The Rise and Fall of Trail Running

2016-01-13, , Comments

During the Christmas break I went on a long, slow run from home, through Stembridge to Llanmadoc, heading back via Burry. The weather was unseasonably mild. After several days of rain, the going was heavy. Cresting Llanmadoc hill, 4 miles in, after a steep, slippery climb, the view opened out: far ahead, Black Mountain and the Brecon Beacons, the salt marsh to my left, its maze of waterways reflecting the pale light; then Whitford Sands, the green smudge of pine trees, the cast-iron lighthouse pinned against the Loughor estuary. The glow that comes with exercising outside spread through my body. Not long ago I had been picking my way through the marshy lowland and now I was up here. I had earned my view of this landscape. Covered in mud, I was part of it.

Stormy Castle

Ahead of me stood an isolated building, plate glass windows, granite walls, rusting iron, concrete. My route skirted the perimeter joining the track which provided vehicle access. Stormy Castle, the nameplate read, gold on slate. Separate from the main building was what looked like a shed. Originally for livestock maybe? This too had grey stone walls; inset in the north wall was a floor-to-ceiling window. Looking in, I saw, placed in front of the window, a treadmill. Whoever inhabits Stormy Castle enjoys a gym with a view.

Madness, I thought. Why run on the spot in this fish tank when you could be outside? Don’t peer at the view, engage with it!

Abbots Pool, Bristol, Lake, Pond,

The next week, back at work again in Bristol, I went on my regular long run, the Abbots Pool Loop. St Mary Redcliffe’s bell rang seven times as I passed through Queen Square. Usually I’d hook up with one or more running friends here. Today, on a cloudy morning, 80 minutes before sunrise, I was on my own. I had no head torch. I ran through Millenium Square and along the harbour, negotiating steps and bridges to cross the harbour and river at Cumberland Basin. Soon I would be out of the city. My feet slipped as I left the access road to Ashton Court, the point where trail began. Road shoes which had been ideal for the pavements so far were now a liability. To my right I could just see the dark silhouettes of the red deer herd at rest. I could smell their damp, musky smell. At the northern boundary of the estate I crossed Beggars Bush Lane to continue along the farm track opposite.

Uneven ground, downhill, too fast, a cross-slope. My left foot slid underneath me and I instantly knew I could not recover, and that the stony ground was going to hurt when I struck it. In those few airborne milliseconds I also had time to reflect this was a bad place for this to happen: on my own, without a phone, about as far from civilisation as you can get by running 40 minutes from the city centre. I fell forwards full length, somehow turning in the air to take the impact on my left elbow and the back of my shoulder. The mud which precipitated my fall also mitigated its effects. I slid rather than scraped. Head and face untouched. Wrists and hands OK. Legs fine. Elbow hurting and bloody, but that was the worst of it. I’d been lucky.

No, I’m not going to run on a treadmill, not even when it’s dark and muddy. Especially not when it’s dark and muddy. I’ve tried head torches and they spoil my night vision. Have you run past Abbots Pool at dawn? Have you splashed through puddles on the towpath as the sun rises to colour in the Avon Gorge? You should. But I should be more careful.


Thanks to Heather Cowper for the photo of Abbots Pool, as seen in daylight, on a dry day.