Don’t panic you can put your dictionaries to one side, this race report is from a less able reporter. Hope you don’t mind but this is more of a tabloid read than the usual standard we’re accustomed to from the bard. As Dec wasn’t at the race thought I ought to say a few words as I’m pretty sure the man making Bowland fell running history will be far too modest to give his account of events.
Nine Standards is a long way off being a classic fell race, way too much tarmac and with a gradual gradient that forces you to run on the ascent, barely steep enough for much if any walking, it’s an out and back so the descent not steep enough to let gravity take over, it’s a hard slog all the way. My mate Allan Miller accurately described it as a race that if it was at any other time of year you’d give it a wide birth. For many it’s become a bit of a tradition, the first meeting of the year with old and not so old fell running friends and of course opportunity to make new friends. It’s a return to competition in a new year and hoping to maybe, somehow, miraculously run stronger and faster than previous years. There’s a good turnout this year 150 we’re told, probably the superb weather that’s greeting us today. I meet an old friend, Paul Tuson, we chat about the good old days, Paul was the winner of the first Nine Standards race “back in the day”. Paul hasn’t run for some years and talks about his new passion, cycling sportives. He’s here today to marshal but confesses he is really here to enjoy the atmosphere of his local fell race. I introduce Paul to Chris, letting slip that I think Chris could be today’s winner, naturally this raises eyebrows amongst the locals particularly as previous multiple race winner and record holder Carl Bell is here. Carl’s a firm favourite in the area having run for Howgill before joining Keswick.
As we assemble on the start line there’s the usual buzz of runners chatting, New Year greetings are being exchanged. I head over to Chris to eagerly report what I think is a gem of information, a few minutes earlier I’d overheard someone asking Carl if he might break the record today, Carl laughed the suggestion off and said it was more likely to go to the in form Chris Arthur, I dutifully relay this information to Chris. Carl comes over to greet Chris, I’m an onlooker privileged to witness this meeting that is so typical of our sport, mutual respect and friendship, such is their humility I imagine the two of them arriving at the finish line together saying to each other “you go first”. It is though a sharp contrast to the contest to follow where both will give their all and win or lose it doesn’t really matter, there are no big egos here, it’s a sport where everyone’s a winner with each runner giving it their best.
As the race organiser gives final instructions he beckons towards Victoria Wilkinson and Carl reminding them that there’s £50 on offer if either of the records are broken,” the conditions will never be as good” he says, Carl looks uncomfortable and nods towards Chris, the organiser seems to almost begrudgingly acknowledge Chris as “the little feller”. Chris doesn’t appear to be fazed by this, though does comment on not feeling great, I wonder if the weight of expectation is having an effect. I apologise for piling on the pressure and suggest he just goes out and enjoys his run, I’d hate to inadvertently put the mockers on his race before the off, that is of course a technique I usually stoop to delivering intentionally to my number one rival. Chris is made of sterner stuff, I needn’t have worried.
We’re off and typically I’m passed by too many runners in the first few hundred yards, but hold back and remind myself of the hour plus of hard running ahead. Mark Irvine is soon out of site, Doug Love comes past me like I’m stood still and steadily moves away. As the race settles down I feel like I’m holding my own, one or two overtake me and I ease past one or two. As we climb towards the summit Chris returns looking great, we both greet each other with words of encouragement. Chris has a huge lead over Carl, a win looks certain it’s all about the record now. Mark bounds by as does Doug not far behind, why is it they look so fresh? As I make the turn round I see Dominic not far behind and looking good. The descent as expected is relentless hard running, as we hit the tarmac I no longer need to have my eyes fixed to the ground, there’s an opportunity to view the panorama, what a view, distant snow capped Lakeland fells, Cross Fell, Wild Boar all looking at their best lit up by the low winter sun and brilliant blue sky above, I feel almost tempted to stop or slow down and enjoy the stunning view and then a little guilty as I resume race mode, I must come back to this area for a training run and take time to enjoy the fantastic views.
I arrive back in the village a minute or so quicker than a couple of years ago, I feel I’ve put in a decent shift that must count as a great bit of winter training and hopefully pay off in the season to come.
