Never to be outdone, the ever-competitive Keith Rooney adds a little muddiness to Lindsay Walsh’s own superb retelling of the Northern’s tale.
Things got a bit dirty during the race in more ways than one. I’ve alluded to it, but not been specific in any detail. It shouldn’t be too controversial. “Mud glorious mud”…..Eh? I remember the old ditty – all about a family of hippopotamusses frolicking about in the warm, sultry waters of an African Savannah. But, as I surveyed the rain-scoured scene, the ravaged tents and footsore youngsters stumbling about, more Somme than savannah sprang to mind.
Like a mottled army of many shades, they charged up the hill, disappearing into the ominous gloom gathering in the West: a grey veil which threatened to smother everything. The ladies were off. I silently wished them God speed and tried to bend my thoughts to our own impending trial. I had never seen anything like it: a morass in places to the knees; a world of mud seemingly threatening to engulf everything and anyone in its path.
To the old hands, of course, this was nothing new, and our splashing and fumbling about in the tent was accompanied – apart from the occasional muffled expletive – by a constant and contented humming emanating from Father Baker; a humming which erupted into spontaneous song as we dredged our way to the start pens, from whence very shortly, amidst a bellicose chorus of rallying calls and chants, this enormous wedge of runners would plough into action.
It was everyman for himself, of course, no chivalry here, and one mad stampede followed upon another, as the combatants desperately sought out the few remaining strips of firm, green ground left. The runners were a whirr of knees and elbows and more than once the incessant squelch and splatter was broken by a dull thud and winded groan as some elbow found a mark. Energy-sapping……That would be putting it euphemistically.
As the miles oozed past, the pain and fatigue became remorseless, the pace wretched. But, of course, even the most brutal trial can have its uplifting moments; and at one point, sunk in a deep introspection of pain and self-doubt, seemingly stumbling aimlessly from one slough to the next, I was abruptly, unexpectedly, wrenched back to reality.
“C’mon Tynebridge!” the voice bawled in my face. “Run TBH!”
I was fair expecting to see the ladies team lined up, hell bent on a moral boosting mission to bolster up a flagging male comrade. Instead, I glimpsed the familiar white and green of Heaton Harriers.
“C’mon lad! Dig deep! For the North East!” another voice chucked in.
I have to admit, I was touched to the heart and made to realise: this wasn’t just about TBH, it was as much about regional pride. Of course, TBH’s very own internal dynamics had their part to play and I was grimly determined to hang onto John Hurse. I’d managed to hold him off for the most part, but now he’d edged it.. He finished some 30 seconds or so ahead.
The hardest race to date? Without doubt: 12k of mud, sweat and tears. And to all who got through it: you should be mightily proud of yourselves, for how many people in this island of ours could honestly say: I could do that.