I’d done that bloke sulky pouty thing when Roberta had insisted on me packing some sunscreen. But as I nudged up with Susan and Joan outside race HQ and passed the sunscreen round (on the left hand side) there were lots of Dad comments about getting it behind straps, knees, ears and neck. Still, past-its-sell-by factor 30 wasn’t really going to cut it on Cheviot and Hedgehope in July and I was a bit crisp when I finished later in the day.
I could’ve pretty much written the script for the first half of the race. Joan’s shrewd choice of carrying walking poles had attracted the occasional derisory comment but they’d pretty much dried up as she climbed strongly to Cheviot with me using her as a useful point of purple to focus on as she receded ever further into the vanishing point.
After Cheviot and a revelation. You need to hang left, immediately. When I last did this in 2013 I carried on (zoned out following a walker to Scotland) and turned left too late and missed the trod that took a neat line towards Hedgehope on the other side of the valley. I caught Joan on the descent, pausing to shout “is that you falling on your arse again Hanson!”, before passing her and showing her how to do it properly.
Everyone was now pretty much a walking washing powder commercial in the making and as we climbed towards Hedgehope I was unsurprised to have Joan back on my shoulder again. And so it continued for the next few checkpoints until CP6 – Brands Corner – we both paused for a drink and check in. The climbing was mostly over and there was a lot of running left now to the finish. I was looking forward to making up some ground in these last few miles.
“Sling your hook Joan, I’ll catch you up”, I said, when it was clear Joan wanted to press on. And so she did. And, I did catch her up, so to speak, after I’d crossed the finish line and she’d brought me over a nice cup of tea, seeing as how she’d finish some time earlier. I had a tough last few miles on what should be a lovely part of the course – the stretch up North West from Carey Burn Bridge is gorgeous, but I was far too busy feeling sorry for myself to pay much attention to the sunny scenery. Susan had a good decisively sub-5 finish, with Joan in around 5:16, then me in around 10 minutes later.
I’ve often said, to anyone who’ll listen, that the Chevy Chase at 20 miles, is twice as hard as the Durham Dales Challenge, at 32 miles. This was the first year the race has dropped the walking race and the cut-offs might need tweaking in the years ahead, but whatever the cutoffs it’s always going to be a tough 20 miles.
Well I have actually. But I’ve never done Captain Cooks, which is almost as bad as never having tried Harrier League, or Brussels sprouts. You can’t claim not to like something unless you’ve tried it. Despite having a great fondness for the Esk Valley fell races this particular fixture had never really appealed to me for some reason. I usually prefer Nine Standards or the (newly returned) Hillforts and Headaches.
I’d heard it was a busy race so I arrived about an hour early, which by my standards is an eternity. After finding somewhere to park an indecently long way from registration I turned up at the Royal Oak to see lots of happy smiling Striders. They were smiling, I think, because they turned up 2 hours early and had already registered. After a while I found the end of the queue and wondered if I’d get to the front before the race started.
I hadn’t been sure about Kit requirements. Although it’s a pretty short race I noticed from Steph’s 2015 report that she considered carrying, amongst other things, a knife (type unspecified, a Rambo one I assumed), so I thought I’d better at least take the basics. It could be rough out there.
I registered with only about 10 minutes to spare and I still didn’t know what shoes I was going to wear! I wandered up to a few random and not-so-random strangers and barked: “Trail or Walshes?!”. One brief straw-poll later and it was pretty clear that Walshes were the clear choice. I ran back to the car, had a quick costume change, then back to the Start with a few seconds to spare.
And then we had the race, which was ok. You went up a hill, not going round the monument (which I thought was a bit ungracious – I was tempted to run round it anyway), then back down again. On the climb I was glad for the Walshes as they dug in nicely and I could see lots of runners, an amazing number of runners, who were in road shoes and wasting a lot of energy sliding about and going twice the distance. They’d also managed to fit their entire kit requirements into a matchbox sized pocket in the back of their pants which was pretty impressive.
Despite there being loads of Striders at registration I saw none around me. I kept thinking I saw Camilla ahead and hoped I might catch her by the finish. I was somewhat bewildered to find her at the level crossing cheering me on and I paused to work out what was going on. Then another marshall told me to stop chatting and keep moving. I glanced back and noticed Jan hunting me down and I wasn’t having that, so moving I kept.
