Undulating routes, sore glutes and Pict-taunting hoots: another superb race report from Keith ‘Old Boy’ Rooney.
So here we are, I thought, waiting for the start of the 3rd Hadrian’s wall half marathon. The golden promise of the morning had given way to a chilly westerly and the seeming guarantee of rain sodden skies. Thick, smokey grey clouds were rolling up from the west. Therefore my indecision: should I take the hat or not – I opted not to. No chance of a burnt bonce today, I thought.
It didn’t really matter where we positioned ourselves at the start, but the anticipated 300 or so athletes looked fulfilled. This race is going from strength to strength, I thought, as the offending blast from the hooter shattered the silence. The course info described a 4 mile introduction on undulating, quiet country road, and it delivered pretty much that. We went off too fast, of course; Emma setting a pretty agile pace of about 6.50. But the uphills were a pretty steep, unforgiving affairs, and what’s more, the grey veil, which had smothered everything moments earlier, had now been rent asunder, and the sun was on the march. The sun has got his hat on…. Damn and I didn’t!! The other problem was my shoes laces had become undone. I would have to incur a 40 second penalty to sort it. Bollocks! I had no other option, but to stop at the second water station and enlist the aid of the cheery chappy in the flourescent jacket, who dully obliged, even offering me a devilishly, clever double knot, which he informed me, would NEVER come undone.
It was at this point that the real off-road stuff began. As we ran parallel to the mighty monument itself, the path wasn’t that bad: a meandering, muddy track. As I caught Stuey up, our attention was drawn to Crag Lough and the wall. The Lough was a picture of twinkling summer tranquility, with the wall itself striding purposefully along on the looming crag above, artfully picking out every advantageous twist and turn to secure an unbroken view of the hostile Pict-filled North. I pushed on, but was increasingly aware of the growing pain in my right glute…. And the heat. It felt unrelentingly, blisteringly hot. As we mounted the last stile and swung north, I found myself looking forward to the gloomy shade of Wark Forest.
We were now on The Pennine Way and I risked a glance back at the motley-coloured thread of runners, snaking its way over the patch work of farmers fields. Emma and Stuey weren’t far behind. This section was a different kettle of fish all together: peat bog fringed with thick reeds, concealing all manner of nasties. Each jagged granite chunk was a potential smashed knee, or cracked head. I had maintained a pretty healthy pace up to now, but as I picked my way through the rancid pools, I noted with dismay the Garmin recording 9.30 pace. A David Beech, John Tollitt or Alan Wallace would’ve made short work of this, I pondered ruefully, as at last, with some relief, I reached the 3rd water station and the edge of the forest.
Now the hydration issue was a serious one and its satisfactory settlement required no small degree of self-discipline. Rather than grabbing a cup and fleeing along, which usually only results in a sizeable amount ending up over ones chest and head, I decided to stop, ignore the Garmin and spend a good 30 seconds slaking my thirst. It worked in the sense, I had no dehydration issues, but it cost me in terms of position and I was depressingly aware of the number of runners flitting past me.
Wark Forest was mightily impressive. You couldn’t fail to be awed by its labyrinthine vastness. Its really the southern half of Kielder forest, the largest man-made forest in Europe, and its brooding presence had been palpable at the start: a great black mass stretching to the skyline and beyond. But it was also hilly – my God was it hilly. If there was one point during the race, when I thought, I really can’t do this, it was Wark Forest. I struggled to keep the pace below 9 min, I seemed paralyzed, frankly, like in a dream, when you’re trying to move and can’t flaming get anywhere. It was just so bloody arduous and the glute pain had spread to my left side as well. Really mile 8 was the make or break, when that insidious little thought crept unbidden into my mind: “Pack it in. There’s no shame. The club’ll understand, they’ll be sympathetic.” Etc etc. I don’t know, maybe it was the frustration and resentment of being caught by the other runners, or maybe it was the counter thought that burst through my dysfunctional thought processes: “Use the downhills, Dummy! The downhills!” These were clearly a massive boost and the exit from the forest was accompanied by a series of extremely sharp descents, which I made the most of and my pace settled down to a satisfactory 7.50ish.
Ah…. That last mile. As the forest spat the runners out, they were confronted by a rugged landscape of undulating, rock strewn, grassy ridges, the route actually following the road to the left. The finish could be seen: a cluster of metallic coloured blobs, which, of course, never seemed to get any nearer. The last ascent was a killer. But, at least the hosts lined the road, urging us on as we stumbled on to the finish line, one guy even shouting to me “brilliant time mate”. Perhaps as a final incentive to finish with a photographically pleasing sprint – which didn’t happen. Dave Young was waiting for me on the line with an ear-splitting grin and hand outstretched.
An impressive performance all round: Dave Young 23rd underscoring his status as an elite runner; Ryan struggling through injury to miss out on 2 hours by not a great deal; Emma, bloody strong, right at the top of the ladies finishers; Stuey sticking with it and digging deep to finish 100th, well in the top half of the draw; and Bryan, a novice to these events, easily cracking 2 hours. And me 61st, 8th in my age category.
Of course the weather gods were kind to us on this day. Had that not been the case, then the race would’ve been a very serious undertaking. The event itself: well organised, no lack of stewards and medics with a fantastically informal feel about it. Good quality running top to cap it all. Will I be back next year. Yes and hopefully, accompanied by a cohort in black and white.