That’s more like it, eventually. After an inauspicious outing at the Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday, where my red-lining 24:13 was over a minute slower than when I last ran it in January, I ran the third fell race (also my third) in the Hayfield Championship series on Sunday and pleasantly surprised myself.
The scout hut at Hayfield was heaving with a capacity turn-out. I got my number then cast glances at the race instructions that were pinned up around the walls. I was suddenly struck by a sick lump (as opposed to a lump of sick) to the back of my throat. There was a compulsory kit list:
Full windproof body cover (waterproof advised) – tick;
Hat – tick;
Gloves – tick;
Map – oh cr*p;
Compass – cr*p again;
Whistle – sick lump to throat.
I didn’t have a map, whistle or compass, which I knew I didn’t need since this is only a short outing for three hundred runners playing follow-the-leader along marshalled, well-used footpaths, trails and trods. However I did have food, drink and a survival bag, which I deemed more important in case of a bonk (low blood sugar level renders anyone useless and mishap-prone), or physical incapacity, but these were not on the list.
As the sick realisation dawned on me that I was going to be denied a start for no valid reason in my opinion, BarnyC appeared. I explained my predicament. With barely more than half an hour to go to the 11:30 start and without batting an eyelid, he offered to drive back to his home (not too far thankfully) to get a spare map and compass so I could pass muster. (He also fetched himself a pair of gloves in the process but I won't tell anyone.) He made it back with five minutes to spare. Barny, I owe you big time. I hope I can return the favour some day soon. I still might not have had a whistle but if push came to shove and by hook or by crook I’d get a tone out of my bum-bag buckle to alert the streams of runners passing by so they didn’t step on me by mistake.
[I may have 16 years’ experience of equipping myself appropriately per event from 1 mile to 111 miles, sometimes over exposed and hostile terrain in vile conditions with never a dodgy moment or mishap, and this may be a short outing compared to what I’m used to but this was a ‘medium’ race by FRA standards, which carries certain rigid kit requirements. I’d scanned all the available race information and saw no kit requirements. I’d neglected to recognise the fact that FRA rules would be assumed. I haven’t yet fully acquainted myself with this fact, since “fell races” as opposed to races on the fells are still relatively new to me. They may be inflexible but ‘rules is rules’ and if I’m going to be doing more of these “fell races” I really must 'wise up' and pack a permanent bag with all the essential kit rather than select the kit as I think appropriate for each race based on distance, terrain, route knowledge and weather forecast. This will avoid any future nasty surprises at registration (as opposed to out on the fells). I’m not used to this fell-racing lark. ;-)]
After our race briefing and with Barny’s map and compass safely stowed in my bum-bag to guide the way, the sizeable crowd was sent on its way up the lane and track towards the white shooting hut (which I recall was my last checkpoint on Kinder Trial in January) then down towards William Clough. The latest shower had died away but Kinder Scout remained hidden in cloud. We ran in single file. The path was one pair of feet wide; there was no overtaking. I was thankful for being held back a tiny smidgen because it prevented me from overdoing the early speed, which I do all too readily as I push myself as fast as I think I should be going relative to those around me. At the fork in the path the marshal said: “Take any line down to the bridge”. I seized the opportunity to overshoot the right fork and the line of runners on it and a few yards further on angle down and diagonally across the soft springy heather. The mud-free, vegetated descent offered much more assured grip than did the muddy, stony path with water flowing down it.
A marshal and (I think) a photographer were at the footbridge to prevent us from crossing and direct us up William Clough. Then it was a jog, shuffle or climb in line. A few trips and stumbles occurred. I muddied my drink bottle nozzles. I gave them a rinse as I crossed one of the many streamlets but subsequent swigs always seemed to be gritty. Not to worry. All I needed to add was a bit of determination and I’d be sure to do well.
As we climbed in line I was again appreciating the ‘rest’. I was a fraction off pushing my limits, which I would have been doing with no-one in front. This recharged me because, as the path began to widen in brief sections I used carefully measured bursts of effort to sprint past one, two, possibly three others who seemed to be toiling rather. This was still on quite steep uphill gradients. What was happening? After yesterday’s effort I was expecting much worse than this. Earlier on I had been trying to hold on to Barny but he had slowly pulled away before the beginning of the climb up William Clough. However, now I appeared to be reeling him in again.
The climb levelled out and we passed the first right turn at the fingerpost to the next junction where the marshal was taking our numbers. I lifted up my windproof top to flash my number then turned right to descend a little before the final steep climb up to the plateau on the very rocky path. I overtook Barny on this climb. A brief word was exchanged (there was no spare breath for any more). We climbed into the cloud and turned right around the edge towards the Downfall (it seemed a long way), dancing, hopping, skipping and running over and between the rocks, boulders and boggy bits. I detected a subtle brightening of the fog and commented to anyone within earshot that the sun would be out soon. Not a murmur of a response. Perhaps they had less breath to spare than I had, and I’d been doing the overtaking!
