Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Coca-Cola Pipeline

We're sat under the canopy in the back yard as dusk blurs the sky over Adelaide. The sweet smell of barbeque and beer hang in the warm air. Tammy and Aunty Joan busily clear the table and end up in the kitchen, talking over something.

I stretch my legs out, lean back in the plastic chair and look on as the kids show off for Uncle Ron. Ellie's bouncing on the spot, eager to make an impression. Ron smiles at her and asks in his quiet voice, 'So, you're superheroes are you?'

Ellie laughs out loud. 'Yeah, Daddy calls us his superheroes,' she says, 'And I'm Whirlwind 'cause I'm good at dancing and I can spin round really fast.' She takes a step forward, legs akimbo, and pushes her right arm in Uncle Ron's direction, palm pushed flat against an invisible barrier. She moves her arm across the line of her body, pursing her lips to make the sound of a raging wind. 'I'm Whirlwind!' she shouts.

Archie's quickly on the scene. 'And I'm Lightning, Uncle Ron,' he says. 'I can run really fast. Like lightning, Dad says. I always beat him when we have a race.' He performs his signature move - Ralph Macchio's crane-position kick from the last scene of The Karate Kid - and then flops down onto the patio.

Uncle Ron's laughing. 'That's amazing,' he says. He looks across at me and winks. 'I'll tell you something else that's amazing, and it's only found here, in Adelaide.' He pauses. The kids are hanging on his every word. 'Have you heard of The Coca-Cola Pipeline?' They both shake their heads. 'Well, do you like coca-cola?'

'Mum and Dad let us have some on Saturday nights while we're watching Doctor Who,' Archie informs him.

'We have Maltesers too,' Ellie says, determined to have the last word.

'Oh right,' Uncle Ron goes on, 'Well, keep looking carefully in the next few days. You might see a big pipe running right through the hills. Goes on for miles it does, and runs right into the city. And do you know what's inside it?'

'Water?' says Archie.

Uncle Ron shakes his head.

'Coca-cola?' says Ellie.

Uncle Ron smiles. 'Yes, coca-cola.' Ellie looks over to me, raised eyebrows, making her eyes wide.

'We're very lucky in Adelaide to have a Coca-Cola Pipeline. The only one in the world. The coca-cola's made in a huge factory over the other side of the hills and it's piped right into the city. Every cafe and every shop has a special tap. Turn it on and what comes out?'

'Coca-cola!' shout the superheroes together. There's quiet for a moment, and then Ellie goes, 'Wow!'

Aunty Joan emerges from the kitchen. 'Another beer Chris? Ron - what have you been telling them?'

'Oh, nothing,' Ron says, and we both chuckle.

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

A couple of days later, we're on the way back to Ron and Joan's house after an afternoon at the Cuddley Creek Nature Reserve. It's been a great day, but it's hot and the kids are tired. They're quiet in the back of the hire car. As we pass the sign for Tea Tree Gulley, Ellie shatters the silence.

'Mum! Dad! It's The Coca-Cola Pipeline! Look! Look!' She points over to the hills, and now Archie has seen it and all hell's breaking loose. 'Whoaa!' they're both shouting.

Tam pulls over and we get out the car and look over to the hillside. A huge concrete pipe lumbers inelegantly across its contours.

'Is that what we're looking at?' Tam says and shrugs her shoulders.

'Mum! Archie tells her, 'That's The Coca-Cola Pipeline! Uncle Ron told us. Do you know what it's got inside?'

'Water?' she says.

'No! Coca-cola!' Ellie yells.

'And it's the only one in the world,' Archie continues, 'It comes from a factory on the other side of the hills and it goes all the way to the city. And all the shops and cafes have a special tap and when you turn it on, coca-cola comes out!'

'Oh right,' says Tam and stares at me with that look - who's been winding them up?

'What?' I reply, 'Uncle Ron told us.'

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Towards the end of the week, Archie and myself are squeezing through a gap in the fence by a roadside to enter the Anstey Hill Recreation Park. 'Here we are,' I say, 'but take it easy - the first bit's really steep.'

In our week long stay in  the Adelaide suburbs, it hadn't been long before I discovered the Park. A few minutes jog from Ron and Joan's house, it featured a trail that climbed steeply to the 1,217 ft summit of Anstey Hill, before descending equally steeply to the road. I'd gotten into a routine of getting up early and doing 2 or 3 laps of the 4-mile circuit, before jogging back for breakfast. It was a great little run, and as I'd enthused over it one tea-time, Archie had asked if he could come with me before we flew back to the UK. I'd promised we'd do a lap on our last day while Mum and Ellie did some last minute souvenir shopping.

The sun's fierce - our last full day in Australia - the end of a glorious stay. The two of us jog and walk up the trail towards the summit. I think back to our runs on the beach over the last month - special times.

