Soft Graham Round

A quick write-up of my first dip into the world of long-distance fellrunning, should anyone feel suitably inspired to follow in my footsteps.

This idea occurred to me earlier this year when I thought I could never do a Bob Graham Round. Not ever – just totally impossible. I’d never be fit enough, nor organised enough, never even be able to stay awake that long! Then I thought – well, would I at least be able to link the 5 leg handover points in a single run? Perhaps I could do that – in half a day maybe? – and I could do it on my own and in my own time.

Six months later and I’ve now done it twice. And although there would be several months of hard training ahead, plus all the planning of pacers and other logistics (and a lot of luck!), I now think a Bob Graham is theoretically in me. Theoretically….

Anyway, in the punning vein of the Frog Graham Round, Puddle Buckley etc, this is the Soft Graham Round. The 5 points you must touch, in any direction and by any route (and return to your starting point, of course), are:

  1. Keswick – Moot Hall
  2. Threlkeld – road sign at junction opposite cricket club
  3. Dunmail Raise – stile leading onto Steel Fell
  4. Wasdale Head – bridge at entrance to NT campsite (don’t be tempted to cut a corner at Wasdale – you must visit the NT campsite!)
  5. Honister – door of cafe

For my first attempt in May, I was based in Borrowdale, so chose to start up the road at Honister. I also felt I needed a tea and chips stop half way round, so decided to run anti-clockwise and rest at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale. This did add extra miles on to the route and also had the disadvantage of giving me an uphill at the end –  the Allerdale Ramble between Grange and Honister, round the back of Castle Crag. That last bit turned out not very pretty! 78km, 2500m of ascent, elapsed time 12 hours 24 minutes (see my Strava).

That experience slightly nagged at me, so the other day I gave it all another go. This time, in more conventional BGR fashion, I started at the Moot Hall at 7.30am and went clockwise (it was nice to delude myself I was doing the real thing!). Daylight was limited, and conditions were icy cold. This time, I went “direct” between Dunmail and Wasdale which did save time, although the section between Steel Fell and Stake Pass was proper fellrunning – rough (and icy) underfoot and tricky nav. Generally though, much went pretty smoothly – refreshment stops at Wasdale and Honister came at the right time, and going up the side of Great Gable I had the added bonus of the sun on my back as it set over Wast Water. Darkness finally came just before I came off the fells at Grange, so the headtorch came out on the final road section from here. The one snag was that at this point the temperature plummeted, and much as I’d hoped to just jog or even walk this last bit I was actually forced to try and run to keep warm. Arrival at the Moot Hall was very welcome! 67km, 2900m of ascent, elapsed time 10 hours 6 minutes:

strava4939807185659877919So, if anyone else wants to give the “SGR” a go, let me know and I can compile a list of completions. To start with, 10.06 is your target!

Meanwhile, however knackered I may currently feel, it was rather humbling to see, 2 days later and in similarly icy conditions, the real thing run in under 16 hours – the winter BGR record smashed by 2 and a half hours! Well run Kim Collison. By comparison, this version really is a Soft Graham Round.

Free adventures from YHA Borrowdale

I was lucky enough to live and work at YHA Borrowdale in the Lake District for most of 2019. Lucky because there was so much adventure on the doorstep – so much to see, do and explore. Of course, some of this (such as rock climbing) would have required specialist skills or equipment, or some kind of financial cost (entry fees, guides etc). However, most was free and accessible to the average adventurous type (like me), and in-between shifts I didn’t miss out. So, in alphabetical order, here are my top free adventures from the door of the hostel:

Bothies

Go up to Honister from the hostel, then along the old tramway for a mile and you come to Dub’s Hut, a large but basic shelter. I usually preferred however to press on a further half a mile to the more characterful Warnscale Bothy. Only a couple of people could comfortably stretch out in here overnight, but you could cram in many for temporary shelter. It boasts the most magnificent view over Buttermere:

img_20190405_115150Caves

Somewhere half-way between a bothy and a cave is the climber’s shelter under Cam Crag, which is fun to try and locate amongst the rocks. Rather larger, a mile’s ramble along the river from the hostel and tucked underneath Castle Crag, is Millican’s Cave. Big enough for several woolly mammoths to live in, it was actually the home of Millican Dalton in the 1930’s – the era’s equivalent of Ray Mears. Totally contrasting, but equally intriguing, is Dove’s Nest Cave, high up on Glaramara. Less a cave, more a geological fault, it’s well worth the rough 3-miles on foot up Comb Gill. Headtorches can be useful at all.

