9am and I’m woken by Ollie knocking on the door. I’m still in my pyjamas and still in bed. I’ve been snoozing the alarm since 8.30, desperately grasping for the last remnants of sleep, all the while wondering why the hell I’d signed up for a fell race the morning after our Christmas do? I gather my racing vest and various layers from the radiators, open the door to a far-too-chipper Ollie then pile into the car to head off to the race, just about below the legal limit.
Mytholmroyd fell race is the last of the races organised by Calder Valley Fell Runners and is a popular end of season jaunt. It’s reasonably short (~6 miles long), of middling steepness (category B) and flagged for most of the way, making it a good race for those still new to racing. It’s a good one for a December Sunday morning, getting you out in the mud and cold before returning home for a roast dinner and a curl up by the fire… or so I’d thought when I’d entered a few weeks ago. Last Sunday though, queuing outside Mytholmroyd cricket clubhouse, shivering in the cold and drizzle with my head slowly throbbing, I was regretting my hubris. “Maybe I should just wait in the car and snooze off the hangover”, I thought.
I forced myself through the requisite kit check (and dashed back to the car to retrieve my whistle: it’s always the whistle I forget) then joined the steady jog half a mile along the canal to the start line. Here, I found the rest of the black and blues – 10 of us in total – each in various states of freshness reflecting the amount of alcohol consumed the night before.
I half-listened to the race briefing with the coffee starting to kick in and my faculties slowly returning, then made a panic change out of my pyjama top which I’d accidentally left under my Helly-Hansen and vest an hour earlier. I chucked it to nearby Will Hall who’d come along to spectate and got ready for my first fell race since the fell relays in October.
The start of Mytholmroyd is steep and hellish, but it demands a sprint off the gun if you’re to avoid the inevitable bottlenecks as over a hundred and fifty runners vie for a single track. The horn blew and I sprinted off among the front runners, who were quickly reduced to walking pace by the gradient, up and out of the Red Acre woods, through the fields on our way onto the top of the moor. I had the usual early race thoughts of “this pace is insane, there’s no way I’m not going to die” and at one point almost chucked up some of last night’s pizza. But the race calmed as it always does and once on top, I settled into my running, along well marked and runnable footpaths, catching a glimpse of Harry well out in front and leading proceedings. Here, the races-within-the-race began and I sized up who I felt I could stay with, who was OK to let go, and who under no circumstances I would allow to beat me.
We headed across the moor to Crow Hill, then down a furious descent that broke up any happy rhythm, dibbed, then contoured along the base of the moor, up the charming Ludden Valley. I’ve gotten into a bad habit recently of dawdling in the middle third of races, as the race breaks up into little groups and the pace softens a touch. Mytholmroyd was no exception and my thoughts wandered away from the race, back to hazy glimpses of last night’s revelry. Oh god did we do shots? Why are my arms so sore? Oh yeah, the pullup challenge.Whose idea was that?! Hmm… did we get a kebab? God I’m hungry…
This final thought was enough to get me back into the present. I opened my bumbag to fish for the gel I knew to be in there. I was struggling to feel for it with my mittens on, so stopped to take them off and have a proper look. Two runners ran past while I searched. Frustratingly, I found no sustenance anywhere. I zipped up the bumbag and carried on, three places down, no calories up.
A set of steep wooden steps took us the direct and vertical route back up onto the moor. The drizzle had abated by now and patches of sunlight dappled the heather. I was feeling a little overdressed. Gaps opened up and I retook the places I’d lost, then set my sights on the red and white vest of the Calder Valley runner ahead. Maybe just the thought of a gel had been enough for a second wind, more likely it was the actual wind, blowing now from behind and pushing us back along the Calderdale Way to home. The final descent retraced our original ascent and was fast and furious. The gorse lined path shredded my legs, the stone slabs that followed were like an ice rink in the wet, and the final muddy fields almost put me on my arse. I loved every bit of it. I tumbled my way down to the finish line and a respectable 13th place, annoyingly pipped on the line by a local Todmorden Runner, whose footsteps had hounded me every step of the descent. Harry was waiting at the finish line fully clothed in layers and looking like he’d been back a while. “Yeah, I won” he said with a grin when I asked him.
Back at the cricket club, a cup of homemade soup and rye bread warmed us up, as did the awards, where Niamh, Harry and myself won the fastest mixed team prize – a great win for North Leeds holding off the organisers Calder Valley Fell Runners. Harry won the overall and Niamh the V40 women and collected their tins of chocolates. Among the runners there were smiles all round – hard not to when you get a free beer for finishing – and gratitude to CVFR who put on another enjoyable race. I was grinning too: it turns out fell racing is the best cure for a hangover.
Results for North Leeds Fell Runners:
1st Harry Kingston
13th Joshua Day
27th Oliver Roberts
40th Niamh Jackson
44th Adam Nodwell
80th Angeline Dresser
102nd Martyn Price
118th Jessica Wilson
138th Rose George
140th Liz Casey