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Thursday 29 August 2013

Excuses, Scarecrows and a Lift Home

This run didn’t exactly go to plan. So I’d like to get my excuses in early before you start hurling abuse.

1.)    I’d had a dodgy tummy in the night. However I seemed to be over the worst of the tummy upset which was a relief. I had the horrible thought that running with an upset tummy might be like trying to run carrying a jug of gravy. (I’ll leave the details of THAT to your imagination.) However, my stomach was fine on the run.

2.)    I had been awake for quite a lot of the night. Running backwards and forwards between bed and bathroom. (Can I count this as interval training? Some of the sprints were really QUITE quick!) ... but I’ve run when tired before.

3.)    I hadn’t build up to this run very well. Lack of long runs meant that I knew this one would be a challenge. I’d done 4 x 12 milers + a 6 at Thunder Run and 13 miles cross country last weekend but I’d been a bit lazy about building it up any further.

4.)    My feet hurt as I need new trainers. Not sure how I can blame this one on anyone else.

Any other excuses I can use? The cat said meow at me this morning and scared me. I’m allergic to trees and there were some I had to run past. I almost had a blister once and am terrified of it happening again.

There. Glad I got those in nice and early. So ... completely NOT my fault I cocked THIS run up, then? (Cough, cough)

I was looking forward to this run. I enjoy long runs. They aren’t like intervals which are confusing and I have to remember how many I’ve done and when to stop. With long runs I just keep running until I get to the place I’d decided was the halfway point. Then I run home again. Even I can’t cock that up. I don’t have to run fast and there’s time to look at the flowers and hedges and bunny rabbits and things. Long runs are MY time.

However, I may have sold it to myself slightly too well. And, I may have been a TEENY bit too enthusiastic. I may have set out slightly too quickly and run up the hill zigzags I didn’t need to run up. And done those a bit too quickly. But as I reasoned, I have another 19 miles to slow down again. This is runner logic. 

I ran up the hills waving at all the dog walkers and ran back down the hills again waving at all the cars. I basically needed a slap. I was going too fast and being far too irritatingly happy about it.

But don’t worry, dear reader. This will all catch up with me. Oh yes.

I had about a mile to run alongside the Oxford  canal and after a bit of dog walker dodging and hurdling of their charges, I got to the Newbold Tunnel. The path at this point was entirely blocked by a group of hikers ambling along 4 abreast with their socks tucked into their trousers.

I know that runners are an oft ridiculed group, but at least generally we’re a friendly bunch. Hikers on the other hand feel it’s entirely appropriate to move around in groups of 20, lumbering along 3 or 4 abreast and will not move to allow anyone else to pass them even with the most polite and friendly “excuse me” or “may I pass?”. They seem to communicate with other path users only via tutting and clicking with disapproval and will only respond to a greeting if they really have no choice. However, I’m unwilling to put this down to unfriendliness as the average age seems to be over 65. It could simply be deafness. 

There also seems to be a uniform among them. God forbid they tackle a pavement or a dry gravel canal path with anything less than thick socks tucked into trousers and ancient walking boots on. Colours most prized seem to be bright red or royal blue socks and there also seem to be extra points awarded for shit hats.  The more determined among them also sporting stout branches with tin badges nailed on. I am well aware that as a runner I am speaking from a precarious perch, clad in lycra with a bulky watch strapped to my wrist and multicoloured shoes adorning my feet. But walking boots on a canal path. Really?

However, upon pondering this I’m wondering if they know something we don’t. Maybe on our canal paths there are predators of which we – lowly runners know nothing about. Venomous snakes which attack by entering the trouser leg and can only be deterred by the socks tucked with great care over the turn ups. Likewise the little known – but extremely vicious - tree hedgehog, which drops from great heights onto the head of unsuspecting walkers can be confused by a cloth hat on the head. But ONLY if the string is tied extra firmly under the double-chin.

I had to wait at the tunnel entrance as the 183 metre long Newbold Tunnel was jammed up with hikers. In ones and twos they passed me, not acknowledging my wait, with their fuzzy walking socks pulled high and their walking boots thumping solidly on the firm, dry path.

I entered the tunnel from the South end and immediately the cold pressed down on me. This tunnel is lit from within by blue and green lights which shine up the curved walls and reflect in the water making it seem as though I’m running halfway up the side of a large dark hole. You can see the exit the whole time you’re in the tunnel, but it seems to get further and further away. It’s very strange. It’s an odd tunnel as you don’t mind going through it once but you don’t want to go through it twice. 

Out of the tunnel and I ran up the bank along the side of the tunnel to the crown of the bridge and looked down at the boats passing underneath. I was only 5 miles into the run and already the thought of running the distance another 3 times was unappealing. Usually I have to be persuaded to turn for home as I enjoy the long runs so much. 

The day was warm and it was good to run in the sleepy lanes. There was hardly any traffic and the buzzing of the grasshoppers and the pat-pat-pat of my feet on the road were virtually the only sounds. I’d brought gels with me as fuel so at my 6 mile point, I had one. I hadn’t brought water as usually I need either gels OR water and I’ve completed 20+ mile runs successfully in the past without needing to lug a waterbottle around.

As I rounded a bend in the lane, an interesting sign caught my eye; ‘Ford’. Nope, not an advert for the new Focus but a chance to run through the lanes while splashing through some shallow water. Nice to have a bit of a change.I followed the lane as it got narrower and narrower and promptly got a shouty welcome from an ankle height brown and white blur. “Don’t worry, he just wants to play”. The dog was enthusiastic but not menacing – I would challenge anyone to find a King Charles spaniel menacing – and he danced around me barking and wanting to play.

