With Halloween just around the corner, it’s quite fitting that today’s blog post is on the subject of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the trail path*.
After a week of steady running I just had time for one last long run before the end of the week, possibly my last one before the HM once you factor in a bit of gentle tapering and general trying-not-to-get-injured-ness.
I’d originally planned to do this run yesterday afternoon, but wasn’t able to fit it in, and so this morning saw me rise before 5am to lace up my running shoes and head out for a bracing ten miles before work. I gave my wife a tender kiss goodbye as I left the house, and she replied by glancing at the clock and calling me “a mental”.
Fifteen minutes later I pulled up at the lakes, where I was looking forward to spending the next hour or two running about a bit, to use the official IAAF terminology. It was only as I locked my car and turned to start running that I realised…
Apparently, the funny thing about bright glorious sunlight is that (and you’ll never believe this) it doesn’t really exist at half past five on a late-October morning. Who knew? Although the car park was dotted with street lighting I knew that as soon as I hit the trails I would no longer have that luxury, which gave me two options.
Option 1: I get back in the car and go to work early, which in turn will lead to an early finish. By 3pm it’ll hopefully be a bit brighter and I can enjoy a proper run.
Option 2: Laugh out loud at option one for being so namby-pamby, before rushing headlong into the inky blackness with a cavalier disregard for safety or common sense.
Unfortunately for option one, I’d left Sensible Me tied up and locked in the boot of my car with gaffer tape over his mouth.
Fast forward another couple of minutes, and I’m hurtling along a bumpy bridle path, and to be honest I might as well have had my eyes closed. It had been quite a cloudy night, so at best the moon cast the faintest of glows on my surroundings, which in some strange way seemed to just highlight the darkness. As I lurched along, too stubborn to do the rational thing and turn back, I started to mutter under my breath, cursing all those times I had idly toyed with the idea of buying a head torch but decided instead to spend my money on battenburg or an action man deep sea diver.
Now, I consider myself to be someone who doesn’t scare easily. I’m not frightened of spiders, and I’ll quite happily open the door to trick or treaters without needing a handful of garlic within easy reach. But something about the still, murky darkness all around me seemed to make me regress into a timid oh-no-there’s-a-monster-in-my-sock-drawer child. As I plodded on, the only sounds being my footsteps and my laboured breathing…
Those footsteps… they were only my footsteps weren’t they? And was it my imagination, or was there another sound of rasping, ragged breathing, just slightly out of sync with my own? Well, yes it was my imagination. I know that now, but it didn’t help at the time.
So anyway, as I was saying…
As I plodded on, my mind started to wander to every horror film I’d ever seen** and I became more and more conscious of my surroundings, what little I could see of them. Not enough to send me racing back to the safety of my car, although that would have done wonders for my time, but certainly enough for me to feel a little bit spooked. I turned off the bridle path, which had been reasonably flat, and onto a rough dirt track, and immediately wished I hadn’t.
By day, this part of my run was a discreetly undulating trail, the bumps and troughs barely noticeable. Now though every footfall was an adventure, and not the good kind with biscuits and medals. Surrounded by dense hedgerow that seemed to suck up what little light there had been, I started running by feel and by memory. Every few steps the ground would seem to vanish from beneath me and I’d lurch heavily forward, thankful that I hadn’t twisted an ankle or stepped in a bear trap laid by murderous hillbillies. Thankfully, this track only lasted for a hundred metres or so, before opening out into a level, but no less impenetrably dark, cycle path. There are few things quite as unnerving as something totally familiar that suddenly becomes hostile and alien, but I consoled myself with the thought that the sun would be rising soon. Hopefully.
For the moment, the feeling that I was in a horror movie was being kept at bay by a sense of annoyance that the lack of visibility was forcing me to adopt a slightly slower pace than the already-quite-slow pace I’d normally be doing at this stage. I again thought about head torches, weighing up the pros and cons. Yes, it would make running at night a lot easier and certainly safer. But on the other hand I was clearly a great big scaredy-cat, so did I really want something stuck on my head that not only lit me up as a target for the many werewolves, axe-murderers and loch-ness monsters that definitely frequented these parts, but that also caused shadows to dance around in front of me, casting strange and terrifying shapes everywhere I looked. No thanks. On balance, I’ll take running face-first into a tree any day.
After a while I glanced down at my watch and saw that I’d been running for just over half an hour, but it was still no lighter than when I’d started. I discovered a few things about nature as I ran. Firstly, the shadowy outline of a night-time cow is approximately twice the size of a normal daytime cow, and almost fifteen times as scary. Secondly, sounds are different at night. A noise that I normally would have mistaken for a flock of geese was now clearly the sound of an inmate who had escaped from a nearby secure hospital for the murderously deranged and was hell-bent on using a dessert spoon to scoop out the eyeballs of the first unfortunate jogger he could find, before setting to work on their nostrils with a cheese grater.
You may remember that when I first started using the lakes for most of my runs, I commented on the many wonderful poggles that were dotted around the place***. Now though, cloaked by darkness and with my imagination running rampant, they took on a whole new aspect. For instance, I knew that if I looked too closely at the wooden rope slide I’d see evil grinning scarecrows hanging from the crossbeams. And as for this big rock…
It’s a lump of smooth stone, nine feet high and almost as far across. Not easy to move about, which means that it’s been there for thousands of years. Now, if horror films have taught me anything about great big rocks that have been around for thousands of years, it’s that evil devil-worshipping covens just LOVE to conduct bloody human sacrifices on them. It’s like catnip to them, the cheeky blighters.
For entirely unrelated reasons, I decided not to take my usual route past the great big rock.
Finally on the list of poggles-gone-bad was this…
As you can see, by day this is a charming recreation of an ancient Celtic hut using authentic natural materials. When it looms out of the darkness at you however, it means just two things: The Blair Witch and being in urgent need of a new pair of running shorts.
On I went, and it seemed as if it would be dark forever. Surely the sun should be putting in an appearance soon, and making everything better. Eventually, around three miles into the run, I looked up and saw that the tiiiiniest hint of mottled pink was starting to poke through the black, but nowhere near enough to banish the oppressive darkness. When I was growing up I often heard the saying “red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”, and assumed it meant that bad weather was forecast, or something similarly farm-y. But now in my eerie barely-moonlit surroundings it clearly meant “red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning you that there are THINGS prowling through the crepuscular darkness, drawing ever closer”. Yeah, cheers for that, sky. Really helpful.
Moments after that thought went through my mind, and just as I was about to start scolding my overactive imagination for being such a complete bastard, I heard a noise over to my right. It can’t have been more than six feet away, sounding like a branch snapping but too loud to have just been a rabbit or a fox. My naturally sluggish early-morning pace suddenly found new legs, and I sped off down the track repeating to myself “it’s just a ginormous badger. It’s just a ginormous badger”.
After approximately two minutes (or a mile and a half) of being utterly terrified of ginormous badgers, I stopped to take a gel and some water onboard. As I was downing the last of the sickly sweet orange gloop I looked around, blinking, and realised that somehow daylight had crept up on me and was now lolling all over the place as if it had never been away. I felt a sense of relief wash over me. Not only could I finally stop imagining unseen horrors lurking in every bush, but there was also a good chance that I’d finish my run without tripping over any more stuff. I started off on the return five mile leg of my run, and I felt emboldened, safe in the knowledge that if I saw a goose I’d just punch it in its stupid zombie face.
Still not emboldened enough to run past the great big rock though.