Although some may not see the appeal of a wintry run along main and minor roads which are not closed, I relish the prospect of this, the oldest 10-mile road race in Britain. Slick organisation, a net downhill course (albeit with a few negative decline challenges!), friendly atmosphere and the lure of a carvery afterwards – what’s not to like? As B2C is a firm favourite on the club GP calendar, this also ensures a good purple contingent.
Last year I had a good run, which left a time of 1:20:33 to beat. My plan this time was to nudge just under 5 min/km pace, which would break 80 minutes. Above all, I told myself to avoid the error of my ways last year – setting off like a scalded cat, which caught up with me later in the race.
There had been some planning ahead of this day in the spectator department too – my Son Patrick was really looking forward to spending the day with Lewis, and watching the racing. The Strider bus weaved along the countryside to reach Brampton and upon arrival at the William Howard School, there were earnest discussions about the prevailing conditions, and whether long or short sleeves were the order of the day. I settled for my club vest but with the comfort of my gloves, beanie and as I’d had a niggle in my left calf, my fetching compression socks.
After the team photo, we moved towards the start on Longtown Road. Having been before, I knew to expect a ‘surprise start’ – the road closed at the last minute, and a starting pistol fired rapidly to despatch some 500 runners on their way.
The first stretch downhill with a sharp right turn to join the Carlisle road has a habit of encouraging a bit of an overly keen pace. This year was no different, and as I ran along for the first 4 km or so at ~4:30 min/km with Graeme Walton, we remarked on how we had diverted a little from the plan. I knew the climb up to the Newby back road would settle me down, and it did.
As I ran along these minor roads, thanking the volunteers on my way, I reflected on the remarkably dry conditions compared to the wading experience of the 2015 race. Natalie was in front of me and provided me with a purple vest to keep within my sights – try as I might, however, I could not catch her.
Through Low Crosby, we re-joined the A689 towards Carlisle. I knew there were a couple of undulations to come, and I told myself to keep calm – last year I’d developed a horrendous stitch in the last 2 miles which had been hard to recover from.
I could see the houses on the outskirts of the City, and pressed on. To my left and ahead, I started to see the River Eden, and finally the Eden Bridge. I passed Andy and Mike who spurred me on, just before the final descent to the Bridge. On the Bridge, I was determined not to let the chap in front beat me, and to my left, I saw a welcome sight of two bobble hats – Patrick, and Lewis. As I got closer I realised this was a Strider funnel, and I gave it everything I had left to get ahead of the white shirt in front. I rounded into the finish funnel and smiled from ear to ear – job done! A hugely enjoyable race, with a PB of 1:15:37 and well done to all Striders who ran!
No medals for this race – I think I got a pair of socks in 2015, a lovely coaster last year which is on my desk, and this year’s prize was a race mug. Thanks to the organisers who also let Patrick and Lewis have a mug each for their cheering efforts.
Finn McCool had a bit of a problem with the Scottish giant, Benandonner. Finn didn’t take kindly to Benandonner’s assertion that he wasn’t a good fighter. Enraged, Finn tore pieces off the cliffs and threw them into the sea, creating a causeway to Scotland. Once across, Finn realised the error of his ways, as Benandonner was bigger, uglier and nastier. A capable runner, Finn beat a hasty retreat back home. Benandonner came 2nd in that race but Finn’s Wife Oonagh had hatched a cunning plan. Oonagh placed Finn in his baby Son’s cot, and introduced Benandonner to ‘Oisin’. A worried Benandonner legged it back to Scotland, fearful of how big Finn must be compared to his baby Son, and he tore up the Causeway as he went.
Growing up around the Causeway Coast and Glens, this tale and many others like it captivated me as a boy. I’d hiked the route many times as a boy (not all in one go!) and returning to tackle it in this setting was a source of much excitement and trepidation. It isn’t every day you get the chance to run over the eighth wonder of the world, and so the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon had been on my list of ‘must do’ runs.
It follows an ‘out and back’ route, over trails, beaches and the coastline of the Causeway Coast Way. Starting on Portstewart Strand, the route passes Portrush, Dunluce Castle, Portballintrae, the Giant’s Causeway, Dunseverick Castle, Portbradden Harbour, White Park Bay, Ballintoy Harbour, turning at Larrybane Quarry (just prior to Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge), to return and finish at Portballintrae.
To say the scenery is spectacular would be a massive understatement. The Causeway Coast and Glens are recognised the world over as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage Site.
Our tale follows. Andy and I arrived at Belfast International Airport on Friday afternoon, and having squeezed into our petite hire car, we ventured North to touch down briefly at the lovely house we had rented, which overlooked the route, between Portstewart and Portrush. After a quick trip to the local supermarket for essentials (e.g. bread, peanut butter and gin), we headed over to Race HQ at Portballintrae Village Hall to collect our numbers. A fairly typical Northern Irish relaxed approach was evident with regard to the route – the advice being to keep the sea on our left on the way out and on the right on the way back!
We paused at the Harbour Bar in Portmagic (Portrush) to say hello to old friend Willie, who over a Guinness, wished us luck for the challenge ahead. Next, some final carb-loading, at the handily located pizzeria opposite our house overlooking the golf course. A final bit of race strategy discussion in our house over a log-fire, a sea view and a steadying gin, and we retired for some rest.
0455hrs reveille! Ouch! Having completed our final preparations in the kitchen – boiled new potatoes with salt to tuck into our vests (which turned out to be an excellent alternative to a certain brand of energy bars, which I find too hard to eat on the move), and drop-bag ready, we slipped into the darkness to drive over to Portballintrae Village Hall. Compliant with the instructions, “Don’t miss your bus transfer to the start”, we arrived in good time for the billed 0630hrs bus, which arrived just after 0700hrs (the advertised race start time). There isn’t much to do for a pair of lycra-clad runners at that time of the morning in Portballintrae but eventually, we were off, in a Translink double-decker bus resplendent in ‘Game of Thrones’ livery.
