Baildon Canter

(BS), 13 July 2024

Normally to merit a write-up on here you need to have completed some epic Category A fell race or ultra, reliving your day with the following likely sequence: weeks of training – meticulous on-the-day preparation – step-by-step details of each challenging element of the race – the rewards and highs of finishing and lessons learned.

On Saturday, by comparison, I had a lazy morning, chucked a few random items into a bag and left the house shortly before 2pm for a 3.15pm race start. I drove a few miles, parked the car in a free moor-top car park, jogged 5 minutes to a carnival field, handed over a fiver and got a race number for the Baildon Canter. At 5km with 500ft of ascent this may be at the opposite extreme of fell-running to the long stuff, but it’s still very much fell-running. In fact, as the blue red kite flies it’s probably the closest fell race to North Leeds and ideal if you’re thinking of trying a fell race for the first time. It’s only a little more challenging than Chevin parkrun, for example. 

Having got my number there was time to have a wander around the Baildon Carnival, in full swing in the field to the side. A typically random selection of stalls, attractions and novelties lent a lively backdrop. I wandered off to find a quiet seat so I could do the fiddly attach-number-to-vest-with-safety-pins business and found one in the adjacent cricket field, where a match was in progress. I’m a lapsed cricket fan but quite enjoyed watching a couple of overs. The bowlers were surprisingly competent with some admirable variations in pace; the batsman by comparison tried to slog everything, without success, until eventually middling one, sending the ball arcing into an adjacent back garden for 6. The resulting ball-hunt and delay was my cue to return to the race field.

By this time a gaggle of other NLFRs had gathered – Jonny (trying to define his new gainful employment of oceanography), Ian (now a guinea pig in a pre-marathon VO2 Max study), Cailum (on home Baildon turf) and Nick (often keen for a race). I was glad to see that the start had been slightly altered from my last time here in 2022 so that the course is now spread out before the narrow snicket at the exit of the field.

3.15 and we’re underway, a mad dash for the snicket. It’s still pretty awkward, with low hanging branches and some steps adding to the fun, but we get through it OK and out onto the moor. Very soon we cross the road for the first time, which is well marshalled, and begin a gradual climb towards Hopes Hill. Unlike most short fell races, which are very steep, the pace here feels flat out, more like a cross-country race. As we loop round the back of the hill the guy in front momentarily stumbles. This is enough for me to get past and he never re-overtakes. Fine margins in a short race like this.

Cailum and Jonny have disappeared out of sight but I do have Ian around 20 yards in front as a hypothetical target. However he begins to pull away on the short climb up to the top, and is faster on the mildly technical descent on the other side. As the course flattens out re-approaching the road I begin to reel him in a bit. Just before the road itself the following sequence of calculations happens in the blink of an eye, perhaps 2 seconds, while we are both running at speed:

  • Is there any traffic obviously moving on the road? – no
  • Is there a parked car blocking the path on the other side of the road? – yes
  • Are the marshals making it very obvious where the path is? – no

Ian guesses to the right of the car, I guess left. I was correct, and surprisingly find myself in front. It’s just 90 seconds to the finish from here, I don’t think I could have successfully overtaken at any other point.

Before long we are all collapsed at the finish line and awaiting the presentations as the rain sweeps in. Me and Cailum both win an out-of-season Toblerone, reminding us of the tumultuous downpour at December’s Gathering Winter Fools Relay, where we used a Toblerone as the team’s novelty baton. By Leg 4 the Toblerone was in a state of significant decomposition, and beyond edibility, although enough of it remained at the finish to prove we’d completed the course. Next time we’ve pledged to put the Toblerone in the freezer the night before, to increase its chances of survival. Today though, it was just nice to take sweets home from the fair, not least Matterhorn-shaped ones, even if this course had hardly been Alpine-style. 

NLFR results:

2nd: Cailum Earley

7th: Jonathan Coney

11th: Dave Middlemas

12th: Ian Furlong

36th: Nick Flower

91 ran

Full results:

Dave Middlemas

Buttermere Horseshoe (short course)

22/6/24, 20.8km, 1518m (AL)

Preparation for this race began in 2022. I’d pre-entered that year but had to pull out with COVID. I’d obviously done a bit of research: when I dug my OS map out last week it still had the checkpoints dimly marked in pencil.

My vague plan for the summer is to be fit enough to run Borrowdale in August, which I’ve done three times before. I’d done Fairfield (AM) in May and needed a step up to an AL. The distance and elevation of this course felt right, so those pencil marks weren’t going to be wasted after all.

Much of the story of any race is the build-up the week before. Having entered on Monday, I was faced with a whole new problem on Tuesday. A bunion appeared at the base of my big toe and was rubbing painfully. On Wednesday I went out for a jog and managed 50 yards of intense discomfort before returning to the car. Fortunately I found a knackered old pair of shoes with a convenient hole in the side which made running tolerable, although less so on the technical descents. So not looking promising for Saturday. A scour of the aisles in Boots on Thursday revealed a “bunion guard” which fits over your foot like a bandage. A final test of this on Friday was encouraging, enough to make the trip a goer.  

I’d wondered about staying over in the Lakes the night before and/or after but eventually decided to make it a long day trip. A 5am start sounds early but it’s less of an issue when it’s already daylight. I’ve also recently acquired a highly neurotic cat (Mona) who, due to neglect from a previous owner, begs for attention and food at any opportunity. I didn’t mind the feline alarm clock today.

A 6.30am departure from Bradford had me pulling into the parking field in Loweswater at 9.45am, in good time for the 11am start. This is an idyllic corner of the Lakes, all the scenery but without the crowds. It felt quiet even with 150 fellrunners trickling in.

I had nice chats with a few familiar faces: Tanya from Fellandale, Dave from St Theresa’s, Joe from Dark Peak. All three though were facing a different prospect to me, as I had entered the “short” version of the course, whereas they were doing the real thing, a 36km monster all the way to Honister and back. Beyond my comprehension at present, I was just hoping to get back before their winner did (both races start together, then the courses diverge at Whiteless Pike).

