My legs feel like jelly…in fact they don’t feel like they’re mine anymore as I hit the road for the final chase into the finish. There’s a Keswick AC runner up ahead whom I’d eyed as a potential catch to gain a vital place in this short but incredibly tough little fell race but my legs have other ideas. My brain can’t decide what to do with them, they don’t feel real.
32 minutes earlier, I’d been on this path heading up the hill to the start of the off-road climb up Steel Fell. From the farmer’s field at West Head Farm just off the A591 beyond Thirlmere, over 70 runners gathered – Keswick, Ambleside, Helm Hill, Bowland and Kendal are some of the vests synonymous with fell running that are donning the mostly lithe, athletic and clearly fit for the fells, runners.
I stood cutting a lone figure in my purple Striders vest – the Lone Strider – tipping up for this summer fling as I happened to be on a week holiday in the area. The fee? free for 3 miles of fell running fun.
The premise of this race is easy – wheeze your way to the top of Steel Fell, run around the summit cairn then leg it as fast as you can back down the same way. How hard could that be?
With heads down and hands on knees we make our way up the steep slope on a beautiful summer evening. Every now and again I look up to see what progress I’m making and to see if the front runners are on their way back down yet – they’re not! How far is this race again? Surely they must be heading back, I’ve been climbing for what seems like ages!
Eventually I reach the plateau where the gradient levels off. Now I can see up ahead the summit cairn and turn around point. I can also see the front runners on their way back, they’re like gazelles leaping effortlessly across the rough ground.
With the field well stretched out now, I make my way slowly to the turn around point before the fun of the downhill starts. There’s about half a mile of easy running before the gradient drops. I run to this point, take a moment to savour the view of Thirlmere and the valley stretching out in the late evening sun, then, with a sharp intake of breath, hurl myself down the slope.
I’ve eyes on a couple of people who I think I can catch. My legs are pounding and arms are held aloft to keep balance as I pass two guys taking tentative steps. Then I spy another target, which I manage to take. My legs are really taking a battering now but there’s not far to go and I’m enjoying the experience.
Then up ahead is the Keswick runner, I think I might have this place but it’s going to be a battle. Back onto the road and the battle is lost before it begins. My only hope is no-one catches me from behind as I try to maintain my form for the final stretch to the finish.
Job done but my legs have took a serious battering from this little beauty of a race.
On holiday in the Scottish Borders? Looking for a Sunday run? Something simple to raise funds for the local play park? Never visited the Three Bretheren before? The 8th Philiphaugh Hill Run looked just right at 7 miles and 400m ascent.
A mixed bag of 62 runners competed over a nice traily route over two hilltops with stunning views; no kit required -‘its a summer run’.
I manage a very mediocre 1hr 07mins putting me 5th in the V60 category.
The official results table shows my time as 140% of the winners’ time which sounds pretty poor to me;
The winner is no spring chicken either, he’s a V50; but I then notice he is Colin Donnelly of Cambuslang Harriers – one time youngest winner of the Ben Nevis Race (1979) and Scotland’s representative at the World Hill Running Championships for 14 years in a row, winning silver in 1989; winner of the British Fell Running Championship 1987-89; and numerous top performances in Scottish Cross Country racing; he retains the record for traversing the Welsh 3000’s and has course records for the Buckden Pike and Shelf Moor races …
Eighteen months ago I was sitting on the sofa 3 stone heavier with a cake in one hand and beer in the other and had a sudden realisation that something needed to change. I needed to do a Thing. A Big Thing. I decided I liked the idea of a full ironman-distance triathlon. I think I may have had several beers by this point.
Over the next few weeks I deliberately told many people of my plan, so I couldn’t bottle out. One of these people was Neil Sleeman, whose enthusiasm for the idea was considerable (and who’s help and encouragement was hugely appreciated throughout). After discussing the idea with Neil, and a friend from work, Helen Drinkall from Durham Tri, I settled on the Nottingham Outlaw, regarded as a friendly and well organised event (and a fair few quid less than a well-known alternative). Helen decided to sign up, and Neil’s wife Corrina decided he would sign up too (doubt this would be a welcome surprise in many households!).
The training started slowly – it was a long road ahead. I concentrated on the running for the first few months, to try and regain some basic fitness and lose some weight. Looking back I was amazed to see the sum total of my ‘competitive’ running in 2015 comprised just 2 parkruns. It was here that I began, trying to find the motivation to drag myself out each Saturday morning. I signed up for Raby Castle 10k in May 2016 and managed a respectable 42.26, which lifted my confidence a bit, as did Hamsterley 11M (1hr.24) in the July. A disaster at the Northumberland Coastal Marathon in September was a wake-up call as I collapsed with cramp 4 miles from the end, eventually dragging myself over the line in 4hr.51. I had never suffered from cramp before, but it was a useful lesson in nutrition and hydration.
By the autumn I had shifted a few pounds and was running pretty well. I decided that I would try to use my anticipated fitness to target 2017 to PB in all standard distances 5k-marathon and get into the medium pack for the Harrier League. Over the winter I did manage pretty decent performances in the Harrier League, but not quite good enough – missing out on the medium pack at Thornley 2 by 1 place (and 1 second!). I also managed a handful of fell races (still chuffed to make it 1st strider home at Captain Cook). I had by now actually purchased a bike as well (crucial in triathlons). This was set up on a turbo trainer in the spare room and didn’t actually make it out on to a road until May.
At some point in the spring it was explained to me that there were cut-off times for both the swim and bike. This was a very big oversight as I had been relying on a strong run to get inside the overall cut-off of 17hrs. I realised I might not actually make it as far as the run. The swim cut-off is 2hr, and a further 8hr for the bike. Weekly swim sessions and regular cycling followed. A PB at Druridge Bay Marathon in April (and 1st M40!), a standard Olympic distance triathlon (2hr 52) at the same venue a few weeks later. All felt like it was going well…….
Suddenly it’s 3am on the morning of the Big Thing. I’m in the Premier Inn (very convenient-recommended) 6 miles from the venue at the National Watercourse Centre and it’s time to get up. Gulp.
I meet Helen and Neil in the lobby and we drive across to the centre, having racked our bikes and filled our transition bags the day before. We faffed for a bit and I tried not to think about the fact that I had only lake-swam twice, and only ever managed half the distance in training (even less than half for the bike). The weather forecast had been miserable and I was also concerned about cycling in wet conditions (something else I had avoided in training), but despite a heavy downpour the night before the clouds gradually cleared and the sun shone across the lake.
