Tag: Lakes

Fell relays

I’ve had a pretty good year so far. I planned to train for, and then run a proper Lakes AL. From January to June I put the hours and miles in, culminating with the Ennerdale fell race at the start of June. My little training chart — compiled by a mystical computer algorithm — had a lovely upward trending squiggle. And I do love a bit of data-based reassurance. I was running well and completed my goal (albeit with a performance slightly dampened by a cold) so I promptly took a few weeks off.

My little squiggle took a downward turn, but with my desires sated, that wasn’t a concern. Training and rest must be balanced carefully if you want the scales of performance to tip in your favour, after all. But then Kentmere Horseshoe appeared on the horizon. It had been my first Lakes race the previous year and I was keen to see if I’d actually improved since then. It’s a cracking race; long and steep enough to put you to work, but not so serious as to scare you off.

A work stint in Carlisle gave me the perfect base for a bit of fitness rebuilding. I managed to make some quick hits on Scafell, Skiddaw, the Buttermere Sailbeck, and Striding Edge, to name a few, and my squiggle ascended accordingly. I was primed for Kentmere. The race brought some testing conditions, which resulted in countless route variations (or detours, depending on who you ask) but it was a fantastic day nonetheless. Placing further up the field than before, I was happy with my improvements and started to plan out the rest of the summer’s races.

I returned to my local training ground — the Otley Chevin — with great fervour, stomping up the track with great intention. Cresting the top of the climb with a newfound momentum, and pulling round the corner, my foot somehow didn’t quite land underneath me and with an horrific crunch I stumbled to the floor in a pile of curses and pain. The summer’s racing plan almost visibly evaporated before me.

A dog walker enquired if I needed assistance but I declined, either from denial or embarrassment, I’m still not sure which. I hobbled back down the track to the car. Surely it can’t be so bad if I can walk on it?
Once again the squiggle tumbles, this time for two months. Eight weeks of holidays, stag dos and weddings later, I’ve ridden that downward squiggle like a party rollercoaster. Kilograms gained, fitness lost. I might as well take up tiddlywinks.

And then up pops a little message from Dom.
“Can you run in the Fell Relays?”

Which brings me to the bit I actually meant to write about: The British Fell Relay Championships. They are organised by Ambleside AC and held in Grasmere, and NLFR fielded four teams, no mean feat for a small club. Shrouded in darkness, we piled onto the bus on a dreary Saturday morning. I was to be running the first leg, a hearty five mile romp with 2400ft of climb. I avoided looking at the route in advance, choosing to remain in blissful ignorance; I knew it was going to hurt and that was sufficient. Either good fortune or foresight had me on a fully flagged route, something I was definitely happy about upon our arrival at a very claggy Grasmere.

The marquee was absolutely buzzing with teams from all around the country getting down to their pre-race rituals. Reassuringly, everyone seemed to be juggling dibbers, numbers and maps, with expressions of less than total comprehension. This is the cottage sport of fell running not the Olympics, after all.

Soon enough the time rolls round to switch into race gear. I do the classic awkward shuffle into my shorts and vest, trying to use my hoody to shield my sliver of dignity. I head for a quick trot up the hill to get some blood back into my legs. They feel as rubbish as you’d expect after a few hours on a coach. It was a bit of a shock. Even walking the hill felt pretty hard going, and it’s only about 200m from the start. Not the greatest omen, but with the swirling fog and tense atmosphere, today wasn’t a day to let superstitious thoughts get the better of me. I trundled back down to the start with 20 minutes to go, launch prep commenced final ablutions, a quick scoosh of caffeine-charged energy gel, a swill of water, a kiss to my partner, and a saunter to the pen. The sight of a familiar face – Bill from Chorley – helped break the tension. We laughed at the ridiculousness of our nerves; it’s only a run up a hill anyway. I make the slight error of not jostling my way to the front, but before I had time to adjust position, we were off!


Races always set off fast, and so should you [really? —ed]. I don’t. Well, not fast enough anyway. The first steep climb was as unpleasant as expected but it turned into a speedy bit of track soon enough and the pace shot off. It felt great to be smashing along the winding path as it slowly gained in incline. Steady and fast for just over a mile, and I felt a touch regretful for not pushing harder for position at the start, now locked into the locomotion of runners snaking their way up the path, pace dictated by your allotment in line. This is what cross-country must feel like. The path steepened again, my heart was pounding and lungs pumping, but a cursory glance at my watch told me there was less than a mile to go. A mile to the top of the climb that is, the only marker that matters for a gravity-burdened plodder like myself.

