This one has been on my list for a few months, and it didn’t disappoint. I stayed over in the Lakes the night before (in my new van J and had a relaxing morning wandering round Keswick and down to the lake. The weather was fabulous, if a little warm for running.
After a proper warm up and mandatory kit check, I bumped into Graeme seconds before the start, and then we were off. The race starts and finishes in Fitz Park, and is as simple as it gets….get up Skiddaw as quick as you can (you must stick to the tourist path), one checkpoint at the summit, then back to the park as fast as possible.
It was run, jog, or trudge on the way up, depending on the incline, and I felt pretty good, catching and passing people most of the way. I’ve started to enjoy these ‘out and backs’ – it’s inspiring and exciting seeing the front runners come hurtling past. The eventual winner had a clear lead as he passed me on the flatter section round Little Man, and a few minutes and runners later Graeme got a massive shout from me – he looked strong on his descent.
After my run across the flat summit to the trig, and a breathless ‘thank you’ to the marshals, I set off on the fantastic descent. I absolutely loved this, trying to hold nothing back even on the steeper sections, running as hard as I could all the way. I got a ‘5th lady well done’ from one of the marshals about half way down, so when I saw the 4th female in front, not going as quick as me on the steep descent, I went for it – running past hard, and then trying to keep it going past the car park near Latrigg and down the final section, determined not to show weakness and look behind.
I was convinced she was right there behind me all the way, as I crossed the A66 over the bridge, and raced toward the park. A sneaky peek back as I entered the park showed me I was well clear (thank goodness, my legs had very little left in them), and then all that was needed was an attempt to sprint finish on the grass.
I really enjoyed this race – well organised, brilliant supportive marshals all the way up (and of course down), and on the day we were thoroughly spoiled by glorious weather and views (though not much time to enjoy them).
Well done to Graeme who had a great race, and seemed to retain healthy feet…see below. I was very pleased with both my time and position, with the added bonus of getting the 3rd women’s prize, as one of the faster women declined her prize as she works for the sponsors.
The only downside…I trashed my feet. I don’t think different shoes would have helped, it must just have been the heat, terrain and my running style. I’ve taken all the skin off the soles of my heels. I even have photos if anyone is interestedJ. I’ve been hobbling around, cross because I can’t run despite feeling great otherwise, walking on tip-toe until they healed (heeled!) enough to weight-bear. I’ll be strapping them up the next time I do this race (which is a strong possibility!).
I’ve wanted to run Fairfield Horseshoe for many years but just never got around to doing it but a very last-minute decision to go camping in the Lake District meant I might have a chance this year. However, unlike many of the other fell races, although many are going the same way, this was pre-entry only, so I had to enter pretty much at the last minute, if not the last person to do so.
After not a very good night’s sleep but with the chance to relax and take time for breakfast I set off from the campsite to Rydal ready for the 12pm start. On the way there I passed the Old County Tops runners as the made their way across the road from Helvellyn – another race I have longed to do for a while. I parked up at the event car park and made the long walk up to the start area, where there was a thorough kit check before receiving my race number and timing tag. Then there was a short wait for the start of the race.
The weather was fairly pleasant for a race, mild if not a bit muggy. There was a nice cooling wind blowing but importantly, there was going to be good visibility as the summit of Fairfield can be very confusing to navigate in the clag. Mindful of the disaster of a run I’d had at Newlands a few weeks ago, I was determined not to overcook it at the start of this race which, after a short run up the road quickly turns to begin the long ascent up to the summit of Fairfield. I took my time trying to keep my heart rate in check but as not to fall too far behind.
As the ground got steeper, running became a fast walk and the cooling breeze helped massively to ensure I didn’t overheat. I seemed to be climbing strongly and my breathing was good and heart rate consistent. I also seemed to be holding my ground on the early steep climbs where I would normally lose places.
I felt good as the march upwards continued. I traded places with a few other people, took note of who was around and ahead and made targets – keep with these; catch them; don’t even think about trying to catch that person!The views of the surrounding fells were stunning, as I made time to lift my head and have a look around. Days like these are priceless and I was really enjoying the race as I made my way over to the final pull up to the summit of Fairfield. I managed to pass a few targets from up ahead as we reached the top, before the real racing could begin.