I necked a gel, a couple of ibuprofen (just in case) and 4 Rennie (I usually feel bloated after a swim from gasping for too much air and swallowing water). Then we were off. The swim course is very straightforward, up the left hand side of the lake, across the top and back down the other side (even I didn’t get lost). I started right at the back and gave everyone 30 seconds head start to give myself some space. There was little breeze and the water was very calm. I knew that when I try to go to fast I mess up my rhythm and panic sets in leading too much spluttering and thrashing about. I set off slow and steady, checked my watch at the turn to make sure I was on time, and knowing I was comfortable, built up the pace a little on the way back. Easy peasy- I actually enjoyed it! Out of the water and there were strippers on hand to drag your wetsuit off, then into the marquee-tented transition. A slow and careful change into my bike kit, another gel and out to the bike rack and on to the next stage.
I did a slowish loop of the lake, getting adjusted to being upright and tried to get comfortable on the seat (impossible for me). The course comprises a mix of open rural roads, closed lanes and a relatively short section on a scary-as-hell busy main road. It was all reasonably flat apart from one hill about 50 miles in, and I managed to keep an average speed of around 16mph. The support on the way round was great. The village green of Car Colston was used by many as a place to picnic while waiting for a fleeting glimpse of their loved ones. The first time through it I saw no one (bit deflated) but second time around I passed Neil coming the other way (1.5-2hr ahead?, never saw him again!). Immediately after I passed both families cheering me on – loved it, what a boost!
Coming in to transition was a huge relief as by now the uncomfortable seat felt like a nail pointing somewhere you really don’t want a nail pointing. I was also very glad to be on to a discipline I felt competent in. A smooth transition and I jogged around the lake feeling surprisingly spritely. Again steady was key, and yet more gels. Feed stations every 1.5miles allowed exhausted competitors to grab whatever, whenever. The route took you around the lake then a double loop (like rabbit ears tying your laces) out passed the City Ground and Trent Bridge. I had many childhood memories from these parts which occupied my thoughts on the last few hours.
I passed Anita Clementson coming the other way, and then Helen. It was nice to see friendly faces after the relative loneliness of the cycle (no drafting rules prevent chatting). The support from the marshals was awesome- Thank you all! After 22miles I could feel my hamstrings getting dangerously tight and decided to walk – I knew I would make it. I walk/jogged the last bit. A guy jogged alongside “we have 15min to get the last 1km done and break 13hr 30. Shall we do it?” Hell yes! So Jim and I ran to the line.
As you reach the last 100m Outlaw allow your children to wait by the track for you, and join you to cross the line. This was one of the best moments of my life, I’m very glad to share it.
It’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to spend a Sunday evening sat at a laptop, trying to recall what took place the day before. Probably around two years or so – [ actually just last year! ^DN] the website seems to show nothing from me since November 2015 [<cough!> Paul Evans ^DN]. However, a return to racing with a rejoinder from our webmaster means that what happened must be relayed, for the ever-developing archive of north-eastern running that is our website. Here goes…
0712hrs at Sheffield railway station for a 25 minute ride on a rattling little train, older than I, to Hope. The journey is spent checking bumbag contents, unpacking and adjusting. The only other passengers seem similarly absorbed in their kit, and I assume both are heading for the tour, either long or half, also. We walk the mile or so the Bradwell in amiable silence. The fact that the western edge of the valley is obscured by cloud bodes ill. I consider switching to the half tour, a 17-miler that cuts out the more punchy climbs, then remember I’m returning with a ultra so I don’t HAVE to race it.
0810hrs. Check-in for the race is slick (impressively, EOD are taken as well), laminated maps are issued and a demo is given of the new electronic timing system. Hot brews are offered and received, and the portaloosportable toilets provision is adequate. Kit is re-checked, re-assembled and then adjusted once more, nipples taped and anything that might chafe greased to fairy obscene levels. A decision is made to add to the bumbag a half dozen mini pork pies, on the basis that I’m not really racing, but instead here for a nice day’s running.
0900hrs. Assembly at the village green, in a light rain with overcast skies promising more. No kit check. We set off at an easy pace for the gentle undulation of the first mile or so along a damp, overhung lane, the rumble of the enormous cement works a background note. I’m not impressed to note that my Mudclaws are showing themselves to be awful on wet concrete, having switched to Inov8 after four successive pairs of Walshes disintegrated early in their lives [same here, sadly. ; a gentle downhill sees me skid to one side and hug the fence. Control 1 is found easily (ie. at the point you leave the lane – truly idiot-proof) though it later turns out that my timing gear does not register, despite flashing and beeping. From here a steady run, with occasional walking on the steeper parts, takes us through the quarries that feed the plant below, along a track to CP2 and then down some grassy fields…
…to the abomination that is Cave Dale. For those of you who have not visited Cave Dale, it is a picturesque descent through limestone crags and lush greenery. For tourists, it is delightful. For farmers, it’s a nice place to graze sheep. For runners, it is a steep downhill over loose limestone, polished by water for centuries, today in the rain. It is an axiom of ultra-runner to ‘walk the ups, run the downs.’ I did the opposite, and lost a good number of places to those with a little more poise and balance, only falling twice, which I think a result of sorts. This led into Castleton, pretty as ever, along a minor road to the climb up to Hollins Cross, then straight down a good track, under the railway line and into Edale.
1030hrs. Edale gained, with two of the big climbs over with. Banana and a few peanuts offered along with water, and a small group of us trotted out past the Nag’s Head/Pennine Way start, over the footbridge and up the zig-zags that mark the start and finish of the Edale Skyline fell race; walking only here. About two-thirds of the way up the climb flattens and the ground becomes soggier, helped by the rain that’s picked up a bit. Reaching the plateau I hit my stride, unfortunately making the mistake of enjoying the running too much to notice the trod that leads to CP5, the Druid’s Stone. Heather-bashing needed, then more of the same to regain the edge, followed by what someone following me informs me I’ve ‘picked a great line’ through the rocks and heather tussocks that take us down to runnable fields (I don’t tell him that I descended earlier than intended then made the best of it/pretended I had a plan). A fast downhill mile brings us under the railway again, then it’s over the road and straight up the other side of the valley to Lose Hill, walking pace resumed. I crack open the mini pork pies. I eat one slowly, then realise it is not sitting well; in retrospect, this lack of hunger should have been a warning. Nevertheless, Lose Hill CP6 is gained with a stiff tab to the steps and then a run along the tops, legs feeling less stiff than earlier. The descent is a grassy delight, halted only to call back a handful ahead of me who’ve taken a bad line and are liable to end up a mile or so west of where they need to be. Hope, CP7, is another food/drink station and by this point we’re well-mixed with runners doing the half tour, so it is harder to ascertain who the competition is. If I were being competitive, which I’m not.
The next few legs are fairly easy running, bar a cheeky climb up Whin Hill, with views of Ladybower reservoir, some very enjoyable forest trails and a bit of flat converted railway line taking us to CP9, the cut off for the full tour.
