Simonside Fell Race

Posted: 22/09/2013 in Event, Running, Uncategorized

It’s dead simple – you run three miles uphill, turn around and then run back down. Nothing to it.

So a nice gent said to me as we were waiting for the start of the race – he’d done it before, so I was up for some sage advice. This advice, it turned out, was a total lie.

I’ve never tried a fell run before, in fact I’ve never properly run up a fell. But this seemed as good a way to get started as any – the race is part of Thropton VIllage Show, and I knew a few folk who would be there.  Mary, who I work with is the Treasurer, her husband Ian is someone I also used to work with and who would be running, and my erstwhile Wall-running companion Jon was going along with his family for an afternoon out. Village shows are so English it’s surprising they’re not on the flag, and this is the height of village-show-season in the North East.

Bedecked in my Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club vest I headed through the gate, paid my £3.50 for entry into the Show Field and wandered about. I bumped into Jon and his family, which was lovely, I bumped into Ian, who was looking if anything even sportier than the last time I’d seen him, and said hi to Mary at the Show Office.

Number pinned on with what I can only describe as the biggest, most robust safety pins I’ve ever been given for a race number – big silver things, just about the right size if I was a latter-day punk and fancied re-opening my nose piercing. No chance my number was going to come off with these babies, though if I slipped in water, I would likely be dragged under with the weight of them and drown.

Time for the start then, and this is the first race I’ve run under Fell Running Association (FRA) rules. They seem pretty much the same as UKA rules, except they were if anything a bit more anarchic. The Chief Race Man (I don’t know what he was officially called) shouted out the route, highlighting a couple of bits that we would need to make sure we didn’t mess up – both of these would have been better if we had seen the course to understand the tricky navigational bits like “after the 312th tree on your left, turn right or it’s the Falls of Doom for you”. He finished with a cheery “if you get lost, don’t blame me”. I did get lost, I don’t blame him, so the advice was well timed.


That’s me, raring to go and looking slack-jawed as the day is long. Mr Snary is to thank for this insight into my pre-race lack-of-prep.

The race was started with a full-on wave of the Northumberland flag – a nice touch, and we were off. Along the road, so far so good, along a track, feeling good and then across the river. What, I hear you ask – cross the river. Yes. Through the water. While every sane thought beforehand questioned the idea of wading across a river at the end of September, when I actually got there it seemed to be the done thing, and through I went. Slightly worried about safety-pin-induced-drowning, mind you.

COLD! Very cold. And wet, while we’re on, but then I was out the other side, water draining out of my shoes and socks and every step is one step closer to drier, warmer (as if) feet.

Next comes the serious part of getting up the looming hill in front of me. Up the road to the village of Great Tosson, named to prove that Northumberland has a sense of humour, and the hill’s getting steeper. Fields first,  then woods, and the path turns rocky. In barefoot shoes that’s a bad thing. Then whoosh* – out of the trees and into the heather – and a sight of the top – a huge lump of rock, rising out of the heather.

Helpfully, someone had put stairs up the side – how cool is that? Not only useful for getting up, but also practically impossible to run, so a double score. Ont the top, and across, where I stopped to take a picture – it was amazing…


That’s some big hill.

At the drop-off from the top there was just a narrow gap in the rock marked with a strip of coloured tape and then heather, rock, mud and descent – if I’d been thinking straight, say if I hadn’t just run three miles up a hill, then I would have taken this so carefully I would never have got back down before dark. But, luckily I was a bit knackered, didn’t have a clue and slipped and scrambled down like some crazed heathen running from the vengeful gods of the hilltops.

Then back into the woods – ankle deep mud, sphagnum** moss and slippy-slip-slip. There’s a place called Church Rock, a massive boulder in the middle of the woods, buried in a steep bank side that I’ve climbed up past the side of it once before, and it was a bit full on***. Rushing down at break neck speed in the slippy mud was a bit unexpected, as was the slipping and sliding on my arse bit. After that it was down the hill****, back to the river and I went over the bridge – thought that was the plan, only to be overtaken by some other folk going through the river. C’est la vie – it’s not like I was aiming to win or anything.

I finished in 1:12, or thereabouts, which I figure isn’t bad with the detour.

Without a doubt, this is the maddest, most invigorating, adrenaline pumping running I’ve ever done. My shoes are still wet, and I brought a fair bit of Simonside back home with me embedded in them and in myself. My feet, while a little dirty, were not as brown as I had expected.


Count them, that’s ten toesnails still in situ. I am the Toenail God. Ok, so the left big one doesn’t look so good, but it’s been like that since The Wall in June, and I swear it’s getting better.

For those of you thinking “yes, but what about the vegetable competitions?”, I took the following:


Massive pumpkin (and humorous onion)


Stringiest parsnip competition.


Beans – notice how one has been broken to make a letter “K” – if I could figure out what that means, I’m sure da Vinci’s treasure would be mine!




An finally, two token leeks. It’s the north-east, after all – if you don’t have a few leeks for viewing then you’ll get your show shut down. Rules is rules.

Look, if you’ve made it this far, and you run, no matter how fast or slow, you should give this fell-running thing a go – I promise you’ll be surprised. For one thing, if the alternative is to spend an hour trying to figure out which is the best set of four tomatoes, then you’re not missing out compared to the adrenaline-fuelled mud-slide that is a ridiculous run up a big hill. Come on, the views are great!

* I say whoosh, when I mean pant-pant-pant, but it sounds better that way.

**I got a grown-up to help with this spelling.

***I was geocaching, in my pre-running days.

****At which point I went the wrong way. What I thought was a bit of coloured tape off in the distance turned out to be some red rope. As the man said at the start, I didn’t blame him.


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