At this time of year, as the changing of the clocks marks the final step…
I run to feel, I run to explore, I run to challenge my body and my mind, I run to be me, to relax and to contemplate.
I started as a mountain biker, then I became a climber and an alpinist and now I’m a runner.
I love the free and easy movement that it gives me right from my door. I don’t have to fix punctures or sort my climbing rack any more and I don’t have to commute to the venue of my sport. I can get a quick run from my door, off road on my familiar local trails, or I can road run; I can pound out a few miles slowly and thoughtfully or breathlessly at race pace or, if I want to make myself sick with exertion, some hill or sprint intervals.
I can also travel to run or race in so many amazing places around the UK or the rest of the world. Each location boasts different terrain and challenges, from short steep summit pushes to multi-day national trails; every trip has its rewards and actually everywhere is good, just different.
Over the years Jen and I have run in lots of different areas and we thought we knew Britain quite well. When we decided to write Wild Running and we started researching routes we realised how many places we had never been to. We found some amazing places and had some great runs in places that we would never have otherwise been to. Below are my three favourite routes from our book…
Fountains fell in the Yorkshire Dales:
We’d been down the dry valleys to Malham and although we had about 6 miles of walking and carrying our daughter in our legs the scenery and the sight of climbers on the impossibly steep walls of the cove had excited me. The clouds were approaching the tops behind our little campsite and beckoning me to get out for a quick run. Shoes and shorts on, map in hand, I legged it off and turning left away from the field centre I joined the Pennine Way heading north, uphill. As I climbed the hard packed, well-maintained track the easy terrain allowed my mind to wonder and I imagined what it must have been like for the fell runners competing the whole route; they would be over 100 miles in now but still wouldn’t be half way. I marvelled at the feat of endurance and sped up. As I reached the top of Fountains Fell I entered the cloud, the low visibility and the approaching dark added to the sense of exploration, I was loving this run! Following the barely visible fence posts I ran hopping through bogs and over the clumpy grass along the ridge. The fence line made navigation easy so I could concentrate on each foot fall. Turning left at the third wall I began to descend towards the valley. The fell was perfect, steep enough to make my eyes water as I flew across the foot grabbing terrain, relying on my speed to allow me to float over any holes that would turn my ankle at a lower speed. All too soon I reached the lane and turning right I jogged back to the campsite, grinning.
Race the Train was the first race that Jen and I did together and we stopped at Cadair the following day – in fact it was the first mountain we ran together. We ran from the south car park along the short track and then straight into the steep stepped ascent to the hanging valley and the little sparkling llyn. We boulder hopped along the narrow track that skirts the llyn and I distinctly remember Jen catching her shin on a rock and the bright red blood mixing with the splashed mud on her leg. We roped up alpine style and climbed Whale Back Buttress and then scrambled up the steep cwm to pop out on the main path a few hundred metres below the summit. A dash from there to the top to say “thanks” to the mountain at the trig point and a mouthful of food and drink in the shelter and we were off again. Following vague paths down the shallow peaty, rock-strewn shoulder to the stile. Here the path starts to drop faster and the rocks get bigger; running demands all our concentration and we clatter down the hill together but separately until the mountain allows us to look up and run and talk again. We cross the stream on the clapper bridge and re-join the stepped outward path to return to the car. I always wonder who lives in the little cottage at the bottom of the steps, maybe one day we will…
View and download our Cadair Idris route for free. Our route scales the mountain from the north side rather than the south as described above.
Penzance to Land’s End
I think that the coast path is the most consistent place for exciting and good quality running in this country. The surface, although sometimes stepped, narrow and boulder-strewn tends to be well maintained and, although I have managed to go the wrong way occasionally, the navigation should be easy; keep the sea on the left (or right). The running is less season- or weather-dependent than a lot of inland and mountain running and it is always spectacular.
The Penzance to Land’s End section of the 630-mile South west coast path is one of my all-time favourite runs. It’s challenging running due to the steep ascents and descents, the rocky paths and the beautiful sea on the left that constantly draws the eye away from the path and dares you to gaze until you trip. It takes you through pretty villages and around beautiful coves, past the incredible granite Minack Theatre and along the top of the climbing at Chair ladder. The moment when you first spot the buildings at Land’s End is always special; it’s still several miles away but the running from here opens up and the springy moorland grass is a delight.
It would be great to hear about any of your favourite runs whether they appear in the book or not – we welcome and would love to publish guest blogs. So if you fancy writing a few words about where the run is and why it’s amazing we would love to read them.