> 2009 race reports
09-10/05/09 The Fellsman - from Jane Grundy

The Beautiful Five! – Fellsman 2009

9am on Saturday morning saw us both on the start line – or field – looking forward to a long day and night of putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as we could – again.  Originally, Lewis was not going to run this one, but, as we were discussing my kit, route and strategy the weekend before he could not help but get involved and decided to see if he could get an entry.  He did, with 4 days to spare, but decided to run it with me rather than totally trash himself.   

The weather as we started was quite windy, and a little chilly, but on the whole great running weather.  A few showers had been threatened by the forecasters later on, then into a cold, but dry night with less wind.

Ingleborough summit, sun shining and the whole course spreading out before us.  Down to the Hill Inn, where my sister and her husband had come along to give us a smile and a word of encouragement – it was lovely to see them, but I had warned them that we would be running straight through and have no time for a chat!  Flapjack in hand and water in bottles, we head off up Whernside. We were a little concerned that the Highland Fling, two weeks ago, might have taken quite a bit out of us and not sure therefore how legs/bodies would react, but they seemed to be doing ok so far.  I was hoping for around 17 hours this year, but knew that I would have to push to do that.

Back along the Whernside ridge into the wind, and a rain shower started, but seemed to give up quite quickly.  Over the makeshift stile and down to Kingsdale, where, again, we stocked up on cake and water for the climb up Gragareth.  We were doing fine, aiming broadly to be in Dent in four and a half hours, and seemed to be on target for that.  We tended to be holding our own around the same group of people, which gave me a real boost.  The ridge towards Great Coum and Dent is long and runnable and was also fairly boggy so it was a case of head down and go for it.  I ran alongside Gerry Dewhurst for much of this section, so we chatted (as only girls who run can) and the miles seemed to pass.

Into Dent – and out of there in just under four and a half hours so things were looking ok.  We did a quick refuel and stock-up and set off walking straight away, eating as we went. The long unrelenting track up, which nearly literally finished me off last year from the heat, was about to hit us with its worst again, albeit with the opposite extreme.  It started to rain, and we thought it was only a shower, but it got heavier and more windy until soon we were battling with a full scale hail/snow storm, blowing straight into us.  We really hadn’t expected this. People were stopping around us and putting more clothes on (or so we thought, though Gerry did confess later that she actually didn’t put any more clothes on, seemingly thinking it more important to put the cover on her sac!) but we genuinely believed that it would pass over quickly and we would be fine.  The forecast only said showers, after all!  As the track emerged from its walled protection into open moorland, the weather threw its full force at us. We had already got our waterproof tops on because of the wind, (very Mr and Mrs in our matching green jackets) but really now needed an extra layer, we were cold and wet. 

We stopped eventually, right on top on the moor by the cairn, with no protection from the elements (and we call ourselves experienced fell runners/mountaineers)  – and, one at a time, so as to gain maximum protection from each other and hold down clothing in the gale which was now ensuing,  put on a spare top and over trousers.  A decision which I had made at the very last minute to put in a powerstretch top rather than just another thin thermal very probably saved me and enabled me to stay in the race. People were still running past us in shorts – probably those same toughies who only eat yoghurts and grapes! 

Eventually we were dressed, but had lost more heat as it had taken longer because we were already so cold. We jogged down to the valley bottom which we crossed before the ascent of Blea Moor (or is it Bleak Moor?) – and then marched up the hill as fast as we could to try to generate some heat.  Lewis was on the windward side taking the battering, so I was protected a little. But the hail was stinging through all our layers and it was absolutely freezing.  Where had this come from?  Got to the summit – and all credit has to go to the checkpoint marshal who was up there – he was doing an amazing job – way harder than ours. 
We ran off the ridge, wind now behind us, and down into the shelter of the woods on the way down to the next checkpoint, where we knew there would be hot food. Everyone around us was freezing and to top it all, I then slipped down a slope on my backside and got even wetter and more covered in mud. Hey ho.  My hamstrings had stiffened up from running in wet tights, and the jog to the control on the road was hard work. I later learned that Lewis was worrying that he had pushed me too hard on the first bit of the course, but I think I was just recovering from the arctic conditions we had just experienced. 

Stonehouse was busy, with a lot of very cold people, and I think quite a few were thinking of retiring.  We remained focused, and got on with the job of –yes – eating again.  Pasta with cheese and tomato sauce went down well and hot tea in my bottle.  Off we walked – a long track up to a col before turning off left and up to Great Knoutberry.  Gerry and her friend Steve who she was running with caught up with us –they’d sensibly had a bit longer at the control to warm up.  We walked up the track together, then they were a bit stronger on the hill so pulled away a little bit, As we descended the hill, Mandy Calvert was just getting to the top, and caught us up on the contour run to Redshaw, that elusive control, which is, in distance, marginally over half way, even though it feels like you’ve been out for days.  Everyone was feeling a bit warmer now.

