|I prefer the "finish" to the|
Psychologists say that once is a mistake, twice is a pattern and three times is a habit. That is a slightly offputting statement to read when I realise that I’ve taken part in 3 fell races in the last 4 weeks. I say “taken part” rather than “raced” as I wouldn’t want to offend any proper fell runner by comparing my stumbling around with girlie arms to their nimble footed goat-like ability to fly over the roughest and steepest terrain.
I know that I’m not very good at running on any surface except for smooth tarmac - partly due to a lack of confidence, partly due to an inability to pick my feet up (I have been known to trip over the toes of my shoes on hospital ward rounds, never mind fall over kerbs in 100k road races!), partly due to fear (of falling and hurting myself....and also of falling and embarrassing myself), partly to a lack of practice, and mainly due to a lack of talent. Obviously I cannot do much about some of the variables, but others I can try to work on.
|Driving into Howtown|
I do almost all of my running alone and know myself well enough to realise that if left to my own devices, I’d find a relatively flat easy road route that I could pootle round without getting lost and also without getting it if my comfort zone. Taking part in a fell race forces me to run off road and also to run at a faster pace/higher intensity than I’d naturally choose to do. They still scare the living daylights out of me and “entry on the day” is my enemy as I look for more reasons to “not enter” on the day than I do to take part (I’m enough of a miser that having paid beforehand is more likely to make me turn up and run)!
|My race route|
I was driving back from the Lakes along the shores of Ullswater and so decided to enter the Howtown Fell Race as it was only a few miles out of my way and would only cost me £4 for a 14mile "run" with 4 checkpoints and 1400m of elevation gain/loss. My fears still kicked in, and I was almost praying that I'd get stuck behind a tractor on the single lane road to the parking field and so arrive too late to take part (as I drove up to the field, I was still tempted to do a u-turn and go home). Unfortunately I made it with enough time to register and pass the kit check (I'm amazed at how many people argue about "compulsory" kit - if it says "taped seams" and a "hat not a buff", then that is what you should have!).
|The first climb|
My inability to start at the front and sprint off across the grass/up the hill was a definite handicap on a run such as this, as within the first 50m, there was a narrow gate to go through, and I ended up in a stationary line of people awaiting my turn to squeeze through. From this gate there was a very narrow track climbing steeply up through the bracken, and it was a while before it widened out enough for me to be able to start to pass people safely. The race started at Howtown, on the shores of Ullswater at 145m and the first checkpoint was on top of Loadpot Hill at 671m. Although not runnable all the way up (I imagine that even the best of the field didn't run the whole way), I managed to move at a decent pace and passed a large proportion of the field to summit on my own. From Loadpot Hill there is a great view back down over Ullswater, but I wasn't hanging around to look at it, as from there it looked like a great grassy run (well, there were a few muddy spots too!) along to the summit of High Raise (checkpoint 2 at 803m). I had been encouraging myself to keep working between CPs 1 & 2 as this runnable terrain suited me better and I could reel in a few more men. I also counted off the checkpoints, as I decided that even if I DNF the event, each CP was worth £1 of entry fee!!
|Heading to the first CP|
|The CP staff weren't as hot as the runners!|
From High Raise, myself a few guys around me seemed to take a good line to cut across the head of the valley onto the Coast to Coast path down towards Angle Tarn, but this path became very rough and rocky and I lost a decent amount of time through not having the confidence to run at a decent pace or pick my feet up (I was very worried about rolling my ankles or falling). As I got to Angle Tarn I couldn't see any runners around and was rather worried about not turning off the Coast to Coast path early enough and so ending up in the wrong valley.
