Woolacombe Dunes parkrun (The Atlantic “sea”quel)

As with all great sequels you wonder whether they’ll match up to the original. My first experience of the Woolacombe Dunes parkrun (WDp from now on) was September 2021, so, seven months later here I was eagerly awaiting my second experience of this breath taking course.

Breath taking in terms of the location and views, breath taking in terms of the sapping sandy beach and sand dunes !! Once parked I strolled along the Marine Drive headland looking down at the never ending waves rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean currents. Yes the weather was overcast but the setting was undeniably stunning.

Woolacombe is a glorious, award winning beach, however, it is also quite exposed, so the flapping National Trust flag was definitely a indication of the onshore breeze . Would the wind be in our favor, of course not, ha ha !! I’d anticipated a challenging 5K and the elements, as well as the course, were living up to the billing.

As I approached a cluster of volunteers they were discussing last weeks large Easter Bank Holiday turnout, I myself, was on a family visit so I could also class my attendance as parkrun tourism. Once I’d chatted and thanked the guys they mentioned there were two runners from my local area and sure enough I bumped into a couple, one with a Stubbington Green top and one a Hedge End runners top, small world.

While warming up along the first section of the course I was reminded of a question from twitter that I’d been asked, “with this being badged as a beach run, would a barefoot runner manage”. Well the headland road is made of pretty rough tarmac and there’s a number of loose stones so unless you have leather feet then perhaps not.

On listening to the course briefing I spotted Simon Oliver who was the organizer of the AONB North Devon marathon when I ran it in 2013. I introduced myself and as we chatted I glanced down at the time 8.55, all ready for the “off” and then I mouthed under my breath, “shit, barcode !!” So, I legged it in a very unprofessional way back to the car, rescued my parkrun barcode from the glove compartment and returned slightly red faced but luckily just in time for our final instructions and the 9am start.

The first significant change of direction at WDp is a sharp diagonal right hand turn that drops quite quickly down into the sand dunes. Inevitably, our well spread out initial numbers, would need to channel onto this path which would fit three abreast, with a push. The excitement and impending need for positioning got the better of me and I started of far too quickly !!

We’ve all done it but by now you’d think experience would play a part in a more measured strategy, nope, I over cooked it. You live and learn ha ha !! . As I caught my breath the solid path then gave way to a left hand turn with undulating sand as we worked our way down towards the beach. It’s worth noting there’s quite a steep final ten meters or so of shifting loose sand that brings you onto the more compact beach sand.

As this photo suggests the field was already well strung out after the first mile and while this would have been impressive on any day the fact that the wind was most definitely against us meant the guys ahead really were performing well. I came into this run with limited expectations so I wasn’t going to fret about the distance between me and the leaders, I figured I had the advantage of more time to enjoy it !!

We’d be advised that there might been horse riders on the beach, and to take care, but I didn’t spot any, only the white crests of the the waves which as I child I remember us calling sea horses.

Following Issac Newtons laws of gravity I figured that whenever you go downhill inevitably you’ll need to go back up again and there, looming in the distance, was the famous dune of doom. In a weird way I was a little disappointed there wasn’t someone capturing our tortured faces on film, a bit like those flattering theme park rides photos you get just before your stomach rises towards your throat.

I commented to the chap next to me how the sand dune felt like a sadistic game show, what was it ? Takeshis Castle ? The lung bursting and calf screaming was, however, only momentarily painful as we made our way across the dunes, parallel with the beach and back towards that steep downhill path which again thanks to Issac was now our final uphill slog.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I love pushing myself and questioning my ability, by definition a challenge accepted is a challenge to embrace. I reverted to “walking with purpose” which can be quite effective. After thanking the marshal at the top of the hill, honest, I did thanks him, it was the final rough tarmac leg before accepting and handing in my token.

My final photo is of the Porthole cafe that has seating inside and out as well as toilets on the right hand side of the building which means parkrunners can use “all” of the facilities. A large queue formed quite quickly for the refreshments which is always a good indication.

So, in summary, I thoroughly enjoyed my second experience of the North Devon coastline “rollercoaster” also know as Woolacombe Dunes parkrun. If you are in the area it’s a bucket list box ticked. Thankyou to everyone that made the run possible. I will no doubt return for my hattrick of parkruns here at these three and a bit miles of sandy smiles.

Thanks for reading ….. Roger

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