CTS Northumberland 2018

This is the second year that I have taken part in this event, and for the second year running I have thoroughly enjoyed it! I can't take credit for finding this race... the Mrs first spotted it and I kindly accompanied her!

The Coastal Trail Series, or CTS for short, is a Nationwide series of Trail Running Events that allow you to explore some of the most scenic areas the UK has to offer, and the Northumberland event does not disappoint.

On the day you can choose from a 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon or Ultra event, meaning that there is something for everyone. I personally went for the 10K as this was in fact the first day of our holiday in the area. Each year we (the Mrs and I) stay in Beadnell for a week, and this race is a great way to kick off a week of relaxation. Honest!

It was an early get-up for us, leaving the house in York at 6am. We arrived at the beautiful and jaw-dropping Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland Coastline with around an hour to spare before the event start. In 2017 all of the competitors managed to fit into the free car park at the foot of the castle. This year however the race had clearly grown in popularity, and as a result ended up being sent to an overflow car park around a mile down the road. To be honest this really wasn't an issue and if anything helped with the warm up and cool down! And, with a mid-day start there wasn't a great deal of stress to get there and get registered.

CTS Northumberland 2018Once registered we received a race brief, before being shipped to the start line (six miles down the road at Beadnell Bay). Transport arrived in the form of several very tidy coaches, and given the biting wind made for some very enjoyable shelter until race start. Once we arrived at the car park at Beadnell Bay we piled off and made out way to the start point which was a set of flags roughly half a miles walk down the beach.

At this point, despite the biting wind chilling us to the bone, I had the sudden realisation that the wind would in fact be to our backs all the way back to Bamburgh. This made me very happy. A brief jog and a little shaking out of the joints later and I was warm and ready to go!

I've been suffering from a niggle in my left hip for a few months so I was fully expecting this to cause me an issue at some point during the race, given that around 99% of the course would be on sandy beaches, but I was going to give this everything I had.

The race started and immediately a group of around 15 made a noticeable charge along the beach. It was evident at this point that there would be no podium for me! As we set off way too fast along the first stretch of beach towards Beadnell Harbour I was overtaken by a handful of runners, including two Chinese tourists, one of whom would charge a hundred meters and then sprawl out on the floor to take pictures of the other as she ran towards him with the over-exadurated form that was guaranteed to be a hit on Instagram later that day. This didn't last long though.

As we hit the end of this stretch of beach the route abruptly turns into road which sweeps round the edge of the village cutting out the rocky un-runnable section of beach, before finding a public right of way that spins you back down a steep drop on to some fresh sand scattered with a hint of rock, and commenced a two mile technical run from Beadnell to Seahouses. It was here that you started to notice the other runners out on the course, with each of the other events starting earlier in the day depending on the race distance, and each route passing the starting point of the next, and effectively picking up the next race along the way. It was noticeable partly due to the fact that the 10K race didn't require any mandatory kit carrying whilst the half, marathon and ultra did, but also because of the pace of the runners ahead. It was at this point that it became very difficult to really judge just how well you were doing within your own race, and so all you could do was push yourself as hard as possible and hope for the best.

As we approached Seahouses the route kindly gives your feet a little wash as you are forced to splash your way through a natural channel of sea water, before leaping across uneven rocks and taking a short but very sharp uphill climb onto a golf course and then along the right of way and into Seahouses harbour where you are once again thrust onto tarmac which starts to test your legs a little, as well as your choice of trail shoe for the day! I was pleased to be sporting my Inov8 Trail Talon shoes that are great on uneven trails with constant changes on to smoother surfaces.

The stretch from Seahouses to Bamburgh was soft sand, and lots of it. It was here that I started to forget my surrounding and instead focus on pushing my pace and picking off runners one at a time.

There's a point on this stretch of beach that you think to yourself "its just round this next corner then I'm on a sprint to the finish" before you turn that corner and realise it was one corner too soon!

That corner finally came and you see the marker flag to the left of the beach which points the way up on to the unbelievably soft and sandy dunes, which then tests you with a wonderfully technical section of running at the foot of Bamburgh Castle, snaking round the dunes closer and closer to what eventually turns in to possibly the steepest finishing straight I've ever experienced in a race!

The path literally jumps up in front of you, and a handily placed photographer captures your best race face as you heave yourself to the top, turn an almost 180 degrees and continue to sprint uphill to the castle gates. A quick but sharp right hand turn in through the gates and you are greeted by the finish line, a superb race t-shirt and a nice bit of race bling to finish your day.

My only grumble at this point was the finish line. The timing system uses the same system as you find in Orienteering events which is great. However, the finish line only had a single person recording your finish, and as the finish chute started to back up it made the young girls job very difficult, and she started to record runners out of finishing order.

The Beast from the East 2018As I finished my race a supervisor moved her from the finish line to the turn just outside the castle gates to try to stop the finish chute choke. Unfortunately for me that meant that the person that finished behind me was handed a very big freebie and as such leap-frogged me on the results table. So, despite finishing in 31st place overall, of which I was unbelievably happy, the final results pushed me to 32nd place.

In all honesty, that really didn't bother me that much, but it is perhaps something for the organisers to think about next time. And it was a single moan in what was an outstanding race.

At this point it was straight inside to get some warm layers on, and to refuel whilst waiting for Rachael to finish her race. To my surprise she had a belter of a run and I was so busy pushing chocolate in my face that I missed her finish!

From there it was an easy walk back to the car and just a five minute drive in to Seahouses for a late lunch and a spot of shopping before we headed off back to Beadnell to check in for what we expected to be a week of training. Just two days later we were snowed in as the Beast from the East paid us all a visit!

Check out next years CTS Northumberland race series here.

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