It was cool grey and wet morning as I drove through the Tyne Tunnel. Both lanes of the tunnel were empty save for some red and green lights giving it a vaguely post-apocalyptic feel. I was off to the Old Monks Race just outside Hartlepool.
I ran this race for the first time last year and felt I could have done better.
As I passed Seaham and Peterlee, the murk was down and a west coast drizzle was trying hard but seemed to be fizzling out. By the time I got to Hart Village where Race HQ was, the road surface was drying and it was 8 degrees.
I paid my £9 willingly... Thought it was less last year. As a result of all the rain, the course had been changed, so there was no chance of trying to crack last years time. I walked back to the car. With nearly an hour to kill, I opened my new read, the Dubliners, a James Joyce affair having just finished with an offering from Bernard Cornwell. The cars started to arrive and runners began milling around. I like the air of anticipation that surrounds the start of a race and having been at this game for a while, still smile when I observe the odd little pre-race warm up dances and rituals that some adopt. I had a good look around, but failed to see any monks. Not a sign of William of Baschkerville.
Around 300 hardy souls occupied the road and after a brief explanation of the course change, we were off. Half the field tanked down the road before hanging a left. I read once that it was best for athletes to try and get into their pace as early as possible, so I resisted the herd mentality and looked down to check that my sandals were strapped up and my cloak wasn't flapping around too much. That cowl is a right nuisance. It doesn't half catch the wind.
I passed a few slowing bodies as the road clipped up but there were still plenty ahead. We hung another left and it was off along an old muddy track bordered by a row of hawthorn on either side. Having spent all December training off road I assured myself this sort of splodge was right up my street and I almost ran into one or two as they dilly-dallied at gates and steps. If you had been wearing road shoes, you'd have a job on your hands today.
The route took us across a couple of fields and I was looking for the good ground, but everything was wet and soft. Soon enough we were back on a wide track and I made a vow to catch the short string of 5 who were just ahead, but I could make no headway on them. Then we dropped into the woods and, back on home ground, was immediately on top of two. I recalled from last years run that the next half mile included a couple of sharp rises so I passed one and tucked in behind the other lad who began to pick the pace up again. There was only one grey haired bloke that passed us. On another day, I might have tried to go with him, but today I had no illusions and, in any case, no more go-juice. The short route was well marshalled and before I knew it we were back on the road and the village was in sight. One lad came up fast just before the finish, but apart from that everyone remained in order and around 4 miles or so after the start was the finish line.
I warmed down around the old church, established in 675AD and was tempted to look in but heard the organ playing, so resisted my first temptation.
Didn't wait for the results as it seemed to take an age last year. Finished 30th and 2nd v50. A low key but enjoyable event. Given my training I obviously need to look for some more woodland races. I have a few ideas about perhaps organizing one locally, but we'll see. As I got back into the car I changed into some dry clothes. That hair shirt really chaffs.