Blue Runnings

Race Reviews, GPX files and more from North-East England

North-East Harrier League – Aykley Heads

on 22 November 2015

It was a cold and blustery day in the North-East. Snow had fallen that night and the temperature was close to zero. The wind was howling past the windows and the running clubs of the North-East were donning their finest woolly hats, thermal layers and wellies to brave the perils of the Durham hilltops in winter’s first icy breath.

I picked up another Bounder on the way in, and we made it to Durham County Hall with only a minor detour finding the entrance to the carpark, and hiked up the hill to hunt out the Bounders tent. It was FREEZING at the top where the start and finish were – the only available shelter was in the tents themselves, which were full of bags and children munching goodies after their races, so the grown-ups shivered outside and refused to take their coats and extra trousers off for as long as possible! The women’s race start time crept up, so it was off with all non-running layers and head to the line. 10 mins later before the hooter sounded, we were all blue! Some people were actually in shorts and we saw one crop top! I don’t know how their legs were still attached…

Finally we were off! In a loop around the top of the hill – the wind! – before heading down and off onto the course proper. It wasn’t long before I forgot about the cold, I was warm enough in my capris, thermal and headband, and was busy concentrating on keeping steady and not turning an ankle or ending up on the floor, probably in front of well-placed camera (they always seem to know the slippy bits). I think someone must have been round the course with a hose and a herd of cows before we got there, as there is no way those paths got that muddy on their own! It was even worse by the second lap – there were nearly 400 runners just in the women’s senior and veteran group, so by the time they’d all gone round once it was very well churned up! The poor men’s class must have had a tough time of it – and they do three laps!


The start of the course probably counted as undulating, long but not mega steep inclines (they felt longer second time round!) in either direction, a 2 foot wall with clamber footholes in – quite a few stumbles here on the second lap, I still don’t know how I pushed my legs to lift my knees enough to get up it – and then a nice steep downhill through the mud to the bottom of the course. There were a few whoopsies and nearly’s on this bit, but I think everyone just about managed to stay upright! The second half of the course continued the mud theme – up and down and up and down we went. The penultimate hill was a long, steep-ish one, but by the second lap it was so churned up it really grabbed right round your ankles and was very very tough going with how soft it was. When you reached the top of this one, you could actually see that you weren’t hugely far off the top of the main hill where the finish line was, but some incredibly mean course designer had set it up so you then had to run back down the hill and up the full height on its steepest side before you could do the flat loop round the top and back to the start/finish so you could go round again or if you were really lucky, cross the line and pass out!


Photo by CM of the Blackhill Bounders

When I did the Tanfield course in September, I really struggled with it mentally – my heart really wasn’t in it and I let myself stop for walks earlier than I probably needed to, and I find when I’ve stopped once I don’t really get my rhythm back. Turning round for the second lap was the hardest thing I’ve done for a run in a long time, I really didn’t want to do it. This time I was going to take it slow and steady and just get round the course whatever it threw at me. I had a bit more of an idea what to expect from the terrain after Tanfield (or at least was a bit more prepared to be surprised) and was just feeling a bit more mentally balanced. I set off to do what I could at a steady pace, and before I knew it was halfway round – might as well try and do at least the first loop one go right? Made it to the top of the monster hills at the end of the lap (hill training! yeah!), helped by the supporters’ cheers as they’d positioned themselves at the toughest stretches of the course to help everyone along. I love that about the running community – it doesn’t matter if you come first or last, you’ll get cheered in and everyone can relate to your elation or struggle regardless of your level or theirs.

The last bit of the lap was a flat, and then we’re off on a slight downhill again, then a gentle gradient, we might as well see how far around the second lap we can get before we walk a bit right? The Wall was tough – my knees just about made it to reach the footholds and my toes just scuffed the top but I made it up unaided. Had there been a lap three, it would have been a very different story! The ankle-grabbing penultimate hill nearly had me stopping, but I knew I was running out of steam and if I stopped now that would be me until the top of the next hill, when I might be able to manage a hobble jog over the finish line so I dredged up the last of the juice and reminded myself there was food waiting in my bag at the finish line. I made it not only up this one, but up the last big one – relieved that it wasn’t as muddy or I don’t think I’d have made it up without a knotted rope! I was so pleased to reach the top – I felt like I’d not just conquered the hill but proven to myself I could manage even a tough course, and I think this one was the toughest I’ve ever done, in both terrain (though the Gateshead 10k was horrible…and so was the Gibside Fruitbowl…) and ‘track’ conditions, it was like a high cardio spa day for my ankles…

I crossed the finish line in a slower time and pace than I averaged at Tanfield, but a much much better place mentally – I’m genuinely proud of myself for finishing this one as I did, and I don’t come away from many runs feeling like that. I’m looking forward to the next one, which I think is Sedgefield in December…should probably check that!





Aykley Heads


2 responses to “North-East Harrier League – Aykley Heads

  1. Well done Sarah! From a spectating point of view, I remember Aykley Heads to be the toughest XC for the NE Harrier League- I think everyone found it really hard and you dd soooo well to conquer it! You go girl! Next up – Druridge Bay in 6 days time!! x


    • Sarah J. says:

      Thanks Fiona πŸ™‚ I think I enjoyed it πŸ™‚ I’m going to miss Druridge Bay unfortunately as I’m off enjoying myself at the Manchester markets, but I’ll be at Sedgefield!

      Liked by 1 person

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