One of the appealing aspects of fellrunning is how life’s worries drift away as start time approaches, as you focus entirely on the race. I’d forgotten about the bunion now (the guard was comfortably in place) and the final decision was whether to wear a t-shirt under the vest. I’d got uncomfortably sunburnt at Fairfield and didn’t fancy a repeat. However, the sun was out and the temperature rising. Eventually, I plumped for the t-shirt, despite being the only runner in 2 layers. Maybe I should invest in an NLFR t-shirt, if available.

The start was half a mile on the road downhill, which spread the field nicely. A jog through some woods then onto the open fell up Whiteside. We were all soon down to a walk, and it stayed that way for the next 30 minutes. You could probably become a good fellrunner just by doing lots of fellwalking. Near the top, a noticeable cool breeze came in and I felt a bit smug about the t-shirt, it was nice to have it for the rest of the race.

From Whiteside, it was a jog along the ridge to Hopegill Head, with scenic views to both sides. We then took a dive down to Coledale Hause and crossed a lively beck, the first water on the route. I took the precaution of filling my fancy filtration water bottle, to complement the 500ml I’d packed at the start. Then a long drag up to the flat, grassy top of Grasmoor, the highest point on the course. A double-back for half a mile then another descent to Whiteless Pike. The way off the top seemed intuitive and I followed the obvious line towards Buttermere; however this is a potential trap for the full course which deviates here on a less obvious line towards Newlands Hause – take note.

After a long grassy descent we dibbed in Buttermere village. A couple of hours on the watch, a free jelly baby and the bulk of the course done. It had been relatively straightforward up to now and I hadn’t needed to get the map out, following the field ahead had been OK. Actually though, the race was about to change character and, on reflection, I now see it as a race of two halves.

I continued following runners on the main path out of the village, arrived at the foot of Sour Milk Gill and turned right. Only afterwards did I realise that I’d missed a different path which would have saved half a mile. Equally, as the path bent left towards Scale Force I missed a trod to the right and ended up doubling-back through tussocks and bracken, wasting another few minutes. This kind of thing can happen well into a long race.

Then the real sting in the tail: Mellbreak. An impressive and attractive fell from many angles, but this way up via Scale Knott was just a grind, very steep, no trod, just head down, put one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll get there (I was grateful for the fill-up from the stream earlier to get up the climb). Equally the descent off the col between the two tops. I just followed the runner in front and ended up on a narrow descending trod which felt a bit too technical three hours into a race. A better line may have been to have gone straight down and run in on the level track below. Either way, a recce of Mellbreak is recommended!

Mellbreak. Photo by Tim Haynes used under Creative Commons

Eventually though, I arrived at the finish in Loweswater in a time of 3:21:33, a not unrespectable 26th of 48 finishers on the short course. A massive free spread of veggie chilli, cakes and beverages was waiting as our reward, which made the £15 entry fee (with free parking) a real bargain. Having tucked in and begun to feel human again, a short while later James Harris of Ambleside sprinted in, the winner of the full course in just over 4 hours. We really hadn’t been in the same race.


Dave Middlemas

The South Downs Way 100, or reflections on being a dot

100 miles, 12,700 feet, average rainfall 52mm

In the age of Strava, we’re used to being visible, to being watched. If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen. But the dramatic rise in popularity of ultra endurance events and multi-day adventure racing over recent years has seen the emergence of a curious new form of spectatorship. So-called “dot-watching” enables followers to track runners around courses in real time from the comfort of their own homes. Like the Eye of Sauron, now, there really is nowhere to hide.

If you actually stop and think about it, following a small dot around a screen for an entire weekend is a slightly strange pursuit. Especially when you consider that many of the people we so enthusiastically share our tracker links with have little or no context for the types of events we’re undertaking. How many dot watchers, for example, have been dots themselves? Do all dot watchers want to become dots? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that watching the relentless forward progress of these tiny dots quietly going about their business can’t still be reassuring, and perhaps a little bit captivating. Especially when set against the mundane, everyday settings in which we often consume them; at work, in bed, or on the sofa. But what does it actually feel like to be a dot? To be out there in the dark, the wind, the rain, hour after hour. Do dots have feelings too?

Until very recently, I’m not sure I would have been best placed to answer this question. Two years ago, at the South Downs Way 100, I was the very worst kind of dot. You know the kind. It’s the one that hasn’t moved for a while. And I mean, quite a while. At first, you think it might be your internet connection. Or, more likely, the tracker itself has just momentarily dropped signal. But now, to make matters worse, this dot isn’t actually a dot any longer. No, this dot has become the thing that all dots fear; the strange little flashing bed icon!!! Some dots, the lucky ones, will miraculously reverse this unwanted transformation and regain their status as dots to begin their onward progress towards the finish. But, alas, I was not one of those.

It sounds a little bit dramatic now as I write it, but my DNF at the 30-mile point on the South Downs Way 100 in 2022 actually prompted something of an existential crisis. It certainly didn’t help that I’d planned the run as the centerpiece of my 40th birthday celebrations. I was quite literally racing the moment, at 2am in the morning, that I would step triumphantly from one decade into another. I’d decided this would be the final, definitive act of my 30s. A fitting end to another decade of running.  As it happened (thanks to my hip, and probably poor pacing and lack of mental preparation), I turned 40 sitting on the sofa in an Airbnb in Eastbourne with a beer in my hand, not as a strong little dot, but as a vulnerable and fragile voyeur, hidden from view, watching all the other dots doing what dots are actually supposed to do, moving towards the finish!

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I’d gone from participating in the race to consuming it online. In reality, I’d waited for a good couple of hours to be picked up from the checkpoint I’d dropped out at. I’d been driven nearly 70 miles back to our accommodation, where I’d enjoyed a shower, two meals and a nap, and the dots were still at it, just being dots, and most still had a very long way to go. On the one hand, this was a sobering and unappealing thought. On the other, it provided an enticing glimpse into the unfathomable persistence of these tiny little dots. I simply needed to know more. My time as a dot had been so brief. If only I’d known that I wouldn’t be a dot forever, I would have soaked up every precious moment. So, I did what any rational human being would do in my place, and I signed up immediately for the Lakeland 100. I would be a dot once again!

