A family holiday in the Vendee Region of France brings with it the opportunity to take part in a closed road chip timed half marathon for the princely sum of 17 Euros. The entrance fee included a technical t-shirt, feed stations stocked with raisins, cake and brioche, and was a well organised event with a friendly local atmosphere marshalled exclusively by volunteers from the host club (even on the road closures).
The route took us on a three lap 7K course, split 60:40 between road and trail, along with a section round the club’s running track with it’s tiered covered seating, changing facilities and of course a bar serving wines and beers. The route allowed the introduction of a 7 & 14K run with Vicky, returning from injury deciding to give the 7K a go.
Signing up online was easy, although regulations in France mean you need a doctor’s certificate, they accepted our club membership cards, which led to a friendly conversation when we arrived to pick up our numbers. The pre-race ritual didn’t involve the usual portaloo, instead a continental hole in the floor and handy flush which seemed designed to ensure that your shoes were cleaned at the same time. This strikes me as a fantastic idea, particularly post cross country run.
Setting off at 9am to beat the midday sun meant an early start, but as we lined up I was certainly pleased to be shaded from the full sun and to get underway before temperatures spiked in the late 20s. I resisted the temptation to try cake on a run at either of the feed / water stations, but after crossing the line I couldn’t resist a couple of slices of water melon. Some would describe the route as fast and flat; given our love of wine, bread and camembert I’ll go with flat and fun. After receiving tinned sardines in last year’s goodie bag, I was a little put out at the bag of locally sourced sea salt given to each half marathon runner this year, but hey, what do you want for less than £15!!!
Like all the best running stories this one starts in a pub…
A little over 18 months ago I was sitting in a pub having a pint with Mark Raine when he mentioned he had enrolled for a Sight Loss Awareness course with England Athletics. This is something I have been interested in for a little while and so I jumped at the chance to join Mark. The course itself is only a few hours long but it is very informative and does give you an opportunity to speak to experienced guide runners and speak to and guide visually impaired (VI) athletes. We also had the opportunity to wear different types of glasses that recreate certain visual impairments so that we can get a feel for what the athlete experiences. Some of you may have seen Mark and I running at parkrun with one of us guiding and the other wearing some blackout glasses Mark made.
Then it went quiet. It took over a year but then out of the blue both Mark and I were contacted within a week. Fast forward a couple of weeks and now both Mark and I have guided VI athletes, Mark and Dal at the Middlesbrough 10K and myself and Louise at Albert parkrun and then Dal at the Great Stockton 10K.
Pete asked me to write this race report from the perspective of the guide, however I must mention a little bit about Dal and Louise. As I mentioned earlier there are many different visual impairments. Dal and Louise both have total sight loss and are completely reliant on their guides. Dal is very new to running and the Middlesbrough 10K was his first 10K race. He finished in 1hr 29min 50 sec. Louise is a much more experienced runner with 287 parkruns under her belt, over 20 marathons and a hand full of ultra-marathons! Both Dal and Louise are great people, very confident and very inspirational.
So back to Great Tees 10K day. Dal and Louise were both arriving on the same train from Newcastle into Middlesbrough just after 8am and I had arranged to meet them at the station. They were coming on their own and I was also on my own, another guide runner (Josh) was meeting us later at Stockton to guide Louise.
Being a guide runner isn’t just about the race. It sounds obvious but the VI athlete needs to get to the race and back, get from the car park to the race, navigate the (very busy and random) athlete villages, avoid barriers and diversion signs that have been placed on the pavement, collect numbers, queue for the loo, collect numbers, leave baggage and find the start.
Louise was keen to do both a parkrun and the 10K so I had chosen Albert parkun as I knew it had good paths for guide running on. This was the first time I would have been a guide so I was keen to keep it simple, especially as I knew the Great Tees 10K course was a lot more technical. I was on my own at this point but Dal was just going to wait at the finish, as a 5K and a 10K in one day was a little much for him. He’s a coffee guy so the plan was to get him a cuppa and then guide Louise. However, when we arrived at the start I figured we could sound out the tail walker and see if they were happy to walk with Dal who would just hold their elbow. The tail walker for the day was Phil who almost offered before I asked when he saw us heading towards him. (A bright orange Guide Runner top gave us away.) What a top guy, and that really was the theme for the day, so many people keen to help and encourage. Phil’s partner even offered to keep hold of our hoodies for us whilst she waited in the café for him.
