In a week that had already been packed full of running I found myself standing at the start line to the James Herriot Country Trail Run chatting to Geoff Davis and Penny Browell, Susan Davis having dropped back a bit further from the start line. In an instant chatting turned into a frenetic mayhem as the announcer suddenly started the race and a few hundred bodies set off in the same direction at very different paces. The first section must have been 500m or so but took the runners through Castle Bolton and up to the start of the fields and the first climb. The next kilometre was a climb up through fields and small tracks during which I chased a small group of 6-7 men with a Quaker Runner at the tail hoping that they could shield me from the wind buffeting all of us and threatening to blow my number back down to Castle Bolton. It wasn’t long into this climb that my lungs were hurting but almost everyone nearby was puffing like a steam locomotive and those that weren’t were walking. For me it was a matter of digging in, steeling myself mentally and keeping the knees high and legs pumping.
After what seemed like an age with too many false horizons we reached one of North Yorkshire’s typical flat topped fells and the race continued along the spine of the fell, the terrain now undulating with a slight incline. Now it was a matter of holding my place against the attacks from runners behind and staying as near to the Quaker Runner ahead as possible but while I kept most runners behind, besides the odd man storming by at a rate of knots, I lost ground to the runners ahead when I went over slightly on my right ankle again, a problem that has plagued me at almost every recent race. Soon the next stage could be seen, a steep descent followed by what looked like a painfully sharp ascent. The descent came soon after a water station where I failed in attempt to get a cup, when I made a grasp for the one cup the woman offered the other and withdrew the one I was aiming for. It felt like I was flying down the descent with my feet barely touching the ground and arms no longer pumping but aiding balance, there is nothing more satisfying then free distance but soon after the steep climb started it steepened even to the point where at the top I walked a few yards.
After what was the last major climb of the race the rest was mostly downhill on good trail, with gravity doing most of the work until the last 3 or so miles where the course flattened and headed on back to Castle Bolton. At this point I was on my own (or so I thought) I could see the man from the Quaker Running Club 150m ahead and I had left another runner, who had been attacking on the top of the fell, during the descent. So coming up to the last water station I was very surprised when the 1st lady shot into my peripheral vision to get a drink. I then decided to make the most of her water stop and shoot off as fast as my tired legs would take me towards the finish and it worked for a time until with a little less than a mile left she overtook me going at what must have been a min/mile quicker, I had no chance of rebuffing such an attack and she even ended up taking the Quaker Runner ahead by the end as well. For me the race was just a procession to the finish line with a token sprint put in for good measure. What had started in a whirlwind of frenetic energy now ended up in a calm manner for the most part, with runners who were usual quite strung out came across the line. The only excitement was seeing Penny and Geoff coming towards the line, Geoff behind at this point but with a cheeky smile which spoke volumes. I could see that he fancied his chances of an overtake and our mudman didn’t disappoint using all his experience, cunning and competitiveness to pull off a perfect overtake and win the battle of the Striders. A bit late the mudwoman finished to take 2nd in her age category rounding off a thoroughly testing but enjoyable day out in Yorkshire.
This was my very first fell race: I entered on the day with relative confidence that I could finish it without getting lost but had no idea about how long I would take. It was 0°C when we bundled out of the car into the school sports hall where I was worrying about the kit check. I had all of the essential kit with me, but if I’d been asked any more than could be written on a postage stamp about how to use the compass, I would have failed miserably although my appreciation of the route was helped by having taken the time to study the course map and Google Earth at home.
After a brief pre-race talk we filed out to the start and were off pretty quickly, straight up a viciously steep hill then, after a fairly short section of road, we reached the first check point and turned left onto the fell for the first time. I started off trying to avoid the inevitable foot soaking, but once my feet were wet, there was little to lose, which made navigating through the mud and puddles much easier as I could stop dancing around as much to avoid the water.
