There aren’t many annual dates that I mark other than birthdays and hypocritical religious events. There are even fewer that I get out of bed for while it’s still dark. It might not surprise you to learn that the so-called Black Friday is not one if them. I can’t think of a domestic event other than a supermarket car park on a Sunday afternoon that demonstrates the worst kind of human behaviour than Black Friday. Black Friday – another imported Americanism where the good people of the world put their differences aside to queue together all night only to beat the life out of each other to get a TV that is being sold for the same price as it was six months previously.
No, I’m talking about observing the equinoxes. We have four of them and they are a way of marking the seasons (actually we have two equinoxes and two solstices, in summer and winter). There are all sorts of ways you can mark the passing (or coming) of a season, but I usually prefer to get up as early as I can for the time of year and go somewhere to experience the sunrise. It’s a cliché but it would be great to go to Stonehenge though that is becoming more and more festival-like each year. I’m lucky enough to live near a hill dotted with iron age forts, Roman earthworks and significant standing stones so I kind of have my own local mecca for ancient man-made wonders.
In the past I have camped out on hills, ran 24-hour endurance races, and sat out and got drunk. All sorts really. I have even tried some Paganesque rituals and things that I have just made up because I fancy doing something that feels symbolic. It’s not always a case of doing something that will impress five Instagram followers, or just the experience of being among nature, I do actually appreciate the earth and what nature does for us and to us as well. Nature is very important to me and I want it to bloody well know that I’m grateful, so if walking about on a hillside at 5am barefoot with a teatowel over my head conveys that message, then so be it. I don’t believe in a God or deity of any sort but I do envy those that do in some respects because when they need something, they have someone to ask, something to say or somewhere to go. Nature isn’t like that really although it is most definitely omnipresent. I hope that by doing these things, nature – whatever or whoever it is, is paying attention.
This morning, I headed up there to usher in autumn. It was a tad misty but magical all the same. I had a flask of coffee while the rising sun did its work and then I set off for an 8 mile trail run. Nature was out in full swing and I saw two hares which pleased me no end. I originally mistook one for a small stray dog, it was so large on the path ahead of me. I did all this and managed to get home in time to start work. It’s my quarterly thing to do and I love it. It’s another simple yet affirming way of staying happy and positive doing what I enjoy the most.
For the last ten years at least, I have been a morning person. Not the sort that leaps out of bed at 5am, vacuums the house and insists everyone else is up – I’m probably much more irritating than that. I am likely to get up at 5am to go for a long run instead.
I used to hate running in the morning. It was vile. It felt so different to running at the end of the day. My muscles felt awful and it felt like nothing in my body belonged to me at all. Fast-forward five years and running in the morning became a necessity – if I didn’t run in the morning, I didn’t run at all. Slowly my body adjusted and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s my morning jump start. Some people have coffee, I go for a run. A day without it feels weird like I’ve forgotten my trousers. This has never really happened, though I did walk to school in my slippers once.
As you’ll know from the last installment of my truly riveting blog, my life has changed a bit recently and I generally go for a run as and when everything allows it – day or night. To say my body is all over the shop would be an understatement. It’s definitely quantity over quality at the moment but it is what it is and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Recently I have found myself having to run in the evening and it is challenging on many fronts. The first is the morning-running-for-15-years effect. I’m so used to getting out early and spending the rest of the day seemingly relaxed knowing it was all out of the way, that getting motivated to go out is pretty difficult. Second is the hit-and-miss levels of energy and all-over-the-shop consistency. Third is the time that it takes out of my evening and pushes everything back so I have to eat later and then feel groggy the next day. All of this is easily beaten though by the overall feeling of accomplishment if I persevere and am rewarded by the rush of endorphins later upon completion.
As summer is now over and autumn has arrived, and the nights drawing in, it will gradually get interesting, shall we say, in terms of evening running. For now, I’m making the most of working from home and having daylight still at five PM. Last week, I had a late meeting cancelled which meant I had an hour free at the end of the day. I jumped into the car and drove a few miles up the road and did a nice early evening 10k loop around my local (and growing favourite) hill. It felt great to be out and pushing myself up the two mile climb to the top when usually I’d be still in my chair trying to finish for the day.
It really is a perfect meditative way to round the day off. I always feel that way about trail running in a way that differs to road running, and even walking. The speed of moving over uneven ground, head down, picking the next foot placement requires a unique concentration that excludes most other thoughts. It does mean though that quite often sights that you’d see when walking, are missed. There is no other way though of getting the best of both worlds, bridging footpaths and running, as I have discovered with my long distance path excursions in the last two years.
Like most things in life, this kind of experience is unique to a slim period of time each year, and I try to make the most of it. Quite simple, but the best things are.