I’m walking up a sunny lane, a chunk of cake in one hand and a mug of sweet tea in the other. The sun is warm and a gentle breeze cools my face. This is a moment of peace, of relaxation. As all too soon I will have finished my tea and itl be time to get running again. I am in the middle of a 60 something mile Fell race after all.
This year conditions were near perfect, warm but not too hot, dry underfoot but not too hard. And fantastic visibility. It was so nice running round the course and being able to see the beautiful hills we were passing over. It was great to be able to enjoy the views and slow for a bit without worrying about the cold.
My fourth year and fourth finish, I’m not sure it ever gets easier. Ive still not worked out the perfect route across middle tongue, or the fastest descend from Flinter Gill. And to be honest the final section from Great Whernside is one big blur of torchlight, flashing beacons and pain. One day I will work it out. This year I noticed a lot of folk with written instructions, step by step navigating through some sections. And lots using GPS, routes apparently from a friend, and definitely not that recce that they most certainly didn’t do because they were good and know its not allowed. Maybe im a cynic, or old fashioned, i think its takes away a bit of the fun. I love trying different routes, or following that bloke over there for a bit, cause it looks like he knows best. Only to find myself stumbling about stuck in a peat hag the size of a house. Never trust that bloke over there… I hope it doesn’t get to the point where everyone does away with dubious navigational tactics to follow a little arrow on a tiny screen. But maybe that’s the secret if I want to be faster..
My friend Nicky came with this year, Shes one of those enviable people who can do anything, without thought or preparation. She entered first, and then sent me a panicky message once her booklet arrived and she realized what it was! Maybe its nice that she trusts me so much as to willing sign up.. Although we both work in outdoor education centers within 20 miles of each other, she uses all her free time falling of waterfalls and nearly drowning in pretense of fun, whilst i spend most of mine on two wheels being far more sensible. I think we managed two 40 minute runs and lots of lunging jumps together before the event.
My main advice to her was to look after her feet, lube, tape, blister plasters. I was confident that she would finish, but worried she would be wrecked and hate me afterwards. In reality shes been biking and hiking with one tiny blister in this last week whilst ive been shuffling around work, going to bed at 8 and squeezing endless liquid out of my big toe. She really is just one of those infuriating people.
One the bus from Threshfield to the start I listened amused to the man next to us. He was utterly outraged at the idea that Nicky thought she could just rock up and finish. He had dropped out the year before and delighted in letting her know all the ways in which things might go horribly wrong. And he questioned her hair cut. It was all in good nature though ( I think) and it kept us entertained for the ride. We were secretly hoping he might get grouped with her as they were on for similar times, but it wasn’t to be.
I probably set of a bit too fast as I usually do. I think I was first lady to Ingleborough. I have a rule, imagine you are a car engine, you can be a Ferrari, and go fast but burn all your fuel away, or be a fiat punto and go slow but go forever ( at least until irreparable bits fall apart, I had a fiat once). I try to be the punto as my first aim is always to finish. Then you can worry about the time after. However when the weathers good and the ground is firm, its hard not to get carried away with the sheer joy of running and it wasn’t until dent that I started to calm down and relax into the miles. I also have a theory, that, as i dont do very much running (about 15 runs total this year) it doesn’t really matter how fast or slow I go, my legs will still give up around mile 45. Maybe one year i will do lots of these mythical back to back long runs everyone swears by and see if it helps.
The miles flew by, some bad line choices, some good ones. Some wonderful people to chat to, some tough yorkshire lasses to run with until they dropped me. The Fellsman seems to attract really nice people. Its so un commercialized, no one really cares who wins and you feel its more of a personal challenge for all the entrants, against themselves rather than one another. There is much less matching colourful kit on display and far fewer poles and long socks than at most other ultra runs ive seen. Entertainingly I saw one entrant have to ask another how to assemble his poles on the way up to Gragareth, which the other man did in very good humor.
Grouping at Cray, same as the last time round. Unfortunately for a lovely lady called Rachel, we recognized each other too late and ended up grouped together, the same as two years before. What were the chances? I promise i will recognize her next time and will not slow her down for a third year! This year it was light to the summit of Buckden Pike. I found it quite emotional remembering on my first year I was at this point, watching the sunrise, knowing id survived the night and would finish.
As id expected, my legs began to tighten and tie up, and i entered a world of pain. Desperate not to hold my group back i kept pushing on, trying to stretch out and ignore the immense white pain of my IT bands. Those last few miles from Capplestone gate to Yarnbury were endless. We could see Yarnbury, but it never got closer, the red beacons guiding us on what felt like a twisted, convoluted route. Finally we arrived and I waved my group goodbye as they raced off in a cloud of dust. I grabbed some delicious flapjack and set of walking down the road. My legs so relieved at going slower. I was passed by about three other groups but I was beyond caring, just wanting the pain to stop and to finish.
Getting in at 1am i was just under an hour faster than previously (16.27) Nicky trundled in at just after 7am ( 22.33) and took herself straight off for a shower and breakfast in good spirits. She had got on really well with her group (the Dragon hats), and they had waited for her at the finish which she was delighted by.
Shes promised to come and do it all again in a couple of years.
What more is there to say about the Fellsman other than go and do it! Yes the navigation can be hard, the ground rough and the miles slow. Its no trail race. But the marshals, the organizers, the chefs (the food is pretty awesome) and for the most part everyone you meet on route are amazing. And when you can see it is incredibly beautiful. It also has once of the longest allowed times as it started out as a walking challenge, so its great it you are worried about your pace. I hope you try it, and love it as much as i do!
P.S I apologize for the lack of photos, i couldn’t work out how to carry a camera without feeling like an idiot or it being in the way!
Event website is here
results are here
Official sport sunday photos are here