RUNNING WITH SCISSORS

Running with scissors is dangerous – or at least so we were warned by our parents when we were kids.  Running in foreign lands can also be dangerous or at least exciting and/or confusing.  There is always a language issue and then there is the chance of getting lost.  And sometimes you have to watch out for man-eating crocodiles (notice that you never hear about woman-eating crocodiles; women are smart enough to keep their distance while guys’ last words are “Watch this!” before being consumed).

When I was working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the mid-1980s (Riyadh is croc-free, by the way) I ran early one morning from my villa to the city’s hippodrome (horse racing track and stadium).  The hippodrome was circled by a ring road.  I wore long running pants so as to not draw the attention of the religion police (shorts were not allowed in public).  At the hippodrome entrance I continued to run the ring road circling the stadium.  Only after circling the hippodrome once did I realize that I didn’t know from which road I had entered the ring road from and which road to take back to my villa.  All the roads came into the ring road at right angles like spokes on a wheel entering a hub and they all looked the same.  I had to run a second loop before I could identify what looked to be the correct road for the return trip home.  Apparently I made the right choice as I didn’t end up lost in the Arabian Desert and I did eventually return to the United States.

So in the summer of 2015 when my wife Joan and I journeyed to Dover, England, we knew that we were in for an adventure.  Actually the real adventure was Joan’s swimming of the English Channel as a member of a six-person international relay team (more on that later).  But while we waited for the right weather and tide conditions for the swim we explored Dover and the surrounding countryside by running everywhere.

Dover is a surprisingly small town.  Located in the southeast corner of England, it has gained its fame from the fact that it where one can take the car ferry to France (the entrance to the tunnel to France is in the nearby city of Folkestone).  From the center (or as the British say “centre”) of town I am confident that I could run to any Dover neighborhood in 15 minutes or less, traffic willing.

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Traffic in England is always confusing and a source for danger since they believe in driving on the “wrong” side of the road.  In Dover before we crossed streets we would look right and then left and then just to make doubly sure it was safe to cross we would look right and left again.  Seeing no traffic we would venture out into the roadway only to have a man-eating crocodile appear out of nowhere and attempt to run us down.  Sometimes the man-eating crocodiles were disguised as small automobiles but you could tell from their hungry eyes that they were really man-eating crocodiles.

It didn’t take long to explore Dover on foot.  And, as we didn’t rent a car, traveling by foot was our only option.  With Dover now thoroughly mapped in our heads we were ready to see what lay beyond.

We first ventured west of town along the coast.  Adjacent to the A20 Motorway ran a narrow asphalt ribbon of a trail along the top of the bluff overlooking the English Channel.  Overgrowth vegetation along the paved trail gave the impression that the trail is not heavily used – if used at all.  I kept my eyes open for man-eating crocodiles even though they are rarely seen in this part of Britain (other than when crossing streets).

Joan looking out at the channel

We eventually came to a stairway that led down to Shakespeare Beach.  It would be near this spot on the coast that the relay team would, a week later, start its swim to France.   It is not quite clear why this beach is named for William Shakespeare.  There is the story that he attempted a swim to France from this beach.  But he quickly returned to the English shore when confronted by a great white shark (the English Channel equivalent of a man-eating crocodile).  It has been said that this encounter with a shark was the idea for Shakespeare’s little known and ill-conceived play “The Swimmer of Dover” (critics called the play a failure when the mechanical shark performed poorly and the audience got wet in the initial performance at the Globe Theater in London – but I digress).  Seeing no great white sharks from the beach, we concluded that swim would be safe to attempt.

Dover Castle

With Shakespeare Beach in our rear view mirror, we explored other parts of the coast line.  Just on the eastern edge of Dover is Dover Castle.  Set on a hill above the town, Dover Castle has seen better days.  We explored the insides and outsides of the castle, but frankly it was a bit disappointing.  Inside there were no great works of art or plunder from distant lands.  In fact there wasn’t much of anything except ruins and tourists.  The dungeon was empty (an empty dungeon is just a cellar).  Outside the grounds were well kept and the World War II battlements and underground bunkers could be toured, but the visitors’ cafeteria with its over-priced pastries was probably the high point of the visit.

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Ponies

Just beyond the castle to the east are the White Cliffs of Dover.  Today they are National Trust land and are open to the public (you have to pay to enter by car, but it is free to sneak in by foot).  A pathway leads up out of town past grazing Exmoor ponies to the trails of the White Cliffs.  From the top of the cliffs there are miles of running trails to explore.

White trail

The White Cliffs are white and so are the rocks.  Imagine white-on-white camouflage.  One minute I was running on a smooth white trail and the next I hit the ground like a clumsy sack of potatoes.  White rock poking up from the ground: 1; Doug 0 (or nil, as they say in England).  Fortunately, other than for massive bruising of my thigh and ego, nothing was hurt.  (A few months later I received a survey form from Medicare – yes I am old enough for Medicare – asking among other health-related questions how many times I have fallen in the past 12 months.  I had to truthfully answer: 4 times – all while running.  Now I get ads for mobility scooters.)

Western Heights

After barely surviving the White Cliffs (at least I didn’t fall off of them) the last opportunity for cheating danger was the trails of the Western Heights on the west edge of Dover.  These were fortifications built to repel a feared French invasion of England during the Napoleonic Wars.  We ran around the edges in an attempt to prevent adding to my accumulating fall total.

Grimsey Team in Dover Harbor

And the English Channel swim?  Glad you asked.  After ten days of waiting and two false starts we loaded up the support boat with supplies, swimmers, and support staff and ventured out into deep waters.   The relay team consisted of (in swim order): Pete Gillis (Carnation, WA), Mick Bullen (Brisbane, Australia), Andy Plackett (Brisbane, Australia), Joan, Ben Freeman (Canberra, Australia), and Trent Grimsey (Brisbane, Australia).  The relay team completed what ended up to be a 32-mile swim (due to currents and tides) from England to France in 11 hours, 31 minutes, arriving in the dark on the rocky shores of the French coast at 1:37 in the morning.  They swam in cold 62 degree water without wetsuits through stinging jellyfish while dodging giant freighters bound for America.  They kept an eye out for sharks and other monsters of the deep.  By comparison, that sort of potential danger makes running with scissors child’s play.

 

Author: runwithdougblog

I have been running since 1980 and have completed over 100 marathons and ultras. I run track, road, and trails. I am still having fun so I must be doing something right.

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