A small group of Striders (Paul, Geoff, Mike and myself, with Mum (Jan) supporting) headed over to Sedbergh for this GP race. The forecast was for rain/drizzle, with very poor visibility. I hadn’t run this before, so I’d recced the route a couple of times in similar conditions, and had my checkpoint split times and bearings prepared so I didn’t have to think too hard mid-race.
After the usual pre-race warning about kit, compass and a cut-off time at check 3, we were off. The race has a gruelling start climbing up to Arant Haw (check 1), and to spice things up the cloud base was very low – at times reducing visibility to a few yards (except for the finish, I think we only emerged from it once).
After check 1, a lot more climbing, descending….repeat. The last few miles is a glorious descent from the Calf (via the ‘bump’ that is Winder) which in good visibility is fabulous running. In the race, I was just focussed on staying on the grassy path in this section, aware of wraith-like runners around me in the mist.
I felt like I executed my race plan well – I used my bearings, checked my map, stuck to the route (from what I could tell) and finished just within planned time. It was great to see Mum at checks 1 and 5, peering through the mist looking out for us all – and joking aside, the mist was so dense we really could hear her before we saw her, chatting to the hardy souls at the checkpoints.
Paul had a great run – as well as his fitness, I think his experience of the course showed. Despite the three of them sprinting away from me at the start, Mike then caught and passed me at check 2, and Geoff caught and passed me twice (yes, twice) at check 2 and check 5. It seems they both ‘strayed’ from the optimum race route and I suspect ran more miles than the race advertises! Perhaps at 57p/mile they didn’t think they were getting VFM. Different conditions on the day and this would be an entirely different race. As well as a number of DNF, there were a few tumbles – with poor Mike cracking his ribs (and then having to drive us home too….thank you, get well soon!)
This is without doubt one of the toughest races I have done up to now – brutal climbs, steep (some un-runnable) descents, sections with no ‘escape route’, ankle-straining gradient on what look like flatter sections, and pathless wilderness between checks 3 and 4. Not to mention the weather conditions. For me, this was much harder than Swaledale or the Yomp – I’m not used to so much climbing, and I know I need to get stronger on the hills.
The pluses – all of the above 🙂! And a well organised race, the beauty of the Howgills (weather permitting), and plenty of friendly, like-minded folks to enjoy it with. Oh, and hot showers at the end at the People’s Hall – what more do you need?
Despite it being tough (or because it was?)….I loved it. Even when my legs were screaming at me to stop. Fabulous race and strongly recommended.
If you are thinking about giving this one a go, I suggest do your homework, test yourself (legs and navigation), recce, recce, recce, and be prepared for anything the weather can throw at you.
The Swaledale Marathon like any decent run ends up as a story. This will be the story of how I started full of energy, in a rain jacket with a pack full of gels and water and ended up exhausted, sprinting through Reeth and soaked to the skin in just a Striders vest. However, if you ask any who ran or spectated that day they will give you their stories; most of those are shared with friends such as Camilla and Kathryn, Tim and Phil or Gareth and Stephen and many others. While I rarely ran with other Striders I made many friends who shared my struggle and who while I might never know their names I shall never forget.
Swaledale might not be on the FRA calendar but it has one thing in common with the fell races I have ran…it started with a long, steep and painful ascent. This was towards Fremington Edge and while I had told myself and others before I would stay with friends (Jon and Elaine were the ones I was thinking of) I found that my regimen of strength and core training meant I floated up the hill. I looked into Jon’s eyes on the way up and knew that I was too strong to hold myself back. What had felt like a tough start the year before seemed like a jog down to the shops for milk and so I struck off on my own ahead into a windy and rainy new adventure.
Stephen, Michael and Gareth had gone off in their triumvirate but I became the fourth strider running with a group across the top of Fremington and down into the next valley towards Whaw. An increasingly terrifying gap behind meant that the little group I was in became my new comrades and I had to keep the legs turning over to keep up. It wasn’t difficult but I always feared for later as I had barely held onto consciousness last year in the final mile and didn’t fancy going through that again. I kept up through the valley and up towards Great Punchard Head where we lost a few on the climb, at this point I was with a few other men and the first lady (checking the results her name was Amy and she ran for Rugby and Northallerton). She floated up Punchard…I don’t think I ever saw her walk and we were together for 12 or so miles including all the hard work up Great Punchard Head. I ran almost all that uphill as well with only short stops to walk and make sure I didn’t get ahead as I hadn’t recce’d Punchard as thoroughly as possible.
