Chevy Chase, 6th July 2024

Chloe Glover weaves us an evocative account from the wilderness:

“A beautiful summer’s day. The sun was shining, the skies were cloudless, a sea of club vests were proudly on display. The perfect weather to tackle the 67th Chevy Chase fell race, a formidable 20 mile route of around 4,000ft total ascent that takes in the Cheviots two tallest peaks, Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill.

Five brave or mad Claremont Road Runners (Dave L, Jenny R, Kim M, Sarah K and Izzy N and myself) were some of the 175 runners who took their place on the start line, along with very welcome supporter and injury recovering Anton M. Having planned to train for this properly but then getting side-tracked by cycling and subsequently only having run twice in the month before the start, I was very happy to have the moral support on my Chevy Chase debut.

“Be back before 3pm or you’re going to get very wet”, we were told, as the start gun sounded and we trotted off to find the seven mandatory checkpoints along the lollipop shaped trail out of Wooler, and enjoy a day of Cheviots hospitality. In true Cheviots greeting style, it of course took a lot less time for the rain to find us, appearing along with strikingly ominous clouds just as we struck out over the common towards Carey Burn. It was the first of its many sudden appearances over the day and quite rightly so, as if there’s anything you should expect in this part of the world it is the unpredictability of the weather.

The second thing, of course, would be the climbs. After a brief reprieve down to Carey Burn, it was largely uphill for the next several miles from here to Cheviot summit at 2,676 feet/815m. Sarah, Kim and Izzy were already far ahead, true mountain goats whose impressive speeds meant I didn’t see them for the rest of the day. Dave L provided a motivating pace up ahead for Jenny and myself to try and follow. Alas, not far after checkpoint one at Broadstruther, Dave was struck down with a bad case of blisters, ending this year’s race for him. An unfortunate end for this year but one which I’m sure will inspire him to return to add to his tally of previously successful Chevy attempts.

Now without a Claremont pacer to follow, I was left to my own devices as the weather began to deteriorate the further we headed up the hill. Down came the rain and mist and out came the fleece and rain jacket, for the first of multiple rounds of the Great British ‘Can You Get Your Layers On And Off Quick Enough?’ clothes changing game. At least knowing the only way was ‘up’ the ever steepening path made the navigation easier at this point, along with the potentially foolhardy reasoning that if 150 runners are up ahead of you, everything surely was going to be ok.

Almost surprisingly, we were treated to a largely bog free slog up, which was almost trampoline like in parts. I thought back to my entry into the spring Pendulum race up Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill earlier this year, which had I not been ill and attempted may have been a very different story.

Graciously, the cloud cleared by the time I’d reached Cheviot summit, allowing me to see and take full advantage of the first sweet freebies at the checkpoint (jelly babies) and ponder if I may actually want to attempt the rest of the route, instead of retire here and go back and read my book as I’d secretly been hoping for in the run up.

As anyone well-acquainted with this part of the Cheviots will know, put in time and energy and you will be rewarded with fantastic views out into Harthope Valley, especially when heading off the Cheviot’s infamous plateau on the descent towards Hedgehope. It made the cruel knowledge of losing such preciously gained height almost worthwhile. Picking my way down this steep, un-pathed hillside was, especially if you’re a little bit masochistic, quite fun. The heather, bilberry bushes and ferns were a welcome, cushioning respite from the hidden dips, holes and streams beneath our feet. The latter of which I, like many others in the race, found all too easily, suddenly losing a whole leg to the deep channels. The experience was welcomingly soundtracked by a fellow runner turned coach for his teammates, who shared many useful fell running tips down into the valley and up the other side.

Surviving with both legs intact at the bottom, a brief, refreshing burn dip was a good wake up call before the climbing began again, this time to Hedgehope at 348 feet/714m. Having recced this leg the week before set me in good stead as we weaved up, down, around and through more heather, burns and ferns, again, alongside the memory that the ‘only way was up’. The runners I had been following disappeared several times as we picked our own paths to Hedgehope’s summit, where the wind chill really started to be felt, alongside some slight trepidation looking out towards the purple-black clouds rolling in towards us.

Wine gum, midget gem and prawn cocktail crisp pick me up freebies were again gratefully received at each checkpoint on the descent towards Carey Burn bridge, the possibility of actually finishing the race now seeming potentially realistic. This, however, is arguably where for many, the real pain starts. Navigating down the steep descent from Hedgehope comes with the early muscle warnings of potentially flaming quads for the next few days after- I had learned this the hard way just the week before. A side step tactic on this occasion seemed to work, unless my day of flaming quads is coming tomorrow.

It was the spontaneous chats with fellow runners and volunteers that helped me get through the last several miles of the route, which after hitting valley bottom (and a welcome water and home-made flapjack checkpoint) sent us scrambling along the wonderfully named Hell’s Path and up a final climb back to Wooler Common.

It’s this unfailing friendliness that has got me coming back to fell races, alongside the generous snacks and affordable entries, which always makes me feel welcome and never alone. Mid-race chats with fellow entrants is also, as this time again proved, a sometimes humbling experience. I spent the last few miles talking to a machine of a man called Jamie, who casually told me that Chevy Chase was his sixth consecutive day of running, his ‘warm up’ run for a marathon tomorrow and part of his training for an all-in-one 90 miler in the French Alps next month. Oh, and of course he had only had major hip replacement surgery jus five months ago too. And (sorry for the occupational therapist in me coming out here) that is part of what makes, in my opinion, fell racing a great character building experience. Realising through doing it that there is always a way to keep progressing, that no hill has to be too hard to climb if you take your time and grin and bear it, that no pain lasts forever and that you can keep yourself alive with some preparation, good snacks and rapid layer changing speed makes for good resilience, self esteem and humour building.

And if anyone doubts that doing a fell race is worth it for the above, well, at least there’s usually some good scran waiting at the end, this time in the form of free chip cones (with plenty of mayo, thanks).

A very big well done to all runners, including our lovely Claremont lot, who did our club very proud. A bigger still thank you to Wooler Youth Hostel, other organisers and Northumberland National Park Search and Rescue Team, whose hardy volunteers had the unenviable task of sitting out in the elements until the last runner was safely back, and to the sponsors Particularly Good Potatoes and Doddington Dairy Milk Bar for their much-needed recovery snacks.

Definitely a memorable big day out in the hills, although I had vowed I would only ever need to do it once, I already feel tempted for a future Chevy comeback. I suspect the fact that the actual warned about deluge only happened when we were all safely back in our cars at 5pm may have something to do with this. Take the challenge and get yourselves signed up for 2025.”

A few words from Izzy: “Nice big walk, with some running parts.”

It might have been a nice big walk for Izzy, but she led the Claremont ladies to 1st place in the team competition (for the 2nd consecutive year). Sarah and Kimberley were the other two counters. Very well done!

39Izzy Neatrour4:01:48
42Sarah Kerr (2nd FV40) 4:05:55
65Eric Adams4:18:24
113Kimberley Metson4:53:51
150Chloe Glover5:33:38
162Jenny Roberts6:01:14
DNFDavid Lydall
Laurie Johnson -