The Angel View Run 2018A report by Aisling
This year’s Low Fell Angel View run took place on a roasting hot Thursday in June, and seven Frontrunners set their sights on conquering the 5.17 mile course.The race started behind the Angel Inn, with views of Gateshead and the Angel itself creating a fairly dramatic backdrop to the proceedings.
The run is a two and a half loop course, which someone feeling kind described as “undulating” – we all know with that description you should read between the lines and just acknowledge that it’s hilly. The initial hill in the first loop was pleasant enough, and (what goes up must come down) was followed immediately by a quick downhill dip through the underpass, followed by a short ascent on a forest trail path. With a sense of direction such as mine, I had no idea where I was headed, and so was pleasantly surprised upon exiting the forest to be rewarded by a worm’s-eye view (like a bird’s-eye view, but from below!) of the Angel towering above me. It was lovely to experience such an iconic structure from a novel perspective.A quick trot past the Angel, then it was time to double back along the main road and head back through the underpass towards the second loop.The second loop was less forgiving than the first, and contained one epic, seemingly never-ending ascent (I should note at this point that most of us had joined in the NFR hill rep session the night before – poor planning or perfect preparation, depending on perspective, or whether you’re at the top or bottom of the hill!). At one point I thought I had reached the top, only to find that there was an additional bit of hill hidden behind the bushes, followed by a football pitch-sized field that you had to run around before you could enjoy the long run back down.After that, the rest was a breeze. Up and over, through the forest, wave hi to the Angel, and onto the home straight (I did panic slightly at this point when the Marshall told me I still had another lap of hills to go – either he was having a laugh or had a twisted sense of humour!).The race finished back where it had started, with the Angel in all its glory standing out against the sunset sky. As always, there was a finish line fan club, with the other (faster!) NFR members cheering everyone on as we each made it to the end.There was time for some mingling and liquid refreshments back at race HQ before a short awards ceremony, a token gesture of a free buffet (insider tip: stand near the buffet table – they refill the chips when they run out!), and a decent sized raffle, in which Stevie G bagged himself a substantial bottle of vodka!All in all, it was a tough run, but the friendly atmosphere, scenic setting, and sense of smugness at the end made it all worthwhile. Definitely one to put in the diary for 2019!
Thornley Hall Farm Race Report, February 2018
“Cross Country isn’t for me” – this is what you would have heard if you’d asked me about taking part in the North East Harrier League before this year. As a runner with about 3-4 years’ experience under my belt, I was quite content with road running, and the best routes were (in my opinion at least) flat, fast, and preferably tarmacked. It was most likely a combination of curiosity, club-camaraderie, and cake that brought me along to the 2017-2018 NEHL season.
Despite myself, I’ve found a new love of challenging runs because of the Harrier League, but it hasn’t been easy. The competitor in me has had to learn to be OK with my pacing taking a knock, and being happier with consistency over speed. Mud and hills don’t fill me with dread quite as much as they used to – until it comes to cleaning my shoes, that is! From the start of this season at Wrekenton, I’ve found myself becoming more and more comfortable with the challenges XC throws at you, and I’ve learnt to take positives from all the different challenges that have come along; the wind at South Shields, the hills at Aykley Heads, the hangover at Redcar (more of a personal challenge than one for all runners), and the mud at Herrington. Looking back over these runs I had overcome them all and managed to muster a smile at the end, so I geared up for Thornley Hall Farm, traditionally the muddiest XC fixture of the year, complete with river/stream/mud-lake to contend with. With that in mind, I checked the forecast religiously from Monday onwards, praying that it would stay cold and dry to keep the ground firm underfoot. Sadly, my prayers went unanswered and as the week progressed temperatures rose, and it was raining more than I would have liked. Packing my bag the night before I continued to check the forecast maniacally, only to see that it was most likely going to rain from 10am onwards, with temperatures in the region of 2°C – I was not impressed.
