Category Archives: FRA-BL

The Fell Runners Association explains race categories in its Rules for competition (pdf) document, but a relevant summary can be found below.

Category B
Should average not less than 25 metres climb per kilometre.
Should not have more than 30% of the race distance on road.

Category L
A category “L” (long) race is 20 kilometres or over.

Alwinton 3 Tops fell race, Saturday, June 15, 2019


Nina Mason

A wonderful low-key but challenging fell race (also with a kid’s race, a 10k run, and three ‘Alwinton Challenge’ walks) – all to support North of Tyne Mountain Rescue.

There are no cut-offs in this race, and I entered this with no time to chase or expectations – just to enjoy the run out. I persuaded mum to come along as my #1 cheerleader, and for a walk out on the hills. As always, she performed admirably, including fending off some inquisitive bullocks in one of the fields on the return.

The course was marked pretty much all the way round, so I didn’t even need to navigate, and we all got some sunshine, a dry day, and some glorious views of the Cheviots (though plenty of bog underfoot in some sections 😁).

A good day out, and a race I would recommend.

Thanks to the cheery marshalls at the seven checkpoints, and to the ROs for a great race, and the snacks and drinks afterwards

Map courtesy of the Alwinton 3 tops FB page
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Alwinton Three Tops Fell Race, Saturday, June 16, 2018

15 miles, 2400ft

Aaron Gourley

“You know the bag with your running shoes it,” asked my wife over the phone as I pulled up at the lights near the Duke of Wellington on my way to pick up Paul Evans.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Are they supposed to be outside the front door?” she said knowing all too well what the answer was going to be!

I’d forgotten to pick up my shoes so I had to make a decision on whether I had enough time to drive back and get them? I was already running late but thought I’d better go back. I picked up Paul and off we sped back to Wingate to get the shoes before hurtling up the A19 and onto the A1 hoping we’d make it to Alwinton, just north of Rothbury, in time to change and register for the race.

It was cut fine but we made it with at least 14 minutes to spare, a quick change and dash to the pub to register and we were ready.

Geoff and Jack were already there looking relaxed having had a more sedate journey north.

The conditions were about perfect for running a fell race with good visibility and a light wind to keep the temperature down as around 51 runners gathered for this annual fundraiser for the North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team.

After a short brief and a “3,2,1 – off you go”, from the race director and race was on. I was feeling a little leggy still from my Hardmoors 110 exploits and still suffering from tight muscles around my left knee so the plan was to just take it easy and enjoy the route.

The first mile or so is a steady climb but I immediately fell behind most of the pack as I watched Paul, Jack and Geoff shoot off into the distance.
The trail, whilst not particularly steep, was a drag and I found myself really struggling before it eventually levelled off ahead of a long descent and double back on the roadside ready the first really significant climb of the day.

As I approached I looked up and knew this is going to be a tough day. And so it proved, my knee hurt but even worse, I just didn’t seem to have any energy at all. The next few miles were torturous as the hills rolled up and down.

The tussocks made for uneven running and with my knee hurting, I found that I was struggling on the downhill where I would normally have had fun and been able to claw back some of my lost time. It was fair to say I wasn’t really enjoying this race for the majority of it. But I stuck in; I knew this was my first real race of this type for a long time so it was a case of sucking it up and getting on with it.

The checkpoints along the way were marshalled by Mountain Rescue staff who were very cheery, which made for light relief and before long, the route dropped onto the forest track where the gradient shallowed and the path levelled enough to actually find some sort of rhythm when running. I was starting to feel much better now, as I was able to maintain a relatively even pace.

Up ahead I could see a few runners that had gone past me as I struggled on the hills, and as the trail continued I began to slowly draw them in. One by one I began to make a bit of progress, and eventually, I’d clawed back at least four lost places as we hit the final checkpoint before the long descent back to the finish.

After what seemed an eternity, I finally dropped back onto the road we’d run up at the start of the race, before turning the corner to see the finish up ahead.

Paul was stood waiting at the finish, having had a blistering run coming in first Strider and 8th overall and Geoff had a beaten Jack who’d admitted to having had a pretty miserable time out on the course himself.

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Long Tour of Bradwell, Peak District, Saturday, August 12, 2017

BL / 52.7km / 2200m

Paul Evans

Greased, Taped, Wonky, and ready to goIt’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to spend a Sunday evening sat at a laptop, trying to recall what took place the day before. Probably around two years or so – [ actually just last year! ^DN] the website seems to show nothing from me since November 2015 [<cough!> Paul Evans ^DN]. However, a return to racing with a rejoinder from our webmaster means that what happened must be relayed, for the ever-developing archive of north-eastern running that is our website. Here goes…

0712hrs at Sheffield railway station for a 25 minute ride on a rattling little train, older than I, to Hope. The journey is spent checking bumbag contents, unpacking and adjusting. The only other passengers seem similarly absorbed in their kit, and I assume both are heading for the tour, either long or half, also. We walk the mile or so the Bradwell in amiable silence. The fact that the western edge of the valley is obscured by cloud bodes ill. I consider switching to the half tour, a 17-miler that cuts out the more punchy climbs, then remember I’m returning with a ultra so I don’t HAVE to race it.