|A "Yukon reunion"|
As it turns out, I cut off it too soon and lost even more time and several more places by taking a random rough circuitous route round the Angletarn Pikes. On rejoining the ideal racing route descending to the next col, there were suddenly several men and a lady off ahead of me that I'd not seen earlier in the day. I expended a decent amount of energy making positions back up on the climb to Place Fell whilst briefly enjoying the views down to Patterdale. The Place Fell CP (657m) gave me a bit of a shock as it was manned by someone I hadn't seen in years - in fact, not since we worked together in the Yukon about 15 years ago!!! It would have been lovely to hang around and catch up, but all I managed was a few words and a wave :-)
|Summiting Hallin Fell|
I had been dreading the next section as it was described as a "dash off Place Fell", and though I managed the initial grassy descent quite well, as it got steeper and rougher, those ahead disappeared away into the distance and a couple of guys again caught me - though two did thank me for "showing them a good line" (my private thoughts were that it was just a shame that I couldn't really run said "good line" very fast). We descended to the valley floor, practically lake level and had a short section up and down on tarmac until hitting the last climb. The final checkpoint was up on the summit of Hallin Fell (388m) and although it looked like the route marked on the map went straight up and back down the same way, I didn't see any of the ladies ahead of me coming down as I went up, so I figured that they were long gone. The climb was all on grass so I was happy to run back down it at a descent speed (for me) and then there was a tiny short road stretch to the finish. As it turned out, some runners had taken a diff (shorter) route off the back of Hallin Fell and rejoined the road just before the finish - full marks to them for having reccied it!!
|A welcome sign ("cake this way!"|
As it was I was very happy just to finish in one piece, and even more so when I found out that I was 3rd lady and 1st LV40.....but the best bit was the amazing spread of cakes! Even with me doing my best to demolish the feast (the £4 entry fee was nothing compared to the number of pieces of cake and traybake I had) I gather there was still food left over....must try harder next time!!!
|The paired long Leg 3|
Two weeks later and I was on my way back from a few days cycling round the Pembrokeshire Coast, when I found myself detouring over to the Peak District to take part in the Long Tour of Bradwell Relay race with my friends from Ripley Running Club. This was a 6 person team event based on the original Long Tour of Bradwell race route, a 57km/36mile and 1934m6350ft rollercoaster run, divided up into 4 legs – 2 long pairs, 1 medium solo and 1 short solo. We were a mixed team and so the boys started us off on a long paired leg of 11.5miles from Bradwell before handing over to Fi for the solo Leg 2. Unfortunately she got rather lost and so the 3 miles up and down a hill took her the best part of an hour, but luckily Matt and I were unaware of this as we set off from Hope on on leg 3 (the longest leg - 16miles with about 2200ft of elevation change). Esther ran our "glory" leg of 5.6 miles back from Hathersage to the start/finish in Bradwell.
To make it a more interesting/sociable event, each leg went off as a mass start......but Matt and I nearly missed ours as we were still pinning on his number and chatting as the rest of the field set off. We chased everyone along the quiet residential streets of Hope and were soon climbing up the edge of Win Hill (though a ladies' pair we passed did tell us that we weren't trying nearly hard enough as we were chatting all the way - we proceeded to do this for the whole run covering every topic under the sun). Everyone had spread out by now so luckily we were running alone as we negotiated a surprised a group of walkers coming up from Ladybower Reservoir. After dibbing in to a control on a fence corner we rounded a hairpin and headed back towards the Hope Valley along the line of a disused railway. We checked the route a couple of times on our maps as there were lots of diverging trails but still managed to run a bit far before turning off across some fields towards Bamford and the next CP (on some pretty stepping stones across the river. It turns out that we weren't the only people to have gone wrong as we heard panting behind us as we headed up a narrow pathway after crossing a busy road. A pair of Matlock boys (the fastest runners in the field) were desperate to make up time/places and we happily stepped aside to let them race past as they were working hard and dripping with sweat.
