Tag Archives: Grisedale Horseshoe

The Derek Price Memorial Grisedale Horseshoe Fell Race, Glenridding, Lake District, Saturday, September 1, 2018

AM / 10.5 miles / 1525m

Fiona Brannan

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.

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Grisedale Horseshoe, Saturday, September 7, 2013

AM / 10M / 5000'

You think you know a race, but you don’t.

“we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, then”, said the sweeper.
“we’ll see”, I replied, sounding more smug than I intended.

I’d started badly. Arriving late, leaving kit in the car, running back to the car to get kit, running back to kit-check and registration and not much time to spare. Sitting in the car with 10 minutes to go I noticed that in my kit-check confusion I’d managed to pick up someone else’s maps as well as my own. Didn’t think much of his planned descent of St Sunday mind. I’d better find this runner. He’s probably looking for these maps. With 1 minute to go at the start I tried to find someone to make an announcement about the maps. Oh sod this. I jumped up on the steps and bellowed to the assembled and slightly startled runners that I had someone’s maps. I waved them around a bit, as you do, just to make the point. A runner stepped forward, I handed them over and my conscience became a little clearer.

Almost immediately afterwards we were running up the lane with me still trying to fasten up my overfull bum-bag and sort out my straps and stuff. It was when I stopped to tie my laces that the sweeper made his introductions. This would be my fifth running of this race and I’d never known it to have a sweeper and I was perfectly confident on getting round comfortably within cut-offs without the need of a sweeper looking after me thank you very much. I was 20 minutes inside the cut-off time for the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint last year. For me, that’s an eternity.

Up the familiar Mires Beck and pretty much at the back of the field. The sweeper had fallen back and was running with a big bloke with a headband. I wouldn’t be seeing them again. Over the top of the beck and the challenge of the adventure ahead became apparent. Visibility faded as I climbed to the first checkpoint at the summit of Catstye Cam, reaching it in 65 minutes – same as last year, and there were now three runners behind me. Could be worse.

Turning to tackle Swirral Edge the wind whacked me in the back. There was a vest ahead – one I recognised from last year, and I was scrambling over rock after glassy rock trying to keep him in sight. The path along here is indistinct at the best of times and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t recognise the pointy rocks I was sliding over from previous years. Up onto Helvellyn ridge and a scary wind now slammed into my face. I’d been running comfortably hot but now the sweat chilled rapidly on my forehead and I felt chilled and alarmed. I ducked into the shelter and huddled up with about a dozen rucksacks (it was a busy day on Helvellyn) and put on my hat.

Racing through the murk.

Immediately feeling better I put on a burst and headed south. Along the path to the fork where one way goes to Wythburn, and the other onto Dollywaggon Pike. Or did it? Perhaps this was the fork where left takes you unnecessarily up Dollywaggon Pike rather than around the shoulder. Even as I veered right I knew it had to be wrong. Four times I’d done this race but today I was running it like a fool. In a bizarre mindset of denial I continued veering right and down until I had to accept the obvious – I was going the wrong way. I cut left and angled back over to the proper path. Finally around the corner and time to pick a line for the descent to the checkpoint at Grisedale Tarn.

And what a line I picked. A messy indecisive muddle that was neither path or fell. It wasn’t clean and it wasn’t efficient. I hit the checkpoint with just four minutes to spare before being timed out. A familiar figure emerged smiling from the gloom and I recognised the sweeper (Dave) and his dog (Todd). So I’d got myself behind the sweeper. And I was now last. Oh well, I do have form. Ahead I could see the big guy with the headband who I would find out was Steve. I caught him as he stood looking puzzled and surveying the paths through the mist. We didn’t seem to be gaining height. Last year I’d stayed too low too long and I felt strongly we should now be climbing to pick up the path along the ridge. Steve was looking dubious but bowed to my four years experience and with a shrug he followed me as we cut right and headed very up. I wasn’t wrong; we did pick up the path along the ridge, but this year, I was too early and too high. So we now wasted time and energy descending a little as we headed towards St Sunday Crag. Feeling a bit of a twit I apologised to Steve for the duff route choice. Steve was philosophical and told me not to worry about it. Then Dave and Todd caught us up and they agreed with my assessment that I had, indeed, chosen a rubbish ascent.

