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Archive for January, 2013

Barriers that have to be overcome

Barriers 1 Barriers 2

I CAN’T imagine many of us spring out of the door with a light heart every time we go for a run. For me at least, there is too often that little voice inside my head telling me I don’t absolutely have to go and there’s no harm in being lazy just this once. I shout back – and go.

Naturally, we question our sanity when home seems a more sensible option as the rain lashes down or it’s minus 5 degrees. But get out there we must, and thoughts of the comfortable sofa or the toasty duvet are consigned to the bin, along with our own misgivings.

Once out, as we know, it is rarely as bad as we might have expected. The rewards are great, not least the rosy (sweaty?) glow of achievement, and they are always ours for the taking.

Sometimes, though, they may be harder to come by. I thought of this the other day when, having made the superhuman effort to get work out of the way, change into my kit and propel myself out of the house, I found one of my favourite routes blocked off by a bossy sign. My instinct was, I’m afraid, to check no one was looking and just run round it. Then I thought how silly, not to say hurt, I would feel if I got squashed under a falling tree, so I turned away and took another path.

The last time I’d headed along this alternative route was in October, when I ended up ankle-deep in mud, but I thought I’d give it another try. Big mistake. There are several cattle grids along the track and, after negotiating two, mincing my way round the edges while clinging on to the side-posts, I found the third one was overflowing with floodwater.

This was a run that was fated from the start, I thought, as I splashed and squelched my way back home in shoes that really hadn’t deserved to be so severely dunked. I will return there once the water table has gone down and the weather starts behaving again.

It goes like that, sometimes, so that ‘just going out for a run’ turns into a mini-adventure. Yes, there may be barriers, but in my experience they’re all there to be overcome, one way or another.

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THE perfect start to 2013 for me was a seven-mile run in the most delightful conditions. It was one of those all-too rare dry, sparkling, winter mornings with a little chill in the air but not uncomfortably cold.

My run started at Sturminster Newton and took me along the superb North Dorset Trailway – the former railway line restored for public use by volunteers – heading east to Stourpaine. The sun was in my eyes all the way, but I didn’t care. It was such a joy to see it after so many weeks of rain, the results of which can be seen in some of the photos that I took on my iPhone when I could be bothered to stop.

The gate at the start with the Trailway beyond, looking so enticing.

The gate at the start with the Trailway beyond, looking so enticing.

The western edge of ancient Hambledon Hill comes into view.

The western edge of ancient Hambledon Hill comes into view.

It’s unusual to see such flat terrain in this part of the world.

It’s unusual to see such flat terrain in this part of the world.

The puddles weren’t bad here but they became muddy shoe-soakers further along.

The puddles weren’t bad here but they became muddy shoe-soakers further along.

The dormice are lucky to live in Dorset, but to have a whole People’s Trust protecting them as well surely means they are doubly blessed.

The dormice are lucky to live in Dorset, but to have a whole People’s Trust protecting them as well surely means they are doubly blessed.

Flooded meadows with the majestic Hambledon Hill beyond.

Flooded meadows with the majestic Hambledon Hill beyond.

My run took me along the old platform of Shillingstone Station, which is being superbly restored by volunteers.

My run took me along the old platform of Shillingstone Station, which is being superbly restored by volunteers.

Who’d be an allotment holder when the plot floods?

Who’d be an allotment holder when the plot floods?

This shower of old man’s beard against the blue sky was so lovely it stopped me in my tracks.

This shower of old man’s beard against the blue sky was so lovely it stopped me in my tracks.

A bare-branched avenue makes a majestic final stretch near Stourpaine.

A bare-branched avenue makes a majestic final stretch near Stourpaine.

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Stunning countryside, but as our house is the one at the far end of this long, steep track, it makes going out for a run very difficult.

Stunning countryside, but as our house is the one at the far end of this long, steep track, it makes going out for a run very difficult.

The nearest beach, where the running is easy.

The nearest beach, where the running is easy.

LIVING in a small Westcountry market town, with the countryside lapping so tantalisingly at its edges, means, as I explained in my last blog, that I am spoilt for choice when it comes to good running territory.

However, the same cannot be said for Italy, where the house we live in for parts of the year is so remotely situated that it makes the word rustic seem like a description of central Milan. We are so far out in the sticks, at the furthest end of a monster hill of ankle-breaking rubble and pure hostility, that popping out for anything more than a slow stroll around the vineyard or a siesta on the terrace is out of the question.

The result is that when I can rouse myself enough out of my torpor, I first have to pour my hot, sun-drenched body out of next-to-nothing and into something more suited to running and then drive either to the village (3 minutes) or the coast (22 minutes).

A village-based run has its drawbacks because of the unwelcome interest shown in me by dozens of dogs, some roaming on the road, some chained to stakes outside houses, and others loose in gardens where they throw themselves at the fences in a frenzy of longing to eat me alive. They range in size from something you’d wear in your lapel to vast off-white hunting dogs the size of a grizzly bear, with the attitude and appetite to match.

Add to that ever-present discomfort the disconcerting habit that rural Italians have of staring – really staring, without flinching and with no trace of embarrassment – and you will understand that these village runs aren’t top of my pops. I get so strung up and nervy, fearful of being attacked and left bleeding to death or, at the very least, deafened by the cacophonous barking, that I willingly drive the extra distance and go to the beach.

Here I am transformed from a solo act in a freak show to something close to normality as I join scores of other runners pounding out their daily quota in the relative cool of the evening. I have at my disposal about 10km of flat sand, which, depending on how close I run to the turquoise sea of the Adriatic, can be splashy underfoot, or very dry, soft and energy-sapping, or, in the middle, just yielding enough to make a perfect running surface.

You can guess which I choose.

Whenever I run on an Italian beach – and my experience so far extends to three different ones: two of golden sand, one of white – I feel overwhelmingly privileged. It’s not just the fact of being able to run at all, but doing so in such a magical and beautiful location.

I can run and run until the vast, blood-red sun drops over the horizon like a dinner-plate falling from a table, and then round off a perfect day with the best reward I could wish for: a few glasses of vino rosso and the world’s best pizza. As I said, overwhelmingly privileged.

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