When coronavirus clobbered plans for an ultra marathon around Isaac’s Tea Trail you’d think the competitors would be relieved that they didn’t have to face a run of 37 miles with 5,672 feet of climbing. The route is officially described as ‘challenging’ by the Long Distance Walkers’ Association.
But no. Not only was there huge disappointment, there was concern for the mental wellbeing of the men and women whose lives revolve around ultra running events. So the organisers of the Isaac’s Tea Trail event decided it would still go ahead on August 8th and 9th ……. but not on the Tea Trail.
It’s being organised by Greener Miles Running, an environmentally-friendly trail running event company. Heading it is personal trainer and running coach Mark Marchant.
“Ultra running is quite a selfish sport,” says Mark. “The motivation is intrinsic, it’s in their nature. Some runners have addictive personalities. When you can’t run for any reason you can be hard to live with, you’re like a bear with a sore head.”
And how’s this for a compulsion to keep running? Mark has had four operations on each knee and was told by a consultant to stop running. He managed to rest for about four months then one day as he took the dog out he broke into a run, and soon he was back training. When I met him he was annoyed that he has attempted the 75-mile run in the Cheviot Hills known as the McWilliams Round but has yet to complete it.
Basically, nothing can keep ultra runners away from their passion – and they seem to prefer horrendous weather. This was February on Isaac’s Tea Trail.
And on the western flanks of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, here they are running at High Cup Nick. Judging by the fog they’re not even going to get the famed views at the top, but for ultra runners the event is much more than a trip to beautiful countryside.
photos by Greener Miles Running
Mark and the team at Greener Miles Running had spent about 10 months planning the Isaac’s Tea Trail Ultra Marathon. They’d recce’d the route and contacted all the landowners, farmers, parish councils and shooting estates. They’d booked village halls and other checkpoints and arranged parking. Then came the coronavirus lockdown so they decided to run a virtual event instead.
“We are currently doing weekly virtual team challenges and they are proving very popular. Runners say they’ve been missing the social side of running and these virtual events help them feel like they’re back in the community,” Mark says. “There’s been a lot of talk about runners’ mental health during the lockdown.”
Entrants in the Isaac’s Tea Trail Virtual Marathon must still run 37 miles on the weekend of August 8th and 9th with a route that has a total elevation of 5,672 feet, but do it in their own locality while observing government guidance on social distancing, exercise and travel. They have 12 hrs to complete the route and can compete as solo runners, in a relay, or as a team. Each entry includes a donation to Isaac’s Tea Trail for the upkeep of the Trail and its waymarkers.
Mark Marchant’s company is committed to organising environmentally-friendly events. “Thousands and thousands of cheap tee shirts are handed out at some running events, along with other trashy souvenirs,” he says. “We’ve asked runners and a majority said they’re not motivated by the medals, what they love is staying fit, running with friends, and testing themselves.”
Greener Miles Running has signed up to the North Pennine AONB responsible tourism charter, which means they plan events with consideration to the environment, conservation issues, the local economies, local landowners and any impact they might have on wildlife.
Entries are coming in for the virtual marathon on August 8th and 9th, so if you see anyone out running on that weekend, wherever you are in the country, they could be virtually running on Isaac’s Tea Trail. As a target for the competitors, the fastest known time was achieved by Cees van der Land in a time of 6 hrs 40 mins.
More information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at https://www.northpennines.org.uk/location/isaacs-tea-trail/ and https://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/
Details of the virtual marathon at https://greenermilesrunning.co.uk/isaacs-tea-trail-virtual-ultra-marathon-saturday-8th-to-sunday-9th-august-2020