You wait 16 months for a Race and 2 come along together!
My last race was the Thirsk 10 mile, it seems like a lifetime ago. Many of you may have already had your first race of the year in club colours, this was to be mine. Once it was confirmed the Durham City Run Festival was going to be going ahead, emails pinged and race numbers dropped on the doormat soon after. This was a race deferred from last year and one I have raced every year since its inception. Was I excited? Hmmm…. Yes and No in equal measures.
The Yes bit is obvious, I absolutely love race day! Getting stuff together, planning travel, etc etc
The No …. A little un-fitter, injury niggle for past year or so, will my race vest fit (this was a very real concern, lol), how will it work with new course and covid restrictions.
Race Day was here, I pinned my number to my vest, packed my bag and off I went.
My vest was a little snug, but still so happy to be wearing Harriers colours again. But not sure what to expect in Durham. The race start was moved to the Racecourse, as I walked there, I was joined by a few familiar faces, and even more Harriers were at the venue. Everything seemed like normal, lots of people, different clubs represented. And it was a fantastic evening weather wise.
The organisation was absolutely superb. Everyone had a colour coded number, I was in the first wave, we were corralled and led to the start line, the next wave formed behind and so on. The walk to the start was a good couple of hundred yards away, all the waves in place moving very slowly to be released in a rolling start every few minutes.
As I approached the start line, I glanced across the field and saw Pete King, he was going to be the last man to cross the start line. The Americans call it playing the dead man running game, whether intentional or not, the aim is to overtake as many as possible before you cross the finish line. I on the other hand was doing the exact opposite, start first and see how many runners can pass me.
The race was off, new course and full of hope. We did a loop of the Racecourse and then headed through Old Elvet and down by the river, crossed the foot bridge and were doing the Parkrun in reverse on the undulating path next to the river. Crossed the very narrow wood bridge at about 3k (apologies for being slow and causing a bottle neck behind me) and on towards the very loud, shaky bridge at the Sports Complex. The surprise next was a left hander and onto the running track for about 300m then off and in between the various sports pitches for a lap of the complex on the grass, which turned into another field and a lap before heading back along the river path back towards Durham.
This was the 5k point, and when the wheels started to fall off, my calf injury started hurting and gradually was to get worse. Slowing down even slower if that was possible, I heard Pete behind me and asked if I would do a race rundown. In a moment of weakness I said yes, no problem, he then ran off before I could change my mind!
The pace was getting slower and pain was starting to hurt, but I was determined to finish. The route was not as hilly as previous years, a good course I thought. So we crossed the Old Elvet Bridge and ran towards the market place, through the shops and up Claypath, to turn down the steep hill towards the old ice rink site. And over the river again we go, the last painful kilometre towards the city centre. We ended up crossing the Framwellgate Bridge and running up the steep hill towards the market place and onto a finish at The Gate, Claypath.
The support from fellow Harriers was as it always was, and always will be, genuine, warm and encouraging. My race was not the greatest at 1 hr 20 mins. But on reflection I still enjoyed my race day. And another race the following day!
OH NO!!! ANOTHER RACE RUNDOWN!!!
After limping the last 2 miles the previous night, I did not know what to expect from my Run Like A Legend mile race. My preparation was lots of warm up drills, stretching on the morning and becoming best friends with my foam roller.
I was racing with 5 other people on the riverside path at 2.00pm. The course was an out and back on flat terrain, a lot easier than last time’s course.
I ran like the wind, it seemed like I did anyway, was very hot and sticky but it’s only a mile isn’t it? I gained confidence from the fact I was not hurting and ran as fast as I could, my target was under 10 minutes, a good benchmark for the rest of the year.
A very good 9.43 which I was pleased with, all is restored in Andy World.
As a footnote these two races being part of the Durham City Running Festival are excellent local events in a fantastic setting, well organised and laid out, medals and T-shirts are of good quality. All in all a great experience I will continue to support.
