After the London Marathon, I had planned to try and use my new found level of fitness to achieve a sub-40 10k. One failed attempt, a second attempt thwarted by Father’s day, and I decided to shelve this dream for a short while as I was getting too negative about it all.
So when Fiona mentioned the Saltwell fell race on Tuesday morning, it caught my eye. A quick online search told me this was only 5.5 miles and was partially marked – that sold it. A quick check to make sure I wasn’t going to be the only Strider there, and the decision was made – my first fell race! No PB chasing and no clock watching.
With the nice weather, it seemed unlikely we’d need full kit, but I wasn’t taking any chances and quickly treated myself to a whistle, a compass I can’t use and some taped seam trousers on the afternoon. Now I have the kit, I’ll have to do a bad weather race to get my money’s worth!
The race start was located a couple of miles north of Stanhope. Race HQ was the back of someone’s car parked by the side of the road, with parking also scattered along the road. A flag marked the race start. Very low key.
As soon as I parked I realised that, in my effort to pack a full FRA kit, I had forgotten my inhaler…. Whilst I can manage as long slow run without, exercise is the main trigger for my asthma, so without this, it was going to be a slow jog over the fells. I decided to randomly ask total strangers if they had an inhaler but had resigned myself to just enjoying a gentle run out on a summer evening.
Having found Nina, Robin, Nigel and Simon at the start, we were ready to go. Well almost, a request from the race director for an inhaler came up with a result, so 2 quick puffs and we were off!
I had no real idea what to expect so was happy just to settle into pace with those around me at first. After a very short section of path, the race heads uphill, through heather and bracken. There was a small (very small) gap to follow and I just slotted in at a very comfortable pace, not wanting to waste energy at this point traipsing over the foliage. As we got higher, there started to be some slightly sparser areas of foliage (is there an official fell term for this???!), so I started to take the opportunities to move up a few places at a time. Eventually we joined a gravel path again for a short time, reaching the top of the hill. By this point I suspected I might be first female, and if not, then not far off. But was well aware I may have just gone out too fast and had no idea what I was doing or where I was going…
We headed back on ourselves with a long mainly downhill section, but we were back on rough ground. Constantly watching for the best path through, I’d hooked onto the back of a very similarly paced runner and was happy to let him help guide me through. Both taken by surprise with the first bog, not helped by running into the sunshine. He lost one leg into the bog, I lost both above the knees and was pretty concerned about my trainers, but managed to get out with both still on my feet. Off we went.
Second fall was a km or so further on, when a sudden dip in the ground sent me flying forwards with a bit of a thump into the heather. Slightly winded (and with a quick check around to see if anyone had noticed) I got going again and gradually built my pace up again.
Plain sailing until we approached the stream and the ground just seemed to drop away. As I gingerly picked my way down, I was overtaken by Dawn Metcalfe of Durham Fell Runners, who was taking a very much more confident approach to the descent. Then it was into the stream – no we didn’t need to cross it, just go in to the far side, clip our numbers, then back out the same side. Took this crossing a little too fast and fell again, up to my chest in water, but actually quite welcome at this point in the race. Sadly fell right at the feet of the same guy from the bog who by now was probably wondering what I was doing…
There was a bit of a climb back up and then, essentially, it followed the river line. However, I got back in front of Dawn and the river fall man, and started heading up and left further than we needed. Another runner whistled us back down. I had a few random “I don’t know where I’m going” moments (out loud – same man still in earshot, presumably shaking his head around this point), torn between pushing ahead, or holding back and tagging along. Dawn actually took a higher line and in retrospect this worked better, as she got back in front of me.
We dipped back down to the river and then it was a climb and a half back up towards the finish. This was a walk-run in places, and Dawn was still well within reach. She went for a more even pace, and each time I ran, I caught up a little more. Never did quite get there though and had to settle for second place in the end. Still, more than happy with that for my first fell race. And it was just what I needed! I might have to do another one now. And learn how to use that compass. And run down really steep hills without fear for my life.
I’ve had a gentle few months in terms of training, an injury picked up in early November, not helped by a fall in the Wooler Marathon (two months later, the bruising is still there and hurting!). Cross-country proved doable, but running in, or walking in the fells was impossible for a few months, as I could go up fine – but not down!
