The finest way to run a half marathon 

I’ve just got in after running a half marathon. Did I get a PB? Hell, no. Did I do okay in my age group? Who cares? I haven’t even checked my watch. When we finished, I knew it was time for food, and that was all I needed to know. 

Did you notice the word before “finished” in the last sentence? We finished. This wasn’t a race and that’s just one of the things that made the run special. I’ve raced the half marathon distance. It’s not pleasant. It tends to hurt. You spend your time hoping to see another mile marker and hoping you can hold your form and pace until you’ve crossed the finish line. You can be thrilled, satisfied or disappointed with the result, but during it, are you having fun?

Four miles into this morning’s half we’d stopped for a breather. We were by Birdy Brow at the end of  Longridge Fell. There was time to notice the seasonal wreaths someone had laid under a tree, and the views were just beginning to appear. We stood around chomping on fizzy sweets and reminiscing about the food we’d eaten as kids. The fig rolls came out and were demolished. There was a sense of camaraderie you just wouldn’t find in a typical race. 

That’s not to say this event was a doddle, but the serious side of it was the terrain, not an element of competition. Getting to that point on Birdy Brow had involved a fair effort. The fields we’d crossed were saturated – so were our feet. The woods by the swollen Hodder were slick with mud, the climb from the valley floor got everyone breathing hard. But when you went through a gate, a fellow runner was waiting there, with a smile, to secure it behind you. There was a helping hand for every one of the treacherous stiles. In this season of goodwill, there was an awful lot of it on our route.  

We continued climbing onto Longridge Fell, following a path of black peaty earth that twisted and turned around toppled trees. In places, the path was flooded, but it wasn’t a problem. We slowed, splashed through and our feet got a free mud-spa treatment – result! When we plunged into the dark stands of mature pines, running along a springy trail of pine needles, we had the chance to let the water drain out of our shoes – handy! Emerging from the trees, we got the views to the South that the earlier inclement weather had threatened to hide – lucky!

We joked about “borrowing” a tree for Christmas. There were some beauties up there, unsullied by tinsel and lights, and then we headed back into the woods passing some ancient deciduous trees draped with nature’s own decorations of tree-ivy, lichen and moss.

Leaving the trees behind, we ran along to the trig point on Spire Hill, stopping to see the views to the North where a blanket of cloud perched on top of the fells. It was another great moment, friendly, chatty, sharing sweets and the sheer joy of being there, at the highest point of the run.  And all this on a morning when others had chosen to queue in supermarkets for a stalk of sprouts and a box of mince pies.

Talking of mince pies, they were waiting for us when we got off that hill. The descent, under the watchful eye of three ponies, was swift and purposeful. Boggy bits were leapt, stiles were scaled, and mud was forgotten. We crossed the road, found a hidden ginnel between some garages and charged across more fields, emerging by a cunningly located LTR vehicle, which – as if by magic – turned into a bar. Hot mulled wine or hot Vimto was served and the pies were scoffed. I was standing in a puddle, plastered in mud, very damp and a tad tired, but right then, I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And even now, sitting at the laptop, I’ve still got a warm glow thinking about that moment. And it’s not because of the mulled wine – that wore off hours ago. 

We began slowly to make our way back to Bashall Barn, crossing the Hodder again and heading east across footbridges, fields and stiles before we made dropped into the damp and slippery Limes Wood. It’s a little-used path along a steeply sloping bank, stones green with algae, tree branches lying at toe height and to conclude, a bridge across the river that felt like it had been coated in lard. We slid across grateful for the handrails. 

Down by the Hodder, we got a couple of good chances to wash the mud off our feet by fording inlets.  The water was flowing fast, and you could feel its force pulling at your legs. Only when everyone was safely across did we carry on. In a race, this would have been a very different story.

We ran on to Bashall Eaves and then across the fields and on to Bashall Brook and the wonderful Saddle Bridge at Rugglesmire. Deer startled at our approach ran off into the trees. The sun started to brighten the sky as we stopped for another quick drink to fuel the last stretch of our route, past the high stone walls of Bashall Hall.

And when we got back, together, everyone agreed it had been a cracking route. We’d climbed – and survived – a huge collection of trick stiles. We’d slithered across bridges. We’d toiled up steps and jumped over tree stumps and we’d had wet feet almost from the moment we set off. We’d chewed the fat, shared goodies, and we’d helped each other around a beautiful, if somewhat waterlogged, part of Lancashire. And as if that wasn’t enough of a reason to be jolly, the team at Bashall Barn was standing by to feed us. 

A quick change in the car park and we piled inside. They’d saved tables for us in an alcove where the word LOVE was illuminated and hanging on the wall. And although I’d normally say that was cheesy, it felt right for a group of people who love running the trails and who had just loved sharing their morning’s run. 

More reasons to be jolly: apple crumble and custard, duck and pancakes, ginormous fish finger butties and proper chips. But we’d earned it, so it was fine.

It was all fine, and it was the finest way to run a half marathon.   

Happy Christmas.

Kate Woodward