Eight Morpeth Harriers made the 200 mile round trip to Dumfries for the 38th annual running of the Dumfries Half Marathon on Sunday 21st September 2019. Six of those travelled the night before to make it more of a social affair, and fortunately, with the presence of unofficially elected club captain for the weekend, Pam Woodcock (aka Del Boy), it ensured the male quartet curtailed their alcohol consumption to avoid a verbal dressing down from her!
Like with all races, pre race excuses are commonly exchanged and during a carb loading banquet at a local Italian restaurant, this race was no exception. Whilst excuses given by Sue Smith (aka Rodney) and Pam that they had a lack of opportunity to train sufficiently due to only deciding to enter the race three weeks prior and also Pam recently pulling a muscle in her back from heavy gardening work were plausible excuses, there were question marks raised over James Johnson’s excuse he pulled his right hamstring from overextending during a darts match and Ian Harding’s excuse he hurt his ankle on a recent holiday in Bosnia & Herzegovina he claimed was caused by landing awkwardly to avoid a land mine on a mountain descent in Sarajevo.
It was ironic that later at the dinner table, Pam was the one who had to be given a verbal dressing down when she needed to be persuaded not to purchase a second bottle of wine as she briefly considered pulling out of the race due to doubts over her ailment!
The weather the day before in Dumfries could only be described as a beautiful autumnal day and with similar weather forecasted (or maybe predicted in hope!) for the following day, it provided some optimism of it being a pleasurable race, albeit considered by some to be too hot to race a half marathon. Fast forward to race morning and it was somewhat of a surprise to open the curtains to torrential rain and a dark grey canvas that told us there was as much chance of the sun coming out for the race as there was of Britain leaving the EU on October 31st. We’ll not get into that debate....
The race HQ (also the start and finish) was held at the college campus in Dumfries, which provided runners with great facilities and a great atmosphere too with the welcome addition of a live brass band. Just prior to warming up shortly before the start, we were filled with assurance the marshals would direct us around the course without any hiccups when Paul Waterston (who has done the race before, but not the new course) asked one of the marshals what the route out of the campus was, to which he replied, “I don’t know; I’ve never ran the race before. I’m just a marshal”. This was even more assuring for Ian Harding who has a history of going the wrong way in races - most recently a week earlier in the Sarajevo Half Marathon!
Shortly after 11 A.M., 176 hardy runners set off in the rain, and to the relief of the front runners, escorted by a lead motorcyclist courtesy of the Blood Bike Group, who in turn received a generous donation from Dumfries Running Club. Ian Harding, who said before the start was going to run as easy as possible to win the race if he could, took off from the rest of the field almost immediately and after the race discovered he had built an almost unassailable lead after three miles that a home club runner said when doing the prize giving, “I seen him far in the distance early on and thought, where the bloody hell is he going!”. Fortunately, he was going the right way this time!
There was a chasing couple in 2nd and 3rd place and behind them was a large group that consisted of Morpeth male trio; James Johnson, Phil Walker and Paul Waterston, as well as a male trio from Cumberland AC. It was apparent, even at this early stage, the contest for first male team was going to be hotly contested and this made for a competitive race amongst this group - particularly in the first half of the race.
Following this group, Mike Winter and Jim Alder were looking like they were going to be involved in a friendly tussle, and behind them were the female duo of Del Boy & Rodney (sadly not dressed as Batman & Robin) who had chosen to run together to support each other, which considering both their lack of preparation, it made sense for them to have a hard run together instead of battling it out against each other.
After a mainly gradual uphill first mile, the course took a gradual descent until the 4 mile mark, and despite the flow of water and puddles, it allowed runners to get into a good rhythm and presented an ideal opportunity for runners in a competitive group to put in a kick to weigh up those around and perhaps create a gap before the first testing climb of the race.
After 4 miles the course took a turn onto a narrow country lane and it was one of them roads that looked flat, but was actually uphill, causing some runners (including Ian Harding) to think the proverbial wheels had suddenly fallen off! After this gradual, yet testing climb for the next 1.25 mile, the chasing group had disbanded and the Cumberland trio had increased the small lead they had gained on the Morpeth trio beforehand.
It was also at this stage of the race, Mike had built an advantage over his more senior club colleague, Jim. Fortunately for Pam, some aggravation with her back she experienced in the first few miles eased and she was able to move more freely. Interestingly, Pam was finding the flatter sections easier than Sue and Sue was finding the hilly sections easier than Pam; therefore they were able to motivate each other in equal measures.
After another welcome descent and flat section up until the 8 mile mark, runners were faced with undoubtedly the hardest section of the course when they were faced with a tough climb for over a mile that was made all the more harder due to a stiff headwind, and even though it wasn’t a headwind to rival Hurricane Dorian,
it was strong enough to affect runners on this particular section!
Runners were then greeted with a shorter, yet quick descent before hitting a long drag up to the 12 mile mark, and it was around 10 miles that the ever-competitive Paul Waterston (winner of the race in 2012) made a decisive move to pull away from his club mate and long time rival, Phil Walker (2nd in 2012) and set his sights firmly on colleague James Johnson who was coming into striking distance and was beginning to suffer, most likely from having already raced the GNR and Matfen 10k this month. James could also have been suffering due to sleep deprivation caused by a constant noise coming from behind the wall in his hotel room which kept him awake for most of the night!
Paul had made quick work of catching James and now buoyed with confidence and the knowledge it was downhill for the last mile, he was never going to relinquish the lead on his two aforementioned club mates from here.
Ian Harding, who continued to extend his lead throughout the race, finished as clear winner in a time of 1:11:37, over 7 minutes ahead of 2nd place, David McClure of Kilmarnock Harriers. In 13th place, 2nd MV50 and second Morpeth Harrier home was Paul Waterston in a time of 1:25:48. Behind Paul, Phil had managed to overtake James with about half a mile remaining to finish as 3rd Morpeth Harrier, two places behind Paul and 3rd MV50 in a time of 1:26:29.
Other Morpeth finishers were: James Johnson - 17th/1:26:51 (3rd MV45), Mike Winter - 33rd/1:34:59, Jim Alder - 42nd/1:37:20 (3rd MV55), Sue Smith & Pam Woodcock - 113th/1:56:39 (Pam 1st VF65).
The sun surprisingly came out shortly after the race was over for most and it was clearly shining on Morpeth Harriers as the race organisers decided to calculate the team prizes by totalling the finishing times of the first 3 finishers instead of the usual calculation of totalling their positions, meaning the Morpeth men claimed the team prize ahead of Cumberland AC by 5 minutes and 57 seconds.
Although not all Morpeth runners were entirely happy with their performances, everyone had an enjoyable weekend; however, it was almost not without drama when James was nail bitingly close to receiving a firm slap from Pam after he (with a straight face) jokingly accused her of faking her back injury to cover her in the event of her having a bad race! No one messes with Pam - remember that, folks!