I’m taking a break from trail running. It's only while I clear a piece of land on the edge of the Dundalk Bay in County Louth, Ireland.
I work with some urgency as I’m wanting to finish by the time planning comes through and I can begin to renovate and extend the old farmhouse. It takes up all my spare time, but I don’t mind as I’m fulfilling a dream. The bay is a registered European Area of Natural Interest and the light is lovely beyond the telling of it.
It’s not easy work. There are years’ worth of overgrowth and alien species of trees to be cut back. But a couple of good chainsaws and a heavy axe help. And I love being outside and seeing the incremental progress. We’re living in a caravan and the view over the bay is steadily opening up in front of us.
It’s also not easy to be taking a break from trail running. I long for the liberating freedom of extended, steady lopes and the power of short, breath- consuming climbs. Although the big muscle exercise I’m doing has plenty of sweat benefit, I miss the regular cardio workout. But running far on trails has given me a practical imagination and a sustained tenacity which are rich resources for this particular job. Not for the first time in my life I’m struck by the massive life-enriching paybacks of our sport.
A former narrow-gauge railway that passed through this field is now a public footpath. The local community wants to develop it into a greenway. As our contribution, I’ve put up a bench for the people and a tap for the dogs.
There are a few regular walkers, like Noel and his hearty dog, Ben, who pass at the same time every day. Noel retired from teaching engineering skills at a technical college and he’s always super-encouraging about my progress. Last month I met Oisin and Zoe, pushing their baby. They have a vegan wood-fired pizza place just a little further down the greenway. Ironically, it’s housed in his father’s former butchery. Before that they were selling pizza from a converted horsebox.
Yesterday after supper, as we sat around the little table in the caravan, I looked out the window and saw a herd of cattle charging, wild and unattended, down the footpath. I called the neighbouring farmer and together we rounded them up and put them in a side field. The cattle don’t belong to anyone in the area, so, for now, they’re just in the field beside us where the juicy thick grass has calmed them down. One day we’ll know the story.
Increasingly, as the land clears, we’re integrating more and more into this little rural community. We found this piece of land with the old house on it by chance on a lazy drive one Sunday afternoon and from the get-go our neighbours have been very welcoming.
One day when our house is done we’ll have them all around for a meal. We’ll put in a garden and cultivate some tunnels of herbs and veggies. There’s talk of some beehives and berry bushes. Maybe a couple of glamping pods so I can host leadership and personal- mastery retreats.
One day I’ll have time to write some of the books that float around in my head. Books to honour the courageous, authentic and very human leaders I’ve worked with across my life. Books to encourage leaders to listen more and pretend less.
One day, hopefully quite soon, I’ll run along this greenway until it feeds into the dozens of sheep tracks that wind their way up into the Cooley Mountains.
There I’ll renew my old and good friendship with our sport.
One day I might host a personal- mastery trail running retreat in my glamping pods while eating veggies from the tunnels, followed by honey from the hives drizzled over fresh berries from the bushes, and refer to this or that chapter from my book.
One day I’ll do some of these things. There is so much I still want to do in this one, fascinating, precarious life. There are many places, tastes, ideas and trails to explore. I know I’ll pack it in as full as I can.
But for now, we’ve walked down the old railway line to the pizza place. The potato, apple and onion rosti with beetroot hummus was a fantastic starter – clean and complex with a warm, welcome-home aroma. I can see into the oven where my caramelised onion, spinach, garlic and cashew cheese pizza is baking.
In the words of Mary Oliver:
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”