Dougie Nisbet …
If it hadn’t cost 23 quid and involved a new, interesting, off-road and quirky sounding race, I would simply have pressed the big-button on the alarm clock, turned over and gone back to sleep. The curiosity and cost combo were too great, however, and I dragged myself out of bed to the espresso maker and checked the weather forecast. Mindful of my senior-moment the previous day in which I was convinced the Allendale 8 started 30 minutes later than it did, I checked and rechecked the details and soon we were sneering our way past the Metro centre and onwards to Hadrian’s Wall.
Lately I’ve noticed several races taking ‘entries on the day’ for events that were initially thought would be over-subscribed. The Hadrian’s Wall Half Marathon had a limit of 300; as it happened, they got 50. Which is a shame given the great location and potential of this course. Poor publicity, price tag, weather, location? Who knows. We parked next to the campsite and believed the marshall who said it was a ‘slow 20 minute’ walk to the start. I’d bumped into Ian Spencer who was also running but as we headed for the Start, and the minutes ticked by on the improbably long and steep walk we both had to abandon our spouses and jog ahead as the clock ticked towards 10AM.
At 10:08 I exchanged pleasantries with the sweeper (always a good idea in my book!) and grumbled to Ian about my hurty knee. Perhaps it was the thundering road descents in yesterday’s race what done it, but by knee was a bit twingy and I assumed it would loosen and warm up in the first couple of miles. Starting races with a twinge or two that disappear after a few miles is pretty much routine for me.
Away we went on an agreeably squashy and mixed terrain. It reminded me of Swaledale in some respects as it’s truly mixed-terrain with a lot of trail, grass and mud. For a mile or two I was keeping Ian in my sights about a minute ahead and he was providing a good pace marker for me. We were accompanied on stretches by large fearsome looking cattle who bellowed and belched their encouragement, and occasionally just stood in the way looking simultaneously glaikit and malevolent. A few miles in and at the first water station I was running steadily but my performance was nothing amazing. A bit of lethargy had set in and my knee was giving me concern. I walked at the water station and munched a glucose tablet or two, pausing to stretch my knee and, in the process, lose a few places in the field.
Into the forest and a series of short climbs that I tackled without any great enthusiasm and it dawned on me that, in a nutshell, my heart really wasn’t in it. I walked a little and on the next climb, when my knee started complaining again, I paused to consider my options. It’s Swaledale next week, and I really would like to do that. I’d lost a lot of places from walking and stretching. There were still around 8 miles to go. And I had a hurty knee, that was getting hurtier by the mile. It didn’t feel like a “run-through” twinge, it just felt wrong.
There’s a first time for everything and today was to be my first DNF. I turned round and jogged back towards the sweeper. This didn’t take long and I explained to her that I was going to retire and planned to just jog gently back to the start. She was having none of this and immediately produced a space-blanket and got on the radio to St John Ambulance and I heard “We have an injured runner” being passed down the line. I don’t know if the next words were “Man Down! Man Down!” but I was beginning to feel a bit of a fraud and insisted I was an experienced club runner who was just retiring as a precaution. The sweeper waited with me until a medic cycled up and he escorted me back to the sweep car where I was placed gently in the back seat by Paul and Emily. Paul put a jacket around me and a grandad-stylee travel rug over my knees and I felt a right twit. I felt like shouting “I’ve done Britain’s Worst Fell Race, you know!”, but as it turned out, they were right and I was wrong. I “run hot” and was in a singlet with no base layer. I fell into the classic mistake of forgetting that as soon as you stop moving, you cool down, and within minutes I was very grateful for the extra insulation. So if you’re reading this Paul and Emily, thank you for looking after me.
I then had a very interesting ‘behind the scenes’ view of the race as we drove round just behind the sweeper, collecting the signs and talking to the marshalls. At some point I jumped vehicles and got a fast lift back to race HQ with another marshall (thanks John!) at which point I headed for my car only to discover I’d left my car key in Paul and Emily’s car. No matter, I’ll give Roberta a ring. No signal. I thought, if I was Roberta, on a damp drizzly day in the middle of nowhere, what would I do? Where would I be? Sure enough, there she was, in the campsite tea room, where they did a mean bacon and egg roll.
Perhaps the most interesting moment of the day was when sitting in the tea room, still in my racing kit, Ian walked in. I affected nonchalance and asked him if he hadn’t noticed the point during the race at which I’d overtaken him. His puzzlement lasted the briefest of moments (but it was there!) until he twigged that I couldn’t possibly have overtaken him in a supersonic blur. Worth a try though!
This has all the potential to be a really cracking race and it’s a shame that it didn’t attract more runners than it did. There’s shades of James Herriot and Swaledale in there, and the mixture of track, trail and fell really appealed to me. I watched the back-markers run home in pouring rain on the final straggly descent and felt a pang of envy. There’s a lot of multi-terrain diversity in this course and it pitches a nice balance between trail and fell. I hope it runs again as I’ll certainly be back for more.
… and Ian Spencer
This is a race that deserves to grow and one day reach its ambitious upper limit of 300 runners. Sadly, this day, only 49 finished, which must have been disappointing for the organisers and their chosen charity, Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue.
The organisers went out of their way to ensure a safe and well marshalled event. St. John’s Ambulance were out in force. The course was well chosen and, except for trek to the start and the last mile, the course was well marked, scenic and a pleasure to run. Also, don’t be alarmed, but the mile markers don’t start until mile 5.
The race HQ was at a nice campsite, which included free, hot showers and a tea room. However, the runners email stated ‘please allow 18 minutes to get to the start.’ That turned out to be a wee bit optimistic. True, a fit runner could do that but if any supporters wanted to come and see you off, it would have been better to allow 30 minutes, given that it was up a steep hill. Still, given the small field, they waited for the stragglers. The alternative was to have an uphill start. What’s wrong with that?
It would be better to think of this as a 13.1 mile fell race anyway. The website’s statement that; ‘the only significant climbs being along the wall itself’ was the sort of thing a dyed-in-the-wool fell-runner would say. I really want to do this race again. It is very enjoyable but, next year, I’m going to take the sort of kit that I would always have on a long fell run: full body cover (carried if not worn), whistle, energy drink, phone and possibly a button compass. Even in June, the rain, visibility and temperature can’t be guaranteed.
The only other fly in the ointment is that quite a few people ended up getting lost in the last mile, as well-marked trails gave way to open moor, marked with bits of white tape attached to stakes. I wasn’t alone in wondering whether I’d followed the official course at the end or got mixed up with the course markers from the start. Up to mile 12, I was pretty sure I’d finish in under two hours. I ended up coming in after 2 hours, 9 minutes and 30 seconds. I’ll wear the Garmin next year.
The men’s race was won by Les Smith in 1:34:14. The ladies race was won by Laura Davies in 1:54:41, neither of whom seem to be in a club.