We are now into day three of our lock down in Spain (where we have a house). We are comfortable and have a full fridge and freezer. The authorities are trying their best to keep some semblance of normality and food stores and services such as bin emptying etc are continuing. No restaurants, non-food stores, gyms, play areas, beaches or public areas are open and we are not allowed to leave our homes without good reason.
The isolation at first seems easy then it really kicks in, within 24 hours. To try and explain how it feels: you suddenly have none of the everyday noises that are a constant in the background. I am hearing so many things from wildlife that I never knew about which is good but to hear no traffic, walkers, runners or cyclists or people to just nod or pass the time of day with, that is the real element of isolation. The silence is strange and deafening. I get excited when I here other voices outside: people, real people! We rush to the window to see who it is.
Being confined to your home is not as easy as you think. We are allowed to go to the supermarkets for food but that is all. Police are on constant patrol making sure people stay at home. We are not in a very densely populated area yet they are still able to patrol at regular intervals. The biggest thing for me is that I miss my family especially my mum. Having lost my dad in January it is particularly hard for us both. I also think I will miss my son’s 30th but I hope we can celebrate in style at a later date.
Why don’t you come home? I hear you say. Because we drove down and to set off back to the UK home I need to be sure I can make the full journey, and that we have enough fuel, food and will find places to stop. When I arrive home I’m sure you will all be in isolation so I will have to repeat this and I don’t want to do it twice.
Panic shopping took place here as well although loo roll is still widely available! I did however question one man’s priority as he had a trolley loaded with wine. Each to their own.
Our lockdown progresses to another stage today in that all major roads will be blocked by the police and armed forces to prevent people moving around. The police are armed here which also makes it feel very different and I will admit a bit scary.
I have seen comments on various sites about the cancellation of various races and the disappointment. I totally understand this and suggest you enjoy the hills while you can and look forward to your return to them, as the lockdown is heading your way.
I have managed to sneak out in the early hours to do a short run in the hills behind me and am lucky enough to be able to train on the solarium roof but it’s not the same as running freely. For fit and healthy people isolation is not an easy ask.
I strongly suggest you dig out your jigsaws, books and good old family games. Don’t underestimate what isolation does. Panic shopping is one thing but adapting your daily routine to confinement and restrictions to your liberty is another, especially when there is no defined end to this scenario.
Stay safe folks and I look forward to returning to a place where we can all move around freely.
Why are we having a sprint finish Will? I’m sure a slow
little trot would suffice. We still have about 40 minutes until our time is up.
It’s an odd feeling running (or shuffling) along tarmac after almost 12 hours
of bashing about in waist-height heather. My legs had become accustomed to the
slow pace, high knee, bracken gallumping from last night, and now they were
being asked to move quickly. But, if you ask nicely enough, they sure get their
act together and oblige. We crashed over the line and landed the final dib of
the night. Whoa, what a night eh? It was nice to see that Will was looking as
wrecked as I was but still smiling.
The days leading up to Dark Mountains was full of the usual mountain marathon (MM) kit prepping and organisation.* Running through the kit list and laying everything on the floor, before playing Tetris trying to stuff it all in my bag. Something a bit unique on the list was an ice axe and micro spikes, but thankfully the weather was warm enough so they weren’t needed. Saturday night quickly approached and before we knew it, we were standing at the start line. Joking with the marshals who said we looked like the springiest runners they had seen so far. I don’t think I felt it though. At exactly 18:44 we were handed our race map with a splatter of checkpoints sprawled across it. We worked out a rough plan, and then headed out onto the fells excited for what the night would bring.