0810hrs. Check-in for the race is slick (impressively, EOD are taken as well), laminated maps are issued and a demo is given of the new electronic timing system. Hot brews are offered and received, and the portaloos portable toilets provision is adequate. Kit is re-checked, re-assembled and then adjusted once more, nipples taped and anything that might chafe greased to fairy obscene levels. A decision is made to add to the bumbag a half dozen mini pork pies, on the basis that I’m not really racing, but instead here for a nice day’s running.

0900hrs. Assembly at the village green, in a light rain with overcast skies promising more. No kit check. We set off at an easy pace for the gentle undulation of the first mile or so along a damp, overhung lane, the rumble of the enormous cement works a background note. I’m not impressed to note that my Mudclaws are showing themselves to be awful on wet concrete, having switched to Inov8 after four successive pairs of Walshes disintegrated early in their lives [same here, sadly. ; a gentle downhill sees me skid to one side and hug the fence. Control 1 is found easily (ie. at the point you leave the lane – truly idiot-proof) though it later turns out that my timing gear does not register, despite flashing and beeping. From here a steady run, with occasional walking on the steeper parts, takes us through the quarries that feed the plant below, along a track to CP2 and then down some grassy fields…

…to the abomination that is Cave Dale. For those of you who have not visited Cave Dale, it is a picturesque descent through limestone crags and lush greenery. For tourists, it is delightful. For farmers, it’s a nice place to graze sheep. For runners, it is a steep downhill over loose limestone, polished by water for centuries, today in the rain. It is an axiom of ultra-runner to ‘walk the ups, run the downs.’ I did the opposite, and lost a good number of places to those with a little more poise and balance, only falling twice, which I think a result of sorts. This led into Castleton, pretty as ever, along a minor road to the climb up to Hollins Cross, then straight down a good track, under the railway line and into Edale.

1030hrs. Edale gained, with two of the big climbs over with. Banana and a few peanuts offered along with water, and a small group of us trotted out past the Nag’s Head/Pennine Way start, over the footbridge and up the zig-zags that mark the start and finish of the Edale Skyline fell race; walking only here. About two-thirds of the way up the climb flattens and the ground becomes soggier, helped by the rain that’s picked up a bit. Reaching the plateau I hit my stride, unfortunately making the mistake of enjoying the running too much to notice the trod that leads to CP5, the Druid’s Stone. Heather-bashing needed, then more of the same to regain the edge, followed by what someone following me informs me I’ve ‘picked a great line’ through the rocks and heather tussocks that take us down to runnable fields (I don’t tell him that I descended earlier than intended then made the best of it/pretended I had a plan). A fast downhill mile brings us under the railway again, then it’s over the road and straight up the other side of the valley to Lose Hill, walking pace resumed. I crack open the mini pork pies. I eat one slowly, then realise it is not sitting well; in retrospect, this lack of hunger should have been a warning. Nevertheless, Lose Hill CP6 is gained with a stiff tab to the steps and then a run along the tops, legs feeling less stiff than earlier. The descent is a grassy delight, halted only to call back a handful ahead of me who’ve taken a bad line and are liable to end up a mile or so west of where they need to be. Hope, CP7, is another food/drink station and by this point we’re well-mixed with runners doing the half tour, so it is harder to ascertain who the competition is. If I were being competitive, which I’m not.

The next few legs are fairly easy running, bar a cheeky climb up Whin Hill, with views of Ladybower reservoir, some very enjoyable forest trails and a bit of flat converted railway line taking us to CP9, the cut off for the full tour.

1230hrs. The two races separate, the half tour runners having broken the back of their race and heading home. It feels lonely again. I change pace again to drop down from the line through a couple of fields onto CP10, situated halfway along Bamford Weir, admire the serenity of the ducks paddling through the lilies, then accept I cannot change the fact that a couple of miles of climbing, on road then rocky track, lies between Stanage Edge and I. Strangely, I make up a few places here, my ability to sustain an uphill plod serving me well, gain CP11 and then shuffle-run along Stanage Edge to Burbage Bridge, the sun now out and the views superlative, miles of purple heather to the left and lush valley to the right. CP12 at the roadside sees us fed again, though I’m really not hungry by now, and we descend steadily to Toad’s Mouth, 2 miles of largely downhill easy running…or would be if my left foot were not now hurting with every step. CPs 13, 14 and 15 feature no big climbs, some pretty woodland and Burbage Brook, which is this afternoon rammed with children paddling, fishing and enjoying themselves. How dare they, when some of us are suffering? Some even have snacks they appear to relish eating, rather than 5 uneaten pork pies they cannot face but must carry.

