Lately I have been looking exclusively for ‘off road’ races as pounding the same streets gets a little boring so my interest was peaked when I saw a note on a Facebook group regarding the Simonside Cairns Fell Race which I had never had never heard of before even though I live within a short car journey away.
If you are not familiar with Fell races these can require you to have navigational skills, of which I don’t yet possess, so it tends to make me hesitant about entering these types of events. The good thing about this event though is that it was down as partially marked so unless I was in the the lead (never going to happen) or last (hopefully never going to happen) then I would always have others around me to follow as well as the partial markings.
For those that are interested in the race stats these were listed as follows:
- Event Provider: Northumberland Fell Runners
- Race Type : Fell Race – Category BM (Should average not less than 25 metres climb per kilometre and race is over 10 kilometres but less than 20 kilometres).
- Distance: 17.7km / 11 miles
- Climb: 540m / 1772ft
As with a lot of events of this nature it was entry on the day only and at a price of only £6 to enter this was an absolute bargain when you compare it to an event like The Great North Run, not to mention a far better and more challenging course with vastly superior views.
The day started off pretty well, as I got to the registration point, with Amy and Alfie, at the Newcastle House Hotel in Rothbury in Northumberland with plenty of time to spare as I wanted to satisfy my coffee fix beforehand. I also wanted to assess what the other runners were wearing as I wanted to make sure i had enough layers on as I suffer from Raynauds Syndrome and I wanted to make sure that if people had 2 layers on then i would maybe go with 3.
The race start was on time at 11am and was very low key compared with many races I have done as it started in a narrow alleyway on Rothbury front street – I quite liked this as it was different. After a quick safety briefing we were on our way and it was all very tight as runners jostled to get past each other through the narrow alley and over the metal bridge onto the roads leading up to the Simonside Hills.
I have broken this race down into four logical sections as I saw the race:
Section 1 – The hilly start.
The first 2 miles, a mixture of road and tracks, were mostly all uphill (approx 550 foot elevation) and it wasn’t long before some had succumbed to slowing down or conserving energy by walking. I managed to run most of the first 2 miles and settled into the middle of the field where I expected to be placed.
Section 2 – The quagmire.
The next 4.25 miles, compared to the beginning, levelled out a little bit but still had a fair few inclines and declines with overall elevation increasing by another approx 275 foot or so to take us up to the 1100 foot mark (race start elevation was approx 300 foot). Even though this section of the course ‘levelled out a little’ compared to the start this was very energy sapping as it was very muddy and boggy with lots of shrubbery which meant a few slips, trips and going knee deep into the bogs. Keeping my feet dry was impossible so after a while you just accept the mud and bogs and run through it all rather than trying to avoid it – its actually more fun this way.
Section 3 – Simonside Hill – awesome view from on top!
The 6.25 mile mark took us to the bottom of the highest point of the course, Simonside Hill (approx 1400 foot elevation), where I took the opportunity to take on more sanitiser to quench my thirst (see ‘what did I learn from this race’ below). This was a steep climb covering approx 300 foot of elevation over about a distance of 0.75 miles which was made a little more difficult as it was covered in lots of shrubbery. Trying to run up an incline like this for most people is probably impossible so it was safe to say that no one around me was running anymore and the best you could hope for was to try and power hike or walk very slowly like I did. As I had never been in these hills before I was not prepared for the amazing views at the top of which the Cheviots could be seen in the distance.
The image below from Chris Lishman, who kindly gave me permission to use this image, really shows the views this area has to offer. I definitely intend on returning for a few training runs and family walks.
Once at the top, the surface changes as the top is covered in stepping stones which mainly continues down the other side of the steep descent of Simonside Hill. The descent was roughly 2 miles (approx 600 foot) and whilst there were flat stepping stones in parts, as per the picture above, the descent was very technical and rocky and concentration was a must as it would have been very easy to trip and injure yourself. I enjoyed the whole course but this part was definitely my favourite part as I am stronger at the descents than the inclines.
Image below is an actual image from the day from Martin Ellis, who kindly gave me permission to use this image.
Section 4 – The return home.
This section is effectively section 1 in reverse which meant another 2 ‘easyish’ miles and 550 foot of decent leading back across the metal bridge and through the narrow alley towards the finish line with the faster runners clapping you across the finish line.
How did I do?
I completed the course in 1 hour, 48 mins and 17 secs to finish 48th out of 103 runners. This is roughly what I expected so I was quite pleased with it. The winning time was by Jim Mann in a time of 1 hour, 22 mins and 35 secs. Well done Jim!
My Garmin recorded the race stats as per the following (Elevation in feet, Distance in miles):
Race results and images (if any).
Full results can be found here.
What did I learn from this race?
Wash your soft flasks out properly after use as mould and/or Hand Sanitiser tastes awful.
Just before the start of the race it was soon apparent that I hadn’t done a very good job of washing or drying out the soft flasks and the expected taste of orange isotonic was instead replaced with a tang of mould (yes, I am an idiot). The inside of the top had a little patch of mould on it and as I didn’t want to start the race without a drink I was now looking for ways to clean it. Amy suggested trying to clean it with Hand Sanitiser so that it would kill the mould. This seemed to work but the taste of mould was now replaced with Hand Sanitiser which was absolutely lovely 😉 .
Not all ”off road shoes” are equal.
Its pretty obvious that for an off road race you wouldn’t wear road shoes but what is not totally obvious, but it is once you start to think about it, is that not all off road shoes are suitable for all off road terrain. I currently wear Nike Wild Trail shoes which have always been good for general trail races but they struggled a lot on this type of race ( I seemed to be slipping more than others) which featured more mud and bogs than most trail runs. I noticed that a lot of others were wearing Inov8 shoes so I have since invested in a pair (or two) of Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 Fell Running Shoes. Fingers crossed these are better as I intend to do more of these types of races.
How would I rate this race?
|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 Simonside Hill.|
|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||Lots of people chatting and enjoying themselves.|
|Organisation||5/5||Everything was brilliant. Started on time, course well marked, drinks station with sweets halfway round with marshals at key points.|
|Value for money||5/5||At only £6 entry = £0.55 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.|