As perfectly described in the planner’s insight, the terrain was notoriously rough. They even advised on avoiding one particularly bad section marked “Here Be Dragons!” As always for the first handful of checkpoints, we were leap-frogging other teams until the field thinned out. The weather was relatively dry and mild, but the fog was thick on the tops creating that ever so helpful glare from your headtorch. Around the fifth checkpoint we decided on a different route choice to the other teams that were near; and we soon ended up in the dark by ourselves. As a kid I used to be scared of the dark. I remember one particular night-time bike ride through the local woods in Newcastle. I had recently watched Predator, so every rustle in the bushes made me jump. I got too scared of the dark and begged my dad to take me back to the car. However, over the years I now find being in the dark second nature, especially when you are with someone else. This is because if Predator does turn up, you push over your partner and let them be taken ha ha! (Sorry Will…)
The first few hours ticked away nicely, and we picked
off the checkpoints without too much bother. But around midnight I began to
feel cold and tired. I pushed on for a couple more checkpoints and I got
quieter and quieter. Only saying the odd “a bit more left” or “a bit more
right” if we were straying from the bearing. This was the first time in a race
where quitting crossed my mind. I realised that if I didn’t put on more layers
and eat more food the next 6 hours were going to be rough. I put on my
waterproof trousers for the first time ever in a race, and had some sausage
rolls and energy bars. I soon perked up, and we even took the luxury of
stopping and turning off our headtorches to admire the stars. They were some of
the clearest I’d seen in the UK for a long time. This was the boost that we
More hours of bumbling about passed with plenty of trips
and falls. The most memorable was when Will’s legs disappeared into a hole, and
he bashed his bum as he folded in. As we ran over rocky sections, we would sing
“ROCKS-ANNE” in the tune of The Police song. Something I found a bit too funny considering the crap joke. The
final few hours passed quickly, and we were soon faced with a classic MM
decision. Take it easy home, or go for glory with one more checkpoint and then run
like hell. To Will’s dismay I managed to persuade him of the latter, and to go
for one final 25 pointer. Thankfully, the running gods were on our side and we
made quick progress leaving us a whole hour to get back. This didn’t stop us
from the sprint finish down the last track though! It was great fun hammering
it down the slippery slope, skidding around other teams on their return. We crossed
the line to the claps of the marshals. I wonder if they thought we still looked
Our splits were downloaded, and to our shock we had somehow come in 1st out of the 13 teams that were back. But there were still another 16 teams to finish so let’s not get our hopes up just yet. It was going to be a nervous 45 minutes wait until 7am. This would mark 12 hours since the last long score team set off and therefore would confirm our final position. In the meantime, we staggered over to the café and shovelled some food into our faces. To Will’s delight they had a decent vegan breakfast for the competitors. Hash browns, mushrooms, beans, Linda sausages, toast and ample tea and coffee. We sat in the event tent getting warm and watching other competitors crawl through the door. During this time, we saw a rather exhausted, cold and wet Mike Ayers stumble in and slump into his chair, bag still fully strapped to his back. He had been out on the medium score with his usual MM buddy Toby White. Mike was in good spirits as always, especially since he had managed to run for 10 hours without too much bother from his knee. Finally, just after 7am we checked the results and our final ranking was 3rd! Woohoo, absolutely epic. We were not expecting to do this well, especially as this was Will’s first MM. We realised that we were only 20 points clear of 4th, so good job we went for that final 25 pointer.
We wobbled to the car and changed into dry clothes and
attempted a few hours of kip before hitting the road home. When I shut my eyes,
my brain replayed images of map contours and the scan of heather with my
headtorch. Clearly my brain was still stuck on navigation mode. After a couple
hours of restless sleep, we watched the prizegiving and then carefully began
the drive home. The deal, as always, is that if the driver is tired, the
passenger can’t snooze and they must act as DJ. Will did not disappoint and
played some bangers. I was most impressed by him not snoozing, as in his
delirious state he thought it was raining inside the service station bookshop. We
chatted nonsense and dreamt up plans for future adventures. Will has definitely
caught the MM bug as there were talks of the Saunders, ROC, OMM and the
Scottish. How many of these events can we do in a year? Answer: N+1.
*Ed’s note: a regular mountain marathon usually happens over two days. The Dark Mountains marathon packs all that into one night instead. Competitors chose between linear courses of varying distances, or a fixed time — a “score” — in which they had to reach as many checkpoints as possible. Short score (8 hours), medium score (10 hours), long score (12 hours).
As 2019 was the year for dubious world records and associated PB claims in athletics (no offence, Eliud 😉), I thought why not celebrate my lovely new NLFR vest by staking my own tenuous claim for a world record, OK fastest known time (FKT), for the Fellpack Triple Expresso.
My brother Steve and I already held the FKT, and whilst being the only known participants lessens the claim somewhat, our achievements were made without the use of rotating pacers or state-of-the-art Nikes (just our dad on the latter two tops and in my case, Salomons with more miles on the clock than I care to mention) so it’s worth shouting about, right? As our previous attempt was completed in a St Theresa’s AC vest (and Keswick AC who Steve runs for) I thought we’d best go claim some Cumbrian glory in NLFR’s name. It’s probably worth pointing out at this stage, the Triple Expresso doesn’t really exist as a concept outside of the Jones family: We came up with the idea over a beer and Steve christened it as a friendly nod to Fellpack’s near neighbour George Fishers and its Espresso Round. (Expresso after an express train as well as the drink.)
a bar/café/restaurant (https://www.fellpack.co.uk/) on Lake Road in
Keswick, and has rapidly established itself as something of a Mecca for outdoor
enthusiasts of all kinds. For those seeking to refuel after a day on the
fells, it offers a comprehensive range of tasty snacks and meals (including
lots of GF & vegan options). If rehydration is more your bag, it’s
fully licensed with a good selection of lagers and ales, and if you’re looking
for inspiration for your next adventure there’s knowledgeable staff, plenty of
outdoorsy books kicking about and the walls are adorned with running club vests
and photos of top fell runners.
