Today made me remember.
We ran the Halifax Half Marathon route this morning, with its incessant, ridiculous climbs (1,346ft) over the hills of the town where I grew up: 13 miles of hills, valleys, beauty… and memories.
We ran from Dean Clough to Wheatley, and up Brakenbed – the Killer Hill. I remember my Mum driving me down there on our daily school run in her British Racing Green Mini Metro. It seemed insanely steep back then. I never even imagined I’d run up it.
We ran up through Pellon to Wainstalls, to the junction with the old Post Office, which has long since been converted into a house. I remember visiting one of my school friends who lived there, and her mum making us hot dogs for tea. I remember sitting on the bunk bed she shared with one of her sisters, hearing her mum playing Paul Young loudly downstairs. Distance had no meaning to me back then: I was simply delivered from A to B. So far, we’d done three miles of solid climbing.
From there, we took a right turn and dropped down into Mixenden. As I ran through the main street, I remember babysitting with my best friend Jo on an estate I didn’t like. I remember their huge Alsatian dog which took up far too much space, and lolloped all over the antiquated dark velvety sofa, leaving hairs and salivary DNA wherever it went. I remember the faint stench of warm dog turds that yet again hadn’t been removed from the garden. I’ve never been a massive fan of Alsatians ever since.
We climbed out of Mixenden and up towards Ogden, turning at Lane Head Lane. Again, memories came flooding of another school friend who lived there in the Big House On The Corner. She had the most amazing attic bedroom, rather like a granny flat, where we shared many evenings of alcopop-fuelled teenage laughter and tears in equal measure.
Coming out on the main Keighley Road by the Golf Club, we took a left and headed up towards the turn off to Ogden Water. I remember driving up there not knowing where to go, fearing I’d be late for Ness’s funeral. I didn’t know the church. Why didn’t I know where the bloody church was? I remember feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of being even a millisecond late.
We had to climb again. This time it hurt too much, and I had to pull over to give my hammies some brief respite. I berated myself for being overcome with lactic, and simply wanting to stop. Was it the lactic though, or was it the flood of memories? I can’t be sure. I stopped anyway, and admired the view. Such a stunning view.
Once at the top, I could see the Raggalds ahead. “We turn right here, don’t we, Gav?” Gav didn’t know me back then. He didn’t know my life, or any of my memories that were running with us. Eventually, we reached the Ski Slope in Queensbury. The fake, lumpy slope used to look impressive. I went to a birthday party there once when I was ten. I remember thinking “Wow! This is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! As if somebody has created this!” Today, it looked old and tired, as if the slope couldn’t even be bothered to pretend it was a slope anymore.
We ran on, and I could see the town ahead in the distance: MY town. Halifax. I could pick out the landmarks, and tell stories of how they intermingled with my past.
Almost home as we dropped back down Mill Lane, towards the back of Dean Clough. I felt tired: I WAS tired. We passed a couple of other runners, and Gav did his usual exchange of pleasantries – he really is far nicer than me – whilst I motored on to the finish.
We got to the end, and I lay down, flat on my back next to our car in the blazing sunshine. I remembered last year, when I came 3rd lady in the race, and felt overjoyed having put my heart and soul into every single step.
Still breathing heavily, I remembered: “There was a time when you couldn’t have done this. There were many years, in fact, when you could not have run along this route of memories. Remember now, and be grateful – after all these years – that you can.”
This year’s race is on Sunday 3rd July. I may – or may not – see you then…