I’ll be honest, at this point whilst we were waiting to start, I got nervous. I’d spoken to Mark earlier in the week after he had guided at Middlesbrough and he told me it was an amazing high, so I just focused on that. At the start people gave us plenty of space and thankfully the super wide path meant people could get around us easily (or us them, we went past a few people).
One of the things the Sight Loss Awareness course tells us is that we are not coaches or pace makers, so that isn’t an expected part of the role, however if the VI athlete wants to keep a pace it is tricky for them to judge so you do need to also give regular pace and distance updates as well as guide. Louise had asked for me not to tell her how far we had gone or our pace, so I set my Garmin to silent and off we went.
Albert is an incredibly good course for guide running on, it’s pretty flat, all on paths (most of which are super wide), has very few sharp turns and the quality of the tarmac is great. With it being a two lap course I had two chances to memorise the paths and now think I could describe every part of every path in detail! We finished in a respectable 37:58. The volunteers and other athletes were super friendly.
There were a couple of issues with the results, I promise you I wasn’t 6 seconds behind her. However, fun fact, under IBSA rules the VI athlete can be up to 0.5m ahead of the guide to allow for a sprint finish. But if the guide finishes in front of the athlete then the athlete is disqualified. In a marathon a VI athlete can have a relay of up to 4 guides.
The next part of my guide running experience involved navigating us through dogs (lots of dogs) and ducks to get scanned. We then had time to pop into the café whilst we waited for Phil (tail walker) and Dal to pass us. When Dal finished I collected him from Phil and we headed back to the café (past the dogs and ducks again) to meet Louise. Then the second most embarrassing part of the day occurred. I’ve only been to Albert once before, many moons ago and it suddenly dawned on me that whilst I was focusing on helping Dal and Louise out of the car and over the roads I had not paid any attention to where I had parked (we just followed other parkrunners from the car park to the start)! Thankfully Google saved the day.
With parkrun bagged it was on to the main event of the day. We headed back to the car (via dogs and ducks) and headed over to Stockton. Luckily Ray had provided me with maps for road closures and car parks so I had a rough idea of what I thought would be the best place to park minimising roads to cross etc. Once we got there and I had committed the car location to memory it was time to get sorted and head to the start. The walk was a lot more complex than it had been getting from the car to the start of parkrun. The footpaths were a lot narrower and I had a VI on either side of me with lots of people using the paths. Also at various points there were temporary signs on the footpaths to guide cars and people to the correct places, which created pinch points. I realised this was going to be a lot more tricky than Albert.
This is where the most embarrassing part of the day occurred. There were some posts approaching us (this is not going were you think it is) on the edge of the pavement, presumable to stop cars parking up the curb, and I was worried Louise might walk in to one, or even slip off the curb as the path was narrow. Then on my left (the inside of the pavement) there were some lampposts (this is going where you are thinking) and whilst I was paying attention to what Louise was walking towards Dal clipped (I emphasis, clipped) the lamppost with his shoulder. Now Dal has a wicked sense of humour and just laughed, but he did say he was going to push me into a bush later. I felt terrible.
We needed to collect our numbers (I was given a free entry by Great Run, thanks for that!) and meet Josh (guide for Louise) at the information tent. There were quite a few curbs, steps and people to avoid, especially with two VI athletes, but I managed to get them there without injuring them further. Josh was there and took over helping to guide Louise whilst we collected our numbers and filled in the backs of them. The ladies in the information booth were incredibly helpful – I hadn’t considered that Louise would not be able to pin her number on herself (safely) and we had two male guides. Once again everyone was helpful.
Now there was the small matter of the race. Getting to the start was nontrivial due to the entry into the pens being tiny gaps in the barriers, but also just the volume of people. People were very good when they saw the guide runner vest, but in the crowds not everyone saw it. Thankfully I only had one VI athlete now which did make things a lot easier, so I just got very vocal to let people know we were coming through. Seriously, get yourself a Guide Runner vest if you want doors to open. 😉 One of the hardest things at the start, whilst we waited for the gun, was stopping Dal from talking to everyone. Everyone also wanted to talk to him as we started but I needed him to focus on me as we walked/jogged over the start line and the chip timing mats (trip hazards).
