In anticipation of running nine miles across muddy cliffs and over ankle-zapping pebbly beaches in a little over a month's time, I've been getting used to training in fell shoes. Sparer than either road or trail shoes, fell shoes are more versatile than cross country spikes in that you can run on roads in them, while still having the benefit of nobbly bottoms (don't say a word), that afford grip in boggy conditions.
M won an age category at a marathon last year and was given a fifty quid voucher for a local running shop as a prize. He kindly donated it to me so I could get the fell shoes. With all the rain we've had here these past ten days they have come into their own and I am flying with confidence down muddy, slippery slopes where previously I trod with caution.
I think it probably says something about me that my favourite and most treasured shoe collection has little to do with kitten heels or expensive leather boots and instead consists of brightly coloured gor tex in various grades of cushioned sole :o)
The cold bug is still lurking so, mindful of that and the knees (which are improving with the right exercises- the culprit is the gluteus medius- you'll find me doing lots of corrective half clams throughout the day), I've been keeping training steady with regular three mile sessions during the week as well yoga, Parkrun on a Saturday and a long run on Sundays. I'm averaging 15-20 miles a week with some hills thrown in for good measure, which I reckon is about right.
This Sunday I decided to take the phone with me so I could show you what the Chalk runs we do locally are like. This one is an eight miler that goes across some lovely countryside through woods and valleys, over parkland and up along the top of a huge Chalk escarpment. It includes the Famous Chocolate Mousse Hill, although I'm not convinced you get much of a sense of scale from the photos.
The dogs know the way and set off ahead up the track, an old Green Lane that escaped the embrace of tarmac and as a result retains echoes of the way-farers of the past.
This is a view I am very used to... M and dogs out in front. Much of our long runs follow this pattern :o)
The way leads across fields through an old farm yard where geese wander and ducks waddle...
Then it's down a deceptively steep claggy hill, across a lane, through some woods, up a hill, over a stile and out onto a private drive, climb over a gate into parkland where Curious Cows graze, over another stile, down a footpath and out onto a lane where Ted is sometimes allowed to remain off the lead because he stays at heel. Pop, to her indignation, remains on the lead because she's naughty :o)
A quarter of a mile along the lane a hole opens in a hawthorn hedge. The path beyond snakes up through fields high onto The Chalk. There are lumps of flint and the ground is hard here, glassy when it rains. A kestrel flew over my head as I navigated my way through the hedge. It lacked the silver head of the male so must have been a female: I watched it soar above us for a moment before turning to climb up on to The Chalk. Steadily, steadily, ever up. Pop likes to quarter pheasants in the wood on the right. You can gauge her progress from the position of the indignant squawks. Ted stays on the field side, keeping a wistful eye on any birds that explode out of the trees.
At the top of the climb a stile leads into a beech wood....
And on the other side another stile, which Ted always finds hard to navigate. He whimpers, worried that we'll leave him behind. I show him where badgers have nudged the fence up and made a respectable Ted-sized hole through which he wriggles, clearly relieved, while Pop waits impatiently on the other side having long since leapt over the stile with her Pa...
Stopping to take photographs to document the run means I fall further behind than normal, and while Pop is happy to run on ahead, implicitly trusting that I'll catch up eventually, Teddy is anxious if we're not all in sight at the same time. He does not like his family to be too far apart. I hear him before I see him, as I emerge from the wood out onto the Chalk, high above the rest of the world. He has a particular bark he does when he's worried: it's mid way between an instruction and a plea to catch up. He finds me coming out of the trees; there is a worried look on his sweet face that catches at my heart.
His relief when I put the phone away and start running again is evident. He stays just a little in front of me, turning his head every now and then to make certain I am following. We soon catch up with the others and enjoy a half mile or so of flat ground before the land dips again, this time tumbling away down the Chocolate Mousse Hill which is heavy-going after the rain. It isn't long before the base of my fell shoes are thick with mud, the added weight of it tugging at knees and ankles. M and the dogs become specks in the distance as they disappear down the gradient.
I run all the way down and all the way up, which is an improvement. At the top the path snakes between two fields passing gates gloopy with mud where horses gather to watch us, and on into the woods where a cinder track winds through the trees. It's pockmarked with puddles. I run through them, washing off the mud. Ted skirts around them; M jumps over them and Poppy aquaplanes through, her vigorous shake afterwards scattering hundreds of droplets of muddy water in a brief, rainbow-shimmering arc.
It's another mile or two back to the car over the fields. By now we're in a steady rhythm of running, side by side and chatting, turning over the week that's been; our achievements and the things we want to work on; the children and how they're getting on; friends; colleagues; irritations and joys; what the week ahead brings. The dogs know the route well and settle into a different rhythm themselves: Ted's labour-saving economical trot, shaving the corners off so he can catch up without exerting himself Pop still surging ahead, racing off, circling back. The GPS attached to her collar switched itself off at 4k, but we reckon she must run a good mile further than the rest of us.
We reach the car in about an hour twenty, which is not fast but not too bad given the terrain, the cold bug and two sets of aching knees (M managed to slip on ice last week and has wrenched something. It's all about the knees in our house right now).
All my focus now and for the next month is on finding and understanding that steady rhythm that will carry me round the Cub. All thoughts of hitting time targets have ebbed away, although I'm sure they'll be back once the Cub is done. The discipline of running has become the glue that holds my days together. I'm not sure where I'd be now without it.
Certain folk were gratifyingly sleepy that night. There's nothing quite so cosy as a dog stretched out asleep in front of a fire after a long day, eh?
Hope all are well?