Another wonderful morning of running through the streets of Darlington. It’s a race I look out for during my summer in the UK. A break in the wet weekend and an early gathering around the Town Hall with lots of fellow Harriers amongst the 2000+ entrants. The course route is a cruising two laps of the town, starting on Houndsgate and heading uphill to join the first of two loops anticlockwise around the residential areas west of the centre. The race finishes back in the town with a sprint along Skinnergate that needs to be sustained along High Row.
For many, the first chance to get to know your fellow runner and their preparation is in ever the growing toilet queue, curtesy of the Dolphin Centre. Lots of t-shirts from previous years. A few people talking of last night’s beers, or alternatively PBs. It’s that type of course.
It’s a narrow holding pen and a bit of optimism with your starting position goes a long way. The Rocky theme tune Eye of the Tiger gets us underway, but as always, its quickly drowned out by the crowds of locals that line the first 500m.
The racers quickly thin out, but the crowds generally hold strong. I’ve hit a 39 min target in previous years, but becoming a daddy in the past few months allowed me to relax and take what comes. I had family waiting at the 3 and 6km mark, and it never fails to spur you on. Lifting the knees, a little higher and getting ahead of the guys in front to hola a happy birthday to a family member. Thanks for the support!
Despite two laps, it feels like a gradual uphill all the way. The relief comes when the course route breaks from the loop and peels off toward the centre. Just less than a km to go. It’s a great finishing dash and one to hold your nerve on the wet cobbles and sharp bends as Skinnergate turns into Bondgate, and Bondgate into High Row. Loads of support and a dash to the finish. Destroyed, and only 6 seconds ahead of my older bro. Still, I can’t let him beat me.
Thank you to the race organisers and all the volunteers who make it a top race, year after year. A shout out to the young quiet lad who stood in the toilet queue, and was smiling at the end with a PB and a time of 36mins. Didn’t catch a name, but top running!
This was my third Parkrunathon, having done one each in 2016 and 2017. They don’t get any easier. Previously they have been in support of Acorn Children’s Hospices and organised by George Nicholson. George is well known around the Durham sporting scene as a runner and former rugby player and rower. A really great guy, he is also one of the ever-presents in the Great North Run. I sat one place behind him on this year’s bus.
This year, Elvet’s Catherine Smith took on the organising role and we decided to support local mental health and suicide prevention charity If U Care Share. Catherine will be familiar to many Sedgefield runners. She lives in Coxhoe and regularly runs or volunteers at Sedgefield parkrun. She did a great job.
With mainly Elvet runners, the numbers grew in recent weeks and a coachload became an additional minibus became a fleet of cars. Via social media a group travelled up from Wakefield and at its fullest we had about 100 runners. Catherine gave me a few ‘picks’ and along came Ray as well as a Darlington (Quakers) friend Alistair plus a late call-up for Durham Harriers’ Diane Wood. Alistair bust his calf a few weeks ago so decided to do his bit by cycling the whole route instead. Diane photo-bombed our Sedgefield group at Wynyard last week; that’ll teach you!
Sedgefield junior parkrun
PK: 11.37 Ray: 11.16
A nice gentle jog around Hardwick lake started us off at 8.15. A marathon is 42km, so it needs this little extra to make the full distance. Steve Foreman (parkrun gaffer) was setting up around us, looking quite chilled as we all posed for initial photos.
#1 Sedgefield parkrun
PK: 26.49 Ray: 26.43
What a spectacle. Runners streamed all around the lake like never seen before. 485 in total, a record by 101 I believe. Ray and I jogged around together, Steve still looking quite chilled at the end too.
A nice touch for me was that both my kids, Oliver and Grace, were on barcode scanning and managing quite well.
We posed for a few more photos afterwards and then got away on the bus. Nice to have the officially timed one of the day on home turf and I even managed a take-out coffee for us both before we left.
