Saturday, 29 June 2013

Foel Fras Fell race 2013

Not done this one before.
Not only that, but I've never run a race in Wales before. When the Glossopdale Championships included this one on the list, I was intrigued and excited to get my teeth into it.
The marauding 'dalers. 

2 problems. The first was that it clashed with the newly created Daz H memorial race (the old Buttermere horseshoe), and the second being that there is precious little information about the race online.
Up to the beginning of the week I wasn't sure which one I was going to do. However, as the Daz H race was pre-entry only, so that fixed in my mind that I was doing Foel Fras.
I then had to find out about the route. A bit of pre-race knowledge is always good, and luckily there was an old Strava course which gave me a decent idea of where we were going to run.

In the end there were only 7 Glossopdalers racing, amongst a field of about 60 or so.
After registering, and having a sneaky look at the final descent - I really didn't want to come hammering down that into the unknown, we all lined up outside the cafe, and were counted, one by one to the actual bit where we were going to start - just to ensure the race organisers knew how many people were actually starting.
Glossopdale HQ. Johns car.

The day was pretty warm, so for the first time this year I was in just a vest, no arm warmers, no waterproof,
and it had been quite hot and oppressive when I was checking out the final part of the route, not 10 mins before. My number was pinned on my vest... what if I needed to take it off mid route? A very fast start line re-pinning of the number to my shorts commenced, and was completed with just a moment to compose myself before the hooter went and we set off up the road.

From the start, the race climbs. It doesn't actually stop climbing until you pretty much reach the top of Foel Fras. Thats about 10k of continuous up-ness in varying degrees of steepness and on different types of terrain. The guys at the front zoomed off, and I found myself mid pack as we ran up the first 500m of road. Not to worry. This climb will go on for the next hour or so. I'm certainly not as fast as the guy on the front, so the key is not to blow up, just keep a steady pace and see how we go. If I'm right then I'll start scooching through the field after a bit of time.

Along the first stretch of road I overtook a fair few, wishing Chris good luck as I edged past him, and before long I could see only about 10 people in front of me. The road wound around and about, and I happened to see a gate with the words "No Sheep" on it, and reflected whether it was a request, a command, a question, or just the name of a house.
One of those things.

Up the road, and it starts to get steeper. The guys in front show no sign of letting up or stopping, so there is nothing for it but to just keep on plugging.
Steeper still and a couple of guys start walking. I manage to keep running and overtake without going into the red zone, so I'm a little further up the field.

On the way up the climb I was joined by another runner from Buckley and we ran with each other, pace for pace up the hill. I didn't stop. He didn't stop. Runner by runner we caught up and passed everyone except for the top 2 or 3, and the vista opened up above us, showing us just how far we had to go before we got to the top of the hill. It looked like a long way, the clouds were high above the summit, and the view up and over Snowdonia promised to be amazing when we reached the top.

The Buckley guy and I paced each other to the first checkpoint, sometimes he was in front, sometimes I was, and about 100m in front of us was the tantilising shape of the next runner. I stopped for a gulp of water at the checkpoint, and then ran on, away from the solid path that we had been following to that point, and onto the somewhat more boggy ground, and the climb up toward the top.
I was feeling pretty shot by this point, just about keeping myself below the red "blowing up" line, and somehow managing to run every step of the way. I kept telling myself that if I was at this end of the race then I had better well keep running for as long as I possibly could.

There was an awful lot of Jens Voight-esque "shut up legs" conversation going on between my head and my legs.
And then the Buckley runner says "we can catch that guy up there, c'mon".
Oh man.
He started pulling away from me. We can't have that, can we?

So I dug deep, and carried on with him, surprising myself by managing not just to keep up, but also to drop him a little as we reached the crest of the hill. The distance to the runner in front had diminished, but we had not caught him. But the Buckley runner had caught me up again, and he led me over the top of Foel Fras, onto the hard, sharp stones of the tops.
He began to pull out in front of me on the lead down and back up to the next summit, but again, I'd only stopped to walk a couple of times on the climb, and I'd be damned if I was going to let him get away on a downhill section, and then a little climb back up to Garnedd Uchaf. I tailed him, step for step over the varying terrain, and again, we were closing in on that runner, but it still was not to be.

He topped Garnedd Uchaf first, eschewing the water proffered by the marshal, I was only about 5 metres behind him, but grabbed a quick glug, realising that he wasn't going to gain any real time, and I would gain a little from the water. Dashing after him, he hadn't made more than another 3 metres on me, so bang, straight on his tail.
All credit to him, I reckon he must have run the race before as he had some pretty nifty lines across the horrendous, potential ankle twisting rock sections that peppered the course from there down to Bera Bach and Drosgl.
The result of going in a bog
On the way down I managed to clip my big toe on a rock, (and later found that it had blistered quite marvellously - whether from the initial impact, or from consistent rubbing afterward, I don't know), and later on did a fabulously exciting face first dash into a bog, which lost me a little time. As I rolled up and carried on there was another runner bearing down on us. Not so good. Still, this was still a good battle, especially as the Buckley runner subsequently did the same bog tumbling act as me, going down just in front of me, so I had to skirt around him.

