Durham Fell Runners Summer Handicap: Race 4

If it hadn’t been for Jan’s announcement on Wednesday’s club night I would’ve missed this steep and cheerful race. I was having second thoughts right up until the last minute about tackling something this tough, but the temptation was too strong and the weather too sunny to let it pass by.

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Around 10 minutes before the start, just as I was beginning to think I was the only Strider there, I saw a dash of purple as Debs bounded up to Registration. We gave our 10K times, which were processed through a random number generator and converted into start times.

At 13 minutes past something-or-other I set of in a group of four and settled into a steady pace. The weather was great and the scenery superb. I was enjoying this leap into the unknown, with little idea what lay ahead. Probably just as well. After a mile or two of steady climbing and following the arrows we had a steep descent. I gleefully charged down through the conifers to emerge on a forest road. Looking optimistically around for more arrows I was soon joined by other reckless descenders. In a matter of seconds there was soon a jolly little party of about a dozen head-scratchers, all vigorously agreeing that we didn’t know where we were, or which way to go. The seconds ticked by as we elected a foreman of the jury and started weighing up the evidence. Soon sub-committees formed as people became restless. I looked around and noticed we all had ‘big numbers’ on, which meant we were all new kids in the race (the old-timers get small numbers). It wasn’t long before people started wandering of in various directions and I decided to cautiously retrace the route back up the hill. Almost immediately I spotted someone with a small number – an old hand – and gave chase. I was back on course! (Debs said later that she had made the same wrong turning but someone had shouted after her before she got too far away).

This was fun! I’d lost a couple of minutes on the detour but who cared! I passed someone that I’d passed some time earlier, somewhat to his bewilderment, and charged on.

We dropped down the valley and started up the other side. I started walking up the steep slopes and the flies began to take an interest. I tried to run again to get away from the flies, but my lungs and legs didn’t like it. I settled for the flies and slogged up the hillside as they buzzed mockingly around my head.

A long, relaxing level bit then another arrow, left. Well, not so much left, as left and UP. Up the soul-sapping boggy moor to Doctors Gate Quarry. I could see specks of colour away in the distance of the runners ahead and this gave me something to go for.

Once on the tops there were fantastic views and few flies before the return to the valley floor. I was feeling quite reckless on the steep paths down to the finish and even enjoyed the rare, no, UNKNOWN experience of another runner stepping aside to let me past!

This was a great fun event. Like the handicap, but with more mud. Much more mud. (And a can of Carling).

Total distance: 11.45 km
Max elevation: 307 m
Min elevation: 153 m
Total climbing: 793 m
Total descent: -786 m
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