Just for the fun of it
About 7 miles into our route, we met a couple of cyclists. We were tackling a short uphill section on the road, and they were pedalling alongside. It was hot and sticky, not easy on foot or on two wheels, and one of the cyclists asked what our run was in aid of. Was it for a particular charity or a specific challenge? It seemed an odd question from a man out on his bike with a friend on a wonderful summer’s day. Presumably, they’d set out early, before the sun climbed too high, and were clocking the miles and the distance because they loved their sport. Which leads me to question why there’s this perception that if you’re running, you’re doing it for a reason other than enjoyment.
Now, I know a lot of people hate running. Frankly, I think that’s because they’re doing it wrong. I’m not talking about those who are new to the sport and who are finding it tough to build up the basic fitness, but rather those who run because they think they should. Even though it doesn’t give them pleasure, there’s always a reason why they persist: to control weight, to build stamina for football, to get their money’s worth on that gym subscription. Often these runners need an incentive – a target, a challenge, a cause to raise funds for, and there’s nothing wrong with any of that, just as there’s nothing wrong with going out and running a half marathon just for the fun of it.
Imaging prepping for your run, not in the stress-inducing noise from a dodgy PA System or in the queue for a portaloo, but in the rather nice Spread Eagle at Sawley, with a pot of fresh coffee and glasses of iced water. Imagine a route where you hang about ankle deep in a river, cooling yourself. Imagine a route where instead of worrying about the runner breathing down the back of your neck and bursting a blood vessel as you try to stay in front, you stop and watch as a group of fallow deer watch you, before leaping over a fence and disappearing back into woodland. With an LTR run, you don’t come home with a medal, a position or a time. You come home with memories.
That’s not to say the routes are an easy amble through the countryside. They’re all different, but each promises a cracking workout – if that’s what you’re after. You might stop and watch the deer, but you’ll be just as likely to be charging through a lane lined with overgrown nettles, avoiding the worst of it by getting through as fast as you can, watching your feet dancing over stones and tree roots and ducking when the hawthorn branches hang low.
The miles fly by. The time does too, and looking back afterwards, working out (or trying to) how many times we crossed the Ribble, by bridge or by paddling across the shallow water, I’m amazed that we’ve been to such a variety of places. There’s too much to take in, but there are always highlights. The man lying in a hammock by the riverside, cool as a cucumber. A horse in pure, Persil white. The bone-dry stretch of the Ribble, where we walked on rocks which in a normal summer would be submerged, but which now formed a desert garden. Flowers growing in the river’s silt, emerging through the stones. We ran through fields of wheat – the grains pale green, the earth baked to dust – and alongside the vivid green foliage of half-grown maize.
Perhaps the strangest part of our route was the deserted site of the upcoming Beat-Herder Festival. The glorious rolling fields were half enclosed by barricades, the hillside dotted with bizarre sculptures and a stone circle. We passed the rendezvous spot for those who were lost and a play area with snail-shaped slide. In a week’s time, the place would be buzzing, but now it was peaceful and ever so slightly odd. The calm before the approaching storm.
We followed a rough figure-eight route, north from Sawley, up the eastern side of the Ribble, through fields and over stiles and dropping into shaded cloughs, where we crossed dried-up streams on footbridges that seemed somewhat pointless. Our first real river crossing was a paddle that didn’t quite reach the knees, but which was nonetheless refreshing. It was already warm, and wet feet were an asset, not a liability. Now, north of the river, we headed west and then skirted north again, stopping at Bolton by Bowland for drinks and a breather. The chat was flowing and had there been a bench handy, I could have parked myself there for hours, but with another nine miles to cover, we had to press on, back down, heading south on the opposite side of the river. Here the fields were flat, mown, but growing again, bright green shoots springing up from the seemingly desiccated soil.
Back to Sawley for another welcome drinks stop and then we started on the bottom loop of the eight, heading up Foxley Bank and then dropping off the higher ground again back towards the river. The heat was beginning to tell. Surely, this couldn’t be England? So dry, so dusty, plants already heading to late summer’s muted shades. But of course, it’s England, at its beautiful best, and there was a bridge bedecked with bunting and a cricket field and, at Chatburn, a clutch of people eating ice cream cornets outside a corner shop.
We headed out of Chatburn towards Downham, then peeled off the road, and were back on shaded lanes and rolling fields and on our way back to Sawley, enjoying great views of Pendle Hill. The last stretch towards our finish was lumpy, bumpy and downhill, the Abbey’s ruins peeking above the walls.
Sawley was busy. The Abbey was the venue for a fun day, and there were to be rounders matches, tug-of-war contests and kids’ races in the afternoon. Children know that running is fun. Adults sometimes need a reminder that – done right – it can be.
The Spread Eagle had done us proud with refreshments before we set off and the team there didn’t disappoint when we returned. We sat outside, under the shade of mature trees, and tucked into well-earned pints, bowls of chips and delicious, chunky, toasted butties.
Running is fun. Especially when you do it right.