After posing for photos at the sign on the top, we're soon rattling down the trail on the other side. Suddenly Archie stops dead. Pointing to the left, he's caught up in excitement. 'The Coca-Cola Pipeline!' he repeats a few times. Following the direction of his gaze, I see the Adelaide-Mannum Pipeline running across the bottom of the adjoining valley towards a large water-filtration plant on the southern boundary of the Park.

'Wow, Dad! I can't wait to tell Miss Sheldon when I get back to school! It's a good idea int it Dad? Why don't other places have coca-cola pipelines?' He's going on and on, his face lit up, and I wait to get a word in when he pauses.

'Archie,' I say, 'It's not got coca-cola in it. There isn't a Coca-Cola Pipeline.'

Archie looks at me, silent suddenly, crest-fallen. And the silence seems to last forever. Eventually, his voice small, he says, 'I know that Dad. I was just tricking you. What's it got inside then?'

'Water,' I tell him.

'Oh, right,' he says and walks on by himself in front for a while.

I've a guilt inside me. I watch him walking alone and think of the excitement and innocence with which he approaches each day. Days where Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are still real. Where new things lie to be discovered at every turn. Days of wonder and magic, in a big world filled with friends still to be made and pipelines full of coca-cola. And, as I watch him, I feel a sadness and a pride - my little boy's growing up, and soon the world maybe might not seem so kind.

He turns round suddenly and asks, 'Dad, do you think we should tell Mum and Ellie?'

I think a moment and reply, 'What would you rather have mate? A pipeline filled with water, or one that carries coca-cola? Takes coca-cola to all of those special taps in all of those shops in that big city over there?'

He doesn't answer my question, but I know the answer. We continue our walk down the track, side by side, and then he turns to me and says, 'Maybe we'll tell Ellie the truth when she's a bit bigger.'         


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

'What's next?'

After a number of years of running infrequently, my passion was reignited four years ago by the notion of Empty Miling. Central to this concept is the intrinsic enjoyment of each and every run. Whilst not guaranteed to produce a dramatic improvement in running performance, it certainly is conducive to uncovering the unbridled joy involved in the simplest pleasure - moving from one place to another on foot.

Whilst adhering to Empty Miling, the deliberate irony in the phrase became immediately apparent. Empty miles were not junk miles, worthless miles - they were the most fulfilling running miles imaginable. Gradually, by embracing Empty Miling, the bedrocks of my running preconceptions have altered dramatically. Whereby I have always 'trained' for one future singular event or challenge, I now feel I have reached a stage where that idea is increasingly irrelevant. And, in turn, this new way of thinking has shaped 'What's next?'

For several months now, I've pondered an idea for next year which embraces this new way of thinking. 'Training' is a phrase that doesn't exist in pure Empty Miling since 'training' assumes the 'target race' is the most important run whilst 'training runs' are necessary to achieve this. 'Training runs' embody a negativity - no pain, no gain. 'Training' might be a slog, often unenjoyable, but necessary if the future goal is to be achieved. Empty Miling, however, assumes that every run is as important as the next, and intrinsic enjoyment of each run is the important goal. So, 'What's next?' doesn't involve a singular goal. Instead, what I have in mind is a year-long project - a year where the journey IS the destination.

So, what is it?

My project will start on the 1st January 2012 and will end on the 31st December 2012. It will involve a huge commitment in terms of time and support from my family. It will take me to paths less travelled and places never visited. It will test my endurance in ways I've never experienced, It will be the hardest thing I've ever done. Success is far from guaranteed. In fact, I think the odds are stacked against me. However, the project excites me more than anything else I've achieved in my running, and the challenge is mouth-watering.

My project involves the exploration of my home county, Lincolnshire, on foot. Over the year, I will attempt to complete all the Long Distance Paths that start, finish or pass through Lincolnshire. Using the LDWA database as my guide, I have compiled a list of paths that fit this criteria and have grouped them into short, medium and long categories. With the exception of the Hobbers Way, all of these paths will each be completed in one continuous run.


Torpel Way - 11 miles
Bourne Blunder - 20 miles
Tennyson Twenty - 20 miles
Vermuyden Way - 20 miles
Wanderlust Way - 20 miles
Jubilee Way - 21 miles
Dave Milne Way - 22 miles
Belvoir Witches Challenge - 25 miles
Caistor Challenge - 25 miles
Gingerbread Way - 25 miles
Silver Lincs Way - 25 miles
Spires and Steeples - 25 miles
Caistor Challenge Alternative - 26 miles
Kesteven 25 - 26 miles
Linconshire Wolds Black Death Challenge Walk - 26 miles


Belmont 30 - 30 miles
Grantham Canal - 33 miles
Water Rail Way - 33 miles
Humber Bridge Link Walk - 34 miles
Plogsland Round - 47 miles
Peatlands Way - 50 miles


Nev Cole Way - 58 miles
Danelaw Way - 60 miles
Jurassic Way - 88 miles
Lindsey Loop - 95 miles
Towers Way - 95 miles
Hereward Way - 110 miles
Nene Way - 110 miles
South Kesteven Round - 130 miles
Viking Way - 147 miles
Hobbers Way - 193 miles

The majority of these runs will be done solo.

