You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road
I believe that running is part of what being human is about. We’re a species adapted to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and are meant to move and cover miles of changing terrain. But, when we are still very young, we are folded into chairs and forced to sit still while we learn our A, B, C. Western lifestyles restrict us and by the time we have become adults, many of us have forgotten the joy of running about, laughing and joking.
But now, more and more people are running, and that’s brilliant. We’re rediscovering our zest for life through initiatives like Couch to 5k programmes and Parkrun, which have made the sport accessible, emphasising participation and fun over competition and pace. The blues are banished as running’s magical endorphin buzz kicks in, confidence gets an almighty boost and lasting friendships are forged.
Some runners quickly get hooked on the adrenaline rush racing, loving the drama of pinning on a number and waiting for the emailed results. Others push the distance, registering to support charitable causes by taking part in iconic events, big city 10ks, the Great North Run or even the Marathon distance. But runners are a diverse a group, and while some love to log the miles on the tarmac, there are others who can’t wait to charge up a fell or explore a stretch of native woodland. Trail running has never been more popular, but if you’re a newcomer, where do you start?
There are some organisations which like to position trail running up as a big, scary, difficult thing. To take part you have to be fit as a flea, have a wardrobe of specialist gear, including hydration vests, compression tights, lightweight trekking poles and a double degree in map reading (Often these are businesses who would like to sell you hydration vests, compression tights, trekking poles and also enrol you on their navigation course.) Although this attitude enables them to sell lots of bright shiny stuff, it also puts people off trying trails, and that’s a great shame because if you don’t venture out, you miss out. I’m biased – to me, trail running is butter while road running is mere margarine.
LTR isn’t about how much gear you’ve got, or whether you ran the Hardslog 100 in flipflops while carrying a barrel of beer. It’s about enjoyable, non-competitive running in really rather lovely bits of the North West. Our runs are social, and wherever possible, we try to keep everyone running together. But our Intro/Taster level events can attract people with very different amounts of off-road experience. To make sure everyone has a great time, the guides will manage the group, with some people running a bit further or tackling an extra hill while others take the direct route across a field. Both groups get a great run but things like this are essential when you get a day like today with a cold northerly wind. Everyone needs to keep moving to stay warm.
If we do split the group, as we did today, it happens quite naturally. No one will ask you what your 5K PB is and direct you to join either the A-team or the reserves. We don’t work like that. We’ll just set off running. It’s kind of self-selecting. The hares gravitate to the front and end up clocking the extra distance and the extra hills on a slightly tougher version of the same route, while the tortoises have the last laugh and end up, quite frequently, with more chances to admire the views. Both groups are looked after by guides and no one gets left behind.
This morning, around Egerton, we took a group of about 20 runners out onto the trails. Some of those runners had bags of experience and were ready to embrace the mud, ploughing cheerfully straight through bogs and reedbeds. For others, it was something new, challenging and somewhat surprising. Often, we run footpaths that are so little used that they’re not visible. And yes, if you were with us this morning, there is a footpath that runs straight through the front garden of those cottages. And yes, it quite often happens that there’s a fallen tree lying across the path, but wasn’t it fun to clamber over it? Didn’t you feel a little bit more alive?
This morning, someone said to me that the scenery reminded them of Scotland. Another runner asked were there deer in the woods (yes, but they were hiding – we often spot deer on our runs). There were murmurs of surprise as we ran past Walmsley Chapel and questions about whether that sunlit hillside was the same one that we’d run along earlier. Instead of the main road through the village, Egerton was revealing itself to be a place of brooks and reservoirs, rough moorland and moss filled woodland. There were larks in the rushes, blue conifers and the remains of ancient walls, dykes and drains. Yes, we found puddles and got muddy feet, but we also found somewhere new to run, met new people and had a grand morning out.
LTR is all about making running off-road enjoyable and that means running with people whose pace and ability isn’t too dissimilar to your own. While some found this morning challenging, they found the strength to complete their first 10k off-road when they might have thought they couldn’t – and what’s more, they did it with a smile on their face. Others found they could have carried on for another 10k and still have a spring in their step. As a runner, judging your ability is always going to be subjective, and that’s why Intro/Taster events are set up to suit both novices and intermediates – if the group doesn’t naturally stay together, we split it. No worries. It’s also worth knowing that there’s no pressure to progress. Some people who find the Intro/Tasters a breeze stay with them because they enjoy a more relaxed run. Others are keen to step up to the more intense experience of a Regular.
I’m paraphrasing the lyrics, forgive me, but If you take the high trail and I take the low trail, with LTR, wherever we’re going, however far it is, we’ll all be having fun.
Thanks for your company this morning. It’s been a privilege.