The other day I did something a bit unusual in my run training. I left my trainers at home and went for a long walk instead. I’m getting prepared for the Haworth Hobble, a 32 mile off road, run/walk event, and due to a variety of circumstances, I find myself trying to cram my preparation into 8 short weeks. (At this point I’d like to say don’t panic, I’ve been regularly training for months, but unfortunately the only thing I’ve done regularly of late is eat mince pies!)
Anyway, back to my walk. My training plan (the one I haven’t been following) said it was time for a 13 mile run. I knew that was a stretch on my fitness level, and also I really needed to get off road as all my training runs have been on flat roads, and what I needed was hilly moors. So I looked up the 10 mile, North York Moors route, I’d planned with my Dad 2 weeks ago (oh yes, I may have not done much training, but I’d done lots of talking about training), and decided that as I was a) Unfit, b) Not entirely sure where I was going and c) Looking for an excuse not to run and discover how unfit I was, that I would walk the 10 mile route – did I say walk? I mean recce of course!
Here I could cut to the end and just tell you it was an absolutely fabulous day out, but I’ll give perhaps a little more detail. It was a very foggy day, and the fog only got denser as I headed into the Moors. I parked in a little village, trying to park near the church, but couldn’t see it in the fog (when I got back to the car later it was 150m further down the road).
I was glad I’d downloaded a fancy OS Map to my phone, and that I had a signal, because the first footpath took me straight through someone’s back garden and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to go that way without the little red arrow on my screen pointing directly at it. The first section was bridleway and it was very soft underfoot, gradually getting wetter and clumpier. I came to a steep descent through a recently cleared wood area. The recent loss of vegetation and very wet ground turned the slope into mudslide territory, and now my shoes were completely clogged up I had zero grip and I was beginning to wish I’d brought my skis (or at least my 5 year old’s sledge).
I safely made it to the bottom, crossed a small stream via 2 small wooden bridges, and suddenly in the bottom of this small valley was struck by the isolation and began to appreciate the effort I’d gone to not plod out yet another flat-road training run. Then it was a steep climb back out the valley, this time amongst trees still intact, and then more fields, woods and bridleway through the mist, wondering what views I was missing, and treating myself to the occasional jelly baby.
I was merrily enjoying myself, when I suddenly realised I’d entered a field full of loose horses. Now I know they are supposed to be friendly but they are much bigger than me, can run faster than me, outnumbered me 20:1, and were looking very curiously in my direction. Actually, with hindsight getting through that field was ok. It was the one that followed that freaked me out more, when one of the sheep started to run towards me! And you know what sheep are like, once one does it….. I had to do my best shooing voice on that one, and quickly got out of there, trying to act casual, and like I’m not at all afraid of sheep (they can sense it you know).
After that, running into a group of men in jeeps carrying guns, didn’t really faze me at all. From what I could work out they were out shooting the local pheasants. Officially I mean, they had walkie-talkies and everything! I heard one radio in that a walker was coming, presumably not so they could lie in wait for me further down the track.
By now I was about 6 miles in and I could see patches of blue sky. I wasn’t making fast progress. The constant direction checking, jelly baby eating, and avoidance of wild animals were all a bit of a distraction. But I was getting there. It felt wonderful to be out amongst nature, in the clean air with barely a soul around.
Up and over another large hill, through empty fields (the best kind), down through another steep wooded valley and I was finally on the last mile. On the final climb I went through my favourite thing in nature – a tree tunnel – and then, lost in thought, down a long boggy track, I turned a corner and out of the fog a small group of houses appeared. It had taken me just over 4 hours, but I’d made it, and I felt great.
It was such a slow paced walk I struggled to convince myself I’d done any exercise at all. Frustratingly my watch calculated I’d burned 999 calories, and I didn’t dare check the calorie content of the jelly baby packet which was now mostly empty! However, 24 hours later the aches and pains began to kick in, and now I’m happy that I’ve made some progress towards my Haworth Hobble goal.
So what did this expedition teach me? That it’s always worth making the effort to get out to somewhere new and especially somewhere beautiful to re-invigorate your training; that even when you don’t feel like doing the thing you had planned, doing something is better than nothing; and that however unfit you feel, however far off your plan you are: every journey begins with the first step. Take that step, however small. Get moving, and you could have the most wonderful time.