Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sedburgh Fell race 2014 - English Champs AL

Some people say this is just a massive traverse. Tell you what, if thats what it is, its a traverse with a shed load of ascent and descent in it. Crikey.
The drive up to Sedburgh was somewhat reminiscent of last year. Mid august. Rain hammering on the road and the car, Carl driving. Last year it cleared up quite a bit for the race, this year really didn't look promising.

Page 1 of the annotated map
I'd done a little bit of homework in terms of looking at times and route prep, but I hadn't been anywhere near the course since last year - so certainly no recceing was done. I did write a few more notes on my map this year though, and although I couldn't find a track that Nic Barber had done for the race (my normal target is his time from last year), I did find Wardy's strava track from last year, which was substantially faster than mine, so jotted down a few notes on his times at various points around the course.
Not that I looked at my map once during the race, but it was useful to plan where I was going to eat and drink in order to keep going and not stutter to an ignominious halt on the climb up to Calf as I did last time.

Fell legend Wendy Dodds Gives us a shoelace tying lesson   

All planned out, we got to Sedburgh and the hall where we registered and caught up with the other 2 Glossopdale Harriers doing the race, Chris and Caity. Wendy Dodds was also on hand, and gave a quick masterclass in shoelace tying for fell races ("I taught this to a 5 year old at Jura, so you should be able to follow it").

As we sat in the hall watching others come in and register, the rain lashed down outside and there was the usual clothes faff. Vest only? Lots of people wearing helly's. Vest+ helly? Too hot? Nip outside. No, definitely vest and helly. Start with waterproof on? Off? On? Hat? Gloves? Too much?
I didn't get outside until about 5 mins before the race started, by which time the rain was a little less severe, and managed a quick jog up and down the road before being called to the start. Not the greatest and most useful warm up in history, the first 30 mins was going to HURT no matter what I did.
From previous experience (Ennerdale), I tend to go off way too fast on these races and get nailed by large amounts of people from the middle to the very end. Today was a day for being a bit more conservative. Start easy, race easy, finish strong, and as the note on my map said - Don't You Dare Give Up.

We surged off the line, and I started to ease into the race, chatting a little with Stefan from Pennine, before watching him eke out a lead over me. Its the first couple of k, so I'm not too worried, its early days yet. Up onto the first climb, and there is the path through the bracken that gets really congested, skirt to the left and follow Nic around the blockage, and up the hill. It's another couple of minutes before Stefan - caught in the blockage - catches up and passes me. Keeping calm, I plod on, keeping my thoughts to myself, and thinking about the rest of the run, rather than the present. My thighs ache badly, and I can feel fatigue gnawing at the edge of my consciousness. Need to keep things real, and ensure I'm able to still run in 2 hours time.
Chris appears beside me. Am I going too slow? No. Keep to the plan. The climb steepens out and we walk, I pass him, wondering when he'll make the next pass on me. Up, into the wind and the cloud, keeping the jacket on at the beginning was a cunning plan, and we hit the top before turning left into the teeth of the wind, into the low cloud - so low I can barely see the runner in front of me. Follow the stud marks and see where they lead. Last years route is faded in my memory, but the wisps of recollection enable me to follow the paths to the right place and we drop out of the cloud, down to the water crossing at Ivy Crag and the vicious ascent to the Checkpoint at Castley Knotes.
First planned food. Chug down half a geobar even though I don't feel hungry. Take off the coat as I'm getting warm - but leaving it on one arm and wrapping it around my wrist. If I need to put it back on again in a hurry, I can.

It's a long climb to the top, and now I'm in Jura mode. Damage limitation- keep the legs moving and don't let anyone past. Climb to the top, and the descent down I make my mind up to catch up with the guy in front of me. I manage to close the gap by a fair amount, but he heaves away from me on the next modest up. Then we go into the single track traverse around Fell head, coming up to an hour into the race and I'm beginning to feel a bit better. So much better, in fact that I grab my second planned bite to eat, and catch up to 2 runners, and after what seems like an age, overtake them.
Me? Overtaking? on a Champs race? That hasn't happened before. Maybe going slow was a good thing.
Way ahead in the distance, I can see Nic, Wardy and Stefan in Pennine vests, all thrashing it out together. Too far to catch for the moment, but you can hope they might knacker each other out. I'm certainly not going any faster at the moment. A third into the race, if I try that now, I'm really going to suffer on the hard last third.
Page 2 of the annotated map

