Category Archives: FRA-AL

The Fell Runners Association explains race categories in its Rules for competition (pdf) document, but a relevant summary can be found below.

Category A
Should average not less than 50 metres climb per kilometre.
Should not have more than 20% of the race distance on road.
Should be at least 1.5 kilometres in length.

Category L
A category “L” (long) race is 20 kilometres or over.

Tour of Pendle Fell Race 4830′, AL, Barley Village, SW Pennines, Saturday, November 18, 2017

16.8 miles

Paul Evans

‘I’ve not yet done the full course, so back next year it is.’

Photo Courtesy of Phil Donlan

So said I, two years ago, after the Tour was shortened due to inclement weather (for a fell race, this takes a lot), shortly before developing an unhealthy relationship with work for the next year, with far too many hours spent behind a desk and training tailing off somewhat, along with any motivation to run. The extra stone or so, as a result of this inactivity and a love of bacon, was not exactly helpful either.

Instead, let us forward two years, to now, minus 36 hours, when I stood back on the line (actually, tucked somewhere halfway down the field, safely away from the pointy end), ready for the hammer to drop on this compact, punchy East Lancs race: conditions excellent (cold, clear, blustery but no rain), field sizeable (c400) and Strider numbers one (plus an ex-Strider now running for Kirkstall Harriers). I’d had my porridge at a suitably ghastly hour, had found actual toilet paper in the toilets and was full of tea, so all was basically good. Better yet, earlier XC fixtures at Wrekenton and Druridge had even seen the return of something that felt like competitiveness, which boded well.

The race begins with a fairly flat mile on the reservoir track, primarily to permit the field to spread before turning due north up the slopes of Buttock, onto Pendle Hill. This passed quickly, with a degree of mild frustration when trying to pass slower runners, until I reminded myself there was a long way to go and a lot of it would be spent walking; this indeed occurred shortly, with the first climb being a run/walk affair until the contour lines began to space out and permit a steady pace to be achieved up to the trig at CP1, the high point of Pendle Hill (in case you’re wondering, the entire race is essentially an up-down affair of one hill, the hill only being 558m in height). The top was wet but runnable, and the leg down to CP2 was a delight, what with being able to see this year, all of it downhill and none of it steep – 2 miles of pleasure, with only the wet ground at all hazardous (reader, we had bottom/ground interface for the first time when ambition trumped ability in an over-taking attempt), then another easy half mile to CP3, hand-railing another reservoir.

Photo Courtesy of Phil DonlanThe fun was now over, and we needed to climb sharply through slippery mud and bracken, then back onto the
moorland; this was slow, but profitable in terms of places, and I crested ahead of those who’d come past me on the way down. I then saw them again as they flew past me on the infamous ‘Geronimo’ descent, which started slowly, got faster as I gained confidence and finished sliding on my posterior, stopping just short of the stream of Ogden Clough (CP4); this was 2 climbs and descents of a total 6 accomplished, and it was starting to hurt, though the field was beginning to spread and I was gaining one or two more places on each climb or flat section than I was losing. I’d also acquired some blood on my right hand and face (another runner pointed this out), though was unclear how.

Through the stream and sharp left, we ran single-file along a narrow, rocky path towards the headwaters, then crossed it again and made a shorter climb that was actually runnable for the second half (another place gained) before dropping gradually, at proper running pace again, to CP5, legs loosening and enjoying the chance to stretch out. Up again to CP6, another left off the top, with yet more descending like a crab/ball/a.n.other thing incapable of running in a straight line on feet, and it was onto the final two climbs, those missed off the bad-weather course of two years ago. Going back onto the top to CP 8 started well, though the horror of concave slopes is that they get harder the closer you get to the top, so the first hundred or so yards were fine, unless you raised your eyes and looked up at the grassy wall in front – the one peppered with dots of colour, all moving slowly upwards. I would say that everyone was suffering by this point, but realistically the winners were nearly home by now, so that would be untrue; the rest of us were firmly in ‘hands-on-thighs’ mode, though I managed to steal a place or two by getting hands-on and essentially crawling upwards, hitting CP 8, embellished with a massive union flag blowing in the wind along with the waterproofs of the well-wrapped marshals.

Photo Courtesy of Phil DonlanI now knew we had half a mile of running on the flat top of Pendle, another descent, a final climb and then home for tea and cake. It played out essentially that way, with me holding my place on the top, dropping a couple on the downhill section (a few little crags on this one, just to keep you on your toes), then working as hard as possible, again with hands-on-grass, on the last uphill, knowing this was the last chance to push for places – in the event, I gained half a dozen or so, and hit CP10 (at the trig passed on the first leg) opening my legs desperate to hold whatever slim advantage had been gained in the last 15 miles. The leg to CP11 was the reverse of the initial leg, but a little to the west – grassy and downhill all the way to Ogden Clough, easy running and probably fun were it not for the competition. It hit me here that I wanted this place, wherever in the field I was, and that the competitive urge largely absent for a long while was back – I would probably not resort to knee-capping other runners to hold my position (this isn’t XC, after all!), but I’d not dismiss the idea out of hand…idle thoughts aside, I had breath in my right ear and the vests of Bowland, Todmorden, Rossendale and some club in red ahead of me, all of them possibly catchable. Some, on the reservoir road that makes up the final mile, were caught, others were not, and some who’d not been in sight initially were chased fruitlessly as I got closer – there was even an approximation of a sprint finish, entirely in vain as I was never going to make up 30 yards on someone who was themselves only 20 yards from the line.

