Mark Reynolds sends in this report from a stately home near Rothbury.
Cragside 10k – 2012 Run Northumberland series
Saturday 14 April 2012
So then, to Cragside: country seat of Lord Armstrong; home to the world’s first hydroelectric power station; site of Europe’s largest rock garden and, for one day only, venue for the second Run Northumberland 2012 race series.
We arrived nice and early for a 9.45 am start and were waved in by cheery National Trust volunteers ahead of the public, who aren’t let loose on the estate until 11am. It was impressive to have exclusive use of this 1000 acre wood knowing that there’d be no traffic, just the tranquillity and challenge of one of the most picturesque venues I’ve run at.
Conditions were good, cool and clear with a few clouds scudding overhead, but none of the forecast hill snow and temperatures on the rise. This prompted a last minute change from long sleeve top, leggings and knee socks to vest and race shorts in the Visitor Centre toilets. Ready to go we headed uphill to the assembly area.
The route consists of one loop of the Cragside estate drive taking in the House, tarns, forests and desolate beauty of the north Northumberland moors. This circuit is 1km short of the full 10k so, in a nice touch, the organisers start the race at the top of the hill that eventually leads to the finish. This gives the advantage of a fast start and finish.
A couple of hundred runners assembled with good showings from locals Alnwick and Morpeth Harriers with a scattering of Heaton, Wallsend and Jesmond vests. I spotted the familiar black and white of TBH in the crowd and said a quick hello to Julie Shaw before edging closer to the front.
There was nearly a false start as the airhorn proved to be more air than horn but with a hearty shout of “GO!” we were off. The first 1km was speedy with little over 3.30 on my watch as we whizzed across the finish line for the first time. We were quickly through the house courtyard with no chance to admire the Victorian splendour on display before heading out into the woods.
The next three kilometres passed smoothly with runners settling into steady rhythms as I targeted a couple of Alnwick vests up ahead. The ground slowly began to rise as we came to the top end of the estate and halfway point. Clocking 21 minutes exactly for the first 5 km I grabbed a quick drink from the water station and tried stay focussed for what I anticipated being the tougher half of the course.
According to the official measurement the course rises 85m between the 4.5 and 6 km points, no big deal I’m sure for my fell running brethren, but it began to tell on my splits. I was now part of a small group of runners attacking the hill together. Now, in my mind, I feel that I’m pretty good going uphill. Keep a good pace, use the arms, shorten stride length, think positive etc. Despite this I found myself lagging my group uphill before catching up again on the brief respite flats in-between. The result was a lengthy 5 minute split before seeing the 6 km marker. I spurred myself on with the thought that I only had to hold on until the 8km point before things descended again.
I managed to up the pace a little and keep in the mix for the next spell as we wound past the adventure play area and avoided getting lost in the Labyrinth. Soon the blessed sight of the 8km marker came out of the trees and I knew it was pretty much downhill from here on in. Deciding this was the time to press on a bit I let things go down the hill and increased speed. Strangely no one else in the group followed suit and I was quickly moving ahead with no one in sight. A last blast from the northern hill wind woke me up enough to make a drive for the line in the distance. Neatly I recorded another 3.30 for my final 1,000 metres crossing the line in exactly 43 minutes. My second 5k had cost me 22 minutes for a slightly annoying positive split. However I had matched my Morpeth 10k time of 8 months earlier and, unlike that occasion, I didn’t feel like throwing up and keeling over (in no particular order) at the finish.
The finish area was unfussy with good old tap water in bottles and a few handshakes all round. I spotted Julie in the throng who was pleased with her run and looking very relaxed at the finish. Another nice touch was that the race t-shirt was an optional extra. Meaning you could either have a bargain run without another superfluous top, or opt, for a few quid extra, to get a More Mile memento of the race. Having picked up my shirt (in glorious black and white!) I waited for my good friend David Hambler to finish in a respectable sub-55 mins before heading off home.
All in all a great morning out in the countryside with good organisation, a stunning venue, challenging route and chilled out atmosphere. Many thanks to Team Decathlon and the National Trust for making it all happen and credit to the marshals for their cheery faces along the way.
Takeaway lesson from the day: “It’s a hill. Get over it.”
Mark ‘Cuthbert’ Reynolds
Full results to follow on http://runnorthumberland.org/