A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long long time. No, I haven’t finally succumbed to temptation and pushed Jeremy Kyle into the panther enclosure at Whipsnade zoo. What I have done is started doing a bit of trail running.
For the best part of a year I’ve stuck to the easy option of roads, pavements and treadmills, and on the rare occasions when things have got a bit squelchy it’s always been by accident. Getting caught in a downpour and finding that the cycle track you’re on has turned a bit soggy doesn’t really count as a trail run. The thing that, for me at least, truly defines a proper trail run is that moment when you suddenly transform into a four-year-old and realise that this isn’t a run; it’s an adventure.
It’d been far too long since I’d gone properly off-road, and I felt a knot of excitement in the pit of my stomach as I laced up my trail shoes*. I was planning to explore some lakes and fields at the back of a nearby park. This place used to be my old stomping ground back when I was a young scamp, when life had largely just consisted of building dens, scuffing shoes and running away from cows. I started out on my run, and before long the terrain had changed from boring wet grass to a gloopy playground of deep, shoe-sucking mud. The best thing about trail shoes isn’t the grip, or the water resistance, or the built-in GPS distress beacons. The best thing about them is simply the fact that, from the moment you put them on, the part of your brain in charge of keeping your shiny road shoes neat and tidy is switched off. There’s something exhilarating about smashing gleefully through a muddy puddle, knowing that if you were wearing your regular shoes you’d be gingerly tiptoeing around it like a nervous kitten.
As I hurtled through ankle-deep mud and scrabbled up slippery inclines, I was soon reminded how much harder it is to run on trails than on more vanilla terrain. My core was working overtime to give me some semblance of stability, and my legs were on fire from the added effort of fighting through the mud. After just a couple of miles I felt like I was carrying a sack of anvils**. During a run, I’ll sometimes stop to shake out a twinge in my leg or to look at a duck, but I can’t remember the last time I was forced to do it. And yet on this run, there were a couple of occasions where my legs pulled rank and went off to sulk in the corner. “Nope, sorry, not happening; you’ve had everything we’ve got. You’ll just have to slow things down to a gentle walk for a minute or two and wait patiently for us to stop being made of toffee.”
I plunged onwards, not really knowing where I was going (and relishing the run even more because of it). During a couple of the more wildernessy (real word) bits, I took advantage of the fact that there was nobody else around and started burbling motivational slogans to myself, such as “keep pushing forward”, “whoop whoop, feeling strong***” and “aaargh, a badger!”
Okay, so the last one wasn’t particularly motivational.
The best bit of the run came at around mile 4, when I realised that there was something familiar about my surroundings. Back when I was a kid, my mates and I used to play on an old disused railway line near to where we lived (scuffing cows, running away from shoes, etc). Entire summers had been swallowed up in a whirlwind of adventure, exploration and of trying to convince the bloke in the local camping shop to sell us massive knives. Sadly, the old railway was completely ripped up around 20 years ago to make way for a new bypass, which is a shame because old disused railway lines are probably my favourite places to run, due to their combination of solitude, straight-lines and abundance of poggles. But, like I said, there was something extremely familiar about the route I’d found myself on, and it suddenly dawned on me that this was the railway line of my youth. It was still here after all; it turned out that only part of it had been bulldozed all those years ago to make way for the new road. This was the icing on the cake, and the next few miles were spent with a stupid grin plastered across my face for all the world to see.
Okay, more stupid than usual then.
The sense of triumph that comes from a proper muddy run doesn’t stop the moment you set foot back in civilization, either. Straight after the run, I went to pick my daughter up from school. I could have put some jogging bottoms on the cover up my mud-caked legs, but then how would the whole world know that I’d just spent the last hour being chased by imaginary pirates through the muddy wilderness? And the final glory was still to come when I returned home: Nothing says “I’ve just conquered nature” like seeing the water run brown as it runs off you and hits the bottom of the shower tray.
Well, hopefully it says “I’ve conquered nature”. It could just be saying “I’ve pooped myself in the shower”, which isn’t quite so glorious.
* At least I think it was excitement. It could have just been the prawn biryani I’d bought from that homeless bloke. Here’s a tip for you: never buy food that’s been stored in someone’s shoe. ** I wasn’t. I won’t be making that mistake again in a hurry. *** Sorry, I made that one up. I would sooner attach rabid spider monkeys to my scrotum with hot rivets than be one of those people who say “whoop whoop”.
Want more? Really? You’re a bit odd. Well, if you insist, you can have a look back through some old blog posts here at borntoplod.com. Most of them contain ducks. Alternatively, you can chase me round the playground that is twitter (@borntoplodblog) or pop over to Facebook and check out my page.