It’s now 3 days after the Northumberland Ultra and the legs are feeling a lot better – we’ve both managed a couple of shortish runs! We had a fun but hard run, finishing 63rd and 64th out of 153 starters (139 finishers). We didn’t quite hit our 6hr 30min target but managed 6hr 42min – not bad for Julie’s first ultra race and fastest 36mile run! Spoiler alert – full activity below:
We travelled down to the area the evening before, and stayed at the excellent Olde Ship Inn in Seahouses, just a few miles from the start. They also have a dining room, serving good quality pub food – with proper runner-sized portions! Bags packed, we settled down for a good night’s sleep.
The race was well organised with a car park at the finish (Bamburgh) and coach transfer to the start line in a field on the outskirts of Alnwick. With our coach leaving at 7.45am, we had a relatively leisurely start but still too early for breakfast in the Inn, unfortunately. We were dropped off by the coach literally a few minutes before our assigned start time. Julie really loved the individual start times as it meant no bottlenecks near the start! We were probably ‘sandbagging’ a bit with our estimated completion time – but on the plus side this meant we ended up with a later start slot, and managed to make it right through the race without being overtaken by anyone 👍
With the excitement of a first race since pre-COVID times, Julie had to spend the first few miles reminding Iain that she didn’t run at his race pace as he got carried away. The first 6 miles of the race were mainly along the edge of the river Aln. Interesting running, mainly on riverside paths, with a fun stepping stone river crossing. All of the ups were easily runnable, no excuses for a walk break! We probably ran this section on the fast side, at just under 10 min per mile – the challenge of race excitement! The weather was weird, very misty and humid, not much of a view!
Along the Coast
Once we hit the coast there was an interesting mix of running, with some quiet roads through small villages (including passing 100 yards from where we slept the night before in Seahouses), some running on soft sand up and down onto the beach, packed sand beach running, and running through golf courses and along cliff paths. The mist was heavier here and meant minimal views most of the way. At least we weren’t baked by the hot sun but it was at times quite demoralising and meant we missed all those amazing coastal views. Julie in particular did not enjoy the humidity. On the beaches the mist meant it was almost like running at night with people materialising out of the mist. It was quite eerie! It also meant we had to be extra careful not to miss the flags that indicated where you came back off the beach!
Aid stations were well spaced roughly every 6 miles, they had a good mix of food and water refill stations using a foot pump (COVID secure). We were trying not to have to stop at these but did need to refill our 2L of fluid as it was so humid we were sweating loads and drinking more. Julie also had a happy banana at the 25 mile aid station. Overall we only had 5 mins non-moving time for the race, which doesn’t seem too bad.
The beach itself was not as difficult to run on as expected. Once you had run through the soft sand onto the main beach the sand was well compacted and easy to maintain a steady pace on. The soft sand did end up in shoes but not enough that we had to stop and do anything about it! Julie managed to keep under 10min 30s per mile until mile 15 but then slowed. She thinks it was probably due to not being used to running long distances in the heat (something to practice!). These were a hard few miles as Iain continued to try and encourage a steady pace but was running just far enough ahead that it felt really demoralising to Julie and she did become a bit grumpy! Once we had worked out that a slightly slower pace was needed and running together with a bit of chat was what was needed things improved!
The last beach section into Bamburgh (around mile 25) was still in the mist, so no view of the castle until the last minute! During this section we had to break the news to a group of other ultra runners that they still had 10 miles to go and not the 6 that they were thinking (they thought the course was 32 miles not 36!) – hope they didn’t find the extra 4 too hard 🤣 Here we had to run past the path to the finish (direct for the 10k, half and full marathon) and carry on for the extra ultra loop. The running here in the dunes was hard – lots of soft sand. Luckily this section wasn’t too long and we were soon on country lanes.
Julie had been looking forward to this section as she does a lot of her running on road so thought it would give her a boost. But she had obviously been giving her all and they were just hard work! As we went inland the mist cleared, the sun came out and it was just hot. Julie was a little grumpy and needed quite a lot of encouragement! The bottle of flat coke came out to give a little boost – the last aid station also had some but we didn’t stop. The sign at the last aid station saying 5.8miles to go gave a boost and we just plodded on – but still no walking! Iain thought that when we got back to the coast we just had the dunes to go but Julie was sure we had to do a short stretch on the beach again (she was right!). When we turned off to the finish we had to go back through the dunes but for the last half mile the ground was slightly firmer. Julie managed to find a little something left in the legs and we managed to pick up the pace slightly to the finish where we crossed the line hand in hand 😍
A great race, well-signposted route, no-faff organisation and lovely volunteers manning the checkpoints – thanks to everyone involved 👏👏👏 Despite not being able to see much thanks to the mist, the Northumberland coast really did live up to its designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty! Definitely worth a repeat visit, either for another crack at the race, or for a holiday.