I’m pleased to say that this time around, my experience as a dot was a much happier one. I set off at a more reasonable pace, I kept my ego in check, and I ran strongly throughout the entire race to finish in 22h and 50 minutes, well under my 24-hour target. Suddenly, all the bad memories from last year were forgotten. I’d become the dot I’d always imagined I would be; effervescent, bright, and proudly visible in my moment of glory. 

Finally, our curious little preoccupation with dot watching all made perfect sense because, ultimately, a dot can only really be a dot if someone’s watching it.

Matt John

Isle of Jura Fell Race

25th May 2024

Seven summits, 2370m of climbing, 28km and only 250 places.

When I first heard about the Isle of Jura Fell Race a few years ago, I regarded it very much as one of those races for people who knew what they were doing. At that stage, I wasn’t one of them. Intrigue gradually turned into serious consideration when on repeated half term visits to Tayvallich, we would see runners returning from Jura on the Jura passenger ferry. I pledged to do it when I turned fifty, but my wife Martha encouraged me to stick an entry in this year. They only admit 250 runners each year and a place was not guaranteed on the first attempt. I went from 18th on the waiting list to one of the lucky 250 in a very short time. It seemed to be happening and I was pretty daunted.

For anyone unfamiliar with Jura, it is renowned for a few things: whisky, Nineteen Eighty-Four (which George Orwell wrote on Jura) and (if you read NME in the 90s) the KLF burning a million pounds there. It is also host to the annual fell race, a circuit of 17 miles and an eye-watering 2370m of ascent. The route takes in seven significant peaks, most notably the three Paps of Jura, which dominate the skyline. When the weather is clear enough to see them that is.

The adventure started with an early morning boat trip across the Sound of Jura from Tayvallich. The boat I was on was usually deployed for wildlife cruises, so the pilot couldn’t help himself pausing halfway there to point out a pod of porpoises, a welcome distraction from my pre-race nerves. The first sight of Jura from the ferry did nothing to ease my navigational anxiety. Low cloud hung like a wet dishcloth over the island, obscuring all but the lowest foothills. The forecast promised brighter skies later, so I clung onto some hope as I arrived on the island and looked for a tent-sized spot on the crowded (and midge-infested) campsite. It felt like arriving late to a festival.

Having distracted myself with pitching my tent, registration and kit check there was nothing left to do but soak up the pre-race atmosphere and try to contain my nerves. There was a real mixture of Jura veterans, relative newcomers and first-timers like me. It was comforting to have my NLFR vest recognised by another first timer and ex-NLFR member, Will, who cheerily confessed that navigation-wise, he was very much going to be winging it. Amidst the pre-race anxiety, it’s hard to get away from the feeling that everyone else seems to have more of a clue what they’re doing than you do. Maybe it was all going to be okay.

Amidst some signs of brightening weather and a stirring bagpipe send-off, the race got underway. The first couple of miles were fairly standard fell race fare: a steady, bog-ridden climb up into the aforementioned low cloud, which showed no sign of shifting. Descending out of the cloud after the second checkpoint though, the race began to feel like no other. Views opened up to the sea and the coast of Islay to the west and blue skies framed the route ahead. It was one of those moments of fell-running exhilaration when everything comes together. And it looked like I might actually get the clear visibility I’d been praying for.

The view couldn’t have been clearer as I headed towards what the route description bills as “probably the most intimidating climb in British fell running”, Benn a Chaolish (pronounced Hoolish), the first of The Paps. The glorious sunshine, surging endorphins and spectacular vista probably took the edge off the intimidation, but this was a monster of a climb nonetheless and I had to fight the urge to sit down for a rest half-way up.

The second and third Paps (Benn an Oirr and Benn Shiantaidh) are already a glorious blur in my memory, but each punishing ascent seemed to come far too soon after the last. The marshals on top of the third Pap were helping runners to celebrate the ascent by pumping out banging techno from a bluetooth speaker and plying us with wine gums. A bit on the chewy side for race sustenance in my view, but I gratefully accepted a couple.

After a horrible descent off the third Pap involving a scree chute and a very wobbly boulder field I was on track for the final ascent to checkpoint 7. Surprisingly, the bagpipers from the start of the race had also made the ascent and were piping runners up the last climb – stirring stuff! It was all downhill from here, albeit it on “awful trods across desperate bogs” as the race-map describes it. I was feeling pretty desperate by this stage and was struggling to get my head round the fact that I’d only covered 10 miles of the 17. I had, however, dealt with all 2370 metres of ascent, which my legs were painfully aware of.

Three Arch Bridge marks the end of the fell section, but not the end of the race. A three-mile slog along a flat tarmac (and in some sections aluminium) road completes the course. This is the longest flat three miles I have ever run. Craighouse was in view for much of the way but did not appear to be getting any closer. I was in no fit state to enjoy the view of white sandy beaches to the left, or the chocolate digestives that one supporter was proffering from the roadside. I finally made it to the finish, clocking in at 5 hours and 6 minutes. Respectable if not remarkable.

I’ve never been so relieved to have finished a race, but I was immediately sorry it was over. I spent the rest of the day and evening in a bit of a daze, so much so that I completely missed the prize-giving gathering. I did make it to the traditional fell race ceilidh, but I was happy to observe from the sidelines rather than attempt any dancing.

This was such a special race to take part in, not just for the race itself, but for the whole experience. I’d urge anyone who might have toyed with the idea of tackling The Paps to give it a go. It didn’t take long before I was wondering how I might fare in the V50 category next time…

Matt Calvert

Helvellyn, The Dodds and me

Inspired by nostalgic memories of the NLFR Bob Graham weekend (3rd day, June 19th 2022) when I first encountered some of this route under clear skies and balmy temperatures, I’d tucked this fell race away in a memory bank for a future me with fresher legs. Then of course, Helen and Dan raced it in 2023 (finishing in that same order), so the race remained of high interest.

