Run Nation Valentines 5K/10K/HM/Relay – 11th February 2024

by Geoff Hewitson

This annual event, held on Newcastle Town Moor, is essentially a jamboree of 4 events in one – a half marathon, 10k, individual 5k, and 5k couples relay. Clare Weir and myself had decided some time ago to fully embrace the “Valentines” theme by entering the relay event, which I think was the third time we’ve done it. Clare had pencilled it in as her first serious target following her knee surgery back in the early Autumn. In previous years various other Crookites have taken part, for example last year Simon P and Gayle A tackled the half, whilst Laura A-G and I did the individual 5k. Sam D and Michael D did the relay a couple of years ago, whilst Josh P and Ken have both done the 10k if memory serves. This year, however, it was just the two of us.

There was nothing romantic about the weather last Sunday morning, that is for certain. The Town Moor was shrouded in dark grey clouds and the heavy overnight rain was continuing relentlessly. After finding a parking spot in Jesmond (taking great care not to fall foul of one of the many complex parking restrictions that seem to apply in that part of Newcastle) we made our way to registration and number collection. These were taking place in a couple of very wet and bedraggled looking gazebos and we were both surprised to find ourselves at the end of a very long queue. Fortunately, Clare returned from an excursion to source out the portaloos to announce that the long queue was for the 10k registration at the first gazebo, so we were able to by-pass the queue at get our numbers from the second one (well, once we’d found our own names on the list and pointed them out to the slightly confused-looking person on registration). If any of you have experienced Run Nation events in the past (I’m sure many of you have) you’ll be quite familiar with the organised chaos that usually ensues!)

And speaking of which … after a bit of ‘warming up’ (a relative term it must be said) we headed to the starting area in good time to hear the organiser with his loud hailer issuing instructions that were as clear as the mud on both sides of the path. There were two start lines (with mats) and distinguishing flags for the individual 5k (dark blue) and 10k/relay first leg (lighter blue). The relay changeover was to take place at the 5k start and both runners had to cross the mats together – lots of confused looks being exchanged at this point as it was difficult to hear what was being said anyway. The half marathon runners had their own separate start(!) and they were first to go. Because of the extra distance required to get the 13.1 miles (each full lap was 5k or 3.1 miles) they started with a small loop of 0.7 mile which brought them back past where all the rest of us runners were gathered to embark on 4 full laps. Not much room as the paths on the Town Moor are not very wide, and most people were reluctant to step off the paths onto the very muddy grass. Anyway, once the HM runners had passed, the individual 5k got underway, and then finally it was the turn of the 10k runners who set off together with the first leg relay runners. This was by far the largest field – there were 69 in the half marathon, 91 in the individual 5k, and 411 in the 10k (plus about 21 first leg relay runners). Once they had all set off, the only people left were the 21 or so of us who were on second leg of the relay – cold, soaking wet and sharing the usual gallows humour as you do at such times. Working on an estimated time of 26 – 27 minutes for Clare to return, I deposited our bag of clothing in the ‘baggage’ gazebo then did a couple of laps round the Wylam Brewery to try to keep warm. With the fear of being late for the changeover niggling away, I was back at the start line in plenty of time. The first few runners from the individual 5k had already finished (it was won in 17:53), but there was a continuous stream of other runners from the half and 10k moving through to start their next / second lap. Fortunately the marshals did a decent job in shouting out the numbers of incoming relay runners before they were clearly visible to those of us waiting to take over. As we all know, our own club colours are quite striking and unique so I had no problem spotting Clare approaching our changeover point.

The course was mostly similar to the one used for the Heaton Memorial 10k, as well at the weekly parkrun that takes place there, and the LGBT 5k (although the latter has a few directional variations). It was all within the confines of Newcastle’s Town Moor apart from a shortish section along the footpath adjacent to Grandstand Road. Underfoot surfaces were paths and footpaths, mostly smooth but some more uneven, and with all the heavy rain there was a lot of standing water that had to be splashed through. The whole thing was basically flat with no hills and only gentle, gradual inclines.

Despite taking about a km to thaw out, I felt as though I was running a reasonable time, although possibly exaggerated by the fact that I was in the unusual situation of effectively joining a 10k race at the 5k point and about 1/3 of the way down the field. I found myself passing loads of runners especially in the early stages but then so I should as they had already raced 5k or more. I’d tried to memorise the relay runners that had set off before me with the aim of maybe trying to chase down as many as I could. I did pass a few that I recognised but it wasn’t easy with the distinguishing numbers worn only on the front.

Results for the half, 10k and individual 5k appeared very promptly and seemed to be accurate, but the first tranche of relay results could only be described as gobbledegook! They were removed from the website fairly quickly and a link to a second version was emailed out a couple of days later – still hopelessly wrong (my name was missing as were several others). Eventually, by Thursday in fact, what we assume are the correct results finally appeared. We finished 11th out of the 21 couples that took part in the relay. Clare was delighted with her official time of 25:58 – a sub-26 and big ‘post-op’ PB! I was also satisfied with my own 22:38. The winning couple clocked 38:46 – quite impressive, and their margin of victory was 3 minutes 21 seconds. The girl ran 21:13 on Leg 1 and her partner ran Leg 2 in 17:33 – he would have won the individual 5k by 20 seconds.

For anyone who might be interested, the half was won in 73:16, 2nd 74:24, 3rd 74:38, 10th 91:32. The winner of the 10k clocked 31:52, 2nd 32:01, 3rd 33:29, 10th 37:26.

All in all, apart from a bit of chaos at the start and the issues with the relay results this is still a very enjoyable event. The couples relay is something different and a lot of fun – it would be good if we could get a few teams from the club to take part. With the choice of races, it’s definitely worth considering next year.

Geoff H