On Sunday I joined a large team of Swaledale runners who made their way over to the northern Lake District for the latest instalment of the club fell championship, Helvellyn and the Dodds. At 15 miles and 1337m/4386ft of climb it was going to be a very tough race for me, and whilst the glorious sunshine made for great views it also added to the challenge. The race started pleasantly enough with a mile or so of track and gentle grassy incline out of Threlkeld Cricket Club, but soon presented possibly the most challenging part of the course, the very steep ascent onto Clough Head. From here the course followed some great grassy tracks, which on the way out provided some excellent running, although were not quite so welcoming on the return leg. The runners spread out as the course followed several ascents and descents of various peaks until the increasing groups of walkers (including two cyclists carrying their bikes – which at least made me feel better about what I was doing in comparison) and the race leaders tearing past me, indicated we were close to Helvellyn, where we could finally turn around and return for home.
As a newcomer to fell racing I was worried about getting ‘carried away’ and so had tried to take it carefully on the outward leg, but I felt pretty good at half way and so picked up the pace, getting drawn into a little bit of one-up man-ship with a bunch of runners on one descent (much to my regret later on). However about mile 10 I started to ‘feel it’, and the final ascent back onto Clough Head seemed much longer and tougher going up than it had seemed skipping down it several miles earlier. The descent from Clough Head was an absolute killer – my legs were on fire but gravity and the desire to get it over and done with as quickly as possibly meant it was ‘easier’ to keep going than to slow down. After this even the gentler descent at the foot of this was agony, and I trundled down the seemingly never-ending track to the finish line to finish in 3.08. Once the running had ended it was a beautiful afternoon laid out on the cricket ground boundary in the sun, refuelling on sandwiches and cake put on by the organisers.
Swaledale contributed a large number of the 190 finishers – Robbie Kelly finished in 3.17, Neil Bowmer 3.32, Martin Randall 3.37, Mike Keavney 3.43, and Ros Blackmore 3.58. Unfortunately Jim Coldwell was forced to retire with an injury he picked up completing the Windermere Marathon the previous week, but it did allow him to watch the race leaders come in, including the winner Carl Bell who took two minutes off his previous record to finish in 2.07. There were also several runners associated with the club involved as well – including Jackie Keavney in 3.05, and Sarah Hackett in 3.10 who were third and sixth female respectively. Despite the fact that I am now struggling to walk properly it was a great race and I look forward to more in the future.