Clevedon, my hometown, is located on the coast of North Somerset, not that far from Bristol. It’s a pleasant place, with a population of just over 20,000 or so and a lovely seafront including an award-winning Victorian-era pier (National Piers Society Pier of the Year 1999 and 2013, fact fans).
A lovely town then, and having headed back there to visit the family for Christmas, it was also the location for my final pre-Houston Marathon training run. Having decided not to do a long run on Christmas Day, this meant an early Boxing Day start, in order to fit in 17 miles of running and still enable some family time. Thankfully, it was a beautifully clear, if slightly fresh, British winter’s day.
Since I only took up running three years ago, long after I’d left Clevedon for the bright lights of the Greater London area, I’ve never actually done that much running around my hometown. So a 17-mile run was a good chance to see it in a way I never had before – and I revelled in some of the lovely scenery and terrain that Clevedon and the North Somerset countryside has to offer.
My run started with a sharp downhill descent to Clevedon seafront, went past the aforementioned pier, then down to the marina and across a bit of moorland, looping back through the town centre and past the Clock Tower, before heading for several miles down a quiet country road on the edge of Swiss Valley. Yes, it’s a valley, and while I’ve never seen a cuckoo clock or yodeller there, it probably does feel a little bit Swiss. The country lane is, however, very definitely classic Somerset countryside, albeit with the nearby hum of the M5 motorway, which runs on an elevated viaduct along one side of the valley.
All very nice then. But Clevedon is, very definitely, not at all like anything I’m going to encounter when doing a marathon in Houston, Texas, in just under three weeks time. You know, Houston, population of 2.239 million, one of the biggest cities in the USA.
During the course of my run, I made a mental note of all the obstacles I faced in Somerset that I’m unlikely to have to contend with in Houston. So, in chronological order…
- A steep down hill section (some of the sharpest downhills on the Houston Marathon course seem to be the dips of underpasses)
- A bracing coastal headwind
- A narrow country lane with barely enough room for cars to pass and thorns sticking out of the hedges
- Horse poo in the road (really, it’s pretty treacherous. It’s slippery, and if the prospect of falling over three weeks from a marathon isn’t bad enough, the concept of slipping on and falling over into a pile of horse poo is certainly off-putting…)
- Horses walking down the road (they were being walked along. The people guiding them were kind enough to make room for me, but running past a big horse with legs that could kick is a bit scary)
- The smell of fresh cow manure (Because nothing says Somerset countryside like a farmer stirring a big pile of cow manure)
- A tractor crossing the road, dragging mud and cow manure in its path (really, someone was piling up all the Somerset cliches on me this morning. If I’d rounded a corner and found The Wurzels playing a concert, I’d only have been mildly surprised)
- Someone riding a horse down a road
- More horse poo, this time freshly deposited from the previously spotted horse (Mmmm, fragrant)
- A cycling club time trial event, which happened to be starting on a road I was running down that didn’t have a pavement for around 100 metres
- A very, very steep uphill section in the final mile of my run (it was a 40-metre incline, in less than quarter-of-a-mile. Again, a bit steeper than the rise out of a Houston highway underpass…)
In short, it hardly seems ideal prep for Houston. But, in many ways, it was perfect. It was sunny, cool and quiet, and a wonderful contrast from everything I’ll encounter on my forthcoming trip to Texas.
Although I could very happily do without the smell of horse poo and cow manure. I won’t miss that running through Downtown Houston…