A Bingley Harriers 2017 Fell Championship race. Rain in the weeks before and bad forecast for the day thinned our entries down to 8 with Ian Holmes, in 7th place overall, leading us home :
- Ian Holmes, 7th, 02:20:49
2. Andy Jebb, 32nd, 02:40:21
3. Robert Williams, 150th, 03:20:58.
4. Greg Truselle, 188th, 03:32:11
5. Becky Weight, 197th, 03:33:13
6. Carl Hitchens, 204th, 03:37:03
7. Will Duggan, 221st, 03:37:17
Neil Barrett rtd after Bow Fell.
Robbie Williams wrote an evocative report, which I picked up (for permanent record) from Facebook :
The day before: the sun shone brightly. The day after: blue skies and long views. The day of the Langdale horseshoe fell race was claggy, drizzly, with cold sharp winds.
This race is a rough round. I had run Kentmere and Fairfield earlier in the year. Similar distances, but Langdale is a much more serious business. Kentmere and Fairfield have runnable tracks underfoot and only just enough gnarly stuff to provide spice. Langdale unfolds over scrambles, streams, deep bogs, slippery rocks, and steep grass descents. Kentmere and Fairfield go up, undulate around, and then go down. Langdale goes up, along, down, up, up, down, up, down, up, and down, down, down. With the clag, you gain places simply by keeping on the route, as others go for a wander. It is just over 12 miles. It feels like 20.
All but one of the registration tents had blown away overnight. Parking was a matter of sinking into the field. Electronic dibbers were strapped to our wrists. The temperature at base camp wasn’t too bad, and the brave and foolish stripped down to club vests for the start. Then off. Around four hundred runners gradually stretch out along the paths towards dungeon ghyll.
The first section along a level track determines the order at the climb. Order at the climb determines how much you lose queueing in the first half hour. I pace it, working my way up the field till I hit my equilibrium. Then upwards beside the waterfalls of the ghyll. This is not runnable terrain, so I settle into a fast upward hike. You can save time by bypassing those who started too quick and are now struggling. To bypass, you need to spot an alternative route through the scrambly rocks, and increase the pace to overtake. My strategy is to latch onto those with the best technique and follow their path. I find an Ambleside vet to guide me up, and lope behind him all the way to Stickle Tarn where we splash through the stream between tarn and falls.
Here there is an audience, encouragement from friends, and a chance to stretch your legs around the tarn before more scrambling up onto to the tops. On the moorland on top, the wind hits, bitingly cold. Follow the thread of runners in the mist, check the time, take a bite to eat, and try to avoid the bogs.
I have just pulled on my gloves when I trip and fall, soaking them through. At the end, friends bring tales of hauling those waist or chest-deep out of the bogs into which they have fallen. It takes three people to get one runner out. But boggy ground and the odd stumble is familiar from the Yorkshire moors, so this is the most familiar terrain of the day. We cross Martcragg moor, dip down, climb up, and around an hour in, are onto the stones to Esk Hause.
It is now that the wind really kicks in. Runners on this uphill stretch put on their waterproof tops. The waterproofing is redundant: we are already soaked. It’s the protection from the wind we want. Angle tarn. Checkpoint. Shout number (now hidden under waterproof). Take a gel. Drink water. We’re about to move onto the toughest, roughest ground.
Recceing a race like Langdale can be harder than the event itself. I ran and hiked around it in five hours, enjoying views that don’t exist today—even if each moment is more strenuous, the race feels easier, because everything takes less time. The traverse beneath Esk Pike is a case in point: it’s an awful trod, along a steep hillside, between small crags, on a path which keeps hitting small rocky steps. I’ve let the runners in front get too far ahead so I can’t follow their lead so have to improvise each time. But I spend fifty per cent less time on this track than I did on the recce.
There are two kinds of rock I’m looking for in the wet: horizontal and rounded. The horizontal I can tread on without slipping sideways. The rounded I can push off from and let my studs get a grip. Anything flat and angled is to be avoided: more than the lightest touch and you’ll slide. Best to avoid rock altogether when you can, but that is impossible as we climb towards Bowfell, and reach its boulder fields. My shoes turn beneath me, as the laces are wet through and have stretched. Eventually, climbing the last of the Crinkle Crags, I stop and retie. That makes me much more confident in footing, and so faster. I should have done that when I first noticed it: a lesson learned.
On the top of Bowfell and on Long Top, the marshals huddle out of the wind. I step sideways to avoid a large angled slab off Bowfell summit, and end up on top of a mini crag, not sure how to get down. The runner in front of me lends a hand, and I jump down with assistance (stories at the end are all about runners helping each other around). Beyond Long Top, there’s the bad step, a crag on the main route that is 10ft high. I don’t know where to start climbing down, and so retrace my steps to find the path that contours below it that I found on my recce. Today doesn’t feel like the day to gamble with twisted ankles.
From this point on the running evens out. Check route, find the right direction, and head downhill. I’m accustomed to runners passing me on these runnable downhills on the fellside: I tag onto them and let them drag me along for as long as possible. Uphill on rough terrain, technique is elementary and you just rely on general fitness. Downhill, it’s technique, eye for a line, and strength developed from experience, and I’ve got more strength than technique, overall, so I tend to gain places on the ups and lose them on the downs. I hang on to the last runner who passes me all the way to the climb to Pike o’ Blisco.
This is the last climb, and it’s as steep as the first. As I approach it, my legs warn of cramp. I eat something, hoping to stave it off, and use my arms to lever my legs on the scrambly uphill to save them. It does the trick. I’m onto the home stretch.
The descent from Blisco is counterintuitive. You see what seems like the path heading down, but you’re supposed to go cross country across tussocks. The aim is to traverse the hillside till you get to the tongue of hill above the finish, keeping high across the tops of small ghylls that drain the flank of the fell. The direction seems all wrong, the distance too far, but having recced it I’m expecting this. The recce immediately gains me a few places from the top, as I get the best zigzag route off the summit crags, gaining time on those who head down the tourist path and then have to cut across beneath me on rougher ground.
Today, in the wet, this descent is a helterskelter sting in the tail. At times the grass has turned into a mudslide. However, the unconventionally descent on your back isn’t obviously slower than more the traditional upright approach. Signs of civilization reappear: heather, a gate, a road, flags, and suddenly three runners beside me, heading to the final stretch through a campsite. One is an Ambleside runner, and I let them lead me out for a bit to pick some local lines before I move past. One runner comes past and gains 20 metres by the time we reach the final flat. I get closer as we run through a campsite, and then we’re onto the road to the final funnel. I outsprint him, not something I do very often.
In the end, I took 3 hours and 20 minutes going round. About 15 minutes slower than my aim, but conditions account for that (the winning time 10 minutes slower than last year). My nav was spot on, which on a day like this pushes me up the rankings. I enjoyed the run, and as we collect our post-race pasties and lend a hand to vans that are stuck in the mud of the carpark, I’m feeling very content with a position solidly in the top half of the table in my first Langdale.
Thanks to Robbie for taking the time to share his race. And while it did rain a lot of the way round – the sun managed to break through on the descent from Pike o’ Blisco – giving us this fantastic rainbow & view which I saw. Thanks to Richard Green for the photo. Becky Weight.