Hutton Roof Crags Fell Race.
A bank holiday treat of a stunning fell race on the cusp of the Cumbrian borders – what more could you ask for? Possibly a bit of cloud cover, a helicopter to bypass the M6 chaos, Appelby to be at a different time of year? Wishful thinking…
Kit packed and ready to go, I always find it part of my ‘good’ race preparation to pack all that I need a few days before a race when I can. Working full time and doing lots of other running things during the week I can often be last minute. The weather is set to be glorious but, I never take a risk where kit is concerned. I always ask myself the question…would I want to get all the way to registration to be told, no racing as you’ve no kit? Interestingly, I’m always fascinated when people talk about the weather and if they will need kit. The race director makes that call, which I’m not, so, I don’t take the risk
Let’s rewind a year…
Setting the scene – Hutton Roof fell race, 2.30pm start, glorious sunshine, new FRA rules came into force for this event. So, having just made registration (with 1 minute to go and to get to the start at the top of a field), no toilet opportunity, and what seemed to be nearly 300 runners, where were my Red Rose buddies? Still stuck on the M6, I’m on my own being counted over a starting corral (orange plastic barriers) and ushered to the side. I worked out I was number 13, but I was told number 28, something went wrong somewhere. Counting through hot runners chomping at the bit to be set free made me somewhat nervous. Men were removing vests, chatter quietened and the Race Director began to explain why they were counting runners through. Nobody was really interested, lots of grumbling could be heard and some protests at being held in the pen. What am I involved in? This didn’t happen at Aggie’s staircase, Winckle Trout, Windy hill, too late now…
2016 starting corral. My buddies have made the journey – yay! Some taking over two hours to travel from Preston, today will be a good day!! With a grand turnout of 18 runners and the start of the Inter Club Fell Championship to consider, today’s run needed to count. It was lovely to see some new faces, Emma Plant trying out her first fell race and James Simon running his first ever event in a red vest. Great additions to the teams as they both finished first for Red Rose.
After a ‘brief’ briefing, we were off, starting in a different section of the field than in 2015, three runners went down within 10 metres of starting. I turned to see Debbie’s face and she looked ill. One of the ‘fallen’ got dragged up I’m not quite sure what happened to the others, I just felt I needed to keep going forward and fast! Out of the field and up the finish straight and onto the first climb. Many runners overtaking and jostling to get past, my aim to not use up everything in the tank on the first mile. I knew how much climbing was left to come.
Once you break out onto the first ‘roof’ the sense of relief when you hit the grass is great. Softer underfoot and you don’t feel hemmed in by other runners. Jim was behind me, reminding me to be careful with my energy, the man’s a mountain goat and so fit at the moment. We were running at good pace and the sun was on our backs, this race was going to be brutal in different ways from Great Hamel – don (windy, cold and raining). We soon spotted Sal on the top, shouting us on, approximately two miles covered and being in the wooded area meant a break from the direct sun. Still no breeze but, paying attention to tree roots and narrow trails meant you covered distance so quickly. Jim went on in front after giving me water and wishing me well. He had seen a local scalp in front, those Clayton runners get everywhere!
On my own I remembered that I needed to pay attention coming out of the woods, this is where I went wrong last year and got lost. This year’s race had better markings on the ground. What could go wrong?
Bill Beckett from Chorley glided past me, Bill behind me? It turned out he got stuck in traffic and was 10 minutes late starting. He seemed totally un-phased and smiled and wished me well, disappearing into the distance. Approaching the exit to the woods I knew the junction approaching took me back down to the village, this time it was marked. Last year I took the right turn, this year the arrow told me to go left. I’ve nailed it, but, I somehow wished I hadn’t…
The ascent, covered in scree, with a path (of sorts) that sat on the edge of the climb was so difficult. Once again, (Mearley Clough was the last similar but shorter race) I found myself taking a few seconds break on the climb up to gather my breath, and have a quick chat with others behind me, in an attempt to support each other. Chunks of ground kept falling away from the edge and I needed to keep focus and not look back down or talk. This is fell racing.
Finally making it to the top and there was a trusty marshal. Across some undulations (unable to get any real speed going) and the Thornton runners who had caught me on the climb had slowed down. Only three or so miles to go, limestone rocks to negotiate on a small descent saw me take advantage of my Thornton buddies and I made my escape. Down across a field and the oasis in the limestone desert lay in front of me. Some obliging girls encouraged me to drink as much as I needed. I poured several cups over my back and arms and off again, I’m being caught.
Back into more woodland and yet more undulations and I can feel hot breath on my shoulder, one of the three Thornton bunch have caught me up again, and overtakes like a stealth bomber, this is game on now. Yet more woodland and I noticed my competitor is a bit hesitant on the descents, not the roots and soft ground but the rocks and scree. Here’s my chance.
Becoming familiar with my surroundings I expected to see Ray, Sal and the Royle family any time soon. The descent needs to count as Thornton are now part of our Inter Club championships. There were three but I can only ‘feel’ one and she’s female. The descent has finally begun, I over take a Preston Harrier over lots of rock, scree, puddles and narrowing path, perfect. I spot Ray and I know I have to find the 6th gear to finish this. At the point of reaching the camera lens I jump over a rock and pass a Thornton vest. I figured I had about ½ mile to go. How wrong, a total misjudgement but, too late, the descent is fast and technical. My legs just won’t turn over any faster and Gareth and Barry are on their way back up the climb (a quick check to see if my rival is on my tail Gareth tells me I’m clear), so I figured I’m not that far from home. Wrong again! The descent continued and flattened out and I can see the path we climbed on the first few miles. About 800 metres I reckoned and safely home. Breathing like a hunted buffalo I’m done, peaking too soon and my legs gave up. I can see the flagged finish having passed Daisy Royle paparazzi extraordinaire, very cleverly crouching on the last little ‘lump’ in the course and at 7.5 miles Debbie arrived to run me in. It hurt.
It is always great to finish, great to take a scalp or two in a race, but nothing can beat the feeling of achievement and pushing yourself to the limit. This race did that at every opportunity, but, it was worth it and I suspect I will be back for a third time next year!
The Red Rose ladies team won an honourable 6th place amongst all the ladies teams on the day. Emma Plant, Debbie Porter and myself counting in the team for the day. We have secured our first win for the Inter Club fell series and I look forward to the second meeting in June on the infamous staircase in the Far East. Has this blog put the fell bug in your feet? If so, check out the competition competition calendar on the Red Rose website and get your kit ready!