Target one this month was the Simonside Fell Race. A six mile race through fields, forest and crags and 1200ft of climb, its an autumnal extravaganza that forms part of the Thropton Country Show. You can be sure of a good crowd at the end. They gather on either side of the finishing tape to watch these 'fell running types' murder themselves trying to shave seconds and places off the years previous performance. I was one of those 'fell running types'.
It's one of the North East Fell Running Championship counters this year, and with two wins out of two in the old mans category, I didn’t want to relinquish my miserly stranglehold on this lucrative competition...I think there’s a medal at the end. The competition to date has been from Burn of Durham Fell Runners and Smith of Saltwell. There were a few incomers though and seeing Morgan Donnelly sitting on the grass as I entered the show ground, I thought it would be an interesting field.
Me and the missus had, earlier in the day, entered some of the shows other competitions. She had submitted lemon curd, plum jam, chocolate cake and scones for scrutiny. I had collected 8 photos from around the house and put them in. One or two were from last years trip to Paris and Amiens and I thought they had a chance in their particular category.
Back to the fell race, and I only managed to get to the line in time, fannying around the car putting on my number. I took the ipod, but as it transpired, I didn’t need it.
Around a hundred runners set off and we made our way past the Cross Keys Pub and then through the wide, shallow Coquet. I had started steady and made my way slowly up the climb through the fields and up to Great Tosson. I passed Burn and then spied NFR's Scott Gibson and a Pudsey and Bramley runner ahead. As the gradient steepened south of Tosson Farm I tucked in behind the tall, rangey NFR runner, providing a steady pace up through the forest. In doing so we passed Pudsey's Mcintosh but he didn’t drop back and as we exited the forest and made our way up the vertical gritstone staircase through the crags of High Point, he was still there.
There is a short trot across the top of the ridge then it all back down again and it didn’t take Pudsey man anytime to show his superior descending skill and overhaul both of us. He ploughed on with intent and a lengthening stride back into the woods.
I upped the pace and tried to stick with him, but through the twists and turns he was making metres at a time. We quickly picked up Alnwick runner Jo Gascoine Owen, winner of the Hawskhead trail race who had been well up the road in the ascent with clubmate Bruce Crombie. Not long after, as the reeds and ferns covered the slippy surfaces, I went down like a sack of sheet, but was straight back up and still only around 20 metres behind Pudsey. I was working at max though, but happy to stay at that distance leaving the man ahead to spend vital seconds finding the best route and in one or two places, looking desperately for the marker tape. As we came out of the forest he went left instead of right, but soon realised his error and tucked in behind me as we came back down through Tosson, passing me again just before the river crossing. We were elbow to elbow coming along the road but I couldn’t match his acceleration as we entered the showground and he finished comfortably ahead.
I had a good wretch afterwards. This seems to be a new feature of recent hard runs and not at all to be encouraged. Still, it was a top ten finish and there were a couple of bottles of Becks for 1st vet 50, so a good if tough afternoon in the hills.
Happy to report a first and a third in the photograph competition as well. No prizes though for the jams and cakes. Can't have it all, eh?