This blog was first published on 5 December 2013 as part of the series “7 Days, 7 Runners” by Paul at http://iplodded.blogspot.co.uk/ (twitter: @-plodded)
In my running log, my favourite run is called “Killer”, and it is 12 miles long.
And neither of those things is true.
I live in Leeds, in West Yorkshire, the third-largest city in England (by population – around 750,000 – after London and Birmingham) on the edge of the city in Moortown. It is just inside the ring-road on the way out of town as you head due north to Harrogate, which is exactly what the Tour de France will be doing on Day 1 next summer, right past the end of my street.
I wonder. Where are you reading this, and what impression you have of Leeds? (Pause, while the football fans get the Dirty Leeds! Dirty Leeds! out of their system.) In fact there are many Leedses: the post-industrial recession hit northern town; the derelict and run-down corners of both inner-city and suburbs; pockets of crime and drugs and deprivation; the glories of Victorian industry in the old civic buildings now refreshed by a regeneration of finance, law and retail – new monuments of glass, steel and neon; headquarters of Asda, National Breakdown, Arla Dairies and large operations centres of the power companies, Direct Line, O2, and the regional banks; a vibrant arts, cultural, music and club scene in the midst of a city buzzing with students and two big teaching hospitals; and a racial and cultural kaleidoscope of a city enriched by its welcome of people displaced or migrating for a better life, hard-working and bringing new traditions and colour. Some of them even from across the Pennines.
City running… or not?
Killer starts and finishes at the top of Stonegate Road, and we will run clockwise through Meanwood, Adel, around Eccup reservoir and back alongside Meanwood Beck passing Alwoodley on our left to re-cross the ring road and complete the loop. The run starts on bridleways and park before a long stretch of road (lanes, rather than traffic-heavy), then the reservoir track and trails all the way home. It is undulating to the point of being “hilly”.
Part 1: Mal’s Field and Meanwood (Miles 1-2)
We start with a warm-up jog from home just a couple of minutes to stretch among the trees at the edge of Mal’s Field. Mal used to live in one of the houses at the top and babysat for my son (too many years ago). Picture a sheet of A4 paper on a slope, with one of the lower corners turned high up. Mal’s Field is about 0.65 of a mile of grassy circuit but never quite flat – one long edge has the steep corner and the other is a steady uphill. (If you have done the Leeds Half Marathon this is the last section of the interminable climb which grinds you down just before spitting you out onto the ring-road, before making you climb back up). Clockwise or anticlockwise, Mal’s Field is two different runs, and the circuits are
great pace training. Or injury rehab.
Leaving the far corner we have about 80m of road past Cardinal Heenan School before turning off on the bridleway through the woods. Passing the Stables keep an eye out for Molly-the-Guard-Cat, and whichever side of the track she is on… take the other. This track, like much of the circuit, is earth and mud broken by tree roots and small rocks, and two of my bad sprained-ankles have come along this stretch.
The trail takes us all the way down to the joint-lowest point on the route in the heart of Meanwood Park where the wooden bridge crosses the beck. We could turn left here either side of the stream and find ourselves in the park with the swings and on into the up-and-coming Meanwood (they’ve got a Waitrose now, don’t’cha-know). Meanwood Park is lovely, and wild in parts, and at times of the year is carpeted with bluebells and daffodils, and also rhododendrons and other things I don’t know the names of, huge glorious explosions of colour and scent and cascades of pastel and dense-red leaves. Just growing there, for everyone, in the park. Amazing. I have a route which isn’t a route at all: it is called Meanderwood and it makes its own mind as it goes along any combination of the many paths and trails. In autumn the floor is carpeted with fresh and uniform leaf-fall – watch your feet, feel for the roots and rocks. In the depth of the stream, Meanwood can also be damp and dark and chilly, in places where the sun never reaches, and brambles and ivy and nettles and large dockleaves compete for light among the fallen treetrunks. JRR Tolkein lived in Leeds for a while, and some say this place was the inspiration for Mirkwood. Even on a bright day you can feel the chill down here and your breath comes in plumes. But we will cross the wooden bridge – if it’s been wet the waterall is loud – and climb back up the far side taking us towards the ring-road.