So where do I start? One Sunday morning running with Pete (a surprise I know lol), we started discussing races and potential times. I said ideally this year I wanted a 50 minute 10K, and with currently running well, Pete said he would happily pace me round. Bonus, I thought, not knowing how my idea would potentially blow up lol. So the scene was set, Pete would pace me round. Then up pops Sunderland 10k and a message from Pete saying he’s in, 30secs later I had entered not knowing what to expect as I hadn’t completed it before. This is now where the pressure started to build, mainly from myself as I told everyone I wanted 50 mins, and my previous best was 52.09 (a section on the Thirsk 10 miler) so I knew I needed to push myself to achieve my goal…
The day before the race the Harriers Sunday group page started to blow up with predictions of my time, which ranged from 48-49.59, I joined in and thanked everyone for their support… Race day, the nerves started to kick in and my thoughts turned to what if I don’t achieve my time, the adrenaline definitely started to flow around my body. We arrived at Sunderland where Pete parked his car ready for a free charge !! We quickly nipped over to McDonalds (me, Graham and Pete) for a pre-race coffee, then wandered down to the start.
So onto the race. We lined up and I remember Pete just kept saying to me you’ve got this and don’t go off like a loon. I stuck to his advice and off we went, both me and Pete went off together and I thought he was going to stick with me throughout. First K done I felt comfortable and still able to talk lol, second K just about completed and I hear Pete shout ‘keep going you’ve got this!’ and then a follow up of ‘4.37 for the 2nd K’, and I knew then it was all on me so away I went on my own trying not to look at my watch.
I tried to pick off a few runners in front of me, and use them as a gauge and to keep me motivated, 3, 4,and 5K. I kept plugging away and managed to get an new PB over that distance of 22.31 which alone was a massive achievement for me. We then turned down onto the front and on came a few spots of rain. By this time I could feel myself getting tired, but I knew I had to push on, I took a sneaky look at my watch and it flashing ahead by 1.30 minutes. Think that gave me a little boost. I continued on trying to maintain average splits, and by 8.5k I had manged to take it to 2 minutes ahead, and by that point I knew I had given it a go.
Then the final long drag, a few people started to overtake and I knew I didn’t have anything extra at this point, I just needed to maintain it for the final 1/2k then the sneaky little detour around by the university put another slight incline in. I was digging deep and pushed through, over the bridge and onto the final straight. I tried to give everything I had left and looked at the clock and it was towards 47 mins. I think I crossed the line just before the clock time of 47 and there was Chris Lines saying ‘You smashed it well done!!’ as I then walked round to collect the goody bag my phone pings and the time comes through 46.43…
Not only did I achieve my 50 mins target I smashed it well and truly!! And as most have seen I honestly couldn’t have been happier. That’s officially about five and a half minutes off my best ever 10k time…
I do have to say a big thanks to everyone that believed I could achieve my goal and to Pete for keeping me grounded over the first 2k as I think otherwise I probably would have gone off way too fast. Now maybe the next goal will be 45mins….
By Mark Chapman.
This race had been a long time coming, as I had entered Manchester Marathon in 2020 but we all know what happened there… fast forward a year and the appetite to want to run the marathon distance was still there. With all the large races cancelled or likely to be with Covid restrictions I looked to see if there were any smaller races. Windermere marathon seemed ideal, well except maybe for those hills, this is what the blurb says:
The Windermere Marathon has a reputation as one of the most challenging road marathons in the UK. Categorised by Runner’s World as ‘undulating’
I started out this training block hoping I’d get past the 12 week mark and thankfully about a month before the race they sent out the confirmation that the race would be happening, albeit under covid restrictions, numbers for the race were limited to 800 (~555 people ran on the day), there would be staggered starts and runners were encouraged to be more self sufficient with hydration and nutrition with fewer stations around the route. It also meant no spectators or events put on at Brathay Hall which normally happen for the waiting family and Friends
The race starts and finishes at Brathay Hall and follows an anti-clockwise route, passing through Hawkshead, Newby Bridge, Bowness-on-Windermere and Ambleside.
I’d booked a start time of 8:45 and instructions were to not to turn up until ~15 minutes before the start time to get through registration. Getting in and parked, and through to the start line was very easy, and one bonus of these staggered starts is no queues for the toilets! It was all very relaxed at the start line, and although they said we’d go off in groups of 40, in reality once at the start line you could start when you were ready. Certainly a lot less stressful this way, but a little underwhelming way to start!
