Northumberland Coastal Ultramarathon, 28th Feb 2015

By Jamie Harding

This is a fine event, but not if you enjoy a lie in. At 5.15 a.m. I’m leaving the house, telling my disappointed dog Lucy that I can’t take her out this morning, but my wife Allison will take her for a walk later, before she goes out for the day (it’s Allison who’s going out for the day, not Lucy). Registration at Bamburgh Castle is at 7 a.m. then by 8 a.m. we’ve been taken to a field and are receiving a long drawn out briefing in sight of Alnwick Castle, where many other club members will be running in the cross country later in the day.

The first part of the race goes along trails out to Alnmouth. I hear a man with a bald patch a similar shape to mine say that he has set his watch to pace him at 10 minute miles; this would mean finishing in just under 6 hours, much quicker than my time last year of approximately 6 hours 45 minutes and 53 seconds. So I decide to try to keep the bald patch in sight all the way round.

My plan hits a snag when we reach the beach at Alnmouth and I do two very British things. Firstly, although it’s the end of February, the beach inspires me to take my clothes off, or at least the Hadrian’s Wall Relay 2007 t shirt that I have on underneath my Claremont top. Secondly, as I run along the shore, I imagine myself in the classic film Chariots of Fire and start reciting the dialogue: “We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams …”

By the 13 mile mark, I know that I am on schedule because I have overtaken the bald patch and, unlike last year, I pass the half marathon runners before they start. They break off from listening to their long drawn out briefing to applaud us which is great – soon they will be coming past us, as will some of the fastest of the marathon runners (who start an hour after us) and eventually the 10k runners.

My friend and role model Jason Mellor once said that there are two terrible moments in an ultra marathon – one when you think you are going to die and one when you realise that you are not. I’m dangerously close to the first of these as we approach Bamburgh Castle and a test of character: one arrow saying ‘finish’ and the other saying ‘ultra’. But I’m half an hour inside my time for last year: even if I stop to walk most of the last 9 miles, I should beat my time.

I am walking soon as we go across a bumpy field of dry mud, then I’m on a long straight road, where five of us are doing that odd run which is quicker than walking, but not much. The road stretch just goes on and on but eventually we return to the beach and a short stretch back to the castle. I just miss out on beating six hours but am approximately 43 minutes and 22 seconds faster than last year, so delighted with that.

The end of the race and time for the final credits: “Eric Liddle died in occupied China in 1945. All of Scotland mourned. Harold Abrahams became the elder statesman of British Athletics until his death in 1973. Jamie Harding drove home and found that, despite his efforts, his dog still expected to be taken for her evening walk.” So it’s off to the park for the slowest lap in history.