Project Trail: Meeting the team

After the fantastic news that I’d been selected for Project Trail I headed to our nation’s Capital for the photoshoot last week.  To avoid ridiculously priced peak time trains, instead of my usual Tuesday Sweatshop run from the Manchester Arndale, I ended up going down the night before.  I phoned Murray, arranged a quick warm down game and headed off for Wimbledon.  I arrived at Euston, had a disciplined pint to relax (£4.90 and served by an Aussie – clearly I had arrived in London) and then got the tube out to Wimbledon.

Quite an uneventful night followed in the smallest hotel room ever, but I survived and headed on to Wimbledon Common to meet the Men’s Running team……  I soon met up with Rick (the editor) and the rest of the team, along with a friendly familiar face, Anne-Marie who i’d completed the Thunder Run with the previous year!  It was about now that I started eyeing up the piles of boxes on the car park which was our gear hoard – full kit from Columbia Montrail, a TomTom Runner Cardio watch, some Adidas sunglasses and enough High5 nutrition to make me seriously concerned about making it back to Manchester carrying this lot on public transport!

After meeting the other entrants (Jon and Nic) and also the competition winners from Women’s Running, we all eagerly changed into our new fancy trail running gear and headed further into the Common to find some suitable spots for photographs which will be used for the forthcoming Project Trail articles.  I’m much more used to being on the other side of a camera, but managed to pull out a few tough-runner poses even though I’m not a fan of being in “the limelight”.  We were asked a few interview questions to be used for the mag and did a quick video interview (links below), I definitely get very self-conscious in front of a video camera!  A quick run round the common later to try out our new gear and it was time to head off home!

A really great part of this whole experience is getting a training plan devised by Robbie Britton.  We have a call scheduled this week to discuss the plan so proper training will be starting very soon and apparently, I’m going to have to get very very used to hill reps!

Here’s the three of us just before heading off home, and some links to the YouTube videos below.

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Jon, Dan (me) and Nic

Project Trail: The Photoshoot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUFSQPic-GU

The Interviews:

Dan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr_N29marhw

Jon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbJkK9pcZ_Y

Nic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDbOizg5m1o

 

Project Trail

Out-of-the-blue, I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity to be part of Project Trail after entering a competition in Men’s Running mag!!!

What is Project Trail I hear you cry!  It’s an ongoing feature in the mag where 3-4 guys are entered into a race, trained up to within an inch of their lives and then featured for a few months to show their progress.  The race this time is a biggie…..  Its the Wendover Woods 50 miler!  As well as race entry we also get training plans and advice from Team GB’s Robbie Britton and lots of free running gear!!  If its anything like previous “Project Trails” then there’ll be a regular feature on how me, and the other two competition winners, are getting on, so my ugly mug will be out there in a national magazine!  I’m off to Wimbledon for the first photoshoot this week so am covered in fake tan, and am plucked and preened to within an inch of my life (last 18 words not true).

Whilst I have been working hard at running, this really will be a challenge…. 50 miles…. that’s just a bit less than two marathons…… its 16 parkruns…. its…… really…… far…… am I going to be able to do this?  One thing is for certain, its going to take something pretty serious to stop me:)

I have written the odd race report on this blog, but I do intend to do more frequent posts on how the whole experience and training is going and, ultimately, a full report on the race itself.  I considered starting a new blog as this one was really dedicated to my exploration into music, sound bending and camera mangling, but then it dawned on me I really was overthinking it.  Given all the content that’s been posted here since I started it in June 2012, running is just another “tentacle” emerging and another part of my life…..

With the evil pincers of available time closing in on me, I have unfortunately taken a break from my piano lessons as over the last few months had been able to dedicate less and less time to it, and really want (and need) to dedicate the required time and effort to run a fifty mile race just a few short months away!  There are still a few songs in the pipeline which will get finished eventually.  At least I can blame one of them on Mat because I’ve been waiting since October 2015 for him to send me a bassline, but these things can’t be rushed eh?:)

I set up a new Twitter account more geared towards running, so follow it HERE @allhailthetrail

In honour of this momentous time, I have drawn a stick man running up a mountain…..

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Coniston (Photos and Marathon Running)

I spent some time in Coniston in the Lake District last weekend, predominantly to run a marathon (which I report on below), but first up are a few photos I took over the few days.

A Gate

First up a lowly gate combined with the fantastic evening sky

A Coniston Lake

The beautiful calm of Coniston

A Grange

This is Grange-over-sands where we stopped off on the way.  I initially wasn’t too taken with this shot, but the more I look at it the more I like it.  Nice sky, great brickwork and a summery girl at the bottom to bring in a bit of colour.

