As a runner, any overnight trip away from home affords the opportunity to get lost go running in pleasingly unfamiliar surroundings and add a few unique memories to the ol’ running scrapbook. For me, running around the vast Disneyland Paris hotel complex in pre-dawn darkness, in the icy depths of winter, will always be a singularly memorable high. Particularly, the expressions on the faces of the arriving park workers – readying themselves for a torturous day inside the Goofy suit or similar – which transversed a linguistic barrier to say ‘Who is this complete moron – he’s surely supposed to be on holiday’*. But this past weekend, far from the beady eye of any judgemental Frenchman, I was in an altogether more naturally picturesque setting.
Just north of Whitby, on the scenic Yorkshire Coast, is the village of Sandsend. Just inland of that, and up a sodding great hill, you’ll find Lythe. And it was from the relaxed atmosphere of Lythe Camping and Camping Park that I commenced a memorable 4.2 miles.
Owing to a grind of blackbirds** having some sort of dawn acid house party mere inches from my head, I awoke early. Not long after 4am, actually. But even I’m not that mental, so rather than getting up at that point, I just resigned myself to fractured slumber until after 6am. Then it was time to snap on the shorts and head out into the idyllic morning sunshine. My usual and unwise approach to ‘warming up’ (“Pfft, warming up?! That’s what the first mile is for…”) meant that before you could say Lena Meyer-Landrut the Garmin had found the satellite and I was off.
The first highlight was St. Oswald’s Church, complete with its Viking burial stones. Also, several ‘Taylorsons’ are buried here. They’re named like my name. Does that mean I’m a Viking, ancestrally speaking? Who knows. But it may explain my penchant for pillaging. Shortly after sweeping past the church I enjoyed a moment of mutual surprise with three cows, as their morning routine of lapping water from an old bathtub was clearly interrupted by this passing pillock in Lycra. They mooed their disapproval. I stifled a manly scream and said hello. Wherever possible when running I like to enjoy a brief chat with a passing animal, safe in the knowledge they’re unlikely to challenge my world views. Apart from that one emu *shakes fist*. But with the cows behind me (as the saying goes) I was presented with this rather stunning view looking down the coast towards Whitby.
At this point I really began to take note of the gradient. Being largely a road runner rather than taking to the fells or similar, running downhill is usually quite liberating. However, the gradient was so steep it was quite uncomfortable. And if was uncomfortable on the way down, what was it going to be like on the way back up? Never mind, that would be ‘in-20-minutes-time Ben’s’ problem. Besides which, at this point the footpath disappeared leaving me dithering into the middle of the road, so clearly this would be how I’d die and uphill would never be an issue.
But I didn’t die. Instead I reached the bay. It was high tide, with water lapping acquiescently against the sea wall. “This”, I thought, in reference to the tranquillity and the pleasing nature of the aesthetic, “is why I run”. But, another significant benefit of a longstanding preoccupation with running, particularly during hours that some would deem unsociable, is that you get to see a broader range of societal peculiarities that you otherwise might. Which brings me to who I saw next. Now, there’s no judgement being exercised here. In fact I was rather envious. Envious of the elderly chap, who, at 6:40am, was wading shin-high through East Row Beck towards the sea, adorned in only a (rather tight fitting) pair of beige shorts, whilst puffing away on a pipe. Most impressively, he sported a look and indeed an aura that said ‘I do this first thing every day come rain, shine or nuclear apocalypse’.
With Piping Pete the Plodger now behind me, the road began to lift up out of the bay and I found myself looking down on the beach. There was a runner down there, dodging in and out of the waves and he darted majestically across the shingle. “That could be us!” said my inner monologue. “But we might get trapped by the incoming tide and require air sea rescue!” it added. “But surely you could just wade off the beach if that happened. Which it won’t. You dick.” It furthered, taking an unnecessarily aggressive inflection. But there was no time for further schizophrenia as I’d reached ‘the turn’ in the form of a deserted car park to run around before heading back.
“Stuff it! I’m going on the beach!” I said out loud in a defiant tone, to no one in particular, as I abandoned the security of the pavement and followed a grassy track onto the sand. As it was high tide all of the harder, more compacted (and some would say ‘more suitable for running on’) sand was underwater. Leaving me with only thigh-draining, powdery pulverulence to pound. And at this point I was running straight into the wind. Still, all that was forgotten as I exchanged a brotherly nod of approval with Beachrunner Bill, now on the return leg of his own morning jaunt.
After I mile or so I agonised up a dozen steps and back into the loving arms of pavement (Arms? You get the point. Oh pavement – let us never fight again) to face the final challenge of the morning: Lythe Bank.
Before we continue, let’s have some stats about this particular climb. It’s an ascent of 415 feet across 0.7 miles. This is a gradient of 10%. And in places, 18%. Which is ‘quite steep’. Or indeed, as this cycling website says, ‘a painful gradient, especially if maintained for any length of time’. It took me 8 minutes and 28 seconds to climb Lythe Bank. Let’s just say I’ve had happier 8 and-a-half minutes in my life. I largely swore and blasphemed my way to the top, albeit in broken and increasingly shorthanded English. I had no energy for man-to-cow pleasantries. No inclination to consider the church’s architectural splendour. I just had to get to the top. And just as I emitted a pained cry of “IT JUST GOES F%$&ING ON AND ON!” I was there. The bank levelled off and I was free to up the pace a little for the sprint*** home.
But, of course, I wasn’t going home. I was returning to the campsite and their communal washing facilities. Much to my fury surprise, despite it still being really quite early on a Sunday morning, all the showers were occupied. And here I’m led into yet another avenue of social awkwardness – how to casually queue for a shower despite there being nowhere to queue, without simply coming across as a sweaty pervert who’s hanging around the toilet block…
This week’s running:
This week I’ve managed to put a total of 25.5 miles in the hypothetical running receptacle, with 1 jaunt around the regular route, 2 longer runs and 2 ‘speedwork’ sessions (read: ordinary run with hilarious sprints in the middle). Highlights included running under a drone (recreational, rather than military…I hope *changes name to Alfonso Sanchez just to be safe*), almost being run over by a reversing HGV and dodging a low-flying pigeon.
* – “Qui est ce complet moron – il est censé être en vacances” according to a half-arsed Internet search
** – Aren’t collective nouns fun?
*** – Term applied very loosely…