I’d executed my climb to the summit well and was feeling good and in control of my race unlike at Newlands where I was completely burnt out by half way. I knew I had enough to make a good effort of getting back to the finish.I set my sights on an Eden Runner up ahead and went for the chase. The ground underfoot was rocky but runnable, so I was able to maintain a decent pace. After a few sharp climbs there was then a steep rocky technical descent to negotiate, made more difficult with the huge number of walkers on the route. I got down this as fast as was manageable then set off again on the chase. This time a guy from Tring AC was my target. I slowly worked my way up to him and after a bit of swapping places I eventually got past and pulled away as the final descents got steeper.
The relatively dry weather meant that the rocky paths were bone dry and hard which made every step painful on the final blast down. Eventually the route dropped on the stony track near the car park and then turned up for the final ¾ mile slog back up to the finish.
This was a long drag back to finish which turned off the path for a cruel little detour across a small bridge over a beck and a little climb for the run to the finish. Like all good fell races there was minimum fuss as I grabbed a cup of orange juice and made my way back to the car very happy to have finally run this race. It’s definitely one I’d to run again, hopefully soon.
In early April I was contacted by the team manager for the North East Counties, John Tollitt. He wanted to know whether I’d be available, if selected, to represent the North East. My reply was pretty speedy, a short and sweet, most definitely. The last time I’d represented the North East I was in my early teens running the 800m and 1500 m. 30 odd years, a few grey hairs and some frown lines later, just to be asked was pretty special.
A few days later it had been confirmed that I had been successful. I’ve a big race coming up, my training plan was quite specific but for this I adapted massively to optimise a good taper and to get some race specific training in. Unfortunately, it was a little far to recce, that would have been the ideal. I spent a lot of time trawling through old race reports and studying my race map. I’d only run in the area when I had done my fell coaching course so I knew the climbs would be steep and that it should be a challenging race. Fortunately, as it was a championship race, the route was flagged for the day, removing a bit of worry.
Fiona had been selected as well so we travelled down together the car full of nervous energy. We arrived early for kit check and who was to stand behind me but Carl Bell! Then we picked up our numbers and finally our NE vests. Waiting in the toilet queue we were both equally terrified and excited. Fiona had been scouring championship results and kept pointing out previous winners/Salomon/innov8 athletes. It was some line up and to say we were daunted would be an understatement.
We went for a good warm up together across to the start. We had planned to do the first mile or so of the race route but it went straight up a hill, STRAIGHT up….so we decided we’d save our legs and did some laps of the flat grassy field where the race would start. I have never seen so many huge thigh muscles…think of the Hulk (except not green coloured), they must have found it difficult to buy trousers to fit. The warm ups and drills were again something out of a textbook…A skips, B skips, sky high kicks and bounds aplenty, it was quite a sight. These were definitely serious athletes. The race was open to everyone on the day at a princely fee of £7, but the majority were county teams. I was over the moon to spot a couple of older ladies not wearing county vests who I thought I might be able to beat!
We grouped together with the rest of the North East team. As Fiona chatted to Dawn and Katherine, I quietly took myself away so that I could gather my thoughts, calm my nerves and to make sure I raced my race and wasn’t distracted by people I knew. I kept repeating please don’t be last, please don’t be last in my head…. It was a beautiful sunny warm day, clouds flitting across the sky. The race start was in a leisure centre field, very well sheltered, not that there was any wind. Lush green grass, shady old trees and well-tended flower beds surrounded us. The steep valley sides, rising sharply out of the valley floor, were covered in trees.
The gun fired and we were off at last, thankful release from the stress of waiting, onwards and upwards. It was an unsurprisingly fast start, I didn’t want to get swept up and dropped after a few miles, so I kept to my pace. It narrowed quickly up some steps where there was the first bottleneck and then it twisted up a small road for a few metres before it turned onto an extremely muddy stepped path climbing up the hillside through a wood. I was desperate to push a bit faster, I’m strong at climbing, but I couldn’t get past on the narrow track. Finally, it turned into a little lane past a few cottages and I could pick up speed again as it dropped slightly downhill across a field and then yet another wait to cross a stile. A few spritely young men vaulted the fence much to a fierce woman’s disapproval who had been waiting in line (she will return later in the tale!)
