It’s the morning after and I hobble to the scales, anorak that I am. My hip is giving me a bit of gyp after yesterday’s ropey performance. Serves me right anyway, not giving the course any proper respect. Much too blasé and not as fit as I think I am, I claim my first DNF. Debatable of course but I always think of this race as the greatest of the classics on the calendar; it’s a beguiling course right in the heartland of the countryside that gave birth to the sport. Five minutes later I get back on the scales to see I’ve lost another kilo; yep, the scales are as reliable as my form is; either these scales go or I go as Oscar Wilde didn’t say on his deathbed.
Anyway, it’s the morning of the race and it’s misty; nothing like the glowing forecast on the news. Mike J, the bookies favourite for gold in pessimism at Rio, is excelling himself this morning; yeh yeh Mike we hear you but we’re not listening. Chris A is quiet as usual but last week he did a Sky Race in Andorra. Not sure that it’s the best of preparations for Borrowdale Chris but such is his talent anything is on the cards. And the unassuming Rowena will never talk of her own achievements but will almost certainly win something today.
So how did my race go; well I start much too quickly, my hip starts giving me gyp and mild hypothermia gets a grip going up Gable and I DNF at Honister; #wasted. Cold, injured and a long way from home does tend to make one question the enjoyment one derives from this sport. I alert the marshals at the checkpoint and eschewing the long limp back to Rosthwaite I prostrate myself in front of the next car on the road and coerce the car with two adults in the front and two kids in the back to stop and put me in the boot with their pooch and drive me further than they want to go back to the start. Humble apologies for my behaviour you guys and to your lovely sympathetic-eyed poodle who gladly shares her blanket with me and settles her head on my shoulder and I’m sure I hear her say – there there it’ll be okay but you’re looking dog-rough old boy.
So what do I learn from it all; well when I’m looking at my heart rate and its running at 160+ and its only the beginning of a long race; slow down you feckin’ eejit Declan.
And Mark I, well he has a superb run and looks as fresh as a daisy at the finish. Okay Mike, not as good as you’d like but sub-4 hours is still good going; just ahead of Sam who is just ahead of the marvellous Leigh Warby. This race is made for Leigh; tough and technical and he gets his tactics spot on. Chris finds this a race too soon after Andorra and in his short involvement in the sport has never felt so rough in a race. Rowena, it seems like we take your performances for granted; well done and she picks up the 2nd v50 prize off of Billy Bland.
Scoffer and co. have put on another great show. I know he comes across as a bit lairy at times but it’s a bluff that hides a good heart and the true ideals of this less than glamorous sport. We chat about the race and our surroundings while stuck in a traffic jam on the way home; £10 for the privilege, cheese or jam sandwiches and all the tea you can drink and of course the setting; Copacabana or Cumbria – you choose.
Two other things of note happen today:
Mike gets a text from Nikki Harris in Rio who is part of the British road cycling team, she’s racing on Sunday. How good is that. He spends an age thinking of a reply. Mike participated in her training when she was in her early teens and was obviously important in her development in that regard. Fantastic and so left field for us all in the car.
Secondly, I’m surprised to hear some cheers of support just after Styhead. I look up and pass Cookie and then Graham and then Saira and I come alongside an older chap who is doggedly making his way up to Great Gable and not part of our race. Heyyup Deckers says Ian Roberts and I twig at last; he’s one of the great scions of our club doing his Joss Naylor and the others are part of his support team. Bloody hell Ian – keep it going I say. I wish him all the best in this huge challenge for him.
Well it’s been a while since my last report and I’ve raced a bit since then; so to catch up on some of the highlights:-
– Howtown and Jim Turner; how tough is this character. I did my Ramsay last week he tells me going up the first. Jeez my efforts are a bit pathetic by comparison. Why – how can you – what – follow that with an AL the week after. It just seems over-indulgent. And a bit bonkers; and a bit inspiring. It’s not as if Jim is taking it easy right now either and I shadow him mercilessly to the last gratuitous hill where his big engine fades a little. Mucho respecto Jim, what a ballsy effort. Nuts and guts, heh heh.