That, then, was that – the line crossed, a ‘well done’ from the time-keeper and handshakes with those in front and behind me for a race hard-fought, whilst drinking from the jerry-cans of water set out for runners. 17 miles done and a category AL race in the bag, for the grand cost of £9. As things stand, writing this on Sunday evening whilst wearing the race T-shirt that the organisers throw in), I don’t actually know my finishing time (3hrs-ish?), nor my position (top half?), but am satisfied they couldn’t have been a lot better on the day in what is always going to be a hard race, no matter the conditions: six times up and six times down a hill that’s not that high sound so much easier than it actually is.

Helvellyn and the Dodds Fell Race, Threlkeld, Cumbria, Sunday, May 28, 2017

AL / 24km /1337m

Elaine Bisson

So I’d stupidly made a deal with myself, if I didn’t run as I hoped at Windermere marathon and could walk down the stairs the next day, I would enter this race. I didn’t run the race I hoped, my ankle had been causing bother, I could walk. I spent the week icing my swollen ankle and rolling my calf…all fun and games to convince my husband this idea was perfectly reasonable!

I packed my bag with full compulsory fell kit and had had a wonderful sleep. This race doesn’t start until 12, I could almost lie in (we have three kids) and still have breakfast and drive the two hours to the race headquarters at Threlkeld cricket club. I knew what was in store having recced this with Geoff and Susan the previous summer. Susan had then suggested that I try the race at which time I’d thought her quite mad, especially as I’d spent a considerable time attempting to come down Clough Head, how a year changes you!

Having registered I returned to hide in my car and stare up at Clough head, then covered in cloud. My second deal was simple, if visibility was poor I’d not run the race but do a training run in the lakes. I rechecked the mountain weather forecast which declared with utmost certainty that all tops would be clear by early afternoon affording spectacular views. Not convinced and chilled by the wind I put on my long sleeved top and returned to the cricket ground to have a few laps warm up.

With ten minutes to spare we all sidled to the start, all kits were checked and a race briefing was held. The only thing I remember as panic rises in my chest “visibility is poor, up to 50m at most, keep maps and compasses to hand. Remember if you come off Clough head too early you’ll come a cropper”.

And so there is Tarmac, about a mile,my ankle no longer likes Tarmac, I could feel the limp coming until open fell and up to Clough Head. It’s steep, there are little foot holds like rungs on a ladder. It’s important to get in the right group early on, I find myself going off piste to cut round slower people. At the top wisps of cloud drift down until it’s full on clag. First checkpoint (there are seven…four out three back, Clough Head, Great Dodd, Raise, Helvellyn) in the bag then I try my best to hang onto the men who were all in fell runner club vests. At times they disappearear and I blindly search for those lithe people rather than starting to follow the walkers heavily laden with kit and clothes. There’s a short section everyone skips around Stybarrow Dodd on a sheer grass drop. It’s grass, there’s a bit of a trod. But yikes I’m far too slow and again they leave me for dust. By Raise, the sky has cleared and I’m sweltering, slowing I take off my long sleeved top then set off again.

This out leg I try to keep pace with those around me,the ups seem almost too comfortable but I want to ensure I have enough left in the tank to get back, especially with last week’s marathon still lingering in my legs. It is a breathtaking place to be, the views are incredible.

The sun blisters down and beats on our backs. It is busy coming up Helvellyn Lower Man, trying to pass the many walkers out and keeping out of the way of the fast runners on their way home..that is a thing of beauty to behold lots of extremely fit runners skipping seemingly effortlessly across the rocks.

Helvellyn in the bag I decide to work harder now, I start to really enjoy myself, my ankle on this soft ground isn’t causing as much bother as I’d thought. By then I’ve fallen in with two men, we chat on the ups and I seem to pull them up, they in turn force me to run faster on the descents.

Now back to Clough head, the descent is grassy but extremely steep. By halfway I’ve really got frustrated with myself, I manage to catch one person but a fair few fly past me, I curse myself for my slowness. Then finally the slope lessens and I am able to stretch out my legs it feels glorious and onto the the final downhill stretch on tarmac. I reach the end elated, I’ve done it. Something last year I don’t think I would have dreamed of going near. I’ve finished 7th lass (as all marshals and runners refer to me) 61st overall. My time 3:09 is reasonable. My ankle isn’t complaining too much. The princely fee of £7 does not afford a race Tshirt or medal but it does give a sense of pride, the most spectacular day out and includes in the cost a fabulous picnic buffet…for runners 2 sandwiches, tomato, 1 cake and a tea or coffee. I fill my napkin and enjoy my picnic on the grassy field looking up to Clough Head deeply satisfied.

I’d done it, perhaps not done it justice, but done it all the same. I knew that the me of last year would be incredibly proud if not slightly gobsmacked. I’ll definitely return to this and give it all I’ve got, it’s a beautiful brute of a race, there’s quite a bit of technical work I need to crack before then though…more days in the lakes then!!!

Results available here

Sedbergh Hills, Sunday, August 14, 2016

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. King/Queen of the Mountain Race - click flag for more information. AL / 14m / 6004ft

Dougie Nisbet

The start at the People's Hall.

For the first time in ages I’ve felt recently that I had some sort of form returning. Perhaps it was time to try an ‘AL’. Haven’t done one for years. Find out what sort of shape I’m in. Well, now I know. Still, at least you get a prize for being last.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Catpos Time
1 Steven Snape Salford Harriers M 02:26:55
26 Nina Walkingshaw Howgill F 02:57:53
43 Penny Browell F 3 03:16:23
77 Paul Evans M 03:48:10
85 Stephanie Piper F 04:02:51
92 Dougie Nisbet M 04:29:06

92 finishers
Penny was 3rd Lady. Dougie got a prize for “bringing up the rear”

Borrowdale Fell Race, Saturday, August 6, 2016

AL / 16.8m / 6562ft

Danny Lim

 

Photo of Danny Lim traversing boulder field. I was stood in a field in Rosthwaite, a tranquil village nestled amongst the central fells of the Lake District. “Hello Danny!”. I looked up to see a familiar face, it was Trevor Matty from Dark Peak. Last year, we hobbled together, cramping up in agony as we made our way to the final checkpoint. We never made it in time for the cut-off and rode the “bus of shame” to the finish. This year, we were back with a score. I was apprehensive as I left home, but had a bit of a morale boost when I bumped into Striders Geoff, Susan, Jules, Steph & Mike H at Penrith service station.

