I might possibly have mentioned once or twice how much I like this race. It is so well organised, the distance (20 miles) and terrain (endless bog and tussock) seems to suit my running and the coffee and walnut cake afterwards is good enough to tempt me off the gluten free wagon.
This year I had it down as my main racing target, especially after not being able to do the Fling. So my aims of the race were to beat my previous best time of 4 hours 26 and get into the top ten women. And enjoy it of course. My sister was doing it as well. She has done the Chevy walk several times and always placed well but this year there was no walking race. So officially this would be her first proper fell race. It was a shame in a way to lose the walking element as I always quite liked the camaraderie but the race organisers will have had their reasons and undoubtedly it will have greatly reduced the amount of time that marshals had to spend stuck out on exposed hill tops.
It absolutely chucked it down throughout the week before the race so I was a bit concerned about the state of all the peat bogs. My sister reckoned that they might not be too bad as it’s been a very dry spring and as it turned out she was right. But it was still very wet underfoot in all the areas where the run off from the hills hadn’t drained. We were really lucky with the race day weather – sunny, good visibility and a nice cooling breeze.
After registration at Wooler Youth Hostel we hung around waiting for the start before everyone ambled over to the start on the road to Wooler Common. I decided to take it fairly easy on the outward run to Broadstruther as I have often massively run out of steam in the final few miles of this race. This first leg is 3.5 miles and a gradual climb with some good tracks. Afterwards I wanted to run the bulk of the way to just beyond the next checkpoint at Cheviot Knee as it is virtually all runnable but the narrow paths can make things tricky if you get stuck behind a load of folk who have decided to walk. That all went well and I felt good on the climb up Cheviot. It is very steep coming off Cheviot down to the burn and I was a bit wary of my ankle. It feels completely back to normal but I really don’t want to sprain it again. Even so I made a reasonable fist of the descent and overtook 4 or 5 folk. Going up Hedgehope took a long time – lots of long grass and bracken, not much of a path at all and too much walking. I made the mistake at the top of fishing my phone out to check the time – I was quite convinced I would be up on my previous time but it was exactly the same so I felt a bit deflated about that. I rationalised that I could still make up time if I kept a better pace from here to the finish and in other good news I hadn’t seen any other women at all since I left Cheviot summit.
The descent off Hedgehope is lovely then there is a very squelchy stretch to Langlee Crags. The path is really faint at points and with strips of heather having been cleared this made it even harder to find than usual so a lot of us didn’t take the best line here. After the checkpoint there is a nice stretch of easy tracks which is traditionally where I start to die but felt OK this time. I stopped at Brand’s corner to have a gel and quick chat with the marshals so a couple of guys came past me then but the field was really thinning out. Still no women on my tail as far as I could see but none visible up ahead to target either.
The path through the Carey Burn valley is tricky with lots of scree then it becomes a swamp although there are duck boards at one point with I think are new. After that is the last climb up Hell’s Path. I was trotting up that when a chap came walking down and said “well done, I think you are 6th lady”. That put a spring in my step I can tell you. So onwards with renewed vigour and the last couple of miles back to Wooler. I caught up with a bloke in a red and white vest where we hit the road and we had a wee chat then egged each other on a bit to speed up and catch the two guys we could see in front of us. I am so glad we did as unknown to me there were a couple of women stealthily gaining on us in ninja mode. We sprinted the last bit of road then it was just a case of gritting the teeth and keeping the pace up down the narrow path to the finish. There was a lass hard on my heels and another close behind her. I got the print out of my time and was really delighted – 4 hours 17 minutes and still 6th female.
I took advantage of finishing in good time to have a shower with warm water then there was the prize giving. Afterwards I sat in the warm sunshine and waited for my sister to finish. She was looking really strong as she came in and had had a good run herself so we were both suitably chuffed with ourselves.
There were a lot of folk retired/timed out. I was 61st overall out of 190-something finishers. I still think I could go a bit faster, there is definite room to improve on the Hedgehope ascent for starters. But a great race and massive thanks to Wooler Running Club and everyone involved.