A Winter Wonderland
Wooler was a winter wonderland in 2016. Temperatures plummeted, freezing Siberian winds blasted, visibility dropped, hair froze, and beards had icicles! Not to mention this “marathon” was over 28 miles in length with about 5000ft of ascent. By far the most challenging race I’ve ever competed in. And I would be hard pressed to pick out a better one – although I am sure I’ve said this about more than one race!
Why would I not return for the 2017 edition of this race? With the half marathon this year on the Saturday, preceding the ‘Beast’ on Sunday, I decided to volunteer as a marshal and make a full weekend of it.
I had been tempted with the ‘double’ – running both events over the weekend. I knew a few dafties would be doing this, and it appealed to me. But I also love marshalling, and this year with my eyes firmly set on a good marathon time, I decided an easier day on the Saturday would be wise(r)!
An 8am race start on the Saturday meant an early start for me and my sidekick/plus-one/chauffeur, and a 5am departure from a dark and chilly Glasgow. Relying on my navigational skills, the satnav pleasingly stayed off, and after a largely uneventful caffeine fuelled drive, we arrived at our destination. The carpark strangely very quiet, 15 minutes before race start.
A quick chat with the car park marshals, revealed race start was 9am! Oops. I could feel the daggers in my back at the missed opportunity of extra sleep missed. A swift bribe with cakes for the marshals to keep an eye on the car (my sidekick is also a great baker!) and off to race registration we went to find out more about our spot for the day.
We were to be situated between the last CP and the finish ensuring runners took the return direction through the woodland, and didn’t head out across the field to start a second loop of the course. The last few kilometres were back along the outbound route, and a mistake here may have been possible for the tired and weary!
With the first runners not expected to pass us until at least 90 minutes into the race, we were able to watch the race start before making our way up the lane towards the CP at Wooler Common carpark, where we killed some time with the volunteers there; walking up on to the hill to enjoy the early morning views northward.
With the race clock ticking along, we took our place on a bit of exposed moor and awaited the first runner. Like a boiling kettle pre-empting a visitor, a call of nature was interrupted by the site of the lead runner cresting the rise behind us. Race clock at 89 minutes, I was very surprised to see such a fresh looking runner. Amazing display, going on to take the tape in 1.45.46
Runners trickled by in increasing numbers, with little acknowledgements and encouragements from Sidekick and I. “How far to the finish?”, being the most asked question. One to which we generally didn’t know the answer. Lots of vague replies we’re handed out – “more than a mile, less than two”, “just over the hill and down the other side”, “about 2k….. Ish”, “nearly there”. The cold seeping in, and the thought of hot soup awaiting at the finish resulted in a state of delirium! We hugged each other; passing runners; we sang; and we danced to stay warm. We broke in a Sinatra-esque leg kicking…’Start spreading the news’, it almost evolved in a Can-can!
A reverse-sweeping, roving photographer, marshall released us from the cold, informing us that the tail runner was to be pulled at the final CP with the course closed. So close! My heart went out. But insurance rules prevent race organisers allowing runners to continue after the cut off.
We walked back along the race route, to clarfiy our vagueness about the distance to the finish. Garmin ticking over, it racked up a whopping 2.3km – despite getting a bit confused as a call of nature was answered!
A great day supporting and encouraging, and feeling jealous of other runners. I do enjoy marshalling at an event. Despite our complaints of the cold, we could have had worse locations. Or it could have been the 2016 winter wonderland.
An afternoon and evening spent warming and carb loading in a few of Wooler’s hostelries, and a request for early breakfast at the fantastic No. 1 (great service!) and it was time for the race.
As always there’s a small spanner in the works and a rush for registration. This time, my mate running his first marathon has overslept and missed his lift. From Glasgow. He has the maps which are essential kit.
Fortunately he managed to make it on time, and with kit check completed and the walk on to the start line we were ready for the off. My sidekick, now my cheerleader; photographs taken and we’re away.
I quickly noticed Garry had packed his bag badly, and I knew this would come back to haunt and hurt him over the course of the race. I quickly rearranged a few items, and we rejoined the crowd now queuing through the first gate.
My plan was to run the first few km with Garry, make sure he was settled whilst I imparted a few last words of wisdom and hopefully helpful advice. A tough first marathon, and full credit to him for taking it on (Fling qualification relied on him completing the race).
My Wooler race….
With best wishes to Garry, I plugged in the music, and set off to run my own race. Starting with a long steady climb I passed quite a lot of folk here, out of position in the pack I continued to make up places on both the uphills and downs. Thundering down the hill toward CP1. I drank plenty of my water ready for a refill. It’s 12 miles to the next top up point at CP4. A quick pitstop, jaffa cake and thanks expressed to the marshals and its a tough climb up. The views here were fantastic, and kept improving with each passing step upwards.
My heart working hard, I can hear my blood pounding in my ears. Slightly disconcerting! And its getting louder!! Then an unlikely pirate roar ahead – ‘Arghhhhhh’!’, and I spot the source of the pounding. Some guy sat there cheering on runners whilst beating a large drum! Bizarre but awesome, and helps distract from the calf burning climb.
A relatively flat section, where the main climb onto Cheviot visible ahead. Last year every step was almost into the unknown with the visibility very poor. I think this was preferable to being able to see the climbs ahead.
The upward climb had me moving so slowly my Garmin at times failed to pick up any forward pace! I cooled rapidly with the slow pace and dug out my hat, before spotting a spectator led down on the ground out the wind, warning of the perils of the slippy flags ahead.
Despite being slippy in places, the flags enabled my to pick up some pace, whilst also enjoying the spectacular views. A stark contrast to my previous visit.
The tough up hill sections between here and CP4 had me searching my pack for the handmade fudge I was given! Gutted, left in the B&B!! I sank my teeth into a protein snack and nearly broke my jaw! Jaffa cakes at check points would fuel my race it seemed. But what a fuel. Surely the best biscuit a man can eat? Or is it a cake? 🤔🤔
The self-clip at CP3, I was told by the lady stood there wasn’t in place, and she pointed up the next hill. My legs were really tired now, and I was looking forward to the long downhill through ‘Mirkwood’, and cross the meadow before a much needed energy top up at CP4.
A wooden Westie
Onwards along the valley to CP5, its relatively flat and quite short, so I took it easy and recharged the batteries. Another quick jaffa cake stop and on up that last big climb.
Leaden legs plodding along and I relived last year’s race in my head. Remembering the little tools of encouragement I’d used to propel my running mate onward. I dug deep and used these same methods to push myself forwards. A quick ETA text message for my awaiting sidekick – “5.35 race time and chocolate milk please”
Slowly climbing over a style, I was passed by Westie club mate, Michelle Hetherington (now gone to the darkside), as she literally vaulted over the gate next to me. Like a high speed train going past I was swept along in the vortex behind her, and my pace picked back up. Michelle was chasing down the F50 to record and seemed well on course for it.
Head back in the game, legs responding to what they were told I continued to increase the pace. Maybe the jaffa cakes were kicking in! Cruising comfortably down the hill and through the last CP; passed yesterday’s marshal point; passed the start area and a quick ETA text update “2 minutes out”.
I crossed the line in 5.14, absolutely over the moon, and craving chocolate milk! My amazingly patient sidekick was keeping warm inside having not received my updated arrival time! She did take me for a beer, so all forgiven!
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