01/05/2015

Put a Wee Podcast On

Recently I have experienced a running revival in a huge way. Helped by the gorgeous springtime weather we have been having*, I've been running 3 times a week- regular, speed or hills, and a long run. On the long run its beneficial if I can just zone out. Ideally, the less I am thinking about my legs or my lungs or my pace, the better. 

I find music is just not enough to distract my brain, so instead I turned to podcasts for running. At least I learn something! I will start to blog more about running again soon as this training picks up, I promise. Following are some of my favourite podcasts. Keep in mind that I find the macabre interesting, and that I like quite dark humour. These suggested podcasts therefore may not be great for everyone...

All images from podcast sites


This is my stand-out, number-one recommendation. Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast story, produced in the style of radio updates from a mysterious conspiracy-filled town in the middle of nowhere. Its highly weird but completely captivating. I find myself listening closely for the clever one-liners:
"And now for a brief public service announcement: Alligators. Can they kill your children? Yes."
It has a brilliant mix of plot-relevant information and completely irrelevant chat from a small town. The only bit I'm not so fond of are the weather songs. I'm sure their lyrics are also clever, but the tune is often enough to put me off and make me skip until the narrator reappears. Might not be everyone's kettle of fish**, but give it a definite try. Its a marmite situation. You will either find yourself loving it, or thinking, "That girl is one total and complete freak, and so are the writers of this podcast".


RadioLab is a nice mix of interesting information about assorted topics, and narrated parts to add to the story. They often pull on experts or writers to contribute. I think their about page is pretty spot on when it says, "Radiolab is a show about curiosity"- most people could find something to be curious about in its many episodes. My favourites are the longer compound episodes, like the one about 'Patient Zero's. In that episode they track not only the origins of a few major diseases, but also the origins of a well-known idea. Well worth a listen.  The only thing I don't love is how much they talk over one another in places. 



Caustic Soda


Caustic Soda is not nearly as knowledge-based as RadioLab, but is entertaining as hell. It covers horrible science, or news - topics like shark attacks, kid killers and nuclear disaster. They tend to bring in a good amount of pop-culture references to the topic. I find some of this podcast really funny, although they do tend to get derailed just enjoying each other's company or tangential humour. They have been known to burst into song too. They have an entertaining lack of knowledge- quite often finding things out alongside the listener. Sometimes they could do with more fact-checking, as it isn't always accurate. For example they stated that sharks don't get cancer, but they actually do.

Wearing Nike Twisted Tempos || Brooks Pure Cadence 2 || Green Lamb hooded top || and pug socks...



SYMHC is a very varied podcast. I preferentially choose episodes of this, instead of trying the lot, and tend to download the most macabre episodes. Sometimes the speakers annoy me as they can be kinda squeamish... but hey thats just me! I love that they link all of their research under the podcast online, as this makes it a much more trustworthy source. 

I'm also interested to check out some of the linked projects that they have: Stuff they Don't Want You to Know (about conspiracy theories, man I love me some conspiracy theory) and Stuff Your Mum Never Told You (written for women as a multi-topic information channel, from looking at the titles seems like an excellent resource for teen girls).

If you're a history buff, you should also check out American History Too! Full clarification: Someone I know co-presents this podcast. More serious certainly, but still chatty and entertaining. As with SYMHC, I preferentially choose topics I'm interested in (like Nuclear Fallout... Okay I'm a macabre weirdo, we know that now).

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Can you recommend any podcasts?

I'd particularly love any humour-based, with sarcastic female presenters, or about running that aren't aimed at beginners. 

How do you survive the long run?

* Please note, has alternated back and forth with sleet and frozen, drenching rain. Knew it couldn't last in Glasgow! Glasgow is changeable
** One of my relatives used to use this mixed metaphor, and I thought it was quite appropriate for Night Vale!

24/04/2015

Adventure Everywhere

I am obsessed with the Avicii* song, "The Nights". It has become my play-on-repeat, on the commute, on the run, changing the bed, all-day-long song. The video features Rory Kramer, a visual artist. On one of my many, many views of the song's youtube video, I jumped over to his channel too. 



Kramer's channel is full of silly, fun videos about adventuring, travelling, and some visual diary topics. He's obviously big on 'living life to the full' and has a lot of videos about dreams, the nature of success and so on. I saw a lot of people complimenting his lifestyle and views. However, I also saw a lot of people on both the Avicii video and on his channel saying that really, to go on such adventures you need to be rich. That these kind of experiences are not open to everyone. 

