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Taking the first exit- Choosing to go running in the fells

After a long day at work, the call of the fells is easy to ignore, replaced, instead by the desire for comfort and relaxation, to sit and vegetate, and pass the time before sleep and the beginning of the next work day. You may convince yourself, as the work day draws to a close, that you will go out later in the evening, or the next morning. That the weather has changed or that a run like this is best left for the weekend. That cast iron certainty that you would go to the fells dwindles and you are left with a burning question: if not now, when will I go....Taking the first exit?

I often see social media posts, lamenting the lack of freedom in today’s world. A life where we work five days in a row to be rewarded with only two days off to do what we want. Only two of the seven days of the week can contain joy, these posts seem to suggest. Any adventures, anything worth doing is restricted to those two weekend days. As I drove out of work, I came, almost instantly, to a roundabout. The first exit lead to the fells, to adventure, to an evening filled with potential. The second exit lead back home, to an evening where all I would do would be wait for the next day to begin. Where I would have to wait until the weekend to go to the fells. I did not want the fells to be somewhere I infrequently visited, only once or twice a week. A novelty rather than a frequent event. I took the first exit, the comforts of home fading from view in my rear view mirror, as I drove towards the fells.

The decision made, my resolve to run grew as I drove, I had made my decision and now I let my mind fill with memories of past runs. Golden light, sunsets, a feeling of effortless fitness, the miles slipping away beneath my feet. I looked up at the fells as I drove, I knew all their names, a roll call of old friends. I knew ahead, a large lay-by waited, that start me on a route along a chain of fells culminating with summiting Helvellyn, England’s third highest peak. I parked and laced up my shoes before looking up at the fells ahead, their closeness making them seem more massive. The motivation, so strong before, ebbed again, just as it had done at the roundabout. Should I not just turn around and go home? Besides, surely it would be better to run tomorrow when the weather may be a bit nicer, this drizzle may turn into a more relentless rain? Surely I don’t want to push myself too hard, I have a big weekend of running planned, shouldn’t I wait until then to go to the fells? The clamouring protests continued as I jogged along the densely vegetated path that runs along the base of the fells I will be summiting, convincing me of the folly of spending several hours on the high fells in an evening after a day at work. The path steeped, and, from here it was hand on knees, power walking, the toughness of the climb silencing the voices that had filled my head. Scarcely 40 minutes later, I am standing on the summit of my first fell. Half the ascent done and by far the steepest section behind me. Again, the betraying thoughts surround me. Telling me I have done enough for today, surely I want to get home, get showered, relax and go to bed, fresh and ready for work tomorrow? If I return now, I will be back in the car in half an hour, home in an hour. Continue with what I have planned, and it will be hours until I am back home.

I press on, regardless, and, like on the initial climb, the voices dissipate. The drizzle begins to slow and the evening turns dry and mild as I top Whiteside and Lower Man the surrounding fells beginning to be lit by the soft light that preludes evening. Most people will have long since wrapped up their day out on the fells, retreating to ground level, swallowed by armchairs or perched on a barstool at a local pub. I still had a fell to climb, the biggest of the day, Helvellyn. As I completed the final climb up to the summit, the cairn became visible, my final checkpoint of the day. The views from the summit were sublime, masses of hills stretching out before me interspersed by pools of shimmering light that I knew must be lakes and tarns. The view was all mine, no one was left on the fell, it felt like a reward, a trophy for going to the fells when I had so many excuses not to. I wondered how many other runners and walkers had gone to the fells this evening. I had no doubt the number stretched into the hundreds, but, on this fell, I felt like the only one.

That inner joy suffused me as I descended, reached the car, drove home, showered, and got into bed. I fell asleep almost instantly. It wasn’t an intense tiredness that drove me to sleep, more a profound peace of mind. I feeling that I had completed all I needed to do that day. I arrived to work the next day, rested and suffering none of the side effects my mind had warned me of if I dared go to the fells. A college asks if I did anything the previous evening. “Went for a run” I said. “Sounds nice” was the reply. I couldn’t help but agree.

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