Rowena picks up the ladies v40 prize as usual.
Mark I is also a convert to to a good fruit slice – the biggest wedge you can imagine is waiting for us at the finish; I know what you mean now he says. Nina is there as well and she asks why don’t I just have a scone and a fruit slice as well. I just think the thrill of choosing is denied me if I go down that road – it’s a weak argument isn’t it.
It’s a hot and humid day so I have a dip in Ullswater to cool off; its an unexpected pleasure.
– Tebay race and Quentin and Mike and Chris and Mark are there; most of the elite of Bowland in fact. Mike’s scabbed limbs are healing nicely; a bit of a fall somewhere or other has kept him out for a few weeks, fortunately for him his head took the brunt of it he says.
– To Skiddaw with Chris Arthur. Getting out of my car he quickly indulges his vaping habit; he’s been off the cigarettes a year now. He gets himself a top ten spot in this English uphill selection race at the same time. And he has another vape just before getting back in the car.
Leigh Warby also manages to charge past me half way down in spite of three classicos in as many weeks. He gives me some useful advice about my ascending too; working hard at running up as far as I can it seems that when I break into a walk I actually pull away from him; that’s good info which I’ll have to take note of.
– Kentmere and that man Chris A again. He only goes and gets beaten by a 40 year old. Never mind that that 40 year old is Morgan Donnelly who wins the race from Chris by two seconds. My my – it seems Bowland have a real contender. I spot him later crouching behind a car vaping for all he’s worth.
I think Rowena picks up the v40 prize for this one as well.
– Borrowdale recce with loads of us; about ten. Leigh and Rich are showing us the route and it doesn’t take long for the group to split into two given the wide range of fitness and abilities. Leigh’s assuming we have a modicum of route knowledge; fact is it’s less than a modicum. If visibility is poor on the day it’s going to be very interesting. We’re out for over five hours. The lesser spotted Chris Reade is off on his new bike to do some of the Fred Whitton. Ian R is also out – good luck with the Joss Naylor, Ian; it’s a real challenge for you.
– Farlton Knott – which is today and I meet up with a few club newbies. Compadres Doug and Tom who are both teachers and know Rich; and a caver who’s spent the last ten years in northern Spain. I mean a proper caver; that’s what he does – a big welcome to you all. Given that caving is his occupation I totally get that you don’t get much sun on your skin but Dominic is the palest thing to emerge from the Iberian peninsula since those luminescent creatures came up from the depths all those millennia ago. His body is going to go into vitamin E overload in the hot sun of northern England.
Now caving is something that I’ve always wanted to have a stab at which I tell Dominic and he says he’ll organise something in September for any of us interested in it; I’m definitely up for it Dominic. And thanks.
In the meantime he’s putting the army through its paces; it’s all in the quads – or is it the glutes; and if you’re skinny you’ll fall down through the cracks. I snack on a big piece of flapjack to start my training.
Simon Bailey wins the race; his wife wins the ladies v40 and his young son wins his age group – naturally. This is a bofra race; I must say there is a good feel to these warm, enthusiastic volunteers who make this whole organisation work; mucho respect to you all.
Grim news, to me anyway; the Tillies pub has shut down Colin says. Good old, bald as a coot, Curly has called it a day. This local man who’d wandered off round the country plying his trade and thence returns to his roots in the village of Chipping, has decided to move on. He was as happy as a sandboy 10 years ago the day he took it over. I think Jules, his wife, never took to the place; she seemed to have a downer on it; the weather, the pace (lack of), just wasn’t her thing. Good old Curly. He loves his fishing, loves a pint or three besides; mingled the two a bit as well. He’s been spotted a few times at dawn mazily making his way back home from an all nighter with his rod. Wonder what he’s doing with my Jura antlers, remember them Chris; I swapped them for a few pints of Guinness and he put them up at the bar – he kept the best pint of anyone. I’ve got a photo somewhere. All gone now, life moves on, bon voyage Curly, whatever you’re up to now.