Race day arrived and I was pleasantly surprised; while it was quite chilly, the rain was holding off and when we arrived at Thornley I managed to walk the entire way down to Tent City with the tent on my back without slipping – so far so good. The tent went up and we could relax, treating ourselves to tea and coffee before the run. At one point the sun even came out and we all agreed it was positively warm…the coats came off and we were down to three layers! (For those of you who know me well enough, you’ll be surprised to hear that I was only sporting 4 layers to begin with!) Talk turned to the course, and as someone who’d never ran it before I was trying my best to mentally prepare for what was to come – questions about the hills, gradient, and muddiness were all duly answered and I felt quite chipper – the likelihood of the river/stream/mud-lake being there was quite slim apparently, which was fine by me although I’m sure some XC and mud enthusiasts would disagree.
As the women set off, I stood at the top of hill number 1 to get a video and to see how it went underfoot – whilst the hill was steep, the footing looked good and I was feeling distinctly less worried about Thornley than I had earlier that morning. Back at our tent we were well-placed to see the women on Lap 2, just before they tackled the second hill. There were some smiles (possibly some grimaces) and more than one comment on how “not fun” this course was – all said with a laugh, possibly because they were enjoying it so much, or because they knew this was the last time they had to do it and we had 3 lots of it to come. After cheering all of our runners along, encouraging them to keep going, and to chase-down the runner just ahead, our attention turned to our preparation – in my case this involved keeping my layers firmly on for as long as possible, and squeezing in a cup of tea and 2x dark chocolate digestives about 25 minutes before we started. Anxiety had started to build, and this was either due to the impending run, or it might have been due to one of our runners having not yet arrived, and relying on one of the women to finish with enough time to give him a vest to wear (FYI, it all worked out fine; he arrived and got a vest in time – PHEW!) Before I knew it, it was time to go! Jogging over to the start, my trail shoes accumulated a fair amount of mud – this was the first sign of things to come. Having used a nearby tree to get some of the mud cleared from my shoes, I was good to go, and I made my way over to the starting line…off we went!
Setting off on that first lap, I was primarily concerned with getting into space, knowing from my limited XC experience that once things get muddy, my arms tend to flail and my feet move from underneath my body about 1m in any, random direction – I wasn’t going to take anyone down with me if I fell! The first hill came and went, grassy and fairly firm underfoot – the cheers kept me going up and over it, and before I knew it I was running past Tent City, bracing myself for the second climb of the day. This one proved to be decidedly muddier, and I made a mental note to stick to the edges next time round. As I came along to top of the tree line and made my way into the wooded section, I was not prepared for the sheerness of the next hill (mercifully running down it) – given that this year we ran the course in reverse I can only assume that in previous years crampons, picks, and ropes have been a requirement for all runners attempting to scale it! Once down the hill/cliff, I was pleased to see grass, but my gaze stayed firmly down as I tried to navigate a good route through the uneven terrain. Before I knew it, I was at “the gates” – anyone who’s ran at Thornley will know the gates, and as a Thornley first-timer this is where I’m told the river/stream/mud-lake could be found given more adverse weather conditions. The pass here seemed to be getting fairly muddy and claggy, and this was only lap 1, so the best was yet to come…Lap one rounded out with a climb and swift descent back down to the start line, ready to do it all again.
Lap 2 is always the hardest one for me – you’ve not got the rush of the start of the race, nor the joy of knowing it’s your last time up a hill or through some mud. Nevertheless I was feeling quite good all things considered, and the gloves were off (literally) as I passed Tent City and women from the club, trying to say “please hold these” while throwing them AND keeping my footing. (The hat came off at the same point on Lap 3) Lap 2 continued with the added challenge of getting a sizeable stick caught in my laces – a few tactical kicks as I ran couldn’t dislodge it so I had to stop to pull it out, swearing at it as I did so, which I’m sure made dislodging it a much quicker process. As predicted, the mud at the gates had become claggier and more liquidated after 380+ runners had made their way through it. One step saw my foot and leg disappear as far as my mid-shin, and pulling my foot back out nearly cost me a shoe, but my laces held-fast and I was off again, trying not to lose momentum. It was getting harder to keep my head up, not only because I needed to watch my footing vigilantly, but because the course was taking its toll, and by the end of Lap 2 I needed as much “Last Lap Joy” as I could muster to keep me going. Thankfully the Last Lap Joy was forthcoming, especially when my watch beeped I knew I had no more than a mile to go. I could feel myself lift and it made the final stretch easier – the cheers from the spectators as I approached the finish line kept me going, despite the fact they weren’t necessarily for me! One group of supporters cheering for another Stephen (they were all in club colours I didn’t recognise) can’t know how much of a boost I got from just hearing my name being cheered – one final push and I was over the line, I was finished!
