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
Have you been crawling through a hedge I ask Dominic on the parking field at Kettlewell. No, I was caving yesterday up here at Providence Pot he replies. Its four and a half miles and I was climbing and crawling and wriggling in parts; which explains the scratches and cuts on his face. I did it with a mate and I always try to do it once a year.
Leigh drops by my house to pick me up on the way to the race. If you’ve never done it, its a four mile up and downer with a daunting uphill start. Best to limber up well and raise the heart rate before this one.
Anyway, in the car there Leigh misses a call which will be his mate telling him which horses he’s backing for the pair of them today. Once a year they have a day out at the races on their winnings. Which surprises me since I’d just read that online gambling sites manipulate things to only allow two per cent of punters to win. The Warby Meister is beating the system it seems – good on yer Leigh.
It raises an interesting point though; when does an interest become a passion, passion become an obsession and obsession then become an addiction.
Where are either of us on that spectrum in regard to fell running. It seems ludicrous that a gambler should bet and know that he will lose every time. But I’ll wager, heh heh, that a gambler will scratch his head at a person who races up hills in the sure knowledge he’ll never win. Psychoanalysts – please enlighten as I’m not going any deeper with this one.
Running to the brow of the hill with Dominic at the first while warming up, he points over to the other side of the valley. Can you see that farm and that clump of trees to the right, well there’s a big cave just under that and its where I fell and broke my pelvis in three places. The two lads I was with had to shuffle me out wheelbarrow style. The experience has made me a very cautious caver, he says.
As this race will be a counter for next year it’s attracted an elite field; and among them is the not oft seen face of our own Steve Cox. It’s a long time since he last raced, three years in fact. His wish for a low key reintroduction race not quite panning out; he’s looking trim enough though. Al Heaton is here as well, hoping not to reprise that never-to-be-forgotten, do or die finish at Steve’s Hodder Valley Show.
We’re all in singlets as its a grand day and this first hill has quietened any over-enthusiasm. Dominic has set the pace for Leigh and myself. For a chap who’s just just getting back to the sport I reckon he’s one to watch; you just need to sort out the downhill-ing part of it Dominic. That fall all those years ago is still making you a little nervy. Well for once I get ahead of Leigh and for once I stay there till the finish. It’s been a long season for him in which he’s done well at all the classics and I suppose the only race left to take seriously is the Tour of Pendle; I can smell sweet revenge coming his way for today.
After the race Dominic and I find ourselves walking alongside Simon Bailey on the way to the car. He’s just won this race and I ask him how he did in the Champs overall. He doesn’t give much away and quietly says he won; it took Leigh to tell me the high drama of it all at the final counter at Langdale a few weeks back.
In order for Sam Tosh to win the title he needed to win at Langdale and Simon to finish third. Well, Sam did win and for second spot Rhys Findlay-Robinson and Simon Bailey were racing each other eyeballs out, neck and neck – and Simon won. Phew. Man, that would have been good to watch and well done Simon.
After this race and milling around at the prize giving, Graham Breeze hovers. Now I don’t really know Graham but he obviously is a very important person. And his pithy remarks are like my hamstrings – dependably irksome. I wait, and it doesn’t take long; there it is, something directed at me and the peanut butter cakes. The Prince of Pith strikes again – you got me Graham; onward to the next victim. That said, where would the sport be without him, not everyone’s cup of tea, but credit where it’s due. Breezey also wins his v70 group, well done him.
Steve C has come up up with a suggestion to ride the Fred Whitton route next year as a club thing – outside the real event. I think there’d be a lot of interest for that; have to pick a date that we can all train towards and doesn’t interfere too much with the race calendar. Any suggestions anyone?
Anyway, stand out results:-
Simon Bailey; cruised home
Vickie Wilkinson; just class, runs with intensity and a little anger methinks
Graham Schofield; nutty, gritty, age-defying, fantastic
Victoria Wilkinson and A N Other post race analysis (thanks Mick Kenyon of Racing Snakes)
I swap the bottle of wine Steve has put in my bike bag for a small jar of piccalilli as the ride over Waddy Fell looms in my mind. I have an old rugby mucker who has a stall at these shows and his business is making chutney; I can see about twelve varieties of them for tasting. I kind of make it my business to seek him out and purchase one from him. He tells me that he works seven days a week at this with his family and goes to shows as far as Cartmel; any further than that just isn’t viable economically. It’s thirty pounds for his pitch here and he needs to sell thirty jars to make it worthwhile. He happily takes my bottle of wine; keep plugging away Derek.
Steve says to me before the start that there are a mighty 85 runners today and there aren’t enough bottles of beer to go round so he’s had to buy 30 lots of Lancashire cheese from the delighted stall holder next door; its Mrs Kirkham’s as well – scrumdiddly.
The seemingly pricey £10 entry isn’t so bad when you factor in that it includes the parking, the show, the bottle of beer/cheese and of course the race itself. In fact, its a bargain I’ve convinced myself. The bonhomie, the meeting of friends, the short distance to travel are also included in that price. As is the entertainment provided by the great man Al Heaton. Sorry Al and please forgive me for this, but that tumble you took five metres from the line is the stuff of legend and ought never to be forgotten. The mighty surge to pip your adversary in front of a large-ish crowd; that earning of that ephemeral stripe; that bragging right – all usurped by one glorious, headlong tumble down the bank; it was worth the price of entry on its own. And, I kid you not, five Red Arrows fly past in formation.
The course is a brilliant one Steve, and I mean that. Some just have that extra je ne c’est quoi, everyone remarks on it – not necessarily in french though. Hereabouts buried in the bogs are a few planes from the war so a Slaidburn man tells me. And he recalls an American pilot being taken down to the cells; what had he done I ask him; nay, that’s where they laid him out after the wreckage he says.