Meanwhile it’s the usual chatter with rivals and exchange of similar race experiences, I meet Dominic and we both wonder how Chris went on, we think we catch sight of him and then see a cloud of smoke blowing in the wind confirming his approach, having a quick vape, I think it’s called. I excitedly ask how he did, “record broken by 50 seconds” he quietly and calmly replies, I’m not sure I hear him right, probably since his calmness doesn’t match the significance of his words, he goes on to say how he went out hard and built up around a two minute lead on the climb knowing that Carl’s outstanding descending could win him the race, in the end Chris won comfortably.
So Chris picks up the 1st prize, the organiser hesitates as he calls Chris to collect his prize, no doubt still shocked that the local hero has been beaten. Chris is £50 better off, I try to find him afterwards and let him know that it’s a Bowland tradition that anyone breaking a race record buys the drinks, I’m too late he’s gone and no chance of me catching Bowland’s record breaker.
Mark and Doug both have great races, marvellous to see. Dominic’s not far behind me and has a bit of luck, he was the first to be called for a spot prize, on hearing the organiser call his name Dominic looks puzzlingly and says “what have I done?” With a bit of encouragement and once he realised he wasn’t going to get a bollocking Dominic went up and collected his £20 voucher. Well done Dominic, rounded off a great day, one that I’m sure I will look back on in years to come when I reminisce about the good old days.
For the record Victoria Wilkinson comfortably broke the Women’s record too.
Thanks to the organiser Paul Brittleton and to all his team of helpers that made the brilliant day happen as always you’re the real stars.
Is there ever an easy race; well I suppose there is if you don’t race in the race you’re in. So, beaten by a Santa Vamp before the halfway mark, I suppose I do ease off a little; but I do make sure that Tweedledum and Tweedledee are put right in their place – cheeky beggars.
Its just not what I expect when I turn up – Batwoman, St Trinians pupils, sperm lookalikes, elves, Cinderella, etcetera and etcetera. Paul Walsh has made an effort, but not much of one; a baggy t-shirt does not count as fancy dress Paul.
Me, well, I’ve come as a Bowland Fellrunner. It took me ages to think of it.
And so has Chris Arthur. Now, there are three top drawer runners here today for this spectacle of a 5 mile trail race; Chris Farrell of Horwich (sub 30mins for a 10k), Tom Adams of Ilkley and our Chris – see I wasn’t kidding; Farrell and Adams both have an English vest in their lockers. And if our own Mr Arthur had bothered to take this sport seriously a lot sooner, then so would he. What a delicious head to head to head in prospect.
So, to the more important head to head of the aforementioned Vamp versus my good self; and the sinister presence next to me of Alice in Wonderland and both Tweedles; Tweedledee’s just won the Parkrun in Leigh earlier says Alice in a deep baritone. Nonetheless I wager to buy each a drink if they finish in front of me.
The Vamp behind me, aka Leigh Warby, clutches the hem of his rather beguiling Santa frock; you know, the one that looks good accompanied with sheer net stockings and stilettos. He gives me a wink but his studded shoes mark him out as odd.
How to summarise the race quickly; the front three disappear up the road in the blink of an eye. Santa Vamp goes past me at speed and leaves me treading water; so much for that hex on short, quick runnables. Its because he wasn’t weighed down by his masculinity, my daughter says.
Alice is struggling though and Tweedledum and Tweedledee don’t know whether to stay with their chum or keep tabs on me. They choose the latter but the first deep and muddy patch saturates their fancy pants and slows them down significantly; they give up the battle. My pennies are safe.
Its an entertaining second half of the race; crazily made up runners run past me chatting merrily away. One of them includes ex-Bowlander Warren who’s dead chuffed with himself; I can’t wait to tell Andy Knowles he says.
A weird and beguiling race, its a great laugh. A big welcome to newcomer Peter Llewellyn, another Clitheroe man and potential running buddy; you’ve joined a great club Peter.
Well how did it finish; Chris Farrell followed by Tom Adams followed by Chris Arthur. Speaking to Chris Arthur afterwards he gives me an inkling of his plans for next season; target the English counters, seventy miles a week and speed training. That’s some commitment. Luck and remaining injury free could make it a very interesting championship for him and Bowland.
I have to rush off to collect my son from Manchester airport. I needn’t have hurried; the long haul flight from South Korea to Heathrow has gone to schedule but fog and then a baggage handlers strike at Manchester delay him by a staggering seven hours…welcome back to Blighty, Luke.
