Running Up That Hill
Have I seen Stranger Things? No. Am I going to ride on the coattails of a dying trend for a few precious clicks? You betcha. If you hadn't guessed already, this one's about running, folks.
Running has unexpectedly become a core pillar in my routine. There's nowhere particularly interesting to run near where I live, but I can be in the countryside in fifteen minutes or so if I catch the right train.
Yesterday's run was always going to be a long one. When I want to de-stress, I go faster over a shorter distance like a 5K. Switching off mentally only really comes for me when I push the distance up to double figures, or throw in some navigation and trails to keep things interesting.
Lyme Park sits to the south of Disley, Cheshire, in the western peninsula of the Peak District. My route took me south along the Middlewood Way, counter-clockwise by the southern edge of Drinkwater Meadow, across Higher Moor, and down into Disley.
I don't often stray past the ten-kilometre mark on runs, especially not on mixed terrain, as I don't have faith that my fitness (or knees) will survive the journey. In reality, a fair bit of that can be attributed to a long-standing mental block: I still find myself at times denying that I'm a runner, because I don't feel like one. I've told people for years that cycling is my sport of choice, because it is. Or, at least, it was.
About a year ago, after another prolonged bout of shin splints, my approach to running changed quite significantly. I had been pushing too hard whilst running the same half a dozen 5K loops, listening to the same playlists on repeat, all whilst not maintaining any sort of consistency in my regime. Running had become an errand, and the little love I had for the discipline had waned.
So, I stopped. And started. And stopped again. Rinse and repeat.
This has been the case for years - I get invested in running for a few weeks, completely overdo it, then dump my running shoes back in the cupboard when the injuries start to kick in.
Earlier this year, I started running again with the goal of just finishing a 5K once a week. No PBs, no speedy splits, no long distances. It was binary: either run, or don't. I stopped running with music and started moving at a pace my body was comfortable with. Sometimes I'd stop and take a photo along the way, caring little for the precious seconds I'd lose in the process.
I've managed to maintain this consistency throughout the last six months or so, save for when I initially moved to Manchester in June. One run a week, usually a 5K, at whatever speed has felt right. This also served a secondary purpose in that it allowed me to explore the local area more rapidly than if I had opted to walk instead.
Combining this more recently with bi-weekly cardio sessions at the gym started to produce some tangible improvements in performance, including several incremental 5K PBs in the last six weeks. Whilst these have been nice, they've been more of a predictable side effect.
For the first time in several years, running has become a constant, positive fixture in my life, acting as a mixture of Type I and Type II fun (depending on the conditions). I knew that, even on the worst days, if I could find the willpower to don a pair of running trainers, I could completely turn a slow morning on its head. Any strong performances that popped up along the way were an added bonus.
Back to Lyme Park. The winding farm track into the estate from the Middlewood Way served as an early reminder that my city-slicker naivety still reigns supreme when plotting adventurous routes. Progress up the inclines was low, to say the least.
The question of whether I considered myself a runner rattled around in my head as I shimmied over stiles and scrambled across the hillside. One could argue that, to paraphrase Descartes, curro ergo sum cursor: I run, therefore I am a runner; the definition of a runner in its purest sense.
I suppose that the real question is whether you want to be a runner. Does calling yourself a runner have a positive personal impact? Great. Not a fan of labelling yourself as such? Then jog on. Or don't. That's the beauty of it, isn't it.
I'm probably a runner. I did my fair
share of walking towards the latter stages of the ascents yesterday, and I took a couple of breaks along the way too. I didn't even clock a particularly fast time, in part because of the undulating terrain, but the experience of covering that distance in that setting was rewarding enough for me. I was content with completion, regardless of the stats.
I felt pretty good whilst doing it, too. I've gotten into the habit of wearing my cap backwards when running (questionable, I know - sorry Mum), and it was my first chance to test out a new hydration vest I'd invested in. Looking the part and pretending that you know what you're doing that can do wonders to your self-confidence.
On I went. I came across a middle-aged couple with a dog or a group of ramblers atop most of the modest summits. A chorus of "hello"s and "how do you do"s rang out between myself and the ambulating party on every occasion. One thing I will say about moving up North is that strangers tend to be more willing to express kindness voluntarily towards others, something which I am trying not to take for granted.
My route took me in and out of small patches of woodland, which served as respite from the unexpectedly warm conditions. My internal compass was completely skewed from the halfway point onward, meaning I was relying heavily on my smartwatch to lead me northwards towards my end point.
The house on the estate was my 10K marker. Celebrations were muted: a cereal bar was consumed as I took the odd photo before moving on.
In the final few kilometres, my route passed The Cage, a formidable former hunting lodge constructed several hundred years ago and rebuilt in the centuries since. Not that this mattered to me at the time - it was a cool, spiky building in the middle of the countryside, and that was enough for another quick pic.
The last stretch was almost all downhill other than a gruelling kick on approach to the station. No train for an hour, meaning a cup of tea and a brownie at a delightful bus cafe was the only option.
I miss cycling, there's no denying that, and I hope to be back out on the roads soon. In the meantime, though, running is doing a great job of providing a much-needed endorphin rush on a weekly basis. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm actually a runner in denial. Jury's still out on that one.