Category Archives: Scott Watson

Simonside Cairns, Sunday, December 10, 2017

11 miles/540 m

Scott Watson

Beautiful day for a fell race – but icy cold! So cold that I immediately regretted leaving my gloves in the bumbag as we ran up the tracks towards the fells. My fingers were absolutely numb though everything else felt perfectly OK.

As far as I can remember, this was my first fell race since my Bob Graham in July although I’ve trained on them (the fells) a couple of times. I felt really good after having two unplanned days off and just swimming yesterday (still quite a hard session though).

I started right at the back (also unplanned) as it’s a really restricted start in an alleyway and I turned up on the line later than I would have liked (last I think). However, the race very quickly reaches a road so there’s loads of opportunity to overtake without burning too many matches. If you’ve no chance of winning then starting at the back is often quite a good strategy because it makes you feel like a bit of a god, striding imperiously past mere mortals – until you hit the point where you belong.

Before then I passed Geoff Davis quietly going about his business in his own unmistakable style then further up onto the fell I passed Mark Davinson from Derwentside, so I felt that I was going quite well. In fact, I was running quite strongly up the initial slopes passing many who were already walking – and feeling much more relaxed than I’d expected.

When we hit the fells it was apparent what the theme of the race was going to be: ice! It was everywhere, often in wide sheets, very slippery and HARD! All of the water channels that typically run along and across upland paths had frozen solid in the minus temperatures and wind chill and to step on a smooth piece was always going to end in tears. I hit the deck a couple of times but with no damage other than to my pride.

My particular problem, as soon as I got onto the fells, turned out to be a basic error: I hadn’t put the all-important extra twist in my laces and both immediately came undone when the heather began tugging at them. By this time I was running competitively with a couple of guys from NFR and others and because my shoes still felt fairly secure (Inov-8 X-talon 200s – I love them) I decided to see how far I could get. If it had been boggy I’d have had to stop or I’d literally have lost them. Remarkably, whilst they certainly didn’t feel secure, neither did they feel like we were going to part company and so on I went.

By the time we got round to the back of the course and the climb over the cairns with its stunning views (which I never saw) three of us had broken away though it turns out that there was somebody behind me that was closer than I thought. I was going much better than I’d anticipated and whilst the other guys looked like they were basically faster than me I was right behind them on the climbs, still comfortably running where they were walking, although I had to continue likewise as it involved too much effort to get past in the heather. However, when we reached the tops they very gradually pulled away and that was that.

Much of the long descent to the finish is now on very good, constructed paths obviously put there to prevent further erosion to, what I remember as being, almost muddy tunnels when I last did this race. Now my quads really began to protest. It was simply lack of specific condition but it was more uncomfortable than I would have thought possible. To make matters worse I could hear this guy closing on me so it was going to be fast to the finish and bugger the quads – I’d have to find some other way of walking afterwards.

I pulled away a bit on the last major undulation where I passed a lone walker at the top of the descent of the final fell who for some reason felt the need to tell me that both shoelaces were undone. Blimey, I hadn’t realised! I was actually a bit more uncharitable than that (in my mind) but I’m sure she thought she was helping. Then, almost immediately afterwards, charging down the descent, I hit the deck again when my legs just shot from under me on unseen ice. I was back up almost immediately, shaken and stirred after uncomfortably wrenching a couple of bits and pieces. It was all the guy behind me needed to squeeze by but as we weren’t too far from the finish he must have realised he was going to have to put a shift in.

Personally, unless I was absolutely sure of the situation, I’d have waited until the last descent and raced to the narrow bridge over the river because there’s not much opportunity to pass after that and so you can shorten the race by a hundred metres or so. As so often happens though, once he’d come past it was relatively easy to sit in but I couldn’t help passing him on the last short climb. So I just thought, “get it all out and see what happens”. Nothing – was the answer. That’s the way it stayed until the bridge when the game was effectively over. I was perfectly ready to accept being pipped but was pleased to have only lost the two places after the race had begun in earnest.

Despite the vast amounts of nervous concentration required it was a really good event made all the more enjoyable by the conditions. Not sure where I came but I think I did OK and made third V50, beating the first V45 in the process (I was 13th out of 87 competitors & 3rd V50 in 1:38:51)! Came away smelling of Roses (the Cadbury’s variety).

1Matthew Seddon
M Sen1.24.00
23Emma Holt
F Sen1.42.56
13Scott WatsonM 501.38.51
31Geoff DaviesM 601.45.38
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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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Cong Burn Orienteering, Waldridge Fell, Chester-le-Street, Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blue Course

Scott Watson

Ninety-six hours after a bruising encounter with a pedestrian barrier, where the winner by knockout was the barrier, I found myself in a chilly car park on Waldridge Fell near Chester-le-Street together with Joan Hanson, my chauffeuse and fellow competitor. We made a sorry couple: me nursing bruised ribs and Joan what appears to be becoming a somewhat intractable hip flexor problem.

Keen to capitalise on her Hamsterley success, Joan was figuring that at worst she could just walk around a light green course which indeed she could such is the accessible and inclusive nature of orienteering. I would normally have chosen the longest course – brown – hoping that I could keep it all together sufficiently not to embarrass myself. However, problems with the simple act of drawing breath persuaded me to opt for the blue course that was generously – at 6.3 kilometres – almost a whole kilometre shorter.

Today’s event was organised by my own club – Northern Navigators – and is held in one of the few orienteering areas that I am reasonably familiar with, in steep wooded denes and over one of the few remaining areas of lowland heath still to be found in County Durham.