Fellpack run informal challenges for their clientele to bag some of the local fells. You get on the leader board for running to either Walla Crag, Catbells or Latrigg, taking a selfie at the top, and getting back to the café for a celebratory slice of cake. For a few years now I’ve done the Walla Dash on the weekend before Christmas, and last year we thought we’d try to be the first people to run all 3 of the designated fells, starting and finishing at the Fellpack, and revisiting inbetween!
2018’s effort was 3 hours 7 minutes 32 seconds. We adopted the same strategy for Christmas 2019: we would tackle the out and back run to Catbells first, which is the biggest of the climbs and has the fastest road sections of the day leading to and from it. I think the weather was marginally worse this year, but there wasn’t a lot in it and I guess we summitted in within a minute or two of our 2018 time. You’ve got a decent run back through Portinscale to the Fellpack, but like last year I soon went from “feeling good, best conserve some energy” to the more familiar “crikey, it’s going to be long afternoon” as I went up the deceptively steep Springs Road on the way to the main climb up to Walla Crag. We were pretty much breaking even on time at the second summit (we’d done leg one 2 minutes faster than 2018, so must have been a fair bit slower to lose so much time up the relatively short climb from town to Walla) but we got back to the Fellpack for the penultimate time with a couple of minutes grace back in the bag.
After a short run across town you are then faced with the short sharp climb of Spooney Green Lane that will be familiar to anyone who has tackled Skiddaw. The lane is a swine at the best of times but even worse with 20km in the legs. It gets sharper when you pull off the main path and take the shortest but steepest ascent to Latrigg’s summit as per the Latrigg fell race. As is often the case, we saw some hikers mistakenly celebrating getting to the top at the false summit by the bench just shy of the real peak (for those seeking a photo op, for my money this is has the most rewarding ratio in terms of effort against view in the Lakes, but only if you take more windy walkers path!). Steve took rather too much enjoyment pointing out their error and sent them to the true summit in the cloud a couple of hundred metres away. I was too tired to join in the banter, but I’m sure the look on my face said something along the lines of “I know, I can’t be bothered either.”
We soon met Dad at the top. I can’t be sure, but I think his words of encouragement were along the lines of “best get cracking if you want to beat your record”. Thanks, Dad! By this point I’d forgotten our previous splits for the various peaks/return visits to Fellpack so I don’t know how long it had taken to get from Latrigg back to town the last time, but I was aware we had 19 minutes to beat our PB. On reflection I should have realised how doable it was as it’s just a couple of miles of downhill fell running, and flattish road. (By comparison Kenny Stuart’s longstanding record for the “up & down” Latrigg fell race is a mind boggling 16 minutes 30 odd seconds.) But it wasn’t until we got off Spooney Green Lane and towards the back of Keswick Pool that I was confident of a PB.
So, after just short of 25lm run and 1400m climbed, we got back to Fellpack in 3.04.52; a good two and a half minute PB, a Christmas tradition extended and, perhaps only for a short time, joint bragging rights for NFLR with Keswick AC (there’s worse clubs to share a claim to fame with). I think we tackled the peaks in the best order, but if anyone was using this for a Yorkshire 3 Peaks training run and not bothered about records I’d suggest Latrigg, Catbells then Walla. That way you get the mimic Pen-y-Ghent’s short sharp climb not too warmed up, and some fast road running an hour or two in. If anyone wants clarity on route on rules, feel free to give Steve or me a shout on Facebook.
I’d love to
think we can take the record below 3 hours, but there’s nothing to be learned
in terms of route really, and perhaps only marginal benefits coming off grassy
Catbells and Latrigg in better weather, so I’d be looking at doubling last
year’s fitness gains to be in with a chance. With any luck, hopefully someone
else will rise to the challenge and take it below 3 hours first. You never
know, they may just be wearing a NLFR top?