Once out of the finish funnel and back around to the sides I could look down and see quite how much mud my shoes had picked up on the way round – it was a shocking amount and the grips were nowhere to be seen; no wonder it had felt like I was running in clogs! With heavy and muddy feet, I glued myself to the spot and cheered the other runners from the club across the line, all of us finishing with a mixture of relief and fatigue. With everyone back across the line, we made our way back to the tent to warm-up and refresh ourselves with the remaining hot drinks, cakes, and biscuits. Team photos were taken as proof that we went and conquered Thornley, as well as to document the amount of mud we were taking away with us. Despite its challenges, we could all muster a smile and laugh about it in the end, proving that as hard as it might be, XC really can be good fun!
Thornley Hall Farm may not be the superlative for hilliness, nor muddiness in the Harrier League (certainly Herrington’s course had much more mud from start to finish this year) but it seems to have certain qualities to make it stand out from the rest. Perhaps it’s the reputation, maybe the setting (being nestled in a valley) or a combination of these things, but Thornley Hall Farm typifies Cross-Country running; to paraphrase Animal Farm (and possibly rename it Thornley Hall Farm):
“All Harrier League fixtures are Cross-Country, but some are more Cross-Country than others.”
While I might not have enjoyed it in the moment, I can safely say that running at Thornley (and running XC in general) has made me a better runner. It’s also an amazing atmosphere, and something I would highly recommend for any local runners. Incidentally, it’s also an absolute bargain – £2 to enter for the whole season…you’re getting a fair bit of mileage for your buck! Bring on Alnwick and bring on the 2018-2019 season!
My attendance at the Herrington Park Cross-Country race of approx. 10k was one of those things that seems to happens by-proxy! I definitely think the cake induced euphoria (NFR members bake exceptionally good treats) and endorphin rush of a five mile run played some part in confusing my senses and over inflating my confidence. By and large though, I admit I was distracted trying to sample all the different treats, greedily acquire a second pair of rainbow laces and…I think someone made a stirring comment about needing a volunteer for a local rugby team, which had me picturing myself holding George Ford’s kit bag (not the innuendo you might think)… Meaning I left that night with a vague memory of committing to something the following Saturday. It’s exactly this kind of lack of attention to detail that finds people driving home, face covered in chocolate, with an urgent need to buy trail shoes.
So I was only mildly surprised when I checked Facebook and found I’d been added to the Harriers cross-country team, or later, when instructions arrived by text about the Herrington Run, along with advice about which shoes might be good to buy.
I should clarify, up until this point I’d seen trail and cross-country runners as a group apart; hardier, athletic and often far more expressive about the joy of running than I have ever managed. Just look at the photo on the Harrier League homepage! Couple that with the fact I now routinely head indoors from October through March; and seem to only manage a ‘good’ outdoor run on a mild, breezy but sunny day, and you can see the disconnect between what was about to happen and what I was mentally prepared for. So, glucose-shame in toe, I headed to buy some cheap trail shoes (I was sure I would hate it, and I wasn’t about to invest in something I would try only once). It started to hail on my way to the shop but fortunately the svelte, sinewy and tall shop assistant fervently explained how great it was to run ‘off road’ in a manner that was actually quite infectious, but did nothing to convince me that my body shape isn’t designed for anything but tarmac.
I did a fair amount of pre-run ‘googling’ trying to allay my fears; finding extracts about runners first trail and off road experiences, which were overwhelmingly positive. I also did a quick practice run in my new shoes, which did seem excellent, despite being bought without the usual meta-analysis of reviews.
The day arrived and I’d convinced myself I’d be there for the start of the women’s race, but possibly only arrived just in time for the men’s to actually begin. There were already NFR members there, cheering everyone on. It was absolutely freezing but the team had a tent, picnic table and mulled wine! What more could you want on a wintery and muddy day? There were lots of treats, cakes and plenty of encouragement and supporting words from everyone. Although somehow the ‘run’ had become a ‘race’ in the time it took me to walk past ‘Hogg Heaven’ and regret not bringing actual money.
