A record 116 competitors (and a dog) lined up outside the Newcastle Arms, Rothbury for the Simonside Cairns Fell race. At 11am with the tolling of the bells, we were off. Yesterday as I watched Phil Sanderson, Will Horsley and a few others working hard around the Cross Country course, I felt a hopeful spark that they'd see sense and decide to miss out on the seasonal treats of Dove Crag, Spylaw and the like. A quick scan of the pack as it made its way up to Lordenshaw in the first few miles of this 11 mile race confirmed this to be the case.
It was left to Heaton's James Buis,winner of this years Pier-to-Pier run and 1st in September at Simonside, to lead the pack home today (1st-1:23:55). From a quick chat afterwards he seems to be quite enjoying the fell running scene. Who can resist, after all, the Siren-like attractions of sphagnum moss bogs, the reek of damp fell shoes and wagonloads of extra laundry.
As we climbed up the foothills of the Cheviot's out beside Simonside, I tried to sit in with Fletcher (2nd-1:25:55) of Wooler. Like me, he had started cautiously and we began picking off a few runners as we got onto the heather tracks. I thought I was around 6th at that point. The tracks were very wet and there was plenty of vaulting from one hummock to another in order to avoid losing footwear, ankles or small limbs in the dark depths of water filled hollows (or puddles for short!).
Around halfway and after a chase of 2 or 3 miles, I had caught up with the runner ahead. We stopped momentarily as we came to a dense pine wood. A runner behind, Chris Sanderson (NFR) , shouted 'straight on', and we entered a dark, eery world, illuminated halfway through by Christmas lights and music powered by a little genny (or by santa's magic - you choose!). Bizarre: At least it made me smile.
I hung onto NFR man for a couple of miles before he dropped back but I had to concentrate hard to maintain the pace during the last 2 miles along the road from Lordenshaw down to the finish beside the river. Lee Bennett (NFR) was a whisker behind me. It turned out that he (and possibly others) had gone for a little 'detour'. So it was a pleasant surprise to finish well up, snaffle a podium place (3rd-1:28:47) and a bottle of Merlot as a prize. Karen Roberston (NFR:1:35:59) comfortably won the women's race from Clare Jackson (Allen Valley:1:41:20) and Sarah Lister (Blackhill: 1:45:34).
Some of the runners had a paddle in the river afterwards and I thought this a good idea until I got in. Twenty seconds later I had an unbearable ice cream headache (but from the waist down) and got out of the icy water pretty sharpish.
It was lentil soup all round for the finishers ladled from the silver cauldron perched on the bar in the hotel afterwards followed by a small but perfectly formed Guinness. Definitely Santa's magic! Reports, photos and final placings of the NECCA/NEHRA 2009 Championships, no doubt soon, on the NFR Site.