If you’re racing in the Calder Valley then you’ll know what to expect; this dank, high-sided valley has slopes that are mostly runnable, there’s plenty of slippy mud, open moorland, ankle turning ruts and gunnels, sharp-leaved heather, kissing gates and turnstliles – you may better know them as queues. Just before the start I see a runner sifting the leaf strewn descent to the finish; looking for hidden slabs that’ll put you on your ass, he says in his American accent. You ain’t seen nothing yet, I’m thinking, wondering how he’ll get on today.
179 runners gather for this late season 6 miler; the steep climb at the start funnels into a kissing gate at the top and a queue develops, forbearance is tested – and not found wanting. Upwards onto the moor and traction on the mud is difficult; my worn studs are also going to find the return on this course a little interesting, lets hope I don’t have an adversary on my heels, eh; but I did and nearly take that kissing gate out.
Up onto a road for a bit then back out onto the higher, steeper moorland; and now a turnstile with a dozen runners waiting; ho hum; losing ground all the while you just have to bide, but there’s still a way to go yet. Shortly you can see the panorama of the moorland horizon and, depressingly distant, the tiny outline of front runners disappearing over it.
Once crested there’s a properly mazy, awkward descent through bracken requiring my utmost attention; these are opportunities to close up on the runners in front. Road again for a while; and who’s that there; its John from Preston. He must be ailing; this year I can’t touch him. And in front of him is Ronnie, that doughty Rossendale runner I can’t get near usually. And ahead of him is Crabby from Keighley who can trounce me no problemo. One by one I nip past them; on the heels of Crabby I sneak a glance at my watch; its two beats off of my max HR; splendido. It hurts but – me mucho gusto. Fearful of being picked off and with two miles still to go, I definitely overdo it but hang on in there, slipping and a-sliding as I go. Its John who gets right on my tail for the steep finish but this guy is so polite, it would not surprise me if he felt it too rude to overtake me in this final furlong.
So, now I’m convinced I’ve had a great race; albeit right at the end of the year in a race that matters not a whit. And then I’m told that John is nursing a sore calf, and Ronnie says he’s been feeling off since the Tour of Pendle and Crabby thinks his bike ride here took it out of him. Meh; a hollow victory after all.
Calder Valley Fellrunners base themselves at Mytholmroyd Community Centre; its a stark contrast to Bowland’s gathering point at Fell Foot. A modern building with plenty of facilities and a beautiful shower room; only you ever get a trickle from the three shower heads if all are being used; a source of frustration to Karl Grey – elite runner and top banana and who also does the pre-race registrations; he still holds the record for this course, and he is third today. He tells me that CVFR was formed as a breakaway from Halifax Harriers when politics impeded the growth in interest of fell running; now look at it – its massive and successful.
Again, its run by people with humility and understatement and humour. Leftover traits from an area that was central to the industrial revolution that changed the world; where brooding cotton mills clothed the empire and the first canals were dug and flooded. It must have been a hive of industrial activity, teeming with black smoke trapped in its high slopes and workers worked to the bone. Now look at it; Hebden Bridge and its pink pound prettification; Heptonstall with its Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath legacy; and I always remark on the number of cyclists I see, and all those sports fields. It’s just very interesting; and so is this brass band quartet I’m listening to in Hebden.Its always a pleasure to visit.
Thanks for the race CVFR; its definitely a tester, something for everyone who runs off-road. Brilliantly organised as ever.
It passed me by until I chanced to look at the English Fell Championship results for this year; did you know that we have not one but two champions.
Women’s v50 – Rowena ‘how did that happen’ Browne
Men’s v55 – Mike ‘never without pain’ Johnson
Eulogy to Rowena
(couldn’t find a photo of you Rowena – can anybody add one in?)
– Fear failing sight and failing knees
Her chaser’s toolkit palls
Now bitten lip and mettled core
will overcome them all
So wear your crown, Rowena Browne
And for god’s sake, tell a soul –
Mike, trying to remember what I said last time:
– From near and far they took the field
their hearts were filled with pride
They fell before Mike Johnson’s feet
like grass before the scythe –
Dave Nuttall and Leigh Warby also came close in their categories.