However, my attention diverted from the dog by the torrent of water rushing past me. Um ... where’s the ford? This is obviously more suitable for people in kayaks wanting a white water adventure. Apparently THIS was the ford. “Don’t worry”, said the dog’s owner encouragingly, “It’s only knee height.” Oh good. That’s ok then. So much for my idea of a nice trot through an inch of water. 

I regretfully declined to entertain the dog walker by attempting to cross the Warwickshire version of the Niagra Falls (may be a slight, very small exaggeration here) and retraced my steps.

As I ran down the lanes towards Church Newnham. a shape in the distance resolved itself as an ancient tower. It looked like the remains of a church surrounded by farm buildings and geese. Apparently it is the remains of an old monastery although the tower, a crypt and several fish ponds are all that remain.  

As I passed the tower, I saw a footpath sign. Now I’m a sucker for a nice footpath. Lanes are fine but you’ve always got to keep an eye out for cars and the occasional murderous tractor driver. And I KNOW where the lanes go. I looked at the sign. Then I looked at the path. Looked nice. Path was clear and grassy and it was clear. Didn’t seem as though it would be overgrown or difficult to follow. Lovely. I passed through the gate and trotted down the grassy track enjoying the change from the lanes. I followed the path for about a mile ... when it stopped at a gateway. I looked around, I was at the junction of three fields, none of which showed any signs of having a footpath cross them. No signs, no trail showing where previous walkers had passed. Hmmm ... 

I had a wander. Read: run around in circles. Nothing. Not even Labrador behaviour had helped. I checked the map on the phone. Nothing. Go ahead or turn back? The options. A ploughed field with muddy lumps. A field of corn. A field where the previous crop had been cut with the dying stems sticking out of the ground like skeletal arms.

I took the cut field. I reasoned that the farmer wouldn’t want me running through a field of corn or a ploughed field. Plus this was roughly the direction of the lane. However, it was hard going over this surface. The stems dragged at my shoes tripping me up and the ground was rough and uneven making it unpleasant to run on.

I came up to a wood running along one side of the field, dark and dense. As I passed, something large moved within it. I kept one eye on it and could hear the movement but the trees were too thick for me to see. As I passed the side, a figure emerged from the trees a blank face and lumpy body. I jumped, but it was a scarecrow left in an odd position at the edge of the trees, still and unmoving. Straw poking from his ragged clothing and his uneven head lolling. The trees creaked in the woods, something moved behind the scarecrow and crows broke from the trees cawing. I sped up. Significantly.

Despite the stems catching at my shoes and the uneven ground, I managed a fair speed. It’s amazing how quick you can move when you have a scarecrow and pathetic fallacy following you on a run.

I spotted a gate at the other side of the field, sprinted for it and hurdled it.

I landed on the grass of the verge ... on the lane on which I’d spotted the footpath sign. About 500 metres from the tower. Maybe not one of my better detours. I looked back. The figure of the scarecrow was scarcely visible from the road although the crows still flapped and circled the copse.

I decide that I’d probably avoid the next few ‘shortcuts’ I saw and I followed the lane until it ended at a T-junction. I was now on a busy road although a pavement ran along the far side. I diced with death, lorries and mad-eyed Fiesta drivers crossing the road, but as is law with this sort of thing, the pavement disappeared after 50 metres, so it was hop-on-bank, hop-off-bank for the next 2 miles avoiding the cars. I consoled myself with the thought that this surely had to be good training for something. Maybe I’d be amazing at step class next time I tried it rather than the uncoordinated, falling-off-the-step mess I usually am. Just give me the incentive of cars whizzing past at 60mph and it’s amazing how much better I get. 

After a couple of miles of hopping and running, I was done. I was exhausted and my feet hurt. The thought of running another 10 miles or so did not appeal in the slightest so when I saw a sign for a pub, I decided that a nice drink would perk me up. Much as a nice cloudy cider at a country pub appealed, I decided it probably wasn’t the best idea and settled for a pint of Cola and a pint of water. I sat outside in the sunshine and did nothing. It was lovely. I didn’t have to run away from scarecrows, avoid cars or try not to fall in the canal. I could just SIT.

However, there was no avoiding it – I still had to run home. I picked myself up and headed for the lanes. I really wasn’t feeling the running love at this point and wished I’d stayed at the pub for a cloudy cider. Long runs are usually my favourite, but today I’d had enough.

I dragged, jogged and grumbled through another couple of miles and then thought, “sod it” and called for a lift home. Sometimes you just have a day when enough is enough.  

I’d only run 15.52 miles but my body was telling me I’d had enough. I’d wanted to run the full 20 today, but I reassured myself that only 3 weeks previously I’d completed a few miles at the Thunder Run. Plus I was due a shit run. Better to get it out of the way today, than on race day.

Didn’t stop me sulking though.


  1. Proper belly-laughed at 'extra points for shit hats'. Never a truer word said! You just weren't destined to do 20 that day, sorry you had a crap run. But it made for a great read....every cloud :-)

    1. Thank you! :) I tend to be fairly tolerant but grumpy hikers who take up all the path? Huff. Although I have a horrible feeling that when I get too old to run I may take up shit hats and thick socks too ... Eeek!

  2. Aww, sorry about your run, though the pub stop certainly seemed like a good idea. If I were feeling like you were, I definitely would have gone for the ciderrr.... You tried Aspall's cider yet?

    1. Yes!! Finally found some when I went back to Dorset last time!! Was delish! Had something called Apples & Pears too - yummy!! I was completely teetotal at the start of this year but cider has brought me back to the dark side!!