effort required. But if we thought that was relaxed, one of us was in for a treat at the next station.

Clean & Jerk

One of the few obstacles that had alluded me in my research, the Clean & Jerk proved to be another obstacle truly dependent on working as a team. It is, essentially, a stretcher carry: One person hunkers down onto a canvas stretcher whilst the rest of the team carried them round to the finish line.

Our lightest member, Mathilde, put her feet up and we three guys shuffled round the course. Mathilde was able to recover a little bit of energy whilst we all stepped off the throttle somewhat so as to a) keep our passenger safe and free from a bumpy ride and b) to power back up just a little.

In fact, by this point (which was only 4km) the exertion of the course was noticeable. Whereas a 4km is a comfortable distance, the added work makes it feel more like 7 or 8km.

Nevertheless, with less than 1km to go only a few more obstacles awaited us, the first of which was…

Hanging Out

Now, I love suspended rings, ropes and most things that allow me to swing about in the air so this one was one of the more enjoyable challenges of the entire course.

The other challenge connected to the ‘Giant A-Hole’ frame, Hanging Out is a series of 12-15 monkey rings that simply require traversal. This was more relaxing than anything and whilst one of the team needed a little guidance regarding technique, we all glided through this one comfortably.

Everest

Almost immediately after Hanging Out, the next obstacle was laid out. This time there would be no swinging around: Everest is a quarter-pipe obstacle requiring a sprint and jump technique in order to overcome it.

Opting to run third, two teammates made short work of it, running and jumping with grace. I took my run up but hit the pipe with a little too much mud on my shoes and so slipped as I jumped. Fortunately I managed to catch hold of the ledge and both Mudder Buddies managed to grab me and so I clambered up on the first attempt. A relief, as during the wait to start I’d caught a glimpse of several runners having real trouble with this one. Like, crowd-gasping, everyone-is-watching trouble.

Our fourth member followed suit and was up and over in a blink. We stayed back and helped a few other runners up before climbing back down and teeing ourselves up for the final obstacle…

Pyramid Scheme

Let’s be clear about this, Pyramid Scheme is the 5K’s definition of teamwork-obstacle. The Wheelbarrow and the Clean & Jerk aside, here’s an obstacle that is not for the one-man army. In fact, it’s the only obstacle on the course that required simultaneous input from the entire team.

The picture above provides quite a good indication of the challenge but picture this: a 25ft, smooth surfaced wall at a 45 degree incline. Even the world’s great sprint and jump technique isn’t going to help here.

So, two teammates stood at the base of the wall and I clambered up them to the mid-level support beam. With a helping hand from a fifth runner I positioned myself so that the fourth member of the team could climb up the first two and use my legs to pull himself up to the midway point too. I stayed put to provide the same assistance to the next runner and the runner after that. Once everyone was up they moved to the top level and helped to get me up too.

And then, as quickly as it began, we’d finished. Climbing down from Pyramid Scheme we took a 10 step job to the finish line where we were adorned with headbands and invited to collect our finisher’s T-shirts, a bottle of water, a granola bar and a cider.

Having started 40 minutes earlier, it wasn’t the fastest 5km, but having paid little attention to setting personal bests and working together with a lovely little team, the time was not a concern in the slightest.

Sat together in a mild state of runner’s high, we realised that we’d done a good job running together. It seems the next run is only a sprint and jump away.


The Advice

So, having now run the course, the advice for any one thinking about taking part in the Tough Mudder 5K is pretty simple:

  1. Go with a sense of fun: this is not a race
  2. Enjoy the spirit of Tough Mudder and actively help others
  3. If you’re running solo, don’t worry – there’ll be plenty of others around to help out.

That’s it!

Oh, and be prepared to get a little muddy. Probably not head-to-toe caking, but enough to make you question how much you like the trainers you’re wearing…

The Verdict

Difficulty: 2/5. Some technically demanding obstacles, but overall a light 5km run.

Level of fun: 5/5. Even more enjoyable than I had originally expected.

Cost: £35 (with a small discount)/ £60 without

Value for money: Excellent


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something.