Fields you could fry eggs on
I’d love to be raving about the LTR Regular from Wheelton. The route deserves it, the company was smashing, and the views were brilliant, but I can’t manage it just yet. I’m still too hot. Towards the end of the 15km route, I was flagging, my brain protesting that it wanted to find a shady spot, an ice cream, a pool of water.
I wanted the running to be over, and I think I’ve only felt like that on an LTR route once before. On that occasion, the temperatures were at the opposite end of the scale and freezing rain had set in. On that day – Chipping, December 2017, do you remember? – the conditions were extreme too, and I don’t cope well with extremes.
I know that before I discovered LTR, I wouldn’t have ventured out in those temperatures. I’d have been cautious, maybe running at 5 am, getting in a few easy miles before retreating to the shade. But I know that when a run tests you physically, it’s also offering you the chance to learn more about yourself, for understanding your capabilities, your resilience, your mental strength. I probably won’t ever enjoy running in the heat, but I know that I can and if nothing else, it’s given me a whole new level of respect and appreciation for the wonder of a shady spot.
I’m fond of clouds too, now. Even the wispy ones. Aren’t they wonderful?
That’s my meteorological observation from the event. Strangely, I also started thinking about topography during the run. We’d just crossed the Leeds–Liverpool canal and were heading east through a field thick with tall weeds, trees around, steep banks in front and behind. It was like being in a bowl, the hot air unmoving. I longed to feel a breeze, but that only appeared when you weren’t expecting it, when the lie of the land didn’t suggest it, and the breaths of air were delicious and fresh, flowing through the grass and giving you a boost of energy.
Despite the heat, there was plenty of fun out on the route. Every stile seemed equipped with a see-saw plank. Patches of seemingly dry earth proved to be thin crusts above deep smelly mud. A couple of lambs were practising their head-butting techniques – thankfully on each other. There were ditches to be crossed and rocks to be scrambled up. There were slithery dark sections under trees and trailing branches, there were friendly ponies and a herd of cattle far too hot to be fussed with a bunch of runners trotting past.
We followed canal towpaths where geese were huddled under overhanging trees and ran by the side of a sparse hedgerow where half a dozen rams were packed linked sausages into the tiny islands of shade. We stopped for drinks. We stopped for jelly babies. We stopped to say hello to a couple of dogs and their owners somewhere in the middle of a jungle – or that’s how it felt. Hot air, dark mud, lots of greenery, a million gnats to swallow down.
For about 3 miles we followed the M61 south. If that sounds dull, that’s because you’re not thinking of the LTR version of events which saw us go over it, under it, and up some of the bumpiest fields in the north-west, hearing but rarely seeing the motorway. And while we were negotiating the bumpy stuff it was impossible not to see the butterflies and the bees. Foxgloves everywhere, buttercups, the disappearing white rump of a plump young rabbit, darting under a hedge.
There was one part of the route, however, where it was impossible to see anything. We went through a tunnel by a waterway, trailing a hand to feel the curve of the low stone roof, aware that the path was firm and sound, but that the water was just at the side. The darkness was disorientating, and the sound of our voices distorted as we plunged deeper into the gloom. It was lovely and cool down there, in the dark. I could have stayed all day.
After our run, we went into Wheelton’s Village Tea Rooms. They’d saved us tables in their basement which is much, much posher than it sounds. They were quick to serve us the milkshakes we’d been talking about for the last couple of miles and had proper dandelion and burdock ready for guzzling down. We ordered breakfast and as we sat there, cooling down, our body heat fogged up the mirrors that line one of the basement walls.
Now, as I’ve been typing, I’ve had a chance to reflect. The memories of the moments of this run are returning and although I can still feel that heat, that longing to escape it, I can also feel the breezes, the sticky snatch of catchweed, the glorious swish of a birch sapling in Denham quarry. I’ve remembered spotting the ripening whimberries on the bushes at the top. I can feel the wonder of that 360-degree view: Blackpool tower a smudge on the horizon, Healey Nab, Great Hill, Parlick, and the incongruity, amidst nature, of the Mormon Church, the football stadium and the bright yellow boom of a crane.
I can feel the heat rising off the tarmac where we crossed a road and see the white limestone dust of a lane and the tight lattice of ivy straight-jacketing a tree trunk. I can follow again, in my mind’s eye, the dark green trace of the footpath that meandered across that just cleared meadow. I can see, again, the people I was running with and feel that wonderful sense of support and camaraderie that comes from the shared experience.
And so, instead of raving, I want to say thank you to everyone who was out running with us yesterday, for keeping me going, for being there with me in the heat and showing me that tough isn’t just about the positions in a race or nailing a PB or even the completion of an incredible distance in an ultra. It’s about persistence and good humour, it’s about ploughing into the nettle patch and laughing about it. It’s about running across fields you could fry eggs on and, to borrow Nike’s line, just doing it.