I am really not good at directions. It doesn’t help that I can’t tell left from right – yes, I know if you put your hands out in front of you then the one that looks like an “L” is the left hand, but they both look like L’s to me (marginal dyslexia) and so I have to mime writing to see which hand I write with, but by then the turning has gone past and it is too late. I am also not really the best with a map and compass, as my friend Helen will testify to after a rather long slog around Manchester city centre trying to find Chinatown (sorry Hels!). This is what has always scared me about fell races. I’m not quick and usually languish around the back of the field and in fell races this usually means that there often aren’t many people to follow. I took the wrong road at the Captain Cook’s Fell race on New Year’s Day, merrily leading several other runners off in the wrong direction before realising my mistake and tracking back, but in the back of my mind is always the fear of wandering around completely lost and alone before having to ring mountain rescue. I am reassured constantly by club mates that it is impossible to get lost, but know of people who wandered off course and were rescued by the emergency services, so tend not to believe them and so my tactic is usually to find someone in front of me who looks like they know where they are going and stick to them like glue. It had worked ok up until this race…
So, Guisborough Moors was where it was at. 12.5 miles of the finest fells the north east has to offer including climbs up to Captain Cook’s monument, Roseberry Topping and Little Roseberry. I’ve done the Captain Cook climb before (it was very steep!) and since this is one of the club GP races and I had thoroughly enjoyed the last long fell race I’d done (Hexhamshire Hobble) I thought I would give it a go. The weather was ok, some sun and some cloud to begin with. It was a bit chilly especially in the wind but no need for anything other than a thermal undershirt and vest, especially as gloves, hat and waterproofs were in the required kit along with a map, compass and a whistle.
The thing I like about the fells is that the scenery is always changing and you are so busy concentrating on where your feet are going that the miles and minutes tick by almost without noticing, as opposed to on the road where I look at my Garmin about once every 10 seconds. This is easily avoided on the fells since generally glancing anywhere apart from your feet e.g. to look at your Garmin or to admire the view usually ends in disaster as you inevitable trip over a rock or exposed tree root that you failed to see. So, eyes down and only to be raised when on solid ground. There is also much less pressure on pacing. I know I aim for 9 min miles on the road and get cross if it is above that but again on the fells, anything goes. You can go from running down a steep, well surfaced road at 7 min miles to climbing on your hands and knees up a muddy slope at a pace that makes your Garmin autopause in a matter of seconds, so average pace means very little and time is really the only consideration, and even that becomes immaterial towards the back of the pack. It really is about enjoying the views when you can (and getting round in one piece!).
The first bit of the course is a bit of a climb (see contour map below courtesy of Esk Valley Fell Club) but I walked where I needed to and soon reached the top of the moors.
It was a bit boggy here, ok a lot boggy, but wet feet is a common occurrence and my trail shoes dry out quite quickly so it was easy to push on. The really steep downhill bit was like a lunar landscape with enormous person sized ruts, but the ground was hard so I made my way down in one piece. The climb up to Captain Cook’s monument was a bit relentless but all on tracks so much better than the scrambly path I’d been up before. The ensuing downhill bit on massive stone slabs is not fun to run down (my poor knees) and I also saw a guy with dog completely wipe out on the gravelly bit but he got up ok and carried on. Up again, again on some gravelly track. I was passed by a clubmate at this point who said that the hard bit was done. I’m not sure if she was having me on, but she was wrong! Looming ahead was Roseberry Topping, practically vertical and scary as hell. Hands on knees job and my Garmin autopaused and refused to start again so slow was my pace. A few steps before the top I landed a bit funny and tweaked my ankle a bit which didn’t help when it came to the very steep rugged downhill bit directly afterwards, but I ran it off ok and ploughed on.
Picture courtesy of Esk Valley Fell Club
The field had really thinned out by this point but there were a couple of people ahead of me who I stuck to. I was feeling ok, much better than I had been at Coniston despite all the hills and uneven ground and looked to be well within my 2 and a half hour target, so all good. The last climb is up some more stony paths and then a bit more boggy heather, before hitting the woods. It was at this point about 11 miles in that I started to regret not eating something along the way as I started to feel a bit sick. I’d had shreddies and a chocolate hot cross bun for breakfast and half a cup of water at the water station but that was it and I was low on fuel. I had a selection of stuff in my bag, so slowed down for a bit to grab a pouch of pear purée (baby food!) and slurp it gratefully. I’ve not tried this gel-alternative during a race before but it really worked a treat as it is slightly wet so refreshing and doesn’t taste like flavoured snot, I will definitely be buying more as it sorted my sick feeling out immediately and didn’t do odd things to my guts like Haribo or Jelly babies can do, all good.
Or so I thought, but unfortunately as I was scrabbling around in my bag to find the pouch I had slowed down enough that I lost sight of the guy in front of me, and made the catastrophic error of thinking I knew where I was going. Trundling happily down an enormous hill with only a mile to go I felt great, but then suddenly realised that there was a big uphill coming and I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. I hadn’t lost that much time with my eating behaviour and should have been able to see the guy ahead of me somewhere, but nothing. I pulled out the map, and tried to locate myself using my phone but there was no signal. I then had a dilemma, carry on going and assume that I’d just slowed up more than I thought and missed the guy going over the hill, or run back up the massive hill I had just run down and try see if I’d missed the marked path. The latter option was the most sensible so I trogged back up the hill to where I’d turned on to the track. I didn’t see any other runners but I did see a bit of red and white tape pointing off the beaten track that I had totally missed, ARGH. This little detour had cost me about 20 mins and most of the remaining energy in my legs, and enabled my clubmate to get past me, so I was more than a little peeved to finally come home about 10 minutes over my target and pretty much plum last. I had however fared better than two running club buddies, one of whom was nursing a nasty looking ankle sprain and the other with a pulled calf muscle and I also got a random box of chocolates from the organisers (they had about a bazillion bottles of wine and chocolates as prizes but ran out of prize winners so invited people up to come and get a prize if they hadn’t already got one, result!). I’m stiff today but still got round in one piece and until getting lost, was going great guns so I am not too disappointed. The next fell outing is the Swaledale marathon in June. I am reliably informed it is hard to get lost here too, so will be boning up on the route extensively beforehand since taking a wrong turn is all too easy and I definitely don’t want to do that and end up running more than I need to in the middle of a marathon! Or getting rescued by Mountain Rescue…
Four day working week this week (wooohoooooo!) so the schedule is as follows:
Mon: recovery run (3-4 miles slow)
Tues: lunchtime run with colleagues, Strength and Conditioning
Weds: early morning swim, track session in the evening
Thurs: day of rest (hence doing swim the day before)
Fri: long 50-60 mile bike ride with J on road bikes
Sun: North Tyneside 10k
EDIT And PHEW I accidentally closed this window while writing the above but wordpress saves drafts as you go along, I have never been so relieved!