1230hrs. The two races separate, the half tour runners having broken the back of their race and heading home. It feels lonely again. I change pace again to drop down from the line through a couple of fields onto CP10, situated halfway along Bamford Weir, admire the serenity of the ducks paddling through the lilies, then accept I cannot change the fact that a couple of miles of climbing, on road then rocky track, lies between Stanage Edge and I. Strangely, I make up a few places here, my ability to sustain an uphill plod serving me well, gain CP11 and then shuffle-run along Stanage Edge to Burbage Bridge, the sun now out and the views superlative, miles of purple heather to the left and lush valley to the right. CP12 at the roadside sees us fed again, though I’m really not hungry by now, and we descend steadily to Toad’s Mouth, 2 miles of largely downhill easy running…or would be if my left foot were not now hurting with every step. CPs 13, 14 and 15 feature no big climbs, some pretty woodland and Burbage Brook, which is this afternoon rammed with children paddling, fishing and enjoying themselves. How dare they, when some of us are suffering? Some even have snacks they appear to relish eating, rather than 5 uneaten pork pies they cannot face but must carry.
1430hrs. CP15 reached, a lot of water and 4 peanuts forced down and the rest shoved into a pocket. From here, I know I’ve got about 6 miles, an hour, one big, but steady climb and, in the immediate future, one short road climb to go. I and two others who appear also a bit on the tired side climb to the farm track, descend into the woods and then walk-run through terrain that seems more uneven than the map suggests to CP16, at a brook I refill my water bottle from. We then climb slowly to Abney hamlet, take a right up an interminably-long track (the map says only 3/4m, but it feels worse) and then skirt another quarry before dropping down through gorse and mud into Bradwell, for a final half-mile trot along the road. Our threesome has split by now, after all checking that we’re fine, and I come in last of the three after another involuntary trip down the hillside on my bottom.
1545hrs. It is done. Hot brews and soup. Flapjack that takes 15 minutes a square to eat as my mouth does not have sufficient moisture to masticate adequately. Lying on my back in the warm grass, the moist soil fragrant. A walk back to the station and half an hour sat waiting in the sun, finally able to eat again, content, knowing it is all done and that, hurting feet and all, it has been a run to remember. And I might have, despite all good intentions, actually raced the thing. Maybe a little.
So I’m not sure how I got roped into it, what I do know is the entry to Lakeland 50 was a birthday present from a former boyfriend…… thanks for that!
So the Lakeland 50 is dubbed as one of the toughest ultras in the Uk, self navigated, unsupported over some of the most beautiful scenery ….. sounds good so far doesn’t it? Bearing in mind 30 miles was the farthest I’d gone (managed to squeeze in a 55 miler as a 24 hour event 3 weeks before the big one) I can’t navigate to save my life and I’m terrible at following training plans I guess to no wonder I was a bit nervous about this one.
The 29th July loomed large and I made my final preparations, making sure I had my essential kit neatly in a box ready for kit check, road books for Kathryn Sygrove and me printed and laminated (the provided one isn’t waterproof), food organised (being vegan I wasn’t sure if there would be adequate food I could eat at the checkpoints), tent packed and off we went down to Coniston.
Arriving around 7pm Rob put our tent up while I went to register and get my kit checked, it had been raining already…. a sign of things to come it seemed. Kit check went well was even complemented on how neatly my stuff was presented, picked up my ‘dibber’, got weighed (apparently if you look unwell at the end they’ll weigh you again as an indicator of kidney failure or dehydration). Then we bumped into Kathryn, waited for her to be registered and kit checked then headed off to the pub for more pre race prep ….. food and drink.
The night passed with a fitful sleep with the obligatory pre ultramaranoia nightmare, landings of rain through the night, the baaaa of sheep ALL NIGHT, but knowing that all my prep was done and all that was to be done now was to toe the start line with 700 ish other runners was some consolation.
7 o’clock alarm, coffee, instant porridge, ablutions as best you can in a tent, use of the chemical toilets (nice!) and it was all of a sudden 830am and time for the entertaining race brief by Uncle Terry and ‘the other one’ (you had to be there). Now after another toilet stop, it was onto the buses for the tedious journey to Dalemain, the starting point. More snacking on the bus, banana, peanut butter and jam sandwich for me, cheese sandwich for Kathryn.
Of course, it started to rain as soon as we got to Dalemain, waterproofs on while we waited for the loo again. Couple of pics/selfies, ‘fibbed’ onto the course and a Facebook live video as we crossed the start line We were off!
The first 4 miles were through the Dalemain estate, nothing special but not flat, some little undulations made it a bit interesting. The rain stopped after around 2 miles so waterproof off. At this stage you kind of thin into the groups of people you’ll see time and again. Pooley Bridge next, a nice run through a pretty town… lots of cheers and claps from passers by the the first real uphill, think it was about a mile long with a photographer saying ‘no running no photo’ so of course I had to have a little run, but just for the photo.
Managed to catch up with Joanne Abbott, a runner I was familiar with from the Hardmoors races and held onto her and her hubby through the checkpoint at Howtown, renamed Howdy Town with a western theme, quick cup of tea and some flapjack and we were off again.
Here was the toughest part of the whole route for me, and only 12 miles in….. The monstrous Fusedale climb, it went on for at least a mile and a half with over 1200 ft of climb. I was down to counting steps to push myself on, sometimes 50 steps, sometimes 100 occasionally 30, I must have used a whole packet of shotbloks and a few glucose tablets to get me up there but my strategy worked and I eventually made it to the top. It was here I met Cathy, she was rewarding herself with a kit Kat, which had melted. Cathy and I stuck together for the remainder of the race, she was a godsend and made the rest of the race a less horrific experience.
From the top of Fusedale it was a bog hoppers dream, we had been reminded to stay high to get from High Kop (highest point of the course at around 2200 feet) and to look for the wooden stake to start down to Low Kop and run around Haweswater until we reached the next checkpoint at Mardake Head. Time for more refuelling, soup, sandwiches, coke, tea all served by lovely marshals who couldn’t do enough for us, filling our water bottles for us etc. There were a couple of 100ers sitting wrapped up, waiting to be taken back to Coniston. I can’t even imagine doing the 100 so fair play to them for getting this far. Soon we were off, with a packet of crisps tucked away for later.
It was round about here we picked up our 3rd musketeer Donna, who had done the route last year and was glad of some company. The next bit from Mardale to Kentmere was quite enjoyable, still in daylight, the company was good, we were well fed, and the terrain wasn’t horrible, still some elevation though but after Fusedale anything was preferable. By now we had renamed it ‘F^*#%$ Fusedale’ which amused us for the rest of the race.
3 Harry Potter/Stardust esque slate styles later we arrived at my favourite checkpoint so far Kentmere. It was inside, there was suitable for vegan pasta, hot tea, coke, hobnobs. And Jen Scotney was there (wife of world class ultramarathoner Marcus Scotney, and I later found out she gad SFV cake which I missed out on). Starting to get dark now, so long sleeve top on, head torch on, second watch on (I knewmy Tomtom wouldn’t last the whole time). Cathy changed her socks and blister plasters. I made the decision not to take my shoes off until the end. Once again, ushered out of the hall, we were off.
