Wow. All these posts in such a short space of time. Your head can’t take it, I know that. Just take a deep breath, adjust your genitals accordingly (if you are a man), wipe the dribble off your chin and relax as I impart yet more fascinating information regarding my family’s summer fortnight of intense fun and petty annoyances.
We left Lyme Regis a day earlier than planned. The weather showed no signs of improving, and we’d pretty much exhausted everything you can do with children when it’s raining after having taken them to the cinema. (If you’re ever near Lyme Regis, it’s worth checking the cinema out. It’s a recently restored art deco building with good seating and a lovely vibe. But it’s probably worth making sure you see something better than ‘Ice Age 4’, which was a bit like having a team of 20th Century Fox accountants force dogshit into my eyes and ears for an hour and a half.)
We had a couple of days at home before we left for the Lake District, which was useful as it gave us time to come to terms with the fact that we were in no way prepared for a week long camping holiday. It’s surprising the amount of stuff you need to take with you when you go camping. I say ‘surprising’, of course what I really mean is dispiriting, depressing and stressful. But we just about got our shit together in time, although my wife did choose to leave it until the EXACT point where we were locking the front door to tell me that she didn’t have any sensible footwear or a coat. I assured her that, this being the Lake District, it was highly unlikely that she’d want either of the above, what with the local climate being so dependably fine all year round and there being nowhere to go walking.
And so, we were off again. I pointed the car at the M6 and applied gentle but authoritative pressure to the accelerator and brakes (and clutch) as required. The 1.6 litre engine of my 2006 (56 plate) VW Golf Match purred beneath me (actually slightly in front of me but I wanted to make it sound like I was riding a massive German horse). Before we knew it, we had arrived at the M5/M6 interchange, named in 2010 as the worst traffic bottleneck in the UK. (I will now stop writing in the style of Alan Partridge.)
I love the M6. I love all motorways, actually. There’s nothing I find more relaxing than driving in heavy traffic with the constant threat of a massive fatal pileup hovering over me like a kestrel (assuming it is positioned in a suitable headwind for remaining stationary in mid-air). (Sorry.) I’m convinced that something weird happens to people when they get into cars. Someone ought to do a study on it. Driving on motorways in England is essentially a test of nerve and bravado. It’s a test I’m happy to say I’ve passed every time, but what about other, less mentally capable people such as Christians or fans of Ant and Dec?
Five hundred words in and we’re not even there yet. Better crack on.
We were staying at a National Trust camp site in the Langdale valley. We’d chosen it primarily because there are three pubs within easy walking distance. We’re not a family you are ever likely to see boiling pasta over one of those little gas stoves that campers use, so a variety of pubs serving different food and beer was essential. The fact that the site also happened to be in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever stayed in was great, but arguably not as great as the choice of about thirty different types of beer. The other thing about my family and camping is that we don’t really do proper camping. We’d elected to stay in a ‘pod’, essentially a wooden hut with a bit of carpet on the floor. It was well worth the extra few pounds it cost, mainly because it meant we didn’t have to put a sodding tent up when we arrived. We dumped our gear and went for a quick walk.
The Langdale valley is, as I’ve already said, incredibly beautiful. There are amazing walks in just about every direction up the hills, but even just pottering along the road in the bottom of the valley was lovely. I was looking forward to getting some running in, but also slightly unsure as to how much I’d be able to enjoy it. Because of the hills, you see. In case it was not already apparent, in terms of physical fitness I am more Tony Soprano than Tony Krupicka. There’s also the fact that I was undeniably ill prepared for proper trail running. I had no proper map, no compass, no knowledge of the area. I was going to have to rely on marked footpaths and my (fortunately quite decent) sense of direction. No problem.
My first run was a bit of a scouting trip. My plan was to follow the road at our end of the valley, see where it went and what I could find. It went up, and all I found was more road and sheep. After about half a mile of glorious flat, it suddenly cut straight up over the hills on one side, snaking up the 1:3 gradient like a massive black snake that’s shaped like a road. I later learned that as with many of the roads throughout the Lake District, this one was originally built by the Romans. Proof, if it were needed, that building roads for the Romans was a really shitty job. Anyway, I staggered to the top and looked down into the next valley. It was a stunning view, and the temptation to carry on down was strong. But down means inevitable up, plus I wanted to get off the road. I went back the way I’d come and set off on a path towards, well, somewhere else.
The weird thing about visiting somewhere like the Lake District is the realisation that for the people that live there all year round, the landscape and scenery probably isn’t some breathtaking vision to be savoured each morning. It’s just where they live and work. Which probably explains why, in the middle of running through one of the most stunning bits of land I’ve seen in a long time, I suddenly found myself going past a field filled with rubbish, knackered farm machinery and rotting caravans. It was incongruous and slightly depressing, and I was reminded of an old Depeche Mode lyric:[quote]People are people, so why should it be? You can’t seem to adequately dispose of your rubbish, preferring to just let it pile up everywhere and stink the place out, you filthy bastard.[/quote]
Anyway, I managed to find a good walk for us all on that run, so it wasn’t a waste of time. We spent the next couple of days up in the hills as a family, and I was surprised there weren’t more people about. I was extremely surprised not to see a single other person running in the whole time we were there. It’s true to say that some of the footpaths aren’t well suited for anything more than walking, with them being made up from fairly large stones and no doubt inviting a twisted ankle (or worse). But loads of it is just perfect. I know very little about fell running, but I know enough to know that it’s popular. Perhaps it’s not as popular as I thought, or perhaps there are other, better places to do it. I’ve no idea, but judging from some of the looks I received from people when I was out, runners are not a common sight in and around Langdale.
So we walked, and I ran. I ran in the rain, the kind of rain you only get in the Lakes. It’s not really rain, it’s more like someone has worked out how to suspend a huge body of water in the air which you are subsequently forced to move through. I got up on the hills, I huffed and puffed a bit (a lot), I got lost, I trod in a fantastic amount of sheep shit and I wished I was fitter. I really, really wished I was fitter. I appreciate it’s all relative. I suppose I’m fitter than I was for much of my 20s and early 30s. And I’m improving (sort of). But when I was up in the Lakes (and the week after we got home), the penny finally dropped. I’ve been saying to myself for ages that I need to start paying more attention to what I eat and drink. Again, it’s better than it used to be: more veg, less crap, not as much booze. However, there’s no avoiding the fact (unfortunately) that if I want to carry on getting better then I’m going to have to make more of an effort with my diet.
I like beer. Beer is great. I like food, too. Wine’s good. So naturally, if you’re on holiday then it follows that you’re likely to over indulge a bit. I did, and for the first time, I could really feel it. When we got back from the Lakes (following a joyous six hour drive), I went for a gentle run. I timed myself out of interest, and was pretty much devastated to find that I’d just run my second slowest time for that route ever. Pathetic. Things are better now, but I was struggling for a while.
So, is this it? Is this what I needed to get me to the next level? We’ll see. Quite a lot has happened since our summer holidays, of which more in the next post. But that’s it for now. The children are back at school, and my work hours have returned to normal. The weather is therefore beautiful and I am stuck indoors.