Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge

You have to love a trig point. When out on the hills, they usually mean the end of the climbing, an excuse for a break and the best view. They also tell you definitively where you are – a reassuring navigational presence. Originally functional concrete pillars, they have become icons of the pre-digital age of cartography, and symbolic of the wild places…

But trig points are everywhere, including in the city. And whilst urban trigs may not be quite as glamorous as some of their rural cousins, it’s nice to be reminded of the hills when going about your day-to-day business in town. So, I’ve devised a roughly 9-mile off-road running challenge for us North Leeds-types that links (in a rough triangle, appropriately enough) the 3 trig points spanning the Meanwood Valley – at Scotthall, Tunnel How Hill and Stairfoot Lane. Thus, the Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge. Why not give it a crack sometime?3-trig-map.jpgI’ll try and keep “rules” as such to a minimum:

  • Start at any of the 3 trigs, visit the other two in any order and return to your start point.
  • Choose your own route, but as far as possible it should be off-road, apart from obvious road crossings and the bit of Stairfoot Lane to the trig and back. Thus, if starting at Scotthall, I imagine you will broadly go via Sugarwell Hill, Woodhouse Ridge and the Meanwood Valley Trail, but the detail is up to you (and part of the fun). If you really want to run straight up Scotthall Road and King Lane I can’t stop you, but the spirit of this challenge is soft ground, avoiding traffic and knowledge of the ins and outs of the Meanwood Valley.
  • If you don’t know the precise location of the Tunnel How Hill and Stairfoot Lane trigs, recce them in advance! Their location is not immediately obvious…
  • …Compare with the Scotthall trig, one of the most “visited” in the country. For safety’s sake, don’t cross Scotthall Road to visit the trig itself – the metal pedestrian gate onto the playing field opposite is sufficient.
  • Take care at the numerous other road crossings. I take no responsibility should you get killed or injured when undertaking this challenge….

OK, to get the ball rolling, I’ve set a benchmark today and recorded it on Strava, although thanks to some wobbly satellites I’ve created a slightly more accurate representation of the route I chose here. If not using Strava, let me know how you get on using the Comments box below or social media – I will keep a list of attempts (which may later become a “leaderboard”) below. Have fun, and any feedback on this idea, route selection etc is much appreciated. If sharing, please use the hashtag #MV3TCscotthallstravaScreen Shot 2018-11-28 at 17.57.00

Attempts so far

26 November 2018. Dave Middlemas. 1:16:50

30 November. Jonathan Coney. 1:28:02

30 November. Dave Middlemas (headtorch run). 1:27:56

2 December. Matt Armstrong. 1:40:05

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Running diary – Nov 18

… following on from Running diary – Oct 18

Thurs 1 Nov

Ran another loop of the old railway line in Norfolk. Heavy rain meant specs-off, which at least made it more of an adventure.

I’ve joined the real world at last and bought my first smartphone.

Sat 3 Nov

Ran Woodhouse Moor parkrun in 18.25, a new parkrun PB. The narrow path means lots of overtaking on lap 3, so you probably run a bit more than 5k. I do a parkrun every 6 months or so as it’s a good indicator of where your running’s at, so to speak. But not really my kind of running.

Sun 4 Nov

Cop Hill Fell Race – more my thing. And a chance to use my new Striders vest, which has arrived in the post, replacing my old washed-out one. At least I may get a few “come on Striders” now!

First did this race years ago, when I lived in Huddersfield. One of the gentler fell races in the calendar – more a hilly multi-terrain really – but nonetheless a worthwhile event. As usual, knowledge of the course an advantage, in this case a 2-lap race. Benign conditions helped me to a course PB by a couple of minutes – 42.37. 15th out of 145.

Tues 6 Nov

I’m back volunteering at YHA Keswick for the next couple of weeks (I did a similar stint this time last year). In amongst all the bed-changing and bog-scrubbing there should be ample scope for running – the fells are on the doorstep and almost all colleagues are mad fellrunners. Indeed, they have helped set me up on Strava and sent me off on a circuit of their invention – from the Latrigg car park, up the Skiddaw path to Jenkin Hill, then a fast descent down Lonscale Fell and back along the track. Miraculously, I successfully upload my first activity!

Wed 7 Nov

A rare double-running day. Before my housekeeping shift, up through quiet woods to the top of Latrigg and back. Later, a short test-out of a newly-purchased headtorch, which should open up lots more options.