The back-of-the-pack now comprised 4, plus one sweeper and his dog, and we checked through the St Sunday Crag checkpoint. It’s not good for the ego when the marshalls pick up their gear and follow you as you’ve checked in as the final runners. But who can blame them. The weather was rough, and another squally rainstorm had just started. We hit the scree descent and Todd, a rescue dog from sheepdog descent, would run ahead, then stop and stare at us intently as we slid inelegantly down the fell. Quite funny but ever so slightly touching too. Dave the sweeper was certainly doing the shepherding job of sweeping seriously, probably running an extra couple of miles simply running back and forward amongst the back-markers checking we were all ok. I was listening to him intently now, and followed his descent tips of St Sunday to the letter. I dug my Walshes into the final climb up Grisedale Brow and they didn’t let me down, but the best shoes in the world aren’t much use if there’s no power in the legs. Over the top and the final checkpoint and I followed Dave’s tip for finding the best final descent back down Mires Beck. It was gold, and for the first time of the race I felt settled and comfortable.

I crossed the line to find Roberta waiting patiently for me. She’d done a low level walk but looked just as wet as I did, having loyally hung around at the bottom of the St Sunday for as long as she could before deciding I was obviously going to be out for a while. Finishing pretty much where I started, third from last, I waited for the other runners to get home. Steve arrived next, glad to be back on his long recovery from injury. Not just any old injury, but a snapped ankle in the Three Shires several years ago. His blog makes inspiring reading about what’s possible if you’re determined enough. Next week he runs the Three Shires race again, his 50th race since the accident.

With all the back-markers home and handshakes all-round and congratulations from the sweeper we headed back to the car park. I spotted the runner I’d been chasing and we had a chat. He was 30 minutes faster than last year so he was very pleased. Then Mark Thermer who has some great fell running photos on flickr recognised me and we had a good old chat. Roberta had seen all this post-race bonding before and headed back to the car. I joined her a few minutes later and sat quietly why I reflected on my experience of this fiendish fell race, and how, five years on, and over 30 minutes slower than last year, I ran it like a novice.

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Grisedale Horseshoe, Glenridding, Saturday, September 1, 2012

AM / 16km / 1525m

Dougie Nisbet

In what has become an annual ritual I found myself in the Glenridding car park reading the fine print on the ticket machine. How much time did I want? Better go for a day’s worth, after all, I wouldn’t want to rush things. After paying £7 for parking, I made my way to registration to pay £5 for fell racing. Or tried to anyhow. Kit checks were quite strict this year and I had to go back to the car and find my compass before they believed I really did have a compass. I noticed with some alarm that there was a cut-off time at the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint this year of 2 hours. This worried me a bit – I was pretty sure I could get there in time but it would probably be a close thing.

It didn’t seem long before we were on our way and straight up the familiar climb of Mires Beck then a bit of a reprise before Red Tarn and the swirly mists of Catstye Cam. I hit the sharp left at the summit at 65 minutes and then along Swirral Edge towards Helvellyn. A few minutes slower than I wanted but still on time I hoped for the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint. Along Swirral Edge through the cloud to Helvellyn. I love this bit of the race as some of it is hand over hand scrambling and it’s even better when the cloud’s down and you’re never quite sure where the path ends and the crags begin. I peered ahead and for a second I thought I saw a couple of mountain bikers coming the other way. Mountain bikes, on Swirral Edge? Must be imagini.. oh, apparently not. Well it takes all sorts I guess!

Up and onto the Helvellyn ridge and the fast blast south towards Dollywaggon Pike. This was my fourth year of running this race and I could probably do this stretch with my eyes shut now. Which is probably just as well as a lot of the time it’s usually wrapped up on a swirling misty haze. A couple of runners joined from the left after making the common mistake of veering too far east after hitting the Helvellyn trig point (this is how I make time in this race – I rely on other people getting lost!). Around the shoulder of Dollywagon Pike you start looking for the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint. I was flying on GPS and memory along the ridge but I’d learned from last year that a compass is better for descent if it’s cloudy because the GPS just messes about too much and tells you nothing interesting, useful or entertaining. But no need – the checkpoint was clearly visible and there was some fabulous manic descending on offer. Ignoring the path you take a direct route to the checkpoint choosing a rough line through the grass and rocks. I was wearing a new pair of Mudrocs and they were proving to be a revelation. Although I tend not to get too excited or evangelical about shoes they really were proving to be the Canine’s Nadgers. A joyous confident descent where I picked up a few places found me at the checkpoint and I anxiously checked my watch. 1 hour 40 minutes! 20 minutes to spare. Happy Man!

