It’s been a long time since I wrote a race report, but then it’s been a long time since I’ve raced. September last year saw my final triathlon of the season at the Brownlees event at Harewood House and I haven’t done a competitive race since then.
Easter Sunday was to be the day I stuck a number on my shirt, a timing chip on my trainers and ran 10k along the North East coast from North Shields to Whitley Bay in the annual North Tyneside 10k.
This is my most local race and the first one I ever did back in 2009, so it has good memories for me. It’s always on Easter Sunday, which means that the conditions can be very variable. I’ve run it with snow and hailstones lashing down, and then another time got sunburned shoulders and plodged in the sea at the finish. But there’s always the promise of some chocolate indulgence afterwards.
I’ve been focusing on building up Wordstruck, my freelance writing and training business over the past few months, so haven’t done anything like the volume of training that I’ve done in previous years. One or two runs per week, and a weight training session is about all I’ve managed with any kind of consistency. I also hurt my back a few weeks ago, luckily not badly, but it has meant I’ve been easing back into running and other training.
So, those are all my excuses. But really I don’t need to make them, because like everyone else running, I was prepared to get up, get there and give it a go. My aim was to run harder than I would do in training, run every step and to enjoy it. And I did.
In a well practised routine, I dropped my car off near the finish and got a lift to the start at the Parks Leisure Centre in North Shields. There was a great sense of anticipation, seeing lots of running club vests and runners all gathering together for a big race. The air was chilly, and the forecast rain and wind were being kept at bay.
My pal Peter Brooks spotted me and said hello and we had a nice chat before the start. I only saw a couple of other runners I know, which was surprising given the crowds. I remained quite relaxed as we made our way to the start.
Wearing my new Garmin Fenix 5S for its first race, I got set to press start as I stepped over the line, with a chorus of beeps showing our timing chips had been activated. I was off and running! And it felt great.
The first section of the course is pretty crowded as runners find their way through the streets of North Shields and then turn down the hill towards the Fish Quay. I didn’t have any problems running among the crowds though, just finding my own space and really picking up some speed on the down hill.
Along the Fish Quay, it felt quite sheltered and even warm, and there was plenty of space as runners in brightly coloured shirts streamed in a ribbon along beside the river. We all knew there was a hill coming, and as it got closer, there was an almost palpable sense of tension. I focused on shortening my stride and just keeping going, up, then a little left turn and up again, before the road opens out beside Tynemouth Priory and another steep uphill, crowned with supporters.
In a bid to do some training, I will come out and run hill reps up this slope, so I’m not frightened of it. I kept my pace steady, just pushing on, counting the lamposts to emerge at the top, and keep going, knowing there’s a nice easy downhill to help regather your energy.
Now I was on familiar ground, running along the route of many regular runs, the sea on my right, a cool breeze on my face. The only difference from my training runs are the number of other runners and supporters on the course.
Three miles down and I was feeling good, knowing the hardest part of the route was behind me. At this point, I was saying to myself, push on, keep pushing and don’t leave anything in the tank.
Having focused on recovering, I’ve been running at relatively easy effort, with little focus on speed, so I wasn’t too sure how I would feel picking up the pace for a race.
I was still enjoying it and high fiving the occasional supporter along the route. I got a couple of shout outs, but didn’t always see where they came from. One little lad with blond hair was doing a great job of cheering on runners and gave me a good loud “Go on Fetch” (reading my race T-shirt). That gave me at least a half a mile boost.
I deliberately didn’t look at my watch, but felt the buzz as I clocked up another mile. Knowing the route, I also had an innate sense of where I was and how far I still had to go. I glanced at the view a few times, but today was more focused on looking ahead and pushing on. I started to target runners in front to chase down and pass, but I was starting to feel it was taking more of an effort to keep up the pace.
Just before Spanish City, the path narrows sharply, and marshals directed us onto the road for a short section, before we ducked around the new hotel and back onto the footpath beside Whitley Bay links. Somewhere along here I saw a runner I recognised from parkrun, with her distinctive hair braids, and wearing a Newcastle Front Runners shirt. I went to shout her some encouragement, but blanked on her name, so burbled something incomprehensible that she didn’t hear. Sorry Vanessa!
By now I was running along the Links, knowing that there was only just over a mile to go. Nothing hurt, I still felt good, but it felt like I’d started to go backwards as my pace dropped and runners seemed to pass me on both sides. My old work pal Helen Riding gave me a shout as she passed by and I focused on keeping her in my sights as long as I could. But by now there were supporters and runners who had finished beside the paths, and I lost track of her as I absorbed energy from their support.
The signs appear for the last few hundred metres and a runner behind me encourages two girls to push on for the finish. I’m still thinking ‘leave nothing in the tank’ and pick up the pace as I round the final corner with the finish line in sight. After feeling a bit sluggish for the past half mile or so, my legs surprise me with a blast of pace and I manage a sustained sprint for the line. Wow! That felt great.
I have a chat with Helen at the finish. She thinks she’s got close to the hour and my watch tells me I’m just over 1h 1 min. I’m slower than last year when I just scraped in under the hour, but really happy with how I ran and how I felt running and racing again.
It is a glorious thing to be able to do, to just get up and know that I can run 6.2 miles. I’ve run further and faster, but 10k remains my benchmark of a decent but enjoyable challenge and the kind of run that I aim to do regularly, either training or racing.
Running it along a familiar and beautiful piece of coast line with so many fellow runners and friends is a once a year privilege, and one I hope to enjoy for a long time yet.