It was a very rude awakening at half past four this morning. A sharp elbow in the back from a wife who, it turned out, was in the middle of a pretty funny dream. Her dog agility and show jumping had all got very muddled up, she had a saddle on the Jack Russell and couldn’t get over the jumps on a horse so small .
Two choices when you’ve woken up at that time of morning, lay in bed and try to get back to sleep, or get up and get going. One will leave you feeling tired and miserable for the rest of the day. The other will see you ready for bed a little earlier than normal when the evening rolls around.
“It must take a lot of motivation to get up and go running at that time of morning” said one of the lads in work.
“Not at all…” I replied “...if anything, it’s the easier thing to do.”
Our hill is not the biggest in the world by any means, but it is high enough that when the cloud drops low, it comes down more or less to the level of our roof top. I emerged out into the world and found myself beneath a lid of such low cloud. Ahead of me nothing but grey, which curiously in the blackness of night is still most definitely grey. Looking down the driveway and the slope of the hill I could see the lights of the houses, and the half a moon which had peered through the grey was lighting the fields well, and all was looking rather fine, sparkling with the wetness of a rain shower just cleared.
I don’t often get out running in the early mornings. I wake with a stiffness in my Achilles tendons that takes so long to work loose, I simply haven’t time. Now there’s the added impingement imposed by other injuries too. I set off walking, slightly cold and with no clear idea of which way I wanted to come back up the hill.
A mile or so later as I started to gently run, my mind was with those people who manage to run speedy sessions in a morning. I tilt my hat to their abilities, to the strength their bodies must possess in order to be able to do that, and I wonder if it hadn’t been for the crashes I was in when I was younger, whether I ever would have been able to be one of them?
I’ve set the auto lap on the Garmin to beep at me every mile. I’ll have a rough idea of the time this way. When all is said and done, I cannot be late for work. As the end of the first mile approaches (I know this, I have run this way many times) my temperature has risen more than I can bear. I ditch my top layer and tie it round my waist.
The gaps between the beeps feel long. Thoughts drift toward marathons, and I find myself suddenly and unexpectedly looking forward to the long winter of training ahead. Stumbling around in the dark like this will be great marathon training . No choice in the dark but to go slowly, which is great, for that right there is where that solid base of aerobic fitness will be built .
IBS is something I have learnt to control. It is another reason I don’t run often in the early morning. Coffee is a severe irritant, but I have learned to use this to my advantage. Cup of coffee; wait 15 – 20 minutes; do what needs to be done; go running. Safe in the knowledge that I will be untroubled by the dreaded “runner’s trots”. Only when I have broken from this routine have I had problems. This early, I have strayed from what I know works best. I was trying to be kind and not wake everybody up. It is less than 3 miles before the cramps start to kick in.
Cockerels crowing on the edge of the village set my mind off thinking about artificial light. These poor birds haven’t a chance of knowing when the dawn is really here, I bet they’re up calling out all night. The poor neighbours too. What a life !
Bwlch-y-Groes remains most troubling of all my thoughts about Snowdonia. I have picked a route which once again will take me up the biggest available climb on our hill. As the gradient increases, so too does the pain my lower abdomen now feels. Muscles that should be holding my posture true are now working hard to try to get a grip of the inner body’s smooth muscle, over which I have no voluntary control. My mind is occupied with thoughts of Snowdonia, of Snowdon itself, of fell running, of how best to train next year and the difference between hills and mountains.
The angle shallows, and the pain increases again, then it steepens, and up goes the pain another notch. It is not a pain I can escape. It is like someone cranking the handles on a cider press, my intestines are the apple, and about to burst. I so want to stop, to dive into a field and let go, but I don’t, this is pain training… brain training even. I might not remember the specific pain on Bwlch-y-Groes, but I will remember, whatever the pain, I can handle it. For now, I dare not even fart! A simple relief that all of us runners occasionally enjoy, whether we admit to it or not . I drag myself upwards, for an easy run its getting really, really hard. The steeper parts of the hill crank harder and harder on the handles of that cider press, the apple is squashed out of shape and the skin is oozing! The hill does not beat me.
As I emerge from the cover of the trees, the same trees where once I clattered into an owl, I hear the dogs at the farm. They’ve not bitten me yet, but I know they would, I have seen how they work at herding the cows, they are nippers, the pair of them. I silence my breathing and run as stealthily as I can. I figure if the only noise I make is my shoes on the road, they might not recognise me as human and possibly leave me alone. It works, they remain in the yard and I slip by unnoticed. Up one final little slope, and it is here that I claim my reward , it is here that it all becomes so very much worthwhile .
All of a sudden my world is the filling in a most extraordinary and delectable sandwich. The cloud has risen, and the subtle blues of the dawn’s first light now occupy the space where it once was, the moonlight is giving whiteness to the layer of cloud, and below me, all that I can see is shrouded beneath a blanket of pure white cotton wool. All that I can see stretches from the valley of the river Alyn, across Cheshire to Beeston Castle and the sandstone ridge, right across the Wirral, and all the way across Liverpool and over to Lancashire’s grand hills. Hundreds of square miles of white.
Three patches of orange glow eerily amidst the fog. There are villages below but from up here it doesn’t look like that. From here, I have a close up view of an image taken from space. From here, it is an extravagant special effect from a Hollywood blockbuster themed around alien invasion. From here, it is utterly captivating and fills my head and heart and soul with joy .
This is why I’m happy people ! This is what I love about running ! Remember, if it hadn’t been for running I’d have stayed in bed, I’d have not properly got back to sleep and I’d have been as tired and grumpy as everybody else ! Were it not for running, I never would have seen this, and this moment simply would not be. Realbuzzers will understand this. Non-runners will find it a little more difficult to comprehend.
My gaze is really taken with these haunting patches of orange. I pick up the detail in the scene, and I can even see the way the air is moving around these places. Strange little eddy currents let some of the orange light out, it escapes upwards, but wisps of mist reclaim it, so above the sea of white grow orange mushrooms, standing proud like a morning’s fungi rising from the grasses of a neatly trimmed lawn. It is a magical scene.
I’d heard the “battery low” warning on the Garmin a couple of times, and when it did its final beep, its dying swan, I stopped running, started walking, and I appreciated what a beautiful world it really is in which we live. We’re just too blind, or perhaps it is simply too busy, to see it sometimes.
Stats for the run?
Come on, really? If anyone is thinking about stats right now, then I’m afraid you’re really missing the point. I haven’t even bothered re-charging my watch.
I arrived back home with a big smile on my face, Mrs B was up and about, and without any hint of sarcasm or whit, I made sure to thank her for the 04:30 elbow .
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