It wasn’t long before a vicious snow storm descended upon us, carried on a biting arctic wind. The snow, alternating with hail, was being driven with force horizontally onto the side of my head and face and I was forced to stop and dig around in my brand-new bumbag for some warmer gear. I could see why we had to carry it all. If anyone had to stop with an injury in this, they would become dangerously cold very quickly.
Many were putting on jackets but all I wanted was my hat, which provided as much protection as I felt I needed. Off I went again and was constantly trying to find decent footing. There were huge icy-cold puddles – some almost knee deep – and slippery mud (though not as slippery as Aykley Heads cross-country mud I thought), with the track deeply rutted with loose stones in places making it frequently easier to run on the heather.
Soon I was descending to the first burn where I was protected from the wind, with the snow no longer falling as little ice swords, but as fluffy, fairy-tale, flakes. Then it was steeply up the other side to continue on the exposed track. Although the route was pretty obvious and there were always others to follow, there was at least one place where I could easily have taken a wrong turn but I had my trusty map with me and knew exactly where I was…no compass required!
Not much further along the track we were marshalled back onto the fell where deep ruts seemed to be too narrow to run along the bases and also too narrow to run along the tops so it was a constant battle to keep going. Eventually though, I saw the small plantation that signalled the start of the next road section after which it was a long run along the road to the steep track that led to the final section of exposed fell.
I knew I was more than half way but could not relax into the run because once again, the vicious horizontal snow started, this time full into my face as I was now heading back towards the start. The combined snow and wind was so bad that my face was freezing and incredibly painful. I tried to protect it with my map at the expense of my hands but managed to keep running.
I found this section more challenging than the first and was constantly trying to choose the best line, which was difficult with reduced visibility due to the snow. My legs were starting to feel quite fatigued and I could feel another spectacular face plant coming on (to go with the one I did on the Hardmoors half at Goathland)!
But before anything drastic happened, I’d reached the marshalls on the edge of the fell who were reassuring us that it was “nearly done…all downhill now”. The road ahead seemed to go on for a very long way and I was perturbed not to see any signs of a village. I was overtaken by some runners who seemed to be enjoying the dreaded tarmac that is my personal nemesis.
Then Scott, my husband, appeared as a welcome friendly face to cheer me on and tell me that I didn’t have much further to go. I took great delight in running down the field to the finish line to see Penny and Flip, on their way to the car, cheering me in.
Back in a nice warm sports hall, I was taking off my shoes as requested and whilst my sausage-like fingers were struggling with my laces I was trying desperately to tell a woman who was offering to help runners with their shoes that there was a pin on the floor as lots of runners were in stockinged feet; my frozen face and lips would not respond however, and I couldn’t say the words without gibbering!
I was never so pleased for a warm cup of tea. There were a few pretty sickly looking runners in the hall, shivering in space blankets so I felt quite lucky that I was not hypothermic in such extreme conditions (despite having not used my jacket or gloves) and it was only my face that had felt the cold. Even my hands were warm when I first got back. I did manage a chuckle when I overheard one runner in the hall say that he couldn’t understand why he had to have a compass as he would ever need to draw a circle on the fell!
I was well impressed with the marshalls who were standing around in very exposed places in the same blizzard conditions that it was cold enough running in. They were all friendly, encouraging, and positive. I am really grateful to them for being there for us, and for everyone who baked scones and cakes and fed us hot drinks. I won a nice buff as a spot prize (donated by the race sponsor – the Ultra Runner Store) and it was good to meet the chap who provided them.
I shall never forget the first of what I hope will be many fell races. It was an experience and a half, and I am assured by my husband that I will probably have to do a lot of fell runs to encounter such conditions again.
This race has been popular with Striders since its inception and Susan and I have run it four or five times – although not since 2011. As Sunday was forecast to be slightly less hot than we’ve become used to we decided to give it another go. Although it’s registered as a fell race it’s really a trail race with a bit of climb (1,000’) and is mainly run on stony farm tracks with a few grassy paths.
