Jack Bloor Fell Race 8-5-2012
My move to London to develop my work as a personal trainer is imminent. I have accordingly decided to run as many local fell races as possible before I go. While I am excited to be bringing my services south, and London has its fair share of hills and slopes, it doesn’t begin to compare with the hills I will be leaving behind in Yorkshire. With that said, I am an inexperienced fell racer. When in training I generally run for hours at a time on long steady gradients, but a fell race is all about going straight up a huge hill and then coming straight back down. Last night’s race on Ilkely Moor was exactly that: 350m/1150ft of ascent followed by the same descent. All in the space of 5 miles.
I met up with ultra running veteran Jon Steele beforehand. We chatted about our inexperience in these events, whilst looking up apprehensively at the sheer scarp directly in front of us. Fell runners are a different breed of athlete and the short, sharp and intense nature of these events is a bit different to the long and drawn out psychological challenges to which we are used in ultras. After recognizing a relative manning the cake stall, discovering that my garmin battery had gone, and deciding to wear my brand new bright red f-lite trainers, it was time to start.
The race had no fixed route – you choose your own so long as you go via the waymarkers. The 200 or so entrants immediately split into several groups, each taking different approaches up the flank of Ilkely Moor. I found myself trapped in a group running a bit slower than me so decided to branch out and make a straight line up through the heathland rather than try and follow paths as most of the others were doing. This worked for a few minutes, before I concluded that the extra effort I was putting into propelling myself through the thick undergrowth was outstripping any navigational advantage. I have become quite pleased with my strength on hills recently, but this was soon put into perspective by seasoned fell runners at whose hot-air-balloon sized lungs I could only marvel when I looked up and saw the leaders 300m ahead of me after only five minutes. But I ran most of the precipitous ascent with only a few hands on thighs moments, reached the first waymarker, the Badger Stone, and bore due West.
This part of the race was a gradual descent to the next waymarker. Despite a nosedive into some bracken as I tried to negotiate a large ditch, the slope allowed me to pass three or four runners before reaching the ancient Swastika stone. We then set off back uphill on another climb – not as gruesome as before but still thoroughly unpleasant. Stream after spring after bog after marsh meant that any hope of trying to keep my new trainers clean was futile – and more evidence of my fell racing inexperience. Reassuringly, though, I started to pass people who had sailed past me earlier. As the gradient evened out towards Cowpers Cross and Ilkely Moor summit where there was half a kilometer or so of flag stoned track to run across. This allowed me to pick up a head of steam; I made good time around this part of the route.
From the top of Ilkely Moor it was down down down. This was hugely enjoyable despite the first half mile being run calf deep in standing water which left my feet numb. As the gradient steepened so things become increasingly eventful. Tapping a rock with the toe of my shoe sent me careering head first into the ground at one point, whilst disappearing to below the knee in a concealed bog sent me flying sideways at another. I had no pre-planned route down and found – to my alarm, with no other options available – that I was following two runners who had a very casual approach both to their own safety and to the basics of gravity. With momentum increasing and very little opportunity to put on the brakes we sailed over a near-vertical thirty-foot drop. I went down feet at first, but was soon thrown onto my bum, then my left side, then my right, then every other part of my body apart from my feet. I imagined we looked like the people who chase cheese down a hill in whatever village they do that in the Cotswolds. Remarkably, when the slope evened out ever so slightly, I somehow landed on my feet and carried on running.
After about ten minutes of pure adrenaline I saw the finish. I managed to get past the two suicidal runners, but just as I’d inched ahead of them I tripped and they passed me again. I flew down the final bank, vainly trying to catch them and before I knew it I’d reached the finish exhausted but exhilarated. Jon finished about 30 seconds after me, which was great, because I never beat him!
I am an immediate fell race convert and have another lined up for next week. The lung-busting ascent, the tactical approach to route finding, the five or six falls and the lunatic descent combine to make you feel very alive. Bring on the next one.