Well I have actually. But I’ve never done Captain Cooks, which is almost as bad as never having tried Harrier League, or Brussels sprouts. You can’t claim not to like something unless you’ve tried it. Despite having a great fondness for the Esk Valley fell races this particular fixture had never really appealed to me for some reason. I usually prefer Nine Standards or the (newly returned) Hillforts and Headaches.
I’d heard it was a busy race so I arrived about an hour early, which by my standards is an eternity. After finding somewhere to park an indecently long way from registration I turned up at the Royal Oak to see lots of happy smiling Striders. They were smiling, I think, because they turned up 2 hours early and had already registered. After a while I found the end of the queue and wondered if I’d get to the front before the race started.
I hadn’t been sure about Kit requirements. Although it’s a pretty short race I noticed from Steph’s 2015 report that she considered carrying, amongst other things, a knife (type unspecified, a Rambo one I assumed), so I thought I’d better at least take the basics. It could be rough out there.
I registered with only about 10 minutes to spare and I still didn’t know what shoes I was going to wear! I wandered up to a few random and not-so-random strangers and barked: “Trail or Walshes?!”. One brief straw-poll later and it was pretty clear that Walshes were the clear choice. I ran back to the car, had a quick costume change, then back to the Start with a few seconds to spare.
And then we had the race, which was ok. You went up a hill, not going round the monument (which I thought was a bit ungracious – I was tempted to run round it anyway), then back down again. On the climb I was glad for the Walshes as they dug in nicely and I could see lots of runners, an amazing number of runners, who were in road shoes and wasting a lot of energy sliding about and going twice the distance. They’d also managed to fit their entire kit requirements into a matchbox sized pocket in the back of their pants which was pretty impressive.
Despite there being loads of Striders at registration I saw none around me. I kept thinking I saw Camilla ahead and hoped I might catch her by the finish. I was somewhat bewildered to find her at the level crossing cheering me on and I paused to work out what was going on. Then another marshall told me to stop chatting and keep moving. I glanced back and noticed Jan hunting me down and I wasn’t having that, so moving I kept.
As we approached Great Ayton I was a bit bemused to discover I’d crossed the finish line in the middle of a field. What devil’s work was this? A fell race? That didn’t finish outside the pub it started at? Surely there’s some law against that? Then the hailstorm started and the kit that I was carrying that had been of no value at the monument suddenly became quite handy for the walk back to the car.
So what do I think? I enjoyed it. It’s a good race. But I think I enjoy Nine Standards more. It’s got snow at the top and everything. And by my calculations, the 20 minutes extra that it takes to drive to Kirkby Stephen is easily saved by not having to stand in a long queue or park 10 minutes away. So next year I’ll probably head back to Nine Standards. But then there’s Hillforts and Headaches… Hmmm… That’s the good thing about fell races. EOD. Decide in the morning when you wake up.
This was a very different racing experience for me, fast flat road running and PB hunting is all I’ve ever trained for. I’m the first to admit that fell and mud running is just not my bag. I hate the constant stop/starting, sliding in the the mud, kit list, carrying kit, worry about correct shoes, getting lost, navigation, walking steep sections, and being completely unable to compare one race to another. This is just a small list of the preconceptions which I held before the race which thankfully I no longer hold due to first hand experience.
Entry on the day was very easy and people soon started talking about kit you would have to carry and kit checks which made me panic as my kit consisted of a running coat, cheap fell shoes and that’s about it. Thankfully when I was watching people slowly gather and talked to other more experienced striders I soon realised I could ditch the coat and warm up best I could before the race.
Pre race strider photo call done, it was time for a quick pre race catchup and getting some info on what I had let myself in for.
I’ve been struggling with injury problems for the last 3 months and this was my first race back. Feeling heavy and not in the best shape I was not expecting much and was just hoping to not embarrass myself too much. I’ve decided to try some different things for this year and captain cooks fell race seemed like a perfect start.
Conditions were wet and very muddy, but the predicted black ice did not show, so my shoes just about did the trick. The start is fast and felt like a road race for the first mile but wearing the wrong shoes. Then the hill slowly hits, then the monster mountain knocks you out. I’m sure this is normal for fell running but I’ve never experienced pain quite like it. You have no option but to walk it’s that steep, and even constant walking was almost too much at times.
We slowly peeked at the captain cooks monument and then the mad crazy dash down the muddy hills begin. I’ve always been OK on down hill but my legs just would not recover. I slowly picked the speed up and even passed a few people on the down hill. Then the true fell runners flew past me and I was left in awe and eating their dust. Truly a different species and something very special to see.