I consider that I’ve done well if I finish a course out of breath because that means I’ve been running hard and have been finding controls consistently. Often it’s more like interval training where I have brief bursts of activity interspersed with minutes of stressful bashing around through bushes until by some fluke I come upon the control. I almost always have at least one ‘nightmare’ though and today’s came at the second control.

Sometimes I just need a little bit of time to ‘get into it’ and it’s difficult to say specifically why I go wrong. There are a great many factors that go to make up a successful orienteer but I seem to be lacking in quite a few. I was a good four minutes longer than the quickest competitor in my class in finding the second control and in orienteering terms that’s a lifetime. However, once I’d found it and moved on it all seemed to start flowing much more easily.

As usual it wasn’t long before I was soaked. I rarely opt to look for a bridge when crossing a watercourse and have no idea whether anyone else does. At one point I found myself up to my knees in the greenest of bogs that looked like it hadn’t been disturbed for a hundred years: I could imagine Jenny Greenteeth, on holiday from her native River Tees, stretching out a bony arm to pull me down to keep her company.

Somewhere along the way I came across Dougie who had opted for the brown course and was studying his map with great intent at the bottom of a steep woodland slope. It was here that I became locked in battle with a chap who was clearly also on the blue course. I definitely had the legs and was even a bit affronted when he rather obviously tried to pull away from me when he could have just waited and let me make a couple of little errors because his accuracy was clearly much better than mine.

But we carried on in that vein, more or less in each others’ footsteps, his slightly more efficient map reading against my physical advantage. As it continued I tried to concentrate harder on the map but it’s not easy to do whilst running through dense woodland and I didn’t see the overhanging branch that nearly put my lights out and left me with a bloody forehead.

The forest is definitely not my favoured terrain and when at last we emerged onto the moor for the last couple of controls I was able to start running with a greater sense of purpose and even set a fastest split for the last control (leaving my erstwhile foe behind). When I got back Joan had already finished and was bemoaning a couple of navigational errors that had let her down, but that’s orienteering – just when you think you’re getting somewhere it has a nasty habit (for me at least) of bringing it all crashing down and forcing you to rebuild whatever it was you think that you had.

These events are however,very friendly, cheap (£5.00) and easy to access. You don’t have to be a member of a club and the courses up to light green are pretty easy to follow along footpaths, walls, fences and stuff. It’s properly adventurous stuff too: you find yourself happily running through terrain that would make a fell race look tame!

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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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Tour of Pendle Fell Race, Barley, Lancs, Saturday, November 15, 2014

AL / 27km / 1473m

Scott Watson

Some poor guy gets roped into taking my picture outside race HQ after the race!Apologies for having my ugly mug all over this report but perhaps not unsurprisingly as I was the only Strider at this excellent fell race in deepest, darkest Lancashire. This is actually one of the few races that I’ve taken the trouble to pre-enter and was part of a gradual process of re-introducing myself to the demands of fell-racing, being the first AL event I had done for many years. Pivotal in my decision to pre-enter was the £7.00 fee which was less than half the EOD fee (£15.00) making, as far as I could see, the highly desirable t-shirt free!

On the day the main feature of the weather throughout northern England was FOG and sure enough, thick, persistent mist covered much of the event area throughout the race although the HQ in Barley itself was clear. Conditions underfoot were very boggy and the ground had been well saturated. Consequently many tracks were quickly turned into black, peaty mud slides after they’d been worked on by the feet of several hundred runners.

The event area is quite isolated and compact and the tour follows a figure-of-eight course to achieve its 27 gruelling kilometres with a punishing and unrelenting amount of climbing. The longer the race goes on the tougher the climbs get and the last three come in quick succession with the toughest being the very last. The intervening descents are long and extremely steep, for the most part on tussocky grass and rugged, muddy tracks that offer unnervingly little grip in wet conditions.

The first mile however, alongside the reservoir, is deceptively flat until the race turns onto the moor and encounters the first of the six climbs. From being quite a way towards the back I was able to consistently pass people as we made our way remorselessly upwards. After what seemed like an eternity we passed the mist-shrouded beacon on ‘Big End’ (with no other indicator of the considerable altitude) and headed downhill to the first of the eleven checkpoints we would visit that day.

At each checkpoint we were required to hand over a plastic tag from a ring of tags we had been issued with at race HQ. Whilst I’d secured mine so they were easily reached I’d completely forgotten what I was supposed to do with them and I lost a good few seconds at both CP1 and 2 fumbling around trying to get one off and into the bucket. After this I resolved to keep the next one in my hand ready for use or until I could firmly identify when we’d be arriving at a checkpoint.

Such is the height gained on the first climb that the second comes quite a long time afterwards, following a long, gradual but speedy descent to the western end of the course at the Nick o’ Pendle. Here we turned east again and continued the descent to Churn Clough reservoir. On leaving the reservoir, the climb out is awkward, alongside a wire fence where there is very little scope to pass at first. Then, when it turns onto the moor, things get easier until the descent to Ogden Clough.

On the way over the fell, I heard people around me referring to this as ‘Geronimo’ and when you got there you could see why. It is super steep, slippery and straight down to the stream where lots of ant-like spectators gather to shout encouragement. My own descent was one of slipping, sliding and frantic tacking and I don’t clearly recall reaching the bottom but once over the stream I recognised several people ahead of me that had been behind me at the top (Andy Russell from NFR has an excellent album featuring this descent and virtually the entire course of last year’s much more visible event here).

Ascending Ogden Clough in the mist in the 2014 Tour of Pendle
photo courtesy and © Steve Bateson Photography (Runningpix)

The ascent along Ogden Clough is on a rocky trail that rises gradually and concludes with a stiff climb out of the gully at the top. On the ridge and in the mist again, the route rejoins the course previously taken for a short distance before turning off onto the north side of the moor this time, for a full-on gallop down Apronfull Hill heading for the next CP where we surrendered another of the all-important tags.