The course lived up to the billing as ‘undulating’ right from the start but more rolling ups and down to ease us in and get the legs warmed up. In the first half of the race I did have to contend with the rain – heavy downpours with some hail thrown in for good measure. The showers would be spread out enough just enough to dry off and then get soaked again.
The big climb of the course came at mile 7 –known as the devil’s gallop, 200ft over half a mile, and keeping my sensible head on, took the approach of walk the steep parts and save those legs – a long way to go yet!
Luckily the next 4 or so miles were gradually downhill so a slight rest for the legs. Simon and Chloe were waiting for me at Newby Bridge so time for a quick hug and words of encouragement and then time to head back up the lake.
There is usually a time during a race that I question why I do these things for ‘fun’ and the road back up towards Bowness-on-Windermere was certainly it, I can only describe it as a rollercoaster of hills – they just kept coming and even the downs weren’t that fun!
Once through Bowness-on-Windermere and the road levelled out. At this point I was also entering unchartered territory, having never run further than 21 miles before. Fortunately the wall was never hit! Coming up to around mile 24, I noticed a couple of spectators that looked familiar – Beth and Mark! Gave me a great boost to see you cheering – thanks guys!
There was another quick hug from Chloe in Ambleside and then time for the last push back up to Brathay Hall. By this time the legs were complaining quite loudly at any slight incline, bad news then that the finish was uphill – that’s just cruel! However, as the 26 mile marker ticked by I was so so happy that I was going to make it and crossing the finish line in just over 4 hours and 21 minutes was an amazing feeling!
By Fay Uphill.
After a good few years of running either with Rosie or with my trusty old border collie Jess, and entering the odd running race and a few sprint triathlons for ‘fun’, Rosie finally convinced me to actually join the Harriers.
Pre-covid I was never able to attend any training sessions due to work commitments, but working from home meant that I no longer had that excuse, and with the gym pretty much shut I needed something to keep the wine and chocolate calories from piling on, so I signed up and joined a few Netpark & Hardwick Park sessions as well as some runs with Emma, Vicky and Fay.
I’m generally not very motivated if I don’t have something to ‘train’ for so I signed up for some races this year and the last 2 weeks have seen me wear my new vest not once but twice! And what beautiful settings for races they were. Both were Muddy Roads trail races and were extremely well organised, everyone was friendly, welcoming and really supportive. And Rosie was at both handing out race numbers along with lots of encouragement for me and the rest of the runners. Huge credit to Vicky Fawcett and the whole Muddy Roads team, you guys are awesome!!
So on to the races…..
Pine Forest is located at Flatts Lane in Middlesbrough and the race started on a beautiful Thursday evening at the visitor centre before climbing on a winding trail path up through the trees before opening up to stunning views of Roseberry Topping. I can’t say that after that climb I could see much of the view through the sweat in my eyes, but apparently it was there!
The lovely and encouraging marshals at the top cheered me on and I later found out they were the Harriers’ very own Bethany and Mark Raine. And thanks to Mark, there is photo evidence to prove that the view exists and you can see the happiness on my face at being at the top of the climb!
The run then undulates back through the forest with steep downhills and a long flat track before a small climb back up to the finish line. I managed a time of 25.56 which, for anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate hills, I was quite happy with!
The second race in my new vest took place on Bank Holiday Monday and was the Pizza 8k Trail at Errington Woods in New Maske – and it was another hilly one – but the draw of pizza at the end was enough to lure me in. And some other Harriers too!
We were lucky given the horrendous forecast for the day, that the weather was dry and cool for the race and the heavens only opened when we were on our way home.
The trail was similar to the first race with a start climb up through woods and then across dusty fields at the top with more stunning views of Roseberry Topping and also Saltburn cliffs and out to the sea. The trail then heads back down through the woods, throw in a couple of boggy patches and another field and then on to the finish and the amazing wood fired pizza.
Both runs started under Covid safe rules in waves and having switched from wave 5 to wave 1 so Rosie and I could make a hasty getaway at the end (and nothing to do with getting our pizza before the queues started) I had the unexpected issue of being out at the front after the first mile – something I have never experienced before and probably never will again, so with no one to chase or follow it was an unusual ‘race’ for me and I was just trying to make sure I didn’t get lost and that none of the super fast runners from the next waves caught me. My time was 42.01 and I had to be pleased with that given those pesky hills and lone run. Note to self – don’t switch waves next time…..
