It's moments like this that I regret bunking off school so often and missing out on an education. Otherwise I'd be able to describe Saturday's proceedings more eloquently, without using glib terms such as 'super', 'smashing' or 'great'. But I can't, so all I can say is, wasn’t the latest parkrun a great spectacle. I thought last week's event was a show stopper - with an abundance of PB's in glorious weather conditions - yet this one went beyond anyone's wildest imaginations.
To be honest the day began on a slightly down-beat note, with over-cast skies and a strong westerly wind making running conditions quite difficult. It also appeared, as I made my way over to the starting area, that the number of runners may be lower than last week's attendance of 240. But that was understandable given the poor weather. Anyhow, on my way to the start line I bumped into course record holder, Ian Hudspith (Morpeth Harriers), and jokingly asked, 'Going for a new course record today?', to which he replied something along the lines of, 'The windy conditions won't help'. Typical, on one of the few occasions Ian graces Newcastle with his presence, the Gods transpire to give us awful racing conditions. If only he had run a week earlier I thought to myself.
Following the pre-run speech by Race Director, Sue Holdsworth, a special announcement was made, wishing good-bye and good luck to parkrun regular, Steve Harknett, who is leaving these shores to begin a new job in Sri Lanka. As a leaving gift, the Race Directors presented Steve with a Newcastle parkrun themed t-shirt which we hope will remind him of the good times he had at Newcastle and all the people he will be leaving behind. Hopefully, Steve will be Race Directing his own little Sri Lanka 'parkrun' in the near future and if he ever needs help with the results he knows who to contact.
Back to the run, and as this was our monthly paced event, and I was one of the pacers, I had a fantastic opportunity to witness close at hand the very best runners in action during the race. Or so I thought. Because before I had even run 500 metres, the leaders were virtually out of sight. I could just make out the safety bike, and if my eyes weren't playing tricks on me, I could have sworn the lead runner was actually side-by-side with the bike. Reaching the 1k marker, I could see up ahead the lead runners were already making their way along Grandstand Road, and as I approached the 3k marker I was able to look across the moor and spot the leading runner, Ian Hudspith, making great progress towards the 4k marker. I'm not ashamed to admit, watching Ian in full stride was a joy to behold. A short time later, as I passed the 4k marker and went through the final gate, I looked over to my left, where normally I can watch the finishing stages of the run, but strangely there was no sight of either the safety bike or the lead runners. Hmm!!!
Having completed my run, I stood next to Ian Kirtley (Race Timer) to assist with the recording of the times and happened to glance down at the list of times written down so far during the event. The first one read 14.36. No way. 'Was that the winning time?' I asked. 'Yep.', Ian replied, 'By Ian Hudspith.'
He had actually bettered his previous course record by 14 seconds. And in non-favourable conditions too. To put his run in context, in the 18 months Newcastle parkrun has been going, virtually every top class North East athlete has ran the event, but none of them, other than Ian, has managed to get under the 15 minutes barrier. Unsurprisingly, following his record breaking run, Ian achieved his highest ever Age Grading at parkrun of 93.49%, and his time was the quickest on the day at any parkrun event.
Finishing in 2nd place was James Buis (Heaton Harriers), whose time of 15.58 was his second quickest at parkrun, while in 3rd place was debutant Mark Brown of Morpeth Harriers, completing his run in 16.42.
In the ladies event, first finisher of the day was Gateshead athlete, Alex Snook, who ran a PB of 17.48. In second and third places were Claire Simpson (Chester Le Street) and Keri Pearson (Elvet Striders) respectively, with times of 17.52 and 20.42.
As the morning went on, and runners began to stream across the finishing line, Ian and I began to wonder if we would get close to last week's attendance. Ha! Not only did we get close but we sailed past it, eventually reaching a new record attendance of 279. Massive thanks to everyone who came along to help Newcastle achieve this tremendous landmark and with good fortune - and some decent weather - it won't be long until we pass the 300 mark.
Despite the strong wind making running difficult around the course, we had a grand total of 58 runners making their parkrun debut and a magnificent 48 runners managing to record PB's on the day. The poor conditions didn't hinder the quality of runs either, because Ian Hudspith withstanding, a further 7 athletes still achieved an Age Grading in excess of 80%. They were, Claire Simpson 83.40%, Alex Snook 83.15%, Phil Walker (Morpeth Harriers) 82.83%, Pamela Gold (Heaton Harriers) 82.61%, James Buis 82.15%, David McGuckin (Chester Le Street) 81.32% and Annette Hames 81.09%. Well done to all.
Readers of last week's report will no-doubt recall the epic battle between parkrun regulars Craig Smith and Steve Harknett, to determine who would claim second place in the points table before Steve's departure this week. And following Steve's victory last week, it was the turn of Craig to claim 'moral' victory this week, finishing 24th as opposed to Steve's 32nd place, and thereby climbing above him in the table. However, there's a twist in the tale, because sneaking up on the blindside we have Paul Wilkinson, with his finish of 19th position earning him enough points to rise above both Craig and Steve in the table and claim second place for himself. Can Paul now do the unthinkable and catch current points leader, Kevin Lister? We'll have to wait and see.
One final mention regarding Saturday's event, and that is to congratulate Mark Reay on completing his 50th parkrun. Although only 47 have been at Newcastle (2 were ran at Sunderland and the other at Leeds), when you consider Mark is a regular volunteer, he would surely have achieved this fabulous milestone some time ago, so well done Mark.
As always, special thanks to all the volunteers for they help this weekend, especially the registration team who had to persevere with some technical difficulties with the scanning equipment. Hopefully any bugs in the system will be sorted out before the next event (especially as I'm down for that particular role).
And finally, just a reminder that someone very dear to Newcastle parkrun will be making a welcome return next week.
Yes folks, Ms parkrun herself, Niyc Pidgeon, will be back, so please bring along as many people as you can and let's make it a very special occasion.