Tag Archives: Allendale Challenge

29th Allendale Challenge, Allendale near Hexham, Saturday, April 7, 2018

26 miles

Penny Browell

I first heard about this race a few years ago when Mike Hughes told me he’d done a race which involved running over mounds of mud which were taller than him. I couldn’t quite envisage what he meant and whilst intrigued I didn’t really want to experience it myself at the time I was more interested in trying to get PB’s in road races rather than wading through mud for hours.

Fast forward a couple of years and I will do pretty much anything to avoid running on the road and am one of those slightly strange people who go out in search of mud and hills every weekend.

Having missed a couple of other long fell races I was looking through the race diary and spotted the Allendale Challenge on a weekend where I knew I was going to be child-free. What had sounded like madness now seemed like the perfect way to spend a cold April Saturday.

After a spectacularly wet and cold winter, it was clear the conditions were not going to be good. Apparently, this race is muddy even after the driest of winters. This didn’t bother me too much and I was quite cheered to see the weather forecast was kind-ish; clear in the morning and a bit of drizzle for the last couple of hours of the race. Perfect for when you’re getting a bit hot…

Geoff, John and I headed over early on Saturday morning and got there about an hour before the race started. It was a lovely morning and I imagined the walkers (who set out 2 hours before the runners) would be having a lovely time. After a quick warm-up, we were sent on our way. With gloves and two layers, I was soon quite hot.

The race starts with a reasonable amount of climb on road and then gradually you move onto track and after a few miles, you’re into the fun stuff. Geoff and I had been to and froing up until this point but once we got into the mud I seemed to lose him and also got myself to the front of the ladies’ race. I’m not sure how as I felt like I was moving backwards through the thick bog. The only way I realised I was going faster than walking pace was that I started to pass quite a few of the walkers.

It was at this point that the “drizzle” arrived. At first, it was just that and quite pleasant but it quite quickly became heavy and rather than refreshing was just making it even harder to see properly and to gauge how deep the mud was. This is one of those races where you can’t get into a rhythm – every few steps a leg will disappear deep into the mud and I had soon coated both legs from foot to thigh in thick mud. As we climbed up towards Killhope I stopped to put my waterproof on – I was starting to get really cold and the extra layer gave me a boost as I was immediately much more comfortable.

Killhope is the highest point of the race and about halfway through the 26 miles. I knew the race had more climb in the first half and was looking forward to speeding up after the hard work climbing through mud, rain and snow. The descent arrived and I did feel better – it was a stony track that went on seemingly forever. Not the most comfortable in fell shoes but a relief after the mud. After a quick checkpoint, we were back in mud though and on the way up again. And then the peat bogs…

Mike hadn’t been wrong.. I thought I knew mud but this was something else. You completely lose your sense of direction when you’re hidden amongst enormous piles of peat… so whilst some people tried to run between them I kept going over the top to try and spot the runners ahead of me. Typically I lost confidence in my route choice so did a bit of shuffling around trying to decide who I should be following. Eventually, we came through it and I was pleased to hear a few supporters and walkers telling me I was still the first female.

There was now about 8 miles to go and I’d been told that the final section was not too tough – a long slow climb (“the drag”) and then an easy-ish descent back into Allendale. I felt good. At this stage in a long race I know if I’m going to crash or not and today was a good day.

As I sped down an easy rocky descent before the drag I knew it was all for the taking – first lady and (perhaps more importantly) a victory over Geoff!

Then suddenly a rock decided it had other plans for me, in slow motion I went over one rock then my leg crashed against another and finally my head clunked hard onto a third. It was like they were all distributed carefully to cause me as much damage as possible. I was winded but thought I should be ok to carry on. The runner behind me thought differently – he told me to sit down and shouted ahead to get medical help. I told him I had to finish the race and I was fine. (I’d DNF’d my last long race and was not about to let that happen again). He said I was bleeding and should get my head looked at. I put my hand to my head and realised he was right…with a handful of blood and legs which were beginning to hurt more, it became apparent I had to do the sensible thing. I wasn’t giving up though and my new friend started to walk me up to the medical van so I could get sorted as quickly as possible.