Herrington Park, has views of of my favourite landmarks including Penshaw Monument and Durham Cathedral, and is a really outstanding area; you probably couldn’t ask for a better place to have your first experience of cross country. When I arrived I could see the women’s race in the distance and hear the cheers. Most noticeable was the mud, which was everywhere and seemed to have a magnetic attraction to humans, particularly running shoes. Confirmed when some of our team came back looking like they were wearing camouflage and talking about how much messier things had been on the second lap. At this point I heard someone mention that the men’s race was actually three laps. I took this to be a macabre joke and we all set off for the start line.
Unbelievably, most people seemed to be wearing vests and racing shorts, which made me feel slightly out of place in three layers and a coat, but I was insulated and felt toasty warm! I joined the mess of people all waiting to run and a few more words of encouragement were issued (I may have looked terrified) before the race set off.
The initial lap felt ok/manageable/I didn’t cry or sneak away. It was incredibly muddy and I had never before realised how much I relied on the bounce and push-back of my trainers from the pavement; I’m only acutely aware of this now because 500 meters in, I wondered why my legs were so tired and realised I was actually having to lift them out of mud and clarts, which added far more work to the effort of running than I’m used to. There were a lot of uphill struggles and careering out of control on the downhill sections. I thought the man behind me was having an asthma attack until I realised I’d been listening to my own breathing.
The uphill sections wind their way around a number of small hills, but this meant the gradient was always on the lefthand side and caused an instability which was discomforting. One half of my body got a good workout though. At about 2.5k you start to run downhill and through a wooded trail, which actually felt exciting, especially as it was strewn with branches and logs to add additional, mildly-perilous obstacles to the whole experience. It was actually quite peaceful and dry in the wood, and you could hear the rhythmic breathing and pounding steps of the other runners. I seemed to be transported back to school cross country, and how much I disliked running then. But here today, part of a team, it felt great. The more athletic runners bounded through this section, vaulting over the logs and capering through as they overtook the slower amongst us. I felt it was enough to stay upright, having long abandoned my twin aims of staying dry and maintaining my dignity.
Emerging from the wooded area, I heard someone shouting my name and nearly fell with joy as I tried to scan the crowd for someone I might know. Taking my eyes off the ground to look at my vest, checking to see if my name was printed there, caused me to stumble and collide with a very attractive man; proving every catastrophe does indeed bring a small gift. I will, in future, always wear aftershave to race days. It occurred to me later that it was likely someone from the women’s team or another member, who had come to support the NFR runners; very dedicated on the cold and wintery Saturday. Perhaps they had knowledge of the mulled wine and brownie situation. Although my sense of the club so far suggests they didn’t, and would have been there wind or hail, to support their fellows. As I have only just joined, and am not well known nor been to many of the outdoor runs, socials or any other events, this felt incredibly kind and heartening. Unfortunately I didn’t catch who shouted, but your encouragement kept me going until at least kilometre five and I am very grateful.
At kilometre five I had the disheartening realisation that the person who mentioned the mens race is three laps was likely not lying. I had just started the second uphill section and it became painfully obvious that there was no way the remaining course, plus back to the start, would cover another 5k. I struggled for the remainder of the second lap and noted that things seemed to be getting muddier and wetter. I also seemed to be falling further behind. The green of the grass was now long lost to the brown and squelching mud, and there were far fewer ‘dryer’ spots to run on whilst going uphill. I found I was loosing my footing more on the approach to the wooded area, which was essentially waterlogged, with the ground now a good few centimetres below water in parts. I wasn’t brave enough to attempt to avoid these by pivoting or jumping around them, instead ploughing straight through but feeling quite jubilant about this, like a child jumping in puddles. Only children very rarely have to clean the mud out of their own thermal layers and coat, and might not take such an insouciant attitude to life if they did.
