Skip to content

Borrowdale Fell Race 2019 by Oliver Wade

August 10, 2019

16.5 miles, 6500ft, Summits Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Dale Head

Date: 03/08/2019

Weather: HOT and clear

Position: 90th / ~280

Here it was. Race day. I unzipped the tent to patchy sunshine, a good start as today was going to be hard enough without having to navigate through thick clag. I walked to the race from Grange where I had been camping, running bits for a warm up. After heading to the start/finish field to get a copy of the race map I signed on, grabbed my number and ‘dibber’ for the checkpoints, then set about trying to find my new team mate, Leigh Warburton, who had brought me a Bowland Fell Runners vest for my first race as part of the club, and only my 3rd ever fell race. It felt great to be part of a team for a change, and to be running in the same colours I had seen my dad run in for so many years. Heading back to the start field I found my dad catching up with some old friends, he had acquired some last-minute race tactics to pass on to me, the gist of which was “go steady”. This made sense considering it would be the longest run I had ever done and the day was only getting hotter.

It wasn’t long before we were all bunched up at the field gate rearing to set off.  Talking to a friend meant I missed everyone starting to gather and ended up a fair bit further back than I would have liked, but hearing about his race prep of 4 weeks off due to injury and a slight hangover from the night before made me feel slightly better about my own chances. I tried to edge my way forward but it was really an exercise in futility by this point. After a few quick words from the race organizer we were off, I quickly tried to move up the field knowing that sooner or later we would reach a pinch point that I didn’t really fancy being stuck behind. I managed a few places but not before we turned off the road and onto a path that fit just about two abreast. Here we all came to a total stand still, less than 2 minutes in, which felt frustrating and made it hard to find a rhythm, especially with the narrow path making it harder to pass other runners. Following a fellow Bowland runner I managed to skip up past a good 20 or so people but eventually his pace was too quick for me and I had to settle back down. 

After the first stop-start mile the race turned up hill as we started the slog up Bessyboot to the first checkpoint. The ground gets really steep going up here and I was trying to go steady knowing what was still in store, but I couldn’t resist the satisfaction of overtaking a few people here and there (several of which would go on to overtake me in the back half of the race – something learned there!). After about 20 minutes of power walking and the gradually increasing burn in my thighs I had passed the first checkpoint, downed a gel, and was on the vague path round the side of Glaramara towards Allen Crags. I had found this bit quite confusing on a recce but with people to follow it was fairly plain sailing, minus the knee deep bog in a couple of places, giving me time to even take in the view over to the Langdale pikes and Bowfell. I cruised round the side of Allen crags, losing a few places by this point but having the good sense not to chase too hard, and before I knew it the second checkpoint at Esk Hause had arrived.

The path from here to Scafell Pike felt like a slog, but I managed to keep a good pace and didn’t have any trouble boulder hopping along the ridge to the summit. The final ramp up to the summit was full of walkers, with plenty of encouragement being doled out which I’m sure gave a little boost to the top. After ‘dibbing’ my wristband at the checkpoint I took a minute to neck a gel and prepare for the long, technical descent to come. Heading off the top to the scree chute I felt nervous for the first time in the race, I had flown down here on a recce and loved it but with other people around it was a different story. The fear of sending a rock flying into someone else, or vice-versa was lingering in the back of my mind. I set off down at a good pace and overtook 5 or so people pretty quickly, managing to seemingly jump straight over one other runner who had slipped over. The reality of this moment was probably much less dramatic but with the adrenaline pumping and sweat in my eyes distorting my vision that was how it felt. However, my momentum was short lived, trying to slow down to dodge other runners seemed to throw me of balance for a second and wham! My feet went from under me and I flew backwards with a thud. This knocked me back both physically and mentally, I took the rest of the scree slope super steady getting re-overtaken in the process. After taking the grassy line to join corridor route I stopped with the excuse of emptying my shoe of stones, but really just needed a minute to compose myself after my fall. Surprisingly no one overtook me while I was sat down and I steadily set off down the rough path to Styhead Pass, and after a fair bit of tourist dodging arrived there in one piece. 

