Sunday, 25 May 2014

Jura Fell race 2014

The slightly intimidating view of the Paps from the boat
I'll spare you the story of getting to Jura. Just think of a car journey, a ferry, another one, a bus journey and a walk, each getting progressively closer to a little cottage on a small island just off Islay in Scotland.

The home of a fell race that some say is the best, toughest and most ludicrous in the calendar. Always over subscribed, always talked about with awe, and always on someone's tick list. It is also sponsored by the distillery, which makes the prizes giving pretty lucrative for the winners. Add to that, if you manage to complete the 19 mile course in less than 4 hours, you get a whisky glass... which, having never run it before, was a bit of a target.

I woke on Sat with a bit of a stiff knee. Not really a problem until I looked at it properly as I brewed coffee.
Ready for Battle
It was quite swollen on the front of the knee cap, and a bit squidgy. Pre-patellar bursitis. Great. On today of all days. Jura Debut, with a decent amount of training behind me, I really thought that sub-4 was on. I'd even checked out Nic Barbers splits from last year- a 3:50-odd completion - to try and run to. Looking sorrowfully at my swollen knee I looked on the bright side.
Pre-patella bursitis... it's brought on by excessive kneeling (no, really, it is), it involves the bursa on the front of the kneecap - so its not contractile tissue like muscle, or an anchor like a ligament, or a tendon, it is a fatty pad that, when inflammed, limits motion. So, to be fair, a couple of ibuprofen should see me right. 2 early, and another 2 on the start line... that'll do, decision made.

As the race started at 1030, we had a leisurely breakfast and kitted up before heading down to registration - which included a kit check, and a section to pick up tags to hand in on the way around as a way of keeping track of runners, before we sat out in the glorious sun and waited for the calls for all runners to go to the pre-race pen. Which we studiously ignored for a while until runners actually started to go into the pen, and we joined them.

Slightly nervous before a race, especially one with a skyline like this... we'd seen it from the ferry - it looks like someone has cut out 3 comedy mountains, covered them in scree and stuck them on the horizon. It just doesn't look real. Running it, and running it in sub-4 is nigh on insane. Especially with a swollen knee... Right?

Glossopdale enjoying the pre-race atmosphere
A short spiel by the race organiser, I take a look around at everyone else lined up, all 220 of us. The sun beaming down on us, breeze from the north, and beautifully clear skies above the hills. And we were off. Along the road, left, a track, and up a rise. We could see the first Pip ahead of us, but between us and that.

The main geographical characteristic of Jura is that it has blimmin big hills that are covered in scree. What people fail to tell you is that in order to get to aforementioned hills, you have to cross a massive bog - no matter which direction you approach from.

I could see people thrashing through mud ahead of me. Konrad was particularly helpful in finding a thigh deep bit which the rest of us avoided, but it was like going through a wetter and less peaty version of Outer Edge. The pace slowed a little, but not by much, and soon enough we hit the first rise. I checked my watch - the only split I could remember was 36 minutes to the first checkpoint. The rest of the race, no idea, I'd just try and hold on. At this point, Nic was right in front of me and we were kind of on target for 36 or 37 mins. I had 10 mins leeway for the entire race, so it was kind of key to get this right.

Up onto the top, and breathing hard. Too hard. Was I going out too fast? The OCT from last week flashed through my minds eye, which ended up in a bit of a blow up. Well, if it happens today, it happens. I'm going to keep this pace going until I can't.
And then I shall take photos....

We hit the top of the Pip at about 37 mins, I was breathing hard, Nic was going away from me, and I was concerned that I was in trouble. ( He later said that he really didn't expect to see me for the rest of the race). I latched onto another Pennine vest- Dave Ward - Jura race extrodinaire. Tom Brunt told me that if I wanted sub-4 then I should just follow him "he has the knack of it". For the moment there was little else I could do but run off down the hill with my fellow competitors, and make my way as swiftly as possible to the next Pip- it just so happened that I followed Dave, I certainly couldn't go any faster. The going underfoot was getting less boggy and a bit rougher, and we wove our way over stone, scree and bog to hit the 3rd Pip before I felt good enough to start at it properly again. I overtook Dave on the ascent, and then turned to the right at the top.
Dave Ward, in his natural habitat
The Paps were there in all their splendiferous glory - the camera had to come out. Dave went past me, so I took a pic, and chased after him, packing the camera away as I went. Down over scree, and mud, I overtook Dave again, down into bog and squidginess, and toward the first Pap. A ridiculous pile of scree and rock rising above us, almost incomprehensibly big. The best thing to do was put the head down and just go up it and see how long it took.

I got stuck in, pacing up the green streak of a stream that leads you up the hill, and surprised myself by overtaking a couple of people - the only issue being this was the beginning of a 500 metre climb. The first of 3, and already 10k and just over an hour into the race. Going too fast? No idea.
As the hill climbing got underway, it seemed to get steeper, and although I didn't seem to lose too much time, I very soon had Konrad from Carnethy on my tail, commenting that "you don't get hills like this in the Peak District, do you".
My response was something along the lines of "Sorry Konrad, I can't really talk - I'm concentrating on making my legs go left-right-left-right, coz if they start going left-left, or right-right, I'm going to be in serious trouble".

Soon, (soon?) we got to the top - me, Konrad, a Bingley guy who seemed to know some pretty good lines,
and someone else. We struggled with tags to give to the marshals, and the nutrition strategy (which started with a massive breakfast) continued. I gulped a gel down and battered off down the hill, following Konrad, and soon realising that the ground was perfect for running down. Scree of good size and slippy-ness. The kind of stuff you always really want to slide/run down as a kid, but you get told not to- or to be careful... well, this is a race, go as fast as you dare. So I stormed off down the hill, enjoying every last footstep of it, gaining time over Konrad, and ahead I could see Nic - not a bad target. He is probably on a sub-4 as well, so if he is in sight, excellent.
Second Pap rises before us. Another mass of scree and rock with runners scrambling up it. Within about 3 mins of starting up it, Konrad had caught up, I don't think I really put much time into him on the descent, and the same 4 of us were together again. Some strategic passing and mini-shortcuts were had as we stomped our way up the hill - I was trying to keep a rhythm in mind just to keep the legs going at that speed - every step taking me closer to the end. Am I still on target? No idea... Don't waste energy, just keep going up. And up.
The Paps. On a blessedly good day. 
This was the second huge Hands-on-knees climb of the day, we'd been going for nigh on 2 hours now, my knee hadn't been bothering me, and it continued to be fine. I certainly wasn't thinking about taking photos at that point as the 4 hour time scale seemed to be good, though not with a whole lot of leeway. As we tramped up the slope I tried to take in just how much landscape there was- the beauty of the island and everything around it- though to be honest, even if I was a marshal and up there for several hours, I doubt I would have taken it all in.

At the second scree "wall" Konrad took a sneaky line around the back, so I swiftly followed him- it ended in pretty much a grassy scramble to the top, but we reached the ridge about 30 metres behind Nic, surprising him, and, without a doubt, spurring him on. Across the ridge, and Julien was there with a bottle of water and some helpful advice about the route- which I basically didn't hear as I was just too knackered to listen to anything at that point, gulping down the second of 3 gels I was potentially going to consume over the race.

2 Paps down, another to go, and then a blip at the end... but first the descent, not as scree-like as the first and last Paps, but still with a vicious character of its own. I made my way down, taking a fairly decent and direct line, as far as I could tell, though not as good as off the first Pap, across the bog at the bottom and then to the start of the final one.
2 hours and 17. Not bad, within limits, I think, but it was all going to depend on how this last one went. As time goes on, and we do more ascent, my legs really start to tell on me, and I lose time, that's what the training has all been about, but training for this stuff is difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.

Up we went, Nic quite a way ahead, as was Spike from Dark Peak, and Konrad overtaking me, and gradually putting distance into me. 5, 10, 20 metres.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Just keep it going, don't forget to breathe.
I was fully aware that the descent of this Pap is the one that is writ large in the consciousness of the Jura fell race community. The one with scree, but on a scale you can't really comprehend without seeing and experiencing. I'd heard stories about car sized blocks, losing time hand over fist if you take the wrong line, of races and timings being messed up by a badly taken descent. I REALLY wanted to see someone in front of me going down there. But I just couldn't keep hold of the train.

The legs weren't responding to the head, and Konrad et al. were just eking out more of a lead over me. Damn.
I reached the top on my own. The others having dropped off the top a good 20-30 seconds before me, which doesn't seem a lot, but you can go a long way down in 20-30 seconds. So I thanked the marshals for being there, looked about at the view, took a breath and plunged down, following an approximate line through the scree field.
Konrad was just about in sight, so I scooted across in his direction as fast as I could, a load of runners were below and across to the left, but there was a mass of scree in the way. The best line was the one I could find. No following.

As I descended the smaller, runnable scree, I constantly scouted down and across for other areas of small scree amongst the ankle-trappingly large blocks. Once my decent running descent line had run out, I skipped across the face of the scree to the next line, descent, skip across, descent, skip across, find a line, run, and down.
Wind in my hair, not following anyone, but just thrashing down a scree field, and loving it. What a fantastic descent. I can see why some people hate it, but crikey, I loved it. Just like being a kid again.
Across to my right, below the scree, a runner in a Jura vest was gaining on me- evidently a local with a decent line, nevermind, I hit the bog at about the same time, and we ran down to the river, the low point before that final "little" blip at the end of the race before the road.

2:45 at the river. And who should I catch up with at the river? Spike and Nic. Wow, I never thought I'd ever catch them, in any race, let alone this one. They had stopped for water, and Nic sprang off as soon as I hit the river, but I overtook Spike, and chased after Nic as best I could.