Portstewart Golf Club was our drop-off point, and we walked down with some apprehension to the beach where we could hear music emanating from the 26 Extreme start van/disco. A short speech followed from the race organiser, as the drone flew overhead, and the morning brightened. And we were off! Towards the Bar Mouth (opposite direction) initially, and a turn around the Race Director’s pick-up which chased us up the beach after the start. A little too keen in pacing terms but glad to be moving against the cold, we pressed on, ascending the steps at the end of the beach and onto the coastal path. Along the promenade, past Portstewart Harbour, over the headland, past the Herring Pond, we continued through the Golf Course, passing our house (could have dropped in for a cup of tea..) we continued on to Portrush. Over the footbridge and past the Harbour Bar, quiet at this early hour.
Then up Ramore Head, and around to the East Strand at which point we became delusional – surely Michael Littlewood was not warming up for Portrush parkrun? The distinctive yellow beanie like a beacon on the beach but alas, an imposter!
A quick shout out to Mervyn (Run Director of Portrush parkrun) as we ran along the beach ahead of parkrun starting (DFYB, even on an Ultra!), and around to the White Rocks, our legs heavy from the sand where we climbed up to the road, passing Dunluce Castle before reaching half marathon distance as we dropped into Portballintrae. The marathon had left as we passed the village hall (their start), and we continued around Runkerry House, and a quick hello to some old family friends who were out walking, the view of the Giant’s Causeway opened before us.
Wow. We dropped down the road to the Causeway, pausing for another obligatory photo opportunity, prior to joining the path and (many) Shepherd’s steps up to the cliff path. The wind was formidable on the top, the gusts making running quite challenging. The cliff paths were narrow, and slippery given the usual wet weather which preceded the event.
We passed Dunseverick Castle and negotiated a stretch of very slippery rocks and seaweed prior to a lengthy stretch of White Park Bay beach. I was delighted to see Ultra, Marathon and Half Marathoners coming towards us, and old school friends Sean and Faye running the half. Another section of slippery rocks led onto Ballintoy harbour which was in full swing with tourists. We climbed the twisting road past sword-wielding Game of Thrones re-enactment enthusiasts, and eventually reached Larrybane Quarry comfortably ahead of the 26-mile cut-off time. At the checkpoint, it was explained that given our delayed start, the cut-offs wouldn’t be rigidly enforced anyway. Cake for me, and some isotonic drink, and we were off back along the same route.
On the way back, the wind which had been in our faces for most of the time on the way out had strengthened and switched direction to compound our challenge. The cliff top paths that had been slippery on the way out were now in places treacherous, the cumulative result of over a thousand pairs of feet. On the tops, the wind was strong enough to blow you off your feet, and care was required on the very exposed sections. At this point, talking was futile as we couldn’t hear each other – had Kathryn been with us, she’d have had to sing up! We pressed on, and ran for a while with Emma who we’d met earlier – tackling her first Ultra Marathon!
I remember hitting the 50km mark between Portbradden and Dunseverick, and yelling to Andy that we only had 3 parkruns or so to go (seemed like an appropriate measure at the time). The wind continued to pick up, and we then saw a Coastguard helicopter overhead. My initial thought was that it was nice of them to support our event. After a short time, however, we were stopped by the Coastguard. We joined other runners to watch the rescue operation underway, to recover a lady who had fallen on the cliff path ahead of us. The Coleraine and Ballycastle Coastguard Rescue Teams had been mobilised, supported by a Coastguard helicopter from Prestwick – these guys do an amazing job often against the odds, and in all weathers.
After the helicopter had taken off, we continued and I was pleased that the route didn’t take us down the (many) Shepherd’s Steps to the Giant’s Causeway, and instead we followed the cliff path. We continued on the coastal path around Runkerry House, at which point running was futile, the wind so strong that inching forward was a massive challenge. We got some shelter as we picked up the path beside the tramline adjacent to Bushfoot beach, and we reached the welcome boardwalk to the bridge over the Bush River. Then the final climb up the path to the finish, and the crowd hastened us as we crossed the line, picking up our medals – the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon complete!
We retreated (gradually) to Portballintrae Boat Club for a soothing Guinness, before returning to our house, where we were extremely grateful that our kind host had left some Epsom bath salts. Warmed, we returned to the Harbour Bar again, where Willie rang the bell, silenced the bar, and summarised our adventure, with a loud ensuing cheer. The Harbour Bar is a regular haunt of many a Northern Irish celebrity, and it was great to see James Nesbitt, famous actor, and fellow Coleraine man join in the cheer!
What an amazing experience! I’d recommend the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon without reservation. It is a challenging but beautiful route, and the tagline of the organiser 26 Extreme provides a cautionary note #wedontdoeasy
The Hardmoors Princess Challenge provides a choice of distance, with each option providing a challenge in their own right. The Short n Sweet (8.5 miles), the One in the Middle (17.5 miles) and the Ultra (31 miles). These races are not just for princesses, although wearing tiaras, tutus and pink garb is encouraged. I had a tiara set out but my daughter sat on it, although I did pack a pink Trail Outlaws buff as an alternative!
Photo L-R: Jonathan Hamill, Kathryn Sygrove, Andy Greener, Kath Dodd
The Ultra was billed as a circular route, starting at Ravenscar, dropping South to Hayburn Wyke along the Cleveland Way, then along the Cinder Track (disused railway lines) via Ravenscar, continuing North to Whitby. Taking in the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey, the route returns along the Cleveland Way to Robin Hoods Bay, and finally back to Ravenscar. It’s a toughie in terms of elevation!
