A toss up between a long road run round durham on my tod or a race on the fells…well I think you know what wins. Slightly spur of the moment, we were visiting John’s family on Monday so my brownie points were in the bag! I bought a map of the area and tried my best to get my head round what this race was…from Langleeford, straight up a huge hill (Cheviot), straight back down, then straight back up another slightly less huge hill (Hedgehope) and straight back down. The map contours looked grim, hey ho nothing to lose.
I spent the evening faffing with my bag, big bag, little bag, how many layers, water, emergency food, minimum or maximum fell kit? My favourite leggings were stuck in our broken washing machine, I hand washed them and spent a good while hair drying them dry. Oh Lordy, I was a bit nervous.
I arrived at Geoff and Susan’s house bright and early ready for a lovely drive. It was a beautiful spring morning, the sky was blue, the gorse was in full bloom. Chatting along the way took my mind off the task ahead until we turned a bend in the road and there it was, the Cheviot, head slightly covered by cloud. This was a whole different race.
Registration was on the day for the bargain price of £5. As the wind picked up, numbers were scattered in the grass and I started to wonder what on earth I was doing here. The fellow competitors were nothing like I’d seen before. All ages, all extremely lean and fit. I felt out of my depth.
After the weirdest race briefing held along to very loud music (Geoff assured me this was not commonplace) we were off. A tiny stretch of flat Tarmac until the path bends off to the right then up, up, up, up, up, up, up to the very top of the Cheviot. I felt pretty sluggish, my calves and shins were screaming, I now realised the need for a proper warm up. I ran bits, walked (fast) most. A lady came along side me and “complimented”me on my amazing walk…as I laughed she replied “no you’re amazing at walking”, then that was her gone tootling off up the hill. Not for long though, as actually, I am pretty good at walking up hills and by the top I was first lady. We did a funny run round the cairn then it was a downhill dash. As I climbed over the stile I was glad to be holding on tightly as I was at risk of being blown right off the top, I was also pleased to see Susan (at least they’d know where I might have been blown to!)
I tried to convince myself the wind was blowing me in the right direction and tried my best to get down. Not long after the stile two women sped past me, I worked hard to keep them within 100metres. As I hit the bottom bridge before the second of the climbs up Hedgehope, I realised my shoe lace was undone, by then I’d half given up. I wasn’t good at descending and whatever effort I put in to getting up would be inconsequential when these two overtook me on the down. Anyway shoelace triple knotted, I got up and got on. However, over the first stile, there they were, 40m ahead, a quick run past them and they were gone. By then my legs felt like my own good running legs again and I thought if I keep this up, I could just about break enough distance so there’s no chance they can catch me.
Geoff had long since disappeared off Cheviot but If I squinted hard, I could just about spot a tiny purple and green NFR vest with his recognisable effortless skip. I fixed on that minuscule dot and tried my best to make it as big as I could get before the descent…Geoff leaves me for dust on descents. This hill was a lot steeper than the first. After not too long that tiny purple and green dot became a very large Geoff. I passed him and laughed, “there’s no way I can run down this”.
I reached the top, touched the wooden post (which seemed to be the thing to do) then put all my effort into running downhill…not as easy as it sounds. My brain hasn’t hurt so much in a race, always thinking where to place your next foot, how far to reach out or not, is that going to sink if I step on it, how do I miss that rock… I did expect Geoff to whizz past and was over the moon when I looked and saw that he hadn’t gained that much and that the two women were now tiny dots. My watch kept flashing brief paces reaching 5.30 min/mile, it was so much fun I can’t tell you. Finally I reached that little stile then back over the wooden bridge and the tiny finish with the organiser shouting, “well done first lady, amazing time.” I was giddy with excitement.
Geoff arrived soon afterwards, effortlessly gliding into the finish, he’d knocked 40minutes off last year’s time (very grim conditions) and I believe it was a personal best by 5 minutes. Not long and Susan came in too looking very strong and winning her age group and a spot prize.
We picked up our complimentary chocolate bars/jelly beans and water, then it was time for the presentations.
It was cheap. Everyone was incredibly encouraging as we passed each other on the ups and downs. It was the toughest 11miles I’ve ever tried to race. It had beautiful views and I will have to return so I can appreciate them. I loved every minute.
I do recommend this with caution. They are two bloody big hills to climb (3550ft) Apart from the wind, conditions today were perfect, not too cold, lovely bouncy, springy, dry peat. If wet underfoot this could be my idea of bog hell and I can appreciate how the weather could be horrendous.
Credit for photos to Vicki Deritis of Northumberland Fell Runners.
Full results are available here
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