This was the big anniversary 50th year of the Fellsman and it was to be like no other but lets look at what I did right in 2011 compared to my previous failed attempt in 2010 when I sprained my dodgy right ankle and recorded my only (so far) DNF .
- I decided to sleep in the car instead of the noisy and uncomfortable hall and got a bit more sleep but not a lot more.
- I took my time early on up the big climbs and felt fresh all the way around.
- I fed well at the checkpoints eating all that was on offer.
- I took it easy over the tussocks where I rolled my ankle.
and the things I didn't get right and needed to improve on for this 2012 event.
- Using a 5 litre rucksack to cram everything in was a mistake. Every time I wanted something out of the bag it had to be emptied and repacked. This time I went OTT and got a 25 litre inov8 race elite pack on the cheap which turned out to be great as the compression system on it is superb, It will compress down to an equivalent 10 litre bag and weighs less than my 5 litre raidlight pack.
- I was cold at night because I was grouped with people who had no intention of running the night sections. The extra room in the new bag would take another top layer.
- I set myself an 18 hour schedule which turned out to be easily achievable on the day but I never pushed any harder to go any faster.
- ..and the thing I got most wrong was that I treated the race as a social outing, stopping for way too long at checkpoints and talking too much to others. Nothing wrong with that I suppose as the social side is one of the best things about the long distance stuff, but I should be pushing on when I feel good.
- ....aand not forgetting, I needed to do more (some) training. I've improved a bit in this department volume wise but not nearly as much as I could.
I arrived at Threshfield on the Friday night with an airbed already inflated in the back of the car and ready for a good nights sleep.
At kit check you could find all the race officials adorned in all new bright blue North Face kit; Looks like TNF have spent some money on the event. All entrants were given a commemorative Harveys 1:40,000 map with all the checkpoints ready marked but everyone was a bit uncertain as to whether it could be used on it's own, my kit checker said he couldn't see why not but I asked Suzanne, race organiser at the check in desk and she 'recommended that we didn't' as they hadn't been checked yet. It looked fine to me so I just went with it anyway.
I met up with Roger in the dining hall (We weren't dining in the wood working workshop this year) and a few other Stone Master Marathoners. I'd paid for the evening meal which turned out to be an OK, if a little stodgy cheesy pasta concoction, the others had brought their own with Alison opening a huge box of donuts she'd acquired for 6p.
We had a quick look in the Fellsman shop which had a selection of old memorabilia and newspaper cuttings from back in the day. There was a great picture of Mark Hartell looking 'in the zone' wearing headphones on the way to another win.
I've been a bit slack with the photos on this event, in fact I only took these two and one from kit check.
As always I'm sure Nick won't mind me linking to his set
Ingleton was bitterly cold and the school was locked up, some sort of double booking cock up. With nearly an hour till the off we were offered shelter back on the coaches only to be kicked off again 10 minutes later into the biting wind.
Jez and his TNF entourage were there in their matching seasonal electric blue kit but still shivering with everyone else in the kit check queue the ones who hadn't been checked the night before.
I was glad to be on my way at 09:00am and heading up towards Ingleborough just to get the legs moving and keep warm. I've been comparing my split times with 2011s since the race and can say that I was no quicker, but no slower than then during the first half. On the rocky decent off Ingleborough it was take it easy time but it still didn't stop me doing my classic Fellsman ankle roll, yes the right one again as always. I thought it was all over but carried on hobbling to try and walk it off. Luckily it seemed OK if a little sore. It was apt at that point that Karen Nash overtook me with her ankle tightly strapped up after a bad sprain the week before gained whilst orienteering, I know the feeling. The paving stones on the way to CP1 were tackled with a bit less speed until I was happy the no damage had been done.
A big change for me this year is to reduce the downtime I am waiting at checkpoints, while I never wasted any time before at Hill Inn (CP1) I was straight in and out just grabbing a handful of biscuits. Dent would be the tester later on at around 20 miles and an inviting feast of goodies on offer.
|Early on heading for Whernside. Not so cold and windy yet.|
It was blowing a gale up on the summit and I made a sharp exit as soon as my tally was clipped, which took a bit longer than usual as there was a lot of pushing and shoving.
|Another stolen photo|
All was well down to Kingsdale, taking it easy on the tussocks again, with minimal stoppage time for 2 flapjacks to be eaten on the Gragareth climb. It was good to see people stopping here, bags off, having a sit down etc. I felt good to press on.