I’m no mountain goat 🐐 but recently I’ve been falling more for trail than road. I can’t put an exact finger on the cause but it is connected to my endless pursuit of ‘fast’ times. I enjoy the sensation of running quickly and trying to beat my times. I had a great year in 2016, breaking all my targets (e.g. 5k, 10k, HM). Earlier this year my focus was on completing the Paris Marathon (oops, I’ve just remembered that I haven’t yet written a race report!). I started to wonder what happens if I go sub 4 hours? Do I then aim for sub 3:30, and do I keep going, or is there something else out there?
I’d never considered myself to be capable of running ultramarathons – maybe that doubt alone provided sufficient motivation. In any case, the prospect of the Hardmoors Princess 👸 Challenge captivated me. At 50km, it seemed a logical step up, and mindful of the added challenge of terrain, I entered the event with Andy (who had conquered the race last year).
In terms of prep, this differed substantially from my rigid and detailed 12 week Paris Marathon plan. I run a fair bit usually and had done a 30km run (probably too fast) before going on holiday to France. Fortunately, I managed to keep the legs turning a fair bit during my holiday (probably too fast) but in the few days between my holiday and the race, I had a feeling of being a little underprepared.
After a shopping trip on Friday afternoon to equip us with various snacks for the day, we agreed to set off at 0600hrs on Saturday morning. Andy was in charge of pacing, and my responsibility was to ensure we navigated adequately. Having bought an OS map, and armed with the route description, I set about marking up the map late Friday evening. I think I had just over 5 hours sleep (a little less than usual – the excitement aplenty) and then the alarm went off – fortunately, I managed to silence it, and cancel the reserve, and the 2nd reserve alarms prior to tiptoeing around getting my stuff together.
And we were off – and in a little over an hour and a half, we were the second car into the parking field near to Ravenscar village hall. We had a few moments, so we examined Andy’s extensive shoe collection in his boot, and he opted for a trusty pair of well broken in Brooks road shoes, and a length of gaffer tape (just in case). A short walk to the village hall next, and we subjected ourselves to the mandatory kit check, prior to collecting our race numbers. You do have to take mandatory kit lists seriously given the terrain, and environment but I did think that if we really needed a head torch, we’d be in a bad place.
Compared to road races, there was no limbering up, no strides, but there was a coffee van parked outside for those who required a shot of pre-race caffeine. Having packed and adjusted my vest, we were summoned to the race briefing outside. We then lined up on the road, had a quick photo taken, and we were off!
I remembered all the advice from accomplished ultramarathoners of not setting off too fast, yet our initial downhill kilometre was 5:47/km. We slowed as we joined the Cleveland Way and headed South. The weather was fine and by the time we hit CP1 at Hayburn Wyke, the sun was out. I had two 500ml soft flasks and had only drunk half of one (note to self, drink more early on), so the option for some Dandelion & Burdock drink and a handful of jelly babies seemed in order.
We joined the Cinder Track and returned to Ravenscar, with Kath who was suffering from jet-lag having just returned from the other side of the world, and Kathryn who was suffering from a bout of giddiness, so much so that we banned her from any more cola at the next checkpoints. Undeterred, Kathryn sang her heart out to provide some musical accompaniment, the ‘bam-ba-lam’ of her tune keeping our cadence alive. We approached CP2 at Ravenscar village hall and paused briefly for some water and refreshments.
And on we pressed, where my first navigation test presented itself – left or right. Intuitively (as the map was well tucked away), I called left, and we joined the Cinder Track to Robin Hoods Bay and CP3, located conveniently beside some Public Toilets. Prawn Cocktail crisps were gladly received at this point. We then had some more Cinder Track miles which felt hard on the legs, and we were pleased (understatement) eventually to reach Whitby, where having amused some good tourist folk as we dashed through the town, we had the 199 steps to climb to Whitby Abbey. The race instructions said we had to run them, and foolishly I did initially but with the wind taken out of my sails, I settled for a more sedate pace (walk) to the top. Battling the urge in passing the ice-cream van, we pressed on along the cliff path, and we gladly reached CP4 just past the Saltwick Bay mini-market. The marshalls at CP4 were delighted to see us, and we replenished our stocks of water, prior to continuing along the cliff top path.
The next stretch seemed to go on forever, and we ran past cows, up hills, up more hills, and eventually reached CP5 (which was the earlier CP3). It was at this point that I thought the CP team were doing a weird dance, waving their arms – in fact, they were trying to describe the horror of the ups and downs that lay ahead. Then the downhill stretch into Robin Hoods Bay – torture on the legs because although part of me wanted to cover the ground faster, my sensible side told me that a gallop downhill at this point would end in disaster. What goes down must go back up, and we ascended countless steps up onto the Cleveland Way, heading to the delightful Boggle Hole – a lovely Youth Hostel apparently but a tortuous descent and ascent to escape towards Stoupe Beck. Our route description said simply, ‘Ascend the steps’ but there was nothing simple about this.
Our pace had suffered on this stretch – the challenge of multiple descents and ascents taking their toll. At one point, I became delirious that we had passed the marathon distance, and promptly took an unplanned dive for the deck. Pride dented, we pressed on, and Ravenscar was in our sights but still some distance away. There were some fairly brutal climbs, the worst perhaps being past the Cleveland Way Alum Works but we emerged past the National Trust centre at Ravenscar to familiar territory and the short climb up to the village hall. We managed a graceful trot to reach the welcome sight of Ravenscar village hall and the finish (in 7:23:58)! Those present (including Kathryn who had fled from us in the final section) gave us a clap and a cheer, and with medals in hand, we enjoyed a fantastic chip butty with salt, clapping and cheering for Kath and Claire (who had joined us earlier in the race) stormed through the door. We bid our farewells and headed for the hills!
I’d urge anyone with ultramarathon curiosity to have a go at the next Princess Challenge. Sure, it’s a tough race with over 1100m of climbs but what makes it easier is the camaraderie of the organisers and marshalls who do a fantastic job – most are accomplished ultramarathoners in their own right. The cola, dandelion and burdock, food and friendly cheer served up at the various checkpoints would galvanise the weariest of souls.