Turning sharply right we were confronted with the first of the three hills that would be the main feature of the race from here onwards. Actually the three hills are effectively the same hill taken three times. The northern and eastern flanks of Pendle are by far its steepest and most imposing and the route just zig-zags up and down them getting progressively harder at each ascent (although after the first one, that doesn’t seem possible).

In between, the ground was boggy and heavy and the mist prevented any forewarning of what the course held in store if, like me, you were lacking local knowledge or previous experience (on this part of the course at least). The descent to CP 7 prior to the penultimate climb was particularly wearing for me and I slowly lost places but regained many of them on the long, long shocker of a climb as we ‘bounced’ in and out of the checkpoint. Here my calves and thighs started to protest for the first time that day with others suffering too, one guy going down very dramatically in front of me as cramp took its toll.

Not having had time to visit Pete Bland’s van and purchase an event map I couldn’t remember if there was another climb or, if there was, where it was in relation to the finish. Unfortunately it was all too close and it wasn’t long before we plunged back over the edge, giving up all that lovely height we’d struggled so hard to gain.

After a long, gnarly descent I could hear cow bells that seemed to be announcing our arrival at CP 9. Here I gave up another tag before being confronted with the bells themselves which were being rung by runners as they passed through, possibly, I thought, in an attempt to placate the evil witches famously associated with these parts that may have been waiting to lure the unwary runner to his doom. I wanted to make sure all my bases were covered so I gave each bell a hefty slap then immediately forgot about witches as my tired legs began to flounder on the sides of the wet, mossy slope.

Looking up at the shadows moving agonisingly slowly in the mist hurt the neck and for an age I hauled myself upwards, hands clutching the grass in front of me or pressed hard on my thighs, hoping my calves would remain functional. When the top did come at last (indicated by a line of vaguely human silhouettes from where the occasional muffled ‘well done’ could be heard) I staggered onto the mercifully flat ground and wondered whether my legs would still work.

I was pleasantly surprised when they did and even more so when other runners started to appear out of the mist in front of me. It didn’t last long however and as what was now the final descent began to steepen so my legs began to tire and a couple of guys overtook me. Only a few metres later the mist had swallowed them up and I was once again on my own. The lines to the final CP must have been many and various and there was certainly a distinct lack of footprints on my chosen route; when eventually they did come together just before the checkpoint, to form the familiar mud-slide, I must say I breathed a sigh of relief.

No time for a shower so the river'll have to do! It felt great to hand over that last tag and then just have to concentrate on dealing with a mile of tarmac. I didn’t feel too bad at all and was only caught by one other runner (I had visions of hundreds coming past me on a surface where everyone else would be able to run really quickly). One poor guy about 400m in front of me was forced to stop a couple of times to grab his legs (obviously suffering from cramp) but try as hard as I might, I couldn’t quite close the gap before he reached the sanctuary of the finish.

All in all it was a tremendously satisfying, well marshalled and testing event organised by Clayton le Moors Harriers in which, had I arrived in time to organise myself properly, with a map for instance, I might have done a bit better than my 137th place in 3 hours 14 minutes. I’d felt pretty good almost all of the way round and the possibility of a run much closer to the 3-hour mark is beckoning already.

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Guisborough Three Tops Fell Race, Sunday, November 2, 2014

AM/13 km/655 m

Scott Watson

Elvet Striders at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014 On yet another unseasonably warm day in November with autumn’s colours glowing rich and golden in the weak sunshine, seven Striders gathered in the grounds of Guisborough Rugby Club for the third race in the Northern Runner/NEHRA Winter Series; on this occasion a roughly 13 km jaunt would take in the lofty features of High Cliff Nab, Roseberry Topping and Hanging Stone all lined up along the northern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, waiting silently to receive the briefest of visitations from 128 frenetic fell-runners.

Paul Evans heads for a well deserved 17th place at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014
photo © David Aspin

Contenders for Elvet Striders on the day were (from left to right in the image above): Rachael Bullock, David Selby, Penny Browell, Paul Evans, Danny Lim, Camilla Lauren-Maatta and Scott Watson. Rachael was coming back from an innocuous but nasty cycling injury and Penny was attending her very first fell race as part of a meteoric debut season with Elvet Striders. For everyone else (to the best of my knowledge) it was just another day at the fell-running office.

The race briefing on the upper reaches of Belmangate emphasised the consequences of trespassing, the potential effects of fallen trees (cleared away as it turned out) on the race start and necessity of avoiding collision with mountain bikers. Then with a faintly disinterested ‘off you go’ from the organiser, Dave Parry, we were away up the path and into the wood.

From my position somewhere in the middle of a jostling pack I could see Paul starting steadily as he is inclined to do. Penny was just ahead and everyone else appeared to be behind me. As with so many fell races, the uphill starts are demanding and we were soon strung out in a long, gasping line as the track narrowed to a muddy trail. Then it was just one long, lactate-producing, ascent out of the woods and up to High Cliff Nab.

Scott Watson heads for the last trig point at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014
photo © David Aspin

No-one can ever accuse me of not being 100% committed when I’m racing and it was at this point that I had a minor meltdown with a gentleman from a Yorkshire running club who appeared to be chatting to everyone he was passing on the way up (none of whom seemed inclined to reply). I KNEW he was going to say something to me and when it came I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t very polite. This led to him referring to the race as a ‘Sunday stroll for him’ which in turn led to me suggesting that he “sod off up the front and win it then!” (I have to confess I didn’t actually use the term ‘sod’ as such).