Thurs 8 Nov

Tagged along with Keswick AC’s evening session – a few road intervals in heavy rain. Their best runners disappear into the far distance….

Sat 10 Nov

Back in West Yorkshire, running the Shepherd’s Skyline race, from the Shepherd’s Rest Inn above Todmorden to Stoodley Pike and back. More great conditions and a couple of fast descents. 19th out of 168 in 51.03. First time I’ve done this one but I’m sure not the last.

Sun 11 Nov

Back to Keswick and an evening road circuit with headtorch in the rain around Swinside. Shins ache.

Mon 12 Nov

Join 5 YHA staff on an exciting evening adventure around the “Lonscale Loop”. First time I’ve really been up and down a big fell with the headtorch. The descent called for plenty of trust in your footing. Heady stuff.

Tues 13 Nov

Again, road intervals with Keswick AC. I know all this stuff is good for your performance and all that but really I’m into running for the fun and adventure of it. See last night.

Thurs 15 Nov

First thing, a final crack at the Loop. Caught the sunrise first on top of Latrigg. Then did the circuit a couple of minutes quicker than before, in 48.36. Still 7 minutes slower than my colleagues’ best time, but I’m pretty happy nonetheless.

Sat 17 Nov

If you’d said to me 2 months ago I’d be running the Tour of Pendle I’d have told you to get real. But after a summer of doing short races, turns out I really enjoyed everything about my first AL fell race for 12 years (“AL” means very long, with lots of climbing, in this case 27km / 1473 metres).

Felt pretty confident going into it, with a couple of thorough recces of the course and a decent build-up race under my belt (“Grin n Bear It”, from Langsett). The weather is kind on the day, plus the bonus of camaraderie from lots of fellow Striders. I’m grateful to accept a lift from Tim – along with Simon, Ross and Amanda – and hellos to Anthony, Sarah, Andreas and Richard on the start line, plus Ian and Katherine have come to provide moral support. All of which makes it more relaxing and fun.

The field is enormous for a fell race – nearly 500 – and at 10.30 we are off from Barley up the road by the reservoir. Take it steady to start with – it takes some time for the field to sort itself out and I try to remember the key lesson from the recces: there are 5 big climbs, each of which get progressively harder, and they come late in the race (so that at halfway distance you have actually only done a quarter of the climbing). So hold back. Good intentions! As soon as we are past the trig instinct takes over. It’s a gradual downhill stretch of 3 or 4 miles. The summit mist clears and there’s a strong backwind. Too good to resist. We’re all legging it down there. This is what it’s all about.

The course is a rough figure-of-8, so if you get a backwind on one stretch, you’re going to get it in the face later on. It duly arrives on the first of the big 3 final climbs, up Mearley Moor. Struggle to the top and fortunately the rest is a bit more sheltered. Good job – the penultimate climb, suitably known as The Big Dipper, is a killer. But the final one, up the Big End, is the real heartbreaker. It just goes on forever, and gets progressively steeper, with the last 200ft or so being a case of just clutching at the heather and dragging yourself up.

Finally, it’s done, and it’s downhill all the way back to the finish. Privately, I told myself before the race that I’d be over the moon with anything below 3 hours. Actually finished in 2.54.59, 61st out of 461, so am delighted with that. Not that it’s very easy to walk for the next day or two, but it will wear off!

Thanks as always to everyone involved in organising the race, and to all fellow Striders for making it such an enjoyable day out. Same again next year!

A good recce

Recce
(reki )
verb
If you recce an area, you visit that place in order to become familiar with it. People usually recce an area when they are going to return at a later time to do something there.
[British, old-fashioned]

Collins Dictionary

Sun 21 October

I’m at Langsett Barn, a few miles north of Sheffield, on the edge of the Peak District. I’m here to recce the route of next Sunday’s Grin n Bear It fell race, a 15 miler across the moors of the Dark Peak.

Although I’ve been in this area once or twice before, it’s not been for several years. The weather is warmish for the time of year; clear at lower level but misty on the tops. I’ve got the trusty 1:25000 OS map and a 2-sided description of the route. Also carrying waterproofs, hat, gloves, compass, whistle + a bit of food and water.

I note a few things before setting off. It’s taken just under an hour to drive here. It’s a busy Sunday and the car park is full, but there’s space on the road nearby. There are toilets.

