Absent Friends Trail Race (about 4.8 miles) 2019 Results and Report

Report by Stuart Jones

Race Date: Sunday 10th February 2019


Cowpen Bewley, Billingham

This report comes in two halves – first is a brief report on the race itself, and the second a rather sentimental, personal explanation of why I make such an effort every February to visit this unexceptional event.

The Race

Billingham Marsh House Harriers organise three races each year; the flattest road 10k ever (where I shredded a thigh one year), a trail 10k event on a recycled rail line near Sedgefield (like the Elsecar events) and this trail race. The briefing this time was like a Parkrun, warning about other users of the ‘woodland’, but also gave notice of the mud on the downhill section.

The start is on a track round a pond (and alongside the railway line) and then off onto waterlogged fields. There’s a brilliant right-angled turn after a mile that always causes one or two to fall over (on the adverse camber and mud); experience helps if you learn from it.

A couple of miles in we leave the country park and enter some real fields where the underfoot is heavily muddy – claggy on the shoes. A difficult-at-speed wooden bridge over a ditch leads to a raised bank and a mile of totally flat running back to the railway line.

The kicker is near the end as the route climbs to the top of the 25 metre tall viewing hill – a Christmas Pudding of a hill, if you like. This year I was overtaken here by one runner, but reeled in four. The drop off is hilarious as it has a fence at the bottom, perpendicular to the path of descent. I have to come to a halt to manage the turn safely; the lass who overtook me going up escaped at this point.

Then it’s back alongside the pond and back to the start / finish. I do remember that the first year I ran this, before moving back to Sheffield, I thought that there was an uphill finish. Now, after six years in the Steel City, I look at it as nothing more than a short slope. It’s all relative, isn’t it?

T-shirt, banana, chocolate bar, bottle of water to all.

Full Results here.

First finisher:                      Liam Aldridge, of BMHH, in 27:39

First female:                       Kay Neesam, of New Marske Harriers, in 32:18 (16th overall)

First / only Strider:           Stuart Jones, in 35:09 (32nd place) (a 3 minute 42 second course PB)

134 finishers in total


The ‘why’

We all have ‘absent friends’, sadly; people we loved who are gone, people who were fundamental to our being who are no longer with us. This race starts immediately after a minute’s silence in memory of all those we miss deeply.

Two years ago my father died, killed by Motor Neurone Disease. He spent his last weeks in James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough. I ran this race last year and today thinking of him and what I owe him, what he taught me, and how deeply his example affected me. Running soothes my pain in loss to some degree. My father taught me, amongst many things:

  • How many beans make five,
  • That any unlocated place is ‘mid-way between Leek and Uttoxeter’,
  • To love mountains and being outdoors,
  • Quiet fortitude,
  • How to repair a puncture,
  • What Swarfega is for,
  • The benefits of Trade Unionism,
  • To hold doors open,
  • How to DIY safely and what not to attempt,
  • That old jokes never tire from overuse,
  • True dedication and love,
  • To keep disappointment in others to yourself,
  • How to cut the lawn, paint a door and hang onions,
  • What makes a good pint,
  • To pay your way,
  • That the correct response to rain is a waterproof,
  • How to use a carborundum block to sharpen darts,
  • How to pack the car boot efficiently,
  • That most places appear to be on the Swansea to Manchester Trunk Road,
  • That getting out of the way is sometimes the best option,
  • To polish shoes, and how to do so properly,
  • Not to eat with my mouth full (or talk with my mouth open),
  • To never, ever, give up,
  • To never hit or hurt,
  • To dress properly, which means a suit and tie if ever in doubt,
  • To respect my mother, your mother, and the mother of my children,
  • A Protestant work-ethic,
  • That ‘made’ is always better than ‘bought’,
  • To carry your own bag,
  • That family is what it is about.

When he cared for and nursed my mother, with patience and love and devotion, through her Alzheimer’s I realised that he had all the qualities one seeks in a hero. When he helped me when I struggled and hurt he only reinforced this view. I stood in that minute and thought of him, how I miss him and how I will try to keep his example in how I live. I ran then to mask the tears and ease the ache. On days like this I wear an MNDA vest, and donate to the brilliant charity that supported him and my sister and brother so well. I could run any race, I suppose, and think about this but it feels like a pilgrimage of sorts.

I will run for my mum in May (Liverpool Marathon, for Alzheimer’s Research), and for my brother Bill in October (Snowdonia Marathon, for Llanberis Mountain Rescue).

I will always stand with you. You will never walk alone.

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