At my age I should know better! Well perhaps that’s true but new challenges and experiences are always attractive. This was to be a first Fell race for both
myself and Mark (Payne). I had read that this race was suitable for inexperienced and experienced fell runners alike, requiring no special
equipment, and this had persuaded us to give it a go.
Also it was cheap (£9) and set in a beautiful part of the country, the North Pennines. Camilla was
initially to be the designated driver but had to pull out at the eleventh hour with a cold and fortunately Diane(Watson) was able to step in as we negotiated our way along the Wear valley to Allenheads.
The forecast was bleak with rain due at 11am exactly matching the race start
time! Still these things are seldom accurate and anyway with our gung-ho
attitude proudly pinned to our purple attire we arrived in good time. Parking
was easy and we picked up our numbers. The temperature had plummeted and showed
6 degrees on the cars display. We also noted how the wind had picked up and was
blowing the tree tops. Discussions now concentrated on what to wear! Mark and
Diane chose to wear tights and jackets. I had no such choice as I had only come
with shorts, a decision I came to regret and my jacket is only
shower-proof…in other words porous! Diane again came to the rescue lending me
a suitable jacket.
After a warm up run we assembled for the start at about 10;50 and right on-cue
the rain announced its arrival. Ironically the guest race starter was ex-BBC
weather lady Hannah Bayman! So at 11 exactly, we set off. The first 4k took us
along the valley tracks, lanes and bumpy fields until we reached the river
itself. So far it had been “undulating” a word often used and greatly
misunderstood by runners! In this race it had been mainly flat with a few
inclines and stiles to negotiate. However things were now to change
At about 4k we had to cross the river. It was about 8 inches deep and freezing
cold. If your feet weren’t wet so far they would be now. Then up a steep road
section which led to us crossing another road and out onto the Fells. Ohh the
glorious sight of a 1 kilometre hill now stretched out before us and into the
teeth of a gathering gale! Most runners had now slowed to a walk as they
battled against the elements and the force of gravity. I tried to jog- walk my
way to the top but it was very hard going. The heavy rain was now
machine-gunning into my face and pinging my legs.(is this putting you off I
wonder?) However the thoughts you hang on to drive you forward. For example..”
come on now, we are over half way and its only a cross-country distance and we
are nearly at the highest point!! ” etc….well…I bet you talk to yourself
too! And so I crested the hill and alighted onto another rough puddled track
and the battle with the wind really began! It felt like someone was pushing you
backwards at times as it reached 40mph. It was also at this time I noticed how
cold my legs were! I guess they were moving by default and driven by idiocy!
Still the stoic runner battled forward and soon reached the very top of the
course and began the long descent for the finish.
As I gathered pace my legs warmed up and all was well and positive. The idea of
this being a race amused me a little as thus far I had only passed people who
were walking or standing still! Just then a lady from North Shields Poly
breezed past me and soon was 50 or so metres ahead. What! I can’t have that! As
we reached the road at the bottom of the hill I tried to keep her in sight and
crossing the road we descended on to the bumpy fields and stiles again
(remember those?). I now noticed that I was gaining a little on her as she
seemed less happy on this surface. Detecting this chink I her armour I got to
within 10 metres of her as we ran down the final bit of tarmac and onto the
final field. We could now see the finish in the far corner and battle
commenced. I bound past her and finished a couple of seconds ahead. So much for
it not being a race! Just as in harrier league fixtures the race is what you
make of it.
As I finished a small reception committee greeted you with “well dones” and
pats on the back as well as a goody bag, water and a sponsors t-shirt. Amazing
for such a cheap race and even more generous when you realise the race is named
after the wonderful charity it is organised by and for. The Natural Ability
fell race supports adults with special needs in enriching their lives.
Wonderful! And the marshals. My goodness what a task on such a day! The whole
race experience was fantastic, and put my bit of whining to shame!
After trudging back to the car to change ( Mark and Diane found much more
suitable places) we reconvened in the Allenheads Hotel bar for the prizes and a
welcome sandwich soup and coffee. Perhaps none of us had troubled the prize
givers but we had won in so many other ways. I personally found the challenge
tough but it didn’t defeat me and I would certainly go back! Next time fully
equipped for all eventualities. Don’t second guess the fells and the weather!
So far this year I have been chasing the clock in my attempts to post PBs and
tick off targets and I was a little bored with it all if I am truthful. One of
the reasons I fancied this race was to get away from all that and discover new
challenges. I can honestly say I did not check my time once until well after I
had finished. In some ways it is an irrelevance as the real challenge is the
course, the elements and occasionally the chance to chase down a shirt!
The real winners anyway were the organisers and marshalls and of course the
charity. Finally, as always the company and chat on the day with fellow
Striders is always a pleasure and this was no different, so thanks to Mark and
especially Diane who drove us there and back.. my turn to drive next time…now
I wonder where that will be?