Darlington: cradle of the railways. Home of the brick train. Probable birthplace of pease pudding. If that can be birthed. Urgh, I feel quite unwell now. Although contemplating pease pudding for any time at all, birthed or unbirthed, does me no favours. I tell you, there was nothing worse as a kid than biting into a ham sandwich only to discover it was a ham and pease pudding sandwich. I’d rather eat Play-Doh. If Satan built a house he’d use pease pudding for mortar, I reckon. Anyway. Where were we? Darlington, that’s right. Home of Strictly Dance Fever winner Darrien Wright. You’d best sit down for a bit and try and take that in.
My ability to attend the Darlington 10k had been in question for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d had my latest CT scan* scheduled for the same morning. On a Sunday? Muh? So much for Jeremy Hunt’s accusations of a ‘Monday to Friday culture in the NHS’, eh? The doyle. Happily, I was able to re-arrange the appointment for last Friday, meaning I had a full 24 hours to recover from being pumped full of radiation before hitting the streets of Darlo with a glowing green phosphorescence. Secondly, I’d been invited to a christening. Where, in fact, I was to be a godfather. Luckily though, that wasn’t until later in the afternoon so I had time to bomb a 10k off and still get to the church on time. Of course, as godfather-to-be I really should have done the 10k in a tuxedo and carrying a horse’s head whilst making other runners ‘offers they couldn’t refuse’.
So, after the obligatory pre-race selfie, I rocked into Darlington town centre bright and early. In stark contrast to the week previous at York, I was in fine spirits. The sun was out. It was costing me a mere £1 to park. Good times. I’d even remembered my tub of Vaseline, now named Keith (there’s logic to this…Vaseline = Vas = Vaz = Keith Vaz = Keith). Even the accidental misapplication of Keith to an area he was not required couldn’t dampen the spirits. Nor could the slightly frightening chap who was reading a newspaper aloud whilst slumped on the floor near the public toilets. In fact, it was around this time that a bout of mild hysteria came over me on noting how pigeons were being dissuaded from roosting around the indoor market. Owls were being utilised. Plastic owls. Hilariously unconvincing plastic owls. Accompanied by the piped-in sounds of birds of prey to make it quite the multisensory experience. Take that, feathered vermin.
After a brief jog up and down the high street to get the blood flowing it was time to find the start. I’d done this race once before and recalled that the start line is kind of down a back alley, but with ample space to line up. We were thankfully spared the Hell that is the synchronised warm-up with Overzealous Zoe or similar, but had to abide a message of goodwill from The Mayor which was uttered with the same level of enthusiasm one usually reserves for reading aloud the contents of a tin of highland broth. After that, with a cry of ‘we’ve got two minutes before the start, please don’t bunch up’, everybody bunched up. And waited for two minutes. Then, we were off!
I’d opted to try and go for a pace of 7 minutes per mile, but this was immediately under threat owing to a phenomena that many race runners will be familiar with – people clog! I even took an accidental elbow to the chest (the owner of said elbow was extremely apologetic I must add) before it began to thin out a bit and I could focus on something other than not falling over fellow runners and dodging elbows.
The course at Darlington is two 3-mile loops. This means that the hill you first encounter at around 1 mile when you’re still full of energy makes an unwelcome return at mile 4 when you’re most definitely not. The first couple of miles went well. I stuck to the pace and felt pretty good. But then! Distraction! Well, kind of. I was running more-or-less alongside someone I recognised from Twitter but had never met IN REAL LIFE. I wondered what the etiquette was in relation to an audacious mid-race hello, but decided that might prove to be unwise for a number of reasons. The main one being the probable response to a sweat-sodden stranger blurting out ‘BleughHellloItsMeBenFromTwitterGoodRaceBleugh?’, which would likely range from (at best) confusion to physical violence. Instead I’d merely say a cheery hello at the end. If I made it that far.
As I approached the end of the first loop I began to wonder if I was going to be lapped by the leaders. The thought of which helped with keeping the pace steady, but on reflection being lapped was highly improbbable unless the leaders were on to break the world record. By about 6 minutes. Unlikely. And at mile 4 the aforementioned hill inevitably reappeared like that yeast infection you thought you’d expunged. Then I encountered some mid-run douchery: a bearded chap, for reasons best know to himself, decided that after overtaking me he needed, needed to run right in front of me. And then slow down. Now, I’m quite the passive chap and certainly non-confrontational, so I moved a bit to the side to allow him to have ‘the racing line’ or whatever he thought it was. After a while, owing to him having slowed, I gradually passed him. A few minutes later he did the same thing again – overtook, pulled in front and reduced his speed. For those of you familiar with World’s Wildest Police Videos (and if you’re not you really should be), it was akin to when the police box-in a speeding car to slow it down. And because of this, I now had Sheriff John Bunnell’s unique brand of commentary running through my head:
“Hamburgers, hotdog’s, apple pie and baseball, America Darlington has given the world many things… including high speed pursuits. Taylorson was sky-high on a two-day crack binge and wired to the max. There’s no place for felons like him, that’s why he’s heading straight for the county jail. This low-life thought he could mess with State Trooper Barry Beard, but Beard had other ideas. He executes a perfect California stop, and sends this renegade back where he belongs – IN JAIL”
Before long the end was in sight. Well, not literally. Cruelly, just as you think you’re at the end you have to sweep round the back of some shops for a good quarter of a mile and loop back round before finishing in front of Binns. Like all the top races. Luckily, I’d remembered this so it wasn’t quite the morale-shatterer it was the first time I did this particular race. I then threw dignity out of the window and sprinted for the finish, trying to pass a bespectacled middle-aged man in the process. I beat him by about 1 second. He, however, wins the moral victory as he wasn’t drawn into a game of ‘race that stranger like a nutter’ and he looked decidedly more comfortable than I did as we crossed the line in 43 mins and 48 seconds – an average of 6 mins 59 secs so the Garmin said. I love it when a plan comes together.
After I said hello to the Twitter chum I’d recognised earlier (I’m downplaying the terror on my part of approaching a relative stranger and saying’ Look! Its me! From the Internet!’ but after some mild flapping I got there eventually) it was time to collect a bottle of water and a commemorative t-shirt. Alas, no medal. But that’s OK…*weeps*
Overall, the Darlo 10k is a good ‘un. Well organised, superbly marshalled and a route that’s a little challenging without being too tough. I will more than likely return next year.
***************SHAMELESS ATTEMPT TO EXTRACT YOUR CASH******************
Over the course of 6 weeks from September 6th to October 11th I’m running the Middlesbrough 10k, the Great North Run, the Scottish Half Marathon, The Redcar Half Marathon and the Yorkshire Marathon in order to raise funds for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. If you would like to sponsor me – and I’d love it if you did – you can do so via this link. I promise you’ll get a mention if you do!
This week I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to Riversidemusing for her kind donation and urge you to check out her blog.
* – I’m part of a clinical trial to assess the best way to monitor/treat testicular cancer patients in remission. Its no fun, but I do always get a cup of tea and three biscuits afterwards. Not two. Not four. But three.