The last section was again more like a fast road race which felt good to me, then a quick XC mud dash and sprint to the line. All over in a painful flash and confused blur as somehow I’d just managed to keep things together.
It’s hard judging your race time in an event like this but most seemed pleased with their runs. A few got lost on the top, a few bumps and falls too. With Thomas Reeves sporting the most cuts closely followed by Catherine Smith.
We all retired to a local pub for some much needed food and refreshment. Some great performances and a really enjoyable way to start the new year. A well deserved 2nd place for the elvet female team and a respectable 6th for the men’s. Definitely something I will try again.
… Louise Warner
Being a fan of tarmac and intolerant to both hills and mud I never really considered attempting a fell race. And then I was presented with potential of the Captain Cook Race which was on New Years’ Day when let’s be honest, most of us are a little worse for wear after feeling obliged to stay up late the night before, drinking. After several wonderful reports on this ‘little, punchy race perfect for beginners’ I somehow agreed.
On the morning of New Years’ Day I suddenly felt a little nervous. I had no idea what to pack and so after being told I needed no specialist equipment, threw three outfit changes, several pairs of trainers, a packet of baby wipes and a chocolate milkshake into a ruck sack and set off in pursuit of my first fell race. As I was picked up by a bunch of hardened and experienced fell runners (Penny, Paul, Tom and Joan) I got the opportunity to ask lots of questions but still arrived at the destination full of trepidation.
The Royal Oak pub was filled with serious looking runners and plenty of friendly faces wearing purple though I was then informed at registration that I needed to carry a waterproof jacket during the run as minimum basic FRA equipment. Steph Piper came to my rescue with a spare bum bag, waterproof jacket and whistle which then left me able to continue.
Right on time, at 10:55 we assembled across Great Ayton High Street, somewhere close to where the imaginary start line would be and after a minute or two worth of instructions about ‘being careful on the black ice’ we were off, en masse in the direction of some very large hills. I started slowly making sure I kept lots in the tank for whatever presented itself but it was clear from the start this ‘race’ was going to be nothing like I’ve ever done before – my two previous favourite run events being the GNR and Blaydon! The run started with a relative gentle upwards gradient first on road and then more onto a trail-like track becoming narrower and narrower until it was quite quickly a single file traffic event running up the side of a progressively steep hill, the top of which was not yet apparent.
The next 1.5 miles involved no running at all and were essentially a battle against the laws of physics with me scrambling up the side of a very steep hill (mountain’) trying to reach the top in as dignified a manner as possible. Jan Young was a welcome sight halfway up the ascent, shouting positive comments to spur us Striders on. I was also aware Mandy Dawson was right behind me and so my ego kept me going, upwards. Oh what a sight the summit was”..
It was like a game of two halves with the next part being all of the fun. After 100m of flattish track the path went sharply down and I suddenly seen the pace quicken though this was nothing like I was used to, not even with a couple of XC events behind me as experience. This is where the seasoned fell runners came into their own and a couple of incredibly fast men came almost literally flying past me down the side of the mountain. And so I attempted to join them and leaving my inhibitions behind went as fast as I could through the mud, bog, bushes and uneven ground, downwards towards the village, just about managing to curb my desire to shout like a child as I went. The terrain flattened though the mud remained and I almost lost a shoe to it. Once I’d arrived back on solid, flattish ground, and knowing the end couldn’t be much more than a mile away my confidence picked up and I then started to ‘race’ in the sense I previously understood. The end was incredible with a good sprint finish to prevent the guy behind me from winning and then I was met by a sea of friendly faces at the finish line (again imaginary) and many Striders, either spectating or already finished ahead of me. Including Tom who had seemingly hurled himself of the side of the mountain and was sporting two bleeding hands, two bloodied knees and a large graze up one thigh, shorts ripped. Though he’d incredibly spared the pink bum bag he was wearing!
As confused as I was about whatever had just happened I very much enjoyed this run and would definitely consider doing it again next year.
At some point in December, following Jan and Paul’s deceptively encouraging description of this race I made the decision to tackle the Captain Cook’s fell race – what better way to bring in the New Year than with a new running challenge?
New Year’s Eve came around. I dug out my Camelback rucksack and stuffed it with three different waterproof jackets, trousers, map, compass, whistle and penknife – just in case I needed to cut my arm off. Emergency jelly babies also went in as a precaution. The FRA kit-list was a little intimidating – all this for a five mile yomp up a hill and back? Yikes.
