Tag Archives: CTS Northumberland

Endurancelife CTS Northumberland Marathon, Bamburgh, Northumberland, Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lesley Hamill

When Karen asked me if I fancied signing up for this race last year, I automatically assumed she meant the half marathon. After all, we were already booked to do the Paris Marathon in April…When she told me she’d entered the marathon, I was a bit apprehensive, but having checked with Kate Macpherson (who wrote my last marathon plan) that it wasn’t a completely mad idea, I signed up.

Training began in November, I dug out the training plan we had used for the Liverpool marathon last year, (the one I didn’t get to run as I fell and broke my wrist a few weeks before the race). Karen and I decided to run the long runs easy, as neither of us had done an off-road marathon before, and certainly weren’t going for a time.

Many of our long runs were done in some awful weather conditions – snow, ice, wind, rain. We kept telling ourselves this would stand us in good stead for the race itself, which it did! Luckily the weather on the day of the race was really kind to us.

When my alarm went off at 05.10 on the morning of the race, I did wonder what on earth I was doing! I crept out of the house to get picked up by Karen’s husband who was driving us to Kate’s house. Kate had very kindly offered to drive us up to the start at Bamburgh, for which we were really grateful! It was a freezing cold morning, but the heated seats in Kate’s new car warmed me up nicely!

When we arrived in Bamburgh it was the most beautiful morning, the sun was just coming up and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. It was still windy and freezing cold, but we’d soon warm up once we started running. We headed to registration, and as we’d arrived in good time there was no queue, so we picked up our numbers and timing chips (which we had to wear on our wrists) and could get ourselves ready without any stress. There was even no queue for the (proper) toilets – bliss!

It was lovely to meet up with some other runners from Durham, and at 08.30 we were told to gather in the courtyard for the briefing. This was really informative and light-hearted, we were told which signs to look out for so we didn’t get lost, what to do with our timing chips at the checkpoints, and what to do in case of an emergency. We then boarded the coaches which took us to the start at Alnwick Castle. We climbed over a fence, headed for the flags, luckily didn’t need the toilet again as there were none, and at 09.30 we were off! We ran along by the river Aln, a bit claggy in places, but nothing too bad. Crossing the river on the stepping-stones was a bit nerve-wracking, but luckily I didn’t fall in! We then ran under the Alnmouth viaduct, where a nice runner from Finland offered to take our photo. We were on the roads after this and headed for Alnmouth harbour where the first checkpoint was. It was nice to be able to stop at the checkpoints, put our timing chips into the machine, fill up water bottles and grab a bite to eat. We were off again, following the extremely well-marked course, and onto our first beach of the day at Almouth.

Just wow, so beautiful! I felt really lucky to be running on such a beautiful day in such a stunning setting. We ran through Boulmer, found a toilet (phew!) and off we went again to Longhoughton and then lovely Craster. Soon we could see Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance – yay!

Another stop for some photos (it would have been rude not to!) There were quite a few people out on the paths here, so we slowed down a bit, it was also quite challenging terrain so we were happy to take it easy!

We ran through Low Newton and on to Checkpoint 3. This was the key checkpoint as you had to make it here before 2.20 – luckily, we were much earlier than this. Another stop to chat to the very friendly marshals, fill up bottles again and grab some more food. I had brought loads with me. Normally I would use gels for fuel, but chose a Clif bar and shot bloks for this race, which worked really well.

We ran on to Beadnell beach – this was a particularly stunning part of the course as there were quite a few kite-surfers in the sea, which was an amazing sight! Cue another photo stop – why not! I felt like I was on familiar territory now as my parents have a caravan in Seahouses and it was lovely to run on the beach and through the town. Fortunately, we didn’t have to run past the fish and chip shops!

Back on to the beach now and the final stretch towards Bamburgh castle. The marshals at the final checkpoint confirmed it was only 2 miles to the finish – brilliant! I picked up a bit of speed on the beach, the wind was behind us and the tide was out (thankfully!). I hit 27 miles, but no sign of the castle? Had someone moved it? Had I missed a sign somewhere and gone the wrong way? Luckily, I passed a few other runners, some doing the Ultra (who had to get to the Castle then do an additional 8 miles on the roads to make up to 35 miles).

A man who was supporting his brother on the Ultra told me to aim for the white flags, which finally I reached, phew. But the castle is at the top of a hill of course, which meant climbing up the dunes to get there, aaaaaargh. After 27 miles, my legs were not up for an uphill sprint finish, so I power walked up, cheered on by Jacquie Robson and lots of supporters at the top. Round the corner and there was the finish – at last!! Gave in my timing chip and got a printout with my time on straight away, very efficient!

Medal, t-shirt (nice colour blue!) and cheered Karen in. Quick change (well as quickly as our aching bodies would allow), on with lots of layers and into the café to refuel – lovely! No post-race medal photo as we were too cold!

All in all, I would recommend this race to anyone. There is a 10K, half marathon and ultra (all on the same day). The race organisation is superb, the course is extremely well marked so no chance of getting lost, and the whole route is absolutely stunning.

