Tag Archives: Paul Evans

Holme Moss Fell Race, Cartworth Moor, nr Holmfirth, Sunday, July 22, 2018

AL / 17.7miles / 4134 ft

Paul Evans

I’d not planned to race Holme Moss, having trained with an eye on Wasdale, the week before. However, having being unable to get transport over to the Lakes and ‘chomping at the bit’ for a chance to race again, I scanned the FRA calendar for anything marked ‘AL’ that could feasibly be reached by public transport. This SW Yorks classic ticked all the boxes. The early Sunday train to Manchester dropping me at Huddersfield and a directionally-challenged taxi driver (we had to dismantle then replace a Yorkshire Water barrier due to route choice), running me the last few miles to Cartworth Moor Cricket Club, which sat sun-baked above Holmfirth. It was clear that it was going to be warm and little of the mandatory kit was likely to be needed. Sun-cream and Vaseline were of more use in the conditions. It was also apparent that there was a fair amount of talent from the Yorkshire clubs, with the sharp end of the field assembled on the farm track for the start looking distinctly lean and focused.

The first mile was exactly what you’d expect when the race begins on a hard, straight track, falling initially then rising steadily towards a road, with a hard pace being set by the frontrunners and everyone else hanging on, slowly falling away, in the white dust kicked up by their heels. As is all too often the case for someone who likes a steady start but is aware that after a short time, paths will narrow and overtaking become more difficult, this felt unpleasantly quick all the way along the track, over 100m of road (CP1) and then upwards onto the moor. It was also worrying that in a race of 17 miles, it appeared that little of the 4000′ ascent had taken place in the first mile and would not take place in the last, leaving less distance to squeeze all that climbing into; the reason became apparent as we crested the moor and dropped hard and fast down a dry path cut through the heather to Riding Wood reservoir.

I was conscious that overtaking was impossible here, so needed not to annoy the runners behind by my usual cautious descending, and was therefore relieved that conditions were dry and I reached the metal bridge over the stream feeding the reservoir intact and un-bruised. From here, things steadied a little, and the next two miles were a steady climb up to Holme Moss summit, traversing on fairly good paths the flank of Twizzle Head Moss, ascending at a gradient that increased slowly but permitted running until the final 300m before hitting the road, and the 4-mile point.

We were greeted with cowbells and a blanket of low cloud; less welcome for me was the realisation that on hard ground my shoe choice had been poor, both heels having just enough room to achieve lateral movement sufficient to start stripping the skin from them. I felt I was running well, and estimated I was around 30th, but also knew that every mile from here on out was going to hurt.

Had my feet been in good nick, the fun would truly have begun here, as the meat of the race is in this middle segment, with a rapid descent through tussocks to Heyden Brook, a sharp climb then gradual rise to Westend Moss, mostly on peat that was firm but with just enough spring in it to be fun, then a long descent to Crowden (CP3), the only cut-off at 7.5 miles. Writing this report nearly three months later I cannot really recall how this felt, as the human mind is notoriously bad at recollection of pain, but objectively I lost at least half a dozen places and had a good think about ‘Doffing’, in order to JUST MAKE IT STOP.

Looking back, knowing that I made the cut-off by only 15 minutes whilst still in the top third of the field, it strikes me that this is a race not generous with its timings. Anyway, had I been sensible, the report would end here except for maybe a sentence or two of regret for the wise decision to spare my feet, which by now had blistered, burst and were working on deeper blisters. I didn’t, so on we go – to the farm track that crossed Crowden Little Brook then hand-railed Crowden Great Brook, then to the long haul up Bareholme Moss, ascending back into the clouds (and picking off a few runners also), to CP4 and the inevitable comment of ‘got your number, 118,’ (accompanied by salacious wink) from a Holmfirth Harriers’ marshal; she gave me a jelly baby also, so this was tolerated a lot better than when the same words escape the mouths of a posse of chavs in a Micra on the A167.

From here it was straight back down again through pathless heather, splashing in Crowden Great Brook and stopping to take the waters, then up the other side through rocks and bracken that obscured all vision. It was here that I made my first and only nav. error of the day, staying too far north to pick up the path that led out of the bracken to the base of Laddow Rocks; with visibility of about 0.5 metres in all direction, the compass had to come out to point me through the ‘forest’ and into the light (I shall worry about the carcinogen exposure another day). The rocks were a three-points-of-contact affair, though dry sandstone is as good a surface as one could get for this, with water waiting at the top courtesy of marshals and a quad bike (CP5). This last mile had taken nearly 20 minutes.

Interestingly, memory tells me the next 4 miles (to Black Hill, CP6, and then down to Holme Moss) were fairly easy running along the Pennine Way then a good, twisting track over more firm peat, and it appears that I averaged 9.30min/mile for this chunk of the race, though the map tells me I climbed around 500′ to reach Black Hill, then descended off it again back to the road. I also know that by now my feet were feeling pretty dreadful, but that I’d broken the back of the race and others were definitely flagging even faster than I, so pushed as hard as I could and regained further places.

Road crossed again (at around 13.5m), the next four miles were a re-tracing of the first four, the traverse down Twizzle Head being pretty dreadful on the feet but offering tantalising glimpses of the reservoirs and conifer plantations near the start.

Finally I hit the metal bridge again and set off uphill, determined to run for as long as possible and to overhaul at least a couple of the line of runners strung out up the last hill – the GPS at one point seemed to think I’d stopped moving, but I made up two places when others stopped to gasp in air, and then another two on very wobbly legs on the shooting track back down to the road.

The last 0.9 miles, deathly dull, back along the roasting, dusty farm track, were hard work but also somehow the fastest of the day at 7.17 min/mile pace, gaining me another three places and seeing me finish in 26th place of 126 starters (my 3:18 finish some way behind winner Karl Gray’s 2:33). In other words, all the hard work of the last 8 miles had brought me back to where I’d been at the 4-mile point; such is the glorious futility of fell-running, and tea rarely tastes as good as when provided in vast volumes whilst watching other runners struggling up the finishing field, all various shades of lobster.

In summary: good race, hard but not too technical, bad shoe choice (my flayed heels made walking rather sore for the next week), rather glad I did it even if not originally planned; I’m also rather taken by the fact that entry, 2x advance rail tickets bought the week before and taxi there/bus back came to almost exactly this year’s GNR entry fee.