Part 2: by road to Adel Church, 5-Lane-Ends and Eccup (Miles 2-6)
Emerging from the trail we now start the only stretch of road, of which there are two sections. The first is about 2 miles from the point we cross the ring road up through Adel to Five Lane Ends. This starts with a mile-long pull up the hill till it flattens out at Adel Church, a lovely picture-postcard yellow stone church surrounded by gravestones and trees, and with a classic 12th century Romanesque door-arch. This is also the startpoint of the Eccup-10 which saw the return of my longterm calf injury, and I missed last year due to illness, but in 2014 I’ll have it.
Up till now we have had a pavement but this runs out as we leave the church dipping steeply down again to the next joint-lowest point of the route across the bridge (all streams leading to Meanwood Beck, I assume) before climbing back up less steeply and a long satisfying pull up to Five Lane Ends. There is not much traffic but it can be fast: my technique is to run right out in the middle of the oncoming lane, and if a car comes towards me I make an exaggerated pantomime theatrical gesture of looking over my shoulder to see if there is anything coming up behind: most drivers slow at that, and many indicate and pull right over the other side to pass me in which case I give them a thumbs-
up. But some are inconsiderate gits, and they get a different gesture.
We don’t bear left towards Golden Acre Park (though that offers a fantastic extension on to Lineham farm), but follow on uphill to 5-Lane Ends, which is exactly what it says on the tin. If we assume we have just run up the first lane, then we take the fourth: Eccup Moor Road.
Eccup Moor Road (“EMR”) is the heart of this run. This is the place to run. This is the place where the work of the hills before has kicked in and you are really going. This is the place where you feel like the cover-shot on Runners World magazine. This is the place where you hear the London Marathon theme paying in your head. This is the place where you don’t imagine yourself running under the big yellow clock in your next full-marathon as the crowds cheer: here it is real. This is a road – no, a lane – but it is almost single-track, and being a dead-end most of the drivers are courteous… not that there is much traffic. And either side, you suddenly realise, you are in open country. And it is truly open country: ahead to your left is the Harewood estate and then… well, North Yorkshire and Northumberland and the sea.
Just in case you hadn’t spotted that we have left the city far behind, you may notice that we are passing the Official Undisputed Smelliest Farm In The World. Ever. God only knows what they feed their cows on!
EMR starts with a mile slope down, a mini-rollercoaster dip-twist-and-sharp-climb, and then curves out for another gently climbing open mile. I love this hill, especially when the weather’s bad and there’s no-one here. If you didn’t already run, this lane would make you want to.
Part 3: Eccup Reservoir and Stile-5 (Miles 6-9)
At the top of EMR we turn clockwise and say goodbye to the tarmac for today, around the posh new restored stable-cottagey houses and down onto the reservoir dam, the expanse of water emerging to our right. If we were to bear left instead we could add a 2.5 mile circuit of the fields, or set off for the Harewood tracks and on to Wike and Shadwell and home via Roundhay, but that would mean we were in 16-22 mile marathon-training territory, so not today. Red Kites often swop overhead here, hunting the fields for carrion in graceful spirals, seeming effortless save for the continual tilt and twitch of their tail-fan. I have also seen Tracey Morris running here (the so-called “fun runner” who completed the Athens Olympic Marathon when Paula Radcliffe crumpled in a distressed heap on the kerb): Tracey looks ungainly, all heels and elbows, and as she approaches you think you might tag along… till she flies past barely touching the floor.
Making this turn, we realise that all along EMR we have had the wind behind us: it’s one reason why I run this clockwise, because we have a little protection from the hillside and trees on the opposite side of the water. Now can someone please explain this to me? We live on a tiny island on the edge of a huge continent with a massive turbulent ocean on the other side: our glorious weather is dictated by a continually battling weather systems which spin and rotate over us, pulling winds from every-which-way. Except here. Here it is 95% always southwesterly, behind you on EMR and in your face on the way home. I assume it must be something to do with the valleys of the River Aire which bisects Leeds to the south, and Wharfedale just out of sight to the north… but how can it be so consistent?
Whatever the reason, we zip up our thermal just a little as we take the track which hugs the south bank of the reservoir for a twisting turning two miles. This is a lovely surface: not road or stone or even gravel, but not mud either – it’s an even leaf-strewn compacted dirt track, and despite the seven or eight miles behind the pace always picks up here, running on a consistent flat for just about the first time.