Next up is the double climb and traverse, through two saddles and down to Check 4 at the bottom of Hazel Gill. Stomping up the hill, the only thing going through my head was Pachabels Canon - Lynne has been practicing it a lot at home - and it suited my foot cadence. Up, towards the top, a long and torturous slog, only to thunder down again to the bottom, ready to do it all again, and then traverse. I think I may have gone too high on the second ascent, but at least I didn't end up getting slowed down by all the Gills on the side of Hazelgill Knott.
The jacket had come on, been taken off, the sun had come out, the rain had come in again, the wind was behind us, and with half the race gone it felt like we had had the gamut of seasons from spring to autumn - with a fleeting glance of summer int he middle. The jacket went on for the descent to Check 4, and with my first planned gel in my hand, it was probably going to stay on for the duration now.

The long climb up to the Calf. It's long. It's soul destroying, and it is not pleasant. On my map at this point was Don't you Dare Give Up, taken from a twitter feed.
That was what was going on in my head (alongside Pachabels canon). Every step of the way I ran. No walking. No Giving Up. One person passed me, I passed another. The temptation to stop and walk was there at all times, but no. Keep going. Keep running. Pass another? I honestly don't remember, but there was no walking. To the Calf, a dib, and beyond - time for gel 2. Last year I was really suffering even before this. That climb did for me, but now, no. More power.

A group of 4-5 of us formed, dissolved and re-formed, over Bram-rigg top, and then up to Calders. Into the cloud again, and a Horwich runner came alongside me - "are we meant to skirt left at somepoint around here?" "No idea mate", I reply.
We were, of course, and 4 of us climbed an extra 30m to the top, while a we were caught up by a Bingley runner, who shrewdly took the intelligent option - around the side.
Now following the Bridleway, pretty much to the end, the 5 of us switched places, overtook and re-overtook. I kept my place for a while, lost a place, and then regained on the climb - the never give up attitude taking me past 3 guys who ended up walking.

Chris's failed shoe - stopped him performing well
Do I need another gel? Not now, close to the end. I can see the final checkpoint, and the 2 runners ahead of me dib in and take a radically direct line straight south. Not the racing line at all - and probably deep in bracken at this time of year.
The Bingley runner and I dib and take the more trodden path off Winder. The hill gets steeper and steeper, my quads are burning, and my knees ache, the Bingley runner keeps a steady few yards ahead of me, and the hill gets slidy towards the bottom. We both slip and fall, and I just go with it - sliding down the slick slope, not quite catching the Bingley lad, but coming close, and then we hit the road and he stretches out.

I have nothing left. There is someone behind me, and it is all I can do to keep him away from me. What can I do? Concentrate on the guy in front. I glue myself to the Bingley runner, and stay with him to the end. 3 seconds in front of me - I just couldn't close the gap.
2:30:57. A good 10 mins up on last year, fantastic, and, in the end, about a minute behind Stefan.

So, what of the placings?
My computer printout says 47th. 47th? Thats top 50 - but there are always a few glitches, people missing dibbers etc. Have I done enough to hold onto that top 50, or are there more than 3 people ahead of me that have lost theirs?

Final results, out on the web a few hours later- 49th.
Woot. Championship points. Finally. Ok, only 2, but finally I have them.
Very Happy indeed.

At this point, I have to extend my thanks to Tom Brunt, Simon Bailey, Dan Chan and Stevie K for not running, as all 4 of them would undoubtably have beaten me, and I would have been out of the top 50.
Still, its all about turning up on the day.
Chris had a bit of a nightmare race, with his Inov8 x talon 212 ripping itself to shreds on the second descent. The rest of the race can't have been much fun with a shoe looking like that. Well done to Wardy and Stefan for also scoring Champs points this race- and congrats to Caity for coming in 2nd GDH, and (I think), 4th lady.

There will be a blog in the near future reflecting on the Champs races this year, and just how bloody hard it has been to get that elusive top 50 - but this time- the taking it easy plan- seems to have worked.


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