I had a few shocked looks as I climbed up but I assured everyone I was fine. At the van, I told them repeatedly that I had to finish the race. They seemed to think my health was more important (obviously not runners) and insisted on doing various checks, cleaning all my wounds and asking me a series of questions, to most of which I replied: “I’m fine, I need to finish the race”. After several minutes a lady passed and I complained to the medical team that I’d lost my place – still I wasn’t allowed to go. A few minutes later and Geoff appeared looking a touch concerned (but not enough to stop!). Eventually, I was allowed to head off as long as I promised to stop if I felt ill and to check in with the final checkpoint. I was determined to gain back the places I’d lost and set off at a good pace up the drag. It wasn’t long before I spotted Geoff and I could tell he was using the run/walk system, which I’d read in previous reports he often found sensible for this section. I knew I could get him, so dug in and before long I passed him. Then I thought I spotted the first lady ahead of me and sped up again to try and catch her. I think this was a mistake… it turned out not to be the first lady but a man… and the burst of speed was swiftly followed by a wave of nausea. The weather was getting worse and worse with rain falling heavily and I couldn’t work out if my vision was blurred because of the head injury or because of the rainwater filling my eyes. I slowed down for the descent to the next checkpoint feeling sicker and sicker and cursing myself for thinking I could run at speed after my fall.

On arrival at the checkpoint, as promised, I was given another check over and asked whether I felt well enough to continue. I admitted I felt sick but figured with only 3.5 miles to go I had nothing to lose. So I continued, now at a walk and still in mud (so much for the easy finish to the race…). Before long Geoff passed me – he asked if I wanted him to walk/run with me but I declined, preferring to admit defeat… There is a short section along the river towards the end which I’d imagined would be quite pleasant but even that was deep in mud. I managed to build back up to a run and before long I was on the final road which would take me back to Allendale, warmth and food!

I finally got to the hall in 4 hrs 48 minutes… not quite where I wanted to be… and not the first lady but still a very happy runner.

My head wound decided the end of the race was a signal to start bleeding again so I was properly patched up and given a full MOT by the fabulous mountain rescue staff whilst Geoff (who had beaten me by 2 minutes in the end!) provided sweet tea and Jaffa cakes to get my blood sugar levels up.

Not long after, John returned and we made our way to the Golden Lion for pie and peas, the perfect way to celebrate finishing what had been a tough race for everyone, Geoff claiming that in 13 years of running the race, this had been the worst conditions yet.

If anyone has made it this far, I must say a massive thank you to the North of Tyne Mountain Rescue team both on the course and back at Allendale. We know from their incredible work looking after Rob Wishart last year that the emergency services are brilliant at what they do and they proved this again. Profits from the race go towards this fantastic resource and for that reason alone I recommend it to anyone. However, unless you’re a really big fan of mud I’d suggest choosing a slightly drier year!

Allendale Challenge, North Pennines, Saturday, April 9, 2016

About 25 miles

Geoff Davis

It’s a marathon Jules but not as you know it!

Described in the ‘blurb’ as a “must do event for any keen fell runner” with a route “covering some of the finest peat bogs in the North Pennines” the Allendale Challenge is 26 miles long with 4,000ft of ascent. From that you’ll realise that this ‘marathon’ is significantly different from ‘the norm’.

I'm guessing this is the 'before' pic.

This year was its 27th running and my 13th. I’ve always enjoyed the race, always run it on my own and tend to treat it as some weird form of meditation. Gone are the days when I used to run it in around four and a quarter hours with a top ten finish, but with some long days out on the Lakeland fells recently, topped up by regular long off-road runs from home, I was hopeful of running sub 5 hours this year. The weather was dry and fine if a little cool at the start and it remained that way all day. Bad weather usually works to my advantage but as it had been somewhat wet of late those “finest peat bogs” would be in peak condition and so it turned out! Five Striders lined up for the start: me, Mudwoman, Mike Hughes, Mandy and Jules (her first time).

I started steadily along the first two miles or so of road chatting occasionally to one or two fell running club mates. I like to keep my breathing nice and easy during these early miles saving as much energy as possible for the challenges to come and so allowed Mike to forge ahead. Once on the first ‘fell’ section I increased the pace a bit and passed four or five runners before the road resumed and I settled into a steady climb prior to commencing the 12 or so miles of really tough, wet and boggy terrain.

Once on this section it really is ‘game on’ although again my priority was energy preservation – pick the best lines, avoid the deepest bogs (where possible) and keep those jumps across the bogs to a minimum. By doing that I could ensure I had enough energy left for the last gruelling six or seven miles. I managed to run most of this tough section although I had to walk a couple of the ups but took the opportunity to eat and drink when I did. I caught Mike just before half way when he took the opportunity of having a cup of tea at the check point while I just continued on. I was still in a meditative state so let Mike go on alone across the peat hags of Killhope Law – possibly the toughest section of the course. This year they were particularly wet and resembled a peaty, undulating moonscape waiting to trap the unwary and to suck the energy from tired legs. If you allow this to happen ‘you’re doomed’ and running those last miles will seem like purgatory! I know because it’s happened to me – more than once!