As advised for ‘on the day’ entries we arrived early and, after registering, we spent the time stretching, warming up and listening to the Commonwealth Games on the car radio. At the start we looked for other Striders and were pleased to see Richard Hocking, Phil Owen, Christine Farnsworth & Barrie Evans. However, Christine and Barrie were destined not to finish as Christine, just a mile or so into the race, took a heavy tumble on the unforgiving surface sustaining a cut lip and chin and a very swollen knee. Barrie, being the gentleman we all know him to be, escorted Chris back to the start and into the first aid tent for treatment.
Meanwhile the rest of us continued round the hard, dry and dusty course hoping the sun would stay behind the clouds and things wouldn’t get too hot. After a couple of recent tough training runs I was confident that I could hold a reasonable pace around the 8.5 mile course without having to walk any of the hills – and so it transpired. However, I started to ‘feel it’ a bit with about two miles to go. At this point I sensed another runner draw level with me. I glanced over, noticed a Durham Fell Runners’ vest and recognised a long standing adversary of mine from the fells. He went by me but I managed to ‘cling on’ and the gap between us never grew beyond 20 yards (that’s about 18 and a bit meters Rachael!). As we approached the last half mile I could see that the gap was closing. I increased my pace slightly and with around 150 yards to go I caught him. A final ‘eyeballs out’ dash took me passed him and on to the finish in a slightly faster time than three years ago. Brilliant!
Susan too had a fantastic run finishing third in her age group (just two seconds behind the second of her vintage) and a whopping two minutes quicker than her last outing here in 2011! Things are looking good for the fast approaching cross country season! Richard came home a couple of minutes later looking strong and comfortable after a fine race – another one of us looking forward to running in the mud. Phil continued his recovery from the West Highland Way Race (all 95 miles of it) with a steady run in the sun.
So, a good day out running a very pleasant race at a splendid venue. We hope Christine’s cuts and bruises heal quickly!
Ok, I’ll admit it, I wanted the GP points. And with that confession the story of how I came to be on the start line of my first ever fell race becomes a lot easier to tell. I’d eyed this one up earlier in the year when the fixtures were published, the need for kit including a map and a compass had almost put me off, but chatting to a few clubmates about the race assuaged my fears and with borrowed kit (thanks to Fiona, Katy and Jon!), some very kind offers of chaperoning on the day (thanks Dave, Bill and Alister!) and the very welcome offer of a lift (thanks Graeme and Katy!) I thought I might as well give it a go.
Basecamp was the local school with tea and cake on sale beforehand and plenty of space to change and leave bags and debate how many layers would be sensible with the other Striders. Compared to the snow, ice and hypothermia-inducing temperatures from previous years it was ridiculously mild and I really couldn’t have asked for more from the weather. Sure, it was a bit boggy underfoot in places but even that wasn’t as bad as XC and it was warm enough for me to remove my hat after the first mile and not to put it back on. That might also have been to do with the fact that the first mile is a 25% gradient uphill, I’d been warned that it was hilly to begin with but ouch! Fell racers are, in the main, sensible people though and tend to walk up the big hills, something I stuck to on the way round and probably was the best bit of advice I got.
Once up the big hill we were on to the moors, a boggy track with some puddles to navigate over, a couple of sharp downhills, some more boggy bits, another ascent and then down onto a gravelly track before climbing back up again and along the top of a ridge. Then a very steep tarmac downhill, followed by an even steeper track uphill before some more moors and then the final welcome tarmac downhill. It was glorious out on the moors, although having to concentrate on where my feet were going most of the time meant there weren’t too many opportunities to enjoy the view. I managed to escape unscathed though unlike Graeme who had fallen in a ditch and a lady behind me who had just been telling me about how she’d fallen over at the same point last year when I heard a crash and turned round to see her sprawled on the path having been tripped up by a rock. I even managed to have enough in my legs to out-sprint a very disgruntled woman on the line but in my defence it was downhill and I just couldn’t stop (and I’d been trying to get past her for the last mile, that too)! Very chuffed with my finishing time of just under 1:54 and also very grateful for all the Strider support out on the course, I definitely couldn’t have done it without the encouragement and advice along the way. Some excellent Strider performances too with Shaun splitting the Waltons at the top of the field and the ladies teams finishing 3rd (Katy, Camilla, Me) and 5th (Anita, Angela and Sue) overall.