The splits show I was a good 10 minutes up on 2011 by the top of Gragareth. On the turn around that all changed with a howling side wind all the way to Great Coum not helped by the deep bogs en route which I fell in twice up to my knees almost pulling my knee out of it's socket at one point. I ran along here with 3 lads all in high spirits, they made me laugh with their matching North Face packs.
The weather began to brighten up as we descended towards Dent. I found myself running alongside Mick Cottam which was pleasing as he is way faster than me. We successfully found the short cut to the checkpoint which seemed to go around someones back garden. There was a guy with a chainsaw chopping away the overgrown foliage right on cue as we passed the small footbridge.
Dent was very busy as usual and the sun came out as it always does but I kept telling myself to just grab some food and get out of there. A cheese roll and a few biscuits plus water top up as quick as I could. Again it was pleasing to see a dozen or so people layed out on the grass taking their time. I felt good but the ankle was a little sore. I ate the cheese roll on the long tarmac road. I remember in 2011 not running very much at all after this point as I'd got chatting to Ian and was in a frame of mind that just finishing was all I wanted, time didn't matter. This time I did manage to run a bit while eating but then we turned off road again and there was a long incline.
Bad patch take 1
Here we go! first bad patch of the day. Movement slowed quite a bit as I took the direct route over the tussocks to Blea moor.
A chap with a blue curly wig and a familiar face passed me and said hello, of course that was discoStu.
I asked a chap lying in the grass if he was OK. He was just tending to his sore feet and doing a bit of preventative first aid. I was just feeling tired and the lack of sleep had caught up with me, almost sleep walking.
From the Blea Moor checkpoint I was on my own for a while navigating to the Blea Moor tunnel path which led through a nice wooded area. A bit easier to find this year as a huge weather station? with solar panels had appeared right at the stile which I was heading.
The tiredness continued through the prize turkey smallholding. A fine selection of birds were on display and the owner with the curly moustache was sitting just behind the gate making sure we all abided by the countryside code and didn't scare his prize killer turkey!.
Breaking into a run was still possible and I think I was pacing it well but on the long stretch of road into Stonehouse I almost fell into old habits again, I found a chap called Dave walking this stretch looking in a bad way. I'd met him the previous night as he was the boyfriend of Emma Key from Stone Master Marathoners. I admired his confidence that night as he was hoping to be back in Threshfield before last orders which would give him a finishing place right up there with the elite. Unfortunately he'd been sick quite badly and his energy reserves were at an all time low, the intention was to quit at Stonehouse.
All was going to plan still for me as I came to my senses and left him to it after a 2 minute chat. I arrived at Stonehouse and got a tray of pasta as quick as I could, along with a slab of cake, leaving the place without a pause and eating on the move.
The slog up to Grt Knoutberry didn't seem any quicker than my usual efforts but with it being the final out and back of the race you get to see who is about 30-40 minutes ahead of you. Mick Cottam and Karen Nash were the only ones I noticed, I was pleased enough with that as we were just approaching the half way point and despite the tiredness I felt OK.
I found a good route down to Redshaw which picked up a nice path which I suppose is the optimum route. This was somewhere between my 2010 route which went too high and my 2011 route which was too low, I even picked up a couple of places.
A hotdog at Redshaw and a straight in-out achieved again. Checkpoints seem really busy this year, best to get on your way.
Snaizeholme CP is a strange one that never seems that far from redshaw and just follows a fence. It was easy navigation from memory so far and the new map hadn't come out yet.
Onwards to Dodd Fell and I get stopped by a man in a caravan at the radio repeater station at the base of the hill. My plan was to go a direct route up Dodd Fell to the summit but was told I couldn't go via that route and had to go down the Pennine Way path then straight up the side. Right on cue an older chap caught me up and said he knew the way. Into a dried up gully, this was much faster than the route I knew. This guy seemed to know the way pretty well so I held on to him all the way to Fleet Moss keeping a good pace all the way. I made a lot of time up between Snaizeholme and Fleet moss and felt like I'd gotten a second wind or perhaps after nearly 40 miles I was beginning to wake up.
I wasted more time than I wanted at Fleet Moss, not because of sitting down, eating or talking but my hands were that cold I couldn't do the zip up on my ageing Haglofs coat. It must have been 5 minutes before I sorted it out. The zipper's had it. Good news was it was still daylight and I hadn't been grouped yet.
The most talked about route choice in UK ultras?