After a while we made it to the bog and I am not sure how any of us made it through that mass of muddy holes and collapsing paths. It had been raining pretty consistently since the start of the race and by now we were all sodden and the coarse was soaked through from current rain and that in the week before; wet bog is a beast of its own but we fought through mile after mile of tough track and a few self-clip points later and one manned clip point we came to the last self-clip on Punchard. My group had whittled down to myself, another guy who seemed nice and Amy (who glided as if on road). She later told me at one point it was her second time doing Swaledale and that she was a road runner by trade. Considering her nav (thumbing the map as she went) and her strength I would recommend a change of focus. Anyway we reached the final self-clip on Punchard to find a very wet looking group of three clipping at which point Michael turned around and greeted me. We had run the fell so well that we had caught up to Michael, Stephen and Gareth apparently.
This was the start of the downhill towards Gunnerside and when I said to my new friend that these three were some of the fastest in my club she turned to me and said only “you have them”. Encouraged by this I quickly over took Gareth who was busy writing a determined story of his own (albeit maybe not the happiest of tales). When the navigation went a bit awry I took the rest of them and went down towards Gunnerside. While there I did the manned clip and started tactically stripping…I was too hot in the rain jacket and the rain was down to a mere drizzle for the first time since the start of the race. My new friends left ahead and I was left with Michael, with Stephen and Gareth behind. Michael and I started the uphill out of Gunnerside and he stayed with me for a bit until I said something like “Michael, I have run the race of my life but there is not much left and I know the rest of the route…leave me, I will be fine”. So hesitantly he did.
I don’t know how I got through the rest of the miles but I did. I thought I could see Michael’s luminous jacket ahead although it turned out it was someone else and he was actually well ahead overtaking everyone and their mothers. I ran as the rain and wind came back to lash at my Strider’s vest. I fell after surrender bridge while in a small gulley and just remember getting up and thinking that I couldn’t stop. My leg had cramped but I though hiking out of the gulley would stretch it out. I was in a bad way at this point with no strength left although I was fairly conscious at least.
I kept going and after seeing Jan’s husband I made my way down the lane of loose rocks with the last self-clip and came out into Reeth where a small crowd with a few cheering Striders (Joanne and Lesley come to mind) coaxed a pseudo-sprint out of me. It felt like a sprint to me but for all I know it could have looked more like a waddle. Everyone else turned up in layers at the least and mostly in rain jackets but I must have looked a sight in only shorts and a soaked vest. I got to the finish line, gave in my card and went for food. I had finished 14th in 3 hours and 36 minutes. 7 minutes quicker than last year in much worse conditions and 37 places higher. With food I sat down and made merry…job done.
Well done to everyone who ran a tough and wet Swaledale this year with a special mention to Michael Mason (6th), Elaine Bisson (3rd Female) and the Men’s Team (2nd). An honourable mention to everyone who spectated as well who waited in the rain while we had all the “fun”.
Well I have actually. But I’ve never done Captain Cooks, which is almost as bad as never having tried Harrier League, or Brussels sprouts. You can’t claim not to like something unless you’ve tried it. Despite having a great fondness for the Esk Valley fell races this particular fixture had never really appealed to me for some reason. I usually prefer Nine Standards or the (newly returned) Hillforts and Headaches.
I’d heard it was a busy race so I arrived about an hour early, which by my standards is an eternity. After finding somewhere to park an indecently long way from registration I turned up at the Royal Oak to see lots of happy smiling Striders. They were smiling, I think, because they turned up 2 hours early and had already registered. After a while I found the end of the queue and wondered if I’d get to the front before the race started.
I hadn’t been sure about Kit requirements. Although it’s a pretty short race I noticed from Steph’s 2015 report that she considered carrying, amongst other things, a knife (type unspecified, a Rambo one I assumed), so I thought I’d better at least take the basics. It could be rough out there.
I registered with only about 10 minutes to spare and I still didn’t know what shoes I was going to wear! I wandered up to a few random and not-so-random strangers and barked: “Trail or Walshes?!”. One brief straw-poll later and it was pretty clear that Walshes were the clear choice. I ran back to the car, had a quick costume change, then back to the Start with a few seconds to spare.