After a rather sedentary week in Somerset for Christmas, and a number of get-togethers and office parties in the weeks before, the short and not horrendously steep Guisborough Woods race was a good way to get back into fell races, if not actually onto the top of any fells. It is a course of 3 laps around the quarry in Guisborough woods, each lap with around 130m of climb and descent – so after the first, you know exactly what you have to do again, and again… In terms of distance, it is close to cross-country, but requires rather more effort – a worthwhile training exercise for both the up and downhills! It might not be the most scenic of fell races – it’s not a bad view, you just see the same one three times – but is a marked, marshalled course with no exposed summits or kit requirements (on the day I did it – in bad weather this would likely change!) so a good options for anyone off work and looking for something to do between Christmas and New Year (there are junior races too). The lapped course may not be the most exciting, but it does mean that no runner is ever far from the start or help if needed. A bumper turnout of around 200 runners showed lots had this idea!
My time off and reduced training definitely showed, I was significantly slower and in more discomfort in the climbs than usual, but made it round all the same being beaten by sometime Strider Danny Lim – that hasn’t happened before! Well done Danny, I’ll need to work harder next time… At least the weather was kind and sunny, and my knee didn’t show any signs of pain on the descent, which meant I was able to claw back some time and places careering down through the mud, nearly taking out a poor man from DFR on one lap (running down steep mud is easy – stopping quickly is not!). Not long after I finished, Mike Bennett ran in, soon followed by Nina, arms out and clearly enjoying flying down the hill for a final time. We lined up along the finish to cheer Jan in, the final of our ladies team (we came 3rd!) as she let us all know that she had managed to stay on her feet this time, no broken bones!
A trundle back to base at the Rugby Club for the prize giving – including winter series winners from last year, the year before, top 3 male and female finishers in this years race, veteran finishers, junior prizes – I kept asking Nina what the current prize was for, eventually we both lost count – Esk Valley are very generous with their prizes! A final shout of ‘anyone who hasn’t got a prize, and thinks they should have – come and see me!’ and time to go home and wash the mud (and in Nina’s case – blood) off our legs and rest up ready for the Captain Cooks NYD race.
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.
After two consecutive DNS’s for varying strains and splutters, I was becoming restless and fearful that my racing pants would ne’er be soiled again. I chanced upon this fell race via a rather delightful little flyer, described as a ‘lovely route in rural Tynedale’, I scraped the Harrier League muck off my fell shoes, and trundled over after work .
Blue skies awaited me and I was greeted into the school, superb organisation saw signs direct me to my destination, which appeased any anxieties about finding the place. I changed into my kit as the school yard slowly filled, before signing a short form and handing over £6 in exchange for a number AND safety pins. There was a ten minute walk to the start line (field) again well marked and I trotted along with a couple other runners. Being rather early I started a few effortless drills up and down the starting hill, before cheering on the juniors, a great sight to see and some fantastic efforts shown on their little faces.
The starting pen (corner of field, behind the cow muck/nettles) started to fill up, as I glanced at vests emblazoned with words such as ‘Keswick’, my dreams of a podium finish were dashed (apparently they have good hills to play on). Brief instructions from the race director (“duck under barbed wire, don’t get run over, don’t break your ankle”) a blow on the whistle and we were off, upwards being the direction. We began the climb up and around the hill and into the woods, continuously climbing in single file, with respite coming by form of kissing gates and stiles.
Due to a recent chest plague I was wary not to kill myself going up, so I held back a little to set the scene and figure out the probabilities of me dropping down dead (fair to middling). Still we climbed, forever upwards, however my legs felt strong and I kept my position. The field had spread out rapidly, and by the time we reached the open fells there was a fair gap betwixt runners. As I steadily climbed, and realised I was likely to see my family again, I decided to press on. There was a Tynedale lass about 50 m ahead, she would be my first target, and I changed up a gear and overtook just as we neared the highest point.
It’s up here we get our numbers crossed with red felt tip from the race directors mother, and begin our descent. Guided only by small markers I spied one runner ahead, a civilian not belonging to a club. With around 2 miles to go I now wanted to race, and somewhat regretted taking it easy in the early stages. I began hurtling myself through the overgrown fells, unsure where my feet were landing, with the occasional bog adding a refreshing surprise. The civilian began nervously descending, and politely stepped aside as I put on my best ‘I know what I’m doing’ face and sprinted past him, arms flailing like an octopus in a tank top.