Ambleside next stop, the weather was still holding off, temperature just right no rain. We kept on keeping on, over Garburn Pass, very rocky and technical underfoot but my Altra Superiors were performing well and there was little slippage. I was starting to feel a bit nauseous and couldn’t eat anything, taking sips of tailwind every now and again. I was so looking forward to Ambleside as it was another a checkpoint crossed off.
Eventually we approached the checkpoint and had a lovely surprise that Angela and John Greathead had stayed up to support me (it was around 130am by now), the Vegan Runners had put together a box of vegan goodies and with my queasy tummy I was overjoyed to see Ginger Snaps, just what i needed something ginger to settle my nausea, worked a treat in combination with Kendal mint cake.
Cathy had been having trouble with her shoes slipping of her heels so I bent down to replace her shoes in the ‘heel locking’ style which really improved her comfort. And with a big hug from Angela and John we were off again.
And now the heavens opened. Back on with the waterproof jacket and keep on going. This was again quite a pleasant part of the course, only 5.6 miles to the next checkpoint and mainly on paths, jog a bit walk a bit jog a bit walk a bit. Past Skelwith, Elterwater, the campsite (sshhh quiet!) not much to see in the pitch dark and lashing rain. But then the bright glow of the checkpoint tent at Chapel Stile beckoned in the near distance. Now hot food, veg stew, coffee, water bottles topped up again. Donna sat down. I did not. Beware the chair! Hustling the girls, I just wanted to keep going and get it over with now, it was around 330am now, pitch dark and still raining.
Now the boggiest, wettest, difficult to navigate in the dark terrain. There were loads of sheep, well at first glance they were just reflective eyes in the darkness, I wonder what they were thinking! As we came out of the fields, into the bracken across Bleamoss it started to get light and the rain stopped. There was no actual sunrise to be seen but it must have happened as it was suddenly full daylight and even the sun started to come out. One 100 lady runner went past us a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in a Wonderland, she thought it was much later than it was and she thought she was going to miss her cut off. Reassuring her it was only 530 ish not 830 ish she breathed a sigh of relief but still pushed on. On reaching the self dib at Wrynose there was an old fella with his 2 dogs, I later found out he is there from the beginning to the end providing moral support (the only acceptable support on the Lakeland 50/100). Only an hour to Tilberthwaite he told us, so off we went again. Jog walk jog walk jog walk down the hill, through Fell Foot Farm and onto Tilberthwaite checkpoint.
I was greeted into Tilberthwaite by Kat who I ran at Windermere marathon with, more tears and hugs, more coffee, couple more ginger snaps. ‘Do you want a seat?’ (beware the chair) ‘no thanks’ ‘only 3.5 miles to go, just over a parkrun’ . Let’s get going!
First up out of the checkpoint. Big old stone stairs hurrah! Then a bit more of an incline (still nothing like F#^*^#} Fusedale though. Even the short scramble up the rocks was a welcome distraction, I’d recce’d this part and knew it wasn’t far to go. Just over the top and then ‘we are starting our final descent into Coniston, please fasten your seatbelt, doors to manual and cross check’ Cathy, Donna and I started laughing now, after a grim miserable few hours, this felt good. My knees were hurting from all the downs, my ankles we complaining from the tricky techinical rockiness. But we were nearly done.
Cathy’s running club mates (around 10 of them) had turned out to see her finish, so proud of her, as was I. Cathy had only started running 8 months ago specifically to complete this in memory of her brother who had died after a short illness. She had done it! I had done it! Rob appeared to cheer me in, giving me a big hug.
When we hit the tarmac in Coniston we all started running, I don’t know how we did, but we did. We handed our poles to passers by and held each other’s hands as we ran and turned the corner and through the Finish line, we did our final dib together so we all finished at exactly the same time. 20 hours 57 minutes.
At the time, I said I’d never even consider doing the Lakeland 50 again, I said I’d hated every step, every moment, but do you know what? I didn’t hate it, it was tough, very tough and F%*^# Fusedale nearly did for me but it was an amazing experience, I am so proud of what I have achieved and what my body and mind are capable of.
Team ‘Ladies That Tri’ were all set for their next adventure! The Team today was Sam Askey, Gayle Forster, Megan Bell and I. Helen Rodgers unfortunately had to pull out at the last minute due to a shoulder injury, but very kindly came along to support us and marshal, as did her daughter Emily.
We set off early from Durham, which turned out to be good as during the drive up the A1 the bikes slipped sideways on the bike rack!.. three times! On the third time Helen had the cunning plan to put one of the bikes inside the car and have only two on the rack. We pulled over, and Sam immediately jumped out and expertly got into action, confidently asking ‘Shall I take the front wheel off?’ Get in! Once all was secure Emily sat next to the bike in the very back of the car with the many bags and the cakes may have been squished by my bike! Emily chatted away happily. We talked about the diving boards at the Stanhope Outdoor pool. I applaud her no-fear attitude. I think I’ll be sticking to the small slide in the baby pool.
And so we arrived bikes intact! Megan met us there and after registering, we all took our cycles and stuff round to transition on the grass outside the pool. I was number 17, straight after Anita Dunseith’s husband. Anita was also there supporting him! Anita wanted to see my bike, ‘Is it that one?’ she said pointing to a rather impressive looking blue machine…ha ha! ‘ No, its this one I said’ ‘Oh! She said, looking at my bike, ‘But where is your water bottle?’ and I pointed out my extra large water bottle standing next to the bike and the box of squished cakes that I had sneaked into transition!
After a thorough and helpful race briefing by Sue Heppell, the race organiser, numbers 1 to 10 lined up ready to get into the pool! Helen kindly sat in the viewing area to take photos! The rest of us waited around the poolside. Megan, Sam and Gayle all had high numbers-in the 40’s, so I bid my good lucks and lined up myself as it was getting near to my turn! Anita’s husband was off, and then it was a shout of ‘10 seconds to go’ from the marshal, and then a ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go!’for me! My plan was to swim the first length slowly, then to increase pace and swim the last length hard. This plan was because you aren’t able to warm up in the pool before the race, and last time I had set off fast and then felt like I could not breath after two metres! So my swim went much better this time, and being more familiar with the pool this time I felt more confident as I knew what the bottom looked like. I got out of the pool, waved to the others and pattered into the transition area!
T1 Attack! Had been the plan. I had planned to start counting -the idea being that I had to be out of transition by 30! But this did not happen as I found I couldn’t count and concentrate at the same time! Instead I just focussed on the task in hand and just went as quick as I could. Got the helmet on the wrong way round at first, ha ha, but other than that all was good!, and I grabbed the bike and ran out!
