Back in the sticky, slippy stuff
According to the ads, trail running shoes can keep you upright. They can shed mud. They can protect you from rocks. They’ll keep your feet dry, and some claim to be as good on a greasy bit of tarmac as they are on a trail. I’ve seen endless blurb about lug size and direction. I’ve seen shoes that promise traction in any conditions. No doubt there’s an element of truth in all these claims, and I wouldn’t have wanted to venture out this morning in road shoes, but I don’t think the shoe manufacturers are doing enough testing in Lancashire.
Perhaps their shoes are wonderful for the high Alpine passes on a sunny day. Perhaps there’s a form of mud in some parts of the country that is obliging and doesn’t reduce friction to zero. Perhaps I’m just running in the wrong shoes …
I don’t think that’s it because this morning I conducted a bit of research on the trails around Tockholes. Most of the major brands were represented: Saucony, Inov-8, Salomon, Adidas etc, and no doubt different models and “editions”, yet we were all slip sliding around at times. It didn’t matter whether we were heading through the leaf-strewn tracks through Roddlesworth or running by the side of the Leeds–Liverpool Canal, we were putting feet down in one place and pulling them up from somewhere a good few inches away. It was kind of fun, but whatever the shoe designers say, you couldn’t call it grip.
To be fair to the shoe companies, it had turned rather damp in the last week and there had been plenty of the wet stuff over the previous 24 hours. This meant that when we were running on pasture, the long, wet grass did a smashing job of cleaning the shoes up again. For a while, we could see the lovely bright colours that marked the shoes as an Autumn/Winter 2017 edition, but really, Mr Shoe Maker, a plain mud colour would be just as effective, wouldn’t it? And it wouldn’t show the muck.
They’re trying to sell shoes. I get that, but when one part of the route is ideal for an aggressive tread and a deep lug, and another needs something more forgiving, are we supposed to stop every few minutes to switch shoes? When a route involves – like every LTR run I’ve done so far – a mix of surfaces, there’s no point fretting – you just need to accept that your shoes won’t be perfect for every part of the run and rely on your brain, not your footwear.
Mud aside, this was a cracking route. Just after we’d set off, we passed through a farmyard where the farmer gave us one of those you-lot-must-be-blooming-bonkers looks. Maybe he had a point. The forecast was unpromising, a stiff breeze, low cloud, puddles everywhere, but all that’s forgotten when a couple of minutes later, you’re weaving between the trees, where the colours of autumn are still clinging on. When there’s a patch of bright green in the curling frond of a fern that’s missed the signal that winter is on its way.
When we dropped down to the reservoirs at Roddlesworth, we discovered the rainfall had given us a bonus. Water was roaring over the weirs, as impressive as any natural waterfall. The trails were crisscrossed with tiny streams, perfect for splashing through. It’s too easy to moan at the rain, but it’s what makes this country so green and pleasant, and there’s no escaping the fact that we’ve had a dry year. Levels in the reservoirs are still relatively low.
We ran up to Abbey Village, and then across fields before slithering down what might in dry conditions be a set of rough steps. Buried under heaps of decaying leaves, the path and the steps were gone, and we descended clinging onto trees. Minutes later we were making good progress on the firm tracks around Abbey Village reservoir. Under the trees, stacks of branches had grown a thick coat of moss. Out on the water, a few geese paddled by. At the dam, water was charging into the overflow, cascading away into the River Roddlesworth itself.
A short climb took us up to Bradley Farm after which we crossed over the disused railway cutting before negotiating another tricky, soft and squelchy descent to the river. It was ideal testing ground for any trail shoe, but it is possible that skis would have been more suitable. We each picked a different route and avoided any attempts to run with grace or elegance.
Back out of the valley, we headed for the impressive – if somewhat noisy – bridge that carries the M65. Passing underneath, you get a sense of scale that’s simply invisible from the road – massive steelwork and towering concrete. A loop north of the motorway, a drinks stop, and then we started to head back towards Tockholes, crossing fields, stiles and footbridges which were slick and slippery. The rain caught up with us and the wind joined in, and we made our way across the top of Green Hill trying to avoid puddles and mud that tried to suck the shoes from your feet. It was a relief to reach the sheltered cobbled lane that took us down to Sunnyhurst Woods where a fine, firm roller-coaster path made for a fabulous bit of running high above the valley. We took steps down, crossed the river on a couple of brilliant arched stone footbridges and then went straight up steps that scaled the opposite side of the gorge.
Nearly home, a quiet lane led us onto fields below Darwen’s Jubilee Tower, but it was obscured by the clouds. One last field descending and another that regained the height we’d just lost, and we were climbing the final ladder stile of the morning, back in the carpark and thinking about what to order for breakfast in Vaughn’s Country Café. We were damp, muddy and ready for a good feed.
We sat inside, drying out, warming up – filling up on bacon, eggs and sausage. It had been a good morning’s run, the weather had been better than we could have hoped. And although we’d done a fair bit of slipping about, the mud hadn’t stopped us having a brilliant time. It made sections of the route more interesting. It tested balance and shoe technology, which was often found wanting. But it had been months since we’d had a real muddy LTR, and strangely it felt kind of good to be back, taking on and being undeterred by the sticky slippy stuff.