#2 Hartlepool parkrun
PK: 28.33 Ray: 25.40
The weather was still very nice at this point. I’ve never done Hartlepool before but know the seafront route well enough as it covers much of the same stretch as the Marina 5 Mile. I nipped into the public loos on the front, hence a slower time. Wee stops were to become a recurring theme…
#3 Cotsford Fields parkrun
PK: 27.23 Ray:23.31
We didn’t have time to get a coffee from the accompanying van before we left Hartlepool, so Ray’s plan was to run this one quicker to be at the front of the queue at the end. It worked. I ran much of this one with Paul ‘Lord Smyth’ Smith. Many will know him for his running a mile a day (at least), for a decade or more and his eccentric outfits. I think he changed into red budgie-smuggler santa shorts for this one.
Cotsford Fields is on National Trust coastal land near Horden and passes the metal sea bird sculpture on each of its two laps; beautiful on a day like we had, perhaps less so in the depths of winter. Coffee was enjoyed post run, as was some chocolate cake and away we went.
#4 Sunderland parkrun
PK: 26.45 Ray: 26.39
Alistair, by now known to everyone as ‘Bike Man’ got a bit lost on his way to this one. ‘We’re at the bottom of the ski slope’ I text. ‘B********’ he replied, ‘wrong place’, but still got there on time to see us off.
I’ve run this course on both previous Parkrunathons; it starts and finishes at the top near the ski slope and takes in two laps of the lake at Silksworth. Rain had appeared from nowhere and Ray and I had a wet run together. We had a nice chat with the Rodillian Runners of Wakefield. I needed the loo too!
#5 South Shields parkrun
PK: 31.05 Ray: 24.09
Ray and I also did this parkrun back in February as part of a recce morning for the Marathon Club’s Leazes event. It starts by the Sandancer pub and runs south along the coast path, almost as far as Marsden before turning back and following the road (Great North Run finish) for about a mile. Colin Robson is their run director, and just as in 2016, he joined us for the day. Before today Colin had only ever run Sedgefield parkrun once and that was GNR day in 2016 when their course was taken over. As a result of a chat that day I got a last minute place in the GNR; I digress but it shows the kinds of quirky occurrences that come as a result of running together.
I also had to digress on the route at #5. I needed another wee badly from the start and so went down on the rocks. By the time I emerged I was well adrift of all the runners.
I gradually caught up a few by the end. South Shields was also the first time I began to feel really quite stiff at the start. The Sunderland run had been quite pacey (well, for me) and the hill at the end had taken something out of my legs. By the end of #5 I knew I was certainly feeling it.
#6 Windy Nook parkrun
PK: 29.00 Ray: 25.34
This is a semi-urban nature reserve in Gateshead, in the shadow of the Wrekenton cross country course. Experience told me that #6 is always the toughest, made especially so by this very hilly three lap route. The rain had stopped though and there was a full team of Windy Nook volunteers to guide us. This happened a number times throughout the day and was really welcoming and welcomed.
Keeping well hydrated I needed another wee before the start. By now Ray was inventing his own timing rules; either each one faster than the previous or under 27 minutes. Off you go mate. The route was hilly and twisty and 29 minutes doesn’t tell of how much effort I put in on this one. There was a series of steps on each lap and that was punishing.
Another member of our running group was Oliver’s A Level history and politics teacher, Mr Brown. I couldn’t quite manage to call him Alex. He’s a super fella and Oliver idolises him but ‘Mr B’ was as informal as I could muster. He tailed me all the way around this course and believing that he was going to pass me at any moment, I even managed to run the steps on lap 3. I finished ahead, job done Mr K.
Another wee stop in the nearby community centre, where they also provided us with very nice refreshments, and we were off. Just two to go.
#7 Riverside parkrun, Chester le Street
PK: 29.05 Ray: 23.28
This is normally a fast, flat course, but serious stiffness and another public toilet stop put paid to any kind of performance from me. Meanwhile Ray the machine was smashing it up somewhere near the front. I never got near enough to the front runners, but I think there was some competitiveness up there. Support from volunteers was lovely, including a nice shout out from our Aileen Henderson.
