The 2017 club Fell Championship got underway on 11th March with a trip to West Cumbria to tackle the notoriously difficult Black Combe fell race. An original group of 5 was whittled down to 3 (injuries affecting 2 runners in the days before) comprising defending champion Tim Grimwood, Becky Barnett and myself. I’ve written about this race a couple of times before and this year it certainly didn’t disappoint! The race includes 2 tough ascents, the second of which (coming towards the end) is one of the hardest (steep and seemingly never-ending) in the sport. However, as is often the case with the Combe, the weather was to provide the biggest test. With thick fog even at relatively low level navigation was always going to be a problem. Finding a good line off the summit is a real challenge, with 2 potential wrong trods to follow. I went slightly wrong at this point. I was with Wendy Dodds (who, literally, wrote the book on mountain running) who was running on her compass bearing. Even this, however, can prove difficult with no real means of orientating yourself. I realised we were heading too far to the left and we got back on track. It showed the difficulty when a runner of that experience could make an error. Tim (a runner with rather less experience!) wasn’t quite so lucky. He was with a group who made the same mistake but didn’t realise until much later, with Tim losing nearly 20 minutes with his detour. Marshals at the next 2 checkpoints used bells to help guide the runners, with CP3 (White Combe) not emerging from the mist until you were almost on it. The remainder of the race (including the fearsome final climb) was easier to navigate – although Becky probably missed the chance to go ahead of me as she was unsure of the route from the final summit back to the main path. I went wrong here (in similar conditions) last year but this time my route-finding was spot on! Tim’s mistake meant that we all finished fairly close together, although comfortably in the back half of the field. Tim finished in 1.54.39, I was 1.58.13 and Becky just behind in 1.59.03. The fact that I have a PB of 1.42.46 shows how much the conditions affected our times. I said last year that the ability to navigate should never be underestimated and this year proves the point. Hopefully the rest of the Championship races will take place in slightly better conditions!