A huge well done to the other Harriers who also ran – there were some truly impressive times!
So I’ve got the race bug and I’ve even signed up for a few more Muddy Roads events although I am also keen to find a flatter race or two! And now Rosie has convinced me to join the Harriers, she now thinks she can convince me to train for an ultra…… but I think she first needs to join me in a few triathlons – that’s only fair isn’t it?!
By Claire Lee
Pictures credit: Karen Harland
By John Haycock.
The rearranged Pitstop 5k and 10k took place on Wednesday this week, having originally been scheduled for July 2020, and several Harriers made the short journey to the Croft Circuit to take part in the races.
What a pleasure!
It was a gorgeous sunny evening, with a cooling breeze – in fact near perfect conditions for posting some decent times.
Entrants had been asked for their projected times to facilitate a COVID friendly staggered start and this would be an acid test of actual post lockdown fitness as these had been declared over a year prior.
There had been junior races earlier on but, on my arrival, after a temperature check and a slick registration process, the 5k senior event took place.
Sedgefield were represented by Faye Uphill and Laura Wallace with some other familiar participants being Ciaran Lines (running for Houghton Harriers) and Helly Godfrey (Loftus & Whitby). The race began with competitors being set off in waves and in no time a string of runners could be seen across most of the circuit as they tackled their 1 and a bit laps.
Next up was the 10k with a bumper showing form Sedgefield and a field of nearly 200 runners. Again, the organisation was relaxed but slick, which was perhaps a sign of how used to we have got to the ‘new normal’, and we were soon organised into our waves for another staggered start at 10 second intervals.
The circuit itself was smooth and flat, a complete contrast to the usual terrain offered up on a Sunday morning, and Blaine and I settled into a steady pace, resisting my usual temptation to blaze off too fast and burn out before the end.
After the usual internal mind games, counting off the kilometres, telling yourself your heading home after 5k, telling yourself only 1 lap to go after the first 2, I found myself feeling remarkably OK heading into the final kilometre. A rare feeling, this pacing training that Ean goes on about might have something in it!
Blaine passed me, but even that wasn’t getting me down and we finished with just 3 seconds between us in decent times. …Well done Blaine
And, as it turned out, it was soon clear that several of the other Harriers had had a similar experience and were beaming, partly through their surprise times EVEN though there was a suspicion that the race was distance was over 10k, but also because of another welcome step back to normality.
One last special mention for Roger who never made it but was dedicated (and angry) enough to do a virtual Pitstop 10k in sub-40 time of 39:39!
Roll on the next event. Loved it!
(Thanks to Karen Harland for the great photos.)
By Matt Cooke.
Since the corona virus mitigation measures had put paid to my afternoon sitting in a cold, half empty football stadium I took the opportunity to complete a cross country race around Lambton estate in Chester-le-Street. My third XC in about 30 years…
Big thanks to Ray Carmichael for driving myself, David Walker and David Bentley up there and finding the entrance (which apparently had eluded many others). I managed to squeeze into the back seat along with David B and a large carryall with half a dozen pairs of running shoes. He justified the large selection with a great quote ‘bring all your weapons to war!’. Can’t fault that logic and it definitely paid off later for DB!
Anyway, back to the Lambton Estate. The course is 3 laps totalling approximately 11km and we arrived in good time and met up with the rest of the Harriers. On the way into the car park we saw two muddy sections of the course, spikes we all thought. It was overcast and cold with a light breeze. After a reccy of the starting area we saw a fair amount of tarmac and other runners suggested trail shoes were definitely an option.
But this was a race with XC in the title and I had invested for spikes for XC, I was wearing them!
David Walker said he was planning on just ‘tootling’ around as he had the Thirsk 10 the following day. I was also doing that race so the ‘tootle tactic’ sounded perfect. Ray C also said he was taking it easy, great I thought I’ll just follow these guys.
