Cronkley Fell

“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.

Wensleydale Wander

Setting off ..

The best thing about offering someone a lift to a race is that when the alarm goes off at 5AM, you can’t just think, sod it, I’m going back to sleep. You’ve just got to haul yourself out of bed and try and get excited about whatever it was you entered a week ago that seemed like a good idea at the time. A few cups of coffee later with sun shining with Narnian promise I picked up Till and we were soon trundling down the M1. While chatting about Garmins, GPS, Satnavs and navigation in general, we sailed past the Scotch Corner turn-off, deftly picking up the Catterick one instead.

We’ve found the Start!

My Satnav was nonplussed at the road closure that greeted us a few miles later, but that issue resolved, it was plain sailing to Leyburn. It was during another GPS chat that, ironically, my Satnav chirpily announced “You have arrived at your destination, your destination is on the right.”. Apparently we’d arrived.

Beware of trains

We looked around for other runners, of which there were none. No boots, no lekis, no rucksacks. Just a deserted town square. We consulted our maps, paper and digital, and discovered that registration was somewhere back that way. We retraced our route and soon found the large bright signs for the Rotary Club of Wensleydale.

Registration took no time at all and Till went over to examine the maps and check his route. I was pretty sure the run advertised itself as well marshalled and signed, and the rotary gadgie said there were little red arrows to follow, which was good enough for me. He also said there’d be a hot dog stand at the half-way checkpoint – oh yes, ha ha, very droll.

With plenty of time to spare we nipped back to the car for coffee and kit chat. I was beginning to regret not bringing shorts as it was beginning to look like being a scorcher, at least, compared to the recent weather. As we headed for the Start I handed Till my spare car key just in case, you know, he happened to get back before me.

The mass start of walkers and runners clattered out of town in a jumble of Lekis, bumbags and rucksacks. The sun and some daffodils were out and it was looking like being a good day. Before long runners thinned out and I jogged on in a world of my own following the frequent little red arrows indicating the route of the Wensleydale Wander. At the half-way checkpoint there it was, sure enough, the hot dog stand. With onions, and nippy sauce too. Lovely. I scoffed it down and jogged on, hoping I wouldn’t be seeing my hot dog again before the finish.

Having comfortably finished the far tougher Cleveland Survival a few weeks earlier I was, frankly, expecting today to be a bit of a breeze. But as the final miles wound down I really began to feel the distance. The little red arrows just kept on appearing, without end. Finally, after a robust little climb back into Leyburn it was a short jog back to the finish at registration. Not before I had to ask a couple of walkers if I was going the correct way, as I realised I hadn’t actually bothered to check where the finish was and the red arrows had, finally, stopped.

Out on the course

Walking into the dining hall I discovered Till had showered, changed, eaten, and probably regretted not bringing that book to read that I’d suggested. Till finished pretty much dead on 3 hours, third overall on the long course, just beating me by a slim margin of 1hr25m. I had some food and drank lots of tea, and for some time sat in dazed mystification at how this ‘easy’, flattish run had managed to be so much tougher than the same distance Cleveland Survival. I’ll never understand racing.

Not far now.
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Cleveland Survival

It was good to see a big turn-out for the 30th running of the Cleveland Survival especially given the uncertain weather. While many events were being cancelled the Cleveland Mountain Rescue website drily observed that the weather for Saturday looked ‘interesting’.

Omit clip points 7 8 9

The weather wasn’t too bad in the sheltered village of Swainby as we were started in little clusters some time between 9 and 10 am. My tactics were slightly different to last year; I didn’t bother marking any checkpoints on my old paper OS map of North York Moors (West) knowing that there’d be bags of time to do it on the hoof.

What a difference a year makes

As it was, navigation was very easy. Too easy. As many of us discovered as we switched off and followed the crowd. On the way to the third control I followed a bold track that sold itself as the green dotted line on my map. It eventually became apparent it wasn’t and a bit of off-piste correction was required to get back on course. Not one to learn from my mistakes I followed the herd to the next control and it became clear that many of us were indulging in collective navigational laziness and a couple of unnecessary barbed-wire fences later I decided it was time to start paying attention.

