11 October 2008

Back on the road again

It's pathetic, I know, but the weather has put me off running for weeks now. I have been busy, true, and injuries have played their part too, but today with no injuries, no pressing work to do, and a beautiful sunny early autumn day, I just had to get out and run.

I haven't played much with my Garmin Forerunner 405 since I splashed out on it, so there was another incentive to get out and run: and I needed to get in some hours of contact lens wearing, otherwise I fear I will reach a point at which I realise I am never going to take to them. (Perhaps that will be the outcome, but I don't want it to arise by default.)

Out of the village across the old railway line, but instead of turning right towards Richardson's farm I headed off across the field ahead of me, following the tractor tracks that mark the footpath - there is nothing on the skyline to aim for. The field had been recently cut, so it was easy going - no doubt I'll soon found it ploughed, and probably also wet: it turns into a particularly adhesive sort of mud that adds a couple of pounds weight to each foot in just a few paces.

Over the apology for a stile at the top, and I turned left along the headrow - hard to find the best bit of it to run on, because width of hard-packed earth between the cultivated part and the overgrown margin came and went and I was forced to run mostly on the tilled earth. But that only lasted a hundred yards or so, then I wan into the next field and turning to head southeast to the Alden Farm road, where I executed a sharp left-and-right and headed off down the side of another field.

This path intersects with a wide green track that heads directly south, joining a concrete road without changing direction - the worst sort of surface to run on, but the verges don't offer an alternative. Before I got to that point, though, I encountered a family of four walking three black labradors, one of which bounded up to me with such enthusiasm that it head-butted me in the lower stomach and scratched my leg. As I ran past the owners, the leading pair of whom (the parents) offered not a word to me that I heard, I said "Sorry might be appropriate", and I think one of the children obliged - but I was not impressed. I have run many, many times with a boisterous dog (sadly, no longer as boisterous as he was and definitely not inclined towards extreme exercise any longer), and I certainly approve of walking (or running) with dogs: but he's never made hard physical contact with any of the myriad people he has briefly befriended while out running, and if he had I would have been very careful thereafter, and kept him on a lead (not quite impossible while running) or perhaps confined him to quarters.

From there, the concrete road went by quite quickly - I must have been thinking of something else. Instead of turning left at the old railway line, the habitual route for a long run, I crossed the remains of the bridge and set off along unexplored tracks, amazed that after 15 years or more of running in this area there could still be some left to start on.

I had planned to pick up the ridgeway where it climbs alongside the racehorse gallops and give myself a thorough workout up that long, long hill, but eventually the route I had taken (being taken in the opposite direction by a rather attractive lady, although my contact lens experiment may have led to me gaining a false impression) deposited me on the Ridgeway on the small section of concrete road above East Ilsley. A couple of serious-looking walkers were heading up from Ilsley at that moment, and a woman was walking two dogs from the Compton direction. I stoped to rest briefly, then jogged on to the drinking water tap a little further on for some refreshment. Pausing there, I had a brief conversation about the view with the two walkers - she insisted that Didcot Power Station could be beautiful: "Have you seen it at dawn?" she asked me, and I replied that I'd seen it at just about every possible time of day. I do wish the lie of the land was just slightly different so as to obscure it, but compared with the impact on the view of the Harwell International Business Centre a mile further on it is almost de minimis.

I stopped, as I have often done, at the memorial to George Frederick Grosvenor, 2nd Lieutenant in the Lifeguards, killed at the age of 19 on 9 April 1947 in an armoured car accident, and wonder what he was doing in an armoured car on the Ridgeway - although then the A34 would have run closer to the site of teh memorial, which only says he died near the spot. I always find myself trying to imagine the conditions at that time: was it warm or cold, foggy or clear, day or night? And how many other young men, not members of one of England's great families, must go unremarked?

I failed to restart my Garmin after the end of that break, so my sprint up the climb from the A34 underpass, intended to explore my maximum heartrate, was wasted and I jogged gently to the car park at Bury Down: but once over the road there the running really began to flow, and I reached the turn-off back to Chilton nearly effortlessly. Some intervals between the telegraph posts on the final part of the descent, and a sprint to the summit of the footbridge - my favourite part of the run, which I attack on the tips of my toes, showing off to the car drivers passing below who probably notice nothing anyway - before a gentle jog home. A great run, a slow time, too many pauses for breath or just a rest, but a life-affirming exercise to show that the irregularity of my running recently has had no permanent effect.

If you're interested, you should be able to see the record from my Garmin here.

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