1430hrs. CP15 reached, a lot of water and 4 peanuts forced down and the rest shoved into a pocket. From here, I know I’ve got about 6 miles, an hour, one big, but steady climb and, in the immediate future, one short road climb to go. I and two others who appear also a bit on the tired side climb to the farm track, descend into the woods and then walk-run through terrain that seems more uneven than the map suggests to CP16, at a brook I refill my water bottle from. We then climb slowly to Abney hamlet, take a right up an interminably-long track (the map says only 3/4m, but it feels worse) and then skirt another quarry before dropping down through gorse and mud into Bradwell, for a final half-mile trot along the road. Our threesome has split by now, after all checking that we’re fine, and I come in last of the three after another involuntary trip down the hillside on my bottom.

1545hrs. It is done. Hot brews and soup. Flapjack that takes 15 minutes a square to eat as my mouth does not have sufficient moisture to masticate adequately. Lying on my back in the warm grass, the moist soil fragrant. A walk back to the station and half an hour sat waiting in the sun, finally able to eat again, content, knowing it is all done and that, hurting feet and all, it has been a run to remember. And I might have, despite all good intentions, actually raced the thing. Maybe a little.

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Chevy Chase, Wooler, Saturday, July 1, 2017

BL / 32.2km / 1219m (20 miles, 2 hills and a smattering of bog)

Joan Hanson …

The thing about entering an event months in advance is you can have that hazy positive belief that in x months time you will be bounding effortlessly over the afore mentioned 20 mile course, laughing in the face of some decidedly sucky and squelchy stuff underfoot and hardly noticing the however many thousands of feet of ascent and descent the said 2 hills (Cheviot and Hedgehope) will entail. And you will have the most enjoyable, relaxing day of running possible…. As I said a hazy and possibly rose tinted vision.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks before the event and the realization that you aren’t quite as fit as you had envisaged being and that this year they have removed the walkers option so you have 6 hours to complete it in. Hmmm.

And then the horror on the morning of the event when your companion for the journey (Dougie who has done this before) casually mentions the phrase ‘cut –offs’ for each checkpoint and that they seem a little on the tight side for the first half of the race.
I have felt in more positive frames of mind.

photo courtesy and © Gary Dunlop

But at least it has stopped raining and the summits are cloud free so navigation involving maps and compass will not be needed- and you can see exactly how far away those hills you are aiming for are away. Everyone is very friendly, kit checks are passed and before long we were off, Susan disappearing off into the horizon not to be seen again until the finish. Dougie and I leapfrogging for a fair part of the race, he faster on the steeper downhilly bits, me making up time going up. Both agreeing that the second half which on paper should have been the easy bit was anything but, I needed to dig really deep at several points to maintain forward momentum, at one point wondering why they put Wooler so far away.

We all made it back well within the cut offs- interestingly none of us exclaiming what an easy and enjoyable run we have just had but able to reflect on a real sense of achievement (and in my case relief) that it was done.

The Chevy Chase is a great and brilliantly organized event. The route takes in some beautiful and wild terrain, this year we enjoyed expansive views when we could lift our eyes from where we were putting our feet.

I’m glad I did it, the Cheviot’s are a beautiful part of the world and not that far away- definitely worthy of closer exploration –but possibly at a slightly more relaxed pace.

… Dougie Nisbet …

I’d done that bloke sulky pouty thing when Roberta had insisted on me packing some sunscreen. But as I nudged up with Susan and Joan outside race HQ and passed the sunscreen round (on the left hand side) there were lots of Dad comments about getting it behind straps, knees, ears and neck. Still, past-its-sell-by factor 30 wasn’t really going to cut it on Cheviot and Hedgehope in July and I was a bit crisp when I finished later in the day.

I could’ve pretty much written the script for the first half of the race. Joan’s shrewd choice of carrying walking poles had attracted the occasional derisory comment but they’d pretty much dried up as she climbed strongly to Cheviot with me using her as a useful point of purple to focus on as she receded ever further into the vanishing point.

After Cheviot and a revelation. You need to hang left, immediately. When I last did this in 2013 I carried on (zoned out following a walker to Scotland) and turned left too late and missed the trod that took a neat line towards Hedgehope on the other side of the valley. I caught Joan on the descent, pausing to shout “is that you falling on your arse again Hanson!”, before passing her and showing her how to do it properly.

photo courtesy and © Gary Dunlop

Everyone was now pretty much a walking washing powder commercial in the making and as we climbed towards Hedgehope I was unsurprised to have Joan back on my shoulder again. And so it continued for the next few checkpoints until CP6 – Brands Corner – we both paused for a drink and check in. The climbing was mostly over and there was a lot of running left now to the finish. I was looking forward to making up some ground in these last few miles.