As we approached Great Ayton I was a bit bemused to discover I’d crossed the finish line in the middle of a field. What devil’s work was this? A fell race? That didn’t finish outside the pub it started at? Surely there’s some law against that? Then the hailstorm started and the kit that I was carrying that had been of no value whatsover on the race route suddenly became quite handy for the walk back to the car.
So what do I think? I enjoyed it. It’s a good race. But I think I enjoy Nine Standards more. It’s got snow at the top and everything. And by my calculations, the 20 minutes extra that it takes to drive to Kirkby Stephen is easily saved by not having to stand in a long queue or park 10 minutes away. So next year I’ll probably head back to Nine Standards. But then there’s Hillforts and Headaches… Hmmm… That’s the good thing about fell races. EOD. Decide in the morning when you wake up.
For the first time in ages I’ve felt recently that I had some sort of form returning. Perhaps it was time to try an ‘AL’. Haven’t done one for years. Find out what sort of shape I’m in. Well, now I know. Still, at least you get a prize for being last.
The nice thing about these sort of hybrid walking/running events that have mixed start times is that there’s not a massive queue for the bogs. I sat in the changing rooms in splendid isolation adjusting my dress and thinking I should probably get out there. I wandered out into the brilliant sunshine to see the rather scary vision of Shaun standing, arms astretch, in some sort of weird crucifix like pose. Didn’t Michael Jackson do that on stage once? And things didn’t work out well for him.
But all was ok. Shaun wasn’t trying to annoy Jarvis Cocker, just offering a maximum surface area for Ros to spray him down with SunScreen. Good advice. Wear sunscreen.
Staggered starts are nice but the downside is, as I know from doing orienteering events, is that you can be at a race and not know that your clubmates are also there as you don’t see them. I glimpsed Margaret and Christine who were doing the Half Yomp, and Geoff was there too. And me. Probably more. Who knows.
Off I went on my lonesome to tackle the Full Yomp, something I’d wanted to do for years. I’d been at a wedding the night before, but so had Penny for the Salomon Trail 10K last week and she’d done pretty well, so by that logic, I’d do just fine too. I tootled south through Kirby Stephen in good spirits and deliberately kept my pace down knowing that I “didn’t do hot”, chomping on a Shotblok or two and feeling pretty chirpy. I was expecting to do well. Shaun caught me just in time for us to part company as he took a left for the tantalisingly tempting Yomp-Demi.
At the top of Wild Boar Fell (where I have an 11 year old geocache – BTW, really must check it’s ok sometime. Not today though) I was flagging a bit. But onward, and, apparently, ever upward, and I continued to wilt. I decided it was time to check the Garmin. I’d done 17 somethings. That was OK wasn’t it? Oh hang on, I’d changed to Kilometres for some reason. So 17, was er, well a 10K is six miles, so 17 km is um, well less than 12 miles. No that couldn’t be right. It’s ‘fewer’. No perhaps it is ‘less’. But either way it was not good, because right now I had that 90% through a race feeling, and according to my Garmin, I was lucky if I’d gone half way.
Still, My Garmin Can’t Lie, so I plodded on. The descents off that hill that Paul mentioned were pretty much as described, but they were the last ones I did with any control. As I crossed the road to push on to the next bit, it was all becoming all a bit functional. I did have the good grace to pause while traversing Hanginstone Scar to admire the view westwards where you see the railway line snaking up towards Kirkby Stephen.
On to High Seat, High Pike Hill, and probably some other fells with ‘High’ in the name somewhere. Then my weariness became apparent. As any fell runner knows, to descend well needs skill, not-sore feet, and, energy. It takes energy to descend fast, it’s not like being on a bike where you just stop peddling and gurn into the wind. So I hobbled down to the road, took a deep breath, then onto the last bit up to Nine Standards Rigg.
Well that was that bit done, then down. Going downhill isn’t fun when you’re stuffed. And your feet are hot and sore and blistered. I arrived back at the school and had a look at my time. Ah ok. A bit pish then. Very pish in fact. No surprises there.
An interesting day, and a reminder that I’ll probably never stop being naive about races. I did the Wensleydale Wander last month, which is an identical distance. And I was fine after that. So why was today so much harder? Possibly related to the Yomp involving twice as much climbing. I was also intrigued that my feet gave me problems – hot and blistered in my Walshes. This happened to me once in Swaledale, and I put it down to wearing Walshes on a course that has so much hard surfaces. Now I’m not so sure. I’m now thinking it’s not the surfaces, or the shoes, it’s the heat. I was strangely re-assured to get an email from Shaun in the evening asking me how my race had gone as his had been ‘absolutely awful’. Not just me then!