When he overtook me on the flagged section on the way to Roseberry Topping nothing was said and we continued on our merry way towards Roseberry. After being picked off continually by runners coming up from behind and being left for dead on the descent we finally hit the slopes of Roseberry Topping where I found that all the places I’d lost were quickly regained. As I came up to the next toiling group I could hear a familiar voice recalling at length how somebody had told him to sod off on the last climb. ‘Aye, it was me’ I grunted and to be fair he took it quite well.

By then we were almost at the trig point after which it was a case of making your own luck on the descent. Again I was just blown away by more accomplished descenders, so I resolved to do my own thing and see what I could do on the climbs. The frustrating thing was that I felt I was actually going quite well but I just wasn’t at the races figuratively speaking (not sure if it’s the knees or the nerve).

Penny Browell making her fell running debut at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014
photo © David Aspin

In the trip across the common from Roseberry to Hanging Stone I still can’t decide whether I made up places or lost them, I only know that the group that eventually appeared in front of me out of the bracken was considerably bigger than the one I left on Roseberry Topping.

The climbs seemed to be where it was happening for me today though, with the last big ascent to Hanging Stone being made on a mountain bike course, allowing me to happily focus on the carnage that would be caused by a flying mountain bike hitting a pack of runners at 30 mph instead of on the discomfort in my rapidly tiring legs. It must have done some good because at the top I’d caught and passed everyone who’d left me behind on Roseberry.

A short but steep descent brought us to Hanging Stone which I completely failed to recognise and shot past. Luckily shouts of ‘Whoa, this way son!’ prevented me from going too far down the hill. I amused myself on the long drag back to the final trig point on how good it felt to be called ‘son’ again! Unfortunately I spent most of the distance being caught once more by all that I’d passed on the last climb including my mate from Yorkshire (who didn’t look to me like he was out for a Sunday stroll any more).

The script stayed the same however and with the last couple of dragging and rolling climbs came a series of minor ‘victories’ as, once again, I caught and passed the usual suspects. Unfortunately though, a long, long, fast descent awaited me in the woods and I knew that the outcome wasn’t going to be pretty.

Danny Lim descending at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014
photos © David Aspin

David approaching the final trig point at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014








After rounding the final trig point I stayed with a decent group, off the moor, into the woods and onto the brow of the descent – at which point they all ran away from me! The only positive was that because they’d literally ALL gone, I knew I was no longer under pressure from behind. That was until we hit the steepest and narrowest part of the descent when this chap that I thought I’d left miles behind came bombing past. But what can you do?

Now on a broader, flatter, forest track at least I was able to keep him in sight to the finish which approached very rapidly (another reliable indicator of when you’re having a decent race). I finished 40th overall – well inside my objective of first half of the field – and 5th in the M50 category so can’t complain. One profoundly impressive result I noticed was that of Ben Grant from Harrogate Harriers, who finished 19th, two places behind our own fast finishing Paul Evans, and who was first in the M65 category!

Rachael approaching the final trig point at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014
photos © David Aspin

Camilla approaching the final trig point at Guisborough 3-Tops Fell Race 2014








Almost the very first person I saw at the finish was my mate from High Cliff Nab who seemed to take my lack of manners in good humour and of course, to whom I apologised. Paul had had a brilliant run, eventually coming in 17th and citing the same shortcomings in the downhill department as had afflicted me.

It wasn’t long afterwards that Penny and Danny came barrelling home with Danny just being outsprinted by the formidable Penny, in 56th and 57th positions respectively (Penny was 6th lady in her debut fell race). David (95th) came in next, a couple of minutes ahead of Rachael (99th/17th lady) with bloodied knee – both looking pretty pleased with their efforts – followed a few minutes later by Camilla (108th/21st lady). All in all, the ladies had done particularly well being third in the ladies’ team competition while the men were eighth in theirs.

Weather conditions had been kind, if a bit blustery and the ground was relatively firm, providing decent and much needed grip (especially through the woods). The three major climbs are a good challenge but there is an awful lot of paving on the transitions between them. This race has been noted for its route choice after Hanging Stone and in previous years it appears to have been won by runners taking a fast route along the bottom of the wood. This year, as far as I could see, everyone was returning the way they had come. All in all though, it was a great day out on the North Yorkshire Moors.

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UKA Fell & Hill Relay Champs, Middleton & Barbon Fells, Kirby Lonsdale, Sunday, October 19, 2014

Scott Watson

Sally & Mike B before the offThis year, this prestigious event in the fell-running calendar was held on the little-known (to me at least) Barbon and Middleton fells, a very compact but no less hilly venue between Sedbergh and Kirby Lonsdale. Conditions-wise, wind was to be the main feature of the day but at least in Durham it remained a generally pleasant day; over the Pennines there was no sun to be had and the weather deteriorated persistently as the day wore on, leaving later runners to contend with driving rain and mist.

Mike B finishing Leg 1 for Team 'B'The event was well organised as always, this time by Dallam Running Club and Howgill Harriers, and the first runners representing the 213 registered teams were marshalled together on a wind-blown field at the foot of Middleton Fell for a 10 o’clock start. Elvet Striders were able to field two teams: Team ‘A’ comprised Sally Hughes (Leg 1), Mike Hughes & Paul Evans (Leg 2), Camilla Lauren Maatta & Scott Watson (Leg 3) and Jan Young (Leg 4); Team ‘B’ was Mike Bennett (Leg 1), Kerry Lister & Nigel Heppell (Leg 2), Anita Clementson & Phil Owen (Leg 3) and John Metson (Leg 4). Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that ‘Mudman & Mudwoman’, Geoff and Sue Davis (running for that ‘other’ club on this occasion) were there first thing with tent erected and waiting to receive guests!