I really enjoyed the feeling of isolation, particularly on the cliff paths, with the odd reminder of us being in Yorkshire, as friendly hikers passed in the other direction with the odd, “Eyup”. I learned that next time, I need to drink more early on. I also might experiment with my choice of Cliff bars – I had two during the event but found the dry consistency challenging. Yes, it was tough and hurt in a different way to a road race but on 2nd September, I became an ultramarathoner. I’m grateful for the support of Lesley, Andy, this club, and Kelly and her team, including Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team who make the event happen.
The Princess Challenge is a fundraising event for the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team. If you can support their vital work via a donation, please do so here.
2nd time lucky? Last year, I settled for a rather splendid long sleeved top in lieu of my entry, and heard the tales of a splendid and scenic coastal run in the sun. This year, the race sold out in a matter of six hours but fortunately I secured an entry again, and had my sun tan lotion at the ready.
Saturday evening saw me consider various weather forecasts, and contemplate my shoe and clothing choice. Having packed my hydration vest, at the eleventh hour, I abandoned it and decided for the minimalistic approach of club vest (fear not, I had shorts too) and trail shoes given the inclement weather anticipated.
A Sunday morning reveille at 0600hrs (what else would any sane person do on their wedding anniversary?) saw me tiptoe around the house, and jog up to meet the Strider bus. As I had stayed up quite late, reading old race reports of the Coastal Run and contemplating what lay ahead, I quite fancied a snooze on the bus but this notion rapidly faded, as the bus filled full of other chatty but half asleep Striders.
We made good progress, and parked up in Beadnell, donning waterproofs to saunter down the road to the Boat House for registration. I always find it a challenge with my OCD to attach a bib number perfectly straight – to do this in the rain, with a fresh breeze on the upturned hull of a small boat compounded the challenge. Event clips and bib attached, I processed along the beach toward the start area at Beadnell Bay. There were portaloosportable toilets aplenty, and a fairly short queue leaving time to join fellow Striders to shelter and stay warm(ish), stowing bags on the baggage bus at the last moment, for the obligatory team photo on the beach.
Lined up on the start, and raring to go, I listened intently to the official at the front – I relayed his information to other runners because I thought it was wise to heed the advice, which I summarised that runners should stay between the first set of marshalls to avoid perishing on the slippy rocks. Then we were off, across golden sands, the warmth of the sun on our backs, the breeze in our hair, amidst children building sandcastles, and enjoying ice-cream [error, that was a figment of my imagination]. Then we were off, across a sandy base of rivulets fed by the Long Nanny River, which set the scene of what would be a challenging race. I had struck out at a pace just sub 5 min/km, which softened as I met the first constriction point of soft sand and rocks up to High Newton by the Sea. I was amazed at this point to see a runner relieve himself against the dunes in full view of other competitors – how could he have missed the vast provision of portaloosportable toilets, and council facilities adjacent to the start?
Having climbed this initial hill, I enjoyed the short fast downhill section to Low Newton and the sands at Embleton Bay. We then negotiated the inland side of Dunstanburgh Castle, on mud, grass and rock paths, with a few slips and falls. I halted to check one poor soul who had taken an impressive tumble, landing hard but he was fine to continue. I passed a few runners, at this point lamenting their choice of road shoes, and wondered if Matt Archer had his racing flats on.
Next up was Craster Village, at which point we were looking a little more bedraggled, our muddy battle paint splattered up our legs, and higher! Support was evident here, and water was provided. The encouraging sight and sound of Michael Mason galvanised my resolve as I climbed up past the harbour past The Heughs, where there was a cheeky kink taking us along the headland to Cullernose Point.
Then a treat of a section of road past Howick, and on to Sugar Sands where the majority of runners took the bridge across Howick Burn but some hardier souls opted for the water crossing. A short but punishing climb ensued, up a rocky path, which I decided to run passing a couple who were walking, clearly conserving their energy to pass me on the flat on the top!
Into Boulmer for the final water stop, which I needed, where supporters braved the conditions to cheer us on. Leaving Boulmer, just prior to dropping down to Foxton Beach, a cheery chap stood beside a sign which advised ‘about 2 miles to go’. He shouted encouragingly, that it we were nearly upon the beach and only 10 minutes to go. I looked at my watch briefly, trying to calculate what this meant but gave up as ‘nearly 2 miles’ was too imprecise a measure for me, a detailed metric man.
This beach seemed never-ending, and I remember thinking about the meaning of this approximate 2-mile sign. I tried in places to pick up my pace, mainly because I thought if I did the race would be over quicker but there were slippy rocks, and dilapidated fences (really!) to cross. On one particular fence, my ability to hurdle non-existent, my right hamstring cramped as I ungraciously ‘hopped’ over it. I recovered to catch the magnificent sight of a blue inflatable finish arch.
The arch got closer, and I tried to pick up pace, hastened by Jon Ayres who was doing a sterling job as a bare-chested Mr Motivator having already finished. Attempting to follow Jon’s advice of lengthening my stride, I managed to briefly return to that sub 5 min/km pace again, prior to what felt like sinking to my knees in the softer sand near the finishing arch. Through the finish, I immediately felt that sense of accomplishment which makes it all seem worthwhile; and a quick check of my watch confirmed a pleasing sub 2-hour time (subsequently 1:55:31 chip time).
I grabbed some water, and headed over to provide some encouragement to my fellow Striders. Jon congratulated me, and I quipped that that last beach was like a club committee meeting in length! Then via the baggage bus, to the Strider bus, which now resembled something of an impromptu changing room. I was grateful at this point for Lesley’s advice to take a change of footwear, and in equal measure for her encouragement to attend this race. Prize giving was in the nearby Alnmouth Links Golf Club, which provided an opportunity to dry out, and celebrate the team achievement. It was great to see Stephen Jackson pick up a prize for 5th place, a valiant effort indeed after his Durham City Run win of only a few night’s previous, and to see other age category winners; Tamsin Imber for 1st FVET40, Christine Farnsworth for 2nd FVET65 and Margaret Thompson for 3rd FVET65.