As the slow pack huddled at the start there were shouts of ‘No Coughing’ and ‘Spread out, 2 meters apart everyone please’… The race started and we set off into a slow shuffle around the opening bend. So far quite muddy, spikes a good choice! Within about 500m we came to the first ‘track’ which was hard standing, spikes not great! I opted to head onto the verge where I stayed for majority of the lap. The course descended down a steep tarmac road (I’m on the verge again), I nervously crossed this before heading down a steep tiered grass bank, this was more like it! The spikes allowing me to speed up a little while the course headed to towards the banks of the river Wear. Then it was another tarmac/cinder path, and onto the verge. I was keeping pace with Ray and David but I had obviously misunderstood the meaning of tootling….They were going at a fair lick on this first lap!?!
The highlight of the course is the long hill back to the estate. It starts gradually but has a really steep finish and turns a corner into a shallower climb for another hundred metres or so; that final little climb really takes it out of the legs. The spikes were again great for this hill. The last third of the lap was also great for spikes, muddy paths and big puddles which saw other runners fighting for drier edges. I loved ploughing on through the middle. It was around here where we reached the fallen tree. There were only 2 routes, either around the edge jumping over the trunk, less muddy, or under the tree through a bog… Easy choice, XC shoes, through the mud!
As I rounded the final bend you were separated from the spectators at the finish area by a wall. It was a nice feeling to emerge through a gate and have the crowd cheering. Big shout to Chris and Sue cheering us on.
By now David W had tootled into the distance, Ray C was just ahead of me and I was trying to keep up. After more zig zagging across the verges we were at the hill again… This time I went a little too fast and ended up having to walk the steepest 20m or so.
The 3rd lap as ever in these XC events was a real challenge but I managed to keep pace with Ray until the last mile or so where he found another gear. Heading through the gate the last time was a fantastic feeling, great noise from the crowds really spurred me on to produce a sprint finish (of sorts)!
Overall spikes were probably not the best choice of footwear. Next time a decent reccy of the track and listening to other runners advice is required!
I was chuffed to bits with a 10k record time on Strava and beating an old school friend. There were some great Harriers performances leading to a 3rd place finish for the team.
David Bentley’s shoe selection must have aided a tremendous 12th place overall and 4th in the division.
It’s taken me a week to get around to writing this and what a week it’s been… Crazy times for everyone…To be honest I’m using this as a bit of an escape from events in the outside world, which have turned our normal lives upside down.
So rewinding a week to what was a great day out…
I had previously organised a lift to Thirsk with Mil and David W. Mil said he aimed to get there in good time and we did! The sun was nearly up when he arrived at mine. I think we beat most of the organisers to the course but this did result in an A1 position in the car park!
The race is centred at Thirsk Racecourse and the organisation from Thirsk and Sowerby Harriers was excellent. Efficient marshals were directing us to get our numbers from the large board outside before heading to the repurposed bar to get our numbers. With race number attached I went back outside and met several other Harriers who’d had the trip for the harrier league event.
It wasn’t until 20 or so minutes before the race that Pete King “asked” me in his best teacher’s manner to write the race rundown for this event. As this would be my first race rundown (he asked about doing the Lambton XC race rundown the following day…) I felt additional nerves as we ambled/jogged to the start line.
It was a cool, overcast day with fairly strong winds in parts. I’ll come back to this later… Around a thousand runners gathered at the start line, on a country lane at the far side of the racecourse. I was really impressed with the number of clubs/areas represented; from Wakefield to Saltwell, Scarborough to Tyne Bridge, a real northern mix. It was also nice to see a few familiar faces from my old club ‘Swiftees’.
As we stood in the cold, hopping around to keep warm I could feel the heaviness in my legs from the XC race the day before. Two races in two days, what was I thinking…?!? My thoughts now were a steady start and if I felt ok later I could pick up the pace a little.
The first mile or so was run along a lane with high hedges either side, not much of a view but no wind either! I had a chat with Emma (Who was flying btw, well done Emma!) and Andy F as we headed through the first few miles. Just keeping up with them at this point hurt… Sam Rudd skipped past at about miles 3 on his way to great 10M PB. The soreness was still niggling and I just had to concentrate on knocking off the next mile.
