When was the last time in Northumberland the winner of a fell race was a runner from Ochils and when did the first 5 finishers include runners from Lochaber, HBT and Dark Peak. Well it was today at the Simonside Cairns Fell race.
As the drizzle came down at the start of this eleven miler, one hundred runners struggled with their wardrobes weighing up the pro’s and con’s of wearing their jackets, or short sleeve or long sleeve, two layers or three or tights, shorts or those clingy lycra pedal pusher things. One thing was for sure. We were all were going to get our feet wet. This race is well known for giving each runner first hand experience of luxuriant, deep sphagnum moss, boulders, peat and challenging running conditions.
Setting off from Rothbury, the first two miles is uphill on a combination of road and trail before the real graft begins. The path reverts to a barely discernible mix of reed grass and heather and soggy gravelly channels filled with water as dark as an Islay malt in a pint of black stout. Plenty of styles to step across or fall over as well. I sat in behind David Armstrong (NFR) and Neil Cassidy of Tynedale but there was a lot of adjustment in the order as the conditions prevailed. It really was a question of concentrating hard on every step, deciding when and where to jump or skirt or plough through the murky and often icy water.
I was 3rd in this race last year. I should add that this was because 3 or 4 lads in front went walkabouts. This year I counted at least 12 ahead and I didn’t recognise many of the front runners. Incomers. But from where?
It was windy as hell as we went over the top of the hill, but at least it was mild as I kept the compact group of Redman (NFR), Murray (Teviotdale) and Daniels (u/a) in my sights. I was passed by Armstrong at around four miles and then David Steel (NFR) at five and had that sinking feeling as I hung off the back of this handy posse, envious of the possible shelter and unable to harness my horsepower or to get my feet to go where I wanted through the saturated ankle deep moss and heather. Mincing across the skittish duck boards, I was 20 seconds adrift as we cut through the forest and then 30 seconds as they pulled away at Dove Crag. Daniels stopped a few times and he fell behind just before the forest. Reaching the top of the crag, I told myself I was good on the downhill and at last found some inertia over the newly laid trail of geometrical blocks of buff gritstone. It seems someone’s been building a new roman road.
I was working hard now and eventually caught Armstrong at around 8 miles but David Steel proved more elusive and I only managed to catch up with him with just over a mile to go, just as Redman, who had seemingly gone off course earlier passed me and just as I developed a familiar cramping twinge in my hamstring.
I slowed and running back into Rothbury, I was happy to keep the cramp at bay and finish without having to stop. I had a natter with some of the lads, a quick change and then a cup of broth soup in the Newcastle Hotel with the photographer for the day. For the purposes of the blog he said he was to be referred to as ‘the outsider’. As the prizes were dished out I was comforted to know that my relegation from the top 10 was partly a result of the appearance of Messrs Anthony, Gay and Smith who spiced things up at the front. The ‘outsider’ said that Anthony looked like he was really shifting. That’s probably why he won. Results and photos up already on the NFR Website. More photos on the link on the right margin.