15 miles is a fair way and I set off at a gentle jog. There’s a plethora of paths through the woods before you get to the moors, but the route will be marked through here on race day, so I just choose one at random. They all converge on Brookhouse Bridge, a mile further on, where the crossing of the moor starts in earnest.

The initial climb is long and gentle on a clear trail. Coming down the other side it’s a bit steeper, including a long hairpin bend with an obvious short cut. The trail continues up the narrowing valley of the River Derwent. I note the exact locations of the race checkpoints. It’s all been pretty straightforward up to now – half the route done, in a little under 2 hours, and I have a stop for a bite to eat and a drink.

At this point, things become more tricky. The mist descends and the rain sweeps in. I have a final look at the map – follow the stream to its head and you should pop out at Checkpoint 3 (Swains Head) – and tuck it into my pocket. Then it’s head down and onwards, as the track thins to a path, then to a trod, and finally to nothing at all, as visibility reduces to a few yards.

Approaching where I guess Swains Head should be, I come across a fence in an otherwise featureless landscape. The fence looks new and isn’t marked on my map. Compass out. The fence is heading vaguely northwards. If the worst comes to the worst, if I keep heading north I will hit the Woodhead Pass road in a mile or so. I follow the fence to a stile, where it turns a corner more directly northwards. This must be Swains Head itself, and I am back on the race route.

A couple of minutes further on, there is another stile. The route description suggests that you cross it. I do so, and end up straightaway in a deep boggy grough. Turn round, back over the stile, try the other side. Even worse, and I have a near miss when my left leg disappears down an invisible hole and I escape with a minor graze. So back to the stile again, through the grough and onto easier ground.

Further on, there is a second navigational section over open ground. Following a bearing, I successfully locate a line of grouse butts. The map tells me that the final checkpoint (a barn) is down the slope to the right. I drop down a little, out of the mist, and there is the barn, tucked mischievously into the side of the hill.

The remainder of the route is a simple 3-mile jog along clear tracks. I get back to Langsett a little under 4 hours after I set out. Given that this will be my first “Long” race for some time, I’d be happy with that next week.

Sun 28 October

The race. It’s clear and cold, visibility is perfect. I arrive an hour early, which helps as there’s a full kit check before you get your race number. We set off and again I do the first climb at a steady jog. Over the top though the descent is such fun I start stretching out. I shortcut the hairpin. And I chat to a few other runners. Have you done the race before? No. Have you been round the route? No, I’m just following everyone else. Do you know there are some pathless bits? I thought it was mainly trails…

This time there is an obvious short-cut towards Swains Head, which today is clearly visible, being marshalled by 4 red-jacketed members of Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team. I cross the stile 2 minutes further on. A group 100 yards ahead of me have run past it. At the bottom of the hill, I’m 100 yards ahead of them.

Further on, I pass the grouse butts and head down the slope towards the invisible barn. Again, a group in front of me just follow the lie of the land and miss it. Some are making a dog leg to visit the checkpoint they only belatedly spotted. Later on, photos show runners coming the wrong way down the track as they have completely overshot.

I’ve still got plenty in the tank on the run in. When I cross the finish line, it’s in 2 hours 35 minutes, 1 and a quarter hours quicker than last week. I feel a bit smug about my recce. But that’s fellrunning.

grin n bear it 18

Running diary – Oct 18

…following on from Running diary – Sept 18

Wed 3 October

A slight shift in focus. Perhaps it’s the changing season, but after a summer of short races I have an itch to give something a bit longer a go. Hence I find myself at the Nick of Pendle, to have a look at the Tour of Pendle route – a 16 mile race, with 5000ft of climbing, 6 weeks away. I haven’t done anything like this since Holme Moss in 2006. A bit different to all those 2 mile dashes….

I manage around 10 miles, including the climbs of Mearley Moor and the very-well-named Big Dipper, in around 3 hours. A promising first impression. Back home I order one of these:

DSC04510Sun 7 Oct

First visit of the “winter” to Penistone Hill on the edge of Haworth, for the Withins Skyline race. Conditions pretty benign – not too cold, relatively dry underfoot. Feel strong on the first half, but pushing things a bit too hard I have a couple of tumbles, which disrupt the rhythm more than anything else. The stretch from Bronte Bridge to the end a bit of struggle, but I still get round in 21st (out of 248) in 47.36 – my best for the course.