As I mentioned before, this is a prestigious event that always attracts the very best fell runners in the country to compete for their clubs, consequently the course is ‘challenging’ to say the least. Legs 1 & 4 were for single runners and were effectively the same course run the opposite way round. Leg 2 was a longer course for pairs and Leg 3 was a navigational course for pairs.

Sally finishing Leg 1 for Team 'A'There are many (many) words to follow and it is a shame that the consistent efforts of those dependable runners who are relied on to make up the core of any team often fail to get a fair crack of the whip commendations-wise, but the day – quite rightly – belonged to two ladies for whom this was a real baptism of fire. Sally Hughes must have been the youngest competitor at the event and had only ever (to the best of my knowledge) previously done one fell-race – Simonside Show – and compared to this, it doesn’t really count. By her own account she had a tough run, with the vagaries of the fells playing their part but she kept her head and her spirit and finished in proper fell-running style!

Twelve hours earlier, Kerry Lister had been drinking champagne and recounting her York Marathon adventures the previous weekend. When Jon Ayres was forced to pull out, a desperate email plea went out for a replacement and it was Kerry who stepped up – despite never having done a fell race in her life – only to be given the hardest leg of the race! Admittedly she was well paired with Nigel who, I think she has already agreed, calmly guided and encouraged her to achieve a never-to-be-forgotten and quite extraordinary athletic milestone.

For my own part, Camilla and I enjoyed (I hope she agrees) a very satisfying run on Leg 3 which, because we left with the mass start, required almost no navigational input with the exception perhaps of keeping an eye out for any small advantage that might be gained. However, with good visibility and a chain of runners stretching for half a mile, that hope was a faint one. Squally rain showers driven by high winds were possibly the most significant impediment to our progress (disregarding a few steep hills of course!) but if you’re not intending to pitch a tent in it at the end of the day it just adds to the experience! Roll on next year!

…And Mike Hughes (Team A/Leg 2 – with Paul Evans)

Mike Hughes & Paul Evans climb away from the showground at the start of Leg 2Paul and I waited eagerly for the return of the Leg 1 single runners; you could see them coming down from the fell in the field opposite and hurriedly dibbing at the last point before making the last effort to the finish where a firm tag on the hand was needed to set the pairs away for the second leg. Many had come in by now and we had seen some really fast pairs run off up the slope towards the right turn to Eskholme Pike, picking off some of the pairs in a very short time. Then she appeared, safe and running well, our Sally, able to run the first leg as it was the only leg permitted for an under 18. She strode down the fields with her lanky relaxed gate and was soon running towards us. I held my arms out for a proud embrace and we were off, charging up the hill after the others, although none in sight just yet.

We climbed steadily and I was soon quite breathless, don’t know if it was the wind that seemed to take my air or trying to keep pace with Paul, down a steep gully and up the other side. It was mostly runnable but the climb to the first check point brought me to a walk. As we climbed we caught up with Nigel and Kerry. At the same time were greeted by an ex-strider who was out on her own, her name I can’t recall but many of you will – a very pleasant French lady who invited a bus load of striders to her wedding in France many years ago.

After a brief chat we pressed on, Paul offering for me to lead and set pace but I thought we’d be faster if I let him lead and I tried to keep up, that seemed to work. We decided to run to the base of the next hill and then stride to the next check point, Paul saving us time by getting to the check point a good few strides ahead of me and then we were straight off after the nod from the marshals when we were a pair again.

The view of the runners strung out ahead to CP3 and Castle Knott ahead was quite something. We had picked a few more off by now and I seemed to be getting my “second wind”. I knew we were looking for a right “out and back” after that to pick up CP4, from the contours on the map it looked steep but maybe not too far. As we traversed round it came into view. I laughed, that’s mad I thought, it was way down in the valley, really steep, and as soon as you hit the check point you had to come straight back up of course and even further to the wall corner for CP5, mentally tough as well anything else.

We descended rapidly, passing a few more and were soon out the other side of the gully and attacking the hill. I looked up to the top of the hill, I only looked the once, head down and get on with it, this was seriously painful. It was rough heather scrub, the heather compressing as you stepped on it which sapped what little energy my legs had, you couldn’t stand really, the best technique seems to be climb it on all fours, grabbing the heather as you went and as much pulling yourself up with your arms and pushing with your legs which felt like they would burst.

Paul was getting away from me but I managed to gain on others. Eventually the top came and I joined Paul who was able to stop and take in the view back, I didn’t and we were off again, returning to soft grass and probably the easiest run of the day to CP5 on Calf top and the turn left down Middleton Fell. We were going well, we were heading home, the ground was soft, deep, moss and undulating as we descended and traversed.

We ran quickly, I was twisting and turning, at one point my body was facing forward but my legs were still running sideways after stumbling on a rocky outcrop, I was starting to feel exhausted and didn’t have the energy to correct with the forward momentum of the decent but managed to keep upright. We caught up with a couple of NFR runners (Steph Scott and Katherine Davis). We were heading back in the direction of the event field, I guess maybe only 2-3 miles to go, when there were shouts of “wrong way”.

Confusion ensued, there seemed to be runners everywhere all of a sudden, some going on ahead, some running back, some way down in the valley bottom going the other way (turns out some were also the Leg 3 navigators). A quick glance at the map, damn, where were we, we had just arrived at a deep gully with a stream, we realised on the map that that had to be the unnamed watershed down into Luge Gill to the West of CP6.

We descended a little further and back over the gully, it looked runnable for the traverse along a wall to find the gill we needed – Wrestle Gill – but we were soon in deep bracken and slowing down. We could see runners further up the hill so traversed and climbed, followed the stream up the gully and eventually came to the check point, blisters starting to shout by then.

