I fancied a change of scenery today so decided to turn left instead of right and went for an afternoon plod around Blueberry Hill. Before I discovered my woodland route this place used to be my “proper run”, and I always found it really hard work. To briefly describe the route, it’s basically made up of grit trails situated in a landscaped area between a river and a new warehouse complex. The route I normally take comes in at around 2½ miles (in addition to getting there and back) with hills that total a climb of roughly 130ft. The hilly part is right at the apex of the run, and always a killer (well it is to me at least). There’s a lot of freshly planted trees around and the grass is always trimmed – I think the whole area is maintained by the developers of the warehouse complex, maybe as some sort of trade-off clause for the deforestation when their units were built. The best bit though is just across the river from the track, where they’ve built a wooden boot-camp style training area consisting of sit-up benches, balance beams etc.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first stumbled across it. Someone had dropped some sort of Alpine assault course right in the middle of my new (and already brilliant) route – it was like the training montage in Rocky 4, except with more ducks. I should stress that the equipment itself isn’t anything to write home about and there’s only three or four pieces, plus picnic benches. It’s just the fact that it’s there at all that made it special. The other great thing was, at the time the warehouse units were still all pretty much empty and it wasn’t an area that attracted many casual passers-by, so it felt like I was the only one who knew about it. My secret garden. In fact, it got to the point where whenever I did the route I’d always have a quick glance inside the pristine rubbish bins dotted around the training area for signs that anyone else had been there. The one fateful day when I looked inside and saw (gasp!) an empty can of Special Brew was like that moment in Robinson Crusoe where he first sees the footprints in the sand and realises he is no longer alone in paradise. Interlopers! How dare they? Didn’t they know that I was here first??? I toyed with the idea of going a bit “Apocalypse Now” and declaring it my domain, maybe I’d install a few spiked pit traps or take up permanent residence under one of the picnic benches, firing blow-darts at anyone who dared to encroach. Luckily, those thoughts were quickly replaced by a more rational “well, it’s a nice area, why shouldn’t everyone enjoy it? What the hell – maybe I’ll bring a beer on the next run too!”, which is why I’m currently sitting at home typing this blog on a laptop, and not scratching it onto the wall of my maximum-security prison cell with a sharpened toothbrush.
Today’s run was quite uneventful which in itself was, well, eventful. As I said earlier, every time I’ve tackled Blueberry Hill it’s been a struggle, a huffing puffing pain-filled journey that was more walk than run. It hadn’t been all that long since I last attempted it, maybe only a couple of weeks, but that was before I started upping my game with the five mile (ish) woodland route and the difference in that short time was amazing. I stopped a couple of times to take pictures and once slowed to a walk to answer my phone, but felt like I could comfortably run the whole way. The crunch point came when I got to the dreaded hills – a winding series of steep inclines interspersed by just enough flat ground to make you think “thank god that’s all over” before the next one sprang out of nowhere like a gravelly ninja. Every time I’d done this route I’d been forced to admit defeat at this stage and slow to a walk for pretty much the entire hill. For a seasoned runner, or perhaps a determined eight-year-old, it might not be any kind of big deal. But it was for me, and here I was again…
Except that this time I didn’t realise I was at the hill until I was practically up it. I’d like to say that I flew up there with long purposeful strides*, but to be fair it was probably more of a laboured trot. Nevertheless, I ran up the bloody thing and I loved every damn second of it.
On the way home I caught my reflection in a bus shelter, and for a split second thought I was looking at someone else**. Normally (and certainly by this stage following a Blueberry Hill run) I have the appearance of someone who’s been exposed to tear-gas and then repeatedly kicked in the stomach. This time though my back was straighter, my feet lighter. I wasn’t running fast, but I was running proud.
3.65 miles (6.76km), 46:46
*One day I may be able to describe my strides as “purposeful”, but I don’t think they’ll ever be “long” without some pretty drastic surgery or really big shoes.
**I’ve done that before, only to realise that in fact I was looking at someone else. It’s quite disconcerting when you’re out for a run and suddenly think you’ve transformed into a little old Jamaican lady in a bobble hat who appears to be sitting in a bus shelter.