Beware the company you keep. If you are weak, and suggestible, and hang out with the wrong/right crowd, it is very easy to become susceptible to peer pressure and end up committing to undertakings you’d never give into if of sound mind and more independent spirit.
Case in point, the Lakeland Trails, Dirty Double for 2016. A couple of weeks ago a troupe of Smiley Paces comrades returned triumphant from their jaunt to the 2015 Lakeland challenge. They were on a collective high, yes the weather was challenging and the conditions rough, but that was part of the fun. Them against the elements, battling to finish against the odds. They were full of adventurous tales like pirates returning from the high seas. Bonded together as only those who have survived adversity through leaning on one another can truly understand. The evangelical zeal in their eyes, the persuasive stories, the inner confidence they exuded from having come out the other end of this apparently unsurvivable hell, well, it seemed bizarrely compelling. Especially, if like me, you have this constant fear of missing out. You can see the slight look of mania in the eyes in these three Smileys crossing the finish. More than a slight look to be honest, but I don’t want to libel people on whom I may subsequently depend for my very survival, so let’s stick with ‘slight’ to be on the safe side…
For those not in the know, the event is one of a series of challenges in the lake district, but this particular one takes place over a weekend. Day one is a trail run based in Helvellyn, and day two takes on the tracks round Ullswater. You can choose from a range of challenges and races and distances. The 2015 tales of rain like stair rods and scree covered slopes did leave me with more than a niggling sense that the only way to tackle this would be in a cagoule, but equally, there is something hilarious and heroic in heading out in such conditions… weirdly I can see the appeal. Think of the anecdotes and bragging rights. Wow, you’d probably never have to run a trail race again you’d be so richly supplied with laurels on which to rest and stories to tell – they’d easily last you a lifetime!
So, the next thing I know, is that a proactive Smiley is suggesting a Smiley Takeover for same time next year. There is a Youth hostel that we can stay at, there are challenges for all abilities, next year the weather will be great (that bit’s a lie, the Lakes in November? I think not). Call your bluff time, there are 40 beds booked at the hostel, who’s in? Not me, obviously, though I do stalk the conversation on Facebook. Ooh, that Youth Hostel looks nice, four star eh – not damp sleeping bags and bedbugs any more.
I look at the event website (which is quite hard to work out to be honest but even so) the pictures are gorgeous. They talk of a carnival atmosphere, even a boat ride to the start… I can feel myself beginning to see the attraction, albeit not for me, but for other hypothetical runners out there.
It is only a matter of time before my regular, but rather fitter than me running buddy confronts me with the idea at Bushy Parkrun. She’s doing it – not that that means anything in itself because she has developed cheetah like prowess in her own running journey – but it does mean I’d have at least one ally there, and what’s more, she clearly thinks the basic concept of me taking part is not utterly insane. Unlikely and amusing perhaps, but not actually impossible.
Initially, I dismiss the idea out of hand. I’m not fit enough, I’m pretty preoccupied with other stuff right now and I can’t think beyond today let alone this time next year. ‘I could be dead by then.’ I point out, uncharitably. Quick as a flash she reassures me ‘that would be fine, someone else would take your place no problem.’ You can’t really argue with that kind of compelling logic. Although I am sure the notion of me running in the rain on two successive days after sleeping in a dorm is beyond bizarre, I concede she did plant the seed of an idea. What if…
I revisit the Facebook discussion and start to post some queries – ‘Can I run in a cagoule?‘ Yes, apparently I can! I can run in whatever I like. No-one will care. Will I be fit enough (tactful responses follow along the lines of sure, it caters for people even less fit than you, which is really saying something). I hover for a while. Then embracing the ‘what the hell’ approach that has served me so well or got me into more scrapes than you can possibly imagine depending on how much I can get away with re-writing history I decide to go for it. I sign up for the hostel, and I enter the race. Two 10km romps out. That’s OK, only a couple of Parkruns, it will be fine. Now I’m a convert and really enthusiastic. Forty Smileys on holiday together in the wilds of the lakes. It will be hilarious. The actual running part receded, it’s ages away. There is something wonderful and empowering about a bunch of women going off and taking on some mountains (ish – I think you run round the lakes really, but let’s not split hairs). Together, we will be invincible. Hang on though – I do hope those white posts in the foreground don’t mark the last resting place of previous years runners who didn’t quite make it… still, let’s not dwell on that eh? Let’s concentrate on being invincible!
Then a weird thing happens, a message pings into my own Facebook thingy. If you know me at all, you won’t know whether to be more amazed at the content of the correspondence that follows, or the fact that I was using Facebook as a communication device, I really am not social media savvy, and only reluctantly joined Facebook at all a couple of months ago, and that was under extreme reluctance and duress, but necessity, to maintain my running relationships and facilitate photo exchanges. The message is from a fellow Smiley who is an awesome runner, though recently beset by injuries, hesitating about whether or not to enter. I can’t believe it, this is a first, someone conferring with me about running matters. It would so brilliant if she came too! With a bare-faced hypocrisy that would make my other aforementioned running buddy choke if she should ever find out (but obviously no chance of that), I enthuse. ‘you’ll be fine, it’s for all standards, it will be hilarious, what’s the worst that can happen? Yes, yes, it is a lot of money to find before Christmas, but this time next year it will feel like a free holiday because you’ll have paid up front – besides Christmas is so materialistic these days, I’m sure a satsuma will be fine for under the Christmas tree this year‘ and so on. I am persuasive, she is in! We can start really looking forward to it now. Maybe by then I’ll have trained for it as well. That would be quite something, cavorting across the landscape, at one with the world! I’m not so confident about the communal living aspect of dorm life, but loads of time to whip myself into a frenzy of angst about that nearer the time!
So, that’s the lesson. You think you can resist your peers, but it’s so easy to get sucked in, and then before you know it, you too are sharing their world view and espousing their values. That’s why you have to be so careful with the company you keep. It’s a sliding scale too. Did I tell you I’d entered the two 10 km? Well, that was true… but then there isn’t so very much difference between 10 and 14km and it would have been a shame not to be able to head out with my friends, and how would the post-run post mortem work if we’d all done different things? It was only a matter of time before I’d emailed the race organisers to convert my entry to the 15km and then 14km race. It’s ages away, it’ll be fine, now I just need to get onto Facebook again and persuade my Smiley friend that in for a penny in for a pound is the way to go. We can always change back again, but it would be awful to be left wondering what might have been after the event…
For all my Lakeland Trails related posts, click here and scroll down for older entries.