Monday, 2 July 2012

More drinking, less running (Hadrian's Wall 1/2)

Isle of Wight Festival: mudbath. Olympic torch: extinguished. England vs West Indies ODI: cancelled. Great North Swim: cancelled. Hutton horse trials: cancelled. Flood warnings, gridlocked traffic, landslides and high winds.

And the Hadrian’s Wall Half Marathon? Cancelled.

Yet another Nicholson-Haines Running Adventure gone horribly wrong before it’s even started. We met in Newcastle, Ben having got a train up from London and me having driven down from Edinburgh, when we both received emails confirming that the race was definitely off due to flooding and risky conditions. But we’d cleared a weekend for the purpose of running in border country, and we were bloody well going to do it anyway.

Pod sweet pod
After lunch in Newcastle we drove deep into the countryside, eventually locating Saughy Rigg Farm, where we had booked a rather basic but entirely satisfactory ‘camping pod’. We bumped into some other runners and assumed that they had reached a similar decision to us, but when I mentioned that the race was cancelled they looked horrified and confused. It transpired that they were taking part in Rat Race’s ‘The Wall Run’, a 70 mile ultra spread over two days. Our companions, whom I shall refer to as Action Man, Reluctant Hiker, Captain Moustache and The Lawyer, were running the event as a relay in pairs, still covering a total of 39 miles each over the weekend. They very gently mocked our puny half marathon for being cancelled.

Finding ourselves on a remote farm, with only mocking ultrarunners and each other for company, we decided to do what we came for and went for a run, late-ish on Saturday afternoon. We donned trail and fell shoes and hit the hills for an hour, running the brutal path along the wall. The ascents were exhausting and the descents were suicidal, tripping between rocks, mud, knee-deep puddles, slick grass and leaping (later clambering, later still, hauling ourselves) over stiles. We laughed and wheezed our way alongside the lough, through a forest and into fields full of livestock, generally feeling delighted with ourselves. Just over half an hour in we turned around, and realised the enormous force of the tailwind which had looked after us on the way out. The way home was like running through a river of soup. Cold, wet, driving-rain-flavoured soup. The wind picked up and the rain lashed our poor, unprepared bodies, and we laughed less and wheezed more. We were a little bit relieved not to be racing that afternoon.

Back in the safety of our peculiar little pod, we set about the real business of the trip – a proper catch-up and quite a lot of beers (as soon as we discovered that the farm had a bar). The ultra-runners sat around drinking tea, keeping their hearts and minds clear for their run to Newcastle in the morning. We decided to drink more so that they could enjoy it vicariously. Captain Moustache seemed appreciative but the others were a bit put-out. Reluctant Hiker confided in Ben that he wasn’t really a runner and was terrified of the day ahead – Captain Moustache had bullied him into it. We watched the dismal France vs. Spain match in the bar, which was filling up with a group of loud and slightly deranged women who had walked a marathon along the wall that day. Our race was now the only one of three to be cancelled in the area, and the shortest by half.

Late in the evening another runner, whom we shall call Mr Exhausted, slumped into the bar. He was running the full 70 miles on his own, and had called the farm in a panic earlier in the day. As soon as he bedded down in his tent for the night, he suffered a panic attack of claustrophobia, and had rung around endless B&Bs before being invited to crash on a sofa at Saughy Rigg. As Ben and I put away more drinks and told taller tales, Mr Exhausted looked increasingly, well, exhausted. He had run more than 30 miles that day, having never done more than 22 before. His shut-eye wouldn’t come until the bar had emptied of raucous women, a prospect that looked increasingly distant. Ben and I went to crash out around midnight – Mr Exhausted’s night was still far from over.

The following morning, when we should have been running, we took our hangovers out for a couple of hours’ walk along the wall, in the other direction to the previous day’s run. We met horses, took photos and enjoyed the scenic rain. Later we went to a Roman fort. It was quite a strange day.

Hadrian's Wall fails to keep out a one-man horde of marauding gingers.
The race is being rescheduled for September – and what’s more we discovered that it went ahead on that Sunday anyway, with the 16 runners who hadn’t got the cancellation message or just turned up anyway. We felt a little put out. Fingers crossed I can be back to run it next year (and get something for my entry fee!), but we had a good weekend nonetheless.

More drinks, less running. Who am I to complain?

Happy running


2012 to date: miles run - 252.3, miles biked - 69.2, metres swum - 2350, races - 3


  1. The wonders of google!! Found your blog as I was searching for my own (chacking SEO etc!!). We ran the wall in May 2012 in four days and had a great time. Good to hear of your adventures!!
    Cheers, revivor