As we looped back toward the woods, I glanced back and noticed a pack had given chase, amongst them lads from Elswick and Morpeth, we crossed stiles and began the race down the wooded single tracks, no room to overtake and I was leading the pack. Around a mile to go I was galloping over roots, winding my way down and down with exhilarating speed (I thought so anyway). No idea where I was in regards to position, but I pretty soon got my Harrier League head on, and there was no way either of these lads were passing me, it wasn’t going to happen. As we were spat out of the woods, into the open and onto the road, my cushion-less fell shoes turned to stone as we raced toward the finish and I held off the pack as promised, to a hero’s welcome.
I finished in a time of 45.45, and 23rd out of 60. This was indeed a ‘lovely route’, and a one to look out for next year. The size of the field was small enough to remain friendly, and big enough to spread across all abilities – but I couldn’t help thinking some of our faster lads and lasses should get over there to race some fantastic runners and push themselves on the fells, maybe Keswick will be the ones shaking at the start.
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.
After a tough day I was delighted that childcare and work allowed me to escape to try out this little fell race. There is nothing better to clear the mind than a run in our beautiful countryside and the fact that the race had been described as a “little brute of a race” made it sounds like a great challenge.
Whilst some of our speedy club mates met in Newcastle for the 5 mile Bridge of the Tyne Race, a hardy group of 10 purple-vested adventurers met in a layby on a road near Stanhope to begin our Tuesday evening. As we waited for the start the wind was a touch chilly but the sun was out and after a somewhat scary briefing (“obey the rules or I will tell the FRA and you will never run a fell race again”) we were off.
The race soon warms you up as it starts with a steady climb first on track and then through the grass. Once we’d turned at the mast we ran directly into the sun which made it quite difficult to make out where your feet were going. There were plenty of boggy puddles to keep you on your toes and I was quite happy to learn from the runner in front where not to plant my feet. I have to say I felt absolutely great out there – the views were fabulous and seeing runners spreading out into the distance always gives me a buzz. My enjoyment was only slightly diminished when, whilst overtaking a DFR runner, who (I hope not realising I was there) deposited a full mouthful of spit across my face. Maybe he just couldn’t handle being ‘chicked’…
After crossing the road we continued the descent to the stream checkpoint. As ever I lost places on the descent. I was aware that at this point I was first Strider. I didn’t know where I was in the ladies’ ranking but I knew I didn’t want to drop back. So each time someone passed me I breathed a sigh of relief that it was neither a strider nor a woman! The descent becomes suddenly much steeper just before the stream and I had to resort to sliding down on my bum as running was never going to work. The bum tactic was fairly efficient and I was soon into the stream, slightly disappointed it was nothing like the wade through the Tees at Cronkley a couple of weeks ago but quite appreciative of the refreshing cold water. As I scrambled out I heard what I’d feared from the start – Graeme’s voice….it was going to be a repeat of Cronkley with him flying past me and me regretting taking the first hill too fast!
I tried to push on but the next section along the contour of the hill was quite uncomfortable. I’d turned my ankle slightly on the descent and couldn’t get into a rhythm. Unsurprisingly Graeme passed me and when we had to negotiate a tricky little downhill section I thought I’d lost him. To make matters worse I could hear a woman breathing down my neck. Now I didn’t really mind Graeme beating me but since someone had mentioned I was second lady on the downhill, I did not want to lose my place. Next up was a fairly steep uphill section and I knew this was my chance to lose her. I put my foot on the gas and passed a couple of men so I knew there was space between us. This burst of speed brought Graeme back into sight. As I levelled with him I asked how far we had to go – he warned there was a steep uphill to finish but with my hill rep training in the bag (thanks Tom) I decided I’d be fine. So on I went. The final climb was painful but with the end in sight I pushed on and was delighted to cross the line and grab my much-needed bottle of water.
As many people have said before, this really is a cracking little race and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Summer’s evening. At just £5 it’s an absolute bargain (especially as they are generous with prizes!). Anyone who is tempted to try fell racing I really recommend this one next year. You won’t regret it!
