Wednesday, 4 March 2015
This Is What I Do
I'm trying to put into words the feeling that's held me all day.
We're driving back from an open cross-country meeting at Barton-Upon-Humber. Tam's behind the wheel, and I'm talking.
'I just think that I need to find a new hobby. I was looking at some of those folks today and they seem to get such a buzz from running. I used to be like that, but not any more. Not for ages. It's all become a bit of a chore. Most of the time I get out, not because I really want to, but because it's a habit. You know what I mean? It's like, 'I'll go for a run because this is what I do.' '
Tam looks over, nods her head in all the right places, sighs like Twig the Wonderkid, but doesn't say anything.
'I'm sure there's something I could do that would really fire me up. Climbing, maybe? Mountain-biking? Something that I've never done before. Where everything would be new and exciting. And fun. Not just the same old, same old.'
I guess I'm in one of those moods. After a bit, I get the hint and shut up.
I cast my mind over the events of Friday night. The HPM. A DNF. Whilst no-one's particularly to blame, and I'd come out afterwards with such lazy platitudes as, 'It's only a race - it doesn't matter in the scheme of things', not having achieved what I'd set out to do, along with missing a full night's sleep, had left me feeling pissed off all day.
Maybe a run would sort me out? I'd asked Tam earlier to drop me off 10 miles from home on the way back, but I couldn't say I was particularly looking forward to it. As if things couldn't possibly get more downbeat, at that moment the clouds burst and heavy raindrops smeer the windscreen. I'm sure the forecast had said cold and windy, but dry. With no waterproof, the possible salvation I'll find in a run home looks far-fetched. 10 miles in the rain. No jacket. Freezing-bastard-cold and blowing a gale. Fan. Fucking. Tastic.
Stepping into the house sometime later, I admit that I do feel a bit better. The rain had stopped, the wind had blown away a few murky mental cobwebs,and my legs had felt a little stiff but surprisingly good.
The phone's ringing.
Before I even have chance to take off my shoes, I hear Tam saying, 'Yeah - he's just walked in.' She wanders into the hallway and hands me the house phone. A friend's on the line. I spread myself out on the computer chair in the front room and chat for 20 minutes. We get onto the subject of the team's retirement from Friday night's race, and I start again with all the same crap I was saying to Tam earlier.
'You know what your next challenge should be?' my mate tells me once I've finished my depressing monologue. 'Don't run a single step for a month. It'll be hard, I know, but it'll do you the world of good. Kind of get things into perspective.'
When I put down the phone, he's convinced me. My next challenge will be to not run at all for a month. At least. A new plan; I should feel excited, but I don't. What if, without running, things just stop making sense?
I shuffle into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Think for a while, resolve dissolving. Ok - my next challenge will be to not run at all for a month. Maybe. But I won't start just yet. Later this year, perhaps? Or not at all.
Work's dragged. Fed-up all day. The prospect of the run home, to be honest, hasn't really helped things either. Recently, I've found the jog home from the factory a right drag. My circadian rhythms must hit rock-bottom at around 3pm. Even a slow plod seems like hard work.
I get home at about half-four.
'Good run?' Tam says, hopeful, as I flop out against the kitchen wall.
'Not bad,' I reply, trying not to sound too negative. 'A bit of a slog.'
I sup a mug of sweet tea and contemplate getting ready to coach the kids at running club later on. Don't really feel like that either, I admit, but I guess it'll do me good.
There's definitely something about being in the company of enthusiastic youngsters and good friends that does wonders for the soul. When I arrive back from the club a couple of hours later, the dark clouds of the previous two days have all but evaporated.
Getting out the car, I'm surprised by the brightness of the moon. I'd not noticed it earlier. Not full, but not far off. I take a few steps to the end of the drive and look across the fields opposite. Eventually, my eyes are drawn to the distant red lights of the Belmont transmitter. On my last Lindsey Loop adventure, I began to picture the transmitter as a light-bulb in the middle of a huge room and myself as a moth, blindly making my way around it, pulled by a force too powerful to resist. I stare for a while at that far-away column of red light, and realise my predicament. Realise what running is to me. I'm pulled by a force too powerful to resist. And, as I stand in the darkness, I realise what a comforting thought that is.
