Friday, 2 October 2015

A time to play

Writing this now, I don't feel like playing- I'm shattered from my first interval training session for a while. Attempted 4x 1km repeats but my legs gave out on the last rep at about 600m. Still, surely my legs will thank me at a later date! It is also a challenging blog post because separating the weekend's running journey from a more personal journey isn't going to be easy. I don't particularly want to go into personal non-running stuff here but at the same time I guess that shows how running has become deeply intertwined with my life in general.
The weekend just gone was time to play. I was ready to never run another step after the crazy week of running but this did away with the restrictions of pace, distance and time, and helped me rediscover my love of running.

The Peak District. My first taste of fell running and what I hope was just the first of many visits there.

Saturday wasn't just a first for running the fells and tors of the Peak District. It was also a first for my longest continuous run- a bit over 16 miles, 1000m of climb and I think about 3 1/2 hours running time. I'm a bit vague on the stats as the pink Garmin device (a FR10) couldn't cope with some of the climbs and decided I wasn't moving. In any case, the weekend wasn't really about stats- I did want to manage a long run but we had no agenda. My running partner had an idea of a route but as we had map and compass we were free to go where we wanted.
The freedom to run where our feet desired was simply wonderful. At the top of Shining Tor (but it wasn't shiny at all...) the slabs of stone making a path across the ridge to Cats Tor were too tempting not to cross. I think that scamper across the stony, uneven surface was one of my favourite bits of the whole weekend. It was partly the joy of the challenge of the surface, partly just being up high surrounded by blue sky and open space- I ran and smiled the whole way!

Hard not to smile being up here in the sunshine!

In some respects the weekend's running took on a kind of dreamlike quality. It was a much needed escape from everyday life but it felt like an escape for the legs and feet too.  I found myself running to a very different rhythm. There is an almost dancing quality to running over stony and rocky ground, even for a newbie like me. I was slow and hesitant in places whilst my friend is sure-footed and swift as a mountain goat, but even so it was never a trudge even when I found it hard going; my feet just found their own pace. I loved having to run to the rhythm of the ground, letting the terrain guide me rather than trying to impose my pace goals. Some of the climbs were very steep (and sometimes my legs were just plain tired) so rather than try to run really slowly it made more sense to hike up them. I'd forgotten how much I like walking!
There was plenty of technical stuff to deal with. Over the 2 days I ran things I thought I never could. Ok, sometimes it was hardly running and more like a baby giraffe on ice, but I still did it. And sometimes with a smile too:

At the top of Teggs Nose...


Feeling a bit apprehensive about this downhill stuff... confident enough to manage a smile again!

It was a great feeling tackling some steep downhills and gradually becoming more confident. By the end I was able to run down some, not fast but still much quicker than I imagined I could do whilst staying safe on my feet. I did have one wobble, almost at the end of Sunday's run going down through a bit of woodland. It was steep and the ground was loose and full of roots. There was a moment when my legs and mind just said no and refused to let me move. I guess by then I was really tired because I hadn't properly considered how much concentrating I was going to have to do or how much that would take out of me- but a friendly hand reached out to me stopped me freezing. Secretly I had hoped I wouldn't have to hold a hand to get down a slope but there's no shame in accepting help when it's needed and it got me moving again quickly so it didn't turn that moment into a big deal.
Up and out of Lud's Church
Lud's Church or Chasm was a serendipitous find. In fact we hadn't planned on going that way at all but a suggestion from a passing fell runner led us to change route and then as we were picking our way through some woods we saw a sign for 'Chasm' which sounded too mysterious and exciting to pass by. It's a fairy grotto of a place- truly magical. And it was well worth breaking our run there to marvel at the beauty of it. So many different mosses and lichens- many I've never seen before- and ferns nestling high in the crevices above our heads. In the sunshine and late morning it was full of a friendly magic but I can imagine it is quite another thing in the grey dawn, full of mist.
As I said earlier, this was a very different kind of running. It's humbling to be amongst the tors and rocks but at the same time learning to run with not against the land is liberating. I thought I was pretty strong and fit (and I reckon I am) but the land is far stronger and once you accept that running becomes simpler. You have to be in the moment every moment because the ground takes all your concentration. And because you have to give your mind over to it the place gets under your skin and you begin to feel part of the landscape you're running in. For me that's kind of comforting- it takes away a layer of responsibility. Go with the land and it'll be ok.
Looking up. I want to keep that feeling now I've had a taste of it.
Thanks to Steve for his patience, for sharing his love of running the tors, and for the photos.

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