Head House

The organisers had cleverly designed the course to be on alternating sides of a large folding paper map on a windy day and being used to small waterproof orienteering maps that I could shove down my pants I was struggling with the billowing paperwork. Perched outside in the pouring rain, trying to make myself a sail, I floated upwards to the exposed checkpoint of Swainby Shooting House on Rye Head. The traverse from there across Whorton and Black Moor to the next check point at Head House was barren and exposed. I’ve been out in some pretty wild conditions and had everything from hurty knees to hurty nadgers, but today I had a hurty face. I felt I was being sandblasted with hailstones as I jogged steadily across the moorland track.

Snowy Selfie

The 4×4 bristling with antenna appeared like something out of Ice Station Zebra as I checked in and moved on to Chop Gate and some hot chocolate. Very Swaledale. From here there was a long jog to Cold Moor Cote, then up onto the Cleveland Way. Ho ho! I’d wondered if this might happen. I realised at once who the ‘other’ runners were, but some Hardmoors and some Survivalists were, I think, slightly confused. Our checkpoints were easy to spot; they usually involved macho 4×4’s and big aerials, the Hardmoors checkpoints were far less ostentatious and went on, one assumes, all the way to Helmsley. This didn’t stop me utilizing both race’s checkpoints and nicking a Hardmoors Jelly Baby or two.

In the end I got so diverted, literally, with the Hardmoors event, taking photos and recognising runners, that I missed my turn. I suddenly realised that I had gone way beyond the turn-off for my final control and once more had to take a detour through the heather. Before long I was back in Swainby and having a nice plate of chilli while the Hardmoors guys and gals still had another 30 miles or so to go. It made my (shortened) 22 miler seem a bit pathetic. Still, I was quite happy as I’d not managed to get the training in that I’d have liked and I wasn’t feeling too bad. My time was slower than last year but my position was the same. 55th!

Hot Chocolate at Chop Gate

It’s a real pity that two years on the go that this race has clashed with the last Cross-Country of the season – I don’t know if this happens every year. But if you ever fancy a run with a bit of map reading then this is an event to consider. Navigation is straightforward, and it is a very sociable event. In fact it’s fair to say that solo runners like myself are in a minority; most people tend to walk or run round in chatty groups. If you like Swaledale, you’d almost certainly like the Cleveland Survival.

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Maddog 10K

Time to lose the bin bag

I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain, to see for certain, what I thought I knew. Yup, the weather was minging. I was just so not in the mood to do a fast flat PB hunter’s 10K that I knew would be neither fast, nor a PB. I PB’d in 2011, then again in 2012. It wasn’t going to be three in a row.

This was the third year of the Mad Dog and its most ambitious yet. Larger field, more road closures, and some other stuff. The biggest change was the introduction of park and ride, or, park, queue and ride, to give it a more accurate description. It was bad luck that the weather was so cold and damp and the organisers discovered in the morning that the buses were not allowed to go the quick route from carpark to the start so the queues to get back after the race were long and shivery. In a neat bit of PR one of the marshals walked along the queue apologising for the delay, chatting to the maddogs, listening and getting feedback and promising to get the glitches sorted for next year. I wasn’t too worried – we didn’t have to wait too long – and Roberta and I were both veterans from the Edinburgh 2009 marathon where the shuttle buses were hopelessly inadequate. So a 20 minute wait for a bus was no big deal, and it’s not as if you couldn’t walk to the park and ride, and many did. It was probably only 20 minutes. Might do that next year.

The park and ride delays meant the race started half-an-hour late. Bad news on a cold damp morning, but not that bad. Most of us just sat in the nice cosy school corridors of Stanley School sipping coffee and waited until it was time to go. The Crazy Pups had already started and now it was time for the Mad Dogs. Signs advised us that Pedigree dogs should assemble near the front, but I joined the Mongrels near the back. I sniggered guiltily at all the signs advising us to behave while off the lead and not to sniff other dogs bottoms. Can’t beat a bit of smut.

final approach

They’ve made a few subtle but clever course changes. More road closures and imaginative route choices make this race a rare beast; a fast PB road race that is also an interesting course. Along the promenade, past a Steel Band (that’s new), and then the tell-tale sign that the race is really getting big. An Elvis. An Elvis singing “You ain’t nothing but a houndog” to those in suitable fancy dress. The last 3 km rejoined the outward course around the Steel Band point so we got another blast from them (they were great) and a long fast finish which was the same point as the start. Even in its far larger form (1700+ finishers) there were still space to run.