Fast forward to the present and the race was further nudged forward into my consciousness by Dave Middlemas praising it highly for all the right reasons (good route, not to mention hospitality by Keswick AC). So, I was still interested, and the date was looking clear in my diary.

A few minor obstacles bothered me, namely that I didn’t know anyone else on the entry list or intending to enter on the day. Normally this doesn’t worry me, but this was a Lakes race, and these tend to involve a higher level of grit and skill than I’m capable of. (I did get momentarily confused and think that Hefin, Adam Nodwell and Angeline were all doing it, but then belatedly realized I was looking at the 2023 entry list by mistake.)

What if there was terrible visibility and I got lost? Certainly, reading through the race description on the back of the Pete Bland map (warning about the “monstrous cock up” potential when contouring the Dodds didn’t fill me with hope when already there was doubt).

Additionally, I don’t like driving and the plan involved me driving solo to the Lakes. Believe it or not, both factors caused me a fair amount of anxiety. I prepared for it by potentially sabotaging my race legs by racing the Wednesday (Blackstone Edge Fell Race) and Thursday (Kildwick Fell Race) in the run up to it. Both races were short (only 6KM but punchy enough, with Blackstone Edge creeping up into the AS category). In fact, I was tired before Kildwick and used my pre-race time to have a power nap in my car with my dry robe as a duvet, rather than warm up.

I only finally decided to finally race Helvellyn on Friday morning. Taking Joe’s advice, I flipped a coin, and it was heads which meant I was doing the race!

Race day on Saturday: early start from Leeds with a hearty porridge breakfast lining my stomach (thanks, Joe) and I was off on the road. Because I was anxious, I arrived at Threlkeld Cricket Club at 9.10am (the race didn’t start until 11am), so I had time to talk to Mark Lamb who was on car park duty and fret about (but more importantly sort out) a warning light which had come on the dashboard in my car as I was arriving. This also gave me time to think about post-race decisions (I was likely to be fatigued from the cognitive and physical demands of the day), so I laid my stuff out into two sealed bags for afterwards: shower and change bag, snacks and drinks bag.

The weather was starting to warm up. It wasn’t “Fairfield warm” but at 18 degrees, it was warm enough to pink my Irish skin if I wasn’t careful. Cue a second slather of suntan lotion and more chats with Mark Lamb (checking shoe recommendations). I had an unexpected surprise when I bumped into a friend of a friend (Kat) as well as actual friends (Alyson and Gina who completely unbeknownst to me had decided to run the Bob Graham leg 2 route at the same time, having been inspired by our friend Tom Howard who was attempting to do the Bob Graham, having set off at 8.30pm the previous night). The lovely Katie Kars Sijpesteijn had also entered on the day, so it was good to have a pre-race hug and catch up. Already, things were looking up!

The race started on a tarmac section where the smiley Keswick AC marshals counted the runners in and completed a kit check and then not long after that, we were away! Who needs a warmup anyway when you’re running up Clough Head…?

The start felt frantic, but then, don’t they always? It’s always hard to know where to place yourself in the pack, especially if there are fewer female runners and everyone looks like they know what they’re doing.

After the tarmac, there was a “tussocky scrat” across Threlkeld common which preceded the climb up Clough Head. I was slightly alarmed by a call of “ROCK” as a fellow runner yelled down from the summit to warn us below of a fast-approaching rock gathering pace in our direction. After that mild drama, my senses were heightened and I allowed myself a minute to laugh nervously with the runner next to me, before cracking on with getting to the top.

By now, I’d eyed up a woman running ahead of me in a purple vest. She looked strong and determined and stood out because she was leading a small pack of male runners. She became my target for the first two check points. We later talked (Karen from Northumberland Fell Runners) as I had noted her effective descending skills which were rather galloping in style, and I wanted to pass on my admiration.

I think I finally overtook Karen somewhere around Raise and our paths didn’t cross again until after the race back at the Cricket Club where we greeted each other like long lost friends. I take comfort in these small moments in races, sharing smiles and small talk, validating each other’s race experiences. When the race is over, it’s hard to fully describe it to anyone else who wasn’t there but the other runners in the field know, they really know.

The terrain was lovely, really. Lots of extended grassy and undulating bits to allow you to settle in and find your place and pace. I tried to take note of the ascents and descents as I enjoyed the swooping downhill bits, which would clearly hurt on the return leg. As we followed each other up to Raise and I marveled at the clear visibility, it occurred to me that due to the popularity of the route, it was hard to distinguish between runners and walkers from afar. But despite the field getting more stretched out, things were still okay, phew. And the breeze on the summits was lovely: cool, but not too cool. I felt glad for the Keswick summit heroes who smiled us through the check points and genuinely looked like they were having a nice time.

Not long after Raise (although it’s hard to be fully certain), the first few runners came hurtling back towards us looking determined with their eyes on the prize. The lead was Sam Holding (CFR) with Mark Lamb (Keswick) in second place.

The climb up White Side and Helvellyn Low Man wasn’t too technical, and the race photographer greeted us at the top like a host of a gathering to an outdoor summit party.

I was more in awe of the leading women trickling through, also looking determined and mighty. There was Hannah from Helm Hill looking comfortable in front, a runner from Eden in second place and then Katie in third. I saw Katie descending off Helvellyn summit and called out to her. I then cursed myself for doing so and I’m glad she didn’t look my way (or hear me, as I later found out). Counting through the women, I knew I was currently in 7th . Not bad, I told myself. Keep going.

The return journey involved more sideway looks and reassuring words with other runners who were either struggling with the onset of cramps or dehydration. One runner asked me how many climbs were left as he had run out of water. Er, I’m not sure, I said. I wasn’t sure how honest to be but then realized that my response wasn’t helpful.

Not long after one of the slightly rocky descents, a female runner tore past me. I had her in my sights for a while after that but then realized this was fruitless. She had paced the race very well and finished strongly. Somewhere around Great Dodd (maybe…), a runner from Helm Hill told me we’d been running for 2 and a half hours, and could we finish in under 3 hours. I laughed at that thought, but it lifted my spirits because the end was getting closer.