“Sling your hook Joan, I’ll catch you up”, I said, when it was clear Joan wanted to press on. And so she did. And, I did catch her up, so to speak, after I’d crossed the finish line and she’d brought me over a cup of tea. I had a tough last few miles on what should be a lovely part of the course – the stretch up North West from Carey Burn Bridge is gorgeous, but I was far too busy feeling sorry for myself to pay much attention to the sunny scenery. Susan had a good decisively sub-5 finish, with Joan in around 5:16, then me in around 10 minutes later.

I’ve often said, to anyone who’ll listen, that the Chevy Chase at 20 miles, is twice as hard as the Durham Dales Challenge, at 32 miles. This was the first year the race has dropped the walking race and the cut-offs might need tweaking in the years ahead, but whatever the cutoffs it’s always going to be a tough 20 miles.


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Gisborough Moors, Monday, April 17, 2017

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. King/Queen of the Mountain Race - click flag for more information. BL / 20km / 850m


1558John ButtersNFR87.08M40/1/50/50
45209Sally HoughtonRipon Runners113.00F50/1/50/50
81100Jason HardingElvet Striders97.02M45/2/48/89
31425Philip RayElvet Striders106.35MO/8/41/41
321034Jack LeeElvet Striders107.25MO/9/40/59
108126Nina MasonElvet Striders135.40F40/2/48/48
1131039Emil MäättäElvet Striders139.09MO/26/23/24
121276Jan YoungElvet Striders143.59F60/2/48/144
135212Camilla Lauren-MäättäElvet Striders158.54F50/4/45/45

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Wadsworth Trog, Hebden Bridge, Saturday, February 6, 2016

BL / 20m / 4003ft

Tom Reeves and Scott Watson

Tom Reeves …

Paul - Oxenhope Moor (50th in 3:37:13)This is a fell race that Chairman Paul has talked about on a number of occasions so I figured it was about time I checked it out. I must admit to being a bit apprehensive as the description of this race sounded quite dramatic and 19 miles is still quite a long way for me certainly in terms of racing, but I need to step up the miles so why not?

The Trog is hosted by Calder Valley Fell Runners and starts and finishes in Hebden Bridge. This meant an early start and a 2.5 hour drive. It’s therefore useful to make sure your fellow passengers are good company….unfortunately I was stuck with Paul and Scott (only kidding). We put the world to rights on the journey there and back and ran a 19 mile fell race in between. We registered in the Cricket Pavilion at Hebden Bridge which was warm and dry and nothing like the weather outside which was wet and fairly cold. Everyone I chatted with at the registration warned me it would be muddy on the course and boy were they correct! The course itself is pretty undulating but actually quite runable for most of its length. It’s a figure of 8 with checkpoint 1 also doubling up as checkpoint 11.

The race started at 10 and myself and Scott got into a nice steady jog run on the uphill start. Paul said bye and that was the last we saw of him! Scott and I ran together as far as checkpoint 2 which was along side the Reservoir then on the really boggy stuff Scott pulled away. I managed to land in a bog and sank up to my knees. Some other runner helped me out and I struggled along never quite getting into a good running rhythm to checkpoint 5 with Scott around 200 metres ahead. The rain was fairly constant as was the mud! I was running in my waterproof jacket and hat all the way and never overheated. It was chilly.Tom - Oxenhope Moor (69th in 3:53:08)

We finally got off the fellside for a while and onto some decent track around about checkpoint 6 and to my surprise I caught Scott up. Maybe I should go back to the roads? We ran together for the rest of the race. We also got into a good rhythm and managed to overtake quite a few runners in the small loop from checkpoint 11 to the finish. It was nice to hit checkpoint 11 and I think we could both sense the finish 4 miles away so that certainly gave me a boost and I quite enjoyed the last bits over the hills.

The finish back to the pavilion was uphill and required a heads down plod and did feel a bit strange to be nigh on walking to the finish line. We did manage a jog round the cricket pitch and Scott let me cross the line first, he’s a gent.

We met Paul back in the changing rooms washed and dressed with a sore ankle after turning it again. We had soup, tea and cake and clapped the winners before getting into the car and heading home.

I think it’s worth a run if you fancy something a wee bit more demanding than our local fell races as it certainly felt like a step up in terms of terrain and severity. It would be a good intro to longer fell races before heading to the lakes district for the big ones.

As for the copious amounts of mud? well I think Scott put it quite succinctly when he noted Wadsworth Trog? more like Wadsworth Bog!!

