Category: Race Report (Page 1 of 7)

High Cup Nick

I’ve done High Cup Nick race five times, by my count (which is probably off), and I will be doing it again, because it is so astonishingly beautiful. And because the race route serves my skills perfectly: five miles to the top of the Nick, then four miles mostly downhill. So as long as I do OK getting up, I will usually win places going down and as I only ever then lose places if a downhill is followed by a climb, in this case I should be able to keep them. Not that that mattered, particularly, except that a few clubmates were also running, and some of us are very well matched for ability and pace, and we have a friendly rivalry. And I am lying about it not mattering: I wanted to beat them. (Sorry not sorry Liz, Caroline and Emma.)

The weather forecast was poor, again. As if last week’s winds were not enough, this week’s were no better. Different forecasts showed different numbers: Mountain Weather Forecast showed 80kph, the BBC showed 45mph, but down in Dufton village. Variously, showers or sleet showers were also predicted. In winds, the A66 can sometimes be closed, so we set off in good time, having checked beforehand (it was closed but only to high-sided vehicles). Neil — better known to you as Braveshorts — told me that the A65 was closed though, and that could affect my clubmates. Neil was coming with me even though he hadn’t entered the race. He decided he would go for a run and then aim to be at the top of the Nick to meet runners, depending on the state of his cold (virus) and the cold (blowing a hoolie and temperature).

The parking was in a farmer’s field a ten minute walk from the village hall, previously race HQ but now Cake HQ as the registration was supposed to be in a marquee, but had been shifted to a small barn because the marquee blew away. We got there early but already the state of the field meant spinning wheels, and many people rushing to help spinning cars with a push up to the parking place. It was a cheering sight of the kindness of humans. But the field situation could only get worse the more cars arrived. I left Neil to get ready for his run and walked the long walk to get my number. By the time I got back the rain had set in. The driving, cold, miserable kind of rain.

So I wasn’t surprised to find him sitting in the car all kitted to run but looking at this view.

He is no fairweather runner, but it just looked too grim to open the car door. He set off eventually when it lessened, aiming to go up Dufton Pike and then up to the Nick, still. And I faffed in the warm car until it was time to head to the start. Some black’n’blues were milling about — Will, Dom, Ian, Bianca, Liz, Caroline — but a few hadn’t arrived. Five minutes before the start I saw two of the missing: Emma and Adam had taken the A65 and had a long and terrible trip up. No time for faffing, they said, but no time for fuelling either. Sharon H. never arrived, though I saw her later in the day: they had arrived at Dufton but the queues to get into the Field of Spinning Wheels were so long, and it was getting so late, they’d decided to terminate and headed off somewhere else to run instead.

Of course we never got a team photo, because we never do, but here is a sort of one with our good Fellanddale friend Louise.

By now, a few minutes before the start, the weather was lovely. Not too cold, not windy, not wet and some sunshine. I was wearing long tights again, which astonishes all my running friends who only ever see me in shorts. In Hilary Lane’s precise words: “The weather must be bad if Rose has legs on.” But I based my choice on those wind speeds, no matter how sunny the sky. People had made all sorts of clothing choices, from full waterproofs to vest only. That of course is up to them, as long as they carry kit, though I have my views on running in a vest in those conditions.

I was in vest and long-sleeve and no jacket. We set off, and for the first few miles, I was warm. The race goes up a tarmac lane for a while, then up to some fields, then contours along a couple of shoulders. At one point I cursed Neil for advising me to wear tights, as I wanted to be in shorts. But I was running well and felt good, and tried to concentrate on that, not on what was covering my legs. Anyway, he was right, because almost as soon as we turned into the valley, the weather turned too. First we had to cross a beck that I knew would be deep and rushing. It was a treat to see the Kirby Stephen Mountain Rescue team there: thank you KSMRT. And especially to the man who was standing nearly to his waist in freezing water helping each runner to cross. I am always grateful for a helping hand, and these three helping hands, passing me from one hand to another, were very welcome.

Then the wind came, and it was strong, even though it was friendly and pushing us up the valley. I could have dealt with that, but then the hail and sleet came at us sideways, and I began to get cold, and to stop regretting my clothing choice. I didn’t want to stop and put my jacket on, but I remembered last week and I knew I would get colder the higher I got, and that Neil, who knows his winds, had told me we would be running against a headwind on the downhill section. So I stopped and tried to put on my jacket, and it was tricky, not because my hands were too cold, but because the wind didn’t want me to. It was a jacket fight. I lost about 15 places to the tussle — both Liz and Caroline passed me — but it was the right decision, because I never wanted to take it off once over the following five miles. And I was warm enough to be able to put it on without asking for help (although this was offered by a few people who passed: thank you).