Suddenly, we left the shelter of the hedgerows and entered the much more open land either side of the A167. Ahhhh, now the wind was there! Especially up a few of the long gradual uphill sections which were really hard going. I was feeling a bit better now though and tucked in behind Andy F and a runner from Hartlepool Burn Road Harriers.
We reached the switchback at mile 5 (which I hadn’t realised until later) and I saw the race leaders looping back onto the 167. Incredible to see the pace they were going at. A lot of people hate switchbacks but I’ve got to say I quite liked this one… on the way out I was watching for other Harriers and shouted them on – Paul Weir, followed by Chris Lines, Gary Auston and Byron Walker. Only a minute or so behind them were David Walker and Mil Walton. We reached the end of the switchback turned and headed back, now I felt like I was being watched and had to kick on. I felt good and started to pick up my pace. Now other Harriers were shouting me on which was great to hear and kept me going!
At the end of the switchback I had my lowest low and highest high of the race…. I heard a marshal shout ‘that’s 5 miles’. I had lost track of markers and thought she was saying that to me not the people entering the switchback. My legs suddenly felt like lead, 5 more miles… No way! I need to slow down or I wasn’t going to finish this…. But then almost instantly the 7 mile marker appeared. Get in there! Only 3 to go, I could do this! With this in mind I tried to keep up the pace with aScarborough AC pair as we went through the little village of Sandhutton.
It was when we reached the roundabout and joined the A61 that I realised we were close to Thirsk again. I felt good and was able to push on again as we entered Carlton Miniott. Even better the wind that was the bane of the first half of the race was now on our backs! As the traffic increased all the runners had moved onto the pavement so I was nipping on and off the road as I slowly reeled in runners from Stockton, Knaresborough and Richmond.
I’m blaming it on the tired legs but during the next overtaking manoeuvre I stumbled when going back onto the pavement, ended up arms flaying, full aeroplane style for a few metres before getting back into my stride. I heard shouts of ‘are you ok?’, I was too tired (and embarrassed) to turn around and just gave a thumbs up.
Approaching the racecourse now and still keeping up the pace. Paul Lee really helped with encouragement as I began to slow going up and over the railway bridge. Last couple of hundred metres and I expected to get caught by a fast finisher. I dug deep and held on, entering the racecourse, lots of noise, held the sprint up around the finishing hairpin… It was a strange finish but it worked.
I joined up with the other Harriers who had posted some great times, especially given the headwind at the start of the race. Sam Rudd’s 1.10, superb and Mark Chapman picked up another PB. I downed my water in a few gulps before heading off for T-shirt. The lady handing out the shirts was telling everyone they were small fitting. I asked if a medium would fit, she smiled politely and said ‘you can always give it a go…’ The cheek! Speaking of the T-shirt I will be putting it aside for the dark winter nights, it would be hard to miss its ‘migraine’ orange colouring 😊.
I really enjoyed the day and the race. Little did we know it would be the last one for the near future…
A week after the Harriers sessions have closed I’m already missing the hills on Tuesday and NetPark Thursdays. Which is something I didn’t really think I’d ever say! It must be the good company that keeps me coming back…. And on that note everyone take care and hope to see you all on the other side…. Whenever that may be…..Who knows maybe we’ll have our orange Thirsk shirts on!
By Eric Henderson
Thirty six miles along the beautiful Northumberland coastal paths, almost deserted beaches and through picturesque fishing villages, past ancient castles, and less ancient golf courses – What’s not to like about the EnduranceLife Northumberland Coastal Ultra?
Well the zero four hundred hours alarm call was the first thing I wasn’t overly enamoured with, and the sound of rain bouncing off the bedroom window was the second. But an easy drive on empty roads, cheap well marshalled parking and fairly slick sign on process improved matters. It had even stopped raining, although the wind most definitely remained.
Parking was on the links in sight of Bamburgh castle where the race HQ tent and toilet facilities were located. The castle was quite a sight as dawn broke slowly revealing the majesty of the structure and its location. Then, suitably briefed it was time to get on the buses that would take us to the start in Alnwick.
Chatter on the bus was an indication that I was perhaps a little out of my depth. From the ex-Marine, seated behind me swapping tales of ultras, ironmen and multiday stage races with his bus buddy, to the lady next to me regaling me with memories of the Wales 3000 (https://www.welsh3000s.co.uk) and her future plans for the Bob Graham Round.
