Esk Valley Winter Series 2023-24

North York Moors

Penny Browell

After a few long events over the last few years which had definitely slowed my pace I decided to force myself to do this series, the Dave Parry/Lets Run Winter Series, of shorter fell races over the winter of 2023/2024. Unfortunately, the plan was nearly scuppered when 6 weeks before the first one I managed to break a bone in my foot. Fortunately, it wasn’t a bad break and I got back to running slowly after a few weeks but was obviously a little bit nervous. I decided to go for it anyway. In truth I had my eye on the category prize which Nina had won last year – a hand-made mug. So the plan was to try and be first V50 in as many as possible.

Happily, fitness and speed improved over the course of the season and about half way through I changed my target to winning the women’s category as a whole. Due to many of the best runners only running a handful of the races it really came down to a two-horse race between myself and Georgia. She was well ahead of me on the first couple of races, then I started to beat her but in our final race of the season she had me by a few seconds. Luckily enough work had been done over the previous races though so I have come away with not only a mug but a teapot as well ☺.

These really are fabulous little races – I’ve got to know lots of other runners along the way and at £6 or £7 a race with a lot of alcoholic prizes up for grabs too, they really are amazing value.

Lockton Limping

October 29th, 7 miles, 1,150 ft climb, 8th lady, 2nd V50.

Possibly the muddiest race I’ve run! After a busy flat start we basically skied down a mud chute to get to a runnable track. Here I managed to start regaining some of the places I’d lost by taking a bad route down the ski track. Before long we hit our first climb which is a proper hands-on-knees affair. Up and down the mud, we got a short respite on a road descent before turning up another proper hill which led to a fairly open and flat section… this would have been fun but I’d spotted a competitor ahead who I suspected was in my age category so I had to try and go up a few gears. She got slightly closer but not close enough… then we were taken through a muddy (again!) undulating path along the river with a few fallen trees to climb over and I eventually passed her. The final section included some proper deep mud then a very steep muddy climb to the finish. Great fun. Did I mention it was muddy?

Saltergate Gallows

November 12th.

Out with injury ☹.

Eskdale Eureka

December 3rd.

Postponed due to snow.

Guisborough Woods

December 27th, 5.5 miles, 1230 feet climb.

Cancelled due to wind. This was a fun one in 2022 – 3 laps involving a tough climb, a run along the top (in snow last year) and a muddy fun descent.

Captain Cook’s Fell Race

January 1st, 5 miles, 750 ft climb, 9th lady, 1st V50.

There had been loads of rain leading up to this but it was a beautiful sunny day for the race. Loads of Striders were there (35?) which made it all the more fun. The race starts with a mile on road which gradually climbs and then when it moves onto the track the gradient starts to increase. Due to the rain it was possibly the muddiest I’ve seen it. The climb starts fairly runnable through the woods but starts to get harder and steeper reducing almost all to a walk. After not too long we’re out of the woods and onto the final path to the monument. As it’s very much an up and down race, it feels a bit like it’s over at the monument. And it certainly gets more fun. The descent (like the climb) has a bit of everything with some slippy slabs at the top, some runnable paths, some more technical mud to deal with and even a bit of fast (well, fast for the fast lads anyway) tarmac. There’s a slight sting in the tail after the road descent with a short steep climb back to the paths through the fields which this year were very muddy and caused a lot of arse-over-tit situations. There are a few gates and stiles to negotiate (which are either a chance to curse losing time or a chance to catch your breath depending on your mindset), a very dark section through some trees and before you know it you’re back in Great Ayton. Striders put on a great show with Graeme Watt leading the men home and myself, Tala and Emma taking the women’s team prize. Although there are no physical prizes at this one as it’s for charity but we take the glory!

Commondale Clart

January 14th, 5.5 miles, 1000 feet climb, 4th lady, 1st V50.

Rain was again the theme of the lead up to this race, with a bit of chillyness thrown in for fun on this one too. Its name implied even in decent weather it would be muddy so we knew we were in for proper clart! The route is a straightforward (or should be straightforward) anticlockwise circle. It starts with a steep climb on road leading to the mud where you continue to climb. At about the half way point you go up to a trig before dropping back down to cross a stream and meet the road for a final fast descent to the village. The mud varied from ridiculous to ok-ish. After the trig one of my legs disappeared right up to my bum and there were other spots where it was hard to see the muddy path because of the heather growing over either side. Sadly I made the classic fellrunner mistake of following the runner in front of me which resulted in a nav error towards the end. We missed crossing the stream but found a route across and didn’t actually lose too much time. It was all good fun, pretty much all runnable but hard work in the mud. Good to see Geoff and Susan there. Geoff and I both got category prizes and Tom managed an impressive fall resulting in a bloody leg and mud-splattered face.

Cod Beck Canter

February 4th, 10 miles, 2100 feet climb, 5th lady, 1st V50.

After the nav error on the previous race I was quite glad I had the opportunity to recce this one. It’s a bit of a fiddly route as it’s actually the merging of two shorter races they used to run. Start and finish is in a very picturesque tiny village (Ingleby Arncliffe) just off the A19. The route starts with a 2 mile long climb up onto and along the Cleveland Way which certainly warms you up. Then it’s a sort of figure of eight with one loop off anticlockwise then return to the centre point and go off in the other direction. The really fun part is that the only section you do twice is the steepest climb of the race! Generally it is runnable though with a couple of lovely long descents and climbs varying from steady to stern. The mud wasn’t as bad as previous races with a lot of the paths quite dry and just with patches of proper mud. You only just see Cod Beck just before the last proper climb (which is through a field of cows) but I imagine if you had time to stop it would be a pretty spot for a picnic. The final descent is back the way you came so if your legs allow should be quite speedy. It was a fun one – I had a decent race, but it was a shame this one had no facilities for post-race tea and cake like most Esk Valley races. There was however a quaint café and a nice pub in the village if you wanted to make a day of it.

