It’s the end of the 2016 Thrunton Thriller as everyone has left after an exhilarating run through the trees, high routes and low routes of Thrunton Woods. The event had sold out with 200 people and it was clear that it’s current setup has some logistical constrains, in particular around parking. It also took over the main public car park and blocked access for any other users. And so it was decided that to allow more people to participate in this flagship trail run some deep thinking was needed.

Step up Mr Jonathan Farries, local beat officer for the Forestry Commission. The north road ha been identified as being slightly wider than all the others and due to its length it could accommodate a large number of vehicles. Some people would have a nice long walk to register but as the saying goes: the early bird gets the worm! A limit of 400 runners was set in place as a test for 2017 and we were off and running. 2 months were left on the clock and entries slammed shut.

The altered location meant that the routes needed to be reviewed. Clearly the description of the distances mean little to me as the actual distances can vary quite a bit. However, the quality of the overall run and the way it strings together is very important. Having a good knowledge of the area and doing some further exploratory sessions revealed a route which I was more than happy with.

Fast forward to the weekend of the event and it’s time to stop the months of planning and move into the delivery phase. Fellow organiser Paul Kemp and friends Paul Eggleston Brown and Mick Barker were on hand for a spot of course marking and marquee erection. I would have said this is the “erection team” but something about that doesn’t sound quite right :-) With the marquee now in place it was now a matter of getting all the gear setup and thanks goes to Dad for bringing up an extra load of stuff in his car.

Walking the route is something I always enjoy when setting up. The thought that a load of marauding trail runners will soon be ploughing their way through the same tracks makes me smile. Crossing the river and seeing the mud bank brough out a chuckle for sure. The weather decided to rain all day but eventually there was about 500 markers out on the course in the form of either yellow signs or red and white tape. Fingers crossed that no-one needed a map.

Eggers cooked some serious stakes in the marquee with the radio on and after a chat and a hot chocolate (rock and roll) it was time to get comfortable on a nice gravel and mud combo floor. My dog Bob cosied in beside me and we listened as the wind picked up and blew hard against the sides. Given such loud noises from the wind and the rain sleep was at a premium. However, I didn’t mind this too much as the pitter-patter of precipitation against the roof were remarkably soothing.

Steak time

5:30am and the alarm goes off. Time to get up and get started with final prep before runners start turning up. Marshals start arriving and the workload is spread out with the planning docuemnt taking care of pre-defined roles. It wasn’t long until the first runner turned up and I could get to see first hand what the parking was going to be like. Very sensibly they parked as far over as they could and it was evident that there would be loads of space for vehicles to come in and out.

Within an hour the arrival of cars had become a steady stream and it was nice to walk past so many smiling faces on my way in the opposite direction. Some were familiar and others were new and everyone was equally welcome. My cousin Alan Wilson did a sterling job of getting everyone parked up as soon as possible when they came in so many thanks to him for that. ¬†David Wilson, chief radio man, got to take my car through the forest for some 4×4 action.

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I wandered off to chat with Mountain Rescue and meet the medics who were meeting at the usual public car park. After a few phone calls all was well and the event could take place. I headed back down to the marquee area and was delighted to see so many people kitted up and ready for action. The queue to the toilets was not so long and various heads were seen bobbing in the trees as alternative toilets were found. A 15 minute delay was enforced to give people more of a chance to reach the start area from their cars.

Over the barking of the dogs the safety briefing was nice and short. The time was set and the marshals headed off into place to deliver the news that when it came to directions. The countdown was on. Nervous anticipation was in the air. For those who conquered last years run it all about the challenge. For newbies it was a step into the unknown.

3 2 1 and “go” said the kids which initiated 345 runners to set off down the road on their own journeys. The two distances split early on with the short route having a bit of forest track action before an early start learnign the art of muddy ascents. The long route gained a surprise section at the start which was akin to the forests of Cambodia. Had I not mentioned the required machete in the mandatory kit list? After slip-sliding through here everyone was back on the forest trails and going up the same hill as the short route.

