Running and Big Business. Not a combination I had given a lot of thought to until I read Richard Askwith’s excellent book, Running Free. In this well thought out and entertaining read Askwith makes some very valid and thought provoking points about the influence the big sports corporations have on running, arguably the most basic and cheapest form of sport when practised in its purest form. He introduces his book by showing how much the sports companies would have a newbie runner believe they would need to spend in order to commence running. The grand total? An eye watering £1,144.10. This includes trainers, compression gear, energy shots, digital devices, bottle belt, runners headphones for the ipod….. Apparently in 2012 the UK running retail industry was worth £425m. Well, who knew.
I can’t say I’ve been totally oblivious to the whole big business and running combination as it has been pretty obvious for many years, Brendan Fosters various running related business enterprises are a case in point. There are more and more events springing up over the country which are organised by businesses rather than by running clubs and volunteers from communities and “Endurancelife” now appear to be firmly established as race organisers for a series of events organised to take place in fantastic coastal settings. A quick glance at the information available from Companies house shows that they are not only firmly established but they are also increasing in profitability year on year. The Northumberland Coastal Runs are one of their events and I signed up to it on the basis that it was going to be a good old fashioned HBT road trip, staying in a bunkhouse in Seahouses with real ale on tap. It was also doubling up as Ross’s stag do so it was going to be an entertaining weekend no matter what, helped along by a good trotter turnout and the proximity of the fantastic “Ye Olde Ship Inn”. The setting of this race in a scenic coastal location of course was another draw.
There were a few complaints about the cost of the race and some did not perceive it to be value for money but more of that later. My own observation is that the bigger the race, the bigger the faff factor. On arriving at registration you joined a queue to read your number from a list. One you found your number you queued up to have your number written on your hand in a big black felt pen. Then you queued up to sign a piece of paper (no idea what for- might have been a disclaimer of some sort) the you queued to get your number, then you queued to pick up your electronic checkpoint dibber, then you queued to get safety pins for the aforementioned number before joining the queue for the bag store and then finally joining the queue for the toilets. Tiring work, all this queuing.
Eventually Sandra and I got on the bus to the start and were able finally to relax and take in the scenery. Long empty sweeping stretches of golden sands, blue seas, sleepy seaside towns and dunes covered in long marram grass, all of which formed the various courses of the Northumberland Coastal runs and I began to feel a little more enthusiastic. The runners had the option of the Ultra race, the Marathon, the half marathon and the 10k and both Sandra and I had opted for the half marathon. Ross was injured and so Sandra ran with Ross number while Ross looked after Sandra’s children, possibly not the most traditional of stag weekend activities.
We got off the bus at the tiny village of Craster and made our way to the start. By the time we were milling about the start line waiting to get going the ultra runners who had started earlier that morning were already coming past. The race briefing seemed to last an eternity as these things often do but finally the gun went off and we were on our way. The route followed soft grassy tracks over the sand, around links golf courses, and on the beaches. Fortunately the sand for the most part was reasonably firm and so not desperately hard going and it wasn’t too windy so the sand wasn’t being blown about. Sandra had belted off ahead of me and my legs would barely go forward. Inwardly I groaned, this was promising to be a long day out! After a mile or two my legs felt less heavy and I relaxed into enjoying the run and trying to take in the scenery while scurrying up and down sandy trails between dunes and rock hoping over slabs of sandstone. The long beaches meant that you could see runners quite a bit ahead of you but the combination of the 4 individual races taking place on the same route meant that you were never quite sure if the runner you had overtaken was a competitor in your race or was an ultra runner that was moving more slowly and equally if someone overtook you then you were not sure if it was a fast ultra runner who had got a second wind, your competitor in the half marathon or one of the 10k runners who were set off after I had passed by the start of the 10k. That made things a little more interesting until Donald Naylor came sprinting past me as if I was walking, clearly in the lead of the marathon and proclaiming to be struggling (aye right). By the last mile and a half my lack of mileage in training was beginning to show and I slowed dramatically and was really was looking for the finish line which I imagined was to be on the beach. Unfortunately for me it was actually in the grounds of the castle where registration had taken place and this involved a scramble up a dune, climbing upwards on a sandy track which turned into a gravel track as it followed the wall of the massive 12th century fortress of Bamburgh Castle and finally through the archway leading to the finish line. On completion everyone received a medal and a very nice T shirt, as well as a kit check which caught out more than a few folk including the great YP and the number of disqualifications in each race for this reason was quite high. Personally I have absolutely no issue with kit checks and being asked to carry kit. Yes, it did seem excessive for a half marathon in a well populated area on a mild day but its easy to forget that the race organisers have to cater for all abilities and eventualities. In particular all abilities, and lets face it there are some right numpties going about.
