An early Christmas weekend with the family in Durham was the perfect excuse to run the Saltwell 10k which, at 102 years old, is the oldest road race in Britain.
Luckily, I was just after a good hard run rather than it being a target race, as my sleep the night beforehand was rather interrupted, initially by Cecilia (my 3 yr old niece). She decided to wake me up at 1:30am by lying on my head and trying to remove my eyes from their sockets. Aleks (her 5 yr old brother) was then sent in to "chat to me" at 6:30am, but at least we managed to play a bit before I headed to Gateshead with my father.
Trying to warm up at the start
There was an enormous interest in the race and so no entry was available on the day. Numbers and chips were allocated in alphabetical order, and as there were only 502 chips available, I did not get one. The organisers assured me that they would note my time at the finish, but suggested that I start at the front of the field. Unfortunately, I'm not a fast starter, and so thought that I'd get mown down in the rush if I went to the front. I tried to start a few rows back - over at one side - so that I wasn't too far away, but managed to trip over a bollard right on the start due to the sheer number of runners in such a small space.
The wind had been gusting incredibly strongly all morning, and then, just after I registered, the heavens opened. My dad sensibly stayed in the car while I got soaked on a short warmup run, but luckily the skies cleared just as the race began (though unfortunately both runners and supporters had already got their shoes soaked).
Alyson leading them off
The course is an undulating one, consisting of 3.5 laps round and through Saltwell Park. When it says " undulating", what it really means is that there are 2 tough hills to climb and descend in every lap, so the race is a tough workout. Alyson Dixon started off right at the front, and disappeared away into the distance, having a great run to finish 5th overall and take 50s off her own course record.
A lull in the first hill
Three ladies running in Jarrow's club colours all started off pretty fast and so became my targets on the first lap. I passed a couple of them in the first mile, and then started to reel the third one in on the climbs. As usual, I was much stronger on the ascents (always gaining places) than the descents (as I was very worried about slipping on the steep wet paths, mud and leaves).
Climbing right to the end of each lap
As we crossed the start line again after the first lap, I had managed to close the gap on the final Jarrow lady and so soon moved up into second place, while trying to manage a smile for my watching dad. There were many many marshals out on the course, and it was so nice to hear encouragement for "Dumfries" as I ran.......one of the many benefits of having your club name written in large letters on your vest. My father had met a friend of his (who coaches at a club in Durham) and they were there at the top of the hill in the middle of the park every lap encouraging me on. Full marks to my dad for his sprinting ability through the park, as he made it between there and the start point to see me on every lap.
Round the Lake to finish
On the last lap (and even more so on the final half lap) there was the added challenge of negotiating and encouraging other runners that were being lapped. Although I knew that I did not have a chip, and so I would not be recorded passing over the timing mats every lap, I resisted the temptation to finish a lap early, and was actually worried about missing the final turning away from the course and round the lake to the finish.
It was lucky that there a sprint finish wasn't called for, as the final straight was on very boggy grass and marshals actually caught me twice to prevent me completely skidding over in the mud!
It was nice to catch up with Alyson and the Jarrow ladies (who also won the team prize) for a cool down jog, before tucking into the cakes and cookies on offer back at registration.
Run done and it was time to head back home for an early Wigilia.......though I think I wore my legs out more trying to act out "frog" and "rabbit" (don't ask how I acted out "hoover"!!) in Charades for Kids, than I did in the race!