Summer Relay 2024: Hadrian’s Wall 

2024’s summer had finally arrived, and the presence of a group of bleary-eyed runners assembling in Scott Street car park at 5am could only mean one thing… Derwentside AC’s annual summer relay had come around once more!

The Summer Relay is an event where the club takes on a large endurance challenge that is broken down into stages, with different legs being run by different groups of runners. Swapping runners this way allows for a bit of rest and recovery between legs while ensuring that the club runs the overall route continuously. As daunting a challenge as this may seem, it is a great social day out rather than a serious race. It is a great opportunity for club members to catch up or get to know one another a little over the course of the day. 

The 85-mile route that we planned to do in one day
Jennifer’s selfie with the team at the start of the relay in Bowness on Solway

After some successful coastal relays in the previous two years, we decided to head inland this year and revisit Hadrian’s Wall, a route the club last ran back in 2017. This was going to be a tougher relay than we had tackled in the previous two years: more distance and a lot more hill climbing. The challenge didn’t put people off though, and even with some unfortunate late drop-outs, there were still 17 club members plus a few friends of the club that took on the challenge.

This year we dedicated the summer relay to the Red Sky Foundation which does some amazing work in our area raising funds for babies, children and adults in need of cardiac care. Their work often results in providing state-of-the-art equipment for the NHS as well as placing defibrillators in local communities. DAC member David Mason has been a champion of this charity for some time and the club is naturally happy to help promote this cause. Some members of the club will also be participating in a skydive in September for Red Sky, so watch this space for updates on that – but this was all about the running. 

We set off a little after 5am – no one sleeping in, though there were a few naps to be had on the bus! Tommy had volunteered to drive the bus once again, with Adrian assisting on legs that he would be running. Many thanks to both of you! 

A wave from Emma on the early morning bus
Leg 1 runners prepare to kick the day off

We arrived at Bowness on Solway at 6:45am which gave us ample time to stretch out, apply suncream and pose for photographs at the start. The sun was out, and spirits were high, it promised to be a great day. Just before 7am the leg one runners got us off to a start: Adrian, Dave, Emma and Kirsty set off to run the 4.3 miles to Drumburgh in what turned out to be a nice pleasant early morning run with the group arriving at the end of the leg on schedule, Kirsty was driving the pace into Drumburgh with Adrian just about keeping up.

The leg 2 runners were ready and waiting and a seamless changeover saw Catherine, Jenifer, Heather and Kate set off towards Burgh by Sands accompanied by Dave and Kirsty from leg 1 who obviously enjoyed their first leg so much they wanted to carry on! Maybe this helped give safety in numbers to help Catherine get past the cows standing on the road that she was so terrified of! She made it though, well done Catherine!  

Action shot of Kate and Catherine taken from the bus
Dan, Tommy & Colin make it into Carlisle

By now were starting to settle into the rhythm of the day, running, resting and refuelling and then running again. Fortunately there weren’t too many challenges that cropped up. Dan Colin and Tommy had to get a little creative as they came into Carlisle as the intended path was closed, but their map reading skills were more than up to the challenge. The day was starting to heat up now that we’d reached late morning which was a little sapping on the energy. 

Once we had reached Crosby-on-Eden, we met up with some old club members and friends John and Yvonne who would accompany us on the relay to its completion. It was great to see them both. 

Getting ready to tackle the leg from Walton to Lanercost Priory
First sighting of the wall

By around midday the serious hill climbing started. Dan, Adrian, Colin and Graham all took on the climb from Lanercost to Birdoswald 500 feet of climbing over the first two miles of the leg had Dan and Adrian wondering if they’d done something to upset Graham for putting them on this leg, whilst Colin must have been regretting his decision to do this leg as an additional one! However, everyone persevered with some solid, steady climbing and we were rewarded at the top with our first proper sighting of Hadrian’s Wall itself.

A well-deserved rest between legs
Heading out of Birdoswald

A massive group then headed out of Birdoswald, now we had hit the wall properly, everyone was keen to be out and running. It was a striking sight of such a large group, identifiable in the red of either Derwentside AC or Red Sky running tops (and of course David Mason’s flag flying above him). It certainly looked like they had an enjoyable three miles from Birdoswald to Greenhead.

