We had a particularly male type of friendship that it was based on two things; running or cycling, and drinking beer. For many years went over the trails of the Chilterns, talking about this and that. I think it kept us both sane when work was either especially tedious or fraught.
His background is botany, well that was his degree - his work is arboriculture. This meant that our routes would sometimes be interrupted by looking for plants. This always opened up my eyes to things I would never otherwise notice. For example there is a gully, with a path, alongside Pitstone Hill. To me it has looked completely unremarkable. To my friend it was a wonderful example of an unspoilt downland ecosystem, a sheltered area with varieties of grasses and flowers that had not been ploughed or overgrazed by sheep.
The short turf is rich in flowers and is colourful, comprising the yellows of Common Bird's-foot-trefoil and hawkweeds, the blues of scabious and milkworts and the pink of the dwarf Squinancywort. The orchid flora is often very diverse, including Early and Late Spiderorchids, Bee, Frog, Musk, Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids, Greater and Lesser Butterfly-orchids, and Early-purple, Green-winged and Burnt Orchids.
Many a time we would stop whilst he went looking for small wild orchids.
On another occasion we passed a hedgerow and he pointed out a spindle tree, saying that it got its name because the straight, hard branches were used for spindles, as well as artists’ charcoal. Other times we would talk about why trees would spontaneously drop limbs or we would follow the changes in the season and compare the years.
To me this is what soft-core running is about – feeling part of the environment, through exertion. The contrast with hard training is that if you had a schedule and were measuring your performance, stopping to look for orchids would surely mess it up.