Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Running at Weston-Super-Mare

Weston-Super-Mare, January 2014
You might think running in January at Weston-Super-Mare sounds a bit optimistic.  January and February are normally the worse months of the year for weather and even on "good" days the conditions can be pretty hostile to runners.  Right? No, wrong.

Sure, it can be rough by the coast with Atlantic winds battering anyone brave enough to run along the seafront - but it doesn't have to be like that.  We were in Weston-Super-Mare this last weekend and the weather was perfect and I could squeeze in a couple of runs.  Exactly the same weekend last year in 2014 was also nice, although you can see from the above photograph, the tides were pretty high then.

So what is there at Weston-Super-Mare?
Weston-Super-Mare is in North Somerset and grew into a significant seaside town in the Victorian era.  The main feature is the promenade, a wide pavement which is about two miles long with views across the bay.  The Severn Estuary is famed for having a particularly wide tides - when the sea goes out, it goes a long, long way!  Needless to say the town has been the butt of such jokes for many-a-year and deservedly so.

From the north end of Weston Bay there is Birnbeck Island and the old pier (currently looking very ropey and probably destined to fall into the sea in a rough storm). Marine Lake is a little further south and that's where the proper promenade starts.  The promenade passes the Grand Pier with all of the usual seaside ice cream shops (looking much smarter these days) and then on to the quieter Beach Lawn area to the southern end passing by some smart apartments.  When I say it is looking better, I do mean that although it is fair to say there is some trashy tat still around, especially near the Grand Pier.  

You can go further on along the beach towards the village of Uphill at the mouth of the River Axe.  This is all flat, quite varied and always something different to see.  

All this gives a runner a few miles of flat surfaces, leading to Personal Best (PB) potentials.  If you look carefully, there is a little sign on the sea front wall by the Winter Gardens telling you it is exactly one mile from the Royal (the apartments at the southern end of the promenade) and this is useful for timing a fast one mile sprint.  My PB is 6 mins 24 seconds, I'm no Roger Bannister!

It's not all as flat as a pancake
Most seasoned runners like to take on some hills as part of their training and I too love running up and down hills!  To the north of Weston there are Weston Woods and the sharpest road climb I know is Monks Hill at about 30% incline but there are plenty of others around which will test the fittest of runners.  

Monks Hill is actually from Kewstoke and at the top it's near one of the entrances to the Woods and I also like to cycle up this road from time to time.  Mind you, you need to watch out for cyclists on their BSOs (Bike Shaped Objects) when realising their brakes are inadequate coming down and their legs/lungs are equally inadequate for riding up.  

At the southern end of Weston Bay there is the hill of Uphill (now that sounds a bit odd, I know).  From here there are some fantastic views across the Somerset levels to the south and well worth taking a look on a clear day.

And other runners
As an occasional visiting runner along the seafront, I'm always amazed at the variety of other runners.  Right from those who are taking their first steps (wobbling along slowly, overweight and carrying a water bottle) right up to faster, lean runners.  You get men, women and teenagers.  You get single runners and couples, sometimes small groups.  Sometimes events are staged (5 and 10k races are often popular) which also brings quite a mixture.

The thing about the runners I have come across is that they're a pretty friendly bunch, always exchanging a "hiya" or at the very least a knowing nod.  I have noticed cyclists also seem to respect the runners.

Promenade -v- beach?
These days I normally tend to stick to the promenade: it's fast, wide and flat.  

If the sea is in - and it looks nice - I'll run alongside the very edge of the water, sometimes splashing my way as the small waves run up over the sand.  This is a lovely thing to do, in fact everyone should do it at some point.  I challenge you to resist thinking of the opening scene from Chariots of Fire....

So there ya go
Weston-Super-Mare, often knocked and ridiculed as a holiday destination and all the cheap seaside tat, is actually a nice place for running, in my humble opinion.


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