… Scott Watson

Scott - Oxenhope Moor (70th in 3:53:09)

Following on from Tom’s account above here are a few of my observations about the race: Firstly it was ‘grim’ and that’s not a word I use lightly when talking about the upland countryside we’re lucky enough to be blessed with in this part of the world. It was cold and made colder still by a constant blustery wind driving the rain before it from start to finish. There was mud and

bog of every depth, at every angle and of every sucking, sliding variety together with long stretches of heather that ripped unkindly at the legs of those of us who were hardy enough to wear shorts (Paul and Tom – not me).

It had been a long drive to get there after rising a 5.30am for what turned out to be nigh on four hours of self inflicted punishment but when all comes to all I wouldn’t have missed it. The company was excellent and the race made more interesting by being able to share it with Tom without having to compromise (or overly extend) my effort. Paul had to do his own thing because that’s what you get for being so much faster!

I’d made what I thought was a rather lovely map of the route that held up well in the wet conditions with the exception of a couple of points where the rain started to smudge the ink because I’d cropped the covering material too close to the edge. Although it’s required kit, you don’t really need one ‘cos when you aren’t at least up to your ankles in slime then you’re often on a fairly good trail which means that you can be pretty sure of where you’re going. It’s well marshalled (well done to CVFR) so if you do feel that you need to navigate you’re going to be a long way behind! However, for new races – particularly if they are long and demanding – I usually have one to hand so that I can gauge my effort, plus the discipline of staying in contact with the map gives me something to focus on other than my own discomfort.

Talking about marshalling I pitied the poor guys and girls who had to put up with the ‘gentleman’ (and I’m ashamed to say I think he was a geordie) who was quite literally screaming abuse at them because he was being held up at a road crossing. You could hear him from a hundred metres away through the mist. I’ve never heard anything like it. I’d have had the authorities check him out because nobody can be that angry without it spilling over into other areas – nasty man.

Not sure that I should be giving it away (though it’s there on the map for anyone that wants to look) but the finish on this one is set up as a bit of a ‘sickener’. After running a long way down towards Hebden Bridge in the valley bottom (incidentally there is a nice view across the valley, of Heptonstall church where, Paul informed me, the poet Sylvia Plath is buried) the course turns steeply uphill over more fields. However, it was so muddy this year that the gains to be made from running were simply not enough to justify the effort in my opinion, so it was somewhat bizarre to find ourselves walking towards the finish where normally you’re trying to prevent yourself from throwing up or having a cardiac arrest!

After having been made to trail round a waterlogged cricket pitch (one of the very few flat bits of the race) it was nice to be able to get a shower followed by tea/coffee and very nice selection of cake plus soup (of no specific flavour as far as I could tell) and a bun – all for the ridiculous sum of £8.00 (proof that it’s still not actually necessary to spend half a month’s salary if you want to give yourself a bit of a challenge). A good day was very definitely had by all and we still managed to get back for the second half of the rugby!

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Chevy Chase, Wooler, Friday, July 3, 2015

BL / 20M / 4,000'

Camilla Laurén-Määttä

Here's one that Camilla took earlier - on the recce Chevy Chase, a classic fell race open to runners and walkers, has been organised by Wooler Running Club since 1956. This popular race fills up quickly, so I had entered the race in February (so tempting to enter summery races that time of year and so easy to lose count of how many you enter). It is also one of those races where you get cake at the end, always an added bonus. I had arrived early, so had a quick chat with fellow Striders Maggie and Christine before they started their walk 1 h before the runners. Unusually, I was the only Strider running the event this time, so I chatted to unaffiliated runners Liz and Mark whilst waiting. Apparently, many runners had pulled out of the race last minute due to the weather, so Mark had managed to get a last minute place by turning up on the day.

It was still pouring down when we lined up in Ramsay Lane and were told there was a slight possibility that the route may get diverted from the hills later in the event of a thunderstorm. I knew that the first half of the race was going to be the toughest, as we would climb both the Cheviot (815 m) and Hedgehope Hill (714 m) so I took it easy to conserve my energy for later. After the first check point at Broadstruther there was a steady climb over boggy ground, gradually steepening after the Cheviot Knee. The mist was creeping in, so I made sure to stay close behind a lady in a bright yellow top and stripy socks as I couldn’t see very far in front of me.

After a rather long climb and a short flattish run along a flagstoned path I arrived at the Cheviot summit. At this point I hauled out my compass to take the bearings to Hedgehope Hill, as there was no chance of spotting the hill from this distance in the mist. I followed a few runners over a stile and down a steep bank (no footpath at this point). The runners in front of me seemed confident about where they were going so I decided to follow them rather than the compass. However, I soon realised that they didn’t have a clue of the best route, so we all changed direction together following my compass bearing. We would need to cross Harthope Burn at a suitable place but after some additional trotting found a gentle slope and a narrow crossing point only getting slightly wet feet. I was relieved to see some walkers in front of me, so we couldn’t have gone too far off the right track. I was happy to see that they were Maggie and Christine power walking up the hill with great stamina. At last, I could also see the fence that led up to the hill summit.

