I lied.

Posted on: 27 Dec 2018

I didn’t mean to lie. I wasn’t even conscious of the fact that I was doing it at the time. I certainly didn’t do it with any intent.

I stepped out today for what genuinely felt like my first fell race since I smashed up my knee on Whernside’s protruding limestone rocks back in 2016.

Time warps the memory. Time makes you forget. Time re-orders things sometimes in line with feelings rather than fact. It felt like my first proper fell race since that injury today. Now I’ve looked back on the facts, I’m really not sure why?

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so long on the flat? Maybe it’s because I’ve done so little running at all of late? Maybe it’s the intent I’ve mapped out for the year, actually setting myself a target, which I’ve not done in a while? Maybe the expanding waistline which has taken me much further from that target than I really ought to be is something to do with it?

Whatever the reason, I’ve done Cadair in 2017, I’ve done the Snowdon Race, I first tested that knee in the Jubilee Plunge off Moel Famau at the start of 2017. Now I think about it, I know how gingerly I approached that descent that day. I’ve done Dinas Bran, I did the Druid, and how on earth did I not click that when I competed in those British Fell and Relay Championships in-between the 2 marathons in October, I was doing that on dodgy knee as-well?

I think the answer just came to me. I think it’s all about association.

I remember the pain from my ankle, I’d done it tripping on a pallet in work just before that Chester marathon needed to be run. I remember the drama when Bindu turned up at the salsa class I was doing with Clair, or rather not doing, because I was sitting it out, protecting the ankle by not dancing on it, so I wouldn’t let Clair down on that run. I remember how painful it was after a couple of miles in that fell relay run. I remember the ankle pain in Snowdonia. I remember vividly on the last descent in those relays standing on a ledge above a drop into mud that can’t have been more than about 18 inches high, and thinking that I dare not make that drop because my ankle was so utterly shot to pieces by that point.

I’d forgotten about my knee.

I didn’t mean to lie to you Molly. Thought I’d better set the record straight.

Maybe even that’s not it though. Perhaps the deeper truth is that what a fell race represents to me is a bit of an adventure, and fell relay’s aside, there was no real adventure in any of those runs, because all of them are runs I’d done before. A fell race gives you something new. It gives you a hill you’ve not been up before. It gives you routes you’ve never seen before on hills you run on all the time. Even if you’re running on tracks you know, a fell race will give you new experiences of them.

To the Stiperstones then – a big old lump of Shropshire quartzite standing proud above the land.

Or if you look at it another way, a gorgeous country pub where you pay your registration fee before you run off up the hill.

I like both these things. Adventure has come back to me, or back to my running at the very least.

Were it not for Molly I’d have never known about this run. I wonder how many of us truly understand the subtle ways in which we inspire and influence other people? I wonder how many of us take the trouble to actually thank those who have inspired us to take a certain path? I wonder how often we actually get that chance? I wonder if she understands how much I meant it when I thanked her for getting me out there, because without her telling me of its existence I would never have known about this race.

3 quid. 3 quid for an entry fee, and still I get people asking me what it is I like about the fells? I think there is literally only parkrun that offers the same value for money as this. Fill your form out, pay your money, put on a wristband with your number on it, and that’s registration done. Really liked that system. So much more appealing than flapping numbers and pierced nipples from accidents with safety pins. Even for a kinky one, accidental stabbing with pins before a race is a bit too much to bear.

The atmosphere around the pub was fantastic. It means something to the locals this race, and they’ve turned out in their droves. There must be twice as many people as I’ve seen at the regular fell races of north east Wales. There’s a great turn out for the run itself, and scores of spectators too.

So the race gets underway. This is our Boxing Day hunt. No foxes need to die, no horses need to be spooked or worse, injured, by perhaps well meaning but sometimes misguided saboteurs. I do my thing of starting at the back. I’ll find my position in the race, and I’ll find myself a fox.

I’ve always felt like a bit of an imposter at fell races, but here it wasn’t like that. It was listed as the “Devil’s Chair Dash”, but everything in the pub pointed towards being a dasher or a dawdler, and both those things were fine. It made for a mix of competitors that included quite a few kids. Great to see the enthusiasm live and large amongst the youth.

Couldn’t really get going early on, my own fault for starting at the back, but the congestion eased as the hill steepened, and I overtook a few marching upwards as quickly as I could. There was mud, there was steep grass, there was running water. I needed fell shoes for this one. Yes!!! A proper fell race.

Having forgotten all about having done some other fell races on my dicky knee, I was a bit nervous about how it would react, and this steep upward stuff, where it forces you to walk, is exactly the sort of stuff that has hurt it over the last year and a half. Not that it’s been any less hurty coming down. Seems ok though, signs are good. Can feel that ankle a bit. Ruddy thing.

The slope eases off and though the cracked, fragmented quartzite path tracking through the heather is a little bit rough underfoot, I can run, and I’m enjoying it. Watching where I’m going, being careful not to end up cracking my knee again, concentrating on my footing where the Rob of old would have been making the most of the chance to drink in a nice view. Views for walking days, concentrate on footing while I run. It’s the way it’s going to have to be now. I’m not having another knee injury like that one.

Hand stamped up by the Devil’s Chair just to prove that you went up there, and then a very (for me) cautious descent back to the pub. I found my fox. And I was the fox. Descending used to be my strong point, but as steep grassy slope gave way to wet and stony track, I could hear my chaser coming up behind me. Harry, infront of me, probably about 10 or 12 years old, ran down that hill like a master. I relaxed and let gravity take me down the hill. My chaser faded away behind me.

But knowing how to relax downhill won’t let you overtake a child. Kids know how to run properly. They naturally run like Kenyans.

Sad that British coaches then train the Kenyan out of the most talented amongst them, then stick them into races and wonder why they can’t run like the Kenyans anymore?

Hang on to that inner child folks, it gives you far more than you realise. Harry stayed 10 yards infront of me as he had been all the way down the latter yards of that hill. It made me smile.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3248269854

It was a good morning. Molly came up the lane to meet me as I was winding my legs down after the run. First time we’d met, and the company was good, pleasant chat, really nice pint of amber, and that time in the pub really brought home the lovely family atmosphere that was a really special part of this run. I’d have loved to have stretched it out a bit longer and indulged in a nice pub lunch. It wasn’t to be today, but I’ll be back. It’s a lovely part of the world is this and filled with lovely people too.

There’s a hill I’ve looked at many a time driving between Oswestry and Shrewsbury, and I have looked across with longing eyes, thinking “I would love to run up there”. It looks almost like a giant elephant trying to hide itself in the trees. By strange and happy coincidence, turns out Molly is living right now at the foot of that very hill.

I’m coming back. Of course I’m coming back. Everything I loved about fell running when I discovered it, I re-discovered yesterday 😊.

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