Having watched Graeme in, we were off, up a short muddy slope through the woods and out into open moorland. A slow run soon turned into a steady hands-on-knees walk as the slope steepened through bracken and heather. The next hour or so was hard work. Muddy tussocky narrow paths, the occasional bog and stream crossing, and short sharp uphills, grabbing on to rocks and heather for extra grip. When we didn’t have our heads down watching where our feet needed to land next, Paul and I had the odd exchange.
Alright, yeh, keep it going, fast walk, no shame in that, Kendal mint cake, no thanks, stunning view, no sign of Elaine and Fiona, phew…..
Between checkpoints 4 and 5 we had our only real route choice. Contour round to the next checkpoint, longer but safer, or a more direct route down into a gully, through a stream and up the other side. We went for the latter, stumbling down through knee-high heather and head-high bracken down a steep ravine before crossing the stream and clambering up onto a runnable track where our pace picked up again. We began the final climb and reached checkpoint 5 having gained a few places. The final mile was the fastest of the 8, it was great to stretch the legs on a gradual downhill path, before descending steeply through heather, open field and woodland, handing over to Geoff and Nigel for leg 3. A great team event, well organised, perfect weather and a very tasty chilli at the end. Who’s up for next year then?!
After a scenic cycle ride from the car park in Brampton a few miles away I was met with a carnival atmosphere on a flat green space flanked by an impressive dam.
Since I was running the last leg I had plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and to watch runners setting off and arriving through a steep muddy path and up the hill at the edge of the green. 2pm arrived and I decided to warm up and gather in the starting pen nervously watching the woods for the arrival of Nigel and Geoff. 3:20 arrived and since Nigel & Geoff hadn’t yet arrived I joined the mass start for leg 4. By this time I was feeling pretty relaxed; over an hour hanging round in the pen chatting to Susan Scott had managed to ebb my pre-race nerves away.
A quick dib of the timing chip and off: Following a short steep muddy bank and gentle jog through the woods the course turned eastwards up a long, steep hike over Pike Low, before dropping straight (and very steeply) down the opposite side, closely following a stone wall pretty much right down to start level to cross a stream before ascending again towards Derwent Edge. The grass tracks quickly gave way to a sea of heather across stunning moorland; with the next mile involving hopping around bouncing over and through the knee deep brush (I still haven’t quite decided the best technique) whilst on a long steady climb. Through this bit one had to keep a bit of an eye on the overall direction as the yellow flags were easy to lose (no navigation required on my leg). The heather eventually gave way and the climb levelled off with the next section being quick running over spongy grass tracks with the odd patch of peaty bog mixed in.
A good mile of this terrain followed before the descent commenced, with a gradual downhill at first before crossing through a gap in a stone wall whereby the path steepened to a fun descent through a fields, steepening a bit more as we approached the woods, and then more again for the immensely fun 45° mud slide back down to the green and finish line area. A quick sprint to the finish line and a very fun, scenic run was over. My Garmin clocked exactly 5 miles and 375 metres elevation gain; a good first-timer leg and a very enjoyable experience!
A Navigation leg, run as a pair – Geoff Davies and Nigel Heppell were sent away ahead of the mass start by the combined efforts of Graeme W(leg 1) and James G/Paul E(leg2).The map is only handed to us after we are a few hundred metres into the race and tells us that the course is 11.2km long with 520m ascent through 7 checkpoints.
By the time we return we have recorded 14.7km and 727m … but manage to hold on to 170th place out of 242 teams(Overall, Elvet Men are 18th of 38 teams in the V40 category).
The route we chose comprised trods with loose rocks, interminable gritty uphill tracks, precipitous descents through deep heather; thigh-height stream crossings; ascents so steep you could nibble the bilberries direct from the bush just by leaning forward slightly, headlong downhill charges through tussocky grasses hiding foot-sized holes in the ground;- and then it got harder when we reached the boggy bits! I face-planted a couple of times and felt my life-force draining away more than once.
Pleased to get to the last 1/2mile of steep grass followed by mud into the finish – for the first time I find myself in front of Geoff, and it happens to coincide with the only photo of us –not a true reflection of events at all
And from Nina:
A stunning setting and good weather greeted us at the fell relays. I ran the navigation (third) leg with Tricia, and had so much fun (more than is usual in a race, for sure!).
