I awoke with a start at 5.30am, in a hall with several hundred other people, some of them laughing at me as my ear plugs had been a bit too effective and id slept through the first couple of my alarms.. It could only be the start to another Fellsman weekend.
This was my 3rd go at this wonderful event, a 61 mile journey through the Yorkshire dales, taking in two of the three peaks and many other summits along the way. With a time limit of 28 hours it can be completed by running or walking, or most often a mixture. It has a great atmosphere with many returning competitors and staff, some approaching their 40th year of involvement!
Id done it twice before, finishing in 24.40 the first year and then 20.20 last year. I was hoping firstly for a hat trick of finishes and maybe also coming in under 20 hours this time. The forecast promised excitement, so it was with my instructor head on that i packed some really warm layers for my spares, it seemed to me that many of the folks that I saw dropping out did so due to cold and maybe having packed an extra hundred grams of fleece would have seen them to the end.
After the usual thorough kit check and the symbolic tying the tally around my neck, we got the first of many stamps as we awaited the start. Sadly this year, maybe put off by the forecast, out of the 470 odd entered, only 374 actually made it to the start line. Then, with the high tech shout of GO! we were on our way.
The inevitable bottle neck just up the road invites chatting as those of us not keen to sprint off use it a a slow warm up. One competitor was generating more interest than most- he was wearing flip flops! I wish id noted his number to see how he got on but if anyone knows, or how far he got before putting on shoes, id love to know!
In my head i break up the route into sections, its simply too big to comprehend otherwise. The first section to Dent and the mad sausage roll man (he has the best shirts and always is cheery), flew by. Even the steep climb up to Gragareth seemed easy. After Dent, i slowly made my way along the road drinking tea and trying to eat a few oat cakes. The long slog up to Blea Moor lay ahead and i struggled a bit here, starting to get passed more often. The weather wasn’t making it an easy trip, with strong gusts bring sleet and hail and i was shivering as i pulled into Stonehouse. Here we were fed pasta and cheese by a pixie and various other strange creatures, the marshals deciding to add cheer by dressing up. After adding a few layers and stocking up on tea it was back out for the short trip to the end of my second section, at Redshaw. My first year of The Fellsman it was dark as we approached and we were gratefully guided in by the beacons, this year it was barely 4.30.
From the half way point the navigation becomes more interesting, whether because I start to tire, or due to the competitors becoming more spaced out, im not sure. There are more line choices with some staying high to avoid the bogs at dodd fell while others cut straight through. But its not long to fleet moss. Here the course heads out onto the moor and progress seems painfully slow, with rough terrain to run over and middle tongue being tricky to find. The map comes out a few time before i spot the beacon sticking out over the peat. Getting from middle tongue to hells gap involves following a bearing and if anyone has advice here about how to avoid the worst of the bog id love to know! Up and down, squelching and slipping, it take forever.With great relief i get to hells gap and then its just down the easy track in the fading light to Cray.
The last 15 miles is the second last section in my head, the final one being the painful mile and half on the road from Yarnbury back to Threshfield. Up onto Buckden Pike and now grouped for the night, we turn on our torches. The night is calm and clear, very beautiful. But freezing. A layer of ice covers the limestone slabs and the stiles making for treacherous running, or shuffling.. Park rash comes and goes, one final climb to warm us up and then we follow the beacons for what seemed like miles along the grassy lane to Yarnbury. Disbanded here, for some in the group it was a sprint to the finish, for others, myself included it invloved a nibble on some flapjack and the ultra runners shuffle down over the bridge and finally, just before 2am, the finish!
17.21 my final time, and a top 100 place. The cold made it tough going, but as ever the friendly staff and chatty competitors made it a wonderful day out. The best effort of the day was Jasmin Paris, She totally smashed the female record, and placed 4th overall in 11.09. Next year….