Most hot blooded men (and women) are quite happy to devour a good fry up, especially first thing in the morning. It sets you up for the day; after a good dose of egg, bacon and a selection of other fried delights, you are ready for anything. So they say.
It is now 06:30, I’ve had my fry up, and my cereals, and my toast and jam, and I’ve packed myself up with all the nutrients, goodies and drinks I should need to run a steady thirty mile loop around the forest. Very loosely, the middle section of the Dukeries 40 route, so lots of forest tracks and quiet country roads. The weather is due to be bright and warm (25 degrees), with light winds and no rain. I dress accordingly, fill up water bottles and reservoir (total 2.5 litres), and head off to Clumber Park.
This is one of my regular routes, and I was running before 07:30. A beautiful morning, the forest was quiet, just the distant hum of the A614; lorries and commuters battling it out for space and superiority, and the prize of being first in the queue to get into Nottingham. I felt thankful to be retired, and out of that race. I no longer care about the size of my car, my tax band or my position. I live a relatively modest existence, waste very little, and try to achieve my own ambitions, which at the moment centre around running.
Running, running, running. Very little else really, and that is how I have always been. I had 25 years of cycling, cycling cycling. Then 12 years of horses, horses, horses. And now, running.
OCD is not necessarily a huge problem, it is my drive to do the things I want to do. There are downsides of course. Did I lock the door? I did not say the words “It is locked” as I locked it, so I may not have locked it. Even though I know I locked it, I did not authenticate the action with the magic words. I don’t have the password to freedom; those few words that must be spoken before I may go about my day. I have to go back to check. Of course, it is locked, but I now have the feeling of safety, the confirmation and reassurance that all is well. So I have learned even more deeply to doubt myself, because it is only through checking that I can get the high of self assurance. I now know, without any doubt. I am safe. I can move on. Because I went back and checked. Sometimes, I have to check twice, which makes me doubly sure….
But the upside of OCD is the relentless, almost ruthless quest for the grail, the all consuming deployment of time and energy in pursuit of the desired outcome. It is not a physical entity that I seek, rather a state of being, where I arrive at the destination knowing I have finally met and overcome the challenges of the journey. As a young man, I needed to become a “good bike rider”. Twenty five years later, I was satisfied, and retired from bike racing on the spot (nothing to do with my 40th birthday!)
With the horses, I never did become a “good rider”, though Wendy and I had some happy and some exciting times, and were able to fund the hobby by producing trained youngsters for the leisure market over twelve years or so. I was considered to be a “brave” rider, which in reality means that I would take on horses, jumps and rides beyond my ability, with the inevitable consequences. I did not see falling off horses as failure, it was merely a (sometimes) painful part of riding. The exceptions to this were falls I had when blood hounding. This wonderful sport is similar to fox hunting, but we chase a runner instead, who is licked to death when the hounds catch him. At these points in the day, as well as at the beginning of the meet, we would have quantities of port or sherry, or anything similar. Alcohol, a wonderful anaesthetic. I rarely felt pain on a Sunday afternoon, after being deposited on a muddy field by a naughty horse.
I don’t have twenty five years to become a “good runner”, so my obsession has to be more acute, more focussed. Each day, I am fighting the effects of advancing age. That’s no problem when you are thirty, but it is when you are sixty odd. Or maybe, sixty and odd? I feel the need to be a “super vet” as we used to call the seventy and eighty year old cyclists, who were achieving near miracles week in week out in races up and down the country.
My early start caught the ducks enjoying bath time. Preparing themselves for the day ahead, they scarcely gave me a second look as I approached, phone in hand.
It felt quite strange, trotting steadily along the tracks that only a couple of weeks earlier had been the Dukeries race route. It was nice to relax, to ignore the watch, to stop for photos whenever I saw a view that I wanted to capture. The miles skipped by, and although warm, it was still the early part of the day. Much of the run is shaded by the trees, leading me to misjudge just how warm it was becoming. I had plenty of water and electrolyte drinks, but I wasn’t drinking much.
