Part of the pleasure of running (as opposed to jogging) as a hobby is that you can indulge your addiction without much need for paraphernalia. Other addictions (intravenous drug use, drinking, dungeons and dragons) require a less socially acceptable equipment list.
Our summer of riding the iron horse across the old countries of Europe involved stops in Cologne/Sauerland, Berlin, Brisighella, Antibes and Carcassonne. Each one came with a warm welcome from friends, family and strangers who displayed equal measures of curiosity and charity at out definition of a “summer holiday”.
I got an easy run of about 6 or 7 miles in in Cologne and shared some of this with my 9 year old daughter (who thinks running is “cool”). That was a run about the process and not the product (i.e. very slow but very memorable).
In our day between Cologne and the Sauerland (the West Cork of North Rhine-Westphalia) we dropped into the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen. If you have any aesthetic IQ you’ll love the place. It’s chocked full of things that have been well designed and work well (the right balance of form and function). There were cars, lights, chairs, tools, clothes, kitchen appliances, the lot.
There were one or two areas that lost me though: the vibrators seemed to look more like kitchen utensils. I took this as another sign post on my journey to middle age. Soon I’ll be telling nobody in particular that girls in short skirts will “catch their death of cold”.
Towards the end of the museum there was one section for random stuff they couldn’t classify but for the life of me I was struggling to understand how these things ended up here.
After our tour of the world of good design we made our way to Niedersfeld to stay with our friends. Niedersfeld is in the Sauerland, a hilly rural area that seems to be a bit of a secret the Germans don’t want to tell the rest of us about.
I tried my hand at water skiing. It’s one of those sports where if you pull it off successfully you look lithe and graceful, almost balletic. If you don’t pull it off successfully you tend to look like someone crouching in the “bear shitting in the woods” position being dragged across a lake. I was in the latter camp (from the photos) but I thought I was in the former.
While I could take the crouching bear humiliation on the chin, I was having a bit of trouble with the crashing. I managed to break my ribs in spectacular fashion by wiping out several times. As I hit the water for the last time and my ability to breath was sucked from my chest I wondered what the German for “Emergency Room” was. As I swam sloooowly to the edge of the lake I was also glad I had nothing challenging in front of me like lugging a 25kg pack around for the next 2 weeks….hmmmmm.
To be fair, there were differing schools of thought on the “breakiness” of my ribs. Other adjectives deployed but the cynics to describe the ribs were “cracked” and “bruised” but these people (my wife and kids) playing loose and fast with my health just didn’t understand my stoic nature and amazing capacity to endure pain. The 400mg of Neurofen required to sleep was enough for me to believe they were broken.
Now, what do you do with freshly broken ribs? “Take it easy” seems to be the stock prescription in the ladybird book of medicine (as “shoot” is in the corresponding book of equine medicine) but I hadn’t found out what the German for “Emergency Room” was so I went running.
The first 500m of my run were so painful as to be almost debilitating, The inability to breath, not being able to hold my core upright, my left arm not swinging properly, every footstep sending a jolt of pain through my body. So I stopped, right?
Wrong – I got lost in the mountains for 10 miles. So lost I started wondering what the German for “Helicopter Rescue” was. Still, as I made my way back to civilisation on a narrow downhill mountain bike single track I realised that my ribs were not hurting as much any more. Sure, for the next 7 days I’d be crippled, but at that moment I was happy. The pointless run is a rare thing. Normally the distance, the purpose, the speed are all pre-arranged within some sort of wider scheme, some sort of larger “must get things done” framework. It’s rare to head off on a random run.
The Sauerland was a revelation; understated, easy going, a bit of a Mecca for off-road pursuits like mountain biking, winter sports, running and walking. A great place to decompress from life.
As we headed off with my busted ribs to our next destination we were sorry to leave it go although the idea of running around Berlin was something I was looking forward to.