On mounting my bike the first problem was that my bum slid around on my bike saddle like a penguin on ice! Last time I had worn a swimming costume and the skin-saddle friction had kept my bum in place. But this time I had opted for a swimming costume with short legs, meaning there was only swimming costume in contact with the saddle ! I charged up the hill cranking up the gears whilst sliding about! Getting the speed up was good and it was lovely to be out on a warm summers evening riding along the post rush hour roads of Ponteland. The sun was still up casting long shadows. I was really enjoying it and had to remind myself it was a race, and to keep on it! I caught up two cyclists and over took! Then saw three more in the near distance and was gaining on them! I caught them up, overtook, but then as I changed down gears to go round a roundabout the chain came off my bike! Oh no! I yanked my bike to the side of the road, turned it upside down and in a flash got the chain back on..but not fast enough for the 5 people I had just passed to now pass me! I felt so relived that this mishap had been within my only area of bike expertise! The bike I had before this one was a £50 hunk of iron purchased for it’s ‘strong and stable’ quality. It weighed 50 tonnes. It was so ‘strong and stable’ that it didn’t go up hills, and didn’t go very well down them either as downhill meant chain fall-off. Every trip resulted in oily hands!
I peddled on furiously and was pleased to pass those riders again. Up to the top of the road, left turn and more uphill! I pushed on breathing heavily. I was afraid to change gear on the left side in-case the chain came off again, so stuck to using the gears on the right side and hoped for the best! I was going as fast as I could but one after another four cyclists overtook me! Oh no! I doubted I’d see them again as soon the route would be all downhill, and downhill cycling was not my forte! I saw it as a pure ‘face the fear’ challenge! Soon I was onto that said downhill road, with its areas of lumpy tarmac (filled in potholes). A few turns, waits at roundabouts, onwards and the leisure centre was insight! Yes!
T2 I am extremely proud of ( if I do say myself !) I whizzed in, put down bike, helmet off, top off and ran ! One nano second! Way hay! (OK slight exaggeration but it was sooo much better than last time!) I even forgot about the cakes! I pegged it out and onto the run route.
Great to be running! It seemed so much simpler and easier than swimming or cycling! I ran down the footpath, past quite a few dog walkers this time , and kept going. Then much to my surprise, as I reached the top of the path I saw ahead two of the cyclists that had passed me! Could I possibly be gaining on them? I was! Even better, as I turned the corner on to the road I saw all of the 4 riders who had overtaken me on the bike in a line ahead! No way! Yes way! This gave me a boost and I worked hard and ran past each one! No one ahead in sight now, oh dear, this meant navigation, but actually it was fine as I remembered the route, and I also knew it was not far, so I kept the pace up. As I ran down the hill I spotted Megan, closely followed by Sam, running towards me at the start of their run! Waves and cheers as we passed each other! There was the leisure centre, past the marshals, (bikes and runners everywhere!), round the corner and sprint finish up the finishing funnel! …And collapse and sit down!
After I got my breath back I stood with Emily, handed some squashed cakes, and then Helen came round and we were all there to cheer Megan, Sam and Gayle in! They all had big smiles on their faces! So pleased they had enjoyed it. It had been Sam and Gayles first triathlons! So super well done for them! After celebrations we gathered ourselves and our paraphernalia and retreated to a Costa coffee for recovery!
I really enjoyed this race, just as much as the first time. But this time I felt more confident. It has also made me realise how complicated triathlon can be, so many things can go wrong! One area it highlighted for me is that I would like learn more bike stuff, like taking wheels off and mending punctures, using gears right etc. It could all be very helpful! And I think Sam would be the person to ask!
Eeek! I can see through the window that a big car has pulled up outside my house! With bikes on the back! They’re actually here! Yippee! Quick dash to bathroom to replace toothbrush, dash back to get watch..the kids have already opened the front door and I can hear Helen talking with them. Grabbing many bags of stuff, I rush downstairs to greet Helen and Nina who have come to whisk me away to Ponteland to do my first triathlon!
Let me introduce us! We are team ‘Ladies that Tri’. Comprising Helen and Nina, veterans of the triathlon, and myself, a runner who’s front crawl was recently described by a mystified general public swimming pool user as ‘you look like you are trying to run in the swimming pool.’ I am a recent learner of the front crawl! Having spent years thinking ‘I wish I could do that’ at the start of this year I thought ‘Well why not?’ I joined the Durham Tri club in January and went regularly to the Saturday 5.30pm sessions. I massively thank Bob, Jean, Amanda, Ian and Ellen for their excellent and enjoyable tuition. They are fantastic coaches! I have got much enjoyment from front crawl! I didn’t realise how different to breast stroke it was until now. You only get to see what’s below you for a start! I was now curious to try a triathlon and the Ponteland Go Tri events for beginners seemed a good place to start.
Helen drove up the A1. Our three power machines were attached to the back of the vehicle. I am quite attached to my bike and was pleased to see it travelling in style! I’d like to say our arrival at the Ponteland Leisure Centre was cool and smooth, perhaps even gaining psychological advantage over any fellow competitors arriving at the same time, but it was not as unfortunately I remained locked in the car as Helen and Nina got out and started sorting the bikes as I could not work out how to unlock the door!
Nina and Helen were extremely helpful. It was great going with them! They showed me where everything was (lockers, toilets, registration, transition lines on the ground) and gave me numerous excellent tips such as how to organise my pile of stuff in the transition zone! Before long a crowd of people in active wear were gathered for the briefing before the start. The lady that organises these events was very welcoming. It turned out that quite a few of us were doing our first triathlon! A group photo was taken at the start in celebration which was supportive. My only concern at that moment was that looking around I appeared to be the only person wearing a swimming hat and googles. Hummm. Was anyone else planning to do the swim bit? Ah! It turned out that this was because people get in the pool one at a time in 15 second intervals, so there would still a bit of a wait for most!
There was a call for the first 10 swimmers to line up at the side of the pool! Eeek! That included me! They organise it so the slowest people go into the pool first. When I signed up I had no idea of my time to swim 8 lengths so I had put down 45 minutes to be on the safe side. But this meant that now, I was second person to get into the pool!! Although I was nervous, I was very excited and the pool looked well inviting!
When it was my time to go I got a countdown from 5! By ‘4’ I had changed my mind about a star jump entry. It looked a bit deep. I slid into the pool in a ‘I’m going down a water slide way’ during the ‘3, 2, 1’ and managed to start on the ‘Go!’ And it was great to be swimming again! Also a little scary as to the anticipation of the surge of bodies that would undoubtedly be trying to get past very soon! I kept going as best I could! A little disoriented at times as the bottom of this pool looked different to Freeman’s Quay, so at the end of each length I checked to make sure I was on the correct side of the lane. The course was to swim up and down each lane once, by ducking under the lane ropes to change lanes, thereby finishing at the other side of the pool. I kept going! The first swimmer to pass me gave me a wide berth! Phew! ..I waited for more to pass but no-one did and soon I was climbing up the steps out of the pool!