I travelled down with Scott and Diane Watson, who were also running, and their daughter Kathryn who had come to spectate and take photographs. Once registered it was time to sort out the bag. Scott kindly (ruthlessly?) vetted the contents (out went two of the jackets, the trousers, the jelly babies and the knife…). Ready to race? You betcha.
As a GP race, fellow Striders were out in force. We had just enough time for a group photo with the wicker soldier before bunching up at the start line. Despite having read the last few years’ race reports and studying the route I really had no idea what to expect, so I simply focussed on getting round the race and set off at a steady pace.
Once out of the village and off the tarmac, the trail soon became narrow and muddy. The frost and snow from the past few days had thawed in the balmy 12 degrees and turned the trail thick with clarts the Mud Captains would have been proud of. It wasn’t long before the steady running pace turned to a walk as each step tried to claim a shoe, an ankle, a competitor.
Hidden within the depths of the woods was the steepest ascent. I craned my neck upwards to see the legs and feet of several Striders disappearing from view. Mel Hudson appeared at my side and we trudged upwards before finally breaking out of the trees to be buffeted by a strong side wind across the tops. Mel put her head down and started on ahead, towards the monument itself, which was miraculously close – I’d almost forgotten we were meant to be running! I kept close as the route turned downhill across slabs and track, picking up plenty of speed past the fir trees decorated with tinsel and baubles.
The descent steepened and deteriorated into even thicker mud, resembling the Aykley Heads XC course – but on steroids. Choose a line: through the middle, ankle deep? Jump from side to side? I tried the latter, pinballing between trees and the sides of the ruts, but these were covered in the slick mud churned up by the runners in front and far too unstable. Through the middle it was then, praying I tied my laces tight enough.
We skirted the old mines before descending on to tarmac and past the houses of Gribdale Terrace and Dikes Lane. Almost every inhabitant had come out to watch us, waving, cheering and wishing a “Happy New Year” over the garden wall. The sharp right hand bend and short, steep uphill section took me by surprise. I walked again, not recalling how much was left of the race from the map and how much energy I might need to conserve. Mark Dunseith thundered past, shouting over his shoulder I was under the hour mark and disappeared through a gate as the course headed back off-road. I followed suit, determined not to let him get too far ahead as the route took the occasional twist and turn through more woods and fields.
Suddenly I heard shouting and looked up from my detailed study of the still-clarty trail to see that a sea of multicoloured people were stood around the next corner. Was this the end? Surely not. It couldn’t be over already? I crossed the line, bewildered, into the laughing and clapping throng of far speedier Striders. What had just happened? My first fell race was conquered, and the seed of a new running curiosity was planted. That was what happened.
What better way to start a New Year than with an exciting fast fell race. A great turn out of Striders all in high spirits at the start line. My aim was to complete the race without falling over or losing a trainer. The off soon came along with some rain but that just made the race that little bit more interesting.
The climb up to Captain Cooks Monument was just as I remembered, looking up to see what was to climb praying that nobody above my head took a tumble because it would wipe everyone off the hill face, Mike Bennett and Richard Hall over took me at this point, I opted for walking.
Once at the top the downhill was for the brave as I trod carefully losing some places in the race this was where Aaron ran passed giving words of encouragement. Soon a stretch of road where I put my foot down and sped as fast as I could knowing that the time lost on the downhill drop needed to be made up.
Another uphill on the road ahead where I dropped a gear and tackled it by using small steps on my toes to get myself to the top without walking. Through a gate and onto a farmers field followed by a long trail of deep gluey stick mud which mixed in with a lot of gates to open and close proved tricky in stop/starting and trying not to slip in the mud.
The end was here “so soon” I thought. I could hear some cheers from already finished Striders Paul, David, Mike, Graeme, Richard, Aaron, and Shaun. Not far behind me came Jan followed by Camilla and the rest of our pack.
So the first race of the year was complete without falling over and with both trainers still on my feet. Well done everyone!
New Marske Harriers
Ralph Heppell *HS
*HS Honorary Strider. Mens’ teams 11th and 18th of 20. Womens’ teams 2nd and 11th of 12.
10:59am, New Year’s Day 2013, exactly twelve months since I was last on the starting line in Great Ayton, just outside the Royal Oak pub ready for the Captain Cook’s Fell Race.