Wed 10 Oct

To pub with fellow Valley Striders to earwig on their plans for an overseas trip next year. Probably a bit far, and expensive, for me right now, but great to know this option is theoretically available.

Thurs 11 Oct

To put the Tour of Pendle idea to bed once and for all I decide on a full recce. Leave Barley at 9.30am. Take things steady and get to the crucial Checkpoint 4 at 11.10am, ie 20 minutes within the cut-off. The climbs get progressively tougher as you go along, and the final one, up the Big End, almost a heartbreaker. But by 1.20pm it’s job done, in under 4 hours, and entry form + cheque are in the post.

Sat 13 October

Read “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd – a most remarkable book. Enriching, for anyone who loves the mountains.

Mon 15 October

Splashed out on a new lightweight running jacket. The previous one finally gave up the ghost on Pendle, after a decade or more of service. We are allowed to treat ourselves, every now and then. Seemed to work OK on a 6-mile jog up the Meanwood Valley later on.

Tues 16 October

Steady run through the woods on the far side of the lake in Roundhay Park, up to Shadwell and back down “The Gorge”. About 8 miles or so.

Thurs 18 October

A few things have come together and I’m set to join 5 other Valley Striders at the FRA Relays in Grasmere on Saturday. So I was grateful to have the opportunity to head up there and recce Leg 4 – a round taking in Alcock Tarn, Heron Pike and Stone Arthur. Perfect autumnal weather displaying the Lakes at their best. I wonder if it will be like this on Saturday?

I also took a short detour to have a better look at the Grasmere Guides route, largely obscured by mist when I ran it back in August. Still just as steep, and all in full view of the Showground (on a clear day), so no doubt quite the spectacle it’s renowned to be. Note the flagstick holder at the start of the descent:

DSC04518Sat 20 Oct

A long and memorable day, for lots of reasons. A 6.30am pick-up, and squeezed into the car are Simon, Mick, Jon, Ross and me, five-sixths of Valley Striders’ team for today’s British Fell Relay Championships in Grasmere. Our sixth member, soon-to-be-Dad Daz, will join us (all being well!) at the start. We soon transfer to a coach, along with various North Leeds Fellrunners and Pudsey Pacers, and are parked on the Grasmere Showground at 9.30am. A short walk to the event field, where we are greeted by the unusual sight of 1500 fellrunners all in one place. Didn’t know there were so many! Add the marquees, stalls, wristbands and rapidly-developing mud, it feels like a Glastonbury of Fellrunning.

10.30am, half an hour before the start, and still no sign of Daz. And he’s down to run Leg 1. Fortunately, Steve has also joined us, and is ready to step in if needed. Members of the team already blessed by fatherhood start swapping anecdotes about their “big days”. But, perfectly relaxed, Daz appears, proceeds to run a blinding first leg, and we are on our way. The second leg is paired, and Ross and Jon take the metaphorical baton over the rough ground of Fairfield and Cofa Pike. But the misty conditions mean that the crux will be Leg 3, the paired navigation leg. It’s Simon and Mick who, half a mile into their run, get handed a map marked with 5 checkpoints, and head off into the gloaming…

Meanwhile, I’ve been off recce-ing the final descent, which I didn’t get the chance to do on Thursday. Steep, grassy and slippery. Then, into the pen, waiting for Simon and Mick to appear, which they could do at any time within a likely half-hour window. Finally, a pair of white vests dash into the far field (coincidentally, just behind the final leg runner of Pudsey & Bramley, the first team back, so I get to photobomb their moment of glory on the finish line). A smooth handover and finally I’m off.

It’s soon into the long and steep climb to the top of Heron Pike, then the runnable stretch along the ridge and finally the fast descent. The route is flagged every 20 yards or so, but the mist is so thick it’s still difficult to follow the markers (thank goodness for the recce). As usual, I’m passed by a few runners on the climb, then haul the same number back in on the descent, so it feels like I’ve held our position. As expected, bum-sliding comes into play on a number of occasions!

We have all “dibbed” at the checkpoints on the way round, so the final results are straight up on the screens. We’ve come 40th, out of 245 teams, a brilliant result. It seems that consistency has been our strength – we ran the 51st, 56th, 43rd and 61st fastest legs respectively – whereas other teams’ performances fluctuated more noticeably. The fact that we have “no stars” helps the team dynamic I think. A well-earned post-race drink or two in Grasmere. But then, the return coach journey provides perhaps the toughest test of the day of all. A road accident at Settle sends our driver on a mad diversion, via Hawes, Leyburn, Harrogate and Blubberhouses. So it’s a 5 hour drive back from Grasmere. Miraculously, at 11pm, we are still all talking to each other and on good terms!