The organisation of this race by Alnwick Harriers is first rate. Marshals and locals alike are friendly, and supportive. The coastline and scenic aspect is fantastic, and where else can you run ~14 miles through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on a mixture of sand, road and trail? In summary, I’d encourage anyone to have a go at this race – I’d certainly like to do it again, but hopefully next time on a drier, more summery day!
You can relive the Northumberland Coastal Run here
This HAS to be one of the best races in the north-east! The fact that it sells out in a few hours supports this.
Beautiful rock-pooled, sandy beaches , Dunstanburgh castle, the pretty village of Craster and convivial cliff top coastal footpath make this one magnificent run! And when raining and grey this coast looks beautiful in a wild, wind-bashed way. I make no apologies for the amount of gush in this report!
Today, early morning in Beadnell, the sky was thick with cloud and it was raining. I was cowering in the warm baggage bus along with others, discussing if a rain coat would be a good idea. One lady posed the question, had you ever needed a raincoat during a race in the summer? The problem was that my answer to this question was yes. However, today the temperature was 19 degrees. Also I am usually freezing cold before all races whatever the time of day or year, and it seems to bare no relation at all to my temperature when running. That the hidey holes of trees in my local nature reserve are often housing old jumpers of mine to collect after a run is attest to this. So, I decided to wear, a swimming costume, my Striders vest top and a thick cove of factor 50+. (The latter to protect me from any direct sunlight that in a freak event may appear. I was on antibiotics following tick bite in Dalby forest, the type of which the nurse stressed to me makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight so I must stay in the shade she said with emphasis).
Detaching myself from the bus, and shivering in the cold wind which greeted me I jogged up over the small dunes green with thick tussocky maram grass and down onto the beach. At the top of the beach were little fishing boats pulled up high above the tide line resting on their sides on the sand. The sea looked grey and ominous, reflecting the sky.
A large crowd of runners was rapidly gathering at the Beadnell end of the beach in the distance. With still twenty minutes to go I decided to get the legs moving and jogged in the opposite direction for a bit. Matt Archer and two others ran towards me doing the same. Then it was time to go to the start. I met Rachelle in the crowd. I felt anxious though as I did not know which way we were heading, there was just a sea of heads around me. So I whizzed out of the crowd and approached it head-on. The crowd was fronted by a line of elites! Like, no joke, they totally looked like them Ha ha! Thin, muscley men, shoulder to shoulder, silent and focused looking….and Gareth was one of them…phew! He looked a bit surprised to see me, perhaps as I was about to get run over in two minutes? He helpfully advised me we were all headed between the two bright orange marshals half way down the beach. I quickly made my way past the elites for about 3 metres deep into the crowd until I got to some ladies and stood with them.
One minute later with a loud parrrrrrp on the horn, we were off! Careering across Beadnell Bay! People were running all round me. There were large pools of water, where the sand was hard but rippled and uneven underfoot. Big splash as your foot suddenly went down into a pool, and up the other side. I kept getting side splash from other runners, and it started to rain again now, so also getting wet from above. More splash from below as a river crossed the sand. Despite this I was now totally baking hot! My swimming costume seemed really heat insulating. It was annoying, so I took my striders vest off and wrapped it round my arm, Ah, that. Running in a swimming costume! Well, we were on a beach.
After a short cliff top stretch we onto Newton Haven beach, and then the grand beach of Embleton Bay. The mystical stone ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle rose out of the misty haze on the distant headland that cups the bay. I headed towards the sea, to run on the wet firmer sand. Half way across I could see there was a choice of path, either stick to the coastal path or clamber over rocks up to the path. I opted for the latter. It would not save me much distance but it would avoid the runner congestion on the coastal path. I changed my track to head straight for the rocks. As I did so, who should speed past me but Jon Ayres! Lovely to see him! He asked me when my next triathlon was (a reference to the swimming costume?). I said it was today if I got tired of running.. We kept pace together and reached the rocks which were very slippery and seaweed covered. We bounded up as fast as we could, and met the path, which was unexpectedly muddy and slippery. This continued on the narrow path round the castle, slip-slide running. Trying not to elbow other runners. Once past this bit, the path widened and was back on low cliff tops. One of the Kenyans I’d seen at the start was sat on the side as he had injured his foot and was clearly in pain. There were two marshals helping him so I carried on. Jon had gone on ahead at this point.
We were fast approaching Craster. I was well surprised! Half way already? This half seemed so much easier than Dalby Forest half, but then this one is flat and easier underfoot, and there is no flat in Dalby. Craster is a pretty little village and running through it I could smell the smoke of the Craster fish smokery. A small crowd of local residents cheered us on.
After Craster there was a long stretch of muddy slippery coastal foot top. I kept my pace, comfortable but a bit hard. I was enjoying this! We ran down onto the next beach to be immediately greeted by a bridge over a stream. A girl overtook me at this point but I was determined to follow her as there probably was only 4 miles left now I estimated, from my study of the OS map beforehand. Also, at this point I sensed an up-shift in vibe in the runners around me from ‘maintaining pace’ to ‘getting serious’. I upped my pace to match hers and kept a secret 10 metres behind her. I followed her steadily along the path.