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I love that first hill leading up to Thrunton Crags. It resembles the Endor forest in Star Wars and I expect a few Ewoks to come pouncing out at any time. The climbs begins with a gentle climb that is lined with rocks and mud. This is just a precursor to the real deal as the path turns sharply right and reveals a gradient fit only for those with grappling hooks and ropes. Heart rates were sent soaring and anyone who thought this would be a PB day now had this thought well and truly blown out of the water.

Eventually the gaggle of runners popped out at the top to be greeted by Helen Kemp and her dog Tilly. A quick point of an arm sent people on a most welcome gentle down hill before bike marshal Keith Fawcett delivered the crushing blow of another ascent. Not too long this time and only until you saw bike marshal Mick Barker who was the man to guide you all the way from here to the first check point.

The trails to checkpoint one are a technical trail runners delight. Bounding down mountain bike tracks, your eyes constantly searching for the next place to stop a foot. Watching out for roots and rocks that can have you flat on your face in an instant. At the same time avoiding tree branches that reached out to scrape your face and legs. I adore these sections and a huge thanks needs to be given to Thrunton Trail Builders who make and maintain them.

In 2016 cehckpoint 1 was a mere distraction as most runners thundered past and on with their day. This year it was the place to be with Brian Kemp dishing out water, sweets ans flapjacks like they were going out of fashion. Water needed to be resupplied as you got through so much of it! The other marshal George Wilson positioned himself just inside the trees on the other side of the river and snapped away as people tackled the muddy river bank with looks of shock and anquish plastered on their faces.

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People who refuelled at checkpoint one were wise to do so. What followed was appropriately named the “Hill of Doom”, a long winding journey of increasing severity that eventually popped out onto the crags some 200m higher up than when you started. I’d imagined that a few of those flapjacks eaten at the foot of the hill were thinking about working their way back up.

The darkness of the trees came into stark contrast as the open moorland of the rocky crags revealed themselves. Jim Imber was positioned on high and smiled at all the runners who ran, walked or crawled on their way past. To the right was a fantastic vista of the mighty Cheviots in the distance. Hedgehope, Cheviot and Bloodybush prominent on the skyline. The moisture in the air even created a beautiful rainbow as captured by a few pics I’ve seen on social media. The end of the rainbow seemed to indicate the pot of gold lay somewhere in the bogs just before checkpoint 2.

High up on these crags the wind had found its force and blew with vigour into the faces of the runners. This time mud mingled with heather and rock so only the brave or the foolish would be looking up at the scenery for too long. It’s a nice long trot along the top but all good things must come to an end. After passing Mark Stephenson people dropped off the rather steep western end of the crags and tip-toed their way down to the valley. This track is a proper muddy dream but only a gentle pre-cursor of what was to come.

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Crossing the river and dragging yourself up the side of a fence was only just to get you back to the edge of the forest. The up hill section has had its fair share of erosion with ruts forming all over the place. Luckily the ground is fairly solid and some decent progress can be made. As for the next bit however, the same cannot be said.

You can’t beat a it of bog to get people laughing at themselves. Even the most seasoned of runners such as John Butters have an inner grin when faced with something that really tests people. The undulating ground is dotted with wet patches that can consume a full lower leg and I’m betting more than a few people found this out first hand. The worst of it happens as checkpoint 2 comes within touching distance and by the time bedraggled runners reached David Wilson, his some and Lucy Imber they were in need of some refreshment!

Checkpoint 2 is where the two routes split once more. The short route deviate straight past the tent then to the left whilst the long route took a right turn and headed once more into the valley. The long section is a bit of a beautiful bonus as the mud strewn pathway arcs its way downwards and running can be come rhythmical and fast. Touching the bottom of the valley people had to take a sharp left and traverse treacle esque mud before popping back onto the solid forest tracks.

This firm base was not to last long though. Brian and George had the delightful task of pointing people off into the trees once more as runners had to battle their way up a mountain bike trail. A route had been set through the myriad of trails that had people scanning and searching for the next marker. Sunlight couldn’t penetrate in here and it wasn’t until a clearing half way through before illumination joined the party. Scrambling up a few rocks was the final task before the relief of seeing the lovely long forest track.

