Training for a marathon while living in one of the biggest cities in the UK isn’t particularly pleasant to say the least. Endlessly pounding the cracked, lumpy pavements alongside hundreds and hundreds of buses. Cars appearing from nowhere while crossing junctions. Shouts, heckles, general abuse. Running past pub gardens on hot days and wishing I could be sat there myself. It’s all been a bit grim, a bit grey and a bit of a complete and utter pain in the arse. Finding somewhere away from all the drabness is a blessed relief, hence enjoying the Wednesday jogs along the River Mersey so much. And recently I’ve been spending a bit more time at another oasis against the concrete desert, jogging round a little place that I’ve grown rather fond of: Chorlton Water Park.

Pretty much all the issues with city training are absent as I glide serenely round the 1.1 mile lap of the lake. Well, apart from all the random shouts of abuse. Last week’s choice of Barcelona shirt (2006/07 edition) provoked a particularly witty “BARCELONA’S SHIT!” for example. Probably a Man United fan. But generally, it’s a lovely part of South Manchester, and I kind of wish I’d discovered it sooner. I’ve now covered over 573 miles in training, spread over five months, and the vast majority have been along roads, usually during the rush hour. Beautiful as the Princess Parkway, the Wilmslow Road bus corridor and most of Wythenshawe are, I kind of prefer jogging along a quiet pathway with only the geese, swans and pigeons for company.  The last week especially has been particularly pleasant, as the Indian Summer led to some glorious sunsets over the lake. The contrast between a 5pm tempo run along the busiest bus route in Europe and a light 7pm jog at the end of a sunny day around a nature reserve could not be more marked. I’ve almost enjoyed training.

Not everyone agrees with me though. Apparently, it’s been voted the most dangerous fishing venue in the UK as people just sat there minding their own business trying to catch fish with a stick have had their heads kicked in and all their gear nicked. This page is pretty amusing as people have seen fit to spend their time “reviewing” an area of grass and water. My favourite is from a light-hearted chap(ess) called Mushy999: “This place is a sh1t-hole. It’s full of dog turds and hoodies. I will never go to this place again…It’s a dump. Sorry but it is”. Well, Mushy me old mucker, you know where the gate is.

Over the past few weeks I have covered more laps round there then I can care to remember, and one thing that has been a bit of an issue is keeping track of how many times I’ve gone round, which is pretty vital when trying to stick to my training plan. I’ve got an awful memory and it turns out that even remembering basic numbers seems to be beyond me. Embarrassingly, the only way I seem to be able to remember where I am up to is to assign a lap to a shirt number of a Tottenham player. Weird, but true. So lap one is Heurelho Gomes. Lap two is a bit tricky as Alan Hutton has taken his unique brand of ballwatching and comedy defending to Aston Villa, so I go for 22 instead – Vedran Corluka. Lap three is king monkeyface himself, Inter-slaying simian Gareth Bale. And so on.

Tonight I probably said goodbye to the place for 2011 though. The nights are drawing in, and much as I love the place, running round in the pitch dark while machete-wielding miscreants lurk hunting for fishing sticks is not my idea of a particularly enjoyable evening. I went round seven times (Aaron Lennon), starting as the sun first began to disappear behind the trees and finishing in the inky dusk, with only the fishermen and a few lone joggers for company. I’ll miss the place I think, but to be honest after this Sunday I doubt I’ll ever want to run again. Ever.