26 Jun

Don't Use The 'L' Word

A smiling Christine outdoors

Regular contributor Christine Appel looks back on an occasion where she became ‘temporarily unsure’ of her running route.

"I thought you said you ran this route all the time and knew the way?” Foraging around in my pocket for the trail map I squirreled away earlier, it soon became clear that on this occasion, ‘running a route all the time’ and ‘knowing the way’ were two completely different things.

“We’re lost, aren’t we?”

Please don’t use the ‘L’ word, I said to my friend. It sounds so harsh. I prefer to think that on occasions like these, I’m just temporarily unsure of where I am.

For some reason, he didn’t seem reassured. And I suppose he had a strong case not to be, 500 metres up into the hills, at dusk, with the wind picking up. Apparently, the unusual pine cones I’d pointed out earlier didn’t get any more interesting the fourth time round the same trail.

This wasn’t the first time in my running career I’d been lost – or, rather, experienced a fleeting locational inexactitude. But it was probably the most embarrassing – seeing as I gave my new-to-the-hills friend a cast-iron guarantee when we started out that I knew the way.

Truth is, I did know the way – the route I chose for us has been a staple of my running club’s calendar for nearly 30 years. But the bit I didn’t tell my friend was that over the last decade I’d been running the route myself, I’d only ever tackled it counter clockwise.

My friend glowered at me from across the trail, arms folded tightly across his chest in silent expectation of me doing something, anything to get us home. I consulted the map – an unspoken admission of defeat – and scanned the landscape again for clues. They were all there: the bluff, the big stone, the river. But they were all in the wrong place.

I couldn’t believe, and still can’t believe, what a difference running the ‘other way’ made to my sense of direction. Downhill’s became uphill’s; left turns became right turns; familiar views into the hills beyond had totally disappeared. Nothing seemed right – even when I looked over my shoulder to view the trail from my usual perspective. To say the experience was disorienting is an understatement – but it was also oddly liberating.

To my companion, my less than decisive approach to navigation that day made it look like we’d lost our way. And technically speaking, he’d be right. The 180-degree spin on my normal perspective meant I struggled to match the markers seared into my brain with what I was seeing with my eyes. But what my friend couldn’t appreciate was that where I seemed to be dithering and stalling for time, I was also revelling in the rare pleasure of stumbling across undiscovered territory: a route I’d been running for 10 years pretty much on autopilot had just become an entirely new challenge.

With the pieces falling into place a bit more as we descended into the trees – and a few bloody good guesses – we made it back to the start just before dark. As I stretched my niggly hamstring, my friend saw his chance to nab the car keys. “I’ll drive back to yours,” he laughed. “Unless you think you know the way?”