Many thanks in particular to Ambleside AC for hosting the event and to Ross for pulling the team together, but really thanks to everyone involved for making this such a terrific day.

Sun 21 Oct

Bouyed up by all things fellrunning, I decided on a full recce of next week’s Grin n Bear It race, a 15 mile round in the Dark Peak from Langsett. The first half was pretty steady over clear trails, which meant the second half came as a bit of a shock. With the clag down and a disappearing trod, it was full map and compass stuff over Swains Head and Cabin Hill, with testing underfoot conditions – tussocks, heather and peat. At one point my leg disappeared down an invisible hole and I was grateful to escape with a minor graze. In other words, nice to be back in the Dark Peak! Just under 4 hours for the full round.

Wed 24 Oct

Visiting family in Norfolk, I did a 5-mile loop along a disused railway line. Unseasonably warm.

Fri 26 Oct

Back home, found a few variations in Gledhow Valley, following unvisited paths just to see where they went (nowhere, usually). Good job I’m not on Strava – they’d think I was mad.

Sun 28 Oct

The value of a good recce! Blessed with fine, clear weather, I got round Grin n Bear It in about 2.35 – an hour and a quarter quicker than last week! – coming 30th out of 130ish. Took the first bit very steady, which allowed me to do the overtaking from then on. Didn’t need to use the map once, but still saved time by knowing a couple of lines from last week (which others didn’t spot). Overall, very pleased with my first “Long” race for 12 years. And excellent support (and post-race soup) from the race organisers – Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team.

Tues 30 Oct

Back in Norfolk for half-term. Went the other way along the railway, ending up in Aylsham, so a 12 mile there and back. Long, flat straights not really my thing, but all enlivened by heavy rain.

 

Running diary – Sept 18

Just picking up the diary format where my previous blog on fellrunning over the August Bank Holiday weekend left off.

Wed 5 Sept

A drive over the tops to Muker in Swaledale. A very well attended and diverse Show. A walk round the course, exchanging notes with Pete and Ian from Keighley. Race at 4pm. A mad dash across the fields, straight through the river, steeply up the fell, a bit along the top and diagonally down. No tiptoeing on the return through the river – ploughed straight across. And back through the cheering crowds. Brilliant. Pleased to come 11th out of 68 in 14.11.

A slightly mad compulsion had me racing back across Buttertubs and down Wharfedale to get to the Ilkley Incline for 7pm. Don’t think I’ve ever done 2 races in the same day before, let alone within 3 hours! But Muker + Incline had a combined distance of 2.5 miles, so thought I could manage it. All about knowing the course this one and pacing things right (which I slightly failed to do). 27th out of 77 in 9.42 – hope to do a bit better in future. A nice meet-up and warm-down jog with fellow Valley Striders Amanda, Graham and Rachel.

Sun 9 Sept

A drizzly Bradley Show, a race I’ve enjoyed the last 2 years. More a gradual up and down than a short/sharp fell race but fun nonetheless, and a nice Show. Weather a bit grotty on top but you’re not up there for long. 11th (again!) out of 70 in 28.35, so the quickest I’ve done it. And a complete rarity – a photo of me smiling at the finish!

Mon 10 Sept

Final day in the job. See previous blog.

Thurs 13 Sept

First day of long-weekend trip to Scotland. Drove from Leeds to Inverness. Stopped off en route at Alva, to recce the route of July’s famous race up and down Wee Torry. Fantastically steep. But mainly grassy, so no doubt quite a spectacle watching the descent-kings come down. In two minds whether it’s for me though!

Amused that in the distance you can just see the Wallace Monument, which commemorates one of the most devastating examples of downhill running in history – the Scots’ charge from Abbey Craig to annihilate the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Fri 14 Sept

First visit to Torridon. Parked near to Torridon House and jogged up the glen in front of Beinn Alligin, behind Liathach and up to Coire Mhic Fhearchair behind Beinn Eighe. As all the guidebooks say, impressive stuff, and clearly none of the peaks are to be trifled with. So I was glad to be where I was, but it felt like a useful introduction to the area. Returned the same way. About 10 miles, 3 hours or so.