His brother’s a local poet you know, Michael Neary. I bought a little edition of his which is in the house somewhere. Whilst waiting one time in Clitheroe’s spanking new Cottage hospital I looked up at the newly painted walls and there, stencilled all the way round, is a quote from one of his poems; fancy that.
To the race itself; a record 101 runners turn up for it. It’s only a 4 miler, only says I, these are as painful as any of them. There are plenty of GandOs too. Without mercy we’re pitched into a steep climb and then you take your choice of routes once on the fell side. I tussle with Rowena and Leigh and Colin; don’t forget that Leigh has done two longs in the past two weekends, it’s now Tuesday, and he has probably the toughest classic yet to come on Saturday, Ennerdale; someone needs to saliva test him. Yep, Leigh gets to the top first, then Rowena, then Colin and then me. This is good stuff; there is no way you can train this hard; always in races, your club mates are your greatest rivals. Graham, meanwhile, is leaving us for dead. All the runners converge on the contour, I doubt there’s any advantage to any of the routes we choose.
Ah, now the long runnable, who’s got that strength and fitness; you guessed it – Leigh. He even falls over 10 yards ahead of me, that’s one for the scrapbook then. At the trig our places are pretty much cemented till Parlick and then there’s the steeply descending finish. A few road runners can’t really cope with it and lose a few places. As does Mark I who loses one position – important, because he loses it to Richard for the 3rd podium spot. Ooh, how Richard must have loved that. Darren F finishes in 5th I think; like Mark, once this would have been brilliant for him; nowadays it’s where he expects to be. Dave ‘not really done a lot’ Nuttall finishes high up as well, running and looking like he has done a lot. Chris B is not far behind him. Also appearing for the Gandos are Mark M – definitely making moves there Mark, Cookie – back from his Joss, Elliott, Martin W and Big Al. Sarah S has swapped her colours back to blue on blue; hi, Sarah.
Preston Harriers and top bloke Michael Mcloughlin organise the race and also throw in a meal at the Sun Inn afterwards. It’s a strange concoction of pasta and stringy cheese and peppers and stuff; much appreciated and tastes okay but getting it from plate to mouth is interesting. The race is also won by a harrier, Andrew Newton; another from the ‘I’ve not done much’ brigade yet can outpace a cheetah. Thanks Michael and the Harriers, appreciate the effort.
As the racing season takes a grip of me, I decide that despite still feeling sore from Helvellyn on Sunday, this AS should be within my capabilities; as do 163 others who take the start line.
The day’s a scorcher; a real belter. A lethargy inducing heavy heat settles on me as soon as I leave the air conditioning in the car; it’s an enthusiasm nibbler. I’ve arrived early to soak up the fete’s festivities. Hmm, five minutes later I’ve seen all there is to see. I don’t mean to knock the efforts of the organisers but there’s a paucity of events to keep your interest; nothing to tempt 50p out of my pocket. So I head off to look around the railway station in Horton. And what a little gem it is. Restored to its original glory, probably even more so, its everything you imagine a quintessential English village train station to be. I go in through the entrance door half expecting to have a brief encounter with Trevor Howard; all shifty in his mac and trilby. But there’s no-one there, not a soul. It’s all so tidy, so perfect, so quiet; I find myself quite moved. Get a grip for god’s sake. I begin an internal debate with myself over the effort and money the locals have put into this and the bottomless pit of not enough hospitals or medical care and too many other serious essentials that cry out for similar attention. Move on, Dec, that way madness lies.