I really enjoyed my first fell race, the Roseberry Romp, which is organised by the National Trust as a fund raiser. The weather was great, course well marked and the race itself was very well organised. Being used to the pricing structure of the more high profile road races, with medal and technical t-shirt etc., the entry fee seemed a bargain at four quid (with a bit of flapjack thrown in). I was pleased to see a couple of familiar faces in the car park before the race and had a chat with Kerry Lister and Helen Allen.
I planned to use the race as a training session with some hill work. I was, I must say, completely unprepared for the demanding nature of fell running and having led the race for the first mile really struggled with the ascents. I naively thought I’d be able to ‘run’ from start to finish – something I realised wouldn’t be possible during the first climb. Once I got used to this idea and felt the pressure was off a little bit as I’d been passed by a half-a-dozen or so runners I started to relax and enjoy the experience.
I remembered from a session with Geoff that he’d told me to ‘attack’ the downhill sections so I used this to my advantage for the last mile or so. I finished the race strongly, close to 5km pace, in eighth position.
The experience was useful if only for the fact that I now have the utmost respect for fell runners. I do see fell running as an important way of complimenting my training for races on the road and will most certainly give another race a go this year.
At some point in December, following Jan and Paul’s deceptively encouraging description of this race I made the decision to tackle the Captain Cook’s fell race – what better way to bring in the New Year than with a new running challenge?
New Year’s Eve came around. I dug out my Camelback rucksack and stuffed it with three different waterproof jackets, trousers, map, compass, whistle and penknife – just in case I needed to cut my arm off. Emergency jelly babies also went in as a precaution. The FRA kit-list was a little intimidating – all this for a five mile yomp up a hill and back? Yikes.
I travelled down with Scott and Diane Watson, who were also running, and their daughter Kathryn who had come to spectate and take photographs. Once registered it was time to sort out the bag. Scott kindly (ruthlessly?) vetted the contents (out went two of the jackets, the trousers, the jelly babies and the knife…). Ready to race? You betcha.
As a GP race, fellow Striders were out in force. We had just enough time for a group photo with the wicker soldier before bunching up at the start line. Despite having read the last few years’ race reports and studying the route I really had no idea what to expect, so I simply focussed on getting round the race and set off at a steady pace.
Once out of the village and off the tarmac, the trail soon became narrow and muddy. The frost and snow from the past few days had thawed in the balmy 12 degrees and turned the trail thick with clarts the Mud Captains would have been proud of. It wasn’t long before the steady running pace turned to a walk as each step tried to claim a shoe, an ankle, a competitor.
Hidden within the depths of the woods was the steepest ascent. I craned my neck upwards to see the legs and feet of several Striders disappearing from view. Mel Hudson appeared at my side and we trudged upwards before finally breaking out of the trees to be buffeted by a strong side wind across the tops. Mel put her head down and started on ahead, towards the monument itself, which was miraculously close – I’d almost forgotten we were meant to be running! I kept close as the route turned downhill across slabs and track, picking up plenty of speed past the fir trees decorated with tinsel and baubles.
The descent steepened and deteriorated into even thicker mud, resembling the Aykley Heads XC course – but on steroids. Choose a line: through the middle, ankle deep? Jump from side to side? I tried the latter, pinballing between trees and the sides of the ruts, but these were covered in the slick mud churned up by the runners in front and far too unstable. Through the middle it was then, praying I tied my laces tight enough.
We skirted the old mines before descending on to tarmac and past the houses of Gribdale Terrace and Dikes Lane. Almost every inhabitant had come out to watch us, waving, cheering and wishing a “Happy New Year” over the garden wall. The sharp right hand bend and short, steep uphill section took me by surprise. I walked again, not recalling how much was left of the race from the map and how much energy I might need to conserve. Mark Dunseith thundered past, shouting over his shoulder I was under the hour mark and disappeared through a gate as the course headed back off-road. I followed suit, determined not to let him get too far ahead as the route took the occasional twist and turn through more woods and fields.
Suddenly I heard shouting and looked up from my detailed study of the still-clarty trail to see that a sea of multicoloured people were stood around the next corner. Was this the end? Surely not. It couldn’t be over already? I crossed the line, bewildered, into the laughing and clapping throng of far speedier Striders. What had just happened? My first fell race was conquered, and the seed of a new running curiosity was planted. That was what happened.