The reward for finishing was a lovely cup of tea in the “Hexhamshire Hobble” mug that you got for finishing, and also a crack at the largest spread of cakes I have ever seen – perfect for tired legs. It may take me the best part of a month to get the mud out of my shoes but I really enjoyed my introduction to fell racing and despite the fact that I suspect I will never be as lucky with the weather again I will definitely be back!
Looking at Mel’s report from the 2012 James Herriot Trail Race, I felt this would be the perfect trail race with some stunning scenery from the moorland above Castle Bolton in Wensleydale. The recent tropical weather would also be perfect for running down those grassy slopes, so I happily sent away my completed entry form in the post. I wasn’t even put off by Mel’s warning about the discoloured drinking water. A few days before the race it turned out that the family car was needed to transport the son to an athletics meeting, but to my relief Barrie and Christine were also going to the race and there was space in their car. On the night before the event the skies opened and the rain that fell would easily have swept away most of the runners from the slopes. Luckily the downpour settled as we were driving there although the weather was rather chilly with some light showers as we arrived.
The brown water described by Mel was gushing out from the taps in the ladies’ at great pressure but according to the sign this wasn’t drinking water. I reluctantly left my warm layers in Barrie and Christine’s car and lined up for the race in running vest and shorts. Not a large turnout for Striders this time – apart from Barry, Christine and myself only Maggie was waiting for the start signal. The gun went off and I started with some slow running bracing myself for the hills I knew were to come soon. I already knew that there would be a small hill, then a bigger hill and then an even bigger hill at the beginning which I preferably would walk at least to some part. As the hill grew steeper most people in front of me did indeed start to walk and so did I. The skies were gradually clearing up and looking down behind me I had a nice view of lush fields, grass-munching sheep and a trail of runners in multi-coloured vests (many of whom were still to pass me at a later stage). The wind was blowing against us as we struggled along.
I concentrated on running down the slope at a steady speed and managed to pass another runner, although the hard gravel under my feet made running rather tough and I retreated to the softer grass banks on the side. The water at the drink stations was clear and tasty this year so probably not from the local springs! The last section of the race went downhill over soft green grass and along a country lane with a little bit of splashing involved to get across a small ditch.
Overall this was an enjoyable race – not too long and not too short with some beautiful views along the way. And my legs and feet aren’t even aching. At least not yet.
I wasn’t going to bother. I hadn’t run for a while and I had no great desire to drag on a pair of running shoes and head for Allendale. But the weather forecast suggested it could be a fun outing; sunshine and frost. Always an exciting combination for a fell race, and the promise of some wintry glittery landscapes, which are always nice.
Turning up at Allendale Middle School we were flagged, pointed and waved into a parking place. So far, so straightforward. Although there seemed to be a negligable number of toilets. No matter, I jogged down the road to look for some wooded hollow that I remembered from a couple of years back only to discover that someone had built a housing estate on top of it. Back into the school to be registered and a warning look from the lady who advised me that I should have ‘something else to put on’ when I was out on the fells, over and above my Striders vest. Wise words. In many respects I sometimes feel this sort of fell race can be more dangerous than some of the big in-your-face beasts such as the Grisedale Horseshoe, where it’s impossible to start under the brooding Lakeland fells without feeling the teeniest bit mortal. The hobble, on the other hand, looks deceptively tame, and as far as fell races goes, isn’t very long, and isn’t very hilly. But the devil is in the detail, and the detail is the potential for being caught miles from shelter if the weather turns nasty.
