When I was much younger, but still old enough to know better, we used to play a game involving bicycles and trespassing on private land. We would head out from my parents’ house to the top of a hill in Kent somewhere and pick a point on the horizon. We would then spend the rest of the afternoon trying to get from our starting location to our chosen one via the most direct and uncompromising line possible. Why we took bicycles I do not know. More often than not we would spend far more time carrying the bikes than riding them; passing them between one another, over fences and prickly hedges. I have memories of lying in wait on the margins of fields, studying the movements of agricultural vehicles and industrious looking farm wives hustling around hen pecked courtyards. When the moment was right, we would make our move and dash out across the prohibited expanse before diving for cover and beginning the process all over again. Hours would pass in this way. And we thought we were ever so clever, sneaking around, going where we knew we shouldn’t. It was our game and we played it with all the zest and enthusiasm of children experimenting with the forbidden pleasures of the adult world. We called it ‘Ultimate Bearings.’
About this time, we started an afterschool road running club on Wednesday nights. The official aim was to train for a mountain marathon in the Brecon Beacons, Wales (which we did go on to subsequently complete and remarkably win!) But what kept us meeting midweek I think was the same feeling of rebellion that we enjoyed in our game with the bicycles. We would always run with our tops off you see – 3 or 4 scrawny boys bouncing along the A21 trunk road in rain and dusk – and we revelled in every disapproving honk of the cars that passed us.
Recently I have discovered a new game. It doesn’t grip me in the same enchanting glow of merriment as these other childish adventures but it does have a similar feeling of miscreant pleasure and perhaps also of the absurd. Strava – (if you haven’t heard of it yet then some would say you’ve never been on a run at all – “if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count”) is the most recent way I have found to satisfy those unfortunate penchants for naughtiness and narcissism that have hung on from years ago.
This App. offers the user the ability to create a ‘segment’ of a completed run which they believe to have been particularly taxing and which they ran well. This can vary from a 400m sprint section or the entirety of the session. They can then share their stats online, complete with a map, so that others can find it and give it a try. This is a great benefit for runners visiting new cities or trails as they can just follow a local runner’s route. Anyone subsequently completing a ‘segment’ is automatically ranked (see below) against those who have already completed it. The current leader holds the Tour de France borrowed title “King of the Mountain!” until that is, someone comes along and knocks them off by going even faster.
‘The Eiger Downhill’ is an off-road ‘segment’ above the Roman spa town of Bath. It is the last in the line of a hundred miles of hills that mark the Cotswold chain. Earthy smells of agriculture and cattle jostle here with the quaint, polished chic of ‘Aquae Sulis.’ The slope angle makes for a real rib rattler and the line is littered with tussocks of grass and rock which haven’t seen a plough since the tree clearance. To engage in combat, the runner needs to bring the requisite tools of recklessness and a strong sense of balance. And as they descend, they must continuously evaluate how to draw on these competing resources: risking ankle crunching leaps of wild faith for potentially sliding downhill on their face. It is not for the faint hearted.
So on a warm Sunday evening, my running partner and I weaved our way through the tourists and wafts of real ale and roast dinners and climbed out of the city to have a look at it. We ran it once downhill as a practice to find the best line. And then we disengaged the brain and went for it. Whilst his GPS device, to his great frustration, didn’t work mine had me down as “King of the Mountain!”
Some call this kind of session where you go out deliberately to snatch a record: ‘Strava Bombing’ – others might call it an act of flagrant self publicity and adoration. Either way, the world would be a pretty sad, and serious place without a bit of fun like this ever so often: and after all, it’s probably a whole lot better than trespass and partial nudity. Relatively speaking.