Are we having fun yet?
There was a suggestion box at the Fellsman this year. I spotted it as I staggered towards the showers about an hour after finishing, took a little piece of paper from the pile and wrote "I BLOODY LOVE THE FELLSMAN!".
When the organisers open the box they may well think this was written by a drunken child with a pencil loosely taped to its broken fingers, but it was actually written by a very happy person who just rediscovered what he loves about racing.
It's been a while since I properly enjoyed a race, but there were numerous occasions during this race when I stuck my arms out and for a moment just ran for the love of it. There were also moments when my legs hurt, I felt sick, I didn't know where I was going, I didn't want there to be 5 hours of running left, but the overall level of enjoyment was high on Saturday.
Anyway, the race: The Fellsman is more accurately described as a very long fell race (an AVL?) than an ultra, because it allows route choice for most of it, because it's been going for ages, and because it feels more like a village-hall based event than a slick modern ultra with people in compression calf skins (nowt wrong with any of that, just saying...). It's run by an amazing and dedicated group of volunteers from the Scout organisation, and I would like to say here (at the top of the blog for once) a massive thank you to them for doing an awesome job yet again!
I was back for the first time since 2014. Having looked back at my results it turned out I've been 6th and 4th twice in recent years, in 11:57, 11:25 and 12:18. Those years the race was won by Jez Bragg (11:02), Adam Perry (10:34), and Adam and Kim Collison holding hands (10:51).
I like to split long races into three. This works quite nicely for The Fellsman as it seems to naturally split itself up this way, punctuated by the big checkpoints at Dent and Cray. These divide the route into the up, the along, and the down, as well as into three 20-mile(ish) sections, so that's how we're going to talk about it...
Part 1: Ingleton to Dent.
I wake up in the van at 5, get my stuff together and get on a minibus to the finish, where I get on a bigger bus to the start. On the bus I talk to a nice man who knows Jo Meek and has previously ran marathons in brogues. Embarrassingly I have forgotten his name.
At the start I queue up for kit check again, having failed last night (after some queuing there too) due to the lack of a whistle. Anyway, I pay £3 for a whistle which means I end up with loads of change, so I decide to buy a coffee to use it up. Coffee is 50p, so I end up with even more change. Decide to give up and just get ready to run.
|How could you not be excited about a day running through the Dales?!|
Here I spot Tom Gibbs (hero world champion adventure racer and super-fast fell runner). He's not long back from a mega crash in a race and shows off his massive knee scar. We decide to enter a team with a mate of his called Neil Talbott. Neil is fast too. Team entries close at 8:15 so we faff for a while looking for a 4th member, then call ourselves "The 8:14 to Threshfield"
OK, now we actually start...
Neil and a man called Lawrence (MCL) set off up Inglebrough like it's the only hill in the race. I run behind them and pretend I'm comfortable. They gradually pull away, but I'm pulling away from Tom and everyone else much quicker, which is a bad plan.
After the top I remember how much I dislike the descent off Inglebrough, it's all rocky and steep and I'm crap at it. The fact Tom doesn't catch me shows only how stupidly fast I went up the other side. I'm on my own through Hill Inn (looking splendid ready for the 3 Peaks Race), I can see Neil and MCL in the distance on the way up Whernside, and they whizz past me on the out-and-back at the top. I see loads of people after the top, which is oddly reassuring. The view is amazing and the grin is face-wide.
Gragareth. Less grinning (it's a horrible hill). I climb up it, then cross the tricky ground to Great Coum and down to the Flinter Gill checkpoint before the knee-wrecking descent to Dent...
EVERYONE knows you need to feel good at Dent.
|Looking slightly unhinged upon arrival at Dent|
How do I feel at Dent?
Pretty good actually, and my parents are there so I forget everything else and all is well!
Despite having far too much food with me I pick up some checkpoint food and set off up the road with it. About 3:25 to this point.
Part 2: Dent to Cray.
The checkpoint Melon is delicious, I wish I'd got more. I have a gel too. I can see MCL on the way up the long climb to Blea Moor. It's a long climb but almost runnable, so I almost run up it.
After the top of Blea Moor I make my first major nav error... I go the long way round the plantation and have to come in on the main track to Mossy Bottom.
|Plan (left) vs actual (right) route around Mossy Bottom.|
As I eventually get back on track I look across and can see three runners descending from the Blea Moor checkpoint, so I know Tom, probably uber-consistent Simon Bourne, and someone else, aren't far behind. Assuming they haven't already passed me... I was a little worried that I might get to Stonehouse and find I'd already been passed.