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CTS Northumberland, Alnwick - Bamburgh, Sunday, February 26, 2017

57km

Dougie Nisbet

I’ve always found the arrows on weather maps confusing. The arrows, which way do they point? Are they coming or going? And when the BBC weather website says a wind is a 40mph North-Easterly, does it mean where the wind’s going, or where it’s been? Reading the forecast on Friday night, again, for the forthcoming Ultra, I puzzled over this. I don’t know why I find it so confusing. In the end I came to the conclusion that the wind would be coming from the North East. Quite fast. Which meant that for most of the race it would be in my face. Mild though.

I packed a lot of gear as I didn’t fancy running along the beach into a 40mph wind, however mild. I took a head-torch too, just in case the tide was out.

When the alarm went off at 4AM on Saturday morning I thought, as I have so many times before, of hitting it with a blunt instrument and going back to sleep. No one need ever know. But instead I hauled myself out of bed, ate some stuff, and before long found myself sitting behind Dave Robson’s car at a level crossing a few miles outside Bamburgh. I had allowed a fair bit of time but the gates were down and there was no train. Where was it? Five minutes later a pathetic two-coach train ambled by in no hurry, and the gates went up.

I parked beside Dave and knowing his Ultra experience started interrogating him about the race. However, this race was new to him too, and he’d already decided to forego the Ultra bit, as it looked like an added loop, and ‘a lot of it would be on roads’.

There was a queue for registration but it moved pretty quickly (despite marathon runners in the Ultra queue!) although it was still a bit of rush as we had to get our briefing then on to the coaches for the trip to the start at Alnwick Castle.

There were two coach-loads dropped off at the Start. The weather was a bit manky but I had expected it to be a lot worse. I looked around at the familiar surroundings thinking that I’d be back here in exactly a week’s time for the final XC of the season, on another coach, only not at 0840AM. At least, I hope not.

The Start was uneventful and away we jogged into a grey morning. I think I’ve got my trail/fell running kit sorted now and I usually go for a bum-bag / backpack double, both lightly packed and the bum bag, sorry, Waist Pouch, being for the stuff you need to get at during the race, and the back pack for all the stuff you hope you’ll not need to.  As always with these events, it took me about an hour to get settled. I’d remembered to rub Vaseline into the obvious bits, and, from experience, the not so obvious bits, so the shoulder and waist straps sat snugly.

10km found us at Alnmouth, turning left to head north up the coast. It was around here toasting nicely in my gear that I realised that the wind was coming from the SW, not the NE. This was a pleasant surprise, even if it meant that the extra layers I was carrying as a precaution were just dead-weight in my backpack.

The area now was familiar to me from many years of running the Coastal and I expected the next 14 miles to be pretty much the coastal run in reverse. However I was to have my second pleasant surprise of the day. The race took us along paths and trails that I never knew existed. Just when the route became a bit samey, there’d be a turn, a gate, a change of scene, and a new stretch of mystery to grab the attention. The tide was in and the beach runs involved finding the firm sand along the waterline and occasionally getting nabbed by an incoming wave. This was good stuff.

There were some truly wonderful bits of the course. The water crossing was no big deal but all the more fun for being unexpected. But for me the rocky scramble along the beach and a short stretch of smooth boulders right next to the water’s edge were the highlight. Although it was only a few hundred meters of smooth slab this was real genius in course design and I loved it. I’ve never raced on such an interesting terrain before. I was sorry to scramble back up onto the headland after such interesting crinkleness.

This was the longest race I’ve done so I was being cautious with my pace. I knew the tough bit would be passing Bamburgh Castle then carrying on for the extra loop that made up the distance for the Ultra. Sure enough, the One Mile to Go sign was a struggle, knowing that it was one mile for the marathoners, and the Ultra runners had another 9 or 10 to go.

Dave was right to forego the extra Ultra loop. After the psychological struggle of pushing on past the castle, there was a nice stretch north for a mile or two, then a few fields, then an unseemly few miles of tarmac. I was running in a well worn pair of trustee Sportiva’s, but even so I began to feel ever worn-out stud through the thin soles and was grateful when we were ejected into a field. But still they messed with our heads. The castle was always there, in plain sight, but the route zig-zagged and dog-legged, before sending us back down to the beach, to rejoin the marathon route for the last mile or two to the castle.

This time it was ok to follow the signs for the Finish, and after a mischievous climb up to the Castle and an enthusiastic and truly welcoming crowd it was lovely to step over the line.

57km is the longest race I’ve run and I was pleased to finish in one piece. Jules and Helen were also running and already home and checking out the tea and cake. Dave had started with the marathon runners so I didn’t see him again.

Overall I thought it was a good well organised race. Good touches, such as having a PA for the briefing (the number of times I’ve zoned out during a race briefing because I couldn’t hear a thing). Clear route marking and lots of varied terrain. I did the Ultra as I wanted to see how I coped with a distance I’d not run before. But if I was doing it again I’d probably skip the final bolted on Ultra loop.

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