The run along the valley floor is long. Nor is it as flat as it seems. The Nick seems to get further away not nearer, like Stoodley Pike, and underfoot is either boggy or rocky and nothing inbetween. But I didn’t stop and walk as I have in other years, and I got a few places back (sorry not sorry Caroline and, eventually, Liz). At the base of the Nick, I ran as far as I could, then again on a flatter bit, before the boulders began. At this point I saw that people were taking a wide arc up the first part but I couldn’t see the sense in that, when all was boulders. So I just went straight up, and got more places that way. (I’m not obsessed with getting places, it just doesn’t happen very often that I do or that I can catch up after losing a lot.) The wind was so strong that the waterfall was blowing backwards. I stopped and turned because on the Nick I always stop and turn, and it was stunning, because unless there is clag, the view is always stunning.

The boulders towards the top were slippery and icy, and I thought my old fear of exposure could have reappeared. But it didn’t, and I really enjoyed the climb, and even managed to smile, according to Mike’s camera:

At the top, I heard “well done Rose” from Neil and Mike. I tried to give Neil a hug, but I didn’t notice his cowbell around his neck, so I managed to crush my voicebox on his cowbell which I think is not an injury that even experienced A&E staff will frequently encounter. I turned, and it was like running into a brick wall. The wind was ferocious. This kind of ferocious. It wasn’t as bad as on top of West Kip during the Carnethy 5 last week, but I still had to use a high proportion of my energy just to go forward (at West Kip, it had been about staying upright, never mind running). I suddenly felt extremely drained, but I knew Caroline was right behind me, and she is competitive and can beat me, so I kept going. Past the Mountain Rescue team at the quad bike, where we waved our contactless dibbers, and into the wind. There is a long trod across the headland, a short incline, more trod, then the downhill proper. At this point the headwind was so bad that my contacts were sore, and I found it hard to blink. Not the best eyesight for a quick rocky downhill, but I got more places, and I kept all except one, up into the farmer’s field that is a slight incline but feels mountainous, and across the field, into the lane, where you see habitation and know you are nearly done, up the short hill into the village, round the back of houses and through yards, to the village green and the welcome sight of flags and people.

Back.

I was filthy. I knew my face was mucky because I’d used my mitts on the climb up, on my hands and knees, and then wiped my face loads of times because it was the kind of wind where your nose blows itself. But I didn’t realise how mucky.

Oh well. I headed into the village hall, putting blue plastic over my shoes as requested. It was, as it always is, extremely crowded, but I got my soup, and found a tiny space next to the windowsill. “Rose,” said Dom, “wipe your nose.” He meant wipe it free of mud, not anything else, so I washed my face. But I didn’t get changed because I felt warm. That was stupid, as once I’d gathered two cakes and a cup of tea and set off to the car, I got very very cold and didn’t warm up for a long time. Basic mountaincraft: remove your cold clothes even if you don’t feel you need to.

I really enjoyed myself, though I’ve had enough of wind storms. And the hail can do one. High Cup Nick is such a beautiful place, and although my time wasn’t the quickest, I think I lost ten minutes to conditions, so I’m content. Thank you to the people of Dufton, to all the volunteers, from the stalwarts in that field of spinning wheels doom to the beck sprite and anyone who stood out in the cold to marshal or cheer.

It is said that if you don’t like the weather in Scotland (or Yorkshire or Wales), wait ten minutes. This was that kind of race: autumn to begin with, a glimpse of spring, then winter, then more winter, then autumn again. But it was great fun, because it always is. This was the first year it had a waiting list, because it is rightly becoming a) a classic and b) popular. So keep an eye out if you like astonishing views of official geological wonders with your fell races.

All results here. NLFR results:

— Rose George

Carnethy 5

“It’s iconic.”

“How?”

“It just is.”

“But it’s only six miles long.”

“Aye. It’s still iconic.”

I didn’t believe it. I’d heard of the Carnethy 5, but I still couldn’t understand why it had such a reputation when it was short and when even the elevation per mile wasn’t that intimidating. But my partner Neil is from East Lothian, so we could combine the race – in MidLothian — with a family visit. Otherwise there were factors definitely against me agreeing to do it. It cost £17! That’s a road race price. And it would mean a nine-hour round trip to run a six mile race, something I would normally consider ludicrous. Then there was the small matter of Storm Dennis.

