29 June 2014 – 10.5m / 1,752 ft
Has anyone seen Pulp Fiction? There is a scene where two guys are talking about being abroad and one says “You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? They got the same stuff we got over here, but it’s a little different.”
So it was for the Cronkley Fell Race, laid on by Durham Fell Runners on 29 June. It runs 10.5 miles on an out and back route from Middleton-In-Teesdale not far from Durham. It’s a low-key, local fell race like many others in Yorkshire and the Lakes. A trestle table in the garden of the Strathmore Arms, runners grasping at entry forms and gasping about run out biros. A pile of assorted safety pins in a Tupperware tub (no two are the same and they range from surgical suture size to comedy pantomime props). Events are interrupted at regular intervals by the landlady coming out to take drinks and Sunday lunch orders from the locals.
55 runners milling about at the start with the usual pre-race excuses, banter and eyeing up the competition.
“D’yer see Andy over at Riber’s last week?”
“I dunno, reckon my ankle’s crocked but I’ll give it a go like…How you feeling?”
“Nah, heard he ‘ad a good one though. Better than Mikey, he went wrong twice!”
“Yeah, not too sure either. Physio said my knee was alright but told me I shouldn’t run for 3 weeks…”
“Yes I saw him. Off down the wrong beck off top o’ Staple Moss. Eejit only recce’d it last month”
“We’ve got that river at the end. What do you think the course’ll be like?”
And so on. Basically, it’s a great race and well worth the trip.
And the little differences… Out here the hills are more rolling than Yorkshire or Lakeland’s. On these slopes, the trees are different and the inclines are not so dramatic but its still a beautiful part of the country. There are just as many ankle-snapper rocks and divots, but it doesn’t have the same scale. And I was among the unfamiliar vests of Tynedale Harriers, Elvet Striders and Swaledale Runners. Fewer familiar faces, but the same welcome atmosphere. I chatted with one Dark Peak Runner who, like me, was on his way back down from running at Dollar the day before and fancied breaking the journey for the run out. We were both a little outside our patches but enjoying running among different hills with different people.
I’d camped in a farmer’s garden all of one and a half miles away from the start, and this didn’t prevent me being late and nearly missing the start (11am, not exactly the crack of dawn). I was the last runner to sign up. In fact the marshal at the desk recognised me and my foreign Pudsey vest because I’d sprinted to the start just in time last year too. I only made the race at all because after sleeping through my alarm I finally awoke to find a chicken in the porch of my tent, pecking at the Scottish mud on my fell shoes and happily clucking away. I have no idea how it got in, but if it thought it was heading for the farmer’s feeding trough I’ll get it signed up as P&B chief navigator.
Coming the day after a hilly run at Dollar, I knew my legs would be adopting a strict “work to rule” policy, so I started slowly and hoped to finish less slowly. I made my way up from the back of the field and hovered limply in the top dozen or so. To be fair it was not the same field as Saturday’s champs race. For an out and back race the course is interesting, with different views on the way back and a river to wade across at the turn where a sodden marshal snatched at, clipped and in most cases tore people’s race numbers as they scrambled over moss-covered rocks and up the far bank. And then up hill and down dale back the way we came. By this point I was holding on, losing time. A brief second wind bagged a few places on the next descent, which I lost then regained and finally lost with about a mile to go.
The race was won by Will Horsley (NFR) in 1.18.29 and Heidi Dent (Howgill) in 1.24.40. Heidi comfortably beat the female course record and was 4th overall. I’d traded places with her and the 5th placed runner six times before finally fading out to get a grandstand (but strictly uninvolved) view of the battle for 4th. A hobble down the final downhill track section to the line, then it was across the road and into the Strathmore for butties, with a bottle of beer for all finishers celebrating Durham Fell Runners’ 10th anniversary. Tired and with jellied legs, I sat and enjoyed being a “Pudsey offcomer” for the day.
So, in Teesdale they’ve got the same races, just a little bit different. This is a fantastic and well supported race which deserves a few claret and gold vests from Yorkshire interlopers next year.