Over to Drosgl, and the other runner overtook us, wearing quite remarkably clean Salomon shoes. I have to applaud him for keeping brand new shoes as clean as Boxfresh even half way through a race. Astonishing. At this point I made a slight error. I thought that Drosgl was the final hill, I thought that we had gone over Moel Wnion and this was the final descent, so I stretched it out a bit and tried to get a little distance over the Buckley guy, maybe even catch the one that had just so recently overtaken us.
But up ahead, I could see another runner going toward another hill, another down and up, and I had just been really giving it some speed for the past minute or so.

Damn. Have I lit the powder too early? Are my legs, knackered from all that running up hill, and then across rocks and bog going to cope with this final uphill... and then, more importantly, are they going to support me going downhill after that? This could be a problem.

Following the guy that recently overtook me, we go down into the col, and then hit the tussocky nightmare that is the climb up to Moel Wnion. I congratulate myself on the fact that we must be way ahead of the
Buckley guy by now.
But no.

I glance to the left, and he has taken a different line. A faster line by all appearances, and is actually in front
of me going up the hill. Time to really knuckle down, ignore the legs, ignore the lungs and keep the feet moving. Alternately walking and "running" up the hill, keeping in touch with the Salomon guy, and just managing to pip the Buckley runner at the post to the top, I could taste metal in my mouth and saw spots before my eyes. Again, a chance to grab a sip of water before nodding to the marshals that I am indeed ok, and off down the hill.
This is the final downhill, and marked by bright florescent markers.

Normally a strong point of a race for me, my legs were getting harder and harder to move. The Buckley guy was breathing down my neck, so it was a case of really trying to stretch out and gain some space. The ground was ok underfoot, and then turned into a nightmare of bilberry bushes and tussocky ground. Legs had to be lifted high, which increased fatigue on lifting muscles, and also on shock absorbing ones as they came down.
That faint diagonal line. Thats the last downhill, that is.
I fell once. twice? I have no idea, but just carried on going, hoping I had gained time on the Buckley guy. Coming down to the rather complex sheep fold that marked the beginning of the end I could feel my speed being sapped. Legs were going slower and the finish couldn't come soon enough. A glance to the left.

AGH. He's got a better line than me AGAIN!
Legs screaming, I attempt to hurtle down to the junction, and just make it through the gate in front of him. Psychologically important. And I can still see the Salomon guy in front, so follow his line again. I know where this is leading, and am waiting for the gate.
Again, the Buckley guy has a different line and I have to really block out what my legs and lungs are saying now, I get to the gate... but its a different one to the one I recced earlier on... I still have another couple of fields to go before the final descent.

Me coming down that last bit
I've been going as hard as I can while retaining some sense of not completely destroying myself for this last section, but I hadn't anticipated it being this long. I need to hold on for another 100m or so of up, and flat before the dash downhill.
Managing it, breath ragged in my throat and thighs burning I crash down through bracken along the line that I now know. All thoughts of catching the runner in front gone, just holding on to the place that I have.
Down, through the gate, a right turn and pound down the path.
Lynne is shouting encouragement to me and there is only 200m to go. Run past her, to the gate, a left turn and a sprint for the line before I collapse, exhausted on the tarmac.

At this point I have no idea if I came 4th or 5th, or even 6th. I'll shoot for 5th until the actual results come out, though Lynne thinks I was 4th. I came in at 1:55:something, which for a first go, with no recce is pretty damn good.
Lins Looking strong at the end. 
15 mins off the guy who came first, so there is still a bit of work to do. I certainly didn't descend as well as I hoped I would after all that ascent in my legs, and I really didn't have any ability to accelerate up the climbs either.
So work to do.

Caity was First Lady, congrats indeed to her. Chris was second Glossop behind me, and Rich White,
Charlie, John S and Lindsay made up the rest of the maurauding 'dalers in Wales.
A cuppa tea and a trophy for Caity. 

Thanks muchly to all the marshals up in the hills, to the organisers, and to John for driving.
Got a little sunburnt, and quite hot and tired, but the food in the cafe was very restorative, and a great away day was had by all.

With any luck, this will link to my strava page for the race. 


  1. Haha.... that was a good (and amusing) read- especially as I know every nook and cranny on that route (I live down the road)- thus fully aware how difficult it is to stay
    I was taking photo's on the day- and no doubt have some of you...!!
    Glad you enjoyed your day in North Wales...

  2. Great run Tim! You'll surely make a podium position in the not too distant future!

  3. Thanks Nev and Simon.
    The day after and I'm only a little sore and I was wondering if I could have gone harder. However, looking at the pictures on Alistair Tyes Picasa site, I look in the worst state of anyone in the entire race!

    Also, looking at the photos, and knowing who beat me, I definitely came in 5th in the end.
    Currently putting aftersun on my shoulders and contemplating a bit of a bike ride.

  4. Nice account of the day - I was the Buckley Runner keeping you company! Great race, with your descending rightly winning out in the end, amazing how closely matched we were before then (it can often be very widely spaced on this race, esp last year when the field was even smaller and I led over Garnedd Uchaf - only to finish 2nd after Wnion descent). My account of the day's events will eventually appear here
    All the best, Simon R

  5. Brilliant account of the race. I was seeing it all again as I was reading it. Glad you enjoyed North Wales.

    Gary PJ