Then it was up a stony uneven track flanked by crumbly stone walls and up onto the moors. Still climbing up for the first ascent, every time I thought we’d neared the top another summit appeared just beyond reach. My lovely blond ponytailed running companion stayed firmly in sight. I was always a few paces from her and determined to try to maintain this throughout, on the flats she’d pull away, on the hills, I’d pull her back again.
The first summit eventually was reached across a muddy grassy hillside. There were highland cows with their young grazing on the top which we had been warned about. I’m not fond of cows so I tucked in neatly next to a much bigger male target! The fierce lady was up to no good again as her man gave her a shove over a boggy section then handed her some gels…Fiona berated her for her naughtiness. I’m glad to say we both passed her soon afterwards as she fell in a bog. We then dropped down the other side through a nice squidgy section and onto a wide gravel track. It wasn’t long before it turned a bend and dropped down onto a lovely technical descent by a stream…I passed a lot of runners who floundered on the rocks. We crossed over a stile and had to duck under some trees as the track led us into a dark forest.
It was really good fun, I loved the varied terrain, each section only lasted a few hundred metres and then it would change again. Finally, the small awkward trod turned onto a main forest track dropping steeply through the wood. I’ve really become fond of ‘falling down hills’ it’s taken a while to switch my brain off enough and much concerted effort, mainly to keep Geoff in reach, but I now love it. This descent quickly turned into another grassy track strewn with stones that skirted round the hill and dropped down onto the valley floor. A short section of tarmac before it quickly rose and merged into a muddy stony track, then over a stile and onto a tiny grassy trod climbing sharply up onto the fell. Off the fell and then too quickly we were retracing our steps back to the finish.
It was pretty much all downhill from now, the absolute perfect race finish. I felt like I shot down the hill only to pass Carl Bell looking as fresh as a daisy doing his cool down up the hill! Onto the grassy field round the circumference and into the finish. Fiona hadn’t finished too far in front and I ran across to congratulate her and to bounce around merrily as we both rejoiced. We were as high as kites realising that we were first and second counters for the North East female team and certainly not last. We had also both beaten the previous female course record…it’s a shame all those other county runners were there!
It’s fair to say that we both absolutely loved it, the amazing opportunity and the race itself. It had it all, £5 entry fee with EOD, really pretty, varied terrain, some lovely steep ascents and matching descents and not much tarmac to bother with, I only wish it had been longer!
Formally known as the Anniversary Waltz, this race is now hosted by Cumberland Fell Runners following the sad passing of former organiser, Steve Cliff in 2018 who set up the race to commemorate his wedding to wife Wynn at Newlands Church in 1996.
This race, along with its angry sibling, Teenager With Altitude (TWA) is firmly established in the Lake District’s fell racing calendar so it would have been a great shame for them both to disappear following Wynn’s decision not to host them anymore.
A traditional Lakeland ‘horseshoe’ round Coledale from Braithwaite Lodge, taking in Grisedale Pike, Crag Hill, and Barrow. As the race map describes it: ‘a superb race with a monster climb at the start, a bit of scrambling in the middle, and a lovely grassy descent to finish’.
This was my first race in the Lakes. Despite other fell races I’ve done, I was very nervous. Mum and I had recce’d the route in fairly wintry conditions a couple of months ago, so I knew what to expect in terms of terrain.
Saturday’s forecast looked good, and when I arrived at Braithwaite (early, to see Mum and Tony at the campsite where they were staying) the day promised to be glorious – sun, clear blue skies, no wind.
After a spring of chasing Elaine Bisson around the fells in preparation for her Bob Graham Round, pacing on her and Stuart’s rounds and completing a few local fell races, I thought I might move up to the big league and try a Lake District Race. The Grisedale horseshoe starts in Glenridding and takes in Catstycam, Helvellyn and St Sunday crag; by far not the biggest, longest or hardest route the Lakes has to offer but a sure step up from the North York Moors and the Esk Valley Summer Series.