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Sedbergh Hills, Sunday, August 19, 2018

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. King/Queen of the Mountain Race - click flag for more information. AL / 14m / 6000'

Paul Evans

Sometimes, words are not necessary, and numbers will suffice. The pertinent numbers here are, as above, 14 and 6000. That is, 6000 ft of ascent and descent in 14 miles or, to be precise, 483 ft of ascent for every mile run. For perspective, to be category ‘A,’ a fell race must have 250ft ascent per mile, so the Sedbergh race effectively is basically meeting the grade, then sticking 233 ft/mile on you for fun. Why? Because.

Unsurprisingly, both times this race has been in the club GP it has only attracted a handful of Striders, despite its relative proximity to Durham and the ease of entry; I suspect the numbers above are relevant to this. That said, it is as pure a fell race as can be found, in that the tarmac content is a couple of hundred yards at the start and finish, navigational skills have to be deployed and the scenery, whilst not Lake-district spectacular, bears witness only in fits and starts to the hand of mankind. When one can see it, of course, which wasn’t really the case for Geoff D, Mike B, Nina M and I, Mike and Nina having merely to get round to wrap up the fell category in the GP for the season, having found the time to run enough of the other races, and the form to run them hard, to be certain of their victories as long as DNFs were avoided.

The race this year had a field of c120 runners, and due to conditions we were advised that the two cut offs, at Arant Haw (2m in) and Black Force (7m) had been extended to 45 minutes and 1hr55m respectively; clearly the organisers expected some navigational mishaps. A quick 3-count set us off, the first stretch on slightly uphill tarmac, bending right, into a farmyard, then onto the slopes of Winder, skirting the peak to the east, climbing on gradients that permitted stretches of slow running between stints of walking as fast as grip and incline permitted. Already, within 10 minutes, I was sweating and had lost sight of the leaders, visibility limited by the low cloud which seemingly sat at around 350m throughout the race. Having missed the top of Winder, the course drops briefly into a saddle, from where the fairly runnable southern slope of Arant Haw takes you to CP1, the marshals well-wrapped and with tent and flasks evident. This leads to a nice grassy descent where the legs can be let rip, as there is a good trod and nothing technical for a mile or so; I let fly here and gained a couple of places, feeling ever so pleased with myself until it occurred to me that I now had to try to remember where exactly to break off the trod and veer north-west to hit Chapel Beck where it forms at a Y-junction of streams. Reader, I guessed, and the lack of knowledge of 5 or 6 others showed in that they went with me too, even though it transpired I’d gone a little too early and the first water I saw on breaking through the clouds was one of the feeder streams. That said, it acted as a nice visual marker in that I just had to keep going downhill and left to know I’d be back on track, the other confirmation coming from the stream of more accurate runners descending slightly to the west. The beck this year was not the trickle of 2 years ago, and the force of it swept a leg from me as I crossed, resulting in a face-plant into the water, so it was probably a good thing that the climb out, to CP2 at Castley Knotts is a hands-on-knees beast; strictly no running here. From the control comes a section that should be fairly quick, and started so this year until the visibility meant that I lost the path that largely contours round to Black Force, descending sooner than I should and having to pull myself back up wet slopes, through temporary springs erupting from the hillside, runners above me who’d kept to the trod, runners below who’d miscalculated worse than I – at one point, a runner glimpsed in the valley bottom, seemingly intent on working his way back up the stream bed of Black Force. I regained the trod, dropped at speed into the stream junction that forms CP3, stopping to take the waters deliberately this time (cold, with the delicious sweet tinge of peat that you never get from the tap) before moving on to the section that broke me 2 years ago.

Between CP3 and CP4, which is at the confluence of Hazel Gill and Bowderdale Beck, is a mere 2.5-3 miles of eastwards running. The sting is that it is pathless, and takes 3 climbs and descents to get there. The first, Docker Knott, was relatively simple and permitted a bit of a run with only a little walking before a fairly easy descent and a climb out to the south of Simon’s Seat, hand-railing a stream in a re-entrant up to a saddle then dropping again, the handful of runners in sight providing no clues as they were all taking different lines to each other. from the saddle a trod seemed to lead the way, but my compass said otherwise, so I trusted it and dropped on a bearing due east, down a steep, wet, grassy and uneven fellside, to be met by the welcome sight of 2 more streams in spate, again meeting. This was my marker, and I aimed directly at it, went through them both, the water thigh-high in places, then up and out to climb/traverse Hazelgill Knott, aiming not for the summit but to cut around the northern slopes and then SE to CP4. Here, I picked up on a couple of runners as we hit the cloud again, and tailed them as I walked the last few hundred yards of climbing, reasoning that at about 9 miles in it was not unreasonable to break out the sugar, in the form of Kendal Mint Cake (brown). Shoving this, and the map and compass back into my bum-bag, it was with relief that I crested the slope and started to descend to CP4, life just getting better when it appeared exactly where expected and the marshals had thought to strew a handful of plastic beakers next to the beck for refreshment purposes. Two cups duly drunk, it was with enthusiasm that I laid into the next section to CP5 (The Calf), which the PB Sports map describes as ‘all runnable,’ a statement that doubtless applies to the elite but which, I had to accept was not true for me; the first mile, heading due south with the beck I managed, the second, climbing steadily to the calf I confess to having slipped a couple of little walks into before resuming a run as things started to flatten towards the top of The Calf; that said, I managed to overhaul the pair I’d tailed to Bowderdale Beck and got another couple of runners into my sights, intermittently. From here, navigation was easy and the gradients kind, progress from CP5 (where Jan Young had emerged from the mist, as always heard before she was seen) to 6 being relatively rapid along rough but clear tracks and relatively shallow rises and falls; it was another 2.5-3 miles to Winder, but they did not compare to the CP3-4 section in any way. Winder trig, CP6 came, the post being touched and the descent commenced with glee, all the more so when I broke out of the cloud to see Sedbergh below and DPFR and Bingley vests to chase down. The former was caught, only to evade me as the greasy wet slope got steeper and steeper, leaving me on my bottom too often and sliding a good 100m in one go at one point. I got him back in sight on the road, but he was too far ahead to catch, and I had to settle for 25th (3hrs, 2mins), admittedly a big improvement on 2 years ago, when an ankle had gone at 8 miles and the remainder had been limped, slowly.