Check point dibbed and we were off, how much time we had lost I don’t know, 10-15 minutes maybe, so we pushed on trying to claw that time back. Could we make it back in time for the cut off, yes, you could see the tents down in the fields about a mile away. Someone said “ten minutes to cut off”, press on, Paul looking back, he had that look in his eyes and I knew this was going to be the last hard push, eyeballs out -it’s all going to be over soon.

We were soon running across the fields and back into the main field, we thought we had made it in time, we looked around but soon heard the jovial commentator announce over his tannoy “it’s no good looking rounds lads, they’ve gone, you’ve missed them”…..still, a brilliant run and great to have Paul encouraging me by making it look so easy!

…And Jan Young (Team A/Leg 4)

Sunday’s race renewed my passion for the fells, testing my resilience, after a summer in the doldrums. No navigation needed for solo leg 4, switch brain off and follow red flags, peering through mist and blinding rain, to find cairn checkpoints and marshalls huddled as low as possible, finding respite from Howgills howling wind. Recommend pie eating or backpack rocks, to add weight, as got blown sideways…… a lot.

Brilliant commentary from announcer: “They call it fell running because you fall down lot.” “They say it’s hell up there; you wait till leg 4.” He was at it all day, entertaining and enthusiastic. Hot food served all day, cake, hot drinks and beer. Shared Striders’ tent and cakes with NFR, all supportive.

Striders of the day: Sally, already very fit, whose confidence in her ability is rocketing – she must have been the youngest competitor? And ‘I’ll try it Kerry’ – from the York Marathon to challenging terrain on the Middleton and Barbon fells. No problem!

…And Nigel Heppell (Team B/Leg 2 – with Kerry Lister)

A last minute drop-out meant a new recruit and a re-jigging of teams, such that I took Kerry out as my partner for Leg 2, which happened to be the longest leg (9 miles apparently). Excellent company, enthusiasm and unflagging good spirits but it was definitely a baptism of fire (or should that be wind and hail? – easily blowing 60mph on the tops – and turbulent too) for Kerry.

Part of our route went half-way down this – – and then straight back up, all the way into the clouds that were covering Calf Top.

Quoting from the organiser’s website: “There is only the one annual race currently touching upon the Middleton and Barbon fells event area; it involves a lung bursting, calf straining, dash to Calf Top from the washtubs in Barbondale and back and has one of the steepest ascents and descents of the Kendal Winter League series. There are sore backsides in store for runners looking to overtake and losing their footing on the run in to the finish.”

We did complete our leg successfully albeit taking a bit longer than most, well, ok, all; but at least we got all the checkpoints; 10 teams failed to do that. Heard some rumours that Mountain Rescue were about to be summoned! I had the satisfaction of doing some actual navigation because there was no one else in sight to follow – it’s an ill wind …

…And Kerry Lister (Team B/Leg 2 – with Nigel Heppell)

The story starts on Saturday night, approximately 1030pm, checking my emails I saw a plea from Paul Evans for anyone willing to be a last minute stand-in for the fell racing championships. Ah well I though, better than sitting on the back of a motorbike all day…. off went the email, with 3 caveats – don’t be cross at how slow I am, I am very poor at navigation and please can I run with someone else. Hastily packing my little rucksack with the ‘essential kit’ and laying out my flat momma off to bed for an insanely early Sunday morning.

Next thing I know I’m getting into a car with 3 likely lads (Paul Evans, Nigel Heppell and John Metson) and off to Middleston Fell we go. At this point I really don’t know what Ive gotten myself into. Arriving in good time for our team captain to register the 2 teams we have fielded, I being to get a bit worried, lots of racing snake type fell runners, I pop to the portaloo then try to find the Strider tent which Sue and Geoff have erected for the Striders nd NFR teams to share. Me being me, with absolutely no sense of direction (admittedly not ideal for a fell run), it takes me some time to find the tent.

Numbers allocated and pinned on: I’m running Leg 2 with Nigel in team number 73. Mike Bennett was our Leg 1 runner, Flip Owen and Anita Clementson our navigation Leg 3 and John Metson our number 4.

Then it was off to find the Young Farmers’ tent for a very reasonably priced bacon bun and coffee (£3!). Nigel and I had a quick recce of the map(ashamedly all I know about maps is the closer together the lines are, the steeper the hill/gradient, and my goodness those lines around checkpoint 4 were very, very, close together!).

Leg 1, ready to go – Mike Bennett and Sally Hughes were looking resplendent in purple as they lined up with the elite fell runners – then they were off! Estimating a return time of around 40 minutes it was off for our kit check.

I had brought everything I needed except whistle and compass, so after our illustrious team captain provided me with a compass and a new whistle was purchased from Pete Bland (my first ever Pete Bland store purchase – I think that makes me a fell runner now!) I went to show my gear to the checkers. She was suitably impressed with my woolly bee hat (complete with antennae) but strangely made no comment on my ‘pac-a-mac’ cagoule.

After a last, nervous, loo visit, Nigel and I dibbed into the starting pen, to await Mike’s return. When he appeared over the hill, his long, loping, stride seemed to devour the ground beneath him, then, with a quick tag of the hand, we were off. Giggling like a girl (well I am one I suppose) it wasn’t long before my marathon tired legs and unaccustomed lungs started to protest, Nigel coached me with top fell runner tips as we climbed and climbed and climbed.

And as the pairs passed us (lots of them) the head start Mike had provided us with was soon gone and Paul and Mike Hughes were soon upon us, passing us with a cheery wave, smile and ‘well done’. My lungs were bursting by now, my calves were screaming but I was still smiling.