Today however the weather was kind. The organisers, however, were not. Runners who ignored the mandatory kit requirements and clear warnings of disqualification discovered that the organisers walk the walk. Somewhere further back at the tail end of the field I was walking my own walk, up more hills than usual, having proved the hypothesis that if you don’t train, you don’t go very fast. I’d started the race with Anita and Rich (who didn’t seem to know if he was coming or going), then decided to latch on to Dave Shipman. I thought I’d be a smart arse and pass him exactly where I passed him two years ago, getting some matching photos from the same spot. As we got closer to the shadowy dip Dave rather spoilt the plan by getting further away so I kinda gave up on that idea. Soon he disappeared from view entirely.
On the last side of the triangle I really began to feel the miles and contemplated with a sort of detached fascination how quickly one’s form erodes away if you don’t keep on running. It was good photo weather and I tried to capture a few frosty scenes, glancing back from time to time to see if Rich and Anita were nearby. With no PB pressure I jogged on concentrating on simply putting one foot in front of the other which, in these slippy conditions, wasn’t always quite as easy as it sounded.
The finish was in the same playing field as the start and Alister was there to shout the straggling Striders home along with Sara and Murphy. The prize ceremony was indoors, as were the tea and cakes and a extraordinarily long list of spot prizes. As usual, a well organised running of this quirky race that can be very gentle some years and extremely hostile on others. It’s this unpredictability that makes it so interesting.
I arrived at Castle Bolton but didn’t see any other Striders. This is a one loop, 14k trail race. I had told myself I wouldn’t push too hard and just enjoy it, so I was aiming to average 10 minute miles. I had been warned it was hilly but I hadn’t really anticipate the hill starting at only 400m into the race and for it then to carry on for 3 miles!!! By 3 miles I was only averaging 12 minute miles, hmm I needn’t have worried about going too fast. There was a much needed water station at this point and then a lovely downhill stretch for about a mile, wheeeee. Ha I should have known that couldn’t have been it for hills and at mile four there was a steep hill. Not only that but as I turned the corner the weather completely changed and I was running into a cold wind, it was pelting it down with icy rain, I was frozen. Thankfully the hill was steep but short and on turning the corner at the top we came out of the freak bit of weather and back to just a breezy, dull but mild conditions. From this point onwards it was mainly downhill and enjoyable. There was another water station at mile 6 where the marshal commented on how he had got the water fresh out of the ground that morning, being a little OCD I was hoping he was joking. I managed to make up a lot of time comfortably and finished averaging 9 min 40 miles.
It was a lovely scenic course, you could see for miles and took us through countryside and moorland. It was mostly on proper footpaths but they were rocky so you had to watch your feet and there were some sections on grass. I went for lunch in the Castle coffee shop and asked for some tap water, the waitress said it will be a little discoloured because it comes from a natural spring. Eek I guess the Marshall wasn’t joking about where the water had come from :o.
Hopefully I will bump into other Striders next year, just don’t drink the water there.
With all my injuries over the last couple of years I’m trying only to run just twice a week and on the Saturday Andrew Thompson and I had done a 21.5 Mile training run along the railway lines from Consett so Sunday is cycle day. Hmm, the thing is I quite like the cycling but the skies look full and the roads icy – not great for cycling but ideal Fell running weather. A quick text to Alistair and we were off to the Hexhamshire Hobble.
Truth is I’ve been meaning to do this for a few years but it always seemed to clash with something. We took the ‘long way round’ via the western bypass and 69 after Al’s addiction to McD’s breakfast had been satisfied. As we climbed up to the lovely Allendale the weather slowly closed in and it was bitterly cold. Phil Sanderson was the first strider I met and I offered him some of my Fat to slow the lad down but he declined. Met newish strider Aaron with Al informing me this is just Aaron’s cup of tea. Mudwoman appeared smiling at the prospect of more mud and snow and discussions were made about jackets on or off. I don’t tend to wear a jacket often but just before we went up to the field I put a medium weight one on. It never came off!
