Time to hit the trail

I’ve been running for a few months now and have got to the stage where I can run up to about ten miles without exhausting myself too completely. I try to do a mixture of short, intense sessions and longer, slow runs. And I do as much of my running as I can off road. But as my runs get more ambitious, I’m learning more about what it means to be a runner.

Take last week, for example. I set out on Monday afternoon for a nice six mile trot up onto the ridge to the south of town, along the top and then back down again. It was a sunny day and I enjoyed the trek out across the fields. I’d never ventured into this neck of the woods before, so had taken the precaution of bringing a map with me. This came in handy as I navigated the tracks across to the next town and then up towards the ridge.

The hill up to the ridge was pretty steep and took in some rather rough terrain. But I was soon at the top enjoying the fantastic view. The photos here are looking out across the valley where I live. In the bottom one, you can even just see the sea in the distance.

I had a very pleasant run along the ridge. However, the climb up the hill had tired me out quite a bit so I have to admit to slowing down to a walk from time to time. The terrain was rough at the start, but after a mile or so smoothed out somewhat into a rough road hemmed in by rather large (and rather posh) houses. All very impressive.

After about three miles on the ridge, it was time to head downhill and back towards town. The bridleway I followed was quite rough and more than a little muddy, so it wasn’t really much easier running down the hill than it had been running up. But I was still feeling pretty chipper and enjoying the exercise and fresh air.

When I got home, though, things took a slightly different turn. The moment I wandered in through the garden gate, I started to feel a bit sick. And by the time I’d had a drink, taken a shower and headed out to take the dog for a walk, I really felt rather rotten. Luckily, after I’d walked the dog, had another drink, eaten a little and loafed around on the settee for a while I felt quite a lot better. But I did, if I’m honest, give myself a little scare.

Thinking back over my run, I brought this state of affairs entirely upon myself. I went out on a long-ish (for me, at least) hilly run in the middle of the afternoon on a very warm day. I hadn’t eaten much in the previous few hours. And I didn’t take anything to drink with me. In short, I was a bit of a muppet. But I did have a really great run. And I learned some valuable lessons along the way.

The mudrunner and me

With the Bristol 10k race only two months away (eek), my training is well and truly under way. Living in a small market town in North Somerset, I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to places to run, with a wide range of on- and off-road options on my doorstep. My favourite place to run is the beach, but this is a half-hour drive away so isn’t suitable for everyday running. But my second favourite, thankfully, is just down the road.

It’s called ‘The Drove’ and it’s a farm track that runs alongside the drainage ditches (‘rhynes’) on the moors at the edge of town. It’s nice and flat, which is great. It’s about four miles out and back. And there’s one bit, between two easily recognisable side-tracks, that’s almost exactly a mile long – which is great for speed sessions. Here’s the beginning of the track…

Along the rhyne

The best bit, though, is that the Drove is completely traffic free, so I can take Molly along without worrying too much about what she’s getting up to while I’m trundling along. Short of jumping into one of the ditches (which she’s only done once), there’s not much she can do to get into trouble. Unless it’s been raining, in which case she can get very, very (and I mean VERY) muddy. Which inevitably calls for a bath.

This is what happened a couple of weeks ago, when we had a great run but both got rather mucky. Molly knows the command ‘go get in the bath you mucky hooligan’, so she dutifully raced upstairs and jumped into the bathtub. It was only when I got the shampoo out that she started to look a little dubious…

Bathtime for Molly

But she was soon enjoying the warm water from the shower attachment. (Yes, I really am far to kind to the dog.) You’ll note she even gets a bathmat, to stop her sliding around. To be honest, Molly’s the only one who uses the bath as (a) we have a perfectly decent shower, (b) I’m not entirely sure that it’s plumbed in correctly, and (c) once Molly’s been in the bath, nobody else in their right mind would want to go near it.

Here we are mid-wash…

The shampoo

And here’s the bath. You’ll see what I mean about nobody else wanting to use it.

Muddy bathtub

After the wash comes the dry. This is usually the most exciting part of the process, as Molly insists on jumping around while she’s being dried. The drying stage can take anywhere between two and four towels. (Molly has her own. We don’t share.) On this occasion, it was a full four-towel job. This includes cleaning up the bathroom afterwards.