After pacing round the ‘handover’ pen waiting to spot Fiona and Elaine running in from leg 2, we were suddenly off, with a sharp climb up out of the woods, collect the map, and set off uphill to the first checkpoint.
Tricia and I made a good team, sharing the lead running (or clambering!) and discussing and agreeing on the nav. I had my compass out a couple of times just to be sure the hills were in the right place, but as visibility was superb it wasn’t really needed on the day. The terrain was mixed, and together we found plenty of mud, streams, vegetation – and some runnable bits too.
We made pretty decent progress round the course, with the exception of one route choice between checkpoints where we thought direct was the best bet. In hindsight it wasn’t. We could see a trod on the far hillside, but had to find (fight) our way through a couple of hundred yards of dense, tall bracken to reach it. As we didn’t have our machetes this slowed us down a little, though made the day particularly memorable! Crawling under the bracken as the easiest way up a steep hill is a new one for me.
A brilliant experience, sharing a race with the best fell runners in the country, and with strong, supportive Striders’ teams. Great fun running with Tricia. A special mention to Adrian for ‘hanging around’ in a muddy field and supporting all day – rewarded (as was I) with a pub meal and a couple of pints. Very well done to the hosts – Dark Peak – for ending the legs with a hugely entertaining downhill (whether running or spectating!) and for organising an unforgettable day.
Elvet Striders were able to produce two teams for this years Fell Relays, hosted by Dark Peak Fell Runners. However, for the first time, one team was all ladies!
A cold and misty start to the morning soon cleared for blue skies, against the impressive backdrop of the Ladybower Dam. Accompanied by the theme to ‘Dambusters’, Susan Davis and Graeme Watt led both teams off strongly. Graeme returned an impressive 13th V40, against some of the strongest fell runners in the country. Not far behind, Susan had a good run and had spent her leg picking people off on the climbs, steadily working her way up the field to hand over to leg 2, Elaine and Fiona.
With the reasonable head start that Paul Evans and James Garland had on leg 2, Fiona and Elaine were unable to catch them, but spent the 8 miles of wonderful Peak District running slowly gaining places to hand over to the nav team, Tricia and Nina. Nigel and Geoff, the nav team for the mens leg were off and away by this point, and with plenty experience of this event knew the ropes. Nina and Tricia, having never run together or competed in such an event (route map only provided 500m past the start), rose admirably to the challenge and had a fantastic run.
The final leg for the men was run by Robin, a last minute reserve who kindly dropped everything to run for us, and appeared to have a fantastic time, even when he locked his bike to the dam and threw away the key. Susan Scott, recovering from a baptism of fire at the Langdale Fell Race the week before unfortunately suffered a bad ankle sprain not long into her leg; but after a short rest, got up and carried on and ran into the finish so strongly that none of us realised until she had finished.
Overall, the men’s V40 team was 18th/38 and the women’s was 26th/53, putting both teams into the top half of their categories – not bad for a Durham based club, competing against the Country’s finest, and I think perhaps better than any of us expected. Above all, it was a fantastic day out and great experience for all.
I love running and I love mountains but for some reason, I rarely combine the two, so when Paul Evans put a call out for an Elvet Striders team for the ‘British Fell and Hill Relay Championships‘ in the Lakes, it seemed like an opportunity to combine the two. I had put myself forward for the first leg, as I had to be back in Durham for work later in the day. More experienced members of our team helped check I had the right kit to carry around with me, gave me a map and some last minute fell running tips and before I knew it, we were being herded into the starting pen.
Without having considered a race plan, the gun went off and on a spur of the moment decision; I thought it might be fun to ‘blast’ the first field. Zoom, I was off! Head of the pack – Elvet Striders leading the race! But crikey, before I knew it, I had lactic burning like I’d just raced an 800m on the track. Then we started going up – I’ve never run on anything like it; about 3 miles up – getting steeper all the way. The everlasting incline was no place to be trying to clear the lactic acid, my heart and lungs were on fire. This was not running, as I know it; folks were pulling themselves up the mountain on tufts of grass, or rocks – whatever you could grasp. As the race got higher we entered the clouds and visibility was very poor – I was just trying to keep someone close by as I hadn’t really entertained trying to navigate too, but at some point, I reached the summit and then we were heading down.