Checkpoint one at Grisedale Hause passed, dibber sweatily fumbled into the reader, and steeply up to Sandal Seat we went. Now we were less than half a mile from the summit, but the angle and terrain were unquestionably fell rather than cross country now, my hands pumping down on my thighs (if I’ve got to lug these bloody arms up with me I might as well use them), sweat pouring from my face even in the cold, claggy air. The summit was crested with another clumsy thrust of my dibber into its target, and the sweet relief of a downward trajectory began.

The grass was slick in the wet, and the lack of pronounced tread on my shoes promptly makd this clear, traction being variable at best. Either way, I’m definitely a downer rather than an upper, so I threw myself into the descent with the regular reckless abandon. Arms wind-milling, I kicked my legs into long strides, as if I was trying to launch a football the full length of a pitch. I interspersed the long leaps with the occasional tap left or right, trying to keep the unwieldy vessel on its winding course. Questionable as the technique appears to be, I kept passing runners, so I continued, my body shaking and praying that my legs weren’t about to crumble. Even a minuscule miscalculation would send me Klinsmanning down the fell. That was brought clearly into focus when I passed a downed runner, head bandaged, surrounded by co-competitors who had come to his aid.

We rambled through the final checkpoint, and the surrounding runners and I all audibly groaned as we realised there was still some uphill left. Climbs — no matter how insignificant — always seem an order of magnitude worse when they’re near the end (a pertinent issue with The Tour of Pendle approaching). But with some heart-pounding stomps, we were up and over and on our way back along the fast track. The final steep descent, the same one that caused such concern at the start — continued to deliver, as I completely lost all grip, engaging in a full bum slide manoeuvre. Definitely not the Olympics. Still, back on my feet, and a final romp back through the starting field. Arms flailing as I dived into the pen, passing the invisible baton to my 2nd leg team-mates.

In my anoxic state, I clambered through the barrier, completely disorientated, and totally oblivious to the finishing pen and mandatory kit check to my left. It seems reasonable proof that I was trying hard at least, or that I’m an idiot, both plausible options. Redirected by the marshal, like a bouncer gently guiding an intoxicated patron, I emptied the contents of my race vest and thus validated my stint, with all the correct accessories, and we were done.

Back in warm and dry clothes, gleefully tucking into a polystyrene box full of chicken, rice and peas, I was very cheery man.

Over the day, the runners from the remaining legs returned, some jubilant, others glad to be passing the baton, sharing stories of the day’s trials and tribulations. A fantastic achievement by all, on a course with no easy legs, and conditions to match.

—Andrew Sandercock

Kentmere Horseshoe

A Soggy Story

9.8km / 12.3m
1006m / 3300ft

Apparently we have experienced the best summer since 1976, which is quite nice for the Brits. I have spent about 60% of this summer in Vienna, which has had pretty much the same heat, but the locals are used to it. Either way, I have not seen rain like this for quite some time. Skiddaw was dry as a bone only four weeks ago. At 7am on Sunday in Leeds it’s biblically wet. My first thought—though actually I say it out loud— is “I can’t be doing a fell race in this!”

I set off to Kentmere accompanied by some podcast friends Adam Buxton and Richard Herring (I’ve been on a bit of a marathon with these podcasts recently) so the drive goes by in no time and I’m soon pulling into the start field. I hope they have a tractor on stand-by, it’s still raining.

“I can’t be doing a fell race in this” I said out loud again.

Still, I’m here now, and I’m excited. I see a few familiar faces, Andrew from NLFR and a small group of Hyde Park women.

The time last year it was a heatwave, I was doing a poo 2 minutes before the start and had forgotten to change into my fell shoes. I was determined not to run 12 miles in trainers this year, or be caught short. Just before the start I knelt down to tighten my laces to see hundreds of pairs of suitable shoes manufactured by the same brand: it clearly has a stranglehold in the UK more than in Europe.

If you think this race report is unceremonious it’s nothing compared to the start of this race. I always like to giggle about fell race starts. No major announcements, no inspirational talk. Just a bloke with a whistle. Actually I don’t think he even had a whistle. Although on this occasion I can’t blame them for getting it over with quickly, it’s pissing it down. A quick “get back to the line” [Eed: had they hired Dave Woodentops?] and we were off. The weather was so comprehensively British, and something a lot of us might have not experienced for what felt like six months.

A few kilometres in we are all snaking up the climb and one by one runners are peeling off their waterproof jackets: everyone would rather be wet than hot. (It’s 17ºC). My phone is recording my time on Strava and it’s in my Salomon battle vest 2000, unprotected, but I take a risk anyway, performing the tangled ritual of stuffing my waterproof into a back pocket whilst hiking up the hill.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so used to running in the heat, and I don’t think I have done a less than desirable weather run for around 5 months. I love this weather and I have a birthday-like grin on my face, “Fuck the Alps” becomes my mantra. You cannot beat the Lakes!