A quick shower, a bottomless teapot in return for a donation to the MRT, and life was good again, all the more so when Mike, holding ribs cracked on the final descent, Geoff and Nina all arrived in short order, all sub-4hrs. Similar tannin therapy and they were vaguely restored also. As races go, this is a bit of a beast, and the numbers act as fair warning that this is probably not a first fell race for anyone. However, like so many things, and people, in life, treat with respect and the rewards are immense; although, with no Striders being in the prizes, said rewards were not, on this day, financial.

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Calderdale Way Relay, Sunday, May 20, 2018

Paul Evans

Many of you, having been harangued by me over the last few months, will know that this race is special to me. It is also special to the Club, as evidenced by the fact that they pay entry fees for as many teams as we can muster. I can’t answer for the Club, but for me there is a lot to be said for the scenery, the fact that it is now a summer race, meaning you can enjoy said scenery (having raced the winter version before a particularly brutal cold spell caused cancellation in 2010, I know of what I speak), and the pairs-relay format. Why the latter? Simple: no two runners are the same. There is joy when, as team captain, you match a pair of runners well enough that they complete a leg mutually-exhausted and having run in a way that just feels right for both of them. Witness Jack Lee and Mark Warner in 2016 or Tom Reeves/Jon Ayres and Diane Watson/Angela Greathead in the same year.

There is also the challenge of trying to finesse the selection of runners in Elvet A to maximise the chance of us both being competitive and getting the baton around the course, against ever-tighter cut-offs which date from the years of this being a winter race, with dusk at 1600hrs.

This year, the challenge was truly set, as we had to make 2 teams of 12 runners, in 6 pairs each, to complete the 55 or so miles of the ever-undulating course. Courtesy of clashes with P2P and Windermere, family commitments, last-minute emergencies and a general nervousness about the fact we would be travelling 2 hours south just to get beaten by some of the UK’s best fell-runners, we had 17 runners to make up these 2 teams. Not quite Jesus, the bread and the fish, but I like to think something of that ilk was required in order to hand in 2 complete team sheets at Heath RUFC, bright and early on the Sunday morning.

We’d opted to go with what we thought would be the quickest Elvet A team possible, at the cost of this team comprising 7 runners for 12 places, 5 of them doing 2 legs apiece. Elvet B had the relative luxury of 9 runners for their 12 places, with only Angela G, Danielle W and Mandy D having to double up. The instructions for Elvet B were something along the lines of ‘enjoy, it’s a lovely day for it, see you on the course.’ Elvet A’s first two leg pairs, all of them doing other legs later, were asked to give everything they had on the first leg, hold nothing in reserve, then try to do it again later.

Final words spoken, Phil Ray and I stood with Nigel H and Mandy D at the bottom of the bank for the mass start, surrounded by close-packed bodies and ready for the sprint to the start of the climb through the woods. Words were spoken, the runners in front of us moved and so did we, with the intention of getting far enough up the field that we would get ‘trapped’ in position neither too far forward nor too far back as, after about half a mile or so of climbing, there is a mile-long section where overtaking is near-impossible on a narrow path between a fence an foliage skirting the moor.

I took the pace here, trusting Phil to stay roughly behind me and to shout if any problems, and we next saw each other at the top when we were able to exit the woodland path and start slowly overtaking pairs in front of us, hitting a road crossing just after two miles to the encouragement of the Striders who’d driven up to shout us on at this early point.

The field was fairly tight here, with us following a pair of Barlick ladies who we’d tail for the remainder of the leg, as well as assorted other colourful vests from Yorks and Lancs. Firm ground made for a decent pace, Phil leading across the moor edge as the Calder Valley fell away to our right, taking us through miles 3 and 4 at sub-8m/m pace until we hit a long downhill into Ripponden where we let the feet fly, high-fiving at 7 minute-mile pace a trio of amicable drunks who appeared to be at the end of a long night, swigging cans of Polish lager as they tried to ascend the lane we were hammering down. The fun ended here, as a core rule of fell-running is that if you lose height, you’ve got to re-gain it; so it proved, with the next three miles being a slog out of the town, a brief descent and then a longer pull upwards, initially through bluebell woods then onto an interminable farm track/minor road combination, hitting the moorland again at around 8.5m, slowly climbing a little more and then downhilling all the way for the last mile and a half, finally over-taking the Barlick pair, being overhauled by CVFR B despite now running sub 7m/m, leaving the moor, cutting through more pretty woodland and dropping into Cragg Vale to hand the baton on to Fiona and Jack, arms outstretched and with the intensity of hungry greyhounds at the front of the waiting group.

Job done in 1.29hrs for 10.7m (27th overall). Water on board. Wait for Mandy and Nigel, see of Danielle Whitworth and Jan Young, then off to Todmorden.

I can’t really comment on leg 2, other than to say it is:
a) hard, particularly in the heat
b) clearly well-suited to Fiona and Jack, who managed 1.12 for it, comparable to the best-in-recent-years time set by Tom and Jon, handing over to Mike Bennett and David Gibson for Elvet A, Paul Foster and Angela Greathead doing the honours for Elvet B, though we had to leave before they set off. Leg 3, by the way, is only 5 miles, but they’re all uphill and by now the day was uncomfortably toasty (official met-office terminology).

The next stop for the race is Blackshaw Head, a small village sitting high up on the edge of the moorland, with the luxury of a portable loo and a cake/tea stall set up to raise money for the local school. After earlier exertions, Fiona and I should probably have partaken in the latter but did not do so as we were more concerned with getting registered for the leg and making our way to the start, in the hope that Mike and David had thrashed themselves. To their credit, they did, managing 54 minutes for the leg, meaning Fiona and I had around 1.25hrs to beat the cut-off for this 9.5m leg.