In trepidation I gingerly walked outside to the transition area on the grass outside the building. Hummm, there were only a few people out. I had a feeling that I ought to be waiting for everyone else? It was a bit strange! I put my trainers and jacket on then waited a bit for Nina who was also out of the pool. I followed another girl who was ready to go and looked like she knew what she was doing. However, once out of the new- to -me -zone- of- transition, I felt more confident. OK, this was a bike ride now! (And very usefully we had arrived early to Ponteland and Helen has driven us around the course! ) So I rode at a pace I thought would be best, which given it was a short course, I decided this should be as fast as I could go! I chased the girl ahead! She was powering up the hill! I followed in hot pursuit, feeling competitive now! But randomly after a few hundred metres some small, long brown things fell out of her bike bag onto the road. They looked like cigars !? Whatever they were, they must have been important as she swore loudly and stopped immediately to pick them up. I asked if she was OK as I passed. She said she was so I carried on.
Goodness, I was now in the lead on the course (although obviously not in time)! I pushed my feet down hard on the peddles continuing up the hill, I needed to do this as fast as possible as I didn’t want anyone to catch me, especially given my head start! I was also determined as I wanted to see how I might fare in this triathlon lark! I made sure I was always out of breath, except for on the down hills where my aim was to go as fast as possible without falling off the bike! Its a very good course. Gradual uphill for the first half, then gradual downhill for the second half. And all left turns bar one! Whizzing back downhill to the Leisure centre I hoped I would not miss the turning, but it was well marshalled! I turned the corner, and Helen’s kids were there cheering me on, bless them! It was a short push-bike -and-run without bashing your ankles into the transition area.
In transition, I had a big fight with my jacket. The zip got stuck! So the hole I was trying to get my head out of was small! I tugged and pulled at it, which made the zip travel further up so the head hole just got smaller and smaller until the zip was stuck right at the top! Aghh! I tore my glasses off and gave a final yank of effort squeezing my head through the hole which felt like removal of half my face skin! After this impromptu facial beauty treatment was over I noticed a guy had caught me up and was just entering transition. I ran out as fast as I could! Back through the taped transition exit, onto the run route! More kind cheers from Helen’s kids as I went past!
The run route headed round the corner, then onto a footpath. My legs didn’t seem to get going as quickly as I wanted them too. Maybe due to a circulation thing from being on the bike? Anyhow I strode on as fast as I could. I couldn’t actually remember how far it was but I knew it was a very short length as it was a mini-triathlon and knew that this meant run as hard as you can. There was no-one on the path for ages then I saw some dog walkers in the distance. Oh dear! My active wear now constituted a swimming costume and, erm, trainers..Ha ha ha! Living on the edge! I ran faster in-case they called the police. Half way down the track, the guy who I’d seen behind me caught me up and overtook. Aghh! I chased his heels! Round a corner and we were now both running down the grass verge of a busy main road in swim wear! At the end of this road, the route went along the pavement of the road straight back to the leisure centre. I recognised this from the bike route so knew it was not far so pushed the pace a bit. Back past transition and I gathered myself for a final effort to sprint to the finish flags! Gasping for breath at the end I was handed a rather nice goodie back containing welcome water, cereal bar and a smart sports bottle! I hadn’t expected anything for a £10 race entry fee! I downed the water then went round the corner to wait for Helen and Nina to cheer them on. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable, supportive and friendly event!
I am signed up to do this event again and was interested to compare my times to the lady that came first. My run time was the same as hers. She was 3 minutes quicker on the bike and 1 minute quicker in the swim. She also spent a lot less time in transition. As its such a short event, it seems that every second counts. I think I can easily improve my overall time by being much faster in transition and next time my plan is to start counting in my head when I enter transition, and aim to be out the other side by the time I reach 30! As far as decreasing my time for the other elements maybe there could be different approaches. Perhaps I could just try to do everything faster, or focus on what I am best at, running, and try to decrease my time for that. I can also now give them a more accurate swim time which means I can be more ‘in the midst’ of the action and perhaps get a more realistic race experience? In terms of enjoyment I was surprised to enjoy the bike bit most! The swim and run bits were just a bit too short for me. I look forward to trying this event again with these plans from the experience I have gained!
The Morbihan area of Brittany is a quiet rural area of France, famous for cheese production and the legends of King Arthur. An area riddled with ancient and more modern history. A village where I regularly run through during training is only a few miles from this race and was the site where 4000 Breton Resistance fighters took on the might of the Nazi army in World War 2. They were led by Captain Pierre Marienne who parachuted into the secret base nearby as a member of the Free French SAS. They harassed and tied down the occupying force after D-Day before Captain Marienne was eventually captured executed and laid to rest near Plumelec Church, the same village where my race would finish.
This route was my first international race back in 2011. Twenty minutes drive from my French in-laws home, it was long overdue that I show my European credentials and contributed to what was one of the most diverse and challenging races I have ever been involved in.
In 2011 my preparation could not have been worse with weeks in Paris and associated holiday distractions getting squarely in the way of training. This time I was not about to make the same school boy error. This was very much part of the marathon training plan and was on the back of an 11 day run streak.
The concept of the Trois Clochers –the three Steeples, is that you run past the landmarks of the three village churches. Many a direction in France is given via a certain church, whereas in the UK it tends to be given by a certain pub. An amusing and telling cultural difference. This was the 15th year of this particular race and I was more than happy to be involved.
I soon discovered they had changed and lengthened what was already a tricky course. It’s an exceptionally undulating course rising from 80 to 160 metres. This may not sound like a lot but it’s the ups and downs, the associated change of pace and terrain that are the killers. Starting at the beautiful turreted chateau of Callac and down into the village, along a thoroughly hilly 7 km and up to the Church at St Aubin. Running from there the route takes you on an undulating experience through village, field, track and woodland ending at the Plumelec sports centre. This was where previously I had been awarded with my ‘Saucisse frites’ dinner and was I looking forward to repeating that part of the race more than the running itself.
After my registration armed with a certain friendly doctors medical certificate the free bus took us from the number pickup at Plumelec to the start back at the chateau. I knew French races were well organised and popular and this was no exception. With around 250 participants squeezed into the courtyard of 150 year old manor house it was striking to see how the majority of the participants were mostly my age. The younger age group who are normally my torment on every Park Run seemed absent. Not that I had any illusions of winning anything they all looked a dammed sight fitter then me. They were clearly immune to the temptations of salted butter, cheese and baguette. I on the other hand, was not. However this was strictly part of the bigger training plan and I was there to do my best with a focus on the end goal, sausage and chips rather than on a new PB.