The summit of Killhope Law (673m) is about half way and I reached there in three hours reasonably contented (this is a perfect race for achieving a negative split!). Mike was there at the check point and we began the rough & boggy descent together. Conditions under foot eased part way down then became tortuous as large granite chippings, on a land rover track, proved challenging for soaking wet, tired, but as yet unblistered, feet. At the end of the long descent from Killhope the route becomes almost benign for two or three miles and follows a riverside track. Crossing the many stiles proved challenging for stiff legs but so far I was managing to hold the cramp at bay.

Mike and I reached the start of the aptly named ‘Drag’ still together with 6.5 miles to go. The Drag is a four mile long rough track most of which is up hill. This section is responsible for many broken fell runners’ hearts, including my own, and only once have I managed to run the whole thing! I usually get through it by running 50 paces then power walking the next fifty and so on and so on until the gradient eases and running becomes less problematic. I repeated this tactic and took the opportunity to get down a mini pork pie as well (not easy). Mike was content to remain with me in spite of me frequently urging him to ‘press on’. Seeing one or two other runners ahead kept us motivated and we reached the checkpoint at the end of the Drag at the same time as one of these who had been about half a mile ahead of us at the start of the Drag. However, we stopped for tea and he didn’t!

We now turned onto a heathery moorland not as tough as the ‘bogs’ but tough enough after 23 miles! A couple of runners started to ‘come back’ to us including the one from the Drag. As I was closing in on him I heard Mike behind me utter an ‘exclamation’. I knew the cramp had got him as I had been having my own personal battle with it for the last mile or so. As Mike was perfectly safe and in good fettle, apart from cramp, I pressed on overtaking the ‘Drag runner’ plus two others before the moorland gave way to the final mile on the road. And it was here that cramp almost brought me to a halt as I hobbled along with a left foot deformed by pain. The end couldn’t come quick enough and I ‘crossed the line’ in 4hrs 52 mins and 17th place – highly satisfactory. Mike came in a couple of minutes later for a race pb while Jules sauntered round with Tynedale friend Marcus to finish as 3rd woman! Susan and Mandy kept each other company for the whole race finishing together in under 6 hours and in good fettle.

Refreshed by pie and peas and two pints of Guinness I felt quite pleased with my performance after what had been a winter of running marred by a number of injuries. With the longer days upon us and spring fast approaching life was good.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Catpos Time
1 Jim Mann 3.28
17 Geoff Davis 4.52
21 Mike Hughes 4.54
32 Steph Scott 5.10
47 Juliet Percival 5.41
70 Susan Davis 5.57
71 Mandy Dawson 5.57

103 finishers
Jules 3rd woman

25th Anniversary Allendale Challenge, North Pennines, Saturday, April 5, 2014

25M (26+ once you've fallen in the mud a few times)

Dougie Nisbet

David flying the Elvet Striders colours.Florance Nisbet ... I like it!So there I was, on the start line, chatting to my boss about email problems we were having at work, as you do, when I noticed the starting gadgie was talking. Probably saying important stuff that I should be listening to. I looked around and saw David Catterick a few yards away who, like me, was about to embark on his first Allendale Challenge. Old-hands Geoff and Susan had disappeared in the sizeable field of runners for this 25th anniversary of the event, but Florance Nisbet was expected.

May I see your papers Sir?It’s been a long time since I’ve done any race of this distance and I’m not remotely race-fit so I set of nice and steady. As way of preparation my literature search had indicated that mud and peat were key features of the adventure ahead.

Specific route information was sketchy but everything you need to know is on Shaun’s map from 2012. Forget any other maps you see – this is the one you need. The definitive guide. It is accurate in all the crucial details, except the dragons were not to be seen on Killhope Law this year. That may have been because the mist was down, or, more likely, they were scared away by the man with the trombone and the marshall with the spiky hat.

Puff the magic dragon, lives on Killhope Law.After several hours of sucky squashiness it was a blessed relief to be descending from Killhope Law and running again. I was overtaken by a runner who struck up a conversation and it turned out he worked and was living in Dundee, but didn’t know Colin Blackburn, or my brother, and was a graduate from Napier College in Edinburgh, just like me. We were just marvelling at the small-worldness of it all when I heard someone shouting my name from behind and I swirled round to see my workmate Emma and her walking partner Michael. This was a fantastic opportunity to walk for a bit and blame it on someone else. Later I could put it down as a magnanimous supporting gesture on my part but in truth it was great to take the foot of the gas, chill out, and simply enjoy the view.

