Over the hills and far away

My brother has challenged me to join him in running the Sarn Helen Hill Race (a 16.5 miler) in May, and the Snowdonia Marathon in October.

These are both fairly long runs, mainly off road, in hilly country (thankfully, the Snowdonia marathon doesn't actually ascend Snowdon itself). They're both in Wales - so those hills are going to be properly steep.

16.5 miles is what I call a "kilometrathon" - it works out at just over 26km. It's one of my favourite distances: long enough to be tasking, but short enough to stay fun all the way.
The marathon is a distance I've never actually raced, except to carry on for longer afterwards. I've run it solo a couple of times. I find marathons to be very tiring by the end, but again, they're the sort of epic distance I enjoy.

Anyway - all this is just to say: I'm getting back out there on the hill training again. Welsh hills are likely to be harder than the Marlborough Downs, so I need to put in more regular effort.
I also know that I need to strengthen my knees for the long distances - so I'll be doing some balancing and light weight work, too.


Why We Run

Why do you run? What keeps you from stopping? What makes you want to stop, stay in or slack off?


I run because I have asthma - if I don't exercise regularly, my asthma symptoms get worse. (I can also use drugs to control my asthma, which I do, but the exercise staves off the symptoms so that I take less medicine.)

I run to keep generally fit. My immune system seems to be vastly improved compared to before I ran: I have only had one cold that kept me off work in the last three years. I've lost weight, and fit into my old clothes again.

I run to be prepared. The Scouting motto is "Be prepared" - which while I was enjoying all the other fun of being a Scout, I took to heart. I have a commemorative 50p coin with that motto on it, which I always keep: 50p won't buy much these days, but it'll get me a phone call. And if I know I can always get up and run a few dozen miles if I have to, then I'm prepared for most emergencies - along with all the other first aid training and wood craft I picked up when I was Scouting.

I run to clear my head. Running uses very little brain power, but it bombards you with sensations - the feeling of your breath, legs, feet; the sight and sound of the world moving past. It's rather like meditating: you put your brain in neutral. I find I think of all sots of unconnected things while I'm running - they just float up to the surface while I'm busy pushing the road past.

I run because running makes us human. I run to pay tribute to my ancestors (no, don't roll your eyes at that - it'll make sense in a minute), whose hunting kills from their running hunts allowed a respite from the drudgery of survival, so that they could think and innovate - and ultimately invent agriculture, which in turn allowed me to choose to vegetarian. Having that choice is a privilege - so I run to salute their efforts to allow me to make that choice, however roundabout it was.

It's hard to find the motivation to run for many people. I keep running because of all those reasons.

Sometimes I don't want to run. I miss a day now and then. Usually it's because other demands got in the way - I was dealing with a client at the time I'd usually go running, or I was travelling - but sometimes it's because I'd rather have a glass of wine and watch Big Bang Theory or QI, or write notes for more gaming material.

But my first reason always brings me back: I run because running makes me better.

I know that's a reason most people don't have, so, I'd like to throw it open to you lot who read these ramblings:

  • Why do you / did you want to run?
  • What makes you want to stop, stay in, or slack off?
Answers in the comments, please!


Fantasy Settlements 1.5 - Excessively Urban?

Since last Fantasy Settlements blog post, I've not been idle - I've been digging around in population data and settlement models, and making spreadsheets.
Despite how dull that seems, I think that some of what I found may be interesting!

D&D demographics are post-industrial
D&D and derived d20 fantasy games give us a bunch of settlement types / names to work with, as I mentioned last time:

  • Metropolis, large city, small city, large town, small town, village, hamlet, thorp
These settlements are assigned population sizes, purchasing limits, and so on.
Notice that we only have three types of rural settlement, and 5 types of urban.

When I studied urban development and settlement theories at school, one of the key theories was Christaller's central place theory. (I suspect I remember it so well through a combination of this topic being one that my father helped me understand by getting me to explain it to him, and the fact that it lays out settlements on a hex grid...)

I'll not bore you with all the details, but simply put, he proposed (and then to some extent proved in the real world) that settlements grow according to their place in a hierarchy - the settlements that provide the most important or unique services grow largest and influence a wider area, while those with common services are less influential and grow less. That is: there are many farms (small settlements), but only a few seats of government (probably in a metropolis).
You can look up more details, of course, but the practical issue I want to talk about here is that he said that each order of settlement would be served by on average six of the next lower order: a town would be surrounded by six villages, roughly equidistant, and those villages by six hamlets, each, and so on.

When I applied this idea to the categories from the d20 fantasy rules, I found that for 1 metropolis, I had:

  • 6 large cities, 
  • 36 small cities, 
  • 216 large towns, 
  • 1 296 small towns, 
  • 7 776 villages, 
  • 46 656 hamlets and ...
  • 279 936 thorps
The d20 settlement rules give the following guide to population sizes:

  • metropolis, 25000+ 
  • large cities, 10001 - 25000
  • small cities, 5001 - 10000
  • large towns, 2001 - 5000
  • small towns, 201 - 2000
  • villages, 61 - 200
  • hamlets, 21 - 60
  • thorps, 20 or fewer

When I put those population data into my numbers of settlements, I got the following average:

  • metropolis, 37500
  • large cities, 105 003
  • small cities, 270 018
  • large towns, 756 108
  • small towns, 1 426 248
  • villages, 1 014 768
  • hamlets, 1 889 568
  • thorps, 5 598 720 or fewer

That gave me a total urban population of 2,594,877, total rural population of 8,503,056 (rural being anything smaller than a town), in a total population of 11,097,933. In other words, a 23.4% urban population.
(This is of course based on a relatively small "metropolis" - bigger metropolises will tip the balance even further.)

Now, when I looked at real world data, I found that this level of urbanisation only started after the industrial revolution. Before that, there just weren't the transport links to make massive urban centres sustainable. We couldn't get fresh food to the city markets fast enough to support city dwellers on a large scale.
Prior to the industrial revolution, the split of urban to rural population was more like 1%, rising to 10% over the first hundred years of the agricultural revolution and early industrial era.
A 23% urban population is more like the level we saw in Europe around the mid to late Victorian era.

Urban sprawls need magic or technology
So it seems that the top heavy set of settlements that the standard rules give us means that the d20 fantasy setting is out of kilter with its usual pseudo-medieval idyll. It's a more modern balance, based on a time of technological advancement, railways and mechanised farming.

Of course, maybe a wizard did it.

In some high fantasy settings, magic can take the place of industrialisation, so that the early industrial or even modern distribution might be appropriate. Consider the level of magic, and the ability to rapidly travel. Food production might even be magically achieved. It might even be possible to exceed our real-world modern level of urbanisation.

But I think it's important that if you decide to have a wizard do it, you know what they have to do.

Next: Population density
Back to my intended schedule, in which I put some of this research into practice.