Sunday, 17 April 2011
The Anatomy Of An Easy Run
As a father, a husband and a runner, the work issue is always a thorny one. Whatever I do, I like to do it well. Muhammad Ali once said that he was the best boxer in the world, but if he was a bin man, he'd be the best bin man in the world. I can emphasise with that. And it's that which drives me to work long hours. I'm not interested in becoming rich - I don't clamour for material possessions - this isn't what drives me. My motivating factor is proving I can make a go of it. Succeeding with a business model and an ideology that was once widespread, but has been squeezed out by a combination of government, the banking sector and supermarket monsters. Succeeding with a family business that is independent of bank lending, that manufactures its product in the UK, that employs local people and supplies only independent wholesalers and shops. It's an old-fashioned idea - the way things used to be done - and it's hard work. We could outsource to China, import the goods at a fraction of the costs we incrue, and sell directly into the big chains. But, to me, that's not right. It's not what I believe in. So we continue as we are, a successful anachronism, the business equivalent of Guy Martin's lovely old narrow boat.
As I'm driving home, I contemplate the sacrifices that this entails. In my limited spare time, I love to run. I love to run long miles. Again, this ultimately selfish pursuit has consequences for my wife and children in terms of time spent with them. I've always been like this, always done this, but now and again I'm overtaken by guilt. In the 'off-season' I try to spend as much time as possible with the kids, but I'm always aware that it isn't, to be truthful, nearly enough. Tammy placates me at times like this - 'if you didn't do these things, Chris, you wouldn't be you' - but I know I'm walking a tightrope and if I neglect the balance for too long, I'm likely to fall.
I arrive home under a black cloud. The run-in to Easter is a busy time of the year for us. I'm under pressure to get orders out, cash-flow is tight and I feel stressed. I always look forward to getting home, but tonight I'm in a foul mood.
Tam's in the kitchen. She looks at me and she knows straight away. Sometimes she just listens while I rant and moan for twenty minutes. Tonight she just smiles at me.
What she says is, 'You better get out for your run - tea'll be ready soon.'
What she means is, 'Do us a favour and get your grumpy arse out of the door. You'll feel much better when you get back.' I give her a kiss and do as I'm told.
Ten minutes later, I'm sat on the front step. It's early days since I handed my running over to the dice, but so far, so good. Last night the dice lay down the distance and the effort - an easy five miles, and as I slip on my shoes I'm thankful of a relaxing run - a long, enjoyable jaunt across the Wolds on Sunday has left the area of my recent operation a bit sore, and my calves are a little tight. I check I've remembered to take my watch off, and jog into Rose Lane. It's a beautiful evening.
I love living in Saleby. When I saw the estate agent's photograph of the house in the local newspaper all those years ago, I knew straight away that it would be where we would live. It was written. It didn't bother me that the village consisted of a handful of houses and a church, that the nearest shop or pub was two miles away, that it was in the middle of nowhere. In fact, it was those things that further endeared me. And now, as a runner, I can state with certainty that Saleby is not in the middle of nowhere, it's right in the middle of everywhere.
Saleby is an ideal place for a runner to live. The immediate area is criss-crossed with sleepy lanes, farm tracks and quiet footpaths. If I want to run flat, I'll head out the back, explore the coastal plains as far as the North Sea. If I want hills, I'll head out the front. Within a half-hour's jog, I'll be running through the chalky undulations of the Lincolnshire Wolds. It's true that the area has none of the majestic, awe-inspiring beauty of, say, the Lake District, but in its isolated, understated way, the panorama of the Lincolnshire Wolds is hard to beat.
I start gently. I'm lazy when it comes to stretching - can't be bothered most of the time - so I use the first part of every run to 'warm-up.' Today, it's more of a 'get-going.' As my age increases, so do my running ambitions. My body, however, isn't so keen. Constantly plagued by niggles and aches, it succeeds in taking me to ever-expanding horizons, but, just like a car with too many miles on the clock, it struggles to deliver what it did easily twenty, or even ten, years ago.