Off Boulmer beach, onto another hedge-lined minor road parallel with the sea. This one was looong, but I knew it lead to the final headland then onto the final beach. It was not far now, the guys around me were now more upping it, as was the girl I was following. At the headland, marshals cheered us on and said 2 miles to go! Yes! Down a flight of steep steps and we were onto the last beach! Great! Nice to be back on sand, another beautiful bay, this beach had a few areas of slippery grey rocks and rock pools of uneven depth to negotiate! Rounding the corner and there were the groynes to hurdle over ha ha! Made difficult by the fact we were all trying to go hard now, and that the level of the beach on one side of the groyne was different from the level on the other side! ..and once round the corner the blue inflatable finish arch could be seen..so near… but ….so ….far! A teasing sight! On and on and on….and it did not get an nearer! This was really hard now! I gritted my teeth and ran past the girl I had been keeping up with, but could not stop another girl flying past me! The arch was still far away! Finally, we were up with the first supporters! Katy and Graeme with their new baby were there and Lesley cheering us on! A few more yards and booff!, deep deep deep soft sand! Not the greatest when trying to vaguely approximate a sprint! I think swimming through it may have been faster. The deceptive blue arch was proving to be a battle to reach! A staggering inelegant plod and at last, I was under the arch!
Photo courtesy of Hippie Nixon Photography, and others courtesy of LK Photography.
Billed as a challenging trail race, which shows off some of Washington’s hidden trails, it is part of a series of races organised by Trail Outlaws. I had some unfinished business from my first attempt in 2016. What struck me then, and is still true today is the friendly, and efficient organisation – from marshalled car parking at Biddick Academy, efficient registration, to a superbly marked and marshalled course, with refreshments both en route, and post-race, it certainly ticks the boxes.
At registration, runners were issued with buffs – and I picked up the t-shirt which I’d pre-ordered. I decided not to don the buff on account that the weather was rather pleasant.
Starting in the James Steel Park, the route follows a trail along the River Wear before looping back to Cox Green. What follows are some other ‘lesser known secret trails’ and then eventually back over the bridge to the final delight – the last hill to the finish.
I set off at a decent pace, secure in the knowledge that the hills would calibrate my enthusiasm – they did! Undeterred, I decided my strategy was simply to run as hard as I could, keeping back something mentally, if not physically for the dreaded last hill. There were a few bottlenecks, and I decided to vault (ok, well half vault) a fence beside a style which I think gained me a whole 4 seconds. I was really pleased to see Kerry at her marshalling point as I emerged across a field, uphill, and incapable of discussion.
Galvanised from the sight of a fellow purple warrior, I pressed on along the flat, and it was all going well, until Dead Dog Woods (around 7km in), when I landed awkwardly on my right foot (ice treatment to follow!). As I ran along the River to the footbridge at Cox Green, all I could think about was the dreaded last hill. Finally, it had its chance, and it well and truly knocked the wind out of my sails – fortunately, the worst bit is at the bottom, and it flattens out towards the finish, which allowed me to look more as if I was running at that point.
I set out thinking that an improvement on my time in 2016 was on the cards, and I was delighted to secure a ~8 plus minute course PB.
Taking place on St George’s Day, we were briefed by Sir Tim Bateson, who later handed out prizes in his fitting attire for the day. I’m not sure if the green dragon won a prize but our Louise Warner placed 2nd lady!
Through the finish, I collected my medal (dog tag), and some goodies, including wrist bands, and a sticker before having some water with a dash of cordial!
A fantastic local race, which I’d recommend to anyone but be quick – it was a sell out! We had a good contingent of Striders present, and some fantastic achievements, including Katharine Goda – her first race, not an easy one but a stonking time!
For some time, I have been interested in what some may see as a slightly unusual run; inside London Heathrow airport Terminal 5. My motivation comes from spending way too much time in airports, and Ben Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, and author of guidance for running in and around airports.
On the morning of 14th March, I had my chance. I arrived in Heathrow’s Terminal 5A, from Newcastle. My next flight (to Madrid) was also due to leave from Terminal 5, so having already cleared security at Newcastle, I headed to BA’s North Galleries lounge. Perhaps fortunately for this adventure, I still have lounge access – there are changing facilities, you can leave your bag and, instead of a pre-flight G&T.…go for a run!
I struggled to get a GPS signal initially but the Strava app on my iPhone seemed to cope with a combination of GPS, cellular, and Wifi positioning. I headed down the escalator to follow the signs for the transit to the B and C gates. There I took the lift down to level -4, leaving most passengers to alight at -2 which is the train platform.
The main feature of this run is an underground pedestrian tunnel linking Heathrow’s Terminal 5A to the satellite buildings which house the B and C gates. The tunnel is some 670m in length between T5A and T5C, according to Bombardier who supplied the automated people mover system (trains which run above the pedestrian tunnel).
The tunnel has apparently been recently renovated to add a softer floor, and purple lighting – welcoming to a travelling Strider! There are various moving walkways along the way, but also space aplenty to run. There are a couple of narrower sections, which makes life slightly interesting to share the tunnel with a passing passenger cart, and there is a slight incline between the B and C gate section. There aren’t many users of the tunnel – mainly air crew, the odd passenger, and it is fairly cool. At the final approach to the C gates, a traffic light controlled door allows safe passage of pedestrians and carts.
I headed along the tunnel, to pass the B gates, then on to the C gates, where I got in the lift and up to the satellite building. I ran around the satellite building, which was nearly empty. A member of BA gate staff stopped me to ask what flight I was on, and she was tickled when I explained, “Madrid, but I’m just out for a run first”!
I ran the loop from T5A to T5C, including the loop of T5C satellite building twice, before doing a 1km loop of T5A, returning to the North lounge to shower and collect my things. An interesting experience of some 5.7km which left me refreshed for my onward flight! If you have time in Heathrow, try it!
Billed as a two-lap trail/paths race run on Newcastle Town Moor in aid of St Oswald’s Hospice and Water Aid, this seemed a fine way to shake off any remaining festive excesses…
The route was described as about 8.6km and around 95m height gain, on grass and hard pack surface – useful information which I read as I walked to the start, my resolve waning as I realised my schoolboy error – a critical failure in terms of shoe choice. Yup, I had donned a pair of well used road shoes, which would have coped well with the hard park surfaces, and maybe, just maybe a bit of light grass.