From there we headed up and onto Stanage Edge and an absolutely beautiful part of the run. I probably climb a bit quicker than Matt and he descends better than me, so we averaged each other out on this terrain, though as it turns out we were both running as hard as we felt we could, worried about letting the other one down! The views off the Edge and down over the valley were amazing, but there wasn't much spare time to look at them, as it took a lot of concentration to boulder hop without turning an ankle....and playing dodgems with all the walkers out enjoying the warm (hot for us!!) sunny day (in the mid-20s). As we dropped down to the road crossing before Burbage Moor, a couple cut onto the path ahead of us from our left (they'd used their local knowledge/previous recceing to avoid the highest part of the Edge). Luckily we caught them by the time we got to the CP (where the track left the road again) as none of our dibbers seemed to register, so we swopped numbers in case asked to confirm we'd actually been there later.
|The edge of Burbage Moor|
Matt talked about wrecking his legs running as fast as he could on the track down off Burbage Moor in fell races so I prayed he would go easy on me, as we still had several miles left to run once we got down to the valley. We still went down at a fair lick (especially for me considering it was downhill, but at least it was a track and not a technical descent). We caught up with another pair who'd been out of sight in front of us and dropped those who'd been at the CP with us. I had a cunning idea for the road crossing at the bottom - we had to dib to stop the clock at one side and then again to restart the clock at the other side (so that people crossed safely without rushing out into fast traffic). After stopping the clock, we sat down and had a drink, and then I had a "convenience" break after crossing the road before we clocked back on. I may have thought it was my secret cunning plan, but when the others arrived, they all did similar (well - 1 guy "had" to as he arrived long before his teammate and they had to dib together).
The next section was not quite my cup of tea as we followed a walking route down into the valley. It would have been a lovely walk, but running it required a good deal of concentration as there were many rough rocky sections, and some steep, muddy, rooty sections through the woods. There was then an incredibly steep downhill on road before we crossed the railway line and were down to the riverside meadows. I was still trying my hardest not to let Matt down so we managed to catch up and pass two pairs, before hitting the final country road along to Hathersage. This road seemed to go on and on, and we were both starting to fade - my legs felt shaky and wobbly and I was definitely hot, bothered....and rather dehydrated. We thought that we'd run way further than expected so that by the time we hit the main road, we had our maps back out and were examining them despairingly. This shows how exhausted we were, as when we collected our thoughts and turned again to the right, we saw the marshal holding the end of leg dibber round the side of a building about 100m away. Unfortunately this marshal, and a water container, was all there was at the finish.....but I stayed my shakes by eating my emergency food (that actually hadn't been kitchecked).
We picked up the car of another Ripley leg 4 runner, drive back to Hope to get mine, and then on to the finish in Bradwell to join the rest of the team in a well earnt recovery cup of tea (ok, so I admit we did buy drinks, butties and cakes shortly afterwards). Despite the nav dramas of Leg 2, we still finished as the second mixed team (beating the male Ripley team) and thanked the organisers for a great new event that we would all love to take part in again in the future.
|The start of the Cross Fell race|
I visited my parents (and visiting godparents) a mere week later, and decided to give another fell race a go on my drive home. Again, the start/finish was all of a couple of miles off my route home, and it made me get out and run faster and further than I would have otherwise done. This was Cross Fell Race - a 15mile "lollipop" route with 680m of climb, taking in the summit of Cross Fell, which is the highest peak in the Pennines. Registration was in the village hall in Garrigill (just off the road from Durham to Alston, which was the way I was driving back home) and when I got there, I realised that although I've never run in that area at all, I'd been to the village hall before as it had been a fuel station for a Sportive that I did last year.
|Climbing up Black Band|
I took my compulsory FRA kit to register and get my number, but no one wanted to look at it, so I joined the others on the village green for a short briefing and then we were off, along the road south out of the village. After a few hundred metres, we headed off to the right to climb up Black Band (a climb of a couple of hundred metres) on a gravelly track. I'd been at the back after the initial start sprint but people started to drop back as soon as the route steepened. Although steep, it was all runnable and by the time it flattened out and started to undulate towards where I could see Cross Fell rising in the distance, I could only see one lady ahead of me. We had been told that a 4WD would be stationed near a gate as a water station to be passed on the way out and the way back, but when I passed it, there was no sign of any water, just a man sitting in the front seat of his vehicle.
