If you can only do one fell race in the North York Moors, Guisborough Three Tops would be my strong recommendation. Highlights include the stunning view of Yorkshire villages from Highcliffe Nab; picture-perfect like a postcard. This is followed immediately by a daring downhill dash into headwind so strong that your snot flies vertically, back into your face!
There is the breathless scramble to Roseberry Topping’s trig point past amused walkers and tourists. And my favourite bit of all, that slightly insane descent down the steep, grassy side of Roseberry Topping. A true fell runner will descend in what would be best described as a “controlled fall”.
This time, only four Striders braved the start line; which is surprising considering it is a GP race. Mike Bennett was the first Strider home but was stung by a 15 minute penalty for missing a newly introduced loop. Camilla and Jan also finished strongly, perhaps adding to their wine collection?
Best of all, this race will take place again this September as part of the English Fell Running Championships. So come on! Sign up now at the Esk Valley Club’s website and hope to see you there.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
After the anticlimactic finish to the x-country at Blaydon on Saturday I was feeling a little bit like a wound up toy that hadn’t been released so it was with good fortune that the Guisborough Three Tops fell race was the next day and would give me the opportunity to release that pent-up energy.
On the start line at Guisborough Rugby Club were fellow Striders, Jan, Mike B, Danny Lim making his race debut and Shaun. Now last year, I huffed and puffed my way around this course in vain pursuit of Shaun who eventually proved too strong to catch and lost me on the final climb up to Guisborough Moors trig point. For those that don’t know, Shaun has a bit of a history in shaking off his pursuers in this race and this time, although I’d have liked to believe I’d have a chance of keeping pace with him, at best I would have just been happy to beat my time from last year.
With the worst storm in living memory apparently rearranging garden furniture in the South, the forecast for the day wasn’t too bad, albeit a little blustery and with conditions underfoot relatively ok it was looking set for tough but enjoyable race.
A decent turnout for the race meant for a cramped start as the trail narrowed up into the woods for the hard, steep long climb up to Highcliffe Nab. From here the trail opens up onto the Cleveland Way heading to Roseberry Topping. The route then takes a slight detour off the main path through a tight single track which allowed me the opportunity to practice my front rolls. Missing a foothold sent me head first into a ditch but I rectified this with a front roll which those behind me found highly impressive.
Despite this little tumble I pressed on. At the approach to Roseberry Topping I showed my true form and took the fell runners line down the side of the stone wall as others made their way precariously down the flagstone path, gaining a few places in the process. (I’m not that good by the way; I just know a good line down this section) At the foot of Roseberry Topping it was head down time for the slog to the summit. The strength of the wind made itself known at the top knocking me onto all fours. Back on my feet I spot Shaun heading back towards me on his way back down. Time for a battle!
I touch the trig point and start my descent, Shaun’s about 50 meters ahead with three others behind him, I play my trump card, I have my Inov8 Mudrocs on which have a lovely aggressive sole and I say a little prayer before I go for it, and dash past them all flying past Shaun. Now it’s worth mentioning that he’d told me earlier in the day that descents weren’t his strong point, much like it’s worth mentioning that running fast on flat ground isn’t really mine and before I know it Shaun is whizzing past me again as we turn and make our way back up a steep climb towards Hanging Stone.
I keep him in sight, but he steadily increases the gap as we head back up to the final trig point at Guisborough Moor but I’m feeling good and don’t allow him to get too far ahead as the wind picked up and pelted us with hailstones.
On the final approach to the trig point I finally seem to be gaining on him again but crossing the moor slows me down and Shaun makes off for the final descent back through the woods. Damn, lost him. The gap seems too big to close now as we weave left then right for the final descent down a steep muddy track. Then when all seemed lost, there he is like Bambi on ice (or mud) slipping and sliding about trying to maintain an upright position. This is it; I have my chance and open up my stride to whiz past him as I make the final dash to the finish.
The battle is won, the pursuer has his day and the Mudrocs prove their worth as I cross the line in 86 minutes bang on, some 30 seconds ahead of Shaun and over 8 minutes faster than last year! Mike B is already in and it’s not too long before Danny finishes. (Sorry Jan, but I was starting to get cold so made off for a shower.)
Overall, an excellent day on the hills and as a very muddy but smiling Danny will profess, the quality of this race and the drama it can provide makes it a little bit special.
In many years to come, in the home for knackered runners I’ll be sat in my wheelchair, knees shot to pieces, regaling tales of former glories …
“Bloody tough were them races organised by Esk Valley Fell Club.”
“Great races they were, though. Guisborough 3 Tops was a particularly special race.”
“Six of us were there that day. 28th October 2012 it was. Jan, Shaun, Mike, Phil, Barbara and me. The usual suspects, you know.”
