This race, a traditional warm up for the Great North Run, goes from Hexham to Ovingham along country roads, through the village of Corbridge in the Tyne Valley. It’s really popular with local club runner and about 500 people take part in it. It’s well organised, marshalled and they serve you jelly, a sandwich and a cup of tea at the end. I think more races should serve jelly at the finish, it’s a great recovery food.
Anyway, this was to be my second time running this race. Like last year I was using it as a guide to my pace for the Great North Run, the main difference this year being that I wasn’t sure what that pace was. I’ve had a couple of good runs recently where I’ve been able to do a few 9 min miles, so I wanted to see if I could make that stick over a longer distance.
I’d said I’d pace Tove, my friend from parkrun, who won’t believe that she’s actually a good bit faster than me on her day. This gave me a whole new level of responsibility and a great incentive to keep digging in and keep the pace up.
I met up with Sue and we drove over to the finish together, to catch the bus to take us back to the start. We spotted and chatted to a fair few people we know from parkrun and other events and someone came over to say that they’d read my blog of last year’s race to get some tips. It’s always nice when someone says they read my blog, but it always takes me a bit by surprise. I mean, I know it’s public and out there, but I sort of forget that you lot read it 😉
Anyway, I wish I had gone back and read it as I remembered very little about the race other than the fact that I did well and enjoyed it last year.
This year was pretty much a repeat performance. We walked down from the leisure centre, over the bridge and along a country lane. We only just joined the back of the pack when the hooter went off and the race started. I reckon it took about 20 seconds for me to cross the line and get away.
It’s not a crowded start, as the roads are wide enough to manage all the runners and I soon slipped into an easy pace, focusing on keeping my stride short and turning my legs over quickly. I was conscious of not setting off too quickly and trying to keep a moderate pace. It was perhaps a little too sedate as Tove and I had agreed on 9:15 and we went through the first mile on 9:26.
I picked it up a bit for the second mile and here I felt I really settled into the run, trotting out the miles feeling very comfortable in my breathing and steady with my feet. We went through the next couple at close to 9 minute miles.
It was warm and sunny again, which made us stick to the side of the roads in search of shade and weave across the tarmac to be in the tree line. The route is quite rural and under blue skies in the sunshine, it’s a lovely run. I’m afraid we slowed down some of the cyclists also enjoying a great day out, but most were cheerful and encouraging as they freewheeled their way through the field.
The first point of notice came as we went through Corbridge, where people and a very cute dog watched us run by from the village pub. As you leave the village there’s a long incline where we overtook a Sunderland Stroller and Tove used her long legs to push on ahead. I was expecting this as she’s much faster up the hills than I am. I was also trying to focus on keeping the effort easy and not trying to power up the hill only to emerge breathless at the top. It was a good strategy.
There’s a steady climb around the 4-5 mile mark, but there’s a nice bit of downhill to counterbalance it soon after. Lengthening out my stride and just letting my legs go long, I caught back up to Tove soon after a downhill and we were back running together again.
The inclines and my conservative uphill strategy cost us some time here, but we were back to a fast couple of miles again soon after and mile 6 was my fastest of the race.
I’ve been running with music recently, picking tunes with a good BPM to try and get me to pick up my pace a bit more. It’s been particularly noticeable that when Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ comes on the playlist, I run to its driving beat and clock around a 9 min mile.
So today I was using it to try and pace myself, thinking the words and the rhythm in my head. It’s quite hard to do and I tend to get the words jumbled or repeat the same bits in my mind, but it definitely helps. As we were passing another runner called Hillary, I said ‘d been using it to pace myself and she mentioned that Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’ is another one with a 9 min mile beat. Well, we’ve sung that with choir, so I belted out a breathless half chorus and used that on my mental jukebox for a while.
I’d been pretty confident about doing 5 miles at about 9 min mile pace as I’d managed that at the Tyne Bridge Harriers race, but beyond that I didn’t know how long I would last. Tove was sticking with me and I felt good and strong, with the same easy breathing as at the start, so I just kept going, focusing on the short strides and trying to say relaxed.