As I descended down Hedgehope Hill all the fog had lifted and I could see green fields covered by fluffy cotton grass and further away Housey and Long Crags, meaning that Longlea Crag must be hidden behind them. Nearby a group of runners were carrying a lady with a twisted ankle, but they all seemed in good mood. It was getting hotter and I wished I had taken some sun cream with me, but at least I carried plenty of water (and there were often jelly babies on offer at the check points). The last half of the race was a complete contrast to the first; I was running in glorious sunshine through Harthope Valley, past Brands Corner and along Carey Burn to the suitably named Hell Path. My legs were rather knackered after the hills and started to cramp up during the last mile to the Youth Hostel. It was a relief to arrive at the finish and receive a rucksack and water bottle (apparently Liz, the lady I met at the start, had received a spot prize in her rucksack consisting of a large pair of pink pants – the latest alternative to t shirts and wine bottles?).

Overall, this was definitely one of the toughest races I’ve done due to the terrain (good contender this year to Allendale Challenge in terms of bogginess), but my memory is short so I’ll probably be back for more at some point. Also, next year is the 60th anniversary of Chevy Chase so not a bad choice for the 2016 racing calendar..

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Alwinton Fell Race, Rothbury, Northumberland, Saturday, June 6, 2015

BL /22 km/884 m

Scott Watson

Day one of my Paul Evans-inspired ‘big weekend’ saw me heading to Alwinton, a tiny little village tucked neatly under the chin of the Cheviot – to the left of Rothbury and up a bit. I’d done this race once before, but long enough ago to have forgotten almost everything about it – including how hard it was. Basically it’s a 14-mile partial circuit of Kidland Forest that looks like a half-eaten stick of candy floss on the map. The climbing starts straight out of the gate and is almost continuous to its high point, approximately half way around at Cushat Law (616 m) just to get you thinking that it’s all downhill to the finish – which of course it isn’t.

Weather-wise, the most significant feature on the day was undoubtedly the WIND! Banks of cloud were being intermittently blown over thanks to a howling south-westerly gale. Although the temperature in this remote valley was comfortable, on the tops in the wind it was pretty cold and the organisers had warned that full body cover would need to be carried and possibly worn.

So it was that everyone gathered on the start line, all 29 of us, with me the only Strider in the smallest field I’d been part of for many years (although the quality at the sharp end was as high as ever). Off we went and it was straight uphill which was to be the theme for the first half of the race. I felt pretty good and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was staying in touch with Karen Robertson from NFR who I’ve rarely been anywhere near and so, careful not to overcook it, I just sat in and hoped. When the gradient got steeper I seemed to close the gap to Karen but couldn’t see the point in overtaking because she just ran away from me where it levelled off or went, all too briefly, downhill.

The game continued when we hit the first bit of forest track about half-way up but by the time we turned onto the fell on the flank of Yarnspath Law I had taken a slightly nervous lead. It stayed this way as we descended the panoramic slope towards the climb of Bloodybush Edge where, without a map, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going. On the climb we realised that we needed to be on the other side of the fence so I attempted to quickly squeeze between two parallel strands of wire which I’m sure I would have achieved expertly had I taken into consideration that I was wearing a bumbag. After thrashing around aimlessly for a bit, during which time another NFR runner passed me, I eventually managed to extricate myself.

By this time both NFR runners were well in front and my hopes that I might catch them were quickly dashed although I managed to stay in respectful contact with Karen who appeared to be flowing well over ground that had become wet and horribly haggy and which was only made worse by the howling gale that constantly broke your rhythm and threatened to send you flying sideways. At one stage I looked up from the point that I had become fixated on, about 5 metres ahead, just in time to avoid a ‘head on’ with a black Labrador that was no more in charge of its direction than I was.

The climb to Cushat Law was not pleasant: the going was very heavy and it was a constant battle with the wind to keep moving. The ground beneath your feet was all over the place and you were forced to make a judgement at almost every step – ‘do I try to jump this or is that bit in the middle more solid than the rest of it looks?’ ‘Oops, too late, I’m in it up to me knee – oh, and I’m in that one as well!’ The relief at finally reaching the checkpoint at the top was miserably short lived however. It took me two goes to cross the stile in the teeth of that hurricane and once over, the descent was immediate, steep and long, back into what would have been the forest had it not been cleared to leave just the nasty sharp bits that makes running through it so ‘character forming’.

On the few occasions that I could clear the tears in my eyes (caused by the wind, not my emotions) I could see that there was no-one else in sight (and I could see for a long way). The descent was literally a blur and how I got down without chinning myself I have no idea, but with the wind now blowing me backwards towards the slope, it was helping me to stay upright even if I did feel like a skydiver in one of those wind tunnel whatnots.

