> 2010 race reports
30/06/10 Hope Wakes Fell Race - from Dave Hicklenton

The Heat, The Flies and that damned Incessant Drumming!”

The Hope Wakes Fell Race 2010

Now let’s get this straight from the start – I never had any intention of winning.  As I drove across a muggy and hazy Peak District I thought I’d be happy to finish in the top half.  Well, actually – just finishing would be a bonus.  A couple of weeks ago  I decided to stop obsessing about daft long distance challenges – Marilyns, 50 at 50 etc. etc. and come out of my self imposed retirement.  About time, I thought, to forget the aching knees, sore Achilles and surplus belly and enter races again.  Oh – hang on – better send my subs in –or should I register as U/A? Then, out of the blue, the Head teacher decided I should represent the school at a conference in Birmingham and so after thumbing through the FRA calendar and doing some minor research on the ‘net’ I piled down the A1 towards Derbyshire and the Hope Valley, to sneak in a fell race on my way to the Premier Inn in the second city.

Timewise I was always pushing it a bit – 3.30 leaving Ponteland, race start time 7.30 and I certainly put the Ford Ka through it’s paces, pushing 64 mph on occasions.  Once in the Peak, the roads narrowed and the villages got more and more pretty.  One thing that hadn’t crossed my mind at all was the local significance of ‘Wakes Week’.  In the Hope Valley I passed several floral displays and signs about ‘well dressing’ and the models / scarecrows / bunting and assorted signage in Hope itself indicated a medieval celebration which would surely justify at least one witch burning ceremony.  Small crowds had formed at some of the more extreme shrines with parents warning their children in hushed tones about ‘incomers’.  I tried to avoid eye contact as I sidled up to the registration table but the elderly lady volunteer fixed me with a gimlet stare and her mouth twisted up into a grotesque smile.  Sneeringly, she squawked out:

“Have you come all this way just for the race?”

I felt there was more to it than just the simple question and mumbled something about Birmingham and a meeting.  She narrowed her eyes and stared at the NFR logo on the vest.  Surely she couldn’t know I’d not paid my subs?  I held out my hand shakily for the number and she almost spat out:

“Ninety – nine!”,  which made the others on the registration table turn towards me and smile, unnervingly.  I turned and stumbled off towards the start, clutching my safety pins.  I’m sure I heard mutterings behind me of ‘…not a local…’,  ‘…northumberland…’. and   ‘first time’.

The tannoy crackled into life:  “Due to traffic hold- ups, the start will be delayed by fifteen minutes”.  Good, I thought, time to check the route and lock the car properly.  I think the delays were caused by all the people checking out the dressed wells.  The race map wasn’t much help – it was on a small scale and so although I could see the red line easily enough, I couldn’t work out which end of the start field we would leave from.  As I tried to surreptitiously check out where the start was, without asking anyone, I saw a guy in a red and white Saltwell vest amongst all the Penistone and Dark Peak and Wicker Man Striders.  I went up to him;

“Have you come all the way from Gateshead then?”
He looked up at me slowly and smiled.

There was a slight pause as my ‘hail fellow, well met’, wasn’t.

“Right … er..I saw your vest - I’m running in the Saltwell Harriers Fell race next week”

“I live 15 miles away from here in ……..”   Alas I couldn’t make this out.  Sounded a bit like Killdale?  I started to wonder how he had got his hands on the Saltwell vest.
I wished him luck and moved on. 

The hooter went off to signal a stampede of 240 runners towards a gate at 7.50, just as one of the organisers was halfway through his talk through a megaphone to the runners about the route.  We all jogged off onto a dusty track that led to the nursery slopes of Win Hill.  There was a hold up after two minutes as most athletes wanted to cross a footbridge over a stream rather than splash through it, then there was another slowing down as a spectators dog threatened to attack the runners.  By five minutes in, I was already sweating profusely in the unseasonal heat and regretting the crisps I’d had for my nutritionally balanced pre - race ‘tea’ in the car.  We went past some locals who laughed, jeered and clapped simultaneously whilst ostentatiously drinking lots of cold lager.  As we went up the road and tracks through local farms I started to notice the characters around me. I ran just behind Red Head Band for a long time and alongside Large Knee Bandage.  On the way up the first big ascent I was overtaken by enthusiastic lady runner in cycling shorts who seemed to know every other competitor and wanted to taunt them with slaps on the bum and witty jibes as she overtook.  Needless to say I didn’t see her again.  Nor did she slap my bum.