The third lap uphill sections were much more difficult again. My legs were aching, it felt hard to keep up even a jogging pace and my breathing, not great in lap one, now sounded like the wind section of a symphony orchestra. My watch had also started to chime in, warning me that a heart rate of more than 200 is unlikely a sign of great health or physical prowess. However, it was the last lap, and there was mulled wine and coffee to be had! The people around me seemed to be finding their energy and drawing upon their reserves as we raced to the finish. In the glade I found my own second wind and sped up a little, running in the tracks made by the other runners. I could see the evidence and work of hundreds of runners before me, compacting the ground and mud. Sadly I lost this little reserve from my own, undersized, tank when I rounded the corner before the finish line and noticed another 600-700m of uphill to go. I heard cheering, saw the jubilant celebrations (read: relief) of those already finished and thought about the hot tub of my gym. I chose to ignore the older lady who was running up the hill, her cool down pace outstripping my own race finish by miles. Finally it was over and I was welcomed back by the runners who had already finished and were staying to cheer those still to come.
I’ve still not made sense of how I felt abut the whole experience. It was equal parts much harder than I thought, exhilarating and yet also reminded me of times I was younger and things were novel, or when I’ve been walking (saying nothing about my pace) outdoors with friends or family, collectively working together to achieve something, or be part of something that is just inherently good fun. I guess I don’t need to decide now, and will instead take the advice of everyone I’ve spoke to since…just wait until Thornley Hall Farm in February…
Race Report by Jasmine Hazlehurst, June 2017
When I entered The Hadrian’s Wall Half Marathon I didn’t believe that I could do it. I thought it would be beautiful, interesting, challenging and if nothing else an enjoyable day out. The big day arrived and as we drove to the start on the top of a very steep hill my stomach began to knot. I was terrified! What had I let myself in for? Things did not get better as I got out of the car to find the sunshine of Newcastle had turned into an icy whipping of northern winds. Super fit looking fell runners were carrying out Monty Pythonesque walks and forward lunges. As I walked past the cars to get an unobstructed photograph of the view I overheard a gentleman saying to his friend “Oh my running is so much better since I had my heart attack. The stent has really helped improve my running!” Yep, I had stumbled into the fertile land of the zealous, ardent and crazy. My not so internal monologue was yelling “Prosecco why did I listen to you? I am so out of my depth. Get me out of here!”
The race started and after a few metres my left lace came undone. I stopped to sort it. I ran a few more metres and the other came undone. Last before I even got started. The super fit became dots on the horizon and the slower runners seemed to get further ahead. I stopped trying to run at their pace and settled into my own stride. I felt calmer. The cold winds had calmed as soon as we left the hill top and was replaced by a pleasant gentle breeze with intermittent bursts of sunshine. Soon enough I turned off and were running along the fells. I recalled advice from fellow runners. “Think of this as three separate races. A road race, a fell race and a forest trail”. One runner was already turning back. An old injury maybe? He wished me luck as I passed and I carried on. The views were amazing. At one point a tail runner called out to me to point out the famous Sycamore Gap on the opposite hills. I stopped to admire the view then continued on my way negotiating tussocks, contemplating sheep and melodramatically wondering if the ram I had spotted was of the psychopathic rambler killing ilk that I had read about? Not today it seemed. I ran some more crossing some styles that resembled sturdy looking ladders. Much more civilised than the barbed wire, electric fence ensconced styles I have encountered in the Lake District. I was beginning to enjoy myself. I could only see one other runner running several minutes ahead of me. I spent the next three miles catching her up. I passed another marshal point and saw runner wrapped in a foil blanket. Injured. As I ran down the hill followed by the two tail runners they told me that this year the course was dry so we would be fine but on previous years this section gets very boggy and runners lose their shoes.
We approached the second water stop and the female tail runner from the Tyne Bridge Harriers took my water bottle and sachet of Isogel and ran ahead to fill my bottle for me. How is that for service! We entered the woodland trail which felt great. It marked the beginning of the third and longest race. Once I finished this section I would only have a mile or two of road running before the end. I felt happy. I began to notice wild orchids on the road sides. One of the tail runners warned me that at mile 8 her partner would be waiting with a large sign that often provoked swear words and uncouth comments from passing runners. When I approached it the sign made me smile. It said “This is not the end. Keep going!”