The final blip is only really about 200 metres above where you start the climb. But heck- you've just run 18k, and ascended about 2000m of scree, and maybe, more to the point, descended it as well. Legs like jelly, any combination of hands on legs, hands in heather, pulling you up, anything to try and help those legs just keep going. What does the watch say? Nigh on 3 hours... that gives 30 mins to get to the bridge, and then a hard run to get back to the finish before the magical 4... still cutting it fine, it's not over until it's over.
That final scramble up the hill was horrendous, Nic gained time, Spike and Konrad were coming up fast behind, and my right adductors were beginning to cramp- not good.
Only one thing to do at this juncture... camera out, take a photo, grab a handful of haribo from the marshals and head off down the hill, back into the bog for another few kilometres before the road.
Spike, Konrad and a Jura runner, just before the final top. 

The trods off that final pip are myriad, and Nic had blasted away into the distance, Spike was in front of me now, and gaining further ground. I was anxiously looking at my watch, trying to work out just how far away the bridge was, and how much time I'd have left for the road. Cutting it fine... especially as with every mis-step through the tussocks and bog, my right adductor was threatening to cramp with increasing urgency. I just had to keep it together.
That bog took forever to get through. I fell over twice, and each time as I went my leg started to spasm, managing to land on it and force it to keep running, it somehow prevented itself from going into massive and painful contraction. If it did that, I suspect it would have been game over and a long, long limp to the end.
Keep it together, keep going to the end.
Finally, the bridge and a stile, and a massive crowd. Everyone stands there, mainly because it is an easily accessible point, but also because its the place where large amounts of runners with nearly cramping legs have to attempt to negotiate a massive stile, presumably with quite frequently hilarious results.

Over the stile, under the bridge, got rid of my final tag, threw water over my head, passed 2 runners who appeared to be having their shoes changed by their club mates (road shoes for the road section) - and blasted straight onto the road. Just before 2pm.
Now 5.3km to the end. Just need to keep at a faster than 5 mins per km pace to the end, and its in the bag. Nice. But it isn't over until it's over. Keep going. Don't cramp up.

Another runner sprinted to me to check the time, presumably having the same thought as me. We pounded along in silence for a while, grimly determined, keeping a decent 4:20 pace until we passed a house handing out water, where he stopped to fill up. In homage to Charlie Spedding in the 1984 olympic marathon, I said thanks and just keep on running. Any delay now was just prolonging the pain. Might as well go as fast as possible and get it over with. There was also a matter of pride that I was still in fellshoes. I wasn't intending
The coast. Lovely. 
to let anyone in road shoes overtake me, no matter how fast they may have done the fell-part of the race.

On and on I went, along the coast, frequently checking my pace on my watch. A DarkPeak runner appeared in front of me - not Spike, but someone else. He had slowed to a walk. The road had worn him down, and that in itself was an invitation for me to walk.

No. Head up. Dig in. Keep it going.
I passed him, and he fell in behind me. We had 3 km to go.

Then 2 km to go, he was still there behind me. The speed had dropped, and it was like running through treacle, but however much I was hurting, he was hurting more. Minutes ticked by. Soon we went past the school and the church, 800m to go, I wound up the pace ever so slightly, sparing a glance over my shoulder to see if there was anyone else back there. 3 runners, a good 100 metres behind- close enough to give trouble.
I tried upping the pace again, but the legs were going as hard as possible- I had a little advantage over the Dark Peaker, and decided that the final 200 metres were going to be all out. The final sprint.

From before the townhall I let rip- at least, that's what it felt like- I might have slightly increased in pace, but whatever I did, I managed to put distance between us, I was now on my own.
50 metres later, my legs started to shut down, and with 75 metres left, my lungs were burning and co-ordination went out the window. Half blind with exhaustion and I lunged through the last few metres, and got through the finish, where Nic was there to shake my hand.
Whisky Glass secure.

As my legs started to cramp up, I wandered to the sea to stand up to my waist in the cooling water, before finally making my way back to the Distillery for post race food, tea, and chat.
Chilling with Dark Peak

An Epic race. Epic in every sense of the word.
Never been so close to cramping up. I don't think I've ever pushed as hard as in Jura. Fantastic.

Thanks to the organisers, to the marshals, to the myriad people that get together to make this race happen, to the Distillery for providing seriously good prizes for the winners, and, of course, to the runners who make the effort to get to the race, and make it what it is.
Jura... the morning after. That would have been a slightly more interesting navigation challenge..

And I got my sub 4 hour finisher glass - chuffed? You bet I am.
No... I didn't win the whisky.
I might have to get a LOT faster before that happens...
And finally, well done to Hector Haines for winning again, and this time, beating the record. 3:06... thats seriously impressive, and well done to Jasmin Paris for also retaining her Jura crown, again, a superb run from her.
I took a couple of pics of the results.... hopefully if you click on them you'll be able to zoom/ blow up.


  1. Great effort Tim and as usual great write up! Love living these runs vicariously, I can almost feel the cramps as I go back to the couch... ;) Lucky you missed the bad weather!!

  2. Great write up, Tim, and an excellent run!

  3. You had me on the edge of my seat there Tim!