For years I wouldn’t have described myself as an adventurous type. When discussing investment options for a pension plan, I’d have leaned away from risk.
On our 16th wedding anniversary I found myself running through the Peak District between Bakewell and Castleton. We were camping, and my wife had been called back into the city for a job interview, so what’s to be done? Cook up some breakfast, trainers on, water and snacks in a bag and head up the hill in roughly the right direction.
For pretty much all of those 10 miles that Friday morning there was no-one else in sight. Blue skies, open countryside, and the prospect of a pint awaiting me at the end of the journey.
I also discovered that pubs are obliged to fill up water bottles for you. Very handy on long runs in a hot summer.
As I ran that morning I realised how much running has been the re-discovery of adventure. I remembered how I’d cycle off as a teenager for hours at a time, in those heady, fearless, pre-mobile-phone days of the early 1990s. And here I was doing something similar 25 years later, without the wheels.
Joining a running club was one of those try something new moments. I had no idea what to expect. I’d put it off for ages because I feared an overly competitive environment, and haunted by my past utter lack of fitness. And it’s been one of the best moves I’ve made.
Three new running adventures in the last year.
1. Cross Country.
Like most people I ran cross country at school. Not competitively. It was what we did when it was too cold and wet to play rugby. And it was miserable. Yet, last October when my wife’s plans changed unexpectedly I took up the opportunity to run a Cross Country race for the first time. It was warm and dry in Markeaton Park, Derby for the first North Midlands League race of the season. Hard work but so different to anything else. As the winter closed in, the rain and mud increased. I picked up some trail shoes at the next race in Corby and the fresh grip gave me new confidence. I ran again in muddy Shipley Park, twice; and the mud and hills of Colwick Woods (East Midlands League), and one at Wollaton Park. On a dry January afternoon the last one was the scene of my current 10km PB, not something you expect at XC, especially when you’ve lost 10 seconds re-tying your laces 500m into the race.
The end of the XC season was the Nationals at Parliament Hill which is an experience like no other. Crowds. High level runners, and the rest of us. An iconic start up a massive hill. Lessons learned about starting quicker to avoid the bottle neck and then just going for it through absurd terrain. A great day out with club friends too.
Thanks to local legend and seventy-something-and-still-running Ken for the encouragement to have a go at XC.
Mid-winter club friends started signing up for Spring Marathons. I’d done a couple of Half’s and that distance had become manageable and something I was running round town every few weeks. I’d imagined trying a Marathon in Spring 2019 might be worth a go – get one in before I turn 40…
Sometimes peer-pressure is a good thing, and I was already putting in almost enough running. So began four months of speed and hill training and long runs, in the wind, rain and snow of the Beast from East.
All of which led up to the Milton Keynes Marathon in May. On one of the hottest May bank holidays ever. A week before the forecast was 12-13 degrees, and I was ready to chase a 3:30 first Marathon. Each day the temperature rose, reaching 28-29 degrees on the day. Bye-bye time!
The first half of the run was fine, on pace, and not too hot. But the second half nearly killed me. Would I have done better with a slower start? Maybe. Do I need to learn how to fuel better? Probably. Was I ever going to get a good time on a day like that? No. I walked for a few km’s and fought on to the finish – “forget the time, just finish” – in 4:12. Sitting in the stands at the MK Dons football ground afterwards my mind turned to Autumn Marathon’s. Unfinished business. What have I become?
3. Fell Running.
We used to live in Devon and I miss the coast like anything. But we do have the Peak District nearby. There are hills, though our town is pretty flat. People had talked about fell running in the club and I’d not really engaged with it. But, I’m getting used to trying new things and if I’m going to kick through another four months of marathon training I need something new to do.
First attempt, Castleton.
Up and down Lose Hill and Mam Tor, in about an hour. The up-hills were fine, but the downhills… terrifying! How do people do it? Suddenly, I’m a beginner again. Exhilarating too.
Second, Riber Run.
A lot easier. The downhill were more grassy than rocky. I enjoyed the views too. Epic respect for the runners who live in the Peaks – they know how to get up the hills steadily and then they just disappear downhill. Forget the clock, and take on what’s in front of you.
Third, Chrome Hill.
The day after my trek from Bakewell to Castleton. And my wife ran this one too. A glimpse into Peak District life. The village school summer fair, with pet competitions, unending raffle, and a fell race. Why not? I spent half of this race fearing my wife would die or kill me. This one also had the steepest downhills yet and I’d clearly still not worked out how to get downhill quickly. Turned out that this race had been chosen as our County Championships and I picked up a Team Silver Medal!
Fourth, Black Rocks.
Loved this one. A variety of terrain and much more confident on the downhills. I chose not to watch the World Cup semi-final to do this with 71 other people, though we caught some of it in the Rugby Club bar after the race. I’m told this race attracts 200 usually.
Next one in the diary in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, I’ve been back to a couple of these for another go, on my own. And I’ve picked up maps of walking routes in the Peak District – for the purpose of running, ways to discover places I’d never otherwise find!
My work is fairly flexible but it’s still a challenge to work the angles in life, so that my running doesn’t become an irritation to the family. I’m quite happy treading the pavements early in the morning, I’m glad of club runs and speed sessions, but from time to time I’m finding I need the variety of exploring somewhere new. A new distances, a new terrain, a new places, new adventures.