All smiles from Emma and Kate
Centurion Jake overseeing the troops
Craig and Colin enjoying some great scenery after some hard running!

Legs 9 and 10 are easily the two toughest legs of the relay which land back to back. We were now onto these challenging legs. Craig Ridley, Mark Charlton and Colin set off to take on 1,400 feet of climbing over seven miles of challenging terrain during the hottest part of the day. All three did fantastically to see off the toughest leg of the relay. Hopefully it wasn’t so tough that they couldn’t appreciate some of the beautiful scenery from the top of the wall!  

Tired but jubilant at the end of leg 9
Kate fixes Emma’s leg
Trig Bagging for Scott
Spot who took on 2 of the hardest legs!

At this point in the day, we had picked up Alan, the final member of the relay team who was keen to rack up a lot of miles for his upcoming ultra. This kicked off on leg 10, straight into the tough climbs of Steel Rigg along with Scott and Graham. It was a tough one in the heat, the undulations kept coming, but the views were spectacular! We did of course also pay our respects to the Sycamore Gap stump.

Fatigue was starting to set in for everyone now. The scheduled runners for each leg were being swapped around mainly based on who was feeling least tired. Kate was invaluable to a lot of people stepping in to provide massages and advise on stretching to keep people on their feet. 

Unfortunately the excessive hill climbing in quick successive legs had finished Colin off and he had to depart for home early. The casualties then continued as David’s Red Sky Flag broke in a tangle with some trees on leg 13. 

I’m not sure exactly what David said, but I’m sure it was motivational!

We were creeping nearer and nearer to Newcastle though and fuelled by refreshments at the Robin Hood Inn we began the final legs through Heddon on the Wall and down into Newburn. The climbing was now downhill and even tough the terrain underfoot was becoming more boring, tired legs do welcome solid paving! 

Mark, Scott and Graham at Heddon on the Wall
Jake and Alan on their way into NewcastleJake and Alan on their way into Newcastle

lan, Jake and Mark saw off the last of the legs of notable distance running the 5 miles to the Newcastle quayside from Newburn, the toll of the days running finally caught up to Alan as he opted for an early bus ride due to a leg injury. That aside, we really felt that we were now on the home stretch as we were advancing into the evening.

A large group headed along the quayside dodging the Saturday night revellers, David’s flag still soldiering on, if not quite so highly after a temporary fix. This was pretty reflective of how everyone was feeling at this point. There were a lot of tired legs, but the end was in sight and no-one was giving up. 

Scott, Tommy, Mark and Graham saw out leg 18 from the Ouseburn to Walker without incident, leaving us with one short final leg to complete. As is tradition, everyone still standing completed the last leg together, though at very different paces. Some people still had running left in them, others were content to walk the final mile and a half to Segedunum Roman Fort – cheered on by Adrian’s enthusiastic honking of the minibus horn as we ran past. I’m noy sure the locals would have been quite so keen on it mind!

A girl’s night out on the Quayside!
David & Jenifer just outside of Segedunum

But we’d done it! The end of the wall! 85 miles in around 15 hours 30 minutes. We’d aimed to finish in the daylight and by 10:30 pm we’d just about managed it.

There is always a real sense of achievement that is felt when you get to the end of one of our summer relays, even more so when you know that by doing it you are supporting a great cause and it was good to hear that a lot of kind and generous donations were pouring in throughout the day. 

The end of the relay at Segedunum. We did it!

After posing for some group photos it was time to go home and rest up, hopefully everyone managed to get a well-deserved lie in the next morning. A massive well done to everyone who took part, a lot of people had pushed themselves well beyond what they previously had thought were their limits. It was a great day out with a strong, friendly and positive atmosphere all throughout the day! 

And that was the story of Derwentside A.C’s summer Relay 2024. We will be back at it in a year’s time with a fresh challenge. 

Report by Graham Marshall.

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