IN all my years of running, I’ve never felt afraid to run off-road on my own. That changed on Sunday.
I was coming up to two miles on my favourite route on the Trans Pennine Trail, heading to Newmillerdam, when I noticed a man under Old Royston Bridge. It’s not unusual to see men on the TPT. They’re normally running, cycling or walking. This man was different. He wasn’t doing any of those things. This man was loitering. He also appeared to be talking to a bush.
I did a quick check to see if he’d got a dog with him. Talking to a dog would be acceptable, but a bush, well, that had me worried.
As I ran towards him, he turned away from me and crouched down. My heart missed a beat. What on earth was he doing? I thought about turning round, but I was almost there. It might look a bit odd if I suddenly bolted the other way.
I decided to carry on, trying to make myself look incredibly strong and athletic, in a do-not-mess-with-me kind of way. I pulled my cap down, squared up my body, and made myself as tall as I possibly could. I was hoping he might mistake me for a man (it has happened before when I’ve been out running).
The man was still crouched down. Perhaps he was going to jump up, bash me over the head with a brick, and murder me.
I was under the bridge, next to him, when I realised he was talking to two other men. They were sitting on the floor, backs resting on the bridge, cans in hand. I tried to get a quick look at them, in case there needed to be a Crimewatch reconstruction at a later date.
My observation skills aren’t usually the best, but I did notice their bicycles. This concerned me. What if they hopped on their bikes and gave chase! I speeded up. I was a good 600m on when I heard the sound of bikes behind me. I thought my days were numbered. I didn’t want to look back. ‘Keep going,’ I told myself. ‘Keep running for safety.’
The first bike came past. What a relief. It was a mountain biker. There were five of them actually. Five men, all focused on getting past me as quickly as they could.
I slowed my pace. By this time, I was gasping. I must have been running at something very close to world record pace, which isn’t really the best way to start a Sunday long run.
The TPT got busier. Now that I knew an attack wasn’t imminent, I relaxed and plodded on. I ran around the dam and the woods, before getting back on the TPT to head home. I was about to run under Newmillerdam Bridge when I heard shouting from the bridge above.
‘Go on, love!’
I looked up and there they were, the three men from under Old Royston Bridge.
They started waving and cheering.
‘Keep going! You’re doing well. We saw you earlier.’
I breathed a sigh of relief. They weren’t going to attack me after all. They were just enjoying a few beers on a Sunday afternoon, generally making nuisances of themselves. I felt cross that they’d ruined my run, and, if I’m honest, I still didn’t feel completely safe. I ran the three miles home, looking over my shoulder.
I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was scared. It made me realise how vulnerable I was. I think there are a few lessons to be learned, because who knows what could be lurking under the bridge next time.