Well I tried!

I might've mentioned... The Fellsman is pretty much my favourite race in the world. It’s long, tough, low key, (relatively) cheap and has a long and fascinating history. And after a couple of years off, it was great to see the race back this year.

After winning the last race in 2019 I would have the honour of wearing race number 1, so though it’s now a long way from home there was no way I wasn’t going to be there! In the weeks leading up to the race I finally got the trophies engraved and tried to brush up on the route. Recces weren’t possible so I’d have to rely on my memory and mapreading, neither of which are renowned.

Last minute revision
 

After the trip up on Friday, I got my kit signed off then retired to the car faff with it, eat some dinner and sleep. A week or so before the race my pile of food suffered when Buddy got into the room and ate a quite incredible amount of stuff in a very short period of time. 3 Yorkies, 3 Snickers bars, at least one flapjack and a good pile of others all disappeared. Clearly no-one has told him that dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate but having eaten about 9000 calories in one go had absolutely no effect on him.

"Pass us that Yorkie will ya?"

My training had been shorter and faster than the Fellsman, and I hadn’t run on tussocks since I was last on Dartmoor, but I’d done some great races with my new mates from Falmouth Road Runners, including the excellent Freedom Racing KVK and Res an Hellys. My last run before pre-race plodding was a 5 mile tarmac time trial with the club, so though I was running OK I knew I was lacking in distance and terrain. I knew that I was unlikely to defend the title, but on race day I decided the only thing to do was go out hard and see what happened.

001. License to go out too fast.

The short version is that what happened is exactly what you could’ve predicted.... I went out fast with the fast guys, hung on for a while, then went backwards as I gradually dragged myself to the finish.

It was great to see my friend Oli Johnson from Dark Peak Fell Runners at the start. Oli is a fantastic runner (he won the Monte Rosa ultra last year as well as many other things, not least an international orienteering career) and it was nice to be able to run for team Dark Peak again, with Laurence Piercy as our third member. The other fast guy was Damian Hall. You have probably heard of him; he’s really quite good at running and is a nice man too (and a fellow member of The Green Runners). As we gathered for the start there were many other fast-looking people and the usual race nerves returned.

 

At 8 the race organiser Shona gave us a quick welcome talk then we were off. I never get the right route out of the field so as usual about 20 people popped out in front of us when the options converged. By the time we left the village and started to climb Inglebrough there were about 6 of us at the front – A few people I didn’t know, Oli, Damian, Laurence, Tim Martin, and Adam Worallo I think. The run up to Inglebrough was lovely. The sun was shining and everyone was lovely and friendly. We chatted about running, races and rounds. By the top of Inglebrough we had spread out a little. I was with Oli and Damian. Oli cut off earlier than I have done in the past to miss the rocky steps from the summit. I turned later but the three of us were together by the Hill Inn checkpoint. Chatting to Damian about Runners against Rubbish had put me in a litterpicking frame of mind and I picked up a bag of dog poo on the descent, which I quickly regretted and was pleased to get rid of at the checkpoint.

Two of these people are comfortable.
 

We left Hill Inn, confused the Three Peaks Race marshals setting up their checkpoint, and set off up Whernside. On the way up we saw the amazing Beth Pascall (cheering Damo and supporting her sister and husband). Next are the climbs of Gragareth and Great Coum. The first was steep and horrible as ever, but notable this year as there were people climbing Gregareth but not as part of the Fellsman, i.e. by their own volition. I can only assume they thought it was one of the three peaks.

An hour or so later we were nearing Dent. Damian and Oli were a little in front of me and I wondered if the elastic was stretching. There was no-one in sight behind now, and the time suggested we were going pretty quickly. Looking at 2019 times I think we were actually a little slower, but it felt like we were working a lot harder. It was hot!

Refueling with Melon at Dent

I rejoined them as we left the checkpoint with bottles full of juice and faces full of melon. The road section from Dent passed quickly but it was now really warming up and I felt myself slipping off their pace. As we hit the climb up to Boot of the Wold they gradually eased away. I probably knew my chances of winning again were gone but it seemed rude not to keep trying.