I was happy I’d got to 5 miles at around target pace, and mentally decided if I could take it to 7, then I’d have done a decent pacing job. Mile six clicked over into 7 nicely and then Tove said she was finding it hard. I was conscious that, apart from the hills, I’d been closer to 9 min miles than 9:15, but that was the speed my legs seemed to stick to. It doesn’t sound a lot, 15 seconds a mile, but it can be a big pace difference over a longer race.
But soon after that she passed in front of me, so I figured she got a second wind. I had some mango at this point as I could feel I was beginning to tire a little, especially in the heat and I was grateful for a mouthful of water and a splash on my face as we ran through the water stations.
By mile 8, Tove had fallen behind a bit and I just kept pressing forward in the hope she could see me and use me as a target. I was feeling the distance by now too, with my calves starting to stiffen and a couple of times I felt myself run off balance, so I knew my form was beginning to tire too.
But in my head I knew it was just 2 miles to go. That’s less than a parkrun and just about 18 more minutes to enjoy running in the sunshine in the countryside. For a second I felt like easing back, but I told myself I’d regret it with just two miles to go. I could stand a little discomfort if I needed to. My breathing was steady and everything was in good order, so there was really no excuse not to press on.
The thing that everyone mentions about this race is ‘the hill’. It’s at 9 miles, which is a bit of a shocker in a 10 mile race. opinions differ. It’s one to be walked, one to be powered up, or one just not to think about, depending on who you ask. Although steep, it is relatively short, despite a bit of a false summit and a turn.
Last year I tried to power up it and left myself breathless at the top. This time I shortened my stride to baby steps, used my cycling experience to determine that the middle of the road was likely to be a bit less steep than the sides and managed to pass a couple of runners on the way up. My pace was barely above walking, but it was a matter of pride to run the whole lot and I was happy to emerge at the top without feeling I was going to collapse.
Now you know there’s less than a mile to go and there’s a bit of downhill to pick up some speed. My legs were really tiring by now, but I took one last bite of mango and struck out for home. There were people out supporting their club runners on the final straight and I took a bit of their encouragement for myself. It’s not easy to judge where the finish is, but being funnelled onto a narrow path over the grass and towards the school, I picked up some last gasp speed and powered on to overtake a Wallsend Harrier girl and sprint down the finish line.
I’d barely got my thoughts together and hadn’t got my breath back enough to get a drink of water when I saw Tove cross the line, so she really hadn’t fallen very far behind.
Your reward for this race isn’t a medal or a T-shirt, instead Tynedale Harriers do a fine job of feeding you in the school at the finish, with a spread of jelly, sandwiches tea and cake. I think it’s a great idea and the jelly in particular is a fine post race treat. It’s cold and sweet and easy to eat. I don’t know why it isn’t a regular feature at more races.
I really enjoyed this race. It’s well organised, marshalled and attended – although it does tend to attract more club runners than the more casual running crew. As a result, it’s pretty fast, with the last finisher this year coming in under two hours.
My own time was a good bit slower than last year, but I’m not unhappy with that. I was in brilliant form in 2011 and had the advantage of a pacer for the second part of the race who slyly pushed me on to go sub 1h30. This year’s stats show that I was slower every mile, but that I’m faster than I have been for much of the year. So it’s all coming good in time for the Great North Run in two weeks’ time.
Stats and stuff:
10 miles 1:33:56 (official time 1:34:15)
1) – 1m – 9:26(9:26/m) – 53cal
2) – 1m – 9:06(9:06/m) – 46cal
3) – 1m – 9:09(9:09/m) – 65cal
4) – 1m – 9:42(9:42/m) – 95cal
5) – 1m – 9:46(9:46/m) – 66cal
6) – 1m – 8:56(8:56/m) – 37cal
7) – 1m – 9:06(9:06/m) – 33cal
8) – 1m – 9:17(9:17/m) – 99cal
9) – 1m – 9:27(9:27/m) – 78cal
10) – 1m – 9:36(9:36/m) – 85cal
11) – 0.08m – 27(5:37/m) – 2cal