We crossed over the M6 and continued west to Keswick. It was around this point I realised that my Walshes were not sitting on the back seat but were in fact sitting next to the back door back in Durham where I’d cleverly placed them so that I couldn’t possibly forget them when we left the house. A quick detour via George Fisher was required, where I said I wanted a pair of Fell Shoes, size 43, and I needed to walk out the door in them in 10 minutes. This was becoming a habit. I tried on a nice pair of yellow La Sportiva Bushidos that felt just fine so I kept them on and made my way to the counter. “That’ll be £110 please”, she said nicely. My jaw clanged on the counter. This was about twice as much as I’ve ever paid for a running shoe. But they were a very nice yellow colour and I didn’t have any time to spare so I handed over the dosh.
The Borrowdale Show has had several years of bad luck with the weather and this entirely volunteer run event was now financially threatened. Roberta had signed us up for a couple of tickets earlier in the year via the Indiegogo website. This scheme along with some sponsorship appears to have saved the show and this year the weather was looking fantastic. As it turned out we had bags of time and I was standing staring absent mindedly at some carved sticks when the announcement came over the PA: “Would anyone wishing to enter the Fell Race please make their way to the cattle truck.”
Ah, fell racing! I’d missed this. It was good to be back! It’s not a proper race unless you’re filling in an FRA entry form in the back of a cattle truck. I found myself at the front of a queue of 1 and was given my number which was, oh excellent, 1! I’ve never been number 1 before. No pressure then. I had a look at the race details and noted it was an AS. Roberta noticing the worried frown that passed across my otherwise tranquil features asked, “What does AS mean?”. “Er, well basically, short and brutal. Usually.”. I paid some closer attention to where the race actually went and noticed that it marched right up to the top of the hill, the hill being Dale Head, then marched right down again. This wasn’t looking such a clever idea the week before the Loch Ness marathon.
The race briefing had an unusual twist that I hadn’t come across before. To check everyone who had registered was actually starting we all had to shout out our numbers in sequence. No. 26 having registered mere minutes earlier, must’ve decided not to bother, possibly having noted the lithe mass of sinew that was assembled for the race. I was having serious doubts myself – there were no tourists here. This was a serious bunch.
What’s to say about the race itself, apart from it was slate-shatteringly hard. It was hot and I struggled, feeling drained, weak and puzzled, much as I felt in last week’s LDMT. I should’ve been feeling fantastic as I approached the end of my marathon taper but I felt terrible. I stopped for a good drink both ways at the Dalehead Tarn beck (the ‘water stop’ in the Anniversary Waltz) and with some great encouragement from the marshalls managed to get round.
The weather was so warm that there was no need to fumble for post-race jerseys or shelter. I got a cup of tea and found a quiet patch of grass and we just sat quietly for a while soaking up the atmosphere of the show. It was a brutal little race and I should’ve treated it with far more respect than I did. I guess if you want to race well in a race that involves running up hills, then you need to train by running up hills rather than along railway lines. Clearly just buying expensive shoes and wearing the number 1 wasn’t going to cut the mustard.
I’d been nervous for last year’s cancelled event but this year I was in much better spirits. Conditions were good, bordering on the perfect, and I was feeling fit. I reckoned I was fitter than two years ago when I’d successfully got round the LDMT ahead of the cut-offs so I was reasonably confident as I stood at the Start in Patterdale waiting for the three minute countdown. I wonder where we’d be going?
A taped route led 1200m after the start to map collection and all became clear. For starters we’d be heading straight up St Sunday Crag and make our way to the first checkpoint; a sheepfold at the bottom of Fairfield. Up over the top of St Sunday or do some clever contouring around the side? Hmmm, I decided on the more brutal but easier to navigate over the top route. It was hot and hard but an hour later I was skirting the summit of St Sunday and planning my descent. Conditions were clear and I was lucky to spot the checkpoint from a distance so took a direct line to it. 90 minutes in and I was at checkpoint 1, 7 to go. This was harder than I had expected and although still comfortably within the cutoff I’d hoped to be going faster and feeling more comfortable than I was.
Checkpoint 2 was easy navigation. Hole in the Wall, so back over St Sunday and down to Grisedale Beck, where a fellow runner bid me a cheerful good morning and asked me how I was doing. I was pretty sure I recognised this chap.