After about 8 minutes slog up the hill it got too steep to run and we ‘power walked’ up a path as Derbyshire’s entire population of Diptera, Coleoptera and Ephemeroptera buzzed over our heads.  Initially, I chuckled at the cloud of insects above the chap in front, but then looking up, I realised I had an attendant six legged freak show as well.  The trouble with walking is that it is not fast enough to escape the insects and the trouble with insects is that some of them bite you.  As we crested the ridge at the top of the climb, we were scratching, slapping and flapping at the damned flies and then  began to outrun them on the descent over the top towards Ladybower reservoir.  The path got steeper (downhill) and went into conifer plantation.  It got steeper still and came out again. I’d like to think I was making a ‘quick technical  descent’ of the path at this stage but in fact I was stumbling, tripping and swearing my way down to a rocky junction where a cheery steward pointed the way onto a good level path.  Ah ha!  My speciality! Flat paths with a very slight downward gradient on good grass or slightly yielding surface.  At last I could really open up and…. Hang on – it seemed to be everyone else’s speciality as well.  My knees were starting to hurt as I got overtaken by Head Band, and Knee Bandage as well as Wheezing Vet 60 and Unattached Lady with Full Track Suit.  After about a mile of traverse through the trees it was time to turn uphill again and this time it was a proper steep one, with everyone walking.

As we came out of the trees we could see the top of Win Hill in the distance and the crocodile of ‘runners’ making their way up there.  It was a glorious evening (especially for the class ‘Insecta’), and the sky was just tinged with purple and pink as we made our tortuous way to the summit.  But it was then that the drumming began.

In my ears of course.   I thought my heart was going to leap from my chest as I struggled up the final rocky slopes.  There was a photographer at the top with a small posse (lynching party?) waiting to cheer / deride / laugh at us poor unfortunates and they had a good view of us struggling up there from about half a mile away.  My knees had decided to go into ‘numb mode’ so as not to distract me, my mouth was like leather and, according to the wall chart in my class room, my heart rate was now officially well over it’s allowed maximum.  Eventually, as I crawled up the final stones to the top, I realised that we just had to make it downhill and… look! …there’s my car in the field in the distance!  To my mind, on ‘Proper’ Fell races, you can see the summit from the start OR see the finish from the final summit and this was the case.  Sadly, it was two miles away, rather than a crashing headlong descent.  We went down very steeply past a pub (those blasted cold drinks again !!), and through a farm where the local St. John’s Ambulance were spraying the runners with cold water from hoses.  Eventually back down over footbridge and into the finishing field.  I ran lopsidedly over the line, my knees protesting, and made my way over to the marquee with energy drinks, massage, fruit cake, and ( most probably ), dancing girls and free flowing pints of ice - cold lager.  In reality, of course, it was a tent with water in plastic cups.  Just to add insult to my injuries, the bloke in front of me won a spot prize of a crate of  Stella.

I drove out of the field towards Birmingham with a great sense of satisfaction.  I had ticked off another fell race from the calendar, and I’d seen another fantastic piece of countryside and learnt perhaps a little bit about local culture.  I didn’t win, missed the spot prize and wasn’t even the runner who’d  ‘Come from furthest away’.  BUT – I did finish, and I was still in one piece.  I beat Knee Bandage, Red Head Band came in just behind me and Saltwell Harrier Man was already in his car leaving the field as I finished; but amazingly I was in the top half-  Lloyd Taggart’s record  of around 41 minutes was threatened, but not beaten, and I limped back in 62 minutes.

Two hours later I was in Birmingham in the dark.  It was still very warm and after checking in at the  Premier Inn,  I went for a quick pint in the throbbing metropolis.  Too many people, not enough greenery, no insects, knees absolutely fine, the drumming in the ears finally silent – no good at all.

Dave Hicklenton


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