Dal runs differently to Louise and it’s up to the guide runner to adapt to whatever the VI athlete prefers. Neither of them use a cord, they both prefer to hold on to you as they get better feedback from that which is good for their confidence, especially with them both being totally blind. Louise likes to be on the right and links her left arm behind your elbow and rests her hand on your arm. Dal prefers to run on the left with his hand resting on your shoulder or occasionally he holds your elbow. It can get quite uncomfortable having the dead weight of someone’s hand on your shoulder for 10K, especially when they get tired. After about 5K my back started to ache and I felt a bit lopsided, maybe this was his way of getting me back for the lamppost.
The course itself was a lot more technical than Albert parkrun but not as bad as Ray had led me to believe 😉 so I was prepared for worse. Like Albert it was not a closed course so there were people walking towards us but, unlike Albert, on quite narrow paths, we also had curbs and bollards to deal with and some pretty tight turns, especially towards the end. In places the path was a little uneven but we managed without incident. Once again the marshals were great and pointed things out to me very early so I had time to pass it on. Dal did want to know his pace as he was keen to beat his time from the previous week with Mark so I gave regular updates. He also asked me to describe certain things he could hear on the river.
At one point I said there was a water station ahead and he asked how far. Now I already knew there was no point in telling him the distance as he has been blind since birth and has no way of knowing how far 10 metres is. Top tip, talk in time, 10 seconds away etc, which for someone like me who has no concept of time posed a challenge. When the water station arrived, I swapped to the left and collected two bottles for us, removed the tops and passed one to Dal. We decided at this point to just walk whilst we drank, it wasn’t going to end well if I tried to guide whilst drinking water! Unlike Albert I needed to talk constantly on this course.
Interestingly (or not) due to the early start to the day I hadn’t eaten breakfast. But I had put a cereal bar in the car for later. The plan was to eat it on the walk from the car to the start of the Stockton 10K. I now know that this wasn’t a great plan as you can’t guide and eat and I hadn’t factored in that I would be guiding from the car. It’s obvious now but totally caught me out at the time. I was getting pretty hungry by now, it was after mid-day and I was mid-way through my second run. I need to plan that better next time.
As we came towards the final mile we knew it was going to be close for beating the Boro 10K time but Dal picked up the pace. He was very tired at this point and putting a lot of weight on my shoulder, but we got to the finish and everyone cheered him over the line. Mark had given me a tip to let him know the cheering is for him, which I did and I think he liked it (thanks for that Mark).
There was only one water station on the course at 4K and Dal was really struggling with the heat, so we needed to find water quick. This is where it was tricky as I could see it but couldn’t get Dal to follow me as he was too tired and a lot of people were wanting to congratulate him. I didn’t want to leave him with lots of people crowding around so I used the power of the Guide Runner vest to create a path. We stopped for some photos and then headed back to the athlete village to meet Louise and Josh.
So, drum roll, did Dal get his PB and did we beat Mark…yes we did, in a time of 1hr 24min. And for those that are worried I had a banana whilst Josh helped Dal and Louise.
But that wasn’t the end. We then had to get back to the car so we could get to Middlesbrough train station. Now I didn’t realise this but at “manned” train stations visually impaired people can get assistance, which in this case was very good. We got to the counter and a guard came onto the platform to wait with Dal and Louise whilst they waited for the train and to make sure they got on the correct train. The guard on the train helps them get off the train at the right stop and then the guard on the platform helps them out of the station. I believe they used a taxi from there to get home.
So my job was suddenly over. It was a bit on an anti-climax in a way but thankfully we had time to have a coffee, so I waited with them (I was off duty thanks to the guard being with them) and we just had a good old chat for 20 minutes. I was exhausted when I got back to the car. My step count was over 30,000 but I think my word count was higher.
Mark was right, the whole experience was an amazing high, I’m still buzzing as I write this the day after. This morning I saw a VI athlete running with a guide at the GNR. Who knows, maybe next year. But really this race report is about how inspiring the VI athletes are, these people are fearless. Try closing your eyes and running for a few seconds (in the park away from roads and the lake!).