My thoughts drift back to twelve glorious months of running taking in some of the north’s finest races like the Allendale Challenge, Swaledale Marathon, Bowderdale Wild Race, Chevy Chase, Guisborough 3 Tops, Great North Run, Darlington 10K and not forgetting the mud bath that is the Harrier League.
2012 was my first full year as a Strider and slowly but surely my running has progressed. Taking three minutes off my 2011 Darlington 10K time then running 1hr44mins at the Bridgwater Half Marathon only to run 1hr42mins at the Great North Run two weeks later. I even shaved seven minutes off my previous time round the ice rink that was the Hexhamshire Hobble.
And so it turns 11:00am and we’re off on a glorious winter morning; a year older, wiser and hopefully faster. Knowing what’s coming I try to keep up the pace without blowing out too soon but as usual this goes out the window as I get sucked in to the atmosphere of a race.
As is usual with Esk Valley Fell races the mud is thick and sticky, the climbs torturously steep and the descents as terrifying as they are exhilarating. Unperturbed, I carry on turning off the road and onto the track for the near vertical slog up to Captain Cook’s monument.
“And this is fun?” a breathless Graeme Walton quizzed as we hauled ourselves up the track.
Once at the monument the real fun begins with a fast downhill back to Great Ayton.
Covered in mud, totally exhausted but smiling from ear to ear I cross the finish line in 44 minutes (2 and a half minutes faster than last year), to be greeted by those in purple vests that are way faster than me.
2013 has a lot to live up to but got off to a great start.
Lots of rain and wind overnight, but getting close to Great Ayton the weather seemed pretty mild, with just a bit of breeze. Met Mike in the car park, and another runner asked if it was ‘shorts or tights’ …. shorts we said, definitely. I thought of him as we headed out into the driving rain that came in five minutes before the start. A start that was unusually punctual, I should say … in previous years we’ve started half an hour late, but Dave Parry’s new streamlined entry system worked a treat, and handled a record turnout of nearly 300 runners. Numbers are definitely on the up in fell races at the moment …
The usual fast road start, out into the aforementioned rain, then off onto increasingly muddy tracks and then open fields before the fast walk up towards Captain Cook’s Monument itself. Felt pretty good coming up, and overtook a few on the way … wanted to make as much progress as I could before the clarty slippy descent to come. Nice to get the wind to the rear as we turned back northwards, then we had some slippy paving to skate over or skirt round, and then the awkward steep muddy descent. Note to Graham: I was just slightly less “like an old woman with a zimmer frame” coming down here this time. After this, strangely, the thick clarty sections to come were a dream to run on – just hammered straight through the stuff.
The last couple of miles across fields and down decent tracks were brilliant … great to really stretch the legs out. I got to the finish just 12 seconds down on my best time for this one, so I was happy with that. David (‘Gibbo’, ‘The Gibmaster’, …) Gibson was already there after what looked like a fast run. Mike came in soon afterwards, doing well coming back from injury, with Nina finishing strongly not far behind. Didn’t see Aaron come in (Do you need a visit to the kitmistress, Aaron? Always a pleasure …) then Jan was along, also finishing very strongly, her sciatica not hugely apparent, given that she had nearly a hundred other runners behind her! Phil had a good run, having nearly 50 runners also behind him, and even Alister was well in front of the sweeper, with not at all a bad run – you really had to see him in the flesh before the race to appreciate how much he’d had to drink the night before!
Great way to start the year … thanks to Jan for organising the meal in Stokesley afterwards … a good crack, as ever.
Alister Robson adds:
If I’m being honest I don’t remember a great deal about this one thanks to the exertions of the previous evening when I was (over)celebrating a fantastic year of running …
Some hazy recollections include; Phil banging on the door at 9am to wake me up, trying to fill in the entry form, trying to start my Garmin only to realise I’d forgotten it, being too cold and wet to take off my jacket, wearing my buff on my head as it was so cold and I’d forgotten my hat (and gloves), slipping and sliding up and down a ruddy great hill and a huge moment of relief when I thought for one horrible second that we still had to climb Roseberry Topping.
Still a lovely dinner and pint in the pub on the way home (no change of dry clothes) then straight back to bed where I stayed for the whole of the rest of the day.
Kids – don’t fell race still drunk – it’s not big and it’s not clever, (but if you must, make sure that you pack your running kit before you go out the night before!)