Damn it’s rainy; this mud is thick; it’s blowing a hoolie; my fingers are cold; hope this bearing is right; I’m knackered; woohoo the finish! These were just some of the thoughts that ran through my mind during Trigger – but what a race! I was feeling nervous, but seeing familiar and excited faces at the start calmed me down. The cricket clubhouse was bustling with excited runners ready to get out and hammer some miles into their legs. There are not many people I know that get excited about waking up at 5:20am, catching a bus in the dark, and then running a 25-mile fell race in mid-January. But I guess this is why I love fell running. It’s nice knowing that you are not the only nutter out there.
We lined up at the start just as the sun was rising and as the rain set in nicely. A perfect way to start the day. We set off around the reservoirs and up to the A635. I found myself in a group with fellow NLFR Matt and Uni pal Alec. The slippery flagstones to Black Hill were treacherous underfoot and the wind and rain were beginning to sap away my warmth. Once at the top we hit the first of the nav sections. Thankfully the visibility was good, and I was able to see the line through the heather and into the valley towards Crowden. Alec thought he wasn’t wet enough so went for a little swim in a bog. Maybe he is practicing for a triathlon?
After a very sketchy road crossing that could have ended our race a bit more abruptly than planned, I added my extra layer and munched down some food. The climb up Torside Clough was tough but the views were worth it. Beautiful white cloud rolled over the steep craggy sides. As we left the Pennine Way the path turned into shoe-eating bog. Coming up was the second nav section to Higher Shelf Trig. I was not overly confident about this part. We were now a group of 5 and to my displeasure the two new members to our party didn’t know where they were going either. This meant the tricky nav landed on me… great. Not ideal, but we pushed on. You really must trust your bearing when you can only see about 50 yards and someone you have never met before questions your route choice. But if they want to sponge off you then they must deal with it! We hit the trig a bit further west than planned and picked up the trod. Sadly, this is where I messed up. We reached the end of the trod and rather than cutting south-east and picking up the Pennine Way again, I began following the path west into the wrong valley. Balls. Thankfully, Matt questioned this line and we turned around to make the walk of shame back.
As we hit Snake Top, we began passing the Spine racers, who were ladened with heavy packs. I was glad to only have a few more hours rather than a few more days left. The descent down Within Clough provided a much-needed respite from the wind and rain. By the time we hit checkpoint 6 we had lost Alec and it was just me and Matt. I learnt later that Alec had pulled his groin here and had to walk the rest of the way home. Poor lad, he must have been gutted. I began to bonk along Kinder, and I told Matt not to wait for me any more. I was jealous of the spring still left in his legs.
The blasted cold made my fingers disobey me as I struggled to get out my sweets. Finally, after what felt like an age, I was able to get the much-needed hit of sugar. The sugar must have caused my mind to wander leading to the betrayal of my legs and a subsequent commando roll down Jacob’s Ladder. Luckily this was on soft mud and not the rocky staircase. I took the final section of the Pennine Way from Upper Booth to Edale steady and plodded across the finish line in 4hrs 39mins, only a couple of minutes behind Matt.
After changing into dry warm clothes and a double serving of veggie stew and hot squash we sat in Edale village hall swapping stories from the day with the other nutters.
The Bob Graham Round, as all fell runners know, is steeped in legend by the vast history of attempts from running legends like Billy Bland, Joss Naylor, Rob Jebb, Nicky Spinks, Jasmin Paris, and Kilian Jornet, and the list goes on! Like many runners I caught the Bob Graham bug after reading Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith. So, when my good running pal Dan said he was going to give it an attempt this summer, the itch to give it a go really kicked in. For those who don’t know, the BGR was devised in 1932 by Bob Graham, a hotelier of Keswick. It amounts to 66 miles over 42 Lakeland peaks with over 27,000ft of elevation, all to be completed within 24 hours. It is split into five legs as with four road crossings where you can fill up on food and water if you have a support crew.
Dan asked me to support him on the first two legs, so I began training hard as I wanted to make sure I was fit enough. As he is living in the Lakes, I knew he would be super speedy and strong on the hills. About a month before the proposed start date, we ran a rather wet and windy Abrahams Tea Round which amounted to a tasty 30 miles and 11,000ft of elevation. I felt good on that which showed my training was paying off, and Dan began to fill my head with words of encouragement that I would be fit enough to join him for the entire BGR. The combination of these two elements began to convince me that it might be possible.
Another two weeks of training passed and during a successful recce of leg 3, I told Dan that I was in, and I would do the round with him. Ooo scary! I only told a handful of people that I was attempting the whole round, I didn’t want the pressure of having to succeed. However, all I actually wanted to do was blurt it out to everyone I met.
