mundane adventures in running
My friend Dan took me on the fabulous Run of the Dead recently. Conceived entirely by Dan, with no official status and no real set course, it’s a casual circuit which takes in some of the top victorian cemeteries of south East London, notably Camberwell Old Cemetery, Camberwell New cemetery and the lung busting Nunhead Cemetery. It was a lovely run, although climbing one tree hill took my heart rate way over what I had planned to train for that day.
Back in the days before children, I used to really enjoy running with Lisa. Those days are gone; running as a couple goes the way of trips to the cinema when you have kids: nice, but difficult to justify wasting precious babysitting on. These days I barely ever run with her, and generally just head out by myself. I’m quite a chatty person, and I do miss having company when I’m running, especially for gentle, not too long runs. Going out with Dan, and being able to just talk and run for an hour or so was a treat; the time flew past. Running beats sitting in a pub as a way to hang out with someone. It frees you, you talk less self consciously, lucid and set free by a heady mix of endorphins and breathlessness.
For one reason or another, Dan’s not having a great time at the moment*, and he’s looking for ways to get out of London, and to distract himself. We started talking about it. I chatted about my mild frustration with only running in London, and how I wanted to get out a little bit further, and run somewhere a bit more wild and woolly. We came upon the plan to do a one day excursion: to get somewhere as wild as we could, do a respectable but not mental run (something like 20-30k), and get home in time for dinner. We don’t want to take loads of equipment, or do anything too technical. We’d prefer not to drive if we can avoid it. The more authentically wild, the better.
Rannoch Moor was one of the first places I thought of. You would have to take the night train up the night before, and I think change at Glasgow. That would put you right in the middle of a truly wild place. After reading Robert Macfarlane’s the Wild Places recently, Rannoch was a natural place to want to visit. He writes so beautifully, and in such a strangely haunting, lonely and estranged way about being on the Moor and in the woods around it. The way Macfarlane tells it, Rannoch promises an authentically remote experience, somewhere aside and apart from London, and people, and civilisation.
Thinking about Rannoch helps me understand more what I want from this outing. Think of it as some primal, wild man therapy. I want to momentarily dislocate myself from this city, and put myself into a different world, one where I am an animal amongst nature. Running through isolated places without people, buildings and the trappings of modern life should do this: my body moving across the land, focused on breathing, on my steps, on my forward progression. Running through places shaped by weather and nature, creatures and plants. It’s hard to think of any other way to simply and quickly and cheaply achieve so much distance, literal and figurative, between my normal city life and my animal humanity than to just go, head off to as wild a place as I can find and to run.
Rannoch’s out. By the time we get this organised, it’ll be cold and dark, plus it’s a bit too far. Still, Peaks, Lakes, Brecon Beacons, Dartmoor, Exmoor. These are all options: little pockets where we can play like Palaeolithic men dressed in lycra, where we can pretend that the cities have crumbled or never existed and that we’re just animals amongst other animals, equal in eyes of nature.
*Dan’s wife, has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s a stressful time for both of them, and for their daughter. Tess has made the decision to make her illness and recovery as positive an experience as she can. She’s putting all her spare energy into fund raising for Breast Cancer Care. She’s also talking candidly and openly about what’s happening to her, challenging our reluctance to be open and have sensible conversations about cancer. If you want to show support, or to find out more about the charity, her Justgiving page is here.