I didn’t PB, but I was very happy with my 48:13 time, which was a lot faster than I expected, or deserved. It had been a good fast hard race and I love the excitement of running in a pack and still having space to overtake. But there was something missing. I showered, had a coffee, rumaged through my goodie bag, but something wasn’t quite complete. Where was he? I had my photos from 2011 and 2012, and, aha – there he was! Now I have one from 2013 too!

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Nine Standards

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.

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Manor Water Hill Race

Registration

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.

As ready as I’ll ever be

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.

Stile Queue

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.

Patiently queuing for the stile

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.

prizes
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Two Breweries

Having got round the LDMT I had little worries about the Two Breweries. A mere 5000 feet and 16 miles, or 18, or thereabouts. Once again the devil was in the detail. The Checkpoints. But I was sure I’d be fine.

This is a race I’ve wanted to do for some time but it’s usually clashed with something or other. But this year it was going to happen. An elegant principle where you run from Traquair House Brewery to Broughton Brewery taking a fairly direct and exceedingly scenic if somewhat lumpy route. A nice start in cool sunshine saw as speed away from the front of Traquair House up the long drive towards the road. It had only occurred to me the night before that I had no idea which way to go and had luckily found a blog from last year’s with a route map. I’d hastily studied this but was still relying the runner in front knowing where they were going and not getting too far ahead.

I hit the Split button my Garmin at the second checkpoint as the marshall informed me I was “just inside” the cutoff. She wasn’t kidding. My Garmin can’t lie, and it said 1hr 49min 37.3 seconds. Full marks if you guessed that the cutoff for checkpoint two was 1hr 50 minutes! “You’ll have to keep moving!” she added, helpfully, as I struggled on through the heather.

The race crosses a couple of valleys where Retirement Points, drinks and Jelly Babies were on offer. Each time I was cheerfully told to help myself to Jelly Babies as there were plenty. I know this is just marshall-speak for “there’s practically no one else behind you so we don’t need to save them for anyone else”, but I was happy to grab a handful nonetheless. I hadn’t expected so much sugar and water to be on offer so frequently throughout the race and after last week’s unassisted LDMT I almost, bizarrely, resented it. Almost. But not quite.

Into the last 3rd of the race and something completely unexpected happened. I started catching people. Not, I should say, an experience I am familiar with in fell races but certainly a pleasant surprise. I stopped worrying about time-checking myself at the checkpoints, I was heading all the way to the brewery now. At some checkpoints I may even have had several minutes to spare! As the miles and hills counted down I perked up and started looking forward to the final challenge.

My anthropomorphism of hills continues apace. For many years the most malevolent hill of the year award was easily won by Grisedale Brow as you hit it towards the end of the Grisedale Horseshoe. However this year it had met its match. I caught up with Norham’s William Pikett who was zigzagging up Trahenna Hill using the same tactic as I was. As he paused for a bit of a stretch I offered the view that this was “a bit of a bastard”, an opinion that was met with pretty broad agreement. He warned me that there was usually a photographer at the top so I got my happy face ready was we crested a series of false summits before finally toppling over the top.

The final descent was a really annoying gradient – not steep enough for an efficient bum-slide, but a bit too steep to skelp down without braking. It was a relief to finally hit the road for a last, slightly incongruous, mile on roads before getting to the front door of the Broughton Brewery. Roberta, with touching optimism and a far greater opinion of my abilities than I have had been waiting for well over an hour for me to appear over the horizon.

Next year is the 30th running of this event so if you fancy it it’s probably a good one to go for. I’d finished in 4:51:59 – my first “AL” and a massive 8 minutes to spare before the final cutoff! If I’m going to hit the checkpoints with more than 20 seconds to spare I’d better do a bit more training. It’s no different in many ways to the Saltwell Harriers Fell Race in many ways; everyone runs over a few boggy hills and rivers and everyone who finishes gets a bottle of beer. It’s just a bit longer. And steeper.

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