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Langdale Fell Race 2019 by Oliver Wade

October 16, 2019


12.5miles ~4800ft Ascent 

Summits: Thunacar Knott, Bowfell, Crinkle Crags, Pike O’Blisco

“Strictly one pie per person!” – the only pre-race instructions given today as 400 odd runners bunched together outside the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel. The rain had just begun to fall, adding to my anxiety to get going, I weaved my way forward through the group until eventually coming to a stop about mid pack, not an ideal starting position, but not the worst either. Before I knew it, we were being counted in, 3…2…1 GO. I set off steadily along the gently undulating path to Stickle Ghyll. Unlike previous races there wasn’t really any major pinch point, so I was able to work my way gradually up the group until I settled down to a pace that felt comfortably uncomfortable, just as the route pointed upwards. 

The climb to Stickle tarn felt brutal. The cold was tightening my chest, the rain making the never ending rocky steps treacherously slippy and the occasional runner overtaking me knocking my confidence. Eventually I popped out at the tarn, where the route temporarily flattens. I wanted to ease off a bit, but was spurred on by some hikers deciding to run along with the group, determined to overtake them I kept on pushing. After and all too short respite on the flat it was back to the rocky ascent up the side of Pavey Ark and my pace retuned to a power walk, with the odd scramble to keep things interesting. As the rain finally stopped I looked up and couldn’t help but slow down to get a picture of the view over the Coniston fells, a beautiful, but brief break before returning to the grind and the comparatively disappointing view of my wet and muddy feet. 

As the climb finally started to ease, the fell opened out and changed from rock to bog. All ready wet feet became even wetter and my pace slowed as each step sucked me ankle deep into the soft ground. After a little push to reach the summit of Thunacar Knott the race finally turned downhill. My momentum built up, faster and faster, taking back some places I had lost on the climb I got into a real rhythm. I even managed to avoid getting waist deep in bog on the notorious Martcrag Moor. Continuing to bound down the hill I felt fantastic, I had no idea what kind of position I was in but I just felt good! 

Then disaster struck. I slipped, slid along for a bit and popped back up, seemingly no harm done and no places lost I continued downwards. Then I looked at my wrist. Hanging on to my paper wrist band was half of the dibber needed for the checkpoints. The other half lodged somewhere in the mud, back up the hill! I had just turned around to retrace my steps, when I heard another runner yelling out the exact same thing had just happened to him. We jogged back up the hill carefully examining the ground while trying to dodge the seemingly hundreds of runners that were flying down past us. It was a bitter sweet feeling to see I was actually pretty far up the field but knowing it would be impossible to get that back now. I seemed to spend an eternity staring intently at the ground, having to repeatedly explain “broke my dibber” to every concerned runner speeding past. Eventually my luck turned, my dibber-less companion and I found them, barely sticking out of the mud, god knows how not one of the passing runners had stood on them, pushing them deeper into the earth, never to be found. 

With the dibber stuffed securely in my pocket I set off, keen to make up for lost time, overtaking a good 15 people before the race once again went skywards. I gradually worked my way past another handful of people, but was all too aware I still needed to pace myself, there was no point in burning out now, still less than halfway round the course. The rest of the climb to the next checkpoint at Esk Hause was uneventful, aside from having to haul myself, waist deep, out of yet more bog, but it seemed like that was just par for the course today. 

After reaching the checkpoint I turned around and began the traverse across the slopes of Esk Pike. Wet grass, wet rocks, and a permanently off camber surface made for slow going across what initially looked like a relatively innocuous part of the course. Up ahead I could see the orange and green of another Bowland vest and with a target to aim for I upped my pace along the rocky ascent to Bowfell. Just as I arrived at the summit I reached my target. Now deep in the clag, and still unsure about the lines across the impending Crinkle Crag ridge, I was glad to be able to tag along with Leigh, known to my dad as ‘Claggy’ for his ability to navigate all the ins and outs of the fells even in the most confusing of fog. 

By this point my legs were heavy and I could feel my energy fading. I couldn’t tell you much about the climb to Crinkle Crags because honestly, I was just focusing on following the shoes in front of me. After hitting the summit, I headed off West to avoid the ‘bad step’ and began the amazing descent down to Red Tarn. The mist cleared revealing the fantastic views ahead and the grassy trod at the side of the path was a welcome break from the uneven rocky terrain. The gradient was just steep enough for me to let go, but not too steep that my legs couldn’t keep up. However, all to quickly the blissful downhill running was over and the final climb of the day up Pike O’Blisco was upon me.

Like usual, the final climb of the day is where my legs gave up and I was reduced to a slow plod, wearily putting one leg in front of the other, no longer trying to gain places, just trying to avoid getting overtaken. I reached the summit and headed off down, still tagging onto Leigh keen to follow his lines. Just as I was getting back into a bit of a rhythm Leigh darted off down a trod I was unfamiliar with, but I blindly followed anyway. I eventually came out onto a steep grassy ledge and before I knew it my feet had gone from under me and I was sent sprawling down a 10ft high drop praying for dear life that I wouldn’t break anything! To my relief, I bounced back up from the fall and was able to carry on, all be it a bit shaken up. Leigh later remarked I’d better sign a waiver next time I decide to follow him! I looked down at my throbbing legs and saw blood running down both, but nothing that looked too serious. I then looked at my finger and was surprised to see half my nail hanging off, with blood pouring out from underneath. Resisting the urge to gag, I carried on. I had planned to just nurse it home now, but after crossing the road at Blea Tarn I headed down the final bit of descent and couldn’t help but pick up some momentum for one final push to the finish. I clocked in at 2hours 55minutes and 37seconds. A time to be proud of, all things considered, but the satisfaction was tainted with the lingering feeling of unfinished business. Looking back on Strava I discovered I lost around 5minutes looking for my dibber. Enough time to comfortably bump me into the top 100, but at the end of the day I guess it just makes it easier for me to get a PB next time, and the frustration was nothing that a post-race pie and a pint couldn’t fix! 



One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2019 4:43 pm

    Great write up. Well done.

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