The First Annual Pedestrian Tunnel Half Marathon (Entrants: 1)

Posted: 09/08/2012 in Barefoot, Event, Running, Transition


So the question is, “where to start?”, and since I’m now officially in my 40’s you’ll realise that “at the beginning” is becoming an increasingly long tale. How about yesterday then? That might cut down on the flashback sequences, at any rate.

Right then. I have two days off this week, yesterday and today. My plan for yesterday was a quick* jaunt up to Kielder for a run around (part of) the reservoir in advance of October’s marathon. Partly to see how my spiffy Breatho Trails would hold up to the conditions underfoot.

All of the above did not happen.**

For one reason and another the trip never went ahead. I made do with a quick session around the Rising Sun – bit of speed in the Breatho Trails to see what they could do – think I ran around 8’20” pace off the top of my head – that’s not bad for me, doubly so off-road.

Today dawned.***

After some sober thought, I realised I wasn’t going to make the pilgrimage up, I could much better use the time doing stuff down here. However, I still wanted a long run – the Hadrian’s Wall Half is in less than a month, and I haven’t logged any significant distances with the barefoot shoes as yet.

So I found a route. Well, I made a route up actually, but it was there to be found, not a hidden route to Level 33**** or anything like that. It took me down the coast to Tynemouth. It took me inland along the river. It took me through North Shields. It took me past Royal Quays (thank goodness, I was happy not to go through). It took me, in short to the unspeakably brilliant Tyne Pedestrian & Cyclist Tunnel, which runs under the mighty Tyne to reach the southern shore and get you to South Tyneside quicker than swimming.

I take the occasional photo, and I have to tell you that the pedestrian tunnel is one of the most weirdly atmospheric gems in the region – it’s like something out of Jules Verne*****, all discoloured tiles and slightly rubbish lighting. I love it.

So I ran there. Perhaps there’s a bit of a disconnect there, I mean I like Scotland, but I haven’t run there (there’s a thought, amuse yourselves while I just make a quick note…. right, done). But this is both difficult and achievable and so there was pretty much no way I could have not done it. Around 13 mile return (spot on for a half marathon), quite a bit of it along routes I already know, how could I refuse the challenge I had just unwittingly set myself?

And so, with barely an announcement in Runner’s World or Tunnel Runner Monthly, I had managed to create a whole new event – The Pedestrian Tunnel Half-Marathon. Admittedly it wasn’t approved by UK Athletics, didn’t have a water stand at 5km in, was entirely bereft of supporters cheering, but it still felt like a big ol’ deal to me.

Given that my OMM Ultra Pack has gone back to the returns box in the sky (mesh torn again in the same place as the last one – it’s like they didn’t expect you to put the specifically designed bottle in the specifically designed bottle holder) I opted to try out the Last Drop and figure out how to carry some water (don’t like bladders very much, so more bottle-based). I’d got hold of a couple of i-Gamy (don’t ask) bottle holders that fit onto the front straps – it seemed like a grand idea, but unfortunately the Last Drop is a small pack and I ended up whacking myself in the head at first with the bottle sticking out the top. Then I realised one of the two bottles leaks atrociously, so even if I got the holder right I’d still have an isotonic damp patch. So I hand-held, with the other bottle in the mesh pocket on the side of the bag. Good as gold.

Heading out was a bit of a chore – whether from the bottle-antics, the fact I was carrying a (not especially heavy) pack or just because I was a bit knackered, I don’t know. I was mildly thinking about Tynemouth and back, but resolved that if all the legs stayed on, I was going to finish this event. After all, a 100% DNF result wouldn’t make it look too good and may put people off coming next year – the last thing it needs is any fewer participants.

Along the river and up to the Fish Quay – which is an interesting bit of the world, it seems to live in its own bubble where fish related activities go on to the exclusion of all else (except the indoor second hand market, obviously). Sort of like a working Disney-land, where Mickey is replaced with a halibut and Donald Duck is a bucket of prawns.

At the end of the Fish Quay is Borough Road – a bank up to the main drag, and a bit of a slog as it turns out, but I flippin’ kept going. However, as I neared the top, a shall we say sensation started – could it be the dreaded chafe beginning? Of course it could, as I’d left my Bodyglide (purchased in case such an event ever occurred) at home.

Thank goodness for the small traders of North Shields – on the third discount tab and booze shop I found once which also (sheepishly) sold Vaseline. A quick application and an attempt to not get arrested for you know fidgeting in public and I was away. Albeit without turning my GPS back on, so I ran 0.44m before realising (I kept an eye on it on the way back).