But I always like to visit Scotland, and I had run once before on the Pentland Hills, where the Carnethy 5 is based (it is named for Carnethy running club, which is in turn named for Carnethy, one of the Pentland hills). The race commemorates a 1302 battle that involved William Wallace. From Carnethy’s website:

In February 1302, a messenger arrived at Neidpath Tower to ask Sir Simon Fraser to meet someone at Biggar. Sir Simon Fraser rode hard, for the person he was to meet was none other than Scotland’s hero — Sir William Wallace. The Wallace’s plan was for himself to be seen gathering together an army up north, while Sir Simon waited with the main army in the south. Sure enough the plan worked, for when the English heard that The Wallace was getting ready to attack from the north, they left their winter quarters in Edinburgh heading south — Sir Simon waited.

Randolf the English General was unprepared for a fight. His army was separated into three groups of 10,000 each, some miles apart. At Dryden they suddenly found themselves confronted by 8,500 Scots. Colmyn, Saintclair and Fraser, loyal friends of Wallace soon carried the day, and rushed on to Rosewell to meet the 2nd army. The weary Scots were again triumphant, but tired, and when yet another 10,000 men approached they were ready to flee. But Sir Simon was a crafty gent, he had been warned about the 3rd army, and had sent a few ot his men to carry two tree trunks up a neighbouring hill. Then Sir Simon shouted to his men… Well, part of the old ballad says it better:

“Look ower, look ower, on yonder hill,”
Quo’ Sir Simon lood and clear,
They blich’t and saw the lift gao ill,
Then saw a cross appear.
“Tis gude St. Andrew” cried ae man,
Then doon they gaed to pray,
“Gae to,” they heard the gude Sir Simon,
“Gae to,” we’ll win the day.”

The inspired Scots rushed into battle!

This would be the 50th running of the race, so I knew that if they could go ahead, they would. But fell races and hill races were being cancelled, and we checked the forecast regularly in the week before, and it never got any better. Depending on which metereologists I checked (I’m fond of the Norwegians YR.no weather forecast), the winds were going to be between 40 and 75 miles an hour, and that stayed true until the Friday, when we set off. It didn’t matter that Storm Dennis was going to wreak more havoc in England than Scotland: we were going. I was sure the race would be called off. I know it had been run the year before even though runners had been told at the start that marshals and Mountain Rescue would be lying down because they wouldn’t be able to stand, the wind was so strong. Even so, I was sure that no race organizer would allow marshals to stand out for a few hours in 70mph winds.

Carnethy said they would make a decision at 11am on the Saturday. If we didn’t hear owt, the race would go ahead. The race starts at 2pm, and part of the reason for the cost is that runners get bussed to the start from race HQ at Beeslack High School in Penicuik. We had to set off at 11am to get to the school in good time, and the only clue as to Carnethy’s decision was a retweet from someone wishing everyone doing Carnethy 5 good luck. Even so, I didn’t believe it was on until we got to Penicuik and the car park was full and there were many lean people wandering about in waterproofs and lycra tights. I had been advised to bring “EVERYTHING” and so I had: although I run in shorts even in snow – my legs rarely get cold – I had brought long tights and plenty of layers. The race organizers required everyone to carry full body cover, and a long-sleeved top. In practice, most people in the hall seemed to be wearing all their kit at once, including me.

I was more nervous than usual. I’d had a race stress dream the night before (the one where you can’t find your kit or shoes or something), and I’d convinced myself that everyone in Scotland was a fabulous hill runner, and that they were all Jasmin Paris (who runs for Carnethy) and Finlay Wild (who always wins the Ben Nevis race), and that I would be the lumbering Englishwoman – actually half Welsh but that’s irrelevant – at the back. Tim, a Holcombe Harrier who Neil had met a few years ago at Trapain Law race, but whose wife is from up here, reassured me. The race field is no different to what you are used to, he said. All sorts. You won’t be last.

Dom was also running the race, as he was combining it with a visit to Edinburgh. It’s not often that we remember to get team photos but here is one:

See? I’m wearing EVERYTHING. Dom kept his jacket on throughout too.

I think I made five toilet visits, only four of which were necessary, and eventually, we made our way out to wait for a bus to be driven ten minutes to the start. The kit check was carried out in the bus queue, and consisted of, “have you got a map? Gloves? Hat? OK then.”

The bus took us to a field underneath Carnethy Hill, where a few marquees were managing to stay upright. The winds weren’t too bad down here, and my nerves were slightly soothed by the piper standing on a mound nearby, piping us up five snow-capped hills.