The first mile of the race resembled the Great North Run with jostling and walking as the horde crammed through narrow gates. But it wasn’t long before track became footpath then trod. As we passed the final gate, Billy Bland (the record holder of 35 years) was stood there holding it open for us. What a treat it was to see a legend in the flesh albeit it briefly.

As we climbed up Bessyboot, there was lots of enthusiastic overtaking, but I was wiser from last year. This was a race you didn’t want to overcook. I held myself back and followed a runner who was keeping a sensible pace.

First checkpoint reached and it was just the start. It was only 4 miles to the next checkpoint, but it was across the boggiest terrain I had encountered, every step you took, your foot sank into the ground anywhere from an inch to a few of feet! It was energy-sapping work. And all this was going on whilst having to mind steep drops to the side and climbing uphill much of the way.

An hour later, we crossed Bogistan (I made that up) and started the climb to Scafell Pike. The terrain was entirely different, as we climbed scree then a giant boulder field. None of this was runnable as you had to carefully pick your way with each step. As we climbed higher, we became enshrouded in cloud and the wind-chill effect was more noticeable. Once the summit was reached, the best part was to follow, the scree run!

I was too terrified last year to enjoy this, but once you got the knack it was really fun, sliding your way down. Each step you took threatened to set off a mini avalanche and once in a while, there would be a shout of “watch out” as a boulder would loosen and roll downhill. Thanks to Aaron Gourley’s tip, I had a pair of gaiters which saved me from picking rocks out of my shoes.

It was over too soon and now I had to traverse the “corridor route” which was really scenic but there were a few bits where you had to be careful with a few precipitous drops. Before long I was at the foot of Great Gable, her intimidating profile looming overhead. I made the climb up at a steady pace. It seemed to go on forever but it was only 30 minutes before reaching the top. Here, I passed Trevor who seemed to be good spirits, I wished him well and pushed on ahead.

The climb down was equally steep and rocky as we scrambled down. The next few miles contoured around Brandreth & Grey Knotts and it was quite fiddly. Unnervingly, I seemed to have a small group of runners following me. I gave up on the finding the best line and used the fence as a handrail with my pack in tow.

Throughout the race, I had been monitoring my time constantly. Last year, I was cramping up almost every few minutes after Great Gable and made the Honister checkpoint 50 minutes after the cut-off. As Honister came into view below, I glanced at my watch, I had over 20 minutes to spare; I knew barring a calamity, I was going to finish and celebrated inside.

The final climb up Dalehead wasn’t as bad as I thought and my legs though tired still had energy. After tagging the summit & was a steep grassy drop into the valley with no definite path. I disagreed with the line a Calder Valley runner took and thought I’d be clever by taking a direct but insanely steep approach down. So here I was trampling downhill like an arse (and landing on it a few times too!) whilst everyone else followed her whilst staying upright. In the end, there was little difference (minus my dignity) as we reached Dalehead Tarn at the same time.

After navigating a slate quarry, the Rosthwaite finally came into view below. What a welcome sight! The final mile was all downhill and I mustered enough energy to go on the offensive, picking off several runners before crossing the finish line. What a race! If you’re into fells, I’d strongly recommend it as it is has everything; distance, terrain, technicality and pace to challenge you. But if you’re not familiar with this part of the Lakes, make sure you recce it.

Wasdale Horseshoe Fell Race, Saturday, July 9, 2016

AL / 21.1 miles, 9022ft

Geoff Davis

A Challenging Day!

Event Organisers Whiteboard showing race terms and conditions.

On your marks, get set, GO!

Come with me across the 21 miles and 9,000ft of the Wasdale Horseshoe Fell Race traversing the roughest and most famous fell country in England. It’s raining, windy and the mist is down to about 1,000ft. The race starts along a runable stony track before switching uphill onto the steep, grassy, tusocky and boggy fell side of Illgill Head. We’re all walking now, because of the steep gradient, and we quickly enter a world of mist and rain. The gradient eases near the summit and a ‘sheep trod’ takes us left of the top and on to the first check point atop of the next fell: Whinn Rigg. Visibility is down to about 20 metres and so there is no possibility of seeing the wonderful view down to Wast Water and across the fells of Lakeland. The first checkpoint is reached after about 45 mins (cut off time 1 hour) and the steep descent begins back to valley level. I start well on the thick grass underfoot but lose places on the steeper, stony, eroded path through the bracken. My well worn knees only allow a certain speed and I’ve no desire to take a fall on a day like this.

We’re now on the only ‘easy’ section of the race which takes us through fields and woods across the wet Wasdale Valley to Greendale – the home of fell running legend Joss Naylor and his wife Mary. They are both there on the bridge giving out orange juice. “Well done lad, how was that?” says Joss to me. “Not too bad” I reply “do you think it’ll fair up today Joss?” He scowls “oh, there’s a lot of low stuff still due to come in”. I thank him and Mary and head off. He’s dead right about the weather of course!

Nonetheless it’s mild as I begin the upward plod back onto the fells and to the next checkpoint of Seatallan (2266ft). I think of taking off the ‘cag’ I’ve been wearing from the start. As if on cue, the rain peps up and the wind increases by a few knots so the cag stays on – for the rest of the race. I cross a stream that’s now in semi-spate. It matters little as I’m already soaked to the skin. The occasional runner comes and goes in the mist although a lady runner stays nearby all the way to the summit of the steep, grassy and boggy hill of Seatallan. Two marshals huddle around the exposed trig point with the wind and rain howling around them (this is why they have cut off times!) I pass over my token, tell them that number 25 has dropped out (as requested to do so by the Greendale marshals), thank them and head off towards Pillar; the next check point and some 4 miles distant.

