New Year has always been a time to reflect for me, to think about what went well in the year just gone and to be thankful to those around us that supported, cared for and loved us. I think it’s also important to challenge ourselves to improve in the year to come; against this backdrop I, like many others, like to make resolutions. This year I thought I’d use the first post on my new site to declare these openly to the world (and yes, you can hold me to account on these if I fail miserably!)

Smarter Resolutions

If I were to look back on New Year’s Resolutions that I’ve made in the past, I have no doubt that the vast majority would have been a colossal waste of time; I would have either not succeeded in realising them, or worse, not even known whether I had achieved them or not. The teacher in me is screaming the reason why: they weren’t ‘SMART’, or better, ‘SMARTER’. The SMART framework has been around for years; you may well have used it at work. So why don’t we use it when making resolutions? Do we perhaps take comfort in knowing that our resolutions are destined to fail, so we in fact don’t have to strive to make them happen? I think that’s a sure fire way of letting ourselves off the hook, and leads to resolutions not being achieved. So here goes with my SMARTER adventure resolutions for 2019:

1.Maintain my dietary preference to eat vegan food from ethical suppliers, as sustainably packaged as possible during time spent in the mountains.

Wild strawberry on the trail near Chamonix. Unfortunately I find myself having to buy food in supermarkets sometimes too!

I’ve yo-yoed on this one, from being holier-than-thou vegan to dairy-heavy vegetarian. Recently I’ve got my day-to-day diet back to being mostly vegan, well sourced from ethical suppliers (to the best of my knowledge!), minimising packaging, but there’s been a gaping loophole: nourishment when in the mountains. Given that I spend an ever increasing proportion of my time in the mountains, it’s a gap I can no longer fail to take account of. More fundamentally, what’s the point in having values if they only apply some of the time?

The trickiest part of ensuring this a SMARTER resolution is making it specific and measurablehow do I define ethical vegan food and how will I know whether I have achieved it? I’ll be as strict as possible with my definition of ethical vegan food and drink to be completely free of animal products, from suppliers that I know have healthy supply chains, packaged as minimally and sustainably as possible. I’ll measure it during (with reflection that will hopefully shape whether or not to make the purchase) and immediately after every time I purchase food or drink, by looking into, and being honest with myself, about where the food/drink I’ve bought comes from.

2.Complete the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours in spring.

The Bob Graham Round

It’s been on my radar for a while now, but has seemed out of reach; I hadn’t even walked most of the Round, let alone run it. But now, having walked it, spent much more time in the Lake District, and broadened my trail and long-distance running experience, I think it’s realistic. That’s not to say it’ll be easy; far from it, it will no doubt be quite an epic, and will require serious training and preparation! It is 42 peaks and over 60 miles of running after all. I’ll be posting about the Round in more detail in the coming weeks, which I’ll then add to the Adventures section of this site.

Agreeing support from other runners will be crucial in ensuring this resolution becomes a reality. To successfully complete a Round without company during the recces, advice from others, and support runners on the day, is unfathomable (and just plain lonely!) It’s also an awful lot nicer to share the journey with others, learn from them along the way, and push oneself to dig deeper.

3.Get out in the Scottish Highlands to make the most of winter conditions at every possible opportunity.

Coire an T-Sneachda: I have a feeling I might be here a fair bit this year!

It’s a big factor as to why I now find myself living in Scotland, so it’s crucial that I utilise the time I have here wisely and enjoy the scottish winter as much as possible. I count only 12 weekends between now and the end of March (I’m away this week, so I’ve excluded that one), when winter conditions usually come to an end. I plan on getting out, in the Cairngorms, Ben Nevis region, Glencoe or further afield, every one of these, throwing in the odd couple of Mondays and Tuesdays when I’m not working too.

To be more specific, I’d like to complete a number of grade II and III winter routes, and feel confident at these grades, by the end of the winter season.

4. Run at least once per week with a club to nudge my marathon PB closer to 2:30.

Running, reduced to the stats game of Strava

Last year I planned for 2019 to be the year that I run a 2:30 something marathon; now I realise that it simply isn’t realistic. To be able to run at such a pace for 26.2 miles requires more serious commitment that I am able to give, given other resolutions and time constraints. That said, I do think it’s doable to train with a club once per week and then commit to pushing myself in the runs I do by myself. Doing so will mean that I should be able to chip away at my current 2:52 marathon PB time (maybe get it down to 2:40 something.)

What’s the point in chasing PBs on road? It’s a question that I increasingly find myself asking. I much prefer trail running and long distances, but I feel that I’ve got unfinished business with the marathon distance on road. After all, it was when I was in full training for the London marathon almost 4 years ago that I had a climbing accident and broke my pelvis. I’d also like to get a solid road marathon PB ‘in the bag’, so that I’m able to hang up my road running, PB chasing shoes for a while and focus on enjoying the trails. Sounds silly? It almost undeniably is, but I’m hooked.

5. Lead climb competently enough to undertake Rock Climbing Instructor training.

Sofie teaching me the basics at Raven Crag in the Lake District

Climbing occupies an ever increasing part of my life, and the trend looks set to continue. It’s one of the ways Sofie and I most love spending time with each other, and brings with it a variety of challenges, both mental and physical. A key factor that has made me want to take it further is its potential to be used as a tool for personal development. Through outdoor instruction at summer camps and voluntary work in Edinburgh I have seen how powerful it can be in building confidence, teamwork and developing communication skills. Being able to take this further and potentially use it in work is incredibly exciting, and involves getting qualified. The first stage in this is to log 15 lead trad climbs, then sign up for and complete the 3 day training course, hopefully before the summer.

6. Run at least one ultra trail race in the Alps.

Collecting my 2nd place trophy at the Short Circuit in November 2018, racking up 2 UTMB points in the process!

November and December of 2018 saw me travelling hundreds of miles to run in races that I otherwise wouldn’t have had any intention of completing, all in the name of accumulating UTMB points. I went to Otley to run the 33-mile Short Circuit, which gave me 2 points. I then travelled for 12 hours by coach, train and car to run the Endurancelife Dorset Coast 46-mile Ultra, giving me a further 4 points. That makes 6 points in total, granting me the privilege to enter the ballot for the OCC race in the UTMB race series. Sounds ridiculous? You bet, but that’s what it takes to enter the biggest trail race series in the world. And even now I only have a 1 in 4 chance of getting a place!

So what’s the fallback in case the OCC race doesn’t materialise? Well, it’s not as if there aren’t other races in the Alps that are just as spectacular. Two spring to mind that I’d love to do: the Lavaredo Ultra and the UTMR. I’ll wait until January 10th (when the UTMB race ballot results are out) before considering these further though.

7. Climb a 4000m peak in the Alps.

The view from the Sphinx at Jungfraujoch. Might the next time I’m here be when returning from my first 4000m peak?

Realistic? Well that depends on the realisation of resolution #3. Given that I’ll be working in the Alps all summer, looking at the high peaks day after day, there can be no doubt that I’ll be itching to be up there myself. Time will also be a factor with this, as I will have limited breaks in between guiding work, and lots of other pulls on my free time. The lure of the high Alpine peaks is too great to be neglected though!