Winning Smile.We drank and walked and chatted for a while, but here’s a top tip. You won’t find this simple weird tip on any other running websites – this is the sort of quality advice you’ll only get on the Striders website. Here it is: when you take a drink from your drink bottle, always remember to open your gob first. Or you will, as I discovered, smash your drinks bottle into your front teeth, with hilarious results.

My walking buddies didn’t seem to find this quite as fascinating or traumatic as I did, but we were all in pretty broad agreement that it was a decent sized chip. I’m not sure what other walkers thought of my impromptu gurning as I sought confirmation of my fears, or indeed, what my dentist is going to think of my explanation.

Soup came at the next checkpoint, and then I started getting chilly, so bade farewell to Michael and Emma and started running again. I’d hoped it would be easier on the last few miles as the surfaces improved and the weather brightened. But I was pretty spent by now and just concentrated on staring at the few yards of the ground in front of me and forced myself to jog steadily as much as possible. Into the Finish and, initially mistaken for a walker, they added two hours onto my already sluggish time, but then noticing the horrified expression on my face, they noted, “oh, you’re a runner?”. I looked down at my fetching mud-splatted Lycra shorts and Sportivas and thought, Do I look like a walker? (sorry if that sounds ‘walkerist’). Geoff and Susan appeared from nowhere with my leggings that I’d left beside their kitbag earlier, and I think, but hope not, that they’d been waiting patiently for my return for some not inconsiderable time so that they could return them, before dashing off. I hung around for a cup of tea and collected my beer and t-shirt. One of the classiest race t-shirts I’ve received – black, like the grouse, and just the name of the race and the year. No fuss. No adverts. Like it.

They think it's all over. They're correct!

Allendale Challenge, Saturday, March 31, 2012

26 miles

“The Finest Peat Bogs in the North Pennines”

Shaun Roberts…

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

… and this was in a dry year!

I’d had a go at this one years ago, and have been wanting to do it again for some time. My first attempt was well before I’d got any fell races at all under my belt, so I’d done it ‘road-runner’ style, taking whatever opportunity there was to do sections on road, thus avoiding the worst of the bog. So after weeks of rain-free weather, it seemed a good opportunity to do this race properly.

Well, it started well enough … there was actually some drizzle at the start. Nice n cool, with a bit of a breeze. About a hundred runners set off, and as I was in my road shoes, starting on a bit of tarmac, I thought I’d make hay while the sun failed to shine, and had quite a brisk start. I slowed down to something sensible as we hit the moors before the first checkpoint, and found the going quite manageable for the first hour. Then onto the rutted dry track up onto Mohope Moor that had me walking for most of it. As we got out onto the Moor, I’d had it in mind to keep to a fenceline all the way up the hill, but all the field ahead veered off on a faint sheeptrack, so I followed them and sure enough it petered out after a while, and more walking and leaping over tussocks ensued. Saw Geoff inexorably approaching behind me now, and after the trig point at Hard Rigg, heading into the bogs, he went past me, as I took a breather and a handful of jelly babies. After the recent drought, you’d scarcely believe just how deep the bogginess was up there. Every ten to twenty yards, or so it seemed, the feet would sink six inches to a foot into peaty gloop. I was happy wearing road shoes, with several very hard sections to come, but I’d been a tad concerned about how they’d cope up here. I needn’t have worried … I really don’t think that whatever was strapped to the bottom of your feet would have made the slightest difference as you heaved them out of the mud.

Your cut out n keep guide.

Finally, out of the bogs and onto the peat hags! No mention of this race ever fails to include these mountains of peat that have to be negotiated before getting to Killhope Law. This year, in the main, they were actually dry-ish, with only a few bits where, I heard later, some runners and walkers took a duff line and went in up to their waists, in some cases coming out without the footwear that accompanied the owner in. So I had little runs between hillocks, in a sort of ‘scuttling’ style that took me quickly down a hag and up onto the next one … where typically I’d have to come up short due to another sort of obstacle. The Walker. Yes, this event is a mixed one, where about 700 walkers set off at the crack of dawn, and we runners get to overtake the bloody lot of them during the day. The only problem being, of course, that on boggy paths, peaty trails, heathery tracks, this ‘overtaking’ is quite an energy-sapping business, needing a fair bit of knee-lifting and persistence as you go off-line to get past.