The dry

Once Molly’s dry, she knows that she gets a ‘well done’ biscuit, so races down to the kitchen where we keep the biscuit tin. She skids on the vinyl in the hall at the bottom of the stairs, spinning out and colliding with the stacked-up shoes like a racing car hitting a pile of tyres on a tight corner. It’s all part of the routine.

Here she is waiting for her biscuit. The word you’re looking for is ‘entitlement’. As in, ‘I am entitled to that biscuit now, so hand it over and nobody needs to get hurt.’

Time for a biscuit

And because it’s still quite cold out, I then wrestle Molly into her extremely embarrassing fleece jacket and make her sit on her cushion by the radiator. (And yes, this is possibly the largest dog cushion known to mankind.) By this enormous radiator is, to be honest, probably the most comfortable place in the house.

Staying warm

Once my little mudrunner is washed and dry, the rest of the house is now dirty and soaking wet. As, inevitably, am I…

And now bathtime for me

Up and running (nearly)

The weather here over the past few weeks has been pretty atrocious. We’ve had snow, hail, rain, more snow, and then some more rain. But the days are getting gradually longer and the sun has finally started to make an appearance. And I’ve realised that, with one thing and another, I’ve only been running once since Christmas.

Following the advice of professional coach and all-round running legend Bruce Tulloh in his excellent book ‘Running is easy’, I’d gradually built up to running forty minutes or so and covering about four miles, so I was making good progress. But with the weather being as it was, and the evenings being so dark, I hadn’t been able to gather the motivation to get my trainers on and get out there.

This is clearly not a positive state of affairs. Sitting at my desk all day working may be good for my bank balance, but it’s definitely not good for my health or my waistline. I decided that I need a little incentive to get myself up and running, as it were. So I decided to enter a race. I thought something about 10km would probably be about right. And if I could find something in May or June, this would give me time to get back in shape.

Two local races fit the bill. First, there’s the Bristol 10k on 5th May. This is a popular and well-known race, bringing together about 12,000 runners of all abilities on a reasonably flat course around the city’s harbourside. There’s tons of support available in terms of training tips and events, and if you finish the race you get a T-shirt and even a medal. And secondly, there’s the Tyntesfield Ten on the 23rd. This is an off road race around the grounds of a local stately home and attracts a field of about 400. No T-shirt, no medal – nobody’s even really sure how long the course is.

Despite the two races being almost polar opposites, I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to try. So I have (perhaps rather rashly) entered both. Which means that I am going to have to get a little bit fitter, a little bit faster and a whole lot more organised. I’m going to have to develop a training plan to get me from here (tired bloke slumped over a desk) to there (muscular athletic bloke gliding effortlessly across the countryside). And I am most definitely going to have to stop getting put off by a little bit of rain.

Some simple priorities

Step one in sorting out my life is to set a few ground rules; some simple priorities for how things are going to work from now on. So I’ve had a think and have decided on three things that I can do to get the ball rolling.

Firstly, I’m going to eat more healthily. I’m usually pretty good at eating the right sort of things, but when I get tired, worried or stressed I do have a distinct propensity to munch on stuff. And when things get busy, I tend to grab a packet of crisps rather than rustle up a salad. So I’m going to try harder to prepare proper meals and snacks, using fresh food and lots of things that I’ve grown in the garden.

Second, I plan to take more exercise. I already walk for a couple of hours a day with the dog, but I want to do more to improve my strength and fitness and – if we’re being honest – to shift a few pounds. I used to do yoga in the mornings, and I’d like to get back to doing that every day. I also used to run quite a lot when I was younger, so it’s time to dust off my trainers and get back out there.

Finally, I want to write more. I really enjoy writing; the act of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and working out how best to communicate what I want to say. And the more I write, the more I enjoy it. So I’ll try to make sure that I write something every day, whether it’s a post for this blog, an article on something that interests me or part of a longer term project.

I’ll start with these and see how things go. They’re not revolutionary steps, but some simple things that I can do to be a healthier, happier and more balanced individual. And once I’ve got them sorted, they’ll provide me with a solid base from which to move on to other, more ambitious goals.