Through reading, and some of Geoff’s off-road sessions, I know the theory of running downhill (switch off brain, lean forward, don’t brake) but can I put it into practice? – err, no! The whole way down the mountain, despite trying to relax, I was clearly thinking too much and leaning back and braking – my quads were taking such a hammering (5 days after the race, writing this, I still can’t walk properly) but it certainly was exhilarating. After 3 miles of heart and lung burning going up, this was 2 miles of slipping and sliding my way down.
Back to the starting field after handing over to Jack and Fiona, I managed a brief catch up with the rest of the team and used my token for some hot food and drink before heading home. I had a great day – I love the variety of running, but I always seem to enjoy the day more when it’s a team event or relay, it really brings you together.
Leg 2, Jack Lee and Fiona Brannan, paired, 6,7 miles, 2800 ft
Jack: “So that’s what you call dibbing!”
I have never understood fair weather running. Heat makes me overheat while I find a drizzly, windy and generally just a bit crap day brings out my best. I was probably at close to my best at the relays and still I had no chance of keeping up with Fiona on the downs. (Fiona: I’m not a great fan of the ‘up’ part, but I really, really like the ‘down’…)
Our leg of the relays started with some shouts that Mark had been spotted and a fast run away from the line, only to be quickly assaulted by the fells. Usually, the ascent tires me out but today I just plodded on surprised by how easy it was going. (Fiona: it’s true, I’m not much good at ‘up’) Leg 2 started with the ascent of Great Rigg and then Fairfield from Grasmere, and after that it becomes a bit of a blur.
Fiona and I spent 50 minutes trudging up Fairfield with the occasional jog on the flatter section; it was a bit damp but the effort kept us warm, however, when we got to the top the cold wind cut through my clothing. You could get cold very fast if you stayed still but fortunately after a slower start Fiona had found her legs (Fiona: have I mentioned I don’t like the ‘up’ parts?!) and it was all I could do to keep up with her. The next half an hour was one of the most frenetic (Fiona: I think he means fun and exciting!) of my life. I leapt over rocky escarpments, slid down bog on my backside and waded streams all at a frenzied pace just to keep up. I have never descended so fast and was pushing my limits; quite a few times I placed my foot on muddy paths of steep slopes for my footing to go. I was, after all, in a pair of borrowed shoes, as I had forgotten mine. I owe Nigel my eternal thanks and a beer sometime for the loan of shoes. (Fiona; our split times on this section are somewhat more impressive than the ascent, and we managed to gain around 30 places here so must have been doing something right!)
Eventually, as must happen, the slope became shallower but this just encouraged Fiona to up the pace, so I dug deep and used all the pace I had left just to keep up and after a treacherous descent over the final muddy field (onlookers hoping for exciting slips and falls!) we sprinted in just ahead of fell running legend Angela Mudge and her partner from Carnethy. We tagged Paul and Geoff and our job was done.
Leg 3; Geoff Davis and Paul Evans; paired ca. 6-7 miles, 3000 ft, navigation leg
Having done the fell relays a couple of times before, both times leg 2, 2018 saw me decide to push out of my comfort zone a little and take on leg 3 with the guiding hand of the veteran Geoff D to keep me right and deflect my natural inclination to take route alpha at all opportunities; essentially, I was there to push the pace and to learn, he there to ensure sanity and to guide me in the subtle art of efficient hill running. This played out as follows on a leg of 7 miles and c3000 feet:
Start – CP1: fast start along a lane away from the event field, having been tagged by Fiona and Jack. Easy running on tarmac, then sharp bend upwards to a pair of marshals who hand us our maps of the control locations. A quick glance at the map and it becomes apparent that Geoff’s talents will be of use, as my urges are to go up and over, whilst he takes us nicely up the side of a fast-flowing beck, twisting up the valley over slippery rocks and through bracken to arrive at a stream junction and CP1, other teams arriving and departing rapidly.
CP1-2: the fun starts here, as we exit northeast, traversing up a hill into the low cloud. We follow a sheep trod, and other teams also, then it all becomes very puzzling as we arrive at a tarn that isn’t on the map, but with a saddle that definitely is. We know we’re somewhere around Heron Pike and then, Eureka! Unsurprisingly, the only such body of water on the map is, we realise, where we must be even if we’d been further up the hill, as we’d assumed, and therefore closer to our destination. We lose a good few minutes pondering this, though it turns out, race leaders Keswick lose even more (and, in the process, the overall race). Upwards, over the ridge, downwards, aiming for another stream junction with a sheepfold beyond; I suggest we simply follow the stream to our left and make up for my error with the tarn to an extent by this proving correct, albeit with an element of luck. Dibbed, and done.