With some relief I came to another forest track which, after a short while, continued to descend very steeply. My knees are not what they used to be and were taking a bit of a battering and to be honest I was praying for the climb that I knew was coming. But that was a long way off and it was a lonely run through what used to be a thickly wooded coniferous forest and which for now looked like it had just been given a ‘number one’. As the descent eventually began to ease I took the opportunity to look back (not something I do very often) but the track was devoid of human presence; I seemed to be very much on my own. Were it not for the occasional, encouraging bit of tape I would have been having my doubts.

I was surprised that I actually felt in pretty decent nick (knees not withstanding) and was thinking that maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough on the outrun, when I saw the car and the figures on the side of the track ahead, pointing to the left, indicating the final climb. I knew that it was only a couple of kilometres to go now. Glancing upwards I could see Karen more or less where I expected her to be on what is a long, but fairly constant transverse climb up the massive spur that separated me from my final objective. I chanced another quick look behind but all was clear so up I went with the pressure now off, content to focus on enjoying myself for this last bit.

And that’s exactly what I did: in fact I was enjoying myself so much that on the final fast and rocky descent I flung myself headfirst down the trail, aware, in a detached sort of way, that the rock my hands and body were now being battered on had been spewed from an extinct volcano millions of years ago – which makes this part of the country so interesting, geologically speaking. Actually, it flipping well hurt but at least I managed to keep rolling and I was quickly back on my feet and making progress again, thinking that I really needed to pull the flapping piece of skin off the palm of my hand now or it was going to hurt if I left it till after.

Soon I arrived at a very low key finish, where I was pleased to find myself in 12th place although relatively in the same part of the field that I would usually occupy. The intention had been to run this conservatively bearing in mind that a much longer effort awaited me tomorrow but that plan was, almost like me, blown away in the wind.

Later, at the presentation in the pleasantly comfortable Rose and Thistle pub it turned out that this year was to be the organiser’s final year at the helm and that the race in future years might change slightly in character. In order to avoid having to use so much forest track, it seems that it might be slightly longer. Admittedly there was a bit too much track for my tastes but to be honest after the fell in that wind it was a relief to get back on to it!

The excess of forest track apart, there is nothing to dislike about this race: parking was excellent, the drive up and down was beautiful and the venue including the race HQ was everything you would want from a fell race including decent beer. Definitely one worth supporting! Anyone know a good masseur to get me ready for The Yomp tomorrow?…

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Long Tour of Bradwell, Peak District, Saturday, August 9, 2014

BL / 33m / 6500'

Paul Evans

For the third year in a row, I stood in the centre of a small Peak District village, looked around at the crowd of lean runners in ultra-light racing kit and thought deeply pessimistic thoughts. The sun was already out and the day was going to be long. I wasn’t even sure why I was here, other than that I had a gap between shifts that seemed ideal for it: the first time I ran it was simply to see if I could manage an ultra whilst I still had both legs, the second to relish still having them after completing my final tour and this one? It was there, I suppose, and now we were amassed and someone was wielding an airhorn…

The first mile was easy and slow trough an overhung lane by the enormous cement works, deliberately placing myself mid-pack to get dragged along at a gentle pace to the bottom of the first climb, where the track widened. The climb went well, the descent of Cave Dale was as dreadful as ever and the long drags up to Hollins Cross and then from Edale up Kinder were taken at a steady pace, a mixture of walking and running helping me gain a few places. Ominously, navigation to the Druid’s Stone control was made easy by the lack of cloud, the sun having burned this away, and a hard, fast descent off Kinder led into a pull up Lose Hill, where the runners I was chasing were lost amongst the Half Tour runners we joined, on which I started to feel the heat, developing a thirst despite having taken on water and squash at both opportunities so far.

Once the Lose Hill trig has been touched, just after control 6 (of 16), the biggest climbs are over and the descent to control 7 is fast and grassy, with the knowledge that shade awaits for much of the run around Win Hill and the edge of Ladybower. This is a relatively easy section, not unlike an Esk Valley race in feel, and it seemed to pass quickly, broken only by another stop for water and banana at control 9, where I was told that at halfway I’d taken just over three hours. Anoter easy mile took us down to Bamford, by which point I realised that I was now part of a group that was likely to stay fairly close for a while. Electricity works meant that the dreaded ‘escalator’ track was out of use and we were instead forced to use a longer, though less severe, climb up a wooded lane to the road below Stanage Edge – this would have been better had the five of us not collectively mis-read which road junction we emerged at, costing us another half mile before we realised our error and hit the track for the edge itself.

