Hedgehope Winter Wipeout – 22nd Jan 2017


Momentum is everything in running so after a not so good year in 2016 because of injury I wanted to ensure that I had a steady stream of races to focus on and continue to get back to full fitness.  And lo and behold the Hedgehope Winter Wipeout, from High Fell Events, reared its head on Facebook. Initially I was quite dubious about doing this event with it being in the winter and because of its location in the Cheviots as navigation always concerns me.

Winter + Cheviots = Absolutely Nuts????

However after messaging Barry Kemp, the race organiser, he put my mind to rest with it being easy to navigate as it was an ‘out and back’ race. I didn’t need too much persuasion, just a gentle nudge in the right direction, and within minutes I was signed up!

Event Statistics.

For those that are interested in the race stats, the pre-race stat were as follows:

  • Event Provider: High Fell Events.
  • Race Type: Trail run.
  • Distance: 20.92 km / 13 miles.
  • Ascent: 792m / 2600ft.
  • Description: Here’s a half marathon for the hardy souls only – summer runners look away now!  Hedgehope is the second highest peak in the Cheviots and is regarded by many as the jewel in the crown.  It’s domed summit provides a hard climb no matter how it’s approached.  Winter in the Cheviots can be a sun-drenched frozen wonderland or it can be howling winds and Arctic temperatures.  For this reason we’d highly recommend that you be an experienced trail/fell runner with a knowledge of cold weather running.  The safety kit is mandatory and everyone will be checked before they head out into the hills.
  • Map below taken from my Garmin at the end of the race:

The race.

The race registration was at the Valley Cottage Cafe, in Ingram, and there was plenty of parking which always helps 🙂 . I arrived there later than planned at about 8.30 am but this was still more than enough time as registration didn’t close until 9 am and it also allowed time for coffee, a scone and a couple of toilet stops.

The cafe was a great choice for the start area as there was food and most importantly coffee.  Not only that, there seemed to be very little queuing for the toilets which I assumed must have been because there was another building (Village Hall??) which was open for use next to the car park.  This was an added bonus as I really despise the toilet queues at events, especially the porta-loo variety.

Valley Cottage Cafe
Valley Cottage Cafe, Ingram Valley.
Image Source.
After a quick safety briefing at 9.15 am and a chat with Andy and Darren from Guided Trail Running Experiences Northumberland we were off on time at 9.30 am.

Me waiting for the race to begin with Andy and Darren from Guided Trail Running Experiences Northumberland .
I have broken the race down into 5 logical sections with as much information that I can remember as some of the race was a bit of a daze and I don’t know the area at all so may not get everything totally correct but you will get the picture 🙂 .

Section 1 – Let the craziness begin (Start to 2.5 miles).

This section was 2.5 miles in length with an elevation gain of approx 530 foot.  The race started at a narrow trail, at the Cafe, and the start was quite hectic as everyone was jostling to get down this narrow trail.  Imagine 260 runners all wanting to start off fast, at the same time, on a trail which you can only get 2 wide on! I think it took me about 15 secs from the word “go” to cross the start line and I was only a couple of meters or so from it.

The start area – flag in background was the start line.
The narrow trail took us through a wooded section and wasn’t particularly long (0.17 miles) but I didn’t know this at the time so I tried to weave my way through the field the best I could before it finally opened up onto a road by turning right.

The road section only lasted 0.6 miles before we were directed left in a muddy field where you really got a sense of what was about to come in terms of mud and heaviness on the legs.  The field had quite deep tracks in it, presumably by the quad bikes or something like that, and everyone was running either side of these deep tracks on the grass.  I decided I would take the opportunity, before the hills reduced everyone to a walk, to try and get past a few other runners which I managed to do though this didn’t stop some others from passing me.

After running on the field for 0.7 miles we had to tackle a stile before turning right onto what I typically expect to see on large sections of the Cheviots which is lots of small heather running trails as per the image below.  The last mile on the small heather trails took us to the start of the first major test which was the ascent up to Cunyan Crags (at least that’s what I think they are called).

Me in section 1 where I met Martin Ellis, the event photographer. Martin had kindly let me use some of his other images for another race report so it was good to put a face to the name. 
Image is used with kind permission from Martin Ellis.
Image Source from Flickr
Martin Ellis – www.martinandjohnphotography.co.uk

Abandoned farmhouse which we passed around mile 2 I think.  
Image was not taken on the day and is used with kind permission from Martin Ellis.
Image Source from Flickr
Martin Ellis – www.martinandjohnphotography.co.uk

Section 2 – Up and over the first bump (2.75 miles to 5.25 miles).