The course would take us from Alnwick, out to Alnmouth then up the coast to Bamburgh. In the shadow of the castle the ultra course would split from the marathon course and head off on a loop north and around inland before rejoining the beach south of Bamburgh and retracing its earlier steps to the split point, this time turning south for the run into the finish.
We were kicked off the buses in view of Alnwick Castle, and not far from the Harrier League XC field. With three bus loads of runners, no toilets and not even many trees in the start field if you’re shy about bodily functions this may not be the race start for you. Preparations completed we all gathered between the two flags indicating the start line and in a (fortunately) brief rain squall we were off.
The first part of the course roughly follows the course of the river Aln down to Alnmouth over wet but none too technical terrain and the pack quickly spread out. Despite the strong wind and weak sunshine I was soon getting a bit warm, so juggling my backpack and jacket I tried, eventually successfully, to remove my arm warmers without having to stop. Just shy of six kilometres in came the first real obstacle, stepping stones across the river. Not enough water in the river to require a diversion but just enough to cover the stones by an inch or two ensuring wet feet – not ideal with fifty kilometres to go.
The kilometres out to Alnmouth were fairly uneventful and as we reached the mouth of the river and turned north to head up the coast, joy of joys a tail wind. The first feed station came and went with a tinge of disappointment. I know the organisers had stressed that the feed stations were only there to complement your own nutrition plans but a big bag of jelly sweets, a bowl of crisps and some bits of banana were not exactly an overwhelming selection of goodies. The feed stations were also acting as check points with each runner electronically recorded by the dibber attached to their wrist. Then a climb up along the edge of a golf course followed by a steep drop down onto the beach, where an unplanned diversion into the undergrowth whilst descending cost me a few cuts to my right knee.
I was still feeling okay at twenty one kilometres, albeit very conscious that there was still more than a full marathon to go. But half a kilometre later it started to go wrong. Rounding a turn onto an off-camber section of the path complete with strong cross wind, my feet went from under me and down I went. More surprised than hurt I got up, took a couple of paces, began to check I was okay and bang, down I went again. Two falls in the space of as many strides knocked the wind out of me a bit but thankfully it was mainly my pride that was dented.
By half way I was beginning to struggle. The wind was a huge factor. At times a tail wind, mostly a cross wind but in some sections a full on head wind and it was brutal. The conditions and the terrain, which was more awkward than out and out technical, were taking their toll. My legs were starting to hurt and my head was beginning to doubt. By the time I hit Beadnell Beach at about thirty four kilometres I was figuratively on my knees. I was walking more and more, beginning to cramp a bit and generally not really enjoying myself.
My mood was not helped by the fact that I had just managed to make it past the 10k start on the beach when the runners were released from there. So from then on in there was a fairly constant stream of people breezing past me, either motoring along at indecent pace or gently cruising past chatting away and making running look a lot easier than it felt to me.
Forty kilometres after I had started I hit the beach at Bamburgh, and the weather hit me, hard. Despite still heading in broadly the same direction as we had all day, the wind was full on in your face and blowing a hooly, the sand was scouring my legs and one of the few rain showers blew in. I was tired, cold and thoroughly disillusioned with long distance running. At that point, given my legs were really struggling and with the prospect of the weather closing in I made the decision that to head out on the extra ultra loop would be folly and that I would simply head for the finish at the split point.
That was still easier said than done. I still had about four kilometres to go to the split point and I covered them painfully slowly. It was one of those horrible scenarios, you can see where you are heading to but it just refuses to get any closer, until finally it did. Off the beach and up into the dunes, a small moment of indecision at the split point, I headed south for the finish and promptly had my decision vindicated by another bout of cramp that brought me to a halt, again.
Even the last kilometre or so from the split point to the finish took me an age and I was passed by several more runners until I finally crossed the line and my misery was almost ended.
