Skegness – Butlin’s and the Beach Running Bonanza!

It took a bit of convincing for my wife and family to get me to go on holiday to Butlin’s, but there was one good reason which finally tipped the balance in me saying yes. On Sunday May 11th, I will be taking part in the Blackpool Beach 10K Run. I live in landlocked West Yorkshire, hence the only chance to do any beach running previously came on a trip to Aldbrough, home of some of my in-laws, when I did a three mile sortie from Mappleton to Hornsea in glorious summer sunshine. And that was back in August last year, before I’d even considered entering the Blackpool race. So with me looking for a window of opportunity to train on the beach, here was said window.

Last week I spent four nights in Sir Billy Butlin’s holiday park paradise in Skegness, Lincolnshire, along with family, and each morning, I was first up and out of the apartment each morning, waking as early as 6am to get on with this rare occasion of being able to train on the beach. Since taking up running, having a lie-in on holiday is something I’ve largely dispensed with, ever since Cardiff and its awesome Bay had such sights to show me. Running has reconnected me with the great outdoors, and everything it holds. However, this block of training was much more than just sightseeing – this was a personal marker for where I expect to be come May.

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The North Sea coast off Ingoldmells, 01-04-2014

The first morning – Tuesday 1st April – I went out and headed straight for the beach entrance from within the park. Little had I realised that they didn’t actually open the gate until 9:00am. It took me a while to realise I needed to get onto the main road, and it was now that my research on Google Streetview came to the fore. The road to the sea was only a quarter mile away from the park entrance, and a quarter mile down that road was the sea. Better late than never, I had a good 15-20 minutes heading up towards Ingoldmells but then back again, not wishing to stray too far from familiarity. I was still a bit flummoxed from losing some of my session to finding my way out of the park, but once I hit the sands my spirit picked up. And the great thing about that morning was that I wasn’t the only one. Another runner was coming in the opposite direction, only a few feet from the sea. She exchanged greetings with me and continued on her way back to wherever she was heading. I don’t always get camaraderie from other runners – the Calder-Hebble Canal always throws up a mixed bag back home, but this was my only encounter with another runner all holiday, and it reaffirmed my purpose of being out here. It was a beautiful morning for running, and quite a scenic one at that.

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So that was day one. 24 hours later, conditions couldn’t have been more different. It wasn’t freezing but it was misty and foggy as hell, and conditions out on the coast made it difficult to see very far. This run was meant to be my race pace session, with me aiming to see how much of my 10K speed I could transfer to the beach. The answer was, well, not a lot. I struggled to really get going and my average pace during my fastest section was around 4:50-5:00 per km, a good minute to 90 seconds off my top form. It was a challenging morning and one that had me thanking my lucky stars I used the race in Bradford a few weeks back to achieve my sub-40 minute 10K, because on this evidence, it wasn’t happening.

I didn’t get too downbeat – since achieving that goal, the Blackpool race has become much more about enjoying the experience, rather than trying to smash personal expectations. But I still want to give it my all.

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The misty morning by the North Sea at Ingoldmells

I ran again the next day, the last run of my break, and conditions a little better in terms of visibility and a little breezy. This time I went towards Skegness itself for the first and only time, using this as a 45 minute easy run which served as an out and back. The out point being Skegness Pier, at which point I turned around. The more I went on, the more comfortable I found it, and I tried to push the pace at one or two points. My average pace for the run was 5:12 per km – still a bit down on where I’d expect to be – around 4:30 per km. It really didn’t feel that slow, but I guess it’s a bit harder to keep up the cadence and the consistency when you’re dealing with shifting sands. Overall, I’d rate this as the best of my three runs on this break, maybe as it was more of a sign of me getting used to the feeling of running on the beach. But that was to be it – I was trying to look after myself, given this was my first week of running after 10 days off, and the check out time of 10am on the Friday meant priorities had to be straight.

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Still, this was an invaluable experience for me, one I would never change for the world. It has further made me reconsider my expectations for Blackpool, and if I can clock a sub-45 minute run on the sand, I’d be pretty happy with that. May 11th really will be about the experience now and I’m looking forward to it even more, though I’ll be negotiating the Huddersfield Half Marathon two weeks before. This was a solid three days on the sands of Ingoldmells and Skegness. And I had a grand old time on holiday as well – I reckon I’m a Butlin’s convert now!

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Taken on the misty Wednesday
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And a keeper from that excellent first morning
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