I never thought that I would enjoy running as much as I do. I never really thought that I see my love of riding wane. But both of those things seem to have happened.
Right now, I don’t have a “Next Challenge”. The Iditarod Trail Invitational in February (story to appear in the next Sidetracked Magazine) and the Yukon 1000 in July were fantastic, but costly. Having recently moving house (and had the standard shafting from the bank), I’m pretty cleaned out financially. So there is no next adventure (yet).
It was always “easy” to train for bike adventures because I loved riding. Sometimes it was difficult to get out of the door and onto the bike. Sometimes it sucked to put on my wet shoes, or hose down my clothes in the dark and the rain. But I always knew that, not long into the ride, the outright fun of riding bikes would make it all better. Now, though, the faff and the expense seem to outweigh the outright fun.
It’s not time to sell all the bikes and sack it all off, but it is time to do what seems like the most fun. Pursue the kind of drives that made mountain biking so much fun in the first place: getting outdoors, pushing yourself, having those shared secret moments of boundless enjoyment in your own little world.
So paddling (canoe and sea kayak, mainly), climbing, and running seem pretty legit. All activities that I have been unable to commit to in the past, due to riding. Now’s the time to see what they can offer when I give them the time and effort to reap their rewards.
Which is why I ended up setting out on Trentishoe Down this morning to run a section of the Southwest Coast Path. Regular running with the dog had got me the fitness, now it was time to go on a more adventurous trip. (Note: Anuk is awesome, see here. But he has a cut on his paw, so he’s off running for a few days)
In the car, moments before setting out, I felt the nervousness and uncertainty that had accompanied early mountain bike rides. Could I really make this run? What if things went wrong? It seems cold out. One use for my experience of other adventures is that I know which of these thoughts to listen to: at that moment, none of them needed to be listened to.
The wind was blowing hard, chilling me before I had had chance to warm up. The rolling green hills of the approach to the coastal path were lost on me. I was keen to be moving, and be warm. I wanted to start ticking off distance so that this would feel more real. Almost immediately, I was sliding around in the mud. Aforementioned financial reasons (and knowing nearby bits of the path to be gravelly rather than muddy) meant that I was running in my regular road shoes. I trotted. If I were riding a bike the way I was running, I’d be that guy with both brakes on hard. Limbs all tense. Probably dragging a skid the whole way down the descent. As the trail flattened and did turn more to gravel, I could appreciate the cliffs laid out ahead of me. It was a special place and it was mine. This was simple, it was flow and smell and sound and being. The morning sun was still too low to reach much of the path, but when I turned up Heddon’s Mouth Cleave, it lit the mist and bracken with gold.
SW Coast Path, Heddon’s Mouth Cleave A photo posted by Aidan Harding (@aidan.harding) on
Coming down steep steps and across some scree, I thought back to the runner I had seen on Ben Nevis years back. I did not resemble them, but maybe one day I could. The low-down woods and the babble of the river were a different, quieter world. They were warm and inviting. Some easy going on the flat to stretch out my stride again.
Climbing out was remarkably like climbing on a singlespeed. No way to make it easier, just tap it out like the top is 100 miles away. Hard, but sustained effort. Sun tipping onto a few outcrops and Wales sitting in the far distance.
This was cool. This would actually be fun to ride. But on a bike, the drop to Woody Bay would be over in a flash. On foot, I try to read a mosaic of leaf, rock and root. It was fine, fleet, going.
Coming out at the water’s edge, I felt good. But I had just been going downhill for nearly a mile.
Reassured that I was going to finish my planned route, I headed back up the hill. More light was coming over the cliffs now, and I could feel the presence of the climb back up Heddon’s Mouth Cleave looming ahead of me. Strava has it a > 40% gradient and that doesn’t seem too far wrong.
A photo posted by Aidan Harding (@aidan.harding) on
As the trail kicked up for the final time, I had nothing left to kick back with. I was walking briskly, but still moving. Wondering if my legs would come back to life when the trail gave me a chance. The dilemma of running clothing meant that I would be pretty cold if they didn’t. Of course they did, and the final miles were just a job of closing out.
I don’t think this run will go down as an epic adventure. But, it was a chance to taste uncertainty. It was another beautiful bit of Devon. And maybe this is where more adventures may lie. Cheap, local, directly connected with the ground.