Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hexham Hobble - a fell race or an ice skate?

Trying to stay upright on the driveway

I am sure that I am not the only person who feels that they ought to show their appreciation for their parents more often, so it was nice to go across to Durham this weekend and spend some time with them. My parents seem to realise that a weekend without any type of running makes me poor company, so my mother did wake me up on Saturday morning by asking if I was going to go down to the local parkrun. Not wanting to run it hard, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give something back to the local running scene by going to volunteer. Luckily, I found out just before leaving the house that it was cancelled due to sheet ice....which was just as well, as I couldn't even get down the driveway in an upright position (and the driveway is rutted to help in icy conditions).

Sunday dawned clear and sunny but very I did wonder what on earth had possessed me to go and take in a fell race  (the Hexhamshire Hobble) on the way back home, as it was bound to be colder higher up in the hills. True to my prediction, the temperature gauge dropped to -3 as I drove to a friend's house so we could go to the race together. He had done the race several times before and so explained the course to me - road sections at the start and finish, with bits of rough fell and runnable wider trails in the middle. We headed off up round the route backwards as a warm up, so that I got a chance to see the run into the finish. It was incredibly icy just crossing the carpark to the grass, and a lot of care had to be taken to avoid slippy patches running down the road, which was a  real shame, as I had thought that the final road section would be my secret weapon.

Route and course profile

As we headed back, it seemed unnaturally quiet, and we realised with a shock that everyone was gathered at the start a full 5minutes early. We had a slight panic, hurdled a stone wall, skidded across the ice back to the car to ditch our jackets and pick up our bumbags containing the FRA (Fell Running Association) compulsory kit (full body waterproof cover, map, compass, whistle and emergency food) and made it to the start just in time. Well, when I say just in time, I was still bent double tying my laces when the gun went off! After leaving the field, the first mile and a half were on road - initially slightly downhill and then a steep climb up onto the fells. I knew that this would be a strong section for me, but the ice on the road meant that it was difficult to pass people safely.
When the marshall directed us off the road onto the fells, that was when the fun really started. It was a beautiful, sunny day, crisp and clear with great views (though I couldn't really appreciate it as I had to spend most of the time looking at my feet to avoid the ice). The snow from a couple of nights prior to the race had almost melted, and what was left had frozen, along with the bogs due to the flooding and rain of the week before. I actually found myself sitting on my backside in the middle of a 2m stretch of sheet ice at the 3 mile mark, but managed to get up and start running again without really noticing. I managed to catch up with the 2 men in front of me on a lovely stretch of wide runnable trail, but they moved ahead again as we queued up to have our numbers stamped before turning back onto the rutted icy rough moorland. This section was a long one and so several of the true fellrunners shot past me in their shorts (!). I actually really appreciated that, as it meant I could follow their line rather than try to pick out the best route, and hence avoided crashing through  more frozen puddles to soak my feet. I recognised their vests and so knew they had local knowledge, regularly training on those fells, so I tried to keep them in sight.

"Keep" trophy as I had to give the large gold one back!

Another road section meant I soon caught them up again and we then had a bit of friendly banter negotiating ice and they encouraged me to push on away from them. The last push up off the road and across the icy tops flew by as one of the marshals had told me that I was the first lady and also that there was cake and tea at the finish........I certainly wasn't keen to let anyone get at the cake before me!
Our recce of the finishing mile was brilliant as it meant that I could speed down that last bit of tarmac, knowing exactly which bits of road to avoid. I felt great, and flew into the finish at my road 10K pace, though did wait to cheer my friend in before hitting the cake.
Not being a natural hill runner, I was amazed to see the results and find out that I had finished in 12th position overall, over 7 minutes ahead of the 2nd lady, and only 2 minutes slower than Angela Mudge's 15 year old course record........though at the prizegiving, the announcer gave up and didn't even attempt to pronounce my name!

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