Carry on regardless

I first read Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession, almost a decade ago. It is, among other things, the author’s tale of his own experiences preparing for, attempting and finally completing the Bob Graham. It is also a nostalgic book, one which unashamedly romanticises the sport and the characters who have become part of fell running folk lore. At times it is perhaps rather melodramatic – at odds with his own repeated references to the ‘hard-men’ of fell running – those who would cycle 20 miles to the start of a race, run, ride home, and continue work on the farm that evening. But whatever your thoughts on the style of writing, he got one thing right. COR.
Carry On Regardless – Askwith’s summation of the typical response fell runners have to injury. Worse perhaps even than climbers – though I remember very well the routes completed with friends too soon after surgery on broken limbs, following the blood dripping steadily from ankles with steel pins too recently placed. Maybe that is simply due to the nature of the injuries – tears and strains more common among runners than the breaks suffered by climbers which tend to stop play with rather greater finality. Surprising perhaps, given the speeds which many runners reach on steep, technical descents. Be that as it may, among those for whom these things are a way of life rather than simply a sport, there is a universal tendency to run through the pain, to keep pushing, to carry on regardless. Stoicism perhaps. But not in some superficial macho sense. 
It is more that the alternative – not running, paddling or climbing, not being among the fells, on the water or high on the moors, not moving beneath big skies, feeling the wind, sun and rain, is untenable. 
Seen from a twisting peaty path on the moors, or dropping off a rocky summit in the fells, hands clenched with the cold, eyes streaming in the wind, moments like these fix in the mind, keeping one sane, the sense of freedom prevailing through the days until it is possible once again to head for the hills.
Of course some cope better with forced rest than others but all too often there comes a point when that rest is simply unavoidable, regardless of how well one copes with it or not.
Short term strategies are all very well. Planning trips, studying the maps, researching new routes – it works for an evening or weekend. Possibly two. But when injury forces a longer break, something different is required. Varied interests help. The problem is that these interests are normally intrinsically linked to the thing you cannot do. What is really required is something to focus the mind on new responsibilities, something that requires a change in routine, which adds a new element entirely to daily life. 
If, after injury, that thing can become part of the norm, complementing or adding to the way of life which has come to define one’s self, so much the better.
Meet Merlin.

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