The five of us set off more or less together out of Redshaw (who says hot dogs aren’t good running fuel?) – but were still not quite operating as a group, all just trying to keep up with one another and pushing each other in an unspoken but mutually encouraging sort of way. I was feeling strong now, I knew we were well up on last years time but this section was crucial and it was essential we got to Fleet Moss as soon as we could.  I now had hot tea mixed with ‘Go’ powder now in my bottle – an interesting combination but it seemed to work, though probably would not pass ‘Masterchef’ scrutiny.  Jogging when we could, walking the hills, we covered the ground and soon we were on Dodd Fell, being met by a cheery group of teenagers who were marshalling and seemed to be having a great time.  Down to Fleet Moss, perhaps not the best line, but adequate.  Checking into Fleet Moss at 18.25, we’d done it – beaten the grouping cut off by just over an hour!  I always knew it was possible, just had never managed it before!

As if to celebrate this fact we were greeted by Joe Faulkner and Lyndsey who had come along to support, and it was a real boost and surprise to see them, even though we could not have more than 10 seconds with them.  Into the tent, Lewis found rice pudding and devoured a lot of it, I found a ham sandwich and we had yet more hot drinks in an effort to maintain some degree of body heat.  The weather was now dry and the sun had even appeared, but there was still a chill in the air and the skies were clearing, the wind still making its presence felt. 

This was especially notable as we emerged from the warm steamy tent into the Great Outdoors once again.  We had finally attacked the question on everyone’s mind in this event – who will we end up getting grouped with?  We did not need to be ‘officially’ grouped now until we got to Cray, the next roadside checkpoint, but for hours beforehand people are checking out their likely comrades. It felt the natural thing to do for all of us that Gerry, Mandy, Lewis, myself and Steve teamed up. And what a team -  we moved well together, encouraging everyone to keep up with the pace – and supporting everyone through.  As we left the checkpoint, Joe and Karen McDonald were in pole position to get some good photos before cheering us on our way.

I highly recommend the ‘alternative route’ to the south of Fleet Moss, you can run a lot of it, and it is so much more pleasant than the central, direct route.  I think it is definitely quicker, too, although last year the main bog was so dry that it is difficult for me to do a direct comparison.   A good line brought us to Middle Tongue, and we fought with the very peaty peat hags section immediately after the summit.  No-one came to grief and we emerged at the wall corner, set a line on the checkpoint and jogged on towards it. The track to Cray felt hard and stony, and a steeper downhill than I remembered, but it passed and 2 hours and 10 minutes after leaving Fleet Moss, we were ‘clipped into Cray’.

As we refuelled on gorgeous hot chocolate accompanied by cocktail sausage and cheese spread sandwiches, our group was recorded ‘officially’ and the card written out.  We were asked if we would take another two, but we were already a five and knew we were going well together – we felt that seven would become a bit too big.  Lewis annouced that we were, indeed, already a ‘Beautiful Five’ – and that seemed, for some reason, to clinch it.   Sorry, whoever you were, hope you were not offended, it was nothing personal! 

We left Cray just after 9pm after a long stop to sort out torches, clothing etc and went up Buckden Pike at a pace which did not reflect the fact that we had already covered 45 miles or so – thanks Mandy – my ascent power was tested to the full!  On the summit 34 minutes later, having overtaken a couple of teams on the way, it was just getting dark and as we jogged along the wall it was also getting notably colder. It was dry, though, which was great.  Group still going well, navigated the direct line to Top Mere, and ran on to Park Rash, all feeling quite strong and, going past another couple of teams on the way. 

Hot soup was fantastic, more caffeine based snacks and off for the last section – the route up Great Whernside is not a big climb and we were once again in Mandy’s ‘no pain, no gain’ approach to ascents.  Along the ridge – with the view of the massive orange full moon to our right, which was truly amazing.  The checkpoint appeared and off down the hill.  I had thought this section was much more boggy and slow from last year, but actually it was fine, and the penultimate control succumbed at about 12.25am.  The final bit had dragged and dragged last year, as we all had very sore feet which were really protesting by now. However tonight it all felt very different, and we were still going well, still pushing and jogging, and actually able to jog through the fields and beacons which lead us to Yarnbury in that middle of the night, slightly detached state of mind.  The night was still clear, illuminated by the amazing moon, which will be one of the overwhelming memories of this year’s race.    

As we neared the school and the finish, we still had to navigate - around a group of local youths who had obviously spent too long in the pub and were a bit worse for wear – but were extremely enthusiastic about our run and cheered us on!  Through the gates and into the finish – delighted – in 16.38! 

Thanks to Mandy, Gerry and Steve for being great company on a great day. 
A huge thanks to the organisers, checkpoint teams and high altitude marshals, who all worked together to make sure we had what we needed and often in testing conditions. 

Full results and more reports and photos on www.fellsman.org.uk

Note:  As far as I am aware, no other NFR members were running, but apologies for not giving you a mention if you were.

Jane Grundy
14 May 2009

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