There is more evidence of forest management today, and I had seen some of this work being done over the winter. An area that had been colonised by rhododendrons was being cleared, with much of the beautiful flowering creeper destroyed. I was puzzled at the time. Today, I saw the reason. The rhododendrons had been reduced to a few small samples, but the rest of the area was now opened up, and scattered with a wide variety of seedlings and shrubs. Rhododendrons once dominated Clumber Park and some of the forest. They are still abundant, but work like this is making the place better for other plants, the animals and us.
At fifteen miles I was beginning to flag. I had done some long runs this week, including two days in the Yorkshire Dales. It was hot, and getting hotter. I steadied my pace, and ate fruitcake. The large solar farm at Hazel Gap did not help things, I was trying to think shade and cool, all I could see was sun and solar.
The lakes in Welbeck twinkled in the sunshine but alas, they did nothing to cool me. Norton, a lovely little village offered me no chance of an ice cream and so I jogged on, walk some jog some, admire the scenery.
Strangely, I was not touching the near two litres of drink I was still carrying. I was fixed on the idea that I needed to save this for “later”. But my need was imminent, and I could not see this.
Through Norton, along a now overgrown footpath – what a couple of days’ rain does to the countryside, this path was clear just two or three weeks earlier – and into Welbeck. More welcome shade from the sun, and around eighteen miles covered, slowly.
Just before leaving Welbeck, you see the Lady Margaret Hall and tennis courts on the right hand side of the road. My Dad took his dance band here regularly in the fifties and sixties, when songs had words that grown ups could understand, and musicians played music on musical instruments, not computers. His band, The Carlton Players, looked immaculate in dicky bows and black suits. There are just three members of the band left now Dad, Johnny the drummer and Barry, the pianist. All still friends from the 1950s.
Across the Worksop road, and into Holbeck. The road rises only slightly, but after twenty miles in the heat it became a walk. And then a stop. To admire and photograph the very impressive, well kept church and grounds.
Along a footpath, across a couple of fields, up a rise, then drop into ancient Cresswell Crags. This is where our ancestors would camp in the caves twice a year to hunt reindeer as the herds squeezed through the gorge on their migration north and south. Easy targets, but rather them than me, armed just with sticks and stones.
The visitor centre is excellent, and even more excellent is the cafe. A pot of tea, glasses of water, an ice lolly and a good helping of air conditioning , together with twenty minutes in a seat worked wonders. I left the place a much happier cave man.
And back across the Worksop road, into Welbeck once again, climbing through the woods back towards Clumber. As I walked and jogged I tried to work out why I had struggled so much today, on what is quite a regular run for me. The heat was stifling, and I had spent many hours running over the last week, but I could get no further than that. These thoughts were circling in my head, but I could not draw a conclusion, I could find no answer. I was otherwise content, admiring the views, snapping what I thought would be worthwhile photos, and generally enjoying the day.
On one of the slopes, I finished off the fruit cake and had a small drink. I then reached for more food, and was amazed at what had happened to the lovely bright yellow banana I had loaded into my pocket this morning. It seems bananas, running and heat do not mix well;
A couple of miles later and I was in Clumber Park again, enjoying the shade on Limetree Avenue, and what an avenue it is. It goes on forever when you are tired, but even then you cannot help but to be impressed by this spectacle. Over the years that I lived nearby, I sometimes seemed to take the park and the forest for granted. But then we moved, and it was only when I returned to the area some years later that I began to fully appreciate the beauty of the place.
The end of Limetree Avenue marked the end of my run. Just a short walk up the slope and to Apley Head gate house and then rest.
So why did I fade? I could not find the (obvious) answer until some time after the run. And then I laughed at myself. When I arrived at Cresswell Crags, I had done twenty two miles on a hot day, after a hard week. I had drunk no more than 600ml of water. Blindingly obvious now, but at the time I did not realise that I had become dehydrated. After the stop, I drank freely, knowing there were only eight miles left to cover. But before the stop, I had been worried about running out of drink, and had limited myself to small sips. Basic, novice mistake, but another lesson learned; if you don’t want to fry in the forest on a hot day, drink lots. I took plenty of water to get me around the whole route, but I failed to use it. I saved it instead, and suffered the consequences.