Every year, on the 9th of June, Blaydon Harrier and Athletic Club organise a road race from Newcastle to Blaydon. The iconic 1862 Geordie song ‘Blaydon Races’ is used as the inspiration and as many details as possible from the song are incorporated. Hence the date, the start outside “Balmbras”, the handbell brought out of the Discovery Musuem and rung to start the race and the route ‘alang Collingwood Street,’ and ‘alang the Scotswood Road’. When I ran it for the first time way back in 1990 it was a small fun run and at least half of the runners wore flat caps, including me! Well at least I started with a cap – somewhere along the route we parted company!
Roll on to 2015 and it’s taken a bit more seriously. Without digging out all my t-shirts to check I think this is the sixth year I have run it but it’s the first year I have been by myself! Unfortunately the bank that handled the payments for the online entries this year managed to mess up. They failed so badly that all entries were suspended. It took a while to get it all sorted out and then the entries were reopened on the morning of Saturday 14th Feburary. It was mayhem and all the remaining places went within five minutes. I managed to get a place but not one did so it was just me this year.
The main problem with this is I don’t know my way round Newcastle. I drove up and parked outside my sister’s house and caught the bus as instructed. She had emailed me maps and directions and I had my phone but even so I allowed an hour and a half to find the start. So I was very relieved when a few stops down the road a man got on in running kit with a race number pinned to his front. I followed him off the bus (not the stop my sister had told me to take but then there were roadworks everywhere). He seemed friendly so I checked he wasn’t as clueless as me and asked if I could tag along with him. He was lovely and led me through a maze of streets that bore no relation to my sister’s directions until we came out at the start. He left me there and headed back to meet his friends at a pub!
I have never been so early for a race. Fortunately it was a lovely warm evening and the crowd was good-natured as always. I wandered around drinking my water and even had time to watch the can-can. I have no idea why there’s always a performance of the can-can before the Blaydon Race but there is. I then headed up to the toilet queue. They do their best and they bring in about 20 portaloos. Most of the pubs and bars around the start are quite happy for runners to use their facilities as well. Even so I was stood in the queue over 40 minutes. As usual a few people tried to cut in to the front of the queue. Runners are generally a friendly bunch and the Blaydon Race is one of the most laid back and welcoming races going. However try and skip the toilet queue and you will be the focus of outright hostility. A couple of queuers in front of me a chancer tried to cut in. The person at the front of the queue gave the usual ‘excuse me there’s a queue’ but the woman had the cheek to reply ‘I’m desperate, you don’t mind do you?’ to which at least 15 people said ‘yes we do, get to the back!’
The exciting thing is that the Blaydon Race now has chip timing. In the bad old days you had to fight your way to the front and hope you would miss the bottleneck that hems you in until past the Life Centre. Now you can hang back and amble down to the start knowing that your time won’t be counted until you cross the line. This has the added bonus that you are in the middle of the slower runners so you have the fun of overtaking lots of people. Even better the timing chip was incorporated in the number so there was no messing about trying to fix it to your trainers. The field is split into two – the professionals and the club runners go off first and the amateurs are set off five minutes later. Well that’s the theory. It’s always much longer though, it was at least fifteen minutes this year before we got going.
The route goes up a short slope, then down and around the Life Centre and then up a little hill and onto the Scotswood Road. There are always plenty of people lining the streets and cheering you on. Once you are on the Scotswood Road the crowd of runners thins out as it’s a dual carriageway and there’s plenty of room to run. It’s pretty flat and this is the best section to try and push on a bit. Having driven up and down this road a lot there’s a strange thrill in running through the red traffic lights that you usually have to sit and queue at. After about two miles there’s a band playing to encourage you and a scattering of onlookers with kids holding out their hands for a high five. The only problem was that as usual I hadn’t brought my cap (not my flat cap, my running cap). For some reason the one year I ran in torrential rain sticks in my mind and I always think it’s going to be cloudy and wet again. Most years it isn’t and all along the Scotswood Road the sun is in your eyes. Next year I swear I will remember!
Apparently there are mile markers along the route but I have never spotted them. I have my Nike+ wrist band, which isn’t totally accurate as I haven’t calibrated it in ages, but gives me a rough idea of how far I have gone. From previous years I know that from the band it’s about a mile to the Scotswood Bridge and it’s a long slow gradual uphill. I hate running uphill and when you get to the bridge you are rewarded with a short, steep, slope to get on the bridge. Lots of people walk up the this bit but I know that if I walk I never really get going again so I ran up it, albeit probably slower than most people were walking. Going down the other side I was once again grateful I had learnt to run downhill as I passed several people.
Previous years ,the route had turned sharply down to the bank of the river and gone there and back again but this year we ran on the road and down a gradual spiral. By this point I knew we were past halfway. It’s kind of depressing though as you’re feeling tired from the hill and you’re kind of hoping it’s less and there’s quite a few people asking those of us with gadgets how far we still have to go. There was a bit of a there and back bit but not as much as usual and unlike previous years we didn’t then head through the industrial estate but stayed on the main road. Somewhere in there we passed a water station. You don’t really need to take on water during a 10k race but it’s nice to rinse out you mouth and tip the rest over your head.
A look at my wristband told me that I was slowing but I couldn’t find the energy to speed up. One of these years I will actually train for this race and finish the second half faster than the first but as usual I hadn’t really done enough running. So I slogged on as best I could. There were lots of people walking now and some of them were doing that irritating thing where I passed them while they were walking but then two minutes later they ran past me. The Blaydon Race isn’t actually a full 10k as it’s 5.7 miles. This year the finish was on the Shibdon Playing Fields again. As I toiled up a hill a vague memory from last year staggered through my mind and I looked to my left where I could just see the finish. I remembered that it was less than half a mile to the end and optimistically tried to speed up. My burst of speed lasted about two minutes and then I was back to plodding but now I sounded like Darth Vader having an asthma attack.
Then suddenly we were running on grass and the finish line was only 50 metres away. A woman I had been running near for the last couple of miles came up on my shoulder and tried to go past me. I somehow found the breath to say “Race you to the finish?” She grinned and started sprinting away from me! I love running races because everyone is friendly and supportive and you are only really competing against yourself and everyone who crosses the finish line is a winner really. At the same time every runner I know has a competitive streak, including me! So anyway, I found a last scrap of energy and managed to finish one stride ahead of her.
It was great to just stagger through the finish without having to fiddle around detaching timing chips. There were plenty of volunteers handing out the goody bags and then we were funnelled out past the tent offering weird local foodstuff like Pease pudding and pickled beetroot. I dug around in my bag and found a packet of crisps and a cheese sandwich. There was also a bottle of beer that is specially brewed and bottled for the Blaydon Run. Of course the most important thing was the t-shirt. It’s always a decent t-shirt and in recent years it’s been a proper tech running t-short. This year it was a nice shade of black.
The field was bathed in sunshine and full of happy runners showing off their t-shorts and knocking back their beer. It was easy enough to wander through the crowd and head out the top of the field towards the sports centre. My sister had found a parking place just past it and it only took a few minutes to get out on to the road. Despite the road closures, traffic was moving well and we got out of Blaydon quickly. A quick shower at my sister’s house and I was soon heading home. I had run almost exactly the same time as last year and got in under the hour so I was happy enough. The Blaydon is one of my favourite races. It’s well organised, everyone is friendly and supportive, the route is mostly flat and you get a great goody bag at the finish. I would recommend it to everyone – if you can get a place! Next year I am going to train properly and get a time to be proud of – I swear!