I used to run just like you – and look at me now

On a half-term trip to Berlin – a trip on which, for the first time in living memory, I hadn’t bought my running gear and I regretted it – my family asked me when I thought I might stop running.

A while ago, I’d read an article that said it was possible to maintain form and pace and progress up until the age of 62. I reasoned that a graceful five-year wind-down might be in order and so I answered: “67?”

But there was uncertainty in my answer, and my family sensed it. “Why give up at all, until you can’t run any more?” asked @agentkiss, not unreasonably. The Teenage Master wasn’t terribly interested in the duration or trajectory of his aged Pa’s running “career”, and snorted or eye-rolled a grunt that meant something like “Why do you bother?” or “Would it make any difference?”

I smiled. And considered how long I might carry on running. Since I only pulled on a pair of trainers with purpose aged 44, my knees and hips are nowhere near exhaustion. Yes, I’ve had some issues with plantar fasciitis and hamstring tendonitis. But 14 months into Pilates, injuries are less common. And on and on and on I plod, running to stay sane, to solve ideas, to experience flow, to merge into the countryside, to become a genuine son of the Sussex soil.

On my first run for a week this morning, I’d made a pit stop five minutes from home to pick up some milk. As I climbed the last hill, milk waving left and right, an octogenarian leaning on his walking stick smiled and hallooed me on my 45-degree ascent. “I used to run just like you – and look at me now!” he greeted me with Sunday-morning cheeriness. “What a great inspiration to carry on,” I replied. Not so much to the man on the slope, but more to my family back in Berlin.

And as I ground to a halt, 7K in, and stretched and unwound at the foot of our drive, a man closer in age to the man on the hill than to me – I’d say 70 or 75 – ran past, easily, happily, well past 67.

Who knows how long I’ll carry on. But I’m certainly not setting any age limits now.

… down to a sunlit sea

Regular readers of this blog – hang on, there’s nothing regular about this blog these days. firsttimerunner hasn’t been regular for years now …

< BEAT >

Those familiar with this blog will know how much I love an Away Run. I’m a strong devotee of running tourism, of always making time – however early – when on a business trip to explore a city, however familiar. And when I come away on holiday, I also like to run.

In part, this is to counteract the onslaught of saganaki, sangria and sauerkraut; the increase in calories and temporary cessation of my 5:2 lifestyle. In part it’s to keep in the groove of running that I like to do, I love to do, I NEED to do, three or four times a week, throughout the year. And in part it’s to experience running in temperatures usually considerably higher than I’m used to.

But mostly, it’s to explore the locale around the hotel, villa or AirBnB apartment, to map out the curves and hills, of white roads or city parks. To get to know the lie of the land and encounter the local wildlife from a different perspective. Usually that’s fine, though often – here in Greece – it means standing firm in the face of loud, proprietorial dogs, some of whom choose to chase and lollop as I climb the foothills.

There’s also a tremendous sense of micro-exploration and endeavouring not to get lost or run twice as far as I’d intended. A couple of years back, I saw much more of both Barcelona and Madrid than anticipated. While 9K in the capital was fine, 12K in the Catalan city seemed a tad excessive. More work than vacation.

On business, I have a further motivation, which is to poke the eyes of those who humble-brag about the fact that whenever they go anywhere more exotic or interesting than Swindon or Salford for work, they simply don’t have the time to see anything other than a cab, conference venue and hotel. To which I snort “Bollocks!” However late you arrive, however early your breakfast meeting, you can always get up half an hour early and trot around the park. Usually after seeking out an authentic meal the night before. Not to do so is a waste of the opportunity presented to you, and the time invested in a run will clear your mind and make you noticeably more insightful and valuable to clients and colleagues than if you had room service, hit snooze, or spent 30 minutes changing the fonts or aspect ratio of your presentation.

These past two weeks, we’ve been in mainland Greece on our family summer holiday, and so far I’ve put in four, early-morning runs. Our first week was peripatetic, taking in Athens, Epidavros, Nafplion, Mycenae, Olympia and an olive grove just above Pylos on the Exomani. Yes, we did lots of piles of rock as a family, and not just driven by me and my classical roots.

In Nafplion, we stayed in the truly splendid 60s architectural dream, the Nafplia Palace hotel, sitting high above modern Greece’s first capital. I ran down to the harbour, and then along the harbour walls and through the empty, marble streets past restaurants and bars we’d enjoyed the night before. The run helped to burn the city’s topography into my synapses, and after a little more than 5K either downhill or flat, I found myself at the chilly entrance to the tunnel leading to the elevators owned by and leading back to the hotel. A bit of a cheat, but with cheating aforethought.

