Helen Blades reports from Saturday’s Cragside 10K.
CRAGSIDE 10K – “THE VIEW FROM THE REAR”
Saturday 1 April 2017
Now let’s be clear from the outset – I am a beginner. I have made occasional guest appearances at Group 5 training but Beginners Group is my home. This race report will have no technicalities, no split timings, and no Garmin. It is as it says on the title – the view from the rear.
Run Northumberland Cragside 10k is a RunNation race taking place “in the beautiful surrounding of the National Trust Cragside estate near Rothbury. The traffic-free 10k course is on the carriage drive that encircles the picturesque house and estate developed by Tyneside industrialist and inventor Lord Armstrong. The race starts and finishes near the visitors centre, and is just over one full lap of the estate.” Now I think I went on a school trip to Cragside many years ago but with a hefty £11 adult price tag for entry to the Woodlands and Garden I hadn’t made the 45 minute journey from Newcastle since. The race entry fee was £15 affiliated / £17 unaffiliated so if you made a day of it with family (runner and two guests receive free access to the grounds) it would be a bargain.
So with a training scheduled highjacked by illness and work stress, I was apprehensive as I headed up the A697. Why had I signed up for a race which undoubtedly would include my nemesis – hills? Hills are not my strong suit and even the promise of a downhill finish did nothing to lessen my fears.
It’s the usual system – park up, collect your number and a few more safety pins to add to the collection, then off to the start.
The start is about a 1k walk from the Visitors Centre finish area and as I climbed uphill I caught snippets of conversations from the surrounding runners. Varying between “what goes up must come down” to “why are they running up to the start, they’ll be knackered before they start”. Needless to say I was not one of the people running to the start! From previous experience I sensibly positioned myself to the rear of the starting field walking past a few friendly waves from TBH vests.
With some eighties disco tunes pumping through one earphone we were off. I had expected a fast start and it maybe was at the front but from the back there was some swerving needed before we spread out enough to enjoy the downhill section and the daffodils in season. As we past the finish area for the first time the path was flattening out and the next 3k were flat-ish as we hugged the edge of the estate along the carriage drive. The crag looming over us on the left an ever present reminder of what was to come.
Now I’ve never been at the front of a race or even the middle. So to give you a view from the rear, the support from other runners is always incredible. There’s a comradery that we are tackling whatever lies around the next corner together. The challenge of overcoming leaden legs, gasping lungs and mental demons is easier when the people around you are friendly and supportive. There is a lot of “one step at a time”, “we are ahead of the people at home on the couch” and “we can do this”.
So 4k passes by and I’m wondering where the uphill is going to start. And then it comes at around 4.5k, gradual and meandering rather than the steep climb I had expected. We started to spread out as the incline increased so at times as the runner in front of me rounded a bend further along the path there was nothing to do but enjoy the scenery and the serene quality of the surroundings. Round every corner is another view that if I had had any breath left, would have taken it away.
As my Beginners Group buddies will tell you – I am no quitter! I do not walk even if a slow walking tortoise could go faster, and at times it certainly felt like that could happen. But onwards I went until the luscious moment at 8k when the gradient changed and we started back downhill. Oh my goodness, I ran the fastest 2k I have ever ran in my life. Gravity certainly kicked in and my leaden legs had a new lease of life. I felt like Billy Whizz. Coming through the finish line back at the visitor centre I remembered another benefit of being towards the rear of the pack – there are more people to cheer and clap you at the end!
So what did I learn… … yes it’s hilly but what goes up slowly, must come down quite a bit faster. Gorgeous surroundings can distract and push you onwards. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was well organised, a good running surface, the entry fee was reasonable, and the euphoria of freewheeling downhill faster than I think I have ever run was great. Well done to everyone who took part.
For me it’s not about PBs, it’s about enjoying the freedom of running and the places it can take you. I may not be the fastest but I am a runner. More than that – I am a Tyne Bridge Harrier.
Full results can be found here.