Two Striders teams ran the British Fell Runners Championship Relays 2023 at Braithwaite in the Lake District: a mixed team and a men’s veterans team, with twelve runners in all. The relays coincided with Emily’s Purple parkrun at Jubilee Park, Spennymoor, which raised money for the Darlington and County Durham Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre. Our teams wanted to support the cause too, and so Tamsin had the brilliant idea to set up a table of cakes baked by Striders, which raised a pot-full of donations for Emily’s fundraiser.
Tamsin named the cakes to give a flavour of fell running. Since it was my first taste of fell running relays, and my first time running a fell race without a marked route, I thought I’d borrow the names to write my report.
Lost in the Mist
We arrived at Braithwaite early, and found the Striders tent already set up in the designated field by Nina, who had camped overnight. From there we looked up at Barrow, the fell at the start and end of the route. Its peak was lost in the mist; the rest of the course lay somewhere behind it, up in the clouds. That made me more than a little apprehensive about getting round, because I was on the paired navigation route, which meant that James and I would only be given the map of our checkpoints 400m after setting off, for a 10k run with a 705m climb. Whenever I got nervous I checked my printed corner of the OS map to try to remember the lay of the land.
Happily James knows what he’s doing up a fell! So does Susan, and she was running the first leg on our mixed team, up Stile End and back round Barrow. We cheered her off, and David too on the men’s team. When they came back, Nina and Tamsin set off for the second leg on our team, with Aaron and Stuart for the men’s team. Those of us running leg three waited in the starting pen and speculated on the likely route. After a while Geoff and Nick spotted Stuart’s orange cap on the horizon, and set off with a slight advantage over us.
Fragranced with Lakeland Ale
Not long after James and I set off on our leg we fell into a bog up Barrow Gill. We couldn’t tell which step would land on firm ground and which step would give way. My left leg sank up to the knee, but there I was lucky. James plunged right in and had to cast aside his map to crawl out again. Fragranced with Lakeland ale, and acclimatised to the conditions, we pushed on in search of the first checkpoint. I did the dibbing – the easy job! – while James did the navigating. Compass round his neck, James picked the best line over the fell as we neared Stile End, and we dropped down onto Coledale Beck at an angle that meant we gained ground on other runners. I trod more carefully than before, wondering which moss might next collapse underfoot.
Up and down
After wading into the beck for our second and third checkpoints, we next headed up the steep and rocky slope to Scot Crag for our fourth. There was no sign of Geoff and Nick. It was some relief that we didn’t have to climb Crag Hill and Sail like Nina and Tamsin had done on their leg, which went higher and further overall, according to a planned route that lasted 12.6km over a 1030m climb. Those peaks were up in the clouds and exposed to the wind. Still I found it a hard climb and we slowed to a walk with hands on thighs.
Our route to the fifth and sixth checkpoints led us to contour along the slope below the ridge of Scar Craggs. It was tough on the ankles, but at least we had shelter from the breeze. Other runners picked a path lower down the fell and nearer Stonycroft Gill, which meant they didn’t have the fun of tearing down the slope to the fifth checkpoint through bracken and moss, arms swinging in windmills for balance. James had recced the area with Geoff a week ahead, and I could tell how helpful it was to understand the lie of the land before picking a path.
Bash up Your Legs
The seventh checkpoint looked straightforward. All we had to do was follow a straight line on the map past the peak at Barrow. We chased after the other runners to contour round the east side. But there we ran into a thick barrier of heather on a steep incline, with slippery rocks underfoot and no path. I tripped over a half-concealed stream and grazed my knee. Our pace slowed right down. It was exhausting. I wondered if we would ever get round. The heather will bash up your legs and wear you down.
When we got back to the tent we heard that one runner from Braithwaite took a longer path round the west side of the peak, before cutting back onto the main route. Local knowledge can save minutes from your time and scratches from your knees.
We caught up with Geoff and Nick at the sixth and final checkpoint, just as the course started to open up for the final descent down Barrow. At last the route was marked with flags. Some rocky patches made this section a little technical too. I shoved the map in my pocket and opened up my stride where I could. We knew that we still had to make a final ascent to the finish line, a ‘sting in the tail’ as David and Susan had warned us from their leg. After that climb drained the last of our effort, we made the last dib and the end was in sight.
Hurtling down the final slope I heard Nina and Stuart cheering us on and that made me laugh down to the finish line. I love a good canter downhill – it beats climbing uphill by miles. This time the finish was tight and it was hard to slow down before the barrier. Apologies again to the marshal I nearly crashed into when I tried to dib on the way out! I looked around for the other Striders but Lindsay and Mark had already set off for their final leg.
Elvet Striders Special
Before these relays I’d enjoyed some fell races over the summer, but they always had a fairly clear route to follow. This was my first navigation leg and it was great fun. Running with the Striders team made me feel like I could manage it, and James showed me how it’s done. Next I want to do some orienteering training: my Duke of Edinburgh Award is twenty years out of date…
While James and I were running our third leg, Tamsin had moved the cake stall to set up by the beer tent. After we got back, it took a while to rehydrate and get changed into some warm and dry clothes. In the meantime, the cakes had sold out! Elvet Striders Special.
Photos courtesy of Stuart, Nick, James, Mark, and Nina; cakes courtesy of David, Jack, Jan, Julie, Oei-Chi, and Tamsin!
Note, the four legs were as follows:
- Solo; 4.6km, 470m ascent,
- Pairs; 12.6km, 1030m ascent,
- Pairs with navigation; 10.0km, 705m ascent,
- Solo; 6.9km; 560m ascent.
|Dark Peak – Alport
|Ambleside V40 Men
|Vet 40 Men
|Dark Peak – Mixed
|Helm Hill Runners F Open
|Elvet Striders Men
|Vet 40 Men
|Stuart Scott & Aaron Gourley
|Nick Latham & Geoff Davis
|Elvet Striders Mixed
|Nina Mason & Tamsin Imber
|James Garland & Tom Hamilton
Full results can be found at SPORTident.
The race details can be found here.