#8 Durham parkrun
PK: 26.00 Ray: 22.49
The home parkrun for many of our number, there was a great turnout as well as speeches before and after. Bike Man Alistair received warm applause before we started. His day had been a different challenge. Unlike for us on a sweaty coach and running together, his time was quite solitary; a great effort.
The Durham folks had also set it up as a ‘proper’ event with bar code scanning and everything. Just as well then that Ray and I got a sneaky wee in the cricket pavilion as we walked to the start.
Because of where I was standing for the briefing I was near the front for once when we started. I felt myself spring off with not too much stiffness and so I decided to run hard for the last one. Okay, so Ray and the quick guys soon came past but I was pleased to finish with a proper run. It felt quicker than 26 minutes but that’s what fatigue does to you I guess. The ‘new’ course at Durham which finishes along the river and back to the bandstand is lovely, but try as I might I couldn’t quite catch Paul Smith in his leopard skin shorts. The man is crackers, he drank a bottle of Peroni after each leg, but he can run.
We had a few more photos (Maggie Davison is a great photographer, and trailed us all day) and I led a few words to thank Catherine and Co. Diane even admitted after, that despite her protestations, she had really enjoyed it. I knew she would.
Parkrunathon is a great communal event and it was good to support a worthy cause. It is tiring and you do have to pace yourself a bit, but for me a normal marathon is tougher. We all hugged, shook hands and promised to do it all again soon. I hope we do.
The last hug and word went to Kerry Anne, one of Catherine’s lieutenants and run director for Cotsford Fields.
“Pete I think you should get your prostate checked out mate. I’ve never known someone have so many wees.”
Number of marathons completed ever: 4, all in 2017
Date of last marathon: September 2017, Hull
Number of times I’ve run further than half marathon distance in last 12 months: 1 (16 miles)
Months missed through injury in 2019: 2 (most of January and February)
Reason for entering Druridge Bay Marathon: Absolutely no idea
Well actually I do know why I entered, but nothing makes complete sense. I was inspired by Mike W running his first ever marathon at the Hardwick Winter Wonder in January, based on simply being in good running nick; I’ve been involved in a lot of marathon talk recently with the Manchester, London and York enthusiasts and it’s quite seductive (John H: “Camm on Pete, you’ve gotta do Yawk mayt”); I am a member of the North East Marathon Club, the clue is in the name; I didn’t take my free place at the Leas event nor was able to do the winter wonders due to injury, so I had this one for ‘free’; due to tide times at Druridge, those doing the full marathon had to set off an hour earlier than those doing the half, so I couldn’t start the half and just see if I could keep going, I had to state my aim.
But apart from being in decent running nick for me and racking up a few miles in March, I really hadn’t trained for it. I kept quiet about it, partly out of respect for those doing Manchester the proper way on the same morning, and made it to the start line.
I haven’t done Druridge Bay before, but it’s in keeping with NEMC’s events in that a number of attractive laps are repeated, four in total. Each lap was like a squiggly figure of 8, with a mid point (an interchange, enabling refreshments twice each lap). Those who have done Druridge cross country would recognise the lake to be orbited each time, but there were also really nice sections of path and closed road, all at easy gradients. The highlight of each circuit was the mile or so stretch on the beach, on hard sand with the wind behind, a lovely bay.
Conditions were chilly and damp, ideal for long distance running. After a quick briefing and ‘ready, steady go’ we were off. I can honestly say that the first two laps (half marathon) were a dream. I ran at a steady pace (just over two hours) and felt great. I made several new friends. Ryan was doing his first ever marathon, loping along in a very easy style; he lives up in Weardale, his wife works in M&S in Durham. It was only when I needed a wee at the end of the first lap that we were parted. Debbie D and her Peterlee friends were discussing HR issues at work. On lap two I caught up with David. Recently turned 50, he was training for an ultra in a couple of months’ time; should he go for a flat 47 miler or a Lakeland mountainous 32? We discussed the merits of each until I eased ahead of him on the second beach stretch.
