First, Dougie Nisbet…
We arrived at the race HQ a full hour before kick-off and parked in a sycamore tree at the side of the lane. Escorted by a friendly entourage of midges I walked up to registration and reported for duty. I wasn’t sure how DFR were doing for helpers and had turned up nice and early in case I was essential to requirements. Apparently I wasn’t so there was nothing for it but to race. Everything was ticking over nicely with lots of marshalls on hand so I gave Paul the nod and he shoved a tenner over the table and we were entered. That just left 59 minutes to hang around and drink coffee and get bitten by the midges. Will showed up for a bit on his way to the relay and the clock quickly counted down to 11AM.
I surveyed the small field with trepidation. I often joke that in fell races I “count my position from the back” assuming that one day I shall stop having to do this calculation. I think I may have to wait awhile yet as a fearsome looking pack lined up for the briefing. It was a shame that the field only comprised 34 runners as it was looking like being a good day. There was to be a course alteration. A bit further up the track to go over the bridge rather than fording a gushing brook. This was disappointing but apparently the beck was in full spate and the organiser had decided that it would be too risky to take the usual line. He clearly thought there’s no use getting into heavy becking, it only leads to trouble, and seat wetting.
The race got underway and I tucked in at the back and was still at the back when Casper, Kayden and Will cheered me on at the top of the first brae. I’d been wanting to do this race for years ever since I did the recce a few years ago just before the race was revived. It struck me that despite being an out and back, the view and terrain looked so different depending on which way you were pointing it might just as well be a circular route. What I hadn’t expected was the added interest of seeing the fast guys coming back the other way as I approached the turn, and trying to work out how far I had still to go. You get to climb, clamber, squelch and spring through some great and varied Teesdale countryside on this course with a crocodile and a jelly baby waiting for you when you get to the halfway point.
On the way back, around the 8 mile mark, and not for from the back, I realised something that I’d hitherto only suspected. I really wasn’t very fit. Usually it’s cardio that holds me back in a fell race but today my muscles hurt. On the fast few miles descending to the finish I had time to reflect on how rapidly hard-earned fitness can fizzle away. I was still contemplating this when I crossed the line but soon the scent of the barbeque hit my nostrels and I heard the unmistakable call of Pluvialis apricaria from within the Stathmore Arms. Paul had a good race finishing fifth. I was happy to finish sixth, but counting from the other end.
Despite being a lonely spot this race isn’t particularly scary. The cut-off time for the half-way point is generous and most Striders could toddle round this 11 miles of dramatic and varied Teesdale fells comfortably. More folks should give this one a try.
…and Paul Evans
Ten minutes before the race and not so much as a twitch of competitiveness; no warm-up, no stretching, not even the usual feeling of slight nausea and tingling feet that tends to be the precursor to eben the shortest of races for me. Basically, Dougie, sat half-in/half-out of his car to make the most of the sun that was bathing Upper Teesdale, coffee mug on fold-up table and equally disinclined to make his way to the start-line, was showing me another way to prepare and I was enjoying it far more than my normal method of pacing and making repeated trips to the toilet. however, all good things come to an end and having paid the £5 entry-fee it would have been silly not to have run the scenic out-and-back course, particularly as we were being treated to a new variant, courtesy of the recent heavy rain that had apparently rendered one beck to dangerous to cross (meaning we had to spend a bit more time on the track heading out of Holwick before hitting the mud) and the Tees too high to take the traditional halfway dunk in; this added about half a mile to the course all-in.
There being only 34 runners, everything was kept extremely low-key, to the point that I barely heard the countdown to the start and set off about a third of the way down the pack, the plan being to take things fairly easy for the first two miles on the hard stuff and hope that the front-runners burned themselves out; I lasted half a mile, about the point where we passed Will H, Kayden and Kasper before realising that with such a small field this wasn’t really viable and it was probably best to just stick to a semi-comfortable pace for the first half and see how things went from there. The first couple of miles dragged and it was a relief, once a short clarty stretch linking the track to the path that forms the normal race route was negotiated, to be running on grass again, even if getting any kind of rhythm was made awkward by the frequent beck crossings; the first significant climb, subsequent descent through calf-deep water and long drag up onto the fell itself came as a relief as the ground got drier and the footing easier.
A pleasant undulating stretch over the rocky outcrops and alpine plants of the fell came and went, giving way to a sharp, wet descent to the flood-plain of the Tees. Covered in knee-deep grass and crossed by streams, with scant signs of a path, it was a case of follow-my-leader to the halfway flag, then back the way we’d come, passing outbound runners all the way to the top of the hill. Dougie looked surprisingly cheery as he waved a camera at me; i didn’t feel quite as good as he looked, having spent the climb reeling in the chasing pack. Now came the most enjoyable two miles of the race – mostly downhill, fast and, for me productive – I hit the bridge onto the track a narrow third, though this proved unsustainable, two of the runners I’d overtaken just proving too fast with hard ground under their feet. For some reason this section seemed to pass a lot faster than on the outward leg and the finish at the Strathmore Arms, at the bottom of the hill, came around quickly. There was barely time to stretch before more runners followed, including the female winner, Tamsin Clark of RZH in her first ever fell race, and a still-smiling Dougie.
Good beer and cheap burgers and a prize list that encompassed the entire field capped off a superb morning’s running – this race deserves a bigger field, even if waiting for the prizes did cost us the chance to get back in time for the relay – the one downside of the day.
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