And then we had the race, which was ok. You went up a hill, not going round the monument (which I thought was a bit ungracious – I was tempted to run round it anyway), then back down again. On the climb I was glad for the Walshes as they dug in nicely and I could see lots of runners, an amazing number of runners, who were in road shoes and wasting a lot of energy sliding about and going twice the distance. They’d also managed to fit their entire kit requirements into a matchbox sized pocket in the back of their pants which was pretty impressive.
Despite there being loads of Striders at registration I saw none around me. I kept thinking I saw Camilla ahead and hoped I might catch her by the finish. I was somewhat bewildered to find her at the level crossing cheering me on and I paused to work out what was going on. Then another marshall told me to stop chatting and keep moving. I glanced back and noticed Jan hunting me down and I wasn’t having that, so moving I kept.
As we approached Great Ayton I was a bit bemused to discover I’d crossed the finish line in the middle of a field. What devil’s work was this? A fell race? That didn’t finish outside the pub it started at? Surely there’s some law against that? Then the hailstorm started and the kit that I was carrying that had been of no value at the monument suddenly became quite handy for the walk back to the car.
So what do I think? I enjoyed it. It’s a good race. But I think I enjoy Nine Standards more. It’s got snow at the top and everything. And by my calculations, the 20 minutes extra that it takes to drive to Kirkby Stephen is easily saved by not having to stand in a long queue or park 10 minutes away. So next year I’ll probably head back to Nine Standards. But then there’s Hillforts and Headaches… Hmmm… That’s the good thing about fell races. EOD. Decide in the morning when you wake up.
For the first time in ages I’ve felt recently that I had some sort of form returning. Perhaps it was time to try an ‘AL’. Haven’t done one for years. Find out what sort of shape I’m in. Well, now I know. Still, at least you get a prize for being last.
Penny was 3rd Lady. Dougie got a prize for “bringing up the rear”
Now I’m not the best at navigating but I was pretty sure I’d be ok with this race for a couple of reasons – it’s an out and back race (in pretty much a straight line) and I’d done it last year. So how could I go wrong? This is exactly the question I was asking myself as I stood in the midst of some bracken on the way back which definitely hadn’t been there on the way out. I looked ahead and behind and there were no runners to be seen anywhere. So I got out my map, stopped and looked at it in the vague hope it would magically burst into life and tell me which way to go.
Sadly it didn’t. And it didn’t appear to show any of the fences I’d passed so I decided to go for my usual technique when lost – keep running and hope it’s in vaguely the right direction. After a few minutes of gradually getting more worried I eventually spotted some people running a couple of hundred metres away from me so I headed over to where they were. The marshals looked bemused as I arrived at a checkpoint from completely the wrong direction. I was relieved to see them but the competitor in me had to ask “How many places have I lost?”. “Five” they said “but you’re still first lady”. That was some compensation but I knew my chances of a PB were slipping away.
After a slightly disappointing patch in my running due to minor injuries and tiredness I wanted this to be the race where I proved to myself I could still run well. The first half had gone reasonably well – I felt strongish on the climb and the descent seemed less difficult than last year (recent runs in the Lakes have obviously affected my perceptions of what a steep hill is). But then came the river. The river crossing in this race is really not pleasant. You have to get all the way across the Tees in water up to your thigh (on me anyway) and the rocks are unbelievably slippy. It took me forever to get over to the crocodile and back so by the time I was out of the river I’d almost been caught by the guy behind me and I knew I was losing time.
The joy of out and back races is that you get to see all of your competitors. Having seen the front runners speed past me prior to the river, it was lovely to see both Susan and Steph on the way back and to be encouraged by the marshals that I was still in the top 10. Looking at my watch I figured I was on for a PB.
Sadly it was soon after this that everything went wrong. Having lost 5 places and several minutes it was hard to stay motivated; I managed to get past 3 of the 5 but was still a long way off where I wanted to be. The long track to the end seemed to go on forever and when I finally crossed the line I was greeted by looks of “what happened to you???”.