This section was 2.75 miles in length and had an elevation gain of approx 950 foot. The first 1.9 miles of this section accounted for all of the 950 foot elevation and it near enough ensured that just about everyone was reduced to a walk. If I am being honest this section was a bit of a blur and I remember looking at my watch at the 3.25 mile mark thinking that I was absolutely knackered and needed the terrain to level out a little which it did for a very short stretch at the 3.8 mile mark just before the top of Cunyan Crags. The last  part of the ascent to the top of Cunyan Crags was very rocky and slippy and I was grateful there was a wire fence to right hand side to grab onto.

Once at the top it was time for a bit of descent (approx 300 foot) for nearly a mile which would take us to the bottom of Hedgehope which was looming ominously in the background.  The terrain was very boggy which ensured very wet feet and I noticed for the first time that large parts of the terrain had a white frost over it. I remember thinking that my feet were extremely wet and cold even if the rest of me wasn’t.

As I am better on the down hill sections I quite enjoyed the last mile or so as I managed to pass a couple of runners who I had been playing see-saw with.  I would pass them on the flatter / downhill sections and then they would catch and pass me on the uphill sections.

The ascent up to Cunyan Crags.
Image was not taken on the day but from a recce of the event a couple of weeks earlier and is used with kind permission from Martin Ellis.
Image Source from Flickr
Martin Ellis – www.martinandjohnphotography.co.uk

Section 3 – What goes up Hedgehope must come down! (5.25 miles to 7.55 miles)

This section was 2.3 miles in length.  It was effectively 1.15 miles up to the summit of Hedgehope covering an elevation of 770 foot and then a descent of 1.15 miles covering a descent of 770 foot.  At the start of this section we had to tackle getting over a fence which is made all the more difficult when everything is slippy.  It was at this point that I met Paul Appleby from Northumberland Fell Runners who asked me if I was the guy doing the race reports.  It was good to meet Paul as I have done reports on two of his excellent recent races that he organises which are the Simonside Cairns Fell Race and the Hillforts and Headaches Fell Race.

Anyway back to the race, the first half of the ascent was really boggy but then the closer you got to the top the rockier it got.  It was at the 5.7 mile mark that I saw the first runners coming back down. This added an additional challenge to the race as you had to concentrate on avoiding the faster moving descending runners whilst tackling the tough climb to the top on very tough terrain.

Once you were near the top there is a small section of rocks that you needed to tackle / climb so extra care was needed as these were very slippy.  After navigating the rocks we were met by a one of the marshals, 2 tents,  lots of sweets and a flag to run around before the descent.  All of the marshalls / volunteers were excellent on the day but I have to give this marshal huge respect for being at the top of Hedgehope all race as the ground was completely white with frost and you could really feel the cold.

Frozen liquorice allsorts…who knew they’d be so good?!

Kate Macpherson (Facebook)

The summit!
Image used with the kind permission from Karl Baxter.
After the hard slog of getting to the top it I was hoping to get some speed up on the way down and even though I did obviously speed up it was quite difficult to get a rhythm going as not only was it very rocky and boggy there were also the other runners who were ascending that you needed to avoid.  Again I enjoyed this section as I prefer the downhills and was able to pass a few runners.

Section 4 – Back up and over the first bump! (7.55 miles to 10.30 miles).

This is essentially section 2 in reverse so the first part was an ascent of approx 300 foot over approx. 1 mile which I found extremely difficult as it was just so muddy and heavy on the legs.  Once back at the top of Cunyan Crags I was very glad it was time descend again. This descent was 950 foot over 1.9 miles which was pretty awesome but it is hard on the legs trying to stop yourself going too quick.

I am a bit of a daydreamer sometimes when I run which means that I sometimes lose concentration on what I am doing. This daydreaming meant that I nearly went the wrong way just past mile 9 and caused me to trip over just past mile 10. All I can remember is seeing the sky above me as I somersaulted (or something of that nature).  I wasn’t really sure what happened at the time or what I tripped over but I had a quick look around to see if anyone had seen but of course there were other runners not too far behind and as I was hardly the first runner to hit the floor like a bag of hammers I got up and brushed myself off but it did temporarily disrupt my pace.

This is the type of terrain you can expect between Cunyan Crags leading to Hedgehope Hill.
This photo is used with the kind permission of Eric Murphy.
Image was taken from the Facebook event page
Eric Murphy – www.ericmurphyphotographer.com

Section 5 – The return home and the crazy ending! (10.30 miles to 12.58 miles)

This was very nearly section 1 in reverse apart from a wicked twist at the end which we will come onto shortly.  This took us back down the muddy field with the deep tracks and back onto the road section however once we were nearing the finish area we were directed over the road onto a grassy section instead of right.  I immediately thought “That wasn’t the way we came!” and then the marshal shouted “Be careful as you cross the river!”.  Wait, what? I never signed up for a river!

