> 2008 race reports
10/05/08 The Fellsman Hike - from Jane Grundy

'Got any use in your team for a man with a big headtorch?'
'Sure, come and join us, might be a long day' - little did we know just how long.
And so it came to pass that Lewis joined the girl's team for the latter half of the race.

4pm on an extremely hot and humid afternoon in the Yorkshire dales. I know, it wasn't wet, or windy, or hailing or snowing, so we shouldn't complain, but nonetheless I think all entrants would agree that it was a pretty hot day to run 61miles.

7 hours earlier, 346 competitors had started this epic race from Ingleton Community Centre. Numbers have increased again, as it is now part of the Vasque 'Run Further' series. 61 miles in length with approximately 11000 feet of ascent, it traverses a reasonable amount of untracked, rough and boggy ground in the process.  Unless you are called Mark Hartell or Steve Birkinshaw, you are almost guaranteed a night section, what we had not bargained for was seeing dawn on the Sunday morning whilst still racing!

Many hours of planning the route on the map, working out best lines, packing and working out a food strategy had gone into the weeks before.  Scouts organise the event, and are very explicit about what you have to carry, and will also check mid-course.  As it is a linear route, finishing in Threshfield, buses transport runners and walkers to the start at 6am - so it was an early start.  Once in Ingleton it was time to register, get a kit check, socialise and get to the starting field on time. Once there, we realised there was in fact an NFR men's team - Steve Birkinshaw, Dave Atkinson and Lewis Grundy. So we entered them as such and had high hopes - the pressure was on!  Later David Forster was also at the start, and he ran with the boys team in the early stages.

I had agreed many months ago to run with Mandy Goth - we knew we would not be the fastest, but were hopeful of getting round. She was great company and is really strong on long distance. Mandy's friend Stuart from Todmorden also accompanied us. 

The early part of the race heads to Dent, after crossing Ingleborough, Whernside, Gragereth and Great Coum Summits. The control was catering for more than a few who had set off too quickly over the relatively runnable terrain and were now suffering in the heat. We were pleased to be on target to Dent, taking just over 5 hours. There was still a long way to go. Out of this control there was a long slow ascent to Blea Moor in what was now stifling, muggy heat.  Mandy and I were both suffering and I had even stopped wanting to eat (very rare for me - as those who know me will testify). It seemed to take an eternity to get to Blea Moor - but when we did, Lewis was sitting at the checkpoint - quite a surprise. Lewis and Dave Atkinson had started with Phil Hodgson and a couple of others from Todmorden. The furious pace had lead Lewis to start too quickly and he had to let them go. Whilst deciding whether to retire or not, we appeared and invited him to join us to finish - not knowing at that point that 14hours later we would just be crossing the line! He quickly got used to his new, relaxed pace at the back of the race, where one can chat - I think he quite took to it!

On we went - still very hot for early evening - to Stonehouse and Great Knoutberry and on to Redshaw, the half way point in distance at least. On arrival there, who should we see, than Dave Atkinson - sitting in chair with a cup of tea.  Things were not looking good for the NFR team - but Steve was doing well, although we did not know that at the time.  We tried to persuade Dave to join us too, but he was having none of it - I think Val and the pub were a tad more enticing than 12 hours of peat bog crossing.

The next section, across Dodd Fell was the hardest for me. Because I had not eaten enough, I was feeling really sick and still it was hot. I forced myself to eat something and drink some PSP, which really helped, then Mandy started to feel the same. Fleet Moss appeared eventually and the team felt stronger, albeit 2hrs later than we had hoped at this point. The heat had really slowed us down.

It was now dusk and the 'Grouping Officers' were getting excited - it was their chance to come to the fore. Being a Scout organised event, and because the night section for most people crosses some wild country, the rules state that you must group into minimums of 4 people.  We were a 4 already, but they asked us to take another guy who had been waiting for a group to come through. This was fine but we were slightly less impressed with the somewhat bizarre blanket rule which states that when dark, you have to put your long trousers on. It was still about 27 degrees, without a breath of wind.

Steve joined us and was a godsend! Completed 11 times before and knew what was really the most difficult part of the course, both underfoot and navigationally, as well as overnight. Despite the peat bogs being notably dry following the week of great weather, and not putting a foot wrong in navigation, the pace slowed as the ground was so rough and  we were now in darkness (remaining very hot in our trousers).  This section really reminded me just how much time you can lose simply because it is dark. We just got to the summit of Middle Tongue as it went pitch black, which was promising. 

Down to Cray after a descent which felt about 3 times longer than the map suggested. We had now been going 14hours.  The checkpoint at Cray provided the best bit of food all day - a white bread, cocktail sausage, cheddar and tortilla chip sandwich - marvellous! (clearly feeling stronger, I was eating again now).  We were told that we were around 70th place which surprised us all, as we thought we had been really slow, but we ascertained that large numbers had dropped out due to the weather.  Buckden Pike was steep but good going and we had to take care with navigation. By now it must have been 1am and the weather was amazing - you could still be running in a vest and shorts and been too hot, had the rules allowed it.

On through Top Mere to Park Rash - the last road control.  Although morale was good, this event was fighting back and we were gradually losing more time. Realisation slowly dawned that we may well be not finished until about 6am!   Great Whernside was the last big climb, found the checkpoint and trogged over a long descent of yet more peat bogs.  Legs and feet are starting to complain a bit - they would really like to be horizontal now.  Dawn was beginning to break at 4am and there was a fantastic sunrise - finally we got to Yarnbury  - the last control before the finish.

We hobbled down the road for the final 2 miles - all now with very sore feet - again largely due to the heat, we think (and just possibly the fact that we had been on them for 21hours and 61 miles).  At 5.45am we arrived at Threshfield school. We had finished! 20hours 45 minutes.
The final results are not out as yet, but Steve was 3rd I think, in an amazing 12hours 16minutes on his debut at this event (how did he do that?). He was just 8 minutes behind Mark Hartell, who won for the 11th time.  We were pleased to have finished - it's a great event to be a part of - but we'll be back to try to improve our superlong time! 

A great day and fantastically organised - www.fellsman.org.uk

Jane Grundy

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