Tag Archives: Skiddaw Fell Race

Skiddaw Fell Race, Keswick, Sunday, July 1, 2018

15.4km/961.6m (9.6miles/2700ft)

Aaron Gourley

It was hot when I arrived at Keswick football club on Sunday morning – the type of heat you expect when you step off the plane upon arriving at your summer holiday destination. Stepping out of the air-conditioned car made it feel even more intense.

I’d arrived with the family in tow so they set off for a wander around Keswick while I made my way over to register for the race. The usual fell club vests were on display, hanging loosely from the skinny bodies of those whose playground the high fells of Cumbria belong.

I paid my £7 and went back to the car to get changed. I’d last run this race in 2015, in cooler conditions and had had a blast. For the unknowing, this is a fast out and back race up to the summit of Skiddaw, starting and finishing on the field between the football and cricket club of Keswick’s Fitz Park.

The race was due to start at 12:30 pm with around 100 runners gathered awaiting entry to the start pen following a very thorough kit check. It may have been hot with no chance of conditions changing but the organisers were fastidious in ensuring everyone was carrying the required kit set out in FRA rules.

Once everyone was checked in the start area and following a quick brief from the race organiser, we were off.

The pack spread quickly as the route snaked its way out of the park and up the lane towards the bridge crossing the A66. From here the gradient begins to steepen up through the woods. It was also nicely shaded here.
The path winds its way up out of the tree line to a car park at the foot of Skiddaw. From here the route hits the wide path that leads directly to the summit. A few little ups and downs the bang – straight on to the slope. The path steepens sharply as it zigzags its way up and mine, and everyone else’s pace drops dramatically.

It’s now hands on knees for the long slog to the top. There is no air; it’s hard to catch a breath. Sweat begins to pour off my head, into my eyes and off the end of my nose. I look up; I’ve not gone very far. Ahead of me, there are just headless bodies, everyone is doubled over marching their way up the hill with hands on their knees.

My breathing is swallowing, my legs are trembling and I’m having negative thoughts. I’m pretty sure I can’t make it to the top. The last time I was here was with Stuart Scott in November training for his BGR. It was cold, windy and covered in snow that time. What I’d have given for those conditions right now.

I pass two walkers (turns out it was Steph Piper) who shout encouragement and it gives me a temporary boost. Onward I march until eventually the gradient levels out enough to stand upright, catch a breath and break out into some kind of run once again.

Just as I’m approaching the gate at the foot of Skiddaw Little Man, the lead runner comes hurtling past on his way back down. He’s got a huge lead on the second place runner who also beats me to the gate.

Eventually, more runners come past on their way back down as I make my way to the final short sharp climb towards the summit plateau. It’s still hot but there’s a mild breeze blowing behind me, which helps a little as I make my way over the rocky path to the summit and turnaround point.

I’m greeted by two marshals, directed around the summit cairn and then it’s back the way I came off the mountain. The views are stunning and it’s hard not to gaze, but full concentration is needed to get back off quickly and safely – those rocks ready top trip you over at any time.

Slap, slap, slap go my feet as I try to make my way down the steep slopes quickly and efficiently. There’s a skill to downhill fell running, one that I think I’m fairly good at, but it takes a lot of concentration and nerves of steel to trust yourself and your foot placements. If only I could get up these hills quicker I’d have a fighting chance of being competitive.

The heat and my breathless assault to the top have left me exhausted so coming down is not done with my usual vigour. My thighs are burning and I’m struggling for breath. I pass some of the more cautious downhillers whilst those with more energy fly past me.

Eventually, I reach the bottom of the slope and have the run back through the car park and into the woods. This should be a relatively straightforward run back but I just haven’t got any energy left and the heat has taken its toll so my pace is slow as I make my way back to Fitz Park.

Finally, the finish field is in site and I cross the line and slump to the floor under the shade of the trees.

I check my watch for the first time during the whole race – 1hr59mins – 19 minutes slower than my previous effort. I knew this was going to be slow, given the heat, but I was disappointed at just how much slower it was. And so my struggles continue as I try and find some kind of form but I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can take in a race with some real effort.