“It is you, isn’t it?”, I asked. “Oh, yes, it’s me.”, Joss replied.
Introductions over, we chatted for a minute, during which time Joss said he was retiring because his knees were giving him trouble. He seemed remarkably upbeat and spoke of seeing his specialist next week to get them fixed. Joss was running with two fantastic sticks that looked hand chiseled and customized – I’ll never look at my Lekis in the same way again. He headed off down the valley back to Patterdale and I headed upwards to the Hole in the Wall.
It was a long hard climb up the wall line during which at some point Andy Blackett from DFR passed me and somehow managed to make me agree to make up a ‘B’ team at the FRA relays, before he pushed on ahead into the distance. Checkpoint Two eventually arrived and I was feeling far more tired than I expected to be, and only half an hour inside the cutoff time. This was beginning to look ominous.
Checkpoint 3 was a fair trek away, somewhere NE of Hart Side. I descended down Red Tarn Beck then crossed over towards Greenside Mine. I was very pleased with my direct route up the beck and across the shoulder of Sheffield Pike to Nick Head, where I picked up a path that contoured all the way round to Brown Hills. My speed was slow but my navigation was fine. I left the path to begin contouring round Brown Hills towards the checkpoint at Coegill Beck. I realised that time was now against me and that if I got to the Checkpoint 3 before being timed-out I’d retire there anyway.
Unfortunately I decided to contour by following my instincts rather than following the compass and it wasn’t too long before I found myself in the wrong beck wondering where the checkpoint had hidden itself. I checked my watch. It was academic. I was out of time. I’d drifted too far east and the checkpoint was out of reach. Five hours and 10 miles into my race, and only two checkpoints visited. Time to admit defeat. I retired. It took me another hour and a half to get back to registration to find Andy Blackett sitting comfortably watching the runners finishing.
“Retired?”, he asked, without preamble. “Yup”. “Yeah, me too”. “?!”
For those who don’t know him, Andy Blackett is no slouch, so I did feel slightly better to hear this news. He too had contoured round Brown Hills making a similar mistake to me but managed to relocate and push on to Checkpoint 3 where he retired. A look at the (extensive) list of ‘rtd’s on the results shows that most people who retired did it at this point.
It was a tough event and sadly, it was too tough for me. I suspect it was a harder course than two years ago, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s advertised as a challenging event and LDMT are entitled to set the bar high, but I doubt I’ll be fit or confident enough to tackle the Classic again.
“we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, then”, said the sweeper. “we’ll see”, I replied, sounding more smug than I intended.
I’d started badly. Arriving late, leaving kit in the car, running back to the car to get kit, running back to kit-check and registration and not much time to spare. Sitting in the car with 10 minutes to go I noticed that in my kit-check confusion I’d managed to pick up someone else’s maps as well as my own. Didn’t think much of his planned descent of St Sunday mind. I’d better find this runner. He’s probably looking for these maps. With 1 minute to go at the start I tried to find someone to make an announcement about the maps. Oh sod this. I jumped up on the steps and bellowed to the assembled and slightly startled runners that I had someone’s maps. I waved them around a bit, as you do, just to make the point. A runner stepped forward, I handed them over and my conscience became a little clearer.
Almost immediately afterwards we were running up the lane with me still trying to fasten up my overfull bumbag and sort out my straps and stuff. It was when I stopped to tie my laces that the sweeper made his introductions. This would be my fifth running of this race and I’d never known it to have a sweeper and I was perfectly confident on getting round comfortably within cut-offs without the need of a sweeper looking after me thank you very much. I was 20 minutes inside the cut-off time for the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint last year. For me, that’s an eternity.
Up the familiar Mires Beck and pretty much at the back of the field. The sweeper had fallen back and was running with a big bloke with a headband. I wouldn’t be seeing them again. Over the top of the beck and the challenge of the adventure ahead became apparent. Visibility faded as I climbed to the first checkpoint at the summit of Catstye Cam, reaching it in 65 minutes – same as last year, and there were now three runners behind me. Could be worse.