For the next few hours I just kept trying to keep moving at a decent pace, get the lines right and enjoy myself. It was a lovely day, quite hot but manageable. The fields were full of lambs and my parents were out to support me again, which was lovely. A guy called Sam a few places behind me also had support from his incredibly enthusiastic partner and family, who gave me a great boost every time too!

One of my favourite sections of the race is down to the Stonehouse checkpoint then up, under the viaduct and the out-and-back on Great Knoutberry. This is also a great place to measure your gaps. Damian and Oli were about 15-20 minutes ahead of me here, and there was a similar gap behind to a worryingly large group, slightly spread out over a few minutes. This included Sam, Fiona Pascall, and James White.

Rightly or wrongly, I knew the front of the race had gone this time. Maybe if I’d had my 2019 fitness I could’ve chased a bit, but even so Oli and Damian had run a sensible race and broken me early on, so it didn’t feel possible. I really enjoy running on my own and it was great to be back in North Yorkshire and have the support of my parents every couple of hours – the rest of the race was great. The next major checkpoint was Redshaw where Carmine de Grandis offered encouragement and after seeing my salty mess of a face told me I really needed to drink more! Thanks Carmine.

 

The loooooong road section to Yockenthwaite (which it sadly, though unavoidably, seems will now be a permanent part of the race) was a bit tough going and was not helped by the fact I’d put fruit cocktail in my water bottle at a checkpoint and now had cherries stuck in my nozzle, but it was getting a bit cooler now and starting to rain.

As I climbed the last bit to the self-clip checkpoint I spotted Fiona behind me, and over the next half hour or so her, Sam and James gradually got closer. We ran together on-and-off, with James a little behind. I think it was on the Buckden Pike climb that Fiona and Sam finally put the hammer down and dropped me, but I was pleased to be on my own again and concentrating on the nav rather than following someone following a GPX (no disrespect, I am just trying to improve my mapreading!). I thought I recognised the face in a tent at the Buckden checkpoint but it took me till the descent to remember it was Joe Faulkner – sorry Joe!

Leaving Cray for Buckden with Sam and Fiona
 

Fiona and Sam were running really well and soon disappeared. James was behind me and the positions looked settled at Capplestone Gate. Then I messed up, followed a wall for a little too long and drifted off left. Once back on track I could see James in front. I did try to catch him but he caught a second wind and was running really well. I got to Yarnbury just after 8:30 pm, about an hour and 10 minutes down on last year. Just the trot down into Grassington then round to Threshfield to go. I think I could still see James on the first road section but the gap wasn’t changing.

I got all reflective on the last run in – my run this year had been unspectacular and absolutely predictable, but I was pleased I had tried. If I had run a sensible race maybe I could’ve been a bit quicker? But I would’ve always wondered what could have been. This way I knew I had tried and the best runners had won, and I actually feel more pleased about my run in 2019 now.

 

Ooooh look how steely and focussed I was. 2019 (l) and 2022 (r)

So there we go. Damian and Oli finished joint first in 11:23. Sam finished third in 12:07. Fiona Pascall was first woman and 4th overall in 12:08, James was 5th in 12:26 and I was 6th a minute later. Our original Ingleborough fun bus group were spread over the next three hours or so, including Laurence in 15th place, meaning we won the team prize for Dark Peak.

 

James and I at the finish

The Fellsman is STILL my favourite race, the organisers are STILL fantastic and lovely, it still retains its mad balance between a proper serious fell race and a big Scout hike, and I absolutely love it.

Thanks as ever to Mum and Dad for coming out to support (and for most of the photos), everyone else who cheered or cared, and to Scott who gave me so much gear I’m still working through it. Congratulations to the nicest men in running, and cheers for letting me join you for a bit. Next time I’ll try to be there at the end.


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