As a location for a race HQ Bamburgh Castle is hard to beat, it is spectacular but I suspect for the race organisers that it wasn’t without its problems and I wonder if the owners put a few restrictions on what could and couldn’t be done. Problem number one being that only the runners were allowed into the castle grounds for free and any supporters had to pay to go in which caused a few grumps especially when it was announced that the prize giving would take place within the castle grounds therefore meaning family and friends could not be there to witness it without paying. Somewhere along the line the race organisers relented and, after a not inconsiderable delay, held the prize giving outside the grounds. The other grump was the lack of food available at the end of the race, not so much as even a Mars Bar in a goody bag. Any food had to be purchased at the castle cafe and again I’m not sure if that too was a restriction imposed on the organisers. I can imagine the day will start to get rather expensive if you have to pay for food for the whole family....after having to pay for them to enter the castle grounds....on top of a £60 race entry fee. And that’s as well as filling your bag with the required first aid and safety kit. At registration and the race briefing it was stated that kit checks would be carried out and the Endurancelife shop located just by the registration desks conveniently stocked all those items that were needed....I guess that this is just the world of Running Inc.
|The Farne islands in the distance|
So to summarise there were both positives and negatives about the event
· A well marked and marshalled course. No map required. Needless to say Big D got lost though. There’s always one.
· If you had entered one race but changed your mind in the days preceeding the event then the organisers were very accommodating in allowing you to switch events.
· A good interesting course with a spectacular finish which would be hard to surpass
· A decent race T shirt (if you like that kind of thing)
· A slightly weird rule about not handing out plastic cups of water. The 10k runners were allowed a cup of water but the ultra runners were left begging. Yes, it was in the rules but there are quite a lot of variables in an ultra race and it seems strange, if not dangerous, not to allow the ultra runners to drink a cup of water. And why only the 10k runners? Do you actually need water for a 10k race in February?
· Prize giving – a long time by which time people were getting cold. And no prizes were actually given out
· The faff. Big races = faff. I hate faff. Just about as much as I hate toilet queues.
· No toilets at the start of the marathon and ultra. Seems a strange decision given you will have a number of over hydrated and nervous runners.
So on balance was it value for money and would I do it again? I’m not sure that it was outrageously expensive for the experience it provided particularly when compared with other large races and yes, I have to say would do it again. It was a great course and that spectacular finish line approach was worth it and with the ironing out of silly details such as the lack of toilets, a long wait for the prize giving and water on route then I’m sure the event would be all round more positively received by the runners.
The role of honour
20 Stuart C HBT 57.57 (1M45)
7 finishers disqualified
5 Dave M 1.37.04
6 CapDan 1.37.31
7 Simon H 1.38.20
17 Gash 1.41.58
8/49 Louise P 1.51.14
10/61 Sandra 1.54.13 (1W40)
11/68 Joanna C 1.57.02
37/130 Katie M 2.09.47
Disqualified: YP 1.52.44 (2M55) Didn’t carry (or own for that matter!) a mobile phone (18 disqualified in total)
1 Don 3.05.30 (1M40)
2 Ray 3.16.08
3 Big D 3.16.37
9 Ivor 3.38.24 (1M50)
11 Jon 3.47.48 (1M45)
32 Mickey G 4.28.28
7 finishers disqualified
6 Dave W/L 5.02.26
8 Jambo 5.10.06
9 Nick G 5.12.26
1/12 Hannah 5.21.28
2/15 Carrie 5.27.22
17 David W 5.29.23
71 Brian 6.45.55 (1M55)
DNF Zoe K - had to drop out after 10/3 hours, due to leg injury
9 finishers disqualified.
The post race entertainment included fish and chips, tea and cakes and beer on tap and an evening at “Ye Olde Ship Inn”. The discovery of a piano/organ sort of instrument in the hostel/bunkhouse was obviously a result in terms of entertainment…..
The bunkhouse itself was a great find, well equipped and clean with large social areas and plans were already being hatched for its use in a future trotter event, maybe another attempt at this event next year. Thanks must go to Ross for organising this less than traditional stag weekend, it was great fun.