A Coniston view

A field, a couple of hills and some drama

Race Report: On to the run itself.  Having recently run the 50km Canalathon followed swiftly by Manchester marathon, I was reasonably confident for getting round the Lakeland Trails Coniston Marathon.  Its only a few extra hills isn’t it?  In my head I’m already a long distance trail runner, but the reality is quite different.  I’ve ran a marathon distance three times (all during 2016) and done plenty of trail running but never actually combined the two, so this was my chance to get out there and prove it!  I had about 8 weeks since Manchester marathon so no sooner had I recovered and started getting the distances up it was time to start ramping down again, my longest run being a hilly 30km in the Peak District.  Was I going to be ready for this??  Well here I am ready to go, 8am with a lovely stroll down to race HQ where it’s a hive of activity.  Its worth noting now that even pre-9am it was already looking to be a scorcher of a day.

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Living in Manchester I’m an expert at rain running, point me along a canal towpath and I’ll splash along for as long as I need to, but running……. in this heat?! We were off around 9am and I got into a reasonably comfortable pace but as we entered the first climb many shifted into a “power-hike” and I shortly followed suit (with hindsight I’d have taken it a lot easier at the start).  It was tough running, mainly as very little of the route was shaded so the sunshine was quite relentless, but things were going reasonably well and I got to halfway around 2 hours.

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The picture above was taken from near enough the highest point in the race at around 15 miles, so whilst there was a reasonable amount of climbing (my watch said 920m) it was pretty much several “ups and downs” rather than one large climb, but the views up here were fantastic and make this type of running so much more rewarding than pounding the pavement.  I really had begun to tire by this point and knowing there was another 10+ miles to go in 25 degree+ heat was quite a challenge on the mind.  I’m a stubborn bastard though so I kept repeating my mantra “The finish line doesn’t move, you do!” to get me through it.  I also put some music on (hip hop of course) but that did kind of ruin the natural vibe of the run.

Five or so miles later I found myself approaching a dead body face down in some “scrubland”.  I was quite unsurprised given the heat but thought I had better investigate just to make sure that they were either dead or doing the finest “planking” session in the north-west.  Rather than death, the unfortunate runner had got something worse – cramp.  Planking seemed to be his cure for it and he assured me he was ok, so given it was nearly lunchtime and all I continued on into the heat.

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The view above, whilst fantastic in it own right, I found quite soul destroying.  I had around five miles to go and running had become almost optional with the vast majority of people around me resorting to trekking along feeling sorry for themselves, and what could we see? Mainly nothing but a long dry path, not a water station or shady forest in sight.  But as I mentioned above, the marathon organisers were hardly likely to bring the finish line up here to me so jog on I did.  I did come across a small stream so I filled up my hat and poured the lot over my head which did seem to invigorate me somewhat!

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An hour or so later and this is me in the last 50m, incredibly relieved!! Wind-on about 2 minutes later and I was in the lake, oh the lovely cool lake.  I finished in a time of 4:42:21 which to put into perspective is a whopping increase from my Manchester marathon time of 3:27:37, which goes to show what the hills and heat can do to you!  A fantastic organised race with a really good crowd.  “Interestingly” I finished 62nd, which was also my race number so clearly I carefully planned my time and finishing position:)

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Its done, dunno what all the fuss was about!

I learnt a lot about pacing (slow slow slow) and a lot about my own abilities.  I know I have loads to work on to build up for some long races later this year and all being well some even longer ones next year!

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Soothing marathon feet!

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Goodbye for a while Coniston.

HDR Photos (Greenfield, MOSI, Media City)

I’ve been experimenting recently with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, which is taking 3 (or more) photos at different exposures and combining them to get the best exposure range across the picture.  I’ve been using some software called Photomatix which came free with a magazine and has a few “painting” type settings which with various tweaking seem to give a surreal effect.  I really like the output, but i’m going to struggle to take a “normal” photo again!  So….. here they are…..

First up (and probably my favourite of the bunch) a couple taken around media city in Manchester, home to the BBC and ITV:

Media City Bridge

BBC Building

These ones were taken at Greenfield just a short train journey from Manchester on the edge of the Peak District (bottom one edited by Mat to get a better composition):

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Finally, on a wander round the city, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and popped into the Cathereral:

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CHURCH

I really like how most of these turned out and the almost strange effect that can be achieved.  I think it maybe works better on more “human built” things than the natural world, but lots of future experimenting to do!