So in order to get to the finish, after a brutal race, we had to wade in extremely cold water up to our waist. But no, we didn’t just have to do it once we had to cross the river, come back over again and the cross back over again.  Evil springs to mind!  Now there was an advantage to the river finish as pointed out by other runners which was that our shoes didn’t need cleaned 🙂 .

Went to scrub my shoes earlier and was delighted that on closer inspection all I had to do was shove them under the radiator! No fingernails full of sheep poo and peatbog!

Tamsin Austin (Facebook)

The first part of the river crossing!
Image used with the kind permission from Lee Head

After crossing the first part of the river in the image above we made our way down the river we then had to cross over it twice more!
Image used with the kind permission from Lee Head
Anyway once over the river it was a very short distance to the last fence to climb and into the registration tent to finish.

Me at the last fence to climb before entering the finishing line / registration tent.
I had finally finished the race but then had the small task of signing out of the event and picking up my AWESOME finishers mug.  Now to most people this is just a mug but when you have had to complete a brutal race like this to get the mug then it becomes an AWESOME mug! And the best part about it was that I could take it into the cafe to be filled up with hot soup to warm my very cold and wet bones!

The AWESOME mug of champions!

How did I do?

I completed the course in 2 hours 10 minutes and 23 secs finishing 28th out of 260 runners. I was quite happy with my performance especially as I have been having a few issues with my groin before the race however everything was fine during the run, and after, so happy days 🙂 .

My Garmin recorded the race stats as per the following:


Profile Graph (Elevation in feet, Distance in miles):


Winter + Cheviots = Absolute brutality and happiness all rolled into one 🙂 .

Race results, images and videos.

The winning time was by Mark Lamb in a time of 1 hour 43 mins and 49 secs.

The first lady home was Shelli Gordon in a time of 2 hours 8 mins and 30 secs.

Well done to both!

What did I learn from this race?

Doing a High Fell Events race? Hope for the best and prepare for the worst!

This isn’t the first time that I have completed an event by High Fell Events which has had a sting in its tail just like this race with the river crossing.  My first ever marathon was the Clennell Hall Trail Marathon in 2015 and as it was a marathon I expected to run 26.2 miles however Barry had other ideas.  I remember being extremely tired, looking at my watch which stated 26 miles so I was thinking “job done” and then the marshal diverted is us left, away from the finish area, along what turned out to be a 2 mile detour through yet more hills. At the time I was horrified but when I was finished I was over the moon with it.

So if you are thinking of taking part in any of these events then “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst!” and you be just fine 🙂 .

How would I rate this race?

Category Score Comments
Overall score 5/5 Absolutely amazing event! I am probably biased because I love this type of event but if you don’t like hills, mud and river crossings you may want to give this one a miss 🙂 .
Would you do it again? 5/5 Absolutely, can’t wait for the next one!  It would even be good to have a summer version – maybe the Hedgehope Summer Stroll 🙂 .
Course 5/5 Loved the course, had brutal hills, lots of mud / bogs and amazing views on the ascent to the the top of Hedgehope which was covered in a nice sheet of white frost.  The end through the river was ‘evil’ but made it all the better!
PB potential 0/5 Ha ha, no chance 🙂 .
Atmosphere 5/5 The atmosphere was excellent as it always is at these types of events with plenty of chatting amongst runners.
Organisation 5/5 Extremely well organised event with plenty of race marshals.  The signage was very good so very little chance of going off course.  There were even tents at the top of Hedgehope in case you needed a rest 🙂 .
Value for money 5/5 At only £22 entry (£1.69 per mile) this is excellent value especially when you factor in that we got an awesome finishers mug which was then filled up with hot soup.

(Entry was online only).

Not sure of the value for money? Put this event up against the GNR and compare the price, location, course etc and there is only one winner.

P.S. Its not the GNR so don’t go there 🙂 .

Beginner-friendliness 1/5 Due to its location you need to ensure you have the correct mandatory kit in case of an emergency so this may put people off if they have never done this type of race before or don’t have the kit.

Even if you are not new to this type of race it is an extremely tough event due to the course profile and terrain so again it may put beginners off.

If in future you are considering this event just accept it is going to be ‘brutal’ in the best possible way 🙂 .

Additional information.

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