I made my way to the boathouse adjacent to lake at the Exhibtion Park, realising also as the biting wind blew that I’d left my gloves at home.
So, lack of adequate preparation aside, I paid my £10, pinned my bib on, and chatted to Helen and James Potter in anticipation of what lay ahead.
I think the following elevation v pace chart explains the lack of traction as I encountered the dreaded Cow Hill – my only saving grace being that on the second lap, I’d begun to learn a more advanced traverse technique.
I struck out at an 8 min/mile pace, the wind taken out of my sails as I hit the first patch of mud adjacent to Kenton Road, and at which point Fiona (more suitably shod) pressed on. Slightly further on came Cow Hill, and those cows had certainly made some work of that hill, preparing it for their runner friends. On the top the bracing wind did not deter the marshalls and photographer who spurred the participants on both the uphill, and downhill antics.
I remember feeling happy to see some hard stuff as I approached the end of lap 1, and not to be beaten, I attacked the final lap, with a little bit more tactical footwork to counter the mud. I was delighted to find sufficient traction to attempt a sprint finish, my heated seats calling me. A highly recommended way to introduce running to 2017!
A total field of 179 runners participated. Here’s an excerpt from the results.
Amsterdam plays host to a number of running events over one weekend, including a Half Marathon, and Marathon. I selected the Half Marathon, and lured by the lack of hills, attended with the purpose of securing a PB, aiming for a time of
This is an event for those who appreciate slick organisation. At the Sporthallen Zuid, number and t-shirt (for those who pre-ordered one) collection
was effortless. The expo was in full swing on the Saturday afternoon, with the usual vendors poised to equip competitors with every conceivable bit of running garb, and equipment.
Having been before, I knew of a small, highly popular pasta place (Hasta la
Pasta) in the Centrum, which was my dining venue. Fortunately, for the
restaurateur a stream of hungry runners from various countries had the same
idea. Carbed-up, I turned in for the night.
Contrary to other races where public transport systems struggle with the volume
of competitors, and spectators, I navigated the Metro with ease, to the
Sporthallen Zuid again, where a simple to use, and efficient bag drop was in
operation. I walked to the start on Stadioweg (adjacent to the Olympisch
Stadion), where enclosures were marshalled by friendly local volunteers, who
seemed startled when I enquired about the best time to enter the pen. Their
advice was to enjoy the sun, and come back 5 minutes before the wave was due to
start! Local shops were open to provide last minute refreshments, and there
were toilets aplenty. Adjacent to the start is the final half kilometer, and
with the marathon underway, I got to see some of the elite runners charge for
I entered the yellow pen, with a little more time to spare than that advised,
and having warmed up (yep – getting in a little earlier meant you could run up
and down the enclosure!), I chatted to some French runners from Ville
D’Allonnes, who were tickled at us sharing the same club colours (their
preference for a diagonal white & green stripe being the only difference).
At the appointed time, we moved forward towards the starting arch and sensor.
I struck out at around 8½ minute miles, and paid attention to avoid tripping on
tram lines (I learned this lesson the hard way during a previous visit!). I
lost count of the large number of mobile discos along the route – there were
plenty! Similar to the Great North Run, there were also steel, and brass bands
aplenty (but no Elvis!), and the residential areas were well populated with
supporters, adding to the atmosphere. Water and refreshment stations were in
abundance (at 5, 9, 11, 13, 16, and 19km) – Isostar featuring heavily as
sponsor, with their energy boosting drinks and gels, and sponges too – I must
have run over a few thousand!
The course is a mix of residential and industrial neighbourhoods. The
Utrechtse Bridge takes you over the Amstel river (at which point the route is
shared with the full Marathon), and passes the famous Rijksmuseum, before
entering the large expanse of the Vondelpark (Amsterdam’s largest public park).
With my race plan intact, I exited the top gate of the Vondelpark, adjacent to
the All4running store (the enthusiastic team there had looked after me during
my last visit, on Global Running Day). I knew I had a fairly straight stretch
and concentrated on holding my pace, hoping to leave something for the last km,
and the finish in the Olympic Stadium.
Aided by the crowd factor, I picked up my pace, ran into the Stadium, and round
the track to cross the finish line – a quick Garmin check confirming I’d
secured my PB!
Walking out of the Stadium, I collected my refreshments, stopped at a couple of
the free photo points, and then onto the medal engraving tent – my medal being
engraved with my name and time, in under 5 minutes! A brief stop at the bag
drop, then to rehydrate (when in Holland it really has to be Heineken!) and I
was off for a brief but slow jog to the metro. I called via the hotel to
collect my main bag, and headed straight to the airport, the lure of a hot
shower and dinner calling.
First male strider home (you have to take these opportunities when you can), I
finished with a time of 1:53:15, ahead of my 1:55 target.
Buy an Amsterdam Travel Ticket at the airport – valid for trams, buses, metros, ferries and trains.
Get the 197 bus from the Airport to the Expo (Amstelveenseweg stop)
Stay at the Holiday Inn Arena Towers, adjacent to the Heineken Music Hall
Metro 50 connects from the Bijlmer ArenA (200m from the hotel) to Amstelveenseweg, and also to Centrum.
An Intercity train connects from Bijlmer ArenA to Schipol airport.
My legs feeling a little heavier from my mid-week efforts at Lisburn Half Marathon, I headed North, to Portrush (Portmagic as it is known to locals). Having grown up nearby, running on my old doorstep was a good way to conclude my trip.
A school friend had recently opened a luxury B&B, and I was keen to try it out. Blackrock House is the 1st 5* graded B&B in Portrush, and recent runner up in the Tourism Northern Ireland Awards ‘Most Promising New Tourism Business’ 2016.
