The Leg It Round Lathkill fell race was my first fell race and given my new location in some place in South Yorkshire that used to make a lot of steel, the lure of the Peak District was too strong. With a little push from the Dark Side, namely Sheffield University Orienteering and Fell Running club (ShUOC), I found myself crossing the border and ending up in a rather unfamiliar place, Derbyshire I think it’s called but don’t quote me on that. Once at the destination, a little hotel surrounded by farmer’s fields on one side of a river valley, time to get kitted up and ready, unfortunately that meant the black and gold of my university kit (whilst not purple, the vest does match my usual running shorts and when you’ve no coordination normally, colour coordination does matter) [Are you having a laugh? – Ed] and then we were lined up and off, embarking on the first of no doubt many a fell race.
It’s well known that I have tendency to go off far too fast at the beginning of a race, ask Geoff, Scott and Graham so I tried to reign it in a bit and thought I was doing okay trying to save some energy for an uphill finish. (That brings me on to the first piece of advice I received during the race day, warm up at the finish so you know what to expect should it come to a sprint finish.) Returning to the race events, I thought I was going off tamely by my standards until the coach of ShUOC came into sight. Quick double check and I remembered she’d said she was mildly hung over for a night out the night before (Pop Tarts, I was dragged once, I have Finnish flag on wall as a result), all things considered I was probably going at comfortable pace then the queues hit post a rather technical road descent (I must thank Arid Man and Dustbowl Woman for teaching me not be afraid of risky lines and bringing out the elbows through the Harrier League). To say there was many a style, gate, wall to climb over would have been an understatement but it was all part of the course, the very wet, slightly flooded and quite traily (that’s a word now, use it well) opening half of the course. Those queues however were nothing compared to the one at the “stairway to heaven”. Steps, lots and lots of very steep, very slippery steps going, what felt like straight up for quite a while, given the queue to even get near them, walking up them, unfortunately was the only way up given my position in the pack at that point.
If anything, “Stairway to Heaven” is a complete misnomer. Once the steps were out of the way, the real hell was to begin. Cows, or devil beasts, I find either an appropriate name for them. Churning up the grass and the mud and adding to it as if it had been planned all along that they were to sabotage the nice off road running into a freshly ploughed mess. Running through the fields, taking in the surrounds and trying not to look down at the fields now churned up to an unrecognisable state with mud and what I am telling myself was mud or else sleep won’t be happening for a while (that brings me on to my second tip, even if it isn’t mud, tell yourself it is, makes taking the straight, direct line through the field so much nicer), I was sure someone behind me burst out into a rendition of “The Hills Are Alive”, it must have been the cows, they broke him.
From one type of monster to another: the mythical creatures from stories, that have been passed down from generation to generation – The Bog Monsters. I must consider myself lucky in that my sacrifice appeased them (it was their own fault for thinking Taylor Swift makes good pre-race music), those around me were not so lucky as many a shoe was stolen during this section but not mine, for once. Through the bog and into the woods where there was a road section, a nice fast road descent (this one straight rather than the first twisty one). It didn’t last long as we were then back into Dante’s Mud-ferno, the cow’s domain, but I managed to avoid needing too much of a hose down afterwards, unlike the person in front of me.
Once escape was obtained, the Discesa di Lombardia (descent of the falling leaves) was next. Down the leaf shoot to the river bank, along the river bank into the stone that marked the stile, double take and ignoring the now painful knees, over the stile and on to the road. Upon turning the corner to get onto the road and being met by a 20% gradient rise, the collective “no” from me and the people around me did get quite a laugh from the marshals at that point. Up the wall, over the wall, up the semi-steps (bits of stone that were probably once steps but alas, no more), straight up the fields, safe fields, no cows in these fields, then the finish, uphill but not too steep, perfect for a kick, also perfect for cramp as it turns out. Suffering through the lactate to eventually cross the line in 183th place in a time of 69:48.
All in all, a very enjoyable race, my first of many on the fells and I most definitely see a return to it next happening. Many things were gained from this experience but the tips I’d pass on to anyone else would be:
- Look at the finish before the race starts
- Remember to keep telling yourself that it’s only mud even if it isn’t
- Dark mud is probably better to go through than a lighter shade of mud, as that might not be mud (but tell yourself it is)
Mental running playlist for the race:
- Watercolour – Pendulum (blame ShUOC and their pre-race Pendulum for that)
- Rock It For Me – Caravan Palace
- Bang Bang – Nancy Sinatra
- Two Black Cadillacs – Carrie Underwood
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