I arrived early in Teesside for the Claybank Fell race. Very early. I pottered around the leafy lanes in the car listening to Classic FM. Mellow on this remembrance day. Aled Jones was on. He thanked listeners for their requests and said 'it would be good to hear from you too'. If that was the case, I thought, he should be on Radio 2. I laughed at the sheer stupidity of me.
There was a raw, early winter frost, but the sky was clear and the day crisp and still. I drove through Great Ayton on the way to the start. It was just waking up. It was everything middle England should be in November; Woman in hat and coat, on the drive scraping ice off the windscreen and blowing into her fingers; Dog with ball, man with paper; child on a bike; woman peering into the car mirror and squeezing a spot on her chin.
I parked up close to the Clay bank car park and joined the short queue to get my number from the fell-meister Dave Parry. I asked for safety pins and he said there were some in the back, but that I wasn't to go into the boot. It was heaving with wine. Money changed hands and I warmed up over the hill at the back. There were around ninety at the start. After a short lecture on the FRA rules, we were off.
It had been a while since I'd raced around the Moors and didn't recognise many of the runners and riders. I dropped into 18th position once the climb along the side of the wood levelled off and I pushed on to try and pick up some places on the rocky trail.
As we hit the first of two climbs, I was in with 2 or 3 runners and was aware of a North Shields Poly on my shoulder. He passed me on the way up. I convinced myself that I had to stay with him, but he had 4 or 5 seconds over the top. It was cold as we hit the flagstones across the moor and it was eyes down to ensure there was no slipping. No time for taking in the splendid view. I was pleased I wore my cheap woolly gloves.
I was passed by one or two some way along the ridge, but tucked in and soon we were five and all together. We descended into the dip between the climbs in the heather, avoiding the icy steps and I dropped to the back.
The second climb was a stiff walk, and I found some energy at the top to pass a couple and spider my way clumsily through the rocks on the crag. Shields was away again. Good he was on the ascents (said Yoda later), but I wasn't finished yet and we caught up again.
The trail drops steeply left before the finish and three of us continued to the rocky steps. There is, however, a short cut that we missed. It drops down sooner across the shale scree. As I followed Shields, picking our way down the frosty steps, we spied simultaneously two cutting down early, long striding and making 50 metres on us. That was enough to set off my last-ditch 'shit or bust' booster rocket, my very own Hydron Collidor. My small ring of superconducting magnets throbbed and I shot past Shields, horsing after the two runners. One was a North York Moorer, the other of uncertain allegiance.
We entered the woods and the final 300 metres which is a steep, pine needle strewned track. I was beyond 'full-on', eyeballs out and trying to salvage yet another last ditch finish. The legs were out ahead and my backside was trailing so far behind my legs, I looked like a bad impression of Max Wall.
While one got away just ahead, NYM man gave in with 50 metres to go and I galloped into the pen, feeling completely spent.
Discreet wretch and then up to change after a quick blether with Alnwicks Bruce Crombie.
Why can't I just play backgammon and read the papers....? First M50. Good event, this.
(Photos by Ms Brown. Esk Valley)