The restful way to run 10k

According to Google, the average adult makes around 35,000 decisions each day. I’m someone who can’t decide which socks to put on, let alone the important stuff, so that figure scares me. Today, we are expected to weigh up the pros and cons of just about everything and, frankly, it’s hard work. Ever been in a restaurant with an extensive menu and found yourself dithering? Doesn’t it make a pleasant change when the host offers you a recommendation and takes the weight of decision making off your shoulders?

If you’re wondering what this has got to do with running, let me explain. 

After this morning’s route, we were sitting in Foulridge’s Café Cargo, tucking into breakfast. One of the runners said that he came on LTR events because they gave him a rest. On the face of it, that’s a strange thing to say about an undulating, off-road 10k, but he wasn’t talking about rest in the physical sense. He was talking about the mental effort involved. He knew that for the duration of the run, he wouldn’t have to make any decisions. He would be exploring new paths without having to pore over maps. He wouldn’t need to weigh up the options of heading left, right or straight-on at a stile. I’m paraphrasing, but the message was that he got the off-road adventure he wanted without having to think about it.

On a guided run, without having to put in the planning, you can discover new places – often ones that are stunning and very close to home. You can run in new areas without worrying that a 10k will morph into a half marathon because you missed the fork in the path. 

But there’s another advantage. When you’re not engaged in active decision making, you’re freeing up the brain to do other things. Instead of trying to work out how you’re going to get from Point A to Point B, you can appreciate the view of Point C, far in the distance. You can marvel at the clustered berries on the rowan trees, see the sunlight fetching out the colours of the heather across the valley. You might spot patches of shade contouring around the slopes as the wind shifts the clouds. You’re noticing sloe bushes and crab apples, rose hips and ripening blackberries. You’re not thinking ahead. You’re there in the rich vibrant wonderful present. 

This morning that present was a peach. We’ve had so much rain, so little sun, such cloudy skies that it was almost too much to hope that we’d stay dry, but it did. It was breezy, fresh but not chill, and that near-constant rainfall had left fields lush and green. We set off from the side of the canal and were soon running down the fields to Lake Burwain, being gently buffeted by the breeze. A few minutes later we were heading up a tree-lined lane, moving from there into the soft earthy shade of a track, loose stones and running water underfoot, climbing steadily uphill and back out into the sun.  

There were a lot of stiles on this run, mostly the kind with a little gate blocking the gap in the stone wall. Some of the gate posts had a footpath marker sign. Many did not but were still on public rights of way. Most places where we changed direction, ran through trees, emerged at another gate were without signposts. At places like these, it would be too easy to stick to the obvious route or retreat to the pavement, but the quiet corners can be very special, even if you don’t have them all to yourself. We met a fine grey horse on our travels, and later, a friendly little pony whose full-sized companion bit him on the bum because he’d got too much attention from us.

We stopped for drinks on a canal bridge, slurping down squash as a narrowboat cruised below. The bridge was substantial, stone-built but evidently little used as it was very overgrown. After an undulating 5k, we were back at a low elevation and the climb up towards Noyna Hill felt a bit of a pull. But pausing half-way, the views were superb: Pendle, Blacko Tower, Weets Hill, the distant peaks over the border in Yorkshire, Lake Burwain shining in the sun, wind turbines clocking turn after turn. 

Our paths were often overgrown: brambles and nettles, patches of thistle, holly bushes. There were trees colonised by ivy, mounds of butterbur down by the water’s edge. We headed back past Upper Foulridge Reservoir, across duckboards held together with chicken wire, and then back to Lake Burwain itself, taking a turn around its sheltered eastern side.

Since we’d set off earlier, the area around the canal wharf had become busy. The café was bustling, but the breakfast didn’t take long to arrive, and when it did, it was very tasty. It was a little over two years ago that I first ate in Café Cargo, after my very first LTR event. I remember after that first run feeling amazed by the gorgeous landscapes. I wanted to go right out there again and run some more. On that day, I realised that I didn’t have to decide where to run to run the kinds of routes I loved. I just had to decide to put my trust in a guide.

Going back to that comment from this morning: the chap who made it is a mountain leader. He’s experienced in running off-road, but he knows the difference it can make to your enjoyment when you don’t have to make all the decisions yourself. It stops being hard work. It starts being fun.