The Sunday morning long runs tell a story of only one thing and no it’s not the prolonged after effects of a dodgy Saturday night norovirus-laden takeaway. Marathon training.
After a post Dublin Marathon hiatus I’ve upped the mileage recently to gear up for April’s Greater Manchester Marathon once again. A local twelve mile run with the Guirgunator two Sundays ago then a marathon paced fifteen mile out and back to Old Trafford the next Sunday both went well. A visit to the in-laws last weekend would not hinder what runners call ‘getting the miles in the legs’.
The in-laws live in Penshaw, a quiet former pit village in the North East between Sunderland and Chester-le-Street. When I started seeing my now much better half a gigantic slag heap competed with the Parthenon-like Earl of Durham’s Monument for Penshaw’s most prominent landmark. Thankfully the slag heap has now made way for Herrington Country Park, a popular cross country venue, and the monument has regained undisputed pride of place.
A fine vegetable curry plus sides and a few too many pints at Penshaw Tandoori the night previous meant I set out on my Sunday run a few hours later than originally planned. The intended run route was to Roker Pier in Sunderland via Chester Rd and back via Durham Rd. Fifteen and a half miles.
At 0830, with the Belgian rapper Baloji in my headphones, I set out in the cold, crisp, clear air. After a mile I passed the monument and as I hit the first incline up to the A19 roundabout my body warmed up and began to feel arsed about the run ahead.
As I crossed the A19 the huge Nissan production complex sneaked into view. I’m a Remainer but even if I wasn’t and lived here I would do nothing to potentially put that place in even the mildest form of jeopardy. The scene in The Wire springs to mind when crooked State Senator Clay Davis is guiding gangster-cum-businessmen Stringer Bell through the world of political contracts. Davis talks about the importance of ‘the goose…that lays them golden eggs.’ Sunderland’s goose is Nissan and the local vote for Leave in the 2016 referendum still bloody baffles me.
From the A19 it was downhill until Sunderland city centre and my legs got the run of themselves a bit. An alumnus of the city’s university I passed the site of my old halls of residence, the lecture halls I occasionally visited, the union bar I did my ‘studying’ in, and also the library I did my actual studying in.
After making my way through the quiet city centre I crossed Monkwearmouth Bridge under which the River Wear flows out to the grey North Sea. The waterway put the city on the global map due to it’s shipbuilding heritage. My much better half’s grandfather Ken, a man that personified the ‘Mack’ in the term Mackem, was a boilermaker at Laings and later Austin and Pickersgills and it was solid working class shipbuilding folk like him and her uncle Colin that were encapsulated in the opening lyrics to the theme tune of Netflix’s acclaimed Sunderland ’til I die series.
On the north side of the river with Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light to the left, I used to like them until they did the Poznań at us back on that bleak May day in 2012, it was a right turn toward Roker. I passed St Peter’s Church that dates back to 674AD and was where the Venerable Bede once resided. The church is located across the road from Manor Quay, the University of Sunderland nightclub, which is not venerable I can tell you. After passing pubs along the Roker seafront (The Albion, The Wolsey and The Harbour View) where more of my student finances were squandered than I care to remember I came to the steep ramp that led down to Roker Beach and then on to the pier.
Roker Pier is truly a wonderful piece of workmanship. It smoothly stretches out into the North Sea for half a mile and with it’s shorter southern partner provides a calmness for the waters that lie within. At the pier’s end I rounded the lighthouse, exchanged pleasantries with the fishermen and momentarily paused to look back at the place that from 1997-2000 I called home. I thought of the city that still held fond memories and laughs, where I revelled in the ‘…and Solskjær has won it’ night in ’99, the 2.1 degree I somehow emerged with and most importantly where I met my much better half. There was also the aching disbelief of a forty year old that realised it was all half a lifetime ago.
I retraced my running steps back to Monkwearmouth Bridge but once recrossed this time I headed south down the once thriving Fawcett Street and then west along Holmeside to met up with the A690 Durham Rd. I passed the pedestrian crossing where my Geordie mate Ian was run over during Fresher’s Week. Apparently an A&E doctor actually told him that due to being drunk he escaped major injury as his inebriated body was completely relaxed when it met the oncoming car.
In planning the return route I had completely forgotten how steep parts of Durham Rd were. The area’s hilly nature is the reason that a dry ski slope was located in nearby Silksworth. It was a real slog and my earlier eight minute mile pace took a clattering. I started wishing I’d gone back the way I had come but then quickly rationalised that every steep hill is an opportunity and the distance covered on them counts double (my unscientific calculation). Thankfully after a few miles the gradient softened and as I turned off Durham Road onto Herrington Road the Penshaw Parthenon came back into view. With one last push up the incline to the west side of Herrington Country Park I was back at the in-laws for a brew and breakfast.
Apart from a nice run down memory lane what am I imparting here? Well the long marathon training miles are hard and can bore the shite out of even the most engaged runner. It’s crucially important to mix up the routes, make them interesting and give one’s mind something else to focus on other than the monotonous mile after seemingly endless mile.
Good luck to all the marathon runners this year.