Race Report: Canalathon and Lyme Park

Canalathon 50km

Last July, I entered an “Ultramarathon”.  I must’ve been on a running high because the furthest I’d run was a half marathon, but it seemed like a suitable challenge!  The race was the “Canalathon”, the course starting close to my flat in Manchester City and weaving its way along the canal to Soweby Bridge in Yorkshire, a total of 50km.  Clearly that wasn’t enough for some people who took the 75km and 100km options, but 50 was enough for me!

Time rolled around and suddenly it was 27th March 2016 and I was up at stupid-o’clock (not helped by the clock going forward) loitering in a retail estate car park on the outskirts of Manchester along with a few hundred other runners.

After a quick race briefing (run 50km that way *points*) we were off.  I know these canals well and knew they would soon get clogged so got myself in a good starting position and settled in to a comfortable (although faster than planned) pace.  I’m not going to etch out every detail so I’ll try and summarise in blocks: –

  • 0-10km – What the hell time is it? When did I agree to this? 50km seems an awful long way.
  • 10-20km – This is awesome, I’m a hero!!!!
  • 20-30km – Past half-way, and I’ve got to do that again!!!?
  • 30-40km – “Only” 20km left.  Eating anything anyone is offering you and that I can find in my bag.
  • 40-50km – Everything hurts.

There was great support all round the course and it really helps to get some cheering when you’re at a low-point.  I really do appreciate the organisers/volunteers who give up their time to make these things happen – standing out in the cold on a canal by Rochdale all day really does take some dedication!

Then suddenly it was over. I didn’t actually realise I was at the finish point so had to be told to stop! And that was that, after many months of tough training, endless talking about it to anyone who would listen, it was all over.

I definitely wanted to finish under 5 hours but I ended in position 15 of 166 finishers with a time of 4:26:35, so a great result for me! Link to Results

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Before and After (for some reason I seem to have to lean to the right)

 

Lyme Park Night Run 6km

I wrote most of this back in January after the race but didn’t get round to posting, so here it is.

Lyme Park…….. A glorious escape from city centre life, perfect for a summers day picnic or a cheek flushing stroll to try and catch a view of some deer.  That’s why I was there on a cold, dark, wet Saturday night along with 300 or so others excitedly strapping on a head torch.

This was part of the National Trust night run series, with both a 3km and 6km route available. The former mainly consisting of family/younger entries with the big boys and girls braving the longer distance. We lined up cautiously quite far from the start line which I instantly regretted when we started as it took quite some effort to get over the line, around the crowds and into some kind of position where I could get up to a proper pace. This was a squelchy mud bath with 3-4 punishing hills. The biggest difference I noticed with night running in muddy conditions is that in the light you subconsciously plan the optimum clearer path. With just the extent of torch light there is no such luxury so any wrong choice can take you deeper into the mud.

It was all over some 31 mins later with the last km being pretty much completely on my own, no one snapping at my heels and no chance of catching anyone in front so came in with no idea where i was in the ranking. The results came up on Sunday showing is placed 6th, but then having another look on Monday and five people were suddenly added in front of me, so 11th it was…. Slightly gutting (especially as I excitedly posted by best ever race position to FB!) but such is life.  My running buddy, Michelle, came in first female by over a minute, which is a fantastic result. So we got drunk after and talked about any other fun challenges that may be loitering out there! Post run recovery real-ale of course :-S

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Ancoats

Ancoats

Since my Lumix GX1 suffered a heat stroke in Gran Canaria and I replaced with a GX7 back in Sept/Oct I barely seem to have used it.  When I’m out running I see so many things I’d love to photograph, but the two hobbies are very incompatible! I finally took a local stroll without my shorts and trainers instead armed with a camera and thought I’d focus on one particular area – the southern part of Ancoats close to Manchester City Centre.

Before I even knew I was destined to become a Manchester resident I visited here back in 2013 with work so spent some eerie time in the deserted/derelict Morning Star hostel and school which I mentioned in THIS POST.  Its a strange area on the fringe of the city, clearly industrial, but lots of deserted/derelict buildings with pockets of nice flats, kind of like the Northern Quarter has burst its seams and some hipsters have spilled over Great Ancoats Street clutching their Macbooks and little dogs.  I’ve not gone for beautiful photos here (ability problems) so just tried to capture the vibe of the area.  So, without further ado, here are a few snaps!.

Anita street

Anita Street, very clean and well presented considering the surrounding area!

Coffee

Nestled inside an old Mill, a coffee shop serving Ancoats Coffee.  A true hispter hangout.

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I wouldn’t try getting in here….

 

Car

The hawk-eyed amongst you will be screaming “That’s not Ancoats!!!” and you’d be right.  I wanted to try out keeping some colour in a B&W photo so here is my first effort.  This car is in the NQ right by Cord bar and hasn’t moved since I began living here.