It is not a difficult route to navigate and I know the area quite well, but I like to be confident of the route and what to expect on race day, as generally, by the time the map comes out, chances of a good placing are gone. I took Jack and headed over a few weeks before; whilst he had a fantastic time I complained all the way to the top of Catstycam about how steep, or grassy, or hilly, or hard work it was… just about anything I could think of, I moaned about. We took a map and loaded the route on to my fancy new Garmin watch and found that we used the map plenty, and the GPS track not much!
On race day, I picked up Geoff and Stuart who were also taking part, and Sam who fancied a day out in the fells. Registration and kit check took place in the village hall, before nervously hanging around outside watching lots of tough looking, mostly male, runners warming up along the track where the race started.
Off we went, the first half-mile or so is a fairly flat track past the campsite which helped to settle into a decent position for the climb, and being faster on the flat bits, I found a decent place and expected to be overtaken on the climb, so didn’t worry too much when people passed me. Nearing the top of Birkhouse Moor, Stuart and two ladies overtook; I kept the same pace, knowing that there was a nice runnable section coming up before the next ascent to Catstycam. I caught one lady and had Stuart in view as we started on up Catstycam on what seemed to be the worst way up to me – straight up the side through the long grass. Is the path a hundred feet away really that much slower? I saw Stuart ahead using his hands as well as his feet on the ground – that’s how steep it was! I kept reminding myself that I was here voluntarily (why??) and that the climbing would have to stop eventually. The top was in cloud and rather windy, I shouted my number at the marshals and headed off to Swirral edge, to the lovely rocks that are much easier to negotiate!
Up and over the top of Helvellyn, then follow the BG route to Grisedale Tarn, easy enough – except coming off Dollywaggon I decided that the people ahead of me heading down sooner than I expected must have known something I didn’t and followed them for a while. Turns out they came off too soon and I was once again negotiating that boggy tufty grass that makes up most of the fells, while Stuart sped past over to the left on the actual descent, laughing at my poor route choice (I had caught him up somewhere along the top). Past the marshals at the tarn and I overtook Stuart once again as with a shout he fell waist deep into a bog/stream/river.
I had caught the lady in front on the descent and having warmed up nicely by now, stuck on her shoulder on the run-up to St Sunday Crag. The climb was much less steep and therefore more enjoyable than the previous climbs. I thought she might be fading a little so didn’t worry too much about overtaking yet and waited until the summit checkpoint before heading off down a nice rocky path. She and a few others followed – I’m not sure they thought much of my route choice as they dropped back quite quickly. The long descent through Blind Cove into Patterdale is lovely and a few runners commented that I seemed to be having too much fun as I slid down through scree, mud, bog and plenty sheep muck. Through a field at the bottom to an audience of huge cows, a splash through the river at the bottom and onwards towards the last hill, nearly home!
I think Patterdale is one of my favourite dales, it’s very pretty and apart from race day, always appears to be deserted. I commented as much to the man running next to me and he just looked at me like I was mad, perhaps I am.
The final climb back up to the Helvellyn tourist path is brutal, and not so short – a definite ‘hands-on-floor’ ascent. I counted the steps until I got to around 700 before losing count, and was still nowhere near the top. However, I didn’t seem to be losing any places and everybody else was struggling in a similar fashion. One man cried out when he realised we had only reached a false summit; I reassured him that it really wasn’t far now!
Trying to muster up a run along the easier parts, we finally reached the last checkpoint and the start of the descent. Some friendly runners told me to enjoy the run back down; there was no need to rush as the next lady was still back in Patterdale somewhere. Someone opened a gate for me when I couldn’t work out what side the hinges were on and ushered me through. When we got to the bottom track there was a shout along the lines of ‘go on lass, go get the rest of them!’, and back to the village hall, sweaty handshakes all round and lots of tea and sandwiches.
Stuart came in sometime later, followed by Geoff and we waited around for the prizes – wine and chocolate (Aldi special!) for the category winners, first fell race, a lady whose birthday it was and the children of some runners! It’s a generous sport, and a challenging few hours out for the grand price of £5 and on the day entry.
It was hot when I arrived at Keswick football club on Sunday morning – the type of heat you expect when you step off the plane upon arriving at your summer holiday destination. Stepping out of the air-conditioned car made it feel even more intense.