An easy, grassy descent takes me into a boggy area glorying in the name of ‘Pots of Ashness’. Navigation now becomes a real challenge. With a few other runners I pick up a trod through the thick mist and mire. With careful route finding I know I can avoid climbing the hill of Haycock, and even Scoat Fell, if I get it spot on. Ignoring others that climb up to my left I head onwards on a bearing. I do mange to miss out Haycock but the steep ground pulls me up to Scoat Fell and onto familiar and easily navigable terrain so no matter. Rocky ground is now the norm causing my foot placement to become more measured and my pace to slow. Two runners ahead of me veer off onto a narrow rocky trod that I know avoids a bit of climb so I follow. One of them is uncertain: he turns & shouts his doubts to me. I give the thumbs up and he carries on.

photograph of mass start

The narrow col between Scoat Fell and Pillar is extremely windy and it’s hard to keep one’s feet. I hold onto the wet rock as I begin yet another steep climb. Other runners are struggling with the conditions and the navigation but I’m confident of the route and just battle on against the elements – at least it’s not cold! The summit of Pillar (2’7ft), the next check point, arrives and I’m around 15 minutes inside the cut off. The marshals have some shelter here so are fairly cheery. I hand over a token, they glance at me, establish I’m fit to carry on and off I go.

It’s a wet, rocky descent from Pillar down to Black Sail Pass and, because of the conditions; I can’t see the easier lines that I know are there. Descending becomes slow, laborious and frustrating. Two runners pass me and I vent my frustrations into the screaming wind! Finally I arrive at the pass and look around in the mist for Susan, who I know should be there, and there she is! She gives a little jump as she’s been waiting for some time and is pleased to see me! I take a drink, tell her I’m ok and head off on the traverse of Kirk Fell. This is one top we don’t have to go over. Some of the runners around me though are unsure of where they are and whether they’re on the correct path (or trod). I re-assure them that they are indeed at Black Sail and that this narrow, rocky trod; on this steep fell side running with water is exactly where they should be!

The traverse is out of the teeth of the gale and gives a little respite although the wet and the rock continue. I calculate that I have 55 minutes to reach the next checkpoint on the top of Great Gable and conclude, as I’m still feeling ok, that it is just about doable. The familiar ground of Beck Head is reached (the col between Gable and Kirk Fell) and the steepest, wettest, rockiest, crapiest climb of the day begins. The route finding through the rock however takes my mind off the conditions and I pass a couple of guys before reaching the top of Gable (2949ft). I’m very pleased on my arrival as I’m 13 minutes inside the cut off and, although there’s still a long way to go, there are no more cut off times to contend with and I’m reasonably confident I’m going to finish!

Geoff Davis. A couple of other guys are faffing around with bearings but I know the way off and I don’t want to hang around in this gale. Off I go down across the boulders onto the paved bits of path with the wind getting even stronger! On a rare grassy bit, where I’m going reasonably quickly, a big gust nearly sends me crashing into the surrounding rocks. I manage to keep my feet and crouch down until the wind subsides a little and I’m able to move again. I finally reach Sty Head pass where the wind is being funnelled between the massive mountains of Scafell and Gable. I can barely hear myself think let alone hear the comments of one or two walkers who have ventured out today – they just get the thumbs up instead! I seem to be on my own now as I head upwards to Esk Hause the next checkpoint. There are a few streams to cross and they are all raging with white water although I’m never in above my knees so there’re no bother and it’s still fairly mild. Because I can’t be bothered with the faff of extracting map from bum bag I add a couple of hundred meters to the route in finding Esk Hause. No matter, I’m still ok. I force a bar down my neck and press on to Scafell Pike – England’s highest mountain!

No runners around me now but I’m happy with that. I know the route well so the mist is no problem. The wet rocks are a different matter though and I have a few slips and a few scrapes. Nearing the top I catch a few runners up and a couple more appear behind me so, at the summit (3210ft), there’s a queue at the checkpoint! I follow a bearing off the top and descend the rocky, boulder strewn path. The rain and wind continue as I hit the grassy slopes of Lingmell. My foot goes down a hole and I just about stay upright – I curse the conditions. There are a few runners around so it’s a race down the final steep descent. I overtake a couple but a searing pain from cramp grips my leg and they overtake me again. Further down I recover and take a few scalps in the last half mile. I’m feeling ok and the relief on approaching the finish is tangible. Susan’s there to cheer me in and take my photo. I’m moving quickly as I cross the line and have a great sense of achievement on finally finishing.

What a day! 6 hours 27 minutes – a bit slower than 12 years ago but conditions are so much more challenging today. The Wasdale Horseshoe is a race many fell runners aspire to do. It tests your fitness, experience and fell craft to the maximum. Have a go by all means but please, as the FRA requires “you must be confident you are capable of completing any race you enter”!

Helvellyn and the Dodds Fell Race, Lake District, Sunday, May 29, 2016

Aaron Gourley, Tom Reeves, Penny Browell

I’d be lying if I said I was wasn’t feeling nervous about this race. As I drove over from a dull and damp north east across the A66 I was worried about low cloud. However, as I dropped into Cumbria my worries faded as blue skies appeared and the temperature started to rise.

The Professionals

Pulling into Threkeld Cricket Club, I made my way to registration, handed over £7 then dashed straight over to Pete Bland’s mobile shop to purchase some emergency equipment – a race map, blok shots and a spanking new pair of Walsh’s.