The hills are beautiful. Robert Louis Stevenson called them his “hills of home..” We’d got one of the last buses so didn’t have long to wait for the start. I managed to warm up, but still decided to keep my jacket on. I was kitted out excessively according to my usual standards: long tights, which I’ve only ever worn for Rombald’s in snow and cold, and a waterproof jacket.

There were announcements but most were carried away by the wind. I expect they were the usual: don’t do anything stupid and if you fall over find a marshal and report back to the marquees. And then we were off. Neil, who has run Carnethy before, had given me some tips: there was a long stretch of very boggy and wet ground before we began to rise up to climb Scald Law. Stay to the left, he said. It will still be boggy but better. Also, head for the tiny hi-viz dot standing by some green bushes, which is a marshal. I squinted, saw a tiny hi-viz dot, just about, and agreed to do that. There was a gunshot, or cannon, or something, and we set off. Steady away, Rose, you will need your strength for the wind. Even so I was anxious: don’t be last, don’t be last.

So silly.

I ran as best I could, though the ground was not ground but swamp, and there was a beck crossing. So even this first half mile was hard going, as your legs are working twice as hard to accommodate the water. I felt neither good nor bad, I just kept going. Carnethy 5 has a purity to its planning: you go up and then you come down, five times.

In Carnethy’s description: “The race is over rough open hillside, through thick heather and boggy/rocky sections of ground, with minimal paths. The race involves 2,500′ of very steep ascent and descent, some of which you will struggle to run. It’s fair to say this race will feel a lot harder than a flat road race, but it is not beyond anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. As a very rough guide, the race organiser completes this race in somewhere between his road 10k and half marathon times.”

I climbed to Scald Law, I loved the descent, I climbed again to South Black Hill, I loved the descent, East Kip, I loved the descent, and then there was West Kip.

I can’t remember which hill I was climbing, but at one point I nearly fell backwards. A kind arm stopped me and righted me, and that was the nature of this race: there was kindness and people looking out for each other. The solidarity of fighting extreme elements. Neil had a similar experience except a man grabbed his buttocks to keep him upright. My assistance was more decorous, and I was grateful for it.

West Kip though was something else. This was the fourth hill, and by now I had begun to tire of the wind, but the wind knew this and decided to re-stoke its engines. I had my hood up as it was also hailing – of course – so I kept bumping into people as I could neither hear nor see them coming. We all trudged up as best we could. Towards the top, I was on my hands and knees and standing upright seemed actually dangerous. Here is a photograph that Peter MacDonald, one of the marshals on the top of West Kip, took, though how he managed to stay standing and use a camera is an enigma.

Image by Peter MacDonald

I had my phone with me, and I turned round a couple of times to look, and there were runners behind me, a trail of colour over the brown bracken and white snow of the hills, and it was beautiful but not enough for me to consider taking off my gloves, getting out my phone, unwrapping it from its weather-proof sandwich bag, wiping my fingers dry enough that the phone would recognise them, taking a picture and doing it all in the reverse. Too much effort. No photos.

I was so thankful to the marshals on top of these hills. The wind was so strong, it was an assault. I usually object to people using the word “brutal” about races, as most are not, not really. But this section, this struggle to stay upright while your pack is being blown off you and while you could fall off the hill: this section was brutal. I have run Tour of Pendle in a blizzard, and it was hard. I have run in hail so biting it gave me pockmarks. But I don’t think I’ve ever had to fight the weather as much as on this race. It got to the point on West Kip where it was so extreme that I had to laugh at it. What else can you do? You can’t reverse. You have to get off the hill. You may as well glory in the extremity of it and keep running.

We turned on the summit to descend and suddenly the wind was even more dangerous, because the descent was tricky and the wind was now behind: it didn’t get us on the top so now it wanted to push us down a steep slope. I persevered, and my legs began to enjoy the descent, steep at first then levelling out. Not flat though: I knew this because I was overtaking people and I only ever do that on descents. The final part as we descended towards the Howe, actually a house overlooking Loganlea reservoir, was a grassy muddy bank. I slipped, and then suddenly slid at great speed, so fast I didn’t know how to stop, until a bush helped me out, luckily just before the beck. It was great fun and I was laughing out loud, and quietly thankful that no rocks had punctured my backside on the way. The power of that slide! A fellow runner congratulated me on it and I agreed that yes, it was some of my finest work.