Leg 1 Keswick to Threlkeld
The Friday was a rush with last-minute packing, finishing work, trying to snooze, and eating lots. Before I knew it, we were standing at Moot Hall awaiting our midnight start. Barry, who was covering Dan’s Saturday shift at Keswick youth hostel, came out to take a snap of us both and wish us good luck. It was nice to start the round without many spectators as it took the pressure off us, it felt like we were just going out for a night run in the fells, no biggie.
As we climbed higher up Skiddaw the clag set in and by the time we reached the top it was difficult to make out the edge of the path. However, thanks to Dan’s knowledge of the first leg we had no issue finding the trods that took us to Great Calva and then onto Blencathra. Even though it was pretty wet due to the mist we decided to go down the main scramble of Halls Fell as we had recently got lost trying to find a cleaner line during a recce. We were slightly down on schedule when we arrived in Threlkeld, but Dan’s parents, Kevin and Lucy, had some hot food and a cuppa waiting.
Leg 2 Threlkeld to Dumnail Raise
The clag was the same for most of the leg 2 and we nearly lost Watsons Dodd, but due to a bit more luck than skill it appeared out of the mist after a worried few minutes. It’s crazy how you can get turned around when the visibility is poor and you don’t pay attention to your bearing! Just as we were topping out of Helvellyn the sun began to poke its head out from beneath the horizon and we were both lost for words by the beauty of it all. This gave us beaming smiles as we bounded down to the awaiting crew at Dunmail Raise.
Leg 3 Dunmail Raise to Wasdale
We picked up Abel and Pete for leg 3 who were both brilliant with reminding us to eat and drink. Also Abel’s nav was spot on. It was nice to relax a bit and at some points I felt like a little lost puppy as I hooked onto the back of Abel’s heels and blindly followed his every step as he guided us through the rocky rough stuff. Some friends, Dave and Sheila, met us on Scafell Pike and were able to get some brilliant pics on the top. We all looked really cheery even though Dan’s foot had somehow managed to fight its way through the side of his shoe. This isn’t ideal when you have a 2800ft descent off the top of Scafell with a fair amount of scree running. But thanks to some trusty climbing tape the shoe held all the way down to Wasdale.
Leg 4 Wasdale to Honister
I can see why they call Wasdale the graveyard of the Bob Graham as the climb up Yewbarrow is not what you want after your legs have been jellified from that descent. Thankfully the gravedigger did not come calling as we set off with our two fresh new supporters Calum and Sam. As we summited Yewbarrow we bumped into a couple who were sipping on white wine in the sun as they had just completed all the Wainwrights in only three years: kudos to them! Leg 4 was tough, and I had a couple of low moments due to feeling bloated from all the food we had been eating. But after munching on a fresh banana I soon felt better and the miles ticked away. It was nice having Calum and Sam acting as our mums constantly giving us water, slices of pizza and sweeties. On the final descent from Grey Knotts, we both knew that completing the round was going to be possible. This gave us a huge rush of endorphins which pushed us down to Honister.
Leg 5 Honister to Keswick
After more tea and hot food, we picked up Abel again and the 5 of us headed up Dale Head in a jolly mood. Only three more tops! The sun was starting to set, and we basked in the golden light for the final hour on the fells. When we topped out on Robinson, Dan and I embraced in an emotional hug as neither of us could believe what we had just achieved. The steep grassy descent off the top hurt the knees, so a bit of bum sliding made an appearance. It’s a great idea until a load of prickles get stuck in your undershorts. We made a quick change into fresh socks, club vests and road shoes for the final 10km along the road and bounded off with excitement. Surprisingly we were all going at quite a pace considering, and by the time we hit Keswick high street we were doing a full-on sprint. What a feeling to climb the stairs of Moot Hall like so many running legends and have all our supporters there cheering and clapping. We clocked in at 20 hours and 3 minutes, over 40 minutes ahead of our schedule! There were more emotional hugs all round and we just couldn’t stop smiling. This certainly won’t be a moment I will ever forget. I did not really realise how much of a welcoming running community there is in Keswick until people I had never met before were congratulating me and Dan. One guy summed it up nicely by simply saying “Welcome to the club lads!” There is no better way of celebrating the best day out on the fells either of us have ever had than by going to the pub with good company for some food and beers.
I want to say thank you to Kevin and Lucy Cade for their excellent road support and for supplying some of the best cups of tea I’ve ever had. Thank you Abel, Pete, Calum and Sam for their superb leg support and for keeping us smiling when it got tough. And thanks also to Dave and Sheila for the quality photos, they captured the memories of the day perfectly.
Having recently experienced two incidents in the fells, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to remind myself, and everyone else, of the respect we need to give to the mountains and high fells, and the importance of what we need to carry and how to prepare ourselves for all eventualities.
