I entered this race a while ago, in a flurry of race entering, with my focus firmly on improving my 10k time. But I soon realised that would be optimistic over this course, which promised a mixture of trails and sandy beach to contend with. Besides, I need to learn to run and relax, enjoy the experience and not stress myself out too much by focusing on arbitrary numbers. The pace will come. I’ll have to work for it, sure. But I’ve only been doing this for a year, give it time, enjoy the experience.
I was pretty confident I knew where I was going, but took the sat nav. I began to get suspicious when it was directing me another 20 miles before I had to turn off and it was only about 30-odd to the Scottish Borders. A quick stop and a phone call; a bit of choice talking to the sat nav lady and I was back on track again. But I hate being anxious about getting places on time.
There was rain on my journey north, and the skies were threatening grey and cold. As I turned into the field being used as a car park, I worried about getting stuck in the mud. There’s always that nervous chill as you step out of the car, looking around at the other runners. ‘You’ve all been doing this for years..’ is my thought today as they shiver in woolly caps and fluorescent jackets, tights, skins and compression socks.
I’m alone today, no one else I know doing this run. Sometimes being alone makes me garrulous and brave, the shared experience of running, gives me the courage to open up a conversation, make small talk. But not today. Today I just want to focus on me, get my head right, relax and prepare for a good run. So I jog a couple of laps around the car park and decide to Geordie up and discard the light jacket keeping the wind off and do my stretches on the start line.
I love the huddle and the anticipation at the start. The warmth, the protection of being surrounded by other bodies, but the sense that we’re all uniquely in our own place. Some nervous, some laughing and joking, some quiet and reflective. A quick round of applause to warm ourselves up and we’re off.
An unknown course and a bit of dodging and weaving to begin with. Tuck in behind a slow moving group and look for an opportunity to pass. Trying not to go off to fast, too hard. This is an unfamiliar course and there will be trials ahead.
The trail paths are smooth underfoot as we head off around the lake. I try to remember to look around me and see a swan dipping its head in the water. But mainly I’m watching the runners, trying to judge my pace and keep moving forwards. There’s a woman in an Elvet Striders vest ahead, with a lovely holiday tan. She’s got that tight little running style and high elbows that seems to suit trail runners and is deceptively quick. I stretch out to see if my longer strides can meet her pace and slowly, slowly I gain ground until a small incline up through the trees where I power on and pass her.
I concentrate on running smooth, keeping it steady. My breathing chokes up a couple of times and I find myself coughing to catch it and smooth it out. Concentrate, focus, control it.
The route twists and turns through the country park. Pleasant trails through the trees, narrowing and widening. Somewhere along the way I see a woman and man running together. She’s wearing a white club vest with bands of red, yellow and black and encouraging him on, chatting all the time. I work to overtake them.
I take a slug of water as we approach the dunes and wave as the RAF rescue helicopter gives us a fly past. Now that’s not something you get in every race!
On to the beautiful expanse of Druridge Bay. The sands are flat and wide and the ribbon of runners stretches ahead as far as you can see. This is my space, my place, and even though I know the surface will suck the power from my legs, I vow to run here, keep going. I look out to sea and I could be back home running along my beach and the clean golden sands. Picking my way over the harder packed sand, pushing on, keeping it steady. Ahead the runners turn up into the dunes and the soft sand sucks at tired ankles, pulling me back, back, slowing me down on the climb away from the beach.
And this is where the course throws everything at me. Up off the sand dunes, and the steepest rise of the course, straight into a head wind. At least the breeze is cooling, even though it makes me fight for breath. The sign on a gate says 5k. Half way point, time for some mango and keep on pushing.
Back on the trails and pathways again, and it seems every time you get to the top of an incline, there’s another ahead. The club vest and her companion overtake me and start to pull away, but I vow to keep them in my sights.
Relax, focus, stretch out the legs and push on. Remember, those 50 min 10k runners live with the pain. Does anything hurt? No. Are you breathing okay? Yes? Legs okay? Yes. Well push on then…show me what you’re made of.
Through the fields and up the long slow inclines, I focus on the next group of runners ahead, and inch by inch close the gaps. This isn’t about sudden spurts, just steady, steady winding it in, stretching it out.
There’s a man and a boy just ahead. I presume it’s his son. The young lad beaming as he runs. “Just keep it going,” the man says, “it’s the hills that get them, but once you stop, it’s hard to get going again.” I give them a thumbs up as I power on past.
I seem to have found a second wind. ‘Run hard when you can,’ I tell myself and ‘Don’t worry too much if the ground takes it out of you.’ The club vest couple are close again now. I run beside them for a while, not quite tuning into their chat, but exchanging pace with them for around a kilometre, until finally I get past and pull away.
I glance at my Garmin as we pass through some trees. Around 7k gone, we’re on the home straight and I just keep chasing them down one by one. A girl in a dark pink vest puts up a good challenge and we run shoulder to shoulder for a good while. I sneak another piece of mango and power on.
We begin to retrace some of the paths around the lake where we started. But my sense of direction is never very good, and certainly not in unfamiliar races. I still don’t have a sense of where the finish will come.
Behind the trees I hear a roar of cheers. That’ll be the finish then. But I cannot see it and the paths twist and turn. The Garmin’s last beep and I push on, driving my heart rate up and my breathing into patchiness. When to go? When to sprint for it? Not until you have it in your sights. For the briefest second my head drops. Where is the finish? The girl in the dark pink top draws alongside me again and says “Come on, we’ve come a long way together…” I pick my head up and smile.
And there’s the blue plastic netting keeping the spectators off the route and the finish line just around the corner. From goodness knows where I find a sprint. And then another one. Turbo boost to overtake 1,2,3 runners before the finish line. I stop the clock at 53:25 – a good time for a tough route.
In the finish funnel I turn to shake hands with the pink vest girl. “Thank you, you really kept me going there.” “You were away and off,” she says.
“But that was my best ever time and you helped me to it.”
Stats: 10k 53:25
6. 6.03 (gulp – that’ll be the sand dunes and hill I guess)
In summary this is a really lovely race, well organised, well marshalled with little pockets of welcome support along the route. A reasonably tough course with some inclines (nothing too steep) and a beautifully sandy beach to run along. I enjoyed it and had a good run.