All set and ready for the off, Tom and Penny appeared and after a quick group picture it was time to run.

The first mile winds its way along a track then through a soggy field before we hit the base of Clough Head, here starts the long and torturous climb to the first check point.

For the next mile it’s a near vertical climb. My heart rate has hit 89%, and all I’ve seen for the last 10mins are the heels of those in front – Inov8, Salomon, La Sportiva – I pass the time studying each person’s shoe choice. All the while in my mind I’m thinking that this is going to be a horrendous descent, will the Walsh’s I have on cope? Will my legs cope? I need to keep something in the bank for this.

Briefly looking up for a moment to savour the views the summit of Clough Head is reached and its a long run down then back up to Great Dodd, via Calfhow Pike before skirting the summits of Watson Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd before dropping down to Sticks Pass.

From here it’s a slog up to Raise and the ground gets rockier and the crowds of walkers bigger. It’s also getting hotter.

From Raise the route drops down again before rising back up to the summit of White Side, It’s here the race leader of this out and back course, Carl Bell, comes flying past. He looks so strong, is minutes ahead of the chasing pack and as it happens, managed to break the course record by oner 2 minutes.

Dropping off White Side there’s a small climb up to Helvellyn Little Man and it’s here I hear words of encouragement from Penny and Tom as they make their way back from the summit of Helvellyn, the turn around point of the race.

I guess they’re around 10mins ahead of me at this point as I take my time up to the summit of Helvellyn. Turning around the race retraces itself back up and over each peak. I’m still feeling good but the temperature really starts to take it’s toll and I being to flag,

Approaching the final climb to the summit of Clough Head again I hit the wall and have to stop for a bit. There’s a paraglider about to begin his take-off, I wonder if he’ll take a passenger and drop me off at the finish.

The final descent is as torturous as I’d imagined. the lactic acid builds up in my legs and the heat has become unbearable as I reach the bottom for the final run in back to the cricket club.

3hr29mins of torturous beauty in the high fells of the Lake District on a simply stunning day. What more could you want from a day out running? Well there was lots and lots of cake at the end and the ginger flapjack was a real treat.

I wish I could smile and run uphill at the same time!

… Tom Reeves and Penny Browell

Descending Fast

TR: Although I’ve covered the ground of this race many time on various Bob Graham expeditions, I still studied the map which Penny kindly provided very carefully, as she drove me across to Threlkeld Cricket Club and the start of the race. This is a category A fell race for good reason with 4388 feet of ascent over a 15 mile out and back route covering long hard high ground. The day looked good for navigation with clear blue skies and sun. My main aim of this race was to get round in good form as it was my first lakeland race for quite some time.

PB: My aim was purely survival! Although I’ve done little bits of running and walking in the Lakes I knew this was going to be harder than anything I’d tried before so I wanted to get round without getting lost and ideally without completely dying on the second half.

TR: We bumped into Aaron who had also ventured over to take part and we headed for the start on the road beside the cricket club. After a quick photo opportunity we were off and soon spread out as the fast guys at the front pushed on. All too quickly we left the road and started the long thigh busting, back breaking climb to the summit of Clough Head (728 metres). Penny and I swapped places several times on the first half of the climb before she began to pull away from me. I just couldn’t keep up with her.

PB: I found the first climb hard but really wanted to get it done. Whilst we could see the frontrunners pulling away it was still quite congested in the middle of the pack and it was hard to get into any kind of rhythm so I kept overtaking people to find some space. I’d been warned it was probably the hardest climb and was delighted to get up it unscathed and feeling good. The view at the top was breath-taking – I don’t care how hard climbs are when you’re rewarded with landscapes like that!

TR: At the summit Penny was about 50 metres ahead and I gradually caught her on the long grassy very runnable descent from the summit toward Great Dodd and another slightly less steep climb. The sun was well and truly out by now and I was beginning to feel the pace a bit.

The pattern for the race was pretty much set by now…Penny would get ahead on the climbs and the flattish stuff; I would get ahead on the descents (being less sensible) On the drop down from Whiteside (863 metres) before the final rocky climb to Helvellyn the race leader passed us. I gasped a well done and pushed on to the summit as more and more runners ran past me on the way back!!

PB: The frontrunners were incredible as we made the final climb up Helvellyn. They seemed to literally fly down the mountain. The leader (who broke the course record) seemed never to touch the ground – as someone who struggles with downhills I was in total awe. Although out and back races sometimes seem less exciting it was an absolute joy to see such incredible runners show us how it’s done.

TR: There were quite a lot of people at the summit cheering us on which really does help. The views from the top were stunning as I felt a new injection of energy as I headed back. The run back is obviously a bit easier as you are generally heading down, but there are still a couple of naughty climbs which Penny was still blasting up.

PB: I think blasting up is an exaggeration – although there is less climbing on the way back it seemed a lot harder! I was starting to feel quite weak and sickly but managed to get some food into me and was spurred on by Tom and a Swaledale friend who were both still running well. It was also good to see Aaron heading up Helvellyn and to exchange tired “well done”s with other runners.

TR: We had a fantastic run down off Great Dodd and soon found ourselves at the summit of Clough Head and clearly the most difficult of descents after 14 miles of hard running.

PB: I’d been dreading this from the start – everyone told me the final descent was a killer and I knew I was going to lose some time here. Fortunately I was feeling a bit less sick and knowing this ridiculously steep and long hill was taking me back to tea and cake definitely helped. I knew Tom was going to get away from me but I just didn’t want to lose too many more places on the way down.

TR: I managed to overtake a good handful of runners but by the final road section my quads were little more than jelly and even though it is a gentle run down the road to the finish I was also finished and was nearly caught on the line by a woman! My stubborn male pride could not allow this of course and I crossed the line gasping.

