Twas on the 9th June 2020
There was no familiar Striders’ Coach, no crowded streets and huddled masses and no clandestine trips into the Cathedral to use their toilets. Only a quick 5-minute jaunt in the car to get to the start line this year. No Can Can dancers and no historic bell to signify the start, just a couple of bemused students and a last-minute panic on how to operate Spotify.
Having parked at the Duke of Wellington myself and Michael did a steady mile and a half warm up to the start line (the only time in recent history we have ran together!). Race nerves were heightened even for a virtual event and we were already getting all our excuses in before the race started. The start line was marked by a road sign at the roundabout at the top of Southfield Way, Michael set off and very quickly peeled away as expected. With Allan’s wise words ringing in my ears I still set off far too fast (typical of Blaydon) and was soon zooming along past Whitesmocks and towards Durham Johnston. A sub 8mm first mile! Will I ever learn?
Of course, it was not the same as racing with hundreds of others through the city centre streets of Newcastle but there were still important sights to see. On my right, there’s St Nicholas Drive, familiar now for its Saturday morning non parkrun event frequented by the Robsons and the Masons. Then the Strava segment between Neville’s Cross and the Duke, the times I have sprinted that section in an effort to beat my time. And then past the bunting opposite the Duke marking the finish of the non-London Marathon event attended by Corrine, Anna, Karen, and Sarah.
Now the slog along from the Duke to the Cock of the North, surely that stretch is about 500 miles long?? After what seemed a lifetime, I headed down South Road. A loving glance towards Low Burnhall Woods carpark, gateway to the Willow Miner. Some (fond???) memories of chasing around the car park at Sniperley park and ride, do I miss the Theatre of Dreams? A footpath noted towards Mount Oswald, as yet unexplored by me, now on the list. South Road is not wholly downhill, and that first mile began to bite. I slowed slightly but was still far ahead of my expected pace.That wonderful stretch at the bottom of the hill towards Whitechurch I felt I was flying! The times myself and Michael spent in that establishment under its former name The New Inn when we first met. The hours watching him play on the golf game machine with Chris and Matty. He certainly knew how to woo a girl. Gosh we were vastly different people then!
Dashing past the Science site, memories of all those hill reps! And then the little bump up and then the glorious down towards the traffic lights at Maiden Castle. Still get a little lump in my throat as I pass the track.
There were no cheering crowds along the route handing out orange segments and jelly babies. No live music either just my trusty playlist in my headphones and the occasional friendly smile and wave from other passing runners some evidently following the same plan, busting a gut while wearing their Blaydon shirts with pride. At Maiden Castle, I definitely started to wane and wished the race were 5 miles rather than 6. Had Michael measured this correctly? Could I manage a further mile and a half? I safely crossed the road at the Rose Tree and headed up the path towards noisy bridge. Another familiar and well-trodden route. Past the bridge and the old turnaround point and across the skinny bridge. Still some distance to go… Surely Michael would not make me run up a hill to the finish?? And where was he anyway? He had promised to turn back and accompany me to the finish line and there was no sign of him, had he fallen in the river?
And the perfect song comes on my playlist.
O-o-h Child by The Five Stairsteps. A track from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack so a welcome reminder of times with my two beautiful boys. And these lyrics:
Things are gonna get easier
Things’ll get brighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll put it together and we’ll get it undone
When your head is much lighter
We’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
When the world is much brighter.
God, I hope so…
This gives me the push to finish in style, could almost be described as a sprint….
6 miles. 49:06. 8:10mm average pace. A 5k pb and on track to beat my 10k pb. And where was my husband to share my glory?? Oh, here he comes. Lolloping along the riverbank with a carrier bag in hand. No Blaydon beer in the goody bag, no black pudding, pickled onion, and ham and pease pudding stottie but Michael did provide a bottle of cider and even remembered the bottle opener.
I was astounded by my time given I have done no real speed work in lockdown and covered far more miles through run/walking or just walking so, this came as a real surprise. When we got home, I asked Lewis to guess how I’d done
‘sub 50 minutes, about 8mm pace?’
Turns out he knows me better than I know myself, or perhaps he just believes in me more.
Oh, and as an addendum. Michael did cracking too. 34:10 – superb pb. A good night in June for the Littlewoods