Feeling like a naughty child Mr (and Mrs) Dougie hit the A66 westbound to Kirkby Stephen for the Nine Standards Fell Race. I’ve never fancied the ‘long queues’ of Captain Cooks, and Hillforts and Headaches is just a bit too brutal and too short. Besides, I’ve always been a sucker for races with enchanting names and enticing waypoints.
Arriving at Kirkby Stephen I certainly knew I’d crossed the mountains into another valley. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, where to be and where to go except me. I finally found registration in the social club next to the bank and was slightly alarmed to see sinewy athletes earnestly copying route features onto colour-me-in blank maps. Surely we just, you know, went out, up towards them nine pointy things, and came back down again? Was I missing something? Then there was the large sign saying that kit checks would be made at the Start. I was now felling quite uneasy; my kit contained, well, whatever it contained the last time I did a fell race. That could be anything. I’ve not looked in a while …
At the Start I was comforted to see Denise Tunstall from DFR. Finally a familiar face. She’s an old hand at this race and gave me some top tips. I was delighted to see that as 95 runners lined up to start, there was one slightly mystified but curious old wifie who was out for her paper had paused to watch what was going on. That was the crowd. This was a proper fell race.
A mile into the race, climbing hard and about a dozen places from the back I was where I expected to be. Easing of a little before a kissing gate I paused for a bit of a productive cough and was startled when it transformed into a spasm of pain that travelled right down my back and thankfully stopped before it got anywhere embarrassing. I stopped in my tracks, breathless and terrified. The marshalls were watching me closely as I leaned against the fence making shouty noises that even Alister Robson would have nodded at with approval. Things settled down and I pulled myself together and realised that I wasn’t about to die, but had just got unlucky with a cough and a sore back that had rather melodramatically decided to meet on a blind date. I told the marshalls I’d walk a little then see how I felt. By the this time I was about three minutes behind the back marker and was beginning to regret my disdain at paying so little regard to the course map.
I walk/jogged the next mile trying to decide whether I’d retired or not, and at the top of a brae I surveyed the scene ahead. I could see the nine-standards, and, oh joy, I could see the back marker. He was about 3 minutes ahead and wearing a bright yellow top with the words “Do you feel lucky, punk?” on the back. I was good to go. One of the great things about being at the back of the field is the only way is up. Quite literally in the case of Nine Standards.
If you’ve not done this race before it’s a good run. Probably far more tarmac than you’re expecting, but a nice distance; not too long, not too short. And there’s something rather special about running around the summit before a grand charge back home.
Watching the prize ceremony over a cup of soup and a pint of Guinness, there was laughter at the announcement that there’d been 95 finishers, with 94 runners counted around the Standards. The ladies team prize looked like it’d be unclaimed, but two teams of two ladies held up their hands, the prize going to Todmorden, because they’d travelled the furthest! Executive decision making at its best.
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