The reflection of a running shoe logo catches my eye as I ascend out of the early morning mists on the outskirts of the Gwydir Forest in Snowdonia. It is still dark and I have run up nine hundred feet of fire-track to kickstart my morning canter around the forest. I’m breathing heavily and my thigh muscles burn from the effort. It’s unusual to see someone up here this early in the morning and even more unusual to see someone running. What’s really piqued my interest is the logo on his shoes. They are the same brand as I wear, not the usual Nike or Asics. Maybe this explains the strange compulsion I have to follow him; as I always run alone, enjoying the solitude that a run in the mountains of Snowdonia can provide.
Cresting the hill, I feel the sweet relief in my thighs as the incline gives way to a flatter plane. I increase my pace, allow my breathing to stabilise and look ahead. In the distance I can see him, a flash of a blue top and that logo again reflected from my head-torch. He is running at a good pace, I’m not catching up with him, but neither is he pulling away. I look at my watch, my pace is 8.00 min/mile, a comfortable pace on this terrain, I resolve to keep it this way, knowing I have another ten miles to cover. We continue along the fire-track for about two miles gently ascending and still maintaining our respective distances. He does not seem to be aware of me, he is running lightly and I can hear no sound other than that of my breathing and my shoes beating out a metronomic rhythm on the track. We are running along my usual route and as the sun starts to rise, the clouds depart and the early morning mists evaporate. I can now see the hints of snow on the peaks of Snowdon and Moel Siabod in the distance and the reflections of the just wakening sky in the lake below me.
I know this route well and I’m running on auto-pilot, making changes to my cadence as the track ascends and descends across the outskirts of the forest. I feel almost weightless as we pound out the miles along the track, I check my watch and notice I am now running a much quicker pace of 7:15 min/mile, yet I still felt as if I could keep running all day. In the distance I can still see him, our gap has not closed at all, despite my marked increase in pace. As we start the descent to Llyn Geirionydd, I can see its dark grey water in the distance. My pace increases proportionately with the rate of descent and I feel another sense of weightlessness as we continue down the road towards the lake. I’m surprised when I notice him suddenly dart from the road into the forest, which is not my usual route and despite my misgivings, I make the split decision to follow his lead.
Not wanting to get lost, or to lose him, I up my pace again and find myself running through the pine forest, the smells pungent and damp in my nostrils. I haven’t switched my head torch off, and it gives a welcome glow to the gloom of the overhanging branches. I can’t see him, but carry on regardless in the only direction the trail seems to go. After a short while my watch buzzes informing me that I have run another mile since we entered the forest, yet I still can’t see him. I check my watch, and my heart rate is at zero, I’m annoyed that my recent purchase has already became faulty, I nevertheless scan ahead, the trail branches off in two directions. Common sense tells me to turn around and head back the way I came, and yet I keep going and take the left branch of the track.
The track becomes tighter, harder to run on, with tree roots, potholes and fallen branches to navigate. Clearing a particularly boggy section I look up and my torch catches a glimpse of that familiar running shoe logo in the distance before it disappears again. I increase my pace, determined to catch up with him and despite the increased effort, I can feel myself almost gliding over the forest floor, any sense of disorientation has been replaced by an urgency that I cannot explain, I need to catch him. Bursting out of the undergrowth at the apex of my climb I see a large tree trunk blocking my path, my legs still feel fresh and under no stress, so I push my pace, tense my legs and leap over it.
As I clear the tree trunk, I feel like I’m flying, I look down momentarily and there he is. His trainers are the same as mine. His gear is identical to mine and he’s lying in the deep ravine below me, blood pooling from his head and his body twisted at weird angles. For a moment, I’m suspended in mid air, looking into his lifeless blue eyes, then my perspective shifts; I’m staring up at the top of the ravine looking at the tree trunk on the cliff edge and then only darkness.
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