The Tour of Pendle race seems like it can’t have occurred only last week. Not a smidge of snow to be seen and we’re only down the road in unglamorous Darwen. My erstwhile running nemesis is here, as he said he would be – but I’ve still got the Tour in my legs, says Leigh. Yeh, yeh; you start in front as I always start slow, he says; mind games, mind games.
But its a lovely little race is this; four miles is just a great distance. Long enough to really work the old ticker and short enough to make it a pleasurably painful experience. And I like the knobbly, tricky terrain. Them fleet road runners won’t be getting it all their own way; but they will do well; because they are just hard. Sorry dyed-in-the-wool fellrunner readers, but there is a lot of good road talent out there.
Generously, Leigh tells me to descend tricky Aggie’s on the left hand side; this generous nature always gets the better of him. Feeing surprisingly niggle free as we set off, Leigh tracks me up to that folly of a tower; a Wallace and Gromit fantastical thing which always makes me smile whenever I see it. And so many must see it up there in the distance pointing to the sky situated as it is near the M61 and the M65 intersection; it shouts come and see me – I’ll take you to the moon and you can eat as much cheese as you like; and we’ll be back in time for tea; hah hah, see.
Anyway, I’m still ahead descending Aggie’s bottom, ahem, and it’s straight back up again. Leigh tells me this where I make 20 yards on him which is encouraging but even more encouraging is looking around at the turning point and seeing Leigh trailing two runners behind me. From here on its single file and mainly downhill to the road so his descending forte is going to be stymied nicely. He muscles past my unwitting abettors but, and this is one for the album, falls over in his effort; it’s s akin to Darcy Bussell taking a tumble on stage. He gathers his tutu and gives chase but his moment is gone; I’m away, whoowee. I seem to have the hex on him in these shorter ones, but am way off the mark on the more important longer ones.
Also running in the green and orange are Elliot and the very lesser spotted Debbie of the Cooper no less. If you want a definition of effervescence and breathless wonder and enthusiasm and just isn’t life brill-ness; speak to Debbie. What’s she been up to – ultras, that’s what; the 62 mile Fellsman amongst the many others along with her Bolton runner partner. And she tells me of the discord of a group at the night gathering point (I forget the checkpoint) on this Fellsman which actually gets the group disqualified; how puzzlingly juvenile, we both agree. I’m kind of fired with an enthusiasm to do it again after Debbie’s pep talk, hmmm.
Anyway, back to unglamorous Darwen; a tough old mill town with one road in and one road out; it still gives you a sense of how rough conditions must have been back in its cotton manufacturing heyday. Except for this park where the race starts and finishes; how fortunate that Victorians insisted that communal spaces for families of all classes must be included in any developing town. It’s a real credit to the good burghers of Darwen and still much used as is obvious by the many using it. And you come across these parks in every town. I’m not too long back from a holiday abroad where the city has no parks or open spaces for the masses; there’s a sense of entrapment, of not getting free from the driving force of commerce; take these for granted at your peril.
So, great race, great charitable cause, great organisation, great.
Great photo of Debbie – in her first claim Lytham colours.
Its amazing how quickly a little snow and wind can cover tracks so quickly. Running along the top of Pendle to drop down to the Big End checkpoint six of us overshoot, all of us thinking the path of previous runners will be obvious – no it isn’t. Sitting down there, at the bottom on his snowy knoll and on his deck chair counting us by, is Dave Tait and he’s laid out sweets and biscuits for us all. He must have thermal heating in his veins because I’m pretty darn cold and I’m moving. I shout a greeting thinking I’ve got it a whole lot easier than this septuagenarian (had to spell check that one). He wouldn’t have it of course, but his selflessness and commitment has made him a necessary figure in the sport. He can also take a good old ribbing – and give it out as well.
Before the race Wayne and Leigh have dropped by to pick me up; portents of doom and gloom abound with the forecast. No-one’s complaining, it’s just the indecision of what to wear. Learning from past experiences I put a bearing of 190′ onto my compass, have a guess which part of the route that’s for.
