> 2008 race reports
03/05/08 Coniston Fell Race - from Dave Hicklenton

“The Old Man won again”

I really like the Coniston fell race.  Not quite as much as Sam Clarke though.  Having lived opposite the start and finish field for many years and competed many times in the race himself, he decided to take over the organisation about five years ago.  He put together a formidable team - including his colleagues from Coniston Mountain Rescue, running friends past and present, an army of cake makers and barbecue specialists and Phil James (NFR) as technical support.  That first year he handed the first prize over to Ian Holmes who was chased down the final slopes by Rob Jebb.  At 11 O’Clock on Saturday morning he was stapling the finishing sheets onto hardboard and ensuring that the first aid tent was pitched correctly.
“How many times have you won this Ian?”
“Don’t know – three perhaps”
“Rubbish – I can remember four at least”
“Rob won a couple of years back”
“Is he camping tonight?”
“I think so”
A knowing look between them, then a smile.

Todmorden Harriers are up in strength and as the Primary School was not going to allow camping on it’s field this year, they had done a deal with the farmer who owns the land next to the Sports centre.  He was sceptical at first – having heard perhaps of  some of the Bingley Boys noisy overindulgence in the past, but the proffered cash was too tempting.  So the camper vans were on the field, the sun was in the sky and the scene was set for another Lakeland classic. 

A runner comes over and asks
“Do we have to go up Mouldry Bank ?”
“I just wondered because I think it might be faster to go up the track further to the miner’s cottages and then cut up right”
“Well, yes perhaps, but that’s the route and we want people to go up there”
Sam says that Scoffer has asked him the same question several times before and thinks about putting a flag at the top to ensure it’s the way everyone goes.  He wants the initial suffering to be an integral part of the experience.

The farmer was reseeding the start field so the mass start of around 350 was on the lane.  Sam had managed to get some more numbers from the Pete Bland van as there was a sudden rush at midday.  He stood on the wall above the assembled throng with megaphone in hand sychronising stopwatch and wristwatch.  The NFR contingent jostled with the others, some more nervous than others.  Terry Hart’s mate, taking part in his first fell race, alongside seasoned international campaigners.  The hooter goes and we’re off up the familiar bad tarmac surface to the start of the track.  There is no flat ground for a gentle opener, it’s up from the off and then it just gets steeper and steeper up Mouldry Bank.  Last year Rob Jebb was standing at the top of the bank spectating as he kept his powder dry for the Three Peaks the following day.  This year he was dancing up it first – a blue striped gazelle away in the distance.  Only a handful of people actually ran up most of it, the bulk of the field puffing and panting and swearing away with hands on knees and heads down.  I was dimly aware of Phil J behind me, Geoff Davis in front and a scattering of Purple and Green vests around the field.

At the top of the bank, the gradient eases and the path drops slightly for a short while before getting steeper again crossing a couple of gullies on the climb up Wetherlam.  It feels warm and several runners are regretting the extra layer under their vests.  The hills are busy and there are many walkers to dodge around on the route between Wetherlam and Prison Band.  I took too low a line and lost a few places but with the visibility so great there was not much chance of people getting lost.  Unless, that is, a big group do what 50 or so runners did about ten years ago and head off towards the top of Dow crag instead of up the ridge to the Old Man.  On that day, some lucky mid pack runners suddenly found themselves in the top forty.  There have always been navigational problems in the mist of course.  I was in good company in 2005 when I went walkabout on Swirl How along with several others including I think Andy Peace.  Rob Jebb won that year. 

There was a crowd of people up on the top of the Old Man  - some looking faintly baffled as we stuttered past.  At the top a friend called out to the Todmorden lady in front of me:
“Over this way – further right!”
and she launched herself off the summit plateau over in his direction.  She soon disappeared behind boulders and dips in the landscape and I tried desperately to remember the ‘good’ route down threading between the quarries and paths.  It was here that Tim Edwards of Calder Valley,( in about 15th and following Paul Cornforth who had good local knowledge,) fell and broke his leg.  The Mountain Rescue landrover was soon up the track to fetch him and the runners might well have heard the ambulance as they were on the descent.  I cursed my way back onto the tourist track at the ‘z’ bends having taken a really unconvincing descent route.  I was now in a group of runners I had never seen before and was able to go quicker than most of them.  I saw a familiar NFR vest ahead and was able to catch Geoff before the miner’s bridge.  It was then just a question of the quick run-in and the final 100m of yielding grass before collapsing with a cup of orange.  It seemed as if most of NFR were back before me –  but we were all unscathed and smiling.

The times were good but not record breaking as most of the higher finishers had done the three peaks the week before.  Ian Holmes had (inevitably) caught Jebby on the descent and picked up his fifth (?) sixth (?) or seventh (?) win (and as a vet not a senior) with Ben Abdelnoor coming in a very close third.  (Some readers might know him from when he was running in Tynedale a few years back before the move to the Lakes.)  Karen had predicted the Ladies winner on the way over in the car – Natalie White finished in about 1 hour and 25 with Sharon Taylor and then Jane Reedy behind her.  The first V50 was Jack Holt, Sally Newman was first LV40 and Dave Tait was first V60. 

We trooped back to the car park and then Phil Sanderson was horrified to see his hero, Rob Jebb, sitting by his camper van drinking the first of probably several cans of Strongbow.
“But he’s an elite athlete!” he spluttered.  “He’s always been a real hero of mine!”.  Having seen RJ in the flesh winning the 3 peaks cyclo-cross and having watched with interest and expertise his participation for team GB in Treviso and Belgium, his disappointment was truly deep.  However, as my English teacher used to tell me, the nature of the true hero is such that he is all the greater if he has the trappings of normality and human frailness.  Such is the greatness of these top runners that I have fond memories from a couple of years ago of Rob being propped up by Scoffer and Ian, whilst swaying and shouting at people in the Coniston sports club, having to be steered away from bemused locals for his own safety.  Indeed I  base much of my training on pandering to this human weakness and trying to emulate our top athletes.

Only one V70 ran and he came in last just as the field was starting to clear.  After the funnel, the congratulations and a drink; he walked over to the van to look at the finishing sheets and as he stood in the Cumbrian sunshine, it was he who made the  statement, both literal and poetic:
“I see the Old Man has won again”.

results on Coniston Fell Race website

Dave Hicklenton

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