The Endurancelife coastal series of ~7 individual races is in its 9th year, Northumberland being a new course and so no GPX data was available but it was estimated at a flat 31 miles (for the ultra) with about 8 miles of sand. Whilst the registration was held in the amazing Bamburgh castle held high on it’s own hill right on the coastline the start was in Alnwick (prn. Anik). Travelling from Bournemouth my dad had picked me up from Leeds and then kindly drove the rest of the way, on the whole we were blessed with a bit of cloud, no rain, little wind and lovely blue skys. We spent the previous day on a 5 mile walk along the beach viewing the diving birds fishing, sunlit views of the islands and lighthouse, followed by 4 Guinness, a large glass of wine and a pub meal. No one knew of the race in the hotel nor the pub and we couldn’t see anyone that looked like a runner there.
In the morning of the race at 7:30 I was up at the castle for registration. I love this bit, early am, somewhere new, no idea who i’ll meet etc… As it happens I saw one serpie, two Vegan runners who were very friendly and as for the rest I really didn’t get to know them that well. At the end of the race i’m afraid to say i was in no state to chat to anyone and so made no friends! Something I’ll try to improve on – i have 6 more races to get better! At registration I was provided with a ‘Cliff bar’, dry fit top and was subjected to a check of my kit bag to ensure I had taken the minimum stuff (coat, whistle, bladder pack etc) and then we all (only about 22 of us!!!) set off on the coach to the start. The start was 6 mile inland where we were given a good race briefing with the amazing Alnwick castle in the background. The start was a little unorganised for me, I hadn’t realised my bag strap had lost a clip until we were 20seconds away from starting so I had to tie the two ends together, I’d forgotten to take out my Garmin and I had decided to leave the camera in the bag assuming it wasn’t going to be scenic until we hit the coast. I was proved wrong with the scenery – it was stunning and within 2 miles we hit a stream to wade across which was fun (and so the camera came out). The rolling farms, lakeside route and bridges made excellent running.
I drank a lot of water before the race and had also mixed a pre-exercise maltodexdrin drink that morning so decided not to carry more than a glass of water in the camel pack. I actually didn’t fill it until the 12.7 mile water station. In a bid to keep the weight down I ended up carrying far too little for the last 7 miles and paid for it later with a little dehydration. I ran to the first beach with a chap (a history professor) of 47 and we were taking about our pace, injuries and his plan to run to his age, ie must break a 47 min 10K, 1:47 half increasing my 1 min every year. Since his PB in 10K is 40mins nothing to worry about there but as he gets older I thought that was a good challenge. When the beach section did arrive, we were lucky to have a low tide with hard sand which was great to run on and I was just loving the light breeze, sun and blue sky. Averaging 6.7 miles per hour (finished on 6.2 average). The sandy sections allowed us to take our own route where we thought it would be easiest to run. The sand was mainly hard although I on one very long crescent shaped beach I followed the dunes line not knowing where the exit was only to be overtaken by three runners who straight lined it since they knew the exit was at the direct other end of the crescent shaped beach saving about a quarter mile of running. On finishing this must be one reason why my Garmin measured 27.4 miles!
11 miles in a large castle came into view and me and two other runners assumed it was Bamburgh, it was large and similarly part ruined – I did think it looked a little close but then it was a large castle and so it could have been further away then we thought… not so, another 5 miles in we came to it which begs the question of why build two massive castles only 10 miles apart! I wonder if the owners knew their neighbours were building one at the same time!
The aid stations were basic but good, they had a box of some kind of small thin jelly babies, which were awesome, some biscuits and raisins. Other than water that was the lot. After the castle and the following aid station the course went by a few caravan parks, golf clubs and a long and boring couple miles running along a hedge row with not much to look at. Past a further very derelict once-had-been-a-castle, another golf club, some rocky, slimey beaches, rolling hills. The route turned to road for about half a mile and then onto sand for the rest of the way towards Bamburgh castle. At this point I had decided to call it a day at the Marathon, I’d take 2 salt tablets that were definitely responsible for taking away some ceasing up of my hams on mile 10 and again at 18, I had taken a gel somewhere around mile 15 and also eaten a cliff bar. So at mile 22ish I decided a marathon (it ended as 27.4) that would be enough for me.
All together the organisation had been brilliant and they seemed like a really great bunch running it, so it was a real shame when the signpost for the ultra turn off at miles 23ish was so barely visible to most of us that those running the ultra had to turn around at the finish and find the correct path. Personally I was glad I missed it and was pretty beat and could hardly jog by the end – I found the last few miles real tough and wished I had taken water beyond the last water station but considering the summer races I was expecting to run faster and more comfortably. That said I had over the past 6 weeks struggled with running during a chest infection and sore hamstrings, which had me not completing my long training runs (crashing out at 17 miles ish each time and very frustrating). So a great day, great event with some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen in England, but I need to work out what’s causing my leg fatigue and get it sorted for the next races…