Night running

Indeed, the best £50 I spent all year was on a decent headtorch. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities, particularly in the dark winter months. Suddenly, going out on foot at night in your own bubble of light became a possibility, then a norm. On a clear night, don’t forget to turn it off from time to time and look up to the stars.

Race recce-ing

My previous blog focused on Borrowdale’s 5 fell races, and much fun can be had recce-ing race lines, over and over again. So much time can be won in races simply by finding the fastest lines downhill. We must have come down Glaramara and Dale Head 5 times each before their respective races, and a different way each time! Very satisfying to find yourself way ahead of much faster runners on race day, just because of your local knowledge.

Scrambling

ie progress on foot where use of the hands is required. The best scrambles I found were up ghylls during dry periods – endless possibilities here. I also enjoyed some simple scrambles on more exposed terrain, such as the summit of Glaramara and alongside Cam Spout in Eskdale, plus a bit of bouldering at Honister. The more serious stuff I left to the climbers.

Scree-running

You probably shouldn’t do too much of this, but the occasional scree-run can be great fun. The classic is the descent from the summit of Scafell Pike to the Corridor Route, taken during the Borrowdale Fell Race. Various spoil tips from old mines can provide a more ethical alternative.

Segments 

Fell races are fun but they don’t always take place when you want them to. However, runners now have Strava – their favourite app – and its segments allow you to “race” various routes whenever you want, and compare your times against others’. Of course, there are loads of segments around Borrowdale, including the hostel’s very own challenge – King of the Castle – from the bar to the top of Castle Crag. I rather liked the downhill-only segments too, such as from Honister to Borrowdale YHAs.

Stravaiging

ie ” to wander about aimlessly”. The routes of so many of my explorations on foot this year I made up as I went along. You can do that in Borrowdale – hardly any of the land is off-limits. If I saw something interesting – a crag, a waterfall, a viewpoint, a sunny patch(!), I’d follow my nose in its direction. I rarely stuck to the beaten track. With time, I built up an ever-increasing mental map of the valley, and got to see and experience it from every angle. My stravaigs were a combination of walking, running, scrambling etc – as the ground dictated. I travelled as lightly as possible – minimal gear, and light fell shoes – and felt that this was the best way of moving around Borrowdale’s rough terrain.

Swimming

Or strictly speaking, any dips in rivers and lakes. I tended to paddle, particularly on hot days. My favourite spots were the pool just next to the hostel (below), Stockley Bridge and much of Langstrath. My favourite spot for a decent swim though was the famous Black Moss Pot, 2 miles on foot from the hostel. Jump in the pool and let the current take you a further 50 yards down the gorge – fantastic. I never had the guts to jump off the notorious 10 foot-high ledge though….img_20190621_152602Ultras

I’d never run more than 25km in one go before 2019, but once in the Lakes I soon found myself caught up in chat about the longer stuff. I helped a friend with her attempt on the Bob Graham Round, and although I found the BGR would be way beyond me, I did start doing longer expeditions. This culminated with me coming up with an abbreviated version of the Bob Graham, which linked the 5 leg handover points by my own route. Although I christened it A Soft Graham Round, it was still 77km and 12 hours of my life I won’t forget in a hurry!

Viewpoints

In decent weather, Borrowdale is spoilt for great views. It was fun to find the well-known chocolate-box ones too and get the camera out. Dale Head, Fleetwith Pike, Ashness Bridge and below – Wasdale from Westmoreland Cairn below the summit of Great Gable.cropped-img_20190226_142450.jpgWaterfalls

Sour Milk Ghyll in Seathwaite and pretty much everything down Langstrath were my favourites, but after heavy rain there are waterfalls everywhere in Borrowdale. On a wet day (and there are many), don’t mope in the hostel – get the waterproofs on and get out and see the falls and rapids at their best!