I go to bed early. There's excitement in my belly again. I spread out an OS map on top of the duvet and check out an idea that's appeared from nowhere. How far would it be to run the course of the River Lymm from its source on Belchford Hill to the sea at Gib Point? Which parts of its banks have open access? Which sections are negotiable with trespass, or not at all? When would be the best time to try it? Would it be a point-to-point trip, or could I incorporate it into a long round?
I lay awake for a while later. A moth around a lightbulb. My thoughts flick through a catalogue of the things I've been drawn to for this year: a 2 day walk around the Tennyson Trail with an overnight bivvy; a 280 mile, 7 day run on the Cross Britain Way; a solo, unsupported 90 mile race against the daylight from Skegness to Hunstanton on the Summer Soltice; multi-day, super-light fastpacking trips over the length of the Nene Way and Hereward Way; a 140 mile FKT attempt on running the length of Lincolnshire, utilising the Viking Way and the Danelaw Way; a whole pile of undiscovered footpaths and as-yet-unattempted Pointless Challenges.
Round and round the lightbulb, until sleep turns off the power.
I leave the house at 5.15. It's cold outside, frost on the car windscreen and a stillness in the air. Turning on my head-torch and pulling the fleece beany over my ears, I start to jog down the lane and then over the crossroads in the direction of the Wold Grift. Sometimes you know immediately. Today, I know. This run's going to be a good one.
As I make my way slowly and easily along the field edges to Alford, the moths of last night have flickered away and my thoughts are consumed by a different anology. What if running were a marriage? A long-lasting relationship? A commitment until death-do-us-part?
Perhaps the look of joy I'd seen on the faces of those runners at Barton - those Absolute Beginners - a couple of days ago was due to the heady ecstasy of lust and infatuation? The running equivalent of falling hopelessly in love with someone new and then shagging each other senseless for six months straight. Many years ago, my running started like that too. Each day, a joy, a new discovery, a dizzying rush of natural chemicals. All-consuming. Exciting. Thrilling.
But over time, it's changed. Just like a marriage, the dynamics have altered. Whilst the passion is undoubtedly still there, it's been blended beautifully with a love and respect that runs much deeper. A love and respect that binds your relationship, ties you together closely, buoys you through the times when things don't seem quite right and enables you to appreciate all the moments when things are perfect.
Dawn's breaking. I pass the church at Well, and it's a beautiful day. I'm in love again. Every footstep is a kiss.
I jog on through the woods and remember words I recently read. In answer to the question, 'How has running shaped your life?' Buzz Burrell, 63 year-old US mountain-running guru replied:
'When I was in high school, nothing was being presented to me that was real. This was when the Vietnam War was just getting started and various values in society at the time were questionable. And I had zero answers. I had no idea what was true or what was false, but I knew when I moved and breathed and perspired, that was real. And so running became the first thing in my life. It was reality and in that reality there was intrinsic meaning. And not a lot has changed.'
I can't help feeling that if asked the same question, my sentiments would be much the same.
Before the track makes a steady descent to Claxby Psalter, a fallen tree has blocked the way. Recently, I've gotten into a habit of standing on that tree, looking over to the ridge-line and the Bluestone Heath road, savouring the silence of the morning. For a moment, just being.
This morning's no different. But today, my mind isn't empty. It's full of snapshots of the paths we've taken since we came together- running and myself - nearly forty years ago: Primary school sports day sprints; teenage daydreams of track stardom; gruelling sessions on a University cinder track; mid-20's road-running heydays; the natural progression to the trails and the hills and the lure of longer distance. Right up until this very morning - a man perhaps past his best, but moving forward with a philosophy of outdoors movement that just feels right - no longer 'a runner', not quite 'a long distance walker', just something somewhere in between.
Standing on that fallen tree, I savour the precious memories, the joy we've had together, and look ahead to the things we've yet to share, the places we've yet to discover.
I'm smiling. That feeling inside me.
And, as I start to run, a phrase I used in despair a couple of days ago returns, and I'm filled with pride.
This Is What I Do.