PB: In the first half of the descent I was overtaken by a couple of runners and Tom gradually disappeared into the distance. But I felt slightly less wobbly than I’d expected and once we were off the really steep stuff I managed to get past a couple of people so I think ended up finishing in the same position as I’d started the descent. OK I was way slower than Tom but for me this was a minor victory!

TR: Penny arrived shortly after me and I gave her a congratulatory hug knowing it won’t be long till I’m following her in. Tea, sandwiches and cakes awaited us in the pavilion and it was a very pleasant prize giving out on the grass in the sun. All in all a very good race.

PB: Finishing the race was tough – the road seemed to go on forever but the sense of achievement crossing the line matched any marathon I’ve finished. I’d been pretty scared going into it as these Lakeland races are so much harder than the small fell races I’ve done in North Yorkshire and Northumberland. But it couldn’t have been better. For a mere £7 we got the most incredible climbing and running and stunning views in the most beautiful part of our country. I’ll never forget being half way up Clough Head and seeing runners spreading out into the distance both ahead of me and behind me. The atmosphere as we recovered after the race was fantastic and the cheese and pickle sandwich, Bakewell tart and tea were exactly what I needed. I’ll definitely be back to the Lakes for more…

Borrowdale Fell Race, Saturday, August 1, 2015

AL / 16.8m / 6562ft

Aaron Gourley

The scree is calling.For a moment I feel on top of the world. I’m certainly at the top of England as for a brief second I stop to savour the moment. I’m 2hrs21mins into the race making slow, but steady progress, but I’m not here to break records, and certainly not Billy Bland’s record of 2hrs34mins set some 30 years ago. That being the fell running legend that has, back at the foot of the first peak of Bessy Boot, held the gate open to allow us through unimpeded – I feel privileged.

I’d longed to run this race since my very first hike to the summit of Scafell Pike and subsequent celebratory pint in the Scafell Hotel bar where, engraved on a wooden tablet hanging on the wall, are the names of all the winners of this classic fell race.

Standing on the start line I felt a mix of excitement, nervousness and awe. I was now part of this race. I’d made the cut having ran the requisite qualifying races but I still felt a little out of place. Danny Lim has made the grade too and briefly joins me on the start line. The weather is kind as we set off.

The field quickly spreads as we make our way along the Borrowdale valley floor before turning off for the steep ascent of Bessy Boot. My heart rate hits 91% so try to slow the pace but I also need to ensure I will be going fast enough to meet the cut offs.

Checking in at the summit of Bessy Boot the race swings west along the ridge heading towards Esk Hause. It’s undulating and following a period of heavy rain, the ground under foot is soft and boggy, so much so that guy in front sinks to his waist. This makes for hard running as we contour the ridge around Glaramara and Allen Crags.

Eventually, Esk Hause is reached and we can make our way to Scafell Pike. The ground changes from soft, wet bog to hard, uneven boulder fields. This section requires a high level of agility and concentration to make it safely across.

The summit of Scafell Pike is as busy as a local park and a thick mist briefly obscures the view but my main concern is the infamous scree shute that leads us back onto the corridor route towards Styhead Tarn. At the top I look down and there’s a line of runners tentatively making there way down which restricts my desire to bound down wildly for fear of dislodging rocks that could potentially do significant damage to anyone in the way.

Despite my reserve it’s still a fantastically adrenaline filled descent but my shoes are filled with debris so I join the many others who’ve taken a moment to empty their footwear at the bottom. Once I’ve laced back up I head off down the corridor route which, can be treacherous in all conditions before cutting off and following a faint runners line towards the Styhead checkpoint.

From here starts the solid climb up to Great Gable. The race line is straight up as we pass walkers zigzagging up the path. It’s here I start to feel the strain and realise that I need to get more fuel and water into me. Checking in at the summit the route swings East towards Green Gable and across to Honister Hause. This section is a real struggle and a group of runners pass me as I begin to slow down. Thankfully as I reach the head of the ridge before the steep drop down to the slate mine at Honister I pick up but it’s still painful.

Honister Hause has a 3:30pm cut off, I get there with 10mins to spare. I’m happy to have made it but now have to tackle the 1mile uphill climb to the summit of Dalehead. I have issues with Dalehead after my visit here during the Teenager with Altitude fell race earlier in the year. The climb zaps me but my main concern is how my legs will hold up on the near vertical drop off the side to the tarn for the final run in.

As expected, the descent is painful and I can only watch as those in front of me seem to glide away into the distance. But before long I’m back on level ground as the race snakes its way back through the farm at Rothswaite and into the finish field. As I turn the corner Danny is walking in the opposite direction which confuses me but then I realise he’s not made the cutoff at Honister.

I’m cheered in by quite a reasonable amount of people and it’s only when I’m handed my race time print out that I realise just how long it’s taken me to complete the race. I was thrilled to have got round, my body was battered, every muscle ached and I was covered in mud but I’ll never forget the pleasure I got from having been part of a truly classic race.

Yorkshire Three Peaks Fell Race, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Saturday, April 25, 2015

AL / 24m / 4750'

Aaron Gourley

After the previous week’s slog around the mountains of the Newlands Valley in glorious sunshine and expansive views, arriving at the start for the Yorkshire Three Peaks fell race couldn’t have been more different. After an early start to meet fellow fell runner, Danny Lim at Scotch Corner we arrived in Horton in Ribblesdale feeling quite nervous as the thick mist and persistent rain added to our tensions about this race.

Dubbed the marathon with mountains, the Three Peaks, now in its 61st year, with its strict entry criteria (all competitors must have completed two AL fell races under FRA rules) and tight cut-off times ensure a strong field is guaranteed.