Now where was that compass ... I grinned for a few yards before the climb up St Sunday Crag. Monitoring the runners ahead and behind for future reference I concluded that it doesn’t matter too much how you get to the top path. Whether you climb up to the ridge earlier or later seemed to matter little as our positions were pretty much unchanged as we approached the summit. A little way down the other side I caught a couple of runners trying to find the mythical scree. “Too early!” I yelled, and found myself shouting “Follow Me!” as I charged down to the portal that I finally found last year. This year I had a text book (that’s my own personal text book ya understand!) descent of St Sunday Crag. Absolutely spot on. Down the scree, veer right to avoid the bracken and boulders, cross Blind Cove and hug its eastern side all the way to the bottom, crossing back over at the wall to hit the track. I notched up a couple more gains on my fast descent but was pretty done in as I waded through the river and trudged up towards the last climb. Sitting patiently waiting for me at the side of the track was Roberta having a quiet cup of tea having had a walk up the valley, so I stopped for a chat and a rest (as one does during a race) until I realised my hard-won gains were passing me again and I had to be on my way.

When you look at the route elevation the final climb up Grisedale Brow looks a bit feeble compared to what has been before but it really is a malevolent little climb. It’s like a slow-mo fight scene in a film, where runners ahead and behind seem to be reeling and swaying and not getting any closer or further away. It goes on much further than the laws of physics should allow until eventually you get to the final checkpoint and it’s downhill all the way home.

Unusually for a back-of-the-pack runner such as me I had a little clump of runners just ahead, rather than the usual expanse of empty space of which I’m more familiar. The clump veered right after the checkpoint – yes that makes sense because you get a slightly better line for the descent, but then, they just kept going. I couldn’t believe it, they were going a weird, and possible wrong, way, and I was following them! Why was I following them, I’ve done this race three times before. So why was I following them? Probably because it takes much less thinking than actually, well, thinking. I came to my senses and turned sharp left onto the grass and straight back down Little Cove and Mires Beck. I kept glancing round expecting the Other Runners to be hot on my heels but they were nowhere to be seen.

I finished in 3:18, a PB by about 8 minutes. Probably as much due to honing my route choice than actually being faster than four years ago, but I was happy, especially as it was another 5 minutes or so before the next runners came home. It was nice to get back in time for the end of the prize ceremony too – I’ve never managed that before in this event! After a few cups of tea I headed back out to find Roberta. Then we both went back to the Village Hall and drank some more tea. 5000 feet does that to you.

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Grisedale Horseshoe, Glenridding, Saturday, September 3, 2011

AM / 16km / 1525m

Dougie Nisbet

Dougie at the Grisedale HorseshoeThe chat in the queue for the carpark ticket machine was about how many hours to buy. Most people were playing safe and ticket sales were probably surprisingly high that day given the weather. The detailed forecast included phrases such as “Significant buffeting likely on higher areas”, and gave the chance of cloud free summits as “less than 10%”.

After kit checks and registration I wandered over to a gloomy corner of the village hall and to the reason why this is my favourite fell race. On the wall there was a list of checkpoints and their grid-references. On an unlit OS map the five check-points had been circled in blue-biro. That was it. No more clues.

Start was delayed due to an irregularity in one of the entries and the cry went out for a runner who should not be running. He was not in the start group. Or at least, not admitting it. All very mysterious. We shuffled off and I settled in at the back knowing that my form was a bit rubbish and I’d be happy to finish at the back of the field as long as it wasn’t by an embarrassing margin. After a few minutes I passed two runners with big bouncy rucksacks and then up into the cloud there wasn’t much to see until over an hour later where, on Swirral Edge, things started getting interesting. A runner was standing at an fork in the paths looking a bit puzzled. This happened to me last year. Faster runner waits for slower runner because faster runner doesn’t know which way to go! I briefed him on the way ahead but he was content to tuck in behind me and we hit Helvellyn together.

