Not that sort, before any of you turn up on my doorstep wearing lederhosen and carrying a badger under each arm. No, the title refers to a quirk of mine that rears its head at some point during most of my runs – an irrational fascination with man-made (sorry, person-made) structures in the middle of nowhere. Allow me to expand; running in built-up areas does very little for me so I much prefer finding somewhere a little more off the beaten track. But the icing on the cake of these trail runs is finding hidden gems that just look a little out of place – it could be something as simple as a bench in the middle of an otherwise untouched area of woodland or a statue that’s been hidden by bushes and forgotten by all except the pigeons. The important thing is that someone’s been there before; I suppose I’d describe myself as an anti-pioneer. I’d quite happily run through the most beautiful and remote parts of the Lake District, marvelling at the scenery as I went. But stick an unexpected Wimpy in the middle of it all and I’ll stand transfixed for ages. It’s occurred to me that this blog post will be a damn sight easier if I had a name for these wonders, so from this day forward they’ll be referred to as “Poggles*”
In the past my attention’s been hijacked by such poggles as old lamp-posts, picnic benches, birdwatching hides, a disused water-tower, a training area and the occasional troll-bridge. But today I found the mother lode.
Leaving the house first thing in the morning, I headed to a place that had been recommended by a friend who had been confident that it would be right up my street. Or trail, or whatever. Once I got there and started what I hoped would be a long run I noted that things were looking promising; the weather was cool and dry, there was hardly anyone about and the paths were surfaced with fine shingle that crunched reassuringly under my feet as I broke into a steady rhythm. I was a couple of miles in when I saw the first poggle…
The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it’s about 9ft tall and just as wide. And TOTALLY pointless, which is the sign of a good poggle. On I pressed, but hadn’t gone more than a quarter of a mile when I looked up and saw a great big zipline sitting out on its own in a clearing to my right. A few more steps saw a strange wooden swingy spinny ride thing. This was getting silly. It was if I were in Wacky Races, but rather than painting fake tunnel entrances or littering my path with angry snapping turtles, Dick Dastardly was instead running ahead of me knocking up random things out of wood and stone to distract me, thus preventing me from winning whatever it was that they were always trying to win on Wacky Races**. On I pressed, and as the miles passed I became desensitized to the strange sights that greeted me on almost every turn. I barely blinked as I passed a bird hide bigger than my house. I hardly noticed a traditional wattle-and-daub Celtic hut squatting at the lakeside. I think that by this stage if I’d stumbled across a 30ft high papier mache statue of Kriss Akabusi doing something unspeakable with a box of kazoos I would have just stifled a yawn and kept on going. It was bloody poggle overload.
And I LOVED it.
It’s worth pointing out that my route was around a country park that does admittedly have a great big wooden play area in the middle, but that doesn’t account for the sheer amount of stuff scattered around the rest of the 750 acre site. Maybe this is their second attempt at building it, the first having suffered a freak marsh-gas explosion that scattered the apparatus (and some unfortunate and briefly startled mallards) for miles around.
Towards the end of the run I glanced across to a small island in the middle of one of the lakes and saw a carved wooden fish the size of a small hatchback. “That’s enough poggles for today” I thought. Well, I didn’t think those exact words, because at this point the word poggle hadn’t been invented yet. And then I saw it. Fifteen feet high and longer than a long-thing. An assault course. A Krypton Factor boot-camp full-metal-jacket style actual bloody assault course. Scramble nets, climby things, walls, tarzan ropes, balance beams, tunnels, the lot. All that was missing was a shouty man with a whistle. My goal for today’s run was distance, not speed. In my mind that translated directly as “please proceed to the assault course and feel free to spend five minutes running around like a tartrazine-fuelled howler monkey with boundary issues”. The thing I liked best about the assault course was the fact that (as with all of the other poggles on this route) there was no fanfare, no showboating, no signs saying “this way to our fantastic assault course, it’s GREAT”. It was as if they were casually saying “Oh, that old thing? Yeah, we leave those things lying around all over the place. We sort of hoped nobody would find it”.
As I hauled myself along the final mile of the run, I reflected on how I’ve improved since I took my first faltering steps almost ten months ago. Back then, the thought of running ten miles seemed not only improbable but downright impossible. I used to genuinely think that long-distance runners had some kind of con that I’d yet to discover. Maybe it was all done with mirrors or camera trickery. Or rocket boots. To be honest, “rocket boots” was my answer to everything back then. But as I progressed, the impossible became possible and I found my distances edging up, sometimes slowly over time, and sometimes in great leaps over a matter of weeks. One thing I’d say to anyone just starting out at this running lark is that although getting from zero to the point where you can do a mile or two is an absolute bastard for most, the subsequent leaps (5k to 10k, 10k to Half Marathon) seem much less painful by comparison. See how I casually said “Half Marathon” as if I’ve done one. I haven’t of course – you’d have heard all about it if I had, but it doesn’t feel too far off. I could be wrong of course; for all I know there could be some unseen force that kicks in at around mile 11 that makes me cry like a baby and vow never to leave the house again. We’ll have to wait and see.
Though hopefully not too long.
PS: Thanks are due to Eddie Pedalo. His masterful mash-ups were what pushed me through those last few gruelling miles. Check out his excellent work at… http://eddiepedalo.synthasite.com/
Distance: 9.25 miles
*After spending a few minutes trying to think of a suitable word I decided in the end to just make one up. I then took the precaution of googling it to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently using a word already in existence and which referred to an obscure and possibly chicken-related sexual practice. Poggle isn’t one of those, but it does already exist. According to urbandictionary.com, “to poggle is to play or muck about with something without seeming to have a particular purpose”. This seems to sum me up quite nicely so I’ll keep it.
Poggle is also a character from the Star Wars universe. But then again so are most words.
**A big shiny trophy or perhaps some crack. They never said.