At last checkpoint 1! I’d like to tell you more about the route but to be honest it just seemed like a lot of ups and ‘jocks heeds’ to use Sue Davis’ phrase. Looking forward to the descent to checkpoint 4 we ploughed on, and when it came it looked like a cliff edge – I’d never gone down anything so steep without an abseil rope! I started the very slow creep down Barbondale, giggling maniacally with hysteria and joy, busying my brain with thinking of what I was going to put in this race report.

I managed to make it almost to the checkpoint (in record slow time) before slipping onto my bottom – no damage done. Nigel ‘the dibber’ did the dibbing and then it was the horror of ‘the Ascent’. Now I had seen an alleged quote for Dean Kamazes: ‘run when you can, walk when you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up’.

This was the time to invoke all of these methods of transport: on my hands and knees I became acquainted with much sheep poo, my back felt like it was breaking, my calves felt like they would pop, then the wind came – only about 60 mph (estimated by Nigel) in big ‘whooshy’ noisy gusts.

I must say I was scared and wondered numerous times why I was doing this but at the same time I felt elated. Wow, what an experience to be here, a running novice competing (well that’s maybe a bit strong) in the National Fell Running Championships in an awesome landscape with weather as I had never experienced it.

Up and up we went, Nigel keeping the conversation going, waiting patiently for me and pointing out the way. Then, all of a sudden, we were at the top – well, only a little way to go before the actual ‘Calf Top’ – a ‘Marilyn’ as my guide informed me. We were now in the clouds and about to start the descent(I was fully expecting to find ten black toenails and big blisters on my feet when I eventually took my shoes off).

On our way from CP 5 to 6 we came across a team of Congleton girls who had been to CP 6 but couldn’t find CP 7. We dubbed them the ‘Congleton Panickers’ as they were genuinely scared and lost. Nigel sorted them out and pointed them in the right direction (what a gent; I had dabbled with the idea of sending them the wrong way to gain a place ‘mwah-ha-ha’!). The lovely ‘holder of the dibber’ at CP 6 saw us coming and met us a little way up the hill and we were soon off to find CP 7 and ‘The Finish’, which seemed like it would never come.

Eventually there it was, after 3 hours 40 minutes (yes, you read that correctly) and approx 9 miles covered with an elevation gain of 772 metres, Nigel dibbed his last dib. We had missed the cut-off point (no sh*t Sherlock) and Leg 3 runners had already set off, but we had made it. Nigel looked like he’d had a gentle walk around the park; I was exhausted, elated and emotional.

Arriving back at the Striders tent, it emerged that the organisers had been five minutes away from calling mountain rescue, as we’d taken so long, and no-one had heard from us, even though we’d dibbed at every CP and had been practically followed by the marshalls from CP 6 all the way back (obviously the mobile signal is not the best in this setting – maybe they need radios next time…..).

Two cups of hot, sweet, tea later, Flip and Anita returned from their leg. Flip kindly donated his meal ticket and a beer to me. Happy, dry, fed and watered and sitting at the back of the tent as the weather closed in, we awaited John Metson’s return. Then the tent came down and we were off home.

Although we were time last on our leg, we managed (due to Nigel’s skill) to get all seven checkpoints dibbed, a feat which ten teams didn’t, which means we weren’t officially last on our leg! And overall there were six teams below us. Outstanding work I’d say.

So the question is: is this novice a fell runner? The answer: I’d sure like to be! I have never been so scared, astounded by my capability, in awe of the support and kindness of my fellow runners or proud of my achievement as I was on Sunday 19th October 2014.

I urge everyone and anyone to try fell running – maybe pick your first one a bit more carefully – but as Scott Watson said on FB: “maybe the race will choose you!”

…And Anita Clementson (Team B/Leg 3 – with Phil Owen)

It was a mass start at 1315 for Leg 3 runners should your Leg 2 team mates not be back and approximately 20 teams were set off. As this was the navigation route, they were pulling no punches at the nationals with no chance to prepare beforehand and maps were given out a short distance after the race start as you were climbing the first hill.

Phil took charge of the map whilst I did my best to keep up and not lose sight of the runners ahead (very quickly disappearing into the distance). We dodged a few very fast fell runners who were making their descent (this is what it’s all about, rubbing shoulders with the best fell runners in the country!).

The terrain was both wonderful and brutal. There was no room for wimps out there on the Middleton Fells. It did feel quite bleak when the winds caught you on the highest points – no-man’s land – feeling the elements and feeling alive!

Long before the final descent, the booming voice of ‘Mr Commentator’ could be heard in the distance (I want some of what he was on). We were disappointed to lose a checkpoint; a simple error and we were too busy looking for the runner ahead (I was no help whatsoever). We ran right near it too looking back on the map.

Thanks to Phil, for being a great teammate (luckily he was happy to take it easy at my pace whilst keeping an eye on an injury) and thanks to Paul for pulling this off – Team Elvet will be back!

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October Odyssey, Hamsterley Forest, Sunday, October 5, 2014

Short Brown - 7.7km - 17 controls

Scott Watson

Scott & Dougie before the offThis was the second day of a two day event hosted by Northern Navigators in Hamsterley Forest, County Durham. Although I was disappointed at having had to miss the first day, it was the second day’s event, to be held over the moorland area of Cabin Hill, Doctor’s Gate and Gull Quarry, that would have been my preferred option anyway – a glorious day on the fells with map and compass with only the sky for cover as opposed to charging through thick undergrowth where the light is so poor that without specs map detail disappears in a blur.