From the point that I entered the forest trail the Mountain Rescue Team and The Water Station Marshals waited for me with offers of water. They waited for me to pass then over took me and drove off ahead in their two Land Rovers to wait at the next mile marker. It became a friendly toggle and a beacon of hope knowing that once I reached them I had not only checked off another mile but had a refill of water if I needed it OR a lift back to the finish line. At mile 12 the water marshal held the mile marker whilst jumping up and down to encourage me. It was great. The tail marshals encouraged me saying that this is the quickest they have completed this run in the past three years of tail running. As I neared the top of the final hill three fellow Frontrunners ran back towards me and accompanied me towards the finish line. I also had an entourage of Frontrunners, two tail runners cross the line with me, a mountain rescue man on his bike and the water marshal congratulate me on my efforts. This really has been my favourite race to date. It was well organised, friendly, supportive and scenic but also came with an immense feeling of accomplishment knowing that all of the runners that took part have achieved something very special. I came last but am so happy to have finished having ran the whole thing that I really don’t care. I would happily run this race again and recommend it to other runners. If I could say anything to encourage others run a race like this it would be that you don’t know what you can do until you try, and don’t forget to enjoy it!
I once read an article by a well-respected OCR runner, who said his strategy for dealing with tough races was to allow himself to walk whenever he wanted, except when going up hills. The theory was that by the time he reached the top, he’d feel a great sense of achievement and would no longer want to walk. I’ve tested this rule a few times, and it mostly works, but then most races don’t have quite as many hills as the Pieces of Eight half-marathon.
The organisers say the race is ‘challenging’ and on ‘proper trails’. None of the Frontrunners I was with had taken part in a Trail Outlaws event before, so this description was open to interpretation. Not knowing quite what to expect out on the course, most of my fellow Frontrunners sensibly opted for the 10K option. However, once the half-marathon number was pinned to my vest, there was no turning back.
The race begins at the foot of Penshaw Hill looking up at the monument. The Race Director’s final words before the off were to stick to the trails, but that immediately went out the window as 300 people jostled for position. I started charging up the hill, ducking under flailing arms and cutting through the long grass on either side of the steps. Considering the 27°C heat, ‘challenging’ soon began to feel like a bit of an understatement. Lapping around the back of the Monument and down the other side, things quickly settled down as the pack started to spread out, giving everyone a chance to take in the stunning views down to the River Wear.
For the first few miles the track ran down through fields and onto gravelled country park trails, before crossing over the river and following the bank to the west. This is where things started to get interesting. The trail narrowed with jutting tree roots and loose rocks underfoot, and thorny branches restricting the view ahead. The ‘proper trails’ as promised. I promptly tripped, falling to my knees and narrowly avoiding sliding down the bank into the river.
Battered and bruised, I emerged back into the sun to follow the undulating trail alongside the motorway before turning back towards the river. The gravelled track here was more forgiving and even, peppered with steep, wonky steps leading back towards the bridge. On the other side the terrain varied between wide bridleways, muddy bankside tracks and fields of long grass. As my Garmin ticked over the nine-mile mark, the path turned giving a spectacular view of Penshaw Monument shimmering on the horizon. A beautiful scene, but by that point my legs were feeling too weary from constant inclines to appreciate it. Four miles suddenly felt like an awfully long way to go.
By mile 11, the going really got tough. A steep incline stretched off into the distance before turning under the cover of trees and ending at the foot of a severe set of wooden steps set into the mud (which I later found out are nicknamed ‘Satan’s Steps’). I told myself that it would be quicker to walk up them, but mainly because running at that point wasn’t an option. At the top, the sight of a long, relatively smooth decent felt like seeing an oasis in the desert.
The final mile wound along the edge of a grassy field, building up the incline gradually before the final ascent up the back side of Penshaw Hill. With teasing glimpses of the Monument bobbing over the tree line, the end was in sight. Only the small matter of a large hill, a stile to climb over, then some more steep steps and I’d be done. My legs felt like lead and my sunburned arms were starting to sting, but the sight of NFR tops cheering at the finish gave me a much needed boost to power up the hill and across the line.
Someone handed me a bottle of water and someone else gave me jelly sweets. My head was swimming. All I could think about was sitting down. Another person asked to see my medal, which I hadn’t realised I’d been given. The ground felt cool as I rolled onto my back, and I smiled at the realisation that I didn’t have to run up any more hills. ‘Challenging’ was definitely an understatement, but I’ll be back for more next year. And next time, I’ll not fall over. Probably.