This year I’d done masses of homework for the race. I had the route pretty much memorised with every twist marked on maps. There are several points where it’s easy to go wrong, but I’d uploaded my planned route to my Garmin and the salt-trail display showing the way was making life a lot easier. On the map the long southerly run along the Helvellyn Ridge looks simple but in the dense cloud it was a different story. Those who say relying on a GPS is dangerous may be onto something as I found when, starting intently at the display, I tripped on a boulder and crash-landed in an inelegant heap. With a slightly hurty knee I got over onto the grass where the running was easier and safer. Slightly Faster Runner was still with me so I updated him on the course, and my plan for the descent to Grisedale Tarn. On a clear day, the descent from Dollywaggon Pike to Grisedale Tarn is simplicity itself. Grisedale Tarn lies below with St Sunday Crag clearly visible beyond. You can see the checkpoint, and you just aim for it. Today would be different. I told SFR the safe bet was to follow the path down to the checkpoint, but I was going to trust the Garmin and take a direct line. As we descended he decided to stick to the scary wet stony path and I took to the much friendlier grass. It was incredibly disorientating in the gloom and I was finding it difficult to trust the Garmin. I rejoined the path and crossed it, trying to keep to the straight line I had in my head. Rejoining the path once more I was now so disorientated I decided to stick to the stones. Although the GPS is a handy safety net in poor visibility I think for certain sections, such as the long stretch along Helvellyn Ridge and this corner-cutting descent to Grisedale Tarn a bearing on a hand-held compass is probably easier to follow.

I almost missed the path off to the right for the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint. It would have been easy to go wrong here and I suspect many did. Through the checkpoint and up St Sunday Crag, taking a longer, shallower line this year that I thought would suit be better. It turned out to be a poor route choice as I abruptly found my path blocked by sheets of scree and I had to turn sharp right and climb straight up to the high-level path, and onto some good easy surface up to St Sunday Crag.

Through the gloom a tent emerged flapping noisily in the wind and the poor bedraggled marshalls appeared to encourage me onwards over the penultimate checkpoint. Resisting the temptation to veer left I kept my line and started to descend. Flying on instruments once more I could see a couple of runners away to my left, the first I’d seen for 50 minutes, and it occurred to me that I might actually catch someone. How cool would that be? However my line seemed to be taking me too far east and for a few moments I thought I’d have to change direction. But no, my line took me onto a North-Westerly trod that contoured elegantly to the crag and I found myself bumping into an Achille Ratti runner who was consulting a map. I introduced myself to him with, “This year I’m finding it. I’m going to find it. I’m going to find this bloody scree if it’s the last thing I do. Hello by the way.”.

He’d done the race three times before and he’d never found the scree. But I had every twist of this section memorised and I was going to go for it. Plus my Garmin was telling me it was around here, and it wouldn’t tell me to walk off a cliff, would it? I jogged determinedly towards the cloudy precipice and wondered if I’d step out into a generous expanse of empty space, or if this year, I would find the mythical scree. If I should die, I thought, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign fell, where Dougie turned left a bit too early.

And there it was. I must confess, I whooped a little, and I’m not normally one given to whooping. The AP runner was following me and as he apologised for dislodging a boulder that whistled past my left ear, we chatted about the race while stumbling down the scree. When we hit the bracken he was still following me and I suggested his guess was as good as mine as to the best descent route. Taking the hint, he veered of to the right to cross the Blind Cove beck and avoid the bracken. Brilliant! I veered right and started following him. On the other side of the beck the descending was much easier and we followed it right down to the checkpoint.

Through the checkpoint and down to Grisedale Beck, which was looking decidedly gutsy after all the rain. The AP runner, who was a bit taller than me, had got half-way across but seemed to have suddenly stopped, lost in contemplation. Dougie at the Grisedale HorseshoeI’ve had my share of nadger-numbing becks and I wasn’t afraid of a little water so I waded confidently into the spate. About half-way across I began to appreciate the problem; it wasn’t the depth (just above knee-height) it was the sheer speed and force of the water that was so impressive. We ended up having to turn sideways, feet pointing upriver, and slowly shuffle-crablike through the frisky torrent to the other side where the marshalls were holding sticks out for us to grab. Quite unnerving.