Results aren’t out yet but according to my watch I was about 12 seconds slower than last year. I have to say I was somewhat gutted but the disappointment soon passed with a drink in the pub and a couple of goodies for being first lady (this is a very small race so being first wasn’t a massive achievement!). Tom and Susan also picked up prizes for winning their categories and Steph was given a spot prize for her unusual way of crossing the river… So all in all a fun day out. It’s a great race but for me it has a bit too much road and track at the start and end. And obviously they need to make the route a bit less complicated!
This was a very different racing experience for me, fast flat road running and PB hunting is all I’ve ever trained for. I’m the first to admit that fell and mud running is just not my bag. I hate the constant stop/starting, sliding in the the mud, kit list, carrying kit, worry about correct shoes, getting lost, navigation, walking steep sections, and being completely unable to compare one race to another. This is just a small list of the preconceptions which I held before the race which thankfully I no longer hold due to first hand experience.
Entry on the day was very easy and people soon started talking about kit you would have to carry and kit checks which made me panic as my kit consisted of a running coat, cheap fell shoes and that’s about it. Thankfully when I was watching people slowly gather and talked to other more experienced striders I soon realised I could ditch the coat and warm up best I could before the race.
Pre race strider photo call done, it was time for a quick pre race catchup and getting some info on what I had let myself in for.
I’ve been struggling with injury problems for the last 3 months and this was my first race back. Feeling heavy and not in the best shape I was not expecting much and was just hoping to not embarrass myself too much. I’ve decided to try some different things for this year and captain cooks fell race seemed like a perfect start.
Conditions were wet and very muddy, but the predicted black ice did not show, so my shoes just about did the trick. The start is fast and felt like a road race for the first mile but wearing the wrong shoes. Then the hill slowly hits, then the monster mountain knocks you out. I’m sure this is normal for fell running but I’ve never experienced pain quite like it. You have no option but to walk it’s that steep, and even constant walking was almost too much at times.
We slowly peeked at the captain cooks monument and then the mad crazy dash down the muddy hills begin. I’ve always been OK on down hill but my legs just would not recover. I slowly picked the speed up and even passed a few people on the down hill. Then the true fell runners flew past me and I was left in awe and eating their dust. Truly a different species and something very special to see.
The last section was again more like a fast road race which felt good to me, then a quick XC mud dash and sprint to the line. All over in a painful flash and confused blur as somehow I’d just managed to keep things together.
It’s hard judging your race time in an event like this but most seemed pleased with their runs. A few got lost on the top, a few bumps and falls too. With Thomas Reeves sporting the most cuts closely followed by Catherine Smith.
We all retired to a local pub for some much needed food and refreshment. Some great performances and a really enjoyable way to start the new year. A well deserved 2nd place for the elvet female team and a respectable 6th for the men’s. Definitely something I will try again.
… Louise Warner
Being a fan of tarmac and intolerant to both hills and mud I never really considered attempting a fell race. And then I was presented with potential of the Captain Cook Race which was on New Years’ Day when let’s be honest, most of us are a little worse for wear after feeling obliged to stay up late the night before, drinking. After several wonderful reports on this ‘little, punchy race perfect for beginners’ I somehow agreed.
On the morning of New Years’ Day I suddenly felt a little nervous. I had no idea what to pack and so after being told I needed no specialist equipment, threw three outfit changes, several pairs of trainers, a packet of baby wipes and a chocolate milkshake into a ruck sack and set off in pursuit of my first fell race. As I was picked up by a bunch of hardened and experienced fell runners (Penny, Paul, Tom and Joan) I got the opportunity to ask lots of questions but still arrived at the destination full of trepidation.
The Royal Oak pub was filled with serious looking runners and plenty of friendly faces wearing purple though I was then informed at registration that I needed to carry a waterproof jacket during the run as minimum basic FRA equipment. Steph Piper came to my rescue with a spare bum bag, waterproof jacket and whistle which then left me able to continue.
Right on time, at 10:55 we assembled across Great Ayton High Street, somewhere close to where the imaginary start line would be and after a minute or two worth of instructions about ‘being careful on the black ice’ we were off, en masse in the direction of some very large hills. I started slowly making sure I kept lots in the tank for whatever presented itself but it was clear from the start this ‘race’ was going to be nothing like I’ve ever done before – my two previous favourite run events being the GNR and Blaydon! The run started with a relative gentle upwards gradient first on road and then more onto a trail-like track becoming narrower and narrower until it was quite quickly a single file traffic event running up the side of a progressively steep hill, the top of which was not yet apparent.
