Outrunning the things with wings

After I arrived home from the Little Town event, I undertook a bit of research (aka going onto Google). The findings surprised me. Are you ready for this? 

Horseflies chase their victims and can fly at speeds of up to fifteen miles per hour.

The webpage didn’t mention the length of time for which these nasty critters could sustain this pace, but you’d need to be in Roger Bannister mode to stand a chance of outrunning them, and that’s quite the challenge. There’s more bad news. They are stealthy, sneaking up almost silently before cutting a hole in your skin and slurping up the blood. 

Under the circumstances, I think you’re perfectly justified in dealing a pre-emptive strike to the pesky monsters should they settle on you and start sharpening their mouthparts. Unfortunately, my reactions weren’t quite fast enough.  The horseflies took an early lead and I never got back into the game. When I stopped counting, they were 4-nil up.

The strange thing, though – these insect attacks added something to this morning’s run. I’m not sure what it was – the shared experience, perhaps. Or was it that tiny bit of adversity? Would the route have been any better if every stile was free of its crop of nettles? Would we have had more fun if we weren’t trying to run on mud baked into ankle turning ruts? 

I think not. I think we crave a bit of a test because when we’ve been found capable of handling a modicum of discomfort, it gives us a boost. It’s a massive cliché, of course, but there’s truth in the saying that if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. 

The logical extension of that is that running is better for you when it’s not quite so straightforward and, knowing the LTR philosophy of getting people out of their road-running comfort zones and helping them to discover the wonders of nature (which must include horseflies), I was a little surprised at how straightforward the start of today’s route was. 

Yes, there were cattle grids – about a million of them – but that was about it for hazards. No charging up hills, no dropping into ravines, just a really nice chatty couple of miles with great views of Beacon Fell and Parlick. We ran through a farmyard where work had just commenced on the silage clamp. The smell was still sweet as the crop was compressed by the weight of a tractor, pootling up and down on the piled up grass. We stopped in the shade of a tree for drinks, pulled strands of sticky goose grass off ourselves, swatted a horsefly or two and carried on chewing the fat. 

The Monday morning LTR runs seem to have a very relaxed feel about them – nothing hectic, no pressure. There’s a recognition of how lucky we are to be outdoors watching butterflies and listening to birdsong while others are stuck in offices, under artificial light. We take time to talk, to get to know something about the people we’re out with. Whose eyesight is good enough to spot the partridges in the next field, who’s training for which events, who wants to get their feet wet, who loves the heat and who prefers the shade. 

We’re individuals, but I think that everyone out this morning was excited at the prospect of a shower. Clouds had massed over Fair Snape. Grey clouds – things we’ve not seen for ages – but although they tempered the heat, they didn’t shed a drop of rain. 

In this dry spell, water is becoming a concern. The ground is cracking and opening as the clay shrinks. We passed streams reduced to trickles and craters where ponds had dried up, their beds now exposed and transformed into crusty hexagons. In the valley bottom, the bridge over the River Loud looked incongruous – the white paint, the elaborate design, the wide abutments. It was built almost a century ago to carry water pipes, part of the infrastructure on which we all depend.

But the dry conditions have advantages too. We passed a cottage where the walls were smothered with flowers and the door was almost hidden by the profusion of dark pink roses. Bees buzzed among the blooms, drinking in nectar, pollinating, keeping the whole cycle of life ticking over. 

Incidentally, the male horsefly doesn’t bite. He’s too busy gorging on nectar and spreading pollen. It’s the female of the species, you’ve got to watch out for.

By some trick of navigation that I’ll never fathom (I guess we changed direction while I was swatting flies) we now had Parlick behind us and were facing the bulk of Longridge itself. Were we going up? I’ll admit to being relieved when I worked out we were staying at lower levels. We stopped again for drinks in a cool shady glade and then worked our way up towards a line we’d traverse around the lower slopes. 

I don’t think we ever stopped talking. Sometimes it was a bit of house envy – because we passed some stunning properties – sometimes it was about the results in Russia, or the most effective insect repellents or why the biting bugs have their favourites and others rarely get chewed. We picked brains about the birds we saw – Oystercatchers – and the ones we only heard – Peacocks. And it was lovely, you know, to be climbing over stiles, helping others to do the same, looking across the valley to where the sun had finally won its tussle with the clouds and thinking, this is Monday, I’m out running and it’s marvellous.  

We crossed a steeply cambered field, swishing through the straw-like remains of a coarse mowing, then followed a trail under trees across the last few footbridges and the last few stiles, finishing with a trot through the farm buildings at Little Town. There, instead of the usual shouts to watch out for tree roots or stones, the cries were about potatoes. A feed wagon must have been through and a few spuds had escaped being tipped into the troughs. 

Horseflies, apparently, are fond of biting cattle. They’re most active about midday and like warm weather. Stopping at a café on a working dairy farm, at about noon on a sunny day could have been a mistake, but, somehow, we got away with it. We sat outside the Little Town Dairy Farm Shop with tea and coffee, icy-cold water, wedges of cake, toasties and piles of scrambled eggs, but the flies stayed away. 

It was either a miracle or we were more fleet of foot than I’d imagined, and we’d finally outrun the little blighters.

Kate Woodward