I return to the Gala; or Gay-la, as the introducing VIP keeps saying. He’s a local farmer with his good lady wife and he’s got his freshly ironed corduroy pants on and a checked cotton shirt and a burgundy tie to match those burgundy cords. His weathered face and stooping profile are hints of a tough life in the harsh elements of hereabouts; I bet he played a large part in the restoration of the station.
I go down to the registration tent and she hands me race number 1. Can I have another number instead, I ask; nay lad, tha’s t’first and tha’s t’number. I walk back past the vintage car display and give the Italian Job Austin Mini the once over. It’s a beauty but its not a Mini says an old bloke behind me; he’s right, I had an old 850 once and it bore no resemblance to this one’s interior. Come and have a look at my Alvis he says. He opens the driver’s door for me and I sit in this two ton vehicle of wood and steel; its got the 1850cc engine which was never enough for the weight of it he says. He switches it on and there’s a clattery purr to it; the thrub of it draws a few people over. The fellow, in his 80s, had lived up here for a good few years now; moving his family and his business up with him from the south, and he still feels a bit of an outsider. His son had died of cancer at the age of 28 and now he couldn’t bear to leave the place because of it; a sense of betrayal and desertion to his son’s memory keeping him put. I bet he’d had a hand in the restoration of the station as well.
And so to the race. Chris B and Mark I arrive; a new member Doug Love is there in a Bowland shirt and so is Phil Martin and the more oft spotted Wayne Walsh. It’s a good race with nothing remarkable to report. I battle with this chap and that chap; win one encounter and lose another. I’m making it sound a bit futile aren’t I. Well in the end it’s of no consequence is it. The encounter with the Alvis chap has induced a mood of melancholia you’ll not be surprised to read.
Somewhere along the route we all go wrong and add an extra mile or so. I can’t think where that might have been though. The ascent to the top is straight forward and the descent is flagged and marshalled; my GPS records 6.7 miles. Anyway, unless Victoria Wilkinson was out to set a women’s record, no harm done; we all do the same distance in the end. It brings back memories of that faux pas at the HV race, with none of the chaos that ensued. The one that our own Wayne Walsh won; ha ha. I hope that its sufficiently far enough back in the past to talk about now and that we’re allowed to have a chuckle; at my expense of course.
The weather is a pleasant surprise, as is Leigh’s call at 9.00am to come and do this race. Having reccied the Great Lakes race route yesterday he’d left it till now to see how he felt about doing this one today. I turn off the A59 to get to Longridge which turns out to be a blessing or I would have been caught up in that M6 tailback at the Tickled Trout otherwise.
Anyway, still looking well, apparently – grrrr, we arrive at Threlkeld without incident.
The sun is out and there is a nice breeze. As I’m getting ready a rather attractive runner asks if she can borrow my suntan lotion; and then the politest and most humble of men, asks if she would like him to rub it in for her. It’s kind of a show stopper moment that you get from time to time where the utterance does not match the utterer. Hilarity breaks forth from the Barlick car beside us at Leigh’s remark …. and rightly so.
It’s not a race where you feel a limber up is necessary, the start will do that for you. Setting off on a warm day like this and for a long route like this, I wasn’t about to set off quickly – although many do. In these days of heightened safety awareness you always require full kit and today it would be advisable to have a drink with you as well. So my bumbag is quite heavy.
151 runners set off and there’s a bit of jostling to get to the foot of Clough Head for the steep climb. There’s 4,400 feet of climbing to do in this race and over half of it is in this first one to Clough Head. I pull over to one side of the congested trod and slowly make up lost ground till I’m behind Leigh. In true Leigh fashion he won’t have it that his 5 hour recce with Mark I yesterday is having any effect. You’re climbing well he says to me. I know he’s tired and run past him at the top; there’s a lot of running to be done now past the various Dodds. It’s easy to underestimate how sapping these runnable climbs are before you start, but I ain’t underestimating them now. 300 yards up ahead are some hitherto adversaries in the shapes of Ashley Kay and Ben Grant; I’m pleasantly surprised to find myself this close to them.