Clough Head descent, oh boy. Starting with some descending on my bum action and then a slight shuffle but at least I was moving downwards. And no one around me was going much faster. The above runner who had run out of water earlier on was still nearby, but he was slowing and almost stationary.

I was glad to reach the road before heading into Threlkeld common. There, I saw someone sunbathing on the grass. Upon closer inspection, it was a runner whose race hadn’t gone to plan. I asked him if he wanted to walk in the final section of the race together, but he politely declined.

The final tarmac section back to the Cricket Club felt mean and hard on both the feet and the mind. The finish line was soon upon me, and it felt glorious.  I caught up with Katie (who had changed and was looking fresh as a daisy). In my post-race giddy exuberance, I was keen for company, and it was great to see a friendly face at the end.

Returning to my car and checking my phone, I was jolted back into the real world. Attentional demands from various WhatsApp groups flooded in. I wasn’t ready for this, not yet. I stayed in the present and put the phone away until my brain recharged. Although delighted to be finished, I missed the simplicity of the race where you only need to think about fuelling and putting one foot in front of another.

Basking in the warm glow of the Keswick AC hospitality (cake, sandwiches, hot drinks…) and watching the cricket (which was strangely hypnotic with the majestic backdrop of Clough Head), I swapped race tales with people around me. I must have sat there for an hour easily, before finally breaking the spell and moving away.

Maybe I am a fell runner who races in the Lakes, after all. I challenged myself and I felt proud. Same time, next year? Definitely!

Hydration: electrolytes in water and flat coke

Fuelling: Homemade energy balls (thanks Alyson) and some Veloforte chunks.

Niamh Jackson

A day out around the Horseshoe

Fairfield Horseshoe fell race, 11 May 2024 (AM, 14.5km, 914m ascent)

“You’ve come all the way here before to do a 20-minute race?” exclaimed Adam in surprise. He wasn’t referring to the race we were about to do – the 10-mile Fairfield Horseshoe – but to my several previous visits to Rydal for the Ambleside Guides race (1.5 miles, last Thursday in July). As we lined up for the start I tried to explain that (in my mind) a race is just the focal point of a day out. In the case of Ambleside Guides, as much about the mildly eccentric spectacles of grass-track cycling, hound trails and Cumberland & Westmoreland wrestling that come before and after. Adam didn’t seem immediately convinced, and indeed there’s a pervading view in fellrunning that a long journey is only justified by a proportionally long race.

But to press my case further, here’s how the 2 hours spent on Saturday’s Fairfield Horseshoe fitted into my day as a whole:

0530: Alarm

0730: Departure from Bradford after the usual painstaking gathering of gear and other stuff for every eventuality. Today, this includes 4 separate water bottles of different volumes – 500ml, 750ml, 1 litre, 1.5 litres. I appreciate driving through Shipley traffic-free, a rare event. The Dales look stunning in the early morning sunlight. I get the chance to listen to my current fave album of choice (The Who’s Quadrophenia) all the way through at suitably ear-splitting volume.

0930: Arrive Rydal Park. What becomes the Ambleside Show field in July is today the car park. The Pete Bland van is set up, the marshals are friendly and the fells are crystal clear – all is well with the world at this moment. It’s already on the warm side though, and still 90 minutes to the start.

1010: It’s a 15-minute walk to the start line, so no chance to return to the car. I select the 750ml water bottle and pack the race rucksack. Put a jacket on with 500ml water in one pocket and sun-tan lotion in the other (these 3 to leave at the start).

1030: Go through kit check and get my race number. Despite nearly 150 fell races under my belt I‘m still hopeless at attaching race numbers to vest with safety pins. Everything seems straightforward after that.

1040: Find the other NLFRs milling around the start area – Cailum (looking ridiculously fresh for someone who completed 65km of the Fellsman 2 weeks ago), Niamh and Joe (who’ve gone for an ultra-convenient accommodation option 50 yards away), Tom (who I’ve not met before) and the aforementioned Adam (running late) – plus some other familiar faces. The banter begins and helps us forget about what’s ahead….

Cailum, Dave, Tom, Niamh, Joe

1100: Just over 200 of us are underway and immediately hit a wall of heat. After half a mile we swing sharp left up Nab Scar and the walking begins. Thoughts go no further than whether actually completing this course is going to be possible today. One runner sits disconcertedly on a rock, already weighing things up. Eventually we hit the ridge, a bit of a breeze and the stunning view over the Grasmere fells. It’s a steady climb for the next 3 miles to the top, and the walking becomes interspersed with periods of slow jogging. Get a muesli bar and some water in. Niamh comes past whilst also holding down an earnest conversation with a Kiwi runner. Just before the summit of Fairfield I take a last slug of water and finally convince myself that completing the circuit is a goer.

1210: Reach the summit in 1hr 10 mins and make the incorrect calculation that I should therefore be back in 1:45. Overtake Niamh on the initial rocky descent, then a faster stretch over easier ground. There are numerous fellrunner-trods to the side that may or may not be quicker, some of which are taken. Further down the ground becomes more technical and I look out for the distinct left turn on the map indicating where to avoid the “Bad Step” of Sweden Crag. After the third or fourth likely spot I assume I’ve passed it. In fact, I’m grateful for shouts telling us it’s just ahead (a course recce would have been useful but in fact I’ve not been here for 20 years). After what seems like forever the descending eventually ends, we reach the car park and just the small matter of the half mile left along the track, which of course goes on forever.

