Hillforts & Headaches Section 3 Finish Line On Beacon Cairn

Hillforts and Headaches Fell Race – 1st Jan 2017


After my last race, the Simonside Cairns Fell Race, I have been keeping a eye out for Fell races and this one seemed to be the next Fell Race in my area so I wasn’t going to let this race slip by even though it was on a New Years Day.  This is the first time I have done a race on a New Years Day and as it was only a 3 mile race I also decided I would also participate in another local race, Morpeth 11k, not long afterwards.  See race review for the Morpeth 11k.

As per the last race the registration was at the Newcastle House Hotel in Rothbury and again it was entry on the day only. The route included going up into the Simonside Hills which, for those of you who have never been up there, is an added bonus as the views are pretty awesome.

Registration @ Newcastle House Hotel.
Image Source

The major difference between this race and my last in this area was that this race was:

  • Much shorter at 3 miles as opposed to 11 miles.
  • Instead of being a loop which returned back to Rothbury this race was a point to point race which finished on top of The Beacon Cairn.
  • This race was all uphill – 3 hard bloody miles 🙂 .

Event Statistics.

For those that are interested in the race stats these were listed as follows:

  • Event Provider: Northumberland Fell Runners
  • Race Type: Fell Race – Category AS (Should average not less than 50 metres climb per kilometre and race is less than 10 kilometres.
  • Distance: 4.8km / 3 miles
  • Climb: 311m / 1020ft

The race

The race started on time at 11am and again was very low key compared with many races I have done but I have a feeling this is what to expect with Fell races – its a good thing. The start was directly outside of the Newcastle House Hotel so it allowed me to keep warm in the registration area and then quickly come out just in time for the start. It didn’t seem too cold at the start so I was quite happy.

I have broken this race down into three logical sections as I saw the race:

Section 1 – The first mile.

The race started just outside the registration point and we took a quick left down hill and then a right over the stone bridge next to Haugh car pack before the start of the climb up towards Beacon Cairn.  At about the 1/3 mile point we came to a gate which, due to being relatively near the start of the race, caused a bottleneck so some runners were climbing the fence to progress more quickly.  The gate took us to to the first off road section into a muddy, hilly field.  It was at this point that my new Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 Fell Running Shoes got a chance to show what they were made of and they, thankfully, passed the test way better than my previous Nike Wild Trail shoes. At the end of the field, approx 0.5 mile mark, there was another gate to exit which took us back onto the road / tracks past the tower in the image below:

Image from a different race.
Image Source

Once back onto the road / track it continued on this terrain for the last half mile where a marshal directed us left into a field.  The overall climb for the first mile was approx 200 foot.

Now the fun was about to begin 🙂 .

Section 2 – Making our way to Beacon Cairn.

This section, approx 1.3 miles (approx. 360 foot elevation), was all off road through fields with a fair bit of mud and a few stiles to contend with. For the first time I saw other runners walking on some of the inclines as not only were they steep but when you combine them with slippy, muddy surfaces it uses way more energy than on a firm track or road.

Hillforts & Headaches Section 2 Muddy Trails
Muddy trails on section 2.
Image taken on the return back to Rothbury.
 Hillforts & Headaches Section 2 Stiles
There were a few stiles to contend with in section 2.
Image taken on the return to Rothbury.

At mile 2 there was a short decline of approx 0.25 miles towards Lordenshaw Car park where more marshals were situated pointing us across the road towards the last mile up to the the summit of Beacon Cairn.

Hillforts & Headaches Section 2 Lordenshaw Car Park
Lordenshaw Car Park.
The end of section 2 and the start of section 3.
Image taken on the return journey to Rothbury so the stepping stones shown at the front of the image going down are the actual stones you would go up to the Beacon Cairn on.

Section 3 – The climb to the top.

This section was definitely the most difficult as the incline was at its steepest point of the race (approx 310 foot over approx 0.75 miles) and the terrain was much more technical as it was very muddy and rocky all the way to the summit so concentration was of the utmost importance.  This section involved the continuous cycle of trying to run but then being reduced to a walk.  This continued all the way to the top.  I managed to pass a few people on this section who were reduced to a slow walk rather than the run / walk cycle I managed.  Some of the faster runners were already making there way down as I neared the top and it was good to hear them giving support to those struggling towards the top.

Hillforts & Headaches Section 3 Terrain On Ascent To Beacon 2
Type of terrain to expect on the ascent to Beacon Cairn.
Hillforts & Headaches Section 3 Terrain On Ascent To Beacon
Ascent to Beacon Cairn.
Image taken on the return to Rothbury.
Hillforts & Headaches Section 3 Terrain On Ascent To Beacon 1
Ascent up to beacon Cairn.

As the finish was at the top of the hill and quite remote I was unsure what to expect but the most noticeable thing which grabs your attention was that the temperature had dropped significantly due to the strong wind and lack of cover. When I did get to the top I couldn’t really see a finish line as such but did manage to make out one or two people, in amongst the other runners, trying to get finishing times however because of the wind they appeared to be struggling with this.  The race report by the event organiser confirmed an issue with getting times due to the strong wind which is completely understandable.  At the top it was quite busy with a mixture of runners, race officials and others who I assumed where either supporting other runners or general hikers.