A very warm night in the market square, the Durham City 5k takes a picturesque yet hilly route around the historic city. A fast start through market Square, the route eventually takes a narrow path down towards the River Wear and a looping course then takes you past the Raddison Hotel and as you continue down the road you come back on yourself to the delight of a water station and a shower in the intense heat of the night.
The course then takes you across the bridge towards the Freeman’s Quay gym and Durham Sixth Form Centre. Here a left turn is taken out of the car park and the tough bit comes. The long, steep and dragging hill takes you back towards towards the market square and then finally, the sting in the tail, the finish takes you up the steep incline towards the cathedral where the finish lies. A very tough course to get a personal best on, but aside from that one of the nicest runs of the summer.
“RUN LIKE A LEGEND” Mile, Friday 26 July
by Ian Hedley
Having completed the Durham City 10K on the Thursday night, on possibly the hottest day in the world, my wife Helen and I then took part in the “Run Like a Legend” 1-mile event the following day – Friday 26 July 2019.
We’d spotted this new event when signing up to the 10K and thought it would be worth investing the £5 entrance fee to take part and see if we could emulate Sir Roger Bannister in breaking the 4-minute barrier! Not a chance! No, having never run ‘just a mile’, neither of us had any idea how ‘fast’ we could complete it in, so we were both intrigued. Plus, it was only 5 minutes down the road.
The route was an accurately measured 1 mile course along the banks of the River Wear – starting outside the Boat Club / Whiskey River (beneath Elvet Bridge), across Baths Bridge, down to the bandstand alongside the Racecourse and back.
Able to book in advance, we picked the 4pm and 4:20pm time slots (slots were available every 20 minutes throughout the day from 10.40am to 5pm) so we could cheer each other on after work and so Cameron could along too!
Throughout the Friday, the weather remained sweltering – the journey to Durham being completed with air con at full pelt. Having arrived and parked up, we made our way to the start, by which point our friends, “thunder” and “lightning” (no, not some quick runners!) had made an untimely appearance…
Helen collected her number and electronic chip timer as we watched the immediately prior wave of runners complete their efforts. Having spotted a few people we know who’d just finished, we asked how they’d got on – times of 07:20 and 08:47 were quickly shared which didn’t ease our tensions!
The time quickly came around to 4pm and Helen was off (alongside another 6 or 7 runners). Unfortunately, not long after the start, heavy rain joined the aforementioned weather conditions, so, having collected my number and chip timer, Cameron and I quickly took shelter!
Helen returned in a very impressive 08:37, despite the greasy conditions, and was delighted with her time. Having seen Helen and others do so well, I was now feeling quite anxious. This was only heightened when the next wave was delayed by 20 minutes whilst the storm passed due to safety concerns. Having made my way to the start line, I then spotted Laura Weigthman – so only the WOMENS BRITISH ROAD RECORD HOLDER at this distance (4:17 for those interested!!!) – limbering up next to me! She asked a few others in the wave what their anticipated times were – “06:25”, “06:00”, “05:48” – at which point the only thing I could think was “…bl**dy hell, I’m going to be last here!” Luckily, Laura resorted to just giving us the countdown to the start and then we were off…
After a quick start, Baths Bridge was soon in front of me and I had ended up tucked in right behind a guy from Aycliffe Running Club (the same guy who had announced he was trying to beat his 05:48 PB! Ridiculous! A few things passed through my mind – “…going too fast” the main one, though that was quickly followed by “…just stick with him”. Not understanding what pace over this distance I could sustain / achieve was a strange feeling too, but somehow I did manage to stick with him. As we headed back over Baths Bridge, he had managed to pull away a little although I did manage to reduce this to a couple of yards again when we reached the buildings and the final 50m!
As he appeared through the narrow gap toward the finish, Helen was just about to start looking for the camera and so was very surprised to see me appear right behind him – so no finish line photo. I surprised myself too – I’d initially thought I may be able to achieve 06:30ish so to finish in a time of 05:51, I was delighted! 28th place out of 198 efforts over the course of the day (behind a couple of really speedy Harriers in Ciaran and Chris Lines who finished 4th (05:12) and 7th (05:17) respectively – very impressive gents!). The guy from Aycliffe achieved a PB too (05:47)!
