Life – according to Forrest Gump’s mum
If you’ve seen Forrest Gump – and if you haven’t, do give it a go – you’ll remember one of the most memorable lines: “My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.” That means there are ups and downs, good times and bad, but that’s the best way for life to be because a life where you know exactly what you’re going to get is dull.
You know that trick you manage when driving sometimes? The one where you arrive at work and you can’t remember the journey. You’ve driven the same route so many times that you’ve switched onto autopilot, and although it’s fairly safe to assume you haven’t passed a tap-dancing polar bear on your commute, you can’t be sure. Running can get like that too. Do your regular 10k loop on one too many Sunday mornings and you’ll find you don’t notice the camellia bush and its outrageous blousy flowers. You’ve got your head down, your GPS watch is recording your steps, and you’re free to wonder what’s on the TV later and whether there’s any milk in the fridge. You won’t be aware of the emerging leaves or the view that’s different with every change in the weather.
But let’s go back to Forrest Gump and that box of chocolates. You don’t know what’s inside and that, to me, is one of the things that’s special about LTR events. When you join a run, you know the start point, you have a good idea of the distance, but beyond that, you’re choosing to experience what life offers, without knowing the details. You don’t know if you’ll be on the top of a moor or in a valley bottom, but you might manage both on the same run.
This morning, did anyone expect that they’d run through an innocent looking patch of mud by the canal and find that it was smellier than the monstrous hill of farmyard manure they had run past earlier? I know – I’m making it sound fantastic by diving straight in with mentions of mud and muck, but every box of chocolates has some soft centres.
Was anyone thinking that they might be running around the perimeter of a quarry at Denham being buffeted by a stiff breeze that was thankfully blowing in the right direction? Did they know they’d be scrambling down a rocky path, through flowering gorse bushes, and plunging into a tangle of bracken and bramble below?
Did they know that when we were running uphill, the wind would be in our face, or that they’d be trying to get motorists on the M61 to give them a wave? Did they expect to be exploring tunnels or crisscrossing the lock-systems on the Leeds–Liverpool canal?
It had hammered down with rain earlier in the day, and before we set off running, it was perishing cold, so did anyone expect that the sun would come out and we’d be able to enjoy 360-degree views? When the rain reappeared – to prove it could – did anyone expect it would clear off as just quickly as it had arrived? Weather can be bitter like the darkest chocolate one minute and sweet and delicate the next.
We ran on a lane that allowed us to look down on roof-slates and check out the flashing on chimneys. We ran past anglers with landing nets and past plump Canada Geese. We slithered down paths made into slick chutes by the overnight rain and ran through farm buildings built in the 1660s. We saw graffiti and some of the brutal architecture that lurks underneath our motorway network. We smiled at the piebald pony’s hairdo and spied the twisted branches of wisteria camouflaged on cottage walls built from mellow stone.
Near Whittle Hills, we followed a trail that bordered housing, where brambles were hanging down through the trees and the elder and hawthorn were beginning to bud. The puddles were spreading, and the was mud as sticky as melted caramel. On Johnson’s Hillock rocks lurked just ready for stubbing toes – like Brazil nuts wait to crack your teeth.
Life might be like the box of chocolates in many ways, but it’s spring and it’s escaping its box. Even if the wind is chill, the Forsythia is in bloom, pussy willow is exploding, daffodils are nodding their heads, cheering up the verges. The lapwings are paired and nesting. Every hedgerow is alive with busying birds. And you see all this – you notice you’re in a tunnel of rhododendrons or passing a house in a wonderful location – because it’s new to you. Because you’re not on autopilot, you’re engaged with life and you’re loving it.
One of the places we passed on this morning’s run was the site of a former workhouse at Brindle. Unlike the lives of the paupers who were housed there, we’re lucky to have choices. While their days really would have been monotonous toil and drudgery, we somehow manage to sleepwalk through our lives, failing to appreciate the fabulous things around us. We complain when all that’s left in the tub of Celebrations are the Milky Ways and forget that we’ve scoffed all the chocs we like.
Bear with me because I’m going to push this chocolate box analogy a little further. Let’s forget the bulk stuff, the tubs of Celebrations, the bland junk miles and the flavourless runs. Let’s go artisan. Let’s taste the special, the unusual, the surprising – flavours we don’t expect to taste and places we don’t expect to be.
And talking of flavours, the Village Tearoom at Wheelton did us proud after the run. Blueberry and raspberry cake, carrot cake, runny poached eggs, Welsh rarebit, hot buttered toast, hot-chocolate – why wouldn’t you want to experience those?