The next 1.5 miles involved no running at all and were essentially a battle against the laws of physics with me scrambling up the side of a very steep hill (mountain’) trying to reach the top in as dignified a manner as possible. Jan Young was a welcome sight halfway up the ascent, shouting positive comments to spur us Striders on. I was also aware Mandy Dawson was right behind me and so my ego kept me going, upwards. Oh what a sight the summit was”..
It was like a game of two halves with the next part being all of the fun. After 100m of flattish track the path went sharply down and I suddenly seen the pace quicken though this was nothing like I was used to, not even with a couple of XC events behind me as experience. This is where the seasoned fell runners came into their own and a couple of incredibly fast men came almost literally flying past me down the side of the mountain. And so I attempted to join them and leaving my inhibitions behind went as fast as I could through the mud, bog, bushes and uneven ground, downwards towards the village, just about managing to curb my desire to shout like a child as I went. The terrain flattened though the mud remained and I almost lost a shoe to it. Once I’d arrived back on solid, flattish ground, and knowing the end couldn’t be much more than a mile away my confidence picked up and I then started to ‘race’ in the sense I previously understood. The end was incredible with a good sprint finish to prevent the guy behind me from winning and then I was met by a sea of friendly faces at the finish line (again imaginary) and many Striders, either spectating or already finished ahead of me. Including Tom who had seemingly hurled himself of the side of the mountain and was sporting two bleeding hands, two bloodied knees and a large graze up one thigh, shorts ripped. Though he’d incredibly spared the pink bum bag he was wearing!
As confused as I was about whatever had just happened I very much enjoyed this run and would definitely consider doing it again next year.
Despite it being a GP race only a handful of Striders made it over to Carlton in Cleveland for this friendly and scenic race. A shame as at £8 which goes towards the local mountain rescue team it’s a bargain and the weather was perfect for it, clear and calm with a bit of sunshine but not too hot.
I’d been warned it was a race of two halves and it certainly was. For me the first half was a chance to display my strengths and extreme weaknesses as an aspiring fell runner. With four tough climbs and descents I felt strong and confident on the uphills. I was within spitting distance of Paul at the top of the first one and near the front of the pack. However descent 1 and I was overtaken by at least 15 people, including two ladies who were to become my nemeses for the duration of the race. Up the next hill and I overtook most of those who had flown past me on the way down (including the two ladies) but down again and past me they flew again. This happened on each of the four climbs and descents. So I finished the fourth descent rather further back than seemed fair after all of my successful uphill battles (and well behind the two ladies I’d already overtaken 3 times each!).
However the race was not over and as we moved into the second half it was time to go into more of a cross country mindset as we moved from climbing up and tottering down (in my case) to more of an undulating muddy course. This half was not without its climbs but the descents were more within my capability so I dug in and set about finding the ladies. Within a mile or so I could see nemesis 1. She was doing a good pace and it seemed to take forever to catch her but as we reached a slightly steeper hill I knew it was doable and went past her slightly more out of breath than is ideal with 3 miles still to go. However I sensed her dropping back once I was past so ploughed on in search of nemesis 2. I passed several men but it seemed ages before I spotted her black ponytail and she was moving very confidently without any signs of tiring. We ran through some gently undulating bracken (I think) and I just couldn’t get closer to her. Eventually with a slight climb I managed to make up some ground and eventually passed her with about ¾ of a mile to go. Unlike her predecessor she, however, put up a fight and I felt her behind me every step of the way. Having been caught on the line at my last race I was determined not to let her get me but it took all I had to hold her off. When we finally crossed the line I was just two seconds ahead of her. We hugged and congratulated each other – there is nothing better than a good battle to the line (especially when you win!). Paul had finished well ahead of me in spite of battling a horrible lurgy and it wasn’t long before Mike and Till came in within seconds of each other. Jan looked disappointed as she crossed the line despite a strong time which won her age category. New Strider Lorna Simpkin also completed the race despite being unwell for most of it.
All in all it was a fabulous morning out and although the descents were tricky (for me anyway) this is a lovely introduction to fell racing for anyone thinking of giving it a go. It was well organised, friendly, raises money for a good cause and (most important of all) impossible to get lost.