Longer runs and significant fell races are suddenly looming in the diary. A vague plan has been formed, incorporating club training and circuits. Think scribble and fag-packet. This now means two things: first, training runs on road, at night, amidst the bustle of traffic and noise; and second, a runner’s conflict with winter weather, particularly snow and ice. I’m not proposing to contest how most roads and paths in yonder year were cleared by proficient council staff or perhaps conscientious neighbours – times and public sector spending priorities change during, and not just between, generations. Perhaps my memory of this altruistic activity is somewhat hazy, much like the glow in the Ready Break adverts? Maybe I should just revert to turning on the headtorch and shuffling along nearby trails and off road footpaths. This is not without its hazards, mind: indeed, there is a greater risk of stumbling, being startled by foxes or witnessing satanic rituals, deep in the woodlands between Leeds and Bradford – ok, we all know there are fewer foxes in the countryside….
So, prior to a weekend visit to Scotland, I ran out for a planned 15miles on local paths adjacent to principal roads and through residential areas. Yes, the snow had partly thawed and then, in places, turned to ice: I therefore decided to go steady away at a slower pace than normal. Within the first mile the ground beneath my left foot had been magically whisked away by the winter gods, and before I could question what, where, why, I crunched into the tarmac below. Normal people then would have stood up, checked for grazes and likely scuttled off home. Runners, on the other hand, possess an inner voice that reminds of a need to keep to the plan; heading home now would mean deviation, failure and ultimately a less than satisfactory performance at the race, some months away.
Hence – after checking no-one witnessed my calamity and establishing pride still intact – I checked my Garmin was functioning, and proceeded to return to the prescribed run pace. After a further few miles I could hardly feel the dull pain in both elbows and left knee; uncertain if this was my stubborn mental blackout or the Arctic wind that was registering air temperature around or below freezing. To this end, sparkles of frost appeared on tarmac as darkness fell beyond 5pm. I somehow managed 14miles and considered this a triumph over adversity, and positively sticking to the plan.
That was Thursday. My run-plan girlfriend (RPG) was scheduled to do her marathon training run while we were staying with family in Scotland. That was her plan, not mine. Saturday was rest day, according to my loose plan. I did however feel responsible for making sure there was a route nearby. Yes, it was cold, but the sun was out. A few miles would be ok, right? So, I decided to accompany her for the first half then retire – a little leg loosener, if you like. After all, the following day we would then be climbing up over the snowy Pentland Hills so I didn’t really need another long run. There was no instruction to do an additional run, especially not on a dismantled railway, and not on hard surfaces, in my studded fell shoes* No, the plan certainly did not offer the option of a run with good company amidst a scenic, wintry landscape, and at a pace that was comfortable and yet kept me and my RPG warm. Nearly 15miles later we finished the run: almost as strongly as we’d started, and certainly more awake and full of vitality than hours before.
*road shoes not packed as no extra run anticipated
Sunday delivered the expected tough climb up and over the hills. The air was very cold and the wind cut through all layers when we stopped for photographs. But the hills were there to be climbed, and the snow and blue sky to be appreciated. The views were simply exceptional. No regrets. At no time did I hear the voice in my head, instructing me, the fool, to stick to the plan. I just ran. And tried not to slip on ice or fall deep into the drifting snow – any fall this time would have been witnessed by (and likely laughed at) by my RPG and Dad. Then I ran some more, and smiled – a lot.