I’d arrived with the family in tow so they set off for a wander around Keswick while I made my way over to register for the race. The usual fell club vests were on display, hanging loosely from the skinny bodies of those whose playground the high fells of Cumbria belong.
I paid my £7 and went back to the car to get changed. I’d last run this race in 2015, in cooler conditions and had had a blast. For the unknowing, this is a fast out and back race up to the summit of Skiddaw, starting and finishing on the field between the football and cricket club of Keswick’s Fitz Park.
The race was due to start at 12:30 pm with around 100 runners gathered awaiting entry to the start pen following a very thorough kit check. It may have been hot with no chance of conditions changing but the organisers were fastidious in ensuring everyone was carrying the required kit set out in FRA rules.
Once everyone was checked in the start area and following a quick brief from the race organiser, we were off.
The pack spread quickly as the route snaked its way out of the park and up the lane towards the bridge crossing the A66. From here the gradient begins to steepen up through the woods. It was also nicely shaded here.
The path winds its way up out of the tree line to a car park at the foot of Skiddaw. From here the route hits the wide path that leads directly to the summit. A few little ups and downs the bang – straight on to the slope. The path steepens sharply as it zigzags its way up and mine, and everyone else’s pace drops dramatically.
It’s now hands on knees for the long slog to the top. There is no air; it’s hard to catch a breath. Sweat begins to pour off my head, into my eyes and off the end of my nose. I look up; I’ve not gone very far. Ahead of me, there are just headless bodies, everyone is doubled over marching their way up the hill with hands on their knees.
My breathing is swallowing, my legs are trembling and I’m having negative thoughts. I’m pretty sure I can’t make it to the top. The last time I was here was with Stuart Scott in November training for his BGR. It was cold, windy and covered in snow that time. What I’d have given for those conditions right now.
I pass two walkers (turns out it was Steph Piper) who shout encouragement and it gives me a temporary boost. Onward I march until eventually the gradient levels out enough to stand upright, catch a breath and break out into some kind of run once again.
Just as I’m approaching the gate at the foot of Skiddaw Little Man, the lead runner comes hurtling past on his way back down. He’s got a huge lead on the second place runner who also beats me to the gate.
Eventually, more runners come past on their way back down as I make my way to the final short sharp climb towards the summit plateau. It’s still hot but there’s a mild breeze blowing behind me, which helps a little as I make my way over the rocky path to the summit and turnaround point.
I’m greeted by two marshals, directed around the summit cairn and then it’s back the way I came off the mountain. The views are stunning and it’s hard not to gaze, but full concentration is needed to get back off quickly and safely – those rocks ready top trip you over at any time.
Slap, slap, slap go my feet as I try to make my way down the steep slopes quickly and efficiently. There’s a skill to downhill fell running, one that I think I’m fairly good at, but it takes a lot of concentration and nerves of steel to trust yourself and your foot placements. If only I could get up these hills quicker I’d have a fighting chance of being competitive.
The heat and my breathless assault to the top have left me exhausted so coming down is not done with my usual vigour. My thighs are burning and I’m struggling for breath. I pass some of the more cautious downhillers whilst those with more energy fly past me.
Eventually, I reach the bottom of the slope and have the run back through the car park and into the woods. This should be a relatively straightforward run back but I just haven’t got any energy left and the heat has taken its toll so my pace is slow as I make my way back to Fitz Park.
Finally, the finish field is in site and I cross the line and slump to the floor under the shade of the trees.
I check my watch for the first time during the whole race – 1hr59mins – 19 minutes slower than my previous effort. I knew this was going to be slow, given the heat, but I was disappointed at just how much slower it was. And so my struggles continue as I try and find some kind of form but I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can take in a race with some real effort.
As I reach the finishing straight my 3 year old daughter wants to run with me, so I slow and let her run along, but she decides she’s no energy left, so I scoop her up and carry her over the finish line before slumping in a heap to the floor.
“Daddy, can we play snap now?” she asks as I lie wheezing on the grass outside Keswick Cricket Club after completing the Skiddaw Fell Race. She has no concept that I’ve just run up to the summit and back down from England’s fourth highest mountain standing at 931m covering 9:43miles in 1hr40mins on a hot July day.