The night before I’d posted a picture on my Facebook of the much fabled ‘Three Peaks Bus of Shame’ which Danny and I were determined not to be one of its passengers. Both running this for the first time we were unsure of what to expect. As the start of the race approached and more people arrived the excitement and tension in the air was almost tangible as we packed into the huge marquee to keep out of the cold and wet weather we were blessed with.

10:30am and we were off, snaking our way up the lanes and tracks heading for the first peak of Pen-y-Ghent. The field of 802 competitors soon spread out as we made our way up into the thick mist. As the track got steeper and we slowed to a walk, out of the mist I heard ‘Get out of the way!!’ I looked up to see (very briefly) Ricky Lightfoot hurtling back down the path towards us. That’s as close as I’m ever like to get near him! He’d reached the summit in 28 minutes; it would take me 47 minutes to get there. After reaching the summit checkpoint it was lovely long run back down and off to Ribblehead, where there was a strict cut-off of 2hrs10mns. I got there in just under 2 hours which meant I was spared the ignominy of the ‘Bus of Shame’ for now!

Not a bus you want to catch

Collecting the first of my two drinks that are transported to the sight I took a moment to savour the vast support that had gathered at this checkpoint and grab a view of the glorious Viaduct that crosses the valley before heading off. I was feeling really good and felt I was pacing the race well at this point but still had visions of the ‘Bus of Shame’ waiting for me at Hill Inn which was the next main checkpoint. By now the persistent rain meant that everyone was pretty much soaked and coupled with the strong wind, staying warm was getting more difficult.

We snaked our up the valley towards our second peak, Whernside. Here we crossed under the railway line and over a track that led to a stream crossing with no other way over but to wade straight through. Knee deep and very cold, I was not at all pleased with this then it was a long, soggy, muddy trek straight up the side of Whernside. As I approached the summit, the incline got near vertical requiring all fours being used to haul myself up to the top.

Once at the top there was no time to hang around and picked up the pace to get off as quickly and safely as possible. The route down is via a narrow stone track that was littered with walkers who made the descent just that little bit more treacherous. Once back in the valley the track meandered its way to Hill Inn, the next of our two drop bottle points and the last cut-off for the ‘Bus of Shame’. I made it in good time and picked up my bottle of coke (or liquid gold as it’s know at this point in the race). I turn and see Danny, he’s made it too, still smiling but stating he was feeling very tired. We set off together in high spirits for our last peak, Ingleborough.

On approach, for the first time the mist and low cloud has cleared enough for us to catch a glimpse of the summit and the stream of people making their way to the top. I press on up the very steep track towards the summit plateau where, on cue, the cloud drops, visibility is reduced and then to add to the mix, it starts to snow. I reach the summit checkpoint and turn and make swift my descent. God bless Inov-8 mudclaws as I make good, sound progress off the summit for the final, muddy run back to the finish in Horton. I buzzing as I’m able to move at a decent pace and keep close to a guy and girl using them to keep going.

On the final approach we’re directed through some very kind person’s back garden, across the road and into the finish field where, I’m attacked by two runners for a sprint finish. Back in the marquee a band is playing and delicious 3 bean chilli is handed out to warm weary and cold runners. Danny soon follows in for a strong finish.

In all, this is one of the best races I’ve done, loved the atmosphere and the route is brilliant. The organisation was spot on and my sincere thanks go out to the marshals who stood out for hours in awful conditions to man each and every checkpoint. I’ll definitely be back next year.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Catpos Time
1 Ricky Lightfoot Salomon International Team M 2:51:42
44 Helen Bonsor Carnethy Hill FC F 3:27:24
576 Aaron Gourley 4:54:37
648 Danny Lim 5:12:27

702 finishers
802 Starters

Teenager With Altitude, Stair, Lake District, Saturday, April 18, 2015

AL / 15.4m / 7600'

Aaron Gourley

Borrowdale, Keswick, Dark Peak say the vests worn by those milling around the village hall. Then there’s me sporting my Striders purple, feeling completely out of my depth. What am I doing here? An early start sees me in the Newlands valley just outside Keswick for the start of the ‘Teenager with Altitude’ fell race. I’m under no illusions as to how tough this is going to be but with the weather being perhaps more than perfect, I was in high spirits.

A bridge closure meant there was a 30 minute walk just to get to the start line which, once reached, spelt out what this race had in store – a near vertical climb up to the first peak, Causey Pike. The slowest start to a race ever, perhaps?

I take it easy, there’s a long way to go. The top is reached, then a hurtle down off the ridge before cutting off to reach the second peak, Outerside. I take a look behind me, but there’s no one there. It dawns on me that I may be in last place, surely not?

Peak two, is reached followed by a mad dash down into the valley past the old mine workings before a long slog back up to the summit of Grasmore. The sun is blazing down, the valley is stunning but the view from the top even more so. I’m feeling good as Grasmore summit it reached with a good proportion of the field still in close contact. Off to the next peak, Whiteless Pike – tick. Then it hits me, this now becomes a battle.

A ridiculously stomach churning, knee trembling near vertical drop off the side of this peak back into the valley of Sail Beck to reach Newlands Hause checkpoint follows. There’s a 2hr 30 cut off here, I’ve no idea of my time as I’ve decided to watch my heart rate in this race instead. I’ve not been stopped from proceeding so I assume I’m within the cut off.

Next up is High Snockrigg (don’t laugh, that’s what it’s called and is a serious climb to get up there!). From here it’s fairly runnable to the base of Robinson, to which peak we are said to meet up with the Anniversary Waltz runners, a shorter race that starts an hour later than ours.

The climb to the summit is beyond ridiculous, in my eyes! By now I’ve lost sight of just about everyone who was in front of me and there still appears to be no one behind. At the summit I just about have enough energy to fake a collapse, this is getting really tough now. The views over Buttermere are, however, stunning and I press on to Hindscarth before another stupidly steep drop off to Dale Head beck takes me to the final swing north towards High Spy and Cat Bells.