Now, having done eight miles less than the intended course, but still a personal record of twenty eight miles, I arrived at the finish quickly enough for them to try to award me third place in the Ultra, but I duly declined and joined the queue to have my dibber cut off and get my race time print out. Getting a print out was to me an unnecessary delay, slowing down the queue of athletes as it did and forcing us to remain exposed to the wind for much longer than I found comfortable. By the time I got through to the mandatory kit check I was shivering and unable to even hold the pen to initial the check sheet. But that was the last of the formalities. I found my jacket that had been brought back from the start and went and sat in my car to warm up with tea and heated seats.
Although the run did not go as planned it probably went as I expected. I didn’t have enough training in my legs or desire in my heart to complete the full ultra, and I take my hat off to anybody who has, and I bow in admiration to anybody who thought a second one was a good idea, but by way of two falls and a submission this one beat me.
There is quite a lot to like about the Northumberland Coastal Ultra, (the trails, the scenery, the organisation but not the wind) if running long distances is your idea of fun but for me it was quite simply ten thousand steps too far.
A few of the Tuesday night Harriers were talking about this race at training and I think it was Mark that asked if I’d entered. I hadn’t heard about it until then but signed up as soon as I got home. It was very reasonably priced, a nice short distance, local and you got your supper at the end.
Mark was the 1st Harrier I saw as I approached the entrance to Trimdon Grange Community Centre closely followed by Pete loitering outside the gents. Registration was super quick and straight forward and as I returned to Mark and Pete, the headmaster’s infamous finger wagged in my direction and decreed that I’d be doing the race rundown homework for this one. You can’t say no to sir, can you?
The start line was a 10-minute walk from registration, and I’m pleased I was with Andrew following Rosie and Fay to the start line as, even with directions, I wouldn’t have had a clue where to go. It’s been a very wet and stormy winter so as soon as we left the path onto the field the ground became very soft. Thankfully the rain held off for the night and there was a clear, moonlit sky. It was however very windy on top of the hill and bitterly cold. Everybody appeared to be huddled together like a waddle of penguins, maybe subconsciously shielding each other from the elements. I hadn’t taken part in the recce run but had been told that it was muddy in places and this was reiterated it the pre run brief.
I was close to the front at the off and I think that worked as an advantage. We careered down the sodden grassy field and through gate onto the road before a pinch point onto the trail. I guess further down the field, the tight entrance could have slowed a few runners down. It was soon after here that I remembered to start my watch. The ground wasn’t too bad here, firm with a few avoidable puddles. Three or four came past me and I passed a few too. As we left this path and turned to the right to climb a dozen or so steps I was right behind Rosie and as the trail turned left and began to climb up a hill I passed her and another guy. At the top of the climb I passed one other runner and from that point on it was a solitary run. Other than the helpful marshals and the odd glimpse of a head torch in the distance I was alone. The trail became much more slippery as we entered the first section of woods. It twisted and turned through the trees and my stride shortened considerably as the soles of my trail shoes struggled for grip. My senses were on high alert and I was placing my feet carefully as I could, only being able to see the square meter in front of me lit by my torch. At the same time trying not to slide over, crash into the undergrowth and follow the painted arrows. I made it out of the first section of woods, crossed the road to the start of the second section and the ground became even more claggy. My toe struck what felt like a tree stump and I stumbled down onto one knee and slid a little but managed to get straight back up and carry on. I’m sure I won’t have been the only one to take a tumble.
I also almost took a tumble where the route ran alongside a ditch. The ditch was on the left then there was a crossover point which put the ditch on the right somehow. This crossing disorientated me and I almost toppled in. The course made its way back down to the start finish field, weaving through more trees and more mud and I sensed that somebody was closing in on me. As I passed the last marshal entering the field, I hadn’t heard their instruction and carried on straight into the darkness before hearing their shout to go right. This allowed the guy behind me to close the gap further but I had enough left in my legs to hold him off over the finish line. Mil, Declan, Ray and David Bentley were already finished, David clutching his prize for 2nd place and Rosie was very close behind me with her 3rd woman prize so it was a great night of performances from the Harriers.
Back at the community centre the pie and peas were being served up. Again, being at the front was an advantage as there was an ever-growing queue for the delicious, warming and welcome supper. All those waiting in line looked happy and despite the treacherous conditions seemed to have really enjoyed the different challenge a head torch lit night trail race offered. A tough but thoroughly enjoyable, inclusive and sociable event.
By Sam Rudd