I walk down the hill, across the main road onto the seafront. Past the statue where Brighton ends and Hove begins, westwards onto the promenade. This is my running route, but today I am ambling in anticipation of running a half marathon along this same stretch in a few days’ time. I will not break into as much as a trot this week. It is time to move slowly.
The sea is rippled by a faint northerly breeze. Walkers are wrapped in winter coats still, but there is a whiff of spring on the coastal air. The lawns of Regency crescents have been mown, seagulls crowd parapets in search of safe sites to raise young. Yesterday, despite the chill, I swam off the beach, wading into the icy waves with a stranger’s poodle at my heals. I shiver just thinking about it, but cannot escape the calm, collected feeling that has been with me in the 24 hours since.
This is less an aimless walk than a retracing of my running route at a slower pace and with wider eyes. Usually I am plugged into the mainframe, headphones delivering pacing stats, distances and forgettable podcast episodes deep into my ears. Today, I listen to the quiet peel of the waves, the tide at its highest. A pair of women walk past discussing a breakup. I feel ashamed for eavesdropping and so slow my pace further out of embarrassment, not wishing to be caught.
By the ice cream shop, construction has begun on Medina House, a former Turkish Baths now owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Hoardings block out the building work. One–time swimming holes hold a deep fascination. A warm soak here after a short sea swim would make this bright, cold day sparkle.
Further along the prom, where my running app always clocks its first mile, the chlorine from the indoor pool catches in my throat. I think back to yesterday’s brief dip. The bite of the cold, the redness of my skin, the elated jog across the pebbles afterwards.
Where the beach wall ends and the shingle slips across the pavement, I stare inland. I never look up here, my face always trained on the floor, one running shoe and then the other. I have never noticed the dilapidated hotel, the modern Art Deco pastiche flats or the suburban semi that sits between Victorian era apartment buildings, their wrought iron balconies awaiting summer sun worshippers. I come here at least once a week, yet it is a part of my city that I do not know.
I turn around after a mile and a half. It has taken me more than twice the time to cover half the ground I normally do. I stand on the beach and watch the fishermen, scores of them, lined up along the shoreline, to a man their hoods popped up. Some hunker in open–sided tents. Others tend to rods and cast long lines out into the deep.
I head back towards town the way I came, as I always do. A roller blader cuts sharp moves around chalked out jump marks, headphones clamped tight, his lips syncing to a song I cannot hear. A cyclist pedals past, ignoring the ‘No Cycling’ signs painted on the tarmac, weaving in an aimless arc, smiling at the steady horizon. A pair of workmen are busy laying the foundations for a new ‘art plinth’ that will look out to sea.
This promenade is perhaps the finest place to walk here. Nearly all life ambles without purpose. Even the runners take a look up now and again. I must remember to do the same next time I don my trainers and up the pace.