Turning to tackle Swirral Edge the wind whacked me in the back. There was a vest ahead – one I recognised from last year, and I was scrambling over rock after glassy rock trying to keep him in sight. The path along here is indistinct at the best of times and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t recognise the pointy rocks I was sliding over from previous years. Up onto Helvellyn ridge and a scary wind now slammed into my face. I’d been running comfortably hot but now the sweat chilled rapidly on my forehead and I felt suddenly chilled and alarmed. I ducked into the shelter and huddled up with about a dozen rucksacks (it was a busy day on Helvellyn) and put on my hat.
Immediately feeling better I put on a burst and headed south. Along the path to the fork where one way goes to Wythburn, and the other onto Dollywaggon Pike. Or did it? Perhaps this was the fork where left takes you unnecessarily up Dollywaggon Pike rather than around the shoulder. Even as I veered right I knew it had to be wrong. Four times I’d done this race but today I was running it like a fool. In a bizarre mindset of denial I continued veering right and down until I had to accept the obvious – I was going the wrong way. I cut left and angled back over to the proper path. Finally around the corner and time to pick a line for the descent to the checkpoint at Grisedale Tarn.
And what a line I picked. A messy indecisive muddle that was neither path or fell. It wasn’t clean and it wasn’t efficient. I hit the checkpoint with just four minutes to spare before being timed out. A familiar figure emerged smiling from the gloom and I recognised the sweeper (Dave) and his dog (Todd). So I’d got myself behind the sweeper. And I was now last. Oh well, I do have form. Ahead I could see the big guy with the headband who I would find out was Steve. I caught him as he stood looking puzzled and surveying the paths through the mist. We didn’t seem to be gaining height. Last year I’d stayed too low too long and I felt strongly we should now be climbing to pick up the path along the ridge. Steve was looking dubious but bowed to my four years experience and with a shrug he followed me as we cut right and headed very up. I wasn’t wrong; we did pick up the path along the ridge, but this year, I was too early and too high. So we now wasted time and energy descending a little as we headed towards St Sunday Crag. Feeling a bit of a twit I apologised to Steve for the duff route choice. Steve was philosophical and told me not to worry about it. Then Dave and Todd caught us up and we pretty much all agreed with my assessment that I had, indeed, been a bit rubbish.
The back-of-the-pack now comprised 4, plus one sweeper and his dog, and we checked through the St Sunday Crag checkpoint. It’s not good for the ego when the marshalls pick up their gear and follow you as you’ve checked in as the final runners. But who can blame them. The weather was rough, and another squally rainstorm had just started. We hit the scree descent and Todd, a rescue dog from sheepdog descent, would run ahead, then stop and stare at us intently as we slid inelegantly down the fell. Quite funny but ever so slightly touching too. Dave the sweeper was certainly doing the shepherding job of sweeping seriously, probably running an extra couple of miles simply running back and forward amongst the back-markers checking we were all ok. I was listening to him intently now, and followed his descent tips of St Sunday to the letter. I dug my Walshes into the final climb up Grisedale Brow and they didn’t let me down, but the best shoes in the world aren’t much use if there’s no power in the legs. Over the top and the final checkpoint and I followed Dave’s tip for finding the best final descent back down Mires Beck. It was gold, and for the first time of the race I felt settled and comfortable.
I crossed the line to find Roberta waiting patiently for me. She’d done a low level walk but looked just as wet as I did, having loyally hung around at the bottom of the St Sunday for as long as she could before deciding I was obviously going to be out for a while. Finishing pretty much where I started, third from last, I waited for the other runners to get home. Steve arrived next, glad to be back on his long recovery from injury. Not just any old injury, but a snapped ankle in the Three Shires several years ago. His blog makes inspiring reading about what’s possible if you’re determined enough. Next week he runs the Three Shires race again, his 50th race since the accident.
With all the back-markers home and handshakes all-round and congratulations from the sweeper we headed back to the car park. I spotted the runner I’d been chasing and we had a chat. Then a bit of a site down and quiet reflection on my experience of this fiendish fell race, and how, five years on, and over 30 minutes slower than last year, I ran it like a novice.
“Are you injured?” and “resting for a big event coming up?” were the typical questions that people asked me when I said I wasn’t racing today. It might, on reflection, have been easier just to lie than to say, truthfully, that I just couldn’t be bothered. I ran last year and enjoyed it but this year I wasn’t in the mood. Well not for the race anyway. I love the area and decided this year to have a gentle run out with the camera and see if I could settle down with a brew in a nice spot.