Things got a little busier as I headed for the final climb up Grisedale Brow as runners appeared who’d gone off-course and missed the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint. I was still elated at nailing the St Sunday Crag descent and was crowing about it to anyone who I could persuade to listen. Soon I found myself alone again as I struggled up to the final checkpoint. Over the stile “Watch out for the dead sheep!”, then straight ahead to pick up the descent to the finish.

Three hours and forty minutes after starting it was still raining as I crossed the finish line to find Roberta waiting patiently, looking wet and bedraggled. Into the village hall for a cup of tea and a look at the results board and the large number of “Retired” stickers gave an indication of just how tough and confusing it had been out there. An outstanding race from the Achille Ratti Climbing Club where the real heroes of the day were the marshalls who were unbelievably encouraging to back-markers such as me when they’d obviously been hanging around in the wind and rain for hours.

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Grisedale Horseshoe, Glenridding, Saturday, September 4, 2010

AM / 10M / 5000'

Dougie Nisbet

It was a gorgeous morning in Glenridding as I queued at the ‘quiet’ Car Park ticket machine (thanks Geoff!) and decided how many hours I wanted to buy. Better safe than sorry. Five hours should cover it. It’s only 10 miles after all. Back to the car to find Will and Casper had arrived and it was time for the handover. Casper, meet Roberta, Roberta meet Casper. Will was hoping to have a good crack at this race and Casper was unlikely to attack the more technical sections of Swirral Edge with quite the same agility or enthusiasm as Will would. With leads and poop bags handed over, we were all, in our different ways, ready to go.

A Grisedale view

An amiable gathering around the village hall during which, at some point, I think the race was started, and away we headed into the fells. I’ve done this race before so was under no illusions about what awaited me. But it’s amazing how a year can soften one’s memory. As we hauled ourselves up Mires Beck it all started coming back to me. Ah yes, I remember now. This race is really really hard. I was swapping places occasionally with NFR’s David Coxon who had started the race mp3-cladded, but now seemed to have other things on his mind.

The weather was very different to last year with clear visibility in all directions, which meant navigation was no fun. Up Catstye Cam and along Swirral Edge, clear and sharp as a knife. I preferred it when it was cast in mist and you couldn’t see the climbs ahead. Hot on the heels of David and up onto Helvellyn Ridge, then … where the hell did he go? It was, admittedly, very busy. There were people out walking and eating sandwiches and drinking coffee and all sorts of nonsense. A very different scene to last year. I appeared to be all alone and I hot-footed it southwards in the hope I might find someone to chase. I bumped into a rather cheery runner walking back the way we’d come, and with a nonchalant wave and a satisfied smile he said “can you tell them that No. 96 has retired?”, and suddenly he was gone.

By the time I hit the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint I was convinced that David Coxon had fallen of a cliff and was lying in a pool of blood somewhere and passed on my concerns to the marshalls. After the checkpoint another runner waited for me and asked me if I had the faintest idea which way to go as he hadn’t a clue. I pointed up, rather pointedly, to St Sunday Crag, and he got the message. He was waiting for me again at the top, and this time I pointed down, towards the ford, and I messed around for a bit trying to find the famous bit of scree that some say leads to a portal that magically takes you down a fast way to the valley floor. No joy, so I just aimed for the gap in the trees and hoped for the best. Not a bad descent but, as I feared, when we hit the track it was detour time (taking the overall distance to over 12 miles), back up the valley to another checkpoint on a bridge before the run in to the final assault.

I was now finding the whole thing pretty grim. Last year it was just a long gruelling but ultimately satisfying test of endurance. This year, something was different. I was really miserable. Perhaps it was the heat, or more likely, I was tackling an event that I was not really fit enough to do justice. I shall treat the race with more respect next year. Across the bridge and a bit of paddle in the beck, and a long drink. I was taking huge handfuls of water to drink and I’m not usually one to get thirsty during races. The waddling had to stop and I stumbled on to the final climb. This went on, as I thought it might, for absolutely ever. At the top the marshalls, who must have been there for hours, offered me a sweet. After some chat it transpired that it wasn’t a jelly baby but actually a wine gum, so I declined. Jelly Babies had all gone.Damn the fast runners!

