Last weekend I headed up to Newcastle to recce part of the route of Rat Race’s ‘The Wall’ race, a monstrous ultramarathon stretching 69 miles from Carlisle to Newcastle. I had originally planned to a 30 mile section to complement the other recent long distance runs that I’ve been doing. However I was emphatically instructed by my sister (whom I was visiting) to be back in time for lunch, so I scaled it back to nothing over 20 miles.
I got a lift to Corbridge in Northumberland and picked the route up there. The route rose out of the town and took me down quiet country roads, before joining up with the River Tyne. From that point, the river would faithfully stay by my side as I ran down quiet roads, footpaths and forest tracks, crossing the Tyne more than once.
The weather was mild: the Arctic winds from the north that had shocked me the previous day had abated and I was running in shorts and a Skins A200 compression top which I’d borrowed (I’d left London in shorts and t-shirt weather before the low air pressure system came in!)
I followed the route faithfully for 13 miles, and was pleased to note that all of it would be runnable in road shoes; in fact the shiny new Saucony Peregrine 6’s I was breaking in were completely unnecessary on this stretch. Given the organisers’ claim that only one third is on trail, and that you can get away with road shoes if the weather is good, I think I will do just that on the day (18th June 2016).
I ran the final five miles north up busy A-roads to where I was staying, at which point I was running uphill, into the wind, with hail beating down on me, on narrow uneven grass verges with cars and lorries screaming past at well over the 60 mile per hour speed limit. It was at this point I felt most alive- I was actually enjoying this horrific section of road for the contrast to the previous serene section and the level of adversity that was being thrown at me. When I got back to where I was staying, I’d run 18 miles. Looking back, there are many running seasons when that would have been one of my longest training runs, but in this year of ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons, I was most pleased that I could knock out an 18 miler on an empty stomach, then get showered and ready for lunch. I’m cautiously optimistic that despite the setbacks I’ve had this season (mainly knee procedures and a bad fall), there is an ultra distance runner lurking inside me somewhere, and perhaps come May for my first big race, that ultra runner may come good…