I'm awake! It's 6.15am. Why is it so bright? Why are there no numbers on my alarm clock? I'm out of bed. Oh. There are at least 4inches of snow on the car. And everywhere else. Cotton wool snow. Silence. A power cut. Perfect. I have to contemplate no porridge. Impossible to race without porridge. Proceed, maybe something will happen.
Something happens. Radio bursts into life, as does the fridge, and the microwave display. Porridge is on again. Our day is on again.
I open the car boot. Half a ton of snow slides into the boot under the cantilevered lid. Memo to self...
9.30am. North Shields is bright, wet underfoot from snow showers, and hunched against the North wind.
Aren't runners odd? I include myself here of course. But odd is good in my world. I will warm up properly - after 90 mins in the car, and in these glacial temperatures, I must warm up properly.
The queues for the portaloos are immense. I know a shortcut to the indoor toilets. This way. Right. The doorway has been bricked up.
I haven't warmed up. 3 minutes to Time Zero. I must re-tie my laces, at least. Which one first? The left, it's the looser of the two. Too tight. Try again. Better. One minute warning.
One lace tighter than the other, the first mile is a blur of obstruction-avoidance. Bus shelters, bollards, kerbs, pedestrians, other runners, more street furniture, yet more runners. Downhill. The river, the fish quay, stay in the sun, breathe. I run with my hands hiding in my sleeves. Proper runners don't do that.
Mile 2 - along the promenade towards Tynemouth, looking for Lord Collingwood, waiting for the wind. Where is the wind? A runner in front of me has a Swedish-yellow top on. I wonder if he's Swedish. But I don't ask. Life is full of unanswered questions. Collingwood, the Spanish Battery, The Haven, The Priory. Up the bank. It's not a hill, not a proper hill.
Mile 3. I can see two ships. Both are the right way up. This is not Blackpool. This is faster than Blackpool, and colder. And here, the sea is blue-grey-green, not brown. But still the wind is just, well, windy and bitterly cold. Drinks station, neglected. Thanks, but no thanks. Unless you have a hot chocolate perchance.........
Mile 4. Cullercoats harbour. Seaspray. Away from the seafront for a minute. People in cars. I realise that I do not have the ability to see runners as 'normal' people do. I am a runner. They are not. It's their loss. But I'd like to be in that car, nevertheless, or in that warm lounge with the panoramic view and the telescope in the window. But, I have to do this thing.
Mile 5. Spanish City, Whitley Bay. Ouch. The wind arrives properly this time, with bells on. Suddenly everyone wants to run behind someone else. Leads to some amusing tacking manoeuvres along the promenade. Bloke in Swedish shirt reappears on the left, briefly. I can see St Mary's Lighthouse, through my veil of tears. And it's too far away. And, I can smell chips. How cruel. Mile 6. Along the links. Teeth of gale bite at my hands, which retract into my sleeves again. Can't remember the finish. Shake hands with the bloke in front who I couldn't catch. He's about 25 and not even breathing. The bloke behind me is about 60 and asking me 'What time's that, mate?' I'm pointing my finger at the 4ft wide clock about 6ft away. It says 41-something. He laughs and so do I. We survived.
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, late March, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet snow in the greyness of the fells. We were wearing our powder-green vests with a hint of blue, thermals, dark blue hats, mud-brown fell shoes, black socks with Inov-8 written on them. We were not neat, but sober, and we didn't care who knew it. We were everything fell runners ought to be.
We were all there, gathered in a huddle, with the wild, black eyes of the slightly insane. And there it was, the Big Steep. Causey Pike, 1480 feet above us. We could taste the sickly sweet apprehension in the air, but it was just something we had to do. The race started, and in minutes it sunk in what we had let ourselves in for. A long, dark fell race of the soul. You just crawled up the big steep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. What did it matter where you lay once you were dead?
On the way down I would have stopped off at a bar and had a couple of scotches, had there been one. There wasn't. And anyway, they wouldn't have done any good. I was on my own on this one. The street lights of downtown Keswick were glinting in the hard Lakeland light. I would have been better there, amongst the sultry outdoor shops and cappuccino bars, I thought. Behind me, there was the rhythmic rattle of a Pete Bland race number in the wind...I knew it...I was being followed. I tried to put it at the back of my mind. It had happened a hundred times before.
The fell just kept on going. Running madly down the badly made path, rocks like wasps at a picnic. And finally when the mysterious men in fluorescent gabardines said our number was up, it was all over. I reached for the barrel of bourbon on the chair. Too bad it was Gatorade.
We turned our Buffs, neckwarmers and assorted woolly garments to the wind, and got into our cars. We got back out of the cars to push them out of the muddy, rutted field, and then drove back down the hill...
Today's Haweswater Half was the biggest event in our running year, and once again, it seemed to be a roaring success. For a relatively small club, it's a big event to pull off, but careful planning by Susan Hammond, Julia King, Gill Douglas and Andrew Bell (oop, and me) seems to have paid off brilliantly.
And it was an impressive team effort. We swept the corners of the membership list and found a collective of people prepared to sacrifice valuable off-time to stand on windswept corners, bridges and junctions, slosh water into wind-blown cups and wear bits of yellow plastic that the Honey Monster could get into. And more than this, do it with a smile whilst roaring on the runners.
First home was Ian Crampton of Durham City Harriers in 1:13:17, while the extraordinary 100 km World Champion Lizzy Hawker won the ladies race in 1:20:52.
A fantastic day, and perhaps it's one of those things that is really measured by how many Eden Runners still managed to run the distance. The photos speak for themselves.