The first incident was when Emma fell and gashed her knee quite badly on Cross Fell Race a couple of months ago. This was initially attended to by me and fellow runners who provided bandages and water etc, and then was efficiently dealt with by the race organisers who managed to get her transported off the fell and forwarded to hospital without the need for fell rescue. No long term damage, thankfully.
The second happened during a recce of Langdale Horseshoe this last Bank Holiday Monday, only around half a mile up Stickle Ghyll. Sheelagh, Sharon, Emma and me, along with friends from Kirkstall Harriers and Horsforth Fellandale (Izzy and Louise), witnessed what became quite a serious incident, when a walker tripped and fell right in front of Sheelagh, audibly and obviously breaking a bone/bones in his lower leg.
Between us, and the friend of the injured man, we managed to make him as comfortable and warm as possible in the circumstances, with what equipment we had. As there were a few of us, we each, quite naturally, took on our own roles. Izzy, who incidentally is currently training to be a mountain rescuer, rang the emergency services; Sheelagh asked questions about medical history, allergies, medication etc. Meanwhile, Sharon and the rest of us were emptying our bags to see what warm/extra clothing we could use to help. Sharon had a foam mat which we managed to slip under the injured guy’s back/bum, together with his waterproof jacket. He was actually carrying a sleeping bag in his rucksack (as he’d been up to Stickle Tarn in the early morning to view the sunrise), so we covered him with that, along with our silver foil blankets and Louise’s hat.
Interestingly, and importantly to note, we gave the emergency service operators our “What3words” location, as well as grid reference and a description physically of where we were. It was surprising to hear that the first thing they asked for was “What3words,” even before grid reference. If you haven’t heard of this, please look it up. It is a vital piece of new technology that can locate you to a 3m-square area with a unique three word name, anywhere in the world, and apparently the rescue services love it.
The injured man was clearly in a lot of pain and discomfort, though at times was in reasonable spirits, joking and chatting (he even phoned his mum during this time, saying, “hi Mum, don’t worry, I’m up a mountain and I’ve broken my leg”!). As time went on though, it was obvious his body was starting to object to the trauma and he started displaying signs of shock/shaking/ shivering. Rightly or wrongly (to be discussed further), we gave him a Shotblok and a few sips of water, which very quickly brought him round, though thankfully a short while afterwards, the true heroes arrived.
We left the scene after almost two hours, with the knowledge that our guy was in the safe hands of the amazing Langdale/Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team (gosh, it was incredible seeing what equipment they carried and how expertly they dealt with the situation). After staying with them and observing for a while, we were then advised that a coastguard helicopter was on its way to winch him off the mountainside. We said goodbye to our friend, who was very grateful to his “Yorkshire Angels,” as he kept referring to us, especially to Izzy who had held his hand for almost all the time we were there. And we went on our way, only to hear the faint sounds of the engine/rotors as we were high up on Thunacar Knott a little later.
Anyhow, I think this showed the stark realities of what can actually turn very quickly from a nice day out to quite tricky circumstances in the blink of an eye. I for certain have made a mental note of what I need to consider when venturing out (though I do appreciate we generally travel a little lighter in fell races) but when out there in small groups or alone, I think we should all:
make sure we have enough warm clothing. There is a reason the FRA and race organisers enforce rules: you may actually need to wear your spare clothing, even on a very warm August Bank Holiday weekend when you’re stuck in one place up a mountain for quite some time.
carry enough food and water for longer than we anticipate being out.
consider carrying a basic first aid kit, as even a very small dressing and a foil blanket may be a life-saver.
carry a fully charged mobile phone with ‘What3words’ and grid reference apps downloaded.
consider registering on a first aid course or read up on basic first aid and mountain safety.
This was the inaugural Ilkley Half Marathon, held on 14th July. It was my first road half marathon, with the added spice of my eldest son also running it. Obviously no familial competitiveness there! Training had not been as intended when I registered last year, as I had a bike crash in September with multiple broken bones, a torn cruciate ligament in February and a broken arm in May. So I was just happy to be outdoors doing some exercise.
While I await surgery to repair my cruciate ligament I am confined to road running, which would not normally be my choice and the training is, in my opinion, a little dull compared to the Moor! Nonetheless, this was a magnificent and most enjoyable event. There was a large event village and the race was completely oversubscribed, with more than 1600 runners. The route was perhaps not the most picturesque but made up for it in spades with atmosphere as the local crowds lined the route through Ben Rhydding, Ilkley and Addingham, cheering and banging cowbells.
