The decision to race on the morning after the clocks went forward struck me as daft as I got out of bed in the dark to get ready for Northumberland Half Marathon on Sunday. Looking outside at the wet and blowy weather, I felt even less convinced by my decision.
But then plenty of folk would say us runners are pretty daft anyway. Getting out of bed? On a Sunday? To run for 13.1 miles? Does an hour and a bit of rain really make much difference?
I’m pleased to report that despite these unpromising beginnings, this first-timer found the Northumberland Half a race worth getting out of bed for.
The road race starts and finishes at Kirkley Hall in Northumberland, is organised by Run Nation and first took place in 2011. Since then the race has been tweaked and changed to improve the experience to runners. This year was no exception, with a new almost-figure-of-eight course that began on the main hall drive and finished on the rear equestrian drive.
Anyone who knows this little bit of Northumberland understands that its pastoral landscape is pretty deceiving, with swooping roads that rise and fall and rise again. So while there were no big hills, it would be fair to say that this was not a flat race either.
Conditions weren’t ideal, with chilly temperatures and quite a few downpours on roads with little shelter. But I’ve had worse. No PB, but for me this was prep for a May marathon.
Most of the incline came in the first half of the route, although there was still a bit of climbing to be done in the second half as the race ran through the pretty villages of Whalton and Ogle.
Race day logistics seemed to go smoothly. Free parking for runners was at Ponteland High School with regular shuttle buses to the start. Registration inside Kirkley Hall’s sports hall included baggage drop and toilet facilities with fairly short queues.
Out on the course, the race began on time, with water stations roughly every 3 miles and plenty of marshals. All roads were open to traffic, but this wasn’t a problem as they were all very quiet.
The finish up the equestrian drive at the rear of the hall followed a nice, fast descent, but came quickly, without much warning. But it avoided the traffic problems that I’d heard spoilt the finish in previous years. A decent technical top – helpfully in both male and female sizing – was the finisher’s reward. I didn’t catch the shuttle bus back to the car park, so can’t report on how smoothly that went.
Provisional results were posted on the Run Nation website by the end of the day, with chip-timed results promised in the next few days.
In my book, road races can fall into two categories: the big, mass race events with all the razzmatazz and plenty of roadside cheer squads; and the low-key ones when it is all about the road and the places you run through and your fellow competitors. This certainly fell into the latter.
There were just under 400 people who completed the race, with a good mix of club and unattached, experienced and novices: a friendly bunch. Roadside support was very sparse, but you did get some lovely views of sheep and lambs!
The location of Kirkley Hall is a big plus for runners bringing a support team. The agricultural college is free to enter, has a café (although it was a bit rammed), gardens and woodland, play areas and even a small zoological attraction (with entrance fee) and zip wire (small charge). On the down side, the finish is tucked a short walk away from the hall, so there were very few people cheering people in.
Would I recommend it? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably. But next time I’d need to make sure I got to bed an hour earlier.