Believe me, I completely agree, they aren't. The Nights features Kramer power boating, water-skiing, shooting, catamaran sailing, on a luxurious beach holiday, para-sailing, bungee jumping, at water parks, at amusement parks, skiing/snowboarding/snow body-boarding, on water rings, jet-skiing, destroying/modifying an old car, and wake-boarding in exotic locations. All of these things can cost some serious money. So when kids are commenting on that video and on his own films, I completely agree on that aspect.

However, I'd suggest, firstly, that that isn't really what the song or Kramer's channel are about.
He said, "One day you'll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember."...
When thunder clouds start pouring down
Light a fire they can't put out
Carve your name into those shinning stars
He said, "Go venture far beyond the shores.
Don't forsake this life of yours.
I'll guide you home no matter where you are."
The song to me is not about jamming your life full of crazy**, expensive activities in lush places abroad, the song is about making sure you fill your days with things that are worthwhile. That you do not allow yourself to stop adventuring. What do I mean by that? I mean that the main thing is not to be doing things that look good on a youtube video, its to be filling your life with the things that make you feel alive. Many of the people commenting on the videos, especially the younger people, seem to feel trapped. They talk about going from school to video games, back to school. They comment on not having the money for these adventures with a kind of impotent rage.

I can understand that kind of feeling. I have felt like that. I look at some of the people I follow and think, "Well lucky you, with your location and your sponsors". But my second point is kind of... nah... nah guys, not good enough. There are so many ways to fill your life with moments worth having, moments that don't require a thick wallet or any kind of fame. The video also features cliff jumping, road trips, biking, guitar hero, family, hiking, trail running, skateboarding, jumping on a bed, urban exploring, fireworks, reminiscing, and jumping off a jetty. None of this requires much money, a lot of it doesn't even require much time. Much of this I have done, it was great fun.

So get yourself out there- climb up a tree in the woods with a friend, then sit at the top singing stupid songs until your sides hurt from laughing and you almost fall out. Go hiking with your family. Run over the back fields or up a hill. Go wandering in the middle of the night if its safe to do that where you live (don't tell your mum I told you to do this, in fact don't tell my mum I used to do this)/ If you live in the inner city, try out parkour or go urban exploring. If you find yourself living your days in a kind of dissatisfied huff, make some goddamn changes.

Video games and TV are fine if they are adding life to your days (comedy is good for the soul and some films are important), but not if they aren't. There are some things you wont be able to change. Not everyone can have a dream job that they love for example. And I hate when privileged figures suggest that- a lot of the time paying the bills will have to come before finding your dream. But there are many, many things you can change. Surround yourself with people that when you say, "Hey, look at that", say, "Lets go check it out!". People that will run into adventures with you.

I recently went to Trakke Basecamp to check out their new collection***. Relevant because their company motto is 'Adventure Everywhere'. What they mean is that everything could be an adventure- a commute, a hike, meeting someone new and feeling the blood pump in your veins, anything. On their website they have, "It doesn't matter where you live, or what you live for. Adventure is everywhere." as their ethos. Check them out, their stuff is very cool and I loved seeing, quite literally, what their bags are made of.

Yurt at Basecamp, their previous collection, a look at the waxed cotton Timorous Beasties collab. 
My days are filled with work, climbing or running, seeing my partner, and occasionally seeing some friends and family. That may sound pretty non-adventurous; and of course I dream of alpine mountaineering, running the Great Wall of China, and surfing in California. The thing is, firstly I know I can grasp adventure where possible- running and hiking in Loch Lomond in summer, planning on doing the vertical km when I'm in Italy, hill running when I can. Secondly, if I look a bit closer, I spend my days looking at cool science, loving people, exploring my city, and working out boulder problems. Those alone are some pretty cool adventures. So far, I have done nothing to impress the world at large. But there is a whole lot I will remember.

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What are your opinions on exploring and adventure? Do you feel you adventure?

Do you find it inspiring to see people having crazy adventures? Or do you find it demoralising?


* Side note -  I did not realise Avicii was so young. He's my age.
** Other side note- Kramer actually states on another video that he is very safe about activities like Cliff diving, and always tests depths etc. It doesn't have to be dangerous to be an adventure.
*** Not in any way financially affiliated with them- they were looking for people to come give opinions and I like their stuff so I went along.