Now just the final descent and a lacklustre shuffle to the line and I was absolutely done. A glance at the results board showed David Coxon had been in for some time, clearly the results of some devellish site-to-site transport from the top of Helvellyn to Dollywagon Pike. I asked Roberta how she and Casper had bonded and she said “Absolutely fine, he walked beautifully on his lead as long as we went exactly where Casper wanted to go.” Will finished in 8th position overall and a fair bit faster than the year before. With the detour and extra checkpoint my time worked out pretty much the same as last year, but this year with a bit more sunburn and a lot more humility. Just a short drive now to a comfy hotel bar and bed and a few beers to get in the mood for the Derwentwater Trail Race the following day.

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Grisedale Horseshoe, Glenridding, Saturday, September 5, 2009

AM / 10M / 5000'

First, Tom Reeves…

This is a 10 mile fell race with 5000 feet of ascent taking in Catsye Cam, Helvellyn, Grisedale Tarn and St Sunday Crag, oh and half way back up Birkhouse Moor then back down to the start at Glenridding Village hall.

This is not a race I had ever thought of running until 3 days before when a change of plan meant I would be in the lakes on the 5th September. I had a look on the fell runners association website and read several accounts of epics on this run, so it was with some trepidation that I stood at the start line on Saturday morning at 11.30 in the gentle drizzle. I spoke with Dougie who I think was as nervous as me, and I also spoke with Will Horsley who looked at my route plan (which I had meticulously devised the evening before) and informed me “no one goes that way up Catsye Cam” Well I pride myself on my individuality and decided I would go on my route anyway.

Tom shows how fell running should be done: No mud, sweat or tears! Well the race began and we were soon heading up hill on our way into the wind rain and cloud toward checkpoint one Catsye Cam a mere 890 metres. Joan my wife and my two boys were at the gate where I planned to take my detour up Glenridding. I asked her how many had taken my route? The reply being “none”! So what did I do?….. You guessed it I followed the crowd.

It was a long hard, cold and very wet pull to checkpoint one. I felt I was going reasonably well till an old bloke ran past me on the final pull munching on a banana looking remarkably sprightly. Now I must say at this point, Geoff Davis emailed me a Dougie the other day to say that this was a tough race and the final climb of the day (and I quote) will “break the stoutest of hearts”. Well my heart is clearly a wimp as it was broken by the top of the first hill, indeed I was broken.

The run up to Helvellyn was very windy but at least I was going downhill for a few hundred metres, mind you it just meant more uphill to Helvellyn via Swirral Edge (not much fun in high winds and rain). The run down to Grisedale Tarn was the best leg stretch of the day and even better for me as I’ve ran this section a few times on Bob Graham rounds so I could let loose a bit and I gained a few places and hit the next checkpoint, Grisedale Tarn dead on.

The pull up to St Sunday wasn’t too bad but I took a poor line and lost several places, which I could ill afford to do as I’d noticed there were very few people behind me now!! By the way at this point my Garmin GPS shut down saying something like “abnormal powerdown” I did wonder if it was commenting on my performance? The run down from St Sunday was so so Steep I followed an old gadgy (minus banana) down a shallow gully full of scree and I made up my lost places.

Geoff was so right, the final climb (about 300 metres) was hell, I ended up using my hands to drag myself up the final grassy slopes. I was so pleased to see the folks at the final checkpoint I could have kissed them. Well the run down to Glenridding went without hitch, and I staggered into the village hall with my two boys. They ran the final 300 metres with me. I finished in an appalling time of 2 hours 55minutes around an hour after the winner!!

We were fed lots of cakes, sandwiches and hot tea which really hit the spot.

Now the big question!!!!

Would I do this race again?? Err ……. Lets see. 🙂

I'm not a marshall, I'm selling the Big Issue!

…and now, Dougie Nisbet

Not since the Kielder Borderer have I felt quite so uneasy before a race. 5000 feet is an awful lot of feet and today many of them were hidden in cloud. I’d never been on any of the fells that the course covered and hoped that the time I’d spent studying the maps and old reports would be sufficient to get me round. As we gathered around the start Tom showed me his hand-written navigation notes for each twist and turn and I began to fret about whether I’d done enough homework.