Eskdale Eureka

February 18th, 9 miles, 1400 feet climb, 4th lady, 1st V50.

This one looks like a lollipop type route with about 2 miles out to a 5 mile loop and then back along the same 2 miles. It should be simple nav-wise but there are lots of options of little paths along the way, some of which get you there quicker and some of which die out in a mass of gorse and heather type stuff. Many of us chose the wrong routes right at the start and I kept making mistakes all along the first couple of miles. At times I was just trying to stomp through thick gorse and wondering if I’d ever actually be racing. But once I got on the right route it was a fun one. It’s undulating and other than the conditions underfoot should really be pretty runnable. Some of it was very muddy (what isn’t this year?!) but there were parts which were decent tracks. On the return leg I made sure I stuck to the main paths to avoid the mistakes of the way out and was definitely quicker as a result. The final descent was way better than the horrible climb I’d chosen at the start. It was nice to have Graeme Watt (who flew round) and Camilla there as well as Tom to give us a bit more Strider presence.

At the Double

March 9th, 6.5 miles, 1,300 feet climb, 2nd lady, 1st V50.

I’d done this one the year before and really enjoyed it. Being on the coast it’s a bit different from the others with some great views and very varied terrain. This year the weather was quite drizzly and grey with some gusty wind but it was still pretty good for running. The course had been slightly altered due to some land permissions but most runners declared the new route was better. The race starts with an option to either drop steeply or go round and down steps and then an option to cross the river by going through or round. I’m really not sure which is quicker for either but I went for the steep descent and unlike last year I went round instead of across (though changed my mind for the route back!). There is then a steep climb before up and downing along the tops on a narrow path. After a few miles and another steepish climb you turn to come back and there’s a pleasant descent before you meet up with the path from before. After the river crossing there’s a little sting in the tail where you go across the sand dunes before a cruel climb which is mainly up steps but finishes with a scree scramble to the top. Then a few hundred metres trying to get your breath back and run for the finish and you’re done. Great snacks in the church made for a very pleasant finish to the outing!

Heartbeat Hobble

March 17th, 7 miles, 700 feet climb, 2nd lady, 1st V50.

Of all of the races this one has the least climb and I therefore wasn’t expecting it to be my type of race. It starts and finishes in the village of Goathland and is very definitely Heartbeat land (only those of a certain age will remember the Nick Berry show…). Before starting I spoke to those who had done it before who confirmed it wasn’t the hilliest but was still not easy and they were right. It starts with a nice grassy climb which before long was more mud than grass and for most of the race mud was the theme. I enjoyed the climb (I know I’m weird) and then we dropped down a quite fun little descent before a long drag along slightly uphill along a track. This bit was not so fun – one of those climbs where you know you have to maintain a decent pace but it still is uphill. Eventually that came to an end and we turned to the left back into proper fell terrain and after arriving at the highest point of the race it was a long flattish section. Sounds easy right? Not so when the mud is deep with rocks and extra deep puddles to navigate along the way. It required a lot of concentration and I didn’t enjoy it much! But eventually we started to go downhill and returned to more grass than mud and before I knew it the end was in sight. The final descent was a joy and once I crossed the line I was a happy bunny.

Blakey Blitz

April 7th, Marshal.

To be in the running for series prizes you really need to marshal one race as this gives you 50 bonus points. As I’d raced the day before this one it seemed the right day to marshal. However, we hadn’t banked on Storm Kathleen making an appearance and it really was a horrible day to spend several hours standing in the middle of the moors. But despite that we could see it was a great race. Nice to see Graeme there and it is very rewarding being able to encourage runners on their way. The route is a lollipop type shape and we marshalled on the turning point at the top of the lollipop stick so got to see everyone twice. It’s a tough route though (we walked most of it). Some decent climbs and quite boggy along the top. I’ll have to run it another year – I suspect that would be a bit warmer than marshalling it!

Gisborough Moors

April 21st, 12.5 miles, 2400 feet climb, 3rd lady, 1st V50.

The longest of the winter series races, this one is also on the Elvet Striders GP so it was nice to see a few fellow Striders at the start. It was a lovely day for it – still chilly but the sun popped out a few times and there wasn’t much wind so very good running conditions. The race starts with a long climb – but the positive thing about this is it also finishes down the same hill so at least that’s something good to look forward to! It goes over several tops including Captain Cooks and Roseberry Topping. The route was much drier than we’ve seen on other Esk races and the only real mud was that first climb (and final descent). Some of the climbs are pretty steep though and the descent off Roseberry is a touch confusing – many of us went a bit wrong there. But overall it’s a classic NYM race with a good range of lung-busting climbs, fast(ish) tracks and interesting descents. I had a bit of a battle on this one with Georgia with lots of overtaking each other. Having beaten her on the last couple of races I unfortunately lost out this time by around 40 seconds. But I consoled myself with the fact that she is much younger than me and can run an 18 minute parkrun so knows what she’s doing! The other Striders all seemed to have enjoyed the race although Geoff managed to trip over his shoelaces so was somewhat bloodied at the end. I think he was consoled by a category prize though ☺. All in all a good day out with lots of tea and cake at the end as you’d expect.

Race Information

Esk Valley Fell Club has details of these races, as well as links to route maps, on this page.

The results of the races in the series can be found here, including the series winners (PDF), in a near-illegible font.

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