I catch up with fellow NLFR Andrew. We’ve been running about 40 minutes and at one point soon after the first checkpoint pretty much everyone around me comes to a sudden stop. It’s a traffic jam of runners looking at maps. This is caused by infectious doubt, as the trail seemed quite simple, but one person’s hesitation seems to be giving everyone second thoughts. This happened a few times. Just before the second checkpoint we are suddenly heading face first into a hailstorm. I felt like I was being stabbed in the face by ants and at one point the wind caused me to collide with another runner. It was the strongest wind I have ever experienced in my life, and I forgot my goggles so it was quite difficult on the descent.

Soon after the final checkpoint we get another issue with navigation. I’ll be honest here, I had no idea where I was and I couldn’t remember anything from last year. I see runners going off in different directions and make a quick judgment on who looks like they know what they are doing. So I followed three guys down a steep slope and I was followed in turn by a train of runners, so I guess this tactic is employed by many. At this time with all the hail and wind I just wanted to get down, so I figured even if it meant arriving in a different village and having to navigate back to Kentmere I’d be fine with that, we had passed the last checkpoint anyway right? Luckily we arrived at a stile I somehow remembered from the year before so I knew we’d only overshot the path a bit and hadn’t lost too much time. I use the stile to tighten up my laces as I had rolled my ankle at least six times. This takes time as the laces are quite tough to untie when you can’t feel your fingers. In this time the train of runners has not only caught up with me but has disappeared over the stile and into the fog. I’m alone.

This is one of the sections I remember the most from last year, a pretty fast and fun descent, and I’m glad I tied my laces up for it. One thing I have learned about fell running is that sometimes the least slippery part is the wettest part. So I’m pretty much descending puddles in a waterfall until I’m out of the cloudline and I can see the bottom. I can also see a pack of runners, some coming from a completely different direction, so I kick it up a gear. This time last year in the heat I was completely ruined, but this year I am fitter and the conditions are much better. There’s no chance of me getting dehydrated today.

I get overtaken by a chap who clearly thinks by his pace that he’s closer to the end than he really is. I tell him, “There’s still quite a way to go.” It’s a legitimate warning, but maybe also a bit of subconscious psychological warfare because I am a terrible human being. Then I get overtaken by a man in road shoes. No comment.

There is a fantastic end to a dramatic race. It’s nice to see so many runners still quite close together. The weather dictates the finish to be as unpretentious as the start. Soon I’m back in the car, changed and dry with Adam & Richard on my way back to Leeds. I beat last year’s time somehow by over 20 minutes, hopefully because I’m fitter and not because I accidentally cut half the course off or had the right shoes on. I guess next year’s time will help answer that question.

And if anyone isn’t familiar with the Courtyard Dairy on the A65 between Clapham and Giggleswick it’s definitely worth a visit. They get lots of runners through their doors and seemed less impressed by my day out than I expected. Maybe something to do with their recent influx of Lakeland 100 visitors?

–Adam Nodwell


I feel a week or so is a reasonable time to let the dust settle and try to get my thoughts down about Ennerdale. The good: I trained properly, or I did the training I had planned to do: 30 miles and 7500 ft ascent a week for a good few weeks before the race. I recce’d the whole thing as I’d planned. I got round the course. The weather was OK. A week before, I was probably in the best shape I could have hoped to be in. The less good (excuses?): I had a stag do the weekend before and promptly picked up a cold. I felt pretty shit the week running up to the race. I should have taken the extra 500ml water I was considering taking.

So, the actual race. Arrive at the start with plenty time for registration. Feel good and relaxed (if a little concerned about the cold). Race starts with a mile or so on flat track, I have a reasonable pace of 8 minute miles and I can feel this doesn’t feel as easy as it should. The steep climb to CP1 at Great Borne is similar: OK but not straightforward. But it’s the first big climb. “You’ll settle in,” I tell myself. “Stay comfortable” is the mantra repeating itself in my mind. Next on the list is Red Pike. The path rides up into the clag, and I’m very much hoping I’m not going to get lost or spend the day staring at a map and compass. But there are always people to follow and I do know the route (to an extent). Regardless, the terrain is very runnable until the loose rock nearer the summit, but again, despite my very comfortable pace, I feel a little bit strained. “Stay comfortable” becomes “stay comfortable and slow down a bit just in case”. Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag all go by reasonably well and I get to enjoy the rockier sections where I’m a bit faster generally.