After emerging from the waterside track and skirting the right edge of next field we turn left and climb to traverse a stile. This isn’t any old stile: this is the fourth of a route called 5-Stiles (basically, Killer without the reservoir). Now we scatter the sheep as we climb up to… you guessed it, Stile 5. For some reason, this moderate slope is always knackering. I don’t know if it’s the uneven long-grassed surface, the miles and hills we have already done, the extra pace of the reservoir, or the fact that Stile 5 is the highest point of the route, but this stretch has always been hard. Over a decade ago before I finally realised I couldn’t keep getting faster every time, I used to try and do this route in around 90-95 minutes, and it is on this slope that my lungs burnt and my legs hurt more than anywhere: this stretch, the pain and the determination was what first made me write “Killer” in my log. I’m wiser now and don’t hurt myself so much, but this is still the section where the workrate is highest. It may not really be Killer any more, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to give in and let you run all over it.
Part 4: Woods, bogs, Arches … and peace (Miles 9-10)
We cross King Lane and head into the shelter of the hedges by the golf course, along the muddy channel to break out into a rounded field which is the start of our descent; over to our right an old quarry hides below the trees, and we cross the switchback of Stairfoot Lane and back into the woods. We have the best part of a mile of delightful silver-birch enclosed, undulating broken dirt and tree-roots and rocks (watch your feet again!). Below us to the right Meanwood Beck starts to gather strength, and then suddenly we come on the surprise of the Seven Arches, a Victorian aqueduct which helped carry the water from Eccup to Headingley; the old weathered stone is strangely at home here amongst the trees. This was the site of my worst twisted ankle, a full 10 on the scale and a call home for a lift to casualty.
A hundred metres further on and we duck through overgrown holly bushes to pick our way through the Black Bogs. Even in the middle of a drought we will get our feet wet here, regardless of how we jump or tiptoe. Not so long ago the Leeds Voluntary Footpath Rangers laid out some wooden walkways here, and they are still there. Nature, however had other plans: she sat there smiling, legs crossed and arms folded behind her head as she watched the walkways get established. Then little by little, not so’s you’d notice at first, she hatched her plan until the bogs had moved 10m or so to the side, leaving the walkways high and dry and the runners’ and ramblers’ feet black and wet again. That’s one of the beautiful things about these woods: they never stay the same.
After the bogs we break out into a sloping clearing of large gritstone boulders beneath towering trees, shafts of sunlight in summer, and in autumn the most breathtaking arena of copper and gold. This is a special place. One year an impossible chance of all my twists and turns around puddles and rock and trees brought me to a single leaf impossibly suspended mid-air on an invisible single thread of cobweb. Or maybe it wasn’t chance. You can pause here, it’s allowed; switch off the iPod, listen to the wind and silence and maybe say a little prayer if you re that way inclined. Standing, amidst beauty, on the very edge of one of England’s largest cities.
Part 5: Down to go up, and home (Miles 10-12… definitely 12)
But we need to move on, and with the beck now fuller and deep to our right the trail leads us down a series of gentle steps to a stone bridge, and the joint-third lowest point on the route just before the ring-road. Just over a year ago, someone scratched DAD in the mossy weathered old stone of the bridge and a pile of ash lay below it. These woods must be special for so many people.
That joint-lowest point means that all we need to do now is cross the ring-road and climb
back up to the start, rejoining our way out on the track below the stables, and back up to Mal’s Field.
So we press our stopwatch and curse the day earlier this year when we finally invested in Garmin, only to find that this 12-miler we have been running for years is only 11.5… <Doh!!> I blame the common market; what was ever wrong with a piece of string? Anyway, I’ll add on the warm-up and jog home, so there!
So that was Killer; that’s my Leeds.
12 miles (oh yes it is!) of classic English countryside right from my door.
Welcome to Leeds
And it’s been nice having you along, which is quite something from a (the) member of The Antisocial Buggers Running Club (membership: 1, vacancies: 0, motto: Leave me in Peace).
So if you’re in Leeds some time let me know and I’ll tell you how to get to the fancy shopping centres; or suggest a gallery for an hour; I can show you the trendy bars, but will only buy you a proper pint, in Whitelocks or The Angel; and when I go to bed you can queue for a hip trendy nightclub if you want to.
Then in the morning we’ll go for a run in the woods and the mud and the wind and the hills. It doesn’t have to be Killer: there are shorter options around Mal’s Field or Meanderwood. Or Golden Acre and Lineham. Or Stairfoot and the Quarry; maybe Eccup, or the Fields or 5 Stiles. Or combine any of them: how far do you want to go…?
Don’t mind me though, if I pause for a moment in a clearing. I’ll catch you up… just watch your feet as you go.