Winter

On a Saturday afternoon in February I thrashed through the snow drifts from Honister to the summit of Dale Head and back. Probably took an hour in total, which was as much as my freezing cold feet could stand. But so worth it for the view below. In a year of countless memorable adventures, this is the one that stands out most of all.img_20190202_143110

Five fell races in Borrowdale

I’ve just returned to Leeds after 9 months in the Lake District – living and working at YHA Borrowdale, and indulging in my passion for fellrunning in-between. In which time – apart from serving countless meals and scrubbing countless bogs – I really did rather a lot of running. Looking back on my Strava feed, I recorded over 100 activities, covering over 1000km in distance and climbing around 50,000 metres. But I probably did as much again which I didn’t record – various rambles, jogs, scrambles, stravaigs and other explorations on foot.

The vast majority of my trips out were directly from the YHA. I rarely got into the car first. The hostel, in the hamlet of Longthwaite, is perfectly located to explore Borrowdale’s famous fells, crags, valleys, waterfalls and more. I got to know my patch pretty well, and never got bored of it. Quite the opposite in fact – the more I explored, the more I found to explore.

In amongst all this I quite liked to race. I did 22 fell races in these 9 months, and 4 of them began no more than a 10-minute jog from the hostel. In fact, 5 races in the FRA calendar start within half a mile of YHA Borrowdale. So, in tribute to these few but esteemed square miles of the country, I shamelessly plug these 5 races below. Why not give one, or more (or all 5!) a try in 2020?

1. King of the Castle

1pm, Sun 5 January

Start: YHA Borrowdale, Longthwaite

2.5km, 200m – AS

Organised by: YHA Borrowdale

Early January – crap weather, short days, Christmas & New Year done – we all need a boost. Hence YHA Borrowdale’s very own dash to the top of Castle Crag. Uphill-only time trial, so scope for a leisurely descent before returning to the waiting cake (and drying room). A great way to start the fellrunning year. I hope to be back in 2020 to defend the coveted MV40 trophy I won in 2019 (a plastic YHA water bottle, no less).

2. Glaramara

1pm, Sun 24 May

Start: Glaramara House, Seatoller

8km, 700m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The climb up is strenuous but straightforward, but this race is all about picking the right line on the descent. Can you locate the alleged grassy ramps, that send you hurtling down the fell while normally-faster runners trail in your wake? Local knowledge and repeated recce-ing is a massive advantage here. And bear in mind that the bit you can’t recce (the final part of the descent, which is out of bounds except on race-day) is a potential ankle-breaker of rocks hidden in the bracken. Oh, and from my experience this year, don’t run it the day after supporting a Bob Graham Round – it might kill you.

3. Langstrath

7.15pm, Wed 17 June

Start: Langstrath Hotel, Stonethwaite

7.5km, 430m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

Well, this is the one race of the 5 that I didn’t get to run in 2019 (due to pot washing responsibilities) but I ran the route often enough. Up the interminable stone staircase of Lingy End, then a rough trail by Dock Tarn to Watendlath (quicker but boggier lines across the moor are potentially available), then back down the main track to Stonethwaite. An evening race at midsummer – one of the best times to run in the Lakes.

4. Borrowdale

11am, Sat 1 August

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

27km, 2000m – AL

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The distance and ascent don’t even begin to tell the story of the Borrowdale Fell Race, one of the classic events on the FRA calendar. Indeed “fellrunning” is a potentially misleading term here, as so little of the race involves conventional running. From the walks up Bessyboot, Great Gable and Dale Head, the invisible trods around Glaramara & Brandreth, the boulders up Scafell Pike and the scree-run down it, the technical descents of Gable & Dale Head…. factor in the weather, food & water considerations (the only “feeding station” is a murky trough of juice at Honister) and the challenging cut-offs and you have more an exercise in self-reliance and mountaincraft than a running race. I was just glad to get round within those cut-offs and avoid the “bus of shame” this year.