We passed another marshal and flagged section on the open moonscape bit with large cairn as our path undulated around the edge of the plateau, then we hit the sandstone flagged path. I looked for the left fork that the instructions said we had to take, but it was flagged anyway. The map and compass in the small of my back were guiding me well.
I’d expected Barny to have re-overtaken me well before now but he hadn’t done. No doubt it would happen on the descent like happened at Lamb's Longer Leg in January. I could hear someone a little way behind but not too close. Perhaps this was him just before the imminent descent. I never looked back, all effort being channelled into forward motion and the safe placement of the next footstep.
A short sharp muddy descent brought us to Edale Cross and the next number check (windproof lifted once again). A right turn down the rocky track barely in control on tiring legs brought us to a stile up the bank on the right, well marshalled of course. I climbed and crossed as they offered encouraging words and I returned my thanks. As we continued down the grassy path that contoured down the hill, the sun was beginning to show. I was getting rather warm. I tried to roll up my windproof right sleeve and stubbed my toe on a rock, sending me stumbling forwards. I veered up the bank on the right to slow down and recover from a certain fall. Phew! Rejoining the path I was beginning to boil over and becoming dangerously clumsy. I finally managed to roll up both sleeves without further mishap but the additional cooling would soon prove inadequate.
Down and across to another stile, barely in control, I was just about holding my own. An even steeper open field, well trampled, muddy and slick, appeared that had to be crossed. My feet suddenly disappeared from under me and I slid for several yards on my left hip waiting for my speed to slow sufficiently before using my forward motion to raise myself back onto my feet to continue running. Another runner asked if I was alright. I couldn't have felt better. It was a nice soft landing and strangely exhilarating to be sliding at such speed, pain-free across this muddy lubrication.
Soon our descent began to level out onto tracks and lanes as we neared Hayfield, but still no sign of Barny. I was slowing down seriously and the death plod was setting in with heart rate maxed out on 182bpm. He was sure to pass soon. I had to do something about my overheating problem and managed to lift up the front of my windproof top and hook it behind my neck. Ah, that’s better. It didn’t help me to speed up but it prevented me from grinding to a halt. Then the inevitable happened – other runners began to trickle past now that we were onto the ‘easy’ run in to the finish. I fixed my stare far ahead to where I was headed, almost with tunnel vision, trying to not let a single thought deflect me from getting to the finish as quickly as I could. We entered the outskirts of Hayfield and soon turned right down a steep section of path before turning left into a park. I could see the finish across the river. The path took us around via the bridge and back to the finish on the other side. My red-line plod seemed so slow. A couple more runners sprinted past me, one runner just before the finish chute (I'm always impressed by how they can do that) as I bumbled my way to the line with nothing in reserve that would have permitted any hint of a last dash. I could hear one final runner bearing down and trying his chances to barge past me at the chute; now that would've been downright rude but the marshal made a move to maintain order. I crossed the line to join the other runners who had just finished, bent forwards, hands on knees trying to will away the wave of nausea that our supreme efforts had caused. It would be short lived.
Final results are now out. My time of 1:45:10 earned me 191st out of 272. It might have got me a bottom 29.8% place but I was pretty chuffed with that. I’d found it quite exhilarating and energetic compared to my usual outings, Parkruns excepted. Talking of Parkruns, my average and maximum heart rates were similar for Saturday’s Parkrun as for this: 175bpm average and 182bpm maximum. I pushed my same limits over 10 rough miles as I did over three and a quarter easier ones.
Barny crossed the line 21 seconds after me. He’d been chasing me down. Given another few hundred yards he would have caught me! I returned his compass and map to him with thanks once again. I hope their journey in my bum-bag didn’t wear them out, Barny. ;-)
We wandered back to the scout hut, which was bursting at the seams once more to join in with the cake eating and tea drinking. Well, I had to join the tea queue first. Demand was high. I chatted with ‘Fellmonkey’ Simon as we waited for our refreshment turn (15th – good effort Simon). Also Steve Temple was around for a chat. Steve is the illustrious creator and keeper of the Hayfield fell race series and Bullock Smithy Hike results websites, which I have used and greatly appreciated for many years. It was good also to make the acquaintance of Dave Cumins (29th – another superb effort). I sensed that he doesn’t do many of these shorter fell races but I may be wrong. We both also ran Wuthering Hike and Calderdale Hike and he travels a long way from the south of the country to do these events which I’m privileged to have on my doorstep. That’s commitment for you!
After the results presentation an evocative short film was shown, which illustrated a poem on the subject of running. I recognised a very wintry Stoodley Pike. The room was silent and gripped for those three minutes or so. The artistes were there but unfortunately I did not note their details; and so ended a wonderful day.
Sorry but no photos this time. Speed (ahem) and snapping don't go together.
How's this for a tale of grit and determination, and he issued his report the same evening. Top effort Zephr!