When you are out on the moors your mind can do strange things. On Christmas day 2015 I went for a run over Bodmin Moor, it was very windy and wet, the visibility was poor and the ground was waterlogged. I decided it would be sensible to stick to a route I knew and one that didn’t offer the opportunity of falling into any bogs. I set off with the plan of running south along the east side of Davistow Moor, skirting around the bog to pass to the north of Buttern Hill and Bray Down, then heading towards Leskernick Hill, where there are the remains of a Bronze Age settlement, before heading back along a fairly straight line north north west. Or, if the wind had died down, climb up to the top of High Moor and head back from there.
On the way the weather cleared briefly and I spotted a valley in the distance ahead that I had not been along before. Not the time to go exploring I said to myself, I’ll stick to my planned route. Twenty minutes later I was well on the way to the valley, it was lovely and did afford some shelter from the wind, the bad weather had closed in again by then. When I reached the head of the valley I wasn’t quite sure where I was and did wonder how I had got there when I quite clearly didn’t intend going there. I knew I couldn’t be far from somewhere I’d recognize so I just kept running. That is one of the great things about being an ultrarunner, if you are lost you can just keep running until you find yourself, that applies both physically and mentally. Eventually I spotted some trees ahead that I recognised, I have a great affinity with trees I’m better at recognizing trees than remembering people’s names, so I knew where I was. Or rather I didn’t, but I knew how to get somewhere where I would know where I was. I was a little further south than I had intended going, but it wouldn’t take long to get to Leskernick Hill so I was soon back on course.
I love running over Leskernick Hill among the remains of the Bronze Age settlement, there are no signs there to say what it is, but you can clearly make out the outlines of houses and boundary walls. I ran along thinking about what it must have been like all those thousands of years ago and wondering what the moor looked like then. I was navigating on autopilot, it’s not difficult, up over the hill then bear left at the bottom. I realised I’d probably gone too far left so corrected by going right. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognise where I was. The map case was splattered with rain so I couldn’t read the map clearly, the sensible thing would have been to stop get my glasses and the compass out of my rucksack (that’s why I carry them), but I didn’t. I ran around for a bit not really knowing where I was until I realised that instead of coming down the north side of Leskernick I had somehow come down the east side and was heading in the wrong direction. A quick about turn and I was soon heading in the right direction although I was a little nervous until I was on top of a hill when the gloom lifted and I could see the radio mast near the Davidstow cheese factory; yes I was heading in the right direction.
When you are heading over fairly featureless ground it’s difficult to get the navigation spot on and I drifted too far north so had to head back south again to get around the end of the bog which is just above the source of the river Fowey. Not what you really want to do at the end of a long run, but then there is nothing you can do about it other than run that extra bit.
I do think these sorts of run are great mental training. To start with you learn that if you switch off it is very easy to go the wrong way without realising it, so in a race concentrate on making sure you know where you are going. But more importantly it increases your fortitude (noun 1. mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty). I went wrong and had to run a few extra miles when I didn’t really want to, but I had no choice there was no other way out of it. Okay it was only a relatively minor thing, but it added to that bank of experience. Things go wrong, you arrive at a checkpoint in a race thinking you have almost finished only to discover that you have got quite a few more miles to do, what are you going to do? You can either sit down and cry (doesn’t look good on the CV) or think I can handle that; I’ve done that sort of thing loads of times before. Sometimes I get lost on purpose so I can add a little more to the balance in the fortitude bank.