Seaton parkrun: the one with the pebbles

What crazy fool would set even part of a parkrun course on a pebble beach? This was my first thought on reading the course description for Seaton parkrun, and one that I came back to when I actually ran it! I was down on the South coast spending a weekend with friends in Lyme Regis and the first thing I did after booking accommodation was to look up to see where the nearest parkrun was. Seaton parkrun was a mere 6-7 miles away, and with pleasing synchronicity the weekend I was there was Seaton’s 35th parkrun and my 35th parkrun on any course. I mentioned to my friends that I was going to run and one friend agreed to join me to run her first ever parkrun.

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Initially on arrival in Seaton we had a bit of trouble finding where to park. The website gave the postcode for Orchard Short Stay car park, but this led to a dead end with no sign of a car park on my satnav! Fortunately we saw a woman walking along the road wearing a parkrun apricot vest so we stopped to ask her for directions. She turned out to be a tourist from Bushey parkrun, but she had run Seaton parkrun before and she directed us to the Co-op car park where you can park for free for two hours.

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As we approached the seafront I could see various runners and volunteers milling around and so we knew we were in the right place. One of the things I like about parkrun tourism is seeing the different little touches and innovations that each parkrun has. At Seaton they have some large plastic crates with lids where you can leave your belongings and which presumably kept them dry if it rained, which I thought was a great idea rather than just leaving them out on the floor like other parkruns. There were also toilets near the start which gets another tick in my book!

The seafront itself in Seaton is lovely, with pretty beach huts painted in pastel colours, and a lovely wildflower meadow planted in a raised bed which was a riot of colour. But there was no time to enjoy this as all the faffing with the car park meant we were a bit late, and I discovered that we had missed the new runners’ briefing. However, a friendly marshal said that we couldn’t get lost as it was just two straight laps running up and down on the promenade next to the sea! The route differs slightly to that shown on the course website which states that the run starts on the pavement and at the end the runners run down a ramp to end on the beach. I was told that in summer they switch the route and effectively reverse it so that it now starts on the beach, and everyone was walking down the ramp to the beach ready for the start.

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As we gathered on the beach I again wondered about the craziness of starting a run on a pebble beach. The pebbles were large and it was difficult to even walk along any section of the beach let alone run, as with every step I sank down into the pebbles. We had the usual pre-run briefing given by the event director using a megaphone which was necessary to be heard by the 141 runners over the sound of the sea crashing onto the pebbles. The event director asked if there were any tourists present and where we were from, and as people shouted out “Bushey Park”, “West London”, “Walthamstow”, one person in front of me remarked that there were more Londoners there than locals! On this occasion there was also a fabulous tail walker/runner who was wearing a tail particularly appropriate for this Jurassic coast run – love it!

 

And then we were off. The woman from Bushey who we had asked for directions had also warned us about the first section which is run along the beach, saying that although it was only about 100 metres she always feels like she’s going to die on this bit but you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. And she was right – I tried to run but found it almost impossible and was very relieved to get to the ramp which took us up to the promenade that runs along the seafront. Once on the Esplanade it was then just a straight run along the promenade to the end of the beach where – oh no – we had to run back onto the pebble beach again for 75 metres in order to turn around and run back along the seafront. At the other end there was another turn in front of the Hideaway cafe, before running back along the length of the promenade, turning again on the 75 metres along the beach, back along to the other end with the Hideaway turn before finally running back to the finish line which was half-way along.  One of the good things about this course was that as the runners spread out you are running on either side of the same pavement, and if you have friends running at a different speed to you, as they turn and run back along the other side of the pavement you can wave at them and also wave and encourage other runners with thumbs up etc.

There is something quite special about running along the seafront, even though there was quite a strong wind coming off the sea. The event was very well organised and well marshalled, with plenty of marshals along the route who were all really encouraging. I was wearing my Walthamstow parkrun apricot top and as I went past one marshal she shouted out “Well done, Walthamstow, nice to see you!”. The marshals at either end were great – one at the Hideaway café end was dancing perhaps to keep warm in the cold wind, and the other was shouting “no more beach” to everyone on the last lap! And they were friendly volunteer timekeepers and barcode scanners too.

After the finish, there is the chance to catch up with friends and enjoy a post-parkrun coffee in the appropriately named Pebbles café. I didn’t go on this occasion as I had friends waiting back in Lyme Regis, but if I was on my own I would have no hesitation in going for a coffee as everyone was so friendly. When the results came in I was amazed to find my time, considering the pebbles and the headwind, was only two minutes slower than my PB. In fact the first runner, Jake Smith, managed it in an incredibly fast 16:13 despite the pebbles!

So even though my first thought on discovering Seaton parkrun had sections run on pebbles was that this was crazy, it actually makes the run quite quirky and different, and doesn’t seem to affect times too much! Overall the event was really enjoyable, nice scenery, great to run by the sea, super-friendly and encouraging marshals, and just the right size (not too big, not too small). I may be back if I’m ever in the area again!

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