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Return of the long run

May 19, 2013

Slinking around suspiciously in the bushes of Hampstead Heath, breathing heavily from my first encounter with decent hills for a while, it occurred to me that I probably ought to have my story straight in case I ran into the police.

See, certain parts of the Heath have a reputation that doesn’t necessarily sit well with orderly conduct on a Saturday afternoon, and the various notices forbidding barbecues stood testament to a likely crackdown on non-conforming behaviours.

It was three weeks until the Southend Half-marathon, and to date my longest run post-injury had been a distinctly uncomfortable-feeling 9 miler. While I’ve been picking up speed over the past few weeks, I’ve been resolutely hanging around the 8.5 mile mark. To avoid a painful encounter with the limitations of my current fitness, I decided that a casual run that was something over 90 minutes would be the best way to get back up to distance. I’ve got a tendency to push things, though, so I needed a distraction.

Foraging requires a decent level of attention in order to spot likely hauls of edible plants, and since I’d developed something of an obsession with finding wild garlic, it took a remarkably short amount of time to form a plan. Some internet research equipped me with the necessary knowledge:

  • It grows in cool, damp conditions
  • If you find bluebells, the conditions are probably good for wild garlic
  • There’s wild garlic on Hampstead Heath, and possibly in Highgate Wood
  • It looks a bit like lily of the valley, which is a whole lot less edible

Once I’d made my way over to the Heath, I set a course for the less-trod areas in the woods. I saw a few other walkers, a few couples off to admire the views, and one man who eyed me furtively as he emerged from a dirt track through a thick shield of trees and bushes. This, I decided, looked like an excellent spot and – having passed a solitary clump of sorry-looking bluebells – I shortly stumbled over a weedy-looking clump of wild garlic.

I loaded my jacket pockets with leaves (having double-checked that it wasn’t lily of the valley), continued my run expecting to see more – I didn’t – and finally turned back.

Wild garlic from Hampstead Heath

Mission accomplished!

Now, my running jacket was a freebie, so lacking in the technical wicking and breathability properties you might ideally want. So, running back through Woodland Walk, as I boiled in the bag, so the wild garlic in my pocket steamed, releasing a fragrant aroma.

‘Mmm, let’s have roast chicken,’ a family mused in a Bisto-sponsored cliche as I ran past them.

‘I fancy a nice bruschetta,’ a hipster commented to her partner, both wheeling fixies because their jeans were too tight to actually ride the bikes.

‘Does someone smell European to you?’ Asked a man carrying a UKIP plaque.

Back home, I’d worked up an appetite so settled down to a nice bowl of garlicky aubergine pasta. A tasty and fitting reward for what turned out to be 13.4 miles run over 1 hour 45 minutes.

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