Fresh, I think we might have managed it, and we managed a rapid-enough start down the first hill, over the ancient packhorse bridge (under repair), up to Heptonstall and down to the river, Fiona positively bouncing when presented with a descent. The fourth mile, however, was an absolute swine, 441′ of climbing in the mile, reducing us to 15 minutes for said mile and effectively wrecking our chances of beating the clock, as our legs were not quite able to capitalise as they should on the next few miles of glorious open moorland. Basically, we slowed whenever the path went upwards and could not quite compensate when it went down. On the plus side, a pair overtaking us (one of three who did so) called Fiona a ‘legend’ when they heard that we were on our second leg of the day, which I think is high praise indeed; a muttered ‘well-done’ is more standard in the world of the fells. In pain, leg four ended with a rapid descent past the evocatively-named Jerusalem Farm, through more woods, over another stream, up through the trees and, finally, at near-walking pace, to the handover point at Wainstalls, all runners (including our own Jack, Phil, Danielle and Dave Shipman) now departed as we’d managed 1.36hrs. There was little to do but sag, mutter ‘well done’ to each other and gratefully accept the water thrust at us by Danielle’s mum (a Sowerby Snails runner herself). Mandy and Camilla were in a while later, both looking suitably sweaty.

For us, the war was over, and there was little to be done but head back to the rugby club for the finish, as we’d not be able to get to the leg 5 finish/leg 6 start in time to see off David G, Mike Hughes, Keith Wesson and Angela G at Shelf village. So we did, admittedly somewhat disappointed, albeit (in my case) hugely impressed with the guts shown by Fiona in putting herself through a painful second leg with nothing in the tank. The rugby club had showers, tea and food, as well as the all-important sunny, dry field to watch the finishers. My vest now has a pink streak on the left-hand white stripe, where I had inadequately-vaselined myself; it started to move, so I generally didn’t. David and Mike came in, both looking slightly worse for a day that was now officially super-toasty (again, official term), their 1.58 seeing us 45th team of 100 (in 8.24hrs), then Angela and Keith finished off for us, their 2.21 giving us a time of 11.52hrs for Elvet B, 98th of the 100 teams.

I’ll leave it there, but for to say that this was a hot, hard day for running, and everything I asked of the runners doing two legs was given in spades. Rarely have I been so pleased to see harrowed, hollow-eyed faces. Particular mentions to both Danielle and Fiona, both of whom were out of their comfort zones, both of them also fairly new club members – to take this on was no small undertaking. Thanks also to those who came down to run one leg each, particularly given the effort apparent for all. Next year? Well, the dream of being able to submit Elvet A, B and C lives on, and it remains an aspiration to run Elvet A as a one-leg-per-runner team, as I maintain we could be fairly competitive on this basis. Ladies and gents, I have a dream. Or three.

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The Last Anniversary Waltz Fell Race, Stair Village Hall, Keswick, Saturday, April 21, 2018

11.5 miles, 3600 foot of ascent

Paul Evans

Photo courtesy of Tim SkeltonThis is not just a report about a race. This is a love story. With a race central to it.

I’d first heard of the Anniversary Waltz when, around 14 years ago, a striking photo of a runner approaching the summit of, I think, Robinson, the lush green of the Newlands valley in the background, graced the front cover of The Fellrunner. Over the years, I’d wondered at the unusual name and had got as far as entering a few years ago, only for life to make other plans. This year was different, as it was announced that the race would be run for the final time, due to the death of one of the married couple who have for two decades organised the race; if not now, never.

Race day dawned bright, with the skies over Keswick clear and the road out to Stair village busy with running traffic – it appeared that Jack, Fiona and I were not alone in taking the last opportunity to race here, and we were informed that c600 runners were here for the Waltz, and c300 for the Teenager (the 15m extended version), many north-eastern vests amongst them, as well as a smattering of national-level talent; to all intents and purposes, this felt very much like an unofficial extension to the English Championships.

Registration was busy though efficient, and after watching the Teenager competitors walk up their first hill from the start (Causey Pike), we had a pleasant half-mile or so to the start, an old mining track that cuts below Catbells. A brief, eloquent speech was made about the life and legacy of Steve Cliff, whose marriage to Wynn this commemorated and in whose name the proceeds would be donated to MND research (I presume the pollen count was high, as there was a lot of eye-rubbing going on), and then we were off, shuffling from a position too close to the rear of the pack, slowly picking up speed as we dodged around runners, descending into the valley bottom with Jack on my shoulder and Fiona not far behind.

The first 3 miles were rapid, and felt it, my watch recording the second mile as sub-7min/mile pace, and I quickly began to realise that if we’d lost height in the first three of nearly twelve miles, and the last mile was downhill, then ALL of the 3600′ height gain would have to take place in the next eight miles. This thought occurred as the track turned to grass, Robinson loomed on the right-hand side and it was decision time – take the pain of climbing Robinson now, in order to get it out of the way, or keep up the speed on the gentle track up the valley and then brace for a sharp final ascent? I went for the former, Jack, just ahead of me, for the latter, and we saw each other again at the top, both hurting a little from the quad-straining gradient and the short section of scrambling. From this first summit, Jack loped ahead of me at speed down the grassy flank of Robinson to the path that leads up to Hindscarth, the next peak of the horseshoe. I tailed as rapidly as I could and rather enjoyed the shallow gradient and springy, forgiving ground, not losing him to sight, then slowly regaining on both he and an NFR runner as we climbed again, passing them near the top, along with another 15 or so runners. Hindscarth summited, it was down again to Dale Head, another nice runnable section with a final rocky drag, passing Tim Skelton en route (not in the race, so a rather surprising sighting) before the section I’d been fearing.

I am a terrible descender in rocky terrain. My balance is not great and my eyes water so much that often I can barely see as I go downhill at speed, leading to a lot of falls. My intention had been to come off Dale Head to the south, using the tourist path. However, having realised I was a reasonable way up the field by now and, more importantly, actually a little ahead of Jack, I could not bring myself to be sensible and therefore attempted the direct route to the stream leaving the tarn at the bottom. If memory serves me, the descent was not enjoyable, was faster than I thought possible, still lost me a dozen or two places, probably accounted for the bruised bits I felt the next day and had me at one point on the verge of having to stop to ‘do a Paula.’ Let us move on; love stories do not include that kind of mess.

