Trainers or Louboutins...


We all have to write a bio at some point in our lives, let people know a little about ourselves, perhaps selecting the bits that we hope will communicate, amuse, (impress) … With Twitter it’s quite a relief really to know you only have 160 characters available.  Not too demanding of detail, but enough to express who (you think) you are.  I put on my twitter profile: “Freelance Illustrator of  edibles (mostly) Cyclist, Forest Scamperer, Sheller, Louboutin Wearer. Just a little obsessed with figs…”

The one I suspect that gets the most attention might be ‘Louboutin Wearer’, but the one that perhaps defines me most succinctly (outside of illustrator) would be forest runner.

I started running (scampering would be more apt) in the forest for several reasons. 1) it’s kinder to the body than road running, 2) it’s free 3) it’s easy to fit in around work and family life because, 4) it’s on my doorstep…

However, there was a 5th reason that only became clear much later on, and now supersedes all the other reasons in significance and impact. The 5th one is “Oh wow, I didn’t know that.”

I didn’t know that I could run that far and not get bored

I didn’t know that it was so noisy in the forest…

I didn’t know my heart could pump that fast, and not burst

I didn’t know that the air smelt so differently, depending on the weather, the season…

I didn’t know that my head needed emptying so badly.

I have rediscovered something utterly amazing that I thought I’d lost forever in my old school satchel.  I have become reacquainted with a desire to know, to learn, to question. As each foot falls on deer carved pathway, my mind begins to loosen from the ties that bind it to the usual rhythms of work/home life.. and with this uncorking of my stuffed, distracted and chattering head, there appears a space.  It flows with the air, the bird song, the whoosh of a breeze through tall pine trees, and there, there with the flow, is a tweak of a curtain then a full graceful drawing back, to reveal questions and need-to-knows, dreams and plans, long forgotten (unvoiced?) hopes. They become clear, the canopy of sky, no matter blue or grey,  giving them an almost palpable aura of dewy freshness, a readiness to be looked at and considered with full attention. Without distraction.

It doesn’t really seem to matter what my feet are doing, how my ankles are adjusting to rock, mud and shale, whether my quads are aching or whether I’m picking an errant gnat out of my eye. The head space remains accessible, available.

And amongst all this cerebral stuff that’s going on, my eyes are drinking in this extraordinary, visual and ever changing theatre of the forest. The colours range for Monet to Van Gogh, depending on season and light.  This light can play tricks on the lower canopy, transforming it into the biblical burning bush. Shadow can create a moving form that seems to race one pace behind me … or was that a deer … There are bat boxes  secured high up in the creaking pines. I have been lucky enough to run with those bats as they loop within inches of my nose, glancing my shoulder.  One late winter afternoon, the light dipped so quickly that I became disorientated.  Flicking on my head torch I suddenly became aware that I was moving parallel with silent-running deer. 14 or more sets of eyes blinked back at me.  My heart leapt with shock, and then burst with the sheer thrill.

Running in the forest, and through its seasons, is perhaps the most extraordinatry and innervating aspect of all. If I was just to talk about the changes of the scent and quality of the air (if I could write with a “scratch n sniff” app it would help): the dry bite of icy air sucked into lungs in the winter; the first whiff of pig manure, pulled across on a northeasterly breeze from a farmer’s field as winter subsides; the punchy honeyed smell of warmed bluebells; the damp earthiness of the freshly watered forest floor; the drying pine needles underfoot as we slip seamlessly (hopefully) into Summer.

I’m sure that this state of mind could be priced beyond any gym membership (or any pair of Louboutins come to that), but no-one’s managed to make it an exclusive ‘members only’ club yet. This is a relief. It means that we can all join, for free!