Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Racing the Sun

If you’re a runner I can tell you that after having a training buddy and a goal, the next best thing to have is a blog. For one, you can bore everyone rigid discussing your training regime; also, during those long solitary trudges one can mentally compose and discard any number of posts.

Continuing up the Northumberland coast, for my long runs I drove up to Druridge Bay. I realize it’s daft and extravagant to drive this 40 mile round trip, but the coast line is the carrot that has kept me going this far. I’ve been to Druridge Bay a couple of other times and remembered its stunning beauty. The first time was to take a university colleague to visit a burial site for foot and mouth carcasses. We had to put on paper suits and rubber boots and get our feet sprayed with disinfectant before leaving. The irony of slaughtering the animals to start, then burning and burying them at a nationally designated site of outstanding natural beauty…never mind, that’s a rant for another day. The second time was when Bill and I cycled up there and back once, in my much fitter days.

My plan, which I discussed with Bill, was to park in the designated car park and run north on the cycle trail, perhaps reaching Amble, then to turn around and come back. In the event, the car park turned out to be just a small dead end road with a potholed loop at the end with maybe a dozen cars strung along the sides. I didn’t find a trail extending north from the car park, just a gate to a field without any signposts. Also, the long drive made my first priority to find a loo. Near entrance to this road, overlooking the beach, was a large concrete bunker surrounded by sand dunes and with no observable entrance. I decided the ladies’ room was a sheltered corner of the structure. My running club has taught me to do shocking things, I know.

Then, as beaches often do, this one pulled me out to admire its graceful curve, its blue and white waves, its long sweep of clean tan sand with only 2 or 3 other people in the distance. The sun was bright and the sound of the rushing water seductive. So I ran north along the beach, crossing a couple of streams that left me ankle-wet, but none the worse. At the end of that cove I found a trail that connected me to the signposted bicycle trail I was supposed to be on and I followed that through a village, Low Hauxley, and out the other end. I was passed by a couple of cyclists and I passed some ramblers, chatting away, coming the opposite way.

It wasn’t until I came into sight of Amble, approaching my 68 minute turnaround time, that I started to worry about the angle of the sun. I had used the rain that morning to justify my usual late start. This hadn’t mattered much the previous week, but now my run was a little longer and the day a little shorter. Neither country lanes nor bike trails are lit at night and I certainly didn’t have a flashlight with me (nor a map or a phone). Going back via the beach might not be an option as I’d no idea when the tide should be in or what those streams would look like on my I return.

As soon as I turned I realized I’d had such an easy run because of a strong tail wind and a slight downhill course, both very much against me now. I was occasionally lifted onto the verge of the trail mid-stride. Even when the trail curved, the side-wind stole the breath before I could suck it and let me near fall in the lull. The low sun was blinding. I pushed as well as I could, raising my hand to see the way forward. I knew vaguely how far I’d come as I’d noted the times at various landmarks on the way up and I was somewhat comforted by the sight of the occasional dog walker, or pram pusher, also lone women. However, I thought, they probably knew precisely how to get back to their car.

I felt on course as long as the sun was in front or to the right; when the trail curved inland I chickened out and headed for the cliffs overlooking the beach. I took the sand trail between the clumps of tall razor grass. The tide was still out a ways, but there was no access down, not that I thought it a good idea with dusk approaching. To the right was a long drop into a field surrounded with barbed wire, but no visible trail. High on the ridge I was easy prey for the wind and I clutched at the grasses to keep my balance. The meandering trails sometimes ended and I had to hunt another. It dawned on me that these were not man-made but naturally occurring: no guarantee of a logical route. I couldn’t run on the sand, but my adrenalin kept me pushing hard. Bill was going to be worried if I was late. If the worst happened and I wasn’t on the bike trail, how would he find me?

Thankfully, I spotted some ramblers ahead of me on the next hill, the very ones I’d passed earlier. I didn’t know if they could see me, but I scurried along to catch up with them, hoping that our sand trails would connect. The relief when I caught them was immense. They were all about my age, but dressed in walking boots, gloves and lined water proof jackets. The two men stopped for a moment and I passed them and tucked in behind the women, who later stopped to point something out in the distance. When they invited me to pass, I admitted I didn’t know where I was going, that I’d been relieved to have found them. They said they, too, had been unable to find the trail they were seeking. Being lost at dusk with strangers was still a huge advance on being alone! I had put my water-resistant jacket back on, but had to keep the hem bunched in my hand to keep from billowing up and flying away. We came to a deep ravine, one of the streams I’d crossed, and another older gentleman took our hands to help us make the leap across.

We were soon approaching their car. I was explaining about the concrete bunker I’d thought would be a landmark (not mentioning the pit stop) but they hadn’t seen one. One of the women kindly reassured me that they would 'see me safe'. As it turned out the 2 cars left at the end of the lane were theirs and mine! I thanked them profusely and ran towards my car.

The flashing of the tail lights when I clicked my keyring were as cheery as a Christmas tree. The water and banana on the seat beside me were delicious. The car heater soon had me toasty. I noted the time I got in the car: 3:39. The streetlights came on as I drove home. I made the decision then to run from home the next week, on the road sides with traffic and street signs and lights and all.


Anonymous said...

Do you keep tract of the distance you run each time? That would be interesting to add. I had a friend who would try, and usually made it, run 300 miles a month. I enjoy reading your blog and seeing all your pictures of the area around.

Shelley said...

I don't track the miles, only the minutes. Mainly because I can't always map the route accurately enough to do so and I never graduated from a heart rate monitor to a GPS watch. (I don't even bother with the heart rate monitor nowadays). Even the map on the first link in this post is just a rough estimate. If I run only the routes I know the distances for, it gets pretty boring. I might not know how far it would be to add another mile, but it's dead easy to run another 10 minutes, say.

I would guess that I'm making between 80 and 100 miles per month. Even in my fastest days and training for marathons, the best I will have done was 150-250 miles per month, tops.

If your friend was averaging 60-70 miles per week they were a lot quicker than I will ever be. That said, it might be interesting to know how they measured their mileage. The guys in my running club used to estimate, in the days before GPS, the distance based on what pace they thought they were running and how long they were out. Once everyone had GPS watches it came to light they always had estimated their pace (and therefore the distances) to be just a bit further than later measured. Just human nature, I guess.

Struggler said...

I enjoyed reading this post and was so relieved when you found your car safely!
300 miles a month is 10 per day - serious stuff indeed. Even if my dodgy knee wasn't completely screwing up my marathon hopes, I wouldn't ever get near that. And on this kind of run, where you had wind, hills and rough terrain to deal with, each mile should count as 2!
My husband invested in a GPS watch (which is fab, by the way) but we've found it's enormously difficult to truly estimate your pace. Without the watch, it would all be guess-work.