“A beautifully scenic run it was. Through woodland of pines and larches with extensive patches of broadleaves which were an explosion of autumnal colour.”
“October’s a fantastic month for trail running; you should give it a go.”
“Off you went up a steep climb that brought you out onto the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors at Highcliff Nab with its views north over Teesside and Co. Durham and the coast overlooking the North Sea. Fantastic it was. Not many races give you views like that!”
“But we were heading west following the Cleveland Way which led to the real jewel in the crown of this race; Roseberry Topping. My favourite place, you know.”
“Bloody tough going up. Stands at 1,049ft! No time to hang around enjoying the panorama though, this was a race and I’d spotted Shaun heading back in the opposite direction.”
“Faster than me by a long way, he was. How am I this close to him today? Either I’m running very well or he’s chilling out, I thought?” [Small matter of Saturday’s cross-country, perhaps?? And/or you were running very well … Ed.]
“Coming down, well depending on your bottle, and choice of footwear, it was either on your feet or on your backside.”
“Screams of fear tinged with joy could be heard here.”
“Next stop, Hanging Stone. Bloody tough getting there, it was.”
“Did I mention the mud? Energy sapping, shoe stealing mud all the way, but that’s to be expected in those parts.”
“3 miles to go and one more check point at Gisborough Moor trig point then a bloody good downhill run back to the finish.”
“Tired me out getting to that trig point it did. Shaun left me for dead up there.”
“Did I mention the mud? Esk Valley were good at organising races that involved mud.”
“Great fun though, and once you crossed the finish line there was a nice little stream to wash the mud off yourself.”
“Aye, those were the days. Marvellous!”
… and Barbara Dick:
Fell Running: A Beginners’ Perspective
After an ignominious start to my fell running career (coming last in the Roseberry Topping race), Jan’s breezy invitation to the Guisborough Three Tops on Sunday presented an irresistible challenge. Buoyed by her infectious enthusiasm, I signed up, and during Track training last Wednesday I could still hear her beguiling fellow runners to take part: “It’s great fun” (true); “It won’t be that muddy” (FALSE!!); “It makes you stronger, physically and mentally” (we’ll see).
Meeting at Guisborough rugby club, a civilised venue with real toilets, we began the race with a steady climb to the fells. Everyone looked intimidatingly fit, with many a sinewy leg and finely-turned calf on display. Jan and Phil pointed out the ultra runner Sharon Gayter at the starting line, but who could have predicted it, turns out she had nothing to fear from me.
For those transitioning from cross-country to fell running, the difference is marked (unlike most of the course, hmph) during the first half hour, which was a slog upwards through the forest on mud trails and gravel roads to get to the tops. At this point, I noticed one other person walking the hill behind me. This was Sue from Quakers, who proved to be an excellent companion for the rest of the race, although she shares with me a faulty navigational gene (no doubt from a common ancestor who had to be guided all the way from the Rift Valley to the north-east by faster, fitter cavemen).
It all began to go wrong (we think) when we reached the tree line and started for the Cleveland Way, nearly missing the first checkpoint on the cliff in the opposite direction (the only one we managed to find people at during the entire race). We then headed off along the Cleveland Way, a path of broad paving slabs set in bog beside a stone wall separating the farmland from the heather, and eventually found our way back to some other runners, including a speedy Mike B, who was belting along in the opposite direction, having already conquered the first Top. We found our way up Roseberry on the stone path and literally skidded on our backsides down the mud trail on the other side, crunching through bracken before turning back into the forest towards the fabled Hanging Stone …
We still have no idea where it is, but no matter. After heading off in the wrong direction again and retracing our steps (walking grimly up a long hill we had just gleefully run down) we made our way back to the top of the tree line and onto the Cleveland Way, WHICH WAS A STREAM. Half an hour of squelching later, though past the official finishing time of 2 hours, we decided to push on for the last checkpoint, a small cairn standing amid a sea of heather on the north side of the moor. The sleet had begun by this stage, but we were still warm enough to carry on, and were rewarded by a close-up view of a grouse sitting on a wall. It looked just like the one in the Famous whisky ads, but it didn’t do the walk. Tearing back down through the forest, as the last runners we found the mud trail clartier than ever as we made a final dash back to the rugby club for a very welcome cup of strong tea. We finished in a shameful 2 hours and 45 minutes (and that may be generous). The other Striders all finished in very respectable times!
The moral of the story is that fell running is a big step up from normal cross-country. Sue’s Garmin showed we had run 10 miles, not 8, owing to our terrible navigation skills. [Well, we all did nine miles, so you weren’t too far out! Ed.] We were lucky that there were enough mountain bikers, walkers and other runners on the tops that day to keep us going in the right direction, and glad that we had observed the rules for full body cover (unlike the experienced fell runners who happily did the whole thing in vests and shorts!).