After making our way from East to West, taking in the mythohistory of Mycenae and the sanctuary of the cradle of the Olympic movement, we stopped for three days and nights on the West coast. From there, early one morning I ran through olive groves, laying down the gauntlet to countless dogs, then up onto the coast road. Five or six kilometres before the heat of the sun became too sapping, and back for a shower and a swim in the pool.

Last Tuesday, we met friends an hour South of Kalamata, in the Mani proper, in the stunning Architect’s Villa high in the hills above Stoupa. My first run here was a winding and meandering 2.5K down the hilly roads, turning on my heels and heading back up the steep inclines, through switchback, hairpin bends, largely untroubled by hounds or traffic.

My second, yesterday morning, was rather more ambitious. Our villa is 3K, as the crow flies, from the sea. But if the crow fancies using paved roads, it’s 5K, albeit is downhill all the way. So just after 7am, the Taygetus mountains still keeping the sun at bay, I ran briskly down to Stoupa, peeled off my shirt and shoes, and swam with the fish and elderly insomniacs, one of whom saluted the sun after her daily dip.

Then it was back up and up and up hill after hill after hill. And as the sweat started to run off my nose like I was in a Bikram yoga studio, I measured out my steps in meditative, repetitive rounds of counting to ten, odd numbers on the in-breaths, evens on the outs. And before I knew it, here was the corner overlooking the sheep and goats farm – the one with the hairy, captured wild boar – there was the olive farmer spraying his oil olives; here was the new olive oil processing building that only ever has anyone there after dark; and there were the low, modernist walls and gates of our villa. And my 10K was done.

I might do that last run just one more time before we head home to the delights of the Downs. And much as I love my Home Runs over chalk and clover, I’ll miss the prospect of a half-way plunge in the sea and a terminal jump in the pool. I’ll have to make do with the Pells.

Perhaps coming home won’t be so bad after all …


M runs the original Olympic stadium, 33C at 7.30pm

11 laps later

This blog was written for the Pells Pool writer in residence, Tanya Shadrick, and first appeared here – edited a little from this version – on her blog site.

Lap 0 – greet the guardian of the early shift with a smile and a wave of the season ticket. Chain up the bike. Walk the first 50 yards to the deep end, always the fastest of all laps. Trainers off, facing downwards; it’s drizzling today. Towel draped over the scaffolding-pole handrail, a 45-degree blue flag. Change. Walk 50 yards round the other side to the shallow end. Warm shower. Shall I?

Lap 1 – can’t dive without belly-flopping; low centre of gravity, or was I ‘badly taught’ (like with maths)? So I lower myself in at the shallow end, a kraken slithering silently beneath the waves. Goggles down. Immediate total immersion, pushing off powerfully. Scalp tight with the delicious coolth of the water. The same impact as a familiar guitar riff from a favourite band at a gig. Eyes wide-open, marvelling at the hairs on my arms being swept back like CGI grass in a Pixar gale.

Lap 2 – breathing in on odd numbers, out on even, counting to ten and then from one again. Meditatively, hypnotically the same every time. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 1, 2, 3 … Shallow end … deep end … shallow end … deep end. The signs remind me of the very now and bring me back to it with every turn. The closest I get to flow, in the balm of this spring-fed oasis.

Lap 3 – making the moments underwater last and last. The horizon at the water’s edge is purest, deepest blue; the Ipswich Town blue of my childhood. A haze that isn’t there, but an illusion – from above, in reality, but very much there just as you surface. And now augmented by the new blue lanes, screwed to the floor. Hugging the bottom, I tap odd numbers – prime numbers – on the pleasingly rubbery strips. Everyone’s a little bit OCD. Aren’t they? Beckham’s sock drawer and LEGO.

Lap 4 – there’s an awfully long way still to go. Triathletes more than twice the pace of my pedestrian breaststroke. Lose concentration and lapse into competition … 13, 14, 15 … damn! Lost count. Back to 1, 2, 3 … Do they really need wetsuits? It’s 19C. I don’t need one and I’m in for 22 minutes. I’m not chilled through for the rest of the day, just chilled out. Aren’t they used to it? Or does cooling down slow you down? Perhaps they don’t have the lagging of flesh I do … 4, 5, 6 … well he does! Why has that man got garish plastic oven gloves on? … 7, 8, 9 … What’s that wedge that woman’s jammed between her thighs? … 10, 1, 2 …

Lap 5 – did I shower? It’s not like me not to, though it’s not like I went for a run before today’s swim. Or a ride. But did I shower? I can’t remember now. It would only have been ten minutes ago. All of my body, every external cell, is now wet. It’s all cool. So I have no sense memory of warm water. I guess if I didn’t it doesn’t really matter. I’m clean now, and there are more than half a million gallons of water in this Olympic-sized lido to wash away what sweat or grime there may have been.