From here, despite being all uphill, it was all downhill for me. Just as I started the climb I was passed by the first lady, and eventual female winner Majka Kunicka. This was bittersweet as my dad had always told me “you’re doing well in a race if you can keep up with the first lady”, so there was some satisfaction from knowing I had been going well up to now. However, this was short lived with a demoralizing number of people overtaking me on the long walk up Great Gable. I really started to struggle here, the heat was getting to me and at one point or another each muscle in my leg seemed to be on the verge of cramping up. This combined with the pain from my fall biting with every step made for hard going. Once I finally reached the top of Gable I tried to take a moment, get a gel down me, and pick the right line down. I managed to get down fairly smoothly and pass a few of those who’d got the best of me on the up. After contouring round Green Gable it was a steady descent to Grey Knotts and just a case of keeping what little momentum I had going. 

A little while after crossing the fence on Grey Knotts I nipped down a trod which I vaguely remembered was the most runnable line from my recce, however shortly felt slightly lost. One guy had followed me and seemed to pick up on this asking “you sure about this line?”. Not wanting to lead him astray I said, “not totally” thinking I had come down a little too early. He darted off back up the hill, while I committed to my choice which turned out to be the right one! It didn’t take long for me to find the path I knew was around somewhere and as I came around the corner to the front of Grey Knotts I saw 5-6 people who had passed me earlier in the race way back up the slopes. This gave me a great boost and I pushed on to the next checkpoint at Honister Pass.  

Having my family and Fiancé at Honister briefly took my mind of the impending climb up Dale Head. Words of encouragement, water and (probably too many) jelly babies spurred me on upwards. However, this second win was short lived. The cramps returned with a vengeance, the heat seemed to be increasing with every gradually shortening stride and the pain from my fall was only getting worse. I seemed to slow to a crawl, with a never-ending string of people passing me. After what seemed like a lifetime I saw the summit and the marshals waiting, however I didn’t even have the energy to fake a bit of a run for the photographer sat up there, I just kept drearily plodding on. The first part of the descent was no easier and I had to stop several times before Dale Head Tarn to stretch out some nasty cramps. In the process, I was passed by some of the more seasoned racers. The famous Nicky Spinks who I had been hoping to at least finish around the same time as, and hopefully beat, skipped past me, shortly followed by Bowland team mate Leigh Warburton another person I had set my sights on finishing ahead of. This was a real hard moment of the race for me and if it there had been any quicker way back to the start I would have probably considered pulling out. Despite this I made it to Dale Head tarn with Leigh in my sites and managed to get back into a bit of a rhythm to set off after him. Shortly into the next part of the descent I saw him stopped by the side of the path, struck by cramp he had had to stop and I managed to overtake him once more. This spurred me on as I got stuck into the grassy descent down to the river. Crossing the New Bridge I was conscious of Leigh behind me, not as far away as I had hoped, but didn’t dare up my pace for fear of blowing up so close to the finish! As I entered Rosthwaite my dad was waiting, ‘gently’ reminding me Leigh was on my heels, he spurred me on and picked up the pace to run me in, for what to me felt like a strong finish in 4 hours 26 minutes and 41 seconds. 

After barley being able to hand my dibber in I collapsed in a heap on the floor. It took me a while to gather the energy to re-open my eyes and eventually get up for a cup of orange juice. I sat around for a while trying to get some proper food down and watching other runners come in to finish, each one looking just as exhausted as the next. For a moment, I started to ponder the age-old question “why do we do this?” for fun? Surely not? But once you get past the aching legs, sting of salt in your eyes and delusions from dehydration you see the smiles of all the other runners chatting about their race around you and those questions go away. 

I couldn’t face the walk back to the campsite, so got a lift off my mum. Just as we were leaving I saw the winner on the day, Ricky Lightfoot, walking back into Rosthwaite with no sign of the effort he had just put in anywhere. It was a reminder how much of another level some of these guys are on, but also some motivation for something to work towards next time I guess! 

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: