Hell Freezes Over at the Hobble!
This was my very first fell race: I entered on the day with relative confidence that I could finish it without getting lost but had no idea about how long I would take. It was 0°C when we bundled out of the car into the school sports hall where I was worrying about the kit check. I had all of the essential kit with me, but if I’d been asked any more than could be written on a postage stamp about how to use the compass, I would have failed miserably although my appreciation of the route was helped by having taken the time to study the course map and Google Earth at home.
After a brief pre-race talk we filed out to the start and were off pretty quickly, straight up a viciously steep hill then, after a fairly short section of road, we reached the first check point and turned left onto the fell for the first time. I started off trying to avoid the inevitable foot soaking, but once my feet were wet, there was little to lose, which made navigating through the mud and puddles much easier as I could stop dancing around as much to avoid the water.
It wasn’t long before a vicious snow storm descended upon us, carried on a biting arctic wind. The snow, alternating with hail, was being driven with force horizontally onto the side of my head and face and I was forced to stop and dig around in my brand-new bumbag for some warmer gear. I could see why we had to carry it all. If anyone had to stop with an injury in this, they would become dangerously cold very quickly.
Many were putting on jackets but all I wanted was my hat, which provided as much protection as I felt I needed. Off I went again and was constantly trying to find decent footing. There were huge icy-cold puddles – some almost knee deep – and slippery mud (though not as slippery as Aykley Heads cross-country mud I thought), with the track deeply rutted with loose stones in places making it frequently easier to run on the heather.
Soon I was descending to the first burn where I was protected from the wind, with the snow no longer falling as little ice swords, but as fluffy, fairy-tale, flakes. Then it was steeply up the other side to continue on the exposed track. Although the route was pretty obvious and there were always others to follow, there was at least one place where I could easily have taken a wrong turn but I had my trusty map with me and knew exactly where I was…no compass required!
Not much further along the track we were marshalled back onto the fell where deep ruts seemed to be too narrow to run along the bases and also too narrow to run along the tops so it was a constant battle to keep going. Eventually though, I saw the small plantation that signalled the start of the next road section after which it was a long run along the road to the steep track that led to the final section of exposed fell.
I knew I was more than half way but could not relax into the run because once again, the vicious horizontal snow started, this time full into my face as I was now heading back towards the start. The combined snow and wind was so bad that my face was freezing and incredibly painful. I tried to protect it with my map at the expense of my hands but managed to keep running.
I found this section more challenging than the first and was constantly trying to choose the best line, which was difficult with reduced visibility due to the snow. My legs were starting to feel quite fatigued and I could feel another spectacular face plant coming on (to go with the one I did on the Hardmoors half at Goathland)!
But before anything drastic happened, I’d reached the marshalls on the edge of the fell who were reassuring us that it was “nearly done…all downhill now”. The road ahead seemed to go on for a very long way and I was perturbed not to see any signs of a village. I was overtaken by some runners who seemed to be enjoying the dreaded tarmac that is my personal nemesis.
Then Scott, my husband, appeared as a welcome friendly face to cheer me on and tell me that I didn’t have much further to go. I took great delight in running down the field to the finish line to see Penny and Flip, on their way to the car, cheering me in.
Back in a nice warm sports hall, I was taking off my shoes as requested and whilst my sausage-like fingers were struggling with my laces I was trying desperately to tell a woman who was offering to help runners with their shoes that there was a pin on the floor as lots of runners were in stockinged feet; my frozen face and lips would not respond however, and I couldn’t say the words without gibbering!
I was never so pleased for a warm cup of tea. There were a few pretty sickly looking runners in the hall, shivering in space blankets so I felt quite lucky that I was not hypothermic in such extreme conditions (despite having not used my jacket or gloves) and it was only my face that had felt the cold. Even my hands were warm when I first got back. I did manage a chuckle when I overheard one runner in the hall say that he couldn’t understand why he had to have a compass as he would ever need to draw a circle on the fell!
I was well impressed with the marshalls who were standing around in very exposed places in the same blizzard conditions that it was cold enough running in. They were all friendly, encouraging, and positive. I am really grateful to them for being there for us, and for everyone who baked scones and cakes and fed us hot drinks. I won a nice buff as a spot prize (donated by the race sponsor – the Ultra Runner Store) and it was good to meet the chap who provided them.
I shall never forget the first of what I hope will be many fell races. It was an experience and a half, and I am assured by my husband that I will probably have to do a lot of fell runs to encounter such conditions again.
|1||Ben Abdelnoor||Ambleside AC||MSEN||01:13:22|
|34||Emma Bain||Northumberland Fell Runners||W40||01:25:09|
|109||Camilla Lauren Maatta||W40||01:47:06|
168 finishers. Penny Browell 2nd W40