Cockfield Chase – 27th April 2023

by Andy Turnell

Races don’t come more local for me than this one. I can see a lot of the course from my bedroom window.

It’s described as a “Beginner’s Fell Race” and I did it for the first time last year. It’s always held in April as that’s the only month of the year that there is no livestock on Cockfield Fell.

It’s a fairly unique race in my opinion. Firstly because the organisers aren’t allowed to mark out the course (apart from a flag at the Start/Finish), so the first lap is a gentle circuit of the course led by the Race Organiser, pointing out turning points and hazards. Secondly, the race itself has a rolling start, the clock starts as soon as the first runner passes the start line at the end of the first lap. As the last part of the lap is uphill, that puts some of us (well me at least) at a disadvantage.

Last year we enjoyed a dry, warm evening, not so this year. It was cold damp and drizzly, probably best described as “Dreich”.

Bearing in mind the organisers warning about the ancient coal pits which litter the fell, I stepped up my pace as the second lap started. The leaders were already out of sight.

The first part of the lap is downhill and I was trying to balance maintaining a good speed against the risk of injury, as it was less than three days until the Gateshead Half Marathon. As the field spread out it allowed a better view of the ground ahead and more time to avoid potential hazards.

After the descent the path ran alongside but still a way above the river Gaunless, following gulleys formed by rainwater. Precise footwork was still a priority. After a short section down by the water, the climb began. It wasn’t too steep to start with but the final climb up to the old track bed of the Stainmore rail line seemed to be 1 in 1. Definitely called for a spot of power walking.

Relief came with about half a mile of almost flat terrain as we ran along the course of old line, just had to avoid the rabbit holes and gorse bushes.

The last stage of the lap headed up towards the village of Cockfield and the start. Most of the route followed paths across the fell but there were stretches that took us across long, tussocky grass, it was like running on sponge.

Once I had a clear view of the finish I tried to push on for a strong finish but I just didn’t have enough left to hold off the chap behind me.

As I sat trying to catch my breath, a guy in a Durham Fell Runners tee shirt said hello. It was Joe Addison, a recent new Crook member.

Once I was able to move again I headed back to Race Headquarters (the Car Park) where Butterknowle Sea Scouts had set up refreshments. The Hot Chocolate and Apricot and Marzipan Loaf were very well received.

Another unique feature of this event is the “Bring a prize, get a prize” rule. As long as you bring a prize when registering, anything will do, you get a choice from the collection when the results are announced. Winners choose first and others in descending order. I tool a bobble hat that Julie had made.

Unfortunately, the race had more entries than previously and the manual results system couldn’t cope. It took some time to sort out the provisional results and I was one of the numbers missing from the list. I managed to identify my position as I recognised the chap who finished 3 places ahead of me.

Nevertheless, I was getting colder and wetter as time went by and as I’d run up to the start from home I had no car to shelter in and decided to forego the prize choice and head home.

In the end I finished 52nd and second in the M60 age group in a time of 22:03 from a field of 97.

Joe finished 6th in 14:23.
In this race he was registered as Durham Fell Runners.

Here’s hoping for better weather next year.