> 2011 race reports
02/10/11 Ian Hodgson Relay - from Dave Johnson

“A Plodders View of Leg Three”

Who needs a multi billion CERN set up to suggest that some things may travel faster than light, when all you really need do is email a fell relay organiser offering to run and see how fast he responds. Will Horsley’s response to my reckless offer of help was definitely faster than instantaneous.

So I was in the team. Gulp! Well at first it didn’t seem too bad when I thought I was going to be paired with George Nicholson. He’s a bit faster than me but not lung and leg “destroyingly” so. Sadly relay team plans only seem to last about ten minutes and sure enough this one proved to be no exception. Inevitably, at least from my point of view, the change for the worse, because I was now paired with John Duff who certainly was capable of destroying me on a run. Still, there is often a silver lining, albeit rather tarnished, to bad news, because on the plus side we had been given a short leg, (well three if you include both of Johns!). Even better, because I like to kid myself that I’m a good ascender, the leg began with a steep climb up to the top of Red Screes. After that there was one much smaller ascent to Dove Crag and then it was downhill all the way. Maybe I would cope after all.

Race day dawned wet in Tyneside but surprisingly it wasn’t raining at Patterdale. In fact the tops looked cloud free and indeed they were for those like George and Andrew who were lucky enough to be on Leg 1. However by the time we were approaching Kirkstone to start Leg 3 the cloud was almost down to road level and it was raining. As we waited for Dexter and Louis to come in, we watched the other teams start their run and realised there appeared to be a route choice right at the start. Most teams struck off along a path veering left but before they vanished into the mist one or two, including a Borrowdale pair, took a line directly up a grassy gully. We thought, “If it’s good enough for Borrowdale…”. So when it came to our turn we took the direct option trusting that it wouldn’t end with an overhanging wall of slimy moss covered rock. Fortunately it didn’t, although John’s superdirectissima gully route did come close at one or two points. I just about managed to keep up with John, who, good lad that he is, said he was almost going flat out himself. Still after about 20 minutes of this, the top couldn’t come soon enough for me. Any relief though was short lived because my partner was soon suggesting that we try and do a bit of running.

I am told that visibility was next to zero on Red Screes, I didn’t notice. My brain was entirely focused on just trying to keep John’s heels in view. At least now we were going downhill and John was slowing down for my benefit, although at one point I did detect just a hint of impatience when he took out his Sunday paper and started reading it.

We ploughed on through the clag and I began to wonder if we were still in a race. It was hard to tell. Since leaving the Red Screes marshal behind we might have been the only two left on the planet, for we were completely alone. When we eventually emerged from the mist in the col before Dove Crag, we were still all alone, but not for long. As we started the next climb John glanced behind him and said the chase was on. Sure enough, three teams had emerged from the mist on the slopes of Red Screes and were in hot pursuit.

Gradually, inexorably, they caught us up. A pair from Bowland drew level for a while as John navigated us towards the last checkpoint. Their second man told me he was knackered, I agreed but told him I had an escape option. I pointed out a nearby sheep and told him I was going to give it my number.

Back in the mist again, we were just beginning to have doubts about the whereabouts of the last checkpoint, when a yell from out of the mist revealed the marshal. I breathed a sigh of relief as we began the long downhill run in. We started off following a Keswick team who took a pathless line to the left of the walkers footpath. This was grassy and good at first but gradually became a bit rocky and messy before rejoining the main footpath, leaving us wondering if following the path right from the start would have been the best option. There would be time to reflect on that later, now it was a case of downwards and onwards as fast as we, sorry, as fast as I could manage and although we didn’t manage to catch anyone at least no one else caught us.

Half a mile out I provided a spot of impromptu entertainment by falling over in front of a group of walkers and nearly rolling down into the ghyll. This was embarrassing rather than painful but I felt they must have been impressed by my recovery which was so quick that John never realised he’d nearly finished the leg solo.

Soon he was yelling that we should be at the campsite in 5 minutes and I tried to glance at my watch to see if we were up with our estimated time of 80 minutes. I looked back up just in time to avoid a potentially head removing branch, the first of several that slowed me down but of course had no effect on the progress of the rather shorter John.

The next thing I saw, and it was the best thing I’d see all day apart from the fruit cake in the refreshment tent, was the sight of crowds surrounding the finish line which was now only a hundred yards away. The finish wasn’t at the campsite after all but much nearer at the foot of the descent ridge. We charged in, John dibbed and we handed over to Will and Tom. I looked at my watch, 117 minutes, three minutes inside our estimate. Initially we thought we’d dropped three places but it turned out we had kept our starting position of 43rd. This was a very pleasant surprise and frankly a bit of a mystery because we couldn’t remember passing anyone at all. I think three teams ahead of at the changeover must have managed to get rather hopelessly lost somewhere between red Screes and Dove Crag! So we were quite pleased with ourselves and a good day was made even better when we witnessed the spectacular finish of John and Tom’s already legendary Leg 4 run.

David Johnson

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