The hard bit over, and feet refreshed in the clear waters of the rocky stream crossing, the rest of the race passed well, with places regained on the climb to High Spy, no more lost on the gentle descent before Catbells, another handful gained on the steady run up to Catbells and then a grassy descent that hurt the feet as it got steeper and steeper (I was looking forward to running down the natural curve of the hill, only to be pointed sharp left, down the steep bit, by marshals), but gave enough traction to maintain pace sufficient that only a handful of runners came past me again – none of them Jack, who I was convinced was on my shoulder. Down onto the track where we had started, through a farm, onto tarmac and back to the village where the finishing funnel, a stream for foot-washing and a chap with a hosepipe awaited. At the time of writing, results are unpublished, but I think I took around 2:10 and Jack came in a few minutes later, not helped by one of his shoes disintegrating on Catbells and a touch of heat illness. Fiona? She’d started the race as a ‘nice, steady run’ and then felt competitive halfway round, so had spent the back half picking people off one by one, and seemed fairly upbeat.

It has been said that the deaths of those who will be missed deeply, by many, lead to the most enjoyable wakes; this was such a day – a massive field of people who love the hills gathered together for a day simultaneously about life, death and running. The world moves on. This race does not, though was a fitting tribute to a man who loved the area and the sport and a reminder that a day spent in the hills, with friends, is never a day wasted.
Photo Courtesy of Tim Skelton

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Edale Skyline, Peak District, Sunday, March 11, 2018

AL / 34km / 1373m

Paul Evans

Plan for 2018, after the running horrors of Jan 16-Oct 17: train hard, do XC and hit the ground running with the long races of Marsden-Edale, Wadsworth and the Skyline, with a view to longer stuff later.

Reality: pick up an Achilles injury after Christmas, miss Capt Cook, run/limp a stinker at Herrington XC when injured (worst performance at HL I can recall), exacerbate injury in the process, miss races and become limited to running no faster than 8min/mile without the troublesome tendon swelling and hurting. Up to this point, with the possible exception of the English XC Championships in London, where I ran slowly but at least got round somehow, 2018 has not been a great deal of fun.

So, expectations set to ‘low, just get round,’ I found myself being counted into the starting field at the bottom of the Nab, looking up to the dark edges of Kinder scout, seeing snowy streaks and a sky with a few hopeful-looking patches of blue. It was probably best to look upwards, rather than to my sides, as this was an English Championship race, and the quality at ground level was intimidatingly-good. The usual brief pre-amble over, we ran to and then ascended at a shuffle the familiar zig-zags of the Nab then, just for this one year, turned left on summiting Ringing Roger, one of the many high points of the Kinder plateau; yes, reader, this year the Skyline went backwards, thus making it even more unmissable! In practise, this meant that we hit the clart sooner than usual, and spent the first couple of miles round to Grindslow Knoll undulating, bouncing off rocks, getting our feet soaked in the frequent streams and occasional snowdrifts trapped in sheltered cloughs, and generally spreading out a little; for this section and, as it turned out, much of the race I hung onto the familiar vest of a Sunderland Stroller, catching him on every little climb and watching him bounce past me on the downhills.

‘Brown Knoll’ used to be words that sent an involuntary shudder down the spine of many a fell-runner: a relatively featureless morass of peat, sphagnum, trods leading to uncertain places and, crucially in this race, an area in the final third of the traditional Skyline route, thus hitting the unsuspecting runner precisely when they least needed it (see report from 2015). Not without controversy, a route over it has now been paved due to erosion concerns, which meant this was a faster-than-expected, albeit quite dull section, though I remained cautious and gained fewer places than I could have done with a more aggressive approach here, instead starting to attack a little as we left it and began the long succession of ridge-running that would take us all the way to Lose Hill, that Strollers’ vest remaining an aiming point as we passed a few runners beginning to tire. Half-way along we dropped into Mam Nick, our first encounter with tarmac all race, then reduced pace to a hands-on-thighs walk until hitting the top of Mam Tor, start of the section of the race with ALL the views – this year we could see for miles to both north and south. Lose Hill came, was climbed at a plod, and went again in an exhilarating, wet run/slide combination, one done less well than the dozen or so runners I’d beaten on the climb, all of them repaying the favour with interest on the way down; Hope village at the bottom presented our second encounter with tarmac, a second jelly baby and the start of the real test.

Memory: an unreliable thing. I remember from 2015 the entire section from start to Hope, via Whin Hill, as being fairly easy running and likely to present a nice final few miles the other way round. I still remember 2015’s course this way, though the evidence of my split times and recent nociceptor experience disproves it utterly – once I’d trotted over the railway bridge out of Hope the ascent was severe, on wet, bracken-covered peat with little purchase, the Mars bar nauseated me and I was able to manage a shuffling run when the incline slackened towards the top, through the heather and then on the shooting track. That said, the strung-out line of runners ahead did not look healthy and I was able to gain a lot of places, finally leaving behind the Stroller, passing him again after touching the trig and heading the final 5 miles for home. Mystery solved: I remembered little of this stretch as it was relatively dull, 2 miles of an easy trudge along farm tracks, 3 of a steady uphill back to Ringing Roger, livening up as we left grass and got back onto rock and peat, sore feet and knackered proprioception not helping, though more places gained before dibbing for the last time and heading downhill…where 15-20 runners I’d led, slowly, uphill flew past me and hit the finish line just ahead.

Number cut off and water being taken from the jerrycans stacked against the wall, I watched as both the Stroller I’d raced for hours (Adnan Khan, though we did not know it yet, to show me a clean pair of heels one week later at Alnwick’s Harrier League fixture) and another (Ken Maynard) came in, amongst a steady flow of battered bodies; blood both fresh and dried was prominent on many. An hour later, washed in the stream, fed with chilli, rehydrated with tea (Victoria Wilkinson, having just smashed the female record for the race, queuing patiently behind me) and having gained a new injury (thigh strain) to go with the pre-existing one, life felt better.

It would have been better yet had a hundred Kurds not blockaded a railway line and caused a 3-hour wait for the train back to Sheffield but that, reader, is another story…

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

16.8 miles

Paul Evans

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

Photo Courtesy of Phil Donlan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Long Tour of Bradwell, Peak District, Saturday, August 12, 2017

BL / 52.7km / 2200m

Paul Evans

Greased, Taped, Wonky, and ready to goIt’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to spend a Sunday evening sat at a laptop, trying to recall what took place the day before. Probably around two years or so – [ actually just last year! ^DN] the website seems to show nothing from me since November 2015 [<cough!> Paul Evans ^DN]. However, a return to racing with a rejoinder from our webmaster means that what happened must be relayed, for the ever-developing archive of north-eastern running that is our website. Here goes…

0712hrs at Sheffield railway station for a 25 minute ride on a rattling little train, older than I, to Hope. The journey is spent checking bumbag contents, unpacking and adjusting. The only other passengers seem similarly absorbed in their kit, and I assume both are heading for the tour, either long or half, also. We walk the mile or so the Bradwell in amiable silence. The fact that the western edge of the valley is obscured by cloud bodes ill. I consider switching to the half tour, a 17-miler that cuts out the more punchy climbs, then remember I’m returning with a ultra so I don’t HAVE to race it.