With warnings of ‘its cold here but it’s could be another universe up there’ from the RD we were off. Well I say we but the rest of the field were. My legs weren’t working that well to be honest and I’m slow enough when they are! Bit of muddy hill, some very steep road followed by wide track. Not very fell-like at all.
However that was soon to change with some angelic smiling bairns holding up a couple of huge signs painted with Red paint saying, DEEP MUD AND PAIN.
And so it was onto the moorland. A couple of miles of boggy track and then the track slowly narrowed becoming progressively more rocky and boggy. This is more my sort of thing and my legs were just starting to work again but by the curse of slow starter I was more or less stuck behind a single file line of runners . I overtook here and there by jumping onto the heather and through various deep water puddles with only one turning out to be a comedy puddle where I went up to my waist but it was pointless till the line spread out a bit.
A marshal clipping our numbers indicated sharp left turn and a wonderful sight was to be had of the field making their way over the snowy moorland. Oh I forget, the weather was having a great time picking what it threw at us with clear spells interspersed with mini blizzards and with the wind chill very cold. On that note Mudman and Mudwoman had sent out a mail the day before warning those taking part to have all their fell gear including full body cover (something I always carry). It’s not just for your protection during the race but if you have to stop, something as simple as a twisted ankle could mean life of death even so close to civilization. I also carry an emergency bag (that you get in if injured). Mandatory in most of the Scottish long distance hill races, they are only about £2.50 and could save your life. On a happier note, should you die here it’s some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK and the snow made it all Christmassy . After 7 miles or so the moorland turned to track again and then to tarmac and a descent and climb. For some reason I had this in head the race was eight miles so I thought the finish must just be over the hill so was surprised that we were back onto moorland again. Oops, this is a 10.5 miler, it was the other race in the ESK valley series I could have gone to that was around 8 lol. Never mind, more lovely running and after a mile or so the moorland again became track and the slow decent into the Allendale finish where free coffee and cake were on offer. Superb race and all for a fiver and a load of spot prizes with my Anna being lucky enough for me to win a perfectly fitting ladies Asics long sleeved winter running top ! Excellento . Did I say – all for a fiver !
Back to the Duke of Welly in Durham and a catchup with the Sunday morning run striders dinner crew who swore blind they had more seen mud that us! Grand day out.
This is a lovely race, in a great part of the world … yes, a couple of big hills, but also a couple of lovely long descents as well. Unfortunately, it’s run at a time of year when it can sometimes get really quite warm. Dougie and I had a really bad time one year, having to walk flat sections after blowing up in the heat, and after a bit of a jog before the start I was sweating profusely, which didn’t bode well … it was very muggy and humid, with very little breeze.
Off we went, up the first hill, which goes on a bit, but is more or less runnable until near the top, when I like to have a stroll and get my breath back. I was getting really hot, though, so thought I’d better do what I could to cool down, and so took my vest off, light though it is, and this helped a bit, as did a slight breeze from the west. The optimist in me always imagines the next stretch as being flat, after the initial climb, but it does keep going gently uphill for quite a while. Gorgeous long run downhill next, then the second hill – with another walk – and then the second lovely descent.
The grassy run-in back to Castle Bolton was quite nice, but a glance at the watch showed this wasn’t going to be a fast one, and I was well down on previous years. David and Geoff were home in front of me, though both had found it hard going. Susan came in not long afterwards, having what looked to be a much better run than she’d been predicting beforehand, then Dougie, who like me had found it hard work in the humid conditions, though neither of us had actually ‘blown up’ this time.
Afterwards there was a good hog roast on offer outside the castle, with draught local beers, and entertainment laid on in the form of a falconry display. That, and the new wild boars on show, rounded off a fine event.