One small step for man, one giant leap …

Recent coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon has been fascinating, but amongst the reporting, I have seen little about the mental strength of Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong. Their bravery and commitment is something few of us can understand. We don’t put ourselves, even if we had the skills, into situations which reveal the incredible capacity of humans to perform under pressure. We play it safe. We stick to what we know.

Now astronauts represent an extreme example of courage, but the business of playing it safe has become endemic. Sometimes trying something new, even something perfectly doable, seems to be a step too far, so we don’t bother. Occasionally, we’ll find safety in numbers. With a few friends and a bit of “I will if you will” spirit, we’ll sign up to an event – maybe a charity abseil, a fell race or a new fitness class. But sometimes that safety in numbers can work against us. One of us loses heart and the rest of us follow suit.  

Yesterday, three runners pulled out of the Clowbridge Taster at the last minute. It would have been their first LTR event. We suspect they were a group of friends – the tickets had been purchased at the same time, and the cancellations arrived in quick succession. Of course, there may have been a perfectly good reason why they could no longer make it, but if it was anything at all to do with cold feet, then that’s a great shame. 

But there was good news too. One lady turned up for her first LTR event, buzzing with excitement. I’m sure she won’t mind us saying that she probably didn’t know all the ins and outs of what she’d signed up for, but she was ready for the challenge, whatever it might be. She didn’t know any of us but was ready to take that one small step into the unknown.

Just as we do with everyone who runs with us, we looked after her. This was a type of running she’d never really experienced before, the constantly changing terrain totally different from the tarmac on which she’d done most of her running. The more technical parts of the route were testing, with twists and turns, hidden rocks, slippery footbridges, steep descents and ascents, but she loved it. The whole experience was what she’d been looking for: running that wasn’t just grinding out miles, running where people talked to you rather than checking their pace, running that took you deep into nature rather than lapping around an industrial estate for the promise of a time and a technical tee. 

After the run, we decamped into the New Waggoners for breakfast. Although there’s never any pressure for people to hang around and eat afterwards – we’ve all got other priorities – it’s a great way to finish a run. You refuel and you carry on talking, making new friends, making new connections.  We talk about what running means to us, what it is that makes us want to move through the meadows and the muddy bits, to stand on a hillside and pick out landmarks. And while I was sitting in the café, making short work of my sausage and egg, I thought about the three people who’d cancelled and all the good things they’d missed – including the breakfast.

I won’t paint conditions as idyllic, Pendle was hiding, the cloud was grey, there were spots of drizzle. Without sunshine, the colours were muted, but there were still butterflies skipping through the air, still rocks glistening, fat seed heads on grasses, ragwort and whimberry, the scents of pinewood, a pair of deer heading swiftly for the cover of trees.  

We’d run 10k. We’d started out fairly flat, dropped off the hill, looped Clowbridge reservoir and then started climbing, crossing Crown Point Road, heading through the wooded Copy Clough and then following the footpath up a steep hill through the golf course, before we plunged back into trees on a marvellous little winding path. Our last climb took us back onto the moorland at Habergham Eaves where we had fantastic views of the reservoir, Hameldon Hill and its weather station, and the Singing Ringing Tree. The descent back to the café was relaxed and chatty, the ground soft and springy – lovely, easy running – although the footbridge right at the end was well past its best. 

Here’s the thing: nobody gets left behind on an LTR. Everyone is supported, and even if occasionally you find yourself wishing the hill wasn’t quite so long or the tree roots quite so slippery, taking these steps out of your comfort zone is so rewarding. It builds fitness, agility, strength and it builds friendships. One small step could lead to giant leaps in your health and happiness. 

It’s true, it’s not for everyone. If you only want to push the pace, clock the miles and stay in your own headspace when you’re running, then you’ll probably not get it. If you’re interested in meeting new people, in exploring, in pushing yourself in different ways, you probably will. But if you want to see if it’s for you, you have to take that first step. 

If you do, you’ll be made welcome. You’ll be looked after. You won’t be ignored or left feeling like a spare part. We want you to enjoy the experience of running off-road as much as we do. 

And by the way, the lady who joined us for the first time yesterday got home and booked on several more events.