Now to error number one. I’d planned to keep to the simplest navigational line to make life easier but I hadn’t realised that the route follows the fence ROUND Haystacks, rather than the path OVER Haystacks. F*ck it, keep it simple, the damage is done. At this point I’m about 7-8 miles in, and I feel bollocksed. The same way I felt at mile 17 on my recce. And from here on in, the day become long. I don’t really have any will for pace other than maintaining a trundle. There’s just no horsepower, I’m not running on fumes but I’m definitely in a speed restricted vehicle. Anyway, onto Blackbeck Tarn where you can refill your water bottles. I take one look at the rather stagnant tarn and decide against it. I’m not sure exactly, but I think I’m about 20 mins ahead of cutoff at this point and vaguely concerned about it. The waddle up to Green Gable begins. What should be runnable is trundled up. They have some cups of water at the CP which I am very grateful for. I’ve gained about 10-15 minutes on the cut-off time here which is a good morale booster. I’m feeling pretty broken. I’ve mostly been running on my own and the internal mental dialogue has been one of doom and gloom, my body echoing the sentiment. But a simple “you’re doing great” from the CP marshal genuinely gets me back on track. Great Gable in front of us looms grey and sinister, its vertical walls of rock disappearing into the clouds. I feel glad to be sneaking below it rather than over it. The loose rocky descent is hard on my body, I feel it in my core and my legs aren’t over the moon either. The lad in front running with poles seems less daft now he can descend with support. He spots a small stream and I follow, not enough flow to fill a bottle but worth a good few gulps. The refreshment feels good but Kirk Fell looms. Another slog, but at least I’m going as fast as everyone around me (i.e., slowly). At the Kirk Fell CP I’ve gained plenty time on the cut-off and I’m no longer worried about timing out. A small relief. The funny thing is that even if you’d want to quit (which a large part of me does), you’re still just as far from the start anyway. The descent from Kirk Fell takes a very loose gully that has taken an absolute pounding due to its featuring on the Bob Graham route. An alternative route is suggested but no one wants to route-find at this stage, so we precariously wind down the steep, loose gully. Again, I can feel myself going slower than hoped, the impact of descent more punishing than usual. If I was bollocksed before, I’m beyond it now. My legs hurt. They properly hurt: they are throbbing and aching but there’s too long left to go to bother thinking about it. On we go. There’s only one direction home anyway. But, a stroke of luck – a familiar face catches me up on the way up to Pillar – the last big climb of the route. Being able to chat rather than being stuck with your own thoughts makes a massive difference. Something I confess and we laugh about. Suffering together seems a lot more fun than suffering alone. The climb up to Pillar is long, and slow. I was quite happy that despite my slowness, I did manage to keep a consistent pace. Slow AND inefficient was something I didn’t have the capacity for.

Importantly though, once you’re over Pillar, you’re on a downward trend until the finish. Six or 7 miles of grinding it out. However, I miss a contour at Scoat Fell, falling behind my companions and the solo trudge home is set. From here, there isn’t much to mention. The terrain is straightforward, the navigation simple (you follow a wall for miles), a bit of a climb to Haycock, over to Caw Fell, dip down, then up to Iron Crag, and along to the final climb that is Crag Fell. What is straightforward by description is actually a tortuously long slog but there’s little satisfaction in writing or reading about it. Alas, the final climb: Crag Fell, which wouldn’t get a mention if it was anywhere else on the route, but at this point it definitely feels significant. A guy in his 60s catches me up and offers me the last of his water. He says he’s been watching me wilt over the last few miles and he’s not mistaken. It’s a token gesture as we’re over the worst of it, and about half a mile from a flowing stream. I’m not turning it down either way. He passes me and I manage to maintain a run on the windy path through the trees, and onto the track leading to the finish. I’m amused to see a group of friends have turned up to cheer me in, with a sign and everything. Finish line. Done. Definitely, definitely done.

I don’t much go for gushing tales of hardship or suffering, but I do feel that it’s hard to convey how unpleasant the race was. I got it done, that’s all that matters I guess. Numbers: Ennerdale, 23 miles, 7500ft ascent, Time: 6:45, 105/135. I was 15 minutes quicker than my recce (even though I spent an hour not moving on said recce), so I’m not overjoyed at my time, but I’m also very happy to have completed the race, despite not feeling 100%. It’s frustrating to train properly and then to fall off, just as race day arrives, but thems the breaks. Two days before the race at Ennerdale, I marshalled at the Kettlewell Anniversary Fell Race,  a race which was my first ever fell race the year before. So while the result was a touch disappointing, going from a 5 mile, 1500ft race, to a 23 mile, 7500ft race, in a year, definitely seems like good progress.

Andrew Sandercock


Open 5 – Coniston

Great Sunday spent running and cycling around the Lake District. I’m not going to write too much, the photos are far more impressive than any words I could contribute. Some please enjoy the small selection of the spectacular photos taken by excellent event photographer James Kirby. Thanks also to James, Lisa and the Open Adventure team, along with Joe Faulkner plus helpers for the catering.

Next event is in Edale in February get signed up!