Race 2 of 9 in the 2013 Hayfield Championship series.
Snow lay thickly on the fells. The vegetation poking through led you into a false sense of security that it wasn't deep, but it was. The vegetation (heather) was already deep and the tops of it were only just visible. We would regularly go in up to our knees, while leeward slopes and hollows had us disappearing up to our waists. Race organiser Andy Howie had thoughtfully revamped his orienteering kites, giving them longer sticks. The stunted efforts of last year would surely have been buried out of sight. I had a bit of trouble last year.
With such a slow past record I was given an early starting time (runners were set off at intervals between 10:00 and 11:00). Having done a few fell races from Hayfield over the past year I felt comfortable with the route in and out of the village. This year I decided to go clockwise, for no better reason than I went anticlockwise last year and fancied a change. I was among the first few to break trail through K7, K5, K10 and up Hollingworth Clough to K3.
Taking the clough route was a mistake. The going was very rough and impossible to run (see picture at top). At times there wasn't much ground to stumble along. Multiple crossings of the stream were required. When I and the other two I was chasing finally arrived at K3 we found ourselves in the thick of a long line of runners who had taken the high level route along the fence line. I'll know for next year, at least I would but the route will be different.
The queue for K3.
From K3 we ran in line across the frigid, wind-blown fell top towards Mill Hill. The later-starting race-winning types began to overtake here. Overtaking wasn't easy to the side to the compacted single file right of way. A sudden descent into a deep soft patch was common for anyone who tried. I had done alright up to this point, going just slowly enough to retain a modicum of brain function for navigation. However, now that I was getting overtaken, my competitive instinct made me push harder, risking the removal of any vestige of rational thought that might have remained. I can't help myself.
After Mill Hill I kept reminding myself that we had to veer off-path to the right to pick up K2. I kept looking at the map to confirm but nothing was going in now. Still, I felt confident because I had remembered from when I was marginally more lucid. The line of runners in front followed each other down to the left, but I convinced myself that they were blindly following the leader, who was wrong. I wasn't going to be a sheep as well. This was an orienteering event. I would display independent thought and make my own decision, so I veered off to the right towards the col, ready to gloat in the nice lead I would earn myself.
I didn't find K2.
I went a few yards further down to the right but didn't see it. I ran back down towards where the others had run to and met some climbing back up. Were they going clockwise or anticlockwise? Where did I come from? Where am I going? I ran down a few more yards against the flow and asked a few runners whether they were going anticlockwise. I got blanked. I looked at the map again. Yes, they've realised their mistake and they're climbing up to find K2. That's why they blanked me. They're miffed. Mild feelings of smugness returned. I turned around and ran back up to the col. Goodness knows why because I didn't find K2 when I was last there. Headless chicken mode had set in good and proper, and that was with a line of runners to follow, footprints in the snow to follow and good visibility all around.
I looked at the map yet again in desperation. The slowing of pace while I faffed and dithered had allowed sufficient blood flow back to the brain to spark another cell back into life. Suddenly I understood. They knew where they were going all along. I should have followed like a sheep in the first place and I'd be at K1 by now.
I returned for the umpteenth time down the hill against the flow to quizzical looks. The path I had traversed a few times was getting compacted and easier to traverse now, (as long as we used the same foot holes). I found K2 atop its heather hag, down from the opposite side of the col to where, in my exercise-induced retarded condition, I KNEW it was supposed to be. What a sad case.
With K2 finally visited I turned around to climb that oh so familiar trod back to the col and left turn up into a wind-blown icy wilderness. Anticlockwise runners were now passing us. Julian Brown loitered contentedly at the top. Why was there so much ice up here when elsewhere was pure snow? Everything was encased and frozen hard. The descent from K1 towards K9 had us crunching through ice crusts into the softer snow beneath. It was hard on the shins, even with full leg cover. Perhaps the previous night's precipitation had fallen as rain here.
Hanno at K9.
I found myself running with Julie and Hazel after K4. Julie was obviously running well within herself because she was still navigating well (she'd taken the direct route to the right of the enclosure). Final checkpoint K6 came and went. I'd given up taking photos now; I was just hanging on to the finish. A magical mystery tour eventually brought us to the valley I recognised and the Snake Path back down towards Hayfield.
I returned to the scout hut in 2:53:51 and some welcome soup, tea and cake. A bottom 26.6% finish was a distinct improvement on last year's bottom 8.8%. I'll take that as an emphatic PB. The glow of success will be slow to fade. I may need an easing tool to fit my head through doorways for some time yet.
Some good came of it in the form of a few pictures (map just scanned and added to the album a day later). I would have taken more if I'd just been out for a bimble, but this was balls-out competition (we're talking eyes). There were some good views I had to miss.
Thanks once again to Andy Howie and team for the excellent organisation, care and attention, and thanks to Steve Temple for his informative website with results service.
That's the second in the Hayfield Championship Series done already, but a long gap until the next one in April (Kinder Downfall fell race).