01 January 2010

In the New Year

New Years often start in a manner that you hope will continue - weatherwise as well as in other respects. Of course, for many people they begin with a hangover, but I now find that the contemplation of serious drinking is enough to give me the hangover symptoms. I can feel ill just reading, for example, a Rebus or Wallendar novel. Incredible - looking back, with the advantage of perfect hindsight - to think that I might have enjoyed drinking when I could have enjoyed a much more satisfying and stimulating sensation by taking a long run.

So after an abstemious NYE I was up bright and early on NYD and ready for the Amblers' NYR (New Year Run). 6 or 10 miles? Do you have to ask?

The route, roughly described to the assembled 30 or 40 runners, took us from the car park at Wittenham Clumps (grid reference SU 567 923) round the nearest hill, with spectacular views across the Thames Valley, then down to the riverside and downstream to Shillingford Bridge. Cold, it certainly was - little mud except in sheltered paces where the frost hadn't penetrated - but shorts were quite enough for me - others protected their legs against the elements, but perhaps they lacked the covering of hair that somone pointed out on mine. I soon lost touch with the group with whom I'd have been running a couple of years ago, but when Phil - who must have started late - passed me I took a tow from him and caught Trish and Julia, so at least I had company for the morning - and someone to keep me on the right track, perhaps. I hope they were happy to have me along - far too polite anyway to tell me to leave them in peace.

Up the hill from the Shillingford Bridge Hotel, where we encountered many people to whom we could wish a Happy New Year: the vague instructions had said turn left before you get to Wallingford - I had no wish to go that far, but in the event it turned out that it was necessary to enter the outskirts of the town before we found the graveyard where we had been directed to turn. A path took us back to the riverside, and at that point - as we turned for home - I realised two things. First, that I had forgotten to press the start button on my Garmin (I did so immediately) and second that I had left the car key in the driver's door lock without turning it (although if you leave the key in the lock it hardly matters whether you turned it or not, does it?). So I phoned Hilary, who was due to come to the post-run pub lunch taking in a visit to her mother first, and asked her to divert via the car park and collect the key, assuming it was still there. I am pleased to say I managed the phone call without reducing my pace.

Then it was over the river again at the lock (the route from when I pressed "start" is here), through Preston Corwmarsh and Benson marina to Shillingford again, marveling at some of the extensive riverside properties that one never usually sees. There are alleyways between some of these palaces, and along one of these came a group of about 20 people preceded by a labrador carrying a stick in its mouth - coincidentally about as long as the path was wide. When one of my companions described it as a hurdle, I thought about trying to treat it as one but when I reached the obstacle could only lift one foot, which still made contact with the stick and probably jarred the unfortunate dog's head - but its owners could have given a little more thought to oncoming traffic.

Then it was along the road to Dorchester. I was flagging a little by now, and by the Dyke Hills I stopped to call Hilary again - in sight of her mother's house, where she was by then - to learn that she'd recovered the car key and taken it into safe custody. All very well, but my wallet and change of clothes were in the car, and the option of a half-mile detour to collect the key from her didn't appeal by this stage.

Heading for Day's Lock to recross the Thames, one stretch of narrow path - hemmed in by hedges - had more walkers on it than you could shake a stick at if you happened, like the labrador, to have one. The ladies were fifty or so yards ahead of me now, and by the time I had negotiated the bottleneck they had almost reached the bridge aat the lock. With the end within reach (but for one small consideration which I will come to in a moment) I upped my pace across the meadow, up and over the bridge, and then found a group of walkers spread across the full width of the pathway and paying no attention to people coming the other way. It always astounds me that people can be so wrapped up in their own world, or perhaps just so aware of their own importance, superiority even - that they fail to show an iota of consideration for anyone else: but it's a fact of the modern world. I just went for what gaps there were, trusting that either they would widen as I approached or that they would offer the least resistance should I have to barge through - whcih was basically what I did. No cheery "Happy New Year" for them.

There's a climb from there to the church, opposite which the path heads back to the car park. Julia and Trish were at the gate. "The long way or the short way, Peter?" they asked. I opted for the short - which means straight up the hill rather than round its shoulder. Last year I'd felt pretty good trotting up it, but I think I'd done the shorter route that time - today I struggled up, with the sun in my eyes, in three stages with a good deal of walking in between. My leg muscles had withdrawn co-operation and it had become apparent that I had burnt up the bowl of porridge that I'd had for breakfast. That hill has a lot in common with the side of a house ...

Over the brow I had a chance to indulge in a downhill rush, reaching the car park close behind my two companions for most of the distance. Strangely, my heartrate doesn't seem to have become particularly elevated over the last stretch, up or down, but I finished up with a great sense of well-being and anticipation for some great running in the next few months.

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