A view from the back
The last time I ran the Blaydon race was in 1999 in a disappointing time of 40:30. Sixteen years later I’m on a bus full of Striders as a runner, rather than just supporting and relaxing as I have been doing on several occasions over the last two years. Now I have those pre-race nerves, but enjoying being one of the 80 Striders who have entered the race, and feeling excited to be wearing a race number again.
As we get off the bus at the start in Newcastle, expertly negotiated through a race road-block by Strider bus guru Andy James, nerves and excitement increase. Now to find a toilet and I join a longish queue of mostly Striders at a submarine shop!
I am in the club runners pen while the non-club runners are in two other pens which will start 30 seconds apart and 31 seconds after the club runners. Chat to John Ayres at the back of the club runners’ pen, who is warming up with a friend. As there’s lots of space there I do some warm-up strides up and down the slope. I get myself into a good frame of mind deciding that I just want to get to the finish preferably without stopping to walk, not caring about position or time and before the Strider bus departs for Durham! It’s about completing not competing regardless of the pace.
Then we are off, and I manage to cross the two raised starting mats without tripping over them! Almost immediately I’m being overtaken by swarms of young, fast, non-club runners. It’s very hurly-burly and as I’m being overtaken on the left and on the right, decided just to stay very close to the left hand side blocking any attempts to pass me on the inside. Soon after the start I am dismayed to discover I’m going to have to run up a hill which seems longer and steeper than I remember, and by the time I get to the top it seemed like I had been overtaken by 99.9% of the field. What am I doing here?
I am “running” at about 13 to 15 minute miles, so the first mile marker takes a long time to appear with more than four miles to go to the finish. It’s warm but not uncomfortable and starting to feel confident I will not need to walk during the race. Sweat dripping into my eyes is the only discomfort. Shortly after the first mile marker I notice a group of people attending to a runner who seems to have collapsed. Then I see Ian Spencer walking towards me saying that his injury is preventing him from completing and is returning to the start. Then Simon Gardner, camera at the ready is calling me from the other side of the Scotswood road, so attempt a smile and adjust my running form.
At about two miles, I’m joined by a lady who chooses to run with me because she is trying to recover from the traumatic experience of being one of those attending to the runner, noticed previously, whose heart had stopped and needed expert resuscitation before the medics arrived: fortunately, one of the runners who had stopped to help had that expertise – Lucky man! Shortly afterwards, we pass another runner who said he was 83, so now there was every chance I wouldn’t be last!
After hearing the lady’s life story, including that her husband had left her six months ago and she was trying to help get him through what seemed to her like a midlife crisis. After about four miles, we agreed she would run ahead from the brow of Scotswood bridge.
Was feeling very confident now that I could finish without walking, so pushed the pace a little. Only one more obstacle now, the flyover which I got over without stopping or walking. Finally, to my delight, I saw my daughters Emma and Maria with granddaughter Ruby cheering and then running with me to the finish where a large group of patient Striders gave me a fantastic cheering welcome which I found, to my surprise, to be very emotional, finding it difficult to hold back tears with the sweat in my eyes the only disguise. Then pats on the back and hugs. It was almost like I had won the race! Enjoyed the post-race, sleepy chat and analysis on the bus back to Durham. The results show I finished ahead of five finishers and six DNFs (not including Sophie Dennis who is incorrectly recorded as DNF) in a field of over three thousand in a time of 1:24:06, more than twice as slow as in 1999!