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Lap 6 – half-way down the sixth and I’m already – suddenly – halfway through my whole swim. Meditation moves from counting laps and breaths to counting laps and strokes per lap (53 for the last one). It doesn’t work to count breaths and strokes. Too confusing. Facing “DEEP END” on odds, “SHALLOW END” on evens.

Lap 7 – already now a bit of a sense of loss. Only two more complete laps in this direction after this one. A few laps ago, my habitual 11 felt like a huge task. On lap 7, it always feels too short. 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53 … and turn.

Lap 8 – tap, tap, tap … 29 taps on the blue lane marker on the floor of the deep end. Zeno’s paradox of the pursuer having to complete half the distance of the pursued, and then half the distance of what remains, ad infinitum such that the pursuer can never catch the pursued … That comes to mind, as a wet-suited triathlete, in for just five minutes, has already swum more laps than me. Smile. Think of the tortoise and the hare. Resume competition with just myself. Smile. Count. Flow.

Lap 9 – the poster for the sold-out Pells Pool party impinges on my consciousness for the first time. Happy memories of swimming and signing and dancing along with Foxy Phil Rhodes and the horn section from 80s ska bands and kids and families and fireworks at the finale. How can Phil top the six minutes underwater from last year, or the zip wire with rocket boots shedding sparks into the blue from the year before, or the fiery chariot when his hand was crook, or the lap in Superman underpants. Will he actually be fired as a human cannonball from the park next door?

Lap 10 – easy and almost done. The illusion of moving with grace. No gripes or grumbles in knees or hamstrings or anywhere else that a run might throw up. No sense of the slight tear in the muscles of the inner thigh from one ‘teaser’ too many in last night’s Pilates class. Just merged with the water and strong and flowing and feeling like I’m about to break the waters for the first time. And then turn …

Lap 11 – an enormous sense of wellbeing and being in nature and the benefits from environmental psychology. Trees all around. Deep and rich and varied bird song. And bird life – pigeons and seagulls. The inflatable swans and flamingos from the Lewes Light installation. That cormorant eating a pike by Pells Pond last year Spring. And under and blocking out all sounds – of birdsong and everything else – for the last five yards … four … three … two … one. And out.

A baker’s ten. Just more than 500 yards. Reset. And set whatever today might choose to lob in my general direction.

On! On!

I like away runs. Designed to discover the hidden side of foreign parts – be they cities or islands, run on Tarmac or trails – away runs always have something special about them. And they usually involve getting lost. My most recent away run did nothing to disappoint.

I was intrigued when researching our current holiday destination to discover the global phenomenon of the Hash House Harriers, and the very strong local chapter on Grenada. Celebrating 30 years and more than 900 hashes in that time, this group of “drinkers with a running problem” is clearly a very well-established weekly way to discover the hidden byways of the island.

I connected to the very welcoming Brian Steele, who runs the Grenada HHH Facebook page, before we set off. And when I asked about the Hash at the concierge’s desk of our Grand Anse resort, I was directed to keen triathlete and all-round local superman Troy. Troy kindly sorted transport, Grenada minibus style, to the off at Bay Cottage, Gouyave, half way up the West coast of the island.

We travelled in the 30C heat, windows open, with a small clutch of much more experienced hashers. A couple from South Africa – who’d sailed up in a boat three years or so back and hadn’t left – were particularly helpful. She was a self-confessed FRB, one of the competitive Front Running Bastards.

There’s a great sense of fun and humour and community about the Hash, particularly (?) the Grenada chapter, on this friendliest of West Indian islands. This was much in evidence as we milled and chilled before the off at 4pm on the beach at Gouyave. As virgins, we were required – like all runners and walkers – to sign in and out on our return. Legend told of one woman who’d gone missing in the bush on a hash in recent memory, only to appear on the other side of this (not-insubstantial) island at 7am the next day.