1302: My 147th fell race but the first that ends under an inflatable finish line, in 2hrs 2 minutes. Am sprayed with water and handed an ice-cold can of Fanta. Find some shade, have a short period gathering myself alone and chug the Fanta in one go – it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Drag myself to the registration barn where a cup of coffee and flapjack are equally divine. Collapse in more shade and watch everyone come in and go through similar post-race recovery. In time a low-key presentation is convened, MC’d by the man with the quietest voice in fellrunning. Eventually, our group gathers at the café, the tea is so nice even in a paper cup. Of the NLFRs, Cailum’s made it look like a walk in the park, Niamh’s won yet another bottle of wine for 2nd F40, Tom seems pleased to have got round, Joe too after suffering cramps and taking a scenic diversion over Low Sweden Bridge, and Adam now resembles a lobster.

1445: A slow walk back the car, then I start poking around the adjacent beck trying to find somewhere nice to have a dip. Eventually am rewarded with a sunlit pool with a gravelly base, deep enough to get under if not actually swim in. Water temperature quite tolerable, for May. That should sort the DOMS out for the rest of the week.

1600: Back to the car park to find I’m one of the few cars left on the field. The marshal tells me he’s going home now, please shut the gate behind you and don’t let any sheep out. Much as I could stay here indefinitely I reluctantly decide to join the queue of traffic into Ambleside.

1800: There’s still a bit of the day left so rather than go straight home I make a short diversion to Airton in the Dales and have a walk along the Aire. My Gran used to live here when I was a kid and me + brothers used to run up and down the hills and poke about in the river, much like I have done today.

1900: Plans to cook a sensible dinner at home go out the window as I approach The Stocksbridge Arms fish + chip shop in Riddlesden. Fish, chips, peas and another can of pop, the perfect end to a perfect day. All built around another memorable race.

NLFR results

16th: Cailum Earley
58th: Dave Middlemas
75th (14th F): Niamh Jackson
142nd: Adam Nodwell
158th: Tom Sanders
187th: Joe Steele
217 ran (76 F)
Full results

Dave Middlemas

The Fellsman 2024 : the bogs got the better of me

About 60 miles

About 11,000 feet

Seven hours have just ticked over on my Garmin. I scramble to grab my jacket and zip it up tightly as quickly as I can. The temperature is beginning to drop, the clouds are rolling in and the rain is starting to pour as I make my way down Dodd Fell after completing a soul-destroying climb before traversing the marshes and being dropped. This was to be the turning point for me during the Fellsman 2024.

Sections of my account have been dramatised. I had a lot of fun writing this on the train to London.

I’ve been making great progress. I’d go as far as to say a dream start. I was comfortably 3rd until Dent (approx 31 km). Kim Collison even said “well done” to me as he effortlessly cruised down Whernside after checkpoint 3 while I made my way through his dust. That might just well be my biggest achievement as a runner. By comparison, he was comfortable, steady and relaxed. I was pushing and I knew it! I’d started too fast and it wasn’t sustainable. The feeling of being positioned 3rd in such a classic race as the Fellsman was addictive and I didn’t want to pop the bubble.

Copyright Ian Wild

I was feeling great. For the first time ever I’d actually tapered. My legs were strong and my mind was determined. Descending Whernside via the western side, I scaled the stile Matt, Dereck and I had completely missed during our recce in midwinter. Not this time. I was dialled-in, vigilant and handling business. I found a great line down to the beck, which I followed keeping the water to my right, dropped down the verge, crossed the river turning right over the plank of wood forming a bridge then across the road to checkpoint 2. I had memorised these actions along the entire route, noted them down and played them out in my head countless times. Navigation errors today would just add to the suffering. I was taking this seriously!

A caveat : I’m still relatively new to this ultrarunning scene. This was my first 100 km (actually 97 km) event, and I could count on my hands the amount of times I’d officially entered an ultra race. I hadn’t run past 65 km in a single effort before. It also meant that training for such an event was new territory for me and training over winter to get into the right shape for this event was bloody hard work.

Typically I’d be running six days a week including a double run day (which I affectionately named Manic Monday, Double Trouble Tuesday, Wicked Wednesday and Freaky Friday depending on the day…it helped!) with strength and conditioning sessions a few times a week for good measure. Not to mention running home after NLFR club nights which conveniently most weeks seem to be at Burley Moor which meant I could run back to Baildon over the tops, adding some extra miles in through the week. All of these sessions were off-road, I wanted to prepare for the worst and get cosy with the bog.

I’m not ashamed to admit that there were a few occasions that it was too much, where perhaps I was overtraining and the whole thing was overwhelming. In fact, there was a moment one evening mid-week which was a particularly miserable day. So miserable, I broke down and nearly pulled out altogether. I started to hate running! On reflection, I’m so happy I didn’t. It’s taught me that I can persevere and the experience has improved my ability as a runner. Training is the hard part. Getting into your running kit for the sixth time in a row, after a hard day at work when it’s cold, dark and raining, to run repeats on a moor in February takes discipline and mental fortitude that builds your character. It’s not easy and I quickly found out I’m not the exception.

Arriving at Dent (CP 8/31 km) I had made the sensible decision to ease off and allow myself to not worry about being passed. I needed to remember the guys around me were outright athletes, incredibly fast and strong runners who seemed to glide over the undulating and unforgiving terrain. It’s such a pleasure to watch someone so dedicated and able in their craft. They were going to pass me anyway, they were better than me; but as anyone competitive knows, it hurts regardless.

I reminded myself that I’ve got another 60 km+ to go over mountains through bogs and dodging tussocks. So relax, settle in, be patient and pace yourself. I eased off and started my ascent up Blea Moor (or Bleak Moor as I call it). Matt (Matt John/NLFR) had commented back in winter that the bogs here actually go uphill. Is that possible?

Copyright Ian Wild

I had entered the pain cave and had blown right through the front door. It’s not usual for me to hit a low so early on but I wasn’t nearly consuming enough calories. Eating was challenging. I was picking up the odd biscuit and downing the odd gel. I wasn’t abiding by my strategy of eating every 30 minutes and filling up at each checkpoint. I thought back to Will’s account of his incredible performance during Lakes in a Day where he would consume a gel every 20 minutes. That wasn’t possible for me, I had to figure out a plan. Then again I’d never pushed as hard over this distance. It was all new territory and I had to adapt on the fly.

