I’d not planned to race Holme Moss, having trained with an eye on Wasdale, the week before. However, having being unable to get transport over to the Lakes and ‘chomping at the bit’ for a chance to race again, I scanned the FRA calendar for anything marked ‘AL’ that could feasibly be reached by public transport. This SW Yorks classic ticked all the boxes. The early Sunday train to Manchester dropping me at Huddersfield and a directionally-challenged taxi driver (we had to dismantle then replace a Yorkshire Water barrier due to route choice), running me the last few miles to Cartworth Moor Cricket Club, which sat sun-baked above Holmfirth. It was clear that it was going to be warm and little of the mandatory kit was likely to be needed. Sun-cream and Vaseline were of more use in the conditions. It was also apparent that there was a fair amount of talent from the Yorkshire clubs, with the sharp end of the field assembled on the farm track for the start looking distinctly lean and focused.
The first mile was exactly what you’d expect when the race begins on a hard, straight track, falling initially then rising steadily towards a road, with a hard pace being set by the frontrunners and everyone else hanging on, slowly falling away, in the white dust kicked up by their heels. As is all too often the case for someone who likes a steady start but is aware that after a short time, paths will narrow and overtaking become more difficult, this felt unpleasantly quick all the way along the track, over 100m of road (CP1) and then upwards onto the moor. It was also worrying that in a race of 17 miles, it appeared that little of the 4000′ ascent had taken place in the first mile and would not take place in the last, leaving less distance to squeeze all that climbing into; the reason became apparent as we crested the moor and dropped hard and fast down a dry path cut through the heather to Riding Wood reservoir.
I was conscious that overtaking was impossible here, so needed not to annoy the runners behind by my usual cautious descending, and was therefore relieved that conditions were dry and I reached the metal bridge over the stream feeding the reservoir intact and un-bruised. From here, things steadied a little, and the next two miles were a steady climb up to Holme Moss summit, traversing on fairly good paths the flank of Twizzle Head Moss, ascending at a gradient that increased slowly but permitted running until the final 300m before hitting the road, and the 4-mile point.
We were greeted with cowbells and a blanket of low cloud; less welcome for me was the realisation that on hard ground my shoe choice had been poor, both heels having just enough room to achieve lateral movement sufficient to start stripping the skin from them. I felt I was running well, and estimated I was around 30th, but also knew that every mile from here on out was going to hurt.
Had my feet been in good nick, the fun would truly have begun here, as the meat of the race is in this middle segment, with a rapid descent through tussocks to Heyden Brook, a sharp climb then gradual rise to Westend Moss, mostly on peat that was firm but with just enough spring in it to be fun, then a long descent to Crowden (CP3), the only cut-off at 7.5 miles. Writing this report nearly three months later I cannot really recall how this felt, as the human mind is notoriously bad at recollection of pain, but objectively I lost at least half a dozen places and had a good think about ‘Doffing’, in order to JUST MAKE IT STOP.
Looking back, knowing that I made the cut-off by only 15 minutes whilst still in the top third of the field, it strikes me that this is a race not generous with its timings. Anyway, had I been sensible, the report would end here except for maybe a sentence or two of regret for the wise decision to spare my feet, which by now had blistered, burst and were working on deeper blisters. I didn’t, so on we go – to the farm track that crossed Crowden Little Brook then hand-railed Crowden Great Brook, then to the long haul up Bareholme Moss, ascending back into the clouds (and picking off a few runners also), to CP4 and the inevitable comment of ‘got your number, 118,’ (accompanied by salacious wink) from a Holmfirth Harriers’ marshal; she gave me a jelly baby also, so this was tolerated a lot better than when the same words escape the mouths of a posse of chavs in a Micra on the A167.
From here it was straight back down again through pathless heather, splashing in Crowden Great Brook and stopping to take the waters, then up the other side through rocks and bracken that obscured all vision. It was here that I made my first and only nav. error of the day, staying too far north to pick up the path that led out of the bracken to the base of Laddow Rocks; with visibility of about 0.5 metres in all direction, the compass had to come out to point me through the ‘forest’ and into the light (I shall worry about the carcinogen exposure another day). The rocks were a three-points-of-contact affair, though dry sandstone is as good a surface as one could get for this, with water waiting at the top courtesy of marshals and a quad bike (CP5). This last mile had taken nearly 20 minutes.
Interestingly, memory tells me the next 4 miles (to Black Hill, CP6, and then down to Holme Moss) were fairly easy running along the Pennine Way then a good, twisting track over more firm peat, and it appears that I averaged 9.30min/mile for this chunk of the race, though the map tells me I climbed around 500′ to reach Black Hill, then descended off it again back to the road. I also know that by now my feet were feeling pretty dreadful, but that I’d broken the back of the race and others were definitely flagging even faster than I, so pushed as hard as I could and regained further places.
Road crossed again (at around 13.5m), the next four miles were a re-tracing of the first four, the traverse down Twizzle Head being pretty dreadful on the feet but offering tantalising glimpses of the reservoirs and conifer plantations near the start.
Finally I hit the metal bridge again and set off uphill, determined to run for as long as possible and to overhaul at least a couple of the line of runners strung out up the last hill – the GPS at one point seemed to think I’d stopped moving, but I made up two places when others stopped to gasp in air, and then another two on very wobbly legs on the shooting track back down to the road.
The last 0.9 miles, deathly dull, back along the roasting, dusty farm track, were hard work but also somehow the fastest of the day at 7.17 min/mile pace, gaining me another three places and seeing me finish in 26th place of 126 starters (my 3:18 finish some way behind winner Karl Gray’s 2:33). In other words, all the hard work of the last 8 miles had brought me back to where I’d been at the 4-mile point; such is the glorious futility of fell-running, and tea rarely tastes as good as when provided in vast volumes whilst watching other runners struggling up the finishing field, all various shades of lobster.
In summary: good race, hard but not too technical, bad shoe choice (my flayed heels made walking rather sore for the next week), rather glad I did it even if not originally planned; I’m also rather taken by the fact that entry, 2x advance rail tickets bought the week before and taxi there/bus back came to almost exactly this year’s GNR entry fee.