|In Full: I was bullied into entering this, my first fell race and only my fourth ever race. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to the hills and fells of Northumberland, spending a lot of my working days in them. But I walk them, slowly, measuring things and writing things on maps. Running up Windy Gyle at 2031ft was something I was nervous about, mainly because I had very little confidence in my abilities as a new runner. I have thought fell runners to be an exclusive athletic super group often spoken of in hushed tones. My mate from Heaton Harriers, Lisa B (I mentioned in the Bamburgh 10k report I wrote) had twisted my arm up my back to run it with her. I love maps, I work with maps, correct maps, draw maps basically I’m a map geek. Lisa B, on the other hand, is rubbish with maps so needed me to be the navigator. I love a challenge and I know the terrain. So I thought what the hell, even if I’m last at least it’s a step along the road of becoming a fell runner.There was a kit list to observe and after about 5 seconds research knew my hill walking gear was too heavy and bulky. I also needed trail shoes, this was going to be expensive I thought. Derren Sarginson suggested More Mile Cheviots as a great entry level shoe, so off I trotted to Start Fitness. The shoes were very reasonable at £27 (after discount) which made the colony of moths in my wallet very happy. The rest of kit was equally reasonable with a really cheap fixed hood windproof, waterproof jacket from Go Outdoors and a Karrimor bum bag from Sports Direct. I was really chuffed with the bum bag, I didn’t wait to get home, I put it on in the car park and pranced about the rest of the day wearing it. Every mirror I walked past I stopped to admire the practicality and versatility of the bum bag. Bum bags, they must be due a comeback. How about the Bounders kit to include bum bags in the future? I’d buy one.
The drive to the start takes you along the most impressive road in Northumberland. There are songs written about this valley with the river Coquet flowing between MOD ranges to the South and the hills and border fence to the North. If it wasn’t for the live firing 24/7 you could believe that nothing has changed in this valley for hundreds of years. However the constant thumps and booms are a reminder that you’re in the 21st century. The only times the guns are quiet are at lambing break between 15 April and 15 May. Anyway, I digress, back to the race.
The start point was from Windy Haugh, just past the cafe and near the sheep pens. The race organiser was Phil Green from Heaton Harriers, a club colleague and next door neighbour of Lisa. Registration consisted of exchanging a very reasonable £6 entry fee and a few insults between Lisa and Phil. Maps were available for £1 each with the money going towards the Search and Rescue who were marshalling the check points for the race. Phil had relaxed the kit for the day with only a jacket mandatory. I looked around at everyone and realised I had bought the worst bum bag ever. I’d never experienced bum bag envy before, there were ones that looked like weightlifters belts with two water bottles, there were smaller ones like money belts. But they all looked better than mine. I was gutted. I’d even posed for photo’s proudly wearing my bum bag to the front to make sure it was included for posterity. See below, some Heaton Harriers, my bum bag and I.
Lisa introduced me to Jason Taylor, a fellow Bounder but running in his NFR colours for today`s race. I picked his brains for advice, telling me to power walk the steep bits, run the flats, to take it easy and not go sprinting up the first few hills. Lisa and I jogged a little to warm up and chatted with other runners all very friendly with Lisa telling everyone it was my first fell race. As if they couldn’t tell by my shiny new trail shoes and crap bum bag.
Race started at 10:30 “from behind” Phil’s car, a relaxed and very informal atmosphere, already I loved this. A quick few words of advice about the route and course from Phil and all 68 runners were off. The first part was a 500m run along the road to the first gate onto the steep climb up Barrow Law. After Lisa and I promising to run together with me insisting she didn’t run off, I shot off up the hill leaving her behind. It was here on this first hill a huge smile formed on my face. My mind was made up, this is the type of running I want to do. I didn’t stop grinning and laughing the whole day. I was in my element. Lisa was right, I would love fell running.
Route took us along the border country ride route towards Murder Cleugh where apparently in 1610 a murder took place. Phil had told us that the bridleway then splits into two around the Eastern flank of Ward Law and to take the right hand fork, so I followed the pack naively and took the left hand side. A clumpy sheep path trudge and a dog leg back onto the path up Windy Gyle. I had settled into a run walk rhythm actually keeping up and overtaking other runners, the grin was growing on my face, I was loving every second of this. The final climb up to Russell Cairn and the Trig point at 619m of Wyndy Gyle was over really quickly mainly because I was chatting to someone from Bingley Harriers.
The next parts were downhill, which crossed the border fence so technically this fell race takes in two countries; views were spectacular as rolling green hills lay out in all directions. Pace picked up as the route which followed the Pennine Way levelled out for a reasonable distance before following the old drovers route “The Street” down the back of Black Braes which was tremendous fun hurtling down arms outstretched for balance. Then another climb up and round Swineside Law which was short enough to run all the way up. The track then ambled down gently until the last steep descent of Hindside Knowe, another chance to spread out the arms and hurtle down to the road and the finishing line which as like the start, was Phil’s car. Once all but one runner was back Phil made the presentations which were all very relaxed affair by the side of the road. With the race raising £300 for mountain rescue.
When Ian Young asked me to write a race report, I struggled because the entire race was a blur. The build up from nerves and apprehension disappeared once I had climbed the first hill, to be replaced with elation and enjoyment. This was definitely just the start of my fell racing. Position? Well I was 53rd out of 66 finishers in 1:32:57 which was irrelevant as I’d beaten Lisa, my true goal of the day. I could have ran it faster on reflection which is something I’m taking into my next fell race. But what a fantastic introduction to this type of event, relaxed, friendly, and encouraging and yes, I’m well and truly hooked. And the crap bum bag that uncomfortably dug in my side bouncing about like a basketball the entire run went straight in the bin when I got home. Roll on Stanhope on July 1st.