After that, it was a simple matter of running along the road, turning down to the river and getting to the Tunnel.

All the escalators were off. Hahahaha! Just run all the way here and all the escalators are off.

Oh, hang on, there’s a lift apparently – yes, there it is, round the back and that IS working.

Down in the lift, marvelling at the mirror-effect walls and the infinity mirror it creates. Bet someone has a right job keeping the hand prints off that. Out the lift and jog through the tunnel, avoiding being savaged by a free-roaming Mad Dog that someone had thought to bring with them while leaving any kind of lead at home. Reach the other side, escalators out again but I’m an old hand at this by now – I get the lift up, uhuh.

Dot out at the other side, so the GPS picks up and shows I was actually here, neck a gel and then back into the lift. I think a picture of these fine mirrored surfaces are in order?

You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty impressive – the mirrors, not the loon in the vest (I was looking at me, rather than the camera, as I had forgotten in an instant how it all works).

Back to the tunnel, and I figured the escalators are going to be ‘fixed’ sometime soon, so I should probably catch a picture of those, right?


There’s me again, getting in on the action. You’ll notice the lack of any motion blur whatsoever on the escalators, proving beyond a doubt that were totally not moving. They’re made of wood, if you’re interested, and each has it’s own number in sequence – it’s like someone carved an escalator – how mint is that? It was the longest in the world for a time, I believe.

Anyhow, back along the tunnel, and as I’ve still got my phone out I figure one last shot, right?

See what I mean, it’s a proper bit of anachronism – originally put there (again, this is what I think, it may be wrong) to allow shipyard workers to cross the river on their way to work. If I went down there and discovered it was full of Mole Men, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised.

Enough of that, I headed back to the North end of the tunnel and to the lift – there was a man cleaning the buttons – could it be? Might it be? I didn’t allow myself to hope…

He pressed the button for the lift. We waited. I commented  on how clean the lift was. He seemed pleased, but retorted that he didn’t know why people were obsessed with pressing their hands on the mirror,  his job was never finished. Yes, I’d lucked out and met the man who cleans the mirrors in the lift (as well as a host of other things) – I told him how impressed I was with the finish on the mirrors, even if there were the occasional fingerprint. I may have mentioned that I’d taken a photo. He seemed pleased again. At this point the lift arrived, and I ran off, leaving him to dandy-up some other piece of equipment.

And so the run back – which was generally pretty uneventful. The Fish Quay was (if possible) even more fishy, and the run down Borough Road was decidedly nicer than the run up it.

Got home, stuck feet in a bucket of water (they’re a bit sore), but otherwise no major problems.

Get me, I won my own race – think I need to go find that “What have you done today to make you feel proud” song and put it on at full blast.

You can be sure I’ll be back next year, where I’m hoping there might be a commemorative t-shirt.


  • Distance: 12.33 miles (+0.44 miles for the bit I had no GPS on, and +0.34 mile for the tunnel gives 13.11 miles, or a good ol’ half marathon)
  • Time: 2’14″08 (including the stops for Vaseline application, gel necking and so forth)
  • Average pace:  10’54” mile (likewise the comment above)

*Not that quick, it’s a 3 hour round trip

**Except for ‘yesterday’- I’m pretty sure that still happened

***That bit absolutely happened, although I was asleep at the time

**** Yay for Gauntlet!

*****Well, out of one of his books, it’s nothing like a liver at all, for example

  1. Simmo says:

    Nice one Dave – you’re looking like a proper runner! And sounding like one too.

    I haven’t been to the office much recently but when i do the commute takes me through the tunnel and i love it.

    The stairs are there for exercise though, no skimping them in the lift next time ;o] (EVEN for the cool Dr Who mirrors). I once had to shift out of the way of someone running up the down escalator – and THAT was in the days when it was actually moving!

    Oh, and Happy Birthday – sorry I missed that >.<

  2. Right with you, would have been up them stairs (won’t call them escalators) – but there were a gaggle of luminous jacketed workmen stopping people…

  3. Great post. I’m in the US and I always find English English amusing (in a good way). BBC America used to run a promo for a detective show and it was all translating UK English into US English.
    You looked like you were having fun in your photos.

    • Hi! Glad to have you along on the ride, and hopefully I can keep you on your toes with some language. You say tomato, we say tomato, that doesn’t really work when I’m typing… 🙂

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