0810hrs. Check-in for the race is slick (impressively, EOD are taken as well), laminated maps are issued and a demo is given of the new electronic timing system. Hot brews are offered and received, and the portaloos portable toilets provision is adequate. Kit is re-checked, re-assembled and then adjusted once more, nipples taped and anything that might chafe greased to fairy obscene levels. A decision is made to add to the bumbag a half dozen mini pork pies, on the basis that I’m not really racing, but instead here for a nice day’s running.

0900hrs. Assembly at the village green, in a light rain with overcast skies promising more. No kit check. We set off at an easy pace for the gentle undulation of the first mile or so along a damp, overhung lane, the rumble of the enormous cement works a background note. I’m not impressed to note that my Mudclaws are showing themselves to be awful on wet concrete, having switched to Inov8 after four successive pairs of Walshes disintegrated early in their lives [same here, sadly. ; a gentle downhill sees me skid to one side and hug the fence. Control 1 is found easily (ie. at the point you leave the lane – truly idiot-proof) though it later turns out that my timing gear does not register, despite flashing and beeping. From here a steady run, with occasional walking on the steeper parts, takes us through the quarries that feed the plant below, along a track to CP2 and then down some grassy fields…

…to the abomination that is Cave Dale. For those of you who have not visited Cave Dale, it is a picturesque descent through limestone crags and lush greenery. For tourists, it is delightful. For farmers, it’s a nice place to graze sheep. For runners, it is a steep downhill over loose limestone, polished by water for centuries, today in the rain. It is an axiom of ultra-runner to ‘walk the ups, run the downs.’ I did the opposite, and lost a good number of places to those with a little more poise and balance, only falling twice, which I think a result of sorts. This led into Castleton, pretty as ever, along a minor road to the climb up to Hollins Cross, then straight down a good track, under the railway line and into Edale.

1030hrs. Edale gained, with two of the big climbs over with. Banana and a few peanuts offered along with water, and a small group of us trotted out past the Nag’s Head/Pennine Way start, over the footbridge and up the zig-zags that mark the start and finish of the Edale Skyline fell race; walking only here. About two-thirds of the way up the climb flattens and the ground becomes soggier, helped by the rain that’s picked up a bit. Reaching the plateau I hit my stride, unfortunately making the mistake of enjoying the running too much to notice the trod that leads to CP5, the Druid’s Stone. Heather-bashing needed, then more of the same to regain the edge, followed by what someone following me informs me I’ve ‘picked a great line’ through the rocks and heather tussocks that take us down to runnable fields (I don’t tell him that I descended earlier than intended then made the best of it/pretended I had a plan). A fast downhill mile brings us under the railway again, then it’s over the road and straight up the other side of the valley to Lose Hill, walking pace resumed. I crack open the mini pork pies. I eat one slowly, then realise it is not sitting well; in retrospect, this lack of hunger should have been a warning. Nevertheless, Lose Hill CP6 is gained with a stiff tab to the steps and then a run along the tops, legs feeling less stiff than earlier. The descent is a grassy delight, halted only to call back a handful ahead of me who’ve taken a bad line and are liable to end up a mile or so west of where they need to be. Hope, CP7, is another food/drink station and by this point we’re well-mixed with runners doing the half tour, so it is harder to ascertain who the competition is. If I were being competitive, which I’m not.

The next few legs are fairly easy running, bar a cheeky climb up Whin Hill, with views of Ladybower reservoir, some very enjoyable forest trails and a bit of flat converted railway line taking us to CP9, the cut off for the full tour.

1230hrs. The two races separate, the half tour runners having broken the back of their race and heading home. It feels lonely again. I change pace again to drop down from the line through a couple of fields onto CP10, situated halfway along Bamford Weir, admire the serenity of the ducks paddling through the lilies, then accept I cannot change the fact that a couple of miles of climbing, on road then rocky track, lies between Stanage Edge and I. Strangely, I make up a few places here, my ability to sustain an uphill plod serving me well, gain CP11 and then shuffle-run along Stanage Edge to Burbage Bridge, the sun now out and the views superlative, miles of purple heather to the left and lush valley to the right. CP12 at the roadside sees us fed again, though I’m really not hungry by now, and we descend steadily to Toad’s Mouth, 2 miles of largely downhill easy running…or would be if my left foot were not now hurting with every step. CPs 13, 14 and 15 feature no big climbs, some pretty woodland and Burbage Brook, which is this afternoon rammed with children paddling, fishing and enjoying themselves. How dare they, when some of us are suffering? Some even have snacks they appear to relish eating, rather than 5 uneaten pork pies they cannot face but must carry.

1430hrs. CP15 reached, a lot of water and 4 peanuts forced down and the rest shoved into a pocket. From here, I know I’ve got about 6 miles, an hour, one big, but steady climb and, in the immediate future, one short road climb to go. I and two others who appear also a bit on the tired side climb to the farm track, descend into the woods and then walk-run through terrain that seems more uneven than the map suggests to CP16, at a brook I refill my water bottle from. We then climb slowly to Abney hamlet, take a right up an interminably-long track (the map says only 3/4m, but it feels worse) and then skirt another quarry before dropping down through gorse and mud into Bradwell, for a final half-mile trot along the road. Our threesome has split by now, after all checking that we’re fine, and I come in last of the three after another involuntary trip down the hillside on my bottom.

1545hrs. It is done. Hot brews and soup. Flapjack that takes 15 minutes a square to eat as my mouth does not have sufficient moisture to masticate adequately. Lying on my back in the warm grass, the moist soil fragrant. A walk back to the station and half an hour sat waiting in the sun, finally able to eat again, content, knowing it is all done and that, hurting feet and all, it has been a run to remember. And I might have, despite all good intentions, actually raced the thing. Maybe a little.