Hillforts & Headaches Section 3 Finish Line On Beacon Cairn
Finish line at the top of Beacon Cairn.
Hillforts & Headaches Section- 3-Terrain-On-Ascent-To-Beacon2
View from the top of Beacon Cairn.

As this race finished at the top of a hill we all had the small task of making our way back to the registration point in Rothbury.  As it was cold I chose to run at a leisurely pace and got talking to a runner from Low Fell Running Club.  We had quite a good chat about what races we had done and what we were doing in the coming month. As you will know, this same chat with a non runner falls on completely deaf ears and usually puts them to sleep but with another runner it stirs up your interest to find out what events other runners are doing.

How did I do?

I completed the course in 29 minutes and 16 secs.  As there were issues with gathering the results I do not know exactly where I came out of the 54 runners as my time was in the group of runners from position 18 to 39 which were not recorded but overall I was quite pleased with my efforts regardless of position.  I couldn’t see any results for 2015 or 2016 however if I go off 2014’s results my time would have placed me at 23rd out of 73 runners so I can live with that 🙂 .

The race was won by Morgan Donnelly in 22 minutes and 25 seconds.  Well done Morgan!

My Garmin recorded the race stats as per the following:

Hillforts & Headaches Fell Race Garmin Stats

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

Hillforts & Headaches Fell Race Elevation Profile

Race results and images.

Full results can be found here.

I have been unable so find any images for the race that I can link to apart from what I have taken and included above.

What did I learn from this race?

Contact lenses and wind do not mix very well.

At the start of the second mile and probably because the terrain was quite a bit more open you could feel the wind a lot more on your face which isn’t usually an issue for me but on this occasion it made my eyes water so I was constantly having to wipe my eyes as they became blurry. Unfortunately this didn’t solve my issue because I lost the contact lens from the right eye just as I started the ascent to Beacon Cairn. I could still see as I still had the left contact lens in but when you have one ‘good’ eye and one ‘blurry’ eye it is quite a weird feeling so I need to learn what others do to prevent this issue.

If you are running on muddy surfaces then big lugs are definitely better 🙂

If you have read my previous Simonside Cairns Fell Race post then you will have read that I struggled with the mud and slipping so I bought some new Fell shoes, Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 Fell Running Shoes, which are made for this exact type of surface and the difference was extremely noticeable. I felt much more grip and I can’t remember slipping once whereas with my other shoes, Nike Wild Trail shoes, I did on numerous occasions. I would probably go back to my Nike Shoes if the race was a gravel track trail race such as the Kielder Marathon but for Fell races these were perfect. I have no idea how they compare to other Fell shoes / brands but I would fully recommend them so far.

Nike Wild vs Inov8 Mud Claw 300 lug comparison.
The difference in lug size meant better grip in the mud for the Inov8 Mudclaw 300 Shoes.

We as runners need to take more responsibility for safety.

One of the main differences with Fell races compared with a lot of other races is that they can take place in remote areas, on very tough terrain and they can usually require some navigation so the chances of becoming lost, injured or exposed to harsh weather increases quite dramatically.  It is for this reason and the safety of runners that mandatory kit lists are part of the race rules.  The race organiser Paul Appleby has stated in his race report that a lot of runners were not wearing the required kit which makes the race less safe and he explains very well the reason for the kit below:

Yes I know it is a short race, and was a nice morning in the village, but it is winter and if you become injured or unwell and are reduced to walking, hobbling or worse, then you will rapidly cool down and may need help to get you safely off the hill.

The mandatory kit in reality doesn’t even weigh much to carry and it could save your life so it is quite illogical not to carry it and it would be even more of a shame if races like this were stopped because of an incident where someone got injured and then suffered because they didn’t have the right kit to protect them.  All of the onus shouldn’t be on the race organisers who go out of their way to put on these events.

The Fell Runners Association Documents are a good place to learn about mandatory kit requirements for Fell races.

How would I rate this race?

Category Score Comments
Overall score 5/5 Absolutely loved the race.
Would you do it again? 5/5 Will definitely be signing up next year.
Course 5/5 Loved the course, had hills, mud and awesome views from the top of Beacon Cairn.
PB potential 1/5 If you are looking for a PB, this is probably not the race you will do it in.
Atmosphere 5/5 It was good to see people out on New Year’s morning enjoying a run rather than stuck in bed with a hangover and it was good to get talking to other runners.
Organisation 5/5 Everything was brilliant. Started on time, course well marked, with marshals at key points. Even though there was an issue with the results I would not mark this race down as the finish location is quite remote and races like these can be very much at the mercy of the weather.
Value for money 5/5 At only £5 entry = £1.00 per mile this represents awesome value.
Beginner-friendliness 3/5 As the course is partially marked and requires certain kit then beginners may be put off. Beginners though really shouldn’t be as it would be very difficult to get lost as it is a short race and you will always see someone ahead of you (assuming you are not Mo Farah or his equivalent) 🙂 .

The only thing a beginner needs to do is ensure that have the right kit with them in case of an emergency and you are good to go.

Additional information.

  • Interested in finding out more about Simonside Hills?  Visit the Northumberland National Park site to learn more.
  • It is said that the Simonside Hills are inhabited by ‘fairy folk’ and ‘little people’. Fact or fiction? Find out more here.

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