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02/07/11 Chevy Chase - John Butters

Chevy Chase report – John Butters

I was full of eagerness and optimism on the morning of Saturday 2nd July 2011 for my first Chevy Chase fell race, looking forward to the challenge and the breath taking views from the top of the Cheviots.  This was also supplemented by a niggling nervousness of the gruelling 20 miles which lay ahead and a fear of getting lost!  Trying not to think of the feedback given from fellow runners’ past exploits, I set off to Wooler for the start.

I duly checked in at the registration and handed over my bag for the mandatory kit inspection.  The weather was hot and sunny with a cloudless sky, not cool and overcast which I had been praying for all week!  A quick pep talk from John Duff with a few hints and tips thrown in for good measure and I was feeling less apprehensive.

Dead on 10:30am and the 55th Chevy Chase was underway.  Conscious of the fact that I always go off too fast, I made a steady start to try and save at least some energy for the latter stages.  It was fairly easy running to the first checkpoint at Broadstruther with some welcome downhill sections.  The only concern at that stage was the amount of sweat dripping off me and wondering if my CamelBak was going to last.

From Broadstruther to Cheviot knee the ascents became a lot more testing, especially Scald Hill. A warm up for the Cheviot perhaps!  Having run in the Cheviot Summit race earlier in the year, I was mentally prepared for the ascent but it’s a shame my legs didn’t feel the same!  There was plenty encouragement on the way up from the many Chevy walkers and for that I am very grateful.  I was also grateful to mother nature to see lots of cloud inching towards us to save my shoulders from becoming cooked flesh.  I reached the checkpoint and took the opportunity to get some extra water on board and a welcome wine gum (proper “old skool” wine gums too, fantastic!).  I was also looking forward to the descent to try and make up some time.

My opinions soon changed as the descent from the Cheviot Summit race was far gentler than this!  The sheer drop was absolute agony on the legs as I was trying to stop myself from hurtling headfirst down the hill and inflicting a nasty injury.  Some sort of toboggan would have made light work of it but I appeared to be sledging down on my bottom and taking drastic action to avoid skittling down some walkers.

I successfully reached Harthope Burn and began the ascent of Hedgehope hill, peering back at the Cheviot with a sense of satisfaction that one beast was beaten. 

I found the climb up Hedgehope less intense by following a zig zag route rather than straight up.  Whether this had a great impact on my time I don’t know.  Near the top there was an eerie silence.  I was struggling.  Bent over with hands on legs, muscles burning, aching back and blisters forming on my feet.  I looked up and the other runners ahead of me were in the same position.  It was so quiet it seemed as if we were all on our way to the pearly gates.  That was until a pack of flies gathered over my head, probably attracted by the red rawness of my shoulders.  I wasn’t done yet!

I was greeted at the checkpoint at the top of Hedgehope by shouts of “that’s Cheviot and Hedgehope out the way, it’s easy from now”.  That didn’t wash with me, as I knew there were still 10 miles to go.

The descent from Hedgehope felt a lot worse than the Cheviot, my legs felt as though they were deteriorating into a jelly mush.  I reached the bottom through a combination of walking and jarring my knees at every step down.  Once on the flat my pace was very slow and embarrassingly I fell over having gone knee deep into a peat bog.  Fortunately the soft landing saved my shoulder from being knocked out of its socket. 

At this point I was becoming concerned.  Energy levels were extremely low and doubts whether I would actually make it to the end were creeping in.  I considered taking another energy gel but I felt sick and it wouldn’t have stayed down for very long.

Langlee Crags and Brands Corner came surprisingly quick, either that or I was in a state of denial.  Shortly after Brands corner I was struck down with severe cramp down the inside of my left thigh causing my leg to go into spasm.  I stopped and tried to stretch it out, taken by surprise by a runner bounding past offering his condolences.  The tables turned once I got running again as that very same runner had also been hit with a bout of cramp several hundred yards further on.  I reciprocated my condolences with a wry smile.

Trudging through Carey Burn was a great opportunity to splash some cool water over my face.  It was fantastic feeling and the support certainly gave me extra impetus.  I took up the offer of some flapjack from an elderly couple spectatating but after one bite my mouth became as dry as a desert.  Regretfully I had to dispose of the remaining portion trying not to think of the effort they made making it.

Hell Path certainly lived up to its name and the slogans didn’t really go down well as there was little running done at this point and I seriously felt like throwing in the towel.  Runners were overtaking me at a frequent rate and I just kept thinking it’s only three miles to go.

Once I eventually got back onto the road back to the hostel the hard surface felt unusual but gave some respite to my legs.  Not far now!  I turned onto the path off Ramsey’s lane and could hear the reception applauding runners crossing the line.  The feeling was overwhelming, so close to completing my first Chevy.

I crossed the line and immediately cramped up!  People were handing me bits of paper and asking for my timing card.  All I wanted to do was collapse.  The relief of finishing was indescribable, immediately saying to myself that I would never do it again.  It was good to meet Chris Little at the end who finished just behind me, offering good advice and we congratulated each other on our achievements.  I eventually looked at my time and was chuffed to bits to come in at 3 hours 47 minutes. 

I have to congratulate all of the staff, they all did a fantastic job. The endless cups of tea were greatly appreciated  but it took me at least half an hour before I could face eating anything.

It was also good to chat with fellow fell runners Phil Green, John Tollitt, John Duff and Paul Hainsworth. I have now been able to put names to faces!

I’m sitting in my garden writing up this report on a glorious sunny day reflecting on what we all achieved yesterday.  Blisters have begun to heal!  The ultimate question needs to be answered.  Would I do it again?


John Butters


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