Jez Bragg knows my name!

I first ran the Fellsman in 2008 in a time of about 18 hours. It was by far the hardest race I'd ever run and I was in awe of the winner, Mark Hartell. After winning the race most years since 1995, this was the final year of Mark's domination, and 2009 saw Jez Bragg claim his first victory. That year my time was 16:21 and I still could not comprehend the speed of the guys at the front - I remember running after grouping in the later stages of the race, talking about how the leaders would get back in time to have dinner in the pub while we were still miles from the finish.

So with all that in my not-too-distant memory it felt a bit strange to be chatting to Jez as we climbed Gragareth this year. Soon after the start six of us had pulled away from the main group on the way up Inglebrough: Adam Perry, Kim Collison, Jez Bragg, Stuart Mills, a guy who's name I'm afraid I don't know (Mr. Salomon will do for now), and I. We jogged up the track and walked the steeper fell to the top of the climb. It was pretty claggy on top and we couldn't see much, so started the descent tentatively. Adam, Kim and Salomon had launched themselves off the top on the more direct route and pushed hard to get a gap on us, so much so that by the time we emerged onto the flagstones at the bottom we could only see them in the distance. Simon Bourne caught up with Stuart, Jez and I by doing the same route and we ran together through Hill Inn and onto Whernside. Simon dropped back a bit later and by the time we passed through Kingsdale there were three of us again. Here I was surprised (pleasantly of course!) to see my parents, who appeared a few times during the race. It was great to have some support out there so thanks very much Mum and Dad!
Leaving Kingsdale checkpoint
After the steep climb of Gregareth comes a long ridge run along to Great Coum, followed by a wet descent to Flinter Gill. This is the area where I had some stomach problems last year and I was disappointed to have similar issues in pretty much the same place this year. Jez was clearly running easily, I had managed to stick with him up to this point and we had pulled out a gap on Stuart Mills, with the other three still in front. But after I made a few quick stops Jez was getting away from me and by the time we descended Flinter Gill into Dent he was out of sight - and probably glad to be rid of me as he had done most of the running at the front!

A quick stop at Dent
As I arrived in Dent Jez was just leaving, so I grabbed water as quickly as I could and kept going - I knew the next section well enough so I wasn't looking to follow someone, but I also knew that running together for as long as possible would push me a little bit more and help me get a better time in the end. By the Boot of the Wold however, the gap had grown and I was pretty much on my own over Blea Moor and down into Stonehouse. As I left Stonehouse I saw two people in blue approaching the checkpoint, Chris Perry and Alex Pilkington, so I ran as hard as I could up to the Great Knoutberry junction in the hope that they might walk some of the climb. Jez was coming off Knoutberry as I set off up it, and I caught Mr Salomon just as we turned at the top. We saw 5 or 6 people on the way down so I knew the gap behind was not a big one!

Ribblehead Viaduct
I ran pretty well for the next few hours, on my own and trying to pull away from those behind me. I think I knew at this point that the first three were gone but I definitely didn't want to get caught. The checkpoints at Redshaw, Snaizeholme and Dodd Fell arrived eventually, then I dropped down to Fleet Moss for the infamous section across the bog... It's not actually that bad if you know a decent line - which I did after a recce with Adam and Matt Neale a few weeks before. I didn't hit the line perfectly but near enough to avoid losing too much time.

I had decided my stomach problems were caused by a the rucksack waist strap so was running with it undone and vowed to get myself one of those little packs with the pockets on the front (more on this later...) I was eating again and running well, then came Middle Tongue: The checkpoint wasn't there! I was sure I was in the right place as there's a little wooden post, but after spending about 15 minutes running around the area shouting there was no sign of anyone. Chris and Alex arrived with another guy and we spent five or ten more minutes searching to no avail, before deciding we'd have to carry on and see what happened. I was pretty annoyed to have lost my hard-earned gap on the guys, and not knowing about the checkpoint made it hard to stay focussed on the race - maybe I'd be disqualified anyway!

Running round in circles...
As a four we made our way towards checkpoint 17, then I spotted a couple of people walking in the opposite direction about 40m below us. I shouted to them but over the wind I couldn't hear their response so descended the fellside to see them. With relief we found that they were indeed the checkpoint staff, who had been in the wrong place but were now on their way - phew! The race was back on and I wanted to re-establish my gap to the other three. Alex basically told me to sod off (cheers) so I pushed on to 17 and then down the track to Cray.

Right, two climbs to go: Buckden Pike and Great Whernside. I felt good out of Cray and set off across the fields to the base of Buckden. This felt like a long run in and I was relieved to be on the climb. I seem to always run reasonably well in this last 15 - 20 mile section of the race and actually enjoy the last two climbs, though both are pretty big (about 300m of ascent each). At the top of Buckden I was told "You're fourth, but I'm afraid the gap is massive", but it was a beautiful evening and I tried to work hard and consolidate my position. After the descent of Buckden I don't think I took a brilliant line to Park Rash, but I got there. Mum and Dad were there again (having been for a walk up Whernside in the meantime) which was nice.

Arriving in Park Rash
The climb up Great Whernside looks big from the checkpoint, though it's not actually that bad. I looked up as I jogged out and saw a luminous green spot near the top - maybe it was Jez? I'm still not sure. The bottom section of the climb was muddy but soon dried out and the gradual climb began. I saw the photographer on the way up (who must've also had a very long day - not sure how he got to so many places!) and felt good as I jogged up to the top of the climb.

A little dot on it's way up Great Whernside
Off the top and two checkpoints left, the run down to Capplestone Gate felt a long way through the rough and wet ground, but looking round I couldn't see anyone so hoped I had done enough to keep fourth place. I knew my time wasn't looking good though, it was going to take me over 12 hours to finish the race, at least half an hour longer than last year! It's always a pleasure to get to the section from Capplestone to Yarnbury which is marked with flags, safe(ish) in the knowledge that there's almost no navigation left. Finally I reached Yarnbury, with only about 3km of road left down into Grassington then around the corner to Threshfield.

The road run was as uncomfortable as it always is, but I put the map away to avoid ticking off every little feature and just tried to get on with it. Grassington eventually arrived, I was nearly tripped over by a person with a dog on a long lead across the road but made it out and down to the bridge. The tiny little climb was hard work but Mum was watching so I kept it going and finally ran into the school to finish.

I think my time was about 12:15, which is a bit slow but nevermind. I did hold on to 4th and had a reasonable gap to Chris Perry who came in next. The gaps in front of me were indeed massive, Adam and Kim ran in together in 10:53 I think, with Jez 35 or so minutes later. Well done guys.

As always, the race was totally brilliant. The Fellsman is a truly classic race and despite the pain I did occasionally take a moment to look around and see the amazing scenery of the Dales. Thanks very much to all the organisers, checkpoint staff and other competitors who make it what it is, and of course to Mum and Dad for coming out on the day to support me! Cheers also to Adam and Matt for showing me the line across Fleet Moss.

Adam and Kim (
Thanks also to The North Face, who sponsor the race, for the great prizes we received for winning the team prize this year. Including one of those posh little rucksacks with the pockets on the front - hopefully I can cross the Great Coum section without incident next year!

So, 6 years after I first "raced" the Fellsman, I sat in the pub on Saturday evening. I have done this for the last couple of years, but this year I felt I had been part of the race at the front (for a while at least) and it made me think of that very long night out in 2008 when I could never have believed it... Hence the title of this post (I hope Jez doesn't mind!).

Next year I want to be in that race all the way round.


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