In quieter moments I was also mentally writing my Rundown. At the halfway point it was all about how easy it was to run a marathon with no additional training. This new found revelation was despite me finding every long run difficult, ever, after about 16 miles…
There were no other Sedgefield runners in my race but I did spy Ben Smale at the interchange one time. He was doing the half, and flying along on his way to a brilliant 4th place and huge PB. Julia Atkinson-Tait was somewhere in the half field too. When I saw Ben, I bellowed a huge ‘Good luck Ben Smale!’ He told me later that he had heard and that it had really benefitted. The woman with the headphones alongside me that jumped out of her skin may have not felt so grateful. “Oh, sorry love”.
Lap 3 and I definitely started to stiffen up. I felt it first as I got onto the beach and by the end of the lap was finding it hard to keep moving. Stopping to empty my shoe of small stones was probably as much about taking a breather, but I did keep running overall.
The start of lap 4, coming back through the public area was really tough. Had it just been a more informal winter wonder type event, I would have called it a day then. I was knackered. But I kept going. A short way into lap 4, and I walked for the first time and so began the most miserable hour or so of running/walking since the closing stages of Hull, 18 months ago. The triumphant mood of an hour previous was long consigned and gradually many of the people who I had passed in the earlier stages, steadily came back past me. I was so full of self pity. I thought enviously of Chris and Ciaran doing 3000m at Middlesbrough. 3000m, now that would have been much more sensible. I began to rewrite this rundown in my head, recognising the stupidity of not training properly. I aimed for trees and puddles and any other landmarks to run (shuffle) to before walking again. I counted 100 running strides to 40 walking. My glutes said no, my pride whispered yes. The only person I had passed early on in this final lap was Noel. I only know his name through the results. His feet were killing him, he muttered. But not so much, because he stayed close for all the last 5 miles. We played slow motion cat and mouse all the way back; he catching me with a faster walk, my shuffle run slightly quicker. I never looked behind – now that would have betrayed my pretend nonchalance – but each time I heard him close I dragged myself into a jog. Once past the refreshment table (no final Haribo, I’ve had enough of those for a while!) I kept up a slow run for the last half a kilometre and thanked Noel once we’d both crossed the finish. 13 seconds separated us, he had really helped.
4 hours 31 is nothing to write home about, but neither was it a disaster. Feeling utterly fatigued I gratefully accepted both medals (yes two, one about ‘World Bamnation Weekend’. No idea what it means, neither does Google, but I deserved it). I had a photo with my lap 1 friend Ryan who also had suffered latterly and the briefest of chats with the likes of Mel, Ian and Omar from the club. I was so wrecked, that I just wanted to go home and curl up. Sitting on the boot lid of the car, wrestling with stiffness and the lining of my track bottoms, a member of the public came over and asked if I wanted some help. I must have looked that pathetic. I remember hearing myself say “Thanks, it’s okay. I’ve just run a marathon.”
The volunteer marshals were great as always: Karl & co hunkering down behind the concrete beach blocks, Andy swatting away midges for five hours, Chris on his camping chair in one corner of the park, Anna and her friend unable to take a photo because they were too cold, Christine on the refreshment table (who pointed out my bleeding nipples at about half way!). Others too. Heroes, all.
So would I recommend doing a marathon on minimal training? Absolutely not. Stupid idea. Running should be an enjoyable experience. Yet, as soon as I’d warmed up, grabbed a coffee, got a free electric charge at Stannington Services and thought about what I’d done, I realised I didn’t regret it. I’m so not a long distance runner, but I was quite pleased with myself. Marathon #5: third quickest (or slowest, if your glass is half empty).
I’m definitely not doing Yawk though John, before you ask again.
was part of the ‘Winter Wonder’ series organised by North East
Marathon Club. I’ve been a member of NEMC for two years and enjoy
their local, low key events. The Winter Wonders have generally been a
Newcastle Town Moor fixture but this year have started to branch out
to such places as Herrington and, next month, Hardwick Park. You
don’t have to be a marathon runner to be a member of NEMC and the
Winter Wonders are designed accordingly for runners of all distances.
