Skinny. Awkward. Shy. That is what I see when I look back at those early photos of my fell-running days. But there is also a streak of determination in those eyes – an inner strength building that would be invaluable for years to come.
I was 11 years old and about to run my first fell race near Elterwater in Great Langdale. Something about the challenge, being on the go, and exploring the wild got me hooked and throughout my teenage years I’d run all through the week and race every weekend. From rain clouds to hot bracken trails, from steep and rocky climbs to long and muddy descents, from bounding through rivers to ploughing through snow, they were years well spent. Running up and down Bowfell and Scafell, some of the biggest peaks in the Lake District, soon became a normal way to spend a weekend throughout my school years.
Things changed once I started at Newcastle University. I stood alone at the end of freshers week to watch the Great North Run steadily pass on by, and was moved by the sheer volume of people running all together. I vowed I would do it next year and the year after it turned out too. My thoughts quickly skipped to a marathon and I chose Windermere, close to home but seriously hilly. On the first occasion I was only just recovered from a bout of tonsillitis but still managed to jog across the line. On the second occasion I limped back onto the train to Newcastle the day before my final exams were due to start – always impatient to finish and conquer whatever I set out to do.
My running escapades as a child had also got me into all things Mountain and I would go on to trek through the Alps, the Andes and the Himalayas. Travel, tour guide jobs and working in ski resorts made my running outings a bit more sporadic. I eventually settled in Madrid for a short time and would spend the cool mornings or twilight dusks jogging along the vast boulevards, through the old squares or around the bustling city parks. The Madrid marathon tiredly snaked its way through the hot city one May morning. Passing the Royal Palace and the Gran Via, I ran alongside and chatted to an old man from Austria who had run 50 marathons across the world in his life, with the dates and locations all printed on the back of his vest. “I want to be like him” I thought. At that moment it seemed to be all about the participation in a big event, the experience, and the personal challenge.
With the start of my first real office job at the age of 26, running half marathons around the south of England turned out to be a great way to let off some steam after a busy week behind a desk. I broke my half-marathon PB in Bath. Also beating my brothers…by 30 seconds! A bit of friendly sibling rivalry had turned out to be the best motivation for me, as I sprinted down the home straight with my eyes half on the digits of my watch. I also ran the Southampton half marathon 2 years in a row with one of my best friends from university. Apparently I had inspired her to run and, carrying a slight injury, I ran most of it with her, the shared experience and camaraderie turning out to be the highlight of the day.
Now at 29 years old, I find myself back home in the Lake District. Unsure about my next step, running is one of the few constant forces in my life – The wild weather, the thick and crunchy snow beneath my feet, the cold air against my face, and the empty trails that still, 18 years on… ignite inside of me that feeling of exploration and adventure. Running will always be my connection with Home and where I most truly feel myself.