Sunday, 13 March 2016

from A to B

training run

From A to B, Alnmouth to Berwick, turned out not to be the shortest distance between two points but very nearly the longest. The Highland Fling is 53miles or thereabouts. I have done it 3 times. This was my longest run apart from those. 

Graham proposed this one following on from our mere 40 odd miler last weekend. Since we didn't kill ourselves on the outskirts of the Cairngorms maybe we could do a better job of it running the Northumberland Coastal Trails. But it is quite relaxed running so take the mileage up to 48. Actually the train stations determine the distance and Graham to his credit did have an escape route, a Plan B if things turned bad, of catching the bus, the X18, which scoots up and down the Coast and Castles route ferrying ladies in comfortable shoes, dog walkers and twitchers to and from the rather splendid beaches and sights along the way. 

We were to catch the 7am train. I managed to pack most of my small back pack the night before so all I had to do was eat breakfast, brush my teeth and I could wake up on the jog up the road. The weather was looking more promising than the overcast forecast and difficult to know what to wear. Helly long sleeve with a t-shirt over the top, gloves and buff. Waterproof jacket in the pack even though the day was supposedly rain free. 

The mouth of the alan?

The guard on the train pronounced our destination Alanmouth. Half an hour down the line from Berwick Upon Tweed. We would take 9 hours to get back to Berwick. The speed of the trains and buses seemed to sarcastically poke fun at our sedate pace but the point is, I believe, the journey rather than the getting there. Not the obligatory emotional journey of any reality tv celebrity doing something that takes them out their comfort zone and makes them shed a few tears before becoming redeemed, but a literal journey. And hopefully no tears.

This was early on, but if only I could remember where it was taken?

8.02 and after an extended breakfast Mr. Garmin finally decided to glance heaven-word and pick up a signal. We set off along the riverside towards the coast and turned left. This was almost the only direction we needed all day as the route goes up the beaches and coastline to Berwick. However there are a couple of meanders inland. Most of the route is signed with small blue arrows on fence posts and wooden signs but there are areas where it's easy to go wrong. Graham likes to print out maps and laminate them. I would do the same but there seems little point in us both carrying maps so I defer to him as route finder general (he also has all the maps in his gps phone for back up) and so I concentrate on taking photos and chatting while following his navigation. 

The air is warmer down here in this tropical country and pretty soon gloves and buff are stowed. I think I'll take a layer off later but never remember. When you stop the moist clothing reminds you it's quite a cool day when not running. The initial 10 miles are swift. The ground is mostly good - sandy trails, tarmac sections, muddy paths and single track. Not the fastest but we are motoring along. Trying not to think about the big number 48 that hangs over the day, but anxious to get the mileage count into double figures, to put a good few miles to the back of us. The sun is much closer to visible than the forecasts had suggested and we find ourselves bathed in sweat.

Wow that's a lovely beach. Graham is studious for a moment then tells me the name (Howdiemont Sands) which goes in one ear and out the other. Sometimes we drop down to the sand to run, mostly we admire the beaches and coves from the trail through the dunes above. This would be unconditionally fabulous if we didn't have the big 48 hanging there, keeping us sober.


I know we can't do 2 TB runs in 8 days and carry one forward to next month but having got into the habit of noticing war memorials this one seemed to be a recent and attractive addition. Lovely small village reminiscent of the East Neuk of Fife or East Lothian.

We kept getting long views of an impressive ruin set high on a promontory and looking like it was photoshopped. Dunstanburgh Castle, the first of several coastal castles today. As we got closer it became less impressive, or maybe just less fantastical, more earth bound. It was still a giant pile of stones but it definitely works better on the horizon from a distance. I failed to take a decent photo of a hare running for cover as we went past. Quite a lot of soggy and muddy paths around here. I had opted for road shoes (my new Hoka Constants because they are so comfy) and at times I was sliding about as if on roller skates. Then we would get a long section of road and I would think I had chosen wisely.

Embleton Bay looking back to the castle.

Some very pretty summer houses dotted discreetly among the dunes here. 

That might be Seahouses in the distance above. We went through some pretty awful static caravan parks and then after a while on the beach, to Seahouses, a port of call for a quick supermarket sweep. (There was another war memorial but the photos and town were kind of dull.) Also I was feeling trashed. My feet were sore particularly the left foot injury from last weekend, but this time the right as well. I was soaked with sweat and wobbly. I can't be trashed we have done a mere 18 miles and still have an entire Tyncastle Bronze to go. 30 miles running. I cannot be trashed. 

(Although I was in a worse state, Graham was not untouched by the mileage and pace; and after emptying a bottle of water into his soft flask couldn't find the top of his soft flask. He had just taken it off and it wasn't lying on any nearby surface. Eventually after a rummage in the litter bin where he dumped the empty water bottle, he found the flask lid. Mmmm special!)

I do not recommend what I did at Seahouses. In the coop I bought a 39p Emerge (a cheapskate Red Bull): drank half and put the rest in my reservoir along with most of a litre of water. I crunched down 2 paracetamols and forced down a sandwich. It worked a treat. 5 mins later I was amped up, the feet were easing off and we were mud hopping out Seahouses on the single track bridle path.

Next up Bamburgh. I had even heard of Bamburgh Castle. We went inland a bit and came at it through farmers fields, often over decent terrain, sometimes less so. Just before we arrived there we came upon the worst conditions of any of the marked right-of-way trails. The field was heavily churned up from tractor tyres and cattle hooves. The cattle were in a direct line of traffic. They looked very placid but we opted not to find out and trotted over to the edge and climbed out onto the road. The signed trail went through an enclosure knee deep with mud and slurry then directly over where the cows were gathered. As if the farmer were trying to deter walkers.

