"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Tower Run - unspecified date - secret location

I had an hour or so to spare in the middle of our meditation "retreat" (that's not really the right word - gathering maybe?) and having a view of some wooded hills out of the B&B window I was keen to squeeze in a hill run. The early start at our riverside temple meant I would have to do this run before sunrise - well, at least the outbound part. I didn't have a head torch but I figured there would be just enough pre-dawn twilight and the flashlight on my phone was always there as an option. I picked the nearest hill - summit at around 375 metres - and ran with the aid of Windymaps straight for it. Town was quiet - just a few students and workers out on bikes. Although it was a Saturday morning there was only one bar where I saw people clearly wrapping up an all-nighter. Once through the quiet streets to the edge of town the route led me up stone steps into the dark forest where I was relieved to find that my eyes had adjusted well to the near-darkness and I could find my way, just about.

Windy Maps is an awesome free app but I discovered it had too many trails marked rather than too few (as you get with google). Some that were marked on my phone map were barely there in reality and at one point the direct route for the summit took me up an overgrown and broken trail where I had to clamber over the remains of crumbling stone walls and duck under fallen trees. The run became a walk/climb then I broke out on to something more like a forestry fire-road and picked up speed again. There was, needless to say, not another soul to be seen.

Time was ticking away and the need to be back at my room by 8am (ish) was giving the run a bit of an edge - running pace and routefinding would both have to be pretty strong if I was going to make it. Mostly I stuck to the wider trails but where a narrow, steep path looked like it would be quicker I plunged back into the thick forest and went for it. Eventually I emerged at the summit, still in thick woodland but with the unexpected site of a tall viewing tower that looked Victorian. There was a winding, stone staircase to the top with a cold steel handrail - I was glad of that on damp stone steps in the dark.

I didn't really have time to climb the tower but I couldn't resist it. The view over town was lovely in the lightening sky (dawn was just about breaking behind the thick, grey clouds) but didn't show up in my photos. Descending the steps carefully I steeled myself for the hard run back against the clock and stuck more and more to the gravel roadways through the still-deserted forest. I still had to run cautiously on the downhill as the daylight hadn't really penetrated the trees but soon I was back at the first set of steps down to the road - there was a feeling of awakening from a woodland dream as I emerged from thick and silent forest into town with human activity and traffic starting up around me.

Running with the app, retracing my steps, I pushed myself to hit the 8am target and would have done so if I hadn't got confused in the last few hundred metres. I ran under an underpass instead of climbing up to ground level at one junction and had to take in an extra half mile or so in a loop back to the room, but I got there at around 8.04 and all was well. I don't think I'll be signing up for any of these welsh downhill-in-the-dark races that are happening these days but the pre-dawn forest run had been both peaceful and challenging. A good way to start the day that would see me clock up several hours of silent meditation at the temple (we have a no-speaking custom even in the gardens there, which I really appreciate as it helps you assimilate the experience). I was glad to discover that I could still climb ok, even with little hill-running practice, so who knows, maybe I will sign up for a fell race (should any happen in the coming months!).

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