Good to get to Killhope Law, and get running again, first on some lovely soft grass, then on less-lovely hard stony track. To be honest, at this point I’d given up on getting a decent time for this race, as I seemed to have spent the best part of an hour and a half mainly walking. Yet legging it down the hill went well, and heading along the riverside on grass was great. On to the other ‘feature’ of this race, the Long Drag! I remember this hard bridleway going on forever last time, and being very hard underfoot … and so it was again. By this time, we’d overtaken nearly all the walkers, and the field had thinned out considerably. I was competing (vaguely) against two or three knackered runners who were doggedly but continuously running up the slope … whilst I walked a while, then managed a bit of a run, overtaking a couple, before they again overtook me. I think my strategy worked better, to be honest, because when the drag finally levelled out, I managed to get a bit of speed up and legged it to the last checkpoint at Ladle Well, then managed to get even more speed up over the last stretch of moor, familiar to Hexham Shehobble runners, and now had it in mind that a bit of a sprint through the village might get me under 4h30. So I finally burst into the hall, asking the helpful timing-women if I’d managed 4h29m … and she asked if I was ok with 4h28m?? Well-pleased, thank-you!

Saw Geoff part-way through a cup of tea in the corner, and he’d had a fast run, not hopelessly too far ahead of me. I staggered about waffling to all and sundry before getting changed and getting down to the pub for my Pie in a Sea of Peas … very welcome. There was also a difficult choice between three of my favourite beers, namely Taylors’ Landlord, Wylam Gold and Rivet Catcher … went for the latter, which went down very well indeed in what was now a warm sunny afternoon. Finally managed to catch up with Susan, who’d also had a fast run.

This was as good as this race gets … definitely a challenge, but doable if you leave your racing brain at home, Swaledale-style …

…and Aaron Gourley

As a lover of fell racing I couldn’t resist the thought of taking on the Allendale Challenge, all 26 miles of it!

My first attempt at this race and at this distance I was quite aware of the enormity of the task ahead, but I was feeling good, fairly fit after abstaining from the booze for nearly a year (not completely dry though!) and had done (some) training.

The week leading up to the race had been remarkably good and I’d heard the peat bogs would still be wet but nowhere near their usual man-eating selves. It was looking all too good. Saturday morning and the weather had taken a turn for the worse but the weather forecast for the area said it would be fine. Unsure whether to trust the forecast, I packed everything I have for the worst of the weather and set off.

Arriving in Allendale it seemed all too quiet for a place that was hosting such big event. Registering at the village hall I met up with my fell running partner in crime, Jen to debate over what kit we would need.

10am soon arrived and we were off. My race strategy was not to race, I’d consciously broken down the race into quarters so to allow me to consider this as series of smaller runs. The first two quarters passed without trouble. Making it up to the halfway point in good time I was feel ok but the uphills across the first of the peat bogs had already taken its toll on my energy levels.

Stopping for a cup tea and a few sweets, I was ready to tackle the next section. Now I’d heard all about the peat hags but never expected them to resemble WW1 trenches. This really took its toll on my already aching legs. Normally my races are a maximum of 13/14 miles so I was really beginning to struggle with the constant up and downs in these peat hags. Making it out of these and onto the stoney track was a relief but I was starting to feel cramp so I slowed right down.

Making it to the next check point was a relief and the veg soup on offer was an unexpected bonus. I probably spent too much time here but it was a nice breather ready for the next section, a lovely run alone the riverside up to spartylea checkpoint. From here it was a long slog uphill on the aptly named The Drag. It went on for ever and I was really feeling the burn now so I walked nearly all of this until it levelled out. Picking up the pace down to the last check point I passed a number of walkers who must have noticed my grim features and gave me encouraging words like ‘well done’ followed by ‘not far now’. Thanks for that.

From the last check point it was a few more miles across fairly decent track until eventually you drop back onto the road down to Allendale which is the first section you run up on the Hexhamshire Hobble. Remembering how steep this is I knew there wasn’t far to go but my legs were aching now so it hurt getting back into town.

Turning the corner to be greeted by friends gave me the boost needed for the final stride back to the village hall in 5hrs39mins. Absolutely shattered I had just enough energy to get my pie and peas. Unfortunately I didn’t have the energy to finish them!

In all a fantastic run in a beautiful part of the country, but bloody hard. Will I be back next year? More than likely yes.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Mark Thompson Saltwell M 1 3:48
14 Beverley Redfern Carnethy F 1 4:11
17 Geoff Davis NFR M 4:22
22 Shaun Roberts M 4:28
52 Susan Davis NFR F 5:03
85 Aaron Gourley M 5:40

97 finishers.

Allendale Challenge, Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Allendale Challenge is a 25 mile run (and walk) over the moors around Allendale. Three Striders took part wearing their NFR vests. Rob Stephens report on the NFR website give a real flavour of this grueling event.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Philip Addyman NFR 3.51
7 Geoff Davis NFR 4.28
11 Louise Wilkinson NFR 4.40
18 Emma Bain NFR 5.00
25 Susan Davis NFR 5.19

43 finishers.