Personally, I felt that the course could have benefited from more evenly spaced marking – quite often we would see several fluttering bits of tape within metres of each other, and then go several miles without seeing any. To be fair though, this is made abundantly clear on the website, which states that the course is Partially Marked, Local Knowledge is advantageous and Navigational Skills Required – obviously the norm for the sport.
The only solution, apart from prior familiarity with the course, seems to be to run faster up the hills and keep up with the pack! On this race, both Sue and I felt that we were cross-country runners pretending to be fell runners, but it was still an enjoyable experience, the cold, overcast weather was perfect for a 2 – 3 hour run, and it is always exhilarating to be up on the moors (“Heathcliff!” “Cathy!”). Strongly recommended, with the above caveats.
Steven Spielberg’s debut film was called “Duel”, and featured a lone terrified motorist being chased and stalked by the unseen driver of a tanker. Hell of a film, full of suspense, yet all through the action, you never get to see the face at the wheel of the pursuing truck. Well, next time I see that one, I’ll be able to picture that driver … and it’ll be Nina Mason.
We set off up the long drag of a start on road, track, woodland road, then a bit of a muddy climb before finally emerging onto some flat stuff at Highcliff Nab. Nice bit of downhill, and we emerged onto the open moor, and headed west towards Roseberry Topping. No sign of Nina yet. Perhaps the Harrier League had taken its toll from the day before. Then a choice between slippy paving stones or slippy mud to get down to the base of RT, before the slog up it. Then you retrace your steps for a bit before descending … ah, there she is. Not too far behind, in fact.
My usual hesitant descent, and across to below the Hanging Stone and up the hill. You shout your number at the marshall at the Stone, and again retrace your steps … yikes, she’s getting closer! Step on it. Up the hill, back across the moors, through the odd stile … “there you go, Nina” … getting very, very close now. Legged it through the bracken to the trig point, and back into the woods. Must surely have put some distance between us now. Did my best to do a fast descent through the woods, and then absolutely shifted ass down the final stretch of road. Glanced at my Garmin, which said 5m48s-miling … surely she can’t keep up with that? Crossed the ‘line’ (Dave Parry), turned round to see … Nina, just behind me.
While the Striders majority earned Grand Prix points at Gibside, us ‘fell freaks’ earned bacon butties at Gisborough. Phil Sanderson won by several minutes. I’ve suggested he drinks the wine he won to slow him down.
Gibbo enjoyed the ‘rugged’ course, his words not mine, and must be recovered from his chest infection, as Shaun couldn’t get near him. Dougie and I had a go. Just washed the silt out of socks which will never be white again.
The race over 9 miles takes in High Cliff Nab, Roseberry Topping, Hanging Stone and last trig before rapid descent down through woods to Rugby Club. The woods were steaming after rain, lots of peaty patches to splash through, walkers kept out of snot shot!
Jan’s writing a report on this one at this very moment!
But when she’s finished it, it’ll probably mention that it was a great run over the moors, rather unhelpfully interrupted by three long walks, one up Roseberry Topping. She’ll also be telling you how Phil Sanderson won this after a night of fever and diarrhoea, and describe the state he was in afterwards. Warm drinks and a Mars Bar were offered, but he had to leg it sharpish after the race. I ate the Mars Bar, waste-concious readers will be pleased to hear.
She won’t have seen a fine sprint finish between Phil and Dougie, but hopefully she’ll be saying that she had a good run, as did Nigel and I.
Jan Young adds:
Really enjoyed race – glad I survived, I must be stronger than I think. It was a tough run – plan on doing more. Sorry to disappoint you report-wise – Phil Owen said he’d write report. I’m full of cold, payback time, no exercise this week. See you soon…
Phil Owen adds:
The last race I did run by Esk valley was the short but killer haul up the 1.3 mile and 800ft (approx) of Roseberry Topping race that will had won before I reached the top! Later on my Hardmoors run (yes, I will finish a report soon Shaun) I climbed it and met up with Jez Bragg (100K and 100mile champion ) who was marshalling. Meeting at Guisborough rugby club before heading to the hill to the short road start, I again was ready for Roseberry. This time I had striders Nigel, Dougie, Shaun, Jan, Phil Sanderson, Steve and Brian from DFR although some striders were also wearing their DFR and NFR ‘away’ kit. As with the Roseberry topping race the little talk beforehand was a gem. Last time I remember him saying that there was a whole host of safety rules and regs that we should know and they were on the bonnet of his car at every race and he expects that we have all read them! Today’s talk was much in the same vain with the idea being that it’s a tough race but if you don’t know that its going to be clarty as hell with steep climbs and descents you shouldn’t be here and if you don’t gan canny you might just get yourself hurt and … ! Enough said.