Mum and Dad were there again and I had another very quick chat with them and little dog Willow as I grabbed some food (cheese sandwich I think) and headed off on another great section of the route. Anyone who has the Harveys Lake District 1:40,000 map, this is where the picture of Mark Hartell on the back was taken. It's another one of those climbs you really need to run, so I ran as much of it as I could and it wasn't long before the second and final out-and-back of the route.
|Doing the Fell Track thing at Stonehouse|
Next comes the famous couple of legs over the epic trackless bog and tussocks of Fleet Moss and Middle Tongue. Actually that's not quite true, before that we passed checkpoints 12 (Redshaw), 13 (Snaizeholme), and 14 (Dodd Fell). I don't remember much about the first two, but I do remember the climb to Dodd Fell as this is where I nearly caught MCL. I was feeling reasonably good and the weather was lovely, but every time I tried to move past him he had a slightly better line and would nip past me again, so we yo-yo'ed (not sure about the grammar there) all the way to Fleet Moss. Mum and Dad were here again which was great, I was the front yo-yo at this point which they seemed to like, but there was nothing in it as MCL and I set off over Fleet Moss together.
My line was OK but not great, his was better, but I was moving quicker, so by the time we reached Cray (8:45 from the start) we were still together.
Part 3: Cray to Threshfield
After Cray there are only two climbs, then a long descent to the finish. The first climb is Buckden Pike, and like the second one it's only a couple of hundred metres. I felt good and nipped out of Cray checkpoint ahead of MCL. The fields to the bottom of the climb always seem like hard work and today was no different, but soon I was at the top with yet another fantastically-cheery checkpoint crew. After Top Mere and the last big roadside checkpoint at Park Rash I felt like it was basically all over, just a quick trot up Great Whernside then a cruise downhill to the end. Yeah right!
|Polish war memorial on Buckden Pike|
The climb was the least of my problems: I felt pretty good and it's only 200m anyway, and it was an absolutely stunning evening. I felt privileged to be out, and to have been out all day. As I climbed I noticed 10:06 on my watch - that's Jez's record. [Insert O.M.G. emoji here]
After the descent I messed up the line around Langcliffe Pot, and was actually saved slightly by seeing MCL on a higher line a bit behind me, so I climbed back up and managed to stay just in front. Between checkpoints 23 and 24 I had my lowest point of the race, the terrain is much tougher than the map makes it look, and after 11 hours or so of running I struggled to keep up the pace on tussocky boggy stuff. The Fellsman wasn't done with me yet! I couldn't believe I hadn't been passed, but on finally reaching Yarnbury I discovered I was still second.
Now there were just a couple of tarmac kilometres left to go, and I REALLY didn't want to cock it up and lose my position now. I tried to distract myself from the leg pain by thinking back through all the checkpoints and remembering the really nice bits of the race, but I lacked the capacity so had to just focus on running. Grassington actually arrived fairly soon and I was astounded by the reception from random people all whoopin' and a'hollarin' outside the pubs, and Nick Ham taking photos. I made me a little bit emotional!
|MCL not far behind on one of the last climbs (Buckden Pike I think)|
After Grassington you cross the river Wharfe and climb up the last 100m or so into Threshfield. I always hate it but always force myself to run the hill, not least because there tends to be someone with a camera! It was lovely to see Mum here again. I crossed the road for a high 5 but she had her hands full of camera and dog. A few seconds later I ran in through the school gates, saw Dad and crossed the line.
|Photo Bob Smith / Grough.co.uk|
11:44. To be honest I hoped I'd be a bit quicker, even towards the end of the race I would've guessed I'd be quicker, but that section from Park Rash to Yarnbury must not be underestimated! I ended up about half an hour behind Neil, and I 20 mins or so ahead of MCL. Tom was 4th, and Simon Bourne joint 5th with CWG I think.
I had a chat with Mum and Dad which was nice after basically ignoring them all day, then a shower, a massage and some food. The massage really helped my recovery I think, it's only Monday night now and I can do stairs properly again and everything.
Congratulations Neil on a win that never looked in doubt, and thanks MCL for a great race. When I was 4th or 6th I would have loved to be second, and I am really happy with the position and my race, but I love the Fellsman and I am determined to win it!
Thanks as ever to Stu Hale for coaching and stopping me be an idiot, Scott for awesome kit that you can wear out of the box without worrying, LJ for encouragement and support (well done on your own distance record on Sunday!), and Mum, Dad and Willow for defying the laws of time and the roads of the Yorkshire Dales to get to as many checkpoints as you did (and taking great photos). Who said running isn't a team sport!
One final thing I must mention...
John Vernon ran the Fellsman in 1968, and yesterday finished again in 2018. Wowzers.
A few things I have not mentioned because this is already waaaay too long...
- 5(!) long sleeved tops
- The just-in-time arrival of the Middle Tongue checkpoint
- Mark actual Hartell