It is purely coincidence that it’s New Years Eve when I happen to post this, but there’ll surely be more than a few people who drink a little too much tonight, and the lyrics of Chumbawumba’s ‘Tubthumping‘ will be more apt than ever;
“I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
He drinks a Whiskey drink, he drinks a Vodka drink
He drinks a Lager drink, he drinks a Cider drink”
With the lyrics hard to get out of my head, I was amazed to recently discover that Chumbawumba’s guitarist Boff Whalley, was not an alcoholic. Far from it. He is a mountain runner, who seeks solace in the wild, normally running on his own to reconnect with nature. More still, he’s written a book about it, ‘Run Wild‘ (link).
If you are to make a New Years resolution, I encourage you to make it to read Boff’s book and also ‘Running Free‘ by Richard Askwith (link). The common theme is two runners who struggle with the hype, commercialism, and disconnection with the wild, of big races such as city road marathons and also of running in general.
After my personal experiences of 2016, these books struck a strong chord, and I’ve been seeking my own way to run off grid, and to re-engage with the amazing wild landscapes, to enable them once more to nurture, challenge, inspire, and cleanse my soul. It took a while of introspection to figure out the root cause, but I came to realise that I had burnt out my motivation with a personal overfamiliarity of some routes, as well has a growing dislike of the commerce-wilderness disconnect of major races.
Over the Autumn, we’ve been incredibly fortunate with good weather in the Lake District, and on each run I’ve set myself a new goal. It’s a very simple concept, of ensuring that on every run I visit a new map grid square, that I’ve never been in before.
I know I’ve previously made arrogant claims to know the Lakes like the back of my hand, and I retract that statement completely now. The national park is 2,362 km2, which provides quite a tick list. The last few months have been invigorating and eye opening, as each run has taken me further from the trails I know so well, to show me aspects of the fells that I’d never discovered before.
These runs have taken me to some amazing places, in familiar mountains, yet on unknown slopes and often non-existant trails. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been nothing too dramatic about the places I’ve run (except a couple of places I wouldn’t revisit!), but the delight has been to have the mountainsides to myself.
I’m not inventing a new Wainwright style challenge of visiting every grid square of the Lake District. That wouldn’t help any OCD tendencies in the slightest, but running off the grid has been an amazing tool to plan new runs and to discover new places.
I hope this inspires a few of you to try running off grid, but you don’t have to run alone. It’s no coincidence that the first and last photo in this post features my most frequent training partner, my dog Maximus. On more sociable days, I’ve run with humans too, and you can’t help but feed from their enthusiasm of discovering stunning landscapes, and earning the views through a haze of endorphins.
Each of us has a relationship with running, and mine has been strengthened and revalidated by the nature that I run in. Like any relationship, it requires nurturing, and my only embarrassment is that it took so long to open my eyes to the fact that I’d been running blind through the very mountains that give me so much.
Running off grid is something I’m looking forward to trying in the Alps of the Mont Blanc region this Summer, to discover new places, and to learn more about another area that I thought I knew so well. It’s been a revelation to be humbled so much by looking for some squares on a map, and once again, the lyrics of ‘Tubthumping‘ ring true once more;
“I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down”
Best wishes for 2017. Happy running!