5. Dale Head

2pm, Sun 20 September

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

8km, 675m – AS

Organised by: Keswick AC

Much like Glaramara – a steep climb up the track, but what is the best line down? The best I can say is – it depends on what kind of runner you are. Better descenders can take the steeper, rougher lines; more workmanlike downhillers like me have to take the longer ways round. Still, in 2019 I ran this race in 57 minutes – 9 minutes quicker than I did in 2018 – a testament to what being in Borrowdale for nearly a year can do for your running!

Well, at the end of October my summer contract at the hostel ended, although I’m glad to say I’m moving on to a job at another YHA, albeit outside the Lakes. I’m sure I’ll be returning to Borrowdale often enough in 2020 though, only this time as a visitor, and giving as many of these races as I can another go.Version 2

A day and 7 minutes in the life of a Bob Graham supporter

bg departureFriday 17 May 2019

2000 (8pm): I set off running from the Moot Hall in Keswick, pacing my Valley Striders clubmate Amanda on Leg 1 of her attempt on the Bob Graham Round. We are accompanied by Paul, who is navigating the leg, and boosted by the cheers of a small group of wellwishers who have gathered to see us off. Amanda’s schedule, based on completing in 23 hours 10 minutes, anticipates us on top of Skiddaw at 2125, Great Calva at 2210 and Blencathra at 2320, completing the leg at Threlkeld at 2353. Paul has accompanied dozens of BGR legs over the years, whereas I’m a first timer. I ran the whole leg around 6 weeks ago, and have revisited a couple of sections of it since, but that was all in daylight and the second half tonight will be in the dark, so fingers crossed.

2119: We arrive on top of Skiddaw 6 minutes ahead of schedule after a brisk walk up in fine weather.

2200: Headtorches are on as we touch the cairn on Great Calva.

2315: Conditions remain good on the long drag up the back of Blencathra, in fact the full moon on the horizon matches the compass bearing exactly. With time in hand I make a deliberate effort to slow the pace. But there is a sudden deterioration on reaching the summit plateau, with the mist reducing visibility to a yard and the wind howling. After 30 seconds lost quite literally walking round in a circle, compasses and devices are checked and 10 minutes later – as if we are searching for a dropped £10 note – we find the flat circular stone on the summit of Blencathra. It’s not a place to linger tonight though, and seconds later we are dashing down Doddick Fell and back to civilization.

2345: Arrive at Threlkeld car park, 7 minutes ahead of schedule. It’s been a very enjoyable evening run, with Amanda very chatty, Paul good company, and a nice sense of team-work at the beginning of a long haul. Saying that, I’m only too glad to get straight into the car (which I’d parked there earlier) and head off back to a warm bed. Amanda, by contrast, pauses for just 5 minutes (refreshments provided by fellow Strider Steve, working a dedicated night shift) and is straight off into the gloaming with her support runners for Leg 2.

Saturday 18 May

0130: Having dropped Paul off at his caravan near Keswick, back to my base in Borrowdale where (unusually for the Lake District) I enjoy a decent wifi connection. Upload a few Leg 1 photos onto social media and finally off to bed.

0900: Check Steve’s Facebook update and Amanda’s live tracker. She has lost around 40 minutes in the mist on Leg 2, and is now running very close to a 24 hour schedule. Bad news for her, but it does spark a greater sense of urgency in me. This could be a close-run thing!

1000: Jump into the car and make the 90-minute drive from Borrowdale to Wasdale Head. A crazy enterprise – 6 miles as the crow flies, 40 miles by road – I could have run it quicker.

1130: The National Trust car park at Wasdale is full but support driver Tom and the Leg 4 runners are there, anticipating Amanda’s arrival shortly. Just enough time for me to drive half a mile up the road, dump the car then leg it back to see Amanda come in.

1205: After a decent 10 minute break, Amanda is off on Leg 4, two thirds of the round done in two thirds of the time. It’s going to be a fun next 8 hours! I am very pleased to be able to offer Alex, one of Amanda’s Leg 3 support runners, a lift back to his van at Dunmail Raise.

