Natural Ability – the Perfect First Fell Race

As well as the six Polyfellers that tackled the wild slopes above Loch Lomond, a further 14 swelled the numbers at the Natural Ability race at Allenheads.  This is a perfect introduction to the sport and it is great that some faces new to the sport were there to explore their curiosity… Terry Brown’s account takes up the running…

It was a cold and blustery day that saw a massive poly turnout for the Natural Ability Fell Race – 14 of north shields’ finest turned up in Allenheads in various states of attire.  ‘Best practice’ kit was cobbled together by myself, but thankfully not needed.  The award for ‘least clothing worn on the day’ went to Paul Dodds who braved the cold and rain in the vest and shorts! I opted for a pair of gloves to complete the fetching ensemble, as we all lined up for the 11am start.  The mantra of ‘lets just take it easy’ lasted almost 2km this time before I thought ‘lets have this’ – I may learn one day, but today wasn’t that day as the running felt good.

The course measured a little over 9km with 285m of climb, and saw some stunning scenery (albeit, slightly reduced visibility because of the rain and mist), and is a nice introduction to fell running – not too technical, very well marked, and absolutely brilliantly marshalled – it was impossible to put a foot wrong, and the marshals needed thanks. I even gave a round of applause as I passed the solitary marshal at the top of the first climb for braving the weather!
The route out of Allenheads started on tarmac but very quickly got into the fields and the leaders were already starting to stretch out into the distance as the rain started to fall more heavily, and we followed a route gently downhill and along the river east allen on single track, DJ and I ducking the low branches that those in front of us seemed blissfully ignorant of! After a few hundred more metres, there was our first real opportunity to get wet by fording the river.  A bridge was offered, though I saw nobody take it preferring to take the shortcut over the river, and the beginnings of ‘the climb’ – the main uphill section of the course.
The start of the climb was on tarmac and by this point, Michael Keane was showing his current flying form and had vanished into the distance, myself and David Johnson were making good progress after fording the stream, and Angela Green was running a strong uphill ahead.  The route crosses a road and veers straight up hill and at this point, there was as much walking as running.  Passing those walking the hill in full waterproofs/ backpacks, and walking poles while wearing a pair of shorts, a vest, and by now, some very soggy gloves still makes me chuckle!  Thankfully an opportunity for me to open the stride and even when walking I managed to pass 8 or so on the climb.  Once the top was crested, the pace was picked back up and it was an undulating  trail of roughly 3km along the top above Allenheads, though some of the views were beautiful from up here, before dipping back down for an incredibly fun descent.
Not too technical, 100m descent in approximately 1k on mostly winding mossy/grassy paths.  This man got trapped behind a couple of runners (from Northumberland FR and Durham FR) who were skilfully treading the known path, so a ‘lets see if I can go wide and get past them’ nearly had me come a cropper, but you could hear their pace increase as they saw me edge past them to lead our small pack, and I managed to get over the style first and gain a few crucial seconds.  The last descent in the field was a ‘hold on for dear life and turn the legs over quicker!’ where I managed to open the gap a little, and nearly tumbled a few times, to the finish.
The goody bag, for a race of this price and size, was superb! T-shirt, water, gels, balloon (who doesn’t love a balloon!) – absolutely cracking.
The poly did brilliantly in a field of 77 with Michael Kane first man home for the poly coming 12th in 48.18, and Angela Green putting in a strong run just missing out on 3rd Vet Female coming in 54.16.  Fourteen out, and fourteen safely back in – I suspect I speak for most when I say it’s a race I’ll look forward to for next year to do it again.
The full results can be found on the natural ability fundraising site.
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