I’d expected more of a briefing but before we knew it the organiser was saying “off you go then” and the race had begun. Within minutes we were climbing Mires Beck and I settled down in a comfortable pace mindful of the fact that I’d never run a fell race with so much climbing involved. As is pretty much my standard MO on fell races I gained a few places on the climbs in the confident knowledge I’d be bidding them farewell on the descents. Despite having a pretty good picture in my head of the course route I soon became disoriented and simply followed the bright running vests in front of me. The peloton had already surprised me by climbing Mires Beck instead of taking a flatter (and longer) ascent via Glenridding Beck. I was about to be surprised again as the field continued straight up Birkhouse Moor instead of taking a gentler alternative line. However as the race developed it became clear that this was a course were local knowledge was invaluable and had I been more clued-up I would’ve picked out the local vests and made sure I followed the people in the know.

A bit of good running took us to Red Tarn then sharp right and straight up Catstye Cam. The weather had turned wet and blustery with wisps of cloud dancing dramatically around the fell. It was great! Absolutely wonderful. This is what it’s all about. The summit of Catstye Cam was the first Checkpoint and then sharp left along Swirral Edge towards Helvellyn.

Dougie looking remarkably fresh too! I’ve never been up Helvellyn before and I didn’t choose a very good day for my first visit. There wasn’t much of a view. The cloud was down and I was running out of people to follow. I’d said to Tom before the race that I’d be sacrificing speed in favour of navigation, and I headed cautiously South and a little bit East making sure I didn’t accidentally end up in Wythburn. The path I was following suddenly started descending rapidly and I realised that this couldn’t possibly be right and I backtracked a little and found a better line. Post-race analysis of my GPS trail showed that I’d almost taken an exciting detour along Striding Edge.

As I followed the path south along the ridge to Dollywaggon Pike I practically ran into a huddle of runners who appeared out of the mist. They were having some sort of committee meeting about whether there had been a checkpoint at Helvellyn. We all agreed that the course details said there was one, and that none of us had seen it. They all decided to run back to the summit in search for the checkpoint rather than risk disqualification. I was pretty sure there was no checkpoint and, furthermore, wasn’t massively distraught at the thought of being disqualified. My position on the podium was unlikely to be affected.

The huddle split up indecisively with a few runners heading back to Helvellyn in Search of the Missing Checkpoint, whereas I drifted south and east taking a pretty expensive corner cutting exercise around the shoulder of Dollywaggon Pike when unknown to me there was a perfectly good footpath hidden in the cloud just a few yards away.

A gleeful descent out of the cloud down to the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint then the challenge of St Sunday Crag (or “piece of cake” as the marshall put it). I climbed well and gained several places as we crested false summit after false summit. At the top I decided it was time to think for myself and follow my own route choice. I won’t be doing that again in a hurry. I followed the path down to the top of Blind Cove before turning left and descending to checkpoint 5. I watched in despair as runners I thought I’d left far behind ‘cut the corner’ and flew down over the grass while I struggled through bracken and rocks beside the beck on an unnecessarily technical descent.

Through the ford then a bit of running before the final climb. I’d heard that it was nasty but Will had said it wasn’t so bad because you could ‘practically smell the finish’. So I started to climb and tried doggedly to get into a rhythm. It was awful. The slope was steep and irregular making it impossible to settle into any sort of pace and it was undoubtedly the toughest climb of the day. The final checkpoint was just a grim dazed nod as I wandered by hoping that navigating the remainder of the course would somehow sort itself out.

The final descent was just a question of going downhill and hoping that the village hall would just miraculously appear at some point, which it dutifully did. I got round in 3.26 in fifth from last position and was a bit disappointed not to be a few more places further up the results. I probably lost a bit of time due to poor navigation but not enough to make a huge difference. This is an absolute cracker of a race reminding me a little of High Cup Nick with the dramatic moodiness of the cloud and rock and the stunningly erratic views. Next year’s race can’t come around soon enough. Before heading home I popped into the Glenridding Mini Market to verify its claim that it had over 40 varieties of Cumbrian Beer Inside. It does. And the ones I brought home were lovely.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 PAUL THOMPSON CLAYTON 1.55.42
8 PHILIPPA JACKSON KESWICK F 1 2.03.01
24 WILL HORSLEY NFR 2.17.01
105 THOMAS REEVES V40 2.52.10
131 DOUGIE NISBET DFR V45 3.26.27

136 finishers.

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