1630: Back to Borrowdale, upload photos and a clip from Wasdale, have a bite to eat and check on Amanda’s progress. Likely to arrive at Honister just after 5. It’s still on!

1700: Make the short drive up the pass and find the support team at Honister. Anxious necks are craned up the trod from Grey Knotts, searching for figures. After what seems an eternity, a fast runner dashes down the slope. Sadly, it’s not Amanda, but her Leg 4 support runner Tom, who gives us a breathless update. Amanda is on her way, still with a fighting chance of a sub-24 hour round.

1723: Amanda arrives in Honister car park, muttering about it being no good, she’s lost her chance etc etc, but still runs straight past the refreshments table lovingly laid out for her and is straight up Dale Head. The Leg 5 support gather up their stuff and dash after her, and I tag along, thinking it might be useful….

1803: Amanda touches the cairn on Dale Head with 1 hour 57 minutes left and 2 peaks and 8 miles to go. I think about continuing on the whole of the final leg, but in fact decide that she already has enough people around her, and frankly I don’t want to have to traipse up to Honister later to pick up the motor! So, dash back down to the car, then pop into base to upload a final clip from Dale Head. It’s obvious from a quick glance at Facebook that many people are keenly following Amanda’s progress on the tracker, willing her on. Back into the car and round to Portinscale.

1855: Start jogging up the road from Portinscale, hoping to rendezvous with Amanda and the group somewhere on the run-in.

1922: Meet the group at Little Town. It’s taken me 27 minutes to jog here from Portinscale. Portinscale to Keswick is a 10-minute jog. If Amanda can jog in from here at the same pace I’ve just done so she can still do it! But although Amanda, after 23 and a half hours on the go, is indeed remarkably still jogging, she isn’t doing so fast enough for a sub-24 round! Somehow she needs to up her pace. Cue increasingly desperate attempts by the support team to somehow cajole her legs into moving more quickly. Every crass motivational cliche is spouted – “You can do this!”, “Dig deep Amanda!”, “It’s there for you, just reach out and grab it!” etc etc etc – but the road seems never-ending…

1957: We cross the bridge at Portinscale, and only now all begin to accept that she isn’t going to make it by 8.

2007: Amanda touches the door of the Moot Hall. Then we all go to the pub. To commiserate, but also to celebrate a most memorable day. And 7 minutes. A surprisingly philisophical Amanda is already talking about giving it another crack later this summer…

bg skiddaw

Stile End Dash

stile end dashIs this the quickest quarter of a mile run in the Lake District?

On the left of the photo is Stile End, near Braithwaite. As you drop steeply off the top, the path flattens out a bit and meets another path coming in on the right, from Barrow Door. The next 400 metres – to the clump of trees on the right of the photo – is a broad, sloping grassy path, perfect for a flat-out descent.

Thus – the Stile End Dash, from the path junction to the trees. Why not give it a few tries? Compare your times against previous ones (over a thousand already recorded on Strava). Can anyone do it in under a minute?

Most importantly, have as much fun giving it a go as I did:

Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge

Current leaderboard (@ 28.8.19)

25.6.19. Jon Pownall. 1.03.27

28.6.19. Dave Middlemas. 1.03.53

25.8.19 Adam Nodwell. 1.04.07 (view a clip of Adam’s previous attempt here)

25.3.19. Richard Jones. 1.27.36

30.11.18. Jonathan Coney. 1.28.02

2.12.19. Matt Armstrong. 1.40.05

23.6.19. Tim/Ian/Dinesh. 1.41.26

9.1.19. Jon Pownall/Jenny Hall. 1.57.21

 

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 (see the current “leaderboard” above). Have fun, and any feedback on this idea, route selection etc is much appreciated. If sharing, please use the hashtag #MV3TC

PS – If starting at Scotthall, for £3 you can change/shower at the Sports Centre 200 yards up the road. A range of post-run refreshment options are available in Chapel Allerton, 15 mins walk away from here.

scotthallstravaScreen Shot 2018-11-28 at 17.57.00

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!