Varying route choices were displayed by others on the way to Middle tongue. I'd decided on my route from last year, relatively flat and good going. A few others had evidently chosen the same way as a good trod had appeared for the first few hundred metres where the track left the road. As the small tent was getting closer the sleet came in, temperature plummeted and the sky began to darken. 2 chaps asked me if they were close to the checkpoint, I had a feeling it was a bit further on, luckily it was and could just be seen between 2 huge peat hags. Just as I was taking a look around, not even running I went over on my right ankle again, this was getting frustrating. The sprain was no worse than before but on tired feet that were already sore I was swearing and hobbling about until the pain wore off a few minutes later.
There were 5 of us by now all heading for Hells gap taking a rough bearing that would hit a fence corner no matter what. Some strange wooden dam type structures had appeared all over Cray Moss. I am unsure as to what these are actually for but baring Fleet Moss (if you go straight through it) this was the boggiest part of the whole route and I knew the going would be much easier after it.
The other 4 seemed to pull away from me a bit as we approached Hells Gap but I'd caught them again on the straight path run in to Cray. I think they were trying to lose me because I was hobbling a bit just after the ankle roll and they wouldn't want a lame non runner to be grouped with. On arrival at Cray it was still daylight but unfortunately grouping had already started.
Cray was heaving with people when I arrived and I decided to take a little longer to feed well, change my socks,(which was a mistake as they were soaking wet again as soon as my shoes went back on) and put my compulsory full leg cover on. By the time I'd done all this I was on my own waiting for 3 others show up and get grouped with. I wasn't too bothered because I knew I'd get waiting time so carried on eating. Rice pudding, ham sandwiches, jam sandwiches, tea, biscuits. I was pretty stuffed by the time somebody arrived 40 minutes later.
With 46 minutes waiting time added to my tally I left Cray in darkness grouped with John Taylor from Wheaton Aston (close to Stafford) of all people, Noel Hogan - another local 2 others I can't remember and Richard who I'd got grouped with in 2011. The 5 of us set off up Buckden pike on a somewhat wiggly route to start with until all the gps's came out to put us back on track. It was evident right away that Richard was struggling on the climbs so we all held back a bit. On the flat and down hills the pace was pretty good and we all seemed to be moving quite well, keeping warm on the bitterly cold night.
The whole night section was a bit of a blur and was all bog hopping and wall following all the way to Park Rash which was carnage.
Grouping order squabble fest
There where lots of disjointed groups where members had dropped out with one young guy not looking well at all, as white as a sheet and eyes gone out, he wanted to continue but a race official wanted him on the body bus and shipped back to Threshfield. Another 2 were in high spirits and waiting to be regrouped, they got added to our group, so that was 7 of us. Just as we were leaving they guy with the grey complexion jumped up and got added to our group as well. 'What can I do' the marshall said ' he wants to go on'.
The 8 of us all set off for Great Whernside together. I was very uneasy about one members ability to continue, I was proven wrong as he shot up the hill at a good pace and knew the way well.
Snow on the top of Grt Whernside was not a surprise, I'd seen it from from the distance while at Kilnsey crags a few weeks back on a junior orienteering training day. It was deep enough then to still be there tonight, and it was getting even colder. Thick woolly hat and hood up through the whole night section.
My head torch had dimmed greatly as we approached the final checkpoint at Yarnbury, it began to flash, a warning that the batteries were about to die. It was here that we first heard the rumours that all walkers still out on the course would be brought back on the buses and the event had been abandoned.
The run in. Restless legs
We were de grouped and I ran all the way downhill to Grassington, only walking slightly on the incline before the school turning. I was beginning to get a sweat on.
I arrived at the desk in the school for the final tally clip to not much fanfare. 'Have you just come back off the bus'. 'er no I've just finished'. 'Oh well done then' they began to move with a bit more urgency as they recorded my time and take off the waiting time, they then told me that the race had been abandoned at 1:41am because there were to many people going hypothermic at checkpoints, for the first time in it's 50 year history the event had been stopped.
All in all performance wise this was a big improvement over last year and I'm sure in the right conditions and with a good nights sleep my secret 15 hour target would have been achievable. The splits show me gaining time from Redshaw onwards which I suppose would suggest that I paced it better.
Jez Bragg won in around 11 hours, an hour slow than his record of 2011, the cold got to him as it did with all of us
|The commemorative map. My quickroute trace over the top.|
Grough report here and here
Almost 2 weeks later we are still awaiting the results and I don't know what time I got around in. I am guessing at 17 hours with the 46 minutes wait taken off.
The Fellsman never ceases to be an exciting event and remains one of my favourites. I will definately be back next year hopefully reaching Park Rash before grouping.