Report submitted by Sarah Juliff
There’s one word always seems to sum up the experience of running at Kielder for me – surreal. If you’re wanting to dip your toe into the world of trail running, or just looking for an alternative to pounding the pavements along your local streets, this one really is fab.
I did the 10k race last year as one of my first, and loved it enough to sign up on opening day this year. There’s something really special about running here, it is not by any stretch of the imagination flat, but it is probably the quietest race I’ve ever done and with such a gorgeous setting it really is one to kick back and enjoy.
I’d turned up in 2014 with no real preconceptions as to what to expect, quietly hoping to beat my last 10k best I’d set at the Gateshead Trail 2 months before, and looking forward to running somewhere new – it was the first time I’d been to Kielder after being on the ‘investigate’ list for a while.
There is a very prominent feature in the Kielder 10k route around the peninsula…and I don’t mean the lake. Between the 1km and 2km mark is a very long, rather steep hill – traveled in the up direction. Last year, I thought that was me done and seriously considered bailing out and heading back to the start line thinking the whole thing was going to be like that and it would be the end of me. I made it (slowly) to the top – where the kind marshal souls had set up a water station – and wrote off all possible thoughts of a pb, focused my mind on getting round and set off again. It was the most zen 8k I’ve ever ran. I just switched off, enjoyed the views and the woodland stretches, and made it to the finish line – 2 mins quicker than my last pb. Take that, hill!
This year, I was set up to take a similar approach – this is a course route to be enjoyed not just completed. I would do whatever I had to to get up that hill just so I could run the rest of it again. As it happens, my memories of the hill from last year had made it much steeper than I found it this year with something to look forward to. It was still there, still a hill, and still long, but it was conquerable. Get it out the way and you can enjoy the rest. Get up it any way you have to – run, jog, power-walk, walk, stagger, crawl. It’s ONE hill and then you’re onto ‘undulating’ :) That’s your reward.
I loved every minute of this year – even the hill. I don’t actually know where the first 3km went before they seemed to be behind me. It felt like it took so much less time than the year before. I had my eye on another Bounder vest that had left me behind by the 7km mark at the Gateshead Trail and I was determined to keep it in sight at the very least this time! There were quite a few of us there this year, and more on the half and full marathon courses for Sunday.
One of the things that reminded me how special this route was to me last year, was how well I remembered it – I’d done it once and haven’t been back on my own since, but I remembered stretches of it like I’d been there last week. Many races have stretches of spectators cheering you on at stretches, the route at Leaplish Park doesn’t really lend itself to this – the marshals are great for waving you on, but the spectators tend to stay at the start/finish area. It makes this a really quiet course – there’s no traffic noise, most runners were in their own little worlds or concentrating on keeping their breathing steady, even the wildlife was quiet (which in the case of the last of the midges was a blessing!).
Just in case you’ve gotten a little too zen with me in the woods, the course will bring you back into race mode in the last 3km – wake up for those last few short hills, the photographer’s watching, you’re pretty sure you can see the finish line marquees around that last corner of the lake, it really can’t be far now, you must be nearly there! Nah, you have to go round this corner through the woods first – but it’s OK, because there’s motivating music playing at you! You can hear the guy on the tannoy cheering people across the finish line! He’s saying your name! Do you have a sprint finish left in your legs before you turn into a jelly pile in the finisher’s tent? Of course you do! Even if it’s just to get you across the line that little bit sooner. You made it. You’ve just completed a run that will become your favourite 10k course – if it doesn’t, you need to share because you’re obviously running somewhere incredibly special and I want in on it!
Kielder medals are always fab, and if you’d been there this year you’d have this bad boy to hang up when you got home. This year, they’re really looking out for you coming into the winter too – your apparel swag is a bright orange t-shirt, no-one is going to miss you coming, and maybe if you were really unlucky that ‘Steep Decline’ sign will remind you of an inadvertent tumble on the gravel – I know there were one or two skinned knees across the weekend this year! You can run this in road shoes (I did – intact!) – the paths are good and firm, but trail shoes can give you just that little bit of extra grip on any loose gravel sections!
We all made it round just about in one piece (a few dents and a broken watch between us); bananas, drinks and Mars bars all round! I can also really recommend the cake tent – I filled my face with orange sponge and it was delicious – and all homemade too!