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It’s exactly this kind of long frest track that sucks the life out of me. One where you can see it miles off into the distance and it never seems to get any bloody nearer! The Allendale Challenge has a stretch just like it. Runners trundled along, probably grateful for the switch to firm ground and then arrived back at the checkpoint tent to meet back up with the short route.

Following on from the checkpoint 2 tent was a section that can best be described as “off a cliff”. To tackle this the main ingredient was a sense of humour and some good solid grip on your shoes. I had the pleasure of walking back up this and had a few choice comments from those coming the other way. Luckily the majority of people shimmied down the steep banks and stayed upright.

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From here it was just a mere kilometre to the finish. There was a report of a sign missing, a right turn that led to a handful of people doing an extra loop which was the reverse of the start for the long route. I have no explantion why this happened. I put the yellow sign in place myself after the runners went through and when I received a call on the radio about runners saying they had took a wrong turn i went down and checked it and it was still there. It may have fallen over and someone put it back in place or maybe two signs are needed next time. Whatever the explanation, I apologise for those who burnt those extra calories.

As suspected by regular High Fell Events participants there would be a sting in the tail. My cousin Alan had the delightful task of delivering the news to already tired souls. By some miracle no-one punched him in the face and everyone took on the challenge of the final forest slog. There was no track to follow, just join up the dots of the markers and suddenly pop out at the finish line and your day was done.

The fast people came in spread out but soon enough the momentum gathered and a stream of runners piled into the marquee area. Little Alfie dished out the medals as Drew Swinburne and Debra Hedley took the timings. A lot of people chose to stay and watch people emerge out of the shrubbery at the finish area, others chose to collect their t-shirts from Allison Kemp and Alison Chalk (Cotswold Outdoors). Most people made a bee line for the coffee and cake served by Yvonne Kemp and Eileen Wilson and a well earned rest.

The final places were a bit confused and I didn’t figure this out until after. This only effected the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of half marathon and one of the age categories but the evening after the run I received several emails from people saying they had switched distances or allowed someone else to run in their place and the replacement was a different category. No wonder I was confused! Merrell, Mountain Fuel and Cotswold Outdoors all supplied extra pries so many thanks to them. Pedaling Squares supplied free coffee leaflets and who doesn’t love free coffee?

As the organiser it’s this finish area that I very rarely get to see. It was excellent to stop and chat with a runners to find out what they liked and didn’t like. Some of the personal stories are always good and seeing the camaraderie from club members such as the Vegan Runners or AHRC lifts my spirits.

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A massive well done to all involved. You took on one of the regions most technical and challenging half marathons and kicked its butt. There were no doubt a few tired legs afterwards but that’s all part of the event. I wonder how many people will be back to tame Thrunton once again next year and I wonder if I can think of any more sneaky endings?

When the place was deserted of runners the clean up commenced. I say clean up but it should more appropriately be named mu-up as everywhere was covered in a think layer of gloopy mud laced with sand from the forest track. My brother Paul, Alan, Eileen, Yvonne, Brian and George dismantled the marquee in super quick time and piled it in the back of my car. It’s safe to say it needs another outing to be cleaned! After several hours all the cars were packed to the roof and it was time to leave. Some kit would have to be picked up the net day but for now it was time for a well earned rest.

The following day I headed back alone. There is something serene and satisfying about the day after. The kit was quickly cleared and the toilets picked up by Nixon Hire. All that was left was to walk the course and clear the signs. Most had been collected already by Mark Stephenson, Mick Barker and the sweeps for the day Andrew Clark and his wife. Tracking over the route I look down at the footprints and imagine what it’s been like for those who ran through here the previous day. On Monday I had similar views and sat several times to appreciate just how beautiful the place is.

After a long walk with the dog we had completed the loop and that was it for another year. A donation has been made to the Thrunton Trail Builders and I need to repeat that the mountain bike trails used in this event are not for the general public – please keep off them. The whole High Fell Events team and everyone else concerned hopes you had an excellent day out and enjoyed the running. If you have any feedback or suggested changes for next year please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Now how do I find a neck deep mud pit for next year…

If you liked the Thrunton Thriller then take a look at the Cragside Cracker in October as it has similar terrain.  For runs on the open fells have a look at the Ingram Trail Run or the Clennell Trail Run.

Results can be found here: