Mike B, Mike H and I climbed up Cleveland Way footpath from Clay bank top, against freezing headwind along Urra moor edge, 2k incline across Urra Moor to trig on Round Hill, then fast as you can descent down Carr Ridge and Greenhow Plantation woods to finish. Plenty of bog and mud. Had a bad shoes lace day, stopped three times to fasten, threatened to ‘cut them off’ as descending runners passed me. I’ll ensure that doesn’t happen again. Pays to hang around for presentation; Mike B, 2ndM55, picked up wine, his rival having left before presentation. ( If you don’t hang around, you don’t get your prize: organiser’s rule.)
For those of you who haven’t tried fell running and want to build strength and stamina we recommend NEHRA fell runs. All are ‘Enter on Day’, friendly events, compass required only in adverse weather, though map useful if you can’t keep runners in sight, most walk up all the climbs, varied terrain – forest trails, paved paths, heather, most within an hour drive of Durham, fell/trail shoes essential if you want to stay upright on descents/ in bog, car share available.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year we had bright low sunshine, with superb views around the moors and crisp frost to run over. This time around was to be a much murkier, clartier affair. The route looks a bit intimidating at the start, as you look up to the edge of Urra Moor from Clay Bank … and yet, once up that steep slope, most of the rest is pretty runnable. Met Tom, Dave, Dave and Jan at the start … didn’t see Dougie then, though afterwards he says he heard me!
After a bit of a delay due to the good turnout, we were off, and funnelling towards a gate. We squeezed through this, and then I had a bit of luck. A little group ahead of me peeled off to the right, scrambling up the hill over grass, rather than sticking to the track, so I thought I’d follow them. Wasn’t sure whether this was a good idea until, reaching the top, faster runners went past, which is a sure sign that it was a good idea. Nice running now, along the edge of the hill, followed by a short steep bank before a long slightly uphill drag to the trig point. The conditions were getting really murky up here now … the excellent and atmospheric photos (link below) give a flavour of this. After a slightly annoying bit of two-way traffic along a sheep track, we now had a superb gently-sloping downhill section of about two miles, interrupted by a short uphill bit of forest track in the clartiest, and messiest of conditions. Great to hammer down to the finish after this bit.
Tom was already in, after a great run to get inside the top twenty. I was a tad disappointed to come in a fair bit slower than last year, but I was higher up the field ??? So perhaps some of that was due to the clartiness. Dave Selby wasn’t long after me, claiming ‘Won’t be long before I’m in front of you!’ We shall see. Dave Shipman enjoyed his run, as did Jan, once again completely outclassing her age-group competitors – sorry, competitor – to win even more wine. Sure she’s winning it faster than she can drink it. And Dougie was next in, still ahead of 25 others, and also enjoyed a lovely little fell race, which I can recommend to anyone. Note:This was the 8th race of the 14 in the NEHRA Winter Series, and Esk Valley have collated the latest positions … see link below. Still 6 more to go, and so all to play for, with 8 results counting. Next up the ‘Broughton Woods Wobble’ on the 3rd of Feb, also from Clay Bank, and also, it looks to me, ‘runnable’. Details here.
Driving through thick fog on motorway, we packed compasses and maps into bumbags. No need, no fog on Clay Bank, but ground frozen rock solid, so no shoe cleaning. We climbed Cleveland Way paved path, skirted edge of Urra Moor in biting headwind, buffs over noses, crossed moor to Round Hill, touched the cairn, descended Carr Ridge, hurtled down through Greenhow Plantation to finish. The long queues at registration felt like 200 again, 170 ran.
Shaun, 1st MV55, got the points, but not the wine, as Dave Parry awarded it incorrectly. He’s slipping up with his results these days and we have to keep him right! Looking at stats, Nina, (Nigel were you trying to catch her?) was 9.5 mins behind first female, which says something about quality of field. Cal, running steadily, finished in a solid 117/170 – good to see him out racing again. Phil ‘the hill’ Sanderson, NFR, led the way as expected. Thank goodness he runs on Striders’ team at Harrier Leagues.
I arrived late, to find Tom and about 60 other runners already lined up and ready to go. Fresh snowfall and hard frost overnight made the conditions quite interesting underfoot as we climbed up the steep hill towards Urra Moor. I learnt early on that there was a sinister layer of sheet ice hiding under the top cover of loose snow over most of the trail. The trick was to run to one side in amongst the heather but the temptation to go for the open track was hard to resist and a lot of runners found themselves sprawling on the ground at one time or another during this race, in fact the two ladies who fell over 4 times each were awarded prizes later on.
If you could manage to take your eyes off the ground for a second or two the views of the snow-clad moors were stunning on this bright sunny day. On the long (2k), steady haul up to the Mound Hill waypoint the surface of the broad track offered ridged ice in the middle, a crusty concoction on the left with the risk of breakthrough, and undulating drifts to the right. It was difficult to pick a runnable line.
Striding out back downhill on a gentle snowy slope it became obvious that we were running down what was really a drift-filled stream bed as there was evidence in one or two places where someone’s leg had gone through to the darkness below. Tom got caught by this and was proudly displaying his battle-scarred thigh when I eventually arrived at the finish. The last steep descent off the escarpment saw a lot of runners carefully picking their way down the Cleveland Way path but it seemed obvious to me to go straight down through the heather and I manage to pick off quite a few this way. Evidently, the finish was in a different location to the start due to ice, etc, and a deviation to the original route had been devised but only a few people managed to follow it properly so there was some discussion as to the significance of this. The organiser, Dave Parry, announced that the variations were permissible and the bulk of the field had followed each other in any event.
Tom had a strong run and came in not far behind the V40 leader while I bagged next to top points in the V55 category. DFR won just about everything else and staggered off with a few crates of wine bottles.
Addendum: I forgot to mention that Tom’s wife Joan also ran this race and deserves an honourable mention for being one of the few who followed the proper course: the rest of us cheated by cutting off a corner.