14/04/2015

Why I Love Climbing (and You Should Too)

My fingers are sore. It hurts to open bottles, button jeans, and make dinner. The split I have developed across the index finger joint catches on my clothing, bleeding lightly at the edges. There are blisters on the fat pad below each finger, yellowing as they build up hard skin. The muscles are tight across my forearms, my shoulders, my neck, my back. I am aware of my obliques in a way I never used to be. Its worth, it and will continue to be worth it, for the love of climbing.

Bouldering teaches strength. The strength to make dynamic moves, the strength to hold on just a few seconds longer. To move like a lizard along and under an overhang. There is nothing that makes me happier in my body than pulling myself up and over a crest, or realising that these runners thighs had enough in them to push up on just one solitary foot. There are routes at my wall with large overhangs, even one that requires a leap into space to make the next hold. That one, I am not yet strong enough for. But I practice that leapfrog at the start of every session and I am getting closer.


Climbing teaches fear. Or more accurately, teaches me to overcome it. There are problems I will never complete if I cannot take the leap. There are complex routes that require balance and patience, and the trust to raise up onto just one foot with no handholds in reach. Some of the blue and red problems can be solved by saying, "Just Stand Up". However, climbing also teaches you that it isn't that easy. My hammering pulse is trying to convince me to get back down, immediately. To be closer to the ground where I belong. The longer I stay, the more unstable I feel. It takes courage to Just Stand Up. Once conquered, I find that problems I was afraid of feel effortless and take on a kind of routineness. There's power in knowing I can eventually convert those routes I was most afraid of into that kind of control. 

Bouldering problems teach intelligence. Every route is a puzzle to solve. Sometimes I get stuck on just the first move, unable to work out that initial flow, thumping lightly and impotently onto the mats when I fall. Other times I find myself metres off the ground facing the wrong way. There is nothing to do but to start again. Climbing fosters problem-solving obsessions. That one route I just cannot get will echo in the back of my mind for a week's worth of work.  Finishing is tantalizingly close. Talking it through can be exceptionally useful- I recently completed a route during whilst describing why I couldn't do it. I was just about to say that the next move was my sticking point, when I realised exactly how to complete it.

A long course route we've been working on.

My climbing partner

Climbing teaches focus. As a PhD student, this is one of it's joys. In running I find myself ruminating, "God I'm unfit, why do I suck, I suck as a researcher too...", and so on. Completing my mandatory self-flagellation for the duration of the run. With bouldering I feel focus. Its just about me and those holds. We aren't at war, they are a resource to use against gravity. I just need to work out how to best utilise them. In climbing I don't think about my failures, or anything at all. I forget to text people, I forget I really should be getting to work, I forget I'm even exercising at all, I forget to listen to my racing heart. I am busy climbing.



Bouldering lets you taste the achievement. In a very tangible way. Routes that used to be hard, become easy. I find this in particular after I move up a colour (colours represent grade brackets). The routes I used to find difficult in the grades below, are suddenly imbibed with this magical achieveability. There's definitely a mental quality to that- if I can do those above, I must be able to complete those below. Its faith. Routes that are currently impossible quickly become realistic goals for future sessions. My climbing partner and I have been working on a long course* too, which is great as you can, quite literally, see how far you have come

There is a kinship in climbing that develops very quickly. Climbers I don't even know, who are far superior, see my euphoria and congratulate me on my successes. Even though that route is easy for them, they understand the feeling. How it feels to be standing there, arms aching, but heart bursting. Climbing has its own language that others will only be happy to teach you. People throw up hints as you work on new routes, "fly the left leg out". They have never said anything mean when I have nervously said, "I'm... I'm not sure what that means".

Climbing levels the playing field in a big way. It isn't about how strong, flexible, fast, clever at problem solving, or dedicated I am compared to others. It is about how strong, flexible, fast, clever at problem solving, and dedicated I am compared to my own body weight and composition. Compared to my own mind sometimes in the case of routes I am fearful of or frustrated at. This is why you see pro boulderers of both genders attack the same routes. On Sunday, we saw some exceptional climbers at the centre tackle one of the most difficult problems. They danced up holds the length of a finger. Their genders were irrelevant. They ranged from 5 foot 2 odd to 6 foot 4 odd. They all did it. 

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Pick one of your sports, what do you love about it?

Ever climbed?