If this event is on again next year, I would definitely recommend it to other Harriers. The £5 entry fee was great value. The route was marshalled throughout, electronic chip timed, and we were each given a Nike t-shirt, a fantastic medal and the same goody bag as we’d received following the 10K event upon completion (although the lentil chips remained unopened on this occasion – yuk!).
Somewhat belatedly, a race report from this years Blaydon Race.
This race, though not the most scenic is a special one for me. It’s based on the original horse race, which started in 1862. Less than a month after I was born I was taken in my pram to watch the centenary race. Clearly this must have been a sign and 49 years later I ran my 1st Blaydon Race. I’ve now run a few in succession, attracted by the bottle of beer and ham and peas pudding bun you always get at the finish.
The race starts in the centre of Newcastle down from the Bigg Market, a part of town transformed from it’s usual clientele on the night of the race. There are often cancan dancers at the start and of course the obligatory rendition of The Blaydon Race song. I am word perfect on this , having learned the words as a child, living in Blaydon as I then did. In days gone by when car radios and subsequent in-car entertainment didn’t exist, my family sang the words of all the Geordie songs when on car journeys, the Lambton Worm and Cushie Butterfield being the other songs in our repertoire.
The mayor rings his bell and the race gets underway. There’s always a bottleneck a few hundred metres from the start near the Central Station where you have to walk at my section of the race. Then it’s past the Life Centre and heading towards the Arena before the never ending Scotswood Road stretches out. This year it was baking hot with no shade along this long road. I so wanted a water station anywhere along here, but alas there was none.
Eventually you get to the Scotswood Bridge and cross the River Tyne. I’d seen Mark Raine and Andy Featherstone run off in the distance , and David Round overtook me long before the bridge. After the bridge you run away from Blaydon on the south side of the river, eventually reaching the turnaround point and start heading back towards Blaydon. The water station eventually appears and I had to stop and take on some hydration even though it was less than a mile to the finish. It was desperately needed and helped me get up the gradual climb on the dual carriageway. In previous years there have been medical incidents on this section, but fortunately I saw no evidence of any this year and reached the top of the climb to enjoy the gradual descent and then U turn towards the finish. This came earlier than usual in Morrison’s car park this year shortening the race a little from previous years.
The finish is always crowded but well organised with your refreshments and T shirt handed out quickly and I headed off to try and find my chauffeur Tom who had been happy to drop me off in town close to the start and then drive to Blaydon where he had luckily found a spot to park up and wait for me. Other Harriers taking part were Mark Raine, Andrew Featherstone, Barry Johnston, Dave Sawyer, Ian Hedley, Antony Edwards and Chris Lines.
In recent years, the Hamminkeln Citylauf has become a firmly fixed item on our calendar: this year was the fourth time that we’ve visited Sedgefield’s twin town in Germany to take part in their annual running event. The very first visit was supported by the Twinning Association and we were welcomed by the twinners, race organisers and the Mayor of Hamminkeln, Bernd Romanski.
The organisation of the weekend is now largely in the hands of our friend Hermann Terhorst and, although every year’s programme is broadly similar, it is steeped in big smiles and friendly “hellos”. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak German, you can’t help but feel warmly welcome!
After our arrival on Friday evening, the Sedgefield delegation and our host families met up with the Citylauf organising team and the Hamminkelners that will be coming over to Sedgefield in September (all in all about 35 people) at the Thunderbike Road House, an “open air” roadside café on the edge of Hamminkeln – a great evening to meet old friends and make new ones!
On Saturday morning, the group met up again to go on a leisurely 30+ kilometre bike ride around the pretty (and flat as a pancake) Niederrhein. It was a gorgeous (hot) day so to be out on the bike and feel a bit of a breeze on your face was actually just perfect! Rolf Lindau, manager of the Volksbank in Hamminkeln and main sponsor of the Citylauf and Pete and Grace’s host, was great and really looked after us all, providing us with drinks and a hearty lunch in the open air and even entertained us with a little local history at each stop!
