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.
(Originally posted 4 December 2015 here https://firsttimerunner.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/urban-stairmaster/)