Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Race Against The Weather

The clouds had been hanging over me all day. The restlessness inside me had pushed me from one half-finished job to another. My patience had been thin, my temper too quick. I'd got tired of the times Tam had asked me, 'What's wrong?'

'There's nothing wrong,' I'd answered each time, 'I'm just fed up. Sick of it all.'

'Sick of what?' she'd said.

'Sick of it all,' I'd replied.

Driving back from work that evening, I thought the club run at Well Woods might shake the feeling away. But I'd played a part for an hour. Played the part of the way I usually am. I'd laughed and joked, talked rubbish and taken the piss. But when the run was finished, when I'd exited the stage, the feeling I'd had all day remained. As I said my farewells to club mates, I decided a long run home might be the solution. Instead of the three mile jog through Alford and onto Saleby, I'd head up to Jones' Farm, round to Rigsby, Ailby and back along the drain. At six or seven miles, it might give me time to get things right before I got home.

After heading down the dip through the woods, I'm soon on the dirt track to the farm. In the distance, the sky is darkening. A late summer storm - a really big one by the looks of it. Getting caught in that will be just the end to the day that I don't need. Feeling good, I pick up the pace.

These days, my life was generally lived in sunshine. Things couldn't be better. But, occasionally, clouds would block the sun. A feeling that was ever-present in younger days would reappear and squeeze my optimism dry. Today had been a cloudy day. I was glad it was almost at its end.

On the track to Ailby, my thoughts are interrupted by the distant rumble of thunder. Heavy weather. I pick up the pace and head towards the road a half-mile away. In a few minutes, I'm there.

At the stile by the garden centre, I pause, gather thoughts and look back in the direction of the way I've come. The sky is angry, ominous, shades of black. The storm moving closer. And, in the middle distance, rain is falling, grey confetti, obscuring the view beyond. I climb the step, eager to push on, but am compelled to stop and look again. And when I look, the edges blur and focus shifts.

Each raindrop is a teardrop. Every teardrop is a memory. 

I see a scared little boy trying to dry a bedsheet during the night before his mum finds out he's wet the bed again.

I see a drunken teenager, ripped, blood-stained shirt, punching a night-club wall in angry frustration.

I see a young man, tears running down his cheeks, walking slowly towards a hospital bed to kiss his dying dad goodbye.

I see a lonely figure sitting on a lonely beach, deserted except for a dog and an elderly man holding his grandson's hand.

The raindrops falling. The storm moving closer. And I know what I must do. The race has started. I turn and run.

The path by the field edge is overgrown, but my footfall is assured and light. I'm running quickly, skipping over fallen branches, jumping over ditches. I listen for the sound of the steps made by my rival, but, of course, it's not there. A stillness has descended - the calm before the storm - the sky is about to explode. Looking over my shoulder will admit defeat, but, on reaching the road to Tothby Hall, I can't resist. A nuclear sky is approaching, buildings falling, tornadoes, dust clouds, a devastating tsunami of the worst of times. And the raindrops, the inevitable reminders of the events I've done my best to forget.

I run faster, pushing my limits and then pushing more. But not fast enough. As I rush through the gate towards the Grift Wold drain, I feel the first raindrop, and then another. I stop. Stand still. Wait for the words of the hangman. But no words are uttered. Two solitary raindrops, and then nothing. I look back to the sky, my execution delayed, and start running again.

There comes a time in every race when you realise that you've broken your opponent. After chasing you down, you might run side by side for a while, but an increase in pace will put you back in front. The invisible rope might tether you at first, but once that rope is broken - once the gap is ten yards or more - there's no return. The race is mine.

As I leg it up the hill towards the cross-roads, the storm clouds have sucked the daylight away. In the gloom, I can hear the rain falling behind me. In the distance, I can see the lights in the windows of the houses in the village. The finish line is nearly here. Inside our house, Lightning will be watching Top Gear whilst drawing a picture of a dinosaur. Whirlwind will be dancing in front of her bedroom mirror singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'. Tammy will be making tea in the kitchen. She'll hear the door open and shout, 'Oh-about time Chris. I was getting worried.'

I hit Rose Lane and I'm sprinting. The last few steps and I collapse against the door. There's no time for the step tonight - the weather is on my heels. I turn the handle and fall into the light.

As I slip my shoes off in the hallway, Tam comes through from the kitchen and makes her way into the front room. 'About time Chris,' she says as she goes past, 'I was getting worried.' In the back room I can hear Top Gear on the tele. Whirlwind's singing in her bedroom upstairs. I follow Tam into the lounge and stand by the window.

She comes over and wraps her arms around me. 'You're soaking,' she says, 'it's like you've been racing.'

I'm safe. I'm home.

Outside, the sky cracks and rain starts to fall. I watch the raindrops batter the window pane. And I watch as the teardrops and the memories slide down the glass before they're discarded in a puddle on the window sill.

I turn back to Tam.

'I've been racing the weather,' I tell her. 'And I won.' 


  1. I like this, it has feeling and made me smile.

  2. Hi there - are you chris rainbow? - I've just read this and thought it was amazing - then I remembered the name from the langdale forum thread and thought about sending you a link - telling you he must be alive? I found your site as I was looking at how people have come into the fell running briefs site....