As a runner, I’m beginning to understand my strengths relative to others, as well as my weaknesses, and I ran the 2 miles along the gritstone edge hard, knowing that there were now 6 or 7 runners not far behind, most of whom were probably better descenders than me and so needed to be shaken. Two were dropped, not to be seen again, and the splits show that I ran the third fastest time of the day for the leg, a pace maintained after water and food at control 12 down the stony track to Burbage Bridge, where due to the growing thirst I gave in and took my first drink of the day from a stream; delicious and probably not too riddled with pathogens. Another short, flat section took us along the stream past crowds of walkers and children playing with their dogs in the shallow water, which was utterly delightful, though we broke away from the path to cut through bracken-filled millstone quarries and thick woods showing the effects of a hot, damp summer, the path barely visible at times. Control 14 punched, the descent down to the railway line achieved without making the same error as last year and it was now a slog to the control 15 along the riverside path, a final banana and a long climb through the lush Abney Clough, control 16 and another refill of water from a stream along the way, to the bare hillside overlooking Bradwell. By this point I’d hauled myself into 10th, albeit without realising it, and knew that breaking 6 hours was still possible, so took the downhill as recklessly as I could force myself to, losing only two places before hitting the tarmac of the last kilometre to the finish…which was lovely – soft, warm grass to flop on, as much soup, bread, squash and tea as borderline ischaemic GI tracts could handle and all the early finishers sitting by the finish line, applauding in every new arrival, including interruptions to the prize-giving to do so. A fourth year probably beckons but, worryingly, minutes after finishing it occurred to me that I could probably have gone on a little longer, the word ‘addiction’ beginning to answer the question posed five hours and fifty five minutes earlier.

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Chevy Chase, Wooler, Saturday, July 5, 2014

BL / 20M / 4,000'

Matt Claydon

As Aaron explained in last years report ones experience of this race can vary hugely depending on the weather conditions. This year my experience varied hugely all in the same race. Even before the start I felt a certain amount of trepidation having never run a proper fell race and having had limited training as I returned from best part of a year out. This was compounded by the requirement to run with full survival kit including waterproofs, fleece, food, water, map, compass, whistle, flaregun, crampons and a St Bernard. Oh and it’s 20 miles up and down mountains. Well very big hills. Driving up to Wooler through rain and mist did not give me any cheer, although I knew the course had been shortened in recent years when the weather was bad and I admit a repeat of this would not have upset me. Arriving at HQ it was optimistically reported that the mist would clear, which was good as at the time I couldn’t see Cheviot to navigate to.

The distance can be walked or run with the walkers heading off an hour earlier. It was a friendly hustle and bustle at the start where I arrived in time to see some friends off on the walk. An hour later I still felt a little nervous as it was our turn. I ran with a friend who turned up at the start with shoelaces untied and backpack spilling over. I at least felt organised if daunted. I had been a little surprised to see no other Striders at the start, a rare occurrence these days, so was pleased to have some company.

Going over the edge ...

Steady away for the first hour of undulating tracks I began to feel comfortable, even a bit cocky. As we approached the bottom of Cheviot I decided a sub 4 hours was potentially possible and I upped my game. The heavens opened as I tore (trotted) past some of the slower runners and straggling walkers. I caught my walking friends just before the summit fulfilling my threat from the pub the night before ( I left after a nursed pint, they stayed til 1 and hit the shots).

I lost my shoe in the deep peat bogs at the top and spent some unpleasant time retrieving it before charging (sliding) down the other side. This appeared to be an technique underused by the runners around me that I found quite successful. At least you get a rest. As I climbed Hedgehope (nearly as high as Cheviot) the clouds began to clear and I arrived at the summit knackered but dry. I had intended to stop for a rest here, but still optimistic for a good time I took a quick snap of the target in front, framed by a simply stunning panorama, and pushed on.

This is the halfway point, which if you think about too hard is quite unsettling. Luckily I have a talent for not thinking too hard about things and my confidence was growing. All downhill from here! There remains a lot of uphill for downhill, like an impossible scenic Esher print. The temperature steadily rose and stints along rabbit tracks, through gorse bushes and across bogs and rocky outcrops took there toll. A stretch along wooded riverside was stifling and I began to rapidly fade. This was around the 15mile mark, and every footfall required attention. As I (briefly) overtook the lass in front I saw her face was covered in blood. A hardy local type, she explained she had cut her lip falling on a rock. Fair play to her, she won a trophy later.

From here it was walk, jog, walk, jog back to Wooler. I did manage to pick off a few that could by now only manage the walk bit. A sprint (crawl) finish for the camera’s brought me home in 66th place sneaking under 4 hrs 30. I’ll definitely take it. Never ever again I thought. This is a blinking hard race, the hills which one assumes to be the hardest bit are actually relatively straightforward as long as you don’t try to run up them. It’s the long drag home you need to be prepared for. After 6 cakes and a coffee my friends trickled in and we enjoyed a pint in a sunlit beergarden down the way. By the end of the beer we had all agreed it was the hardest thing we had done, and that we would all be back next year.

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