Danny Fletcher looks back at this year’s Coastal Run.
It was my first time running the Coastal Run, it usually fills up the same day as entry opens, and after running yesterday I can see why it won Runner’s World Best Race in 2011. I was unlucky in gaining a place, missing out when initially going on sale, but thanks to fellow Tyne Bridge Harrier Vicki Deritis transferring her number I was able to take part in what has to be the most beautiful run I could imagine.
I was praying for cool weather, I have had a busy calendar of races recently and every one has been in hot/muggy conditions, and despite running well I haven’t been getting the times I have been hoping for. Thankfully the weather was kind, and despite scary looking rain first thing in the morning, by the time the race started it was almost perfect weather conditions.
After arriving in Beadnell and collecting my number it was time for my fourth toilet trip of the morning. The toilet queues were massive, so I decided to run into the long grass. Little Danny remained unscathed, but my legs were scratched to ribbons, fighting to find a spot to relieve myself that wasn’t overlooked by the balconies of holiday homes.
After a 10 minute delay the horn went off and the long line of runners set off along the beach. At North East runs I am used to seeing the same clubs being represented, but runners from all over the UK had made the trip to Beadnell to run. My plan for the run was just to enjoy myself. My IT band has been giving me bother for the past few weeks, and I’ve been sticking to a routine of stretches and squats given to me by Sophie Marr. Treat the run like a Sunday social and I’ll be fine.
The first couple of miles took us over the beach towards Dunstanburgh Castle. Within the first few yards we jumped over rocks, feet slipping on discarded jelly fish and sea weed, before heading over the compacted sand. The salty sea water splashed up my legs and every cut and graze from my earlier toilet stop screamed at me. Thankfully the run came away from the sea and we headed up toward some sand dunes leading us onto one of the very few roads on the race.
Even the roads were pretty as we passed rustic churches and Lilliput Lane style cottages for approximately 1.5 miles before we headed back on to the beach.
The beach stretched out in front of us, dog walkers cheering us on as we headed towards Dunstanburgh Castle. It was at this point that my knee started to play with me. Was it my scratched legs, or was it the evil IT Band? I convinced myself that was the IT Band so I stopped to adjust the strap I was wearing. It doesn’t fix the problem, but it does stop it moving about as much and allows me to run. Adjusting the strap wasn’t a wise move, and quickly I was in agony, every step felt like I was being stabbed in the side of the knee. My race was over, I would need to walk the rest. What would I do, walk back to the start, or hope that some kind passer by would take me the finish? I stopped and started, taking the strap off, putting it on again until found some comfort. I fastened it so tight my knee went a funny shade of purple, but I was able to crack on. I wasn’t ready for my first DNF.
There were a few spots on the run when walking was put upon you. Thin rocky paths and stiles had to be passed, and these came as welcome breaks. We left the beach and ran on a rocky trail path that climbed up and around the castle. Looking like something from Harry Potter I distracted myself thinking about some of the history that this castle must have witnessed over the years. The trails quickly turned to grass, and this felt great on my legs, my knee eased off completely and I was good to go.
We came into Craster and the road sign told us we were ‘about half way’. I’d never been to Craster before, but I’ll definitely have to pass through again. Beautiful little place with what seemed like a never ending supply of fish n chip shops. It had a nice short steep climb and had plenty of support before another water station.
My pace throughout was nice and easy, I wasn’t particularly pushing myself, and it was nice to pass other runners and have brief conversations about what we had seen and what we would be having to drink at the pub after. The miles seemed to fly by. It was easy to get lost looking at the scenery around you, while still needing to be aware of what was under your feet. I saw a couple of nasty tumbles, but thankfully both runners were able to get up and continue.
Before I knew it there was another well placed water station. The previous water station in Craster had cups, so most of it finished up my nose and down the front of my top. This bit of the race was probably the most dull. In comparison to other runs it probably isn’t that bad, but we really had been spoiled for the past 10 miles or so. By this point people were struggling. I seemed to be overtaking plenty of other runners. You faster runners probably wont come across this too much, but as a slower/average runner it feels great to overtake the annoying person who appears at every race and carries their bus fare in their pockets.
Just after the ‘about 2 miles to go’ sign we headed back down to the beach. The steps were really steep, and although my IT Band had behaved for the past few miles it didn’t enjoy this part of the run. I was able to pick up my pace at this point, the beach seemed to stretch on forever, but I knew there wasn’t far to go. There were a few rock pools to run through to keep things interesting and the finish line slowly appeared like a mirage in the distance. By this time the sun had come out and the finishing area was full of spectators cheering fellow runners and family and friends as they crossed the line. The Tyne Bridge support was out in full force, and its always welcome. Despite feeling strong the final few yards were really tough. The sand had been cut up by the hundreds of runners ahead of me. I couldn’t run through it, so I had to leap like a slightly overweight gazelle to cross the line.
My finish time was 2hrs 7 mins which is way behind my current personal best of the same distance, but considering the terrain and the IT Band incident that almost stopped my race altogether I was chuffed to bits.
I’m definitely going to sign up to run this race again next year. Prior to running the Coastal Run my favourite race was the Pier to Pier from South Shields to Roker, but Beadnell to Alnmouth has definitely overtaken it as its longer and far better looking big brother.
Its not an easy run with the majority being off road and on beaches, but if you aren’t purely focused on personal bests and want a run you can soak in (literally) and experience you won’t get better than this.