My pace was starting to slow, more so than I had intended. My legs were hurting, particularly my hip flexor. I hadn’t felt this since I first began running over lockdown where each time I left the door It would be a max effort 5 km (terrible idea). Perhaps I was coming full circle?

To make matters worse I was being hunted! Matt (Matt John/NLFR) who I had pushed ahead of on Ingleborough (CP1) was finding his stride, gathering pace and hunting for souls. Just like Maverick in Top Gun, I was right in his sights. I had passed him on a few out-and-backs at Whernside and Great Knoutberry. We’d exchange words of encouragement as we pushed hard. I knew he was right there, but him being there was pushing me on. He’s an incredible runner and was demonstrating how to conduct yourself during such a gruelling event. As I turned back I could see the distinctive upright peak of his hat and purple shorts in the distance. Like a lion stalking his prey. He’s gaining and I’m hitting a wall (perhaps I’ve dramatised this a little).

Copyright Ian Wild

Inevitably he breezed past me shortly afterwards before the ascent up Dodd Fell where a few months back we had been caught out in a rainstorm before hightailing it down the Pennine Way to Hawes for fish and chips and a pint. It was a fitting moment. He moved with purpose and efficiency, a man in his element and a mind in complete control (that is entirely true). Morale lifted by a familiar face, I gathered what strength I had left and hung on tight as we shared a few kilometres together. We joked about how we should head down the hill towards Hawes and find the same chippy. He at least was joking; I wouldn’t have taken much convincing!

I hung on with Matt as long as I could but his pace was unrelenting, I was hoping he’d walk the hills so I could catch my breath but that wasn’t ever going to happen and not before long, I was dropped. A harsh reality. This wasn’t club night. No-one was waiting for you to catch up at the top of the hill. This was a race and survival of the fittest. I reminded myself that I needed to run my own race and let go of any ego to finish in the top 10.

I knew in the back of my mind my race was coming to a premature end. I could barely sustain a light jog. I was in a bad way and perhaps that electric start was my downfall. Like any amateur and inexperienced long-distance runner, I blew up at the beginning and I was paying for it, big time!

Copyright Ian Wild

Coming off Dodd Fell I made some good navigational decisions and caught up with Matt as he arrived at the next checkpoint before he vanished into the distance eventually finishing 9th overall. Deciding to take some time at the Fleet Moss checkpoint I sat and forced some food down. I was feeling very sorry for myself when my family asked how I was. In truth, I was broken. This course had chewed me up and spat me out! My hip flexor wasn’t getting any better and the pain was getting worse. I decided to push onto Deepdale about 6 km away down a tarmac road. Leaving Fleet Moss standing up was hard enough, my legs and hips had seized up but I was determined to get to Deepdale (mostly because it sounded like something out of Lord of the Rings).

Arriving at Deepdale my mind was made up and sadly, there as it rained, mid-afternoon and 65km into the race I retired, ending my attempt at the Fellsman 2024.

Copyright The Fellsman FB

A few days later after taking some time to recover, mind and body, I knew my decision to retire was the right one. This race meant an awful lot to me. I had sacrificed so many hours to step onto the start line prepared. You don’t enter these events knowing you’re going to finish. I entered to find my limits and I found them! I’ve learned a lot and I’ve come out the other end better for it. The Fellsman has been and remains both terrifying and beautiful. I will be back next year!

Cailum Earley

Subs bench : February 2024

Every now and then we like to check in with our injured clubmates. Injury and illness happen to most of us sooner or later, and it’s hard when a big chunk of your life is suddenly unavailable. So here is a brief update of our current crop of not-currently-runners. We miss you and wish you a swift recovery.

Ruth Dorrington

I am injured quite frequently. Some are regular overuse injuries or wear and tear (aka old age). However, I’ve inflicted a fair few ludicrous ones on myself. For example, I have given myself whiplash by running into an overhanging branch with such force I knocked myself off my feet. I have tripped over whilst running and landed on the only protruding rock in a 5-mile radius, cracking a rib, then done the exact same thing somewhere else 6 weeks later.

I’ve also had injuries where the physio/podiatrist/osteopath has called a colleague into the treatment room, saying, “Take a look at this, it’s really weird! What do you think it is?” Never very comforting. Little wonder that I am welcomed so cordially by aforementioned therapists: they must hear a giant mental ker-ching as I walk through the door.

So, have the decades of injuries given me a patient stoicism when confronted with another cycle of rest, recovery and re-hab? Definitely not! Each new injury is the very end of the world. Every person I see out running while I am injured is a stab to my heart. Every missed race is mourned with much weeping and wailing.
However, when I am running, I am truly grateful for every step and celebrate every little milestone!

Dominique Lynch

Why are you on the subs bench?
I’m on the subs bench after taking a tumble during a race and continuing on to the finish line (which was another 10miles!)

It’s the first time I’ve sprained my ankle or had an injury that has prevented me from running. I wouldn’t recommend it at all.

How long have you been out?
I’ve been out for about nine months on and off.

What have you been doing, if anything, to keep mentally and physically fit?
I’ve had lots of physio and have been religiously doing the exercises recommended to me. My ankle is still very stiff and my attempts to get back to running end in soreness for several days after.

I’ve been going on lots of walks and to Pilates classes 2-3 a week. I definitely don’t get the dopamine hit that running gives you but it feels good to be outdoors and move my body.

I think keeping mentally fit has been the hardest part of all. It’s easy to slip into thinking if I’ll ever been back on the hills again or if I do to what capacity.

What do you miss about running, if anything?
Everything but mostly the people from NLFR!

Rose George

Why are you on the subs bench?

I’ve got a stress fracture in my left shin. This is weird as my left leg never usually bothers me. Right glute, right tibial tendon, right everything, but not usually left. I got a twinge in my shin the week before Auld Lang Syne, but thought nothing of it because see above about left leg. I did a ten mile moorland run on the Friday through about five different weather systems and had to take a lot of painkillers. At that point I should have rested but I wanted to run six miles dressed as Melchior with my clubmates at Auld Lang Syne, and stupidly I did. My shin hurt throughout and it hasn’t stopped hurting since.