2018 Results

Skiddaw Fell Race, Thursday, May 7, 2015

AM / 9m / 2700'

Aaron Gourley

As I reach the finishing straight my 3 year old daughter wants to run with me, so I slow and let her run along, but she decides she’s no energy left, so I scoop her up and carry her over the finish line before slumping in a heap to the floor.

“Daddy, can we play snap now?” she asks as I lie wheezing on the grass outside Keswick Cricket Club after completing the Skiddaw Fell Race. She has no concept that I’ve just run up to the summit and back down from England’s fourth highest mountain standing at 931m covering 9:43miles in 1hr40mins on a hot July day.

It started out relatively easy as the 115 competitors set off at 12:30pm from the edge of the cricket field in Fitz Park, a sharp left up a road and across a foot bridge over the A66 leading into the woods.

Soon the gradient increases and the pace drops. Onto the track at the foot of Jenkin Hill the gradient steepens further – head down, hands on knees power walk begins.

After a while the gradient shallows and it becomes strangely runnable as we pass the gated junction leading to Skiddaw Little Man. It’s on this path the lead runner passes on his way back down closely tracked by the second placed runner. I’m in awe as I plod onwards and upwards.

As I near the summit more and more runners come hurtling down towards me then on the summit plateau, Hardmoors queen, Shelli Gordon passes. I reach the top and find it necessary to touch the summit cairn before I turn to make my descent, but not before I remove a stone that’s sneaked into my shoe.

It’s a beautifully clear day, to my left is Blencathra in all its glory and immediately ahead, the Helvellyn range shadowing over Keswick and the valley below. It’s moments of beauty like this that make fell running such a fabulous sport. But I daren’t take my eyes of the ground for too long as the gradient on the descent steepens.

Up ahead are a group of runners, I catch two guys who are tentatively making their way down and target the two ladies in front but as the path levels out, their pace seems to increase, (or is it mine decreasing?). As we make our way back through the woods they disappear, a final steep descent back to the foot bridge at the A66 sees me caught by a girl from Horwich running club, who powers past me for the final stretch.

This is a fantastic no-nonsense fell race, tough but a relatively simple out and back race with the opportunity to eat your £7 entry fee in cake at the end!

Skiddaw Fell Race, Sunday, July 6, 2014

AM / 9m / 2700'

Danny Lim

As I hurtled down the mountainside, my poor legs were turning over as fast they could. Slap! Slap! Slap! Each foot plant was taking place just in time to avoid falling flat on my face. At the speed I was going, I was acutely aware that I was one bad step away from badly twisting my ankle or rolling all the way to oblivion! I glanced at my Garmin; 10 minutes and I had descended 600 feet. Not that I had much choice in the matter!

Then, a flash of colour; a young lady had just overtaken me. To my horror, a few dozen yards ahead, she fell flat on her face. For a few seconds, she lay motionless, then started groaning in a way that left me in no doubt she was in agony. “Don’t panic!”, I told myself. I was trained in Advance Trauma Life Support. Airway clear? Yes! Neck, broken? Does it need to be held still? Before I could ascertain this and to my horror, two fellow runners hoiked her back up to her feet. Blood was poring from the gashes in her arms and knees. With a quick pat on the back, they sent her on her way. I stood and watched in awe as she hurtled downhill, as if nothing had happened. Clearly, these fell-runners are made of different stuff.

Only one hill: Skiddaw!

I continued my descent, at a more sedate pace. By the time I reached the bottom of Skiddaw, my legs didn’t feel like they belong to me and as much as I willed them to, they were stuck in second gear. My lower back was aching from the relentless pounding. An hour of non-stop climbing followed by that brutal descent had taken its toll. Like Rocky Balboa, I kept moving forwards, though I was in no position to give chase. As I struggled to the finish, it was the girl I stopped to help earlier that was cheering me on.

So, any takers for next year then? I had a friendly welcome and plenty of banter with fellow runners. And for the grand sum of £6, got an afternoon’s entertainment and memories to last a lifetime.