Hashmaster River Stone Annie commanded the PA system’s mic shortly before four, ordering those with too-new sneakers to down a bottle of local brew Carib from their confiscated right shoe before setting off. Ordinarily I’d have killed for a chilled beer on a Saturday afternoon of a holiday in tropical climes. But the prospect of a near-vertical ascent with a belly full of bumpered beer did not appeal, and fortunately we weren’t singled out.

Hashes are set by hares, members of the community who lay out hour-long running and also walking routes with trails of shredded paper. Checkpoints – at the start and finish and en route – are marked out with circles of paper; false trails can be laid, denoted by crosses of paper demanding you turn back; arrows lead you on, sometimes astray. But mostly, as you trudge, wade and often pick your way along, you want to be looking out for piles of shredded white paper every few yards.

Annie taught us some shouting vernacular. “On! On!” if you’re confident you’re going the right way; “Are you?” for those who may be lost and want those ahead of them on the trail to confirm the way ahead. Expletives are very definitely not deleted; they’re encouraged.

With a rousing cry of “On! On!”, we left the beach and headed up – boy, did we head up – into the densely wooded and bambooed hinterland. I was running, a lot of which I had to walk; S&M chose the walk, some of which they elected to run.

Soon we split, and I was determined – for the first ten minutes at least – to run the whole thing, despite the heat and steep inclines. But I noticed many were Fartlekking. Initially I thought this was primarily to save energy, but it soon became apparent that it’s just not possible to run all the way. It’s either too steep or too precarious or too muddy or – most often – there’s just too much bamboo and thicket.

On one (infamous) occasion, when I was still in perma-run mode, my shoe got stuck under a freshly-felled bamboo pole and I was, well, pole-axed and fell prone into the bush. I got more careful after that, running wherever possible, walking when in a queue of others or – more likely – when the going made running impossible.

As the crowd – of 200, 300? – spreads out, as some walk and others run and their paths diverge – the presence of others is both a comfort and a spur. A comfort, because you’re kilometres from home and the paths are thick and indistinct; a spur because you don’t want to lose touch with others, particularly others who look like they know where they’re going. Who know rather more of the rules of hashing than you do.

It was hot, hard work, up and up and up and up. Not sheer, but grinding. One runner – an islander in his 50s – ran with a football, often doing headers and head-based tricks as he went. Amazing. And while FRBs may head off like mountain goats, you sometimes catch up with them as they head back from a cross and a false trail.

After about 40 minutes – legs lacerated and making me rue the choice of secret socks over long socks – about 20 of us realised we’d become well and truly lost. And while we could work our way back to the last sighted pile of white, shredded paper, in whichever direction of the compass we headed off anew, we couldn’t find any more.

“This is a bad trail!” boomed a regular hasher. “This hare is going to pay!”

By now, we had started to double back on ourselves. Plus we were so high – 300m or more above our start point – that we could see the sea. Logic overruled rules, and we set off – on different paths – that our noses and experience and blind optimism and the promise of beer and curry on the beach suggested would be the quickest route home. As a result, 20 became two or three.

The descent was at times vertiginous, often rough, but ultimately we entered the very heights of the town and started to work our way down. Ad hoc marshals – locals hanging out of doorways, kids playing in the street, and small, yappy-type dogs – directed us down. They’d seen hashers before, and in time, the sound system drew us in.

Once out of the thickets and locked onto the beat, it was downhill and free running all the way. After an hour or so hashing through the bush, the smells of dozens of other runners and beer and BBQ mingled on the Caribbean shoreline and the party started.

  

Others drifted in, connections were formed and remade, made over Facebook or dozens of previous hashes. The hare was ceremoniously hazed for setting a bad hash, a ceremony involving a noose and a piece of guttering, a toilet seat and a pan of beer. And very high spirits.

As the sun set across the Caribbean Sea, we all reflected on a late afternoon very well spent, and a determination to seek out other hashes at home and abroad.

Throughout my brief, five-year running career, I’ve been a pretty antisocial runner, running alone and often – for many others – unfathomably early. But of late, between the solo runs, I’ve found a new joy in running with others. In the Twitten Run of Lewes, in particular, and now on the Grenadian Hash House Harriers route 924 at Gouyave, errant as our hare may have been.

Until the next time, we cry: “On! On!”

Urban Stairmaster

Some years ago, we took a delightful family holiday with old friends and our kids on the Canal du Midi. Having rushed down to the South of France on Eurostar and TGV, we then proceeded to take a week to go 40km. A week to go the same distance those trains could cover in about nine minutes.

