Let the squelching begin
The rain was driving down, obscuring hills buried now in cloud. And it was getting dark. Surely we weren’t going to head out in that?
People kept looking out of the window. The rain was driving down, obscuring the hills that were now buried in the cloud. And it was getting dark. Surely we weren’t going to head out in that?
A few people decided against it. I could understand that. We’d all done a long run already that day. We’d showered, eaten, and had settled in to our comfortable holiday cottage. The heating had just come on for the evening. Tea and biscuits were plentiful. But the schedule said: “6pm, night run.” I’d written the schedule. What had I been thinking?
It was the latest iteration of The Way of the Runner Dartmoor retreats, and we had Damian Hall with us, a man famous for running across huge swaths of the British countryside in all weathers. He didn’t seem too perturbed by the squalling rain outside. Nor did Colin, a former Royal Marine, and our guide for the night run. I tried to look as equally reassuring as the guests wondered aloud if this was really a good idea.
“You’ll love it,” I said. It sounded like a joke. Like I was being ironic. Like I meant: “It will be horrible, but for some reason we’re still doing it.”
Outside, it didn’t feel quite as wild as it had from inside the cottage. We did a quick headcount, and Colin made some joke about trying not to disappear up to our necks in a peat bog. And then off we trotted, a line of brightly coloured rain jackets and head torches.
I’d been leading the runs all weekend up until that point, but for this one I got to run at the back. It was a relief to follow for a change, rather than worrying too much about where we were going, or checking to see that everyone was keeping up. Instead I just followed the lights, squelching along through the swampy grass, occasionally through ankle-deep streams that probably weren’t there most days. The more established streams had swelled to become mini racing rivers, and Colin would straddle the water powerfully to help people across. A few went down, knees, shoulders splashing into the water. But underneath it was mostly tufts of grass and mud that didn’t hurt us. Being wet no longer mattered. We were all soaked already.
I chatted along with the other back-markers until we came to the front group huddled around Colin, who was squinting at the map. We didn’t seem to be following anything resembling a defined path, but were rather doing it “proper fell running style” as Colin would probably put it, straight lining it across the marshy moorland, occasionally following a barely-there sheep trod when we could find one.
“It’s hard to navigate in this weather,” said Colin, before setting off in what I hoped - and probably he hoped - was vaguely the right direction.
It was wild, and to anyone who might have happened by, if anyone could see us from a cottage or car somewhere, it probably looked a little insane. “There’s people out there on the moor! On a night like this! Running!” I remembered the first time I ever ran on the moor at night. I couldn’t believe people did that. Running in the dark, on Dartmoor! (It definitely justified the overuse of exclamation marks.) And that was on a clear, moonlit night. This was next level madness.
Still, Colin has the air of a man you can trust in. A man who will bring you home safely. And sure enough, after about 50 minutes of zig-zagging and splashing and feeling the elements blasting through our bones, we were back at the house. As we took off our shoes, you could feel the buzz, the exhilaration emanating from everyone. The red faces, the excited chatter, and the knowledge that a hot shower and a homemade curry was waiting for us, was a toxic mix. It felt good to be alive! And for the millionth time, I recalled that mantra: the only runs you regret are the ones you don’t do. Even if it’s blowing a hooley outside the window. In fact, even more so if it’s blowing a hooley outside the window.
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