Bamburgh Castle - another old building that looks better from a distance.

worst part of the day

Bamburgh Castle

Obviously popular with tourists and sightseers the castle and beach were busy. The coastal trails route goes inland from here but we followed the paths and trails round the coast and golf course before heading inland. It would have been tempting to try to find a route across the huge beach on the sand, but mention of the Morecambe Bay tragedy (was that really 2004?) and the incoming tide and various streams curling across the vast plains of sand, discouraged any exploration. We both had (mostly) dry feet and were keen to keep them like that.

Shocked white building with crossed eyes and funny hat on.
First sighting of Lindisfarne in the background

It was uninstinctive to move away from the coast, inland. We ran on roads for a bit climbing a fair amount before finding the path that led us round derelict fields to Belford. We crossed the rail line below and guessed it was not regularly used. There were some sections reminiscent of Forfar Multi Terrain Half, though absent of the water features. Quite a bit of mud though. So much so that when we got to the pub we had to spent 2 mins kicking and scraping it off our shoes before going in for a restorative pint and re-group.

We had a pint of Black Sheep and a pint of water each. The order of tap water much amused the locals (3 Saturday lunchtime drunks, well tanked up,) who asked from where had we run. The answer Alnmouth confused them and wiped the smiles off their faces. We were at the 30 mile marker with 18 to go and it was starting to look like we might make it. "Only 15 to Berwick" says number one drunk. "That's in a car by the road, we are not taking a direct line."

I was feeling much improved and realised the lowest point of the day (and you always have low points on a long run) had been around 15 miles. Graham mentioned I had gone quiet round then. After a pint (of beer, although the water was very splendid as well) I now felt unstoppable. I floated out the pub ahead of G to get a Garmin signal and felt positively toasted. Just as well Graham declined the second round. We might have spent the rest of the day there.

Quick war memorial then off into the hills. There were some mysterious goings on navigation wise as we met up with the St Cuthbert's way coming over from the West and then lost both going through some woods. After a double check on Graham's magic phone we got back on track and enjoyed the different scenery and elevations of the highest ground on our route. We bumped into a couple of other ramblers who were also keen to confirm this was the St Cuthbert's way so probably discrepancies between maps and signage on the ground. It was all quite pretty and I was a bit drunk so I didn't mind. We were generally ahead of schedule all day.

This was kind of typical terrain, then we went round the corner and there would be a mud bath for 100 yards. My shoes were now absolutely filthy and I asked Graham if he remembered the pretty road shoes I had started the day with.

Then a rail crossing. Due to tiredness and the speed of the trains we did this on maximum alert. I heard a train horn just before we crossed but there was no sign in either direction and we crossed the line. Within seconds a train roared down the line and passed at terrific speed. There was a sign this side of the track saying if you are wanting to cross the line then use this phone to call up the signalman and he will tell you if it's all clear. There wasn't to my recollection a similar set up on the side from which we crossed, begging the question were we to cross the line then call him up from this side? 

Back to the coast and the causeway at Holy Island. Graham stopped to fish in his backpack for something so I took a couple of photos. My camera refused to focus properly and I wondered if it was dead. I got out a clean cloth and cleaned the lens, switched it off and on and it worked. Not dead, just tired.

Potentially a decent venue for a 20+ miler from Berwick and back.

The enigmatic "come see my cat" bunker.

There were many long miles from Lindisfarne to Berwick. (About 10) They did not pass easily or quickly but I was tired so not really taking many photos. There wasn't much to see. Quite a lot of tarmac which was making my feet hot. I couldn't work out whether there would be shreds of skin flapping off or maybe just a couple of hot spots. (Luckily the latter.) As we were coming into Berwick I recognised the far end of the old cross country course from the Borders Series. I told Graham to look out for the red and white lighthouse at the end of the pier. When it came into view it was black and white which surprised me. When we got closer it was red and white. Oh. Must just be an optical thingy.

war memorial blah blah

Half way through Berwick I got dizzy and sweaty all of a sudden. I knew I was low on fuel but really did not fancy the Eat Natural Bar in my chest strap pocket. I'd already had one and you are spitting coconut and bits of nuts from your teeth ten minutes later. But rather than fainting I opened it and after one bite knew I could eat 5 of them without breathing. Wow I was hungry. 2 mins later I was back on my feet and running across the bridge where Graham had found an unlikely place for a sundial. I took pics of his Garmin which had pretty much the same distance as mine although quite different stats otherwise as mine shuts down on auto pause if I even think about climbing a wall or walking up a steep hill. Stats later.

Felt a great sense of achievement doing my longest ever training run. 48.6 on my Garmin plus one up and down from Waverley makes just over the 50. And we arrived in plenty time to go to a Weatherspoons and change into dry clothes and get stuff to eat and drink in proper leisurely style before walking up the road to catch the 6.45 back to Edinburgh. Really brilliant day out. And if you want to make macaroni cheese and 2 pints of Stella taste like the best feast you have ever had, go run 50 miles immediately prior. Works a treat. 

Garmin says: 48.6 miles (Plus 1+1)
elapsed time 8.49
We started at 8.02 and finished just after 5pm so I suspect this doesn't include pub time when it was switched off.
average pace 9.43 moving pace 9.31
max elevation 525ft
Cals 5,981 !

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