After a drink in the square and a much needed rest at home, we met up once more with the usual suspects at the celebrated “Biermeile” to enjoy some of the local beers that are rumoured to make you run faster! And how heart warming it was to hear “Hello Sedgefield!” from people who had visited Sedgefield on a previous twinning exchange, now recognising us and just wanting to welcome us! We were all treated to dinner at a local Italian and had some fascinating conversations about the historic division between East and West Germany and Berlin, race records and what Brexit means to us and them…
Sunday was race day. Well, many of you will know that I usually whinge rather a lot before a race and this was no exception – but at the end of the day, as much as I was whinging, I wouldn’t have missed it!
The 5k race kicked off at 9.30am while the temperature was still somewhat bearable and probably hadn’t quite hit 30°C yet. At the B of the bang, Ciaran, Ellie, Laura and I set off for our race and soon spotted the rest of our gang along the route (close to the drum band!), cheering us on.
I really appreciated the cheers, particularly when not everybody needed to be there yet with the 10k route not actually starting until 11am (when it would be even hotter!). Closer towards the end of the first lap were most of the Citylauf organising team (our friends!) so many more encouraging cheers and high fives, and as I passed the halfway point, the announcer shouted through the tannoy “And here is, all the way from Sedgefield, number 729 Alda Hummelinck!” Other than at previous Citylaufs, I don’t often get announced and it really gives you a buzz!
On the second lap, I thought I’d be sensible and accept a cup of water at the water point but then decided that to drink it would be too complicated so I just chucked it over my head. There had also been an elderly gentleman who had been watering his garden but, on request of bypassing runners, started spraying us – otherwise, I joined everybody else in the thin strip of shade along the route.
On the home straight, I attempted to do a “parkrun glory” home sprint but while focussing on driving my arms, I think I may have forgotten to pick up my knees. Never mind Frances – one day I’ll get it all together, and I still managed to pick off at least another five runners on this last little bit!
As soon as I’d crossed the finish line, I saw the Mayor and Anneliese Hecheltjen, Chris and Ciaran’s host, but couldn’t yet catch my breath to speak so gestured that I would get a bit of water first, but unfortunately, when I got back they’d gone.
Phil had offered to marshal so was at his post close to the finish when I came in (although I think he missed my amazing sprint finish…) and that’s where he stayed for most of the morning. They had him working hard in this job but I think he really enjoyed it, particularly the bambini race – dozens of toddlers running 400m then stopping in their tracks to wave at their parents in the crowd!
While the 10k racers were getting ready for their race, Ciaran very quietly collected his 3rd prize for his age category (with a time 18’53”)! Ellie absolutely smashed her 5k PB by a minute (23’46”)! And for the record, my time was 28’01” which I was quite happy with. My best (recent) parkrun time was 28’02” so I’ve beaten that! I was 4th in my age category (again) but I go up an age category next year so I’ve got my eye on the podium then!
When the 10k race had set off, Ellie and I stood with Phil for a bit, then decided to get ourselves refreshed (soaked) under the cold water shower in the town square – and were soon followed by a bunch of toddlers who thought it was hilarious!
After having had a look at our official finishing photos, Ellie and I joined the others by the drumming band to cheer on the runners who were counting off their four laps around the village in the heat.
Once everyone was in, fed and watered with ample race supplies of water, sugared tea, fresh fruit, cakes and sausages, we all got together for a group photo. I don’t know how many cameras were pointing at us but I’m sure some belonged to people that we didn’t actually know! Maybe they thought they’d take a picture of these people first and then find out what the craic was – perhaps we were famous? And who was that guy posing at the front? Keep an eye on the papers!
Chris had wanted to collect his certificate for his race (as we all did) but was told that he’d be presented with his later – one way to find out you’ve made it to the podium! First prize in his age category (39’33”)! On the podium he stood next to Nikki Johnstone – a bit of a local celebrity. He is Scottish by background but now lives in Germany and ran this 10k in 31 minutes 34 seconds! In this heat!
Some of us went to Anneliese’s house for coffee and cake after we’d all freshened up (which quickly became ice cold drinks and ice cake please!). Here, we were introduced to Viking Chess – which is an excellent game because it involves almost no skill whatsoever, just luck!
We did have to take a break from Viking Chess at one point to listen to the end of the third Ashes test. The Germans were most bemused to see the tense looks on our faces and wanted to know what was going on, but thank goodness England held off Australia, and the Viking Chess game could be resumed!