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Calderdale Way Relay, Sunday, May 15, 2016

Paul Evans


synchronized. Mid-May has been a special time of the year for this club for years: six of them, to be precise, when a particularly brutal winter froze much of northern England and forced Halifax Harriers to move their flagship relay tour of the Calder Valley to a more clement time of year. Those who had the ‘pleasure’ of setting off in the dark on a frozen December morning are unlikely to forget the experience, but the May setting certainly makes the race a little less niche interest, to the point where we were close to being able to field three teams this year; as it was, I had hopes of Elvet A carrying the baton for the first time in two decades, and Elvet B gaining further race route knowledge and having a good run into the bargain.

Things augured well from the beginning, with the day dawning crisp and bright at Heath RFC on the outskirts of Halifax. No last-minute injuries were reported and we had a solid transport plan in place to ensure runners were distributed at the handover points in good time. Better yet, Penny, Nigel and Mandy all had a certain competitive look about them as we lined up in a small park and were set off for the initial scramble around a field, over a wall and into a long climb through the woods, Penny somewhere behind me after she was gracious enough to let me take the pace on my first competitive run since injury. The ascent was unremarkable bar a Barlick FR runner snapping their achilles, the classic triad of ‘gunshot crack, scream and drop’ in evidence, thankfully directly in front of two marshals, and once onto the open moor we made our way past a few pairs we’d been stuck behind on the narrower woodland path, dropping onto the road briefly to the vocal encouragement of Striders before heading down into Ripponden, back up again, round some farmland, then down into the western edge of the same town, this time to climb out through verdant bluebell woods and onto a road section. It was at this point that I realised we might have over-done the aggression in our desire to give Tom and Jon as much time in the bank as we could (also, in honesty, to overtake a pair we’d been playing leapfrog with) and we had a brief walk before heading into the final moorland section, past an old pillbox then onto the long descent into Cragg Vale, idyllic in the sun and with a baying crowd outside the Hinchliffe Arms. Baton was thrust out in the sprint finish, narrowly pipped by the we’d raced for the last 5 miles, and Tom and Jon were gone.

shrewd use of the pavement there.

Once we’d regained breath and seen Mandy and Nigel come in, just missing the mass start at the cut-off time in which Steph and Richard Hall were despatched up the reservoir track to Stoodley Pike and beyond, it was on to Todmorden for Penny to meet with Paul Foster and Nigel with Jan, both doubling up for the short third leg. We weren’t there long before Elvet A thundered down the track to the school having gained more places and time, and set off to Blackshaw Head with high hopes, albeit hopes nearly scuppered by a little care struggling with steep gradients, tight curves and the combined egos of Tom and Jon, who knew they’d run a near-perfect leg. Having made it to the hilltop village with ScottGraeme (A) and Camilla/Dave S (B) off in good time into the wooded valley between Heptonstall and Blackshaw, A’s baton still present, we took advantage of the tea stall set up by the parents of a local school and moved on to the leg 4/5 handover. Alas, this was where the dream ended this year, the time banked on previous legs not quite enough to cope with the very tight cut-off at this point (a cut-off set when this was a winter race and getting runner home early mattered for safety reasons), Mark W/Jack L (A) and Kerry/Sue J (B) all off in the mass start, though the former pair’s strategy of chasing a pair in local vests served them well enough to see them complete the leg in just over an hour (for comparison, the fastest time of the day for this leg was only 8 minutes fewer). As for Elvet B, let’s just say that Kerry has GPS traces of all her runnings of this 7.5m leg and none of them look particularly similar; for the record, this year was a 9m run!

On to the finish at the rugby club for seeing in Mike B/Louise W (Elvet A, both looking fresh from the fast, largely-downhill 10m leg) and Angela/Diane W (Elvet B, less fresh but without last year’s added canal mileage), pie, peas, tea and a brief post-mortem in the sunshine. Conclusions: 1) Great race. We need to do it again. 2) Given the interest we had, Elvet’s A, B and C are distinctly possible next year, A aiming for baton-passing and B/C roughly equivalent teams. 3) There will be recces next year (not overly-fast, for anyone from any team who wishes to join in). Tom and Jon in particular showed the value of knowing a route inside-out and gained us time and places. 4) For all that I enjoyed this race when in December, actually being able to see the Calder Valley helps one appreciate it all the more.

2017, ladies and gents…

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English National Cross Country Championships, Donnington, Saturday, February 27, 2016

Paul Evans

This race failed the Scott Watson test of travelling time vs race length, in that he generally insists upon a ration not much greater than 1:1. However, this was the nationals and an exception deserves to be made for the right race, which this most certainly was. Seven Striders were joined by a similar number of DCH runners on their very empty bus, leaving Maiden Castle at just the right time to spy several parkrunners looking a little sheepish when offered a seat, including Rob Everson, late of this parish and running strongly again.

The journey to the East Midlands was unremarkable, the bus roomy and the day bright all the way to Donnington, where we pulled in under the flight path to the airport and next to the famous racetrack, where we found that Geoff Watson had already set up the DCH tent amongst over a hundred others from as far as Morpeth, London, the South West and and the Welsh Borders, and was contemplating turning out for them with less than 100% enthusiasm. Think the usual XC atmosphere, but more so: mass enthusiasm and personal reluctance.

1420hrs came rapidly and we watched Steph and Susan recede into the distance, swallowed by hundreds of other runners as the starting funnel narrowed and the sharp right took them out onto the course proper. The next 40 minutes were unpleasant, nerves increasing despite the knowledge we didn’t even have the numbers to make up a team, then 1500hrs was upon us and, from the pens (13 for Striders, tactically-positioned behind the faster chaps) freedom rang with the shotgun blast and it was time for us to cross the grassy, rutted field to the copse turn and get out there.

The course, with hindsight, was a beauty: one bottleneck of any note for those in the middle of the pack (the turn from the start onto the main course) and a design that allowed spectators to see multiple turns and loops at once from one of several vantage points. It started fast, with a left-hand bend taking us through an uneven turnip field, a little drop off to the right, a sharp left and climb then two descents in succession, one a straight, fast plunge and one a gentle left-hand curve lasting a good 400m. Then the fun stopped: the easy bit was over and the back half of the loop began, with the ground getting wetter, the mud thicker and the overall theme becoming ‘uphill;’ reader, it was here (on the final left-hand curve of lap 1, this one giving the runner the option of ‘direct-but-slow’ or ‘lengthier-but-firmer’) that I realised I’d made the classic XC mistake of letting adrenaline hold me to a pace I could not sustain.

