With the price of everything on the up, and the planet burning, freezing, and falling over, I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of travelling I do for my running.
I have everything I need within foot-powered travelling distance of my bed. And sure, there aren’t exactly mountains in my back garden but I do have a treadmill that I can crank the incline on. Beyond that, my commute for work offers me an opportunity to run in different locations without the need to pile extra miles onto my carbon footprint/wallet.
And yet – and yet – who doesn’t like to find a new spot? I love to browse All Trails looking for new routes, especially in Winter when finding something dry enough to still be runnable can be a bit of a challenge. When I stumble across a route which looks exciting I cross-reference with Strava to see how well travelled the route is, and if there are branching paths off it, if there are ways to extend, to shorten, to loop. Then I plan my gear, stock my car with nutrition, and set off on my way. The drive there and back is part of it. Sometimes these trails start in random, unmarked parking spots. I would never have parked where I did on my last little adventure were it not for the fact I was on the lookout for a spot hopefully dotted with a few dog walkers’ cars, and even then, it wasn’t an easy find. It was all part of the journey.
And what a spot it was. Despite travelling south, the Pegsdon and Deacon Hills were like a little slice of the Peak District, shifted down the A1. Now, this wasn’t an epic, sweeping run, but it was extremely charming. I doubled back on myself many times to get my 13 miles in, but within those loops were many branching, internal paths to choose from, and plenty of inclines too. There were muddy sections, hard packed paths, and excellent wide green grass downs miraculously well drained after a spell of hideous weather. The terrain was the main draw, not being too dissimilar to what I am going to experience at EL Sussex, but I was profoundly shocked by the sheer beauty of this relatively tiny spot. Since listening to Bill Bryon’s Notes from a Small Island I am constantly reminded of how spot on he is in his appreciation for how Britain is jam packed with tinsy explosions of gorgeous countryside between densely packed urban, industrial, sprawl.
It began with a climb. A steep one. I ran about 400m and stopped and turned around for an immediate view of the surrounding villages. Pegsdon, Hexton, Apsley End, Higham Gobion (???). Bryson would have a field day with those names. I then descended into a rolling green valley, and bounced back up into another, steeper climb which carried me past a herd of sheep, so coloured as to not be black or white or grey, but as if they had once had been rolling about in charcoal. Quickly I descended again, into a muddier wooded section. Here it became clear to me how many options I had ahead of me. I was aware of a 3-4 mile loop which would take me around the edge of the hills, and it was this route that I successfully wound myself around to begin with.
The first diversion that I took up was to drop in on the superbly named Knocking Hoe, a scruffy chalk grassland grazed by sheep and impressively untamed for human leisure. I ran around the perimeter, on what seemed to be a single track trail but ended in something more akin to sheep track. A Red Kite wheeled and whirled in the wind above me, surprisingly close and unbothered by my intrusion upon its hunting. This is a bird I’m familiar with as it makes a home of my home county, but I remained impressed.
As I got back on path I encountered some of Storm Eunice’s debris, small trees dashed to the earth, covering the trail in trunk and branch. I dodged about them, and ran back to the grassy chalk downland upon which Deacon Hill sits. I lapped the lower field a few times, enjoying the gentle rise and fall of the well drained perimeter trail, and then I headed up, hands on knees, to the top of Deacon Hill via a Strava segment wonderfully named Pegatron.
It was all so excellent I returned last week, with a tighter focus on hitting the inclines. Mostly the point was to practise running with a pack on, which if you’re wondering is exactly the same as running normally, but with a pack on. In all seriousness it did take some adapting to.
The first time I wore a pack at Coombe Hill near Wendover I hated it. I hated the bouncing, slushing, ungainliness of it all. But my pack wasn’t tight enough, and I was also massively over-reacting. I’ve not dialled it in perfectly, although my Harrier Running pack is super I am getting some rubbing on one side of my neck. It doesn’t hurt really, but it is leaving a mark and is something to troubleshoot.
Though, there isn’t much time left for that.
Endurance Life Sussex is 3 days away as I hit publish on this piece.
In this last block I’ve hit plenty of nice spots, most of them surprisingly close to home, or work. In fact, I’ve not travelled over an hour for any of my training, and in February I managed 14,744 ft of vertical gain. Which doesn’t exactly make me Kilian Jornet, but isn’t bad for a boy from the fens and is something I definitely hope to build on in the coming months for trail races later in the year.
For now though, the training is finished. I’m looking forward to the race, of course, but I’m already hungry to start the next block, to hit new highs, and to find the next nice spot.