After we’d been out for dinner with our host family that evening, we found that their 8-month old Alsatian had managed to get into the downstairs bathroom and turn the shower on full! The bathroom had been turned into a 3-inch deep swimming pool with the entire contents of the bathroom floating around in it! Luckily there were six pairs of hands to help mop it all up again in no time – and we rewarded ourselves with a well deserved night cap.
Upon departure the next morning, our hosts told us again “Tschüss und bis nächstes Jahr“!
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 a first for me, but both Ray Carmichael and Andy Corfield have done it before and were able to convince me of its appeal. It was a very enjoyable run and one that I would like to repeat in the future. Because it takes place the same weekend as the Darlington 10k, the Harriers’ turnout was quite low (just half a dozen of us) but we all had a great time in a lovely setting.
The race is described by the organisers as “scenic, fun, fast with PB potential … (and) only a few inclines”, and some of this is true. “Inclines” is one of those words, like “undulating” which makes it sound much more benign that it really is. To my way of thinking and running, the two climbs would alone rule out any prospect of a fast time. But, to me at least, that wasn’t the point – this year I am going for scenic and this run certainly fits that description as it snakes through the Derwent Walk Country Park never far from the riverside.
Ray was kind enough to drive and to offer a lift to me and Andy, plus Rosie Warnett. Parking was free and easy and we made our way to the start/ finish area where there was plenty of entertainment, food and coffee outlets. This has become a big event now (it was a sell-out with 1600 entrants) and so a good atmosphere was already building, along with the rain clouds. It was a pleasure to meet up with Aileen Henderson and Karen Killingley, and Aileen’s partner took some great photos.
There had been some discussion about appropriate footwear and in view of the amount of recent rainfall and the likelihood of muddy patches I opted for trail shoes but to be honest you could have run in anything. Anything that can handle parkrun terrain can handle this. All the paths are good and surprisingly free of puddles. As we made our way to the start line, the heavens opened and a good soaking appeared imminent. I was chatting to Andy at the time but he is more hardy than I am and continued on his way while I took shelter under the canopy of a burger van. There were a few other like-minded souls but the discussion about whether this warm dry area was the best place to spend the next hour or so never ventured beyond the purely hypothetical and eventually we trudged to the start. This meant that I started very near the back: didn’t matter at all as it was chip-timed, but it did mean that my first kilometre or so was very slow.
I thought that I was doing quite well until the first hill arrived when I realised that although the rain had stopped the weather remained very humid. About half way up I was passed by two women running together, one of whom said “There’s no air, is there”. At least, I think that’s what she said, although she may have been lamenting the absence of an heir or any hair. By the time I had enough breath to make enquiries to clarify this point, they had disappeared into the distance. I was soon able to pass Andy who just keeps going for mile after mile and is always very encouraging when I run out of puff towards the end of races. Ray and Rosie, of course, were way in advance of us and I was not to see them for a long time…
The last 3K is gentle downhill and is tremendous. I will appreciate this more when I do the run again, as on this occasion I could not overcome my fear that there might be another of their famous “inclines”. But all was good; the finish line came into sight and although it is one of those runs where you appear to be at the finish and then realise you have to do another little loop round to it, I was feeling good again and able to look forward to that satisfying post-run coffee and very impressive medal.
This is a lovely, popular race, (500 entry limit) and is a fantastic challenge on multi terrain, including trails, grass, coastal paths and also pavement/cycleway due to a short diversion as a result of costal erosion. Some paths are narrow, so overtaking can be tricky!
The course starts with a 1-mile loop to the south of Souter Lighthouse, then heads north round to the end of Marsden Bay. There are then two loops from the north end of Marsden Bay, along the Leas towards South Shields and back, then you run south to Souter Lighthouse and complete the final mile loop, which is more or less the same as the first mile. It’s loopy!
The event is well organised and parking was easy (£3) but the race started about 5 minutes late……and did last year too, because there is always a long queue at the ladies’ loos. The weather forecasters said it was only 20oC, but I’m sure they were wrong and it was hotter. That said, and because of the loops, there was plenty of water available, and in places, a lovely sea breeze.
