Search This Blog


The Cornfield, John Constable (1826)
Another early start for golf this morning, so I squeezed in a slow 5km at 5:00am round Copa, before setting out.  For most of my working life, I was running within 30 minutes of rising, having dressed and completed my usual exercise routine (see post titled Transition from Hiker to Runner), but in the last ten years it has taken longer for my body to loosen up.  I usually now wait an hour or two before heading out, and this morning's run, less than 30 minutes after waking reminded me why.  My joints creaked, my limbs were stiff, and my right Achilles tendon was sore.  It took a slow and awkward 27 minutes to get round my usual course, not a very encouraging run.

One of the times during my working life when I always headed out for my regular morning run just 30 minutes after rising, was when I was living just outside the small village of Chappel in the UK in the late 1980s.  Chappel was in "Constable Country", near the county border between Essex and Suffolk, and at the time, my working days were divided between a huge renovated Tudor mansion my company owned nearby, and our London office, about an hour away by train.

One of the country lanes on my morning 17km run in Chappel
We lived in the lodge house for a manor farm in a beautiful location overlooking the rural Colne River valley.  In the summer, we were surrounded by wheat and golden rapeseed fields, but my most abiding memory is of the howl of the winds past the house on the bleak winter morning's before I set out for my run.  Sometimes the winds were accompanied by sleet and snow and it took a lot of willpower to step out the door into the pre-dawn darkness.

The railway viaduct across the Colne River Valley
at Chappel, Essex, UK
The countryside was a patchwork of fields, country lanes and public footpaths, dotted with picture-book villages, and there were many options for run routes.  Since a lot of my running was done before dawn and without a light, I tended to pick little-used country lanes I could run down the middle of without worrying about traffic or obstacles, and soon settled on a favourite 17km loop which generally took me a little over an hour.  Even now, I wish I had lived in the area for longer, though I think the years have dulled the memory of those blasting winds and freezing winters.  Despite limited protection offered by hedgerows and hills, much of the course was exposed to the elements.

Of course in the summer months, when the sun rose early and I still had the lanes to myself, it was just magical.  Agricultural smells filled the air, and I could watch the crops mature and be harvested.  My route passed by many quaint old farm-houses, often with thatched rooves and surrounded by archetypal English country gardens.  There was even an ancient high-arched viaduct across the valley along which a little two-carriage diesel train infrequently clattered.