Trail Running: St Oswald’s Way

8 years ago Steve Way weighed 16 stone, smoked, drank and enjoyed takeaway food; a lot! I read recently how Steve loves parkrun and his running club. In addition to many remarkable achievements, I learned that recently, at the age of 41, he had also run 100k in a new British record. I thought about Steve Way the day before the St Oswald’s Way Ultra and felt inspired.
Starting from the Holy Island (Lindisfarne) there are 3 options – 50k, 100k or 100 miles. It’s mostly off road and the longer distances insist you carry some essentials with you. I shouldn’t need the head torch. I simply had to follow the signs and run 50k.
Up at 4am to eat and pack and register, we met at the Priory to mingle with all three options; we all set out at 7am on the dot when someone turned the lights on. For 3 miles just about every one of the 250 competitors was still in view across the causeway. The left turn across fields and stiles and kind mud, broke us up, but was away from the road and felt good. I settled in to 9 minute mile pace. Steve ran at 6:06 pace. For 62 miles! What a guy.
Conditions were really nice, with cloud cover and no breeze at all and very little standing water. Lots of nettles, sheep cows and bulls**t though, Steve. Also, many gates and miles of running alone, pausing to cross the A1 and the main rail line twice with a marshal and St Johns Ambulance near by, just in case.
We ran an inland loop for 19 miles before reaching Bamburgh and its magnificent North Sea views, ancient castle and ice cream van. I reflected on whether Steve Way liked an ice cream, and didn’t really care much. The sun wasn’t shining much here either.
The mathematician phase kicked in now, over and over; just a half marathon to the end; been on the go for 3 hours; want to beat 5 hours. That equals; what was the question? We had some sand sections, and sea grass covering the paths. Always looking for the St Oswald’s signage on posts it was easy to take a wrong turn which the group pressing behind me did to try and steal half a mile by jogging across the 7th fairway until they were shouted at by some very angry golfers waving their bats.
I zipped through several villages; Seahouses, Beadnell and Benthall; 30 miles! The furthest I had run in my New Balance minimals, though my achilles felt tender this super vet body was holding up. The toe socks were a great choice, but the back pack was pointless. Steve Way probably had a support team; I realised, and didn’t carry his own banana or change for a drink at the end. Or car key. The tourists and hikers were smiling and encouraging as the end was nigh.
The final checkpoint was in the shadow of Dunstanburgh Castle and looked more than 5k away. It was! I drank cola, had a banana and talked nonsense trying hard to stay ahead of Mel who I had overtaken at mile 7. Had she caught a bus to catch me or was it my imagination? Rounding the Castle I could see Craster in the near distance and the spirit of Steve Way soared inside me. The last mile was my third fastest and I was born again, waving and smiling, I virtually sprinted to the finish, The Jolly Fisherman Pub.
Children clanging cow bells and the smell of fish from the harbour welcomed me over the line. Garmin stopped at 33 miles and a bit; more than 50k for all of us. I was 3rd lady, but gave the prize to Mel who had obviously let me beat her. Smiles and small talk followed and after some reflection I ordered chips and a pint of Landlord, by Timothy Taylor, and raised a toast to Steve Way, an outstanding athlete.