The route hugs the coast and there are reportedly dolphin sightings regularly, so it is a pleasure to run. Though the coastline seemed pretty calm on Sunday, the treacherous reefs & rocks have shaped a long history of smuggling as many ships have run aground, hence the lighthouse was opened in 1871. There’s lots to investigate when the race is over, Marsden Rock and Grotto and Souter Lighthouse, now a National Trust property, with a very nice tearoom. A rewarding place for the finish of a great race.
I crossed the finish line in 83 minutes and 18 seconds, cheered on by the locals who were convinced I was running for South Shields, very happy with my time, and I think first lady over 50.
I suspect that Ciaran and I share a ritual with many Harriers. When the Lines mob is planning a holiday, one of the items on the list of priorities is to find a parkrun that is local to wherever we’re staying. Another is to speculatively check whether there happen to be any appealing races in the area while we’re in the vicinity. I should add that this ritual only applies to Ciaran and me, and not the rest of the family!
This year, the parkrun fix was provided by Penrhyn parkrun, which is set in an impressive National Trust property – Penrhyn Castle is an imposing, relatively modern (for a castle) landmark near Bangor. As ever, parkrun was a welcoming and friendly experience and the perfect way to start a weekend.
However, for me, the following day delivered the running highlight of the holiday. I had spotted that the North Wales Half Marathon was taking place during our trip, but hadn’t got round to entering before the online deadline. Luckily, the organisers confirmed that a few places would be available on the day. So, I rocked up in Conwy at 7:30am and managed to secure one of the last numbers.
The race started on the beach at 9:00am (it was being set up when I first arrived) and the first mile was on the sand, which I found to be a little softer and more challenging than the similar surface during the recent Northumberland Coastal Run. Then, we followed a fairly flat route west for four miles, along a tarmac path by the sea. This was great for finding a rhythm and comfortable pace. One guy from Kirkby Milers eased past me, but I picked off a couple of runners who had set off a little too fast. I reckoned that I was placed somewhere in the top 20. At about five miles, we turned, crossed a footbridge and headed into the village of Penmaenmawr (I’m glad that I only had to type that and not pronounce it!). By this time, after taking turns to lead the other for a little while, I had got ahead of the Kirby runner again.
Then the hard work began. A series of longish steady climbs took us towards Sychant Pass and the eighth mile was the crux of the race – a steep and sustained section on road and trail up to Conwy Mountain (a grand name for a modest sized hill really, but a very tough part of the race nonetheless). By this time, I was on my own, but could see about eight runners not far behind me (including Kirkby man and a local runner who seemed to be enjoying himself far too much). I managed to stay ahead of all of them during the final climb, as my delighted expression near the summit testifies.
After that high point, there were some lovely undulating trails, during which runners were rewarded with a fantastic view of Conwy and its majestic castle. I glanced back a couple of times and Kirkby guy and happy Welsh runner were still on my tail. Then, we started the steep descent back into Conwy, which worked well for me. I gained distance on my pursuers and got ahead of another runner who was being cautious during the downhill section.
By the time I got back onto more level ground, I was 10 miles into the race. I was about 150 metres ahead of Kirkby man, who had also got ahead of the guy I passed during the descent, but that lead didn’t feel secure as I was starting to get pretty tired. We headed west for a couple of miles, before turning right and back onto the beach for the final mile. Once again, I found the sand section to be tough and Kirkby man started to gain on me quite quickly, along with the runner who we had both passed during the downhill, who had recovered well. Thankfully, for me, I was able to find enough energy to increase my pace for the last few hundred metres and crossed the line about 50 metres ahead of the other two, in a time of 1:32:14. My watch shows the distance as a little under 13 miles, but it was definitely a harder race than most half marathons that I have completed.
I finished seventh overall (higher than I thought I had, which is always nice!), out of 365 finishers. It was a thoroughly enjoyable race, which was very well marshalled. Miles seven and eight were particularly tough, but that seemed to work in my favour on this occasion, and this was a run during which there were times when I could really appreciate the setting. I didn’t know anyone else who was running and as always in such races, I tried to find someone to match myself against, and aim to beat. The Kirkby runner was that person this time and it was satisfying to win that personal battle.
If you’re ever in North Wales in early August (and assuming the race is run again), I’d certainly recommend the event. More details at www.runwales.com.
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