How long have you been out?

Since January 31, 2023.

What have you been doing, if anything, to keep mentally and physically fit?
I immediately stopped running and haven’t tried since. I thought it was a shin splint (muscle or tendon) but after a couple of weeks with no improvement I went to the physio who was so convinced it was a stress fracture, she only did half an appointment. She gave me some crutches and sent me to Wharfedale minor injuries, where I got an X-ray. This showed no fracture but stress fractures don’t often show on X-rays. The nurse told me that what I thought had been good low-impact stuff (walking a lot and cycling) was entirely the wrong thing to do. Great. I used crutches for a couple of weeks, but then stopped using them and noticed no difference. I’ve iced and elevated, applied comfrey poultices, taken a lot of co-codamol, and try hard to stay fit and not eat like I’m still running 30 miles a week (having just had a custard tart for breakfast). I can swim, though ideally without using my legs (the kicking motion isn’t great), I can cycle on a turbo if it’s on the flat. I’m not supposed to walk excessively, but I’m not very good at heeding that. Yoga is OK as long as I’m careful about not putting too much weight on my left leg. The thought of running is as horrific as the thought of hopping on one leg. I’m going to be out for a while yet.

I’ve dealt with the mental grief in two ways: by marshalling when I can, at park run or at the Trog. That gave me the camaraderie and race atmosphere that I really miss, even if I was only taking numbers and offering sweets. But I am just trying not to think about it because if I do, I miss it horribly. My swimming has improved massively though and I’m pretty chuffed that I can now swim a mile front crawl which I’d never done before. Marginal gains.

What do you miss about running, if anything?
Everything and everyone. The head-clearing of running. The friendships. The social runs on the moors. The moors. The grousing grouse. The glee of night runs with headtorches. The pure joy of running downhill. Scraping mud off my legs with a toothbrush in the shower.

Runners and Riders

4.9 miles, 890ft

Most fell races start mid-morning, which makes organising your pre-race routine pretty straightforward: get up – have breakfast – get stuff together – travel – register – warm up – race. An early afternoon start is a bit trickier. Enjoy a long lie in? Late breakfast?/mid-morning snack?/early lunch? Do something else with the morning first?

Last Sunday’s race, Runners + Riders, started at 2pm. Waking early, I decided to get out and about rather than sit around at home, there’s already quite enough of that at this time of year. Conditions outside looked unpromising, so I packed two extra sets of clothes along with everything else (this proved to be a good decision). With the race being in Appletreewick I thought it would be a chance to have a poke around the old lead mines above Grassington, which I’d read about but not previously visited. I imagined this would be as much about exploring as covering distance so I wasn’t going to expend too much energy before the race.

I’ve never much liked Grassington – too twee and busy – but driving up onto the moor beyond you enter a very different world. I parked the car at the end of the road at Yarnbury and immediately came across the remains of an old mine, the various abandoned debris adding to the general sense of desolation of the open moor. I started loosely following a marked trail that takes you around various holes, derelict buildings and spoil heaps, in the general direction of a chimney on the skyline, which would have been more prominent if it hadn’t been for the sluicing rain and swirling mist. Arriving at the considerable remains of an old smelting mill I came across the most impressive feature, a half-mile long flue – straight as an arrow to the distant chimney – which once took all the smoke and fumes away from the mill. With the whole moor pockmarked with dubious-looking shafts and other hazards I didn’t explore too closely, but it was OK to duck under the base of the chimney, scramble in and look all the way up. At least it got me out of the by-now howling wind for a moment.

With conditions rapidly deteriorating all thoughts now turned to getting back to the relative shelter of the car. Despite having been out for under an hour I was soaked. With still four hours to go until the race I had plenty of time to effect drying out, as well as to linger over an unbeatable £3.50 piping-hot sausage sandwich and coffee offer at the Threshfield Spar. Mid-morning snack it turned out to be. It also gave me the chance to get to Appletreewick nice and early and secure a vital parking space on hard-standing (yes we did help push someone out of the mud later on). Having registered in the barn, the final stage of the drying-out procedure was completed on a faded sofa in front of a roaring log fire, taking in several draughts of healthy wood smoke.

Soon four other members of the NLFR gang arrived – Jonny, Josh, Nick and Harry – and before long we were lining up in the field ready to start (spot 4 of us in the photo below):

Photo by Andy Holden

The race is a joint affair for both runners and cyclists, on a course 4.9 miles long with 890ft of ascent, carefully designed to give all an equal chance. In that respect, much of it is relatively flat for a fell race, although you do get two proper climbs in, one about three-quarters of the way round, the other right at the start. This certainly helps spread the field out quickly:

Photo by Olga Wood

With 170 runners and 30 cyclists, there was plenty of space for everyone. Not like Bingley Harriers’ Harriers v Cyclists in November, where the ratio is more like 50-50 on a tighter course, so the risk of being cut up by the cyclists is much more part of the “fun”. Good hearing and peripheral vision helps!

Apart from those two climbs this was a pretty speedy race, particularly at the end as you zig-zag down the final field to the finish, with the cyclists whizzing past. In the end 168 ran, 31 cycled and 1 e-cycled, thus 200 in total.

NLFR results:

5th: Harry Kingston: 34:09

27th: Dave Middlemas: 38:27

29th: Jonny Coney: 38:41

43th: Josh Day: 41:13

73th: Nick Flower: 44:49

Full results here.

But these are mere numbers, the highlight was yet to come. This race makes me about as happy to part with £10 as is possible, because that gives you the race, a donation to three local charities (including Mountain Rescue), the sofas and the fire, and as much post-race cake, sandwich and hot caffeinated beverages as can be reasonably consumed. Below a picture of a fraction of the spread from a previous year, I was too busy stuffing my face to get the camera out this time.

Many thanks as always to Ted Mason, Wharfedale Harriers and Appletreewick village for organising and hosting this event, a mid-winter classic

These are not just fell runners, these are North Leeds fell runners

Dave Middlemas

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