My legs have just about had enough now and I struggle on the ups. Day walkers congratulate me as I pass but I feel no pride, I’m shot. I reach Cat Bells in 4 hrs 35 mins, I know the time only because an Australian guy asks “what the hell are you crazy guys doing?” I reply and for the first time check the time.

I set away off this peak down the track then glance left, I can see the finish but ahead of me on this ridge there is nothing, I realise I’ve already been on Cat Bells and now I’ve missed the drop off. I see a group of three runners on the road below and realise I’ve made my first navigational error right at the end of the race so the only thing to do is go straight off the side down the steep bank onto the road and back to the finish, in just over 5hrs.

On arriving back, Pete Bland’s mobile shop is being packed up, probably sold out of spare lungs and replacement knees! In the village hall I stagger for my reward, a free beer and some food – this is what makes it all worthwhile.

I thought I was last but it turns out there were two more runners behind me, I’ve never been last in a race but this one I had no worries about being in that position, in fact I quite enjoyed it. It was a real test and put me in my place. The weather was stunning and the views even more so but next time I think I’ll go for the more “runnable” and shorter Anniversary Waltz than this 15.6 mile, 7600ft of ascent beast of a race.

Edale Skyline, Sunday, March 29, 2015

AL / 21.1m / 4505ft

Paul Evans

The Edale Skyline is a race I’ve intended to do since seeing it written about in the Fellrunner a decade ago, entranced by the scenery and history of the race, in awe of the challenge (Billy Bland rates it as being, along with the Three Peaks, one of his two toughest races) and wary of the fact that its early-year position in the calendar means it will never race the same in any two years – recent years have seen heat casualties, hypothermia, sunburn, retirements due to getting lost in thick mist and a full-scale blizzard; in one year, things were worse yet; so bad that the organisers simply cancelled and re-scheduled for the autumn.

So, I’m cautious and remain so despite knowing that I’ve run longer races and Ive run races with more climb; so nervous that today is a ‘half-dozen trips to the toilet before ten a.m.’ day. A slow jog from the village hall, over the brook on a narrow bridge where we’re all dibbed into the starting field, and the vista of the Kinder massif towers above us, the sky largely clear but the western edges swathed in thick grey cotton-wool.

We commence the race quickly, under strict instructions to stick to the flagged switchbacked path as far as it lasts before an element of route choice is permitted to Ringing Roger, the first control. The climb is hard but enjoyable, all but the frontrunner walking until the gradient slackens a little and we can open our legs out along the edge paths of damp peat and exposed gritstone boulder. Hitting Ringing Roger is done and the next few miles out to Whin Hill pass very quickly at a steady pace, passing a few on the way up the long, slow climb through the heather to the control at the top of the hill, a thick, aromatic pine plantation to our left only partially blocking the view down to Ladybower reservoir, full after the wet winter that has soaked the earth and nourished the occasional daffodils sighted in sheltered nooks.

You'd be lucky to see any sort of skyline through that murk

Control dibbed, we descend gradually along track then rapidly through dead bracken, crossing the Hope Valley railway just before Hope village, through the stone cottages and up the flanks of Lose Hill, walking and running alternately to the top, Walshes gaining valuable traction as we climb upwards, the way marked by walkers on what is a fine, sunny morning in this part of the valley. From here, a relatively easy few miles commence, running the undulating ridgeline to Hollins Cross and Mam Tor, the Edale’s church spire glinting to the right hand side in the valley bottom, toy-like trains lazily easing along hundreds of feet below. More places are gained here and I leave the brief respite (tarmac, a cup of water and a jelly baby) of Mam Nick knowing that over half the race is done and I feel good. However, despite my legs still powering me forwards, the earth is getting softer and wetter, the trods less distinct and the fluff that I saw earlier enveloping the western peaks is now less abstract and very real, very wet and very sight-limiting.

Pleasingly I pick up the trod to Brown Knoll at the first attempt and am able to keep in sight a trio of runners ahead, one of whom is Sally Fawcett who will finish first lady. I plough through the bog, now often ankle-deep, sometimes above the knee, and catch them when they hit a particularly glutinous patch, the depth obscured by the falsely-reassuring green of the sphagnum moss that has been used as both food and dressing in the relatively-recent past. I help them out and we run on together, Brown Knoll conquered, a very slow run to Jacob’s ladder completed via a path that may have been an actual path or may have been a stream-bed, impossible to be clear given that it was firm-based but covered for half a mile in ankle-deep water, hidden from view by peat embankments eight feet high. At Jacob’s ladder, I begin to struggle; I have not eaten despite knowing I should, and I simply cannot maintain the pace, so I fall away from my companions for the final few miles back to Ringing Roger and then down. I will the end, hard; I now want this over as it hurts and I have little left to give – I paced myself better, I think, for the 18 mile race this is when measured in straight lines than the 22 mile race it is if one cannot fly. As it happens, I lose surprisingly few places on this stretch, though a handful of nimble types leap past on the last few hundred yards into the field, but then it is done, my number cut off and I am free to trudge back to the hall for warmth, dry clothes, pie, peas, gravy and Henderson’s; DPFR are, after all, a Sheffield club.

One plug, if I may – a chap called Steve Firth is raising, via donation-funded sports photography in often-grotty conditions, money to pay for mosquito nets for use in places where malaria is an endemic, life-culling reality. The photo, which I think conveys the day well, is from Mossie Net Photography on Facebook.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Time
1 Nicholas Barber Pennine Fell Runners M 02:52:51
42 Sally Fawcett Dark Peat L 03:37:54
56 Paul Evans M 03:47:01

242 finishers
This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time a Strider has ever run this race. Unless you know different! It’s never too late to send in a report [Ed.]