I was having a cosy afternoon curled up on the sofa with my son the other day, watching the Pixar film Up (which sounds idyllic, and it was – until I discovered the toddler was quietly drawing on a dining-room chair with a red pen).
The thing I love most about this film is its positive, uplifting, vibrant message, which reverberates through the entire 96 minutes: adventure is out there!
This is a message I attempt to instill in my children each and every day. Because adventure is fun. Adventure is exciting; it is creative and expansive and, what’s more, I believe it is so very necessary in life. We could all do with a little adventure now and then.
Pre-children, adventures off the beaten track were pretty easy to come by. In the 12 years that we had together BC (Before Children), my husband and I have (in no particular order) backpacked around the world, upped sticks and moved to Sydney, lived in various campervans for weeks (sometimes months) on end, been paragliding, surfing, bungee jumping and caving (during which I thought I might die). We have been single-track mountain biking along a ridge halfway up a mountainside and rafted Grade 5 white water.
And when it comes to running, well… in among numerous races, the most memorable have been my two marathons; a blustery seafront half; and that time I ran 13.1 miles in Marrakech, a route lined with cheering locals and orange groves, impatient moped drivers and colourful, fragrant bazaars.
Post-children, life looks a little different. These days, living on the edge means heading out for a day trip with the minimum possible number of nappies we might need for the duration, or foregoing packing a lunchbox for the kids filled with tried-and-tested favourites, and simply “seeing what we find when we’re out” (I know. Mental).
Of course, a huge part of the joy of parenting is watching your children carve out their own adventures: climbing the ladder to the top of the big slide in the park; balancing along a fallen tree; digging for treasure in the garden; sailing down a hill on a scooter.
And I adore watching them explore, learn and grow. That’s natural. But there’s also a part of me that’s been craving my own adventures once more; my own ‘wow’, adrenaline-fuelled, endorphin-rush thrills.
This is where trail running has stepped in, in all its muddy, leaf-littered, hilly, unpredictable glory.
I confess: I have become addicted to trail running. Where once a quick half-hour road run would suffice: no more. Now it’s all about trying to get out to run in daylight (or dusk, just before the sun sets), so I can head off-road to discover some new routes, attempt that downhill a little faster, and even create my own little obstacle course challenge, jumping over logs and and doing step-ups on a fallen tree. The fresh air, the fact it’s so green and the crunch of leaves are all good for the soul, but it’s more than that: it just all feels that little bit more daring.
I’ve taken my racing off-road, too. I’ve completed three trail races in the past few months. I’m sure I will love getting back to some flat road races in time, but for now, it’s all about embracing the mud splatters and bramble scratches.
Naturally, once you get your taste for adventure back, you become hungry for more.
And so it was that, last weekend, while my parents looked after the kids, my husband and I rocked up to a climbing centre. Because when you get the chance to go on a date once more, why go out for a slap-up three-course meal together, when you can go bouldering instead?
Bouldering is climbing without ropes. The climbing walls are shorter, and it is more about technique and problem solving than gaining height. As cross-training goes, it is by no means running-specific, but it was so much FUN! And it definitely got the adrenaline going. We came away with a couple of bruises, and aching arms and sides, but boy, was I in love with it!
Having children is teaching me to look for adventure in the little things, on a more local level. For now anyway, adventure is not about far-flung travels, or setting off towards the horizon with nothing but a backpack and a map.
For now, it is about watching the little ones explore and thrive. It is about discovering new fitness pursuits.
And, of course, it is about the trails.