Langdale Horseshoe: report

report from Dave Johnson:

12.10.13 Langdale Horseshoe Fell Race

If it’s the second Saturday in October, it must be the Langdale Fell race, it has been thus since I started running in 2007 and I have to say it is my favourite race. This is despite the fact that my last three attempts had been marred by injury or daft route finding errors. This meant that time I was more than usually determined to avoid any pitfalls and have a good run and beat my previous best time which I managed back in 2009.

This year it was an NFR championship race and there was a good turn out from the club with Peter Reed, Richard Cavner, James Charlton, Paul Appleby, Paul Hainsworth, Emma Bain, Steph Scott, Mark Clarkson, Andrew Higgins, Francis Shillitoe, Graham Wilkinson, Jason Taylor, Phil Green, John Tollitt, David Johnson and Rob Salter all competing..

I met Phil, Rob and Nina Cameron of Heaton Harriers at West Jesmond on a dull drizzly morning at 7am. John Tollitt was picked up at Byker at 7.10am. He had slept in and only woke up at 7am which probably explained his more than usually dishevelled appearance but still it was an impressive effort just to make the pick-up on time. This was John’s first go at this one as it was for Nina and Rob as well as being their first serious fell race.

The sky was uniformly grey all the way over but a mixture of good conversation and Phil’s driving kept the spirit and excitement levels up. We reached Langdale almost before we knew it so there was plenty of time to renew old racing friendships whilst we leisurely prepared for the off. Weather conditions were much better than we had expected. It was dry and even the high tops were clear of cloud apart from a few wisps of mist floating around Bowfell’s summit.

Safety procedures had been tightened presumably because of the Brian Belfield tragedy at Buttermere-Sailbeck. We were all subject to a kit check and our entry form was signed to confirm this before we were allowed to get our race number. Furthermore we were told to hand this in at the finish. It all worked rather well. The fact that Pete Bland ran out of race maps suggests some were maybe caught unawares by the full check.

At 11.00am we were duly sent off along the valley path. As usual this was a bit of a cavalry charge as runners fought to get a good position for the climb up to Stickle Tarn. I ran this just behind Paul Hainsworth with Nina seemingly intent on keeping on my heels. Nina stayed with me up to Thunacar Knott after which I left her behind and Paul left me behind. I was pleased to see I was 3 minutes up on my previous best time at the checkpoint.

Coming off the summit I made a point of watching where the runners up ahead went so that I could plot a course on the surface through the Martcrag Moor bogs . I am pleased to report that this was achieved although judging by several dismayed yelps, not all of those behind me were as successful. I learned later that Jason, Rob and Phil all enjoyed the delights of a partial bog immersion. I felt I ran well down to Stake Ghyll, passing Steph en route and I was still feeling good on the gentle climb up to Esk Hause.

After Esk Hause comes what most people think is the worst part of the race, the traverse under Esk Pike. This is a narrow trod that is always wet and which mixes up bits of slimy rock with unexpectedly claggy bits of mud and it just seems to go on forever. Today I was behind a quite nervy runner who was going just a little slower than I would have liked to go, but it was just too much of a bind to try and find a way past him that didn’t involve the risk of an involuntary descent to the valley floor. And so I just settled down and tried to enjoy it as much as possible, which needless to say wasn’t very much at all.

I felt a bit heavy legged on the climb up Bow Fell from Ore Gap and ate a Mars Bar and drank the last of my sports drink but at the top I was surprised to find I was all of 5 minutes ahead of schedule. So all was still well although I knew the Crinkle Crags traverse would be crucial and there was no telling what might happen there!

I was very annoyed when I took a bad line off the boulder strewn summit but it probably wouldn’t have mattered much even if I had found the best line because I just could not get going at all. I was almost at the Three Tarns before I got up any sort of speed again. I imagined I could well have lost all of my 5 minute cushion on this part of the course alone.

Now came the Crinkles traverse and fortune smiled on me. Ian Charters was there and he knows these hills very well and also up ahead was an Ambleside runner who seemed as if he also knew exactly where he was going. Ian fell behind a little after stopping to tie a shoe lace or something but I was tucked in behind Mr Ambleside with two other runners close behind. After a while I noticed Ian sticking to a lower line and I suddenly had doubts about my choice of leader! I did though sort of remember the terrain from an earlier recce but not having the courage of my convictions and discretion being the better part of valour and all that, I eased up and stayed behind the Ambleside chap. Soon it became clear that all was as it should be when we stopped climbing and continued on a level grassy trod and I accelerated again. Down below and slightly ahead I could see Ian with his coterie of followers heaving themselves up the fell side. There seemed little to choose between the two routes when we linked up for the final pull onto Long Top. I think my way involved slightly more distance but maybe cut out some unnecessary descending.

At Long Top my watch showed I was only 2 minutes up which meant my reckoning of the damage caused on the descent of Bowfell was almost spot on. The Bad Step was avoided almost without realising it had been avoided, although the avoidance route seemed a little more of a faff than usual. Soon I was back on better terrain on the long descent to Red Tarn although my legs were feeling heavy again and it took a good while before I really got going. After losing places on this part I managed to pass several people on the way up to Pike of Blisco where I was concerned to find I was now only 90 seconds up on my previous best.

Fortunately I found the easy way off the summit without any trouble just by following the route everyone else was taking and had a bit of a race down with a Keswick lady who kept passing me on any very steep part whilst I would in turn pass her once the descent became more gentle!

As the road came in sight and the gradient became consistently easy she said “I’ll say goodbye now”! It was a relief to reach the road crossing because now the end was in sight and all that remained was a final short blast down to the bottom of the valley. I gunned it for all I was worth not daring to risk a look at my watch. As I approached the Langdale camp-site I was rapidly catching a tall runner in grey and black. When she reached the first stile, she kindly held it open and waved me on saying I would pass her soon anyway! What a great gesture! I pulled ahead but as soon as I reached level ground I felt the pain in my legs and lungs but just managed to hold out for the last few yards helped by the encouragement of Phil, Rob and John as I reached the far corner of the parking field. They said my contorted face was something to behold, even more so than usual.

I reached the line, feeling more exhausted than I had ever felt at the end of a fell race. I looked at my watch in some trepidation, but I had done it and finally beaten my old time by all of 4 minutes. I didn’t even have the strength to take the pins off my number before I handed it over to the organisers.

Before going to rejoin the others I thanked the Keswick runner and the other lady for their competition which had really helped to spur me on during the run in. All of them had managed top half finishes. Rob, not fully fit managed 162 minutes, Phil 169 minutes and John 185 minutes despite not having a proper breakfast!.

They went to get their pasties, promising to bring back mine as I waited behind to get changed and to clap in any other NFRs yet to finish.

Then just as we were getting anxious, Nina turned up looking very relaxed in just over 4 hours pipping Richard Cavner who was pleased to have made the cut offs.

The race was won, as it was last year, by local lad and former NFR, Ben Abdelnoor. As for current members, Mark Clarkson and Andrew Higgins finished in 35th and 39th places respectively with Rob Salter 83rd on his début for the club. Messrs Shillitoe, Green, Charlton, Tollitt and Appleby all had good runs and made the top half of the field of almost 400 runners.

A few of us adjourned to the ODG for a pint before leaving for home after enjoying yet another day of Lakeland fell racing at it’s best.

Dave Johnson

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