Monday, 4 March 2013

Northumberland Coastal Ultra 2013

I dont intend this to be a "race report", as frankly they can be pretty dull. I hope to make this more of a "race experience". It is bound to contain race detail, but I hope also how the race felt and unfolded from my viewpoint.
This was to be my second experience of ultra running and a very different type of race. i ran the Ennerdale 50k last year, which was a hilly Lake District event. Today was a much flatter affair and a touch longer at 35 miles.
I live only 45 minutes away so left home in the dark and arrived at race HQ at Bamburgh Castle as the sun was rising to promise a beautiful day. I registered and we were bussed to the start next to Alnwick Castle.

After a race briefing we were off. Heading to the coast at Alnmouth, I ran through fields and along the banks of the river Aln, altogether very pleasant. I had decided (at a very late stage as usual!) that I had to approach this race with my head as well as my legs. With this in mind, I did a bit of online reading on Thursday night and decided on a run/walk strategy. I would run a mile and walk a minute right from the start, the walk allowing the running muscles to rest. I allowed myself a degree of flexibility and walked all hills however short. More on this later. Quite early on we had to cross the river. I'm 6 foot tall, and lets put it this way, I got my pants wet!!

I skirted round the bay at Alnmouth and the first of many golf courses,  onto the first beach  section.  

I love beach runs and often head to Goswick and Holy Island further up the coast. However, this race was an education on how hard beach running can be. The relentless nature is very hard on the  legs in that the stride pattern doesn't change. This is where the one minute walk breaks came into there own. The downside of this was I kept my eye on my watch too much and the scenery too little.

There is a very nice section after coming off the beach around Dunstanburgh Castle, the ruin you can see here. I passed the group of Half Marathon runners getting their race briefing. I got a shock a bit later as the lead runner whizzed by ! I tried to be helpful and keep out of their way on the narrow sections, something that was appreciated by the lead lady runner who obviously realised which race I was in and said "thanks" and "good job fella". Its the little things like this that please me in life. I hope she won the ladies title. Soon I was back on the beach again.

Again the run/walk strategy helped hugely in that, in addition to the rest, I was able to tick the miles off. I could tell myself that a rest was coming up soon and and was getting to the stage where i needed to start talking to myself. I took this last picture of the Farne Islands as after that I couldnt be bothered. This was business now, and whilst I had no doubt that I'd finish this, I wanted it over soon. I probably had 15 miles to go! My whole running life has been transformed by Twitter. I have been inspired by some great people on there and count many to be friends. Glancing at my phone from time to time, I was hugely uplifted by the messages of support. Thank you all.
After running with others for a while who were either in the HM or 10k race I reached Bamburgh Castle and a delightful sign. The left arrow said FINISH and the right arrow said ULTRA. It felt really good to be following the right arrow! 8 miles to go then, time to really dig in, look deep and all that jazz. The nitty gritty bit of an ultra? Who knows, who cares? But this is my blog and thats how I felt:-)
I quite enjoyed running through the dunes around Bamburgh Castle and the golf course on my own, much more like my runs where I seldom see anyone. I ground out the next few miles, annoyingly running a loop around the castle seeming to get no closer to it! But soon enough I'd finished my second ultra and longest run to date. It was wonderful to see my wife, Lynn, and kids (Joe, Gina and Sam) waiting for me at the castle. Lynn took these pictures.
Several issues have arisen from this run. I'm sure the run/walk strategy works for me rather than just walking when I'm knackered. I may experiement with the ratios.
Hydration continues to be a problem for me. I put 1.75 litres of water on my Camelbak. I drank loads before the race started and took on water at 4 of the 5 CPs. I sipped away all day thinking I'd run out soon. I had 0.75 litres left. After the race, I consumed about a gallon of fluid over 5 hours yet didnt pee until 13 hours after my last one at registration. I'm not sure how I improve on this, but i must.

I am continually amazed where the time goes in these long runs. It almost seems that the further I run, the faster the time goes. I fear a 5k would last a hell of a long time now! I can also remember thinking many times during this race that it was unpleasant and I mustn't do this again. Now I can't really relate to that and I DO want to do it again.

My overall performance pleased me. I looked at 33 miles (which is what I thought it was) in 6 hours, an average pace of 10.55 minute miles. I managed 34.9 miles at 10.25 pace.

The organisation and attitude of the Endurancelife guys was great. Everyone was friendly and the event  had a casual feel about it. There was no MC yelling "and here's Johnny from Duns" as I finished. No, the guy said "well done, now get yourself a drink of water"!!

A huge thanks to my Twitter friends for all their kind words. I wouldnt havent attempted this if it were not for you. Two comments deserve a mention. From the Queen of the made-up word: "thats amazeballs" (thanks Catherine) and "an incredible achievement for anyone, but for an old fella like you...." (thanks, I think, Brian) !!

In summary, this is not my type of course. I prefer the hills. I find the relentless nature of the flat beach sections very tough. It is a beautiful part of the country which I'd enjoy more to just run for fun. That said i am so glad I ran it because it has shown me a little bit more about myself. And to prove I was still walking after the finish.....


  1. Brilliant !! your ripping it up Amigo ;-)

  2. Great stuff Johnny! Next stop UTMB :)