The thing I particularly like about orienteering events is that they are so relaxed. For one thing there are few absolute deadlines to stick to; instead there’s a registration window of a couple of hours with starts about half and hour afterwards lasting for another couple of hours. I also find it slightly weird that although there might be lots of people entered, you could end up seeing very few of them and maybe even feeling that you’re doing it on your own. You rock up any time after registration has opened and off you go (although to be reasonably sure of a map for your chosen course you might not want to leave it too late).

Whilst I’ve done a few events over the years there’s always been enough time between them for me to have pretty much forgotten the procedure – and it’s a procedure not for the easily dissuaded. In the 90s, when I was orienteering as training for mountain marathons, it was all punched cards but now the dibber is king and I confess that I still find the starting sequence slightly intimidating. ‘You’ll need to clear your card at the first station – there’s nothing after that’ I was constantly and mysteriously being told.

My technique in these situations is always to deal with one thing at a time and ditch any pre-conceived ideas so I decided to discard all advice relating to scenarios after the card-clearing one and I’d take it from there. Fortune however smiled on me when on returning from registration £13 poorer, I found that Mr (Dougie) Nisbet was parked right next door! Not only was this my passport to starting success but I’d have someone to photograph!

After Dougie had made his own pilgrimage to registration we set off on the long walk to the start where we diligently cleared our cards and dumped our extra clothing in an unsheltered area marked off for that purpose (a waterproof bag might be an idea next time although it wasn’t needed on this occasion). From there it was another hike along the path then up the stony track known to many County Durham fell runners as the ‘Doctor’s Gate’ track. At long last we were onto the fell and approaching the actual start. Here Dougie kindly sought out and handed me my control description for the ‘short brown’ course.

Nigel from Northern Navigators was setting us off and his young daughter Maya (an orienteering ‘wunderkind’) took the pic of Dougie and I before Dougie stepped into the box to be counted down (with a proper clock and everything). He was doing the full ‘brown’ course which was another 1.5 km longer than the 7.7 km that I was signed up for (to be fair I’d have done a longer one myself but the only M50 course I could see was the ‘short brown’ – but apparently it doesn’t really matter). Off went Dougie who selected his map from the row laid out in front and disappeared up the path.

I had to wait though, as the two competitors who had left immediately before Dougie were doing the same course as me and so I was held back for a couple of minutes to ensure complete independence. Eventually the buzzer went and I was away. I quickly found my map and striding up the track, began to get myself orientated.

Dougie out on the course in the October Odyssey 2014

I might have forgotten just about everything else but my navigation skills thankfully remain intact. Getting that first sight of the map, orientating it and being able to pick out the appropriate features is always a real buzz. If it’s claggy (misty) it’s an even bigger buzz as you’re just trusting to that plastic thing in your hand (or on your thumb) and everyone knows that you shouldn’t reasonably be able to find your way in those sorts of conditions anyhow.

Today however, the weather and visibility were fantastic: the 7 degrees that had been showing in the car earlier in the morning had long been surpassed and by now it was quite warm – possibly even too warm. But temperature was the last thing on my mind as I stepped off the track and loped off uphill through the heather (always driving with my right leg for some reason) heading for the first of 17 controls.

As I write I’m fighting a raging desire to detail every single control visited and decision taken but mercifully I won’t. Suffice to say that, as always, the event was completely absorbing, with every control offering its own mini-challenge and running being merely the means of propulsion. It was so absorbing that it was quite late in the race when I realised how tired I was (the course was almost all heather – a foot high in most places and even deeper in others, often concealing sandstone boulders particularly around the quarry sites). By the time I’d finished, my legs were knackered although I still felt fine in the old cardio-vascular department.

When I did eventually finish I downloaded my dibber (another ‘must not forget’ procedure) and found that it had taken me a fulsome 2 hours and 4 seconds but the fastest competitor had been through in 66.56! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been too disappointed with myself but despite the fact that I’d achieved almost all of my controls well inside single figures, crucially it had taken me sixteen minutes to find the second control and over twenty to find the last! I put this down partly to the control descriptions which unlike those for mountain marathons are more or less hieroglyphics and until you learn ’em you’ve no idea what the feature is that you’re actually looking for!

But that last control was a nightmare! The only positives to come out of it were that as I sensed all my previous hard work slipping away I didn’t actually burst into tears! And that when the little devil on my shoulder was telling me to ‘leave it’, that some miscreant must have stolen it, I didn’t give in and seek solace in excuses at the finish only 150 metres away but diligently continued to search. The relief when I found the thing was almost overwhelming.

To be honest I was never going to be competitive anyway as indeed I wasn’t (I was second last of 17 competitors on day 2) but it’s nice to get the opportunity to put the skills into practice and I might have improved my position a fair bit if I’d not let myself down so close to the finish (or stopped to take photographs). Far too many of the competitors buzzing about the moor looked very slick – coming in from all directions, a quick dib and away whereas I can’t help a little inward celebration every time I find a control.

You really are in a world of your own when you’re orienteering; you can never tell (well at least I can’t) who else might be in your class and it does you no good to try. I did come across Dougie fairly early on, looking very composed but almost certainly engaged in battle with his own ‘demons of doubt’. After that our paths never crossed again. All I can say with certainty regarding his whereabouts was that only two garments remained in the ‘clothing area’ after I retrieved mine, one of which belonged to Dougie.

I can’t think of another event in which I’d be quite pleased with 7.7 km in 2 hours but despite my drop-offs the rest of the event was immensely satisfying. The read-out from the download is brilliant to analyse and lots of lessons can be learned – physically, technically and psychologically. I’d be surprised if I ever did this with a proper ‘race-face’ on but who knows? Organisation was excellent, everyone was very helpful to those of us who were trying our best to wreck their procedures and it was great to do an event like this that for once doesn’t involve miles of travelling.

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