Sat 15 Sept

Stac Pollaidh. Bloody hell. See previous blog. Note – not really a “run”, but when it came to the scrambling it was useful to be in fell shoes with just a light pack.

Sun 16 Sept

On the return home, detoured to Rosthwaite in Borrowdale to run the Dale Head race. Had a bit of “history” to address here, as when I did it last year my shoe collapsed coming off the top and I had to come down basically on one leg. This year a bit different anyway as we started by the Shepherd’s Meet field and the river was too swollen for a “herd of wildebeest” crossing. So, overall about half a km longer. Pleased then to run it in 65.24 – quicker than last year – and come 12th out of 35. Thorough course knowledge brings its rewards here, and unfortunately I picked a rather rocky line off the top. All good for the memory bank though.

Tues 18 Sept

After the adventures of the previous week, a return to the humbler surroundings of Eccup Reservoir. But these quarterly Valley Striders “round the res” handicaps are good fun social events, particularly in tonight’s fading light. 33.32 for the 5 miles.

Thurs 20 Sept

In a similar vein, joined the Striders’ Thursday night group from Scotthall. This time it was the heavy rain that enlivened 7 miles on the road.

Sat 22 Sept

Up to Kettlewell for the Great Whernside race. A steady climb and a fast descent, the second half of which (from Hag Dike to the finish) is about as much fun as you’re likely to have fellrunning, being steep (but not too steep) and grassy – you can really let go. Also very nice to bump into fellow Striders Steve and Sara, who I’d not seen for ages. 26th out of 126 in 38.24.

Sun 23 Sept

Blogged about fellrunning records and Steve Chilton’s “Running Hard” book.

Tues 25 Sept

Joined the Striders’ hill session up and down Carr Manor Road several times. Surprisingly testing.

Wed 26 Sept

Drove out to Holme Chapel between Todmorden and Burnley to recce the Thieveley Pike route – a new race to me. Felt good to get my bearings, see where the ups and downs are and check a few minor details. Hope this will help on Saturday’s race. 4 miles.

Thurs 27 Sept

Ran up Meanwood Valley to Emmerdale and back – 10 miles or so. The ground still frustratingly hard – had me pining for the bogs on Haworth Moor etc. Interesting to note that the Emmerdale set now finally appears on OS maps, after years of “cartographic license”.

Sat 29 Sept

Thieveley Pike race. The recce proved its worth as climb paced sensibly, leaving plenty in reserve for a fast descent – picked up 8 places. Also had to chuckle to see many struggle over a gate when there is a far simpler – but difficult to spot – stile to the left. If only we had time to recce every race! 21st out of 165 in 38.13.

“It’s not my record, it’s our record”

I recently blogged about my experiences of a long-weekend tour of 3 classic fell races – Burnsall, Grasmere and Kilnsey. To follow this up, I wanted to make some observations about something I have zero personal experience of, namely the record-breaking, elite end of fellrunning.

Take a look at the current records for these 3 famous races, plus a fourth, the Ben Nevis race, which always takes place at the end of the same week:

RACE FEMALE     MALE    
  Record-holder Year Time Record-holder Year Time
Burnsall Victoria Wilkinson 2018 15.58 John Wild 1983 12.48
Grasmere Victoria Wilkinson 2017 15.05 Fred Reeves* 1978 12.21
Kilnsey Victoria Wilkinson 2017 9.39 Mick Hawkins 1982 7.35
Ben Nevis Victoria Wilkinson 2018 1.43.01 Kenny Stuart** 1984 1.25.34

* Kenny Stuart ran 12.01 over the same course in a separate race in 1985

** John Wild ran Ben Nevis 1 second slower – 1.25.35 – in 1983

Two obvious things stand out from the table. Firstly, Victoria’s performances over the last year or two have been pretty extraordinary, and many congratulations to her. She is giving the strong impression of being a “once in a generation” athlete, with a couple of the records (Burnsall and Ben Nevis) having previously dated to the 1980s. It’s a great privilege to stand on the same start line as her (before seeing her disappear rapidly into the distance).

By comparison, the Male records remain stuck in that whole previous era of fellrunning. Why is that? Is it because there just hasn’t been a male “Vic” in the intervening period? Or are fellrunners generally not as focused on these races as once before? Or was there something in the water in the late ’70s/early ’80s? Or something else?