Onwards to the reservoir, then to the cut-off, which I had forgotten about. Nor had I checked my watch. The cut-off was 1 hour 15, and I think I got there in about an hour but as I didn’t even realise it was a cut-off, that didn’t matter. About 20 runners didn’t make it. (I mean, they weren’t quick enough, not that they expired.)

Up again now, for the final climb to Carnethy Hill. I was alongside a man in shorts who said he rather regretted not wearing long trousers, as his legs were blue. I got myself up the hill and then there was the joy of the final descent. Tim had warned me before about this part, that there was gorse that bit and rocks that tripped, and that the two together were rather testing. But much of the gorse and heather had been burned and tamed. There were a few sections of scree-sliding, and then a hell-for-leather how-do-I-stop careering, which was fun. For a while I couldn’t figure out why I could hear the powerful jet engines of an airliner, until I realised it was the wind in my hood.

Then the long slog back over the swamp and through the beck to the finish. A photographer at the beck got some excellent pictures, though not of me (I stayed upright).

Image by Paul Dobson

And there were the feather flags of the finish, and Neil standing waiting for me. I had a cup of hot liquid which may have been tea or coffee and it didn’t matter at all which, and a biscuit. Then Neil said, shall we run back instead of waiting for buses? And I must have been on such a high from the final descent that I agreed without question. A marshal gave us directions for the three miles back to the school, which ended up being mostly farm tracks and woodland, so it was pleasant.

Just as we approached Beeslack High School, the rain began and then it intensified, and we arrived back to a downpour. There were changing rooms and showers but with 500 entrants, including a healthy proportion of women, there was no room, so I had a wet-wipe shower in the middle of the sports hall, with the help of a judiciously placed towel. Then I headed to the kitchen for food, which was a lentil dal or a spicier vegetable curry, and it was delicious. In fact, the £17 was good value, as we had also been given a bottle of Carnethy 5 beer, a 50th anniversary mug and a beer mat.

I realised afterwards that I’d been sitting next to a woman who had run the whole race although she was 80 or thereabouts. I wish I’d known because I would have genuflected at her feet. In the main hall, Jasmin Paris and her husband were hanging out, and I got starstruck, by Jasmin as well as by her daughter Rowan, who became as famous as her mum after the Spine Race. I let them be though. Nobody wants to be bothered by genuflecting strangers, do they?

We didn’t stay for prizegiving, although I did want to see the female and male winner each get a broadsword. Me, I got my beer and beer mat and mug, and I was happy to have those as well as significant satisfaction at having run a race in actually brutal conditions, and doing alright. Do I think they were right to run the race? Yes.

I came 404th out of 503 runners, with a time of 1:38, and I’m pleased with that. Dom came 199th, in 1:20. I think I’ll be back.

— Rose George

Featured image by Peter MacDonald

Dark Mountains Mountain Marathon 2020: Northern Arenigs, Snowdonia

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.

“Springy”

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 Predatorus Cymru, native to the dark mountains of Snowdonia

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 both needed.

No dragons, no predators.

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 the springiest.

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.

Ollie Roberts

*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).

Trigger 2020

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?

Alec, Matt and me looking rather wet at Crowden. All images by Duncan Philpott.

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.

The long slog up Torside Clough

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.

Awesome views through the mist

                 Oliver Roberts

Penmaenmawr

Lisa Rudkin and I competed in the Penmaenmawr fell race in North Wales on Saturday 16th November as an alternative to the Tour of Pendle back in Lancashire. We stayed over the night before with Lisa’s mum who lives in Penmaenmawr. She made sure we were fuelled up on home made chips!

The race was organised by Eryri Harriers and is in its 45th year. The distance is between 9 to 10 miles depending on which pre-race information was accurate, with 1700ft ascent. There was drizzly rain, mist on the tops, a long boggy stretch, obligatory mud and pools of water on the runnable tracks and a rocky, muddy slippy descent to finish.

I finished in 96th position, Lisa 97th out of 157 finishers. Lisa should have finished higher up but took a wrong turning in the clag. Everyone received a bottle of local ale at the finish. It made a nice change to go ‘international’! 

Results are here.

Sharon Williams

Dan and Ollie’s Bob Graham Round

­Saturday 7th September 2019

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

Fuelling on some tasty katsu curry at 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

Coming down Seat Sandal to Dunmail Riase
A lush cuppa at Dunmail 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.

40 miles in and still smiling at the top of Scafell Pike

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.

Mouths full of food at 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.

Hindscarth: second last summit
Coming down from Robinson, the last summit, in the golden hour

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.

