I have recently been on holiday to Porthleven in Cornwall, which is too far away from a gym for a daily visit. The property we were staying in is on the Southwest Coast Path, so to get my daily dose of exercise I decided to go for runs on it. My only other running experience had been on a treadmill at the gym and the occasional rather half hearted run in Taunton.
Initially I turned left out of the front door, where the path starts off on a road, then onto a well gravelled path along the cliff. It then veers inland through a National Trust estate and returns home along a narrow, busy road. It is quite hilly, so it is quite testing – at least for me in my early stages of trail running. But there are wonderful benefits: it is very beautiful with sea views, through woodland and pastures. The busy road was not so appealing. The fast traffic bearing down on me around blind corners was a bit frightening. But at least that bit was mainly downhill and it eventually lead to the harbour populated by local fishing boats.
I was curious as to how I would take to running. It is demanding: it demands perseverance, stamina, strength – and awareness of what is beneath your feet. Unlike the relative safety of road surfaces, there can be stones of different sizes and shapes, slippery mud and gravel and puddles amongst other potential hazards. There is of course the weather to take into account: wind and rain mainly. Well, it is Cornwall in the summer.
Overall, I’m happy with my performance. I ran about 5 kilometres each day. I ran every metre, without stopping or walking – which on some of the steepest slopes took quite an effort. On the level, when inclined (ha ha), I managed to keep up a good pace. On the inclines, not so much.
If I turned right out of the front door I was faced with a much more challenging run. Not least because it is about 11k. This took me along a pretty much deconstructed track, complete with warning signs about the dangers of collapsing cliff edges. The track was sometimes the width of two feet (that’s not a measurement – it’s two shoes worth), overgrown, and with some near vertical inclines and declines. I had to pass through a field populated with cows and their calves, with them on one side and a sheer a hundred metre drop on the other. I crept through, muttering ‘nice cows, nice cows’. They clearly understood me as I am still here to tell the tale.
It was a wonderfully misty morning - which had its drawbacks as I couldn't see very far ahead, but highlighted some of the sights, like a ruined tin mine looming up ahead.
Doing these runs was really exhilarating - for the exertion, the sights, the fresh air - and the sense of satisfaction and pride at a job well done.