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Phil said: “The Northumberland Coastal Run is organized by Alnwick Harriers, and is so popular that each year it is usually fully subscribed within a few days of entries opening in February. Way back in the depths of winter when there was still snow at the door I kept a beady eye on the organizers website and managed to get an entry for this year’s race. The run was voted the best in Britain in Runner’s World magazine a couple of years back, so I thought it sounded like a great one to do despite being months away.
The route is from Beadnell to Alnmouth using mostly beaches and public footpaths with a few sections on minor roads. The run is approximately 14 miles long (depending on whether the tide is in or out). The race organization was very efficient and relaxed (they have been running this event for 30 years now). Because it was a point-to-point race buses where laid on, so competitors could park their cars near the finish and be ferried up the coast to the start, although you did have to book your seat on the bus in advance at the time you applied for your race entry.
Registration was on the day in a marquee at the start in Beadnell, or you could pick up your number and timing chip at the sports centre in Alnwick the previous day if you preferred.
The weather on the day was pretty good – mainly overcast with little sunshine now and then, and a steady cooling sea breeze to run into, which made it a little chilly waiting to start (although there was plenty of cover in the sand dunes), but was quite welcome while running. There were around 800+ starters, which felt like an ideal number for this course. The beach at the start was wide enough to give plenty of room to get into your stride, without having to jump in the sea, skid on jellyfish or trash any sandcastles. There was also time for the field to thin out nicely before negotiating an assortment of styles, gates, footbridges and narrow un-even paths later on in the off-beach sections. The biggest obstacle was after about the first mile where there was a small river dissecting the beach for which there was no option other than to run straight through it, but it was only half-way up to my knee and good fun once the feet got over the initial soaking. The next feature was the Arctic Tern nesting site which was fenced off so we didn’t disturb them, but you could clearly hear the little blighters chirping away and frantic parents overhead on feeding missions. The next section was up to the little village of High Newton By The Sea then down to equally little village of Low Newton By The Sea. The it was another beach section then up off the beach and round the ragged ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, where while admiring the view I turned my ankle in a rut on the grass path – ouch ! The route continued through Craster Village, & Cullernose Point followed by a long coastal path section mainly on mixed grass and gravel track, initially close to the sea and then inland alongside fields. Past the village of Boulmer there was a mile or so of road which was a comparatively boring bit. It was not coned off, but was ok as there were a few cars and runners were well spread out at this point. The last leg was about 2 miles along Alnmouth beach, which provided some interesting route finding amongst rock pools, then some nice easy running on firm wet sand followed by some lovely churned up loose stuff to ruin the sprint to the finish (should have gone to beach fun training more often !). Finally at the finish you were rewarded with a bottle of water and a very smart looking technical tee-shirt.
All in all it was a bit like a cross between Donkey Brae and the Black Rock Five, but without the donkeys or the black rock and it was fourteen not five. Lots of mixed terrain and there were a few gentle humples, but I would not regard it a particularly humply course (certainly not compared to the Orkney half). Yes, having done it now I can see why it is such a popular run and I’d very much recommend the race to anyone in ERN, but remember you do have to get your entry in early.”