From the road outside the club we assembled and duly set of onto a cinder track and into the first wood. I always find these fell runners fast. Back in the day (hark at me – only been running 3 years !) I would hide in a pack in a some 10K safe in the knowledge that as slow as I am there were many a lot slower with fell run runners its it seems it’s just not the case. They all seem to be as fast as bugger up the hills. The tough climb through the woods seemed to go on forever (see Dougie’s photo’s for the profile) heading for Highcliff Nab. In the past I have been put off doing some of these fell races by my appalling map reading and the thought of getting lost (and I tell you don’t even think of ringing any of those funny telephone numbers they give you with the directions is pointless- not one of them work!) but the odd strip of red and white tape gave clues to of the way. To be fair most of the time slowies like me usually have someone in line of sight but I relied on that earlier in the year on the Ochills 2000 race. I followed a lass I knew had done the race twice before only to find out when I caught her up that she was completely lost!
Across a moorland that was tricky underfoot I finally started to pick up my pace and overtake a few folks where I could but overtaking on the muddy single track isn’t easy and I made a mistake of getting too close to another runner I could not get around. That runner came upon a ditch of peat bog and instead of jumping the ditch straight away he stuttered and then jumped slowing me down so much I had to do the same but could not get enough momentum and had no choice but to plunge my feet down the bog. Up to my knees I went and suction trying to take my inov8’s into the netherworld. Now recently I watched a Youtube vid of a fetchies mate called Andy money that on a multiple lap XC race lost his shoe in the ditch and spent most of the race trying to find it while dodging all the other runners. He never found the shoe again but became a mini sensation and had his 15 minutes out there in the field. Now at every race he gets “keep your shoes on lad” from all un sundry! Off the moor and threw a kissing gate the guy behind me is a bit keen and pushes the gate before I exit hitting my foot right on the really sore bit I’ve been protecting because I think I have a small stress fracture and had to pull out of a road race a couple of weeks ago after standing on a small stone. Hell what are the odds of that? I mean most gates have loads of clearance anyway. The guy could not have been more apologetic as I yelped but I explained the gate just hit the one place that was sore already and had a laugh about it. Onto the Cleveland way heading to Roseberry topping was fairly straight forward. I love the view you get looking down the valley and up to Roseberry. Lovely downhill with folks avoiding the lethally smooth stone walking slabs for more grip on the grass and mud. I worked out the slabs were quicker if you can stay upright and managed a few places going this way. Hard fast hands on knees walk up the topping where an impromptu dog show was taking place. It was tough choice but as lovely as the back lab was I declared the Westie the winner much to the enjoyment of the owner (those of you that know me know I split with a previous girlfriend – I forget her name, will know how much I miss our Westie a dog so the competition wasn’t really fair and there should be some law about who get the dog and visiting rights!) I rounded the trig point and the dropped of the other side.
Now from here the path is unclear and there are several ways you can take to the next top of hanging stones. In true ‘they look like they know where there going’ style I followed the guys in front. I thought all three can’t get it wrong and they look like they know where they’re going. Err no. We got turned around up just up a hill in Huttons’ Lowcross woods and had to double back. Steve of DFR had passed me here and as we came back to the proper route (a slight turning up another steep woodland hill (again)) I met Dougie who looked bemused at my wrong turn. Dougie and I enjoy our little back of the pack battles in these races and another very long hard climb followed to the top I overtook Dougie somewhere along the climb and then we were back onto the Cleveland way and back onto the moorland with the bog ditch we came across before. Now I knew that race was almost over and there would be a steep downhill finish but the last mile or so was all climbing and with my current low fitness I felt I was struggling. Dougie passed me looking strong on this last climb and pulled away. This gave me a bit more vim and I tried to claw him back. Finally at the top and onto moorland with the moorland bird going crackers at our presence I rounded to the trig point and onto the rough dodgy moorland. I picked up my pace and was just behind Dougie by the kissing gate. One mile to go and all downhill! Yes! – pure mud slop and steep down is just my thing and I over took a few including Dougie who came back at me hard on the last flat road bit near the finish with me having to put a little spurt on when I saw him coming. What a fabulous race and the series (printed with start times on the back of the number you keep-what a good idea!) looking so good I have changed some plans already to take in the ones I can.
Jan came in next and DFR, NFR and Elvet chated before we moved onto the rugby club for bacon butties and black sheep ale. Perfect. Everyone seemed to have run a good race and hapy enough but Philip Sanderson of Elvet and NFR was magnificent winning the race by one second after a herculean effort after to overhaul the leader in the dying strides despite being seriously unwell overnight. He still looked so unwell and mildly hypothermic in the rugby club after so we sent him home to bed which meant I got to collect his fist prize of champers and beer.