Lap 2 was not fun. Let’s not talk about lap 2, other than to state that a few runners appeared to be having even less fun than me, as they were simply walking off the course with looks that did not indicate a good day. Let’s go to lap 3, where the race stabilised for me, in that I was no longer going backwards and was even regaining a few of the places lost on lap 2) and the end was in sight – literally so, from a couple of points on the course, when my eyes could be taken off the ground. By now, the ground was getting much more churned than it had been earlier, the air was colder and the light was fading a little, but each and every turn was taken with the knowledge it would be the last, the descents were joyful again and the climbs were productive for me in terms of places, every vest seen at NEHL fixtures particularly satisfying. It was something of an anti-climax to find that the finish was long, straight and flat (though very muddy) and that unfortunately a handful of others had a better sprint for the line than I did.

A few minutes later, David Gibson crossed the line, with Geoff, Mike Hughes and Mike Bennett after him, one short of a team yet all, once again, part of a satisfying day’s running. A very quick change was followed by a walk back to the bus, the drone of motorsports still renting the air and the passengers flying a couple of hundred metres above doubtless wondering what was unfolding below them as they came in to land. Back in Durham a couple of hours later, walking up North Road on ‘payday Saturday,’ we pondered if anyone we passed would understand why we’d done what we did that day. We thought that they probably would not. Which is fine, as nor did we. But we had done it, and would do so again in a heartbeat.

Results

men
pos name time
1 Jonathan Hay (ALDERSHOT FARNHAM & DIS) 0:42:09
901 Paul Evans 0:58:49
1206 Dave Gibson 1:03:24
1259 Geoff Davis 1:04:18
1299 Mike Hughes 1:05:02
1417 Michael Bennett 1:07:35

1730 finishers.

women
pos name time
1 Lillian Partridge (ALDERSHOT FARNHAM & DIS) 0:30:35
403 Susan Davis 0:43:02
472 Stephanie Piper 0:44:32

739 finishers.

junior women
pos name time
1 Harriet Knowles-Jones (WARRINGTON A C) 0:21:21
Sally Hughes DNF

129 finishers.

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Tour of Pendle Fell Race, Barley, Lancs, Saturday, November 14, 2015

Shortened course - 14 miles, 2700'

Paul Evans

I’d been warned about this one – admittedly by a man so Yorkshire that he got a little bit nauseous at the thought of this year’s charity relay straying briefly into Lancashire (it didn’t, but was close at times), considers racing in anything other than a vest and very short shorts unseemly and uses Tetley’s Tea as mouthwash. He just didn’t like the location. More importantly, I’d been warned about it by Scott Watson, who rated it as packing a lot of punch for its relatively short distance in the pantheon of ‘long’ fell races and warned that very little time would be spent running on a flat surface.

On the approach, if discounting the squalls of rain intermittently lashing down from the overcast sky, and the fact that the top of Pendle Hill was hidden in the clag, things looked fairly benign, with the race leaving the sanctuary of Barley village hall at 1030 along the metalled reservoir road to the base of the first climb. Over 400 of us had set off on what we were told was a course shortened (to spare the marshalls on the tops too much exposure) by 3 miles, missing out two short but steep climbs and one descent, reducing the 17m course to 14m. However, the running was easy enough to work out that if the first mile was on an fairly level road, and so was the last, this meant that all 2700′ would be packed into a mere 12 miles, meaning over 200′ of climb every mile. Completing that thought occurred at about the same time that things got serious and we turned off the road onto the slopes of Pendle Hill itself for a long leg past the trig point and over to the northern edge. It was wet, unrelenting and at that awkward gradient that is runnable, just, unless you know there’s a lot more to come, so most walked or did as I did and ran a bit then walked a bit, repeatedly, until the slope lessened and we could attack the trig and descend towards CP1. There followed an easy leg to CP2, if the fact that the top of Pendle is really good at retaining water and so was abundant in bog and lacking in grip is discounted – and the fact that a sharp drop to a stream then climb up the other side was thrown in unexpectedly (to those who had not looked at the map fully), with a steady downhill through the mist, followed by a sharp drop to Churn Clough reservoir and a relative rest as we ran along the access track by the water to CP3. By this time the race had settled down, with the leaders off ahead and a long column behind, with my usual pattern of dropping a few places on the descents and gaining more on the tops and climbs established.

The leg to CP4 was short but nasty, a steep climb up a sodden hillside covered in bracken and leaf mould making for inefficient motion, then a brief period on the top followed by all of the altitude lost on the descent to Ogden Clough, a descent apparently known as ‘Geronimo.’ The grass burns on my thighs testify to the fact I abandoned all pride and completed it on by bottom, at speed. From here (CP4) we turned left and followed the stream for a few hundred yards before climbing just as sharply to CP5, only to turn 90′ and drop back to Ashendean Clough, the climb out of which was the scene of Tom’s darker moments on the recent FRA relays and, on revisiting it, I confirm he wasn’t imaginign how long it feels the drag up the greasy, grassy slope felt.

That, however, was largely that – we climbed, we followed a wall through some summer grazing fields, now abandoned and saturated with calf-deep water and then we dropped slowly, then rapidly, to Ogden Clough again, had a relatively easy half mile downhill to the road and then race the last mile for a final couple of places. I finished in 2:16, 30 minutes behind the winner Rob Hope of Pudsey and Bramley, in 82/409 finishers. Emma Bain, John Duff and John Tollitt of NFR were not far behind and during post-race chat Emma confirmed that she’s going to rejoin Striders to run XC, so the day was actually rather productive.

Summary – £9 got you 14 miles of quality, largely-runnable fell-running in a course where the imagination has been used well to ensure that you’re:

a) never bored

b) never entirely oriented

It also got you a t-shirt, which is always a bonus, and the satisfaction of completing a race rightly regarded as a bit of a winter classic. Is it ever going to be a race we take a coach to or tell new runners is a must-do? No. It’s unashamedly niche, but for the fell-runner not quite ready for the Lake District monsters, I’d strongly encourage giving this one a go. For me – I’ve not yet done the full course, so back next year it is.

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