> 2010 race reports
15/05/10 Fairfield Horseshoe - from Chris Winter

Rydal Hall grounds - photo: Chris Winter

15th May 2010

In comparison to 24 hours earlier, the weather in the Lakes on Saturday was positively tropical. The race starts and finishes in the very picturesque surroundings of Rydal Hall near Ambleside. As a walker in a previous life I’ve done the horseshoe a few times so had some idea of what to expect. I tried to go over the route on the map the night before but needn’t have worried about navigation. The organisers allow you to recce the final mile of the course on the way from your car to the start line.

At the off I found myself at the back of the pack which slowed to a walk after about 10 paces. We must have all resembled a fleeing herd of sheep as the flock snaked its way along the winding paths that lead out onto the fells.

The route follows a path out to the north of Rydal Hall before heading up onto the open fell. By now everyone begins to settle into their ‘natural’ rhythm before the sharp, steep climb up to Nab Scar. There’s not much overtaking on these ‘hands on knees’ stretches of the course as everyone seems to be too tired to exert themselves any more than is absolutely necessary. Once on the ridge the rest of the route up to the summit is just about runnable (in the very loosest sense of the word) with few deviations from the main walker’s path. The views out over to the steep slopes of the Fairfield are amazing and with such a good path underfoot and even better weather conditions, it is actually possible to savour them at the same time as running. Great stuff.

After an hour of running the summit suddenly came into view with the marshals calling out everyone’s numbers. I panicked a bit as I wasn’t sure whether or not you had to touch the cairn. No one else did so I got close enough to shout ‘thanks’ and turned round and headed for home.

It was at this point I think I set a new world record – the length of time taken for a man to consume a fun sized mars bar – easily in excess of 10 minutes. It was like chewing putty (presumably).

It was also about now I wish I’d paid more attention to the race map I’d paid £3 for about an hour ago as I couldn’t work out when to cross the wall for the best line back down. Somehow I had managed to miss Phil Sanderson’s environmentally friendly ‘cross the wall here’ marker - some dead animal remains! I led a pack of runners down the other/wrong side of the wall which took in some pretty steep slopes. Despite this I was quite pleased as I managed to open up a bit of lead on them down this stretch, only to rejoin the main route behind another group I’d overtaken back at the top.

Things got a bit rocky in places and I made mental note to watch my step as you could easily fall over. 10 seconds later I was scudding head first down the slope on my hands and knees. As falls go it was quite an impressive one, the distance travelled on face vs injury sustained ratio going in my favour. A quick choice expletive and I was back up on my feet. I’m not sure if it was the shock of the fall or the pleasure I got from my visible, yet somehow pain free injuries, that seemed to give me some extra speed down the final slopes to the finish.

Before the race I’d heard plenty of people talking about how hard the final stretch along the gravel path was. Surely the worst bits are the steepest I thought? As I turned out of the last field onto the flat I felt a strange, uncontrollable twitching in my toes. This promptly turned into full blown cramp, something I’ve never experienced before. I was left with toes so curled over it felt like running with a budgie’s claws for feet. There were a few bemused expressions on spectators’ faces towards the finish as I tried get rid of the cramp by stomping my feet as I ran. I could only hope that my bloodied knees and arms would help me retain some sort of manliness for what was left of the race.

There was just enough time to make the stream crossing yards from the end look incredibly difficult before I limped over the line in 1 hr 49 mins (face apparently still covered in mars bar).

That said, this is a really great race, especially for new comers to fell running like myself. It’s excellently organised as well and with so many runners taking part it really feels like you are taking part in a bit of a Lakeland tradition. The navigation is pretty easy with the only real tricky bit picking up the racing line on the way down. Even if you don’t manage it you wouldn’t get into too much bother. The term Lakeland ‘Classic’ really doesn’t do this race justice.

PS: Chatting with the other NFRs at the end Phil S mentioned he’d managed to finish 9th. Quite impressive given his tale of the giant killer tick which had spent three days feasting on his blood. I must remember that one for future use!

Chris Winter

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