Not such a Hellhole after all

I was really a bit unsure about this one. Every time I mentioned I was thinking of doing the Hellhole 10k, my local running pals pals took a sharp intake of breath and muttered words like clarty, mucky and hilly. And in my mind’s eye I could see a photo of Lesley Anne from last year’s race, sporting the ‘couldn’t be any wetter if I’d jumped in the sea’  look. But she was still smiling, so how bad could it be?

We’ve had a bit of rain and I was worried about the surfaces and my road shoes, but with reassurance from David and Lisa reminding me that I’d run some of the route with her ages ago, I set off for Stanley, with the intention of enjoying a nice long run in different surroundings than usual.

It was all very friendly as I paid on the day and picked up my number. There didn’t seem to be many runners around, but I caught up with David and Anna and spied a couple of parkrun regulars. On the field at the start line it was great to see Jason and Lisa, helping out with one of their local races.

Any nerves and misgivings were put aside by the  relaxed nature of the gathering and the start, which was actually delayed a little to allow a runner to get to the front of the pack. A whistle blow and we were off.

Around the field on the grass and then straight onto a tarmac path and up a steep climb. I picked my feet up and tried to settle into a rhythm. It took me a while to find my groove. Not being sure what to expect, I just tried to relax and run easy. I wanted to feel like I was putting some effort in, but knew I couldn’t compare it to my other 10k road races.

So I just ran by feel, enjoying the flat sections out along the river, stretching out my legs and holding onto some energy for the race ahead. The first kilometre markers came by quite quickly and I started to reel in groups of runners ahead one by one.

Into the woods and I zoomed down the path, just letting go and relaxing, not trying to fight the downhill, but go with it to pass a couple more runners. This was a really lovely bit of the race. Marshalls had been out and marked the bigger boulders in white, so they didn’t catch you unawares. But the leaf lined paths beneath the trees were really a pleasure to run on.

As I passed a stocky runner on a down hill, he gave me directions – just down to the bottom and then turn right. But there were marshalls and tape marking every twist and turn. And I began to recognise the lovely woods that I ran through with Lisa so long ago.

I even remembered the steep uphill climb out of them which came at around 5k on this course and I knew it held no horrors. And with a far better understanding of the difference between trail and road running thanks to Lisa’s encouragement, I picked up my feet, shortened my stride and powered up to the top.

I’d have had plenty in the tank to keep on pushing, but as we came out of the wood into a meadowy field, the muddy paths proved too slippery to run safely, so I slowed to a walk. We were still climbing and the paths were narrow. When I heard runners behind me I tried to keep to one side and a couple I’d overtaken in the woods came past me. I just didn’t have the grip to push it, so enjoyed the chance of a breather.

It didn’t last long though, and as soon as the path began to dry out, I started to run again, back through the woods, enjoying a very different feel from the sea and sky and tarmac paths I usually take. There seemed to be more uphill in the second half of the run. Not so much steep banks and climbs but some deceptive longer rises.

Once again in a grassy field I had to slow to a walk to keep my footing, but by being a little braver this time I managed to jog a little and pass a parkrun regular. I shouted out some encouragement as I passed. I hope he wasn’t too disheartened. He regularly beats me over 5k.

There were little patches of support thoughout the run and even a water station at 6k. It was great to get the well done’s and encouragement and somewhere around the 4 mile mark I got a shout of ‘Come on Scribbler!’ I looked, but didn’t see where it came from.

The final section of the run was back on tarmac paths, although there were still some climbs to come and even a stile to hurdle over. But once I saw the 7k marker, I knew I’d make it comfortably. I even began to regret that I had a handful of more minutes to enjoy this lovely run.

My knees were starting to pull a little though and a runner in black ahead had slowed to a walk. I caught him just as he picked up into a run again and said, ‘Not far to go now.’ For a while I could hear him just behind me and used that to spur me on along a nice level path. But at some point he dropped back again and I was out on my own.

I started to recognise the turns that were bringing me back towards the start and play the ‘what time do you think’ game in my head as I glanced at my watch. I figured around 58 minutes and was happy with that. And at the same time I realised that the path was actually a little uphill, so I shortened my stride again.

At the top was Jason on marshalling duty, pointing the way, saying ‘Just up and back onto the field and you’re all right’. I was surprised as I thought I had a bit further to go. So, one more push up and then onto the grassy field and barely enough time to punch it up for a sprint finish, encouraged over the line by shouts from David and Anna. That will be another race face photo then!

I stopped my watch on 56:32 which would be a respectable time for a flat training run for me. So I was highly delighted. With no aims or expectations, this proved to be a great run, which I really enjoyed. Especially as I dived into the race goody bag and found a banana, packet of crisps and a kit kat alongside the technical T-shirt.

Great scenery, friendly marshalls, relaxed atmosphere and a top goody bag. What more could you want from a run? Thanks to Derwentside Athletics Club for putting it on. Lovely stuff :-)

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, the route goes through Hellhole wood. But if you ask me, there’s nothing hellish about this race – although some may disagree with those hills.

Stats and stuff:
5.96 miles 56:32
1) – 1m – 9:07(9:07/m) – 104cal
2) – 1m – 8:23(8:22/m) – 105cal
3) – 1m – 8:38(8:38/m) – 106cal
4) – 1m – 11:51(11:51/m) – 95cal (muddy hill anyone?)
5) – 1m – 9:33(9:33/m) – 101cal
6) – 0.96m – 9:00(9:22/m) – 99cal

P.S. I just got an email from Newcastle parkrun director who passed on an email from the lady I helped run her first sub 30 minute 5k yesterday and she was delighted. So, well done Gillian. You ran really well and it’s a pleasure to be able to give you a namecheck in my parkrun blog.


Author: The Scribbler

I'm a writer, based in the North East of England. In my working life I give a human voice to business communications. As well as writing, reading and language, I enjoy running and triathlons and I often write about races and events in the North East

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