> 2010 race reports
03/07/10 Chevy Chase - from Chris Winter

Chevy Chase Saturday July 3rd 2010

Conditions were sunny and breezy for the 20 mile Chevy Chase from Wooler. This was to be my first long fell race since taking up running and the nerves began increasing exponentially as the start loomed nearer. Those nerves increased even more at the first checkpoint where you get the full view of what you’ve let yourself in for – the dual behemoths of Cheviot and Hedgehope.

At the bottom of Cheviot and an hour of running I decided it was time for my first energy gel of the day. I quickly learnt an important lesson here, only squeeze the pouch of gel once it’s in your mouth, not before. Napalm manufacturers take note - the ability of these gels to stick to human skin, especially if it’s got a beard growing on it, is staggering and surely defies the laws of physics.

After checkpoint 3 on the summit of Cheviot the race suddenly takes on a whole new dimension. You dib your dibber, turn left and then literally hurl yourself off the edge down into Harthope Valley below. I opted for the simplest route to the next checkpoint on the top of Hedgehope – just run straight towards it. What could be simpler? Nothing. What could be quicker? Quite a bit.

The descent was five minutes of madness during which I seemed to adopt a skipping technique to try and retain some control as the tussocks of grass flew past. I kept control even when I lost it, with some outstanding commando rolls towards the bottom of the slope. I remember thinking ‘I really hope someone saw that’.

Unfortunately my direct assault on checkpoint 4 had not paid off and I found myself all alone at the bottom of the valley staring up at the seemingly infinite slope in front of me. There was to be no easy way up through the waist high bracken.

A 20 minute vertical trudge ensued before I met anything that resembled a path. At the checkpoint I remembered what I’d been told a week earlier - despite the rest being downhill, the race is not over here. Oh how true this was!

After the descent of Hedgehope the race continues on a mixture of grassy paths and sheep trods. Pick the wrong one and it has the ability to instantly disappear leaving you stranded amongst the heather in no man’s land. I too managed to instantly disappear after misjudging the edge of a stream due to some over hanging vegetation. Now about 5ft lower than I had been a split second before I was thankful to still have use of both my ankles. This tumble knocked the stuffing out of me and was the beginning of a battle with exhaustion. I realised that this wasn’t so much a race against other people as a challenge against yourself.

Immediately after Langlee Crags I lost the path again. This umpteenth yomp across the heather was the final straw for my legs and despite eventually finding the track down to the next checkpoint the energy began rapidly draining from my limbs. Just how much was made clear as I struggled to slow down coming down to the checkpoint and thought I’d end up slamming into the side of the land rover parked there.

The next rocky section along Carey Burn saw things deteriorating further. By now the only thing keeping me going was the thought of the free t-shirt at the end. Some inspiration to keep moving was provided at the final checkpoint at Hellpath with some motivational sign posts up the cruellest hill I’ve come across in my short racing life.

The final three miles were something else. I staggered through the gorse and over the final stile onto the road where I was caught up by Chris Sanderson. Along this final stretch we managed to attract a rather impressive swarm of flies which was visible in our shadows on the tarmac. I like to think they were cheering us on. In reality they probably thought they were in for a feast as us two humans appeared on the verge of death.

I know all the tales of fell races say how the final stretch of road seemed to go on forever, but that’s exactly how it felt. I was praying for the finish and was bitterly disappointed to find out that it had been moved from where the start had been and was actually back in the youth hostel. I was only a few hundred metres from the end but still wasn’t 100% sure I was going to make it.

Crossing the finish line was a completely different experience to any other of the races I’ve done. Exhaustion and confusion, coupled with pins and needles and (strangely) aching teeth. It took a few minutes for my brain to reengage with the real world. We were then quickly ushered round the corner for a sit down in the recovery area. I’m sure this was hidden out of sight to prevent innocent children witnessing grown men in such a traumatised state.

At that point the three seats in a row were all occupied by NFRs – Chris S, John Duff and myself, all of us slowly beginning to show signs of life once more, gulping down cup after cup of refreshments. This was not one for the picture books but definitely a defining moment of the day for me. There was a definite sense of achievement in the air now our ordeal was over.

It took about half an hour for me to come round and convince myself that I wasn’t going to faint if I stood up. This meant I could go and get some tea and a sandwich. That first cup was by far the greatest cuppa I’ve ever had, closely followed by another six in quick succession.

Lazing outside on the grass in the sun outside was the perfect way to round off a hugely enjoyable day - enjoyable in the weirdest sense of the word. As I think I told everyone who asked me how I got on, this was physically and mentally the toughest thing I’ve ever done by a long way …

… see you next year then!

Chris Winter

> top