I found that pace of life incredibly appealing, and I was reminded of that holiday when I did my first Lewes Twitten Run just before dawn this morning. For those readers not lucky enough to live in (or even know) the jewel in the crown of Sussex by the Sea, we have our own word for “little, narrow, hilly roads, running like veins between the main arterial roads”. And it’s Twitten.

I’m not sure if there are Twittens anywhere other than Lewes. But round our way, there’s a web and weft of them running up and down, perpendicular to the High Street, like ribs on a dozing brontosaurus.

In the past, I’ve run up and down the odd Twitten, en route to somewhere else in town. But I’ve been intrigued by the prospect of running up and down all of them in the same run ever since some stalwarts of the virtual Lewes running community I’m part of via Runkeeper have been doing regular Twitten Runs in preparation for the Lewes marathon, the insanely hilly Moyleman. @RobKRead, @Sweder, @CharlieCat5, @McCauleyPhotos. You know who you are. Rob’s even suggested I join them. As recently as yesterday.

So when I pulled on my headtorch this morning, there was only one route I was going to take. And even though I wouldn’t get more than a kilometre from home in the whole run, I’d still be able to put in my usual six-ish K. Because I’d give the Twitten Run a go.

40% uphill, 20% flat, 40% downhill, the Twitten Run is every bit the urban Stairmaster. How would I get on?

After the initial shock of an ascent of Keere Street, Lewes’ steepest, longest rise apart from Winterbourne Hollow, I could tell I was going to enjoy this. Ever since I started running almost five years ago now, I’ve always maintained it’s easier to run up Keere Street than to walk it. I can now confirm – from my final lap – that this remains true, although it is harder to run down it than walk down it, too.

No sooner had I reached the High Street, than I was diving back down past the back of the gardens on the West side of St Swithun’s Terrace. Double-back, switchblade style and back up St Swithun’s itself. Then behind the gardens on St Swithun’s East side.

What’s lovely – and what reminded me of the Canal du Midi trip – is that in linear terms, distance along the High Street to the North or Southover Road/Lansdown Place to the South – you take an awfully long time to make progress. Because you have a couple of hundred yards up and then down for every 10-25 yards you move along, West to East or East to West.

This means you see the same people doing the same thing a few minutes later, as if in some exaggerated, personal, time-lapse movie. As it was Friday morning just before dawn, I kept seeing the town’s binmen, clearing away a week’s detritus from pubs and restaurants. One of them gently joshed that I didn’t know where I was going. Reactions from non-runners are rare, and this was rather more pleasant than the high-viz bike commuter on South Street on Wednesday who’d growled “Stupid fucker!” at me on his way to the Monkey Business industrial estate, just near the Grand Designs house.

As I ran up and down and along and down and up and … you get the picture … other things occurred to me. I loved seeing the first inklings of sunrise over Firle Beacon time and time again, each time two or three minutes further on as I turned downhill to run South. I chased after two foxes, one on Church Twitten and one on Paine’s, their bushy-tailed raids on bin bags cut short.

I also discovered that, contrary to local legend, Lewes’ Twittens are also not as steep as you think. Some of them are actually surprisingly flat, particularly once you get to those on the War Memorial, Eastern end of the High Street. Indeed, some of them actually go down as well as up. Although effortful, I fell into the Stairmaster rollercoaster of the rhythm of the Twitten Run.

What’s more, there are a surprising number of cut-throughs between Twitters, horizontally, especially around the Old Printworks, an amazing redevelopment project in total that crams in so many folks and interesting places to live in an architecturally-interesting way. Very Lewes in its lack of right angles.

There are also more Twittens than you think, even if you’re nearly 20 years into life in the town. I ran up and down ten, and then, turning on my heels by the ambulance station and precinct, down and up the same ten. I think I’ve got the rules of the Twitten Run right – do each one in both directions, right? More seasoned runners will let me know, I have no doubt.

More than anything else, what the 40-minute Twitten Run taught me was that it’s a metaphor for life. Full of ups and downs, of course. But there’s pleasure in the struggle of ascent and there isn’t always delight to be found in coasting descents – particularly on Keere Street. And while the mountains we need to overcome daily – every few minutes – may be daunting in prospect, the delight to be drawn from conquering mini-peaks is cumulative.

Runs set me up for the day. But I’ll wager Lewes to a mathematical tile that none are as good as the Twitten Run. And know what, regulars? I might just join you next time.