Ce Parti. We were off out of the chateau and into some woodland. Happily very soft foliage underfoot to ease my aging knees into. I tried pacing with a few likely looking people and hooked onto some of the older runners from my adoptive French town of Malestroit. However I lost them turning into Callac village on the rise past the first spire. Then the famous sudden drop down and out of the village to the small shrine to the Virgin Mary and up the hill. I wasn’t averse to asking for a bit of divine intervention at this point as I saw the forthcoming climb. It was a generous hill, you know, the type that keeps giving, giving and giving. Just as you thought the generosity would end the hill would give you some more. Finally after about a 2.5 KM things started to level out as we passed the road junction on the approaches to St Aubin.
As I passed through the village I found myself unable to keep pace with 2 grannies. They were very fit grannies clearly from that local village. Only on the slightest of closer inspection of these two characters was it apparent they had dressed to impress in old lady drag outfits complete with pop out boobs. Which they popped out at every occasion!
Climbing again out of the village we took a steady downhill onto a grassy farm track. I looked across the rolling Brittany hills. The sun was descending and the scene picturesque with tiny fields separated by mini woodlands. It was then I realised what goes down will likely go up again. I wasn’t wrong and I didn’t wait long. Twists and turns, grass and gravel, tarmac and torment would it ever end? I was finding it tough going despite weeks of tempo, distance and hill training.
Then on the final rise the church spire of Plumelec rose above the a- maize-ing popcorn fields on either side of me and I waited patiently to be drawn in by the aroma of a barbecue sausage.
1 mile to go! Yet the course hadn’t finished with me yet. The final phase before the village run in was through woodland. However this was like Houghall wood on steroids. Half a mile of twists, turns, jumps, roots, rocks and many other joys before we hit tarmac.
I was happy to pick up some speed rising through the village to the final steeple. Plumelec church was now in view and my thoughts turned briefly to the grave of Captain Pierre Marianne as I sped past the bar where my wife had patiently waited, drink in hand, to snap my photo as I ran by. I turned the corner to the final run in where I sprinted the last 200m with one thought in mind.
2nd time lucky? Last year, I settled for a rather splendid long sleeved top in lieu of my entry, and heard the tales of a splendid and scenic coastal run in the sun. This year, the race sold out in a matter of six hours but fortunately I secured an entry again, and had my sun tan lotion at the ready.
Saturday evening saw me consider various weather forecasts, and contemplate my shoe and clothing choice. Having packed my hydration vest, at the eleventh hour, I abandoned it and decided for the minimalistic approach of club vest (fear not, I had shorts too) and trail shoes given the inclement weather anticipated.
A Sunday morning reveille at 0600hrs (what else would any sane person do on their wedding anniversary?) saw me tiptoe around the house, and jog up to meet the Strider bus. As I had stayed up quite late, reading old race reports of the Coastal Run and contemplating what lay ahead, I quite fancied a snooze on the bus but this notion rapidly faded, as the bus filled full of other chatty but half asleep Striders.
We made good progress, and parked up in Beadnell, donning waterproofs to saunter down the road to the Boat House for registration. I always find it a challenge with my OCD to attach a bib number perfectly straight – to do this in the rain, with a fresh breeze on the upturned hull of a small boat compounded the challenge. Event clips and bib attached, I processed along the beach toward the start area at Beadnell Bay. There were portaloos aplenty, and a fairly short queue leaving time to join fellow Striders to shelter and stay warm(ish), stowing bags on the baggage bus at the last moment, for the obligatory team photo on the beach.
Lined up on the start, and raring to go, I listened intently to the official at the front – I relayed his information to other runners because I thought it was wise to heed the advice, which I summarised that runners should stay between the first set of marshalls to avoid perishing on the slippy rocks. Then we were off, across golden sands, the warmth of the sun on our backs, the breeze in our hair, amidst children building sandcastles, and enjoying ice-cream [error, that was a figment of my imagination]. Then we were off, across a sandy base of rivulets fed by the Long Nanny River, which set the scene of what would be a challenging race. I had struck out at a pace just sub 5 min/km, which softened as I met the first constriction point of soft sand and rocks up to High Newton by the Sea. I was amazed at this point to see a runner relieve himself against the dunes in full view of other competitors – how could he have missed the vast provision of portaloos, and council facilities adjacent to the start?
Having climbed this initial hill, I enjoyed the short fast downhill section to Low Newton and the sands at Embleton Bay. We then negotiated the inland side of Dunstanburgh Castle, on mud, grass and rock paths, with a few slips and falls. I halted to check one poor soul who had taken an impressive tumble, landing hard but he was fine to continue. I passed a few runners, at this point lamenting their choice of road shoes, and wondered if Matt Archer had his racing flats on.
Next up was Craster Village, at which point we were looking a little more bedraggled, our muddy battle paint splattered up our legs, and higher! Support was evident here, and water was provided. The encouraging sight and sound of Michael Mason galvanised my resolve as I climbed up past the harbour past The Heughs, where there was a cheeky kink taking us along the headland to Cullernose Point.
Then a treat of a section of road past Howick, and on to Sugar Sands where the majority of runners took the bridge across Howick Burn but some hardier souls opted for the water crossing. A short but punishing climb ensued, up a rocky path, which I decided to run passing a couple who were walking, clearly conserving their energy to pass me on the flat on the top!
Into Boulmer for the final water stop, which I needed, where supporters braved the conditions to cheer us on. Leaving Boulmer, just prior to dropping down to Foxton Beach, a cheery chap stood beside a sign which advised ‘about 2 miles to go’. He shouted encouragingly, that it we were nearly upon the beach and only 10 minutes to go. I looked at my watch briefly, trying to calculate what this meant but gave up as ‘nearly 2 miles’ was too imprecise a measure for me, a detailed metric man.
This beach seemed never-ending, and I remember thinking about the meaning of this approximate 2-mile sign. I tried in places to pick up my pace, mainly because I thought if I did the race would be over quicker but there were slippy rocks, and dilapidated fences (really!) to cross. On one particular fence, my ability to hurdle non-existent, my right hamstring cramped as I ungraciously ‘hopped’ over it. I recovered to catch the magnificent sight of a blue inflatable finish arch.
The arch got closer, and I tried to pick up pace, hastened by Jon Ayres who was doing a sterling job as a bare-chested Mr Motivator having already finished. Attempting to follow Jon’s advice of lengthening my stride, I managed to briefly return to that sub 5 min/km pace again, prior to what felt like sinking to my knees in the softer sand near the finishing arch. Through the finish, I immediately felt that sense of accomplishment which makes it all seem worthwhile; and a quick check of my watch confirmed a pleasing sub 2-hour time (subsequently 1:55:31 chip time).
