This race is the second in the fell series, the first being Brough Law a few weeks back (which only myself and Ian Armstrong took part in, largely due to hangovers from the presentation evening the night before).
I have been looking forward to this race for a good while now as although I haven’t ran the course I’ve walked part of it and it is a fantastic route.
The weather forecast for the day didn’t look good for the day with vast swaths of rain forecast to sweep in accompanied by strong winds gusting to gale force on the tops. Just a typical day in the Lakes then.
I drove over with Jim & Keith, picking Fred up on the way from his weekday bolthole in Lamplugh and we parked up beside an old church in the scenic village of Braithwaite. Chris was also there having spent a few days running and cycling in the Lakes and Ian too, although he wasn’t running due to illness. I too had been hesitant to enter the race as I went over on my ankle a few weeks ago and although I had managed a little running since then it was still pretty painful and swollen.
Just as the race was about to begin the rain also started which prompted a fair few people to keep their rain jackets on to start the race.
Then we were off, a short incline out of the farmers field sharp left turn and down through the village on the road. We then left the road and went onto singletrack and the start of the ascent which created a massive bottleneck. One thing I have learnt in cross country races and which is also applicable to many fell races is that if you want to have a good race you need to be right at the front of the field and try and get away at the start so you don’t get caught out by bottlenecks like this. Today though I wasn’t going for a fast time so I was happy to sit in with the pack.
As the elevation increased the field started to thin out a little so it was actually possible to run/walk more easily. The mist was down pretty low so it wasn’t possible to see how far we had to climb although i knew it was around 2000ft to the top of Grisedale Pike, the first checkpoint.
After about an hour of hands on knees climbing I finally reached the top and it was theoretically possibly to start running again at the terrain levelled out. I say theoretically as I was immediately greeted by a howling headwind, horizontal hail and visibility of around 15ft. Up until this point I had been running pretty much side to side with Chris and Fred with Keith and Jim not far ahead but they started to pull away now as I was slowed by my ankle. The pain wasn’t too bad but i was always conscious that one badly placed step could see me back to square one with it.
The downhill section didn’t last too long before the terrain started to steepen again to the summit of Crag Hill, this highest point on the course. The route doesn’t follow the path, but instead hugs the edge of Eel Crag which resulted in a fair amount of scrambling. I couldn’t feel my hands by this point and don’t think I’ve ever been as cold in a race before but I just kept telling myself I’d warm up on the descent once I got out of the mist.
The top of Crag Hill and the majority of the 3000ft of ascent was finally reached so I started the long descent back down to Braithwaite. The terrain in this part of the Lake District is very technical, especially compared with the very runnable terrain on the Brough Law race. Descending is by far my biggest weak point in fell running, especially today with a dodgy ankle and many people passed me on this section.
It was nice to finally come down out of the mist and be able to see the finish far away in the valley below and I really enjoyed this section. The final descent from Barrow is soft and grassy and therefore very fast with a sharp turn back into the farm at the bottom.
Another runner tried to out sprint me at this section, but I managed to hold him off only to go the wrong side of the tape and have go back on myself. DOH!
So all in all a thoroughly enjoyable day – finishing positions of fellow Harriers are below with the full results available HERE. Congratulations to Keith for a great performance and taking the win.
61 WOOD, Keith 01:32:16
91 THOMPSON, Jim 01:37:19
102 KENNEDY, Chris 01:39:10
127 SMITH, Fred 01:41:26
176 BROOKS, Rob 01:49:58