Steve Sweeney is here, all the way from Donegal. I learn later that he was involved in a cycling accident a little while ago; shunted from behind, hitting the windscreen and concussed. It’s really good to see him again and its not been an easy journey getting here for him. Catching the ferry from Ireland and driving down through Scotland, he’s had to turn around and go back home as the road was impassable on one of the high passes. Our conversation is interrupted abruptly as a sudden surge of runners and the race start takes us by surprise. He hares off in pursuit.
Over 400 are on the entry list so its a big field. Kieran Carr, the RO, has built this AL up into a grand end of season finale – is it 33 years now Kieran. And Matthew, his son, is holding proceedings together as Kieran is running the race, as is Dominic. All three are manic after the race, gathering times together to present to the huge list of winners with prizes; very generous ones as well. What a stressful day it must be for the Swiss Family Carr – and all I can say is that your efforts are properly appreciated by the rank and file. Kieran is another septuawhatsit and it’s not a wild guess to assume he’s won his category with ease today. And he won’t announce his own results as that would be a little too much braggadocio; but he will announce everyone else’s. As an athlete and as a human Kieran, you’re the full package – almost; I qualify it as no-one’s perfect but you get closer than most.
Well the race is not wrecked by the weather; in fact running in snow is quite enjoyable. Yep, there are hold ups as you can’t skirt round people quite so easily; yep, the slushy parts are tricky; yep, it gets quite parky along the tops; yep, Geronimo, Mearley Clough and Big End descents feel the full force of many butt cheeks. And yep, when you finish all you can say is – that was great. Unless you’re the lad I spoke to queueing for soup who told me this was his first fell race, that he’d done it on a whim and that he will never ever do another one. He’s been out there for four and a half hours and looks bedraggled and unamused.
Setting off it isn’t long before Crispin runs past me; I’m not chasing him, its much too early for that. I think he’s keeping tabs on Leigh so he’s obviously feeling quite fit. Leigh is running in odd shoes, quite unintentional. And there’s also the vest of Alan McKeown alongside them
Steve is hanging onto the coattails of Mark I who’s in a purple patch of form. On the moor above Churn Clough I pass the limping form of Steve. While chasing Mark after the checkpoint at The Nick he’s pulled his hamstring. All that way and all that training for it to end in such disappointment is such bad luck. And Steve isn’t one to hide his feelings, his frustration is too evident. I look for him in the village hall afterwards but he’s not there. Hey Steve, next time make sure you stay back for a natter, you’ve always got something interesting to say. But I know how you’re feeling and better luck next time.
Crispin has overcooked it and I haul him in on the way to The Nick, it’s going to be a painful second half for him. Alan and Leigh are some 200yards ahead and keeping a steady pace; but I know Leigh – he’s only going to get stronger. Alan will do well if he stays with him. Sure enough, my next sighting of Alan is a forlorn figure struggling and stopping going up the Big End. I pass him as he puts on his cag and girds himself to climb the rest of it. Well done Alan, this will only make you stronger and I can see that there is a bit of potential there. Leigh though is long gone.
Back at prize-giving Bowland win a few that I can recall; Chris Balderson – in a less than flattering yellow bobble hat from Poland; Leigh picks up one as well. Ahead of Leigh is Pennine runner Ian Warhurst who tells me that earlier in the year he managed to get his weight down to 8 stone and 10 pounds – how you get there without being ill or holidaying in some gulag is beyond me, but no, it was deliberate and his form was and is outstanding.
In comes Dave Tait, some 5 or 6 hours after setting out to his Ice Station Zebra. His chin shivers with the cold and he’s wet. Are you okay Dave; yes, he says, I’m layered up; and he shows me his string vest and brushed cotton shirt under his coat; oh, and he has a scarf on too. Well, I say, that explains it – sheesh.
Then Ian Roberts comes in looking like a drowned rat. He’s been out a similar amount of time but he explains his secret – his buffalo smock; as tested in antarctic waters so Ian explains; must get myself one.
Rounds of the day, for me anyway, are from the two Walsh’s:
the incomparably unique style of Wayne who thrives on doing these tough ALs with next to no training at all
and Martin who finishes second v70; a tremendous round Martin.
Oh, and the first lady finisher, who I talk to while changing, and who cannot believe she is the first woman back and is beside herself with delight – and cramp. She’s a Barlick runner and I’m afraid I can’t remember her name, but you are a tonic.
Dave Tait at Ice Station Zebra – thanks to Andy Holden