They tend to be multi-lap events, for participants to run as far as
they wish within a six hour window. There are no finishing placings
as such and sometimes runners’ own times are used as their
‘official’ time. I also like them because you get to run past the
refreshment table for snacks and drinks every few miles, avoiding the
need to carry your own kit.
Fellow Harriers Justin Cox and
Ben Smale also took part. Justin needs no introduction. Ben is an
unassuming guy from Coxhoe and a good runner (first Harrier at the
Coxhoe Trail 10k the other month) and we shared a lift. Coxhoe, by
the way, is a hotbed of running talent, just ask Mil Walton.
Following Storm Deirdre and her freezing rain the previous day, this
was a chilly but rather pleasant sunny morning for running. I chose
road shoes based on the tarmac path at the start, but soon questioned
that once we danced through some downhill icy slush. Despite having
to stop twice to empty stones out of said shoes, it was a decent
decision. Herrington Park, a colliery until 1985 with the largest
spoil heap in the North East, is in the shadow of Penshaw Monument
and the course was a 5km loop on good paths. There were several
inclines but they served more to break up the run rather than tire
out and it was an enjoyable event in good surroundings. I’m not
training for anything in particular so was happy to call it a day
after five laps and sixteen miles. Further ahead Ben had decided the
same. He’s recently completed five marathons in five days at an
event near Bolton so felt he didn’t to push himself too much.
Justin lapped me on lap four, well ahead of anyone else. I happen to
also know the guy in second place, Elvet’s Gareth Pritchard from
Coxhoe (hotbed, I did say).
runners completed the event, each deciding their own distance, with
25 doing a full marathon or more. All entry monies were for charity
too, raising an impressive £1,500 for Special Olympics Sunderland.
For the record, I completed my five laps (16.2 miles) in 2hrs 27:40,
and Ben in 2 hrs 17. I stiffened up on the last lap but was pleased
overall. Justin ran 8 laps+, the full marathon distance in 3hrs 1:33;
a great effort for a training run, eight minutes quicker than anyone
bonus was that Herrington Park has an electric car charging station,
which got me all the way home too. Result!
Trail 10k, 23rd September 2018. A coolish but pleasant morning for
racing. This run was re-established in 2014, with the original Coxhoe
10k on a different route dating back to the 1980s. The modern version
was put together by local runner Iain Twaddle and our own Ean Parsons
and attracts a decent number of Harriers. The course is a good one,
an out and back along the old Kelloe railway line, with a loop around
the plantation (‘pit heaps’) at the far end. This doesn’t really
hint at the two or three taxing hills on the route, the last one a
particular energy sapper, especially with another half mile still to
go once back at the top before the finish. The finish area is where
Coxhoe Hall used to stand (once the home of the Victorian poet
Elizabeth Barrett Browning) and offers a good vantage of those
struggling up the final hill. Well, I always struggle anyway.
is down at Coxhoe Leisure Centre, followed by a fifteen minute walk
up to the start/finish area in the woods. This year I got chatting to
folks at the finish area for too long and only just got to the start
in time. It meant I was right at the front and after just the
briefest of intros we were away. I’ve never started a race so
quickly. I dare not do anything other to avoid tripping other front
runners and only eased off once we were halfway down the first hill.
Turns out it was a successful tactic as normally I’m tripping over
folks on this bit myself. I kept a decent pace throughout, for me,
and beat my best time in five attempts at the course by a minute and
a half. The organisers moved the date back three weeks this year, to
avoid Tees Pride 10k, and I think the cooler morning helped too.
Either way, I was pleased with my performance.
record 200 runners completed the event this year. First Harrier was
Ben Smale (a Coxhoe lad) and first female overall was Lisa Darby, a
brilliant effort. A special mention also to 15 year old Daniel
Avery-McAleese who finished 33rd
overall in 44 minutes. Fifteen Harriers in total took part. It’s a
great local event and even more next year would be super.
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