Arriving at Great Ayton, after the usual struggle to get out of bed, there didn’t look to be much snow on the moors – yet the Esk Valley website had put some photos up from a recce the day before, which showed loads of snow still lying about. So it turned out – not that the snow was much of a problem – it was the sheets of ice in a couple of places that had to be skated over very carefully. Despite queues out of the door of the Royal Oak from an hour before the start, we set off on time …
The usual fast road start, then as we turned off to head for the monument, we had the first sheets of ice, near a farm. Very awkward. I’d been trying to keep up with Keri, ahead, but she pulled away here. Climbing through fields, there was now quite a bit of drifted snow (see photo, below, of Claire). We ended up on the final climb up to the monument, with everyone walking up hands on knees. Good to get running again at the top – I’d expected the paving section on the way back to be very slippy, but there was plenty of space here to get on the grass, so it wasn’t too bad.
Then a good fast descent on the broad track – as we turned off this, Nina went past me, going very well, then as we descended steeply off the hill, David Gibson did the same, but perhaps a tad too fast, as he ended up on his backside! He was fine, though – he was the only one I saw going over, actually. Graham now went past, helpfully pointing out “I see you’re still descending like an old woman with a zimmer frame”. He was quite right, though I was blaming my aching knee for a bit of that. For his part, I thought he was doing well to get that lot out in one breath!
Now we could get a head of steam up as it levelled out a bit, but this time Nigel went past. I was very pleased to get onto a bit of tarmac now, went past Nigel again, extolling the virtues of this reliable running surface. I took a quick gander at my Garmin here, to see I was doing 5:40 minute-miling! That was more like it. I had quite a good run in to the finish, despite more ice and snow on the way back – thought I may have seen Graham, David or Nina on the way back, but it didn’t happen.
Then off to the pub in Stokesley for a pint and a good meal – a great start to the year.
Nigel adds …
At one point on the ice through the farmyard I thought I’d joined the cast of ‘Riverdance’ – surrounded by a bunch of tippy-tappy, high-stepping mincers – and then there was a bit of formation line-dancing as another group ahead of me on the moor top leapt from one side of a runnel to the other in unison and back again, with all the flowing grace of a Widdecombe.
After you took off past me down the tarmac bit (yuk), I was barrelling along with a couple of more sensible folk when ahead of us on the roadway lay a pair of quality runners gloves; there was a tiny, fractional moment where we three runners simultaneously thought “I’m havin’ those”, followed one step later by “some poor runner has lost those beautiful gloves, probably a Christmas present, I’d better collect them and take them to the finish line” followed one further step later by “If I stop now and try to bend down a) my back will give out, b) my head will explode, c) I’ll never get up again, and d) I’ll struggle to get running again; and so, with a furtive sidelong glance to each other and without breaking our stride we passed them by and left it for some other kind soul to return them to their rightful owner. Such are the joys of being a V55.
Didn’t the girls do well!
Note: now that six of the thirteen NYM Winter Series fell races have been completed, the current positions in each age category are now online (link, below). Tom is leading the MV40s (well done, mate!), I’m 13th in the MV50s, Nigel’s 11th in the MV55s, and Jan is 2nd in the FV55s. Plenty of races to go to pick up some more points …
North York Moors
205 finishers. Well done to the Striders Ladies for finishing first.
Snow was coming down all over the northeast of England as we drove to Great Ayton for this one, and quite a few couldn’t get through. The Hillforts and Headaches had been cancelled, further north, and as we lined up at the start it was still coming down. Quite a good turnout despite the conditions, and we legged it towards the hill over slippy snow. The long drag then slowed us all down a bit, and Tom, David and Mike all went past me along here, trying to catch Paul Evans.
Then the usual steep walk up to the top and the Captain Cook Monument itself – only visible as you got close amidst the low cloud. Quite a nice run along the top then down the broad snow-covered track. I never like the awkward descent off here, and this time it was very slippy, but soon after you could get a head of steam up as it levels out a bit. Onto the section of tarmac – this was really slippy. At the bend in the road the marshals and spectators were all warning us to go very slowly as there had been a few people going over, as above.
After a bit of a climb, we finished with a nice more or less downhill stretch through fields back into Great Ayton – I went over on one bit here, bashing my elbow, but came off much better than Jan, who came in with a very sore wrist after a fall. This needed a visit to James Cook hospital, and sadly, it turned out to be a fractured radius, so she’s going to have a pot on for the next few weeks. Even more sadly, she had to miss the excellent meal at the Spreadeagle in Stokesley that she’d organised. Get well soon Jan!