There was great camaraderie in the runners and just as energy was flagging, the huge crowds on the finishing line gave an incentive for the sprint my legs would normally deny me. I came in at a little over 1.32, about 90 seconds after my son, who I had only seen in the distance from the moment of the klaxon sounding.
However my parental competitive disappointment was softened by a time that I was very happy with, 79th overall, 5th Vet 50 and just a great day out. The event was superbly organised (by Sportsshoes), great fun and the beer was cheap and good quality afterwards. Highly recommended and worth trying to register early as it’s likely to sell out again. It would be great to get more NLFR vests out there!
I have been wanting to run the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon for a few years now, but due to summer holidays and work commitments I have never been able to fit it in. So this year I booked on early, and I also managed to persuade my friend Josh to take part in the Kirkfell class with me. This class involves a linear route with an average of 56km, 3300m of ascent and approximately 14 hours of running time over the two days. However, this can change depending on how speedy and how competent you are at reading a map so you can choose the best lines between checkpoints.
For 2019 the location was in the Howgill Fells where neither Josh nor I had visited before. I talked to other people who knew them though, and the main gist of the conversations was “it’s bloody steep”. So, on Friday 5th July we drove out to the start and camped at the race headquarters. Looking up from the campsite I could see that they were not wrong.
On Saturday morning we double-checked all our kit and headed out to the start, which to our joy(!) was 2.5km away up a hill. At precisely 8:25 we set off and after 10 minutes of marking the checkpoints on our maps and planning our route we headed off into the hills.
We were blessed with sunny weather and excellent visibility which meant finding the checkpoints came with little difficulty. The only problem was the steepness of the terrain which meant contouring was painful on the feet. The heat meant we chugged through our water quickly, but thankfully there were many cold and refreshing streams to quench our thirst. As the hours ticked on, we started to feel the distance and elevation in our legs. At hour 7 due to tiredness and lack of water we had our first nav error and entered a gully too low down, then had the painful realisation we had to climb back up to the top to get the checkpoint. But after a sugar hit from some very sour and sweet rainbow laces we were back smiling and the last couple of checkpoints went relatively smoothly.
After 8hrs, 24miles and 6261ft of elevation gain we clocked in at the overnight camp. After the first day we were pleased to find out that we had come in 16th. The camp was located in a small and quiet farmer’s field by a cool river which provided relief to our feet after the battering they had received that day. It was great to relax in the sun, fill up on the lost calories and catch up with old running pals from Sheffield.
On Sunday we woke up early, refuelled on porridge and got out running as soon as we could due to the swarm of midges that had descended on the camp. It was tough to get the legs going again but they soon warmed up. Thankfully the route setters were kind on the second day and the checkpoints came by quickly. Due to the mass start in the morning we spent the day leapfrogging a few teams, each of us taking slightly different lines. On the last hill of the day we both dug deep, and we found ourselves opening up the gap between the teams we had spent day with. This gave us the boost we needed so we gave it all and plunged down the final very steep bank to the finish. Even though we were knackered, Josh still managed to pull his classic move of a sudden sprint finish to the line. We managed a cracking time of 4hrs 39mins for 15miles and 4192ft of elevation gain. This second wind enabled us to come in 8th meaning our overall ranking was 12th. Not bad like!
The Pennine Way extends 268 miles from Edale, in the Peak District, through the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Park, ending at Kirk Yetholm, just before the Scottish border. On 6th June, in a day’s window of sunshine, we decided to do the first two legs from Edale, finishing just off route in Slaithwaite. Helen’s grandmother lives up on the moors by Deer Hill and over 30 years ago her dad and uncle hiked the route. Ever since, Helen has been keen to follow their footsteps, largely for the promise of a healthy portion of sausage casserole and rhubarb pie at the end! The route is around 50 km and neither of us had run or walked that far before. (Helen’s longest running distance was a half marathon.)
Anticipating a rather long slog, we were up early to run down to Leeds station and hop on the train to Edale. By 9.30am we were on our way enjoying the rolling green hills of the north Derbyshire Peak District, clambering up Jacob’s ladder and skirting around Kinder Scout. Before long we reached the panoramic views across Kinder Downfall before a sharp right at Mill Hill to follow the paved path (not turning left and ending up near Glossop and a mile off route…). Twenty kilometres in and so far so good.
Then came Bleaklow Moor along with that long-distance-running-knee-thing people talk about which began with a Superman face-plant onto the cobbles from Helen and eventually ended with a hobble into Crowden campsite for a much-needed lunch stop after 35km.
