Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cwm Pennant Fell Race 2014

This time last year a couple of Clubmates (Rich and Tim C) came back from Wales gushing praise for a race they had just run. It was the inaugural Cwm Pennant race, only 40 people had taken part, but by all accounts it was a proper good race, and well worth the travel.
Despite early attempts to put it in the club champs this year, it didn't happen. Nevertheless, there was a good turn out from the Glossopdale massif, (Me, Chris, Caity, John H, Carl, Tim C, Alice and Rich) as we raided across the border to have a bash at this perhaps soon to be legendary race.

I was eager to put my less than glorious showing at Ennerdale to rest, but also, I wanted to just have a really good day out after the misery of trudging around Ennerdale water. As such. Lynne and I went down to Wales a couple of days early, taking in an evening "stroll" up Y Garn, and an early morning scramble up Y Gribin and across Llewidd, (followed by tree chopping). So a ridiculously fast one wasn't necessarily on the cards, but a decent day out certainly was.

Lynne, off for an adventure
As we got to Cwm Pennant Hostel, where the race was to be based, the top of Craig Pennant and Garnedd Goch were covered in cloud. It was still early morning, so we were fairly confident that it would be burnt off by the sun by the time we got around to it later in the day. We hung out with Chris and Caity for a while, drinking coffee, and then went for a bit of a recce of the final couple of km, and the first little bit of climb, noting that the final 500m or so was basically a bit of a climb right back up to the hostel. Not a nice finish, but one that, if necessary, you might have to really give it all you have to get back to the end. Useful to know.

Math, doing his stand up routine

We got back to the race reception after a while, the usual suspects were all there, Math, the organiser was limping around and greeting the runners into the area, and we all settled into our pre-race rituals- mainly trying to work out where the best lines were, and where time might be gained or lost on the course. Soon
enough we were lined up at the start, and after a superbly short and matter of fact speech by Math as to the dangers of the course (uh.. yeah, so at that point don't go west. Or North West. Or North North West. Coz then you'll be in trouble)... We were off.

The first couple of km are on the road - a single track road, but a road nevertheless, and soon climbs up towards the hills, and the real fellrunning starts. The hill starts gradually, and then goes up. And up. Simon Harding and a guy from Eryri led the way, and their lead got ever larger as the hill gained height. I astonished myself by being 3rd, with a Dark Peaker just behind me, as the rest of the field fell away behind us. The course deviated from last years course here, though not by a huge amount, so I believe, and soon enough we were at Check One - looking up to Moel Hebog - with Si and the Eryri bloke already about 200 metres in front up the hill.
Leading Chris and The Dark Peaker (John Hunt) up the hill
The Dark Peaker and I motored on up the hill, and Lynne, who had set out about 30 mins before us to spectate, was getting closer to the top. After a good few minutes of run/walking we got to the first peak, and then headed toward the second top, where the checkpoint was - the front runners had already gone by then, no sign of them at all. Crikey, they are Quick.
We passed Lynne, who snapped away with her camera, passed the Checkpoint and were faced with a superbly steep downhill section. I paused for a moment to take in the perspective, I really didn't expect it to be that steep, chose, a line, and then barrelled my way down, picking my way between the scree, occasionally taking a bit of an odd line through rocks, but generally managed to get down ok, apologising to the Dark Peaker that I really didn't actually know where I was going, and that it might not necessarily be the best thing to follow me.

To the bottom, where I took a tumble, rolled and came up running again, and then up through the gap in the rocks to head up to Moel yr Ogof. The first of the slightly more rocky scrambles of the day. I really enjoy
Me and John coming to the top of Moel Hebog
those bits where you know you can't run, but have to start using hands, feet and your head to work out the best and quickest way up. We didn't necessarily follow the path up, but mostly made it up as we went along. There were a couple of runners who were gaining on us, and I could feel a bit of a stitch coming on. Not  good when we were only about a quarter of the way into the race. That could put a severe crimp in my descending ability - and, more worryingly, slow me down a lot on the final 3km road run into the end. I told the Dark peaker that he may well leave me for dead on the next downhill, to which he replied, he didn't mind the speed we were going, mainly as he was V40, and wasn't actually racing me as I was too young. (he didn't actually say that last bit....).

We hit Moel Lefyn together and then descended down the rocky/slatey path to the Bwlch, where we were caught up and passed by Martin Davies - who in my head is a V40. So I told the Dark Peaker ... uh - you know he is v40 right? To which he replied, oh, no, um... ok. And shot off to catch him. I was now left on my own as they extended their lead over me on the hill up and over to Check point 5.
(I actually caught Martin up as he was adjusting his shoe and asked him... apparently he isn't a V40, yet...)

Checkpoint 5 is just before a bit of an epic climb. By this time, the sun still hadn't really come out properly, but it was one of those warm and humid days where it is cloudy, and you just know you're going to burn no matter what you do. Some food and drink was laid on at this point, but I just carried on passed, having my own food and drink on board, mentally preparing myself for the climb, and the people that were going to come past me. By this time in the race, my legs were feeling a bit knackered, although I was eating a bit, maybe I wasn't eating enough, and the speed I was going at was my speed. There would be no speeding up, and no slowing down. This was it now. Long race mode engaged. Keep going.

A few people came past on the way up that climb, knocking me down from 5th to 9th by the time we topped out at checkpoint 6 with a marshal in amazingly florescent pink waterproof trousers, we turned left along what is probably one of the most spectacular pieces of fellracing in the calendar. Along a fantastic ridge, at the same time as a mass of cloud was boiling up out of the valley below and cascading across us. What an experience to be thrashing across there at that time. Brilliant.
I followed the 2 Buckley runners that had passed me at the top of the previous hill, but could not hold on to them as they ground their way to the Obelisk at the top of Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd. My legs were beginning to go, and yet we had another stonker of a climb to come.
Round the marshal at the checkpoint, stuff some more food down the throat, and follow on the runners in front, now about 200 metres ahead.

