This is the first time I have ran this race, having been on holiday the past few years when it has been on and have been looking forward to it. It is considered one of the toughest races in the fell race calendar at 17 miles and 6500 feet of ascent – the record being held by local legend Billy Bland in an unbelievable 2hrs 34mins 38sec.
I drove over with Phil, Jim and Phils mate John and we met Keith & Richie over there as they had stayed the previous night and were also doing the race.
Whilst waiting around at the start line we got chatting to Billy who was strolling around chatting to all the runners. This is one ove the great things I love about fell running – you would never be standing around at the start of the Great North Run chatting to Mo Farah!
The race was a big unkown for me and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on. I’ve ran a few long fell races such as the Chevy Chase and the 3 peaks, but both these races contain long stretches of very runnable terrain and I knew that wasn’t going to be the case with this one.
The race set off in light rain, the first mile is on road/track and the pace was fast before starting the first big climb to Bessyboot. I started very conservatly and felt comfortable at this point even though I was already quite far down the field – I figured I’d be able to catch many of them further into the race. As I reached the top of Bessyboot the conditions had deteriorated, the rain becoming heavier, the wind becoming stronger and visibility down to about 20ft.
Conditions underfoot were very wet too and very rocky with no path to speak of for a lot of the way. By now the field had thinned out and I could see only a few runners in front of me and I concentrated on trying to keep them in sight. Now the wind was lashing the rain horizontally into the side of my face making it even harder to see, so I decided to put my jacket on whilst I still had some feeling left in my hands. The route skirts around the edge of Rosthwaite Fell, Glaramara and Allen Crags before reaching the next checkpoint at Esk Hause.
This marks the ascent to Scafell Pike, skirting the edges of Great End and Broad Crag which is the most un-runnable terrain you could encounter (basically its a boulder field). The weather was showing no signs of relenting and the gradient was also increasing up to the summit of Scafell Pike. I now had a decision to make – some people were descending back the way I had came, whereas others took a line off to the left to go down the scree instead. I opted for the former route, although in retrospect this probably cost me a fair amount of time.
Up to this point I had pretty much held my position in the field, but many people passed me on the descent again highligthing my weakness in this area and I also passed Phil on the way down coming up who helped me feel better by asking why I was so far down the field.
The descent follows the corridoor route down to Styhead, and around halfway down the conditions improved – it stopped raining and I could actually see Great Gable towering in front of me – the next target. This is another massive climb, but funnily enough it isn’t the ascents that I find hard about fell racing – I actually quite enjoy them, its the descents that I find hard – escpecially over technical ground.
I think this is partly due to not having enough confidence, and my ankle still not being 100% since I injured it a few months ago. I really believe that being able to desend well is the key to being a good fell runner as you can make up (or lose) a lot of time in this area – much more than you can on the ascents.
Ultimately I need to practice more in this area.
The top of Great Gable is typical of many peaks in the lake district, especially in this area: very rocky with no visible paths and difficult to navigate in mist. It also highlights another vital skill in fell running – taking the right line. I failed to do this and as a result had to navigate more rocky and craggy terrain that I would have had to do had I taken a wider line to the right from the summit and losing more time. Keith had also told me about a grassier trod next to the rocky path of the corridoor route but I was unable to find this too.
From Great Gable the route skirts round the summits of Green Gable, Base Brown and Grey Knotts, and again I lost time by not taking the optimum route through this area. On the descent down to Honister checkpoint I got chatting to another runner who made the observation that we were going to make the final cut off and we could now relax. It had never entered my thoughts that I might miss the cut off, and again highlighted how bad my race was going.
The last big climb is to the summit of Dale Head, before another steep descent down through a quarry onto more runnable grassy terrain back down into the valley. On the descent the sun had a cheek to come out and I was sweating by the time I crossed the finish line.
Jim ran an excellent race to finish 68th, and Keith also ran well finnishing in 108th position. I was well down the field in 244th place, finnishing just in front of Richie and Phil, John being timed out at Honister.
So although my overall finish time and position were disapointing, there were still a lot of positives to take from the race. I had completed one of the toughest races in the country in appaling conditions, and identified specific areas I need to improve on (descending and moving quickly over technical terrain). Also, any time spent in the Lake District is time well spent.
68th Jim Thompson 04:05:14
108th Keith Wood 04:20:40
244th Rob Brooks 05:27:46
251st Richard Townsend 05:32:04
252nd Phil James 05:32:22