The Viking Way may be covered by competing in the first Viking Way Ultra race, scheduled for Easter Saturday 2012. I'll give this option a little more thought however, as I'm not sure that racing a route fits easily with what I'm trying to achieve over the year.

The Hobbers Way, at 193 miles, is too long for me to attempt as a single, continuous run. Therefore, I plan to split this journey into a 4-day run, starting at the mouth of the Severn and finishing at The Wash, hopefully in the company of a few friends. This journey, an alternative Coast-to-Coast, I see as a fitting finale to my year of travel.

Whilst the short and medium paths will fit easily into the calendar, the long paths are what the success of this project hinges upon. Do-able? Time will tell.

Planning is in the early stages. The calendar wall-chart is ready to be tinkered with. The next few months are likely to be busy.

It's an idea I've thrown around for a while, and now, I guess, it looks like there's no going back.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Lakeland 50

There's only one thing I'm concentrating on as darkness begins to envelop the Coniston Fells. 'Don't miss that cairn. Hit that small cairn at the path junction, take the middle path and it's plain sailing. From there, the faint trod soon gets better and before you know it, you're on a good track descending to the old miners road and then it's easy running to the finish. But where's that cairn?'

I know there's a runner on my heels. How far behind is he? I can't afford to go wrong now, less than 2 miles from the end. I stop, check my map, run a bit further - and then there it is - more a loose pile of stones than a cairn. I've cracked it! My energy levels rebound. I tuck the map and road book into my shorts and I'm off.

After a painful descent from the Fell top, I'm soon on the miners road. I check my watch. 9 hours 19 minutes. I can't stop grinning. Under 12 hours and top 50 I'd have been happy with. But under 9.30 and top 5 - it doesn't seem real. I remember Mark Hartell's time from last year - 9 hours 41 mins - Mark Hartell, Lakeland peaks record holder, 77 summits in 24 hours, mountain running legend. Granted, he's a few years past his best now, but I'm going to beat Mark Hartell's time - me, a jogger from Lincolnshire!

A couple of minutes later, I emerge onto the main road through Coniston and turn right towards the bridge. The entire beer garden in front of the Black Bull pub claps and cheers. I'm getting emotional. Turning down Lakes Road towards the finish line, I can make out Tam taking photos. Archie and Ellie run towards me. Archie's quiet but Ellie's yelling, 'Well done my daddy!'

I'm so happy, chuffed with myself. I cross the line and a female marshal links her arm into mine and leads me into the school. Through the reception into the cafeteria area - more clapping and cheering, and into the main hall, everyone on their feet. What a great feeling. I'm pushed in the direction of the dibber where I dib my tag and receive my official result. 9 hours 25 minutes. 4th position.

A guy grabs my arm and makes me stand on the scales for the compulsory weigh-in. He checks my wrist tag for my start weight and shouts over to the race doctor, '4.5 kilos down!' The doctor tells me to get as much fluid in me as I can. 'I'm ok,' I tell him, 'I feel great!' I give Tam and the superheroes a big hug, grab a styrofoam cup of flat coke and then the nausea hits me and I can't stand up.

Low blood pressure, I'm told. I'm escorted to a thick crash mat, where I lie for the next hour with my feet on a plastic chair. The sickness soon subsides and feeling like I'm lying on a king-sized bed in the most luxurious hotel suite, I close my eyes and think back over the day:

- Joss Naylor, the greatest fell runner ever, getting all of us 460 Lakeland 50 competitors started at midday

- 7 minute miles round the first 4 mile loop at Dalemain before our journey started in earnest

- 4 of us coming off High Kop too early at 15 miles, and having to bushwhack for an eternity through chest-high bracken

- the savage climbs out of Fusedale, Mardale Head and Kentmere

- the unrelenting heat, no escape all day

- the encouragement from the 100 mile competitors I passed during the day

- the smiling faces at the six checkpoints, flat coke and jelly beans

- arriving at Ambleside with 16 miles left to be greeted by Tam yelling, 'Get a wiggle on - 4th's only 3 minutes in front!'

- catching the guy in front with 10 miles to go but running scared for the rest of the way

- passing my BG Pal, Mark R., 5 miles from the end of his 100 mile race and promising him a pint at Coniston

- running straight through the last checkpoint, determined to hold my position

- and thinking, right now, that lying down never felt so good.

A great, great day.

Eventually, I have to get up. Mark R. enters the hall to applause - 29 hours and a bit - top 20 in the 100. I give him a few minutes to sort himself out. A bit later, I go over and congratulate him.

'Ok?' I ask.

'Been better. Been worse, ' he replies. I remind him that it was him mentioning the Lakeland 50 and 100 on a Bob Graham last year that set the seed in my mind.

He looks at me with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye. 'Well, we've done it Chris, ' he says, 'What's next?'