CP2-3: easy – take a bearing and follow it, climb gently, descend gently onto a Land-Rover track and the next control, with marshals huddled in a tent.
CP3-4-5-end: easy navigation, but straight up and over, a long line of ant-like figures ascending into the heavens/cloud above us. This gets chilly, and I push the pace fairly hard as we use all limbs to get us up to the very runnable ridgeline, where we make up a few places before contouring around a valley head and then dropping sharply through endless greasy bracken, broken earth and unseen rocks. There are now teams to our left and right, some of them last seen on the climb, some not seen previously. We hit the stream, cross it and then have a choice – up and over or veer round to our left then back right again, adding 300m but taking out the climb. Geoff prefers the latter, so we do it and meet at the next control the teams who entered the water with us: no advantage either way until we then race them downhill on a firm track and realise we have more in our legs, taking out 4-5 further teams. By now the back of the leg is broken and we’re heading home, a little climb taken with aggression and then the final run-in down churned, slippery tracks, CP5 hit, then fields, control on the descent limited and Geoff slipping ahead as I’m just rubbish on this terrain. We re-enter the final field and Geoff’s driving hard and not looking back, knowing I’ll go all-in to catch him again, which I do before we hit the line and tag Nigel. Job done, baton not lost, lessons in the art of navigation on the move gained. Here goes Nigel…
Leg 4; Nigel Heppell, solo, 4.3 miles, 2000 ft
Leg 4 – known as the ‘glory’ leg; also suitable for 16yr olds – I’m well
Standing for several hours in a field on a wet Lakes day while legs 1,2
and 3 take place, I try to keep as much clothing on as possible before
getting down to race kit and entering the holding pen in what I think
should be a reasonably short time before Geoff and Paul appear for the
handover at the end of their navigation leg. Such is the calibre of the
superstars of the fell running world that the loudspeakers let us all
know the relay has actually been won before half the field even set off
on the last leg and there is a 5min call for the mass start. Peering
into the distant murk, I spot the unmistakable gait of an HH top leading
Paul down the final slope and into the funnel and then it’s my turn to go
off up the lane with a grateful lead on the pack behind.
The official route description says it all; narrow lane; cross beck;
path up to tarn; big zig- zags on climb; scenic dash
around tarn; cross wall; stiff ascent of Heron Pike; nothing to see now
as we enter the cloud base shrouding the tops; onto Fairfield Horseshoe
race line; contour below summit of Great Rigg; speedy contouring descent
onto summit of Stone Arthur; exit cloud cover; hair-raising descent down
leg 2 ascent path; and back into the event field.
On the climb up I very soon hear the sounds of the pack gaining
on me; one or two lanky types begin to lope past; then a whole bundle go
through – I guess the fitter club runners who were held back by the late
arrival of their leg3 runners – then I seem to hold my position; ascent
of Heron Pike is just plain hard work; a bit chastened to be steadily
overtaken by what appears to be a classrooms-worth of school children
but then things level off and we get running again. A few of us trade
places once or twice along the contour and then the fun starts as
gravity kicks in. It always amazes me how timid some become on a descent
over rough ground and now it’s my turn to overtake; beyond Stone Arthur
the slope increases dramatically and keeping a foothold is marginal at
best; no way of slowing down without a fall so go for it, trying not to
wipe out runners caught in front; through hole in wall and into final
descent of event field; others say this is really steep and slippery but
it feels quite relaxed after what went before and I again have to expend
energy running into the finish.
For the road runners amongst you, I ran this at a pace of 15min/mile –
For the fell runners, my rate of ascent was a lowly, but fairly steady
60’/min; and my rate of descent was largely 200-220’/min.
[Footnote – The photograph of Jack and Fiona was generously provided by Beau Dog Photography. There is no oblligation but if you would like to make a donation to the Phabkids then please follow the link and give from as little as £2. Thank you https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Lee-and-Sarah ]
A big event well organised and smoothly run by this years’ hosts Clayton-le-Moors Harriers. Weather mild and cloudy with a bit of a breeze and good visibility at all elevations, ground conditions probably drier than usual.
LEG 1: Solo leg
7K approx with 450m of ascent over mixed terrain: farm tracks, pasture and open moor. Winning time: 30 minutes approx.