So what’s next then?

–Ollie Roberts

Abraham’s Tea Round

Saturday 10/08/2019

This brilliant round starts and finishes at the doors of the George Fisher shop in Keswick. It takes in all the tops that can be seen from Abraham’s café window, which sits above the shop, and amounts to 30 miles and 11,000ft of ascent. The tops you cover are: Catbells, Robinson, High Stile, Red Pike, Sand Hill, Hopegill Head, Hobcarton Crag, Grisedale Pike, Eel Crag, Crag Hill, Sail, Causey Pike, Rowling End and Barrow.

My good running pal from Uni, Dan Cade, is currently living in Keswick, so I decided to pay him a visit to attempt the round. I had first heard of it last year and have been wanting to give it a shot since then. We were both feeling quite fit, and as Dan had already run it solo last month, we knew we would be able to give it a good bash. However, as the weekend approached the weather forecast was not looking promising: constant rain, poor visibility and 50mph gusts predicted on the peaks. Over a beer in rainy Keswick on the Friday night we discussed our options and whether we were mad to even attempt the round. Should we go out? What happens if lightning starts? Could we do a low level run instead in a bid to avoid the worst weather? But it seemed such a shame to drive all this way and not give it a go. So why not, let’s go for it. It doesn’t matter if we get wet because skin is waterproof right?!

After a cooked breakfast and a cuppa to warm us up we headed out into a drizzly and rather empty Keswick. The approach and climb up Catbells was quite pleasant, there was hardly any rain or wind. What had we been worrying about last night? The weather forecasts must be wrong. But as we topped out on Catbells we were hit hard by rain drops that turned to needles, and winds that tried to rip out my contact lenses. Ah well, at least the first 20 minutes were pleasant.

We dropped down into Little Town and then began the climb up to Robinson and into the clag. It’s bilberry season so I helped myself to a few as we climbed. As we dropped down into Gatesgarth we passed a few other runners clad in full waterproofs and looking pretty cold. We later found out that they were also attempting the round but bailed due to the weather. The climb up to High Stile was epic, the little streams had turned to torrents and the waterfalls gave a tremendous roar. We slightly lost the path and so had a fun and slippery scramble. The flat-ish ridge connecting High Stile to Red Pike provided our first nav challenge. Due to the thick mist, rain and wind we really had to trust the bearing even though it seemed totally wrong. The descent down to Buttermere was one of the sketchiest descents I’ve ever done. It might look like a lovely stoned staircase but when it has turned into a river it’s incredibly slippery.

The long slog up to Sand Hill and Hopegill Head was tough on the legs and the waterproofs which we were wearing weren’t really waterproof anymore and I began to feel the cold. After putting on my spare layer and chomping down some more food we both started to feel better and pushed on to Grisedale Pike. Those 50mph gusts hit us as we topped out meaning our hoods whipped and rang in our ears. Whilst clinging on to the rock, we managed a quick high five as this top marked the last “big” climb of the round. We got down as quick as we could before we were blown off. It’s funny how mad conditions like this gets the pair of us: we were singing and whooping with enjoyment!

The scramble up Eel Crag to Crag Hill and Sail came by quickly. It’s crazy how different it was up there compared to the Coledale Horseshoe race back in April. Two figures appeared out of the mist on the top of Crag Hill, these were the first people we had seen in over two hours. It was nice knowing we weren’t the only mad people out on the fells. As we dropped down to Causey Pike we popped out of the cloud and had our first view of the afternoon. The heather was in full bloom which wrapped Rowling End in a purple blanket. Feeling excited as we were nearly finished, we shared my secret supply of Kendal Mint Cake which gave us that final boost for the gentle climb up Barrow. The descent down to Little Braithwaite delivered as always, giving us the momentum to chug out the final few road miles back to Keswick.

After only seeing a handful of people all day it was quite a shock to fight our way through the crowds in Keswick centre. We wanted to shout, “get out the way, we are running against the clock!” We clocked back in to the café in a time of 7hrs and 12 minutes, knocking off 38 minutes from Dan’s solo attempt. We couldn’t believe we managed to get around in those conditions and knock that amount of time off, so we rewarded ourselves with a pub dinner and beer. What a day!

— Ollie Roberts

Ilkley Half Marathon 2019

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!

Simon Everett

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2019

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.

Camp at race HQ. Those are baby 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.

Filling up on sticky toffee pudding
View from the overnight camp

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!

Josh and me at the finish line: we made it!

Ollie Roberts

Corsica

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.

–Ian Sampson

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