First running of this FRA category AL race; a 23km/1300m (14.3 miles/4265ft) route taking in the climbs of the northern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors: hosted by Esk Valley Fell Club.
Apparently, this is the only AL (long, and lots of climbs) fell race to be held on the North Yorks Moors (NYM).
Now the NYM are generally regarded as not being particularly high, so how did Esk Valley FC fit in the necessary climb? Simple answer is climb to a peak, drop off the escarpment to the bottom; and repeat; 7 times in all – bit like a fiddler’s elbow, up and down, up and down, up and down…
120 runners turned up for this event on a bright but breezy spring day. Strict kit requirements to usual FRA standards rightly enforced by the organisers, but everything ranging from vest and shorts to full body cover seen out on the hills, especially once at altitude on the moors and exposed to the full force of the wind.
A handful of Striders, Nina, Danny, Robin and Nigel (Jan and Fiona marshalling) attended along with a few faces from familiar running clubs, 3 NFR and a bucket-load of DFR (it’s on their championship race list); a lot of very young and fit types from Durham University AC; and representatives from Scarborough, York, Swaledale, Thirsk, Pudsey, NYM, Middlesborough, Wharfdale, Pickering, Loftus, Leeds, Vegan, Billingham, Darlington, Beverley, Keswick, Totley, Derwent, Driffield, Harrogate, Marske, Wootton, and a certain Mr Fishwick from Chorley.
The start is a sober affair, everyone conscious of the distance lying ahead and wanting to take it easy, on a steady uphill climb, the longest of the day, to summit Round Hill (highest point of NYM), but tempered by the knowledge that there is a 90min cut-off at the top of Cold Moor (3rd climb and living up to its name today) some 6miles away.
As this is a proper fell race there is no defined route and we are free to decide our own way between checkpoints. Some of the CP locations are obvious; summits of Round Hill/Cold Moor/Falconers Seat/ Cock Howe cairn; others are easily visible from above, Toft Hill Scout Hut/Busby stream crossing/Carlton Bank; but CP 8 tucked away out of sight down in Raisdale offers scope for individual route choice off the established tracks.
I elected to go cross-country at this point, taking DFR Denise through the heather with me, and leaving an NFR man to follow the main track. We hopped and jumped through the heather, scrambled down a gully, picked up a nice runnable surface alongside a boundary wall, plodged through a few boggy bits, and arrived at CP 8 from behind; about 10 paces after NFR guy coming in from opposite direction!
I had more success with route choice earlier on, dropping down towards Clay Bank road crossing where I deviated off the Cleveland Way onto a smooth remnant of quarry track, happily overtaking at least 15 others slowly picking their way down the uneven steps and slabs. And again, taking the direct route down a steep overgrown gully onto Busby Moor put me in front of probably the same set of people who had steadily re-overtaken me since Clay Bank but who ran a zig-zag along the obvious track.
My route choice into Scugdale was no good at all; from memory I thought a right fork in the trail would line me up nicely with the Hall (out of sight over the ridgeline) which it did – but I hadn’t factored in the fenced-off quarry/crags that it led to, so a bit of back-tracking had to be done and this is where Denise (who had chosen left fork) got away from me!
The climb out of Scugdale is the last one on the route but it goes on forever. Steep and only walkable at first, you think you are out on to the ridgeline at last but there is still a steady climb of over 100m or so to the last checkpoint at Cock Howe Cairn 2km further on. Run-walk, run-walk; trying to catch those ahead but we are all doing the same; DFR Denise is in sight but I can’t close the gap. Pretty much exhausted and with leaden legs, we are greeted at CP10 by Fiona cheerily hopping about and running up and down the cairn to keep warm; I’m envious of her energy!
At last the downhill run to the finish begins; normally a time to let go, take advantage of gravity and stride out. Not today, the legs just won’t have it; it’s too steep and so it’s a fight all the way. Some small consolation as I manage to pass a couple of equally weary runners on the way down and elect to take the twisty gully track because it feels easier. Slightly surprised as I emerge onto the lane to see I’ve been caught up by another runner taking the direct route down the field so final effort goes into 100m dash through the mud to hold them off, spurred on by Jan’s audible encouragement!
3hrs 40min and near enough 16 miles. Official results coming later.
Huge thanks to Esk Valley FC led by Mike Quinn for organising this and making it look so easy even though we know how much work goes on behind the scenes and how many contribute marshalling/tea making/cake baking without the chance to run. And with a nod in the direction of Dave Parry, once the main prizes have been distributed it’s a case of ‘well we’ve got some bottles left, so if you can think of a reason come forward and claim one’ – of course we’re all too polite to do that, so Danny wins one for entering the race before it is officially open (Nina too, but she already has her age category winnings) and evidently someone has travelled all the way from Texas to claim their bottle of beer!