What an absolutely brilliant race! I loved it.
I often struggle to get to mid-week events but when this one popped up I realised I could make it and double my fell race experience in the process. I got there early, just after registration opened at 6pm. The car park was already pretty full but I managed to nab one of the last available spaces. I was shortly followed by Jan, Robin, Eric and Sarah who made up our full Striders contingent.
I have a mental image of fell races to be small affairs compared to road races with perhaps several 10s of people rather than the 100s or 1000s. It was obvious from the registration queue that this was going to be much more popular than I thought! In the end there were exactly 300 finishers, quite a turnout.
I was also intrigued by the composition of the field. My only previous fell race was Cronkley, where, in a field of around 30, I was firmly part of the tail and I can normally expect to be around the middle of the field in most other races. Without meaning to be judgemental, I could see this field was a much broader range of runners than Cronkley, from the hardened fell aficionados through to “regular” club runners (people who might run a mix of road, XC and trail on a normal day) to some who seemed quite inexperienced. The results seem to bear out that assessment with times ranging from 35 to 90 minutes. My point is that you don’t have to be put off thinking it’s just for faster runners, anyone can give this sort of event a go.
I wasn’t planning to race hard, I was treating it as a tempo-effort session and I lined up where I thought was about half way back in the field. With a short announcement about there being lots of runners, so fast finishers weren’t to eat all the cake, we were given a short “3, 2, 1, go” and we were off…
Steady up stony & dusty Roseberry Lane, there’ll be a bottleneck at the gate. Into the woods and a right turn along the surfaced track. Not many passing places, some undulations. Into a rhythm.
Left at the quarry and start climbing – a short steeper section to start with, then more gradual along the outside of the quarry. Single file most of the way. Sharp kick up to a kissing gate – “How British are we?” as we form an orderly queue – then make a quick pass up a short section to a stile (more recovery, I mean queueing). Brief flatter section before a left turn (marshal point) up a short and brutal final climb to the head of the quarry.
Flat along the cliff edge (fenced in), chance to get the legs moving again. Welcome downhill, pick up a few places barrelling past more tentative descents. Apologise to Darlington Harrier who I nearly wipe out in the process.
Onto the top woodland path, climb steadily to the gate onto the common. Past the shooting hut and start the rough path up the south side of the topping. Single-file procession again, hands on knees, no real swapping of places at this point. Alister Robson pops into view just behind me, I’m too out of breath to do more than wave.
Reach the rocks at the top, swing around the trig point and the fun (descent) starts. Why are these two picking their way tentatively over flat rock? Blast past.
Onto the “tourist path” – uneven stones, careful with foot placement – concentrate.
Reach the bottom, runners off to my left – how did they get there? Ignore them, direct route is straight ahead, stick to it.
Across the saddle at a decent pace, bear left to join the path up Little Roseberry. Two in sight ahead of me, can I close them down? Swaledale vest pulls away, I’m right behind the other by the top of the climb and the next marshal point.
Chuckle at the “left turn” arrow in tape across the bilberries, into a narrow channel. Round the bend, what a view! Stunning! No time for that, rough track, concentrate on foot placement. Path widens, chance to over-take, grab it.
Sweep down to the edge of the moor and another marshal point, gradually closing on the Swaledale vest. Easier gradient here, gradually reel him in and sit in behind for the last narrow section of path off the moor. Footsteps behind, someone’s closing in. Closed gate ahead so I’ll be with Swaledale and The Feet going into the last section.
Back onto Roseberry Lane again, 400m to the finish.
Kick hard out of the corner – drop The Feet, close down Swaledale.
Reach the bend in the lane, I’m past him. Don’t look back.
Man ahead – I’m closing fast, I can get him…I’m past.
Another – catch and pass.
Woman from Stockton Striders, I might even get to her…
Dig in, gain one last place before the line.
Stop Garmin. Gasp for air.
Eric and Robin had already finished (no surprise, really), so I was either third counter for the men’s team or last Striders bloke home, whichever way you want to look at it. Jan came in a little while later, clearly in some distress with an injury and Sarah wasn’t far behind to complete our turnout for the evening.
As you might be able to tell, I’d blown all intent to hold back out of the water. It all started on the first climb between the gate and the stile when I found I was able to move past people but wasn’t flat out. I think that flicked the little “race” switch in my head and from then on, I was on the lookout for gaining places. I think the fact that I’d held back at the start helped and that I wasn’t concerned about walking the steeper climbs – steadier pacing in the first half left me able to capitalise on the downhill where I’m generally better.
I finished 143rd in 52:44. The Swaledale vest turned out to be M45 too, so I gained a bonus age-group place on the closing stretch! I later discovered I was nearly 3 minutes up on Katie Abel of Stockton Striders, who I’d just pipped at Vale of York half marathon last year. I also came in a minute and a half up on Alister, despite him catching me on the main climb.
The description said 5.1 miles and 320m climb. I clocked 4.65 miles and 362m climb, Robin and Eric’s watches gave them similar distances and other Strava results seem to confirm the climb. Looking back at my route, there was a split in the tourist path before the zig-zags started, which was probably an easier gradient and less rough underfoot, so I might have missed a small advantage there, but not a catastrophic nav error.
This would be a brilliant introduction for anyone interested in giving fell running a try. It would be quite hard to get lost, especially if you’ve walked or run in the area before; it was well marked and marshalled. The National Trust web page even carries the route and a description, so anyone could try the course throughout the year if they didn’t want to wait for the next race.
If you’re thinking about dipping your toe in the waters of fell running, there are much worse races to try it. Just make sure you get there as early as you can for a parking space!
|76||393||45:13||Robin Parsons||Elvet Striders||M40|
|102||468||48:26||Eric Green||Elvet Striders||M50|
|143||389||52:44||Nick Latham||Elvet Striders||M45|
|197||392||57:33||Jan Young||Elvet Striders||W65|
|238||89||1:03:42||Sarah Fawcett||Elvet Striders||W55|