Following a breathless gobble of sugary carbs we were back on our feet and feeling fresh. We ran up to Black Hill enjoying more lush green landscapes across the valleys. Since Crowden is technically the start of the second leg of the Pennine Way, and since we set off from Crowden later in the day, we didn’t see a soul making it an incredibly peaceful stretch. At the top of Black Hill we could begin to see the tops of Meltham Moor, on the other side of which was our destination.
With renewed energy and what felt like a spring in our step we shuffled down to Wessenden reservoir and snaked a right at the top of Blakely reservoir to leave the Pennine Way and run towards Deer Hill. With less than a mile to go, the rain began at Shooters Nab as we galloped through the cotton grass into the open arms of a rather excited grandmother wearing a pair of binoculars big enough to see us in Edale.
Corsica, whilst strictly a French département, is actually a fiercely independent island, closer to Italy than to France, a few miles north of Sardinia. Wild, mountainous, great beaches, potent cheese and improving wines.
It has not been the easiest place to visit in the past, usually entailing Easyjet (Liverpool) or Jet2 (Leeds) to Nice or Marseilles, then Air Corsica to Calvi (northwest), Bastia (northeast), Ajaccio (southwest) or Figari (southeast). However, since last year, Air Corsica have run two (excellent) flights a week each week from Stansted to and from Figari. Right through the summer. So, whilst the drive down the A1 is a bit of a drag (three hours from Leeds/Wetherby), the possibilities of a short break are far greater than previously was the case.
There is a vibrant trail running community in Corsica and, therefore, a lot of good races to choose from during summer (Corsicans are not great winter competitors). I will mention a couple here, in case anyone would fancy building a short break around them.
First, chronologically, is E Nivere. This race starts and ends in the lovely village of Cardo, in the hills outside Bastia. It is usually on or around the first weekend in April, so a great warm-up for the 3Peaks. The weather at this time of the year in Corsica is really changeable: I have run E Nivere in 28 degrees of gorgeous spring sunshine, and in 12 degrees of pouring rain. But it is never really cold, not like the 3Peaks can be.
The main race is about 25K with 1500m of elevation. Essentially, there are two big climbs, stunning views of Bastia and good runnable terrain. As with all Corsican races, the trail is marked, not brilliantly, but enough never to need think about taking a map out. E Nivere, again as with most Corsican races is low key but very well supported by local villages, who usually raise funds for local causes.
The only big Corsican races take place in Corte in July, when they have a festival culminating in the Ultra de Restonica, about 120K. It is very easy to do E Nivere if you are staying in Bastia which, as the largest town in Corsica — this is not saying a lot as Corsica’s entire population is less than that of Coventry — has plenty going on.
Next is the Trail du Lac d’Ospedale. This is always at the end of July in Cartalavone, a tiny hamlet near beautiful Ospedale which itself is in the hills outside of Porto Vecchio (served by Figari airport). The Trail du Lac is a much shorter race, it’s only about 12K with 450m elevation. It is very runnable through beautiful larici pine forests around the Ospedale reservoir. It is such a nice race, with a great atmosphere, and always stunning weather. And it’s always short enough not to occupy a huge chunk of your day. Also there are loads of food at the end, and it takes place next to a fabulous restaurant, Le Refuge. Cartalavone is only about 30 minutes drive from PortoVecchio, which is a cracking town near to the best beaches in Corsica (which is saying something).
Finally, there is the Trail di Monte Cardu. This one takes place near to Corte in the middle of the island, where you find the most spectacular scenery. It is a bit like E Nivere but, given that it takes place towards the end of August, it will usually be brutally hot. This is another decent-sized course, similar in length and elevation to E Nivere, but it feels tougher because of the time of year. Being so far inland, away from the resorts, this race route feels the most like real Corsica. Some of Corsica’s best trail runners live in the area such as Lambert Santelli, Thomas Angeli and Guillaume Peretti. who held the record for GR20, beating Kilian Jornet’s time and only losing the record a couple of years ago to Francois d’Haene.
Now that Corsica is a lot more accessible than it used to be, I would certainly recommend combining a holiday with a race. It is almost certainly the case that you will be the only non Corsican/French competitor, apart from the odd 2REP paratrooper, who could be from anywhere in the world, and the Corsican trail community are a pretty friendly bunch, so you would be made welcome.
It’s very easy to enter races via Corse-Chrono. You’ll need your UK Athletics card on race day [ed’s note: always check the race instructions, many French RO’s require a medical certificate] or considerable ability to charm your way into being allowed to compete without it.
Also, if anyone is just interested in nice running trails in the south of the island let me know, as I have twisted my ankles on most of them.