 

 

Enfin, on s’habitue à tous

For the past six weeks, I’ve been mixing up massage, acupuncture and a complex series of guided, self-treatment exercises to unjumble a torn hamstring in my left calf. Some time in July – the morning started bright, so I had to wear shades. By the time I was turning from home by the Juggs in Kingston, the early-morning sun had been replaced by bible black clouds. Running round behind the school – the sky shrouded with clouds, made darker yet by the knitted thatch of bushes – I didn’t see a root. I tripped and fell and skidded on my knees along the tilthy floor, only stopping when I face-planted into the school fence.

My knees (and fruit-based electronic accoutrements) were fine. But I felt my hamstring go twang. I tried to shake it off, but it got tighter, as did my calves, so it was Lewis Wood-wards I headed for healing hands and needles and xeroxed sheets of exercises.

Foam roller, working down the thigh from glute to knee.

Hamstring stretches against the wall, 12 sets, 15 seconds each set.

Hamstring raises on the bottom step, eight on both feet, eight left, eight right. Repeat three times.

Full seated stretch, non-flexy band around the ball of the foot.

Tennis ball torture, working down the thigh.

Pilates bridges – eight with both legs, eight with the offender planted, the innocent straight and at 45 degrees. Repeat.

Flipped over easy, the offender lifting up 24 times with the resistance of a band.

Pilates ring between the thighs, upper hand planted by lower elbow, eight squeezes from the top, eight from the bottom, all done twice.

It’s taken almost as long to describe them – doubtless inadequately – as it does to do them. But do them I have been doing, religiously, regularly, as my “exercise”, in a sustained campaign to get back to do what I love doing.

Stepping out in the pre-dawn, head-torch blazing. And then just running in the air-temperature air, kissing what limbs as I’ll dare to bare.

Today wasn’t fast or far or PB territory. It was the first, 20-minute step back on the road to running. And a stretch and bath later, all feels fine so far.

Enfin, on s’habitue à tous.

If I had any black pudding in the fridge, I’d fry it up and eat it from the pan.

Season’s End

It’s getting close to season’s end, I heard somebody say.

That it might never shine again, in England.

Or something like that.

After a couple of weeks in the stands while self-treating for (mild) hamstring tendonitis – I’ll find out how that’s gone at the sports physio’s later this morning – I’ve gently been easing back in to exercise after a short but frustrating lay-off.

On Tuesday, on a bonus family break in Swaledale, we walked ten miles or so from Keld to Muker and back.

Last night, after eight hours in the car, almost half of which was spent on the M25 car park, a gentle run was called for: a 5K loop of the prison, Nevill, Wallands and Pells. And though I avoided country paths for fear of suffering the fate of Frank Zappa’s witch – I hear it’s been raining in Sussex in our dry days away in Gloucestershire, Cheshire and Yorkshire – there’s plenty of country that encroaches on the town to observe the turning of the seasons.

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Bramble bushes hang heavy with blackberries, and last night families were greedily harvesting the prime crop, each one intent on a crumble no doubt.

And this morning I made my last ride and early morning Pells Pool pilgrimage of the month – the season – the year. All around were signs of season’s end. My habitual route took me looping round Lewes then up the new cycle path to Ringmer and through the fields of round bales. The outfield of Ringmer’s cricket pitch – a deathtrap for drivers – looked unkempt and in need of a trim. And as I climbed the hill past Glyndebourne’s unturning wind generator, the ears of corn stood plump and shaggy on their British racing green stalks. As so often at this time of year, rats were gorging themselves on an early-morning feast, while a raptor mugged pigeons towards the copse on the brow of the hill.

But the most fin de saison moment for me this morning was my final trip of the month – possibly the year, certainly early morning – to Pells. I may have lived in Lewes for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else (17 years and counting), but I only truly discovered and fell in love with Pells three or four years ago. And last year’s innovation of early morning swims, extended from two to five days this season, has cemented our affair.

Yes, the two inches of rain yesterday did make it proper Skegness bracing, but I soon forgot the temperature and ploughed my slow, meditative 11 lengths, as triathletes in wetsuits did almost twice the distance. I’ve written before in praise of slow, and while I’m far too long in the tooth to want to become a speed swimmer, I do very much want to break a 49-year duck next year and graduate from simple breaststroke to crawl. I’d welcome any and all connections to good swimming tutors.

I’ll be on an early train tomorrow, into the Smoke, and so won’t be able to be in Pells one last 7am tomorrow. But as the train pulls through the glorious Sussex dawn (optimist!), I’ll imagine myself for 20 minutes taking methodical laps up and down the glory that is the country’s (and so the world’s?) oldest lido. You’re not looking too shabby on it, Lady Pells. See you early again next May.