The rumours about a new course had been circulating for several weeks.
I had even heard more than one colleague uttering the immortal cliché, ‘I’m only doing it as a hard training run’.
But it was only on the way to the race that the alarm bells started ringing…
Traditionally, of course, the Tynedale 10 (otherwise known as the ‘Jelly Tea’)
has always been held on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend and has marked an impending Autumn;
the much-loved route through the Tyne Valley started on the outskirts of Hexham, wove through the centre of Corbridge towards Bywell and meandered along the banks of the Tyne, before finishing in the grounds of Ovingham Middle School..
Whether it was the difficulties of negotiating the centre of Corbridge,
the continued closure of Ovingham Bridge or the loss of parking at the Middle School is unclear,
but this year the race organisers at Tynedale Harriers came up with a new course based at….Hexham Racecourse.
Yes that’s right, Hexham Racecourse.
Hexham Racecourse is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year
(I recommend the black and white footage of a 1922 meet on the history page of its own website)
and lies a mile or two to the south of the town.
Devotees of the turf will know that it is up a rather steep hill.
No, make that a very steep one. So steep in fact that I swear my ears started popping as we climbed up it.
Indeed it appears to lie at the epicentre of several steep hills
so that even the course for the gee-gees is described by no less an authority as the Racing Post,
with remarkable brevity, as an ‘undulating, testing track’ - which,
come to think of, might have been describing the race route itself.
This led you down a precipitous two mile descent towards Dipton Mill,
then wound its way back and forth quite literally up hill and down dale,
with several monster ascents of well over a mile. There were few,
if any, purely flat sections and such were the vertiginous nature
of the descents that it was hard to pull back time on them –
what you lost on the roundabouts you didn’t seem to gain on the swings, so to speak.
Maybe delirium had set in, but by the time we had reached the climb back to the start,
I was sure I was going to see the legendary Dieter ‘Didi’ Senft,
more famously known as ‘the Devil’ from the Tour de France,
running alongside waving his pitchfork as we grunted and gasped up our very own Alpe d’Huez.
Hearty congratulations to all who finished, then. For the record,
Elswick’s Tadele Geremew and Justina Heslop won the Men’s and Women’s races,
Tadele coming home in 56m 8s and Justina in 63m 4s.Only six runners managed to break the hour mark,
but one of them was Morpeth’s Sam Hancox (59m 52s) who appeared less fazed than most by the course.
Matty Boyle also had a good run to finish in 11th place in 61m 59s.
Paul Waterston (65m 24s)and Rob Hancox (66m 7s)
chased each other home to finish 21st and 22nd, Paul picking up 2nd Over 50 and also a NEMAA silver.
Lorna Macdonald was Morpeth’s first female finisher in a time of 76m 37s and 13th in the women’s race,
but the Macdonalds as a family deserve a mention for turning out on mass,
with Alistair coming home home first in 74m, Catriona 15th woman in 78m 43s
and Margaret also completing the course.
Other Morpeth Harriers to complete were:
Paul Banks, 70th;
Jim Alder, 72nd;
Steve Haswell, 79th;
Peter Scaife, 117th;
Richard Sill, 161st;
Sue Smith and Carol Parry, 351st and 352nd.
With the times for everyone showing a raft of PW (personal worst) performances
and mostly 5 –10 minutes slower for most runners than usual,
the majority of competitors were of the same mind on completion: ‘I ain’t doing that again’,
or a more earthy version expletive strewn version of the same,
a sentiment with which most of the Harriers I spoke to wholeheartedly concurred.
Nobby Clark described it as ‘one of the toughest courses I have done in 35 years of running’
and Rob Hancox simply labelled it with one word: ‘brutal’.
A different angle was provided by the Elswick runner who labelled it as ‘a fell race that’s been tarmaced over’.
Personally, I can’t see myself going back next year.
Now then, where’s that devil outfit…
Report by Peter Scaife