Tag Archives: Tour of Pendle Fell Race

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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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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Tour of Pendle Fell Race, Barley, Lancs, Saturday, November 15, 2014

AL / 27km / 1473m

Scott Watson

Some poor guy gets roped into taking my picture outside race HQ after the race!Apologies for having my ugly mug all over this report but perhaps not unsurprisingly as I was the only Strider at this excellent fell race in deepest, darkest Lancashire. This is actually one of the few races that I’ve taken the trouble to pre-enter and was part of a gradual process of re-introducing myself to the demands of fell-racing, being the first AL event I had done for many years. Pivotal in my decision to pre-enter was the £7.00 fee which was less than half the EOD fee (£15.00) making, as far as I could see, the highly desirable t-shirt free!

On the day the main feature of the weather throughout northern England was FOG and sure enough, thick, persistent mist covered much of the event area throughout the race although the HQ in Barley itself was clear. Conditions underfoot were very boggy and the ground had been well saturated. Consequently many tracks were quickly turned into black, peaty mud slides after they’d been worked on by the feet of several hundred runners.

The event area is quite isolated and compact and the tour follows a figure-of-eight course to achieve its 27 gruelling kilometres with a punishing and unrelenting amount of climbing. The longer the race goes on the tougher the climbs get and the last three come in quick succession with the toughest being the very last. The intervening descents are long and extremely steep, for the most part on tussocky grass and rugged, muddy tracks that offer unnervingly little grip in wet conditions.

The first mile however, alongside the reservoir, is deceptively flat until the race turns onto the moor and encounters the first of the six climbs. From being quite a way towards the back I was able to consistently pass people as we made our way remorselessly upwards. After what seemed like an eternity we passed the mist-shrouded beacon on ‘Big End’ (with no other indicator of the considerable altitude) and headed downhill to the first of the eleven checkpoints we would visit that day.

At each checkpoint we were required to hand over a plastic tag from a ring of tags we had been issued with at race HQ. Whilst I’d secured mine so they were easily reached I’d completely forgotten what I was supposed to do with them and I lost a good few seconds at both CP1 and 2 fumbling around trying to get one off and into the bucket. After this I resolved to keep the next one in my hand ready for use or until I could firmly identify when we’d be arriving at a checkpoint.

Such is the height gained on the first climb that the second comes quite a long time afterwards, following a long, gradual but speedy descent to the western end of the course at the Nick o’ Pendle. Here we turned east again and continued the descent to Churn Clough reservoir. On leaving the reservoir, the climb out is awkward, alongside a wire fence where there is very little scope to pass at first. Then, when it turns onto the moor, things get easier until the descent to Ogden Clough.

On the way over the fell, I heard people around me referring to this as ‘Geronimo’ and when you got there you could see why. It is super steep, slippery and straight down to the stream where lots of ant-like spectators gather to shout encouragement. My own descent was one of slipping, sliding and frantic tacking and I don’t clearly recall reaching the bottom but once over the stream I recognised several people ahead of me that had been behind me at the top (Andy Russell from NFR has an excellent album featuring this descent and virtually the entire course of last year’s much more visible event here).

Ascending Ogden Clough in the mist in the 2014 Tour of Pendle
photo courtesy and © Steve Bateson Photography (Runningpix)

The ascent along Ogden Clough is on a rocky trail that rises gradually and concludes with a stiff climb out of the gully at the top. On the ridge and in the mist again, the route rejoins the course previously taken for a short distance before turning off onto the north side of the moor this time, for a full-on gallop down Apronfull Hill heading for the next CP where we surrendered another of the all-important tags.

Turning sharply right we were confronted with the first of the three hills that would be the main feature of the race from here onwards. Actually the three hills are effectively the same hill taken three times. The northern and eastern flanks of Pendle are by far its steepest and most imposing and the route just zig-zags up and down them getting progressively harder at each ascent (although after the first one, that doesn’t seem possible).

In between, the ground was boggy and heavy and the mist prevented any forewarning of what the course held in store if, like me, you were lacking local knowledge or previous experience (on this part of the course at least). The descent to CP 7 prior to the penultimate climb was particularly wearing for me and I slowly lost places but regained many of them on the long, long shocker of a climb as we ‘bounced’ in and out of the checkpoint. Here my calves and thighs started to protest for the first time that day with others suffering too, one guy going down very dramatically in front of me as cramp took its toll.

Not having had time to visit Pete Bland’s van and purchase an event map I couldn’t remember if there was another climb or, if there was, where it was in relation to the finish. Unfortunately it was all too close and it wasn’t long before we plunged back over the edge, giving up all that lovely height we’d struggled so hard to gain.

After a long, gnarly descent I could hear cow bells that seemed to be announcing our arrival at CP 9. Here I gave up another tag before being confronted with the bells themselves which were being rung by runners as they passed through, possibly, I thought, in an attempt to placate the evil witches famously associated with these parts that may have been waiting to lure the unwary runner to his doom. I wanted to make sure all my bases were covered so I gave each bell a hefty slap then immediately forgot about witches as my tired legs began to flounder on the sides of the wet, mossy slope.

Looking up at the shadows moving agonisingly slowly in the mist hurt the neck and for an age I hauled myself upwards, hands clutching the grass in front of me or pressed hard on my thighs, hoping my calves would remain functional. When the top did come at last (indicated by a line of vaguely human silhouettes from where the occasional muffled ‘well done’ could be heard) I staggered onto the mercifully flat ground and wondered whether my legs would still work.

I was pleasantly surprised when they did and even more so when other runners started to appear out of the mist in front of me. It didn’t last long however and as what was now the final descent began to steepen so my legs began to tire and a couple of guys overtook me. Only a few metres later the mist had swallowed them up and I was once again on my own. The lines to the final CP must have been many and various and there was certainly a distinct lack of footprints on my chosen route; when eventually they did come together just before the checkpoint, to form the familiar mud-slide, I must say I breathed a sigh of relief.

No time for a shower so the river'll have to do! It felt great to hand over that last tag and then just have to concentrate on dealing with a mile of tarmac. I didn’t feel too bad at all and was only caught by one other runner (I had visions of hundreds coming past me on a surface where everyone else would be able to run really quickly). One poor guy about 400m in front of me was forced to stop a couple of times to grab his legs (obviously suffering from cramp) but try as hard as I might, I couldn’t quite close the gap before he reached the sanctuary of the finish.

All in all it was a tremendously satisfying, well marshalled and testing event organised by Clayton le Moors Harriers in which, had I arrived in time to organise myself properly, with a map for instance, I might have done a bit better than my 137th place in 3 hours 14 minutes. I’d felt pretty good almost all of the way round and the possibility of a run much closer to the 3-hour mark is beckoning already.

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