George Leigh Street

George Leigh Street

wall

I too, wish I knew the way.

Smiths

Swift half down Smith’s?

So there you go.  It was good to get out with the camera again and also try out a few different editing techniques on the pics above.  Until next time…..

 

Ectopic Beats

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I’ve had an idea in my head for years about doing some kind of big doom metal track with crunching guitars and blast beats. I’ve finally got round to extracting the idea from brain to airwaves. Not content with keeping it straight “doom”, I’ve snuck in some 80s synth pop/rock, dark metal screaming, middle eastern twangs and some other synth warblings.

Not for the faint hearted or anyone with sensitive eardrums, here is ……. Ectopic Beats.

Techy stuff: All drums manually programmed on EZDrummer using the Drumkit from Hell kits, but I also managed to include a short section using the classic TR8 drum machine. For the first time I’ve also programmed all of the guitar lines (played through a Korg Kross) and most of the lead lines as well, using the in-built Cubase synth Halion Sonic. Its a totally different way of working and its been great to try something different and be able to change sounds after you’ve laid a part down, but then I don’t think you quite get the same vibe as “normal” recording.  Great to give it a try though, and that’s what the music is about on the site, trying out different stuff! The Arturia Microbrute also features here, leaving programming at the door, that’s just big dirty analogue sounds and live tweaking.

On other subjects, running is becoming all time-consuming now with the next few weeks dedicated to building up my fitness to achieve a 50km run at the end of March. Followed by the Manchester Marathon two weeks later. It may be my legs that end up in a bucket rather than the tentacles after that. I’m doing the run for sponsorship, so if any kind souls out there want to sponsor me, please visit my JustGiving page HERE

 

Piano Recital

It was time to attempt to play piano again in front of real people!  My piano teacher, Daria, had arranged a student recital at her house.  Bring nibbles and ‘performance enhancing’ alcohol!  The last time I did this was June 2014 at the Royal Northern College of Music.  I’ve been at this piano lark for quite some time now, almost 4 years and lessons for 3.5 so should be getting to some kind of believable standard. I almost certainly haven’t practiced pure piano as much as I should have as quite a lot of time has been dedicated to composing the tracks on this blog.  A difficult balance which I’ll get to later.

On the day of the recital, I recorded the pieces I was planning to play warts and all so here they are!  The first three are from the ABRSM Jazz Piano Grade 3 book (Sombrero Sam, Sails and Birks Works) and the final piece was a Christmas song, a quickly pulled together Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer:)

Six of us shuffled into the house all probably a bit worried about performing in front of others, but a few sniffs of red wine and there was a bit more relaxation in the air.  It was really interesting to hear others play from relatively new players to people who had far more experience.  When it came to my performance itself I messed up quite a few times but managed to get through it.  The improvisation sections were perhaps the most challenging as I found this quite hard to improvise with performance nerves going on. I’ve played plenty of gigs on drums and had mostly got over the nerves of playing and during later stages got to the point where I was reasonably comfortable playing. Let’s just say I’m not there with piano yet……

It got me thinking about how long I’ve been playing and how ‘good’ I should be. As odd as it may seem, I didn’t start piano because I wanted to learn piano. I started because being a long term drummer with an interest in recording music and pushing what you can do with sound I thought I needed to try a solo project. Very difficult on drums, so a keyboard which can produce a vast array of sounds seemed a great option.  Piano lessons have been great to develop musical groundwork and I’ve put a lot of that into the Bucket of Tentacles pieces, with certainly more musicality and development within the tracks from the first pieces I recorded for this blog.

I feel at a crossroads of sorts to decide where I want to take things, partly because I know that piano performance is never going to be ‘my thing’ and isn’t why I started this.  I’ve always liked the extreme of things, for example I don’t want to listen to something that’s a bit metal, I want it as fast, as dark and as extreme as it gets. Or as genre-hopping discordant and weird as it gets. This is where I get my love for bands like the Secret Chiefs 3 or earlier Mr Bungle who turned my thoughts of what you can do with music upside down.  I’ve had a similar experience with running, doing 5km, 10km doesn’t feel enough so I’m pushing to achieve a (short) ultramarathon 50km.

Its difficult to know where to focus my attention at the moment, my various hobbies need significant time spent practicing pure piano pieces, scales, arpeggios, technique, sight reading, music theory, feel, sound crafting on synths, drum programming, recording techniques, Cubase, applying effects, EQ, compression, listening, composing, writing music, blending sounds, mixing.  Then running, long distance runs, intervals, tempo runs, all round fitness with cross training, weights. What about my other passion photography? Huge range of skills and practice needed there including familiarity with editing software on top of what you take camera side.

