Monday, 19 October 2015

Fra relays 2015

This year the fra relays were being held at Pendle hill. There was quite a bit of controversy for quite a few weeks and months leading up to the event because of restrictions to team numbers being entered, car parking palavers and lack of a mixed team catagory. 
As team captain for Glossopdale I had the lovely task of picking the male teams, and then shifting and patching them up as and when injury or ill health threatened to scupper us as a team, even up to the last couple of days. 
It almost helped that i crocked my ankle last week at the Breiddan hills race as it gave me the opportunity to tell people, with great authority, that if im going to be running on a dodgy ankle, they could also certainly run on tired week-post marathon legs etc. As far as I know, Caity didnt have much of an issue with the girls team, but it still felt like a minor miracle when everyone turned up in the right place, at approximately the right time.

Last minute issues included locating the club tent, the banners and also ensuring that everyone knew the race was on saturday.... Not sunday. 
Still, we all got there and all was well. 

The blokes I travelled up with were left to competently put the tent up. Being one of the first teams to arrive, we had a decent area to play with, and I went off to get the team packs. On arrival and presentation to the registrars, saying I was from Glossopdale, the lady looked down her list and asked "are you a Hunk?".

When Caity and I registered the teams, we could write down whatever names we wanted on the SI entry list. In somewhat high spirits, instead of the usual "glossopdale men, ladies and v40" we instead thought it would be a much better idea to enter teams as the Glossopdale Hunks, Babes and Old Gits. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to enter a female v40 team, so didn't get to enter the Glossopdale super-babes. Which was a shame. 
I didn't really expect to see the names written on our race packs. (I was hoping....but you can never be sure).

After getting back to the tent, which was in some state of upness, the maps, numbers and dibbers got distributed, cups of tea were had, and we started getting ready for the relay. Leg 1 runners, Ben, Caity and Andy B started warming up, and I realised that considering the start was about 5mins from the tent, the tent was about 7 mins from the changeover point, kitcheck was also needed prior to me starting on leg 2 and leg 1 would probably only take about 35 mins, I should probably get ready. 

Faff, of course ensued, and after a while, Mark and I made our way up to the changeover area, where all and sundry were warming up ready for leg 2. We have both raced on this hill before, and know there are some considerable ups and downs, but we haven't actually raced together all that much. Last time we raced as a pair was this time last year, and last time we competed against each other was at the Holme moss race in august. I was pretty sure it was going to be ok....

The first teams came through, big names hurtling down the in lap to pass on to just as great names on leg 2. We're only running against British fell running champs, mountain running champs and all the rest of it. Always good to be rubbing shoulders and comparing yourself to those at the peak of the sport. 
First Glossopdale in was, as last year, Caity. The girls team of Cheryl and Zoe got the drop on us, and it seemed like an age before Ben came dropping down the hill like a stone to release us from the starting area. 
Mark went off fast and hard and my legs and lungs really didn't like it. Uphill for the first 500m and I was barely hanging onto his coattails. Various things like asking him to slow down, or just pulling him on the back of the vest to get him to relax the pace a bit went through my mind. To be honest, I wasn't close enough to grab him, nor did I have the breath to say anything, being run ragged at the very beginning of the course was not entirely on the plan. 

We passed a couple of teams on the outward leg, our own ladies team among them. The first hill hit, and we scalped another, with Eryri coming past us for good measure. 1st checkpoint, over a wall, and we were directly behind a couple of teams. The ground rose steadily and way ahead of us was a gaggle of other teams who had set off a good 2mins in front of us. 
In my head I was thinking "no Mark, don't overtake this team, my legs don't work" 
No stopping him at this point, and ignoring my silent pleading, he forged on passed a team, then another, and another, with me following doggedly in his footsteps. 

Crickey this is hard. Heart still hammering, legs not really responding, going uphill at speed is still my absolute nemesis, and still Mark set an unforgiving pace. By this time, barely a word had passed between us as we ran in companionable silence. Well. Kind of. Conversation would have been severely limited to single word sentences, at least on my side...
Up through bog, and the group in front of us appears to be getting closer. Only about 3 teams between us and what looks to be a Pennine vest. (Friendly local rivalry and all... It would have been nice to catch them up, considering the amazing runners they had on leg 1). 
Mark was still leading us on, but I was finally feeling a bit better, a bit more in control of lungs and legs, and was happy to be led on the charge through another couple of teams, the gaggle in ahead of us now getting tangibly closer. 

