Long slow run report: Bristol

Avon Gorge and Clifton

Running is a fantastic way to explore a new city. By sticking your trainers on and getting out there at street level, you really get the feel for a city and how its neighbourhoods connect together. Wherever you are, with running gear on and some music in your ears, you look – and quickly feel – like a local.

This weekend I was afforded just such an opportunity, when the four of us who run Intranetizen, a world-leading intranet blog, got together for a planning weekend in Bristol, to look at the design and content of our website.

Regular readers of this blog (hello Mum!) will note there was no Long Slow Run Report last week. Having prepped for a a good 12-miler, I promptly got one of the worst colds I’ve had in years and really couldn’t face it. But with less than three months to go to the big day, I can’t afford to miss another weekend’s mileage, so that meant being an anti-social house guest and heading out for a big long run on my own.

Our host and long-time Bristolian Jonathan Phillips plotted a route for me using mappedometer, taking in all of Bristol’s main sights in an 11-mile route.

From Jon’s house in the north of Bristol, I headed to Durdham Downs. It was a beautiful winter’s morning, but seemingly endless rain we’ve been having meant this section, on grass, was surprisingly tricky. I had to do baby steps for a good 2km to avoid slipping over. When I reached the edge of the park, all was forgiven. Firstly, it was paved. But more importantly, it has a spectacular view over Avon Gorge and down to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Bristol was looking mighty fine on Saturday morning.

From there I headed down Circular Drive, then up Ladies Mile and back down again, before heading out of the park and down a steep hill, into Clifton, and past Bristol Zoo.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

From there I headed onto Clifton Suspension Bridge. There’s something strangely pleasing about running across bridges. Living by the Thames it’s something I get to do quite a lot, but Clifton is a spectacular bit of engineering, and one which I was pleased to be able to see up close.

From there it all went a bit wrong. The plan was to head straight on, touch the entrance to Ashton Court, then turn back and head back the way I came. But somehow I took the wrong turning and ended up heading the wrong way. Pleasingly, it was all downhill, so I kept going. But when the pavement ended and I was running on the edge of the road with traffic racing past me, I realised this was a bad idea. I was going the wrong way. Worse; that nice downhill run was about to become a steep uphill on the way back.

I turned and ran back the way I came. There was a raised pavement on the other side of the road, so I headed over where at least I felt safe. But that was quite some hill. I don’t know if it’s because it’d been a fortnight since my last long run, but I found it really tough going. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any power in my legs at all. My run was barely any faster than walking, and at one point I gave up and just power-walked it.

I found my mojo again when a tourist stopped me and asked the way to Ashton Court, which only added weight to my theory that you always look like a local in running gear. I had no idea but could confidently state it wasn’t down that way.

This detour added about a mile to the route, the latter half of which was a horrible uphill slog. Eventually I reached the entrance to Ashton Court and headed back to the bridge. For the first time in what seemed like hours, I was back on the flat and running seemed easy again. I crossed back from North Somerset to Bristol, admiring Brunel’s engineering wonder on the way.

onion seller

Onion Johnnies: normal for Bristol

From there I headed back uphill into Durdham Downs. Again, I really struggled with the incline. It was around about there I started to question both my ability to complete a marathon and my sanity for even attempting it. I just couldn’t find any power in my legs to get me up the hill. After what seemed like an age (but was probably only ten minutes), I reached the top of the hill. Back on the flat everything seemed ok again; I could have gone on for another hour.

After my unplanned detour earlier I decided to cut out Ladies Mile and the path along the edge of the gorge and head straight for Jon’s house. I ended up going the wrong way entirely, taking me into Bristol suburbia, where I saw a Frenchman selling onions and a man who fell from the eighteenth century,

After two hours and eleven miles of exploring, I made it back with a mix of emotions. The hills were hard. I seem to have lost all my strength and I’ve definitely got slower. But I’m getting more confident about endurance. I will make it around. And that feels good.


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