It started out relatively easy as the 115 competitors set off at 12:30pm from the edge of the cricket field in Fitz Park, a sharp left up a road and across a foot bridge over the A66 leading into the woods.
Soon the gradient increases and the pace drops. Onto the track at the foot of Jenkin Hill the gradient steepens further – head down, hands on knees power walk begins.
After a while the gradient shallows and it becomes strangely runnable as we pass the gated junction leading to Skiddaw Little Man. It’s on this path the lead runner passes on his way back down closely tracked by the second placed runner. I’m in awe as I plod onwards and upwards.
As I near the summit more and more runners come hurtling down towards me then on the summit plateau, Hardmoors queen, Shelli Gordon passes. I reach the top and find it necessary to touch the summit cairn before I turn to make my descent, but not before I remove a stone that’s sneaked into my shoe.
It’s a beautifully clear day, to my left is Blencathra in all its glory and immediately ahead, the Helvellyn range shadowing over Keswick and the valley below. It’s moments of beauty like this that make fell running such a fabulous sport. But I daren’t take my eyes of the ground for too long as the gradient on the descent steepens.
Up ahead are a group of runners, I catch two guys who are tentatively making their way down and target the two ladies in front but as the path levels out, their pace seems to increase, (or is it mine decreasing?). As we make our way back through the woods they disappear, a final steep descent back to the foot bridge at the A66 sees me caught by a girl from Horwich running club, who powers past me for the final stretch.
This is a fantastic no-nonsense fell race, tough but a relatively simple out and back race with the opportunity to eat your £7 entry fee in cake at the end!
If you can only do one fell race in the North York Moors, Guisborough Three Tops would be my strong recommendation. Highlights include the stunning view of Yorkshire villages from Highcliffe Nab; picture-perfect like a postcard. This is followed immediately by a daring downhill dash into headwind so strong that your snot flies vertically, back into your face!
There is the breathless scramble to Roseberry Topping’s trig point past amused walkers and tourists. And my favourite bit of all, that slightly insane descent down the steep, grassy side of Roseberry Topping. A true fell runner will descend in what would be best described as a “controlled fall”.
This time, only four Striders braved the start line; which is surprising considering it is a GP race. Mike Bennett was the first Strider home but was stung by a 15 minute penalty for missing a newly introduced loop. Camilla and Jan also finished strongly, perhaps adding to their wine collection?
Best of all, this race will take place again this September as part of the English Fell Running Championships. So come on! Sign up now at the Esk Valley Club’s website and hope to see you there.
On March 22nd, three Striders completed the Blakey Blitz fell race; 17k/855m ascent. The three should have been five, but Anita C. and Paul E. both unfortunately had last minute domestic/ family incidents. From race registration at the Lion Inn; a welcoming shelter for windswept weary travellers on Castleton Rigg; the route features a 2k downhill start to Moorlands Farm in Rosedale and footbridge over stream, then climb begins.
First past Dale Head Farm; advertising tempting ‘teas’; onto heather moorland towards the paved George Gap Causeway to Great Fryup Head, where we were cheered on by a number logging tented marshal. We stayed high along Glaisdale Rigg, before descending into Great Fryup Dale. A wicked climb out of the end of the dale, to retrace our steps back to the start, remembering to save something for the 2k ascent out of Rosedale to the Lion Inn.
Camilla was ahead of me along Glaisdale Rigg, but I managed to overtake on the Fryup Dale descent and kept a gap between us, until the ascent at the dale end, a group of us reaching the top together. Determined to stay ahead, I tracked a runner in front of me, using his pace and taking shelter from the wind, knowing Sturdy bank into Rosedale is a long downhill and that I’d ‘get away’. I find route knowledge useful as you know when to make an effort and I did call to two runners who were going ‘off piste’.
Mike and the gaggle at the finish were a welcome site; for all my enthusiasm, I had used up all my energy. Much to celebrate, as points all round on NEFRA winter series and wine for age group winners. Next outing Striders’ GP race, Guisborough 3 Tops on Sunday 5th April.