Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Nick Small

Nick Small | 11th December 2011

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

This year marked the end of a long love affair with a tawny maiden. Almost every evening for almost 25 years she would comfort me with her moist warmth, numbing the aches of the day and accompanying me to deep slumber. I’ll still see her now and again, for old time’s sake, but it’s time for me to move on.

Yes, it’s adios delicious Tinto Pesquera, ciao you lovely Barberas and au revoir to those sophisticated French temptresses. People will have to think of something else to get me for Christmas this year.

I’m not entirely sure what brought about this change in lifestyle. I suspect that the cumulative impact of losing people close to me over the last few years, my own health issues and the bruising my vanity took every time I saw a bloated face in the mirror or a photographs of me that were at odds with my self-image might all have played a part. The spectre of my own mortality and the desire to stick around for my kids and grandkids has been something of a pre-occupation.

Something else happened too. My son won a cross country race, or two, last autumn and started to go to the local athletics club. Fondly remembering that I was a decent athlete in my youth and that some kind coaches used to help me, out of nothing more than the generosity of their spirit, I decided to give back and got into coaching myself. I soon realised that I was struggling to keep up with my 8 year old, which was a huge affront to my delusions of athleticism.

Then Jeff sent me a copy of Feet in the Clouds, a book about fell running (more of which in a separate review). The consequence was that I committed to run my first fell race for 30 years on New Years day, 2012. Now, one thing that anyone who has run up hills will know is that hauling any more bulk up a steep slope than necessary is extremely undesirable. The 16 stones I tried to cajole up the hill in question on my first attempt proved to be a burden Sysyphus might have baulked at.

So, that was it. The wine had to go. At 800 kcal a bottle (and I daren’t tell you how many of those I could get through in a week) I did the maths and realised I would inevitably lose a lot of weight simply by ditching the booze and running a few times a week.

I can now say, two months down the line, that I don’t miss my boozy floozy at all. I get my thrills and endorphin highs by running across wild moorland, skipping past gaudily dressed hikers as they battle torrential rain in the teeth of a gale, their faces peaking out from Mountain Equipment jackets as I cheerily wave, splashing through the sloppy peat in a t-shirt and not a lot else. I am lucky enough to run through some of Britain’s most bleak and beautiful landscapes, alone, beside waterfalls, careering down rocky slopes, along undulating woodland trails and around lakes. Running on the road holds no appeal for me at all but getting out into the wilds in all weathers and just celebrating the simple act of running through nature’s obstacle course has become my favourite way of having fun. It’s an expression of freedom I suppose.

Yes, it’s hard work at times and yes, it hurts…but it’s no more uncomfortable than standing in a freezing river in the middle of winter angling after some grayling and no more insane than sitting by a frosty carp pond at 4 a.m. when you could be in bed dreaming of Claudia Cardinale. The pay off so far is that I’ve lost over two stones, I can now run up hills without having to stop and hawk up embarrassingly and the athletic physique I had as a twenty year old has emerged from its fleshy cocoon. I’m experiencing a joie de vivre that I’d forgotten was possible and the approach of my half-centenary has stopped bothering me entirely. As long as the Irony God doesn’t strike me down with a massive heart attack as I skip across Heathcliff and Cathy’s skyline, I can report that this sudden change of course in my life has been a very positive one indeed. After the last two years, that’s most welcome.