Fortunately (as many will already know), there’s a good book to hand that takes an in-depth look at the top-end of male fellrunning in this period. Steve Chilton’s “Running Hard – the story of a rivalry” focuses on the intense (but friendly) competition between John Wild and Kenny Stuart in the 1983 season. The names Wild and Stuart feature strongly in my table above. The strong implication reading the book is that there was something special about that period, and that perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many records date from it. A combination of exceptional athletes, bringing the best out of each other, in a focused race timetable. I also referred to the daredevil descents in my previous blog, and Wild – a former Commonwealth Games steeplechaser – reveals that he hurdled the famous wall at Burnsall. Mind boggling!

No doubt the 1983 fellrunning season passed most people by at the time, so over the last year or so it’s been great to see “Running Hard” on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. It’s certainly a tale worth telling, and like Steve’s previous books, it’s one all fellrunners will want to read. Get hold of a copy here

DSC04462The importance of “friendly rivalry” is emphasised by the well-known story behind one of the other records in the table, Fred Reeves’ Grasmere record. Prior to his 1978 time was a decade of incremental improvements by himself and his friend/rival Tommy Sedgwick. Indeed, the quote attributed to Fred – “It’s not my record, it’s our record” remains my favourite sporting quote, demonstrating as it does the gratitude we should show to our close rivals for bringing the best out of us, rather than any bitterness or resentment. Which only makes Victoria’s recent exploits seem the more remarkable, as she’s set her records without an obvious rival pushing her all the way.

Meanwhile, as they say, “records are made to be broken”, and – following Victoria’s example – it would be great to see some of the male records go the same way in the next few years. I’ll still be just coming round the cairn as you guys cross the line, of course….

Stac Pollaidh

One of Scotland’s most renowned mountains is Stac Pollaidh (often Anglicised to Stac Polly), located in Assynt, around 70 miles north-west of Inverness. Famous for its extraordinary rock scenery, it is easily accessible, being relatively low in height (just over 2000ft) and close to a public road. Having visited for the first time last week, I felt it was worth sharing my impressions – this is a treat not be missed but, saying that, not without its obvious risks.

Driving north from the small town of Ullapool, after about 10 miles Stac Pollaidh first becomes visible to the west, its unique fin-like shape irresistibly drawing the eye:DSC04451Turning left on a side road, an additional 5-mile drive brings you to the car park at the foot of the mountain (note there’s only room for about 10 cars so on busy days you might want to try and arrive early). From here you get a better impression of the challenge ahead: DSC04444The first objective is the low point on the ridge, about three quarters along to the right. In days gone by, you took a beeline to it from the car park, but heavy erosion of the path (on a mountain that nature is rapidly eroding anyway) led to the construction of a sensible alternative. So now, the path circuits the mountain, and you arrive on the ridge from the rear. I chose to travel anti-clockwise, ie climbing to the right of the photo. (Later – while it was satisfying to complete the circuit – I found the descent route to be pretty boggy by comparison; thus you might consider climbing and returning on the same, drier, route).

The climb to the ridge provides no technical difficulties and moderately fit walkers should be able to do it in an hour or so (you also get the bonus of fantastic views over miles of wild Assynt landscape). However, from this point on things become rather different. The situation is tremendous, with the mountain plummeting away almost sheer from your feet. And all around, bizarre rock towers and pinnacles overwhelm the senses. Many will feel that at this point they will have come far enough. DSC04448.JPGBraver souls may consider a traverse west along the ridge. Well, the reward is increasingly improbable outcrops of sandstone, sculpted into precariously-balanced pillars, and increasingly sensational situations, with severe levels of exposure:

DSC04445DSC04446The flip side is that at several points progress is impossible without a very good head for heights, and the ability to climb and circumvent various rocky obstacles. Having managed to scramble up a steep gully, and then skirt an awkward jutting-out rock, I baulked at “the crux” of the ridge – a 10ft rock tower with a sheer drop of 2000ft on either side. That would have been a step too far for me.

Overall then, Stac Pollaidh provides a pretty stark example of the balance between interest and risk that comes with mountain exploration. Proceed along the ridge with caution, and know your reasonable limits. Reports of a recent fatality on the mountain only underline this point.  Incidentally, I was travelling pretty lightweight, in fellrunning shoes and with a light pack, and this helped on the scrambling sections.

Coming home, I found this spectacular drone footage of the mountain, which says it all really. Blimey, did I really go up there?