I grabbed some water, and headed over to provide some encouragement to my fellow Striders. Jon congratulated me, and I quipped that that last beach was like a club committee meeting in length! Then via the baggage bus, to the Strider bus, which now resembled something of an impromptu changing room. I was grateful at this point for Lesley’s advice to take a change of footwear, and in equal measure for her encouragement to attend this race. Prize giving was in the nearby Alnmouth Links Golf Club, which provided an opportunity to dry out, and celebrate the team achievement. It was great to see Stephen Jackson pick up a prize for 5th place, a valiant effort indeed after his Durham City Run win of only a few night’s previous, and to see other age category winners; Tamsin Imber for 1st FVET40, Christine Farnsworth for 2nd FVET65 and Margaret Thompson for 3rd FVET65.
The organisation of this race by Alnwick Harriers is first rate. Marshals and locals alike are friendly, and supportive. The coastline and scenic aspect is fantastic, and where else can you run ~14 miles through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on a mixture of sand, road and trail? In summary, I’d encourage anyone to have a go at this race – I’d certainly like to do it again, but hopefully next time on a drier, more summery day!
You can relive the Northumberland Coastal Run here
This HAS to be one of the best races in the north-east! The fact that it sells out in a few hours supports this.
Beautiful rock-pooled, sandy beaches , Dunstanburgh castle, the pretty village of Craster and convivial cliff top coastal footpath make this one magnificent run! And when raining and grey this coast looks beautiful in a wild, wind-bashed way. I make no apologies for the amount of gush in this report!
Today, early morning in Beadnell, the sky was thick with cloud and it was raining. I was cowering in the warm baggage bus along with others, discussing if a rain coat would be a good idea. One lady posed the question, had you ever needed a raincoat during a race in the summer? The problem was that my answer to this question was yes. However, today the temperature was 19 degrees. Also I am usually freezing cold before all races whatever the time of day or year, and it seems to bare no relation at all to my temperature when running. That the hidey holes of trees in my local nature reserve are often housing old jumpers of mine to collect after a run is attest to this. So, I decided to wear, a swimming costume, my Striders vest top and a thick cove of factor 50+. (The latter to protect me from any direct sunlight that in a freak event may appear. I was on antibiotics following tick bite in Dalby forest, the type of which the nurse stressed to me makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight so I must stay in the shade she said with emphasis).
Detaching myself from the bus, and shivering in the cold wind which greeted me I jogged up over the small dunes green with thick tussocky maram grass and down onto the beach. At the top of the beach were little fishing boats pulled up high above the tide line resting on their sides on the sand. The sea looked grey and ominous, reflecting the sky.
A large crowd of runners was rapidly gathering at the Beadnell end of the beach in the distance. With still twenty minutes to go I decided to get the legs moving and jogged in the opposite direction for a bit. Matt Archer and two others ran towards me doing the same. Then it was time to go to the start. I met Rachelle in the crowd. I felt anxious though as I did not know which way we were heading, there was just a sea of heads around me. So I whizzed out of the crowd and approached it head-on. The crowd was fronted by a line of elites! Like, no joke, they totally looked like them Ha ha! Thin, muscley men, shoulder to shoulder, silent and focused looking….and Gareth was one of them…phew! He looked a bit surprised to see me, perhaps as I was about to get run over in two minutes? He helpfully advised me we were all headed between the two bright orange marshals half way down the beach. I quickly made my way past the elites for about 3 metres deep into the crowd until I got to some ladies and stood with them.
One minute later with a loud parrrrrrp on the horn, we were off! Careering across Beadnell Bay! People were running all round me. There were large pools of water, where the sand was hard but rippled and uneven underfoot. Big splash as your foot suddenly went down into a pool, and up the other side. I kept getting side splash from other runners, and it started to rain again now, so also getting wet from above. More splash from below as a river crossed the sand. Despite this I was now totally baking hot! My swimming costume seemed really heat insulating. It was annoying, so I took my striders vest off and wrapped it round my arm, Ah, that. Running in a swimming costume! Well, we were on a beach.
After a short cliff top stretch we onto Newton Haven beach, and then the grand beach of Embleton Bay. The mystical stone ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle rose out of the misty haze on the distant headland that cups the bay. I headed towards the sea, to run on the wet firmer sand. Half way across I could see there was a choice of path, either stick to the coastal path or clamber over rocks up to the path. I opted for the latter. It would not save me much distance but it would avoid the runner congestion on the coastal path. I changed my track to head straight for the rocks. As I did so, who should speed past me but Jon Ayres! Lovely to see him! He asked me when my next triathlon was (a reference to the swimming costume?). I said it was today if I got tired of running.. We kept pace together and reached the rocks which were very slippery and seaweed covered. We bounded up as fast as we could, and met the path, which was unexpectedly muddy and slippery. This continued on the narrow path round the castle, slip-slide running. Trying not to elbow other runners. Once past this bit, the path widened and was back on low cliff tops. One of the Kenyans I’d seen at the start was sat on the side as he had injured his foot and was clearly in pain. There were two marshals helping him so I carried on. Jon had gone on ahead at this point.
We were fast approaching Craster. I was well surprised! Half way already? This half seemed so much easier than Dalby Forest half, but then this one is flat and easier underfoot, and there is no flat in Dalby. Craster is a pretty little village and running through it I could smell the smoke of the Craster fish smokery. A small crowd of local residents cheered us on.
After Craster there was a long stretch of muddy slippery coastal foot top. I kept my pace, comfortable but a bit hard. I was enjoying this! We ran down onto the next beach to be immediately greeted by a bridge over a stream. A girl overtook me at this point but I was determined to follow her as there probably was only 4 miles left now I estimated, from my study of the OS map beforehand. Also, at this point I sensed an up-shift in vibe in the runners around me from ‘maintaining pace’ to ‘getting serious’. I upped my pace to match hers and kept a secret 10 metres behind her. I followed her steadily along the path.
Off Boulmer beach, onto another hedge-lined minor road parallel with the sea. This one was looong, but I knew it lead to the final headland then onto the final beach. It was not far now, the guys around me were now more upping it, as was the girl I was following. At the headland, marshals cheered us on and said 2 miles to go! Yes! Down a flight of steep steps and we were onto the last beach! Great! Nice to be back on sand, another beautiful bay, this beach had a few areas of slippery grey rocks and rock pools of uneven depth to negotiate! Rounding the corner and there were the groynes to hurdle over ha ha! Made difficult by the fact we were all trying to go hard now, and that the level of the beach on one side of the groyne was different from the level on the other side! ..and once round the corner the blue inflatable finish arch could be seen..so near… but ….so ….far! A teasing sight! On and on and on….and it did not get an nearer! This was really hard now! I gritted my teeth and ran past the girl I had been keeping up with, but could not stop another girl flying past me! The arch was still far away! Finally, we were up with the first supporters! Katy and Graeme with their new baby were there and Lesley cheering us on! A few more yards and booff!, deep deep deep soft sand! Not the greatest when trying to vaguely approximate a sprint! I think swimming through it may have been faster. The deceptive blue arch was proving to be a battle to reach! A staggering inelegant plod and at last, I was under the arch!