I am obviously very lucky to be able to even attempt to do that much “stuff”  but its more slow development on all, rather than leaps and bounds in any one subject.

So the Bucket of Tentacles will continue into 2016 and will continue to be a record of the artistic or physical achievements that I do.  Here is to 2016 which could include a grade 3 piano exam, some extreme running and potentially a fourth ‘release’ of collections of tracks. If there is time of course!

Have a slithering Christmas and New Year.

Hutamah

Starlight

Depending on which resource you consult, in Islam, Hutamah is the 7th lowest and worst level of hell reserved for the religious hypocrites. Whilst I don’t believe in hell (or heaven for that matter), I would hope that this place would be reserved for those that use these ancient texts as justification for evil and murderous plots.

Given that we are just a microscopic dot in both physical space and in the history of time I believe the universe is pretty much apathetic to the goings on of humans.

Here is a short noisy piece dedicated to Hutamah, purely on the basis it sounds a bit nasty.  I took a different approach here and improvised a basic TR8 drum track with heavy on-board effects which gave some kind of weird feedback loop to it all and then just played several synth tracks over the top and just tried to trim and piece it all together at the end (which actually meant deleting most of what I’d played).  So its just ended up as a bit of a noisy bodge-job, careful song writing all the way.  Here it is:

Another, more planned (i.e. its been written) and much nicer track on the go, just waiting for a collaboration with some bass lines from Mat.  Get on it!

Race Report: Birmingham Half Marathon and Helvellyn Trail Race

The tentacles have continued pounding the pavement/trail for quite some time so I thought i’d put up a couple of reviews of two very different races I’ve entered recently, the Morrisons Birmingham Half Marathon and the Lakeland trails Helveyllyn 15km race.

First up, Victoria and myself eagerly got the train from Manchester to Brum and had a relaxed night with the folks, a hearty pre-race dinner, a couple of Erdinger Alcohol-Freis and then off to the city first thing in the morning.  The Square Peg Wetherspoons didn’t know what had hit it as the race masses decended for somewhere to stay warm and to get a bit of caffeine.  Even the resident chavs getting an early Carling looked somewhat surprised that their early morning waterhole was chock full of people “wiv numberz stuk on em”.

It was soon time to be shepherded to the start zones.  I’d somehow persuaded my sister to do this one so we both went off to our separate zones to limber up for the run ahead.  Whilst i’m reasonably familiar with BHam I was mainly focused on keeping my pace up so kind of lost track of where I was. A really great atmosphere and I definitely enjoyed the jazz bands, the thumping raves, the people who’d set up their speakers out side their house and the great cheering support all the way round the route.  I even managed to muster up a sprint for the last 200m along Broad Street to try and make it look easy (it wasn’t) but came across the line in 1:36:26 which was just over 5 minutes faster than my last half marathon so I was very pleased.  Followed by Guiness, Sunday Lunch, Lager and Pizza (in that order) and it made for a great day.

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Post Race Bling

Whilst the big city races are fun, I can’t help preferring smaller events with fantastic views, fresh air, and chunky trainers with grips on them.  A wet Saturday in Glenridding and I’m limbering up (hanging around) for the 15km Helveylln trail race.  I’d put in quite a bit of training for the Birmingham half marathon, so my plan was to take this one easier with a gentle jog round the Lakes and a handful of golden ales snuck in afterwards.  Based on the continuous rain throughout the morning and squelching up to the start line, I began to realise this was going to be tough.  The first 3-4km seemed to be a continuous “up”, which exactly matched my heart rate, and for the first time ever I walked in a race.  It was a particularly steep section, and most people round me were walking too (excuse alert) but I don’t think I’d have been any faster had I carried on running.

The rest of the race was pretty much a mudbath, ankle deep running through overflowing streams across the paths, muddy bogs, slippy rocks and patches of heavy rain.  People were dropping like flies with any slight slip potentially leading to a tumble to the ground.  I did manage to stay upright but probably looked like a drunken giraffe on ice several occasions.  Any thoughts of taking in the misty views were forgotten as I discovered a major part of trail running is the continuous concentration on foot placement whilst maintaining some kind of pace.  It almost gave me brain ache.  I came in with some kind of squelching sprint finish over the line in 1:15:42 (82nd out of 256).  I learnt a lot about my own ability here and how punishing ascents can be, along with the mental concentration needed to keep things moving.

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In an astonishing twist, Victoria actually got me in a photo (previous attempts include my foot only)

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The trail map

Should be back to some nasty synth noises or camera mangling soon!:)

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