Newcastle and Gateshead Rat Race 30/8/2008

- report from Colin Matheson

Photos courtesy of Colin Matheson and Rachel Boyles

Following on from a reasonable placing at the Edinburgh weekend event, Rory thought I should be fit enough for the alternative one-day version to be held locally in Newcastle & Gateshead. Race planner Shane Ohly (SYO) contacted me some time ago to enquire about orienteering maps, and thanks go to NATO and NN for their help. With parts of the city centre embargoed for JK2008, Shane also liaised with Paul Thornton from CLOK to ensure there was no conflict of interest. A couple of weeks before the event the chance of a free team place emerged, with Paul Boyles man (or is it mad) enough to also take on the challenge.

With the event open to pairs or teams of three, Rory and I ran together as team "Fac et Spera" with Paul (and Rory's usual running partner Robin) entered as "Opportunities not Problems".

Saturday started grey but mild, and at 11 o'clock 42 teams headed out over the Millennium Footbridge from Baltic Square for the first 4 km of Foot-O. We ran back across the bridge, and then it was up and down the hills to the Sage and Tyne Bridge a few times. Prior to the start we had a chance to mark up maps from the Clue Sheet, so we knew that ahead lay miles and miles of cycling and other challenges. Rory and I were amongst the first team to collect our bikes and head off in the direction of Tynemouth, closely followed by Paul and Robin. Control 101 was about 4km downriver, just off the cycle path. As Rory punched the control we saw the others speed past, oblivious to its presence. Somehow our warning shout didn't carry, and it was about 2 km later that they realised their mistake!

A short section of MBTO around the Rising Sun then led to a long road section out to Prior's Haven beach in Tynemouth. This is where we jumped into a kayak and paddled out into a heavy swell - much to my surprise I discovered we were in third place! Race leaders (and eventual winners) Neil Northrop and Oleg Chepelin running as team British Orienteering passed us on the way back from the control, situated 2 km up river towards the Fish Quay.

A short section running around Tynemouth then it was back on the bikes. Predictably we went down into the Tyne Pedestrian & Cycle Tunnel (a long way down the wooden escalator running with a bike) then fortunately ahead of another team to get the lift back out the other side. It was hard work cycling back to the Baltic, a mixture of grim industrial estates but some pleasant parkland too.

Back at the event centre it as time for a few challenges - climbing wall, bungee run and an abseil off the Tyne Bridge. Paul had never mentioned to Robin that this was a) his first ever abseil and b) first time kayaking! Rory and I had been passed by a couple of fit teams, including British Orienteering squaddies Karen Heppenstall and Rachel Majumdar wit their partners, but we kept in there all the way to the Metro Centre, despite my high speed collision with probably the biggest factory in Newcastle (old Vickers works). Impressive bruise and swellings on my arm!

The most unpleasant challenge of the day followed - we had to navigate (walk not run) all through the Metro Centre crowds to Berghaus and back out again. Not for the faint hearted. Then it was on to Whickham Thorns for the rather easier challenges of assault course, archery, high wire, bouldering and short orienteering course.

Back on the bikes, and back to the Baltic for the final activities of the day. Dropping off the bikes for the last time we now had 14 "clues" scattered around Newcastle City Centre. These were scattered from The Blue Carpet to Pink Lane, then it was down to the foot of King Street for the very last task of the day. We had 10 minutes to ascend and descend steps at King Street, Castle Stairs, Long Stairs, Merchant Stairs and Tuthill Stairs. Somehow we ran past the last of these, and lost a vital couple of minutes which led to us picking up a final time penalty despite my best efforts to sprint to the Baltic for the last time.

Paul and Robin didn't seem too far behind, but as they crossed the finish line they realised they had actually forgotten the last challenge, the Epilogue Steps. Bad luck boys.

So it was time to wait for final results, while I iced up my now very swollen and distended arm. The final results were posted up after prize giving - Rory and I managed an amazing 6th place with Paul and Robin somewhere about 14th. My GPS logged 67 km and nearly 900 m climb, and that excluded the first running section and kayaking. That‘s me and Rat Racing for this year, but Rory still has London to look forward to in 3 weeks time.