The race is one by a street by a Bolton lad – who’s looking for a fell running club to join but Horwich has caught his eye so he tells me. He’s a road runner but quite fancies the fells now that he has sniffed success. He gets up at 5.30am most days to get his training in; he points to his young wife and two young kids so he doesn’t have to tell me about having to find time to train. I can’t help but admire that; talent and hard work, but mostly hard work.
Lots of Bowlanders about, either running or marshalling. It is flagged to perfection and every one of the marshals offers encouragement and a smile; I love this club.
I talk with Richard D after and about a book I’ve read called A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. It is an eye opener for me and causes me to look on these agricultural shows differently now. The cheery, relaxed nature of most; the pig racing, the sheep-shearing contests, fell racing et al belie the quite serious purpose of farmers and their livelihoods and making ends meet and their reputations as stockmen; these are all bubbling away at its heart. It lends a gravitas to the day that I look forward to. So take a look at the faces of those that are showing, there’s serious business afoot here.
Richard points me in the direction of a book he recommends ‘ I bought a Mountain’. He didn’t give anything away when he says the author left the love of his life.
Well done Bowland; organised superbly and with a great spirit as I expected it to be; but your effort is much appreciated all the same. ’twas was a grand day out.
I gave up writing down the numbers my fingers were that numb and just counted the runners through says Rob Green the marshal on St Sundays Crags – perishing it was says he. He isn’t kidding either; the clag is right down as well and there are three people trailing me following my lead. We pick up one of them coming at us head on such is his disorientation – he’s an older chap too. 93 have set off and Rob counts 93 through; in these conditions aren’t we all brilliant.
Feeling responsible for my entourage I take the safer walker’s path and then down into the gully eschewing the much quicker lower line in the conditions as I’m not sure that I can find it. Everyone thanks me as we descend but I’m happy to do so as I’ve stolen others’ knowledge many times myself.
Achille Ratti organise this race and it competes with the classic Ben Nevis race on the same day. There’ll be a few Bowlanders up there slogging their way up. The Ben sells out within 48 hours such is its status -I vow to have a go some time in the next few years. But this race is just as gruelling you know; two and a half hours, if you’re me, of typical Lakes terrain. But not if you are Chris Arthur who romps home first. Chris, I’ve never done it before and don’t know my Way, Arthur. Sheesh. Is that a first for Bowland then – anyone. Four minutes he won by. You’re making this here fell running malarkey look a bit too easy Chris.
John Rainford of Preston Harriers jogs up onto my shoulder near the finish, he’s easily quicker than me, but he lets me have it seeing as he’d still be running round the Crags if he hadn’t come across me. He’s just making the point that he could beat me if he chose to; but I already knew that John.
One of the Achille Ratti ladies in the village hall nudges my hand over to the lemon drizzle plate as I make for the fruit slice; she nods and winks at me so I take the hint. My good woman, lemon drizzle may just be added to the duopoly of the fruit slice or the scone; it is that good.
As we look at the results Paul Cornthwaite of Borrowdale says that the fish pie he ate last night is still sitting on his stomach and was through the whole race; I’m not feeling very well he says. Righto Paul; yes – I can see you were 5th overall; WADA need a representative up here methinks. Wouldn’t mind some of that fish pie myself; bet it was turbo-t.
Mark I finishes 12th I think and Leigh is ten minutes quicker than me but this is his type of race and his type of weather.
The RO gives a heavy sell to join the Achille Ratti Climbing Club; it now has two huts in the Lakes and one in Wales and a membership of 800. It even takes non-catholics now; our missionary work has to be very subtle nowadays – a popular and successful strategy is to leave you dangling on the end of a rope until you convert.
Anyway, a great race and thanks and well done to Achille Ratti for putting it on; another great job.
From the show field and milling around before the start of the race, in the near distance I can see a monkey puzzle tree who’s owners have shaped its branches in the style of Sideshow Bob. Its 40′ height is still quite difficult to make out against the green backdrop. I try and point it out to Rowena but she can’t see it; but there it is, this South American conifer nestling somewhere in Chipping with a psychopathic killer’s haircut.
Preston Harriers organise this race and some older couples are in charge; and enjoying themselves whilst they’re at it. Politeness and humour mask a nice kind of bossiness. And a very relaxed Colin W comperes the race while we assemble in the show ring.
There’s not much to relate, I kind of only wanted to tell you about the monkey puzzle; but to say that kind of diminishes Mark I’s second placing; first is only a matter of time Mark – was it only four years ago that you were in the bottom 20 percent.
Sam finishes just ahead of an in-form Nichola Jackson of Preston Harriers. Crispin and I have a bit of a dingdong all the way; half a mile from the finish I can’t see a course flag and shout over to Cris is this the way. Not sure but I think so – he says with conviction and we veer right through a deeply boggy stream and emerge spattered in cow muck and startle the herd of said muck creators who bolt in all directions. Hmmm, nav error and reverse out sheepishly looking at the three or four others who are in follow mode. Cris and I lose four or five places with the blunder. How could you, a Bowlander, go wrong on this home turf race says the organiser; easy says I. I seem to recall a certain Steve Cox asking me the same question a few years back.
Ro, Ian C and Alan H are also here competing as is the one and only – great to see you – Keith Denver recovering from his heart surgery ; its amazing the advice that doctor’s give you nowadays; almost all the received opinions I had growing up are being de-bunked – like rub some butter on a burn; handsome is as handsome does; cleanliness is next to godliness; false sayings attract intelligent people heh heh.