I alighted the Belfast train at Dhu Varren, just before the main Portrush station and walked round the corner to Blackrock House. Nicola’s house has fantastic views (photo above), overlooking the West Bay beach, promenade and having stunning views towards the Giant’s Causeway. It is also situated on the main Causeway Coastal Route, offering many running options, including a coastal run of around 6 miles to nearby Portstewart. It is a runner friendly B&B, and I’d highly recommend it to those of you who are contemplating running events in the local area.
I headed out on the Friday morning for a gentle run. Leaving Blackrock House, I dropped down onto the West Bay promenade, past the famous Barry’s amusements, the Lifeboat Station and Harbour, rounding the headland at Lansdowne, towards the East Strand (home to Portrush parkrun), and eventually back through the town.
On the Saturday morning, my runner friendly breakfast comprised granola with local yoghurt (Nicola also offers the post parkrun option of something more substantial). Portrush parkrun has a slightly more civilised start of 0930hrs and although it is a short jog from Blackrock House, I gladly accepted Nicola’s offer of a lift as she was taking some photographs of the event.
Portrush parkrun is the world’s first beach parkrun and it is run entirely on the sand. The course starts adjacent to the watersports centre at the East Strand and rounds the coastline towards the White Rocks and back. It is flat but challenging with a variable surface, according to the tide.
Mervyn Thompson (pictured left), officiating as Run Director provided the briefing. This included the offer of tomato plants, from Fiona, one of the regulars who had got a wee bit carried away in the garden! A nice touch saw the milestone runners called up to the front and applauded by the crowd. A BBC camera crew was filming for the documentary, “Love in a day” which focuses on people doing things they love and on this occasion, the love of parkrun! Faye McLernon, a former schoolmate was filmed, (look out for the purple t-shirt).
Contrary to the weather forecast, it had been dry for the past few days and it was a sunny day, although the wind was pretty fierce, as I found out! High tide had been at 0630hrs and there was some reasonably firm sand along the route.
I set off from the beach start line and struck a decent pace, which would have delivered a finish of around 25 minutes. All was good, until the turning point – a flag with loose sand, which took the wind out of my sails. The return was into the wind, which was formidable and my pace took a hammering – no negative splits! I did wonder if the catch-up with an old friend in the Harbour Bar the previous evening had hampered my chances a little too!
202 runners attended Portrush parkrun’s 202nd event! The fastest finisher came in at 19:13. I was slower than usual but given the wind and miles under my belt during the week, I was happy to come in 10th in my age category at 27:07.
After some quick goodbyes, I had to shoot off to catch the train back to Belfast, and a comparatively complex two-flight hop via Heathrow home. There are no direct flights to Newcastle on a Saturday, which work with parkrun timings (I suspect most people would make a weekend of it anyway).
For those interested in sampling the North coast hospitality, the following may also be of interest and I’d happily help folk with their travel plans as required:
North Coast 5k/10k at Portrush – 7th July 2016
ANI Prostrate Cancer 5 mile road race – 26th August 2016
Causeway Coast Marathon – 24th September 2016
Mussenden 10k Challenge Easter Saturday – 15th April 2017
Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council host what is considered one of Northern Ireland’s largest sporting participation events (~6,000 runners), offering a mid-week Half Marathon, 10k, and 3K Fun Run.
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at Queen’s Quarter, Belfast, adjacent to Botanic train station, which is also a popular choice for Belfast running events. A half hour train journey to Lisburn places you within walking distance of the event.
Lagan Valley LeisurePlex provided ample changing and locker facilities. I completed my final preparations, carb-loading at a nearby café with a runner friendly banana crepe. Basking in the intense sun, I started to wonder if the inclusion of the famous Belfast Crown Bar in my hydration plan the evening before had been a wise choice.
I caught up with old friend Andy McClean and Team McClean, who run with seven-year-old Ethan, using a Hoyt running chair. Ethan has the terminal and life limiting illness Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Team McClean enable Ethan to enjoy as many running events as he can, and you can read more of his story here.
Before long it was time to proceed to the holding area adjacent to the start, where local radio station Cool FM, and the Mayor of Lisburn provided their encouragement.
I had opted for the Half Marathon option, lured by the ‘Flat & Fast’ route. I think ‘Flat’ would fall foul of the trade descriptions act! The route begins in the city and then leaves to do a loop around rural Lisburn. There are a number of inclines, but nothing mountainous. What goes up must go down too!
The event is well marshaled, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland close the roads. Five official water stations are distributed from the 1k marker onwards, mostly operated by local Scout groups. The event uses chip timing, with a sensor also at the halfway point. In addition, local community spirit prevails and a number of unofficial water and jelly baby stations feature along the route, with local residents providing encouragement aplenty, “Go on, you can do it, so you can!” The 10K race set off and a few minutes later, we formed up to allow the wheelchair race to start ahead of us. And we were off!
A schoolboy error, and a glance at my watch confirmed I was a tad eager setting an 8 minute/mile pace over the first kilometer. I steadied myself by the end of the third kilometer and concentrated on my plan. I was pleased (despite the abundance of water stations) that I’d taken my own water (two small bottles on a belt). The heat took its toll on some but I soldiered on, using a gel after I passed the half way mark.
Who needs safety pins? I felt tired at 17k and mentally pictured running Durham parkrun to get myself to the end. There were a couple of naughty bits in the last 5k, including an incline with a twist in the final few hundred metres to round into the finish funnel. Hearing the crowd cheer, I knew I could achieve my aim of breaking 2 hours and I picked the pace up, giving it some welly across the line!
A slick effort through the line saw me collect medal, water and a couple of Cliff bars. After the race, I compared notes with some members of Springwell Running Club (who operate near my home town) and met the RD of Portrush Parkrun, Mervyn Thompson, before heading off to catch the train.
I finished in 591st position from a field of 1141 runners and achieved a PB of 1:58:14, with three other PBs (15k, 10 miles and 20k).