Logistically, helping, whether it be marshalling or just going out and taking some photos, is more complicated than racing. Racing involves turning up at least one minute before the race starts and being on the line on, or just after, the race starts. As I thought this through, I realised that if I wanted to get some decent photos, I had to be in my position before the fast guys went past, and, well, how do you work that one out? I started about 30 minutes before race start and when the little hand got to eleven found it the most unexpectedly weird feeling to know that somewhere behind me that some extremely fast runners would be closing down on me.
I’d chosen the ‘dip’ around Thistle Green a few miles from the turn to set up camp. It was exposed and I was glad I’d stuffed my rucksack with extra layers. On went the leggings and the waterproof. All in black. Still cold. I sighted the camera up the hill and found the wind kept buffeting my hold so decided to lie down in the heather and rest my elbows on a rock to get some stability. I also had to make sure that I wasn’t in the flight-path of the runners. The runners soon appeared over the top of the ridge like a scene from Zulu and for the next 20 minutes or so I was busy capturing the excitement. Paul was in the first ten in a tight cluster all negotiating the fast but technical grass and rock descent. Judging by the reaction of some of the runners I don’t think they knew I was there until they practically stood on me! I probably looked like some psychotic sniper as I lay in the cosy heather picking people off as they charged down the fell.
Then it all went quiet. The eye of the storm. It was just a matter of waiting until the leader got to the turn and headed back home. I collected my gear, and jogged further along the route before settling down at a promising looking beck for the action to begin again.
The beck crossing was interesting. Stepping stones or straight through? The stepping stones were dry, but uneven. Straight across was quick but involved getting wet feet. I could feel a spreadsheet coming on. Really, really surprised at the distribution of steppy stoners versus wet-feeters. You’d think it would be the fast guys that would favour straight through, and the slower runners would take the steps. But, in my considered analysis, there was no observable relationship between runner speed and route choice, although by my calculations you were anything between 5-15 seconds quicker running straight through the water rather than taking the stepping stones. If we let our x-axis be speed … you know, there’s a PHD in there I’m sure.
Anyway I got some nice action shots of the beck although no one fell over, which I thought was rather unsporting. One lady did fall when I wasn’t looking and when I ran over to ask if she was ok she gave me ever such a look that I was glad I hadn’t got a photo. I asked if she was ok and she said yes, which is just as well because one day someone is going to say ‘no’ and I’m going to be completely stumped. I’ve always just assumed it’s a rhetorical question. Paul was still around the same position but looking far stronger and more comfortable on the return leg compared to the outward run. Eventually the sweepers arrived with a runner who had taken a nasty fall on the way to the turn and had landed on a rock. A pointy one. Worst kind, the pointy ones. He wasn’t ok and was clearly in some discomfort as we all walked together back to the start, although it wasn’t clear whether he was more worried about his injury or what his wife was going to say when she realised she was driving home.
Two years’ ago when I last ran this race I had an disturbingly exciting incident in the first mile and had found myself several minutes before the back marker and perilously close to retiring. This year I expected things to be less eventful. We were on holiday in the Lake District so it was an interesting experience to be driving east to get to Kirkby Stephen. Arriving with bags of time in hand I was a little unsettled to see runners clutching their numbers and wandering about with a good hour still to go before kick-off. I checked that the Start Time was indeed noon and headed for registration.
Registration was in the Sports and Social Club. How do you know that? Apparantly you just do. In 2011 when I turned up in the Market Square I found registration by trial and error and following people who looked like runners. Top tip to anyone trying this; don’t follow people who already have a number as they’ve already registered – and the first thing everyone does after registration is go for a pee. So you’ll find the toilets, or a rough approximation of them, but not registration.
Once I’d registered I was gently guided to a table festooned with t-shirts. What was going on? Apparently this was the 25th running of the race and free t-shirts were being issued on a first-come first-served basis. The t-shirts have a picture of the Nine Standards and an abstract representation of the route. It was a really nice touch. A little later as we gathered in the market square the organiser said that we’d be starting a few minutes late due to the large number of entries. No matter, as this fell race out of any race I’ve ever done must have the most convenient public conveniences I’ve ever known, and many runners took the opportunity to wander the 5 yards from the Start to the loos. Well, it’s something to do.
The organiser announced that we had a record-breaking field of 166 runners and a few seconds later 166 runners were trying to squeeze down a narrow staircase, through an alleyway then over a footbridge before things opened up. Roberta was here so I paused to put on my happy face, then started moving. I was feeling quite good and optimistic to doing a half-decent time. 166 runners; a lot of them would have hangovers and be once-a-year runners so maybe I’d get a decent position for once.
