Blyth Sands Race, 4th December 2022

The 62nd edition of this 5 mile race took place on Blyth Beach today. In what some might consider a mildly ludicrous endeavour, around 200 foolish brave runners are tasked with running up, down, and back up the beach between Blyth and Seaton Sluice.

Running on sand may already sound like a slog only the most masochistic would bother with, but throw in additional factors such as obstacles (both natural and man-made), biting coastal winds, and the incoming tide, and you have a rather unique race on your hands. A perfect storm perhaps, peerlessly summarised in this former member’s hilarious report.

Kenny McCormick was taking part in his umpteenth Sands race, and was the first Claremonter to set off, due to a handicapped start that is staggered by age and gender. Ladies over-75 are sent off first, with senior men (under-40) the final group to go, around 15 minutes later.

With anecdotes of turbulent races gone by ringing in our ears, those of us taking our first step into the maelstrom were primed for a biblical battering. In the end, it seems we got off fairly lightly compared to last year, and none of our number took a literal dive into the North Sea.

Initially heading north, the harshest early obstacle was the wind, which offered significant pushback as it whipped in viciously off the water. The large pipe running out into the sea provided a gentle early challenge, with most opting to deviate slightly inland, so as to be able to easily hop over it at its most submerged.

The first turning point, marked by a large Blyth Running Club flag, was reached fairly swiftly. Now heading back the way we’d come, a welcome calm descended, as the punishing wind seemed mostly behind us. We probably wouldn’t need to worry about it again until we reached the second turning point at Seaton Sluice? (the naivety).

Taking advice from Sands veteran Dave Nolan, I opted to try and run near the scuzzy foam left behind by the ebbing tide, as the sand was likely to be at its firmest, not too soft, not too wet. The obvious risk with this strategy is that you can (and will) be suddenly smashed by a freezing wave. As I passed back through the start area and continued south, I had almost entirely avoided running through anything larger than a shallow puddle. This wasn’t to last.

The first ‘groyne’ soon loomed. Having only recently learned this name, these large, wooden fence-like barriers provided the most serious challenge of the race. Depending on the height of the tide/sand, and how keen you were to try and keep your feet dry, the most athletic could attempt to hurdle these, but the majority of us had to take a more undignified approach, adopting a hybrid of jumping/climbing, or simply slowing right down to gingerly clamber over. I managed to navigate groyne no.1 successfully, swerving away from an encroaching wave just as I reached it.

Neptune clearly decided this was no fun, and so I launched over groyne no.2 with dry feet, but hit the ground on the other side in shin-deep water. Point of no-return now passed, wet feet were no longer something to be feared, merely endured. Once no.3 had been cleared, a long unbroken stretch down to Seaton Sluice lay ahead, with uneven sand and rocks posing the most immediate threat.

Pushing on, the beach started to curve along the coastline, and the wind resumed its hammering of us, with increasing venom. This was the nadir of the race for me, the battle against the wind combining with regular bashings by the sea, some hitting as high as the knee. While I knew it could’ve been so much tougher (we weren’t having to wade), from about halfway it felt as though a I had a kilo of water sloshing around in my shoes.

Rounding the second flag, the ferocity of the wind dropped to allow for a calmer final couple of miles, heading back north toward the finish. Legs sapped of energy, the groynes weren’t attacked with such vigour on the return journey, with some runners being given a helping hand over by the marshals. The finish funnel being angled away from the sea meant that a final sprint was bogged down at the end, as we hit the softest, deepest sand of the whole run. Congratulations however to Julie Cross, who didn’t let any of this stop her from being the first Claremonter home, and winner of her age category no less! A well-earned prize!

Staying on the freezing beach slightly too long after finishing proved a misstep, with some of us heading back to desperately grab extra layers as the post-run glow faded. Blyth RC had laid on refreshments in the centre by the beach, allowing us to stand inside in merciful warmth and munch mince pies, biscuits, tea and coffee (or sherry, for those in need of a stronger pick-me-up). This on top of the race itself, all for £6. Once the shivering had subsided, it certainly seemed a bargain.

Like some of the tougher races I’ve attempted, my initial feeling on crossing the finishing line was that this should be a once-and-never-again event, ticked-off and done. But as ever, the harsher memories of the ordeal will fade with time, and I’ll no doubt be there at the front of the queue when entries open for the 2023 race.

This may not sound like the most ringing endorsement, so I’ll end by saying that in my relatively short running career, this is a unique experience, and one that I’d encourage anyone up for a race with a bit of something different to try.

Maybe next time there’ll be the opportunity for a swim…

Full results here

PositionNameRace TimeActual Time
29Julie Cross34:4345:43
62David Lydall37:3444:34
65María Dueñas37:4241:42
95Hazel Juggins40:2752:27
99Laurie Johnson40:4240:42
149Mariana Mouzinho50:1054:10
155Kenny McCormick53:5164:51
162Rose Hawkswood57:1061:10
Laurie Johnson -