Onto a path, and a dive down the steep side of Pendle hill. Careful now, if there is anywhere that I'm going to go over on my ankle, its here... Careful... Carefu.... Oh, there it goes. My left foot hit a rock, and the ankle twisted slightly. On a normal day it would have been an 'oh, that was lucky, I didn't totally go over on my ankle'. Today was quite a bit more sore, going over on an already tender ankle was not what I needed, but it could have been worse. I took it a little more steadily down to the bottom of the hill, now with Mark in my wake, and was able to get a slight breather as he dibbed the checkpoint. 

The 2 Pennine teams were now only just in front of us, 30seconds or so... Which on a climb seems in touching distance, but in fact, is not. Mark and I climbed the hill steadily. It wasn't as fast as I would have liked, and we barely gained anything on those in front of us, while a team came through and past. 
2 more teams, who had obviously set off too fast were now paying for it and we caught them, but the Pennine group remained elusive. I chugged a gel, and we hit the top, turned, and followed the crowd back down the hill to the next checkpoint. 
Single track, bracken on both sides, and very difficult to overtake anyone. I tried, but there was only ever enough space for one person in a team to overtake, leaving the other half to be frustrated behind the overtakee.... Not wanting to be separated from Mark, I slowed down, and we passed through the dib point together. 

Left, and up the clough. A number of route options were being taken here, some staying high, others crossing the clough early, some late, what to do? Most important was to make a decision. Neither of us had reccied the route previously, so it was a take it on sight type thing. We stayed on the true right bank for as long as possible, walk/running along the contour. Others broke right to cross the stream earlier, but we stayed true, and ended up coming out of the clough and hitting the path ahead of one of the Pennine teams, and bang at the same time as the other. 
Another quick route decision saw us not bother with the path, but strike out directly across the moorland, across tussocks and bog for a good while, before finally coming to a fast runnable track that would take us all the way to the top of the hill. 

Finally I was feeling good. The gradient was runnable, it was excellent underfoot, and everyone else seemed to be slowing down. I ran well within myself, stalking the teams in front, and accelerating past them when the path provided the opportunity. Unfortunately Mark was having the same trouble as previously... Limited chances to overtake, and if the opportunity is missed, its a while before you can get past. As we arrived at the next checkpoint, there were 6 of us together, but I was at the front, and Mark was 5th in line, but still in easy communicable distance, so we weren't breaking any rules.
No trouble. Regroup, through the gate, and onto the flagstones into a headwind. 
Mark and I swapped leads up the final part of the hill, taking over as the other tired. Pennine were in close pursuit, and we topped out together, time for the final plunge down. 

I let my legs take me as fast as they wanted to go. The line wasn't the best line, perhaps not the fastest line on the hill, but I made it work. Mark was suffering from a stitch on the way down, but was able to keep in touch, and we passed the gate at the bottom a with a few seconds advantage. Now, just the final section home, just a kilometre or so. This final part of Pendle hill reminds me of cross country when I was a kid, I think its just the terrain underfoot rather than anything else. Mark and I close in on the finish, hammering down hill as hard as we dared, coming in barely a few seconds before the Pennine Open team, having made up a good 2 mins on them. 
I know we don't have a chance to beat them overall, such is the strength of their club, but to regain some of that lost time on our leg felt really good. 

To cool down we headed back up to Pendle hill again, via a steep climb, and came down via leg 4 and were in time to see the lead teams final leg runners battling it out up the hill on the glory leg. 

Overall we came in 36th, the Old gits were 94th and the Babes came in 107th. It was a superb experience to be in the finishing field as our final runners came in, the rest of the team clapping and cheering them on. I couldnt actually cheer, myself, because I got quite choked up, actually. It was great to be a small part of such a lovely bunch of people. 
Even if we did take a ridiculous amount of time working out how to take the tent down....

Thanks muchly to the organisers, well done to Calder Valley for the overall win, and 2nd ladies team as well... What a great day for your club! 
And well done to Pennine v40s, a well deserved silver medal in the category. Superb effort! Well done. 

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