Over recent months I’ve been finding myself more and more inspired to do more trail and off-road running and thanks to Instagram I have access to endless beautiful pictures to fuel the obsession. Most of my running happens on suburban roads or on the cycle network through the park but I’ve been trying to see if I can find some nice routes from home rather than having to drive to get there. Last month I used the Garmin connect hive mind (from the data logged by other GPS watch users) to find a lovely loop to the north of Abingdon which had some great views. This time I decided to see what lies to the south and whether or not I could get to Wittenham Clumps (local nature reserve) which feels like a long way but is about five miles away. Used Google maps to get a route and added in a cycle path I’m already familiar with, that follows the river out of town to a local village, before going across to the Clumps giving me a roughly 15 mile round trip.
The first three miles were easy and beautiful, town (Abingdon), river, cycle path, village, then I had to pull out the phone and figure out which way to go, one brief wrong turn then back on the right track. Started heading out of the village onto paths alongside fields, opening out onto an end of a road looking bleak and abandoned, stony underfoot, rusty looking tanker thing and a view of Didcot Power Station. Oh well. Keep going.
Sounds of traffic and activity emerge and I turned a corner to find myself at a waste recycling place with huge trucks thundering past in both directions. Drivers no doubt bemused by the site of a runner as I’m guessing no-one ever runs that way. Tried not make eye contact and not get run over while also trying to look like I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going. Start checking the phone, apparently I was on the directed route until I got past the buildings and further out along the road, suddenly I’m lost and not going the way Google is telling me to. I think the path I needed was blocked by roadworks and, having considered scrambling through the hedges, didn’t look passable. So, ignoring Google, I followed the road the trucks were on in the hope that it would get me out to a main road I might recognise. It did. The arse end of Didcot. Not pretty, but familiar from when I lived there years ago. Hope returned, maybe this was just a detour and I would still get where I wanted to go. Followed the road around to the B road the map suggested. Then, dead end. Well, sort of. It was one of those B roads that lots of cars drive very fast on and there’s barely a grass verge let alone a footpath. Thought about seeing if there was a way through the adjacent fields but by this point was too deflated to keep going that way. I’d forgotten to take any money with me otherwise at this point I would have seriously considered stopping and found a bus to take me back to Abingdon (my monkey brain did wonder whether I could fake an injury and hope a kindly bus driver would take pity on me but was overruled!). At least by this point I knew where I was and how to get home but also getting fatigued, hungry and dehydrated (so glad I thought to take two water bottles for once and, that long run staple fuel, jelly babies!).
As I started running back I realised the road I was on was one I used to run on way, way back when I first started running and was training for my first 10k, in Lincoln, which was before the days of social media bragging so I can’t even really remember when it was (2006, I had to look it up). Even with the hundreds of miles I’ve run since then and being roughly three stone lighter (although, over 12 years older) it seemed as though it was just as difficult as it used to. Kept plodding on home, past the uninspiring office job I did while doing Personal Trainer qualifications, past the post-A Levels warehouse temp job I did pre-weight gain and pre-starting smoking. During this stage of the run walk breaks were being dictated more by refueling needs rather than map checking. Happily after all that my thoughts were focused more on the positive side of having run so far out, with all that to cover again (as opposed my default setting of multiple loops that could be cut short at any point), which was that I would hit my target distance as long as I could keep going and could get there quicker by keeping running.
The last three miles were the hardest, as they often will be, but today unusually uplifting. The river winding in to where it gets closest to Abingdon, lots of anglers along the opposite bank, the Anchor pub and overflowing flowerpots along the wharf in front, St Helen’s church were very welcome sights. Even more welcome was the water fountain in Abbey Meadows for me to refill my flask and start to rehydrate during the walk home from there. Contemplating. Although I didn’t manage to find what I was looking for with this run, a nice route and the satisfaction of getting to where I wanted to go, there were bright blue skies, warm sunshine, refreshing breezes, and it was interesting. And I’ve learned that I need to work a bit harder at route planning in future. If I manage that I will let you know!