This is one of my favourite races of the year. I am so very proud to be from this beautiful city and to be able to part of the atmosphere this night always brings, is pretty amazing.
I first entered the Durham City Run 5k in 2016, before I joined Striders. I had recently become a part of the running community via Durham parkrun, and when this race was advertised, I knew I wanted to do it. I actually joined Striders in the time between entering and the actual race and so was lucky enough to be wearing purple on the day. It was the first time the event had happened, and so of course there were teething problems. A mass start of all the 5 and 10k runners and lots of narrow riverside paths made for a frustrating race for everyone. The organisers asked for feedback following the race and it appeared they had listened to it for the 2017 event. This time, the start was staggered (I think – it’s hard to recall last night let alone 2 years ago) and the route was changed. They changed the route again in 2018 but this time it worked a lot better – staggered start times, different starting place for the 5ks and the 10ks and a different route which resolved some of the crowding (well it did at my position anyway, I can’t speak for the fast 10k runners). I think the only thing missing, would be a separate finish funnel for the 5 and the 10. Other than that, I think they had finally got it right. There is support on every corner and the atmosphere is just something else.
I entered the 2019 race purely because I had ran every one since the beginning, and I am a sucker for any race where you get a medal AND a t-shirt. I haven’t been running well recently due to some medical problems that are still being investigated and treated – some days it feels as if my body has given up on me – I knew there was absolutely no chance of a course PB and part of me was dreading it. I always choose to run the 5k because I love being on Palace Green when the 10k Striders are finishing – this is what it’s about for me. The 2017 & 2018 races saw me finish just in time to grab a drink, my medal and a spot at the top of the hill to see Stephen Jackson take the win.
So, for the first time since 2016 the route was the same, we all knew where we were going, which hills we needed to tackle, separate starts – all good. Well it was, until a burst water main caused absolute chaos. We learned only a day or two before the race that the route would have to change because the road closures needed, couldn’t be kept in place because of the required diversion of traffic. We were given maps of the new routes which looked a bit bizarre and I don’t think anybody could quite envisage what the new race would look like. Add to that we would all be starting at the same time, in the same place, covering the same initial 5k together. Oh and it was the hottest day of the year.
Based on the weather alone, I had no intention of doing anything other than getting to the finish line and getting that medal, which is lucky because it was carnage. When the race started, there were still people trying to get into the starting area. Immediate bottlenecks which caused literal standstills – this went on probably for the first 2k. The route was bizarre, but it was nowhere near as bad as the poor 10k runners had it (I did not envy you that horrific climb from the riverside up to Palace Green!). The worst part of this race (in my opinion) is the climb up Providence Row (and knowing you get about 10 seconds recovery before you climb up to Palace Green). I could feel my brain telling me to walk it, but I knew I would be so disappointed if I did, because I had managed to run up it last year! Then I heard a familiar voice telling everyone “it’s not a hill – just don’t look up, it’s flat. But don’t look at your feet or you will fall over”. It was Ben Smith (of the 401 marathon challenge). I’ve met Ben a few times at various events, but I’d never had the honour of running with him. He could see I was struggling – he put his hand out and said “come on, give me your hand, we can get up this together”. And we did. He gave me a quick hug at the top, and then off he went to continue the 10k. I knew I was almost at the finish. Just that lovely climb up to Palace Green left. Seeing Wendy Littlewood waiting at the corner where it gets particularly hard, I’m sure she said “Come on Joanne, you aren’t really dying, it just feels like it”. Shouts up that hill from some former Striders and the lovely Anji Andrews (Gateshead Harriers and Events of the North) who told me I was looking sexy (which of course I was) got me to the finish line. 3 minutes slower than 2018, and my slowest 5k race ever but I didn’t care. It was so hot and I had been sensible – now I got to do the best bit – watch for all my amazing club mates running to that beautiful finish line.
For anyone who was doing this for the first time please don’t think it is always like this. It’s not. It is normally wonderfully organised and I can’t even imagine the stress encountered when the organisers were informed on Tuesday evening that they would have to completely re-route or cancel the run. People would have complained if it was cancelled, and lots of people complained about changes. Nothing can take away the atmosphere, community and support shown by runners and spectators for this event, and the organisers did the best they could under the circumstances.
In addition to the 5k, the festival had many other offerings this year, including themed runs, a “Run Like A Legend” mile and a Family event. I entered the mile race when my body was still on side – thinking I could get close to my 7:24 track mile. It was only £5 to enter and you got another medal and a fab Nike t-shirt. It started at the Boathouse pub, ran down and across Baths bridge, along to the bandstand then back. It was really well organised, with bookable timeslots with about 10 people per slot. Sadly, for me, a PB didn’t happen but I will probably give it another try next year – I just need to get better at getting on and off Baths bridge!
Click here for 5K results
Click here for Run like a Legend results