|In Full I arrived at Alnmouth with my Stamford Striders friend (and marathon nutter!) Helen shortly before 8am. People were already starting to collect at the entrance to the Red Lion Pub which was the race HQ.
We parked up down next to the golf course and took some photos of the beautiful scenery surrounding us. We then headed up to the pub to collect our numbers and t-shirts. There was only a handful of people so we didn’t have to wait long before we could head off in search of some loos.
The start was on the beach next to the river Aln. There was a small tent to leave bags and a start line drawn in the sand. After some brief pre race instructions we lined up on the sand and set off at 9am prompt.
My friend and I had already decided this wasn’t the sort of race where time was going to be at the forefront of our minds and the plan was to take it steady and just enjoy the scenery.
Alnmouth – Boulmer
The first 2 and a bit miles are along the beach. Those of you who’ve ran the Coastal Run before will know this stretch of sand very well as it’s the last stretch before the finish line. The sand was quite firm and the tide was well out so there weren’t too many pools to contend with. We reached the concrete stairs, popped up them and headed right past some old caravans and through a farm. The track was quite narrow in places and our already steady pace was slowed to a walk at times. We headed out onto the road at Boulmer and continued along the track towards Craster.
Boulmer – Craster
The first part of the track was quite wide and gravelly but as we continued through a gateway and over a little wooden bridge the track became narrower and more undulating. We went down quite a steep hill, across another bridge and then headed sharp right to follow the track that went around the edge of the cliffs. We were still feeling quite comfortable at this point, but we were probably only about 6 miles in. We headed on towards Craster along the cliff tops, another part of this route which overlaps that of the Coastal Run, and I ran down a section of hill that is done in reverse on the Coastal Run I thought to myself, that’s gonna hurt on the way back! When we got to Craster we came through another wooden gate which brought us out into the pub beer garden, we ran through the car park and out into the village, then headed down towards the harbour.
Craster – Newton Links
Once back out on the cliff tops, with the beautiful Dunstanburgh Castle on the horizon I commented to Helen that I thought this could possibly become one of my most favourite runs. The scenery was just amazing, with the sea off to the right, rolling countryside to the left and the castle ahead of us. Of course at this point we were only about 8.5 miles into a very long run. The grassy paths roll along up and down as you head towards the castle, we chatted and said hello to the walkers we were passing along the way. We passed the Castle and headed towards the golf course. A little further on, we passed the track that you use to come off Embleton Beach on the Coastal Run, we had been following two Elvet runners who didn’t go down onto the beach but continued straight ahead on the track that skirts the edge of the golf course. We soon realised this had been a mistake as the undergrowth closed in around us. Brambles scratched at our legs and long grasses caught and pulled at our ankles. We met a couple walking the other way with their children. It was quite a squeeze to get past them and the lady informed us everyone else was running on the sand. With that we started to look for a route of escape. After a couple of hundred yards we found a narrow path which took us to the top of a steep sand dune, we skidded down on our bottoms and back out onto the nice open beach. It was at this point my heart sank for the first time. I could see ahead of us a field with a long incline where the faster runners were. That was going to be hard work!!
As we headed off the beach, the sand was very soft and seemed to literally sap the energy from my legs. We then turned right through a gateway and started the ascent up the long hill I’d seen from the beach. The faster runners were starting to pass us in the opposite direction now and we all encouraged each other along the way. By the time we reached the top my legs were like jelly, I couldn’t believe we weren’t even half way!! We ran down towards the sea again and followed the winding paths behind the sand dunes. We met an older couple out walking who asked where we were running to and who seemed very impressed when we told them the route and the distance we were doing. At approximately 12 miles we came across the last drinks station of the first half and past here we followed more winding paths eager to reach Long Nanny Bridge and the half way point.
Long Nanny Bridge – Alnmouth
We were directed off up to the right where we climbed over a stile and headed down onto Newton Links Beach. Finally, we were heading for home!! We ran on the sand again for about a mile. On leaving the beach, we passed the previous drinks station and ran back onto the winding paths at the back of the dunes. We passed the older couple we’d seen on the way in who cheered us on.