Shoe choice is tricky in this race. Half of it is on road, a bit is on trail, and a chunk is in on very squashy stuff. I’d opted for my mudrocs having read John Duff’s report from last year, and I think it was the right choice. The Nine Standards appear quite quickly, and appear to get close quite rapidly, but just when they seem to be tantalisingly close, the going gets very soft, and the last mile up to the summit is hard going, especially as by this time the Fast Guys are hurtling back down in your face. I ran hard and steady, out and back, and as I closed down the last few miles I remember thinking that this was an eight mile race, and the distance was beginning to make itself felt.
Over the bridge, up the steps, and the final squeeze through the alleyway to the finish. I leaned against a wall trying to get my breath back, before turning to watch what I’d hoped would be a gratifyingly large number of runners crossing the line behind me. I was in for a shock. This was a quality field – 10 more runners and not many more minutes later, everyone was home. I looked at my time in horrified astonishment; despite running hard and steady, I was almost three minutes slower than two years’ ago, when, much fitter, I’d managed to claw back more places and time after a scarily bumpy start. Must do better.
We tentatively drove into the muddy field before being flagged down by a marshall. “Sheep or Run?”, she asked, without preamble. “Run”, I replied, hoping I’d interpreted the question correctly, and she pointed us up to a bit of the field that was free from sheep and border collies. She also advised me to park ‘pointing downhill’ so that we at least had a sporting chance of escaping the muddy field later when it came time to leave.
I looked around and, seasoned fell runner that I am, quickly took stock. Registration was almost certainly in that horse box over there next to the portable loo, and so in fact, it turned out to be. Let X=X. There were a few runners filling in forms next to the horsebox so I clip-clopped up the ramp and asked the lady for a form. No, apparently that’s not how things worked, I was rather sternly told, and I first had to give a few particulars. Was I Carnethy? Nope. Was I local? Nope. Once I’d passed the entrance exam I was given a form which I took away to complete in my best handwriting before being allocated a number.
It was a cold blustery day and the first time in months I was wearing hat, gloves and windbreaker. I made my way over to the start area bemused and slightly mystified by my iPad wielding wife until I realised (later) she was tweeting unflattering photos live from the action. As runners gathered for the start I thought again about the ‘local’ question on the entry form. I’d said ‘no’, but strictly speaking that wasn’t true. Here I was, standing in a field a few miles from where I was born, a ‘gutterbluid’, running for an English running club based over a hundred miles away. Strange to be standing here and not knowing a soul. Actually, that wasn’t strictly true. Wasn’t that an NFR vest over there? And another, and another, and another. All familiar faces from various fell and hill races, here and abroad. A few introductions and photos and it was time for the start.
This race is a straight out and back, the usual story. You run right up to the top of a hill, then you run back down again. One runner asked how many people were running to which the organiser, looking puzzled, gestured expansively to the gathered crowd and replied, “about this many”. We headed upwards into the chilly afternoon before pausing a few minutes later to form an orderly queue at a stile. Five miles later at the wild summit of The Scrape, I shuffled around the shivering marshall and headed back to base. In a straight out and back race like this you get the satisfaction of seeing the puggled faces of runners you’ve passed who are still on the way to the summit, and tick of the vests one by one. But there was a vest ahead I didn’t recognise or remember passing, and I always start fell races right at the back. The runner looked strangely familiar. What the deuce? It was Nigel! I paused my not very fast descending to find out the story, and it transpired that Nigel had arrived as we were starting and had started the race 7 minutes late. You can’t stand around chatting on the cold blustery shoulder of the Scrape so we high-fived, as you do, and I pushed on for home.
A few squelchy miles later I crossed the line and, as might be expected in a hill race sponsored by a brewery, was given a bottle of beer. Not bad for an entry fee of £4. Nigel was in just a minute or two later making impressive progress through the field after starting late. The rain then started in earnest and we all found shelter to change into something dry. Nigel got into his Darth Vadar costume in preparation for his drive back to Durham, and we convened in the tea tent for the prizes. I began to realise that today’s 10 miler was just a softener for another event running the next day, the Pentland Skyline. This is a 16 mile race with 6200 feet of climb, and many people do both both races with the combined race times being used to find out if they’re MAN(or) MOUSE. There’s an idea for next year.