Coming off the hill here, we go past quite a technical rocky section, I was too far behind to tell where the others went, I knew about this from the race description which said it could be missed out if you had "local knowledge". Of which I had very little. So I bailed left at the top of the rocky section, down quite a steep bit of grassy ground, not something a good few people I know would be comfortable on, hammered around the outside and down, and ended up about 3 metres in front of the guys that I was so far behind, not 5 mins ago. Good line. Happy with that.

However, the fatigue in my legs soon began to show itself as we climbed back up toward Craig Cwm Silyn. The top which had been in cloud earlier in the morning... it had cleared as we were on the first part of the course, and was now back under cover of cloud. Great.
The climb up was fantastic. Hands and feet, scrambling up really grippy rock. Try as I might to hold onto the coattails of the guys in front, I just didn't have it in my legs or lungs and they escaped from my view toward the top. Just as it was getting really misty. 3 locals, presumably with good knowledge, disappeared from sight.
No-one behind me either, alone in the mist. Great. I was that knackered, and that surprised that there was
Garnedd Goch in the cloud
no-one to see in front of me or behind that I ended up walking for a minute or so before getting my head together again and trying to stretch my legs out again.

I thought I knew where I was going, but got out a compass, to ensure I wasn't drifting off too far. But didn't actually take a bearing from the map. I headed toward a promising looking bit of hill, with visibility shifting and changing as I ran. Still no sign of anyone in front or behind. The promising bit of hill wasn't quite as promising as I hoped, so the map came out - the first time I've ever actually used on in anger on the hill (except on nav events), Took a bearing, got back on track and ran - voices were appearing in the mist behind me, so I kept my head down and went for it, found the wall, sneaked over it and ran over to the final hill checkpoint on Garnedd Goch - still under cover of cloud.
Pouring a gel into my mouth, I thanked the marshal for being there, and started the long, torturous and amusing descent to Cwm Ciprwth. It is a downhill nightmare of tussocks, bog, rocks and low lying long grass and heather. High speeds don't really seem to happen there as you'd end up crashing into a hidden rock. Yes, there are indeed trods down there, but they go horizontally, left to right, crossing your path, not going in the correct direction. It is simply a case of do your best, pick a line, and see what happens.

Water Stop
I got most of the way down towards where I thought was the right place, but couldn't see a marshal, so I stopped, took stock of the situation, got the map out again, any by the time I had done that, the marshal appeared exactly where I thought he should be... must have been sitting down having a brew when I was looking for him before. A couple of moments wasted, but nothing too serious - coming to the final part of the race now, so the key is to just keep going - not stopping for anything, least of all fatigue.

From the marshall at Cwm Ciprwth there is a footpath to follow down to the road, mostly marked, but still its quite a way off. I could only hope that I was maintaining enough speed that no-one could catch me at this point. There was no way to go faster. At the road was a drinks table, so I threw one over my head and carried on running. From now on it was pretty much all road - which should have been ok, seeing as I had done alright at Jura, which is infamous for its final 5km along the coastal road.
From a running perspective, this is worse.

That final bit of track
At least Jura is flat, this undulates. Not even just a little, but a whole lot. All I could think of was to not stop.
Keep the feet moving. Keep breathing. The stitch which had been promising since the beginning of the first descent had been kept at bay by slowing down a bit and breathing easier. Was anyone close enough to catch me? To be honest, if I got caught and passed here, doing the speed I was doing, good luck to them. Going faster was not an option.
An eternity in a heat sink later I came to the stile, and the final section that I had recced that morning. A Kilometre to go, and I know every step of the way. Through the bog, over the stile, through the farm, no looking back, and the final straight uphill towards the end. 200metres to go and I let lose on the legs, powering into the finish in 2:59:47. 9th place, and 4th MU40.
As ever, most of the course run on my own, at my own speed. I think I need to actually need to learn to try and race a bit more - especially on the second half of these long ones - despite being with John Hunt and Mark Davies at CP5, they both gained about 10 mins on me from then on. I guess more long, fast days out are needed.

Not long after I got in, only a couple of minutes, Daz Fishwick came dashing into the finish, swiftly followed
by Chris Jackson. That was close! Not even 2 mins later was John Hewitt, who had his best race of the year, coming in 2nd V50. What was more, with us three in the top 15, Glossopdale won 2nd team prize after Eryri (who had 3 in the top ten). Twas nice to beat Dark Peak for once though!
The winner was Si Harding, and the prizes were given out with excellent humour by Math, in a somewhat novel order, which would have very much pleased the female section of GDH, who often, and rightly, complain that prizes are always given out to the men first.

Here is a link to the results.

Second Team (first team from Derbyshire)
So. What a race. It has it all. Steep ascents. Steep descents. Crazy no-path nightmare heather bashing, excellent views, scrambly bits, runnable climbs, non-runnable climbs, sneaky local lines and an horrific final section along the road.
You could almost call it the Jura of Wales. A race of real character, and I feel proud to have done it this year, the second year of its running. Math has done well to create something that could well become a real classic of the calendar. There were 40 runners last year, 80 this year. I suspect there may well be a few more next year.
Fantastic day out.

Thanks again Math, and to all the volunteers, marshals, and to the hostel who so generously hosted the race, and thanks to Math and Lynne for the various photos.

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