At Raise I get a cheer from Rob Wynne who’s now with Keswick AC and marshalling this checkpoint. Sporting a bushy beard and his customary good cheer he shouts – there’s a bunch pulling away from you in front, Declan, and there’s another bunch catching you from behind – err, thanks for that Rob.
Running in the opposite direction of this out and back course is the race leader Carl Bell who will go on to set a course record. He’s ridiculously far ahead of the chap in second place.
Climbing up to Helvellyn, runners ascending and runners descending are weaving out of the way of intrepid walkers and even more intrepid downhill cyclists; these guys are bonkers. But like fell running; if you don’t get it, you just don’t get it.
Well done Bowland shouts Mark I to me as he swiftly negotiates a tricky descent; showing no signs of tiredness from his long day with Leigh yesterday, you can’t lift your eyes from where you’re stepping for a second without risking a fall; he just catches sight of my top in his periphery. Mark is just going from strength to strength, he’s not reached his plateau yet; where will it end. For some reason I’m dead interested in his progress, but don’t tell him that. It was only a few years ago that he was finishing in the bottom quarter of these races. Now, he’s in the top 10 per cent.
A small crowd of walkers cheer us all on at the turning point. Leigh is not too far behind actually, he has that ability to regroup and surge on when he should be spent. His proximity will keep me honest for this second half. It’s a second half that I don’t find easy but manage to keep my place give or take. The gradual presence of a blister takes my mind off the heat and the climbing. Ashley and Ben have pulled further away; their better stamina showing in the end.
Mistaking Great Dodd for Clough Head is a bit of a blow, that realisation you’ve still got another hike and another climb before you begin the big descent down Clough Head. However, I don’t think I’m the only one. Ken Taylor (69 years old) and one or two others have put a charge in just a bit too soon and I catch them back up. Ken is wearing his Great Britain kit; Leigh tells me that he’s as hard as nails when competing, you just know it’s true when running alongside of him. He must have been some athlete in his prime.
Over the top finally and a blister popping descent of Clough Head takes me past a few less able descenders for the final mile to the finish at the cricket club. Jenn cheers me on through the tape. She looks super fit right now but that’s down to her bike riding; she’s still struggling with her running though. Nick is still out there, he just seems a tad off the pace than when we did Coniston together a few weeks ago. Leigh comes into sight a few minutes later; he was catching me up all the while.
The organisers have made loads of sandwiches and all the cakes are homemade. Of no import to anyone but myself but I opt for a slice of the fruit cake from the vast array before me. I always find that I regret not having the fruit slice given the choice. I feel the same way about a scone. If you really want to have me mentally tied up, put a fruit slice and a scone in front of me and ask me to make a choice. I can’t do it.
Ben Grant lies prostrate on the field; blistered and dehydrated he didn’t have anything to eat or drink during the race even though he’d taken some with him. He found himself not wanting the faff of rummaging through his bumbag to find stuff. Well, he is certainly paying for it now. He looks gaunt and knackered; lucky bugger.
It’s been a tough race in lovely but tough weather. The organisation is unfussy and streamlined and, unusual for a fell race, there are showers at the end of it if you wish. For me, this race was an end in itself; for Leigh and Mark it’s just preparation for Duddon next week quickly followed by Ennerdale. Man, I am just so far away from being that fit.
Hi Declan, long time no see, you’re looking a lot better – these are words that no serious, advanced in years, fellrunner wants to hear. Lacking in speed and also in stamina all I’ve got left to fall back on is my power to weight; if that’s gone too, I’m goosed.
John Taylor rubs it in further at the finish of the race; you’re not as gaunt as you were. That’s right John, rub it in. This race has put me in my place, which is quite a ways down the field.
Leigh Warby continues the theme in the cafe later; have you seen Ian Holmes’ waist – Holmesy’s race was a stunner, a V50 finishing second and only just behind an in-form Carl Bell – it’s the smallest waist you can imagine, there’s nothing there says Leigh. He’s waisting away, I’m thinking.