LEG 2: Pairs leg
15K approx with 630m of ascent over pasture and open moor. Winning time: 75 minutes approx.
A windswept Paul and Tom charged up the slope into the changeover area and set us away off up the hill. A few paces later I realised Scott was in trouble; something had popped in his calf muscle. Rapid assessment time – abort or press on?
The sensible thing to do was to call it a day; so we carried on. A horrible sensation of being overtaken by all these other teams as we walked and limped across a couple of fields to the corner of some woods where the navigation maps were handed out. Scott found a way to maintain forward motion and gradually increased speed by putting a big demand on his good leg while using the bad one as a prop.
First checkpoint at the bottom of Boar Clough (evidently pronounced ‘cloo’ in this part of Lanc’s) was easily found, followed by a stiff clamber up a track and then over the broken ground of Barley Moor; funny stuff this, lots of heather mixed with tussocks of grass masking surface rocks and a few leg-deep holes plus a scattering of peat hags and bogs some of which would support your weight, and some that wouldn’t. I managed to face-plant in style at one point and my knee came out in sympathy with Scott’s leg but we still managed to overtake a few teams, including NFR’s ladies.
Checkpoint B in Ogden Clough was manned by a Clayton Harrier who gave us a shout and said he’d seen us on the Howgills a few weeks earlier – I think Jan had spoken to him en-route to The Calf – more open moorland came and went before a very long and steep descent to checkpoint C. Not surprisingly this was followed by a long and steep ascent back up the hillside but we did claw back a few more places. A trundle around the edge of Pendle Moor led to checkpoint D and off we went to find E, somewhere out of sight just over the top of Spence Moor. Somehow our navigation went badly wrong here and it took a while to realise our mistake. In the rush to get back on course we went through some really broken ground and poor Scott took a tumble that really put his bad leg out of action. As this was the furthest point from the finish the only thing to do was to walk back and that is pretty much what we did. Before we reached the end section the leg 4 runners started coming past! Not the best run ever but at least we got round and completed the navigation.
LEG 4: Solo leg
8K approx with 400m of ascent over pasture land, open moor and farm track. Winning time: 39:20 minutes approx. Mike Bennett – 1:00:20
Having competed in last years event I was looking forward to this relay. Arriving at 9:30 and being down for the 4th leg meant I had a lot of time for the anxiety to set in, (no matter how many races I compete in the butterflies and anxiety are always there on the start line). This was not helped either as the first teams were finishing before I had started. Eventually I set off and was at last able to concentrate on the race itself with the main objective to not get lost then to get round in one piece. Race info stated the course was marked and marshalled. I am pleased to report this was the case. The sun was out at this point and I was able to take in brief glimpses of the stunning scenery as I picked my way around the course. At this point in the race there were very few runners still out so it became very much an individual race with just the occasional runner ahead to try and catch. With 2 long climbs and 1 steep descent then the final more gentle slope back to the finish it included most elements of a short but testing fell race. The few remaining spectators at the finish included Striders male captain and chairman, I could not be seen to be taking it too easy and tried to push right to the line. All in all great relay that lived up to expectations, hats off to Clayton Harriers for a well organised event.
After the mass start of leg one leg two was a case of waiting for your leg one runner to arrive and get moving. Myself and Paul watched our watches and listened to Denise Parks announcing runners as they dibbed in at the top of the field before the descent to the change over.
Mike duly arrived looking strong and we were soon on our way. There was a short climb out of the start to warm up then we were soon in pursuit of our first team in front of us. Checkpoint 2 was at the top of a woods on a hillside and I was very quickly gasping (and this was to be a theme) holding Paul back. This was my first competitive fell race in 18 months and boy did I know! The distance for leg 2 was around 15 K and the hardest section was between checkpoint 3 and 7 with several steep climbs and immediate descents. I was doing pretty well on the descents lacking in brain cells and utilising gravity I could switch off and go. Unfortunately on the ups I was lacking in something else … lung capacity.
I was very pleased to reach checkpoint 7 as the going from this point was very runnable, even the uphill section.
On the final 2k descent I unfortunately disgraced myself by waving to one of the official photographers and was roundly told off by him. I do believe Paul muttered some impolite comments about me but we wont repeat them here!
We made it back to the changeover in a shade over 1hr 35m and had gained probably 12 places or so. This wasn’t bad I reckon.