The Metro Run by Emma Bagley
Looking for a challenge with a difference, I ran around all of the North- East Metro stations. A route of 62 miles running past all 60 stations spanning from Newcastle Airport through to Sunderland. With an Adventure Queens grant I was able to enhance the trip from a day trip to an overnight run-packing adventure.
An unusual challenge
A few years ago I’d got bored of the conventional offerings in the running and triathlon scene. I was jaded with the commercial races so decided to do an event that was off the cuff and personal. I set myself the challenge of running around all London Underground stations – in the central zone 1 area – in a day. I managed this first challenge at my second attempt. With the London challenge ticked off the bucket list, I wondered if I could do something equally crazy. The North-East Metro system was a challenge in the same vein, but in a part of the world I barely knew.
I initially planned out a route that I could do in a day, totalling around 42 miles. Then the pandemic came and the challenge was off the cards. As the lockdown eased I saw a chance to crack on with things. As far as my diary was concerned, I think this run was rescheduled twice. Between the first scheduling and the final date, the adventure slightly morphed in distance and scope. I was fortunate to have won an equipment grant from the Adventure Queens which allowed me to extend my initial plans from a single 42 mile day to a 62 mile challenge (with an overnight camp). To step up to this I needed a few bits of really lightweight kit which I just didn’t own. I was kindly helped with gear from Arcteryx and Osprey via the Adventure Queens.
My kit-list was aimed at run-packing the route with an overnight camp
During May 2021 I finally did the challenge. I parked up at the last station called South Hylton, west of Sunderland, and took the green metro line north towards my first station, Newcastle Airport. I started late morning and steadily jogged my way east to Whitley Bay on the coast. Following the coast south for a bit, I then returned west to the Centre, before a short northward excursion and then south again across the river. I journeyed on, one step at a time into the evening, through Gateshead and the Docks and up to South Shields. I then camped out before carrying on very early the next morning. I headed through the suburbs of South Tyneside and more rural landscapes before I arrived into Sunderland and out to the west and to the end of the line. I had no expectations of how far I would go each day, just listening to my body, and putting one foot in front of the next. I did 48 miles on the first day and then 14 miles on the second day.
A metro train at the first station.
Positives and challenges
One of the big bonuses of urban running is decent access to shops, with food and drink at least every 4-5 miles. You just don’t get that in remote events. This meant that I didn’t have to lug around too many provisions as compared to being totally self-sufficient. Let’s face it – carrying water is heavy – so the less I had to carry the better. The weekend was also quite warm so passing through the chilled sections of some supermarkets was also a ‘first-world’ blessing.
I had some odd moments on my journey. During the evening of the first day I had stopped outside a local shop in Jesmond, having a drink and a snack on a lawn near a pub. I had taken the tactic of drinking milk, as it was warm and I couldn’t stomach solid food by mile 32. So there I was sat on the grass, drinking my milk, and a passer-by asked me if I was OK. Bless him, he asked if I was drunk and needed help. I guess he thought that anyone sat near a pub on the floor drinking milk had had one too many.
My only worry about the trip was where I would wild camp, as my run was primarily in an urban area. After visiting a ‘friendly hedge’ for a call of nature late on the first evening I found somewhere up a bank and under a tree by the side of the road. It all felt tucked away and safe there. I was too tired to care that there was traffic going by now and then. I rolled out my lightweight sleeping bag, left all my clothes on and tried to hunker down. I was certainly horizontal for 5 hours but I’m unsure how much sleep I got. I spent a lot of time trying to prevent myself slightly slipping between my sleeping bag and my storm shelter wrapped around me. I was delighted to hear the sound of birds just before daybreak at 3.30am. It meant I could carry on and just get on with things. This was my first run-packing overnight camp so I was proud to have got through it. There were learning points – for example, despite having ear-plugs, I vowed never again to camp so close to a main road.
On my second day I was passing towards Blaydon village and I stopped at a bus-stop at the road-side to take off a layer and re-arrange my bag. There was nobody else around and hardly any traffic. As I was halfway through unpacking my bag, I got the shock of my life. A man sat bolt-upright in the long grass of the verge and nearly scared the life out of me. It was 4.30am and you just don’t expect that. He had been asleep overnight and had got woken up by me. By the look of him he was dressed in evening gear from the night-before and had missed the last bus. He started scratching his head and looking around as I made an exit from the scene, gently jogging on and hurriedly rearranging my bag as I went.
In summary – an unusual challenge, an enjoyable journey and lot of fond memories! My first and hopefully not my last run-pack adventure.
Glad to be at the final station.
Bristol-based Emma likes trail and endurance running. She is a keen open water swimmer and triathlete. Emma is keen to live a life of variety and try new outdoor things.