Sunday, 15 July 2012

Joy

One of the main reasons I cycle and run, apart from the fact they both keep you fit-ish, provide some time for quiet contemplation, and give you that satisfying feeling of justified fatigue, is that they can produce sublime moments, perhaps lasting no more than 30 seconds, of complete and utter joy. It's a hard feeling to describe precisely - it's not the kind of ecstasy you might get from finding out you've passed a difficult and important exam, or the deep satisfaction and amusement that comes with a sociable night with a good bunch of mates, or the relief from sorting out an urgent bodily function. It's more a feeling of knowing that at those precise moments, there are no circumstances that could make you feel happier, or more alive, or anything else you'd rather be doing.

They don't come along very often, and for me they nearly always happen when I'm riding a bike or running down a hill. The best days I've ever had have been spent on a bike, ranging from going up to and down from Tourmalet in 2010 to the more quotidian riding through the Pas de Calais last year. But thankfully those moments of joy happen more often, and I've had two this weekend.

Now, nothing can compare to the thrill of hurtling down a mountain pass on two wheels, but one of the advantages of running, especially in the hills, is that you can put some music in your ears without endangering yourself or anyone else. And my two moments this weekend were probably accentuated by the iPod. The first was yesterday, when I was attempting to stay on my feet as I ran down a really steep incline. The only way I could do it was by taking baby steps at a cadence, to borrow a cycling term, of probably 200 rpm. In my ears at the time was Earthquake by Labrinth & Tinie Tempah, a recent occupant of what I believe is known as the Hit Parade, and there was just something about the combination of the music, the crazy running, and the sunshine that just made me laugh out loud. There was no-one else around bar a few bullocks to witness the madness fortunately.

And then today, as I crested a small hill by Macclesfield Forest Chapel, the countryside opened up - Cat & Fiddle road and pub to the left, Macclesfield Forest straight ahead, and the Staffordshire Moorlands just beyond and to the right. Again, for a second morning running the sun was out, but it was pretty early so no other people were, and it was just fantastic.

But it wouldn't have been if I'd driven up there. Writing this now my lungs hurt if I breathe in too hard. At the risk of sounding a bit Orwellian, the joy of those moments is enhanced by the labour of getting there in the first place, and I'd sure laboured to get up to nearly 1500 feet. Over the last couple of days I've run 32 miles, with 4,500 feet of ascent. That would be a fairly respectable mountain bike ride. And I've loved every single one of those miles. Not all the ascending feet necessarily, but definitely the miles

Opportunities in the next few weeks are going to be few and far between, though the bike was cleaned yesterday and I'm to get a few miles in when I'm in Brittany in a couple of weeks.

But first, Paris awaits next weekend. Barring accident, illness or any other misfortune, I'm hoping, nay expecting, to be there to see the first British winner of the event crowned. I'm just not sure of the identity of that winner yet. I'll be there with my eldest daughter - look out for us, we'll be waving...

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