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Coming to running: The Northumberland Coast Ultra 2022

[In this report you can click on most images to enlarge them. Any maps can be zoomed and panned by click on the + or – signs or pulling around with the mouse.]

The Northumberland Coast Run comes early in the running calendar. The end of February can be icy cold. On this run over distances from 10k upto 58k or 36 miles, if the wind is in the East, there’s no escaping the blast from across the North Sea.

It is well-placed as an early test for those with trail-running ambitions later in the year. There’s no challenging hills or navigation issues – being mostly on the coast the course is fairly flat and there is only one way to go. Just weather with some sand underfoot are there to provide a bit of uncertainty and maybe excitement!

This was my first Endurance Life race and probably one of their first after the great Covid lockdown. The organisation seemed quite poor, with problems at various point including failing to record results for some competitors including me.

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My first experience of the organisation was a big traffic jam on a road that that was some distance from the start of the race, but was reached by following the satnav instructions provided. We congregated by the remains of Alnwick Abbey. People parked up to consult with other runners in the wrong place. Local residents were astounded by the number of cars blocking this country road, driven by people looking for an event they had not heard of. Having a copy of the route meant that some of us could re-calibrate and work our way round to a parallel road and the field where many of the starters had already arrived.

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Not a toilet in sight! The start field for the Ultra and Marathon

This field, in sight of Alnwick Castle, was the start point for the marathon and the ultra. The 10k and half-marathon started later down by the coast. Two or three hundred people were milling around, but not a toilet in sight!

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The route heads down the field to the left

There’s a a nice start with a gentle downhill, swinging away from the river, then back and down to fine spot manned by the official photographer with the Alnwick Castle view in the background.

The first part of the route more-or-less follows the river Aln all the way from Alnwick Castle to the coast. Stepping stones across the river are mentioned as a key feature of this part of the run, but unfortunately they were out of bounds and a small diversion was indicated along a muddy river bank to reach a nearby road bridge.

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There’s a lot of photo opportunities on the route. It is a shame there is only one ‘official’ picture, but this is iconic with Alnwick Castle in the background and the river below.

The first glimpse of the sea by the Aln estuary – the sandhills with their covering of blond grass and the sunlight glinting on the water – is a moment of joy. How could a running life be any better than this!

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The first taste of the coast by the Aln estuary

After a few yards we are back on the road around the tip of Alnmouth before reaching the coast route proper.

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One of the short sections of road at Alnmouth

Very soon after reaching the coast the runners are well spread out. Click on the images to enlarge!

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Not far from the sea ..

We were lucky with the weather – no more than a gentle breeze and a clear sky for most of the day.

It not easy to set expectations for milestones along an unfamiliar route. In spite of years of trying I cannot memorising much of an OS map. So, it seemed a long way to Craster and its small harbour, and then to Dunstanburgh Castle. There’s a full 2km running with the castle in sight, but then my mind was busy trying to remember or imagine what happens next. There must be something between here and Bamburgh!

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The route ahead follow the waterline for the first time.

There is actually still a lot of running ahead – Embleton Bay, Newton Haven, Beadnell Bay, and Seahouses. For much of this part the route follows the waterline. The wet sand is reasonably firm, but higher up the beach the going is tough.

Before Seahouses there is a wide shallow estuary to be negotiated. How wet do you want to get?

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After Seahouses there is 4 or 5 km of running along firm sand below the dunes before drawing level with Bamburgh Castle.

The flag marks the spot to climb up the dunes for the last part of the run. There is a short route between the dune path ahead to the left which loops around to the finish for the marathon runners. I follow the ultra route to the right and follow the cliff path north and west round to Budle Bay. Then there is a dull 7 or 8 km on road leading back to the beach a km or so before Bamburgh. On the second coming, the ultra competitors can turn left to the finish.

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Arriving at the finish 8 hours after the start is a great achievement!

Somehow though it felt like coming to a party when most of the guests have gone home, and all that’s left are a few crumpled napkins and some half eaten sausage rolls! There were one or two friendly faces to welcome me. Including family who arranged these final pictures. The event organisation seemed designed to disappoint. There was no ‘official’ pictures apart from near the start. The check-in desk provided a tiny biscuit and a T shirt in a size different from that ordered.

I was keen to see the official result because I suspected I was the first in my 70+ group which would make me eligible for a special award. When I looked I was registered as ‘did not finish’! I immediately contacted Endurance Life about this.

“Unbeknown to us for a short period (approximately 15 participants) our finish line scanner wasn’t uploading the data to the system. We cannot apologise enough for this and would love to include you into the results. If you ran with a watch/ Srava or equivalent, could you let us know your finish time/ duration and we’ll happily add you into the results. If not, we have a back-up system which is a camera and we will be able to find you in the footage on there but this may take a little longer.”

Fortunately I had recorded the race on my running watch and soon had my entry changed. And, yes, I was the fastest (and only) 70+ runner in the Ultra. So I sat back and waited for the promised award. Some weeks later this ended with this message “In order for there to be a prize – there must be competition in each category.”


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