I parked up quite a distance from the start line and all was quiet. But as I walked through Sunderland city centre I started to spot other, similarly dressed, people in their running gear heading in the same direction. We were being called towards the Stadium of Light for the Half Marathon of the North, one of the three runs taking place at the same time as part of this running ‘festival’. There was, as ever, the kitchen appliance carrying athlete, a batman and robin, and someone covered head to toe in orange lycra. Strange.
Now normally there’s a buoyant atmosphere in the start area of such an event. But, courtesy of the coldest, iciest, harshest wind, whipping around the stadium, not today. It was like the middle of winter. Runners and spectators were huddled into corners and behind walls to try and get some shelter all to no avail. As we were urged over the tannoy to make our way to the start no one wanted to move. We remained huddled together like the penguins in that David Attenborough show trying to see out the winter. But, line up we did, and after a minutes silence (poorly observed I have to say), in solidarity of those killed and injured at the Boston Marathon, we were off.
The marathon and half marathon started together and, I have to be honest, despite press reports saying there was a great turn out there didn’t seem many more on the start line than were there for the marathon, on its own, last year. I wondered if many like myself had opted for the shorter half distance. Spectators were out in abundance however cheering us on as we left the stadium and crossed the Wearmouth Bridge. The Bridge has stood there since 1927 in its present form but the Wear has been crossed at this point in some way since 1796. Today as we pounded over it I contemplated that a bridge crossing gives these things a sense of occasion in the same way that crossing the bridge in the Great North Run does. And then we headed into the city centre where, in the shelter of the buildings, the wind was less evident and the warming sun lifted spirits and we got on with the task in hand.
The route is generally nice and flat. You never stray that far from the start line but loop around the streets and parks of Sunderland clocking up the miles. The route had changed this year to accommodate the half marathon. The people doing the full marathon had the pleasure of passing the stadium at their half way point watching us ‘halfers’ finish while they headed off on the second part of their run. Demoralising to say the least, I’d suggest! The course is a mix of picturesque parkland and, dare I say, some of the less scenic parts of Sunderland. Sadly the run along the coast at Hendon was missing this year. Shame, as it had been a notable feature of the 2012 route.
The race was really well organised throughout, well marshalled, with an abundance of drinks stations some offering sports drinks as well as water. The sections where you switched back on yourself weren’t overly long so you didn’t get that heart wrenching feeling you get when you are watching people run down the other side who are a considerable distance in front of you. The finish system worked effectively and I got my medal, goodie bag and t-shirt easily. I have a couple of criticisms of this run and runs in general though. I now have enough water bottles thank you very much I do not need anymore. Stick me a chocolate bar in the bag instead of these in future! Also, whoever is sizing your t-shirts must think that everyone has got a lot smaller lately. This was the same problem at the Run Northumberland run earlier in the year. Now, I know I’m a big lad, but, I have many run t-shirts that are extra large that fit really comfortably but my two from this year are really really tight. And, remember I’ve lost well over a stone, and some of my older t-shirts were fitting fine even before that. Looking at my two t-shirts from this year, even if I lose another stone, the extra large is still not going to fit. I’d rather pay less and not get a t-shirt than pay the amount you have to and get a t-shirt you end up just chucking out.
Anyway, ending on a positive note it was a great run, a generally lovely course, which is nice and flat so is perfect for pushing for a personal best. I managed a PB for this year, which was great, and will try and edge towards by all time PB of 1:45 as the year goes on!
Mind you, turns out, if the stuff on the internet is right, that maybe some things went wrong. There seemed to be some problems with chip times, although mine seem fine, and I was reading last night that the measurement of the course is being checked. Interesting, as my GPS tracker did say that I’d only covered 12.8 miles, so we shall see what comes of that. But I’m not going to let any of that detract from what was a great run personally.