....walker, climber - it was a case of getting up and down the hills by any means necessary last weekend. I not only doubled, but trebled up in 3 quite different races.
Burnsall Sports - Saturday 22nd August
Last saturday was the Burnsall Feast, and the annual running of the famous race from the village, to the Flag on the Fell and back. City of Hull AC made some kind of history by taking a coach to Burnsall, its unsure whether one has been there before. There local bus service is one of those metro-buses. There was a detour after we discovered the coach was taller than the arch on the main road in. The alternative included a 20 minute detour and some pretty bumpy and tight roads to get in there - our very patient driver performing the first heroics of the day. The question upon arriving was was there anywhere to park a coach. You had to smile really :¬)
Anyway a sunny but - thankfully - not too warm, day. The one and only shop did a great business on sandwiches and (really good) flapjack as the COH crowd nervously waited, and enjoyed the festivities before the first race. The first race was the new kid in town - the fell race being around since 1870! - the 10 mile road race. I was one of a few doubling up today, 10m race and fell race. Seemed like a reasonable plan, take the 10m easy and how hard can a 1.5m race be????
Off into the hills, undulating up Wharfdale to Grassington and then Threshfield. Then followed two quite tough climbs in the last 5 miles and despite an easy pace these weren't a doddle. I then couldn't help pushing on the downhill mile-and-a-half finish. 77:28 and and enjoyable run, with some great scenery for a road run. I did my best to rehydrate but this would always be best endeavours. I then headed out with a few of the guys to explore the first few fields of the climb in the fell race, it was rather concerning that the very first short climb felt hard - HEL-LLP!!
Anyway, 5pm and less than one hour 20 after completing the 10 miler I was lined up with over a hundred runners - many of these guys and girls mean and hungry propa fell runners. Bang goes the gun and we were off. As per usual there was quite a fast pace along the road to get field position before the narrow field entrance. The first field was quickly done and the second field offered two routes over a stream bed, muddy and shallow or dry but steep. I managed to skip over the mud well and caught up with a few of my fellow club runners who took second option. The field then steepened and into the third field and picking routes through low growing vegetation.
I felt at this point that the pace around me was a bit conservative so I decided to get overtaking between walks to catch breath. I maintained this, where possible as the track twisted left to wind up the hill and narrowed. Soon the top was in site, the track was hard going with mud, rocks and large natural steps to negotiate. I reached the flagged Cairn looking down over Burnsall - nearly 900ft below - 0.85m in 14:06. Simple advice was given to me as I slowed to figure which way down Keep going!", cheers for that. Turns out the route was to basically jump straight over the edge near the cairn. its a very narrow and steep path, basically scrambling down mud and rocks that are too close to vertical for comfort.
I'd felt strong nearly to the top but now my knees seemed to have lost all strength and the best I could do was keep up with those in front as a few more daring souls passed, jumping down the heather. I kept going, scrambling slipping down rocks on, my arse and strategically grabbing vegetation to control my descent or stop myself from falling. It was a mad few minutes - but just that, soon the fields became just a steep runnable descent. By the wall - just what we all needed, a wall to climb - the legs were recovering and I started to try and run as fast as I could for the line, which was now probably a lot less than 0.5m away. Nobody passed me and I managed to get close to the guys in front who were around 100-metres ahead at the wall, but no heroic overtaking today. I pushed hard for the line - the crowd support really loud and uplifting for such a small event - and crossed in 21:55, the descent taking me nearly half the ascent time. Another great feature of this event is the river just nearby whee runners , including myself and club mates headed to get cleaned up.
I was pretty happy with that, don't think I could have done much better first time around and after the 10 miler. Next year - 20mins ;¬) All in all, a great day out and great to tick off a category AS fell race.
Sedbergh Hills - 23rd August
I woke after about 6-and-a-half hours of sleeping like the dead. And repacked the kit bag for day two. I must admit this was worrying me more than yesterday. The forecast of rain and winds didn't help, but I figured a 14m fell race with a claimed 6000ft of ascent and descent. wouldn't be easy. legs didn't feel too bad, obviously 1.5m fell races aren't too damaging to legs. Headed to see COH AC clubmate Trev's house and we set off after a mug of tea. Sedbergh, which is right in the north-west corner of the Yorkshire dales and in Cumbria, is quite a drive from West Hull, no really direct route. Time went quick though as we talked about various runs we'd done or wanted to do in the future. Arrived at 11am and got registered and ready for the sociable noon start.
The hills north of Sedbergh are scary b****r's, huge steep sided grassy monsters rising high from the plateau where the town sits at about 500ft above sea level. The race was underway on time, roughly 150 runners off at noon, no great sprint at the start unlike yesterday. The first climb today dwarfed Burnsall, but thankfully wasn't all packed into quite such a short distance. The first section of the hill had most people running on their toes due to steepness, it gradually got less steep but then we hit the low cloud and visibility was reduced to less than 100 yards. The climb continued onwards until about 2 miles - 1500ft gained already. Then came an equally relentless descent, fast followed by a respite before the first section of "uncomfortable steepness" as we reemerged from the hill fog. By 3.5m we'd dropped most of that gained 1500ft..... Cruel buggers these fell races.
I've always quite liked descending and always figured I was at least better than average at it. Today people were flying past me as I didn't feel confident for grip. I'd opted for Roclites for the comfort, judging by most others around the mudclaws would have been a better option for traction on wet grassy and muddy descents. I persisted onwards, helped by the positive I seemed better uphill than most, often overtaking on the slow runs and steep bits that were walk/climb.
Fog ended at about halfway as I contoured on a series of muddy and narrow paths with deadly drops to either side at one stage or another. I properly fell forward at CP3, I'd made it down a tricky descent but then slipped on a rock in the stream banging right knee and cramping left quad. Thankfully no blood and just an ache to add to the left knee I banged yesterday, the cramp cleared instantly. I got up and started the trek uphill, glad to be done with another lethal descent. The descent to CP4 was blood-curdling on tiring quads and I was so glad that the next section was a long, gradual climb with some runnable bits for over two miles. A change from the status quo of straight up, straight down, or tricky - if runnable - flat contouring. Rain was getting heavier so I stopped to put on a waterproof top so I could pack away the sodden wind jacket. Good timing and I think this helped me on the remainder and especially this section into head-on wind and rain not running much so needed to keep warm.
At the end of this climb was the highest point, The Calf, about 650m, I think, about 2/3 of a Scaffell Pike. We were also into thick fog again, and a narrowing of field made navigating off others who may know route wasn't an option. Me and a fella from the North York Moors AC joined up and found our way through the fog and onto a nice, steady, long descent to Sedbergh which I enjoyed after the "cheese chaser" style steep descents of earlier. We exchanged shoe woes, he was getting "jip" from his fell shoes, not worn in and tearing his feet apart, I had intact and comfy feet but no grip on most the steep descents. Enforced navigation stops had re energised me and I ran all the descent and then most of the way to the final trig point and cairn (a modest 400m+ high). I then performed best endeavours in the mile descent to Sedbergh (another potential killer).
I was dead chuffed to finish in 3:26 on my debut. Not fast for the 14.5m covered, but this was the hardest 14.5m of my life. I never truly appreciated the severity of the hills in fell runs in this area till now! Trev, who is a bit speedy, had run 3:06 and a good 60th position, I was 90th of about 150. Winner was low 2:20s, an inhuman time, but I suppose modest compared to Keith Andersons 1991 record of 1:58. Keith must have hammered the descents, a fact backed up by the fact he also holds the fastest recorded descent time at Burnsall fell race I did yesterday, about 3mins30 for the ~0.75m, my modest descent being over double that!