Ennerdale Fell Race: report

Report from Gary Mason:

Ennerdale Fell Race 8th June 2019

I woke up early Saturday morning and could hear the rain outside, I had hoped the weather forecasters may have got it wrong and it may have been a dry day but obviously not. After pausing for a bit thinking about if I really want to head off for the long drive and then long hard run around the surrounding hills of Ennerdale lake, I got up.

The weather didn’t improve on the drive down and it was still raining heavily when I arrived extra early at the scout camp near the lake. The organisers are under pressure with regards to parking so only fifty cars were allowed in the scout camp car park and there were specific instructions not to use the nearby public car park. I didn’t fancy parking 2km away and walking in the rain so thought it best to make sure I got a space at the scout camp.
Pre-race nerves were not helped by tearing a calf muscle a few weeks earlier at the Helvellyn race, bad weather and talk of tight cut off times. Being first at the registration meant getting the number one race number which was easy to remember. Nerves began to settle as I chatted to some of the other runners and after a quick pre-race talk from the organiser, random kit checks and a quick talk from Joss Naylor we were off along towards the road and up the grassy bank heading up the first hill. Towards the top of the hill the wind was really strong and the mist had descended. Having not opted to wear gloves or a waterproof I soon wished I had. Trying but failing to get out my waterproof from the back of my running vest without taking it off I thought the best option was to hope the weather would improve over the other side of the hill. Over the top it was not as windy but still bitterly cold and my hands began to go numb. Although some of the ground was a little rough it was mostly runnable towards Great Bourne and the first check point. Unfortunately just before arriving there I felt a burning pain again in my left calf. Panicking I thought about the remaining 20 mile and thousands of feet of climbing and the race map’s advice of Ennerdale not being a race you wanted to fail in for any reason due to the long trek back and thought of heading back. Deciding I had trained too hard and long to not give it a go I pressed onward conscious of not running too fast to try to avoid aggravating it any further.

Climbing up towards Red Pike I passed a few people and caught a small group going up in the mist towards the check point. It was still raining hard later on coming down the slippery rocky path towards the foot of haystacks. There was a little bit of confusion from some of the other runners at the bottom as some runners were going up over the top of haystacks whilst others were skirting round to the right to avoid the summit. I decided to go around as per the race map line and soon caught a few people up. It was bitterly cold and raining on the hard slog up along the fence line and my hands had lost most of their feeling. The waterproof gloves I had were tight to get on with wet hands so I doubted I could get them on. At least by the time I got to the third checkpoint of Blackbeck Tarn the mist had cleared and the rain stopped so my hands warmed back up enough to regain some feeling.

Passing along the check points at Green Gable and Kirk Fell all was going fine and I was pleased to be going well. From Kirk Fell I arrived with a small group to the gulley heading to black sail pass mentioned in the race instructions as dangerous and exposed. The runner in front of me was of shorter stature and remarked “bloody hell” peering over the fairly high wet rocky drop to the stone shelf below. The runner in front of him kindly stopped and helped him down. Knowing I’m not quick descending wet rocky uneven paths at the best of times and wanting to keep up I quickly attempted to lower myself down facing the drop instead of waiting and turning around which proved rather uncomfortable on the shoulders. Clearly I hadn’t thought that one through! Trying hard not to lose touch with the few runners in front of me I went as quickly and careful as I could down the wet uneven rocky path not wanting to slip on the exposed drop down. It soon became apparent it wasn’t quick at all as the others got further away but I soon caught them up when I got to the bottom heading towards Pillar. I wasn’t too sure where I was but I recall thinking that I hoped that was the dangerous gully bit done as it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. What if it wasn’t the dangerous bit and there was worse to come though? I felt relieved the gully had been successfully navigated when I passed the couple of runners in front along the track up Pillar. The track came to an end with no obvious path upwards so I turned to the runner behind to ask which way to go. All ways are up he said, proceeding to pass me horizontally on the left and begun scrambling on the exposed rock and heather upwards. Quickly following upwards I glanced over my shoulder at the drop below and decided best not look again! Knowing I had reached the final checkpoint within the cut off time felt good but my legs were tiring and calf giving me little reminders all was not well.
There was just myself and another runner together now and he kindly gave some welcome tips about the route ahead, advising not to drop down to the left to Wasdale and every so often he checked to make sure I was following him in the right direction as I was slowing down as he pressed onward. The last six or so miles were on runnable grassy ground but my legs were too tired to pick up the pace and take advantage of this so I plodded along at a fairly slow pace. A gel and some chocolate raisins didn’t help revive me but after a long haul I arrived through the forest and to the welcome sight of the finish line.

After a quick coffee and some cake it was time for the presentations with Joss Naylor handing out the prizes. Finlay Wild was the winner and Nicky Spinks also amongst the prize winners. I didn’t see any other faces from NFRS that I recognised so maybe I had been the only one running. Many thanks to the organisers and marshals for a tough but enjoyable race.

Gary Mason

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