We slowly made our way back up to the top of the field that had given us jelly legs and it was nice to be coming back down the hill this time. We saw a man in an Edinburgh Marathon t-shirt and Helen joked with him that he should be running too!
Back on Embleton Beach now and the sand was really starting to take it’s toll on my legs which were feeling very heavy now. We were at about 16 miles now and I couldn’t wait to get back onto the tracks that would take us past Dunstanburgh Castle! Counting down, I kept thinking ‘just 10 to go…….’
Once we were past the castle, it felt more like we were heading for home. Coming back along the cliff tops through the fields towards Craster some cows had congregated around one of the gateways. Like a lot of my Bounder friends, Helen isn’t too fond of cattle so she wasn’t exactly overjoyed to see one cow in particular, occupying a space very close to gate we were about to go through. I went through the gate first and tapped the cow on it’s bum. Startled it jumped forwards out of the way making Helen scream in horror, much to the amusement of some walkers near by. Still, with the cow moved on we went through the gate way and headed back to Craster.
As we climbed the hill in the village back towards the pub, it was nice to see the older couple we’d seen earlier on standing at the top cheering us on again. We thanked them and headed back into the pub car park. The beer garden was quite busy now and I’d have given anything to have stopped there for a nice cold pint of Guinness!!
We made our way through the gate, back onto the cliff top trail and headed for Boulmer. I was struggling. My legs were heavy, my back was hurting, I was hot and tired and I’d had about enough. The slopping grassy hill I’d ran down on the way out which is part of the Coastal Run was almost upon us, I reached the bottom and slowed to a walk. I just didn’t have enough energy to keep running up it. Once I reached the top, I started a slow jog. Because I’d stopped I’d realised the extent of my tiredness. My neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, ankles and feet were all aching and there was still about 6 miles to go!!
Helen was still doing okay and as we were getting closer to Boulmer I told her to continue without me as I didn’t want to hold her up. We’d reached the wide gravel path that takes you back into the village and at this point I started to walk a bit and run a bit. As I hobbled through Boulmer itself, I kind chap outside of his house offered to get me a bottle of water. I declined but thanked him for his kindness. I felt sick, I didn’t think I’d manage to keep anything down. I came off the road back onto the track that would take me through the farm and past the caravan site. About 3 miles left to go! I took a wrong turn, gutted I retraced my steps and picked up the track that would take me back onto Alnmouth beach. A couple sitting outside their caravan offered me a drink as I passed. Again I thanked them and declined. I made my way back onto the beach for the longest 2.2 miles ever. It seemed like a lifetime ago that we’d headed out in the opposite direction full of energy!
The tide was coming in and after about a mile the only option was to pick my way through the rocks. I’d kept up a slow jog on the sand until this point so I was actually pleased to have a little rest as I attempted not to slip and fall on my backside.
Rocks negotiated I took up my slow jog again and ploughed on back towards the river and the finish line. Helen was waiting for me a few hundred yards from the finish to give me the encouragement I needed for that final push. As I came around the next bend I could see the finish and I’ve never been so relieved in my life.
I staggered through and propped myself up on the wall at the edge of the beach. I was presented with my medal, which I’d not been expecting so that was a nice surprise. Now I’d stopped, I realised even my head was hurting as well!
So my final thoughts on this race. Yes it was the toughest run I’ve done to date, yes I was knackered and yes I felt broken by the time I’d finished. But YES I would definitely do it again. The route was amazing and the run was well organised with sufficient water stops all of which had jellies and friendly run marshalls. The encouragement given by the large number of passers by just out for a Sunday stroll was excellent too.
The entry for the run was a mere £13 and you got a technical t-shirt and a medal. Personally I think it’s nice to support smaller races like this. Next year, I will prepare better though. I’ll do more weights in the gym, more Wednesday night sessions and more longer runs. Hopefully, a few Bounders might join me for the experience.
Full results can be found here