In running, like in many other facets of life, it’s always fun to break from the norm.
This weekend, to get away from the usual training routes, I planned a mini adventure.
Leaving home at 7:35am on a sunny Saturday morning, I drove from Norwich to the Suffolk market town of Beccles. From there, I caught the train to Lowestoft – England’s most easterly town and the place where I spent my formative years. And what was the reason for this logistical effort at such an early hour? It was to practice some off road running by running a section of the Angles Way.
The Angles Way is a long distance footpath that wends its way from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, to Thetford in Suffolk. In total, it runs for 92 miles across the Norfolk/Suffolk countryside. The section I’d chosen to follow runs right next to the river Waveney as it meanders its way through the countryside. It offers lovely views , the chance to get away from it all and to the opportunity to lose yourself for a while before arriving back at Beccles.
When getting off the train in Lowestoft, I decided to head down to the beach to start my run. A quick walk down the road had me approaching the sea front but what I had not really noticed was the time. Seeing lots of other runners starting to congregate at my chosen start point was confusing me until I realised – it was 8:45am. I was heading to the start point of the Lowestoft Park Run! Park Run, for those not in the know, is a global voluntary phenomenon. Thanks to a network of volunteers around the world, you can turn up to any Park Run event and do a timed 5km race for free. There are hundreds of Park Run races held around the world and they always start at 9am on a Saturday morning. Now I have to say that at this point I felt a bit of a fool. Arriving at the start point of a 5km race wearing a hydration pack and trail gear just looks a bit dumb. Everyone knows you don’t need a 2 litres of fluid, maps and other stuff in a backpack to run 5km don’t they?? Now, my sister and her family have just started doing Lowestoft Park Run so I thought I would embrace my embarrassment about wearing excessive kit and pop to the start line to see if I could see them. In amongst the massing Lycra clad runners, I found my sis, brother in law and nephew limbering up and doing some bouncing on the spot and other general warm up related antics. This of course made me feel a bit bad as I’d not considered any of that in my preparation so I used chatting as my warm up. And singing. Yes folks, it seems Lowestoft park run is one of the nicest, friendliest park runs I’ve ever been to. There were three chaps in the 160 or so runners who had birthdays, so we all had to sing to them. Yep, even me! With the pleasantries done and an invite for brunch secured, we were seconds from the start. As the starter blew his whistle, 160 runners blasted South down the promenade. Except one – I headed off in the opposite direction! I can only imagine what the spectators thought seeing some odd ball run off completely the wrong way!
Once en route, the first part of the run was not actually part of the Angles Way at all. In deciding to come all the way to the coast, I’d taken myself by train a couple of miles from where I needed to be. I needed to get back to Oulton Broad to pick up the path. The first mile was a mix of residential and industrial road, but that was the extent of the road running for today. After a mile or so, I entered Normanston Park (a place where I once ran around on an empty football pitch to see if I could draw a giant comedy penis with my GPS trace – it worked a treat!) and then followed Lake Lothing to Everitts Park.
After Everitts Park, I joined the Angles Way and began the tricky task of running over 10 miles on a rough, sometimes slightly overgrown path. The views were lovely and along the way there were the occasional areas for boating types to moor their craft. At about 6 miles, I came across one of these mooring sites and I paused to chat to a lady who was fishing off the side of her boat. She found it rather strange that I should have chosen to run from Lowestoft (some might say that running from Lowestoft is the best thing you CAN do!), but after chatting about the fishing and the weather, it was time to go again.
The next stage of the run brought a bit more human contact in the form of dog walkers. Now, I’ve experienced this scenario when running on footpaths before and I still don’t quite know the etiquette behind it. Imagine the scenario – you’re running on a path wide enough for one person. Ahead of you there are two people with a dog. They have their backs to you. The ground is soft and your shoes aren’t making that much noise. You need to get by, but you know they’ve not heard you coming. Any noise you make will startle them, so how far away should you give a warning? And how should you do it? Is it OK to cough or force your breathing a bit to alert them? Is a simple “excuse me” or “good morning” the way to go? Well coming up on man and wife dog walkers, all these questions were going through my head. I plumped for the “excuse me” option. The poor woman at the back almost jumped out of her skin. I feared a coronary may be on the cards. Needless to say I ran past quickly, apologising profusely as I went. There may have been lots of fist shaking and finger wagging, but I didn’t hang around long enough to find out. Thankfully the dog was busy jumping in the river so there was no risk of the snapping jaws of death closing around my sweaty behind!
With Beccles in sight, the path improved and the prospect of an ice cream on Beccles Quayside started to take over. The thought of ice cream became all encompassing like an itch that just has to be scratched and so it came to pass that after 12 miles off road, I sat down by the river with a Magnum ice cream and a sense of satisfaction. A quick run back to Beccles Station to collect my car followed, and then a trip to my sister’s for brunch.
Saturday’s mini adventure was great. It had variety, new experiences and a sense of the unknown (I had not measured the distance before I began so could have come unstuck if my fitness failed me!). One thing that it did teach me though, is that it’s not necessary to spend silly amounts of money on race entries or other organised events just to challenge yourself and have an adventure. This whole trip cost me about £8 (£4.50 train fare, £2.20 on ice cream and a small amount in petrol). There’s a whole network of paths out in the countryside which can be enjoyed for free. You just need the time and inclination to get out there and make your own adventures…