Anyway, all this sizeist malarkey to one side and despite a beautiful day, Sam, the RO, has shortened the course due to snowfall; once over Wetherlam and along the col, we’re directed down the Hause, unfamiliar terrain to all us. The climb to Swirl How and the run along to Brim Fell and the descent off Coniston Old Man are denied us. That descent off Coniston is Holmesy’s speciality; I wonder if he may actually have won it had it not been shortened today. I remember him some years ago going over the top in ninth place and finishing in first; spectacular running.
Snow drifts, bog and boulders make for an entertaining descent to Levers Water; a few whoopsies and falls keep the walkers entertained. The reckless and over-confident among us are in their element no doubt, but I only hear of one broken wrist. I’m finding it quite exhilarating after the trials of ascending Wetherlam.
At the start of the race I’m feeling okay, jumping off the track onto the fellside I’m just behind Leigh, it’s then a ten minute climb to the first shoulder. My jauntiness deserts me from there; this is going to be tough. My legs are already heavy so I tuck in behind Nick H for a bit of a tow. Several times I fight the urge to overtake but only because I know I can’t sustain any push to get away. The lass behind me wants to banter about the views but I can’t join in and am only just hanging in there; I’m envious of her energy levels and I reckon she’s toying with me.
Leigh is out of sight half way up and goes on to have an excellent race. The new course plays to his strengths in many ways; grit and determination on the up and a graceful and confident rhythm on the tricky downhill. If you don’t believe me, watch him next time you get a chance.
Summit after false summit after false summit – Nick gets to the top of Wetherlam just in front of me. A bit disoriented with the conditions as they are, we take not a good line over to the top of Swirl Hause – a few unnecessary small climbs allow others to get in front of us. From there it’s a bit of a plunge down the diversion route, along the dam at Levers Water and then a rocky trail to meet up with the miners’ track of the race route and then the well worn route home. It is most enjoyable.
2000’ of ascent and 6.5 miles in all.
At the finish we agree that it had been a good decision to shorten the course, that descent off Coniston Old Man would have been treacherous. Me, I was quietly pleased not to have to scale Swirl How and race along the top; you’ll get there in due course says Warby in his ever-encouraging way. Well if I do get there in due course, Leigh, it’s going to be blooming painful.
I remembered all too well how manic the start to last year’s Jubilee Plunge fell race was, when I found myself bounding over deep heather covered in even deeper snow to try and get somewhere near the front of the pack. There was no snow this year, and I put in a sprint start to make sure I didn’t end up in the heather either. My start paid off, and I found myself at the front and opening a bit of a lead on the steep technical descent off the summit. This kind of descent has become my strong point in the past year or so, and I knew I had to be in front after this section to have any chance of winning.
Last year’s race was a bit of a disaster (albeit a rather enjoyable one). As well as being too slow off the marks, when I did find myself in 2nd place, me and the current 1st place took a bit of a detour up Moel Dywyll instead of bearing left down to Llangynhafal. As such, I etched an image of the turn off into my mind on the way up to the summit this year, and thankfully remembered to take it on the way back down.
Predictably, the chasing group started pulling me back after this turning, on the grassy descent off the open fell, but I was optimistic that the short stretch of road to follow would be to my advantage. It was good to see Yiannis holding the gate open just before the road, and in my attempt to slow down whilst smiling for his camera I nearly ended up colliding with the gate post! Fortunately I didn’t, and whether the road did indeed work to my advantage or not, I somehow managed to hold everyone else off to arrive home the victor. Tom Roo from Mercia crossed the line five seconds behind me, and Ambleside’s Chris Atherton a mere second behind him. I wasn’t the only Bowlander competing; Alan Duncan comfortably came first in the V60 category, even after a heroic outing at the Boxing Day run on Parlick the day before!