After this the track (it was actually the Pennine Way) became much rougher and covered with broken rocks as it climbed up through some old mine workings and then skirted around to the north side of Cross Fell. Those ahead of me seemed much more comfortable on the terrain than I was as I seemed to roll one ankle or the other with every second step. By the time I cut off the path to start climbing to the summit, the mist was closing in around me. I knew that the ascent had been described as "boggy" but I hoped that all the recent hot dry weather might have improved things. Unfortunately, this was not to be, and I soaked my feet several times over before reaching a rocky outcrop and then following a line of cairns up to the summit plateau.
I had to trust in my own navigation at this point (that's why a map and compass are part of the compulsory kit) as the mist was really quite thick and I could see neither the summit Cross nor any other runners (the visibility was less than 20m at times). The route description had mentioned following another line of cairns through the boulder field if it was misty, but I could hardly see any cairns, so I decided that it was more sensible to run on a bearing. Coming out of the mist, I didn't think I'd done too badly as I could see the broken gate I was meant to be heading for, and I think I must have picked a better line than the man who'd been ahead of me on the ascent, as i spotted him not far away, aiming for the gate but coming from slightly below and to my right. As I got to the gate, the marshal told me that I was 2nd lady which did give me a bit of a boost.
|The official route|
Unfortunately the boost didn't last long as there was no path from this point onwards, though I had been told before the race by one of the organisers that I wouldn't go wrong if I "followed the small white poles". Scanning around I spotted a small white pole and so headed for it, and then the next one and then the next one. There was nobody ahead of me, but when I turned round, people seemed to be heading in my direction, so although it felt to me that I was heading way too far off to the right, I figured I must just be a bit disorientated and actually be going in the right direction. It became harder and harder to run as the ground got rougher amongst the peat hags....and then I spotted many more white posts going off in various directions.
I stopped and reassessed.....there was no one around me and white poles aplenty in various directions (as I found out later these were grouse poles and not to be followed)...so I started making my way back towards where I thought I should have been. The peat hags and long rough grass were really tiring to work through so I admit to not exactly running the whole way. I was so annoyed with myself for not having trusted my instincts, when I spotted other runners back on a rough track that had appeared and was heading back towards the Pennine Way. By the time I made it onto this track, my legs felt like lead, but as I was now 5th lady, I forced them to keep moving.
The "water station" was just after the track rejoined the Pennine Way and again, it was rather a nonevent, as there was a vehicle sitting at the side but no obvious marshal, water or cups. As the route stretched out ahead of me for the next couple of miles, I could see the distances I had to try to make up to get back to where I had been. The undulations and corners weren't so bad as it meant there were times when you could see no-one and then suddenly someone popped into view closer than they had been. I managed to reel in a few guys and gradually the ladies came back to me as well.
|Not a bad day's effort|
By the time I got to a point that I recognised as having been 2 miles from the start/finish, I was back into 2nd position and knew there was no way that I would even catch sight of the leading lady again. It was more of a case of solidifying that second place, especially as the last two miles were all downhill, mostly on rough track. I tried to channel my inner self into being like friends who are much better descenders than me and "hammer it" as much as I could (so actually not that fast!!!). I knew someone was catching me, but when he let out a huge burp, I have to say it was a massive relief as it was a "manly" noise so not one of the ladies coming back to me. I survived the gravelly descent and went as fast as my knackered legs would let me on the last few hundred metres of tarmac, almost closing down anther man but just running out of race.
Still, I was very happy with 2nd lady and 1st LV40 ....but even more happy with the huge spread of cakes in the village hall afterwards (and the kind ladies serving them also packaged up some for me to take on my way when they heard I had a long drive ahead of me....you have to love the fell running community)!