By the end of the lane, I'm into a comfortable rhythm. I jog up The Tunnel - the slight hill overhung by an arch of foilage - and over the road to the fields opposite. Work has already slipped away. I'm concentrating now on form, good posture, a quick cadence and a mid-foot strike. The minimalist/barefoot debate has won me over, and I know it's important to teach myself to run again before I can progress further along the path from 'cushioned foot coffins' to 'zero drop.'
As I make my way along the rough ground by the rape fields, a sudden movement re-awakens me to my surroundings. A pheasant appears from the crop, scuttles onto the ground in front of me and looks over with a blend of curiosity and fear. I stop, walk slowly, tread lightly and it allows me a certain distance before it turns and scoots into the hedgerow.
Coming over the brow of the hill, the world opens out in front of me - a vista of yellow rape and flat green fields with the rise of the Wolds as a backdrop. I open up on the dip on the other side and run easily towards the Wold Grift Drain, thoughts of other runs along this stretch passing across my mind: the headtorcher before Christmas when the snow was mid-calf; a sluggish loop the day before a track 12 hour race a couple of years ago; a tentative jog round the 3 mile option on the morning of my Bob Graham. I hold each picture in my head for a moment, then throw it into my memory's shoebox, like an old, cherished photograph, before replacing it with another scene from another run, a part of me from another time.
I turn left at the drain by the footbridge and follow the wide track towards Alford. At the way-post, I'm faced with a choice (the fork in the path). Most of the year I'll stick to the headland on the right - the ground's rough but usually better going than the muddy slog through the field to the next bridge. Today, however, the ground is dry. The path has been freshly cleared and the run across the field, through the growing crops, is an invite I can't decline. I skip over the bridge and down the track, skimming the top of the rape with the palm of my hand and thinking, bizarrely, of the scarecrow on The Yellow Brick Road.
The next section of the path has seen extensive 'improvement' over the winter months. A couple of old footbridges have been taken away and a wide path installed. Whatever the reasons for this - most probably good reasons - it winds me up. I don't want wide, easy paths, I want hardly-distinguishable trods, rickety stiles, muddy farm tracks. I want character. I don't want 'improved access' and the dumbing-down of the countryside that seems to be happening all over our nation. The countryside is supposed to be rugged, wild and, to a point, inaccessible except for those who make the effort to explore. I think back to the section of the Lindsey Loop we ran on Sunday which was once a rough track but had now been tarmaced. Man is making his mark on the countryside at an ever-increasing pace, and it's not good news.
The Windmill's in the distance. I'd noticed the sails were off a couple of days ago - repairs, I guess. I cross the next bridge and I'm running strongly across the field to the stile near Post Office Lane. Then I'm through the wood and across the road by the football ground.
The running's good and I'm lost in myself. My thoughts are with the preparations for our Club's forthcoming long-distance relay. I remember the reservations I held this time last year - leaving a club I'd been with for years and joining a local one instead. It's turned out to be one of the best things I've done. The friendliness and ambition of the Club, together with the wonderful diversity of the members I've got to know have really inspired me. Although it's been an up-and-down year for my running, never before have I been so motivated, so full of ideas.
And I think of The Big Idea, the crazy plan I've dreamed for next year. Part of me says that I'll look into it a little more before I commit, that it's such a huge undertaking that I don't know that I'm up to it, not capable physically or mentally. Part of me knows that deep down, I've committed already.
Before long, I'm on the track 'out the back'. I look across to the windfarm at Mablethorpe, and turn left when I get to the road. Past the church and right at the sign - 'Village Only' - my own private kingdom.
The light's fading as I get home. I sit on the step. Everything seems easier. Through the front door I can hear the kids playing. My superheroes. Lightning has restrained Whirlwind on the sofa with a ninja headlock. Whirlwind's super-powers seem to have deserted her at a crucial moment. I hear her crying and shouting for Mum.
I take my shoes off and lean back against the door. The day's still warm. The birds are singing. Soon I'll go inside and back to real life. But I love my space on the step. And I stay a little longer. Real life will have to wait.