It’s not only musicians and comedians who have to endure heckling from oh-so-hilarious members of the public – we runners put up with more than our fair share. From side-splitting comments such as, ‘Wouldn’t you be quicker driving, mate?’ to outright verbal abuse from self-righteous car drivers, you name it, it’s been shouted at me. But between you and me, I secretly enjoy it. There’s little in this world which can amuse me more than the oh-fuck-what-have-I-done expression on a heckler’s face when I stop in my tracks, stare at them directly in the eye and walk silently towards them. For some reason the thought of engaging a sweaty, angry-looking skinhead can arouse anxiety.
There is one heckle which I genuinely dread, and I hear it all the time on one of my favourite training runs along the beach at West Sands in St Andrews, close to where I live. It all goes back to 1981 and the release of Chariots Of Fire. Currently enjoying a mini-revival thanks to the London Olympics, the film opens with the iconic beach running scene to the accompaniment of Vangelis’ anthem. That scene was filmed on West Sands in St Andrews. You can probably tell where I’m going with this…
There’s a guarantee that every time I run here, a passer by will start singing that Vangelis tune. Every time. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like the tune. But what irks me more than anything is the smug expression on the punters’ faces, clearly under the impression that nobody has ever thought of doing this before. And thanks to Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony at the London Olympics I now have to contend with comments like, “Keep running Mr Bean.” Hilarious. Depending on my mood, I often have to resist the urge to show them the error of their ways by making them drink the contents of the adjacent North Sea.
But I don’t let such witty banter (yes, I’m being horribly sarcastic) spoil my run along the beach. It’s a beautiful and often tricky route. I usually park my car a little away from the beach, and start my run by crossing the 18th fairway of the Old Course, laughing at the bizarrely dressed golfers as I go. Once on the beach I follow it northwards for roughly two-and-a-bit miles and then loop back; so a tasty wee five-miler in total.
Sand is fun to run on. It’s lower impact than tarmac, of course, but it has its own challenges. If it’s soft, then your feet can sink deeply with each step, meaning that far more effort’s required to simply move in the first place. In that respect it’s similar to running on snow, only slightly warmer. Only slightly mind; this is Scotland after all. Sand dunes are fantastic for high-intensity runs. At West Sands they’re not especially high but once you’ve run up and down a dozen of them at pace, I can guarantee that you’ll want to vomit. And if that’s not your idea of a good time, then you could always seek out the firmer, compact sand exposed by the retreating tide. Running on this surface is similar to running on grass – soft underfoot, but not to the extent that you sink.
It says a lot about my love of running on West Sands that I return time again, despite the inevitable heckles, and part of me is secretly proud that one of my training routes is well enough known to have been shown at the Olympics. The break from running on roads or on hills is a welcome one, and the gentle wooshing of the sea seems to send me into a Zen-like trance. But, I’m afraid to say, I can’t bring myself to watch Chariots Of Fire, or Mr Bean, ever again.